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One of Life's Big Questions...

One of Life’s Big Questions…

I have struggled to answer this question for probably my whole life, but last week I had an experience which showed me one very good answer.

One of my oldest friends lost her partner and best friend; he succumbed to a fatal illness in a short period of time. Attending the wake, I watched her standing alone to greet the mourners. I admired her strength and poise, even as I could see in the unguarded moments, the strain of the past months peek through.

I was impressed by the number of people who turned out on a week night — for her — despite more snowflakes and very cold weather, during a winter when travel had become an endurance test for everyone.

At one point I met one of her bosses. When she found out that I was a very old friend, she proceeded to tell me what a great worker my friend is: how skilled, how professional, and how well-respected. “I wish I had ten of her,” she said. “And she is completely humble.”  I thought to myself, how wonderful to not have to promote yourself because your work speaks volumes…and also to have someone you work for respect, love, and admire you so much. She gave me the heads-up about something that my friend did not know: she was going to receive an arrangement from a very prestigious client. When they found out what was going on with her, they said, “We want to send flowers.” “That is UNHEARD of,” her boss told me, “But they like her THAT much!”

My friend held a small dinner after the wake at a local restaurant. I sat at the end of one VERY long table. She was fussing over whether we had enough food and was worried that the family-style serving was not working, but not one person was greedy and filled their plate. All appreciated the food and appreciated her. Everyone knew this was costing her money she didn’t really have, and yet she wanted to show her appreciation to her friends.  She had been unable to work very much during the time her partner was sick, and she works in a field that when she doesn’t work, she doesn’t get paid.

Despite the terrible circumstances, I felt happy for her as I looked down the long table full of supporters. Her life had been particularly difficult lately, but even without her recent challenges, her life wasn’t necessarily one that many people would look at as a “picture” of success. But it was clear as a summer sky to me that night.

A successful life does not have to be one with all the trappings and media accolades. It can be one where, when you are struggling, you are overwhelmed by love and support, respect and admiration in your own corner of the world. To me, my friend won an Oscar.

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Resolute

Boat Owners Summarize It…The Ultimate Tweeters…

“Resolute” is the adjective version of “Resolution.” My desk’s version of Webster’s dictionary defines it as “marked by firmness or determination; unwavering.”

The last couple of years, I can’t say that I have been a shining example of that word, but I have also realized I didn’t do a good job of setting myself up for success. The “resolutions” I wrote in my 10-year journal were too broad and unspecific (e.g., send out poems, learn Photoshop), and thus, impossible to accomplish. For example, I did send out poems (a few) but out of those few, none were accepted for publication, which left me with a feeling of complete failure. This year I decided what I needed was specific goals, not RESOLUTIONS; strong as that word appears to be, it didn’t work for me. (I know it doesn’t work for many other people either…how many people join the gym and try to go every day…giving up after a week or two?). So I thought I’d share my process this year in case it might help someone else.

I began by creating categories for different areas of my life: health (which included food, exercise, and spiritual and emotional health); education and career; money and finance; and hobbies/social. I also created an “other” category to be a catch-all for organizational goals and all those practical things we all feel we “should” want to do. Then I took some time and just wrote down whatever came into my head…a type of free writing. After I felt I written down quite a bit, I examined the goals and tried to make them specific: for example: “eat better” became “make a recipe from a cookbook once a week,” which is certainly a relatively easy goal to accomplish. I classified my goals also into “easy,” “doable,” and “stretch.” I also looked for overlaps, which would imply that those were more important goals to me, such as taking classes (which appeared in the education and hobbies category). I knew I couldn’t or maybe didn’t want to accomplish everything I wrote down, so I tried to see which were the ones I felt most strongly about. The ones I wrote up as weekly tasks will be scheduled into my calendar (something I vow to be better at…keeping schedules), making them more likely to get done.

This is the gift I give myself this year: I am setting myself up for success. The “easy” goals will allow me to feel I am accomplishing things; accomplishing them will give me the energy and keep me encouraged enough to tackle some of the harder goals. I think at the end of the year, I will feel more successful and more content.

The other thing I realized when I sat down to write my “summary” of my year in my journal was that I knew I had accomplished a lot of practical chores — thanks to monthly “to do” lists — but because I didn’t keep my lists, I didn’t remember what all those chores were. Again, this kept me from feeling successful. So…I decided to create a “to do ” book instead of just “to do” lists: a “chores” journal I guess you could call it. Now I can write my list weekly, move anything that doesn’t get done to the next page (the next week) and have a record of what I accomplished to look back on at the end of the year. I will be giving myself “homework” assignments for the week.

This may seem like a waste of time and overdoing things, but I think it will teach me a lot about myself: what things do I procrastinate on? Which things do I find are easy for me, and which do I find difficult? Also, maybe I will find that some of the things I tell myself I want to do, just aren’t really important or maybe I have some “fear” issues to overcome. These thoughts lead me to share one of my favorite Joan Didion quotes:

“I write entirely to find out what I’m thinking, what I’m looking at, what I see and what it means. What I want and what I fear.”
Joan Didion

Happy New Year to all…may you feel it is a successful and productive one!

 

 



{November 29, 2014}   Using Genealogy to Find Yourself

My Grandfather with his Sisters

My Grandfather with his Sisters

I love when the pieces fit. I started this post weeks ago but life got in the way and I was too busy to finish it. Then last week the writing prompt was “Digging for Roots,” and I said, well, that’s a sign I need to finish the genealogy post. The final piece was put in place as I was reading “The Law of Happiness” by Dr. Henry Cloud and he discussed the “mathematics of happiness.” I knew I had to finish this blog post.

The last few years I have been on a journey to find myself. This journey has required a lot of “textbooks”: Simple Abundance: A Daybook of Comfort and Joy by Sarah Ban Breathnach and The Gifts of Imperfection by Brene Brown, just to name a couple of my favorites. But the farther along in the journey I go, the more I am finding genealogy an essential piece of the puzzle.

This was confirmed for me as I read Dr. Cloud’s book. In the section on “The Mathematical Makeup of Happiness,” he breaks down the origins of happiness into percentages:

…at any given moment, circumstances may be contributing about 10 percent or so to your happiness….The next factor comes from your internal makeup, which is probably composed of genetic, temperament, and constitutional factors. This seems to account for about 50 percent of your happiness level….the rest of what goes into your happiness comes from things that are directly under your control: your behaviors, thoughts, and intentional practices in your life.

(In case you are interested, Dr. Cloud cites Sonja Lyubomirsky’s paper and book on “The How of Happiness.”) Of course, both Dr. Cloud and Ms. Lyubomirsky are focusing on the 40% under our control and looking at it as a positive finding. Of course, me being me — someone whose genetic makeup is to be a “glass-half-empty” person (or as my friends used to say, “every silver lining has a cloud” person) — I jump right on the statement that there is only 40% (or less than half) under my control. Also, I jump back to the 50% genetics…so my instincts in wanting to learn about my genetics seems to be on the mark.

I can blame some of my nature on genetics; there is mental illness and depression in my blood. But I also feel there is a “karma” of sorts flowing there. Like a story that hasn’t ended and needs to be played out. This is the thought process behind this first draft poem I wrote:

 

My relatives clamor for acknowledgment; 

my blood teems with their unmet dreams,

but I am a dead end.

The buck stops here.

 

My grandfather, who died at thirty-six,

wrote of the first World War

in tiny notebooks of concise script.

He filled letters with sketches, inspired by Paris,

he dreamed of art school, but never got there;

Perhaps it is from him I got the eyes squinting for beauty

that none of my siblings have,

covered by the glasses they don’t need.

 

My seemingly self-reliant, resilient grandmother,

Who married over and over, looking for the care

no one knew she needed, or the cure for the loneliness

no knew she had; she can no longer tell me

if after 102 years, and four husbands

she ever found it, but I suspect not.

 

My other grandmother did:

on her second try she found a kind man

who thought her as beautiful as her own father did;

she had the hats to prove it.

How she loved style and fashion,

but she lived with him in a little house set back from the road

in a tiny town, where she hermited herself after he died.

 

My grandmother’s first husband,

my blood grandfather, I know nothing of him.

He is the mystery ingredient,

the wild card, a scapegoat for the intangibles.

My father thought him dead for most of his life,

believing my grandmother’s well-intentioned lie —

her wave of a pair of scissors over photos made him disappear —

He died at mid-life with a new wife,

and no contact or acknowledgement by his only child,

or grandchildren.

Which leads to me, some combination,

unable to pass the buck to another generation.

They want resolution here and now, from me:

I feel all their pain,

but I am a dead end.

But now I am determined to learn more: understand the why’s of who I am on the road to the how’s of finding out how to be the best version of me. I may not be able to extend the dead-end with asphalt, but I can cut a path through the forest and build myself a cabin in the woods.



{November 5, 2014}   Talking to Ourselves

cartoon

Talking to Yourself

I have a confession to make: I talk to myself…a lot. I have done so since I was a child when my brother would harass me with his “talking to yourself” song and make me feel bad (and how many times in my life did people give me weird looks and tell me I was crazy…more times than I can count). But the reason I am able to confess this in such a public way now is because I’m not ashamed of it anymore. Now I realize how many people do it…a lot.

This thought struck me yesterday as I listened to a coworker: a lovely woman who I don’t think is crazy at all. And suddenly I became aware that many people I work with chatter away to themselves all day. I hear them as they use the copy machine, which is near my cube, and I listen to the mumblings that float over the walls. Is it more prevalent now than when I was young or am I just noticing it because of close working conditions? Is it an age thing? (Most of the people in question are over 40.) I’m not sure I know the answer to that, but I allowed myself to observe some of the functions this conversation seemed to provide for my coworkers (and myself):

  • We are helping ourselves get through a task (speaking the steps helps us to be involved in what we are doing). For myself, I find this especially helpful when I am doing something really boring when my mind tends to wander. It keeps me in the moment.
  • We are reminding ourselves of things. When I am interrupted, sometimes I forget that I had a planned list of things to do. “After I finish copying this material I need to put this on Joe’s desk and then stop at Kelly’s and pick up that file from her before I go to the bathroom on the way back to my desk…”
  • We “blow off steam” after an encounter with someone. “Boy, was that customer rude!” or “What a jerk!” It helps us get rid of frustration.
  • We are trying to make our own fun and keep ourselves entertained. I love hearing the little asides people mumble about conversations going on over the cube walls. They say it soft enough to not seem like they are participating in the conversation…and yet, loud enough that some people can hear and appreciate the comment.
  • Lastly, I think it relieves loneliness. Most workplaces discourage stopping by someone’s cube to tell them about an encounter that didn’t go well (or did); we are all supposed to keep our minds on our work and not socialize. And let’s face it, going to lunch with people who all sit silently around a table and look at their phones is not very satisfying social interaction.

So after writing all this I did a search and came up with this article. I guess I forgot that function of encouragement. That’s a big one.

Since it is now “okay” to talk to myself, I can at least make it work for me by making it positive instead of negative. Heck, maybe if someone overhears me congratulating myself they may join in.

All I know is that the constant chatter of people around me reminds me that I am not alone and I find it comforting.

What about you readers? Do you talk to yourself?




Stone wall

Walls Take Time to Build…and Dismantle

I am now calling myself a recovering writer, and I have photography to thank for it, but I’ll get to that later. Recovering from what you might ask? I have had a way-of-life-threatening case of writer’s block, resulting in my own personal Great Wall of China! The existence of Writer’s Block has been a topic on discussion boards and blogs for as long as they have been around…some people don’t believe the phenomenon exists. I think it does exist for some people and not for others. Some people see angels or ghosts, and some people don’t. I believe in writer’s block because I have unfortunately experienced it.

My wall has been truly impressive: years and years of perfectionism and expectations piled on top of each other, heavy and solid, leaving me unable to pick up my pen, no longer able to put words to my thoughts. Like the Tin Man, I became frozen in place.  My great wall was the physical manifestation of “missed opportunities,” a monument to my failure. Somehow I felt that building this monument was preferable to being mediocre; I suppose it gave me a “heroic” stature in my own mind. And yet… it was making me miserable not to write because it was clearly a passion or I wouldn’t have written all that I have written since a pen or pencil was put into my hand.  I couldn’t seem to resolve this problem. But then…I just walked away for a while; I did something I wanted to do instead of what I felt compelled to do. And now I hear the Ronald Reagan “presidential” voice in my head saying that it is time to “tear down that wall”! And I am seeing some daylight; I pulled out an old poem the other day and worked on it. I sat down to write this post, and not just “toss something out there.”  Thus, the title of “recovering writer.”  Now for the benefit of those readers who may be building their own wall, let me get to the “how” part. Read the rest of this entry »




Forgive me my absence. Being “time-challenged” I tend to be late for events, but working two jobs tends to make time fly in a broader way…fall already???

I had a weekend off from job number 2 and decided to take a couple days off from job number 1 and have a party! (Not really, just relax a bit.)

So I came home Friday night at the start of my four days of bliss to…a water leak in my apartment — sopping wet ceiling tiles on the floor of my closet. REALLY???

My landlady came over with her maintenance guy (another tenant) and I began removing things from my one and only packed closet to the living room: the only place I had any space. As I discovered wet journals and photo albums, I felt my stomach turn over…why does it have to be the things that I can’t replace?

We determined that there was some kind of invisible water buildup that had expended itself; there didn’t seem to be anything still leaking. Also, thank goodness it was NOT toilet water from the upstairs apartment. (This had happened before to tenants before me!) So…that was BLESSING NUMBER 1.

As I went through the wet journals, I discovered that many of those that were soaked were unused or partially used ones; only two of the wet books were actually filled with my life’s story. Most of the dripping papers were typed and printed poems, not penned material. Also, the small stack of literary publications that contained my published poetry were completely dry and undamaged…BLESSING NUMBER 2.

I was a bit teary about the photos, so my landlady offered to stay and help me get the photos out of the plastic-pocketed albums so they could dry out and be salvaged at least for scanning. It turned out only 4 albums were soaked; the rest were dry…BLESSING NUMBER 3.

We talked about people who lose everything in hurricanes and fires as we sat on the floor and cut open and discarded the photo album plastic pages. Surrounded by pictures, we talked about life in general, what we had been through, and what we were grateful about. My landlady joked as she held up some of the photos and asked me about them. “Everybody has these same photos,” she said, “Backyard barbecues, weddings, and scenery.”

At 11:00 pm, with barely a path to walk in the living roon, we finished the salvation project.

photos on floor

Photos, Photos Everywhere

Photos

A path through the photos

The next morning as I gathered up the curled photos and tried to group them by subject or timeframe to put them in shoeboxes, I found myself thinking about what I learned from the experience. I found that some pictures were generic…without the context of the other pictures from each book, where was this tree? This seashore? This sunset? Did I really need these? As part of an overall impression of a place or a trip or a moment in time, they were important, but as pictures on their own, what did they tell me?

There’s always a positive takeaway from moments like these, if you look for it. It’s just another step on the downsizing journey to learning what is important. It’s just…life.



{June 11, 2014}   Working through a Migraine

puddle with pollen

Pollen Murking up the Puddles

I had a rough day at work yesterday; the thunderstorms and weather change brought on a migraine at a busy time. My stress at being unable to control what is happening to me exacerbates it, but it is hard to calm myself down. I know no one on the outside knows what is happening inside my head; I fear they think I am stupid when I can’t get things right. Can anyone relate?

This poem is what I got out of a bad day.

Migraine

When it comes, the torture begins:

I am plunged under water and

struggle to do the simplest thing –

Breath, hold on –

as the numbers and words enter

my whooshing ears,

they are dashed around

inside my head,

flipped over against

the rocks of pain over my eyes;

behind them, I mentally write white

upon a black backdrop

so I can see what I hear,

try to send them in a slow-motion rush

through my hands, through my pen,

backwards like a photo negative,

Black on white –

Make sense, I pray,

please

make sense,

hang on

until you are released

and the water recedes.



{April 30, 2014}   A Life of Irony

I am always reading personal development and inspirational blogs and books. I’ve tried meditation, visualization, and spirituality, and still I can’t figure out what my life’s purpose is and what I was meant to do. (PLEASE…THIS STATEMENT IS NOT AN INVITATION TO BLOGGERS OUT THERE WHO WANT ME TO JOIN THEIR PYRAMID SCHEME OF MAKING MONEY BLOGGING! I DON’T BELIEVE IN IT SO DON’T TRY TO HOOK ME.)

To bring God into it, I continue to be baffled by what he wants from me, I seem to be deaf to his messages in my life. My proof of this? My life is always full of irony. The moment I finally, after an agonizingly long time, make a decision, I am faced with an ironic response. Or my timing is off…things just don’t seem to work out.

Barricades

Barricades

My proof in point today: My to-do list had included the task — “make business cards” — for quite a while. My purpose was to use them as a tool to pick up freelance editorial work. But I wasn’t getting around to it. I finally decided to enlist the help of a friend’s daughter who is studying graphic design: good practice for her and assistance for me. On the front of the card I would advertise my services and on the back, my blogs. I finally spent the money and got them printed a couple of weeks ago.

And what happened in the meantime? One of the printers near me where I had planned to drop off a card and resume just laid off a large number of people. I was told by someone who works there…don’t bother…they won’t want your services…no work. I have been so busy working extra hours at my part-time job for the last month, as well as working on a freelance editing job and another part-time job, I have barely been able to visit my blogging community or produce blog posts. Result? Dead blog. JUST WHEN I PRINTED MY CARDS TO ADVERTISE. And now, a full-time job offer is on the table after I have been scrambling to pay my bills for a while…Although the job doesn’t involve what I THINK my talents are, I feel like I have to take it for financial stability.

What’s the message my readers? Is God telling me to give up my dreams and passion because it is not part of his plan for me or is he testing me? Based on the reading I have done, if you are following the path you are meant to follow, it will be smooth and easy. It won’t feel like constant barricades are being placed in your path. Or have I got that wrong?

I know that some of you manage to work full-time and still produce blog posts, but that doesn’t seem to be something I’m able to do. Is God it making a correction to my path or am I deluded as to what my talents are and what my purpose is?

I will move forward with the hope that there is a future I can’t foresee. In the meantime, I will try to post when I can. I’ve put 4 years into this…what’s another barricade?




How would I know, you might ask? Observation? Imagination?

I have mentioned before that I have six brothers and NO sisters. The older I get, the more I feel this as an empty hole in my life. You know how things come in threes? Easter Sunday three things made me consider the value of sisters.

Sisters

Sisters

In the morning I was going through yet another box of old photos at my mother’s house. The photos in the box I was going through belonged to my grandmother and great aunt. I had never seen many of them before, and they showed my grandmother and her sisters when they were in their twenties: on vacation, joking around and dressing up for Halloween (they are a bit older in this photo). There were smiles all around. Very different from the elderly women I remember with the weight of years on them. Looking at the photos, the closeness and the camaraderie came through. The photos made me smile and made me miss my great-aunts. Well…the great-aunts that I never got to know.

After dinner with my family, I went to the home of a friend that I call my “pseudo-sister.” We have known each other for 37 years, since we were 18 years old. When I walked in, her mother and her mother’s sisters, all in their 70’s, were singing together and recording it on someone’s iphone. They were laughing and, admittedly a little tipsy. It really made me smile. One of them had come up with an old photo from when they were girls, copied it, and gifted it to the others in a little Easter basket. They were all clearly enjoying the day despite whatever health problems they have.

After they left, when my friend and I were alone, we talked about our youth. Somehow the conversation turned to Julianne Phillips, the ex-wife of Bruce Springsteen. I mentioned the show she starred in: “Sisters.” It turned out my friend had never seen it! (We’re always learning new things about each other.) I told her how I used to watch it faithfully. I thought about that as I drove home. Did I watch the show to see what having sisters was like because I felt I missed it?

I think the real-life I observed in my grandmother’s photos, the moments between my friend’s Mom and her sisters were probably more realistic than the TV show, but perhaps not? Sisters steal each others’ clothes, and boyfriends too in a not-so-perfect world. And they snitch on you and tease you just like brothers…(though not in this clip)

The Daily Post had a topic the other day: what’s on your bucket list? I couldn’t write about it, because I haven’t made one. I don’t allow myself to want trips or things that I’ll never have the money to buy. What I want to experience before I leave this earth are not places to see or things to do — they are feelings that I want to feel. I can’t change the fact that I don’t have blood sisters. But I am grateful to have my pseudo-sister. And I can continue to cultivate new relationships and continue to search for soul-sisters…

Now that’s what’s on my bucket list.




Brene Brown, The Gifts of Imperfection

Imperfection

 

Does this happen to you? Books seem to appear just when you need them? And they all tie together?

A co-worker dropped this off at my cubicle with the caveat: “My friend loved this book and gave it to me…it didn’t do anything for me, but I thought you might like it…if you don’t, pass it on.”

I will admit that my co-worker and I have had book discussions, so she has some idea about what books I like to read, but…I REALLY needed to read this book…NOW.

I have been struggling to embrace and accept my imperfections for a while (including the blurry photo at the left, which I took several times. I figured as long as you can see it and read it…it doesn’t have to be PERFECT). It fulfills its purpose as is.

I recently had a get-together with some wonderful supportive friends who love me and see me as gifted, talented and creative. I read some poems for them, including one I had recently, with trepidation, brought to a workshop. I was sharing with them some of the comments (which actually were mostly good and quite helpful). I told them “when it was finished” I was going to submit it. They thought it was fine the way it was. We laughed about how nothing was ever “finished” for me. I now know why: I believe that there is ONE thing I will create that will be THE thing that will prove my worthiness…if I keep working at it and never finish it…then the magical piece of work might still exist (like believing in Santa Claus…or the Elusive Comic Book!) I guess it is my way of believing life can change overnight. Though this appears to happen to some people, it is for the most part, not true. It certainly is not something I can will or force to happen. Life happens when you live it.

This book helped me understand why I can’t create a body of work. Perfectionism is a big, bad monster for me. I am “hustling” for my worthiness as Brene Brown says in her book. (I LOVE this phrase…I picture myself walking the streets, begging people to appreciate me.)

The book is broken into ten guideposts that represent ways of thinking you need to let go of in order to embrace your imperfection and believe in your own worthiness. Guidepost #2 is “Cultivating Self-Compassion: Letting Go of Perfectionism”.

And my favorite (V8…knock in the head) moment while I was reading the book was when the author wrote, “I think everyone should read Paulo Coelho’s The Alchemist — I try to read it at least once a year. It’s a powerful way of seeing the connections between our gifts, our spirituality, and our work…and how they come together to create meaning in our lives.” WHAT?! I recently wrote a blog about that book!

I just love when the dots connect!

BTW…I submitted the poem last week…with some of the workshop suggestions. 😀



et cetera
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