Choice Is King – My New Years Post 2017

 

It’s a New Year. I wonder how many articles, blogs or puff pieces have started with those four words. It is true none the less and here we are fatter, thinner, richer, poorer, wiser or as the real case may be, dumber. What ever little New Years resolution we did or did not live up to, we have arrived at the beginning of one fresh, unspoiled, hopeful year and left that begging, harsh no good tramp of 2016 in our dust. This year will be the BEST. YEAR. EVER!

At least that’s our plans.

But as Judith Vorst helped Alexander discover in his ‘terrible, horrible, no good, very bad day”, life has a way of taking all your plans, looking at us dead in the eye as if to say, ” Oh THIS is your plan? Ha! You stupid, stupid girl (or preferred identity )…”. Then she crumples up all our plans and does a hat dance on top of our hard thought out goals. And life can do a pretty good hat dance too, she’s quite agile.

What are we left with as we stare longingly down at all our dreams laying broken on the ground? Our choices.

As good old Albus Dumbledore said to Harry in The Chamber of Secrets, “It is not our abilities that show what we truly are. It is our choices.” This statement seems contrite and very “easy for you to say” in the face of an uncertain future, joblessness, death of a friend, depression or anything that is less than a perfect life. We as humans have come to expect that nothing bad should happen. This is the future dammit! Long past are the days of famine and misfortune. We have dentists, doctors and take out Chinese food! We demand that life gives us the best and that we rise to the top like cream.

Dr. Seuss put it best in Oh The Places You’ll Go! A book that at any chance I get, I buy and give to small children, teenagers and adults alike. It is the best self help and life guidance you will ever get. He writes (excuse the long excerpt):

“You won’t lag behind, because you’ll have the speed.
You’ll pass the whole gang and you’ll soon take the lead.
Wherever you fly, you’ll be best of the best.
Wherever you go, you will top all the rest.

Except when you don’t.
Because, sometimes, you won’t.
I’m sorry to say so
but, sadly, it’s true
that Bang-ups
and Hang-ups
can happen to you.”

We live in an alternate reality called Facebook or Twitter or Instagram or even this here blog. We judge ourselves and our lives and how it should all be sailing by the people online. It doesn’t stop there, commercials and life styles of the rich and famous reinforce these thoughts. We are so surrounded by all of these perfect pictures of how life is supposed to go ( at least in our heads) that when we are thrown a curve ball or bite down on a lemon, we crumble.

Back to that Choice bit. We have a decision to make when life fails to live up to our expectations. We can shake our fists in the air, blaming the economy, the boss, the wife, the president, the parents, etc and so forth, No matter whose fault it is, if any is to be assigned, in the end it’s our fault if we choose to lay down and just grumble. Our other choice is to pull up our big girl panties and get on with it. That doesn’t mean we can’t grieve or get angry. It means to choose each day how much you are going to let a situation or failed resolve to affect the rest of your day. How much power will you give it? Some days will be harder, you will fail and that’s okay. You can start again the next day or even the next hour. The right choice isn’t always the easy ( or the most attractive, lucrative or fun)one.

I write these words to encourage anyone who is still reading  this and also to encourage myself. Like many of you, it’s been a hell of a year. I don’t think 2017 will be a magic elixir that will make 2016 seem worth it. I do believe that if I set my will and work hard towards my goals and choose each day what I’m going to give power to and how I will react, that my days will be better and I will be better for it, not just better but happier. Happiness isn’t a feeling, like love, it is a chosen path.

What ever your resolve this year, get thinner, establish a better routine, not eat so many muffins (me), if shit blows up, just remember to choose where to point that fan.

Be happier this year folks.

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Death, Beside Me.

1354     I believe everything is wrapped up and converges with one another. For example, I believe all of life is spiritual, that what I put out there is felt and reaches out beyond what I can see. I try to approach daily life with the awe and respect I believe it deserves. I also believe all of life is art. In everything I do, be it the decorations in my home, the way I dress, where I place a piercing on someone or what I cook and how it’s plated, I look at it aesthetically  and do my best to make it pretty and functional. And so, in all of this life I believe , is incorporated death. I have been fascinated with death since I was a young child. It started with my Great Grandfather dying. The church where the funeral was held was small and had basically two rooms, the sanctuary and a room directly connected to it that was for food and visiting. The room with food and visiting was where my Great Grandfather’s casket and body were. Everyone in this room was almost jovial, in contrast to this were the people in the sanctuary who were close to renting their clothes in a good old fashioned biblical way. It was such a stark contrast to me and it made me curious about this death. From that point on I loved anything to do with dead things. Egyptology was a big interest for me, mummies fascinated me and the Egyptians take on the after life was such a mysterious journey I wanted to learn more about. Myself being raised Christian, death was a very prevalent theme, after all the guy being worshipped was killed, nailed to a tree and died. Death surrounded me. I wasn’t fearful of it though, until one evening I watched a documentary on Nostradamus with my parents. I was probably 7 or 8 at the time, and the video largely revolved around his predictions and the fulfillment of them. One of his predictions was about the end of the world, which according to the professors in this documentary would be in 1995. That night, laying in bed, I did the math. I had between 8-9 years of life left. I thought of all the things I wanted to do and wouldn’t be able to accomplish, the people I loved and would never see again. However,  It wasn’t the dying part that was problematic for me, it was the time limit in which I had to accomplish all my goals. Now I’m 34 and there still isn’t enough time. My aspirations are huge, and the list just keeps getting bigger. I want to publish more writing, and get payed for it this time. I want to write a couple of children’s books. I want to hone my craft and provide the most bad ass piercings for the public. I want to go to Egypt, I want to be rich both in spirit and financially. I want to travel, more and more and more. I want to live closer to nature. I want to become more spiritually aware. With the death of my Dad, these wants and the fears of not completing them are starring at me like a rabid wolf, threatening to eat my spirit. I have felt the depression seep in and weigh on me, it’s like being under water, the pressure and the ache in your ears, it pulses and vibrates until finally you come up for air and have moments of clarity. I have found you have to seize these moments, and if it makes sense, to practice them, push against the weight and force your freedom. I know one day these clear blips will be longer and more stable. I am starting to become more accepting of death, though not entirely comfortable. Death is no longer a concept or word, but an understood reality. Death holds my hand , as he has since I was young,  he reminds me to push forward and work harder and to fight against the kind of sorrow and complacency that would trap me. My dad used to come in my Tattoo/Piercing shop on a weekly basis. I am still waiting for him to come in, I will always be waiting for him to come in and sit and talk about everything and nothing at all. His death has effected me and it should. Death should change you, it should cause you to look at everything. His death has made me aware of my own looming death. The legacy he left behind has begged of me  to answer the question of ‘What will I leave behind?’ I know some of the answer and I am developing the rest. I know one thing, I want make a difference in peoples lives, the way my dad did. And if that’s all I can do, then it’s enough. So, though Death is a robber and he stole someone very precious away from me,  he also has gifted much to me. He has caused me to pause and reflect. So to Death, Thank you. I’m still not too crazy about you and though I won’t be inviting you for tea, I am learning so very much from you.

The Deceiver ( A writing experiment of sorts )

It rained and stormed all night and into the morning. As cliche and over-written as it sounds, her mood did indeed match the rain as it drizzled and dropped outside on her balcony.

Her expectations had been dashed and through her eyes, she had been put aside in favor of a better time. In her heart she knew that they thought nothing of it. It wasn’t that her friends were unkind people, they were just people, ordinary people, living life the way they thought it should be lived. And she, the one who thought she lived by the credo of letting people be and live the way they should see fit, was now holding people hostage by her own moralistic code. It had made her bitter and angry.

When did she become such a selfish and hateful bitch? Her life had been easy in comparison to others. Maybe not as easy as richy-rich but pleasant enough. When did she let go of her free thinking and embrace the black tide of a cynical mind? Perhaps she never was that free in thought after all.

The lightbulb as it’s said, beamed. She was idealistic not genuine. She liked to think herself a poet, a lover of all and most of all a person who did not press her own theology or ideas of right living on others. But when it came down to brass tacks, she was as judgemental as a TV preacher. She gave people liberties in word only, in her mind she kept things tightly bound. She made snap judgements and allowed her emotions on the subject dictate to her how she should see things. If it made her angry, she decided that it wasn’t good and she was right. She never stepped back to see WHY it had made her upset.

And now, she was asking why. Now, she was beginning to understand herself.  It made her feel heavy and sad. That is a simple thing to say but it is the closest to how she felt. Maybe it should have made her feel very sad or horrible but instead it made her  just plain sad.

She had been deceived. And the deceiver came not as Lucifer, Jesus, Allah or any other religious figure-head that often takes blame for such things, it came robed in her skin. The deceiver was none other than herself.

 

 

“I myself am made entirely of flaws, stitched together with good intentions.”
— Augusten Burroughs

“Get Busy Living or Get Busy Dying” Stephen King

I have been pulling the pictures from my “past life” and looking at them with a fresh eye and discovering how they have made me who I am today and also how they have been instrumental in helping me at times to heal and other to get rid of common obstacles that will hold us back from living.

I struggled with the fear of death a lot as a young kid. Many people are afraid of death, for many different reasons. I remember watching a documentary on Nostradamus when I was 10. He predicted that the world would end in 1995. I was terrified. After all the man was right about Hitler…..and I had so much i wanted to do.

Now, I’m not comfortable with it, though I don’t think it’s human to be totally at peace, but I don’t lay in bed dreading my day of death. I owe this balance to my continuous exposure to people with AIDS, one of the main reasons I no longer fear death as I did.

The first time I ever met someone with AIDS I was about 10, maybe 11. I was spending the night at a friend’s house and her parents had company. At that point it was the early 90’s and AIDS was still very much a whisper, the only thing that seemed to be communicated about it was the fear and many times that fear was ignorant. So as my friend and I did dishes, she told me that the man who ate dinner with us that night had AIDS. I remember being fearful, knowing that is was a deadly disease.

When I was 13 we moved to New Orleans. After our move there, AIDS played a prominent part in my youth. From our neighbors to people I met through volunteer work, I met so many people who opened my eyes to life and to the tragedy of death.

My mother and I began volunteering at a place called The Lazarus House. It was hospice care set in a huge, old New Orleans Victorian  home, complete with courtyard. It was meant to be a sanctuary for people with AIDS and HIV. Some of the men and women came there to die and others came to get healthier. Some were teachers, some were regular joes and all were someone’s son or daughter.

During my two-year time there I did a number of things ranging from helping clean to sitting bedside with someone until they passed. Mostly however, we spent time visiting and talking with the residents there. I learned that one man named Daryl, was being proactive with AIDS by going around schools and speaking to the youth but also by volunteering there for after school programs. Then there were people like Lionel whose family had shut him out and treated him as badly as a dog with rabies. His mother had everything covered in plastic, she was so terrified she might contract the disease. Lionel was quiet, a bit socially awkward and a peaceful sort. He was very kind to me.

There were many others, Lynn a fried chicken fiend ( he loved that chicken from Popeye’s!)whose mind had been most affected. He became more and more like a child every week, which had its comical moments but when I think about the first day I met him to the last time I saw him, he had gone from speaking as an adult with life long experiences to relating much like my three-year old does. He was surrounded by people who loved him and supported him until he died. When I think of him, I don’t see him grey and morose but rather smiling and laughing with Popeye’s fried chicken near by.

And then, quite to the contrary, a woman my mother and I sat vigil with as she slowly passed, was utterly alone. She had pictures in her room of family but she was dying by herself. I don’t know why or what her story was but it was so sad that here she was at the end of all things and she had no one to help her. A couple of strangers were her only companions.

Lastly, I met a man named David, whom I ended up working with at a small postal emporium in the French Quarter. We worked together for two years and in that period, he was at death’s door many times but he always managed to bounce back. My husband and I moved and for the last 10 years David continued to pop in and out of my life, by little run ins and short hellos. He died a year and a half ago. And with him, a chapter of my life also.  He was the final tie to my life at The Lazarus House.

Living in New Orleans and volunteering at the hospice there, made me face one of my greatest fears. Death was tangible. Something I could reach out and grab. It lived in the people I met there, biding its time, waiting and slowly destroying the person’s body but I am glad that it didn’t destroy the spirit.

But then, death is in all of us, waiting with his pocket watch and cycle, taking liberties with our body by way of age and inherited health problems and sometimes by our own hand.

When I was 17 I traveled to Thailand. I was doing some more volunteer work at an orphanage in Bangkok for children born of HIV positive prostitutes or the homeless. The kids were also all positive for the deadly disease. They ranged in age from a few years old to a few days old.

I held a newborn. She was very thin and boney and her breathing was raspy and shallow. Meanwhile the other children, mostly toddlers, played at my feet and around the room. They all had big smiles and ran around like any other normal child. Some were obviously more sick than others but they were happy. Some after a few weeks of being in the care of the orphange, miraculously, no longer tested HIV positive. That’s one I can’t explain and I don’t care to try, the people who ran the orphanage said that the positive touch and love from others is what they believed had cured them. There was no scientific explanation.

It remains one of my top 5 experiences of my life. And so does Lazarus House and the people i met there. I find it a bit funny that 2 of my top 5 experiences, revolve around the most feared AIDS and HIV. It is this disease though, that showed me how strong we can be when the odds are so played against us, we can’t move. It showed me the human spirit and how resilient it can be.

Death is just a beggar at the door. He will take us all somehow, someway. Watching how people like David and Daryl and the children in Thailand dealt in grace with the dark subject, convinced me that I have far better things to do than worry about Deaths calendar.

We forget we are even living. Bills, arguments, petty grievances, tv,, all of these things can distract us from living. Life has shown me, it is possible to be living yet dead and as I observed at The Lazarus House, it is also possible to be physically dying but have more life than most of the people sitting at your side while riding the bus.

I would rather walk this world actively alive than to get to the end of it and realize I was actually half dead for most of it.

I don’t have this mastery down yet and perhaps I won’t get it perfected but I will sure as hell try.

The 8 Month Itch (Part 2 of Whiskey, The 8 Month Itch and The End of The World)

I looked at a house this morning. I walked through it and made mental notes of things I would change and walls I would knock out and areas where new walls would be built. My tongue however, was tied. I couldn’t even ask commonsense questions. Thank god for my two friends Ed and Matt who knew what to ask and say.

I came home and felt as I have felt after every house I have ever looked into buying, nervous. Antsy. Anxious. Abandon Ship! Abandon Ship!

I, most of my life, have traveled. Before I was six I lived in New England, Florida (2 different cities), Indiana and Illinois. I stayed in Illinois 6 years when we moved to texas where we branched out and traveled the States, then onto  Mexico, London and Israel. We finally settled in New Orleans the year I turned 14, traveling a couple of times a year to Illinois. When I was 16 I went to Florida on my own to school and then traveled to Thailand for a month and then around the states for another month. I came back to Nola got married, had a daughter a year later and then moved to Illinois, back to Nola, to Florida, to Virginia, to Illinois again, to South Carolina, back to New Orleans and now back to Illinois.

As you can see, traveling is very much a part of me.The idea of owning something makes feel chained, though I know mentally it would help me establish roots for my kids and it would give me opportunities to provide better for my them and in time it would allow me to travel, but from a home base, giving me a place to always come “home” to. Not to mention the relief of my friends who though mostly do not understand, still love and want the best for us.

I don’t know if we’ll buy this house but we are looking at it a second time. Yes, I am a bit excited and yes, that excitement is mixed with nausea. I suppose it might be equated to getting married, though I never felt that way when I married my husband. It was eerily natural.

My hope is this, with time the 8 month itch I get every time I am somewhere more than 8 months, will soon fade,disappear and that laying roots will feel as natural as my choice to marry my lovely husband.

Until then I will still my feet and look forward.

The Uncomfortable Year of 2012 or Going Outside the Comfort Zone

I am going outside my comfort zone this year. I decided that this would be the year I challenge myself in ways that are uncomfortable. I started this in 2011 by taking up running. I hated running. It was one excercise I didn’t understand but then the opportunity for a free treadmill came my way and I couldn’t refuse. Afterall, I was used to walking a couple of miles a day and since moving to Illinois, I am lucky to walk a few blocks a day. I didn’t want to lose this form of exercise nor my ability to walk a couple of miles without feeling winded.

So I began my stride. I walk quite fast. Often times my husband, when we are walking outside, will tell me to slow down. I don’t like to slow down but I do for the sake of him. My kids, well they have learned to keep pace. I wander though. Somewhere half way through a mile on the treadmill I had the random thought of, “Hey I should try a light jog, just to switch it up”. Now this thought was not so random really. Recently my young cousin  ran an 8 minute mile. I thought this was great but then I thought, why can’t I? Thus began my journey on pulling myself out of the comfort zone and into new territory. She inspired me to try, though she may not know it, she did. I’m about 20 years her senior and I refuse to say I can’t do something because, ” I’m getting older and I have arthritis in my hips and yada yada yada.” It just sounds like one big excuse (speaking for myself).

It wasn’t long before I was doing a 10 minute mile and I am slowly getting closer to my goal. I am not planning on running a marathon (though that might be a nice challenge), through this however, I came to the realization that a stagnant life is no life at all. I must stir the pot, challenge myself and go beyond what I think I am capable of.

I am currently reading “Born To Run” by Christopher McDougall. A great race is the back drop of this book and in this race you face a lot of obstacles. We aren’t talking flat roads and city streets. We are talking big hills and rocks, pushing your body to the extreme. In this book the author talks about Aron Ralston, a rock climber who cut off his own hand when it was pinned by a boulder. Anyways Aron, after crossing the finish said, “You don’t have to be fast, but you’d better be fearless.”

What great words to inspire us to go outside our comfort zone, to dig deep and see just what we are made of. This may come in the form of a marathon for you or it may be as simple as getting up early to paint or do something you have thought about doing but have told yourself you wouldn’t be good at. For me, it mixing in some horror in my writing and continuing without giving up, to write the book I began. Whether anyone reads it, isn’t my concern (though that would be nice), my focus lies in the ‘doing’ of it, not the dreaming. It’s about doing something that stretches me as a person. And as Aron Ralston said, we do not have to be speedy, we can take our time but we have to willing to try very hard and with all that is in us and then some.

One of my art books states that a person who says they can’t draw a straight line, has never taken the time to realize that in art, there are no straight lines. If we drop our suppositions, we can do more than we think. We can reach further than our arms seem to be able to reach.But we have to do it. Talking gets you nowhere.

So to all of those starting new projects, don’t give up, push yourself more and more and soon you’ll look back and realize how far you have gone and be proud that it was through your efforts that you came to be where you are.

 

 

“Hell, there are no rules here – we’re trying to accomplish something. ” Thomas Edison

Life takes us by surprise. One minute you are sure,the next questioning. One day you are young, you blink and you have more lines than a road map. Each day offers some of the sameness we have grown accustomed to and in it, it mixes a bit of new road.

In the last year I have experienced a lot of changes. A fire threatened my home, I moved to a new state and a new part of the country, I started a new job, I made new friends and I lost one in the process. Change happens and we either roll with it or we get rolled over, either way we get a bit of bruising and keeping our goals in mind helps to make the beating worth while.

Having children helps to remind me that I want to be an example for them. I don’t want my kids to lay down in the face of adversity, but rather rise above it and become victorious. My daughter and I had a long talk about failure recently. I told her that real failure was not trying your best. It is important to know that we will fall short in life even when we try our hardest, but if we really put our best foot forward we can count it successful, even if we do not accomplish what we wanted right then. We perhaps learned how not to do something, or maybe we met a challenge we will have to keep working on. Like Edison said when he discovered 1,000 ways NOT to build a light bulb,

“If I find 10,000 ways something won’t work, I haven’t failed. I am not discouraged, because every wrong attempt discarded is another step forward.”

Learning from our “failures” can be the best step towards success. In the past I have laid down and given into the wariness so I can attest that fighting for something that you want, in the end, brings you more rest than giving up or in ever will.

So I hope today I can continue to pass that on to my kids and that tomorrow will bring an even greater stride towards the wanted future.

May your wanted future be ever in your sights.