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.

Goals vs Systems As It Applies to Grief

I read an interesting article in Entrepreneur on The advantage of focusing on your system to accomplish something as opposed to focusing on your goal. In other words, and as explained by the author of this article, James Clear, if you are a writer, you commit to writing X amount of days for X amount of time until your book is finished. The idea being that if you have a solid system in place, your goal will happen. Alternately, if you focus only on your goal, and you do not have a good working system, your goal may happen but what then? You have no system for maintaining it.  This creates the yo-yo effects often seen in a poorly executed weight loss fad. As James Clear puts it in his article, “every time we set a goal, we try to do it. We try to plan out where we will be and when we will make it there. We try to predict how quickly we can make progress, even though we have no idea what circumstances or situations will arise along the way.” If we have a good system in place we can adapt more easily to circumstances beyond our control, otherwise we are shooting blindly, hoping we hit the mark.

As I read James Clear’s article, I thought about my own business. Being a business owner with no real schooling, has been challenging. Luckily, I have a very take charge approach and simply put, I can’t fail. This is not a “I can’t fail because I’m that sure I’m winning” kind of statement but rather a ” I can’t fail because my family needs to eat” statement. I have two kids, two cats, one dog, one turtle and one amazing man who works along side of me and who shares this ownership in business,  I don’t want to let down the team.

Thinking of of my business and my set system, I also couldn’t help but think of the grief myself and my family were and are going through with the sudden loss of my Dad. With him being gone 4 months, I can’t help but feel that I should be ‘over’ some aspects of this mourning. Of course, each one of us is grieving in their own way and are dealing with different issues created by my dad’s physical presence no longer being here. The more I speak to my mother, who is heartbroken the most, I am reminded how much she wants to ‘get there’, to that goal, that place of peace, of knowing that even though Dad’s not here, things will be fine and life will be happy again.

This brings me to the question of, How does one have a system in a time of grief?

For me, though my dad’s death was unexpected and at times I still come to tears and my thoughts go to the ‘should have’s’, I know I must focus forward and so I do. My system that is already in place has become my system for getting through this mourning.  But it’s easier for me. I have, as I pointed out above, kids, pets, a business and a husband who is counting on me to push through this. So, I do and because I am forced to, by my own encouragement and by the encouragement of my spouse and friends,  the goal seems closer. I am back to my system, my daily routine, setting things in place that need to be, moving things along that have to stay in motion and drinking copious amounts of coffee when I’m zonkered.

For someone like my mom, the spouse, who has no kids at home and who’s life revolved around my fathers, and his life around hers, the world seems empty and the system has utterly shattered. She is faced not just with the loss of her husband but also with the loss of her system. THEY had goals. THEY had dreams. THEY had things they were going to do. THEY had a system to achieve the goals. Now THEY is only a she.  My mom is now facing finding a new system just for herself. Her goal? I am unsure completely, you would have to ask her but if I were to guess, perhaps, contentment and joy in this life without my dad, and to come into her own and find herself after years of my dad being apart of who she is. Being married to someone for over 40 years, you tend to share a bit of them in you and they get a bit of you in them. My husband and I have been married only 15 years, and it is hard to imagine a daily routine where he isn’t there, even if he’s just silently sitting in his armchair watching Fraiser. It’s like you trade pieces of yourself. Slowly the two do in fact, become one. Even after the death of a spouse, they remain a bit of who you are. So again, how do you build a system when half of you is missing and you can not go back to the old way of things?

The temptation in grief is to completely alter your view in life and escape. This comes through the urge to change states, hair color, cars, philosophies etc. For me this alteration manifested in my desire to throw away every problem I had with people, hug them and say ‘let’s be friends’. I wanted to live in peace, because after all, god dammit, wasn’t life too short? (Que the butterflies and easy listening music) The truth is, as much as that seems great, life is life and we have to deal with everything that comes our way. As much as I want to throw away the problems, that fact is, they are still there and will be no matter what philosophy I apply to them or where I go. Perhaps, there is a balance to be struck, I can adjust my attitude and the way I deal with issues, but I can’t deny or forget that a problem exists simply because I want to escape or that I find this Utopian idea  of “why can’t we all just get along’ inviting.  So, I have to adjust and make this adjustment a part of my day to day system of dealing with my grief. It’s small, it’s not a huge leap but it is a change and after someone dies, the need, desire and lust for change is so overwhelming and it hits us all in so many different ways and to varying degrees of urgency.

So, once again I ask, How do we develop a system as it pertains to grief? The honest answer? For you, I don’t know. For my Mom? I don’t know. For me? I have an inkling of an idea but…..I don’t know. Maybe the system is found in the simple, monotonous and the mundane. Perhaps the system is found in the daily rising for coffee, the walk outside, the nightly glass of wine. That seems like a start. Then small changes incorporated, the boxing up of memories, the letting go of personal items, getting involved in a group that watches birds or goes hiking or just gets together for a drink a couple times a month. One thing I think I know, is that you have to push when you don’t want to. It’s uncomfortable and it hurts like hell, partially because you’d rather stay in this sad and angry state, there’s something satisfying in it, but also because moving forward feels like you are leaving your loved one behind, suspended in space and time. On the day before my Dad’s ‘Celebration of Life’, I didn’t want to get out of bed. I just wanted to lay there, covered up. My husband made me get out of bed. It seemed cruel and I yelled at him, telling him he was being insensitive. He looked at me and said gently something along the lines of, “Maggie, Your dad is dead. But the kids and I are here, and we can’t let this house fall apart.” I hate it when he’s right. That day, my new system began. Plans to move forward, how I was going to tackle the days when my grief seemed overwhelming. My goal isn’t so much a thought to me right now, as it is something there waiting for me along the line of my system. I say along the line, because really after the goal is met the system stays in place to help make way for another goal and then another. New things will be added to the system, some taken away to suit different needs. t’s about personal progress not attaining something. In this situation, it’s about dealing with grief in a healthy way and not letting it close me in the dark. It’s about realizing that carrying a corpse isn’t honoring my father, but living and progressing is. It’s about showing my children how to grieve, not properly but completely and come through stronger, more loving and happier. It’s about carrying my memories and giving them life again by removing them from the past and using their knowledge to fuel the future.

The system for grief is much more complicated, the lines are very blurry, and it’s different for everyone. Yet even when we don’t feel like we are making progress, we are.

I’ll end with some thing my Mother-In-Law told me once. After speaking to her about something i was going through, She told me in her Georgia accent, ” You take the time you need and you go in a room and you scream and cry, but when you come out of that room, you don’t think about it, it’s over. You have to move on. If you don’t then it ( your anger, a person etc) wins” . I think this is wise, in Grief we have to do this many times, but just as the screaming and crying is part of the healing so is picking ourselves up off that bed, opening the door, walking through it and then closing it behind us. If we don’t then the grief wins. This small piece of advice given in an entirely different situation is now part of my system, which will get me to and help me beyond my goal.

O Happy Day

I have a cup of coffee, a cigar, red beans and rice cooking on the stove, it’s raining and I have two children otherwise peacefully occupied. This is aperfect moment to blog.

While I had intended on writing on another topic all together from the one I am about to lay down on this here computer, what I have chosen is more pertinent for today I think. At least for ‘my’ today.

I woke up to coffee made, oatmeal made and my daughter with a card in hand. She notified me that it was ‘Mom Relax Day’. Now for those of you rushing to your calenders let me be the first to tell you, this holiday does not exist. My daughter made it up. She awoke earlier than I and decided to do this. It could have been a well layed plan to side track me from her regular daily school studies or it could have been that she was just trying to be very kind and helpful. For whatever reason it was, it worked. Instead of our daily routine, we skipped school and ran errands and then came home to bake cookies and make coffee, then we relaxed.

Mentally it has been a difficult week for me, battling things around me and worrying about circumstances beyond my control. My very stoic belief in not dictating the things outside my realm of control has failed me and I found myself focusing on all the shit, rather than on the big picture.

While out running errands with my children, my daughter said she couldn’t wait to be an adult because it seemed like so much fun. Ha! I thought. Instead of laughing I said that she needed to enjoy her moments as a 10 year old and not focus on being older because we never get back a day in our life. Today is lived, tommorrow will be lived and in 2 days time, both will be over with, never to be recaptured, so we need to be happy where we are.

As I spoke these words, I realized what a hypocrite I was being, so  I chose to get over my self and my feelings and emotions and live the day with happiness, in-spite of all the crappy things that can try to infiltrate our lives with their saccharin ways.We  bought cookie making things and we came home and I let my worries drop by the way side. It is not easily done, especially when you still have to deal with reality, you can not push it aside or forget about it. That is no reason, however, that you can’t have a cookie and enjoy what you have. Once the emotions are properly assigned, have a good time and deal with things when they come.

My Grandma Seibert said once when she was very young ” I can’t walk for all the damn flowers.” Sometimes life eats us up so much that we focus on all the small things in our way and we deny ourselves the beauty of the field before us. It’s the same idea of not being able to see the forest for the trees.

Though my worries will still be there, I will not allow myself to be so hung up in them that it takes away the joy of being with my kids every day, having the privilege to live the way I do and the opportunity to be more.

So yes dear daughter, being adult can be fun, if we only approach it wisely and if we just let it. No worry is big enough to take away the happiness that is your home and family.

Wishing all a happy day.

On becoming Cynical.

Don’t Let Us Get Sick by Warren Zevon

Don’t let us get sick
Don’t let us get old
Don’t let us get stupid, all right?
Just make us be brave
And make us play nice
And let us be together tonight

The sky was on fire
When I walked to the mill
To take up the slack in the line
I thought of my friends
And the troubles they’ve had
To keep me from thinking of mine

Don’t let us get sick
Don’t let us get old
Don’t let us get stupid, all right?
Just make us be brave
And make us play nice
And let us be together tonight

The moon has a face
And it smiles on the lake
And causes the ripples in Time
I’m lucky to be here
With someone I like
Who maketh my spirit to shine

Don’t let us get sick
Don’t let us get old
Don’t let us get stupid, all right?
Just make us be brave
And make us play nice
And let us be together tonight

 

I love this song. There is another like it called “Don’t Forget Me” by Harry Nillson that has the same feel to it. These songs break life down to simplicity, past all the heartache and silly frustrations.

And they, along with my children, have done the great service to remind me how cynical I have become. Life offers us so much happiness and various joys through learning and through mistakes, through good times and through better times. But it is the heartache and disaster and anger that is often held on to. It is the asshole who angered us when they yelled out at us for no real reason, other than he was having a very grumpy day and you were in his way (this may have happened to me recently). It is the chance we didn’t take, or the way life has unfolded in a way we didn’t expect. I believe it to be easier to focus on the bad then to challenge it and let it go. And in holding onto these things, we forget the happiness, we forget how much beauty there is in the simplicity of every day living.

Again, my children remind me how cynical I have become. They remind me to laugh at the stupids (AKA grumpy folk) and embrace the now. Kids operate in the present, which can be a very freeing thing. They don’t worry about time schedules or how perfect a line is when they draw, they operate purely from the heart. They laugh at the silly things instead of letting it get to them.

I realise this is a peaceful notion and that it is not always possible to carry this attitude and approach with us, but whenever we can we should, we need to carry it with us, lest we forget it all together.

I have been letting go of a lot of old bottled up things in the last few years and it has been a slow process but I feel like I am finally coming out of it. I am sorry to be so personal but then, this is the blog so i guess if you don’t like it, you don’t have to read it. One day my blog may be less personal like so much of the world, blighted and held down by the handshake, I hope not but if so, maybe you can check back then.

Anyways,  like Warren Zevon says, “Don’t let us get stupid alright?”. I hope with the future and each rising of the un that I shed a bit more of my cynical ways, because in the end it doesn’t matter and it’s time to get happy.

I will leave you with my favorite lines from the song above, they are very poetic and exactly what I think of when I think of growing old with my husband and my friends and family.

The moon has a face
And it smiles on the lake
And causes the ripples in Time
I’m lucky to be here
With someone I like
Who maketh my spirit to shine

Warren Zevon died of cancer at the age of 56 in 2003, three years after this song and it’s album were released. Below is the video of the song. I hope you enjoy it.

Happiness as a Feeling, Happiness as a State of Being

We all want to feel happy. Who wants to feel tired, sad or depressed? Coming from a background where I have often allowed my emotions direct me, I know that true happiness is not an emotion or feeling. True happiness is a state of being And that often doesn’t come with feeling great all the time. So then what is Happiness? Well I suppose happiness is different to everyone but here is my take on it.

Maggie’s Definition of Happiness:

“Happiness is hard work. That is, it is working hard at everyday things and choosing not to give up; Working hard to make sure you are not idle, working hard to make sure your children are well-balanced and happy themselves. Happiness is putting your ass behind everything you do, wether it is a friendship or a painting. It is perseverance when you don’t feel like pushing forward. It is telling yourself no, setting boundaries that are healthy for you and then having the courage and intelligence to eliminate or back away from (depending on what the situation dictates)the things (or people) that will harm your attempts at this. And when you fail, you stand up re-direct and keep going.

Happiness is knowing that the feeling of happiness is just that, a feeling, and feelings should NEVER dictate our decisions in life.”

This is just the surface of my happiness definition but for now this will have to work as I have to get to work in my house and prepare for Art Day at my house with my kids. So you can chew on that for now.

I hope you day is full of Happiness.