Monday, March 23, 2015

Tell one true thing

When I sat down to write my blog post today I had a list of topics. And I started writing on each one and had to stop myself. I just couldn't settle down on a topic where I wanted to tell the full truth. They all kind of sucked.

See, the problem is when you have a line of work like mine, there is kind of a temptation to sound like you have your issues all tied up and emotional biz completely under control. That just isn't true in life--not mine or anyone else's. 

I'm just feeling a bit impatient about my own emotional story.

Truth is, I'm sick of all the grief in my life. 

We had to put Turtle to sleep two weeks after he started having terrible seizures. Except for a brief period where he seemed like he was more or less his old self, the medication zonked him out and his seizures came roaring back. I found myself crying in private and public a lot after that--something that I'm a little self conscious about because it wasn't that long ago that I was doing that over my brother Steve

And now, just this weekend, it was the 29th anniversary of my father's death--a day Steve usually marked by heading down to the cemetery with a can of Brasso and a rag to clean Dad's headstone. 

Before anyone starts taking issue with a possible comparison of my brother's suicide and my cat's demise, there is no comparison there. Only another loss--you can't control the way your heart responds as it knows no measure or scale around what you should feel. 

Only the other day I saw a work glove in the road and had to go hide in the garage and cry because I didn't want to talk about how the glove looked a lot like the pair Steve offered to give me but I turned down. 

Am I getting help for this? I'm working on finding someone who can guide me through my my grief labyrinth. Can't white knuckle it forever. It's time to step back...far back and look at what the last decade brought to my door--the joyous and the terrible.

This is one of the reasons why writing is so important to me. Through the accumulation of words I have a sky view of my life. I can see the grim thought loops and also when things are just too damn chirpy. The micro scope view of the moment to moment can fool a person into thinking things are "fine". 

Here is the truth. I'm not "fine".  

There is a whole lot I just don't give a shit about anymore. I don't have energy to waste. Some things have got to go-- at the top of that list is trading the truth for a ration of "fine". 

Monday, March 16, 2015

Breaking up with the past/the agony of unconscious time travelling

This was my weekend to get some fresh air and enjoy our early spring. The scent of white lilacs and jasmine have been tempting me every morning and evening when their perfume is most potent--I didn't want to miss out so Saturday morning I pulled on my gardening clogs and gloves and set to pulling the thousands of weeds dotting our back yard.

I recently started limiting listening to books on tape or other media while I'm outside so I can be more alive to my experience and to be more aware of what is going on inside me mentally and emotionally. You would think that listening to a book would be absorbing but many times it's just convenient background noise while my own thoughts go wild and unchecked.

Often this wild, unchecked state goes deep in my personal bucket of hurts and resentments from the past. I don't know exactly why doing something as pleasant as spending time in the yard would bring anything up other than something nice but with disturbing regularity I have found myself emotionally traveling back to some earlier part of my life and reliving a confrontation or some other event that hurt my feelings. Only now, in the safe confines of my imagination, I'm armed with a comeback or some other action that feels like evening things up (like forcing my abuser's head into the toilet and flushing a few dozen times).

These memories powerful, seductive and are on rotation and ready to play when I find myself not paying attention to what I'm thinking.

There is no satisfaction in these rewritten memories but my body responds just as if these awful events were happening right now. I tense up, my face screwing into an angry glare which confuses everyone when I walk into the house ("what happened?" they all say as I stalk off to use the restroom or to get a glass of water--completely unaware that I'm radiating rage).

Without my earbuds in I became aware that this time my mind drifted to this one boss I had nearly 25 years ago. He was the husband part of a husband/wife run business--she ran everything and he spent his time bloviating and hurling abuse. He was a nasty bully and I was frequently on the receiving end of his tirades.

I was inexperienced and didn't know how to handle bullies like him at the time. His wife just laughed--and let him go on. From my point of view,  I had very little power to change things. I just wanted to get out of there and away from him.

One day after months of looking I found a much better job quit without giving notice. Still, I never told him off--rationally I knew it wouldn't do any good but emotionally I never got the satisfaction of telling this jerk what I thought of him. Instead, I've spent many an afternoon in the intervening years on my imagined comebacks--comebacks that will never be delivered but reliably rile me up so much that I sometimes start muttering to myself (which only occasionally happens in front of other people--awkward).

Just as I was mentally winding up to psychically scream at the old gas bag, I caught myself--I was spending my fine jasmine scented morning chewing this rotten old bone--the opposite of what I intended for myself. I sat still for a while and just took in what my time traveling was costing me in lost time and serenity.

Could I break this habit of time traveling? Although it's tempting to replay these old hurts, they aren't part of my DNA. They also aren't making my life better. And above all, they are not representative of who I want to be in the world

And as simply as that, I let the old, hurtful thought go.

I took another deep breath and looked around. My orange tree was covered with blossoms. A single bud was uncurling on my peach tree. Delicate anise fronds poked through the soil here and there. Bees hovered over the blossoms of my black sage. The air hummed with the sound of electric garden tools and cars passing in the distance.

No old boss was to be seen anywhere. My breathing slowed. The day became exactly what I wished. No longer trapped by memory, I was free again.

Do you sometimes find yourself grousing over old hurts and grievances? I invite you to give yourself permission and see what it feels like to simply be present to what is right now.

Monday, March 9, 2015

Spring cleaning--I threw out so many stories!

Now that our kitchen has been reorganized, we decided to tackle the garage and make it into a more usable space for working out, laundry and projects. But in order to do that we had to go through 20+ years of archived paper work, old boxes of mementos, photos etc.

Not a small task but we had already made it easier on ourselves by presorting things so it would be easy to get to the boxes and boxes of old cancelled checks, receipts, ancient tax records and other documentation that had outlived it's useful life.

Saturday morning we put on the coffee and got to work. I pulled all the banker boxes down while Keri went through boxes of personal objects that hadn't seen the light of day in months or years.

Oddly, it was a pretty "whistle while you work" project and we managed to keep the pace up all day.

After about eight hours we had gone through nearly everything and had five 32 gallon garbage bags full of paper to send to the data destroyer--just about everything older than 7 years got bagged up. 

Luckily, I didn't just wholesale dump boxes into the bags. I pulled folders out and did a cursory check for dates and content. It was worth the effort! Going through one folder I found a number of treasury bonds I purchased in the 90s that are now mature--cha ching! I also found gift cards, See's gift certificates and other things we definitely wanted but had completely forgotten about. 

As Keri went through her possessions she did quick searches to check their market value--one statue she bought when she was in her 20s was now valued at over $3000. Others from the same set were also pretty valuable. These she set aside--the rest went to Goodwill.

Pretty good return on our time investment if you ask me.

After sending two full car loads to GoodWill our garage was much more manageable--our laundry area is completely cleared and I can now use my weights and punching bag again. A quick google search gave us the number of a mobile data destruction company that will come to our house to deal with the bags of paperwork, so no tedious shredding either.

However, not everything could be gone through quickly.

In going through my own personal paperwork I put aside a couple boxes full of my old journals, letters, cards and photos from my earlier life--it was too much to go through so I left it for when I could spend some time on it.

Two boxes really isn't that much stuff--I considered just putting it back on the shelf. But with all the other paperwork and personal effects out of the way, I felt just enough curiosity to take a look at what I had been holding onto for all these years.

I sat down with a beer and opened the first box. I was pretty sure I was going to throw most of it away but decided to go through each folder just as I did with all the paper records.

It takes a while to go through twenty years worth of cards--before email was so prevalent I sent lots of letters. I found cards and letters from friends I hadn't spoken to in years. Seeing their names and addresses made me smile.

Mixed in with the cards were dozens of hand written letters sent to me by my Mother after I had moved away from home--I had somehow forgotten how often she wrote me. Letter after letter were filled with little stories about what she was doing, and each one telling me that she missed me. Never one to be sentimental, each letter was written with my Mom's trademark wit and a little request to keep in touch. 

When I look back at that period of my life I most keenly remember my Mom being angry at me for moving, for our conversations being hard and for feeling deep disapproval from her. At the time I could only see Mom's anger, not her vulnerability--her wish to keep me close.

Reading these letters with fresh eyes, I now see Mom's love and concern for me. I couldn't see that the time because I was too busy feeling judged--a story that ossified and stuck in my mind for years.

To contrast my Mom's sweet letters, I found a sheaf of my journal entries written on loose leaf paper. I was taken aback at how much self criticism I put on myself--I committed to paper dozens of negative opinions about my circumstances, my appearance and many other things I believed were wrong with me. I basically said the same horrible things day after day, reminding myself that I was basically a sorry excuse for a human being. Its no wonder that I was reading the same message I was writing--even if the message said something completely different 

I guess I had to turn into the kind of person who could read these love messages--even twenty or so years later.  Even if I'm late, I'm glad--especially because I am able reflect this love back to Mom with new appreciation today.

Are you going to do a spring cleaning project? Drop me a line in the comments below and let me know how you're doing.

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

The Decision to have a creative life.

One day, not yesterday and not last week but years ago,  I decided to have a creative life.

Having a creative life right now is mostly expressed as writing. Sometimes its drawing or painting or conducting some odd experiment but most of the time its writing. I write nearly every day but this wasn't always the case.

When I was a young adult I was really prolific--I turned out short stories and artwork with frightening ease. And then when I was flushed into the working world it all stopped. I just couldn't get back in my groove. So I started to tell myself ridiculous stories about all the things I had before that "made me creative". I tried to simulate those things and blamed my lack of creative fire on my job, my relationship, obligations etc. I blamed it on living in a two bedroom apartment with no "space" to write in. I blamed it on being in a relationship with a highly extroverted person who loved being social (and taking me with her). I blamed it on everything except my failure to sit down and put pen to paper.

Instead of writing I spent my time thinking about what I didn't like doing, about how to escape the things I didn't like, and about how my life would be so much better once I finally escaped every irritation. Because then, once I wasn't irritated, I could finally have a creative life.

I played make believe that my creative life would happen in a future time when things were magically better.

One day I realized things wouldn't get better unless I sat down and wrote.

The space I wanted to have to create I had to create inside myself--the will to create no matter what my circumstances.

The will to create doesn't require a nice studio, perfect quite, comfort or other rarified qualities. It means making my creative life a priority. A top priority--right up there with my family life but not second to anything.

Today I'm a writer with a mission to go further with my writing--to tell better stories, write more helpful essays and to encourage people who want to create whatever they want in life (the epic sh*t I keep talking about) even if circumstances or experts say that isn't going to wash.

It all started with me deciding to have a creative life and then believing the circumstances I had were perfect already.

Are you waiting for things to change so things will change for you?

Sunday, February 8, 2015

Trash thoughts didn't trash me

The last few weeks feel like I've been going from one personal energy crisis to the next. This happens. Life doesn't just stop because things aren't going smoothly or there is a cluster of "must do now" work happening. Usually, I navigate most of these things pretty gracefully but last week my mind decided it was going to go into full tantrum mode and tell me everything was total shit.

Everything. Total shit.

I woke up last Wednesday and immediately was treated to a long litany of bad news and negative predictions all courtesy of my mind.

Luckily I had a 7AM bus to catch as morning meetings so I couldn't pull the covers over my head. Up and out the door I went.

On the bus I tried all my techniques to work with my thoughts, looking for how true they were, telling myself of all the things I had to be grateful and happy about.

NOPE!!! This morning my mind was particularly stubborn. That coupled with some random body pain and fatigue from not sleeping that great made for a big old cup of WAHHHHHHH!!!!!

People, I have stuff to do!

The world isn't sitting still waiting for me to have a good day.

There is a story I always turn to when things feel like crap. I don't know if its a true story or not but I like the idea so here it is.

Lance Armstrong (lets put aside our opinions about doping etc for another time) when he was recovering from cancer was extremely weak--he was emaciated and lost significant muscle mass in his once powerful legs. But he was also on a mission. To get back into training, his team mates helped him stay up on the bike while he did whatever training he was able to do.

Somedays, you just need to be taped to the bike.

I wasn't dealing with chemo. I was just a bit tired and low spirits. My brain wanted me to think I was dying but that wasn't it at all.

I had a morning appointment with Precious. I DID NOT want to work out (my brain already told me it was futile and I really needed to go back to sleep). However, I showed up early and did some deep stretches to help juice up my body. After Precious got hold of me I doing squats and lunges well enough. By the end of my workout I felt much better. We even made it through two circuits.


For the rest of the week I made sure I got more sleep and kept up my routines. I dropped a few social commitments and stuck to the basics. I looked at my schedule and moved things around so I would be using my energy at its peak instead of deferring it to "later".

I didn't get everything done this week I had in scope but I got a lot done. A lot more than if I listened to my grim pronouncements.

I even managed to launch my new program and revised website.

Ok, that's it for this Sunday morning. さようなら for now.

If you have a tale of how you overcame your trashy mind talk, I want to hear it! Please send me a message or leave a comment below.

Monday, January 26, 2015

There is no other shoe to drop

Have you ever had a run of good things show up in your life and then get really nervous that something is going to come out of the blue and screw up your happy dance?

Let me tell you a little story.

Just a little over a week ago I was so elated that my kitchen was getting a full re-do and the result was a shiny new fridge with all the bells and whistles we'd hoped for at a dramatically reduced price.

A day after I published that blog entry I noticed my cat Turtle running around the house at full-speed. He looked like he was being chased by demons. I suspected our two small dogs had chased him but he was panting and foaming at the mouth, twitching and nervously jerking his head behind him like there was something evil just past his shoulder. He was staring into the distance, not recognizing me or his surroundings.

12:30AM we were in the pet hospital emergency room with Turtle hoping the vet could tell us what was wrong. Twenty four hours and a thousand dollars later it was determined he was having seizures. Something was wrong with our poor boy's brain and he needed to get on medication right away.

Later that week I take my Mom to the doctor to get a second opinion after a prior doctor had mismanaged her case. The new doctor called for a biopsy and sent me back to pick up the tissue sample the original doctor had taken. Forms, and phone calls and faxing and transfer fees--the original doctor wasn't interested in making it easy to get a second opinion it seemed.

I'm sure Mom is ok or at least will be with the right treatment. Still, its a biopsy.

Plenty of other things were happening on other fronts--some of them needing my immediate attention or at least needing me to take notice.

In the middle of that I had scheduled myself to teach a class on my book. I had many people sign up so I knew I needed to pull it together and make the magic happen.

Mountain high to the valley of stress below.

So many feelings.

But despite how stressful it was worrying over my Mom's diagnosis and my poor cat's well being, I found myself having pockets of joy.

When I focused on the class I was going to teach or my writing projects or even the fact that in a couple of days our new fridge would be showing up real joy would show up--real visceral joy.

Feeling joy when other things felt terrible left me kind of confused. How can these things be existing in the same space? Also, getting happy over something as trivial as a major appliance made me feel a little like a bad person.

Real joy just happens. Just like real pain.

I recall every time in the past where I talked myself out of moments of happiness worried about the "something" that was bound to happen to show me the error of being in a state of bliss.

Call it what you will, but that kind of denial is an ugly superstition born of the fact that life is in constant motion and we are exposed to a variety of experiences that elicit both pleasure and pain--sometimes in close and coincidental proximity--sometimes at the same time as well.

Here is some truth. You can't escape pain by denying joy--even the joy of a simple, silly thing.

Pain happens. So does joy. Let them both in. Feel them both fully.

Our little boy home again.
Just two nights after rushing him to the vet, we brought our kitty home fully doped up on anti-seizure meds.

That night Turtle slept between us. Every so often I would reach out to stroke his silky coat and feel the subtle rise and fall of his ribcage.

He was weak but hour by hour started to show that he remembered us. Eventually he treated us to his deep, contented purr. I couldn't stop my eyes from welling up--overcome with feelings of love and relief for this little soul I was sure we lost.

I don't know how long we get to have Turtle--you invite pets into your life knowing that they won't live as long as you and that someday you will lose them. I'm reminded of this every time something like this happens. But I don't stay in that thought.

I won't deny myself the joy of having Turtle with me today. I also won't spare myself the pleasure of sitting with Mom at her table for Sunday lunch. Or even the simple satisfaction of filling our new fridge with fresh produce and cold drinks. Its all good.

Do you believe in the other shoe dropping? Are you willing to give that up in favor of extra joy? Drop me a note and tell me about it. I'd love to hear from you.

Sunday, January 18, 2015

The magic of making room for what you want

This is a simple tale. No metaphysical magic implied but the real world kind that comes from when you move things around to make space for the things you desire. 

I give to you the tale of the new fridge that just wouldn't fit.

We have a guest living with us. She is a long time friend and business associate. Her specialty is helping her clients remove friction from their business and home spaces. Having her living with us is a little like having a genie in the house--things just start working better because of the small changes she recommends and implements. 

One evening she asked me about the small iceberg forming under the ice maker in the freezer.

"Oh yes, the freezer doesn't keep a consistent temperature--we want a new one but none of the fridges we've looked at will fit in the space. They are all about an inch too tall unless we get rid of that cabinet above the fridge. We are already short on usable storage."

That area of the kitchen isn't really storage. The cabinet is too high to use so we usually do things like pile bags of pretzels on the of the refrigerator. Its an area of clutter we never quite mastered.

"What if I can fix your storage problem"? 

"Ok, but I don't see how you can". 

Thus began a whirl wind of our guest  doing spacial drawings and creating 3-d mock ups with cardboard in the kitchen to show us a variety of ways we could redo storage. She moved items around showcasing her mock ups to show us how to reclaim space and get our counters back. 

After a week of a variety of prototypes, a solution was decided on that would give us four times the space we'd lose from the little cabinet and give us additional clear counter space. 

We took a trip to IKEA and found an occasional table that fit the space but needed some minor changes to be perfect. We installed it the next day and started moving items into their new home. The kitchen felt larger and easier to move it. 

Even if we didn't get the fridge I felt the effort was completely worth while. (also, I was a little afraid of removing the cabinet and possibly screwing up the look of kitchen if I botched it--so if nothing else happened I was good to go).

The next day Keri and I went for dim sum breakfast and decided on a whim to go up to the IKEA and get some small shelves that our guest pointed out that would help which would clear up some counter space. While up there we went to the neighboring Big Orange (not the real name of the store) to order a new blind for the kitchen.

Lo and behold Big Orange had fridges on sale! And there was the one Keri had just told me about for $1500 off list! 

Wow! I was very excited about this synchronicity and called the sales guy over.
Just then Keri noticed some scratches and a small dent. I wasn't too put off because of the price reduction but Keri was significantly less enthused. I told the sales guy we were interested in getting the fridge but then he said 1. delivery wasn't free, 2. they wouldn't take away the old unit and 3. we would have to bring the new unit in ourselves--it was their policy. WTF??? We bought from Big Orange before and they included all of that for free. 

The scratches, the difficulty with delivery (it weighs over 300lbs!!! not likely I'm going to be able to move that even with our guest helping!) It started to feel "hard"--like I was about to force something to happen because the deal seemed so good. Even though I was excited by the savings I realized my inner compass was swinging away from it. Keri said she felt it too so we walked out. 

In the evening Keri wanted to shop for some pretty baskets for our new storage unit and asked if we could "just look" at the fridges at Giant Yellow Tag (also, not the real name of the store). We went out and Giant Yellow Tag  was also having a sale! 

I walked the aisles not seeing an option that was good for our kitchen. Just as I thought we ran out of inventory Keri called me one row over. 

There in front of us was a floor model fridge for $300 less than the one we saw that afternoon at Big Orange. No scratches on the outside and when we opened it they hadn't even taken out the packing materials--essentially a brand new unit. It wasn't the same maker/model but comparable in every way! Plus purchase included full install plus disposal of old unit. 

After paying for the unit, taxes and extended warranty (you want extended warranty that fo sho) the total was the same as the pretax on scratched unit we saw earlier! 

We paid the good man and our new fridge will be here thursday. This afternoon we removed the cabinet and the area is ready for our new toy!

No metaphysical mumbo jumbo here. But I have found time and again that when you intentionally make your circumstances ready for the thing you want, that thing has a way of turning up. I think its more like our minds are then trained to go on an intensive search to make the magic happen. 

What works, works. 

Give it a try. Think of something you really really want. Then do the things you know you need to do to make that thing fit in your life. See what happens. Then send me a message. I want to hear!