Saturday, December 6, 2014

That's Really Something

I have children. It's December. I'm not religious but I take part in the gift giving that comes with the month. Here are a few gifts that I think are really.....something. I won't place any judgement on them. I leave that to you!

A cleaning trolley. Because every parent wants to clean up the toys made to look like the child was cleaning. Please don't buy it here

Temporary tattoos are for chumps. Real love lasts forever...or is at least designed so it can be changed later.

Nothing says "I support your disgusting habit" quite like a coughing, screaming lungs ashtray. Full disclosure - I kind of want this

From the introduction: "A large penis is really surplus to requirements." It's a feel-good book for everyone, really. 

Yes, it's a shoulder bag made from a whole toad skin. It appears to open from the ass-end. That's where I like to keep MY chapsticks....I guess? 

That's five. You know how I like odd. Happy December. 

Sunday, November 30, 2014

Is that all there is?

A long time ago my mom told me that she found herself asking this question all the time, in a state of perpetual discontent. It's a line from a Peggy Lee song, released in 1969. Seriously, if anyone was asking, "Is that all there is?" in 1969 then we stand nary a chance in 2014....age of restriction, political correctness and consuming tolerance.

This is absolutely 100% correct.

Of course we have incredible freedoms these days, should we desire to avail ourselves of them, and we don't have to conform to every single social or cultural constraint every single day. This past weekend saw Thanksgiving in the United States. It's a holiday that can be fraught with historical reflection if we want to be honest about what the Puritans did when they came here, or it can be a day of gluttonous appetite, or it can be a day of consumerism run amok. I guess, for some, it can be an ordinary day - if you're a toll taker, gas station operator, retail employee, healthcare or law enforcement worker..... For me, it was the day of family togetherness and I had a few days off work afterwards. So I've had some time to think.

A few times I've found myself thinking, "Is this all there is?" Sometimes it makes me laugh because it's a tongue-in-cheek homage to my dearly departed mom. Other times it makes me wish Big Pharma would pull right up to my front door and deliver a fistful of time-released all-day happiness in capsule form. More often than not it smacks me into looking to my man Buddha...because if that fat, golden boy addresses anything, it's being happy right where you are. 

An incredibly gentle and wise leader in the world has suffered a massive brain hemorrhage. His name is Thich Nhat Hanh and he is a really remarkable teacher if you want to know how to be present in every moment. In today's update on his health, after suffering what is presumably an aneurysm, his attendants report:
Thay continues to rest peacefully with the ticking clock on his pillow, and we sense that he is relying on his deep awareness of breathing, rooted in Store Consciousness, to guide his healing process. Even the doctors have been surprised at the consistent level of oxygen in his blood. Thay is truly is the best breather in the world, inspiring us to deepen our full awareness of the breath. Thay continues to remind us that each day we are alive is a miracle, and that simply to breathe is a gift.

How can I ask, "Is this all there is?" What a stupid question. Of course this is all there is! THIS is living! THIS is's messy and sad and wonderful and perfect and heartbreaking and defeating and uplifting. It's all of it all the time. And all I need for entrance to this incredible show is breath! I should be so bold as to ask if there is more.

Not just around holidays, but everyday, it's kind of important that we stop, remember to breathe, remember that our breath is our life and that this life really IS all there is. I forget ALL THE TIME. I forget probably 20,000 times a day. But I also remember 20,000 times a day. I remembered today when I caught up with an article in The New Yorker from November 26, 2014. In it, Leslie Jamison interviews Charles D’Ambrosio, and what he said that brought me back to my breath and back to my gratitude for daily living in all of it's messiness (and my inane desire to tell you all about it) was this:

What might seem “confessional” from the outside is just an arrangement of facts, the facts of my life, no different, to me, than admitting that I’m right handed. When I’m putting words on paper, the self is more like a perspective, an angle of vision, a complicating factor, a questioning presence. If things are going really well, I forget myself completely, which is a relief, and in a way the forgetting, that loss of self, is a fairly good gauge of how involved I am in the work. I use the “I,” of course, and that slender pronoun offers an intimate register of feelings, thoughts, tones, but I’m so focussed on getting things right that even that “I” becomes impersonal.
The personal isn’t by definition false, nor is confession, but in writing both have to meet this other demand, the demands of language. As a Catholic, I go to regular confession, and to date I’ve spent about nine million dollars on therapy, so I know what goes on in those spaces—and what goes on when I’m writing is very different. That dual allegiance, to the truth of the thing and to the truth of writing, inevitably takes you away from the merely heartfelt, it seems to me. In a way, writing maps a path out of the self. Instead of sobbing, you write sentences.
Thanks Charles.....because now I'm breathing again. And this is all there is.

Sunday, November 2, 2014

Waking up to the Dark

In my part of the world we fell back last night. It was the end of daylight savings and we lost an hour in an arbitrary resetting of our clocks. It will now be darker for longer in the morning and get darker earlier...and I'm so incredibly contented by that.

For someone like me: prone to depressive episodes and random, sometimes crippling, anxiety, you'd think the return of dark would be horrifying. But it's not. I love the dark days and the quiet of the cold. I find the activity of summer and spring to be overwhelming, and it feels like I never quite measure up to all the fun I'm supposed to be having, all the things I'm supposed to be accomplishing and all the interaction that drains me till I could crumble and blow away.

The return of fall and then of winter signals a time when everyone around me softens and relaxes. Society at large slows down, calms down, takes more time and has fewer demands. And I feel myself waking up in the waning daylight. What's better than a crisp, cold night after the snow has fallen?

Today I found a place where a man creates every word that doesn't exist to describe me, and a few other people I know. It's here: The Dictionary of Obscure Sorrows. And the reason I love the dark and quiet and the cold is summed up by his most amazing word: SONDER.

In the stillness of winter, I am the backdrop for fewer people and there are fewer extras in my own
movie. The credits roll slowly by, each name getting more time to spend on screen, and each character becoming a player instead of a shadow. 

Sure, when the clock rolls back we know the chill is coming...but so is the fire. 

Photo Credit: Brett Plank via Compfight cc

Friday, October 17, 2014

Frickin' Attitude of Gratitude

I spend an inordinate amount of time asking my ten year old son to "live with an attitude of gratitude" mostly because he is A VERY GOOD AMERICAN. He lives every single moment of his seriously short existence looking at what's next, what else can he have, what more can he have, and what better thing is out there.

Thanks to Google TV we spend loads of time browsing on our big screen and Mr. Ten feels that his life is generally without purpose, joy, or fulfillment. And so I spend inordinate amounts of time asking him to "live with an attitude of gratitude" and look around him for the riches he can't quantify. But I do the same for myself.

At present I am grateful for so many things in a world gone mad over foreign viruses, over madmen in countries we don't understand, and over every manner of lifestyle, belief or way of living that doesn't fit into a neat Ikea box. These are a few of my favorite things:

*A job, a home and a reliable vehicle. These are first and foremost. No matter how I feel on any given day about the job, or how hovelish my home feels, or how much duct tape the interior of my car contains...all three things rise to the occasion and provide a life for my family.

*Money that I sometimes have leftover from paying for our basic expenses that I can elect to spend on books, martinis, candles, fizzing bath bombs, roomy sweaters to hide my expanding middle because I also spend leftover money on chai tea lattes and bottles of red wine. And bread. I buy bread with the leftovers. And I love these things.

*My children's artwork from school, no matter how wonky or weirdly painted or flat out bizarre...because this leads me to what I'm REALLY thankful for and that's no "thing."

When I tell Mr. Ten to live with an attitude of gratitude, I don't mean to be thankful for our stuff. I mean for him to learn, on a very basic level, to be thankful for so much of what his life ISN'T.

He isn't living in an area of the world which cannot handle a virus sweeping through its people, nor is he living in a country which unleashes chemical weapons on its sleeping citizens. We don't suffer under the strain of government induced poverty while oligarchs rule from above (no matter what the 24-hour cable news networks just isn't true!) and we don't fear for our safety and freedom when we express our thoughts and feelings.

Mr. Ten lives in the very lap of luxury before he even starts to look at his STUFF. And he has a shit ton of stuff. Thousands of dollars and ten year's worth of Legos, Star Wars memorabilia and toys, Dr. Who apparel, sonic screwdrivers, and oh my God....Netflix! For the love of red capes and four tined spoons, what the hell else does a kid need?!?

Oh right - fresh air (we got it) a safe neighbor for outside play (got that, too) parents who adore him and spend their lives looking to his happiness, health and education (yeah, that's me and Dad). He has it all. And so to not live with an attitude of gratitude is a slap in the face of everyone who works hard around him, and who worked hard before him. His great-grandparents worked very hard to provide a life made better for his grandparents, who in turn worked hard for his father and me.

And Mr. Ten might as well be all of us: every single one. Because all of us need a reminder to live with this attitude of thankfulness - and not just on the third Thursday in November. Even on the second Tuesday in May. And the first Saturday in September. And really the whole month of February, because if you live in the Midwest of the United States, that's when you need gratitude most. It's a spectacularly miserable month.

So I'm thankful right now for my laptop, where I've spent a bit of time doing something that fills my bucket right back up to the top, for Mr. Ten who reminds me to remind him about all we have and forces me to count blessings with him, and for you...because if you're all the way down here on the page, then you've given this whole exercise a deeper meaning.


But, honestly, also this....

Saturday, August 16, 2014

My Normal Life

In the past month something kind of weird happened without my intent. I took a break from social media. I didn't check out, or delete accounts, I just got busy and stopped being glued to Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Flipboard, Zite.....all the usual icons that I tapped every single time I had more than 45 seconds of quiet or uninterrupted time.

My life just had more tasks than usual and, as my one of my very best friends put it, "I noticed you're sparse."

That's what happened. I didn't stop looking at these media spaces, I just stopped ENGAGING in them and in the long space that is one whole month of human existence (30 DAYS!!!) I actually stopped being invested in them without even trying.  Of course I clicked through to links of articles and blogs that I found interesting; I've continued to be informed of the workings of the world.

But the best part is this: in the small spaces where my phone wasn't in my hand, or pocket, or directly in front of my blank, numbed face, I started tapping back into my inner voice. I started NOTICING things around me, and noticing my feelings. My physical being took shape again and so did my awareness of self. For the longest time (a whole year - which is like an EON compared to 30 days!!) I have been sad. And it didn't make sense. I spent all this time over the past several years waking up to myself and spending time going through all the awful and wonderful and exhilarating moments that were showing me to me.

But then I left a job which fulfilled every single idealistic dream I ever had for myself and chose corporate, creature, financial comfort for myself and my family. I have sons who will someday want cars, and college educations and I want to be able to help them. I also want to not die at my desk and be able to retire someday and NOT eat cat food. Money wins. I live in America.

So in the past year, I have gained back every shred of weight I ever lost - and in a fit of divine and cosmic comedy, I regained it in the most horrific and awful physical places. My tummy which carried two lovely and gigantic boys now announces itself before I do. My face is like...well, it's like 3 or 4 faces depending on where the camera is. And I've been really, really NOT me.

A work friend reminded me that in this life we are given lessons. And we are given these lessons as many times as we need them to learn them. I have noticed, when I am open to self-reflection, that I care DEEPLY about what other people think about me. I base many of my decisions on how other people will perceive them and I try to insure that people can never question my integrity or intent. Even when I'm doing a good job I tend to feel stress when those around me might not understand that I'm doing a good job because I don't do it their way. And that's problematic...because eventually I stop caring about the performance and more about the perception. And then, under the weight of "not living up" to people's standards, I run away.

So this time I've decided to stick it out. I have so much gratitude for financial security, job security, and stability. And spiritual paths are opening up to me like never before. Hard lessons are being taught in the gentlest of classrooms. And I am committed to learning them this time.

And somehow....along the media fell off my hippy dippy radar. (Do hippy dippy people even believe in radar?!? Probably, and that's why they wear tin foil hats.) I have spent time reading articles written by learned people on Gaza, and Syria, and Isis, Iraq and Ferguson, Missouri. I've learned more about our economy and what people who approach it from a humanistic standpoint think than ever before. I've added new words to my vocabulary and learned about spiritual practices and beliefs that have endured for over 5,000 years.

All of this has happened without knowing what some fucktard troll in Schenectady thinks about it. No one from the great state of Alabama has questioned my patriotism or intellect as I've formed opinions, read things to challenge them and decide what I feel and believe. No one has made me feel enraged about humanity at large and I've spent the last bit of time in peace. Actual peace.

I've settled in to a life that should be right. And instead of buying into the notion that it's never enough (because not once have I been to Napa or the Turks and Caicos in this time...and I haven't bought a luxury car or new mansion....) I find that IS enough. Ironically, I've found that the whole time that I've been plugged in AND trying to find a simple life, I've been working against myself.

How can I find quiet and peace, or gratitude and appreciation, for simplicity when I surround myself with the constant and overwhelming din of social media?!? It's like complaining you can't get any sleep when you won't leave the nightclub.

Without meaning to....I left the nightclub.

And the quiet walk home has been wonderful.

Photo Credit: Alex Akopyan via Compfight cc