Category Archives: Personal Musings

Thoughts on my life and the lives of others.

2017 Resolutions

It’s that time of year when everyone looks to start fresh and thus begins a furious search for the perfect resolution, a goal for the new year that will make them better or bring the elusive happiness they seek. Some people hate resolutions on principle, others look down their noses at those who make them because they know ultimately, most get forgotten, but I like them. I believe there’s never a bad time for a fresh start or a new commitment to something positive in life. Because of that I tend to make resolutions throughout the year and find myself constantly adjusting my goals. Over the past few years I’ve made some progress in a few areas and I’d love to share them. Take them for what you will.

Last year I read Shonda Rhimes book, The Year of Yes. I hadn’t noticed how often I was saying no in my life and the depleted possibilities that came from it. I’m not talking about saying no when you need to (a worthy goal in and of itself that I’ve been pretty good at for a while now), I’m talking about saying no to opportunities that seem a little scary, expand your comfort zone, or even just take a little more energy than you think you have. You can’t meet new people, learn about new things, or imagine new possibilities without actively choosing to say yes to something. The ruts in which I’ve found myself in the past have always been deepened by saying no. It’s the yes that pulls you up and out and into life. I’ve almost gotten the hang of that one.

A resolution area that I’ve mastered in my mind but haven’t quite managed to live out through my choices yet is an attitude of limitlessness versus scarcity. When I taught interpersonal communication, I remember having an a-ha moment that the perception of scarcity, even when not real, leads to conflict. When we feel like not enough of what we need exists, we can act out in ways that lead to negative consequences. Whether it’s love, money, approval, or time, I need to understand that there’s enough. At work, I’m attempting to not feel that small, nagging jealousy when others get affirmation. There’s no limit on the amount of affirmation that can be given. It’s not like if my colleague receives it then my boss has run out of it for the year and I’m out of luck. In love, it’s not like people have finite hearts that run out of room. In my finances, it’s not like there aren’t infinite ways for me to better my income. I don’t have to feel conflicted on the inside or feel conflict with others based on false perceptions of scarcity. The world has enough of everything I need.

Physical health is always a big goal for people at the new year. About a year and a half ago I started walking at the park near my condo fairly regularly. At first it was because of my blood pressure, but as I continued I noticed that when I walked I felt less anxiety, less depression and was kinder to others. I also started feeling more connected to nature, so much so that I decided to name the trees on my path. (Read The Hidden Life of Trees if you can!) While some might hear that and conclude I should make a new goal about mental health, for me it was a giant step in finding and understanding my physical place in this world. It’s helped my to see that I am in relationship with my environment and that my choices have consequences, not only for the health of my body, but the health of the planet that surrounds me. It’s too easy to separate ourselves from the nature that makes life possible. Step outside this year. Name a tree.

Finally, if I had to make a resolution for 2017, knowing that I’m always still working on all of the above, I would add this. Let other people make their own choices. As a writer and an artist who loves to create stories, I often want people’s choices and decisions to fit the narrative in my head. When they don’t I feel disappointed, or like I need to do something to influence them because, of course, they should see it my way, right? This habit of looking at the choices of others only in the context of the life story I’ve created is arrogant and detrimental to my self and my relationships. You can’t have honesty without being open to truth. You also can never relax when you feel responsible for the choices of everyone around you. I’m hoping that in 2017, I can live like the lyrics from one of my favorite songs from the past year:

So come on let it go
Just let it be
Why don’t you be you
And I’ll be me

(James Bay)

Love and luck to you in 2017!

Courage, MLK Jr., and High School Memories

The summer after my sophomore year in high school, I went to a week long summer camp that changed my life. The camp was called Anytown and it was a group of 70 teens from Louisville and Lexington who all came from very different experiences of life. At Anytown I made my first Jewish friend. I made my first African American and Asian friends, I made my first friends who were open about a sexual orientation that was different than mine. At Anytown I learned that all people are the same AND that all people are different and we should celebrate both of those things.

We did lots of different things at camp. We met in what were called culture groups where we shared common experiences and then we met in mixed groups where we talked about some really challenging topics. It’s easy to say something’s not real or something’s not as bad as it seems when you’ve never actually experienced it. It’s different when you look into the face of a new friend and all of sudden hear the truth of what they have gone through. It was an intense week and it took a lot of honesty and courage to build the community we built, but we did it.

The fact that we did was even more important on the 5th day of camp. We woke up that morning feeling good about ourselves and each other and the diversity we were celebrating and sharing, but when we got to morning circle something had changed. Don, the man in charge – a seriously large and intimidating person – told us that we would not be together that day. We were divided into our culture groups. Whites with whites, blacks with blacks, Jewish with Jewish and so forth. We were told we wouldn’t be allowed to make eye contact or communicate with our friends from different groups. We were told that if we did or if we tried to mix the groups that we would be sent home from camp.

It was an awful morning that led into and awful lunch. No one broke the silence. No one wanted to risk Don’s wrath or being sent home. No one until Ren. I can still remember Ren standing up to Don in the campfire area after lunch. At first she alone dared to question why we were doing this. She raised her voice and stood firm and told him that it was unfair and wrong and that the whole point of the camp was to bring us together and that she wasn’t going to stand for it anymore. When Ren broke the silence others followed and finally when we were all in an uproar, Don called us back together and apologized. He told us that what Ren had done was the whole point of the experience. They had wanted us to stand up, they had wanted us to show courage. They had wanted us to come together as one to change the injustice.

It’s very easy to look at the world around us and ignore the fact that the dream Martin Luther King Jr. had isn’t fully implemented. It’s easy, even with the mounting stories of hate and discrimination that we are faced with to think that discrimination and injustice are really a problem mostly solved. We have a day to celebrate it – doesn’t that mean it’s all good?

What Ren did that day at camp for us was help us to imagine what people before us had experienced. In a very small way she demonstrated the kind of courage Martin Luther King Jr. showed as he led others to join together to fight for justice for all people that face the darkness of hate.

I look back on how scared I was to speak up that day at camp – even though I knew that segregating our community wasn’t right. I remember being paralyzed with fear to rock the boat even though at worst I would have just been sent home from camp. I was so envious of the courage that Ren showed to risk it all and speak up.

I look back and think how much more frightened was Martin Luther King Jr? He was speaking out against a system of oppression. He was speaking out against powerful people and groups. He was speaking out to change injustice that affected a whole country. How much more fear did he feel as he led groups of people to boycott the buses in after Rosa Parks refused to give up her seat. How scared was he when he marched from Selma to Montgomery. How terrified must he have been when he received threats against his life and the lives of the people he loved.

Franklin Delano Roosevelt said “Courage is not the absence of fear, but rather the assessment that something else is more important than fear.”

Martin Luther King Jr. must have felt afraid, but his faith taught him that only love could drive out hate. That only light could fight darkness. He chose to speak up to call out and to lead others in walking a path of non-violent protest, to pray for change. He had a dream, a vision of what we could be if we as people looked outside of ourselves and could truly see, love and serve our neighbor.

Every Martin Luther King Jr. day I think back to Anytown and the lifelong friendships I made there. I am thankful for them and I am thankful for the courage that I learned from Ren. A courage that came from the dream of a great man. A courage that lives on in me and in each of us today if only we can move past the fear that keeps us from speaking. I challenge you this Monday to find a way to honor that courage. To choose to see, love and serve your neighbor in some concrete way. As Martin Luther King told us…Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.

Let us go out into our communities on Monday and be the light and the love.

(Insert number) Things Never to Say to (Insert Group)

We live in an interesting age. With the advent of social media, blogs, satirist news sites, online magazines, and other venues for expression there seems to be an explosion of “articles” that in reality are opinion pieces titled with (insert numeral here) things never to say to (insert specific demographic here). What I find most interesting is the absolute self grandeurization that comes from creating and sharing such a piece. I mean, blogging and writing have always had an egotistical element to them. You have to believe you have something to say worth hearing and I admit that most of the time when I write – I do. What I really mean by that is that these articles are usually created specifically for a small demographic group of which the creator is a member and they are written in a way that doesn’t really invite someone to try to understand what another is going through as much as commiserate with people who agree with them that others are so stupid, clueless, or cruel.

I will admit to reading quite a few of these lately. At first, I honestly wanted to know what I shouldn’t say to an unmarried female lumberjack or a childless clergy member who belongs to a support group, but I have since resigned myself to reading with the intent of scoffing at whatever that group decides to use as an excuse to make themselves feel superior. After all, the ultimate message of most of them is “You just don’t get it,” and the way I am told that I don’t get it ensures that I probably won’t make the effort to get it in the future.

I recently wrote a piece about how important it is to really put yourself in another’s shoes. I commented on how to do so we can’t just examine something through our own eyes and biases. We have to look from the perspective of someone who may be foreign to what we naturally understand. I believe in the need to understand the plight of others and to show compassion and thought in how we address people. What I find hard about the plethora of the “things not to say” articles is that they usually give orders with attitude while assuming EVERY unmarried mother of Irish descent who listens to Swedish music would be offended by the same stuff.

Maybe if we spent more time teaching our (society’s – not yours personally) children communication we wouldn’t need to tell people what not to say. If we taught people how to be aware of facial expressions, body language, or how to hear tension, stress, or joy in someone’s voice then maybe they would be able to figure out what not to say on their own. Maybe if we showed others what it’s like to be listened to rather than preached to, people would feel comfortable sharing their realities in prose or stories as opposed to lists of directives. Maybe we could even address the things people say that hurt our feelings personally in a kind way that educates them so they might think twice in the future! In the mean time, I’m avoiding all articles and blogs that are versions of the above. I try my best to listen to my friends and put myself in their position before I say something that might be offensive, but If I say something that offends you – do me a favor – just tell me kindly. No need to blog about it.

The Only Gift That Matters

It’s always nice to see old friends and ‘tis the season to play catch up as the clock strikes the holidays, but lately it seems I’m always at a loss for words when tasked with the standard, “So, what’s been going on with you?” I mean, I’m no slacker – my list of accomplishments that I will make on Dec. 31st will prove that – but I curiously draw a blank when asked to fill someone in on my life. I don’t have a spouse or kids to talk about and while I love my nieces and nephew, I really have no desire to tell you how they’re doing. I currently don’t even have a love life to catch you up on (although spousal updates rarely sound like a love life, come on)! To top that off, when you really get down to it my work is satisfying – there’s not much to complain or crow about.

While it could very well be that because I am content I don’t have much to say when asked, I think deep down the reason for my reticence is more likely the fact that I know you don’t really care and I am sadly, most of the time, absolutely 100% OK with that. It takes a lot of energy for me to put into words the things that are important to me. The answer to what’s been up with me can’t be cataloged for easy conversation. So, I’ll just say not much, ask you the dreaded question and let you move on with your business after your short, well-rehearsed answer like I’m sure you’re relieved to do.

But every once in a while a soul shines bright in the darkness of busyness and obligation. Every now and then when someone says, “So what’s been going on with you?” they stop what they’re doing and listen. Their eyes light up with interest and when you say, “nothing much,” they don’t jump in with their own memorized answer – they wait until you are uncomfortable enough that you give voice to the truth. You start to share and then without realizing what has happened you begin to hear your own story. A light bulb floats above your head and you are suddenly filled with the feeling that you do have a life and that it matters to someone.

That’s what holiday (actually all) encounters should be about. This holiday season, vow with me to be a light in the darkness, to avoid the pitfalls of shallow conversation and the trivialities of small talk that keep people entombed in the bubble of their own little worlds. I invite you to ask someone, “So, what’s been going on with you?” and let the light of your soul show through your kind eyes and the gift of your time. In that way, maybe we can all be like the star of Bethlehem that led the wise ones to our savior. Maybe we can all be a gift of illumination, because when we let the genuineness of our spirit break through the barriers that modern society constructs, we are Christ for one another…the only gift that matters.

If it was me…putting ourselves in another’s shoes

If it were me ___________________.
I am ____________, too. You don’t see me doing _____________.
My friend is ____________, if they were in that position I would want ____________.

In the past few weeks I have heard the fill-in-the-blanks above completed in numerous ways. In sentences about people working on Thanksgiving and people shopping on Thanksgiving. In the sentences of people who had full tables of food and warm homes and people who were seriously in need. In people defending Ray Rice and in people condemning him. I have heard leaders in government expressing opinions on people and people expressing opinions on leaders in government. And, let us not forget myriad thoughts of people about almost every conceivable position in Ferguson.

In the course of listening to the cacophony of anger, judgment, and gossip, I have noticed one sentiment, phrased numerous ways, seems to come up again and again. It’s a version of seeing things from another’s perspective and you can hear it in the fill-in-the-blanks above. We are taught to put ourselves in others’ shoes, but somewhere along the path, that adage has been corrupted.

Putting ourselves in others’ shoes doesn’t mean applying our personal beliefs, prejudices, and leanings to someone else’s life. Putting ourselves in someone else’s shoes at its core is about losing self for one minute. It’s trying to truly understand where someone who may be absolutely foreign and 100% different from us is coming from. It’s about experiencing reality the best we can from another person’s perspective.

When the language of putting ourselves in someone else’s place becomes about expressing what we think or would have done instead of seeking to be compassionate (literally to feel with), it is rotten to its core. It becomes just another way to advance the self-centeredness that seems to be ever-growing stronger in our society.

The next time you have the opportunity to fill in the blank on any of the sentences above, I implore you to spend a moment considering, “Do my words cause division?” Ask yourself if the “you” that you are putting in someone else’s shoes could ever really understand that person’s reality without having lived their life for a day, much less exchanged words.

We all have beliefs and opinions that we hold to be true that are based on real experiences and interactions. We all have free speech. We should share what we believe, but own it in a way that doesn’t simplify, negate, or repress another person’s life or reality to make ourselves feel better or superior. Because really, can we ever truly know what we would do if we were someone else?

The next time you fill in the blanks above consider doing it in the following way.

If it was me, I would try to do the absolute best I could do and hope others would make an effort to understand.

I am in need of support as well, you WON’T see me letting others fall.

My friend is that person I am judging in someone else’s eyes. If they were in that position I would want someone to truly seek to understand what it was like to honestly be “in their shoes.”

Dream it, be it?

Who doesn’t like dreams? Sweet dreams, big dreams, pipe dreams, we’re taught in our culture that, “Ya gotta have dreams.” The other day I was contemplating a tarot card about dreams. The seven of cups is sometimes interpreted as being so caught up in your dreams and imagination that it might be hard to see reality. I caught myself saying aloud as I looked at the card, “If you can dream it, you can be it.” But is it the act of dreaming that leads becoming all you can be?

Popular theories on thoughts becoming things sometimes lead people to believe that the dream is enough, that a vision board is a magic wand that brings everything you want into your life. I’m torn regarding this thought process. On the one hand I have vision boarded for years, even before I knew what I was doing. I have dreamed about goals, and jobs, and men (I’ve had much more luck with the goals and the jobs though) and I have had them come to fruition in sometimes quite magical ways. Was it the dream alone that brought me my desires? Actually, I don’t think it was, although I will give God credit for granting some truly outrageous and fabulous dreams that I didn’t deserve or raise a hand to accomplish.

I think we have to look at our definition of dreaming. For some people, to dream means to imagine, oftentimes wildly impossible things. It can be seen as a passive past-time that often leads to wasted hours and opportunities. People who see dreaming in this light often offer phrases like, “I wish” or “If only”. It’s as if the act of dreaming was satisfying enough on it’s own. They dream about getting married but when faced with the chance of a date, don’t want to put forth the effort to meet someone new. They believe the right person will magically walk into their life, even though their life consists of work and their couch. I guess there’s always the bug man…

I believe that people who make their dreams come true view dreaming as an active process. Sure, there are times where they let their imaginations wander to the “I wish” and “if only” section of the store, but more often than not they walk straight into the “what if?” or “why not?” department. They dream, they believe, and then they act.

Real dreaming may begin in the imagination, but comes alive through our choices. Taking the feelings and benefits that we experience when we dream and knowing that we can make them a reality, that’s what dreaming is all about. That’s the reason that things on my collages (now called vision boards) have appeared in my life, not magic. I dreamed and I chose to tell others what I dreamed. When given the opportunity I actively sought the path to my imaginings.

So yes, “Ya gotta have dreams” and yes, “If you dream it, you can be it,” but if you really want to be happy – you have to choose to dream actively. Passive dreaming is passive living. It can be a very peaceful existence if you are satisfied with your life. However, if you imagine bigger and better things for yourself, or if you long to truly grow into a better person, using an active definition for dreaming is the way to make all your dreams come true.

A Spider, The “Other”, and Our Humanity

Anthropomorphism is when we give human characteristics to non-human things. Sometimes we do it with objects, but more commonly this happens with animals. I remember sitting in my docent class at the Louisville Zoo and having our teacher, Doug, explain that the practice can be dangerous to both the people and the animals when this occurs.

Outside my workroom window lives a giant spider. When I first saw it I was a little freaked. I called in people from the hall to see it. It’s out of the ordinary and unique, easily the size of a half-dollar with yellow and brown stripes. After we ogled it a while, I continued about my work and didn’t see it again for a few days. I was relieved. It was a freaky spider.

Yesterday I was looking into the afternoon sun and a glint caught my eye. Silver, octagonal strands appeared before my eyes. There was a huge, beautiful, symmetrical web. It was so large there was no way it was new. It had to have been there all along. The spider hadn’t been hanging loose. It had been on its web, in its home. I just hadn’t seen it.

Today it’s back. I watch and stare as it sits in the middle of its home. I wonder in awe at nature’s capabilities and design. Alone in the workroom, I feel the need to tell the spider how gorgeous it is and how much I enjoy its presence outside the window. It’s windy and the web pulses on currents of air. The spider remains calmly at the center. I start to wonder if it really is calm. Is it scared? What’s it feeling? Empathy rises in my chest as I compare my life lessons to its own.

Then I realized that I was anthropomorphizing the little guy. He’s a spider not a human. He’s not sitting there worrying about whether a storm is coming with the wind and how it will affect his web. He’s not worried that he may not get to see the blond at the keyboard through the window again. But I am doing all of those things for him because I am human. It came so easily to me, the ability to get over my fears and find common ground with this creature that at first had seemed so “other”… so scary.

I wonder : If it’s so easy for us to anthropomorphize animals that we fear, why is it so hard for us to see humanity in the people we call “other”?
In the space of three days I had moved from ogling, to awareness, to friendship with a spider, but there are millions of people who go there whole lives treating actual human beings with different skin colors, different sexual orientations, or different IDEAS as less than human. There are millions of people who can’t move past the fear, who can’t see the web, who don’t recognize the common experiences of love and fear – the humanity that we all possess.

I think back to Doug’s comment about how dangerous it can be to anthropomorphize a wild animal and yet people do it every day. And then I think about how not dangerous it is to reach out and extend understanding and friendship to another human being. It’s in us – that ability and desire to connect. We have the inherent ability to remove the fear, find the common ground, and love if we just look. Why can’t we look? Is it a choice to remain blind? Is it a choice to live in fear? Is it a choice that actually diminishes our own humanity? If we can give human qualities to animals that scare us – why can’t we do the same for our brothers and sisters?

A New Way of Loving Myself!

I’ve had some hard days recently. I think we all at times over-commit or add new things to our lives without removing the old. When this happens it can lead to depression, anxiety, or in my case a little of both.

Now – I confess that even in good times I have a penchant for self-help books which I really enjoy, but from which I rarely find new insight. When I bought the short and sweet, Love Yourself Like Your Life Depended on It, by Kamal Ravikant (I bought it on Amazon Kindle), I didn’t have high hopes – and in a way I was right. The book’s whole message is you have to love your self. Duh! Heard that all before, but Ravikant has a way with words – a way of explaining the concept so that it’s like hearing it for the first time. The question he posed led me to some very real decisions and very new revelations.

Whenever we think of loving ourselves, it’s presented like a chore. It will be hard, but you must come to “accept” your flaws and love yourself anyway. The focus is usually on finding a way to see ourselves as “worthy” even though we may feel we are not.
But what if we instead focused on the loving?

When I think about the people I have loved over the years, I see them clearly, flaws and all. I also see that I never focused on choosing to love them despite their flaws, I just loved them, and in most cases, did everything in my power to help them get what they needed, desired or deserved. I put them first even though I could clearly see their faults. I put them first because their faults didn’t matter. If we stop spending all this time trying to get over our flaws and just focus on the act of loving, maybe we can go further than we have before.

Ravikant asked what we would do if we truly loved ourselves?

What would I do if I loved myself the way I loved all those people in my past – the people I went to bat for even when I knew I shouldn’t because I loved them, the people who I told to take time for themselves without feeling guilty, the people I found jobs for, and helped get through beauty school and citizenship tests? How would I “love” myself if they were me?

Looking from that perspective was like a lightning bolt to my soul. If I were someone I loved I would be giving myself quite different advice. If I were someone I loved, I’d say “Quit that right now!”, “Take care of yourself!”, “Market your book like you’re the fabulous writer you are!”, “Make that call!”, “Say no and mean it!” If I loved myself like I loved them I would spend hours trying to help and listen and understand instead of saying get over it, move on, you really messed that up, etc…

Instead, I tell myself to put other’s needs first. I tell myself to do what’s necessary to avoid conflict and awkward feelings. But that’s advice I would never give my God-children, my best friend, or one of my students. It’s advice that sacrifices the very things that would bring me happiness and probably success.

I have heard, “Love yourself!” over and over and over! Heck, I’ve even taught it to young women for years…but love isn’t a feeling – it’s an action. I’ve always understood that when it comes to loving others. Why was it so hard to see it about myself?

What about you? Is this revelation just new to me? Have you thought about loving yourself is an active way before – the way you love others? What difference would it make in your life?

Just Released!

Saving Beige on Kindle ($3.99)

Hey Everyone! So excited to say the 1st book in my Young Adult – Fantasy/Paranormal Romance series (Sacrificial Fortunes), Saving Beige, is available on Kindle! To see the Sacrificial Fortunes Blog, go to saving beige.wordpress.com
savingbeigecover

Love Never Dies

Love. A tiny word with so many variations. Romantically, often confused with infatuation. In a family, often taken for granted. In friendship, sometimes forgotten over the years. Does love in any of its shapes or sizes ever truly die? Or, once planted, is it a seed that never exhausts its generative power?

I’d be less than honest if I said this was a purely theoretical post. I feel firmly planted in the no column for the first question and the yes column for the second. Today, I revel in the fact that the love I feel for a friend is as true, strong, and full of acceptance and forgiveness as I always hoped it would be.

There’s not a person on this planet that doesn’t struggle with something. For some people it’s drugs and alcohol, for others depression and emotions, still others fight disease, apathy, and even their own selfish nature. Watching a person you love struggle can be so painful that at some point you may choose to turn away, hitting that hard to accept realization that the only love that can help your friend is the love that they need to feel for themselves. In loving, knowing the limits of your own personal power is both liberating and devastating.

I’ve been in that place of tension with one friend for almost ten years. Unable to be present because of the self-destructive choices I could not influence, control, or change. I gave up a physical presence in their life, but held onto the seed of love in my heart. I prayed for their recovery, I sent small messages of love and encouragement usually around birthdays, I cried many times hoping against hope that they might feel a small fraction of the love I had for them, for their self.

And then, it happened. I started noticing small changes. Little things that gave me hope. I tested the waters, looking for old clues and praying that I wouldn’t find any, knowing that I needed to respect the fact that my lack of physical presence in the past years may have impacted how much they wanted to share with me. Knowing that though my love never went away, it may not seem that way in the light of their new world.

Yesterday, I was able to stand next to my friend and know that they were in a good place. Finally I was able to set free the love that had prayed, hoped, and mourned for this person. I was able to see the beginnings of confidence and self loving that I couldn’t find for them, but could only be found through their own journey and struggle.

In giving those hello and goodbye hugs, I was overwhelmed by the unalterable and eternal qualities that all variations of real love share. My love and friendship for this person exists now, just as strongly as when I first felt it. It is a gift and seed God planted in my heart when I was twelve years-old and though it’s grown and changed over 27 years, it’s survived. And I believe it always will. Love to you, Friend. Always.

Why “The Croods” made me appreciate my dad even more…

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First off, let me admit that I usually cry at animated movies. I have the distinct honor of probably being the only person to cry at the previews to Return of Neverland and Finding Nemo, but I digress, Yesterday, I went to see the Croods and my crying streak continued. If you’ve seen only seen the previews to the film you may wonder about my sanity. It looks freaking hilarious and it absolutely is. I laughed quite often. What I didn’t expect was to be so taken in by the story of a daughter and her father.

The character of Eep, voiced by the wonderful Emma Stone, struggles to come into her own in a family where her overprotective dad won’t let them out of the cave. The father, Grug (Nicholas Cage), tells stories where anyone that tries something new dies. His is a message of fear, born out of inexperience and love. Grug doesn’t want to keep his daughter from goodness, he just wants to protect her from everything!

It’s hard not to watch as a grown woman and see both sides. I can absolutely relate to the desire to follow the light, which Eep does both physically and metaphorically, but having loved children with my whole heart, I can also see the desire to protect them from hurt at any cost. Watching the journey (and it’s an actual journey) of Eep and Grug from the cave of darkness into a new world of understanding took me back to my journey with my father.

While we didn’t have as much conflict as Eep and Grug, we had our share of moments. It’s hard when you watch a movie, hear the words for which you judged your dad, and realize they just came out of your own mouth not an hour before. The empathy and compassion I felt for Rudy Ray Davis at how hard it must have been to love me and give me freedom brought tears to my eyes.

But those tears were nothing compared to the onslaught at the end of the movie (STOP READING NOW IF YOU DON’T WANT SPOILERS).

As the family runs from the land that is crumbling behind them, they suddenly encounter a chasm that it too great for them all to cross. Grug, being a caveman and immensely strong, selflessly throws each member of the family across the divide, saving Eep (of course!) for last. She knows that once he throws her he won’t be able to come with them and the moment where she tells him she’s not ready to go, that she has too much to tell him, to fix…was where I first lost it. He responds in the way only a good father can. He tells her he knows, that he loves her, and he gives her a hug.

I am lucky enough to have a father who knows me, loves me, hugs me and forgives me.

At this point in the movie, I don’t think it can get worse, but oh, am I ever wrong. Grug tells her to blow her shell if she’s in trouble and throws her to the other side where they catch one last glimpse of each other before the cliff he is standing upon collapses. Of course, the family all believes he has perished and eventually they start blowing their shells as a way to honor him more than anything else. But Grug is alive and he hears the call.

His response is to immediately find a way to come to their rescue because he believes they are in danger. He concocts a crazy scheme that should never have worked and ends up by their side.

This is where I became absolutely verklempt. The selfless love, the willingness to face any danger, the ability to do what must be done because the people you love need you and are in trouble…I’ve only known one man in my life that could actually do what Grug did and I’m lucky enough to call him Dad.

So, thank you Rudy Davis for loving me despite my flaws, for protecting me even when I didn’t want you to, for forgiving me when I was an egotistical know it all brat, and for being the most loving, sacrificing, generous man in the world.

If you were the author of your life story…

If you were the author of your own life story what would it say? I have heard this question before and have played around with it some, but I recently watched a TED talk where Amy Purdy, a snowboarder who lost both legs to bacterial meningitis, subtly shifted the words around. As she began her talk she asked, “If you were the author of your own life story, where would it go from here?”

It was an aha moment, if you will. Rephrasing the question to focus on the rest of the story instead of the story from beginning to end was liberating and exactly what I needed to hear. From previous posts you may remember my belief in letting the past be the past, but in meditating on my story I frequently still get stuck trying to force the past to flow into the future.

I have been stuck thinking that all the background information needed to be clearly laid out and have meaning. I have been stuck trying to vision my life as a whole instead of a play in numerous acts. Some plays are chronological and the acts build upon one another, some move backwards instead of forward, and still some are festivals of one acts. Being able to vision my character in a new act, maybe even a whole new play without having to integrate past scenes in order to move forward was liberating to my imagination.

When I dream the woman I want to be in this string of one acts that may one day form a whole, or may just end up as a festival of different tales, I realize that she may have similarities with the women in the other acts but she can also be exactly who she wants to be in this moment. So, humor me as I describe this woman who wants to make the next act in my play come to life.

She believes in the dignity of the human person. The dignity of every human person from birth until death. The dignity of the small child, the disabled teen, the gay young man, the middle-aged woman of color, the aged white republican…we are all part of fabric of the universe. Every part of every one of us has been in existence since the beginning of time and is sacred.

She believes in love and forgiveness. Absolute love and forgiveness available to all – even those who don’t seek it. She believes each person has a right to love and be loved and that our societies and governments become agents of oppression when anything rooted in love or compassion is denied or villainized.

She believes in a force greater than us that we all are a part of and have access to through our intuition. She believes that every person has inside of them a compass that leads to true north. It gets buried and broken by trying to mold ourselves to the wishes of others or to the expectations of society, but it is there in our core. She believes that if we follow that compass we will end up on the path to synchronicity, where we are exactly who we need to be, in the place we need to be, at the right time we need to be there.

She believes magic exists in the world. Not the type of magic that entails writing spells or cursing people, but the kind of magic that comes from the ultimate act of creation. From bringing something out of nothing. The magic of a story being told, or a great work of art, a friendship being formed or the path of a destiny being laid.

She is a creator.

If the next act of my story starts today, I am creating. I am writing. I am making art. I am collaborating to find ways to let what I have to share influence and be a part of the universal experience of others.

If the next act of my story starts today, I am no longer placing limits on what I can and can’t do out of fear or complacency. If the next act of my story starts today I am no longer limiting my love and life according to the fear of what people think or say. I am supporting and loving the people who deserve love – all people – even the people who choose not to love back.

If my story begins today, I’m not worrying about what would happen if I became successful and I am open to embracing change. Why should I fear success? Success means living a life I choose rather than trading authenticity for security and comfort.

If I started my life today, I would still be loved and supported by every single person who is important to me. None of them base their love, support, or connection to me upon what I do or how financially successful I am. I am loved by these people for the compass that spins inside of me, for my actions and beliefs that flow from my true north. I am loved because I love, and starting my life today means choosing to love on an even greater level.

If you were the author of the book of your life, where would the story go from here?

The first time someone shows you who they are…

It’s funny how true words of wisdom have an inherent malleability that allows them to grow with you through the years and apply to each new stage of your life. It’s always a surprise to me when I revisit a quote that profoundly affected my narrow but widening view of people and relationships, only to find that it now means something wholly different. In my late twenties this quote from Maya Angelou rocked my view of love. “The first time someone shows you who they are, believe them.” In my late thirties it has suddenly done it again.

I was late to the love game. I was always a flirt with lots of dating options, but actual relationships eluded me. I couldn’t quite figure out the right balance of independence and allowing someone in. I think being overly independent led to me make some questionable choices in the men I fell “in love” with. I ended up angry with them for not being what I wanted when it wasn’t their fault. I heard this quote and the puzzle pieces fell into place. I was too scared to want someone who could really make me happy so I listened to my subconscious instead of the words and actions that they had always put out there. The realization was the lens through which I interpreted Maya Angelou’s words as a warning.

What happens though, if I look through the more mature and optimistic lens of my older, slightly more experienced soul? When I am honest and quiet the anxious chatter from my subconscious self, I can read those words from a radically different perspective. I see a warning, but it’s of a different kind.

This new perspective tells me that instead of being wary that someone I find to be patient and charming, honest and fair, interested and interesting might not be – I should believe that the person I experience is truly as they present themselves to be. After all, it wasn’t the fault of the men I chose in my youth, it was a problem with my listening skills. If my listening skills and self understanding have increased then perhaps, just as I have grown through my joys, mistakes, and bigger mistakes, the people I engage with have, too. Maybe I need to take those words, “The first time someone shows you who they are, believe them.”, and apply them to the positive relationships in my life.

I choose to believe that the person who shows me strength of character, who values honesty, who respects me and my opinions is indeed the person they are showing themselves to be. It is the ultimate act of trust and living in the present over the past.

Are we really chained to our past?

There is a me that used to exist.  I can access her thoughts and feelings.  I can remember things she said and did.  What I can’t do is feel her influence in my choices any longer.  I’ve been mulling this post since June 2012, when over dinner with a friend, I proclaimed that I was not affected by the things that happened to me in my past.  What I meant? I have experienced some things that perhaps others would use to define themselves throughout their lifetime, but that I no longer think about, or consider relative to my present day identity.

The years I spent claiming her as my identity were many.  Viewing each new thing that happened to me through the lens of her experience was common. However, with the passing  years I used her lens less. 

Today I can explain to you why I saw things the way I did.  I can show you how my past self influenced many of my choices for good and for bad, but what I can’t do is say any of my current life decisions manifest from those actual events. They may manifest from values formed or personality traits honed in the years following said experiences, but not from the actual experiences in anyway.

 I understand when people say we are shaped by our past. The experiences of my 15 year-old self and the struggles for me to find meaning in what I went through and how I moved on and learned from them have changed me, but I am who I am in this present existence.  My body is made from completely new cells than the cells that made her body.  She only exists in the synaptic connections forged in my brain. 

I am no longer that person, nor do I wish to be. I can look at her objectively.  I can see her fears. I can feel compassion for her pain and understanding for all of her rash choices and mistakes, but I am done owning her mistakes.  There is no part of me beyond a memory that would think, act, or feel the same way that I did at that age or the years following. 

Some would say it’s delusional to think that I am a different person, but I wholeheartedly  believe people change everyday and choose who they are. I no longer look at her story and use it to explain why I do things or how I feel in the present.  It can explain some of my past, but the story stopped resonating for me long ago. I choose to be the woman I am today knowing that the woman I will be tomorrow may or may not use the lens of my current self in the future. And I feel free and really good with that.

The question for 2013: Does it have to?

As 2013 approaches I find the question, “Does it have to?” popping into my head at a pretty steady frequency. The question doesn’t actually refer to the imminent arrival of a new year, but to each assumption I subconsciously make when thinking about my future. I notice that there are patterns to my expectations of what life will hold and that perhaps those patterns are limiting. The thing I love about the question is that I didn’t come up with it on purpose.  It organically popped into my head while watching a character on a favorite show struggle with what they believed to be an unavoidable outcome.  They stated “Now, this means…” and my immediate reaction was, “Does it have to?” Of course the answer to the question is no.  Our interpretation of life events, what different occurrences mean and where they take us is entirely up to each of us. 

For me the biggest assumption that I make every new year is that the year to come will in some way resemble the year that just passed.  I go into January expecting that I will continue in a job that makes me happy, live in my condo with my cats, hang out with some friends every now and then, and spend time with my family.  All of those things are awesome and bring me joy, but does 2013 have to look like 2012 to make me happy?  It would be easy to believe the fact that there’s nothing overtly wrong or challenging about my life situation means it should continue as is, but the question won’t stop badgering me. “Does it have to?”

In my work, does being good at what I do mean I have to continue to do what I do? In my relationships, does being content on my own mean I don’t pursue something new or that I couldn’t find some new level of happiness if I took a risk? In my home life, just because it’s good and easier to stay where I am, do I have to? Asking the question in regards to just those three areas opens up mind boggling possibilities to sincerely explore. I have been in a holding pattern with my career and relationships for a few years now.  It’s a pattern born from a strange cocktail of contentment and laziness.  The question “Does it have to?” pushes me to switch up my drink of choice. 

I find the question exciting.  For instance, continuing to teach while starting my Masters in Educational Technology could be overwhelming.  I could see it as something that will make my life harder and my schedule crazier, but does it have to? Don’t I have control over what I put into each area of my life? Can’t I choose to view each lesson as a joy filled experience of learning instead of a “to do” list to move me to the next stage? Another example: Does being ready to be in a relationship again mean I have to get set up, join an online dating site, or go out to more bars? Or can it mean that I intuitively listen to who I want to spend time chatting or talking with? Can it mean that I let go and just see who pops up in my life?

There’s a lot of freedom in the question, but there’s also an inherent responsibility that when denied could lead to a lack of decision-making or commitment to any one path.  Ultimately we do have to choose or we default into deciding by not deciding. Having been guilty of this quite often in the past, I feel aware enough of the consequences of indecision to avoid its recurrence in 2013.  As I make my way into the new year, I hope to examine my assumptions and self-limiting patterns in order find the meaning I am searching for in life. Good luck to you as you do the same.