Sunday, August 30, 2015

Life is a Transition

Life is about transition, or transitions.  From asleep to awake, from horizontal to vertical, from hungry to fulfilled...all transitions, all day long, every day.  Because, guess what?  If those transitions don't happen, you're not alive.  That's literal and figurative, by the way.  Some of those basic biological transitions have to happen in order for our hearts to keep ticking, our lungs to keep filling, or blood to keep pumping.  The figurative ones?They may not be as immediately critical to sustaining life, but they can be just as important in the long run.

It is often the case that things that people say to me get the wheels in my brain turning.  Oh, who are we kidding?  The wheels are always turning.  I'm a charter member of Overthinkers Anonymous, and the alcoholic's glass of scotch is a lot easier to put down than my brain, trust me.  I'm also the self-appointed president of the It's Not Right, Therefore, I Don't Accept It Club. God did NOT grant me any sort of serenity, not one little drop.

The cute little meme gracing this post?  The one I plucked from a friend's Facebook share?  Well, I don't know how I feel about it.  It popped up in my news feed in the middle of me contemplating transitions, and it just seemed apropos, even though I don't really think it's true.  Sometimes the bad things are bullshit that shouldn't have happened to start with.  Sometimes the bad things are decisions that were made FOR us instead of with us, and which put us down on a path we don't want to walk down at all.  Sometimes the path ends without warning--someone throws up a fence, a tree falls, or it just becomes overgrown slowly.  And sometimes the BEST things that ever happen in our lives put us on the path to the worst things to ever happen to us...how's that for optimism?  And just like I don't know how I feel about the statement, how I react to that blocked path changes also.
Shamelessly stolen photo of trees.  

Choice Number One is just to sit down on a rock and let the weeds grow up around me.  It's not an awful thing.  I can sit and look at trees for hours, no matter where I am.  And when the sunlight filters through (my new favorite word, komorebi), that's about as close to God as I get. I'm not going to get anywhere that way, but I also won't get lost or hurt.  It's a safe choice, but also a lonely choice.

Choice Number Two is to grab the nearest machete and start whacking through the shrubbery to make a path that no one has ever walked before.  It's exhilarating!  It's titillating! But it's also exhausting and a little too much like exercise to be pleasant.  Thorns draw blood, there are snakes and creepy-crawlies in the underbrush, and it's not a quick or painless way to get anywhere.

Choice Number Three is to turn around and walk back the other way, back to the starting point.  I know exactly where that path leads and it's already clear and safe.  It doesn't really matter that the starting point is miles and miles away, that I worked hard and suffered through the forging of that path.  It'll be easier on the way back, but that also means that all that work was for nothing.  The scratches and scrapes may be healed, but the scars are still there.

There are other choices.  The wind-up toy choice, the Sheldon-knocking-on-Penny's-door choice, the grin and bear it choice...the list goes on.  The point, which I sort of wandered away from, is that every single one of these things is a transition, a change.  A transition can be a bad thing, but it can also be a very good thing, a permanent one.  Just ask the butterfly.  It snuggled itself inside the cocoon as a slow-moving caterpillar with the idea of emerging as a beautiful, treasured butterfly who could fly anywhere gracefully, over the obstacles in the way, away from harmful things, to land on gentle arms and sweet-smelling flowers.  That's the way it should happen.  And if it does, whether there's a path or not is irrelevant.  The butterfly doesn't change back or decide to be something else.  It's just a butterfly forever, and happy.   And that...is probably way too many mixed metaphors for a Sunday morning.

Monday, August 03, 2015

One Small Step

My dad recently gifted my son with an old jon boat--nothing fancy-- gunmetal grey with oars that clamp on the edge, motor-worthy when he's old enough, but for now, just muscle power to putter around in the cove.  Andrew was ecstatic and couldn't wait to be afloat in his brand-new vessel for the first time yesterday.

Once there, however, he was scared.  The boat felt unstable to him. It rocked and tilted as the small swells drifted into our cove from the main channel.  The novelty wore off quickly.  He realized it was hard work, and in the hot sun, he quickly wished he were bobbing in the cool water himself.  But he couldn't get out--there was no one to help him out at the dock.  Everyone was either in the water or otherwise occupied, so I suggested to him that he just jump in from the jon boat.

To your average almost ten year-old, maybe that would have solved the problem, but Andrew froze, uncertain of his balance already and unable to take the leap, small though it was.  So there he sat, one leg swung over the side of the boat, one leg firmly inside, while the rest of us grew more and more frustrated over his inability to stop thinking about it and just jump.

It was clear that the idea of what could happen was worse than what actually would happen.  His fear, insecurity, and lack of confidence in himself paralyzed him, even though he knew logically that he was inches from the surface with a life jacket on and capable adults by his side.  The more he thought, though, the harder it became, and he went nowhere.

Today, as we took the pontoon out for a brief excursion, we headed to the marina to fuel up.  Normally, we have a full boat and someone is at the ready to hop off and "catch" the boat and tie us off.  But with just the three of us, the options were few.  I'm not the steadiest on my feet sometimes.  I can trip and fall over nothing, and with a tricky hip that isn't always reliable, I don't tend to put myself into physically precarious positions.  Today, however, without thinking, I stepped agilely off of the still-moving boat and onto the gas dock, nimbly skirting pilings and line as well as the widening expanse of water between the bow of the boat and the slightly higher dock.  And without a thought, until afterwards, when I realized with amazement what I had done.  I know, I know...it's not bungee jumping or skydiving, but trust me when I say that it was a big deal for me.

Different situations, but equally challenging in their own way.  Why was mine easier?  Because I just DID.  No thought, just action, while he was locked in a position of neither forward nor backward, looking for a solution that wasn't there.  I know the panic he felt trying to get out of the boat.  The situation was wobbly and uncertain, and he was terrified of someone letting him down and of the idea of getting hurt.  He did eventually succumb to the pressure and slid off effortlessly into the water. And the look of surprise on his face when nothing bad happened was exactly what I felt when I hopped onto the dock like it was my job.

I've done a lot of changing and growing in that past two years, all of it for the better. I"m a stronger, more confident person in a lot of ways, and I prove to myself on a daily basis that I can handle whatever life throws at me, even if it doesn't feel like it at the time.  He thought too much, I didn't think at all, and we both made it through.  He was embarrassed though, and showed his ass a little as he was panicking, and I can relate to that as well. The desperation of trying to hold on to something you've placed your trust in as it slips away is strong, and people do and say dumb things when they're scared and lost, me included.  The lesson here?  Turn off your brain, trust yourself first, and just let go.

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Wednesday Whatevers

"Whatevers" have sort of been the theme of my life this summer.  There have been lots of ups and downs, backs and forths, extreme highs and deep lows, and any other contradictory terms you could throw in there. It's hard to make sense of life sometimes--hell, all the time.  But, for whatever reason, the proverbial shit has hit the fan lately, and I've really just felt like I'm treading water waiting for a lifeboat.  Good thing I have built-in floatation devices that refuse to let me sink.

More and more I realize that you just never know what people are really like, or what they really go through in their lives.  I think that contrast is more and more apparent as we become more reliant on social media.  Most of us tend to paint these rosy little pictures with our status updates and our Instagram pictures, and I'm calling bullshit on most of it, my own included.  I'd like, just for one day, or a week, for everyone to just be REAL with what they post.  Not for the airing of dirty laundry, that's not my intent.  But just because so many of us, myself included, hold ourselves up to these ridiculously high standards of achieving perfection, or at least appearing to the outside world to have achieved that.  It can be a daunting task to scroll through my news feed some days.  It's not real, it's not factual, and it's not healthy to be so inundated with snapshots of fabulous adventures and 'look-what-we-did-isms" even under the best of circumstances.  But when someone struggles, and there are more of us out there than any of us realize, as the events of the last few days have shown me, it can be very damaging and hurtful.  Now, you'd think I'd have some sense and separate myself from social media if I think it's the root of all evil, but that's the thing.  I don't.  I have some amazing relationships with people I either met or reconnected with via social media, and my online support system is actually way more helpful to me most days than my "actual" support system.  I just want it to be real, and helpful, and sincere, and honest.  The way I want real life to be.  My bad.

I have undertaken an experiment this week, speaking of social media, in which I'm branching out in my professional life as an educator as well as my amateur life as a writer.  Hah, writer.  I don't think I've ever called myself that before.  I'm not sure how the experiment will go, because I've given myself a fairly short deadline under which to function, but I'm cautiously optimistic about my ability to work well under pressure. It's not going to make me rich and famous, but I just might get enough to buy a pair of back-to-school shoes and the ability to put a notch in my belt.  Cross your fingers.

Fleas are the devil's minions, and I can think of absolutely no good reason why these vile creatures exist.  Give me snakes, mice, spiders, any day...hell, I'd rather face a herd of zombies right now.  I love our dog, but I wholeheartedly blame his low-slung belly and the fact that not a single one of the commercial or prescription flea repellents keeps the damn things off of him.  And so, we bomb yet again, hoping beyond belief that the effects on the fleas are quick and devastating.

I had my second-ever pedicure yesterday.  It was just as unpleasant...wait, no more so...than the first one I had.  The first one was tolerable because I was with my sister and her bridal party and there were more things to worry and stress about that someone messing with my feet.  Yesterday, however, was my attempt to make good on a belated birthday gift for my sweet mom.  Next time, I'll just get her a gift certificate and save myself the unpleasantness.  I know, I know, some people love them, and maybe under different circumstances, I could, too.  But in an already uncomfortable mood, I need a little more than a stone-faced, uncommunicative guy who taps my foot and expects me to guess that I'm supposed to put it in the water, or take it out, or who takes my purse to a chair across the room and gestures to a chair expecting me to magically understand that I'm supposed to put my toes under the nail dryer, when all I could think is "WTF IS that thing, and where do my toes go?"  I don't know if he was lacking English skills, social skills, or a sense of humor (or all of the above), or maybe he was just pissed off that I had forgotten to shave my legs.

Newsflash:  I jump to conclusions.  I make assumptions.  I use my sometimes-flawed deductive reasoning skills to concoct all sorts of theories about people, and the less information I have or the less things make sense, the more I do it.  It's worse when I'm anxious about something, because, guess what!  Turns out jumping to conclusions is connected to anxiety and panic attacks, both of which pop up to bite me in the ass at weak moments in my life.  So it makes perfect sense that in an emotional state, I'll assume my BFF is pissed off at me when she's actually just in the grocery store. It's not in my nature to accept "it is what it is" under the best of circumstances, so asking me to accept that in a heightened state of stress is just as far-fetched as asking me to sprout wings from my hiney. I'm not proud of it, and it causes stress in my life more often than not...but I'm waiting patiently for the time that I figure the exact situation out based on nothing more than thoughtless comments or fleeting actions.  It'll happen.  I'm optimistic. ;-)

My final thought for this Wednesday is that we should simply let go, as much as possible, of the things that make us unhappy.  It's easier said than done, but I refuse to go through life dragging chains and baggage with me.  In contrast, the things that bring us joy, peace, and happiness, even if they don't happen on a predictable or consistent basis, should be grasped quickly and held onto as firmly as possible.  Life is short, and unpredictable, and should be lived, explored, and appreciated. Get your joy where you can.  

Sunday, July 19, 2015

The Trouble with Risks

Who we are often gets lost in what we do--the vagaries, the vicissitudes, sometimes even the chaos of our lives.  And inevitably, when that happens, we start to look for ourselves among the rubble.  Some people make bucket lists, some take up hobbies, others just do really deep soul-searching.  Whatever your poison, a healthy dose of "shake your shit up" can be a really powerful and even necessary thing.

And when we do find who or what it is we were looking for, even by accident, it's natural to want it.  You'd have to be dead inside, broken, not to.  When dreams are realized, it's the best feeling in the world.  A niche that fits, that feels good, that allows us to be who we are, even temporarily--everyone wants that, to be comfortable in his or her own skin.

The trouble lies, though, with the smoke and mirrors that our minds (and others') use to fuck with us.  Strong language, I know, but it's the only word suitable.  The brain is a magical place, where dreams and wishes materialize, but that means there are magical gremlins up there firing shots in the dark just to shake us up.  That amygdala is a bitch, and not just to spell.  Get the dopamine and serotonin levels fluctuating, as they do when we're falling in and out of love with something or someone, and it's a party of emotions up there.  Not a tea party, either...more like a drunken frat party where clothes get ruined and nobody remembers what the hell happened the next day.

It's that new car smell, the sound of a beer can opening, the excitement of having a new outfit or hairstyle that you love, that first kiss, that new library book, that brand new television series premiere, Rick Springfield's (or insert favorite artist) newest album, that brand new video game that you have to play obsessively until all the characters are earned...all of those simple things that thrill us, that get our hearts racing, that make us feel like we're not just on a treadmill but actually LIVING, for a little while, anyway.

Creative people are especially at risk for being ambushed by our overdeveloped sensitivities to boredom and routine.  The science behind it is lost on me, but there are parts of the brain that sit there idle while we don't know how to get down and dirty and utilize those brain cells.  Taking risks, putting ourselves out there, stimulates those dusty brain areas and lets us use them.

I've been scared of risks my entire life, and terrified of change.  That's not a healthy place to be. Things that don't change, die...just ask the dinosaurs.  At some point, a new hair color or cut doesn't make the brain matter quiver.  And eventually, you just have to decide that risk is necessary.  You might fall and skin some knees or elbows, you might fail at whatever it is you tried to do.  But you'll live through it and come out stronger on the other side.  (And if you don't, you won't care!)

So, do it.  Whatever it is in the back of your mind tickling your fancy, do it.  The best case scenario is that you succeed like a MOTHER and it's amazing!  The worst that can happen is that you fail miserably, bruise your ego a little bit (or a LOT) and end up with a great story to tell (or write!) someday.  But you'll grow.  You'll spread your wings.  You'll learn that you are badass, invincible, that you rock your own world (as well as some others), and that you.  Will.  Survive.  You'll learn to be fearless, which makes life so much easier.  Take that chance.  It's worth it, and so are you.  Your brain will thank you.