Monday, September 26, 2011

What I Learned From Failing

I don’t believe in failure. Neither do I believe in quitting. What I do believe in is trying. I don’t fail or quit, I attempt, I give it a whirl, and then if I decide that I’ve had enough, that I’m bored, that I’m ready to move on, I do.

I always look for the take-away in any attempted endeavor. What did I learn here? How will I use the information gained to go back out and throw myself at the world in a better way? As a little girl, I was always a sucker for those books with a moral. My mom would read to me endlessly. The first words out of my mouth after she exclaimed, “The End” would be, “So what’s the moral?” “Not every book has a moral,” she would remind me. As an adult, I just can’t buy that. I’ve seen the silver lining of too many crappy clouds. I know there is something to gain from most every situation. Most. EVERY. Situation.

At the beginning of this year I asked friends to put together a list of things for me to try in 2011. I call it a Bucket List, but really it’s a Try-It List. The idea was to have others make the list so that I would stretch beyond what I might be comfortable doing in order that I test my limits. Turns out, my friends are a bit more conservative than I when it comes to conjuring new experiences meant to bust one out of her ratty old comfort zone. They did, however, give it a whirl. On my end, I managed to attempt five out of the twenty items before falling under the spell of my old friend, Boredom. I am not much on follow-through. The thrill for me lies in the idea.

To give my Bucket List a proper burial, which seems a bit ironic, I have created my best take-aways from the completed items……….

# 1. Go ziplining.


Sometimes I want to do something, but I’m afraid. I’m not sure I can. I don’t know if I will be good enough. Maybe I will get hurt, either physically or emotionally. I begin to get that feeling that my heart is in my throat and I am either going to pass out or throw up. Still, I want to do the thing that is making me so afraid. I want to do it because it is an exciting idea. At this point I have two choices. I can walk away, or I can do it. In either case, the scary feeling usually goes away. The sad thing is that it’s usually replaced with a nagging sense of regret because I have chosen to walk away. I need to practice in my life and to get really good at doing that thing that puts my heart in my throat. I need to experience more often that energizing exhilaration that replaces the scary feeling. I need to yell out, “Rachel! Ready to cross!” and just kick up my feet and go.

# 8. Go a complete day in silence.


My need for communication is so very strong. Whether speaking or writing, I am like a sponge. I want to soak up every bit of information someone has to offer. After all that soaking up, I am ready to squeeze the ideas from my head in order that I don’t burst. I talk too much, listen too little, and question nonstop. That’s just me. I need to stop apologizing for it and channel all that energy into something that could actually be of benefit to someone.

# 13. Send a message in a bottle.


A simple thank you, mailed off in a green and white Target brand water bottle even, is easy enough and always appreciated. And I don’t have to wait until the other person does something FOR me. I could thank the individual simply for being in my life. A smile and a kind word are sometimes enough to re-set a mood for the rest of the day, on either end. I think I’ll do this one more often.

# 15. Ride a trolley.


Things aren’t always as great as they look in the movies. I always had this romantic notion of cable cars. In reality, the ride was stuffy, loud, and crowded. My nose was assaulted with an abundance of body odor. The conductors could have benefitted from lessons in kindness. The ride itself was rather boring and I couldn’t see much for the rather large backend of the older lady in front of me. My favorite part of the whole experience was the wait of nearly over an hour. During this time I enjoyed all manner of street entertainment, everything from the tap-dancing black man to the oldies-playing sax guy. I learned that “Jesus is the answer” and that a homeless man is not above calling your teenage daughter the b-word even when she tries to be nice by talking to him when you insist she avoid eye contact and ignore all manner of communication. I enjoyed the doughnut-eating German family and the tiny little free sample of the latest Starbuck’s flavor, even though there was nowhere to toss my miniature paper cup when I finished. Sometimes, I see now, the lesson isn’t in the ride itself, as the movies might have you believe, but in the shabbily-dressed Asian man sitting in all the pigeon shit.

# 20. Volunteer at an animal shelter.


For most of my adult life I have volunteered, have given of my time without expecting anything in return. I have not done this for the past quite-a-few years. I miss it. I miss it very much. Giving like this makes me feel happy, makes me feel energized, makes me feel worthwhile. It makes me feel that I am contributing to a cause greater than myself. I know now that I must find an outlet for this need. Walking dogs is not it.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

How to Be Happy: 5 Easy Steps

“In my world, everyone's a pony and they all eat rainbows and poop butterflies!”
― Dr. Seuss

I don’t really care how long I live. Hard to believe, I know, and sure I would love to have my picture in the news some day as the area’s latest centenarian, but length of life to me is not as important as quality of life. I don’t care so much how long I live as how well I live. I want to be able to participate fully in my life. I want to be able to contribute in a positive way to the lives of others. I want to be present, in the game, not sitting on the sidelines watching as the rest of the players take the team to victory. I want to play.

We know that happier people are healthier, are more productive at work, more successful in relationships, and are not only more creative, but more charitable and energetic as well. We know that happier people live longer, are less stressed and depressed, are more pleasant to be around, and that they spread that happy like a contagion out to others. Puking rainbows. Coughing up jellybeans and Skittles and blue and yellow M & M’s. We can’t change the world. I know that. There will always be that dreaded black cloud looking for someone’s head over which to plant itself. And it will. But it won’t be mine. And I’m hoping it won’t be yours.

I like to be happy. I try hard to be happy, and I try hard to help others feel good about themselves and experience their own form of happy. This doesn’t mean I never have a bad day. I do. I just don’t live there. I gripe, I mope, I deal, and I move on. Then back to happy. And, honestly, me wanting a world full of happy is not as selfless as it sounds. I just don’t enjoy being around the oh-my-gosh-the-world-is-falling-apart-and-it’s-all-starting-with-me Debbie downer shoot-me-now kind of gal. I want to surround myself with smiles and hugs and spreading of the love. I want to be around those who lift others up, who always have a good word, who refuse to let me wallow and whine and wither when I’m down.

In my effort, then, to motivate, move, encourage, inspire, I have compiled a list of ideas that I have found helpful in filling up my bucket with happy. I am hoping, again, that they work as well for you:

1. Decide to be happy.

Happy doesn’t just happen. It takes a certain attitude. I can want to be an “A” student all day long, but unless I read a book or take some notes or show up to class, nothing’s going to happen. Same thing with happy. If I truly want to be happy, I’m going to have to make that decision and then be willing to do the homework. I might have to actually smile at something or do something I enjoy or hand out a compliment or shit like that. Hard work, I know, but it has to be done.

2. Focus on what’s right about your world.

There’s a lot of crap out there. You don’t have to put it in front of your face. If I fill my world with obituaries and insults and murder news and slasher movies and such, I am going to eventually want to take a sharp object to my chest. Sure, bad things happen and, sure, it’s good to know what’s going on, but good things happen, too. Funny movies exist and people have babies and some friends are great at telling you how wonderful you are and there are just a million things I can be thankful for each day. Good old-fashioned gratitude. I don’t watch the news before bed anymore. Actually, I don’t watch the news anymore. It’s too depressing. I want to know what’s going on in my world, but I’m not into rehashing the negative. And, sure, I’m short and bossy and quick-tempered and impatient and flighty and still not published. But I’m also kind and compassionate and healthy and have many wonderful friends and enjoy most every day I write and teach. Thank you. Two words. Great power.

3. Do something you enjoy, and do it with someone else.

I am a firm believer in not wasting time on things you don’t enjoy. Life is just too short. If you have a job you hate, quit it. If you have a friend who brings you down, dump her. If you despise cleaning, hire someone to come and do that for you. Or move. To a smaller house. Do not let things rule you. Do not let others choose your path. Live your own life. Eliminate from that life what causes you stress. Have coffee with a friend. Call someone you haven’t talked to in years. Text your sister for no reason at all. Go to a matinee with your spouse. On a weekday. Play hookie. Or skip the movie. Have some other kind of fun, instead. When it comes to the bottom line, most things in life are optional. Don’t pretend otherwise. Enjoy your day. Every day.

4. Sing, dance, finger paint.

I don’t know many people who can be upset while moving their hips to a favorite tune or smushing their hands in bright blues and yellows. Be silly. Remember when you were a kid? Dance on the furniture. Blow bubbles. Walk barefoot in the freshly mown grass. Get in touch with nature, with music, with that free spirit that is still somewhere deep inside of you.

5. Do something nice for someone else.

There is no joy like watching a face light up because you did something to help make that happen.

*Smile. Say thank you. Sing. Give. Breathe. Repeat.*

Monday, September 19, 2011

No Boxers

A friend of mine is reading a book. No big deal, right? Except that this particular book is written by a male acquaintance of hers and contains, shall we say, some sexy, sultry, oh-my-GAWD-is-it-hot-in-here-or-is-it-ME?! type scenes. Which is odd. Because this is not the picture she would associate with this particular friend. And not the picture she WANTS to associate with this particular friend.

This is the thing about writing. Most every author has friends, neighbors, children perhaps, who will very likely read a celebrated finished piece. During the creative process words are just spewing onto paper without regard to the fact that Mommy Dear may share the published work with all her bridge friends exclaiming, “But, OH, look what my daughter did!! She is a famous author! Isn’t this just WONderful!!” Might have been a good idea to clue dear Mumsie into all the Fabio-like love scenes first, but then I’m sure the bridge ladies will find those soon enough.

But people read this stuff, so somebody has to write it. My ninety-three year old grandmother has read Harlequin romance books every single day without shame for as long as I’ve known her. Last time I visited, she was showing me the latest title, asking if I had read that author. “Um, no Grandma. I don’t think I know him.” That was out loud. In my head, Holy yikies!! If I were reading THAT it would be in the privacy of my own bedroom and only then with flashlight and cover.

My favorite two-word sentence ever is “No boxers.” The author said SO much and left SUCH a visual with just those two words. She was setting up a steamy scene in a remote cabin with a hunk of an outdoorsy type—nice butt, flannel shirt, dark hair with a bit of scruff going on--one of those guys that leaves you asking Oh, baby! Where do I find me one of those?! and our it’s-been-a-long-time-sure-but-I-am-totally-ok-with-that independent needs-nobody-and-wants-for-nothing protagonist. The scene went something like this:

Description of the lovely drive up. Yada, yada. Some scenery adjectives. It’s all beautiful and woodsy and pine-y and stuff. You can almost smell it, she writes so well. It’s all very pleasant. You can hear the birds and the wildlife and the blah blah blah, whatever. Then, without another line, she gets right to business. You can feel from her words that the woman wants it, but she doesn’t want the guy to know. You can sense the tension, the sexual energy. No worries, though, our lovely lady is totally in control, completely in charge. But, without even a smidge of warning, the guy just takes over the scene in a totally unexpected and--might I say, “Props to the author!”--incredibly manly sort of way. Next two lines: “He drops his pants. No boxers.” Oh, my LORD!

But I could never write that. People read. People I know read. They would read THIS. And then what would they think? I’d be walking around acting my normal conservatively dressed, teacher-mom kind of self and people would be looking at me like she writes stuff I have to hide under my mattress!

But here’s the other thing about writing. I can’t let the idea of what I think others will think hamper my creative process. Some of you will be shocked that the words you’ve read here, even, have come out of my mouth. Some of you will raise eyebrows and gasp and say to yourselves, Well, now we know! Some of you may think less of me, may dump me in favor of a less crass friend. Some of you may have the opposite reaction altogether, but let’s just not go there. I can’t let myself worry about all of that. The second I start monitoring my muse is the second I stop writing. It’s the time I start speaking in someone else’s voice, from someone else’s head. And, frankly, I don’t think readers care to hear that Miss Psychology Instructor had a wonderful class today. They don’t want to know that the traffic was light and the songs from home to school were a good mix of thoughtful and upbeat, commercials few. They don’t want to hear that. That’s plain, everyday, boring. Everybody has that. We know that stuff about each other. What we want, instead, is the stuff we don’t know. We want the dirt.

So, I’ve come to this. Think of me what you will, but wherever the pen leads, I’m going to have to follow, even if that means taking myself and my protagonist’s pent up sexual energies to some remote cabin in the woods with nothing but a bit of attitude and a good-God-Lord-JESUS-he-IS-GORgeous hunk of a stranger. I'm just going to have to go there.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Why I Write

I don’t know how to not write.

I am not one of those creative types who sits her back end in a chair once she puts the kids on the bus and plants it there until noon. I cannot pound away at the keyboard because it is time for me to do that, because I have allotted x amount of hours toward my craft and will write, damn it!, whether inspiration follows or not:

I have absolutely nothing in my head right now, but I am pretending to be productive by creating sentences and phrases and entire story-looking lines of crap because all of the books say that I should do this, that I should type anything, anything at all, until the right words just flow. They all suggest that a true writer, one who writes not just for pleasure but for profit, will devote a set amount of time each day to her art. Personally, I think this is a load of shit. If there is nothing in my head, then I have nothing to say and should just keep it at that. The books always suggest not waiting for the muse, the muse being what some would call inspiration, because the muse is a fickle b-word who may just say she will come to the party, but then ditch you at the last second for something better.

I just can’t write like that.

No, writing for me is a bit like getting sick. I walk around awhile feeling not
quite myself, knowing that something is stirring inside me. Maybe it’s the guy with the nice ass in the coffee shop. Or it could be the look from the clerk in cosmetics when I break into warrior pose. Very possibly it’s that life-size copper bull in the back of that pick-up truck I passed on the highway. So, I walk around like this thinking, Hmm, I feel an essay coming on. Darn, and it’s such a busy day. I really don’t have time for this what with class and the lunch date downtown and that cross-country meet after school and all. Then, sure enough, it’s a full-blown blog in my head and to heck with the schedule. I must sit down and write. I will write, I know, until I finish. Then, with a dramatic flourish and even more dramatic sigh, I will come up for air and pronounce, Well, I am glad THAT’S over. I feel SO much better now.

I have a wonderful muse, I do, but she’s not very considerate of my time. And, truth be told, I’m not really even sure my writer’s inspiration is a she. I like to think of her with beautiful golden curls, a wisp of a white flowing gown, floating in magically when she takes a notion, but my personal version of creative motivation could just as easily be some dude in khaki shorts and an Oxford, checking his messages and telling me to get on with it because what do I think, I’m the only writer he has to motivate? Regardless, s/he provides me with no shortage of material. If only I could impress upon her/him the importance of timing.

Anyway, my muse shows up—whether she floats in gently on the afternoon breeze or he shoots me an email—and tells me that there are words in my head that someone needs to hear and that I need to put those words to print and set them to page. I never know who this someone is, and I never know why the words are so important, but I know that I need to get them down. I know that the message isn’t for every reader, but instead for the one the muse has chosen. I know, too, that my entire being will not rest until the words are out, that I will lie awake at night, scribbling phrases on index cards I keep in my bathroom and beside my bed, that I will mouth entire paragraphs while walking to class, that I will play with verbs, adjectives, and all manner of speech until I get absolutely the sound I am looking for and that, essentially, I will appear to the outside world as if I am not in my right mind. My muse is a tough taskmaster, one of those Catholic nuns taking rulers to knuckles for whining and procrastination, but I know the reason behind the madness---to cause another to look inside, to question, to laugh, to cry, to laugh until she cries or perhaps, even, the other way around---and I think I must write. I must put my words to print and put that print to page whether I am in my allotted hour or whether I am not.

Friday, September 16, 2011

One Friend, Two Friend, This Friend, That Friend

I have an artist friend. Not THAT artist friend, but the other one. I have two. We don’t talk often, but when we do we talk about our dreams, direction, our hopes and wishes for the rest of our days. We don’t talk about children, really, a bit, sometimes, but not much, even though we share the common bond of each being mom to four. We mostly focus on writing and illustrating and the pros and cons of writers’ groups. We focus on going back to school, or not. We focus on the creative mind and how inconvenient it can be at times. We would talk more often, but we each get busy and forget to call. Or, we think to call, but then something comes up and we forget again. We sit over black bean soup in a sourdough bowl and a really hot mug of organic green tea and share sketches and essays. My artist friend’s company feeds my soul. It feeds my writer’s heart in a way that conversation with a non-creative-type friend never could.

I used to envy those women who had a group. I used to wish to be one of those women who went out with “the girls” on a Saturday night. The Girls being a fixed entity with a common history. I used to want this, but then I realized that I am not that person. What I want from the company of a friend is different depending on my mood, the day, the hour, my need of the moment. What I want from the company of a friend varies and cannot be satisfied with a generic card game night or evening of cocktails. I don’t have a group. I don’t go out with the girls. I no longer even desire this. Instead, I have this friend and that friend. I lunch with a friend or latte with a friend. I shop, walk, hear local authors speak, and even pick out shrubs with friends. Sometimes we just talk--online, on the phone, in our driveways.

I have a standing weekly date with my writer friend. We meet at the local coffee shop as writers are supposed to do to discuss agents and queries and voice and style and the occasional synopsis. We meet to act all writerly and to discuss the art and business of writing, and we do, but we also chat on kids and calories and come-ons and cleavage. We ogle and stare and sneak peeks at neighboring tables in order to assemble the most interesting characters from the characters sitting around us. We talk about our widening back ends and laugh until we spit coffee on each other. We vent in the most positively humorous way imaginable. By the time we say our goodbyes, our stomachs hurt from laughing so hard, our eyes are tearing and we are working hard to catch our breath.

I have known another, my other artist friend, forever, but we have only been friends for just awhile. We share private stories, incredibly private stories. I could tell her anything. Not like I could tell my long-time closest friend ANYthing, but I can tell her most anything which is interesting considering I’m not sure even what her real hair color is. I don’t know the basics—what music she listens to, what her food preferences are--but I know about things in her past, things you don’t post on blogs or status updates.

But do I have that friend I could call at 3 A.M.? The books all say I should have one of those. I do have one who has promised a kidney if I ever need it. That might come in handy. But a 3 A.M. friend? I’m just not sure I’d feel comfortable calling anybody at 3 A.M., so maybe that’s just me.

I have a new friend. We had lunch today. I had a tofu wrap. She had the black bean burger. It’s a getting to know you time, the excitement of a new connection. You never really know with a new friend if they are yet a new friend. They may just be someone you meet at a cafĂ© a couple of times and then decide to part ways with, having not much in common or lacking the kindred spirit feel, but all friendships start somewhere. Even the best of friendships were once a yeah-we’re-new-to-the-school-system-how-about-you type of thing.

I love my friends. I love that they are all different and that they each contribute something unique to my life. And if we aren’t all a group, I am totally fine with that. The way I see it is that I have a lot of two-person groups. I consider myself rich beyond what many women are because I have my writer friends, my artist friends, my when-the-kids-were-little friends, my high school friends, my whatever-fill-in-the-blank friends. Who knows? I think I even may have a couple of 3 A.M. friends.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Thinking Out Loud

Take only as much as you need. Give more than you have. Use up every single thing that is inside of you for the good of others.

I’ve decided that if I am going to talk the talk, clichĂ© as it is, I am going to have to walk the walk. Literally, I am going to walk. The walk. My goal is to do fifty walks in fifty days. I base the number on nothing more than a man I read of once who did fifty marathons in all fifty states in fifty days.

I am not a runner. I don’t even like the idea. But I could walk forever. I enjoy the slowness of walking. Slow not in the sense of time, but of mind. I enjoy absorbing the energy around me, taking in my environment until it becomes a part of me. Walking is very Zen-like, meditative. It feeds my soul. I have walked for pleasure and for exercise since I was in college, mostly in natural settings. I am not a fan of a treadmill or a track. I want birds and rustling leaves, acorns dropping to the ground with an occasional squirrel crossing my path. I can tolerate the stray construction truck or guy on a bike, but mostly I avoid roads in favor of paths, prefer woods over houses.

I am able to walk. I am capable. I am thankful for that.

So, now my mission is to choose my charities. My instincts tell me to walk for the people, the planet, the animals. This is how I choose the food I eat. Maybe it will work for walking. But leaving meat out of my diet and doing it for the people, the planet, the animals is almost self-explanatory. What exactly does that mean when it comes to throwing on a pair of Vibrams and hitting the trail? I need to get more specific.

Also, I have questions in my head. Am I physically able to do fifty walks in fifty days? I think I am. Are walks even arranged so that I could do fifty in fifty days? I don’t know that. I’ve only ever done one walk. I don’t know about these things. Where would I get all the registration and backer money I would need? I only have so many friends and so many disposable dollars. When would I do all of this walking? When I’m not teaching? Summer term, maybe? The hottest part of the year. That might not be the best idea.

If I had planned better, I would have waited another year and a half. I would have done this in celebration of my fiftieth birthday. Then there would be an even bigger theme and I could call the effort “Fifty in Fifty on Fifty.” I’m not quite that together. And I’m far too impatient to postpone.

So, I’m thinking out loud here. I like the idea of giving in a way I’ve never given. I am always up to a challenge and like to spend my time doing things I enjoy. I find great pleasure in walking, and I find great pleasure in serving humanity. And, I like to shake up the routine from time to time. I am not a meeting go-ing nine-to-five-er kind of gal. I like to be different and slightly extreme in a very somewhat conservative non-death-defying sort of way. I think I could do this. I think it would be fun. I think I am just bored enough right now to enjoy something like this in my life. And I think I am tired of spouting off about compassion and giving and change and then kicking back on my front porch with a good book and the evening paper thinking that I’ve done my job, expecting that someone else will do all the giving, that someone else will effect all that change.

Monday, September 12, 2011

Call Me Crazy

Mom. Dad. I’m moving in with my boyfriend.

What?! Are you crazy?! No man would ever marry a woman after living with her. What would the motivation be? He has everything he needs. You’ll just hurt your own cause.

(Author’s note: My “boyfriend” and I just celebrated twenty-five years of marriage in March of this year.)

I changed my major from pre-med to psych!!!!!!!

What?! Are you crazy?! Why don’t you stick with something where you can REALLY help people? Medicine is REAL and USEFUL. Psychology is just a bunch of people sitting around talking about stuff. It’s nothing but a bunch of fluff and nonsense.

(Author’s note: I have never not loved my work. I have been thanked profusely over the years for positively impacting the lives of others.)

I’ve decided to stay home with the kids.

What?! Are you crazy?! You worked so hard for that degree, spent all that money, and now you’re going to just sit home. For what?! And you KNOW it’s going to be hard to get back into the work world once you get out of it.

(Author’s note: After twenty years as an at-home mom, I stepped right back into the work world exactly where I wanted to be. AND I have four beautiful, well-adjusted children who have thanked me for the way they were raised.)

Guess what?!?! I’m pregnant with number four!!

“What?! Are you crazy?!

(Author’s note: “Number four” has been as much a teacher in my life as she has a child. She has stretched me far beyond my comfort zone, encouraged me to try things I may never have had the courage to try, and given me a unique perspective on personalities different from my own.)

I’ve decided to go to grad school. Online.

What?! Are you crazy?! That’s not real school. No employer is ever going to look at a degree from one of those places. You may think it’s some big new thing, but nobody even knows what it is, and it’s never going to catch on. It’s just a waste of money.

(Author’s note: I have a job. In my chosen field. In a regular college environment. I work with others who have doctorates from “real” schools.)

We’re pulling the kids out of school for a couple weeks for vacation!

What?! Are you crazy?! Kids miss even one day and they’ve missed important learning time, labs or group activities or such that just can’t be made up on one’s own. And for what? To sit in a hotel room and see Mickey?

(Author’s note: My oldest has visited all but five states. My younger three have only nine left to visit. They have seen in real life many of the pictures from their textbooks.)

Yeah. I’m vegan now.

What?! Are you crazy?! I knew a vegan once and he got so sick. He had to quit.

(Author’s note: I am healthier now than I ever have been in my life. I have clear skin, great hair, and energy to spare. I am never sick.)

I still think I’m not finished with school.

What?! Are you crazy?! You’re almost fifty for God’s sake! Why would you want to go back to school? What’s the point at YOUR age?

(Author’s note: Learning. The point is learning. Working my brain, stretching my mind, and learning.)

I have big dreams of making the world a happier, healthier place to be. I have dreams of encouraging others to own their lives and take responsibility for their own physical and emotional well-being by eating nutritious foods and exercising every day. I have dreams of a compassionate planet where we take only as much as we need, give more than we have, and wake up each day eager to do it all again, where we love ourselves, love each other, and love the earth on which we live. I have dreams, dreams of finding work we enjoy, enjoying our work so much, in fact, that we forget it IS work, doing what we were put here to do in order to positively impact the lives of others, to give back. I have dreams that we are so full of joy we cannot help but to spread it to others. I have dreams, I do. But then, who knows. I may be crazy.

Friday, September 9, 2011

This Little Light of Mine

Do not let your fire go out, spark by irreplaceable spark. In the hopeless swamps of the not quite, the not yet, and the not at all, do not let the hero in your soul perish and leave only frustration for the life you deserved, but never have been able to reach. The world you desire can be won, it exists, it is real, it is possible, it is yours.
……….Ayn Rand

I am lecturing today, the first day of term. It is one of those lectures I’d rather not do but, being that this is a psychology course, is sort of required. I am laying the foundation, laying out the theory, talking Freud, Skinner, Maslow, and May. It is a tiny class, just about thirty, very intimate, very relaxed. We chat, we laugh, they ask questions, lots of questions, totally irrelevant, completely off topic, my favorite kind. We discuss the differences between behavioral and psychodynamic perspectives, boring stuff like that, but we have a good time with fun examples and interesting tangents.

I like school. I’ve always liked school. Even when I was a little girl, some of my favorite things in all the world were new pointy pencils and a fresh box of Crayolas, the feel and smell of brand new textbooks, the beautiful look of the teacher’s name scrawled on the board in absolute perfect cursive, those tablets with the dotted lines in the middle of two solids. I even liked homework. Sometimes I would give myself homework if none were assigned. Just for fun.

I always knew I wanted to be a teacher.

Teachers were pretty and smart and smelled good. Teachers were nice and friendly and wore pink sweaters with tiny buttons. They called you “Sweetie” and “Dear” and never got upset. If they did, they would just say, “Now, class.” Then you would just get an explanation about how passing notes could sometimes hurt feelings and make people feel left out or sad and how it was distracting when a person was trying to teach numbers or when another person was trying to learn those numbers and how it would be a much better idea to just wait until recess and talk to your friends then. Only really you couldn’t do that because the boys and girls always played separate and never talked to each other. For boys and girls to actually talk to each other on the playground meant that you liked each other and if you did, well, then you had to pass notes anyway. But, still, the teacher would give the talk and that would be the end of it. I couldn’t wait to grow up and be a teacher.

I also knew that I would write books, although I never pursued this and never knew any authors personally, so I didn’t know what they smelled like or what they wore or how they talked or if they were nice or mean. But I did know that it was fun to make stories and play with words. I decided to stick with short fiction and journal entries as my skills in poetry failed to impress my second grade teacher. After that sad attempt, I fashioned a homemade novel on the adventures of The Pickle Family. My mother showed her friends with great enthusiasm. That was all the incentive I needed to entertain the thought of a career in writing.

Except for a brief pre-med sidetrack, I have pretty much followed my chosen path and stayed true to goal. I am teaching. I am writing. I am doing each most every day. But, sadly, I am feeling lately that something is missing. I am in the right place for me, yes, and I am heading in a good direction, but I am sort of at a standstill. Which leads me to question myself. Am I really in the right place for me? Am I really headed in a good direction? And couldn’t I do more? I am not feeling that I am giving all that is inside me to give. I am not feeling that I am contributing all that I was put here to contribute. I have more. I know this. I want to use it, but I am not sure how. I am losing my spark. I am losing faith in my ability to head toward some larger goal. I look at my life and ask, “Is this it?” I don’t believe it is. There is more. I can feel that there is more inside of me to give. I don’t know how to give it. It is frustrating to the point that I am losing that spark.

So I am in class today, learning names and majors and reasons for being late, talking Piaget and Seligman, Rogers and Wundt. I am smiling and friendly and smelling as good as I can possibly smell, wearing a navy cardigan with tiny blue buttons. I am a teacher, a teacher who is trying really hard to keep the light, but is sadly losing her spark. At the end of class, a guy strolls up. I am prepared for a speech on why he can’t make it to lecture next week or how his job will make him ten minutes late to every class or that he bought the wrong book and could I show him again which text we will be using. He does none of this. He hands me a ripped out sheet of paper from a spiral notebook. Scribbled on it in pen is the quote above. “Here. You might need this.” Then he leaves. That’s it. No one is in the room. Everyone has left. I read the note.

He was right. I do need it. But how would he possibly know?

The note makes me realize that while I think I am a teacher and a writer I am really a birthday candle. When you have cake, you never take the match and light every candle. You light one candle. Then you take that one candle and light the others. Once a candle is lit, it can help the first spread the flame to others who sit and wait in darkness. It can help to light others who then can help to light others. And in the end there is the most beautiful display of warmth and love and all things good just because that first candle refused to let its light go out.

I read the words again and realized that if I let my flame go out I have nothing to light the others who sit and wait in darkness. I have nothing to spread the warmth, the love. I know now that I need to nurture that spark and keep that spark because, ultimately, the spark is not mine. It is not here for me. It is here for those I will help to find their own light in the hopes that they will help others to find theirs.

Monday, September 5, 2011

Make a Change

I am not very good at taking my own advice. I absolutely stink at listening to myself. Sure, I’m a pro at the whole standing on the soapbox thing, preaching to those who will stand and listen and running after those who won’t. I’m a pro because I’ve had lots of practice. I’ve been talking and voicing my opinion all my life. I used to get in trouble, in fact, for talking so much. At home. In school. In church. Everywhere. My fifth grade report card came home with a personal note from the teacher: “Tammie is a joy, but needs to refrain from talking.” I figured out as I grew older how to work my penchant for words and need for an audience to my advantage. As an adult I have a job where I get paid to talk and a hobby where I can do so uninterrupted, word count be damned. It doesn’t matter anymore if I talk too much. People pay me, in fact, to do so. So I talk and while I’m doing that talking, I do a lot of preaching. I preach messages of loving one another, of loving yourself, and of heading out the door each day with the aim of making both a little better.

I do all this preaching because I care about the well-being of the planet and the people on it. I care about the physical health of each, and I care about the emotional health. Honestly, though, and just confessing here, I’m not so compassionate on an individual level. I know that’s somewhat difficult to understand, but it’s like this. I could really give a shit whether you, personally, enjoy your days or not, but the likelihood is that if you’re happy and thriving in your life then you will take that attitude and spread it around to others so that, as a whole, we’re a happier, healthier planet. We all feel really great physically, emotionally, and spiritually, and have wonderful things to pass on to one another. We live in a better world. So, I care about you, but only to the extent of you doing your part for world peace, hunger, health, whatever.

Not to sound crass.

While I’m out there doing all that preaching, one of my go-to sermons is that of choice. I throw my hands in the air, look around at the crowd, and say in that loud booming voice I have that if there is something bringing you down, brother, something weighing on your heart, something pressing on your chest as the earth itself then, glory to God, look around at the CHOICES in your life and MAKE a change. Hallelujah! Because choice is there, brother. Choice is always there. Like the Lord Himself. Look around. And MAKE that change. The Lord did not PUT you here to hide in the darkness. No. He put you here to take your light out into the world and lift UP your brothers and your sisters. He PUT you here to take that light of yours out into the world and let it shine. Come out of that darkness, brother, and MAKE that change. Hallelujah!!

I say the words, and I mean them, but I don’t listen.

I do have something in my life right now that is bringing me down, that is weighing on my heart, pressing on my chest as the earth itself. I do have something in my life right now that is keeping me from spreading all of my light, that is keeping me from loving all and from loving myself completely. And, yet, I am allowing it. I am not making that change. I am not looking at the choices. I am hiding in the darkness. I am afraid to come out.

I have decided to handle this issue, to face it, to come to terms with it in whatever form those terms may take. I will do with it first what I do with all of my problems. I will put it into my head. I will think on it and ponder why it is in my life. I will analyze it as only I can analyze. Before I study the choices, then, I need to learn why this issue has presented itself to me. I believe all that we hear, all we experience, and all that comes to us comes for a reason. I believe that we agree to our life paths before we come to this world in physical form. I believe that we agree to certain experiences, be they hardship or pleasure, in order to learn valuable lessons for maximum soul growth. We agree to these lessons. We accept them. And then we charge ahead. I have to look at the situation in my life and ask, “What is the lesson here? Why is this issue in my life? What am I to learn from it and why am I to learn that? How am I to use this bit of education to benefit those around me?”

Just know that I am not yet prepared to divulge the specifics of the situation itself. I am not ready at this point to bare myself to my readers. Perhaps that is an essay to come. Very possibly it will lead to a thought that will lead to an essay. For now, it is enough for you to know that you are not receiving my full light and that I apologize for that. It is enough for you to know that I have put my learner hat on and am cramming for the exam on this particular chapter in my life. It is enough for you to know that I am discerning why this has come to me and how on God’s beloved earth I can make it of benefit to ANYone.

I am wondering if you have an issue that is weighing on your chest, an issue that is keeping you in the darkness, keeping you from shining your light.