Monday, January 30, 2012

What Can YOU Do For ME?

I know it doesn't exactly look like it, but this is a thank you note. To all of you. For playing YOUR part in MY life.

I came here to write. I’ve done everything but. I had a bite to eat, some nuts, a banana, a tiny bag of chips. I had a latte and a Diet Coke. I checked Facebook, took my turns in all my Words With Friends games. I had a few new email messages, but nothing that needed an urgent response. Okay, nothing that needed any response. My blog tracker showed a few reads since I last checked. I read back through my previous post. I’ve played my usual coffee shop game of Guess What That Person is Up To. The lady behind me has her entire table spread with greeting cards and address lists and little papers of all sort. She is either sending wedding thank you notes, invitations of some sort, or getting a really early start on Christmas cards. And she’s doing it all the old-fashioned way. The woman in front of me has time to kill and nothing to do. She also might be dieting. Her lunch consists of a cup of soup and a Diet Coke. Or maybe I just eat more than she does. She brought her e-reader with her, so she has come to spend a couple hours in the company of others so that maybe she isn’t lonely while she reads. People do that. They go where there are others even if they don’t know those others just so they don’t feel so alone in their own lives. Don’t ask me how I know this. The guy beside me was on lunch hour, pressed white shirt, gray dress pants, sharp looking overcoat. He ordered his blueberry scone, ate it and left. I lack great fun gossip today as everyone is here by him or herself. Each table has only a single customer. Boring. Maybe I should get back to my business at hand. I came here to write. I have done everything but. I am procrastinating as I am trying to figure out how to speak on this topic without coming across as arrogant, full of myself, conceited beyond belief. Hedging, however, is pointless, so I will just out with my opinion, which actually begins with a question.

Why are you in my life?

I do believe you have crossed my path for a reason. Are you here to teach me a lesson, to provide me support, encouragement, enlightenment, to give me a bit of information that I might need for something I am supposed to do, to make me smile, to make me laugh, to help me when I am in need, why? Why are you in my life? Whenever I have issues with another and feel seriously at a loss as to what to do, I often ask myself this question. Why is this person in my life? I assume there is a lesson to be learned, a task to be accomplished together. I assume. I could be wrong.

Some people are in and out of my life so fast that I hardly have time to assess the purpose of the passing. My fellow coffee shop patrons this afternoon, I know, exist only for material. Except for that little guy who is here with his mom. They are regulars. His mother may work here. I am not exactly certain. Regardless, this bedhead of a little towhead charges full speed at life every day. He is relentless in his pursuit of joy. His face is plastered almost continuously with the most beautiful smile. He is doggedly persistent. Nothing deters him. If he cannot reach the counter, he grabs a chair. If he has a spill, he makes art of it. If his sister chooses a table not of his liking, he holds his ground. He knows where his joy lies, and he holds fast to that. I have never seen him not full of zest, enthusiasm, exuberance. He is the model of resiliency, as much as a two-year-old can model anything dealing with life’s injustice and inequities. I think this little guy is more than material. I think he is a lesson to me in gratitude, in being thankful for what I am given whether good or bad as it is all mine and it is all life and it is all here to be lived. Some of you are not just passing through, however. Some of you have pulled up a chair and have decided to stay.

So. Why are YOU in my life?

When I play this game of looking at you and your reason for existing in my life, I question, too why I am present in yours. I play the game the other direction. Why am I in YOUR life? Am I just material? Am I here to teach, to entertain, to keep you company when you’re feeling down? Am I here to give you a step up, a helping hand, a kind word, a warm embrace? I know that I have purpose in your life. I do not exist simply to eat and live and breathe independently of everyone else on this earth. I know that I am not in your life simply to pretty it up, but instead to make you smile or think or laugh or try that which you thought you could not try.

I have come to this. I may not know ever the reason we have crossed paths. I simply will put my best into our every encounter. I will be all of who I am whenever I am with you. I will smile, encourage, entertain, educate, love, inspire. I will help you in the way that I can, in the way that you need. I will be me and no one else because I know that you have those others who can be them and that only I can give you me. I will share what I know and who I am and what I am about in the hopes that even a tiny part of it may be that which you need to continue forward in your life path. Maybe you won’t need it now. Maybe you won’t need it tomorrow. Maybe you will need it years from now, but you will need it. And so I will give you that because it is mine to give. I will be here for you. I will be here for you as you are here for me.

Saturday, January 28, 2012

You're Almost There

How do you move forward in life when you can’t see where you’re going? I’ve always had a clear vision. I’ve always known without question my goals, my direction, my path, my purpose. All through high school I took the classes I knew would get me into a good college, a good program. I knew college was the goal, not because I was encouraged to go (my parents liked the idea, but study past high school was not an assumed part of life) but because I knew what a college education would get me. A college education would get me a career, not a job. A college education would give me the step up I needed to improve my lot, to better my path, to ensure a different life for the children I had planned but had not yet had. It was absolutely clear to me that I would go to college.

Once in college, I was focused, determined, dead set on that end goal. I would get that degree regardless the work that had to be done to acquire it, regardless who I had to step over, what I had to plow through to get it. And I did. I got the degree. I started the family. I parented. I set up house. I took the part-time positions and volunteer opportunities and pursued further education. I danced through my life always according to this vision that lay in my head, according to this plan that was so clearly laid out. So now I find myself ready for that next step. I find myself ready, but somehow I have lost the vision.

I am in a good spot for me. I know that. I have done well in my life and have been successful at putting myself in places where I have had opportunity to use the gifts I have been given. I have opportunity, in fact, every day to teach and to speak and to write, to uplift, motivate, move, encourage, inspire. Yes. I am in a good spot. I am in a good spot, and I am ready to step forward, ready for the next challenge, ready to use my gifts for a bigger purpose. But for the first time in my life, I just cannot see this purpose, this path, this picture. I cannot see. I am like a driver in the fog, only able to peer out as far as my headlights. I go to class. I post to blog. I mother and counsel and work hard on my marriage. For the first time in my life, though, I cannot see what comes next. I feel the call. I feel the urge. I feel pulled toward something, but I have no idea what that something is. I know it’s there, but where is there?

I’m ready for the assignment. I am. But what exactly is that assignment?

I have a blind student this semester. I am learning a lot from her. She listens. She listens to others, to her environment, to her feelings, her instincts. “You are at the corner,” another will tell her. “There are three seats in your row. The woman who sits in your seat from the other class is not out yet. I will tell you when it is clear.” This student is unique because she has no vision at all. I have had other students with limited vision, but she has none. She is totally dependent on her other senses. She listens to my movements as I work myself around the room. She follows me with her head. She can see me without her eyes. She has a “watch” that talks to her, that tells her when class is almost finished, but I have noticed that she will pick it up, will fidget with it shortly before it goes off. She has a feel for the time, a feel for where we are in lecture. She has a good guess for the character, too, of fellow students. There is no prejudging since there is no color or gender or socioeconomic status. I have listened to the comments she makes to someone as she sums them up, as she asks them questions about themselves in the getting to know you stage. I am always impressed at how very accurate she is, how very insightful. I am learning from her that sometimes vision actually impairs sight.

I’m wondering if I might use this lesson to help me move forward in my own life. I’m wondering if I might relax a bit and rely less on what I see for my future and more on how I feel. I’m wondering if I might pause a minute to listen, to listen to others as they guide me, as they show me the way, to listen to my environment, to listen to my heart. I’m wondering if I might start trusting my instinct a bit, my intuition, my (gasp!), my gut. I’m wondering if I might start getting a feel for where to go, which way to turn. I’m wondering if I can, indeed, move forward in my life guided not by my vision, by the pictures I see in my head, but by the voices in my heart, the whispers of my soul. “You are doing fine. You are almost there.”

You Know Me....You Know Me Not

You think I’m an open book. I’m really just a great press release. Stand anywhere near me for about ten minutes and you will feel like you’ve known me for a lifetime. I’m that free with information on my family, my desires, my wishes, dreams, dilemmas, my job, my home and hobbies and happenings. Float along in my personal bubble even longer and you will know that I am a lefty and a liberal, that I write and vote on the same side. You will see that I am all about patience and love, tolerance and compassion. That I believe people are people. Period. You will know that not only am I vegan, but that I’m passionate about health and well-being for all, not just myself, that I believe a healthy planet is a happy planet. Hover in my space a bit and you will definitely breathe in my desire to help others achieve all that they are about. You will see that I live to empower. If I can, in fact, uplift, motivate, move, inspire, encourage, I have had a good day.

If you care, and even if you don’t, I will share that it’s end of term and I’m a bit overloaded with final projects to grade, that paperwork isn’t my thing, that I’d much rather talk and teach and guide without grading or without parameters of any kind set for either instructor or student. You’ll learn that I write, that I write a lot, that I write because I don’t know how to not write, that it’s been the way I’ve worked out my issues since I was all knee socks and pigtails, that I am extremely thankful to the second grade teacher with the funny glasses and the beehive hairdo who took the time to explain to an eager seven-year-old writer-wannabe what specifically makes words and letters a poem, that “The cat wore a hat” is not exactly it, but is a really, really great start. Thank you so much for that, Miss Winslow. Thank you very much for that. Stand near me a few more seconds and you would definitely know that I believe in learning just for the sake of learning. That’s it’s not about diplomas or degrees or beautiful golden honor cords. That it’s about filling your head with information that makes life more fun, more interesting and more enjoyable. That it’s about taking that information, then, and throwing it out for others so that their lives can be more fun, more interesting and more enjoyable.

Hang around me enough and you will learn that my dad died at fifty-two, only five years after he quit smoking cold turkey. He was buff and charming and quite the lady’s man. An inoperable brain tumor took him down, took him down fast. Life happens like that. You will discover that this is the reason I choose to live my days rather than spend them griping and complaining, to fill them up with things I love, things that bring huge smiles to my face and to my heart, because I know that I might not have tomorrow. I might not even have this afternoon. If I love you I will tell you that. If I don’t, well, make room, I need to step on by. Diagnosed today. Dead in three months. That’s how it happens. And that’s why I say what I feel and do what I do. I don’t have time to live your life. I’m here to live my own.

Once we get close and cozy and are confiding our innermost thoughts, you will discover that I have traveled a tough path, that I am determined and driven and persevering. You will know that I believe in second chances and destiny and fate. You will know, too, that I have experienced hunger and poverty and the like firsthand and that I have come out the other side and that this is why I don’t snub my nose or look the other way, that this is why I believe in caring and sharing and spreading the love, that I wouldn’t be where I am today if others hadn’t done the same, that I am thankful for those others and thankful for that spreading of the love, thankful so much, in fact, that sometimes I cry.

But no matter how long we talk or how close we get you would never know all of me. No matter how much of an open book I seem, I am still very guarded in what I choose to share. You see only the picture I paint for you, the carefully crafted creation that is me, that is, well, that is the part of me I want you to see.

You would never know, for example, that thing that happened when I was five, that thing that confused me at the time, but that made me understand that for as long as my father was living no one would ever bring me physical harm. Ever. In any way. You would never know the things I remember from my childhood that I never share because I don’t think my mother is aware that I remember them and that if she did she might be embarrassed or feel bad because they are about tough times and about things that might be inappropriate for little ears. You wouldn’t know, either, about that sheriff who felt me up when I was fresh out of junior high, the one who was a family friend and who popped in just for a quick hello and to cop a feel when my parents weren’t at home, the one who made me once again question male intention.

No matter how much you chat me up you would never learn of that time in my life when I was so lonely and lost that I considered something I never thought I was capable of considering. You wouldn’t know of that time. You wouldn’t know because it’s private and only for me. You wouldn’t know because it’s not part of the painting that I am creating for the world to see. It’s not part of that picture. Neither is that fraternity party stage in my life where I did things I can’t even write down here, things I can’t write down anywhere. Those things are just for me, for me and, certainly, for my sorority sisters because they were there.

No matter how long you hang out in my space you will never hear what I truly think. You will never know how I believe in soul companions, that I believe in these individuals we travel lifetimes with. You wouldn’t know this because I come from a place where science rules and research rocks and mystical spiritual crap is just that. So you wouldn’t know that I believe I have a twin soul who lives a parallel existence to mine and is always with me even when he’s not. You wouldn’t know that because it would discredit the academic image you have of me, this picture of a smart girl who is all about the books and lessons and that which can be backed up by studies and numbers and graphs and data and such. Mystical hooha is weird and fluff and not at all science. It’s creepy and scary and, well, just a bit out there. People who believe in that stuff are a little loose in the head, or so I’ve heard. But, hey, it’s me. So, I’ll just keep that part to myself.

So, yes, I am an open book, but I’m open only to the chapters that I want you to see. I am open only to the sections that are appropriate reading for the moment. Some of my pages I choose not to share. I keep those only for the closest of the close, for the select few, the very select few. Some chapters, amazingly, haven’t even yet seen print, may, in fact, never see print. Those I keep for myself, for now. For now, or maybe forever.

Monday, January 23, 2012

It Takes a Village. Seriously.

You are really not as special as you think you are. I know this sounds strange coming from one who preaches appreciation for individualization, tolerance for differences, and the living out of one’s fullest potential. Sure, you matter. Definitely, you have unique qualities to contribute to this world. Yes, you are a wonderful creation filled with the ability to love and give and laugh and live. And, I know, you have had your share of unfortunate life circumstance, but so have we all. We each matter. We each have unique qualities to contribute to this world. We each are wonderful creations filled with the ability to love and give and laugh and live. We each are special, special in our different ways.

Sometimes when I step out of my feeling of special-ness I see exactly what it is that I am. I see the connection between myself and others. I am not a separate being existing merely to grace others with my gifts. I am others. When I am quiet and still, I realize that only by holding others up do I bring life to my own world. Only by enabling, empowering, enriching do I live at all. I am only one piece of this spiritual puzzle. I am you.

Hogwash, you say? Maybe, but personally I did not get to where I am of my own accord, and I doubt that you did either.

Oh, sure. I’ve always been driven, motivated, certain of my desires and abilities. And, yes, I have plowed ahead as I made my way in life, obstacles be damned. If I had to describe myself to someone, in fact, I might choose the words determined, persistent, persevering. Still, I would have gone nowhere without the aid of others.

A man I don’t even know, and never will, paid for my first year of college. Yes, it was I who made the decision to pursue my education despite swimming upstream to do it. It was I who finished in three and a half years of actual study despite having to sit out two different semesters. It was I who never gave up despite having to transfer twice and losing much credit each time because of it. It was I who charged ahead and completed the degree when any rational person would have accepted defeat and quit. It was me, but it was that man who made it possible for me to use those gifts I was given, to do that charging ahead, to plow down those obstacles. It was he who set me up to do all that persisting and persevering. It was that man.

It takes a village to raise a child. Many people believe this. I hear it all over the place. I don’t think many follow through on it, though. Think about it. Did you personally feed anyone this past week that doesn’t live in your own home? Did you help to clothe them, to keep them warm? Did you support a parent by watching a child so the parent could go to work to get money to get food to feed that child? Did you read to a child you didn’t birth or help conceive? Did you give her a ride to school or extracurricular activities because the parent couldn’t afford the gas to get her there? Did you help to pay for her education? Well? Did you?

I know. You worked hard for your money. Nobody handed it to you. You went out, and you got it. You paid for your OWN education. But did you have a loving family who supported your decisions, who encouraged you to go to school, who provided a warm home with a warm meal? Did you have parents who sat on the bench clapping and cheering at every game, meet, match, event? Did you have your basic physical needs met every day, not just some days, but EVERY day? Did you?

A friend shared that, growing up, her father spent his days rummaging through dumpsters to find food to take back home to his sisters and brothers. He also was made to steal maxi-pads for his mother. He was eight. My kids were dueling in Battle of the Books when they were eight, competing against fellow students in a mock war of literature comprehension and retention. I bought my own tampons. With money.

I know. That parent should maybe make different choices, kick out the child molesting boyfriend, stop spending money she doesn’t have on beer or gambling or drugs and use it instead on food. She should get a job. Think on this. Whatever choice the parent may have, and I stress MAY, that child has no choice, none. That child cannot go get a job. That child cannot kick out the alcoholic, physically abusing boyfriend. That child cannot go get food or shoes or a decent place to live. That child is completely at the mercy of the village. That child, unless the village shows up, stands absolutely no chance of getting out of that environment. What she does stand a chance of is being ridiculed as an adult for not providing for her children, for not doing something with her life, for not getting a job like everyone thinks a responsible adult should. What that child stands a real good chance of is repeating the cycle into which she is born, a cycle of ridicule and humiliation and self-esteem crushing defeat.

What happens when we step outside our own greed, when we acknowledge that we are one, that we are brothers and sisters in this spiritual family? What happens? Well. We become the village. We lift up those children. We create amazing change. We create opportunity. It is because of such opportunity, in fact, that I am teaching today. It is because I am teaching that others may create a better life for themselves, that others may break that cycle, that others may help others to break that cycle. Very likely I have taught YOUR child. Possibly, even, I have taught YOU. My friend’s father? Well. If you were to take your own child to the hospital at a time when he needs physical care that you are not trained to provide for him, if you were to take him to the hospital in a time of need such as this, you would find yourself thankful for that village. You find yourself thankful that someone showed up in her father’s time of need, that someone showed up in his time of need so that he could show up in yours.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Stepping Out

I have been sitting here in my cozy coffee shop for the past few years pounding away at the keyboard, crafting words, posting to blog and downing lattes in the hopes that something I say may matter or move, that some part of what is in my head may be just the word that one of you needs to hear at just the moment that you read it or that maybe you will come back to it at some point in your future. In addition to posting my thoughts on various life topics, I have also been working on telling my story, the story of me as a little girl, the story of my growing up experience, a story of poverty and lack, a story of social issues such as inadequate healthcare, housing, food, and heat, a story of educational opportunity and the impact it can make on breaking a cycle, a cycle that so negatively impacts growth on every possible dimension. My story is a story of strength and determination and perseverance. It is a story of growth and change and overcoming obstacles. It is, simply, my story.

Here’s the deal. I have no regrets for the life I was given, the life into which I was born. I have no regrets because I don’t believe that my life happened for me, that it was truly MY life. I believe my life happened for others. I believe the stories I lived, the chapters I experienced, the characters I met existed so that I might use those experiences to throw some sort of good back out at the world, so that I might make a difference in the life of another. Whether through writing, speaking, or educating in some way I feel it my mission to move others to make a difference in the life of a child, in the life of anyone for that matter, experiencing hardship, hunger, poverty, homelessness, or suffering of any sort. I feel it my mission to show others that we are a team as humans living together on this planet, that we are not you and me, but us. I feel it my mission to spread the word of love and compassion and kindness and interconnectedness and peace. Arrogant of me to think this? Too grand a mission? Possibly, but it’s mine. It’s the one I was given. It came to me. And I’ve accepted the assignment. Will I change the world? No. Will I make a difference in one life? Yes. Will I inspire one person to make a difference in one life? Yes. The way I look at it is this. The more I can make a difference in one life, the more I can move one person to do the same, the more lives are changed for the good, the more that cycle of suffering is broken, the more we come together as the family we are.

But can I change the world from my window table at the local bookstore? Maybe.

I sat, the other day, with a good friend discussing dreams and ambitions. In typical Tammie fashion, I encouraged her in an area where I saw potential. You should know that I don’t believe the adage that anyone can achieve anything, that, as Walt Disney suggested, “If you can dream it, you can achieve it.” It’s a nice thought, but not totally true. The ability needs to be present. Sure, the desire to achieve is important, but the talents, gifts, skills are equally critical to success. If I see potential and ability, however, I will do my darned best to see that the individual in front of me understands what exactly it is that I see and understands the responsibility she has to use those gifts to benefit the greater good. I saw this sort of potential in my friend and encouraged her to pursue it. I am not a fan of the phrase hemming and hawing, but this is exactly what she did. “Are you afraid of failure,” I asked. “No, not at all,” she assured me. “I am afraid of success.” I was like the puppy dog with the cocked head, eyes lost in confusion. I just couldn’t process. Isn’t success the goal? Don’t we aim to be great at what we do? Aren’t we all shooting for some actualization of the dream that lives now only in our heads? Afraid of success? I felt like the seventh grader in geometry class, raising her hand to ask a question and when finally called on saying simply, “I don’t get it.”

Well, my friends. I get it now.

It is important to understand that I have no problem with trying and not succeeding. I am not afraid of failure. I know failure. I’ve done that. Failure and I are best buds. I could rebuild a forest with the paper from all the rejection slips I’ve collected. Wrong topic, wrong approach, wrong market, wrong writing. Right topic, right approach, right market, right writing, wrong time. It’s not true what they say, you know. The writers of those form rejection slips always apologize for the lack of interest, but assure the reader that the desire to pass is no reflection on her or her writing, but that the idea simply does not meet the needs at the moment. Well, OF COURSE the rejection is a reflection on the writer and her writing. The negative response basically says, “You suck, and we think you should go directly to jail, do not pass GO and do not collect $200 because you are such a poser to think you even RESEMBLE anything CLOSE to a writer.” At least, that’s how I read them. No, I am not afraid of failure. If a person is living and breathing and stepping out in life at all, failure happens. The thing is, I have experienced so much failure in my writing career that I think now I may be awfully close to success. And that, frankly, scares the hell out of me.

I sat yesterday with an editor friend over coffee, or rather over a venti green tea soy latte. It was her third or fourth read of my manuscript. I thought we would discuss commas and word choice and essay placement. She caught me off guard when she mentioned Oprah. Suddenly, I felt the need to hurl. “But this isn’t Oprah material,” I told her. “This is just my life. This is just my growing up years. This is no big deal. Really. It isn’t as bad as I make it look. I write. I embellish.” Like my dream denying friend I spoke of earlier, I found myself in classic hemming and hawing mode.

I am reminded of the words of Marianne Williamsom as she suggests that “Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous? Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God. Your playing small does not serve the world. There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won't feel insecure around you. We are all meant to shine, as children do. We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us. It's not just in some of us; it's in everyone. And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.”

It is important that we succeed. It is important that we help others succeed. It is important that we not be afraid of that success. It is important because, as I see it, success is not for me or for you. Success, ultimately, is for us and the family that we are.

Monday, January 16, 2012

Dude. That's a Lot of School.

Well, darn. Looks like college night at the local bookstore. I get THAT kind of gossip during the day from my students. I know it LOOKS like I come here to write, but really I come to hear the stories, to get ideas for essays, characters, a juicy bit of something to spice up my words. But just my luck, a no school day and all the students have come to hang out at the coffee shop. Well.

This guy in front of me has a sketchpad. And some cool pencils. He’s intense. He’s so intense. I know how he feels. Something about being in the middle of a noisy crowd that helps drown out distractions and let’s the art just flow. But a page full of ears? Could he not find something more interesting to draw? Fruit, maybe? Nudes? All the possibilities and he chooses ears?

Oh, now. Well. A young lady has joined him. Maybe I’ll get some bit of something to put to page after all. “Did you see that one asshole? Dude.” Okay. Artist Guy speaks Surfer Guy. “Dude. Michigan people, man.” “Dude. That school? That’s, like, a lot of school. That’s why I’m not going to school.” “But, that? I could totally do that. Dig it.” He should probably go back to his ears. I don’t think there’s any impressing that’s going to happen any time soon if that’s the direction he thinks he’s headed with this. I may need to redirect my eavesdropping if I am to have any content worth printing here.

Okay, so the guy behind me is here ALL the time. I know this because I am here all the time, and he is here more than that. He always looks homeless, but I’m not sure he is, although I’ve seen him at the library, too. Not that that makes him homeless. I’m not sure why he comes here. I never see him reading or writing or looking at anything. Mostly he just walks around the cafĂ© area straightening books, putting magazines back on shelves, returning dishes. But he’s not a worker. I know this, too, because he doesn’t have a green apron on ever. He knows people. I always see him talking to different guys, sort of like one of those people who just knows everybody in town. He’s with a gentleman now, but I can’t quite catch the conversation and it seems to be all over the place. I’ve got “sociology,” “air filter,” “fire hazard,” and “hallucinations.” I know I’m a writer and have quite the imagination, but even I can’t go anywhere with this one.

Ah, Surfer Artist Dude just put his headphones in. You should know that he dances as well as he converses.

The elderly lady at the next table is bending toward me with a piercing look. Yike. One second, I’ll get right back to you.

“Could I ask you a rather personal question?” Seriously. That’s what she said. I never know how to respond when someone says that. I mean, you’re a stranger and you want to know something about me that I may not share even with my closest friend? But, hey, it’s me. I share everything with anybody. So she leans forward and asks me this, and I say, “Sure.” In my head, though, I say, “But I reserve the right to not answer based on what the question is and how personal I feel it to be.” “Could you tell me what perfume you’re wearing? You smell so good.” If I told you how many times people tell me I smell good, you would think me full of myself. Not that you don’t already, but for real. I have no idea what people think of the way I look, but I’m pretty sure they’re ok with the way I smell.

Barista girl is apparently impressed with the guy at the counter. And, unfortunately I can’t share his reaction. Would it be rude of me to switch tables real quick to get a better peek and listen? (I am only half kidding here.) You should know that said customer is sporting dark glasses, dark curly hair, dark pea coat, and a pair of very nondescript dark shoes. Barista girl says, “I know you’re smart because you’re reading The Economist. Those articles are SO super-long. And they’re so DRY. I mean, come on. Who READS those?” Again, I would love to see the face. But, no.

Not-Homeless,-Not-Coffee-Shop-Worker Guy is now sharing with his friend something about some “kid” who is going to the local college, working on his PhD in Statistics. The college crowd at the other tables, I have learned since I started this essay, are studying math. Maybe this is a nightmare and not the coffee shop after all. Could I not have come on psychology night or philosophy night or any other night, for Heaven’s sake, but stats and math night?! Not that stats isn’t math or that stats doesn’t have anything to do with psychology, but if this were an old Western movie and I had done some horrendous deed and you had to throw me in the hole for a good long time and deprive me of all social contact whatsoever and just toss down some chow once in a while in one of those old banged up tin plates and I had to eat it amid the roaches and rats, you could if you wanted to rub salt in the proverbial wound, you could give me just a tiny little light and a bit of paper and something with which to write and make me do stats all day long for added torture. THAT’S how much I hate stats.

Artist Guy just left. Not Homeless Guy is gone. The college crowd is thinning. Must be the end of the essay.

Wow. Thinking I need to do my writing during the day when all the mommies meet for their morning lattes. Now THAT’S some juicy gossip.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Now or Never

I saw a dead man once. He was sprawled on the courthouse steps, head at the bottom, feet at the top, legs bent at unnaturally odd angles. People gathered around to take in the scene, to try to absorb what exactly was happening here. What exactly was happening was that the guy had been hit by a car and thrown up onto the steps. What was happening was that he was dead. The lights. The sirens. The emergency crews. It was all a bit surreal, surreal but under control in the way that only an event such as this could be. So why were the onlookers not going back to their business at hand? There was nothing they could possibly do. There was no difference that they could make. My dad looked at us girls and said simply, “I hope you never have to see something like this again.”

Maybe, I thought. But I’m glad I saw it once.

That sounds morbid, I know, but it really isn’t. Seeing death is life affirming. Regardless what you believe about the afterlife or the kingdom of God or karma or past or future lives or whatever, life on this Earth this particular go around is finite. There is only so much of it. When it’s gone, you don’t get anymore. Why, then, do we live as if it lasts forever, as if it’s one of those refillable buckets of movie popcorn where, even when you think you reach the bottom, there’s more to come?

I think of the dead guy. He probably had a to-do list sitting on his kitchen counter. He probably had a few things around the house he was planning to fix, people he needed to call, plans he had to make. Hell, maybe he even had a bucket list of things he wanted to do before he died. Not that that will happen now. Now, or ever.

A student asked me yesterday, “You’re always so happy and motivated. How do you do that?” I didn’t tell her about the guy on the steps. I didn’t tell her, but I thought of him as I offered up an answer. I thought of him as I told her that I’ve stopped doing things that I don’t like to do or don’t want to do. I thought of him as I told her that if I feel the urge to try something, I try it. I thought of him as I shared with her that I live MY life now and not the life that others would like me to live. I try to worry less about what others think of me. I put myself in my happy place as often as I can, and I take care to know exactly what that happy place is. I live a life of giving, of laughing, of living. If I like you, you’ll know it. If I don’t, well, you’ll know that, too. I live. I live because someday I will die.

There are no do-overs.

It’s like this. We begin life with zest and zeal and enthusiasm out the wazoo. We know who we are, and we aren’t afraid to show that. Then, over time, we are told to behave, be nice, be good. Be patient, be still, be realistic. We are told to be normal, be practical, be like all the other kids, for God’s sake. We shape ourselves, remake ourselves, do our best to fit in, to be what we think we are expected to be. We lose ourselves a bit. We begin living the life that others expect us to live, doing what others expect us to do, feeling what others expect us to feel. We become adults. There is no room in our grown up lives for that little girl, the one who knew who she was and what she was all about and wasn’t afraid to throw it out there for the world to see.

I’d rather shoot myself in the foot than sit through a meeting. Knowing this, then, why would I design a life for myself that involves meetings on a regular basis? The little girl in me looks out the window and wants to run play in the sunshine instead of wasting away a beautiful day inside listening to some overly full of herself co-worker drone on and on. The little girl in me wants to walk in nature, drive with the heat cranked up and the music blasting. I’ve honored my little girl self by designing a life where I have a job that involves moving around from room to room or building to building. I am never bored. I write. I can write anywhere. I even write outside. I write outside in the sunshine. But never in meetings. I don’t do meetings.

It didn’t take me very long to figure out how to be a grown up. I was a good girl. I was responsible. I did what was expected. I liked the praise and attention that came with that sort of behavior. Once I was grown, however, it took me quite awhile to learn how to be a child again. It took me quite awhile to learn to listen that little girl I used to be, the little girl who loved to take a book outside and sit under a tree and just read away the afternoon, the little girl who would sit others down for a song and dance, who wasn’t afraid to own a room, to grace a stage, to fill others with love and laughter and to hold out for the big applause at the end. It took me a long time to become again the little girl I once was. I am still working on it.

So when my student asked how I stay happy and motivated, I thought of the little girl I used to be, the little girl I have tried so hard to bring back into my life. I thought of the wannabe author, scrawling out characters and plots with fat pencils in lined tablets. I thought of the afternoons spent dancing on a bed that served as a makeshift stage, singing into a hairbrush microphone, belting out tunes for friends and sisters, reveling in the peals of laughter. I thought of the first day of school, an exciting time always with new textbook smell and sharpened number twos and lunch money pinned to my red plaid jumper. When my student asked how I stay happy and motivated, I thought about this little girl self of mine. I thought about her, and I thought about the dead man.

Monday, January 2, 2012

Hello, Life

“Life is not a journey to the grave with the intention of arriving safely in a pretty and well-preserved body, but rather, to skid in broadside, thoroughly used up, totally worn out, and loudly proclaiming, “WOW!! What a ride!”

I never understand why people take vacations to get away from their real lives. Real life should be a vacation and vacation should be like bonus points. Think about it. Vacation is all about being silly and relaxed and excited about the day. It’s about seeing new things and trying new foods and having great sex. It’s about feeling light and refreshed and rejuvenated. It’s about exploring the world with eager eyes and a willing heart. It’s about spending time with the ones you love, laughing and playing and getting all crazy. Shouldn’t life be like this every day? Why do we save the good stuff for only the special occasion?

Instead, what we typically do with real life is use ourselves up, run ourselves ragged, work until we just can’t work any more. We go to jobs we hate, hang out with people we can’t stand, and spend time with our loved ones only when we are finished with everything else. We get too little exercise, eat too much crap, and maybe save a few minutes for a quickie before falling into bed. We “Oh, my God, it’s Monday” and “Thank God it’s Friday.” When the weekend is over we wonder where it went. We gripe and grouse and absolutely never have enough time. We plan all year for the one or two weeks we have off, the one or two weeks that represent our ideal, the way we would live our lives should we never have to go to those jobs we hate with those people we can’t stand.

Do this. Think about your plans for the day. Write them down. Everything, from what you intend to eat for breakfast to the commute you know you will have to make. Now, if this were your last day here, your absolute last day on this earth, which of those things would you mark off the list and which would you keep? I know. I can hear you. I know what you’re thinking. But I need to pay the bills, pay the rent, keep my insurance. Well. Yes. But do this. Picture your life as one big vacation. You live in a place you love with people you enjoy and a job you actually want to go to. You eat beautiful delicious food that you either prepare yourself, if you happen to love to cook, or order, if you are somewhat spatula-challenged and in need of just a bit of help. You smile and laugh and dance to your heart’s content, whether, indeed, you “dance” or whether you don’t. Your friends and family get the best of you, not what’s left at the end of the day. You like every day, not just those beginning in “S”. And now let me ask. Are you not still paying the bills, paying the rent, and doing all those things you believe responsible adults are supposed to do? Of course you are. You are because you are still making money and living in a style that better fits you, not one you feel you are supposed to fit. And, mind you, you are not lying on the beach every day either. Some days, yes, but not every day. Honestly, as much as you enjoy a good book and a bottle of unsweetened iced tea with your feet in the sand, you could not do that every day for the rest of your life, just as you could not do ANY one thing every day for the rest of your life. But you wouldn’t want to sit on the beach every day any more now because you love your life, you love your life every day and have no more need to escape.

I’d like to relate a story here to illustrate my point, a story of someone I know who lived a life of drudgery and tedium and toil, a life devoid of joy and laughter and feeling full of heart. I’d like to tell you of this individual who lived for someday, who sacrificed the now for the later, who made grand plans of travel and time with friends, who drew out a sketch for a retirement to be envied and desired by all. I’d like to share with you the story of how this friend of mine counted down the days until the office goodbye complete with cutting of the vanilla cake with vanilla frosting and presentation of the commemorative plaque. I’d like to tell you that this story ends with those grand plans being left undone as this hard working, “now” sacrificing individual passes from this world too soon, passes too soon and with life left unlived. I’d like to tell you this story. I’d like to, but I can’t, as I have no story like this to relate. But I could. It happens all the time. I am sure that you could think of someone you know and tell me your story instead.

I never understand this. We shouldn’t have to take vacation to escape our lives. Our lives should be silly and relaxed and leave us excited about the day. We should see new things, try new foods, and have really great sex. We should feel light and refreshed and rejuvenated. We should explore the world with eager eyes and a willing heart, spend time with the ones we love, laughing and playing and getting all crazy. THAT is life. That is life. Vacation, then, my friend, vacation is the exclamation point at the end of that beautiful life.