Wednesday, May 29, 2013

The Dreams We Have At Night

I have vivid and strange dreams. Nearly every morning, I come out of an underworld of dreams so odd and surreal that I am left wondering if someone slipped a little something into my drink before bed. Seeing as how this has been the case for almost all of my life, I know this was no roofie. This is merely my imagination getting up to stretch its legs during what it considers a boring baseball game. My brain will have gotten a serious workout, even though I was lying flat in bed, not moving at all. I usually tie in all kinds of things that have a place in my real life, recent events, etc and then fill in the blanks with a strange putty made up of the craziest shit imaginable.

The dream I had last night brought to my attention once again that I have some weird thing with public restrooms in my dreams. I have lots of dreams in which for some reason or another I must enter a public restroom. Almost all of them are in locations new to me, some place I have never been (and probably doesn't exist). This time it was because I had fallen ill with a strange paralysis. More on that in a minute. This will be like a Tarantino story, stick it out and just re-read it when you are done and it will all come together.

The beginning of the dream has me repeating a phrase and trying to decipher it: 5 flower, 5 flower, 5 flowers? flowers? five of them? 5 of something? I am seeing the number five and the word flower. Not a picture of flowers, but the word. Then the picture. Then the word again. I am trying to associate what it is. In this part of the dream I am significantly younger than I am now. I am stuck on this strange totem. I want to know what it means. It is bothering me to a feverish degree. Where did I get this idea from? Why is this important? Eventually, the sound of my voice fades out and I let it go...

Then I am on a street. There is a tall building across from me. Something bad has happened. I see a window curtain slightly open and I look up to see who or what is there and it closes quickly. I go to the building, go up inside of it. It seems to be from a different time, perhaps about 35-40 years ago by the looks of the interior. I am headed up the stairs. I see brown and orange and wallpaper that makes it all look to be from the 1970's. I realize that there are a lot of police and I wonder why I am there. I am investigating. I am there to find something, find things or people. It comes to my attention that I am supposed to be there, that I belong with the police. Ok, then, let's go investigate. I get to the hall where I think the window was that I saw open. There is a number 5 on the door.

Next thing I know I am on the ground. I am outside of the door, facing an exterior hallway, one that would normally have a railing of some sort but it does not. I know almost immediately that this is a dream, because so many of my dreams have this lovely feature. Concrete blocks, either in a large parking garage or other structure- this time the space between floors, and they are the ledge out from a building or other safe platform and they are narrow, much too narrow all of a sudden and where the hell did the rail or balcony or wall go? Yup, this is a dream.

But I could not get out. I knew and it didn't matter. Because I was on the floor. And I was really dizzy. Nauseatingly so. I am huddled next to the building's exterior wall, on the fifth floor of a building that all of a sudden opens right out to nothing but a five story drop. I am trying to get it together. Maybe ten seconds have passed, but it feels like hours. I look away instead of down and as my vision moves away from the building to the area across the street, I see the street sign: Flower.

It is Christmas Day. Someone keeps saying that over and over. The Christmas Day Massacre. What? Who is talking? Where am I? Oh, shit, I am still on the ground. Only now I have closed my eyes so it looks dark. There is someone huddled down with me. She is asking me to stand up, so we can go inside. I say it now, to make sense of it; 5 Flower.... 5 Flower... is this what I was supposed to see? She says it doesn't matter, but she doesn't know. She has no idea just how much it matters. Doesn't she know how many years I've had this information and didn't see?

We arrive in the dimmest public restroom ever. True to form, this one is crazy town. No stall where the toilets are, even though it seems to be a nice bathroom. Women are everywhere, even though the building was pretty much empty except for all the cops and it is an apartment building. Why wouldn't these women be in their own bathrooms? the mirror... what the hell? I catch a glimpse of myself. What the mother fuck am I WEARING? And why did no one tell me my shirt was on backwards? I know, because the tag is sticking out and floundering around down past my collarbone. On this blue and white striped-type loose dolman sleeve blouse that has no connection to anything I really own. Is...oh my that a brown plaid skirt? Where did I get this from? Did I get dressed in the dark? 

No one seems to notice or care. I raise my head to take in the rest of this picture only to see that my hair is up and in a careful chignon, belying the whole thing. Like a Barbie doll that you did the hair so nicely and then ripped the head off and stuck it on one you've written on with markers and left out for the dog to chew on. I look disheveled and official at the same time. With quite a bit of gray in my hair. What is going on here?

The question keeps coming, I can hear the question mark, but I can't hear the words. Then they start fading in one at a time: "Are... you....alright..?" Yes, I'm alright... of course I'm alright... all eyes are on me now. What? What is going on? They want to know why I was on the ground then, mumbling about the address. What did I mean? Was that a seizure? Do I want to go to the hospital?

I wake up.

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Every Sixteen Hours

I am in a cycle that has gotten totally insane. Roughly every sixteen hours, I begin an upswing where I tell myself all of the reasons I can come up with to continue going to my job. Once that sixteen hours is up, I begin the downswing, where I get mired in everything that is wrong and what I have done incorrectly to land me in the job I am in, and the ensuing boredom and irritability that runs through every minute I am there. If it weren't for its constantly manic nature, this would be known as a funk.

These are sometimes waking hours and sometimes they include sleep. I have had days where I have difficulty separating my dreams from my reality, and I get through a workday in a complete fog. Not that it matters, the job is so mindless that a three-legged, half blind lab mouse could complete most of the tasks, if only given a ladder.

This is not news. I wound my way into this mess and I am having a difficult time finding my way out. The struggle is terrible and simplistic at the same time. I know better than all of it, yet if I explained the argument that takes place in my head to a qualified person, it would make me eligible for some really potent drugs. There used to be a clear delineation between the two halves of this argument... Now it is starting to take on the following pattern:

 I am good at my job. Very good. I can fuck around for hours. Every day. Still, everything will get done. Who cares? This is easy. They are essentially paying me to show off my skills at obeying gravity. WHOA! Look at her hold that chair down! What does it matter? I get to write when no one is bugging me, right? Shit... let me guess. You need help loading a stapler? Here ... let me stop what I am doing, disrupt my phone call, email, conversation, that your day can continue moving smoothly. I went to college, you know. Yeah, I know you don't have a degree. That is why you can't operate the copy machine, either.  Its ok...go ahead, I'll take care of this while you get paid twice what I do...

I hate my job. So much. There is no part of my brain that gets any exercise at all. Only when someone rides my patience due to their incompetence, poor manners or general lack of tact and/or class, do I have to think at all. And even then, it is just about the prison sentence that would ensue from throwing that metal stapler that weighs three pounds straight at their face. And how I don't want to go to prison.... Move the stapler away... good...

My job pays the bills. This is a good thing, especially since I like being able to pay the bills. Money is good. People have to work. We all do things we don't like. This is part of the deal. You are contributing to society. Its part of being an adult. Just smile and nod. Shit, you know what, just wear clothes. Get in there wearing clothes and no one will notice you.

My job is eating away at my life, stealing hours and productivity, my youth, creative abilities, my intentions and desire to do anything else-it is all squandered beneath trying not to walk out of the room every time someone stupid walks in. There are simply not enough rooms.

My job gives me structure and makes it easier to plan expenses due to its stable pay. That is good. I like organization. It is nice to budget and not think much about it....see? That is a good reas...stop stabbing your hand with the scissors! People would kill for this job! Jesus!

My job is the worst part of my life, a failure to push myself to my full potential and a reminder of all that I could have been as well as my worst fears played out. Everyone here is a representative of another person, at another job, or some other worthless part of my life that I have obviously not learned the appropriate lesson from quite yet. I feel like I'm stuck in some weird board game and whoever is controlling this has some shitty dice luck.

Its good to be employed. Great health benefits. Paid time off. Take a sick day and calm your ass down. There are plenty of things to be thankful for. It could be worse. You get paid to do a very easy job. It could lead to much better things. You don't have to do everything in this lifetime. Think about it- if reincarnation is real, you could get thousands of chances to come back and re-do ....oh my god, I hope I'm at the end of this thing and I am not going to come back again and do this over. Buddha, Tom Cruise, are you listening?

And so it goes. Over and over again, like a hamster wheel of bipolar craziness, back and forth, slowly sawing away at my sanity. I know better. We all know better. We talk ourselves into things and out of things, giving our best attempts at justification, knowing just which buttons to push on our own brains. I know my weaknesses and which ones can be exploited to make me rethink a hasty decision. I also know that my 16 hours is coming up again and I will wake up in a frantic dream, where I'm drowning in a sea of paperwork, terrified of what it could be, only to turn the papers over and see that they are all blank.

I have to escape before I forget that it is my job that I hate and not my life. That I am capable of more important things and can be doing them instead. Before sixteen hours becomes six, or one. If you ever find yourself in a situation that you are thinking too much about, the situation is probably wrong for you. My corners are chafing at being shoved into this round hole. I am more of a hexagon, it seems. Don't cut your corners. Build a bigger hole that can fit all of you into it. Including your bipolar alter ego, you never know when it will really come in handy.

Monday, May 27, 2013

The New Bubble is Bursting

In 2010, I was hired by the world's largest private, for-profit "university" on the planet. I interviewed for this job for two reasons: 1) I needed a paycheck. (Let's be honest, that is the first reason for every job you've ever held and certainly this is true for most people. 2) I wanted to work with students, I wanted to assist people in moving towards a better life for themselves. I believed that everyone deserved a higher education, regardless of their situation. I knew it could mean a much better life. Be certain, though-I was neither the angel nor the devil in this situation. I started training the next month.

In the three weeks it took them to indoctrinate train me in the ways of enrolling students from one set of courses to another, I learned a great many things about higher education that my own degree had not set out for me, not only how very much it could cost, but also how desperate 'for-profit' schools were to earn that very name for themselves. All the rhetoric about making sure your students were ready to move on to their 3rd year of school was just words to fill the training room, because once you were doing the real job, you learned that a heartbeat meant they were ready. Your job was to convince them to do the application and get the federal student funding ball rolling.

I had my first realization about how bad the situation was as soon as I learned the cost. Being a fairly frugal person, I did the math in my head and realized there was a problem. I then began working with the average student that would attend said "university" and learned about their courses and the work expected of them. My heart sank when I realized my job was to get people to enroll into a program that would cost upwards of $35K after they had just spent $23K+ to do the first two years, totalling $58K, not coincidentally, the total amount of student loans you can take from the Federal government was roughly $58,500 at that time. 

When you see that many of the students are eligible for Pell grants and are extremely eager to get their refunds of the excess money, you realize how powerless you are to pull the plug on everything. The school starts courses every week, the students don't have to do placement or entrance exams, write lengthy application essays or pay application fees, wait in lines for advisors or admissions offices or months to apply to a program, therefore they get in the courses and get their money quickly.

I grew frustrated with the students who had potential to do so much better and go to a public university in their own state and pay less, while earning a better education, however they wanted to go to school online and so would pay the outrageous amount. The worst part was knowing that their education would not prepare them for interviews, public speaking or critical thinking needed for the best jobs in their field. My frustration was even worse with management that asked me to push students towards programs that we did have, instead of telling them to go elsewhere for the one they really wanted. I could not do that.

Needless to say, I did not last long in that job. If you've read this blog for any length of time, you know that I have had many jobs. Leaving this particular one, however, was the biggest weight off my shoulders. I would drive to work every day listening to yet another story about how the company that wrote my check was being sued, feel sick about what it was that I was supposed to do, then walk in from my car while clenching my fists. I knew how bad it was, I just didn't know how bad it was for me.  I tried yoga, going to the gym, drinking, writing, nothing seemed to shut it off. I was miserable and I was beginning to turn in on myself. I became an unruly force at work, telling people exactly what I thought of them, disappearing for long periods of time and giving my students the phone number to their local community college campus to get the information they really needed.

I left in early 2011. The timing could not have been better. Shortly afterwards, we learned that my stepfather was terminally ill and he died very quickly. Being unemployed for that period of time allowed me to be there for important decisions and take care of arrangements, not to mention to grieve and not put on a face for other people who didn't care and were not interested in my pain. Because my personal life turned upside down so quickly after leaving my job, I did not give much thought to what was happening there again for a while.

Time changes a lot of things, though. I am again working for a school. This one is a public community college district and this time, I am not in a position to advise students on a particular program or course of study. My job is completely removed from the loans they are taking out and the grant money getting funneled to the school for their studies. But I am always watching and I see something happening that I predicted three years ago: the student loan bubble is beginning to burst. My old employer has made swift and startling changes to keep in line with federal policy and to change the name they made for themselves It is all too little, too late. The only thing they will affect is their bottom line.

So many of the students that passed through their virtual doors graduated into an economic recession or dropped out entirely. Without the help of a decent degree, a college alumni office or career center, they floundered about, never making enough money to start paying off those loans. There are literally millions of them. Those loans are getting bigger through the magic of compound interest. The likelihood of them getting paid back is inversely proportionate. 

The bubble is enormous. Who is to blame? The students for taking the loans? The schools for convincing them with every legal method that it was a good idea? Who will we bail out this time? The schools owe no money. The debt is to the United States government. We have the most divided Congress in history. Will we take the steps to stop predatory schools? Will we bail out students who have no hope of paying back an ever-increasing loan? Consumers never come out ahead in these deals.

I paid less than half of the cost these students pay. I attended a well respected public state university and have been able to maintain steady employment ever since. Even when I left a job in a terrible economic climate without a back up plan. I feel terrible for people who did not get out of their education what they really needed. I feel even worse for their future and the money they will be expected to pay, with the least chance of making it. Their salaries will be among the lowest, while their debt will be enormous.

The most unexpected thing I learned about higher education was that while yes, I still believe everyone deserves a higher education, the truth is that many are not prepared for one. They cannot do basic course work, manage a class or two at a time, write the papers, or do the research needed to found their arguments. We may have to scale back this plan to give everyone a higher education. And not because they don't need it. Its because they are not prepared for it. Which raises questions about public schools, of course. That argument is for another day though.

Right now, it would be wise to remember what happened with housing. Get your umbrella, the shit is hitting the fan.

Thursday, May 16, 2013

Chronic Misperception Disorder

My daughter is friends with a wonderful girl and because they attend the same school and were on the same sports team, I had occasion to meet this girl's father. While we sat waiting for a recent event to start (way too early in the morning), I noticed he was wide awake, and appeared that he wasn't the least bit tired. Well, some people are morning people, I thought. Strange people, but hey, everyone has their thing, right? I'm tired and sipping my coffee and he goes on to talk to me about well, everything. Quite the talker. So now I'm paying attention. This is good entertainment early on a Saturday morning when caffeine is just starting to work its way to my brain. He was fascinating, talking quickly and within a short time I discovered he has an interesting life perspective. 

Not only does he get up at the crack of dawn and do yoga (which has changed his life, he will be happy to tell you) and run a few miles after that, he has a way of deciphering what he sees around him that was different from what I was expecting from another parent at our daughter's charter school, with its crisp plaid uniforms and SUV parade at drop-off in the mornings...

He has a phrase for that which he feels afflicts many people and he calls it "Chronic Misperception Disorder". I am at the edge of my seat when I hear this...y'all know how I am in the middle of a life crisis about gratitude, acceptance, reality, intention and ambition... I woke up right about then and trained my brain on this new piece of information wafting towards me. The words were like a cartoon ribbon of scent, leading me to the real world manifestation of what I think about so often.

He went on to tell me that the way he sees it, the root of what most people are upset about is not what is happening or what they don't have or how bad things are for them. The problem is not even what they see, simply that what they see isn't what is really there. I have stopped creating original thought in my brain at this point and begin to absorb this like a sponge. Wait, what? Isn't the reason that we are unhappy that we don't have what we want or that we don't appreciate what we have? Yes, he says, that is the simplest form of how to describe the unhappiness that plagues people, particularly the North American/European variety. But what really makes us upset isn't even the lack, its our constant perception of lack, reinforced by the strictest of societal codes and pushed by our environment, fears and physiological needs. This is a DISEASE and we are all afflicted. We are mostly happily afflicted, wanting to do nothing to change it. We want to manage the symptoms instead of the illness.

People don't even 'suffer' from this terrible disorder. As far as they are concerned, they are practicing upward mobility. The situation is much different than we think, though. Sure, we don't have what we want, but we don't even know what we have. We don't even know what we on earth can we ever be pleased?

You guessed it...We can't.

And that is how it works. You can never be pleased. If you reach the top, it is really only a step ladder to be able to see a HIGHER top. And then you begin the ascent to that. I know what you are thinking...This all sounds good, right? You are moving upward and onward, its the American way and you are utilizing your intelligence and capabilities to get better and better situations for yourself, right?

One little detail... you can spend your whole life doing this. You will fight this internal and external battle for decades, never knowing what you had, never being able to live in the present, appreciate the moment, see what you are possessed of and realize the beauty and wonder that is life. You will watch the ultimate sunset from the other side of tinted glasses that show you how you could have had it better, how you didn't get the best seats for this show, or the nicest car on your block, the most accomplished children, the best of everything. And everyone around you will help to reinforce this idea. If there were ever a reason to stop in your tracks and re-introduce yourself to your life, this should be it. 

Trust me, I struggle with this every day (see earlier posts) but with every bit of knowledge I acquire, I filter it through whether or not I think I can use it to make my life better and therefore be in a better position to further someone else's life, not just acquire things. This spoke to me on that level. As such, I am trying to remember to take my prescription for this illness....reality checks. I try to get them daily and hoard extras for bad days. I'll bring extras for the group whenever I can.

Monday, May 13, 2013

Keys and Wings

About twenty years ago, I was a middle school kid who loved to read. Not just a certain genre, not just comic books or young adult fiction or magazines. I would read everything. Toothpaste cartons and hairspray containers, magazines about cars and hunting, signs on every road I traveled and the words of every page that passed in front of me. It was understood among my friends not to let me see a magazine or we would be there until I read every word on every page. I stole from doctors and dentists- taking their magazine because my compulsion would not allow me to leave without reading what I started.I was not selective. It all had to be absorbed, and as quickly as possible. I've never gotten carsick. I read everywhere and at every opportunity.

A girl I was friends with attended a local Baptist church and her father was a youth pastor. He drove the van that went around the neighborhood and then to some sketchier neighborhoods not far from where we lived and he picked up all of these kids that wanted to attend Wednesday night services. My friend and I would hop in the van, we'd talk him into taking us to get a soda and off we would go on our rounds. We had so much fun bouncing around in the van, going to church group services, eating and playing and then heading home all giddy and amped up. These Wednesday evenings were at a time in my life when certain memories became etched into my psyche and I was starting to see the world for what it really was. He would sometimes talk to us on these trips, before we got to the other kids, and he was very kind and inspiring and I think he was so happy to be doing something that he thought made a difference. He'll probably never know this, but it made a huge impact on me and only now am I able to see how it happened.

As we were riding along one night, I was talking to another kid in the van about something I read and he asked why I read that, was it for school? I told him no, that I simply read everything that I could find, I didn't even know why. He told me he didn't like to read. No one had ever said that to me before. I knew that most people didn't read like I did, but I couldn't bring myself to comprehend someone not liking to read. We talked a little more and I came to find out that it was because he couldn't read very well. That changed everything. If he could read well, he would read more. I decided I was going to help this kid learn to read better. I brought activity pads on the van rides and waited for him. Some weeks he came, some weeks he didn't but when he did, he always played the word games; search a word, crossword puzzles, fill in the blank, word scramble, it didn't matter. We weren't in the same evening group, but the ride to the church and home were the times I had to work with him, and I did. When it got dark, I brought a flashlight. He started to really get it, and I had a tiny light bulb go off in my head. I wanted to help him, and I thought I had. I'll never really know, he stopped riding the van to church. 

Not long afterwards, my dramatic pubescent brain was writing poetry in the blank airspace of my mind's eye on the way home from church and I had a thought that has lingered in my mind all of these twenty years; Literacy is the key that unlocks the shackles of oppression, but understanding is the wings that will help you fly away. Without knowing how to read, you are destined to be deprived, kept away, held down and locked out of all that life has to offer. Furthermore, it is not good enough to know how to read, one needs to know why they read and what they are reading and what it all means. I used to play on the playground with my friends and the younger kids as we waited for the evening services to start. I recall telling them how they needed to stick up for themselves, to understand that every one of us was perfectly imperfect, that there was no reason to feel bad about yourself. I used to school these kids on self esteem, hoping to raise theirs while I tried to find mine. Talking to other people about their abilities and trying to instill in them a sense of themselves made me happier than anything I've ever done in my life. I had found the keys and I wanted the wings so that I could fly around and unlock the others.

Lots of things have come across my mind in the years since those days, but this one thing stuck. I believe that the people I met along my path, including Mr. Ralston and the awesome youth group leaders we had (as well as incidents, such as the tragic passing of one of the beloved young women who led us) had an enormous difference and made me into who I am today. I was headed in the right direction and found a place where I could shape that, teach others, stand on my soapbox and in the process learn to not be afraid to be the nerdy kid who always wanted to read. The irony is that I am an atheist and instead of finding god in the 18 years I went to church, I found myself. 


Writing is all I ever want to do.

When I say this (which I do every night, while mixing a cocktail) it is usually met with an agreeable sound such as "mmm hmmm" or pinched, one-sided smile, long blink and nod of understanding, which- while it says nothing, also conveys all that you really can say. But I don't think that I have been able to convey my feelings on this topic properly. Saying I am unhappy in my current career path, or that I really want to be in another one seems like an easy problem to fix, so why am I talking about it? Surely, lots of people have found themselves doing one thing and realized they should be doing another. The skipped, hopped, jumped and bam! There they are, enjoying their new desk/office/park view. Right?

Like most things that we pretend are easy and we write sitcoms to illustrate how in 22 minutes you could find a solution to, this problem is far from simple. The complexities of the situation are both near and far, but come crashing together in the strangest way. The only way I can describe my predicament is being unfaithful.

Bear with me. Don't be a prude. The situation presents itself much like I am married to one person and in love with another and I'm talking myself into staying with my current partner instead of running off with my passionate lover. That is honestly how it feels when I think about how I am a writer inside and instead, I married being a secretary on accident. I was young, we didn't know better... we should stay together because now people have expectations. There will be a lot of head shaking and embarrassment. Which one will get the friends? Leaving your current situation, especially when you have a lot of connective tissue (amazing benefits, paid vacation, etc.) is not as easy as it seems. Not to mention your new lover/career doesn't exactly have stable financial footing. I didn't mean to be a secretary. I went to college, for Pete's sake! I graduated! With a real degree! And yet, the ties that bind are pulled tighter by the day. I got on the back of the motorcycle and heeded none of the warnings about following my dreams...

I am working on being a paid writer, but I am a writer nonetheless. You can be an artist even if you never sell a painting and any number of wonderful things you are able to do are not made less because you choose not to sell your time doing those things or because no one has seen how wonderful your art is and has heaped bunches of money on you for doing it yet (hint hint universe!).

You are not what you are paid to do. That is not what most of us believe and it is not how most of us behave, especially in social settings, but it is what I firmly believe. You are a person, with many facets, any of which are probably something you could get paid to do.The part of yourself that you choose to sell for the transactional receipt of money is not the definition of who you are. You can make it who you are if you wish, but no one else can make you be anyone or anything.

Part of writing this blog is a way for me to come clean about being a writer, and not hiding that part of myself. In another way, I write the blog largely while at work, cheating on my job and at the same time putting myself at risk of being found out. Isn't that what cheaters really want? To get caught? It alleviates all the secrecy, puts them in a place where there is now a forum to air their grievances and say what they would have said if they had possessed the courage in the first place instead of sneaking around. I know if I got caught that is exactly what would happen. The lid on this pot would pop off and all kinds of boiling, scathing things would come out. I would have nothing left to lose and no illusion of it working and would say everything I should have said in the beginning. Those fights are how these situations end.

But the one I am really angry at (like all cheaters) is myself. Not for cheating. Rather, for not having the courage to break away from what was never good enough for me. So instead, I sit here in the situation I made for myself and fantasize about what it might be like to touch the forbidden, wondrous, scintillating edge of freedom.

Thursday, May 9, 2013

Die Having Lived

Everyone these days has a 'bucket list'. They are filling up a torn sheet of yellow legal pad paper with a list of the things they want to do before they kick the bucket, putting in physical form a list of what they want to experience in life, and in writing this, they put into motion a series of events leading to reaching their goals. As long as they can cross some items off the list before some horrible illness or accident befalls them, they can feel like they squeezed the life out of this trip on Earth.

This idea never occurred to me to implement in my own life. For many years, I simply felt that I was too young to worry about such things. I also got into the cycle of working and sleeping and figured that putting those things down on a list and crossing them off was tantamount to cheating. No bucket list for me, I'll be happy to go on a vacation that involves a flight in the next five years. Why do I want to make a list of things I won't have the time or money to do?

Then I became interested again in the idea that you have to put out into the world what you want and how you see things happening and I realized that I was making a list. Not on real paper, but definitely with real intentions. I saw myself in the cycle of work and exhaustion, of not taking time for myself, of not going on vacations. And I reflected that right back out. No wonder I got what I was most worried about. No wonder I didn't understand the bucket list.

So what I really want is to die having lived. No one wants to die, but let's be can put that intention out there all you want and you will find yourself disappointed. If you keep talking about your fear of death, you will unwittingly but with quiet intention put yourself into a mindset of only being able to see that end. Why not shift your focus? Look at what is right in front of you. One day the curtain will close. What will have been your show?

A bucket list is a reminder of what life is all about. Life is not work. Life is not getting more things, or eating more food or being thinner or sexier or having the shiniest hair. Life is not bragging or gloating or owning. Life is living. How is it that we cannot get that simple concept? Why do we refuse to live? Maybe because we are afraid to die.

I am taking it back. I am going to die either way. I have no terminal illness and I see no hooded figure behind me with a scythe. Nonetheless, my day is coming and I am taking back my own life. I am not afraid to die, not as long as I can do it after I have lived. My bucket list was empty, afraid to exist, lest it put out into the light that I am not immortal, but no longer. My bucket list is full, filled with adventures of skiing and sailing, traversing the oceans and watching the wonders of the world first hand, as well as experiencing the most mundane of moments, but experiencing them with intention. With purpose. Being present in their moment and not in any other moment. My list is long, with items I may never reach. I will not regret it if I don't live to see them come true. I will only regret it if I never even tried.

Thursday, May 2, 2013

Just is a Four Letter Word

I think we can all agree that there are words that annoy us. Words, said by any person, in any context, are just connections of letters we have ascribed sounds to and yet when coupled with a certain circumstance, certain ones can become very grating. For me, one such word is just. There are others, but this one is really terrible for me.

This word has taken on a whole new meaning for many people. We seem to have forgotten that just is short for justification and that in using the word you are inevitably making an excuse. When used at the beginning of what is said, this one four letter word can tear down any credibility or importance of what might come after it, depending on how its used. This is especially true when we are trying to be polite, gain compliance, or negate our own behaviors and actions as a part of the whole. It is being co-opted to excuse entitlement. Here are some examples I am hearing lately:

"Its just that...
"I just...
"Well, let's just...
"Just one minute...
"Just one...

Just nothing. I am aware that I use this word from time to time and I am trying to be cognizant of when I use it to do something other than convey a fact, a truth, or tell a joke. Because many times, any other use of it is a form of manipulation. A way to use this combination of letters, snapped off of a larger word that means to excuse yourself from wrongdoing, in order to give credence to the idea that if it weren't for some outside force, you wouldn't need to inconvenience everyone for a while.

If you have read my blog for any length of time at all, you will start to see a recurring theme. I have an issue with people who mosey through life thinking that their needs are my emergencies. That their lack of planning or preparation or thought to anything other than their own comforts is now going to be handled by the nearest person because they just didn't have time. They just didn't remember. Its just that things have been so crazy lately! Move over on the pity sofa, and make room for everyone! It is called life. Don't even think of sticking 'only' in its place. There are many occasions where that will not work and its just another four letter word that tells me you think you are special and deserve special treatment.

Lots of little things can get you down and I don't want this to become one of them. I want to have a more lighthearted way of dealing with people who have never been told no and for whom the idea that I am just here waiting to serve them is a real thought. So I am going to do this... I am going to listen to your pathetic excuses for yourself and your inability to take care of business.  Then, I am going to just refuse to deal with it. I will just say no. When this happens to you, go handle your business. Don't make any excuses for your inaction, don't ask me again with a new set of annoying words. Take your show on the road. I just don't have time for you.

Ambition vs. Gratitude

The fight of my life is here.

I have often watched movies or documentaries that chronicle the life and struggle of a famous athlete, a disabled person who reaches a seemingly unattainable goal, the plight of someone left for dead who managed to escape and struggle back to their former life, tougher and with a will to live that makes other people look like two toed sloths.

These films, books, articles written under human interest sections, were food to me-I ingested each one hungrily to satisfy my voracious appetite. We all want to be inspired. We look to these survivors to show us how to live with more verve, with less anxiety, to grab what is ours and take it to the mountaintop! I wanted the fight of my life to have drama and a musical score.

More than anything, I have always thought I wanted my life to be full of gratitude. I struggled for years to understand whether that meant I would simply learn to be truly grateful for the things I had going for me; (health, youth, education, freedom and a sense of democracy) or if I needed to attain greatness in order to have anything to be truly grateful about. Who would decide if I had become great? Was it only when there was a book or movie or at least an article about your struggle? How did you know it was time to be grateful and that you had succeeded? Money? Fame? Power? When would you know you had made it? This is why we all say we want happiness and why stories are written about "Which country has the happiest people?" You are happiest when you have what you want, right? I figured that was how I would measure. When I had what I wanted, then I could be grateful.

Well in order to get what you want, you need to know what or where it is. Then in order to get anywhere, you are going to need some drive. Without motivation, small tasks seem huge and larger ones seem like building a castle by hand. The drive displayed by people who have overcome enormous obstacles is matched only by a rabid dog on a leash. Who just saw a squirrel. Did I have what it took? What mountainous obstacle did I hope to overcome that would put the motivation into me? How badly did I want to be successful and rich and famous and catch that elusive attainment we all crave?

I had a huge problem standing in my way of this motivation. As far as I was concerned, I should try be grateful. For crumbs. I have a tendency to compare my plight to that of the poorest, most downtrodden people in the world and figure that since I come out ahead, I am OK  I knew that I just needed to see how good I have it. I thought, well I have that down pat. I know how to pay my dues with a smile. I know how to find pleasure in the little things.... In fact, my Pollyanna attitude has irritated more than one of my siblings and at least a dozen other people. I can find the silver lining in a cancer cell, so what exactly was I hoping for in terms of gratitude? I wanted to be absolved of the guilt that comes with wanting even more. It wasn't that I wanted a yacht, just a much better job that used my creativity and intelligence.

This is the fight. Can you be grateful and still have ambition? Isn't one the opposite of the other? It took me nearly 15 years and a dozen failed attempts at loving the work I was handed easily to realize such a simple truth: yes you can have both. Just not the way you think. You cannot pretend to be grateful then waste energy on being angry, and hope to have anything left over for ambition.

The reason that ambition and gratitude seem to be at odds with each other is merely in the way we (mis)apply them. People that struggle with balancing ambition and gratitude erroneously believe that if you are a grateful person, you will find that every simple thing you have is just fine and enough to be thankful for, and that you should consider yourself lucky to have such things. We then believe that if you have ambition, you can only do it in the course of attaining the basic necessities  and once you have those, all further attempts at validation or to reach some imagined heights is just vainglorious and a sign that you are morally empty.

This is incorrect. The truth that I have found for myself is that while yes, you have to be grateful for the little things, appreciate life and all the good things that you are able to enjoy, you then need to take that feeling, hold onto it, feel the warmth and power of feeling good, and use it as fuel to propel yourself to being able to feel that way continuously. After all, how long can you feel thankful for your shitty job that you're 'so lucky to have'? Only so long. Then you need to get ambitious.

If you have never had gratitude in the first place, you will find ambition difficult. You won't have any idea what feeling you are chasing and why you want to go to any great lengths to achieve more of it. The reason I struggled with ambition may have been that I wasn't grateful enough. The people that overcame great odds remembered what their life was like before and could see that it was worth having again. Maybe I didn't think I had that much to be excited about, so why would I put more energy in only to get more of the same thing I had (and hated)? Or maybe I felt that since I live in an industrialized country, I was asking to have too much already. My existence was not being threatened, so what push was there to dig deep and find what I was made of to fight my way back? I only worked hard enough to keep things moving along; food to eat, a roof over my head.

This collision is one that you will face at some point in your life. If things are reasonably good, why go to the trouble of rocking the boat? Well, that is entirely up to you. How good is reasonably good? Who controls you and your time? Who makes the decisions (really)? Do you deserve to want more? That is the question that kept my gratitude from becoming my ambition, it kept me from reaching higher because I had to realize that this is not a zero sum game. If I do well, it doesn't mean someone else does worse. I knew the basic math on that and yet, the ways we derail ourselves are many and complex.

Until now, I never really understood what Carpe Diem meant. Sure...seize the day...great...But now I really get it- I just need a drill instructor to scream at me: "Seize that day by the throat and wring every last little bit of good out of it. Someone else would kill and die for this day. You are lucky to have it and you never know when it will be taken away from you, you ungrateful little shit!" Apparently the fight of my life is set in boot camp. I'll let you know when it comes out on DVD.