A Snapshot of I Can’t Remember

celebrating or regrouping

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I came across this picture the other day and am trying to remember why the heck I took it.  I didn’t take it with my phone but with my heavy, bulky, big-girl Canon . . . which further tells me that this was a special moment that I wanted to record with my “good camera.”

Weird.  I’m not sure but I think that I was celebrating, having just moved into a fantastic temporary beachfront rental for what turned out to be four exquisite months.  This transition was one of those ideas that had been on my Wish List for years: Live on the beach during the stormy winter months to write.  This recent move Continue reading

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Salad Spinner Mindfulness

grow your mindI caught myself fretting this morning.  Fretting about nothing, really.  In an attempt to distract myself and put all of this fretting aside, I now sit here in one of my favorite coffee shops and, the same as most days,  put words on paper.  Rarely do I sit here and do nothing.  Mainly I think.  Ideas and memories and perceptions are tossed around in some Binary Amphitheatre of the Surreal and the Real, whirling them around and shooting them out onto the page in salad-spinner style.

I find myself in this divergent universe . . . Continue reading

The Plate Tectonics of Blame & Regret

life-is-a-reflectionI recently took one of those online quizzes that is designed to assess Who You Are and Where You Are At.  These were my quiz results: “Your results indicate you must stop blaming yourself.  It’s not your fault.  Your thoughts and feelings are simply disconnected creating Stuck feelings.”  

I like the gentle reminder that these encouraging words impart.  And I wonder how many other people received exactly this same message.  In other words, do these “results” hold true for everyone on the planet?  Or am I the only one who is feeling the disconnect of thoughts and feelings?

You must stop blaming yourself.

This is much easier said than done.  There is always going to be some second guessing going on in life that is going to lead you to blame yourself.  So many things.  A bad decision you made.  A time when you zigged when you should have zagged.  Words that slipped out of your mouth like thirsty little toads seeking a water source.

A detour that you should have taken instead of charging ahead into those warning signs of danger.  A job that you declined.  A house that you bought.  A health decision you made.  A lover you chose.  A friend that you trusted.  A horse that you bet on.

Self-blame.  What is it exactly?  Self-assigning responsibility for things that you have said or done doesn’t sound like such a bad thing.  After all, I am responsible for my own stuff, right?  But blame goes beyond this when you dwell on it, feel horrible about it, and then do nothing about it.  It’s okay to give yourself permission to stop blaming yourself when you take thoughtful responsibility and attempt to rectify the wrong that you have committed with compassion and empathy.  You can apologize.  You can ask for an opportunity to re-frame your thoughts in different words.  You can give someone a hug.  You can back up and try it all over again. You can ask for a pardon.  You can ask if you can try to make it right.  You can write a letter.  You can bake banana bread.  You can be patient and allow the other person time to feel angry or hurt.

And the effects of prolonged self-blame?   Prolonged self-blame quickly reduces to an ongoing state of regret.  We become mired in our own selfish thoughts of how badly we feel.  This, in turn, focuses the original action or words solely on us and robs us of the chance to make it right.

We might blame ourselves for something rash that we did or something foolish that we said . . . but to continue blaming ourselves over and over and over?  This is where blame evolves into regret. And it doesn’t take much imagination to understand that regret is joyful living’s natural assassin.  Regret robs us of any opportunity to be brave and to do the right thing.  There are certainly things that we are responsible for that are tough to make right.  But that doesn’t mean that we should stop trying.  This is where we call upon our Brave to kick into action.  It is a brave soul who can admit that he or she was in the wrong. This is not stuff for sissies.

It’s not your fault.

But isn’t it?  Isn’t it my fault?  No one held a weapon to my head while I said those hurtful things or made that bad decision.  There was no little cartoon devil on my shoulder urging me to max out my credit card buying heels and boots.  If it’s not my fault, then whose is it?

Fault is one of those concepts that gets tossed about with little regard.  It’s a hungry ghost that rides the backs of air molecules and never really lights.  It gets tossed about, bandied about, and argued about.  It gets assigned to others in nilly-willy ways and has no substance.

It’s true that if we accept the toss that’s aimed at us and we catch it, fault will linger for a while.  And maybe it is our fault to begin with, right?  But to carry it about will only lead to us, ultimately, sinking beneath the weight, most often forcing us to toss it to someone else to carry for a while.

Shift happens. 

If we are going to talk about the word fault, I prefer to think in geologic terms and plate tectonics.  A fault, geologically speaking is a situation where the earth’s crust has been stretched and faulted to the point that rift valleys form.  Imagine having two sections of your soul, Blame and Regret, moving relative to each other.  This action causes us to become stretched and faulted to the point that rift valleys form in our spirits and souls, creating chasms and pockets that become too dangerous to explore.  Dangerous because one never knows when there may be yet another seismic shift between the two relative forces.

Is there a better way to deal with the Plate Tectonics of our soul?  Understand that Fault Lines exist.  Be a scientist, measure, and plan for catastrophe accordingly.  Keep away from the the edge of the plates when possible.  Move inland to safer ground.  Take a deep breath and hope for stability.  Fault.  It does no one any good.  But it’s there, so be smart.  And if shift happens?  Channel that energy into something positive.

Your thoughts and feelings are simply disconnected . . .

Well, now.  This is something that feels like familiar ground.  Nothing newsworthy here.

Yes.  My thoughts and feelings become disconnected.  This is not an uncommon occurrence.  But now what?  What’s next?  By taking this little quiz, I have implicated myself into wanting to better myself . . . to make my life better.  So what’s going to help me to re-connect my thoughts and my feelings?  How do I go about planning the big reunion?  I think part of the answer is in Un-creating Stuck Feelings.

. . . creating Stuck feelings.

Stuck is as stuck does.  Like love, debt, and what shoes to wear today, Stuck-ness is a decision.  Making a decision is a mental activity.  Making a decision makes the Stuck feelings go away.  There is some magic in this . . . magic that involves you feeling inspired to make the decision to be Un-Stuck.

My best self-advice when I am feeling stuck?  

Deep breaths.  Think.  Meditate.  Dance.  Call a friend.  Be mindful.  Breathe life’s goodness into my soul.  And above all: Try something new.  Albert Einstein is famously quoted for saying: Anyone who has never made a mistake has never tried anything new.  He also said, Learn from yesterday, live for today, hope for tomorrow. The important thing is not to stop questioning.

You can’t stay stuck if you aren’t standing still.  Try something new.  Say something kind to a stranger.  Dance like a goof.  Join a marimba band.  Say you are sorry and make an action that shows it.  Take the risk of making a mistake that, yes, might create even more self-blame and stuck feelings.

Like trying to get the stubborn lid off of a jar when you have wet hands, it ain’t going to happen until you take a moment to dry your hands. Tap the jar lid a few times with a knife.  Run some hot water over the metal lid.  Get out your handy-dandy Cap Snaffler.  Do something.  And you’ll get the lid off of the jar and, with any cosmic blessing, you’ll reconnect your thoughts and feelings into a better place and allow yourself to see a kinder reflection when you look around you.

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The Things I Thought I Wanted: 64 Crayons with a Sharpener

crayola-crayonsWhen I was going to school, I soooooooooo wanted the big box of Crayolas with the built-in sharpener in the back.

As a rule, coming from a big family of small means, we would instead receive a box of 16 or 24 at the beginning of the school year . . . never the coveted 64.  I don’t think my parents could have ever known how much I wanted the built-in sharpener feature, as I didn’t feel comfortable pointing out that I had less than what I wanted.  I know now, looking back with the eyes and heart of an adult, that my parents were swamped by life’s demands and obligations and were doing the absolute best that they could.  They were pretty amazing magicians when it came to keeping everything at home afloat.

I do recall the school year (I was in 5th grade) when my dad gave me a box of 48 crayons . . . the Crayola box that was square and fat and just so jammed with color goodness . . . and I felt like a princess receiving those crayons.  I dearly hope that I thanked him in a manner that reflected my appreciation, but I simply can’t remember.

It’s weird how the memory works.  I want (hope) to believe that I thanked my parents throughout my childhood repeatedly for these childhood essentials . . . but I’m not sure that I did.  Now that I can no longer tell them directly, I want to tell them now.  I want to thank them for what they did for all of us . . . demanding that we take advantage of the opportunity to learn and get a good education and also that we learn to play a musical instrument when young.  Me?  My father was a big fan of Benny Goodman and chose the clarinet as my instrument-of-his-choice.

There were other gifts that came in the form of life lessons: My father used to tell us that if we are mean to someone, we will have to reckon with that same person again at some point in the future so we might as well try to get along.  My mother used to laugh at the darn-dest things . . . things that didn’t seem funny to me as a child . . . but now?  I can see how she tried to find humor in the oddest of circumstances.  She chose to laugh when I now realize that she probably wanted to cry.

All of these life gifts from my parents that definitely surpass and outshine a box of 64 crayons.  My life now?  My art supply cupboard is full of paints and brushes, gesso and gel, colored pencils and crayons, markers and Sharpies.  Truth, I have all of the art supplies I could dream to have.  And as for crayons, I keep a jar of 8 crayons (this particular box of crayons being a gift from a loved one . . . thanks AW!) in the kitchen to have at the ready for doodling away that waiting-for-the-water-to-boil time.

And I now know why I have those crayons out and why that box of 8 meant so much to me recently when I received it.  It brought back all of those brand-new-school-year memories of knowing that my parents had so little resource to prepare us for the year ahead . . . and yet they made it all work out year after year.

. . . that they somehow prepared me for this thing called Life when I didn’t even realize that is what they were doing at the time.  It felt so fraught with randomness and chaos growing up, but maybe there was more of a plan in place that I just couldn’t see.  Maybe they, themselves, didn’t know it either.  Call it parenting, call it family, call it surviving.  I don’t know.  I do know that they prepared me to appreciate the finer things in life like receiving a box of 8 crayons and feeling like I am loved, heard, and blessed.

What’s in your complaint box?

834px-complaint_department_grenadeWhat’s in your complaint box?  Any chance of turning those complaints around and thinking of them as blessings?

I’ve been doing an experiment.  Every day I write down as many things that I can think of from the day under the heading: Good Things That Happened Today.  It isn’t hard to think of things.  As with anything in life — when you pause to take an inventory — there is much more going on than that which skims the surface.

After I finish my Good Things list, I then write as many things that I can think of under the heading: My Takeaways on Life in the Current Moment.  When I pause to think of My Takeaways, all sorts of good things start to burble forth — things that hitherto felt like an obstacle or a challenge or a frustration.  It’s like magic.  The weird stuff suddenly starts to transform into a better place.

For example, imagine that you are making an offer to purchase what you perceive to be your Dream Home.  And we’re talking Dream Home, people.  You are convinced that this house is It.  It is exactly what you want to buy and to live in for the rest of your life — or at the very least the next decade.  In your Good Things list, you write: I made an offer on my Dream Home today!!!!!

But then life intervenes.  Another offer comes in on the same day as yours, but $10,000 higher than your offer.  And to make matters worse for you, their financing is in perfect order.  Guess whose offer gets accepted?  You feel bummed!  That was your house!  Not theirs!  

The days pass and you search for things to put down on your Good Things list.  You might even write under Takeaways: I learned that it is best to remove such high emotion from a business deal.  Something like this.  But then.  Something really crazy happens.  You read about an opportunity to go to Ireland and serve as an intern at this amazing art school.  It’s your dream!!  You apply.  You get accepted.  Guess what?  You’re going to Ireland for a full year!  Woot!

This adventure gets listed under Good Things.  In addition to recording this adventure to Ireland on your list, you write, I‘m so glad that that house deal fell through!  Thank you!!! on the line directly below your entry about the Ireland opportunity.  You see the correlation so clearly.  In fact — even better yet — you feel the correlation and you experience an understanding that calms your soul and quells your frustrations about the house deal falling through.  All is right with the world and you marvel at how things just work out!

You get the idea.  The seemingly bad breaks that occur in life have all the potential to set us up for something even better.  You just have to be looking.  Be aware.  Be open to seeing the “bad stuff” as “potential good stuff.”  That there are Takeaways, if you only look.  Life events aren’t always easy to dissect into lists, but I find that if I really stretch and embrace both the Good Things and the Takeaways . . . I learn a lot about me and how I can be happy in the flow of the present moment.

How about you?  Do you want to join me in my Good Things/Takeaway challenge?  If you want a PDF to download to get you started, just submit your email address and I’ll send it to you.  It’s fun to turn things around to a place that allows you to embrace that which seemed like such a bummer.

As for me?  Well, I thought that it was going to be smooth and perfect sailing as I prepared to go forth to Ireland . . . but the art internship fell through — something about something occurred, which meant I wasn’t going away to Ireland for a year.

Now, this unwelcome news certainly wasn’t expected, but I am learning as a result of my daily lists.  Instead of listing the loss of my Ireland trip in my Takeaway list, I recorded it immediately in my Good Things list.  After all, I am learning about this life stuff in a new way that is changing my mind and my heart.  I know that something good is happening right now . . . and I am trimming the unexpected starboard list of the boat that I thought was set to sail for Ireland.  It’s a good thing that there were life rafts on that boat!

And I am ready for the next adventure.

Who knows what’s next?  I don’t.  Be it a Good Thing or a Takeaway, I am learning that what works best is for me to be open.  To understand that I don’t have a bird’s-eye view of every little piece that has been set in motion.  To be me and to be happy and to have a light heart.  To stop complaining and to start paying better attention.

Celebrate Transition

last weeks of summer

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Although I very much enjoy the heat and sunshine of summertime, I always look forward to the change in season.  The cooler temperatures, the colors of the leaves, the crispness in the morning air . . . these things are like a happy pinch to the soul, reminding it to appreciate the warmth and the sunglow, as it is soon to be replaced by gray skies and rainy days.  Rain, rain, and more rain.

Living in the Pacific Northwest, it helps if you like the rain.  Well, I like it a lot.  The rain sheds a whole new slant on life.  It draws your attention to how nature feels on your skin.  It replenishes the air with something indefinably sweet.  It helps you appreciate your inordinately high volume of cute rain boots, puddle jumpers, and lightweight coats.

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The rain encourages you to linger a little longer over that second cup of coffee.  In fact, it might be mid-afternoon and you think about having a mid-day cup to brighten the day. You lose track of where you last left your sunglasses because it has been a while since you needed them.

The muted colors and shifting fog also mark the fall and winter days.  There is an exquisite softness in the air that reminds you to pause for a moment and breathe before getting into your truck.  You wake up in the morning and you can smell the salt in the air.  The birds are quieter and the squirrels are more active.

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As much as I enjoy a beautiful autumn rain, I do appreciate these lingering weeks of summer.  The days when I go to work, having forgotten my raincoat.  The late-evening walks that spell out a crimson and peach sunset.  The warm afternoons when I forget that fall is soon to arrive.

It’s all so beautiful, isn’t it?  These periods of transition awaken us and embolden us.  We feel inspired to try new things when we feel nudged by nature.

What is one new thing you have been wanting to learn?  To try?  To do?  Visualize your New Thing inside the box below: 

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Now visualize your New Thing outside the box:

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Maybe now is the time to prioritize your preference and just do it.  There is no time like the present to create your own season of transition and change.

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The Things I Thought I Wanted: a diary with a lock and key . . . and the thing about secrets

diary-1449287_960_720Oh, how I wanted a diary when I was a girl.  You know the kind . . . a beautiful girly girl’s diary with a lock and key.  And I was simply ecstatic the Christmas when I was ten years old and I received one.  Mine had a navy blue cover with gold embossing and “1 Year Diary” gold-stamped into the cover.  I simply loved it!  I can still remember the sound that the gilt-edged pages made when I opened it for the first time . . . It felt like that crinkly sound was opening its pristine, glued-together pages to the secrets I was about to share with it.

Well, that’s the thing about secrets.  No matter how much we try to preserve them or hide them from the prying eyes and inquiring minds that intersect our life, they are [sometimes] doomed to be discovered . . . paraded . . . maybe even disrespected.  We feel violated when our secrets have been made public without our permission.

It takes a lot of risk and guts to commit a secret to the page . . . a lesson that I was quick to learn at this young age.  My hopes of finding my true self via those gilt-edged pages were temporarily dashed when my big sister read my diary entries aloud — pages that detailed my first big crush [Dean W.], in front of said crush, who was my big brother’s best buddy.

maple-leaf-638022_960_720I learned a lot that day about secrets and sisters and writing and locks and keys.  I learned that just because something has a lock on it, doesn’t mean that it can’t be jimmied open.  I learned that secrets can be made un-secret when they fall into the wrong hands.  That, although it can be risky, it’s okay to be honest with my thoughts.  That what someone else chooses to do doesn’t define who I am.  That although I might feel a wee bit discouraged, I am going to keep writing.

It took some time to view things from my sister’s perspective.  I learned that people do things that they don’t really intend to be hurtful in long-lasting ways.  That what might seem funny at the time, never really was in the first place. And that sisters somehow stick together, even when they do things that aren’t very nice.

french-1040839_960_720I am happy to have survived the awkwardness, and — now all the stronger — I have maintained my love and discipline of writing.   And in the ways of true forgiveness, I have since pardoned my diary-reading, secret-disclosing sister.  We are still the best of friends.

But you know how writing is.  It liberates us, even when life sort of sucks.  Writing asks us to pay attention to the details, even when it hurts.  Little does this sister know that she is the muse for an extremely unattractive, glowering villainess who gets her payback comeuppance in one of my current short stories.

But this is the way of writing.  You can change what is now by writing it into a different room or even onto a different planet.  Does reality change?  I don’t know how to answer this.  I only know how to live it.  And write it.  And tell my sister that I love her dearly, because I do.  And keep my journal hidden when she comes to visit.

Life, Love, & Happiness . . . all is a Chancey Poker Hand

deck of cardsI knew an old timer who thought of life as a poker game.  His theory was that we are dealt only so many cards in life . . . that we have to discard the old for the new if we hope to improve the hand that we are currently holding.  He believed that life was all just a gambling game of chance, predicated on our willingness to release something for something else.  In other words: if you don’t like the cards you are holding, you might just as well go ahead and discard.  The new cards that are dealt back to you might make for a better hand.  And if that isn’t the case?  Well, you discard again until you like the hand you are holding.  I should probably add that this older fellow led a very uncomplicated life.

Whether you look at life as Poker, Bridge, Backgammon, or Go Fish . . . there is some truth to what this old guy had to say.  And before I break out in my karaoke version of Kenny Rogers’ “The Gambler,”  I just want to say that there is certainly an element of chance in every single moment of my life.  Like a deck of cards sitting before me on the poker table, I can actually feel the opportunities that are stacked up in front of me, beckoning and simply asking me to release my tight grip on my current reality and be brave enough to discard.

Paul_Cézanne,_1892-95,_Les_joueurs_de_carte_(The_Card_Players),_60_x_73_cm,_oil_on_canvas,_Courtauld_Institute_of_Art,_LondonThat’s the best part of taking a chance.  Any chance.  There is that little thrill that courses through our humanness right in that very second before we know that we have been dealt a bad hand or a good hand.  Research has shown that this “thrill” is actually what compulsive gamblers are addicted to.  It isn’t Winning that they are hooked on, otherwise they would walk away from the table when they have a nice high stack of chips sitting in front of them . . . it’s actually that feeling of not knowing whether they have won or lost that brings them back to the table.

I guess I have to give it to Kenny Rogers . . . or to whomever wrote the lyrics to that song about knowing when to hold them or when to fold them.   It is true.  You do have to know when to walk away.  Know when to run.  There is that expression that nature abhors a vacuum.  Experience tells us that this is true: when we create a hole or a gap in our lives, it is likely to fill up with something or someone else — perhaps with alarming similarities, but different nonetheless.

There are those pivotal times in life when we concede to discarding.  And receiving. When we [finally!] acknowledge that it’s okay to take a chance.  And if there are rules that define winning the game, it’s probably time to have a chat with Mr. Hoyle about writing in some exceptions.

All that life really requires of us is that we go forth and live it.  There is not a lot of thinking or haggling involved with it.  Or is there?   [Shifting back into OverThink drive now . . .]  But it sometimes seems that if  you overthink or strategize life, you are doomed to passivity.  Passivity, like counting cards, has its place but it has no depth, no growth, no change, no underbelly.  It just exists with predictable outcomes.

Jokers and trump cards.  The King of Hearts and the Queen of Spades.  Existence and living.  Risk and chance.  I don’t know exactly how this all spells out into my strategy for poker playing — not being very artful at this game — but I am thinking it’s time to look at what I have chosen to hold and maybe do a little discard here or there.  Change is bound to be good because, if we believe Kenny, every hand’s a winner and every hand’s a loser.  [My apologies if this song gets stuck in your head for the rest of the day! :)]