Having Something to Say

It occurred to me recently that before you can be a writer, you must first have something to say. You have to have opinions and thoughts and ideas. You have to be good at explaining and/or describing things. You can’t be hesitant to speak your mind.

I’ve always had something to say. No doubt about it. Even when I would take those tests at school that are supposed to help you decide what career path to take, mine would always come out “writer” and nothing else. I mean, seriously, while my friends would have 5 or 6 suggested career paths, all I’d have was writer. (I strongly suspect bridgetenders are not even on the list of careers for those tests. Most people don’t even know we exist.)

My whole life I’ve been told that I have very strong opinions. But that was meant as an insult. As in, “Shut up, female, and leave the thinking to the rest of us.” People rarely accuse men of having strong opinions. And I would get that criticism from men and women alike, because a lot of women don’t realize how complicit we can be in our own oppression.

Well, I thank God for my strong opinions. Without them, this blog wouldn’t exist. And I’d be a heck of a lot less interesting.

Fortunately, I’m not the kind of person who expects everyone to share my opinions. People like that are insufferable (in my opinion). I don’t think I’m very good at pointing that out, though. It’s definitely something I need to work on. It never occurs to me that some people view opinions as coercion.

I don’t see opinions that way. I also don’t think of them as being right or wrong. Opinions are simply points of view. No two people will see things from the same angle. The world might be easier to live in if we did, but it would sure be monotonous.

If you want to be a writer, I urge you to get out there and experience life, and, yes, form opinions about those experiences. Listen and learn as much as you can. Be open to unique people, places and things. And most of all, don’t be afraid to express yourself, even if the whole world tries to shut you up.

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Transformations

I have always been fascinated by transformations. The shedding of skin. Caterpillars to butterflies. Pollywogs to bullfrogs. Puppies and kittens to dogs and cats. Aging and maturing and the passage of time in all its many forms.

There is something beautiful about becoming who you were always meant to be. For some reason, in humans this often comes with criticism and judgment and moral outrage. How dare you turn out in a way I didn’t expect? How dare you stake your claim on gender A when I want you to be gender B? Why can’t you be like your older brother/sister/celebrity of the week? You should have been a doctor, not a dancer. You’ll snap out of it. You’ll change your mind. Get a haircut, hippie.

It’s all such a monumental waste of time when you think about it. Healthy human beings tend to know, deep down, who they are, and like butterflies, they expend a great deal of effort to struggle out of their cocoons. You can’t fight city hall, so to speak. If you wrap a cocoon in duct tape, it won’t keep that creature a caterpillar. It will kill it.

Yes, you can learn. Yes, you can and probably should be morally influenced. No matter who you are or who you become, learning respect is important. Sharing and generosity and compassion and common decency are paramount. These are the qualities that allow you to successfully share this planet with others.

But who you are at the very core is something only you can know. Your path to your becoming can’t be dictated by others. It’s up to you. And it’s the most important job you will ever have.

Be the best you that you can be. If you do that, everything else will fall into place. Namaste.

Transforming

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Unexpected Rainbows

The other morning, I went into the kitchen to fix some breakfast for me and my dog, and the entire room was full of rainbows. It didn’t last long, and no, I wasn’t hallucinating. I just happened to be in the right place at the right time.

Diamond-like drops of water were hanging down from the awning outside my window, and the sun was out for a change, and at the perfect angle to cast its light through those drops, causing the rainbows. The mirror in the kitchen also happened to multiply them. I stood there for a moment, embraced by color, thinking how wonderful it is to be alive. What a wonderful life I’ve had and am still having!

Afterward, while poaching an egg, I wondered if my loved ones know I feel that way. You see, I do struggle with depression. I have done so my entire life. I suspect I’m better at hiding that from strangers than I am from the people who are closest to me. I can see how it would be easy to assume I lead a joyless existence.

That’s the beauty of having a blog. You get to put your thoughts and feelings out there for all to see. So, in the event I’m run over by a bus tomorrow, here, for the record, is how I feel about my life.

On the whole, I try to look at every day as a precious gift. I’ve been given ample opportunity to learn and to travel and to experience amazing things. I’ve loved a lot of people, and I’ve been loved in return. I’ve had quite a bit of good luck, having been born in a relatively free country with relatively good opportunities, at a time in this nation’s history when women have had relatively few restrictions, and I have cherished that independence.

If anything, I’ve eaten too well. I’ve mostly experienced decent shelter. I have taken advantage of the brain that I was born with. Even in my darkest hours (and there have been plenty of those), I have never forgotten that most people are far less fortunate than I have been, and I try not to forget that I’ve done very little to deserve this privilege.

There have been enough unexpected rainbows in my life to make me feel grateful. I am, right here and now, happy with how my life has turned out, and excited about what’s to come. Because of that, I fully intend to look both ways before stepping into any bus lanes. I hope you will do the same, dear reader.

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Me, standing in a rainbow, beneath an oculus in Split, Croatia, in 2006. What a life!

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Maturing as a Species

It would be easy to write a post about the many stupidities that mankind is capable of. We still have a long way to go. But most of us have managed to emotionally, ethically or intellectually evolve, at least somewhat.

In ancient Rome, it used to be perfectly acceptable to leave unwanted babies on the trash heap. (I’m glad we aren’t visited with images like that in our day to day lives anymore.)

Most of us, too, think slavery is abhorrent these days, in spite of the fact that many cultures accepted it as the norm not so very long ago.

Poor houses/work houses are a thing of the past. (Not only were they horrible, but they weren’t very effective.)

We’ve outgrown foot binding and corset stays, thank heavens.

In most places, women are allowed to vote and actually own stuff. (I just wish more of us took advantage of that hard-won voting right. Things in this country would be a lot different.)

Blood-letting is no longer our go-to cure for all that ails us.

People used to think that bathing was harmful to your health. (It makes me itch just thinking about it.)

Tomatoes were considered poisonous in the late 1700’s. (I can barely make it through the week without consuming several now.)

More and more of us are delaying marriage until our common sense catches up with our decision-making processes. (Thank God for that.)

We’re even beginning to realize that texting while driving is idiotic.

Lest we forget, there used to be a time when females could not wear pants. (I wouldn’t have survived.)

At one point, we thought heroin and cocaine were health products.

No more smoking on airplanes, buses, and elevators! (Happy dance!)

How did anyone survive when lawn darts were considered an acceptable toy?

We’ve learned about lead, asbestos, and PCBs, even as they continue to harm us.

With all our communications devices, people rarely show up at your house unannounced anymore, and I couldn’t be more grateful for it.

Most people try not to waste water, and recycling has become a habit rather than a hassle.

In the 1800’s it was scandalous to curl up in bed with a good book. (I’d die.)

We seem to have figured out that radiation is to be avoided. (More or less.)

In the early 1900’s it was relatively rare to have children attend school past the 8th grade.

So next time you feel like resisting change, think, instead, that in order to survive, society needs to mature over time, just like children do. We also need to learn from our mistakes. That knowledge may be less fun than smoking on airplanes and picking up a little cocaine at your local pharmacy, but it will serve us all well in time. I promise.

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Try Listening

I know a guy who talks so much that people actually scatter when they see him coming. He’s a nice guy. He means well. But he can suck, literally, hours out of your life as he holds forth on whatever he has chosen to blather on about on that particular day. And you’re expected to just stand there and say, “Uh huh.”

I doubt, even after all this time, that he knows much of anything about me. I can’t get a word in edgewise. And he doesn’t seem the least bit curious about anyone else. He never asks questions.

I think this is really sad. I personally would be bored silly if the only topic I was willing to discuss was me, me, me. I know me. I’ve done me. I’d much prefer to learn something new, or experience a unique perspective. This guy isn’t capable of that. His life seems very limited.

He also seems rather short-sighted. He doesn’t seem to notice people running away from him. I’ve seen people who have had to get rather rude to shut him up. One guy started his leaf blower right in the middle of a story. Mr. Talky-Pants didn’t even seem surprised or insulted. I bet things like that happen to him a lot. You’d think that someone who is that inwardly focused would be more aware of insults, but he lacks that quality.

When you are talking to someone, try listening as well. Every once in a while, check in with yourself and say, “Am I learning anything new?” If not, ask something. Show some interest in those around you. Keep doing that until it comes naturally to you. People will most likely be charmed by your sincere curiosity, even if it does take practice.

That, and knowledge is power.

A big rule of thumb is that if people are running from you, you are either too big of a proponent of open carry, or you most likely aren’t a pleasure to be around.

'Listen^_The_enemy_may_be_talking._Don't_talk^_The_enemy_may_be_listening.'_-_NARA_-_514901

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The Zen of the Pottery Wheel

I took a pottery class this semester at the local community college, and I loved it. It went by way too fast. I did pick up some pottery skills, but I’m using the word “skill” in its very broadest sense here. At best, I can be considered part of the primitive school. But the most important thing is that I had a wonderful time.

I also learned a great deal about things way beyond pottery. I wasn’t expecting that. I am now convinced that pottery should be classified not only as art, but also as therapy, philosophy, physical education, and management. All these things come into play in the studio.

Here are a few things I learned that I can apply to life in general:

  • If everyone wedged clay every day, there would be peace on earth. In order to get the air bubbles out of clay so you work won’t explode in the kiln, you have to pound it, throw it, basically beat it within an inch of its life. There’s no greater stress reducer. You can’t possibly feel frustrated once you’ve wedged some clay.
  • Everything comes out better when you remember to breathe. When nothing is going right with my pottery, if I do a quick body check, I usually discover that I’m tense and holding my breath. Breathing lets the energy flow through your body. Breathing is good.
  • Listen to your inner voice. This one I’ll probably always struggle with, but I’ve found that when my little voice goes, “time to stop messing with that pot,” it is, in fact, time to stop messing with that pot. Any more attempts at perfection will most likely lead to disaster, like accidentally caving in a wall or getting the clay so wet it turns into a glob.
  • Be patient with yourself. Try as you might, you’re not always going to have a good day. Some days are for ash trays, other days are for vases. And that’s okay.
  • Effort isn’t always obvious. One thing the movie Ghost did not make clear is that throwing pots on a pottery wheel actually takes a lot more muscle than you’d think! So next time you buy something from a potter, don’t grouse at the price. Pottery is hard work.
  • One man’s crap is another man’s masterpiece. It always amazed me that some of the most talented potters in the class were the most critical of their own work. I would kill to be able to produce some of the things they were throwing away. And conversely, some of the stuff I created could only be loved by me, and I’m fine with that.
  • It’s important to be creative. Pottery class fed my soul. It allowed me to exercise my imagination. It gave me something to be proud of. It gave me a sense of satisfaction that I can’t experience anywhere else.
  • Take a break. I would often get so deep in the zone that hours would pass by without my realizing it. And those were hours when my 50 year old body remained in basically the exact same position. I’d sometimes get so stiff I could barely make it to my car. Not good. It’s important to stand up and walk around every now and then.
  • Know when you’ve been beaten. Like I said above, you’re not going to always have a good day. Sometimes you’re going to have a really horrible day. Times like that, it’s probably better to walk away and try again tomorrow, rather than continuing to make mud pies while you gnash your teeth. That’s not quitting. That’s knowing yourself and being realistic.
  • It’s okay for things to turn out differently than expected. I’ve yet to have a pot turn out exactly the way I planned. At first that really disappointed me. But once I learned to let go of the steering wheel a little bit, I let in the ability to be delightfully surprised now and then, and that’s a great feeling.
  • It’s easier to talk to people when you can find some common ground. I actually took this class in the hopes of making friends that I could hang out with outside of class. That didn’t happen, unfortunately, although I met a lot of people I would have loved that to happen with. But I made some in class friends with whom I had some really amazing conversations. Art is a great ice breaker. It allows people to be different yet have a launch point from which to communicate. It also reminded me that I’m likable, and that kept the loneliness at bay. That has value, too.
  • Sometimes you don’t know best. Silly me. I would start out with an idea of how I wanted a pot to look, but clay often has a mind of its own. The harder I tried to force it to my will, the more it would resist, and that was an exercise in futility. I’m still working on this, but I’ve discovered that if you listen to the clay, it will often guide you toward something amazing.
  • Differences are beautiful. Every single student in that class had different ideas, different styles, different quirks. I was constantly in awe of what got produced in that studio. I could never have produced their stuff, and they could never have produced mine. Every single thing was one of a kind. Isn’t that amazing?
  • Keep track of things. At various times I’d have about 10 different projects going at once. Some were works in progress. Some were drying and waiting to be fired in the kiln. Some were waiting to be glazed. Some were cooling. It would be easy to lose track of everything. It’s important to take notes. It’s even more important to pay attention.
  • People can be really, really cool in a variety of ways. There were a lot of cool people in that class. My professor was the coolest one of all. I want to be her when I grow up. But everyone was special. Everyone had qualities that I admired. Everyone touched me in a different way. Something about the atmosphere there allowed people to be free to be themselves, and I love that.

If you ever get a chance to take a class that allows you to spread your wings in the creative realm, I highly recommend it!

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Human Signposts

As you walk your path in life, you’ll come across many intersections and forks in the road, and you’ll have to make decisions. Sometimes you won’t even know you’re at a crossroad until you look back and realize you’ve negotiated your way through it, or discover to your horror that you’ve gotten off track and have to go back and start again.

At times like this it’s really good to be a human being, because you have the power to observe and communicate and learn from others. Look around you and you’ll realize that there are human signposts at nearly every turn. Some people are admirable and you want to emulate them. Follow their path as much as you possibly can. Others are bad influences. They should have “Do Not Enter” tattooed across their foreheads. Many people are excellent sources of advice, and you can often learn from their past mistakes if you only take the time to listen to them.

When I come across a toxic individual, I try to comfort myself with the fact that I’m learning a valuable lesson about how I do not want to be. It’s as if they’ve done the screwing up for me, and yet I can still add it to my life experience. Toxic people can cause you a lot of heartache, but they can save you from even more of it as you walk away from them a much wiser individual.

Take the time to really observe the people who touch your life. Every single one is a sign post. Every single one has value.

IF I only had a brain

Have an Awful Day

It’s fascinating how the definition of some words evolves over time to signify the opposite of their original meaning. Awful originally meant “full of awe.” I miss that definition. If we allowed awful to fulfill its original role, people would stop saying awesome. I, for one, would be thrilled, because awesome is a word which annoys me for purely aesthetic reasons, although I admit I have resorted to using it more than once myself.

But as usual, I digress. I would like you, dear reader, to have a day full of awe. Take a moment every once in a while today to come to a complete halt. If you need a reminder to do this thing that is so foreign to your routine, set the alarm on your cell phone if you must, but take the opportunity to let this fast-paced world in which we live swirl around you and past you while you stand still and look around. Become the still point in the turning world. You will be amazed at what you see.

I’m talking about stopping to smell the roses writ large. Appreciate the flowers at your feet, yes, but also the sun on your face and the wind in your hair and the clothes upon your back and the food on your plate. Be grateful for your health if you have it, and your friends and your coworkers and the fact that you get to be here, right here, right now, breathing and living. That’s a very significant accomplishment, and it takes a lot of intricate things falling into place just right in order for it to be possible.

Appreciate the complexity of life. Appreciate the simplicity of life. Realize that graffiti can often be beautiful and even the most irritating situation has something to teach you. Use all five of your senses if you can, and enjoy the fact that you have them.

It would be easy to take the next step and start talking about spirituality and higher powers and all the religious trappings that go with those. But for this moment, this “right here”, just this once, don’t focus on that. Just concentrate on feeling the awe of this amazing gift you’ve been given, without trying to read the return address on the package.

Here’s wishing you a truly, wondrously, spectacularly awful day!

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[Image credit: magicalthinkingbook.com]

“Be a Swiffer, Not a Dust Mop”

You may have heard me mention that I’ve added another part time job to my ever growing pantheon of income sources. But this one is special as it is in a dental lab. Just when I thought my most recent degree in Dental Laboratory Technology was going to be a wasteful money pit in my other pantheon, that of useless degrees, it seems it just might have actually been worth the effort after all. Yay me!

Anyway, I was sort of crowing about my little employment coup to a dear and wise friend of mine, and she was saying that I need to take full advantage of this opportunity. I need to observe and learn everything I can, every single moment I’m in that lab. I shouldn’t waste time. I need to focus! In fact she said I should be a Swiffer, not a dust mop.

You see, a Swiffer is supposed to be vastly superior to the dust mops of old. It can gather more to it. It doesn’t merely push the dust around into ever increasing piles, causing you to sneeze. It doesn’t require extra equipment [like a dust pan] to get the job done. Oh, no. A Swiffer goes out there and kicks a** and takes names! It draws everything in its vicinity to it. It sucks up all the vital stuff around it.

No sneezing for this woman! No sir! I’m going to gather all the knowledge I can to me, and leave not one particle behind! A busy Swiffer I will bee…er, be!

Knowledge, after all, is power. Who’s with me? Let’s aspire to Swiffer-dom together! Hoo-ah!

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Update: How’s this for irony? The day after I wrote this I was fired from the dental lab. Not good enough, apparently. Screw ’em. There are many ways to mop a floor.

“You’re never too old to live your dreams.”

Thank you, Diana Nyad, for reminding us all of this the other day, when you swam for about 53 hours from Cuba to Florida at the age of 64.

This amazing feat reminded me of the many other people I have heard of who have done incredible things at an advanced age.

  • At my last graduation ceremony, one of my fellow students was in his 70’s.
  • Mother Teresa won the Nobel Peace Prize at the age of 69.
  • Mavis Lindgren ran her first marathon at age 70.
  • An ex-boyfriend’s 80 year old mother recently went white water rafting down the Colorado River.
  • At age 61, and weighing only 99 pounds, Gandhi walked almost 200 miles to protest the British salt tax.
  • My boyfriend’s delightful uncle, in his 70’s, takes advanced math correspondence courses and taught himself how to do stained glass and pottery. He now has his own art studio in his garage.
  • As a Learn to Read volunteer, I have encountered many seniors who have chosen to learn to read for the first time in their lives.
  • Grandma Moses, the renowned American folk artist, did not begin to paint seriously until she was 76. One of her paintings eventually sold for 1.2 million dollars.
  • Reverend Scott Alexander, who lead the church I used to attend, rode his bike 3,300 miles across the country last summer to raise $50,000 and raise awareness about hunger. He is 63 years old.
  • Colonel Sanders was 66 when he started Kentucky Fried Chicken.
  • Nelson Mandela became president of South Africa when he was 76, and that’s after suffering in prison for 26 years of his life.
  • Laura Ingalls Wilder, of “Little House on the Prairie” fame, did not publish her first book until she was 64, and continued to do so until she was 76.

So when Diana Nyad walked out of the ocean on shaky legs, sunburned, exhausted, and with her mouth full of sores from the salt water, and said, “You’re never too old to live your dreams,” she wasn’t kidding. And to make it even more amazing, she had tried, and failed, 4 times before.

Never give up. If there’s something you want to do, like travel or learn or create, don’t let your age stand in your way. Use Diana Nyad’s mantra: Find a way.

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Diana Nyad. [Image credit: nytimes.com]