What Do You Want out of Life?

Access to pizza delivery is right up there for me.

For the bulk of my life, when someone asked me what I wanted to be when I grew up, I wasn’t able to give a definitive answer. There are just too many possibilities. I found this question particularly stressful when I was between the ages of 15 and 29. I remember feeling as if I were at this great crossroads, and there were so many directions I could turn that I had absolutely no idea which way I should go.

Jeez. No pressure there.

It wasn’t until I was much older that I realized that I shouldn’t be focused on what I wanted to turn myself into. Instead, I should focus on what I wanted out of life. What do I need to be happy? Once I knew that, I could then formulate a plan to achieve these things. My becoming would be a natural outgrowth of my desires.

I’m not talking about material things, here. That’s not high on my list of priorities. Not that there is any right or wrong answer to the big question. If things are what you want out of life, you will take a very different journey than I will, and that’s okay.

What follows are the things I want out of life.

  • Serenity.

  • Contentment.

  • To love and be loved.

  • At least one decent travel opportunity per year.

  • Producing something that will last. A legacy, of sorts.

  • Leaving the planet ever so slightly better than I found it.

  • The opportunity to learn and grow as well as teach.

  • Peace and quiet.

  • A good night’s sleep more often than not.

  • A good hard laugh every once in a while.

  • Self-expression.

  • Access to pizza delivery.

So, dear reader, what do you want?


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What Keeps Me Up at Night

Yeah, I’ve done that mind-grind thing where I keep worrying about something and try in vain to come up with a solution. I have done my fair share of stressing out over finances, jobs, relationships, and conversations that I’m dreading. I’ve even stayed up to care for sick people and pets.

But you know what really keeps me up at night? Excitement. I spend a lot of time tossing and turning and smiling at the possibilities. I can rarely sleep just before a trip to someplace I’ve never been, for example. I can just imagine what it will be like. I also thrill to new experiences, new connections, and the opportunity to learn.

Many is the night I’ve spent staring at the ceiling, knowing that I’m about to receive the gift of newness. That’s my favorite gift of all. It doesn’t take up space in your tool shed. You don’t have to dust it. It’s usually not tangible. But you’ll be able to revel in its memory for the rest of your life.

There is nothing quite like the first time you do something, see something or realize something. Beginnings are awesome. Change is wonderful just as often as it is dreadful. The anticipation of something can be every bit as amazing as the thing itself.

Anticipation is what robs me of my sleep!

Excitement (July 2011)

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A New Future

The older I get, the more people I know who are mourning the loss of a partner. Along with that, inevitably, comes the mourning of the loss of your future. Because couples make plans. That’s what they do. They have an image of what they’re working toward. When your partner dies or you get divorced, that image turns to dust.

That’s unsettling. Suddenly you have absolutely no idea where you are going. It is as if you’ve been blindfolded and spun in a circle. You spend a lot of time swinging your arms around in attempt to orient yourself and avoid crashing into things. And while you’re doing that, it seems as if the rest of the world is cruising merrily past you, intent upon one destination or another, not even having to rely on a GPS. You feel as though you can’t keep up. You’ve been left behind.

It can take many years before you’re able to find the strength turn your face toward the sun again. And when you do that, it feels really strange at first. What is this warmth I’m feeling? It feels good. Do I deserve to feel good? Should I feel guilty?

And then a funny thing happens. You start doing things that you like to do that you perhaps had abandoned because your partner wasn’t into them. And you stop doing things that you only did because your partner enjoyed them. In other words, you begin to take back your individuality.

Being an individual takes strength and courage. It takes confidence and creativity. At first you’re going to feel like a newborn giraffe. Not quite steady on your feet. A little confused about how you got here and why you’re suddenly towering over things that you never knew existed. The world will seem new.

But with any luck, one day you’ll wake up and you’ll realize that you’re actually kind of excited about the fact that the world seems new. Colors are brighter. Smells are more intriguing. Food has regained its flavor. Everything seems rife with possibilities.

And just like that, you begin to plan a brand new future. It may not look anything like the future you once imagined for yourself, but my wish for you is that it’s an adventure that you’re eager to begin. Onward!


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The Choices We Can’t See

“So, why didn’t you do it like this?” She asked.

“Because it never occurred to me,” I replied.

I can’t count the number of times I’ve had a similar conversation, both as the inquisitor and as the embarrassed person who failed to find the obvious solution. It makes you wonder how many choices are out there that you just never see.

That’s why I always find it so helpful to discuss issues with third parties. Inevitably, they bring a unique perspective to the table. Not that I always take their advice, but it is always good to have alternatives.

It’s almost as if the fifth dimension (rather than being a band that sings about the Age of Aquarius), is a land of invisible options. It’s a place that we sense, but can’t seem to access, try as hard as we might.

“Why didn’t I think of that?” I ask, while pressing my nose against the window of that quirky dimension.

I suppose that if we always got things right, there would be no challenges in this world. There would be no room for improvement, and nothing to strive for. It would certainly squelch all creativity and innovation. What would be the point?

I like the concept that there are choices out there that we don’t see. I like unlimited possibilities. I only hope that we figure things out at the most critical junctures, because much hangs in the balance. But it kind of makes me wonder if it’s ever possible to get something completely “right”.

L0027293 The gyri of the thinker's brain as a maze of choices in biom

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Architectural Salvage Yards

“Hey, where was that place that you got all the cool used doors and grates and glass blocks for the house you used to own here in Jacksonville?” He asked.

“Burkhalters,” I replied, and a tsunami of nostalgia washed over me.

I absolutely love salvage yards. I don’t know why more people don’t take advantage of them. If it’s true that “they don’t make ‘em like they used to,” then why not make use of older construction elements?

All over the country, beautiful old houses and buildings get torn down, and you better believe that those parts of the construction that can be resold will be. So why not get some gorgeous old handmade French doors instead of the uninspiring new ones that are on the market these days? Put a little copper-colored rustoleum on a wrought iron heating grate and you have a gorgeous design element for your home. Think of it as the ultimate form of recycling. The possibilities are endless.

That’s why I love salvage. The possibilities. But you have to leave your expectations at home. You can’t go in with preconceived notions. You can think, “I’m looking for a door,” for example, but if you’ve got it in your head that you want an 8 panel door with an arc of stained glass windows across the top, brass handles and a peep hole, you’re setting yourself up for disappointment.

Salvage yards are an entirely different spiritual shopping journey. They are not just one more errand on the old to-do list. They’re an adventure. Close cousins to junk yards, they’re often in sketchy neighborhoods. You don’t walk in to a nice, clean, orderly space, grab everything that’s on your list and walk out. You have vague ideas. And then you wander around, sometimes seeing rats scurrying about from the corner of your eye. You dig through piles of stuff with sharp, rusty edges. You wait until something speaks to your soul. You imagine how something would look once you slap a coat of paint on it. You expect to get dirty. You also expect to have to go back more than once. Patience, Grasshopper.

Right now I’m at the beginning stage of the relationship with my new (to me) house. Things I’m doing now, like adding insulation, require new product. But once those elements are dealt with, I can’t wait to get down and even dirtier to make my house unique!


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Untapped Beauty

God, but I love the internet. It introduces me to things I didn’t previously know existed on an almost daily basis. There is so much in this world that can shock or amaze or awe.

Just the other day I happened to go to the Bing website and was presented with this gorgeous picture:


Whoa. What is that? I’d never seen anything like it in my life. I naturally had to learn more about it. It turns out it’s the Chinese Lantern Fruit, more formally known as Physalis Alkekengi. When the fruit first forms, it’s covered by a papery husk that resembles a Chinese lantern as shown in this picture from Wikipedia:


Hence the name. Over time, the husk dries out and becomes more filigreed, exposing the fruit to view.

Isn’t nature awesome? Such delicacy, such artistry. Such intense beauty. It leaves me speechless.

Upon further research though, I’ve decided I will never sample this fascinating fruit, because according to that same Wikipedia article, it’s used as a diuretic, antiseptic, liver corrective and sedative.

But I guess my whole reason for babbling on about this beautiful creation is that is makes me wonder what else is out there that is equally stunning that I’ve yet to discover. I get excited just thinking about the possibilities.

I don’t think there’s any better feeling in this world than that of being certain of future awe. (I need to invent a word for that.) It almost makes you look forward to the sound of your alarm clock, doesn’t it?

Discarded Futures

It’s ironic that I’m about to move again, because I just moved into this place a month ago. But this job offer is too good to pass up. I’m excited. I’m dreading loading up my stuff again. And I have GOT to get rid of things. I can no longer lug long playing records from pillar to post when I don’t even own a record player anymore. Why do I need reference books when I can get all the info I need on line? I’ve got so much to do.

But when I stop to catch my breath, I look around at this house and think about how much I like it. Even though I’ve only been here a month, I feel like I could really have made a nice home here. I feel safe here. I like that I can hear the neighbors roosters crowing, even though I’m in the middle of the largest city by land mass on the planet. I like playing in the yard with the dogs. I can see a future here, but I’ve chosen to forego it.

I sometimes think about the various futures I’ve chosen not to pursue. It’s not really a feeling of regret that comes over me, even though some of those futures might have been wonderful. It’s more like a feeling of awe. There are so many possibilities out there. So many paths I can take, or could have taken.

Every life on this planet is unique. Imagine that. We are each the architects of our own evolution. Every single choice you make opens up a whole new world to you. What a gift. What a precious, precious gift.

possibilities-asad.jpg w=509&h=339

Okay, as a bridgetender I just have to throw in a little editorial comment here. It’s one thing to say that nothing is impossible. It’s quite another to do something really stupid that will get you killed. People die on drawbridges all the time. Kids, seriously, do NOT do this at home, so to speak.

Contemplating Suicide? What I’d Say to a Jumper

Recently someone I love very much told me that she had attempted suicide a couple of times in the past year. This broke my heart because I had no idea she was suffering in silence. Having struggled with depression my whole life, I know what it’s like to want to throw off that thick blanket of despair, and I know that sometimes it seems like there is only one irreversible way to do so. But that’s the thing. Once you’ve made that choice, you can never make any other choices, ever. How can you be sure there aren’t better times just around the corner?

I can also speak with a little bit of authority on this subject because as a bridgetender I cross paths with people attempting suicide several times a year. I’ve never actually spoken to one of these people. Either the police rescue them before they jump or they make good on their attempt.

I’ve often thought about what I’d say if I came upon a jumper on my bridge and no one else was there. I’m not trained in any way so I’m probably the last person that should be thrust into that situation, and I’d avoid it if I could, but if I had no other choice, what would I do to try to convince them not to take that last irreversible step?

First I’d introduce myself and ask for his or her name. Then I would say, “I don’t know why you’re here, and I don’t know why you want to jump. I’m sure you have your reasons, and they’re none of my business. But I’d like to tell you that this is probably the most important conversation I’ve ever had in my life, because I think you are important in this world. I think you have value. I really believe that every day you impact and influence people and you probably don’t even realize it. Some day, a month, a year, a decade from now, someone will cross your path who will need your influence. If you’re not there to do so, that person may never have the future he or she deserves.”

“I also think that things can change on a dime. You never know what tomorrow will bring. But if you jump, you’ll never get to find out. One thing tomorrow can bring for you is help. Someone to talk to. People who will take you seriously. And they are out there. I promise. We’ll make sure you get a chance to talk to those people, if only you stick around to do so.

“The fact that you’re still listening to me means that you are having second thoughts. That’s good. That means you still have choices. You can still not jump, and then you have a whole world of possibilities. I can tell you this. Every single jumper, without exception, screams on the way down. That means they regret their decision the minute they step into thin air. But by then it’s too late. And that sentiment has been universally confirmed by the rare people who survive jumping off a bridge. They say they wish they had never done it. Can you imagine that feeling of terror? Wanting desperately to take something back but not being able to do so? Would you want that to be the last feeling you have? I don’t want that for you.

“I can also tell you that it’s not as easy a way to go as you might think. See that concrete and wooden fender system down there? I’ve heard jumpers hit that thing, and you can hear their bones break all the way up here. That sound will haunt me for the rest of my life, and now that I know your name, it would be even worse. But even if you miss the fender system it’s bad. Your organs are lighter than your skeleton, so when you hit the water, your skeleton rushes past your organs, forcing them all to move up into your chest cavity. I can’t imagine that type of pain. It’s a horrible, horrible way to go.

“I don’t have all the answers. In fact, my life is pretty messed up. But I really do believe there’s more out there for you than this. You wouldn’t be feeling so hurt or scared or depressed or angry about your situation if you didn’t believe you deserved more, too. Don’t take away your chance to find out what’s out there. Right now you can go in any direction you want. Left, right, forward, backward, up or down. If you jump, all you’ll be left with is down. If you feel like you have no hope now, imagine how you’ll feel when you’ve only got one direction left to go.”

I don’t know. Maybe that would be the wrong thing to say to a jumper. Maybe it would do no good. But that’s what I’d want to say.

looking down

The Immigration Issue in Reverse

Yesterday I wrote about the many circles of hell the average woman on this planet has to pass through. Believe me, this is not the first time I’ve contemplated this topic, and at one point I was doing well enough to consider trying to help.

It’s the personal stories that get to me the most. Women with dreams and aspirations but no hope because they aren’t allowed an education. Young girls promised in marriage to men that they do not want. Women whose spirits are crushed when they discover that that overseas job that they took to help their families is actually a sex trafficking racket, and they are now trapped in a web of violence. Grown women who are not allowed to leave the house without permission or an escort.

A few years ago I had a steady job, and a house, and this nice clean guest room that was empty the majority of the time. I thought, “Wouldn’t it be nice if I could save just one of these women, give them a future where they had choices and opportunities and all the options that I take for granted?”

I got excited, thinking about filling my guest room with life and hope and possibilities. She could learn English, go to school, get a job, and then stand on her own two feet, free to marry or not, have children or not, go anywhere, or not.

Sadly, how would I find a woman like this? She probably wouldn’t be able to speak freely, and the men in her life probably wouldn’t let her go willingly. Perhaps a refugee camp would be the place to look.

But after doing quite a lot of research on the Department of State website, it became distressingly clear that it would be nearly impossible to sponsor someone. It either has to be a family member, someone you marry, someone you’re going to adopt, or someone you’re going to employ. There are also diversity visas for countries with low immigration to the US, but the applicant must have a high school diploma and two years of work experience, among other things, and that doesn’t fit the profile of the type of woman I had in mind.

We complain about illegal immigration quite a lot in this country, but imagine desperately trying to get in and knowing you’ll never be able to. The system is against these women, both on her end and on mine. And it’s a moot point now, I suppose, because I no longer have the house, the guestroom, or the financial ability to help someone other than myself.

But sometimes I imagine myself reaching out my hand across the water to one of these women, and she’s got her hand outstretched as well, but our fingertips remain mere inches away. So close. So damned close…


Let Your Freak Flag Fly!

I like to wear crazy, colorful socks. That way if I find that I’m taking myself too seriously, I can always look down at my feet and regain a sense of emotional balance.

I have always been drawn to people who are different. Whether it’s pink hair, or strange clothes, or simply thinking outside the box, I always have admired the weirdos, the three-legged dogs.

People who spend their whole lives floating comfortably down the main stream have no idea how much energy it takes to swim against the current. There’s a lot of pressure to comply with the majority. Much better to close your eyes, keep your head down, and go with the flow, rather than make waves.

We learn this in school. Stand out too much and you’ll be laughed at, ridiculed and stuffed into the nearest locker. It’s much better to be a cheerleader or a football player, so you are never in doubt as to your uniform, or your role in the grand hierarchy. Conform, conform, conform!

But without the occasional oddball, what a boring place this world would be! There would be no color, no variety, no art, no creativity, no invention, no debate.

The eccentrics of this world mean you no harm. They simply show you that there are alternatives, potential, and possibilities. So thank your local free spirit for providing a useful service in this world. Let him or her bask in the rare waters of appreciation, if only for a brief, shining moment.

RussellBrandRussell Brand, one of my favorite non-conformists.