Our Connection with the Universe

I read something recently that really made me think. If you lived on the sunshine side of a tidal locked planet (one in which one side of its sphere always faces the body it orbits around), over the generations you might completely lose sight of the fact that there’s a universe out there, because you’d never see the stars.

How tragic that would be. For centuries, Man has been looking skyward and wondering what is out there. We imagine constellations of stars as being part of a group even though they are nowhere near each other. We give them names. We wonder if we are alone.

Personally, I find it extremely comforting that there’s something so much larger than myself that it practically renders me insignificant. It makes me feel that any concerns I may be having are insignificant, too.

There is so much beauty in the night sky. It calms me. It embraces me. I’d hate to lose that sense of awe.

Our moon is tidally locked to us, which is why we always see the same face. But we are not tidally locked to it, nor is it tidally locked to the sun, which is why we see different phases of it as it continues to face us. If you lived on the far side of the moon, you wouldn’t know earth existed. That’s a profound view of reality, because the earth is comparatively huge, and would be rather hard to ignore in other circumstances.

Tidal locking would mean you’d only get to see one version of reality. And over time that reality would be reinforced to such a degree that it would be hard to leave room for any other beliefs. (In fact, one’s very concept of the passage of time would probably be so different that it might render one incapable of imagination.)

It just goes to show that your reality has a great deal to do with where you are looking. That’s why I love to travel so much. I think it’s important to experience other points of view. And by that I don’t just mean the opinions of others. I mean the points from which I get to view the world and the heavens.

I hope you take time to look about you, dear reader. There are many things to see. And those sights will enhance your connection to the universe.

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Hallucinations

I’ve written a lot about reality and the perception thereof. I used to think of reality as a solid entity. I thought there was one reality, and all of us had varying abilities to see it. Now I’m not so sure. Reality seems much more fluid these days.

I know that the things I see out of the corners of my eyes when I’m severely sleep deprived aren’t real, but they sure seem like they are at the time. More than once, I’d swear I’ve heard someone call my name, only to look up and see no one who knows me, or, worse yet, no one at all.

When my mother died, I missed her so much that I swore I saw her several times in a mall, or in a train station, or rounding the corner on a crowded city street. Apparently that’s a very common part of grief. But it sure gives you a jolt when it happens.

I’ve had entire conversations with someone only to realize that due to a misunderstanding, we were talking about two separate things. That can be hilarious. But surely there have been times when we’ve both walked away without realizing we were not only not on the same page, but in completely different books. And there’s no way to know how often that happens.

According to this article from the Atlantic, entitled Hallucinations Are Everywhere, a lot of hallucinations come about because your brain anticipates what is about to happen, and that can make you believe it is so. It’s a fascinating read. But it leaves me wondering how much of my reality is crafted by my brain out of whole cloth. That’s a little scary.

Another thing the article says is that a lot of hallucinations are harmless. Whew. That’s a load off.

So much about the world these days seems to be built upon a fragile, shifting foundation. I can’t really blame my brain for trying to fill in the blanks to make sense of it all. But I long for something solid. Something logical. Something I can count on.

Hallucinations

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Examining Irritation

True confession: I get irritated by stupid stuff.

It’s not that I enjoy irritation. In fact, it irritates me. But sometimes it feels beyond my control.

The good news is that the older I get, the more level headed I seem to become. I think part of that is due to the fact that I can’t work up the energy to be annoyed as often as I could in my younger days. I just can’t be bothered.

Oh, but there still are things. Someone cutting ahead of me in line. People blocking grocery aisles to chit chat. Rude individuals. All things Trump. The common denominator here is that people aren’t playing by my rules. I have no idea why so many people have overlooked the memo that I am Queen of the World, but there you have it.

Another thing that has improved with time is my self-awareness. I am getting better at seeing the physical warning signs of my irritation so as to nip it in the bud. Is my heart rate increasing? Am I feeling adrenalized? Am I starting to fidget? Uh, oh. Time to evaluate the situation.

First off, am I already Hungry, Angry, Lonely, or Tired? Then I need to H.A.L.T. Because any one of those four states are bound to cause me to overreact. At times like those, I’ve been known to look for a reason to be irritated. How stupid is that?

Next, I need to really look at what I’m feeling. Sometimes irritation is a mask for other, less comfortable emotions. Fear. Fury. Depression. Grief. Disappointment. Dissatisfaction with your relationship with the person who is triggering your irritation. A feeling of being disrespected. My own stupid impatience when someone doesn’t comply with my self-imposed time line.

In many cultures, we are taught to suppress “negative” emotions. But emotions don’t hold a positive or negative charge. They are what they are. You feel what you feel. If you suppress that, it’s just going to find a way out in other ways, such as irritation when your boyfriend leaves his dirty socks in the coffee mug. It helps to check in with yourself about what you are really feeling. (For example, you’re annoyed, and frankly a little scared, that he doesn’t care enough about your feelings to put the mug in the dishwasher and the socks in the hamper.) If you aren’t adept at that, and many of us are not, I suggest that you consider therapy. I highly recommend it.

Another thing I try to do is a reality check. When I get irritated, I try to figure out which one of my rules is being violated. (As in: footwear and kitchen utensils don’t mix.) And then I try to remind myself that a) people are not mind readers, and b) not everyone goes by the same rules. (If both the footwear and the kitchen utensil are dirty, perhaps your boyfriend doesn’t see their intermingling as a big deal.) Then, maybe the two of you can discuss your versions of these unspoken rules and form a consensus. That would be ideal.

Probably the most important thing to think about, though, is that you are never going to be able to control other people’s behavior. Never. That doesn’t necessarily mean that they aren’t partially to blame for not hearing you when you tell them, however ham-handedly, that their behavior triggers your irritation. What it does mean is you have total control over your side of the equation. You can change the way you react. You can examine it, deconstruct it, and make alterations within you. You might be surprised. That could lead to changes in the other person, too.

But take your irritation seriously. It’s horrible for you and everyone around you. Here’s when irritation gets out of hand:

  • When you find yourself annoyed at what you know, logically, is a trivial thing.

  • When you get aggressive by yelling or being hostile or becoming violent.

  • When you have a chronic problem, such as getting annoyed, over and over again, at the same thing. (How is that working for you?)

  • When your temper gets worse when you drink or take drugs.

If any of the above applies to you, you have an anger management problem that you should take seriously, and I encourage you to seek help. Your life doesn’t have to feel like a miserable nightmare, and those around you shouldn’t have to walk on eggshells, either. Life is too short for everyone concerned.

irritated

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The Curse of Summer Vacations

Holy moly, it got up to 88 degrees here the other day. If I were back in Florida, I’d be thanking my lucky stars for that nice, cool respite. Here in Seattle, the land of no air conditioners, 88 degrees is pure, unadulterated hell. It’s really hard to sleep when it’s that hot. People start getting cranky and acting crazy. Welcome to summer.

When I was a kid, I used to long for summer. I’d daydream about summer vacation while sitting at my school desk. (I daydreamed quite a bit. I was usually about a dozen lessons ahead of my classmates.) School was tedious for me. I could have moved much faster along my academic path if I didn’t have to drag all that dead weight behind me.

So summer vacation, for me, meant freedom. It was a time of lightening my load. It was my idea of Shangri-la.

I have absolutely no idea why I felt that way. The reality of summer never fit with my fantasies. I came from a hard working, very poor family. It’s not like we summered in the Hamptons or something. My mother had to work. If we went anywhere, we rarely went far, and we didn’t stay for long.

The reality of summer for me was lots and lots and lots of horrible daytime television, interspersed with the escape of library books, and naps. Blessed naps to break up the suffocating boredom. Often by the end of summer I was sleeping all day and watching TV all night.

It’s a wonder I didn’t lose my mind. Maybe I did. Because as soon as school started back up again, I would revert back to counting the days until the next summer vacation. It took me years to stop looking forward with miserable longing. Now is where it’s at, baby.

summer vacation

For Real

Have you ever had a conversation with someone that made you question reality? Sometimes two people can draw such different conclusions from a situation that it makes you wonder if you come from the same planet. I had one of those recently.

A friend said, “You just called me an (xyz).”

I replied, “What are you talking about? That word never came out of my mouth. What I said was (abc).”

My friend repeated his assertion. I felt like I was in the twilight zone. Especially since we were communicating via text.

So I said, “Dude, scroll up. Where are you seeing (xyz)? Where? Show me.”

Long pause.

Then he said, “I just talked to (mutual friend E) and she agrees with me. I’m not an (xyz).”

Me: “Wait a minute! Where is this coming from? What are you talking about? I never said you were!”

Him: “It really hurts my feelings that you disrespect me so much that you think I’m an (xyz).”

At this point, my feelings were kind of hurt that he would think I was the type of person to say such a thing. So I said, “On my life, I never said that! I don’t know where this is coming from. If I struck some sort of a nerve somehow, I’m sorry. But I’m not responsible for the nerve being there in the first place. You’re pulling facts out of thin air, so I really think we should leave it at that.”

God, how I hate being misunderstood. Even worse, I hate trying to explain something that seems perfectly obvious to me, only to discover that the other person just doesn’t get it. “But… the sky isn’t lime green with purple polka dots! Look at it! Look!”

I would probably be easily sucked into a cult. Because eventually I’d just give up and I’d really want to believe the sky was purple and green, too. Anything to make the world make sense again. After a while, I might actually see a tinge of green. And maybe a spot or two.

Or not. Who knows?

green and purple

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Let Reality Be Beautiful

Things are good. Almost too good. So good, in fact, that sometimes I panic. That annoying little voice in my head whispers, “This is too good to be true. It can’t be real. You’re overlooking something. Or all the great people around you will finally see you for the inherently flawed individual that you are and disappear. Or a meteor is about to crush you dead. Or something. Because you can’t have the good things.”

If a pep talk like that doesn’t send me into a panic attack, surely it will cause me to dive headlong into a pint of Häagen-Dazs. Neither outcome is optimal to my health. But if I get to choose (“You never get to choose.”) (“Shut up, annoying little voice!”) I’ll take the ice cream.

I was talking about this to my dear friend Anju, whose blog I highly recommend. Of everyone I know, Anju is one of the ones I’d be most likely to consider an authority on this subject, because from what I can tell, she leads an amazing life. She takes risks. She sits down at the world’s table and she feasts of life like a fat kid in an ice cream parlor. No apologies. No prisoners. Her life isn’t always a bed of roses, but it is uniquely and undoubtedly hers. I admire her. I’d love to be her.

After listening to me grouse, she simply said, “Let reality be beautiful.”

Wow. If that doesn’t strike a chord in you, then you are tone deaf.

And you know, why the hell not? If things are good, then I should enjoy them. I need to live in the now, because the now, right now, is awesome!

I may not have any control over the meteors heading my way, but I certainly don’t have to poop all over my own party. I deserve as much beautiful reality as the next person. And so do you, dear reader.

Thanks Anju!

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Dream Crushing

I used to know someone who seemed to delight in crushing others’ dreams. When I was young, she approached my mother, all concerned, because I talked about wanting to be a teacher, when the week before I wanted to be something else. My mother responded, “She’s a kid. She’s supposed to try different ideas on for size. Let her be.” (That was probably one of my mother’s finest moments. Thanks, Ma.)

This person went on to have children of her own, and it broke my heart the way she used to deprive them of all hope. When one of her kids said she wanted to be a singer, she was told that you’re more likely to be struck by lightning than become famous.

While that may be true, the message she was sending was, “Why even try? You won’t be good enough.” Because of that, that girl grew up and singing isn’t a part of her life. She might have been famous. Or she might have sung in the church choir and made lifelong friends that way. Or she might have become a music teacher. So many paths were cut off from her life thanks to her mudslide of a mother.

When another one of her kids showed aptitude in one area above all others, she tried her best to discourage him, because it wouldn’t be an easy career. But he lived and breathed it. He did manage to get halfway into it, but never went the distance. I often wonder where he’d be if he had gotten just the tiniest bit of encouragement from the woman he admired most.

It’s so much easier to crush someone than to lift that person up. When you crush, gravity is on your side. But I hope you’ll resist the urge.

Watching people fly, even if it’s away from you,  even if the destination remains just out of reach for them, is much more satisfying than having to scrape them off the sole of your shoe.

lift

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Alternate Realities

Five years ago, I remember being in a room with two good men. One was Chuck, the love of my life. The other was Glenn, who was a dear friend. I remember talking, smiling, laughing with them both. It was a good day.

I wonder what I would have thought or said or done had I known that by the time of this writing, they would both have died unexpectedly, at different times, for different reasons, leaving behind different sets of broken hearts. It was the first time they had ever met each other, and the last. They didn’t know how much they were going to have in common.

It’s a weird concept that I was the only one to survive in that room, and some day (not too soon, I hope), I will be amongst their number, as will we all. Death and taxes, as they say. Inevitable.

Another strange coincidence is that I had told people about them both, at different times, and for different reasons, thinking that they were both alive, and then discovering later, to my horror, that they were not.

Chuck, I talked about all the time. He was a character. He walked through life leaving hilarious stories in his wake. He had a quirky outlook, and it was safe to say that if he didn’t delight you, at the very least he’d make you think. There was only a few hours delay between his death and my being notified, but during that time I’m sure I mentioned his name a dozen times. (In fact, I think the sheriff’s office figured out how to contact me because I had texted him, and his cell phone was chirping beside his body.) Not a day goes by when I don’t experience a jolt, realizing he’s gone. He shouldn’t be gone. Not yet.

Glenn, I hadn’t seen in years, but we were Facebook friends. We had been in the same college classroom together for two years, and he was close to me in age, unlike the many 19-year-old students, so we kind of related to each other. I have no idea why he popped into my head during my vacation to Utah, but I mentioned him to my sister. Just a few of your basic, “I have this friend who…” stories. After my vacation, I thought, “I should say hello on Facebook, and see how he’s doing.” And that’s how I found out he had passed away weeks previously. He was a good man. He loved people. He was a family man and a compassionate care giver. I’m sure his absence is going to leave a huge void.

But what I can’t stop thinking about are those times when, in my head, these guys were still with us, when in reality they weren’t. I would have bet my life that I’d be talking to them both in no time, and that wasn’t at all true.

They were both too young. They both had so much more to do. It makes me wonder how much I can really count on knowing, you know?

But maybe they are here after all. The human heart has room for many people to reside. And in my mind I’ll always be able to see their smiles. May they rest in peace.

Heaven

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Faith Ain’t Reality

I admire people who have faith. Religious faith in particular is a quality that seems to have eluded me most of my life. I would truly love to be able to let go and let God, as the saying goes.

It has to be comforting to think that there’s a higher power who has ultimate control. It must be liberating to not have to think you are the primary decision-maker in your own life, that the buck doesn’t stop here after all, that some cosmic being is on your side, and therefore a large amount of the responsibility belongs to someone or something else. It would be so nice to guess that your fate has already been mapped out for you. That there’s a plan. What a weight would be lifted from my shoulders! I’d also love to think that prayer could solve my problems.

I just can’t do it. I like facts. I want evidence. Proof. Otherwise, how is it different from believing in unicorns?

I wish there were unicorns. I’d love to see a unicorn. I’d love to live in a world where unicorns wandered the streets. But I live in the real world.

Here’s what gives me comfort: we’ve learned so much about the universe and how it works that it becomes increasingly easy to not rely on the great unknown to answer the decreasing number of unanswerable questions. We know what causes eclipses these days. Nothing is devouring the sun.

Now, the trick is to maintain a moral compass when you technically don’t answer to anyone other than yourself. Perhaps that’s the kind of faith I need to nurture: the concept that humans have the maturity to be capable of morality without oversight.

Wish me luck.

unicorn

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Whistler

During my most recent trip to Canada, I had the opportunity to visit Whistler, which is the ski resort mecca of British Columbia. That was a surreal experience. Everything was clean and well-manicured. Even the concrete looked somehow artificial. It was like being in Disney World without the rides.

That is, if everyone who visited Disney had a six figure income. The second I stepped on the promenade, I felt extremely out of place. People kept looking at me as if they were outraged that I didn’t arrive through the service entrance. I swear that rich people can identify a poser by some pheromone or something. I definitely wasn’t supposed to be there.

I have no doubt that I could have eaten their overpriced food off the sidewalk and would not have caught a single disease. I also could have scotch-taped my money to my behind beneath a sign that said “steal me” and it would still have been there when I left. I stuck my head into a few shops, and quickly retreated. Everything was so outrageously priced that it seemed tacky to me. The whole place is a monument to crass consumerism.

I walked past several young men with chiseled jaws who were wearing watches that were worth more than I earn in a year. You couldn’t have slung a dead cat without hitting a designer label of some sort. One little blonde girl with very expensive hair extensions asked us where the “Olympic Ring thingy” was, and when we pointed her in the right direction, she ran off as if she was afraid her coach was about to turn into a pumpkin.

Is that what it’s like to be rich? Do you live your life in some sanitized bubble of a fantasy world, where everything is safe and predictable? Do you wander, care-free and entitled, from one vacuous place to the next, your only worry being the need to marry well?

I’ll pass. I’m glad I went to the rich people zoo once, just to say I’d done it, but I won’t be back. I prefer the real world.

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