Wednesday, December 24, 2014

What Really Matters

We put the tree up yesterday. We have one holiday decoration in the house and finally put one on the door this afternoon. Honestly, it wouldn't have bothered me in the least if we hadn't done anything at all. This year has been a lesson in finding what's important and discarding what isn't worth the time and trouble.

It's been a trying year, physically, for me and my family. Old physical nemeses reared an ugly head both with me and with my mom..... with me, more of an ongoing annoyance, but with Mom, much more severe. What's important is that she is still here, although right now, battling the beginnings of a cold (or at least we hope so). And even though the effects of the aging process -- and her illnesses -- baffle and frustrate me, I still have her with us here. What a blessing!

My brother -- simultaneously one of my closest peeps and yet another one who baffles and frustrates me -- nearly flipped his car earlier this year coming home from church. A slick road and an overcorrection, and almost down an embankment. We are so blessed that the worst of it involved cleaning out massive amounts of dirt and grass from the car's undercarriage. He is still here.

The house is old, amazingly still here after 80-odd years (we think), and it is safe shelter. Sure it's a little crammed -- what would you expect with four adults and their lives being interwoven here, along with one big dog? Sure we joke about who'd be the first to maneuver the backhoe if any of us ever hit a jackpot or came into a windfall somehow. (Answer: Me. Me. Me. Sorry, everyone else....) But it is home, and there are memories here, over 65 years' worth for my mom. It is safe, mostly warm, mostly sturdy, and there's lots of love contained therein. A blessing, when so so many can't say the same thing.

And for faith -- a hard-earned, fire-tested, broken-down-and-rebuilt faith. I'm getting ready shortly to go to my 23rd consecutive midnight Mass. Haven't missed one since 1991, and for me, Christmas isn't Christmas without midnight Mass. I know that above all else, I am loved, greatly loved. I have purpose and meaning, although some days it is so hard for me to see what my purpose is and if I am making any difference at all in this world. And I have hope and optimism -- sometimes blindingly so -- that keeps me going when everything seems its most dismal. It brings me to tears to think about how blessed I am. It is humbling, and leaves me in awe, asking, "But why?" No answer can be found, except this: "Because."

And I have friends, friends who have held my hand, picked up my basket, stood by me, stood up to me, challenged me to grow beyond anything I could have imagined. I don't know what I did to deserve them but I am so unabashedly grateful for them, I do not know where to begin.

This. This is what really matters. Not the value of the gifts at the tree. Not the amount of decorations or whether it's perfectly coordinated. Not whether or not the food is perfect. Only the love and the overwhelming gratitude for the best gift ever: a child who came to show a better way. A child who came to tell us how loved we are, how special we are, even when it is so hard to believe -- when we have owned our unworthiness and clung to it as our only shield. A child who was vulnerable to show us that when we are open, when we say "me too" and become community, miracles can happen.

For me, this is what really matters.

Merry Christmas to you all.

Sunday, August 24, 2014

Reality Bites -- Twice!

This past week, we've been bitten by Reality twice..........

Last weekend, I sprained my ankle, and rather oddly. No twisting or turning, just landing as I normally would have when taking a step down. Finally, I couldn't stand it any further and I went to urgent care. It's just a moderate sprain, but the doc was very concerned because my ankle had "lots of arthritis" in it.

Wow, doc. You don't say. I was only diagnosed 25 years ago with it. It's high time the thing caught up to me. I've been outrunning it for ages. For the first 5 years or so of my diagnosis, I noticed it more often than I did over the last twenty. Or when it got to me, pop the requisite number of pain relievers and just keep plugging along. I've been referred to an orthopedist for additional work; the earliest they can see me is in 6 weeks. And that's with the earliest doc in the practice (who just also happens to be the one they are trying to get me in to see, because he's the arthritis specialist).

Then Friday, reality hit us again........... Well, really, Reality had been messing around on this one for about a couple of weeks. Mom had been telling us for a couple of weeks that she was really warm all the time..... odd, since this hasn't exactly been a record-setting summer for heat. But in this last week, which has been more like our usual "hammered-down hinges of hell's door" type of weather (hot, humid, horrific), it evolved into "I'm roasting and I am having trouble breathing...." By Friday morning, I asked her just what she intended to do about it -- given the fact that she's already had one heart attack and congestive heart disease. Was she planning to contact her doctor? Up came every reason why she couldn't..... Until 10:00 or so, when she called my Dad to say that no, she was really having trouble breathing, in an air-conditioned house, and having done nothing but remained in pretty much a seated or a horizontal position all morning.

Yep, her CHD/CHF had decided to rear its ugly mug yet again, and she has spent all weekend in the hospital trying to get the fluid removed and off her heart. They're keeping her a little longer than we originally thought due to a small bit of pneumonia and the need for an echocardiogram. Then we begin the real work -- life as a cardiac patient. Changing the way she cooks. Making time for even small activity (5 minutes at a time). Reading labels. It's not going to be easy for someone in her late 70s, but it's what must be done to make the most of the time remaining.

And you'd better believe I'm going to do everything I can -- not only to support my mom, but to make it as easy as possible. I'm thinking maybe a list of "green, yellow, red-light" foods or recipes (especially in terms of sodium, given the fluid issues). Maybe an easy way for her to track her foods and activities..... Just thinking of tangible things I can do in addition to offering support.

So yeah, reality bites -- but it is needed to remind us to do all we can for ourselves when we can. And to allow others to help when they can.

Monday, August 11, 2014

Behind Blue Eyes

Today, the world lost one of its funniest souls ever in Robin Williams. And sadly, if the reports concerning his method of departing this world are indeed true, it is another sign that sometimes the funniest souls contain the deepest sorrows and fears.

My best friend posted as a Facebook status: "Some of the funniest people I've known are also people who have battled depression. Don't assume that the jokesters and pranksters in your life don't battle their very own demons." Humor, that beautiful mask which hides so much pain, that deflects so much sorrow and serves as a way to shift the focus.

Some people learn to use humor to overcome shyness, or to make friends. Others use humor as a weapon, a defense -- make 'em laugh and maybe they won't pick on you or beat you up today (at least). I decided to try to become funny so people might forget I was fat.... at least for a little while. Of course, I had forgotten all about the dreaded Triple-F (Fat Funny Friend) but that's okay .... make 'em laugh, chica, make 'em laugh. I was never going to be as funny as Robin Williams, as my humor tends to be more like Daria Morgendorffer's, but hey, I could try.

But just like so many funny people, my heart contains much sorrow and fear. I already battle daily against a horrific monster myself, so I can understand how it feels to make the world laugh and have it ring hollow. And yes, I have felt so very empty that I pondered my absence in the world -- a very brief pondering, to be certain, but it did cross my mind. At that point, a fighter was born in me, and the fighter is still going. But I know what it's like to feel that sense of hopelessness, the sense that you have reached the end of your rope and there is nothing left with which to tie a knot and hang on.

But there is hope out there. There is help. There is no shame at all in reaching out for help. I was lucky that in my darkest moment, I had angels looking out for me who got me through my worst times. Find a friend, a neighbor, a trusted coworker, a clergyperson, or if you have no one, call one of these numbers:

*1-800-SUICIDE (784-2433) -- Kristin Brooks Hope Center; you will be connected to a mental health agency closest to you.
*1-800-273-TALK (8255) -- National Suicide Prevention Lifeline

Find someone you trust. Talk to them. Find help. Get help. Reach out. Please. Please. Please.

The world has something only you can give. Please let us see it for as long as possible.

Rest in peace, Robin Williams. You gave me so much laughter from my childhood to the present day. You couldn't hide the shyness behind the blue eyes or the pain either, even through the humor. But oh, what gifts you had and shared with the world! You will be so sorely missed by a world that needs your humor. May the peace you sought in this life be yours in the world to come.

Saturday, August 02, 2014

Do You Know Me - Really?

So you think I'm the average person-next-door. Miss Normal.

Erma Bombeck said it best: Normal is a setting on a dryer. Nothing more, nothing less.

If I ever look tired, it's probably because I'm dead tired from trying to fit in with what is perceived by a larger world as something close to "normal." How so?

  • I'm an introvert. Introversion is greatly misunderstood. Introversion is not shyness. It is not anti-social tendencies. It is merely an indication of where a person derives his or her source of energy. Extroverts receive energy from outside sources or other people. Introverts get their energy from inner sources -- their minds, their emotions, their thoughts -- or by separating themselves from the world-at-large for a while. For years, I fought the label. No, no, no, I was an extrovert, I screamed. Look at me, could I do all this stuff if I were an introvert? But as I got older and wiser, I realized that I really did have to withdraw to recharge..... oh wait, right? Yeah. Introvert. I can turn it "on" -- and indeed, I must in certain circumstances such as phone work, stage performance, etc. But as soon as those things are over, I really do need to be alone. I need the solitude and relative quiet to unwind. It's one of the reasons I don't really complain too much about my commute. Yes, it can be an absolute drag at times -- yet in the afternoons, when I need to decompress, having that hour (or so) to myself is a thing of beauty. Sometimes I talk it out, when there's not another soul (but me) listening. Other times I need silence, with only the sound of deep breathing for a little while.  
  • I have some chronic medical issues. Let me preface by saying I have friends who go through much worse. And my conditions are managed well enough that they don't cause me much grief -- though if I am in the throes of a migraine, my face will give it away. But on those days when I'm not feeling well, it truly takes every ounce of energy from every cell of my body for me to simply function at a basic level. Quite frankly, those are the times when the word "fine" would be understood as code for "go away, leave me alone, I'm not okay and I don't wish to discuss it." One of my conditions requires ongoing therapy, and after 6 years, is finally down to just once-a-month treatments. But I will need this therapy the rest of my life, if I expect to keep this condition in check. There are no cures. It's not especially life-limiting, though it can be. So far, the worst limitation for me is that this summer, I haven't been able to be outside in the heat and humidity. There goes sitting on my back deck until after the sun is sinking (usually after 7:00). The other condition requires that I carry an emergency kit (including injection meds) on me at all times, just in case. I also get chiropractic care every two weeks to keep my shoulders and neck from kinking up on me (the hazards of a desk job) and causing the migraines to be even worse. Things that only others with a chronic condition (or those who care for someone with a chronic illness/condition) would even begin to comprehend.......
  • Concentration is extremely hard for me. I have never been diagnosed with an attention disorder, so let's get that out of the way. It would not surprise me, however, if I were found to have one. Concentration or focus has never come easy, as far back as I remember. I've always had to just force myself to do it, someway, somehow. So if I am ever in "the zone," I may not always be at my kindest if I am (how shall I say it?) "untimely ripped" from the zone, and especially if it's something that breaks the concentration just enough...... "Might I borrow your pen?" would be no big deal -- I can say "Sure" and keep going. "Hey, what do you know about....?" will get a "Wait, what, huh?" from me, because you have just completely stopped me cold. I didn't hear a thing you asked, I didn't pay a bit of attention to what you said -- because my brain had to change gears without shifting the clutch. 

So there you have it. Things you may have known -- or possibly not.

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

One more off the bucket list....

When I was in college, I fell in love with a certain Greatest Hits tape. Well, there were several of them, really, that I wore the absolute bejeezus out of, and this was one of them. I think I went through a couple of them before switching to CD. And nearly 25 years ago, when I was going through some difficult dark moments, the music from this tape kept me going, kept me moving. Why? I don't know. Something in the music resonated deep in my soul.

About 20 years or so ago, I had the opportunity to see them in a rare concert appearance..... and passed. I know, what was I thinking? Well, primarily, I was thinking I had massive student loan payments back then, at least as a percentage of my income at the time. And my friend who was offering to get the tickets had already paid for tickets before when I was in college. It didn't seem fair to have this person always foot the bill and have me pay back always. So I passed.

I kicked my butt for 20 years about that. When I found out the band was out on tour this summer, I decided that I would not make that mistake again. So last night, I checked another off the bucket list and saw Steely Dan.

Worth it all. Absolutely phenomenal show!!!! I knew almost every song, and the ones that I wasn't as familiar with were the deeper album cuts from a couple of CDs I don't have. And sure, there were a few (twenty or so - ha!) songs I would have loved to hear. But that show was a 4.8 out of 5!!! It was absolutely wonderful to have been there, and I am moving on to the next concert on the list...... Tedeschi Trucks Band.

By the way, Donald Fagen may be the voice of Steely Dan, but Walter Becker is the comedian.

The only gripes to be had concerned the venue itself. There needs to be FAR better signage and education on where your seats are. Something like "If your ticket says 'GAL_x_', go to the third floor" ........... or "If your ticket says 'BAL_x_', go to the second floor" ..........people were horridly confused over where there tickets were, and there just were not enough ushers. That being said, the ones who were working were amazingly helpful and cool under pressure at helping people to their seats. I would have been hard-pressed not to say, "Sir, I have pointed out to you four different times where your seat is, I'm not sure I really can assist you further."  Really. Yes. There were people who simply could not read letters and numbers easily enough to find their seats.

And I was highly disappointed not to find a Braves affiliate for the drive home. Really. That was pathetic.

Saturday, July 12, 2014

Do yourself a favor.....

.... and if Marc Cohn is coming anywhere near you this summer (or really, anytime), spend the money and go to his concert.

Of course, we all know "Walking in Memphis" -- I won't even talk about how awesome that was live last night -- but if that's the only song of his that you know, please hit iTunes or eMusic or Spotify or Rhapsody or any other music-streaming, music-buying source and listen or download some others. You shall not be disappointed.

After "Walking in Memphis," the next time I heard of him was actually a few years later, when I found a CD in the cutout bin. It was something called "Discovery: Pop" and I want to say this was '98 or '99-ish .... somewhere in there, maybe? Anyway, it was the last cut on the CD and it was his cover of Harry Nilsson's "Turn Up Your Radio."

Let me pause right here: if you haven't heard that song, just stop right now and go listen. I'll wait. No, really, I mean it. Go listen NOW. It is that damn good.

Told ya.

Well, that was that. Marc Cohn fan for life. He could have sung the phone book, and I would have been thrilled.

Time came and I liked the Facebook page. Saw something on there one day that said, "Greenville SC people, tell me some good places to eat while I'm there. Making my first visit to....." and I don't remember anything else. I bought my ticket the next day. I was going come hell or high water. If I had to drag myself in the midst of a migraine, by God, I was going to make that concert!

I was not disappointed in the least -- not even when he didn't sing "Turn On Your Radio" (which is still the song that just melts me). He does so many other good songs that I wouldn't have complained if he'd sung that phone book.

And you best believe I will be buying tickets for the next time he comes to Greenville.

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

What lights you up?

Over the last few weeks of illness/recuperation and of odd Internet outages, I caught up on some reading, and specifically on The Desire Map by Danielle LaPorte. Funny, I'm still working on her Fire-Starter Sessions, but I got into this one and it really seemed to get to me, especially recently as I pondered some things in my life.

One of the things that she mentioned was the phrase "what lights you up?" and I thought, "YES! What if we really asked ourselves that more often?" I thought about how I would answer....

Music. Oh my gosh, music has lit up my world since I can remember, maybe even longer. I cannot remember a time when there wasn't a radio, a musical instrument, a music book, sheet music, a hymnal, or some form of music available. And if nothing else, I have a brain full of lyrics, songs, memories of music, whatever it takes. I've always sung, always listened to music, always had a deep need to express myself musically. And no matter what style of church I've attended or place of worship, music has always been the essential ministry for me. It is my solace in hard times and my joy in good times.

Writing. Words, my second love. I've been a reader longer than I can recall. Math has confounded me, science intrigued me, but words .... the spoken word, the written word, the word portrayed on stage .... words are powerful, and I don't believe we realize just how deeply they resonate with us. Every favorite piece of movie dialogue. Every beloved poem memorized in childhood. The passage from a novel that has stuck with you since college. Someone's writing has had a deep impact on me, amd I hope that my small contribution has even a fraction of that to someone who may need the words of encouragement, or to be reminded simply that he or she is not alone in their emotion.

Performing Arts. There is nothing like being on stage. Singing or acting, there is something beautiful about taking those words and music and bringing them to life, to infuse them with power to move the soul.

Wow.... notice how all of these seem to link together?

Words and music. Sharing them with the world. In a myriad of ways, these are the things that set my soul ablaze and make me want to transport people to a place where they too may be infused with fire and spirit.

This, my friends...... this is what lights me up. I can tell you a million things I do well but which do not light me up. They do not move my soul. They do not feed my mind and my heart and my spirit -- much like a little bit of peanut butter swiped on a couple of pieces of day-old bread will feed my body but won't be as satisfying as a nice plate (for example) of pasta with homemade tomato sauce with fresh salad, garlic bread, and some Chianti.

Light your soul. ALWAYS. I'm not so sure about the advice of "oh follow your bliss and the money will follow...." No. Not always, but follow your bliss regardless. Even if you never make a dime off it. Are you doing this for profit or because you have to do this or die? Another difference......

Just some things I've been pondering lately.......

Saturday, May 24, 2014

A Few Choice Vines

One advantage of being forced to slow down and rest is that the monkeys in your mind quit swinging around for a while. However, every once in a while, one of them will take off on a vine that is worth hanging onto, something your mind and soul needed you to know ..... something so important, it was willing to wait on the chatter to settle down.....

So here are some of the ramblings from the last couple of weeks that I call "choice vines" -- the ones that the wiser simians waited on:

* Never allow another's definition of success to define you. Oh my gosh, I could write a book(let) on this one as a "what not to do," how I allowed others' visions of success to supplant my own for far too long, how I sometimes still look to false measuring sticks of what it means to be "successful" .... forgetting that success is not my mission in life. If it happens as a by-product, that's great, but it's not my life's mission or goal. I must never lose sight of that.

* Even in the dark, there is always light. Far too often in the last few weeks, even my sense of humor had gotten a little darker than I would like. But in the last few days, the kindness of others has really helped me to see that people can be kind and understanding. I have seen just how amazing people can be: team members at my regular work, my part-time work, my fellow choir members, all the medical professionals who have treated me over the last few weeks (and YES, I will follow your advice to rest!).

* It's okay to say "no." It's perfectly okay to say no -- to things which do not work at all for you, your schedule, your hopes, dreams, goals, desires. It's perfectly okay to say goodbye to things which no longer serve you, remembering that they were once important but realizing that the time has come and passed. It's learning what your limits are, knowing when you need to push yourself a little farther, and knowing when it's more than the price tag. "No" is a powerful word.

I hope the chatter stays a little more silent and the choicest vines continue to make themselves known.

Thursday, May 15, 2014

Confessions of a Monkey Mind

Monkey Mind. It's a term I first heard in yoga class to describe all the thoughts that run around in our brains just willy-nilly and unguarded, from front to back and vine to vine. Here, no there, no wait here I am again, whoo hoo!!! Part of the benefits, goals, what-have-you of yoga is to cage the monkeys for a while, to sedate them if we can, so that when we return to the real world off the mat, the swinging is a little more orderly.

Good luck.

I've had an experience in the last few weeks that no matter what, the monkeys overtook the zoo. They didn't just swing to and fro and from vine to vine, but the monkeys decided to fling poo whenever, wherever, and however often they could. To say I've had a rough time has been an understatement. And now it has caught up with me. I have been told by no less than 3 medical professionals to rest more.

My body is paying the price - literally. As I type, I am recuperating from shingles. Over the last three weeks of stress, a long-dormant virus from a childhood case of chicken pox reared its ugly head and said, "OH! So you don't know how to rest? So you think this stress puppy business has no consequences? Think that little meltdown in the shower that left you crying at Mass was nothing? Fine. I'll show you....." And I developed a case of shingles. It's like an adult version of chicken pox only worse. There's pain involved that I don't recall at age 6. Pain that doesn't let me sit at my desk and do actual work. I can work from home right now, but I can go a short time (2-3 hours) before I have to stop for pain meds. The pain meds allow me to work about another hour or so, but then OUT. I still have to sit on an ice pack at my back and one on my side where the nerves tingle and jangle.

The monkey mind has slowed down. Right now, I have two things on which I focus: my work when I can do it, and simply resting and vegging the rest of the time. Everything else, just doesn't matter. At least the worst of the stressors at the time has resolved itself, but all the other minor annoyances just aren't nearly as important as they seem to be.

An important lesson there -- are the minor annoyances really all that important anyway? Are they worth pain pills, missed time at work (albeit with sick time), and knowing I've done this to myself with worry? I have literally made myself sick with worry. How sad...... how very, very sad.

Take a lesson from me. It doesn't matter if you ever had chicken pox and may or may not develop shingles. The bigger lesson is don't make yourself sick with worry and stress. Stop letting monkey mind rule your head and your life.

Stop letting your life be overrun by damn dirty apes..... cage the monkey mind!

Monday, April 21, 2014

Rest and Busy-ness

I took some time off from work this afternoon. I rarely take days off, and the planned vacation days I'd allotted for myself in May went entirely up in smoke ..... well, not so much up in smoke as under the carriage of my vehicle. Don't even ask.

It doesn't take a genius to see from my posts across all my various blogs, FB posts, tweets, etc. to see that I have been pretty dang stressed lately. A lot of it is self-induced, to be sure. For most of my life, I've set a very high bar for myself and I get very put out when I fail to reach my own expectations for myself -- let along what others may expect of me. I don't give myself much slack. It is not good. There's something to be said for self-discipline and for expecting the best out of yourself. It's quite another to turn it into a relentless drive .... as I tend to do.

The last few days have been busy. Holy Week is always a busy one for people who are part of church ministry, and I choose to be part of it as much as possible because for me, they are the High Holy Days. I missed my first Good Friday services in 22 years due to car troubles (yeah, another fun element to the weekend). I came to a decision over the weekend to let go of something -- at least short-term -- that isn't really helping me in terms of my stress levels or anything else. Better to let it go for a while. I just have to work out a few more details before moving forward with it. And after all the stress (both good and bad) was over and done yesterday ---- hello, migraine, my old friend...... yes. Seriously.

So today, I took some time to rest. I truly did have a doctor's appointment for some labwork, but I really did need to rest more than anything else. So what did I do on my big afternoon off? After the doctor's appointment, I drove myself home and promptly fell asleep. For two hours. Maybe two and a half. I really didn't keep track of it. I slept so deeply that when I woke up I didn't know what day or time or anything that it was. It's now later at night, normally around the time I'd start preparing for sleep and you know something..... no problemo. Instead of feeling like I could stay up for another two hours, nope. I'm good.

I have struggled with sleep issues for years -- if you consider "pretty near all my life" as a good indication. What I've really struggled with is a circadian rhythm issue. Even in childhoood, I couldn't fall asleep until late and couldn't wake up until later. It's like my whole life, my sleep cycle has always been an hour or two behind what the real world says "work time" or "school time" should be. It's like I'm a Mountain Time girl stuck in Eastern. Forever. I cannot bounce up in the mornings, bright-eyed and ready to go..... I have to slowly, s-l-o-w-l-y slink my way into morning.... but I can fall asleep in about 3 breaths at night.

So, we've discussed rest ..... and how NONE of us (I don't care who you are) never get enough. WHY? What is it about busy-ness that is so attractive? I'm as guilty as the next person of being busy, busy, busy doing absolutely nothing of any real consequence. None of it will really matter a hundred years from now and that's pissing me off..... if I am going to be busy about something, by golly, it ought to be about something of grave importance. But even more importantly, WHY? Why am I choosing to entangle and engage myself in these things? Is it because our society believes that if we're not overbooked, over-engaged, over-wrought, over-stuffed, over-this.... then we're nobodies? What are we trying to hide with all this activity? Who are we trying to fool - especially ourselves? What are we avoiding? Are we that afraid of the silence of our lives? Why do we care if someone down the street thinks we're lacking because our little Johnny isn't involved in soccer AND piano AND jiu-jitsu AND .... like their little Freddie. Are we just that uncomfortable with our own imperfections, our own spaces between, that we cannot tolerate it for a moment and........ okay, so what can I add? What more can I do?

How about rest? How about just being?

Chica, heal thyself.

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Shaken and Stirred

There are times when God/the Universe/Fate/call-it-what-you-will taps you on the elbow or hand to get your attention. And then there are times it grabs you by the shoulders, shakes you so violently you will get a concussion and screams at you, "WAKE UP!!!!!!"

Guess which has been happening with me lately?

And I will not complain. I've been needing wake-up calls. Correction: I've been needing a wake-up call on the level of the Carolina Marching Band to stand over me and blast "Henry the Eighth I Am" in my ears for hours on end.

So what has the universe been telling me lately?  Well, this is one of them.....

(from the MyYogaOnline page at Facebook)
WOW. And far too often lately, I've been getting in my own way: Overanalysis. Vacillating. "What-iffing" myself into indecision with too many alternatives.


Oh my. Another one, right to the heart. I sometimes have such trouble with this for so many reasons -- wanting to be a "team player" or not wanting to upset an already tense situation. But I'm getting much better with that, especially in the last year as the migraines have been more frequent and my ability to simply do has been more limited. If I don't set boundaries for myself, someone else will....

And then this one. I wish I could tell you where I got this shortened version, but I can tell you I've found the full text at .... but this abridged text still is powerful:

My biggest problem -- realizing that it's okay to be broken. It's okay to be flawed. It's okay to remember that the cracks are where the light comes in (to paraphrase Leonard Cohen). It's okay. It's okay. It's not my job to be perfect. It never was. This is dawning on me -- ever so slowly, one step forward, two steps back some days -- and it is rather freeing. 

So here's a prayer to go with all this:

Oh, and one more thought........ I made this particular "meme" from one of my own photos, taken at one of my favorite places. It's a place I try to escape to at least once a year (preferably twice, if I can) for a weekend alone -- no, even Maddox stays at home for this one! -- just me and an open trail and my thoughts and a sense of adventure. I'd tell you where, but I'm kind of protective of my sanctuary that way! (HA!)

May we all learn this!!

Sunday, March 02, 2014

Let's End It. Now.

So, as usual, we (my various friends and I) are doing our FB critiques of Oscar Night. I became involved with a conversation about the movie "12 Years a Slave" and one friend stated that she doesn't believe she can watch it, that the trailer makes her lose it. I concur. I don't believe I will be able to view it either. I would be completely verklempt.

It baffles me to think that at one time in our history, we somehow justified keeping another human being as property, that somehow we "owned" this person in every sense -- we could tell him or her what to do, where to work, whom they could marry, we owned their children and spouses, and because they were property, the master could pretty much take the wife for his own pleasure and the slave-husband could do nothing about it, at least not if he wished to live, and his children to live.

They made it illegal, but they found a way to still oppress the former slaves, even until a few short years before my birth and some legislation made it finally illegal to deny them basic human rights. Oh, it's still happening, but far less often.

But make no mistake: slavery still exists. We just no longer call it "slavery" .... we call it other things:

"Well, she chose to runaway from home. She chose to live on the streets and sell her body. It's what she gets." -- Never mind that the nice older man who gave her a place to stay also brutally raped her when he got her to that "safe" place, and then passed her around to his friends, who did the same. Never mind that he also forced her to sell herself on the streets and bring him EVERY last dime she gets for all the tricks she turns. Never mind that he reinforces her broken state by telling her she's damaged goods, that her parents will never want her back, not after all the things she's done. It's all her choice, so it isn't really slavery. She can choose to leave...... can't she? You were 15 once, what do you think? #SlaveryByAnotherName

"He can put down the bottle any time he wants...." There are some people for whom there is no functional off-switch. Where you or I may be able to cut it off after 2 drinks, or even over-indulge but it be a random thing, once every few years, an addict cannot. They hear in alcohol or drugs .... or any other substance or action: food, self-harm, etc. .... a siren call. It feeds a place in their brain which cannot get a chemical reaction any other way. But here I speak specifically of substance abuse in terms of alcohol and drugs. Only in the substance can their brain find satisfaction. But sure, they can drop it anytime. So what that they've moved from one drink after work to a fifth of whisky a day .... and now to a little something heavier because the liquor isn't cutting it anymore. It's leaving them looking haggard and worn but a buddy has said that the club drugs won't .... or there's always crystal meth. Easy and quick to cook, right? And hell, if hillbillies in the mountains can make it, surely to God you can, right? And you're hooked, instantly. But you can give it up any time. Your buddy who's hooked can quit any time he wants. Nothing to it....... #SlaveryByAnotherName

And these are just two examples of how slavery still exists. It has never ended. For the latter one, there are programs and centers and help and hope and sponsors and all manner of ways to try to break those chains. We're not doing much about the former one. We've long recognized that drug addiction is a medical crisis and mental health issue, but we're still treating sex trafficking as a choice.

But tell that to an 8-year-old girl in Thailand whose parents have sold her to a pimp to pay off their debts. Or more often, one who has smooth-talked them into believing that he is with a charity organization that will send her to Hong Kong or America for schooling and a better life. And I'll even give you $100 dollars (or their equivalent) in return for trusting me with your child....... And then once he has the child, he tells her that she must work to pay off the loan to her parents, and here's what she'll do. Did you know there are tours that cater to this sort of thing? Sickens me to no end at all to think there are people who arrange for grown men (and maybe women, although I cannot imagine) who travel out of country to have sex with foreign children because this way, they can act out some weird fantasy and not get caught, not be subject to the laws of their country. Where in the world does this ...... I can't even begin to form words to discuss it. I cannot wrap my brain around such an idea at all. To treat a child in such .... there aren't any words that can adequately convey the level of disgust. I will leave it there.

Luckily there is an organization -- several, really -- working to end slavery in all its forms. It's known as END IT and I encourage you to visit. This past week marked "End It Day" (on 2/27), but honestly, every day ought to be End It Day. Learn more about slavery that still exists -- sex trafficking, child labor, etc.

Saturday, February 22, 2014

What's wrong with being broken?

So.... I was in Barnes & Noble last night to see how I could spend some of my Christmas gift card. I found myself perusing some of the usual sections I gravitate to .... medicine, for a book on migraines and found it WOEFULLY lacking. I literally found two books, and one of those was "Migraines for Dummies." I'm not looking for a dissertation and stuff I can't understand, but I need more than that!

Well, one of my other haunts was right across the aisle from that -- "self-help." I have my own self-help library, so I really, really didn't need anything, but there was one book I wanted. I have an e-edition of it that I've purchased (as a PDF), but I love actual paper I can touch, move, flip, mark up. There's something about a real, tangible book that can never be replaced by an e-book. I found the book and then realized I really didn't want it, at least not right at this moment. It wasn't moving me to pick it up and run for the register. So I kept perusing; after all, what's one more self-help book for the library....

But after perusing title after title, I got more and more dissatisfied. Nothing seemed to click. Then it hit me: why should I buy one more book which will tell me that I'm broken and here's what needs fixing and how. I know I'm broken. You are too. So is the Pope. So is the President. So is the person next to you on the commuter train each day or stuck in the traffic jam beside you. We're all broken people.

Maybe we don't need to be fixed.

Now, before I begin, let me say that there are very obvious exceptions to this train of thought: (a) already-diagnosed mental health issues, (b) addiction issues, and (c) abuse issues, whether you are victim, perpetrator, or both. For these situations, if you aren't already getting professional help, do so post-haste. Get out of the self-help section. There's bootstrapping, but these aren't situations that warrant going solo.

However, for those of us with average neuroses .... from "oh God, every pair of jeans in the store makes my butt look 40 feet wide" to "I can't figure out why I can't seem to get happy in my particular place in life" .... maybe we don't need fixing after all. Maybe we need to learn to live in the brokenness, to embrace the lessons within, to live where we are. That doesn't mean we stop trying to improve and do things better in life. It doesn't mean we don't take that fantastic job opportunity that finds us out of the blue. It doesn't mean we don't take a class or improve our health or stop trying to be better .... just that maybe we need to stop overanalyzing every.single.aspect.of.everything. while thinking "I've got to fix all these broken pieces and put them together into a perfectly {there's that word again} planned and designed life...."

We just maybe need to realize that it's okay to be broken. Only Leonard Cohen said it much better:

Ring the bells that still can ring. 
Forget your perfect offering. 
There is a crack in everything. 
That's how the light gets in.

I walked out buying only a book on piano chords. Best money I never spent. And maybe I'll learn to play "Anthem" (the Cohen song) while I'm at it.

Wednesday, February 05, 2014

My own personal demon

I've done a little reflecting over the last few days, just off and on, ever since the news broke about actor Phillip Seymour Hoffman's death. First off, no comments on that other than to say it is a horrible tragedy, and we will never know the whole story -- only that something apparently had a stronger hold on him than even the love of his family and friends and the accolades of his career and life.

And that is what has me really thinking. For years I have been fascinated with the psychology of addiction. I've vascillated back and forth myself on whether or not food addiction is truly an addiction (I believe yes, and I may delve into that here). I've wondered what it is that makes a brain turn to heavy quantities of substances -- be that prescription pain killers, street drugs, nicotine, food, whatever it is -- to numb their emotional pain or simply attempt to rise above whatever low circumstances they find themselves in.

I admit that part of me is baffled and angry. Here is someone who had something I wished I'd had the courage to pursue: a life on the stage and screen. Oh, I doubt I would have ever made it past the "Shopper #2" credit on screen (at least for many years) or gotten many callbacks, but who knows? I know now (albeit a bit late in life) that I feel very much at home in front of an audience, so I should have tried....... and here is a person who had top honors, huge respect and love from family and peers and colleagues. And it all seemed nothingness, emptiness, compared to whatever in his soul said, "You're a fraud. They can't possibly love the real you."

Was that it? I hear that voice too sometimes. It belongs to a demon named Perfection. Dan Pearce wrote about it in his superb "Disease Called Perfection" -- enough so that the first time I read it, I was crying big salty tears. I try not to listen to that voice, I try not to give it space in my head or my heart or my life, but there are days I hear its echo, I see it in my reflection when I look in the mirror:

..... You're a fraud. And they're on to you. ....
..... You're not good enough. How did you get here?  ....
..... Enjoy this. It's not going to last.  ....
..... That was a colossal error. Bet that puts the final nail in the coffin, won't it? ....
..... You can't even do something that simple, how in the world do you think you'll be able to (fill in the blank)?   ....

I battle this demon: every. single. day. It may be in a small way, just a brief fleeting thought where I can brush it off my shoulder and go on and not have it return. Other days, it clings to me, wraps itself around me like the best film and refuses to unwind. If you have never heard its voice, God bless you, because you are truly one of the blessed. If you've heard its ugly whispers, I need say nothing more. You know its rasp, its spitting hisses all too well.

For years, I tried to drown out its voice with food. Other people do it with far more dangerous vices, some with deadly consequences. Suicide either way -- slow or fast, it all depends. But I will fight with everything I have not to let the demon have me. I will scratch and claw with all my might for my sense of self, even damaged as it is, because I refuse to let Perfection win. I will reach out for help when I have to, even though I would rather chew a jumbo roll of tinfoil than admit I need help. (Yes, I am just that stubborn.)

This battle -- and how we fight it, how we win and lose -- is something I'll continue to ponder for a long time. Something I'll battle every day of my life, just as I have for life so far.

And for the family and friends of Mr. Hoffman, please know it wasn't you. Other bloggers have written it better than I, but it bears repeating. Perfection had him, and the mocking voice told him that none of this was enough, that he wasn't enough, that all of this was a sham and so was he, that only his pain was real and it would haunt him forever -- that no love was good enough to save him. Only he knows the real story and sadly, he's no longer here to tell it. All I can say is from this one soul damaged by Perfection is that it was not you, and not your fault. You did all you could. Perfection said it wasn't enough.

Perfection is a lying bastard. Never ever ever forget that.

Monday, January 27, 2014

A day I'm starting to hate....

Eight years ago, on January 22, I lost my friend Tee after a battle with breast cancer. And this January 22, I lost my friend Padre after a battle with leukemia. My mind hasn't been fully here since.

For 22 years, he was my friend, my pastor, my boss (for nine of those years), and always a mentor. I've spent many, many times over the last 5 days or so remembering all the funny things, many of which took place within the walls of the parish office, some of which were in the college setting. Many of them revolved around his legendary tight wallet..... and the pliers with which he opened them. I heard today from someone who attended his funeral that one of the jokes in the homily was that Padre was probably one of the few people who still had his First Communion money. 

Oh, and we cannot forget his legendary love for (ahem) "staying in touch"..... quickest way to get the real news of the Diocese was telephone and tell Padre. My coworker and I joked that if 4 priests called within a morning, each asking for Padre, you could absolutely count on some big news going down in the Diocese -- a shakeup, a big resignation or retirement, or (far too often) a death.

He took our Catholic Campus Club on a weekend retreat at one of his former parishes, who graciously opened up the use of the rectory to ten college students. He helped us re-enact a real Seder meal. He generously poured the four cups of wine (per person), and then.... just when we'd had all the fun we could stand -- he conducted a snipe hunt with us. Yeah. Oh, the other kicker: we'd all have to attend the early Mass since they had him scheduled for that one. And it was our only hope of being able to attend and actually have a seat for Mass.

He came to our parish at a time of great pain and guided us through a long, protracted healing process. Some people never forgave him simply for not being Fr. B. I, on the other hand, believed him to be just whom we needed.

Not to say there were times -- especially after I went to work for him -- that we probably could have cage-fought each other. I thought on plenty of occasions my name had morphed into "Dammit Annette Get In Here!" There were days I prayed for the Bishop to move him ANYWHERE and send us ANYONE, which I quickly rescinded and/or modified. Never think God doesn't occasionally say, "Careful what you pray for...."

When he left the parish, I cried buckets. And let me tell you, I did last night at his wake/vigil service. I do not cry pretty. At all. I cry very ugly. Red, squally, drippy, heave-y, sobby, wheezy. Yeah, all the above, right as they rolled that casket by. The only words going through my head were "This is it, Padre. This is goodbye." And it was more than I could take. I was already a mess. This was worse.

I'm still unpacking 22 years of funny stories and good memories. I'll post them too, I promise. But right now, all I can think on, is that I can't stand January 22...... it takes too many good people from me.

Sunday, January 19, 2014

More than just a "book club"...

Many years ago -- I cannot remember how many now, it has been so long -- I found a book in a B&N. Bought a copy and laughed so hard I cried. In a couple of places, cried hard until I had to laugh. I told my best friend about it. I went to the web site the author had listed. I saw there was a messageboard. I joined.

The rest is history.

Many of the women (mostly women, a few guys) I have the distinct pleasure of meeting in person. Others I wouldn't know by face if they passed me in the airport, but I know them. Many of us have become very close, like sisters. We have shared laughter, tears, disagreements, complete understandings, passing of parents, siblings, spouses, children...... shared vacations. Triple-dog dares and jelloshots into the nights.

Let me tell you about some of these precious folks: in 2005, when I was debating what the hell to do about a job I was growing to hate, I wrote a note on the messageboard asking for prayers, any constructive advice, any anything that might give me peace of mind. The author herveryownself sent me a personal, private message to remind me that I was going to be fine, that I was in God's hands and so was my situation, and God would not hand me a snake or a stone if I asked for bread. I'll never forget her best words of all to me: "God's asking you to let go of the trinkets in your hands so that you can receive the treasure he has waiting." Prophetess, she was.

The same year, just a few weeks later, after I'd walked from that job with no safety net except the promise that I would be taken care of...... well, two of those precious women made it possible for me to do a getaway weekend to THE big event in Jackson. I needed that weekend more than you could ever know. I needed the time with my girlfriends, to let the world fail to exist for a few short days.

They offered me support and encouragement the next year when I took steps make my life better by finally divesting myself of the excess physical weight I'd carried for years. And they celebrated with me when I lost over half my body weight 3 years later.

And just 2 years ago, they held my hand in wordless vigil over seven agonizing weeks as I waited to see whether or not a dark unknown spot was just a void in film, or something worse. They prayed, they listened silently as I fretted and worked myself into a frenzy and rejoiced heartily with me when nothing was there. Nothing at all.

Book clubs are great. They become friends and they share their lives but I don't know many "book clubs" that have this same deep reach. I may be wrong, but I have yet to see it.

Thank you to my friends Kelly Parker and Tammi Cooper for reminding me of all the good things from that "book club" tonight!

Sunday, January 05, 2014

2014: ACTION!

Every year in the last few days of December and the first week or so of January, there's an awful lot of material for reflection and regrouping and looking forward to the next year. Resolutions (which I despise), revolutions (which I love!), and recognition of what worked and what didn't.

At the end of 2012 and beginning of 2013, I had already gotten to a place of breakthroughs and reflections on that. So when I read a post by Lissa Rankin about what word I wanted to focus on in 2013, it came pretty easily to me: enlightenment. 2013 certainly was that and more. It was a very crazy year, healthwise. Between February 1 and December 31, I had five sinus infections (and on 1/2 of this year, diagnosed with a SIXTH in less than 365 calendar days). Let's not even discuss the migraines and other headaches. Answers are still forthcoming.

Still, on many other fronts, I learned much about myself and how to get into my life's mission. Many years ago, I figured out that my mission in life is to help people, no matter what. But over the last few years, I felt I had not done that well enough, or at least not in the ways I felt were truly helpful. But this summer, I figured it out, and the idea will not leave me. It sits patiently waiting on me to get my (stuff) together and move forward. Hence, #2014ACTION was inspired. The details are still being ironed out, and yes, I'm still scared crapless. There are so many excuses I could use to stay put: I'm too old, I'm too bogged down, I'm not sure I can afford it, I'm not or I'm too........ But I've always heard that if you know what to do and you don't do it, it's a sin. I think that's finally sunk in, especially with some of the homilies and the writings that my pastor has given lately. He's spoken a lot lately about dreaming big ...... so now, I'm working up the courage to do so.

2014:ACTION is here. Am I ready? I don't know. But I know that not taking action is not an option.