Thursday, April 26, 2012

(7) Time

My son and his request
frog mask for future
greetings of "em ehh!"
In one of those strange out of body experiences, I found myself standing awestruck the other day while playing with my son.  His cherubic face peering out from under my old yellow ball cap and a heartfelt squeal of unadulterated glee was erupting from his little frame at the sight of a slimy frog.  Of course the frog didn't share the same sentiment about my son and promptly sought toddler-free swimming elsewhere, but the situation caught my breath and in that instant I wished to dissolve into the simplicity of the moment. 

Since that day, I've been thinking a lot about time in a physical sense and how fleeting snapshots of joyful existence and individual manifestations of heaven on earth evaporate far too easily into the grey drudgery of the “everyday.”  Amid the stresses of toddler tantrums, seemingly perpetual doctor appointments, ambitious running goals and extended family tension, it is hard to conceptually recognize the passing of time as more than accomplishments and to do lists.  I find I rarely live my day to day life in measurements of Kairos time and, as a result, I am irrationally shocked to find years of Chronos time have slipped past in a matter of what feels like a few months… my son is somehow two years old instead of new born, my marriage is comfortably aging rather than still honeymooning and the umbilical cord of my childhood identity is long since cut away leaving woman – not child – permanently in its place. 

Weird, when did that happen?

Anecdotally, I remember a road trip my husband, Mother and I did at one point several years ago from New Mexico to Colorado.  It was not a particularly memorable trip and honestly I couldn’t even guess what year this happened let alone why we were driving in the first place, but just south of Raton Pass something unexpected happened that will forever lock that specific ride in my memory.  With relatively little warning, the bright desert morning randomly disappeared from sight as the vehicle descended into a valley and was completely enveloped into dense fog.  The car slowed and we inched along as if the world literally stopped and nothing existed beyond the frame of the vehicle.  We could no more see the road ahead of us as we could predict the future or relive the past and for those short minutes we were 100% in the moment.  Of course we ascended out of the valley and the world came back into focus again, but I have to wonder how much sight was lost in the fog and how much perspective was really gained coming out of it?

I am all too aware that someday I will wake up and my life will no longer be laid out before me as I-25 had been prior to the fog and that I’ll have fewer miles to look forward to ahead of me than I have to reflect upon in the rear view mirror.  Truthfully, that part doesn’t scare me.  What scares me is the realization that it is far too easy to sleep walk through existence and miss out on the special Kairos moments of life by purely failing to recognize them as such. 

Months ago my husband told me of an article he’d read about a study that explains why time seemingly speeds up for adults after the conclusion of childhood.  You know what I mean, how the school year never ended in fifth grade, but now the past three Thanksgivings are interchangeable in memory and more or less a few weeks apart?  Apparently, the study says that this is because children have more to look forward to in life that is new and enjoyably unfamiliar than adults.  As young children, we more enthusiastically appreciate things like going to school for the first time, the transition to double digit ages, experiencing a first kiss and many more Kairos events than we do later in life.  Unfortunately this makes sense since as adults we generally dread adding another candle to our birthday cakes, find holidays more of a chore than a celebration and - with the exception of momentous occasions like our own weddings and the birth of our own children - years seemingly run together like repeat sentences missing appropriately placed comas and periods.

My take away from that study is that if adults find ways to break away from their routine just often enough to experience new pleasures and those individual manifestations of heaven on earth I mentioned earlier, time may slow down just long enough to catch a breath taking moment worth holding on to.   I used to think that the only novelty remaining in my life came at the end of a long plane ride to some exotic destination where my anonymity and inimitability allowed for expatriate identification outside of myself.  But as the last time I left the United States was four years ago (yet again, shocking), I’ve come to realization that my life in isolation is made of endless Chronos time… however, when the lives of my husband and son are mixed in, my existence becomes fresh and each day is unlike the last because we each have an opportunity to imprint the other’s lives in ways we wouldn’t on our own.

At the end of the day, when I lay down at night I find myself thanking my lucky stars for the chance to learn from my son and the frog. It made me realize that the more memorable moments we create for one another, rather than for ourselves, the more unexpectedly joyful existence becomes.  Such Kairos experiences are sweet reminders that quality of life, not quantity of years is what ultimately matters.  

In honor of Benjamin Breedlove and in loving memory of Benton Brubaker.

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

(6) On Faith.

I stopped writing back in August.  I, apparently, am a self-proclaimed aspiring author and the last time I sat down to string non-thank you letter words together was seven months ago.  Impressive.  

I think that is in part because my Mom doesn't read my blog and that pretty much ticks me off.  But I think the other part, the more important part, is that I lost faith.  I lost faith in my ability to write, my probability of publication and my individuality that makes reading one thing instead of another important.  Without faith in the process or the outcome, I have found myself going no where fast.  

The thing is, I find it terrifying to be standing at this abyss of possibility and staring at this blank document with its obnoxious cursor blinking at me with impatient expectation. I mean really, who is the heck is this cursor any way? And where does it get off looking at me like that? I know I am supposed to write for myself, but why does the memory of every insult and reflection of every hater flash at my mind upon its thin black line?

I have two ideas for books that I have been tossing around for a while now that I think could hypothetically be worth the effort of each keystroke and tear of frustration.  One of the books is a social commentary on marriage/motherhood from my perspective and the other is a fictional piece about the war in Iraq.  Unfortunately, until recently, the only people I could picture reading my work were certain disagreeable persons that would most certainly disapprove of every blemish and situation painted in non-flattering light.  No wonder I am so defensive of my writing when that dreadful cursor represents not only the literary, but the nonfictional antagonist?

Obviously what I've been doing doesn't work and it doesn't pay to write to the "millions of adoring fans" that someday may exist for both concepts breed poor writing on a fundamental level and demonstrate overall bad judgement.  I've tried writing to my husband and son, but that requires politically correct wording of sensitive topics and quite a bit of editing for parental purposes.  Again, fail.  

So ... now what? 

Well, after searching these past several months, I think I have finally found the cure to my cursor-phobia.  There is only one person I can write to without fear of miscommunication or judgement and this one person knows the truth behind the words as they are meant in my heart: God.  Regardless of your belief or disbelief in His existence, the mere philosophical conception of someone knowing you in such intimate terms makes it safe to spill your deepest, darkest secrets for what is there to fear in telling someone what they already know and accept you for any way?  That being a dramatic cue for creativity and expression, faith thus re-enters from stage left.  

When my world changed a few years ago, I was terrified I'd never fully recover from the loss of my perceived "self."  I have been quick to draw excuses for my choices so as to avoid criticism from those I knew wouldn't understand my deliberate steps backward into the women's roles of yesteryear.  I think I previously applied the label "writer" as merely a bandaid to get me through the conversations that painstakingly linked the words "just" with "mother."  But, to quote a friend of mine, "you bloom where God plants you" and, while I wouldn't have picked this position for myself, I am slowly coming to appreciate the wisdom behind my true calling... 

I was good at what I did before, but I am better at what I do now.  My world is as it should be and the weight of doubt, fear and shame is dissipating.  I am a mother and my heart song isn't for sale to the lowest bidder with the wittiest censure.  Let those who disapprove move on and, with the grace of God, may I never lose faith at their hands again. I understand that there is no guarantee of a best selling novel or even a published short story, but with an intended audience of One (plus a few kind friends who overlook misspellings) at least I know I am living up to the purpose of self-growth and faith.  Afterall, not all flowers are meant to be seen - some bloom far from our neighborhood gardens, off the beaten trails and away from the eye of human consumption.  That placement doesn't make those blossoms any less beautiful than they naturally are. 

A flower is a flower and, as such, I shall bloom where I am placed.  

Saturday, August 20, 2011

(5) Rejection and Validation

As optimistic as the previous post's thought of unlimited happiness, free for all to take may be, I really don't think I am there yet. For as many times as I tell myself that I am accountable to no one for my successes and failures beyond my conscious, I find I am still firmly chained in the dank dungeon of perpetual rejection with little hope of self-redemption.

Ironically I think I have all of the exterior tools to break free of my soul's shackles and leave this spiraling self-hatred behind - I already have my “knight in shining armor”, a few supportive friends, an endlessly optimistic Mother and a trusty canine companion to turn to when there is literally no one else to snuggle with (sadly, the kid kicks). Unfortunately what I've found is that in spite of these positive, constructive connections and relationships I am no where closer to freedom than I was as a confused teenager. This is not to say that I am ungrateful for their love and support, rather that somehow I've managed to hold myself from happiness and impose unremitting high standards that are persistently just out of reach.

Rationally it would make sense then to acknowledge that the source of acceptance I seek is internal and not in the hands of a determined dementor assigned to place the kiss of death on any attempt I make to be successful. As much as I'd like to place blame on the He Who Must Not Be Named, I think that a line must be drawn between the derivation of acceptance and rejection... while the two go hand in hand, there is no peace to be had or freedom to be sought if one addresses them both in the same way or gives either irrational weight.

There is a line in the movie Pretty Woman where Julia Roberts says "people put you down enough, you start to believe it... (and) the bad stuff is easier to believe." For much of my life, I've identified completely with this statement and measured myself by all the external feedback I happened upon regardless of source or validity. With the conscientious intention of avoiding arrogance and conceit, I've made it a point to evaluate my reflection in other's eyes and (no duh) ceaselessly find myself wanting... Granting more significance to and generating more motivation from arbitrary censure than a loved one's encouragement, I tighten the restraints in rejection's oubliette and, as my own warden, deny myself the comfort of support or acceptance. Unfortunately this tactic recently resulted in my husband coining the phrase “coupon compliments” to indicate the relative discounted value a heartfelt “you are beautiful” comment receives compared with a random 1990's joke about “thunder thighs.”

Irrational? Definitely. Overly critical? Yep. Unjustified? Perhaps. It's hard to overcome behavioral patterns we've created for ourselves through years of life experiences and it is even harder to look societal standards and nay-sayers in the eye with defiance. Yes, my last post was right, with time does come perspective, but only with acute, authentic self-reflection does acceptance come with perspective. I cannot change what other people think of me, my actions or my accomplishments – that is their burden to bear, not mine – but I can work to unlock my own validation and acceptance independent of external input.

Do other people's opinions matter? Right now, yes; but I don't want that to be my final answer. I am not a summary of other's condemnation and it is about time I turn their rejection back upon them. Rather, I am the sum of my failures, successes, faults and values and that alone is what I seek to establish here. I must learn to write for myself and, hopefully, I will find my voice and confidence along the way.  

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

(4) The Past

Okay, maybe I lied.  The past isn’t as in the past as I said (or hoped) it was, at least not entirely.  Rather, the past can be broken into two parts: that which is fixed in time and that which continues in spite of time.
If actions are in the past, and therefore cannot be changed, then perhaps it can be easily understood that those events are solid, past-tense fact.  They are what they are, for better or worse, just as immovable and unchangeable as the simple passing of time.   Once the action is over, it is over and behind us – may it rest in peace.  
Conversely, the feelings, emotions and ethos produced by such events aren’t as fixed in the context of time as the actions themselves are.  Rather, uninfluenced by age or fleeting decades, these emotions simply adapt, build and collude with time and manage to open old wounds on new days at the darnedest of times.  No matter how distant a past experience was, the impact left on one’s heart and in one’s head can seem as vivid today as the day they happened.
The reason I bring this up now is that it seems to me that we each interact with the world not only as we innately are (for example, I am a Beta-2, INFJ), but as a product of these past emotional occurrences.   I am sure the explanation for why I am the way I am is much more easily written off as natural tendency, but the fact is that there is nothing natural about my fear of rejection or continued pain.  So much of my life has been driven by my effort to shape what other people thought of me for the positive and, let’s face it, after 25 years I still find myself unsuccessful when measured by another’s ruler.   
When I was just a child, my Mother received a phone call from my elementary school requesting that I be pulled from my class and voluntarily enrolled in special education.   It was my teacher’s estimation that I was (to use her word) “stupid” and that my inability to read at that stage was a reflection of my capacity to learn.  Fortunately for me, my Mother didn’t simply forfeit me to the short bus and, instead, she sought medical help to address my learning difficulties.  Following months upon months of diagnostic tests, visits to various doctors and multiple hours of tutoring, I was diagnosed with several learning disabilities:  scotopic sensitivity, dyslexia and monocular vision.  Essentially what that meant was that I couldn’t see out of my eyes well enough to be to read or learn at the same pace as my peers and that with the right therapy, tools and dedication I’d be able to catch up with the right amount of effort. 
Now, taking my teacher’s accusation of “stupid” seriously, I worked my butt off for the rest of my education trying to prove that such a vicious word had little appropriate application to me.  I graduated early from high school, was accepted to a competitive private liberal arts college and managed to leave both programs with a high GPA.  The thing is, no matter how successful this is or ought to be seen as, I cannot help but feel that it’s not enough.  My goal leaving school was to acquire a sexy, off the beaten trail professional position that would remove all doubts from my head of my worth and once and for all silence the cynics on the question of my capabilities.  However, now that I’ve relinquished my grad school education and intelligence analysis career aspirations I find myself standing stark naked of societal prestige and horribly self-conscious of the inescapable perception of failure. 
Society has its place in life – establishing norms of appropriate, polite behavior; creating a sense of community among seemingly independent family units; and offering stability through organization and institutions to help guide the masses through the uncertainties of human existence.  But, society also establishes a concept of “perfection” that, for many, is unattainable.  For me, the feeling of deficiency caused by years of struggle at school, by the torturous taunting of fat jokes, by immature relationships built on expectation rather than romance and by the abandonment of friends at inexplicable times makes me more nervous now than ever.  Even in writing these words on this post I am gripped by the self-conscious fear of the reader’s thoughts and anxiously hope for acceptance…
To tie this all back into my original point, that the past isn’t as in the past as I hoped, I am cognizant of the paradox my emotions play in my life today.   Right this minute, I am sitting at my computer in the master bedroom of a home I purchased with my loving husband with my healthy, happy baby boy asleep in the next room and I have no reason to feel unsafe (the mastiff helps with that), to fear abandonment or to feel judged for my weight, outfit or complexion.   I could be completely at ease with the world and my surroundings, but those feelings caused by this or that event way back when run just beneath the surface and come to play a role in my judgments and actions of today. 
Obviously I think this means therapy is probably needed, but I can say that despite my natural inclination for pessimism, my learned distrust of human nature and my knee-jerk response of “no” I am at least grateful for the critical perspective the past provides me.  Being neither naive nor ignorant, I freely acknowledge my failure to measure up to societal standards and continue to seek peace in my soul for past, present and future decisions – no matter what emotions they cause or failures they are perceived as.   After all, writing isn’t a career of purely pop tarts and rainbows and motherhood isn’t glamorous or stretch mark free.  I need to shake off my anxieties and bind myself to the notion that what will be will be and that happiness is what I make of it, not what society doles out upon the “worthy.”

Thursday, July 14, 2011

(3) Daemons, God & Responsibility

So did you shape your daemon?

I've been thinking about that question for some time now and I have come to the conclusion that my daemon would be an accurate reflection of my personality in animal form rather than an arbitrary species choice based on childhood preference.  That being the case, he would take the shape of a cheetah because of the ironic paradox that cat represents:  on one hand, cheetahs are powerful, agile, intelligent predatory animals, but on the other hand, they are the most fragile of the big cats and therefore the most vulnerable.  It seems to me that this juxtaposition mirrors my personality because I have strong will and drive in areas of confidence, however, I am an analytical sponge which makes for more sensitivity than optimal in a singular person.  It would be great to have more of the first than the later, but I am who I am for better or worse and I can at a very least accept that.  

Perhaps I am being far to literal with Liz Gilbert's reference of "daemon" when I could, or rather should, be able to find inspiration any where with the right application of effort and time (aka "shump").  But, seriously, who is responsible for my ultimate success or failure as a writer?  The obvious answer is the scariest, but where does God fit in? And fate? What if daemons really exist?  But what if they don't?

Allow me to tangent in order to tie this in... Back when I was little, I used to think that when people died they simply moved to the moon.  So if you lost someone special (as I had with my Grandmother - thus creating this thesis), all you had to do was go outside and start talking to the moon and your loved one would hear you and understand.   While I didn't grow up in a religious family, it is easy now to see the similarities I drew between the moon and Heaven - generally speaking, they are both up there, they are both omnipresent and supposedly they are where people go when they die.  But once I hit middle school science classes and started really learning about the universe through facts, my faith in the moon diminished with the scientific evidence presented before me.  I find myself occasionally looking at it and wondering how my loved ones are, but I don't know if that feeing is just nostalgia or remnants of faith I secretly cling to.

Any way, taking that life changing point farther and less abstract, it seems to me that the application of science has taken much of the mystique out of the unknown and replaced logical conclusions where divinity may have been before.  So if the moon is the moon and not Heaven, the mixture of persistence and caffeine are substitutes for daemonic muse,  and fate can be over written by brute force, does that make me the master of my own providence or is there still an aspect of "insha'allah" left?

Ultimately, there are far too many external influences in any one situation to lead a singular person to be solely responsible for their own destiny, however, if one leads a completely passive life without the application of effort it is far too easy to blame life's mishaps on anyone but oneself.  I think Liz was lucky to hear that voice she writes about in Eat, Pray, Love because no matter who that voice was - God, her daemon, her conscious or her Mother - she found a source of enlightenment that sparked change and eventually lead to her best seller...

Well now it is my turn to lie on the bathroom floor wondering what has become of me and what am I to do.  Some how I got to the position I am in now - an unemployed, grad-school drop out with a neurotic dog, a 21 month old son and an engineer for a husband living in far too small a house in a going-nowhere town - and maybe it was meant to be that I'd wind up here doing what I am or maybe I've just fallen short of my goals and would like to bandage my pride with a little bit of fate.  Either way, the past is the past and I don't need to figure that out, what I need to figure out where to go from here.

It seems like the bottom line for the day is that the only safe path forward from here is to assume I am on my own for creative inspiration and production. However, if God, my cheetah and serendipity want to chip in then I'll take what I can get!

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

(2) Identity crisis 101: The basics

For a while now, I have been in the middle of a identity crisis - a torment of either possibilities or the apprehension there is a lack of possibilities - and I find myself devoid of direction and definition.  While this may seem a bit melodramatic to suggest that I've become a metaphysical being in my absence of self-identifying marks, I do think think that a large part of me is missing and consumed by an abyss of Lord knows what... perhaps peanut butter.

You see, I've been on the road to academic achievement and career success for my entire life.  Ever since my childhood I've watched working mothers do phenomenal jobs at home and in the work place with the ever constant encouragement of "you can be anything you want to be" hummed in my ear by an equality driven society.   The thing about that encouragement, however well intentioned, is that expectations are established of what life should look like and consist of and, now that I am an adult, I find myself veering from that road and wondering where exactly I am going and what exactly I am looking for.  I some how managed to grow up entirely focused on becoming a someone that I forgot to figure out who I was then and am now.  So between the choices I've made, the things that have happened and the seredipidous moments that shape our lives, I've found myself at an impasse - not who I was, not content with who I am currently and desperately longing find a delicate balance of social acceptance and genuine self respect.  

When I was living in China a few years back, I began to read a book that I identified with inside and out:  Elizabeth Gilbert's Eat, Pray, Love.  Perhaps my connection with her was due to my travels or perhaps it has more to do with her use of voice, but I connected with her search for self and in rereading the book recently, I came across a concept I find intriguing: single word definition.  Essentially, given the constraint that you can only use one word to completely define a person, place or thing, I chose a word that I feel adequately reflects a contiguous strand of past, present and future me... create. 

In the past, my word could have been perfection. Now it could be compassion or self-less. 
But, in the end, each of those words and their related situations is something I actively created for myself, not necessarily a sole definition of me.  Each day I attempt to create a life of happiness within my home and joy for my family. I hope to create ripples of respect for myself which can spread ring by ring. I dream that I will create something worthwhile from my life that I can look back upon on my dying day and truthfully tell myself "you done good, pal."  

In debating where to take my life from where it is now to where I want it to be, I need to find a balance between my external roles as caring daughter, loving wife and devoted mother with my malnourished and deformed internal role as self.  As it is currently stands, I feel caught in limbo - dutifully fulfilling the first three roles to my best (and plausibly falling short) ability, but lacking both a venue to release my creativity from its cage of expectation and the inspiration to fuel the passion it so deserves.  

Needless to say, I am trying to create that venue here and to light that fire in the pit of my soul that will get the book ideas I have out onto paper and, maybe someday, into a publisher's hands.  I am honestly not sure what should come next, but I do know that Liz Gilbert's thoughts on creativity are a starting point for another step forward  Check out this lecture she gave and enjoy:

** Food for thought and future rambling:  if your daemon could only take the shape of one animal, what would it be and why?

(1) Square One...

I guess with all stories a writer must create a base line of "suck" that the protagonist must somehow over come through a plotted journey of righteous truth, bravery and discovery of character. Sounds a bit too noble for this situation, but a baseline is needed none the less for without it how the heck are we supposed to gauge any change or progress? 

The past couple months have been rough. Beyond the medical issues and completely self-conscious weight gain, my husband and I have experienced more stress than either of us (or our marriage) are currently able to handle.  Between his sister deploying to Afghanistan amid complete brother-sister-sister in law relationship failure, his Mother continuing to dismiss our marriage of two years, our first time home ownership, the death of my beloved Nana and the ensuing collapse of my own family in the wake of her passing due to greed and insensitivity, my world has been rocked to its core. I'm sure I will get into person and situation specific details such challenges and others at some point, but for now let it purely be understood that I am frankly at a loss.  A loss of faith, friends, family and, probably worst of all, hope.

Most people refer to hope with optimism, but I've never been a "half glass full" kinda gal.  I've always been more of the "secretly wanting to be glass half full but completely skeptical that the glass is even half empty because someone took another sip and left the dirty glass sitting on the counter" kinda gal.  Awesome.  Anyway, a while back I was watching this documentary about stress and a woman in that documentary mentioned the phrase "the threat of hope" while discussing how difficult it is to raise a special needs child as a single parent.  Granted I am not in her arduous position, but I completely relate to that concept - with hope there is the optimistic possibility for positive change, but there is also the possibility for continued stagnation.  While that positive change deserves to be hoped for, the emotional letdown resulting from hope when that change doesn't happen can be devastating...  Perhaps you don't feel the same way or cannot relate to that degree of unraveling faith but it's my initial point of "suck" and with all of my heart I want and need to overcome it.  In writing these words and hitting "publish post" I feel like I am putting my extremely introverted heart out into the universe despite my head's constant warnings of potential destruction and that I am braving the treacherous waters of hope.  But honestly, I don't think it could get worse right now so what is there to lose?