Friday, January 13, 2017

Everything is Beautiful

What does beautiful mean to you?

Something is beautiful in my eyes if its essence creates in me a sense of speechless bliss.

The most beautiful things I've ever seen include:

1. The Northern Lights
After a long hike in the back country of Chilnualna Falls in Yosemite National Park, I was tired and dehydrated, and had just spilled camp stove fuel all over myself. I mentioned to my hiking companion that the sky was glowing, and was immediately pooh poohed for being delirious. And then he saw the dancing lights, and we sat down together next to our tent and watched.

2. The first glimpse of Yosemite Valley from the road to Glacier Point
The first time I saw this was the first time I believed in God.

3. The Eiffel Tower
I don't have a particularly industrial aesthetic, but the grace of this building thrills me any time of year, any time of day. I only need to stand under it to be moved to tears. (The Golden Gate bridge in SF does the same thing to me. I cannot explain it.)

4. The Thinker by Auguste Rodin
This one surprised me. It has copied so many times in so many trite ways, like Monet's Waterlilies series, or the Mona Lisa, I thought I'd be "so over it." But this sculpture moves me every time I see it. 

5. The Peaceful Death of Another Human Being
I've had the opportunity to bear witness to the peaceful death of another human being three times in my life. Each has been different, and each has been moving in its expression of love and spirit

6. The Ending to The Color Purple
This was the first R-rated movie I saw in the theater. I was a scandalous 15 when I saw it. Every time I see this I cry as hard as I did the first time. Which was so hard that my older sister thought there was something wrong with me. (You can ask her. The volume of my tears was disturbing.)

7. My Wedding
Not the whole wedding, but really one specific point in the wedding. As BMG and I were recessing down the aisle, making a beeline for the bar and the receiving line, he whispered, "Look up. Look around. We are surrounded by people who love and support us. I want you to remember this." So I looked up, and it was beautiful

I'm sure that, with a little more thinking, I could generate a much longer list of things I think are beautiful - things like tenderness expressed between my nieces and nephews, the sound of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr's voice, summer flowers in Bavaria, the poetry of Langston Hughes. But, when I need a little beauty, these are the places my brain goes first.

Tuesday, January 10, 2017

A Sharp Kick in the Gut

It has been a week - eight days - since I learned my friend Tricia was raped and murdered on Christmas Day.

In this time, I estimate that I've spent 10% of every waking hour reading memorials on Facebook, investigation updates on The Washington Post, and trolling the comment boards on myriad other news sources that carried the story of her death. I've become increasingly upset with every new detail exposed by the police and with every heart-felt memorial posted on myriad "In Memory Of" pages online,

On day four of this obsessive grief odyssey, I cried, cried harder than I have in a long time. On days five through seven, I gained three pounds, largely as result of my settling into the enveloping stupor of Candy Crush Saga.

And today, on day eight, I met with a therapist.

And about five minutes into our session, she gave me a swift kick in the gut. I was blathering on about how vulnerable I was feeling about my personal safety and she said, "I wonder if your reaction to your friend's death might be about more than your friend's death."

"Whatever could you mean?" I innocently replied.

"Well, there are many Americans feeling vulnerable right now. How are you feeling about the direction in which our country is moving?"

Dammit. Dammit Dammit.

During my brief period of grieving, it has seemed as if my sadness has been out of proportion to my relationship with Tricia. I've felt like I don't have the right to be as immobilized by this terrifying act of violence as I have been.

But, if I think about Tricia's murder as the most terrible straw that broke the camel's back, then this reaction makes a little more sense.

What also makes sense is leveraging this process of grieving her death to find my inner strength.

Saturday, December 31, 2016

Welcome 2017!

2016 was a weird fucking year. Consider the following things that happened just in my little corner of the world:

  • A neighbor crashed his car into my car while it was parked in my driveway
  • A con man posing as a landscaper stole nearly $1,000 from me
  • On-going health issues with BMG led to two long hospitalizations and one surgery 
  • The Downton Abbey series ended on PBS
  • "He Who Must Not Be Named" was elected president of the U.S. in a weak victory in November
  • A dear friend was raped and murdered by an apparent stranger on Christmas day

Reflecting on this list, I can see why I'm feeling so vulnerable today. Many of these experiences are big. And largely out of my control. Ugh.

I want 2017 to be a hopeful year, a year that offers life-affirming adventures, So, I also want to look at the bright spots from 2016, to see where I can draw power. These include:
  • Losing (and keeping off) nearly 25 pounds through hard work, a healthier diet, and a new found commitment to exercising
  • Learning I have only an ulcer, and not heart disease or stomach cancer
  • Being reminded of how great my community is when a retired neighbor took pity on me after the landscaper con and helped me finish a major gardening job
  • Purchasing a kayak rack after six years of kayak ownership, finally widening my boating circle exponentially
  • Taking a BMG-free trip to DC in October to visit with family and to be reunited with two dear college friends
  • Receiving multiple forms of recognition at work for excellence on the job, including be nominated and accepted into a regional women's leadership program
Analyzing this list I see that my power lies in making life affirming choices, working hard, and connecting with the positive people around me. 

Tonight, as I raise my flute of champagne in honor of the earth finishing another trip around the sun, I'll be wishing for another year of adventures, made possible with the strength I find from within, and from the people who help make my life complete.  

Welcome 2017!


Smart. Neurotic. Devoted. Quirky.

This is my Twitter bio.

BMG and I have been talking about the definition of quirky. Does it imply a value judgment? Is it about personality characteristics, or could it simply be description of a mannerism or habit?

I cheated and looked at and found this definition:

       a peculiarity of action, behavior, or personality;mannerism:

In calling myself "quirky," I'm primarily thinking about my:

  • Zelig-like way of moving between different crowds of people, without actually being part of any particular human tribe, perhaps a function of my sun, moon, and ascendant all being in Gemini
  • Habit of taking off my glasses nearly every time I use the toilet
  • Routine of rocking myself when I'm having trouble sleeping, even as a nearly 50 year-old woman
  • Precocious and life-long love of archeology, which includes an ability to almost conjure up the living, breathing human who lived in pre-historic and other ancient environments
  • Spooky ability to remember people's names
  • Extreme introversion, combined with an insatiable curiosity about other people which manifests itself as friendliness
  • Particular brand of intelligence, which often causes me to see and interpret ideas and scenarios unlike most other people (and, conversely, causes me to be unmoved by circumstances that typically move others)
When I started my most recent job, the Chief Administrative Officer described me to my boss as "different." While I've long labeled myself as :quirky," nevertheless, the comment originally caused me to feel disconnected. Over time, I've come around to seeing the moniker as a recognition of the value I bring to my work, to the world. Why? Because in economic theory, the rare commodity is typically the more valuable one. 

Would you describe yourself as quirky? Which of your actions, behaviors, or mannerisms help set you apart from others? 

Tuesday, December 27, 2016

Rest in Peace and Power Tricia McCauley

I am not so naive as to believe violence only happens to other people.
  • Domestic violence claimed the lives of a friend's mother, a friend's sister, and another acquaintance's sister.
  • In my younger life, I was acquainted with two separate people who shot themselves to death. 
  • The son of someone with whom I briefly worked was murdered by a serial killer.
  • The mother of one of my sister's high school friends was murdered in her own home.
  • Two old friends, now acquaintances, each discovered a body of someone who apparently committed suicide.
  • A colleague recently lost a teenage friend of the family to a car accident caused by another friend of the family. 
  • Another colleague knows two people who were perished earlier this month in the Oakland warehouse/artist collective fire
  • Shoot! I worked in a juvenile prison for 2.5 years, where many of our inmates were the perpetrators of violence. 

But never has violence affected my life directly.

Until today, when I learned a friend from college, a woman with whom I'd reconnected only 2.5 months ago, was murdered on Christmas. Tricia is dead at age 46. Life is so weird.

Here we are, with our pal Christy (left, holding the full-ish Corona),on the last day of freshman year. Tricia is the perky one in the middle.

And here we are, again with our pal Christy (with glasses, on the right), on Columbus Day weekend 2016. Tricia, an accomplished actress, herbalist, small business owner, farmer and yoga instructor, is still the perky one in the middle. 

As soon as I read the news, at 4:45 this morning, I woke up BMG and cried as he hugged me. Right now, I feel numb, afraid to feel what I imagine is likely true. Afraid to feel that she likely suffered in her death - emotionally and/or physically. Afraid to feel angry that her death is such a waste - a death by someone desperate enough to murder someone in exchange for a Scion IQ and debit card. Afraid to feel the anguish I can only imagine her parents, her brother, her closest friends are feeling as they begin their grief journeys.

Whenever someone I know experiences a death, I share the same message of condolence: "The grief journey is the weirdest and most unpredictable trip we take in our lives. I trust you will make it through yours safely, buoyed by the love of family and friends."

BMG, who never met Tricia, is grieving in his own way - he stayed awake for the entire 75 minutes I was at the gym the morning, wanting to be sure I came home safely. And he's asked me to call him every 10 minutes while I'm at work today, so he can be sure I'm still alive.

Me? I've never been on this violent death journey. So I don't know where it will take me. Right now, I know I feel a little afraid, and resolved to make every moment matter, because life is unpredictable.

Rest in peace and power Tricia McCauley.

Monday, December 19, 2016

The Closer

BMG sarcastically refers to me as "The Closer" because I never close packaging, doors, or drawers. Sitting here, (I'm aware there is a kitchen cupboard open, ready for me to reach in and grab the ancient grains/oatmeal package for my breakfast.)

This moniker is ironic because my number one motivation is getting things done, closing out projects. Nothing is more satisfying to me than crossing something off the list. And I won't let myself cross something off the list unless it is done completely. If I want the pleasure of knowing that a task is in process, even if it isn't quite done, I'll circle it on my list. This gives me the thrill of knowing I'm just a little bit closer to the beloved "crossing off" task.

Being "a closer" definitely motivates me. I'm a finisher, not a starter.

Now, I'm in this uncomfortable place of wanting to start a business, and I'm having a hard time getting motivated.

This week The 52 Lists project is asking "What motivates you?" This is a question I want to explore precisely because I'm having a hard time finding my mojo on this project of creating the task list for starting my business.

Theoretically, I know what my motivation for starting a business "should" be:
1. Professional freedom
2. Notoriety as a result of my success
3. Financial success

But, "shoulds" rarely work - at least not for me - in the long run.

So, I need to dig a little deeper and figure out what truly motivates me, so I can transform the pile of papers that sit at my elbow into a business plan.

What motivates me?
1. Knowing that I've made a positive difference for someone
2. Being kind and helpful
3. The feeling that I've done something life- or health-affirming for myself
4. My family
5. The adventure of learning, experiencing, or seeing something new
6. Accountability - following through on my promises or commitments

I'm also motivated by some fears - fear of breaking the law, fear of being hurt both physically and emotionally, fear of being homeless and alone.

Fingers crossed this list I can find something in this list to get me off my butt and into planning mode so I can start my business in 2017. And if it doesn't, I'll be looking to YOUR answer to the question "What motivates you?" to help me. So get writing.

Friday, December 16, 2016

Unity Starts With Me

As a liberal, the world feels like it is unraveling:
  • On-going conflicts in the middle east
  • Syrian civil war and resultant refugee concerns in Europe
  • European unity in crisis as a result of Brexit
  • Impeachment of the South Korean president
  • Black lives matter and the many other components of the cultural wars in the United States
I acutely feel the polarization of Americans on issues like reproductive rights, gun rights and transgender rights. And this feeling extends far beyond me versus those who hold opposing viewpoints to include other liberals. At least once a week I see a comment like this, which causes me to feel guilt because I'm not doing enough:
On my Facebook wall yesterday, I made reference to feeling overwhelmed by the intensity of these crises. In the ensuing discussion, I was reminded that we all can't do everything for everybody.
Which got me to thinking about unity, particularly here in America.
I propose that each of us find one or two issues that light our fires, and put everything we can towards those issues. Let people know what those issues are, and what you are doing to be the change you wish to see in the world.
Here's the unifying part.

While we are each doing our good work, try to celebrate the good work of others, rather than denigrating those who aren't fighting side-by-side. Recognize the others as soldiers in the same "Make the World a Better Place" army, who are simply engaged in other battles that are just as important as your battles.

For me, this might look like:
  1. Thanking people for their advocacy - in whatever form it takes.
  2. Refraining from sharing/repeating content that derides people for not caring about the same issues I care about.
  3. Positioning the asks I make of people as an option, instead of an ultimatum. Rather than saying, "Not making a donation makes you no different than the Germans who did nothing as the Holocaust was starting," I'll try this: "There are so many issues demanding our attention. If ending the refugee crisis in Europe is one of the issues that lights your fire, please consider making a donation."
  4. When I need to say no, say it in a way that honors the passions of the other people. For example, instead of ignoring an ask made by a friend or acquaintance, I'll try saying something like, "I honor your commitment to ending the refugee crisis in Europe. Thank you for all the work you are doing. For my part, I'm dedicating myself to addressing the policing crisis here in America. So, I'm not going to give today."
  5. When I feel overwhelmed, consciously remind myself of the value of the work I am doing, rather than feeling guilty about whatever it is you are NOT doing.
I believe that honoring my individual efforts and those of others will help me feel more unified with my sisters and brothers fighting the good, liberal fight. And by working together, we can make a greater difference than we would working alone or in our issues silos.

Will you join me in making a pledge to be a little kinder in the way you position your advocacy work?