Thursday, January 31, 2008

The Rhythm of the Soul

"After silence, that which comes nearest to expressing the inexpressible is music."
~Aldous Huxley

As if the movie, Into the Wild wasn't enough to yank my spirit, the soundtrack to it completely struck a passionate chord in me (pun intended). So, yesterday I was dumbstruck when I heard the explanation for Eddie Vedder being left off the Oscar nominations list. The judging panel disqualified his soundtrack because it was "too song-based." Huh? Well, we'd never want a soundtrack to be song-based, now would we?!

"I believe in music the way some people believe in fairy tales."
~August Rush

Music has always been a big part of my life - even early on, from Mom's love of all things classical, to Dad's penchant for anything Johnny Cash. When I was six years old, my folks added a piano to our household. It was determined at the time that I was still a bit too young for lessons, but I taugh myself the basic notes and would plunk simple tunes anyway. Whenever my sister would be forced to practice, I'd pay attention to what she was learning. When Mom would play, I'd sit on the floor and wonder at the notion that someone so reticent could be so taken by melody. When it was my turn to begin lessons, I wanted to learn it all right away. Of course, I didn't want to practice, I just wanted to instantly know it. So, I grew up being influenced by anything from classical music, to the rock n' roll my brothers would play.

Eric Clapton was my first true love - he always will be. Eric, if you're reading this (hey, you never know!), come on over so I can hug you and thank you.

When I was twelve, I fell madly in love with John Denver's music (being twelve, I was madly in love with John Denver too). Since his songs didn't translate well to piano, I took it upon myself to teach myself guitar chords so I could play his music. That was a great revelation to me, because, unlike a 500 lb piano, I could haul a guitar wherever I went.

"You know what music is? Harmonic connection between all living beings."
~August Rush

Listening to music took me outside of myself. It took me away from the muck of daily life. I could hold hands with a man across the sea. I could relate to heroin addicts. I could hike mountains I'd never seen. I could fall in love with faces I didn't know. I could understand that there was something bigger than me in this life.

Playing music saved my life. It never mattered how low I felt, or what was happening. Once I sat down at the piano and plunked the first few notes, I was gone. Gone far down a road where no one else could follow - it was just me and the melody. My piano was my very best friend in the world - it didn't care who I was, or what I looked like, or what my attitude might be. It was always there, just waiting for me. It never refused me.
We got shame, we got pain
We got blame, we all a little bit insane
So that's why I sing this song, ya know, because
Everyone deserves music, sweet music
Everyone deserves music, sweet music

~Michael Franti, Everyone Deserves Music

Somewhere, during the last gasping stages of my dying marriage (back in the mid-90s), I lost my connection with music. I quit listening, and I quit playing. Something inside me was broken. My self-imposed exile was to last for 12 years. It's not that I couldn't appreciate a good tune, I just couldn't... give myself over to it, as I'd used to. John bought me a piano a few years ago, but something inside me just wouldn't let me get into it. It's a regret of mine, largely because I never had a chance to really share that side of myself with John and he so loved music.

"Music is the language of the spirit. It opens the secret of life, bringing peace, abolishing strife."
~Kahlil Gibran

In the months following John's death, I've reconnected with my ol' best friend - my piano. I think it came, partly, because I so needed to seek solace anywhere I could find it. It occured to me that piano had always been one of those places, so why not give it a try again? It worked. Now I can't come home from a day in the world and deny myself the moments (ok, sometimes hours) of pleasure I get from tripping down that melodic road. It's funny, in my old age, I find it difficult to play other people's music - I just can't get in touch with it somehow, can't translate it. So, I write my own, and it feels so good. If no one ever hears these tunes I write, so what. The action is the thing.

"Blessed is he who can still sing
when the theater is empty
and the orchestra is gone."
~Calvin Miller, The Singer

I sing again too. I've always loved to sing, and somewhere along the line, I stopped. Ridiculous. Absurd. Now I catch myself humming all day long, singing snippets of songs that buzz through my head like espresso-freaked hummingbirds. I don't care who hears my voice (I used to!). I don't care who likes it or doesn't. Music is as infectious as laughter. Hum an old standard, and often someone else's eyes will light up and they'll say, "Oh man, great tune!" or "God, I remember that song... I used to listen to it when..." It opens hearts and opens doors. It's everywhere we go.

"The music is all around you, all you have to do is listen."
~August Rush

I'm so glad the music didn't give up on me. I'm so glad it's still there inside me.

But when the night is falling
And you cant find a friend
feel your tree is breaking
Just bend
You've got the music in you
Don't let go
You've got the music in you
One dance left
This world is gonna pull through
Don't give up
You've got a reason to live
Can't forget
We only get what we give
~New Radicals, You've Got the Music in You

Dance with me....

Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Running With Wolves

I love moments of synchronicity - moments when something I've been mulling over crystallizes and becomes clear. I've been talking about inner strength for the past two days now, and just last night I stumbled on something in a book I often re-read. I hollered, "Yes! Exactly!!" The book is Women Who Run with the Wolves: Myths & Stories About the Wild Woman Archetype, by Clarissa Pinkola Estés.

"To be strong does not mean to sprout muscles and flex. It means meeting one's own numinosity without fleeing, actively living with the wild nature in one's own way. It means to be able to stand what we know. It means to stand and live."

(Now, while you're all googling numinosity, pardon me while I go get more bean.)

Women Who Run with the Wolves was given to me just about 10 years ago, by my dear friend Jess. She gave it to me just before I moved from Maryland to the West Coast. She really championed my gypsy spirit, before I even recognized it for what it was. At the time, I thought I was just making a necessary change in my life - I didn't recognize the spiritual impetus behind it. I read through the book on the long, slow bus ride out here, and almost immediately re-read it once I reached Calfornia. Often, I'd take it with me when I hiked into the hills near John's parent's home.

In WWRWW, Estés recalls the old European fables and fairy tales, most of which feature women or girls as main characters, dissects the myths, attitudes, strengths, weaknesses, pitfalls and adventures, and compares them to those we have today. (Mind you, I'm not one for self-help style books - this is the only one I've ever read in my life. That I read it often speaks volumes, I feel, for it's validity.) Having grown up nurturing my macabre side by devouring anything fed to me by the brothers Grimm, I had no choice but to sit up and pay attention to WWRWW. Plus that, Jess had given it to me, and I knew she wouldn't steer me wrong.

Jess was a good friend of the Simon family (the family I was a nanny for), and we got to know each other and became dear friends through Cindy's illness and death. We made it a point to meet up one Sunday each month for pancakes and hours long conversations. Sadly, Jess died very suddenly of heart failure a month after I moved away. The unexpectedness of it tore me apart, and I miss her to this day. I often find myself thinking, "What would Jess say...?" I still have the enormous suitcase she let me "borrow" to make my escape.

There's another line from WWRWW that has become my creed in life. It's a question Estés asks, and I ask myself this question anytime I enter a new relationship of any sort, whether it's a love relationship, friendship, family, or work acquaintance. It's a line that jumped out of the book and knocked me sideways and it's made all the difference in how I perceive myself and my feelings in any relationship.

"What could he take from me that I wouldn't freely give?"

My answer is always, "Nothing." There's nothing I wouldn't give away. There's nothing anyone can take from me. If it's already given, it can't be taken - right? It's a perspective that evens me, and if there are any words by which I live, it's those. It's not about being generous, it's about being wide open to possibility. Sure, one could say it's merely dicing syntax, but the idea of it, the recognition of it, is what works. For example: If I give you all my money, there's no way you can take it from me. It's already been given. I haven't lost a thing, only given it away. See? You can't lose what you don't possess. Note: there's a big difference between having and possessing here.

In a bigger scope of that concept, if I share my spirit, soul or love, it can't be taken. It's already been sent out. When someone says, "I don't want to hurt your feelings." My reply is, "You can't." I've already let go of whatever that feeling is. It was never mine to keep (possess) in the first place.

I freely give anything that's mine to give, or try to, whether physical or metaphysical. Most people who know me, know that about me. It's the old, "Hey, it's just who I am." Sometimes it throws people a bit because it makes them somehow feel obligated to, I guess, reciprocate in some fashion. But, as I see it, that's their feeling and they'll have to deal with it on their own. For me, it's simply a need to not possess anything.

So. I leave you with this question today: What could anyone take from you that you wouldn't freely give? If your answer is anything but "nothing," it may be time for some introspection.

"That which submits, rules. The willow submits to the wind and prospers until, one day, it is many willows - a wall against the wind. This is the willow's purpose."
~Frank Herbert, Dune

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

All the King's Horses

"I'm a bit cracked," he said. "I'm broken. Got anything that'll glue me back together?"

"As a matter of fact, I do." She replied. "I've patched together guys in worse shape than you."

"You're sweet."

"I'm sincere."
And we are so fragile,
And our cracking bones make noise,
And we are just,
Breakable, breakable, breakable girls and boys.

~Ingrid Michaelson, Breakable

It matters not how strong any of us may be. At some point in our lives, and likely at several points in our lives, we are all hobbled by something. Events happen that we can't foresee, people we care about hurt us, and the spinning globe we've got such a foothold on changes course on its axis. We get sad, we get angry, we rant, we weep, we scream, we rage - we crack. We fall apart, and then we can't believe we are weak enough to fall apart. Often, it does take someone outside of ourselves to help pick up the pieces and glue us back together again.
One person can have a profound effect on another person's life.
Two people... well, two people together can work miracles
~Northern Exposure

Love is a glue that comes in many forms. Unconditional love is an epoxy. I've found, in my youngish, oft shattered life, that it's the only thing that can rebuild a broken spirit. Sometimes it comes from within ourselves; it seeps out when we reach out to care for someone else. Sometimes it sneaks in quietly and mends without our knowledge, until one day, we realize that which was broken inside us has bonded together again. Occasionally, we'll see it in action - we may even question the validity of the goop being slathered on, we may be somewhat startled to watch it solidify into a glaze that is nearly seamless. We'll even fight against it, largely (I believe) because we don't want to believe that we need anything.

All you need is love. Love is all you need.
~John Lennon

Even so, we are not unbreakable. Not ever. Mend a piece of fine china together - if you do it well, you won't even see the crack. It'll look as good as new. Now toss the mended piece on the floor. It'll break again. That's the fear in this. Healing is painful. Maybe ol' Humpty refused help, "Don't put me back together again, because that just sets me up to be broken once more." So it does. C'est la vie.

It's easy to want to build walls. It's even necessary to give ourselves some measure of protection; it's instinctive, after all, to want to guard against being hurt. The problem with building walls, is that they don't allow anything to come through or go out, and there's still a busted up figure on the other side. New territory is scary, but no one ever conquered the land by staying inside the castle. Sometimes being out on a limb is the safest place you can be. And walls crumble - they always do.

Now open your arms
And pick up your head
Open your eyes
So you can see
What happens next
You won’t believe
Just how good it can get

~The Wallflowers, How Good It Can Get

Monday, January 28, 2008

What a Beautiful Wreck You Are

"The average man is a conformist, accepting miseries and disasters with the stoicism of a cow standing in the rain."
~Colin Wilson

Last night I spent some time talking with David, who was angry with himself for being complacent over the years, while the walls of his life crumbled around him. As he stated, he'd always been in control of his emotions, and suddenly he found himself in a series of events that left no room for control. I told him anger was a good thing, so long as he used it as the means to a beneficial end. I also pointed out that recognizing, realizing, and resolving to battle against his failings prove that he's more enlightened than most individuals. More, I told him I greatly admire those qualities in him.

It's true, and I know whereof I speak. Been there, done that, didn't get a freakin' t-shirt. At one point, I put up a wall in order to feel nothing, but that's not healthy either. Better to face the dragons, than pretend they don't exist. Otherwise, you find yourself suddenly running scared as flames slap against your ass, and so out of shape that you can't get away.

Among the things I found yesterday in my own indignant battle against personal clutter, were pictures of me when I was very fit 7 years ago - I'd lost 120 lbs and was working out daily. It enraged me to see those pictures, and to recognize that I've veered so far away from that state in such a relatively short time. I shook my head and said aloud, "Barbara Ann Black, how could you allow yourself to become such apathetic fucking loser?!" Yes, I'm harder on myself than I am on anyone else, and than anyone else would be toward me. It's necessary.

While it's easy to use the excuse that a series of events "made" me step away from those disciplines, it's more accurate to argue that I allowed for it - that, my friends, is true complacency; it's apathy at its finest. Because the only thing we can truly control in this world is our very own selves, and there's no blaming anyone else for failure to do so except for our very own selves.

"What's so intriguing, or half so fatiguing as what's out of reach?"
~Stephen Sondheim, Into The Woods

Striving. Resolute behaviors. Those are the keys to making ourselves better beings. We absolutely must control the inner animal. It's hard, but think of it this way: Begin with a simple task and commit to a daily rendering, before long it becomes a routine, and finally, a habit. For example: I can't imagine not wanting to brush my teeth every morning - it's a task that was pushed on me as a young child, until it became routine, and then such a habit that I can't imagine not wanting to do it. Habits, as we all know too well, are extremely difficult to break. So, if we foster good habits and leave no room for bad ones, we begin to win the battle.

"You have been blessed with a burden and I envy you that."
~Freedom Writers

Fences were made for climbing; mountains were made for scaling; miles were made for walking. There's a vast wilderness beyond my personal space, but I can't venture forth without being prepared. Self-awareness and self-control are pebbles in my personal medicine bag once again. I won't say that I will lead a resolute life, but that I am living a resolute life. Mary Poppins said it best, "Once begun is half done."

Oh yeah? Watch me.

Sunday, January 27, 2008

Industrious Waste

I am going to clean, rearrange, and organize this studio today. I can no longer live with my clutter and apathy toward it. So... check back later. I'll be posting before and after pictures.

As promised, I'm back (finally) with before and after pics. It was a long gruelling day, but I did it... Veni, vidi, vici! I'm a vicious reorganizer and a cutthroat when it comes to tossing out stuff. I'm really happy with my new and improved space. Now creative genius will really be able to get some space and some oxygen, and it'll burn, baby, burn.

Before (I'm so ashamed):


So, I'm whupped, but I feel better. Along the way, I found some treasures. For example: I found my passport ("Freekin-A!" hollers the gypsy.) And, I found a great pic of John and me that I'd long ago forgotten existed.

I spent 1/2 an hour crying after I found John's old deodorant in a box and the scent of it just sent me off over the edge. It's one of the things that annoys me most about all of this. I never know when it will hit or what will trigger it, and being sad sucks. But, I let myself go to it - it's all part of the process. I just wish there was some kind of yellow flashing light as a precursor. C'est la vie, I reckon.

Saturday, January 26, 2008

Mona Lisa Smirk

Saturday... ahhhh. I slept in until 7 a.m.

I'm about to get ready to go over to Gwen and Maleah's house. We're going to make some Valentine cards and have dinner - slight change of plans, but life's all about flexibility. (Yes, Tom, I'm working on your labels too. You'll have the scans tomorrow.)

For those of you who worry and/or suffer from an over abundance of curiosity. I had a great time last night (she says with an enigmatic smile). I'm fine, dandy, well, sound in body and in mind, thank you very much.
So go unlock the door
And find what you are here for
Leave the great indoors
Please leave the great indoors
Check your pulse
Its proof that you're not listening to
The call your life's been issuing you
The rhythm of a line of idle days
~John Mayer, Great Indoors

It's strange to me to allow myself to not only be attracted to, but desire men other than John. I don't know if I can explain it, but in trying to, maybe I'll understand it. When I'm in a relationship, I'm in it 100%. While I can appreciate another man's good looks or charming spirit, there's no real desire there, because all I want is what I've already got. And maybe I'm an anomaly in feeling that way - I often think so. So, here I am, still deeply in love with a guy who's been dead for nearly 9 months, and I'm giving myself the freedom to... to want. Actually, I gave myself that freedom back in October. I just couldn't verbalize it. It's just a strange feeling... certainly not a guilty feeling, which was what I would have expected of myself. It's definitely a feeling of freedom, of adventure...of, hmm.. maybe discovery - the discovery of what I'm made of, and what I'll take, and what I'll give as the New and Improved Gypsy Girl.

I don't know what it is really, and I fear I'm rambling a bit. But, I like it. I like it a lot. I love the way I feel - I think, because for the first time in my life, I really love being myself. There's no one I'd rather be. Funny, I was just telling Wendi the other night that I feel really, really great. Yeah, I'm sad inside too, and that will never disappear, but I have this overall sort of... feeling of wholeness. It's as if all the cracked eggs have become a superb quiche. Yeah. That's it. (Jack Nicholson said, "People who speak in metaphors should shampoo my crotch!" Sorry Jack... it's all about the wordplay.)

I just wish I could bottle and market the way I feel.

I know... write... publish... submit, submit, submit...

Friday, January 25, 2008

Don't worry. We'll buy flowers.

Friday! At long last!!!

It's been a busy week, especially work wise. My boss is proving that you can, in fact, teach an old Dingo new tricks - I've inherited some of the accounting responsibilities from one of my coworkers who is cutting back to two days a week. Even without that, I'd be swamped. There's a never ending pile o' dingo shit on my desk. But, it's all good.

Yesterday's post was all about smiling and laughter, and the good they can both do. Well, one of my coworkers (aka The New Gal) got a good one in on me. As I was staring at yet another spreadsheet in a state of bewilderment, she came in and dumped a new steaming pile on my desk. I looked up with a whimper and said, "You're killin' me! Really... I'm gonna die right here at my desk!" Without missing a beat she dryly replied, "Don't worry. We'll buy flowers." I love that kind of humor. It flat out cracked me up, and it was exactly what I needed. My boss was in the adjoining office, so I hollered, "What the hell'd you hire her for?!" He came around the corner with a big grin on his face and said, "Figured it was about time you met your match." I reckon so... ayup, I do reckon.

Revisiting yet another somewhat recent post, I've been making the attempt to keep in touch with people a little bit better. Last night I got together with a friend that I haven't seen in... oh, about three months. We had a great time. I always enjoy talking to Wendi - she's wise. The gods know I need all the help I can get in that department. I often forget how important she's been in my life, and how many times she's been there for me. After all, it's all Wendi's fault that I've become the card stampin' artist that I am.

People often ask me how I got started doing my artwork. I've always been a creative, crafty type, but never quite felt I'd found my niche until a few years ago. When John and I were living in an apartment complex, Wendi and her ex-boyfriend were our neighbors. John and the ex had struck up a bit of a friendship, and through that, we had a tenuous friendship with Wendi. She was hosting a card-making party for a rubber stamp company and invited me to come. I wasn't going to - I didn't want to spend an evening pent up with a bunch of cackley women, and I certainly didn't need another hobby. But, John pushed me, saying, "Oh, go's the neighborly thing to do!" So, go I did. I came back home 3 hours later with my eyes glazed over and a new addiction was born. Bless his dearly departed heart, John never did admit to making a mistake by encouraging me. Even better than a creative outlet, it allowed for some common ground that gave Wendi and I reason to bond as friends.

You just never know...

Tomorrow I'm getting together with my friend Gwen and her daughter Maleah. I know, just as other times, we'll end up saying, "Why don't we do this more often?!" Gwen hired me 4 jobs ago and we've both long since left the company, but we've remained in contact. (I know - how crazy is that?) She's another wise one with a fantastic sense of humor, and we share the same taste in books and movies. There's no excuse for us not getting together more often. Heck, we live within about 4 miles of each other! And Maleah is always good medicine, being the precocious child she is.

So, in with the old and in with the new.

Tonight I have a date with a guy whose sense of humor leaves me breathless - from laughing. (I've always maintained that if a guy can do that, it doesn't take much more to hit it out of the ballpark.) So, I'm looking forward to this evening - looking forward to our typically easy conversation and some good belly laughs. He's a deep thinker too - highly intelligent, as might be expected of my choices - but his thought process, like my own, is very well balanced by some good old fashioned sardonic wit. Yeah, I'm fair game to be altogether dazzled. Keep ya posted... you know it.

One last bit, for those of you who seem to delight in following my path of introspection - day 25 as a vegetarian, and still going strong. I'm enjoying it actually. I sure miss hamburgers though....

Thursday, January 24, 2008

...and the World Smiles With You

"Sometimes your joy is the source of your smile, but sometimes your smile can be the source of your joy."
~Thich Nhat Hanh

I woke up (far too early) this morning with a smile on my face. I'd even go so far as to say it was a grin. Nuh uh... not sayin'. If it's real, all will be revealed. I'll just say it's leftovers of a great conversation I had last night, and leave it at that. It was a great way to wake up, even if it was all of 4 a.m.

I love to smile, but even more, I love to see other people smile. And laughing, well... it's just the best thing there is. On my way home from work yesterday, I stopped at the grocery store. As I got to the checkout, the clerk cheerfully said, "Good Morning!" And upon realizing what he'd said at 5 p.m., proceeded to chuckle the rest of the time I was at his post. I laughed and responded, "Oh god no... please, don't make me repeat the day!" The gent in line behind me started laughing too and chimed in, "No kiddin'! I'm done in!" At which point he graced us with a lionesque yawn. I grinned in return and said, "Yeah, you're in rough shape, aintchya, buddy?" The smile on the man's face was priceless. The clerk was clearly enjoying his job for that moment in time. It was an exchange that lasted all of 2 minutes at the most, but it felt so good - had me smiling most of the way home.
"Because of your smile, you make life more beautiful."
~Thich Nhat Hanh

To engage others or, as Thoreau said, "effect the quality of the day," is so rewarding to me. Sure, my own peculiar brand o' humor can be a bit off-kilter at times, but it's mine, mine, mine, all mine. I cherish my own ability to see the light side of any situation. The other day, one of my more straight-laced coworkers (happens to be the boss's wife) greeted me with a "Hey ho!" Without hesitation, I retorted, "Watch what you call me!" It took her a minute to realize what I'd said in conjunction with what she'd said. Then the laughter began. It continued the rest of the day; whenever we'd see each other, we'd burst into fresh giggles. It made the day.

Timothy has remarked, not a few times, that he loves to hear me laugh. I think sometimes he calls just to hear it. I think somehow it make him feel better. I'm honored by that. I've been around others who have infectious laughs and I love it. Laura's Mom is one of those people - I don't need to know what she's chuckling at, but that low "heh heh heh" of hers will send me into my own chortle. It's even been labeled - Laura and I refer to it as: The Bettyann Laugh.

Granted, I'm easily amused by stuff - that helps. Like ol' Brer Rabbit, I know where to find my Laughin' Place. So, it's easy for me to find things to chuckle about... even if I make them up on my own. I have one client at work who often emails me about issues and I'll reply with good business sense, but attach my sardonic wit to it. She always writes back, "You made me laugh again! Thanks, I needed that!" And I feel like I've really done my job.

Attack the world with a smile. Infect the world with your laughter. See what a difference it makes - not just to others, but to your own outlook and your own well-being.

"Smile, breathe and go slowly."
~Thich Nhat Hanh

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Say Goodbye to Hollywood

Something about the light of a full moon on frost is very stirring. It conjures up old Transylvanian types of superstitions. It makes me want to tromp off into the woods in search of Sasquatch. I've said it before, the full moon brings out the feral in me. If only I could sleep through the day like some dark, brooding animal - for sure, I don't get sleep at night with that big beam coming from the sky! *yawn... stretch*

Well, once again, Hollywierd has managed to confound me. I know, I know... not a big stretch there. Into The Wild was pretty much ignored for Oscar nominations. Considering that it's a movie that had a profound effect on me - I actually paid to see it a second time - I was hoping others might clue in on it. Alas, Hal Holbrook was nominated as best supporting actor. Hal deserves it, and good on him! Hell, I'd hand the man a statue for reading my grocery receipts. But, the cinematography was completely ignored - I suppose it could be argued that it's difficult to take a bad shot of Alaska, but still! Emile Hirsch did a fine job as McCandless, and he should have been nominated - to watch him evolve and then devolve as "Alexander Supertramp" was entirely believable. What really astounds me, is that Eddie Vedder's soundtrack didn't even get a nod. It's some great music and fit with the movie so very well. Even now, I can't hear one of the songs and not be pulled back into the story. Those were some powerful tunes Eddie wrote - he deserves the recognition.

I guess it just goes to show, unless a movie is filled with sex and violence it's not going to get anyone's attention. Quel damage... what a drag.

I'm deeply saddened by Heath Ledger's death. I've been watching his career since 10 Things I Hate About You. He was a fine actor, and young as he was, able to stand with some big names and not blend into the scenery. What makes a person who appears to have everything so self-destructive? Is it because life is, in some way, too easy? Does it stem from feelings of unworthiness? Fear of success? Pressures of society when one is under the big microscope? Whatever the reason, it's just sad - 28 is far too soon to choose to leave this life. You'll be missed, Heath. I'll miss your wide, easy grin, and opposingly, your dark angry stare. I will miss your talent.

My own thought, and I haven't researched this, so I may be way off base. I can, however, go back to a time in my younger days when I had such inclinations, and recall my own process. But, my thought is that suicidal tendencies come from a well seeded bed of complacency and apathy. They're killers, let there be no doubt. Once we fall into "I don't care" and "It doesn't matter," what is there to make life worth living? More, it's a tough bitch of a ditch to dig out of. One of the things that kept me going, kept me striving, this past year was that I'd daily check my thoughts. I was constantly under my very own microscope.

Take the words of Socrates to heart: "... let no day pass without discussing goodness and all the other subjects about which you hear me talking and examining, both in myself and others, is really the very best thing that a man can do... life without this sort of examination is not worth living ..."

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Mooning About

I was up very early this morning, gazing and howling at that big ol' searchlight of a moon. Anyone else remember to howl? I pondered several things in my pseudo somnambulescent state.

As I was driving to work yesterday morning, I heard an ad on the radio advertising a housing development. The key line was, "Like The Truman Show, everything is perfect." That, right there, pretty much seals me against buying into it (lack of lotto winnings aside). Life on The Truman Show was far from perfect. It was horrible. Truman was the harbinger of the reality TV that most of the world goes nuts over now. The thing is, Truman didn't know that he was on TV and everyone who surrounded him was false, everyone lied to him. Obviously, the ad creator never really watched the movie. I wonder if that ad has sold any homes.

Last month in my various gypsy travels, I saw some road warning signs. They read: Elk Migration path, next 3 miles. I wondered how the elk knew to stay within that three miles. "Hey... no, Bob! Get back here... that's over the 3 mile line, you fool!" or "Psst... Jonesy... dare ya to cross at 3.2 miles..." And what if there had been a herd of 'em crossing just on the other side of the sign? I'd have had no warning at all, really. What's the freakin' point? Are we so out of touch with the possibility of wildlife? After all, we're cruising through their home at 70+ miles an hour.

I watched a fascinating show on the History Channel last night, titled: Life After People. I'd recommend it to everyone. In fact, I urge you to watch it when it comes on again. It was about what will happen to the world when people are wiped off the planet, and how the world will rejuvenate; how the wildness of nature will take back what's hers. We need to be more care full - although, in my humble opinion, it's already too late.

At 46 years old, with everything I've been through, I feel better about life than I ever have. Even with tears still close enough to the surface, even though small things can still send me into a spin, I'm just plain thrilled to be here. Maybe it's comes of letting that tambourine bangin' gypsy out into the light. Maybe she's just a by product. I talked to my Mom last night and she commented on how happy and healthy I sound. I told her it's because I'm finally letting my inner gypsy run free. (Recall that Mom shared my initial gypsy experience in 1972.) She chuckled and said, "Good lord, don't get too wild!" I told her not to worry; I wasn't planning to steal any chickens. She ended with, "Keep doing whatever it is you're doing. It's obviously working. This is your time." Those are big words coming from Mom - she's not known for waxing philosophical.

My inner cranial turntable has been playing Shawn Mullins, All In My Head, over and over again:Is it all in my head?Is it all in my head?Can everything be ok without me knowin'?

So it is, it's all ok: This is my time. This little nanosecond of forever that's allotted to me... I dig it.

Monday, January 21, 2008

Where Eagles Dare

I had a most beautiful day yesterday! I am now a Gypsy cum River Rat.
I spent the afternoon with a group of folks from Boeing (having been invited by my friend, Kevin), rafting down the Skagit River, watching bald eagles. There aren't enough superlatives in my lexicon to describe the experience... Amazing, awesome, and breathtaking are but a few.

Sure, it was cold. My butt, my feet and my fingers quickly went numb and took a long time to thaw out. I don't think I truly got warm again until I crawled into bed and buried myself in a layer of covers. Oh, but it was so worth it!

The day itself was pretty. It had snowed up there the day before, so the mountains and much of the ground were still snow-covered. The sky was partly clear with big puffy clouds, some blanketing the mountains in fog. There wasn't any wind. The river was quiet and easy, and so impeccably clear that we could count the rocks lining the bottom. Then again, who'd want to be looking down?! The company among the five rafts was easy-going, filled with quiet banter and conversation, and hushed exclamations of, "Oh! There's one!" or "I see three in that tree just up ahead!"

But, the eagles, oh my, the eagles! I lost count after 50 of them, but I'm sure we saw over 70. They were perched in trees all along the river bank, looking so majestic. Sure, I'd seen eagles in the wild before, but never so many and never so close by. At one point, as we paddled closer to the bank for a better view, an eagle that was perched low in a tree took flight and glided right over our heads. It felt like a benediction - so peaceful and grand all at the same time. It was all I could do to not burst into tears a few different times.

After we reluctantly arrived at the takeout point, we all helped break down the rafts and stow gear in the truck. I was responsible for stowing life vests - they were wet and cold and heavy! And there were a lot of them (I think there were at least 35 of us altogether). My hands were red and numb in a very sore way by the time I was done.

As Kevin and I got back to his vehicle, he said, "I think a cup of coffee is in order." My reply, "Oh my god, YES!" We stopped at the first little convenience store we came to and got a steaming hot cup of something that tasted like it had been rung from a dishcloth. I didn't even care! It was hot and it felt gooooood. By the time we got to Marysville, our bellies were grumbling nearly loud enough to drown out the classic rock we were grooving to, so we stopped at a Mexican place he recommended. Excellent choice. I got fish and shrimp tacos (*wink to Laura*) and they were perfect.

Suffice it to say, it's a day that'll go down in Gypsy history, likely as one of the top ten most incredible days I've experienced. Thanks, Kevin!

I am the eagle, I live in high country
In rocky cathedrals that reach to the sky
I am the hawk and there's blood on my feathers
But time is still turning they soon will be dry
And all of those who see me, all who believe in me
Share in the freedom I feel when I fly

Come dance with the west wind
and touch on the mountain tops
Sail o'er the canyons and up to the stars
And reach for the heavens and hope for the future
And all that we can be and not what we are

~John Denver, I Am The Eagle

Saturday, January 19, 2008

A Great Manner of Things Will Be Well

I'd like to welcome Ryder Philip Palos into the world! John's Great Nephew was born at 6:21 yesterday morning and carries his middle name. You've got some big boots to fill little man - wear the name well. You have a huge, loving family surrounding you - may you never lose sight of that. All the best to Mommy (Leece), and Granny Krisy too!!!

It is indeed a desirable thing to be well descended, but the glory belongs to our ancestors.”

It's got me thinking about a subject that may be a tender one for some: Forgiveness and Reconciliation. Welcome to the Church of The Wayward Gypsy. Come on in; have a seat.

"For every minute you remain angry, you give up sixty seconds of peace of mind."
~Ralph Waldo Emerson

The ending of John's life was not entirely in vain. His illness and death brought about reconciliations in his family, as well as a deeper love and connection among all of them. I know that one of the things that always hurt him a lot was the fact that his family had been torn in so many directions. As the eldest of six siblings, he bore a sense of responsibility toward keeping the clan together. Even so, his pride, and the pride of others, kept that bond from being a reality for a very long time.

I've been - hell, I don't even know what word I want here - blessed, honored, humbled, awed, touched...? Whatever the amalgamation of those words is, I felt it in a bittersweet, beautiful way at some of the things I've watched John's family go through this past year.

One of the hardest phone calls I've ever had to make was to call and tell John's family that they'd better hurry on up here for one last visit with him. But they came, the whole great bunch of them, except for Krisy. In an attempt to get John to hang on and to sooth his restless soul, I told him that his parents were on the way. I didn't mention that the rest of the gang was coming.

He was asleep when they got here and his parents quietly walked in the room and whispered their hellos without disturbing his slumber. Then Tom and I walked into the room. John and Tom had been at odds over various things throughout the years and had kind of trashed the brotherhood they shared. When Tom walked in, he said, "Hi John." John's eyes flew open at his voice, he weakly said, "Tom?" and began to cry. So did Tom. He rushed to his brother's side, thumped him on the chest and wept, "No regrets, man." As they hugged and cried, I felt like a voyeur, so I crept out of the room. I have no idea what else might have been said between the two of them that evening, but I know it was all spoken with those three words, "No regrets, man."

Krisy. Krisy had been at odds with the whole family and separated from the family's lives for years (at least 10). I won't go into the details here, as it's not necessary, and also, because I don't know all of them and don't need to - what happened occurred long before I was hoovered up into the Johnson clan. Suffice it to say, Kris and John hadn't seen each other in over a decade, and didn't get to before he died. But his dying woke her and helped her change her life.

I invited her to the memorial in July. It was the first time I'd ever met her. I immediately enveloped her in a big teary hug, told her I was glad she could be here, told her I was so happy to finally meet her, and told her it had all been forgiven. In holding John's hand through that final week, I knew that he'd forgiven everyone, including himself. Krisy kept thanking me, apologizing, and saying, "I wish..." I finally said to her, "You can't beat yourself up. You can't go back. All you can do is go forward from here. Honor the man by living your life well."

"To make no mistakes is not in the power of man; but from their errors and mistakes the wise and good learn wisdom for the future.”

I've seen her make great strides toward doing just that. It's been a wonderful thing to see her bloom, and an even more wonderful thing to get to know her. She's a beautiful soul and it's a shame so much time was wasted. My own great regret is that I didn't allow her to come and see John one last time; I didn't open my own head space to the possibility of that final hug for her.

The lesson here is obvious. If you're at odds with someone. Talk it out, find forgiveness, reconcile. Sometimes the talking isn't even necessary. Sometimes all it takes is a well spoken, "I'm so sorry." I've had my own moments of family strife that had to be dealt with in such a fashion. In retrospect, I'm glad I was able to change my own attitude before it came down to apologizing in a moment of crisis.
Treat every moment as though it may be your last. Treat every person as though it may be the last time you see them. Make your love unconditional.

"You cannot do a kindness too soon, because you never know how soon may be too late."
~Ralph Waldo Emerson

Invado pacis.

Friday, January 18, 2008

Big Brother is Watching You

Hopefully you’ll indulge my familial ramblings one more time. I feel the need to give my big brother Mike some airplay.

Mike is nearly nine years older than I am. As a kid, I was in absolute awe of him. His years over me made him seem ultimately wise. I remember bragging to my peers, “My big brother is in high school!” The Mike I knew was quiet and bookish, although I’m certain he got into his share of teen trouble. I didn’t really get to know him well back then because by the time I could hold a halfway decent conversation, he had already left for college, and then the air force.

In fact, I never really felt that I got to know him until John met him. Of my three brothers, a friendship with Mike was the last bond I would have expected. I’m not entirely sure why - guess that just shows that I didn’t know my brother very well. Because he and John got on famously. Both highly intelligent, they conversed easily about many things. Mike’s quiet, dry wit very well complimented John’s over the top, irreverent brand of humor. They were both chess players (although early on, it was clear that Mike was the far better opponent), and built their friendship largely through playing online chess matches together. As John would head into the computer room, he’d say, “Well, let’s see how your brother is decimating me today.” Not long after, it would be followed with him hollering, “Barbarienne! Your brother is a Sneaky Rat Bastard!” It pleased me to no end to see the relationship blossom.

So you see, in a way, I got to know my brother because of John. Just another gift in a pile of many.

Interesting little story… I’ve always thought that Mike was the smartest of the five of us. He just plain knows a lot of stuff. He’s always studying something and he retains things well. Often, I’ve wished I could be as smart as he is - and that’s not by way of diminishing my own intelligence any. I’ve just always perceived him as being intellectually far above me. I’m smarter than some, some are smarter than I - ain‘t no thang. Two years ago in March, I was visiting Grand Rapids. Mike, and my sis, Nancy were both at my Mom’s house and we were looking through old pictures. I don’t recall how we got on the subject, but Nancy made the comment that Mike was always so smart. Mike very matter of factly said, “I always thought Barb was the most intelligent one in the family.” I was floored. I looked at him to be sure he wasn’t joking, knowing full well that he wasn’t. I stammered, “Really? Wh..what… Uh… but you’re so smart and you know so much!” Mike said, “Yeah, because I study and I retain things. For you it just comes naturally. You’ve never had to work as hard at it.” It was a defining moment for me. I think it was the beginning of me realizing that there was more to me (more that others saw), a deeper well, perhaps, than I suspected or saw in myself. I mean, if Mike thought that, and I’d already acknowledged that he was smart… Well!

It wasn’t long after that when Mike took early retirement, sold his home and moved to the Dominican Republic. He spends his days walking on the beach, drinking cheap cervesas, and occasionally indulging his pathetically unskilled and unmatched little sister in an online chess game. In any pictures he sends, he looks healthy and happy and I’m so proud of him. I’m thrilled for him that he’s enjoying his dream while he’s still young and hale enough to do so. I emailed him just before Christmas and asked, “So what do people in DR for the holiday? Have an extra shot of tequila, dance around a palm tree, and sing, Dahoo Doray?” He replied, “Heck, that’s pretty much every day here!”

You can bet that DR is on my Gypsy List.

Thursday, January 17, 2008

The Brotherhood

I love being up early in the morning, when most of the world is still asleep. I've been up since 4:45 this morning, thanks to my faithful watch-cat, Midnight (I think she was the town crier in another life). She let me know, in no uncertain terms, that there were a couple of raccoons in my backyard. I love getting the bean brewing, hearing the gurgle and wheeze of the pot, and catching the scent of the deep murky making its way through the house. And then, that first sip, so like a sacrament, lets me know that it's another good day to be alive.
Today, like other days, I woke up with little idea of what to write (y'all could send me a topic now and then!), but upon opening my email, I was immediately inspired. I guess my family story posts are to continue. Some of you know that two of my brothers, Tom and John, own a company by the name of Velocity, that mainly deals in bicycle rims and parts made of lighter alloys. Tom owns the Australian based manufacturing plant, and John owns the US distributorship. What follows is an email I received from John, and I'm so impressed, and equally proud!
"Hi everyone,

Click on the Laekhouse link below, in the top picture you will see a guy holding a pair of wheels with our Deep V rim, below the first picture is another picture, actually the same picture only with a light shining on the wheels. There is a vinyl-like material wrapped around the rim that is very reflective. The fixies, the messengers, the bicycle community in general are going ape in anticipation of these rims. The rims are made by my brother and his crew in Australia, but the reflective material is applied by Laekhouse in NYC. Imagine how incredibly cool they look when a pair of headlights hit them as they are rolling down a dark street. These reflective rims just may save some one's life some day.

Also, just above the two pictures is: "Squid's Ellen appearance", make sure you click on that and you'll see our Deep V rim on the back of a messenger's bike that appeared on the Ellen Degeneres show. No one outside the cycling world would know it's a Velocity rim, in fact most people outside the cycling world don't even know what "Velocity" is. That's okay, inside our little industry, Velocity's legendary stature is growing with each passing day. Now we can tell people that Velocity products have been seen on Shaquille Oneil's bike, Robin William's bike and have been on a national television show. We must be "the best name to ride with"! That's it, I will be available for signing autographs from 4:00pm to 6:00 today in the lobby of the Waldorf Astoria. Please form a single file line.


Check it:
Make sure you watch the video in the first post too.
Ethan Benton"

All three of my brothers are men of power (there's Mike too). Not the kind of power that rules the world, but the quiet power that changes the texture of an ordinary day. When I'm in their presence, whether collectively or individually, I feel it in waves. It's a power that comes from deep intelligence, lived dreams, and an obvious joie de vivre.
Long ago, early in his elementary school years, Tom had a terrible time with spelling and writing. The teacher called my parents in for a conference and told them, "Face it, Mr. and Mrs. Black, your son is stupid." Of course, my parents stormed out of the conference in a fury. No one in the Black clan is, by any stretch of the imagination, stupid. Tom proved that in spades, and flipped 'em the figurative bird in the process. This is the same kid who went on to get his pilot's license when he was 16 years old and then proceeded to build his own airplane, using a volkswagen engine, his senior year in high school. He still can't spell worth a damn, and his handwriting is horrible, but who gives a shit?! Tom moved to Australia over twenty years ago, and as an avid cyclist, had this nagging idea that he wanted to build a better bike rim, went ahead and did just that and started marketing it. His whim has turned into a highly successful business. When I met up with him last Fall, I asked him if this was what he'd envisioned for Velocity. He gave me the classic Black smirk and replied, "Heck, I just wanted to build a better rim."
John started distributing for Tom in the US nearly as many years ago, using his garage and basement as a warehouse. He did it "part time" outside of his job as a sales person at a bike shop, until it was lucrative enough to quit and make it a full time occupation. He, too, has built Velocity USA into a company that thrives and provides more than adequately for his family. He did this without a formal education, he simply believed in the product. His sincerity and integrity (along with the quality of the product itself) were all the background he needed to make it a success.
Am I a proud sister? Oh yeah. Humbled too. My brothers set the bar pretty high. By the way, I'm not ignoring Mike here, he's a pretty darned impressive guy too - but that'll just have to wait for another post.
What's in a name? I don't know. But something about being Barb Black makes me feel stronger.

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

John Schmutzer, Man of Mystery

As I mentioned yesterday, I never knew my Grandfather. There's little I know about him, but I don't think I'd know more if I had ever met him. He was born in the late 1880's, in Hungary, to a Jewish mother and an agnostic father. His birth name was Edward Löbenhöfer. There's some Austrian heritage there, but the origins are unknown.

As a young man, Grandpa Schmutzer was a communist - essentially, a Bolshevik. He was trying to get communism into Hungary at a time when no one else wanted it. He was high enough in rank, and evidently enough of a threat, that a price was put out on his head. So, he fled Hungary, leaving behind a wife and 4 year old son (my Uncle Rudi). The story goes that he stole his new identity from a dead German soldier. The only vague proof of that is a military ring, which is in my possession, that shows a crest and the dates of the first world war. Eventually, he made his way across the water to the US.

Not long after he left Hungary, his wife died of consumption. The care of my Uncle Rudi was left to Rudi's maternal grandparents. Rudi never saw his father again. Grandpa married my Grandmother sometime in the late 1920's. He married her because he needed a servant - it was not a marriage born of love.

I don't know what my Grandpa was like before he fled Hungary. I don't know if he was a nicer man, if he enjoyed his life, if he was loving and caring. I know, from all accounts, that he was not so after he immigrated. He never once told my Grandma that he loved her, never showed her signs of affection, never gave her a gift for any reason or occasion. He provided for her, and that was it. The same held true for his daughters, my Mom and my Aunt Irene. Mom has mentioned that Grandpa was cold and impersonal, and his view of children was that they were to do their school work, do their chores, and not be heard from. Girls were to learn to be housewives - while education was valued, higher education was seen as frivolous.

In the Schmutzer household, only Hungarian was allowed to be spoken. My mother started school knowing barely any English at all. US products and food were scoffed at, and the only meals allowed were Hungarian ones. My Mom used to sneak over to her best friend's house to have hotdogs.

Grandpa was an avid opera fan, and every Saturday everything else in the world stopped for the Metropolitan Opera radio broadcast. It's where my Mom got her love of opera, which has been passed down to me. It baffles me that such a cold man could have such deep love for something so beautiful and complicated. But, the things I know I inherited from him are the love of opera, the ability to keep a secret, and the ability to coolly stare down an opponent when I'm up against a wall.

According to stories my Dad told, Grandpa was a highly intelligent man and a very skilled tool and dye worker. However, he wouldn't share any intelligence. If he fixed something and Dad asked him how, Grandpa would brush the questions aside without answering.

Grandpa, from what I've heard from everyone who knew him, was highly paranoid. Until his dying day, he was certain someone would find him and kill him - in his later years, he went so far as to spray chairs with disinfectant before sitting down because he was sure that germs would take him out. Some of the paranoia may have been warranted, but I believe much of it came from hardening of the arteries and a general psychosis that he may have had all his adult life.

He refused to take medication for his arterial sclerosis, certain that the doctors knew nothing and were likely trying to poison him. He dropped dead from a heart attack at a bus stop. Because he never carried any identifying papers on him, he was taken to a county morgue. It wasn't until he failed to show up for dinner that my family began to panic. My Uncle Paul (Irene's husband) finally traced him to the morgue.

That's as much of the story as I know. My Mother finally met her half-brother, Rudi, when she and I went to Hungary together in 1972. As we were going through customs, the agent asked why we were visiting Hungary. My Mom explained, in halting Hungarian, that she was there to meet her brother for the first time. The customs agent grinned, slammed the suitcase shut, and said, "By all means then, GO!" It was a beautiful reunion. I wish I'd known enough Hungarian while Rudi was alive to be able to ask him about his Father.

Every now and then, someone will ask, "If you could meet one person, alive or dead, who would it be?" My Grandpa. There are questions I have, that he might not answer. But, I'd just like to know. I'd like to look into eyes that hold part of my history.

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

The Magyar Connection

It's a snowy, cold day here - one of those days when I feel like just staying in, hunkering down, and feeding my creative soul, or curling up with a good book in front of the fire. Alas, the "real world" requires my presence.

I've been thinking about my little Hungarian Grandmother a lot lately. Grandma Schumtzer was one of the sweetest, toughest women who ever lived. She was born out of wedlock in 1903 to a woman who, by all accounts, was a bit of a loose gal (Grandma spoke of a parade of 'uncles' throughout her childhood). Growing up, she had nothing and they lived the lives of peasants in Hungary. Quitting school at about age 9, she worked hard for the rest of her life.

In her early twenties, all by herself, Grandma came to the USA on a boat and entered the country through Ellis Island. She brought with her everything she owned: a change of clothing, a knife and fork, my Great Grandmother's navy blue, velvet shawl, and an enamel tin cup, and about ten dollars. I have the shawl and the cup in my possession - they're my greatest treasures.

She got to New York, hoping to hook up with some distant relatives, only to find that they'd moved on to Detroit. Having virtually no knowledge of our language, she spent her last money on a train ticket and made her way to Michigan to find them. Through the years, she took jobs cleaning houses and doing laundry - anything that would earn her a wage. She didn't return to Hungary again until the mid 1960's.

While she had little formal education, Grandma was a genius on many levels. Her skills with a needle were exemplary, whether it was mending or embroidery. Her skills in the kitchen, to this day, are unrivaled. I'm a good cook and so is my sis, but we're not even close to the magic Grandma could conjure. All of her recipes were in her head and she went purely by instinct.

Back in the early 90's, I realized that once she was gone, all those recipes would go with her. So, I made her come visit me for a week and teach me how to cook all of those fabulous Hungarian dishes. It was as if I sat at the feet of a deeply wise guru. I still have all of my scribbled notes, but I never use them. I cook the meals the way she did, going by instinct and tossing in an extra pinch of this, a handful of that. Nothing is more satisfying to me than to make my kitchen smell like hers did.

Born Rose Nemes, she married John Schmutzer (not his real name, but more on that another day) in the late 1920's. I never knew him - he died two years before I was born - but from what I've heard, he was a cold and loveless man who treated Grandma as nothing more than a slave. She was there to feed him, keep his house and raise the children (Mom and Aunt Irene). Anything outside of those boundaries was forbidden.

Grandma was a tiny woman, maybe all of 5'2", but she's the only person I ever saw stand up to my Father. One time when she was visiting us in Michigan, Dad was treating me rather poorly, saying things that a father shouldn't say to a daughter. Grandma walked over to him, looked up into his face, shook her finger, and grimly said, "You don't treat my granddaughter dat vey!" That was all she said. Dad turned and left the room. I don't know what the dragon slayers of old looked like when they marched up to their prey, but they couldn't have shown the kind of courage she did that day. She was my hero in so many ways.

When she was 84 years old, she had to have her leg amputated. Rather than give up and sit in a wheelchair the rest of her life, she rehabilitated and learned to walk on a prosthesis, using a walker. That's an amazing accomplishment for someone half that age. I told her as much and from then on, whenever we'd talk, I'd call her My AmaZing Grandma. I'd even address letters to her that way - To: The AmaZing Grandma Schmutzer.

Few things in this life truly amaze me - she was one. She had more love in her heart than anyone else I've known. Loving her family, and showing that love, was the only thing that was ever important to her. She did it well. And she did it with complete humility. Any time she'd be complimented, she'd merely shrug and say, "Velll... vhat you gonna do, huh?" Her version of my own, "Hey, it's just who I am."

Is it any wonder I'm who I am today, coming from stock like that? Is it any wonder that I'm willing to march into the unknown and worry about the consequences later? How can I deny the sweet, feisty spirit of Rose Nemes that carries on in me? One day, perhaps soon, I may just pack it all up and move on - you can be sure that I'll be flying the shawl like a banner, and carrying the tin cup like a trophy.

There's much more to her story, and I swear it's going to be a novel one day. For now, I'll just say, love you, My AmaZing Grandma! Thanks for all of it, for the love, for the homey creative style, for the spirit of adventure, and especially for teaching me what good paprika can do for the soul.

"Vell... vhat you gonna do, huh?"

Monday, January 14, 2008

All You Need Is Love

"Standing at the crossroads, trying to read the signs
To tell me which way I should go to find the answer,
And all the time I know,
Plant your love and let it grow.
Let it grow, let it grow,

Let it blossom, let it flow.
In the sun, the rain, the snow,
Love is lovely, let it grow."
~Eric Clapton, Let It Grow

It begins from within. It begins with loving self. We can't love anyone else until we learn to love our selves. Once we learn that magic trick, the rest comes easily. The rest falls into place. Like the man sang, once planted, just let it grow.

Truly loving yourself has nothing to do with pride, and everything to do with humility. When we love another, we want only the best for them, and we will set aside any hindrance to help them achieve that. The same thing happens when we love ourselves.

I used to care about everyone else first, and then me. I put myself at the end of the line and left me there, running to catch up. It's exhausting and unfulfilling. I pretty much despised myself and didn't really care what happened to me, so long as everyone else was feeling good. Because of that, I ended up in a dormant marriage, vastly overweight, and finally in a career that tried to crush the spirit out of me.

I woke up one day and realized, somehow, that I was worth loving too. It was an epiphany that sent my life in another direction. I got out of the marriage and started losing weight. Then I found a relationship wherein I was not only loved, but respected for who I was. Somewhere along the line, through a series of tragedies, misperceptions, and a misguided need to commit to an overly stressful career, I lost sight of that.

It took a cataclysmic event to wake me up to it again. It took a dying man, saying, "Please, be good to yourself. Be the woman I've always seen and loved and believed in." I'm here for a reason, I'm worth something, and I love myself. I love who I am. Because I've rediscovered that, the things I want for myself and the things I want from this life are beginning to fall into place.

My best pal, Laura figured that out a couple of years ago too. The biggest, and most obvious result to come from that is that this weekend, she finally reached goal weight after losing nearly 110 lbs. She's one of my heroes. Not so much because of the weight loss, although I know what a daunting task that is, but because she gets it!

I've seen growth in my friend Timothy. He spent years loving everyone else better than himself. Then he turned the corner and figured out that he had to be true to Timothy above all else, and amazing things began happening in his life. It's been a gift to be able to watch him become.

Does loving one's self mean that nothing bad will ever happen? Of course not. It just means that we'll be better equipped to deal with it when it does. Does it mean we never set ourselves, our own wants and needs, aside for the good of someone else? Of course not. But it does give us the wherewithal to recognize what it is another person really needs from us (even if what they need most is to head off down their own path). So, love yourself. It's ok. It's more than ok; it's required. It will make you want the world to be a better place, more, it'll make you strive to make the world a better place.

there ain't no reasons things are this way
its how they've always been and they intend to stay
i don't know why i say the things i say,
but i say them anyway.
but love will come set me free

~ Brett Dennen, Ain't No Reason

Sunday, January 13, 2008


Did anyone else here in the Pacific NW see that gorgeous sunrise this morning?! It made me crave fresh nectarines and plums. The air was redolent with the scent of wood smoke, and the birds were twittering merrily. It was beautiful.

It's turned into a fine day here... the bright hurty thing is up in the sky again (I seem to remember that it's given name is Sun), and the sky is bright blue. It's been a while since we've had a day like this.

The California travelers left at Ohgod O'clock this morning and are probably well on their way home by now.

I've managed to whip the PC into order and deal with some connectivity issues. I'm quite proud of my limited geek-ness.

Other than that, it's a quiet and relaxing day for me. I have some design work to do. Tom asked me to design some labels for him. I also need to get working on an order for Valentine cards. So I'll bet immersing myself in those projects soon.
As a former florist, I have little regard for Valentine's Day, beyond the commercial possibilities. The day brings me no sense of romance, whatsoever. But, I'll gladly cater to those who treat it as a day that is separate from all others. Heck yeah. Sure. You betchya. I can be mercinary when needed. *grin*

Oh! And!! I'm wearing the next size down in jeans today. They're a bit snug, but they're on and I can breathe without wheezing. Day 12 as a vegetarian, and I'm still going strong. I'll admit though, that when Tom and Dad took me out to breakfast yesterday morning, I really, really wanted sausage with my eggs!

Hope you are all having, or have had a wonderful weekend!

Saturday, January 12, 2008

Everything Old is New Again

Well, well... the Mac is no longer an entity in Chez Black. I am typing this on the old PC - so far, so good. It's a bit slower, but we'll get by. It's always fun to get used to a new keyboard (thank the gods for delete and backspace buttons!). The happy news is that I now have the scanner hooked up and running, so my artwork images will be clearer ('til now, I've been taking pictures of them with the digital camera). I've got a lot of studio rearranging to do (again), but it's all good.

Tom and Dad got here last night around 8 p.m. We've spent most of the day together and they've gone back to their hotel to do some paper work and/or nap. We'll be getting together again shortly to find some dinner (which, according to Tom, will not be eaten out of a garbage bin). Sure is good to see them again though, albeit briefly.

I made the mistake of paying attention to the news the other day for half an hour (that's what I get for waking up too early!). I learned that, in Missouri, they're trying to pass a law that bans swearing in bars. No great irony here, but my first thought was, "What the fuck?!" And then I laughed. It's a bar people! It's where folks go to drink and lose their inhibitions. Heck. Gosh. Get a couple shots of tequila in me, and there's no telling what I'll say.

It seems that the reasoning behind this idea is that they want people to be able to have a good time without having to put up with, and I quote, "rowdiness." Ummm. I didn't realize that going out on a Friday night for a brew and turning to a friend and saying, "I tell ya, it's been a rough week - I'm fuckin' whupped," constitutes rowdiness.

First smoking was banned in bars, and now those who want to light up can't say shit about it. Mark my words, prohibition is next.

Freedom of Speech aside, who would expect NOT to hear swearing in a bar? I mean, that's kind of like telling church goers not to say 'amen.' And then, what constitutes swearing? As a kid, I used to get in trouble for saying the word, crap. Does that mean sports bars will have to mute the tv so no one has to hear the sportscasters say, "That was a hell of a play!" Egads.

No one will even be able to tell any more of those 'so a guy goes into a bar' jokes in a bar!

I'm stumped. There's so much that Americans could worry about and get worked up about that is being completely ignored. Stuff like this makes me feel that my mother didn't, in fact, give birth to me, but that I came from another planet and my parents were kind enough to take me in. Stuff like this makes me feel that wherever that planet is... I wanna go back. Beam me up, Scotty - there is no intelligent life here! Because there is something intrinsically wrong with this kind of thought process. As my old piano teacher used to say, "Shit fire to save matches, and damn it all to Hell!"

To quote the Wicked Witch of the West, "Curses!"

Smoke 'em if ya got 'em. Let it rip. Just don't fool yourself that it's a free country.

Friday, January 11, 2008

Is It?

Friday! Yay!!

I may be off line for a couple of days. I'm expecting some company this weekend (Tom and Dad), and will be switching things over from the Mac to the PC. Sad, but true. I'll miss the Mac, as there is much to like about it. However, worry not, I will be back and posting here as soon as possible.

I'm already pondering my next post: Love Is All You Need.

So, keep your eyes peeled, and keep checking back. And, consider what that phrase means to you.
Have a wonderful weekend!

In other news, I won second prize in a poetry contest. No cash, just recognition. I'm flattered just for the recognition. Here's the poem I entered:
Is It?

Is it
that you are calling my name
cajoling silence resounding
in an echo
that makes me weep

is it
that you are pulling at my heart
tiny invisible strings
tugging, rousing me
from my sleep

is it
that you look in my eyes
watching visions dance
and swirl in rhythm,
treasures buried
in my deep

is it
that you are simply
answer to my wishes
candles, pennies, and stars
that were never
mine to keep

Thursday, January 10, 2008

Lady in Waiting

"There's an underestimated
and impatient little girl
raising her hand."
~Alanis Morissette, Wake Up

I had my least favorite kind of dream again last night. Those are the dreams in which I'm trying everything to make myself understood, and failing miserably. I hate those dreams. I can be so patient in any other way, except when I feel I'm being misread, or completely unread.

I haven't always been patient. I'm not always patient. I rarely feel patient on the inside, but I've learned - the hard way - that the universe does things in its own time, and no amount of dancing around and cursing will change that. Now, that doesn't mean I can't take progressive steps toward a positive end. It just means that getting frustrated doesn't help a bit. So, I try not to.

Patience is the art of concealing your impatience.
~Guy Kawasaki

I try to learn from the events that lead me to impatience. I try to understand what it is that's making me feel so worked up and find ways around it - one can walk into a brick wall a thousand times with no effect other than getting bruised, but if one walks around the wall, or climbs over, there's no telling what treasure is on the other side.

As fast as time seems to fly, often it doesn't fly fast enough. I can't change the ticking of the clock; all I can change is my attitude toward it.

I'm impatient with myself, with my own failings, more than anything... with the things I want to change in me, with the wrong attitudes I perceive in myself, with the speed at which I learn new things. I try to cut myself slack - it's been pointed out that I seem to be human after all (damn the luck). But I can't help myself shouting internally, "Why do you have to be so Barb?!" That's the point when I try to put myself in someone else's shoes, try a different view point, or just throw myself into a completely different project.

Deep breathing helps me. Often, that's all that's required for me - a moment of taking in a gust of wind and reminding myself that it's all relative, or that whatever windmill it is I'm tilting at won't matter much in the long run.

Humor helps. It helps a lot. If I can warp a situation enough to laugh at it, I'm a-ok. I'm pretty good at doing that too, good enough that I'm usually not even conscious of doing it until someone points it out. My internal actress will go back to the Patrick Swayze line from To Wong Foo, Thanks for Everything, Julie Newmar: "Oh, what fresh hell is this?!" And I have to laugh.

There are two cardinal sins from which all others spring: impatience and laziness.
~Franz Kafka

It takes a lot of work to be patient. I want it all now, right now... all the knowledge, all the experience, all the love, all the solutions, all the answers. Ghandi said, "If you had it all, what would you do with it?" I don't know. I guess it's best to be patient, wait, and watch it all play out.

*deep breath*