Saturday, April 30, 2011

Z is for Zoetrope

zoetrope: -noun; a cylinder-shaped toy with a sequence of pictures on its inner surface which, when viewed through the vertical slits spaced regularly around it while the toy is rotated, produce an illusion of animation
Here we are at the end of the Blogging from A to Z challenge. Please excuse me for a moment while I heave a heavy sigh of relief.

Okay, done.

In browsing through all of my alphabet posts this past month, I feel as though I'm looking at a month in my life through a zoetrope. It's like watching my days flit by, each one unique, yet each one part of something bigger.

It's been a good month, all in all. I'm glad I participated in this challenge. Not only did I gain dozens of new followers, but choosing a word to go with a new letter each day made me focus on my writing differently. It's hard to explain just how, and I'm not even sure just how big the impact is yet. But, it felt different. It felt... I don't know... solid. Like maybe there was a little more "there" there.

These are my top six picks from this month. I'd be curious to know what my readers' favorites are.

C is for Cripple
G is for Gallimaufry
N is for Nostalgia
M is for Mourning
Q is for Quixotic Quality
T is for Tenacious Temerity & To Taste

And now, my wonderful readers, I'm taking the rest of the weekend to relax, recuperate, and rejuvenate. Thank you all for stopping by this month, saying hello, introducing yourselves, clicking the "follow" button, commenting! I'd probably write regardless, but you all make the journey easier.

Friday, April 29, 2011

Y is for Yes, You!

It really is all about you. Yes, you!

But you might want to quell that excitement a little...

Smallish rant: I am past tired of seeing people wait for someone else to take up the reigns, someone else to take charge, someone else to take responsibility. I'm tired of the mamby-pamby, whiny-baby, "FML" approach so many people seem to take regarding their own lives - as if they are bound and gagged and being waterboarded every single day. Really. Seriously. Really seriously. You want to make it all about you? Fine then. Let's make it all about you. Yes, you!

-- Life doesn't come with a remote control, you need to get up and change the channels yourself. Yes, you.

-- No one can make you feel anything. Your perceptions, reactions, and attitudes are all yours. Yes, you.

-- Happiness isn't a reward. Happiness is a choice. You, and only you, are responsible for your own happiness. Yes, you.

-- Don't expect what you're not willing to give - it starts with you. Yes, you.

-- You won't know if the parachute is going to open until you're willing to actually jump - it's up to you to get on the plane. Yes, you.

-- You might not know where you're going, but you're not going to get there standing still. You need to take a step. Yes, you.

-- When someone says, "you can't," they're not right until they've convinced you. Yes, you.

-- Maybe your childhood was rough. Maybe you have some issues to deal with. Well, deal with them. Because guess who's responsible now? You. Yes, you.

-- Who is responsible for seeing that your children get a solid, well-rounded education in all areas of life? Uhhuh. You! Yes, you.

-- You do a disservice to yourself when you disrespect others - when you gossip and backbite and blame. The one you really hurt is you. Yes, you.

-- If you don't know something, do the research. Ask around, look it up, figure it out. Knowledge is power - educate yourself. Yes, you.

-- Take ownership, accountability, responsibility. Accept that your life is the life that you create/created. If you don't like it, you need to take the steps to change it. Yes, you.

Are we clear on all this now? Hey. I'm talking to you! Yes, YOU!

Thursday, April 28, 2011

X is for Xerxes

Xerxes was the king of Persia back in the early 4th century B.C. He got it into his head to invade Greece. Actually, his dead father had left him the task of punishing the Greeks for being silly enough to believe that they should fight against him for their country. For a while, Xerxes's troops, reportedly hundreds of thousands strong, managed to win every battle.

Then, at the Battle of Thermopylae, a small band of Spartans (less than 7000 strong) resisted the much larger Persian forces. For three days they held off the Persian army on the road leading to Athens. Ultimately the Spartans were defeated, but not before they threw a largish monkey wrench into Xerxes's machinations.

The Persians finally broke the Spartan stronghold after a Grecian by the name of Ephialtes betrayed his country and told the Persians of another pass around the mountains. However, the delay caused by the Spartans allowed Athens to be evacuated.

It's been said that Xerxes, so infuriated to arrive in Athens only to find it deserted, had the city burned. That's a matter of controversy, and it's possible that the Greeks burned it after evacuation as part of a scorched-earth operation. It makes no difference, as either way, Xerxes didn't get what he wanted.

While the Spartans may have been defeated, in my book they won. They could have stood on that road and said, "Oh shit! Look at all those Persians! No way..." and laid down their weapons. But they didn't. They stood and fought for what they believed in. Against all odds they fought. They were the underdogs and they knew it, but, regardless, they fought.

So often in life we view the seemingly insurmountable and we give up without a fight. We see the big dogs coming for us, and rather than standing our ground, we walk away.

We have more power than we think.

Most of our power is in our ability to simply stand and say, "I'm here and you will see me."

Battles aren't won by getting what we want. Battles are won in being who we are.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

W is for Vachoocall (You'll see...)

How can I be a blogger and not write about words? How can I be a writer and not write about writing?

These are the thoughts that have been swirling through my head the past couple of days as I was approaching "W" Wednesday. On both subjects I have so much to say that I'm stymied into having almost nothing to say.

And that reminded me of my Hungarian Grandmother.

There are no "W's" in the Hungarian language. So, when Grandma spoke English, the sentence "do you want a glass of water?" came out "do you vant a glass of vater?"

But, that's not what I came here to tell you.

Whenever Grandma would flounder for words, when both Hungarian and English failed her, she would fall back on "vachoocall" - her way of saying, "what do you call it?"

She'd be telling us about her life in Hungary, and she'd say something like, "Ven ve vent to da vachoocall, ve don't vorry 'bout da vachoocall because ve don't have nuttink dey vant." (Translation: When we went to the what do you call it, we didn't worry about the what do you call it because we didn't have anything they wanted.) Mom would ask, "What word are you looking for, Mother?" Grandma would answer in a mash of Hungarian and English, hold out her hand in a helpless 'gimme' gesture, and end in, "You know... da vachoocall..." Mom would say, "You mean train station. You mean gypsies." Or whatever the current vachoocalls were standing in for.

I used to hear her saying vachoocall when she was speaking Hungarian too. It had become her own personal word. It was her "um." Often she evolved into what I call Hunglish - her personal blend of Hungarian and English - and would leave pretty much everyone perplexed. My favorite was the time she said, and I understood enough Hungarian to see the humor in her statement, she said, "Nem tudom vachoocall." Which translates to, "I don't know what do you call it." Which further translates to, "What the hell am I talking about?!" She was adorable.

Often, when I'm stuck for a word, I think of Grandma and her Vachoocalls. Even when we fail to communicate clearly, even when we lose our language, we still communicate. We still have our Vachoocalls to fall back on.

We find a way to say what we need to say, and words aren't the end all and be all of communication.

That's what I have to say about words... and... vachoocall...

(I can't wait to send my spellcheck into a spasm with this post! Words...)

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

V is for Vortex

vortex: -noun; a whirling mass, something regarded as drawing into its powerful current everything that surrounds it

An entire decade went by. I had scrambled over the cold, hard, sharp rocks of my youth and found a place that was a warm, gray, comforting mist. It was like lying down in the sauna after a grueling workout. I wanted to stay there forever.

It was an okay place to land, but a horrible place to stay. I was complacent and apathetic. I let the world go by. I let living take a backseat to existing.

I was caught in a vortex. A whirling, sucking vortex. I was swirling the drain.

It was so easy to do. I didn't even realize what was happening. I only know that I woke up one day and felt like I had an electrical current running through my veins. I looked around and there was no color in my life - everything was gray. And I thought, "How did I get here? What the fuck am I doing?!"

It took a fight to get away from that place. I had to swim sideways before I could start swimming up. It didn't happen over night. It didn't happen without hard work and pain. You think childbirth is hard on the mother? Try being the baby!

I vowed never to return to that place. I'd rather have reality, in all its harshness, and live within my life, than be in a place so comfortable that it shrouds me. Never again. Do you hear me?!

The following poem is what I wrote shortly after escaping the worst of the suck.


did not
expect this
washed grey unawake
emptied nothing, slanted
meandering thru ageless days
that melt slowly at the seams of
every tomorrow spent waiting for
something, the something that won’t come unless
sought, the something that won’t pay unless bought, it
is time past time to reach, move, crane, turn, journey, cross
to that something, to grasp it firmly by its tail, which is slippery
but can be had, to haul it into and be hauled into every wide awake
non-dreaming, undying moment of days that are only, only tomorrows
never yesterdays, it is a moment beyond the moment when you’ve
blinked unbelievingly then missed the magic perfection that you
know happened just as you blinked and no amount of
screaming or cursing will bring it back and oh
if only you hadn’t blinked or opened
your eyes again because you
did not expect this
washed grey

© Barbara Ann Black, 2010-2011

Monday, April 25, 2011

U is for Utrinque Paratus

"can you be certain that at this very moment
you are not a dragonfly dreaming that you are a person?"

utrinque paratus: (oo-TRIN-kay pah-RAH-toos) Latin phrase meaning ready for anything

We can only measure our lives as a lifetime at the point which that life is over. Everything leading up to that is measured in moments. Each moment can be defining, pivotal - a look, a first kiss, a handshake that seals a deal, a cell that divides into a cancerous monster, a distraction that turns into a crash. Moments.

Each moment drops like quicksilver on it's own, then makes its way to join all the other moments. When they've come together as one shimmering puddle and there are no more drops to add, then we have had a lifetime.

Each moment counts. Even the relatively mundane ones. Even the bad ones. Especially the good ones. But they all count.

There's no real way to prepare for each moment. Even if we have an idea of what's coming, we don't know until we get there. But we can be ready.

Being ready requires an open mind, an open heart, and a willingness to live fully within each moment. It necessitates a complex blend of acceptance and perseverance - what the card sharks call "know when to hold 'em, know when to fold 'em."

There's a difference between being prepared and being ready. Being prepared is, "I've got all the ingredients and 6 people are coming for dinner. It'll be a feast." Being ready is, "I have no idea who's showing up, or when, or how hungry they'll be, but I can always throw an extra potato in the pan if need be." Of course, that's the FoodNetwork version, Not the SpikeTV version. You get the idea.

Untrinque paratus.

We need to be ready for anything.

If we are to live fully, and live in the moment... untrinque paratus.

Saturday, April 23, 2011

T is for Tenacious Temerity & To Taste

Another great Friday night...
another long Saturday trying to explain.

tenacious: -adjective; holding fast, persistent, stubborn, or obstinate
temerity: –noun; reckless boldness, rashness

I'm a bit of a freak when it comes to appreciating nature. I guess that makes me a nature freak. I love snow, and I cheer when I see the oft and much maligned dandelions.

I love dandelions.

Let me say that again, just for sake of clarity. I love dandelions! I love that cheerful mustardy yellow, and I love that they don't take no for an answer. Their tenacious temerity speaks to my inner gypsy. Loudly.

This past week we've had pretty much every kind of weather, apart from tropical, that we could ask for. All in one day we've had frost, cold rain, hail, snow, sunshine, and wind. I wake up in the morning and look outside... the grass is already green. The field is a sea of frost-besparkled green. Two hours later, the frost is gone and the field is entirely pocked with dandelion yellow - that yellow that screams sunshine on the most cloudy day. Dandelions don't tiptoe in. They arrive on the scene decked out like a brazen hussy. They've got strut. They don't care what anyone thinks of them. They'll come to the party just as they are.

I like that. I really like that.

And I like that they're fighters. I had a neighbor who was a Dandelion Nazi. Seriously. I swear he was out to completely eradicate yellow from the world. He would walk every inch of his yard a couple times a day, and as soon as he saw one of those yellow heads, he'd dig it up by the root and toss it in the trash.

But, they kept coming back. I know they were sneering, and it made me smile. I can get behind a like-it-or-not-here-I-am attitude.

They're tenacious little things. Even after a death-grip winter, they come charging back in full force, unstoppable. That resonates with me. I can relate. I'm a dandelion of sorts. I've taken what the Universe has thrown my way, and not only have I not been cowed (at least not for long), I've gone ahead and thrived just for spite. And I think that, like it or not, I've turned into something that brings color, brash and garish though it may be, to the world. I think I've turned into something that says, "Say what you will, this is who I am, and I'm here. Appreciate me or weed me out - your choice. I'll stand either way."

And that's why I love dandelions. They're my flora familiar.


To Taste
it might be
kids growing weed-like to manhood
or wanting to be with you
time trickles elusively
I try to hold on
it drips
honey from my hands
yawning to the ground
washed away in the rain
oh, to lick
each precious bit
from my fingers
suck its sweetness
until I am sick with it
sticky with it
wanting all of you at once
not satisfied
with delicious spoonfuls
shining gems
the jar tips again
my days
pour unremarked
I reach
to catch a taste
of lazy afternoon in your arms
© Barbara Ann Black, 2010-2011

Friday, April 22, 2011

S is for Sciatica & Swearing, Steve & the Story

Warning: This post will be heavily laced with vile cursing, for which I am not at all ashamed, but to which some may be (overly) sensitive. If that is the case with you, stop reading now.

I've been through a lot over the years with my gimpy left leg, so I've become pretty stoic about pain in general. But this... this was a whole new realm of evil...

Sciatica... oy vey. I've never had any kind of back trouble ever in my life until a couple of weeks ago. Then I did "something" to my back. It's the most excruciating pain (all my leg surgeries notwithstanding) that I have experienced in my life. Between the overwhelming spasms in my lower back and the combined shooting pain and numbness in my legs I was completely hobbled.

The pain is much better now, thank you very much. However, I still have a lot of numbness in my left leg and not a lot of muscle control in either leg. But, I'm getting better. Slowly. Bette Davis said it best, "Old age is no place for sissies!"

I had mentioned this issue to a few online friends and days after that, one of them asked me how I was doing. What follows is my epithet-laden response. (Seriously, stop reading NOW if you have problems with people swearing.)

Since you asked, here is the beginning of my morning(s): Barb wakes up, feeling comfy and pain free. Barb knows if she moves that will change. Instantly. Barb has to pee, so there's no option but to move. Barb begins to skootch to the side of the bed in a weird, sideways humping motion, groaning in a non-pleasurable way with each hump. Once to the side of the bed Barb, wincing, pushes herself to a half seated position. Whispers, "Motherfuck." And waits for the lower back spasm to subside a little. Once this happens, Barb pushes to a fully seated position, wincing, repeating epithet, and waiting.

Barb then knows it's time to stand and that it is going to be an unholy event. Gingerly, she puts a little pressure on her right (good) leg. She whispers, "Mother fuck you fucking whores." She puts a little pressure on the other leg and says, "Mother fuck your fucking fathers you fucking whores." She then manages to stand in what might normally be seen as a Please-Fuck-My-Ass way. Not at all the case this time.

She puts her hand on the wall for some support and pulls to a fully standing position, at which point all the cursing devolves into, "oh fuckfuckfuckfuck." She stands for a minute until the worst of the screaming spasms go away.

She then limps one tiny inch at a time toward the bathroom that is (a profoundly distant) 10 feet away. Two minutes later she is finally standing in front of the toilet, realizing that she will have to somehow sit down (damn her lack of penis anyway). She begins laughing hysterically through the grimace and the tears of pain. She lowers herself cautiously and pees as the spasms rework themselves.

She sits for 4 minutes after she's done thinking, "No fucking way in anyone's fucking hell am I going to try to fucking stand fucking UP again!" She starts to laugh hysterically again.

Finally, she stands, repeating much of the process (and cursing) that it took to get out of bed. Fifteen minutes later, she has managed to get her bathrobe wrapped around her and has made it downstairs to the kitchen. She leans against the counter in relief. Her back spasms again at the difference in position. She calls all the coffee mugs motherfuckers, grabs her favorite and pours some bean.

She takes a handful of Aleve with a sip of coffee. She shuffles the remaining 8 feet to the back door, mug o' bean in hand, goes outside on the deck, groans her way into a chair and thinks, "I did it. Yay. See? That wasn't so bad."

An hour later the Aleve has kicked in and she can actually (most of the time) stand up and go to the bathroom without insulting anyone's mothers or the fine art of fucking.

This sucks, but I will live. The hardest part is forgiving myself my body's rebellion. And I still have my sense of humor.


Finally, S is for Steve, the most amazing, loving, wonderful individual ever to grace my life. I love him to the breadth and depth of my Soul. Brandi Carlile's song The Story perfectly captures how I feel about him and who he is in my life.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

R is for Renaissance Ranch

renaissance: -noun; the activity, spirit, or time of great revival in art, literature, and learning
synonyms - resurgence, reawakening, revival, rebirth

My best pal Laura once called me a renaissance woman. I've always hoped that it meant she thought I was well rounded and not... well... round.

Back in the day when we were both sans meaningful relationships, we had this half-assed funny (but a tiny bit serious) dream of opening a place called The Renaissance Ranch. It would be a place where we could sell good bean, perfectly brewed tea, delectable pastries, artwork, and... um... exercise our right to our naturally occurring, oh so warm and generous libidinous propensities and mad skills at tassel twirling. Ahem.

Now that we are both in wonderful, loving, solid relationships (ironically, both with amazing guys named Steve), that last part, at least, is a dream as faded as the odor of yesterday's flatulence.

But I keep coming back to the rest of the idea for The Renaissance Ranch. I have this vague, kind of pleasantly nagging thought at the back of my head that it would be great fun to open a place that encompasses everything I love and love doing (I reiterate, sans sex). It's actually a lot like my "real" life - I brew good bean, bake, and make and sell art. So, it's not such a stretch to have such a dream. (Any wealthy readers out there?)

What I've always found amusing and interesting is that Laura saw the renaissance revival in me long before I did. Long before. In fact, when she first referred to me as a renaissance woman, I thought it was just some weird form of sycophantic ass kissing. Granted, she will be the first to admit to being my sycophant bitch, but I think what she was really trying to do was to make me aware of my own gifts. That's a friend. That's a true friend. In truth, I only take such assertive praise from her because she's got some fine talents of her own.

When someone I admire admires me, I tend to pay attention. Even if I don't quite get it (at the time), I pay attention.

Over the years (years?! try decades) since she first said that, I've slowly grown into my renaissance skin. I've begun to understand about myself that when I have a creative idea, I can usually do it. Even more, I've realized that I have a need to apply and manipulate the idea. I know that if I at least try, I'm happier than I would have been just letting the idea fester, rot and slough away.

I now embrace my inner rebellion. I cheer the revival and reawakening of my own personal renaissance. Bring it! I have realized that I can't go a day without creating something, no matter what the venue is. And I think that is the true definition of what renaissance is - the need to create, thereby renewing oneself each day.

Now... where did I put that spare ranch....

It will have to be a largish compound with several varying kinds of art studios, lounging lagoons, meditation stations, and of course, an ever-flowing spigot of good bean. Come all ye renaissancers, come to the ranch... you know who you are.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Q is for Quixotic Quality

quixotic: –adjective;
1. impulsive and often rashly unpredictable
2. extravagantly chivalrous or romantic; visionary, impractical, or impracticable.
3. resembling or befitting Don Quixote.
Synonyms: idealistic, chimerical, chivalrous, dreaming, dreamy, foolish, impetuous, impractical, impulsive, romantic, starry-eyed, unrealistic

Dear Dictionary,

You define one of the most fabulous words in the English language like it's a bad thing. You make it sound as though emulating Cervantes' Don Quixote is the worst that could happen to a person. According to you, to take charge of one's own destiny and run full force at what we believe in is folly and silly.

Granted, Quixote was a bit overly zealous and not just a little irresponsible, but sometimes we need to run headlong at a problem before we figure out it's only a windmill. And, okay, yes, on a regular basis he set up his good pal, Sancho to take the fall. But, what are friends for? And Sancho never said, "Yo, dude. Enough. You really need to get laid." No, Sancho was in it for the sake of adventure. In fact, after Quixote returned home, caved to the depressive side of his mania and took a good long nap, he regained his sanity and gave up his knight-errant ways. But... Sancho tried to talk him into it all over again!

So, who's the crazy one really... huh?

Is it right to dis a guy because he ran to the aid of damsels in distress? Yeah, I know... most of them weren't really in distress, but the guy was desperate to do right by them. The world could use more characters who are desperate to do right. For example, just yesterday I was limping back from the mailbox with a very heavy parcel. A salesman was canvassing the neighborhood trying to sell vitamin supplements. He walked right up to me. Did he ask if he could help carry the parcel? No! Instead he stood in my way and asked me if I wanted to buy his "health products." I could have used some damned chivalry!

Do you think that you, Dictionary, would have come into existence without the help of some idealists and dreamers? You didn't just magically appear. Some folks sat around, slurping mead and talking about words and meanings and all that delicious syntax, rhetoric and power, and one of them said, "Y'know what I wish? I wish there was a book with all the words in the world. Something we could reference whenever we need to." Another guy at the table said, "Lofty dream that." Yet another chimed in, "Now wait a second. It would be difficult, but not impossible. We can do that!"

I hereby request that you no longer snub your nose at the quixotic among us. We may be misguided at times, but we are sincere and our hearts are in it. We may be dreamers, but our dreams take us places and we get things done. We may be impetuous, but not everything in life requires a series of checks and balances - some stuff you've just gotta let fly. We might romanticize the day, but we stop and sniff the posies. So, give us a break, huh?

We're quixotic, but we're quality folks.

Thank you, that is all.

Best regards,

Barb Black

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

P is for Prism

Hah! Fooled you. You probably thought I was going to pick "passion" for my "P" word. Nope. I sha'n't be constrained! However, now that you've brought it up. Passion... get some! It's good for the soul.

Today's word is prism.

prism: -noun;
1. A solid figure whose bases or ends have the same size and shape and are parallel to one another, and each of whose sides is a parallelogram
2. A transparent body of this form, often of glass and usually with triangular ends, used for separating white light passed through it into a spectrum or for reflecting beams of light

We are all prisms. We absorb light, bend it, and cast it out again in myriad colors. This is what I was thinking yesterday as I watched the sun shining (brief, but glorious) through a crystal prism that dangles in my window. I watched it cast beams and spots of color into the room and thought about how we do that with each other. We bring light and color. If we're doing it right, we bring light and color.

I then posted a thing on Facebook asking what crayon color the person my friends love most brings to their lives. It was interesting to see responses, and knowing some of my friends as well as I do, guessing who it was they were "coloring." It was my intention to carry that into my post here. My friend and fellow blogger, Steph picked up on my vibes, beat me to the punch, and wrote her own bloggage about it (here).

Someone asked me what color Steve is for me. His light reflects so much in my life. I was tempted to say that he's a rainbow of color, and he is, but when I closed my eyes and really thought about it, the color that kept flashing behind my eyelids was candy apple red.

It's interesting... I chose... no, I didn't choose that color for him, it just revealed itself to me. So, okay. I saw that color for him and then I looked it up on the chakra color chart. I find it very telling that the qualities of a red chakra personality are: Courageous, self aware, pioneering spirit, leadership qualities, strong willed, confident, domineering, energetic, determined, spontaneous. Those are all words I would list for Steve.

On a personal level, I love that blue-note color of red. It's so rich, so inviting. For me it evokes passion. So, it was no really surprise to me that it's what I associate with Steve.

There was a time when I thought my own color was periwinkle. That's changed in the past couple of years. When I'm deep inside my mind where the colors swirl, the color that is most prevalent is indigo. It shows up a lot in my artwork as well. I believe it is my dominant color (because really, we all have more than one).

Again I wandered over to the chakra color charts to see what indigo relates to. At the risk of sounding ostentatious, it's pretty much a dead on description of me: highly intuitive, separateness, faithful, sense of unity, fearless, devotion to duty, articulate, practical idealists. Indigo relates to responsibility, to being responsible for one's own life; to following the soul's path and needs and trusting intuition.

I am so indigo.

Do I have a point to this post? A moral to the story, as it were? Not really. I just find it interesting.

But, you could ask yourself what color the love(s) of your life represent to you. You could ask yourself what color you think your inner prism reflects out into the world. You could do a little research on chakras and find out how and where to get some balance in your life.

Chakras aren't as woo-woo as it sounds like. It's all about color. Color is simply light as experienced through different wavelengths and frequencies. Light is just a form of energy that we can actually see. We are surrounded by electromagnetic waves of energy of which color is just a small part.

Monday, April 18, 2011

O is for Opportunity & Optimism

Maybe hope is the thing with feathers (nod to Emily Dickinson), but optimism wears big yellow steel-toed construction boots.

A little over two years ago the corporate world decided to send me packing. I was distraught. My entire life had been built on 40 hour (plus some) a week jobs. I dropped an email to my brother, lamenting my woes, fears and feelings of failure. He wrote back, simply saying, "Terrific! Another opportunity for you to prove how awesome you are!" I know he was being only partly facetious, but I still flipped the bird at the computer screen when I read his response. Yeah, easy for you to say, Mister Cushy&Secure!

Thing is, he built his business - in an industry he's loved since he was a kid - from the ground up, while raising two young children. He's worked very hard, long hours making his version of the American Dream come true. He's a good man and deserves all of the wonderful things in his life. So, I really only flipped him the bird because he's my brother, and hey... that's what big sisters do (when Mom's not looking).

Not being one to completely shun anybody's words, especially when I admire them and value their input in my life, I kept going back to his email. I kept re-reading that line, "Terrific! Another opportunity for you to prove how awesome you are!" I twisted it and turned it in my hands, viewing it from different angles until I saw it...

...are you ready? Yeah. Maybe you're not as slow on the uptake as I was.

I wasn't a failure for losing a job. It was circumstances that had failed me. I was still the same capable person I've always been.

"Opportunity is not a lengthy visitor."
~Stephen Sondheim, Into the Woods

Baby brother was right. I had an opportunity on my hands. I could ignore it and let it drown in a sea of apathy (argh! ptooey!), or I could nurture it and let it thrive on optimism.

You know me. I chose optimism. And I looked at the complete length and breadth of the opportunity before me. I could dig through a spiralling economy for another 40 hour a week job, or I could take a shot at doing something I really loved... art.

Optimism won't go anywhere without a little tending. It requires a little sweat and sacrifice - otherwise it's just a feel-good waste of time. I sold off things that I could sell. I made do with very little. I had no idea where or how or when or what, I just knew I had to try for something different.

It was scary, but it was good scary.

It didn't come in a neat little line of well ordered ducks. Stuff in my life rarely does. Stuff in my life likes to go ninja on my ass - yes, even the good stuff.

I had opened the door to Opportunity and Optimism. Surprise, surprise, other opportunities wandered through that open door.

Because, months later, just when I was about to give it up (purely for monetary purposes), Steve walked through my door. Barely a week into our relationship, he was already talking (unprompted by me) about moving me into his place, and where we'd put my art stuff, and ... well, geez... just being so loving and supportive that he was pretty damned hard to resist. (He still is... all of that! And then some.)

Out of that came other opportunities, which of course, only birth other opportunities, and so on. So, yes, I'm an optimist, and maybe a cockeyed one at that...

...but mix it with a little opportunity, and I manage to get things done.

Saturday, April 16, 2011

N is for Nostalgia

nostalgia: -noun
1. a wistful desire to return in thought or in fact to a former time in one's life, to one's home or homeland, or to one's family and friends
2. a sentimental yearning for the happiness of a former place or time

When I think nostalgic thoughts, my olfactory senses are stirred. Thoughts of times past nearly always come with ghost scents. Not long ago my friend Steph at Strange Days Indeed (here) wrote about Yankee Candles, and how nice it would be if we could get them made in personalized scents to remind us of our favorite things. If that could be done, I'd have my own line of nostalgia candles. I mean really, if I want the house to smell like pumpkin pie, I'll bake a freakin' pumpkin pie! Give me a scent that really means something.

So, I've come up with my own list of Why-Don't-They-Make-One-That-Smells-Like-That candles as well as monikers for said fragrances:

Skater's Waltz - the scent of those crisp Winter days spent ice skating in our backyard when I was a kid.

Dad's World - the scent of my father... a combination of Right Guard deodorant, cigarettes, oil paint, and linseed oil.

Sultry - the scent of a muggy Summer night as sniffed through a dusty metal window screen just as the rain begins.

Easter Sunday - that weird churchy mix of incense, old hymnals, starch, hair spray, and patent leather.

Grandma's Kitchen - the intoxicatingly mixed smells of rendered pork fat, fried chicken, paprika, onions, cucumber, sour cream, lemon, walnuts, and sugary baked goods.

Mackinaw Morning - the fresh scent of the lake blowing in through the curtains, carrying with it the faint smell of freshly made fudge (this one would be accompanied by a cd of gulls kee-ahh-ing, waves lapping the docks, and the clippity-clop of horses' hooves on cobblestones).

Boardwalkin' - the smell of salt-air and seaweed mingled with fried foods, cotton candy, and taffy.

Northwest Woods - the scent of slowly rotting leaves after a heavy rainfall, evergreens, and the vague, nearly ethereal hint of wood smoke.

Old Books - need I say more? Aged parchment, leather, must... heavenly.

Woolgathering - there's that old afghan that Grandma crocheted, the favorite one in which to curl up. It's been sitting on the sofa forever, gathering all the household scents (cooking, cleaning, people, fresh air through the windows), in the lap is an oft-read, well used book (I'm thinking Little Women), or a journal and pen, and nearby is a steaming up of coffee. Of course, I really don't need a candle that smells like that... but it would be nice for those days when I want to snuggle into the blankie with a book and some bean, but don't have the time to.

What are the fragrances of your Nostalgia Candles?

Friday, April 15, 2011

M is for Mourning

Mourning is an icky word. People don't like to talk about it. We'll discuss intimate sexual details with each other before we'll share the emotional soup that comes from mourning.

I know this to be true. First hand.

We're not taught how to deal with another person's mourning, much less how to experience it ourselves. Ironic, since loss is inevitable for all of us.

Losses, before we can "get over" them or get beyond them, must be mourned. Mourning is the step that allows us to acknowledge that something monumental has just happened - a rug has been pulled out from under our feet.

Yet, no one tells us:
--Mourning will be painful. Physically painful.
--You will want to cry, but you may not be able to. When it really hits you, it might just be at a most inappropriate, inconvenient time.
--You might also want to laugh. Expect to feel guilt every time you laugh while you're mourning, because because there's no possible reason for you to find humor in anything when the entire world has just crumbled around you.
--You will feel hollowed out. Literally. Hollow. As if someone has scooped out everything in your torso with a giant melon-baller. It will amaze you that your lungs are still managing to take in air.
--You will want to sleep when you should be awake and you'll be wide awake when you should be sleeping.
--You will want someone to listen. And you won't be able get the words to come out when and if they do.
--You will simultaneously want to be held and left alone.
--Nothing will taste good.
--People won't know how to act around you. They won't be real. They will treat you as if you're fragile. You are, but you don't need to be treated that way.
--People will ask you how you are doing. This is rhetorical. They mostly want to hear, "I'm okay... hanging in there." They don't want to hear, "Well, yesterday I cried for 45 minutes because the coffee filter collapsed and grounds got into the pot of coffee. And I also spent an hour totally pissed off and yelling at the walls. I stood in the shower without soaping myself until the water got cold because... well... I just forgot."
--The first flower arrangement you receive will be touching. By the time you receive the 4th one, you'll just find it annoying.
--There will be a lot of anger in your sorrow. A lot. Anger at that person for leaving. Anger at the world for not understanding. Anger at the grocery store cashier for not having a clue that you're going through the impossible as she smiles and chirps, "Have a nice day!"
--You'll want to spit at people who say, "I know how you feel." Instead you'll just smile weakly.
--Losing one person doesn't make losing a second person, or a third, or a fourth any easier. Each loss hurts on its own terms.
--This one is important. No feeling is wrong. Loss is horrible and hard and... maddening. Yes, maddening, because just when you think you've got a grip on it, just when you think you've got the dam fixed, something triggers a whole new flood.
--Let yourself feel whatever you need to feel. You're not crazy. You're human, and you are allowed your emotions. Try to let them out in some tangible way. Even if all you do is fill a piece of scrap paper with the sentence, "This fucking sucks!"
--Don't make any big decisions for a year. Even if you think you're ready. Let the whole year go by.
--Be gentle with yourself. Please. Broken hearts need time to heal just like broken limbs do.

No one tells us these things. We flounder our way through mourning, wondering if we've gone off the deep end. We haven't. We're just hurt. We have a great big gaping chest wound and it's going to take some time to get better.


Can't we just start talking about it?

I started writing this blog in 2007 as a place to dump off my feelings after I lost my mate, John, to cancer. It was my outlet for mourning, for the deep loss that I felt. I couldn't have made a better decision. I never thought it (the blog) would become the thing it is today. I never thought anyone but for a few close friends might want to read it. I've been told that I'm courageous, brave, bold in sharing so much of myself. Maybe that's true, but it doesn't feel, and has never felt that way to me.

I'm just an intellect trying to rationalize my way through it all by talking about it.

I'm just a fucked up soul, crying in the dark when no one can hear.

I'm just like everyone else.

I mourn.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

L is for Love & Laundry List

As cheesy and trite as the word love has become, I would be remiss if I didn't use it as my "L" word. I would be untrue to myself.

Because the Beatles had it wrong. Love isn't all you need. Love is all there is.

When it all comes down, love is all there is. Love is the macrocosm in our microcosm. The lineage of every other emotion we feel can be traced back to love.

I've held hands with dying people, people who were shells of what they once were, people who barely had the energy left to breathe. Yet, somehow they summoned the strength to say, "Tell them that I love them." At the end of their lives, that was the only thing that was important enough to relay. Love.

If we'd take time and pay attention to the love in our lives, love of friends, family, self, I think we'd be a lot more measured in our reactions to things.

To love another - and I mean unconditionally so - to give love to another opens not just doors for us, but worlds. There is a universe of possibility in love. Because, whether or not our love changes the other person, it changes us. It rewires us.

When was the last time you really expressed your love for someone? I don't mean a quick peck and a hug and a hurried, "I love you." When was the last time you looked someone in the eyes - friend, family, lover, stranger - and with every ounce of your being said, "I love you." There is such huge power in that. Dizzying power. Try it.

Oh, wait! First go look in the mirror and say it to yourself.

Okay, but really? "L" words are some of my favorites - some of the juiciest to chew on. So here is my Laundry List of "L" words:

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

K is for Kitsch

Kitsch was the first word that came to my mind when I thought about "k" words. It was closely followed by kitchen, but I like to rock the lesser kasbahs. defines it like so:
kitsch: –noun, something of tawdry design, appearance, or content created to appeal to popular or undiscriminating taste. has this to say:
Kitsch... is a form of art that is considered an inferior, tasteless copy of an extant style of art or a worthless imitation of art of recognized value ... Kitsch also refers to the types of art that are aesthetically deficient (whether or not being sentimental, glamorous, theatrical, or creative) and that make creative gestures which merely imitate the superficial appearances of art through repeated conventions and formulae. Excessive sentimentality often is associated with the term.

Kitsch. We all have kitsch. I'll wager my treasured green-glazed clay pig (dubbed Quinn the Mighty Pig - Quinn being the last name of the girl who made him for me)... yes, I will wager Quinn the Mighty Pig that even Donald Trump and the Royals have kitsch tucked about their various mansions.

When I looked up the definitions, I all but hollered, "Now wait just a damned minute!" I've got a good eye for art, but I also have a good heart for kitsch. You know... that stuff you dust off every now and then, chuckle as you do, and think, "Why the hell is this so dear to me?" Maybe it's a trinket that reminds you of your favorite vacation. Maybe, like my green pig, it's a memento from an old friend that you lost touch with 35 years ago. Sure, it's not a Lladró figurine or a Fabergé egg, but does that mean it's any less appreciated?

Why does calling something kitsch have to sound like ridicule? There's really no other adequate word for it... tchotchke? trinket? bauble? Those words don't really encompass our collections of so-called meaningless art.

My beloved Quinn is not "aesthetically deficient" - he's got real character. Would anyone else think so? Maybe not. But isn't that what all art is about? There are works by every artist that I find pedestrian and jejune. There are some works by Fabergé that I find so gaudy that I wonder which Vegas casino regurgitated them. I'll take Quinn over that any time.

But, I love the word kitsch. And I love my wee collection of kitsch... a dancing Hungarian girl, a little wooden cat, Quinn, a miniature porcelain piano... stuff that means nothing to anyone but me.

Kitsch... Art... Kitsch... Art... Kitsch... Art...

Kitsch: salt and pepper shakers in the image of Campbell's Soup cans.
Art: a silkscreened picture of a Campbell's Soup can.


Kitsch me if you can... I'll be in the kitchen making soup.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

J is for Juxtapose

juxtapose: -verb, to place close together or side by side, especially for comparison or contrast

Juxtapose is one of my very favorite words in the English language. I love the way it feels. I love the way it almost sounds like "Just suppose." I am constantly juxtaposing events in my life, the good side by side with the bad. Without those comparisons, there's no sense of reason. I need to see the I-went-through-that-to-get-to-this balance.

Also, it works so well with my artistic sensibilities. Just suppose the sky was filled with fish. Suddenly I'm forced to create work that shows fish juxtaposed against the clouds. I look at the brilliant colors of a sunflower and think, that's what it feels like to stretch out naked on the bed and know that I'm loved. Next thing I know I'm painting a sunflower with a nude woman juxtaposed across the center of it. Art juxtaposes, rather than imitates, life.

Everything I am is about juxtaposition - one thing against the other, two sides of the same coin, night and day in the same sky.

So, I've decided to rerun a poem that I wrote. It's one of my favorites (if'n I do say so myself), because it so neatly packages some huge emotion. It is the juxtaposition in my life of meeting Steve after watching John die.

The Juxtaposition of a Mending Heart Against a Sadder Time

if anyone were to ask
was there a time
when the black umbrellas
and the reign ended;
the crows again flew, stark
against the Summer sun;
the scent of roses threw
their stain along the tendrils
of the wind;
and the quiet of a day
no longer stretched itself,
yawning like a wound -
if anyone were to ask
when was the moment
that gave beat to the measure;
what drove
the cloud from the lining;
which dog ate the marrow,
warm and quivering, from
the heart of the bone;
how gracefully the slumbering giant
rolled away from the dew
of morning -
if anyone were to ask
what changed it all
my response would be:
it happened as he
listened to the unspoken;
honored an unshed tear;
gave loft to the gauze
of an airless dream;
held an empty hand until
it grasped everything -
if anyone were to ask
I’d have to say
these things became
as effortlessly
and unremarked
as the wink of an eye
that is
the color of the Aegean Sea

Monday, April 11, 2011

I is for Inspire

inspire: -verb,
1. to fill with an animating, quickening, or exalting influence,
2. to produce or arouse a feeling, thought, or action,
3. to give rise to, bring about, cause, etc.

The question I get asked most, whether it's about cards, or art, or writing, or music, or cooking, is, "What inspires you?" Of course, given the crowd I generally hang out with, it comes out as, "Where do you come up with this shit?"

Anywhere. Everywhere. All the time. Lack of inspiration is something I rarely ever experience, and when I do, it's very short-lived. Truly, there is so much that surrounds me, from the natural beauty of where I live, to the people in my life, to objects, to dreams, that I'd have to be brain dead to ignore it.

I used to think I was crazy for having so many ideas in my head. Literally. Crazy. As in Insane. Only I didn't feel insane, I felt "normal." I was just on the wrong planet, is all. Back then the question (What inspires you?) was usually met with me shrugging, glancing sideways, and muttering, "I don't know. It's just there."

Looking back, I know how it all originated. My childhood was a little on the rough side. My only means of escape was to daydream, to pretend things, to make them up. As I grew up, it just became a standard - more than a coping mechanism, it was the only way I knew how to exist. I had to get the hidden stuff out in the light somehow, and the easiest way was to turn it into something else. Put the devils in disguise.

So, I'm not an alien, and I'm not so very different from anyone else. I just know how to tune into myself and pay attention to what's going on around me all at the same time. It happened by accident, much like a person learns to fish when stranded on a deserted island.

Still, I'm skirting around "What inspires you?" Because I'm trying to tell you that anyone can be inspired. All you have to do is look around you. Be aware. Make comparisons. I challenge you, go look at a tree for five minutes and then start a sentence with, "That reminds me of..." Really, it's that simple.

It doesn't matter what you do with inspiration, as long as you do something, even if it's as simple as writing it down in a journal, even if you're the only one who's going to see it.

What inspires me? Doing things. Because as I'm working on stuff, my head fills with 20 other projects.

Inspiration. Get some. The possibilities are endless.

Saturday, April 9, 2011

H is for Hello, Heritage, & Hungarians

Hello, is it me you're looking for?
~Lionel Richie, Hello

I've been enjoying watching NBC's Who Do You Think You Are? on Friday night. The premise of the show is that, through the help of, various celebrities discover their ancestors and what might have happened in the lives of their ancestors. Having so many unknowns in my own heritage, and yet appreciating what I do know and the amazing people that I come from, I love seeing others discover that side of themselves. Plus, "real" history always gets me excited.

A couple of weeks ago I watched as Lionel Richie traced his lineage. It was touching to see him discover the threads that lead to who he was to become, to who he is.

I am standing on the shoulders of these people who will not take defeat.
~Lionel Richie, on TV's Who Do You Think You Are?

I could very much relate to his statement.

Half of my heritage is Hungarian. While I don't know much about my ancestry beyond my mother's parents, I do know that my grandparents were strong people. They were people who took against-the-odds kinds of risks.

Grandma came to this country when she was in her early 20's. What she came with can be counted on 6 fingers. She had an enameled steel mug, a knife, a fork, my Great Grandmother's blue velvet babushka, and a change of clothes, and ten dollars. She had, at best, a third grade education and no knowledge of the English language. But she had a dream and a belief in something better, so she walked away from the life she knew in order to follow that. And let's face it, even if it's a lousy life it can have a profound sense of security and comfort. We humans tend to stick with what we know.

Grandpa came to this country somewhere around the same time for completely different reasons. He was running. He wanted communism in Hungary at a time when there was huge opposition to it. I don't know much of his story, but he must have been fairly high up in the movement because there was a price on his head. So, he fled, leaving behind a four year old son (my mother's half brother, Rudi) and a wife (who died not long after). He never saw his son again. He took on a new identity - there is some lore that he stole the identity from a dead soldier - made his way into Austria, then Canada, then to the States. From all accounts, he never really embraced the USA, probably because he resented the fact that he was stuck here or had to be here at all.

My grandparent's marriage wasn't a match made in heaven. They had little in common save their mother country. As loving and warm as my Grandmother was, my Grandfather was the cold, austere antithesis of her. Still, they came together, and because of that, here I am.

I am standing on the shoulders of greatness, of people who took big chances, of people who weren't willing to settle without question for what someone told them, of people who did whatever it took to find better.

I owe them not only my life, but what I do with my life. I owe it to them to make big moves. I owe it to them to live my own dreams...

... because I am their dream made manifest.

Friday, April 8, 2011

G is for Gallimaufry

gallimaufry: -noun
1. a hodgepodge; jumble; confused medley
2. a ragout or stew

I couldn't approach "G" without using the word gallimaufry. It's one of my favorite words. I like using words that don't get hauled out in the sunlight anywhere near as often as they should. I've sent it flying before in an old blog post, which I urge you to read (here-->>> Any Taters In That Gallimaufry?).

As I was considering the word and what to write about it, what came to mind was a group of online friends that I hang with. It's a rather secret group - we've carved out a little cave in the murky heart of facebook. The group consists of just a few of us. The rules are that there are no rules. We get to share whatever we want to and say it however we want to with impunity. There is never any judgment.

Topics can range from apples to strap-ons, mourning to fucking, family issues, bodily issues (from boogers to erectile dysfunction), philosophy, the existence or non-existence of god, dating, cheese doodles, gay Asians, etc., More often than not, this all gets discussed in the same post. It all goes around and comes around, an unending tilt-a-whirl of passionate discussion, crude jokes, and love. Always love.

The thing is, we are a merry band of rebels. We love each other and we're there for each other... through tears and laughter and back around again. We're all different, different walks of life and backgrounds, some of us are related, some of us are long time friends, some of us have never met in "real life," but we share a commonality of needing to say anything on our minds without fear of judgment.

We are a gallimaufry, a hodgepodge of people and lives. We are a fine stew.

I don't know if you've ever had any real, curl your toes stew. I promise, it doesn't come out of a can or a microwave box. I'm talking about the kind of stew your grandma's grandma made. I'm talking about the kind where the cook has taken the time to dredge some sinewy, tough meat in flour, salt and pepper, and slowly browned it, leaving bits of luscious, meat-flavored flour in the bottom of the pan, only to be lifted and infused by the addition of chopped onion, garlic and celery, a hearty splash of good wine and water. The stew then simmers on very low heat for a good couple of hours, graced by a floating bouquet garni of rosemary, peppercorns and bay leaf. The sinew is rendered down, and the meat has become as tender as a first kiss. But, it's not ready yet. It requires the addition of carrots and potatoes and another good 45 minutes of slow cooking.

Heady stuff, that.

It's served up to you in a big bowl with some good crusty bread. The fragrant steam caresses your olfactory senses like a lover's perfume. You dip a spoon in - and it's a big table spoon, because a little spoon would never do - trying to get a bit of meat, carrot and potato all at once. Lift to the mouth, and then, and then, oh... and then. It's like coming home. Your tongue and mouth are hit by the feel of it. Your palate explodes with overwhelming sensation. You can taste each distinct flavor, that piquant hint of wine, the deep dark meat and broth, the savory onion and garlic and spices, the sweet carrot and earthy potato - all of it coming together in one huge sigh-inducing melange of wonderful.

And that's who we are, this group of friends I speak of. We are that gallimaufry, each a little bit different, each bringing our own flavor and contribution to something blow-your-hair-back beautiful.

Not a day goes by that I don't crave that friendship. I hunger for it, just as I hunger for that stew.

Thursday, April 7, 2011

F is for First Things First, and Frost

First Things First...
Today is the birthday of my beloved Steve. I am shouting out to him even though he never reads my blog. Blog reading is just not his thing. But, you never know... there's always a first time waiting in the wings. So, Happy Birthday to the baddest Bad Man I know!

It is also the birthday of my eldest nanny kid, Jonathan. Jonathan does occasionally read my blog, so, Happy Birthday to you, Dondin! It seems impossible that it was 24 years ago that we met - what a fascinating thing to watch you grow from the six year old boy I once walked to the bus stop. We've both lived an entire lifetime or two (or three) since then.

Frost... Robert Frost, that is. He's my second favorite poet - Sandburg being my favorite. He had that keen ability (that I so desire as a writer) that made his poems accessible enough for anyone to read, and yet deep enough for any intellect. His work is timeless, spanning all ages and generations, and encompassing all walks of life. Most people are familiar with his poems The Road Not Taken and Stopping By Woods on a Snowy Evening.

I'm choosing to share here one of my favorite of Frost's poems, The Sound of the Trees. I know that sound well, that whispered promise of... more. I love what he says here, "I shall set forth for somewhere, I shall make the reckless choice..." Those words never fail to stir my gypsy heart. But, read it and make your own dance with it.

The Sound of the Trees

I wonder about the trees.
Why do we wish to bear
Forever the noise of these
More than another noise
So close to our dwelling place?
We suffer them by the day
Till we lose all measure of pace,
And fixity in our joys,
And acquire a listening air.
They are that that talks of going
But never gets away;
And that talks no less for knowing,
As it grows wiser and older,
That now it means to stay.
My feet tug at the floor
And my head sways to my shoulder
Sometimes when I watch trees sway,
From the window or the door.
I shall set forth for somewhere,
I shall make the reckless choice
Some day when they are in voice
And tossing so as to scare
The white clouds over them on.
I shall have less to say,
But I shall be gone.
~Robert Frost~

See you tomorrow, Dear Readers.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

E is for Emancipation

emancipation: -noun, the act of freeing or state of being freed; liberation

Stuck sucks. More often than not, the only thing keeping us stuck is ourselves.

I will use my former marriage as an example. For years, I felt that he was holding me back. I felt that I couldn't do things, accomplish things, because he was in the way. Then I began to grow despite him... but it was really in spite of myself and my self-imposed, self-perceived restrictions. It wasn't until I began to bloom that I realized that he barely entered into the equation, but that in truth, we really just didn't belong together.

So, I left the marriage. We didn't have assets or children, so it was a pretty simple process of signing papers and filing them with the court system. Even so, real freedom was a long time coming. It took a while for me to realize that a failed marriage didn't mean that I was a failure; losing love didn't make me unlovable; and, just because the damage was done, didn't mean I was damaged goods. I had to emancipate myself from my own mindset.

That was years ago. Way back in the 90's.

It's a lesson that stayed with me though. I have learned that, when I feel stuck, I need to ask myself, "Just what is holding you back?" I'm not any different from anyone else. My answers are standard... time, money, resources, blah blah blah, yadda yadda, etc. I'm an over-achiever and I can come up with more excuses than Carter's got little liver pills. However, once the excuses run dry, I can easily recognize the face in the mirror. There she is, Stuck Girl.

I used to have to drag her along, kicking and screaming and all kinds of obstreperous and reticent. Now I'm much more intuitive and adept. Now I only have to look her in the eye and say, "You know... you're allowed to be you. That is your greatest freedom. I hereby emancipate you from the stuck suck."

Last I checked, we all have the right and the ability to free ourselves. It begins within. After all, as the wise man (Confucius) once said, "Wherever you go, there you are." I ran all the way across the country only to discover that what I'd left behind was material things, all of my emotional baggage was still hanging around my neck like the proverbial albatross. Emancipation from that stuff took a couple of things, (1) recognition - hard to free yourself if you can't see what binds you, and (2) forgiveness - hard to free yourself if you're pissed off at yourself for getting stuck in the first place.

Y'know? You can't change a flat if you're busy kicking the tire... you'll never go anywhere.

Ahh, I'm a wealth of metaphors.

I had a friend who desperately wanted to start rubber stamping, but was reluctant. I asked what was stopping her. With a sigh she said, "My kids. I just have no time." I suggested starting a family craft hour a couple of times a week. Give the kids some rubber stamps to mess with too - kids usually love them, or give the kids some water colors or clay or whatever they want to get creative with. Kids need creative time, it's so lacking in their lives these days. She loved the idea and ended up emancipating her whole family. She got to make cards and her kids got to spend time with mom doing something fun. Everyone wins.

Emancipate yourself from whatever inside you is keeping you stuck. Everything else is just stuff and excuses. Free it up, shake it out, walk on.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

D is for Desire, Devotion, and Discipline

desire: -noun, a longing or craving, as for something that brings satisfaction or enjoyment; an expressed wish; request

devotion: -noun, profound dedication; earnest attachment to a cause, person, etc.; an assignment or appropriation to any purpose, cause, etc.

discipline: -noun, activity, exercise, or a regimen that develops or improves a skill; training

Those three words are benchmarks for any kind of accomplishment or success in life. They are what is necessary in any vocation, relationship, or personal goal to which we aspire.

Trick number one is knowing what we want. We might have an inkling, but how many of us have sat down, given it good long thought and pinpointed the things that we desire in our lives? How many of us have made a list? I'm guessing not many. Often I'll ask people, "What do you want? What is your desire in life?" There are a lot of lengthy pauses, and a lot of "I don't know for sure" responses.

Thing is, you can't chase a dream unless you know what it is. So, I encourage you to think about it. Make a list, and don't leave off anything that you might think is too little or too big, or too silly. Those three things don't apply. Put everything you desire on the list from a ready supply of chocolate to a new bicycle to your dream career to your dream mate to bungee jumping. It's all part of who you want to be and who you want to become.

Once you know what you want, what are you willing to devote to it? What's the extent of time, money, energy that you're willing to expend? There's a line from a wonderful book by Clarrisa Pinkola Estes, called Women Who Run with the Wolves, a line that I ask myself whenever I'm contemplating starting something new. That line is, "What could he take from me that I wouldn't freely give?" I simply substitute the "he" in that sentence with whatever I'm after. "What could a career in art take from me that I wouldn't freely give?" "What would planning a trip to Australia take from me that I wouldn't freely give?" See how it works?

Devotion itself is impassioned commitment. Commitment is when you tell someone you'll be at the meeting at 3 p.m. sharp. Devotion is when you tell someone you'll be there - always. Commitment to a cause is donating used clothing to hurricane victims. Devotion is taking everything you've got, leaving your current life, and helping hurricane victims rebuild their homes. There is nothing wrong with "mere" commitment. I'm simply pointing out that true devotion requires passion. It requires something feverish and raw and driving.

Now you know your desire, you know you're devoted to it, so what's next? Discipline. Passion is great, but passion without some kind of tether will just run all over the place. Don't get me wrong, it's great to go wild, but after a while a mindless chase will just leave you exhausted and pretty much nowhere. You need some kind of discipline to keep all the cogs clicking.

People think that my days are completely undisciplined, that I just kind of roll out of bed and do whatever I want to. That would drive me crazy. While I have a lot of flexibility in my day, I do have a standard that I hold myself too. I still wake up early, usually between 5 - 6 a.m. Once I'm beaned and awake, I check emails and do some social networking (that sounds so much better than "yakking with friends on facebook"), then I sit down to write my posts here. Then I tidy the house a bit. Then I spend the afternoon working on whatever art project(s) I need to get done. Even if I don't have any pressing projects, I still make myself busy in my art studio. I need to keep it fresh, keep it flowing. I do these things five days a week. Saturdays are for errands, Sundays are for relaxing. Unless I'm really inspired, I try not to do any writing or artwork on Sundays. It's good to have a day to just unwind and rebuild. Seven days a week of anything will become aggravating. Suffice it to say, there's method to my madness.

These things are principles everyone can use and build on. I am not unique. I'm not an expert. However, I'm often asked what works/worked for me, so there it is.

For those who don't know me, I'm not much on self-help types of books. So, me recommending any such thing is worth taking notice of. That being said, if you need a little more help getting started, I strongly urge you to check out my friend Paul Boynton's book, Begin with Yes!, available here. Through a simple conversation - a series of questions and suggestions - he will show you how, one baby step at a time, to take action and make your dreams and goals realities.

Another excellent book to read along these lines is by yet another friend of mine, Scott Trudo. The book is called Live Your Passion, and is available here. By the way, there's a short piece in Live Your Passion about... ta-DA! ... yours truly.

Desire. Devotion. Discipline.

Demand it from yourself.

Monday, April 4, 2011

C Is For Cripple

cripple: -noun,, a person or animal that is partially or totally unable to use one or more limbs; a lame or disabled person or animal; a person who is disabled or impaired in any way; anything that is impaired or flawed; -verb, to cause impairment or disability.

Today I am a cripple. I have been since Saturday. Something vile was rendered unto my sciatic nerve and I'm in a heap of ouch. Not only does my lower back feel like The Babe used me for batting practice, but there's this glorious mix of shooting pain and numbness that has taken over my left leg. Lying down is okay. Sitting up straight feels alright. It's standing and/or trying to stand that makes me say words my mother never wants to hear coming from my mouth. In fact, I'm pretty sure she'd like to think they aren't even part of my knowledge base. Fortunately, Mom lives 2800 miles from me.

Yes, I said I am a cripple. I'm sure the Politically Correct of my readers (and if you are PC, what the hell are you doing reading my blog?!) are flinching and thinking, "Oh, Barb... you shouldn't... you oughtn't... aye yi yi..." Well, get over it. I am.

When I looked up definitions for cripple, nearly all of them began with the caveat, "considered offensive." Really. We've wandered so far down the politically correct slippery slope that our dictionaries are now telling us what not to say in so-called polite company?

We really need to lighten up. And I say we, meaning as a collective, because pretty much nothing offends me. I'm irreverent - expect nothing more, accept nothing less. I'm not cruel, just irreverent. I mean, come on! Look at our bodies... they have tremendous healing power, but all in all, they are frail and faulty, and most of the bits look pretty damned hilarious. We were born to fall apart. Do we really need to be so rigid about our view of bodily failings? Have we evolved beyond humor? How sad.

It's no secret that my late mate, John was a paraplegic and confined to a wheelchair. What made him such a great man was that he had impressive humor when it came to his disability. He was one irreverent cripple, and he'd be the first to tell you so. In fact, in one of his first emails to me, he wrote, "You should know that I'm a wheelchair ridin' smart ass." Humor was a necessary functioning device for him. The ability to make fun of his body's failings was a requirement. And note that it was his body that failed, not the man himself, and it was his body that he made fun of.

Language and it's use is all about intent - syntax and rhetoric can only go so far. If someone like John could call himself a cripple, then who are the rest of us to shy from it? I once had John laughing until he couldn't breathe when he did something nice for me and I declared, "Mama! I love me a crippled man!" He and I both knew that his disability had nothing to do with anything where our relationship was concerned.

People used to call him a cripple, in a pejorative way, without saying a word. They would do it by crossing to the other side of the hall and all but hugging the wall when we went by... as if gunshot injuries are viral. What was cruel was when people, yes, politically correct people more often than not, would tiptoe around and treat him like less of a man for his lack of physical ability. His response to such situations was usually to throw some humor at it, unless the person was just being a total ass hat, in which case he'd simply say, "Get real."

Once, a friend of ours was visiting and somehow we got onto the subject of sleepwalking. The friend said, "I've been known to sleepwalk on occasion." I chimed in, "John does that!" Out of the corner of my eye, I saw John bite his lip to hold in a grin and some laughter. The friend said, "Wha... really?!" I said, "Oh, yeah... always freaks me out. I never know if I should wake him up or what..." And then the friend saw the glint in my eyes, shook his head with a chuckle, and said, "Oh, you rat fuckers..." I've never seen John laugh so hard.

When we had to fill out the form to get a "handicapped license" (and let me just interject here that I detest the word handicap, that generalization that says, "aww, poor you... here's a free pass... that'll make it better..."), there was no box to check that said paraplegic or any such thing. The best option was, "severely limited in ability to walk." So we checked that. Later I overheard John on the phone with his Mom. He said, "Guess what, Ma! I'm not a paraplegic any more. I'm only severely limited in my ability to walk!"

I could go on about the man. He was such an amazing example of attitude over ability. He still is. This is probably why I'm pushing myself to do laundry today, even though my back is crippled. He's a huge reason why I write even when it's emotionally painful to pick at some of the scars as I do.

I won't be crippled by anything in my life. I owe that much to him. After all, he wasn't. He was just a guy in a wheelchair.

Cripple isn't a noun or a verb, or even an offensive term. It's an attitude.

Get real.

Saturday, April 2, 2011

B is for Barbarian


Various people (myself included) have often referred to me as Barbarian. I like it. It's a great amalgamation of my first and middle (Ann) names. There was a time when I used it as part of my email address. Once, when I called myself that, someone asked me why I would refer to myself in such pejorative terms.

As defined by
barbarian: -noun; a person in a savage, primitive state; uncivilized person

I can understand why some would think I was being unkind to myself or self-deprecating. But I don't feel that's the case. I really do like the moniker.

My own mother would agree on certain principles. Hard as she tried, and much to her chagrin, she never could turn my sister and I into proper little ladies. I will never be at home and comfortable in a dress and heels. Ever. Jeans, sweats, and t-shirts are my standard garb. Anything else on me, although I do clean up well when I have to, just makes me feel pretentious.

But let's forget about appearances for a minute or three.

The Greeks originated the term barbarian. It was meant to refer to anyone who wasn't Greek, outsiders, social outcasts.

I've felt like an outsider all my life. I've never adhered to any definition of "normal." Proudly. I've never understood societal boundaries. I was well named. Barbara means "stranger."

I'm in touch with the savage, primitive state. I think that is part of any creative soul, part of anyone who has the ability to look at the clouds and see elephants cavorting with goldfish. Most definitely there is a sense of savageness in making art. There is a need to go to a darker instinct in order to translate the soul gunk into something tangible. At least there is for me.

I joke with people that I'm a direct descendant of Attila the Hun. Given my Hungarian heritage, that may or may not be true. I say it anyway, adding that I tend to storm the castle now and apologise later... if at all.

Uncivilized? Yes. While it isn't obvious to everyone upon meeting me, I tend to go against the grain of standard civility:
-I'm blunt in my opinions and I don't hold back when I need to express them. I'm pragmatic and unfluffy. I tend to not like what everyone else likes.
-I've never been a fan of Elvis Presley. I think his music is insincere. Right around the same time that Elvis was being lauded, there was a humble black man playing guitar and hopping across the stage and singing his heart out. His musical influence upon rockers for the past 60 years is tremendous. That man was Chuck Berry - he should have been crowned The King.
-While I'm very well read, I really think very little of Shakespeare. Sure, he came up with some great lines, and sure, you have to read his work with a nod toward the age in which it was written, but even so, it's all a bit overblown and fanciful.
-I'm not girly-girl. I don't do manicures or pedicures or hairstyles or make-up or endless clothes shopping. I'm the one picking my teeth while others talk of fashion.
-I'd rather sit by the river eating a cold take-out hamburger than sit in a restaurant amid 50 other patrons and have waitstaff stop by every five minutes to interrupt my contemplation or conversation just to ask if everything is okay and do I need anything else.
-Unlike most of my peers, I have absolutely no adoration or nostalgic yearning for the 80's - I don't like 80's music, 80's TV shows, 80's attitudes, and 80's hair and clothing styles make me want to regurgitate everything I've eaten since 1967.

Also, I'm an atheist. Never mind that I do have a solid code of ethics, non-atheists tend to see a declaration of atheism as spewed sewage from the mindset of someone who is savage and uncivilized.

You see? I am a Barbarian. And that's just fine with me. Keep your clean white togas and ordered society. I'll be over here in my sweats, painting and getting hopped up on caffeine.

Friday, April 1, 2011

A is for Alexie, Art, Arbitrary Ambiguity, and Absolutes

I draw because words are too unpredictable.
I draw because words are too limited.
If you speak and write in English, or Spanish, or Chinese,
or any other language,
then only a certain percentage of human beings will get your meaning.
But when you draw a picture, everybody can understand it.
If I draw a cartoon of a flower,
then every man, woman, and child in the world can look at it
and say, "That's a flower."
So, I draw because I want to talk to the world.
~Sherman Alexie, The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian

That quote is in the first chapter of Alexie's book. I was hooked. Of course. It made such perfect sense. It explained everything I feel about making art. However, even though I make art to speak to people where my words fail me, I also like to add an element of what I call Arbitrary Ambiguity to my pieces.

arbitrary: -adjective; subject to individual will or judgment without restriction; contingent solely upon one's discretion
ambiguity: -noun; doubtfulness or uncertainty of meaning or intention

Translation: I like to throw a little confusion into the mix. I like to leave some things open to individual interpretation. It's what makes art fun and it allows me to keep my own secret language. Some things are meant to be whispered, not said aloud to a room full of people.

I once painted a picture that was basically just a collection of random images in my head. A friend wrote me two paragraphs on what it meant to her and how it spoke to her. I thought, "Huh, I just needed to paint some stuff. I didn't mean anything by it." Naturally, I wasn't so heartless as to say that to her. In fact, I was quite fascinated that the piece had said so much to her, and in truth could see where she was coming from.

I can't make art if I start thinking about how someone is going to view it and think about it. This is why it's such a nifty creative balance to writing. Writing is all about absolutes. Most of the time. Writing, at least for me, is all about wanting people to feel a certain way, wanting to shake up certain sensibilities.

Writing holds up a mirror. Art opens a window.

And I don't know anyone who doesn't like to look out a window...