Where Did All Of The Balance Beams Go?

I gaze down the length of the path before me, barely as wide as my foot. The amber-colored wood hewn from a majestic pine has a slight sheen to it, reflecting the gymnasium lights. I take my first steps with all of the grace of newborn giraffe testing its gangly limbs for the first time. With my second step, my arms start to flail and fear sets in. The drop is only 4 feet, but considering my slight eight year old frame, it might as well be a net-less plunge from a high-wire. I recover on my third step, my inner Nadia Comăneci rising to the surface. But I look toward my left on the fourth and go tumbling to the padded blue mat below.

No, I’m not some young Olympic hopeful, though I had admired their graceful exploits in Montreal. I’m just an average young kid in gym class, doing what all my classmates were instructed to do as well. Learning the balance beam. It’s remarkable and somewhat humorous to me that a scant few years later, the apparatus was deemed unsafe. Apparently lightly urethaned wood isn’t the safest surface to walk on, and suede-covered versions were now required. My elementary school ruled in favor of lower liability insurance rates and forgoing replacement costs and banned them altogether.

Never one to be daunted by what I deemed to be the irrational fears of grown-ups, I began a quest for other ways to practice. I’m a Gen X-er after all. We’re most easily recognized by our braggadocio filled memes about surviving a childhood drinking from hoses and riding our bikes without helmets. (It’s likely the head injuries incurred by not using safety equipment that makes us feel this is something in which to take pride.) So I continued my pursuit and found suitable replacements in felled logs and the metal beams still adorning the playground.

Through practice I got pretty good, if I say so myself. Once I found my center of gravity it became a breeze and I barely fell at all. When I did, I convinced myself that the scrapes and bruises were reminders to keep my focus at all times, and to keep my eyes facing forward at all times instead of looking downward or off to the sides.

Mastery created boredom and I began to try other activities. First ballet, then band, languages, and then boys soon followed. My gymnastic dreams were a distant memory now and my life in balance was now filled with pendulum swings. Not quite manic, but the ebbs and flows of joy and defeat that often accompany puberty and life in general.

It wasn’t until my late thirties that the concept of balance reentered my thoughts. Not in a physical sense, but a more behavorial and somewhat esoteric one. I was in the midst of a deep internal struggle between selflessness and selfishness. I had begun caring for an elderly family member. Running errands, doing chores, balancing checkbooks. All of the things that younger bodies and minds are more adept at than those that have been worn down and ravaged by time.

At first it was a symbiotic relationship, and I was getting a sense of usefulness in exchange for my labor. As time progressed, however, my labors were met with greater and greater dissatisfaction. If I spent three hours doing chores and visiting, I was chastised that it should have been four. If I made a cost-saving suggestion that would place the person in a better financial position, it was greeted with resentment and hostility. My sense of usefulness waned and it became drudgery and had morphed into the dark feeling of a parasitic relationship.

Friends and family on the outside looking in deemed me selfless; an angel. Their words did little to allay my growing displeasure. The stress of the situation wound up manifesting itself physically in the form of facial paralysis. My doctor recommended I avoid stress for a while and see if it didn’t improve. There it was…my out, and I pounced on it. I ceased responding to all requests and allowed other family members to take the reins for now. After all, it was their turn, right? I’d been doing it on my own for two years. Surely they could manage it with their combined forces.

As I lightened my load, the incidents of numbness decreased, and then fell away entirely. My doctor had been correct in his assumption, and that should have been answer enough. Then the rumblings began. My halo now had a black patina and was slipping. The kudos for the selfless angelic one fell away and were replaced by how selfish I had become. Only looking out for myself, with no regard for how stopping my aid affected others. I was blindsided.

I decided to pursue the concept of balance again, but what was the mid-point between selflessness and selfishness? Through trial and error and the same commitment to practice I put into learning physical balance, I discovered it. The answer was self-interest. The same mentality that you’ll hear when traveling on an airplane. Put your own oxygen mask on first before coming to the aid of those around you.

It applies just as much to my life today as it did years ago. As we face the pandemic we need to remember the balance between selflessness and selfishness. We can’t be reckless about our own health. We need to take proper precautions. To properly serve others we need to be strong. Neither though can we let our scales tip to the side of selfishness. Hoarding needed supplies or deciding we don’t feel like adhering to the guidelines may not put ourselves at risk, but it’s definitely gambling with the lives of others.

Had the balance beams not been chucked aside in our youth the idea of finding the center may have taken a more deeply rooted hold in our hearts. Then again, sometimes the memory of a fall is just what you need to be more cautious.

Stay strong, blessed, and healthy my friends. We shall rise again, and hopefully with better balance.

No Time For Scold Culture

As I continue to adjust to life in the time of COVID, concepts and ideas that had previously gone unnoticed in my world, now have ample time to take center stage. Our once busy lives filled with work and activities have slowed down for most of us to a snail’s pace. Island time has lost is crown as the most leisurely measure of moments, supplanted by Quarantine time and clock hands with barely perceptible movements.

It never takes much to send me off on some untrodden path of thought. Like Little Red Riding Hood, I’m so focused on the destination, that I don’t see the obstacles or impediments lurking around blind curves or sheltered from sight by soaring timbers. My thought basket was packed in this instance with goodies of gratitude and parcels of positivity. My journey’s course was set for a missive that would hopefully inspire and shine light in our overcast days of uncertainty.

Staying positive and keeping my blessings square in my sights has been a key component for me to remain in a mindset of faith vs. fear. I’ve been especially attuned to how our current situation has unified so many of us. Rich, poor, young, old; we are all in this together. Of course there are degrees of distinction between how deeply each are effected, but if you look at the panoramic view rather than the microscopic…the vista is very similar.

We’re not only finding a sense of unity, but we’re also becoming more connected than I can recall us being in the recent past. Young people phoning their older relatives to make sure their needs are met. Neighborhoods gathering at designated hours for social distancing compliant dance parties. Even entire communities applauding out their windows and doors for the essential workers keeping the world spinning.

The fact that we can create such heartfelt moments in times of tragedy is a testament to the resilience of the human spirit. When we work together towards a single purpose we all benefit and make this life something to behold. It’s been moving me to the point of tears regularly.

I’ve always tried to have a heart of gratitude, but the world can beat it down. Sadly, this time has been no different. While basking in the revelry of my fellow citizens of the Earth, a foul stench seeped in. The distinctive scent of arrogance and belittlement. My stomach churned instantly as if stumbling across some decomposing bit of rot while gleefully skipping through the woods.

It permeated my senses and distracted me from my goal. This lurking musk from the wolves of the world. Wolves in their animal form serve a much needed purpose in the circle of life. The lupine-like human versions walking upright, however, hold no noticeable benefit barring Lon Chaney movies or Warren Zevon songs.

Yet there they were, lying in wait, ready to pounce on contentment with a ravenous appetite. The scold culture. The nagging harpies of the world who are always dissatisfied and want your company in their misery. Always willing to divert their beady red eyes away from something that might make them feel grateful or blessed, and hone in instead on the things they can preach about.

The most disappointing fact is, if we allow them to, they can absolutely steal our shine. Coating our surfaces with their murky negativity so the light can neither penetrate, nor reflect and provide light for others. Such was the case for me recently and my charted path took a detour down a much darker bridleway.

At my age I really should know better. Things are never perfect where humanity is concerned. There will always be pitfalls and marshes making the trek more complicated. I allowed myself to get caught up in the why of it though. Why can’t people be grateful? Why is the negative such a draw for their thoughts? Why can they not understand that there are many roads to Rome and that not everyone has to do it exactly the way they do?

It was that last questions that brought me to my theory. The scolds can’t see beyond their own perspective. They don’t take the time to practice empathy, much less introspection. They are completely and thoroughly convinced that they have the only key to the chest of world knowledge and the rest of us are idiots for not following their lead. There is no room for anything out of lockstep adherence and if you dare buck that trend, you will be castigated, trolled, and placed in stocks in the town square for all of their hive-minded friends to toss tomatoes at.

Creativity cannot blossom in an environment like that. Neither can innovation nor growth. The monochromatic landscape of everyone only thinking like everyone else does would be as bland as a barren field in winter. I don’t want to bear witness to a world lacking in the vibrant color of a field of wildflowers. I want to celebrate the midtones and hues of each distinct variety. I want each bud and plant to line the edges of my walk through this life, be it through woods, valleys, or mountainous peaks.

Instead of falling prey to their ways, I should have practiced the preaching that I’ve always adhered to and that I’m wishing that they would as well. Stay the course. Be the light that others can reflect while at the same time reflecting the light of others. Color your world with as the as many choices from the super-sized Crayola boxes that you need to draw your own landscape. Join those shining beacons and colorful artworks together to cast out the negativity and greys to ensure the way is well lit and welcoming. Doing so will guarantee the basket of goodies reaches its destination with a beautiful view while traveling. Even though it seems we have all the time in the world at the moment there is still much good that can be done, so for me there’s never enough time for the distraction of scold culture.

Sorry, Celebs. It’s not you, it’s me.

I’ve been obsessed with Hollywood and celebrity culture since before I could read. I’m not sure that animated Disney characters are technically celebrities, but that’s where the love affair started. We had a small theater that we would drive to in a picturesque town about 20 minutes from our home. When the pastures and tall oaks began to be replaced by weeping cherry trees on manicured lawns with distinctive Tudor timber framed homes…I knew we were almost there.

Spring-action red velveteen seats were like mini-thrones to cozily bear witness to the wide screened spectacle. One shared small popcorn and lemonade were all we could afford, but it seemed like a bounty. Dancing concession treats and a shorter cartoon would usher us into the main event. I was entranced, always.

As I grew older, live action supplanted my love of animation. Seeing Kim Richards and Ike Eisenmann escape to Witch Mountain convinced me that I too one day, when I grew a little older, would have Tia’s magical powers. They made it all seem so possible and real to me and I was enamored.

Youthful magical pursuits eventually gave way to teenage crushes. I’d wait with anticipation for my next issue of Tiger Beat to arrive, a subscription I paid for with my meager allowance. The two page spread on the inside would soon adorn my walls, haphazardly hung with rolled up circles of Scotch tape on the back as not to tear or mar the image.

Sean Cassidy was my first real crush. Although Parker Stevenson was running a close second for quite some time. My parents hated my obsession. I grew up in a very religious household and they treated it as if I had erected some statue to a newer version of Baal in my room to worship. It wasn’t that deep in my mind, but retrospectively viewing it now, it may have been.

I continued my pop culture obsession throughout my adult life. My Twitter handle and blog website name can attest to that. Ever fascinated by the lives of the not-always rich, but definitely famous. They had to be doing something right to be living these amazing, opulent lives, no?

When discussing it with people who deemed it unseemly, I often resorted (and still do) to extolling my passion for people watching in general. My friend Brianna more aptly dubs it voyeurism. When she first uttered it, I recoiled while visions of peeping toms danced in my head. She was one hundred percent correct though. I’d been performing mental gymnastics calling it a sociological study to justify my pursuits.

Then entered the dreaded pandemic. Everyone was now forced into a similar circumstance that I had willingly been reveling in for years, including the celebrities I had once been so fascinated by. Something clicked in me that I’m still processing at this very moment. In a world riddled with the fear of the unknown, all of the things I had been so enchanted by seemed ridiculously petty in the unforgiving light of sequestering.

Seeing posts of tireless medical personnel risking their own health to care for people battling this novel virus captured my attention and filled my spirit far more than the ramblings of a celebrity stuck in their home like I was. The drone shots of a big-wig quarantining on a yacht in front of gorgeous sunset seemed positively gauche. Could they be that tone deaf? Did they honestly think that in this moment I’d find relief in them gyrating on Tik Tok to their favorite tune?

With each passing day my eyes were rolling more and more, to the point where I was giving myself headaches. Mind you, not all of them are vainglorious. There are several that have found a way to use their celebrity for the good of others through the crisis. Captain Lee from Below Deck still has a calming presence for me as he shares updates and reassures us we will make it through. Christian Siriano is stepping up as well, using his sewing abilities to create much needed masks for hospital workers. I’m finding though that they’re in the minority.

Most are still trying to grab whatever attention they can from their homes solely to boost their insatiable egos. Some are still pimping their palette of the month like the good little influencers they are. Awkward. Especially since make-up has become almost non-existent in my daily ritual. (Any Skype requests will need at least a 30 minute warning in my house.)

So I guess what I’m getting at is this. Celebrities, at least the tone-deaf and vain ones, I’m breaking up with you. It’s not you, it’s me. You’re doing everything you’ve always done. All of the things I thought were so cool and important and put you on a pedestal for are still on display for the consumption of others. It’s just not working for me anymore.

I’ll still find escapism from the monotony of quarantine in the wild tales of Joe Exotic, or the crazy antics of my favorite Real Housewives, but it will be with a different mindset. One that realizes that just because you have wealth or power, it shouldn’t mean that you should able to get tests that the heroic essential workers can’t find to literally save their lives. And one that sees you for exactly who you are, non-pedestal worthy humans just like us plebs. I’ll be saving my idol worship for the heroes among us.

To all my friends out there, I hope that you are safe and healthy. You’re loved, valued, and most definitely not alone even though we’re apart.

You Don’t Have To Be Super To Be A Hero

It’s refreshing to look around the world since the COVID crisis began. Odd statement to make, I know, but once you get past the panic and really peer into it…amazing things are happening.

Since time immemorial man in its societal form has loved to put people on pedestals. In some cases quite literally if you look to sculptures from the art world. Most faiths have icons to emulate. As do scientists, philosophy students, and right on down to the everyday citizen. We’re drawn to the light of vanguards like moths to the proverbial flame.

Think Einstein, Mozart, Plato, or more recently Hawking and Gates. All people elevated by the masses as goals to model. A side effect of this emulation though is the feeling that we’ll never measure up to that level of greatness. That it’s not in the cards for us due to a perceived lack of qualities or resources to be able to achieve such lofty goals.

I’ve always been a fan of super heroes. I was blessed to grow up in a generation where women were included among them. Eyes glued to the adventures of Diana Prince as Wonder Woman or Jamie Sommers as the Bionic Woman. I can distinctly recall running in slow motion down the hallways of my elementary school, complete with very lame vocal sound effects. Oh to be able to jump that high, run that fast, or eavesdrop on some nefarious plot with my super hearing and be the only one able to foil it.

I see that sense of wonder and awe in my grandkids today as they marvel at Marvel or dive into DC’s world. Superheroes inspire, but at the same time we forget that they all have vulnerabilities that make them human…even the ones from other planets. Whether it’s Superman being in the presence of Kryptonite, Batman leaving his Utility Belt in the glove box of one of his other cars, or Iron Man’s suit being drained of power, they all have weaknesses. It’s when you realize this fact, that you become aware that we all have a hero within us, whether it’s super or not.

Einstein had to be remind to eat for crying out loud, and Plato was in dire need of fashion stylist. (Okay, that was a bit of a stretch, but you get where I’m going.) The great thing about what’s going on now is that we are seeing the unlikeliest of heroes take the stage and it’s providing us with the opportunity to look for our own special qualities and put them to use.

A year ago, the average grocery store clerk would go unnoticed. Now they are essential and we realize their importance. Nurses and doctors have often been set above, but we’re seeing their sacrifices like never before. Truck drivers are no longer big burly guys in flannel catching a bite at a greasy spoon, they’re making it possible for us to get the absolute necessities for our existence.

My hope is that it doesn’t stop there. My wish for myself and for all of you is that we take this extra time we’ve been given to stop and look at what it is we can heroically offer the world. The most humble among you or the ones whose self worth has been stomped down by life will be inclined to say you have nothing. Nothing special or great or worthy to give. I neither accept nor believe that, because I see you doing amazing things every day.

I’m a simple housewife, mother, and grandmother. Never went to college, although I’ve tried to soak up information like a sponge to make up for it. Still there’s no piece of paper framed on my wall telling me I met some standard of achievement. Even so, I have been of use and of service in all of this. That’s not horn-tooting, that’s just repeating what I’ve been told. In fact, I had to be told it multiple times before I even let it register.

I still don’t see myself clad in lycra with a cape flowing in my wake. I never will. That’s not my role in this world. It’s no one’s role outside of a comic book studio or film set. What is my purpose is to employ the God-given strengths I do have to help one person at a time. It might be so small a contribution that it goes completely unnoticed, but it might spark something to propel someone else forward in their own world to perform their own unique task.

So today I’d like you to contemplate on what your strengths are and employ them for the betterment of one other person today. It can be just checking in. It can be a random act of kindness. Maybe it’s just to be a cheerleader for a hero already in action, because trust me, no matter how strong they are, they need lifting up too. You don’t have to be super to be a hero. You already are one.

Thanks for reading. Wishing you love, health, safety, and today especially…the wisdom to know your worth. XOXO

My So-Called Quarantine Life

It’s my sincere wish that all of you are healthy, living your best socially distant lives, and that you’ve found some sort of peace in this madness. John and I are doing remarkably well, to the point where I’m having to stave off feelings of guilt about it and justify my sense of calm to others.

Thanks to the depression meds leveling my imbalance and the re-introduction of restorative sleep my metabolism has kicked back in. I’m at my healthiest weight in years, and although John could use a little more meat on his bones, he’s at his lowest pain level in decades. The two odd ducks swimming in their quiet little world are once again not part of the masses. It’s funny how life works when you look at it both from macro and micro perspectives.

Blossoming

Since taking the social media deep-dive a year ago, my circle of friends and acquaintances is also larger than it’s ever been. What was once sporadic communication with mostly family and the occasional friend from high school has morphed into hundreds of conversations daily with people all across the globe. It’s almost an embarrassment of riches, and true to form it’s starting to cause me embarrassment.

I can’t recall a day since the pandemic began to alter our lives when at least one of my new friends failed to ask me how I was coping. My typical response has been that we’re figuring it out or managing. I’ve also pointed out a few times that it’s not that much different than my pre-quarantine life. In my head it was a funny spin to put on my quiet existence to lighten the mood. Just yesterday it hit me though that it’s not as authentic of a response as I like to give.

Yes, I was doing social distancing way before it became cool or a mandate. There’s no falsehood to be found there. But much like when cases appear before an appellate court judge, I began to determine “Is the SPIRIT of the truth upheld?” The complete truth is that I’m much more socially close than I’ve been at any point in my life, and I’m doing it in a way that enhances my life rather than detracting from it.

I’m no longer being pulled in directions that I don’t want to go, down paths of obligation versus choice. People who used to call on me to do things for them because I was the only one in the circle without a paying job are now doing the tasks themselves to occupy their newly minted free time. The “is there any way you could…” calls have all but ceased and I’m free to pursue the interests that fill my own spirit. It’s the perfect set-up for a life of joy and fulfillment.

Why do I feel so guilty then?

The guilt stems from where all guilt does…the feeling that we are somehow unworthy. Our minds envision the suffering of others and want to better their circumstances, even at the expense of our own. Why is fortune choosing our life to bless when some faceless person (or worse yet, a recognizable one) is struggling? The answer to that is the key to shedding the guilt and using your blessings to the greatest good.

So what is it, you ask?

It’s the acceptance of the fact that it takes blessed people to bless others. Someone is required to have an abundance in order to be of service to more than just a handful of people. Be it the doctors and nurses who have an abundance of skill and compassion, or the farmers who have an abundance of crops. Whether it’s the food service worker, once overlooked as an “entry level” employee or the someone on a factory line producing goods or services we need to get through this crisis.

Their strengths are coming to play in our new normal like never before. They’re being shoved, however unwillingly, into a spotlight that many of them aren’t used to, and it’s bound to cause some stage fright. From my personal experience, they are overcoming it quickly though and taking up the mantles of responsibility.

I’m going to take a cue from them now and operate from a place of total honesty. My goal the next time I’m asked how I’m doing is to be utterly truthful without guilt and to reply, “I’m thriving. How can I help you thrive too?”

As always, I wish you peace and blessings, and pray you find your way to use your strengths to shine your special light in the darkness. Thank you for reading. XOXO

To Err Is Human. To Admit It? Not so much.

I’ve yet to meet a person who is perfect. Don’t get me wrong, there are some amazing souls out there, but everyone has flaws or blind spots. Try though we may, there are times when despite research, practice, or the benefit of expertise we screw up. Hardly an earth-shattering revelation, right? Considering we regularly hear phrases like “I’m only human,” and “Nobody’s perfect,” it’s a safe bet we’re all in on this common knowledge. Why then is it that so many people in the world today have difficulty admitting when they’re wrong?

Growing up I had an obnoxious A-plus personality. There is no fault in trying to be and do your best. That’s the goal for most productive members of society. Even at the ripe old age of 5, however, I would melt down at my failures. My sisters and I are all eight years apart, you see, and they had giant head starts on abilities. Anything I tried, they had already mastered. As I struggled not to fall over on my two-wheeler and leave any lifelong scars, they were riding without their hands on the handlebars or doing tricks. Being so young, I didn’t understand about learning curves. I just knew that they could do it and I couldn’t. I was a failure in comparison. That perception of myself became a driving force and created somewhat of a monster, albeit it a cute chubby one with big blue eyes that made me seem less frightening.

Two short years later when I was in the first grade I was made aware of the concept of learning curves that had eluded me before. I found out because it was determined by some faceless school officials that I was ahead of that curve. Meetings were convened to debate how best to foster my growth. The initial idea was to have me skip a few grades. My mom took her ample size 8’s and stamped that out of contention immediately. She wasn’t fooled by the cerulean eyes. She knew the baby dragon that lived just behind them. She also knew that my immaturity and competitive nature would leave me floundering in an environment of biggers and betters. Eventually it was decided that I would stay in my proper grade and be given separate curriculum in addition to the classwork. So began my journey to perfectionism and ended the gestation period of the monster and resulted in its birth.

If you’re a co-operative kid you accept most things grown ups tell you as fact. You don’t imagine that these humans that are three times your size (and easily 100 years old in your mind) can be wrong. At face value their faith in my mental acuity seemed flattering, like I was some rare bird able to trained for the some big, yet to be produced animal revue. My task was solely to prove them correct in their assumptions.

Throughout my school years every new teacher I encountered was swayed by the opinions of those that came before them. There were no reassessments. I was a genius at 6 and nothing seemed to alter that fact. My failings and blind spots were never a topic of discussion, only my strengths. Twelve years of that can make even the most humble of students morph into a nightmare, and I didn’t even have the benefit of humility then. So who should walk in next? The SATs. I didn’t do the study groups or buy guides to succeed. I had, after all, been prepped for this throughout my school years, right? The Saturday morning came and went and the scores arrived a few weeks later. 1360. Not horrible, good even, but out of 1600…not the best. Not even the best in my own school. Failure lapped at my toes, and as a fair-skinned girl, it burned hot and deep.

The scholarships I had counted on were non-existent. My family lived the single income life without much to spare. Both of my sisters had gone straight into the working world, so that was now my path. Dreams of a career as a journalist, a psychologist, or a UN interpreter all floated away like seeds from a puffy white dandelion blown by the wind. One small test, one brief Saturday morning with a scantron sheet had done all of that to me. At least that’s how I saw it at the time.

It wasn’t until years down the road after pushing my own children academically that I realized it wasn’t done to me. I was an active participant and had many other avenues I could have pursued, but chose not to. When that epiphany hit me it opened the door to many other ones about myself. The biggest gift it gave me was the humility that the cerulean eyed baby dragon lacked. Like Smaug missing scale in the Hobbit or Achilles’ leaf-shaped soft spot near his heel, I was vulnerable and fallible. The freedom in that realization was palpable to me. I didn’t have to be perfect all of the time! I knew years before that I wasn’t, but by blaming it on circumstances I never fully owned it in a meaningful way. It also showed me that failure wasn’t a constant. You aren’t just a failure or a success, you’re made of both and there’s beauty in each.

Whenever I learn something new I want to share it and allow everyone to feel it. Not unlike a reformed smoker who physically feels much better and wants the same for their smoking friends. Let me tell you though…smoking is much less taboo to most folks than failure. The resistance I got from friends and family to embracing failures as life lessons for personal growth was staunch. They appeared to take it like I was giving them a directive to actively go out and do things wrong just to learn from it. That couldn’t have been further from the truth, but even as I continued to explain, they still wanted absolutely no part of what they deemed my crazy ramblings.

I couldn’t understand then and still barely comprehend now why admitting we can be wrong and can fail is such an anathema when everyone knows it to be true. I’ve witnessed people double down on hare-brained theories and go to contortionist level lengths to find the one tiny crack in an argument that will help them escape the horror of being incorrect. I ponder what looming specter they envision is on the other side of that admission that would make them run so quickly in the opposite direction. Life isn’t baseball. There are no lifetime error stats that follow you around keeping you from the Hall of Fame.

Life is a journey of experiences, some of which we learn on the first try and some which we must try at and fail at, and pick ourselves up and try again. There is no shame in that because we’re all going through it. Failing doesn’t make you less than anyone. In fact, it can teach you things that people with a higher win average than you might never learn. So the next time life hands you an F, or even a D, or a C, remember that there’s a curve and we all possess our own. Also keep in mind that there’s no shame in being wrong. Admitting it is much more human and endearing than pretending like you’re incapable of it. And who knows, it just might be the fertilizer that helps you grow.

The Needs Of The Many

While you won’t catch me on any B-roll footage from the conventions, I have been (and always shall be) a Star Trek fan. I was introduced to it, as I was the majority of my pop culture obsessions, by my father. My mom was never a fan of fantasy. She still isn’t unless it has some foothold in the real world. I, on the other hand, loved being transported to the worlds created by Gene Roddenberry. In fact, during that brief time as a child where lines between fictional worlds and reality are blurred, I thought for sure I must be Vulcan or at least half Vulcan, like Mr. Spock.

For those of you who are unfamiliar with the character originally played by Leonard Nimoy, Vulcans are a people who voluntarily disconnect from their emotions to live a more logical and peaceful existence. Spock himself struggles more than most Vulcans because he is half human. His mother is from Earth and on his planet that amounts to being flawed. My child mind envisioned that some other Vulcan viewed Spock’s difficulties fitting in from a nearby vantage point and decided that I would struggle less on Earth, so I was raised here instead. Not meaning any disrespect to my Vulcan mother, but that could not have been further from the truth.

Before you get the wrong idea about me, I’m far from emotionless. Just like Spock I possess all of them and can feel them very deeply if I allow myself to succumb to their pull. Too deeply almost, if I’m going to be vulnerable and completely honest. Without the controls I’ve learned and maintained over close to half a century, I’d be enveloped by them…barely able to keep my head above water.

I’ve discussed in previous blogs my depression diagnosis, and the best way for me to rationalize it is that I wore down my body, brain, and soul to the point where those controls I had previously established fritzed the heck out. Like a control panel suddenly exposed to watery elements, sparks were flying and zapping noises abounded. My emotions were at the surface and anyone who had known me prior to the short-circuit could see a noticeable shift in my behavior. Shocking displays of irritability and tears (Not tears!!) left them spellbound. Where did their calm, rational friend go?

Calm was always a trait attributed to me. It still is with newer friends, which makes me giggle a little. You think this is calm? You should’ve met Jen 1.0. My world feels anything but calm now, especially considering what’s going on in the world around us. That, albeit in the most meandering, long-winded way possible, is what this essay is about.

I’ve always studied people from a distance. Whether it was hand engineering long layovers back in my travel agent days or watching countless hours of reality TV programming. I have always been fascinated by why people do what they do. In eras where things are going well, it’s a fun and lighthearted pastime. In times of crisis, however, it can set my minding spinning.

One of the emotional control dials I referred to earlier is humor. Humor has a way of deflating the stress of a situation that few things, barring music, can rival. It can beam us away from fear and worry with the speed of one of Star Trek’s transporter platforms. Some view it as irreverent and even callous in times of tragedy. I don’t concern myself much with those perceptions, because it’s an effective tool with a high success rate.

As we’re facing the COVID pandemic, it has continued to be my go-to control. Creating memes or funny takes on it to share with my friends has kept me stable and floating in calm seas as my boat bobs gently up and down. Roiling under that surface, though, is an eddy of epic proportions threatening to pull me ever downward. That whirlpool is fueled by the force of dismay at what I’m witnessing in the world around me.

One of the most iconic Spock moments occurs in Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan. The USS Enterprise and its crew are facing certain peril after a battle with Ricardo Montalban’s Khan character. The ship’s warp drive has been damaged and is unable to flee to safety. Mr. Spock, in a moment of unbridled heroism, enters a radiation filled room in order to repair the engine and in the very last moment possible the ship manages to escape.

I won’t bore non-fans with the entire dialogue, but trust that I can recite it verbatim. The key point to be had is this: once Captain Kirk is called to engineering and sees his friend covered with radiation burns, mentally addled by the invasive rays, we’re treated to the apex of emotion. Spock hoarsely utters “The needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few.” His life force is snuffed out shortly after. Growing up in a Christian household, it’s hard not to draw the parallel of self-sacrifice in order to save the masses. It was a powerful and moving cinematic moment. We all hope to possess that type of nobility, wherein the well being of our friends and loved ones supersedes our own.

As you gaze around our world today, it stands in stark contrast to that principle, and it’s shocking me to my core. I’m fritzing out again, not by my own body’s failings, but instead by what I perceive to be the failings of humanity. People have crossed that fine line between self-interest and selfishness. Whether they are hoarding in an attempt to profit off of it or for their own consumption, the result is the same: the needs of the many don’t rank on their priority list.

Be it an excess of toilet paper, cleaning products, or more heartbreaking…diapers, people are stockpiling goods beyond their needs at the expense of the needs of others. Shelves are bare all across the country and people have lost their ability to be civil, kind, and in the worst cases: rational. Fights are breaking out in stores and car accidents are increasing as people rush to not be left wanting, as people are taking much more than they need.

This isn’t meant to be a scold, but a moment of reflection during dark times and a plea to evaluate our behavior. I’m aware that the panic and fear are very real to some. The unknown by nature often elicits fear, because we’re unable to predict what comes next. I also know that if we allow ourselves to be consumed by it, we’re going to usher in a very dark period. Fear has stoked the fires of some of the greatest tragedies in history. The moment we begin to repeatedly tell ourselves that an every-man-for-himself mentality is necessary is when we will lose the essence of what makes humanity so powerful. There is a balance to be found in all of this if cooler Vulcan heads prevail. We can get what we need without depriving others of their needs. Please, at least consider it, so we can all live long and prosper.

The Untapped Cleansing Power of Imagination

I don’t know if I’m alone in my fascination with imagination. I marvel at the ability to create entire worlds and their inhabitants solely by picturing them. Tolkein, Rowling, and so many others have made their fantastic realms tangible to me by their sheer wills of thought.

The real-life applications are also amazing. For millennia humanity has been dreaming up tools and inventions to make tasks more efficient and time-saving. They’ve provided us with previously unknown and undreamt methods to achieve our goals. Even as children we were able to develop non-existent creatures; fascinating, inspiring, and in an array of colors unique to their creators. We all have this innate power within us, but unless you go on to pursue a story-telling medium or spend your days inventing gadgets or living in daydreams, it often goes untapped.

What also seems to be lacking developmentally is a cleanse for the most powerful organ in the body. We’re subjected daily to commercials with cleansing products. From the sundry health cleanses to at-home cleaners. Products to flush every body part whether externally or internally. The reminder that cleanliness has a correlation with health surrounds us, especially in this era of newly born influenza outbreaks. Hand sanitizers are practically impossible to find as we focus on things outside our body that can invade our inner being.

While all of that is important, there is a glaring omission. Where is the cleanser for the negative talk and self-destructive ideas that our brain feeds us daily? Well, I’m prepared to give it to you free of charge, not even shipping and handling fees are required. Why? Because you already own it! The revolutionary product had a self-cleaning feature that most people were unaware was part of the amenity package.

That imagination that always fascinated me has been the key to cleaning my brain of the clutter that filled it. The tidbits that hold me back and keep me from growing are often the external invaders we fear only when they’re presented in germ form. We view as benign, or worse yet…warranted, these seeds of self-doubt and esteem eroding ideas.

I was blessed this weekend to spend a full 24 hours with my grandson. He is two and he is fearless. I witnessed his feeling of invincibility with a sense of awe until I was gripped by my own fears. Who knew how ominous a Little Tykes slide in my living room could become as I watched him attempt to perform daredevil-like feats? A barely 3 feet tall resin structure transformed into a harbinger of doom in my vivid imagination. I was picturing rushed visits to the emergency room at my extreme moments, or bruises and scrapes I’d have to explain to his mom at my milder ones.

All the while he was giddy. Clapping and happy as he made the extremely short ascent to his not-so-perilous drop. He ended his stay perfectly unharmed and content with little guidance from me, and that started me thinking how much fear and diminished self-esteem inhibit me on a daily basis.

I have a penchant for recalling every negative thing said about who I am before I even bother thinking about the positive encouragement I’ve received. The impressions of others and their interpretations became facts, not opinions. Not only did I view them as truisms, but as THE most important truths about myself. Like some sort of auto-run file, my brain would put them on display right after a prompt for action.

Ironically enough, their presence often led to inaction. They became false starts resulting in self-imposed penalties. I was deeming myself incapable or less worthy than someone who could do it better. But how do you remedy the indoctrination your brain has formatted? You guessed it…that self-cleaning feature of imagination.

Our brains are malleable. We are capable of training them to suit our needs and our interests if we choose. Proper use of our ability to create and envision is the key. For me it is beginning with recognizing which negative speech works toward self-preservation versus self-destruction. By taking the time to relabel the destructive operators as invaders, I’m embarking on cleansing my brain of their power over me. So what if Karen thinks I’m incapable! (Apologies by the way to all the Karens that don’t fit the stereotype.) The Karens of the world are entitled to their opinions on what works for them, but I govern my choices and my faith in my abilities.

Could it really be as simple as that? Yes, and no. It is actually that simple, but our minds are infested with these thought demons. There’s no one time treatment to be had. It will require elbow grease to undo the negative talk we’ve fed ourselves for years. Just like with weight issues, we don’t gain it in a day and we can’t remove it in merely one either. But we can get there…if we only dare to imagine it.

Do You Even Know Me?

Have you ever been asked that question? When people say, “Do you even know me,” usually it’s intended to stop the person addressed in his or her tracks. It is often posited as proof that the addressee has utterly misperceived the nature and intent of the situation to the point where he or she must not know the questioner at all.

I’m going to flip that question on its head though with a reply of, “Can anyone ever really know someone that completely?”

Most everyone I know has the desire to be “seen.” Not in a fame sense, but rather an external validation of how they see themselves and the image they want to present to the world. For a long time I had that desire, but in retrospect I was cheating everyone out of seeing me in my entirety. I would give them the pieces of me I thought would be aesthetically pleasing to them and hide the parts that I thought would displease them or cause them to decide that I wasn’t worthy of their time or friendship.

While having a heart-to-heart with one of my sisters yesterday, I used the analogy of a quilt. She is a wonderful seamstress (though she humbly plays down her skills) and her best friend is a master quilter. I conveyed to her my past of showing only what I thought would be acceptable person by person and she gave me an amazing visual example. She took me upstairs to her guest room and showed me the latest piece her friend had made. I photographed sections, akin to the sections I would give to the people in my life.

This is my fun side. Showing that everything doesn’t require symmetry, and I can go with the flow. It was often the representation of myself I gave to my wilder friend groups, or in some cases what I showed to people who wanted to confine me to a box based on what they thought they knew of me.

This is my intellectual side. Attention to detail, complexity, and intricacy. I often shared this with anyone who I felt the desire to impress. I didn’t want to be seen as the stereotypical dumb blonde incapable of depth of thinking or understanding the world around her. The recipients of this section rarely if ever got to see the fun section of me.

By chopping myself up into bits and pieces I thought people would like or handle, they missed the big picture…and it was by my own doing. By not wanting myself to be put in a box, I had inadvertently placed everyone in my life in little boxes of their own. And to what effect? What resulted was an entire circle of friends and acquaintances who couldn’t possibly know me or be expected to.

It also had an effect on me. By hiding the whole picture of who I was, I was telling myself that who I was as a whole had no inherent beauty on its own. My misplaced stitches and asymmetry in comparison to things I found more beautiful was “less than” and therefore unworthy. I remained unseen because deep down, I was afraid to be seen, and then judged, and ultimately rejected and ostracized.

Looking at myself under a microscope was the problem. My own self-judgment and my focus being highly attuned to my flaws clouded my thinking. I’ve since come to realize that most everyone around me is struggling with the exact same issue. Maybe if we panned back a little and showed everyone the whole picture, they could find the beauty in it. And even if some people don’t, I can almost guarantee you that the right people who are worthy of you will.

In Remembrance of Our Boy Cooper

Alice Cooper the Cat (2009-2020)

This morning our fur buddy Cooper passed away. He was born under our front porch to a neighborhood feral. We found homes for his siblings, but the girls wanted him so badly that despite my allergies, John and I granted their wish.

They named him Alice, because that early on we weren’t aware that the tiny ball of fluff was a boy. When that became all too obvious, we changed his name to Alice Cooper, and he eventually became just Cooper or “Coop.”

Many people who visited our home never even realized we had a cat. He was by no means very social; a lot like me in that regard. When he heard strange voices he often hid under some remote piece of furniture, only choosing to come out when the door audibly shut and the house became calm again.

His favorite hang out spots were in the cool porcelain of the pedestal sink, or inside the washer or dryer if I failed to remember to shut the lid or door while I was doing laundry.

His hobbies included knocking everything that wasn’t nailed down from a flat surface down to floor, and also delighting in intimidating Boo, Winnie, and George into leaving a wide berth as they walked around him to avoid any swats. He also loved a good headbutt and belly rub.

He is now laid to rest in our yard where he was born. In a green expanse of grass buffered by pines adjoining the woods, alongside his fur siblings that have passed who he often tormented, but loved. Buried with great love, care, and reverence by the man who has taught me to love nature in all its forms and learn every lesson I can from it. I feel grateful and blessed to have someone whose heart is so big that he can do a task that I couldn’t and give our boy a beautiful resting place.

Many wood surfaces in our homes bear the marks of his claws even though he had a perfectly good scratching post at his disposal. He is leaving us with similar indelible marks on our hearts and memories. He was a good boy, he was loved, and our house won’t feel quite the same again. 💔