Monday, December 31, 2012


 

New Year’s Resolutions
 

I can’t believe we are already saying goodbye to 2012…where did the time go? As I ponder how quickly the days have gone, I can hear the faint rantings of my parents saying, “Wait till you get older.” It was their way of telling me that life as an adult would be different – kind of hard to imagine that when you’re a kid, but now at midlife, it rings resoundingly true.

For weeks now, I’ve been musing about what to write as my last post for the year. Our world has given me plenty of material with which to comment on: tragedies, victories and the outright idiotic. And so it was that as I was trying to sort out what to write, I went about organizing my work space. I proceeded to compile a mix of assorted index cards and scraps of papers – things that I wrote notes on when there was no computer or writing tablet in sight  – generally notes that inspire me, things that make me think…reflect.

I don’t think that is was coincidence or chance that as I was sorting through this stack, there was one in particular that made me stop. On the back of a receipt from the Dollar Tree store, I had scrawled this: 

“Live the life you have imagined…simply become who you are…Be yourself – everyone else is taken.”*

No, there is no coincidence in coming across that note. The message to me was loud and clear… and what a wonderful message to start off the new year with!

If you think about it, much of our time is spent trying to live a life that someone else had imagined for us – usually our parents or caregivers. Or conversely, we try to measure up to what society says we “should” be – skinny, wealthy, fashionable, drive the right car, and so on… the list goes on in this arena, just take a look at what the magazines are selling.  

For me, much of the childhood messages I got about what my dreams should be emphasized going to college and being a professional of some sort. I’m not sure that I ever entertained other dreams for my life – not because I didn’t have other things that I enjoyed and was good at, but because it seemed like a deviation from “the plan.”  

But their dreams were not for naught – everything that I’ve become has brought me to this point. For that I am eternally grateful to them. I can understand the desire to see your offspring succeed, to do better than you did. But as an adult and midlifer, I can now choose to live what dreams I want to fulfill, to live the type of life that I want for myself… yes, we have choices!

It’s not a novel idea, but somehow, as adults we lose sight of the fact that we really can decide the direction of our lives – no longer constrained by the dreams of others. However, the path to doing so can prove to be more difficult or challenging. Sometimes it’s a lot easier to simply sit on the sidelines and go about life “as usual” or to play the victim when misfortune comes our way. But the real question is, “Are you really living or merely existing?” (Joel Osteen)

I had a girlfriend once, Bertha, who suffered terribly from the break-up of her 25 year marriage. Her ex-husband had an affair and ultimately left her in favor of his new love. Understandably, Bertha was devastated. But it’s been many years since and she’s still talking about her ex-: like how he had mistreated her, how she hoped he’d rot in hell, she still takes him to court to quibble over alimony issues, etc… you get the picture. Bertha is stuck in the past – emotionally frozen in time. Yet rather than seeing this event as an opportunity to grow from, she’s chosen to live in her past – in the meantime, she’s passed up opportunities to be in relationships with some very good men.

But we all have experiences like this with which to draw from… that one relationship that left you heartbroken, the death of a loved one, the loss of a friendship or job… or a dream. Whatever the event, we can decide as to how we will allow it to shape us: Will we be a better person for it? Stronger? Wiser? Even more loving? OR will the experience make us bitter? Hopeless? Angry? Insecure? With every experience – good or bad – we can use them as opportunities for either self-growth or _________.

And so, for this year and the many years to come, I am putting a new twist on my New Year’s resolutions. Rather than my traditional list of things “to do,” I’ll be looking at how I can simply live the life I’ve imagined and be the person I was always meant to be.



Happy New Year’s to you all!  

 

  

 

 

*NOTE: I can’t recall when I wrote it down or who to give the statement credit to, although I think I saw it on a home d├ęcor sign at Hobby Lobby, lol, go figure

Saturday, October 13, 2012

Avoidance, Writer’s Block, Life…


Yes, I’m finally writing again… and for this first post, I had initially set out to write about writer’s block and internal darkness - in fact, I have about 1200 words floating around somewhere in Word talking about the connection between the two. But instead, I discovered that what I really wanted to say was something about how my round with writer’s block felt like an example of something that happens to all of us in varying degrees and forms. It wasn’t something unique just for writers…

These past few months, I have been struggling to write creatively... I found myself doing all sorts of others things instead, like veg’ing out in front of the TV because there was a NCIS marathon… or spending mindless hours in front of the computer searching for who knows what… And of course when all else failed, there was always work related stuff to do when I seemed to have any down time to write. Point is and quite simply, I was avoiding writing (not a very promising habit for an aspiring writer).

For me, avoidance behavior served as a twisted form of writer’s block. I was “blocked” not because I didn’t have anything to say, but because of something else. After all, this was not the first time that I’ve experienced this phenomenon… I’ve seen this behavior before, manifested in a variety of forms, in different contexts and during all parts of my life. What I discovered was that “avoidance” is a coping mechanism that I use when something seems unpleasant or scary. On the surface, writing is neither unpleasant nor scary for me… but on reflection, writing represents a change… and that’s what’s scary.

Change is oftentimes greeted with a mixed sense of excitement and caution. We are generally hesitant or resistant to change because its qualities are unknown to us. We don’t know what will happen to us as a result of changes… and we don’t know if moving forward with a particular plan will help us or hurt us. Change frequently requires us to take risks while our primal instincts remind us to protect ourselves from harm– physically, psychologically, and emotionally.

Thus, with creative writing – this act represented a huge change for me – it was asking me to move forward in an identity shift. No small task for one so old, lol. It now meant that if I wanted to be a writer, I needed to make a commitment to being one - not just a dabbler anymore. It meant that I would need to be okay with letting others see my vulnerability – to see my spirit exposed, where for a lifetime it has been silenced and sheltered. It meant that I would need to be willing to share my thoughts and ideas at the risk of feeling the sting of criticisms. And it meant embracing this other dimension to myself that has been but a shadow lurking in my being, sequestered away until now,… and now, I would need to own it. Engaging in this change meant that I would be taking risks and putting my work out there – putting me out there.

And while I may have arrived at some resolution about my writer’s block, it made me wonder: How is this type of avoidance any different from how we use avoidance in our every day lives?

As I referenced earlier, avoidance is a familiar tune to me. It has been both a useful tool and unhealthy way of functioning as I go through life. And we all have examples with which to draw from where we could identify avoidance as part of the scenario. You know, it’s that project you waited until the very last minute to get to… or the conversation you haven’t had yet with your partner because you’re both too busy… or it’s the phone call you waited until 5:05pm to respond to and so forth.


By any other name, avoidance is seen or known as “procrastination” or “delay” or “too busy” to name just a few. These may be more palatable sounding words because they don’t infer a shirking of one’s responsibility or a character flaw, but they are in fact synonymous with avoidance.  The end result is the same: we’ve managed to avoid doing something for a particular time frame.

And while sometimes it’s not a big deal to avoid doing something, there are certainly occasions or contexts where avoidance does not serve our self-interests. Rather than the change being what’s hurtful to us, our own failure to see the role of avoidance in our own lives is what hurts us more.  

So just what was it that I wanted to say about avoidance behavior, writer’s block and life? The truth is that avoidance can take many forms; it’s not just a barrier to writing…it can be a roadblock to living.

Sunday, March 11, 2012

Women's Sexuality: Why does the Debate Still Linger?



These last few weeks, I have been in and out in following the news… but the recent controversy about whether or not a faith-based organization should be forced to provide medical coverage for birth control prescriptions grabbed my attention…. Oh, and let’s not forget how politics have really muddied the waters. I soon found myself researching the issue and evaluating the many spins the “issue” has enjoyed.

It’s an interesting time to be a raising a daughter… and my daughter and I found ourselves talking about and wondering: just what is the issue here? Is it really about the alleged conduct of our government attempting to regulate religious freedom? Or is this about men attempting to regulate (yet again) the lives of women, or more specifically, regulating our sexuality? Or what?...

Whatever your opinion is, it would be great to have a discourse on the varying perspectives… so please, do chime in.

And since I am on the subject of women, I thought I’d share with you a piece that I wrote for a writing class that explores the issue of women’s sexuality from another aspect. Enjoy:

Girls Gone Wild or Girls Gone Exploited?

On one of those rare occasions, I had full control of the TV… my son was at his dad’s house, my daughter was in her room, the dogs were in the garage and there I was – alone in my living room with the TV and the remote control. Not finding anything I wanted to watch, I channel surfed and was surprised to discover an episode of “Girls Gone Wild” airing (with full breasts being shown) at , during prime time.

My first thought came as parent, wondering if my 12 year old son had known that I had failed to get this channel blocked. My next thoughts however, came as I actually watched what was unfolding. The series was promoting “The Hottest Girl in America” contest. The series showcased the adventures of the staff and camera crew as they traveled across the country in search of the young lady who would garner enough website votes to earn this title. It struck me as a twisted form of the country’s obsession with audience participation shows, only this time, the audience would be voting for the young lady who had that fantasy combination of being both All-American girl and sex kitten. 

The real tragedy for me lay in the women’s responses when asked why they wanted to be the hottest girl in America. A typical example is: “I’m going to be popular now. I come from a small town in the Midwest that no one knows, and now, I’m going from being no one to being famous.” This was the essence of what they had to say, the common theme being: fame at any cost. For me, the more glaring and sinister theme at play was: Make it a contest and you mask its true intent - sexual exploitation for profit. Who exactly was benefiting from the contest? Certainly not the contestants. I wondered if they really thought that this kind of fame and glory was the stuff you could put on your resume... REALLY?

So, as I observed this parade of young ladies being “interviewed,” I wondered if this is what young women think equates to “equal rights”? Have they confused sexual liberation with sexual exploitation? I retired that night feeling depressed about the state of femininity and feminism and how shows like this perpetuate women as sex objects for men. I reflected on how damaging it was for all women to have such images perpetuated by those unaware that they were being used for pure profit. This caused me to search the Internet and seek the feminist voice and commentary about shows like these.

Interestingly, I was fortunate to find Ariel Levy’s work Female Chauvinist Pigs. Her book stemmed from her observations and interviews while on the set of Girls Gone Wild. Levy found that many of the young women she interviewed saw their participation in the show as behavior that was synonymous with empowerment or liberation. They seemed to describe their behavior as part of a societal norm. Empowerment? Liberation? How could these young women arrive at such a conclusion?

These questions led me to wonder if we, as women, were in fact truly sexually liberated. If that was the case, then why couldn’t we just walk around topless on a hot day as men do? Why is it called indecent exposure if we do it when we feel like it, but “just business” if men produce it? If we are sexually liberated, then why do women still earn the labels of “whore,” “skank,” or other denigrating terms applied to a woman who is promiscuous or sexually deviant? With men, on the other hand, such behavior is frequently interpreted as sexual prowess.

The taint of such behavior also has more longstanding consequences for women than for men. This is shown by several lawsuits filed by women who had previous appearances on Girls Gone Wild. They are now seeking remedies to remove their videos from the public eye. Evidently, we are not allowed to have indiscretions or exercise bad judgment that can later be attributed to being young and foolish (unlike the privilege of our male counterparts). The reality is that we are not truly sexually liberated; the double standard is alive and well. 


So why would young women willingly participate in Girls Gone Wild? Levy attributes this to a cultural phenomenon she calls “raunch culture.” In this context, men and women alike find the slutty stereotypes for women as appealing and acceptable. She notes that, “the idea of a woman participating in a wet T-shirt contest or being comfortable watching explicit pornography has become a symbol of strength” for women. Interesting. I call it a sociological form of identification with the aggressor, where the female identity has integrated these male definitions for sexual attractiveness or sexually appropriate behaviors. I believe we have merely transformed our oppression as men’s sex objects into our identity as women. As such, sexual exploitation fails to be recognized because the behavior has become part of what defines being a woman.

I don’t take issue with women capitalizing on the sex market and making videos themselves to sell, so long as it was their choice and they fully enjoy the profits of their business venture. What I do take issue with is the current compensation scheme, or the lack thereof, that occurs in the sex industry. A vast amount of money is being made off of these women in the form of website hits, video clips, TV shows, and product merchandise. Yet the women portrayed do not enjoy any of the royalties or profit sharing nor are they adequately compensated. In the case of Girls Gone Wild, only the corporation and CEO get to reap the monetary rewards, while the girls… well, they get to keep their T-shirt. Now, that is sexual exploitation.


Sunday, February 12, 2012

Finding Meaning in Our Suffering...



This week, I intended to complete my writing about our connectedness to each other and then got derailed by something else I was reading… I don’t know if this is a common occurrence for writers, but it appears to be part of my journey, so I just have to go with the flow, lol, and just write.

Lately, I have been reading a book called “Calling In the One,” by Katherine Woodward Thomas. It’s the latest book that’s been added to my collection of self-help books, popular psychology and dating anthologies (material for yet another blog no doubt). But this week, I was reading a chapter on our inner wounds when I came across this passage: 

“In some way, suffering ceases to be suffering at the moment it finds a meaning.”

These words struck me like a chord to a piano… its voice in a volume unheard of. The context of that passage is that it is followed by a story about a man who was grieving the death of his wife. The gentleman seemed to be sinking deep into depression, unable to work through his grief even after two years past her death.

Then, one day, the therapist asked the gentleman what did he think would have happened if he had died first? The gentleman replied that he believed that his wife would’ve suffered terribly. “Oh, then you have spared her then this suffering, and the price that you have paid to do this is of surviving and mourning her.” At that moment, the gentleman realized the meaning of it all. He was able to see the purpose or reason as to why his wife needed to precede him in death, and it was then that the gentleman was able to begin the healing process… in fact, he never felt the need to return to his therapist again.

This made so much sense to me… there are so many people who are suffering deep emotional pain in this world and can not seem to find their way out. The grief, oftentimes feels unbearable, insurmountable, and depressing; and for some, the cloud never seems to lift. It made me think about my own experiences with loss… the processes I have sought in order to find “answers;” my pursuit of unhealthy ways with which to manage and cope with my pain… to escape it, and to avoid it.

Pain, as I am using it here, is different from the bumps and lumps that I described in my previous blog. “Bumps and lumps” are the obstacles or barriers that come to us – they are the experiences or the events themselves…. and sometimes they can be quite painful or they can be irritating, frustrating, or sad. Pain, on the other hand, is that which makes us suffer. It’s the residual from our experiences… it’s what left of ourselves after surviving the storminess of bumps and lumps. Suffering happens in the deepest part of ourselves… sometimes we are aware of it and sometimes we are not, but always, it lies deep within us – guarded by our psyche so that we may simply move on.

 But like the gentleman in the story, the pain can, and often does, linger – sometimes well beyond what we think it has. For some of us, we may still be hurting from the loss of a loved one or a break up or a betrayal … there are a myriad of experiences that contribute to our sense of loss. But what makes us suffer lies in how we make sense of the pain that we are experiencing? Do we choose to play the role of victim, thereby making ourselves unable to do anything else but to blame others for our sorrows? Do we choose to despair or lose hope, resigning ourselves to a life of tragedy? Or do we choose to use our suffering as a tool with which to open up ourselves?



A tool that enables us to look deep within and ultimately, keeps the heart, mind, and spirit open.

Sometimes it’s easier just to abide by the suffering and do nothing about it, to make no effort to give it meaning or understanding… just simply deny its existence. Denial, from my understanding of its use in psychology, is a self-preservation tool of the psyche. It allows us to bury the pain, and to create a facade about its ill effect. It allows us to mentally and emotionally survive, but it does not help us find release. And like all things buried, in time, they eventually find their way to the surface…


Sometimes, when we comprehend the nature of our suffering, we can take comfort in understanding it. Take for example an old family friend of mine – we’ll call him Daniel. Daniel is in his sixties, and survived a serious stroke several years ago. Miraculously, he has regained complete use of his physical abilities, but he will have to deal with long-term brain injury as a result of his stroke. He understandably laments the loss of his faculties – as he tells me, “It’s quite frustrating to know what it is that you’re seeing but then not be able to retrieve the words right away.” But Daniel is a survivor and he recounts how blessed he is to have recovered as well as he has. Even more telling is how he has made sense of his suffering: he sees himself as blessed… and he knows that his progress serves as an inspiration to other stoke survivors, which is why, he says, he never stops attending his therapy.


Pain and suffering have its purpose… and everyday we have a chance to give it meaning so that we might find release from them. In some instances, like the loss of an ability – it may mean we have to adapt to our world differently than what we have been accustomed to; and in other instances, like the loss of love, it may mean we have to regain love for ourselves in order to heal and love again.

In any event, it causes us to rethink or do things differently… and perhaps finding the meaning of our suffering is the answer that we seek.















(Story about the therapist borrowed from Katherine Woodward Thomas’s “Calling In the One.”)



Sunday, January 29, 2012

Our Connectedness to Each Other (Part I)

2012 started off with a bang… literally. On New Year’s Eve I was standing in front of the Sleeping Beauty castle at Disneyland with my kids and their friends. This moment was the culmination of several months of planning – coordinating the logistics and budgets for transportation, accommodations, and itineraries for our stay at the “happiest place on earth.” We would ring in the New Year to a sky painted with brilliant fireworks like no other (as only Disney can do) and it would be a sign of the happiness and prosperity that was to come with the year 2012.

WELL… that was the plan anyways.

Reality always has a way to show us that even the best laid plans will not come to fruition if that is not what the universe has planned, lol… and so it was, Murphy’s Law ran amuck that night. That evening, the fog decided to roll into Anaheim (I was told by some locals that this only happens every so many years), so that by , Sleeping Beauty castle was barely visible. It was cold; the kids and I had been waiting in a designated area for about 2 hours just so we could have a good spot with which to catch the first round of fireworks at 9:30pm… and my girlfriend (who had taken the trip with us) was sick with the flu and in her hotel room, unable to hold down any food all day. With great anticipation, we all hoped the fireworks would brighten the sky and by default, brighten our mood. 

BOOM… BOOM… BOOM… we could hear the fireworks sail into the sky as they were being launched, but where were they???? Another set of loud booms and still… nothing. As luck would have it, the fog was too thick for the fireworks to boast their brilliance, and the realization that we would not be able to see any fireworks for this show or at was a sobering bubble buster. This disappointment could be felt among the masses, evident in their faces the looks of defeat, resignation and anguish that the ringing in of the New Year at Disneyland would not go as planned. The fog had proved to be a cloud that would over shadow us in many ways.

Recognizing the irony of the situation, my kids and I began to play along with Mother’s Nature’s cruel joke: we began to utter sounds of “ooooh” and “aaaaah” with every boom of the fireworks being launched. We looked up at the sky, acting as if marveled by the fireworks, some of my kids’ friends even commented on the colors, lol… and people thought we were nuts. But within a few minutes, those immediately around us began to join us in the ooohing and aaahing, recognizing the opportunity to still have a laugh in the moment, even though the joke was on us, lol.

That trip has made for a wonderful tale to tell when folks have asked me, “So, what did you do over the holiday break?” But even more so, it became a reminder to me about how connected we are to one another. It’s easy to see this when you are lumped into a group like that – rounded up and corralled in a certain space, waiting for the much anticipated event. While waiting, it’s easy to strike up conversations with perfect strangers, inquire about their wait times for the more popular rides and discuss the attractions that they’ve enjoyed the most. It is as if the difference between class, race, or culture does not exist or at least has minimal significance at this point, because the more relevant piece is our commonality as Disney-attendees. We were all joined by this common fact… and we all experienced the same fate and the same disappointment when the fog ruined the fireworks show. This was equally distributed – no one got a better view because they paid more for special park privileges: we were all equals at that point in time because there was nothing to see… and no amount of money, special privileges or favors was going to change that sad fact.

And so, as I watched the crowd disburse - folks separating off to make tracks for their hotels, while others moved to ride on more rides, I wondered what happened to the comraderie that connected us all during that period of time... the moment had provided us a glimpse of mutuality, and yet, when all was said and done, we all seemed to be so willing to disappear back into our lives dictated by social boundaries, content to be strangers once again... 

It made me wonder... just how is it that we can forget our fundamental connection to one another?  Why do you suppose that is?