Friday, May 18, 2012

Shoulding Myself

I'm having an attack of the shoulds. The volume is up on my gremlins today. I can't get past my long list of things about me and my life that "should" be different.

I feel like nothing's good enough: not my glasses, not my khaki shorts, my apartment, my cleaning habits, my organizational schemes, definitely not my job(s), my income, my budgeting, my goals.

I've been obsessing about my day-to-day choices...first I obsessed that I was too tired to go to the museum like I'd told Redbeard I would, and now that I chose to stay home and relax, I'm obsessing that maybe it would've been better to go to the museum.

The ridiculous thing is that I know I'm being ridiculous. It's not exactly a new revelation that I tend to ask too much of myself and make unrealistic, impossibly high demands of myself, the people around me, and life in general.

I got into my dream school (Ivy League, bitches), with a scholarship, and I'm going... yet my mind can't help drifting to the one person, among a sea of well-wishers, who made an ass-y comment about how many loans I'll be taking on. I've been doing an admirable job completing scads of paperwork, yet I'm dwelling on the one field on one form that I missed (which is now, naturally, gumming up the works.)

I don't want to be that person! I want to be one of those positive-thinking, blessings-counting people! But you know what? My fear of being a Negative Nancy might as well not be one more thing to beat myself up about.

Deep down I already know the antidote. I know that self-acceptance and kindness is the way out of this mental state. I know not to compare my insides with everyone else's outsides. I know to remember that everyone has "days"...sometimes several in a row. I know that no one's life is quite as catalog-ready as it might appear. Life can be messy and hard. Choices are not always clear. Outcomes are not guaranteed. I don't have to live my life according to anyone's rules but my own.

I know this. I do. It's just hard to remember sometimes.

Saturday, May 12, 2012

Scenes from a Good Life

-Strolling through the neighborhood with Redbeard drinking coffee on a spectacular May day. Some of the neighbors are having a porch sale. We know them now because we joined the neighborhood watch (which, pleasingly, involved more dog and more popsicles than expected.) Joking with them. Buying lemonade from some neighborhood kids.

-A wonderful May fair at the park, where we ate spectacular food truck pizza and sat in the shade listening to a local band play some bluesy tunes.  I talked to some folks who were tabling at a very cool school that I want to learn more about.

-On to the farmer's market, where we bought fresh vegetables and some of the most exquisite strawberries I've ever tasted. Also home-made Amish root beer.

-Then, to see art and hear music and share in a potluck at the local yoga/wellness/art studio. It made me inordinately proud that all my  homemade vegetable curry disappeared! Plus I drank mead for the first time.

-Now we're going to bike to Center City to go see Dark Shadows and possibly have gelato.

I did an impromptu bartending gig on Friday night so I'm feeling flush with a little unexpected cash (I will leave the argument of saving it vs. spending it on my own pleasure for another time.)

What a spectacular day. Wish they could all be like this.

Friday, May 11, 2012

How to Shut Down

I like to do it with food. I was telling my friend C about this. I've been re-reading Women, Food, and God, this time with a more open, less eye-roll-y mindset. Geneen Roth essentially posits that when you have the urge to eat something when you are not physically hungry, the antidote is to become curious. You ask yourself what you're feeling  physically, mentally, emotionally.

Today I found myself in front of the refrigerator trying desperately to be curious. I picked up food. I put it back in. I took it out again, heated it up, left it on the counter. It's hard to figure out. If I'm not hungry what am I? The answers surprised me. Today I was

  • Panicky - but why would I be panicky? It was a nice afternoon. Home early from work. Friday. What's not to like? Then I realized that Redbeard wasn't home, the house was too empty and quiet. Actually it was kind of 
  • Lonely. Huh? I am a strong, independent, butt-kicking lady! I don't have a problem with solitude! Except when I do... and then I feel ashamed. Strong, independent, butt-kicking ladies aren't supposed to feel lonely! Or like the house is too quiet...or that when they are alone it's because the world and those who love them have somehow forgotten them, or abandoned them. This is not the stuff of a savvy modern woman!  Which is why it's easier to stuff that particular unacceptable feeling down with food. Also:
  • Tired. I was just tired, I realized! Long week! Babysitting sick kids! Grad school paperwork death march! In addition to being a savvy kickass modern woman, I also expect myself never to tire. Even after early mornings and car trouble and staying up late to watch Jon Stewart. I expect myself to be an indefatigable machine (I'm pretty sure we have an industrial-era efficiency consultant to thank for that. Also my upbringing. And my hearty farmworker Eastern European stock.)
But... I'm not a machine! I'm a human bean! I have highs and lows. I get droopy when I'm running on empty. Circadian rhythms and all that. The pull of the moon on the brain juices. The internal hormone floods.

Eating, and my other go-to avoidance/shut-down tactic, dicking around purposelessly on the internet, often take the place of the rest I feel I can't give myself. Because they both look like something "productive" or "worthwhile"...I mean hey, I gotta eat! I mean hey, it's the [celebrity gossip] news! I've gotta stay informed!

But when I'm tired and all I want is rest, these things are poor substitutes. This afternoon, in a moment of great personal triumph, I lay on the couch in my study and stared into space for a good twenty minutes. I closed my eyes, opened them, lollygagged, picked up books and put them down again. The cat came to visit and left.

And, remarkably, after about twenty minutes or so, I felt renewed! Refreshed! I remembered a couple of action items I'd been meaning to do. I got up, I felt better, I moved on with the day...which could very well have been stuck in an infinite loop of avoidance behaviors, in which the more I avoided the things I really wanted the worse I felt, so the more I avoided the bad feeling.

So there you have it, folks. After years of instrospection, study, meditation, and therapy, I have gained the superpower ability to lay down when I'm tired.

Friday, May 4, 2012

The Beauty of Biking In the Rain

It was tricky week, overall. I am in that hazy amorphous period of one life's phase winding down while another is still winding up. I don't do well with ambiguity, so I spent more time than I like to admit hunched over the computer avoiding real life by staying plugged into the screen.

But. Redbeard and I went to go see the Van Gogh exhibit at the Art Museum tonight, a last minute decision when we realized it was in its last weekend. And sure, we're eating hot dogs and cornflakes lately to make ends meet but art is food too. And when else do you get a chance to see in person, in living color, world-famous pieces you may never see again, 3-D, textured, close enough to breathe on.

 It was like getting my brain power-washed with color and light.

The story of Van Gogh's moods and internal struggles was threaded throughout, along with his own family. I feel for the guy, toremented, ravaged by demons that chances are we have meds for these days.

But, his medicine was the sunlight of Arles (it's one of the few places I've been in the world and I have to say, the quality of the light really is spectacular); sheaves of wheat; poppies in field and bowls; the forest's undergrowth. And who among us will say that any of those don't have healing powers?

I was captivated thinking about his family, too, especially Theo, always sending him money and art supplies and finding him new doctors. Vincent went down in history but what about Theo?

I guess Theo got the solace of a family and a wife and respectability and stability and a career and children. Vincent, for him, the landscapes, the irises, the wind moving across the grassy fields, that was it, man.

I like to think that despite his demons he had moments of being totally absorbed by stunning, everyday beauty. Looking at the painting called Trees and Undergrowth, how can you doubt it? I hope he got to say what he wanted to say about the world, about what he saw and felt, how his mind worked.

From a letter he wrote to his sister, Wilhelmina: "I believe that at present we must paint nature's rich and magnificent aspects. We need good cheer and happiness, hope and love. The uglier, older, meaner, iller, poorer I get, the more I wish to take my revenge by doing brilliant color, well-arranged, resplendent."

I love that. The beauty of the world as revenge for everything the world has cost you.

When we left the museum, the hot soupy evening had turned into a stormy night. People idled in the doorway, opening umbrellas, discussing what to do. Redbeard and I felt that in honor of Van gogh we should charge out into the rain with our arms open, and we did so. We stood on the pavilion at the top of the hill that overlooks the wide river and the highway, and a vein of lightning cracked in the sky. 

Saturated with Van Gogh, his horizons and close ups and frames, everywhere we looked we saw a painting: the lights of cars sliding down the highway across from Boathouse row, framed by the columns of the pavilion; a white blossomed tree highlighted against a purple colored stormy sky, the mists and lights of the city in the background; the leaning grasses; the gnarled trees along the bike path; the white streetlight illuminating the leaves of a tree as a girl passed underneath.

We rode along the river, faces thrust toward the raindrops, the river pierced with raindrops turning it mottled and matte, instead of its usual dark patent sheen. "I feel so alive," Redbeard called out jokingly, but he meant it too.

Monday, April 30, 2012

In which reading a novel leaves her flustered and nostaligc, unable to concentrate on the tasks at hand

            I don’t know why I bother with reading books anymore. All they do is crack you open and make you care about things like, I don’t know, passion and longing and yearning and messy uncomfortable stuff that can’t be resolved by a bullet point on a to-do list.
             And, certainly, I must save my strength, my worry, for my never-ending list of tasks which, once completed, will certainly spit out the prize I’ve been working so hard to earn, whatever it is, like one of those claw machines that finally picks up a two-dollar watch you spent eighteen dollars in quarters trying to get.
             I’ve been trying so hard to get it right, to force things to happen. There are goals, action items, lists, emails to answer, things to achieve.
             I’ve been trying to pretend that I am a practical, business-like person who appreciates the simple, beautiful functions of spreadsheets. A little disappointed-- miffed, perhaps -- that a degree in creative writing didn’t prepare me well enough for the “job market.”
             And it didn’t, of course. My first job after college was driving around southeastern Pennsylvania and Delaware teaching “reading classes” off a script that was given to me in a big white binder, trying to convince kids that “reading is fun!” because I said so, because other adults said so, because their parents were willing to pay for this class in order to better prepare them for “the job market.”
             But reading is not fun, kids. It’s not fun like an amusement park, or playing video games, or playing soccer. It can be depressing, heart-wrenching, mind-bending. It can make you question your reality, yourself, your life. It can make you see yourself more deeply, possibly in shades that are as not as flattering as you might like.
             Because the truth is, I was not “prepared” for the job market. I was not “prepared” for real life – but is anyone, really? Perhaps my big mistake all along was the misconception that with enough preparation, you can be ready for and able to manage this massively unwieldy, tangled up, randomly-firing gibberish people call life unfolding.
             I can almost feel my 19-year old self cringing at the compromises I have made, am making, even now. She with the Janis Joplin poster on her wall does not accept my reasonable arguments about making a living, affording meals and maybe a house someday, gardening supplies, a plane trip to visit people now and then.
             Because she is unreasonable, that girl, along with many other things. A little embarrassing, perhaps, in her stridency and urgency. But she wouldn’t stand for this shit about grad school and paychecks and gardens. The world is your garden, she would say. Everything is your garden: streetlights, lampposts, the Vietnamese hoagie shop, the bicycles gliding past. And she would mean it. Metaphorically, of course.
             What happened to that girl, the one whose brain circuitry got all blown out when her AP English teacher introduced her to The Wasteland. Who stayed for hours in the college library soaking up memoirs and poems, wrestling with them, trying to make heads or tails of them, reading W.D. Snodgrass as if it mattered, as if it was important to find out what those words meant, why that nice old man took so much time to put them together in that particular way, in that particular order. Surely it meant something to the guy who spent so much time on them, if she could only figure out what.
             What happened to the girl who thought anything was possible, who still didn’t know that she would not, in fact, meet the love of her life in college, who still felt that he (she? nah, probably he...) could be lurking around every corner, it could be any one of these people.
             What happened to she who flipped out over the beauty of dying black-eyed susans on her way home from class, such that she couldn’t wait to get home to write about it. Or even she who haunted the Shakespeare & Company bookstore in Paris, whose sixth sense, almost, brought her there to the scent of her wildest fantasies, in which she was a bohemian writer-artist traveling through Europe making fast friends, sleeping with people, drinking right from the bottle. Living a little.
             And yet whose good sense always overrode that sixth sense, kept her from  acting on any impulse other than that it would be time to get home soon, the subway closed at midnight, she didn’t want her host mom to worry (if she was even home). She had to complete her homework for her class, she had to earn an A, or the French school for foreigners equivalent, because deep down that was the comforting way she knew how to look at herself: responsible, hardworking, desperate for the approval of whatever random person happened to be in authority.
             Do you see what that has cost you, you silly girl?
             Maybe nothing. You are safe and warm. But once upon a time you dared to dream that there was something more to life than safe and warm.
             I don’t apologize to her, the 19-year old with the Janis Joplin poster. She was kind of ridiculous in many respects, often too strident, impossibly insecure. She toed that odd line of wanting to befriend everyone and wanting to tell everyone to fuck off. She could never quite choose. Maybe still can’t.
             But she was a bit of pretender, that girl. She’d could really only identify one or two Janis Joplin songs, although she was massively fond of Bobby McGee. Thumbing a diesel down, hitching a ride to New Orleans, that sounded alright to her. Of course, J.Jop died real young, and at this point I can’t really get behind that.
             It’s one thing to make an album or two of smoking, epic passion and then flame out early and die. It’s another thing to stick around as life mellows and grows more complex, gains additional flavors to those of hot pepper and raw nerve. It can get slower, deeper, more subtle, maybe even richer. More heartbreaking, more confusing.
             Maybe the girl with the Janis Joplin poster would have said fuck you to all of that. But Janis Jopin did not have the balls, ultimately (and who can blame her), for growing older and learning new things; gaining wisdom; watching her parents age and contemplate the fact that they will eventually die and perhaps could have been happier in life; having to make sacrifices and compromises; paying the steep steep prices that continuing to live can sometimes exact.
             I do miss that girl, though. She left by degrees, slowly was replaced with another girl who could appreciate not just the cracked-out urgency of the Beats but whose mind began to open and unfold despite herself toward poets of a quieter, subtler, more nuanced ilk.
             She never wanted to be like those old boring gray-haired poets who lived in the woods and smoked pipes and wrote poems appreciating all the birds and twigs and leaves. Sounded like the most boring thing in the world.
             Maybe what she could not yet appreciate was how absolutely ravaged you tend to be by the time you have the privilege of living to be old enough to go gray.
             Maybe she couldn’t appreciate how much those boring old duffers had lost along the way to their lonely cottages in the woods.
             How maybe the only solace, the only truth they had left were those stupid woodchucks or the smell of damp soil in the morning or the way sunlight dapples things or the way words look and sound on a page.
             Maybe she didn’t give them credit for knowing that these small tokes of natural beauty or calm, contemplative sadness were not really enough, all told, to make this gradual wasting process called life worth it— but that they felt that perhaps they should try, anyway.
             Perhaps she did not appreciate the nobility, the courage, if it can be called that, of all those hill-rambling old men with hearts like spent charcoal, trying to keep a few smoldering embers alive.    

Sunday, April 29, 2012

On Breaking Bread

On Friday Heather came over for dinner. She grew up next door to us back home, like another sister. She was in town for a conference. My parents and sister brought lasagna, bread, salad. I set out cheese and crackers. We talked about the old days and the new days, the days we are in right now and the ones to come. Almost all the neighbors from that block are gone now and exist together only in my indelible memory of a place that still exists, houses that still stand, but a time that is gone. I'm making it sound sadder than it is. Other kids are riding their bikes up and down that driveway, climbing that really good tree (I hope to god they are still climbing that tree), crawling behind the forsythia bush.

I hope they have the chance to play together like we did, forming a noisy blob that floated effortlessly through the neighborhood, known and safe wherever we went. I hope they still don't need to lock the doors and  and that they can still hear the Metro North commuter train quaking across the tracks a few times a day. I hope their biggest troubles, like mine were, are forgetting their musical instruments at home on band day, or not having any clean socks. I hope when they're sixteen religious zealots don't fly planes into nearby buildings and send that whole fever dream of safety and security crashing to the ground. And I hope nobody gets sick or hurt and they never learn what a hospital waiting room is like. I hope nobody calls in the middle of the night. I hope they aren't eaten alive with anxiety or mysterious aches and pains. I hope the recession ends and they all pursue their most passionate interests in a positive and remunerative way.

But if they can't have all of those things, I hope at the least they make a friend who becomes like family, who they can go a long time without seeing but when they see her next, be reassured by how much she both has changed and is the same. And I hope at least they can get a chance to sit around a table sharing a meal and getting nostalgic for a time when they didn't even know how good they had it.

I am starting to not feel that young anymore. I'm starting to feel like I've done a some living by now, like I have lifetimes behind me already. At Michelle's house on Saturday I kept forgetting whether I knew her from high school or college. It all blurs together. Old friends are old friends.

Her new house is an adorable ca. 1912 temple of sturdy Edwardian craftsmanship, hardwood floors and built-in shelving and a fireplace that works, books and wine and baking and cooking. The four of us, the two couples, stayed up late making pizzas and drinking wine and later scotch and solving all the problems of our modern age. We woke up to a sun-swept Sunday morning and Michelle made breakfast.

That right there is the good stuff of life, the living that I'm always so preoccupied with figuring out how to do. You share a meal, you share stories and memories and news and ideas and opinions. You find out which great-aunt's attic the furniture came from. You eat and you drink. You give and receive. You say thank you and you're welcome and please. Especially thank you. Especially that.

Monday, April 23, 2012

Open Flowers In the Windy Fields of This War-Torn World

After the heavy rains everything is fresh and brightly scrubbed this morning. The plants are an outrageous, insouciant, defiantly hopeful shade of bright, bright green. Walking the Little Charge to the school bus, every shade of pink blossom is available: azalea, cherry, dogwood, in every possible shade.

We wait for the bus stop quietly, each lost in our thoughts. The air is cool bordering on cold. The words of that old kids' song come to me:

This is the song that never ends. It goes on and on my friend. Some people started singing it, not knowing what it was, and they'll continue singing it forever just because...

It was always a nonsense song but this morning it seems like an apt metaphor, the never-ending song being the song of life. Some people started these wheels on the bus in motion, had no idea what they were doing, and we carry and renew that tune on and on forever, still no closer to having a clue, but we'll keep on singing it forever, just because.

Sunday, April 22, 2012

In Medias Res

Goodnight rainy night. Today I drove through the rain to commemorate another year older, Redbeard and his dad have birthdays in the same week. We did that age-old sit around and eat and drink and tell the stories that become us, or that slowly we become. As I drove through the rain I tried to be grateful and mindful, rain pattering, wipers wiping.

And on the way home that familiar stretch of Walnut street when you first see the skyline of the city headed east back in, I was overcome with a wave of something like nostalgia, like a tenderness or a kindness toward Redbeard and myself, how we grapple and hang on, try to untangle the knots and move forward and make some of this progress you hear so much about. What then, once we make it? Do we think there will be no more progress after that? Do we hope to reach a state of perfection after which there is no more problems, no more struggle? And yet every morning we wake up, fight it out, soaring victories, crushing defeats, and then the middle times that are like a march or a trudge or walk across a lawn on a summer night sweeping your flashlight from left to right.

That skyline. Seen me through so many chapters, so many phases, hard to even keep track of them all. Sometimes it reminds me of the bigness of things, of the view from the uppermost floors, from which all my days and cares and most earnest most fervent thoughts, memories, feelings, wishes, desires, plans seem impossibly, laughably small.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Super Fucked-Up Squared Times A Million

In two days it will be one year since my cousin Alfred died. I hate that, because a year sounds like a long time, but it doesn't feel like a long time. The wound is fresh. And I hate it because after one year comes two years, three, and four, and on an on, and that is too long to live without him. One year has already been too long.

After his death I decided I needed to do something with my life. I needed to try to make my own life worthwhile. A year later I've been accepted to grad school to learn what I hope will be a profession where I can be of service.

It has been a year of being brave and soldiering on and life going on even after you're convinced it can't and won't, and not wanting it to.

But now I'm tired. I don't want to be brave anymore, I can't fathom a life of having to be this brave. I want to go back to the way it was, back when everything was a normal amount of fucked-up, not super fucked-up squared times a million.

I'm tired of keeping the faith, telling myself that life is precious and worth living. Life is barbaric, people are awful, corporations are slowly going to squeeze us until we die penurious in the street, probably of drinking tainted fracking water or eating unregulated meat juice or the terrorists winning.

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

On Patience

I've been impatient. Tulips are shooting up all over the place, the daffodils and forsythia blooms are almost past their prime. I'm ready for promising shoots to come bursting up in my life, too. I am waiting to hear back from the Top Choice School about my interview, waiting to hear from Second Choice School Which I Would Happily and Gratefully Attend about whether or not they have any graduate assistant monies for me; waiting to hear from some part time jobs I applied for to see if any of those time parts are for me; waiting to tell my landlord whether or not we will be able to afford this apartment next year; waiting to see if Redbeard gets a job offer; waiting for money to come in; waiting, waiting, waiting.

Last night all the waiting broke me down and I called my wise aunt who listened and murmured sympathetically, which was just exactly what I wanted. And she reminded me that often eventually the universe or the cosmos or whatever eventually makes clear what the course will be. So here I am, waiting for paperwork to go through, waiting for a sign, waiting for them to open the velvet barricades surrounding my next step.

It is frustrating, of course. I want to CONTROL, I want to MANAGE, I want to HANDLE things. I want assurance, I want certainty, I want direction, I want answers!

But these things are doggedly, determinedly, annoyingly unfolding in their own time. And that skill, the skill of waiting, letting go, letting things not one that I could say I've mastered yet. I cling to the illusion that there is such a thing as certainty in life, that a certain email or a certain letter will guarantee the things I want: security, stability, a sense of peacefulness about the future, assurance that everything's going to be OK.

On the other hand, that shit probably doesn't actually come via email. It's not something you order off Amazon and track via UPS feverishly until it lands on your doorstep. It's not a letter, it's not a package, it's not a thing at all, and you don't receive it with your eyes or hands.

It arrives without warning (and sometimes goes just as quickly as it came.) But I think there are ways to put yourself in a more receptive mood. Example given: I went for a jog-walk this morning. The sky was an epic blue. All those bulbs planted in fall have fearlessly shot up through people's front yards. The song "I'm Alive" by The Hooters came on the ipod - reminding me that wherever I go it's amazing to know I'm alive.

And I had that familiar feeling where I wake up to the place and time where I actually am, look around and say to myself, "You know what? This is nice."

Peacefulness, a feeling that everything's going to be OK, those don't come from Admissions offices. They comes from within, from knowing thyself and knowing that you can trust yourself to "fall down seven times, stand up eight." Knowing that you can cultivate those activities and thoughts and situations and even people in your life that give you a sense of well-being and rightness in the world...regardless of where you are in your life, where you've been, where you're headed, where you want to go.

These moments come in flashes, and being ready for them and inviting them requires some footwork of us, and it doesn't always work perfectly. But when they do come, they are a gift, and it behooves us to say thank you: Thank you!

PS - While I was typing this post, one of those external, temporary answers did come in over email - I have an interview next Thursday. Go figure.

Sunday, March 18, 2012

In which, briefly, life is totally perfect

I spent Saturday sleeping in and doing crafts. Redbeard tinkered with his bike in the backyard all afternoon. We decided to grill and some friends in the neighborhood strolled over. Today, same thing: sleeping, crafts, and we decided to grill again, because we loved it so much last night.

Oh did I mention I GOT INTO GRAD SCHOOL? Which lent the whole weekend an air of relaxation that I haven't had in a long long time. What's better than warm weather, the smell of charcoal smoke, the crack of a beer can, the flicker of a candle as the sky gets darker and the living sounds of the neighborhood?

Nothing, I tell ya, that's what.

Sunday, March 4, 2012

In which I tell what I've been up to, consider the merits of boredom, remember to give thanks

It's been all quiet on the blogging front for a little while. I got a gnarly stomach bug, the takeaway from which was holy shit, it feels so good to be healthy and alive after you finally bounce back from something like that. Tonight Redbeard and I got pork bowls and as I devoured my slightly spicy sweet meat-strips like a ravenous movie dinosaur I thought, oh hell yes, thank god for this.

It's been a quiet few weeks, going through the routines, but actually incremental progresses have been made. I've been making greeting cards on a regular basis that I intend to sell at some future point. I started a Couch25K routine after my subconscious finally tugged at my sleeve enough times about my basically-sedentary lifestyle. I continued to show up for The Kid, the gal I nanny for. Struggled with procrastination on the other job, in which there is a decided lack of flaming, in-my-face deadlines, which tends to be tricky for me.

I saw The Secret World of Arietty, which was magical and inspiring. Redbeard and I are starting to get a team together to create a kinetic sculpture to participate in the Kensington Kinetic Sculpture Derby, which, once completed, will fulfill a longtime dream of mine.

And then there is the almost overwhelming tidal wave of projects, classes, and adventures I want to partake of. There's the list of ten goals for the year I started last September that I am still working on, 5-7 of which I am totally kicking ass on. There's my intention to end the day doing something relaxing, the same way I've made a habit (I just typed habitat, that fits too I think) of a period of quiet reflection in the morning. There's emailing with my friend C, we go back and forth about our struggles and triumphs in the realm of the good life. There's garden season coming up. There's the community group I want to continue to be involved with. And oh right there's grad school and financial aid applications and all that.

And then of course there's the sleeping, which is key for me, and the trying to not eat too much of things that will prematurely put me in the grave, and trying to do this in a way that will not put Redbeard and me into insolvency (I'm looking at you, fresh produce and lean proteins). And then there's the cat poop to scoop and the dishes to be done. 

It all sounds so quotidian written out here like that. After several years of overall life-upheaval, I can't forget to be grateful for peacefulness, stability, routine, things going as planned. If there is a vague sense of boredom, maybe I can try to be kind of zen into that, see that beneath the boredom there is maybe just maybe the seeds of a stable, rooted, grounded life. Maybe I can see the germination happening, promising shootings bursting up out of the ground, like the crocuses and daffodils this year, lured early from the earth by the mild weather we're having.

Oh! And something both ordinary and spectacular: the doctor said I could go off the medicine for ulcerative colitis. It happened in such a routine and unspectacular way - after a rainy morning in the waiting room leafing through a withered magazine - that it's easy to overlook what a victory, what a blessing this is. Three years after the original diagnosis - and, truthfully, three years of hard work at turning my life around and tuning in to the wisdom - yeah, I said it - the wisdom of my own darn body - and it's easy to forget what it was like when I basically couldn't live my life due to the spasms of pain and the necessity of being within three minutes of a bathroom at all times.

So now, as my life chugs merrily along, I have to remember not to get too blase about this slow locomotion down the tracks. Having been derailed, and having fought to get to where I am...a peaceful journey through the countryside is a gift the likes of which I did not before have the sense to appreciate.

So fine, I'm overwhelmed by all the things I want to do and see and accomplish in my life. So, fine. Great! I am in love with the possibilities, the chances, the opportunities, the excitement. Better that than the dull gray film of depression, where nothing interests and nothing excites. Better that than the utter misery of illness, in which the world shrinks to focus only on the pain and its interludes.

If only I can remember not to tie every ribbon to this splendid and spectacular future, and give thanks for that which is before me now. A quiet Sunday night. Redbeard sighing in and out of the rooms. The dryer in the basement beneath me churning rhythmically like a beating heart. Now Redbeard is trying to do a Vulcan Mind-meld with the cat, holding it to his forehead, attempting to know the inner workings. Everything working properly, humming along, the household machines, the car, the body. The night now coming to a close, pajamas, a reigning in of those things finished and unfinished. The promise of a night of rest, another day, say thank you, and thank you, and thank you.

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Look What I Did!

Let the record show that, two weekends in a row, I defied the forces of entropy, sloth, and internet-stasis to do fun, engaging activities that I'm proud of and glad I did!

Exhibit A: 18-mile hike on the Appalachian Trail including overnight in a possibly haunted former boardinghouse!

Exhibit B: Made a date with my friend Michele to make stuff! See hand-made valentines, below!

A great victory for the good life! Rejoice!

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Face Mauling, Doomsday Prepping, and a Picture of City Birds

The latest New Yorker has an article about a man whose face got burned off in an accident and eventually got a face transplant. I felt sick and scared and fascinated all at once, and immediately set to imagining myself in a wrong-end-of-a-powerline scenario having to have my features removed one by one in surgery in order to preserve what was left alive of my flesh. Would I be brave and stoic, hailed for my courage? Become embittered, angry? Depressed and never leave the house? What if my sense of taste was harmed and I couldn't even count on drowning my sorrows with E.L. Fudges?

Why do I read this disturbing stuff? And what does this have to do with the good, happy, positive life I supposedly write about here on the old electric rectangle?

Maybe just, a thing about trust. I am good at bracing for the worst, picking at scabs, waiting for the other shoe to drop, preparing let's-stick-this-out-together inspirational speeches that go undelivered. Redbeard points out a new TV show called Doomsday Preppers - people stockpiling for all sorts of apocolypses, a diverse array of worst-case scenarios. Bracing for the worst somehow makes it easier to entertain the thought. Helps you tolerate the fear.

Take these never-ending, godforsaken grad school applications. I finally screwed my courage to the sticking place enough to send in the one to the school that I care about. It's so easy to brace for rejection and disappointment, prepare for inevitable waste-laying to my dreams, plan your escape route for the zombie invasions. I'm all about motivational speeches and not giving up and hard knocks and what a loser Abe Lincoln was for so long. I'm comfortable in comeback mode, scrappy, scrambling for a foothold.

Much harder to actually admit that I want something, that I hope for something, that I want something, because that is risking disappointment. A scarier question is, what if everything goes right? At least if I plan for disappointment I will have already arranged my face to make it appear that I don't care.

Anyway, about trust. How can I trust fate, the universe, a higher power, destiny, whatever, when it so frequently deals out such bullshit to people? Like, really? This lady took too many sleeping pills on purpose and then while passed out her Labrador mauled her face? And wasn't there a face-mauling exacted by a pet monkey, too? And wasn't it not even the woman's pet monkey, wasn't it like her friend's monkey? Is a universe to be trusted that would allow this kind of thing?

I'm sorry, I'm all over the place tonight, I'm looking for a thread here. Maybe something to do with the question of whether there is something bigger and better and more vast than monkeys and faces and fear of the future.

Here: in lieu of neat, coherent wrap-up conclusion I will leave you with a picture of birds I saw on my walk back from yoga on a spring-like day in winter:

Can you see them on the branches? They were loud, then quiet when I passed.

What's been mauling you lately?

Sunday, January 29, 2012

Putting Myself At the Top of The List

I remember the first time I heard the term "self-care." From a psychologist, naturally. I remember being flummoxed, thinking "Huh. Now what does that mean?"

I shudder to think how not care-ful I used to be (sometimes still can be) with myself. I was the high emperor of powering through, staying up all night, forgetting to eat until I was ready to collapse. I was my own slavedriver, poised above the sled yelling mush! mush! Faster into the night!

I see now some of what it was about. It was about saying yes to everybody so that they would love and approve of and be pleased with me. It was about asking for permission to be alive, to exist. It was about having no clue who I was. It was about the Cinderella thing, and the martyr thing, and a general lack of control and/or self-worth.

I remember that the psychologist wouldn't pin down for me exactly what taking care of oneself meant. As always, I was looking for someone else to give me the rules to follow. Eventually I figured out that it's tricky, because it means different things to different people, and even different things to the same person depending on the situation, the day, the hour.

Saturday, January 21, 2012

A Snowy Ramble

There is still something special about waking up on the morning of the first snowfall of the year. You can sense it even before you know exactly what it is. A sleepy, muffled quality that isn't usually there. In the place of the usual mishmash of dead leaves and patio furniture that is in the backyard, there was a gentle, even coating of snow.

Out in the street, there is an air of festivity and out-of-the-ordinariness. The snow has forced us to change our routines a little, to get out and shovel the walks, to dig the snow boots from the back of the closet. People have to pick their way like chickens across the crusty ice patches.  Bundled in big coats and adorned with a great variety of hats and scarves, there is an air of slight ridiculousness to the people in the street. If there is a way to look stern and business-like in a winter hat I have yet to see it.

There's an extra air of excitement. People can't quite forget what it was like when they were kids, when it was all about the sledding and hot chocolate and a day off from school. 

Maybe what I love about a snowy day is a forced variation in routine. Whatever you thought you were going to do, you might have to adjust to fit the circumstances. Cars are forced to drive more slowly down the unplowed streets. Biking's out of the picture. The library is closed today, a handwritten sign taped hastily to the glass doors. Redbeard and I decided not to go to the party tonight, we will stay in and cook dinner and share a blanket, hunker and hibernate.

This afternoon Redbeard and I strolled to the Woodlands, a cemetery that used to be a rich man's estate. It's always a place of quietness and solitude and trees in the midst of the bustling concrete jungle, and even more so on a snowy afternoon. I find it calming and sharpening to walk among the tombstones and monuments. All those calls to rest, slumber, peace, eternity.

It's good to remember every so often that we're headed into the ground, too, eventually. May our lives be precious and long.

Every once in a while you remember to tune in to the beautiful stew of everything all around you: the rasp of shovels, the cold air sharp on your face, the rasp of a snow shovel on the sidewalk. 

On the way home Redbeard and I parted ways, he to the wine store and I to the warmth of home. I walked the last few blocks by myself.

On the corner of 45th and Osage an older couple stood on the corner taking pictures of each other with a digital camera. They seemed to be in a state of amusement and delight. As I passed by, they asked me to take a picture of the two of them together. They spoke with an accent I couldn't place.

I took the picture, wondering what exactly it was they were so joyfully documenting. What's so special about two people together on an average street corner in Philly, a house, a bush, a light coating of snow?

Everything, I guess. 

Friday, January 20, 2012

Midnight in the Garden of Grad and School

Lately I have to keep polishing up the vision I have for my future, because it's been taking beatings on the way to getting there. I have to keep summoning up the image of that life of lightness and pizazz, travel and adventure, and helping people! Molding young minds! With liberty and good lives for all!

I have to keep reminding myself because in order to get there, there is a lot of paperwork to fill out. Fees to pay. Phone calls to make. Files to dig out. Records to request.

And my god, it's boring! It's deadening! It's urgent. It has to be done. You show them you can navigate endless labyrinths of bureaucratic poison ivy, do what's asked, service with a smile, and when all is said and done they smile back at you, give you a pat on the back and a wine and cheese reception and a bill for $40,000. They put it on your permanent record.

All we can do is hope that elsewhere there is a different, less boring and sensible record being etched. It lists the ways we reached out and and connected to each other, the phone call you placed on a cold January day waiting for the school bus to come and deliver the child. The friendly, dependable voice.

We can only hope there is a transcript somewhere of the kinds of people we were, in the ways for which there is no measurement and no record. Our arms around our best friend. A piece of trash nobody saw us pick up and throw away. Midnight cookie runs to the all-night pharmacy, the aisles of fluorescent glow harsh and unreal and outside of time. Belly laughs, belly rubs, bellyaching we've done around a a cheap cafeteria table somewhere with like-minded commiserators.

Somewhere out there records are being etched in a quiet, cosmic, butterfly-wings kind of way, and all the accolades and grades and the papers and forms amount to a pile of ash.  And people who cared about something, stood for something, gave a shit about someone, took a moment to listen not because it's their job but because they believe that's what human beings should do to other human beings-- even if they never get recognized, never get a red cent, die in a state of anonymity, poverty, namelessness...

I have to believe somewhere there is a tally of humble, unrecognized acts of love, connection, sacrifice, courage, inspiration, generosity.  Maybe on a piling of a dock on a lake somewhere we can't get to.  And that people live on not as the subject of a letter of reference or an average of numbers but as a total unique indescribable anomaly, like a moment that will never be repeated, the time you stood there with all your friends in the breathless 3-D, staring up at the curves of a night sky oozing stars from every pore.

Monday, January 16, 2012

Pressing the Reset Button

Last night I sat down and had a talk with myself. As my earlier blog entry attests, it had been a rather brutal week. I let an urgent deadline at work send me off the deep end. The worst part was not the external obligations but the internal racket - - a firestorm of fear-mongering, nay-saying, and pessimism. I put myself in a jail of my own making.

Luckily, last night, I decided to break out. Thanks in part to a post at another blog that reminded me to watch how I talk to myself, buster, I decided to take back control!

I did a post-mortem and attempted to figure out how I could prevent the same kind of self-inflicted torture this week. Here are the minutes from the meeting with myself:

1. Don't forget the thing about the airplanes.  I.e., course correction. A friend told me that although it looks like airplanes are flying in a straight line, they are actually constantly making slight, side-to-side course corrections the entire time they are flying. People can do that too, with goal being the the course corrections become smaller with time.

2. Leechblock: Use it in good health. When the urge to procrastinate is strong, you have to outsmart yourself - this tool lets you be your own time-suck police by imposing limits on when you can visit which web sites. It requires a certain amount of self-knowledge to enter the right information, of course, and it's still no good unless you have...

3. A commitment to an outcome. The most important difference between last week and this week is that I've had it up to here with all the mealy-mouthed whining. I am strong! I've survived and come out on top after all kinds of crap. I know what it takes. It's time to get real and do what I know to do.

Now that I got clear about what I do (and don't) want out of my working/waking life, it's up to me to make it happen. And so far: progress. I meditated, I was productive, I bought 2 skirts and 2 tops at the thrift store's 50% off sale, I wrestled the floor-laundry into being closet-laundry. I even managed a tiny, microscopic jog.

I think the take-home here is about taking ownership of your own life. In a small way, it's about being the hero of your own story. Acting upon your environment instead of being acted upon. Turning from object to subject of the sentence. Mountains, journeys, soaring eagles, wolverines. All that stuff.

Saturday, January 14, 2012

Not The Boss of Me

I've been struggling lately. I've been stuck in quicksand.

The issue is a looming, high-pressure deadline at work. Maybe the real issue is that I've allowed it to totally consume me. I've been overwhelmed, and rather than summoning the plucky, cheerful determination to attack the thing one step at a time, something in me has been sending the whole operation to a screeching halt. My subconscious has been calling in a strike - shut 'er down! - and it's been presenting as procrastination, avoidance, general overall grumpiness and depression. I just want to cower in my bed with the covers over my head.

And, like quicksand, the more I struggle to extricate myself, the deeper I sink. I try to give myself a pep talk but it turns into an internal tirade. You should be better at this by now! Better at what? Life. Work. Not getting overwhelmed and depressed. Not hiding under the covers.

I've tried all sorts of things to try to lift myself out of this mire. Some have worked better than others. Some have worked basically not at all. Here are my observations:

Sunday, January 8, 2012

Good Life Win!

The reason I like the idea of aiming for a good life, rather than pursuing a merely happy life, is that a good life leaves room for complexity, depth, richness of flavors. It allows for those things that, while not happy, are still beautiful or good. It makes room for the reality that things can be profoundly unhappy without losing the thread of a good, solid, beautiful life. Emotions like grief and anxiety can still be a part of it. It's about what Jon Kabat-Zinn calls the full catastrophe -- the whole earthly package of joy, pain, and everything in-between.

So yesterday, even though I got some troubling news about a family member, Redbeard and I proceeded as planned to our belated Christmas celebration, which consisted of a hike and dinner out.

Something about being out among the seasons, the sun rising and setting, things shaped not by human time but geologic time - mountains, rivers, streams - helps me relocate the perspective it's so easy for me to lose. Something about the way trees spring up, fight to grow, and outlast us makes me think that there's a logic to all of this, a bigger storyline than I can see by myself way down here in the field.

I am helped by remembering to enjoy one moment at a time. I am easily overwhelmed by my own ambitions. I want to see the world! Experience everything! Eat, drink, absorb it all right now! I want to see all my plans coalesce by yesterday. I hate that I will never be able to experience everything, everywhere ever.

It helps me to remember that I always have access to here and now. I may not be able to experience everything, but that's no reason not to experience what's right in front of me right now.

And often what's right in front of me can be downright spectacular, if I care to pay attention...

I'm reminded of a beautiful essay I read here, called The Summer of Our Content, by Forrest Church a Unitarian minister who talks about wanting what you have.

He writes about "deep and due appreciation for things we do have, things we would miss so desperately were they to be suddenly taken from us." Health, people, our senses, love.

For me, even though this is easy enough to understand intellectually, it took experiences of illness and loss to get get it. I remember the grandiose promises I made to the powers that be when I was in pain from ulcerative colitis, how if it would only start working right again I would truly honor my body, feed it only whole foods, live a wholesome life of exercise and vitamins, etc. etc,

I can't say I followed through particularly judiciously with that, and now that I feel fine again it's easy to take for granted the miracle of worry-free digestion taking place on a daily basis in my body. But sometimes I am still able to sit back in wonderment. (For example, Redbeard and I had our minds blown at Morimoto yesterday, where thanks to a Christmas gift certificate we were able to realize our long-time dream of dining at the establishment of our favorite Iron Chef.)

River of time, slipping away.

And then of course there was the skull-shattering loss this year of my cousin Alfred. I haven't even begun to reconcile that one. But among the many volumes of feelings I had about it, one was a feeling almost of desperation, to live and enjoy and appreciate and do as much as I can, while I can, and to do stuff I care about, not let my my time slip away unintentionally. I don't want to look up one day and find that I accidentally didn't do what I wanted in life because I got distracted by an article about Sarah Palin's hairstylist.

That's why yesterday was a great victory for me. It might've looked like just a walk in the woods, but to me it was an afternoon spent doing something that I would actually be glad to say that I did when my number gets called. 

The weather was mild and sunny. The air smelled mossy and damp. I love the woods in winter when views open up and the trees are naked and spindly. They always look like uplifted arms to me.

And yourself, fellow traveler? What aren't you taking for granted today?

Friday, January 6, 2012

Life Is Not A Magazine. It's A Good Thing!

A couple years ago I was going through a bit of a hellacious period. Inspired by a book about interior design, and also probably something I read by Martha Beck, and also an issue of Country Living that I found at a thrift shop, I started what Pirate Redbeard now refers to as "doing my pictures."

Basically I leaf through magazines and catalogs, cut out the pictures that please me for obvious and/or inexplicable reasons, and glue them into a big-ass spiral-bound sketchbook. It was unusual back then for me to do something that had such a lack of clear, definable purpose. I just kind of liked it. I couldn't explain why I was doing it, and for such a goal-oriented, results-driven efficiency slave, that was a weird feeling. But some wise people who have their lives reasonably together encouraged me to keep doing it just because I liked it and who cares, so I did.

I've been doing it when I feel like it for two or three years. What I have now is an unwieldy book full of pictures of like, people jumping into lakes and wearing vests and riding around on old-fashionedy bikes. Lots of stationary and rusty doorknobs and "distressed wood" and fresh produce and pets and big, fluffy comforters on big fluffy beds. And tents and trees and people doing yoga and carrying around picnic baskets with baguettes sticking out of them, smiling those smiles that say "We're shooting this fall catalog in mid-August and I'm trying to make it look like I'm having a festive, fun time with my baguette but actually it's like 1000 degrees and I'm wearing a toggle coat!"

Anyway... I see that what I was doing back then, from the dis-comfort of my dingy rodent-infested apartment above a laundromat, or as I like to think of it, the Lair of Despair, was trying to build a road map, a way out, a point on the horizon to aim toward, my own personal star of Bethlehem.
Seriously people, go to Montana.

And I've made some major progress since then: I own hiking boots now. I live in a big, beautiful apartment with hardwood floors instead of carpeting like that of an elementary school library. It has Victorian-times flourishes like skeleton keys and decorative glass windows. I went camping in western Montana (which by the way if you've never been is one of those places people go to to take pictures of to put in magazines, and you should totally go there). I got a big, fluffy, ivory colored duvet to snuggle under. I [attempted to] garden last summer. I own gardening clogs! They make little fart sounds when my feet get sweaty!

But and's a down day.

To enumerate: First of all, January = gross. I'm mainlining carbs. Piles of dirty laundry cross-fertilizing with the clean laundry. The work that I'm currently doing to pay the bills is boring and annoying and work-y. And even as I take steps toward my bigger and better things career-wise (i.e. apply to grad school), I can't help but be struck by the contrast between the vision for my life that I write about in my application essays ("omg Ima do a million things that I'm awesome and perfect for and it's going to be PERFECT") and, you know, my actual life.

Now, being the mood-management ninja that I am, I have mastered the use of earth-shatteringly innovative stress-management techniques such as "go for a walk" and "complain to your boyfriend." These did help, and a friendly cat did come up to me and nuzzle my leg on the walk, and they probably did prevent a more massive plunge into the darkness.

But, they also didn't stop me from projecting all sorts of pessimistic thoughts into the future, about what a cold and ugly winter it's going to be, how all I'm going to have time to do is work work work, there are no more good holidays until May, how many more gigantic stacks of BS I'm going to have to hurdle in order to get to (god willing) grad school, how I work sooooo hard and have it sooooo rough,  I barely remember what pleasure is anymore, blah blah self-pitycakes, as Sars might say.

Luckily, when I get like this, eventually somewhere in my brain a wire gets tripped and I'll recall things like how my grandparents fled their country of origin through war-torn Europe with only the clothes on their backs and within months of being in the refugee camp they managed to get a theatre troupe going despite not having any materials and having to make elegant Shakespearian costumes out of, literally, burlap sacks.  And I'm willing to entertain the idea that, fine, maybe I don't have it the roughest ever on the face of the planet. And maybe I should suck it up and do something about my situation.

I pulled out my big book of pictures and leafed through it, an activity that usually leaves me feeling kind of warm and fuzzy and inspired and soothed. Except... this time, it didn't!

It was having the opposite effect. It made me feel MORE depressed.

Because my life is so NOT like a magazine. My pictures are all fresh-baked pies and claw-foot tubs and bonfires and monogrammed canvas storage containers and a cup of tea by an artfully placed hard-backed book...

Compare that to my daily life, which lately is more to the tune of microwave popcorn packets and  clumps of kitty litter and picking up prescriptions and cursing at ATM machines and jumping up and down to stay warm while the gas pumps and squinting hunchbacked over a computer screen.

As I flipped through the pictures, I began to feel overwhelmed. How will I ever manage to make my life look like a magazine? Farmer's market veggies are so expensive. Our kitchen is so tiny and so frequently filled with dirty dishes. And when's the last time I've even seen a canoe, much less a hot air balloon? There is so much work to be done! Pictures to be hung! Beaches to prance on! Dressers to decoupage! I must make a list! I must hurry!

But as I gazed at all these pictures I've amassed, I remembered what attracted me to them in the first place. The reason I like these images of pretty rooms and delicious foods and soft blankets and people in windbreakers climbing mountains is because they're not about lists and demands and impossibly high expectations. They're all about being comfortable. Enjoying the scenery. Appreciating a nice soft blanket. Breathing the fresh air, eating the fresh food, sitting on a cushy chair. Sensory input. Simple pleasures. The moment.

I don't know why it is that it's so hard to remember this seemingly simple, ages-old idea of slowing down and enjoying the ride. I don't know why it's so hard to accept that every hour of every day doesn't have to be a rugged, earth-shattering, chakra-aligning, backwoods spiritual epiphany adventure.

As many a wiseperson has indicated, there is no "there" to get to. This is it. And frankly, "it" is a mixed bag.

And it's OK!

Come to think of it, even though a good chunk of my day was a computer-hunched hair-tearing suckfest, there was also that other part where Redbeard and I lay down on our backs on the grass on the well-manicured lawn of the University of the Sciences, and breathed in the unseasonably temperate air, and looked up at the clouds.

It was right out of a magazine.

Monday, January 2, 2012

This Year, Resolve Not To Improve So Much

I’ve practiced self-improvement as a full-contact sport for about as long as I’ve been sentient. Since early adolescence I’ve surrounded myself with to-do lists and schedules, workout regimes, goal-setting schemes. I've tabulated recipes of habits, activities, routines that I can add, subtract, and multiply so that I might finally be able to achieve that elusive condition of…what exactly?

Perfection? Completion? Nirvana?
The truth is, I am a junkie for achievements, accomplishments, and approval. Pirate Redbeard sometimes teases me about being a praiseaholic. And it’s kind of true. Because as long as it’s external approval that feeds that inner void, all I ever get is a temporary fix, only to crave more when the buzz wears off.
But 2011 has, in fact, provided me with some pretty big, wonderfully liberating paradigm shifts. Increasingly, I’ve been able to get off the approval-junkie treadmill. How, you ask?

The short answer is therapy. The slightly longer answer is:
1. Changing how I think about “enoughness.” My lust for gold stars is related to a pesky deep-seated belief I accidentally acquired that I am somehow not enough as I am. Only after pulling off this next impossible feat will I finally, at long last, be "enough”…except that it’s never enough. There’s always another mountain beyond the one I just climbed. So, it helps if I can:

2. Embrace continual change. This is one of those obvious-sounding ones that is easy to understand intellectually but way harder to actually live with. Sure, sure, the only constant is change, I’ve heard it a thousand times, got it, let’s move on…until I lose my wallet and suddenly it’s like “DEAR GOD WHY? WHY ME? ALL IS DARKNESS."
It helps (sort of) just to understand that as long as we’re living, there’s going to be new problems, new adventures, losses and gains, experiments of questionable utility, wrong turns, soaring victories and catastrophic failures. Maybe it’s possible with time to learn to approach these dignity, acceptance, and grace…
Oooooooor maybe not. Maybe for the rest of life every new bump in the road will be accompanied with a Greek chorus of wailing, teeth-gnashing, hair-rending, self-pity, and bleak, bleak despair.

And you know what? I’m OK with that. Because I’m all about:

3. Accepting imperfection. It’s cool! We humans are deeply flawed.That's like, the definition of human. Google wabi-sabi - imperfection has beauty! Besides, this whole idea of "being enough" is extremely relative. Next time I start to verbally abuse myself for not rushing to the chance to whistle while I work at a tedious and/or unpleasant task as cartoon birds land on my shoulders...maybe I can keep it in perspective by asking myself a few questions:

-Are you a serial murder?
-Have you kicked any puppies lately?
-Have you acted on any of the jealous rage fantasies?
-Are you a fugitive from the law?
-Are you, at this moment, flagrantly violating some deeply-held tenet of your personal moral code?

No? Great! 

Maybe, for now, that's enough. 

What about you, Gentle Reader? Where are you going to cut yourself some freakin' slack this year?