Every Day is Saturday

The joy and heartache of working for myself from home

And the Oscar goes to . . . .

Oscars

Like millions of people all over the world I watched the Oscars on Sunday night, and at some point during the overlong broadcast that they seemingly tried, and failed, to shorten, I realized a few things.

My first realization is that I really don’t give a damn who wins “Best Actor” or “Best Director” or whatever they’re calling it now because they don’t want to say “Best” anymore. I used to care. I used to get caught up in the drama of it all, and I would root for my favorites and be happy and/or disappointed for them, depending on the outcome. I used to look forward to the pageantry and the red carpet interviews and the endless commentary about dresses and designers and hairstyles and all that stuff.

Now it leaves me cold. I don’t give a rat’s ass which designer so-and-so is wearing, and I feel badly for these women that they have to answer the same stupid questions over and over as they run the required gauntlet of press before they are allowed to go inside. As I watched, I imagined that they made the carpet red to hide the bloodstains in case some Oscar-nominated actress suddenly snapped and ripped Lara Spencer’s throat out. God knows I wanted to.

And the men. Jammed into tuxedos, smiling and trying to be gracious to the throng of giggling entertainment correspondents making fools of themselves in their tight dresses and bleached smiles. Bless the actors who do something a little different with their ensembles. They may come off looking like a ’70s prom date, but at least they tried.

The program itself is also more and more of a mystery to me. Why do they insist on trying to make this thing entertaining? It would be so much better if they just admitted that it’s incredibly boring for people to sit for hours in an uncomfortable seat in uncomfortable clothes, afraid to blow their noses or adjust their strapless bras for fear that a momentary human gesture will wind up going viral on Twitter. It’s torture for them, and not much better for us, having to endure the parade of stiff celebrities reading that horrible, trite, demeaning copy from teleprompters which sometimes don’t even work (Terrance Howard, I think you’re a terrific actor, but if you ever get into a situation where your teleprompter goes dead and you haven’t memorized your lines, just wait for the techs to fix it – don’t try to improv your way out. It was painful, for all of us).

And then there’s the host. I’m going on record to say that I love Neil Patrick Harris; unlike most of the people he shared the stage with, he is a performer – in every sense of the word. The times he’s hosted the Tony Awards have resulted in some very memorable moments (“Go, Neil, Go!”). But even he can’t save this godforsaken show. I’m surprised he didn’t figure that out before appearing on stage in his tightey-whiteys. No, Neil, even that stunt can’t save this thing.

Which made me wonder why? Why is this all SO WRONG?

Quite apart from the rampant misogyny and racism (which is a whole other conversation that’s happening right now), the weight of the thing has gotten completely out of hand. It’s this huge machine now, and has lost all contact with its original humanity. It has its own trajectory, and, like the Titanic, is difficult to turn, and almost impossible to stop.

I also think that the fundamental premise of the award is deeply flawed. More than one of the recipients said the same thing – how can you compare one film or one performance to another? The answer is, you can’t. It’s impossible. There is no objective measure for how “good” or “bad” a work of art is. It is an entirely subjective determination. How can anyone possibly say, for sure and certain, that Patricia Arquette gave a better performance than Meryl Streep? Is that even possible? How can you say one movie is better than another? Yes, “Dude, Where’s My Car?” is not as good a movie as “Citizen Kane” – but you know, I bet there’s more than one person who would disagree with me about that.

But that’s the point. It’s all about what we agree is good and bad. And, in the case of award shows, the award is given to the person that the majority of the members of the voting group feels did the “best” job. Or maybe they give it to the person they felt was most deserving that year. Maybe, in their heart of hearts, they really felt like Meryl gave the better performance, but for goodness sake, can they give them ALL to her? Maybe they thought, “We’ll give it to Patricia. She was really good, and she’s probably never going to get another shot.” Or some other deep, unsaid motivation that threw the vote her way. Who knows?

The point is, there’s no stopwatch and no scorecard. The “best” is in the eye (and the preconceived notions) of the beholder.

So why do we give these awards? What are we trying to accomplish? Is it that we want to honor excellence in film making? What if we did that instead of giving away these made-up awards?

Think about it. What if we just had a big celebration of the bygone year in film and invited everyone who had been involved in the making of the films to get together? And not just in Hollywood. There would be gatherings in Atlanta and New York and Austin and Chicago. Everyone would mix and mingle and be on an equal footing – the actors, the cinematographers, the writers, the directors, the sound designers, the editors, the makeup artists, the costume designers, the producers, the grips, the assistants – everyone. There could be a program, and some of the really memorable (not just financially successful) work would be honored. The teams that put their blood,sweat and tears into these films would be recognized, and the reality that it takes a lot of very committed people – people who will never, ever get invited to walk that red carpet, but who are just as responsible for the making of that film as Matthew McConaughey  – is celebrated. Wouldn’t that be wonderful?

I bet you Keira Knightly’s Oscar goodie bag that there isn’t a single one of those celebrities that would miss this annual obscenity of excess in favor of a non-televised, un-publicized, designer-free evening of getting together with friends and colleagues to recognize the greatness of the work and not of themselves. Because that’s what’s getting lost here – there’s actually some good, deep, honest work being done, even by those too-perfect, too-rich, too-tightly-coiffed-fake-looking people that walk slowly past our collective eyeballs every February. Our obsession with looking at them is robbing us, and them, of what’s real. That makes me sad.
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photo credit: 34.366: Shiny, Pretty Oscars via photopin (license)

 

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What Day is It?

Calendar

I find myself, more and more, having no idea what day of the week it is. I have to stop and think about it, sometimes for several moments. “What was I doing yesterday?” “Was Downton Abbey on TV last night?” These are the clues I follow to locate myself on the calendar.

In my old job I used to get confused about what month it was. My work, then and now, involves planning for events that are many months in the future. I remember often having to correct myself when I would write at date as “June 17″ when it was actually “February 17″. I still do that, but now it’s gotten even more complicated because I can’t seem to remember whether today is Tuesday or Wednesday or Friday. It’s gotten beyond the amusing phase to the downright annoying. I’m afraid it will get to the inconvenient, when I start showing up for things on the wrong day. “You’re telling me that my doctor’s appointment that it took me three months to get is tomorrow and not today, when I have rearranged two meetings so I could come today? And I re-arranged them for this time tomorrow? Really?” It hasn’t come to that, but I’m waiting.

I wonder what’s gotten into me. I think it may be the hormones – I’ve been warned about “Menopause Brain.” It’s very early days for me, but my symptoms (if that is indeed what they are) seem to manifest themselves in an overwhelming desire to disengage with the days of the week.

To be fair, I’ve always had to work at keeping track of what day it is. For a certain period of my life when I was living alone and working in an office, I had a fool-proof method. Every morning I would get up, go get my coffee, and bring it back to my bedroom to drink while I was getting dressed. Inevitably I would leave my empty coffee cup on my dresser, which at first felt unsanitary until I noticed that I was using the coffee cup count to tell me what day it was. One coffee cup – it was Tuesday! I would wake up every morning and groggily inspect the number of mugs so I would know what lay ahead. Four mugs meant only one day to go until the weekend! On Saturdays I’d clear them all away in preparation for the new week. Don’t judge – it worked for me.

Now I just seem to walk around in a constant state of confusion about what day it is. I had almost convinced myself that today was Wednesday (it is Tuesday), and that I had missed my regular blog post day – again. I work from home, and most days are pretty much the same, unless I have a meeting outside the house or something. Even that won’t necessarily tell me what day we’re on unless I put it on my calendar, and even then, I catch myself staring blankly at the little squares with numbers in them thinking “Wait – tomorrow is Thursday? I thought today was Tuesday!”

Today is Tuesday, right?
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photo credit: Menonite calendar via photopin (license)

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For Eric

Trevi Fountain 2008

20 years ago this week, I got a phone call at the office. The guy on the other end was an actor I had worked with on a play some months before – I was the stage manager. He was calling to ask me out on a date. I’ll never forget how nervous he sounded, and how the invitation came out in a rush. It sounded like “Wouldyouliketogoouttodinnerwithmesometime?” And when I said “Yes” he said “You would?” It was sweet.

When I got off the phone I went straight to my friend Karen’s desk and told her I’d been asked out. “It’s not a big deal, you know, it’s just a date,” is what I said, or something like it. My words were nonchalant, but I was excited. It had been a long time since I’d been asked out on a proper date.

But at the same time I was on my guard. I had been unlucky in love, as the saying goes, and I had decided that I wasn’t going to make the same mistakes. I wasn’t going to give my heart away only to have it carelessly tossed back to me – again. I approached the whole idea of dating from an aggressively casual posture; there was no way I was going to be out-cooled. I could be just as disinterested as any guy; just wait, you’ll see.

As I said, I had known him for a few months. I had had a little crush on him during the show, and I tried to let him know that I liked him, but he never asked me out. I figured he wasn’t interested.

But we had been running into each other a lot after the show closed. We were on the same Christmas and New Year’s party circuit, so for a few weeks over the holidays we saw each other pretty much every weekend. And then, finally, a few days before Valentine’s Day, he called and asked me out.

We didn’t go out ON Valentine’s Day. I thought at the time that he thought it would be way too awkward for a first date, a sentiment with which I agreed. Now I know that it was because he took someone else out that night! Yes, he was a player – for the first couple of months he and I dated, he was also dating at least two other women. To be clear, he never tried to hide these relationships – I always knew about his “other girlfriends”. It bothered me, but after a while he gave them up.

Just sayin’.

We dated on and off for two years. When I say “off” I mean OFF – we broke up a few times. The last time I didn’t see him for months, and I really thought it was over. It turns out that we were both miserable being apart, and eventually we worked things out and got back together. Not long after that he proposed, and I said “Yes” to him again.

It wasn’t supposed to last. I can’t tell you how many people expressed their surprise that I would consider marrying this man, or who told me to my face that it was a mistake. Why? Well, my darling husband is 29 years my senior.

He’d lived a life before I was even born and much more until he met me, and what a life it had been already! He’d traveled around the world; he’d been married and divorced. He had discovered his passion for acting. When I met him he was 56 and I was 27. It thought he was funny and sexy and talented. He thought I was too young for him.

I tease him that it took me ages to convince him that I was serious about our relationship, and that’s true as far as it goes. What I never told him is how hard it was to convince myself that I could let myself love him.

Yes, love is largely outside of our control – it is chemical, and spiritual, and elemental. You can’t choose who you love, and once you love someone you never don’t love them, so unless you spend your life with the only person you ever fell in love with, all of us wind up dragging a lot of broken relationship baggage around. If you’ve ever had your heart broken, and I mean well and truly shattered, you know how hard it can be to risk it again after you’d finally put the pieces back together. My darling and I both had a lot of mistrust and hurt to work through – me as much as him.

But one by one he put my misgivings to rest, just by being himself. And the wondrous thing is that a large part of being himself is tied up in the fact that he is so much older than me. Our age difference does matter, just not the way most people thought it would when we got together. It has been a huge bonus being married to someone who has lived more than I have, seen more than I have. His perspective is so much different because of it, and I benefit from his longer life experience.

It also doesn’t hurt that he’s the greatest guy ever. I’ve never met anyone as completely without artifice as him. When we started dating, he didn’t know how to play the games, and I had to learn how to relate to a man in a whole new way. With him, I know exactly where I stand, all the time. When he’s mad, he’s mad – about the thing he says he’s mad about, not about some other thing. It took some getting used to, but its one of the things about him that I value the most.

And he loves me. I can’t believe sometimes how much he loves me. He shows me he loves me in everything he does. He is thoughtful, and generous, and kind. He spoils me. He takes care of me, which is not an easy thing to do. He forgives my early-morning crankiness and my episodic bad moods and my self-absorption. He reads this blog EVERY WEEK, and not just glances at it – we have conversations about it. He is my biggest fan, and my firm foundation. I have never been loved as much or as well, and I am so grateful for him. I’m pretty sure I don’t deserve him. He’s the best husband anyone could want. And he’s mine, so hands off!

Happy Valentine’s Day, darling. I’m looking forward to our curry dinner, and cuddling up with you and the cats on the couch to watch TV. That’s all the romance I’ll ever need.

Unless you want to go back to Rome and kiss me in front of the Trevi Fountain again.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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The Long Game

long game

Sometimes I like to look back to see how far I’ve come. The other day I scrolled through my old posts, and the distance I’ve traveled from the time I started writing this blog to today seems like a very long way. There are a few major differences between where I am now and where I was back in June of 2013:

  • My work outlook has significantly improved;
  • My financial situation, although still uncertain, is less precarious;
  • I have accepted that I am indeed a writer, albeit a nervous one;
  • I have returned to my first and truest love – the theatre;
  • I have learned to by happy with my life the way it IS, not the way I want it to be.

The last point is the most important change. For the majority of my life I’ve looked forward to a time when everything would be great.

When I get my driver’s license, life will be great. 

When I go to college, life will be great.

When so-and-so asks me out, life will be great.

When I graduate from college, life will be great.

When I get that job I want, life will be great.

When I make $$$, life will be great.

I enjoyed all of those things when they happened, but they didn’t magically transform my life into the fairy tale I envisioned they would when I was dreaming about them. Because when the longed-for event happened, it happened to ME – who I was at that moment – so as long as the ME it was happening to wasn’t happy or satisfied, no huge transformation was possible. I was the same old ME, just with a driver’s license, or a college degree, or a new boyfriend.

The greatest gift these years since I was laid off have given me has been my perspective on what it means to be happy. I have been forced to look at my life in a way I have never had to before. For years prior, I was so busy running around acting like I ruled the world that it was easy not to ask myself “Are you fulfilled? Are you satisfied with your life the way it is?” If I had asked the question back then, it would have surprised me to hear that the answer was “No, I’m not satisfied.”

What a thing to say! I had a great job, a job I loved. I got to travel to amazing places. I met interesting people. I learned new things all the time. People looked up to me, admired me, sought me out. But even in the middle of all of that I found myself searching for something to look forward to. Most of the time all I looked forward to was the next trip to Europe, or Asia, or Australia. But I knew, even then, that something wasn’t right. I was always anxious and stressed out. I was so wrapped up in my own life I barely had time for my family and friends. I was turning into a soulless, career-driven caricature of myself; a person who I now know isn’t someone I want to be.

And now? I’m glad you asked. Now, I’ve figured out that the way to win at life is to play the long game. I’ve stopped expecting transformational change to happen in an instant. I’ve stopped believing that something has to happen before I can be happy. Do I want to be outrageously successful in my chosen career? You bet I do. Do I want to make lots of money and travel the world with my husband? Oh yeah – that’s at the top of the list. Do I need these things to happen before I can be happy?

No. Not anymore.

The long game means that I don’t look at my life in terms of what I don’t have now. It means seeing where I am in terms of the journey I’m on; I’m not where I was, and I’m not where I’m going. This perspective has given me the freedom to be happy right now. I wake up in the morning and look forward to each day, because it is absolutely chock full of possibilities! What amazing thing can I do today? What fun can I have? What can I do to show a loved one I care for them? What work can I do to take me the next step forward? What can I do just because I enjoy it? What stranger’s life can I brighten with a smile and a kind word?

I have never seen my life this way before now, and it didn’t happen overnight. It’s taken years of learning to stop struggling and striving against the forces I felt were conspiring against me. I have tried and failed many times in my quest for success, and each time I’ve become more patient. Life is a long song; sometimes it’s marching bands, sometimes it’s love songs, and sometimes you just hum along between choruses. It’s up to you to enjoy the music.

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Photo (c) 2015 Amanda Taylor Brooks

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Things To Do

Larger to do list

Last week I was too busy to write my blog. This week I decided I’d write a blog about being busy.

I like being busy. I like having a list of things, tangible things, to accomplish. I find it truly satisfying to go through a list like that and cross things off as I’ve done them. It makes me feel like I have purpose, like the air I breathe isn’t being wasted on someone who doesn’t do anything. I can say to the world “Look at what I’ve DONE” and feel like I’ve justified my existence. Or something like that. I’ve always felt this way, ever since I was old enough to understand what a sense of accomplishment was; the habit of making “to do” lists is one of a lifetime.

As a self-employed person who hasn’t had enough to do at times, in an effort to fill my hours with productive activities my “to do” lists have said things like “Read up on new meeting technology” or “Look for clients”. Yes, these are tasks that can show results, but they don’t provide the immediate gratification of “Send audition invitations” or “Book meeting space”.

Of course there are the regular, day-to-day lists; those things we all have to do on a regular basis. “Go to the grocery store” is a relentless demand that I sometimes ignore in favor of “Call husband and ask him to bring something home for dinner.” “Do the laundry”, “Clean the bathrooms”, “Empty the dishwasher” – I can derive some pleasure from accomplishing these things, but they’re almost the price of admission to life, the bare minimum you have to do. And you have to do them anyway, regardless of what else is going on, so I might as well add “Have blue eyes” or “Be grumpy in the morning” to my “to dos” because they are as constant as “Pay the bills”.

Then there are the fun “to dos”: “Get dressed for the party” is one of my favorites. “Meet sister for lunch” is always a good one. “Bake cookies for the housewarming” and “Go to conference” happen occasionally and are a real treat when they appear on my list.

Then there are the “to dos” that I long to write down. “Go to the spa”. “Pack for trip to London”. I’m hoping to be able to cross both of these off my list this year.

In the meantime, my “to dos” are getting both more concrete and more enjoyable. “Go to writing group” is something I’ve recently returned to. “Run short play festival auditions” is coming up this weekend. “Create Fundraising program” is an ongoing task that is both fun and challenging.

I have my list of things I need to do today, and I’m happy to say that I can now cross off “Write blog post.” It’s a great feeling!

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photo credit: blue_j via photopin cc

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Hello 2015!

smiley face

Hey there 2015! How’s it going so far?

I thought we should have a chat, you and me, before we get too far along in our relationship. I want to make sure you understand my expectations for our time together. Just so we avoid, you know, any misunderstandings.

First, let me say, your brother 2014 was better to me than some of your other siblings (who shall remain nameless – although I’m looking at you 2010), but he could have been a little more generous. I worked my ass off to make the most of our time, but he didn’t seem to notice. It’s true that I got his attention early on, but he seemed to lose interest towards the end. He did give me a nice gift that I wasn’t expecting, but all in all, I don’t think his heart was in it. He just wasn’t that into me. That’s ok; I’ve had some great relationships with some of your brothers in the past, and I understand that they can’t all be romances. But the last few have been disappointing. I’m just being honest.

But it’s your time now, and we have a chance to do something new. I promise I’ll do my part, and I’ll work hard to keep a positive frame of mind for you. I know that makes your job easier, and I am willing to admit that maybe some of the problems I had with your brothers is that I lost my faith. I stopped believing that things could get better between us, and I realize now that with that attitude, those relationships were doomed to fail.

Just to be clear, I do have some very high expectations of you. I expect you to recognize and reward my hard work. I expect you to be kind and loving to me and my family and friends. I expect you to bring me opportunities for growth and change, but in a gentle way. I expect you to be extraordinary.

I’m looking forward to getting to know you. I think we’re going to be great together.
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photo credit: Enokson via photopin cc

Love,

Amanda

 

 

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A New Year Transformation

Fireworks 2015

Every year on this day I struggle with three questions: 1) what lessons have I learned this year, 2) what do I want to do differently next year, and 3) why do I seem to need to do this every December 31st?

Let’s start with #3. I’ve thought and written about the annual ritual we observe at the turn of each year (see last year’s blog post here), and I’ve admitted to being mystified by the burden of significance we pay to what is truly just another 24 hours. I mean, the Earth doesn’t stop spinning, the sun doesn’t stop shining, the stars don’t suddenly burst into song at midnight on what we determined a couple of thousand years ago is the 1st day of the new year. The day is only significant because we’ve decided that it is so. And we’ve given it deep spiritual meaning, and we use it as a springboard or a point of origin for the positive changes we want to make in our lives. And we celebrate its coming in a frenzy of manufactured cheer (ok, yes, I think New Year’s Eve is a humbug – I’ve never really been all that excited about it, though I’ve been to some good parties).

I’ve always been a bit skeptical about it all, and lately I’ve become deeply mistrusting about this annual rite of passage. I think the practice of making new year’s resolutions is mostly destructive, although I continue to hope that positive change is possible, for me and everyone else.

That’s it, isn’t it? Hope. It’s all about hope. That’s the reason for the fireworks and the streamers and the confetti and the kissing. We are all, ultimately, hopeful creatures. We hope that the new year will be better than the old one. We hope for better health, better jobs, better relationships. We hope that something magical will happen at the stroke of midnight – the slate will be wiped clean and we can start over. This is a good thing, I think. It is certainly better than having no hope for the future.

But something new has occurred to me as I’ve gone through my annual contemplation of the end of the year, and it is this: I think that the secret to changing the future is all in your head.

People tend to focus on what they need to do to have the life they want – exercise and eat right, go back to school, find a new job – but we don’t spend as much time focused on how we think about our lives as they are right now. Yes, I know, I seem to be veering off into new-agey stuff, but hear me out.

As an exercise, try this. Think of something in your life that is bothering you – it can be a person (spouse, kids, boss), a place (your house, your office), or a thing (your weight, your car, your unfulfilling job), and hold it in your mind. Let all of your anxiety or fear or anger associated with whatever this is flood you; don’t hold back. Feel it all.

Now, holding the image of the source of all these negative feelings in your mind, say “I love you” to it. Say it over and over again. I know you probably don’t mean it, but say it anyway. Entertain the idea that there is something loveable about it, and contemplate that aspect of whatever it is. I have an example of what I’m going to start saying about a “thing” that sometimes gets me down:

“I love my broken down, crappy old car, because it has a story to tell. I love it because it continues to get me where I want to go every day. I love it because even when it got stolen it came back to me.”

Saying “I love you” to my car won’t get me another car. What it will do is transform how I feel about the car I have, removing all the negative thoughts I have about it and freeing me from that particular source of unnecessary anxiety. The lightness I feel from doing this simple thing is amazing, and, knowing that, I have created a list of stuff (people, places and things) I’m going to hold up to the light and send thoughts of love towards.

You have to keep it up, though – it took time to create some of these attitudes, and it will take time to change them. I’m going to write down the things I want to change my mind about and keep the list where I can see it, so that when I start to fall into my customary negative thinking patterns I can stop myself and change the direction of my thoughts.

I’m not saying you shouldn’t go to the gym. I am suggesting that instead of focusing exclusively on changing the things outside of ourselves that we don’t like, that we also try to change how we think about them. That’s the change I want in the New Year. Yes, I’d love to be svelte and have loads of good-paying work and all that stuff. But I mostly want to be happy and at peace, and I know that no amount of exercise or new contracts will give me the kind of lasting joy that can be had by filling my mind and heart with love for everyone and everything in my life.

I wish the best for all of you. I hope 2015 is filled with joy and health and peace for us all.

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photo credit: paloetic via photopin cc

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The Ghosts of Christmases Past

Christmas Tree

If I had to explain the main message of this blog, I would say that it is about change. To be clear, it is not an advice column about how to deal with change, or an example of a person who has successfully dealt with change (hardly!). It is an ongoing narrative of a person who has been in what seems to be a constant state of change for some time.

As a consequence of my heightened awareness of this ongoing change, I’ve begun to wonder if there was ever a time in my life where there was no change, when I lived in a steady state of being, where I could count on things being a certain way. A time when I felt safe and not at the mercy of the “thousand natural shocks that flesh is heir to”. It certainly seems that way when I look back, and nothing brings it home to me as the holiday season does.

Each year, as soon as Thanksgiving is over, I’m confronted by the ghosts of my Christmases past. My feelings about Christmas are complicated; they are loaded with emotion and memory, joy and grief, surprise and disappointment. I suspect most of us feel this way about it if we’re honest.

For example, I remember the exact moment the magic of Christmas ended for me. By “magic” I mean my belief that there was a person called Santa Claus who delivered presents on Christmas Eve to everyone who had been good that year. Up to the moment of discovery I totally believed in Santa and his flying reindeer. One year I remember being very concerned that he wouldn’t be able to deliver presents to us because the apartment we lived in didn’t have a fireplace. My father soothed my fears, explaining that Santa would just come through the sliding glass door that led to the balcony. I think I still insisted on sleeping on the couch in the living room, just in case he needed my help getting in (does this sound familiar, people who know me?).

It must have been the next year that the bubble burst. We were on the way to my grandmother’s house for Christmas, all of us piled in the family station wagon. I was in the “way back” (that backwards-facing seat under the hatch back), and there was a big box back there with me. I could read enough to know that it contained a bicycle. After some deduction, I realized that it was most likely the bicycle I had asked Santa for, and I didn’t understand what it was doing in the back of our car. Then it hit me. There was no Santa. It had been my parents all along.

I may have asked Dad about it; I don’t remember. I just know that from that moment on, my thoughts and feelings about Christmas were irrevocably changed. We all go through it, that moment of truth. Maybe the realization came to you as it did to me, or maybe some mean older kid told you. To my sister’s credit, I’m sure she knew (she’s four years older than me), but she kept that information to herself. And I in turn never told my little brother. We have to face it sometime, though, the truth that there is, unfortunately, no Santa Claus.

And then we spend every Christmas for the rest of our lives trying to re-create the magic and the innocent wonder of those Christmases before we knew. Or is that just me?

As I grew up in the warm embrace of my family, I became sort of manic about Christmas traditions. In our family we got to open one present on Christmas Eve – any one of our choosing. In the morning we could wake up Mom and Dad, but we had to wait upstairs until they said all was ready for us to come down.  We had a Santa hat, and whoever wore the hat handed out the presents – one at a time. Every year my mother made fruitcake (for my grandfather – none of us would touch it, even though it smelled fantastic), divinity, and fudge. We’d have Turkey and dressing and green bean casserole for dinner. My Dad had a toy train set he’d had since he was a child, and he would set up the track so that it encircled the Christmas tree. The noise of the toy train, the music playing on the stereo, the clanking of pots and pans in the kitchen, the rustle of wrapping paper, and, most of all, the laughter – those sounds blended together in what became for me the soundtrack of Christmas. Add to that the sight of the tree too small for all the presents to fit under and the smell of pine needles and roasting turkey, and all of it became the magic of Christmas. And it just wasn’t Christmas unless all of these things happened the way I thought they should, and I did everything I could to make sure they did.

It had to end of course – you can’t stay frozen in time, children grow up and things change. My sister got married when I was still in high school. There was an unthinkable tragedy in a family very close to us that still to this day adds a somber shade to my palette of Christmas colors. My parents divorced. It’s natural – life happens. But I still wanted that wonderful feeling that all was right with the world. The love of a good friend gave me back some sense of that wonder one year, but I didn’t have a really good Christmas again until after I got married and my husband and I began to establish some new traditions.

And again, I got manically protective of those traditions. I worked hard to maneuver things with my extended family so that my husband and I could have our Christmas the way I wanted it. If things didn’t work out, I got kinda grumpy (insert apology to parent/siblings).

Over the years, though, things changed again, and now it seems like every year is something different. I’ve had to give up my ideas about what makes Christmas Christmas, because it changes all the time. For so long I’ve equated Christmas with traditions, and I’ve felt cheated when I didn’t get to have the holiday my way.

This year is even more different than ever, and, finally, I think I’m over needing to have my traditions to make it a real Christmas.

I know what is for me the true meaning of Christmas, and every year I fervently pray for Peace on Earth and Goodwill to Men. I believe in the promise of the love of God. I don’t have any passionate interest in acquiring more stuff. I have been reminded, yet again, of the fragility of life, and the need to embrace the ones we love at every opportunity. That is the only thing that matters; everything else is just temporary.

So, to my Ghosts of Christmases Past – thanks for the memories, but I won’t be needing you anymore. I have my eyes fixed firmly ahead of me. I will find the joy of Christmas where it has always been, in the love of my family and friends. I know now that the security I thought I had never really existed, and, for the first time in my life, I’m ok with that. More than ok; I’m happy and content with the present. I hope all of you are as well.

Merry Christmas!

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photo credit: SurFeRGiRL30 via photopin <a

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Giving Thanks in a Mad World

cornucopia

This is the week of Thanks-giving, when we express our gratitude for the good things we have in our lives. It’s my favorite holiday, not only because it’s the one I spend with my extended family (who are wonderful, kind, loving, funny people), but also because it gets me to be specific about recognizing the amazing blessings I have in my life (that are generally right in front of me). Of course I am always thankful (in a subconscious way) for the roof over my head, food in my fridge, supportive family and terrific friends, but this week I take time out to meditate on them. When I do that, when I count my blessings, I begin to feel like the richest person in the world. It helps keep things in perspective, which, unless you live in a cave, is hard to do in this increasingly mad world. Which brings me to the internal conflict I now find myself experiencing.

It feels almost obscene to be thankful for my good fortune when there are so many who don’t have plentiful good food and easy access to clean water. It seems like a betrayal to be happy in my oppression-free life when there is so much injustice in the world. How can I blithely sit down at a table covered by an abundant holiday meal when I see the suffering of refugees, the horror of genocide, and the indiscriminate bombing of innocents in the world? How can I laugh and be joyful with my loved ones when children are abused, when the mentally ill are ignored, when unarmed teenagers are gunned down – in this country? How does that not make me a hypocrite? How does that not make me part of the problem, turning my back on a mountain of troubles?

I struggle with how to respond to everything I see on the news and in my Facebook and Twitter feeds. I start to feel guilty when I get excited about the upcoming turkey and dressing when other people are protesting in the streets. Am I who I say I am, someone who cares about the weak, the silent, the powerless? Or do I just pay lip service to these things? These questions leave me feeling anxious, like I should be doing something about all if it if I only knew what.

I know what I won’t do, and that’s fan the flames of a fire that is already burning out of control. I decided a long time ago that I would refrain from foisting my indignation on my unsuspecting friends via the internet. There’s too much of that already. For those of you who do express your outrage in this public way, I understand why you want to do it, but I would ask what you’re trying to accomplish. If you are achieving your desired aims (either to solicit agreement from like-minded people, or to pursue arguments with those who disagree) then I suppose your efforts are fruitful. If you post things of a particular slant in the hopes of changing someone’s mind, then you’re probably wasting your time – the internet is not a safe haven for reasonable people willing to engage in dispassionate discourse. You should probably look for them elsewhere.

And I think that the constant flow of horribleness is dangerous to our well-being. But that’s a conversation for another day.

Getting back the point of all this, then, is how do I reconcile my own good fortune with the scarcity I see everywhere?

At least part of the answer, for me, is rooted in the spirit of Thanksgiving. I am genuinely thankful that I was born where and when I was. I am genuinely thankful that both of my parents are still living, and that they love me. I am genuinely thankful for my wonderful husband, who is a gift to me every day. I am genuinely thankful for my family, who are strong, kind, faithful people. I am genuinely thankful for my friends, who bring such love and laughter into my life. I am genuinely thankful for all the material things I have – a home that is warm and dry, clothes to wear, a car to drive. I am thankful because I know that so very many people in this world don’t have some, or any, of these things. It makes me humble that I do.

The other part of the answer is that even as I am thankful for what I have, I try to do something for those who have not. I give money to various charities. I volunteer my time at the soup kitchen. I donate unwanted goods to organizations who will pass them on to needy people for free.

And finally, I try to live my convictions. I gave money to the pregnant woman in the Target parking lot without making her finish her carefully rehearsed speech about why she deserved my help (“I’m not homeless”, she said, as if not having a home would have made her unworthy of the money I gave her). I try to treat my fellow man with understanding and compassion, even when I’m frustrated by them. I do my best to be kind and patient, as I want people to be kind and patient with me. I’m not always successful, but I try.

Sometimes we get an opportunity to stand up in a real way for what we believe. When those times come, it’s important to take advantage of them. When those times come, it is important to stand up in love, not hate. Screaming “You’re Wrong!” at each other only widens the gulf between us.

My friends, take some time this week and turn off the television and the computer, and think on what you have to be thankful for. Dwell on your blessings. Let your gratitude fill you up so that when you look out at the world, you will see it through love-filled eyes. I promise you, it will look very different indeed.

photo credit: Carmyarmyofme via photopin cc

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A Place of – No?

Yes

We are told that we should live our lives from a place of “Yes”, but I’ve begun to wonder – is it possible to say “Yes” too much?

I was telling someone the other day about all the different projects I have going on now, and that I don’t care which one comes through, as long as it makes me a good living. I listed off all of the various people I’m working with on different things (including her), and it sounded ridiculous. How is anybody supposed to get all of that done, and done well?

So far that hasn’t been an issue because, unfortunately, not one of these ventures (or all of them combined, for that matter) has generated enough consistent work to keep me busy from morning to night 5 days a week. Which means, of course, that even though it sounds like I should be insanely busy, I’m just not. This blog entry isn’t a day late because I was working so hard. It’s late because my husband and I went to see a movie yesterday afternoon since both of us had completed our work for the day. That’s how most of my days go; I get up, I get my coffee, I fire up the laptop, I deal with my email, I may or may not speak to any one of the people I have ongoing projects with, I do whatever I need to do for my clients, I have lunch, and, unless I have conference calls in the afternoon, I’m pretty much done by 2:00pm. On the one hand, no, it doesn’t suck, but the flip side is that I am keenly aware that all this downtime isn’t producing any income.

So, in my quest for coin, I’ve said “Yes” to pretty much anything anyone had proposed to me that could possibly result in financial gain. As you can imagine for the past few years I’ve said “Yes” a lot.

Them: “Do you want to start a new group to discuss the future of work and make money putting on conferences?” Me: “Yes!”

Them: “Will you design brochures for my business and help me create strategy and run my employee meetings?”  Me: “Yes!”

Them: “Will you help me re-write my website and create a marketing package and represent me to groups as a professional speaker?”  Me: “Yes!” (twice)

Them: “Will you join me and some other people to build a new business from the ground up, a process that will require you to give up your own attempt at self-employment in the same field?” Me: “Yes!”

That’s just the stuff that could make me some money. I’ve also said “Yes” to lots of things that won’t. And, in addition to all this, I’ve embarked on my journey as a writer, which should absorb my non-working hours, but I find that I get so obsessed with the idea that I have to use that time to generate income that writing seems like a betrayal to myself and those who depend on me to earn some sort of a living. So, instead of using those hours to do something that I know feeds my soul, I sit here in front of my laptop flailing around, jumping from one thing to another but not focused on much of anything except some vague idea that this is what I’m “supposed” to be doing.

It’s making me crazy.

Please understand that I am flattered that some people think so much of me and my skills and talents that they want me involved in their projects. It has been a balm to my battered self-esteem to be so desired. That’s probably the biggest reason why I’ve said “Yes” to things that I’m not well suited for. Just so you know, I’ve been honest with those people who’ve asked me to help with with stuff I don’t really know how to do, but they don’t seem to care. So I’ve been muddling through, hoping not to screw things up too badly, and feeling like a total fraud, even as I’m told I’m doing a great job.

I’ve never been afraid to tackle things that I’m not 100% sure what I’m doing, but I seem to have taken on an extraordinary amount of it in my eagerness to keep myself open to possibility. This is where the idea of “Yes” falls down – when you say it indiscriminately. I’ve turned into a project slut, someone who’ll agree to do anything for even the most vague possibility of making a buck, and it’s made me feel kinda dirty.

But I don’t know what to do about it. I genuinely care about every one of the people with whom I’ve agreed to work, and I want to help them. I want the business venture I’m involved in to flourish, even as I have no idea how to make that happen. I want to find that magical formula of doing what I love and loving what I do. So far, it has eluded me.

Then, a couple of weeks ago, something magical did happen. I was invited to join the board of directors of a new theatre company. Almost all of the existing board members are longtime friends of mine, and the mission of the theatre is one that I am extremely excited about. AND I have the experience, skill, and talent to make a genuine contribution to the group. And even though it is a non-paying gig, my feelings about it and my willingness to jump in without reservation has cast all my other ventures into stark relief.

So I’m in a quandary. Do I gently, lovingly, let go of those projects that are getting me down? Do I, for the first time in years, say “No”?

It’s not in my nature to abandon someone who needs me, but I’m beginning to see how I’ve stressed myself out trying to do things I don’t know how to do. Or the people I’m doing them with seemingly aren’t as committed as they said they were so I’ve wound up dragging them along, even though the project was their idea to begin with. It’s emotionally exhausting, all this caring about stuff that’s going nowhere.

I’ve had to admit that I’ve been so busy trying to do right by everyone else that I’ve forgotten to do right by me. I’ve said “Yes” over and over, thinking that opening myself up to all possibilities was the best thing to do. I know now that, for me at least, this has been a losing strategy.

I’ve decided that going forward, I’m going to start saying “No” to those projects for which I feel no personal passion. I’ve tried substituting other people’s enthusiasm for my own, and it hasn’t helped them or me. I’ve lied to myself that I feel passionate about things that I just don’t. It’s the only way I’ve been able to rationalize the lengths to which I’ve gone to make some of these projects happen.

One caveat: there are a couple of projects that I will continue to work on, even though I’ve lost that loving feeling for them. It’s better this way; I can do the work that’s required of me without putting so much importance on it. I can still care about my work without NEEDING it to be successful to justify my fake passion for it.

That realization has set me free to give my heart to what I am honestly passionate about. I know what some of those things are – the theatre, my writing, my family and friends. I wonder what new passion may be out there, waiting for me to make room?

photo credit: @Doug88888 via photopin

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