My Other Life

I’ve suffered from relentless violent nightmares since I was a child. No amount of therapy or journaling has reduced the torment. Sometimes I’m afraid to go to sleep, uncertain of what scene awaits me. I dream of storms, tornadoes, oceans, stairs, elevators, heights, hills, airplanes, and people attempting to kill me in many agonizing methods. I feel pain when dreaming, to the point I wake up exhausted and sore. It’s a life I have no control over. I feel helpless and victimized by my own subconscious. Very seldom am I ever able to awaken myself out of a nightmare once I recognize it’s not reality. PTSD for a REM cycle every damn night. I’m like that 80′s song by Heart:

These dreams go on when I close my eyes
Every second of the night I live another life
These dreams that sleep when it’s cold outside
Every moment I’m awake the further I’m away

Why can’t I be normal and dream of a shirtless Jared Leto in the mountains somewhere?? Why must I be forced to endure hours and hours of freaky violent shit? I’d love nothing more than to reach inside my head and remove whatever brain tissue that controls dreaming (as long as I can still daydream about Jared Leto).

Today I’ve been absolutely useless because the tension from last night’s horror story has left my muscles cramped and seizing up my neck and in my shoulders. For the love of God, someone bring me an Adavan and a sippy cup of vodka. Why can’t I turn off the nightmares? Am I so driven by fear when I’m awake that it follows me like a demon into the core of my psyche, only to reveal itself as soon as my eyes close…when I’m weak and powerless? Even as I type these words, I wonder what I’ll encounter tonight. Please be Jared Leto, please be Jared Leto, please be Jared Leto.

The Next Life

246932_10151689972415991_878948270_nMy paternal grandfather has had heart failure for over ten years. He’s a strong man. For most of my life, he was emotionally reserved, almost keeping us at a distance. We all know he loves his wife and children and grandchildren, he just wasn’t very vocal about it until about five or six years ago. I still remember the first time he told me he loved me after a long phone call…I was in my mid-twenties. I was overjoyed by those three little words.

And now here he is, nearly 84 years old, and he’s dying…slowly, painfully at home. It’s one of those moments when I wish people had the right to die with dignity, that we could choose the right time to pass into the next life when our earthly bodies fail us. My grandmother is constantly at his side…unable to leave him. He doesn’t eat, he doesn’t get out of bed. He won’t let most of the family see him. I’m trying to decide if I want to or if I can see him…to say that goodbye that’s already gripping my heart. I know it’s time. I know what’s left of this life is coming to a close for him and I find myself wishing I’d spent more afternoons sitting under the large trees in his backyard having conversations.

And now every time my mom calls, I wonder if it’s to tell me he’s dead. It’s a horrible feeling. Almost as horrible as the phone calls you get where someone tells you someone else you love has died. There’s no way to be truly prepared for it. There’s not way to escape that chasm that forms in your chest. Even now, my heart hurts just thinking about it. My dad has nightmares about it and cries when he tries to tell me…because he knows the time is near. I feel like we’re holding our breath…waiting.

I’ve stopped praying for God to heal my Papa. Now I simply pray for God to ease Papa’s pain, grant him dignity…and please be merciful as he passes from this life into the next.

Fraud, Extortion, and Other Good Habits

I was recently asked to do calligraphy work on wedding invitations for a family friend. Have I ever done calligraphy? Nope. Can I learn? With the help of the internet, I can learn how to row a boat while speaking Japanese. Here’s hoping Mr. Google doesn’t let me down. Am I perpetuating a fraud? Maybe, but I’m desperate for income and sometimes it means stretching the limits on my “professional artistic ability.” It also involves spending way more time on projects that I’m barely getting paid for. I feel guilty for extorting money…which is probably why I’m poor. Everyone but the trusty 1% is pretty much starving or working shitty jobs to avoid starving or cleaning up after a natural disaster or preparing for the next disaster. And the strain on our incomes and the demands of our bill collectors makes us do things we’d never really imagine. I’m not quite to the desperation of John Q, but I get where he’s coming from. Eventually we encounter than we can handle (despite the adage that God never gives us more than we can bear) and we snap. We yell, we cheat, we steal, we lie, we grossly exaggerate, etc. …all in the name of survival. 

For now, my morals outweigh my urge to hurt or insult my fellow humans but I wonder if a day will come when I care much less… My resolve will disappear and I’ll be left as a shadow.

That said, I’m a believer in hope and often cling to it when I’m hungry and tired of eating ramen and hot dogs. So far, hope hasn’t let me down, but it’s come pretty damn close. I worry that eventually the hope will run out. And then what? Fraud and extortion could be the least of my worries.

That Helpless, Angry Feeling

Three weeks ago, my sister-in-law’s 24 year old brother died. There are still many questions about his death and the level of unresolved tension grows higher with each passing moment. He had been sick since birth, by all means should not have survived en-utero or childhood or adolescence…you get the idea. There were many times when family members held their breaths wondering if he would survive.

And then one day, his step-dad came home and found him unconscious in his bed. There was an empty bottle of pills, blood in the bathroom, and blood coming from his mouth. No one knows what his last moments were like. Hopefully he was at peace, resting in his bed, and unafraid.

Now the journey begins for those left behind. My poor sister-in-law and her family are deep in the throws of grief. They want to push through it so that it’s over as soon as possible. The pain, the despair, the lack of sleep, the vanishing appetite. The never-ending void in the center of the chest that aches constantly. Is there a prayer or routine that makes it easier? Is there a book or a mantra or anything to make the hurt disappear?

As for the rest of us, we’re victims of helplessness. We want desperately to help ease the pain, heal the wound. We say trite expressions, offer prayers, cook meals, hold hands, and sit in silence just hoping something, anything provides a moment of relief. It just pisses me off…all of it. I’m angry that I can’t do anything substantial to remove this burden. The hardest part of being human is grieving for the ones we love. We never ‘get over it’…we just simply learn to live differently.

I have grieved but nothing like this. Grief is as unique as sunrises and sunsets. Every person embraces it differently and it’s impossible to create a unified heal-all method for this shitty, unfair process. We have to face the fact that ultimately, there’s nothing we can do to abate the pain other than showing love. Love in any form and every form for as long as it takes. In time, they’ll learn to walk and breathe again and our helpless, angry feeling will begin to subside. 

Free Hugs

I’m currently sitting in my recliner under a blanket with my trusty laptop across my legs. Not that the description matters, but perhaps it will allow you to step into the space I’m in as you read the words I’m thinking, saying, and typing. I’m also writing a research paper…which is the universe’s way of taking every profound notion I have and making it tedious as hell, to the point I’m willing to give up all future aspirations of brilliance. I’d rather be boring than have to cultivate a 15-page paper on a beautiful Sunday afternoon. And we wonder why procrastination exists. 

My research paper (because I know you, dear reader, are so interested) is over the use of mandalas in psychotherapy. At least I’m not analyzing Freud…that’s the only upside after days of research and writing. God help me when I have to initiate the thesis project. I’m getting off topic… One of the books I read was about art and spirituality. The two have always been mutually exclusive for me. When I create art, I connect with the divine… One particular chapter was called “Loving Body is Embracing Spirit.” I haven’t read the chapter so everything I’m about to say may in fact be redundant. I was too distracted by the title to peruse its contents. That, friends, is what’s known as a “disclaimer.”

Anyway, in reading the title, I started thinking about what it means to love one’s body and embrace spirit. For those who believe that there is a Divine Spirit in this world, in the heavens, and everywhere in between, there’s also the knowledge of the Divine Spirit within us. I wondered what that looks like, the Spirit rolling around inside me with all my quirky traits, horrible thoughts, and last night’s Firefly Vodka. Even beyond that, I wondered if all of the talents and gifts I possess are empowered by this Spirit dwelling within. There are so many elements about myself that I love and hate, or at the very least, wish were better. But in “hating” these elements, am I rejecting this Spirit? Do I dismiss this Spirit when I dismiss the beauty of my body because it doesn’t meet the standards of anorexic Calvin Klein models or that dipshit CEO from Abercrombie & Bitch?

Loving oneself doesn’t mean you have to walk around wearing a shirt that says “I kick ass” unless of course, you want to. It just means accepting who you are, in your entirety. If you do believe that there’s some divine essence dwelling around you and in you, and if you believe that this same entity has imbued you with certain traits…in loving yourself, you embrace the spirit. 

Kind of makes me want to give myself a hug. Or at the very least, walk around hugging people I know (and don’t know), for the sake of accepting others and their inner spirit.  

Oh and if you’re interested, the book I referenced is called “Spirituality and Art Therapy” by Mimi Farrelly-Hansen (Ed.)

Towing the Line

I’ve been absent from the blogosphere over the last month as I prepared for and survived the first week-long visit with my step-daughter. Full-time parenting, who knew it would kick you in the ass? It’s not difficult to understand how her little mind works, I’ve been parenting and teaching kids for over a decade; it’s keeping up with her non-stop 14-hour a day schedule that leaves me rocking back and forth, desperate for a nap. (Remember when we thought naps were stupid??) Sweet. Jesus. That’s a totally different kind of fatigue. Props to you parents who do this shit from birth, because it takes a superfluous amount of energy. During the drive home from the airport, my husband and I agreed that we are definitely part-time parents until the munchkin is old enough to decide if she wants to live with us permanently. We love her, we miss her like crazy, and in the gaps of time between visits, we are grateful for the opportunity to prepare for our little lunatic child.

Since then, it’s been a struggle to get back into the routine of life before she arrived. My mind continuously revolves around what I need to do to make this home better for her before she returns in June, and as a result, I’ve discovered just how financially compromised my husband and I are. We’re both contract employees (the husband will be a full-time hourly employee in April, thank God) and as such…we work when there’s a job available (we sit on our asses and pray for work when there isn’t) and we owe the IRS a shit-load in back taxes. Yay, adulthood!! I feel like the financial strain is my fault. Due to grad school requirements, I’m limited to the number of hours I can work during the day/evening. And daycare is a joke. I refuse to fly the munchkin to Texas this summer only to shove her in a crappy ass daycare we can’t really afford. So I sacrifice and compromise in the hopes that when she’s here, we can actually feed her. 

People have offered to help us out, but most of them are just as financially destitute as we are. I suppose that’s the meaning of true love and devotion…give to others even when you have nothing. Today I finally decided to research local food pantries…because yes, I’m that desperate. I was appalled by the fact that these facilities only service specific zip codes…and since we moved last year, our zip code isn’t included. So what do I do? Do I call and cry and plead with them to waive their boundary lines just so I can put some food in my cabinets?

We are the exceptions to many things. The government enforced healthcare is supposed to help people afford insurance…but it’s too expensive for us. We don’t have employers that provide insurance and we can’t afford further punishment from the IRS if we don’t comply. So what gives? Do I stop paying my medical bills and have my credit destroyed (because despite what you might think, medical debt can screw you out of your long-term plans to buy a house), stop paying our monthly IRS payment and watch them come try to milk us for the lack of property we own, stop paying my health insurance bills and watch the cycle perpetuate? We gave up the monthly tax break just to afford the monthly premiums. No, Obamacare, you aren’t helping me. You’re taking $200 out of my monthly budget that could go to feeding/caring for my child. Thanks, you’re super.

I’ve been in this position before, almost ten years ago…working like a fucking beast only to dig for rent money in the couch cushions at the end of every month (yes, that really does happen). I thought those days were behind me. I’m nearly 30 years old. I shouldn’t be drowning in debt JUST TO SURVIVE. I shouldn’t be unable to purchase food to feed my family. Not when I work and put forth effort every damn day. Too poor to afford the monthly bills, too rich to get government assistance. Even if I could get help from the government, I wouldn’t take it because I know there are people who need it more. If the government wants to help me, they can forgive the $13,000 we owe for the 2012-2013 tax years. 

I shouldn’t be towing the line of poverty. 

Bypassing 29

The big 3-0 is looming ever close but I feel as though I’ve bypassed 29. It’s a rather odd number anyway, pardon the pun. I’ve been dreading turning 30. I thought I’d have my shit together by then. I’m not even close. When I was 19, I remember someone telling me I’d be 10 different people in my 20′s, but I think it was more like 20. 

I started my 20′s the morning after I got my 16 year old brother and our 16 year old cousin drunk for the first time. Way to be a winner… I got married when I was 21, divorced when I was 25, remarried when I was 27, started grad school at 28, and officially became a step-mom at 29. And jumbled up in between those milestone years was a lot of heartache, frustration, joy, and elation. Sometimes I hardly recall the details before 25. Even though it’s only five years, it feels like a lifetime ago. 

I thought by the time I was 30, I’d have an established career, a house, a dog, and maybe a child or two. But would that have made me happy in the long run? Would I have been available or willing to leap through hoops and attempt new adventures? I still judge myself for the things I don’t have but my hopes and dreams for an accomplished life are different.

I don’t care if I have biological children. I have a step-daughter who I love and (as previously discussed in this blog) I’m totally fine if she’s the only child I ever have in my house. 

I don’t care if I ever have a house. For me, a house has been wherever I feel safe, whether it’s a hotel, a tour bus, or a friend’s couch. I don’t really enjoy apartment living but it’ll do until the next thing comes along.

I still want a dog, damn it.

My career ebbs and flows with the rising and setting sun. I can’t seem to figure out what I want to do for the rest of my life. Too many interests to just pick one. I am too many things anyway…teacher, author, editor, artist, wife, nerd… If I were locked into one job, I think I’d probably lose my mind in monotony. So maybe I can cut myself some slack for not going with the flow like the majority of society.

I really want to travel. I don’t care if it’s to Canada, I just want to get out of Texas.

I want to have more conversations that matter. Do things that change the community and its perspectives. 

And since I’ve spent the last 10 months dreading turning 30, perhaps I’ll spend the next 2 months relishing what remains of my 20′s. 29 is an important year. It’s the culmination of a decade of life and experiences. It’s the bridge to the next decade of adventures and shouldn’t be bypassed.

Before They’re Gone

I tend to grieve things before I lose them. Family, friends, even my cat. Call it self-preservation or preparing for the inevitable or morbid or whatever. It’s just something I do. I find myself almost obsessing over the fact that everything dies. Animal, vegetable, mineral..well, maybe not mineral. It’s my greatest fear and sadness and I rarely ever talk about it. I’m afraid if I say the words, it will happen and I don’t know what or who I would become if it did.

I dread aging because I know in turn my parents and grandparents will also age and the proof of human frailty will become even more evident. These great relationships I’ve experienced, they add up to who I am on the inside. Will I still be the same without them? We trust and put faith in the fact that heaven exists, but can we really know for sure? Are the people we love really absent from this life or are they dancing around us, watching us move on without them? Are they happy? Were they ready to and okay with dying when they did? Are they as angry about it as we are?

Every time someone I know dies, I wonder about my own timeline. Sometimes I wish life was like that movie In Time, where you could physically see and know what your life looks like, when you’re supposed to…expire. For some, the not knowing serves as a catalyst to embrace every moment with abandon. For others, like me, it’s a reason to be paralyzed in fear. Panicking about being in the car or any unfamiliar pain in my body. It’s overwhelming. 

I grow weary pondering the moments my loved ones leave this planet and ascend into whatever comes next. I cherish and hold every second I spend with them before they’re gone.

Give a Damn, Yo

I’ve been a writer longer than I’ve been a painter. I view writing as artistic expression as much as a painting, sketch, or a sculpture. Anything that communicates emotion, thought, or beauty. I started this blog a few years ago to talk about art and the way it moves and challenges me to think differently; but it morphed into a place to talk about life, love, and the pursuit of whatever counts as happiness. I’ve discussed grief and how powerful and all-consuming it is and even written letters to my dead pastor because it’s the only thing that kept the memory of his voice alive in my head. I’ve talked about my dad’s journey with Parkinson’s Disease and the shitty reality we face knowing his quality of life is not what we hoped for. Lately, my focus has been on compassion and equality because I feel it’s something much of the world lacks.

We need more love. We need to give a bigger damn about people. Giving a damn goes a long way. It opens people’s hearts, saves lives, and moves us towards a brighter, stronger future.

Giving a damn takes courage. It means stepping out in faith knowing that the person you’re trying to help may reject you…but you give a damn anyway. Giving a damn isn’t about you, it’s about others. It’s putting other people before yourself. Acknowledging that someone else is more important, even if only for a moment.

Giving a damn, moving in the direction of love, seems almost revolutionary. In an individualist society, it’s nearly a foreign concept to exhibit a collectivist love…one love for all. One community with one goal–to give a damn about each other. To be compassionate, helpful, hopeful, encouraging, and passionate with one another. No matter who you are, you are loved.

It’s time to give a damn, yo.

For Pot Stirrers and Artists

The thing about bad religion that pisses me off is the hate. And how it can take YEARS for the people who are liberated to feel guiltless about choosing to believe differently. I’m only 4 years into my own spiritual reformation and I still struggle. I WISH that I still had the semblance of comfort provided by religion, that belief in absolute truth. But it’s gone now and it’s been replaced by this raw, confusing, often irritating form of love. 

I wish I would have always seen people the way I see them now. I wish I was so resolute in my new beliefs that I could shout from tall buildings that I’m different. Every day I get a little more daring.

Today, I posted an article I read about Jared Leto in LA Confidential magazine to my Facebook page. The topic is clearly stated…it discusses Jared Leto’s role as a transgender in The Dallas Buyer’s Club (kick ass movie, by the way). I’m sure my conservative homies are flipping their shit. Oh fucking well. I’m tired of avoiding conversations out of fear of what people will think about me choosing to love EVERYONE, not just a specific list of “worthy” individuals. Don’t like it? Unfollow me, I don’t care. I wish it was socially acceptable to love everyone as they are no matter who they are or who they love. We are so fettered by the chains of old religion that we persecute those around us. How shameful. 

What if I had always viewed people as equal? Would I have this much guilt weighing in my chest? I spent too many years giving a shit about all the wrong things. My redemption? Stepping out and being a little more public about what I believe. My beliefs and values make up more of who I am than my personality traits or hair color. I’ve been a closeted supporter of many causes for too long. I don’t want to be closeted anymore. I want to stir the pot a little, be brave, be open, be accepting. 

Jared Leto, you’re fucking brilliant. I have nothing but respect for you as an artist and actor.