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.

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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.

http://la-confidential-magazine.com/personalities/articles/jared-leto-talks-dallas-buyers-club-and-thirty-seconds-to-mars

Second Chances

My dad has advanced Parkinson’s Disease. Most people envision horrible tremors or the face of Michael J. Fox when they picture Parkinson’s Disease, but it’s much more complex. My dad doesn’t exhibit obvious tremors unless he’s asleep, but his brain is still being ravaged by a disease with no cure. He has early onset dementia, hallucinations, difficulty swallowing, inability to taste, chronic fatigue, weight gain, extreme pain in his back and legs, and problems maintaining balance. That’s just the beginning. He was misdiagnosed for nearly 30 years…so he was likely developing PD when he was my age. And PD is hereditary. That’s a stressful topic I’ll address another time.

My poor mom…she’s so strong. She’s beautiful and charitable and everyone in her community knows her because of her giving spirit. Now she’s watching her husband, the love of her life, lose his grip on reality and there’s nothing she can do about it. All those plans they made to travel, raise grandchildren, and watch sunsets together are now uncertain. She doesn’t tell me too much about what it’s like, probably because she doesn’t want to stress me out, but occasionally she fills in the gaps and tells me how she feels.

This morning she called to give me an update. She never calls during the day so I figured it wasn’t good news. Dad has good days and bad days. She worries about leaving him alone when she has business trips. She doesn’t want him to feel like he’s not smart enough or man enough to be on his own. It’s a constant emotional battle. Someone loses either way. After I got off the phone with her, I spent a few minutes recanting all the horrible things I’ve ever said to my father, all the arguments, all the pain we caused each other in the last 30 years. My dad and I are exactly alike…similar personalities, medical history, body ailments, social skills, etc. We’re both stubborn as hell. It means our fights were usually intense and we wouldn’t speak for days or even weeks afterwards. We had a fight about 6 months ago and my mom said not to worry because he’d probably forget it by the next day or two. That wasn’t comforting. 

When you find out someone you love has a terminal or chronic illness, you regret every ounce of bullshit that existed between you. You want it to disappear and be replaced by butterflies and unicorns or at the very least, a case of beer and a good conversation. You want nothing but second chances to be kind and compassionate.

A Little Grey Hair Never Hurt Anyone

Attached is a link to an article I read on the Huffington Post earlier today. I freaking love it. 

I love that the author of this article speaks the truth about what it feels like to get older. I’m tired as hell most of the time. I can’t imagine raising children from birth because I’m already so damn tired. I’m thankful my step-daughter is 7 years old and I got to skip the infant stage of hours and hours of screaming. I turn 30 in 3 months and most of my hair is grey on the top of my head. I don’t care but many people point it out as though it’s taboo to be a (relatively) young female with grey hair. For me, it’s a privilege to have grey hair and to age because many people never get the opportunity to do so. Being 29 years old does not mean I am young and youthful because I don’t feel it. It just means I’ve been on the planet for 29 years. What you see on the outside of a person does not equal what’s happening on the inside. I won’t apologize for who I am or how my body feels at any given moment because it’s all a product of being ALIVE. 

It’s time to stop hiding who we are and how we feel, regardless of our age. If you want to wear the lipstick, do it. Be who you are and stop feeling ashamed about it.

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/tuenight/dark-lipstick_b_4747280.html?ncid=edlinkusaolp00000009

Metta Meditation

Two weeks ago I started attending a meditation group. It’s facilitated by a Buddhist teacher and each week, he opens new pathways to connect our outer self with our inner self. 

I suck at meditation. The great thing about mindful meditation: No judgment. So, according to said principle, I don’t suck at meditation. Meditation is like A.D.D. hell. Sit still for 30 minutes and concentrate on breathing. 

Breath 1, breath 2, air conditioner, cold, jacket, hot chocolate, chocolate ice cream, hungry.

That’s my brain on meditation. If I’m tired, hungry, or just plain bitchy, concentration is as fleeting as my interest in sitting idly.

Last Saturday I was having a particularly difficult time staying focused. I was distracted by some other circumstances: 1) Poor sleep 2) My husband was awaiting a massage by some tart after a 3 week labor intensive business trip 3) I can’t focus on ANYTHING when I’m tired and I know someone other than me is going to have their hands on my man. Note to self: Study deep tissue massage therapy skills and grow some damn muscles. After the standard 30 minute meditation, the group discussed our ability or inability to maintain awareness.

Then something magical happened. The facilitator introduced Metta Meditation. It’s a loving-kindness or compassion meditative practice. It works like ripples in a pond. You begin with yourself. You show compassion towards yourself, then to your family, then your friends, neutral people, and even people you don’t like. You repeat a phrase in your mind over and over, beginning with yourself and then expanding.

The phrase we were given: “May I be well, happy, and peaceful.” We recite the phrase 4 or 5 times and then move on…

“May my family be well, happy, and peaceful.”

“May my friends be well, happy, and peaceful.”

“May neutral people be well, happy, and peaceful.”

“May [person/people I don’t like] be well, happy, and peaceful.”

I did fine until I got to the last phrase. When I visually imagined the difficult person in my life, I actually made a face of disgust. To say it takes energy to wish a malicious bastard wellness, happiness, and peace is an understatement. But I needed to do it. I think the action was proactive and positive and removed some of the weight hanging around my neck. It’s the closest I think I’ll ever get to loving my enemies. I hope that by repeating this phrase, I’ll become a catalyst for change in my own heart and in the hearts and minds of others.

After the session, I was driving home and was cut off by a rude driver in a very large SUV. I had to stop my car to keep from hitting road barrels. I flipped the driver off then laughed and shouted, “May the shitty driver be well, happy, and peaceful!”

Hey, it’s a start.

Art and God

I’ve been creating art for half of my life. It started with a fascination with VanGogh’s Starry Night. It’s such a popular painting, it’s on coffee mugs, t-shirts, calendars, ugly Christmas sweaters. But to me it was transforming. It was taking all of those elementary art classes and culminating them into a masterpiece of color and texture. The first piece I tried to paint was a remake of the moon in Starry Night. I was captivated by the contrast of the moon against the sky and the sleeping blue town below. That was the beginning of the transformation.

Art was this activity I gravitated towards to challenge myself. I drew the faces of famous people, painted scenes for contests, and began to feel a deep, personal connection to every piece I crafted.

It was as magical as it was painful.

I never imagined that by simply picking up a paintbrush, I would be changed from the inside out. Painting was nothing but moving colors around on paper or canvas or whatever surface I happened to have at the moment. It was never supposed to be anything more. It was never supposed to make me feel emotions buried so deep…but it did. And amid the colors, I discovered the greatest truths about myself.

1) Art is not a thing, it is a way. It is a movement. It is what compels beauty throughout the world. It is not a thing, it is who we are.

2) Art is an act of love. It is the expression of emotions, fears, adoration, all the little phrases we’re too afraid to say with words. It is affection poured out in colorful streams of love.

3) Art is worship. I grew up in a conservative religion. Worship felt like a scripted encounter with God. Pray, sing songs, repeat. I don’t remember when art infiltrated my relationship with God, but over the last 15 years, it became the way I commune with God. It’s where I have my most intimate conversations with the Creator. Art has given me a unique connection with God.

4) I will avoid art if I believe I might feel some emotion I’m not ready to experience. Creating art makes me vulnerable, my defenses are down and I can’t fight off the waves of the past, present, and future. Sometimes I look at my paintbrushes and walk away. Save it for another day.

5) Art is as messy as life. Embrace it.

 

 

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Show a Little Kindness

On my giving a shit scale (1 being no shit is given, 10 being a BIG shit is given), the Superbowl is probably -10. For me, the Superbowl is an excuse to hang out with people and eat high-calorie food. And sometimes, I watch the commercials. This year, I let Facebook inform me of what commercials were worth watching (on Youtube) and I’m sure I’m not the 10th or 1000th person to talk about them. But I was moved by a few of the ads, particularly the features by Coca-Cola.

I watched as the people opened their hearts, poured out their souls about what it feels like to be an American. But if you listen closely, there’s an even deeper connection, something that ties us together as human beings sharing this country. It’s kindness. It’s the ability to look at others who are different from us and show them love, compassion, and acceptance. It’s generosity of spirit.

There is clearly enough hatred on the planet and yet out of the bigotry, kindness grows. We fight good fights, change laws, hold doors open for the elderly, and keep watch over our neighbor’s evil cat. And that’s just the beginning. Ellen DeGeneres always closes her show with “Be kind to one another.” A simple phrase laced with a challenge. It takes courage to show kindness… especially when we’re afraid we’ll be rejected. But kindness ultimately begets kindness. It is inspiring…to me and to others. When we’re scared but see others showing compassion, it helps us be brave. May this new wave of kindness challenge us to think and behave differently.

The Runaways

Last night I had a pretty intense conversation with a dear friend. Seems we share a common problem: we run away from our ambitions because they scare the shit out of us and we don’t want our dreams to hurt the people we love. I envy all you people who know you want to be a lawyer when you’re 5 years-old and actually follow through with it. There are many of us who experiment with, dabble in, and ponder many other vocational possibilities because the ONE thing we think we could work seems absolutely impossible.

So we run.

And we can only run for so long until we’re beaten down, broken, and exhausted.

At some point, we have to face our destiny.

After the conversation, I kept thinking about these lyrics for a song I hadn’t listened to in years. There is a band called Further Seems Forever and they released a song called “Hide Nothing” about a decade ago (I feel really old writing that).

Here’s the first verse and chorus:

We live and we learn and crash and we burn and we’re gone
We take what we know and we learn as we go and we run

Run until that day
We can see who we are
Have the final say
We can be who we are
As love lights the way to the last day
And no one can take it away

Run and hide
Don’t hide at all 
Change is coming, no it’s nothing personal
Live our lives 
Not hide it all
Change is coming, no its nothing personal

In a perfect world, we would be honest about all the things that scare us and keep us awake at night. But we don’t. We run.

And I don’t want to run anymore. I want to do the thing that scares me. I can’t keep hoping that by running, I’ll eventually collide with my destiny. Change comes from standing still, breathing in the moment, and being aware of who we are right now.

Who’s Who in the Religious Hunger Games

I remember when I loved church…the socialization, the potlucks, and holiday celebrations. I even loved reading the Bible from time to time, absorbing it as this miraculous storybook, full of wonder. Oh and lest I forget the felt board. No Sunday School class was complete without it, the little wooden chairs, and a Bible verse painted awkwardly along the wall. It held value and priority in my life. It gave me importance and purpose.

It also punished the hell out of me, made me feel guilty, and cornered me into a nervous breakdown about 10 years ago.

Now? I don’t know what to believe. Endless references to the inaccuracies of the Bible, whether it’s taken too literally or translated improperly…the gaps of truth are farther apart than Shannon Doherty’s front teeth (seriously, woman, fix that shit). I’m saddened by the loss of confident belief. When it was simple to just believe what I was told. I hate debate and yet I loathe ignorance but I’m too tired to read the same arguments over and over and over.

What would Jesus do? What does God want for us? Is God male or female or both…Does hell exist? Will the world end by zombies? Meteors? Or giant ass horsemen and the largest disappearing act since Heaven’s Gate found their “mother ship”?

I’ve watched Christians spend hours, wasting their lives in order to prove their philosophy/doctrine/theology is the “right” one. Do they want Jesus to high five them? Give them a cookie? A glass of…kool-aid? Does God really give a shit about the logistics, politics, and traditions? How do we even know what God wants from us?

It’s like The Hunger Games…what was once righteous and selfless martyrdom is now murder for sport. I am ashamed to have ever belonged to that form of Christianity.