About kb

free spirit, lover of red wine, bacon, sushi, the ocean, and adventure. I work in the legal field, do freelance writing, and take care of children.

On the Duality of Dreams and the Magic of Acro Yoga, Swimmingly

I did something wonderful last night. I went with a friend to try out acro yoga, which is partner yoga – think acrobatic controlled movement. It’s amazing. I was spellbound; I haven’t quite felt my eyes widen to try to take everything in the way they did last night in a long time.

I’d always wanted to do it, but never had actually really done it, and last night was quite the adventure. I had no idea what I was getting into, and today I am completely sore but so very happy. My body is quiet. It stretched and did things I wasn’t sure it could do – at one point, I was upside down with my shoulders resting on someone’s hands while I held onto their ankles and somehow managed to keep my body completely straight up and down. It was magical. The feeling of accomplishment at that was the most satisfied I’ve been in a while.

My friend remarked that I’m a quick learner, because by the end of the whole thing, I was just as eager as I had been at the beginning, but now somehow completely more comfortable and feeling very confident – not confident that I’m fantastic at it, but less hesitant and more able to give it all a go. He’s been doing it for ages, and of course is insanely strong and knowledgeable, which is nice to have because his calm ability to explain things while I was mid-air was very helpful. And also super attractive.

I think that the decade of dancing helped quite a bit, even though not everything felt natural, my body has retained some of its flexibility and is eager to bend and be. This is definitely something that I want to explore more.  Just sheer unbridled joy. It was wonderful.

After, we went and mingled over drinks with his yoga people, and I was delighted to find myself submerged in a completely unknown social environment in which I felt entirely comfortable. It was fun.

***

I’m a firm believer that as we age, we lose some of the connectivity we have with the energy on this earth; that the childlike wonder is infinitely more in tune with the environment than our older selves, due to the chaotic cluttering of the airwaves. Responsibility, society, work, experience – all of those things cloud our minds and work to limit our ability to be truly in tune.

It’s the reason teenagers are so lame – they’re suddenly aware of how people perceive them, and they don’t want to appear anything but cool about anything, so instead of allowing their excitement to show, they’ll just nod, and say, “cool,” with a shrug.

That’s why I actively practice childlike wonder. I want to be as enthralled as possible with new experiences, because there is such great joy in those moments. I want to be curious and learn everything about everything. I want to wonder, to wander, and to feel. I take time to lay in the grass (not directly, I’m allergic as all hell) and stare up at the clouds when they’re the most cumulus (digging that as a descriptor).

I write about the strength in intuition, and how I have relied on it for my biggest decisions. I have been actively working for years now to quiet the other external and internal thought processes and inputs and to listen to that voice. I’ve gotten so much better at it than I used to be, and I’ve stopped second-guessing myself so much. A huge part of the internal dialogue is self-critical (at least for me), and being able to disregard it has let me let the self-doubt fall away. It’s magical, that feeling of surety and confidence in my own being.

But I disgress…a bit.

When I was nine, the Broncos won the Super Bowl. I knew that they would, because I’d had a dream of hands touching the Lombardi trophy. I told a man that in a pager store, long before the big game. He didn’t believe me. I was tiny, and very firm in my assertion.

As a child, I had a pink dress my grandmother brought back from Spain. It was my “Spain dress,” and I wore it until it was dirty and ripped and tight in the armpits; I loved that dress immensely. I had a dream one night that I was twirling around in the backyard (because the best part of any dress or skirt is its flowy spinnability – when you twirl, how much area/separation do you get between the fabric and the legs? It’s an important consideration, to be sure), and my dad came out and told me that my aunt was getting married. And sure enough, one day, I was twirling around in the backyard and the announcement came: my aunt was getting married.

I’ve long dreamed very intense dreams; they come and go in different stages of presentation depending on my stress levels, life places, etc., but when the dreams are their purest, they are often telling and illuminating in ways I appreciate.

This fall, I had a dream – I don’t remember the specifics – but I woke up knowing that I needed to be on guard. That semi-conscious premonition alerted me to something I didn’t see coming, and that day, when the moment happened, I was prepared and able to handle it gracefully and smoothly, without the duress that I would have felt had I been blindsided by it. Katie (Un)Consciousness for the win.

My dreams the last two nights have been vivid. The other night, I dreamed two different dreams within the same dream (you know how they go – they wind and twist and change so abruptly, yet somehow comingle with the certainty of a single experience). Each dream involved rocks and water. In one, I was in a warm, light place, under water, with the perspective of two pairs of feet submerged to the shins. The water was clear and blue and I was content to observe these two pairs of feet just being, as the waves rolled around them.

In the other scenario, I was in my car, in the mountains. This day was far darker, a cold blackness of winter. I looked away, for a second, and my car slid along a rocky cliff edge that hadn’t been there before, furiously, and I could not control it. The dream flashed forward to me, half submerged in dark water, trying to pull myself out using the cold rocks around me. There were other people there, suddenly, doing whatever it is that they were doing, and a giant dangling spider and for some odd reason, a squirrel? The dangling spider was close to my hair, and I didn’t want to become entangled with spider and web and hair. But I couldn’t get out. And so I remained, half submerged, attempting to climb out, unable to do so.

And then the warm place was back again. The people and the beach and their waterfall, which is what they were standing under. I watched their feet, unable to “look” elsewhere, but I could hear their murmured conversation and their laughter.

I woke, curious about the odd duality of the matter displayed in my dreams. I think I know, but am not sure yet which dream location belongs to which of the things that relate to the things in my life. I think I know that too. I’ll sleep on it.

Last night, much the same, although with people I know. The general strangeness of setting and barely discernable plot lines plus the people – my family, a friend, other minor characters. Most of the dream has slipped back into my subconscious now, I’ve lost my own creation, but I remember starkly the presence of one person and then later the food on a plate – all of it green. I am curious about the clear warning of envy here, and what it will mean. Also, I’m suddenly craving pistaschio pudding.

 

On this week, penultimately

It’s Thursday. I thought yesterday was Thursday, and as a result, having to do this day all over again is miserable. I keep feeling like it should be Friday. It’s been a long week; one of those weeks that’s immense and intense and dragging on even as it’s speeding by.

The week has brought conversations I did not imagine I’d have; it has brought both clarity of situation and intention; it has brought unexpected complications. The theme of the week has been entirely human – emotions and choice. It’s been hard for everyone, us humans, merely bones and muscle and blood, love and pain and all the promise.

What is it to have the experiences that make us human? We have been given the greatest gift of emotions, the spectrum between suffering and unbridled joy, and the great swath that falls between. This week has been a gentle reminder of the fact that joy for one can bring grief for another.

I have stared into my past this week, as the present is swirling up around me, threatening to overwhelm. I have stared back, down into the dark things. I have found, unexpectedly, a bit of clarity of intention I didn’t imagine would be coming. I have cemented connections. I have thought mindfully and rationally; I have been physically shaken out of fear, and cried because the pain of watching someone else hurt is hard to bear; I have laughed, and been filled with admiration and gratitude. Now I sit watching the storm recede, and I am calm. I am filled with the radiant feeling of peace, a feeling of confident repose.

It is never easy to live. No actually, that’s incorrect. It’s never easy to be truly alive. There cannot be joy and happiness without the suffering and despair. In all of that, every single moment, we are given only choice – what will I do with the moment at hand?

I read an article today talking about life, not as a game of chess, but as a game of Tetris. The premise of the article was that there is no end game with life; we do not have the perfect move, the better move, the opponent. In life, our biggest opponent is ourselves, and in life, the pieces never stop falling. It is up to us to place them where we will and to continue, as the onslaught comes ever faster. There is not winning of life, not really.

Of course life is not a game, but in letting go of the approach of winning, I think we’re able to find the peace we so desperately seek. In the appreciation of the smaller moments, the shaking off of the heavy things, and the acceptance that we are all flawed in our own individual ways, we are given the opportunities to shape our own destiny, whatever is it that may be. We get the chance to choose happiness every day, to work on our relationships, our ways of communicating, our means of support, because we can. Otherwise, we are left to languish in the unknown, having decided that there is no bright future.

I’ve been there. The darkness almost swallowed me whole.

Now that I’m away, it seems so silly. Why can’t you just see that there’s light and joy in the world? When you’re in the darkness, you can’t see that there is even light, not within you, not anywhere. You are nothing. You are alone. You are forgotten, unforgiven, unrepentant, a sniveling excuse for a human, and you truly feel all of that to your core. It’s a hard experience to have. I almost lost myself to it. I withdrew from the world, apathy cloaking my spirit. I plodded onward, daily, misery incarnate. I couldn’t fathom the fact that I’d once been happy; couldn’t draw on those moments as a source of strength. Those, too, were no longer mine. People said it’d get better, but I didn’t believe them. How could I? To me, they possessed something I no longer had. I hated it. I hated that it wouldn’t end. I hated myself and everything around me, because everyone else was happier and better off, aware of some secret from which I had been singled out and excluded.

And then, it lifted.

I’m not sure if it was the fact that my hatred for being unhappy finally overwhelmed the unhappiness, that my sheer will not to let the bad thing be my only thing, or if some small moments of joy trickled in through the cracks and thawed my frostbitten soul, coaxing it back to life.

It’s not that I didn’t work at it. I did. I finally wrote about it. I finally opened it up and let it go, releasing my pain to the world. I talked about it. I fought about it. I cried about it. I scratched at the darkness until my fingers bled, and out of my frustration and desperation, I found the exit. Climbing out of hell is harder than you think. There’s no map, no how, nowhere to begin. That’s the trap.

Coming back into the sunshine is the greatest feeling in the world. The day that I was fully free, I was with my five year old in a park. The sky was immense and clear-blue, and the earth was around us. Just the two of us, we walked and ran and played. I felt unbearably light. I think I wrote about it that day. It was amazing.

This week, I was reminded what the dark places feel like. I saw the outburst of a friend struggling with the weight of being human – purpose, love, grief, sadness, anger – and I hurt because of that. The ripple effects of our own sadness carry far beyond ourselves, and in not being able to help those who are struggling, we each hurt in our own way. My part in his upset hurts too.

I am firm believer that love is the greatest gift we are given. Love is my highest goal. Love brings joy. Love is my motivation. Love moves me. I believe that we are each motivated by a single emotion – the thing that we seek, that drives us to keep seeking, that sates us when we’ve sought – and for me, that’s love. I am the happiest when I feel love, whether it’s friend love or romantic love or any of the other multitudes of love, those moments are my favorite.

To watch someone hurt so badly from the loss of love, or the unexpected unrequitedness of it all, is viscerally painful. To watch the pain that people keep welled up inside them erupt and spew out is difficult, because no one can make those things better. No one can change how you feel; it’s up to you.

My last big loss of love came after a brief entanglement in college. I fell hard and fast. I understand it all now – and appreciate the opportunity for connection, no matter how brief – but for a long while after, I was a mess. It destroyed me, until I was able to finally accept it, wrap my head around it, and move forward into the future. And then the peace came. We had our moment of closure, and in his quiet way, he acknowledged that it had meant a lot to him. Something in the knowing that it was important for him too, in a way that wasn’t mine but was his own, helped to finally close the wound that had begun to heal a long time before.

I remember the nights that I laid awake, desperate, panicked, unsure. I remember the feeling in the core of my palms when everything was falling away. I remember the tears, the dreams. Love is horrible, too.

Giving yourself, or parts of yourself, to someone else, only to be not wholly accepted, is the most terrifying thing you can do. To be rejected after that offering is a cold, steely slap to the soul. Sometimes, it’s not rejection of the person, but rather a difference in opinions, lifestyles, views, desire. Sometimes it is the rejection of that person, for qualities, characteristics, behavior patterns.

No matter what it is, the end of a relationship or the realization that things aren’t going your way hurts. The choice to pick up, reflect, dust off, recharge, and move forward is your own. The hardest part about living in the darkness is that there’s no roadmap out. There is only you. Only you and your ability to get yourself out of the whole darkness, because the darkness is also you. The darkness is your own. You helped create it, the world helped create it, and there’s nothing that can save you from yourself, except yourself. (I’m thinking Harold and the Purple Crayon here, and I’m into that aesthetic of the darkness and your choice. My crayon isn’t purple. It’d be mint green.)

I had to make hard choices this week. I also learned a few hard lessons, which require me to reflect back on my own actions, inactions, thoughts, intentions, and communications. I can learn from this. I can see how the things that I did led me to the place where I am. I can see how the things that I thought were incongruent with the things that someone else thought. I can see how my past shaped the way I reacted to a person in my life. I can see how I should have been better about instituting and maintaining boundaries. I will learn how to let the guilt go, and to stop internalizing things I shouldn’t. I have been learning that. I hadn’t realized that I hadn’t put them up when I should have. I see a bigger picture now. I see someone else’s picture, too. I see how my picture and their picture and the rest of the picture were in no way the same. I will grow from the things that this week brought. I will adapt. I will ruminate. I will be confident in my choices.

I am confident in my choices, because I am confident in my status as a tiny lion person (my inner strength is a tiny lion, think the cat but with a mane). My inner strength is my own. I’m on that weird human journey, hurtling through space like everyone else, even though my perception of this space is entirely my own. I am bones and blood and muscle, and I am a complex system of hopes and dreams and joy. And dammit, I’m Katie Barry.

This week hurt. – This week brought new challenges.  – This week brought answers to questions I hadn’t asked yet. – This week raised questions I hadn’t thought of. – This week was tough. – This week, I picked a lot. – This week I bought tickets to the skin picking conference.  – This week I sought answers. – This week I asked for help. – This week was joyful.  – This week was peaceful. – This week brought friendship. – This week I made fried rice terribly. – This week, I connected. – This week I lost a friend. – This week I felt empathy. – This week I felt frustrated. – This week I felt heard. – This week I felt threatened. – This week I felt stressed. – This week I took a miserable lukewarm bath. – This week I was strong. – This week I put up boundaries. – This week I realized I had been a part of the problem. – This week I tried to help. – This week made me smile. – This week I am tired. – This week I am excited for what’s to come.

That’s all we can really hope for, is to seek joy in the moment and to eagerly anticipate the rest of the things life will throw at us. And currently, I am. I’m really jazzed to be alive.

 

 

On Grit, Honestly

The following is a very brief (not really) email I sent to a friend today. We’ve been discussing all the things lately, and I felt compelled to word vomit my thoughts on things. Regardless of the response, I was actually very pleased with the content, as I had been mulling turning those thoughts into a blog post, and thus, when it came into being, I thought I’d share.

The meat of the whole communication stemmed from my rumination on grit as an essential human characteristic. I’ve written about it before, usually in expressing gratitude towards my mother for raising us to be resilient, but in all honesty, I think it has far broader applications…

Some of it stems from my job, the not being satisfied or appreciated or compensated properly, and part of it stems from the fact that I have absolutely no idea where I’m going. Part of me is okay with that, and other parts of me are not. I remember my old boss saying, so many times, “We are not what we do,” which is true, but so often forgotten. When people ask me what it is that I do, I regurgitate an oft-repeated attempt at summarizing my job duties, only to realize that I’ve failed miserably at describing myself as a human.

And then people ask me what it is that I’d like to do, and again and again, I come up short. What I would like to do is write, do law things, invoke passion (both my own and others), and create lasting impressions on the people with whom I work. This is clearly not any sort of tangible job description, and yet, I can’t help but wonder if I’m doing this all wrong.

But then again, it doesn’t matter. The parts of me concerned with becoming wealthy long ago gave up those dreams, only because I don’t care to work myself to death accumulating wealth that won’t be anything more than a number printed on a bank statement. Yes, it would be nice to breathe and feel and travel, and yet, I don’t feel compelled to seek my fortune if it means giving up the principles to which I adhere. And that is authenticity, mostly. My genuine spirit cannot be tampered with, and my strict belief in transparency is not malleable. Of course, I could find a better wage without sacrificing those things, to be sure, and that is the task at hand.

How do I become a better (compensated) person while following my true passions?

That was off track, but not in the least. I am lost, wandering, languishing in the mediocre, even though I seem to have the rest of things semi-sorted. I want for things, of course, and I want for change, and yet, I am afraid of the leap.

This whole discussion began with us discussing fear, and change, and self-actualization, things that I can wholeheartedly relate to, and must conquer. And yet, simultaneously, I find myself frustrated with the whole of society, with our processes and petty procedural necessities. The race to succeed as a whole, rather than the enjoyment of the journey.

Here, is my rumination on identity, humanness, and grit, the oft-overlooked characteristic that so many people lack:

 

Grit (to me, of course) is the having seen and lived through things that shape us as humans and our worldview, and then still making the choice to pursue happiness, lightness, joy, success, whatever else. It’s not necessarily tenacious pursuit of a goal out of sheer stubbornness, but rather the continual push for forward progress in spite of obstacles. There’s nothing so distasteful to me as someone who can’t (really, won’t) fend for themselves or take responsibility for the things that need handling, even if that means asking for help. I think that having seen the less-than-wonderful things in the world makes us all more resilient, and I think that people who allow the dark parts to become a part of them rather than carrying them around like a dark cloud and then choose to grow from those experiences are really the most wonderful people. It makes the practice of empathy so much more natural. It’s an excellent source of strength, I think.

I don’t believe that there is ever a “right” choice. For me the definitions of “success” and “right” are all so subjective that there can never be a right choice, although that said, there can certainly be a wrong choice. Or a more wrong choice? A wronger choice? Ah, well. As I emerge into adulthood, I have realized that people make some seriously questionable choices in ways that I would never imagine. And yet, these people are still maybe or maybe not “successful” or present as “happy” by the standard social evaluation, but to what end? They’re drowning in debt, or sinking into stagnant places, or ultimately miserable for any number of reasons, or chasing unattainable things… But dammit, we’re determined to be the Kardashians if it kills us. (Hahahaha, please imagine how amazing I would look with a super fake tan. I’ll let that sink in, because we both know the spray tan won’t.)

Does making the “right” choices lead to happiness? — What is the ultimate goal for making “right” choices? — How do you measure success? – Where does courage come from? (For me, it’s how do I switch in and out of lion mode when I need to? My therapist loves that I’ve finally started being able to turn anger/upset outward into motivation/courage rather than internalizing it against myself. Dear god, that in itself is worth everything.) — What is “good”? —- What is the ultimate meaning of life?

Like all things, progress has complicated everything. In coming out of the space where every decision was life and death, or that survival depended entirely on our ability for self-preservation and procreation and ultimately continuation of our lines through work, we’ve softened. We’ve constructed (more) elaborate social hierarchies and taken the magic luxuries for granted (hot water, clean water, transportation, food, and so on. Did I mention hot water?). In doing so, we’ve complicated our lives by layering an increasingly complicated understanding of meaning onto the whole thing. (Okay, in all fairness, these have been core human functions since the dawn of our existence – music, religion of some sort, celebration and ceremony, social grieving…) But now that we’re not on the edge of survival all day every day, we’ve lost our ability to seek smaller joy in favor of a sweeping greater narrative – much like our inability to live in the moment with our damned smart phones and our need for ever-increasing entertainment stimulation, we’ve let go of the things that drive the core humanness of our existence. We’re chasing something that’s already there.

I think it’s all about the ability to resolve the disparate parts of our identities (nerdy video gamer, wild human, party girl, role model/mentor, family member, friend, caregiver, bookworm, etc.) and to be able to pursue the things that resonate with our own cores. Our meanings are all our own, and part of getting to a place of peace and contentment is acceptance (first and foremost, self-acceptance, but also acceptance of so much else as well). Quieting the outside input allows for greater accuracy in the assessment of our desires, needs, and motivations, ultimately guiding us to the choice that feels the most right. (That’s how I make all big decisions. I listen to my gut. I let it decide. It’s very rarely wrong, and as a result, I have very few regrets.)

I’m a firm believer that as we age, our internal voices become so drowned out by the external and the demands of the real world that we lose a lot of our sense of wonder and purpose. Part of it is self-realization (in a good way, when you’re aware of yourself and actualized as your best being, but in a neutral/potentially negative way when you become aware of yourself in relation to others — think of that moment sometime during adolescence when you started to become painfully aware of yourself and were immediately swimming in perceived inadequacies and comparisons that hadn’t been there before) and part of it is the hectic chaos around us.

But the best moments come in the understanding of being a part of something bigger, but also being absolutely your own island. For me, standing on the shores of Lake Michigan, staring out into the endless water, but also firmly on concrete, surrounded by the immensity of a giant metropolis is the very best feeling. I am free, in that moment, just another person on the street, both no one and someone alone in the vast big world. It’s the most surreal feeling and it’s wonderful. That’s where the wonder comes from, and I hope that I never lose that ability to feel things, to really experience little joys and big joys and embrace the whole journey. It’s why I love children so much. They haven’t lost it yet; they’re amazed by everything, their joy is pure and undampened, and their ability to perceive is still insanely on point.

I’ve never been able to meditate, but I do have an app for it (because of course, why wouldn’t I have one?), but I’m working on getting there. One year, my word/phrase for the year was “do less,” (yep, thanks Paul Rudd in Forgetting Sarah Marshall) because I’d been sucked into the hectic pace and realized that I’d lost touch with my quiet self. It was a great year. I did less. I allowed for boredom, because in that, I found my creativity and curiosity again. And in that, joy and wonder. Or at the very least, quite a bit of satisfaction.

On Kindness, Very Elderly

“Mustard and onions!” he would shout as soon he’d gotten himself through the door, gingerly shuffling up to the counter. He’s pull out crumpled dollars and some change. It was $1.62, always the same order: hot dog with mustard and onions, shortened to just “mustard and onions.”

Sometimes we’d see him coming and start his hot dog before he’d even gotten through the door (we had time; the man was 94 years old and no spring chicken. It’s interesting, to attempt to race an old man by microwaving a hot dog to have it ready for him before he’s even ordered it). His hands weren’t as nimble as they used to be, so we’d open the mustard packets for him and carry the hot dog out to his seat.

He would regularly give us a $5 tip and tell us not to spend it on the opposite sex. “Don’t spend this on men,” he’d caution, and I’d smile and swear I wouldn’t. And I never did.

He had a tiny white Pomeranian-looking dog thing he’d gotten from the Dumb Friends League. The tiny dog was tethered to the man’s walker by his leash, and the both of them were parked outside the large side window while the man ate his hot dog at the tall table in the corner. We used to bring the dog a little cup of ice cream to eat while the man was inside. One time, he yelled at me not to bite his dog, which made me laugh, mostly because it terrified some tiny children waiting in line. Once, the dog ran into the parking lot, dragging the walker with him. That caused a brief upset, and both the dog and the walker were safely recovered, returned to their post on the sidewalk.

Over time, I learned that the man had been a captain in the Navy during WWII. We talked about that when the captain ran his ship aground while showing off for friends off the coast of Italy. The man shook his head, clearly disappointed by the captain’s idiocy. When I was dating a Marine, he told me that the best part about the service was that when I got bored with the man, I could send him right back to the Marines.

He was the bright spot on many days. When we had new people working, who didn’t understand the “mustard and onions,” shorthand, they’d panic, confused by the gruff shout. He lived nearby, and walked the block and a half to the Dairy Queen regularly, exercise and human connection.

This morning, I read a post on Facebook written by a woman who’d taken her young children to a Target store for a quick necessities run, only to find herself behind an elderly woman in line who was paying for each item individually, in change. The woman wrote about her initial annoyance, but then wrote about how the cashier’s patience and helpfulness with the change counting and the interaction struck her. When the woman was done purchasing her items, she asked if she had enough to purchase a reusable bag, which she did. The cashier repackaged the woman’s purchases with a smile, no hint of aggravation or annoyance. She watched her young daughter watch the interaction, and she felt compelled to find the manager to speak about the cashier’s actions. And then she posted about it, which is of course how it came to me this morning, via a newsfeed so full of cluttered self-important noise.

When I was in high school, first beginning my time as the Dairy Queen (a self-imposed title, to be sure), we used to have an old woman come in and purchase a child-sized twist cone. Then she’d linger by the counter, chatting. At first, I was annoyed. I had things to do – re-stocking candies and cups and spoons. My manager at the time, a fantastic manager who somehow commanded and compromised and inspired with her honest work ethic and beautiful handling of high school employees who knew nothing about the working world, always encouraged us to stay and talk to her. It wasn’t until much later that I realized that for this woman, we were human interaction, not just a quick pit stop on the way to other things. It wasn’t until I grew into more adult awareness that I realized the haunting reality of the loneliness that comes with aging.

It tears at me, now, to think of people, not just the elderly, who are alone. I see the posts about how they’ve put a pre-school in a nursing home, and I’m fascinated by the sheer brilliance of the idea. I don’t know why we don’t have those everywhere, because we should.

I shed a few tears this morning, thinking of the hustling, frantic pace of our world, and the isolation that comes with our own self-involved narrow focuses. Much in line with my recent ruminations on the disillusionment of life, I find it disheartening that we feel compelled to share these stories of small kindnesses as some kind of heroic behavior, because in my own idealistic view of the world, these would be commonplace courtesies performed not out of duty but out of sheer goodwill.

I looked forward to seeing that old man every day. I brightened when he came in. I took as much (maybe more) from our interactions as he did. I still think of him, from time to time, and hope he’s okay. He might not be, it might be that he’s passed away or moved to a nursing home, but some small part of me wants to tell him how much he meant to me, and how his presence in my life made me better, happier, more fulfilled.

Listening to NPR cover the death of Alan Rickman last night, I heard the voice of one of his friends describe him using all of the words we all aspire to: kind-hearted, funny, and so on, and I started to think about the legacy that I will someday leave behind. The totality of our lives is summed up not on paper, which will eventually be filed away somewhere and left to the dust, but exists in the impressions we leave on those around us.

We get back what we put into this world, unless we don’t, in which case we must take comfort in knowing that we’ve done and been the best we could have been. My Russian co-worker, who became a dear friend, told me that she felt very deeply that the only reason she’d come back from Russia to be here for 9 months was so I could come into her life and we could become friends. She appreciated my sense of humor and my outlook. She’s back in Russia now, and I miss her every day. I miss our discussions of English language, and her laughter and our shared plants, which mingled in my tiny garden and grew together.

She’ll never know how much that compliment meant to me, and how it drives me when I’m in need of motivation. This. This is the reason we need other humans. We need them because the ripple effects of the smallest kindnesses don’t go unnoticed; they carry onward, softening over time, but still changing their environments. The harder we work to bring joy to those around us, the more joy there is to go around. That sounds Pollyannaish, and I don’t care. Taking the time to make small positive impacts is something that can have a very real and valuable return. It’s important, and we don’t seem to do enough of it.

On Disillusionment, Forwardly

I’m sitting at my desk this morning, mind scattered everywhere but here, struggling to will my energy into my work, the lot of which is piled up around me, panic spread throughout the cubicle. I’m listening to some upbeat mix about wanderlust (I had entered “Rusted Root” in my search box this morning, attempting to find the right work music, but have thus far come up empty handed – currently it’s playing the song about the man Down Under, which is not in any way what I had in mind), and the whole discomfort at being caged is forefront in my mind.

I’m reminded of a book I started recently, “And Then We Came to the End.” (Love the title. If you’ve read my writing, you know that I adore beginning sentences with conjunctions…my inability to compress anything into a single thought must beget the need to ramble continuously, punctuation interspersed as a matter of necessity.) It’s about the fall of an advertising agency in Chicago in the midst of a recession. Of course, I’m halfway through. I haven’t finished yet, so I can’t tell you what happens, although if I had to hazard a guess, it might be that they come to the end.

The prose is slow, jumping here and there, relating stories I couldn’t care less about, and yet, I’m liking it. It’s a beautiful depiction of the monotony, of the meaninglessness that is the workday, which is somehow magnified to consume our entire existence. It’s heartbreaking and endless and realistic, all at once. I’m surrounded by the mid-toned golden pre-fab cubicle walls, lucky enough to have a window and 8 little plants. I have no decorations, other than a smattering of tea boxes and hand lotions. My existence is a mirror of theirs, although it’s not at all the same. And that’s the beauty of it.

I’ve been enjoying disillusionment literature lately. That’s not a genre, but it should be. I’ve written before about the letdown that was the realization that there is not this magic sense of resolve/purpose/justice/happy endings that we were sold in the literature of childhood…and I’m somewhat pleased to know that much of our adult artistic endeavors can be focused on puzzling out the muddling through that comprises the rest of our lives. Comfort in solidarity, I guess.

I recently finished “The Postmortal,” which is a haunting tale of a dystopian future in which science has discovered a cure for aging, and the population has fallen into near-anarchy. But that’s not the point of it, really. The story centers on a man who’s watched everything he loves fall away in part because of his own (in)action and in part because of this cure for aging. It’s a book that reminds us that all we have left in the end is love and the people with whom we share these experiences, no matter how small. After I read it, I forced the cat to cuddle with me while I cried into his fur and begged him not to ever die. I came away from it reminded that life wouldn’t be so beautiful if it didn’t end; that the temporary nature of it is part of the beauty. Things are, for their time, and then they aren’t. What they leave behind is the faintest whisper of their presence, memories of joy to be called up in dark hours, some legacy of interaction, hope.

I am an excellent beginner. Promise excites me. Much like the books that litter my life, half-read, consumed diligently for a few days before being discarded in favor of a new magazine, or a new book, or a Netflix show, I find myself struggling with the push to follow through. The beginning is bright, the future full of promise of the best things to come, and yet, when we get to it, there is always that looking forward and not so much realization that this present current now will stretch on endlessly.

There is consolation in the status quo, to be sure, and the complacency in repetitive routines is calming, reassuring. Yes, we rage against the things that can (or generally, can’t) be changed, but we take comfort that we’ve let it out, briefly appeased, forgetting that it will rise again unless we make the leap to change.

For me, it’s fear. The fear of the unknown; the fear of failure; the fear of that feeling of nervousness that comes with next experiences. Fear is the thing I’ve worked the most to fight in my life, and I’m sure the thing that will I will fight continuously for the rest of my own ever. Which is silly, because everything is new at some point. The swirling of anxiety pooling in the stomach will dissipate; all storms must eventually lose their momentum and die out, quietly. And yet, I find myself bound by those invisible barriers.

We are the sum of our parts (broadly; our memories, our experiences, our biology, our synapses, our hopes, our loves – reread that until “our” loses its meaning, because it will, and because you can), our power is internal and boundless. It’s a matter of harnessing that into moderately tangible progress, in accordance with our own end goals.

Damn. This means I need to reassess and cement some end goals. 2016 – Exploration, Visualization, Actualization. At last, we’ve accomplished one thing: a plan to plan (my favorite kind of plan), and some nice catchy words to go with it. And thus, we go. Onward. It’s like the Robert Frost quote that my brother had engraved on an iPod he got me when I graduated from high school (or was it college?) – “The best way out is always through.”

On the Word of the Year, Anticipatorily

I usually have a “Word of the Year,” which is sometimes actually a phrase. That word (or phrase) is my goal for the year, a mantra, something to consider mindfully as I progress throughout that time.

The most successful year was the first year I did it, 2011. That year, my word was “gratitude,” and I’ve found that not only did I practice it actively that year, I’ve continued to practice it since. It settled into me in a very wonderful way, and I’ve seen hugely positive results in my life as a result.

I don’t remember what my word was this year. Maybe I never settled on one. Indecision is a bad habit I’d like to break. So for next year, which is rapidly approaching, I think I’m going to start thinking about it now.

My list of potential words/phrases so far:

  • mindfulness
  • adulting
  • organization
  • focus
  • finish

To be honest, none of those are really striking to me, except for maybe mindfulness, which would delight the hell out of my therapist.

I’ve been sick for a few weeks now (who knew you can get mono twice? that’s ridiculous), and in my downtime, I’ve been appreciating the quiet and the doing nothing. I’ve been taking baths nearly every day (you absolutely must go out and buy some bubble bath by this company “everyone” — they make the best lotions and now, I’ve found this grapefruit and black pepper bubble bath, which sounds ridiculous but is beyond fantastic…they’re at Sprouts. Buy their lotions! They last forever and aren’t greasy or weird), and I’ve been reading again, which is a simply joy that’s been lost to me for too long. I’ve been catching up on all things Netflix, and am enjoying myself and the silence.

I’ve been grateful for my lovely work friends, who have made me homemade juice, brought me tea, and put up with the loss of my energetic spirit.

I’ve been grateful for my boyfriend, who’s laid low with me for two weekends in a row playing video games and watching Netflix. I’m grateful for my mom, whose insight into life somehow manages to still astonish me…

By the way, this has nothing to do with anything really but it’s been on my mind lately. I’m quite shocked it took me so many years to realize this, and I’m not sure at what point it finally all made sense, but…

My mom had her first brain surgery when I was in kindergarten. It was early 1994, probably, which would have made me 5 or 6. (This could be wildly inaccurate – maybe I was in first grade and maybe it wasn’t 1994. As soon as I post this, my mom will call to confirm when it actually was. But that’s not important.)

Before her surgery, my grandma took us shopping to buy my mom headscarves (because to get to the brain you have to have to shave the head) so that her head wouldn’t be so naked after surgery. Being little, I picked out the most fabulous scarves I could find. They were pinks and greens and all of the brightest bright colors. I was in love with all of them. I remember the store, too, light and bright and soft and gold. Maybe it was at that point that I fell in love with shopping.

Anyway, my grandmother ended up picking up a sensible dark blue head covering, which we called the turban, but now I’m not sure what it would actually be called. It was very much like a fortune teller would wear, perched on the side of her head because somehow her hugely curly hair would need to be contained, with big dangling hoop earrings. Obviously, that’s not how my mom wore it. On her, it was just a sensible head covering on a lady with no hair and a huge battle scar running down the back of her skull past her neck into her back.

But she bought all of those colorful scarves. She didn’t have to. She knew my mom wouldn’t wear them, practical and not disposed to flagrant displays of color.

I’m still awestruck by that. I love that my grandma bought those scarves, knowing there was no chance my mom would ever wear them, but wanting us to feel as though we had a part in it. Twenty-odd years later, I’m still taken aback by that simple act of love. Not just love for her daughter, but love for us, too. Knowing that we’d need that small satisfaction of having helped. “Helped,” ha.

My mom would never let me play with the scarves, and they became a source of fascination for me, until slowly, she did. They became a part of my dress up routines; I wore them as dresses, as capes, as anything. They were knotted, tangled, thrown carelessly back into the drawer, scattered always with my carefree play. I never realized until I was older why they were there and what they meant.

My mom kept them; she still has them, a whole drawer full of them. It’s the second one down on the right, in case you ever decide to rob her of their silken magic.

I want to be that good of a parent someday. I always talk about how selfless and kind my mom is, but now I’m starting to realize that she learned it from the very best. I hope to be half the woman those women are, because if I get there, I will have succeeded.

 

On the Cat, Tearily

Ignore the whole “is your pet your child?” debate…because we are moving forward with this post under the assumption that yes, your pet is absolutely your child. Of course, he’s never going to graduate from high school, or get a wife and family, or pay for my eventual nursing home, but for all intents and purposes, Carlos is my child, albeit my feline child.

For almost six years, he’s been a constant in my life. Perhaps the only constant, other than my car (whose parentage we won’t argue about today…for obvious, pet-as-kid-negating reasons). Carlos has been with me since I was twenty-one, which isn’t something I can say about very much else in my life, not merely as a possession, but as a constant companion.

I knew when I adopted him that eventually, he would get sick and die. I guess that’s how it works with most things. Today, my therapist asked what his prognosis was, and I answered succinctly, “Death.” And then I paused for a moment and reconsidered. “Every living thing’s prognosis is death.” Which is true, but one a more realistic note, his prognosis is now good. Hopefully. With the aid of fancy prescription wet and dry food and a stash of medicine I’m amazed at, of course…

Carlos has been with me since we lived in that third floor apartment on Newgard in Chicago; lived with me at my City Park apartment, and now lives with me in my first home. He’s been with me through countless relationships, three jobs, two continents, and the loss of the dog (one of us was pleased to see the dog go…I’ll let you guess which one). He’s survived cancer and hernia surgeries, and come out pretty healthy, considering he’s a Chicago street cat with FIV.

A couple weeks ago, when he started crying and urinating blood, I was distraught. He’s not a complainer. After emergency calls to find that my usual vet was booked for days and the other vets whose names I’d been given my friends were also not available, I took him to the nearest vet. He was given a dose of antibiotics and some ridiculously expensive bloodwork. (If only Obamacare covered pets…thanks Obama.)

24 hours later, we were back in the same place. My cat isn’t a cryer, and so hearing him cry out in pain is a uniquely disturbing sensation. I wanted to fix it, of course, and so we went back to that vet, they had our most recent test results, after all…an emergency overnight stay, a credit card handed over blindly, and we were on our way with little knowledge other than that he had been given fluids and should be healing.

Flash forward to last night, when it began all over again. I didn’t sleep. I called another vet this morning (never going back to other vet — I felt as though I was merely a sale waiting to be made, with little regard for my son’s wellbeing), and they got me in immediately. We went. He was examined, evaluated, and sent home with more information, new meds, and a hopeful follow-up.

I’m grateful to my parents for giving us pets as children, allowing us the unconditional love that comes with owning a pet, caring for them, and the eventual pain of losing them. Even though I have had to say goodbye to numerous animals in my lifetime, including the dog – who isn’t dead, but in California – I know that losing Carlos will be the hardest loss of my young life. I brought myself to tears last night thinking about that, then looked him in his yellow eyes and told him that after all the money I’d spent the past few weeks, he wasn’t allowed to go yet, because I wasn’t ready.

I tried to make myself feel better by blaming it on the evisceration of my savings, but the honest truth of it is that I’m not ready. I know I won’t ever be, but right now I’m not even a little bit ready. He’s not done yet. He hasn’t moused enough, or spent enough hours in the grass baking in the sun, or napped in my arms while I do computer things.

I have loved every moment of cat motherhood. I had never considered myself a cat person, or had a cat, or even wanted one, and then I met Carlos. I know that’s what they all say. But to love something so deeply is a strange and beautiful feeling. This morning, he was crouched in his carrier at the vet, terrified and hiding in a very uncharacteristic way, and I stuck my hand in, to try to comfort him. He nuzzled up against it, rubbing it against the sides of his face, and settled in against my palm. My heart wrenched. I have never felt so responsible for a life in my life, and it is in that that I realize how deeply love can cut us.

Love is the most precious gift we are given. For him, as a cat, motivated by food and sleep and shelter, he seeks me as his guardian. He comes to me at night to hold his little body while we sleep, and I in turn look to him for comfort. After my ex and I broke up, and I gave myself a day to cry, I laid in bed, miserable. The cat came to me and laid on my chest, nuzzling me and staring at me with his bright eyes, and I knew in that moment that he understood. I realize that we can’t communicate with words, but words don’t matter. I am his and he is mine. We are.

Regardless of when he goes (may it be ten years in the future, please), I will take great comfort in knowing that we were able to give each other comfort in the moments when we needed it most and that we were able to share so much together. At night, I turn to find him, or he’ll come to me – claws out in order to drive home his intentions – for snuggling. We have slept next to each other for so many nights, claws/paws and hands entangled, in that beautiful dance of solidarity.

He has brought so much joy into my life, and I don’t think I stop to be grateful for his presence enough. Of course, he’s a financial burden, even more so now with his fancy foods and supplements, but I knew that going in. I committed. And I am so blessed that we found each other. I’m very selfishly so happy that I got to be his mom, because I don’t think anyone else on this earth could have loved him as much as I love him. I also don’t think I could ever love another cat the way I love him. He’s got such a beautiful personality, something I never expected.

I love his missing fang, his snaggletooth, his cropped ear, his broken tail, the way his stomach dangles where he had the hernia surgery. I love his face. It’s so expressive. I love the way he yawns, the way he stretches, the way he curls up and somehow manages to take up half the bed. I love his aloofness, his curiosity, his endless desire to roll in dirt or lay in his dirt hole. I love how much he demands snuggling. I love the way he sits in my clothes pile when I’m taking a bath, waiting for me. I love how he can’t purr and the sound he makes when he jumps.

I don’t really know what I’m trying to say, but I guess it’s that I’m so happy that he’s okay. I’m so happy that I get to have more nights with him. I’m so happy that I brought him home that first night, and I’ve been so blessed to have shared this love and life with him. (Even though his love for me may be based on the amounts of wet food he’s received…some part of me thinks it’s deeper than that…and I’m sticking to it.)

On Last Weekend, Belatedly

So what have I been doing with my life?

Well…enjoying the nothingness of unscheduled weekends. I’ve found myself getting very aggravated lately when I have things that interrupt my two days of freedom. I had not realized how much I relish that time to myself, that time to let the days unfold as they will, to do what I want with no structure or demands on my time. It makes the weekends stretch on forever. We find ourselves doing everything, and nothing, and by the time the weekend ends, I have entirely forgotten the pressures of the previous work week.

Last weekend, I babysat on Friday night, so I took my 9-year old to get ice cream and then we decided to wander around the Denver Botanic Gardens. While we were there, we saw a few toads. Boyfriend grabbed one (because he’s not amphibian-phobic in any way, and apparently well-versed in the toad-holding methods I must have missed in biology), and held it out. She was nervous, but touched it hesitantly. From that point forward, the mission was toad-seeking. We saw another one – huge – and I was too nervous to catch it, so boyfriend caught it and then I held it. Toads pee on you, that is a scientific fact. So I got peed on but I held a toad! He was very wiggly and I think I may have been more scared than he was.

On Saturday, we woke up and made breakfast. I was in nap-mode, but boyfriend declared it “Activities Day,” and came to snuggle me while I protested activities day in favor of sleeping, but then he promptly fell asleep. I almost elbowed him awake, yelling “Activities Day!” but instead also fell asleep. Naps are fantastic. After the nap, we drove up to Boulder and went to the Celestial Seasonings Tea Factory. Oh man, what a letdown. My mom had reported to me that there was a “Mint Room.” Maybe it came from too many viewings of the original “Willy Wonka and Chocolate Factory,” but I went to the tea factory with this lovely pre-conceived idea that this magical mint room was an entire room full of lush, live and growing mint, green and light and leafy. Nope. Enter a concrete room full of bags of different mints. Pungent, to say the least. But so underwhelming. This fantasy of a room filled with mint is still alive in my mind, and actually, I’m thinking that maybe I’ll just plant mint plants all around my living room or something just to make the dream come true. (Like in “Patch Adams” when the lady swims in noodles…)

After that, we went and played a very competitive game of miniature golf at this fantastic place I haven’t been in ages. He told me after that it had been a test of sorts, because he had wanted to see how I was as a competitor. He told me that I’d passed, with flying colors. I laughed, because I love the idea of mini-golf and no one will ever go with me. We had fun. It was like a date – I got serious about it. We watched the families around us, with stone-faced parents who weren’t interacting with their children or each other. He made me promise that we’ll never be that boring. I promised. That’s a promise I can definitely keep.

I was exhausted. We went home and I curled up on the couch and we watched some episodes of a Canadian show that I’m starting to get into and fell asleep early like old people. We woke up on Sunday late – I slept hard, snuggling the cat, happy to have my baby back home. (He had a horrible week last week – I thought he was going to die, but in the end, it was a simple matter of draining my savings and giving some meds and fluids and an overnight stay at the vet. I’m still nervous – he’s lost weight, isn’t back to 100%, but he’s alive. So that pleases me greatly. He brought home a mouse the other day, even though he’s not eating as much as he should be. I’ve been trying to keep him inside so he doesn’t get into trouble in the real world, but he’s been crying and miserable about being inside. Ugh, the standing firm part of parenting is the worst. And he’s been in 100% snuggle mode lately. I think the night at the vet was a nice reminder that mom isn’t the worst guy.)

After coffee (necessary, always), we decided to paint my room! It’s been this horrible turquoise since we moved in and I made the mistake of not testing the paint I bought before painting the entire room. However, the idea of re-painting just always seemed like too much. But he hated that green color enough to motivate us to get it done. So we wandered down to Home Depot and I found (ahem, same way – pick up a paint swatch, immediately purchase gallons of paint) the perfect color. It’s called “Monet” and it’s a soft blue/gray blend with just a hint of lavender. I’m in love.

We went home, moved things around, taped a bit, and were off. By the end of the day, I had a new room! It was like extreme home makeover minus the overly-shoddy DIY creations. I still have stuff to do – next week is Organization Weekend. Ugh.

On Not PIcking, Actively and Two-Handedly

It’s a known fact that I’ve been terrible at blogging for a while now, but that’s hopefully going to change soon.

My therapist has been trying to get me into meditation recently. I think he just wants me to calm down, but I don’t understand what that means. That phrase just does not compute. That’s like when boyfriend suggested I try listening to smooth jazz at work…I was like, nope, that’s definitely not a thing I want to do. Classical, sometimes. (Rare, but it does happen.) But definitely not smooth jazz.

Anyway, I downloaded a meditation app. It’s called “Breathe, Think…something.” I’ve opened it a whopping four times, never actually meditated, but did once read the descriptive text about mindfulness. I reported that back to my therapist, who responded that it was further than he thought I’d get, so I guess I do get at least a few mindfulness points. He laughed so hard he nearly fell out of his chair when I proudly reported that to him, as though reading a few pages somehow equated to the consistent study of meditative mindfulness.

I went to a retreat for people with BFRBs a couple weekends ago (bodily focused repetitive behaviors…skin picking, hair pulling, and such, for you noobs who don’t know what that is [I didn’t know they were called that until last week, so I’m also technically a total noob as well]), which was very intense and very wonderful, but in doing so, was reminded that journaling is a form of active meditation.

Ha! So really, I don’t have to actually try to sit still for 8-12 minutes, and can instead focus on journaling as a way to increase my mindfulness. I laughed, because even though I’m a typer – I don’t actually think when I’m writing, I just go into auto-pilot and let my fingers and brain communicate while the rest of me is elsewhere – they recommended that people do the whole journaling thing as a handwritten exercise to increase the calming, mindfulness-y benefits. I immediately raised my hand and disagreed, because for me, handwriting is a painfully slow endeavor. (I’m one of those people who types far faster than I write, so ideally, I can throw down 100+ words per minute typing and like 25 if I’m attempting to write with some semblance of legibility.) At one point, someone asked how we (as pickers or pullers) can make sure that we’re not picking or pulling while we write, and I responded that typing requires two hands on the keyboard and allows for zero hands on the skin/hair. That got a good laugh.

I was pleased to report this to my therapist, who agreed that I do need to do more active meditation. We discussed the picking, and I will discuss it more with you, dear readers, at some point in the future. It’s interesting. I know that for people who don’t have those compulsions, skin picking or hair pulling is an entirely alien concept. I’ve been at it for 15 years…in some form or another, and while I’m definitely not super hardcore about it, it’s definitely something that detracts from my life and causes self-esteem issues. (For me, it’s a perfectionism issue, which is weird, because I’m somehow trying to make my skin perfect while totally destroying it in the process. Oh the joys of being human.)

The main takeaway from the retreat was that there’s a whole wonderful supportive community of us who engage in these behaviors, and that it’s a lifelong struggle to recover from them. It was also interesting to see them reframed from a cognitive behavioral therapy standpoint, although I had many great intervention suggestions that no one else seemed to have thought of. (Trained therapists who do this for a living were curious about my exfoliating/lotion techniques, which I find to be massively successful for destruction avoidance.)

Therapist and I discussed the ADHD element. He had just read an article about skin picking in Additude magazine – it discussed the ways that impulse control issues inherent in those of us with ADHD may contribute to the gravity of the skin picking, as we are potentially less able to stop ourselves before and/or once we get going. I did agree about that. I had asked one of the therapists at the retreat about the prevalence of these disorders in the ADHD population, and he gave me a very long and inconclusive answer about it, although I would be willing to bet that among the ADHD population, the occurrence of skin picking would be at least statistically verifiably higher than the regular population.

On Religion and the Meaning of Life, Inquisitively

This article has everything and nothing to do with this post — I digressed immediately and did not go back. My original point was lost, and I’m okay with that. Settle in. It’s a long, nonsensical journey.

Lately, I’ve been thinking a lot about choices and the meaning of life. Sometimes together, sometimes separate, those ideas are the very core of our human existence, naturally.

I’ve been discussing religion often of late, and in doing so, I’ve realized how far I’ve gone from the “religious” identity that I once held onto so dearly. And yet, even though I’m not a “believer” in any one religion, I find that I do still believe in some force stronger than myself. The agnosticism is strong in this one, and to be fair, I do have a serious amount of respect for the religious, because I find that the practice of religion is in itself the embodiment of much that I hold dear.

I hate not knowing everything. I want to be well-informed about everything, and I want to know that the answers are there if I choose to seek them. If I can’t know, I am comforted by the fact that someone, somewhere knows and that the questions have been answered. Therein lies my biggest problem with the idea of God and simultaneously why I avoid spending any significant amount of time theorizing about what might have created our universe and where we might be headed after death.

I can’t think about that too much, because the innate inability to know tears at me and causes an immense amount of uncertainty and fear. I understand, at my core, why religion is something that people cling to, and why religion has been a constant between all sorts of civilizations and has remained ingrained in our societies as we’ve progressed towards a more technologically-based and scientific understanding of our world.

We cannot deny that there must be something greater than ourselves, and in doing so, we cannot draw certain conclusions about the nature of us as beings. I understand how much the “Doubting Thomas” aspect of this is present in my life, in my thoughts, and in my being, and I understand why my more religious family members are distraught by how far I’ve strayed from my Catholic upbringing.

But I disagree, on many levels.

Boyfriend and I had a wonderful dinner date last week in which we spent the better part of two hours discussing the idea of Christians as viewing God as a logical being. My arguments were concise – 1. I view much of religion (whether it’s the practice or the doctrine) as being a social construct, meaning that it was developed, created, and continues to be enforced by humans, and 2. I believe that humans are at our most basic animals who have the gift (and curse) of being creatures given the ability for rational thought. It is in our ability to understand the brevity and importance of our existence that we are allowed to feel fear — and it is that fear that leads us to try to ponder and explain our own mortality so that we feel better about our lives.

Basically, we are gifted animals who possess an innate fear of death. Of the unknown. And in knowing that we cannot know, with any certainty, the trajectory of our souls, ourselves, after death, we are consumed by the need to explain. It is not merely death that leads us to the need for explanation, of course. Our lives themselves must have meaning in order for us to remain “good” and for us to strive continuously towards some goal, and the pretenses of religion offer a convenient explanation for both. For everything that comprises our existence.

If are created in God’s image, we are godly beings. We must act as God would act; we must work for good so that we can go to heaven. And if we do not, we will be consigned to the eternal torture that is our version of hell.

And yet, I find that I can’t get behind that.

In arguing with boyfriend about the logical nature (or illogical nature) of God, I found myself returning to the fact that humans wrote the Bible. There is much theological discussion about the fallibility of humans, and I find it to be curious in our re-tellings of our greatest stories.

I also find it curious that we as Christians (my life framework is that of a Christian, and it is from that viewpoint that I attempt to make my point — I am denying any religion at this point, merely attempting to select the most applicable and understandable, and work with that…) pick and choose what we like, and what we don’t like, from the Bible as guidelines for our own spiritual and religious lives. It’s okay to eat pork, and we probably shouldn’t rape women, but we’re totally fine to dig in on the gay thing… I don’t get it. I don’t like it, and I’m certainly not going to be a part of a religion that changes its tune based on the current societal fashion.

But wait, that’s the thing holding most Christians back. And that’s the thing I detest the most. The hypocrisy of the whole Church, as we’ve constructed it. (I understand that I’m coming from a very Catholic standpoint, but I think most Christians are the same in many ways.)

We’ve heard of so-called “Cafeteria Catholics,” who pick and choose as they like, but isn’t that exactly what we’re all doing? How do we reconcile Old Testament fire and brimstone God with New Testament love and peace God? How can we make those two drastically different identities the same being? How can we subscribe to a specific set of religious guidelines and allow those to be the laws that guide our actions, beliefs, and behavior? We cannot – and we do, continually – throw out what is “not” in favor of certain interpretations of the Scripture. (The letter of the law versus the spirit of it, I guess.)

This post isn’t actually about religion, it just strayed.

My real point was that even though I don’t define myself as a religious person, I still abide by a certain set of principles. Lately, I’ve been very curious about how and why I came to be that way.

My therapist often says that based on what I’ve experienced in my life, he’s surprised that I’m such a kind and understanding person. I am not sure that I’ve ever been any different, which leads me to believe that we must be born this way — eternal optimists who believe in the core good nature of mankind.

If we argue that some people are born evil, then we are arguing a pre-destiny that isn’t in line with our beliefs. If we are argue that all people are born good, and then torn asunder by the work of the Devil, then we are arguing that we don’t have the free will we’d like to imagine.

And why would any God allow us these things — force us to act in a way that pleases him in order to attain eternal life — if he’s also allowing the opposite? What kind of God would create this kind of world only to revel in the joy of saving people and watch others be condemned to eternal hell?

“Forever never seems that long until you’re grown.” Outkast was right. But why would God give us this earthly life (brief as it may be) only to show us that eternal life is based on our own choices?

Think of the gray areas.

If I’ve learned anything, it’s that life is not full of the black and white, right and wrong clarity that we were led to believe. Life is full of mess. Life is chaotic, and unpredictable, and any given situation is wrought with the potential for grievous consequences we could not have anticipated.

We are not capable of knowing everything. Sometimes I wonder if we’re actually capable of knowing anything. Everything that we perceive, assume, intuit, and deduct is based on our skewed view of the world. Our perception is the thing that gives us that magical human existence, and it is the same thing that guides us, leads us, and allows us to function. But it is nothing. Because it is all of our making.

And yet it isn’t, of course. The ways in which we perceive love and anger and fear are the ways that we were taught to feel those things, and even then, we are gifted with the incomprehensible ability to do all of that from birth. We are sponges of experience, and we must seize every opportunity to absorb our surroundings and attempt to wrap out feeble minds around them.

After our disconcerting dinner discussion about God, I ranted for several blocks about my own life and motivations. I attempted to explain to boyfriend that I seek love and joy. Those are my baser motivations. Those are the things that I hold in the highest esteem. To love, and be loved, is my ultimate life goal. To be understood, and to understand. To give, and to receive.

The past two years have brought my life, my dreams, my motivations into stunning clarity. Only in letting go of the presuppositions about how I was supposed to be and act and live was I able to fully come into my own, and to love myself fully. Only in realizing that I had nothing was I able to try, once again, to claw my way back up into the world. Only in realizing that nothing earthly mattered was I able to reconcile all of the seemingly disparate parts of my personality and actualize myself as I was meant to be in a way that made me feel whole again.

In having no job, nothing to speak of from a career standpoint, as my own career stood in ruins was I able to realize that my “success” wasn’t built on my ability to attain economic wealth. In having a shitty job managing a Dairy Queen at 25, I was able to realize that in giving 100%, I was able to get that back, in the form of satisfaction. It was no longer about the status, about my level of professional standing; what mattered to me was that I did my best at anything, the littlest thing, because the joy that I brought to the people around me was worth more than a title or a paycheck or a LinkedIn notification.

I have never been amused or astounded by the rich. In fact, I hold a certain contempt for them. It’s not that they themselves are the thing I dislike, it’s that the circus, the circuitous cycle of success can’t be about money and power. I don’t want to be rich; I never have. Even coming from a standpoint of being the poor kid in a rich school, I have never desired physical wealth. Trust me, I’d love it. But I don’t need it.

Being unemployed gave me a stark look at my life. We work. We work hard. We work for years for seemingly unfair wages, and then what? We retire. And we die. There is no joy in that. I went on and on to boyfriend in the alleys that we walked that night about how I seek joy. Being depressed and heartbroken and inconsolable about where I was made me realize how beautiful each and every single moment is. I made very serious attempts to seek joy in the smallest moments – the sunlight on a beautiful day, the grass and smell of summer, the way I felt when I felt fleeting happiness. That was what brought me back to me, the core of my being. Joy. Gratitude. Love. Life.

For me, the most beautiful part of life is the adventure. I have been terrified of a great many things in my life, tangible and intangible, actual and distorted, and of it, I have made little. Living a life of fear does nothing for us, any single one of us or us as a human people. A single unit. Watching the markets in China disrupt the entire world has made me realize how much speculation and fear are detrimental to us as a population — when we are hedging our bets in the hopes of something different, we lose out on so much of the present.

I killed it at Dairy Queen. I made children smile; I made delicious treats; I decorate fantastic cakes. I remember once, the guy who had been washing our windows since I was in high school told me that I was going to go far in life. And to this day, I think of him when I have tiny moments of success. I am the sum of all of the positivity that this world has to offer, and I thrive on that. My only goal is to have lived a life that brings joy to others, and regardless of where I am going after my time on this earth, I am confident that at my passing, I will have led the kind of life that I had always wanted to lead: one full of love and joy and happiness.

We may not always get back what we give to this world, but I firmly believe that it is in the giving of joy that we are able to see the world for what it truly is, and what it could be. By sharing our fears and our hopes and our dreams, we allow others to feel connected, we establish and create networks that sustain and nurture the very best feelings. If each day, everyone sought to spread love and hope, we would have a much better world.

I may not believe in your God, but I promise you that I embody his spirit. I am, at my core, a good human being, and in knowing that, I am content. I was discussing this with one of my grandmothers a few years ago, and she was so upset about my lack of faith. I told her that I see God in people – for me, giving comfort to a child is God in action, smiling and holding the door for someone struggling is God in action, and sharing goodwill wherever I go is the epitome of meaning for me.

How I came to be this way, I do not know. I know that at times, I am surly and discontent. I know that there are times when I dig in on issues that I know I should not fight. But my hope is that the sum of my radiance is more than the darkest parts of my being, and that in existing, I have given something to the world as we know it, even if we cannot comprehend its immensity.

I choose the things that I feel – I let my gut make my biggest choices, and in doing so, I have faith that all will be well. There is nothing worse than a life not lived fully, and I intend to live this life to the fullest extent possible. I cannot say where I will go after this, and I cannot wish to know, because knowing would change the way I act. But at the end of the day, I do believe that good will prevail, can prevail, and is present in all of us.

Take the leap. Let your life unfurl.