Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Desicion-making mornings

"We are the creative force of our life, and through our own decisions rather than our conditions, if we carefully learn to do certain things, we can accomplish those goals."
-Stephen Covey

I don't know about you, but most of my good decisions do not happen over night.

They've happened in the morning.

The majority of the big choices that I have made have happened in the morning when I first wake- it's that moment when my dreams spit me out into real life, when my sub-concious let's my body and mind reconnect. Somehow, something greater than just waking happens... as my body begins to rise, my mind spins on a clear overdrive. It's in those first moments that I realize what must be done- I don't have time to over think it or decide if I will like the repercussions of these certainties. I just know that I have managed to resolve whatever issue is going on in my mind.

It may seem crazy, but I still remember many choices that I have made at the very beginning of my day. Sometimes I wake up and know that I have to change the way that I relate to someone, or the relationship that I have built with them. Other times, I feel refreshed and ready to follow through on a commitment that I haven't been sure I wanted to make. Once in a while, I even feel committed to quitting a bad habit, or stopping something in my life that is making me unhappy. Maybe it's the idea of a new day that I haven't messed up yet that gives me the courage to make a solid answer in my mind. Maybe it's those first streams of sun, or drops of rain, or even flakes of snow that make me realize I am alive and I need to be decisive. Maybe it's just my inability to comprehend doubt so early- whatever it is, decisions I make in the morning are generally much better than the ones I make at night.

At night, I tend to make decisions that are driven more by my emotional side, and my emotional side is often wrong. By the time darkness has fallen over me, I am weak from the stress of the day. My mind is tired from all that I have done and all that I am thinking about that still needs to be done. My body falls into a state of urgency- the end of my day is when I pile on the things I still ant to do. And making decisions at that point often sacrifices the intelligence that I seem to have in the morning. It's a quick thinking kind of thing- and quick thinking does not make for good decisions.

But it does make for good epiphanies.

See, what I'm learning about myself, and about a lot of other people in my life as well, is that the good decisions are not instant. They are usually prompted by big realizations- those moments of clarity when suddenly you know what needs to be done. It's usually not in those moments that you commit to the idea- it's still too new, still too fresh, still to impossible to conceive. But it's there. Often it's been lurking in the shadows for quite some time, but then again there are times when it's fallen like a Jenga Tower- the pieces are scattered, but the whole is realistically reachable. These realizations are my first step of processing- I know what I need to know. The realization part usually comes at night for me, whether in the shower, while stalking my friends on Facebook, or even laying myself down to finally get some rest.

I don't know if you've figured out what your process is. I'm only starting to figure out that this is mine. And I'm not even sure it's important, because it could change at any time.

Except it is important, because knowing who I am helps me to know when to make certain choices- for instance, shopping after work is usually a bad idea, because I won't look for the best price, I won't think about when I need it for, and in reality, I may not even need it. But if I realize that I need something the night before, and give myself a day to figure out how to execute it, I'm going to be in better shape.

The shopping is a small example, but the concept has big implications. If I know when I make the best choices, and I let myself process, I will be more inclined to make stronger resolutions. The kind of resolutions that I will be happiest with in the end. It's all about knowing myself and learning who I am, so that I can be prepared to take life with the best odds. A little night before prayer never hurt, of course, and there are always other factors that will influence me. But I know the best time to be honest with myself, and to get what I need, even if it doesn't always seem like what I want.

It's just one more step towards knowing myself.

Thursday, January 26, 2012

The Teacher- A flashback

*DISCLAIMER- This piece was one of my first posts in the blogging world- it was written in April 2010. I'm amazed at how much it still applies. I hope you enjoy it.*

He taught me that if you put the sugar and cream into the cup first, that you don’t have to stir the coffee. I watched him do so a hundred times. Cream, sugar, and then coffee. No stirring. Taste: Perfect.

He was there when my grandmother died, watching over us children while my father and mother ran to the hospital to be with my grandfather. He was there when we woke that morning,shielding us from the coming days of misery. He was there so many other times as well; healing skinned knees, making jokes that would have been inappropriate if anyone else told them. He was there with instructions; his favorite psalm was about an excellent wife, and he read it over and over. His memory floats all over my childhood- a secondary father of sorts.

He left his own family last week- the last of the children old enough to understand that their parents could not make it work anymore. He tried so hard to wait for them to grow up, but it didn’t come together. With overwhelming sadness, I can only imagine, he walked away for a final time. He is a good father- of that I have no doubt. But he does not love his wife anymore.
This year alone I have watched relationship after relationship after relationship fall to pieces. I have watched good people do things that they greatly regret. I have watched some people surface into their true colors. But mostly, I’ve just watched a lot of hearts break, as people realize that they jumped into situations that they shouldn’t have been part of far too early.

I have been part of the romance world. I jumped in, I swam around, and I went under. And all too soon, it was over. And while I am still dealing with the repercussions of a love lost, and of a friend who knew too many secrets, I have the assurance that I have not made any drastic mistakes. I did the right thing. And I can move on with that knowledge.

There isn’t always a villain in relationships. Mostly there are just two people, realizing that they aren’t as compatible as they thought. They find one another, they keep each other warm for a time, and then they go their separate ways. I think the key is that promising someone forever has to be a partnership, not just a romance. But I suppose that is a thought for a different time.
He taught me how to make the perfect cup of coffee. He taught me a lot of things. And in a way, he taught me some serious lessons about what to do, and what not to do in a marriage.

But I mourn for the loss of the life he once knew, and for the tarnished future he will wake to from now on. And I can’t help but thinking about how disastrous it is to jump too suddenly, and how grateful I am to have the chance to know what could have been before I had to suffer through it.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

The Inspirational City

"I don't have any reasons, I left them all behind. I'm in a New York state of mind."
-Billy Joel

Once, twice, sometimes even three times a week, I find myself commuting to New York City, a ride that sometimes takes 40 minutes and sometimes runs me over 2 hours, depending on traffic, weather conditions, and number of passengers who wait along with me or at further stops along my route. I sometimes choose to fill my time with a good book or an email answering fest, but more often than not I find myself staring out the window at the world that I have been born into- suburbia at its finest. It's beautiful from a distance, but while it stirs my soul, it doesn't wake me up. And I wonder sometimes why I can't seem to settle into the life that I have in New Jersey, and be content to just stay put.

But then we cross a bridge, or wisk through a tunnel, and the stirring turns into a rise. I have arrived- I am awake, alive. The artist in me, the one who sullenly slumbers through my day job, my responsibilities, and my general routine... She's ready to go. She takes over, and I feel wonder pouring from the world into my being, and the commute is forgotten. I've never left.

My City obsession started in a corner or Brooklyn off the Q train, a residential section near New Kirk Avenue that sports a whine store and a coffee shop that makes me want to stop what I'm doing, settle at a table, and write the next great novel. For a long time, I was content with my literary appetite- documenting the human experience seemed like as good a cause as any, and Brooklyn is a haven for writers who are just starting.  It was enough.

But like any addiction, I needed to see more. I needed to explore the crevices of Coney Island. I needed to see the graffiti in the east village, and the parks on the west. An obsession with union square found it's way back into my life, and a Harlem shopping adventure called my name. They weren't linear experiences, no, they had no rhyme or reason. But they beckoned to me anyway, enclosing my senses in the grasp. Suddenly, it wasn't just writing that I needed to embrace. It was music, movement, pictures I needed to hold, moments I needed to live again and again. I'd found true love in the arms of the gridlocked streets, the multi-storied sky scrapers, the tiny shops interspersed in all the big. I heard my calling- the beauty that lies on the bridges and everything they connect. And I had to share it.

Last night, walking through saint marks place, I found myself thinking about the future and what it will hold. My life cannot be in this fairy tale land forever- there is too much I haven't yet seen. But still, the skeptical side is a great inquisitor, asking the artist questions she doesn't want to answer- why the obsession? Will she wake one day to find that these tattoo shops and sunglasses stands have lost their magic? That this utopia of the human experience is no more than a few streets, some shops and their owners, waiting to make a few dollars on chachkees and knick-knacks, and that these shoppers are no more than suits by day, or servers, or other commoners? It depresses the artist to hear these questions, so I pushed the skeptic aside for the moment. Magic is to rare for practicality.

But tonight, after standing on an outdoor subway station in Brighton Beach in the happy haze that New York gives me, I realize that the true magic is not the locations at all, but the people in them. It's the writer who called Brooklyn home before my time that allows me to know that this place is inspiring. Its the graffiti artists, the people who planted the  parks, the owners of those small scattered stores that make this place great. It's the friends who have leant me their couches and beds, who have spent the holidays with me in celebration, who have opened me with welcome arms when nothing was right, and have cried on my shoulder in their own rough patches. The soul of the city touches mine because it is filled with people that only an artist could understand- and I love them all, not just for the inspiration, but for the value they remind me I hold.

The commute home is harder- I stare out the window at the same world I passed coming in, but I can see it in all it's wonder. I hang on to the artist as best I can, but she yawns and goes back to sleep, and the practical skeptical realistic me returns, ready for my life to resume. I am two people, torn between where I live and where I am most alive. I anticipate my next adventure like a bird who finishes its journey to the south in the cold- ready to settle in for a time until I must return.

No wonder I am never content to stay put.

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Getting Control

"Everybody's got a date. Even you, Mario, going after Princess Peach. And what am I doing? I'm just enabling you."
Sheldon Cooper- The Big Bang Theory

As a child, I loved nintendo games. Being the second sister, I was always Luigi (or Daisy, in Super Mario 2). I would run my characters ragged from map to map, playing as long as I could before my mother would boot me from the living room back into the land of the living. I liked to play by myself, when I could play the characters without anyone question my decisions. I could choose to play the same level over and over again, or I could run through each level without stopping to hit the coin boxes, or I could spend the whole day just searching for Yoshi. I liked having the options that come with being in control.

All my life, I've heard people talking about wanting to be in control. They want the right to choose all the things that make up their lives- where they go to college, who they marry, what they do for work, how their family looks and operates, where they live, and all kinds of other things. We all get the urge to be able to hold our fate in our hands- we don't want the world dealing us cards- we want to control the deck. 

I... well I have been very guilty of wanting control. 

I think that we have this misguided notion that if we were in control, if we could choose how things were gonna happen, we would have a much better time of living. We seem to estimate that we would make all the right decisions if given the chance, and that if we can take our own life into our hands, we can somehow master happy living. 

But I'm not sure the real world agrees. 

I mean, if you think about it, plenty of people get into their dream colleges. Maybe they work hard in high school to get good grades. Maybe they volunteer for years to build a scholarship worthy essay. Maybe they stock and store and save the money to get to where they want to go. But do they stay there? According to a Washington Post article, 1 in 3 college students will transfer out of their first choice school. That's 33 out of everyone 100 people who chose incorrectly, whether it be because of the work load once they got there, the other students surrounding them, or bad choices they make while on campus that force them out. 

Maybe you've met the person who hasn't worked in ten years because they refuse any job that they don't feel let's them live up to their full job potential. Many of these people have skipped over entry level opportunities into the fields that interest them because they feel entitled to more. They have lived for a long time without insurance or pay because they want something that they haven't worked for- but furthermore, they think they are due it. If they were in control, they'd be working, but the choice that they've made in the real world is to wait for unconventionally high standards to come knock on their door.

Do I need to go into the marriage choices people make? Do you need the details of a how people get involved with others who don't match what they want because they think they can make them into the choice mate? Or how when the marriage gets difficult, Kim Kardashian makes a choice to just make an exit rather than fight for something because it wasn't the way she planned? Draw your own conclusions- I think I've said enough. 

My point is right here: sometimes we make bad choices. Often, we make choices that cause more problems than good for us. And if we were in control of our lives entirely, we would be likely to make disastrous situations for ourselves based on the feelings, emotions, and urges that already control what we have and what we think we want. 

And I think the boil down is  right there- control is only useful if you really know what you want. We have all these whims and desires, and over time, they change. Sometimes these lead to planning, but more often than not, they are surprises, and they take us to places we've never anticipated, to experiences we've never thought about, and to life changes that we didn't know we needed. These small mysteries (and the big ones) make life an adventure, a challenge, exciting. These uncontrollable circumstances can be the most miserable moments of our existence- but of course, that means that the flip side is that some of them can be the most incredible, mind-blowing pieces of our lives.

I believe that God is in control, even when I am not. I believe that He watches out for me, that He knows what will happen, and that He's there to help me through it whenever whatever is occurs. I believe that He sees, and knows, and if I'm willing to let Him, He will take me on whims I never could have foreseen myself in, but I am so glad I've gone through in the end. And every time I've asked for His guidance, I've come out better than ok.

Maybe you believe in something too. Maybe you're starting to notice that the world doesn't just work by chance, that life doesn't happen by accident, and that silver lining is more than just a grandmother's adage to serve with cookies and milk. And if you don't know what it is, and you think it might be something bigger, I'd encourage you to go find it. And of course, in case you didn't guess, I would encourage you to go find out if I might be right- if it might be God. 

Or maybe you're wondering why your still reading the blog of a girl who sees through Jesus colored lenses.

Whatever the case is, if you're at the point where your realizing that you don't get to control the universe, than I'd encourage you to go with it. Because it's what makes life surprising, intoxicating, and wonderful after a while. And it's going to happen with or without your consent, so you can hang onto the side yelling into the wind all the time, or you can get on and enjoy the ride. 

Even in Mario, I realize now, my choices were limited by the video game makers- they created the worlds that I was stuck in- they programed the enemies I was to encounter- they even gave me the friends and story lines I was going to have to follow. But I still found endless seasons of entertainment and fun and accomplishment. 

How much more can we get out of letting real life happen to us? 

Thursday, January 5, 2012

Little things mean... a lot

"Enjoy the little things, for one day you may look back and realize they were the big things."
Robert Brault

It's the little things in life, really, that set you in motion.

Yesterday, it was a little silver butterfly that fluttered sideways into the abyss that exists between my bed and the shelving that sits behind it. The butterfly earring is half of my favorite pair, and as I watched it slip out of my reach, I knew that it was time to clean out the hollow space underneath.

Cleaning out behind my bed is a lot of work- the shelf is heavy, and it takes all my strength to get the thing out just far enough for me to stick my arm under, and I'm not a big found of feeling around in the dark and not knowing what I will find. But my earring was there, and I wanted it back. So I bit the bullet and got to work.

I didn't anticipate the treasure trove that was waiting for me in the dark space. I pulled out my earring, but I also pulled out memories that were forgotten. My candy cane pen, the one that an old friend's mother gave me last year because it smells like peppermint when you write with it, brought back my early mornings journaling just as I finished school, when summer was new and life was all about being awake. Back then the writer dream was new, and I had high hopes for what I would publish before the winter struck- all forgotten now that life has happened before I got to finish. Two tubes of lip gloss rolled into my hand- lost reminders of an afternoon where two friends and I raided a make-up giveaway because we had time to kill before catching our train. We'd had the freedom to wander then, not afraid we'd run out of time.

Out popped another old earring, one that I used to wear all the time, before I realized that my ears hurt because of the weight it held. I got many a compliment, but also many-an-infection, and eventually, I forgot that I'd one loved them. And an old cd of german phrases I meant to learn so I could talk with amish people made me laugh at who I used to be. When I was younger I dreamt of being Amish, of living with them so that I might learn about their culture. I was a much stranger person back then.

As I looked over my little collection, I couldn't help but be touched by the symbolism of it all.

It's funny how remiss we are to look back over our lives. We don't like to clean out the small crevices that hide in the darkness.

We don't always want to remember the peppermint pens that marked new beginnings- the starts of dreams that we've since let sleep a little since the winters of our lives have started. We hide them away because we're afraid that we will be reminded of all that we haven't achieved.

We don't want to remember the lip gloss days we spent with friends. They just depress us when we look at the real life elements- the days spent working hard just to go home at night because we're too tired to go out. We get trapped in the clock- there is rarely enough time to wait for anything, never mind to mosey while waiting for a train. Even our vacations become over scheduled over a while- those precious moments spent with time to spare seem like the shadow of the past.

The weight of some memories are better forgotten. We leave the things that were heavy where we can't reach them so we have an excuse not to don them anymore. We don't want people to see the choices we've made that caused us pain, even if they may make us look better in the light. If we can hide them away, we don't see the consequences.

And of course, our best intentions are always just a little out of reach. We want to do things, start out on the right track, and then let them fall away. And when they get too difficult, we let them stay there, because we don't want to admit failure. One day we pull them out by accident, dust them off, and dismiss them as fantastical whims. But they nag at us just a little as we think about things which used to be important to us.

This is what I thought about as I cleaned the little things that had fallen away from my life out from behind my bed. Maybe it was an over analysis of what I was seeing- maybe too much sleep had finally caught up to me, leaving me contemplative and emotional.

Maybe I should stop leaving earrings where they might fall and I'll struggle to reach them.

But maybe it's what I thought- the little things- the reminders of what once was, that makes us think about what could have been. Or more importantly, maybe they are premonitions of what can be when we re-evaluate and remember what we've been through. Maybe the dark crevices of our lives need to be cleaned out in order to make sure that we are healthy, happy, and aware of who we are. Because those things get us moving on the right track, to who we want, and have always wanted, to be.

I'll take the symbolic route, and follow my butterfly friend to who I was, and to who I will be. And if it means I let the little things define me, so be it. If I can reach into the dark to find my beginnings, who knows what I can do when I fly into the light.

Sunday, January 1, 2012

New Year thinking:

"Is this the new year, or just another desperation?"
Switchfoot, The Blues

Popular singer Jonathan Forman, of the band Switchfoot, does not do well with holidays that celebrate new beginnings. He has two songs written about feelings of depression and existential crisis surrounding birthdays, ("Let that Be Enough" and "24") and the one quoted above is written for New Years Eve, and titled "The Blues". The band takes the listener on a journey that many who struggle with the holidays feel heavily- if it's another new beginning, who have I been in the section that is ending?

For as long as I can remember, I've been reading books about people finding themselves. Or listening to songs about the same. Or being lectured, or watching movies, or writing papers- it's a central theme to so many things that I've seen that it makes me wonder if you can ever really know who you are or why you are that way, and if a new season in life always means self- loathing and major change. Because we analyze ourselves based on what we think we need to be, or who we thing we should be, or on a small scale. As if we are the only people who are impacted by what we are, and we are completely stand alone. 

But I'm starting to think we've got flawed thinking. 

What if self-analyzation in times of reflection is all wrong? What if thinking about who we are in terms of only ourselves is what drives us nuts? We think we know what we should be capable of, which makes us our own biggest critics. And also, in all honesty, likely makes us wrong. We are thinking too small to understand ourselves.

In my last post I mentioned a friend of mine who wrote an essay about who she is. The essay, which can be found in it's entirety here, is a window into who she perceives herself to be. She doesn't stick to the "I" tense that we find so intriguing when painting our self pictures. She goes a little off the tracks.

Here is an excerpt that I really like:

My favorite flower is
    the dandelion.

It is said to make a nutritious salad, although I have yet to salvage the lawn for such a meal. 
The intense color it wears on its face is ironic. Why should it get all off the attention when the three-leaf clover or onion grass is always green? Actually, forget color. I am much more attracted to the dandelion as a white, ethereal sphere—whole and decidedly delicate—than as a common-looking weed. I would choose a dying dandelion over a rose nine times out of ten. That ten percent of the time when the rose wins is unavoidable, solely because of beauty—the common meaning will sometimes permeate my brain cells’ membranes. I am helpless without a plant cell cell wall. Dandelions are most attractive to me when they are half-dead, pure-looking, and ready to give away every part of themselves that is worth a second glance. After a full release of seed, the unsightly stem is leftover and sometimes I split that into four, long strands with my fingernail, the quarters curling up on their own and becoming quite lovely. I find the dandelion an illustration of self-sacrifice and rebirth through divinely endowed humility.

Details are infinite. They are gifts for appreciating life, although it can be maddening when analyzed. The concept of infinity is inconceivable to the human mind, much like the Trinity or unconditional love. Take a moment for yourself after reading these next few sentences, and think about measurement or outer space. Chances are that it will make you feel a bit uneasy. If you were to procure a ruler from your desk drawer and see how long a piece of string from your pocket is, you would not get an accurate measurement. Inches or centimeters make no difference. One is only slightly more accurate. Measurement is an approximation. The amount of calories given the nutrition facts on any given food does not actually end in a five or a zero. Now and then a dehydrated Japanese noodle package will cross the line of comfort, boldly announcing that it contains 131, 132, or 133 calories per serving. The number is rounded up to keep your mind from imploding. You know, billions of air molecules encompass you at any given moment, and the pressure keeping all of your physical parts together. Force and quantity is balanced, keeping life living. 

I like this part of her work because it tells me what I want to know- it's not about a quality or a trait or a personality need that she dwells on- it's an analyzation of the entire world, and how the little things fit in. She's found herself in a thought train, and she's riding it all the way to the change, where she jumps onto another track and moves on. I like her piece because while it's focus is who she is, it's content is what she thinks. She develops herself through the ideas which have impacted her. And because of it, she's got a heck of a character description written out. 

It's a New Year today- 2012 has arrived. Before you go into the heaviness that is self-analazation and depression, I encourage you to see the world around you for what it is- a whole picture, where each new beginning is just another chance for us to shine beyond all we have been. Follow how you've acted and what you've thought this year to find out who you are. Let the measurement of your life not be caught up in the details- remember that it's an approximation, and it's still in the process of being rounded.

If you really need to do the self-searching thing this holiday, then find out who you are in the context of your world. Measure your friendships, your location and vocation, and the general person you are by what is happening around you. By your favorite flower, by the numbers that circle through your head, and by the ideas that make you realize what's happening at this point in your life.

It's a new year- let's think about ourselves in a new way- bigger, more useful, and capable of not being depressed on a major holiday.

Happy 2012 everyone!