Wednesday, December 21, 2016

Changing the Colors in Your World

I remember my childhood. Bright red tulips, a black well cap in the back lawn I sat on and cried. I remember being spanked because I picked that tulip one day. I carried it to the neighbor and tried to sell it to buy my mother a gift to make her happy. Red tulips became a symbol for anger. How dare I pick that precious flower! Accusations of doing it to destroy her pretty flower. I was too young to know irony when it fell around me in tears.

Desolation deeper and darker than the well. My mother screaming at no one in the house while I held my only friend, a small struggling confused barn cat seeking solace and love from that little fluffy kitten who really wanted to run off and practice hunting mice. Shuffling between three of my great grandmothers, who did their utmost to buffer me from life at home.
I remember fear. I never knew what would set my mother off. I remember trying so hard to be worth loving. I remember my great grandmother Alice telling me that she loved me and that what was happening at home wasn't my fault.
For many years I struggled with emotional wounds and scars. Sometimes hurting others to try to get approval or out of frustration as I watched my mother lavish love I could not earn on my brother. I remember the one time she was loving and gentle. I had been playing at a neighbor's house. I was about four years old. I made a slide out of a large cardboard box my neighbor and I wrestled onto a chair. I fell off and got hurt. I was bleeding profusely. The neighbor almost took me to the hospital. My mother took me home instead fearing that it would trigger a neglect or abuse investigation, because that's the priority. She held me, rocking me in a chair until the bleeding stopped. I remember the two times my Father held me I was three and then six. Both times were to remove stitches from my face, cheaper than going back to the hospital. Priorities.
My best friends in childhood were books and barn cats. I spent most of my time alone in my head wandering the brighter worlds created by authors, wishing the characters were real. Wishing for friends as my intelligence and slight autistic characteristics isolated me from cruel teasing classmates.
I started working the summer before seventh grade. I worked at a kennel and babysat. I spent hours working a hose to spray dog turds off the outdoor runs, grooming poodles and teaching them to walk on leads. I earned the money to pay for what I wanted rather than get hassled over wanting clothes that weren't always hand me downs or ugly clearance rack leftovers, books, toys, candy.
As I got older I grew into treating others the way I wished I had been treated. A neighbor girl and I were playing. She accidentally dropped and broke a toy I loved. She cried. She tightened up waiting for the storm and fury. I closed my eyes and thought of Alice. Alice with her soft hands, sweet heart and garden full of flowers you could tend and pick and share with smiles. I looked at the younger girl and took her hand. "It was an accident. It isn't worth as much as your friendship is to me." We both cried. It was how I realized she also came from a world with dark places in it. We picked up the pieces and as we did, we colored each other's worlds brighter.
In college, my friend Nathan was always there. Listening. Caring. Fearing he could end up breaking down with schizophrenia like his mother. He could only be a friend in my heart because I was afraid my dark places could hurt him. My past comes out in bursts like little rainstorms. Gentler as years pass, body trembling from emotions I can't always express. Nathan, Francine, and Mary brought their bright hearts full of colors. Their humor, their resiliency, their humanity were the paintbrushes they used on my heart. We did silly things. We walked St. Bonaventure every friday night around midnight as I worked on climbing every tree I could on campus. They and others joined me on this eccentric quest. They begged me not to prank campus security by swinging in the trees by the roads toward the vehicles going by so I did it more. Thankfully, none of the guards had heart attacks when they saw someone apparently flying out of a tree toward their vans only to vanish as I swung back out of the roads and dropped into the woods to melt away into the night. I was a ghost story.
Each year my life expands. The connections with other people grow. The stark colors get tempered with shades and blending. I communicate more, letting others help me see and let go of dangerous fragments still stuck in places my scarred heart cannot always see. I think of Nathan finding me sitting catatonic outside the Science building after my first real love after several intense secret dates told me he could never love me because I was an Atheist. I don't remember walking to my room. Nathan quietly looked out for me, always on alert and always there when the darkness rose. He would just sit with me. The lone soldier without a gun, manning the wall alone. Eventually my words would come back. He would reassure me that everyone wrestles with something. He would nudge my humor until it rose up and became the tool we both used to fight the darkness.
He taught me that I had strength, that the years of fighting myself alone had given me tremendous power. I realized I could use it to help him, and my other friends. My inner demons were relentless and harsh; I could step into other people's heart and face theirs without breaking a sweat or shedding a tear. I could step between the boogeymen and the people who were teaching me what healthy was. I could keep them safe at cost.
It cost because it pressed on wounds, emotions flowing without healing.
It took years to learn to let go of the armor. To let go of the weapons. To be the gardener nurturing my heart and the hearts around me, discarding dangerous creatures lurking in the garden rather than wrestling with them or trying to bring out the best in them. Put a bow on a copperhead and you still have a dangerous snake.
Regardless of how much you love, you cannot heal everyone. Each of us has choices. We decide what is or isn't in your world. We color them with perspective and emotion. We determine our focus and attitude. Reaching out to healthy friends for perspective is the first step. As the holiday approaches, on the darkest day of the year, my thoughts are of you. I appreciate each of you and how you change the colors in my world bringing vibrance and light with your presence.

Wherever you are today in your world, I offer you my paintbrush. It's a little tattered and beat up. It has been used as a sword more than once. The colors on it are bright. Your world should be full of laughter, appreciation and beauty. So, let's get painting!

Sunday, December 18, 2016

A Real Gift

I am not a Christmas Elf. I have worked as one. It's not my favorite holiday for many reasons.
Irony, this year to have a microburst drop a pine bough 40 plus feet through the roof of our carport tent. We were underneath it and were lucky to be unharmed when the 14 foot long branch came straight through the roof nearly spearing our crockpot of bean soup. Christmas tree delivered whether we wanted one or not. We used comedy to deal with it, and an extra tarp. Then, to have a complex story game I loved stolen by an ex through chance- specifically to be hurtful, only to have several friends who could empathise surprise me via paypal enough to make it possible for me to replace what was stolen.
Speechless. Usually, I pick through my friends and go through what I have and send of what gifts I can; because I choose to. I try to give what I can especially if I know a friend is having a rough year.
I am not used to receiving. I am used to giving. It changes the feel of the season. It turns it into something that can be beautiful.

Got spare time? Spare food? Spare toys?There are soup kitchens and other options for volunteering from caroling to giving toys to Toys for Tots.

How are your friends faring? Reach out. Depression and Christmas are a tough combination. Share laughter, share good memories. Make new friends. Make more beautiful memories. Seriously.

Instead of investing in the most expensive yada yada, why not invest in each other?
The best gifts are memories. The memory of our crazy divebombing tree will be the most priceless Christmas tree memory.

The memory of volunteering to work Christmas and cook dinner and play card games with psych. residents who had no families back when I worked at a group home was my best Christmas ever. I remember one resident, a grizzled guy we will call Teddy, asking me repeatedly as we checked the turkey why I was there and not with family. I remember finally pausing, after many joke responses and saying; "I am here because you all are here. Because together we can have a great holiday, however we choose. If we want to throw out the turkey and eat ice cream, we can. If we want to play card games and stuff ourselves on leftovers we can. We can have a great day here together regardless of what the rest of the world does." And we did. Three years I worked there, he and I played card games often as I was trying to help his neurons build pathways around the damage done by an aneurysm he survived in the 60s. His short term memory did not connect to long term. He knew my face. But I was Barbara, George, Herman, Isabelle, Sarah, and if he was angry the names became bad puns- Not So Mary, Missy Witch etc. I taught him behaviors to negate the temper flares he had until the memory of being upset passed. I taught him not to stress about what he could not recall. Behavior and repetitive patterns to implant new information where memory could not lose it. If you brush your teeth every morning, eventually you do it without thought. That was our process. Slow. No one had seriously worked with him, he had been shuffled for years between programs.
Three years I beat him at Rummy, putting all the cards I needed to score with gradually in the discards out of sequence. That night was the night his brain was finally able to connect them. That night he won.
The memory of the look on his face when his thoughts connected. Nothing wrapped in paper or topped with a bright bow will ever top that look. I have never been so happy to get trounced at a game. The next week, for the first time- he remembered my name. He never lost it. Just after that I was promoted to a different site and was gone. I left the agency shortly after that, disliking how they approached mental health. They seemed more interested in having clients than in helping people heal.
Almost twenty years later I realize, Teddy gave me the best gift. He was working on healing my heart as much as I was working on his mind. It was a holiday free of expectations, free of moods and attitudes, it was just a pleasant day.
I hope that in your life you are lucky enough to have someone like Teddy change your world for the brighter. I hope you let them.

Thursday, November 24, 2016

Giving Thanks

I have a friend who starts her day by writing down what she is grateful for. Every morning over a cup of coffee, she thinks and writes.
Right now it is hunting season in NY. Thanksgiving dinner was always a random large gathering of deer hunters and family. In college, a Romanian friend wanted to avoid the cold arguments of his family's traditional gathering so he joined me.
We walked in to about ten guys, some family, drunk asking him explicitly about how sex was and teasing him despite his protestations of platonic friendship. The more he protested, the more explicit their jibes. I tried not to be mortified. There were seventeen for dinner, when the meal was set out. Everyone strategized seats for control and access to coveted dishes. The deviled eggs were under armed guard (a scowl and a rolling pin) to keep my brother and I from a repeat of our quick devouring of all of them. The year before we had eaten a whole plate of them on principal before anyone else got any. I found a seat and nudged Chris toward the one by my side. The minute the food was on, war broke out. People reached to snatch dishes ladden with home cooked deliciousness as if it was in limited supply even though there was enough food to feed an army. My Uncle on the other side of Chris realized he was watching and not getting food as negotiations were flying. If you pass the potatoes, I will pass the stuffing- if not, ha! No stuffing for you! Chris laughed as his plate had food thrown on it, from me on one side and my uncle on the other. At one point Chris noticed the dill dip and rye bread I had on a side table lower than table height. I gestured for secrecy. If we wanted the best pie, we had to have a bargaining chip.
He laughed out loud when thirteen pies were revealed as dessert for seventeen people. He almost cried when he found out it was really fourteen but I gad already hidden the cherry pie so my allies and I would definitely get the whole thing.
This is one of the few holidays my terrible family didn't ruin. This memory, of a guy who struggled with depression and distant anguished family relations laughing as he found himself in a real life Benny Hill sketch parading as a holiday dinner.
Today, we're making macaroni and cheese and going to a community potluck.
I am doubting that food will be thrown onto plates from across tables. I doubt we will gave to negotiate for access to the stuffed celery or deviled eggs, but I am guessing it will still be a lot of fun with wonderful friends.
I am grateful for the healthy friends and family I love. I am grateful for life.
I am grateful for great weather. I am grateful I can pay my bills. I am grateful for good memories.

Wednesday, November 23, 2016

The Unspoken, Hate and Healing

Hate. A strong ugly word. I remember being on an ambulance call in a small town in western NY. The individual we went to transport to the hospital was one of two black people who lived in our town. I went to school with him. He was nice. He was smart. He was muddled sitting in a kitchen, in a dingy small town slum house. The rest of the squad had the look of impatience and unspoken distaste. The words they used to justify encouraging him to deny transport "drugs." No evidence of drugs there but that's what they wanted to believe. I tried to do vitals and help him, the others stood back. The unspoken body language he read motivated him to decline transport.
I was shocked. There was awkwardness after we left. This was a truly skilled squad, I was friends with everyone on that call. My brother was on that call.
That silent, unspoken consent to view a situation in a way that didn't rock the boat and bowed to outdated values was eye opening.
I started really looking at how I was raised. At my community. Why did my half black aunt tell most people she was northern Italian?
When I was young, I tried to do things for social approval in the hopes I could win the love of my parents. I wanted friends.
I was rewarded for cruelty and ridiculed for compassion. Tricked my brother into drinking toilet water, get to sit on my dad's lap. Trick the neighbor into shooting a dog in the face with a squirt gun, so she got nipped- Mom chastised me but Dad took me out to point out animals so he could shoot them. Intimidate someone, Mom might brag to all her friends.
It didn't feel right. I was small, smart and female in a small minded town. If I'd been a boy, I would have been popular. I wasn't, so I made people nervous. Other kids didn't like me. I was teased, locked in lockers, bullied and got attacked by other kids. I spent a lot of time at the nurses office. After a while, I stopped seeking approval. I watched. I observed. I stopped wanting approval from peers. Over time, watching how my parents manipulated and mistreated nice people I became embarrassed and started learning from those nice people how to be less of a monster and more of a human being.
I chose to grow.
With the election and the behavior of a portion of people who seem determined to say and do terrible things- in part for approval from people they look up to and in part due to their desire to do something or say something to hurt those they choose to hate or antagonize.
Confronting them only gives them reinforcement and resolve- locking them against letting go of hate, asking them questions and getting them to see where their hate logic fails is the key to unlocking that door.
It's easy to hate a group of people. It's easy to judge. It's easy to dismiss, justify, turn a blind eye and immerse in the shallow socially acceptable waters of those who are like minded.
It's harder to accept responsibility for mistakes and hate or fear driven words and deeds. It is harder to change and accept that the views you were raised with might not be right or respectful.
What causes hate? Judgement. Teachings. Past experiences which might have been with an individual but have been generalized. "You people," "they," "all," "always," and "never" are dangerous words.
Hate is not something you fight, fighting hate is like arguing with a fool. You come out exhausted, drained, frustrated- and the fool still never changes.
Hate is something you change through your own choices and behavior. Questions. Information. Helping others realize they are hurting other wonderful people who did nothing to warrant such treatment or judgement. Imagine hate as a pus filled wound someone is proud of, to reduce it the person with the wound has to realize they have a wound and they have to want to address it. If you chase them around throwing bottles of antiseptic and squirting antibiotic ointment in their direction- its going to make a mess and its going to utterly fail.
To change hate and reduce bigotry, we as a people need to come together and communicate. We need to build support networks. We need more education and critical thinking, less emotional responding.
We need to find a way to remind people that we are all human, we all deserve to be respected.
Bashing someone because of their gender, religion, ethnicity- these things need to become a thing of the past. This will only happen by coming together, demonstrating over and over that the justifications people hide behind to do horrible things are bullshit and that our society will not tolerate it- regardless of who leads the country.
Folks, this is on us. We've got to go beyond our echo chambers and face the hate with truth. "You got beat by a girl." "What does gender have to do with it?" Is my new response. Actions speak louder than words. Demonstrate reality, and the house of cards collapses. Create connections. Remind people of connections they have. Real people making real strides forward despite the biases they face.
Some day perhaps the unspoken will not be prejudice, some day I hope to see the unspoken to be inclusion and empathy.

Wednesday, November 16, 2016

Where Would I Go: Cocoa Beach

You're thinking Disney, Universal Studios. Those are the no brainers. But there is far more in the area worth visiting just north of Orlando. Cocoa Beach! We camped at Jetty Park for a week, it's the off season this time of year or they would have already been booked up and packed. It is a campground at the beach. Beautiful park with nice spaces, laundry, clean showers, and free wifi! We walked the beach day and night, enjoying the many birds that frequent the area, and watched cruise ships dock and load passengers for their adventures at sea. There were many Geocaches in the area and a lot of great options for food.
We visited the Enchanted Forest and explored the hiking trails there, learning about the canal they attempted to make across the state.
We went to Kennedy Space Center, found that a single day is not long enough to appreciate all the displays and experiences they offer. We enjoyed the bus tour, the Atlantis Experience, Rocket Garden and the food. It was worth the admission price. There was even a bald eagle watching us on the tour!
We walked the boardwalk in Cocoa Beach one night and laughed at the raccoon we startled there, as a single saxophone player crooned on a lonely street.
We visited a fun hookahbar in Cocoa, painted with a stunning black light reactive mural that adorned every wall- making me wish I could walk in the men's room to see the designs there after seeing the flowers on the walls of the women's room.
Rusty's Seafood, Bizzaros Pizza, Portside Diner were definitely meals we appreciated in quality and price. At Rusty's a musician played Sex and Candy acoustically while I smirked at the older diners not catching the song. The ocean was right next to our table. It was a memory to savor.
We still plan to go back to visit the national seashore this winter.
Great options for the East Coast of Florida, north of Orlando.

Saturday, October 22, 2016

Don't Flinch

Things happen. Society churns like a choppy sea. People buy into hype. This will never work. People will react negatively. There are a million negative self talk scripts that become words and actions. People get discouraged and change course because they perceive an insurmountable challenge.
Don't flinch. Don't buy in. Don't feed hype. I challenge you to defy it! In the face if disbelief dance, smile, shine and perform your finest as if there was no one watching even when hundreds are.
Your actions can change the tide. One person trying. One person becomes two. Two become five. Five become hundreds. Try it. My boss decided this week no more feeding hype. All masks are allowed in our Halloween event. All characters welcome. Family friendly behavior expected. To herald this shift back to normal operations from no scary or clown masks, various members of management decided to dress as everyday clowns seeking work. I decided to be the obligatory Hobo Clown. I was chargined that it took two minutes and minimal changes to my everyday clothes to transform. I grabbed two props: a rubber knife and a small box.
I greeted patrons coming in with a tragic face and my sign. They were shocked. They were surprised. Initially intrepid, my antics quickly reminded them what REAL clowns are. The smiles appeared like snowflakes in a blizzard.  They were amused. Delighted. They were caring, and they were protective. Some whispered "Are you allowed to be here, be careful, don't let anyone hurt you, I wish I brought a pie- just made some today..."
Thumbs ups, nods, and gratitude. Gratitude you ask? Gratitude for restoring their faith in what Clowns are.
I pulled my rubber knife and stabbed myself dramatically when I got fearful looks. The fear instantly vanished at the absurdity they faced. Clowns walk the razor edge, ridiculing our fears and reminding us to laugh when we want to cry or scream. They stand in the fire and dance daring the Universe "Is this all you got, cause I got a prop and I'm not afraid to use it!"
Last night I danced that dance. Last night I waddled, overreacted, made goofy faces, silly noises and helped the patrons who walked into our event remember to laugh and restored their faith in Clowns.
Feeding hype, feeding fear by curling in a ball or recoiling does not make it stop. Being strong, bold, defiant and performing with integrity does. In the face of hate, prejudice, and stigma- the best we can do is continue to shine. Uphold and demonstrate what it is to be human, to heal, care and connect with each other- despite the rampant hate mongering and fear based hype the media pumps at us. Real Clowns DO that. 
You will find that daunting mountain is nothing when the wind catches your wings and carries you beyond it. Let it. Soar.

Monday, October 17, 2016

Halfway Point: Staying on Target

When an idea first hits, it is electric. Excitement, enthusiasm, roses and chocolates in considering potentials. The Halfway Point is when the trail marks might be missed, the way might have debris and distractions or unforseen issues that need addressed. It is where we all tend to veer off or slow down, perhaps distracted by the next seductive idea just trembling to be put into action.
We set up the shops. Did the displays. Researched and properly marked prices, coached employees in customer interactions and tasks for each shop. Reorder and restock. The last few weeks we've been wading through warehouses of stock. Organizing. Discovering prior workers halfway points. Boxes and boxes of random stock mixed with broken pieces. Painstakingly, one box at a time we have replaced batteries, tested products and sorted. Labeled. Organized product. One full length warehouse of costuming left to organize this week. It will take six people working at least a two days to do.
Once it is organized, reordering will be easy. Knowing how much product we have will be easy. We've been hunting for an elusive pumpkin mask we know is in a box in the warehouse- it will be found as we open and count every item in every box. Historical pink wigs, go go wigs sorted by color, Killer Clown masks sorted by Name, fairy wings, orangutan costumes. Eventually, even sizes will be charted and organized as we order new costumes from a new supplier next year.
If you do not know what you have, or even if more could be placed out on the sales floor- you lose potential sales. Some things may be in inventory but not really right for the sales venue, we have two large boxes of mixed pieces- incomplete costumes. A box full of open, mussed up wigs. I suggested offering them at a low price to local theaters who need and will use them instead of ending up looking like a costume shop crashing into a thrift store. Appearances and what you put out are important. Treat your items as valuable. Learn about them. The more you know and demonstrate to customers, the more respect and higher your sales go. Three working sets of manacles sold because I took the time to tell patrons looking at them about the history, showed how to use them and gave costuming examples. Collector item masks sell because we explain the history and educate customers on the value of the individual items. Show closer fireworks sold consistently when we took time to show customers youtube videos demonstrating the various products.
This is true of the chances and goals we have in life. You have to take steps to move forward or you find yourself missing deadlines or depressed because you feel you aren't accomplishing your goals. Identify road blocks, look for solutions, learn new skills, consult with friends, reward yourself for the progress you do make.
In the end, exhausted, you will find you feel a whole lot better when the time and energy you invest pay off.
The work I have done, with an excellent sales team has resulted in 200% increase in sales in the costume shop compared to last year. The numbers are substantially higher than prior years sales.
Assess current situation, long term goals, and resources. Give yourself credit, accept feedback and move forward!

Saturday, October 1, 2016

Pay Attention to the Fine Print

Excited, he opened the package of theatrical lenses. Pulled out the contacts. The petite folded instructions and warning fell like a discarded dirty napkin on the counter. "So I can just use water to put these in?"
I stared at the fine print trying hard not to be noticed on the counter.
Thirty years of wearing prescription lenses kicked in.
First. You wash your hands. He opened his mouth. My eyebrows went up. The edge of a razor sharp scowl threatened. He scooted. "With soap." He nodded.
He came back and presented hands. His mother never saw hands that clean.
Second. Never water. Saline is not water. Verbally reviewed the fine print. His eyes glazed. Paraphrased. Showed him the bottle of solution I carry and shared because lenses are daily for me.
Taught him how to put them in. Let him know about eye irritation and when you had best take them out. From experience.

Thought about the encounter.
How frequently people offer us the fine print we need to move forward but we glaze or hear the tone instead of the message or a defense mechanism dismisses it.
Fine print should be block capital large print, neon flashing red. Not quiet and tucked on the back page where the lawyer or the car dealer or the loan officer winked as they showed it to you dismissively. That's there for someone else or you know, legal purposes, har har wink wink.
Sadly, those little words could save us a lot of hurt. They could, prevent injury, frustration, misunderstanding. They are there as a shield and a ladder- but go ahead and recklessly race into and up the side of that precarious brick wall without checking to see if the mortar is good. Perhaps the seventh or eighth time look for someone to blame.
The little words in fine print softly say "I tried to tell you." Sadly say, "Will you listen now?"  How many nudges and repeated suggestions do you need from good friends and well meaning strangers? Out of curiosity, have you ever read the fine print on household chemicals?
The next time you step into a mire or an unfamiliar situation check: do you look for fine print or a knowledgeable source or do you wing it- or worse yet turn to the person next to you who also has no experience or clue?

Tuesday, September 20, 2016

Costuming a Costume Shop

I tell stories. I sell fireworks. I dance as a mascot. I entertain while being painted on. I write. I make and sell jewelry. I paint. I teach archery. I throw axes and knives. I jump at every new opportunity to gain or practice skills I learn.

The opportunity arose to run the Costume Shop for a Halloween Event. I tell horror stories and dark fantasy tales. I love entertaining but sometimes, an opportunity offers you a sideways path. I will have time to work on my podcasts and edit stories for publication through Kindle and Amazon later this year- in time for Halloween.

For now. Setting up a Costume shop to sell costumes every friday and saturday until Halloween. We reached Muskogee and headed to the faire site. The Costume Shop was empty and full of dust. Matt, Omar and I spent two days putting up pegboards and determining the structural backbone of the shop. Where would the registers go? How many workers? Where and how to display costumes, masks, accessories, make up and the many things that make a shop successful?
And what ideas for marketing and enhancing awareness of deals and location? What new products can we add to meet the needs and interests of our patrons? How to find out?
What do we already have to work with?
Mind you, once this shop is set up there is still the Mask Shop, LED light up shop, Halloween Shop, and the Gift Shop to clean, set up, order items and set up displays. One thing at a time. Omar has the lion's share on his shoulders from hiring employees to working with them on displays and ordering. I will be doing a lot of support in set up, cleaning, and helping new workers learn how to be effective at sales without being overbearing. Subtle. Supportive. Listening. Educating. Brainstorming. I am the Straw Boss, or since it is Halloween time I suppose I am the Scarecrow.

One task at a time. The three of us walked down the center of the long, dark warehouse full of cardboard boxed dreams made real. Silly bits and pieces of fantasy that have been waiting on a shelf for someone to cry out "That IS just what I wanted!" Where to start? The rows of wigs? The prosthetic wounds? Several latex masks leered at us, daring us to try to pick a single place to start from.

We started with the pegboards. We set dowel spikes into framework around the displays to spike the heads of our styrofoam enemies, their blank stares waiting apathetic to the different wigs and masks we placed on them. Since we started with the spikes and heads, like the most enthusiastic warlords in history, we started with facial hair and wigs. Vlad the Impaler had a beard. Also, the area for the wigs and masks was at the farthest left hand corner of the shop. Men's wigs were sorted from Women's wigs. They were all sorted by type and each package was dusted and placed like a stocking at Christmas in the hopes that the patrons eyes will sparkle and dance when they find them. Glow in the dark wigs. Curly wigs. Red spiral wigs. Clown wigs. Mullets. Santa and Jesus watched from their packaging as I put a saloon girl wig on the peg next to them. Vampire women's wigs dark with mystery contrasted with the purple go go wigs and bright pink long curly wigs below. Fantasy. Horror. Blonde. Red hair. Brown hair. Streaked. Striped. Tipped. Lovely. Wild. Short. Long. Super long. Accessories for wigs and hair were next. Mustaches from the Walrus to the Handlebar, pirate to 70's dude and beards galore were sorted and arranged.
Latex masks of monsters mixed with old geezers and Angry Birds. Sorting was a constant task. Was there a matching moving jaw for that werewolf mask? Should we hang the clowns and werewolves together? Do the Deep Ones deserve their own peg or should they share with the rotting blue monsters? The detailed, high end Don Post masks were debated. Should they get their own area or should they mix in and bring the whole place to a scarier level?
Boxes emptied. We kept running back for one more box of this or that, only to return with another three or four pallets full of boxes to sort, dust and add to the displays.
Children and Tween costumes and accessories were next. Tween is a term for in-between girls. There are no goods for Tween boys, but we groaned and sorted the teal, pink, skulls all with black into a respectable display for the girls who are dying to be part of Fiend High or Hello Goth Kitty.
Baby peanut costumes went next to Baby Scrawny Lions and little Monkeys. Magicians, soldiers, fairies, mermaids, princesses, doctors, vampires, witches, zombies, cowboys and various other possible choices went up as we worked our way toward the center of the shop.
Where should we put the capes and robes? The Inflatable costumes? Should LED capes and costumes have their own area? Which adult costumes should face the infants and toddlers section?  Where do we want the hard mask display? Do I have room to do a Superhero display as we have the masks?
Do we have skin suits? Oh, here they are, buried under the fat suits, fake butts and boobs. Great, lets display them in the same area. How funny would it be to wear a skin suit with a fake set of boobs and a fake bottom? I may have to try that out one night. Which costumes do I want to use on displays facing the street? What do I want to set up and encourage patrons to take selfies with to tag themselves and their location on Facebook? Marketing is important and something fun to get a selfie with is a great way to motivate public free promotion. Thinking. Ideas flowing and moving projects forward one step at a time. Write them down for later, so I don't forget them.
What about a line of high quality make up? What about better hats? Steampunk? Plus Sizes? And I am burying the Indian Beauties in the Warehouse. Not displaying or selling them as I just don't agree with them existing. There are other costumes to put out that can take those spots. The creepy clown. The Mariachi Mamacita.
We decided the adult versions of whimsical kid's costumes would face the children's section while the racier Ring Mistress, Flappers, Pin Up Girls, Grecian Goddesses, and their Mobsters, seductive vampires and other costumes that made you think about hot dates or cold showers went in the center isle right up the middle. Facing the masks and wigs, across from the prosthetics and make up we decided to put up the horror masks, horror movie themed costumes, steampunk and victorian mixing with Wicked Wonderland and Wicked Neverland. Adding Wicked means the skirts are very short and the depicted women practically steam the packing with their honeyed gaze. Promising orgasms to those who don the dress. The Men's Wicked costumes are monstrous or bestial, exciting their date by the apparent danger in walking arm in arm with one of these villains.
I stared at the bucket of brooms and plastic pitchforks. Accessories. I kept worrying about finding leggings and gloves. Then we found the goldmine in the closest row of the warehouse. Crisscross, fishnet, thigh high, lace, colors to match the fantasy of choice. Fake eyelashes. Wings. Cat ears and mouse ears on models in corsets and panties. For a moment, I wondered if that was included then laughed at the obvious advertising hook. Buy the ears, be the vixen. Buy the ears because of the vixen. One size fits all. Gloves from the theatrical whites to long opera length black, even some with silver spiders dancing up and down the sleeves. Wings for children. Wings for babies. Costumes for dogs. Check.
What are we missing? We started perusing wholesale websites today. I started a list. Unicorn horns. Hats. Novel Knee Socks from zebra striped to heart covered, so you can wear your hearts around your ankles with your panties after a great halloween party. Goggles. Hologram eye monster masks. Zombie baby puppets. Airbrush make up sets and tools. Fake swords, bloody daggers, axes, chains, body parts, rats, spiders, ravens, shoulder parrots. Plus sized tights. Tutus. Adult reversible capes. More styrofoam heads for more masks to be out staring down patrons, searching for the perfect mind to stretch around, the personality that wants to borrow theirs for a while.
The counters got added. The fake wounds and the realization we need more. More fake gashes, hooked noses, high end costume contact lenses and vampire teeth. The glow in the dark ones are placed with the cheap vampire make up kit, next to the vampire wigs. Groupings bloomed as bits and pieces went up.
What do we do with all these 80s bangles and elastic Egyptian armbands? For now they sit reproachful on the floor watching as we add tables to put the clown hats, top hats, witches hats and whatever other hats we order on. The feather boas are carefree. Rainbow feathers dancing in the breeze watching as the displays come together and holes fill up with products.
I will have two people working with me, each at different ends of the store. Jessica, who is energetic and does amazing hair styles in her own business during the day. Jessica will be working with wigs, prosthetics, make up and fielding questions and sales on the left. My other helper is a sweet teenager who will be fielding childrens, tweens, and questions on the right. I will be stirring the pot, wandering the floor. Helping people put their concepts into costuming reality as a part of a three person team.

Monday, September 19, 2016

The Always Never Trap

Stress can be good or bad. Eustress is the fancy dress up name for positive stress. Getting a promotion, planning a vacation, versus negative stress which we all know about and occasionally shake our fists and frown at.
Stress adds up. Emotional stress is subtle. It can be corrosive. You are juggling a million things and then someone says something or does something that hits you wrong. You have a day or week where things seem to slip rather than fit.
You find yourself in the all or nothing trap unaware that you've hit the spiky bottom.
Hurting yourself through internal overly critical black and white assessments that inaccurately represent you or how those around you perceive you.
Emotions in the way of neutral accurate perception. Everything is wonderful becomes everything is terrible and why am I alive? I can do anything becomes I am a total failure. Stop. Stop right there.
You are wrong about something. You are not a total failure. You can choose to step back, let go of the pain and self defeating internal dialogue. Reach out and communicate. Get reality checks from healthy supports. Take a walk. Work on a pet project. Do something for someone else. I think of the over 60p.people who participated in the 5K Zombie Run for a local children's charity in Muskogee. Laughing, dressing up as zombies and in fun rainbow ridiculous running tutus and seizing life as they dodged the zombies and helped a charity. Nobody there was always or never, all or nothing. I listened to runners cheer each other on, watched groups encourage and support each other as they aimed to try to 'survive to the finish line.'

Find something that gets you laughing and takes you out of your internal self trap. Put things back in perspective.
Remember your accomplishments, the goals you are working on and what you are working toward. Give yourself a break.
Be aware of your language internal and external. Absolutes are absolutely the last thing that belong in healthy self talk.
Start watching for signs of the sneaky trap. What triggers do you have that set it up? Lack of sleep, anxiety, vitamin or mineral deficiency, social isolation, finances, communication issues, emotional scars that flare up?
When you catch yourself slipping, how can you change how you say? Take ownership and problem solve. When this happens I feel like ---. Communicate with those around you "I am feeling rough today, and ask for help."
Do not assume no one has time for you. Do not assume no one cares. Do not assume you are worthless or a failure. Do not assume!!!
If you aren't communicating clearly- even if all you can manage is to say "I am in a bad head space" or "I am not communicating well" people are wrapped up in their own life juggling and may not catch the silent signs to reach out to you. Whatever has hit the all or nothing switch- although it feels insurmountable, it will pass and eventually it will be small and ridiculous in the rearview mirror of your life.

For today, take care of you. Attend to how you talk to yourself and what words you use in dialogue with yourself and those you love.
Quit beating yourself up over life lessons and focus on the reasons you can choose to smile and grow. 

Monday, September 12, 2016

Living in a Country of Glass Houses

Several beautiful friends have written elegant Facebook posts to raise awareness and empower the greater community facing derision and furtive attacks from folks who feel the Slingshot of Judgment will somehow sanctimoniously get them some sort of reward. I remind myself often that you cannot make someone who chooses to be blind and deaf to reality change. You can offer perspective and hope that it hits a chord.
So today, I write this ballad.
Years ago I volunteered on the county's mental health crisis hotline. I was the lone professional stooping down to offer my free time at first. I took a call from a girl who knew she was a girl except there was a piece that did not belong. She thought she was broken, that something was wrong with her. She had tried cutting it off. My heart broke for her. I gently explained transgender. I was the first person to tell her the only wrong thing was her body goofing up its sexually expressed genes. She became less distraught as we talked, realizing that she wasn't a freak or alone. That she could have support and go through medical treatment to get the piece that didn't belong removed, that she was one of many that deal with transgender reality. When I went to the monthly meeting for volunteers it was eye opening. They had stood by outdated value systems until I went over that call. Regardless of their backgrounds or beliefs- every volunteer understood where that caller was coming from, none of them wanted any human being to feel so outcast or alone. They all listened. Transgender was new to them. After that call, that tiny county changed how it handled calls. I never knew anything about her except her voice. I hope she's smiling and that her world isn't a dark one anymore- it never should have been.
Going back further, back to when I was six. I was rambunctious. I was a small child. I loved swinging wildly on my great grandmother's macrame plant holders. I collided with the corner of a wooden table. I was in the emergency room, they had just done stitches. A teenage neighbor, a strong girl, she was there too. I had just been released from restraints. I was still in fight and panic mode. She calmed me down. She was a role model in a life full of screwed up ones. She looked sad. I saw she had just gotten stitches too. On her wrists. I asked what happened. Her mother cut in and said she broke a glass washing dishes and it sliced both wrists. Odd that the cuts were neat. Odd that the girl had an expression that shouted the words were a lie. I understood. My mom made up shit all the time. CPS was the boogeyman she would terrorize me with.  People acted like there was something wrong with the girl. The same people who begged for lies and platitudes. The ones who chose to see the two mothers as shining stars rather than scrutinizing the abandonment and emotional abuse beneath. Our struggles were different but we sat there islands that for a moment were not alone.
Years later, I heard she went to Canada and married her girlfriend. Last time I saw her she had smile lines. I hope she is still smiling.
Working in mental health I walked through the hearts and minds of those broken and struggling to find a reason, struggling for balance.
The refrain is the words of Little Billy, whose parents sexually, emotionally, and physically abused him. "I just want to help people. I want to be worth something. I want to save them. I want them to look at me and see a hero when they needed one." The hero he never had but imagined and wished for. I understand why Baum wrote Wizard of Oz. Billy was my Dorothy. His fractures could never fully heal due to limited IQ. It did not stop him from trying. He never quite understood how he was a hero to some of us on staff. He could never defeat his demons, born with both hands tied genetically behind his back. If he is still alive, he is still trying.
If only we all had his fortitude.
People shout judgements at each other. Slap labels and toss derogatory jokes like grenades with the surprised "why are you offended" reaction when you call them on it. Why aren't we teaching tolerance, empowerment, and cooperative team building? Empathy is in a drought, hate is the scent on the wind.
Who pays the price?
Unfortunately, the stones get thrown wily nily based on Memes and attention seeking headline teasers. Shots of venom to cloud the judgement; first round is always free. You pay the price in integrity.
Today, take a moment. Let go of stones. If you are going to pick up a stone instead of throwing it, try rock sculpture or perhaps putting it gently back down in respect for the millions who struggled with their personal demons and lost. The suicides. The victims of hate crimes. The victims of senseless violent crimes. Those who fought against diseases and were defeated.
For them, reach out and be open to caring for the amazing people fighting battles in their heads you have no right to judge. They are the stars that shine in my sky that inspire me to connect and keep reaching.

Wednesday, September 7, 2016

Looking for Lincoln

This morning we headed into the heart of Springfield Illinois, with the intent of visiting the Lincoln Library. We parked and discovered many historical Lincoln related sites that begged for exploration. Looking for Lincoln plaques dotted the historic districts, giving tidbits of Lincoln and Springfield history. We walked the block and went up the steps of the Lincoln house. The wooden plank walkway outside the Lincoln house had caution tape as bright as goldenrods waving gently in the breeze. First glance had me thinking of crime scene tape. A tour seemed impersonal, we wanted to find Lincoln not a gaggle of restless tourists fidgeting with selfies. He was not home.

We wandered through the Lincoln Public Library then walked over to the actual Lincoln Presidential Library. Without anything we specifically wanted to research we instead admired the neat shelves of research materials. There was a detailed exhibit of the Lincoln funeral train procession. Still no Abe.

We decided on the Lincoln Museum next, with gregarious staff and 3D holographic displays it had impressive and eye catching sights. We chuckled watching a modern style news broadcast on the 1860 election that even had fake "paid for by" campaign commercials and other news including Pasteur spouting off quackery about invisible things he called germs. The most impressive aspect of the museum for me was the political cartoons attacking Lincoln throughout his political career. There was foreshadowing in the many starkly monochrome depictions of him as a circus performer and theatrical caricature. I pondered the slanted frames and shadowed images thinking about his eventual demise.
There were many aspects of his life that were on display, but many that were left with just a hint of information.

Lincoln and the Blackfoot. The conspiracy theories. The other other Confederate sympathizers that were arrested and charged with treason in relation to Lincoln's death. Lincoln and the Todd family conflicts over banking. Lincoln versus the banks. Everything was about his life from rail splitting to possible sweethearts; with strong emphasis on abolition as his burning goal in life which contrasted with his own words in later exhibits. It was excellent but lacking in some of the depth we had hoped for, while full of patriotic emotionally evocative music and lighting. It was impressive but we did not feel like we found Lincoln there.

We headed to Union Station which has a display with items from the set of the movie Lincoln. Interesting but Union Station itself seemed more intriguing. We left restless, no Lincoln yet. Now the informational Looking for Lincoln signs seemed to jeer and taunt in the stifling afternoon. Lincoln once walked the same streets with local kids tying string across the street to knock his hat off his head, a favorite prank, but it was hard to picture unless he played along and pretended not to see the string to hear the children wildly laugh as he picked up the hat.

We regrouped having lunch at a local microbrewery owned by the Conn family, close friends of the Lincolns. It was refreshing, the perogies being our favorite part of the meal.

We headed to the Lincoln tomb in Oak Ridge Cemetery. We walked in and I noticed a sign to silence phones. As I silenced my phone something the volunteer said brought a laugh bubbling out that carried down and through the square hallway. There. In that moment as my eyes took in the words requesting respectful quiet while my laugh still echoed I could see Lincoln smiling. A sharp mind who appreciated sharp wit, who fought melancholy through quips and jokes. A man criticized for approaching serious situations with humor intact. I laughed at the entry of the tomb and it carried and echoed through the loop. It might have been the first laugh in his presence since the moment before his assassination. I did not laugh again but I was glad that I had.

That sound was where Lincoln dwelled.

Wednesday, August 31, 2016

Finding Your Yellow Rose

There will always be days and events that are hard to weather through. My grandfather always felt when you had a rough time you look for yellow roses and give them away. I will likely do that monday.
My birthday has always been rough. I found my dog lying peacefully on the front porch dead on my sixth birthday. I sat and spent about an hour petting him one last time before anyone else got up. He was unintentionally poisoned.
I was eleven when I came home to a cake mix on the table and a pack of number two pencils with a notebook for school. My birthday was the day I knew my marriage had been a terrible mistake. It was the day two years ago that I lost my best friend and companion, Rumor.
As a child, my friends were animals. My emotional support came from three great grandmothers, a number of barn cats and a few dogs that never lasted long.
Each year my heart sinks and dread rises as the day gets closer. This year I have been fighting it instead of letting sorrow rule my heart. This year I am taking more walks, taking vitamins, focusing on finding the positives and on getting done things I know I need to work on.
Turning it around: this year I turn forty. I am performing on stages and in lanes. Both of my shows are going well. I have a wonderful, considerate significant other. I have many friends I care about spread across the country. I have been to many beautiful places. I have stretched and done things I never thought I would get to do. I value myself. Forward is a beautiful direction to go.

Thursday, August 18, 2016

Life as a Human Cartoon

First thought, being a cartoon- even a half cartoon would be great! Cartoons fall from great heights to reappear perfectly fine moments later, they costume change easily and they come with a laugh track.
A half human cartoon, on the other hand lives with the attributes of both worlds. Mundane life complicated by the universe's twisted sense of humor. Walking down the sidewalk and ending up in the right place at the right time to get doused with a huge puddle by a passing car. Finding out the guys in high school avoided you because your  brother sold them dates with you that never happened- keeping their money and telling them to avoid you fury at the "arranged date" by avoiding you. Going on a date only to find out the guy has a girlfriend and has to suddenly leave: and cue the falling off a cliff with funny sound effect and anvil afterwards. Little tasks may become epic through random chance. Laugh tracks, in real life do not always have good timing.
I studied Wiley Coyote as a child; marvelled at his perseverance. Now I use a sense of humor and perseverance to work on moving forward. Emotional reactions and expectations can get in the way of moving forward. Being half cartoon, easily distracted is part of life that you adapt to and accept. Adapt.
Patches. I patch myself up often, with the goal being that each patch offers the chance for healing to take root, offering a buffer until I address the root causes fully. Each patch reduces the weight and severity of what I carry and deal with.
I offer patches out. The idea that other people may have the same or worse battles in their own heads, sometimes burdened by dark emotions that are better tossed into a trash heap than experienced motivates me to share so that we all move forward.
Now, profound expressed I will likely slip on a banana peel or end up chased home by a runaway giant dragonfly or perhaps instead I will just get to enjoy the sound of crickets and the sight of Fox River. Perhaps today, I can just be human and that is enough.

Wednesday, August 10, 2016

Seeing the Forest and the Trees

Seeing the forest or seeing the trees, can you do both consciously?
It seems like a trite little phrase until you live it. Standing on stage working through material, watching and gauging audience response with mental analyses and adjustments whirling at thought speed it is the trees and not the forest you see. You look out and notice someone looking at their phone instead of watching. Why, you wonder. You see a few people join the crowd or leave. Why, you wonder. What can I change to draw more? I want to see their smiles, faces rapt at the stories or antics.
Then you have a moment where you talk to the proverbial tree. Then that one says they only came to catch Pokemon, they are in your audience inattentive and brazen about it. Not everyone comes to a show to be entertained. Not every audience member is there for the same reason. Some just want a place to sit, others may visit briefly to get a taste of multiple shows rather than just picking one.
When you look at the trees, it may help find areas to work on but it may also be setting you up for a bad head game. If you try to put a reason on another person's choice you may not pick wisely. You cannot assume someone is leaving your show or interaction because they are avoiding tipping or are not entertained. You may not be the right fit for them or they may just have wanted a sample- they may have a dozen reasons to leave that have nothing to do with you.
Look at the forest instead.  The crowd that stays or returns. Why? A friend of mine, Geoff Marsh, asks candidly of patrons. It is a hard set of questions: did you see my show, did you like my show, feedback on my show. Not fishing for compliments but open mindedly tuning in to be able to enhance his performance. He is a top notch entertainer because he sees the forest and the trees.
I am asking those questions now too. I am learning to step back out of my head trip of negative self defeating conjecture and into analysis and problem solving.
When I ask for feedback, I am asking so I can improve perspective and keep growing. Whatever your challenges and goals, are you taking time to see the forest and the trees?

What can you change in your perspective to move forward in the positive direction you seek to grow in?

Wednesday, July 27, 2016

What Do You Want & The Challenge Of Asking

What would you like? Scary question. Hard question to answer. What do you want?
I used to have a hard time answering these questions. Christmas was a special hell. My mother insisted we make lists. She then made sure to use the list as a mind game: you got maybe one thing from the list and the rest was stuff you couldn't give away and was somehow the opposite of what you figured out you wanted. You wanted a bathing suit? Here's a neon orange jumpsuit. Same thing right? You got in trouble if you cried or looked upset. My brother and I learned to act to deal with Christmas. We learned to be relieved that dad never got us anything. Nothing was better than shit you didn't want. My mother never noticed we gave it away, first to other kids and eventually to thrift stores. Make a list. What do you want? These questions became a Pavlovian trigger. I worked my way around that trigger; finding ways to get what I wanted through work rather than asking. I still struggle with asking, I try to just soldier through with the resources at hand.

A lifetime of adapting and surviving do not lend themselves to frivolity. I started working after sixth grade. I bought my clothes, snacks, books, and anything else I wanted. Ask someone and deal with a guilt trip or just work and have my own choice. Whining or not being responsible with household chores including cooking and cleaning? There was a barn I could live in or face the threat of paying rent to my parents.
I participated in all school activities, worked, and did household chores. I was a social outcast in school: too smart and outspoken to be cool. One day I stopped home to switch out of my soccer uniform to go to work. I was in tenth grade. I was screamed at so often that I do not register the words or sounds. I walked out of my room into my.mother having a screaming fit. I realized it as one of my cleats bounced hard off the wall next to my head. The cleats I had taken off in the mudroom properly. I had done nothing to trigger this. The screaming was shrill. I was exhausted. No tv shows, no fiction depicts this as healthy family reality. Anger welled up. I was next to the ironing board. The iron was sitting there.
I breathed. I quieted my heart and trembling thoughts which were still trying to figure out what I could have done wrong. Stumble. Forgot. Existing was my poor choice. The defiant egg and sperm that joined to create me were not wanted. They didn't care. They multiplied and the many cells of me were standing there facing a sad reality.
I looked at her. She paused to breathe and shriek again. I spoke. I stood.
I picked up the iron. "You will never speak to me in that tone of voice again. You will never raise your voice where I can hear it. My sister will never have to grow up with you being like this because it stops now. I work. I ask you for nothing. I buy what I want. I put up with your petty commands and clean and cook. I do not party. I do not get knocked up. (She opened her mouth and puffed up with a scowl and flushed face). I brandished the iron. There was fifteen feet between us maybe ten. My voice lowered. "I pitch softball. Problem is, when I loathe the batter I hit them in the head every time. Hard. If you came to games you would have seen helmets flipping off heads. You want to try me, go ahead. Scream one more time. I will pitch this fucking iron so fucking hard. See, its your head I have been aiming at. Make my day, otherwise turn around, walk away and pretend from this moment forward that you are normal." I stood. Iron in hand. Muscles tensed. Ready for the pitch. She could see it. She never raised her voice around me again.
That's the one time in life I can think of something I really wanted: to never hear a shrill screaming woman berating me over imagined slights again.

Fast forward to now. What do you want? Love. Kindness. Time to appreciate beauty in the world. Challenges that keep me thinking and growing. Arkham Horror, the board game. A new ebook reader. A wireless microphone set up. Pots and pans. Flooring for our carport tent. A small fridge. Eventually a generator. Finally. I feel comfortable answering the question of what I want. Now to work on asking. It is amazing to be at a point in my life where I feel I can start asking. I look forward to the moment where the fear of being burdensome in asking is a faded afterthought I can leave in a garbage can somewhere.

Tuesday, July 19, 2016

Secrets You Don't Know You Keep

I was three, maybe four years old. I was sitting in the hay in the barn playing with the barn cat and her kittens. My father walked in. Looked at me and stepped on a kitten. Suddenly and completely. He lifted his foot. It was flattened, it was dead. I was crushed. I cried and yelled at him. His response "It should have been you." I ran to my mother for support. She claimed I made it up. Somehow I made up the kitten. Somehow I fabricated the corpse. She mentally reduced in her reality the number of animals rather than deal with an unpleasant truth.
I remember doing laundry, as a preteen. Hoping no one would catch the stains hidden on dirty white socks. See, I didn't know what sex was, so I did not know the 'fun secret game' played in my teenage uncles' sleeping bag once or twice a year when he came to stay over. I didn't know the slick, sloppy stuff was semen.
The day the issue reared an ugly head in light of day it was dismissed. A made up tale by a crazy child, who was no longer allowed to handle guns. The sleep overs stopped. I found depression, or rather it found me. My eyes stopped seeing the world. My mother had to take me for an eye exam and the verdict was legally blind in second grade. Some days I want to see the world, most days now. Unfortunately, vision doesn't miraculously return.
Each of us has different life experiences, we have different perspectives and stories.
The challenges and hardships we face and surpass give us an appreciation for the gentle, sweet, healthy, beautiful people and world around us.
The last couple of years had ups and downs. I recount these stories not to burden you, but to free you. To free you to let go of secrets you do not know you keep. To heal and release what you are not responsible for.
I have said before not every story is mine to tell, sometimes there are many unspoken truths between lines. You can be drawn to and love someone who is unhealthy for you. You can also realize how unhealthy that is. You can assess the feeling: is it genuine love or just magnetic draw into abuse? Can you choose to heal and let go of the magnet?
I did. Instead of letting things escalate beyond being drawn into emotional pain, mind games, latent potential of physical violence I made a choice. I chose to value myself. I chose the expressions in the eyes and hearts of those who are healthy friends. I chose to set the baggage down and go.
This is the last time I mention them u less it is to talk about breaking cycles of abuse.

The first person who has to break that cycle is you. Facing your inner self and saying I am worth more than this, I deserve better than this, I do not deserve judgement or punishment, this guilt is not mine.
Say it every day. Live it. Let the loving people around you help you flow forward and heal. You deserve to be healthy, loved, respected and empowered. We all do.

Secrets allow abuse to continue. Secrets endorse it. Secrets allow abusers the power to continue, or to move on to an unprepared new target.

You do not always see it coming, it gets blamed on stress, health, finances. It is never acceptable. Never. You are not crazy.

Today I let this all go with a heavy heart. Children and pets. They get caught in the middle. People keep sharing pictures of black cats on my facebook. I love them. I still grieve Rumor. Now I grieve Sadhu as well, Danny has him. I have no idea how Sadhu is. It is the one way he can still affect my emotions. I have reached out for neutral mediation other than that, I have to let it go.
Goodbye sweet Sadhu. I hope life treats you well and I am sorry I didn't force the issue and take you to Scarborough when he insisted you stay with him.

Friday, July 15, 2016

Quit Sugar Coating.

Criticism is a tricky topic. The word itself is critical. Necessary for growth, change, life but not necessarily always wanted or enjoyable. Our perception and behavioral responses can close out helpful social cues and communication. Shut the door, slam the windows, draw the blinds and hide or point at someone else: the "They" that is cast as Villain in your life.
Emotions help us respond to the world and express ourselves. They are a two edged knife capable of energizing and empowering us with passion or paralyzing us with excuses and closing us away from the very feedback we need to grow and change. They daunt us, stress us, drive us, free us, and limit us. They are by nature, contradictory. When faced with a straightforward appraisal of areas we choose to interact with ourselves and others in an unhealthy way, sometimes they keep us from choosing to listen. They like things sugar coated, where one can suck the positive granules away from the constructive feedback and spit out the bitter truth that could have helped us grow. Thanks emotions, real helpful.
A man walked around the outside wall of a city every day. The wall was twelve feet tall. The stone it was hewn from was flat, smooth. There were no hand or footholds for climbing. There was a door, but to open the door one had to listen to the Sage guarding the door. The Sage could see your flaws. The Sage neutrally identified them, as if reading a grocery list. Many grew somber on hearing the recitation, some turning and leaving before the Sage was done with tears streaming down their cheeks like newly formed waterfalls. Others shouted, argued, or tried bribery and misdirection. The Sage was unmoved. Some attacked the Sage, only to find, the wounds they inflicted were to themselves. Some demanded they were perfect and tried brushing past the Sage, only to find themselves further from the city with ever step forward they took.
The man avoided the Sage after he walked away from him the first time they met. He despised the Sage for so casually listing his flaws. He excused his flaws and justified them more with each step he took. The man walked around the city so many times he made a dirt path around the wall. He could define the city. He knew the wall better than he knew the world. Sometimes he talked with people coming and going from the city. They told him to face himself, it would get easier and he would enjoy the sights within the city. The offered him suggestions, he always held steadfast to his excuses and path rather than try new ones.
Years past. One night, the man was cold. The wall was cold. The night was cold. He walked to stay warm. He could see his breath in the moonlight. He saw through the gate behind the Sage the orange flicker of a fire.
He turned, sighed and faced the Sage again. The Sage looked at him, exhaustion in the lines of his face. The man approached again, shoulders low and ego dragging behind him on the ground. The Sage listed his flaws. The man listened. Some were not so bad as he had chosen to see them as being, while others saddened and embarrassed him as they were worse. They talked for several hours in the cold, crisp night.
Finally, the man understood. Burdens released by choice, he stepped into the incredible City. There is a path worn down around the wall. When you walk it, you will run into others there who are stuck as well, circling and circling. Often, the encouragement they offer each other is sugar coated. Easy to digest but of little value for true progress to be made.
The hardest truths to face are the ones within ourselves that impact how we choose to perceive ourselves and shape how we choose to interact with the world. These truths offer us the most daunting but healing changes, sometimes approaching them is like jumping off a cliff; other times it is as terrifying as a walk down a dark city alley. The key seems to be holding onto the truth that in the end, awareness and positive change improve health, decrease depression and anxiety, and we are not alone. The people who care and support us are always just a thought away. Trust yourself, accept yourself, and problem solve. Painting the problem pretty doesn't resolve it, but I suppose it can make it funny if you really want to waste that much time avoiding the actual issue.

Wednesday, July 13, 2016

Ease Up

A bad mood curls around your neck and shoulders. You become prickly, agitated, and pressured like a summer storm. How did it develop? Gray clouds of overly critical self judgement, frustration at perception of self limitations you feel you should be long past, the internal evaluation where the interactions with others are distorted by past scars.
You catch yourself running tight circles in a ring, snorting like an angry bull tired of being led and used, ready for a tranquil grass carpeted field. Then someone reminds you to breathe. You look around and realize the arena is in your own mind. You are surrounded by love and kindness, people who encourage problem solving, goal setting, positive motivation. The people around you mirror what you feel and how you deal.
Relearning the shape of relaxation, easing up and letting healing and life happen at their pace. Relieved to be in a place where I can Ease up.
No matter how strong you are, if you live constantly tense and exhausting yourself, then you run out of strength and you fall. Pushes forward are frustrating wrestling matches with yourself, even where we blame someone else: it always comes down to us. The choices we make, how we perceive, how we react. Us.
A good friend said recently "You knew your choice in the relationship you were last in was not healthy: it's why you never asked any of us closest to you about it. You dealt with what you needed to, you're talking again, so you are making healthier choices."
Silence means there is a raging inner dialogue, where analysis and emotion are trying to reconcile with perceived reality. Neither one is particularly good at driving, both certain they are, and unfortunately, life tattered their road map. Instead of pushing them to figure it out, I am learning to work on figuring out a better map for them, letting it be easy like a sunny summer day. Blue skies, no rumbles and no unexpected rain.

Freedom is Gold

The Superstition Mountains are best known for the Legend of the Lost Dutchman's gold. A miner came to town boasting of a big find, with a chunk of gold to lend credence to his words. He died before anyone could get the exact location of the hidden gold mine. People have searched for over a hundred years, some dying on their quest for the lost gold. There are tourist sites in Apache Junction that recount the legend and offer the actual history. You can visit Goldfield, a ghost town that used to be an active mine. The Superstition Mountain Museum, Lost Dutchman State Park, Peralta Trail, Weaver's Needle, Apache Trail, Canyon and Apache Lakes, and Tortilla Flats are some of the golden nuggets you can enjoy as you explore history and desert.
The Superstition Mountains tower about four thousand feet above the desert valley. I have hiked to the highest point, I have hiked them in rain, snow, and at night by flashlight. I have watched lizards, seen petroglyphs,  and marveled at the forests of cacti. Sat in the night watching traffic at night in Phoenix. So close to the city but remote.
This year I arrived lost in my heart, soul heavy with sorrow, searching for myself and a direction. I went with the wind, except the aspects of my life that were burdensome stayed with me despite hopping planes and changing names and lives. I kept coming back to the desert. I kept going back to the mountains. There is an ancient indian myth of a white lightening woman who came from the sky and toppled the enemies attacking the tribe from the mountain. A spirit of a woman protecting a peaceful farming tribe, her legend set in my heart. She was their freedom.
I watched sunsets. My thoughts and feelings were the loudest sounds I heard, overpowering the night calls of crickets and coyotes. I was not happy. I felt diminished, stressed, helpless. I did not feel valued by the person closest to me and when I expressed this it was to receive ridicule and rants. Like the desert scavengers, I was surviving. I felt a kinship with the bold coyotes and the ranging ravens. If they could survive I could too. My choices were not helping me heal but they seemed to help my significant other. He needed help to live- I could be strong enough to survive that, couldn't I?
Golden light setting the cholla on fire, the fierce warrior  becoming desert royalty wearing a crown of sunset with robes of peach, rose, and wine colored clouds. Each night the clouds silently danced in different colors and patterns. Would you miss the beauty in their graceful performance? Many evenings I watched their performance and it gave me heart even when my emotions were drowning me. The sunsets circle the sky rather than only occupying the western side. It is impossible to avoid exclamation at times, the beauty stretching to see if it can outdo prior exhibitions. The best antidepressant is a moment of gentle beauty.

At Fish Creek Canyon, I played in a waterfall that would be gone in a day, just a black mark trailing down hundreds of feet of mountain.  I felt the ice cold water and wondered about the choices I made.
Listening to the wind, I felt it move through the canyons. Life is a series of paths, sometimes we reach a point where we find our best, healthiest option is change.
Wind, rain and ice wear the mountains down gradually. I have camped on primitive land in the Superstitions in years past, the mountains quietly stand. They've let me lean on them before when my life was heavy with change.  They call me to climb and explore, or was it the Lightening woman calling me? Was it her nudging me to chase myself down trails, around cacti and through washes? Such an irresistible curiosity, renewing my energy and spirit. More trails, sunset vistas, my feet kept going forward. Swimming in ice cold Canyon Lake, I realized life was a path and the one I was on wasn't right for me. I could change. I could be free!
I could stop letting someone dictate my life. Each of us is responsible for ourselves. I was surrounded by beauty, and if I chose to stop letting a toxic person paint my world I could heal. I became myself on the morning I drove away, freshly reborn east of Phoenix.
To me, the Superstition Mountains are freedom. Many die lost in the Superstitions, some fruitlessly searching for gold even now. I found myself there, found the audacity to pursue my heart, to reach past anxiety to strive for my dreams. I call that gold.