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Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Empathy

Photo: rapidlikes.com
I'm in an uber-weird place today. I blame the moon. I like to be funny, but today I'm just not feeling it. I've been a bit hyper-sensitive to the "ugly" in the world lately, and I don't like it. I know it exists; it always has and it always will.  Most of the time I choose not to focus on it. There's a lot of things in this world that are exceptional and amazing too, and I think the more we look at those things, the more we can shape our outlook to something positive. Even so, sometimes I feel like I live in a world devoid of empathy. I don't want to be part of that. Easier said than done.

I know what it's like to be around unsympathetic people. I know what it's like to be humiliated and judged. I think we all do. I know what it's like to be marginalized, verbally abused and physically assaulted too. It's a smaller group that I belong to, but not small enough. I know what it's like to be so betrayed by people I've loved and trusted that I was never the same again. I know what it's like to grow up and realize that nothing I believed in was true. I know what it's like to be told, over and over and over, "You need to figure this out by yourself." I've heard it when I was having the rug ripped out from under me, I've heard it when I was drowning emotionally, I've heard it when I was desperate and asking for help. I drove myself to the hospital in labor. I raised a child to adulthood without a dime of child support. There have been times in my life when just the smallest gesture, just the most minute amount of faith from another person would have made a world of difference, but it wasn't there. I have had to "...figure this out by myself" so consistently that my challenge these days is learning how to trust and work with other people. I'm not complaining! It's new, I've earned it, and it's kind of awesome. But nobody should have to "figure this out" by themselves. That's not why we're here.

But I know what it's like to be angry. Okay, not just angry, but so angry I thought I could be eaten alive by my own rage, and almost was. I can almost understand why people hang on every word of the "news" that tells them who to blame, who to hate and how to feel. And of course it works. If someone is "other" and we get to hate/blame/whatever them, then not only do we get to feel "better than", but it absolves us of  any responsibility for our fellow human beings. We can watch people struggle and feel nothing. We get to be selfish, and feel perfectly justified. Of course it's easy to hang on to that, to believe the lies, to be 'us vs. them'. To develop and cling to a paranoia so intense that we arm ourselves so that we are able to put fatal holes into other human beings as we see fit. Into them. That other created by the hate-factories called "news". How are we okay with this? I mean, HOW ARE WE OKAY WITH THIS?!

I know I'm not the only one who sees it or feels it. I am so grateful for that. But what if we all woke up tomorrow, and decided to trade in our judgement and hatred for empathy? What would things look like then? What if we could be human beings instead of Americans, Canadians, Russians, black, white and brown? What if we recognized that ALL religions (well, maybe not satanism) are, at their heart, based on love? What if we embraced our differences instead of using those differences to kindle fear and paranoia within ourselves or others? What if we saw people struggling, and instead of blaming them, we offered a hand? I know it's possible. In my very own life I have met people who do just those things. Some of them for me. Sometimes, that person has BEEN me. That's how I know we have a choice.

I have been angry and blamey. I know what it feels like. I know how easy it is to just exist in that. But the good people (my mother especially) who have come into my life have allowed me to see something else. We can all be that person for somebody if we want. I choose to be the kind of person I can have respect for. For all of us, it's a choice. You can hate and judge; you can turn a blind eye. It will be your sin to live with. No matter what other people do, the behavior we are responsible for is our own, always. How we treat people isn't about them, it's about who we are. We don't have to be the same to have empathy for one another. If we all had empathy, all the problems in the world today would disappear.



Wednesday, August 27, 2014

The Significance of Sunflowers

Photo: amoreint.com
Monday was the Monday-est Monday I can remember for a long time. This week, they're doing work in my building too, so the space invasion is feeling extra invade-y Yet somehow, I remain somewhat philosophical about it. Perhaps it's because I'm fully and properly caffeinated, or maybe because I know it's temporary. All thing in life can't be cool and groovy all the time. Not only would it be boring (though I will admit to being all set with nail-biting, tooth-grinding events. ALL set) but there would be no contrast. There's lots to look forward to, not the least of which is "spooky season". I get giddy just thinking about it. Besides, (okay, awkward and lumpy segway) I hail from the "sunflower" tribe. I didn't always, but I surely do now. It's all good.

People often overlook sunflowers. They aren't popular in bouquets and when you think of beautiful things, sunflowers may not immediately spring to mind. But they actually ROCK.

Whenever I could, I planted giant sunflowers somewhere on my property just to have them around. Just looking at them made me happy, so why not? A few years ago, I had five of them growing in front of my home. It was August, and they were tall and strong and AWESOME. In an exceedingly unusual turn of events, we had a small tornado (an EF-0) kind of stroll right past my property (on rt2 in Grand Isle to be more specific). It was TERRIFYING. My dogs were glued to my legs and I could hear the ripping and tearing sounds of siding and shingles being forcibly removed. I saw all kinds of greenery flying past my kitchen window horizontally at an alarming rate, and hear the sounds of hail threatening to break glass. I had enough time to think "Holy crap, I'm going to die" a few times when it all suddenly stopped. Everything was a mess. It was kind of surreal. But my sunflowers still stood in my front yard. Their heads were bent over and their leaves were shredded, but they were the only thing I planted that year that wasn't just gone.

It was sad to see them looking so forlorn, and I was sure they were dead too, but I waited a few days to pull them up. Well, I never DID pull them up. Within a few days, their upturned faces were looking resolutely towards the sun again. They were renewed. From that time on they became my favorite flower.

There are flowers that are much more beautiful to be sure. But as a reason for existing, beauty alone doesn't mean much. When I think of beauty for it's own sake I think of orchids. They are delicate and unique. But when their exotic and ephemeral beauty is gone, there's nothing left. Some folks think of roses when they think of beauty, and they ARE beautiful. They are not quite as delicate as an orchid, but they have thorns. Some say the thorns are worth it for they joy the flowers bring, but long after the blooms are gone the thorns remain. Something to think about.

I want to be a sunflower. I want my beauty to be about my strength, a determined kind of joy and a desire to keep my face turned to the sun. I know that life's tornadoes (and forgive this clunky metaphor) have beaten me around and torn me up, but I was not left destroyed with my head hanging, at least not for long. I love the happy yellow petals of sunflowers, they are the color of joy. I love that when the summer is over, they aren't just dying and done, they have more yet to offer. With maturity they feed the birds, they feed us. They have something yet to offer beyond the way they look.

Last year, I was going through a bout of uncertainty. I was just about to finish my manuscript and I didn't know what would come next. What if I had done all that work for nothing? What if I had experienced all those sleepless nights, relived that nightmare, for no useful purpose? Then, inexplicably, I saw that a giant sunflower was growing in the small patch of grass near the dumpster behind my building. I don't have a yard anymore. I live on the 4th floor of an apartment building. As grateful as I am for manageable expenses and a safe place to be, I am really out of my element here. But there was a familiar sight sight in such an unlikely place. It was like seeing an old friend just when I needed them most. I felt a sense of reassurance as I watched it grow in such a inhospitable place, it's happy yellow face turned resolutely toward the sun. True or not, it felt like a sign just for me. The rest, of course, is history. I published my book and it's been a whirlwind of crazy-awesome since! It seemed unlikely (bordering on impossible) that a sunflower would just grow on that small patch of grass, and just as unlikely that my book would sell like it has, that I would get my picture in the paper, that I would be on TV and have a chance to think of my book being turned into a movie, and yet there it is.

Sunflowers, to me, represent resilience in the face of impossible odds and a fierce and determined joy. There's no bad there. Who know what's to come, but whatever it is, I bet it's good!


Monday, July 28, 2014

Games I Don't Play

Photo: www.facebook.com/kristelsmartsbooks
My daughter wants me to date. Okay, if I'm being perfectly honest, I've even been lectured by people who barely know me about how important it is to "find that person". I get it, I hear it, but I guess I'm not sure how to fulfill that wish for them. I'm happy alone, genuinely happy. I think I used to believe in the importance of that other person too, once upon a time, but years and experiences change a person. Even so, I'd be open to the idea if I could find a human being who was looking for a human being, to relate as human beings. I'm an Aquarius. That doesn't just make me odd, it means that friendship is the most important thing to me. It means if someone can't connect with me on a mental level and be my friend, it just doesn't work. Astrology aside, that really IS the magic formula for me. And brains are HOT. Seriously.

What's the difference between a friend and a boyfriend? Think about that for a minute; think about the difference between how a person would relate to one vs. the other. It would take a man bordering on magical (Yes, magical. That's exactly right.) to get that difference and even more so to find it appealing. I'm not saying friendship as in a platonic sort of friend-zone friendship, I mean a relationship based on two people actually liking each other as equals, respecting each other, on a human level. It doesn't sound like much, maybe, especially to folks who are happily enmeshed, but for me that connection has been as illusive as Bigfoot. And hey, at least Bigfoot leaves footprints and such to allude to his existence.

I'll admit that growing up in rural Vermont is enough to leave anyone jaded in the dating department. It can be a place where scantily-clad women draped over motorcycles (gross) are actually considered an appealing choice. I have actually had someone say to me "You're pretty, you don't need to be smart" and they were sure it was a compliment. I suppose in a land of cave-dwellers it might be, but in the world where I live (which, admittedly, is somewhere between Shangri-La and Middle Earth most days) it is disrespectful, marginalizing and attempts to diminish the light that dwells within us all regardless of gender. And therein lies the other half of the problem: The way I want to be seen also tends to be the same filter I look through when I see others. I don't even want to begin to tell you how much "bad" has resulted from that situation. It's one thing to strive to always see people as their best incarnation of self, quite another to do so with reckless and hopeful abandon, and a lack of common sense. Yeah, I'm over that. I take full responsibility for my part in the resultant issues there, but will admit to a learned-reluctance to engage because of it. And I haven't seen the need. I also have zero-tolerance far all things patriarchal and misogynistic. And why wouldn't I? I have had to do EVERYTHING alone, and now I'm going to let someone step in and direct how I live my life why? Some guys really frown on that, but they aren't the ones who are for me, anyway. So now we have what? A magical and very secure guy? Hmm.

I'm on a trajectory. I have this very clear picture of where I want to go and I'm working very hard to get there. Do I even have the energy to date anyone? I don't know. The right person could be worth the distraction. But I don't have the energy for games, or for the nonsense I've already dealt with. I'm not going to fight with someone to be who I am, and I'm not going to apologize either. The right person would understand that being an important part of my world does not necessitate monopolizing my time and attention. He would also know that I like shiny things, but that a really neat rock collected from a river just for me would mean more to me than something polished and expensive. That I prefer the joyful, upturned faces of sturdy sunflowers to the ephemeral and exotic beauty of orchids. My favorite sounds are of wind through the trees, the rolling of a river and the steady sound of hoofbeats on a dirt road. The moon and the stars are more beautiful than any city skyline; and silence, long and comfortable, can be the most meaningful form of communication.

I know exactly what you're thinking: I should probably just look for Bigfoot. Hey, you never know. Bigfoot might actually find me :-)



Thursday, July 24, 2014

Fiber and Middle Age

Photo: infographiclist.com
Well, it happened. One of the most awesome songs by one of my favorite bands was used in a commercial. For FIBER. Well okay, for Fiber One cookies, but still. I know all about how advertisers work, how they choose songs and images to appeal to a target market. It can only mean one thing: MY generation is now the generation that needs fiber. Maybe I'm being silly (not unusual), but it seems MUCH too soon. I mean, I'm not an AARP member yet or anything (not that they aren't already starting to send me emails. *Sigh*).

Once upon a time, the Scorpions were considered edgy and bad*** (and in my opinion they still are), as were we leather-clad fans who liked to listen to their music at ear-shock decibels. Yes, I AM deaf as a post as a result of all my loud music and years of dancing in front of the speakers at my friends' gigs. But it was SO worth it.

I remember when I first got the single that they are using in the commercial (Rock You Like a Hurricane). Actually, my grandmother bought it for me at Ames store in Newport, Vermont. She saw the record (yes, a little 45) and saw that it was new. She knew I loved the band so she bought it for me. Nothing got past my grandmother, not even my raunchy taste in music ;-) I spent the rest of the afternoon laying on my bedroom floor with my head between my ginormous speakers (back then, bigger was better. Mine were about 3'x2', and about 1' deep), listening to the song over and over again until it was time to go feed my horses. Bliss!

And we were cool, I swear! We still are, dammit. Back then we actually were too busy DOING things to take pictures of ourselves (though we did look amazing;-). We had very little on the TV, no cell phones, no computers. We left the house and spent lots of time with our friends. Okay, sometimes the things we would get up to were naughty (like my sister setting someone on fire in a pile of leaves, but I digress...), but it was all genuine. There just wasn't the duality of who you were verses your online persona. We lacked the apparent narcissism of today's online world. Not a bad thing. It was a challenging thing to overcome when I first started needing to market myself over social media, but I'm still REALLY grateful that there aren't hundreds of posed pictures of me making weird faces posted all over the place.

From a musical standpoint, people HAD to have talent. I miss that. Everybody played instruments, everybody sang. It was all REAL, and so...organic. You could go to a concert and hear the abilities of the musicians coming through (and often get one hell of a contact high, but that's a whole n'other story). I like some of today's music, but not much. I feel like my mother when she used to say "That's AWFUL, turn that noise DOWN!" But of course, every generation has their music, and it's something that will always speak to them and bring them back to 'that' place. Now, my music is being used to sell me fiber. It was sort of inevitable, really. But it's still a great song, and hey, COOKIES!

Thursday, July 10, 2014

The New Normal

Photo: weknowmemes.com
Let me tell you a story. It's sort of what I do. I don't make any promises about it's entertainment value, but here goes nothing just the same. Okay, I'm going to make a confession: It's 11:30 AM, and I'm a little (just a little), um, tipsy. I don't drink. Like, ever. I get high on life and the weird sort of awesome of other people and I don't want to miss a single second of any of that. Ergo, I stick to non-alcoholic beverages. But this morning, at a most crucial, time sensitive moment, my printer died. Okay, lame as AM drinking excuses go, but for today it will suffice. In the big scheme of things it's not such a big deal. Yes, there is a bunch of time-sensitive stuff that needs tending to fairly immediately, but what they hell. As my Mom would point out, as long as I can still move my arms and legs all is right and good with the world. I'm doing that right now just to prove to myself that I can and it is, indeed, the sh**. Who needs a printer when you can just get down with your bad self, right?

Oh, but I promised a story. Once upon a time there was a writer who very badly wanted to make her living doing what she loved to do. It seemed quite far fetched; very few are fortunate to be in such a position. But wait...is that really true? I mean, if you WANT to do something badly enough, can't you just DO it? Are we not only limited by our imagination and the strength of our will? Or is that Green Lantern? I forget. Either way, it works for us mere mortals as well. Or so it would seem. So once upon a time I was stressing about car repairs, a roof, food. Yes, boys and girls, sometimes even food was a scarcity in a past so recent I prefer not to think of it. And while I'm not exactly out of the woods yet, I can feel the tenacious tendrils of scarcity losing their grip and getting ready to fall away while I keep my eyes trained steadily (albeit a bit blurrily, currently) forward in my characteristically stubborn way.

So, YES my printer failed me at a crucial moment. YES I need it for some TV related stuff. The point is I NEED IT FOR TV RELATED STUFF. It is a new problem, and one that is indicative of my impending freedom, tangible proof of accomplishment. Even better, I am getting paid to do what I love. Holy Sh**, when did that happen?!

So go ahead Mr. Printer. Do your temperamental thang. You can't throw a damned thing at me that I haven't already survived, for you are merely a tool. Yes, I called you a TOOL. Don't worry, I still love you. I'm just annoyed. And I plan on having a spectacular day just the same!

FIN

Monday, June 16, 2014

Father's Day

Photo: commons.wikimedia.org
Yesterday, all social media was a veritable smorgasbord of Father's day gratitude and wishes. While I'm grateful as hell for my step-dad, and my grandfather was the best dad ever, it's not my bestest day ever. Interestingly enough, my daughter doesn't jump for joy on Father's day either. I like to think that I'm far beyond my past experience, that we make our own future in spite of ourselves. I will always believe that we choose who we become, and that at a soul level nobody can influence who we choose to be. We are in charge of ourselves.

It's tough, though, to overcome some ideas. If, in your experience, almost every man you know has lied, cheated on you or bailed out entirely, trust is not wildly abundant. I dislike my mistrustful nature, it's something I struggle with and am trying to overcome. But at the same time, it's pretty difficult to dismiss a lifetime of experience. I wish so much that I could have provided my daughter with something better, a different understanding, but you can't make people be compassionate, connected or responsible, even when they appear to be all those things (well, as long as they are getting what they want, anyway).

I was already feeling somewhat bummed out when a friend posted an aggressively ignorant (and over-the-top offensive) comment about "lazy single mothers". I won't use the language I would like to here, but I hit the delete button pretty quickly yesterday. If a person can believe for a moment that a single mother has the luxury of being lazy (job, no job, either way), then that's a special kind of ignorant. The kind that doesn't take into account the MAN who is 50% of the equation. Women make mistakes. Some of us start our lives believing only the best in people. We believe the words we are told, we believe "I love you" means just that. Sometime we make ourselves sick believing it, we so need to find that human compassion in another person. Is it OUR fault then, that we were lied to? That we were left holding the bag? Please, explain to me how? How is it our fault that we can't read the deception when someone lies with sincerity to our faces? Should we just assume all men are cheaters and liars, then?

I won't do that. I won't judge an entire group of human beings based on the egregious behavior of a few (unlike my ignorant "friend"). All the same, the things I've learned stay with me. I have learned that if I want it done, I have to do it. That in a pinch, I can count on me. I have learned not to give my trust away. Now it has to be earned. I have learned that my strength and resourcefulness is unlimited. I learned the hard way. Unfortunately, so has my daughter. I know what it's like to fall on my face while others thrive at my expense.

We're okay, my daughter and I. Better than okay because we're careful and smart. Neither of us is the sad "If I don't have a boyfriend I'll just die" type. I feel sorry for those women, always depending on a man to define who they are. I love that we can stand on our own two feet. I learned how to do that from my "lazy single mother". The one who raised two children without child support (I only raised one child without child support), and yet still managed to give us her time and her love. She didn't run our father down, but told us the good things about him so that we may feel good about all parts of ourselves. Our "lazy single mother" encouraged all our endeavors, even if it meant working more hours to support them or finding more hours in an already-too-short day to make things happen. She did it all with a sense of humor (she wrote her master's thesis on the health benefits of having a sense of humor) and in spite of the struggle our house was warm and full of laughter. She never said "you can't do that, you're a girl". We believed we could do anything, because she showed us we could.

So, to my aggressively ignorant "friend", and to those dads who are whining about single moms getting Father's Day cards, deal with a dose of reality, if you please. While I'm certain of the value of a good dad, there are many of us out there who know that sometimes, men bail. We women won't take the blame and we DO deserve the credit for picking up the broken pieces of the family left behind.

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Rant Research

Orcas
So yeah, that last post was ranty. It happens. I try to stay positive and all warm and fuzzy, but sometimes things p*** me off and my thoughts go pear-shaped. There are worse things to be than human, I suppose. Before I get much further, first let me apologize for any grammar/spelling/typos. I'm having a carpal tunnel episode from hell, and my wrist is all bound up and in pain. Truthfully, there will probably be my usual amount of grammar/spelling/typos, but at least now I can blame my wrist ;-)

So I did some research on the things I was ripping on so I don't have the excuse of pleading ignorance. Ignorance makes me angry, especially when it's willful and there's no real excuse for it. So, let's start with rope halters since I've ripped on them on more than one occasion. I found this quote: "Rope halters convey a "message" to the horse. A typical flat halter is very difficult to train with because a horse can lean on it - making training difficult. Rope halters work because the relatively thin rope causes the horse to yield to their own pressure -- teaching them not to lean." (Site here).

Ah HA! I get it now. They are essentially prong collars for horses. No more, no less. As such, leaving them on during turnout, trailering, etc. is not the norm, but abuse of the tool. In fact, they can be much easier on the horse than a nose-chain (which any of us who has worked with large or hot horses are very familiar with). It would appear that the whole "Natural Horsemanship" thing is loosely based on Vaquero traditions, or at least that seems to be where it finds its origins. Vaquero horsemanship is actually pretty interesting, and a system that seems to turn out very capable working horses suitable for all ranch-related duties. That's pretty darned respectable. As far as it relates to the classical system that I'm accustomed to, it's a completely different goal, but approached slowly and systematically in a way that sounds very familiar. Okay, cool.  I guess my problems with "Natural Horsemanship" is that I've encountered so many horses trained in this method that were behavioral nightmares, owners who were afraid to ride, techniques that I don't get at all (the whole "shaking the rope" thing makes me crazy. If an experienced horse person doesn't know what the horse is supposed to do, how is the horse supposed to guess? I'm still not sure it's a real 'thing' in NH, but I've seen so much of it) and the crazy notion that buying a few expensive CDs and special equipment is the key to understanding and working with your horse. That's not just wrong, it's dangerous. I also do NOT dig how every fellow with a system has a bunch of glib sayings and sounds suspiciously like a snake-oil salesman, selling the idea that their system is all you'll ever need. If you dig past all the nonsense (and cult-like following), use your common sense and work with an experienced horse-person who is in line with your goals, NH can be a nice enhancement and provide some direction. On it's own? not so much. If a person is into "Natural Horsemanship", they may want to go all the way and check out the real Vaquero system. Update 6/5/14: In my research, I found a cowboy that I really like. Seriously. You can find out more about him here: brannaman.com What you won't get: Slick patter, catch-phrases and a flashy website selling lots of outrageously-priced goods. What you will get: Compassion and common sense from a hard-working person who seems way too focused on "doing" to be spending a lot of energy on "selling". Respect.

I look forward to looking deeper into that system myself, as one of my personal equestrian goals is to trail ride like it's my job, see the country and maybe write about it (and make my sister go with me and take LOTS of pictures). Contrary to popular belief, a trail horse isn't simply a horse that isn't suited to a sport (and they can totally BE a sport horse, for that matter), but a fit, specialized animal trained to cope with all manner of shenanigans. Yeah, new, non-job-related research!

My opinion of a strictly behavioral approach to dog training hasn't changed though. I recently watched the documentary Blackfish, which did ZERO to change my mind on that score. I won't spoil (okay, a bit of a spoiler) for you, and in fact I think everyone should watch the movie. It's a commentary on what the twisted lifestyle of a wild animal in captivity can do to the psychology of that animal, and it's really tragic for all involved. Add to that a training system that focuses on training behaviors without any understanding of the animal they're actually working with (who needs to know anything about orcas when you know all about behavior modification, right? *Headdesk*), no management (precautions taken) because of the HUBRIS of thinking behavioral training is all you'll ever need (even though it's a system that relies entirely on the cooperation of the animal. But hey, animals are programmable robots who react the same to the same things all the time. Especially large, predatory wild animals. Everybody knows THAT). Add to that a lot of withholding info, complete denial, and the blaming OF TRAINERS for accident and deaths, and you pretty much have yourself a recipe for disaster. The trainer-blaming (even though filmed footage doesn't support trainer-error as a cause of ANYTHING) and complete denial are, unfortunately, familiar themes. In Blackfish, it was deadly to the trainers. In the world of dog training when things go wrong, it becomes deadly to the dogs. Okay, so strict adherence to a sliver of scientific theory as the end-all be-all is always going to be a rant for me. It's like "Hey, train these killer whales blind-folded and with one hand tied behind your back", and if you fail, OF COURSE it is your fault. Fortunately, OSHA stepped in and imposed some barriers and safety standards, but it took a court battle. Of course it did. In an ideal world, there would be no wild animals held captive and trained for our amusement. Hopefully, we evolve and develop a compassion-bone sooner rather than later on that score.

Re: my electronic issues? My computer updated itself again. I think it did it just to spite me. It was all "Neener neener" while it wasted my time, taking forever to make changes to itself that I didn't need or want. Uncle! In revenge, my font size has gone wacky for no apparent reason, and I can't fix it.See...I'm not imagining things!!