Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Liar, liar....

"How long have you known?"

"That you were lying? For a few months I would say. So probably right from the start."

"Why didn't you tell me? Why did you let me go on and on?"

"It's not really my responsibility to keep you truthful is it? Isn't that on you?"

"But you knew, and you let me keep doing it. You made me look like a fool."

"No, I didn't make you look like a fool.  You did that on your own. I didn't make you lie. You chose to lie."

"But you could have said something!"

"I gave you a couple of opportunities to come clean at the beginning. I pointed things out that didn't make sense. I asked you if you thought something wasn't adding up. You chose to keep lying."

"But you didn't come right out and say that you knew. Isn't that you lying to me?"

"I don't really see it that way. It was on you to be truthful. I just didn't point out that I knew you weren't. You knew you weren't and I figured at some point you would come clean. And you eventually did."

"I still can't believe you didn't tell me. That you let me go on with it. Did you just stop trusting anything I said?"

"To a point yes. I knew for a fact you were lying in one area so it only made sense that I shouldn't fully trust anything else you said right? You proved over and over that you were willing to not be honest so why would I expect honesty from you? The thing I don't understand is why you lied in the first place."

"I don't know. I guess I wanted you to think better of me, to not see that I was weak."

"And how did that work out for you? Do you think I now think better of you than I would have if you had just come clean in the first place?"

"Don't talk to me like I'm a child."

"Don't act like one."

"So what do we do now?"

"There is no we."

"What do you mean there is no we? This is it? You're tossing me out?"

"Yes, this is it. Do you think I would be able to believe you again? To trust you? It wouldn't be a very good solid relationship at this point. The damage has been done."

"So what do you expect me to do?"

"Well, I expect you to find someone new and to be honest with them this time. I expect you take this as a lesson. I expect you to have learned something valuable that you can now apply to your life. But it's all up to you at this point what you actually do."

"Can you at least give me a recommendation?"

"I recommend you don't lie to your next fitness coach. Food journals and exercise journals only work if you fill them out with what actually happened. Next time you eat the M&Ms write them down. Next time you skip a workout don't write down that you did it. Next time the scale doesn't budge don't try and  blame genetics. Leslie will give you the paperwork to close out our sessions on the way out.  Good luck to you."

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

What I did today....

So for those of you that are friends with me on Facebook you saw my profile picture change today as well as my banner picture. I used the new red equality symbol to show my support for marital equal rights. For those of you that don't I will add them here along with how I captioned them so you know what I am talking about.
It's not special rights, it's equal rights.

How could I say that my right to a marriage and a family was any more important than yours? How could I deny you the same things I have always just taken for granted that I could have? 

The answer is I can't.

Now I know that changing my profile picture and my banner art isn't going to influence the Supreme Court's decisions over the next few days. And I know there are more than a few people out there in world who see these changes and snort derisively about slacktavism.  But I also know that I have liked seeing the symbol pop up in my feed through the day. I've seen it from the usual suspects but I've also seen it from a few people I wasn't expecting to. And that made me smile. Because that for me is what this is about. Saying in a quiet way, "I stand with you."

And of course for me I've been saying it in a not so quiet way for a long time. I know that in my lifetime I've helped to change the minds of two people about equal rights in general and equal marital rights specifically. I know about these two because they told me it was my passion, what I felt, and how I presented the issue to them that swayed them. Now you say, two people? That's it? Well I don't know if there have been others.  I hope there have. But I do know there have been these two. And just like the old shampoo commercial from the 70s if these two people tell two people and they tell two people and they tell two people...Well then you get a feed full of red equality signs.

Do I know how the Supreme Court is going to rule? I don't. I wish I did. I can't guarantee that there won't be another set back on the road to equality. But what I do know, what I do see is that we are reaching a tipping point in America. A place where people are starting to understand that equality must be for all not just for some. That there is a light at the end of what looked to be a very long dark tunnel. That more and more people are saying, "I stand with you."

And for this I change my profile picture.

And I cross my fingers.

And I send a wish for more change out in to the world.

And I say a thank you for how far we've come. Because sometimes it's easy to lose sight of the road we've already walked when we see what's still in front of us.

Sunday, March 24, 2013

Temper, temper....

So I have to explain a few things before I explain a few other things before I get to the meat of this blog so sit down and make yourself comfortable...

Every sport has its own oddities about it. Not just in playing but in watching. Baseball has its statisticians who keep track of not only the score but how many at bats and swings and times people spit. Different teams have different traditions and songs they sing. And there are things that you just don't know unless you are a fan and go to games. One of those things in hockey is that you don't stand up. Unless a goal was just scored or a fight is happening or there is a stoppage in play for something else you keep your butt in the seats.

Depending on the configuration of the stands in some barns you don't even lean forward in your seat. The reasoning is pretty simple, if you are standing up in front of me, ever if you are a few rows in front of me, you are blocking a section of the ice. Hockey is a fast game and if you can't watch it all happening you are going to miss something. Hockey fans take this pretty seriously. If you bring someone new to a game you need to tell them, yes, it's exciting, yes you are going to want to get up and shout, but then you must sit right back down.

Here in Portland during the Timbers' off season the Timbers Army will buy a block of tickets and come to the game. Now soccer is completely different. Especially for the Timbers Army.  They stand the whole game. They wave flags. They chant. They sing. They have choreography. And when they come to a Winterhawks' game they have their own section above everyone else where they can stand and chant and wave their flags and have a good time without making the hockey fans crazy. Because there are certain hockey fans that will go absolutely crazy if you don't sit down.

So last night at the game there were these two guys about 5 rows in front of us who were new to the game. You get that a lot during the playoffs.  It's fun to watch a team on the march to victory without having to slog through the whole season with them. And as is the case quite often, going to game for them also meant drinking a ton of beer. So they were having a great time, more than a little drunk, and completely unaware of how much they were starting to tick off the people behind them. And then once they were aware they were drunk enough to get belligerent about it. "I'll stand if I want..." Well so the fans that go crazy? Yeah...not a good idea....

What started as a simple, "Sit down." became a more pronounced "SIT DOWN!" then on to a tossing of candy at the back of one of their heads with a "SIT DOWN NOW!" and it went from there. Then it was a guy in front of us launching an empty candy box at the guy a few rows down screaming "SIT THE FUCK DOWN!" Then it got intense...

So the candy box hit the drunk guy and another guy four seats over starts screaming about assault and that he's going to call the police. Seriously, dude? Assault? And who are you again? And why are you now standing up and screaming when there are still four minutes to play? So then the guy in front of us and the guy who is going to call the police and the two original drunk guys are all going at it. And the guy in front of us starts to strip.  Off comes the watch, the wallet and phone get handed over, the necklace is removed, the sweater he was wearing over his t-shirt comes off and his girlfriend is taking everything and putting it in her bag.  This tells me a couple of things, this is not his first rodeo. And this is not his first rodeo with her by his side.

Of course security came over right about then and people settled down a bit and the guy threatening to call the cops was escorted out.  Which you know left him thinking, "WHAT THE HELL? I didn't toss anything, I didn't do anything wrong!" If he had been a bigger hockey fan he would have known that the secondary fight always gets the bigger penalty. And the two drunks a few rows down and the jerk in front of us postured at each other a bit more through the game then the crowd swallowed up the guy from in front of us and his girlfriend and I would guess they left without a big fight in the parking lot.

But after it all happened I had to thank Brent for not being an asshole. Which he then corrected me and said he was an asshole, so I had to say, "yeah, but not that type of asshole." Because I have never seen him lose his cool like the guy in front of us (who apparently does it a lot since he and the girlfriend had a routine). I wouldn't deal well with him being that kind of asshole.

Because I am.

Or I can be.

Even before last night I was thinking about writing about temper. And then all of that happened and I thought, well, okay, it's time.

My dad had a very long fuse and a slow burn but once he got mad at you he was mad. There wasn't a lot of going back. If he got to the point that he didn't like you the odds of him changing his mind were slim. But it took a lot of effort from someone to get him there. He just didn't get mad easily. My mother on the other hand has a flash bang temper. If she gets mad it's quick and explosive and then over with. She is easier to tick off but doesn't stay that way. I used to always joke that I had the combination of them both, I was quick to anger and once I got there I stayed there.

Now you all know I've mellowed over the years and for the most part people don't see the temper like that. They might get a taste here and there that reminds them it's still simmering but for the most part I don't lose control. I've gotten much better at weighing out a situation and seeing where it will lead before jumping the gun. Take last night for instance.  The drunk guys were being douchebags by knowing that people wanted them to sit down so they could see and not doing it. Because drunks guys are often douchebags. The guy sitting in front of us responded to the douchebaggery by being a dick. Which isn't the right call. The right call would have been to get an usher to either tell them to sit or walk them out. But he didn't. Now these three guys would have yelled and sputtered and then either flamed out or been reprimanded by security and it would have been over if Self-important guy hadn't jumped in threatening to call the cops. What he did was took male posturing, excess testosterone flare up and tossed a gallon of gas on it. Which made it a bigger deal and caused it all to last longer.

So back to my temper. Watching the altercation as it unfolded I was thinking everyone just sit down. Stop being stupid and sit. When the guy inserted himself and started escalating? Well I might have then told him to hang up his phone and sit down. Which I thought was pretty good because I didn't shout at him repeatedly or use the more colorful words that came to mind. But my temper flared at that point and as Brent said, my face got that scrunched up thing going...

Because that temper is still there. And sometimes I'm surprised at what I react to. Like the guy last night. I knew if he hadn't inserted himself it would have been over quicker but he just escalated things that were already bad enough and that pissed me off. I wanted them all to sit down and shut up so I could finish the game (which was great, by the way) in peace. Which I did, because see, just like the dick in front of us and his girlfriend Brent and I have a routine as well from the many times over the years I've gotten that scrunched up face thing. Instead of holding my earrings so I can fight he puts a hand on my knee to snap me back to reality. It usually works. It's just a calm reminder that I don't have to take on the world like a raging bull I can just sit back and relax and let things take care of themselves.

I'm not saying it always works, sometimes he's not around, or I'm too pissed to calm down. But it does more often than it doesn't. And through the years I've mellowed enough that I don't tend to let everything piss me off the way it used to. I haven't reached the point my dad was, where it took a lot, but I'm not where my mom was where if it does reach the point I go from calm to fury in 3.6 seconds.

The thing is that because I've mellowed so much over the years and because most of the people in my life didn't know me before I got it under control my temper can come as a surprise. I warn people when they are about to cross the line. When they've pushed me as far as I'm going to go. And sometimes they think I'm kidding. The thing is, I'm not. I can be vicious. If we are having an argument and I say, "Okay, I'm done now" and want to go calm down you really need to let me. Because I know at that point I am holding on to my self control with the slimmest of threads and if you push me I'm going to get ugly. I rarely get physical but that doesn't mean I won't cut you up with what I say. And I also know if push came to shove out in the world I would still get physical with someone. It's been years since I hit someone but it doesn't mean I can't still feel my fists ball up when I get angry enough. It doesn't happen often but I'm not cocky enough to think I have it mastered either.

And that leads us to the end of this blog. I know I have a vicious temper. I know if I gave it free reign I would still be a bitch on wheels. I know if I let my face do that scrunched up thing all the time I would be just a nasty piece of work. I know all of these things so I choose to do things that keep that under control. To live a different life. Because being pissed off all the time is exhausting. And lonely. It comes back around to the blog I wrote a few weeks ago about choosing happiness. This is part of that choice. I'm not always sunshine and roses sometimes I'm thunderstorms and thorns but I've figured out I'd rather not be that way. Being angry at the world is a bummer, man.

So what about you? Where is your temper on the spectrum? And what are you doing to make sure you control your temper instead of it controlling you? My secrets? Chocolate, meditation and when all else fails an emergency hand to the knee.....

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Men vs. women....

One, two, three...

She had recently read an article about the difference between men and women where suicide and homicide methods were concerned. The article talked about how men are more likely to use a gun where women use pills and poisons. The author, a male psychologist (of course) had his opinions as to why there was this difference between men and women.

four, five, six....

So this Doctor Bennett (please, he was a psychologist not even a psychiatrist) thought that women were less likely to use a gun because they were too timid. Too weak willed. If a man was going to kill himself he brought out his gun and shot himself. Decisive. Quick. Whereas a woman was more likely to overdose on pills. Meek. Easy. She had rolled her eyes.

seven, eight, nine....

Of course he viewed the gun as the decisive way to kill yourself. But it wasn't really. It was the impulsive way. To overdose you had to figure out how many pills you would need to take to stop your heart or your breathing but not take them too quickly so you vomited them all up or too slowly so you passed out before you had taken a large enough dose. There was always the method of taking them in a full bathtub so if you did pass out you could add the back up plan of drowning. There was much more planning involved.

ten, eleven, twelve....

Not to mention the mess.  Of course a man would use a gun and not think twice about who was going to have to clean up the mess he left behind.  A woman on the other hand, she was more likely to think about such things. Who would find the body, who would have to clean up? She would be gone so it wouldn't be her this time. Women think about who cleans up the mess left behind, men just leave the mess.

thirteen, fourteen, fifteen....

His views on homicide were also skewed toward the macho. To use a gun to kill someone you had to face them and shoot. See what you were doing. Make the decision to kill. Hogwash. Again, a gun was an impulse. How many times have we all watched people in movies get shot and get right back up and fight? Shooting someone took a few seconds. I'm mad, bang! That's it. You don't even have to consider the consequences. Shoot first and ask questions later, anyone? But poison...well poison took time and effort.

sixteen, seventeen, eighteen...

Guns were blunt instruments. Poisons and pills were a craftsman's (craftswoman's?) instruments.  Too much or too little and they didn't work. There needed to be an exact dose given over time for a poison to truly do it's magic. How much time, one week? Two? Three? Enough to kill someone by degrees when they weren't even aware of what was happening until it was too late. And if they noticed they weren't feeling well what would they take to feel better? More pills.

nineteen, twenty, twenty-one.....

Poisoning someone took time and planning. Guns were for the weak, those that acted on impulse. Poison was for the strong, those that really thought things through, who planned. A lesson some people should learn.

"Mr. Bennett? Your prescription is ready."

Saturday, March 16, 2013

The end of the story...

In the months leading up to my grandmother's death each member of the family would spend time visiting with her. Making sure she was comfortable, warm enough, had enough to eat or drink, that she didn't need anything. Enough so that we got on her nerves very quickly. One day as I sat in her hospice room asking if she wanted me to get her something she said, "I want you to get everyone to stop asking if they can get me anything. If I want something I will ask for it. I'm dying, I'm not stupid." I laughed and was given one of those looks that only my grandmother could give. "I'm serious, young lady, you all need to stop fussing over me. It's making me angry."

From that day on when I would visit with her I wouldn't ask if she was comfortable or needed anything I would just ask her what she wanted to talk about. It was the best few months I ever spent with her. Not that all of the years leading up to that time hadn't been great. My grandmother was an incredible woman. She had outlived 3 husbands and one of her children. She had worked outside the home before it was the normal thing to do. Had traveled the world and seen things that would make my father shake his head when she told us kids about them. She was independently wealthy. She was a force to be reckoned with. But getting to spend the time with her as she was dying, as she knew the end was coming closer each day was special. Because I got her to myself for the most part during those visits. And she would share with me the stories of her life.

During one of our visits she told me the story of her second husband. My father's father, Mack, was her first husband, he had died young leaving her with three kids to raise. The man I thought of as my grandfather was her third husband. She had married him when I was just a baby and had died only a few years earlier. But her second husband had been a mystery. I had always wondered about him. The pictures of my grandmother and "her Jake" as she called him were always of them doing something. Being somewhere. They seemed out of place with the pictures of her and Mack, the young married couple then the young couple with children. Holiday pictures, family settings. The pictures of her and Grandpa Ed were the same. An older couple surrounded by grandchildren and family. Sure there were travel pictures in those as well but they were usually with other little old people doing those group tours. The pictures of her and her Jake were different. There was the shot of them on a motorcycle some place in New Mexico. The shot of them on a beach in California. My grandmother must have been in her 40s at that point, my father and aunts were grown and out of the house but there were no grandchildren in these shots. Just Grandma and Jake. Always smiling. Often holding a beer or a cigarette in a long holder. She didn't look like anyone's mother in those pictures, let alone anyone's grandmother.

So when she opened up about her time with Jake I felt like I was getting a chance to see a person I had never really known. This was new territory. When her first husband died, she told me, she had been angry at the world. It was all completely unfair. They had only just started their lives together. The plan had been they would marry then travel for a few years before settling down to raise a family. But my father had decided that he wanted to make his appearance only 10 months after they had said their vows. So they shifted their timeline. They would raise their family and then travel and explore the world. They collected travel books and postcards of far off places. Making a list of every where they would go, everything they would see. And then when my father was just 7 and the two girls were 5 and 4 he had up and died on her. Massive heart attack at only 29. So at 26 years old she was left to her own devices.

She put her nose to the grindstone and went to work. Her first job was actually her late husband's position. She knew they needed someone and she needed the money so the Monday after the funeral she marched into the boss's office and told him he was an idiot if he hired anyone else but her. She knew the job from hours of talking about it with Mack and nobody would do it better than her. She was motivated and informed. She said she thought he was scared to turn a widow out on the street so she got the job, temporarily, while they decided if she was a good fit. Within two years she had the boss's job.

After a few years and a few company changes later she was making enough money that she could afford to send all 3 kids to college which had been her goal. But once her youngest left for school she said she got restless. This was the time she and Mack were going to travel. This had been the plan. But now she had a career and three kids in college and a house and a very settled life. Plans change. So she gathered up all of the travel books and took them to a used book store to give them to someone else. And while she was there she met Jake.

She told me that she hadn't dated much in the years since Mack had died. She hadn't really had time and besides that who would want to take on a widow with three children? That part of her life had gone with Mack. And if she had missed it she hadn't noticed because she had been too busy living the life she had now. But then there was Jake. As she walked in to the store with her armload of books he held the door for her. He had been on the way out, but one look at my grandmother and suddenly he decided that maybe there was something in that used book store he was interested in after all.

He asked her about all of the places she had traveled, since she was getting rid of the books she must have already gone there. She told him they were part of an old plan that no longer fit her life. He told her that the best adventures came out of broken plans and then asked her to coffee. And she said she surprised herself by agreeing to go. Coffee stretched in to dinner, then drinks, then a walk on the beach to watch the sun set, then breakfast. Their first date took almost 24 hours. "There was no sex, young lady, don't look at me like that. We just talked. And talked. And talked." From that point on they were almost inseparable.

Until the kids came home for Christmas.

They did not approve. Jake was unconventional. They worried that he was going to take advantage of their mother. Maybe he was a con-artist. She didn't blame them really, they had never known this side of her. The side that she had put away when Mack died. She hadn't had time for frivolous adventures while they were growing up, she was too busy. But now? Now she did. And she loved her Jake. But she loved her kids more. And so she told Jake that maybe things weren't going to work out between them after all. He was hurt. Wounded. He told her she needed to decide what she wanted, not live a life of what other people wanted for her. And this made my grandmother angry. How dare he try to tell her how to live. She had done very well on her own, thank you very much. So they split.

And she was miserable.

Finally she said my father came to her during his spring break and said that though he didn't think Jake was good enough for her, it wasn't his decision to make. That he and his sisters would support her the way she had always supported them. That if she liked him, then that was all that mattered. But she thought it was too late. Jake was gone. So she thought. But one day while she was sitting in her favorite coffee shop reading a book and enjoying a cup of coffee a man came up and asked her if the seat across from her was taken. It was Jake. And that was that.

They were married within a month. An impromptu visit to the Justice of the Peace on her lunch hour one day. Jake had suggested they do "something different" for lunch and this was where they ended up. The next three years were filled with the best broken plan adventures you could imagine. These were the days where you could show up at the airport and buy a ticket for the next plane leaving without having to worry about TSA or Homeland Security waiting for you when you arrived. She said my father and aunts never really understood her relationship with Jake but they understood that he made her happy and that was all that mattered. Their worries that he was a con-man were for nothing. Soon after they married Jake revealed that he was the last in line from a very wealthy old money family back East. He had a significant trust fund and wanted nothing more than to spoil my grandmother with the money. She quit her job and they traveled the world.

Then one night the front tire of his motorcycle blew out and he was killed. My grandmother said she knew instantly something was wrong. She had been home cooking dinner while he ran a quick errand. She said she felt it when the car hit him. Like the air had been knocked out of her. When the police came to the door she hadn't been surprised. She already had her coat on waiting to go with them. Her Jake was gone.

At this point she stopped talking and stared off in the distance for awhile. I asked her if she was okay and she looked at me sideways, "I thought I told you not to ask me that anymore?" I smiled and told her I thought this would be an exception.

She told me how much the next few days had gone in a blur. She was contacted by a lawyer back East who had heard about Jake's death and had some documents for her to go over. Jake had changed his will to leave a trust to each of her children and then the bulk of the estate for her. She was independently wealthy, the lawyer told her she would never want for anything again. She said she told him what she wanted was her Jake back and could his money arrange for that? Of course it couldn't. That was the day she learned that everyone was right, money did not buy happiness. She had more money than she would ever need and was the most miserable she would ever be. The universe had done it to her twice. It had taken Mack from her after only a decade together and then Jake after only three years. She was a widow again at 43 years old. And she swore she would never love anyone ever again.

Then came Ed, and my grandmother smiled. She told me now that was a man you couldn't say no to. And she got him for 30 years. But she still missed her Jake. And Mack. And the woman she was with each of them. "My men each brought out a different side of me. But they each loved all of me. And I loved them. I have been blessed. I know that."

I asked my grandmother if she would have changed anything. If she could go back knowing what she knows now would she have changed anything?

And she told me that she thought about that a lot after Jake died. What she would have changed if she could. Starting with making him replace that tire, or stop driving the motorcycle completely. On to changing days where they argued about silly things. If she had known they would only have three years together would she have even gone out with him the first time? Knowing how painful it would be to lose him so soon. And she said she decided that you can't think about the what ifs. You just have to be grateful for what is.

She told me it wouldn't be right to go back knowing how it would end. If you started making little changes to your story it wouldn't be your story anymore. Each change would start a new path. And she was very happy looking back at her life that she had walked the path she did. The pain she felt over losing her husbands let her know that they were worth having in her life in the first place.

My grandmother died a few weeks later. She asked the nurse for a blanket as she was feeling a little chill and by the time she got back to the room she was gone. The nurse said she thought my grandmother knew she was going and wanted to be alone when she did. And I thought to myself, I doubt she was alone. I imagined Mack, Jake and Ed were waiting for her, vying to be the one to take her on the next adventure.  What a story that would be.....

Friday, March 15, 2013

Well I liked it....

Okay, after talking it over with a few people I decided to go ahead and post this now instead of waiting until after April 30th.

This was my entry in the latest Three Minute Fiction contest from NPR. The prompt this month was voice mail message. That's it. It had to be a short piece (able to be read aloud in three minutes) that sounded like a voice mail message. I didn't hear the prompt until the end of the cycle this time around. Saturday evening and the deadline was Sunday at midnight to be precise. So I figured I wouldn't even bother. But then this story popped in my head and I thought...well...why not try. So I did. Which was a big step for me. See, I've actually written a few pieces from previous contest prompts they've had. It's all short story format, which as you know is my preference, some of them have been really good prompts. But that's as far as I get. Writing, not actually submitting. 

I have to say entering things like this, sending things off to publishers, putting my stuff out there to you all, is very challenging. Especially when you hear nothing, like the publishers and the contests. You know logically that they receive a ton of submissions (this contest got 4,000) so the odds aren't really in your favor but you still hope. Which is why you are my favorite audience. I know I will get at least a few people who read and enjoy the piece. To quote Beyonce, "I'm an artist, I'm sensitive about my shit." 

So basically I'm proud of myself just for sending it in. And I actually liked the story as well. For something I wrote in less than an hour after hearing the prompt 12 hours earlier I am pleased with how it turned out.

I'm also including the link to the winning story here.  And from there you can read some of the honorable mentions. There are a few in there that I really enjoyed. And a few that I thought...harumph....

So here you go....Friday Fiction!

Just checking in....

“Hey, it’s me. I’m waiting for Amy to get out of dance practice so I thought I’d check in real quick.

You know the new position I was telling you about? I got it! Starting Monday I’m the new Regional Director of Sales and Operations, pretty fancy right? Can you believe it? I get a new office, my own admin and a nice raise to go with the fancy title as well. And my travel schedule should lighten up, which will be great.

The same day I got the news I was being promoted the boys came home with sign up packages for basketball camp this summer. The money comes in, the money goes right back out, right? Nothing ever changes. It will be really good for them, though. I talked to their coach last week at practice and he thinks they have a really good shot at going straight from the freshman team to Varsity. I wish you could have seen a game this year. They are both so good. Definitely didn't get their athletic talents from me that is for sure.  I told them next time we were at Grandma’s we should see if she still has the tapes from your old high school and college games and they could laugh at how short your shorts were in high school and how long you wore them in college.

We got the notice that Amy made honor roll again this term. Remember the deal we made with her about buying an iPhone if she kept her grades up this year?  I stopped by the store last night to look at phones and talk about our current contract. They said it wouldn't be a problem to add her to what we have. Which is great because that way we won’t lose the unlimited data and the boys are constantly texting so that’s important.  Anyway, we can add her number. Except I’m already at the maximum numbers for our plan, to add one I would have to drop one…so anyway…when Amy gets out of practice we are going to go buy her a phone and add her to the plan.

So I guess what I’m saying is this is the last time I’m going to call. I know it’s silly I’ve held on to the number this long and even sillier that I keep calling and talking to you. But I’m not sure how to stop. I miss you so much, honey. I miss you when I see the boys playing basketball and I am cheering by myself. I miss you when Amy gets straight As and I have no one to brag with. I miss you when I get a promotion and no one is there to tell me they've always believed in me. And I miss you when I wake up and when I go to sleep and when I call your phone and you don’t answer.  And you never answer…

I know it wasn't your choice to leave and you made me promise to be brave when you did. And I mostly am, except when I’m not.

So I guess this is it, one last time.

Okay…deep breath time right?

Good bye, Honey.”

Monday, March 11, 2013

Wake up...

She sat on the back deck with her coffee, hands wrapped around the over-sized mug, legs curled under her watching and listening as the world woke up to a new day. She always felt a little sorry for her friends who weren't morning people. The ones who went to bed when it was dark and didn't wake again until it was full light. They missed so much. The way morning came gradually.

There was a slight curl of fog across the valley floor. She watched as it swirled slowly among the trees. The thin wisps not long for the world once the sun came up, but for now holding on to the banks of the stream, curling around the trunks of the trees, one last caress before the heat of the day burned it away. In the fall the morning fog was a reminder that winter was coming, during the spring the thin fog was a promise that summer was on its way. And there were days during the heart of winter where the fog came and did not leave.

This morning though the sun was already starting to burn away the cold of the evening. The rose and gold light starting to play across her valley. Waking the birds who sang good morning to the sun, just as the frogs the night before had sung it to sleep. She closed her eyes and listened as they called to each other. She wondered what they were saying. And wondered what they thought of her and her friends when they would gather on her back deck telling each other stories and laughing in to the night. Or crying. Did they cock their heads and listen? Closing their eyes and imagining that the noises they made were a language like the trills and songs they used?

Some mornings she would be lucky and see a small herd of deer coming to the stream for a drink. Or hawks circling and hunting for their breakfast. One day she spotted a bald eagle resting in a tree. She wished she had her camera but didn't dare risk going inside to get it, not wanting to miss a moment of the rare treat. Watching as it spread its massive wings and took flight, circling her valley twice before flying away.

Her valley. They had always called it her valley. When they first bought the small plot of land everyone said was a waste of money and would drive up to just sit in their dirt talking about the day they would build a house on this land. A house with a view of her valley. Then when the land on either side of their small plot came available they bought it as well. The land was cheap back then. Who would want to build a house that was so hard to get to? Why would anyone want to leave the city to live so far out? Perched above land that could never be developed, no chance at modern convenience. A quick trip to the store would take an hour. Too much rain and the road would wash out, any snow at all and it was impassable. But they kept buying the land as it came free. Eventually owning more acres than they would ever need and the only thing that they didn't own was her valley. The hillside was all theirs.

Of course as time passed and more people discovered the beauty of the land around them they had gotten many very generous offers to sell. Family and friends couldn't understand why they didn't take the money. They didn't understand how a plot of dirt meant so much to them. Until they built the house and people came to visit. Seeing the beauty of the valley. Listening to the sounds of nature instead of the sounds of the city. Some for the first time. Then they understood. Or at least they thought they did.

Watching now as the last bit of fog slipped away and her valley was bathed in full sun she took the last drink of her coffee. Standing and stretching, soaking in the last minutes of morning coming to her valley. Closing her eyes and listening to the birds. Turing her face up to the sun. Morning came slowly but it always came.

Saturday, March 2, 2013

If you're happy and you know it write a blog....

Okay, so we covered the background stuff, now let's get to the good stuff!

I left off with saying that when I was unhappy people still viewed me as happy. This actually sort of blew my mind when I first encountered it. Good old Facebook was the doorway to that revelation. As I reconnected with people who knew me in middle school and high school and we started chatting and sharing memories of each other one of the things that kept coming up was that I was "sweet" and "funny" and always laughing. That's not how I remember myself, but it makes sense. I have an easy smile and I laugh a lot. I can remember sitting with friends telling jokes and trying to crack each other up. So it makes sense that for them that's what they remember. The funny happy kid. Now, many of them will also tell you that I wasn't someone to be messed with. I had a bad temper that could flare but it was always at other people, not them. The me they interacted with was happy. Even if I was more reserved back then than I am now. For me the quiet part was the self protection, the angry part. They just saw it as I was a little quieter than I am now.

When I was miserable in Colorado Springs the woman who was my boss would tell you that I was one of the happiest people she knew. I did my job and figured out quickly that I had more hours in my work day than I did work to fill it so I kept taking on more and more to ease her burden. I picked up an entire department and ran it as well. I changed the way we in the office interacted with the boxers. Lightened up that relationship so they knew we were on their side. I understood a little something about kids who were guarded and cautious, you see, so I knew that for the most part if you didn't treat them like they were boxers, but like they were teenagers excited to be travelling to new places and meeting new people they would respond not like boxers but like kids. And if you ask C about his memories in Colorado Springs I would bet "my mother was miserable" wouldn't be on the list. He might tell you about school, camping with a friend, learning the trumpet or even dancing like a wild man to the Beastie Boys with his mother who was laughing like a loon.

How can this be? I was miserable. How come people thought I was so happy? That's because my baseline is happy. I've figured this out over the years as well. And I had it reinforced this week while attending my latest Institute for Brain Potential seminar. This one was on Developing Positive Emotional Habits or The Joyful Brain; the Neurobiology of Happiness. I've been interested in this area, Positive Psychology, since the mid-90s. It resonated with me. That we can make choices that will lead us to happier lives. We can change the world around us just by changing the way we view it. But how does this then translate to people thinking I was happy when I wasn't?

There was a study done in 2008 by Sonja Lyubomirsky that helped show what makes up happiness. This was an expansion of other research that had been done, as most is, but the final picture she came up with was that our happiness is determined 50% by your set point, 40% by intentional activities and 10% by circumstance. Set point is the genetic factor. By studying brain function in children as young as a few days old they can see activity in the area of the brain we associate with happiness. Happy babies have more activity in that area, fretful babies have less.  By studying these children through childhood they saw that this set point happiness was pretty consistent. They also looked at sets of identical twins who were separated at birth and discovered that even though they had been raised apart, their relative happiness was the same. We have a genetic happiness level that is set. Makes sense to me. My mother and father were both very happy people. Smiling, helpful, laughing. So it makes sense that I have that, just like I have my father's brown eyes and the same face shape as my mother. Why not their happiness set point as well?

So to me what this means is that it's easier for me to be happy than it is for someone whose set point is lower. But it doesn't mean that someone with a lower set point can't be happy. Because 40% is determined by your intentional activity. Your choices. When I was making the choice not to be happy, I wasn't. But since my natural set point is happy, my "normal" state is smiling, laughing and telling jokes. I have to make the choice to be miserable. And I have at times.

The other part that shocked me was the 10% is circumstances. Now if you were to have asked me at the time why I was unhappy I would have listed all of my circumstances. I was unhappy because of x, y and z. And to a point yes, that was true. When I was going through the worst of it with my sister it would have been impossible to be happy right at that moment. But years later? When the actual situation had passed? I was unhappy because I was choosing to be. Choosing to be guarded and angry about something I couldn't change. Once I stopped making that choice my overall happiness increased. Remember when we are talking about happiness here we aren't talking cartwheels and confetti, just general contentment and pleasure in life. Life happens and sometimes it's shitty. But you always have the choice to deal with it in a more positive manner. And that's where choosing happiness comes in to play for me.

Before I start this next section, which really is the meat of what I think Juice wanted me to talk about I want to make very clear that I do believe that there are people out there that are greatly benefited by pharmacological help. I have dear friends who have chemistry imbalances that are greatly helped by these drugs and I don't want anyone to think I am saying they shouldn't be taking them or that they are choosing depression. There is Depression and then there is depression. One needs the drugs, one needs an attitude adjustment. Only you and your doctor know which area you fall in to.

Okay, now on to the choices we all make.

I've talked before about how I don't do guilt and what this means to me. And I think it falls very nicely in choosing to be happy. Guilt is an actionable emotion. If you are feeling guilty you need to change your behavior. Regret is what you are left with when the choice has been made and you can't change it. I have regrets. I'm 44 so I have accumulated a lot of them in my life. But I don't dwell. Because dwelling is a waste of time. That's not to say I don't have a "Rainy Days and Mondays" playlist of sad songs for those days when you just feel down and want to wallow a bit. Everyone has those times. Sad movie days. Sad song days. But they should be brief stops on your emotional trail. I used to have a fortune cookie slip on my computer at work that said, "He who has not tasted the bitter does not understand the sweet" and I do believe that. If you don't know what bad is you cannot grasp what good is. A friend of mine says that the good thing about being sick is that you then understand how wonderful normal is.

But are you wallowing? Are you sitting around feeling guilty about something you are doing but not changing your behavior? Are you feeling miserable day in and day out but not doing anything about it? Are you choosing to be unhappy? Take a look right now through your Facebook feed and you can tell who is choosing to be unhappy. You already know right? You know the friends you have that can find the gray cloud in every silver lining. Or the ones that can look at a rainbow over a waterfall and react with...meh...  This is a choice. And we are faced with them every day. What is your choice?

We all know people who have less than us who are extremely happy and people who have more who are miserable. So we know it's not things that are making people happy. We've all met or know of people facing incredible health struggles that are lovely and happy people as well as people who stub their toe and it's FML. So it's not health that makes them happy. What is it? It's the choice to be happy. You all knew that was the answer but you are waiting for something else. Something more complicated than that. But it's not. It's just that simple. Sometimes life doesn't go the way you want it to and it makes you miserable. That's the 10%. It happens to all of us. But the really good news, the great news is that it's just 10% of the equation. We have 50% to fall back on that is just who we are (and if your 50% is pure misery there are choices out there you can make to compensate for that, you just have to work harder and probably get help from a professional who can guide you along) and then the really excellent part is we have 40% that is all on us.

Your choice. And just knowing you have the choice should make you happy. Now you are saying, you keep saying it's my choice but what does that mean? It means EVERYTHING!

It means looking at life differently sometimes. Like my time in Colorado. I looked at it all wrong. I focused on the negative things, I didn't ask for help when I needed it, I didn't make the right choices. But looking back I see all of the positives about our time there. Including the fact that I was miserable. Why is that a positive?  Because I don't let it get like that anymore. If I feel like Brent and I aren't connecting the way we should I tell him and we work on fixing it. If I feel like I have no control over something I ask myself the questions, why? how? What can I do to fix this? Life happens. But it doesn't just have to happen to you while you take it passively. You get to decide how you deal with it all. You get to make the choice. Is it easy? Not all the time. And especially if you have been making the FML choice for years. Breaking out of that cycle is going to take you time. But you can do it. And as you do it you will notice that the meh rainbow is all of a sudden the Oh my goodness did you see that rainbow?

And it means taking stock of your life. What makes you happy? What makes you unhappy? And it means changing the things that aren't working. Either through the way you look at them and experience them or by leaving situations that aren't good for you. And by knowing during those times when the 10% is hitting and you cannot change them that they are temporary. They will pass. Know that it might suck right this very second but it will pass. And sometimes this is hard. Extremely hard. Especially if you are the only one who isn't happy. It might be a job, or a school, or a relationship that is working for everyone else but you know it's not working for you. You have to decide why and then fix it. Going along with the flow isn't your only option. You have control.

So as I was thinking about these things and how I would write this blog I had a few moments of clarity for myself. One happened during the seminar. Dr. Brian was giving his lecture and he was talking about happy people and the fact that happy people do things that make them happy which makes them happier. It's this never ending cycle of happy times. When you are already happy seeking out things that make you  happy is natural to you. For instance, I chose this seminar knowing that I am already a happy person and I wanted to see if there would be any pointers there for maintaining my happiness. Was there anything new for me to learn? And there were some things, and a lot of other things I already knew, but hearing you are right makes you happy doesn't it? Or is that just me?

But then he talked about something that was very small but it struck a chord. One thing you see happy people doing that you don't see with unhappy people is scrapbooking. Happy people like to take pictures of things and then share them with other people. Look! See this thing that made me happy! It should make you happy too! And I's true. As you all know I've done the picture a day challenge three different times. And I stopped this year thinking that I was tapped out. But as January and February went by I realized I missed it. I missed not only taking the picture but also sharing it with you all. The interaction from the picture of the day. It was a way for me to share my life with friends who weren't here. And it made me happy. So I started it again. And as I decided to start it again and shared with people I would be starting I heard from friends who were excited by the news. They had missed the interaction as well.  My small happy token was theirs as well.

The other thing that the picture of the day does for me is makes me slow down and really think about life. Today my prompt is "something I made" hmmm...what should I do for that? It makes me think about my day and what my options are. It's a small moment of meditation on my life. And only by paying attention to life can we make the choices we should be making. It's a small thing that picture, but it's become bigger than just a quick toss off shot and post. Because of the way I chose to look at it. You see what I'm getting at here?

And here was my other big revelation that will come as absolutely no surprise to anyone who knows me. I've  been in an almost constant state of trying to "find what will make me happy" for my adult life. I've tried a variety of careers and hobbies. I go from thing to thing looking for that elusive moment where I will think THIS IS IT! At the start of this year I decided that I would cut down on some things to try and make other things happen. All the while Brent was telling me,"but the things you are cutting out make you happy" (like picture of the day and chatting with friends on Facebook), while I was saying but what if these other things make me happier and I am missing them? And he just smiled and patted my knee and said "what ever makes you happy, dear." And here it is...this was my big revelation....Looking for new things to do that might be fun makes me happy. I have spent a lot of time looking for a destination not fully realizing that I am all about the journey. I know right? Not a single one of you is shocked by that. It's completely me. It's my personality in a nutshell. I've even said it before, I'm all about the journey. But for some reason until this week I didn't fully grasp it. I didn't fully get what it meant. There is no end game for me to happiness, it's all about everything all the time.

That's my choice. I don't think I will be happier 10 pounds thinner. I don't think I will be happier with more money in the bank. I don't think there is one job out there that is going to fulfill me completely. But there is a new book to read. A new story to share. A picture to take. A crow outside my window who is black and sleek and magnificent. A husband who brought me coffee and a piece of chocolate bread. A son who is on his way home for Spring Break. Friends who are reading this and hopefully realizing that happiness is in their grasp, they can decide today to start looking for the things in their lives that bring them joy.

There will also be challenges to face. And days where I will make the wrong decision about being happy. Days where I will be struck with grief. Days where it seems dark and miserable and like the world is conspiring against me. But I also know that when those things happen I get to make a different choice. I get to say, I will be happy. I will fix this and set my course back to sunshine and rainbows and unicorns. And then I will take a picture and share it on facebook so you all can be happy with me.

So what is your choice today? Happy or unhappy? Because it's on you now. What has happened in the past is done. You can't change it. And using it for an excuse for your today is weak. What is going to happen tomorrow is out of your control. It will happen or it won't. You only have so much you can do to guide your future. Using fear of what might come is weak. You only have today. Your choices today. Right now. That's where strength and happiness live. In the now. What can you do right now to be happy?

For me it was finally writing the blog that Juice asked for. Because I love her and she inspires me on so many levels to be better, happier, healthier so I give her this. Because I know she wants you to have it.

Choose happiness.

The background stuff before the blog, blog....

It's been a long time since I've written a multi-parter that wasn't fiction but I see this blog being at least two blogs long. Maybe three...

So background time! My friend Juice asked me to write this blog a few months ago. It's about a life philosophy that she and I both practice. Choosing to be happy.  Sounds simple right? You just decide that you are going to be happy and do that. And it really is just that simple. In theory. In practice at times it can get tricky because you forget. Which makes no sense at all, how can you forget to choose to be happy? Does that mean you are choosing to be unhappy? Sometimes yes you are. And you will continue to be unhappy until you realize that you are choosing that path and change it.

Okay deeper background time. I have two ways I can tell my early life story. I can say I was raised in a pretty normal family. There were a few rough years as a family member struggled with some issues that affected all of us. We didn't have a lot of money but we never went hungry or homeless so we were in pretty good shape. My parents loved each other and loved all of us and did the best they could in life. I married young to my high school sweetheart and we moved away to start our own family. Or I can say, I had a shitty childhood. My sister abused drugs and while she did that she abused me as well. My parents didn't do anything to stop it and so I learned not to trust anyone at any time for any thing. I spent my teenage years pissed at the world and only through some dumb luck ended up with my husband who for some reason wanted to marry me. We left town as soon as we could and never looked back.

Both are true in their own ways. And I've used both at different times to describe the way things were. Now I tend to do a blend. I don't sugar coat the years that my sister was struggling or what it meant for me. I've told that story on here before so I won't bore you those details. It's part of what made me who I am. It completely colored my high school years. But I also don't dwell on it and I sure as hell don't use it as an excuse for anything. The same thing with my parents. They made some mistakes raising me but they also did a lot of things right. As a parent now I see that I did the same thing with C. I made some mistakes that I would love to be able to correct but I did a lot of things right as well. So I can't really judge them harshly. But all of those things were my past. They are what brought me to this point. Without them I wouldn't have the compassion or understanding that I do for other people who have struggles.

When I first decided in my late teens and early 20s that I wasn't going to be angry any more it was a life shifting thing for me. It completely changed the way I viewed the world. Now I say this like the curtain fell and sunshine came in and all was sunny and light and rainbows and unicorns from that point forward and that's not how it worked at all.  The first year Brent and I were married was rough. I was still extremely angry with my family and that took a long time to fade away. I would say it was probably a good decade before I could really look at my childhood and say that it was mostly good with a small pocket of bad. And there have been many times over the years when I stopped making the choice to be happy and paid the price.

That's the thing about choosing happiness. You actually have to do it. And it can get away from you. Work is a tough one. We get wrapped up in jobs and careers and sometimes end up working in a place that isn't a good fit, or has other issues with it and we are miserable there. But we tell ourselves that we can't change. That we have to do it, for the money, the security, the insurance and so we "suck it up" and deal with it. I talked about this when I wrote my work blog series. And I also talked about my last job when I was at my most miserable I got a reminder that I was making the choice to be miserable. That the situation wasn't great, the people around me could be awful at times but my reaction to them was on me. And when I made a change in my behavior, things started to shift. My choice.

If you ask me about living in Colorado Springs I will tell you I was miserable. It was not my cup of tea. I loved Oregon but we made the choice to leave because it would be good for Brent's career and it would move us closer to our family. My parents were getting older, my dad's health wasn't the best and I wanted to be able to have C get a chance to get to know them better. Things didn't start well. Our house up here didn't sell so we missed out on buying a few places that came on the market that we really liked. The house we ended up in was in a decent school district with a wonderful view of Pike's Peak but I didn't like anything else about it. Our first weekend there my car was hit in a parking lot by a woman who wanted us to lie to the insurance and say her husband was driving so that was a big mess. We wouldn't, of course, she did, it all worked out but it was crazy. Brent decided to go ahead and get his MBA while we were there so he ended up working very long hours at work as he site managed the construction job and then added a pretty full course load on top of that so he wasn't home much. When he was home he was stressed from not enough time and having to deal with a wife who was not happy about the time he wasn't there. C was busy in school and out of it so I was running him from activity to activity and also working myself. The politics in CS don't match mine nor does the fact that it's home to Focus on the Family so when people would ask you "what church do you attend?" and your response was "we don't" it could get a little frosty. My parents didn't make the trip up to CS like I had assumed they would. We saw them 3 times in the Springs in the years that we lived there.  So I ended up miserable, bitter, angry, not talking to my husband about why I was so mad because what good would that do, not happy.

But here is the other story of Colorado Springs. C went to a school that was home to the best teacher he ever had. She was the one who taught us how to teach him. She was his advocate through the talented and gifted program. Working together they helped to actually redesign the testing process. She told us that she really felt that all of her training had led her on a path to meet C and she felt blessed to have been part of his life. How wonderful is that? He was able to attend enrichment programs through Colorado College that were the best he's ever been to. He learned how to play trumpet while in CS which led him to years of musical enjoyment including attending a performing arts high school where he was able to make close friends and thrive in a small school environment. Brent was able to earn his advanced degree which opened up so many more doors for him at Intel including the position he holds now. I was cured of my vertigo through what was a brand new procedure at the time because the physical therapist who had developed it spoke at a luncheon that the nurse practitioner I saw happened to go to. If we hadn't been in CS and she hadn't been thinking of me at that luncheon who knows when or if I would have been able to be cured of that, and believe you me, that's a life changer right there! Brent's parents came up at least four times a year and also because we were close actually took C for a Spring Break so he could stay with them one on one. Losing Brent's dad at such a young age I am extremely grateful now for that time. We also lived close enough that when my sister-in-law's mother died I was able to drive down and be with her. And the last piece, after reaching the bottom with communication in our relationship when I finally told Brent I was miserable he did this really wild thing, he helped me make it better.

Looking back at that time I wonder how much of it I could have changed just by making a different choice earlier. I didn't choose to be happy during that stretch. In fact I seemed to be actively choosing to be miserable. Instead of telling Brent I was floundering and unhappy I just stopped talking to him about what I was feeling. He knew I wasn't bouncing around pleased, but he had no idea how miserable I was. Because I didn't tell him. And because that's not my normal personality. Instead of being mad that my parents weren't making the choice to come see us like I had hoped I should have just been grateful for the time with Brent's parents. And I should have been glad for the times we made the trip down to NM to see them instead of resenting the fact that they didn't reciprocate. My niece lives there now, she holds similar political and religious beliefs (probably not as extreme as mine but similar) and she has found friends that she is close with and is pretty content there. She made a different set of choices.

But it was a learning experience. I will tell you I was miserable there. But I will also tell you that it was my fault I was miserable there. Because I wasn't choosing to be happy.

So now that I've spent an entire blog on things you already knew I will wrap it up with one mind blowing (to me) piece of information.  The entire time I was miserable in high school, at work, in Colorado Springs the people I knew and interacted with would tell you that I was a nice happy person. How can this be? I was miserable. I was angry. I was pissed at the world at different points. How could they think anything differently?

Well because they were right. I was a happy person. And in the next blog I will dive deeper in to why.