Peace and Cats

There is perhaps nothing more peaceful than sitting in a quiet house after a long, rather unfulfilling day at work and being surrounded by cats. Sleeping cats.

Just to my right is Pudge, our big, grey tabby cat, whose breath could knock out a rhinocerous, but he’s snuggled right up against my right thigh and purring softly as he sleeps. When he’s awake, his purr is the most amazing thing you’ve probably ever heard. You can actually feel it from quite a ways away, like the new $8,000,000 speaker we have at work that thumps and vibrates on the display table.

A bit further down the couch is Frodo, our “little” orange, toothless cat. He had to have all of his teeth pulled at once, so he just has two sticking up from the bottom or down from the top—he never lets me get close enough to see what’s up with the remaining ones—and he eats big chunks of dry food like it’s going out of style. He snores, but very quietly.

Three cushions down sits Kermit, Elizabeth’s Cuban boyfriend, and an all-black menace. When he was younger, we jokingly said his Mafia nickname was Pubes, because he has white chest, underarm, and pubic hair. He snores loudly and likes to stick his very white butthole in my face whenever he can. When E lived with us, she would also say he looked Cuban, like he needed one of those straw hats and a cigar. He does. She was right.

Across the room, on the floor, in her special spot, is Spaz, and it’s a mighty miracle that she’s not here in my lap, prohibiting my typing. She smells bad, her hair is constantly and magnificently matted, her teeth fall out occasionally, and her claws are very pointy in all the worst ways—I have numerous pairs of pants that have been ruined by her affections. She is my love, my harbinger of peace and wellness. We hold paws whenever possible, a habit that began when I was tired of being skewered, but that continues because having her paw in my hand heals me. Every time.

I look around and there are four animals within eye sight that don’t care if their electronic devices aren’t working; they don’t care if their email syncs or if they don’t know what their home button is. And I think we, as humans, have it all wrong. Life is about naps, food, and love. Life is about resting, snuggling, and love. Did I mention, life is about love?

I am so lucky to have a beautiful old dog and five odd cat children who love me unconditionally and who show me every day what life is really about.

Beauty and peace and love are where we find them. For real. And usually we find them right below our noses wherever we last look.

Mental Health

For the first time in my life, I called in to work and said I was having a bad mental health day. One of my New Year’s resolutions is to be more honest about my mental health, so I was honest. I didn’t say I had fallen down the back steps, I didn’t say I pulled a muscle in my back while shoveling, I didn’t say I had a migraine, and I didn’t say I had food poisoning from the Chinese buffet I didn’t stop at on the way home. See, there’s one thing I will lie about, just one, and that is what is hypothetically wrong with me so I can take a mental health day. Well, no more. I struggle, sometimes, and there is no need to hide it.

I am in the bell jar today. I called in sick today, because I was certainly not going to be my best self for my customers today. As much as some of them get on my last nerve, they deserve the best me I have to give them.

Today wasn’t that day.

Some days I don’t have a best me to give.

Today was that day.

I got to spend way too little time with my friends and family in Indiana, and then I spent 13 hours in the car on my way home watching countless cars slide off the road, sit in the ditches, and be pulled out of the ditches. I contemplated the government shut down and what that means for whom. I listened to podcast after podcast. I took some pictures. I stopped for some food and beer. I listened to more podcasts. I contemplated more politics. I got angry. Then I got sad. Then I got inside my own head. And couldn’t get out. I was stuck in a metaphorical snowbank in a metaphorical ditch inside my own head.

Usually Bec can drag me back out of there—she hitches up her tow chain and gives a few good pulls (did I take that metaphor too far?)—but I only saw her for about an hour before we fell asleep last night.

Before I left for Indiana, I put Facebook back on my phone, so I could communicate through messenger with people whose phone numbers I didn’t have, and now I’ve taken it off again, because I was checking it compulsively, just to see. And, sadly, I broke my own half-hour-limit resolution, and I spent way too much time on Facebook over the weekend, reading the nonsense that others were posting and arguing about. I know my self worth doesn’t rest in social media, but you know sometimes I fall into the trap of thinking I’m not good enough, smart enough, fast enough, beautiful enough, articulate enough, or popular enough. I quit my PhD, I quit my Ironman pursuit, I quit my ordination, I quit my diets way too fast. For being someone who was raised never to quit anything, I’ve quit a lot of shit since adulthood hit. I even quit my own half-hour Facebook limit! I wrestle with that. I wonder constantly where I’d be if… If I had finished my Phd, if I had kept pursuing ordination, if I had just sucked it up and done what it took to get my teaching license when we moved here, if, if, if…

So, I’m sitting here after shoveling paths like my own personal labyrinth around my yard, drinking a delicious small batch roasted Ethiopian Yirgacheffe that my brother gave to me, snuggling with my cats, and trying to get right again.

I am posting this to say: I had a beautiful weekend with everyone in Indiana, I had a beautiful run on Saturday night, my drive was good except for the last 3-ish hours, and I’m snuggling cats, but I have this gnawing feeling that what I do and who I am isn’t good enough. I keep hearing these voices say to me, but you could have been so much more if you had just applied yourself, like an appliqué, to your studies, to your art, to your church, to your athleticism, to your…

I call bull shit.

What I do and who I am are good (enough).

Now just to convince my brain of that. Maybe a run will help; shoveling certainly did.

5 Lakes 1 Day; Or How a Trip I Helped Plan for My Brother Changed My Life

On June 30, my brother and I swam in all five of the Great Lakes in about 13 hours. He turns 40 this year (and because it took me so long to finish this post, he’s actually been 40 for several weeks), and I wanted to help him celebrate that in a big way, since my 40th birthday was a bit disappointing and, along with some other events in my life, threw me into a two-year-ish long depression. I had no idea that this trip would, in fact, change my life as well!

We started by meeting at my Aunt Zoe and Uncle Fred’s house in Rapid City, MI, because we hadn’t seen them for a while and because it was close to where we thought our first swim would be. They live right near Lake Michigan and just an hour or so south of a place where many other say they’ve hopped into Lake Michigan as part of their 5 Lakes Challenge.

We woke up at about 5AM and got on the road shortly after, but when we got to the first swim sight, we were met with a closed sign and then the only other place we could find was a private beach. We hopped in there, but the experience wasn’t quite what we were hoping for.

Next we headed to Lake Superior at Brimley State Park on the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. The woman who was working in the office, did us the first solid of the day by letting us not pay, since we were only going to be in the park for about 20 minutes. I know, I know, the park is supported by donations. Trust me, I’ve given my fair share to various park’s departments over the years. When we got to the beach at Superior, we cautiously waded in, because we assumed that the water would be very cold. However, we were pleasntly surprised to find the water not excruciatingly cold, but quite pleasant. We splashed around for a bit, took some photos, and then hopped back in the car.

On our way south from our most northern point in Brimley, we decided that we wanted a real experience with Lake Michigan, instead of our illegal quick dip at the rich folks’ private beach. I remembered that I had passed miles of public beach along the northern shore of the lake as I passed through the day before on my way to my aunt and uncle’s house from Minnesota. All along US 2 in Moran, MI, you can access the water via stairs and boardwalks that line the coast. They are free and you just pull over to park and go down to the water. We reset our start clock for when we went into the water, and made a detour to one of these access points and revisted Lake Michigan. It was cold. The waves were big. We splashed around for a bit, took some photos, and then hopped back into the car.

Next up was Lake Huron, which we accessed at Cheboygan State Park. We were able just to drive into the beach, and didn’t pass a park office, so we still didn’t have to pay to access any of the lakes, which is awesome in my opinion, since you know I support many parks systems all the time. (By the way, if you use parks without helping them to stay operational, you are a colossal butthole. Just kidding about the butthole part, but it’s not very nice or thoughtful, so you shold maybe consider donating some money for the resources you’re using.) Huron was by far my least favorite lake. Even tough we were only about 30-40 miles away from where we’d dipped into Michigan, there were weird things floating in the water, it was weedy, and it was colder than Michigan. The park was beautiful and they had the best facilities of anywhere we stopped; I’d go back and vacation there to hike and visit Mackinac Island. We splashed around for a bit, took some photos, and then hopped back in the car.

Once we were finished at Cheboygan State Park and once we were finished with Michigan, we changed clothes to be dry for the long drive to Lake Erie in Ontario. On our way to Turkey Point Provincial Park, we stopped at Snowbelt Brewery in Gaylord, MI and had some pretzels and nachos. Health food. After lunch, we proceeded to drive to the north side of Lake Erie. We didn’t expect Erie  to be anything really, but it was clear, not incredibly cold, and the sand was beautifully pale in comparison to the other lakes we’d been in. Turkey Point was settled in a cute little lake town, and had some toilets for changing and a couple of little restaurants that were closed by the time we got there. We splashed around for a bit, took some photos, and then hopped back in the car.

Finally, we were on our way to Lake Ontario, our last stop of the day. Our goal was to stop at a public park in Hamilton, but it was already getting dark, and by the time we found the park, not an easy task along the very dark, unlit coastline, we’d been on the road for 15 hours and been lake jumping for 13 hours. Our original goal was 12 hours, but we realized we’d have to flexible, given that we spent about an hour sitting in line trying to get into Canada.

By the time we got out of the car it was 10PM and we had to use our flashlights to guide us to the water. Lake Ontario was by far the coldest of all the laes we experienced that day, but I imagine that could change given the day. We splashed around for a bit, took some photos (in the dark), and then hopped back in the car. Okay, really, we went in and got back out as quickly as possible, because the water was leg numbingly cold. In fact, I originally wasn’t going to go under; I learned my lesson in Loch Ness about  very cold water nad being able to walk on a rocky shore with frozen feet. My brother told me that I’d regret it if I didn’t do it, and he’s right. I would’ve regretted it very much had I not gone back and gone under. There are no photos of this moment, because it was dark.

So, I said in the title that this trip changed my life, and it did. The beauty of the Lakes, the kindness, good humor, and genuine love of my brother for me and for fun, helped me to see that it’s okay to be content with what I have.

I can stop wishing for something else. I can be joyful about where I am, even if I thought I was going to be somewhere else.

I’ve been on a two- to three-year journey from depression and lots of self-doubt to a self-aware, confident, and generally joyful person.

What I learned on this trip is that you never know what you’ll learn, you’ll never know what you can do, and you’lll never know who you are if you don’t put yourself out there.

I’ve spent a lot of time since turning 40 comparing myself to others, feeling sorry for myself that I am not teaching, and generally just being angry that I don’t have what I think I deserve.

This trip taught me that I will only ever be as joyful as I allow myself to be, that I have a very solid group of amazing people in my life who will support me in whatever I do (thanks to my parents and aunt and uncle for the Great Lakes blanket to celebrate the journey; I use it for camping, which I am planning to do much more frequently), and that I don’t need to compare myself to other people to see where I stack up.

I do, in fact, enjoy life, and I do, in fact, have a lot to be thankful for.

A Little Bit of Reading, Writing, and Some Art

For a week (or more) now, spending time each day working on art, writing, or reading, so I guess that’s really what I added to my mix for the month of June, instead of yoga or weightlifting. Since, I’m quitting social media in July, I figure I’ll have plenty of time to add in more of these creative joys in my life, and I should easily be able to fit in weightlifting twice a week. I’d still like to do yoga, too. 

Does anyone reading this know anything about an evening or bedtime yoga practice that might help me wind down after work, so I can fall asleep at a reasonable time? Is anyone reading this? Hello? I mostly read about people doing morning yoga, but I suppose a quick google search would take me to some evening practices.

Reading.

I’ve been very slowly working my way through the A Wrinkle in Time Trilogy by Madeleine L’Engle. Since I just had to use the interwebs to figure out how to spell her name, I learned that it’s really a quintet! Why didn’t anyone tell me?! I’ve been working my way through that when I am not compulsively switching between FB, Twitter, and IG before I try to go to bed. Funny thing: the nights when I read I fall asleep faster and sleep better. I enjoy the books, but they sometimes remind me of a podcast I’m listening to called Tanis. If you like fiction, Tanis and Rabbits are both good podcasts to invest in. They are mind-bendy and weird. The way the books remind me of the podcasts is there is some repetition, and it’s difficult to figure out just which clues you might need to retain for later and which minutiae you can just flush once you’ve read or heard it. All are enjoyable, just more work than I thought they’d be. Ha.

I’m also reading the book I mentioned the last time I wrote. I’m enjoying pulling quotes and savory points to think on from The Book of Joy. One example is this bit of wisdom from Tutu: “[I]f you are setting out to be joyful you are not going to end up being joyful. You’re going to find yourself turned in on yourself. It’s like a flower. You open, you blossom, really because of other people. And I think some suffering, maybe even intense suffering, is a necessary ingredient for life, certainly for developing compassion” (43). I, by no means, have experienced “intense suffering” in the same way as others, but the Dalai Lama offers an interesting perspective on that in the book as well. He basically says that we need to stop comparing our suffering and move toward recognizing that our suffering is part of a sea of global suffering, in which we can feel compassion for those around us through our mutual suffering, though our suffering is different from each other.

Writing.

I’ve written here twice now in less than a week, and previously I hadn’t written here for several months. I’m just happy that I can exercise my brain and my hands and make coherent thoughts. I find that I’m working toward writing more spiritually, because I am trying to move my life toward filtering things more spiritually on a daily basis. I hope my writing reflects what I am trying to do with every day practice. I hope it’s more mindful, more kind, and more centered.

A friend of mine asked me about how Frantz Fanon would feel about a status I posted on FB the other day. I had to admit that I haven’t read any theory for so long, I couldn’t remember what Fanon even says. So, here I am, working in retail, not really thinking about literary theory, being challenged by my friend to say something smart. I confessed to her that I hadn’t thought that way in about three years, and that I’d have to have her send me a PDF of an article or a book title, so I can check out a book, to reread before I can even try to answer her question. That’s pretty sad for me, since thinking theoretically is my jam and usually comes fairly easily for me. Writing theoretically has never been easy for me, but thinking that way is my lifeblood. I’m happy to say, that I am working on reading toward, and writing toward a response to her question.

We’ll see how this works out.

Art.

Which is really digital drawing at this point. And some photo work.

I’ve gone back to the basics. Like, you know, middle school art class, where you had to do contour line drawings of your hands, simple objects, and your face in a mirror. Where you had to draw 19,000 white 3D geometric shapes and shade them based on where the light was positioned and where their shadows ended up sulking across the desk. Where you combined colors in layers use to see what they would do.

Only I am doing it all digitally. And it’s a very steep learning curve. My hands looks like collections of lines, instead of hands, my colors have all turned brown, and my shapes look very 2D with a white side and a grey side and a black blob of a shadow sticking out like a blowing scarf from the base. 

Peace

But this is what success looks like. Failing forward. Trying again. Making a group of lines that somewhat resemble a hand-shaped thing. Making a new shade of brown. Making a sphere that looks like maybe you might be able to pick up one side of it from the page. And practice. Practice. Practice.

Beauty. Peace. Grace. Love.

All of these things take time. All of them are important.

July 4: Independence Day, Veganism, Goal Fulfilling

I’m reading The Book of Joy: Lasting Happiness in a Changing World by His Holiness the Dalai Lama, Archbishop Desmond Tutu, and Douglas Abrams, and the words are helping me see how very far I’ve come since November with physical, spiritual, and mental wellness, but I’m also learning how very far I have to go to be completely well. This year I am using July 4, 2017 to become independent from social media. I’ll be staying away from Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram until January 1, 2018. I’ll still write here occasionally, but I want to really experience things in my own way, not filtered through the lenses of comparison, argumentation, and whatever else happens on social media that makes me feel yucky inside and draws energy from my experiences of joy. 

I’m not putting my head in a hole in the ground, because I’ll still follow the news and interact with friends through texts, emails, and phone calls, but I am buffering my experiences with jealousy, anger, and sadness for six months. My 25th high school reunion is on August 5, and I want to be in the best mental health possible, so I can have a blast with some people I haven’t seen in 25 years. Please be sure to direct message me if you want my contact information to text, call, or email.

I haven’t written here in a while, and it’s mostly because I spend a good portion of my day, when I am not at work, sitting on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter, watching the feeds go by with the same information I saw just a few minutes ago. I mean, I seriously sit on the couch, going from Facebook (refresh) to Instagram (refresh) to Twitter (refresh) and back again and again. Last night I spent about three hours working on some digital art; I’m trying to design bike jerseys for me and Bec for our 100-mile ride in July, and it was so fulfilling that I was reminded how joyful I feel when I am reading, or writing, or creating. 

I am not good at just “taking a break” or “logging out for a while,” so I will just remove the apps from my phone and change the passwords to something I won’t remember. I’ll write it down, so I can come back and visit in January. This is the thing I am adding for July to my wellness and mental health changes I am making this year. I’m also trying hard to invest more in those people who also invest in me, and that isn’t necessarily happening on social media. I feel as if I am investing shallowly in a lot of people, but not deep and meaningfully in a few people. 

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Because I haven’t written here in a while, well, I haven’t written at all in a while, I feel like I have so much to say, but I also feel like I’ll just ramble and babble and not make any sense. So what’s new?! 

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I became vegan (again) on May 4, because of a challenge at work, and I am in love with my lifestyle. What I love is that I am being very healthy about it. I’m eating nearly all fruits, vegetables, nuts, and beans, and almost no “vegan food products.” 

I eat an occasional Boca burger, breadsticks, or French fries, but for the most part, on the day to day, I eat fresh veggies like carrots, snap peas, and tomatoes, fresh fruit like apples, oranges, and cherries, and some hummus and avocado. I am trying to limit the amount of GMOs I’m eating, and I’m also limiting my wheat and soy intake. What I consume is 90% organic. 

I also have smoothies for breakfast, which are pretty lovely, with spinach, soy milk, and Vega protein powder. I feel good, I look healthy, and I’m living as cruelty-free as possible, which helps my spiritual and mental health. This has been a long (repetitive), slow journey, but I am getting where I am supposed to be. 

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Since November 25, 2016, I’ve lost 40 pounds, and my immediate goal is 20 more, which is coming off slowly. More importantly to me, I’m able to walk 8 miles with no problems, I can bike 30 miles on a regular basis, and I can still swim like a fish. I haven’t had a drink since January 19, and I’ve made changes slowly and consistently, so they’re becoming part of my life, instead of a thing I’m doing.

For July, I am also adding in weightlifting, which I was supposed to have already added, but I get intimidated for some crazy reason. I start second guessing myself like I’ve never lifted weights, and I don’t belong in a gym. Dumb. My goal is: Mondays and Thursdays will be biking, Tuesdays and Fridays will be swimming and lifting, and Wednesdays will be trail running, Saturdays will be running then walking with Bec, and Sundays will be a leisurely walk with Bec. 

I’m meditating more regularly, but I still need to be more consistent, because I feel so much better when I calm my monkey mind by focusing on my breath. I’m trying to be more mindful of the ways in which my actions impact others, and I seem to have more cognition of that when my mind is calm from meditating, rather than when it is full of many thoughts that are walking laps inside my brain like big cats in a zoo cage. 

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My brother and I leave on June 30 for a trip to swim in all five Great Lakes. We’re hoping to complete our trek in about 12 hours and spend the night in Toronto. I’ll keep you posted.  I cannot tell you how good it felt to write this, even though it is super disjointed, not very pretty, and kind of like nacho vomit in word form.