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All we need is love

My parents—that dynamic duo who impressed upon me in my childhood that life was not meant to be spent in front of a television—FORCED me to become a regular viewer of a prime time TV series this year.  Yes, forced.  Not one of their typical intellectual PBS series either, but a network show.

And so Monday night while struggling with the guilt of sitting absorbed by the “boob tube,” I found redemption when one of my favorite characters cut through all the noise of the show, of society, of my life by pointing out simply, “the most important thing in life is love.”

I’ve heard this before. And I have, of course, thought it through thoroughly. I do accept this as truth.

So why did it make such an impression?

Because, Gentle Penguin, I suddenly realized I’m not sure I know what love actually is. 

I flip through the Rolodex of possible explanations stored in my monkey mind while glued to the couch still.

Romance. Sex. Desperate dependency. Necessary dependency. Ethereal whisperings of the cosmos. Desire. Love is patient. Love is kind. Love bears all things. Yadda yadda yadda…

None of it seems to really stick out as what I’m seeking, and most of it seems repulsive or depressing.

So I get up and pull out my good friend Merriam Webster to see what he says:

An unselfish loyal and benevolent concern for the good of another.

  • Loyal=complete and constant support for someone or something.
  • Benevolent=to do good, especially for another, in a purposeful organized way.

That’s it!

Except I suddenly wonder “have I really loved my children, my dogs, my parents, my others in this way…ever?”

I flip through another Rolodex of memories, images, feelings, moments.  Yes, I believe I have and do still, but there’s definitely room for improvement.

I suddenly want to wake up my youngest and tell her I DO support her and want what’s good for her and that’s why I’m often so hard on her. But she’s a teenager, and no good ever came from waking a teenager in the middle of the night—nor would that be in her best good.  Maybe I could text that same message to my oldest who’s a college student and a night owl, but I hear the birds chirping so it’s probably too late for that because it’s early now. Maybe I could send an email to my parents…but that might raise suspicion and cause them to worry about me more than they already do. 

I settle for rubbing the belly of my most loyal companion, Ollie the Doberman who’s wondering if I’ll ever turn off that blasted light and put down that stupid black box in my hand.

But there is one more thing I resolve to do.  Tomorrow (or rather today), I will spend the morning in my quarterly “master mind” meeting for my business. I will examine goals, explore tough questions aimed at making my life—and work, and business—better, then make commitments based on those mental machinations. But if the most important thing in life is love, shouldn’t I just quit while I’m ahead and give myself over to it?

No, or course not! I should do something even riskier. I should build my life—and my work, and my business—around love.  Instead of money.

Why does this thought feel so uncomfortable?  I know the discomfort comes from the angst that the word “love” drives because of all the other definitions that exist, nebulous, fluffy, dependent or irresponsible as they seem.  So I race back to Webster’s definition:

An unselfish loyal and benevolent concern for the good of another.

  • Loyal=complete and constant support for someone or something.
  • Benevolent=to do good, especially for another, in a purposeful organized way.

Whew! In rereading I kinda feel like maybe I already do this for my work and my business with my unwavering focus on diplomacy: the art of dealing with people in a sensitive (aware of and understanding the feelings of people) and effective (having an intended effect) way and  purposeful change: to make different

Still I probably won’t go shouting this new bedrock of my business to the mountains or even my clients.  But maybe it will give me a better opportunity to explain what I do to my kids, my dogs and my parents.  And maybe it will lead me to success: to turn out well.

Irrational Fear

I’m not brave.  

Gentle Penguin, I’m ashamed to admit last week the smell of a dead mouse began spreading in my house.  Naturally, I decided I probably needed to sell the house. Why? Because I’m sensitive to smells, and I’m not brave enough to go looking for the dead mouse because I might find it…then what would I have to do?  I’d have to dispose of it. And let’s be clear, that’s just not in my repertoire.

But the smell kept getting worse, and selling a house is a long venture.  So I went looking for the dead mouse today, sure that I could rationalize my fear away.

Except the minute I spotted the mouse laying in the coils of my refrigerator, all rational thought abandoned me.  

I screamed (several times), cried (a lot), gagged (and gagged) and entered the world of my amygdala.  It didn’t matter that the mouse was only a small fraction of my size, unable to move and there was no danger.  My body seemed seized with the certainty of danger, and my brain was not about to convince it otherwise. In fact my brain seemed to be shut down.  “What should I do?” I asked it.    

Silence.

“Please help me!” I begged.  “You promised we’d do this together.”

But I heard nothing. I just stood shaking sobbing and fearful.

It’s little tail and claw-like feet stared at me making me gag like I was a toddler faced with a fork full of broccoli.  I called my parents. “What should I do?”  They laughed and laughed confused how I could be so afraid I couldn’t figure out what to do.  “Just get it out, and throw it outside,” they said between laughing fits.  Finally they decided to come over and do it for me.
Except, it was like heaven opening a phone line directly to my brain, and both my grandmothers were on the other end of the lineyelling at me. “Your going to make your parents go out into these freezing temperatures on these icy roads to take care of that mouse right there?!”  “Just get a stick and wipe it out onto your dustpan, then throw it outside in the field behind your house! It will only take a minute to do that. You call your parents back right now and tell them you can do it.” “You can do it!”

My grandmothers were made from stronger stock, obviously.  I don’t think they were afraid of anything.

So I called my parents back and went to find a stick.

I prod its little body to make sure it’s truly dead and not going to jump out at me.  And I scream and gag.  I steady my hand and the stick and push it toward the waiting dustpan. And shake and sob.  One of its little feet gets stuck in the coil, and I gag again.  It won’t move, and when I try, its little leg twists at such an angle I nearly pass out from disgust.

I have to go find another stick to use like chopsticks to loosen the foot. Shaking the entire time I’m trying to be skillful, wracked with sobs, coughing and gagging, I loosen the foot.  The tail emerges fully and so do its pointy little feet. I gag again. And scream.

Theo stands by me the entire time as if his cute wolfness will protect and guide me.  Ollie cowers in the other room like I wish I could.

Then it’s done.  The mouse lays like a lump of fluff in my dustpan, and I only have to walk it outside to the back of my yard where I can toss it into the snowy field. Except, the mouse is in my dustpan and I have to walk it outside to the back of my yard where I will have to toss it into the snowy field.

Theo prods me as if to say “I’m here. It’s okay. Let’s do it together.”  My grandmothers in my head roll their eyes and frown and make tsk-tsking noises. 

When I get back inside, I feel exhausted and beaten.  But my rationale brain has finally kicked back in.  It tells me all about what a fool I am, and how there was no danger, and judges me rather harshly.  I ignore it and sit holding my puppies close while I cry out all the rest of my fear and anxiety. 

Why can’t I be braver? I mean I deal with all sorts of big impact decisions, much more threatening scenarios every day and don’t blink an eye. But a dead mouse tips me over the edge?  It doesn’t make sense to me.  Maybe it will when I’m older. Like in my 80’s—my perpetual grandmothers’ ages.  And maybe I’ll laugh about it then too. Actually I’ll probably be laughing about it later today.  

But for now, I’m frightened like a little girl and disgusted and angry.  And worried I’ll be haunted by the mouse tonight in my dreams.  

But at least I’m reminded that I’m not completely hardened, military, robotic, or invincible. Not yet anyway. And somehow there’s an irrational comfort in that. 

I went to an event last night on the Geopolitics on Water and Climate Change.  It was fascinating, but I left feeling quite frustrated.  The argument about the importance and increasing rarity of fresh groundwater was very compelling.  But after half an hour of growing fear about the future my daughters and their future children will face, there was no action suggested.  There were no ideas for things I could do, or habits I could instill in my daughters, or proposed changes for which I might advocate.

So I went home worried and continued to worry all night.

Well, that’s not quite true.  Around midnight when I still couldn’t sleep, I surfed the internet for ways that an individual can help conserve water, like:

  • Harvesting rain water and keeping your gray water to water your plants
  • Checking your water lines, faucets, toilet and meter for leaks
  • Installing water-saving shower heads and faucet aerators, as well as using creating or buying a toilet tank bank (I just use a couple bricks); take shorter showers, turn off the faucet while brushing your teeth, running your dishwasher and washing machine only when full
  • Replacing water-needy plants with drought tolerant plants
  • Growing your own food, knowing and choosing food with water in mind (that is food that doesn’t require excessive irrigation or watering to grow), reducing food waste (by buying and/or eating less food so you don’t end up throwing away food — according to our speaker last night a LOT of our fresh groundwater goes to industrial-sized crops, and nearly 50% of our food in the USA is thrown away instead of eaten)
  • And a 100 other ideas

But knowing is only half the battle.  Now I need to implement these ideas–to DO something.

Which brings me to my real point (not that water conservation isn’t important; it is both important and urgent)—if we continue to hear about important and urgent matters that don’t contain action items, how many of us are likely to even KNOW what to do?  Which means we’re even more likely to NOT do anything about it.  Which means change isn’t likely.  However, if you share a problem, take the additional step to help people know what they can do to help.

So what action items do I want you to know from this post?

  • If you are creating content, tell people how they can help.
  • Provide a range of actions (for instance, some may find putting a brick in their toilet to reduce water flow to be all they can manage, while others may go out and order that rain barrel and calculate their food-water consumption then change their shopping habits starting today).
  • Create a way for people to join the conversation (not comments, because those aren’t a conversation) to find solutions if solutions aren’t readily available.
  • Go DO some of the suggestions yourself!  (Karma doesn’t hurt to get the ball rolling.)

Think about the possibilities if every time there was a story on climate change you had options you could adopt.  Or if every time there was a story about terrorism you also read about easy ways you could help make the world safer and more peaceful.  Or when they announce the time on the Doomsday Clock today, you knew what you could (and should) do to help turn the clock backwards.

Dancing with Putin

Did I tell you 2016 is the year I’m going to quit being lonely?  I decided it sometime between Christmas and New Year’s Day.  Some would say that since then I’ve behaved oddly.  I’ve put away my cell phone while trying out new Irish pubs around my little spot on Earth.  I’ve flirted just for the practice.  I’ve laughed and smiled instead of worried.  And I’ve even accepted invitations to events I wouldn’t normally attend and discussed Russian politics with people I wouldn’t normally talk with.

Last night, I did all of these things.

And guess what I’ve discovered.  I’m not the only one who cares about Russian politics, men often enjoy flirting just for the practice too, laughing is good for my complexion and, probably most surprising, I’m not the only one who still enjoys dancing.  In fact, in the last 24 hours, I’ve met at least half a dozen people who go dancing around my little spot on Earth.

I guess I shouldn’t be surprised then by what happened next.  I went home in high spirits, let the dogs out, drank some chamomile tea and went to bed…and dreamt I was dancing with Putin.

It started out charmingly enough.  He is, afterall, someone I admire–don’t get me wrong, I think he is dangerous and not to be trusted–but from my intellectual interest in strategy, diplomacy and human behavior, I find him to be brilliant.  And he is a smart, but manly Russian man–perhaps my favorite kind of man.  So when he approached me at a networking event and bowed deeply asking me to dance with him, I was flattered.  And excited.

A Viennese waltz was playing–odd, I admit, but appropo too.  We started out slowly like the music, taking baby steps to learn each other’s rhythm and testing out our physical communication skills.  The room gradually became more quiet as the hundred conversations about business quieted.  The room also seemed to expand as we moved more quickly with larger steps around the room taking up more space–as any powerful person ought (Putin, not me).

Once we had established our space on the floor, the music changed.  But the dance did not.  And our steps, which had at first been tentative, then a trying parallel smoothed right into unaided synchronicity.

However, when the strains of that song faded, I was surprised to find that Putin had no intention of leaving the floor.  Even when the next song meant the dance would change.  He was a surprisingly agile swing dancer.  Smooth might be the word I would use to describe him.

And so we danced the night away–literally, in my dreams.

Unfortunately, as the night turned to dawn, the dancing would cease.  He danced me home and left me at my door.

I guess when you dream of dancing with Putin, you should expect the unexpected. But I was just thrilled with the dance.  So imagine my surprise when I went to let my dogs out (in my dream) and I found him picking the lock to the back door trying to break in with a mask meant to use to change and smother me

I was to become Darth Vader, it seems.

I woke up with a start sweating and cold at the same time. I woke up frightened.  So I threw myself into my morning routine hoping it would soothe the images and feelings and calm me.  But it hasn’t worked…until just now.  I collapsed into my favorite chair exhausted from the effort of trying to forget the dream.  There in front of me, on the ledge by the TV sat two movies that haven’t been put away.

Frustrated (for I like to keep an uncluttered house) I get up to put away the clutter and note rather bemusedly that the two movies are Hello Dolly and Star Wars III Revenge of the Sith.

Perhaps it’s Kismet.  Or a lesson.  But I think it’s a sign.  A sign that I should take better care of which movies I mix in my mind.

Bedtime prayer

It’s past my bedtime after a long gloomy Sunday, and here I am wide awake in my bedroom. It reminds me of a stateroom on an old sailing ship with its aged wood accents, slatted wood floor and creaky windows in the winter winds. My salt lamp sits atop a stack of treasured books by authors from an age of romance and fairy tales…some of them based on real lives.  I placed them on my writing desk near the head of my bed so their triple-named spines can watch over me when I do sleep.

Right now, however, they merely elevate the light, which casts a soft pink glow that adds to the aged and somehow staged feeling of the room.  Only my open journal and star gazer that I use on cloudy nights such as this one to pretend I can see the heavens and beyond are out of place—a detail that seems to glare in the light and usually irks me.  But not tonight.

I have a song stuck in my heart and so I play it on repeat…repeat…repeat…while I write. The song is about an hourglass.

The chandelier I splurged on a few years ago picks up the light and sprinkles a few sparkles causing me to look up.  Why is it moving, I wonder.  But instead my eye catches sight of the scarves hanging on the door hinge and I start sharply.  They look eerily like the ghost of Christmas yet to come–or is it Christmas that could be?  Or the grim reaper whom I haven’t forgotten that I saw around Halloween near the train tracks not far from my house.

My Olliepup must feel my nerves for he lifts his head from his polka-dot position and growls low and menacingly at it. It doesn’t move; I don’t move; Ollie doesn’t move.  We stare at each other while my heart pounds loudly and surprisingly forcefully in my chest. Finally, I muster up a bit of courage and move the scarves or at least dishevel them enough that they no longer represent a ghoul.

In doing so, the light now reflects off the mirror hanging on the back of my door to illuminate my archers bow and arrows.  They sit poised and ready under the fake moon that hangs on another wall–a vestige to encourage my overactive imagination and my underutilized action. They wait, ready for an adventure…like I do.

Earlier tonight I decided to move my frog prince from the dressing chair in the corner by the full-length mirror my ex-husband made me when we were once happy together…so long ago…to the shelf above my bed where the tiny sheep sit. The sheep used to help my daughters fall asleep when they were tiny girls. Now they sit collecting dust above my bed like a reminder of sleep or children or dreams gone past.  Maybe my frog will give the sheep new life–and my dreams with it.  For my daughters seem more like roommates then children these days–negotiations, careful considerations, adjusted schedules and rhythms.  I notice it most at night when my skin seems to crave a soft caress–or is it the warmth of their little cheeks and hands…or the smell of their freshly washed hair…

Once again Ollie must know. He scoots up and snuggles next to my side placing his head in my lap feeling soft, warm and smelling sweet. He sighs as if to remind me we must return to the real world in the morning. A new year. A new month. A new work week. A new day. Full of possibilities? Or like this song on repeat…repeat…repeat…of any other day, week, month, year that has past?

I feel restless. And ready. My journal is open and awaits a new story.  I hope it’s a good one…

Hope Mongering

“Did you know that pessimists survive better than optimists?”  I wasn’t sure if my dad was telling me or asking me, so I answered anyway.

“I totally believe that.”

My mom, however, did not believe that.  “That can’t be right,” she said looking over his shoulder to see what he was reading.  But according to the news article, he was right.

The article went on to say that pessimists were more likely to imagine all sorts of terrible things that actually might seem ridiculous, but could help them better prepare for less terrible things that might actually happen.

That’s when I realized I must be a pessimist.

Merriam-Webster defines Pessimism simply as a feeling or belief that bad things will happen in the future.  

Does that describe me?  I mean, I say things like “The sun will come out tomorrow.” And “I CAN slay the jabberwockie.”  And “there is something about everything that you can be glad about, if you keep hunting long enough to find it.” Seriously, I say those things almost daily to people.  Ask my daughters!

But when I see my neighbor’s puppy playing in a front yard, I can’t help thinking there’s a good possibility it will dart out into the street in front of a car, and then I have to keep my eye on it.

Or when the hiking trail becomes a steep incline covered in a mound of wet leaves, I can see myself sliding right down it before choosing the rocky, muddy, but surer-footed terrain next to the path.

Or when my dishwasher drain is clogged, I decide in advance that the liquid draino could likely eat a hole in the plastic pipes and make the whole thing a disaster so that when it does, I’ve already got the plumber on speed dial.

Or after watching a talk show about people being robbed at gunpoint during the night in their own homes while waiting for the auto mechanic to rotate my tires, I type up a plan for escaping from my house out the bedroom window and e-mail it to my daughters (the plan is complete with creating a sheet-harness to lower the dogs down too).  I now sleep with my wallet and keys next to my bed so we can use the car to escape.

Or after hearing about all the “active shooters” in the news, I call a family meeting and sit down with my daughters to talk about the pros and cons of throwing things at active shooters, rushing them, playing dead, running, and/or the responsibility to help others versus save yourself.

Or when the financial crises seemed much more dreary and devastating, I read up on the Moneyless Manifesto and began adopting some of the practices so I’d be prepared if money just became green paper like Douglas Adams has warned us.  And I bought an extra towel.

My friends laugh sometimes when I say I truly do have a “bug-out bag” and then they remind me the zombie apocalypse isn’t real.

I know it isn’t.  But the bug-out bag would come in super handy if there was a fire in my house, a natural catastrophe (like a tornado or severe earthquake) that meant I had to evacuate my home, or I just decided on a whim to go camping.

So maybe I am a pessimist. But how do you explain my silly Pollyanna doctrine?

Simple.  I believe in hope.

I might imagine all kinds of bad things happening, but I believe that the Universe is on my side.  The preparations are merely ways for me to feel like I’m doing my part.  Like in the story of the master and disciple in the desert.

The master was teaching his charge that he could always trust in God, since He was aware of everything.  

Night fell, and they decided to pitch camp.  The master raised the tent, and the disciple was given the assignment of tethering the horses to a rock.  But, as he stood by the rock, he thought to himself:  the master is testing me.  He said that God is aware of everything, and then asked me to tie up the horses.  He wants to see whether or not I believe in God.  Instead of tethering the animals, he said a long prayer, and left the fate of the horses in God’s hands.

Next day, when they awoke, the horses were gone.  Disappointed, the disciple complained to the master, saying that he no longer believed in him, since God had not taken care of everything and had forgotten to watch over the horses.

“You are wrong,” the master answered.  “God wanted to take care of the horses.  But in order to do so, He needed to make use of your hands to tether them to the stone.”1

Or the Italian joke about the lottery.

A poor man goes to church every day and prays before the statue of a great saint, begging, “Dear saint-please, please, please…give me the grace to win the lottery.” This lament goes on for months. Finally the exasperated statue comes to life, looks down at the begging man and says in weary disgust, “My son-please, please, please…buy a ticket.”2

Here in is the lesson of hope (at least in my view).  You have to be aware of what you want, take a good hard look at what is, and then do your part trusting you’ll get the help you need, when you most need it.

 

1. The Valkyries, Paulo Coelho.
2. Eat, Pray, Love. Elizabeth Gilbert

Twinkle

Twinkle, twinkle little star. Tonight I saw you from a far.  But only for a second or two before the fog hid you from view.

My warm breath added to the mist that gave the air mysteriousness among the trees so still, so tall they seemed like guards watching o’er us all.  Or maybe more like guardians, or forest sprites or Narnians, for I felt safe there in their park —protected and calm there in the dark.

And though the path was rocky and rough, I enjoyed the challenge; it was just enough.  

For there, at the end of the path, you see, a thousand twinkle lights lit up around me.  Like fireflies or glistening snow falling in moonlight in winter aglow, these lights and time then seemed to slow, and the world was once again magical, and I know.

So into the woods and all is well, the path is long, but I can tell that into the woods is right for me along my life and journey.  And as I leave I see a string of lights as cars come journeying to find the calm and peaceful thing that I have found this evening. 

So twinkle on my little star, you give me hope beyond the war. And though you’re hidden from my sight, I know you’re shining on tonight.

Yes, twinkle, twinkle little star.  How I wonder at all you are. 

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