Inside: Family Drama; Workout escapism; The Arts; Positivity; This is super long
First of all, I’d like to … what. What is that smell? Is that me?? It smells like somebody threw up on a fart. In a dumpster. Oh. That’s not me. The trash?
Oh. Garbage disposal. One sec.
Okay, I’m back. Wow. Do I really want to start a blog entry that way? Oh well. What’s done is done. Sorry. I’ll make up for it.
The family celebrated my grandmother’s 95th birthday on April 13th. Happy birthday, Grandma.
It started out rrrrrrough. It was like every personality in the family was on full blast. The problem is that the party was at my mom’s — two doors down from my grandmother’s. My mom’s house has steep stone steps. The back has stairs, too. My grandmother is 95, overweight and has no cartilage in her knees. Last year — I’m ashamed to admit — we were carrying her down the steps in her wheelchair and dropped the chair. The handles broke and there are loose stones.
She was okay except for a bruise but it was freaking traumatic all around. And she definitely didn’t want to try that again. No one else did either. I’m, of course, one of the only people who can help to carry her at all if something happens. NOT looking forward to trying again.
Anyway, every personality.
You all got me out of bed for this. Are we going to do it or not?
I don’t think we should. She said she just wanted to stay at home?
We don’t have a spirit of fear.
But everything’s set up already in there.
And so on. Now, I came up with a perfect solution. Saturday was a bee-yootiful day, right. And the problem was that getting her into the house was a terrifying and traumatic prospect. Why don’t we just set up some tables outside and make a cookout/picnic out of it. The food is already prepared. We just bring it out and boom. Outside partay. Perfect solution. I was so proud at my problem solving abilities.
No one wanted to do it. I still don’t understand why. Then my personality kicked in. ‘Cause I wasn’t going to try something crazy — carrying an aged senior citizen up a steep flight of stairs in a chair is just stupid. So I wasn’t going to do it. And my whole, “Why doesn’t anyone in this family listen to me? Outside. Perfect day. Party. No trauma. Not to mention, I said we should have a ramp built two years ago.”, kicked in.
I just wanted to leave. Go hang out with friends and watch them drink wine at a professionally competitive level.
I occasionally have dreams about arguments with my family with me yelling because in my mind it’s that attitude that is killing us. The inability to adapt. The refusal to change habits. Aware of the right thing to do but somehow still trapped in doing whatever because that’s the way it’s been done.
Argh. We, our family, we’re dying. And nothing changes. No one changes.
I can’t blame them, though. If you’re in a certain culture then that’s just where you are. It could be the food thing. It could be thinking that exercise is for the privileged or that you’ve earned the right to do whatever the heck you want. Or not knowing what to eat if you get rid of a pantry full of processed carbohydrates and corn syrupy soft drinks. Or there’s a lot of health issues that make it extremely difficult to change or be more physically active. Although, I would argue that it’s 90% about the food.
And frankly, it’s that stubbornness that got them through a lot of stuff — like the Jim Crow era and school and work and divorces and abandonment and single parenting and social stigma — that created the space for my generation to get an education, explore talents, get white collar jobs and join a gym and have a trainercoach.
Y’know? I am so thankful for that. I really am. Words do not suffice. But those same characteristics are literally killing us.
Bleh. And aside from trying to be an example there ain’t jack doo I can do about it.
Climbing Jacob’s Ladder
I’m constantly trying to find mental strategies to get through the more grueling activities in the gym. I haven’t really been successful. I still marvel at the way the kettlebell team women just go to another place in their minds. It’s amazing.
Every once in a while you’ll see one of them come back from their mental Inception world where the pain and fatigue can’t reach them. And I’m thinking, “Where did you just come from?”
The best I can manage is to let my mind wander away along a path but there’s not much discipline to it. Like, on the Jacob’s Ladder, which takes more concentration than you’d think it should. I’ll tether on, start climbing to get to 200 ft. and as soon as it starts to hurt my brain will go:
“So Time moves forward. At least we perceive Time as always moving forward inexorably. I see why we say that it flows. (Keeps flowing like a river. To the sea. To the sea.) Metaphorically, it’s kind of like water. Like a stream or river. If Time is really moving then there must be some kind of gradient between the past and future. Some difference in some force to cause the potential energy difference. A source and a sink. Does that mean that Time is going somewhere? If it’s flowing is it flowing into a lake of time? An ocean of Time? And if it’s flowing along a path — a twisting winding path with some sections faster or slower than others and some sections rougher than others — then what is it contained in? What are the banks of Time? Does that mean there might be different oceans of Time and our Time that we experience is just one of many? Where is it coming from? Is there some peak of frozen time that is melting and moving or rushing downward? Some hidden universal force or constant that attracts loose time the way gravity causes water to run downhill? Does that mean it could run out?
“Hm. I’m craving avocados.”
Then I look down at the timer. “Onlyyyyy — 150 more feet to go. %$@#!”
I really need to work on my mental discipline.
Arts & Quality of Life
“If you want to really hurt you parents, and you don’t have the nerve to be gay, the least you can do is go into the arts. I’m not kidding. The arts are not a way to make a living. They are a very human way of making life more bearable. Practicing an art, no matter how well or badly, is a way to make your soul grow, for heaven’s sake. Sing in the shower. Dance to the radio. Tell stories. Write a poem to a friend, even a lousy poem. Do it as well as you possibly can. You will get an enormous reward. You will have created something.”
― Kurt Vonnegut, A Man Without a Country
When I went to college, I got a STEM related scholarship to UMBC. STEM = Science Technology Engineering Math.
My mother said, “Thank goodness. I was kind of afraid that you were going to want to be a musician or artist.”
I did. I still do. But I wasn’t pressured into going into the techy world. I wanted to be an engineer of some kind. Aerospace, but that was mainly because it was neat. Eventually, I was interested in electrical engineering because of the signal processing field. It was a roundabout way to be in tech and involved in music — amplifiers, synthesizers, etc. That never really panned out. I kind of lost my way.
All along the way, my mom actively encouraged my music and art. Every Christmas and birthday was usually the time when I received an instrument as a gift. I took private guitar lessons from about the age of 10 to 18. Played the trumpet in school. She would never tell me how much the instruments cost other than that they were expensive. When I got into my teens I think she was worried that I spent all day in my room trying to learn parts of songs on the guitar and keyboard. Cloistered away.
Then family started or continued to worry that I wasn’t having the normal socially gregarious college experience. So it goes.
I could not be more thankful that my family sacrificed and supported me to allow me to pursue whatever talents or skills they saw manifesting. They didn’t shut me down. When I made tapes of original songs on a 4 track recorder that were not great they’d say something like, “I like the way you wind down and end the songs.”
That was usually the part of the songs that had some nuance and mood and emotion. The rest was often bombastic and overlong. Oh well.
They’d come out to see me perform when I was gigging after I moved back home from California circa 2003. And even when they visited me in California. (It pains me that my dad died before he saw me play live. I think he would have been proud. I remember him losing his patience with me one morning during a weekend custodial visit kind of thing because I kept saying that I could never paint like Bob Ross while we were watching “The Joy of Painting.” The first time I painted something that looked like something I thought, “Holy crap. He was right.”)
Work skills are great. The occupation pays the bills and can be fulfilling even when the other stuff drives you nuts. But there’s nothing like being able to express yourself with words, music, drawing. Or your body. Not that I’m a dancer but I know people who are and am always in awe of people who are in touch with their bodies to that extent.
The arts keep me sane. The arts do for my mind and soul what the gym does for my body. That physical and tension release. Frees your mind.
If there’s something you want to pursue — something you’ve been putting off — I urge you to grab it. Grab that ring. It’s never too late. Sure, you won’t be playing Carnegie Hall or featured in the Louvre (probably) but it’s not about that anyway. It’s about expression and communication and reaching neglected parts of your psyche. And it’s great for your brain. Keeping it nubile and supple.
If you start now, in five years you’ll be five years accomplished. Or in five years you’ll have five years of quiet regret.
“I’ve always wanted to…”
At the very least, let’s go out and experience that which inspires us. Edify ourselves and support the arts.
To Leave More than We Take
I think I’m a pretty self-centered person. Self-involved. Some of you may not think so but I get really caught up in my own head space. In my artistic outlets. Okay. My moods and occasional tailspins.
I won’t go home to Baltimore for weeks and then I’ll be surprised by some family development. Like, “Oh. I should have known about that.” Or, “Damn it. I should have been there for that.”
A while back I was looking at my Facebook wall and my blog and realized that it was … negative. Sarcasm and commenting on negative things. You know, that entertaining rant thing.
It was toxic. ‘Cause there’s always something to complain about or some injustice to be righteously indignant about.
And with my non-existent social life it’s like some loser online complaining about the world without turning a constructive eye into his own life. That just won’t do. Not having it.
So like I do every once in a while I made an edict. A declaration of intent. To will something into existence. I want to be constructive. I want to be a positive force in people’s lives. A lot of this came out of the Landmark work, I have to admit. After it opened my eyes to how much we all have in common.
We’re all flawed and fragile. Just a bunch of beautiful messes walking around trying to figure things out, wounded by shame and haunted by memories. Acting out and acting in. Going for it the best we know how with the tools we know how to use. Crashing into each other and hoping something good remains when the dust clears.
I want to create and build. Not tear down. If I’m going to live an unintentionally and unwanted, frankly, monastic life I at least want to lift people up when I pass through. Y’know.
I just want to be a real boy, Gepetto.
(I have no idea where all that just came from. Ooooooh wait a minute. Yes I do. This is Jennell’s fault. I’m reading or listening to Brené Brown’s “Daring Greatly”. Must have sunk into my mind. Tricky. Very tricky.)