Scarlett’s Letter October 15, 2013

My Cinderella Day.

Today marked a day that I really, truly, didn’t think would play out the way it did, which caused some self-reflection, but only after a few moments of self-pity.

I shall explain.

I’ve spoken of my cousin, the one I am so very grateful for, having looked out after my parents during my dad’s final months, and now, looks out for my mom when I am “twirling through the universe”, as her voicemail greeting goes. She is eccentric, an artist. I think the whole family, with the possible exception of my father, is eccentric. That’s where I get it. I’m eccentric. I will gladly admit it. I like to refer to it in a slightly more socially acceptable manner as “creative.” The women in this family tend to be outspoken and yet mysterious, passionate and yet reserved, intelligent, without a “yet” attached to it, creative, and prone to wear either dark colors, animal prints, unusual styles or, all of the above simultaneously. We rarely go unnoticed.

There is another cousin, older than the one I’ve spoken fondly of, by a few years. I do not know her as well, for a few reasons. One, she has no children my age, in fact, she has no children at all. Second, she twirled about the universe with her wealthy (from oil, I think), British husband for most of my childhood. Third, she usually was not present at family gatherings because she was at odds with someone for something or other. I failed to mention that we are all extremely sensitive. If there is a sensitivity gene, it is double dominant in this family.

While I have been out twirling about the universe, cousin one and cousin two, have, on occasion, been taking my mother out to lunch, with some unrelated party named Barbara, at Chez Panisse, you know, Chez Panisse of the Alice Waters, world famous chef, Chez Panisse. Chez Panisse as in in Berkeley Chez Panisse, and I was born in Berkeley, so have some God-given birthright to dine at Chez Panisse, Chez Panisse! I have never eaten at Chez Panisse and I am dying to go, as in, I would donate all my worldly possession for a meal at Chez Panisse. Okay, so all my worldly possessions would barely cover my lunch tab at Chez Panisse. But, still. I. Want. To. Go.

Today, my mom was to go to lunch with my cousins, and Barbara, to Chez Panisse. And I wasn’t traveling! I was here! I thought I could go. It seems I wasn’t invited. How could I not be invited? I’m a cousin! My mother even said, “You weren’t invited.” I was perplexed. I figured it was just an oversight. And Mom is way too awkward, socially, to navigate this kind of territory with any tact or acumen, so she was of little help and actually managed to make me feel worse. More than once. I got my social awkwardness gene from her. She tries, as do I, but we are just wired in a way that makes us come off as cute, but awkward, she, a bit more than me. At least in my opinion. She didn’t want to go, for all the same, lame excuse/reasons she offers for everything; my cane, getting in and out of the car, the stairs, walking, etc. She even said she didn’t want to go because her table manners have deteriorated with her age. As long as she doesn’t do that hiccup-burp thing she did at breakfast this morning, in pubic, she’ll be fine. I almost lost my granola. Anyway, she didn’t want to go. She even wanted me to call my older cousin, over the weekend, to tell her she wouldn’t go, because she was momentarily deaf. I procrastinated, didn’t call, and she kind of had to go. I’d gladly go to Chez Panisse, deaf, dumb, blind, and limbless. I can’t think of a good excuse to not go, other than not being invited.

I should have gone anyway, by myself. Damn! Why didn’t I think of that earlier?

My cousin, the one cousin, picked Mom up on her way to Chez Panisse, from Sonoma, where she lives. I’d actually planned on being somewhere else; out running, or at a coffee shop, working. Because I stayed up too late, I was still at home, only minutes from being ready to go. My ulterior motive was to be here, and ready, and to be invited lunch, because of the obvious oversight. So, yes, I was here, and ready, but was not invited. Damn. I really wasn’t invited. And this was the catalyst for a whole bunch of thought and self-reflection today.

I got left home like Cinderella on the night of the ball. And I don’t even have any fairy godmothers to make me a fab dress. Nor pet mice, for which I am grateful.

So, after Mom left, unwillingly, for her lunch at Chez Panisse, after I tied her scarlet red scarf, and all, I went to a different coffee shop, Ritual Coffee Roasters, at Oxbow Public Market in Napa, to work, to read, to people watch, to drink another decaf coffee concoction for four dollars of my hard earned money, plus tip, to write, and to reflect and try to pull myself out of my funk. Maybe, like Cinderella, a sparkly new pair of shoes were the ticket to better tidings. Or not.

My decaf latte at Ritual Coffee at Oxbow Public Market in Napa
My decaf latte at Ritual Coffee at Oxbow Public Market in Napa

This is what I came up with; whatever.

Whatever. I may say it, I don’t’ live it. Sometimes I really wish I didn’t care. I do. I may act like it doesn’t matter. It does. I’ve got that sensitivity gene, remember?

A pumpkin for my magical Cinderella carriage at Oxbow Public Market
A pumpkin for my magical Cinderella carriage at Oxbow Public Market

Upon much thought, contemplation and discernment, I think I figured it out; older cousin is angry with me because I won’t find joy. I mean, Joy. Not joy as in elation, happiness, a desirable emotion or state, as in a half-sister I’ve never met.

Oxbow Public Market
Oxbow Public Market
Oxbow Public Market
Oxbow Public Market
Oxbow Public Market
Oxbow Public Market

This will also explain why it is my first cousins are that much older than me. My parents found each other later in life, after both being divorced from previous marriages. As a result of, or perhaps reason for, my dad’s first union, there was a daughter. Joy. And, for a time, my older cousin lived across the street from her, as a child, and was close with her.

Growing up as an only child, I wanted nothing more than to have siblings. I’d even ask Santa Claus for siblings for Christmas. At some point, I became aware of Joy and always assumed, naively, at some point, she’d be a part of my life. When my grandmother died, the cousins were allowed to walk through her apartment and take things we were most fond of. I acquired a picture of Joy, probably about age four or five years old. I was amazed by her long, blonde hair, which, in the picture, was worn in loose ringlet curls. My mystery sister.

After Joy’s birth, my dad enlisted and went to England during World War II, where he served, working on the instruments of B-24 Liberator aircraft. During his absence, so I’ve been told, his wife took up with another man, there was a divorce, and it was believed that Joy never knew my father was, in fact, her father. For my dad’s entire life, he thought, he hoped, that Joy would find out about him, search for him, find him and make contact. He didn’t want to initiate the contact, he wanted it to come from her.

A few years before Dad passed away, a letter arrived, from Joy. She said that her father, the man she believed to be her father, had passed away, and, that out of respect for him, she had waited to confirm what she always suspected, that my dad was her biological father. She had some questions and offered her phone number for a conversation. Dad called her. I wasn’t present, so I only know what I’ve been told, but it seems her only questions centered around whether he had heart disease, as her son had developed some issues that were thought to be hereditary. He, in fact, did. She asked if he’d had any other children, and so she learned of me, and the fact that I don’t have heart disease. When she found out I was about the same age as her son, she scoffed. Or so I was told. Whatever. As the conversation concluded, my dad asked, hopeful, whether she would like to meet sometime. She said “no”, and his heart was broken, again, or still.

When my father passed away, we held a small family service. My aunt and uncle and a couple of cousins from my mom’s side of the family were there, as were the cousins from my dad’s side of the family. All in one place, which was a first and had always seemed highly unlikely no matter the course of events that led to it. My dad’s side of the family I always thought of in one respect, truthfully, a rather dark respect, my mom’s side of the family, in another, more enlightened respect. My dad’s side of the family being of French descent, we are dark in color. But that is not the darkness of which I speak, there was often quarrelling and hurt feelings. As mentioned above. All of the family gatherings were held at my aunt and uncle’s house, which, itself was very dark and crowded and was situated in a crime-ridden and undesirable East Bay town. The family room had red and black shag carpet, heavy dark, red drapes and black faux leather furnishings, lending, I’m sure, more to the dark perception of the family and my memories more than the people and events, I’m certain. Gatherings consisted of some kind of meal and lots of alcohol, I’m sure, fueling a lot of the sensitivity and discord, and all consumed in the dungeon-like setting.

My mom’s side of the family, mostly fair-skinned, blonde, blue-eyed, always gathered at churches, parks, and brightly lit homes, usually in sunny and beautiful Colorado, or here, at my parents’ home. The perception of that family, therefore was always one of lightness and brightness, picnics and potlucks.

For these two families to meet was sort of a trip. I really didn’t quite know what to expect. It was, actually, all lovely, and as the aunt and uncle from the “dark side”, with the dark family room, have long since passed, some of the darkness, I hate to say, has subsided. But, as we rose to leave the restaurant, my older of the two first cousins came up to me and said, “I hope you’ll find joy.” I smiled and said, “Thank you, you, too.” I thought she wanted me to be happy, which I was, even in light of Dad’s passing. Her sentiment, I thought, was kind, a little strange, but kind. She departed, and, looking back on it, she had an odd expression on her face as she walked out. It was shortly thereafter that it occurred to me, she wanted me to find Joy, my half-sister, not a feeling of happiness. Oh. I think I’ll stick with the first joy and forgo the second Joy. For now, for many reasons, but mostly out of respect for my dad.

So, I wasn’t invited to lunch by my older first cousin, and I was really pretty bummed. Sad, actually. I didn’t really piece the likely cause together until after Mom left with the younger of my older cousins, the one that likes me. Whatever. So, I’m on the shit list and I’m not likely to remove myself from said list. So, I pouted for a while. I was being sensitive. When Mom returned home she began to regale me with every detail of every bite she took, every word that was said, which, honestly, I really didn’t want to hear. I wasn’t invited. I pouted some more. Then I drank some fantastic wine, finished up a couple of projects and talked to my Sweetie on the phone, all of which kind of cheered me up. Kind of. But I miss my Sweetie, and being a little down to begin with, it struck me more markedly today, so I got kind of sad again. But he made me laugh, my Prince Charming, and I had a second glass of wine, and headed off to bed for, hopefully, a decent night’s sleep. Before turning off the light, I spent some time reflecting on the reasons for my sadness and, as I routinely do, I jotted down all the things I am grateful for in my journal.

A delightful wine, by Trek, the Sangiovese.
A delightful wine, by Trek, the Sangiovese.

So, the thought for the day; is it okay to be sad? Certainly. Sadness is a real, human emotion. It is fine to be sad, on occasion, for a brief period, and really, probably isn’t something we can completely avoid or prevent from ever occurring, no matter how positive a mindset we have. But, chronic, long-term, and overwhelming sadness is not something we should be feeling and not something we should have to endure. If sadness is more than fleeting, as a co-worker of mine often says, “it’s a ‘you’ problem”. I know, it sounds harsh, but it is the truth. If sadness is chronic and is more than just fleeting, if sadness is a fairly common feeling, or is ever overwhelming, then the reasons for the negative emotion need to be uncovered and rectified.

Many people are prone to chronic and overwhelming sadness out of a lack of self-respect, because of low self-esteem, we think poorly of ourselves; that we are incapable, unlovable, unattractive, unintelligent, we are mean to ourselves in thought, action and deed, and we suffer as a result, at our own hands. Those who lack self-respect and self-esteem are often disrespected by those in their lives; spouses, parents, children, bosses, coworkers, and friends, adding to the burden. When we respect ourselves, others are more likely to follow suit. Think about it, if we can’t even respect ourselves, how can we expect anyone else to respect us? It begins with us. Respect begins within and self-respect and self-esteem are the foundation for happiness. Self-respect and self-esteem are the destroyers of chronic sadness.

So, tonight, I will sleep, having taken a few moments to recollect all that I am grateful for. Sleep, with the aid of gratitude, and two fantastic glasses of wine, will begin to blur my conscious and I will rest my mind, my body and my soul. Tomorrow, I am certain, I will arise with a smile on my face and a smile in my heart. Gratitude is the champion over any fleeting and trivial sadness.

Making It Work

Break it down.

“Making it work”.

When you hear someone say, “making it work” we usually think they are trying to make something work that isn’t working; a relationship, a living situation, or a job, for example. It often has a bad connotation, like a last ditch effort to make something better before totally giving up on it. And no wonder. Break it down; making it work. If you look at in a literal sense it sounds like we are turning something that shouldn’t be work into work, we are making it into work.

When you hear people say they are struggling in a marriage or relationship, but they’re going to try to “make it work” we can be pretty certain the next time we speak to them they’ll be out of the relationship. The same is true when the phrase is applied to a living situation, a job, or some similar circumstance; it seems doomed to demise, eventually, and usually sooner than later. Is it because they are taking something less than perfect, something they desire to change, and rather than making it joy they are making it work?

Words, and their use, spoken and in thought, can be tricky. Remember Mother Teresa and her statement? She won’t go to an antiwar rally, but she’d be happy to attend a peace rally. Her belief that “fighting” against something only fortifies it through negative energy, but promoting something strengthens it through positive energy. What we think manifests. What we say manifests. So, if we are trying to improve something by “making it work”, we are making a chore, a task, or are making harder something that shouldn’t be. An interesting thought, don’t you think?

Break it down. We are struggling in some situation (pick one), and we decide to try to improve it. If we try to make it work, almost immediately our mood shifts and we begin treating the situation like Monday morning; with a bit of dread, a bit of trepidation, a melancholy feeling of loss over the joyous weekend that is now passed. We move a little more slowly, we procrastinate, we fail to find as much pleasure in whatever makes us feel this way and it further deteriorates. Seem logical? What if you approached it in a more positive mindset? I’m going to make it joyful! Whatever it is suddenly seems so much more appealing, so much more attractive. It feels more like a Friday, like something we want to embrace and savor and make last the whole weekend long. Am I right?

I had my annual review for work this evening. I won’t lie, my job is pretty taxing sometimes, usually when I’m sitting in an airport between flights, I’m tired and I just want to not have to carry all my stuff around, I just want to be vertical or horizontal, not bent in half, for an extended period of time, and preferably motionless, with my eyes closed and my mind quiet. Or when I’m setting an alarm for 6:00 AM Eastern time to get up for work when I “live” in the Pacific time zone. Traveling on weekends and working all week. Being away from home for a week, or two, or more. Living out of a suitcase. Waking up in a hotel room and having a really hard time remembering exactly where I am. But, I still love my job! Every day I work with clients I am enthusiastic, upbeat, I infuse fun and wit and humor into everything I do. The content I teach is dry, serious, and really, not much fun, we’re talking audit software, but I do my best to have fun and make fun, delivering it. I try to always be upbeat and energetic and enthusiastic when I’m working with my team on projects, it makes everyone happier, it makes the work easier, it brings joy, if to no one else, then to me. And for this, I am recognized and valued, by my clients, by my co-workers and by those who manage me. I bring joy to a job rather than “make it work”.

Part of the discussion this evening revolved around the rigors of travel. It is hard, no doubt. Some folks I work with get off the plane, go to the hotel, stay in the hotel, go to work, go back to the hotel, get on the plane and go home. They are just making it work. They are generally less joyful about their jobs and usually the first to complain about work. They make it work, though. When I travel for work, I seek out opportunities to see and do and experience and find joy. I take great pleasure in seeking out unique, local restaurants to dine in. I look for interesting local sites and attractions. Or, it may be as simple as my quest for a Whole Foods in every city I visit. I try to visit different Whole Foods Markets in larger metropolitan areas I visit regularly. I have an unofficial quest to visit every Whole Foods Market possible. I also love seeing professional sports stadiums in different cities, and I don’t even follow sports! I love university campuses, they are usually nice places to walk, have lovely gardens, lawns, trees and are festooned with art and sometimes, great architecture. Nothing major, nothing expensive, but definitely way better than the four walls of a generic, chain hotel room. You do realize that every hotel chain decorates with the same carpet, towels, bedding, and often, even wall hangings. Some hotel chains WILL actually put “local” scenes up for wall décor, but not all. So, the only way you can tell which city you’re in is Googling the art on the wall, That, my friend, is making it work.

The challenge, then, is to change our thought patterns, change our choice of words and watch our resulting attitude change. The next time you feel the need to “make something work”, stop yourself. Rephrase it. Make it joy, instead. Approach whatever task or situation ahead of you with joy and enthusiasm, with energy and the thought of opportunity, and I’m quite sure you’ll garner a better result. Whether your challenge is, indeed, a relationship that is faltering, a job that is tedious, a living situation that is strained, a lifestyle that is stagnant, health that is deteriorating, fitness that is languishing, or just a feeling that there must be something more, use a different tone of voice inside and out, select words that are more positive in your thoughts and in your speech and I’m sure you’ll find the outcome to be much easier and more rewarding than something that you turn into hard work.

Make it joy.

 

Making it joy, a week at work, strolling the streets in the evenings and finding begonias everywhere!
Making it joy, a week at work, strolling the streets in the evenings and finding begonias everywhere!

 

What’s Your Perspective?

What do you see? How do you see it? And how do you react to what you see? Do you view the world from a narrow perspective, one governed by your beliefs, your own limited personal experiences? Or do you view the world without blinders? Without filters?

You may have seen horses, race horses or carriage horses, with blinders on. This is done to prevent the horse from seeing something that may startle it and cause it to spook and run away. The horse is being “protected” from sights it may not be accustomed to. Does this really provide safety and security to the horse, the rider, the passenger? Personally, having spent a lot of time around horses, I don’t think so. It is my belief that the horse, the rider, the passenger is far more safe if some time is spent desensitizing the horse to things it may be frightened of. How? By patiently and frequently exposing the horse to new sights, sounds, and stimuli while providing the horse with a sense of security through a calm voice, a patient hand and confident leadership (not force).

We are not much different. That which scares us is often because we know little about it, have little experience or exposure to it. We have been protected from these things, either by ourselves, or by how we were raised, or by who we spend time with. How tragic.

The world is so full of sensory input, of possibilities and experiences. It is so incredibly exciting! But so many of us miss so much. All of that input, those possibilities, those experiences bring us an opportunity to grow, to learn, to evolve. Sadly, if we slog through life with blinders on we deny ourselves of so much. So, spend some time patiently and frequently exposing yourself to new sights, sounds and stimuli, both ordinary and extraordinary.

Try this; find a place to sit, have a cup of coffee or a refreshing beverage in a public spot, take your blinders off and just look around. Look at people, notice what they wear, how they walk, how they speak, what they say and how they interact with people around them. Observe your surroundings, the colors, the shapes, the textures, patterns, lines. Take in the sights, the sounds. Try food you’ve never tried before. Involve all the senses. Keep your mind neutral, try not to make judgements. This is something that may take practice, but soon you may find yourself smiling at what you observe. We are surrounded by so much, big things, little things, that can make us joyous if we only pay attention.

I am currently sitting in a coffee shop in an airport. I arrived a couple of hours before my daughter’s flight was due to land so I could enjoy a cup of coffee and catch up on some work, away from the too familiar walls of my office. An airport employee just walked past with a box on a handcart, headed for the gift shop across the way. Sticking out of the box were a pair of golden mannequin legs, toes pointed upward. I laughed out loud, it brought me just a little bit of joy, the absurdity of what I observed. I can guarantee that no one else even saw this spectacle. I have opened myself up to these observations because I find humor in them, which makes me smile, and sometimes even laugh. Little bits of joy in an otherwise ordinary and mundane day. Embrace what you observe, but first, you have to observe, in real life, real time.

I just returned from vacation, earlier this morning, actually. My plane arrived at this very airport about twelve hours ago. I have since been home and have now returned to retrieve my daughter. My vacation was splendid and was spent pretty much just living from someone else’s perspective. I was in Alaska. Not on a cruise. Not on some organized tour with a planned itinerary, but visiting my very special man. I just occupied his life for a week, went to the grocery store, shoveled snow off the roof of the garage, went to his shop where he works, went out to lunch via snow machine rather than by road. He had an opportunity to pilot an oversize load of pipe to Prudhoe Bay, and while this is something he does frequently, to me, it was an opportunity for a new and thrilling experience. How many of you have been to Prudhoe Bay, Alaska in late winter? Far above the Arctic Circle? Many have seen this on television, but have you felt the cold air in the morning? Heard the trucks pass by with their massive loads on the icy roadway? Stood waiting to get a hot cup of coffee behind a man who spends his day working in the oil fields? Slept in a “sleeper” in the back of a truck? Seen an Arctic fox running along the ice covered road? Listened to the banter of truckers on the radio while driving up and down the Dalton Highway? To many, this is everyday life, and what we do on a daily basis may be unusual, unique, and different. We all have a different perspective and, my point is, when given the chance to view one different than your own, jump at it. My life will forever be changed, even if only slightly, from having had that experience.

I could have turned down this opportunity. Two whole days of sitting in a noisy truck, enduring the discomfort, the cold, no hot shower, blow dryer, curling iron, make up, hot food, the time constraint, the possible danger. I chose otherwise and cherish the experience. I have stories to tell and while I sit at my computer reviewing training materials this week for the proper size font, grammar and formatting, while boring and tedious, I only have to reflect back to last week to know that my life is truly extraordinary. Because I choose to make it so. And I implore you to do the same.

My message here, in short, is to step out of your own perspective for a while and into others. See life from a new place, without blinders. Experience it fully, with every sense, absorb those experiences and let them alter your own perspective a little. Embrace change, challenge fear, be your own patient guide to new stimuli. Live life without blinders.