Tuesday, March 7, 2017

All the Things

One of the reasons I dislike social gatherings, especially when they involve people I don't know, is that inevitably someone will ask, "So, what do you do?" Even if they don't ask it of me, if I hear it being asked of someone else, my hackles go up. While I've always been proud of what I do, no matter what the line of work, I abhor the idea that what somebody does becomes what somebody is

We are much more than our work, even if we are lucky enough (like I currently am) to be doing what we love. Why don't we ever approach someone and ask, "So, what's your passion?" I realize, in some scenarios, that question is a Fast Pass ticket to a sleazy boudoir, but really, it is such a valid question. How better to get to know someone than to ask what their passion in life is? And if it does result in a Fast Pass ticket to a sleazy boudoir, then you probably know everything about that person that is worth knowing and you can move along to someone else. Unless sleazy boudoirs are your thing, in which case, well met!

Can we get back on point now? Thank you.

Ask a friend of mine what she does, and she will likely tell you that she's a loan processor. I know. The title alone is enough to induce coma in a ferret on three espressos. Ask her what her passion is, and she will likely regale you with hilarious stories of her three precocious and adorable children that will have you laughing until you can't breathe any more.

As much as I love what I do, I dread people asking me. When I say, "artist" I either get that mad-cow look that tells me the person thinks all artists are nut jobs (we're not, not all of us... at least not all the time), or I get something rude and stupid like, "and you actually make money off of that?!" (Translation: aren't you looking for a real job?) Or, worse yet, I'm silenced with stories of their second cousin who "does his art thing and has exhibits at a gallery... blahblahblah... and do you ever show your work?" Trust me, buddy, there's more to art than where it gets you.

The thing is, although my art is all me, I am more than my art. Much more. We are all much more than the thing we do. How would your resume read if your employment didn't enter into it at all? I'd much rather know what sets people on fire. Yesterday a friend asked me, "Where do you get your inspiration?" I thought, "Oh, bless his heart... he has no idea what a perfect question I consider that to be."

I always think of it in terms of deciphering what someone's epitaph would be. Does anyone really want it to read: Here lies Bob Forapples - he was an excellent post hole digger? No. That doesn't tell you what made the guy tick. I'd rather know that ol' Bob loved the rush of skydiving, or that his greatest joy was his daughter's laughter, or that a richly colored sunrise made him want to cry. I don't care about what he did for a living, I want to know who he was. I want to know what he did to live.

Let's make a pact, shall we? From now on, instead of asking people "what do you do?" and treating them as though they're merely some bio-fueled machine, how about asking "what do you do to live?"

"What do you do?"
"I'm an office manager."
"Oh. So is my sister. And I think my cousin's nephew's girlfriend." *stares longingly at exit sign*


"What do you love?"
"Bacon! I'm so damned crazy about bacon that I once walked across the Australian Outback on my knees just for a BLT sandwich. Most amazing experience of my life. You should have seen the sunrises... and the sand is the color of..."
*rapt silence*

Tuesday, February 7, 2017


I've been sitting on the sidelines watching people throw blame around for things happening in their personal lives as well as in the world at large. That, more than anything, is what distresses me. If each of us strives to live honestly, the little things fall into place, and most often, the greater things follow. So, before you point a finger, and grab a banner, and shun your neighbor, and especially before you say, "But..." Please know.

We are all at fault.

We are all at fault for completely ignoring our wants and needs while catering to the wants and needs of others; for ignoring our dreams in an attempt to dance to what others deem as “right.”

We are all at fault for being everything to someone else and nothing to ourselves.

We are at fault for denying our feelings; for obfuscating the internal voice that says, “I am here. Please hear.”

We are all at fault for forgiving every wrong done to us, every wrong but the wrong we self-inflict; for seeing the best in others and only the worst in ourselves.

We are at fault for saying, "I love..." and following it with a list that includes everything but ourselves.

We are all at fault for pushing others to exceed limits, yet placing boundaries on ourselves.

We are at fault - within ourselves as well as with others - for not being gentle; for not understanding; for being judgmental and intolerant and impatient.

We are at fault for lying to ourselves; for telling ourselves we don’t matter as much as others; for giving our love away before we figure out how to apply it to the person in the mirror.

We are at fault for seeing beauty in everyone but ourselves; for finding ugly the bodies we've been given to use; for hating our own voices.

We are at fault for using all our energy to fix everybody else without first fixing ourselves; for thinking it is selfish to give ourselves any attention; for disallowing the latitude we need to heal, mourn, rage, fight… change.

We are at fault for not following our passions because they might not be what someone else wants for us, or because they might not fit in with "normal," or because, especially this, they frighten us.

We are at fault for being afraid of what we have no control over anyway; for letting our fear hold sway; for thinking that more often than not, courage is anything more than waking up and breathing and doing the next indicated thing.

We are at fault for not valuing our lives; for not realizing the importance of our being here; for disrespecting the impact our very existence has on other lives.

We are at fault for hiding our light; for not shining like the blazing fires we are; for thinking that others won't want to see our light, or will be bothered by it.

We are at fault for hiding our darkness; for not allowing others to see our pain and our tears; for ignoring the other half of our wholeness.

We are at fault for using words like blame, guilt, and, yes, fault, instead of words like responsibility, sensibility, self-accountability. There is a difference. A vast difference.

The fault belongs to all of us.

But, it doesn’t have to stay that way.

Friday, December 30, 2016

It's About Time

We humans are a curious bunch. We want everything neat and orderly. We want a clear endings and clear beginnings. We are pretty doggone silly in that respect. We can blame that on our training - as children we learn that stories (should) have a certain pattern to follow and we come to expect that in our own stories. But, our own stories involve life and although our stories kind of follow the pattern (birth - stuff in the middle - death), they aren’t much for formulaic scripting.

This year, 2016, has earned itself a bad rap. Completely understandable. Although, rationally, we know how implausible it is to anthropomorphize a calendar year, it does seem like this particular year had a vendetta to settle. I’ve been right there with everyone else saying, “Dear gods, I’ll be glad when 2016 is done!” Or, “I can’t wait for 2017, it’s going to be a better year! I swear, it has to be better than this one.” Um. No, no it doesn’t. Don’t get me wrong, I’m all for optimism, but I’m also savvy enough to recognize life as a super-magnet for crazy, sad, turbulent, unexpected, life-changing shit happening. I’ve also been around long enough to know that all those "Shit Happening" things can be the best possible things to happen even though they happen in the worst possible ways. So, yes, we’re silly. Because putting any kind of requirement and expectation on an entire year puts a ridiculous amount of pressure on us.

All the same, am I anxious for 2016 to be done? Yeah. I am. I’m ready for a new number (partly because my inner nerd has a thing for prime numbers). I’m not entirely sure why. For all my protestations, I see the beginning of a year as a fresh start, even though I have no intention of doing much of anything differently than I have been all along. Among other things, 2016 is forever going to be the year my brother died and I’m ready to be done living in that same year. That aside though, it’s been a kind of decent year for me. I’ve had adventures; hugged some good friends; I’ve known love; I’ve had very comfortable shelter; I’ve done work that makes me feel good. And, holy shit, but the fucking Chicago Cubs won the World Series!

More than anything, because of world events, deaths, and other harsh stuff, it’s been a year of deep introspection for me. For me, that chalks it up to having been a fucking uncomfortable year. Too often, it felt like there wasn’t room to breathe. Joy felt like a gauzy, ephemeral thing that wanted to disappear entirely.  Do I expect less or more of 2017? Neither, really. I have a couple of things planned, a few ideas in mind for stuff I'd like to do and the direction I’d like to see my creative world move in. But, really, life is going to do what life is going to do. I don’t say that with apathy, I simply refuse to fall prey to the folly of trying to structure the future. If I make each day count, whatever happens, then each next day is going to be more about making that day count.

Making resolutions is just asking for the Universe to throw a wrench into the works. Planning to work out five days a week is great until you get the flu on January 4th. Then, because you haven’t lived up to your resolution, you give up entirely. I’ve been there many times. I've made resolutions to write X amount of words or pages every day, post to my blog once a week, and finish my novel. I've made resolutions to do this or that with my artwork. And then I don't live up to those resolutions for whatever reason. Sometimes they are good reasons and not simply excuses. However, most of the time they relate to unrealistic expectations, like thinking I'm going to magically transform into someone with a mentality other than my own. Sometimes it’s just the Universe letting me know that for all my swagger, it’s got other plans. For all my proclamations, resolutions, and stubborn determination, I’ll never be any more than me, much less be anyone other than me. Ah, but, I’m also never going to be any less than me, and nobody else is ever going to be me. See how great that works?

So, I’m not all worked up about a year ending or another beginning. Each day is another day and will come with whatever side dish the Universe chooses to serve. Doors close and doors open, some even revolve, and all I can do is give the best of me to whatever and whomever comes my way, no matter what year or time of year it is.

I do know this much. When I wake up on January 1, 2017, it will likely feel much the same as having awakened on December 31, 2016. All other things being equal, only the numbers will have changed. Those neat, orderly, implacable numbers that, a very long time ago, some dry dusty old farts decided to label our days, months and years with. And I’ll still be exactly me. I can promise that.

Tuesday, November 15, 2016

Eulogy for One of the Good Guys

When my sister asked me to write this, my first thought was, boy… sometimes I hate being a writer. At the same time, it is such an honor to be able to tell people about my amazing little brother. So many of the words that I can come up with sound like empty superlatives, yet they are all true. Words like decent, sincere, caring, kind, generous - a friend of his summed it up perfectly in a note he wrote to me, “John is one of the good guys.” John not only saw the best in people, but he believed in it too.

Fun. There’s another word. Growing up with John was a blast. Whether we were running around the neighborhood playing hide-and-go-seek, swimming at the pool, skating in the back yard, sledding down a neighbor’s hill, or sitting and watching cartoons… he made everything more fun. Most of the time he made everything more fun just by being there. His enthusiasm and ever-present sense of humor, along with that quiet chuckle of his, elevated the fun level every time.

Gusto. There’s another word. John tackled everything with great gusto. And no apologies. His motto, “failure is just another opportunity” was tossed in my direction a few times. The first time we went skiing together is a classic example of his tenacity. I timidly made my way down the bunny slope - a trip that would take any decent skier about 30 seconds, but with my awesome snow-plow technique, took me about 3 minutes. I got to the bottom and fumbled my way over to where our mom was waiting, just in time to see John gracefully zig-zagging down the black diamond slope with all the trees. When he arrived where we stood, I gave him the you-gotta-be-kidding-me look, to which he answered innocently, “What? I thought the trees were cool.”

Love. There’s a big word and it’s at the top of the list. I’ll start with John’s unwavering love for his wife, Linda. They’re one of those high school sweetheart stories that actually played out in profoundly beautiful ways. I was working as a florist when John came to me one day and said, “I need some perfect flowers. I mean, really perfect. I’m going to convince that girl to marry me.” Whether the flowers helped or not, I don’t know, but convince her? He did. I never heard him talk about Linda with anything but absolute love and respect. The same is true of their sons, Garrett and Adam. A few years ago, John was out visiting me. As one does, I asked, “How are the kids?” John teared up before he could even answer me. Finally, he said, “Man, I’m so proud of them both. I don’t know what I ever did to deserve them.” With a rather wobbly smile, I told him, “You get what you give.” And John was definitely a giver.

On my cell phone, I still have a text I received from John a little over a year ago. I had sent him a message and asked how he was doing. His response was, “Doing great. I’m making this tumor my bitch!” Considering the reason we’re here today, some might think that it was the other way around. I don’t. John never once let his illness change who he was - he still spent more time being concerned for everyone else than for himself. “One of the good guys…” it warms my heart to know that so many others saw the same things in him that I always saw. And I’ll tell you this, he was the best little brother a girl could ever ask for.

I love you, John.

John F. Black
March 3, 1964 - November 15, 2016

Thursday, November 10, 2016

The Dance

I'm staring down the double barrels of senior citizenship as my 55th birthday is just around the corner. My standard thought lately has been a rather dazed, somewhat bedazzled, "How the fuck did I get here?" My next thought, especially this past week or so, is the first paragraph of the Dickens classic, A Tale of Two Cities (if you've never read it, now is the time!):

"It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to Heaven, we were all going direct the other way – in short, the period was so far like the present period, that some of its noisiest authorities insisted on its being received, for good or for evil, in the superlative degree of comparison only."

I can't recall any other time in my life when I've felt this overwhelmed and this much at peace. Simultaneously. I have lived a great big beautiful life. I intend to go on living a great big beautiful life. However, at this point, mortality is a nearer neighbor than my youth. No, now, I am not being morbid, just realistic. I don't live in fear, not by any stretch, but with a bit of sorrow, a rueful realization that, no matter what, there never was going to be enough time.

You don't need to say, "Oh, but there's still plenty of time! It's never too late!" And please don't spackle on that horrifically tacky, obnoxious platitude, "You only live once!" There isn't plenty of time. I will never have all the time I need to read all the books I want to read, make all the art I want to make, hug and love and have dinner and laughter with all the people on my Folks I've Just Gotta Meet list. Given all the life shit (good and bad) that gets in the way, living once is not nearly enough. There will never be enough time to hug my beloved as much as I want to, to feel his lips kiss my temple with exquisite sweetness the way he sometimes does, to be deep in the security of his love just having his big warm hand on my leg as we watch a show together. Whether we get another year or thirty, it won't be enough.

But, I'm one of those I'll-Take-What-I-Can-Get girls. For me, right now is enough. It almost always has been - one of those assets where the needle is always just a hair's breadth away from it being a downfall. Yeah. So I'm not feeling maudlin about it, just a little like the old drunk-singing standard...
Is that all there is?
If that's all there is, my friends, then let's keep dancing
Let's break out the booze and have a ball
If that's all there is

I mean that in a good way. When I was younger, I thought life would have a lot more weight, more seriousness at this age. Instead, it has become more ridiculous, irreverent, sweet, and, well, downright hilarious sometimes. Sure, there's sorrow, but it has feathers and it gets caught up on each breath until it only flutters nearby. I can't take anything too seriously. Right now is enough, rain or shine.

I only live once? Nah, I only live right now, and I've had a treasure trove of Right Now. I have plenty of time? Nah, I only have right now. I've always had right now. I will always have right now. And Right Now is plenty for me.

But. Fifty five? Senior Citizen? How the fuck did I get here? Guess it happened while I was busy dancing.

Wednesday, November 2, 2016

More Than 1000 Words

Upon seeing this picture, my first thought (after I'd wiped away the tears that immediately sprang forth and blurred my vision) was, I want to post that picture.

My second thought was, I can't do that. It's too personal and there's too much sorrow wrapped up in it and it's not a pretty picture really.

My third thought was, screw that. Why are we so quick to brush away sadness? Why are we so quick to cover up what might not be beautiful? We do it all the time, especially on social media. We post pictures of delicious food, cute animals, adorable children, ourselves - all made up and ready to party, and gorgeous nature scenes. We post pictures that make reality seem miles better than it often is. Even in speech, it's "Doing well. Life is good. Here's a joke; now laugh."

I'm not saying there is anything wrong with that. I'm all about positive thought and affirmation. I do it all the time, partly because it feels better to be upbeat than to dwell on harsh stuff I can't change, but mostly because I love to make people smile. If I can make 'em laugh... so much the better. But, there are times when reality is right there, front and center, and there's no way to tap dance around it - which brings me back to the picture.

To me, this picture, as difficult as it is for me to look at, is beautiful. The man in the middle is my baby brother, John. He is two and a half years my junior. He's the guy who is responsible for about 80% of the fun in my childhood. He's always been there for me, always loved me, always had a way to pull me up out of a mood. He is a man who has been battling a brain tumor for over two years and is now in hospice care, nearly at the end of that fight. Hence, the sorrow. Hence the unfathomable reason for what feels like a load of bricks sitting on my heart.

Oh, but the beauty in this picture - the sheer love of his wife, Linda, seated at his side, the devotion in the eyes of our big sister, Nancy, peering up from the top, the spirited youth of his eldest son, Garrett. I see so much strength in this picture. I see great love. I see the tremendous spirit of my family, generations of my family, a family that has never backed down when things were tough or taken no for an answer. I see a man who, all his life, gave everything to make sure everyone around him was comfortable and happy, being given back those things in return. Where some might see weakness and (let's just say it) death, I see power.

You see, this is what happens when we're not so quick to brush aside what first appears... oh... less than. If we take time to look, we see beauty. If we bother to listen, we hear the music in the discordant thrum. If we sit for a moment and let all of it wash over us, we find that we are soaked with the whole truth of it.

I cherish this picture because it reminds me how much I love the moments, each of the moments. All of them. All of the moments together, that's who I am. I hope - some very distant day, may it please the gods - when loved ones are sitting at my side as I wander off to some loftier plane... I hope they will see the beauty in that moment and in all the rest of the moments that brought me there.

Thursday, September 22, 2016

Suicide Is Not Painless

Please note: I am posting the following as a favor to a friend. I am at once heart-sore for her and proud of her for fighting and writing her way through her reality. She wishes to remain anonymous, but would love feedback and input, so please, feel free to leave a kind word or two. Thank you.


If there is one thing you should know about me, it is that I am a fighter who was raised by fighters. With a birthright like that, I've faced each round that came my way in 59 years with drive, determination, and spunk. Until yesterday.

Once again, sleep was eluding me for the umpteenth night in a row. Remembering that there was a brand new bottle of OxyContin in the drawer in the bathroom, I sat up in bed and began to count my steps to the drawer. Those little gems were a gift from my sister, the hypochondriac and attention whore who claimed that she didn’t need them, but perhaps I could use them for my chronic pain. The day she gave them to me I remember thinking, the real pain in my body or the pain in my heart and in my head?

My fight, remember I'm a fighter, was gone. Vanished. Vamoose. Fin. And with it, my desire to allow the gravity in the universe, to keep me sitting on the edge of my once comfortable bed. Sadly, thoughts of taking myself out were not foreign to me. Been there...3 times...done that. So, the bottle of pills, now sitting on the table in front of me, only made sense.

Opening the bottle, I laid them out on the table and attempted to arrange them the same way I do M&M’s. Orange here. Red here. They were all blue. Just one more thing that I couldn’t control or coordinate. I put them into groups of 4. Easier to consume that way and swallowed with a big gulp of vodka - my numbing, "I love you, man" drug of choice.

Everything set and four little life changers in my hand, I heard Joe get up and it broke my concentration. Listening to his travel path across the bedroom carpet, I knew those steps like they were my own. In that split second, I could only think of Joe. What would happen to my husband? Where would he go? How would he survive this? He’d come home after a long day of playing ‘fetch and go’ to find me like Madame Bovary. Would his heart be broken? Where would he live? $11.00 an hour wouldn’t allow him the luxury of keeping the house. And the life insurance that I’ve been paying on for years wouldn’t generate the cash he’d need to get by for at least 2 years. Fucking suicide clause!

I put the pills back in the bottle, poured out the vodka, and walked back into the bedroom. The pills went into the nightstand drawer and I climbed into our bed. Right next to me was the man who drives me crazier than I already am and yet, has loved me in spite of myself. Shit! How could I do this to him even though I want so desperately to do this to myself?

In the middle of this dark night, the voices in my head were telling me no one would be willing to listen to what just happened. “You’re crying wolf and they’ll be angry that you woke them up.” Since the chatter never, ever stops in my head unless I write, and sometimes not even then, I reached in the drawer for a piece of paper and a pen and tried to focus on the 5 words battling to be heard underneath all the other declarations, “You have to find help”. There had to be someone outside my mess who doesn’t know any part of this horror story, this volatile place I’m in. It was time to tell it to someone outside the circle who would hear it with fresh ears and a current course of treatment. Someone who hasn’t been through my suicidal episodes, the mania, the rage, and the depression. Someone who will listen and who will care about me, because I can’t.