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Sunday, May 7, 2017

Of a Decade

J.P.J: September 24, 1960 - May 7, 2007

Dear John,

Ten years. A decade. You used to say, "Five years will go by anyway." Let me tell you, ten years will sneak up, lasso you, and have you over a barrel and wondering how you got there before you can say, "What the fuck?" I'm in awe, because I can't think of a better word, that it's been ten years since I last held your hand and kissed your brow.  It seems like yesterday, but it also seems like (another phrase you were given to say) somebody else's home movie.

Where has a decade gone? A decade that I haven't shared with you, not in the conventional sense. I know, people will tell me that you're always there, and you are. But I miss your voice, your laughter, the light in your smile. You could be damned difficult to be around; still, I miss the youness of you.

A decade has taught me that I love where I am now and that pain is a part of loving where I am now. I wouldn't be here, in this life, in this space, if you were. I get a slightly metallic taste in my mouth when I think of things in those terms. I tell myself not to, but, you know... "what if" is a blood-hungry bitch from Hell. Anyway, I'm loved and I'm happy, and if it comes with a smattering of guilt, c'est la vie, huh?

Ten years. A couple of months ago, the last time I had a dream that you came back, I was upset by it. In the dream, I was crying and confused. I was glad to see you again, but my words were, "Why are you here? Why now? You're going to change everything and I really like where I am now!" I don't remember  your response. I do remember waking up and chalking it up to growth that I can acknowledge hard feelings like that. That I can look them in the eye and stay sane. Even so, I kissed Steve and said, "Please don't die. Ever." He didn't question it. He's smart ass enough to know that his answer would suffice, "Not plannin' on it today."

When I look at old pictures, I can't help but wonder what a decade would have done to you. I wonder if you would have made peace with yourself without having gotten sick. I wonder if you would have finally understood your greatness. I wonder if you would have realized that you had nothing to prove to anyone, not even yourself.

You always said you wanted to go out in a blaze of glory, saving someone else's life. Well, that's what you did ten years ago. You threw yourself in front of that screaming engine we call life. For me. You probably didn't know it at the time, that you were doing that. I didn't. But, in looking back, I realize the gift you gave me by ditching the party early. "Here, woman. Stand. On your own. Take a look around and see beauty in all of it. Be resolute. Be honorable. Kick ass and take names. Dig the shit out of the journey. Find amazing love, huge love, love you won't expect and then wade on in and claim it and belong there. Find you. She's waiting to take your hand as soon as I let go. I love you, Trippy Chick, but I've gotta fly." And it was in the void of you not being there any more that I found who I was meant to be. It was who I'd been all along, but... shinier.

A decade. Ten years. I'm pleased they went the way they did - bittersweet pleasure though it is. I still think of you so often, but it's without the sharp biting pain that once had its teeth in all my memories of you. There's a TV show I like to watch, The Walking Dead, and you'd hate it. One of the characters said something that stuck and made sense out of everything. He said, "We go on because they can't."

And so, I have,
With much love,
Barb

Tuesday, May 2, 2017

Everything Police


They're out there, everywhere you go, watching what you do, listening to what you say. It doesn't matter if it's directed at them or not. They know best and they will tell you where you're going wrong. They are the Everything Police. Beware. They are of the firm belief that most of us don't know our own mind, and they are insidiously separatist fuckers. Rather than rally people to come together or cheer for some wonderful happening, they like to point out why it's all wrong.

They say things like:
"You can't do that, because you didn't grow up where I grew up, so you have no claim to it."
"You look stupid doing that because it's not part of your ethnicity."
"Our group has dibs on that word. We said so, that's why. Don't even think of saying it."
"Don't you dare believe that, because... reasons. Here, we've done all the research for you. Trust us."
"You only think you don't like <insert food here>. You just never had it prepared the right way."

There are many and various such phrases, but perhaps the most vile is, "You shouldn't feel that way." Everything Police love to shame people for feeling what they feel.

I started out calling this faction of people the Yeah, Buts. Because they're also the type who will, if you mention what a lovely, sunny day it is, say, "Yeah, but... allergies." Nothing is ever good enough for them. Nothing is ever just right. However, I noticed that it went beyond "yeah, but" and that it was far more invasive. A lot of them weren't even waiting for the opportunity to throw in a "yeah, but" - they were coming right out, full force, and telling people how to be. Best example of this is an article George Takei shared last week in which a woman asked straight females to stop referring to female friends as girlfriends because it was confusing to lesbians (how ever are they to know who they can and can't hook up with?!). My response to which was, "Oh, give me a fucking break. Truly tired of this kind of separatist bullshit. Nobody owns the rights to words. If I want to call a female my girlfriend rather than just friend, I will. If that makes the Everything Police twitchy, fuck 'em. Let them wonder, they who do not truly know me. I know who the hell I am."

So, I started calling them the Everything Police. Because Ev-pos will just presume you're doing the wrong thing, in the wrong place, at the wrong time. (I say this with all due respect to good men and women in law enforcement. So, don't police me for saying that.)

The Everything Police will create a victim if they need to. The Everything Police have no sense of humor, no tolerance for a learning curve, and don't give a good goddamn about what a jury of your peers thinks. They will make no attempt to understand why you find humor in a given situation. And, because they're so educated and enlightened, they presume everyone should be - ignorance is no excuse for the Everything Police.

Try it, I dare you. Make a joke about your waffle iron having cancer and Everything Police will tell you how horrid you are. They won't stop to understand that you've known way too many people who have had cancer, half of whom died from it, and you need to joke because it takes the terrible scariness and sadness out of it for you. What matters is their own sensibilities, and only their own, because they're always right. I mean, I would say that they easily get their panties in a bunch, but one of them will surely tell me that I just set back women's rights by 100 years.

I'm pretty sure the Everything Police have lightning fast Google implants. They know everything (presumably, that's why they've earned the right to police it). Their pedantic, didactic ways aren't an attempt to educate people, but to correct them (thereby making the Everything Police appear to be a necessity and ensuring job longevity). One of their favorite words is actually. "Look! I found this picture of an adorable bat that has feathers and a nose like an elephant... so cute!" And the Everything Police respond, "Actually, that isn't a bat. It's of the genus avialephus flaposaurus and is most closely related to the red lemur. Little known fact: Rumi wrote a poem about it that Robert E. Lee read to the troupes right before the Battle of Little Bighorn."

So, anyway. Now that you know what to look for, you can either avoid the Everything Police or rally against them (and if you identify as one, stop that shit). As for me, I'm choosing the latter. I'm exhausted from trying to protect everyone's feelings, which pretty much involves biting back and swallowing my own. I don't set out to be unkind or insensitive, and anyone who knows me knows that much. If I speak my mind, share my thoughts, laugh at the inappropriate, cry at the mundane, swear at inanimate objects, and dance like everyone is watching and I'm naked and I just don't give a flying fuck, it's because I'm trying to communicate with you. I'm trying to be heard above the din. I'm trying to be the best, most genuine me I can in a world that wants to heap us together in a box and call it an even dozen. If that's offensive, if that makes me guilty of something, I've got two sets of four words for you.

Look the other way. I'm not hurting anyone.

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

Kicking the Bucket List


A few of weekends ago I was hanging with a couple of friends. As is typical, our (only sometimes drunken) discussion topics wandered and morphed with all the randomness in the Universe. At one point, we rolled around to bucket lists. In case you've been living under a rock, in a cave, with no internet, DVD player, or running water, a bucket list is comprised of the things you want to do before you die - usually stuff like bungee jumping, climbing Kilimanjaro, drinking a good French wine at a cafĂ© in the region it was made in, making love in a submarine. You make the list and check off the items you manage to accomplish.

As my friends were listing things, I felt that familiar uh-oh-they're-not-going-to-like-what-I-say thing scratching at my brain. Here it is. While it might be fine and dandy for everyone else, I don't have a bucket list. I don't want to have a bucket list. In fact, I will vehemently oppose having a bucket list. I threw mine away long ago. I did that because while I was working 50+ hours a week to accumulate a little bit of money and time to do some of the stuff on the bucket list, I was miserable. Then I'd go do the thing, which never managed to be as exciting as I thought it was going to be (you can begin humming "Is That All There Is" now). I'd come back, exhausted and depressed that I had to go back to work to start all over again so I could tick off another item on the list that I was supposed to have because Death is on the march and dear gods, I need to cram as much stuff in before I'm trampled into the ground.

I was so focused on big pictures that I missed out on a lot of glorious minutiae. I was so busy that I didn't have time for spontaneous fun. My bucket list turned into a millstone. "Hey, Barb. Want to go away this weekend? It's supposed to be sunny and the wildflowers are going crazy in the mountains." "I can't. I'm saving for..." Wait. Please don't misunderstand. I'm all for saving for big ticket fun. New experiences are necessary for our brains and souls. I am of the belief that everyone should experience at least one other country where they don't know the language and aren't completely familiar with the food - subject for a whole 'nother blog post.

What happened? People started dying, people with whom I was intimate enough that I sat at their bedside while they transitioned into whatever is beyond. I noticed that, especially at the end, all they wanted was a hand to hold - to love and be loved. None spoke of regret, or missing out on experiences, or wishing they'd seen the Great Wall of China. They talked of how fast it all goes by and how they wished they'd had more time with those they loved. In fact, my late mate John said it so eloquently before he passed away, "Cherish the moments. It's all about those precious little moments. Just live and love."

I began looking back at moments rather than at events, trips, and grand experiences. I realized those were my bucket moments, the things that were forever etched in my heart. I realized something else, too. None of those moments were planned. Not a single one. None of them were part of some great Gotta Do This Before I Die scheme. More importantly, none of them could ever be striven for or repeated. And I have thousands of those moments collected. Hundreds of thousands.

Here are a few, a very small sampling indeed, in no particular order:

  • Sitting with my uncle in his attic on a rainy afternoon, listening to old American blues music recorded on 78 LPs on an old hand-crank phonograph. Pure magic.
  • The tears in my brother's eyes as he talked about how proud he was of his sons.
  • A long ago, sultry summer evening - my hair and bathing suit still damp from the pool. I sat at the picnic table eating watermelon while my Dad sat across from me smoking a cigarette. When I close my eyes, I can still smell the watermelon, the chlorine from the pool, the cigarette smoke, and the scent of turpentine on Dad's shirt, all mingled on that ineffable thing that makes summertime smell like summer. 
  • An evening spent sitting at a poolside bar at Disney World, laughing hysterically over family shenanigans with my sister, her husband and two of my nephews. Nine thousand things to do, see, and enjoy at Disney World, and that was the most fun we had the whole time.
  • Coming around the bend at the top of Hurricane Ridge last Summer and watching my dear friend's tearfully emotional reaction upon seeing the glittering teeth of the Olympic mountain range sprawled out in front of us. 
  • My mother's eyes when I finished playing the Rachmaninoff concerto for my senior piano recital - a mix of pride and wonder at the human being I was becoming.
  • Sitting on my Grandma's porch, playing John Denver songs on my guitar while she crocheted. "Play da von about da fedder bed," she said in her Hungarian accent.
  • The self-pleased look in my Beloved's eyes the other day - the look that said, "I love seeing you happy and I love that it's because of me."
There are so many more, and I count myself blessed that there are. For all the sorrows, and even within the sorrows, the moments I recall most are made of tremendously rich stuff. I don't need to plan big things to feel that. I need only be open to what's right in front of me. I don't need no stinking buckets.

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*

-OR-

"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

Fault

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