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*


"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.