Category Archives: Random Muse

Jerk that Pistol: Firing into the New Year

I was talking with someone the other day about New Year’s resolutions.  The person I was talking to was negative in response – citing their unwillingness to succumb to peer pressure to state unattainable goals.  I made some kind of blithe return that I didn’t necessarily believe in ‘resolutions’ as such, but I did try and set myself some goals.  Here is one right now:  I resolve not to talk out of my ass so much.  The concept of resolutions and making goals are so similar as to be totally interchangeable.

 

Having stated I would make no resolutions (but would have goals, insert eye roll here) I immediately started making resolutions.  This got me curious.  Where does this tradition of New Year’s resolutions come from?  A quick google around the internet revealed that it goes back to Roman times, and involves making promises of good deeds to the Roman god Janus.  Janus is the one with two faces, one looking back and one looking forward.  Ok, I can totally get behind a Roman tradition.  Romans kick ass (please don’t tell my Egyptian characters how much I love Romans).  Of course for hundreds of years New Year’s resolutions were quite attainable: I will a pile of gold to the poor, I will return the chariot I stole from my neighbor, I will marry the girl I knocked up, etc.

 

Somehow, over the years, the resolution came to be some personal goal of self-improvement.  Which is, apparently, the reason that fewer and fewer New Year’s resolutions actually get followed through on, with most people giving up after just a couple months.  Giving a charitable donation is a very achievable goal; becoming a better person is not.  Just think of all the people determining right this minute that they will lose weight, write every day, be nicer to the people they despise, or exercise more?  Are you going to be one of them?

 

I resolve to write a novel this year.  I already started it.  I have the books I need for research.  I’m not going to tell you how many hours a day I plan to write, or any other writerly self-improvement resolutions that I will probably break before I get a week or two into the New Year.  I am simply going to set myself an achievable goal: I will finish my book.

 

There.  Done.

 

What about you?

Advertisements

Runaway Stage Coach

I gotta stop letting life jerk me around. Take control of the reins, and pull up this runaway team. That’s what it feels like some days when I look around me, jangled and jarred by the verisimilitudes making ends meet like boulders and rocks on my roadway, and see that great chasm opening up wide before me ready to swallow me into obscurity. Will I find myself, soon, clinging to the edge of that cliff, or maybe a couple feet down on some gnarled root where my friends can’t see me, and believe me finally gone?

I exaggerate. Wildly. For Effect.

It’s a nice image, drawn from countless westerns, the stagecoach out of control. It reminds me why the western is so appealing as a genre—where people were their own law, and lived by their own wits. Grab me a gun, a horse, and a saddle, and I could find my own way in the world, seek my fortune. It was wide open.

Modern life just ain’t like that. Each and everyone of us, less the Bill Gates of the world, are being pushed and pulled by external forces we have little to no control over. We’re living in a subprime world where our overlords, the world financial system and the greedy corporations, have so crassly fucked up both our economy and our environment that it feels like we’re all passengers on that stagecoach, and the chasm is only a few feet head of us.

My only consolation is that the stagecoach driver and the guy riding shotgun, in this metaphor, they’re going with us because there sure as shit ain’t no way out for any of us if they don’t pull up those reins quick, and turn those ponies around.

And that, in one metaphor standing in for my life as a passenger in the stagecoach of the 21st century, is the reason for my retooling of my blog. It’s time to skin that smoke wagon, and get to fighting. I’m fighting for my life.

Are you fighting for yours?


Christmas Present, Christmas Past, Christmas Virtual

Do I scream or do I cry? It’s that time of year again. I love the holidays and I hate the holidays. Remember being a child? It was all so uncomplicated then. Santa came in the middle of the night, ate up all the cookies you left him and sucked down on the cream sherry (yes, we were that kind of household), and then left a humungous plethora of joy wrapped in silver, red, and gold paper.

Year after year it grew more complicated. The first Christmas away from home, spent in another family’s home as an outside was like a dash of cold water that sent my youthful emotions spinning into darkness. Later on changing family dynamics changed the holidays from my uncomplicated joy to harrowing nightmares that might involve drunken binges (not mine). Expanding connections and networks produced an overload of spending, responsibility, anxiety, and stress as big business pushed ever harder for us all to succumb to an orgy of consumerism at the holidays. As a single parent there were those mornings when I knew I had failed my offspring because I couldn’t afford those excessive gifts that were commonplace, it appeared, in every household but my own on Christmas morning.

Now I have a family that demands to be together, and yet collectively sighs and moans at the difficulties inherent at fulfilling the expectations of the season. I’ll be doing a little of the same, but in the middle of all the chaos and tears, there will also be hugs, and moments of genuine gladness in each other.

Now if only the holidays could be like they are at Pan Historia: full of fun and games, where gift giving may be real or virtual, but it hardly counts which because everyone is just happy to be involved. No one worries about the stresses of real life too much because it is where they come to escape such concerns. The tree is big and gaudy with plenty of love decorating it, but no needles to sweep up at the end. The food is fun, but will not make you fat or give you indigestion. And it really doesn’t matter what the holidays mean to you. We have something for everyone.

Oh, and I love our red cardinal and snow theme this year, simple and elegant.


Taking Responsibility for the Relationships In Your Life

ScoldingThe definition of insanity, or stupidity (I can’t recall which) is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results. I, at times, suffer from this. I am self-aware enough to realize it so maybe I’m not insane or stupid but simply a perpetual Pollyanna? Recent events in my life and around me have caused me to reflect, again, on how people in your life can effect you, from the most casual of online acquaintances to the most keenly bonded relationships.

I like to think of myself as a pragmatic optimist and so eventually I always have to back away from my optimism in a negative situation and assess. It’s important in life to realize that we cannot change other people; we can only change ourselves. If something keeps happening to you over and over again you can either whine, bemoan everyone else’s stupidity, or you can ask yourself: “why do I attract this to myself?” Once it becomes your responsibility and something you did or created or attracted it suddenly becomes a problem that is solvable rather than a perpetual source of anxiety. In the instance of someone in your life that continually reflects back negativity you have to ask yourself what about you draws that? Are you being negative? Are you too defensive? Perhaps you open yourself up to perpetual criticism because you feel inadequate in yourself?

This swings me to my other character defect: wanting to fix everything. Much as I can take responsibility for the things that happen in my life, and then do something about creating better results and situations, is equally important to understand that some things, like the weather and tides, cannot be changed. If you find, after careful self-examination, that you have taken all the steps you can to ensure the most positive results it’s time to step back. I don’t mean you should resume the blame game however. I can’t foresee every possible problem and ensure that it doesn’t come up and disturb the glass-like surface of the sea on a calm day I would like to create in the world around me. Waves happen. There are Tsunamis. When such events occur in your life it’s time to get out the surfboard and ride it out.

But you don’t have to ride out bad behavior when it comes to people. The people in our lives are there by our choice. People, as much as events, influence us. We can’t always choose our family ties, but we can pick our friends. If you have a friend or acquaintance that always seems to be drawing bad feelings to you through their criticisms or dramas it’s time to assess their true value to you in your life. Some people just do not add value. Don’t allow people around you who continually make you feel bad. Healthy criticism is one thing. Harping discontent is quite another. Family is one area where I often endure more than I would from people not related, but even within the family boundaries must be drawn. Even there you have to state your position and require good behavior, or possibly, in the end, withdraw. Even with your family you do have a choice, even if at times that choice is a painful one to make.

Again it’s not about blaming. It’s about taking responsibility. If there is a person in your life that brings you bad feelings or continually causes disruptions it’s not about blaming them. It’s about asking yourself why you allow them to behave in negative ways towards you? If you have clearly stated your boundaries and they still ignore your needs, then why are they in your life at all? Some people may require interventions, others just a good talking to, and some you might just need to brush off like mosquitoes, but it’s all still about the choices you make in your life. As long as you know you have done what you can to right the balance and take responsibility for your actions, you can feel free to remove those negative influences, maybe once and for all.


Bombs Bursting in Air

I suffer from multi-taskitis and project-overload. No matter how I try to trim down on activities and interests and procrastination it seems I keep on piling them on my head until I’m in danger of drowning. When that happens I find myself stuck on mindless distractions (anyone that is a FaceBook friend of mine will know exactly what I mean) to turn off the anxiety or napping, but of course both of these end up giving me twice as much anxiety in the long run because I become more self-critical of myself for wasting valuable time. I feel like I’m on that proverbial treadmill at the gym, going nowhere fast.

Another symptom of my over-involvement and the impossibility of focusing on one task at a time is the increasing tendency towards losing the thread, brain stutters, and memory lapses. When I sit down to work I make repeated resolutions that this day I will start to focus my energies, cut out my time-wasting activities, and structure my day. I never follow through. The miracle remains: I still get shit done.

I’m like a poor mule beaten about the back to keep on pulling in the traces, but the whip hand? That’s my own. I beat myself black and blue every day just to get through the day and get something accomplished of the long list of projects I have set myself due to the incredible firing of my brain. Basically I get ideas. It never stops. Day in day out, night time too, I’m getting ideas. I find almost everything interesting. Inspiration sparks me where ever I go, from the slow times when I actually walk somewhere and have time to smell the gardenias, to the crazy overload times where my fingers are racing across a keyboard to get the ideas down somewhere before they vanish in the ether.

Of course the key to all of this is two-fold: make a plan and stick to it; and pick less projects. Maybe even schedule projects to be consecutive instead of all at once? How to reject great ideas though? It seems such a shame to consign interesting little tidbits to a murky “might never get around to this one” file.

Hey, I know. I could gain 32 hours a week if I quit my job.


Gratifying the Inner Child

“Little Wyatt, if you want your another piece of your candy from Halloween, you have to clean your room first.”

It’s a common command. Children are taught to delay gratification from the bassinet and stroller and onward to school. Learning self-control and how to defer pleasure is essential to becoming an adult human being capable of making responsible decisions that enhance quality of life and ensure survival. Some of our oldest fables and folk stories demonstrate the same principle from the hard plodding tortoise that knows he cannot rest until the job is done and thus beats the hare at a race, to the three little pigs where the one that knows to do the hard work and build his house out of brick doesn’t end up pork tenderloin for a hungry wolf. Of course it’s hardly kosher these days to scare children with stories of pigs being eaten by wolves is it? And how does Little Red Riding Hood fare?

In fact not only are we less likely to tell children cautionary tales of what happens to the selfish, lazy, greedy, and irresponsible, we, collectively as parents, are less likely to teach our children to be anything but greedy, selfish, lazy, and irresponsible anymore. Out the window went spankings and consequences, and while I’m happy to find an alternative to physical violence as a parental disciplinary option if you can show me a better happier way, I’m terribly loath to go the way I have seen this nation tumble towards. Television sets are baby sitters that teach mass consumption. Lack of public approval for discipling children has either led to screaming harpies that don’t care how they are perceived in public or the greater majority of well-meaning parents that hand that children whatever it is they are crying for as soon as they are crying, just to stop the socially embarrassing moment of a child making a scene in public.

Rewards are handed out as incentives for self-expression rather than self-discipline and we’re all lauding the freedom we experience as our entire nation, as in The Curious Case of Benjamin Button by F. Scott Fitzgerald, grows ever younger and more immature. Our entire financial institution is now centered around the principle of enjoy now, pay later (or at least have someone else bail you out). Don’t defer. Get a credit card. Credit cards getting a bad rap? Well now you can use layaway at some of the major stores just to be sure you can get what you want now and worry about the consequences later. No matter than you’re now paying much more for it than you should be because all the added interest and fees. Can anyone remember far back into the dark ages when you know, if you had no money in your account, your card wouldn’t let you have any, or wow, your check would bounce? Now instead it lets you go on blithely spending and slams you with fees later – because, of course, you gotta have it now. We have all sunk deep and deeper into a quicksand of instant gratification.

Of course it would be easy to say: don’t use credit, save, only buy what you can afford – except that the whole crazy system of instant gratification has had the domino effect of creating massive inflation (yes, I know there are complex issues and myriad causes, but it is one of those causes). How many years would it take to save for a house, when of course when we are young and raising a family is exactly when we need one? Rising health care costs and the wonderful fraud of insurance of course accounts for huge chunk of change making it impossible to get what we need without credit.

Every where you choose to cast your eye in regards to our culture the cult of childish instant gratification has left its indelible print of banality, self-centeredness, and immaturity: music, art, relationships, media, and our economy. Is there a way, I wonder, to reverse that trend or are we doomed like Benjamin Button to fade into black unable to remember our own name?


Retrieving the Wonder of Childlike Eyes

Old advertising posterI recently watched a couple of young boys, probably around seven or eight, explore an area of a garden center unsupervised, and I suspect they also thought themselves alone. I was amused to observe them get excited over some plant specimens (succulents of course, weird and wonderful) as well as become totally distracted and unhinged at the sight of some bug. I smiled to myself as I remembered my same joy of discovery at the amazing world around me, and the same lack of discrimination as to what was worthy of notice and what wasn’t. It was not an unusual thought that came to my mind: how sad is the loss of the wonder of youth. My next thought was a congratulatory one: I’m so glad I haven’t lost my wonder. Only a few minutes later I was proving this point by collecting up some unusual pine cones that looked like old-fashioned cabbage roses and some spiky and strange seed pods, all the while wondering how I could use them in some creative way. I often stop to watch the humming bird feed, or to touch an interesting plant with an unusual texture or scent. While dead heading the cyclamen the other day I snipped a seed pod in half to see what it looked like inside, curious because I had never observed their fruit before.

Of course my musings on the wonder of youth led me to reflect that creative people always seem to retain some of that childlike amazement and curiosity at the world around us. I started to pat myself on the back, but then I had another thought: perhaps it’s not some innate specialness that allows us to retain our senses when others become smoothed to the world around them, like over-used sandpaper. Observe adults with children and you’ll see the smoothing away process in action often. For every parent that is encouraging their offspring in their explorations there are at least two others teaching their children fear and/or indifference. To be honest most parents belong in both categories. We tell our children what is important to pay attention to all the time with every little caution and gesture.

“Dad, what is this pretty flower?”

“I don’t know, it’s just a flower, now do up your shoelaces.”

“Mom, I like this squishy slug.”

“Ugh! Put that down, it’s dirty.”

Or better yet – just ignoring all the observations, questions, and wonder – or even better yet – criticizing, mocking, or laughing at the child for their pleasure at life’s wonders.

One of my personal favorites is misinformation. The largest dissemination of crap information is from parents to their children. It can be minor as in identifying an ape as a monkey, or it can be major as in stating that all people of a certain colored skin or sexual preference are inferior.

Of course I once failed to correct a couple of little boys as they made some wild assumptions: they were identifying some marks on the side of a ship docked in a harbor as being the result of ‘shark bites’. I loved that. That was not misinformation but a sign of the wonderful imagination that all human beings are born with. Seeing some places where the paint was missing from the hull down at the water line their young minds, still not trained to ignore or classify as uninteresting or useless, imagined huge Great Whites with gaping jaws full of sharp and horrifying teeth as the fish leapt up out of the water in a feeding frenzy.

Perhaps if you have found yourself rubbed too smooth to wonder at life any longer, too harried to pass on your own wonder to your kids? I present no answers here, but I hope to have fueled some thought that might lead you down a path of rediscovery, and maybe what you find there, on that yellow brick road, might rub off on your little ones.