I painted this cat several years ago. It sucks. It’s really, really bad. But I had fun painting it, and it served its purpose.
I love to doodle. I draw all the time–faces, little cartoon animals, aliens, even my happy little elephant butt (see below).
I come from a family of artists, some of them professional, most of them wicked talented. For years, I never “did” art because, frankly, I didn’t want to put it against the work of family members who were much better than I was. So I just scribble little cartoons in the margins of my notebooks and have a good time with it.
This week I donated a six-string guitar my father gave me to the local LGBT Community Center. The official reason was that we didn’t have space to bring it with us in the car to Arizona. The underlying reason was that in the two years I’ve had the thing, I never learned to play. I would start, suck, stop, start again, suck some more, and stop. (Sorry, Dad.)
Things have always come pretty easily for me. I did well enough in school. I can carry a tune to the point where singing isn’t painful for those around me. I can write stories and blog posts. Yes, I worked at these things, and yes that effort improved my abilities over time. And yes, I have failed tests and bombed songs and written excruciatingly crappy stories.
In essence, I sucked.
So why do I persevere through the suck on some things while letting it defeat me on other things, like art and playing the guitar? What is it that causes us to continue in some situations while we give up on the others?
I am not sure why it doesn’t bother me that sometimes I suck as a writer. Everybody sucks, now and then. But I keep writing. I know that, to a certain extent, it’s a numbers game. For every sucky story I write, I’ll probably write a good one to balance it out. I think my sucky song ratio is about five to one on the good side, and dude–try to stop me from learning. No, I will never be an archaeologist or an astrophysicist, but that’s not going to stop me from learning about both subjects.
I think what really matters is how much you want to do the things that you suck at. While I enjoy doodling, it’s not important enough for me to work through the sucking part. And it was cool strumming the guitar and actually getting a chord to sound right, but not enough to get calloused fingers and put in the effort.
To truly excel at something, you have to be willing to suck at it–possibly for a good, long time. You have to be willing to get bad grades, reviews, feedback. Hell, you have to accept that you might even be made fun of from time to time.
This sucking is the price you pay for becoming really good at something. Every C-minus, every rejection letter, every painful wince as you struggle to reach that high note is a due you pay to get where you want to go. Every crappy drawing you crumble up (or stick under a fridge magnet as a reminder of your suckitude) will spur you on, if that is where you really want to go.
If you are not willing to fuck it up, and royally, you will never get through to where you truly become a master.
So, let’s fuck it up, ya’ll. Let’s make bad art, and bad music, and tell really really crappy stories. Let’s share them with the world, so everybody understands it’s okay to suck. And when we’ve done that, let’s do it again–only a little better this time. And do it again, a little better, the next time. Until we really have something worth sharing.
I’m going to keep posting, and I’m going to keep drawing, and I’m going to keep singing. I hope you will, too.
Good night, Dear Souls.
I had a near panic attack today. I was driving along, happy as you please, and it occurred to me that…I was not earning money!!!!! Yes, it was a weekday. Yes, it was between the hours of 8 am and 5 pm. Yes, I was healthy and able to leave my bed.
But I was not in an office, at a computer, doing work proscribed to me by a so-called Higher Up in order to secure an agreed-upon amount of compensation (less taxes, insurance, etc.) in return.
This hit me like a slap in the face, and I actually felt myself begin to hyperventilate, right there behind the wheel.
Mind you, our money situation is okay. Our bills are paid. We have food, shelter, transportation, clothing, and extra for little niceties. We are in no danger of SUDDENLY RUNNING OUT OF MONEY AND BEING FORCED OUT OF OUR HOME AND OMERGERD WHAT ARE WE GONNA DOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO????
But I felt that way. Because I was not earning a paltry salary at a job that was killing me with stress, like I’ve been brainwashed to do my entire life. For a brief moment, I felt like the entire universe was going to collapse in on me, and it was all my fault.
Then I took another breath, and it went away. I took another breath and asked myself, why are you so freaked out about earning money? Yes, within reason, having money is a good thing–a very good thing. It allows you the freedom to do what you like without being a financial burden on your loved ones. It comes in very handy at the grocers and the laundromat and when it’s time to pay for the utilities.
But beyond that, why are we so freaked out over the accumulation of money?
Because we’re afraid. Because we’re taught to be afraid from very early childhood. Because money is set up as the ultimate Wooby, that go-to paper superhero that solves all our problems, makes everything possible, and keeps the streets safe for Truth, Justice, and the American Way.
And because we’re afraid of just about everything, we reach out for anything that will comfort. We reach out for our Paper Wooby, because it’s easier than just being in that fear for the moment. Being in that fear takes effort and trust, something that isn’t all that easy to do when you’re exhausted from the constant grind of accumulating the MoneyWubby.
But give yourself a few days, maybe a couple of weeks to rest up, and it gets easier.
It gets easier being rational. It gets easier seeing the wholeness of things, how life fits together, and how we can relax even when we don’t have the answers. And that is pretty damned cool.
Good night, my friends. I hope you get a chance to relax and enjoy the uncertainty of it all.
The past few days have been pretty rough for me–I’ve caught whatever creeping crud has been going around. It’s amazing how low your expectations for life become when you’re cramping and running to the bathroom at all hours. I spent much of yesterday curled on the couch, listening to lectures by Alan Watts on YouTube.
It’s a strange thing, being sick while you’re in transition. I mean, if I were employed (like a responsible person ,says the evil inner critic), I’d still have insurance and wouldn’t be worried about if I have to go to the doctor and if she’ll want to run tests and how much that will cost. But if I were employed (like a good little do-bee, the wise inner counsel responds), I would be at work right now, adding stress to my already depleted body, because I have run out of paid time off and couldn’t risk missing the work. Instead of taking care of myself through quiet, rest, and self-care, I’d be making myself sicker with worry and stress and resentment.
So much of what we do as modern Western adults is done in the name of seeking security. If you study the concept of emotional branding, fear is the Number One motivator used to get people to everything from buy toothpaste to work a soul-killing job. Fear is a big money-maker for a lot of people, people who aren’t afraid of exploiting human nature for their own gains.
Kathryn and I recently had a conversation about the similarities between many jobs and abusive partnerships. Both use the same triggers, the same tired old threats and emotional manipulations to keep you in a situation that is ultimately bad for you.
- “You’ll never find another job/lover if you leave here/me.”
- “This job is/I am the best you’re ever going to get.”
- “You won’t survive outside this job/relationship.”
- “You owe the company/me; you were nothing before this job/me.”
- “Look at all the training you’ve received from this job/Look at everything I’ve done for you.”
There are other correlations between the two, like the enforced secrecy, the isolationist tactics, the periodic moments of generosity to distract from the more consistent abuses.
And we do this. We choose this. We dress up and fight for these jobs, these relationships, that treat us so badly and damage us so deeply.
We find ways to survive. We make friends. We form relationships with our coworkers and customers, because that’s who we are as humans. And we make the best of it. We tell ourselves we’re doing it for our future, for our security, in preparation for the Deep Dark What-If’s that lurk around every corner in this terrifying world of ours.
But why? What security is so strong, what safety so guaranteed, that we would trade our health, our dignity, our freedom and self-esteem for just a whiff of it?
Security is an illusion. Security assumes that something is wrong with us, that something is wrong with the world. Security also assumes, conversely, that there is something we can do to fix it.
Watts talks about cycles, and about the different viewpoints we have. He talks about perspective.
What I’m giving myself right now is perspective.
I’m pulling away from the fear and conflict and daily craziness to see the cycles, in hopes that I will gain a greater understanding of who I am and what my place in this cosmos really is. I’m physically uncomfortable right now. That is the immediate perspective. But in the greater perspective, I am free. I am whole. And I am joyful.
Peace to you, my friends.
I’m slowly adjusting to the newness of this life. I’ve been 9-to-5-ing it for so many years, this freedom to set my own hours for a while has been…almost unnerving. I keep waiting for the time off to end, for the dread to start growing in my stomach, for the clock-watching to remind me I have to go to bed in order to drag myself off to work for 8 am.
For the most part, it’s only been a relatively small thought in the back of my mind. I don’t talk about it much. I don’t think, “OMG, I’m not working!” at random points in the day. I don’t even feel ridiculously happy not to have to deal with the stress and BS that were a regular part of my day on the job.
Today, though, as I was driving around doing errands, there was a moment. It is a beautiful fall day here in Kentucky–the sky is blue and clear, and the temperature is just cool enough to be perfect. For a moment, just a moment, I was back in my desk at The Day Job™. It hit me, hard like a punch in the stomach. I could actually feel myself in the desk chair, a computer in front of me, white noise choking me, that trapped feeling all lab rats get when they become momentarily aware of their real situation.
From my desk, I could see out a window onto the parking lot in front of the Chinese buffet next door. Rain, snow, sleet, or sunshine, I would look out of that window countless times a day. My eyes would drift away from the screen and the work and the reality and fixated on that Outside place. Outside, where people were running errands and meeting friends and working in their yards. Outside, where time was just time, and not a weapon used against you.
And I remembered, like it was happening, the ache I would get sometimes, on days just like today, when I would look out and see the clear blue sky filled with sunlight and cool breezes. I called those days my Alpaca Days, because I would have rather been doing anything – even herding alpacas – than stay inside that cold, stale office. In my mind, I would just grab my purse and leave, without even telling anyone, without even turning off the computer. I’d get in the car and pick up my sweetie and we’d drive without stopping until we hit an ocean.
Today, I realized that I didn’t have to raise alpacas. I didn’t have to run away from home.
I was out there, in that sunshine, on that perfect day, doing what I wanted to do.
And I realized, “Wow, I don’t have to go to work for a while.”
Love to you all,
I’m still struggling to get back into a routine after last week. In addition to the disruption of the holiday weekend, last week was simply difficult. Far too much stress with far too little sleep, combined with an unhealthy amount of caffeine, salt, and sugar.
We’re not perfect. We mess up, miss appointments, fall behind on tasks. But if we constantly strive to do the best we can, defining best as the best we can do in that moment without harming ourselves or others, there’s no need for guilt or recrimination.
My goal is to get back to posting twice a day, consistently, every day. It’s important to me to have this routine, to meet this commitment I’ve made to myself and my readers.
I hope you’ll be patient with me as I work toward that goal.
Have a great day–
Some days, you have to just settle for good enough. Some days it’s enough to just get through.
In today’s world, we have been conditioned toward excellence. We have been trained to accept nothing less than our very best. The trouble is, some days, our very best is just good enough. Some days, the best we can do is show up and try.
Our hero-oriented culture doesn’t have much pity for what it deems “losers” – people who aren’t the best, aren’t the first, aren’t the richest, aren’t the sexiest. There’s no quarter for also-rans, it seems.
This sets us up prettily for a ruinous lack of self-worth. It assures us of constant neurosis, since it’s simply impossible to always be the best at everything.
The best way to empower yourself, then, is to embrace failure as a necessary and valuable part of life. Moreso, understand that “not winning” and “failure” are not the same thing. Some days, you learn more from showing up and coming in third than you ever would from winning.
You learn persistence.
You learn faith.
You learn self-compassion.
You learn humility.
These are important lessons that need to be learned.
When you see not-winning and failing as the same thing, the only thing you learn is failure.
And that, my friends, is the real loss.
Be blessed –
Writing this blog is, in some ways, one of the most frightening things I’ve ever done. I’ve set two challenges for myself with this project: (1) to say what is important, and (2) to speak the truth.
Saying what’s important requires a clarity of thought I don’t always pursue. Because speaking and writing have always come so easily to me, I can sometimes get lost in the mechanics without really focusing on the message I’m sending. Style without substance is something I need to be on guard against at all time. It doesn’t matter how cleverly you say something, if it’s not worth saying.
But the second part of that challenge, the speaking of truth, is by far the harder of the two for me. It’s not that I am inherently a liar (although my wife insists I’m a master of the well-spoken untruth). But telling the truth is not simply to avoid lying. Telling the truth involves risk. Telling the truth involves commitment. Telling the truth cuts off escape routes.
Without going into the dysfunction of my youth too deeply, let’s just say that I grew up in an environment where secrecy was encouraged. There is privacy, and then there is secrecy. There is discretion, and then there is paranoia.
One of the hardest parts of growing up for me was learning what was socially acceptable to talk about, and what was not. The social rules concerning this were (and remain) incomprehensible to me. It seemed that 99% of the trouble I got in as a child was because I spoke an embarrassing truth in front of the wrong person or persons. The trouble I got in was severe enough that I learned to guard myself fiercely, learned when to lie and how to do so eloquently and efficiently.
I internalized that the default setting on life was to hide the truth as deeply and carefully as possible, no matter how much you wanted to tell it, no matter how much better things would be if you did. Secrecy was the norm, and telling the truth was the aberration.
it took a long time for me to break out of that norm. I had to work hard to learn first how to recognize my truth and then how to safely speak it. it took a lot of pain and error and courage.
Recently, I’ve found myself in a space where I’m forced by circumstance back into that place of institutionalized secrecy and paranoia. And it’s eating me out from the inside. I’ve discovered that once I broke free of that type of life, I never ever wanted to go back to it. I’ve quit jobs to avoid it. I’ve ended friendships.
And here I am, back again in this space.
Sometimes, circumstance forces you to hold your tongue. But I will never hold my tongue on this blog. I will never hide my truth here. I am angry about my current circumstance, and I will get out of it. But I will keep this space honest, no matter what.
I thank you for reading, and I hope I earn your trust.
Peace and good dreams to you–
If you read my earlier post, you know I’ve been in “what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger” mode. Not a space I enjoy inhabiting, but that’s where I am.
In times of high stress and difficulty, self-care is more important than ever. Taking a well-earned nap, spending time with loved ones, getting in that workout that reinvigorates you – these are crucial to surviving the onslaught of modern life.
Too many of us get into a grind mentality when things get stressful. We put on our good little Pilgrim caps and tell ourselves to push through, hang tough, and fight until the bitter end. And if a brutal New England winter is threatening to starve your entire settlement, then yes, this is a great mind-set.
But when your challenge is a job that throws more and more paperwork at you, or a house whose clutter has almost TARDIS-like qualities, a different strategy might better suit your needs.
Sometimes you just have to say no. Sometimes you have to stand firm and cry enough. It doesn’t make you less of a person to draw strong, sensible boundaries against the forces that threaten to take over your time, your energy, and your life. Nobody gets an extra cookie in Heaven for workaholism.
So, take this long weekend, if you’re lucky enough to have one, and give it to yourself. Wrap it up in a bow, and let yourself enjoy it.
The grind will still be there on Tuesday. And hopefully, you’ll be in a better position to face it.
Good night, dear souls. Sweet dreams to you all.
Almost forgot–music to dream by – Nocturne In Eb Major, Op. 9, No. 2 by Frederic Chopin
I keep thinking about strength and endurance. The song currently stuck in my head is What Doesn’t Kill You Makes You Stronger by Kelly Clarkson. It’s a pretty empowering song, with a good beat (and you can dance to it).
Gaining wisdom and strength through adversity is all well and good, but it doesn’t have to be the only way we do it. I know people who purposely seek out difficult situations in the backward desire to prove their strength. If you’re doing this as a marathon runner, that’s awesome. But if you’re constantly putting yourself in the path of hostile or sick people just to prove your strength of character, you’re going about it the wrong way.
A friend of mine had a very abusive father. He would always berate her, call her names, tell her she was worthless. Occasionally, he would physical hit her. And when asked, he always offered the same reasoning for his behavior – he was hoping she would “grow a spine,” fight him, and gain strength from the experience.
What a crock!
Sometimes, what doesn’t kill you makes you weaker. What doesn’t kill you eats away at your core ability to trust yourself, saps your strength, and reduces your life to an ambulatory coma with no energy left for growth and exploration.
We all face adversity from time to time, and most of us have some serious scar tissue to show from it. But there are easier ways to gain strength: by standing up for yourself, by speaking out for others, by living your truth quietly and persistently. You don’t need a war to become a warrior, just a warrior’s soul and determination.
I hope that whatever adversity you face today makes you stronger instead of weaker. I hope that you find opportunities to strengthen yourself through love, compassion, and curiosity.
And I hope that you have a fantastic weekend and (in the U.S.) Labor Day holiday.