Friday, June 24, 2011

The Writer

Karen braced herself for what she'd see as the door slowly opened in front of her. She instantly tensed her shoulders up around her ears without noticing, it was a reflex. You just don't see your friend looking like they'd be more at home in a soup kitchen than in their nice house without worrying what they'll look like at the next visit. She reminded herself that Sherri was a writer, this was "normal", so to speak, there wasn't any real reason to be concerned. But underneath that something in her head was screaming that she needed a doctor and if Karen didn't intervene she'd eventually come knocking at a door that wouldn't be answered.

But instead of the unwashed, distracted and frantic-eyed woman she'd beheld three months ago there was a bright-faced, smiling visage in front her, happily standing back to welcome her friend.

"Oh my God..." Karen said, she couldn't help it. It was too much of a shock. A happy shock, but a shock none-the-less.

"I know," Sherri said closing the door behind her.

Karen looked her up and down. Not only were her clothes clean, her hair combed, her arms hanging limply at her sides as if she were just too comfortable to stand any other way but her face had dropped what looked like years of agonizing worry. The eyes were bright and focused and showed crows feet at the edges from smiling. Her skin pigment looked like it'd be at home on a 12 year old girl playing hopscotch. Her lips kept a slight upturn even when she dropped the smile. She looked like a totally different person.

"I mean... oh my God!" Karen exclaimed happily, holding her arms out for the hug she didn't realize she needed.

"I know," Sherri replied, locking her in a bear hug that made her back crack.

"Ooomph-" Karen breathed, then straightened herself and tilted her neck to the side noticing how much that actually helped. All of the stone solid muscles had relaxed and she noticed her whole body dropping it's anxiety from joints she didn't even realize were frozen. "I just- I can't believe it!"

"Well, I told you I get crazy when I write," Sherri said, leading the way over to the couch.

"Yeah, you told me you get crazy but I didn't think you meant it literally!" Karen said following her, still marveling at how loosely her friend moved, almost as if floating through the room rather than walking. "I mean, you were practically schizophrenic before and now you're... you're like Buddha or something!"

"Uh, well gee- thanks for that description. I didn't think I was that bad before."

"Oh yeah- are you kidding me? You were talking to yourself and you kept stopping mid sentence to write something down and you couldn't stay on topic and don't even get me started on what you looked like- you could've been homeless the way your hair was stuck and your clothes-"

"Ok- ok. I get it." Sherri said with a dipped brow. "It got to me, I know."

"So what happened?"

"It's over!"

"What do you mean? You stopped writing?"

"Yes! It's finished! I got through the editing, it's at the publisher's, it's done. I'm free," she said. Her voice held the serenity that comes from not obsessing over something with every fiber of one's being when one has spent every waking second engaged in that particular activity for a long, long time.

"So when does it come out?" Karen asked, expecting the joy of writing to emerge when reding the finished product.

"Who cares?  I'm done!  Don't you get it?  No more constantly worrying about my characters and ebing so deep in the whole world i've created that I loose touch with reality.  I'm free.  I don't even want to think about it!"

“Wow,” Karen said again. She sounded like a six year old seeing a giant dinosaur skeleton for the first time, full of excitement and awe. All this over seeing what could only be described as an actual, bonafide artist.  This must be the process of creativity.  You lose yourself and then reemerge from a quicksand of madness. “So… so what do you do when you’re not crazy?”

“Well, I catch up with old friends- I want to hear all about your trip! And I clean the house, cook real meals, enjoy reading a book rather than obsessing over my manuscript- I even open my mail!” she said, picking up an envelope from the coffee table in front of her.

“So you’re… normal. That’s great,” Karen replied. She watched as her friend’s peaceful smile cracked and then completely fell away as she read the contents of the envelope. “What? What is it?” she asked, her body tensing up again.

“It's a book advance,” her friend said.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Swimsuit Shopping

I can’t believe my mother is making me do this. Well, no, I can. But I, like, can’t. It’s just way too obviously an exercise in torture. Like you have to get a new swimsuit every single summer, cause having to go shopping with your mother all the other times of the year isn’t horrible enough.

I hate my mother far more than usual today. With the… the hatred from some Shakespeare play- like the fire of a thousand suns or something. Yeah, that’s it. I hate her with sun flares like I’m constantly burning but every now and again there’s a spike. At least I think that’s how sun flares work.

And it’s like she has to try on swimsuits with me, like it’s a fun bonding time or something, just to make me look worse. Her with her fully developed body and her stupid perky hair and her ridiculously Baywatch-looking legs.

I have the body of a twelve year old boy with stringy hair and acne that looks like bubonic plague or something. And then she makes me stand with her at the mirrors talking about how cute we look. I could smack her. Seriously, I could. Except that then I’d have to kill myself for smacking my mother. Although, honestly, I could kill myself anyway. Now seems like a good time.

And then when I’m all depressed and miserable after all this- as anyone who looked as horrible as I do would be- she’s like, surprised. Like she can’t figure out why I didn’t have fun. And like ice cream is gonna make it better? Yeah mom, let me just get fatter- then I’ll fit better.

And she’s like so freaking beautiful it makes me wanna just, you know, die or something. Like I have this handsome father with a pronounced jaw and gorgeous hair and my mom with her prefect body and perfect figure and here I am with none of these features. Like a xenogenic anomaly… or whatever the term is I learned in bio last week.

I hate my mother.

Monday, June 20, 2011

2nd Dan

I don’t entirely know what to write about my test.  I could go into the gory details but that wouldn’t mean anything to anyone who might read this.  So instead, I’m just going to sum it all up by saying that I passed my test and come the promotion ceremony I will get my 2nd stripe and be an honest-to-god 2nd Dan.  And that’s awesome.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Tomorrow

Well, it’s tomorrow. The test, that is. And it sort of feels like the last day of work before a long break. Like before I go away for Thanksgiving or Christmas, and there’s lots to do at home (in those cases baking rather breaking, but still) and I have a hard time concentrating. I keep getting distracted with thoughts of whether or not I have all the supplies I need. If I still remember how to count in Korean. If my leg is healed enough from when I landed on it wrong. If there’s anything else I can or should be doing to prepare myself.

But when it comes down to it, there’s nothing that will take place before 6pm tomorrow that will make or beak this test for me. And I’m trying desperately to remind myself that I’ve got everything I need to kick ass.

For me personally the hardest part of the test will be tomorrow night. Actually making the breaks- that’s probably the biggest fear. Going through all the forms without messing up a single move. Getting my trail leg off the ground for the jump spinning kicks. Remembering the Korean words for the verbal test, remembering the hierarchy of forms for the written test. Reading the movements of my attacker correctly for knife defense. That’s all the stuff that gets graded, and that’s where I’m most nervous about messing up.

Saturday, the hell part, in my mind is relatively simple. It’s just a decision- don’t stop. If you have to puke, puke. If you’re going to pass out, pass out. If you’re going to face plant cause you can’t hold yourself upright anymore then face plant- just don’t stop. Not that that’s easy- but it’s a far simpler concept to grasp than remembering everything I have to remember and doing all the movements correctly. Plus, they change the hell part a little every year so as to prevent the upper Dans from knowing what’s coming, so there’s no real way to prepare for it anyway.

I keep telling myself, in my head, that I KNOW that I’ll do great. Beyond a shadow of a doubt, no fear. But you can’t help but be nervous before such a test and I’m trying to cut myself some slack in that way. So I forgive myself for that jittery feeling in my stomach and the fact that my attention span seems to be that of a gnat today. Maybe it’s not nervousness- maybe I’m just revving up.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Boom

It hit her like a brick wall. She couldn’t think. She couldn’t breathe. Her gut clenched up like the tightest fist a human being ever swung and she had to fight back the instantaneous need to vomit. Her whole body quivered with the emotions- some sickening combination of anger and fear.
She tried to relax, to breath into all those muscles clenched so tight. But her body didn’t listen to her and she was forced to go along for the ride. She could’ve fought off a rhino if she needed to. But right now this response was working against her.
She knew it wasn’t her, it wasn’t personal. It never was. But that kind of anger is like a bomb- when it goes off you get hit if you’re standing nearby. There was no way to duck and cover. She was picking pieces of shrapnel out all afternoon.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Quitter

“No.”

“Wait- what?”

“I said no.”

“But… but how- I mean… Did you hear me?”

“Yes, I heard you fine, I’m not that old.”

“No, that’s- funny, grandpa. Not what I meant, though. I mean did you-“

“Yes, again- I heard you. You said that you want to go to law school to become a lawyer, that you truly believe that this is what you were always meant to do, that this really is your true passion. I heard you.”

“Ok… so…?”

“And I said no.”

“But- but how could you say no? I mean- you’ve always been saying you want me to be happy and I found this thing that I’m passionate about- really passionate about and that would actually allow me to help people and-“

“James, listen to me for a moment. Look around this office. What do you see?”

“Uh, well- let me think for a moment. Well, on the far wall I see a really beautiful Max Cantor painting which emerges from a swath of organic wheat grass in order to give the illusion of a path opening. This scene is accented by hues of green and blue throughout the asian d├ęcor, calling to mind the power of nature and the calm of a meditation temple.”

“Yes, exactly- and wonderfully described. And what do you see over there?”

“Uh… a large pile of wood from where I was going to put the reflection pool?”

“Yes. And why do you see that?”

“Because I changed my mind about-“

“No, try again.”

“Well, because I realized the pool wasn’t terribly functional and-“

“No. Try again.”

“Uh… not really sure what you’re looking for here.”

“Because you quit, James. Because in the middle of the project when I allowed you free reign of my office to demonstrate your abilities and begin your career as a celebrated interior designer you quit. And thus, instead of a completed office demonstrating the abilities of my wonderfully talented grandson I have a hole in the floor and a bill for three thousand dollars for those ridiculously overpriced Koi fish with no where to live.”

“Ok, yes, yes- that’s true, but-“

“And that’s just from this last enterprise of yours. This does not take into account the connections I ruined by pulling all those strings to get you into med school which you quit after a week when you realized you were allergic to latex and argued nothing else would be impermeable enough to protect you from the life threatening germs you would encounter-“

“Ok, but that was like five years ago, shouldn’t you let it go?”

“This also does not take into account the tuition I paid in full for you to be a hair stylist-“

“That’s tonsorial artist-“

“-which you quit because the hair made you sneeze. Or the $5,000 I paid for you to become a professional dog trainer which you quit when you realized that some of the dogs you would be training would be aggressive-“

“Hey- someone in that class nearly got their face ripped off by a pit bull!”

“Or the check that ITT cashed even though you never even attended the first class to become a systems analyst.”

“I had a personal emergency.”

“Or the money I loaned you to invest in stock and become a self-made stock broker.”

“How was I supposed to know the market was going to collapse?”

“My point, dear boy, in all of this is that I have no intention of investing in another career which you will quit in a matter of days.”

“But I’m not going to quit- this is real this time! I mean, I actually have the chance to really make a difference this way. Look at me- where would I be if my public defender hadn’t believed in me?”

“In jail, costing tax payers money instead of me.”

“That’s way harsh, gramps.”

“But true. You have no concept of the value of money. I’ve honestly started to blame myself for this, you never had to work in your life. All of these schemes and passions had no consequences. Which is why I’m prepared to offer you a deal.”

“A deal?”

“Yes. If you really want this- if you genuinely, down to the depth of your soul want this- then you will get the student loans to pay for it yourself.”

“But that’s like- over a hundred grand! I’d never be able to manage that!”

“You will get the loans, you will go to school, you will graduate. You will not have to start paying these loans back until you start working.”

“But I-“

“If you successfully graduate law school and procure a job and stay there for at least one year- I will pay your student loans in full.”

“Really?”

“Yes. But that means staying the course. That means not quitting. It means that if law school is hard- which it will be- you stick it out. You apply yourself. You use your energy to focus rather than jumping from one task to the next like a jackrabbit. And if you are able to do this and graduate and procure employment then you will be relieved of your financial burden.”

“So… this is like a loan?”

“Yes, exactly. And you will pay it back via hard work.”

“… I probably couldn’t get in anyway.”

Saturday, June 11, 2011

Me and My Shadow

Buddy is a very comical looking dog.  He’s so tiny that when he starts barking at other dogs or people they can’t help but go “Awww- look at the big, mean doggy!” in a cutesy baby voice.  We even bought him a colar with skulls and crossbones on it to drive the point home.  We considered naming him Killer, but decided he’s got enough going against him already, being the cutest little thing on the planet.

So with his frightening physical appearance it’s no wonder that he is chicken shit scarred of everything.  And I do mean everything.  Including himself, as evidenced by the crazy barking fit he had when he first discovered his reflection.  Well, the same thing happened when he discovered his shadow.

We were out for a walk at night and I had the flashlight on so I could see where I was going and to enable me to pick up his business when he was done.  We’d made our usual loop around the block and gotten back to our house when he stopped.  I noticed him pulling on the leash so I stopped to see what he was doing.  Rather than sniffing some fascinating scent on the ground as I expected him to be he was in a tensed position, staring out at something.  I looked over to the side of our house and there it was- his shadow.  because of my flashlight it was, by all rights, a lot bigger than he is.  But it was still in his terribly cute shape.

Just as I was about to call him he growled.  He put his legs back, leaned forward and growled as loud as he could.  At his shadow.  I, of course, burst out laughing.  And as if this wasn’t funny enough, he ran forward barking at it and then got terribly confused when it got smaller and less threatening.  He was fascinated by this shadow dog for a solid ten minutes before his tiny attention span moved on to the next distraction and there was no point in time that he seemed to gain any concept that that shadow dog barking at him was nothing other than him.

Much like his evil twin, I imagine it will be a long rivalry.

Monday, June 6, 2011

Life, Examined

Finish school. Get a job. Buy a house. Get married. Have kids. Buy a bigger house. Retire. Hang out with your grandkids. Die. This is the basic set-up that was laid out for me, and I think most of us with what would generally qualify as a “normal upbringing.” When you grow up in a house in the suburbs, you tend to be told to follow suit. When you don’t grow up in a house in the suburbs, you tend to want that because you never had it. The American dream, mass marketed.

But what if you don’t follow the “normal” route? What if you decide to live in a commune out in the middle of nowhere where the emphasis is on living off the land the way our primitive ancestors used to? What if you get a job that requires you to travel so frequently that the idea of “settling down” is incredibly foreign and bizarre to you? What if you go to live in a monastery and give up all worldly possessions in order to seek spiritual enlightenment. Or what if you have what looks like a generally normal life, but you can’t follow the map they gave you? What then?

This is not an existential debate about the meaning of human existence. This is simply a question of the general life path that people follow. A question of how you know you’re on “the right path” when you depart from the one that everyone tells you is “the right path”. A question of what happens when your life doesn’t include any of the milestones that it’s “supposed” to. A question of what you do when you don’t do what you’re told.

I’m smart enough to know that no one really has the answers. And I believe that the reason most people follow the script is because they’re just no good at improving. And I’ve seen enough to know that the script- as is, with no variation, does actually work out pretty damned well for a lot of people. Which, I assume, is why so few people deviate from it. So I’m not in any way knocking the traditional lifestyle, the one I was raised to believe in. (I can’t and would never assume to speak for other cultures and other upbringings, this is just my experience.)

But, in my experience, it doesn’t work that way. The older I get the more I see that all of the traditional beliefs I was raised with just don’t match my experience. And the harder I tried to change my life to re-fit it to that outline the more internally tormented I was because it just didn’t fit. So I stopped trying to make it fit.

But the question emerges, from this newfound sense of independence from the norm, of what measurements I can use to know that I’m on the right path for me. When everyone else you know is doing the traditional lifestyle, you can’t look to your peers for validation. And those who live their own lifestyle tend to be very adamant that it is their lifestyle- not one anyone else should necessarily follow. It seems like the only meter I can use to measure my life accurately is an internal one, one based on my own, unique value system. So where’s my meter?

I try, I honestly do try to be at peace with not knowing. To forget about whether or not this is “normal” or if I’m on “the right path” or any of the rest of it. I try to get more knowledge so I can make informed decisions. I try to tell myself that I don’t need to know, that I don’t have to define or judge or validate. But when all the tools we normally use to plan goals revolve around knowing where you’re going it’s tough to let that go. And as those that I’m close to plow full speed ahead into marriage and babies I can’t help but wonder where I’m headed.

A lot of science, particularly physics, is theoretical. They form these incredibly complicated theorems to describe the tendencies of things which way or may not even exist. They calculate mathematical equations and create new technology to measure things that are undetectable. And the only way they know they’re on the right path is when things go differently than they would have if current laws applied. They don't usually go the way they thought, but they don't go the way they should have- so they tweak the model.  It’s incredibly creative and amazingly brave so far as scientific endeavors go.

Perhaps my life is an exercise in theoretical living. I know it doesn’t fit the model but I don’t know why and I don’t know what new model it would fit. All I know is that if I keep experimenting and seeing what doesn’t fit I will move forward. Perhaps, and I have good reason to believe this, I’m just going through what so many of my more creative fellows already have and I will eventually come to a place where I don’t have to search for external benchmarks to know. Perhaps, as I learn to trust myself and my own internal voice, I will develop my own measures. I like to think so.

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Big, Fun and Scary 2011 Update

So, back in 2010 when I was a few hours from ringing in the new year I came up with a list of things to accomplish in 2011. Seeing as it is now the sixth month of 2011 and I will be approaching the half way point of the year at the end of the month, I figured an update was in order.

1) 211 IN 2011! Status Update: Still a long way to go.

I started out doing pretty well on this goal. There were a variety of reasons for that. In January and February I was so disgusted with my job that I honestly didn’t care about getting much work done, so I spent a decent amount of time writing stories for the blog rather than, you know, working. I have to say, reading that last sentence is pretty harsh cause I’m not big on slacking off at work, in general. My work ethic is closer to the strong end of the spectrum than the weak one and I can’t do much non-work related activities at work without feeling guilty. So I still feel pretty guilty for the slacking I did.

Ahem, at any rate, after I left the job from hell I had my epiphany and that brought a new focus to the foreground. That new focus, as you know, is self acceptance. Now, you may wonder why a focus on self acceptance would prevent me from writing rather than encourage me to write. I’ll explain.

Writing, in spite of my grandiose dreams, sometimes half-way decent ideas and incredibly rare successful executions is still, for the most part, an exercise in torture for me. I still agonize over how far the finished product is from what I envisioned it to be. I still beat myself up mercilessly when the story doesn’t flow like I wanted. I still analyze and critique my productions so harshly that I often feel like I’ve been kicked around by Chuck Norris. Needless to say, hating myself for my failings as a writer and loving myself unconditionally are sort-of at odds with each other.

So, rather than allow my normal self destruction to force me to write more I’ve been working on accepting NOT writing. Working on having it be enough to just go to work, do my job, come home and take care of my dog and get to whatever my after work activity is for the day (like karate). Working on not concluding that I am useless if I don’t write something for the day. Working on not panicking, not stressing myself, not feeling crappy all the time (all emotions that tend to accompany writing, for me.) And just working on having it be ok for me to be whatever I am without the pressure of being a writer.

Now, I’m still writing so obviously I haven’t given up on it yet. In fact, I am hopeful that as I get better at this whole self acceptance thing writing will become a less torturous process. Others have suggested that if I get better at being calm, centered and loving of myself I may even unlock a capacity in my brain far greater than what I’ve been able to utilize thus far. That, without the restraints of the static-y, white-noise thoughts that almost constantly clog my usual level of thinking I will be able to unlock an ability for creative thinking that I’ve never experienced thus far.

I find that idea pretty damned exciting. I’m not there yet, obviously. I’m no where even close. But I’d like to think that’s where I’m headed as I get better at quieting my thoughts and listening to ideas that come from an integration of heart and mind.

In the mean time, I will work on writing with as little restraint as I can manage. I will work on accepting ideas and just getting them out rather than shooting them down before they’ve even started to germinate. I will allow myself to write non-fiction without concluding that my opinion is unwanted and unwelcome to anyone who may read it. I will use the word of the day to jot down a mini-story about something if I can’t think of anything better. And I will shut off the damned tv more often so I can better manage my free time and actually create the space in which to write. Stay tuned.

2) I WILL GET A BETTER JOB! Status Update: Big ‘ol checkmark!

I’ve written about my new job before now so you know what a welcome change it was. It is, a month in, lacking the luster it originally had when I first started but still the happiest I’ve been at work in many, many years. The actual work has not renewed a passion for my profession, but I didn’t really allow myself to hope for that. The level of paperwork and rapidity with which it must get done is definitely stressful. There are some days when I have a hard time remaining calm and professional in the face of straightforward craziness from clients.

BUT, I still love my office, I still thoroughly enjoy eating lunch with my coworkers who I still like and respect and I still love the general atmosphere of my company. (They had an employee health fair a couple of weeks ago where I got a free massage, metabolism boosting smoothie and a buttload of free gifts from local vendors. I’ve NEVER worked at a company that cared enough about its employees to do stuff like that. That, in and off itself, makes this the best job I’ve had in my adult life.)

So, although I still feel like long –term I would be better off finding a new profession, I’m not in any rush to jump ship on what is a damned good job, all things considered. And there hasn’t been a single second where I regreted quitting my last one, regardless of how seemingly irresponsible it was to do so at the time.

3) I WILL FINISH MY NOVEL. Status Update: Uh, yeah… No.

Boy, I hate that I have absolutely no progress to report on this one. The guilt and the self hatred and all those other emotions still linger so close to the surface when I’m not consciously working on being grounded and present. BUT, as I said, self acceptance is taking a higher precedence than writing right now, so I refuse to beat myself up for this. It is June, yes. But it is just June- not December. I have time yet. And, I have an idea as to how I might get a jump start on achieving this goal.

NaNoWriMo is hosting a summer-themed “Camp NaNoWriMo” this summer, I believe in August. The website isn’t up yet but they’re currently hosting a fund-raising drive to gather the necessary monetary funds to power the site and once the collections are complete more info is supposed to start hitting my inbox. (BTW, if you want Camp NaNoWriMo to come into existence you can help them towards this goal by going here.)

Now, one of the rules of NaNoWriMo is that you don’t use a novel you’ve already started because it will ruin your ability to write with abandon. They say you’ll be too attached to the characters and too committed to the pre-existing plot outline to have fun throwing caution to the wind and just letting it go. Well, at the risk of being banned from the club of hard-core NaNo enthusiasts I’m going to try it anyway. If it blows up in my face then purists who wouldn’t dare deviate from the rules can laugh at me. But I think it’ll work, or at least give me the best shot I can get, and I’m gonna try it. Stay tuned.

4) I WILL TRAIN, TEST AND BE AWARDED 2nd DAN IN TUNG SOO DO! Status Update: Tick-tock.

My 2nd Dan test is little more than two weeks away. Two weeks!!! And oh, the butterflies that erupt in my stomach when I think about it. Have I been running? Yes, but not nearly as often as I planned to. Have I been training? Yes, and overall I’d say I’ve done pretty well in terms of getting to every class I reasonably could (save for Thursdays). Have I been doing all the exercises I could and should to best prepare myself for this? No, definitely not.

BUT, in spite of my less-than-perfect training schedule to this point I remain confident that I will do well on this test. Why? Because failure simply isn’t an option. In my mind where I’ve been consciously working on controlling my normally out-of-control thoughts I have noticed distinct changes in terms of how I approach karate.

Like when I have two boards in front of me that I must break for the test, and I keep failing to break those boards with my double front and my mind kicks in with those millions of self-hating thoughts about how my lack of ability to do this signifies a failure of monumental proportions in terms of my overall existence. I have, thanks to the work I’ve been doing, been able to shut up that voice, tap into my heart which believes in me, and try again. And if I don’t make it, I nurture the belief that I will be able to if I keep trying. In the past, those self-hating thoughts would dominate, I would freak out, and become so panicked inside that I wouldn’t even be able to take another shot. Now? Now I feel a calm inside, and I hear a voice telling me that I CAN do this. Now I KNOW, deep down in my gut, that I will do well on this test. Cause I believe in myself in a way that I haven’t ever before. Stay tuned.

5) I WILL GROW. Status Update: Yes!!! Yes, I have, and I am and I will most definitely continue to.

Seeing as I’ve already been writing so much on this topic I won’t take up any more of the page going into details I’ve already discussed. But I will say that I feel confident, for the first time in my entire life, that this new path that I’m on can lead me to where I want to be if I continue to work on it. I believe in my core that I WILL become a better person. One who genuinely loves themselves, handles stress and the crap that life throws at us with resolve rather than panic, and who changes in positive ways from this work. And I can honestly say that I’ve already seen more growth in myself, just in these past few months, than I’ve seen in years. So yes, I’m putting a big check-mark on this even though I’m still in the process. Cause, technically, I always will be.