Category Archives: life lessons

The P-word

Most-popular-e1449500390948The song Popular has been running non-stop since I saw today’s prompt . Thanks for the earworm Daily Post!

I started writing about the tree, but realized mid-post that the correct spelling is “poplar”  (scientific name populus) not “popUlar”. According to Wikipedia, populus is “a genus of 25-35 speciies of deciduous flowering plants…(which) include poplar, aspen and cottonwood.”

It’s a good thing it’s a poplar tree and NOT a popUlar tree (although it might be popular with certain dendrologists), because I don’t know anything about trees. I mean, I know that I like the sound of the wind whispering through the trees, that willow switches leave welts* and that I am too old to climb them. After all, as my daughter so kindly reminded me, “Old people fall a lot” and I’d rather not fall out of a tree.

I considered writing a review of the TV series “Popular“, but, seeing that the show ended in 2001 and I never watched it (evidently I was not part of it’s demographic, as it never hit my radar as “must see tv”) I decided against it. I turned to Miriam-Webster for help.

Popular

[pop-yuh’ler]

  1. of or relating to the general public
  2. frequently encountered or widely acceptd
  3. commonly liked or approved

Ah. Popular. My earworm has turned the volume up to 10. For those of you not familiar with Wicked (where have you been?) Glinda tells Elphaba (and the audience) that “It’s all about popular! It’s not about aptitude. It’s the way you’re viewed. So it’s very shrewd to be popular.”

We all want to be popular (or at least to fit in). Can anyone forget Sally Fields’ shriek of delight that “You like me! You really, really like me!” when she gave her acceptance speech?

I had a great group of friends in high school – a dozen or so jocks, nerds and thespians with whom I’ve remained friends to this day. I have no doubt that some of them secretly (several of them not so secretly) longed to be part of the Popular Crowd. Every school has them – the group of girls who are stylishly dressed, with perfectly applied makeup and neatly combed hair. The girls that are mocked and tormented in movies like Mean Girls and Heathers (Is it just me, or did you get the feeling that these moves were penned by someone who was snubbed by the popular clique?)

meangirls

When the teen started high school, I hoped that she would succeed where I’d failed – that her weekends would be a whirlwind of slumber parties and dances, football games and romances – and maybe, just maybe, an invitation to Homecoming or Prom. Instead, my daughter has a great BFF, and a handful of super close thespian friends. She belongs to several high school clubs, and knows kids from every “clique”.

OMG. My daughter has become me. I suppose that means it’s time for me to become my mother – a woman who never knew how popular she was in high school

The problem, IMHO, is that popularity is a matter of perspective (the most popular chess champion is unknown to the football team) and that fame is fleeting. Some people try to rely on popularity to get through life, never realizing that there are more important things than learning (as Glinda tells us) “The proper poise when you talk to boys, little ways to flirt and flounce…what shoes to wear (and) how to fix your hair.” These, then, are the people who spend their lives in the past, reliving their glory days.

I hope my daughter listens to my favorite bit of advice:

Whatever you do, be true to you.

Which is really just reinterpretation of Shakespeare:

images

* Please note – No need to call CPS I was not “switched” by my parents as a child. My friends and I used to whip each other when we were pretending to be horses

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What a Coinkydink!

Coincidence[1]

image courtesy of the poisonedpencil.com

My response to yesterday’s The Daily Post’s daily prompt was a cheat – I changed “focused” to “focus“. Humans cheat. I’m human (disappointing, I know). Today’s daily prompt is a little easier. Or would be, if I could get the words out of my head and onto the paper page. It’s not as easy as Neil Gaiman makes it look (bastard).

 

Have you ever had a friend answer the phone with “OMG I was just thinking of you?” or attempted to  kill an earworm by turning on the radio only to find the song playing over your speakers? These are just a few of the fairly common occurrences most people chalk up to “coincidence” or synchronicity.

My life has been littered with a string of coincidences. I was working in an office when I decided that I wanted to be a massage therapist instead. Shortly after I made the decision, our office downsized, and I was offered a “buy-out package”. The plan paid for my school and  included medical benefits which covered me until the week after I married the man I never would have met if not for a strange series of coincidences which threw us together.

There are those who don’t believe in coincidences.

 

Some people prefer to believe that our lives are preordained, or that a coincidence is merely The Law of Attraction in action.

Others believe that our lives are happenstance – a meaningless string of circumstances directed by the Fickle Finger of Fate (Rowan and Martin’s Laugh-In, anyone?)

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Call them coincidences, call it synchronicity or simply Fate (tomato, tomahto) – it doesn’t matter much to me. I am grateful for whatever brought my little trio together, and for so many other “incidents of happenstance” that Life throws my way.

Mostly I am happy that my series of coincidences aren’t as freaky as the ones found here, and that today’s internet search on all things coincidental led me to this image:

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image courtesy of quotesgram.com

 I think it’s pretty timely, considering all the hatred and divisiveness we’ve seen lately.

 

 

 

Yet another F-word

howtofocusimg[1]Once again, The Daily Post’s Daily Prompt has me stumped. I have no idea who he/she is, or how he/she comes up with the word of the day, but I’m pretty sure it involves a couple shots of tequila, a dictionary and a blindfold (sounds like a party to me).

So I’m going to cheat. It’s ok, I’ve done it before. Cheated on my diet, cheated while playing Monopoly with the girl (c’mon, if you don’t cheat, the game is ENDLESS).

I’ve talked about the F-word once or twice. Hell, I’ve blogged about the F-word so many times that today’s original title (The OTHER Other F-word) was already taken.

Today’s F-word (as defined by Oxford Dictionaries) is focus

[ˈfōkəs]

VERB

focused (past tense) · focused (past participle)

    1. (of a person or their eyes) adapt to the prevailing level of light and become able to see clearly:

“try to focus on a stationary object”

      • cause (one’s eyes) to focus:

“trying to focus his bleary eyes on Corbett”

      • adjust the focus of (a telescope, camera, or other instrument):

“they were focusing a telescope on a star”

synonyms: bring into focus · aim · point · turn

      • (of rays or waves) meet at a single point.
      • (of a lens) make (rays or waves) meet at a single point.
      • (of light, radio waves, or other energy) become concentrated into a sharp beam of light or energy.
      • (of a lens) concentrate (light, radio waves, or energy) into a sharp beam.

I find the word ironic, because I can’t seem to focus lately. I could blame my new prescription. I’ve always been extremely nearsighted (can’t see to find my glasses unless I’m wearing my contacts), but now that I’m “a certain age” my vision needs an additional adjustment if I want to read a menu or the display on my cell phone.

th[2]

I could also blame menopause – evidently hormones are the culprit for my adult onset of ADHD.

But I don’t feel like blaming anyone or anything today. Instead, I’m going to use this blog to talk about the importance of changing focus.

This year has been a hard one. Too much loss. Too much death, illness, sadness and hate. I found myself being dragged into the pit of despair by the black dog of depression. This morning’s prompt reminded me of the importance of focus. As Sandy Henson Corso says in her 2013 Huffingtonpost piece “Whatever you focus on, expands is such a simple, easy and truthful idea.”

I know for a fact that this is true. I know it both from personal experience, and from a Google search for “What you focus on changes your life.” I found dozens and dozens of links to articles on the internet, and everything you read on the internet is true.

So I am choosing to change my focus – to focus on the miracles and gifts that surround us – to find something to be grateful for every day. Who knows, I might even start a gratitude journal. Probably not, but I AM going to pick up a copy of Rapt, by Winifred Gallagher. I  loved the excerpt I read on Utne.com this morning.

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I also love this video on battling the black dog of depression:

 

 

The S-Word

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image courtesy of whatsyourgrief.com

 

Today’s post is in response to today’s Daily Prompt

Sympathy, as defined by thefreedictionary.com:

sym·pa·thy

   (sĭm′pə-thē)

pl. sym·pa·this

1. A feeling of pity or sorrow for the distress of another; commiseration. See Synonyms at pity.

2. often sympathies An expression of such feeling: offered her sympathies to the mourning family.

[Latin sympathīa, natural affinity, fellow feeling, from Greek sumpatheia, from sumpathēs, affected by like feelings : sun-, syn- + pathos, emotion; see kwent(h)- in Indo-European roots.]

Sympathy, as defined by my mother:

“If you’re looking for sympathy, you’ll find it in the dictionary between shit and syphilis”

My mother was one of the kindest people I’ve ever known. She had a huge soft heart which was full of love and laughter, so when she told me to “look it up in the dictionary”, I was surprised.

In retrospect, I’m sure I deserved the snarky response. I have no doubt that I tested my mother’s patience on a daily basis, and my brother will be quick to tell you that I managed to give her shingles. I was a bit of a teen age drama queen. Not that I’d ever admit to it. (dammit, I just did, didn’t I?).

I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again – my mother was an amazing woman. Not perfect (is anyone?) but pretty darn close. She was my hero. She taught me a lot. She taught me that strangers are simply friends you haven’t yet met. She taught me the importance of “please” and “thank you” and the difference between “y’all” and “all y’all”*. Mostly she taught me that kindness costs nothing – that sympathy and compassion are not a sign of weakness.

As strange as it sounds, I’m glad that my mother’s not here. She would be heartbroken by the bigotry and hatred that are so prevalent lately. Other than offering sympathy at a time of loss, we seem to have lost the ability to sympathize for anyone who is different from ourselves. The wealthy have no sympathy for the poor, the homeowners turn away from the homeless, and race relations seem to be a thing of the past (Literally. Race relations seem to have returned to those from the 50’s).

We need to remember that being sympathetic to another’s plight doesn’t mean that you are releasing them from accountability for their situation. I have a friend who is always complaining about her health/weight, yet refuses to change her diet or exercise plan. As someone who used to eat ice cream for breakfast (hey, I was ahead of my time, as this study shows) I sympathize with her, even while I hold her responsible for her actions. I have another friend who is always complaining that she’s overwhelmed and sleep deprived, and yet, she’s the first to raise her hand when they call for volunteers, Oh, wait. That’s me. I’m perfectly aware that I need to learn the “n-word” and yet, I refuse to do so (Will you sympathize with me, or should I pick up my dictionary?)

We need to get off our current path of violence and hatred. To do that, we need to learn to sympathize with people we might not agree with – to communicate compassionately.

In a perfect moment of synchronicity, this article from sonima.com on communication dropped into my newsfeed this morning. In it, Sonima’s psychologist and meditation teacher John Rettger offers a 3-step plan and guided meditation for compassionate communication. He instructs that we should do this from a place of empathy, compassion, and authenticity. You can connect to these qualities by taking space to remember what nearly all humans are seeking: To be loved, held with kindness, and accepted.”

Perhaps then, sympathy is not enough. We need to empathize with one another – to support without judgement.

 

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image courtesy of lifehack.org

Or, as Steve Martin says:

“Before you criticize a man, walk a mile in his shoes. That way, when you do criticize him, you’ll be a mile away and have his shoes.”

I know we can do this – if we can offer Sympathy for the Devil we can sympathize with ANYONE

*For those of you who are not Southerners, “ya’ll” is singular.  and “all y’all” is plural.

So – tell me – what is your definition of sympathy, and who do you have a hard time sympathizing with?

 

 

 

Like a Virgin

th[3]Please note – This following post is meant as entertainment only. I am not a mental health practitioner, nor do I play one on TV. If you or someone you love is battling perfectionism, depression or any other serious condition, please seek help or contact the suicide prevention hotline

I’m a virgin (stop laughing! It’s true!). No, wait – I am THE virgin (no, not that one). My birthday is August 27th, which makes me Virgo the Virgin (If you keep rolling your eyes like that, they’re going to fall out of your head).

I don’t know about you, but I take Horoscopes with a grain of salt. Then again, I take a lot of things with a grain of salt (and a shot of tequila). I subscribed to Tarot.com for grins and giggles (it beats the heck out of the doom and gloom that’s been pouring into my newsfeed lately). Yesterday’s horoscope included a message that resonated with me. Dr. Harriet Braiker wrote “Striving for excellence motivates you; striving for perfection is demoralizing.”

There it was – the P word. The word that has plagued me all my adult life. How do I know I’m a perfectionist? I failed the online test, but recognized the signs listed on wholelifechallenge.com

  • You feel like things should always be done a certain way
  • You beat yourself up for making mistakes
  • You believe if it’s not perfect, it’s a complete failure
  • You procrastinate until circumstances are just right
  • You worry others will see a flaw and judge you
  • You think asking for help is a sign of weakness
  • You feel the need to be in control
  • You’re afraid of starting something new in case you’re not the best
  • You attach self-worth to achievements, i.e. “I failed therefore I’m a failure”
  • You think you should be doing things better, and rarely give yourself credit
  • You tend to abandon goals if you make a mistake or fall off the wagon

The Whole Life Challenge also listed these uplifting responses to “What is your life really like?”

  • “If I’m not the best, then I’m a failure.”
  • “I can’t ask for help, people will think I’m not good enough.”
  • “I’m exhausted but I can’t relax — I always have to stay one step ahead.”
  • “I never feel satisfied and nothing I do is enough.”
  • “If I make a mistake it proves I’m worthless.”
  • “I feel hollow, like I can never be happy.”

Virgos are known for being perfectionists, so I could blame my Sun Sign. Evidently Virgo traits include perfectionism, cleanliness and highly analytical behavior.

Then again, according to The Birth Order Book: Why You Are the Way You Are first born children have a strong streak of perfectionism, so I could blame the P word on being the first-born.

Of course, per the National Association for Gifted Children “It’s not uncommon for high-ability children to also be perfectionists” – so maybe I should blame my big brain (yes, I iz a smartie pants).

But I blame this woman.

th[4] (2)

No, not Julie Andrews. Mary Poppins. I loooooved the movie when I was growing up (still do). Mary Poppins was beautiful, never had a hair out of place, was extremely well dressed, sang birds out of the trees, and could ride carousel horses off the carousel. 

(bonus – she rescued the poor little fox). While other girls dreamed of being Wonder Woman or Batgirl (completely off topic – why wasn’t she Batwoman?) I dreamt of flying through the air with my talking umbrella and magic bag. I had no doubt that when I grew up I would be just like my idol – practically perfect in every way.

practically perfect[1]

I’m older now, and closer to being Peter Pan than Mary Poppins (I may grow older, but I refuse to grow up!) – but my Mary Poppins Syndrome (MPS) remains. It has proven to be more of a curse than a blessing. It stops me from trying new things (what if I fail/can’t do it perfectly?) and from finishing things I’ve started (my bathroom cabinets, which refused to strip perfectly, remain door-less, and I’ve been working on a book since my 17-year-old was a toddler).

I know that I’m not alone in my battle with the dreaded P word. Googling “The Perils of Perfectionism”* brings up dozens of articles. Knowing that I’m not alone isn’t comforting. If anything, it makes me feel worse.

A quick glance at The Alarming New Research on Perfectionism from nymag.com let me know that I may be at risk for suicide. “But real perfectionism can be devastatingly destructive, leading to crippling anxiety or depression, and it may even be an overlooked risk factor for suicide, argues a new paper in Review of General Psychology, a journal of the American Psychological Association.” It also advised me that I’ve probably cursed my daughter with the syndrome. “If you’re a perfectionist who also happens to be a parent, it’s even more important to get your inner Tracy Flick under control, because research suggests that perfectionism is a trait that you can pass down to your kids.” Not the Mother’s curse I was looking for.

Hey, that’s great.

But there’s always hope. I found several articles promising to help me cure perfectionism “In Six (or 5, or 11) easy steps.” Unfortunately, every article lists “don’t be afraid to make mistakes or ask for help” as one of the steps…and help is a four letter word.

I think I’ll start a 12 step program.

Hello, my name is Tracey and I have MPS.

*The Perils of Perfectionism isn’t anywhere close to being as much fun as the Perils of Penelope Pitstop

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Bullying and the F Word

th[1]When The Girl was in 8th grade, she was targeted by Mean Girls. She was lucky. Not because she was bullied. There is nothing lucky about it*. According to nobullying.com/causes-of-suicide/ “Teenage bullying is one of the leading causes of teenage suicide, and suicide is the third leading cause of death in young children.” My daughter was lucky because she was targeted by a handful of Former Friends, and the bullying consisted of them telling her “We’ve never been your friend” and running away when she approached. While the loss of a BFF can be devastating (at any age) it does not compare with the stories that make the rounds via social media or breaking news.

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Image courtesy of keyword-suggestions.com

I had no idea. I mean, I knew something was wrong – my usually cheerful, gregarious tween became curiously quiet – but, when pressed, she would only say that she was “tired”. Her mysterious fatigue (which we blamed on a growth spurt and hormones) only lasted a week. It wasn’t until one of the other mothers greeted me with “I’m so sorry that Lauren’s having problems in school” and suggested I pick up Queen Bees and Wannabes that I knew there had been a Serious Problem. When I confronted discussed the situation with her that night, she shrugged “It’s no big deal. I’m not going to be friends with them in high school, so why should I care if we’re not friends now?”

“But why didn’t you tell me? I’m your mom! You’re supposed to come to me when you have problems.”

She gave a slow “no comment” blink.

“Because I would have gone to school to kick a** and chew bubble gum….”

She smiled. “…and you are all out of bubblegum.”

Seeing that 8th grade is far behind us, you might be wondering why I’m bringing this up now. Contrary to what the EIC says, it’s NOT because I’ve been unable to come up with a topic for a post for days weeks months. My daughter went to camp last week.

I know what you’re thinking (I do! I’m psychic! No, wait – I’m psychotic. I always get those confused) What does camp have to do with bullying? Did she go to a special anti-bullying camp? No. I don’t know if they have anti-bullying camps, but if they do, they should include karate or self-defense classes (please note, WE DON’T HIT!) Was she bullied at camp? No. Did she flip to the dark side and bully kids at camp? Also no. Did she have horrible flashbacks and wake up screaming in the middle of the night? Not that I’m aware of, although when she was little she did have night terrors. Did she run through camp wearing a plastic mask and screaming “Welcome to Camp Crystal Lake – run, bullies run!” While that would have been really, really funny, again, the answer is no.

According to the youth leaders, my daughter epitomized this year’s lesson on forgiveness. She stood up in front of hundreds of young men and women and spoke about the different types of bullying, and the importance of forgiveness. She warned the campers that “If you don’t forgive fully, memories and emotions will pop up when you least expect it.” She told them that she had reached out to the girls who had bullied her to tell them she forgave them and shared their responses.

“I told them ‘I don’t mean to make you feel guilty, but I want to let you know that I forgive you for what you did to me.’” The Meanest girl (the one who wanted to replace Lauren as BFF to the Queen Bee) responded with “You have nothing to apologize for. We are the ones who owe you an apology.” A second girl responded with a lengthy text message, thanking her for reaching out because “I have always felt guilty about what happened, but never knew how to approach you/how to bring this up. I knew it was wrong, but, as an incredibly insecure tween, I didn’t have the strength to stand up to the others to stop it.” Not all the girls have grown up. A third girl responded with “I think you have the wrong number.” Which would be possible except for the fact that my daughter had JUST gotten her phone number from another friend.

I am so proud of my daughter. I think it’s amazing that she was mature enough to handle the situation on her own (although I’m still butthurt she didn’t come to me). I am in awe of the fact that she was willing to share her story with hundreds of strangers, and I think it’s incredible that she was willing to reach out to her bullies to tell them she forgave them. I’m also proud of the girls who showed remorse for their actions. The F-word has allowed all of them to heal.

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image courtesy of discovryproject.wordpress.com

Mostly, I’m impressed that my daughter has a heart that’s willing to forgive, because she comes from a long line of stubborn strong-willed women who hold a grudge. I’ve spoken before about the importance of forgiveness, but the lesson isn’t sticking. Evidently I have a lot to learn, because I still want to punch the little B’s** in the neck.

*The statistic (courtesy of bullyingstatistics.com) on bullying and suicide are alarming:

  • Suicide is the third leading cause of death among young people, resulting in about 4,400 deaths/year according to the CDC. For every suicide among young people, there are at least 100 suicide attempts. Over 14% of high school students have considered suicide, and almost 7% have attempted it
  • Bully victims are between 2-9 times more likely to consider suicide than non-victims, according to studies by Yale University
  •  A study in Britain found that at least half of suicides amount young people are related to bullying.
  • 10-14 year old girls may be at even higher risk for suicide, according to the study above
  • According to statistics reported by ABC News, nearly 30% of students are either bullies or victims of bullying, and 1600,000 kids stay home from school every day because of fear of bullying

If you are a victim of or witness to bullying, you can report it here.

If you or a friend are fighting thoughts of self-harm or suicide, please call. Someone is always willing to listen.

**Bullies! That’s the B word I meant – could I have meant anything else? 😉

And, lastly, a song that never fails to make me cry

My Mother, My Hero

18581815_10210594503636521_5233969730884670004_n[1]I’ve been working on this piece for a while. I meant to post this yesterday, because it was  the 43rd anniversary of my mom’s 36th birthday*, but Life had other plans

A while ago  I talked about how I always wanted to be a superhero.

My aunt responded with this:

You are a superhero … Doing the right thing is not easy sometimes. You’re so like your mother. I wish Mom or Dad was here to tell me the specifics of this story because I was a kid and can’t remember the details.  Anyway It involved your Mom and race relations in the 50’s.  The local newspaper was interviewing students to get their opinions and they interviewed Karen.  I remember Mom and Dad being so proud of her, but concerned for her safety.  So you see…you’re a chip off the old block.  I’m enjoying your writing. Keep it up!

Love, Aunt Sally

I remember that story very well, but I’m not sure where I heard it. My mom was not one to brag. I probably heard it from my grandfather, who loved sharing family stories (I wish I’d been willing to listen). Or maybe mom told me the story when we had one of our many discussions about racism (I would say that I was raised to be colorblind, but evidently colorblindness is the new racism). I couldn’t understand why we were still struggling with racial inequality in the 70’s. It pissed me off, and I frequently came home, ranting and raving about something I’d seen/heard/read. My mother, who grew up in the Deep South in the 50’s and 60’s, would laugh.

This is the way she told the story –

I went to school at the height of the fight for integration. My father  (who was superintendent for the Oklahoma City school district) met with President Kennedy regarding the issue (I wish I had that picture/newspaper clipping, because it was REALLY cool), but I can’t say for certain that that’s why they chose to interview me. They asked me “What do you think of busing/integration?”. I told them “People should be allowed to attend whatever school they’d like to. They should be allowed to come here or stay at their old school, if that’s what they prefer.”

Needless to say, the newspaper quote did not go over well with some (most) of her neighbors in Tecumseh. My mom never knew about the backlash. My grandmother and grandfather handled the calls calmly, responding to suggestions that they “beat some sense into (her)” with “Thank you. We’re taking care of it.” I love this example of “creative truth telling”. They didn’t LIE, exactly. They just never said how they were “taking care of it”.

This, then, was the woman who raised me. My mother. My hero. Don’t get me wrong – my mother wasn’t perfect. She battled inner demons, she smoked and drank too much, she talked too loudly and snorted when she laughed. She didn’t fit in with the Perfect PTA Parents and Suburban Soccer Moms**.  She may not have been perfect, but she taught me many things. My mother taught me:

  • to be kind to everyone you meet.  (well, she tried to, at least. There are some days when the best I can manage is “not hateful”).
  • that there is no such thing as a stranger. She believed that strangers are just friends you haven’t yet met.
  • the importance of family, and showed me that “family” includes both family by blood and family of heart.
  • the value of shared grief (I used to mock her for crying when a friend suffered a loss because I was a lousy know-it-all teen, but I get it now).
  • and the value of shared joy.
  • the importance of keeping a secret
  • and the destructive power of gossip
  • when to speak up when necessary
  • and when to keep quiet
  • to respect others – that I didn’t have to agree with them, but that everyone is entitled to their own opinion (and that yes, opinions are like assholes)

Most importantly, she taught me that (almost) everything about anyone else is “Noneya”. Race, religious belief, sexual orientation – it really is “noneya business” – as long as it doesn’t harm anyone else (An it harm none. I never realized that my mom was a Wiccan).

In a world that’s becoming increasingly divisive, with hate crimes on the rise and people attacking each other for differing opinions, we need more people like her. She may have been “just” a housewife, but she was as much a superhero as any caped crusader.

*While most women remain 27, my mother was eternally 36. “I can’t be 37 yet, because I swore I would get my ears pierced when I turned 37.”

**Holy crap. I AM my mother’s daughter. <shrug> There are worse things I could be.

My other hero was my grandfather, who always reminded me of Atticus Finch

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I’m curious – who is YOUR hero?

Mother, Wife, Demon-slayer

6df30ac8a387944ff5579c32f2641adb[1]“Life is filled with big questions – Fate or Destiny? Heaven or Hell? Love or Attraction? Reason or Impulse? Beatles or Rolling Stones?” – Stephen King, Bazaar of Bad Dreams

“To be, or not to be –that is the question” William Shakespeare, Hamlet, Act III sc 1.

I LOVE Shakespeare. Love him. As in a total, squealy fangirl crush (and not just because he was played by Joseph Fiennes in Shakespeare in Love) I’ve seen pictures. He was…mmmm. What’s the word I’m looking for? Less than attractive (Yes, I know, that’s three  words). Hey, we’ve all seen the pictures of the old dude with the big balding head in the weird old lady collar.

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I took Shakespeare courses in college, tutored other students and read his works “just for fun”. Yeah. I was THAT kid.  My friends and I spent hours pouring over every play, interpreting and debating the meaning of every scene and  soliloquy – but none more so than the infamous passage from Hamlet, Act III Scene 1.

So why am I bringing this up today? Well, first of all, Heath Ledger would have turned 38 this week, and (ICYMI) Spike released a trailer for the new I am Heath Ledger biography.

Secondly, a friend decided “not to be” earlier this week, and it got me thinking (always a dangerous thing to do). I’ve spoken before about my battles with the EIC and depression, but I will continue to talk about it until the stigma surrounding mental illness is a thing of the past.

Robert, like Heath Ledger, was a brightly shining star – a beautiful-from-the-inside-out incredibly talented creative soul who seemed to move effortlessly amongst us mere mortals. I was in awe of his talent and imagination, his quick wit and genuine warmth. He was not only a talented artist and inventor, he was one of the nicest people I’ve ever met. He appeared to be comfortable in his own skin, and I assumed that he was free of the destructive voices and demons that torment most artists.

Shows how little I know. What do they say? “Appearances are deceiving”? “Don’t judge a book by its cover”? “Don’t judge a man until you’ve walked a mile in his shoes”? (or, as Steve Martin puts it “Before you criticize a man, walk a mile in his shoes. That way, when you do criticize him, you’ll be a mile away and have his shoes.”)

They say that stars who burn the brightest burn the fastest. No, I do not know who “they” are, or why this appears to be true. I assume it has something to do with the limited amount of fuel and the speed at which it is burned, but I’m not a science guy (TBH I’m not a guy at all, although I could be. I met a bartender who spelled his name T-R-A-C-E-Y on St. Patrick’s day, but that’s neither here nor there).

I’m not a science guy, I’m a creative.

Creative brains are weird.

Greater minds than mine have debated whether the stereotype of the “tortured artist” is legitimate. It might be a cliché, but, judging by the Facebook comments from his friends and fellow performers (“I’ve battled depression for years” and “depression has been my constant companion” to quote a few), it’s legitimate. I know that all the artists I’ve met have struggled with feelings of inadequacy and self-doubt. I believe it is because we are encouraged, as artists and performers, to break down our walls and express our truest self. Shedding our protective layers leaves us open, raw and more vulnerable to “the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune.”

Please note – I am not a trained professional, nor do I play one on TV.  I have, however, been battling inner demons for decades. Feel free to take my advice with a grain of salt (and a shot of tequila):

First – Depression is an evil, scum-sucking mother F-r. He travels with his BFFs Hopelessness and Despair. This terrible trio will cheat, lie and steal. They will tell you that nobody cares about you and that nobody wants to listen to you whine. They will take turns sitting in the middle of your chest whispering horrible lies into your ear until you’re nothing but a quivering, weepy mass of snot.

Knowing that Depression is a liar doesn’t fix things. Trust me when I say that knowing something intellectually doesn’t stop me from sliding all the way to the bottom of the pit of despair.

Every single time I find myself at the bottom of the pit, I think “What the hell am I doing here/I’ll never get out.”*  I have, however, recently learned to recognize the symptoms of the spiral before depression gains traction. I wish I could tell you what they are, but they’re different for everyone. Hopefully it won’t take you forty-something years to identify yours.

Secondly (or maybe this should be first) fighting the demons only makes them stronger, and is incredibly exhausting. Strangely enough, giving them a chance to voice their opinions renders them powerless. When the voices start whispering, I take pen to paper and write down everything they say (in cursive, so the words can flow). I write without rebuttal until they stop speaking. Believe me when I say that a person (or inner demon) who is allowed to vent without interruption will eventually run out of steam. What you do next depends on what works for you – you can respond to them, verbally or on paper, you can shred the papers, burn them, or use them to line a birdcage. Eventually you might find the strength to do the one thing that banishes them – laugh at them. Demons are like the boggarts in Harry Potter – hiding in the deepest, darkest corners of our mind, filling us with mind numbing fear, and disappearing with the first giggle.

Most importantly, if you (or a loved one) is struggling with depression or have run out of cope, ask for help. Yes, help is a four letter word, but it’s not a foul one. Don’t wait until you’re stuck at the bottom of a cold dark pit. Call a friend, call a family member, call a stranger. You can dial 911 or the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 800-273-8255. If you don’t want to call, you can even send a text.

I was going to end with the inspirational “Don’t You Quit” poem, but it’s a little pithy for me today. I’ll leave you with Dylan Thomas instead.

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* Well, that’s not exactly true. My first thought is “Wow, it’s dark and cold down here. Next time I should bring a space heater and a booklight”.

On Love, Loss, and Laughter

images71V16YFPI know what you’re thinking – “Where the hell has Tracey been and what kind of writer doesn’t write?” (or, as my EIC would say, “If a writer isn’t writing, doesn’t that mean they’re not a writer?”)

In Hell. Literally (Ok, maybe not literally). A stuck writer. That’s what kind.

Grief has eaten my brain, and stolen my creativity.

I lost someone a month ago who was incredibly important to me. Well, I didn’t’ “lose” him. It’s not like he was a set of car keys, or a sock that disappeared from the dryer, or my mind.

Sorry for that. I have a habit of trying to compensate for emotional issues with sarcasm and lame attempts at humor. Let me try again.

My friend died a month ago.

Wow. There it is, in black and white. The phrase I’ve avoided. I know it’s hard to read, but trust me, it’s harder to write and practically impossible to believe. Timothy Leary was right when he said “Death is the last taboo.”  Nobody dies. They “pass on” or “leave us”, “slip away” or “go to a better place”.

I call bullshit.

My friend died.

Three words. So simple and so misleading. Here’s how dictionary.com breaks down the sentence:

My – belonging to or associated with the speaker.

Friend – a person whom one knows and with whom one has a bond of mutual affection, typically exclusive of sexual of family relations

Died – to cease to live; undergo the complete and permanent cessation of all vital functions

The thing is, Mario wasn’t just “my” friend. He was EVERYONE’S friend. Yeah, he was THAT guy. He was charming and funny, smart and kind. No matter where he went, he always ended up surrounded by a group of people who were jostling for position and vying for his attention. Mario, like my mother, seemed to believe that there is no such thing as a stranger. Strangers are simply friends you haven’t yet met.

He was my friend, but he was more than that. There are friends, and then there are people who are so much more than simply friends – we call these people our “family of heart”. We might not be related by blood, but we are joined by a love that is even stronger than family ties. Mario was my friend, my mentor, my brother of heart.

I met Mario when we were young and foolish, hopeful and fearless. He was dating the woman who ran the booth I worked for – the woman who would become one of my very best friends. In a blink of an eye, they were married, and raising 3 kids.

Mario and Virginia were playing house and being Responsible Adults while I was still trying to decide how to style my hair. It took me longer to grow up, but eventually I got married and had a kid of my own. I am incredibly lucky to have had their help in raising my daughter. Mario was a perfect example of a father for my spouse to emulate, and Virginia was the same for me. Their three kids are amazing people, despite the fact that their parents have a twisted sense of humor (It gave me hope that our daughter wouldn’t be Permanently Damaged). The fact that they were still wildly in love with each other even after 35 years together was inspiring – a testimony to the power of True Love.

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Mario’s kids asked us to write down things that we learned from him, to list our favorite sayings or quotes. I couldn’t think of anything at the time. I’m sure people remember a lot of “Mario-isms”, but I can’t remember anything other than him saying “OUTSTANDING!” when things would go less than perfectly, or when someone would do something that was extraordinarily stupid. But here are things that I learned from him:

Be kind. Mario was nice to everyone – no matter what they believed, what they looked like, how they dressed, how much money they made (or didn’t make). He was one of the popular kids, but he wasn’t one of the mean girls (which is not to say that he didn’t enjoy a little CCC* when warranted). He went out of his way to be kind to people who were often overlooked or ignored. He was even nice to the weird kid in the corner (What? No, that wasn’t me, why would you think that?).

Be polite We disagreed about many things (politics, religion, and whether the Three Stooges were funny). As strong minded (or, in my case, hard headed) individuals, we agreed to disagree. Having friends with opinions which differ from one’s own makes life more interesting.

but don’t be a pushover. (does this one really need explaining?)

Keep learning. Mario was always reading, always trying to better himself. As Albert Einstein said “Once you stop learning, you start dying.”

Make people smile Mario would do almost anything to get a laugh (that’s not exactly true. There was no “almost” about it).

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by embracing your inner weirdo – In a world where everyone worries about what others think/we struggle to fit in, to be normal (please note, “normal” is just a setting on the washing machine), Mario stood out as someone who just didn’t give a flying f…

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Don’t whine. (Aka “Suck it up, Buttercup”) The past few years were incredibly hard physically and psychologically, and yet, Mario was always smiling (or maybe it was a grimace). His outlook could best be described this way:

Be strong… Mario was in a lot of pain, but he never let it stop him from doing the things that he needed or wanted to do. Long days at work which required hours of driving? Every day. Trips to Yosemite, to hockey games, to shows and soccer games and even a longa** Christmas parade? NP. The thing that stands out most is the fact that, whenever I came to visit, no matter how much pain he was in, Mario always stood up to say hello.

but don’t be afraid to ask for help when you need it (TBH I never heard Mario ask for help for himself. He was always asking for help for someone else).

and always offer help to those who need it. In a world where people rise above the masses by putting others down, Mario lifted people up.

Those are the things I’ve learned from Mario’s life. What did I learn from his death?

That “Only the good die young” is not a meaningless phrase. Neither is “Life’s a Bitch, and then you die.” That we need to find make time for those we love. When I was a kid, I thought nothing of knocking on my friend’s door, and asking if they could come out and play. We lose that ability when we grow up – we get busy with life – with school, with work. We worry that our houses are too messy for guests, or that our friends are too busy for us. We SCHEDULE our lives and our visits, instead of just “popping in to say hello”. We text and skype and send messages via snapchat or twitter. We brag about the fact that Facebook has allowed us to “reconnect” with old friends and family members, but we don’t take make the time to see each other “IRL”. WE NEED TO STOP THAT, RIGHT NOW.

What did I learn from my friend’s death? Life is short, and none of us is guaranteed tomorrow. Mario’s younger daughter got married in November. At the reception, he asked me told me to stop by after work for a “beer and bitch” session, but I assumed it was the whisky talking, and that we would have a chance to catch up “soon”. Please believe me when I say that “SOON” DOESN’T COME SOON ENOUGH.

I know this was a long post, so, in the immortal words of Inygo Montoya “let me sum up”. What did I learn from Mario?

Live fearlessly, love fiercely and laugh at all that life throws your way.

And, oh yeah, always pet the puppies.

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*Catty Corner Commentary

Fork, yeah!

thvtmdn5vdI swear. A lot. I didn’t always have a filthy mouth, but, once I started, I swore loudly and often (my parents were so proud). My favorite word started with an f and ended in a k. It wasn’t “fork”, but that’s the word I will use in this post, because I am trying to beat my addiction. I’ve even started a 12 step program. Hello, my name is Tracey, and I’m addicted to four letter words. Like most 12 step programs, the first step is admitting you have a problem and that you’re powerless to stop. The second step is to believe that a power greater than yourself can help you stop (Yeah, right. Even the power of parenthood couldn’t stop me. My daughter’s first sentence was “Bite me jackass”). The third step is…ummm..fuck if I know. Dammit. Back to day one. Hello, my name is Tracey, and I’m addicted to four letter words….

My husband hoped that becoming an accidental mother would change me. After all, mothers are sweet and kind, loving and gentle. Evidently I didn’t get the memo, because the only thing that changed was that I went from being a wife that swore to a mother with a dirty mouth. The good news is that, when people would “slip” and swear in front of my tweenager, she would just shrug and roll her eyes when they apologized (“I’ve heard worse”).

I know, I know, women shouldn’t swear/it’s not ladylike. TBH I don’t know what the big deal is. Studies have shown that swearing is good for you and reduces pain. Just recently I posted a popular FB meme as my status. I’ll share it here, ICYMI

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image courtesy of imgarcade.com

There are issues when you’re a woman who loves to swear. Nineteen of them have been identified by the awesome Erin La Rosa from Buzzfeed. Being far from “normal” (FYI normal is just a setting on the dryer), my issue wasn’t one of them. Using the “f-word” was cathartic at first, but, like most gateway drugs, one day it stopped giving me the rush I craved. I tried using other words, but they didn’t have the punch I needed. The logical next step in my progression (regression?) was to link them together in strange and unusual ways, but”I’ll see you next Tuesday you cat-faced mother forking son of a female dog” took too damn long. In searching for a new/better four letter word (one that will express my frustration with my current situation and the increasingly dark and dismaying world climate) I found the perfect word.

HOPE

(hōp)

v. hoped, hop·ing, hopes
v.intr.

1. To wish for a particular event that one considers possible: We are hoping for more financial support.
2. Archaic To have confidence; trust.
v.tr.

To desire and consider possible: I hope that you will join us for dinner. We hope to buy a house in the spring. See Synonyms at expect.

I’ve spoken about hope before. One of my first posts talked about losing and finding hope. the other one talked about fear and the power of Hope. When I picture Hope, I see a rare and delicate flower. It’s a fragile thing, easily lost and hard to find when life gets rough. The good news is that Hope is bioluminescent, allowing you to find it even on the darkest of nights. With a little love and a lot of TLC it will blossom, bloom and grow. I believe the best way to feed Hope is by sharing and spreading love, which is how I came up with an acronym –

Help

One

Person

Every

Day**

Look, it’s getting scary out there. It’s too much. Too much anger. Too much hate. Let’s see if there’s such a thing as too much love**. Hold the door for someone, share a smile, compliment a stranger. Be kind to each other. Play nicely in the sandbox.

And on those days where life beats you down and everyone is being an asshat, swear like a sailor like a woman who loves to curse. Been there, done that, bought the t-shirt.

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image courtesy of gurl.com

 

I have a couple of questions (take out your #2 pencils):

  1. Do you swear, and (if so) what’s your favorite four letter word?
  2. What is your favorite story of hope?
  3. How do you “pay it forward“?

*Oops, that’s “HOPED” not “HOPE”. Dammit, I was hoping that this post would be perfect 😉

**there is, and it causes chafing, but that’s a topic for a different post