It’s the End of the World as I Know It and I Feel Fine

canstockphoto14284461The Green Study’s Positively Happy Nice Story Contest is off and running. I saw a wonderful post by Cate that is exactly the sort of thing that would be a contender. The deadline is October 1st. See here for details.

It started with a simple request.  I was invited to participate in a podcast. The podcast is a relatively new app that was launched to facilitate conversations on a variety of topics. One of my posts caught their eye. It’s out of my bailiwick, something I’ve never done before, so sure, sign me up.

In order to participate, I had to log into the app through Facebook or LinkedIn. For years, I’ve refused Facebook. Since Facebook is only  12 years old, it’s lining up with my schedule of hipness. In with Facebook, out with cassette tapes.

On top of hell freezing over and me creating a new Facebook account, it became apparent that my avoidance of posting a picture of myself was starting to become an awkward hindrance. It was time for a professional head shot. Or at least as professional as someone in a department store photo studio could take.

I loathe pictures of myself. I find appearance to be the least interesting thing about myself and generally, the least interesting thing about other people. It’s a weird disconnect, but one I’ve nurtured over the years with considerable success. If by success, I mean avoidance and/or being completely disagreeable when people try to take my picture.

Then, there was this makeup thing. If I’m going to put my best fake face forward, I’d better learn how to put on makeup. The lady at Walgreen’s was very helpful, as were the 352 YouTube videos I watched on how to make things on my face “pop”, which, if I recall from my teenage years, was something to be avoided.

I followed the directions on the back of the eye shadow. 1. Put bottom color on majority of eyelid. 2. Put middle color in crease of eyelid. 3. Put light color everywhere else, then blend. 4. Wipe shit off with tissue if you look like a raccoon. Stuff makeup in back of closet with that never worn pair of heels and a skirt I thought I’d wear to cocktail parties I was never invited to in the 90s.

I made myself look in the mirror and practice smiles. I don’t often look at myself in the mirror. The translation was startling. What I thought was a sardonic and bemused look was off the mark. Apparently, I just look pissed off at the world. When I smiled a big grin, I looked like a donkey braying – gums ahoy. Okay, okay. Maybe I’m better with a serious look. Maybe I look smarter. Nope. Just look mad. Thoughtful? Nope, still mad. It’s my resting pissed face.

Now for the wardrobe. I should wear something that I’m comfortable in, since that will give me confidence. Why is everything in my wardrobe black? No, it’s not that “thinning” angle. It’s the “I only know it’s dirty if it smells” laundry saver. Spaghetti stains in witness protection.

I research what colors I should wear. I’m a fall personality. Okay, brown pants and green top. I wave my hands in the air to Morris Day’s “The Oak Tree”. Pumpkin blouse, brilliant yellowy squash pants. Peach and mocha. Now I’m hungry, which likely explains why none of those things fit right.

Props. Hmm. Pen? Weighty tomes stacked around me? Jewelry? Do I even have any? I look up “author photos”. I need a typewriter, a pack of cigarettes and a tweed jacket. Ooh, maybe a little purse dog with bows in its hair. Oh crap, I’m going to be late for the appointment. The only accessory I have time to grab is a lint roller.

So, it’s done. The pie hole here at The Green Study has a face. You’re welcome and I’m sorry.

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The Green Study’s “Positively Happy Nice Story” Contest

canstockphoto28843846Months ago, I had decided to run an autumn contest here at The Green Study. It will be my 4th contest in 4 years, so longtime readers here are familiar with the patter. At first I thought I’d dispel some political gloom and make it the “If I were President” Contest, but frankly, I’ve lost my sense of humor about it all. And I don’t have the energy to rein in political rants running amok on my blog.

Instead, I’m looking for good news – the news that aren’t click bait, news happening in your life or in your neighborhood. We the people aren’t just political affiliations and labels. We have stories – stories that remind us of what is good and kind and generous and decent about being human. They could be something that happened years ago or something that is happening now. We need joy. Stat.

Welcome to The Green Study “Positively Happy Nice Story” Contest. Here are the canstockphoto16178005guidelines:

Write a previously unpublished blog post or if you’re not a blogger, an essay (with title) 400-800 words long about a positively happy nice incident, an admirable person in your life, unwitting luck or fortunate consequences.  Submit it through my Contact page by Saturday, October 1st, 2016, 12:00 am, Midnight (US Standard Central Time). Please note that your formatting is retained when I receive it – the Contact page makes it look like it has disappeared.

One entry per person please. The contest begins as soon as this post goes public.
The winners will be notified on Wednesday, October 5th, 2016 by 12:00 am (US Standard Central Time).

Shipping of the prizes and donations will take place by October 12th, 2016. Guest blog posting will occur between October 15th and November 1st, 2016.

All entries will be judged by me, myself and I. It’s entirely subjective.

canstockphoto23327111st Prize: Your entry will be posted as a guest post to my blog, you will be sent a brand new The Green Study Coffee Mug and I will make a $100 donation to the American Red Cross on your behalf to your local Red Cross Chapter or their International Disaster Response fund.

2nd Prize: Your entry will be posted as a guest post to my blog, you will be sent a brand new The Green Study Coffee Mug and I will make a $75 donation to the American Red Cross on your behalf to your local Red Cross Chapter or their International Disaster Response fund.

3rd Prize: Your entry will be posted as a guest post to my blog, you will be sent a brand new The Green Study Coffee Mug and I will make a $50 donation to the American Red Cross on your behalf to your local Red Cross Chapter or their International Disaster Response fund.

All participants will receive a priceless, irreplaceable postcard from Minneapolis (although it actually cost $1.00 and can be bought at the airport, in large quantities).

I will ship prize winners’ mugs stateside or internationally (with no guarantee that it will arrive or that it will arrive in one piece), just because I like to hold up the line at the post office because I haven’t filled out the right forms.

If any former participants and/or winners read this post, please feel free to comment on the veracity of The Green Study contests. Please let readers know that you’ve received your prizes and that I haven’t shown up at your front door looking for a place to stay or spammed your email. Previous winners are allowed to participate and an updated mug is in production.

Good news is rare these days, and every glittering ounce of it should be cherished and hoarded and worshipped and fondled like a priceless diamond.
Hunter S. Thompson

Administrative Note: There will be no fondling or diamonds involved in this contest. 

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A Small Tmesis Before Re-Entering the Fray

canstockphoto0492793The muddied waters of a chronic depression have surrounded me for months. My highs haven’t been very high, my lows not too low. A mental shoulder shrug answers when I check in with myself. Autumn is in the air and with it, a sense of relief. Finally a season to suit my mood. Melancholy is in vogue again and the suntanned Pollyanna of summer is out.

The weeks following a long Pacific coast vacation became jumbled with school starts and appointments and busy-ness. I was taken off guard even though I’d planned well in advance. Life dragged me along, a dead weight of wry gloom. It felt like surrender. This is me now, I thought, driving my kid to activities, making sure everyone has clean skivvies, wandering listlessly through grocery aisles. Struggling to communicate, make eye contact, be present.

A man came to the door and tried to talk to me about God on Sunday afternoon. For the first time ever, when someone asked of my faith, I called myself an atheist. I’ve gone with agnostic in the past, but I didn’t want him to think he had a way in. And I’m not adept at explaining secular humanism or my true philosophy that none of us knows anything, but it doesn’t really matter as long as we’re decent to each other.

canstockphoto3235320His proselytizing interrupted me while I was reading a book on reasoning, so I didn’t mind the discussion. He asked about what comforted me. I didn’t tell him about the fuzzy socks and coconut-scented lotion and burritos and piles and piles of books yet to be read. I pointed to my garden and muttered something about family. The fact that I was polite only encouraged him. The doorbell will ring again.

Menopause is enveloping me. Hormones infect my dreams with flying house centipedes and my husband leaving me in a souped-up red Prius. Somewhere along the way, I stopped thinking optimistically that my life was only half over and started thinking, oh shit, my life is beyond half over. My heart starts pounding and I frantically think about what I still want to do and how, if I haven’t done it at this point, it might be too late.

My weight circuit training class started up again. Over the years, training in Taekwondo, taking spin and weight classes, many of my instructors have been affable men in their late 20s who looked like they might not be able to complete the routines they were teaching. It was a way to make a little dosh, but not a way of life for them. No harm in that, but what I had in discipline, I lacked in inspiration.

canstockphoto0464175My new instructor is a female competitive power lifter. My inability to move this morning attests to her training acumen. She is a tad gung-ho for a community ed class and the looks exchanged by my classmates suggest that there will be some drop outs. For me, this is a spark in the gloominess.

I think about this idea that people want to elect people to whom they can relate – someone they’d catch a game with or meet with at a coffee shop in yoga pants. I’d rather elect someone much better than myself, because whoever it is, they should appeal to my better nature. I want leaders, teachers and guides who raise me up through example – who are smarter and more adept than I. My circuit class instructor is much stronger and more athletic than I and in the end, I will be stronger and more athletic because of it.

Stephen Fry now cheers me daily. Several seasons of his radio program, English Delights, is out on audio book at my local library. Wordplay is my bliss. He introduced me to the term tmesis, which is when a word or phrase is split into two parts by intervening words or phrases. It’s heard mostly with informal speech, such as abso-friggin’-lutely.

I keep having these moments when I’m standing outside of my life. Even on vacation, with people I adore, I’d find myself detached and observing, thinking more than once, just give me a moment. Let me stand still. Let me be quiet. I can hear myself talking with people without being engaged. My life is broken into parts, by heavy realization and not much wisdom. canstockphoto1402910

Autumn usually has me planning new goals and I have energy to pull them off for a few months. This year is different. My goals remain the same in regard to writing and fitness and family, but now there’s something in the middle of it all. Listen. Slow down. Sink into it. No need to rush to the next bit.

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For What It’s Worth

I’ve been as guilty this political season of thinking in hyperbole and polarity as anyone else. Conversations trail off into head-shaking and agreeing to disagree and at times, feeling a level of hatred that I know is unhealthy and unwise. What to do?

canstockphoto19783479It’s easy to become addicted to outrage. Social media and commentary sections of news articles make one realize how easy it is to take sides, to devolve into name-calling and to become someone of whom no one should feel proud. Anger is addictive as well. And exhausting.

For months, I’ve read political articles and commentary. I thought at some point, I’d become desensitized. Instead, I became paranoid. I would look at people and think in political terms “what are you?” As soon as someone identified themselves politically, I mentally saddled them with all sorts of baggage.

It’s a problem to think coherently when rabid voices shriek from all sides and newspapers punch up their headlines for click bait. I value critical thinking above partisanship and I’m a cynic. I have never assumed any politician represents me. I have never assumed that they would make my life better.

canstockphoto16791947We have a system that ensures only those with a Teflon coating and a certain willingness to be flexible with integrity will rise to the top. And in the end, we know it’s all about the money and with it, the power it conveys. The two major party candidates are propped up by wealth and/or an illusion of wealth.

Let’s be open here. I’m voting for Hillary Clinton. Not because I have an inkling of who she is as a person. We can’t know any of that about any of these processed, packaged and politicized humans. I’m voting for her because I don’t want to see or listen to Donald Trump for the next four years.

I don’t understand what he is saying half the time and he reminds me of that drunk, creepy guy at the end of the bar who solves the world’s problems or an uncle who slurs about how you should go into business together ’cause he knows what’s what. He uses terms like “the blacks” and throws his arm around you, sliding down your back until he’s fondling your ass and leering into your face. All you notice is how long his nose hair is, as you disentangle yourself from him.

My mind associates Donald Trump with every human being who has ever made me feel uncomfortable. Hillary Clinton reminds me of a boss who I didn’t like very much, but got fondly accustomed to, pantsuits and all. I knew that her actions and words did not always convey her intent. But she was predictable and while I didn’t always believe she did the right thing, I knew what that thing would be.

All that being said, I want to step away from the table that sets people up as enemies. I want to stop seeing us and them. I want to recognize that none of us are less human because of our political choices.

canstockphoto11122072We are formed, prejudices and all, by our environment and our experiences. I learned early not to expect anything from anyone and this extends to people in public office. I assume people are either liars or wrong in their assumptions, so I rely heavily on books and doing my own research. It frustrates my husband to no end. Why can’t you just believe what someone says?

Because every time someone at the Home Depot gives me advice, I have to make four trips back to the store. Because when people say who they are, they do something that completely contradicts it. Because when a politician says he or she is an upstanding citizen, you’ll be hearing about dick pics and secret offshore funds a day later.

Not trusting people has eliminated the element of surprise and/or disappointment. Not trusting politicians means that I’m okay voting for someone who has got a lot of smoke and likely some fire, too. My outrage meter is dampened by lifelong cynicism.

I started writing a political piece as a way to blow out the pipes. I don’t want to discuss politics with you. I just want you to know that I’m trying to understand and not demonize and not condescend to you. If we start talking politics, well, neither you nor I have the skills to maintain a civil discussion. It will likely end up with a lot of spluttering.

Declaring that one of us needs to be logical or smart or just listen, damn it, is pointless. Calling each other racists or libtards or dingleberries will neither advance the argument nor our relationship. And my assumptions that you kill things for fun and your assumptions that I eat sprouted yoga mats might be wrong.

Loocanstockphoto0367299k here, I like you. I think you are an interesting person. I especially like the way you laugh. You know a good bargain when you see one. And really, that outfit is quite flattering. I’m sure you love your wife and your grandchildren, too. And I’m pretty sure you’re nice to dogs. Your nose hairs could use a trim, but other than that, you seem an alright human.

 

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Reality Never Left

The summer is almost over. School starts again. We’ve returned from vacation and I’ve returned to writing. And to paraphrase Sergeant Schultz, I’ve learned nothing. I really thought I’d learn something; that I’d be awash in epiphanies and personal revelation. I thought I’d be more fit, more well read and in the end, happier than my current moroseness belies. The first title I chose for this post was “I’m Still Me. Damn It.”

I celebrated my 49th birthday in Monterey earlier this week. 31 years ago, I was 18, fresh out of basic training, attending the Defense Language Institute at the Presidio of Monterey to learn Russian. As I ate dinner with my husband and daughter, overlooking Monterey Bay, I felt old. Everything was at the same time alien and familiar. The bark of the sea lions, that fishy smell so common on wharves – those things were familiar.

canstockphoto30275996Cannery Row was unrecognizable. The little bar where my underage drinking buddies and I could score KB Lagers was a sandwich shop. We’d go to Kalisa’s to drink and listen to singers, standup comics, to watch belly dancers and then stagger loudly and drunkenly up a long hill to our barracks. The next morning, PT and hours of language classes. Rinse and repeat.

I was blessedly young and stupid. I still thought I might be a spy or a roving journalist or a novelist. I still believed my value was in what I’d do, not who I was or who I’d become to someone else. I thought I’d be sophisticated and witty. I wore skirts and heels and looked at myself in the mirror a lot. I thought sex was a precursor to love and that male attention was to be coveted.

Some bad things happened that year, too. Things that made me stop drinking as much. Things that made me more solemn. I was lonely much of the time, even in groups of friends. I realized that I was not a good sidekick, team player or party girl. I was adept at being a chameleon. I could read the room, but that skill didn’t ameliorate the intense sense of isolation. I hadn’t yet had therapy or confronted my family history or learned that loyalty, my loyalty, should be earned.

I smoked a lot, sitting on benches on the shore. I wandered through bookstores and libraries. These were only slivers of time between classes and military obligations and barracks living. They are the few slivers that I remember with clarity.

canstockphoto1856187A German linguist, training for reserve duty, befriended me. We listened to Samuel Barber’s Adagio for Strings while driving along Big Sur. It was one of my happiest moments that year. I talked to her last month. She laughs big and is kind. I still wonder at and feel gratitude for our friendship.

I met my father while I was in Monterey. I hadn’t seen him or spoken with him since I was 5 years old. I knew he lived in San Francisco, so I opened a phone book, found his name and called him. In person, he was small and hesitant. Not the smiling tall 19 year-old I’d seen in photos, with me on his shoulders. He brought his second wife with him. His second wife was all Californian – bleached and tanned and bedecked with bracelets and earrings that distracted me every time she moved.

I was polite but rigid. I resented his polite conversation, seething inside. He abandoned me to a stepfather who hated me. I thought of how poor we’d been and how my mother struggled to support us. I looked at my father and his spangly wife and decided one meeting was enough. When he called to meet again, I told him I hadn’t had a father for 13 years and I didn’t need one now. How unforgiving we can be when we’re young.

Four months later, he sat in the car in his garage, hose from pipe to window and killed himself. Unbeknownst to me, his wife was leaving him and he’d sustained a back injury that made him unemployable. But I had been cruel and dismissive and that is my indelible shame. I learned much that year – the shame of wanting love and pushing it away. The shame of believing in people too soon or too late. Lessons all.

I’ve never been a fan of nostalgia. Perhaps it is because I feel the lessons and memories of my youth so acutely. I always think that the best time of my life is right now. For some people, this might be called optimism, but being who I am, I realize it is more an acceptance that this is it. If I want it to be better, I have to do something. Sometimes inertia is okay, but at other times it seems intolerable.

Still, there’s groceries to get and a lawn to mow. I write my to-do list and prepare for a day of chores. A gull from one of the lakes flies overhead squawking and I am reminded of the gulls along the Pacific shore. I am reminded that I took a vacation, that I took a summer off from writing. It feels as if I were never away.

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The Green Study Takes a Rest

The Green Study will return on September 1, 2016.

Please note: I’ve received emails regarding phone calls from a Green Study Survey Company. This entity is entirely unrelated to me or my blog and from minimal research, seems to be a nuisance robo-caller reported on several spam tracking websites.

canstockphoto15476528My time away from this blog over the last few weeks was unintentional. I’ve been losing myself for hours in the silence and solitude of gardening. In addition, I’ve been spending an increasing amount of resources towards changing habits that will help me reach some personal goals. Digging in on all fronts, as it were. It’s made me mute, as if opening my mouth or typing words will drain away much needed energy.

Life online has become unpalatable, as we lose each other in the maelstrom of ugly politics. We’re neighbors, fellow citizens, and human beings. Most of us don’t have the “real” story about these candidates and we’re all myopic about the course of history. Regardless of who our next president is, we’ve seen the underbelly of our citizenry – all the blaming and the racism and the misogyny, ever present, ever corrosive.

My angry post drafts remain unpublished, relics of confirmation bias and infinite regression. Hate begets hate. So, I step back from my computer, knowing that I’ll learn nothing relevant before the fall, knowing that I owe my country my vote, but not my mental health.

The novel that never seems to get finished, even though I wrote the first draft 4 years ago, is getting a hard look these days. I’m re-writing most of it, learning how to craft and not just spew. It may never be published, but it means something to me and how I view myself. No investment in the outcome, only in the process.

I’ve been working on changing some personal habits, which seem to require a lot of energy and focus.  I’ve started with small changes – less time on the computer, longhand writing, getting back into painfully regular workouts, decaffeinating and changing my evening routine so that I sleep better. One small shift at a time, adding a new step every few weeks.

It weighs on me that in a year or so, I’ll turn 50. It weighs on me not because of numbers or wrinkles or irrelevancy. It weighs on me because I’ve waited so long to let myself be happy. To let myself just be. I live my life like an apology, never reveling in the happier moments, always downplaying successes and never allowing myself to rest. I need rest.

I suspect many of us do. I read an article about busyness being beneficial to your brain as you age. Between that one and the one about breakfast, I’m doing it all wrong. I want a life that isn’t busy and if I don’t eat breakfast, I’m homicidal by 10am. It tends to make it a rather important meal for me.

Sometimes, too, we get stuck in a loop without even realizing it. I’ve been going around in circles for the last few years. It’s Groundhog Day. I’ve spent a lot of time getting better with each loop – learning how to get up, brush myself off more quickly and calling bullshit when my mind does its little depressive dance.

A few weeks ago, during yet another sleepless night, a thought plunked itself down in my brain and it has stayed with me ever since. I’m ready. While that phrase could be subject to wildly inaccurate interpretation, I figure it means one of several things: I’m ready to be happy, I’m ready to let go of old ideas or, just when I finally get the point of things, I will get hit by a bus. While I’m still upright, I’m going with the more positive and less bus-flattening of the interpretations.

I’m ready for what is to come next. I’ll put down my guard. I’ll stop justifying why I do what I do. I’ll shorten my to-do list. I’ll not make excuses for happiness or success (I’m sure it won’t last. It was just luck. I don’t deserve this.).

But for now, I’ll just rest.

I wish you a wonderful summer and all the joy you can muster!

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The Green Study will return on September 1, 2016.

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If This Were Enough

canstockphoto1628056The yard was muddy, but the sun was out and the call of the garden undeniable. I’ve been turning our front yard into a perennial garden over the last 10 years. If a garden could have attention deficit disorder, it would look like mine. Nothing is planted by height or color or for an eye-catching display as people drive by.

There’s probably 50 different kinds of plants and flowers – things that caught my eye at a nursery or roadside stand or even better, plants that people have offered up from their own gardens. I have a high disregard for manicured lawns, because the cost of maintaining a monotone field is too high. Too much water, too many chemicals, and not enough joy. I rarely see people playing or sitting on their beautiful lawns.

canstockphoto15362073On my haunches and muddied knees, I dug around beds, cleaned out weeds. The sun was warm, but a chill spring breeze interrupted occasionally. I paused at moments to let bees pass by or notice the first of the season’s butterflies. I found cicada husks from last August and a rabbit’s burrow from where the first batch of bunnies emerged this spring (they’re now teenagers in the backyard grazing on everything).

I’ve been writing a lot of serious stuff lately, caught up in the news and politics and issues of the day. It occurred to me that it’d been a long time since I’d felt the kind of joy I feel while in the garden. I pondered why being there made joy possible. It was certainly not the end result, my potpourri of mismatched and misshapen plants. Even when my garden is in full bloom, I have the critic’s eye.

It occurred to me that when I’m in the garden, I’m not worrying about what needs to be done, what was said, what will happen. I just work. I thought “What if this was all I had to worry about? What if gardening is the only thing that I really had to do?” Now, anyone familiar with Buddhism or meditation could call this for what it is: being present.

Gardening isn’t something I just do. It is something I am part of – I am a caretaker of life that has little regard for me. I am honored to be in the presence of bugs and plants and birds and animals. I feel, sometimes, that they allow me to be there, this oafish, destructive human. And it brings with it a sense of freedom – this sense that at this moment in time, everything is enough.

canstockphoto18968974I am a grasping sort of person. I always want more – more knowledge, more books and music, more muscles, more economic freedom and better running shoes. Part of it comes from growing up poor and feeling like I was in a perpetual state of want and envy. Part of it is that we live in a society built on the very concept that success is only precipitated by want. Our economy teeters restlessly on the backs of our desires. Our politics would be earnest and lackluster without the want of power.

But always wanting is exhausting and demoralizing. It means that we are never satisfied and never feel we have enough. And the more denigrating message is that we, as humans, are not enough. I played around with this idea in my head. Not everyone is delighted by or has access to a garden. How can this idea apply for others and in different circumstances?

I thought about how to repeat that feeling, that sense of freedom throughout my day. What else relieves me of the burden of want and anxiety? If I’m deep into writing, I feel it, but it means wading through perfectionism and troubled expectations of myself. It’s a lot of work to get there. Where do I find the joy like I find in the garden? And I end up, once again, with more want. I could certainly do with less irony.

Where do you find your joy?

What keeps you in the moment?

When does it feel like this is enough, I need nothing more?

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