Thursday, September 20, 2012

Get the Picture?

“If it was just about surviving, getting by, and keeping things the way they are, then how would you explain imagination?
If it was just about sacrifice, selflessness, and altruism, then how would you explain desire?
And if it was just about thinking, reflection, and spiritual stuff, then how would you explain the physical world?
Get the picture,? Want it all. That's what it's there for.”
-Someone posted this as their Facebook status. I don’t know if they were quoting someone or came up with it themselves, but I have some objections to it.
If it was just about surviving, getting by, and keeping things the way they are, then how would you explain imagination?
I agree with this one for the most part, it just seems weird that “imagination” is supposed to prove there’s more to life than just survival. You can easily argue that imagination is there to distract you from boredom. Creativity, vision, ingenuity, faith, hope, love, the soul… these are things that prove men was meant for more than just survival.
If it was just about sacrifice, selflessness, and altruism, then how would you explain desire?
Errrrnt! Wrong. You might as well say, “If it’s about being healthy then why do donuts, bacon, cigarettes, and cancer exist?” Sacrifice would not be called “sacrifice” if you didn’t have to fulfill its definition: Giving something you have or want up for a greater cause or purpose. That thing you’re setting aside to do that altruistic deed of good will is called “desire” –a.k.a. what YOU want for YOURSELF instead. Desire, selfish impulse, self-doubts, fears, hate, pride, vanity, and complacency are the things you have to set aside to do what’s right. Frodo desired to keep the ring instead of throwing it into the lava. Harry Potter went into the woods knowing he would die at Voldemort’s hand because Harry knew it was the only way to save his friends.
And if it was just about thinking, reflection, and spiritual stuff, then how would you explain the physical world?
This sounds like something a person who doesn’t reflect would say. As with everything in life, there needs to be a balance. We are spiritual, wise, reflective, cerebral creatures. We are also hungry, transient, impulsive, athletic, physical beings. You need to master both. It’s about knowing WHEN to reflect and WHEN to be present. Reflecting on past experiences and wisdom at a friend’s birthday party probably isn’t the way to go. Party and drinking after someone you love has suddenly passed away isn’t the way to go either.
Get the picture? Want it all. That's what it's there for.
“Take what you want. Give nothing back.” –Captain Jack Sparrow
“From what we get, we can make a living; what we give, however, makes a life.” ~ Arthur Ashe
“Only a life lived for others is a life worthwhile.” ~ Albert Einstein
“Thousands of candles can be lighted from a single candle, and the life of the candle will not be shortened. Happiness never decreases by being shared.” ~Buddha
“The greatest good you can do for another is not just share your riches, but reveal to them their own.” ~ Disraeli
“To know even one life has breathed easier because you have lived. This is to have succeeded.” ~ Ralph Waldo Emerson
“The best way to find yourself is to lose yourself in the service of others.” ~ Mahatma Gandhi
“At the end of life we will not be judged by how many diplomas we have received, how much money we have made, how many great things we have done. We will be judged by ‘I was hungry and you gave me to eat, I was naked and you clothed me, I was homeless and you took me in.’ Hungry not only for bread — but hungry for love. Naked not only for clothing — but naked for human dignity and respect. Homeless not only for want of a room of bricks — but homeless because of rejection.” ~ Mother Teresa
“Giving is the highest expression of potency. In the very act of giving, I experience my strength, my wealth, my power. This experience of heightened vitality and potency fills me with joy. I experience myself as overflowing, spending, alive, hence as joyous. Giving is more joyous than receiving, not because it is a deprivation, but because in the act of giving lies the expression of my aliveness.” ~ Erich Fromm

Monday, September 17, 2012

Texas Trip

I’m supposed to be documenting my life experiences to make my life easier when I get old. When it comes time to write my memoirs I can pretty much just print my blog.
Unfortunately a lot has been happening internally that I haven’t been writing about. My mind set and views have shifted and they should be noted down. Then in the last week or so some actual life events occurred that were definitely worth jotting down. Hence the reason for this blog. I’ll get to the internal revelations eventually but the memories I have linked to specific events have an invisible expiration date. My memory sucks.
Last Thursday morning at 5am I awoke and started packing my bags for the 8:03 flight to Texas I would be taking that day. The flight itself getting there is actually going to be the subject of my humorous speech I have to give in Toastmasters in 3 weeks. It was a hilarious experience…
But for now I’ll just keep it short: I got on the plane. It flew. I landed. 
Corpus Christi, Texas is a humid tropical version Santa Cruz, CA with the ambience of Modesto, California and other places in more rural towns near there. There were thunderstorms throughout the stay, but I like the rain as long as it’s warm. The reason for the trip out there was the Saturday wedding of my Aunt Carol with my new Aunt-in-law Diane. I’ve mentioned both of them in previous blogs. For a brief recap: My Aunt Carol is a Cancer-turned-Pisces in its virtue and Diane is a Virgo turned Capricorn in its vice. So yah. They’re compatible on a Spiritual and Emotional level.
The first day was spent exploring their beach-themed house in small town. I met Diane’s sister Meredith –who was a living definition of southern hospitality. I also got to see Carol and Diane’s “Spiritual room” –which for my standards was lacking in the spiritual symbols department. A couple photos on the wall of Native American relics and some dolphin pictures. But they had a good amount of Crystal and Amethyst around the home which led me to believe they knew what they were doing. Basically if you want to be “Spiritual” you need Native American dream weavers and similar relics, Celtic symbols, Indian henna symbols, yoga jargon, and Zen space. They’re pretty well covered on the spiritual front. Now all they need is to add a few more religious items. They had a few Bible verses on the wall and a cross outside their front door, but adding a little more would at least ground them a little in their spirituality.
Anyways… my Aunt is a vegetarian who is allergic to gluten and Diane loves meat and cigarettes so watching the two of them function as a couple despite those differences is amusing to me. Then there was the shuffling of relatives inside the house on outside on the porch. I heard some reallllly personal stories about Diane when she was inside and some reallllly personal stories about Meredith. I won’t share the stories here but it’s amazing how two siblings can grow up sharing similar experiences but growing in completely opposite directions from those same roots. It’s also amazing how much pain people can experience throughout their lives and still find a way to rise above it –to the extent that you would not believe that they had been through anything.
On Friday my Uncle Brad arrived. He reminds me of Mitt Romney. Kind of analytical and tall and Boston-y and conservative, and stoic yet animated. It’s an East Coast thing I guess. I relate better to my uncle now than I did when I was younger. He was always ruining Monopoly games by making us play by “the rules” that most people throw out because nobody feels like keeping track of electric bills and dice rolling taxes.
Saturday my Aunt Nancy, who is the lively fireball of our family, arrived along with Ted –my cousin and a Cancer turned Scorpio. I wanted to adopt Ted and bring him back to California. He’s 4 years older than me which makes me sort of look up to him in a subconscious kind of way, but he also amuses me with his dorkhood which makes me feel more like an equal.
Diane had mentioned she was nervous about Nancy and how supportive she would be of the wedding. It confused me. Nancy has always been practical minded and accepting of others. But then I remembered that at our grandmother’s funeral she had commented that Carol probably shouldn’t have brought her transgendered friend because even though grandma accepted Carol as a lesbian she “probably wouldn’t prefer to have some of Carol’s friends show up at her funeral”. I think it may have been Carol’s way of coping with the loss –showing up in her mother’s church with a friend who wouldn’t make her feel as “out casted” from everyone else. I don’t know.
I also thought it was interesting how many people commented on the fact that my 57 year old Aunt was getting married at “her age”. Since when is there an age limit on getting married? Real love takes time.
So Saturday was spent getting the wedding ready. The wedding was held on a little island called “Padre’s Island”. The rooms were pretty easy to set up and the pavilion was right on the beach so we got to walk out to the shore and see the ocean.
Memorable moments from this trip include:
-Seeing all the fancy mansions along the coast line
-Meeting Diane and Carol’s friends
-Listening to Uncle Brad mock and poke fun at the viewable stereotypes of Texas
-Images 1 and 2

-Visiting a Cracker Barrel for the first time
-Snapping photos like paparazzi at the wedding
The wedding itself went smoothly. Carol was the first to start crying. Pretty much at the first gesture of handing the bouquet to her bridesmaid. Diane followed next when she saw Carol tearing up. Those were the most heart-felt vows I have ever heard. You could physically feel the sentiments between them.
I heard later, after the reception was over, that that was the first time my Uncle Brad had realized we were making Diane a part of our family and she was making us a part of hers. He had thought what they shared was between them and had nothing to do with him and he was mostly just there for out of polite obligation. But the words spoken during the reception had made him see how included and welcomed he was into their new lives together and how much they wanted him and everyone else in our family to be there.
The wedding officially ended at 7:30pm after everything had been cleaned up. My dad, step-mom, Aunt Nancy, sister Emily, Uncle brad, Cousin Ted, and I all piled into the car to head back to the hotel. This is where the wonderful 3 days took a trip down south.
My Aunt Carol doesn’t drink alcohol so there was none at the wedding. I loved this fact since I share the same sentiments as my aunt and I especially appreciated the Martinellis Apple Cider I got to drink. It’s not often you get to go to a family event and not feel pressured to drink wine, beer, champagne or whatever unfortunate liquid the situation may call for. But as soon as we hit the car and started driving off the first suggestion out of anyone’s mouth was to go to a bar and officially “celebrate”. I think my soul rolled its eyes.
Then there was a following 30 minutes of dialogue as to which bar to go to. Someone suggested looking on for some suggestions. Yelp said the best bar was at the hotel we were staying at… which beautifully summed up the atmosphere of the other bar options that were out there. More bar names kept coming up and I started to get feel really isolated and depressed. The depression grew over those passing miles into a deep emotional pain that seemed to come from nowhere. I felt alone.
I was just sitting in the backseat staring out the window praying that we go to the hotel –either to have the drinks be at that bar or let me off so I don’t have to be around it. I should have spoken up. But I fell into a silence like nothing I said would really matter to everyone. My relatives were busy making venue suggestions and making fun of other events they had been to where people either hadn’t been drinking or alcohol wasn’t allowed.
My 21 year old sister, 3 years younger than me, suggested we just buy some beers and taken them back to the hotel. My Aunt Nancy was shocked my sister was that savvy about drinking and found her suggestion entertaining. The thought of me sitting alone in my hotel room while the rest of my relatives went out drinking was a bit much too for my heart that night. Especially when you take into consideration all the past events I had been drug along to where my mom drank it up and my siblings were all having alcoholic beverages and I was the joke at the table staying sober.
It was dark outside and in. They finally decided on a bar that was a 15 minute walk from the hotel. I felt the pressure behind my eyes and the stress inside my throat and made the executive decision to ask my dad to drive me to the hotel while everyone was getting a seat in the bar. I made up my mind that if he wouldn’t drive me I’d walk to the hotel in the dark by myself. I was done with the night and couldn’t take any more of it.
My relatives started heading towards the bar and I pulled my dad aside and explained that I wanted to go to the hotel. My step-mom immediately looked disapprovingly disappointed in me. They had just designated my dad the designated driver and I was asking him aside to get back in the car and drop me off. My step-mom gave a mini speech about how I was being inconsiderate to dad and selfish. I just stood there. I said I’d just walk then and she rolled her eyes at me. Dad said, “I’ll drive you,” in a defeated voice and I made my way to the other side of the car.
He put the car in reverse and started backing up. I broke down. I wouldn’t talk to him –I knew he wouldn’t understand anyway. He was mostly silent. He asked me whether I was tired or whether I was having “girl problems”. I didn’t respond. I felt insulted and misunderstood. I felt alone. 5 minutes later he pulled up to the hotel and started bailing out. He asked if I was alright and I nodded as I turned to leave. My hotel room would have told him a different story.
I cried for a good 30 minutes –mostly in the shower which I took in a futile attempt to relax myself. I felt like the only person who really knew me was God. I decided He was all I needed. People are so disappointing. You think they know you well enough to understand the things that can’t be said. I never cry. Not unless I’m in serious physical pain or I’m having deep emotional pain over something serious. I cry maybe 4 times a year. I also don’t tend to ditch out on family events. Even if it’s out of a sense of social obligation, I’ll be there.
I resented my step-mom (still do a little). We had finally gained a level of openness and respect for each other and in one night it had all been compromised. I received a text from her the next morning –no doubt after dad had told her I’d cried- saying, “Sorry I was so harsh with you…” I never text back.  Later at the airport that Sunday night my sister asked me what had happened. I filled her in on my end of things and she filled me in on hers. Apparently my step-mom had flared her disappointments in me to my Aunt Nancy and Emily at the bar. “I thought she was getting better… didn’t you think she was getting better? She was so talkative during the wedding and so well behaved. I expected more from her…”
I should probably include a backstory to that. Here it is: Before Zoloft entered my life, my social anxiety disorder would often get the best of me at social gatherings and I would want to bow out early and avoid the spotlight at all costs. I wasn’t a very social butterfly at that time. Even at family events.
It’s hard to forgive someone when you know it’s going to be awkward and tense between you because of how close you were and how much distance was gained when your trust was betrayed. Oh well. All water must flow under the bridge one day to make its way to the sea. It just made the flight back home a little more uncomfortable than it would have been otherwise. It also made the last moments I spent sitting close to my aunts and far from my parents that much greater. 

Thursday, September 6, 2012

Can't Get a Break

I thought learning how to drive stick shift would be fun. I was 15 years old. I had just officially gotten my driver’s license. My step dad Dean, who is a tow truck driver, was riding shotgun. It was my step-sister Sarah’s car so she was sitting in the backseat. My hands behind the wheel of a Red 2001 Honda Civic on a warm summer day out in the country.
Things started off fine. I drove down some roads and didn’t run anything over. Then we came to a steep sloping road up with no other way to go. I turned to Dean silently suggesting he take this one, but he just said, “Well go.” I started up what later became known as the “Hill of Death”, slowly chugging up like the little engine that thought she could until she got halfway up and then suddenly lost confidence and the car started rolling backwards and Sarah started screaming and Dean had to pull up the emergency clutch. Eventually I managed to pry my fingers from the wheel and move to the passenger’s seat. Dean drove up the hill. Sarah said I would never be allowed to drive her car again.
I started down the other side of the hill after Dean had managed to get it up there. Things were going smoothly again. I still hadn’t run anything over. Then I came to a stop sign. 2 lane road. I had to cross the road heading to the left to get to the road heading to the right. Once again the little engine that thought she could started her way across the road until about midway when the clutch slipped and the engine turned off and a car was spotted in the distance driving right at us. Slowly the car puttered across in the desired lane. I then managed to gain momentum and drive myself and my sorrowed companions back home.
It’s important to remember when learning how to drive that expectations will always betray you. And it isn’t just learning to drive stick shift that let will you down. The entire process of getting behind the wheel will test you in ways that push you to accept things you never even dreamed you’d have to take into consideration.
It starts out innocent enough: the desire to drive your own car so you and your buddies can go to Jack in the Box at lunch off campus like cool kids on wheels that everyone will then envy. So you start Driver’s Ed and tell yourself, “You’re a smart kid getting A’s and B’s how hard can this class be –especially considering some of the idiots drivers out there.” You go in afterschool with your notebook and your hopes and dreams lost somewhere in your backpack. Then the lights are turned off, the projector is turned on, and the promise of what might have been is thrashed to pieces like a car flipped over by a T-Rex in the movie Jurassic Park.
Slide after slide of notes and flashed on the screen. Your hand starts to cramp as you try to keep up with the 70 mph switching of illegible handwritten driving. A voice says, “We’ll go over this later, just take down the notes”. You assume it’s the teacher who’s lying to you, but you can’t be sure. Tearing your eyes away from the screen will cost you bullet points 78-92.
Once you’ve managed to overcome the challenge of driver’s educating yourself, it is then time to practice the act of actually driving. If first thing you come to learn of course is that learning how to drive is heavily dependent upon whom you choose to have as a copilot. It’s going to be a parent. No one is ever lucky enough to have a wise older sibling to guide –it will be a parent. Do not fool yourself into believing that parent will not freak out during the drive –just accept it. There will be screaming and the slamming of the imaginary brake pedal in the passenger’s seat. You will inevitably turn on your right turn signal 5 minutes before you actually reach the road you mean to turn on. Just remember not to park car on the learning curb.
Then after exactly 60 hours of driving practice have been completed -as noted by the paper your mother has posted on the fridge keeping track of each session –it is finally time to take the test. The night before you try to memorize each word in your driving brochure handbook… but you know the truth must be accepted. You will fail the test at least once. It’s just a part of the rite of passage crossing over from pedestrian to motorist.
Finally after three or twelve more attempts, you will pass the written portion of the test. Then comes the final portion: actually driving a car. Once again you will be tested to accept the inevitable: you will be driving your mother’s car. All those days spent wishing a Maserati would magically appear -instead of that pony that never showed up -have been lived in vain. It is now time to drive your mother’s Durango.
Apparently having a normal car is too much to ask for. Everyone knows nothing will test your desire to drive a car like driving in a vehicle that feels like the bus you considered taking for the rest of your life because getting your license may never happen. By some miracle you then manage to pass the test. You have done it! You are now a licensed driver in the state of California!
It is now time to drive your first car. Lord grant me the Serenity Prayer to know the things I cannot change and accept the fact that I’m going to end up driving a car from the 90s instead of a brand new mustang. Mine was a gold 1996 Jeda. When it got up to 60 mph it made a sound like an airplane taking off that was about to explode. A couple times the gauge stopped working so I had no clue how fast I was going. A couple more times the car would fail to gain speed and I would end up crawling at 40 mph on the highway telepathically signaling the cars behind to drive around me.
Eventually the universe granted me a reprieve and I ended up with a great Blue 2003 Honda Civic. Then last September the universe got bored again and had my car pummeled by a blonde talking to another blonde driving through a red stop light in her Mercedes after a trip to Starbucks. Now I drive a 2004 Kia Optima.