Thursday, February 11, 2016

Successful?

"The Planet does not need more successful people. The Planet desperately needs more peacemakers, healers, restorers, story tellers, and lovers of all kinds." ~Dalai Lama~

    I have come to the realization that "successful" is a relative term. I have known it for a long time, but only recently been able to come to terms with it within my own life. College? Career? Wealth? The big house, fancy car, designer wardrobe? In our material world of conspicuous consumption, where degrees, career, and wealth are worn like a badge of honor, and the key to the hanging with the popular kids, I shy from these as if they were a venomous snake.
    It hasn't always been the case. There have been many times that I felt the tug of envy and desire. Thinking how much easier life would be if money was never an issue. Not feeling a twinge of embarrassment at my beat-up, third hand car when parked next to the latest and greatest shiny new thing. Seeing the big house, with tidy yard, and knowing that the residents never have to crawl under their own home to try and fix a leaky pipe. They just hire a plumber, and money is no object.
    A few years back, at a cocktail party of all things, I was asked several times, "So, what is your degree in?" And had to fight the desire to punch them in the face and say, "Hard knocks." I left feeling angry, bitter, resentful, and ashamed that it seemed so important to this room full of people, all with degrees and "successful" careers by the way, what university I did or did not attend, and what I had decided to be when I grew up. At that moment it made me feel as if I was seen as trying to move into a social sphere in which I did not belong. Or as I put it at the time, "A blue collar girl in a white collar world... the girl from the wrong side of the tracks." In retrospect, I choose to think that my obvious intelligence and wit made them assume that I had a high level of what they would consider a proper education. Ha ha. Fooled them. I am just naturally wicked smart and hilariously funny. Now I can see it. Now I don't care that I don't have a degree, or what would be considered a proper career. Now I appreciate my vast and weird knowledge, my intuition, and natural gifts.
    I won't lie, I still feel the pressure of lack of funds, frequently. But instead of envy when I see that shiny, big car I feel the smug satisfaction of my fuel efficient, hippie chick, old Honda Civic with the half-Ironman sticker and uber-geeky bumper sticker. When I see the big house I think "big mortgage," and feel pride in my handyman skills and low monthly payment. I see the wealth in the stacks of reclaimed and salvaged building materials in my yard.
    I am content with my life, as atypical and anti-establishment as it is. I am not defined by what so many see as "success." I am not a career, wealth, college degree. I create with my mind, build with my hands, heal with my heart. I am a Dreamer, Artist, Writer, Empath, Healer, Peacemaker. Mother, Grandmother, Treehugging Hippiechick Hedgewitch. We need more people in the world that understand the true meaning of Success.

Tuesday, January 19, 2016

Winter Quirks

    I have a secret to share. It is an interesting quirk about my winter weirdness. Every winter I develop some random OCD issue. Something I am never really aware of until it has been going on for several months. Four years back it was taking my own bags to the grocery store. I would have a full on meltdown, tear inducing anxiety attack if I didn't have my own bags. That was a particularly difficult winter, by the way. One winter it was an aversion to water.
    This year it is nothing quite so dramatic. I have a shirt, an old shirt, one of my favorite cold weather race shirts. It has developed into somewhat of a security blanket it would seem. I sleep in it every night. I wear it most days that I am not at work. I am wearing it right now. I make sure to wash it when I am working out, so I can be distracted from the fact that I don't have The Shirt on. It is a winter wear Champion brand running shirt. Silky, not too snug but form fitting, has the little thumb holes on the extra long sleeves. It doesn't have tags, I make no secret that I cut the tags out of all my clothes, but this shirt never had them to begin with. I paid about $5 for it at Value Village 4 years ago or so, and have looked for another every since. I love this shirt. It is very often the base layer under whatever other shirt I decide to wear.  I don't wear it to work very often, but I put it on as soon as I get home. I pack it in my swim bag so I can slip into it after a swim. I don't wear it for workouts, but as soon as I am done I am snuggled back into the shirt. It is like a cocoon, or armor. It shields me from discomfort, anxiety, the cold. It is this winter's OCD focus. Not bad, compared to past winters.
    I make no secret that I am a creature of habit. Habits so strong that they border on compulsion. I pack the same thing for lunch nearly every day that I work, and have done so for years. The foods have changed over the years since my dietary restrictions and needs have changed as well. I eat a well rounded diet, but it tends to take the form of very specific foods. Every night I drink a cup of herbal tea. I have the same routine every morning and every night, almost to a tee. I always put on my left sock and left shoe first. Always. I put in my left earring first, and if I don't I can't manage to get the right one into the hole.
    I have learned to make habit work for me in some areas. Especially in fitness and nutrition. I workout largely because it is a deeply ingrained habit. I have worked out regularly in one form or another, nearly every day for the last 20 years. The older I get, the stronger my habits become. I think that if I were ever to develop dementia I would continue on with my habits because my body is so tied to them it doesn't need my brain very much.
    So, habit or obsession. Quirk or compulsion. Every winter the need is a bit stronger and deeper. The more I understand myself the more I can look at it with humor, and the less dramatic it all seems. For this winter I have my favorite shirt, like Linus with his blanket, that keeps me sheltered from the darkness of winter. I love my shirt.

Sunday, January 17, 2016

Lose My Mind, Just A Little

    It is getting close to that time of year when I start to lose my mind, just a little. Okay, more than a little. It usually strikes about mid-February. I am not sure if it is because that is when my birthday is, or Valentine's Day, both of which have reminded me for a very long time that I am facing life alone. Maybe it is because we are in the depths of winter, and still have months left before the rains cease and the sun returns. Most of the year, my aloneness doesn't bother me, I am used to it, even revel in it. But there is something about this time of year when the crazy starts. Cabin fever? Spring fever? I don't know. I just know it is also when I am most likely to feel predatory and reckless. I begin to feel like my skin doesn't fit. I am twitchy, restless, moody. I want to hide, and yet want to prowl the streets. I look at everyone who passes me and mentally categorize them as predator or prey. I feel like a wolf among sheep.
    This is when my Demons will come out to play, but we understand each other so well that it is more visitation and invasion. I talk with them, chastising and teasing. Let them make me cry, vent, and rage, just a little. Then chase them back to the shadows where they wait for our next playdate.
    Now is when I feel like I am resting up for the inevitable mania that will hit. I am sleeping 10 hours a night whenever I can. I want to eat, storing up energy for later. It is tough, feeling so tired now, yet knowing what is to come.
    Year after year this has been my life. At least 20 years. It has only been the last few years that I have really come to understand what is happening, what is coming, and how to get to the other side relatively unscathed. For the second year in a row I am facing it unmedicated, trusting my healthy lifestyle, and my hard won understanding of myself to get me through to spring.
    The last two years have led me down some fun and interesting paths. I have let myself play loose and free, let my dark side come out into the light. It has been entertaining and educational, without a doubt. This year I may very well go down a similar path. Let my inner demon out to play, have some fun, break a few hearts. Why not? Life is about experience, life is about play, life is about exploration and pushing boundaries. Life is about losing your mind and letting it run wild and free now and then. It will come back, soon enough, and likely better off for an unbridled romp through the wild.

Tuesday, December 22, 2015

Rich Beyond Measure

    This last year I have made a conscious choice to live well below the poverty line. I am lucky, for me it is a choice. Why in the hell would anyone choose to be poor? I think "Poor" is a relative term. I have enough money, mostly, to make it through the month. I admit, I couldn't do it without a little support. I am making less than half of what I was making a year ago, but it is enough to pay my mortgage and put food on the table. I am not telling this to garner any kind of sympathy or pity, but because it has been a revelation (or revolution, more like it).
     I lost my job about a year ago, and it took time to find new employment. In that time I discovered just how little money I need to be happy, and how much more I value my time. To be able to spend time with my grandchildren has been a wonder. To hear the happy cry, "Oma's here!" Followed by the thunder of little footsteps never ceases to lift my heart. That is something that is so far beyond monetary value there are no words. I will never be the grandparent that showers them with gifts, but with a little clever thought I manage to be the one that gives them gifts that they remember. And I give my time. As much of it as I can.
     Having time has given me a freedom that I have never had. Freedom to write, build, create, salvage, and sometimes just to sit and do nothing. Okay, that last bit does not happen very often, I am not good at sitting still. But I can do it if I want to.
    Choosing to live below the poverty line has given me an appreciation for my life that I think most people are too busy, and too worried about material gain to see for themselves.  How many people in the world do not have basic comforts? I think about how many millions of people in the world head into the night with no bed to go to, hungry, cold, frightened, and with no prospects on the horizon. I have a solid little house that keeps me warm and dry. I am buying it, so there is never the fear that my rent will rise, or the landlord will decide to sell. It is mine, and mine alone to do with what I want. Yes, it has a few issues that could be easily remedied if I could hire a contractor to just come in and fix them. But I can do the work, I have a list, and I will get it done, eventually. I have wood to burn in my little woodstove, running water, a beautiful view, a comfortable bed, food packed into the cupboards (and the skill and means to make delicious meals). Here I sit, at a computer, a cellphone at my elbow, with electric lights, heat, running water, a cup of hot coffee, a hearty breakfast as soon as I choose to make it. In the next room I have a huge, comfortable bed, with clean, soft bedding, and an electric blanket to prewarm it for me. I have dressers, closets, and baskets full of clothes for all kinds of weather, and all kinds of situations. I have shelves full of books. I have dogs and cats to keep me company. I have a car that runs, and money to fill the tank. I have a job to go to that I enjoy, and where I am appreciated. I have all the tools I need to build my Fort, repair my house, create a garden, care for my property. I have piles of salvaged building materials, nearly enough to build a small house. How can I not be thought of as rich beyond measure?
    Add to my overwhelming abundance of material wealth the love and friendship of family and friends and it is more than anyone should ever aspire to. I know that if I do hit a bump in the road I have people in the world who love me, care for me, and will happily lend assistance if I need it. All I have to do is ask. How many millions of people in the world have no one. No One. It makes my heart ache to think of it. And how many people in the world have spent their life so focused on climbing the corporate ladder, amassing wealth, only to reach a pinnacle and realize that they are miserable and alone? Material wealth will not fill that aching void.
    Yes, sometimes I find myself fretting about having enough money to make it to the end of the month. Or a bit of the "robbing Peter to pay Paul," but every month it works out. I set my worries alongside a mother who has no money, no food, and hungry children, and it makes me ashamed that I was upset because I was low on coffee. Money is not the answer, my friends. It never was, and never will be. Accumulation of material wealth is nothing more than an illusion of happiness, a spiritual void, a promise of something intangible that will always remain just out of reach.
     I sit in my snug little house, surrounded by so much wealth I feel like a dragon in his cave full of hoarded gold. By choosing to be "the starving artist" what I have really done is open my eyes to just how wealthy I am. Love, friendship, comfort, food, heat, contentment, sanity. I am Rich Beyond Measure.

Sunday, December 20, 2015

Next Year's Challenge

    It is no secret that I like to challenge myself. True, some days it seems like a challenge just to get out of the house and meet people face to face. Last year it was doing an Iron distance triathlon. I wanted to repeat the even this year, but it was cancelled, leaving me dangling as far as physical challenges go. An early season knee injury and elbow injury sidelined me for this racing season so I had to turn my talents elsewhere. This year I pushed myself to build a sanctuary, The Fort. It is nearly complete. It would be done if I didn't keep coming up with groovy new things to do to it. Just today I finished installing a wood floor with 1x6 clear vertical grain hemlock that I salvaged out of a scrap bin at a local mill. Just the back half of the space has wood floor, the front will have vintage linoleum once I can decided on the pattern I want to do.
    Anyway, about this time of year I like to look ahead to what next year might offer. What challenges can I find that will push my limits a bit? There isn't a local Iron distance triathlon, so that is likely off the table. I decided on two half-Irons instead, but that really isn't quite challenging enough. Well, except the challenge of remaining injury free through the coming year. What I found is something almost unfathomable: The Portland Bridge Swim. It is an 11 mile swim down the Willamette River, through the heart of Portland. 11 miles. ELEVEN MILES! The longest swim I have done to this point is 3.1 miles, but I came out of the water feeling good, though hypothermic, and with enough energy to get on my bike and ride around Mount Bachelor. But to swim 11 miles, that is almost lunacy. My kind of lunacy. Last night during my regular swim I started calculating just what I would need to do in order to get myself ready for such a swim. The amount of hours I would have to spend training borders on obsessive. Add into this my regular triathlon training and I will need to focus as intensely as I did last year for the Epic 250K.
    I love to set goals for myself. I need to set goals for myself, lofty goals. Not run of the mill goals. It does make it tough when I get sidelined or derailed, but that just gives me an excellent opportunity to practice my problem solving skills. Can I swim 11 miles in open water? I guess I will find out.

Thursday, December 10, 2015

Idealist

    Nearly 20 years ago a friend called me an "Idealist." She meant it as a compliment, but also as a warning. She was trying to deflect me from what she though was a potentially hazardous path. She was right, and fortunately I took heed of her sage wisdom. I confess, I had to look up the word Idealist to really grasp what it was she was accusing me of.
    Idealist: A person who is guided more by ideals than by practical considerations (synonyms: visionary, wishful thinker, romantic, dreamer, Don Quixote) example: an idealist believes the best in everyone, regardless of how they behave.
    Damn. She was right. Guilty on all charges.
    Not only am I an idealist, I am gullible and naive as well. I joke that if you look up the word "gullible" in the dictionary, you will find my picture there. I will believe what you tell me, until you give me reason to think otherwise.
    Oddly, these traits have led me down the wrong path on more than a few occasions. I am trusting, to the point of idiocy sometimes. But for all the times these tendencies have left me burned and ragged, I have yet to reach the point of being jaded, or suspicious.
     I was once told that life would beat these weaknesses out of me. I do not find them to be weaknesses. They are a foundation of my strength. The ability to believe in the good of the people around me lets me see the world with loving eyes. It helps me be brave and bold, to not hide cowering in fear of what might happen. It lets me meet strangers and think of them as potential friends, instead of a threat or an enemy. This give me power over fear. It gives me a loyal heart that is strong and true, even in the face of adversity.
    Yes, I have been led down the garden path and had the shit stomped out of me, metaphorically speaking. But all it has done is made me stronger.
    I am, and always will be an Idealist. Despite, or maybe because of, the people in the world who are not who I wish they could be. I chose to see the best in people. And if they let me down, I chose to walk away. The world is full of good, we just have to see it. And if all else fails, I always have my dogs.

Wednesday, December 9, 2015

Weathering a Storm

    A storm has blown through  here that has lasted several days. High winds and heavy rain. My little house sits on the edge of farmland, so the southern wind has a nice, straight shot at my home. Yesterday the wind did not let up. It would hit my house with an impact that could be felt through the structure, and my house is built like a bunker. I baked cookies, burned candles, made smudge sticks from recently harvested greenery. I did a morning workout, and an evening workout. I made delicious yam and black bean chili. I was hunkered in, and enjoying the feeling of security despite the storm that raged outside
    Last night, about 8:30, I had just finished my evening core workout when I heard a loud thump. It was not the first of the evening. I had already been outside with a flashlight several times, checking my magnificent, mature trees after hearing mysterious sounds. This was different. Loud. Palpable. Visceral. It set the dogs to barking. I went out and found the tall, dead tree on the southern edge of my property had come down. It was a snag that I had kept as a wildlife tree. It was home to nesting birds from spring through summer. Now it was down in a heap, with parts of it lying on the roof of the tiny house that is inhabiting a small piece of my driveway. Damn. I checked the wee house, inside and out. It seemed relatively unscathed. It didn't hurt that the tree was so rotten inside that it was like getting hit with a giant, wet sponge.
    This morning, first thing... okay, first thing after a big cup of coffee, I went out to remedy the situation. Happily, the wind had died down, it hadn't rained during the night, and it was relatively warm. Perfect working weather. I was surprised at the amount of debris, and the lack of real damage. My little car took a hit on the nose, right where the hood latch is. I don't know if I will be able to open my hood, but that is a problem for another time. The wee house did get a bit bruised, but I managed to tidy up and fix the basics. There will be more to be done in the next few days, but I need to pick up a few supplies first.
    As I looked at the fallen tree, sad at the loss, I wondered how I was going to manage to cut it up and haul it away. Then it hit me - why not leave it where it is? My hugelkultur (mound garden) is formed over a large piece of this very same tree. A twenty foot log that was too big to move, and too rotten to use for firewood. Looking at the massive trunk, knowing it would take a Herculean effort to clean it up, I decided it will be another mound garden. A beautiful berm that will delineate the eastern edge of my garden. It is nearly perfectly placed.  I think I may plant it with perennial flowers, succulents, and magical herbs. It will be as much a decorative garden as a practical one. I am already envisioning ferns and mosses on the back side, that will get little sun. The front side will be the herbs, succulents, and sun loving flowers that will get a nice blast of sun from mid-day til sunset.
     It is not the storms of our lives that define us. It is how we weather them, and how we decide to deal with the wreckage and detritus washed up on our shore. We cannot control the elements, we cannot control chaos that sometimes swirls around us, but we can control how we choose to handle it all. We can control ourselves.