2016, goodbye and thanks for all the… well…

What can I say? As most of the denizens of the interwebs would indicate, the last year has been a bit troublesome, dare I say positively devastating in so many ways to so many, many people.

The thing is, it hasn’t been as directly disastrous to myself as it has been to others and a significant blow to famous personae and individuals who have some importance to us for the images and contributions they have made to us as a society. The number of celebrities and creative personalities who have departed this mortal coil has been astounding. I have tried to look at it objectively. I really have. I suspected it was a perception thing. An article in Snopes.com actually questioned whether it really as the deadliest year for celebrities stating that the overall “notable death” count wasn’t so high (of course that article was written with a good 3 days still available to the reapers to do their worst). The Guardian indicated that it was social media that made 2016 seem so very harsh to our beloved celebrities. Time magazine indicated that it wasn’t so much the number but the caliber of individuals… That sounds like a feasible theory. It must be that it was just a matter of my generation, right? In any given year there are probably as many deaths of well-known or dearly loved public figures as have hit us in 2016, right?

But it isn’t just that. The notoriety is a factor, but there really has been a significant number of people lost this year, and not merely those with enough celebrity to garner the mourning of the whole world. Many were taken before their time. Another article I read recently wants to lay the blame entirely at the feet of drugs and alcohol use/abuse. Interesting theory, and yes, I’m sure those elements played their part for some of the dearly departed. However that doesn’t come close to explaining all. Age, accidents, assaults, and disease also made contributions. None of which diminishes the loss of some brilliant people. In an era when more and more people are pushing the century mark due to the advances of science and health, we saw people dying in what might now be considered middle years. These stars of the Hollywood firmament (had to throw in the Singing in the Rain quote for Debbie), the musical performers, the notable spokes people, scientists, journalists, and others were often a huge part of my more formative and somewhat memorable years. We all hate losing our icons, even those with nice long lives, but the ones we lost in this past year were a bit too close to my age… some significantly younger, and that’s hitting a bit too close. Speaking of close… On top of all these losses in the public sphere, the world around me has been on fire… quite literally because for those in the southern states know that we were on fire for quite some time with loss of life and of much property, nothing unfamiliar to those who have suffered in the wildfires of our western states. And I suppose that is my point in a way… We lose a devastating number of people every year. We lose people dear to us, dear to those around us, people who serve and protect, those who have dedicated their lives in one way or another to serve others. That is really the point, isn’t it? Or is it?

For whatever reason, this year has appeared to hit us all, collectively,  with the representatives of things we cherished. We’ve lost idols, icons, crushes, and heroes. That doesn’t diminish the losses that we suffer every day and every year of those in our personal spheres and the unsung and so often faceless heroes that contribute our society and the world by their service, freely given with knowledge of the risk. I think it brings it into more focus. The public figures and celebrities that we lost this year were beacons and provided joy, beauty, and even a sense of hope to each of us (including those who give their lives and service without fanfare). I think that is what is possibly the devastating impact of the public losses we’ve suffered in 2016. They are merely a fraction of the whole, but they’ve taken people we held onto as superlatives and ideals (though some portrayed masterful villains as well), people who used their gifts to transport us to other lands and times, people who used their influence to keep us informed or to push for change… 2016 took our examples and left us struggling to wonder if we mere mortals can make a difference?

But that brings me to something else about this year that those of us still breathing are watching through the end…

There were some decent things that happened in 2016. Focusing on just the losses and negatives is like “watering the weeds…[instead of] watering the flowers and paying attention” according to the founder of Ziva Meditation, Emily Fletcher. I know, you don’t believe me, but it did. I remember times where I laughed, I had times of elation, I heard my loved ones laugh and cheer and be glad. I performed a wedding to join two of my dearest friends. I saw growth and pleasure and happiness. I watched people stand up for each other. I saw people who not a week before had been at each others’ throats with political differences set all that aside to make sure that victims of the fires had food, shelter, and clothing. I spent time with friends. I saw friends accomplish goals and dearest wishes. I even accomplished some of my own goals, believe it or not.

I don’t want my memories of this year to be overwhelmed by the horrible that has happened this year. With all the positive and beautiful, I’ve also seen some incredibly ugly things that have occurred (not the least of which was the way that I saw people treat each other this year… face to face AND virtually).

If I have a hope for the new year, it is that perhaps we can focus more on ourselves…no, wait, it isn’t that sort of focus. I think it is time that we stop blaming an external locus of control for all our ills. It is time to stop blaming each other for something lacking in our own lives. We need to stop the cycle and believe in change for ourselves. I am sincerely hoping that we all examine our own actions and the repercussions. It’s important to realize that all our actions have consequences, and that we all have a choice in how we respond. I know that there are things that happen in this world over which we have zero control, but we always have a choice in how we respond (physically, mentally, emotionally). I want this coming year to be one in which we choose our responses wisely. I would like to see all of us respond rather than react and take a moment to  consider the longer term impact of action.

This year, it has been difficult for me to see over the top of this incredibly large amount of @#$% that has accumulated. That being said, I’m still here… I’m still breathing… I’m still employed and serving in to the best of my abilities (minimal as they may be). These are all things for which I am grateful.

We face a new year. A clean slate to make a new difference. I ask that all of us let go of the negative. I hope that we all can focus forward and stop trying to drive without facing forward but merely staying focused on the rear view. In fact, there is a pretty decent article that can give you some good ideas for how to do just that, focus on positives, on Greatist.com. I hope for the New Year that we can grieve our losses, let go our disappointments, and that we move into 2017 with a focus on building our progress towards a better year. Happy New Year! Goodbye 2016.

Bah Humbug… sorta

Sad christmas tree

For whatever reason, this year has been more difficult than ever for me to generate what might be considered by some as even minimal holiday spirit. Despite even my conscious efforts to find a spidgen of peace on Earth and goodwill to men, it has been an insurmountable chore. While the street lights and stop lights brink bright red and green, I sincerely want to rush home and hide under an accommodating blanket or possibly a piece of furniture until spring.

What is wrong with me?!? It’s the most wonderful time of the year. I heard them say so. Why don’t I get a glow and feel something akin to cheer? Have I actually turned into the archetype of workaholic miser with a cynical eye to every observed merriment? And what is a humbug anyway?

Well, that one, I actually know. The phrase so glibly thrown about now as a reflection on Dicken’s miserly antihero was apparently a common euphemism of the Victorian era. It meant something silly and not real, something told or used to fool the children and the credulous. It is a con, a hoax, or someone who participates in the same… wait, I think I recognize this…

You know, perhaps I have turned into Ebeneezer as more of my holidays have been filled with thoughts of what I no longer have in place of anticipation of what is to come. Is that why my heart has shrunk three sizes?

As much as I might resist, I have to admit that my thoughts have been a bit more grim this season. I’ve been drawn into ruminations and dread about finances. I want to kick the advertisers who convince the unsuspecting public to spend more than they can afford just to ensure that their loved ones continue to love them. When did we become so focused on spending instead of just giving? When did giving become entirely about your bank account instead of your heart?

In my efforts to get in a more festive mood, I actually thought that watching some of the offered entertainment options might inspire. I found myself becoming more and more disgruntled with the options. As much as I can appreciate the points behind the stories, it still seemed to me that the miracles, changes of heart, and general epiphanies towards goodness involved materialistic concerns. All the stories seemed to revolve around money and buying things or giving things back. It was still about THINGS and the stuff you use to buy THINGS. I get it. Honestly. Most of these tales are trying to show that being a miserly old @#$% leads to bitterness and unhappiness and the season of giving lightens burdens and brightens spirits… and really? It still sounded like you have to either spend money or get money to have all that joy stuff they exhibit accompanied by an orchestra.

I really don’t mean to be a sour puss. I just wanted someone, somewhere to show me that being happy and enjoying the season doesn’t require emptying my bank account or melting my credit cards.

Then I remembered one movie. It was always a favorite of mine: White Christmas. At least in that movie, the gift wasn’t about material goods. It was about getting people together who shared important times in their lives. It was about friends and family having a good time and showing respect for each other. It was about remembering good people and being there for them when they felt they had lost their purpose and usefulness. It was cheesy and sappy and it wasn’t about the most expensive gift. The emphasis was about spending time with the people who matter, not spending money on the stuff that doesn’t. So much of what the holidays bring to me in recent years is memory of people who are no longer here. It seems that as the years go by the gatherings of loved ones dwindle and the responsibilities, obligations, and things pile up.

I sincerely don’t believe that we need things in our lives to be happy or feel loved. I know that there are people out there in the world who don’t have even the bare necessities of living, and that doesn’t only occur once per year. My wish for this holiday season is that maybe, somehow all of us can recapture some of what we’ve have lost over the years. Maybe there can be peace and goodwill to all with enjoyment of what we have rather than a focus on what we want but don’t need. And take that generosity and goodwill with you through the whole year, not just a season. Giving should be something we do all year round, and it shouldn’t be limited to money. Give your time. Give your talent. Take a moment to enjoy those who share your life. Memories last longer than things…

While you were sleeping…


I get a ridiculous amount of crap done while everyone is in bed. No brag, just fact. I am not by nature what one might call a “morning person.” In fact, I am unlikely to be able to respond in a civil tone or in human language before I’ve had at least two cups of coffee and the sun has passed the yard arm. I will communicate when I must, but I prefer to avoid all interaction that might require civility.

That being said, I am usually awake and conscious at what might be considered a very early hour. I usually wake up before my alarm (which is set for 6:00AM on work days). My eyes will generally fly open around 5:00AM or 5:30AM. While a part of me is significantly resentful of my internal clock that insists upon robbing me of 30 minutes to a full hour of time that I might otherwise have spent slumbering away before being dragged from somnolence by the blaring klaxon of my alarm (yes, it actually does sound like that), I’ve gotten used to it. Instead of resentment or anger, I have chosen to approach this particular facet of my biology with resignation and use the time accordingly.

So, up I am at the butt-crack of dawn. If I am feeling more tired or irritable, I may use the additional moments before the alarm to meditate (either on my own or using my guided meditation app). More frequently as of late, I have chosen to go ahead and remove myself from the bed clothes and get kitted out for my gym time and run. I take some additional moments to drink a cup of coffee and boot up the computer. Then, I go ahead and get in the workout. Returning home, I shower, get more coffee and maybe something to eat, and I dive into my day.

For weekdays, this involves going through email (reading and responding), reading up on various reports, news stories, and starting to run the productivity and affordability reports for which I am responsible. On weekends, the routine is similar but often includes writing projects, bill paying, and any correspondence not involved with job #1. Some days during the weekend, there may be clients, and some weekends, there are other activities like camping. However, between the hours of approximately 7:00AM and 10:30 or 11:00AM are the most productive of even my very long days.

I usually feel very accomplished during these early morning hours. The rest of my day whether during the week or the weekend, I feel as though I spin my wheels but find absolutely no purchase. Why?

Well, it seems that I have something that many parents have found to be true. The only time to get anything done is when the rest of the world is asleep. From the moment that others in my life become conscious and aware of my own presence (this includes the demonic feline that shares my living space), I am besieged with questions, comments, pleas, and requests. I spend the majority of the time putting out seemingly unending numbers of metaphorical fires (although there have been some actual ones as well) with the equivalent of a tiny kitchen extinguisher. I run hither and thither virtually or actually trying to patch and stitch the many levels of my responsibilities together, and by the end of the day, any projects or things that needed doing that did not get done before someone noticed I was there… well, there they sit at the end of the day waiting for me to have the quiet and repose to address the myriad of tasks.

I cannot blame it entirely upon the pings, rings, and meetings. I have to take some responsibility for the productivity variants myself. I am a victim of the “But First…” disorder as well. So, despite my best efforts, I do get distracted by the shiny squirrels dancing in my workspace and sometimes find it incredibly difficult to finish a sentence, let alone an actual task or project. You would think that the shiny squirrels would not necessarily be constrained by the time schedules of my daily routine, but for some reason, it seems they are not early risers. So, from the real and the imaginary distractions, I am free to pursue my list of things that must be done without distracting escapades so long as I do so while I am alone and in the early hours of the day.

Why wouldn’t this be the same with perhaps the hours after people go to sleep? I honestly do not know. It is possible that I could be as productive post bedtime routine as I am in the pre-dawn glow of day. I know that for many parents of toddlers and even older children, this is true. However, it does not work that way for me. The late night is not as productive as the early morning because my brain wants to shut down. After a full day of corralling the shiny squirrels and putting out the metaphorical (or literal) fires of the day, my brain often decides that it has had enough of the productivity and deserts me entirely. Thus, trying to stay up late (as I once did during my higher education days) to accomplish tasks that were pushed off during the day generally results in poor progress towards my productivity goals.

I suppose the title of this rambling examination of my activity and attempts to be productive is a misnomer. I suspect that there are many other humans out there who are, in fact, not asleep during my more productive hours. They, like me, may also be less than happy to interact without sufficient time to caffeinate or participate in morning rituals. For whatever reason, I am remarkably grateful for the time (regardless the cause) when others appear to be still in hibernation so that I have opportunity to attack my mental and physical agendas for the day. If it were not for that window of opportunity each day, it is likely I would never get anything done.

The Mirror and the Scale


Social media has gotten on a kick of traipsing down memory lane… whether you wanted to be reminded or not. However, just the other day, a friend posted a picture of herself from a few years ago on her social media page. It was not even that many years ago that the picture was taken, but her own comment was “I wish I felt that pretty again.” The post sparked a number of rebuttals from her friends and family to say she was still remarkably beautiful. I was one of the contributors, and it prompted a conversation between her and me about the self-image downswing that we were mutually experiencing.

Like it or not, the majority of individuals in western society are consistently comparing ourselves to an arbitrary image set forth as ideal beauty. Whether you are male or female, young or old, chances are that you have at some point in your life fallen prey to the superficial grading system imposed by public assumptions of what is attractive. It isn’t anything new. This stuff has been going on for decades, centuries, hell… probably millennia. I expect that if someone invents time travel, we can take a trip back to the stone age where we will watch as Og or Una looks at their gender rivals and thinks, “You know, I wish I had a heavy brow and back hair like Erm,” or “Wonder how she gets her hair to mat like that?” It is something to do with competition for resources and mates. We want to look our best and most attractive to make sure that we get more hubba-hubba from our chosen ones than the next individual of the species.

And no… I may be oversimplifying, but we don’t develop these ideas about our own appearance just because we want to stare at ourselves in a reflective surface… well, at least most of us don’t. Even our internal opinions of worth and attractiveness originate from some sort of external input and observation. While we may embrace the idea of looking good for ourselves, the ideas we have of what looks good are still sadly over influenced by the collective opinion of society. The good part about that is that it tends to evolve and change itself. The bad part is that society hasn’t always reflected health and wellness as beauty.

For instance, the ideal beauty image of 19th century fashion in Western Europe involved looking consumptive. I’m serious. There was a fashion and beauty trend of the time where women tried to appear as if they had tuberculosis. Not so much the coughing up blood bit, but they would exaggerate pallor and wasting physique and spots of color in the face… Yep, sure enough, what was thought to be lovely was actually symptomatic of pulmonary contagion. What fun! Let’s not stop there. To swing the entire opposite direction, we can visit the 20th century and the tan generations. People worked very hard and exposed themselves to extended quantities of UVA and UVB to achieve the golden and darkened skin tones found to be attractive from the 1950’s through 1980’s. We’ve all seen how that turned out for some of the rich, Corinthian leather types, at least those who managed to narrowly avoid melanoma. Finally around the 1990’s people started heeding the advice of dermatologists and respecting their natural skin tones enough to invest in sunblock and avoid over tanning.

No matter what the trend or the evolution of image ideal, we all risk that day when we look in the mirror and think “What the hell happened?” It is the natural consequence of living a full life. We age. We change. And yet, our society still wants to tell us that the only way to stay beautiful is to stay young. In truth, some of us are gifted in that department. Genetics and self-care can be seen on some people as a fountain of youth. They do not appear to be ravaged by time, while the rest of us note every line and crease and bulge and dimple that changes the surface and circumference of our physical form. For others, medical science has provided various options to attempt to turn back the clock.

I cannot tell you the number of times that I have looked up into the bathroom mirror to be startled by the middle-aged (or old) woman that looks back at me. Why am I startled? I know precisely how many times I’ve made the trip round the sun. I understand how time and biology (and gravity) work on the body to result in certain effects. I know precisely how much sleep I did not get the previous night. Knowing how it all works and knowing my own age has not changed the impact of seeing it reflected in the mirror on upon other measurement devices like my bathroom scale. In my mind, I’m still supposed to have the physique of that 25 year old (who, despite all evidence to the contrary, also felt herself to be ugly and falling far short of the “ideal” of the era). I see the extra bulge here, the dimpled skin there, the uneven complexion due to hormonal changes of pregnancy and age (and yes, too much sun), the lines on the face… and I’m appalled. Who is that? That isn’t the image I have of myself in my mind!

Fight as I might against the idea of succumbing to social pressure, I have still absorbed all the unnatural expectations that say I must be thin, athletic with perfect skin and hair, looking like the models I see in clothing, lingerie, and fitness adverts whether it bears any resemblance to my own genetics or not. Anything else falls short of that ideal and must mean that I am no longer even passably tolerable to look upon… and I want to run and hide.

Usually with a little bit of effort and sufficient time away from the offending reflective surface, common sense and humor return. I look my age. I should be pleased to do so. It marks me as a victor at least in some aspect of the war with time and element. I’m still here. I’m also in decent shape (decent meaning that I’m still motivating under my own steam and without an entire pharmacy to keep me so). I could possibly take better care of myself. Who couldn’t these days?!? I could pay more attention to my diet, my fitness routine, my sleep schedule… So, why haven’t I done so? Was it because I gave so little value to that 25 year old that she deteriorated from neglect? Maybe. Perhaps if I had seen then what I now appreciate I would have retained some part of her to be visible now?

Again, that is just silliness on my part. Each of us can be happy with who we are by accepting that it is all part of normal growth and evolution. Does it help to make healthy choices and occasionally pamper ourselves? Sure it does. One of the most beautiful ladies I ever met was about 98 years old when I was called in to see her in the emergency room. She was genuinely the loveliest woman I had seen. Her hair was perfect, silvery white and still very thick. Her skin was not without lines, but was clear and a beautiful cream. Her eyes were bright hazel like light on water with very mischievous twinkles, and she had also had her nails done that day in a shocking pink tone that most nonagenarians would never have chosen. I won’t go into the reasons I was there to see her. I just recall being stunned by her beauty and thinking to myself that I would never be so lucky to arrive at those year with that much stunning loveliness. In my reverie, I heard her say, “You know, gal, you are very pretty.” My immediate response was to think, No I’m not. I masked it quickly, but the lady was too quick. She said, “You were about to contradict me. Don’t you do it. I don’t say things that aren’t true. So, don’t pull some sort of false modesty bullshit with me. Stand up and accept it.” Whereupon I realized that the twinkle in her eye was no lie, and I laughed. I had to. She had called me out on my southern upbringing and lack of self-esteem. So, against all that self-defacing programming, I thanked her and proceeded with her exam. I still didn’t believe her, but that was ok.

That lady had made me think. I wondered if she recognized her own beauty or if when she looked in the mirror she merely compared herself to what was likely the stunner she was as a young woman. I hope she saw the truth at every age. I hope she recognized the image in the mirror for the loveliness it was, and I hope that at some point I can look at the reflection in my own glass and appreciate what is there without weighing the present image in the scale against a past that is gone.