Archives for the month of: February, 2016

A nightmare about work woke me this morning, 5 minutes ahead of the alarm. It was a garden variety sort of ‘end of days’ nightmare, wherein small details communicated the end of…something. Something work-related, or perhaps the work itself. I woke feeling aggravated to find that work was now encroaching even on my dreams.

In the process of nudging my consciousness into the context of ‘now’ and letting the dream fade, I chose to check my Facebook feed. It’s been a very positive place lately, in spite of the rampant garbage political posts, and occasionally trollish nonsense that occurs; we’re all primates, each having our own experience. I figured a quick check in with friends, and some fun weekend pictures of goings on elsewhere would be a pleasant distraction from my nightmare. I notice that someone dear to me has commented on something I posted the day before.

(what I had posted)

(the post I shared, on which a friend commented)


My post was a share of a positive post from a page I follow that tends to be exactly that – positive posts, and often mostly affirmations of one sort or another, done rather well. The comment startled me right out of any sense of lingering nightmare, no doubt. The comment was angry [or sounded so to me] and was followed with another similarly angry comment [same commenter] that was rounded off with what very much appeared to be [possibly] a bit of actual accusatory name calling, and an angry demand that I change my behavior to reflect their [the commenter’s] worldview of [apparent] self-loathing. It was unexpected and peculiar. I walked away from it to make coffee.

I patiently and mindfully prepared my coffee, turning over the comment in my head. It was clear and specific on only one detail; the commenter disagreed with the proposition that there is value in loving oneself. He stated that love exists solely to be given away and asks how could we love ourselves (or be upset with anyone else) when people just suck so much? We all suck equally – so love the other person in spite of that, but don’t lie to yourself by loving yourself – because you suck, and we all suck, and no one deserves love but give it to them anyway. A harsh message delivered with an apparent demand for compliance.

I sip my coffee and continue to contemplate the words of an old friend, a while longer. First I am angry with his words – I don’t feel well understood to have it inferred that I am lying to myself to take the approach that I am worthy of my own time and affection – am I not? I certainly seem to be benefiting from taking better care of myself, investing in my own needs and desires, living beautifully, and showing myself real affection. My own experience suggests that these things are necessary, and that I am more easily able to love others because I value and appreciate myself as a human being, and take care of both this fragile vessel and the being within it. Why would I replace my experience with his words? His anger, so raw and recent, finds me self-conscious about simply saying I love this woman I am becoming – but I do, and it doesn’t harm anyone that I feel this way. Quite the contrary, my relationships with others are also improved.

I get over being angry and feel concerned for him, to be so angry about a positive message about self love that it inspired him to comment, when I ‘almost never’ hear from him at all, seems quite peculiar to me. It seems to be suggesting that he seeks to overcome self-loathing by forcing himself to go through the motions of loving others. It’s a perception as likely to be incorrect as any. I reconsider his words without the perceived anger – I don’t know that he felt anger when he wrote his comment, it’s an inference of my own – and I recognize that he, too, values love and is having his own experience. He expresses, however appropriately or inappropriately, concern and affection for me as a human being, and the path I choose. By itself, that’s a positive thing, although I find the demanding tone taken, and the insistence that I choose another way, both uncomfortable and unwelcome. It isn’t for him to make demands on me.

I think of a woman – this woman, the one in the mirror – from the perspective on life, self, and love that I had a decade ago, at 42. Could I have taken this path then? Would I have welcomed the suggestion that ‘being love’ and that choosing to love myself in order to love others wasn’t selfish at all, but necessary? Would I have accepted that suggestion and been able to make use of it at all – or would I have rejected the notion of taking care of me, because I didn’t value or love the woman in the mirror, and because ‘people suck’? It’s hard to know… It’s been a journey, and as with so many journey’s ‘skipping ahead’ isn’t really something we do so easily. I doubt I was ready then, for ‘positive’ messaging about my self. I have taken my journey in steps, in incremental changes over time, in moments of wonder, and the practicing of practicing that were chosen with great care for their successful outcomes – and I am the sole decider of success in the realm of my experience. My commenter friend is similarly choosing his own choices, walking his own path, and finding his own way. At least for now, it doesn’t sound like a very comfortable journey, and I wonder about his choices and who he has become… or is becoming.

His words aren’t worth lingering anger. His words don’t change my choices, or alter my path; they belong to him. Listening deeply matters, even in text – our written words communicate so much more than the handful of nouns and verbs suggest they might. We communicate emotion. We communicate shared experience – and we communicate our differences. We communicate warnings when we feel alarmed or frightened, whether that thing that alarmed or frightened us was real or not – as with a nightmare, perhaps. We are very human, my friend is correct on that point. He’s right, too, that what matters most is love. He is right that love is a verb, to be acted upon, and given – our only disagreement seems to be that I would further suggest that I am also worthy of my love, of my time and attention, of my care and consideration, because I too am human, and worthy, and that there is enough love for me to share some with myself.

I sip my coffee, smiling. I feel good today – I feel loved. I start the morning treating the woman in the mirror well, and I can expect that I will likely continue to do so throughout the day; it has become a practice. I’m human – that won’t be changing – so mistakes along the way are likely. I am worthy of the same consideration in the face of error that I would give anyone else – and I didn’t learn to give others that consideration until I had learned how to treat myself well. It’s a puzzle. It’s a puzzle with some verbs and a whole lot of practice. One practice I don’t need? Taking what other people say personally – they are also having their own experience.

It is a rainy spring morning, like so many; I choose my perspective, I choose my path, and I choose when to begin again.

It is a rainy spring morning, like so many; I choose my perspective, I choose my path, and I choose when to begin again.

Today is a good day for perspective and consideration. Today is a good day to walk my own path without concern about what path – or perspective – someone else may choose. Today is a good day to listen deeply, and follow my own counsel. Today is a good day to build the world I most want to live in. There are verbs involved.

Stormy sky. Garden planted with cool weather greens. Patio tidied up, sorted out, and rearranged. A container of tiny alpine strawberries planted, too, for summer delight – or for the birds; it’s hard to be sure from this vantage point, on a rainy Sunday morning, air filled with the scents of rain and mown grass, and the sound of birdsong.

I woke early, considering I wanted very much to sleep later, and was a bit surprised to find it raining, although rain was in the forecast. It’s just that I usually sleep quite well on rainy mornings. This morning I woke, groggy, struggling to focus and really be awake. I lazed in bed awhile longer, pointlessly as it turned out; my stuffy head resulted in my own snoring waking me, each time I started to return to sleep. Bummer. I got up.

My first cup of coffee was enjoyed as I chatted with my traveling partner across the internet. It’s now hard to imagine life being any different, although it was well after 1997 before the internet, or even email, really featured heavily in my experience. The two of us agree that we each need a break from our devices; I’ve been staying off the computer, generally, for most of the weekend. We postpone tentative plans made earlier; it’s inconsiderate to share sniffles deliberately, and we prefer to invest in our mutual and individual wellness quite differently. It’s likely to be a day of ease, watching the rain fall, perhaps spent in the studio, but it will be spent in a solitary way, today. I don’t much feel like going out today. It seems like a very good day to read, to meditate, and perhaps to send note cards here and there, to far away friends. 🙂

I contemplate coffee #2, not yet made, and remind myself that on a Sunday the caffeinated coffee cut-off is noon, otherwise my sleep may be disturbed. I choose for myself, based on my own experiences, and recognize that it wasn’t always an issue. Certainly, when I was much younger, it was as if my coffee cup was affixed permanently to my hand, and I drank coffee without regard to time of day. I have changed as I have aged – I’m pretty sure we all do, in some way or another.  I give thought to the week’s meals-to-come, and double-check the pantry. Sunday is a good day for practical things; it is a good indicator that I’m a bit under the weather that I have no energy or will for actual housekeeping today.

A rainy day relaxing, today it is enough.

A rainy day relaxing, today it is enough.

Some days ‘doing my best’ means taking care of myself, this fragile vessel, and little more. It’s okay for this to be the case. I listen to the rain, now pounding the roof, and rumbling down through the downspout to the french drain at the corner of the building. It somehow manages to be a lovely day, in spite of the rain, in spite of feeling a bit stuffy, in spite of feeling disinclined for go, or do. Today is a good day to spend it relaxing with the woman in the mirror, and listening to what she has to say.

Beautiful night sky.

Beautiful night sky, a view as I leave home for work in the morning, before dawn.

I was glad to see the work day end yesterday. It was a grueling week on a number of levels, and at the end of it, by Thursday, I was also not really feeling well. I made it an early night Thursday evening, crashing out at a childlike hour of evening, and resenting the early pre-dawn hour at which I wake on Friday. I really wanted to sleep more, longer, later, more deeply… just sleep. Friday raced by, and ended fairly early (my work day starts fully 2 hours earlier than usual on Fridays). I got home with no clear plan, and again found myself crawling into bed content to end the day quite early.

The night sky.

The night sky, on some other night. 

I woke unexpectedly a couple of hours later, no identifiable reason but feeling very restless and uneasy. I got up and took a seat on my meditation cushion, in front of the patio door with the blinds open to the night sky. I sat for some time just looking out into the night. Stress faded with passing clouds, I found contentment in moonlight and thoughts of how soothing I find a view of the sky. I sat for a long while, meditating, gazing into the night sky. Eventually, I returned to bed.

I slept 12 hours, and woke feeling rather uninterested in waking to face the day. I lingered in bed for some time, nearly an hour more, meditating and dreaming in a half-sleeping half-waking state of consciousness that found me reminding valued coworkers not to crowd me so closely; even with the week behind me, work found its way into my restless consciousness.

The morning has been leisurely and filled with love and friendship, and music – an unexpected gift this morning, and I have enjoyed it without attempting to define, excuse, justify, or limit this beautiful experience. The quiet has returned, now. I find myself thinking about having a view I can ‘call my own’, here. Everywhere I have lived there has been at least some sliver of sky, some particular angle I could contemplate, free of people, industry, clutter, or suburbia. Sometimes I’ve had to work at it a bit, finding some particular corner of a sofa in a loft with a single window looking at sky above roof-tops, or a view of green space between homes or buildings. One lovely thing here in this new space is that the patio and my studio both look directly out at the park, uninterrupted by human endeavors with the exception of occasional runners and walkers passing by, and a small playground easily omitted from view by choice of angle, or disregarded during hours when no children are playing – as during my evening meditation, last night.

The view from my desk, in the studio.

The view from my desk, in the studio.

Today is a good day to enjoy the view, and a few quiet moments. Today is a good day to slow down, to be present, to enjoy each moment as it is. Today is a good day for gardens, and rain showers, and nesting ducks in meadow grass. Today is a good day to set aside stress and confrontation in favor of acceptance and ease. Today is a good day to choose a better window on the world. 🙂

Language functions by agreement. I sip my coffee and consider how completely I accept this as ‘true’. How we define our terms matters, so much that we have phrases like ‘apples to apples’ for expressing how necessary it is to have  a shared understanding of an individual term in discussion with others. I’m not sure why I am thinking about it today. I’ll note that it touches a nerve both in the work environment, and in my personal experience. The assumptions people make about each other, about ‘what we meant’, about what we just said, just now, without a single clarifying question result in some real comedy – and most of our tragedy.

I found my way to this ‘topic’ this morning, because I was stuck for a title. Which got me thinking… Is it a ‘title’, or is it a ‘subject line’? Why do I have a subtly different understanding of the meaning of each? Don’t they function very similarly almost to the point of sameness? Is there any ‘real’ cause to make a distinction between the two? If asked, could I support that with logical proofs? Would it make one whit of difference to other people using the terms slightly differently – and would either of us really ever know that we did not have a shared understanding of such subtleties?

I spend a lot of time thinking about language, meaning, and how I communicate with the world…and how and what it communicates to me. So much of what I understand of what I hear, read, see and infer has as much to do with me, myself, as any intended meaning launched my way willfully.  Assumptions are a big deal, because they undercut the meaning of one’s communication with others – and until someone speaks up about the lack of understanding, it isn’t evident; we’re simply having very different conversations with each other than we understand ourselves to be having. Very inconvenient, if the purpose of shared communication is also a shared understanding. We all make assumptions – to move so quickly through life processing the quantity of information from our senses, and make something of it in our thinking probably requires it. It can go very badly, though…

I think of lovers who quarrel a lot and wonder what their assumptions about each other’s feelings must be? I remember points in past relationships where I had, over time, come to assume that my partner was an adversary. Adversarial assumptions create conflict before words are even spoken. I have learned to choose differently in the context of loving relationships; a lover is not an adversary. If I am unable to comfortably assume affection and good intent of loved ones, how much love do we actually share? I found it an illuminating question to ask, at a number of points in life. I finally found answers, for myself, that I can live with.

I think about the way assumptions shred meaning in work conversations and social conversations, too. Clear, simple language is sometimes challenging for me; I find my voice in poetry, in word play, in layers of meaning, and metaphors. I value very frank and direct conversation, and also enjoy the beauty in language. Those things don’t necessarily ‘go together’ very comfortably; I sometimes ‘lose my audience’ in conversation. The nuances of meaning in [American] English words (my ‘default’ language day-to-day) are sometimes quite extraordinary…precious…precise…poetic…beautiful…confusing as fuck. I seriously doubt most people notice or care about the distinction between ‘very’ and ‘exceedingly’, or ‘excellent’ and ‘exceptional’. I probably drive my traveling partner crazy ‘looking for the right word’ fairly often – I am very relaxed about myself in his company and find myself ‘looking for the right word’ – out loud, while I am talking, in the middle of a sentence. No doubt it robs me of clarity to do so. Still…if I use language that doesn’t mean what I intend to convey, or is not understood to have that meaning, I am not having the conversation that I hope to have. It is worth it to ‘say what I mean’ – but if I am not understood, having done so, it is time to examine the assumptions standing in the way.

Have you taken a look at your assumptions lately? They are the foundation on which much of our experience is built – from ‘the sun will rise again tomorrow’ to ‘that food is no good because it is past its expiration date’ to ‘I know what you mean’ to ‘the answer to “how are you?” is “fine” ‘. It’s a lot to keep track of if we had to sort it all out fresh every time with proofs, and evidence. Still… there is value in checking in on those assumptions and replacing the ones that are out-of-date – or patently foolish – with more functional material. I find it particularly valuable to seriously test any assumptions that are built on perceived differences between me, and those other than me; most of the time assumptions about people’s differences are garbage. Some of the assumptions about our samenesses are garbage, too. I definitely find value in testing the assumption that I ‘know what you mean’. I probably don’t. It’s the reason listening deeply is a practice I am committed to practicing – being really skilled at listening is generally more effective for determining meaning than talking is. 🙂

The time slips by unnoticed this morning. My coffee is cold, and I’ve used more words than necessary to say “I find value in listening when I am listening, and asking questions to gain clarity” and “assumptions are often incorrect” and “words matter, and our understanding of their meaning can’t be assumed to be shared; it often isn’t”.

Today I will begin again, and practice listening deeply. (I definitely need the practice.)

Today I will begin again, and practice listening deeply. (I definitely need the practice.)

I arrived home last night quite exhausted. I made it a gentle evening, and crashed out quite early. I slept well and deeply, and woke comfortably to the alarm. In all regards, quite a nice way to finish off a challenging work day and move on. I woke this morning having forgotten about the closet doors. When I moved in, there were no closet doors at all. They were still on order and not yet installed. They arrived, and were installed yesterday (with the exception of the closet door in my bedroom, at my request). I had inspected the work when I arrived home, and not given it another thought. This morning I awoke without having closet doors in mind, and was a bit startled when I stepped into the studio to write… closet door. Big broad, vast, visually impressive, white sliding closet door… across the entire end of the room, where previously the shelves with my art gear, and the top shelf with not-yet-unpacked breakables sit safely, had been ‘part of the view’ since I moved in. It was a bit odd. Different. More… ‘finished’.

I find myself thinking about ‘finishing touches’ generally, you know – those items, tasks, elements, and moments that really round out an event or experience in a way that feels ‘complete’ and satisfying, or fulfills some specific aesthetic. Love, too, has some opportunities for ‘finishing touches’ – and that could be quite a literal thing, as with tender contact, touches, and afterplay following sex, or something deeper – like the unexpected love note days later, found tucked away somewhere undiscovered, found in passing during a difficult moment, filling a tense emotional space with love and recognition. Finishing touches seem to be more about an awareness, a perception, than about the thing themselves… and I continue to contemplate finishing touches as I sip my coffee.

Reflecting on a turn of phrase or a metaphor provides new perspective.

Reflecting on a turn of phrase or a metaphor provides new perspective.

There are ‘finishing touches’ along the far reaches of the negative spectrum of my emotional experience, although I generally don’t call them ‘finishing touches’ so much as ‘the straw that broke the camel’s back’ or ‘the deal breakers’. The ‘finishing touch’ on my first marriage was how my spouse treated his son, and his mother (in both cases, badly). The finishing touch on the long-term relationship that followed was a complex singularity – an evening of trampled boundaries, disregard, unexpected violence, inconsiderate nastiness, and intimidation; it was a hell of a finish, no doubt, and quite a sudden cascade of deal breakers in one seemingly endless evening. The finishing touch on a relationship that followed – a ‘long term’ relationship characterized after-the-fact by its brevity (less than 3 years), was the development of a peculiarly chronic neglect, disregard, and emotional weaponry launched by a mentally ill partner; I was in no shape to provide the support she needed, and I needed day-to-day simple decency from a disordered partner unable to provide that to anyone, in any relationship (at that time). When I think of those events in the positive terms of ‘finishing touches’ rather than the negative terms of ‘deal breakers’ and ‘last straws’, I find myself feeling more settled and content with the way things turned out; it makes sense that those relationships ended, and the events that finished them off do settle things, in a fairly ‘completed’ and ‘finished’ way, providing a ‘why it makes sense’ that they ended. I find myself aware that a ‘finishing touch’ is a form of closure – and it is found within, requiring no assistance from another party, no ‘last words’, no ‘parting gift’, no give and take; it belongs to me, and exists as part of my own understanding of myself, and the context of my life in which I exist. The ‘finish’ of a finishing touch is a perception, and as such, also beyond the realm of argument, requiring no validation. 🙂

The closet doors do result in a more finished look here, generally. The paintings hanging in the hallway provide a similar sense of things being ‘complete’ and ‘finished’. It feels comfortably grown up, and properly a residence, in a way that differs slightly from #27, which I so recently adored, and moved from. It is a similar feeling to moving from the barracks as a young soldier, into housing ‘on the economy’, or moving from a college dorm, into a ‘real apartment’. My previous apartment was set up for artistic live/work…but so small and compact that it was very nearly a studio apartment, and felt rather like a spacious bedroom sometimes. This new space feels very like a house, from the inside, and having separated my studio and creative work space from the rest of the residential spaces, also very comfortable… and sometimes strange. It seems more… finished. I’m still getting used to it, and sometimes find myself simultaneously delighted and vaguely uncomfortable with the spaciousness, or feeling both relieved and uneasy to have it generally all to myself. I remember as I write those words that growth itself often feels very uncomfortable indeed. I smile. I am okay with where I am in life; that feels really good.

Begin again; the finishing touch in one moment becomes a cherished reminder of the beginning for another.

Begin again; the finishing touch in one moment becomes a cherished reminder of the beginning for another.

The leisure morning at home nears its end. I notice when I check the clock. Finishing touches are possible here, too; there is time for some housekeeping, and those are the finishing touches on my morning that become my beautiful welcome home at the end of a long work day. 🙂 It’s a very good day to treat the woman in the mirror well, and to live my values authentically. It’s a very nice day for finishing touches.