Category: Observations about Life


“The way you get meaning into your life is to devote yourself to loving others, devote yourself to your community around you, and devote yourself to creating something that gives you purpose and meaning.”
-Mitch Albom

Pennsylvania; Photo Credit: Doree Weller

Pennsylvania; Photo Credit: Doree Weller

I’m a big believer in the idea that we, as human beings, need meaning to thrive.  We can survive without it, sure.  But we can’t thrive without the belief in something bigger than ourselves.

For me, meaning has three parts:  physically, emotionally, and spiritually.

For a lot of people, physical meaning centers on beauty.  I’ve tried to move away from form and focus more on function.  My body is strong, it has good endurance.  I can do the things that I want to, and I try to focus on that.  Part of respecting my body is to feed it mostly healthy food and drink with some treats here and there.  I don’t think there’s anything wrong with focusing on physical beauty, other than it’s transient.  But just because something doesn’t last doesn’t make it less beautiful.  A flower is beautiful, but it won’t stay that way.  It will wilt and die, as all things do.

For me, emotional meaning focuses on a combination of connectedness and aloneness.  I love connecting with those I care about, both family and friends.  I love spending time looking at photos the husband has taken, hiking with my brother, having dinner with my parents, or hearing about my best friend’s day.  I also love that quiet time when I’m alone with my thoughts, either writing or thinking deep thoughts.  :)  I need that creative time in order to feel whole emotionally.

Spiritual meaning for me is about connecting with nature.  There are so many great gifts around me, and I love to appreciate them.  I try to live and let live when it comes to bugs.  I love to get my hands dirty in my garden or hike in the desert.  As a kid, I loved to walk in the woods behind my house and sit with a notebook.  I had a special tree in a small clearing, and I’d take my shoes off and rest my feet in the cool, damp earth.  As I write this, I’m in my yard listening to crickets chirping.

Meaning is different for everyone, and I think you have to look for it.  I think it can change at different times of life.  I know what’s meaningful to me has evolved over time, which I think is great.  Humans are works in progress, and I can’t grow as a person without change.

Desert Botanical Gardens, Phoenix AZ; Photo Credit: Doree Weller

Desert Botanical Gardens, Phoenix AZ; Photo Credit: Doree Weller

Loss is part of life, one of the most difficult parts.  As humans, we resist change, yet grow bored when things stay too long the same.  I didn’t fully appreciate the lush green of Pennsylvania until I moved away.  It was only then that I realized the  green was bright and full of life, and everywhere.  When I first moved to Arizona, the brown and heat seemed so clean and so lovely in a stark, simple way.  I told this to a friend who’s lived here all his life, and he shrugged and said, “I don’t see it that way.  I just want to get away.” Loss reminds us of what we have, strangely enough.  In the days, weeks, and months after my grandfather died, I kept wishing I had called him more often.  Neither of us were particularly chatty, so it probably would have puzzled him if I had called for no reason… but I still wish I had. During the brief time I worked in Hospice, I met a lot of people, and no one ever regretted the things they did so much as they regretted what they didn’t do.  We all get busy with life and assume there’s going to be more time.  More time to do, to love, to laugh, to cry, to see, to know. The fact is: there’s only today.  So enjoy it.  Wring every drop you can from it.  And if tomorrow comes, do it all over again.

“Death is not the greatest loss in life. The greatest loss is what dies inside us while we live.” -Norman Cousins

100_0001I’m a fan of doing things that bring me joy, but also finding joy in little things.  I think that joy is a choice every day.  Sometimes it’s an easier choice than others, but I like challenges.  Sometimes.  I mindfully look for things that bring me joy.  So what brings me joy?

1.  My dogs.  No matter how my day has been, they’re happy to see me.  They’ll give me kisses if I’m cranky or happy.  All they ask is to have their ears rubbed and to be allowed to sit at my feet.  They wouldn’t object to a milk bone or a walk though.

2.  A good story.  There’s nothing I love more than a good story.  On paper, told orally, or if it’s good enough, on TV, a good story will keep me entertained and happy.

3.  My garden.  I love playing in the dirt and making things grow.  I especially love eating garden fresh tomatoes and having too many zucchini.

4.  Hiking.  There’s something about putting one foot forward while moving through the desert that makes me happy but also makes me feel humble and connected.  Plus, it’s pretty out there, and sometimes I get to see cool animals.

5.  Helping.  I do love my day job as a counselor, and I love being able to offer people help.  They don’t always take it, but being able to offer it is enough for me.  The choices they make from there are on them.

“One joy shatters a hundred griefs”
-Chinese Proverbs

Joy is a choice.  I choose joy today.

I is for Important

So far this year, this is the first letter of the alphabet I’ve struggled with.  But while I was reading a friend’s blog, Choosing Childless, the word “important” jumped out at me.

“He alone is great and happy who requires neither to command nor to obey in order to secure his being of some importance in this world” -Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

San Tan Regional Park; Photo Credit: Doree Weller

San Tan Regional Park; Photo Credit: Doree Weller

It can be hard to feel important, and to feel like your needs are as important as those around you.  I speak for myself with this issue. I don’t just consider myself when making decisions; I also consider my husband and parents.  Maybe even friends, depending on the decision.  Sometimes it can be hard to remember that your wants and needs and opinions are just as valid and important as anyone else’s.  Many people struggle with feeling selfish when they make decisions that primarily apply to them.  My definition of selfish is: meeting your own needs at the expense of others.  If you’re simply meeting your needs at no one’s expense, it’s not selfish; it might even be self-care. It’s an interesting paradox.  If you don’t work yourself to death, you’re not dedicated.  If you don’t wear yourself out meeting the needs of others, you don’t care.  When did not caring for oneself become the standard?  Now, I’m not saying that we shouldn’t care for others and shouldn’t view others as important too, but when did they start becoming more important? I’m a huge proponent of good boundaries, those limits you set to protect yourself: physically, spiritually, and mentally.  Good boundaries just boil down to treating yourself like you’re just as important as anyone else.  There’s only one you.  Treat you like you matter.

“In order to keep a true perspective of one’s importance, everyone should have a dog that will worship him and a cat that will ignore him.” -Author Unknown

Photo credit: Doree Weller

Photo credit: Doree Weller

I have a lot of different books, and enjoy reading a lot of different types of fiction.  I might enjoy a book a lot, but that doesn’t mean that the author achieved any greatness.  So what’s the difference between a book that achieves greatness and a book that I merely enjoy?  Note: these are my opinions, and I don’t like literary fiction, so I’m only talking about genre fiction.

“Nothing great in the world has ever been accomplished without passion.” -Hebbel

1.  It makes me feel, deeply.  If a book achieves greatness, I’m probably laughing out loud in spots and/ or crying in others.  It’s a book that makes me connect with my own humanity and the humanity of others.

2.  It entertains.  I know that some people think that entertainment is overrated, but I don’t.  I don’t mean that there has to be juggling clowns, but just there’s a story.  If there’s no plot, I’m not interested.  It’s why I’m not a fan of literary fiction.  Maybe The Red Pony by John Steinbeck is a classic, but it’s also BORING.

3.  The language flows and there is a distinct style.  This one probably is one of the most basic tenets of writing, but it’s important.  Maybe most people won’t know why what they’re reading moves slow or even though something is interesting, it just doesn’t keep them reading, but the reason is probably the writing.  Writers have distinct styles, like flavors.  They use words in a certain way, and that certain way has a melody to it.  A writer can be technically correct, and still not have that flow and distinct style, and I think it takes practice rather than teaching to learn it.

4.  The writer is willing to take chances.  Great writers don’t just write the same stuff over and over again.  They write the different and the unique.  They write what they have to write, and not what others have told them.  Dean Koontz talks about how early in his career, he was told that he needed to stick to one genre so that he didn’t confuse readers.  He gave us more credit than that, and the result is some books that break the rules and that I’ll never forget.

5.  They don’t give up.  No matter what.  Writing is hard work, and people who tell you it’s not have never sat facing a blank screen and then poured themselves out onto it.  Even for writers who have achieved greatness, it usually takes getting through rejection after rejection after rejection.  But a true writer has the words inside, and nothing can stop the flow.  They might get discouraged or angry or depressed.  But the words have to come out, so they keep writing and keep submitting.

There’s no recipe for how to achieve greatness, but every book I think qualifies has these qualities.  What are your thoughts?

by The TV Guy

It is not like they show us on TV or in the movies; the stoic counselor with a beard and an office full of books and fine leather furniture with diplomas covering the walls. The reality is a rather young, untrained, “green” counselor floundering about attempting to guide clients through genuine life experiences that many of them have never had to deal with on any real life level while trusting the experience of other counselors or mediocre textbooks. I fear for the future of counseling!

I am working on a Master’s degree and having to banter back and forth with other students, some young, some old, and well I fear for those who will open up and share the deepest portion of their soul with these delightful morons. They have chosen to help others and for this I commend them, but I am so scared that they are headed out into the world to mess up people much worse than the world they have come in from to get the care they so desperately need.

So, if you are in need of a counselor, please take your time and ask a lot of questions and do not accept that because the person sort of sounds like they know what they are talking about that they really do. There are so many bad counselors/ therapists out there and this is your warning… be careful, do your homework, and if it does not feel like a good fit, find another one. There are good counselors out there; you just have to find them.  Counseling is a very personal experience and accepting the first yahoo as a qualified professional can be a traumatic mistake.

_XE21228Encouragement is so important, especially when things are difficult.  I think we all crave encouraging words sometimes.  Even the most confident of us sometimes need validation and to know that someone is paying attention.

There are times when I feel invisible and almost taken for granted. Mostly, I suppose, I just feel sorry for myself sometimes.

A month or so ago, at work, one of my coworkers said, “Thanks for being you.”  I didn’t know what to say, because I hadn’t said anything I thought was particularly meaningful.  She was just having a rough day and I listened for a moment, then said something that made her laugh.  It was nice to be appreciated for being me, and encouraged me to continue being the best “me” that I am.

Writing is a very discouraging hobby/ job/ calling.  Most of what I write gets rejected.  Repeatedly.  People read my blogs but don’t leave comments, so I don’t know if people love my blog, hate my blog, or just click on it as part of some grand alien conspiracy.  I write for myself first and foremost, but sometimes just having someone “like” my blog can be the highlight of my day.

I try to encourage other writers.  I visit their blogs and comment.  I try to follow people when I like what they’ve written, though honestly, it’s an easy way to spread myself too thin.

“Flatter me, and I may not believe you. Criticize me, and I may not like you. Ignore me, and I may not forgive you. Encourage me, and I will not forget you. Love me and I may be forced to love you.”
-William Arthur Ward

I love this quote, and I really believe it.  Sure, we all like to be flattered, but most of us don’t buy it (I don’t).  I can’t live on a diet of criticism.  I want to be noticed, but instead of complimented, I want to be encouraged.  “Thanks for being you” is a comment I won’t forget.

So if you’re visiting me today, thanks for stopping by.  And thanks for being you.

Good decisions come from experience, and experience comes from bad decisions. ~Author Unknown

How close should I get to this potentially dangerous baby Gila Monster?  Just a... little... closer...

Chuckwalla: South Mountain Park, Phoenix, AZ; Photo Credit Doree Weller

Good fiction should always have the main character making decisions.  The trick, I think, is having the character make decisions that fit with the character.

I’ve read books before where a decision seems misplaced, and I couldn’t understand why the character would do that.  Decisions shouldn’t necessarily be explained to death, but should fit with what we know about the character.  The one exception to that is Young Adult fiction.  I was reminded of this by JK Rowling.  Young adults need to occasionally make decisions that don’t make sense.  Why?  Because they’re impulsive, with raging hormones and under-developed decision making centers.

I remember making some decisions as a teen that I look back on now and think… “What the *BLEEP* was I thinking?”  I wasn’t.  And the logical adult part of me has trouble remembering what that was like.  Until someone cuts me off on the highway.  Then I can remember for a second or two what that was like.

But the quote makes a good point.  Experience does come from bad decisions.  Sure, there are other ways to gain experience, but most people want to find out for themselves (myself included).  Most people don’t want to listen to someone else.  They want to see it, hear it, taste it, touch it.

We all make decisions constantly, whether we’re actively thinking about them or not.  In books and movies, I love getting a peek into the thought process of a character faced with a tough decision.

Jerome, AZ; Photo Credit: Doree Weller

Jerome, AZ; Photo Credit: Doree Weller

I have an interesting relationship with the word “crazy.”  For those of us who consider ourselves unique, idiosyncratic, and not-followers, the label can be a badge of honor.  When people call me “crazy,” I feel complimented rather than put down, no matter how the label was meant.

I try not to use the word in my day job.  As a therapist, used at work, the word can be incredibly stigmatizing, especially when used in front of someone who’s been called “crazy” because of their mental illness or substance abuse problems.

I was reminded of this recently when one person in my group made a comment about “crazy chicks” and someone else said “I find that incredibly insulting.”  I sometimes forget how much words can hurt people.  I have thick skin and am not insulted by many of the things other people might be, but that doesn’t mean that some words don’t hurt.

People in the gay population took back the word “queer” and use it in an empowering way.  Can “crazy” ever be a badge of honor for people living with mental illness?

Crazy is a label that others put on those who stand out, as a way of dismissing them or keeping them down.  But being crazy only begins to describe me and really doesn’t capture the essence of me.  It’s an imprecise word.  So call me quirky.  Call me a know it all.  Call me irritable and scary.  Those words describe me so much better than that one word.  But if you can’t find anything else to call me, call me crazy.

I’m in good company.

“Being crazy isn’t enough.”
― Dr. Seuss

“A question that sometimes drives me hazy: am I or are the others crazy?”
― Albert Einstein

 

Jerome, AZ; Photo Credit: Doree Weller

Jerome, AZ; Photo Credit: Doree Weller

I don’t know if it’s still on TV, but a few years ago, I discovered a wonderful (awful) show called Baggage, by Jerry Springer.  It was a dating show, and on this show, three women or men would have three different sized bags.  Each one of them would reveal one secret at a time to their prospective date by opening the bags, from smallest to largest secret.  I shamefully enjoyed this show.

One of the things I liked about the show (other than the pure train wreck value), is the same reason I like PostSecret.  We all have baggage.  We all have things we don’t want others to know, things that weigh us down.  But the thing about baggage is that it makes us who we are.  The interesting quirks, the skeletons in the closet are part of what shape us.

In books, baggage can be some of the most interesting parts of the story.  What would have Jane Eyre been without Rochester’s secret wife?  In On Little Wings by Regina Sirois, young Jennifer finds out that her mother is not an only child, which spurs her on a search for the “truth.”  In Beautiful Disaster, by Jamie McGuire, Abby has a huge secret she never wants anyone to know.  Even though she tries to hide it, the secret eventually finds her.  In each of these examples, the secret is eventually revealed, and everything turns out okay. I like the concept of secrets in fiction, and I like them even better when the truth is revealed.  It adds depth and interest to characters.  It adds a touch of humanness and gives me something to relate to.  No, I’m not hiding an insane wife in my attic, but when Rochester eventually tells his story, I felt sorry for his being duped by everyone around him, and I could relate to that moment when he realized that he was forever stuck with the consequences of a bad decision.

“The things you want are always possible; it is just that the way to get them is not always apparent. The only real obstacle in your path to a fulfilling life is you, and that can be a considerable obstacle because you carry the baggage of insecurities and past experience.”
-Les Brown

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