Saturday, November 5, 2011

Found Wisdom and Ferris Wheels

Ever say something accidentally profound? Maybe you were just being goofy or funny or random, but as soon as they were out of your mouth, you knew you were on to something? That's found wisdom, and it is one of the great gifts of the universe, as far as I'm concerned.

So the other day, I had something bad happen to me. Not horrible, not emotionally crippling, just bad. The details might be TMI,* though you're welcome to highlight the text below if you really must know.

In a cruel confluence of allergies and hormones, I sneezed hard enough to shift my tampon. Which was tremendously unpleasant, not to mention panic-inducing.

Moving on: After I bleated out my pain, the Songwriter said: "Could be worse. You could be on a Ferris wheel." And we laughed, because, well, yeah.

And over the next couple of days, anytime something went wrong, we responded to it with "Could be worse. It could be happening on a Ferris wheel." Which was still funny, because we're goofballs. But it was also still true. How bad we feel about a given moment or situation is so much about perception. And we're in control of our perspective.

My perspective? Most day-to-day bad things that happen to me would, indeed, be worse on a Ferris wheel. Some of them, MUCH worse. So I am grateful that, whatever else is wrong, I am not trying to deal with it in a swaying bucket, 50 ft in the air. Days when I remember that are happier all around.

The next time a piece of found wisdom falls from your lips, write it down somewhere - on a post-it, in your Twitter feed, wherever. Just the act of doing that will help you remember it, help you use it to make life a little funnier and maybe a little less painful.

*How have I had a blog this long and only JUST NOW needed a TMI tag?! I have been supremely disciplined up to now. Thank god that's over!

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Lucky Bastard: John Scalzi Edition

I have a not-so-secret affinity for John Scalzi, author of science fiction, procurer of sinister black velvet paintings, and a source of much amusement on the internet.

Firstly, we share a birthday, and we used to freelance for the same newspaper. Secondly, I enjoy the hell out of his books and his company, in person and online. And thirdly, he moved from SoCal to Southwest Ohio, while I did the reverse. Frankly, Ohio got the better end of that trade. California just got me and about fifty of writers-to-be-named later.

Also: cats.

Relevant to interests around these parts, he's doing 30 days of gratitude for the month of November. From his always-entertaining blog:
I’m a lucky bastard, and sometimes it annoys me when people don’t acknowledge that fact. ... What is luck? At the end of the day, it’s the good things that happen to you that you simply don’t or can’t control. Stepping away from a curb the second before a car you didn’t see barrels right over where you just were. Finding a $20 bill on the sidewalk. Stepping into a restaurant for a bite to eat and seeing an old friend you lost contact with years ago just before she steps out the door.
He goes on to lay out all the tiny occurrences that had to line up just so in order for him to have the (admittedly pretty awesome) life he has now. The chain of happenstance that led his first novel, Old Man's War, getting published is pretty crazy. But even more jaw-dropping is the unlikely sequence of chance moments that ended with him meeting his wife, Krissy. There a bonus link to the first song they danced to (spoilers: awww!).

I often reflect on how damn lucky I have been. The child of an unwed teenage mother, raised in violence and poverty, a high school dropout from the sweaty backside of the rust belt. And here I stand, a happily married, college graduate, pursuing my career of choice in a city I used to think was a pipe dream. Sure, I worked hard. But I have also been incredibly fucking lucky. And one doesn't take anything away from the other.

Putting in the work is noble and needed. It allows us to hold our heads up and sleep soundly at night. But luck plays a part in all our lives, and it's good to step back, look at how unlikely it all is, and say. "Wow. I'm really grateful things turned out this way." When you look at it that way, we're all lucky bastards.

The Thanksgiving Advent Calendar, Day 3: Luck [Whatever]

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

All Saints. All Souls.

Death may seem like a strange topic for a light little better-living blog, but yesterday was Dia de los Muertos, as well as All Saints' Day, and today is All Souls' Day. And if there are two things I'm drawn to, it's rituals and seasonal observances. (Guess who was raised Catholic. Yeah, you can take the girl out of the Church, etc. etc.)

[Check out This Side of Typical's Dia de los Muertos post. Beautiful. Just like the altars she builds every year.]

Today I reflect on those souls that I love and miss, and give thanks for their time in my life.

This is my grandmother, Helen. 

Her daughter, my aunt Mary Lou.

And Twyla, the best mother-in-law a girl could ask for.

More than anyone else, three women are responsible for helping me shape my life into something I could be proud of. They're all gone now, but every good act, every charitable thought, every small kindness that I do is a direct extension of their care for me. I am their legacy, and damn proud of it.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Try Something New. Then Try It Again

We went to an art show in a hair salon, because,
well, why not. And discovered this little guy.
Photo by Steven Gullett, art by Kelsey Dyer.
My friend Kylee's Facebook bio reads, in part: "I try everything twice, just to make sure I really hated it the first time."

Smart lady.

Life holds a whole lot of options. Thousands, millions. It makes your head hurt if you think about it too long. We burn a ton of energy trying to parse them out, separate the signal from the noise. We try something once, declare it "not for us" and go on about our day.

But as we get older,we become set in what we know we do and don't like. Or rather, what we think we know. We let our capacity for novelty slip away, we take fewer and fewer risks, and our sense of wonder and joy begins to atrophy.

Some things in life, you know right away that once was more than enough - like getting cancer, or taking a group vacation, or watching an internet video featuring twice as many girls as cups.

Novelty is good for us. Trying new things causes our brain to build new neural connections. Couples who try new experiences together report greater long-term satisfaction with their relationships.

But too often, we  carry around ideas about who we are and what makes us happy based on a single experience that happened decades ago. When, if you're like most people, you were a completely different person. One who didn't like broccoli, but also one who thought acid washed jeans were awesome. You were wrong about the latter; maybe it's time to revisit the former.

Today, try one new thing. Or, try one old thing you thought you didn't like. Could be black and white movies. Could be cranberry juice. Could be performing stand-up comedy or doing yoga.

Maybe you still don't like it. Once a year, the Songwriter confirms all over again that mushrooms are an invention of Satan himself. But maybe you'll discover something new about yourself or your friends or the the world, and either way, that's good enough for today.