These are the the kind of things that will ignite my soul–if you care about these types of things.

My mom’s favorite attribute of me is my loyalty. She says it’s unwavering, fierce, and swallows one hole. She outlines differences between my brothers and I by telling of a situation where I walk into the room and search until I find her first before addressing anyone else. My brothers tend to go through everyone else until they finally make it to her, last. I like this story a lot, but I suspect I like it because of the deep desire to be so important to someone else that they see me first; building blocks of how to love.

This theme follows me into many story lines of love, and the literal manifestation of it almost always fails to capture the essence of which my mom speaks. I’ve watched as one I’ve made my world walks into a room full of others and charms the crowd casually keeping an eye out for me. All the while I was at the entrance watching my beloved like a ghost. If I were truly a ghost like the ones from the past that tightly grab on to haunt because any life is better than not living, well then I would have been seen–definitely. But, I am not a ghost and I’m not a crowd. I’m just another person looking to be recognized above all else.

There were times upon falling in love that I avoided rooms all together because this ultimate test in compatibility proved I couldn’t be loved that much. As I get older, I realize it’s not that I am unlovable but rather I have walked into the wrong room–someone else’s.

The not-so-subtle art of being a New Yorker.

There’s a not-so-subtle art about being a New Yorker. Much like a Jackson Pollock piece–every movement defines a very strong emotion; deep urge; challenged spirit; unseen possibility; thickness of character; blurred intent; desperate hope; and a thinning line of innocence–hard to understand until you really see it up close.

It may take someone smarter than you, perhaps a fellow New Yorker, to point out that Pollock is to be felt and not explained. Suspicious, as any good NY transplant will become, you walk up close to see the intense imperfections for yourself. Pictures and postcards–the second-hand accounts–do not capture the beautiful chaos of One: Number 31, 1950. Standing in the MoMa PS1, you understand Pollock’s masterpiece, and like the city that brought it to you, the allover approach is now all over you.

A closer look at this work reveals some of the decisions made in the act of painting: the selection of colors; the use of contrasting matte and glossy paints; if the lines would be thick or thin, fast or slow; whether to wait for the paint to dry or to work wet-on-wet, so that different paints bleed and pool; and a host of others. Only when the painting was completed did Pollock determine where the edges should be. In One: Number 31, 1950, Pollock left a breathing space bordering all four sides of the field of paint. However, in other paintings, the lines and spatters continue beyond the edges.–MoMa

After an unspecified amount of time has passed, you walk away with a Pollock-thick inspired aesthetic that you carry with you wherever you go–this is the art of being a New Yorker.

I can’t quite say that I understand Mark Rothko, so maybe I’ll bump into a Los Angeles transplant at the MOCA who will open my eyes to the brilliance of color.

New York, I will miss you.

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The Passengers of Life.

At the end of 2010, I vowed that 2011 would be about others, and it certainly has.  This year was full of sting and complex evolution, but mostly it was full of re-connective charge that can only be found in those people left at the crossroads of life.  It makes sense to revisit those push pins in the where-I’ve-been map of life once one finds themselves yet again pinned at a crossroad; how did I get here and where am I going?

While visiting the roadside attractions of my past, I was not without forward movement and formed karmic connections pushing me toward my own dharma path.  Circumstances created by the aforementioned people–who stretched me in directions in which I could have never predicted my own  flexibility–that shaped my human condition.

The reflection of the past year’s floundering , life signs, people, and identity, formed an overarching theme for the upcoming year: 2012 will be devoted to breaking Samsara–the wheel of suffering.

To do this, I look to attain the below:

  • Be fully present.
  • Bond in joy with people versus bonding in misery, pain, and helplessness.
  • Cease activities of disowning myself.
  • Redirect negative thinking.
  • Possess a sense of humor and lightheartedness.
  • Do not attach identity to success or failure.
  • Have the ability to give/receive support from family and friends.
  • Approach life with more fluidity, grace, and peace of mind.

This stems from what someone told me during one of my journeys in life, “It’s your life, I’m just passing through.”


Thank You Nuclear Families, Tummy Tucks, and a Thanksgiving without newspaper smudges.

It’s fascinating how our Thanks You’s transform over time.

In childhood I was mostly thankful for having more than my brother to play with as we gathered at Granny Erwin’s house.  Back in those days–the days of large family gatherings–we’d bring picnic tables into the living room so that we could all partake in the merriment of family.  The protruding bellies of my uncles, gossiping-voices of my aunts, and little cousin tattle-telling threats; this was Thanksgiving as I knew it.  Once Aunt Debbie–our beautician–cleaned her scissors and shears from the last haircut of the day, Thanksgiving had come to its end.  I was thankful for the following:  Dear Santa Letters we read from the local newspaper in hopes of seeing ours published, the end of Uncle Thed and Puff’s tickling torture, Kenny Rogers and Dolly Parton, The Macy’s Day Parade, Aunt Glenda’s delightful full-bellied laugh, an Aunt LuLu and Uncle Darry Lee sighting, being in a family that danced, Crystal telling me about boys, Joe and Red shooting slingshots and my finding the best rock to shoot at the barn versus listening to Crystal’s boy-crazed stories, Bubba and Donnie sneaking into the tool shed, and my nuclear family.

High school was tricky as family units began to separate and splinter off into several small siloed Thanksgiving gatherings.  There wasn’t a headquarters any more, but rather several remote ones in which transformed the holiday into a chore.  There were new faces without the history or tradition in which defined family to me.  Bubba and I spent time with new families, outsiders looking in from the window, missing what Thanksgiving used to be.  Maybe we would get to see the characters of our family if our visit corresponded with their schedule, otherwise we would try to see them on Christmas.  I was thankful for the following: no more bickering, having a buddy like my brother to experience days like these with, our new baby brother Blake, my birthday so I could choose my own guest list, and the silence and alienation that allowed me to cherish memories and learn how to be alone.

College, I went where I wanted and I always went back home.  I was searching for myself, but mostly I was hoping to find the characters of my family again.  People had moved on; cousins married, loved ones died, slingshots were passé, picnic tables remained outside, gossiping sounded more faint, we were less enthused with newspapers and Santa, everyone was doing Weight Watchers, and Aunt Debbie forgot her scissors and sheers.  I was thankful for the following: being home, newspaper smudges on my fingers, eating despite being broke, playing with my cousin’s children, being too old for tickle torture, that CD that turned into family dancing, divorce allowing happiness, for not having to eat smaller portions, not having to tell Aunt Debbie I needed a more complex type of haircut, not being married, and the remembrance of those we lost along the way.

Today, I have to decide between Thanksgiving or Christmas, the latter always wins going home.  My family has extended into its own social network and text messaging allows me to tell all these characters how thankful I am they are in my life or have passed through it.  Newspapers are electronic as to prevent smudging, gossiping is viral, tummy tucks replaced dieting, Aunt Debbie is retired so no haircuts rendered, my cousins have divorced and remarried, Kenny Rogers and Dolly Parton have had so much plastic surgery their faces don’t move, I’m not sure slingshots are even sold any more but Crystal is still boy crazy, new faces are no longer intimidating, and I’m okay with Thanksgiving this way.  I’ll dance on Christmas, but the Macy’s Day Parade is on in all our homes.

Happy Thanksgiving!

 

 

 

 

 

 

This is how it works: heal, breathe, and use your words.

I haven’t deliberated over my life in quite some time, but leave it to the powers that be to slow me down with a broken rib.  Breathing requires such concentration that I have no choice but to focus on the only thing I can do, at the moment–think.  I wouldn’t claim to be a wordsmith, anymore.  No, that title left me months ago along with other descriptors–confident, spiritually evolved, kind, gentle, optimistic, loving, hopeful…to name a few.  Nothing in particular happened to derail me, but rather caught up to me.

As I get older and time becomes more valuable, moments of reflection get smaller and more specific.  An outlook on the world becomes too large to manage, and scaling back is the only way to not become overwhelmed, so interpretation on a case-by-case basis shapes perspective.  And, perspectives change; so much change.  It’s hard to get a good grip on change and such concepts as “using your words”–wordsmith skills– can easily slip through your fingers unless you practice,  after all practice makes perfect.  Behavior is surprising enough without throwing in an inability to communicate.

Last month I was headed to an event with two friends.  We were in a cab exchanging self-characteristic type things.  I launched into a characteristic about myself, and then paused mid-sentence. “Actually, that’s not true,” I said. “It’s one of those things I would like to think was true about me, but isn’t.”  For the life of me I can’t recall the characteristic, but it wasn’t an inherent characteristic of me and one I would likely never acquire.  It made me feel strange and uncomfortable to admit that, but it was true.  Cue Regina Spektor‘s “On The Radio”

…this is how it works
You peer inside yourself
You take the things you like
And try to love the things you took
And then you take that love you made
And stick it into some
Someone else’s heart
Pumping someone else’s blood
And walking arm in arm
You hope it don’t get harmed
But even if it does
You’ll just do it all again…

I’m figuring out that, for the most part, people teach you about yourself.  Someone told me, once, that hate is equally important than love; love teaches you about others, but hate teaches you about yourself.  Entrusting another with your heart is a scary event–even more so if you don’t  have a clear perspective on who you are in the first place–but each invitation brings a new moment to practice being you.

The Latitude and Longitude of Human Experience In The Information Age.

The intrinsic value of our youth–where ideals beget hope, goals, and who we could become in life–and its diminishing returns are a brutal reminder of us in our heyday.  Enter nostalgia, the leading cause of alcoholism.  Okay, I probably can’t cite that as factual but it certainly could make sense.   Remember when hope, goals, and who we were, were as simple as riding the breath and not something we had to continually practice?

In a bar in Hell’s Kitchen, I sat sipping on a Shiraz and talking to two friends that recently discovered that they were eerily compatible and should date.  In talking about relationships and waxing philosophically about life, I made one of my most peculiar confessions.  I confessed to having strange sensations, which can only be likened to the vibrato of harp music within my soul, upon hearing certain types of information.

This phenomenon began in a geography class in junior high school during Coach Martin’s commentary of spatial interactions that lead into an example of tornadoes.  I wasn’t sure if it was hormonal or if I found Coach Martin sexy.  I hadn’t recalled thinking he was particularly fascinating before that, but then again I never had a vibration throughout my body to anything anyone else had ever said before.  I hung on to his every word, mesmerized at my own latitude and longitude of human experience.

It wasn’t until I was on the phone with my credit card company in college grappling with the consequences of default that the phenomenon occurred again.  Phone systems were much less sophisticated back then and actual people–the customer service type–actually spoke to you.

“Let me just verify that we have your most current information on file, Ms. Ben.”

Her voice wasn’t particularly nice, a Southern monotone, but as she launched into the verification of my identity the harp started.

“Your address is….”

“Your phone number is…”

“Your last charge was on..”

“Your mother’s maiden name is…”

She read off my information as I sat, vibrating from the inside, reveling in my personal information.  Was this a fetish?  I scribbled fetish on a post-it to research at the library later (pre-Google days). Was I a homosexual?  I scribbled homosexual down on the same small yellow paper.

“Ms. Ben?  Is this information correct?”

“It is, thank you.”

It happened several other times in college when someone spoke with  great intellectual gusto.  This type of massaging of my soul made much more sense to me–I clearly had a thing for intellect that was irrelevant of its host.

As the world moved into the information age, whoa, you can imagine my information-gasm. Everything and everyone of great intelligence at my fingertips.

I confessed to going inside the bank (when I never truly needed it) because at Chase their customer service advocates pull you to their desk in an effort to convert you from one account holder to multiple.  In this process they verify your information, and despite having been in there a few days earlier, I let whomever read back to me my most current information for the mere feeling it provides me.  I also confessed to most days feeling numb.  What was this weird physiological response to my identification?

“I totally get it,” my friend replied.  “It’s like a confirmation of your existence in this big ol’ world.”

All of a sudden, my confession made more sense.  It wasn’t weird at all, but simply my way of assessing my extrinsic value, and as a business student I can tell you it’s less valuable (than intrinsic).

The Stoic Approach To Broken

“And then I felt sad because I realized that once people are broken in certain ways, they can’t ever be fixed, and this is something nobody ever tells you when you are young and it never fails to surprise you as you grow older as you see the people in your life break one by one. You wonder when your turn is going to be, or if it’s already happened. “–Douglas Coupland

Everyone has a pivotal moment, a retrospective stand-still, in which growing becomes hard; innocence lost.  It’s like being punched for the first time, doubled-over in perplexing pain, trying to catch your breath.  After that–the first time–it becomes easier to take a beating.  Maybe you self-protect or maybe you’re scared or maybe you’re stronger, but you’re never where you were before.  Moments of truth awaken reflexes within you that were either conditioned or innate, but either way the reaction defines you.

Everyone also has an ostensibly innocuous moment, a seemingly irrelevant event, in which a choice or decision is entered into the dynamic mindstream of another; karma.   Sending and banishing another into Samsara–cyclic suffering–until noble virtue, noble concentration, noble discernment, and noble release is understood.  Sounds like a disproportionate amount of spirit work for one versus the other, right?  Not really, it’s all in the give and take.

One midday Saturday in the early 80’s, I watched out the screen door as a trio of teenagers walked down our mostly desolate road in Divide Community.  No rock was left unturned by my family in our Podunk community and it was the first and perhaps only time strangers afoot passed through.  The details between my curiosity as a screen lurker and why those orphans or hippies or serial killers were devouring the Hamburger Helper at our dinner table may have been misplaced.  Nevertheless, the youngest of the ambiguous sibling tribe became a squatter in our hamlet.  Squatters get all the benefits of home without the responsibility, and by their very nature live in survival mode so everything is a threat.  He was the first broken person I knew, and a catalyst for the demise of  my family unit.

Several months after my parent’s divorce, we were in the grocery store when a familiar but faceless lady mentioned seeing my father buying beer.  This information would have been a fairly normal adult activity, however my father spent my whole life up to that point judging and preaching about the sins of the sinner.

“You must have meant my Uncle Donnie,” I interjected.  “People think they’re twins, but they aren’t. MY dad doesn’t drink.  Drinking beer is a sin.”

Ironically, I will never forget her expression.  She quickly withdrew her tongue from idle talk and looked down.

“Oh.”  She glanced at my mom and then back to me.  “Maybe you’re right.”

I placed my hands on my hips and curtly replied, “I am.”

I was afraid of what it meant; my father drinking.   Was this how stoic people did things?

I didn’t have a penchant for bad things during my teenage years like my friends did during their era of rebellion.  I coughed and  complained too much for my friends to truly get me addicted to cigarettes (like most of them eventually did).  Not a smoker.  It wasn’t an easy feat, either, to get me drinking alcohol.  I hated the taste of liquor, wine, and beer.  One particularly weighty morning, I snatched a beer from my stepfather’s refrigerated stash and took it with me to school.  I got in my car and pushed in the single cassette tape of TLC’s “Waterfalls” and drove toward school–beer between legs and sobbing.

(WAIVER:  I DO NOT CONDONE DRINKING & DRIVING, NOR DO I CONDONE DRINKING LOW-POINT BEER.) 

7:30am, football field parking lot, sobbing and gagging as I forced down my first beer, alone.  After all, this is how stoic people do it.

RIP Amy Winehouse

 

 

paw prints you left in my heart…

Rest in Peace: Stella 2009-2011

5+1=A Story

There’s a silence in all of us that allows us to know the 5 W’s and 1 H; who, what, when, where, why, and how.  In my undergraduate studies in Journalism this was the basic investigative formula for getting the facts of any story.  At the very least, it gave you the lead to something bigger.  I’m finding, later in life, the concepts previously learned are applicable in other aspects of life not exactly academic.  In my graduate studies, Leadership specifically, the concepts can be applied in life at the very moment of conception—if you’re in the action you cannot see what’s truly happening.  Other than the age gap, the true difference lies in the person (who) you are (what) at that moment (when) in time (where) when you’re truly left alone to process “how” (why).

This is my story, at the moment…

I’ll be 34 in almost exactly five months and the overarching theme of most people in my age bracket isn’t mine.  I could have had this Cleaver-like existence, but it wasn’t me.  So WHO am I?  I’ll keep this aligned to the five-point theme and in bullets (so this may be super difficult in choice but here goes):

  1. Stubborn – This has been with me the longest of any other descriptor and perhaps the go-to word for anyone that has ever cared for me.  It’s served me both well and poorly at various stages in my life.  Being stubborn in my early twenties, paid off in ambitious endeavors as I wouldn’t take “no” for an answer and forged through impossibility to succeed.  However, there is a fine line between stubborn and pride that is painfully uncomplimentary–not knowing where this line is can create a cascading failure. While I have admitted to learning far more in my failures than successes, the irony lies in my stubbornness.
  2. Loyal – I’m fiercely loyal, which is problematic at times because anything “fierce” is intense and there are few people willing to succumb to such devoted attachment much less reciprocate.  However, loyalty comes in many levels and the duty I place upon others may very well be impossible outside of me.
  3. Creative – This gives me the ability to transcend myself, others, and discover something more meaningful.  Perhaps my only saving grace in the world.
  4. Hopeful – I’m confident that while I cannot control the events, people, or circumstances that come into my life, I believe that it’ll all work out as it should and the best for everyone.  That every exit is an entrance into somewhere else, and in the words of Mark Twain, “Dance like nobody’s watching; love like you’ve never been hurt. Sing like nobody’s listening; live like it’s heaven on earth.”

The sum of the above abridged characteristics is my partial identity–the WHAT to my WHO.  This, of course, could be different from those that know me or have known me, so this potential difference gives me a separate identity from my own.  If identity is a necessity then what does that say about “me”?  That we’re more than who we are because who we are isn’t isolated to who we think we are, but rather who we are to others?  We live in half-truths until we relate to others because 1+1=2.

“Now ‘WHY a thing is itself’ is a meaningless inquiry (for — to give meaning to the question ‘why’ — the fact or the existence of the thing must already be evident’-e.g. that the moon is eclipsed-but the fact that a thing is itself is the single reason and the single cause to be given in answer to all such questions as why the man is man, or the musician musical’, unless one were to answer ‘because each thing is inseparable from itself, and its being one just meant this’ this, however, is common to all things and is a short and easy way with the question).” – Aristotle’s Law, Metaphysics Book VII, Part 17

WHEN I was a child, the identification came mostly from my family.  This is both good and bad because while the definition of you is contingent upon others–it’s also tied to them and less to you.  This helps you be grounded when you fly too far from your roots, but it’s confusing when belief systems move out of orbit from the Mothership.  This is WHERE you begin to define your own life and how it fits or doesn’t fit with others.

So, HOW do you get to where you’re going? This route is different for each of us, and in realizing this I’ll figure out my story.


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