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Ten Thousand Days

Duckie

November 29, 2016

 

Photo: Darius Anton

Photo: Darius Anton

Gratitude, Joy, Oneness and Service (Day 915 – Day 920)

Recently I overheard two people talking about a third man who was in the throes of unrequited love. They described it as full-on “Duckie love.”

Anyone of a certain age will be taken back to the unforgettable character Duckie, played by John Cryer in Pretty in Pink.  He became not only a gay icon, but also the epitome of unrequited love.  Sensitive, devoted, and expressive, Duckie was the poster boy for the ‘outsider.’

The film came out long after I left high school but, as with all John Hughes films, like most of my generation, I could relate to it.   I was never Duckie in highschool.  As much as I wanted to punch her in her pouty lips (projection, much?) I always identified with the Molly Ringwald character, Andie.  Although I wasn’t poor like Andie, I was always the pretty girl who had boys in love with her.  When I changed high schools in my graduating year, I was with a lot of much richer kids and I got a taste of the despicable snobbery of James Spader’s character, Steff, who really did think in terms of social class, at the age of 18.  Like Steff did with Andie, a young and popular rich kid on the rugby team took a fancy to me and made advances at me at a party.  When I rejected him, I became the outcast of the school.  I guess my initiation as Andie was complete.

My mother, too, had been a young beauty.  She came from a group of people that are ridiculed in Canada, despite being admired by strangers the world over.  She, too, knew what it was like to suffer prejudice because of her background.  But she met and married a young man, and as time went on, his career took him to fancier and fancier places and she never really felt comfortable there.  Her beauty faded, as it will, with time, and she was insecure.  She learned the hard way what we all learn about our society – for women, our power is greatest when we are young and beautiful.  As we age, it fades and men gain in power through accomplishment, status and wealth.

I’d like to say that isn’t the case, and I have always been a feminist.  But all we need to do is look at the US elections to recognize just how far we really have come, as a society in accepting women – especially older women – and condoning their right to power.  And yet, we must not let society dictate our roles.

Duckie was an original, (the character Watts, from Some Kind of Wonderful, was the female version of his archetype).  He didn’t do things the way society told him to do them, and I guess this is what makes him the iconic character he is today.

I wish I’d had more Duckie moments when I was young, to build character and to prepare me for life as an older woman.  I didn’t.  I’ve had to learn the hard way, too.  We all know that feeling of being in a relationship where we love harder and more fully than the object of our affection.  It can be devastating, if we let it be.

I’ve had my heart broken and I’m grateful not for the pain, but for the resilience I have developed (even as an older woman) as a result of it.  Many people have their heart broken once and never love again.  I’ve had it broken twice.  And again, while not grateful for that pain, I am grateful for the time that preceded it and the time when I was loved.

I’m not really sure I want to put myself in the position of even one more unrequited love in this lifetime.

I wonder who Duckie would be, today.  Would he have loved again?  Would he have found someone who loved him in return?  Or, would he rent a penthouse flat and become a recluse?  Would Duckie have learned to recognize true love and tell it apart from those times when he was being played?  I hope he would have continued to grow and recognized that he deserved someone who was ready to stand up and love him, wholeheartedly and without reservation.

I’d like that for myself as well, and I still believe it is possible for me.  I am grateful for the ability both to keep my heart open and to discern between the fear of being hurt and the uneasy inner knowing when something isn’t right with a love relationship.

It was a joy to be reminded of the character, Duckie.  I am learning to embrace and to love my inner Duckie.   While his broken heart hurt, Duckie triumphed and maintained his integrity.  He was the only real winner in the whole movie, despite losing the girl.  He won, because he grew as a human.  When I think about him now, I feel a tender Oneness and communion with the character’s vulnerable young heart and soul.  Yes, Andie got the rich kid boy in the end, but we all know they probably didn’t stay together and she was probably left devastated.   But Duckie loved, he lost and he recovered.  I don’t know about you, but I’d rather be Duckie than any other character in that film.

And so, as we head into the most romantic season of the year, my service today is to remind us all that the only real way to guarantee the outcome of the game is to leave the field of play.  We are all human and we all want to be the first to bail in a relationship, before they bail on us.  To paraphrase John Hughes…we all do just want to let them know that they didn’t break us…

But love is always a risk; Once in a while, the risk may turn out to be worth it.  The odds really are not in our favour.  Unless we are game theory experts, the best we can do is to summon our inner Duckie,  have courage, self esteem, and an open heart as we keep doing our own internal calculus, moment by moment.  We all deserve someone who will love us wholeheartedly and without reservation.

 

For what are you most grateful this week?

Ten Thousand Days

The Blindspot

November 23, 2016
Photo: Oscar Keys

Photo: Oscar Keys

Gratitude, Joy, Oneness and Service (Day 908 – Day 914)

A few days ago I had a strange dream.

I wear eyeglasses and in my dream, the glass spontaneously shattered.  When I awoke, I felt that this was one of those ‘important’ dreams in my life.  I feel that it was screaming at me about that thing we all have but simply cannot see: our blindspot.

Many of us have problems seeing what is right before our eyes.  When we are grieving, Kubler Ross tells us that there are stages through which we cycle, and one of those is denial.  When we are in denial, we cannot see what it is that is presenting itself as a losss.  We can not bear it.  The other side of seeing – being seen – is also a challenge for many of us.  I am willing to go out on a limb and say that all of us want to be seen – really seen for who we are – and loved as we are.  But it is the risk that we will not be loved, or the belief that we are unloveable that makes being seen – really seen – such an act of vulnerability.

I remember sitting in a playwriting workshop one hundred years ago and my teacher, the award winning playwright, Joan MacLeod, spoke of her best friend.  He was able to see her blindspot and she was able to see his. So, I asked around.

Before the first friend answered, I went through a list:  I love someone and it is a challenging relationship.  But, I have faith in the relationship.  Was this my blindspot?  I had a milestone birthday recently and with it, I struggled to reconcile my inner sense of youth with ageing.  Is this somehow my blindspot?  I carry more weight than is healthy and there are certainly emotional reasons for this.  Could that be my blindspot?

Friends started responding.  Some have known me longer than others, and some have known me more intimately than others.  I thought of the woman with whom I have been closest, and of my mother.  I thought of what they would say.  And then a friend said it:

My blindspot is my self worth, she said.  If I could see myself like others do, I would have a much different and higher sense of self worth.

I think to some extent, we all struggle with this.

Where do we develop our self esteem?  I suppose it develops in childhood when we are seen and mirrored by our primary caregivers.  What we developed as children is reinforced by our actions as adults.  One thing is certain: we cannot have high self esteem if we are doing things in our lives for which we are not proud.  But, looking at it now, no number of accomplishments and sense of integrity can ever completely fill that sense of lack, if we were not mirrored as children.

As a child, teen and young adult, I was applauded for certain kinds of accomplishments and parts of my personality.  My artistic side was called ridiculous and I was chastised for being a dreamer.  I was not loved for who I was, exactly as I was.  I was not mirrored.  What was seen and loved and what I could see and love of myself was like looking into a shattered mirror and seeing only parts of myself, but never the whole.

This week I had the task of painting a self portrait in my art class.  I’m a beginner at drawing and at painting but I do my best and my best is usually not good, but also not that bad.  So I sketched myself and painted in the glasses, focusing on my eyes and my lips.  It was an interesting and intriguing piece.  Many people suggested I leave it at that.  I thought I would.

One afternoon, my father unexpectedly bought the family lunch and I had my painting in the car.  So, I brought it in, and showed it to my family.  They looked at me, at my unfinished painting, back at me and then continued their conversation without saying anything about it.  If I had chosen to write a scene of psychic annihilation I don’t think I could have chosen a more perfect moment than that.

A few days later, I returned to the painting and decided to complete it.  Although I had used a magnifying mirror and a low angle, the resulting portrait was distorted and more grotesque than even the magnification would produce.  I look in the mirror and I know that I don’t look this way.  And yet, I am blind to myself.

In my dream, I had been standing at a crossroads when my glasses shattered.  I had come from a place where I had plugged in to ‘the source’, but my machine had been borrowed from a man.

When I was young, my father said on more than one occasion that I would never amount to anything without him.  I am sure that he probably meant that I should be grateful for the roof over my head and my tuition.  But the words went far deeper than that, for me, as a child.  I am a half a century old and for half a century I have sought my father’s approval.  Despite all my accomplishments, I don’t think he’s ever said that he is proud of me.  If I cannot amount to anything without him, perhaps at an unconscious level, I feel that I fail to exist without his approval.

Consciously I have let go of this wish, but the unconscious has a way of holding on and repeating patterns.  I love a man who disengages from me sometimes and although this is his coping mechanism, it triggers my earlier sense of not being mirrored.  When he is engaged, he is able to see so much of me – the admirable and the less admirable qualities – and he loves me as I am.  I am grateful that when he is able to stay connected, he models for me what I lacked in childhood.  When we are connected, it is a  joy to spend time with him and to work through our differences and come to a deeper understanding of one another and a deeper level of closeness.  I sometimes wonder how I got so blessed to meet someone so kind and gentle, and I cannot express how grateful I am for him, in my life.  He is working on staying engaged, and I am working on self-soothing and ‘holding space for him’ in his times of solitude. But the fact is that he is prone to disengage and not understand me.  In those moments, I feel invisible.  I don’t know where the relationship is heading but it has been a growth experience for both of us, and for my ability to stand up and ask to be seen, and for his ability to sometimes offer his gentle love in the face of my vulnerability, I am grateful.

I’m grateful for my dream because it has provided me the opportunity to consider the things that are holding me back and to which I am blind.    In my dream, I was at a crossroads, as I am now, in my life.  I am grateful for this moment.

My father was a writer and I know he had a real talent for poetry.  He wrote love poems to my mother when they courted.  He grew up in a different era and he suppressed his own artistic side in order to become a provider for his family.  I am certain that some of his insistence on gratitude conveyed in those offhand, but damning words, came from his own experience of having given up more than any of us know, in order to be a husband and father.  I know he has a soft heart, like I do, and despite his damaging messages, we are both writers, poets and lovers and in knowing that, I feel Oneness with him and I am able to love him despite the wounding of the past.

As we go into the holiday season, we return to our families of origin for at least a few days.  My service this week is to write this to remind us all that we are always at a crossroads, that most of us are blind to how amazing we truly are, and to send out this reminder that there is always a new way of seeing the hurt that we carry with us, so that we can leave it behind us, at the crossroads.

For what are you grateful this week?

 

Ten Thousand Days

Just Like Family

November 15, 2016
Photo: Katie Chase

Photo: Katie Chase

Gratitude, Joy, Oneness and Service (Day 904 – Day 907)

My best friend is just like family to me and he has embarked on a seminal adventure in America this week.  He is on a hero’s journey that he must take alone.   And while I know this,  I worry about him when he is driving and camping alone.  I worry, and maybe I am over the top on my anxiety, but a boy I cared for died on a camping trip in high school when he fell down a ravine.  I don’t know what happened when he disappeared – only his family knows those details – but I do know that he died, alone, in that ravine.

Being over the top on my anxiety has led me into a thought experiment.  When you care about someone, you want them to be safe and if they aren’t safe, you want to get them help, as soon as possible.   I would be comfortable with being in the position of taking point on alerting National Parks, Highway Patrol and Search and Rescue if my friend, who is just like family – but not family – had failed to check in.  But, it turns out that he had made the arrangement with his ‘real family’.

Being like family, but not family, is a wonderful feeling to have with a friend.  Sit with it a moment and it becomes clear that it is a pretty terrible position to be in, if the world falls apart.  His family probably doesn’t even know that I exist.  And if they know that I exist, they certainly wouldn’t think that my attachment to him warranted being kept in the loop.

And my thought experiment causes me to reflect on what is happening in America right now.

In the 1980s, my cousin, DK, died of AIDS.  I don’t know if he had a significant other.  Knowing his father, I’m pretty sure that if he did have a S.O., that man was not welcomed.  The family made all end of life decisions and somewhere in the ethers there was undoubtedly someone who was at least as attached to my cousin as his parents were, and arguably, more so, perhaps.  Out in the ethers was possibly a person who my cousin loved deeply, and who probably never got to be near him as he died.  He probably wasn’t even kept in the loop.

Being just like family – but not family – is a pretty terrible place to be, when the world falls apart.

When his father made it unbearable for DK, as a young gay man, he left home.  My mother took him in – even through he was my father’s nephew, and hers only by marriage.  For awhile, I got to grow up with him in my nuclear family, and for that I am grateful.  He taught me not to judge someone by their sexuality before I even knew what sexuality was.  I am grateful to him for opening my eyes to a world that had fallen apart and a group of people that was so staunchly being pushed into the closet and left to die by politicians like Ronald Reagan and by vocal activists like Anita Bryant.  I am grateful to my mother for teaching me about making a family of choice when the world falls apart.  DK was more than my cousin – for at least awhile, he was also my brother.

I find joy in knowing that my friend, who is just like family – but not family – is finding himself in the woods, even as I am realizing the pain of being just like family – but not family.

Right now my friend is in Oregon – the seat of some of the most violent protests in the wake of the US election.  I think about what the election results and the promised policies may mean for many families in America and I can feel the sense of despair, abandonment and lack of safety that so many in the LGBTQ+ community must be feeling.  It is unthinkable that the current painful situation in which I find myself could be legislated by my government:  that I would not have the chance to be by his side were he pulled out of a ravine in critical condition.

I’m not an American.  There is nothing I can do for my American friends except to be a supporter.  Many of them are my extended family of choice and I have a bittersweet sense of Oneness with their sense, when the world falls apart, of not being considered ‘real family’.  And I feel the same sense of powerlessness to defend their rights as they might now feel about their own democratic process.

My service this week, and for as long as it takes, is to continue to speak up about marriage equality and climate change, sexism and racism in whatever forum I can, because until you’ve lived a thought experiment like mine and found yourself to be an outsider, you may not realise just how precarious it is to be just like family – but not family – when the world falls apart.

For what are you grateful this week?

Ten Thousand Days

Hope Slide

November 11, 2016
Photo: Jared Erondu

Photo: Jared Erondu

Gratitude, Joy, Oneness and Service (Day 888 – Day 903)

When I was a child, we spent some of our summer holidays in British Columbia visiting my grandparents, aunties, uncles and cousins.  Every year, my mother took us to see the Japanese Internment camps as a reminder that we must never take our liberties for granted, and every year, we stopped at the site of the Hope Slide.

The Hope landslide occurred in the early hours of one January morning in 1965.  Two carloads of travellers on the Hope-Princeton Highway witnessed a minor slide ahead of them and stopped short of it and waited.  Why they were waiting remains a mystery.

Other travellers, just moments ahead of them, made it through the pass, outside of Chilliwack, unscathed and unaware that there had been a minor slide.  A greyhound bus, fully loaded with passengers, came behind the two cars and turned around at the sight of the blocked highway.

But those two cars, in Hope, waited.

Moments later, the entire mountain came down upon them.  Only two bodies were ever found.  The rest remain entombed under 47 million cubic metres of rock that remains as a monument – the Hope Slide.

As an adult, I wonder about the significance of making this pilgrimage every year.  My mother was one of the kindest people I have ever known, and although a person of quiet and unwavering faith, she was not sentimental.  So why this annual pilgrimage to Hope?

In the darkest of times, we are told to have hope.

The Oxford Dictionary defines hope as:

A feeling of expectation and desire for a particular thing to happen.

I am a person of faith and my faith has been tested and fortified in difficult times.  But hope, it seems to me, has little to do with faith.  It is, in some ways, the antithesis of faith.  Faith asks us to watch for the signs we are given and act accordingly, even when it is gut wrenching to do so. Hope abdicates personal responsibility and seems to ask only that we desire something and expect that it will happen.  It is a kind of magical thinking we ought to leave behind, in childhood.

In the darkest of times, we are not called to light a candle and sit in the dark, with hope.  We are called to have faith in the Divine and in that complete and complex confidence, to ACT, and to BE the light for those who have lost their own.  Our hope can slide, as it has for many of us in these dark times.

Faith endures.

Today, amidst the sombre mood of the world, the death of probably the greatest of my writing heroes  – Leonard Cohen – was made public.  I am deeply saddened by his death.  His was a carnal dance with the darkness and yet his spiritual light was never extinguished.  He taught me about the poetic and bittersweet death of the ego long before the yogis ever did.  And he taught me the profound poignancy of language.  For him, and for his prophetic words, I will always be grateful.

I am grateful that I came through the dark days after Brexit in the UK and am able to offer support to my American friends who feel unsafe in their own country because they are gay, or a person of colour or an immigrant – classes of people that have come under attack in a vicious presidential race.  I don’t tell them not to lose hope, because the minor landslide has occurred and I think it would be reasonable to expect the whole mountain to come down.  I do, however, encourage them not to lose faith, to act, and to BE the light, in all of this darkness.

I am grateful for my faith.  I don’t believe in some man with a beard, but I do believe in Oneness and in the web of light that is being held by spiritual practitioners who continue, daily, to make the choice to act on faith.

Joy may seem hard to find these days, but not if we reflect.  This morning, I awoke to a blue sky.  Even if only for a moment, my heart was lifted.  And that temporary respite from all the doom and gloom gave me rest, so that I could be there for others.

My service in the past few weeks has been to allow myself to be both vulnerable with another and strong when required.  I have been no less than a most intimate friend.

There is nothing better we can be, right now, to one another.

In memory of Leonard Cohen, I share a video of his song of undying love, inspired by the string quartets of the Nazi death camps.  In all the darkness, when there is no hope, we can still act to BE the light.

For what are you most grateful this week?

 

Ten Thousand Days

Ruby Slippers

October 25, 2016
"Ruby Slippers" Photo by Tania D Campbell

“Ruby Slippers” Photo by Tania D Campbell

Gratitude, Joy, Oneness and Service (Day 775 – Day 887)

In the tired, overused words of Dorothy, in The Wizard of Oz:  “There’s no place like home.”

I have written about the idea of home at that at this point in my life, being unmarried, childless and uprooted to a new town I would not choose were it not for the fact that my father lives here, I feel that I am my own and only home.  To be fair, I’ve felt this for a very long time.  Every time I have fallen in love, I have looked for that relationship to become a kind of ‘family of choice’ and I have taken a sense of ‘home’ from that relationship.  When the relationship ends, these men remain forever a part of my family of choice.  How exactly that relationship goes down is a bit awkward.  We aren’t partners but we aren’t siblings.  Let’s just say: ‘Family.’

Recently I got into a very intimate relationship with someone at lightening speed.  It was dizzying and deep.  It was deeper than I’ve gone with anyone before.  And it happened in the course of a couple of weeks.  I kept saying to another friend that I didn’t understand what was suddenly happening and I wanted to stop and reflect.  But there was no time for that.  It just kept speeding ahead and leaving me with a cauldron of emotions to contend with.

I ruminate.  It is a necessary quality for a writer.  It is a terrible quality for a person steeped in a sea of unresolved emotions.  I learned long ago that we project onto our significant other all the things that we cannot own in ourselves.  I also learned long ago that while we may feel we will die if a love relationship ends, we won’t.  We could, if we don’t enter into a soulful relationship with what is happening.  And so, I took a good long look at someone who possesses so many qualities I desire.  And, I set about rediscovering them in myself.

One of the things I love about him is that he loves nature.  We both have a love of trees and hiking.  So, I went hiking this weekend in my favorite forested spot.

 

"sdom of the Trees" Photo by Tania D Campbell

“Wisdom of the Trees” Photo by Tania D Campbell

 

I love how he is environmentally conscious and wants to make a net positive contribution to the environment. I want the same. So, I found a place that will take my organic waste (it was not being separated at my apartment) and I visited the composting facility.  I also joined some organic farming guilds and made commitments to do some removal of invasive species and re-planting in the coming weeks with an ecological volunteer group.  What drew him to me was my spirituality and what drew me to him was a particular brand of spirituality.  So I signed up to step into that more fully and I engaged with local people who come from my own spiritual tradition.

I love what he does for a living and I aspire to have some of that in my own life.  So I signed on for some classes to teach myself about it.

I love that we are both INFP on the Meyers Briggs scale and we really seem to understand each other.  In a way, it feels like home and that makes this so difficult.  As INFPs, we go deep.  And we need solitude to experience ourselves and our connection to the world.  I needed solitude and I wasn’t getting it.

On Sunday, I went to a corn maze alone.  I was feeling old, tired and unloved. Perhaps getting in touch with a sense of childhood play would make me feel young again.  It was this shared sense of play that first drew me to him.

It was the muddiest that the maze has ever been.  As a child I loved to play in mud puddles and after a few hours lost in the maze, I came out with my boots covered in mud and a lighter heart. Seeing my boots later, a friend commented that they weren’t exactly ruby slippers but that they had a charm to them.

And I thought about it.  If I am my own and only home, these boots, which have been around the world with me and seen love and loss are the only things that really are my home.

 

And so, I am grateful for these old boots that have carried me to nearly every continent of this planet.  I hope they will take me to Antarctica, yet.  I am grateful for hard earned lessons in life that cannot be mentored to someone because they have to be lived and the pain endured.  And I am grateful for the experience of loving someone so deeply.  As much pain as there can be in it, it has taken me to places I have never before been and my capacity to love another has grown.

Service and the rarer breed of service: sacrifice has been my primary focus the last few weeks.  Being of service and putting someone else’s needs before my own has landed me here.   I hit what appears to be an impasse with this man last week.  I felt the pain of early abandonment.  My friend, AK, gave me the best advice but the hardest advice to take.  She asked me – regardless of what is happening with him – can you love yourself?  It seemed incomprehensible at the time.  But, I think this is the most important love relationship we can have.  If we cannot love ourselves, we cannot sustainably  love another.  My first and primary responsibility is to love the only one I will always come home to; I am my own family.

Even in the darkest moments we can look for the slightest glimmer of light to lead us home, and despite feeling left in a pre-verbal cesspool of abandonment pain, I managed to rediscover a sense of joy in playing in the mud.

A labyrinth is a traditional symbol for the inner journey, and the corn maze was my labyrinth.  I really needed to journey back to my Self – to the part of me that is always and ever a part of the collective unconsciousness and always worthy of and in receipt of unconditional love.  Instead of only being able to see the Divine in someone else, I found it in myself and in that moment of Oneness – very fleeting but reassuringly there – I found my way home.

 

Photo: Allef Vinicius

Photo: Allef Vinicius

 

For what are you grateful this week?

Ten Thousand Days

To Walk Beside Me

October 12, 2016
Photo: James Bates

Photo: James Bates

Gratitude, Joy, Oneness and Service (Day 768 – Day 774)

Albert Camus famously outlined a balanced view of friendship:

Don’t walk behind me; I may not lead. Don’t walk in front of me; I may not follow.
Just walk beside me and be my friend.”

In any friendship there will be times when we are more knowledgeable in something than the other person and we can share our expertise.  And then there will be things we don’t know how to do that our friend will.  Last night I cooked friendsgiving and I have no idea how to make gravy.  So my friend – who is also not the gravy master of her family – gave it a shot.  I cooked the rest of the meal fine, with a little input there, a dash of advice here and it never felt like a burden to be the one having to make the decisions and get it all together.

Sometimes our expertise in an area is so much more advanced that we become a mentor to a friend.  This can be a tricky situation and can impact on the friendship.  I try to steer clear of these situations in every possible way.  But sometimes, you have to bend the rules because you have been placed in the path of greatness and you have the opportunity to be at the crossroads for someone who can either disappear into obscurity or – with a little encouragement – move on to greatness.

Sometimes, we are called to act against our better judgement.  Most times this is because oh – we want to get with that person and date them or because we want the job with the extra money and the long vacations.  Usually, there is an ulterior motive.  And sometimes, there is nothing in it for you – in fact, it costs you, in the long run.  And still, you have to step up and boost someone who will soon run past you and never look back.  Sometimes, you just know that this has been a gift from the universe and you have been entrusted with something special.  At that juncture, do we go with the ego, or do we surrender and go with what is being asked of us?

It’s not easy to surrender, but surrender we must.

I’ve been given an opportunity to exercise my non-attachment and to go beyond ego.  Not every opportunity is painless, but I am grateful that the universe seems to trust me with this one.  I’m grateful for a blossoming friendship that is powerfully intense and may soon burn out if not stoked slowly and left to a slow smoulder.  And, I am grateful for old friends who cannot see the forest but warn me of the tree that lies dead ahead as I run towards it.  They will not understand that cutting my face on the branches was what I needed to do, in order to clear the way for someone else.  It is a joy to see someone excited and fresh at something and there is a closeness and a Oneness that comes from sharing those moments.  Eventually the roles will reverse and if a balance of walking together side by side is not achieved, then I will be grateful that I was given this chance to be of service and wish him well.

In times of crisis, I have always felt that we are not in a position to understand the meaning of the moment.  And so it is in times of gifts as well.  If we are called to step up, it is not necessary that we understand why.   Faith is about trusting that we may never know the why, but that the what was profoundly important.

For what are you grateful this week?

 

Ten Thousand Days

The Half Life of the Human

September 19, 2016
Photo: Marat Gilyadzinov

Photo: Marat Gilyadzinov

Gratitude, Joy, Oneness and Service (Day 739 – Day 752)

When I first entered University, I was a physics major and I loved nuclear physics almost as much as astronomy.  In nuclear physics, we have the concept of the half-life or what might be considered the time for an element to decay and become unstable or simply to diminish to half its former size.

Living in a country where the cookie was trumped by the noble biscuit, I haven’t eaten a chocolate chip cookie in some 20 years. The exact date when I last ate a chocloate chip cookie is not something I have recorded in a notebook.  But let’s say 20 years – roughly the time I’ve been away from this city – for argument’s sake.

Tonight, I sat down with a cup of coffee (tea is a thing of the other side of the pond) and a couple of chocolate chip cookies.  They looked sort of like chocolate chip cookies.  They were round, beige and sprinkled with dark spots where the chocolate would be.  They certainly didn’t taste like the chocolate chip cookies of my childhood.  And rather than the size of my palm, they were the size of my thumb.  I think we can safely say that the half-life of the commercially produced chocolate chip cookie is less than twenty years.

But what of the human?

Years ago, I left this country and I abandoned all of my household goods that I did not pack with me.  I gave them to my father because they were my mother’s things and a few old day planners I no longer needed.  I assumed the planners would be shredded and my father would take what he wanted and pitch the rest in the charity bin.  He didn’t.  He avoided dealing with my mother’s things.  When I returned, he gave it all back to me to deal with and to send to charity.

I have spent the last two weeks moving these boxes into my space and opening them to uncover their secrets.  And while they have been boxed away for 20 years, they trigger memories and grief.

Mixed in with the lot are the things I brought from the UK.  In those boxes are my treasures, including photos and journals from long ago that I haven’t read since they were written, but which I could never bear to shred.

Friends say I talk a lot about death and not having much time anymore.  My mother was my age when she moved to this city, just as I have now done.  And a couple of years later she fell sick.  And not long after, she died.  I was just a teen when she got ill and just coming of age when she died.  It has been probably the single most important defining experience of my life.  And I am smack dab in the middle of it again – revisiting my mother’s things and remembering the sound of her voice, the way she walked, and the crazy pink sweater she always wore.  And in my journals, I am meeting again the girl, coming of age, and so full of dreams and ambition – most of which never came true.  We can add ‘yet’ to that sentence, but there are some dreams that are too late to be fulfilled.

There is a lot of grief in these boxes. It is not only the grief of a life half-lived by being cut so short, but the grief of the half-lived life of the one left behind.

I was texting a long-time friend today while I drank my coffee and we were talking about men as we always have; or at least we have, for as long as the half life of a chocolate chip cookie.  Men, she said, only fall in love with young women.  She continued on about the need for perky breasts and of sexual attractiveness being a thing of youth, for women.

I have known her a long time and I value her opinion. I felt punched in the chest.  Is that it, then?  I am not old, but I am not young.  Is it over for me, then?  Should I pack up my sexuality and my love and put them in the charity bin with my mother’s clothes and other ‘items no longer needed?’

What is the half life of a human?

Is it the time it takes to go from well to ill to death?  Is it the time it takes to let one’s goals get detached from one’s dreams? Or is it something perhaps more subtle than that?

As we think, so we become.  We will decay with time – that is the nature of things.  But the rate of decay is dependant on our inner and outer environments.  I am sad for the girl who forgot her dreams. I am sad for the woman whose life was cut short.  Loss is a part of life and grief comes with that loss.  There is loss and grief that comes with middle age.  But our beliefs shape our reality.

Recently the young SP-, who unwittingly challenges me to face myself and my dreams in a bittersweet fashion, said to me of my dreams: “it’s never too late.”  Whether, from his position of youth, he believed what he said or not, I do.

The half-life of the human comes when we make the decision to let our beliefs rob us of the remaining half our life because we don’t believe that it is ours for the taking, any more.

Photo: Francesco Gallarotti

I am grateful for SP- who not only throws up the mirror of who I might have been, but inspires me to start again. And I am grateful for Addila and CM who remind me all the time that people our age are highly productive and that dreams are just wishes unless they are our life’s purpose. Wishes are not to be taken seriously, but purpose ought to become our guiding force.

I am grateful for the friend who exposed her limiting beliefs so that I had the opportunity to take the time to examine my own.  And, I am grateful for the crazy, messy, non-linear narrative that has been my life.  It didn’t go the way I dreamed it would but it has been eventful and made me the insightful, loving and grateful person with sore knees and laugh lines, that I am, today.  It isn’t over yet and if I don’t fall victim to my mother’s genetics, I have a long way to go, yet.

Joy is hard to come by at this moment and that nostalgic rest break with a chocolate chip cookie sure fell short of it, like much of nostalgia does.  It is a melancholy state.  But, I anticipate being on the other side of this traumatic process and setting off on those dreams again and that will be a joy.

As I look at my mother’s things, I feel that she is around me and that Oneness with her is a gift, albeit one that comes with rust.  My service is to honour the ghosts that this time in my life has presented me – my mother and my youth.  They’re both gone now, but in being remembered, their half life can serve as a reminder that life is short and the end comes unpredictably and all too soon. Although we are in the process of decay from the day of our birth, we make the choice, with the beliefs we choose to hold on to, about whether we live each day fully.

It is that choice which gives the meaning to the half of our lives we have left.

 

For what are you grateful this week?

Art, Art, Articles, Photography

C. Michael Frey: Heart in the Clouds

September 9, 2016

In a city like Los Angeles, whole industries are based on revision of reality.  One Georgia-born artist, turned LA native, C. Michael Frey, seeks to capture the sublime in the every day world.  His exhibition “Clouds” is currently showing in Eagle Rock, Los Angeles.  With this collection, Frey invites viewers to “get lost in a sense of wonderment and escape.”

Frey achieved a B.F.A. in painting and drawing from the Lamar Dodd School of Art at the University of Georgia and later moved to New York City to pursue his art.  There, Frey worked in a commercial photographer’s studio, where he honed his skills in digital illustration and photographic retouching.  An award winning artist, Frey’s work has been featured in advertising campaigns, on album covers, and in magazines such as The New York Times, New York Magazine, Numéro, V, and Wired.

We caught up with Frey in Los Angeles about his upcoming exhibition of Clouds, and his other current works.

 

C. Michael Frey with his “Clouds” series. Photo: Lisa Osborne

 

TTDOG: Tell us about the move from painting and digital design to photography.  Why Clouds?

CMF:  I’ve always used photography as part of my creative process, so I don’t really feel I’ve moved away from painting.  It’s more of an exploration of another medium that has happened organically.

The Cloud photos weren’t really planned.  I moved to Los Angeles about ten years ago from New York and the sky feels so different here.  It’s expansive and seems limitless.  If I’m having a bad day or feeling stressed, I can easily escape in nature by taking a walk around the neighborhood or going for a hike.  The open sky puts things in perspective.  We seldom have clouds, but when we do the sunsets are often amazing.  I started photographing these moments and really wanted to capture the drama of the clouds and take a subject that is generally seen as pedestrian in art and reveal the sublime nature of these clouds.  Clouds are representative of the creative process itself: daydreaming and romanticism.  There is a quote by Henry David Thoreau: “you must not blame me if I do talk to clouds.”  This communion with and escape to nature and finding divinity in nature that the Transcendentalists strived for really resonates with me.

 

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From the Clouds series by C. Michael Frey. Photo courtesy of the artist.

 

Romanticism is about the heart and idealism.  Clouds are great symbols of idealism to me.  I tend to wear my heart on my sleeve so not engaging my heart isn’t really an option.

 

TTDOG: When you say spirituality in this context, do you mean Judeo-Christian concepts of heaven being in the sky?

CMF: It can mean that, but it doesn’t have to.  Even in non western and pagan traditions, the sky is held in high regard, often where the gods reside.  But specifically for me, spirituality is about a connectedness to our environment.  It’s more about recognizing the power of Nature and how there’s a seemingly “other” world happening above us all the time.

 

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From the Clouds series by C. Michael Frey. Photo courtesy of the artist.

 

TTDOG:  What is your creative process?  Does it differ for photography, art and design?

CMF: With painting I always have a clear idea of what I want to paint and a plan before I take paintbrush to canvas.  I mostly paint people and photography has been instrumental in capturing subjects and developing the image I want to create.  Usually a subject will sit for me and I take a series of photographs.  I’ll edit the shoot and pick my favourites and then start manipulating them on the computer until they are close to what I want to recreate in a painting.  I’ll print out images I refer to while I’m painting.  But it’s not so much about just recreating what I see.  It’s about the feeling.  When I paint someone’s portrait, I really want to show their essence.  Georgia O’Keefe said: “Nothing is less real than realism.  Details are confusing.  It is only by selection, by elimination, by emphasis, that we get at the real meaning of things.”  This really sums up what I’m trying to accomplish as a painter.

 

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C. Michael Frey in his studio. Photo: Tania D. Campbell

 

With photography it’s a much more simplified process that’s about being in the moment and being a witness to that moment.  I capture what I see in front of me.  There’s no planning and I’m not controlling the subject.  With the Clouds photo series, I’m zooming in on details to find something that’s compelling.  In a way it’s much more freeing than developing a painting that I spend weeks working on.  The tedious part comes with editing thousands of images down to the best ones and getting the printing right.  With the Clouds series, I wanted to capture the same ephemeral nature of clouds with the printing, so I had them mounted on acrylic to get a sense of lightness and light.  It also helps the colours to pop and gives the images a gem-like quality.

Graphic design is a totally different animal that requires a mindset that is often the opposite of what I’m doing when I paint or take photographs for myself.  With design, I’m always trying to communicate to a specific audience for a client.  It’s not about my message.  I may be using many of the same tools, but the goals are different.  In creating art, whether it be a painting or photograph, I’m trying to inspire or challenge a viewer to think about things or view things differently, which can sometimes be uncomfortable.  With graphic design, you generally aren’t trying to challenge the viewer.  It’s more about positive engagement and commerce.  Good design usually makes the viewer feel good whereas good art may leave the viewer crying in the fetal position.

 

TTDOG:  Goodness! I’m not going to your gallery with you!

CMF: I meant that more figuratively but I did have someone start bawling in front of one of my paintings, once.

 

TTDOG:  I think if I were to start bawling in front of your cloud series, it would be in a healing way; they are full of joy and love and even innocence.

CMF: Yes, and it’s actually a big change in the subject matter of my work.  The paintings of my earlier years are very dark, intense and melancholy.

 

TTDOG:  To what do you attribute this change?

CMF: Mostly, deciding that being an artist doesn’t have to be about suffering.  At 41, I’ve also become content in who I am as a person.  Presently, life is more about what I can accomplish now and being happy in the moment rather than struggling to figure it all out.

 

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Frey in his home with his French bulldog, Lola. Photo: Tania D. Campbell

 

TTDOG:  I know that you paint from a sense of deep connection to something bigger than yourself.  Do you experience the same connection with photography?

CMF: They are very different experiences.  When I’m painting I can go into a very meditative state where I lose track of time and really just start feeling what I’m creating.  There’s a flow to it where I feel like I start to channel that creative muse.  There is also a lot of time spent just looking and thinking.  There is something very therapeutic about it that I don’t experience from anything else.

 

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Frey, at work in his studio. Photo: Tania D. Campbell

 

Photography is much more about a single moment in time.  It can actually be frustrating because the camera separates you from the subject.  The real challenge in photography is capturing what the subject is making you feel.

 

TTDOG:  How much of the feel of the cloud photos is from digital manipulation?  What do you make of those purists who define photography as only that which is captured in camera?

CMF: For the Cloud photos, there is very little digital manipulation beside some colour tweaks to make prints match what I’m seeing on screen.  For the most part they are cropped the way I have shot them.  I try to find the most interesting moment happening at the time and shoot many frames so I have options.

I can understand why some people define photography that way, but I’m no purist.  It gets boring to have too many rules.

 

TTDOG:  Your photographs in the cloud series have a painterly quality to them.  Some of them have a feel of a Rothko or an Agnes Martin, in that the colour and subtle gradations draw the viewer in to a meditative state.  How, if at all, do you think your painting has influenced your photography?

CMF: That’s a very flattering comparison.  Thank you.  My most recent paintings have been minimalist portraits that use colour gradients.  I’ve become interested in the way colour and subtlety can have an impact, rather than spelling everything out with great detail and realism.  That interest has definitely carried over to my cloud photos.  I like the idea of breaking things down to their most basic parts.

 

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From the Clouds series by C. Michael Frey. Photo courtesy of the artist.

 

Minimalism is very freeing, I think.  It allows you to see things you’ve never noticed before in a new way.  It’s amazing to me how a single colour can evoke emotion.

 

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From the Clouds series by C. Michael Frey. Photo courtesy of the artist.

 

I want people to have an emotive response through colour when seeing my work but it’s not as simple as if I paint someone’s portrait in blue that I want them to feel sad.  Mostly I’m using colour, when I paint, to relate to the individual I’m painting.  I guess it’s more about how I see them and the aura they give off.  With the clouds, I don’t have any control over that.

Of course I’m in control of what I choose to photograph.  But how the subject changes while I’m photographing, I have no control over.  I love the ephemeral nature of the Clouds for that reason.  If I’m not fast enough I can miss out.

 

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From the Clouds series by C. Michael Frey. Photo courtesy of the artist.

 

And definitely through the editing process, it’s all about what speaks to me and what I find interesting.

I have a long work history working in print so I’ve learned the technical ins and outs of how to get a print to look the way you want.  But, having a printer who you are confident in is definitely vital.  Luckily most printers these days have colour profiles available if you are making digital c-prints.  But, there is still a lot of trial and error.

 

TTDOG:  Who are your influences?

CMF: In general, I really love old masters like Caravaggio, Vermeer, Rembrandt, Jacques-Louis David.  I’ve always been drawn to figurative work and especially artists who know how to manipulate light and expertly render the human form.  Cindy Sherman has been a big influence on the subject matter of my painting.  I used to primarily paint self portraits and have always been drawn to exploring the concepts of identity and perception.

 

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“MIKHI” by C. Michael Frey. Acrylic on wood panel. Photo provided courtesy of the artist

 

The cloud photos have been a big change in the type of art I make.  When creating the cloud photos, I thought a lot about William Turner’s cloud study paintings.  His expressive use of colour captures the power of nature in a way that I wanted to communicate through these photos.  It also made me think a lot about color theory and has influenced my recent portraits which are much more minimalist in colour.  I’ve developed a great appreciation for modern minimalist artists that play with colour and spectrum like Josef Albers, Elisworth Kelly and James Turrell.

 

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From the Clouds series by C. Michael Frey. Photo courtesy of the artist.

 

TTDOG:  You mentioned colour theory before, when we were looking at some artworks together.  Can you explain more about that for those of us who are unfamiliar with it?

CMF: Color theory is understanding how different colours relate to each other and how they interact when they are combined.  Color created by light and color created by pigment work very differently.  It can get rather technical and complicated, especially when you are trying to get a photograph to match what you are seeing on a digital screen.

Colour created through light is additive.  If you combine Red, Green and Blue, you get white and there are millions of colour variations.  The opposite is true with paint, which is subtractive.  Mixing those colours together in pigment would leave you with a muddy mess.  And the spectrum is much more narrow with pigments:  there are only thousands of colours that can be reproduced.

 

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“LISKA” by C. Michael Frey. Acrylic on wood panel. Photo provided courtesy of the artist

 

TTDOG: You have some pretty exciting work that has come out of this collection.  Tell us about that.

CMF:  Yes, Urban Outfitters recently contacted me about doing an artist partnership with them using some of my Cloud images.  The images will be printed on a variety of products like tapestries and bedding as well as clothing.  The first pieces of the line will be available this coming holiday season.

 

TTDOG: Will there be more photo series?

CMF:  I intend to continue photographing clouds as long as they are in the sky, which is hopefully a few more years, at least.  I’m not sure where this series will lead; I’m just going to see where it goes naturally.  I’ve been thinking of ideas for how to mix the Cloud images with painting.  But in my heart, I’m more of a painter than a photographer.  Ideally I’d like to be able to work successfully in a variety of mediums, and for there to still be a common thread that can be seen.

 

TTDOG: Artists have a certain reputation for being free spirits and promiscuous.  But you are married, settled and stable.  How has this helped or hindered your work?

CMF: For the most part it’s given me the space and ability to work freely without having to worry so much about income.  My husband, Tim, is very supportive of my work.  If anything I’m sure he wishes I were more prolific and spent more time painting.  It is challenging to work as a freelance designer and manage my time so that I have time to paint.

 

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“TIM” by C. Michael Frey. Acrylic on wood panel. Photo provided courtesy of the artist

 

In western culture we have a very romanticized view of the ‘starving artist.’  When I was younger, I had the notion that one needed a lot of drama and sadness in their life to be an artist.  That’s not very sustainable or interesting after a certain age.  I’m very grateful for the happiness I’ve found being in a happy, long term marriage.  It’s been freeing for me to let go of my preconceived notions of what life as an artist and particularly a gay man, should look like.  I’m not really one to look back and question what could have been.  Life is a journey about learning, and I’m grateful for the choices I’ve made that have led me to the life I have today.

 

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Portraits by C. Michael Frey. Photo provided courtesy of the artist

 

TTDOG: You have exhibited Clouds in a West Hollywood shop at now an Eagle Rock craft beer tasting room.  They are not conventional venues.  What made you choose to show this collection in this way?  Why do you suppose more artists are exhibiting in this way?

CMF: I originally showed my Cloud series at TENOVERSIX in West Hollywood.  The owners are great friends of mine and I’ve been doing design work for them since they opened.  They’ve an amazing eye for everything from fashion to housewares to art.  I was honoured that they showed my Cloud photos.

Craft Beer Cellar, where I’m showing the Clouds from Saturday night is in Eagle Rock, a couple of blocks from my house.  They opened about a year ago and recently started showing art.  I’ve become friends with the owners and asked them if they would be willing to show my work.  Eagle Rock has a unique art and social scene and in many ways feels more like a small town than just a neighborhood in LA.  I haven’t been showing my work in Los Angeles until recently.  I’ve mostly been focused on my graphic design business and haven’t been putting my art out there.  Honestly, I find the art world extremely intimidating, but I’m getting over that and am taking the first steps to have my work seen.

 

C. Michael Frey hanging his Cloud series at Craft Beer Cellar in Eagle Rock. Photo: Lisa Osborne

 

I think more artists are showing their work in unconventional spaces because there is so much competition out there for gallery shows , and there are also just a lot more interesting spaces that people can interact with your work these days.  But non-gallery spaces like coffee shops and restaurants have always been great starting points for getting your work out there so people can see it. You have to start somewhere.

 

TTDOG: What’s next for you?

CMF: I really hope to show more of my work in the coming year, get in some group shows, and hopefully have a solo show in a gallery.  I’m going to continue to grow my portrait series and cloud photos.  I’d love to create a book with the Clouds, but the expense of printing a fine art book is rather prohibitive.  If I could find a publisher, that would be wonderful.

 

TTDOG:  Where do you find your greatest joy and for what are you most grateful?

CMF:  I find my greatest joy in sharing food with friends and loved ones.  I love to cook – it’s a quick creative outlet that helps me be more social and share my talents with other people.  There’s something very comforting about providing nourishment for others.  We host a weekly potluck for friends that has become something I look forward to each week.

 I’m most grateful for my relationship with my husband.  Tim is my rock.  He’s my biggest support, but he also grounds me, gives me very practical critiques in my design work and art, and keeps me balanced.

 

***UPDATE:  Clouds will be showing again from 6 Feb-12 Feb at Space 15 Twenty, 1520 N Cahuenga Blvd, Los Angeles, CA 90028.  Closing event  will be held on 12 Feb 11am- 2pm***

(Previously, there was a Clouds opening event Saturday, 10 September, at Craft Beer Cellar at 5 p.m. as part of the NELA Second Saturday Art Walk.  Craft Beer Cellar is located at 1353 Colorado Blvd, Los Angeles, CA 90041.  Tel: 323-206-5164.)

 

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“Clouds” by C. Michael Frey, exhibiting 10 September – 30 September at Craft Beer Cellar. Photo: Lisa Osborne

Images from the exhibition will be on sale at the shop and tap room and via Frey’s website.  The show runs now through the end of September.

 

For more on C. Michael Frey, follow him at:

Frey Art and Design;

Instagram; and

Facebook.

To commission Frey, send him an email at:

michael@cmichaelfrey.com

Articles, Milestone, Ten Thousand Days

Voices of the TTDOG Community: A Gratitudeaversary

September 5, 2016
Photo: Ian Schneider

Photo: Ian Schneider

Gratitude, Joy, Oneness and Service (Day 725 – Day 738)

Last month we celebrated our first year as TTDOG and 2 years of personal gratitude practice.  When we reached the first milestone of a year of personal gratitude practice, I threw a party in London.  This year has been much more subdued in terms of celebrations.  This milestone comes in the midst of the most stressful, chaotic and manic-paced 4 months of recent memory.  The pace may slow down soon (I hope) and while I had anticipated this would be a challenging time, and tried to set things in motion to cover my absence from TTDOG, things don’t always work out as we plan.  We haven’t been posting much here at TTDOG.

When we hit 365 days, I was grateful for all the people in my life because without them, there would be nothing to write.  I am even more so, now.  We knew that keeping up with the website during this challenging time would be difficult but we wanted to do something meaningful to mark the milestone.  Since community has been a key theme in the past year, we put a call out to the community to help create a milestone post and you responded.

With gratitude, we are delighted to present the voices of TTDOG’s community on our gratitudeaversary!

Photo: Annie Spratt

Photo: Annie Spratt

URSPO is one of TTDOG’s most dedicated readers and a writer in his own right.  We have followed one another’s writing for nearly a decade.  I am personally delighted each time he takes a few moments to write a comment.  His words are always well considered, insightful and advance the conversation.  Candidly, it means a lot to me to know that the time I take in reflective practice and in writing about it publicly is having an impact on others – even if it is only one person.  I would still do the practice, but doing it publicly is a vulnerable action that I need not undertake.  While there are likely lurkers out there reading and not commenting, it is satisfying to know that it means something to someone.  We are grateful for all the comments from URSPO since our first day of practice and we asked him to share a little about what being part of this community has meant to him:

“I have been a regular reader of TTDOG for some time. I am very glad to be part of the blog. I’ve had many delights from reading its prose; I have greatly benefited from the entries. The chief lesson from Tania’s blog is gratitude, of course. She continually reminds us to look for the gratitude in all that happens in our lives. 

There is always something for which to be grateful. This is not mere complacent wish-thinking. Studies show when we focus on the positive it trains our brains to think positively and be healthy in our approaches.

A happy consequence of her posts is I do not lose touch of gratitude. She comforts me; she stiffens my spine when I feel despondent. I start each day with the prayer “I thank thee lord for thou hast given me another day’. When I need help I evoke Tania and find the gratitude. I feel grateful for her and her journey. I am honored to be part of it.”

 

Photo: Joshua Earle

Photo: Joshua Earle

 

At the annual gratitude celebration, our friend Faith Romeo took on the task of making sure that everyone wrote 3 things for which they were grateful on the wall at the Canvas Café.  For many people this was easy.  For some, however, this was deeply challenging and brought up all sorts of emotions.  Faith helped me to identify the people who were facing emotional challenges with being grateful so that we could sit together and could come out the other side. Everyone left the event with an understanding that gratitude isn’t about having an ideal life or even a fulfilling life but that by working through the small wonders in our day, we can build our emotional resilience to be able to take on the challenges that keep us from being fulfilled.  I would like to believe that the event was the start of a transformational journey for some.

Faith shared with us her thoughts on the journey she has taken alongside TTDOG:

“When I attended the launch of Ten Thousand Days of Gratitude in the Canvas Café last year, things were going well in my personal life but could have been better in my working life. I had left my job as a teaching assistant to look after my son who’s behaviour had become unstable following a diagnosis of ADHD and was working in a unsatisfying job that was personally unrewarding.

Following the party, I decided to adopt a more positive approach to life, an attitude of gratitude, if you will. I applied and was accepted as a volunteer youth wellbeing trainer for a charity that delivers mindfulness and wellbeing sessions to young people. Part of this scheme is that I have to develop my own mindfulness practice, which has been very beneficial to me but also to those around me too. In the last year since the launch of TTDOG there have been a lot of changes in my life.

I got married in November to my long term partner and have never been more happy or fulfilled. I feel very fortunate to have a loving husband and son and never forget how lucky I am to have both. I returned to teaching assistant work in January. It took working under a terrible manager for me to realise that I needed to leave a job I didn’t like. Since returning to teaching assistant work I am working in a lovely school, with some amazing children. I can honestly say that this is my vocation and I feel incredibly lucky to be working in a job that I love.”

Photo: Daniel Watson

Photo: Daniel Watson

Seeing gratitude practice transform others has been one of the highlights of the last two years for me, personally.  With gratitude, we added joy, when a long time friend, Paula Montgomery started posting about moments of joy in her life.  We noticed that gratitude practice created that joy and so, in the first year of practice, we made that connection more explicit in our writings.  TTDOG is grateful to Paula for that prompt.  And in turn, it is rewarding to hear that she, too, has gained something from the experience:

“Since being part of the Ten Thousand Days of Gratitude community and having the chance to reflect on gratitude on my life, I have become less angry and judgemental. I find that having gratitude for what I have in my life, instead of focusing on what I don’t have, takes the edge off my demeanor and makes me more understanding. I have some unhappy negative people around me who complain about everything and everyone, and knowing that we all have allot to be grateful for helps me keep a positive perspective, and to feel better about my life.

I am very grateful for a community that reminds me everyday that I have much to be grateful for! Thank you.”

Photo: Thomas Kelley

Photo: Thomas Kelley

I am delighted to present to you some of the key voices that have been part of this journey.  The community that keeps me accountable to keep coming back to the basic practice.  This summer has been tough.  The last 18 months have been tough.  Honestly, the last 3 years have been tough.  But this practice really has been like drinking an emotional energy drink.  Without taking the time to come back to and reflect upon those things for which I am grateful, the moments of everyday joy, my sense of oneness with something greater than myself and the reminder to give back, life really would be meaningless, for me.  When we have meaning, we can withstand any temporary trials, stresses, health concerns and problems because we are living a life of purpose.  My purpose, I hope, is to make the world a better place, by the way that I live.

This year, I chose to feature several people who also seem to be living their life on purpose to make the world a better place and to build up that community of positive change makers.  And so, we went back to the seminal moment that prompted that series – an article about the charitable work of Dr. Alicia Altorfer-Ong.  Writing to us from Asia, she said:

“I think you are the community.  The value of the springboard that you’ve given each person is in affirming, encouraging, incubating.  I often enjoy the “work” — the gritty and backstage bits — but not so much talking about it, because of the attention.  Yet if we don’t tell people about what’s being done out there, we might miss an opportunity to teach touch or inspire.  

The world needs connectors: people who seek nothing else than to bring others together.

I am grateful for the chance to have shared an episode/a belief/an anecdote in my life on TTDOG.  I also appreciate the power and energy that I felt from reading about the others who were profiled.”

It has been a great journey for me, personally, these last two years.  In many ways, the first year was so much easier.  I was buoyed with the next milestone – one month, three months, six months, a year!  Then the spectre of more than 27 years (Ten Thousand Days) of practice hit me, in the second year.  This cannot be a project.  This must become a way of living, if I am to achieve Ten Thousand Days.  And so, in year two, the hard work began.

None of us is an island, and we need to draw inspiration from others.  I have been so fortunate to have been able to bring you feature articles about artists and musicians and people living their lives on purpose to make the world a better place.  James Wheale completed a crowdfunding campaign to install a sustainable pedal power energy source in the garden, and has brought new life into the world with the birth of his first son, this month.  Action for Happiness has celebrated their 5 year anniversary and continues to grow its membership worldwide.  Alexandra Jackman has become a contributing writer for Huffington Post and honoured with a university scholarship to be able to continue her education that will ultimately involve advocating for people on the autism spectrum.  Elie Calhoun completed her crowd funding campaign and together with Code Innovation, is working on developing a rape crisis counselling app for survivors.  Wrdsmth, Matthew Del Degan and Louis Masai have continued to thrive as artists, bringing their messages of inspiration, love and animal welfare across North America and Europe.

There are so many good news stories out there and so many good news moments in our lives.  I don’t expect that the next 365 days will be easy.  In fact, I anticipate that they will be very personally challenging with changes in my circumstances and personal life.  But nobody said that living gratefully was always easy.  I am individually grateful to CM, FR and LK who always remind me to come back to my practices when things get too difficult.  Although it is difficult to carve out time to sleep, let alone write at the moment, it is a joy to sit with you readers and disclose myself each time.  I feel a sense of communion and oneness with you, known and unknown readers and it is my ardent hope that if you’re having a bad day, week, month, or year – coming here gives you that sense of community as well.  My service is simply to dedicate myself once again to keep showing up and together, I hope that the process creates meaning, for both of us.

Who knows where we will be in another 365 days?  I hope that wherever it is, we arrive gratefully, safe, and together.
Photo: Evan Kirby

Photo: Evan Kirby

For what are you grateful this week, month, year?

 

Ten Thousand Days

Someone Like You

August 16, 2016
Photo: David Marcu

Photo: David Marcu

Gratitude, Joy, Oneness and Service (Day 714 – Day 724)

Recently I had a wonderful but all too short lunch meeting with a close friend.  I talked up a storm – more than I normally do – because time was so short and there was so much I wanted to share.  As we were dining and talking, the background music seemed to break in and become a part of the conversation, on a number of occasions.  He asked me a question and it touched on something emotional for me.  Just then, Adele began to sing a very sad song and for a brief moment, I lost my words.

I believe that when something catches our attention like that, we are either selectively creating our own reality or we are being called by Spirit to pay attention, because this is important.  In that moment, both were a part of the experience.

I spent many years in a relationship with a man, the second love of my live, P-.  After we broke up, we remained friends.  He cried on my shoulder when his childhood sweetheart later broke up with him and it was that very song, by Adele, that made him cry for her.   It was as though he had lost his soulmate but was trying to deny it, by forcing himself to remember that there will be someone else in his life who will replace her.

P- is a big fan of Tim Minchin and he is a scientist.  He does not believe in God, or Spirit or any ‘signs from the universe.’  Tim has a song “If I Didn’t Have You” that debunks the idea of soulmates and someone being “the one.”  P- loves that song; I always found that to be rather unflattering, as his girlfriend.  I don’t believe we can replace anyone with another person, but I also never really believed that there is only one person we can love in our lifetime.  Had I believed that, I never would have dated again, after the breakup with the first love of my life.  But then again, I did choose someone very much like him, when I fell in love a second time.

So there I was, sitting with my friend, who is around the same age these men were, when I met them, and the ghosts of these other men were interjecting themselves into the conversation. Why was my attention being called to these men?  Certainly, SP- is super intelligent like both of these men, but I don’t think I was being called to pay attention to the similarities between these men.  Since that meeting, I have become aware of the way I have, in the past, created a reality that both projected and rejected the reality of “me.”  And so it was, with both the first and second loves of my life.  My friend SP- is the first remarkable man with whom I can be present and feel confident in being more myself than I ever have been.

Authenticity is a catchword these days but there are very few truly authentic people.  I don’t believe we try to deceive others about who we are.  I think we play that game on ourselves.  We are all afraid of failure, of being seen as weird, of not being loved, and many of us are afraid of being found fundamentally unloveable if we are really seen for who we really are. Our soul would be annihilated if that were to happen.  So we become someone we are not, and we often don’t even know the difference.  We become someone ‘like’ ourselves, but not ourselves at all.

There is a concept in psychology that we project the disowned parts of ourselves onto others.  When we hate something in someone it is probably because we hate it in ourselves, but we can’t bear to believe it is part of our personality.  And similarly, when we love something about someone – it is because we cannot love that part of ourselves.

By loving and losing the first and second loves of my life, I learned to own my intelligence and to walk away from a relationship when it was causing me emotional and psychological harm.  I learned that it was okay that I not save someone who is damaged and unwilling to walk through the hell that would lead to their healing.  I learned to begin to put my wellbeing at the centre of my life.  What I didn’t learn was to accept myself as I am and to accept my destiny as my own.

Someone Like You.  What an odd song to act as the vehicle to deliver a message.  Yes, SP- is someone like them.  Yet what strikes me are the ways he is like ME – he mirrors so many of my own dreams and values.  He may not know it because I tend to skate past it when he talks about the dreams and values we share.  It freaks me out a little to hear someone speak the things I only aspire to be.  It forces me to confront myself.

I was looking at a home today and oddly, the real estate agent started talking about living one’s dreams.  This has been on my mind very much for the last few months.  It is so easy to settle and let things go and to use the excuse of duty or practicality to let fear push aside our dreams.  I did this for most of my life.  Life is but an instant and I feel its preciousness now, more than ever.  I don’t want to compromise my dreams again.  We talked about London and about friends that travel.  I told the agent about SP- and how we share many of the same values and dreams and how he is really only beginning the journey of adulthood.

‘I can’t help but think…’ I started.

‘Where was he, when you were 25…?’ she offered.

No, actually.  That wasn’t what I was thinking.  In fact, I wasn’t ready to pursue my dreams at 25 and I think we would not have been friends, had we met then.  I am so grateful we have become friends now, but I feel sad for that woman – so like me – yet unable to give herself permission to be.

I can’t help but think of what she might have achieved.

I hope SP- achieves his potential and fulfills all his dreams.  With all my heart, I want the best for him.  I want to see him have a life of laughter, love, health and success – as he defines it.  And at the same time, I selfishly do feel grief, for myself, for all those years I wasted.

“Who would know how bittersweet this would taste?”

I am grateful for my friendship with SP-.  He is so solid and steadfast and without guile or pretense.  We work our whole lives to shed all that armour and be who we are.  And there he is, simply being.  As they say, when the student is ready, the teacher appears.

I am grateful for O- and P- , the first and second loves of my life.  They acted as signposts on my journey as I travelled back to the same spot over and over and found someone like that someone I had loved and lost.  They were simply holding up the mirror so that I could see that someone was “me.”

I am grateful for the place I am in my life.  I feel vulnerable as hell and in a tumult half of the time.  Many days I return to that feeling of despair that pervaded my twenties.  But something good is possible out of all of this, and as SP- unwittingly holds up the mirror of my un-lived dreams, I find joy in being able – if only for a millisecond – to give myself permission to imagine REALLY leaving the world of expectations, stepping outside of fear, and living the life I was born to live.  Why it should be this hard to do, I don’t know…but I was meant to travel this journey this lifetime. I hope I can master the lesson this time around.

With each of these men, I have experienced a different kind of connection and Oneness. With O- and with P-, I really wanted and felt I needed them to be the life partner that would live out our dreams together.  But, we had different dreams and so, I was too scared to make a go of mine, alone.  Now, I have met a friend who returns me again to that crossroads of opportunity and compromise.  Through his fresh perspective, I glimpse again my own dreams, and he inspires me to move beyond my perceived need for a partner, to grow beyond my limits of fear, to consider living my dream on my own terms…and then to invite others to join me, where and when our journeys coincide.

I am being called to pay attention to myself, in the most fundamental of ways, and to create the reality of my choosing.

My service in all of this is perhaps to recognize and to own my projections and see them for what they are.  At the same time, I have been given the gift of being able to see my friend for the glorious, wondrous, gifted and beautiful person that he is, and the opportunity to do for my friend what was not done for me: to do my best to hold space for him and his dreams, and to delight in watching him blossom, without imposing my ideas (I fail sometimes at that, but I can be a bit opinionated).  I hope we will be friends for a long long time, and I have even allowed myself to consider what it might be like for him to see me blossom.  As my mirror, I am aware that this is also my way of trying out how it would feel for me to see myself living my own dreams.

I can start to see that woman in that picture.  She’s not quite there yet, but when that woman finds her way, she will find that she is someone talented, inspiring, beautiful, loving and infinitely loveable.  She will find a woman that is someone like me.

 

For what are you grateful, today?

Ten Thousand Days

Time Passes, Life Changes, Love Remains

August 5, 2016
Photo: Paul Earle

Photo: Paul Earle

Gratitude, Joy, Oneness and Service (Day 704 – Day 713)

In my late twenties, I moved to New York City.  I remember seeing a hand crafted metal bracelet in some little boutique. The artist had etched words into the surfaces of grey metal cubes that, as it wrapped around my wrist, told a story over and over again.  It was a simple story;  the story we all hope to live.

It read:  Time passes, life changes, love remains.

I was young but I had already lived enough to know that this was a rare story but it was the story that I wanted for my life.  I bought the piece and wore it as a talisman to help draw in the love that I wanted.  I am a romantic and an idealist.  I hoped to fall in love and have a partnership that would tell that story.  Over the years, finding partners was easy.  Finding a match, however, was not.

Time passes.  This is the cruelest truth of our western existence.  We idolize youth but it is such a short span in our lives.  When we are young, we believe that time stretches out before us forever.  When we have spent some of that precious time, we realize that the next moment has never been guaranteed.  The moment has gone and it will never come again.  Standing silently, unnoticed in the continual flow from what is next to what is past is the only thing that is real:  the present moment.  The only right time for anything is ‘now.’

But most of us don’t manage to live in the moment – and if we do, it is for fleeting moments, before we are carried away by our to do list and our regrets.  And so, we live forever in a race to the next moment where change is a constant.  But it is not the change in our circumstances that matters in our story.  It is the way in which our circumstances change us, in this moment, that dictates how we will write our narrative.

I was in Los Angeles just a few days ago.  Coming to Vancouver, I have lost the person I worked hard to become.  I found her again for long moments in LA –  in the gaps in the passing of time.  It wasn’t the circumstances of being in Los Angeles or with beloved friends that brought me to life again.  It was the way I was able to react to being there.  I managed to do the kind of work that I love, while I was there, and it was effortless.  I was able to connect with loved ones and I was able to laugh.  I was able to look at great art and to let it change me.

I love to look at paintings by Mark Rothko.  It is not a quick glance but a long and lingering gaze.  It is a meditation.  And when I sit for 30 minutes looking at a single painting I could swear that it morphs, before my eyes.  His paintings are like portals to another dimension just beyond my perception.  Slowly, with enough attention and relaxation, I become present with the painting in the moment.   I am able to see through the eyes of the artist that created it, and experience the love of creation.  It is me that changes and it is me that is revealed in the looking.  Art may seem to change as we look at it.  But it is we who can be transformed, if we allow it.

Like that bracelet, time seems to wrap around our life, bringing changes, but we are returned to the same point over and over again.  The question is: can we be present to it when it happens?  Sometimes there is rough edge on the links that keeps catching and drawing us back.  If we can be present and really look, we can see through the eyes of the artist that created our bracelet.  We will see where the rough edges need to be smoothed so we can stop catching.  If we file the bracelet too aggressively, it will break.  It can be mended but there will forever be a weakness where it was broken.  If we want to keep the block that reads “Love Remains” we must bring love and care to the snag.

 

While I was in LA, I had the chance to spend time with old and new friends.  It is a joy to have these men in my life.  They model for me new ways of relating to men.

I am grateful for a new friendship with TCLA.  His caring wisdom has been fortifying for me.

I am grateful to have spent time with CM whose unconditional love is one of the most transformative experiences in my life.  I am grateful to have met him and that he remains such a positive force in my life for so long.   His wisdom and counsel helps me to approach the snags of my life in a whole-hearted way.

I have tried over and over but life keeps snagging in one particular spot.  I find it difficult to be grateful for this.  But I am grateful to LK for pointing out that love begets love.  That doesn’t mean that love is always reciprocated.  But, only by approaching life with love can we attract the love we want.  I find myself in the discomfort of anger over the shape and contours of this snag.  Anger is the right response and anger – although scary – is a fiery emotion that brings about change.  We need fire to forge the metal into the blocks that make up a bracelet and we need fire to  solder the metal links of the bracelet, but uncontrolled fire can melt the entire thing into a puddle of molten metal.  We must use fire to transform, not destroy. Fire is at the heart of a passion and while passion can be scary, without it, we do not have a very interesting story.

My anger has caused me to be sweary and even to slip into feeling hatred at times.  This is uncomfortable.  It is not a person I want to be.  My service this week is to try to find a way to be open hearted and the loving person I want to be, while feeling my anger and allowing it to burn and transform me so that the situation can shift.  As CM points out: transformation is painful. And none of us looks pretty while we are doing it.  We make mistakes, we become the person we don’t want to be and then we change again.  Love is the only thing that gets us through it.

I am grateful that I got to spend some time with SP in LA.  Our friendship is still new, but it is unlike any that I have ever had before.   I am grateful that at a time when I am experiencing anger and disorientation, this friendship is gentle and certain.  No matter where in the world I am, I am connected to this man, and that certainty of Oneness is a kind of Grace.

Let time pass; it will anyway.  But, be present in the moment.  Good or bad, it is all we really have.  Let life change; but let us choose how we are changed by it.  Bring love to every situation and we will see: Love remains.

 

 

For what are you grateful this week?