Monthly Archives: December 2011

Common Ground

I have been working with a gallery in Asheville called Common Ground, and I’m pretty excited about it. The gallery emphasizes recycled, upcycled art. Artists using found materials, discarded household items and lots of natural materials make everything from furniture to jewelry. Donna, the owner, is always looking for new artists to consign with Common Ground.

Her Facebook page,

https://www.facebook.com/pages/Common-Ground/139085086169629

has new work posted every week. I have work there and I’m almost finished with a full-sized desk featuring a mermaid and sea designs.

Please check Common Ground on Facebook!

Advertisements

LOVE ME LIKE A CAT

Annie, my rescue cat, is one of a long line of beloved pets that I’ve been appreciating more and more lately. April 1, I’ll take off for the Appalachian Trail, a lifelong dream that I’ve decided can no longer be ignored. In the meantime, I’m trading cooking and cleaning with a friend in exchange for rent so I can save money for my trip. Annie had no say so in that decision. When I decided to go, I started worrying about her. If I waited until she died, that might be another 15 years or more. Should I put off an opportunity that might never come again? It hurt, and I went through days of feeling guilty as I packed my belongings and gave them away.

A good friend, the one who offered to let me live rent-free in exchange for cooking and cleaning, was happy to take in Annie-and keep her when I leave.

The move has been hard. I’m used to being alone, doing things my way and having complete privacy when I get home from work. My niece called to see how I was doing and I ranted for several minutes about my sudden lack of privacy, wondering if the decision I’d made was going to backfire. Finally I apologized and she said, “Hey, it’s a big adjustment, you need to vent. So how’s Annie handling it?”

“Oh, she hid the first day but she’s been exploring the new territory, claiming the little deck in front, and last night she slept with my roommate!”

It dawned on me that Annie was handling things a lot better than I was. Everything in her world changed overnight. She just coped. Instead of whining about the way things used to be, or the way she thought things were going to be, she coped. She looks at every day as a new experience. Like other pets, she lives in the present. She shrugs her shoulders, holds up her little paws and says “hey, it is what it is. We got any more fish?”

Shamed, I started asking my friends about their own pet lessons and have been pleasantly surprised that they all have a story. My friend, Jill, works for Animal Control and volunteers for an animal rescue group. Her own home is filled with purring, barking and parakeet whistles most of the time.

“No matter how cruelly they’ve been treated, most of the time they forgive as soon as you offer them a kind word and a comforting touch. We had a case recently where two little puppies were abandoned. They were tied to a tree in 100 degree heat with no food or water. The owners tied them up while they moved out. Left them. A neighbor saw them, heard them whimpering, and called us. They just huddled together, scared to death, after they’d been fed and watered. All day we petted those little guys, scratched their ears, and by the next day they had the whole staff crooning over them. We didn’t even keep them in the cage; they were running around the offices, playing and tussling like nothing had happened. If that had been me, or you, we’d have hated all people. We’d have to be in therapy. They forgive, they don’t hold grudges. All they really want is love. And kibble.”

Lesson one, I thought. Be present. This is the best day. This is the best meal. This is the best activity. I made myself pay attention to every minute of laundry that day. I noticed every towel, every sock. I appreciated how clean they were. I folded them carefully as I took them out of the dryer, inhaling their fresh scent. Put away gently in their proper place, I realized how little time it actually took and how different the experience was when I wasn’t checking my watch and wishing I were doing something else. Annie, helped, of course. She pounced on wayward socks and took a short nap on the folded towels.

Cesar Milan, the Dog Whisperer, writes that our pets can teach us more about how to live our lives than we can ever teach them. His book “A Member of the Family” emphasizes how much our pets can teach us about living our lives with joy and purpose. By living in the present, not holding grudges, celebrating each day, giving and receiving love.

We need a purpose, a reason to get up and feel like we’ve accomplished something with each day. Like dogs want to work for their food, so do we. Making art, writing, working at whatever job will pay satisfies me, defines my purpose. I make sure Annie gets to go outside and explore, hunt, do things cats want to do. She needs that. And it’s not so much.

Animals don’t live for revenge or regret, they don’t hold grudges. They deal with an issue when it comes up and then move on. Show your pet kindness and compassion, affection and yes, food, and they will love you with complete abandon. It’s hard to describe the feeling you get when you open your front door after a discouraging day at work and someone jumps off the couch, purring and rubbing your legs, obviously happy that you exist. Annie and her predecessors always wanted to be petted before I fed them. Always.

And that’s the thing I keep coming back to, in all my research and reading. Love. Annie doesn’t care if my neck sags. She doesn’t care that I don’t make a lot of money, or that my car broke down again or that I’m not the prettiest, smartest, or richest. She loves me exactly the way I am. When I’ve been irritated or tired or depressed she has settled in my lap, purring and kneading. Sometimes she sits up and gently pats my face before she settles down. I love you, she’s saying. No matter what.

I’ve been in therapy-who hasn’t anymore? And it’s because I’ve held grudges, fretted that the past will strangle the future, felt frustrated because I wasn’t this or that. Annie says, you are who you are and that’s great with me. She thinks I’m swell, so maybe I should, too.

My neighbor, a vet, smiled when I asked him about his own menagerie, an assortment of animals left at his clinic.

“The only agenda our pets have is loving us,” he said. “Oh, sure, they want to be fed but even that’s greeted with cheerful enthusiasm.” He laughed and said, “Well, with the exception of some picky cats!”

Now, when I find myself irritated with someone’s careless behavior, or when I’m feeling sorry for myself because my life hasn’t been as successful as I wish it had been, I think of Annie. I think of the pets that loved me before her, of all the animals that share our lives without complaint. And I remind myself to be grateful.

I try to savor every bite of everything I eat. I lift my head during my daily walk and look closely at the colors of the leaves, of the patterns in the clouds. I work through my daily chores and appreciate that I can do them, that I have what I need to live, to work toward my goal of hiking the AT in the spring. Annie has given me unconditional love and that, somehow, frees me to love myself the same way.

It’s empowering, this love. It allows you to love others in a richer, more profound way. Try it. Love yourself the way your pets love you, and watch it keep flowing from your pets to you to those around you.

References:

http://www.cesarsway.com/shop/a-member-of-the-family-hardcover

http://www.helium.com/items/1746480-lessons-from-pets

http://www.helpguide.org/life/pets.htm

A new year

OK, not an original title, but there it is. The new year looms large and blank. We have no idea what will happen, and the past few years have manged to shock even me. Things I had never considered have happened.  A black president, natural disasters, financial ruin for even wealthy investors. Well, some wealthy investors. I know this because since I’ve been doing CNA work I have been subjected to more daytime TV than any one person should ahve to bear. CNN and The Talk have been part of my daily life for a few years now. I don’t understand why anyone would willingly subject themselves to hour after hour of drivel and world catastrophe, but then, people have always done things I thought odd.

To get back on track, let’s think about the year coming. We can make some plans, but one thing I’ve learned…over and over..is that plans don’t always work out. Most of the time I’m shooting from the hip, flying by the seat of my pants, making it up as I go along-choose your cliché. Not for lack of planning, but lack of control over events like Nature, the people who own the company, my car’s engine…you get the idea. So this year, while I am still planning to leave in March to hike the Appalachian Trail, I’m just going to keep making as much art as I can, write as much as I can, and sleep wherever I have a place to sleep. I have gotten past expectations-of people and plans and the way The World Turns (daytime TV, I’m, telling you, it infects your brain…)

So, I’m letting go. A friend told me the other night to finish letting go-of my plans and my need to make enough money to buy food and gas and concentrate on making art, on allowing my creativity to mature and grow. We’ll see. I am, in truth, a pragmatist to the core. When things sound too romantic, too breezy, I tend to hunker down and wait, instead of running toward the bright blue horizon. Too many times I ended up flying off a cliff instead of just flying.

Happy New Year.

Christmas thoughts

There’s only a week or so before Christmas and any of us are already in that panicked state that seems to define the month of December. We are beginning to anticipate the gatherings of friends and family, and dread them at the same time. We toggle between giddy happiness and glowering resentment. Old hurts and regrets that we hold at bay the rest of the year loom large now.

Maybe we should let go of childhood beliefs. There is no Santa Claus other than the generosity of our own hearts. WE carry Santa around with us.  Next time you pass a ringing bell for the Salvation Army, drop in a dollar (or whatever you have clinking in your pocket) say Merry Christmas and feel better. I’m not here as a spokesperson for any charity-the pont is to give. To everyone. Don’t keep a little notebook in your pocket to mark down what you got in return. I mean it. Just give. Give your smile, a kind word, hold the door. Help carry the garbage to the curb, make those last copies so your coworker can leave with everyone else, help your classmate edit a  paper so they can enjoy the holidays too.

Do you see ways to help but think, “oh yeah, if I start that he’ll expect me to do it every week and what is he going to do for me?” Stop it. Just stop.

Those of you who are lucky enough to have jobs that give you the holidays off, appreciate that. Now take a look around. Those people in the convenience store? They don’t get Christmas off and no, they don’t get extra pay either. Even if they did, they’re making $8 an hour…big deal. Those people who brought you that holiday special? That nice cold beer? They aren’t getting the holidays off. They’re working overtime. TIP them. Acknowledge that because YOU want to go out on the holidays these people are required to work. The guys who own the businesses are often at home with their families, but not the employees. Please, don’t take it out on them because you have to put up with your mother-in-law for 3 days. Be kind. It’s not that hard. Really.

You’ll feel noble and maybe the holidays won’t seem so dreadful anymore.

Happy Holidays!

Think Outside the Gift Box

It’s holiday time, the time of year Made for TV movies tell us we’re supposed to be happy and appreciate each other and commercials tell us this can only happen if we buy them THIS (whatever the commercial is selling.)

Standing in line at the grocery store, I overheard two guys moaning about buying Christmas presents.

“Oh, man, I don’t know what to get her. My sister said she would pick something up when she’s out shopping. I said fine, I don’t know what to buy…”
“Man, do what I do. Gift cards for everybody. Easy, fast, can’t go wrong.”
I remembered a boyfriend I had (briefly) who whined the same way the one and only Christmas I shared with him. He wanted me to go with him to pick out my Christmas present. I said NO and he ended up getting me a gift card. A generic gift card at the mall. Because I have better raising, I thanked him and kissed his cheek. He opened his gift from me, a hand- held drum I had painted a dragon on. He used to be a drummer and loved to talk about his band days. The drum was something he could play if he felt like it and hang on his wall the rest of the time. He loved my art, and I thought it was a great way to weave the two together. He was actually shocked that I had “gone to so much trouble.” I didn’t think it was trouble. I wanted to show him how much I cared. He still has the drum, but I doubt he tells his new girlfriends where he got it.

My point is, think about the reason for the gifts you’re giving. If you really don’t know what to get your girlfriend, you need to start paying better attention. OK, I’m easy to get presents for, I’ll admit. I write, read, make art, love the outdoors-in other words my personality is obvious. The fact that my ex-boyfriend didn’t know what to get me told me he didn’t care that much. Think about it. He could have gotten a gift card to the bookstore, the art supply store…anything but the mall, for goodness’ sake. I had gone shopping there with him once to get his mother something for Mother’s Day (right, I was supposed to figure this out for him and I hadn’t even met his mother yet…) and I told him then I didn’t like malls. We NEVER went to the mall.

No, this isn’t a rant about that boyfriend. It’s about thinking about the people in your life. Listening, watching, thinking- outside the gift box.

Anything can be a present. Presents are symbols of our relationship with that person. If it’s the girl at the convenience store who always has a bright smile when you stop in for 6AM coffee and helps you get a better start on the day, then give her a holiday card with $10 in it. She can spend it where she wants. She doesn’t make any money (I know, I used to do that work) so money is something she values and needs. Don’t wimp out with a gift card. That’s a sissy way of saying I want to give you money but I can’t be honest about it. She needs money. Give her money.

When I hear guys complaining that they don’t know what to give their girlfriend/wife I want to shout, “Listen to her!” Does she talk about clothes, movies, pop culture? Give her subscription to a classy fashion magazine (not any of those horrible paparazzi rags-boycott those things.) Magazine subscriptions are a surprise and a swell reminder of how you really thought about her. There are great magazines out there for guys too, girls.

If your mother loves to cook, give her something that reflects that. Go into the kitchen department of any major store, or any of the specialty kitchen stores that have popped up all over, and find something interesting she probably wouldn’t buy herself. Ask the staff for suggestions.

Listen to the people in your life. LISTEN. It’s not that hard, but it does take effort. And that’s what I’m talking about. Take the effort to let the people you care about know you care about them. That’s what this holiday is for, I don’t care what religion you are. Or aren’t.

What’s the old James Taylor tune? “Shower the people you love with love, show them the way that you feel.”

Think outside the gift box. Think inside your own heart. Give presents to the people who matter in your life (remember the convenience store clerk? She matters. The guy at work who annoys you with his music doesn’t) and give a cheerful nod and smile to everyone else. You don’t have to spend buckets of money on people. Really. If you pay attention to the people who matter, you will find ways to show them you love them. And that matters more than anything.

Think outside the gift box.

Forward

I’m over being steamed and am happy to say that I no longer get any forwards  I don’t want. I have been cleaning up my own address book and found many addresses in more than one place so make sure when you clean out your address book you go through the entire alphabet!

I’m cleaning up my computer the best I can so my brother doesn’t have a lot of stuff to deal with while I’m on my trip. Please, don’t forward unless you are positive it’s something I care about.

I don’t care about religion, or politics. Really. Take that any way you want. I DO care about cruelty, animals or people, it’s the same to me. I care about art, craft, writing, creative expression. I got a forward once on an artist who paints his hands. original, beautiful and I loved it. I also a forward on some crap about some politician  and I resented the time it took me to realize what the forward was and delete it. THEN I started getting emails from the political site that the forward had come from so I had to take time to find the unsubscribe link.

Anyway, this is just to remind everyone to please, be as considerate of other people’s time as you are of your own. We have only a certain amount, and none of us knows how much that is. Let’s not waste any of it.