Friday’s Focus—Our Teachers, Ourselves

Whether we recognize it or not, we have teachers all around us. They are our friends, our enemies, strangers, and our families. Every person we meet is a mirror to something inside of us and how we react to the person is an indicator of something that has a teaching moment. If there’s someone who particularly raises your hackles, that’s a hint that it’s a relationship you need to take a closer look at. Until you do, you will always come across someone with that same personality and issues. I promise.

So what do you do when it’s your own family member? What do you do when it’s your own parent? The relationship between mothers and daughters alone, is the subject of countless social studies and psychology books, and even being in it first-hand, sometimes can lead to more questions than answers on how to best navigate in that relationship!

This past week has been a flurry of phone calls and scheduling appointments looking for alternative care and living arrangements for my mother, who has been suffering from increasing confusion and cognitive impairment. The situation has escalated to a new level of alert and awareness for me and my family and we are beginning our travels down the next road. Just as sometimes it is challenging to see the changes in our own children as they grow up into their individual personalities, I think it is just as difficult for a child to watch their parent become a different person due to disease and illness. It’s the established personality of the elder being broken down into the child again, and which oftentimes is a new personality peppered with confusion, sensitivity, vulnerability, and a lot of frustration.

I think, for most people, regardless of how estranged a relationship may be, there is still some level of a bond they feel with their parents. And as families grow older and the roles shift from parent and child to parenting the parent, there are new experiences that come from parenting parents that are completely different from being a parent to your own children.

As scary as it can be, I have been consciously working at using this opportunity of seeing this new personality, this person who almost seems like a stranger from the person I once knew, as being brought face to face with yet another teacher.

Aside from patience, I’ve asked myself, what could I possibly learn from this situation, except how much I want to change the clock back so that they are their familiar selves again? The focus I’m learning is that the question should not be why is this happening but rather what can I learn from this turn in the relationship? A new teacher has shown herself to me as a different personality disguised as my elderly parent. This may be the toughest mirror yet! My husband keeps telling me to be sure to learn my lessons from this because if I don’t, it will just show up again as someone else in my life and I believe it. I’ve seen it!

This week’s Friday’s Focus is about teachers and how they can come into your life in all shapes and sizes and sometimes from the most unlikeliest places. Take a look at the people around you who are loving and friendly. They are just as much teachers as those who aggravate you, annoy you, and bring up friction. Remember that as much as one person is a teacher to you, you are as much of a teacher to someone else.

#takingitdeeper

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Careers Are a Thing of the Past

I’ve come to the conclusion that I don’t believe in careers anymore. I’m beginning to think that having a career is a holdover of a generation that seems to end with mine. Our workforce has become a series of jobs—short-term things we do to earn money versus the pursuit of a career which is basically a longer-term role of employment. A job is not a career. Merriam Webster’s dictionary defines a career as “a profession followed as a permanent occupation”. It doesn’t take much to notice that there aren’t many permanent or long-term positions anymore. I’ve seen too many people lose their jobs due to corporate restructuring and the reduction of staffs based on economically-driven decisions. I’m not blaming the businesses for this turn. As a matter of fact, looking at these workforce changes from a business perspective, it makes dollar sense.

The people I know who still hold a career is really a career in name only. Careers these days have been watered down, twisted, and shaped into something completely foreign to what people had originally intended to work at when they first entered the workforce. I find this sad.

Today’s college graduates are filling out applications for jobs that having nothing in common with the degree framed on their wall. There are many paths one can take to be employed, but the hiring and the duration of the job seems to be at the whim of whatever the economy dictates can be most beneficial to the advancement of the stakeholder’s pocket. Economics 101? Of course.

For those who do end up on a payroll, they are given responsibilities, which they have not been trained for, or are trained poorly, and are showing up each day on jobs because of the need for health insurance and rent and food money. In the meantime, being soul crushing in all other aspects of their personality.

I’ve even found myself in a work environment that turned out to be completely different from what I had started in. I’ve been working within the same industry for over 25 years but my roles have changed dramatically as prescribed by the changing focus of the companies within my industry. If I knew then what I know now, I wouldn’t have set myself up in education and training to be in a role that has pigeon-holed me and made me all but obsolete. I’ve come to fully accept that I no longer have a career, but rather it’s just a job. One that pays the bills.

People tell me that I should be happy with that. “At least you have a job.” Yes, of course, I am grateful to be employed. But it’s not the same terms of employment that I grew up thinking they would be.

Careers used to be something you aspired to. You went to school to train for it. You interned at a company to get a deeper level of hands-on experience. These things have all gone the way of Mad Men, and in its stead, there are generations of people who have had to turn in their careers for whatever jobs were available, making the best of a situation nobody prepared us for and different from what our parents told us our future would be. Whether we want to or not, current economic climate has made each one of us stand on the cusp of a new way on how to make life better for ourselves.

Our self-worth and identity are very much wrapped into our employment roles as functioning adults in society, contributing our part of paving the American Way. We will always need food and shelter and to provide for ourselves and our families and losing the idea of having a career can be a big adjustment not just for our lifestyle but how we see ourselves.

All that you knew and worked for are no longer available. The rules have changed and are as fluid as they need to be to keep the corporate shareholders afloat. In a way, this can be a blessing in disguise. It’s human nature to seek ways to pursue our happiness and maybe, as our workforce culture has changed with intensified job responsibilities and increased pressure, it is forcing each one of us to reevaluate what our goals are and what we really want our personal energies to feed.

In our discomfort of the modern-day 9-5 we are recreating a culture that though we may no longer have the careers we were promised in our youth, the jobs we hold can continue to take up a corner of our existence but also allow us a way to start thinking out of the box and find talents and desires within ourselves that either weren’t available before or we were never in a position to have to think along that path.

In Robert Frost’s poem, “The Road Not Taken”, he talks about finding two roads in the woods and trying to decide which road to take. Suspecting he will only have one chance at making the choice, he understands that things have a way of leading to other things and he may not find his way back, he chose the road less traveled, which had made all the difference.

How many of us have traveled the road of anticipated careers and our education? We were so sure we could always come back to walk the other road, but somehow never did because we got caught up in our career. For many of us, we may find ourselves back to that fork in the road, whether from our own hand or that of our employer’s. It can be an opportunity, a second chance to take that road less traveled, and see where it leads.

I don’t think my grandson will ever know the same definition of “career” that I knew growing up and who knows what the workforce will even look like when he’s ready? His will be a whole new generation and the rules will probably change for him, too. I think that the closing of the doors on careers as we know it is jolting but it doesn’t have to be immobilizing. Maybe the window that it opens is one that is more important—having a job but also being able to pursue a more rewarding and richer path and one that we can walk this time with a poet beside us.

Life’s Focus

I wear glasses for my everyday vision but I’ve been noticing that I’ve had to take them off to read anything up close. Annoying but dealable. I’ve even taken to the habit of pushing my glasses up onto my forehead or resting them atop my head as I hold out whatever I’m reading at arm’s length to find the right focus. I’ve always seen other people do that and now I am one of them. I’ve officially joined the club. It’s fine, really. It’s stylish yet casual and convenient, I tell myself.

Anyone who knows me well knows that I have no problem with getting older. Sure, I joke around with my friends that things aren’t where they used to be and part of my morning ritual has come to playing the games, “Search for That New Gray Hair!” or “When Did That Wrinkle Happen?” I embrace getting older and look forward to seeing what kind of woman I’ll shake out to be when I grow up.

One of the tell-tale ways our bodies change is in our vision. I’m used to wearing glasses and have for most of my life. I’ve even accepted the fact that lineless bifocals are my friend. But every so often, like that maverick gray hair or new laugh line, something will happen that is like my body’s version of a car’s Check Engine Light that will tell me it may be time for a tune-up and changes in my vision is one of them.

Each week I promise myself to make an optometrist appointment until the week ends, I haven’t gone, and then I promise myself that I promise myself I’ll do it this week until this week ends and I promise all over again next week to do it that week. Well this morning found me renewing that promise again as I turned on my computer and I had to adjust my glasses more than usual. The point of clarity had my frames balanced almost on the tip of my nose, which allowed me to see my computer screen in perfect 20/20, but the frames were pinching my nostrils closed making me feel like I had a stuffy nose, which I don’t and I hate the feeling of.

I moved the frames up the bridge of my nose so I could breathe, but now I couldn’t see. A few more times of this back and forth and eventually I found the sweet spot that let me see and breathe at the same time, but then I developed a crick in my neck from my head tilted back because the only way I was able to make out the screen clearly was by peering through the very bottom of the glass frames and my chin jutted out just so.

Not very comfortable but good enough for now so I can continue to search the Internet. I look down at the computer screen and the cursor blinking in the search box of Google. Now, what was I going to look up?

Happy weekend everyone!

 

 

 

 

 

 

Blogging From A to Z: Welcome!

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Dear Renata,

The Universe here, dropping off a quick note. Yeah, THAT Universe, as in the big U. Just wanted to stop by and bring you a note to say WELCOME to your new life.

I know things have been difficult and challenging lately, but I’ve been sending some people and good books your way to help you keep your sanity and to brighten your day. I’ve also brought about some new situations that I see you’ve taken advantage of to showcase your writing and art. You’re welcome.

I’ve been noticing that you’re still having some trouble despite my help though, and so I thought it best to contact you directly and send you an official letter welcoming you to this next phase of your life. The neighborhoods are the same—job, health, home, family, friends, and I’m sure you’ve already noticed that some of them have been changing with new neighbors and others that have moved out. More changes are coming and you will be exploring those neighborhoods soon enough, but today I decided to use the “W” in Blogging A to Z to welcome you to the new neighborhood that deals with taking care of your mom.

As you are well aware, she’s been having some additional health issues lately, and I’m sorry dear, but I want to strongly suggest for you to stop fighting the change. She’s not as young as she used to be and definitely not the mother that is living in your memory. So, in a sense, you have an updated version of your mother—the latest model so to speak. She still dances to the beat of her own drummer but the station has changed and there’s a new song playing. You’re the only relative close by whom she can call so instead of fighting the truth and the inevitable and feeling like your drowning with these new responsibilities, give it up and do the backstroke instead. You’re a good swimmer and strong, and take it from me, drowning people struggle in their panic so much it does more harm then good.

I don’t believe in writing instruction manuals but there are a lot of people in the same boat as you and the world is a wonderful reference library. Since I would never leave you high and dry and alone in your new neighborhood, I want to remind you that you still have God, Karma, and some pretty fun guardian angels on your side ready to help you in a pinch.

That’s about it for now. I used to do Welcome Wagons a long time ago complete with a basket of muffins and coupons for local dry cleaning, but too many people have food allergies to the muffins and everyone is so conscious with the environment now that I tend to leave notes like this when creating situations and opportunities aren’t enough. Take care of yourself and take care of mom. She needs you and I need you and the world needs you to be another volume in its reference library for the next person moving into their new neighborhood.

Love always,

The Universe

Blogging From A to Z: Vulnerable

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A newly hatched bird;
A flower bud;
The first one to say I love you;
Asking your girlfriend to marry you;
Being told you have a disease and there’s nothing more that can be done;
A newborn baby;
An elderly person’s first night in a nursing home;
A bride on her wedding night;
A teenager who just found out she was pregnant;
Openely stating your sexual orientation for the first time;
Writing your first poem, story, post and hitting the “Publish” or “Send” button;
The first public exhibit of your paintings or photographs;
Being interviewed for a much needed job;
Being laid-off;
Burying your loved one;
The first day on your own at college after all the families have gone home;
The first night alone in new a apartment;
All of us in our deepest hour.

Being vulnerable is like standing on the threshold of what was and what will be.

Some of us dance over it, some crawl, some step over it one toe at a time, and some eagerly jump over the threshold with both feet. Being exposed in vulnerability is actually a powerful place to be. Vulnerability is fragility wrapped in hopefulness, hopelessness, security, doubt, wonder, joy, and sadness, all at once.

Are you on the threshold with something that is making you feel vulnerable? Have you made the jump today? Take my hand and let’s walk over that threshold together taking vulnerability and what it means to us deeper.

 

 

Blogging From A to Z: Retro

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Nothing makes me feel older than to see something from my youth referred to as retro. It’s weird and amusing in a “Are you kidding me? How is that possible?!” sort of way. When I see something I either played with or wore from my formative years referred to that way, I can’t help but shake my head in disbelief at the reference and label.

It was bad enough wearing some of those clothes originally and now when I see them in magazines or in stores, I shudder. It’s also strange to see toys I used to play with showcased in vintage and antique store windows! Really? Who would have known we should have held on to our Rockem’ Sockem’ robots and real metal Tonka trucks as an investment? There are just some decades living through them once was enough and I’m just not interested in shag rugs and would rather eat avocados and mustard then have them be the color palate for my home.

Sometimes I wonder when retro anything rears its head, is it because people can’t think of anything new and creative anymore, and so the old becomes fodder for another generation or is it just a case of everything old is new again? If the latter is true and the cycle of reincarnation averages every twenty years or once in a generation, I look around now at our disposable and plastic culture and can’t help but wonder what will be around long enough to reawaken as retro for the 2030s from our 2010s? I’d love to hear your thoughts.

Taking retro a little deeper!

 

Blogging From A to Z: Near Life Experiences (NLE)

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Have you ever had a Near Life Experience (NLE)? I bet you have and if you haven’t, you probably know someone who has. I know I’ve had it. The opposite of a Near Death Experience (NDE), an NLE is a situation where someone almost lives. Instead of sincerely living life and being awake in its moments, they live life based upon the opinions and judgments of others and not their own experiences.

Many of us are sleepwalking through our lives. There is a Zen blogger who wrote about succumbing to NLE’s and described it as not living in the moment and being distracted by our own preoccupations. I completely agree with her but I also want to take the concept of an NLE deeper and a little sideways. I believe NLE’s also means that we have designed our conclusions about life and what it should be based on what we see on TV or read in newspapers and magazines. We are so quick to judge and form an opinion but how much of it is really our opinion and not one parroted by the more popular consensus?

When do we stop designing our opinions according to the latest news or stories in the magazine or newspaper? I’m including myself in this observation of following the crowd. I know I do, but I’m breaking free of it by forming and voicing my own opinions through my writing and art and really looking at things beyond face value. Waking up from an NLE doesn’t have to always mean taking your views publically like I have, but you can clearly show it by being an example. And yes, it can be scary!

Someone I know recently said that life has a habit of prompting us to act and many times it is through illness or a traumatic event. This prompt does not have to be life-threatening event but enough of one to threaten an existing quality of life. With a direct impact immanent, we snap out of our doze and begin to take an active role in our lives and find the courage to voice our particular opinions and beliefs. We begin to live according to our life’s voice and not the voices of others.

Don’t let illness or traumatic event become the motivator. Getting out of our NLE’s doesn’t mean extreme acts such as planning a pilgrimage to Tibet or hiking Kilimanjaro (unless you want it to be!), but it does mean stepping out of our comfort zones and not being afraid to form our own opinions and beliefs. Yes, it takes courage, but it is so worth it as I am learning while I continue to wake up to life and take things deeper. Join me!

Blogging From A to Z: Elderly

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The other day while I was waiting for my husband at the hospital to finish his tests, I realized that the entire waiting room was filled with elderly people. One by one or two by two they came through the doors as though a bus had just dropped them off. Their spouses accompanied some while others were alone. A couple appearing to be in their late 80s with matching walkers particularly fascinated me. He even had a mini-Velcroed cooler attached under the handle grips of his! Their pristine white sneakers shuffled along in unison as they searched for companion seats. I tried to picture what they were like when they were younger. My imagination ran wild with stories of what they must have seen and heard and experienced in their lifetime. These people lived through some of the most significant historical events in the twentieth century this world has ever seen. To me, they were living history right here waiting to be called in for their endoscopies and colonoscopies.

The elderly are our living ancestors. It seems we stopped paying real attention to and honoring our elders once businesses realized they could make more money by focusing on the new generation then on the old. The elderly have become something we tolerate and have to take care of, rather than endeared and welcomed into the family fold. They may have ceased to be productive members of our working society but they have not ceased to still be members of our society. Their worth should not be determined by how much they contribute but instead, be regarded with respect and how much they have already contributed.

These are the people that helped shape our nation into what it is. They weren’t always 70, 80, 90 years old. Once they were like you and me—they were actively employed, bought first-homes, raised families, fought for our nation, and had weekend summer barbecues. They were us and one day we will be them.

The baby-boomer generation has approached the Medicare age with a better understanding of how we grow older and the need to keep our bodies and minds more active, giving the stigma surrounding aging a much needed identity crisis and revamping. The changes are coming but not for the elders we have right now sitting with their son/daughter in the doctor’s office, caught in between business meetings, answering texts and emails from their Blackberry. They are still the lost ones in our society at the mercy of the “sandwich generation”, who splits their attention and focus conferring with caregivers in between office meetings and a quick drop off of the kids at soccer practice.

Patterns

Patterns. Seeing patterns for what they are. Allowing the witness to step out of the shadow. Begging the sky to make it stop and allowing myself the one anguished cry, “why?????”

Today I sat by the woodpile and cried. I felt the clouds and sky closing in. I took a deep shuddering breath and let it go and as I slumped against the garage door.

And then a peaceful calm slowly came over me. The whispering in my ear was gentle yet insistent:

“She has other people who live closer that she can call if this was a real problem, a real emergency.”

“She could take a cab.”

“If it snows, we’ll just leave earlier or take a different road.”

“You can’t cure your husband’s cancer.”

And then even more insistent, “You don’t have to solve the problems. You can let it be and see how it rolls out. What would happen if you didn’t try to solve all this? What if you put down the superhero cape and just listened. No one elected you hero.” I winced.

My heartbeat applauded this sudden reveal of the subtlest of subtle patterns that I had on some level, at some time, created and now truly saw for perhaps the first time in my life. The witness kept whispering and the breeze suddenly blew a lover’s kiss upon my cheek, drying my tears.

I stood up, stretched, and looked up to the sky, suddenly feeling lighter with the realization that the answer doesn’t always have to come from me.