“Living is Easy With Eyes Closed”

John Lennon’s quote is the basis for my Tuesday soapbox.

Listen, I do write about writing. I do want to inspire your creativity and help you along with your craft. It’s integral to my purpose in life.

But part of inspiring creativity means reminding you of the massive computer sitting atop your shoulders and why we should never forget to use it.

This week I’ve been researching statistics, studies, and references for an article (probably a book one day) on the staggering racial disparity present in our privatized prison systems, in particular, how it affects young black men in our communities and the short and long-term damage it causes to their families as well as to our society as a whole.

So you know… a real fluff piece.

The problem with scrubbing off a bit of dirt from the surface of something like this is that you expose a teeming cesspool of disease and horror beneath. And once you look into that darkness, falling ever-deeper into that rabbit hole of associated cultural setbacks, systemic traps, and loopholes for those in power, you CAN NEVER NOT KNOW.

You’ve opened your eyes.

You swallowed the red pill.

You know the truth and life becomes difficult.

(Well, if you’re a human being with a heart and a decent-sized sense of empathy, and compassion, life becomes difficult.)

Suddenly, with your eyes open, you see it everywhere.

You see it in the unarmed black woman body-slammed by an officer twice her size, when she wasn’t even fighting back. You see it in the teenagers of color who are convicted of crimes while their white counterparts go free. You see it in the wary HOA’s that lodge baseless complaints against a family because the color of their skin makes the neighbors ‘nervous’, and cause entire families to lose their homes.

I’m not talking about 1955 Alabama here… I’m talking today, here. In our city. In our community.

And I’m ashamed of us, and I’m shaky, and I’m pissed off.

I feel like if I were the mother of dragons…I might pull a Season 8 Episode 5 and burn it all down to rebuild from the ashes.

sack-of-astapor-s3e4
What bells? I didn’t hear any bells…

 

The problem is too big.

That’s what we’re told right?

You can’t fight the system! It’s so much bigger than us. We don’t have the power. The government controls it. The rich control it. The churches, the states, the universities, the public schools, the whole of American culture…

But if you will remember…

The computer on top of your shoulders. The big 10 pounder. The one that processes thoughts and emotions, chemicals and body regulation, the one that creates poetry, writes novels, formulates complex plot and character design.

That’s not nothing.

That’s a powerful weapon in the hands of an informed public. And the way I see it, once we open our eyes, it’s our duty to shake as many egg pods as possible, peel back some eyelids and make the world pay attention.

Two open eyes becomes four. Becomes eight. Becomes sixteen. Becomes hundreds…

The Beautiful Stuff has everything to do with facilitating the best version of humanity we can muster. The most compassionate, fair, and just human we can be. And when we are faced with a hard and ugly cesspool, teeming beneath a society built on the death and destruction of so many lives, we can no longer live easy.

So neither should the powers that be.

 

pawns and king
Never underestimate the power of a well-informed populace with like-minded goals.

My eyes are open and I will do my damndest to keep those that benefit from the broken and ugly system from covering them up.

We may not have the money. We may not have the loopholes and congressmen in our pockets. We may not have law degrees, or time, or the power of influence on large groups of people.

But we have our words. We have our minds. We have our actions and, I hope, enough anger to bypass our fear. Pay attention and acknowledge that this is a problem. Shine a fucking light on it so the rest of the world can’t ignore it anymore.

Find that spark in your chest. That pinprick of light that knows every human deserves to be safe, to be heard, to be healthy and fed, and treated with respect. Find a way to make it grow. Let it lead you to do what you can to change the inequality of the world around you.

You can always do something. Little. Big. It doesn’t matter the size of the action but the heart you put into it.

One water droplet may not have much impact, but a rainstorm can change the landscape.

Go out there. Be bold. Be heard. Stand up for each other.

grayscale photo of man woman and child
Photo by Kristin De Soto on Pexels.com

Minding Our Manners

 

In the karate school where I volunteer the word of the month is courtesy. It’s not a new concept in martial arts. Courtesy and respect are two of the most fundamental principles of the art. Respect for each other, respect for the rules, respect for the art and for the generations that came before us. Courtesy to our sparring partners, our instructors, and people in general.

The basics of courtesy often start with the ‘magical words’:

Please

Thank you

You’re welcome

I’m sorry

I forgive you

 

These words are like leaves and branches of language that convey the deeper roots of courtesy and respect. Simple polite words that are just the beginning of a much bigger lesson wherein we acknowledge the validity of other humans as equal and important by showing them kindness, compassion, and empathy; the cornerstones of living a beautiful life.

By this time in your lives you have probably all been taught about the “Magical Words”. Magical because they can open doors, springboard friendships, heal broken ties, and encourage smiles.

The typical phrases your parents and grandparents tried to instill  greased the wheels of everyday interactions but also taught you something much more.

By saying “Please” we are acknowledging that we need help, and that we aren’t afraid to ask for it.

By saying “Thank you” we acknowledging that the action of giving requires another’s time and effort and we understand the amount (small or large) of sacrifice involved and are grateful for it.

By saying “You’re Welcome” we acknowledge that the favor was done willingly and we are happy to help where we can. This can leave a lasting warmth between people that perpetuates reciprocity and trust.

By saying “I’m sorry” we acknowledge that our actions or words have harmed someone else. That we have done damage, either intentionally or not, and now regret the pain we’ve caused. Showing regret shows that we are empathetic to what the other person has gone through on our account.

 

I’m saving the hardest one for last.

 

By saying “I forgive you”, I acknowledge that you hurt me and I am choosing to let it go.

 

Forgiveness goes beyond common courtesy. Forgiveness is next level stuff, and it’s the hardest thing we’ll ever have to learn when it comes to compassion and empathy.

Pain serves as a powerful teacher. It reminds us to not make some mistakes over and over again. And when we are hurt we want to hang on to it, for the stupid reason that we don’t want it happening again.

But that’s the thing. We hang on to it.

And by remembering we relive, and by reliving, we stay hurt, we stay angry, and the pain is done to us over and over again, not by the original perpetrator but by our own insistence to keep it close to our hearts. That’s how we build walls against compassion and empathy to others.

 

So here’s what I offer instead:

 

By saying I forgive you, we are also showing courtesy and respect to ourselves. We are choosing to acknowledge the “I’m sorry” (even if there isn’t one) by letting go of the harm so we can keep our hearts open for something better than pain to fill it with.

And to those who are truly sorry, who offer up their apology from a place of genuine desire to make right a wrong, we give a gift that is priceless with our forgiveness. We acknowledge to them that we are human too.

All of these phrases can be used without thinking. They are often just little idioms of our nature; thrown around without realizing we do it.

But this week I’m challenging you to think about them, consciously. Understand them before you say them and mean them when you do. It will make a difference. It may only be a difference in your own mind, but that’s where the power of those words really comes from anyway.

So, please…do something kind and courteous to yourself and others today. You’re welcome for the reminder. Thank you for reading this blog; it means the world to me that you do. I’m sorry if I tend to wander in thought and subject from time to time. But I forgive myself and the creative process that demands a little haphazard chaos in the order of life.

 

Be polite today. Be kind.

 

Mind your manners.

Soul Food

 

Sometimes opportunity knocks on the door…sometimes it knocks the door down.

 

Gentle readers, this week I’ve been filling my life up with a few new opportunities though time is sparse and energy is waning.

 

Times like these often make me question my ever-lovin’ sanity.

 

I know that we’re all busy. I know that we’re all overworked, and underpaid, and hanging on to the ledge by our fingernails. But sometimes…

 

Sometimes a light breaks out of the storm clouds above you and shines on a seemingly small and inconsequential moment. Everything else around it falls away… And you just know that this is something worth exploring.

 

This, a diamond in the rough.

 

When that kind of light shines in your life, the reason you tend to drop everything else is that what you’re looking at isn’t just an opportunity; it’s something more.

It’s food for your soul. In a world where we’ve been starving our spirit for lack of genuine sustenance, these moments and opportunities strike a stark contrast.

And we have to re-learn what we so often forget; that the soul will not be dissuaded.

Despite that fact, sometimes we fight the idea. We shy away. It’s too brilliant, it’s too bright; it could burn us or illuminate all of our own shortcomings. It will be too much work and presents a slippery a slope.

It could be our downfall.

It’s the sun and we, Icarus.

T’was ambition that killed Caesar… and all that jazz.

 

 

But what if this light is something so much bigger than you and your human fears of failure? And what if it’s not just an opportunity for you but for a better world, a small piece at a time? What if it’s a hand to someone who’s been too long forgotten. What if this dangerous journey, hard-pressed and gritty, means more than just your own happiness?

What if it’s a chance to use your voice to change the world?

 

Well then, you chase that light. You open that goddamn door.

 

You don’t hesitate, you don’t reconsider. You fling it open and feed your soul.

 

Times in this country are pretty fucking dark. I’m not even kidding, ya’ll.

We’re spiraling down the bowl of a very large toilet. Hate, hurt, injustice, anger, suicide, depression, gloom…it’s all a shadowy mass, constantly pressing in.

I’m asking…nay, tell you—chase the light. Find a way to be of some use…not for the perpetuation of hate and hurt but for the healing of our country, our world, and our place in history.

How do you want your grandchildren…your great grandchildren to remember your actions in this time? Will they remember your hatred? Will they look back to see disgusting and disrespectful behavior towards your fellow human beings?

 

If that’s your idea of legacy, you can go kick rocks, kid…I don’t want your kind in my playground.

 

It is no longer enough to sit idly by and just do no harm. It is time to actively participate in doing good. In lifting the downtrodden, and striking out against those who keep us all underfoot.

 

So go out there, find your brilliant light, your opportunity to make a difference, and throw yourself into the fire of it. Feed your soul.

On Being Alone

I’m an introvert.

 

Okay…that’s not entirely true. Those of you who know me outside of the blogosphere know that I can be extroverted in some situations. On the floor of the dojo, I have to be loud and energetic under the necessity of keeping a five-year-old karate kid engaged and focused. I must be direct and clear spoken towards older students to convey the intricacies of technique and motion. Amongst friends at book club or UFC fight night I can be lively and even, occasionally, funny. But I have a very finite well for social interaction.

A friend once told me she could pinpoint the exact moment when I become introverted. She said,

“Your expression all the sudden fades from open and smiling to gray and downcast and you just sort of sink back into the furniture, and I think well, she’s done.”

I couldn’t have described it better myself. That’s exactly how it feels inside too. Like someone turns a light off inside of me and I’m no longer open for business. It isn’t that I stop caring, I just run out of the ability to express concern. I am overwhelmed with the individual energies surrounding me. I absorb too much.

I like people, in small amounts. I like to hear their stories and their laughter. I like when they feel they can open up to me even about the hardest subjects… but it takes a lot of energy to be honestly and truly engaged in other people’s lives.

And it should.

Some people have an endless well for this kind of interaction. Unfortunately I am not one of those people, not for lack of trying. Sometimes I wonder if I engage too well and end up caring a little too much and the energy that takes sucks my well dry faster than if I remained more aloof.

Some people are no good at alone. From a woman I know who can’t stand not to be married, and going on her sixth husband. To the friend constantly texting all the contacts in her list looking for conversation or justification, or just someone to escape normal life with…to the guy who’s always got a better-than-yours story and has a pathological need to share…constantly. The world needs all types and, to be clear, they aren’t bad people, they just need connection in a different way.

Sometimes I think they fear being alone. And I’m not sure why but it may have to do with how scary introspection can be. How scary the thoughts are that come up from the dark recesses when called out by the lack of outside stimulation.

Such things are easy to cover up with noise, and new love, and impressive stories.

If you’re uncomfortable in your own company, that’s something you should really take a look at. You should ask yourself why. Chances are, it’s because you’re afraid of what you might find.

We are scary, us humans. We have scary, weird thoughts, irrational, sometimes haunting. There’s a reason horror movies exist and why Steven King has sold millions.

Don’t forgo the experience and the knowledge it brings just because you’re afraid of what you might find on the inside, of what you’ve ignored. Facing it will help to make it real, and we can only deal with/solve/accept what we know to be real.

Most introverts know how to be alone. We don’t just know it; it’s our homeostasis. The safe place we return to at the end of the day to recoup and refill the well. We thrive in the quiet, where our brains and hearts can focus on one thing, usually of our own, that doesn’t involve the constant dance of keeping another person’s feelings and thoughts in our mind, ahead of and instead of our own.

That’s not to say that all introverts are good at self-reflection, but I think it happens more often for us, in part because of the quiet we seek out. Quiet fosters uninterrupted thought. I, like most introverts, am a person who needs to shut down everything else in order to check in with what’s happening in my own head.

Sometimes, without the quiet, and only the loud and obligatory, chocked-full days, emotional backlash catches me. I will spend time with friends, co-workers, students, etc and wonder why I feel so frustrated or angry, or sad, or antsy when I return home. But with all the obligations at home and work, I often don’t have time to understand that they aren’t my feelings, but ones that I have absorbed. So I am angry, frustrated…sad. It’s only when I can spare a moment to look at the interactions from a place outside of them that I begin to understand their effects.

From the quiet I can understand that one friend is an attention seeker, outwardly sweet, but always demanding of justification and the need to be right. So I walk away feeling drained and always wrong. From a distance, I see how I am often captivated by an individual and every tiny crumb of attention they drop, because they give them so sparingly. So that when they give I feel like I could fly from the elation in my heart, and when they hold back, I am cast into a hopeless darkness.

The friend who swears she is here to listen to me but every time I begin to talk, barges over my words with stories of her own so I can be assured that she understands my exact feelings. To the person who shrugs off my insecurities, because how can my life be as hard as their own…and proceeds to tell me why. To the parent who makes up their own side of a conversation when what comes out of my mouth is too hard to face.

It’s often difficult to convince myself, at the end of the day, that I’m ok. Just me. Outside of the worldly distractions, outside of the demands of family and friends, and coworkers and students.

I don’t know if I’m okay.

How can a sponge that absorbs so much of the dirt, and grime, and ugly underbelly of the world be okay? How can I be fine when my whole being takes in the emotions and worries of those around me? I can’t be.

Which is why being alone is so necessary to repair my damaged calm.

jane
Raise your hand if you miss this guy.

With only my own company to keep, I feel weight lifted off of my heart. I find I’m quite a pleasant person to keep the company of. I’m quiet. I’m funny. I’m hard working and driven. I don’t make a big mess and am an excellent stretcher. I’ve been known to cave into a nap when left alone, and always, always leave space for thought and breath.

I like who I am without people.

But I have to carve out this time and space for myself. I have to make my health as important as I’ve made their company, even though it’s not an easy task for someone who wants to help others, to be sympathetic and supportive. As much as I enjoy being alone, I will always gravitate towards helping others lighten their load.

It’s in being conscientious enough of my own health to let it go of that burden at the end of the day that’s my challenge going into the new year.