Discretionary Fun

Digital illustration/drawings: Mood & 'TudeI get the impression that some people treat non-work times as the only times when they’re allowed to be happy. I do understand the need for income that can drive one to spend time in a job that doesn’t fulfill any other need or desire in life, and many of those are in the least-compensated positions at low-paying employers’ as it is. Been there, done that.

But I can say, too, that the greatest misery in my work life was attitudinal, and the more I did to discover and avoid the things that made me unhappy in my work, the less miserable I was. The more I sought to learn what I enjoyed in work and chose ways to magnify that, the closer I got to contentment both at and out of the workplace.

I grew more cognizant, at the same time, of not wanting to waste precious time on work that challenged my inner playfulness or threatened my general sense of joy and purpose. I was given a great gift in being able recognize the longing and accept and pursue it by choosing a much lower-paying job (on paper, at least) with a great happiness-quotient. I’ve seen, over the years, that many of us are easily misled when we try to calculate what we think we need for our daily expenses, and how much it costs us to earn that. Yes, we get those paychecks, but if the job requires, say, clothes that we wouldn’t wear other than at work, child care, transportation, professional training and memberships, and that sort of thing, how much pay on an annual or monthly or hourly basis does it really cost to go beyond paying for those, at least far enough to keep a roof overhead and food on the table as well?

Nobody knows this awful kind of math better than the working poor. I’ve been in that category more than once in my life, but have always had safeguards others lacked—like friends or relatives from whom I could rent living space more cheaply than I could even a minuscule, run-down apartment in a scary part of town—so I also know that I am luckier than most. Now, when I am married to a person who is not only able to make enough income to support both of us but is willing to do so, I am among the most privileged and fortunate of creatures, and I know that, too.

But one of the best things I learned along the way when I was living on a very slender, sometimes sporadic, income, remains valuable to this day: if I spend so much time and energy on just ‘getting by’ in life and don’t put forth equal effort to enjoy, live, and love my life along the way, all of the pennies I earn are of little value at all. And while I can’t always afford the most thrilling and glamorous ways of keeping myself amused, especially when I do need to be working at any task or job, I had better find the simpler and cheaper ways and the most reliable ones to fill my life with happiness and contentment, I know by now that surrounding myself with people I love, admire, enjoy and respect is the very best solution. And if my job doesn’t allow for that kind of happiness and contentment, then it is costing me more than it pays, in the end.

Better Put the Best Face I Can on It

Acrylic on paper: Silliness as Substitute BeautyComing up empty? Never! Well, okay: sometimes. That’s closer to the truth. I’ve managed to put up three years’ worth of daily blog posts thus far without missing too many beats, but do I have the occasional day of blanking on what I think would be of interest for me to write about, draw or photograph, and post. Outright brilliance would be a stretch for me on the best of days, and on many, it’s just good old showing-up-and-working that gets the job done.

Pretty much the way life works everywhere, isn’t it.

I get up and brush my teeth and take a shower and get dressed, and there’s no guarantee I’ll look less like a goofy, sleepy person than I did a half hour earlier. Some days, it’s flat-out worse, especially if I have to be up before about 9:30 in the morning. But I’m still me. I’m still going on to have a day, to do my writing and picture-making, do my household tasks, go to events, whatever the calendar demands. I’m always planning to have a really good day, if at all possible.

So whatever the agenda, I choose to give it my best, pretend (if I have to) that all is swell in the world, and see if I can’t do something myself to make it as good a day as I’m wanting. We can’t all be pretty all of the time, so I like to let my imagination offer me some fun alternatives to perfection and prettiness, and then the day has a better chance of hitting the happy mark.Acrylic on paper: Sneaking Up on Greatness

Out of Context, Out of Luck

digital illustrationIt’s no secret that I’m ‘bad with faces’. I struggle with what I know is only the mildest of cases of Prosopagnosia, but even my minor jot of that pestilential face-recognition inability causes me occasional discomfiture. More importantly, it has occasioned a moment or two of awkwardness for others when they approach me, knowing that I know or have at least met them, and I fail to recognize them or even register that I saw them quite recently.

I went to a family wedding once and, seeing a cousin I’d not seen often in our adulthood but knew very well in our youth, effused to her on reconnecting. And then I proceeded to do exactly the same with exactly the same cousin at the reception, not an hour later. I knew that I knew her and that she was my cousin, thanks to the occasion and other basic clues, but literally could not see that she was the same person with whom I’d just rejoiced in renewing contact. Even in this obvious setting I failed to see what was as plain as the nose on my face, never mind the should-be-familiar one on hers. My own cousin.

I am enormously thankful that there are people whom I have little or no difficulty identifying and recognizing no matter when or where, but they are not necessarily in the majority. Remove whatever clues to identity my peculiar mind relies upon for identifying a person—that distinctive mustache (especially reliable in the case of a woman!), a man’s unique carriage when walking, that heirloom necklace someone has worn since she inherited it at age twelve—and I am meeting the face attached to that person for the very first time once again. I suppose there might be a touch of the humorous in such a ridiculous predicament, if the person I fail to recognize knows about the situation and isn’t insecure about any failings on my part, but I would rather not have to muddle through the struggle of bridging that synaptical gap, especially in instances when I would rather be friendly and welcoming.

Even the fully operational brain doesn’t always work perfectly in this regard, as witness the lovely and very bright friend I encountered in the grocery store recently. We both took our time staring and sizing up whether the approaching person was indeed known as well as our brains were urging us to know. I, with my Prosopagnostic niggling sense that I needed to place her in a different context to recognize her as a friend from church, school and work paths crossing, was puzzled by my failure to connect the facial proportions and eye color and such with her identity; she, as it turned out, didn’t realize who I was because after knowing me only with my 20-years-established short haircut, she couldn’t place my features now that they’re set in this chin-length swath of hair. So many reasons we might struggle, and it’s rather common after all, but we still rail against the frustration.

But isn’t that just the way life works in general? Whatever our flaws and shortcomings, however valiant and well-meaning our attempts to ameliorate them and better ourselves and at least appear to be improving with age, there are bound to be gaps and mishaps. All I can say is that I’m mighty glad people are generally so patient and forgiving with me no matter what the situation or occasion, and I—well, I will just have to keep trying to put the best face on it.

Youth & Beauty, Beauty & Youth

We never needed to choose. Yet there’s always this foolish compulsion among us to measure attractions and, should we be so lucky, to consider ourselves superior because we successfully assure ourselves that whatever we think the best among the pretties and the old makes us seem more perfect in our own eyes. We’re our own creations in this way, our own versions of excellence, and whether we believe we fit somewhere high in the measure of greatness as beauties or as wise and wonderful elders, we spend an amazing amount of energy on fancying ourselves fantastic.graphite drawingWe expend a large quantity of this fanciful energy, as well, on believing that youth and beauty are irrevocably tied to one another, if not outright synonymous. If one becomes convinced of that construct, then it must follow that becoming old is some sort of process of becoming plainer or uglier or, at greater extremes, less important and worthwhile. As it happens, we are not necessarily all so stupid as I’m making us sound, really. Eventually we mortals do manage to wise up. Perhaps it’s only and logically plain self-preservation that, as we get older, we realize that either we’ve ruled ourselves out of relevance or we might need to adjust our expectations and interpretations to allow that the aged can also be wise or useful or, astonishingly, even beautiful too.graphite drawingSlow as we are to credit our elders with such attractions and advantages, the eventual realization that we are becoming the elders may motivate us to rethink that equation if nothing else can. It’s not that I look in the mirror and see my proliferating wrinkles and expanding crop of grey hairs as evidence that I’ve suddenly or finally become important, improved, impressive. It’s that I see someone, finally, whose value has nothing particular to do with whether those marks of vintage are present or not. I am free to see myself simply and fully as myself, if I’m willing to look, and from this lesson I should–most meaningfully–learn to offer the same courtesy and impartiality to anyone I see, not only myself but anyone. No matter the years or the appearance or how either conforms to the current tastes, every face I see should seem to me the face of worth and dignity. Who knows but what it might be oftener proved true if we allow it to be so.

The Stench of Doom

Breathe on Me, Breathalyzer

What is that sulfurous smell?

Is it the mouth of Hell?

Or is it only Morning Breath?

With you, I cannot tell.

oil pastel on paper

Through mystic haze and mystery,

Through funky dark and gloom,

Throughout the house and yard and park

And to the edge of doom,

It penetrates both brain and soul

And harries unto death—

Begone! foul demon, Hell-bound hound,

And take your stinking breath.

oil pastel on paperTake Thou Thy Hindmost Hence-ward

If thou must wind down, go downwind, please;

I’ll remain up here while thou tak’st thy ease,

for I’ve found if a lady’s downwind of thee, she’s

immediately an endangered species.

I am Getting SLEEEEEEEPIER . . .

My eyelids are growing HEAAAAAAAVIER . . . oil pastel on paperAnybody who’s known me for more than half a day figures out pretty quickly that without my requisite ten hours or so of sleep per 24 hour period, I’m an increasingly lost cause. And there’s no surprise in travel increasing the sleep-deficit effect until the relative percentage of my vegetable content threatens to permanently overcome any humanity I might pretend to have. A couple of very early mornings in a row, accompanied by social activities and gadding about town wherever I happen to be located, perhaps enhanced in their potency by certain giddy overeating episodes that are completely compulsory when I’m in places I don’t often get to visit–all add up to one semi-comatose creature plodding like a Fat & Sugar Zombie (clearly I don’t eat brains or one would think something useful therein would have rubbed off on me) down the byways of my days.

I am so grateful for any nap. The one in the car when my chauffeur-spouse is too tired to drive safely and we stop off in a random parking lot to steal a few winks. The micro-sleep in the dentist’s chair while that nice hygienist is mercifully buffing away the sins from my teeth. The fantastic curl-up right between the softest sheets in the known universe when there’s time at home (or home-for-the-moment), dreaming of nothing, nothing, nothing.

If I babble on an ordinary day in my blog posts, and you all know I do, it can only be made exponentially more exotic and random by lack of sleep. So I am sure that you will all pardon me while I kip out just for a little longer and press my nodding noggin against the nearest available horizontal surface. Just so I can wake refreshed and entertain you that much better. Not making any promises, mind you, just a hopeful, wistful wish as I toddle off to dreamland . . .