Things I Tell Myself

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…and whatever you do, think of your glass as half full. You’ll tolerate your self-criticism better, put it to more positive use, and still remain thirsty for truth, goodness and happiness.

A Glimmering of Sweetness Exceeding All that has Gone Before

This is my wish for all of you as the new calendar year begins. May you find goodness and contentment all around you, and may you in turn share and propagate it everywhere you go in 2014. Peace and abundant happiness, my friends.photoI rarely have an actual Plan for the upcoming year, but this time around I do want to move toward a few specific things. First and foremost, I want to be more deliberate about finding ways and excuses to be an even happier person, and to leverage that happiness to spread it as far and wide as I can to other people. Call it intentional optimism, call it doing random acts of kindness, call it whatever you want, but I think it’s more likely to be good for the overall tone of the year than not, and that alone is worthwhile.photoIn addition, I intend to start making money this year again, however little it may be. I have no delusions of getting rich, but would love to put my own tiny dent in our family expenses, savings, and/or retirement. It’s been a long time since I got any actual dollars for anything other than a present, and I know that, however unlikely a choice I may be on paper for anyone who’s hiring, I will find a way. Or two. It may not be a regular job, or it might be a conglomeration of tasks and sources. I’ll keep you posted, friends, but if anyone happens to have any brilliant insights before I do, chime in; I’m listening! Meanwhile, I’m happy to keep working on increasing the happiness quotient however I’m able. That’s Job #1.

Light in Dark Places

photoWhat possible purpose can Daylight Savings Time serve in this day and age except perhaps the most mercenary sort? I really dislike the artificial shifting of the daily schedule (time itself being quite independent of our constructs meant to explain and regulate it), with one small but significant exception. That little thing?

Knowledge of the power of the tiniest speck of light against the dark.

When the days become naturally short, night long, because of the turning of the earth on its axis and the change of the seasons, the sense of being trapped in almost-perpetual darkness inevitably begins to creep upon me; add to that the government-mandated spin of the clock to steal yet another hour of sunlight, and I begin to wither and feel a little like sorrow and solemnity, gravity and groaning will also steal my sense of belonging to the day at all. This spell of coldness and heartless eternal night could certainly drive a person mad.

And yet, the smallest spark renews my will and hope. One little star piercing the indigo sky becomes a beacon bright and powerful enough to pull me from the dark and back to day. That winter’s also the season when so many cultures, faiths and kinds of people find new reason to light more than a candle, more than a fire, and call upon the grandest graces of their inner best is no mistake or accident. The contrast with that terrible beauty that is felt and seen in lightless space is something far beyond the sun of day–against the coal mine dark, a pinpoint is all it takes to seem a seam has opened into warmth and goodness once again. And in my little heart, I do believe that any one of us determined enough can learn to be that tiny, so-essential fleck of light.photo

Angels of Mercy

graphite line drawingThere are a lot of distinguishing features that we associate with Goodness, in the general sense of that construct. There are the usual ethical and even moral qualities we impute to a person or action or event in our humanist or religious ways: honesty, justice, kindness, compassion, hospitality, wisdom, patience and other such characteristics are almost universally recognized as positive and admirable. And while we can sometimes recognize these things in our fellow mortals, many of us find it easier to represent them in our minds’ eyes as some kind of super-beings that transcend human limitations, because it’s hard to imagine much of this happening or being sustainable in the hands or lives of mere people.

So we have our superheroes and our faeries, our special agents and goddesses, avatars and angels. But we’re still either too limited in our mental vocabularies or perhaps simply a little bit too insecure and egocentric to imagine or depict much that is Good without giving it a recognizable hint or ten of humanness. We make our gods in our own image, unable to picture them as truly different enough from ourselves to be genuinely Other and unique. We need to feel a concrete connection if we’re to make any sense of our own ideals.

And there’s nothing wrong with that, to my mind. How can I talk about the sweetness of a ripe pear with someone who has no sense of smell or taste? What it feels like to stand mid-stream in an icy creek with someone who has no legs or is a lifelong quadriplegic? How could I hope to discuss a complex topic with a deaf person from another country? We have to have some little commonalities, at least ones that we perceive as such, for us to have any kind of relationship, including the philosophical or emotional or spiritual.

So we, thankfully, have our Helpers, our unseen supporters and caretakers and watchers and guides, and we give them features that help us to understand and trust them. The other day when I was drawing I was thinking of a friend who, as I write this, is undergoing cancer treatment. Many friends and relatives and acquaintances have done so in times past, and many will yet again, and I think of them in their times of need and send, in my own way, my love and hope and concern, but most of them cannot use anything tangible that I have to offer. I think for cancer patients, my versions of angels would most certainly be beautifully smooth-headed creatures.

I am no surgeon, healer, scientist, caregiver or therapist of any sort. If you live close enough you might get some homemade chicken soup from me, or an armful of flowers from my home meadow, or a little note, but I have no cure to offer, have not even enough encouraging wisdom of my own to get you through the day better. What I do have is my own vision of what I would hope to have at my bedside or hovering around me as I tread any dangerous paths, a sort of gracious, singing, laughing and–when I need a modest and quiet companion who understands the sorrow of it all–gently embracing angel of mercy. And my particular versions of such beings work in force, and also make house calls, so I will gladly send regiments of them in all their shining, vaguely human, terribly purposeful Goodness to watch over all.digital illustration

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.

Getting in Touch with (My) Nature

I’m sorry to say I’m not cut out to be the savior of the planet. I’m not even very good at saving coupons or saving your reverence. There are lots of saints and superheroes better suited than I am to rescuing goodness, health and happiness. I’m just pleased with myself if I can get the recycling out on time for pickup, fix the wiggly leg on a chair so I don’t have to get a whole new chair to replace it, pull up about six weeds about twice a week. My part in world betterment will always be a smallish one.

But I do have a part in it. I’m ready and willing to play it. One little thing that is on my list of preferred universe-improvement techniques is to work on gradually including a bit less in my daily eating habits and freeing up those calories for people who actually need them more. Ideally, I’d like to find a few ways to see that those people who actually need them get them as well, whether it’s because I feed them myself with my cooking or my modest attempts at micro-mini-farming (I expect to successfully grow up to eighteen vegetables in this season alone), or because I support causes that are better equipped to feed them through charitable or communal means.

Another dainty little improvement I am willing and possibly even able to make in the condition of the quality of life as it exists on this planet is to find more ways to make less waste. I am researching how to capture both the rainwater falling on and the grey-water produced in my house for reuse and distribution in the garden. In Texas, that’s not just a potential money-saver but if drought conditions like last summer’s return or persist, a potential life-saver. But it shouldn’t be too terribly hard. The water’s there. It just needs to be corralled and redirected to where it can be most useful. It’s a natural adjunct to the aforementioned dinky farm-let of a garden with pint-sized patches of vegetables, plus a greater devotion to native, drought-resistant and wildlife friendly plantings that should, over time, reduce the whole yard’s dependence on additional water, provide a bit more natural cover and food for the local bugs and beasts and birds, and ultimately, require less maintenance and far less artificial or chemical intervention to preserve it all in vigorous health and beauty.

My self-improvement plot is mighty simple by comparison even to these extremely modest proposals. I’m just going to try to give in to my less-than-ideal motives and personality quirks less frequently than is my native inclination. I’m going to push myself to consciously and conscientiously do more of the nicer and better and more productive things I am capable of doing, more of the time. Beyond this I’m not certain I can go–but my plans being undersized as they are, I hope that I have just that much more chance of making my individual pin-prick of a difference for the better in my portion of creation, however puny, circumscribed or insignificant it may be. Better by far than not making the attempt. Reality is overwhelming and bemusing enough. Why not work on tweaking it one sweet, precious atom, if I can?

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This is where I landed. Where can I fly from here?