Invite friends or relatives from a different town to come visit

Call your friends, call your relatives and see if someone from out of town wants to come visit you.  Show them around your city and become a tourist all over again, rediscovering the cool things in your area, rediscovering what you really like about each other. (A)

I moved about 750 miles away from the city I grew up in.  As the years have gone by (about 11 now), the superficial relationships have dropped away and the connections that remain are the important ones.  I only make it back about twice a year and then I don’t get to spend near enough time with any one person because I want to make time to see EVERYONE.  But every once in awhile, friends and relatives have managed to make it up here to visit me and one of my siblings who also moved up to this region.  I want to show them a good time and all of the cool things in the place I live now, so it makes a tourist of me all over again.  What exhibits are currently showing at local museums?  What cool bands are playing?  Where are the best places to eat?  Who are some cool new friends I have here that are a blast to hang out with?

And then there are the late night conversations, catching up on what the people I used to hang out with in my former hometown are doing now.  Letting my new hometown friends hear funny stories from my past, sometimes even breaking out the blackmail photos of the stupid things we did and the nerds we once were.  (OK, still are at times.)  The deep talks about changing philosophies, the shared joys and tribulations of life lessons learned.  The absolute wonder of seeing the awesome people we have grown into.

I love you guys! Come see me anytime!

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Give yourself a new name

Rambo Commando Kitty 2

Give yourself a new name – it can be your secret name that you just call yourself in your head or you can make a name tag and put it on all of your clothes. Work towards a new, happier, identity. (A)

I have the name my parents gave me on my birth certificate and I have many other names as well. Some of them are cutsie names bestowed on me by boyfriends past and present (Sugar Booger Bear, Lobster, etc). Some are nicknames given by friends – more or less flattering depending on why they call me that. In junior high, several friends and I had “code names” that we used when writing notes to each other – these were our “rebellious bad girl” alter egos – that with maturity seem pretty silly. (I was J.D. and two of my most common conspirators were Pepe and Angel Dust).  And then there is my rockstar name – my stage alter ego for this character who is a much magnified confident facet of me who fears nothing. And who is to say I should limit this?  Here on this blog, I am merely “A” – originally meant to be anonymous, but now easy enough to find out. And I have decided I have nothing to hide – so if you know my real name and ask me about this blog – I will not deny it.

A name has power to be certain.  If someone knows your name, it gives them a certain claim upon you.  They “know” you.  When they call out to you, you can pretend you didn’t hear, but for the most part you cannot refuse to acknowledge them without a certain implied rudeness. When I call my cat, Rambo, Commando Kitty, she knows her name and looks at me.  Depending on my tone, she knows I am angry or pleased – but she always knows whom it is directed towards.

Sometimes there is safety in a new name.  One friend of mine has a public artist name to escape toxic relatives.  Another who hosted wild parties had a “party” name to separate herself from that character in her professional life.  And now with all of these blogs and Facebook accounts and Internet escapades that a future employer may find you by – it certainly behooves you to have an alias for your more adventurous escapades.

BUT you can always change your name.  You can do this legally, whether by marriage, divorce, or that you are willing to pay to become someone else.  Or, you can always just give yourself a new name.  This could be a character you appropriate in your head to give you courage or imagine into adventures (ala “The Secret Life of Walter Mitty”  by James Thurber) or it could be an alias you use in the real world.  Say you have a nickname you really like – keep asking your friends to call you that and eventually they will do it unconsciously.  Then, when they introduce you, that will be the name they call you by and Voila! Everyone will know you by that name.

If you don’t like who you are and when people hear your name they say, “Oh THAT Attila the Hun.  I’ve heard of HIM.” – then work on a new identity.  Build that persona, make that a person that people remember with joy.  Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi, a lawyer from British India became Mahatma (Great Soul) Gandhi – the father of an independent India. Johnny Allen Hendrix, a boy born in poverty in Seattle became Jimi Hendrix, one of the greatest rock guitarists of all time.  While these name changes are more common as stage names, as great Shakespeare (or whatever his name really was) once said,

“All the world’s a stage,
And all the men and women merely players;
They have their exits and their entrances;
And one man in his time plays many parts…”

Become who you want to be!

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Go on an adventure with your parents

Get away from the familiar, go on adventure with a parent or both.  Being in unfamiliar territory may lead you to some unfamiliar conversations. (A)

Today my boss at work lost her mother to a heart attack. While her mother had been sick and her family knew it was a matter of time, there is really no such thing as a “good time” to lose a parent. I have been blessed with wonderful parents.  We don’t see eye to eye on many things – they are very conservative, they don’t believe in throwing anything away, and they are socially unconventional at times (okay, I am too, but in a somewhat different way, lol).  However, they are also very generous, compassionate, and the most honest people I know.  They couldn’t lie if they tried and that is a profound rarity.I have four siblings, so while my parents took the best care of us they could, they didn’t have time for much one on one time.  As I grew up, I found myself always running, searching, seeking for something different. I was the first kid to move away from home and the first to move to another city.  But now, as the years pass and I understand more, I reach out to my parents more and try to connect. But deep conversations are often difficult since we have such different ideas about things…

Yet I have been lucky enough to have the chance to get away for little adventures with my mom a couple of times and with both parents on at least one occasion in the past couple of years. It is in sharing these small detours from our paths when we have connected with shared laughs, triumphs over tribulations, and stories of moments of our lives.

One such adventure was the unlikely occasion of helping cleaning out my grandmother’s house after she died to get it ready for sale. Mom and Dad had already traveled to Lexington, Nebraska where she had lived and I took the Amtrak out to meet them for a few days. Of course the train didn’t make many stops in Nebraska, so they had to meet me in Holdredge at 2:30 in the morning on a Sunday.  When I arrived, they told me that we were going to take that day as a fun day before we got to work.  So we drove to Kearney, stopping in a cornfield to look at the stars. My dad pointed out various constellations until we decided that a farmer might shoot at us, not knowing what we were doing there at 3AM.  We found an all night diner by the highway and had breakfast at 3:30, then drove around town for awhile until we found a church.  The three of us slept in the parking lot until the earliest mass, grotesquely contorted as comfortably as we could get in the cab of the pick-up truck. Bleary eyed and stiff we staggered out after church and hit the museums.

First was the Archway Museum, a monolith spanning I-80.  Inside were scenes of travel across the plains ranging through history from the Mormon Trail to the Transcontinental Railroad to the Lincoln Highway.  It was a fascinating tribute to the lure of the open road and how people go search for a better life, for adventure, to see what is over the next horizon. Now it seems the era of the American road trip may be over, what with the rising costs of fuel and increase in computerized everything and inward looking anti-social city mice. As we looked at the exhibits, we exchanged anecdotes about our own travels: my father’s parents went on road trips to as many states as possible when he was a child, my mother’s family moved from small town to small town in Nebraska, and I just wander wherever I can to SEE what is there.  I am truly an American in the regard of my travel lust and curious wandering soul.

“Me in the Garden” by Jean Louise Berg Thiessen

Oh but this is a great land with expanses of every sort of terrain and people; from grizzled farmers and church bells that play Christian songs every few hours, to colorful Somalis uprooted from their native land and traveled to the Nebraska wasteland to work in meat packing plants, to city living Puerto Rican poets and free thinking crazy artists, to Native American guitarists playing reggae and blues  in Chicago bars, to Carribeans running barber shops and hanging out laughing loudly on the sidewalk, to Hispanic war veterans trying to eke out the American dream in an urban landscape, to young couples in the suburbs trying to raise happy children in safe neighborhoods with backyards; all the way to hard working parents/ grandparents/ aunts/ uncles/ cousins struggling to do the right thing and make a better life for themselves and their families – yes, all the way to restless and ever searching me. What an amazing place this USA is!

Our second stop was the Museum of Nebraska Art where we saw both grand realistic paintings and splashy abstracts. There were amazingly detailed wood carvings and woven rug/ felt artwork of great beauty and care made by someone’s mom. My favorites were the pastoral paintings with the gold light of early morning or a summer evening.  I love the gold light; it reminds me of the warm days of my carefree youth – playing outside until it got dark, ignoring mosquitoes and chiggers alike in favor of just “five more minutes” of imagined worlds and laughter with those who had yet to meet trouble some dark day. Even now when the gold light spills across my walls, I see the backyard of my parents’ first house and can feel the scratchy crab grass on my legs if I think about it hard enough.

Our final museum stop was “Trails and Rails” where we learned about the trains and homes in Nebraska.  At least two of the houses built in the 1800′s were still lived in until the 1980′s, one of which never had running water added!  They also had a Smithsonian exhibit on the roots of American music – bluegrass, country, gospel, blues, folk, zydeco, polka, tejano, klezmer – and short bios of the talented artists who made each style a part of American heritage. It made me feel more connected to the land as a musician – this IS an important job and there is no reason to give up the faith!After this fun filled day (that ended with a children’s movie about special agent hamsters), we finally went back to Lexington and slept.

For the next two days, we worked on replacing gutters, painting ceilings and indoor trim, sorting, sanding and primering the outside windows.  During this time we talked quite a bit about relationships, my parents’ childhood travels and cars owned by their families, how they lived, what they did for fun.  I gained a new respect for Mom and Dad: they are very hard workers (8AM to 2AM every day) and in spite of their spats, they are completely faithful to each other and always there to help each other.  They are willing to do hard, dirty work until they are exhausted with a minimum of complaint, they are strict but devout in their religious beliefs and pray wherever they are, whether or not anyone is looking. They are good hearted souls, creative people, and much more willing to go on an unconventional mini-adventure than many of my other friends!

Short or not, these trips are worth it – for as I learn more and more about life, I realize that there are definite aspects of my parents that I want to grow up and be like.

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Stop being a Dumb Ass

Go back to school. Finish college. Read books on what other stupid people have done so you don’t repeat their past.  Think before you speak. Take free courses online. Go to the library and research something that has concerned or mystified you for years. Get in the know. (J)

I read a great quote from H.G. Wells: “Human history is, in essence, a history of ideas”. Learning is based on taking ideas and building upon them.  If you are bored and stuck – why not start opening doors and see what is behind them? So you feel dull and uninteresting?  What are you curious about and why aren’t you finding out more about it?  Opportunities for learning and growth are everywhere – the Internet has exploded and no matter what you type in (if you spell it right), you can generally find something out about it.  One caveat is if you are truly searching for truth - check your sources as there is also a wealth of MISinformation right at your fingertips.  Test your hypothesis.  Talk to other people who have are inquiring about the same kinds of things and ponder their insights. 

Then use this knowlege to get a better job, get yourself out of a jam, start your own business, or just satisfy your curiosity. Myself, I love reading as a way of learning.

  • My college education helped me get jobs because even though I did not use my music BA to get a job, I had very good grades and   a wide knowledge base.  I am certainly not sorry that I studied music – it has made me a better musician and opened my mind to new ideas and styles -but I am also not sorry I studied other things too.
  • The Gift of Fear by Gavin De Becker is the book which I have given away the most copies of.  This book has helped me figure my way out of more than one person’s manipulations and head games.  This book has made me realize more clearly what are true threats and what are shallow intimidations.
  • I have been able to run my music business more efficiently by reading up on contracts, figuring out how to do my taxes, and taking business classes.
  • By spending afternoons in the library as a child, I learned at least some basics about natural disasters, physics, the history of the KKK in Indiana, similarities between religions, large dog breeds, the value of costume jewelry, wars that America has been involved in, culture clashes, the mystery of Oak Island, Robert Goddard the father of rocketry, and many, many more things.
  • I am pretty good at Trivial Pursuit.

There is nothing in the world like reading. You can learn from cereal boxes and street signs.   You can understand the ideas of those long dead by perusing their words.  You can figure out how to escape some of the snares and toils of reckless fortune by taking the time to absorb the fine print.  No excuses – go learn.  And if you can’t read or not very well, there are dance classes, car mechanics, knitting lessons – there is always something new to learn and someone eager to show you.

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Spend two days of silence and contemplation in a monastery

New Melleray chapel

Attend all the hours, meditations, or whatever services are available. Find out why you could or could not ever live that kind of life.  Are you willing to give up everything for a life of contemplation and spirituality or do your gifts belong in the world? (A and J)

I had been curious about what it would take to live the monastic life, especially after reading Thomas Merton’s The Seven Storey Mountain.  Both J and I were raised Roman Catholic, went to Catholic school through high school and were raised on the lives of the saints, who included a fair amount of men and women who lived cloistered lives.  I was at a period of my life where I was feeling very confused about relationships – both interpersonal and romantic and I thought it might help me figure things out to go away somewhere to think in silence for awhile.  Thomas Merton was a Trappist and from what I had read about his life, they lived simple quiet lives based on work and prayer.  I found out that there was a Trappist monastery, New Melleray Abbey, in the farmlands near Dubuque, Iowa and they had a guest house.  So I decided to go there for a couple of days after Easter. It was perfect. While I would by no means consider myself a devout Catholic (or even if I could call myself Catholic at all these days), Easter has always been my favorite holiday with its themes of rebirth and renewal. It was still chilly, but spring was definitely in the air and new life was already stretching up in tiny green buds from the fields.

It was one of the best things I have ever done for myself!  I did quite a bit of writing, thinking, and praying and left with a great deal more tranquility in my heart than when I arrived. The food was simple but good, the dorm rooms sparse but comfortable, and you were left to your own devices.  Here is a room, here are the guest house rules, here is the schedule of religious services, go in peace as you will. There were some surprises – the monks get up at 3:15 am and go to bed at 8:00 pm.  This was quite jarring to someone who usually goes to bed at midnight, but since I decided to attend all the services (Gregorian chant in a high ceiling stone chapel at 3:30 in the morning is amazing!), I found myself quickly adjusting.

They have a very structured life there.  Here is a sample weekday schedule for the monks with time in between all of of it for spiritual reading, private prayer and meals:

3:30am Vigil – chant

6:30 Lauds – chant

7:00 Mass

9:15  Terce – chant

9:30 Work

11:45  Sext – chant

1:45pm  None – chant

2:00 Work

5:30 Vespers – chant

7:30 Compline – chant

8:00 Go to bed

While I could not see myself living this lifestyle, it was a welcome respite from the hectic hubbub of my everyday life and all of the noise and demands of the modern world.  I cannot explain the way the silence felt (silence was requested in the dorm rooms and the other guests I met only talked at meals or sometimes upon meeting outside) – it was a profound, peaceful silence of contemplation, not of stifled thoughts. I was surprised that New Melleray library contained books from many monastic traditions, not just Catholic.  It was there where by chance I ran across a book that has since had a great influence on me: Awareness by Anthony de Mello.

In between meals and services, I spent my time walking through the fields and writing. Here are a few excerpts from my journal during that time:

“A deep silence pervades here – not sad, but contemplative in keeping with the spirit of the place. I have already broken order once in issuing a fellow guest a cheery “good morning!” before reading in the rules that this should be a place of no talking.  Oops.  Well no harm done I suppose, but now I will know to keep silent. Can I do it for even two days? It’s like a fast for the tongue…I can understand how monks come to think deep thoughts in this well of silence. I think it would be healthy for everyone to spend two or three days at a time, two or three times a year, in stillness and some degree of solitude. Clears the head and quite calming for the soul.”

“I am complicated, difficult, questing for truth and beauty, trying to outrun my skin, sometimes small and lost, always great and terrible. I don’t think this life is one that would suit me long term.  My mission seems to be to interact. One thing I realized at 3:30 this morning was something about the character of love.  If one is to be truly “awakened” one needs to give love but realize that it is a want to get it back. It’s more of the whole “If you expect someone to love you back, you are not loving them, you are in love with the idea of love.” Love is FREE. Freely given with no strings attached and no expectations of getting it back. In a marriage you might love someone but there is also a certain obligation of character that you have to expect from your partner in order to get what you need done.  You love but you choose wisely the person whose character has revealed that they are ready and willing to provide the obligations that go along with being a partner and a parent.”

“So here is how ‘goodness’ is like ‘light’ or maybe they are the same thing because they both make the grass grow.  I read something that said “A saint is a saint until they know it” – much like light’s observed properties change from wave to particle nature and vice versa depending upon the expectations of the person studying them.  That goodness IS goodness until inflated with the puffery of “I did a good thing. Look how wonderful I am!” But we want to be important and loved and admired.  It’s very difficult to let go of that and just be who and what you are called to be: your bliss in the moment, your living and dying, your dealings with your frightful ego.”

“It is 4:00 am and I have just returned from Vigil.  I learned that Vigils are supposed to be the prayers that are said for all the people who can’t sleep because they are worried or their conscience is troubling them.  It is for those who have to work nights and the people staying up with the sick.  As tiring as this is, I think I like this prayer the best.  Although the Compline at 7:30 pm with its end of the day blessing and a kind of “if you die in your sleep, die blessed” has a certain peacefulness as well.”

I would highly recommend this experience to any seeker, anyone tired and lost, the spiritual and those just wondering what they are supposed to do now.

You can find out more about the New Melleray Abbey at:

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Stop Pushing Fast Forward

Stop pushing Fast Forward and live life to the fullest. (J)    

J wrote this journal entry on Panic Attacks, which he and I have both had throughout the years (although thankfully not in a very long time for me).

Freshman year was certainly stressful.  So many strangers. Will I get to class on time? Will I forget my locker combination? Will I get beat up? Will I fail?  But it was Sophomore year that the panic attacks began.  Anxiety was such a habit and boredom such a fear that imagination took over as a simple “what if” thought with an ounce of apprehension and it multiplied into several tons over the coming years. The fear was that if I was in any room without windows and just perhaps the building or the earth had separated and we were really flying in space or the world was crumbling and I might be eternally falling or rising into oblivion.  And without those windows I wouldn’t know and if I didn’t know, then it could be happening.  I felt trapped and of course most of the classrooms at our high school have no outside windows!…

I think one of the things about panic attacks besides the physical symptoms that sometimes spring “out of nowhere” is the ongoing “what if”.  What if I am dying this time? What if I can’t do this job and I get fired? What if this relationship fails and I never meet anyone again?  What if meteors fall on me?  What if my cat when playfully scratching me transfers deadly bacteria and my arm has to be amputated? What if this stomach ache I have is a sign of an intestinal blockage, like the one that killed my grandmother? (Many of my personal “what ifs” that made me panic were related to fear of health disorders).

But it is this jumping into a frightening future that increases the fear.  Whether living life now to savor an enjoyable moment or being able to tell yourself “you are okay RIGHT NOW so don’t worry”, it helps to live in the present.  I read something recently (it might have been Donald Miller) that spoke of how fear is all about the future: you fear falling BEFORE you fall and when you are falling what you fear is landing. So true.

So how about just for today, as all of the wise sages say, live in the moment.  Take care of now.  This is not to say that you do not plan for or anticipate the future, but that the majority of your focus should be on THIS moment, which will not come again. Do not fast forward past it and miss all its subtle nuances and melody.

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Learn to use new technology

Whether it is learning a software program, how to use a fancy remote, or how to program your phone, see how the people in the world conspire to make your life easier. (A)

Every new technology you learn is a step towards more independence, a better job, or just an easier way to do something.  Some of the things I have learned are how to drive a car, use an iron (although that is one tool I don’t use very often!), program an effects pedal for my guitar, use a digital camera, write songs on Acid (the program, not the drug), effectively use the Internet, use a computer and an iPhone, set up a teleconference and run a vacuum cleaner. I know how to use a binding machine, a copier and a scanner.  I can make PowerPoint presentations and use most Microsoft Office programs.

Most recently, I am learning to use Word Press and set up a web site (yes, the one you are reading right now).  It can be scary, intimidating work.  I am a bit of a technophobe and the first thing I always think when something unexpected happens is “I broke it!”

Some of the things I want to learn are: Pro-Tools, how to use a video camera and post to YouTube.  I want to learn how to ride a motorcycle and fly a helicopter.  I want to know how to find constellations with a telescope and correctly titrate chemical solutions. I want to be able to fix my car (at least the basics) and know how to correctly set up climbing gear to go rappelling.  It would be to my great advantage to know how to use a mixing board and run sound.  There are so many interesting tools and programs out there to do so many specific things!

Of course, I can always learn how to do things better as well.  As mentioned above, I am just learning how to put together this site.  And when I am fairly proficient, I could help other people set up sites too, or at least help explain how it’s done.  How exciting!

I too am a machine, a piece of technology, a vehicle for travel and a supercomputer.  This most important equipment I have requires careful maintenance and constant upgrades.  I struggle to learn to use this body and mind better, more efficiently, and yes, I fear breaking it at times. But this, my brain, this mortal coil, this instrument of divine creation is the best technology I will ever own – without which all these scientific advances would be useless. My left and right hemispheres will conspire to make my life easier by ever more effective use!

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#1 The End

Human Life Cycle

Read a book backwards.  Some writers start at the end and work their way forward, so can you.  A different perspective is just what people need when the happy ending seems far away. (J)

An idea keeps poking me in the back of my brain, no not the occipital lobe, let’s figuratively say the back…but then again, you need the “back” of your brain to look forward, how curious. “Once upon a time” is how many stories start and “…they lived happily ever after” is how they end – at least in the ideal world of fairy tales where the good are rewarded and the bad get their just desserts.

When you get beyond children’s stories, writers understand that the story does not end at the last page.  The last line of Ernest Hemingway’s For Whom the Bell Tolls is “He could feel his heart beating against the pine needle floor of the forest.”  Eat, Pray, Love by Elizabeth Gilbert ends with “Let’s cross over”.  The world does not stop once you reach the last punctuation mark - it may change into something else, but there are reasons you reached the conclusion in that final sentence.

The end is often the beginning of something new.  The idea for this project came to me as something very important in my life was coming to an end and I was lost.  A journal entry from July 2007 reads: Falling, falling, where does this rabbit hole end up?  Where am I going?  Thought I knew but someone has replaced all the signs with a language I don’t understand and dumped me in a foreign country with a guidebook from 1819 which does not apply anymore.  So one step, one more, and yet another until I end up somewhere that will hopefully look vaguely familiar.  Feel my way along the walls: rough, smooth, jagged; each surface changes.  Touch like glass then sharp enough to break skin.  Not sure if I would recognize my reflection but my face is different every time I catch a fleeting glimpse.  Who am I today?  Tip toe around the refuse looking for a refuge or another challenge?  Grasp for a handhold, a foothold, a toehold. Here I am and I can make it back to a place I remember.

So you feel life the way you thought it should be is at an end – how did you get here? Sometimes reading your own story backwards is a good way to understand what choices and circumstance brought you here.  20/20 hindsight can be a great help in not making the same mistakes twice.

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