Finding The Beauty of a Mess

Sometimes I get grouchy. Some fits of grouchiness are preceded by me noticing a mess somewhere, such as this one that has been accumulating by the fireplace.

Because we just moved, we don’t yet have fancy things like shelves and book cases. Art supplies have their designated corner-of-floor and so do the books.

Within this one mess, there are a lot of things going on. In the foreground, we have envelopes for some Martin guitar strings that my dear friend gave me on my recent trip to Connecticut. I just got around to putting them on my guitar (seen in the very background!) last night, which is why they have an elegant place in this mess at all.

Next to them are a pair of Alpaca socks from the very same friend. I opened those while on the road to Austin many months ago. They still feel like that adventure and joyful transition when they are soft against my feet.

Behind them, we have some pliers on top of a box of beads. One of the pliers was given to me by a friend in Northampton; we were both in the same alternative healing arts class at the Pangaea school which I think is no longer in existence. The other pair I have had for years, back when I sold jewelry in Colorado and across the country. They work just well enough to justify keeping them.

The rolls of green string called Power Pro on that same bead box are from Hawaii, which is the only place at the time that you could get that string. It’s heavy duty and doesn’t break; ever. I still remember the long hot walk I took trying to find the store that was selling it, feeling the big sky above me and thousands upon thousands of miles away from my close friends and lands I knew.

The bead box itself is from my mother’s boyfriend and is filled with colored copper wire that he got for me when I was experimenting with wire wrapping. The bottom has red felt and it makes me happy just to open it.

Behind that, we have the Writer’s Market book that comes so highly recommended by Stephen King, or so they say. That heavy thing was given to me by my mother because she believes in me and my skills as a writer. Behind that, we have a stand that my sister recently gave me for displaying jewelry I made; and on it, some jewelry I made!

This mess is beautiful when I look at it this way. That is, when I take the time to look at it this way. At first glance, it’s a big mess. Just like a bad mood. At a glance, it is unmanageable, unattractive, and a big nuisance.

But at a more detailed and slower glance, it is made up of parts. Little parts. Manageable parts. Parts that have fuzzy warm memories or icky memories. Parts that are much more manageable.

Messy Moods

When I’m grouchy, there are lots of parts. How can I apply the beauty I find in the mess to the mood? The key seems to be to break it down somehow in the heat of the moment. Here are three ideas that might work:

  1. Pick some body parts. Hands. Feet. Forehead. How do they feel?
  2. Pick a thing to look at through the lens of that mood. Like the coffee mug, the wall painting, the dog. What do those things look like through that lens? What if I look at them for five whole minutes without doing anything?
  3. Maybe the mood has a recipe. What exactly is it composed of? Maybe 1 part anger to 2 parts irritability, or 1 part bitterness and 2 parts impatience? Maybe one part insult and two parts insecurity. It’s always different.

Of course, during the moment of the grouchy fit, these three things are going to be hard to remember to do. Maybe I can pick one tiny thing to remember. Like my feet. Next time I’m grouchy, I will pay attention to how my feet feel. Warm, cold, neutral, sore; who knows. I’ll have to see. Then I can try to work in the other things on the list if possible.

How About You?

I have a fantasy that you guys will find a mess within eyesight and tell me about it in a creative way. Any chance of that happening?

If not, it would be fun to hear any ways you have of talking yourself out of grouchiness…unless you have magical grouch-repellant, in which case, do share the recipe.

Or just anything you feel like sharing in regards to these ideas would be most appreciated. Your words always stick in my head for so long and bring plenty of joy, so thank you!


Screen/No Screen: My Commitment to the Uncomfortable

There was a moment at the airport where I was watching two people on their iPads. One was an older woman, the other was a small child. They happened to be sitting next to each other with a seat in between.

I knew I as inspired, but didn’t know why. Then it became clear.

There is a game I play now called “Screen/No Screen.” Here are the rules:

  • Randomly notice throughout the day whether you are looking at a screen or not at a screen.
  • Regardless of which it is, yell it joyfully in your head. (Screen! or, No Screen!)
  • Soak in the details of whichever it happens to be.

This game is proving to be quite fun. Sometimes I’m doing the dishes and I yell silently, “No Screen!” I proceed to notice all the possible details that I can about the moment that make it not-a-screen. The three dimensions. The colors of the soap bubbles. The way they smell. The temperature and texture of the water. The sounds around me. The bigness of the world; it’s independence from my fingers.

Then other times I say “Screen!” and I notice the flatness, the control, the comfortable sterility. I notice the relaxed feeling I have at the complete absence of social pressure. I take a second to look at the space between the back of the computer and the wall, or the space between my face and the screen. The space around us, the space above me. All of it.

Why Play Screen/No Screen?

There is one thing I’ve noticed about certain potently scary and dismal interpretations of where mankind is headed. Take Wall-E, for example. I love that freaking movie. Also, take Farenheit 451. Look at the worst parts of those potential futures.

The biggest problem is not the technology or evilness of people. It is that the people don’t quite have perspective. The ones that do maintain perspective and a willingness to be uncomfortable are the ones that make it. They are the ones that still dare to walk in the rain. The ones that can talk to each other without an electric medium. The ones that can see what is happening rather than being a mindless part of it for the sake of not feeling awkward.

For me, the willingness to be uncomfortable is the primary difference between just looking around at the world and being glued to a screen.

Understanding The Allure

There are a lot of reasons to have a screen, especially for those of us that are socially awkward or shy. For instance:

  • It gives you full control.
  • It doesn’t get emotionally hurt by anything you do.
  • It can’t judge you.
  • It is bright and shiny.
  • It is easily replaceable.

All of these things make it seem like a great choice in the moment-to-moment. But making that choice every time anything is awkward is what can lead to problems.

That is, after all, how I got addicted to cigarettes. They became the solution to any possible feeling of awkwardness, joy, sadness, anything.

Why would I want my cell phone or computer to do the same thing? Should I make a happy status update every time something good happens, check Facebook any time I feel awkward in a coffee shop, look at my email as soon as we are high enough above the clouds so that the in-flight WiFi works?

Or could I talk to a stranger, look out at the TOPS OF CLOUDS, make a new friend at the coffee place, feeling awkward or scared sometimes but doing it anyway?

Just Notice

No matter how much fun the screens are, no matter how much we need them for our jobs or social plans, we can always remember to note that sometimes we are looking at them, and sometimes we are not. No judgement; just noticing.

Instead of making a commitment to my health or happiness or joy or talent, I am going to make a commitment now to not fear being uncomfortable. When that feeling arises, as it undoubtedly will, it is simply a sign that I am not fully absorbed in an emotionally sterile future, and that I am still alive. There is no reason to intentionally use fewer screens because I can play Screen/No Screen and trust that I will not forget the difference.

How do you feel about screens, technology, tablets, phones, computers? Are they all-good or all-bad or somewhere in between? Do they affect your levels of inspiration in any way?

Do you think humanity is bound to rely on these things more and more for social interactions, or do you think there will always be people who have a sense of perspective on the whole scene?

I love to hear what you think!

Re-Discovering The Basic Sanity Of Blogging

The constant mind state of the writer.

There is no denying that blogging is a therapeutic endeavor to many of us. But do you ever wonder why it feels so good to come back and write a post or read comments, or what kind of affect your blog is having on your overall mood? I think that blogging and, more specifically writing regularly can have immense benefits on our psychological health.

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When Did Your World First Expand?

These are some of the most beautiful flowers I have ever seen, and yet each one is different, and they grow like crazy around here! No special seeds or fancy fertilizers needed; these bad boys grow in people’s gardens and alongside the highway.

Sometimes, the most personal of our experiences are actually the most universal. One of my most potent memories is of the first time that I realized the world does not share my town’s concept of what is beautiful.

I was in California, waiting for my friend Adam to arrive. I was sitting on the boardwalk in Venice Beach, smoking cigarettes and people-watching. A boy approached me, and he was clearly a traveler. I just didn’t know how to label him yet.

Let’s take a step back for the sake of context. Before that point, I had not ventured far from Suburbia except to go on family vacations to various places. On those vacations, we would always camp instead of using hotels. From those trips, I had an inkling of a notion that there were different types of people in the world; but my predominant experience of my town would stomp those notions out rather quickly.

My town, Glastonbury, was a mixture of mansions and farms; but most of the people there had money. Kids at my school (are any of you reading this?) for the most part, placed a big emphasis on financial wealth, brand names, pretty faces. My face was never pretty. My skin always looked dirty, courtesy of my thick Italian heritage. My hair was frizzy and unruly, and I didn’t know how to wear make up. My elbows were dry and my teeth had a space in the middle. Needless to say, I was one of the kids that got picked on a lot, until picking on people was no longer cool. I chose to turn inwards, and I am grateful now that I did not fit in to that world and let my spirit become corrupted by it.

Because of the teasing and whatnot, I think that part of me gave up on the idea of ever being “pretty.” If someone aside from my few closest friends would talk to me, I knew better than to really get too excited. Often times, there was a joke on me waiting to be played. I was cautious and a bit pessimistic.

But then I went to Venice Beach during the summer of my first year of college to meet up with Adam. My world blew apart. There were all kinds of people! And this traveler, he was walking up to me, ready to bum a cigarette.

His clothes were perhaps the dirtiest I had ever seen. They were turning into rags, falling off of his body. Yet he did not walk like he was ashamed of them. His hair was a mess, turning into dreadlocks that were not made in a salon or intentionally. His face was smudged with dirt, but also somehow cleaner than any I had ever seen.

“Where do you come from?” he had asked me.

“Connecticut,” I answered, always embarrassed of that boring, tiny, judgy state.

“No, I mean, where do you come from. Your blood. Your nationality.” his voice was deadly serious; and he was smoking in a way I had never seen. Taking quick little puffs of the cigarette, pulling them all into his lungs at once, and then letting them out in one silky stream.

“Italian and Austrian. Mostly Italian.” That answer was burned into my vocabulary. A lot of people asked this questions, since I had ridiculously think dark hair, and my skin turned a crazy sort of brown when it got enough sun. In Spain, people wanted to think I was Spanish. In my town, people wanted to say that I had dirty skin.

“I knew it. You are a Unique, like me. Not like these people.”

“What’s a Unique?”

“A person that comes from many places, many races. A person that is like no other. Not like these people, these people are a dime a dozen.” He swept his hand across our view of the boardwalk, the pretty people walking around. They were clean and pressed, they were sparkling in many cases like the people from my town. The people that took the time to straighten their hair in the morning; the people that knew the difference between a fancy brand and a knock-off. I had never seen someone judge them as inferior before.

“Oh, yeah, I guess we are Unique.” I wasn’t sure what to say; wasn’t sure if he was experiencing extreme mind states or if he was just passionate about this topic. I just wanted him to be the one right person in the world.

“Someday,” he continued, “we will make a place of our own, and have children, children that are Uniques as well. They will be the most beautiful of all.” he went on about this idea, this paradise.

For the first time, I felt that my strange appearance was not something that was necessarily a bad thing.

The darkness of my skin felt like a magical weapon; my thick hair felt like a famous and rare signature. I felt like my body itself was not an item worthy of just casting away, was not a mistake, a falling-short. It was different than most of the people I had seen; and that is what made it precious and interesting. Suddenly, I was as much a part of things as other people were.

For me, that was the first real moment of feeling that I could, in some people’s eyes, be something other than an ugly mess. If I could thank that boy, I most definitely would.

I wonder if other people have this experience, if they have one particular moment where they first remember feeling that their previously accepted world just got bigger; or if they just gradually transitioned into new states of being.

I’m sure we all have our own insecurities growing up, and our own ways of overcoming them. This is also a process that continuously unravels throughout our lifetimes.

Do you have any memories or experiences you want to share about when your smaller world view first expanded? Was it a pleasant experience, or an unpleasant one? Did it happen all at once, or gradually? Is there someone you would thank if you could? I would love to hear them, and I’m sure others would as well! You never know who might get inspired into a new way of seeing things.

Creating New Comfort Zones: The Importance of Exploring New Territory With a Slow Pace

Big trees need big roots. They don't always grow as fast as we'd like them to, but they can be worth the wait.

As many of you know, I recently moved to Austin, Texas from my little suburban town in Connecticut. Although I have lived many other places in my life, none of them have actually been cities; and rarely have I ever moved somewhere to instantly have an apartment and a job and responsibilities.Usually I just had a backpack and a wide open schedule.

So this move has been different than any other; and as such, it has been teaching me things that other transitions have not.

For instance, for the last three days, me and my partner have spent most of our time in the 2 mile radius around our apartment. We have explored the shopping areas so that we could obtain groceries, and we have explored the Green Belt so that we can get our nature fix and let the dog run. These things are important.

And yet, part of me wonders why we have not yet set foot in the downtown areas that we were so looking forward to. The Alamo Drafthouse, the little coffee shops, the local music-filled bars. Why are we so slow with this process?

Then I thought more about it, after breaking my computer and having plenty of time to think instead of work, and I realized that it makes perfect sense. We need to get familiar with this small area before we can comfortably expand into the rest of the city and see what it has to offer. We have to nurture our roots, our home, our connection to our neighborhood. Then we can explore and know exactly how to find our way back home, and also know what our home actually is.

The reason I wanted to make a post about this realization is that I think it may be the same type of situation for any new area you are moving to- whether it be a physical move or a mental one. If you want to move beyond anxiety or depression, you have to take little steps. You have to have your eye on a goal, in my case, this apartment, and give it the attention it needs so that it becomes familiar. Once you have that in place, you can slowly expand to new territory. But when the heart of your new territory is in and of itself new as well, then you have to put a significant amount of attention on making it feel like ‘home’.

After all, you need to have a safe place to come back to when you are done exploring, right?

If we apply this feeling to mental situations, you can see it in terms of any goal that you want to accomplish. Maybe you are afraid of driving on highways, or perhaps you are anxious when in public. What you can then do is make one situation, for instance, driving on one little highway with a friend who compassionately helps you remain calm and can take over if need be. You can become familiar with that one thing, and then expand outward. Once you are familiar with it, you know that even if you choose not to drive on the seven lane highways in Austin, you can still drive down the little highway by your house in Connecticut. Little baby steps. Nourishing the roots along the way.

This is all basically to say that if you feel angry or frustrated with yourself for not moving fast enough towards your goals, it may make sense to take a step back and look at where you are. Are you trying to expand too quickly, or make a giant shift all at once? Is there any way to reduce the amount of newness so that you can actually accomplish your goal in little pieces, by making a little home in a new area of your psyche and building it up until it becomes familiar?

For me, it seems that this would be the key for any growth that I want to do. There are dozens of big and very specific fears that I have, and I am now thinking that it would make more sense to slowly work with them by making little comfortable areas in the new territories; much like this little apartment in the big city of Austin which I have yet to explore fully.