Dear Justin Bieber…Canada Called. You Can Go Home Now.

Pop culture, for the most part, is really not my thing.  I am a 43 year old mother of a 4 year old son and no teenage daughters, which is why I can proudly say I know nearly NOTHING about Justin Bieber.  I don’t know any of his songs, and I wouldn’t recognize his voice from the sea of other disposable pop songs.  According to recent news stories, he seems to be just another spoiled kid with WAY too much money, privilege and popularity, and he’s using his wealth and fame to be a horrible role model for his fans. Until recently, he was a blip on my personal radar, just another over-groomed pretty boy I would occasionally see on the poster rack at Wal-Mart, or hear about on a commercial break on TV in relation to the Teen Choice Awards, or something of that nature.  When it comes to teen pop celebrities, I could care less than less.

But this week, I have to admit I have gotten somewhat riled up over Justin Bieber.  Several friends of mine posted a news story on Facebook within the past few days, relating to Bieber’s arrest for drag-racing in a Lamborghini in Miami Beach, intoxicated, at 4:00 in the morning.  He mouthed off to the police officer, who noted that he was obviously under the influence (did I mention that he is 19 years old?), and was subsequently arrested.  The photo associated with the article?  His mugshot…he’s smiling.  I don’t know about you, but if I was in that much trouble at 19 years old, I would have been wetting my pants and sobbing as they took my picture, praying that my parents would NEVER find out.

That’s me…but I’m not Justin Bieber.  I read in a follow-up article in our local paper (yes, it made our small-town newspaper) that his bond was posted at $2500.  The person paying that bond is only responsible for 10% of the amount, which means that for $250, he was back out on the street after driving 55-60 mph in a 30 mile zone, driving drunk underage, and committing criminal recklessness and disorderly conduct.  Somehow I suspect if I had done those things, I would NOT be out on the street for $250.  And to open up another can of worms, what if the offender had been an unknown (read: “non-famous”) 19 year old Hispanic or African-American youth? Would they have been free to happily return home for $250 after such a crime spree?

I found it especially noteworthy that he was smiling in his mugshot…I thought that was peculiar at first, but then after a few days I noticed how many people were talking about the incident on social media, and it occurred to me how much free publicity this kid had scored for his antics.

There was another news story that I heard on the radio recently about Justin Bieber visiting the Great Wall of China.  Apparently Bieber was on a press tour, and when they got to the Great Wall, the poor, exhausted, yet seemingly healthy and fit teenager didn’t have the energy to climb all those steps, so he sat in a chair and had his bodyguards carry him up the steps.

Celebrity overexposure is a big problem in our society, and I don’t see it curbing anytime soon.  Americans are insatiable for star gossip, and we can’t get enough, so why should anyone take away our candy?  After all, it’s much easier to digest than REAL news, because at the end of the day, E-news doesn’t really affect us, and it doesn’t really matter in the grand scheme of world events.  This misdirected attention means that we often miss genuinely significant world events…for example, during the massive civil uprising in Egypt in June 2013, American “news networks” had us all glued to the George Zimmerman trial.  I would wager that most Americans were completely unaware that the events in Egypt even happened, but I bet we all know the verdict of the trial.  Admittedly, there was a lot at stake in terms of racial profiling associated with the trial, but did we have to have FULL coverage of the trial, to the exclusion of all else?

Even if you do your best to ignore it, you can’t always avoid hearing about what flies around in so-called “entertainment news”. You see stories posted on Facebook, on the headlines on magazine covers in the check-out lines, or you hear stories on the radio when in a store. It’s easy to shake our heads and mentally chastise these so-called pop-culture idols (and I confess I am doing just that over Justin Bieber’s ill-conceived antics), but we also have to keep some perspective.

I may be old-fashioned, but I feel that with fame comes a certain amount of responsibility.  I do think that there decent people in the celebrity realm who are crucified for relatively minor indiscretions…things that perhaps even we ourselves have done, but as non-celebrities, we’re allowed to make mistakes, especially if we don’t get busted.  We as a society tend to want our celebrities as flawless in their personal lives as they appear to be on the outside, and when they mess up, we publicly flog them for it.  My husband recently said it well…we want our celebrities up on pedestals so we can knock them off.

But there is a big difference between an indiscretion in an otherwise un-newsworthy life, and living your life as if your fame and wealth makes you untouchable.  And it seems that there has been a rash of young celebrities in the past 15 years that have made a lifestyle of going down the proverbial rabbit hole of crime, drugs, infidelity, etc…we’ve had endless stories about Britney Spears, Lindsey Lohan, McCauley Culkin, and a host of “reality TV stars”.  And even though I rather pride myself on not knowing which Kardashian is which, or why Snookie, Jon & Kate, or any so-called “Real Housewives” have any business being famous at all, I do appreciate knowing who some of these people are in popular culture because I am a parent, and my child is going to be exposed to them, whether I like it or not.  And I don’t want to be one of those parents who is completely out of the loop.

So many young celebrities who are idolized by kids/teens choose to live self-indulgent, reckless and flamboyant lives with no regard for their young, impressionable fans. They seem to forget that in the age of social media, every time they burp it ends up on Twitter.  And if I were the parent of a young daughter who idolized one of these bulletproof teen stars, I’d have my work cut out for me in terms of explaining how they should only be an example of how NOT to act.  I’m not a prude…I have done things in my life that I will NEVER tell my parents about, and I feel fairly certain that I haven’t made my last mistake in life.  But I do feel that when an entertainer markets themselves to young fans, with their fame should come a sense of responsibility to be a good role model. And if they can’t manage that, they should have a parent or a manager guiding them.  And if they don’t have THAT, maybe we shouldn’t keep making them richer and more famous.

So Mr. Bieber, you may fancy yourself as this generation’s James Dean, but it’s time to get over yourself.  Sure, you’re allowed to make mistakes like any teenage kid, but if you keep making a complete arse of yourself, I truly hope that the authorities get sick of arresting you and ship your sorry butt back to Canada.

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Is It Spring Yet?

Winter is NOT my thing.  I can’t stand being cold, I don’t like when it gets dark at 5:30 in the evening, or the dreary grey/brown that cloaks the woods behind my house, and I hate coats and gloves.  I get restless and snippy from cabin fever, and all I can think about is summer.  I get this disdain for winter from my mother…she dislikes the cold as much as I do.  We both thrive in the heat, and shiver below 70 degrees.  In our perfect world, the yard would be filled with palm and citrus trees, and our houses wouldn’t need furnaces.  “Sweater weather” would be when the temperature dares to drop to 60 degrees.

But hey, I live in Indiana, and anyone who lives in the northern half of the US must deal with the cold reality of winter.  I was born and raised here, so this is nothing new…every November I brace myself to the fact that I’m going to be cold for the next 5-6 months.  And I suffer through it, looking forward to that first little peek of green that blesses my yard in early April.  My problem is that I want to start looking for that peek of green in early January, as soon as the Christmas tree comes down.  And friends, that makes for a LONG winter.

My solution in the past has been to drown my sorrows in a sea of amaretto-laced hot chocolate, stay in my pajamas, and look at loads of pictures from my trips to the beaches of Florida and Mexico.  This year has been harder, though, and it’s BECAUSE of the beach.  My husband and I celebrated our anniversary on December 6th by taking a much-needed vacation to south Florida, our first vacation since our son was born.  We had just moved to a new town a few months before our wedding, so we never took a honeymoon…we just didn’t feel like we could get away.  Then our son was born, I became a stay-home mother, and then we REALLY couldn’t get away. But this year, we did…and it was glorious.  A whole week of sun, sand, surf, and summer clothes in December…heavenly!

Then we came home, leaving 84 degree days and warm, breezy nights in Florida for a bitter cold snap in Indiana.  When we left West Palm Beach that sad morning, it was 79 degrees at 8 am…when we landed in Indianapolis a few hours later, we were greeted with a 17 degree snowy afternoon with wind chills in the single digits.  Not good for someone who claims to have salt water in her veins, and visions of palm trees dancing in her head…the first bitter blast of cold was quite a shock after a week in the tropics.  It wasn’t particularly cold when we left Indiana, but when we came back…yikes!  And so far, this winter’s been pretty unfriendly.

So I’m faced with a choice…I can sulk away the winter (tempting, but not much fun), or I can start looking forward to spring in a proactive way.  I love to garden…my mother has two green thumbs and 8 green fingers, and can grow anything.  She’s a fearless gardener, unafraid to prune, snip or relocate her green babies as she sees fit, and it nearly always works out.  So I grew up watching her beautiful garden flourish and thrive every summer, and even now, she is 79 years old and still grows the prettiest flowers in her neighborhood.  I have very fond memories of helping her do little daily gardening tasks.  She is my inspiration – I’ve learned so much from her over the years, and our shared passion for summertime and gardening has given us a deeper bond.

I love my flowers, yet my love of gardening has grown new tendrils over the past few years…organic vegetable gardening.  My husband and I are members of a local community garden, and the mission statement of the garden is to grow produce without the use of chemical pesticides and fertilizers.  Since joining the group two years ago, I have learned so much about the detrimental effects of chemicals and GMO crops on the environment and the human body, and have gotten very serious about growing and preserving natural foods.  In addition, I have a beautiful opportunity to instill this knowledge and love of growing our own food as naturally as possible into my young son.  I am painfully aware that many children think all food comes from a grocery store.  Many elementary school-age children can’t even tell you that french fries come from potatoes (unless, of course, you’re talking about the ones from McDonald’s…still not sure what THOSE are made of…).

So this winter, I am dealing with the cold, grey days in a different way.  I’m thinking of it as “summer prep time”.  I’m going on line and ordering heirloom, non-GMO, and organic seed catalogs (my favorite thus far is Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds, http://www.rareseeds.com), and hunkering down with them as I plan a layout for this year’s garden.  I’ll draw out my garden plot and plan my planting dates, and if I order my seeds by the end of January, I’ll have them in time to plant them in my little peat pots by early March, and put them in my portable greenhouse in a south-facing window.  Then I can spend the last 6 weeks of cold weather nurturing the little green sproutlets into healthy plants.  By May 1st, I’ll be planting them in my garden plot.

Someone once told me a joke when I was feeling stressed and overwhelmed at work:  “How do you eat and elephant?  One bite at a time.”  A silly joke, but applicable to nearly any overwhelmingly large or lengthy task…say, like, getting through an Indiana winter when you’re a summer person.  Break it down into little, manageable tasks or time blocks, and just get to the next one.  So I’m going to try that with this winter…plant the seeds, water them, water them again, and watch them grow.  And when that’s done, I can stop asking…”Is it spring yet???”

I’m Going Out To Play…

You’ve probably heard the saying, “You don’t stop playing because you grow old, you grow old because you stop playing.”  I’ve also heard “playing” substituted with “laughing” and “dancing”, and even though it sounds a bit like it should be embroidered on a pillow or on a wall plaque at a Hallmark store, it’s true.  Think about it…how many of us have run across an old friend who used to be fun-loving and carefree, and found them to be much more serious and…well, grown up?  And how many of us have thought, “Geez, what happened to YOU?”  

To some degree, this is unavoidable in life…to quote another adage, “Getting older is mandatory, getting old is optional.”  Again, a phrase that’s a bit overused, but true nonetheless.  As we go through life, we take on responsibilities – careers, marriages and children; many of us go through difficult divorces, loss of loved ones, and health problems, just to name a few.  It’s certainly understandable why we get more serious as these things chip away at our happiness.

All the more reason we need to remember who we used to be.  We need to remember to LAUGH.  To find joy.  To go outside and play once in a while.  Throw a ball for the dog, play with our kids, ride our bikes, turn the music up a little too loud…think back to your childhood, to the things that brought you joy, and if it’s not too utterly ridiculous, physically impossible, or illegal, DO IT!  I recently discovered my “rediscovered joy”…a hula hoop.  Seriously.  It’s kinda crazy to think that a 41” plastic circle with pretty tape on it can bring me so much joy, but it does.

A few months ago, I saw a photo of an old acquaintance of mine, and I couldn’t believe my eyes.  She looked AMAZING.  She was never what I would have considered “overweight”, by any means.  But she’s a mom, and she had curves…curves that she earned by having children, and by being a woman approaching 40.  But this picture showed not only a fitter, leaner and more youthful version of my friend, but a HAPPIER version.  I confess, we hadn’t had a real conversation in years, but I had to contact her and ask what her secret was.  

Hula hooping.  Really?  I asked…but yes.  She had taken up hula hooping, learned to hoop dance, lost almost 50 pounds, and found herself.  We talked about what motivated her.  She said that as a stay-home mom, like me, she found herself watching her children play all day, but she herself rarely played, other than the occasional game of Candyland or something else that facilitated THEIR play.  One day, she ran across a video on YouTube of someone who was “hoop-dancing”, a relatively new phenomenon for people of all ages who want to get fit, or just have a little youthful fun.  It spoke to her, so she got a hoop and tried it out, and found that with some practice, she had some real talent.  She is now a professional hoop instructor, and performs regularly at workshops, festivals and camps all over the country.

If you’ve never witnessed the hoop-dancing phenomenon, it’s like a combination of yoga and Cirque de Soleil.  There are plenty of videos on YouTube of people practicing, teaching and performing hoop dancing, at all skill levels.  But the one unifying theme is that they are all having FUN.  They have found a playful form of exercise that not only loosens up their bodies, but loosens up their souls.  I truly believe this is a major theme missing from adulthood – most of us need to loosen up.  I know I do, most days.  Many professional hoopers will state in interviews that they find themselves within the art of hoop-dancing.  And it’s no wonder…the dance creates a zen-like state, where the dancer is so focused on the flow of movement that it becomes meditative.

I found a couple of good YouTube videos featuring hoop-dance…please check them out, if you’re interested.  They both feature a woman who goes by the name SaFire, and she’s amazing.  The first video showcases the more “zen” aspect of hoop dancing, and the real beauty of it…

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IWXOosgyN2I

The second video shows SaFire at a performance…with three fire hoops in motion.  This one is more playful and energetic, and shows the edgier aspect of hoop-dancing.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VcthLhKIntA

I don’t know that I really aspire to perform, or to be anywhere near as skilled as this woman.  I’m pretty sure I never want to tackle flaming hoops.  I just wanted to do something that looks like a whole lot of fun.

So about three months ago, I took the plunge, and bought my first hoop.  I found a weighted hoop at a retail store, designed for weight loss. and started playing.  After a few frustrating failed attempts just to keep the thing up around my waist, it finally stayed up.  And I hooped for the first time in 30+ years…for about 30 seconds.  My next try, I kept it going a little longer, and before long, I was going for 15 minutes.  My heart rate was up, my core muscles were working and I was smiling.  I couldn’t remember the last time I’d truly enjoyed a cardio workout.

So I’m now officially addicted.  My first store-bought hoop is fine, but I’ve since discovered a whole world of handcrafted, custom-made hoops.  In addition to my first hoop, I also have a few handcrafted hoops, including a gorgeous fabric-wrapped hoop, a dance hoop (lightweight, smaller, and WAY beyond my skill set…but I can aspire to use it), and a pair of “minis” for arm hooping.  My goal is to use them for 15 minutes each day…not just because it’s a great workout (400-600 calories burned per hour), but because it reminds me of how to have fun, and to lighten up.  To revisit my inner child, and give her some play time.  I must face it…she REALLY needs to get out more, and this is a carefree way to let her shake out her hair and feel a little wild again.  The neighbors look at me strangely, but I don’t care.  Did I care when I was 10 years old?  Nah.  It isn’t about that.  Maybe they’re just jealous.  Maybe they should just come over and borrow one of my hoops.  And maybe they too should find their own youthful joy, and go out to play.

Hoops

Analog Girl In A Digital World

Today I realized that a very important world is passing me by.  Call it confusion, call it hubris, call it a staunch refusal to be left in the dust, or even the last vestiges of my youth resisting the natural progression of succumbing to “middle age” (gack!).  It’s a terrifying feeling, but surely a feeling that we all get from time to time as life moves faster and faster, and our natural inclination as we get older is to stop and smell the roses.  That’s all well and good, but in the meantime, the  break-neck speed of the world around us continues to accelerate.

What brought this on, you may ask?  A website.  A simple (ha!) website I am attempting to design for a cottage-industry handmade jewelry business that operates out of my house, in the spaces between my duties as a stay-home mom of a 4 year old son, not to mention associated responsibilities that go with a husband, a house, a garden, and eight assorted pets, plus all the other little day-to-day responsibilities that life thrusts upon me.

The story is this:  I designed a website for my little business a few months ago, but felt very limited by the design…it was extremely basic, and relatively expensive for what little freedom I had.  So while at a playgroup with my son recently, I decided to pick the brain of another mom who also has a home-based creative business not dissimilar from mine. She explained to me how she created her site, which I had seen already and found to be quite impressive, and WOW she made it sound so easy!  Never mind the fact that she’s one of those people who makes everything look effortless…she runs her business, cares for her twin 5 year old boys, her house is spotless, and she’s always “put together”, even at playgroups.  In spite of all this, I decided to try designing a new website design based on my friend’s advice.  I wasn’t particularly intimidated.

Side note:  Combine this with the fact that I had just finished reading a very entertaining novel called “Mr. Penumbra’s 24 Hour Bookstore”, which was all about the juxtaposition of a secret society of bibliophiles and the brilliant young employees of Google, and their joined efforts to crack a 500 year old literary code.  Inspired by my newly-piqued interest in internet technology, I thought, “Hey, I can do that – it’ll be a little more challenging, because she has more experience with that kind of thing, but I’m an intelligent, educated woman too, and surely I can get my head around it!”

Nope.

There are several flaws in my theory that I could just jump right in and do this.  One, this new site is not a plug-and-go site like the other ones I’ve used, and I have absolutely NO experience in website development or coding.  I neglected the important fact that, if a website looks impressive, then it probably took an impressive web-savvy individual to get it to look that way.  Two, I am a right-brained person…I like the creative side of life, and have very little patience for that left-brain stuff like…well, internet technology. Accounting.  Organizing.  That sort of thing.  And last, one major detail I neglected to take into account is that my mom-friend is in her late 20’s, and I just turned 43.  I am 15 years older than her, and thus 15 years behind.  I am convinced that people in her generation are born tech-savvy…my belief of this was confirmed on the day my (then) 2 1/2 year old figured out how to use my husband’s smart phone, and I couldn’t even answer a phone call on the bloody thing.

Fifteen years.  It doesn’t seem like all that much in the grand scope of things, but oh baby, it is.  When I graduated college in 1993, Windows did not exist as a commercial product.  Every report I did in college was printed off on a dot-matrix printer on 11×17 scroll paper.  If it was a super-important term paper, we had to go to the ONE Mac lab on a campus of 20,000 students that printed on 8 1/2 x 11 standard paper, and we had to wait in cue for one of the three printers.  The internet wasn’t even on most people’s radar.  Two years later, when Windows hit the scene and the technological world exploded, my mom-friend would have been 10 years old, and in 4th grade.  I was 25, a college graduate and in my third year as a  professional interior designer.  It’s no wonder I feel left behind, as do most people of my age group.  Plus, I chose selected a decidedly low-tech career, one that taught me Windows-based organizational skills, but that’s about it.  Had I been born even 5 years later, I am convinced that my life would be very different.

I have never been the kind to crave the “latest thing” in hot new tech toys…quite the opposite.  My parents brought me up to think that just because everyone else was doing it, that was just about the best reason ever NOT to do it.  (In retrospect, I think this was just a ploy to get out of buying me popular toys and designer clothes.)  This “shun the popular” mentality is deeply ingrained in me, as it is in many people in my age group.  I was the last person I knew to break down and buy a DVD player, to quit hauling CDs to my car and get an iPod, and yes, to get a smart phone (I do actually have one now, and I know how to operate it).  I was on dial-up internet for WAY too long.  You see a pattern forming, surely.

However, if you want to stay even remotely current with technology, “because everyone else is doing it” is just about the best reason ever to jump on a bandwagon, or at least to research what the fuss is all about.  I am not talking about being “cool” or “trendy” here…rather, just knowing what everyone is talking about.  To understand the lingo, to be able to communicate intelligently, and ultimately know whether or not I’m using words that are painting the words “old fart” on my forehead.

My predicament is also somewhat a matter of geography.  I have lived my entire life in the midwest, where it’s even easier to get caught up in the way-back machine. My husband and I married 5 years ago, and shortly before our son was born we moved from Indianapolis to a small town in southern Indiana, in the Ohio River Valley.  Mark Twain once said, “If the end of the world ever happens, I want to be in Kentucky when it does, because everything happens in Kentucky 20 years after it happens everywhere else.”  Not to disparage Kentucky – in my experience, Louisville is one of the hippest cities around, and Newport’s pretty great, too.  But in our neck of the woods, it’s mostly…well, woods.  In some ways, our new home town is very hip – lots of artists, artisans, writers, musicians, etc.  But it isn’t the kind of place where people stay current in technology…it just isn’t a priority here.  Sadly, most of our “best and brightest” tend to leave after high school to pursue higher education and careers elsewhere, taking with them that sense of youth and progressiveness.

So all this said…how can I possibly stay current in the world?  And is it even possible to get older, live a quieter life AND remain connected?  Maybe it’s not that big a deal, but I can’t help but feel like a spectator as the world flies by me, just out of my reach.  My life has become a yin and yang, a world struggling for balance…inner peace against an insane desire to keep up with the more modern, exciting world.  I find myself searching earnestly for what Buddhists refer to as the Middle Way – a way to live centered and balanced between one’s extremes.

Is it possible?

And why does it matter to me?  The reality is, I will never work for Google, and I will probably never be required to be up on the latest technology, beyond trying to build that website that will allow me to market my simple handcrafted art (which is yet another paradox).   I accept this.  But as a mom, I feel something of an obligation to know what’s happening in the world my son will inherit.  As he grows up, he will have to be current on many of these skills, and in our small community, I fear he won’t emerge competitive in the world without additional resources.  On a more immediate note, I still want my website to look beautiful and effectively market my work, and then I want to go back to my work station and allow my artist brain to retreat to a more native setting.

Maybe my “Middle Way” is just about peaceful coexistence, letting the 20-somethings be 20-somethings – tech-savvy and connected, and letting the artists be artists.  Without one, the other has no raison d’etre – no audience, no one to do their thing FOR.  If we all were musicians, there would be no one to come to our shows.  We all have a purpose.  There must be artists and appreciators, musicians and listeners, jewelry designers and jewelry wearers.  Yin and yang.  The Middle Way…balance.

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The Roots of the Inner Peace Journey, a.k.a. Fledgling blogger on the loose

I am on a quest.  A very personal one, which is why I’m putting it on the internet.  To be honest, I realized today that I have been on this quest (journey, path road, call it what you wish), most of my adult life, albeit a rather backwards and sometimes circular one.  After years of peripheral contemplation, I have finally determined that I am on an inner peace quest.  But I also realize I have been going about it all wrong.

This realization came to me as a concrete thought this morning, after I read a brief introduction to a book about the Dalai Llama (the ultimate inner peace guru)…he was conversing with a psychologist about the nature of brain chemistry, and how it affects a person’s thoughts and actions.  It was the classic chicken-and-egg argument – the psychologist believed that brain chemistry creates the way a person thinks, and the Dalai Llama postulated the opposite: What if a person’s thoughts influences their brain chemistry, therefore creating the same circular and perpetuating cycle, but from the opposite perspective? The result would be the same, but the cause completely different.  The psychologist disagreed with the Dalai Llama, his only reason being that psychologists had always believed that it worked his way, therefore it must be fact.

?!?!

Of course, I have read accounts like this since grade school, back to history class when a person believed the world was flat because that’s what everyone else, including the brightest minds of the times, believed.  Same with the sun and stars revolving around the earth (the ultimate argument of self-importance). But today, this struck me in a highly personal way.  It affected me in a way that made me want to dig deeper into my own life, to see how many of these “it’s always been done this way” kinds of thoughts I was using out of habit, but it also created another link in a chain of recent “coincidences” that have made me start thinking hard about the way my own choices affect my life, and why, after years of declaring I am on a “journey toward inner peace”, I don’t seem to be getting any closer…in fact, quite the opposite in some ways.

I am 42 years old, and I have an almost 3-year-old son.  I have a wonderful husband who, with the exception of the typical Mars-Venus kinds of garbage that any marriage incurs, is a wonderful man who works hard and loves his family with his whole heart and soul. He supports and encourages my endeavors, although life is terribly busy and I generally have to carve out little niches of time to pursue them. We are also professional musicians and songwriters, which takes a lot of our time. He is self-employed, and has spent many years building a successful business, and is also the event coordinator for a local music festival.  All of these things, especially when combined with being parents of a toddler, means that free-time to read, go on journeys of self-discovery, and even to take a shower on a normal day, is a serious luxury.

But it’s necessary for my spiritual survival, so here I go with a little personal history.

Four years ago, after a long courtship with a small town that my husband and I fell in love with, I was offered a great job at an interior design firm (my field) in that small town.  We decided to make the big leap – leave the city, sell our house, and relocate our life.  It was supposed to be our version of the “American Dream”, but when we got here, everything went awry, at least for me.  My beloved father died unexpectedly.  The “dream job” was a horrible experience – the company was in overwhelming debt, and due to the housing crash of 2008, our client activity tanked.  Soon after I started working there, I became unexpectedly pregnant with our son, which was not unwelcome, but still a surprise. And then we found out that our “all-inclusive insurance policy” didn’t include maternity coverage, and every related expense would be out-of-pocket.  The company I worked for continued to founder, and I was laid off from my “dream job” when I was 5 months pregnant.  Our house in our former home-city then sat on the market for 18 months, putting even MORE financial pressure on us.

As I applied for every job I could think of, short of working at McDonald’s or Wal-Mart, I realized quickly that an art-based college degree in a small town was a liability that made me virtually unemployable, and the only job I was able to find was a low-paying job with no benefits at a local elementary school.  As fate’s sense of humor would have it, I LOVED this job. I got to work with at-risk kids, most of them from impoverished families, who needed boosts in math and reading, and I had the privilege of feeling like I had a hand in turning some young lives around. With this program, these kids received individualized attention that some of them had never received in their whole lives. But even THAT was stripped away when Indiana State Government decided to declare war on public education, and cut budgets to the bone.  So yet MORE heartbreak was waiting for me when I was laid off AGAIN, this time from a job I truly loved, and was the first source of true fulfillment I had experienced at a job in my entire professional life.  I reluctantly gave up my dreams of going back to school to get my education degree, as I felt that after all the effort and money spent, there would likely be no job for me here.

So fueled further by postpartum hormones, I fell into a crushing depression.  I had taken hit after hit since taking a leap that was designed to improve my life, and instead watched all I had previously worked and lived for be stripped away.  I wanted to move back to the city, but my husband had already immersed himself into the local community, and had no desire to leave.  Why would he?  HIS transition to small-town life had been comparatively seamless.  Mine, however, had been soul-crushing hell.

So how did this affect me?  Well, primarily, I ate. I have always been an emotional eater, and let me tell you, when an emotional eater’s life goes in the proverbial toilet, watch your fingers. The big turning point for me wasn’t waking up for the umpteenth day feeling like my life had no purpose…no.  It was when I had to be weighed at the emergency room one evening.  Our son had croup, and was in need of more care than we could give. So we took him to the emergency room, and in his state of being, he was not able to stand calmly on the scale for a weight-check, so I had to be weighed twice -once holding him, and once on by myself so they could determine his weight by calculating the difference. I had no illusions that I hadn’t gained weight throughout all I’d been through, but I was alarmed to see that my weight was only about 5 lbs less than it was the week before my son was born.  So I had ALL the pregnancy weight, but no baby.

And that was NOT okay with me.

I was ALWAYS the skinny girl in school…the one people would tease because I was so thin. I didn’t TRY to be thin – I ate pizza and burgers, french fries and Cokes, just like all the other kids.  But I was crazy-active, and just never gained weight.  And life was pretty good, so even when I did fall victim to emotional eating, very little damage was done..maybe 10 pounds once in a while, and it always came back off with a few trips to the gym and some healthy eating…hey, I lived in the city, where healthy food was easily and inexpensively found.  Also, since I had a good job, I generally relied “shopping therapy” instead of food when I had a bad day.  I looked at it this way: I may still be in a deep blue funk, but at least I looked svelte and sexy in the clothes I bought. And that alone can be a mood-booster.

But when I made those life-changed four years ago, or as I like to think of it, the day I put my life in a blender, all of that changed.  I lost my disposable income (so no more random shopping), my healthy eating options (YOU try to find tofu and edamame in a town of 12,000 people, an hour away from the nearest metropolitan area), and my free time (trips to the gym, with our schedule?  Forget about it.).  So “shopping/workout therapy” turned into “food therapy”. And with healthy food either at a premium price or the options simply nonexistent, I had to make do with less healthy options. Let’s just say I now fully understand why small-town obesity, especially in children and during depressed economic times, is such a problem.

Please stay with me here – this is NOT a whiner-blog where I sit here and bitch about everything that’s ever gone wrong in my life.  But I do feel that a certain amount of personal history is required here to explain exactly what has set me on this path. And as many people know, when you hit rock-bottom, when you feel like you have nothing left, the only place to go is up. And sometimes you get to redesign things a little on the way.

So here’s what I DO have:  I have a son who is the light of my life, a good marriage, a beautiful home, great pets. I am healthy (weight-gain aside, I am still not in the “obese” category, so that’s something), the bills are paid, pantry is stocked, and I get to stay home and be in charge of how my time is spent every day (well, with housekeeping and toddler-stuff enmeshed).  I still have music as a huge part of my life, even though I’m not writing many songs these days…my recent musical sphere of influence is based in children’s music, and it’s challenging to write an adult-friendly song when you have Barney singing in your head. I live in a beautiful town, full of some of the most amazing people I’ve had the pleasure of knowing, and I am surrounded by nature.  I have found  new creative outlet – I am designing jewelry, and learning new ways of exploring that craft.  It’s not selling much yet, but it’s out there.  So even though in some ways I’m still reeling from the last four years, and still feel totally broke most of the time, when I put it all down on paper, it’s really a pretty good life.

So why do I still struggle with unhappiness and a quest for inner peace? I read an article recently that said focusing on literature and pastimes that are DESIGNED to make a person happy is actually countereffective…the person actually experiences UNhappiness instead, because they end up focusing more on what’s WRONG with their lives and they reasons they’re NOT happy, than on what they have in their lives that’s RIGHT.  As in, “If only I could lose 10 pounds/have a better job/find a better boyfriend/girlfriend…THEN I’d be happy.”  Damn, we humans are ridiculously complicated creatures. Sometimes I would gladly trade places with my cat…the most in-the-now, carefree creature ever created.  Anyway, the point of the article I read was to just do your best to be in the “now”, and embrace pastimes that you truly enjoy, not ones that are specifically designed for enjoyment.

Which brings me back around to the Dalai Llama.  When I read his thoughts on how psychologists have been putting the cart before the horse, it occurred to me that I have been doing the same thing.  I have been toying with the idea of meditation and inner peace for the past 20 years – surrounding myself with all the pertinent paraphernalia, including all the right books (most of which I have never read), meditation CDs (which have never seen the inside of my CD player), crystals and stones that bring good energy (that sit and beautifully catch the light on my windowsills), and even some Tibetan meditation bells (which hang on my side door, and tinkle beautifully each time a friend enters my home…so those bells do actually ring, but it occurs to me that I have found a creative way to get someone else to ring them FOR me).  So I have all the tools, but have taken none of the steps.  I surround myself with the STUFF that makes me feel enlightened for having it in my home, but day after day, there it sits.  All this doesn’t bring me inner peace any more than sitting in my garage makes me a car.

So this morning, I went around to my various bookshelves and book-stashing locations throughout the house, and collected MANY books on inner peace, Buddhism, happiness, meditation, yoga, vegetarianism as a means to care for one’s body as well as the planet, and came up with quite a haul…I found 23 books directly related to these topics. If I were to fringe out a little more, I would probably have found another 15 books.  These have been collected over the past 18 years or so, and I have packed them lovingly in boxes and moved them from dwelling to dwelling, proudly displaying them on my bookshelves for all my guests to see.  Hesitantly, I decided to take stock of how many of these I have actually read…and came up with an embarrassingly low number: I have read four of them.  I am not counting the ones I have browsed and read chapters from, but the ones I have read cover to cover. FOUR of them.  I should be ashamed…and I am.  Which, of course, is why I’m blogging about it.

I went on the initial “inner peace” journey with ambition and joy in my heart when I was a recent college graduate, when I still thought I was going to take the world by storm, and become that totally together, financially sound, independent earth mother type who had a fulfilling and important job yet still found time to be a gourmet cook, a kick-ass gardener with flowers, herbs and a sustainable vegetable garden that would be the envy of all the neighborhood, and in my spare time I would travel, and perform my music in cafes in the far corners of the world. Oh yeah, and I would have READ all 23 of those books, know how to meditate, and be the kind of person others wanted to be around because I had the inner peace thing SO down. I won’t waste time itemizing how much of this has actually happened, even though it wouldn’t take long.  Let’s just say I’m a pretty good cook, and my flower and herb gardens are healthy and awfully pretty.  And I did read four of the books. But most importantly, I still have AMBITION to do all these things.

In part, I realize now that I wanted some of these things for the wrong reasons…some of it I truly wanted for myself, but I also wanted OTHER people to see me in this way – the way I ultimately wanted to be.  It was an image I wanted to project…the cart before the horse.  My ambition is still that I want to be looked up to, but by a different audience…now I only truly care that my little boy sees me as smart, strong, balanced, and in possession of my inner peace.  Everyone with children knows how hard this is to pull off in front of your kids, but it doesn’t mean we shouldn’t strive for it.

My “inner peace” journey really took off when I was in my mid-20’s. I became close friends with the man who would later become my first husband…he’s one of the few people I’ve known in my life who truly has the inner peace thing down.  He’s free-spirited, happy-go-lucky, laughs out loud, loves freely and openly, knows the teachings of the Tao te Ching and actually lives them, and is fun-loving and gregarious.  All these are wonderful qualities in a man, especially if he’s not your husband (hence the divorce).  Without going into ANY unnecessary detail, let’s just say that these aspects make for a great “best friend”, someone to help you escape the rigors and doldrums of daily life, take spontaneous road-trips, and to be frivolous with, but when this person becomes your spouse, all that “fun” becomes “irresponsibility”.  But even though we weren’t a good fit as marital partners, I still love and respect him, and have an immense amount of admiration for the way he manages to live his life.  He’s the only person I’ve ever known who skipped high school one day to spontaneously take part in a peace march, because peace was just more important than sophomore math class that day.  Whatever our differences, my years of friendship with him has helped to fuel my journey, even though it’s been…well, delayed.

When my ex and I split, I did something very foolish…I chose to disassociate myself from everything that, in my opinion, had to do with him.  Not just with his physical presence, but with all the ideologies, lifestyle choices, even the books and music that, in my opinion, defined our relationship.  And in making that choice, I lost. I lost a LOT.  I wandered for many years, forgetting about all those things that, even though they were part of that time in my life, brought me immense joy.  And in that process of dissociation, I lost my joy.

I lost my joy.  I surrendered it, or I misplaced it, or gave it up…whatever happened, it was gone.  No one took it from me – I gave it up freely.  Now here I am, a stay-home mom with a wonderfully joyful and sweet little boy, and it occurs to me that the last thing in the world I want is for him to grow up thinking of me as a somber, unhappy person.  Because I’m NOT.  I just got lost along the way, and now here I am, taking active steps in getting it back.

There have been signs directing me on this path.  Even though I was loosely raised as a Christian, the roots of it have never fully taken.  My parents changed churches several times in my youth, every time church politics got in the way.  And anyone who’s ever been active in a church knows there are ALWAYS church politics, and they’re often disruptive and even contradictory to what one would think would be becoming of Christian behavior.  But history is fraught with such hypocrisy, and that’s a whole other can of worms.

In my young adulthood, somewhere along the way, I became playfully enamored with Buddhism. I read a few things here and there, and loved what I read, but never really pursued it, except with my credit card to purchase the aforementioned “tools” I thought I needed to help me on my way to enlightenment (once again, putting the cart before the horse). My first husband embraced many of the tenets of Buddhism, which I’m sure was part of what was so attractive about him…falling in love with the teacher, in essence, but not taking away much of the lesson.  And when we split, thus I split with Buddhism…until recently.  I have had the concept cross my path several times in recent weeks, and even had a big DUH moment a couple of days ago when I realized my sister-in-law is Buddhist.  She doesn’t wear it on her sleeve, so I don’t really assign her the title in my head. And a good friend in my former home-city is a Buddhist.  I started thinking about it, and realized I have quite a few Buddhist friends in my life…and they’re the happiest people I know.

Any Christians reading this may think I am being a turncoat.  Well, I’m probably going to push you even further over the edge when I tell you I do actually believe in one God…one creator, one spiritual force in the universe, and I believe that creator goes by many different names that have been assigned by different cultures around the world.  God, Buddha, Allah, Mohammed, etc. Other cultures have broken this creative spirit into many different elements, including Native Americans, Hindus, and even back so far as Greek mythology.  But again, this is a whole other can of worms.  I just can’t help noticing, in my particular experience, how similar the teachings of Buddha are to the teachings of Christ.  Just sayin’.  If I’m wrong, I’ll find out in the end, when all mysteries are revealed…or not.

Who knows?  I don’t.  But what I DO know is that I am living NOW, and that I am on a path. I have a lot to learn, and as I learn, I plan to blog, discuss, proselytize, and theorize.  If you’d like to come with me, keep reading.