Out Of The Cocoon Of Normalcy

Are you normal? Or are you not? Do you fit in? Or do you stand out? And whatever it is that you are, do you ever wish you were the other?
These are questions that I personally have struggled with my entire life. Honest-to-God I truly believe I come from an alien race and they just planted me with my earthly family as a science experiment; something to allow me to experience “normal” life on this planet. As opposed o whatever abnormal life existed on my home planet.
See?? You’re already shaking your head saying that Vickie is a nut-job!
You are most likely correct.
But what exactly IS normal?
Dictionary.com says it’s “the quality or condition of being normal, as the general economic, political, and social conditions of a nation; normality”.
Synonyms: ordinariness, uniformity, averageness, commonality, regularity.
Well okay then. I guess if you’re “normal” you “do” what society expects you to “do”, you live your life according to preconceived notions and mores, you subscribe to “traditional” standards and lifestyles, you play by the book.
That would be the book that somebody wrote long before you were dropped off your flying saucer and long before you kept your poor mother up all night pooping your diaper.
This goes to “regularity”.
Okay. Just kidding. If you have a problem, try prunes.
But seriously … do you WANT to be regular? I mean regular like normal like everybody else?
The fact of the matter is … most people (I think) do. It goes back to high school when all we wanted to do was “fit in” and “be accepted”. We never wanted to stand out or be too different. THAT would be suspect. We wanted to BLEND.
But ordinariness? Does anyone really ever aspire to be ordinary? Or average? Or Common?
I don’t know. Maybe? There must be some people somewhere who just want to get through life alive. You know, until they are dead. No wave-making, no rule-breaking, no “writing your own damn book!” Just getting it done day by day until there are no more.
Fair enough.
When I was ten years old my parents dragged the family across the ocean to live in London, England for a time. My sister and I were sent off to proper Grammar school where, for the first time in our lives, we we forced to wear uniforms.
We loved it! Not because the uniforms were uniform but because for us they were unusual and fun and crazy and only for a short time so there was actually nothing at all uniform about us wearing uniforms! Until month one turned into month 5 and we realized (as did our oh-so-grateful mother) that getting dressed in the morning was NEVER an issue. We all KNEW what we were wearing.
Fast forward to my son’s first day of JK and what was he wearing? A uniform. We had decided to send him to a small private school for his formative years which eventually lasted JK-8. Uniforms all the way! And then for high school? HE chose to attend the catholic school nearby because he had friends there and also because … they wear uniforms. That was his normal. That was his comfort zone.
Fast forward another 7 years and my boy is about to release his first record of original songs. His career choice is about as un-normal as it gets. Even with ALL that normalcy leading up to this time and even with a father who has chosen a fairly normal life path, my son is totally off the map. Betting his entire pot on one crazy hand and trusting the universe (or his alien forefathers) to come through! Even though he LOVED uniformity his whole life he is now the least normal sheep in the flock.
And I am so damn proud of him.
Because normal has never been anything that came easily to me. And the older I get, the less normal I become. That’s not to say that I don’t TRY to fit in. I just rarely succeed.
This past weekend I attended a beautiful wedding where tradition was definitely the order of the day. It was incredibly sweet and I wish this lovely couple a hundred years of wedded bliss because I adore them to pieces and they believe in this heritage with all their hearts. Wonderful.
Is it something I could ever do myself?
Nope.
Because apparently on Planet Vickie tradition and normalcy are not applauded. I quite frankly don’t really understand why anyone gets married anymore? Best I can come up with is every girl wants her “Disney Day” and this is the only way she’s ever going to get it. But that’s just me.
I mean face it, we ALL know that half of all marriages end in divorce and I know from personal experience that even those that don’t are often fraught with affairs and dalliances and doubt and regret.
Why set yourself up?
Because it’s expected. It’s normal. It’s what society tells us we should be doing.
It’s also romantic as hell. For a minute or two, anyway.
I do know a few couples who have apparently won the soulmate sweepstakes and are blissfully blended even after kids, careers, wrinkles and menopause.
Few is, alas, the operative word in that sentence.
I also know many divorced couples, a few amicably, most not so much.
Again, FEW is the operative word.
I know one couple who have decided to try an “open marriage”. Love each other loads, passion has died and is apparently un-ressurectable.
Fair enough. Why not try a new strategy and see if it flies?

I know another couple where passion has died and one party doesn’t seem to mind and the other party kinda does so the party of the 2nd part finds passion elsewhere. All the time keeping the family unit intact because the family unit IS the prize. If a little subterfuge keeps the prize in sight, it’s gotta be worth it right?
I know couples who stay together “for the kids” and couples who stay together because they are “best friends” and couples who stay together because they are too lazy to shake things up and I know couples who stay together because they took a vow and damnit that vow is important to them so damnit again they are going to fight to the death to KEEP that vow even if they are miserable for half their lives fighting.
I also know couples who stay together because they took a vow and damnit that vow is important to them so they are going to keep it.
Period.
It my be fucking hard work and it may mean making sacrfices and not always getting what you want or even what you need but those couple take that vow SUPER seriously and nothing on this good green earth is going to shatter it.
Good for them.
Now, look up at all those categories and tell me … which couples are normal and which are not?
I don’t know. Nor do I care.
Because I have decided that maybe normalcy is something you yourself create? And then live.
You see for me, the “cocoon” of normalcy was just an act. Just a play in which I could star. Reciting lines, mind you, written by someone else. But hey, I was the star and I’m pretty damn sure I won a few Oscars.
Truly, it IS ‘safe’ to live within the cocoon of normalcy. You give what everyone expects and you think (or at least hope) you are in a state of blissful harmony with the world around you. You fit in. You gel. You feel protected, much like the chrysalis that surrounds the drab looking pupa of a butterfly.
But that’s the problem. Who wants to be a drab looking pupa? Who wants to be a drab looking anything?
Sometimes, for some people, IF you want to become that butterfly you must surrender your desire for normalcy and let those wings spread. If you want to explore the limits of who you are, what you feel, and how creative you can be, I guarantee you WILL be required to take a risk. IF you want to break out of that cocoon and soar into a world unknown and unseen you simply must stop craving normalcy. Stop adhering to its constraints. Stop believing it is the only way.
Yes, you will be venturing unprotected into a far-away galaxy never-before explored (unless of course you are me because that would be my home). Those static, prescribed, age-old dictums of life can no longer bind you. They are merely elements of life. But maybe someone else’s life.
YOU are about to become the butterfly and the ‘beautiful’ you will only emerge after you break free of the binds of structure and expectation and experience the wings of flight. That is when you will understand metamorphosis – its power, its individuality, its possibility and its perfection. Because you will grow fully and completely into who and what you are meant to become.
However … (and there IS always a but, isn’t there?)
I do not believe you can have a foot in both camps. IF you truly want to seize your destiny, break all the rules, design your own life and escape the cocoon of normalcy, well …
You have to commit. You have to believe that YOUR cause is a just one and then damn every torpedo. The ONLY rule is that you must be authentic.
At the very least authentic to yourself. Call that goddamned spade a spade. Whatever it is … it’s YOUR spade. Embrace it. Live it. Love it.
Please try not to break any hearts. Please try to be honest, kind, loving and true. But most importantly please try to be honest, kind, loving and true to YOURSELF.
You don’t have to be normal if you don’t want to be and you can totally grasp normalcy’s comforting embrace if that’s your jam. Just own it. Whatever your IT is.
IT is your normal.
And your one and only precious life is worthy of IT.

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The Immense Sadness Of Soulmates

Several years ago, during one of our “heart-to-heart” attempts, my mother told me that she feared I would never be happy. Like, ever. She had given this great thought and the pained expression on her face when she uttered this phrase spoke to its torturous veracity.
“Why do you think that?” queried I impatiently, already dismissing her answer because of course I know everything and always have.
She replied “Because you expect too much from people. And no one can live up to your expectations.”
Oh.
Ya think?
I mulled this over for about six years and finally had to admit (like, this morning) that she was right. I do indeed do just that. I expect TOO MUCH from people.
Now, I’m not sure if this is all people or some people or most people or just the people I really like or maybe only the people I love. It’s definitely people, though, so I guess she was right. I mean, I expect my dog to be a good boy and I expect the local bears to stay clear of my summer abode and I expect the chipmunk I’m feeding to come eat out of my hand one day but … holy crap, SEE!  There I go!  Already expecting the damn chipmunk to do something in return. In return for my love. My love in the form of peanuts, mind you. But still my love.
The problem here I believe stems back to my soulmate. I know I’ve written of soulmates recently but this goes further. It goes to the expectation that one actually exists. And maybe more than one? Because if you had one, maybe you can have two? Or even three? What’s to say there’s a limit to quantity in soulmate-land? Because how can we be sure if souls really do mate forever? Is it a reason or maybe just a reason for a season? When the season passes perhaps the reason does too.
In my 20s I mated souls (or so I thought) with the lovely guitar player in my band. He looked like Eddie van Halen, played almost as well, could sing, could laugh, could give me a run for my money at Scrabble and gave me immense emotional and physical joy daily. Until the day he told me (three years in) that we wouldn’t be having any kids because he already had a family (he was divorced with a daughter) and one was enough, thank you very much.
At that time my biological clock wasn’t exactly ticking but I sure hadn’t written off the possibility of creating another human being at some point with my soulmate. He, on the other hand, had.
It was the beginning of our end.
Fast forward about 25 years and who walks into a little restaurant where I’m performing but Eddie #2. I swear I did not recognize him. Gone was the long hair. Funky jeans. Cowboy boots. Eddie had gone completely corporate. He looked good. Just corporate.
Turns out the reason Eddie looked corporate was because he WAS corporate. Long ago abandoning music as a viable career, he had returned to school, got some badass degree and was now the president (yes Mom and Dad who never thought he would amount to much – the PRESIDENT!) of a huge automotive company. He drove a Porsche!
Apparently one of his employees had mentioned this chick jazz singer at this sweet bistro and my name came up and he was incredulous and Eddie’s marriage was on the rocks so he drove the hour to see me and THERE I WAS!  Playing in a little band.
With my current soulmate. The harmonica player, if you must know.
Long story short, Eddie ultimately professed a desire to run off with me, I professed gratitude for his desire but also a desire to remain mated with that current soul, so we forged a friendship, stayed in touch, eventually current soul ditched me, Eddie had another relationship, that tanked and at that one moment years later when we were both actually FREE … we got together. Just to, ya know, see.
You know what happened? Nothing. Nada. Not a single spark flew. We had created such a nice friendship the thought of taking it further was almost laughable. I’m actually pretty sure we did laugh.
So here’s my point – we were soulmates. At one time on our parallel journeys our souls DID mate and it was heavenly. It just didn’t last.
Same with harmonica-man. Even more so. We were completely and utterly mated, soul, heart, mind and body. It was heavenly. It just didn’t last.
The problem is, my dear mother (rest well), once you have tasted that sweet nectar, nothing else will do. It is so very difficult to settle for water when you have tasted wine. So very difficult to accept good enough when you have experienced magic. Glorious, daily magic.
And that is why I still expect too much. I don’t look at it as too much. I see it as just enough. Just enough to make everyday life bearable. Just enough to accept tragedy and sadness when they befall. Just enough to fuel my tank just enough to give back … just enough.
And that’s the thing. I am more than willing to give back more than my share. Seriously, take my heart, take my money, take my energy, take my words and my music and my food and my wine and my time and yes, please do take my soul. Here it is … on a platter.
And if that’s not in the cards then please forgive me for expecting too much. Apparently I have been doing it for a very long time.
A few months before my father died, at a time when I was experiencing huge marital difficulties which distressed my parents greatly, my dad took me aside and very privately whispered “Vickie, the best thing I ever did was stay with your mother. Because now I am going to die with my best friend.”
And he did.
Because they were.
His words bought my marriage another 5 years.
But I also received surprisingly different counsel from someone else very close to me. She told me that we basically have two options when this ‘mid-life crisis’ occurs: we can choose family for the sake of family or we can choose the quest for soulmatedness. And she emphasized that neither was the right choice. They were both noble choices and it was UP TO ME to decide which was the one for me. Period. Then it was up to me to make that choice and live it.
At that time my father’s words prevailed. Five years later it was a different story. And even when that soulmate broke my heart I still got back up on that fucking horse and kept on expecting too much. Those cracks and bruises and scars did not stop me from expecting too much. Not then.
And not now.
Some may call it pressure. Some may call it foolishness. Some may call it just plain ridiculous.
Yep.
I learned it all from my soulmates. These lessons came with immense sadness.
The thing is they also came with immense joy.
Which is exactly why I continue to expect too much.
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Oral Just Ain’t What It Used To Be!

We all know that every day is something special and I believe yesterday was National Emoji Day.

Exciting, right? A full day to celebrate those useful little faces (and other things) that we are now obliged to insert into texts and emails so that we are certain the recipient will “get” our meaning. Well okay, we are not obliged and I do know lots of people (old people like me) who rarely use them at all. But don’t you find it fascinating that they exist? And that there is now a day to honour them?

Oh wait. Have I confused you? When you saw the title of this blog did you think I was going to discuss something else? (insert smiley face with halo here)

Sorry to disappoint (if I did) but when I’m talking about “oral” I am talking about “oral communication”. As in conversation. Face to face chat. Words said out loud to someone who is in the same room.

Even on the phone for that matter. Seriously, how many people do you actually call these days? I have a few friends (old people like me) who still pick up the phone. And thank goodness my son prefers live chat to lengthy text dialogues with his mother. But even I (old) now conduct most of my correspondence via a keyboard.

And this is fine. If it’s all about logistics or life catch-up or even announcing news.
It is, however, not so fine when you are engaged in discussion of a more esoteric, personal nature. Like say, the state of your romantic union, religion or politics. THEN your lingusitic capabilities are brought into full question and I will tell you even some of the very best writers I know FAIL. They fail to communicate EXACTLY what they are trying to communicate because, as it turns out, we’re not all Shakespeare. We don’t all fully delight in the creation of the perfect phrase. We don’t all have poetry coursing through our veins nor do we all know how to type quickly with more than two fingers.
And then there’s that pesky little problem of making sure the beneficiary or our ramblings actually truly understands their intent. That is the BIG FAT fucking problem. Because if we are not erudite ENOUGH to share our thoughts clearly and succinctly without even the slightest possibility of misinterpretation well guess what? We open ourselves up to ALL kinds of big fat Misinterpretation.

I communicate via email fairly regularly with a friend who is intelligent, interesting and eloquent. I would love to believe that I am kinda sorta the same (c’mon now, that was funny).  And just last week we found ourselves lost in a quagmire of misunderstanding. Somebody thinks something is funny and somebody else thinks something is hurtful and you don’t hear the vocal inflection and you don’t see the twinkle in the eye and all of a sudden you are up to your neck in miscommunicative muck. Not necessarily on purpose. Maybe just because we didn’t use enough emojis and we rarely talk in person. We don’t have that quiet understanding born of many same-room conversations.

Now at this point you might be thinking “Okay Vic, thank you, we get it, you want more oral in your life.”

Well yes.

And no.

Because the written word in its new immediate form also offers SO many benefits.
The aforementioned ability to instantly connect without invading anyone’s personal space. That is EXACTLY why I do love email and text. I can read at me leisure and I can respond at my leisure. It is all about MY leisure. I don’t have to answer a phone call during dinner and I don’t have to have a face to face conversation that I may not be ready (for any number of reasons) to have. Email and text offer me CONTROL.
And I like that.

They also offer me the opportunity to read and re-read and re-read again and only THEN formulate my response which I may or may not edit, re-edit and sleep on before sending. These are all REALLY GOOD things. Especially if the discussion is heated, volatile and/or passionate.

My pal T was involved in a relationship with a guy who possessed the gift of gab and was super quick on his feet, especially during a lover’s quarrel. And she would then moan to me “Vic, I get lost in these discussions because he is just SO good at them and I forget my place and then my thoughts and I just sit there like a dummy while he pummels me with words!”

And I replied “Okay then. Don’t have those conversations with him. Not in person. Write down your thoughts and concerns and questions and send them to him. Bullet-pointed! So that he then has an opportunity to address them one by one and you have an opportunity to get the answers you need.”

Apparently he didn’t much like that. He preferred the upper hand he knew he had in live dialogue and didn’t really want to answer anything on paper (so to speak). It just wasn’t in his playbook. He didn’t really want to address her concerns or advance their relationship. He wanted to win. And he could only win on one playing field.

It was the end for them. And rightly so.

Because when we are offered SO many avenues of communication and when refuse to avail ourselves (and our relationships) of ALL of them we are doing ourselves a great disservice. I mean seriously, why wouldn’t we explore ALL options of intercourse?

Oops.

There I go again, confusing you.

But not really.

Because connection is connection is connection. And intercourse is not just a word for sex. Would you choose only one “style” of sex for all time? And if not why in heck would you choose only one “style” of communication?

We live in a blessed time when letters don’t take months to arrive, live conversations are only a few clicks away and even face to face expression is easy to facilitate, even if you are on opposite sides of the planet.

To fully and completely make yourself known and understood, why wouldn’t you try every style?

Sure, maybe oral ain’t what it used to be but it still is exactly what it’s always been.

Available.

Along with so much more. Just don’t forget about it.

Enjoy the buffet.

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So What Exactly Is The Purpose Of Life?

When I asked this question on social media I was gifted with many different answers. From “there is no purpose” to “if you need a purpose go find one” to “helping others” to “finding happiness” and “giving and receiving love” to “giving back more than you take” to “success in all endeavours” (including getting out of bed in the morning) to “becoming comfortable in your own skin” to “learning and growing” and finally to just “living it!”

All noble responses and each as profound as the next.

So then I got to thinking … okay, how would I wrap up life’s purpose into one phrase? One succinct sentence that just might collate all of these thoughts into one simple dictum.
Ready?

The purpose of life is adventure.

Yes. I truly believe that the purpose of life is to treat it all as a great adventure. The ups, the downs, the bliss, the sadness, the disappointments, the highs, the heartbreak and the joy … all part of the huge adventure called life.

Think about it. Every time you set out to help your fellow man, whether on a grand scale or an intimate one-on-one level, YOU are creating an adventure. When my mother was undergoing radiation treatment and my sister and I were spending a lot of time ferrying her to and fro, she feared we might come to resent her. And we replied with full honesty “Not even one bit! Because this too is part of the adventure. The adventure of your long and fruitful life and the adventure of seeing its finale celebrated with grace and love.”
Indeed, the morning after she died I posted that she had “slipped quietly into her next adventure.” The earthly one was complete. The next one was a mystery waiting to be unraveled.

If you are searching for happiness, fulfillment and contentment I reckon you can do it one of two ways. The first is to sit around and wait for it to show up. Yeah, you can try that but I am pretty sure passive happiness-seeking has never won the day. I mean sure, you can find moments of contentment in a beautiful sunset or the call of the loon at sunrise but IF you want to actually live a happy life you have to create a happy life.
And therein arrives ADVENTURE! Because IF you look at this process as a great and exciting adventure then guess what? It WILL be a great and exciting adventure. If you, however, look at it as too much effort or poor me – what else? then yep, it is gonna be a slog. Doesn’t adventure sound so much more appealing? Go forth and adventure into the land of on-line dating! Go forth and move city and job to a more appealing locale! Go forth and travel as much as your heart and bank account will allow. Just remind yourself that adventure IS your buzz word. Not fear.

Certainly the blessing of giving and receiving love is one of life’s greatest adventures. Whether it’s your mate, your child, your friend, your dog, your parent or your boss, every single person in your orbit is part of YOUR adventure. They all bring nuance and colour and perspective and soul to your existence.

“But what about when my heart gets broken?” you might counter? That sure as hell ain’t no fun adventure!

Perhaps not. At the moment. But if you stop and say “Well, this kinda sucks and I’m kinda miserable but ya know what? THIS is going to lead to my NEXT adventure!” Well then everything changes. Because then, along with the despair comes huge, wide-open, blank-page HOPE! And nothing fuels an adventure better than unbridled optimism.

Years ago, when I was (yet again) newly single, and pondering the possibility of reuniting with my newly-departed love, only because I was alone and lonely, I reminded myself that my NEXT adventure was just around the corner. My last adventure had concluded and the next one had not yet commenced but damnit IT WAS COMING and all I had to do was be patient. Do the work. Make sure I was available for something new and exciting and not mired in the muck of everything old and done. Because as long as I was mired I was stagnant. And adventure is all about moving forward!

I just checked the dictionary.com definition of adventure. The usual suspects were there and then there was this: Adventure = a bold, usually risky undertaking; hazardous action of uncertain outcome.

And that, my friends, is life. A a bold, usually risky undertaking; hazardous action of uncertain outcome.

Well, the outcome is pretty certain. We all know where it ends. The real question is HOW is it lived?

As you read these words, please don’t think this is just a Well, that is just some overfed white chick blowing Disney smoke out of her ass.

I may be those things but I also know about life. Adventure. And change. As a matter of fact, I am pretty sure my life is about to change again. Because my beloved’s life is changing. And even though these changes aren’t exactly what we might choose they are coming whether we want them or not.

So … what do we do?

I vote for ADVENTURE. I choose to accept what comes and then move forward with an open mind and open spirit, ready for the next challenge. I am not mad or sad. Don’t get me wrong – if there was a fight here, I would fight! But there is no fight. Sometimes the greatest adventure is acceptance. And then forward motion. Or, in the words of one of my favourite Smooth Jazz groups Pieces Of A Dream – Forward Emotion. With an E.
Embrace the adventure and bring your heart and soul along for the ride. The rest of you will follow.

Because adventure doesn’t have to be climbing mountains or sailing oceans or safaris in Africa or traveling to outer space. Adventure is everyday living. IF you remember that the greatest adventure in life is LIFE. Being alive. And being grateful and excited for each and every day.

Go be an adventurer!

You lead and I am pretty sure your life’s purpose will follow.

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Alone And In Pain

Yep. That’s me on this sunny, hot summer evening in cottage country. Alone and in pain.

Well, okay, not totally alone. My dog is here and there are lots of people surrounding me. But in my own little sanctum I am solo. No other human is present, sharing my agony.

Well, okay, it’s not really agony (do you think I maybe have a tendency to exaggerate?). I’m just in pain because I took a rather nasty tumble off my (new pink) bicycle a few nights ago and it would appear I have bruised or cracked a few ribs. I also have cuts and scrapes and a weird pulled muscle in my thigh but mostly the pain is stemming from my ribs. Breathing is problematic, especially when walking. Lying down can also be a challenge (as is getting up) and the biggest pain comes when I try to roll over. I am a confirmed tosser and turner so sleep isn’t easy.

Oh well. This is why they invented Tylenol. And wine.

But here’s the thing – even though I am alone and in pain I am okay. Content. Feeling blessed. It is summertime in my happy place, I have strong WiFi and a portable job. A terrific little chalet. And a great guy and great friends joining me here this weekend. So even though there is physical pain and I am alone enduring it, I’m good.

But I do remember the days of “together and in pain”. In a relationship, my beloved beside me, and the pain screaming so loud I thought I might scream along. Just to drown it out. Those were not good days. And yet on the outside they looked like fantastic days. “I’ve got it all” days. No need to worry about me days because everything was hunky-dory.

Except it was not. I was as isolated as a widowed goose, game-face on, fake smile shining, tormented heart breaking.

Wretched.

I remember the days of being “in a crowd and in pain”. A dear friend once threw me a birthday party filled with bon vivants, live music, food and booze and I was so despondent, yet trying SO hard to have a good time and then realizing that failure was an absolute guarantee that I eventually bailed and took a very expensive cab ride home, weeping profusely the entire drive. All those people there FOR ME and it was not enough. It was not what I needed. Because I was as isolated as a widowed goose.

Yes, I have been in a crowd and in pain. And the crowd only amplifies the feeling of isolation that invariably accompanies the pain.

I have also been on stage and in pain. With a band, in front of a room full of revelers, expecting me (and the boys) to keep them entertained all night long. And yet every note, every lyric and every breath brought me closer to absolute emotional annihilation. And yet I was able to affix the ever-present mask firmly in place, soldier on and … not look like I was in pain. Nope. I most certainly looked like I was having a rip-snorting, fun old time.

Wretched.

So here I sit on this summer eve, hot (not the good kind), a little sweaty, a lot sore, alone and in pain.

Physical pain.

Oh, my friends … what a difference! What a blessed difference!

I’m a woman. Did you know that a woman’s pain tolerance is nine times that of a man? I don’t know if that’s true but it was in a movie I watched last night. All I know is I have survived childbirth, a ruptured appendix, a severely broken ankle, horrible teenage acne and (for the 2nd time) bruised (or cracked) ribs.

I’m good.

I will take alone and in this pain any day over those other days. Those bad old days when my soul’s pain screamed louder than any broken bone ever could.

I am in pain. But not crying.

I am alone. But not lonely.

I am grateful.

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The Art Of Receiving Criticism

A few days ago, I was told by a friend that I “don’t take criticism very well.”
“WTF?” retorted I indignantly. “Are you kidding me?”
My blood pressure rose significantly, as did my voice. “Who me … not take criticism well?” And then one last stab: “Are you fucking crazy?”
Okay, the truth is none of that happened. Except for the criticism that I don’t take criticism very well. That happened.
And fair enough. It might well be true. Because really, when you think about it, who does take criticism well?
No one I know, that’s who. Because when it comes to being told what we are not getting right, or doing well enough or downright failing at, nobody likes to be on the receiving end of negative judgment. And most of us do not respond positively to it.
Can you imagine –
“Hey Barbie, that shirt looks adorbs on you but whoa … did you style your hair in the ceiling fan tonight?” At which time Barbie obviously responds “Well golly, aren’t you the sweetest?!”
I don’t think so.
Or how about – Boss: “Your work ethic totally sucks, young lady, and if you don’t pull up your socks you will find yourself out of a job faster than you can say You’re fired!” At which time terrified employee responds “So grateful that you told me this, sir, and yes I promise, no more droopy socks.”
Again. I don’t think so. Not in the real world. Because in the real world most of us, when criticized, respond in one of three ways:
  1. Silence. Usually of the stunned variety.
  2. Defense. We try with all our might to explain exactly why we did/wore/thought/wrote. We do this until we are blue in the face
  3. Offense. Because so very often when we are told we did something wrong our immediate response is to remind the accuser of ALL the things he or she has done wrong. Ever. You know, since the beginning of time.
This is how most people usually respond.
The problem is none of these responses is typically very effective.
Silence equals agreement. Acceptance. Acquiescence. Unless of course your silence is coupled with a passive-aggressive response such as unfriending on Facebook, blocking on Instagram or unfollowing on Twitter. Then it becomes silent bullshit. And I already wrote that blog.
Defense is fine if you are calm and eloquent and even a little witty. Like, say, Accuser says “Hey Vic, you’ve gotten a bit chubby” and I blithely retort “Well, darling, I still have time to lose weight but you will always be stupid.”
Oh wait. That is defense followed by offense. Also not a very good idea.
Seriously, defense is okay IF you excel at public speaking or creative writing and IF your accuser is willing to listen and absorb. Perhaps alter their opinion. Sadly we’re not all literary superstars nor are most people adept at changing their minds. It’s an ego thing. We blurt out something willy-nilly and then stand by it as if it was written by an angel in the first testament.
So how then do we learn to accept negative evaluation with grace? With consideration? With, dare I say, an open mind?
The answers are: Who. How. Why.
We remain silent – at least for a moment – and conduct a little inner survey.
WHO is leveling that critique? If it’s your boss you better damn well sit up and listen and then get on with pulling up those socks. That is, of course, if you want the job. But yeah, your boss is kinda important. So is your partner, your best friend, your parent or even your kid. If the critic is someone whose opinion you value then yes, please, take a time-out and calmly consider their appraisal. Do this before you have the tantrum. Take a deep breath (or 20) and think about the person, their relationship to you and then …
HOW. How did this person give you the blessed news? Was it blurted out in hostile fashion, with perhaps some motive ulterior to the actual words? Was it offered calmly to help you gain perspective or improvement? Was it carefully thought out and lovingly delivered NOT to smack you upside the head but to give you something vital and important to ponder? And that’s the big thing, isn’t it? Because if your evaluator isn’t actually helping you (you know – constructive criticism) but is instead merely sounding off, we are led to the WHY.
WHY is this person overcome with the need to make you feel bad. And let’s be brutally honest here, okay – criticism always makes us feel bad. At least initially. But now that you have assessed the WHO and the HOW, the WHY becomes the final piece in the puzzle. Was the analysis delivered as an honest attempt to help you see a light and become your best self or as a selfish ruse designed only to make the accuser feel better? That, my friends, is the big fat HUGE question.
Every time I write a blog I open myself up to criticism. From people I know, people I love and virtual strangers. Every time there is a song written, a new book published, a political cartoon posted, a dress designed, a meal created or a landscape painted, the creator of that whatever opens themselves to evaluation. And I will tell you from personal experience that takes a certain kind of resolve. Metal. Balls of steal. Call it what you will.
There are many people on this planet who never open themselves up to that kind of scrutiny. Because it is terrifying and painful.
For those of us who do I offer only two bits of advice:
  1. Stay true to your vision. Whatever it is. Own it. Embrace it. Be open to new perspectives and receive praise and damnation with equal aplomb. But DO NOT be terrified.
  2. Say thank you.
I’ve decided that will be my new “catch-all” response to those who choose to judge.
Thank you.
Thank you for weighing in, thank you for offering your opinion, thank you for taking the time to let me know what you believe I am not excelling at and thank you for caring enough to include me in your busy day.
Thank you.
I’m also going to think long and hard before I criticize anyone about anything. Especially the people I love.  It’s going to be tough but I am going to try. And when I am on the receiving end I will pause, breathe, breathe some more and then be grateful.  It’s an art, this grace-full receiving, this I know. And as we know, art is always open to criticism. But I am just a little smarter than I was yesterday, a little thicker-skinned and a little more optimistic. So it’s all okay.
Oh by the way … thank you.
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You Know What … Maybe It IS All About Me?

Do you remember (many years ago) those “Baby On Board” bumper stickers? They became very popular and everyone agreed they were a good reminder to drive with more caution. After all, that tiny brand new soul was in the vehicle.
Well everyone except my clever pal H. I hadn’t yet spawned any offspring but she had a brand new daughter and as we drove off to lunch together (her baby safely at home with Grandma) and stopped behind a minivan at the lights she said “Those things are stupid!”
I will tell you, I was shocked!  A brand new mother calling baby safety stupid?
She went on: “I am a mother and of course I will slay dragons to protect my child, and of course everyone should drive with caution and care. But what makes a baby’s life more important than an adult’s? Is it just dandy that I drive recklessly with my mother in the car? When I drive alone is it acceptable behavior to plow into my Datsun at your earliest convenience? Do you only have to access your brain and therefore your best driving skills when you see that bumper sticker? Stupid.”
I was flabbergasted. And enlightened. Because of course she was right. Yes, babies are magical little critters and so are husbands and grandmas and puppies and friends. And so are we. We as in individual human beings navigating this life through valleys and mountains as best we can. We too are important.
So when someone says “You always make it all about you” why do we take it as an insult? Well of course it’s because it is always meant as an insult. But much like that bumper sticker was meant to remind us to slow down and pay attention, maybe we are also meant to be reminded to take care of ourselves? Because the bottom line is if you don’t make it all about you, who will?
Now I’m not suggesting here that we all get up our own asses to the point of narcissism, selfish behaviour and lack of humanity. What I am pondering tonight is self-care. The innate right to not only put yourself first ON OCCASION but your duty to ensure that your well being is actually being attended to. Kind of like the oxygen on a plane. Take care of yourself first because if you don’t you will be rendered incapable of taking care of anyone else.
As parents we are daily faced with the great challenge of watching our spawn face their challenges. And as parents we desire with all our hearts to minimize those challenges with daggers and muskets if need be. Nobody wants to see their kid in pain.
But every kid has to grow up sometime and every parent has to loosen those apron strings so that said kid CAN grow up. Become accountable. Make wise decisions.
At the same time, we parents have to remember that we are also worthy. We are worthy of joy and adventure and contentment. We are worthy of emotional sustenance and a sympathetic ear. We are worthy of oxygen. It is not in our job description to abandon all individual pursuits in order to be available 24/7. Of course we need (and want) to be available. But it is also vital that we take in that oxygen for ourselves too and sometimes make it “all about me”.
I actually believe there is a certain selfishness in ignoring your own self. We are given but one life on this planet, at least in our current configurations. We are given countless opportunities to do good and help out and give back and pay forward. However we need fuel to facilitate these endevours and that fuel comes from self-care. When we devote ALL of our energies to others – even our children – we enter into a dangerous martyr-land where dying for the cause is preferable to living, helping, changing, sharing and living some more. Living some more.
I am fortunate to have in my life enough symbiotic relationships where the yin and yang of give and take ebbs and flows constantly … yet always fairly. Some of these associations have lasted 40 years, some 4 years, some 4 months. The beauty is no one ever questions if it’s all about me today or all about you today because we know that if it’s all about one of us today the other will have their day tomorrow. Or the next day. We understand that life is never 50/50. We offer help when it is needed and we ask for help when we need it. That is real love. Real friendship. Real relationship.
So I beseech you – every now and then make it ALL about you. Get that oxygen. And if you can’t reach it ask someone else to get it for you. Someone who believes in you and you trust. Someone who recognizes the ebb and flow and has no interest in insulting you. Someone who reminds you that yes, you are worthy.
Because you are. Even if you’re not a baby.
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