I Will Find Hope. Even if I Don’t Want to.

Okay, so this post is kinda serious. But I’ve had a few things on my mind and I wanted to write about them, so I figured it was best not to limit my voice here. I mean, in real life I’m not totally full of crap all the time. A good portion of the time, yes, but ALL the time? No. So if you were hoping for the usual absurdity, feel free to browse the archives, go get a Cadbury egg (they’re in stores all ready! Praise be!), and come back next week. I’ll probably be spouting some nonsense about music videos or my plans for my twilight years (hint: they include Bloody Marys and scaring children) or something like that. (Oh, also…thanks to Studio30 Plus for the writing prompt.)

Photo via Greg Timm @ Flickr

There’s a Weight Pulling On Me

I mentioned a while back that I’ve been doing some research on johns and prostitution and other unsavory topics for a project that I’m working on. I also mentioned that doing so will bum you out in a hurry. And it did. It does. It’s continuing to. I still don’t want to bombard you with the details of the research, because its kinda a topic that you want to be prepared to think about. Like, you don’t really want to be surprised by the darkness of it all. I’m a firm believer that surprises should be positive. That’s why, at surprise parties, everyone just yells in jubilee and smiles; they don’t throw ketchup and lizards at you. So I won’t be listing out all the details of the things that have been weighing on me, but I do want to talk about the weight itself. See, over time, each piece of data, each little story, each personal connection—they’re breaking down my ability to hold out hope for the soul of humankind.

As I grow older, it seems that more and more of the people and institutions that I trusted—that I revered—crumble and fall before my very eyes. Those that represented safety, goodness, integrity, and strength are found to have been corroded from within, their gleaming outsides eventually giving way to what had begun to die so long ago. Our news outlets are never in want for these tales of the fallen. The Catholic church stood brokenhearted in shame as its bastions destroyed the delicate hearts of parishioners. Evangelical pastors are found pursuing sexual relationships of all kinds outside their homes. Senators, governors—our public servants—are found to have forfeited the needs of their electorate for their own gain, serving themselves above all else. Teachers, parents, grandparents, businessmen, social workers—no one is off-limits. No one is sacred. Everyone is suspect.

Deceit. Betrayal. Scandal. Greed. Rage. Hubris. There are days when the endless torrent of our weakest moments threatens to drive even the most hopeful buoy to the depths of the sea. And that feeling—the feeling of unwillingly plunging into the abyss where the dark waters obscure even your own limbs—that feeling has hounded me.

Normally, I smile and say hello to people when I’m out on a walk. Normally, I make polite chit-chat with the checker at the grocery store. Normally, I keep my mind open to voices of wisdom and grace that might find their way to me. But these days, I find myself closing off…doubting…being afraid of what I can’t see in a man’s eyes. I have this sneaking suspicion that every person is just one second away from having their rotting interior exposed. And we will have one less good person in a world already short on goodness.

A Short Detour on Obligation and Boundaries

I don’t believe in obligation. I spent many, many years of my life doing things out of obligation because no one ever taught me about appropriate boundaries. The thing with obligation is that when you say yes when you want to say no, you end up hating whomever you said yes to. It makes you cranky. And bitter. And all kinds of nasty things. So, once someone did teach me about boundaries, I stopped doing things out of obligation. I only do things when I want to do things, even if someone makes a really sad face. Even if they think I’m a terrible person for not doing the thing. I would rather live and give genuinely than get caught up in the ugly snare of obligation.

And yet…

Over the last few days I realized that I do feel one obligation. An obligation that I will accept. An obligation that I will cling to, even if I don’t feel like it. Even if it’s hard. Even if my heart breaks a little.

I will be obligated, until death, to believe. To hope. I will never give up on a life, no matter how decrepit it becomes. I will never give up on love somehow finding its way through our diseased veins. I will never concede the fight and let my daughter live in a world that is too broken and damaged to be beautiful.

I call this an obligation, because at this moment, I’m not feeling inspired to believe. I don’t have that feeling that somehow good outweighs the bad; somehow light finds its way through the darkness. The great and powerful words delivered by sages of years passed are falling from my ears, unheard. I’m just having a hard time feeling goodness in the world. So that’s where I pledge my dedication. I pledge my obligation…

I’ll not let go.

I’ll not sink.

I will believe, dammit. I. WILL. Believe.

My Very First Guest Post

It’s an exciting weekend, folks. Yes it is! For, this very weekend, my first guest post went up over at reamsphoto.com. Hop on over there to read my musings on wedding planning, 1999, the fabulousness of the internet, and new words that are going to catch on like wildfire (glam-b-que anyone?). And if you haven’t heard, the grand prize for their Inspired by Love contest is a $2800 full engagement and wedding photo package. Enter soon—the contest closes at 11:59PM PST February 7th!

How to Write Drama Like a Hollywood Pro in Three Easy Steps!

1. Write about some people.

Guy on the Go Bus

This guy would be a fine character. He's even all thoughtful looking. Image By wmacphail @ Flickr

Just any people. It doesn’t really matter. All the drama will be taken care of in steps 2 and 3, so don’t try to get all artsy. Just write about your mailman, or hairdresser or a guy you saw on a bus once.

2. Sprinkle a little sci-fi on it.

Just a little. Like everyone’s normal, but then there’s a magical black puff of smoke that eats people (wouldn’t that be weird?), or maybe sometimes when one of the characters eats salt he can see in the other people’s souls. Or maybe someone has farts that cure cancer. But he only finds out about it by accident when he eats some bad tacos and visits his grandma in the cancer ward and then everyone’s cured. Just a little sci-fi’ll do ya.

3. Remove all critical and/or relevant dialog. Replace with “acting” faces.

tim usavage

Actors should make faces like this, but not say any words. No words! Image by diegodiazphotography @ Flickr

This is the most important step. Any time two of your characters are having a discussion and something absolutely imperative comes up, make sure that the character with the critical information, instead of sharing it, makes a sad face, or looks scared or opens her mouth for a second, but then closes it. When none of the critical information necessary for success/healthy relationships/normal societal functioning is communicated, everything goes to hell. And that, my friends, is drama.

For added instruction, I will now demonstrate these techniques.

A Story – Boring/Normal Version

Sondra, who is the head of a corporation, has been dating Mark, the head of a different corporation. Mark gets a phone call, learning that his young sister, Suzy, has a mysterious illness and is expected to die within the week. Mark, being so upset, goes to see Sondra. They embrace, and talk about how this news makes them feel. They decide that family is what is most important, and they both decide to take as much vacation time as they can to be with Suzy. On the way over to the hospital they listen to NPR, but then turn it off so they can think in silence. A week later, Suzy dies and they attend her funeral, where they reflect on their lives and decide to volunteer at the hospital once a week. The end.

The Only Story That Will Ever Matter – Hollywood Version

Sondra, who is the head of a corporation, has been dating Mark, the head of a different corporation. Mark gets a phone call, learning that his young sister, Suzy, has a mysterious illness and is expected to die within the week. Mark thanks the doctor, hangs up, looks at a picture of himself, Sondra, and Suzy, then quickly turns over the picture, and gets back to work—ignoring the fact that he just received devastating news.

Meanwhile, Sondra is giving a presentation to the board of directors. Mid-sentence, she collapses onto the table, spilling her water, then stares off creepily while whispering, “Suzy.” A moment later, she straightens up and continues with the presentation. Even though EVERYONE in the room is thinking, “Holy sh*tballs, what was that?!” no one says a word.

Sondra and Mark are having dinner. Suzy is weighing heavily on both of their minds. “I’ve been thinking a lot about Suzy,” says Sondra nonchalantly over her tortellini. “Really? Why is that?” asks Mark. [Note: this is where the characters would normally share the interesting/important information from their lives. DON'T LET THEM DO IT!] Sondra opens her mouth for a second, then closes it, then says, “Just because. We should have her over for dinner.” Mark nods, makes a very serious face, then opens his mouth a little, then closes his mouth, then nods again.

Later Sondra finds herself compelled to wander the halls of the local hospital. She finds Mark hovered over Suzy’s lifeless body, crying. “Mark?! Wha…?” Sondra sputters, confused. “I…” starts Mark, but Sondra holds a finger up to his mouth. Mark turns for the door, having made serious faces. Sondra puts her hand on Suzy who, against all odds and rules of reality, twitches oh so slightly and says, “Mark?” Sondra opens her mouth to call to Mark, but then doesn’t. The end.

See how that works? You could probably write something normal that actually happened to you, then just go back with a black marker and take out anything that seems even slightly important. And add magic. Reality – common sense + mystery = drama. The point is to work the audience into a fervor with their desire to see the characters communicate like rational humans.

Feel free to add your secret spices to the pot, folks. It’s for the arts.

The Flu, Prostitutes and My Childhood Hamsters

Friends, it’s been a rough couple of weeks. I’ve been biting my tongue about it (or biting my fingers? Is that what you do when you don’t type words about something?) while we scraped and clawed our way through YET ANOTHER bout of illness, but now that we’re out I just want to say that it was terrible. Dreadful. I mean, you know how I feel about colds, and this one hit the WHOLE family. Starting with the kid, who vomited on us, tried to catch her internal organs on fire with her rampant fever and kept us on our toes with her swollen airway leading to a trip to the ER. Have I mentioned how super fun parenting is? It’s fun and relaxing, I say. Like a good game of squash.

She scaled back her crazy sickness just enough for us to survive when we got it. Dreadful. There, I’ve whined enough.

And then, because the soul loves irony, my mind devolved into feeling bad about what we do and don’t have (after I wrote about how I’m not going to do that in 2012), and I started feeling really exposed and dumb about my writing/creativity/face/existence/t-cells (after writing about being bravely vulnerable). Life is funny. Ha ha ha. Hilarious.

Luckily, those were two relatively short-lived speed bumps in my mental landscape, and I cruised over them just in time to land myself neck-deep into research on prostitution and johns for a project I’m working on. People…that will bum the crap right out of you. I have far, far too many thoughts and feelings on the subject to share here (plus, for real, it’s a BIG bummer, and I don’t really want to assault you with that right now), but I’ll share one of the more insane tidbits I got from my research. Just one, then we’ll move on, okay? Okay, here it is: a participant in a study of johns in the London area shared this thought about prostitution:

It should be legalised over here. This is the way God created us. It is being human. If you don’t have a partner then you have to go to a prostitute.

Ummm…no, sir. No, that’s totally not…no. Just please shut your face forever. Arg. So frustrating. That’s just one of the mind-blowing things I’ve read in the last 24 hours, and I could go on and on until we’re all crying and gnashing our teeth, but instead I’m going to tell you a story about hamsters. Because it just feels like the right thing to do. Okay? Thanks. You’re the best.

Hamsters!

English: A short-haired hamster (named "E...

Hamsters are rad! Image via Wikipedia

When I was a kid, my brother and I had hamsters. We had a family cat, but my brother and I had our own hamsters to love, care for, feed, and, in my case, watch die varied and interesting deaths. At first, we each got a hamster. I named my Dale, and my brother named his Chip. I have a feeling that was a committee decision of some kind. I have just a few scattered memories about the critters, and as an adult I find them all very, very odd.

The first thing is that somehow they got pregnant (or maybe just Chip got pregnant?) and had babies, then ate them. Hold the phone, people! The cute mama ate her babies?! Yes, animals are freaky weird and sometimes they eat stuff that you’d expect them to love and cuddle. It is not a reality that you should be acquainted with at such a young age and yet…that’s exactly what happened to me and my brother.

Shortly after baby birth/breakfast, my hamster dropped dead. I don’t even know how. So, I think we buried it in a box or something in the yard. But seeing as hamsters were $1.05 at the pet store, my parents bought me another one. I don’t remember what it looked like or what I named it because it dropped dead pretty quick too. Apparently, I had a knack for killing the little guys. I mean, I didn’t kill them with my hands…I would feed them and make sure they had water and cleaned their little cage and then they’d die of, what I assume was an extreme version of the hamster vapors. (“My, my!” they’d exclaim before fanning themselves with tiny paper fans and falling to the ground, dead.)

After #2 died, my parents bought me yet another hamster, and it was big and white and fluffy and I named him Snowball in a stroke of creative genius. Unlike the first two hamsters that died at my hands, Snowball was in for a slower, more dramatic crawl to the grave. To begin with, he was going to bash one of his eyes out with the door of his cage. My little kiddie brain rationalized that he had learned this from my brother’s (still living) hamster, but was just unsuccessful at the execution of biting the cage door, and lifting it up until he can fit his little nose under it, then nudging his way to freedom. How Snowball would have “learned” this from a hamster in another room (which is like another continent for hamsters) I have no idea. Kid logic isn’t perfect. Regardless of the how, the what was clear: Snowball had poked his eye out.

Weihnachten

I never gave my hamsters cookies or tiny hats. Maybe that's where I went wrong. Image via Wikipedia

My parents, in an attempt to reduce the likelihood of me being a 3-time hamster killer, took Snowball to the vet. $80 later, the thing came out with one beady eye, and one stitched up hole. At the time, that exchange seemed pretty logical to me, but now, looking back, I wonder why they didn’t “accidentally” let Snowball out into the mountains to be eaten, erm…”healed”?…by a mountain lion.

So now I had a fluffy, one-eyed hamster. Snowball wasn’t dead, but he looked at me suspiciously with his one eye. He knew things were looking shady. I could hear him still trying to lift the little cage door with his mouth, and as much as I admonished him not to do so, I knew I couldn’t hold him back. A hamster wants what a hamster wants, you know? One day I arose in the morning to an empty, yet tiny turd-covered cage. Snowball had vanished.

Several weeks later, after I had assumed Snowball was gone forever, my uncle came over. I was retelling him my tales of the hard lives of hamsters, while we were also giving him a tour of our house. For whatever reason we stopped in the garage next to the dryer. “And I haven’t seen him since…” I said, with the fanfare that only a child can muster. He looked down at his foot and said, “Is this him?” and, by golly, it was. Snowball had returned!

I think he died a week later. We got rid of the cage. It was time.

I’m Vulnerable. Like a Baby Sea Turtle.

I've got a long way to go

Photo by Luca5 @ Flickr

And just like the life of a baby sea turtle, it’s a little cold and scary (and somehow sandy?). But I’m pressing forward and trying to learn and grow and do things that adults are supposed to do. Truth be told, I do not like it one bit.

I recently got a little obsessed with a vulnerability researcher named Dr. Brené Brown. She’s super amazing and smart but, despite her amaz-a-brain, her talks make you feel like you’re just listening to a friend. (She’s also really pretty.)  It’s not too much of a stretch to say I’d like to snuggle with her on the couch. But not in a weird way (that’s possible, right?). Don’t judge.

Dr. Brown talks about how vulnerability is the where shame, fear and regret find their strength, but ALSO where love, happiness and connectedness begin. It’s a tricky place. One that takes more than a little bravery—and hope—to visit.

That's Dr. Brown. So adorable, right?

For whatever reason (let’s not over think this, okay?) I’ve never been great at vulnerability. Where some people spread out the welcome mat before the front door of their hearts, I build a moat, fill it with sarcasm and alligators and eat chocolate alone whilst watching endless episodes of 30 Rock. (Don’t worry, I’m not always that cool.)

In light of that reality, blogging is a uniquely odd activity for people like me to engage in. Despite the fact that I can edit and shape and frame my life in the most flattering way possible, committing words—little pieces of myself—to the screen for all to read and judge is, well…a little unnerving. And the stats—good Lord, help me—the stats! Unlike at a cocktail party where you can just tell yourself that people liked you and you had a successful social interaction, blogging gives you data. Cold, unflinching, morose data, to which you can add your own brand of crazy. And my brand of crazy is like a finely crafted beer—it takes years, sometimes generations, to make.

That’s why when I read blog posts that are truly and deeply vulnerable, I’m left with no small amount of respect—no small amount of reverence. Like when Jenny, the Bloggess, recently shared about her experience with depression and self-harm. Or when Allie Brosh at Hyperbole and a Half put such plainly human (and hilarious) words to the unannounced sadness that had shown up in her life. They’re both so brave. Daring to take the first step toward connection. Hoping for reciprocation. Believing it will come. And that’s the beginning of believing, as Dr. Brown says, that we are all worthy of love and belonging.

You should take a few minutes (about 20 of them) to watch this video. And, if no one else tells you today, know that I think you’re enough.

This post is dedicated to Norma. May you live and love with all your heart, regardless of which clouds darken your door.

Workin’ Hard for the Money

work=awesome

Work = smiley faces and lightning bolts.

I like working. As I mentioned before, it’s WAY easier than taking care of a kid. When you work, you get to hang out with adults and have conversations and you never have to say, “If you don’t use your manners you’re going in time out!” or “Not in your mouth, please.” It just doesn’t come up. Instead, you talk about the weather and things you like and then you get to do things that, hopefully, work out really great and then you feel awesome about yourself and everyone gives high fives and drinks brandy. (I actually haven’t been in an office since 2008, so maybe the brandy part is wrong, but the rest of it is right.)

Lately, I’ve been doing some work for some friends of mine, Paul and Amy Reams at Reams Photo in San Diego and I have to say, it’s awesome. A) I get to work for friends, which could be super weird and awkward but isn’t. It’s great. B) They’re RAD people and it makes me happy to help them. C) I can buy this track suit and look ab-fab if I want because they pay me in gold bullion. $40.80 worth of gold bullion.

I’ve always liked being a helpful person. I felt the same way when I worked for Rich and Susan Seiling at West Coast Imaging/Aspen Creek Photo several years back. A lot of my hours went to taking things off the Seilings’ plate, trying to make their lives easier and their business more successful. I like that. It makes me feel useful. I always thought I’d make a great personal assistant because I can buy lattes, put things on the calendar, and say, “Those pants make your butt look A-MA-zing.” really, really well. I could probably do all three at once. I know. I’m impressive.

So, with my fuzzy, helper feelings in abundance, I wanted to take a moment to highlight my past and present employers and what I did for them.

Reams Photo

Paul and Amy are rad (though I already said that). I’ve been helping them with their blog, and some social media/marketing stuff which is fun, but the SUPER FUN thing we’re working on is a contest that’s going on right now! I worked on this cute little graphic and helped them put the rules and stuff together. You all, you can win your whole wedding/engagement package from these people and they kick ASS at wedding photography. Plus, you get to use Pinterest, which is what you’re doing with your time anyway, right? (Right? Or is that just me?) If you’re getting married before February 14, 2013 you should go enter. For realsies. F-U-N. (And isn’t my graphic so adorable? I’m kinda in love with it.)

Inspired by Love Contest

Look, I made that graphic! And this contest is super awesome.

West Coast Imaging

Winter Oak Trio, Half Dome by Rich Seiling

I have this photo by Rich in my bedroom. These people don't mess. Image © Rich Seiling

I was at WCI (one of  THE best photographic printing studios in the country) for nearly a decade and did a TON of stuff for them over the years (like a swiss army knife of doing things) which was great for me, because I love learning new things. I mean, I worked in shipping, then prepared files for printing, then did printmaking, and worked on some applescripts (nerd) and a bunch of other stuff. It was fun, and hard, and enriching, and great. If you’re a fine art photographer or just want to make a print that will bring people to tears with it’s awesome-ness, call these folks.

Aspen Creek Photo

I helped the Seilings launch their sister company, Aspen Creek Photo, back in 2007 (I think, right? Hard to remember). Aspen Creek is kinda like the fast-casual version of West Coast Imaging. They make superb photos with super high quality materials (some of the same ones that are used at WCI) but aren’t quite as picky-to-the-nth-degree-obessive as WCI, and their prices are a bit lower as a result. A great option for photos you love and need quickly, but that you won’t be sending to the queen (those go to WCI).

And that’s it for sharing time, friends! Take a few minutes to visit these fine folks and give them truck loads of money. They’re good people AND they’re some of the best in their fields. Gold stars all around!

Sad Waffles

Sad Waffle

There’s a very distinct time in life in which you are capable of being sad about waffles. That time ends at about age 11. After you turn 11, you realize that waffles absolutely do not rank among the things you should be sad about. I mean, by 11, you’re aware that there are boatloads of terrible things out there that deserve your sadness (getting grounded, bee stings, world hunger, Weeds, etc.) and that it’s an awful waste to let a golden Belgian delight bum you out.

But not before 11. No, before 11, you’re under the impression that anything that isn’t 100% ideal is worth being sad about. Like the kid that was sitting next to us at Kensington Café the other day. Why were his waffles so sad? Because he wanted pancakes. A horrid reality faced him. This batter, instead of being poured onto a griddle and cooked in a circle shape, was going to be poured into a waffle iron and cooked into a square shape with square depressions. Oh, the humanity. He slumped his little head into his hands and stared wistfully at the table. “But I wanted PANcakes…” *Frown*

“How about we put strawberries on them?” coaxed the amazing server.

*Frown*

I’ll draw on them with chocolate…” she bribed.

“Mmmwohhkay…” the boy mumbled out of his little trout mouth.

The kid somehow finagled a food that is essentially dessert for breakfast and he’s STILL forlorn because it’s not a pancake. Ah, the folly of youth.

But that’s what expectations and desire do to you. They turn the whole world into what you don’t want; what you didn’t have in mind. No longer is a chocolate- and strawberry-covered waffle a delicious sugary treat that no young fawn should hope to consume; it’s reduced to one thing: not-pancake.

Because it’s the beginning of a new year, and the time for sage advice and chin rubbing, I’ll ask you this: is your life full of sad waffles? Of not-pancakes? Or do you see the deliciousness of the world, regardless of what unforeseen shape it comes in?

I’ve got a few things on my to-do list for 2012, but one of them is to, as I’ve heard it said, “Look for the good, and embrace it.” Imma eat those waffles. Happily.

%d bloggers like this: