I awoke this morning to the news that David Bowie died yesterday. I drank my coffee thinking about him. And I wondered why, of all the people who have graced our planet, why David Bowie? Why was his life such a lesson? What I came up with is this: David Bowie was a legend, an innovator, he changed the face of music and pop culture because he dared to be a weirdo.
How many kids learn not to do that? How many parents work so, so hard to teach their kids to be normal, as though the normal kids are the only ones who contribute good things to society. Looking back I’d have to say that it’s the weirdos who contribute more good than the rest.
After that, my thoughts moved to a far more personal teacher of mine: Marvin. Marvin was a weirdo, too. I met him in the ER of a tiny hospital in a very conservative community; Marvin was a gay black man. Marvin was also full of life and love and never made the mistake to hide it. He was pushed out of his church for this. He was his family’s black sheep. He once told me how painful it was to miss his father’s funeral. Nobody wanted him there – the very fact of his being was too disruptive.
Marvin died of AIDS in 2011.
The thing is, Marvin never imagined he was a teacher, of anything, to anybody. But he was a teacher to me, and his death hit me harder than I imagined it would. I lived alone at the time and I remember spending an entire weekend in my pajamas mourning and wondering what I could do in tribute to his life. I came up with nothing, except for this one idea that changed me. I decided that since Marvin could no longer live his life to its fullest, I’d do it instead. I decided I’d no longer live my life worrying what everybody thought. I decided I’d do my absolute best to be 100% fully and genuinely ME.
That was almost five years ago. What I’ve learned in that time is being genuine is amazing, but it’s also incredibly difficult. There are no road maps to follow. There are no tangible signs to tell you if you’re doing it “right.”
I think that’s why we admired David Bowie and those of his ilk so much. It’s hard to be thoughtfully ourselves, but even harder if what your self is is on the far end of human experience. We all have lessons to teach, though. Every single one of us. Even if we don’t think it. So I need to say it today:
Thanks, David Bowie, for being such a weirdo. And thanks, Marvin, for your friendship. I’m glad to have shared this time in space with you both.
I am hard-pressed to find anything in my heart but compassion for those affected by the bombings and other violence in Paris yesterday. It pushes any thoughts of hatred out. It makes no room for xenophobic ideas. I don’t worry that any one person’s religion inherently makes her/him good, bad, or otherwise. That job is up to the person.
What do I worry about? That our world has become so uncompassionate that I need to announce that I still am very much compassionate. Rose-colored glasses? Sure, I’ve got at least three pair lying around here somewhere. What of it? Why am I bad because I want, expect, dream of us at our best? Not bad? Okay, why would I be called silly, or unwise, or unthinking because I reach for my ideal life and expect others to do the same?
Are my ideals too unrealistic for you? Do they make you feel too small because of their largeness? I’m not sorry for you. I have only one life. I want to make mine as big in ideas and actions as I can. Don’t you?
For me, there is nowhere better than being out in nature. It doesn’t matter the scene: it might be a cool green woodland, a hot desert wash, a walk by the ocean, or following a stream as far as its beginning. All that matters is I’m in a place where I can turn my brain off and simply exist.
I am naturally a quiet person. I prefer quietude to any other state. In it, I am able to pay attention to minute details I would otherwise miss if my brain was buzzing and busy.
I sometimes wonder if I am this way because I was born this way. Or is it because as a girl I frequently played by myself and got used to hearing only the sounds in my head? I grew up with three brothers and, though, sometimes I joined in on their fun, mostly it was too rambunctious for me. Most likely, it’s a bit of both. Life usually works that way: we become a mixed up mess of who we always were and who life makes us into.
I wonder, too, if everyone is as moved by nature as I am. I feel a quiet joy out walking in the woods. It’s not easy to describe, except to say that the whole core of my being awakens and fills with an almost excited feeling. Near to joy? Near to excitement? Yes, but on a subtle level. It feels, inside, like the faint rustling of leaves on a breezy day, or the babbling of water in a stream, or the quiet sliding back of saltwater after a wave has crashed. All barely noticeable when my attention is captured elsewhere, but they are powerful when my focus is trained directly at them. This is how I feel in nature. I have that near-to-joy feeling in my center and if I pay attention it becomes this giant overflow.
I lived in Manhattan for a year, once upon a time. It was a wonderful experience. I took the bus across town to work every day – I read more that year than I ever did before and have since. The excitement there is like nothing else. There is diversity and variety, creativity, highs and lows and I’m so glad I experienced life there for a time. Ultimately, though, it was not for me. The subtle scents and sounds of nature are lost in the city. Central Park, as big as it is, still has underlying city rumblings. Not to mention no matter what direction you turn, there is always a skyscraper poking up from behind the trees.
Lesson learned? That’s probably one of life’s easiest lessons for me: I’m no good if I can’t get out in nature often enough. Which is hard in the middle of the hot, desert summer. But I go when I can, and when I do, I am refresh and enlivened. My batteries are filled and I’m ready to go take on life in all its glorious complications.
I would prefer even to fail with honor than win by cheating. ~Sophocles
I don’t understand why people cheat, in life. Generally.
Why cheat? Is that how you want others to think of you, as a cheater? As a person so unsure of her value that she has to “enhance” it? Fake it to tip the balance in her favor? I just don’t get it.
Think about this:There’s makeup, plastic surgery, facial peels, implants, rogaine, viagra, all marketed to appeal to our insecurities. American consumerism says we are what we buy. Do you want to be judged on all that stuff? Because in my mind, it paints a picture of weak, silly, and shockingly insecure. We’re a whole damn bunch of sick, sad cheaters.
Because we’re not happy to be ourselves.
Here’s one example: I’m not sure if I consciously go bald faced, but I rarely wear makeup. I only put it on when I want to feel especially fancy. Maybe it’s because I’d rather not spend the extra time in front of the mirror – I can be showered and ready to go in under 30 minutes. Or maybe it’s because I’m lazy. Making up my face takes a lot of effort. The point is it’s fake, all that makeup and stuff; it’s a way to cheat reality, to make us, falsely and temporarily, feel better about ourselves.
In case you’re wondering, I do realize that wearing makeup is also a means of self-expression, like clothing choices are. But does your makeup (the face you show to others) define you or does your character (the face in the mirror)? Everyone will answer that question differently, and that’s as it should be. But if it makes you uncomfortable to even consider, or you can’t/won’t answer that question, chances are you might need to spend a little time thinking on it.
Because, instead, we could focus on what really matters. Does accentuating my brown eyes have any real bearing on my personhood? Of course not. That’s the reason I don’t wear makeup much. I’d rather be doing things that feed my soul: I’d rather meditate or weave or write a poem, maybe. Those pursuits “create” me into the person I intend to be. I want to be unique and interesting and worthy of others’ attention — I’m no different than anyone else — but I don’t want it because of some makeup hack I learned on Youtube.
All that stuff, the “cheats” we buy, they’re false shortcuts. Focus attention away from the mirror and toward whatever it is that’s making you feel like less than you want to be. You’ll find real answers there. It’s not the quickest way to “look your best”, but I promise you this: eventually you’ll notice a sparkle in your eyes, and that’s a beauty unlike any that comes from your makeup case.
I had an epiphany today and made a significant decision in the course of my life because of it. In a nutshell, I was questioning whether there is a difference between spending time and spending attention in life. Confused? No worries, it took me a while to wade through my own thoughts. If I try to clear it up for you, maybe it’ll help me further clarify my own thinking and ingrain the idea more fully in my psyche or soul or whatever that part is that gives us life and consciousness.
Here’s my the train of thought: time is a mathematical construct that humans have superimposed over life to help give it form. For all its helpfulness, the concept of time is artificial and it has an inherently external quality. It exists outside of us.
Attention, on the other hand, is internal. There’s a direct link between me and my attention that I can’t make between me and time. Time is not under my control. Time can’t change me. My attention is, and can. It’s my choice whether my attention, or what I focus it on, will contribute to how I desire to live and who I want to become. Or not.
What it boils down to is I’m adjusting my internal vocabulary, self-talk if you like, so that how I live becomes an internal prompt to constantly become who I intend to be. Here’s an example. What if I’m scheduled to have dinner with someone I would prefer to avoid? It doesn’t really matter why, but let me go ahead and give you a backstory. This person used to be my boss and I left the company because she was claiming my work as her own. She happens to be a friend of a friend and now we’re all scheduled to have dinner together to celebrate our mutual friend’s engagement. (This is a totally fictitious scenario, by the way.)
It makes sense, though, that I would prefer not to have social contact with this person, right? If I focus on spending my time with her, over which I have no control, I automatically feel negative about the whole affair. However, if I decide to spend my attention that automatically prompts me to choose how to focus it. Time is not mine to manipulate, whereas my attention is. So, since I want my attention to grow me in the direction of the person I intend to become, I am more likely to choose a positive way to spend it. Perhaps this person is a dog lover. Well, hey, so am I! Maybe she likes the same NPR program that I do. Nice! I will choose to focus on like qualities and the parts of this person that I can appreciate.
We all have good and bad qualities and by focusing on the good I’ve given myself the chance to connect with someone I otherwise would not have bothered with. Why is that important? Connecting with people and appreciating their goodness is a part of me that I want to encourage in myself. There’s so much negative discourse in the world and cutting ourselves off from others because of a single trait, or even a few, we don’t like does nothing to reverse the negativity. We are all more similar than we are different. If we begin to focus on our similarities I believe we can eliminate some bits of the ugly global tensions that seem to multiply daily.
Food for thought: “Pay attention” is a great little phrase, isn’t it? What it says is that our attention is so valuable it costs us dearly to use.
How about we get a little more existential, just for a moment? All that I have, at the most basic level, is my life. If I weren’t here to experience it, none of the material things, the shirt on my back, the phone beside me, the coffee table I’m resting my feet on, none of it would exist, not for me anyway. It doesn’t matter except that I am here. So why concern myself more with the “things” that make up my life instead of my life, itself? Which leads me to another existential conundrum: how to define the meaning of life. If what we focus our attention on and target it at becomes the person we are, then, in essence our attention is ourselves.
Who am I? That’s the mystery of life that is continuously answered in bits and pieces as each moment passes into the next. If every moment builds me into the person I am, and I am always becoming a slightly new person, then it is important that I spend my attention, use my attention, focus my attention in ways that nourish the woman I desire to become. As long as I use that idea to guide what I do with each moment, how can I possibly reach my last moment on earth and not be satisfied with the life I lived?
So how should I choose to spend my attention? That’s the challenge, isn’t it? A broad and somewhat esoteric answer to that question might be, choose to spend it in ways that help you become the person you are meant to be. I can appreciate that, but it’s not directly instructive. I’d like something more concrete.
What about this? I choose to spend my attention challenging myself. That’s better, but still it’s only a pla and I’m looking for a plan. Here’s something: the things that interest me: nature, geology, relationships, photography, writing, hiking, family… those are already a part of who I am. If I choose to spend my attention on those things then I am choosing to become more and more of the person I want to become. Which doesn’t mean I’m leaving no room for growth. Just because all of those things interest me today isn’t to say that I won’t become interested in say contortionism some day and decide to spend some attention on body mechanics and flexibility.
The point is, only I can be me. Only I can choose who I become. If I don’t spend my life in pursuit of that becoming, then my greatest fear, the potential that I will live an unimportant life, may well come true. I refuse to let that happen. So I will spend my days spending my attention. Will I do anything groundbreaking? There’s always that possibility, but that’s not what matters. What matters is that I am interested in who I am and what every day of my life brings. I can’t think of any more satisfying way to live all of my days until the last.
And maybe it’s just me, but maybe I’ve been running around wasting my time when if I’d only chosen to pay attention before now maybe I would already have become the person I now endeavor to be and that person would already have set her sights even higher. But it’s really never too late , and I’m perfectly happy to start right now.
I may as well start from the beginning.
I just turned 49, so I’m living out my 50th year on earth, starting today. Right now. And that seems momentous to me. I’ve always wanted to be a “wise woman,” and 50 seems like the perfect age to claim that title, doesn’t it? The problem is, I don’t think it’s one of those titles you’re allowed to self-proclaim. Like, I’ve heard people call themselves a “thought leader” and my first reaction when that happens is, NOPE. No you’re not. That title is earned and it’s not true unless it’s attributed to you by others. Same with wise woman.
So, my goal, my intention, over the course of this next year, and for all my years afterward, really, is to earn that title.What will follow this first post is your guess as good as mine. Like life and a good sour dough starter, these pages will evolve and become what they’re meant to become over time. I’m aiming for wisdom, but I can’t say for certain whether I’ll reach that goal. I’ll try really damn hard, though, and hopefully I’ll strike a cord every now and then.
If letting things evolve naturally, untethered by concrete plans or expectations, makes you uncomfortable, you might not be my target audience. Or maybe you are and you’ve never let yourself think so boldly before? I’ll leave that up to you. Either way, I hope you’ll read me every once in a while. Even more than that, I hope I can entertain you, provoke thought or a hearty guffaw, inspire kindness or a slightly off-kilter way of thinking. If I’m able to do any of those things, even once, then I’ll feel as though the goal I set myself is worthy of my attention. And I hate to waste anything, especially my attention.