Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Y'all betta recognize!

Let's meet again, for the first time. If you could introduce yourself to strangers by another name for just one day, what would it be and why?

I feel as if I have been introducing myself by a new name for the last three or four months. I started a new job back in August, and, for some reason, more than one of my clients has mistakenly called me by my last name, Viola.

This phenomenon is not occurring because I've wanted it to. I always introduce myself clearly as EMILY Viola. I end my e-mails with EMILY Viola, Independent Living Coach. I leave messages stating, "Hi, this is EMILY Viola". Yet, in several face to face meetings, e-mails, and phone calls people have responded with, "Hi, Viola".

This irks me for several reasons. First of all, how much sense would it make for my name to be switched around? "Emily" is generally not a last name. Secondly, how am I being misunderstood so many times to be introducing myself as "Viola"? Especially in an e-mail where it can be clearly read as being a last name?

And finally, this irks simply because my first name is Emily, and I am proud of it. Emily means "industrious" and industrious I am. I work hard and I am successful. I am not a flower, or an instrument, or a character from a children's novel. In a profession where I am regularly under appreciated, I want to at least be recognized for who I REALLY am.

Therefore, if I had a chance to introduce myself by a different name I wouldn't give out anything new. I would simply say, "My name is Emily. Get it right."

Monday, December 27, 2010

I don't believe in the word "should"

What should you have done this year but didn’t because you were too scared, worried, unsure, busy or otherwise deterred from doing? (Bonus: Will you do it?)

I resent the word "should". It implies that there is a task that, if I'm not accomplishing it, I am doing something wrong or I am inadequate. I have lived a lifetime of "shoulds" and this has led to nothing but guilt.

Usually, when I begin to believe that I "should" be doing something it's because of others' expectations, either real or imagined. I'm led to believe that I "should" be going to church or exercising more or donating more money or dressing a certain way. And when I don't do these things, either because it's not practical or healthy or I just plain don't want to, I feel guilty.

If I avoided anything this year it's simply because I wasn't ready to face it. Maybe I wasn't as social as I "should" have been, but that's because I was spending more time taking care of myself. Maybe I didn't exercise as much as I "should" have, but that's because I was spending more time writing or making presents for other people. Maybe I didn't deal with an aspect of my life that "should" be changed, but that's because I'm preoccupied with taking care of other aspects of my life.

I refuse to give in to the idea that I avoided some sort of obligation this year. I did the best that I could, and that was pretty damn awesome.

Sunday, December 26, 2010


How did you travel in 2010? How and/or where would you like to travel next year?

Most of my travel this year took place within Tucson. I was a tourist in my own town! Paul and I like to discover new things in Tucson, and recently we've taken up trying to visit everything on The Best of Tucson 2010 list. So, within Tucson, I've traveled to:
  • The Botanical Gardens
  • the Rattlesnake Bridge
  • Meet Me at Maynard's
  • Mt. Lemmon
  • The Museum of Art
  • Tucson Meet Yourself
  • 4th Ave Street Fair
  • All Soul's Procession
  • Sabino Canyon
  • Gates Pass
  • The Ostrich Ranch
I love being a tourist in my own town and I plan on continuing to visit all of the fun places in Tucson.

I was lucky enough this year to also be able to visit my family for two weeks over the summer. Cape Cod and Boston were freakin' awesome. And for the first time since I moved away, I truly enjoyed visiting Rochester. I almost didn't want to go back to Tucson! That says a lot about how much I've grown and healed over the past year.

In 2011 Paul and I are planning to visit Europe. FINALLY! I will be going abroad for please and adventure. We're going to Couch Surf and explore and have FUN! We've slowly been saving enough for air fare and we'll be buying our tickets at the end of January.

I am a Bea-U-tiful butterfly!

Sift through all the photos of you from the past year. Choose one that best captures you; either who you are, or who you strive to be. Find the shot of you that is worth a thousand words. Share the image, who shot it, where, and what it best reveals about you.

This one took me less than 20 minutes to figure out:

Paul took this picture while we were visiting the Botanical Gardens. I love this picture because of the obvious metaphor of metamorphosis. It is such a clear picture of the transformation that I've been experiencing this year and what I hope to become.

Friday, December 24, 2010

The Great Cancer Scare of 2010 -or- I Live Like I'm Living

What was the best thing you learned about yourself this past year? And how will you apply that lesson going forward?

This past November, I experienced a Cancer Scare. I was told that some "abnormal" cells had been found and that in two weeks I would have to come in for a biopsy. As you might expect, I spent those two weeks thinking about what my life would be like if I were faced with a life threatening disease. What would I do differently if my life span were clearly shortened?

This is when I learned an important lesson about myself: I am already living my life the way I want to.

During the two weeks of The Great Cancer Scare of 2010, I realized that there was very little I would change about my life. I'm not sure I would even quit my job. I didn't feel the need to plan some grand adventure or go running off to go sky diving. I didn't make a bucket list.

This isn't to say that my life is perfect, that I don't need to grow or that there aren't a million things I wouldn't like to try. It's just to say that I am improving my life, growing, and trying things at my own pace. I make the most of my life every day.

I live my life not based on the fear of death but based on the fact that I'm living.

Going forward, I'm going to continue my self-improvement and exploration of life at my own pace. I may be going slowly and my life might not be very exciting at the moment, but I feel that I'm doing things the right way for me. I'm going to continue going to therapy, taking care of myself, and fighting off my fears. I'm going to continue to excel at my job, and volunteer, and maintain the valuable relationships I have. I will travel...when I'm ready.

Oh, and by the way, I don't have cancer.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Positively kicking myself into 2011.

Imagine yourself five years from now. What advice would you give your current self for the year ahead? (Bonus: Write a note to yourself 10 years ago. What would you tell your younger self?)

It seems strange that a prompt would focus on 5 years ahead and ten years back when this project is supposed to be about 2010-2011. So I think I'll focus on writing to myself who will exist in this upcoming year. First, though, I do have something to say to my 14 (almost 15) year old self:

 The ideas and feelings that you have right now are going to nearly kill you in ten years because you've hidden them so deep inside of yourself instead of giving them the voice they need. Stop being so damn afraid and SPEAK!

Whew. Now that I got that out of the way, I'd like to give a motivational speech to the person who is coming after me in 2011:

The world is yours! Take it! You have what you need. Utilize your talents. You know from experience that when you express yourself, as terrifying as that may be, the results are incredible and rewarding. Stop living in fear, stop being a slave to others' expectations [most of which you've only imagined]. It's time to create your legacy. Get going!

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Yet another post on healing

What healed you this year? Was it sudden, or a drip-by-drip evolution? How would you like to be healed in 2011?

I feel like this is something I've written about several times before. Are you getting tired of hearing about my healing? I hope not...I write about these deeply personal things in hopes that it will make someone feel less alone and inspire others to heal as well.

Found this picture here.
I didn't make this picture but I can surely relate to it.

I've actually been in and out of therapy for the past 16 years. 16 years! Yet somehow my life has continued to be defined by panic attacks and serious bouts of sadness.

It hasn't been until my most recent experience with therapy that I have actually started to address and fix the issues that cause me to panic. I found this therapist about a year and a half ago and I have done more healing in that time period that I have done in my entire life.

I still have a long way to go!

Good therapy, in my experience, is the mental equivalent of ripping open a deep wound, irrigating out the bacteria, and stitching it back up. In other words: it's painful but so, so productive and healthy. Right now, I am in the part of the process where we are irrigating. I'm feeling more pain before I can feel less. 

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Try or Do Not Try. There is No Bucket List: Part Two.

What do you want to try next year? Is there something you wanted to try in 2010? What happened when you did / didn’t go for it?

Like I said in Part One, I am always creating lists in my head of new things I would like to try. Here's what this list might look like:

  • Learn to speak Spanish fluently
  • That Jamaican restaurant down the street
  • An art class
  • A writing class
  • Performing duets with Paul
  • Show a piece of artwork at a gallery
  • Make a new friend
  • Publish something that I wrote in a magazine or newspaper
  • Getting a tattoo
  • Standing up for myself
  • Traveling to a new city
  • Getting out more

  • Creating a blog that has a purpose and reaches more people
There are usually a lot of items on the list. I WILL actually accomplish many of them. I will make steps toward others. I will NOT just sit around and that about what might happen IF I were to try new things. That's boring and unfruitful. It's time to get something done!

Try or Do Not Try. There Is No Bucket List: Pt. One

What do you want to try next year? Is there something you wanted to try in 2010? What happened when you did / didn’t go for it?

This prompt sounds suspiciously like making  New Year's Resolution or a Bucket List...both of which I am against. Yet I still really like this prompt because I am contstantly making lists in my head of new things I'd like to try and accomplish.

This got a little long so I'm doing it in two parts. The first is 2010:

In 2010 I tried:
  • Biking to work
  • Living with my boyfriend
  • Going to a real yoga class
  • Literacy Tutoring
  • Cactus fruit
  • Geocaching
  • Hosting a Girls' Night
  • Maintaining a blog
  • Meet Me At Maynard's
  • To win an adult spelling bee
  • To take more control over my emotions and attitude
  • To get out of the group home where I worked
  • To stop having panic attacks
  • Making candy
I can't say I regret trying any of those things. Every single one had a positive outcome or taught me something. The simple act of trying was often enough to boost my self esteem and help me to grow.

Things That I Wanted to Try But Didn't
  • Real CouchSurfing
  • Reading aloud at a poetry slam
  • Performing duets with Paul
  • Traveling alone
  • Initiating a conversation with an interesting looking stranger
A lack of trying has bred regrets and a little guilt, as well as lengthy thoughts about what could have happened if I had gone for it. As I grow braver and stronger over the next year I'd like to have less regrets and more experiences. Which brings me to Part Two:

Friday, December 17, 2010

Dec. 16 posed a challenge

How has a friend changed you or your perspective on the world this year? Was this change gradual, or a sudden burst?

Remember when I wrote that love letter to the internet the other day? I have to say that this is the first "friend" that comes to mind when I think about my perspective changing.

But I don't think that really counts. I'm just stumped by this prompt because I can't name any specific person who changed my perspective this year, either suddenly or gradually. I'm sure it happened but I can't currently tell you how or when (even though I've been thinking about this prompt since 10pm on the 15th when I received it!).

Does that mean I wasn't listening, paying attention, or learning? Does this mean I don't have any friends? Or maybe my perspective stayed the same? Is that such a bad thing? Maybe my perspective was just so awesome that it didn't NEED to change.*

What IS my perspective?

Well, at the very least, this prompt has me thinking and paying more attention. Who will change my perspective in the upcoming year?

Will it be you?**

*I highly doubt this.
**Yes, that is a challenge.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Five MInutes

Imagine you will completely lose your memory of 2010 in five minutes. Set an alarm for five minutes and capture the things you most want to remember about 2010.

Imagining that I will completely lose my memory in five minutes is a little cheesy, but I do enjoy timed free writes. So here's what spits out of my mind in five minutes without editing!

The memory that I’d like to remember most would probably be how much self care and healing I’ve completed over the past year. My greatest accomplishment has been the amount of healing I’ve done. I learned how to be alone, how to appreciate myself, and began to be less afraid of the self-reflection that comes with loneliness.
As far as actual events, this year wasn’t too exciting. I loved having my mom and brother visit, and Katrina stayed with me for a couple of weeks. It was a fun surprise to find her on my doorstep one morning at 5am!

I’ve also had two new jobs. I switched from the group home to in-home services. Several hundred panic attacks later I switched from in-home to independent living and for the first time since Heritage Christian Services I am happy!

I definitely want to remember the All Souls Procession. Moving in with Paul was pretty great. I don’t want to forget my trip home in the summer. I had a great time in Cape Cod, Boston and Rochester.

I absolutely never want to forget the poetry readings. The Ocotillo Poetry slam and the All Souls No Pants. Those were experiences that were more spiritual than any church service I’ve ever been to.
Uh, so, apparently five minutes is not very long. Good thing I'm not ACTUALLY losing my memory!

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

A love letter for the internet

What’s the one thing you have come to appreciate most in the past year? How do you express gratitude for it?

I used to have a social life...in real life. I used to go out for lunch or spend Saturday night in a bar or have friends over to play board games. I used to throw fun parties and cook dinners and a good number of people would attend because I'd lived in the same place for 22 years and I knew everyone.

Then I moved to the other side of the country to a city where I didn't know anyone. Not a single person. For some strange reason, I thought it would be easy to continue to have a real social life, with regular face to face interactions. I thought I would still go out on Saturday nights and meet lots of new people and invite them over for dinner and drinks.

What was I thinking?

Meeting new people is NOT easy. I discovered that I am actually painfully shy and that regular face to face interactions with strangers causes me to shrivel into a small pile of anxiety. I began to lose my ability to form complete sentences...unless I was talking to the stray cat that I had recently adopted.

For this reason, I learned to greatly appreciate the internet. The internet saved me from becoming a complete recluse who has no contact with the outside human world. (Again, I'm great with cats.) Facebook helped me to stay connected to family and friends on the other side of the country. Many times, these electronic chats saved me from sinking into lonely despair.

I also used the internet to connect with strangers. I used to discount this form of communication, thinking that speaking with someone I don't know who I can't see or actually hear isn't a valid way to communicate. I feel differently now. Of course, talking to someone face to face is always preferred. But when that's not possible, communicating with like minded people through online communities (like #reverb10 !) can be valuable.

I have found so much inspiration through the internet! Ideas, prompts, tutorials, new knowledge...creative motivators abound. Without the internet, I probably would not have learned about art journaling and if I had, I probably would have been limited in my ideas for what to create. I have read countless inspirational stories about people following their artistic dreams and this has been helping me to slowly move in that same direction.

So I have grown to appreciate the internet for it's ability to connect me with the outside world when I felt so isolated and bored. Those of us who spend this much time on the web sometimes get a reputation for being hermits with a lack of social skills and few contributions to society. But I argue that the resources, knowledge, and relationships I've gained through this portal have been well worth the hours of sunlight I didn't soak up, the bars I haven't visited, and the parties I haven't thrown.

Monday, December 13, 2010

Great, I voted. Now what?

When it comes to aspirations, it’s not about ideas. It’s about making ideas happen. What’s your next step?

Hey, here's another topic that I've been wanting to write about for a while but have been struggling to put it into words. Thanks, reverb!

I was spurred into thinking about this after election day this year. I felt proud and satisfied that I had taken the action to vote (and voted early, too!)

I felt this way until I saw the results on election night. Not only was the governer I had purposefully voted against elected, but the proposition to legalize medical marijuana had been rejected, so I couldn't even take anything to ease the pain.*** I realized at this time how little voting actually does.

My dissapointment, however, goes beyond just election results. It is a pervasive feeling that grows every time I listen to the news and hear about how little is accomplished by the government. I regularly feel that problems and issues continue to grow for the majority of American citizens while the small group of people who represent us fight like children and accomplish very little.

I feel helpless. I feel that I should be able to have more power to change those issues that affect me. So, since election day, I've been searching for options. What can I do to have greater political power? How can I change my city and my country for the better? How can I bring about the positive change that I want to see?

I haven't yet found a clear answer. There is always protesting, petitioning, and writing letters to senators. But I want more! What can I do directly?

*This was a joke. I do not actually smoke marijuana.
**The proposition later passed by 300 votes.
***I still can't smoke marijuana because I don't have a medical condition that causes chronic pain. So I'm back to "square 1."

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Adventures in keeping my mind inside my head

Body Integration This year, when did you feel the most integrated with your body? Did you have a moment where there wasn’t mind and body, but simply a cohesive YOU, alive and present?

I read a lot of responses to this prompt today that were littered with confusion or annoyance. How can we NOT be present and integrated with our bodies?

Personally, I was surprised when I saw this prompt this morning. It touches on something that I've been discussing regularly in therapy. We're not discussing it in some new agey way where I'm encouraged to do yoga and meditation. We talk about it because for much of my life I've been doing the OPPOSITE of what this prompt suggests: I've been dissociating.

On December 17, 2009 I wrote in my paper journal:
"I feel strange...like I'm just watching my life instead of just actually living it. I feel removed from reality. Floating, confused, and lost. I struggle to focus my thoughts..."
More recently, I've had several experiences that feel almost like flashbacks in a movie: The room becomes wavy for a second and then I feel like I'm not there, even though I'm still hearing and seeing the room around me.

These are examples of my unintentional use of a somewhat dysfunctional coping mechanism. When I find myself in an uncomfortable position, I mentally remove myself, with or without my own permission. I am rarely integrated. My mind is rarely in the same place as my body. As a result, I'm rarely whole.

As I said, we are talking about this in therapy. We are addressing the many cobweb covered issues that cause my brain to regularly turn itself into a teleportation device.

So, in the spirit of manifesting what's next, I'd ike to say that over the next year I plan to use this therapy to become more grounded, much more integrated, and definitely much more alive.

22 Things

What are 11 things your life doesn’t need in 2011? How will you go about eliminating them? How will getting rid of these 11 things change your life?

I'm not entirely in love with this prompt but I've been thinking about it ever since it hit by inbox so I have to write about it.

11 Things I Don't Need in My Life:
  1. Panic attacks: I've been soooo over these since high school. Yet they're so hard to get rid of.
  2. Quite so much e-mail: I've been in a habit lately of signing up for e-mail updates from all of my favorite websites. It's fun having new e-mails all the time, but it's also starting to become information overload.
  3. Twitter: Twitter has been great for connecting with people for this reverb project, but I just do NOT understand the purpose of this website. Expressing thoughts in 140 characters or less is also turning out to be kind of annoying.
  4. Worry: Obviously, this is not productive and has led to many a wasted night.
  5. Guilt: I've got this feeling down to a science. A ridculous, harmful science. There is a time and a place for guilt. Every second of every day is not that time or place.
  6. Allergies: I'm currently fighting them with a combination of a nettle supplement, locally produced honey, and a saline spray. It's feels nice to be able to breathe freely for a few hours a day.
  7. Chemicals: I going through a slow, slow process of weaning myself off of my psych medications and replacing them with natural rememdies. I despise what the medications do to my body in the name of sanity.
  8. Fear: The world is kind of a scary place. It'd be nice if that changed.
  9. Hair: I really want to shave my head again. That was so comfortable.
  10. Taxes: Honestly, Tucson, 9.1%? And you wanted to raise them? Also, can I please remind you of how little money I ALREADY make before you eviscerate my paycheck?
  11. Mental noise: No, I'm not hearing things. I just need to stop arguing with myself and over thinking things!
I really struggled to think of things I DON'T need in my life. I also like balance so here's a list of 11 things I DO need in my life:

  1. Art: Done by me and others. More creating art and more observing and interacting with art.
  2. Books: I need to spend much more time reading.
  3. Women: I am starting to really feel the lack of female friends in my life. Also, my boyfriend Paul is a terrible judge of fashion and no help when I am shopping or getting dressed in the morning.
  4. Adventure: We are planning a trip to Europe and that is a big adventure. I'd also like more small, daily adventures like following the man wearing the banana suit at the street fair and traveling down an unmarked road to visit a client who has 3 pet emus.
  5. Assertiveness: DAMN- standing up for myself is one of the greatest highs I'll ever experience.
  6. Biking: My day always starts off better when I ride my bike. It's another natural high and it feels great to be out of my car.
  7. Snail mail!!: I absolutely love getting letters and cards in the mail. It always makes my day.
  8. Money: Yup. I work for pennies. It'd be nice to get some quarters once in a while.
  9. Paul: My lover has been taken from me by school, work and guitar. We live together and I still don't get a lot of time with him.
  10. Travel: "I was not made for just one corner of the world"
  11. Depth: I've been feeling a little shallow and less than intellectual while writing some of these posts. I'd like to be able to express myself in more depth and maybe even use some big words.

Saturday, December 11, 2010

High Fives From Ayn Rand, Jesus and Buddha

Wisdom. What was the wisest decision you made this year, and how did it play out?

Ayn Rand first tipped me off to the virtues of selfishness when I discovered her in the back corner of a used bookstore in high school. I read Atlas Shrugged and thought, "This goes against everything I've ever believed in but it makes so much sense".

Hey there, pretty lady!

The wisest decision I made this year is to finally embrace this idea that selfishness can be rewarding both to myself and everyone I come in contact with.
I did this in a number of ways:
  • Letting go of harmful relationships
  • Spending more time by myself
  • Saying "no" more often
  • Speaking up for my wants and needs
  • Choosing to be nice to myself instead of harming myself
  • Spending more time on things I WANT to do and less time on things I feel like I "have" to do
The results have been INCREDIBLE.

For most of my life I've felt like I need to put everyone and everything else in my life before myself. Whenever I would choose to do something beneficial for myself instead of putting someone else first, I was served with a large dose of GUILT and SELF-DISGUST. I feared that thinking about myself or helping myself was a Sin the likes of which made Jesus cry.

The truth is, self care and healthy selfishness has produced quite the opposite result. In fact, once I think I even felt Jesus pat me on the back.

I am healthier and happier and as a result I am living a more productive life.

It turns out that, during all those years that I was worried about serving other people, the best and most effective thing I could have done was to take care of myself first.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Tipsy Self Love

Beautifully different. Think about what makes you different and what you do that lights people up. Reflect on all the things that make you different - you'll find they're what make you beautiful.

I am excited about this prompt! I love to talk about myself.
I also often think about how different I am from other people.
Because I am. I'm strange.
I don't often think about how being strange makes me beautiful. So here goes:

I love that I don't wear make-up and I'm still HOT! For most of my life I haven't had a problem getting dates. The natural me is beautiful. I don't have to cover up imperfections in order to step out in public.

Sometimes I wear strange outfits, too. I stand out at the office a lot because we have such a causal dress code and I like to dress up. I'm comfortable in skirts and bright colors. I'm beautiful because I stand out.

I'm not just about my looks. I've been known to not care much about the way I look. In fact, once I shaved my head just because it's damn hot here in the summer and I wanted to be comfortable. I was NOT any less beautiful. I think I might have actually been more beautiful due to how much more often I smiled.

These things seem so minor compared to what I feel like is a glaringly obvious difference between me and the rest of the world: I feel weak. For most of my life as I struggle with depression the struggle seems so public and obvious. I've always felt like I can't handle myself or my emotions or my problems as well as anyone else because I always seem to be publicly falling apart in one way or another: getting sad for no apparent reason, having panic attacks, talking too fast because I'm nervous, or calling in sick because I'm overwhelmed.

What I've realized over the years is that I'm not actually weaker than anyone else. Everyone is weak in one way or another. The beautiful difference between me and everyone else is that I show my weakness. Showing weakness takes bravery, and bravery is beautiful.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Short Reflection on Community for Dec. 7

Community Prompt: Community. Where have you discovered community, online or otherwise, in 2010? What community would you like to join, create or more deeply connect with in 2011?

To be honest, I think I broke away from more communities in 2010 than I joined. I have a noticeably smaller social life right now than I did in the beginning of the year. Part of this is because many of my friends have moved away, part is because as 20 somethings we are all moving in different directions, and a small part of this breaking away from communities is by choice.

Earlier in the year I struggled with a fear of being alone because so many of my friends moved away or got deeply involved withother aspects of their lives. You might say I even panicked a little. After a few months of anxiety, however, I learned that worrying is counter productive and I might as well make the most of my time alone. That, I feel, is something that I have been accomplishing within the last few weeks.

In 2011, however, I would like to be more involved with other human beings. Specifically, more human beings in the art community. I'm thinking of taking a drawing class or a creative writing class. A friend and I are talking about setting up a writing group. There are more craft nights in the works! I'd like to go to more poetry readings, art openings, and to see more live music. With all of the reflecting and creating that I'm doing while alone, I think I could benefit from allowing those thoughts and creations to bloom amongst other cretive minds.

Catching up on Reverb prompts: December 6

Make. What was the last thing you made? What materials did you use? Is there something you want to make, but you need to clear some time for it?

Christmas cards! I recently made about 20 of them to send out. Here are some of my favorites:


It was also my mom's birthday recently, so I made her this stationery set:

As you might be able to tell (I say "might" because I think these are terrible quality pictures and I really need to improve my photography skills!) I really enjoy working with paper and paint.

I have a LOONNNGGGG list of things I'd like to make! As I mentioned in a previous post, work sometimes gets in the way of having time to make things. I made some progress this past weekend though- I'm working on a bunch of Christmas presents! After that I'm going to make more time for my art journal, decorating, and maybe learning how to do some bookbinding.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Let Go

 Let Go. What (or whom) did you let go of this year? Why?

I'm answering today's prompt with a page from my art journal:

In case you can't tell from the awesome quality photo, this is a picture of someone wearing their heart on their sleeve.

Over the past year I've slowly been letting go of the need to hide the fact that I'm struggling. I've let go of a lot of walls. Over the next year, I'd like to get rid of the rest of my unnecessary and harmful walls.

Sharing myself with others is messy, but it's worth it because it helps others to grow and it allows me to feel more free and less alone.

Friday, December 3, 2010

Why I felt so alive while honoring the dead:

"Moment. Pick one moment during which you felt most alive this year. Describe it in vivid detail (texture, smells, voices, noises, colors)."

This is actually a topic I've been meaning to write about for a month or so but haven't been able to find the words. Let's see if I can accurately express my experience today.

Ironically, the moment when I felt most alive occurred during the All Souls Procession this November, a huge celebration meant to honor "departed ancestors". In order to explain why this moment made me feel so alive, I have to give you a background story involving The Hospital Visit of 2009.

Last year I was in the hospital when Tucson's magical All Soul's Procession occurred. A friend came to visit me in the hospital and described her experience of being involved in the procession. Her story made me cry: it sounded beautiful and I missed it because I had stupidly gotten myself trapped in the hospital. Later that night there were images and video of the Procession shown on the news that we watched while working on jigsaw puzzles to pass the time. The Procession looked as beautiful as my friend had made it sound.

This year the Procession became a celebration to me not only of my departed ancestors but of the fact that I didn't depart. I wrestled with self hatred and despair and lived to tell about it. I realized how much I wanted to be and stay alive.

So when I came to the edge of the Procession and saw the costumes and floats I began to cry. I felt free...and I was reminded that I am alive. To follow today's prompt, here is that moment in detail:

The sun was beginning to set, so the sky was orange and yellow and white. The air was perfectly cool and fresh. Hundreds of people were milling about Fourth Avenue, wearing an array of incredible costumes that represented people who had passed away who they'd like to honor. People wore black and painted their faces like skeletons, or they wore elaborate dresses and glittery, homemade masks. Personally, I was wearing my Great Grandma Herzog's flannel skirt that she's given me and one of her brooches. I was also wearing a halter top- between the warm weather and the constant walking through a crowd it was warm enough for this outfit all night. 

 Everyone was occupied with a task, whether it was painting their faces, putting the finishing touches on their float, or taking pictures of the sights around them. I was somewhat preoccupied with the third option. There were so many sights that I wanted to remember and I wanted to be able to describe the experience to people after I left.

I think what was so magical about it was that so many strangers gathered for the same purpose: to honor people who had died before them and to remind themselves that death is never far; that their own lives are precious and short. This idea was represented and repeated in hundreds of different ways.

I'm rambling; I'm having difficulty describing the reality of the night. This is why I haven't written about it before! Let me leave you with a few pictures from the night and maybe in the future I'll be able to do a better job of explaining myself.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

My job is getting in the way of my career.

What do you do each day that doesn't contribute to your writing -- and can you eliminate it?

In a word: work. 5 to 6 days out of the week I commute to a non-profit agency to help teenagers in foster care live independently. It's a great job: flexible, non-stressful, generally rewarding. The problem is that when I'm spending 40 hours a week focusing on a job in social work I'm not focusing on writing.

A job takes up more than just the 40 hours when I'm working. There's commuting, and then there's the time after work when I'm relaxing and recovering from the day and putting it all behind me. By the time I'm done with all of that, it's late and I'm tired and I have all number of excuses for why I'm not going to spend any time doing anything creative.

Of course, I could just give myself a kick in the pants, stop whining, and sit down to write after work. That IS something I'm working on. But I could also start pursuing my dream of making a living from being a writer.

When I was a kid I wrote prolifically. I had journals where I pretended to be Harriet the Spy and where I made plans to be the world's greatest teacher. I had an ancient Brother word processor where I created the world of Spaghetti White and imagined what it might be like inside the head of my cat. At school I had created the character of a friendly monster and wrote story after story about his adventures. At that time in my life, I had no idea how difficult it would be to try to make a living. It just made sense that I would keep writing for the rest of my life.

That dream faded as I grew older and the practicalities of life set in. I also developed a serious guilty conscious and a serious doubt in my own abilities to create using words. I began to believe that I needed to do something practical with my life that would also end up saving the world. So I majored in social work and decided to devote my life to serving other people, in one way or another.

Today, as I navigate my way through the world of behavioral health case management, I would sometimes like to return to my high school self and shake her. What was I thinking? How could I be so blind to the sensitive, anxious part of myself that is making this career so trying? How could I have ignored my real talents and the aspects of my personality that thrive when doing anything artistic: writing, playing violin and piano, creating collages, telling stories?

My dreams of living as a writer are beginning to re-emerge. To make such a career switch would probably be a complicated process but I'm not completely shutting the idea out. I don't think I could last for the rest of my life earning money in non-profit agencies. I think I will wither away and burn out if I don't make much more room for creativity and self-expression in my life. I am still exploring ways to do this; it's all part of the healing I talked about yesterday. Since I would like this next year to be one of manifestation, I am going to start putting some of those ways in to practice.

In the mean time, I'm going to do my best to enjoy this job and I'm going to do my best to fight off the myriad excuses I come up with everyday to keep me from doign what I REALLY love.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

One Word

I signed up to participate in a project called "reverb10: reflect on this year and manifest what's next". The purpose is to utilize a set of daily writing prompts to reflect on the year 2010 and make positive preparations for the year 2011. I expect that there will be days when what I'm writing is too personal to post or I will be too busy to respond to the prompts, but otherwise I'd like to regularly post what I write on here. The month starts with today's prompt:

Encapsulate the year 2010 in one word. Explain why you’re choosing that word. Now, imagine it’s one year from today, what would you like the word to be that captures 2011 for you?
(Author: Gwen Bell)
As I reflect on this prompt, I realized that I haven't viewed this past year in the traditional sense of starting on January 1, 2010. For me, the new year started the day I left the hospital last November. As many of you know, I landed myself in the "psych ward" at UMC in November 2009 due to an overdose of anxiety medicine and vodka that almost ended my life. Obviously, I was in a very low place and feeling more depressed that I ever had before.

The near death experience and the trapped feeling of living in a hospital for 5 days where I wasn't even allowed to have a pen for fear that I'd use it to hurt myself pushed me to spin 180 degrees. I might not have realized it at the time, but I was a much different person when I left the hospital. Since that day I've had my ups and downs but the overall trend in my life has been in a positive direction.

That is why I would use the word
to define the year 2010. I feel that I've made great strides in improving my mental health and my attitude toward myself over the past 365 days. I still have a long way to go, and I would like to be able to say at the end of 2011 that I've continued to heal. I think I would also like to be able to use the word
to describe 2011 one year from today. I want all that I've learned and developed over the past year to take a real life form over the next year. I would like to the positivity, growth, and healking manifested in all areas of my life.