Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Unexpected Inspiration

I had no idea what I was getting myself into. It was a normal Friday morning. I had slept amazingly well through the night which was a welcomed change from the previous two. I made my coffee and settled on my sofa to finally watch CBS Sunday Morning from January 13.

That’s when I met Nick Vujicic in the segment titled AGAINST ALL ODDS. Nick was born without arms or legs. It’s a rare birth defect called Phocomelia. No arms. No legs. Yet there he was smiling, happy, appearing unafraid, not discouraged, and profoundly moving as he shared part of his life’s journey with us, the viewing audience. I watched as he balanced a golf club between his neck and shoulder like we with arms might cradle a telephone. I watched as he swung the club and landed a whole-in-one. I watched as he propelled his torso body from a diving board into the waiting pool of water below. I watched as he surfaced, breaking through the top of the water, treading in place by moving his pelvis in the mode of a dolphin tale then swimming on his back. Both of those challenges were accepted by a person I would never have thought would have attempted either. And you know what? After watching the clip, it doesn’t surprise me that he accomplishes whatever he sets his mind to.

Here’s the reason: Nick said he embraces what he does have instead of being angry at what he doesn’t have. What a lesson. Think about that.  How often are we truly thankful for what we have? I personally have a good job, a beautiful home, my health, my senses, my family, my friends, my creativity, etc. Yet when things don’t go my way I forget all about what I do have and dwell on what I don’t have (or didn’t get, or screwed up). Let me repeat this: Nick said he embraces what he does have instead of being angry at what he doesn’t have. Instead of asking you to think about that, I have to think about that. This is a man who faces the challenge of living his life every day without the arms and legs that I take for granted. And not only can he swing a golf club and swim, he can cook and type. Yes, type. He has two toes on what appears to be a partial foot. I bemoan the lack of inspiration sometimes to sit down and type with my 10 fingers, while this man has written two books and types 60 words a minute with those two toes. Who do I think I am? 

I had to question would I be able to find that kind of joy in my life had I been born like Nick? My immediate response was: no. Knowing myself as I currently am, I think I would be depressed and unhappy and constantly asking why I wasn’t born normal. Nick is normal. His life is his normal. What I see as someone extraordinary is someone who sees himself as a person living the life he was blessed enough to be given. Oh that I could see that in myself every day. I am blessed to be alive. I am blessed to have been given everything that I’ve been given. What am I doing with my life?

This man who was born with no limbs has created an outreach program lifewithoutlimbs.org to help others with their own problems whatever those problems may be. His tag line: From No Limbs To No Limits. This man, who once as an adolescent gave up for just a second. He allowed himself to sink under the water in his bathtub. He couldn't go on with the stares and bullying at school anymore. Thankfully, for me and the others who are inspired by his story, he couldn't do it. He now invites the stares that pushed him so close to that despairing end by being a dynamic speaker who draws crowds with his message of faith, hope, and courage.

 He can’t shake your hand, but he can ask for a hug. He invites the embrace of anyone, everyone.

He is an inspiring, uplifting human being who in the greatest of all odds faced the challenges of life and grew into the man that isn’t afraid to sky dive, surf, get married, and, you guessed it, become a father. He doesn’t let anything stop him or hold him back. My wish for myself is to have a small portion of his courage and then to see how I might multiply that courage if only I’d get out of my own way and stop with the occasional pity parties that I throw for myself. Nick says he owes everything in his life to his faith. Many of you may know faith is something I’m struggling with right now. I believe that I saw this segment on a day when it was going to do me the most good--the day I was going to be the most receptive to its message. I may still be scared of God, but there’s no denying that he works in mysterious ways and none of us can truly know how.

As if Nick’s story wasn’t inspiring enough it was followed by SNOWFLAKES FOR NEWTOWN which is part of the “On The Road” series from CBS news. In the wake of the tragedy at Sandy Hook Elementary in Newtown, Connecticut, the Connecticut PTSA requested hand made snowflakes so they could decorate the new school where the displaced children would now be attending. What they didn’t expect was an outpouring of support shown by the influx of snowflakes from all over our country and even from other countries. Children just like those lost in the devastating tragedy gave a part of themselves as they created the snowflakes for their fellow compatriots who survived. Children reaching out to fellow children to show support and love. Children who might not know the full extent of what happened in Sandy Hook, but haven’t lost their innocence or ability to love unconditionally. We forget sometimes that children do know how to share, do know how to support, do know how to love one another.

So much innocence was lost in Sandy Hook. The snowflakes to me represent the wonder and beauty of childhood and show how creativity brings out the best in all of us. We never know how even the smallest gesture can affect a life in the profoundest of ways.

Watching these two stories made every problem I think I have seem inconsequential. As tears fell down my cheeks I realized how blessed I am. I’m working through some stuff in my life and it tends to materialize in this blog. Sometimes I’m afraid it comes across as complaining. I don’t intend it that way. As I sat there, eyes blurry from the tears that wouldn’t stop, I saw hope, possibility and inspiration on the television screen in front of me. I felt a renewed desire to be an inspiration and to experience all of my possibilities.

Friday, January 11, 2013

Wanted Versus Needed

I kept waiting. I kept waiting and watching for something I could latch onto; something that would make me want to write. It never came. At least not in the guise of the spiritual journey I was craving. I’m speaking of watching Life of Pi, the new film directed by Ang Lee. A friend’s response to my disappointment helped me see that maybe what I needed to write about was that disappointment.

I read the novel Life of Pi by Yann Martel many years ago. I remembered enjoying it and from the first moment I saw the trailer for the film version I knew it would be visually stunning. In that department it didn’t let me down. What I’d hoped was that my heart would be filled with some kind of joy at Pi’s spiritual journey on the sea. I wanted to watch his journey because I’m on one of my own and I wanted to see how his played out. Unable to fully remember much more than the essence of the novel, I was prepared to be enlightened on how he saw God.

The thing is: I wanted to take his journey because I don’t know what my journey is. My quest is not like taking the ring to Mordor. I don’t know where I’m going. I was hoping to use this fictional character’s journey as an example, a road map, inspiration.

I’m afraid of God. I always have been. Growing up, God was always presented as a father figure; one that would punish you, like your human father, for your wrong doings--you know...your sins. The punishment from an omnipotent life force, however, is much more daunting than getting spanked or grounded. The punishment from God could be extreme loss (i.e. a job, a loved one, your home). Punishments that carry greater weight and teach a vital lesson of the importance of towing the line, living a good life.

To paraphrase something my father used to say to my sister and me from the front seat of the car as we argued in the back, “If you two don’t stop it God’s going to take one of you away from the other.” Holy shit!! That’s a scary thought. How mean and vengeful is this God I’m supposed to love and serve but can’t help being afraid of? I realize that what he was saying falls into the same category as, “Don’t make me pull this car over.” Both are threats to achieve the ultimate goal of calming the arguing children, but the choice of words used in his threat (more than once on me) helps one understand some of the fear I have of God.

There is a part of me that still believes God will take away my health, job, happiness, life, family member’s lives, etc., if I don’t tow his line.

The ultimate punishment is Hell. I’m terrified of Hell and of spending eternity there. There is a part of me that has not fully accepted the idea that my being gay is not an eternal sentence to the lake of fire. I can’t imagine a God who would allow people to be born with inherent feelings that are already wrong and then punish us for the feelings he allowed us to be born with. I can’t believe that’s true, but at the same time because of my religious past I can’t turn my back on it either. These conflicting feeling are constantly duking it out in my heart. It makes for a disquieting life to be sure.

I want to be able to find my own personal relationship with God--the creator, the universe, etc. I feel like I’m turning my back on God by turning my back on the teachings I learned as a child, though.

I have to find a way to integrate my belief in God--the creator of all life and love--with who I am, separating out the human element of organized religion and how God’s words to us through the Bible have been clouded and made murky by the humans who interpret them the way they see fit.

Back to Life of Pi. Piscine Molitor “Pi” Patel, believes everything is possible instead of believing in one thing. Maybe that is the way to believe. That would mean I have to be open to the possibilities that all teachings regarding the God figure have some truth and that no one knows the full extent of what that truth is.

In going to the film, I wanted to gain some kind of incite into Pi’s ability to survive his dilemma. I wanted to gain incite into his belief in a higher power helping him through his days lost at sea. What I took away was imagery that was more beautiful than some of the most beautiful images in Avatar, but I wanted more than imagery. I didn’t take away a feeling of recommendation. I enjoyed myself and was glad I had seen the film, but I didn’t feel the need to rush out and tell my friends and family they must see it. Argo, on the other hand, I couldn’t stop talking about and have recommended many times.

Maybe I need to see Life of Pi again. Maybe my expectations were too high. Maybe a second viewing would open my eyes to possibilities of faith and believing that I missed the first time because I was searching too hard.

I struggle with faith--in God, in myself, in my friends, in my coworkers. I don’t trust that I might actually be good at my job and that making the wrong choice one day doesn’t mean I’m not making 100 right ones the next. It doesn’t mean that I’m not good at my job. It doesn’t mean I’m a bad person. Questioning my life in respect to God and how I perceive him and the relationship I have with him is not wrong either. Humans are wired to question. I started questioning when I left home for college in 1989 and nearly 24 years later, I still wonder if I’m doing the wrong thing by questioning even though I know I would be a fool not to question. 

Change doesn’t happen if we just let people tell us what to do without standing up and saying, “I don’t believe that’s the right course for me.” 

I have to find my faith. I have to believe it’s okay to question. I have to develop a relationship with God that is mine and no one else’s. I have to be strong enough to let no one stand in my way with said relationship, and I have to be strong enough in my faith that it can be questioned by someone else and I can know that my choice was the right one for me no matter what any one else thinks. (Validation rears its head)

I’m not there yet. I’ve been trying to get there for a long time. I think there’s still a certain amount of fear of disappointing my parents where all things religious are concerned. Imagine a boy who leaves home at 18 and at 41 is still struggling with disappointing his parents over the way he believes in God versus the way he thinks they want him to believe in God.

It should be as simple as I believe in God. Enough said. But in my head it’s not enough.

Pi was strong. He believed what he believed as a child and carried that with him into adulthood. He believed. He survived.

It’s interesting how a movie that I thought I got nothing spiritual from actually opened the door for me to admit my own spiritual desires and fears. I guess I did get something important from Life of Pi after all. Something more important than the copper-colored clouds hiding the sun beautifully reflected on the bluest of seas. 

I didn’t sit in the darkened movie theater crying and finding my heart overwhelmed with faith beyond my own. What I got, after the fact, was the questioning of why I struggle so hard with my faith and the desire to create my own personal relationship with God.

It is true: sometimes you get what you need instead of what you want. The trick is to see what it is that’s being presented and use it to your advantage. 

The journey continues...

Monday, January 7, 2013


Who am I kidding. I have a validation problem. I look for it everywhere. From strangers, from old friends, from acquaintances, from people I haven’t seen in 20 years. It doesn't’ matter who they are as long as they pat me on the cyberspace back.

My quest for validation: a desire to prove my worth from the responses I get from other people. Responses from people who tell me how much they like something I’ve written, or tell me how much they enjoyed the song I sang. I’m never in a better mood than when I am complimented for something I’ve created, performed, or dressed myself in that day. It makes me feel good about myself. That means I’m not finding that joy within me but relying on other people to create it for me. I’m at the mercy of someone else’s opinions and feelings. That sucks! Plain and simple. 

Lets go back a few years. I wasn’t popular in high school. I know, waaa! Poor me! But seriously, I wanted so to be. I wanted to be one of the desired crowd. I wanted to be one of those people who lifted other people’s spirits if I deigned to talk to them. I realize how horrible that sounds even as I type it. It was a long time ago in the age when high school meant everything. Instead, I was one of the people whose spirits got lifted when the “in” crowd spoke to him. Now, I’m not going to paint myself as a complete social outcast. I wasn’t. But I was fumbling along in the middle. I thought the one thing that set me apart was my voice--I was one of a handful of people in my tiny high school who sang everywhere and anywhere. That didn’t set me apart in a good way. It made me a target. It gave people (mostly my male classmates) a reason (or another reason) to call me names. And that, many of them did. 

I can’t believe that I’ve been out of high school for nearly 24 years and I am still striving for popularity. One of my coworkers says that I am adored at work. Says that people light up around me. They want to be my friend. They laugh at my actions, words, or reactions because the intention is to make them laugh. Or to shock them. These people are not laughing at me. There’s no finger pointing and snickering behind my back. The feeling that comes over me during these moments must be how the Grinch felt when his heart grew three sizes. I have a sense of joy and acceptance that makes my skin glow like that of a pregnant woman. I feel like Sally Field and I want to say, “...you like me, right now, you like me!” I am validated. Oops. There’s that word.

I have somehow connected validation and popularity. I notice it when my blog hasn’t gotten enough page views. I notice it when my tweets don’t get enough retweets or favorites. I notice it when my Facebook status doesn’t get enough “likes” or comments. I feel that no one cares, and that makes me want to slink away into the corner of some room, make myself really small, and wait and wonder if anyone will know that I’m missing. It’s a pattern. It’s a ridiculous pattern, but the good thing is I recognize it. That means I can address this action, ask myself why I do it, and then start stopping it in its tracks.

Mixed in with the popularity and validation issues is my subscription to low self-confidence. It surprises me that I have a lack of confidence. That person who used to sing all the time sometimes did so in front of crowds that numbered in the thousands. That person used to sing and dance in musicals. That person danced in dance concerts. I used the adrenaline kicked in by the nerves as power. I knew I could do it. I knew I could remember the words, the notes, the dance steps. I knew I could deliver the goods. Now, that kid from high school, who hated walking into a populated room of classmates is back, and fearful of the mockery that he thinks exists on everyone's lips where he's concerned.

Validation, popularity, and confidence.

  • I know that I have to be proud of myself and step away from the need for validation by others.
  • I know that popularity is a status I’ve concocted in my brain.
  • I know that I have to find confidence within myself.

I know all of the above listed things. The problem is: knowing and believing are two different matters. I can say I know and understand the bulleted lines above over and over, but there are times when I’m drowning in my lack of self-confidence, grasping for validation from someone if only to prove that I’m doing the right thing, that I’m good at what I do. I can’t seem to keep a firm grip on my desires to be self-confident and to live my life for me, not for others. I can’t seem to hold on to the desire to live a life where other people’s opinions--good or bad--don’t matter.

My lack of self-confidence makes so many of my choices become questions instead of statements. I look to someone else to validate those choices. I haven’t been able to pinpoint what happens mentally, physically, on those days when I exude self-confidence, but I can usually tell you what happened that caused me to cower in the corner questioning every decision.

These are all things I’ve been talking about in therapy. They keep coming up because I realize they exist and I’m trying to understand how I got this way so that I can move forward with my life--trusting myself, having confidence in myself, needing no validation, being proud of who I am and the work I do.

I know it’s a process. I struggle with that. I like the quick result. This is not going to have a quick result. This is going to take time. I’m going to have to dig deep and come to terms with what I desired in my past and what I have in my present so that I can create the future I want.

This entry is not intended for gaining sympathy or pity from the reader. This entry is an attempt to put into words my feelings so that I may better understand how to move past them and move forward in my life. It is merely an admission--an effort to expose once again, my secrets, hangups, and flaws.

The journey continues...

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

A Blank Page...So Many Possibilities!

Dot: Are you working on something new?
George: No
Dot: That is not like you, George
George: I've nothing to say
Dot: You have many things
George: Well, nothing that's not been said
Dot: Said by you, though. George

This blank white page stares back at me as I stare at it. I have so many things that I want to write about and yet I won’t sit down in front of the computer and compose the story. I can’t seem to get the ideas and thoughts to flow from their murky bed of inception into the clear stream of clarity. Even now as I try to describe this situation, I erased the sentence five times and began again finally landing on the one you read.

I wrote in the summer about practicing and how I hate to do it. That is again my problem. There are seven blog entries about my life or experiences that have been started just sitting on my desktop waiting for me to complete them. There are two short stories of fiction that have been started and two that are still swirling in my brain. They call out to me daily and I ignore them. I feel an obligation to finish them yet I won’t do it. I can’t explain why. I want them to be finished. I want to feel the sense of excitement I feel every time I send a new piece I’ve written out into the cyber world that is blogger, twitter, and Facebook. I love seeing the numbers grow as people read what I’ve written. It’s exciting, and there’s nothing wrong with that. 

Part of my problem is that I don’t quiet my mind and focus on what I want to say. That quieting and focusing clears the path for the words to form at the end of my fingertips as they strike the keys on my computer.

There are times when I’m lying in bed at night and a thought will come to me. Usually it’s a thought about the fiction I’m working on. When I am in a relaxed state and those thoughts happen, I need only grab the notebook and pen that live beside my bed and beautiful descriptions of moments make their way to the page. I look at them the next day and feel a sense of pride in the fact that I wrote them. They may not be great sentences to everyone, but to me, if I’ve managed to describe the image or create the mood that was in my head then it’s a success.

I’ve plenty to say. I’ve even gotten better at saying it. I just don’t say it as often as I used to. I miss that, yet I still make no major effort to change it.

I hear my father’s voice in my head sometimes telling me as a child that I’m lazy. I don’t want to hear that voice because I don’t want him to be right, but somehow I think he is. If I apply that statement from my childhood (which irritated me then) to my current writing process I have to agree (and that irritates me now).

There is no fear in a blank white page. It is a blank canvas on which to create. I have such grand ideas in my head sometimes and I’m afraid I can’t write them the way I see them. Therefore I let the fear of failure-to-translate keep me from continuing my project. I’m a fool for doing that. I judge myself so harshly. I don’t give myself a chance to succeed because I’ve already deemed myself a failure without writing a word. Isn’t that amazing? Having written nothing I’ve already decided it’s not good enough.

Eureka! I think the above words clarify beautifully, and quite simply, the idea that I think I’m not good enough. Ouch! No murkiness there. Now we’re getting to the root of the problem. I don’t think I’m good enough and therefore nothing I do is going to be good enough. So I just brood on what might have been, or what could be, instead of living in the moment of what is...and writing. 

I published only 33 blog entries in 2012. That’s down from the 70 I published in 2009 when this blog was fresh and new and I was excited about it. Those numbers are a disappointment to me, and I’m the only one to blame.

Sometimes it only takes a moment to get what I’m thinking down on the page. This took less than half and hour.

There are no resolutions for the coming year, but there is a challenge to write more and fear less. There is a challenge to create and complete. I extend this challenge to myself. I hope to retire the hat of the fool, or at least stow it away in a dark corner to be brought out at times when I need of reminder of how far away from it I have gotten. 

George: White. A blank page of canvas. His favorite. So many possibilities...

(Dot and George are characters in the musical Sunday in the Park with George by Stephen Sondheim and James Lapine. Dialogue reprinted without permission. No copyright infringement intended.)