Full of Thanks

A year ago for Christmas, a friend of mine gave me a gratitude jar. Every time I was grateful I was to write my gratitude on a slip of paper and put it in the jar. At the end of the year, I could look back over everything for which I was grateful. I’m sorry to say that jar stands on my bookshelf empty. (Sorry, Tana.) However, it is not because I was not grateful. If I’d actually followed through, the jar I was given couldn’t possibly have held all the paper slips I would have put into it. A gallon jar, maybe.

I am so very thankful. Lately I find myself thankful for the most basic things. We’ve had some rain, and it made me so grateful that I can afford a warm and dry home. This is not a “yada yada yada, I need to try to be grateful” thought. I am sincerely thankful for the financial resources to have rented a decent house. That has not always been the case. There was a house in LA that I loved simply because it was a house with a yard and I’d been living in apartments. House is being generous. It was a shack. The roof leaked. There was missing siding, and that, combined with the cracked drywall, meant that there was a breeze in my bedroom. No central air or heat. No insulation. Threadbare carpet. Mold under the curling linoleum. I lived that way for 15 years because it was the only way I could afford to live in a house in LA. Now I appreciate a home with a solid roof and walls, and the ability to pay for it more than I ever would have if I’d never lived in that shack.

I am thankful for the people here who welcomed me as if I was a friend who’d been away for a few years and had come home. Uprooting 25 years of life and starting over is absolutely terrifying. They made it seem effortless. I am grateful for each and every person who has graced my life with their friendship and made me feel instantly at home.

There is immense thanksgiving for a job I love. Six months ago I was struggling to learn the names of our clients and put them together with faces. Now I know the names and faces, and enjoy seeing them whenever they come in to work out. Work is a constant flow of friendly faces sharing stories, jokes, and laughs.

Even more, I am thankful work provides variety and outlets for creativity. Years ago I was watching an episode of the Daily Show where they were saying goodbye to a producer who was moving on to another show. Jon Stewart described how he started at the bottom, was really good at what he did, and they thought, “Huh, I wonder if he’d be good at this, too. And he was.” And that happened over and over again until he was producing. As he told that story, I literally started to sob. That was the experience I thought I would have at CBS. I thought when I got to a national network, and people saw me as hard working, responsible, and pleasant, they’d think, “Huh, yeah, she’s good at prompting, but I bet she’d be good at this, too.” And up, up, up and away I’d go. Instead what I experienced was, “She’s really good at this thing and other people aren’t always so good. She’s dependable. She does whatever we ask. Since it makes our lives easier if she keeps prompting, let’s make sure she keeps doing that.” It felt like such a betrayal, though I’ve since learned that’s standard operating procedure there. Why, I have no idea. Seems very short sighted. Anyway, I am now in a situation much closer to the Daily Show.  Yes, some of my duties include taking out the trash, invoicing clients, collecting money, and answering the phone. However, I know on any given day I might be asked to write a press release, or design a flyer, or take on a task that my boss believes I can handle even though I’ve never done it before. Shoot, they even got me to be on camera in a comedy sketch. Work is challenging. There are possibilities. Having been without it for 20 years, I am so thankful for that!

The list could go on and on and on and on and I could probably do a paragraph on each thing I’m thankful for. I’ve come to realize that the things I’ve listed here, and many others, are all the sweeter because I have been without them. So, the very final slip of paper I’d put in this year’s gallon jar of gratitude is for those periods of lack. It’s not something I could have done at the time, but now I see that they have given me much of my joy today.

So, today I am full of thanks… and pumpkin pie… but mostly thanks. May you be as well.

And Tana, next year, I promise… I’ll start actually filling the jar.

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Who is a Terrorist?

When the attacks in Paris happened last week, I searched for something to say that wasn’t being said by everyone else. There was little to add, so I remained silent while trying to sort through my thoughts and emotions.

Typically, when the crowd all goes one way, I tend to become skeptical and veer off. The crowd has a tendency to stop thinking and just keep following… right over the cliff’s edge. So, when everyone started changing their FB profile picture with an overlay of the tricolor flag, I was hesitant. I didn’t do it for marriage equality, why should I do it for Paris. Yet, I wanted some way to show we Americans were standing with France, despite our petulant reaction to them not joining the ill-advised Iraq invasion. As it turns out, it was that very invasion that laid the groundwork for Isis to rise and attack Paris. After some hesitation, I hit the button to change my picture for a week and started shuffling along with everyone else.

The next day I regretted joining the crowd when the tricolor backlash started. Several articles pointed out that there have been lots of recent terrorist attacks in countries like Somalia (11/1 – 12 dead), Iraq (11/7 – 12 dead), Lebanon (11/12 – 43 dead), and Iraq again (11/12 – 19 dead). Nobody was rushing to overlay their flags on their profiles. I’m assuming nobody has changed their flag to Mali’s flag either. So to display France’s flag when you didn’t display theirs was to show yourself to be a racist.

I get their point. Americans so rarely care about the fate of people that don’t look and think like they do. Some blame the media, but the media doesn’t cover those trajedies, mainly because most of us don’t care. Still, the criticism felt childish. Isn’t it refreshing that something actually jarred Americans away from the latest Real Housewives episode and moved them to feel our universal connection? It felt snarky to shame normally apathetic people just when they were showing some empathy.

Besides, our empathy had more to do with familiarity than racism. Many people have been to Paris. It is a tangible place to them. Even if they didn’t know those particular locations, they can see themselves there – enjoying a late night dinner at a cafe, sharing a few drinks at a bar, or maybe taking in a music concert while visiting the City of Lights. It makes it feel very personal. It makes people feel very vulnerable. It could have been them.

Most people can’t put themselves in a hotel in Mogadishu, or on the streets of Lebanon or Iraq. We would never travel there, so while it’s tragic, that connection to ourselves just isn’t there. Because these places are often violent and unsafe, when something bad happens there, it feels expected. It does not tweak us in quite the same way.

Yesterday, while work was being done in my house, I ran off to a matinee of MockingJay Part 2. When watching the The Hunger Games, I realized what a tricky thing Suzanne Collins had done. People in the theater were actually cheering out loud at the death of children. Granted, they were the bad kids, but still, to have an audience follow you down the path to celebrate killing a child was stunning. I began to see us in the audience as not that different from the citizens of the Capital. We had become comfortable with the killing of children as entertainment.

She may have outdone herself in MockingJay Part 2. The audience will find themselves rooting for the people who spout the same ideology as modern-day terrorists, while despising the rhetoric that our politicians spew on a daily basis. Katniss argues that killing civilians is off limits, and Gale counters that if the civilians are supporting the system that oppresses them, they are fair game. His argument wins, and the Districts engage in terroristic tactics. Snow rallies the people with derision for the violent and evil rebel terrorists who hate the Capital’s freedom and lifestyle. He offers protection to his people while bombing entire cities off the map. Sound familiar?

The idealistic side of me would hope that the audience might go home and think through this dilemma. Who is a terrorist? Is it the system that oppresses, or those who use the only means available to free themselves? Is it both? What would happen if, rather than bombing cities off the earth, we reacted with an outpouring of aid and comfort? Wouldn’t it be harder to justify joining a terrorist group when your needs are met, and the enemy has become a valued friend? If at the first signs of trouble in the Districts, Snow had realized his mistakes, canceled the Hunger Games, gave limited autonomy to the Districts, and began trading the wealth of the Capital for the resources of the Districts — first, there would have been no book series, but there would also have been no rebellion, no terrorist acts, and no death. Are we Americans the Capital or the Districts?

It makes you think. Or at least it made me think. But I still have no answers. It’s a very complex world.

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Happy Unholy Days

Wading into religious controversy is a foolish thing to do, and not good for building blog readership. I guess I am a fool.

Just like the Christmas decorations being put out earlier and earlier, the supposed war on Christmas is starting earlier and earlier. Ironic, isn’t it? This year’s target is Starbucks for having the audacity to choose a simple red cup for the holiday season. Oh my! How diabolical! This ruins everything! I mean, taking the reindeer, snowmen, and snowflakes off from last year’s cup is such a slap in the face to Christians everywhere. Right?

An oft repeated phrase is, “Today’s Republican party is not my father’s Republican party.” Well, there’s a new one to add to that list. Today’s Christian church is not my father’s Christian church. The evangicals have hijacked it, along with the Republican party. There are plenty of very good Christian people trying very hard to live the example of Christ, but just like moderate Muslims, their voice is often drowned out by the attention seeking evangelicals.

Remember when Bing Crosby sang, “Happy Holiday” and nobody batted an eye? Today they would be boycotting Bing, which perhaps they should have done all those years ago, but for completely different reasons. And the movie “Holiday Inn”… well, until Irving Berlin changed it to “Christmas Inn” no evangelical would have dared pay the price of entry to see it.

I know it’s an uncomfortable truth for evangelicals, but not everyone on the planet is a Christian and not everyone celebrates Christmas. If you do, and you want to say Merry Christmas to everyone, go for it. And if you’re Jewish and want to wish everyone a Happy Hanukkah, go for it. And if you are someone who wants to include all people in your greeting and simply say, Happy Holy Day (where holiday comes from) then say to your heart’s content. A kind greeting to a fellow human being should be our top priority, in whatever form it takes.

One of the arguments from the man who started the Starbucks kerfuffle is that today’s overly PC world, Starbucks is trying to hard not to offend people, which he thinks is dumb. BUT, by doing that they’re offending Christians, which he links to persecution. Okay, so offending others… fine. Offending Christians… persecution. Everyone thinks that the thing they’re offended by should be changed, but when someone else is offended, they should just get over it. Um… yeah… that’s just stupid. Sorry if I’ve offended you. Not. His response that Christians should go to Starbucks, but they should open carry weapons… yeah, because that’s what Christmas and Christ is all about. Weaponry. Sorry, I’ll take the red cup as my Christmas symbol over a weapon designed to kill.

Remember playing with that one kid who insisted all the toys were theirs and if they didn’t get their way all the time they threw a tantrum? I think they all grew up to be evangelicals.

Next year I think Starbucks should choose a Hanukkah blue cup. I highly doubt the Jewish community would complain that the words “Happy Hanukkah” weren’t printed on the cup. There would be an attitude of gratitude that their Holy Day was acknowledged and celebrated.

A faith’s best witness is the behavior of it’s followers. In a season that is supposed to celebrate peace, love, salvation, and compassion, if you’re upset about how someone chooses to greet others, or how multi-national companies attempt to include everyone in the joy and celebration, perhaps the reason for the season hasn’t gone very deep into your heart.

 

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It’s Written in the Stars

Every now and then I do something completely out of character for me. I did that this week and saw an astrologist. Now, this will probably offend some and cause others to roll their eyes. I put myself in the 2nd camp. You see, I find the entire idea of planets orbiting millions of miles away having anything to do with my life utterly ridiculous. There were other babies born the day and time I was born. Are we all having the same lives? Horoscopes are so vague that they could apply to anyone. Astrology is sheer nonsense on a scientitic and rational level.

However, as one person explained it, there are many people who have psychic gifts, or if that title offends you, people with perceptions outside of the normal realm. Using dates, planets, and charts is just one way to channel those perceptions and gain insight. Others use numerology, or tarot cards, or pendulums… all equally nonsensical in a scientific light. Since I have some of those unusual perceptions and know they’re legit, I can live with her explanation, tamp down my utter disbelief in the system, and see what they have to say.

Why would anyone do this when they don’t really beleive? Simple. It’s an excellent tool for gauging my desires. Last year, when I first consulted this astrologist, I had pretty much already decided to move to Missouri, but there was still some doubt. Was I giving up too soon? If I hung in a little longer would things swing my way? Was life going to be just as difficult there? I wanted to get another pespective and see what my reaction to it was. During that first reading she told me all the planets were aligning and I was about to have a huge career in entertainment. My reaction?… a primal scream in my head that said, “NOOOOOOOOOO!!!!!!” While I have no idea if she was right, my reaction told me all I needed to know. I did not want that career. I truly was done with Hollywood and wanted out. That alone was worth the cost of the reading. My decision, despite recurring doubts, was made.

Right now there are no huge decisions on my horizon, but doubt has been creeping back in. Am I up for this? I was so busy being social in October that I got almost no writing done.  Yes, I’m having a great time. Yes, my life is full of wonderful people. Yes, life has slowed down and stress has been reduced to almost nothing. However, this life is not sustainable. What happens in 3-4 years when my entire life’s savings is gone and I haven’t published anything? What if this leap really does leave me crumpled in a heap at the bottom of the chasm, and at an age that it will be hard to climb out? Aaaahhhh! As you can imagine, these thoughts are not conducive to creativity and writing, so I put my logical thought processes on hold, and consulted an astrologist.

Consulting these paranormal people is always a great confidence builder if nothing else. It doesn’t matter if I talk to a psychic, numerologist, or astrologist, they always say the same thing – I am destined to be a writer, teacher, and prophet, (ugh) whose work will have an affect on many people. (ugh ugh) I don’t feel qualified to teach anyone anything, let alone many people. I just want a life full of friends, cats, laughter, and lots of quiet hours in my office writing. As for the outcome… ppphhhhtttt. As long as I can sustain my life, who cares.

This reading was the same. Apparently come next August I need to have this book finished and submitted to a publisher because some moon, or planet, or something is moving into my publishing house. And this book is going to bring in money, launch my career, and potentially lead me back into the entertainment industry when the book is made into a movie. All that sounds great, though I have no idea if any of it is true. However, once again, what made this entire reading worth the cost was the deadline. People have asked, “When do you hope to finish it?” I would just shrug my shoudlers, “I dunno.” Now I have a goal… a deadline. August. This book will be done by August. I am once again confident, encouraged, and ready to make this dream a reality. Despite the silliness of it all, purpose accomplished.

Now, on a fun note, apparently those renewed interests in romance that I blogged about recently are not in vain. At some point early next year, I am supposed to end up in a relationship, and one that finally gives me the deep, spiritual connection I have longed for. Oh my! It will be fun to see if that turns out to be true. A man, a career, and security. It’s written in the stars, now let’s see if I can write it in my life.

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