Sunday, December 27, 2009

I Passed My Happiness Final Exam

I do not make New Year resolutions. Instead I pick a theme for each year and I try to focus and explore that area throughout the year. I've had The Year of Friendship, The Year of Simplicity, The Year of Organization, The Year of Autonomy, The Year of Education, The Year of Closure, and the list goes on. I've been doing this for over 15 years now and I come away each year with new insight and a better understanding of myself at the very least.

Last year my theme was: "2009 - The Year of Happiness." As my blog posts here illustrate, I've been quite focused on the topic of happiness this past year. I'm very "happy" with the progress I've made this year, pardon the pun. This year was the first year however where I've felt like I was put to the test at year end to evaluate my progress. Here's what happened:

Unbeknown to me, on the cusp of my long-awaited holiday vacation, I was walking into a pop quiz for my "2009-Year of Happiness" quest. Well, it was more like a final exam really. Year end and all.

When I say that happiness is a choice, I am serious, as serious as a heart attack. My pre-vacation events had all the ingredients for a major holiday disaster. With my newfound passion drummer though, everything worked out with top marks across the board. Okay, minus one ill-begotten Trivial Pursuit game, but let's not go there.

We had a 6am flight out of town to visit my boyfriend Jason's relatives. I calculated that we needed to leave the house by 4:30am to make it through the hectic holiday queue at the airport and check-in on time. Jason usually goes to bed around this time so he said he was just going to stay up and sleep on the plane. I had worked that day and had spent that evening installing and programming a new keypad deadbolt and locking handle-set on the front door (a mover had recently broken our deadbolt and it needed to be replaced before we headed out of town). I was tired so I told him I was going to take a nap and could he please wake me up at around 3am so I could have plenty of time to pack my bag and get ready. I didn't think to set a backup alarm (see where this is heading??)

Yep, I woke up shortly after 4:30am. I'm not exactly sure what woke me up, perhaps one of the dogs? I tore around the bedroom and bath like a lunatic on speed trying to get ready and packed as a single desperate and haphazard act. I figured Jason was upstairs, asleep in the Lazyboy, with his packed bag by his side. I was wrong, on both counts. He was upstairs playing Modern Warfare 2 and he appeared to have been there all night. That game rocks, don't get me wrong. But my first reaction was not to give him a kiss and say "No big deal." The "old" goal-oriented Tracy would have gone postal on his gameside, if you get my meaning.

Now I must admit my first reaction was to go off on him. I was tired and freaking out about missing our flight. I knew there was no possible way we were going to get him dressed, packed, and make the 45 minute drive to the airport in time to make that flight. Boarding started at 5:40am and it was already past 5am. I threw his clothes from the dryer into his back-pack while he got ready. We arrived at the airport at 6am on the dot. We probably heard the jets of our plane as it left the runway.

During the drive to the airport, I realized I had a decision to make. I could be upset and mad and anxious and stressed about the situation we were now in. I could analyze and point fingers and lecture until Jason's emotional state matched my own. In other words, I could do the same old thing I'd always done in similar situations. Or, I realized, I could listen to my passion drummer. I am fortunate that I'd already honed my skills at finding the elusive beat of the passion drummer that always, without fail, leads me to happiness. So I stopped for a moment and listened. I looked at Jason. I felt the love that I have for him. I chuckled at his at times irresponsible and boyish ways that landed us in an unfortunate game of stand-by at the airport two days before Christmas. I acknowledged that it was this very same pervasive focus on having fun of his that I'd fallen in love with, that had in a manner of speaking saved me from myself and a life of stress and self-imposed obligation and super-human responsibilities and ultimately an early grave. I realized I was extremely fortunate to be with him, living the new life I'd crafted for myself after much pain and turmoil, and that spending this holiday with him was more important than where we spent the holiday. It was Christmas time and I was in love. Who could ask for more than that? I thought about how happy I was. And, there it was, I was happy!

We got standby vouchers for the next flight out, which was heading to Denver. As luck would have it we got on that flight because it had been delayed for a few hours and several passengers had transferred to other flights so they could catch their connecting flights. We weren't sitting together but we didn't care. We were on our way.

When we got to Denver it was snowing and the airport was at capacity. All flights were booked. It was a mad house. But I was with Jason and we were having fun, even if we weren't quite sure if we would be spending the holiday in Denver or in Eugene, Oregon. When I told the airline rep that we were both on stand-by and that we wanted to be kept together, she looked stressed and said there was no way she could promise we would sit together. I quickly laughed and said "No, No! We don't care where we sit, we just want to be on the same plane!" She looked surprised and relieved for a split second before she reestablished the standard airline face. I was happy and nice and I guess that wasn't something she was used to in a stand-by passenger during the holidays. There were a lot of people holding standby vouchers, but she wasn't listing stand-by names on the overhead display. I was pretty certain we weren't getting on even with our having no checked luggage. The gate was standing room only. As the last group boarded she hadn't called a single stand-by passenger name. I walked up to her and asked what I needed to do to get on the next stand-by flight. As she grabbed passenger boarding passes and scanned them for Group 4, she said, "You automatically get put on the next stand-by list."  Then she looked up and said, wait, you're the couple right? I nodded. She said, "I want you to stick around. I'm going to try to get you on." And she did. Not only that, but we even got to sit together. Can you believe that?

When we arrived in Eugene, we found out that the rental car company had canceled our reservation when we didn't come in on the 10am flight, it was now around 5pm. We didn't get upset but instead just asked for her help. They didn't have any cars left, so she called down and found out there was a car that was just returned and was being cleaned. We waited 5 minutes or so for them to finish cleaning it and they even drove it up curbside for us, so we didn't even have to walk!

The rest of the vacation was delightful. I finally got to meet Jason's twin brother, Sean, along with a couple cousins, Jenny and Rufus, I had not yet met. It was simply an amazing time. Sean is extremely entertaining and he also makes one mean martini! And Jason, who hates his picture taken, even let me snap of picture of him with Santa Claus when he showed up to hand out presents to the kids on Christmas Eve. Unfortunately, the kids missed seeing Santa take off from the roof with his sleigh and reindeer although they were all outside looking, and Sean reappeared shortly thereafter from upstairs after helping Santa prepare for his rooftop take off. Thanks Santa!! I can't wait to visit again. I also finally got to see Dinah's magnificent addition she made to her house and the meals were simply out of this world. Oh, and the wine!! Yummy.

Looking back at the holiday, we had a marvelous time, but I honestly think it was the passion drummer that made it happen. Had we been stressed and short with the travel professionals we encountered, I seriously doubt we'd have made those flights...particularly the Denver flight. You reap what you sow, as the saying goes. If you put out positive (happy) energy, and you have no set expectations, good things come. They may not always be what you wanted, or thought you needed, but you will get good things. In this case, it happened to be what we wanted too, but like I said, that isn't really the point. The point is that we followed our passion, we maintained happiness during an uncertain time and good things followed.

So it was, two days before Christmas, I was handed my final exam for the 2009 Year of Happiness quest, and I'm proud to announce that I passed with flying colors.

Friday, December 18, 2009


Last night I went to the sneak peak midnight showing of Avatar at Alamo Drafthouse (yes, in 3D). I loved the movie. No, it's not an epic film like LOTR or Star Wars despite the price tag. Could it have been? Maybe. I sorta hoped it would be. It had all the makings for it.

Avatar by both definitions is applicable. The story touches on both reincarnation (the sanskrit definition) as in the continuation of life energy (think Gia here) , along with the obvious modern day definition where it is something representing us that isnt' really us.

The storyline was basically Pocahontas but sci-fi (aliens, Gia, etc.). The Pocahontas equivalent was a strong female character, the likes of which I wished were available in the movies of my childhood, always craving for the strong competent independent female. The storyline wasn't big enough for me but I will still be going to view this movie on IMAX this Sunday. Yes, it was that good in my opinion.

The CG is awesome, the motion capture some of the best to hit the big screen, the acting sold, the characters well presented, the Pandora landscapes breathtaking and the story sufficient. There were a few "cheesy" parts, but nothing I couldn't overlook as a whole. If you like sci-fi and CG art, this is the film to see this holiday.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Julie and Julia

I watched the movie "Julie and Julia" recently. I loved it. Of course I loved it. It's about women who follow their passions and one of them shares my passion for writing! It left me wanting for my own blog that was filled with purpose and passion like Julie's. The movie is about Julie, who wanted some focus in her life and decided to cook all of the recipes in one of Julia Child's cookbooks in a single year (no small feat). I loved it in concept and in execution. It not only entertained me, it inspired me. How I act on that inspiration is yet to be determined, but it has me thinking for certain.

I often find myself without a cause, desperately wanting to write but without inspiration. It's like a lightbulb in the dark...without electricity, so close and yet so far. I love to write. I really love to write. Am I any good at it? I don't particularly care how talented I am at it. It's a passion. So I blog. But blogs have themes, don't they? Shouldn't they? And Menagerie Mind has no focus?? It's my personal brain dumping ground. Instead of deciding upon a focus, I'm all over the place, wherever the wind or whim seems to take me.

Do I need a focus? Do I need an audience? I don't know if it matters to me at present. But they are good questions to explore.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Meeting New People

I realized something very important recently. I've always been good at making friends with people that had interests similar to mine, but had struggled with finding an effective way of connecting with people with whom I did not identify in any meaningful way. There are a few people that I know that are passion-drummer people (these are not status-conscious socialites) that seem to make friends with most everyone they meet. I think I've figured out how they do it. When they meet someone new, instead of looking for common interests like I do, they look for a person's passions. They ask open-ended questions that truly seek to find out what a person's passions are. Questions like, "What do you do for fun?" and "What are your hobbies?" When the person starts to "light up" about a topic, they know they've found a topic of passion. After this, it's just a matter of asking effective questions related to that person's interests. They learn about the really important things about the people they least in terms of passion that is. And these people come away from the introduction feeling cared about and of interest and in that way the people come away liking them because they made them feel good. These people felt good not because they pounced upon them with flattery, but because they took genuine interest in them. I always thought it had to be a topic of personal interest to me for that to happen. I now know that it's less about topics that interest me and more about finding something of passion to them. When that other person is talking about their passion, you can't help but feel the change in the person's energy. It is a positive energy that cannot be faked. Oddly enough, their passion, whether the topic is of interest to me or not, is of interest to me almost always (unless it violates a core value of mine). So I learned something really valuable today. Find the passion in others is the most important thing I can do when I meet a person for the first time. And every time I do, we'll both come away from a positive experience.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

My Bachelor's Degree Journey

Today is the beginning of a new dawn for me. You see, today, I completed the final exams for my last two classes to complete my Bachelor Degree. I understand this wouldn't be a big deal for a lot of individuals. My situation is a bit different. My parents were not college graduates. My grandparents were not college graduates. In fact, no one in my direct family had completed a four-year degree and only one other had completed an Associate Degree as I have. No money was set aside for education for me growing up. No evaluation or relevance was placed on my report cards either. My good grades went largely unnoticed. No expectations were set that I'd go to college and make something of myself. None of that existed in my adolescent world.

Luckily, I had a stepfather that gave me some priceless advice after the fifth grade about succeeding in school as a means of escaping the cycle of dependence to which all the females in my family had prescribed before me, actually, he just asked me if I wanted to end up like my mother...with a man because she needed him and not necessarily because she loved him. He said I could have the things a man could provide all on my own, if I went to school and got good grades...and went to college and got good grades...and got a good job and made my own money so I could marry a man because I loved him and not because I "needed" him financially. He changed my life albeit in a bit of a heartless fashion for a 5th grad girl. I'd taken his message to heart and started getting good grades the following school year. Straight A's in fact. Apparently, all I really ever needed was someone to tell me that it was important and that they believed I could do it. Odd how the encouragement of elders can impact a young mind...never underestimate that.

Although I never applied for any scholarship or expected any type of assistance, I paid for my Associate Degree and Bachelor Degree myself or via my employer's benefit packages and continued to take classes and consistently made the Dean's List.

I got married while completing my Associate Degree. Shortly thereafter, after my son was born, things became a bit more complicated. He was seriously disabled, and spend the first year and a half in the NICU. I worked full time to support my family as the primary breadwinner. We eventually brought my son home, requiring full time nursing home-care. I managed 18 nurses in my home, medications, hospitalizations, medical supply inventories, out-patient therapies, home schooling, nurse home-care scheduling. training, and managing as well as sharing uncovered nursing shifts to care for my son.

Somehow through all of that, I never gave up my goal of completing a Bachelor Degree. Call me determined...or insane.

Over the years, things have changed "a bit" for me. I've realized that I was a bit unhealthy in way of personal relationships, primarily because I'd been raised in them and somehow thought they were normal. During a light-bulb moment back in 2003, I realized it actually was unhealthy, the way I was living. I affectionately refer to that portion of my life as my "living with the enemy" phase. I kept taking classes during that time amazingly enough. Of course my son's frequent hospitalizations required me to withdraw from classes on occasion. Still I remained on the honor roll. Even through my abuse laden divorce I continued to take classes when I could.

After everything, I've discovered this wonderful place in my life, where I've found a partner that loves me for me, who loves his life, makes a living doing what he'd do for free because he's so passionate about it, and who totally supports me in finding the same for myself. It took about 5 years of soul searching (with his tutelage) before I came to a point where I allowed the same for myself. That's when I found my "passion drummer". After which, oddly enough, I found that homework toward a degree that wasn't remotely close to relevant to my passions in life of writing and self-expression was less than fulfilling and more closely equivalent to a root canal on a tooth.

But we both agreed that it was silly for me not to complete a degree where merely two classes remained between me and a graduation ceremony. These last two classes have been very educational for me. First, I learned how much I detested taking courses on topics that I held no passion for. Second, I learned how little I really needed to expend in terms of time and effort to attain an "A" in these classes. I really shouldn't admit how little I needed to learn to complete these final courses with grades of A's. On one hand I was upset because I could have done this with ALL my classes instead of my typically over-achiever style in which I alienated myself from all other students in my class. On the other hand, I now was upset that I'd invested so much time on classes that really didn't mean a thing to me in terms of relevance to my passions and yet only provided me with a grade I might have easily achieved with my new "slacker-make-due" persona when it came to the maintenance tasks of life.

Well, no worse for the wear, I've completed those last two classes and I can gladly await my graduation ceremony in the spring (after things defrost up there). I'll be the first in my family to have made such an accomplishment. Yes, a bit anti-climatic being over 40. But still.

It's more than just checking something off my list, even in my new passion-is-king world. It's about following through even when it's painful because it makes "sense" irregardless of any passion status. I'll unlikely make this sort of "mistake" again any time soon. Yet, after all these years, I don't think I can say that I regret either the investment, nor the gratification that I have at this moment, as I drink from a glass of bubbly that's been sitting bottled on my wine rack for quite some time now awaiting this day.


Tuesday, December 1, 2009

The Seasons of Friendship

I've recently come to a realization about how my passion drummer is going to change my life. It comes with mixed emotion. I've read before that there is a season for all things. And in that fashion, friends move in and out of your life as they are relevant to your world. I've never been one that is good at letting go. I've been feeling a bit melancholy and realized (eventually) it was because I was letting go. It wasn't really a conscious decision, but like the closing of a chapter, I am finding that some relationships are not as compatible with my new passion-is-king outlook on life as perhaps I'd like them to be. As I focus on my passions, being the very social person that I am, I've naturally found myself wanting to share my time with others with similar passions. Oddly, I've been presented with situations since my passion drummer epiphany where I've been made fun of for following my passions. In other cases, I've been excluded from participating in activities that are directly related to my passions by people in my life that have similar interests. Both perplexing and hurtful, these encounters have been the catalyst for me to make a change. I have decided that I want to be around people that are just as excited about sharing their passions with me as I am with them. In my old goal and status driven world, I was able to overlook the incompatibilities and the little pissing contests that happened with friends. But now that isn't the case. When I find things becoming competitive, resulting in this conservative, judgemental and withholding stance by my friends I can no longer just ignore it. If it's not fun, and I can't freely share my passions, then I'm no longer engaged. I initially interpreted this behavior as rejection by my friends. Now I think it's more that I'm irritating them because they don't "get" this new me. Or perhaps it's more an issue of how I react to these situations now that I am in the passion drummer's world. After letting go a bit, I'm realizing it wasn't rejection as much as it was simply an inability of these people to meet me half way precisely because they didn't dance to the beat of the passion drummer. It's a sad realization on the one hand, but it is comforting at the same time. I'm free now to seek out new friendships cultivated in the ways of the passion drummer, where there is little room for competition because it's about passion and fun, and not about status and reach goals first. So slowly my melancholy turns to anticipation for what is to come in this new season of friendship.

Are We Having Fun Yet?

Today’s luncheon topic was about cultivating expertise. The take away, for me, from the session was that you don’t have to have innate talent to succeed as much as you do dedication to stick the time and energy into becoming world class at whatever it is you’ve chosen to do. Statistics were provided showing that it takes roughly 4 years of full-time personal investment to become an expert in any given field without regard for pre-existing talent. Other topics touched upon included: the idea of quitting too soon (not investing the time to develop the skills necessary to succeed), not getting appropriate feedback from someone qualified to provide it, and not cutting loose when you need to walk away (although there wasn’t a lot of discussion around what criteria would be used to determine when it IS time to cut loose.)

One idea I brought to the table of discussion today was the idea of intrinsic motivation. Like many people in our lunch group, I am used to achieving my goals. I tend to “like” whatever I’ve become good at, up to a point. However, the road to get to that place where I’m good has rarely been enjoyable. In that, I think I’ve been approaching things with the wrong perspective. I think instead, I should have been following what I enjoyed, until it wasn’t fun any longer, like Curtis has been doing. By vectoring, you learn about yourself, what you enjoy, who you enjoy it with, and what aspects of activities are the most rewarding to you on a personal level. There is something to be said about knowing thyself.

One of the great points touched upon today is that we are not static beings and as we grow we may often outgrow a passion or focus and need to look for greener pastures. On a similar note we discussed how an intended goal might not bring the rewards originally expected and anticipated.Many of us have reached where we set out to be only to find the place where we’ve arrived is not as fulfilling as we’d imagined (not from a traditional success perspective necessarily but from a personal satisfaction and happiness viewpoint). Even after we realize this though, we may feel we’ve invested too much to just walk away, even if it will make us happier. We get “tied in.” In my experience, I have usually spent too much time focusing on the goal line to really pay attention to things that I now see as key factors on what I need to determine when to cut loose.Unlike others today, who said they think they may have abandoned their efforts too soon in some situations, I have been the person that sees things through at all costs. Cutting loose has been something I’ve had difficulty doing because I thought it meant I failed somehow.

In this new world I’ve discovered where passion is king, I no longer have that problem. My first question will always be: Is this enjoyable? Even the work at getting good at something I’m not yet good at has to have an aspect of fun, or it isn’t likely where I want to be investing my time, at least not in terms of following my passion. If I focus my time on something and it’s a grind, it is unlikely I will ever find that work to be truly fulfilling and “fun”.No, not everything is joy joy, cotton candy, and bubble gum. Anything you want to accomplish involves a lot of time and effort to get good at it…apparently 4 full years worth. But if the work really feels like work, and isn’t personally enjoyable and fulfilling, I will seriously reconsider if that is something I want to invest in and I won’t feel bad about walking away from something that isn’t working for me. Sure, sticking with it will get me to the goal I’ve set and I’ll be good at it and reap the rewards it holds. But I don’t want to end up someplace that isn’t fun or fulfilling simply to reach a goal. I think I would likely have abandoned (cut loose) from many a particular venture had I been evaluating my progress based on how much enjoyment and satisfaction I was getting in the present moment. Conversely, I definitely would not have cut loose from other focuses (passions) that I abandoned at an early age, had I evaluated their worth and my investment in them based on how they made me feel. Somewhere along the road, I turned off my feelings meter and started evaluating my activities based on a different measuring stick, right or wrong. I’ve learned how to get where I set out to go, now I just have to make a point of making sure it’s a destination, or more accurately a journey, that keeps me happy.