Thursday, December 2, 2010

First Impressions

Perhaps my biggest ally...AND my biggest enemy is my first impression.  They say that first impressions are all important.  That when we meet someone for the first time, we determine in very short order how we've sized that person up.  In my case, I've been told on numerous occasional by plenty of people that I make a, well, formidable, for lack of a better word, first impression.  Now in a job interview, legal, or professional venue, this serves me quite well.  I apparently come off as intelligent, self-confident, competent, assertive, driven, strong and direct.  Okay, well that sounds good, I suppose.

But now I'm meeting the neighbor lady who is a stay-at-home mom with a slew of kids in tow, and I think that assessment of the first impression becomes less "intelligent, self-confident, competent, assertive, driven, strong and direct" and more "know-it-all, arrogant, better-than-everyone-else, bossy, over-achieving, over-bearing, and pushy" first impression.  I've always wished that I could change this about myself.  Wishing that I could tone down my forceful personality to suit the receptive energies of the audience that was before me, however, isn't going to change anything.  I tend to alienate myself from people unknowingly.  Perhaps it is a protection mechanism that I developed and honed because of how brutally shy I was as a young person especially since we moved every year or two? Perhaps I am trying to present myself as strongly as possible out of fear of rejection?  Perhaps I internalized the same behavior I saw in my mother? I don't know.

It was never so strikingly clear to me, the impact my first impression had on those I met, as it was after my ex-husband and I separated after a 15-year marriage.  It was a devastating experience for me, and I lost my emotional footing for several weeks.  During that time, I noted that strangers that I met were so much friendlier to me.  Not just friendly, but open, helpful, happy, nice, and they even interacted with me longer.  It was the oddest experience, to have people act so nice to me.  I was perplexed, but with the emotional rug pulled out from underneath me as it was, I didn't have the personal resources to really look at it in depth at the time.  As I started healing/recovering, people started behaving normally when I met them again...more abrasive, less warm and friendly, more closed, more rigid, and briefer interactions.  It totally bummed me out.  I would love to be able to change that first impression back to that time, but without the emotional breakdown of course.

The only other time that I've found this to be less of a issue is when I'm doing my passion drummer stuff.  When I'm taking classes and am learning, some of this negative first impression apparently falls away because I meet many more people that are friendly toward me.  I am not conscious of the change in my personality when I'm following my passions, but others obviously are.  This is also true when I'm teaching.  It's strange.

For those that move beyond the first impression, and do become my friends, many have eventually confided that I was not the person they originally thought me to be.  My tough, impersonal, arrogant first impression isn't who I really am at the core of things, to those closest to me. But I sure wish I could figure out how to alter the first impression that I make.  I've changed an incredible amount of things in my life, and I hope that this will be no different.  I just need to figure out how and that's not a simple thing, at least not for me.

Therefore, just so you know, if you aren't yet my friend, keep in mind that my book doesn't really match my cover. But I'm working on that!

Saturday, November 20, 2010

The News

Sitting across the Formica tabletop in that grimy truckers diner, my father sat in the booth with this muscular hands fiddling with a matchbook as he took a draw on his cigarette. He was once a beautifully handsome man, a chiseled jaw, a Romanesque nose, brilliant gold-green eyes, jet black hair, deeply tanned skin, and a singing voice that could make a girl swoon. As his little girl, I remembered that movie-star handsome man. Now he was skin and bone, with a grayish complexion, balding, and his body wracked as he coughed up phlegm into a paper-napkin. He looked up at me briefly, and then back down.  Again, eye contact.  “Trace, I have cancer” he said. “Lung cancer.” 

I took a moment to get my bearings.  I knew he had something to tell me when he called me at work and asked if I could get off early to meet him, that it was urgent, but I hadn’t been prepared for this.  “What did the doctor say?  Did you get a second opinion?” 

He said, “Yeah, I got three second opinions.  They all say the same thing.  Chemo.  I start next week.” 

“What’s the prognosis?”  I questioned.  The corner of his mouth turned up slightly and he said, “I can’t get one outta them.  Could be months.  Could be weeks.  Or I could beat it. I’m gonna beat it.”  The look in his eyes didn’t match the conviction in his voice.  He knew as well as I did that he was already too sick to have a chance.  All those years of smoking, drinking, and exposure to asbestos insulation, it had just been a matter of time.

I wasn’t close to this man as his adult child.  He had basically abandoned my sister and me after he and my mother divorced when I was 6. I remembered sitting at the front window on Saturday mornings, time and again, waiting for dad to show up for visitation, but he rarely if ever showed.  Mom would hold me in her arms as I sobbed. There was nothing she could say to take away the pain of my broken heart.  My daddy didn’t love me anymore. 

Now here I was, sitting across from this un-bathed man, he smelled of body odor, bourbon and stale cigarettes.  For years now he had been an embarrassment to me, especially when he showed up in the parking lot of my office, asking random strangers walking in if they knew me.  He once handed a co-worker a stinky and stained motivational (pyramid-scheme money management no less) cassette tape wrapped in cellophane from a cigarette pack to give to me, when he could have simply called my office phone.  The look on my co-worker’s face was unbelieving that this hobo of a man was actually my father. How do you explain that away?  You can’t.  Why didn’t he just leave me alone like he did when I wanted him in my life?  Why did he even bother to try after all these years? 

It was a love-hate relationship for me at best.  The little girl in me still loved this wreck of a man, despite all his failures.  The adult woman was pissed as hell at him.  But here I was looking into those tired eyes, and seeing my father coming to grips with his own mortality.  So now he needed me.  Really needed me.  He had so few friends and family left.  So few people that actually cared about him. He was looking for a response from me.  And being the dutiful daughter, I remained strong and encouraging, and told him I would help him any way I could. 

He reached across the table and took my hand and squeezed.  I looked into his eyes and let him see the love I still held for him.  As tears welled up in both our eyes, the barriers fell away and it was just that beautiful green-eyed man and his little girl, holding hands and smiling at one another at last.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

St. Patty's Day, 1992.

(Note: this was a writing exercise I completed during a writer's meetup meeting.  it was completed in 50 minutes.) 

As the nurse pushed my wheelchair through the sterile white corridor, the overwhelming emptiness in my arms was enough to make me choke for air.  All my dreams for that little being that spent 6 months inside my womb were dead.  Instead of carrying home my bundle of joy, I was somehow supposed to prepare myself for the impossible task of a life with a severely disabled child at best, or at worst a funeral for my newborn son. 
How was I to wrap my head around the changes that had happened over night?  I went to bed a happy mother-to-be with 3 months of maternity ahead of me.  I woke up to the equivalent feeling of a 5-gallon bucket of warm water being dumped on my prone body.  In a half-sleep panic, I’d tried to figure out what was happening.  When I realized my water had broken, well more accurately exploded like a poked water balloon, I called my mom to tell her I was heading to the emergency room to deliver my baby.  
I knew 6 months was way too early.  I didn’t want to think about it.  I couldn’t think about it.  Things were happening to my body that were out of my control.  I wanted to protect that little baby inside me but I knew it was not up to me.  I was helpless.  How I wanted things to be different.  How I wanted to have him, fat and pink, swaddled in a fluffy blanket, in my arms while my friends and family cooed over him.  But that dream was quickly dying. Instead of hoping for a healthy child, I was hoping for a living child.  
There was so much I didn’t know.  Was it normal for the nurse to ask me between labor pains if I had a living will? Why did they look at me so strange when they checked my blood pressure or my baby’s pulse oximetry?  I knew things weren’t looking good, but now wasn’t the time for anyone to sit me down and have a frank heart-to-heart with me about the situation in which I found myself.  They clearly just wanted to try to get this baby out of my body without injury to him or me.  
I didn’t want to push, but the contractions happened anyway.  I irrationally wanted to keep him inside of me where he was safe.  My body felt like a boa constrictor had swallowed my belly and was forcing my body to expel this little fetus against my will.  When he came out, after the third savage push, his little body was cobalt blue.  He was silent.  His little head was the size of a tennis ball.  They rushed him out of the room.  
I laid there on the delivery table alone as everyone had moved out to the hallway where they were attempting to intubate him.  One doctor came back into the room to tell me they were having problems establishing an airway.  I heard a single fragile newborn-pitched wale. My Baby!! The doctor rushed back out to the hallway.  I returned my eyes to the delivery room ceiling.  What just happened?  This wasn’t how it was supposed to go.  Was my baby alive?  Was I a mommy?  Now what? 
The rest of those wee morning hours of St Patrick’s Day were a blur.  Getting stitched up.  Wheeling me back to my unused birthing suite for a quick shower.  Being ushered to a regular hospital room. Thank goodness I had the sense of mind to demand a single room.  I didn’t care the added expense, because I knew I couldn’t bear to watch another woman in a bed next to mine with her beautifully healthy baby. 
The doctors began visiting soon after I was in my little room.  My baby had an abnormal airway.  He had a deformed heart.  He had a brain hemorrhage from the delivery.  There were other things, but these were the most immediate concerns.  He was too medically complex to be cared for in this hospital.  He had to go to a larger city.  His condition was too fragile for med-flight.  He was to be transported via ambulance.  
Later in the morning when I was allowed to meet my little boy, it was in the NICU, on a isolation table.  He was laying there on this flat little square, with a heat lamp over him, a breathing tube secured down his little throat, and a couple IVs stuck into his cellophane thin skin. His thigh was the size of my index finger.  His full head of dark brown hair was a shocking contrast to the rest of his still fetus-like form.  He smelled so good.  I can’t even describe it.  At that moment I realized how close to animals we humans still are.  With all our sophisticated civilization, I knew my child by smell. I knew he was mine.
Now my baby’s life was held in the hands of a dozen medical specialists several hours away.  They transported him that same day to the other hospital but I wasn’t released until the following morning. Through a tortured foggy numbness, I watched the hospital exit as it neared with each step the nurse pushing my chair took.  I was going home empty-handed.  It wasn’t supposed to be like this.  No one had prepared me for this possibility.  No words could make sense of this new world I was entering.  A world of imperfection, and pain, and suffering, and no answers that made any sense.

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Nothing? Really!

Today I commented on a recent blog entry posted by a new friend.  The post was about how everyone thinks it's easy to write. A major fallacy, I agree.  My comment was about how it's two-fold in that we not only have to be adept at the craft of writing to be effective but we also have to have something to say.  While I stand by my comment, it certainly got my head gnawing on the grizzle of that statement.  Having something to say.  I talk plenty. And I can write plenty too.  But what do I actually have to say?

This past year, most of my posts have been focused on the change in my view of how I found sustainable happiness (my passion drummer).  Most people that aren't following a passion drummer, which is pretty much every person I know except for Jason and Roger, really don't "get" my posts, even after repeated explanation.  And Jason and Roger read it and go, "duh, of course!"  So it's been more an effort toward my own self-exploration and I'm not entirely certain that needed to go public.  But who's counting the cows after they're already out of the barn.

Those that know me understand that I'm not one for small talk.  I am not a girly girl with lots of flowery language and attempts to make others think I'm sweet and charming and likeable.  I'm not sweet or charming or even particularly likeable most of the time.  I am not the flibbertigibbet type either.  There hasn't been much whimsy in my life.  I am strong, logical, and just a tad bit driven. (Yes, that was a joke!)  And I'm certainly not particularly funny; although, I love to surround myself with people that are by nature funny because I pick some of it up by osmosis, or at least I like to think that.  Anyone that's met me remembers my (shall we say distinctive?) laugh.

I also don't feel that I have a particularly sharp eye in catching the engaging moments of my day.  The only topic that comes to mind today that had me off on a tangent was while unloading the dishwasher (now isn't that engaging). I used to have a flatware service for 14.  I now have 9 teaspoons, 11 tablespoons, 13 knives, 8 large forks, and 10 salad forks.  I should be upset since those buggers cost me $75 for each 5-piece service, but it serves me right (really doesn't it?) using the good silverware for everyday.  So how on earth did I lose my utensils?  Did a fork get thrown out in a pizza box?  Did a spoon on a paper plate hit the trash-bin without notice?  Did a guest inadvertently take home their dish-to-pass with my tablespoon stowed inside?  Did a nurse turn the garbage disposal on with a fork down the drain and chuck it before I saw it?  Did a knife slide down between the cushions of the recliner, never to be seen of again?  Or are there such things as utensils gremlins?  Or perhaps flatware fairies?  I don't think so.  I'll never know.  But these are the types of mundane happenings in my world.  Not much to say.

Most of my time is spent at work, in a class, reading, or creating something.  I don't sit around and if I do sit, I'm most certainly making something while I watch tv or listen to an audiobook.  Forever the multitasker, that's me.  But I honestly think I exhaust people talking about my daily activities.  Or at the very least alienate myself because others feel that they don't measure up some how.  Like my class addiction is some sort of thing to aspire to!?  Seriously?  I don't know many others with 17 classes scheduled for the month of October, plus new class designs to complete, an old job to quit, a new job to start, and a bunch of other crap on my to-do list.  And I don't know anyone that would actually choose that for themselves except for me.  But doesn't that just mean others should think me crazy instead of amazing?  I do. I'm okay with being a bit odd though. But it isn't something I find particularly interesting to talk about.

My sorted past is fairly interesting; however, I can't much write about it without fear of a libel suit. So not much to say there.

So what do I have to say, I ask?  Can you hear the crickets? Me too.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

My Week Off Between Jobs

My last day working at AMD was last Friday.  I start my new job at next Monday.  This week off has been absolutely glorious!  I've had a chance to read, write, take plenty of classes, attend a few meetup group meetings, work on the website, lay out by the pool, and craft.  Tomorrow is Friday and is my last official day off.  I could get really used to not working with all the interests that are yet to be explored and/or revisited. But I'm very excited about starting the new job. I'll start getting nervous on Sunday morning.

Abby's health has remarkably improved since the vet prescribed steroids.  She can't stay on them, but at least now it's quite certain that she's suffering from allergies.  Bosley's back is back to normal.  Ruby is Ruby...I came home to find that she'd lifted a pair of basketry scissors off my end table and taken them over to another room to chew the protective slip cover off of them.  Well, at least she didn't chew the handles so the scissors are intact and there's no blood so she must not have cut herself.

One of the meetup groups that I've started attending is Reading for Writers, and I'm actually making progress on character development and plot outline for the idea I have for a novel!  That has me pretty jazzed.  I'm thinking that I'll continue with the meetup group, reading all the assigned books and participating in the meeting  discussions, and hopefully next year around this time, I can push myself to do NaNoWriMo since that seems like an effective way of getting that dreaded first draft out of the way.  I'm hoping to find a few trusted friends that read voraciously to assist me along the way in terms of feedback and troubleshooting.  So far I've read Ann Lamott's Birb By Bird and Donald Maass' Writing the Breakout Novel.  Donald's book was extremely informative to me and it really helped me see how much I need to learn about novel writing.  First of which is that I'm seriously unread!  There were very few book examples that he sited that I've read, or have even heard of before. I hope to compile a list of the books that Donald sited throughout his book, and put them on my audible wish list.  I also need to compile my notes from his book so I have a synopsis of points that I can look to as my novel progresses, so I don't have to read the entire book again to refresh my memory.

But all that lovely stuff has to wait right now as I have 3 new classes that I'm teaching in October and of course being the procrastinator that I am I've waited until the week before the first 2 classes to start the instruction manuals.  Two are done now except for photos.  One manual is 19 pages without the pictures. The second manual is 14 pages before pictures.  I haven't started the 3rd manual yet, but that class isn't until the following weekend thank heavens!  Yet, with the new job starting on Monday, well, it's going to be "interesting" if I don't get all the manuals done before this Sunday when I teach 2 of the 3 classes for the first time.

I'm enjoying my basketry classes the most at the moment.  And I really feel like I'm progress in terms of skill which is always gratifying.  I've only had one negative class experience recently, but another teacher, Rita Ross, was able to help me learn what I failed to learn in that class (not her class!) so that is the important thing.

I'm really hoping the class addicts website takes off and that other class addicts in Austin will use the forum and share info.  If I'm the only one that has 17 classes scheduled for the month of October, well that just proves I'm the biggest class addict of them all and deserve the right to own the website!  I ordered business cards so that should help get the word out!  Maybe I'll offer some sort of prize/drawing for new members, or for submitted forum posts, or for pictures posted or something.  Heaven knows I have plenty of things that I've made sitting around the house that could use a new home!

I'm finally starting to meet people that aren't co-workers too which is great.  The meetup groups are seriously helping on that note.  It is so enriching to be around others that are smart, creative, talented and motivated!

Monday, October 11, 2010

Where's Tracy and What Happened to "2010 - The Year of Body"?

While 2010 is quickly coming to a close, I've realized that I hadn't really finished my work with "2009 The Year of Happiness" in 2009.  I had hoped this year would be about taking care of the physical me (2010 - The Year of All Things Physical), but I'm finding that my focus was continually brought back to the happiness factor.  Since I didn't really find my passion drummer until October of last year, it's just now been a full year that I've been exploring this new window through which I see my world.  It has profoundly changed me and it continues to do so.  My work.  My play.  My relationships.  But mostly my happiness.

What I've learned over this time of self-exploration is more of what I already knew.  I am creative.  I love to learn.  I love to problem solve.  I am social.  I like to perform.  I like to teach.  I like to write.  Nothing new, but somehow it's all more fulfilling now.  Why?  Possibly because it's not just a hypothetical discussion any longer.  Now it's part of who I am, what I do, where I focus my attention, and where I find personal fulfillment.  It's less about where I live, what I drive, how much I earn (don't get me wrong, living comfortably is important but it alone does not equate to happiness), and less about what others expect of me (the parent, the mate, the daughter, the employee, etc.) and more about did I have fun today, did I learn today, did I do something that I found personally fulfilling and do I have plans to do so again soon. 

I'm reading again.  That has me wanting to write again.  I've joined an aspiring writers group.  I have an idea for a novel that's been knocking around in my head since 2002.  I am excited to think that I may actually start writing it at some point.  I have wonderful friends who've volunteered to read my work and give me feedback.  I'm surrounding myself with the things that will nurture me and my creative writing.  It feels good.

I'm teaching for the first time.  I didn't go looking for it.  It came to me from no action of my own control, a teacher approached me and asked if I might like to teach.  I agreed to try it.  And I found I love it.  I love designing the classes, planning them out, drafting the instruction literature, preparing samples, and creating a class environment where students can relax, have fun, learn, and laugh.  I didn't seek this out, but I did honestly pursue what I love to do and, as I have predicted, the universe provides me with experiences that are rich and fulfilling in return.  How very Zen.

I continue to take classes on subjects all over the board. I continue to meet others like me that love to express themselves in creative ways and love to learn.  I am still toying around with my social network and hope to have a workable format soon.

I don't know if I want to put a theme to 2011.  I'm not driven like that any longer.  It doesn't seem like much fun. If you know me, you understand that I've never been an under-achiever and that's not likely to change any time soon.  However, I don't need control of myself like I felt I needed to before.  I'm just enjoying the ride and working hard at having fun so I'm totally prepared for the next big wave that comes my way.  Life is the journey, stopping to smell the roses isn't an item on my to-do list but a way of living, and I'm excited about my future!  I'm pretty sure it will be better than I could dream up and put into reality on my own with a checklist, a goal, or a "2011- The Year of  ".

Monday, July 12, 2010

Busy! Busy!

It's been over a month since I've posted a blog.  That's inexcusable!  Of course I've been busy with classes, lots of classes, as usual.  This weekend I decided that I was going to start a new site for people like me that love to take classes as a hobby.  As soon as it's done, I'll be sure to post it here. 

Latest classes have been djembe drum lesssons (looking for a new instructor at present), basketry class, knitting class (both from Hill Country Weavers), retake of glass fusing and slumping, stained glass (both at Blue Moon Glasswork), and another silver soldering class with Rita Ross (have a beautiful ring from that class and now I'm trying to get the patina just right!)

I taught my 2nd new class at Sea of Beads, which is a chain maille class.  The weave was Byzantine.  I got some great feedback on this class, and I teach two more chainmaille classes in a couple weeks along with viking knitting!

Up coming plans include a leather bracelet class, finding a PMC class, finding a pottery (throwing) class, finding a drawing class, and hopefully an advanced stained glass class once the current one is complete. 

Also planning scheduling a B&B session with the girls, and going toobing soon with friends, which is always fun.  I love summer!

Thursday, June 3, 2010

Genuine Curiosity, No Expectations, and No Judgments

In my last post, I talked about how day-to-day life demands can cloud your focus on passion/happiness/success. I realized recently that my title for that entry talked about something else that wasn't really touched upon in that blog post and that was the "Genuine Curiosity, No Expectations, and No Judgments" piece.

I was, and still am to a point, a goal-oriented person. I like to set goals, tackle them and achieve them. I used to look at my progress in that regard as a measure of success. I don't any longer (at least not like I used to), but I understand that a lot of people still do (and that isn't a bad thing). One thing that was a negative stimulus in my life (prior to finding my passion drummer) was that I pursued my goals with verve and tenacity, but also stock full with expectations. I also found myself evaluating my progress with judgment in terms of typical measures of success toward that goal. More times than not, I felt like I didn't quite hit the expectation that I anticipated and I felt bad about that. In the end, enough was never enough, because my expectations could never be truly achieved as they were born in my mind's eye.

My life is different now because I go into each new experience with the goal of having fun. As I've said before, I know that sounds like a pretty simplistic goal, and it is...but it's more difficult to do than it sounds...because of the things I was talking about in the last blog post (daily life demands clouding my focus and distracting me). I've found that if my measuring device for whether an experience was a success was the degree of fun that I had, I didn't feel the need to judge myself as a success or failure. That was a liberating experience for me. I didn't beat myself up for having fun, and I didn't beat myself up for not having fun, I just made the decision of continuing in that direction based on whether I had fun. So it wasn't as important to me if I failed or succeeded in the actual goal, but whether I enjoyed the process. I didn't set expectations on being number 1 or making "$$$" or achieving XYZ, because the expectation was to have fun. I gravitate to those things that I find enjoyable and as a result I naturally excel then without it being "work"...because it is FUN. And I go into an experience without a preconceived idea of what will be at the end of the experience, but just go into it with genuine curiosity. If I have passion to simply explore something, that will, in my opinion, bring me much closer to a positive experience than visualizing a specific agenda, expectation and end result will.

So the next time you enter into an experience, particularly one that you've tried before without much "success", try bringing a different set of tools with you: Genuine Curiosity, No Expectations, and No Judgments. Within that process, pursue what you find enjoyable, where you are naturally curious, and don't push yourself into areas that just don't feel as fun to you. If you have to judge yourself during the process, then the measure you should judge against is simply whether you're having fun. It doesn't matter if you came in dead last, if you came out of the experience at a loss (financial or otherwise), or if you didn't achieve your goal at all. If you measure your emotional experience to the situation, your level of enjoyment, instead of those typical measures, you may find a very different conclusion. And that could be a very good thing.

Monday, May 17, 2010

Don't Let Daily Life Cloud Your Focus on Following Passion with Genuine Curiosity, No Expectations, and No Judgments

Following your passion with genuine curiosity, no expectations, and no judgments is easier said than done. All too often everyday life gets in the way, muddying the waters, so that you lose sight of those things that truly get you excited. But when you can regain and maintain focus on your passions, the ROI is amazing.

Shortly after my last blog post, I took a new job. About a month into the first project to which I was assigned with this new client, I was already getting very positive feedback from my peers as well as the business area for which I was delivering solutions. I was working hard and getting recognition. The old me would have thought this was a successful situation and would have stayed put but not the new me. My new passion drummer focus had my early warning detectors going off like DEFCON1. I wasn't happy. Sure I was being "successful" and I was exceeding expectations, and I was making a name for myself within the company quickly. I liked the people I was working with, I was making good money, and I had all the skills I needed to succeed in this job. But still I wasn't happy. Why? Because I wasn't having fun. I realized that I was doing work that I was quite capable of doing, but that wasn't personally fulfilling. I am a creative person and I realized the work I was doing was not providing me with a creative outlet and as a result I felt unfulfilled. I went to the account rep and told him (in a very PC way) that I wasn't happy, clearly expressed what I needed to be happy, and let them know in a very tactful way that I would be looking for work elsewhere if things remained as they were. Pretty gutsy move for a new hire. Oddly enough, it didn't feel uncomfortable doing this. I felt like this was the only way to move forward. It was this matter of fact situation, and I was going to do whatever I needed to do to find happiness. I fully intended on finding a different job and tendering my resignation. To my surprise, the account rep and hiring manager both committed to having me moved to a different project in under 1 week's time. The new project is allowing me a high degree of creative expression, learning, and problem solving. Yes, I'm still getting all the traditional success measures that I got in my last project, but now I was personally fulfilled. I was happy. I was following my passion. I was loving my work. I'm also getting some different comments now too, about how my passion for my work was infectious. When you are living a life of passion, when you are doing what you love, others notice it. The lesson I learned here is that the universe just keeps reinforcing that I'm on the correct path.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

The Ghost Writer

Went to see The Ghost Writer last night. Was only showing in 2 theatres here in Austin so we had to travel a bit but it was worth it. This movie has a very high score from all the major sources so who am I go against the grain....but I must say that as a group, those of us that went last night, we didn't get the motivation of the lead character. Why did he do all of this instead of just keeping his nose down and writing the book? Oh well, it was entertaining, but a back-story that presented the writer as this investigative and tenacious type might have helped me buy it all a bit more than I did. There seemed like there were under currents of other "stuff" that didn't make it into the movie that might have made things less confusing too, but that's speculation. The dubbing of the "F" word was a bit distracting too throughout the film. With that said, it is certainly a good movie. Well written, well acted, well shot. Beautiful in fact. But for being so much, I wanted more. I'm just not sure what is was that was missing that would have made the film wholly satisfying. Go see it. I recommend it. Just clue me in if you figure out what I missed!

Hierarchical Pie Charts Anyone??

So last week I started my new job where I'm working with SQL Server 2008 and Reporting Services. I was anxious to get my hands on 2008 and start playing around. I learned that Dundas charts was integrated into SSRS with 2008, which is cool. Since I'd not done charts before and I'll be doing dashboards with the new job I started playing around with that pretty quickly. I liked it a lot. But then I ran into a snag. And this isn't just an SSRS charts rant, but a exclamation regarding the lack of true hierarchical reporting in a pie chart across the entire IT industry's BI/Data Visualization niche.

So I wanted to do a pie chart with multiple circles that represented parents as inner rings and children as outer rings in sub-slices of the pie (don't ask me why, it's just something I thought would be a clear way of presenting some data that I me a data geek, you're right, I am). Via Google's image search, I quickly found examples of multi-level hierarchical pie charts like this one. BUT, I wasn't able to locate an application that took a hierarchical data table and presented it like this. Excel doesn't do it. SSRS 2008 doesn't do it. Okay, let me rephrase that, SSRS 2008 and Dunda Charts does have the "capability" of creating a report that "looks" like this; however, ain't pretty and is certainly isn't hierarchical in nature. I was appalled at what I had to do to get some very basic hierarchical data to display in the manner in which I thought was intuitive for this type of chart.

So first I scoured the web looking for an application that did this. Apparently, I'm not the only one because MOST of what I found was content from others, like myself, looking for an app that does this type of chart! The names uses for this chart was mind-numbing (multi-level pie, stacked pie, multi-level donut, radial treemap, sunburst). Then looking at the Dundas website, I found this image in their gallery which definitely looks like a hierarchical pie (they call it a doughnut) although the parent/child ordering rings are inverse. So I definitely thought this was possible and just something I had named incorrectly. I WAS indeed incorrect, on more levels than I knew.

So after much trial and error, (actually I had to download the Dundas template and look at their data), I was able to get this chart. I am happy with the results but lord almighty was this something beyond stupid in terms of what I had to do to my data to get the desired results. And beside that, the inner (sub) chart cannot be moved into place with simple drag-and-drop functionality but must be modified with x-y coordinates and length and width variables which is so so very kludgey. What should have taken seconds took much longer and was much less enjoyable as a result. Yes, the data geek got irritated by the UI (User Interface).

So here is the original data (the design elements should be repeated in each section):

But to get the table I wanted, I ended up with data below. So, I had to delete the parent values in all but the first row of each group and then basically I had to put together ratios that would force the items to chart out the way I wanted. The inner chart has absolutely no relationship to the outer chart except that they use the same base table data. Also I ended having to add an ADDITIONAL column with an incremental count so they displayed around the pie in the order I wanted as it didn't do that as the chart got more complex.

I really am shocked that there isn't a tool that does this, or at least not one that it readily available. Dundas appeared to have it but that just goes to show that just because a vendor displays an image of soemthing doesn't mean it's done the way it appears to have been done. Anticipated or not, it's misrepresenting what the tool actually does. Lesson learned.

Basket Weaving 101

I was so excited to get into a basket weaving class since this is something I've wanted to do ever since I was in girl scouts and we made these cute little plastic woven baskets as one of our activities. It was super easy, but I loved it and have always hoped to learn more about basket making and while at a weaving class at HCW, I found they offered classes on basket weaving and I was able to get in!

The instructor, Jill, was very nice and she let us pick on her which made for a lot of laughter in class. She really knows her stuff too which helped me learn quickly. She taught me how to make the bottom quickly while the other students (not beginner's) started working. The class project was a cat's head basket which gets its name from the pointed corners on the bottom that look like a cat's head upside-down. Getting the points to take form is not particularly easy, especially for some making their very first basket, but I hung in there and eventually got it. The weaving was a twill pattern. I picked green reed. I had difficulty getting the rounded shape like the class sample, and my basket isn't perfectly symmetrical, but I'm still pleased with it. In fact, I love it. I am already signed up for a more advanced class that Jill is teaching later this month, a few days after I teach my first viking knitting class. I can't wait!

Weaving 101 - 4-harness table loom

(I get so many hits on this page that I'm thinking there must be a lot of people looking for weaving instructions.  If so, please post comments here and if I get enough interest, I'll post videos on planning a project, creating a warp using a warping mill, warping the loom, and weaving with a 4/8 harness loom.)  I have most of the videos already so I'd just need to get it into my blog. So let me now!)

When I was a youngster, after I'd taught myself crochet (3rd grade), and knitting (5th grade), I was given a basic frame loom so I used some of my left over yarn and tried to make a place mat. It was quickly apparent that I wasn't good at it, so I abandoned the effort. Of course, I had no instructions and no pattern and no book to teach me, so I really was doomed from the get-go. But I've always wanted to take another stab at it. So when I saw the weaving classes offered at a local weaving shop, Hill Country Weavers, I signed up. (Of course I signed friends affectionately call me their "class addict" because I take so many classes, which I kinda like, them making loving fun of me and all.)

So their website is a bit kludgy in the design of the user interface, it's apparent they were going for artsy-fartsy fancy-smancy instead of usability, but if you're patient you'll eventually find the classes (they're listed under "specialty" for each category, which might help). Don't try to hit the back button on your browser though, and don't think you'll be able to cut and paste the store address, class time/description, or anything else for that matter from the website though. Oh well, I'll get off my good web design soapbox now.

So what HCWeaver's is missing on their website, they make up for in their shop and in their classes. Suzanne, one of the owners, is simply the friendliest person I've met. She knows a TON about weaving, and has probably forgotten more than I'll ever actually learn on the subject. She teaches the beginning weaving class which is done on a 4-harness table-size jack loom.

We did simple weave for our first project although others in class did a twill design, mine was a simple houndstooth. I was really nervous since everyone else in class had some loom experience and I had virtually none, none of the terminology, nothing, nada. But I managed quite well and found that I really, REALLY, like weaving. And I realized I have always really liked weaving. Viking Knitting is weaving with wire. Kumihimo is weaving in the round. So it makes sense that I would love this. And I do love this!

Suzanne taught us how to measure out our warp, to make our warp, to warp our loom and how to weave simple weave with 2+ yarn colors in a 2 day weekend workshop. Quite an accomplishment! It was a great class and I highly recommend it for anyone interested in learning how to weave.

I finished my first project in class, cut it off the loom, and tied the knots. Then I went home and soaked the scarf in warm water with fabric softener in my kitchen sink (I have a front-load washing machine so my fancy machine can't do the stuff I need it to do for my weaving projects, rats!). I then put it in the front loader for a rinse and spin cycle (Suzanne later told me just a spin cycle and no rinse because it will take out the fabric softener, but my machines doesn't have that option, argh!). Then I put it in the dryer on the delicate cycle and it came out all wrinkled and horrible looking! I filled the water in my iron and pressed the snot out of the scarf, blocking it as I did so, and it ended up looking really, really nice. Then I took out the extra knots and pressed the fringe and cut them to an even length on both sides. Voila, my first piece.

I then jumped right into my second piece, which Suzanne still helped me calculate my warp, but that I went home and warped the loom by myself! My second project was an overshot weave which was a lot more difficult to do, partly because I picked black yarn, partly because I picked a stretchy yarn and lastly because overshot isn't exactly a beginner's weave. But Suzanne had explained that I have to alternate between the overshot pattern and a tabby weave shot with every other pass. pattern. tabby. pattern. alternate tabby. pattern. tabby. pattern. alternate tabby.

It took my 3 nights to complete the weave and take it off the loom. But then I had to stop to get caught up in my quilting class (still not caught up). And then its been sitting because of the preparations I'm making for the viking knitting class (samples and drafting instructions) that I've been asked to teach. And trying to help a friend with their resume. And trying to help a local store with their website. Egads! Burning the candle at every end I can find, I think!

As soon as it's finished I'll post picks of it.

So the next project I wanted to do was a waffle-weave but it requires more than 4 harnesses to get a really deep dimensional effect. Most of the weaves I want to try require more than 4 harnesses so the loom I've on loan from the store won't cut it for much longer in terms of the projects I want to do. Suzanne says I'm already becoming a "harness snob" and I liked her for saying so.

As a result, Suzanne invited me to try out the store's 8-harness Mighty Wolf folding floor Jack loom. This of course means I have to dedicate time on the evenings/weekends to weave at the store, which ain't easy with the class schedules I keep! But I definitely want to do this so I'm intentionally trying to cut down on my class enrollments so I have room next month for this. If I like this, I'll need to get a loom for home because her shop is about 40 minutes from my house so not practical in terms of frequent weaving.

There is a national weaver's convention for the Handweaver's Guild of America this summer in Albuquerque, New Mexico called Convergence. I'm hoping to go with Suzanne and the group. We'll see!

I also told Suzanne I'm interested in basketweaving, something else on my list of things to learn. HCW offers basketry classes too but nothing for the true beginner was offered at the time. But, Suzanne, being the sweetheart that she is, got me into a non-beginner basket weaving class, stay tuned!

Sewing 101

I've had a sewing machine for about 20 years and a serger for about 18 years. They've not been touched for any significant project in over 15 years. I'd always hoped to get back into it again. Having seen a Beginning Sewing class offered at a local sewing shop, Sew Much More, I signed up.

I had a great time in this class, the teacher was excellent, my class mates were fun, the projects simple and the results better than I expected. The only uncomfortable part was when the shop representative came in to demonstrate the sewing machine and tried to sell us all one. Bad form. I did have a problem with my serger, and when I mentioned this, she tried to sell me a $1300 replacement. I later took mine into their shop after they reluctantly told me that they serviced older machines. They fixed the timing on my serger and cleaned it for $80. Okay, enough said.

So we made a pillow case first. Then we made drawstring and elastic waist pajama bottom. I made one pair in class (4 weeks long) and simultaneously made 6 more pair at home. I wear them around the house after work and LOVE them. Fun fabrics...batiques, chili-pepper print, flannel-backed satin, kimono fun!

This same instructor will teach a different pattern in May that will be a skirt with a zipper, so I'll probably take that when it comes up. She also teaches a Beginner's Quilting class, but it was full already so I found quilt shop, The Quilt Store, just down the road that offered classes there. Stay tuned for Quilting 101!

Quilting 101

I tried my hand at quilting for the first time some 18+ years ago. I jumped right in with an intermediate pattern that I had no business attempting. It turned out "okay" and my husband at the time had the not-so-wonderful suggestion (yes, I'm divorced) that I give this king-sized kaleidoscope hand-quilted wonder to his sister for her wedding gift. Within a month of so doing, I was no longer on speaking terms with her (with good reason). No love lost there. I have no idea the whereabouts or condition of this first project and deeply regret having handed it off to someone with no understanding of the value of quilts. The last I'd heard the quilt had been given to her son, who was 12. Right.

Okay, so, moving on to something more enjoyable.

I decided I wanted to try quilting again after my Sewing 101 class. The class I wanted was full so I stumbled upon a quilt store down the road, The Quilt Store. I think I had a fabric orgasm when I walked into that place. It is simply incredible. So much fabric. So many colors. Oh my!

So I asked about the quilting class and got the last opening for that class. The instructor is extremely knowledgeable. The classroom accommodations are simple amazing. Everyone gets their own over-sized work table that fits your sewing machine, your full size cutting mat, your notes and your project. Very nice indeed.

The first week we learned how to machine piece the block chosen for us for this class which was a modified 9-block patch that looks like a pinwheel. We were to go home and complete the rest of the blocks for the size quilt we chose (wall hanging, baby quilt, lap quilt, twin, queen, king).

The 2nd week (which I missed most of because I was taking a weaving class, stay tuned!) we learned out to put sashing around each block, and we picked out of border fabrics. We were to go home, finish our blocks if not done already and put sashing on blocks.

The 3rd week we learned how to make to sew a mitered corner and she showed up examples of different batting and quilting (there was not a demonstration of hand or machine quilting though). We were to go home, finish the sashing on our blocks if not already done, and put the borders on.

That's it so far. I'll update this post when I've completed my sashing...but with the viking knitting class I've been asked to teach, I'm busy making class samples, and with my new passion for weaving, well, there is less and less time these days. I'm surprised I'm blogging actually, but well, writing is a passion not to be neglected either!

Happiness Today

While reading The Happiness Project blog, a remnant of my 2009 Year of Happiness, I found this quote:

“In the long run men hit only what they aim at. Therefore, though they should fail immediately, they had better aim at something high.”
-- Henry David Thoreau

The first thing that came to mind was that I don't think goals are as necessary as all that in my new way of thinking. Then it dawned on me. I realized something that a friend of mine, Curtis, has said to me on a number of occasions at AFS functions. But I didn't really grasp his message until this moment.

Most people are so busy trying to be successful (in this I mean the traditional definitions of success), that they are missing the big picture. My lightbulb moment, back in October of '09, when I found my passion drummer, had me thinking that I didn't need goals anymore. The first part of Thoreau's quote (above) hits on that. We only hit what we aim for. And my thought on that was that we LIMIT ourselves by only following the goals we've set for ourselves. But I think what Curtis was trying to tell me was that I have a goal still, it's just different from my old goals. My goal now is happiness.

While success has a very different meaning to me now in the realm of the passion drummer, than it did in the goal-oriented world I once lived, I do acknowledge now that I'm still "technically" focused on a goal. The goal however is extremely simplistic. Deceptively so, I might add. The goal is: "Have Fun" or perhaps "Be Happy." Now, I'm not trying to be cheeky here. It's really that simple. And it works. I've seen it, and am just now experiencing full circle, and I have to say it's amazing, almost effortless after you get into the swing of this mindset. I feel like a "get rich quick" salesperson as I say this, but the fact of the matter is that I'm not selling anything except an idea. And that idea is that you can be happy without all the trapping of traditional success, or maybe even IN SPITE OF all the trappings of traditional success. Money doesn't buy you happiness. Success doesn't buy you happiness. Why? Because it's the other way around. Happiness IS success.

So, back to Thoreau's quote. Paraphrased. You only hit what you aim for. So you better aim high.

What dawned on me is that my goal is now single-minded: to have "fun." All I want to do is enjoy life, to be happy. I don't really care how much money I make, or what car I drive, or what neighborhood I live in (although if I have the means, I do enjoy comfort and luxury just like everyone else, but I don't "need" it to be happy/successful). I also don't really care if I'm doing what other people think I should be doing, oh say like getting my Master's Degree, or starting my own business, or being a better parent, or getting married, or focusing on something (any one thing) and stop taking so many damned classes on so many damned subjects. I don't care. I will do what makes me happy. I will do what I think is right. I have a moral compass just like everyone else, and I will do what I need to do for me to be happy, for me to enjoy waking up each morning, for me to look forward to tomorrow and not regret yesterday. How? It didn't happen overnight obviously, and I think I've been on this journey for longer than just 2009 the Year of Happiness, but I don't think I was ready for 2009 the Year of Happiness until 2009. What I did was remake my life, my world, into something that excites me, that I can be passionate about. Is every element of my life bliss? Hell no. As my friend, Roger, so eloquently put it: "you still have to take out the garbage every Thursday." No one finds passion in taking the trash to the curb each week (I hope that's fair to say), but it's a maintenance task of life, like many of the things we do repeatedly, which may, for many of us living in or coming from the goal-oriented world, include our work/jobs.

Look for people that you know that absolutely LOVE their work, not just fake it well, but really truly LOVE it. You'll know these people by your intense desire to smack them for their cheeriness when you're having a bad day...sorry, Roger! Those people have been dancing to their passion drummer, or more succinctly been making choices that allow them to have fun and be happy for most, if not all, of their adult lives. These people have jobs they love, not usually because they focused on a goal and accomplished it (say going to school to learn a profession and a lot of grueling hard work) but because they led a life of passion and they put out that passionate energy into the universe with every step they took and (since we reap what we sow) it came back to them in the form of opportunities that they loved, work they loved, and people they loved to be around.

So I agree with Thoreau's quote ultimately. But I believe aiming high means to look at today and make choices that make YOU happy, do things that YOU find fun, focus on things YOU have passion for, and find new and unusual ways of dealing with the other stuff (those maintenance tasks of life) so they no longer rule your world (and make you unhappy in the process). If you do that everyday, your life with be transformed. Maybe not this month, or even this year, but it will be transformed, and you will be happier.

I used to think it was selfish and irresponsible and immature and all kinds of negative things when I heard messages like this, and you might feel that way too. But I can tell you from experience that I was tied into a life that I hated and was putting me into an early grave from the stress of it all, and I saw literally no way out, even after years of psychotherapy trying to determine why I my life was the way it was. But now, I'm happy. I made hard decisions that didn't make me popular with a lot of people in my life, but those people weren't very happy anyway. The people that really mattered understood what I was doing and why, even when I wasn't sure myself. Those people are happy, and are happy for me. Those were the "keepers" and they are still a part of my life. And I'm better because of them.

Do I still have negative people in my life? Yes. However, those people are limited in my world, and I cut them off when they start pouring their negative waters into my boat. I don't need it and I don't want it and I don't have to take it and I don't care what other people think of me for saying that. Yes, I'll help people in need, those that know me know that I'm the person they can call when they have something really unpleasant that they need to work through. But negativity is another animal, like cancer and I don't cultivate friendships with anyone that swims in those waters. The people I'm attracted to now are passionate, fun and happy, and they are attracted to my passion as well. I'm so happy to be where I am and I hope that I can help you find what I stumbled upon with my passion drummer.

So in the spirit of Thoreau, aim high, aim high TODAY. Find ways to be happy. Find fun. Find a little happiness in this day. It's there, you just need to find it. Do it today, tomorrow, and next week. Keep doing it. Focus on fun. Cultivate fun. Don't forget your "day job" (or you might get fired) but don't let those maintenance tasks of life consume you and bring you down any more. Focus on the stuff that gets you excited. Before you know it, you'll have a job that's more bearable (and it may even be the job/industry you're in now believe it or not!). You'll have friends that make you feel great. You'll have days filled with passion. And the universe will provide you with new and unexpected ways to continue exploring your passions. And your goals will no longer be self-limiting. Try it out. Give it time. Cultivate the mindset. Success in Happiness is worth it.

2010'Q1 Has Come and Nearly Gone

So my first month of The Year of Body was simply AMAZING. I couldn't have asked for anything better in fact. First, I realized just how horribly out of shape I'd let myself become. Next, I found how quickly my body responded to regular exercise. And by the end of the first month, between the yoga and the Bollywood dance class, I was pain free. No stiffness, no back pain, no (well relatively no) joint pain, and I felt younger. That was fast! I was able to skip my weekly back massage for several weeks becaus I just didn't need it. It was WONDERFUL. Notice the past tense in that last sentence?

So the next month, the yoga beginner's class completed. On the last day of class, the instructor, apparently trying to give us a good dose of reality about the "other" more strenuous forms of yoga, put us through our paces and I ended up pulling my lower back midway through class. Did I stop? Of course not, because I'm a dumb-ass. I worked through the pain, making matters worse.

So after my week of recuperation, I find myself unable to go back. I bought the unlimited monthly recurring package. But, nope, I haven't gone, not even once. Pretty disappointing. I feel bad about it too, but that's not enough to get me to go. Maybe I'm afraid that I won't cut it after the last class ... could be. Either way, I'm not going and that's a bummer.

Then my Bollywood dance class. Again LOVED it. By the end of the first month, I could touch my toes again! Not only that, but I could BALANCE and not fall over during every warm up. It was so much fun too. Again, past tense. Seeing any trends??

So the class was 4 weeks. I renewed for another month, and went, but my friend that invited me to this class didn't. So I was there with a bunch of women that I didn't know but was still trying to make a go of it. I was disappointed in that the class only lasted 4 weeks and in the new class you started with a totally new dance routine and never got to learn the whole routine for the song/music from the last class. I'm all about completion and this leaving a dance half done didn't sit well with me. Then I had to miss a couple classes due to conflicts, and I knew that I'd missed so much of the choreography that I wouldn't be able to follow and catch up on my own, and since I didn't have any friends that had learned the routine that could help me, I just stopped going.

So what have I learned about myself, in this first quarter into my Year of Body? My body definitely needs and loves this type of activity, and it responds very quickly to it. The physical changes have been amazing and I feel so much better. But, I am also a mental creature, and my mind appears to need a social obligation of friends expecting my participation for me to continue doing this sort of thing after the novelty has worn off. Also, I seem to respond better to a class where I'm supposed to go to every class, this opt-in thing provides flexibility, but I take that as an invitation to skip out...consistently.

Yes, of course I'm disappointed in myself. I have the time to do these things, but I don't. Even KNOWING I love it. I remember the last couple dance classes, having this great disdain before class, and then after class thinking "I am SO glad I came to class!" It doesn't seem to matter. So how do I go about finding friends that want to do fun physical activity? I really don't know.

I love dance, yoga, tai chi, walking, hiking and a lot of other stuff. I just need to find a group of people or even just one or two people that love the same types of activities and can or are willing to commit to do it weekly, or most weeks. Unfortunately, I have not a clue how to find such a group or such a person, particularly since I'm a bit of an acquired taste personality wise. Being a "bull-dozer" ain't easy, I tell you!

I thought walking the dogs would be in this same vein...they develop expectations and beg to go for a walk when I arrive home from work, if I do it consistently for a week. But even they are not equivalent to a friend's obligatory guilt-trip for showing up.

I don't like feeling bad. And I do feel bad, not physically...yet, but emotionally about this situation. I've found success and yet still failed. How stupid. It's my own fault and I'm well aware of this which only makes me feel shittier.

So on the upside of this whole situation, I do know that if I can find new classes to take that involve physical exercise, I'm likely to stick with the first full session at the very least if I find it enjoyable in the slightest. But finding a group that likes to go do fun physical stuff is apparently the ultimate goal in my case.

If you have any suggestions of where I might stumble upon such a group or people, please post a comment. Thanks!

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

2010 - The Year of Body (Health, Fitness, and all things physical)

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."
What's my theme going to be for 2010? I've already focused many years on "mind" and "spirit" themes. This new year is going to be dedicated to "body." It's health and fitness and everything physical. I have been neglecting my physical being for quite some time and I have decided I need to give the physical me some love and attention.

At present the idea is to start taking care of myself. Vitamins. Waterpik. Eating healthier (less take-out, more home cooking). An active lifestyle. Strength. Flexibility. Beauty.

I feel old. My body hurts when I get up in the morning, my back, my feet, my hips, and my knees. I know that can change if my lifestyle is more active, my body gets the exercise it needs, and my metabolism is elevated. I want to like what I see in the mirror again someday. I want to feel as good on the outside as I feel on the inside.

My initial thoughts on how to do this are different than how I'd approach this in previous years. I'm not going to buy a membership at the healthclub. I'm not going to force myself to run every morning (which I find quite brutal self abuse at the moment even though I used to love to run). So instead, I am going to focus on classes and activities that I actually am looking forward to doing! I've already signed up for a beginner's yoga class. I've also signed up for a informal dance class with friends. I'm trying to make a date with an old friend to go hiking on the weekends when our schedules are compatible. I'm going to order Wii's Dance Revolution too. I'm not going to over do it and push myself like I did last year when I got my Wii Fit and ended up barely able to walk for the better part of a week and never touched the thing again. This time, it's moderation and fun with an emphasis on fun. The more fun I have the more likely I'll come back for more.

I'm not going to give up my other passions either. I'm still going to take classes on subjects that interest me. This month it's a sewing class and a few jewelry classes. Next month I'm slating a quilting class and hopefully a weaving class and perhaps some glass/PMC classes and maybe some instruction on how to use my new kiln. Other areas I'd like to explore are play a bongo drum, pottery, basket weaving, woodworking, blacksmithing, creative writing (most forms), spanish language, photography, firearm/marksmanship, glass blowing, candle making, drawing, website design and development, and possible a refresher C++ class as a springboard into video game programming. I will continue my jewelry design, knitting, crochet and home improvement activities. I also hope to spend more time reading.

If I like the yoga and/or the dance classes, I'll keep doing them. If I don't, or if I get bored, I'll find other activities that sound fun and take classes for those. Other physical activities that sound interesting are Tai Chi, Qigong, Pilates, other forms of dance, hiking, hash house harriers/running, and walking the dogs on a much more regular basis and possibly other activities including the dogs. I hope to meet people that also have active lifestyles, and that I'll cultivate friendships with that will help reinforce this new way of life. Eventually I won't even have to think about taking care of myself physically because it will just be a part of who I am again after all these years.

At least that's the idea. As usual, the focus will morph as the year progresses and as my self-discovery advances. I love the luxury this provides and really look forward to each and every year, and whatever topic I chose to focus my attention.

Friday, January 1, 2010

"2009 - The Year of Happiness" In Retrospect

Well, 2009 has come and gone. My focus this past year was happiness. I knew I wanted to find happiness like Jason maintains daily and I hoped a year of exploration and self-discovery would get me closer to finding that elusive thing called happiness. I knew I had tendencies toward being a serious and driven individual and that being happy seemed to come in brief spurts ever so often and that they never were really satisfying in a sustained way. I knew I was doing something wrong, but I thought I could devise some sort of checklist that would show me the path to happiness and it was right around the corner.

I spent the first three quarters of 2009 basically fooling myself into thinking I was happy or at least happier. I focused on things like getting rid of the clutter in my life, you know those low urgency/low importance tasks? I focused on getting more organized, this from the organizational queen. HA! I focused on simplifying my life and getting rid of those pesky "energy drains." I focused on finding closure on areas of my life that weren't quite working for me any longer, selling a house and committing to finally complete my bachelor's degree. I focused on acting like I was happy, the whole "fake it 'til you make it" approach. I thought I'd made real progress and I even blogged about it all the way into September.

Then in October, I had a lightbulb moment that changed my life. I found my passion drummer. Blog entries began pouring out of me, one after the other. I'm not exactly sure what happened that day. Perhaps it was as easy as me giving myself permission to really see the world from the simplistic value system required to find happiness on a daily basis. Perhaps it was devine intervention. Whatever the case, I'm a changed individual. Although I still find myself falling back into my old familiar goal-driven thoughts and behaviors, when I start "feeling the ugly" it yanks me right back to the passion drummer. I can and will continue to cultivate my happiness now that I realize that it's all up to me. It's a choice.

Jason didn't think I'd ever really get it. In fact, he thought I didn't want to get it. More to the point, it wasn't that I didn't get it, or didn't want to get it, it was that I dismissed the simplicity of the passion drummer as not sophisticated enough for my complicated life. What a silly silly goal-driven person I was being. I spun around in the mouse wheel of the goal-driven way of life with cyclical highs and lows and couldn't figure out why I was feeling unfulfilled. Now it's as easy for me to identify this in others as the color of someone's eyes.

It has changed so much about how I see my world. I used to love movies with a lot of drama but now see that so many of those stories are simply about passion drummer roles clashing with goal driven roles. Those stories use to hold such complex paradoxes for me and now they are obvious and uninteresting. But other movies that I would have thought stupid or bizarre, now help me see and redefine my world in ways that I wasn't capable of understanding before.

I never found "that one passion" and I've decided to abandon such a expectation-laden goal. Instead, I now just pursue those things that I find enjoyment in. Those pursuits are all over the board. Creative Writing. Sewing/Quilting. Web Development. Yoga. Knitting. Hiking. Weaving. Gaming (mostly MMORPGS and Wii Fit although Jason can get me to play Modern Warfare 2 co-op if I'm drunk enough HA!). Reading. Dance. Home improvements (next project is installing laminate flooring in the main bedroom). Pottery. Jewelry making. Movies. Maybe running (after my toe nail grows out). And I may decide to pursue a game development degree but that is still a ways off. The one constant is my love of learning something new. I still get bored quickly but now I don't judge myself for that. I just move on to the next thing that excites me and gets my passion drummer beating a little faster. I'm happy at home. I'm happy at work. I'm happy.

In the end, I stumbled upon happiness in a debate in the back seat of a car with a co-worker. I'll be forever grateful to Barton, Roger and Jason for being the catalysts to that light-bulb moment. The beauty of the themed year approach is that I have incorporated this knowledge and behavior into my life and it is now a part of who I am. It's not just some task, some check list item, that is done and forgotten. I've changed. I've grown. And that is priceless.

What's in store for 2010? That's coming up next. I've already focused many years on "mind" and "spirit" themes. This new year is going to be dedicated to "body." It's health and fitness and everything physical. I have been neglecting my physical being for quite some time and I have decided I need to give the physical me some love and attention.