Finding Inspiration

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I  was having a difficult time finding inspiration for writing my blog today. I’ve been enjoying doing this task five days a week for almost five years now, and there really are very few days when I search desperately for a topic. When that happens I usually serf the Internet hoping to find something that sends a sudden burst of ideas to my brain. Today was one of those times when nothing was coming to mind, so I spent some time reading posts on my Facebook wall hoping desperately that something would jump from the page to tickle my fancy.

I read about a friend who had run a half marathon and ended up exhausted and hurting. I was intrigued by what she had done, but since it would never even cross my mind to think of doing such a thing I didn’t exactly come up with fertile ideas for writing when I read about her adventure. How far would I get reiterating the idea that my knees no longer allow me to run, and that I have little or no desire to push myself into a state of pain doing anything. It became obvious to me that I would have to keep reading if I was to find any kind of material for creating an essay. That’s when I saw  a post from a high school friend that sent me into gales of laughter.

He was asking if anyone had an extra set of feet for an artificial Christmas tree because he was unable to locate his. He had searched closets and attics and all sort of places all to no avail. Friends in his age group razzed him about getting old and the inevitability of becoming forgetful. I identified completely because I had decided on a great blog topic only an hour or so before, but couldn’t recall what it had been for the life of me. Lately I’ve had to learn to write things down as soon as they come to mind or the slightest interruption may erase them forever. My husband had asked me a question and in the short space of time that it took me to respond I literally forgot what I had intended to write about for today. So there I was wondering what to put on a page.

That’s when I saw yet another post from a former teacher friend who was asking for advice on what to do to find inspiration when it eludes us. There were some great ideas like gazing up at the sky, but it was very dark and rainy where I was, so that didn’t seem to be an option. I’d already tried looking for interesting quotes and perusing the news, none of which jostled even an iota of creativity. That’s when I thought of the many times when I had a deadline for an essay, and I drew a blank regarding what to compose.

Writer’s block is the stuff of legend. After creating the masterpiece The Great Gatsby, F. Scott Fitzgerald struggled to regain his footing. Somehow he was not able to repeat his performance as a writer and it lead to depression and alcoholism, so I know I shouldn’t feel too bad if I find myself without ideas now and again. Still it is so frustrating, and I remember one occasion in particular when I stared at a page with the same painful realization that I was as stumped as Jack in The Shining. I didn’t even have the wherewithal to write the same sentence over and over again. I was unable to even string together a nonsensical group of words, and it threw me into a panic because I was taking a class at the time, and my assignment was due the following day.

I was willing to admit that procrastination had created my dilemma, but that was little comfort as the clock ticked away. It seemed that the harder I tried, the more locked up my brain seemed to be. Taking a walk did little to help. Lying down and attempting to quiet my mind did not work. Screaming my frustration only felt worse, because I knew that I must have sounded ridiculous. I was on the verge of panic and tears when my husband brought me a cold beer.

I looked at him as though he had two heads. I argued that drinking a brew might only make me sleepy and then I would really be in a pickle. I thought of poor Fitzgerald and how not even a prolonged bender alleviated his problems. I failed to see how pausing for a sip of suds was going to change the situation, but I had almost reached a breaking point, so I surrendered to the idea.

I relaxed a bit while enjoying the amber liquid, and as I did I became quite mellow, so much so that I wondered if I would just drift off into slumber and end up having to attend class without completing the assignment. I was certain that I was totally in trouble, when I slowly found myself considering a number of out of the box ideas. The more gulps I took of the beer, the more fertile my thoughts became, and before long I was banging out a paper that in that moment made me feel as though I was writing the next great educational document. My fingers were barely able to keep up with the flood of ideas that filled the once blank paper with a sea of characters forming words, sentences, paragraphs and entire pages. Not more than an hour later I was proof reading my manuscript and creating the final copy for submission.

I went to bed that night feeling relaxed and accomplished. My alcohol soothed brain was bristling with greatness, or at least it felt that way. Sadly by morning I wasn’t as sure of myself, but I had to work all day and understood that I was stuck with the essay that I had written with a muddled mind and no time to change it in any way. Rather than torture myself I decided not to even read it again, and I began to feel a dark sense of foreboding. Somehow I believed that any chance of getting a decent grade was doomed. I chastised myself for allowing such a situation to exist in the first place, but it was too late.

As it happened, I had somehow unlocked the creative juices of my brain with my drinking binge and my paper proved to be more than satisfactory. When I saw the grade I was amused that I had pulled off my smoke and mirrors magic trick. The professor wrote dazzling comments about my brilliance, but I could only laugh at the fact that I was unable to remember what I had written. (Bear in mind that it takes very little for me to become the victim of a drunken state, so that beer had rendered me rather incoherent, but apparently still somehow in control of my faculties. I now fully understood why so many writers turn to drink as a muse.)

My latest episode of writer’s block and the search for inspiration lead me into a discussion of over imbibing with a group of relatives. My brother who is almost a tee totaler spoke of a time when he enjoyed himself a bit too much and engaged in a match of chess with a graduate of MIT after running a foot race with his buddies. Surprisingly he recalls the incident as the best game that he has ever played, and he was so relaxed that he won handily in both the race and the chess game. Others told of amazing feats like being able to do pushups on a countertop, or dancing like Fred Astaire. It seems that rather than inspiration, what we all found was a way to eliminate our inhibitions.

I certainly would never recommend my inebriated writing method as a regular means of expressing my thoughts. It might have ended quite badly, but for a bit of luck. I suspect that the secret was that I was able to relax, and I might have accomplished the same thing with a brisk walk or a few minutes of meditation. It may well have been my brother’s exercise before the chess match that was the source of his winning ways, and not the vodka. It didn’t seem to work for F. Scott Fitzgerald, so it may be a mistake to think that it worked for us.

Anyway, I’ve somehow managed to fill a blog with a bit of nostalgia and nonsense and maybe even some hidden ideas for finding inspiration. In the future, however it is no doubt best to write down the ideas that I have before I lose those thoughts. It is a lot less frustrating than tackling an empty page.

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The Road Ahead

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Tomorrow is my birthday and I will be sixty nine years old. That number sounds ancient to me. It is a place in time that I have never really imagined being. Time is relative when it comes to me because I still feel as though I am little more than middle aged. Surely I will be thirty nine tomorrow, going on forty next year. Where did I lose the thirty years that I don’t remember passing by so quickly? One day I was still young and the next I became a member of AARP and qualified for Medicare. It’s enough to boggle the mind.

I’m still able to perform complex mathematics problems and show youngsters how to do them as well. I write almost everyday and read constantly, but not without glasses. My vision went south some time back along with my ability to recall small things like where I have left one of the dozens of pairs of glasses that I keep on hand. I tried wearing one of those chains around my neck that keep glasses handy but they just didn’t work for me. They got in the way mostly of my vanity.

I can’t run well anymore. My knees yell at me if I even try. I’ve shrunk about three inches because I have developed osteoporosis like my grandmother and several of my aunts. Heredity can be a real bitch sometimes. I used to be a tall girl, but now I am rather short. It makes me wonder if my grandma was always a small person or if her own troubles with brittle bones made her much tinier than she once was.

Mostly I’m rather healthy. People predict that barring some unforeseen accident or a disease that sneaks up on me I will live long like my grandfather who made it to one hundred eight. If that’s the case I have almost forty more years to go. I’ll need to figure out what to do with all of that time. I hope I am able to use it as well as Grandpa did. He was an avid reader who devoured books like chocolate bonbons, and then proceeded to discuss every detail in them when someone came to visit. His mind was as clear as a sparkling lake up until the very last weeks of his life, but he had grown weary by then. He often spoke of being ready to end his marathon time here on earth and start a new run in heaven. He had lost all of his friends and most of his relatives including all three of his children. Somehow he managed to stay optimistic in spite of the fact that he had spent all of money and lived from one Social Security check to the next. He had planned well for retirement, but nobody expects for a life to last as long as his did,

There is still so much of the world that I hope to experience. I love the idea of continuously learning and traveling. It is a habit that I have followed and it provides me with great pleasure. I like to stay abreast of changes and I truly hope that I never become a dotty old fuddy-duddy, a dotard if you will. One reason that I enjoy working with children is that they keep me young. I get a kick out their antics and I find that on the whole they are quite polite and wonderful. The idea that today’s kids are spoiled and badly behaved is a myth perpetuated by grouchy individuals who abhor change. The truth is that our future is in good hands from what I have seen. The world will surely keep on moving along and things will get better regardless of who is living at the White House.

Somehow getting older makes me far happier and more content than I have ever been. I view life with a great deal more appreciation. All of my competitive inclinations have fallen by the wayside. I realize how very lucky I have been from the cold November day when I was born to the present. I may not have accumulated much wealth, but I can say without reservation that I have always been loved. There is absolutely nothing better than that, and I now realize that more so than ever before.

I still harbor hopes and dreams, but now they are more for my grandchildren than myself. I want to watch them finding ways to use their talents and build their own lives. If they are half as fortunate as I have been then the world will be very good to them. I pray that their inevitable trials will be few and that they will possess all of the skills needed to deal with them. I myself had so much support any time that I was struggling. There always seemed to be a relative, neighbor, teacher, coworker or friend to help me overcome even the most horrific situations. I treasure all of the people who have encouraged me, some of whom never knew how much they actually meant to me.

I think back to my many birthdays. My mom always worked hard to make my day as special as possible, and did so until the very day that she died. Her family had been so poor that their only gift each year had been a single nickel. She and her siblings continued the tradition of sending each other nickels, and I thought it a beautiful gesture of love. My mom never missed brining me a cake and a very carefully chosen gift which always reminded me of how important I was to her. I find myself missing her bit more each year. She was with me from the very beginning, forging that special bond that only a mother is capable of doing.

Much of my family is coming to my house to help me celebrate my birthday tomorrow. Family has been the best gift that I have ever enjoyed. I honestly don’t know what I would do without all of them. We are a loud and crazy bunch that sometimes confounds and annoys other people. I don’t think those who shy away from us can tell if we are yelling at each other or just being a bit too overjoyed to be together. I know that some folks can’t handle our antics, but I can’t imagine being any other way than we just naturally are. Our exuberance is simply the outward manifestation of our unending love.

So this old woman plans to savor every minute that I have. At this point there is no telling whether my days are numbered or I have a long way to go. I’ve learned to take one day at a time and to roll with whatever happens. I may not hear as well as I once did but I am a survivor and I am far tougher than I appear to be. It’s been a great ride thus far. It’s going to be fun to see where the rest of my life takes me. I’m more than ready for the adventures that lie along the road ahead.

We’re Going To Make It After All

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I’m slowly remembering how to sleep again. I had just begun to totally relax after my husband’s stroke when the big Houston flood came along. I don’t think that I have dozed for more than five or six hours for at least a week. Getting back to normal is going to be difficult. We have all changed just a bit, but thankfully I believe that it is for the better.

Yesterday I went on errands for the first time since last Friday. Everyone was so nice and cheerful you would have thought that it was Christmas time. Employees welcomed us to the stores with big smiles and hearty greetings. Strangers were asking each other how they had done in the storm. It was almost like living in a tiny town rather than the fourth largest city in the United States. Most of the people were purchasing items to donate to those who had been affected by the flooding. They had their carts piled high with personal care items, food, cleaning products, water and school supplies. I had a difficult time finding pencils because we all had the same thought that we needed to replace the items that kids will need when schools open once again.

The day was absolutely gorgeous and so we ventured across town to visit with my father-in-law who had been on pins and needles with concern for all of his family. He was surprised and delighted to see us, and we had fun exchanging war stories for a couple of hours. He had done quite well even though the rain had been furious. He lives in what is no doubt the highest neighborhood in the city, so if he had flooded it would have been Armageddon. Still he spoke of a couple of moments when the water in his street was raging like a river, something that he had never before seen. Luckily there were enough breaks in the deluge to allow the rain to drain in between the downpours. Ultimately his home was never threatened.

Our conversations were accompanied by the sound of helicopters flying overhead, an experience that has become sadly commonplace. We’ve seen Blackhawks and Chinooks and every possible variety for several days now. For the most part we ignored the implications of what those choppers meant even though in the back of our minds we prayed for the souls who were onboard. We joked that we each want one along with a landing pad on the roof for Christmas, or at least a flat bottom boat with a set of life jackets. It’s crazy how humor helped us to relax.

Our homeward route took us through the heart of downtown Houston which seemed almost like a ghost town or a set for The Walking Dead. Now and again we saw crews pumping water from underground parking garages, and there were a few hearty souls walking along the mostly deserted streets. I saw a homeless people here and there sunning themselves and wondered what they had done during the storm. I marvel at how resilient they are and don’t think that I would fare nearly as well. I hope that they are not overlooked when relief is being provided for the citizens.

The official word yesterday was that Houston ISD students will not begin school until September 11, a somewhat meaningful date for all of us. It is not certain what other districts will decide to do, but it is clear that both teachers and students will need to ease into the process. Everyone is rattled whether they had damage to their homes or not. It will take some time for a sense of security and normalcy to return. I also believe that school districts will have to think out of the box to fulfill their needs. I’d like to see them hire more counselors and keep classes smaller perhaps by using retired teachers to work a couple of hours a day to ease some of the burdens. Maybe they even need to consider getting waivers to have shorter school days, at least during the first semester when everyone is still so stressed.

Everyone who does not have to repair his/her home wants so desperately to volunteer to help someone else. Offers of aid are flooding into the city. It is nice to realize that we humans are still quite nice in spite of recent indications to the contrary. We have been fed a steady diet of stories of terrorists, white supremacists, and hatefulness between opposing viewpoints for too long of late. It’s nice to hear of people intent on being kind and generous rather than fighting with one another. I sure wish that the attitudes that are apparent all around in Houston right now would infect the rest of the country like a virus. We desperately need to come together with a unified goal. The invective that has become so commonplace needs to go the way of Harvey.

I don’t want to rush things, but it feels as though Houstonians will eventually come out of this disaster even stronger than we presently are, as long as armchair quarterbacks don’t over analyze what has happened here. Just as teenagers don’t like nagging from their parents, we citizens of Houston are rather frayed and really don’t need critiques. We’ve done our best and prefer that people just leave it at that. Later we might analyze levees and drainage systems and routes for evacuations with an eye to improving them. For now we just need to survive.

I love that so many things are settling down in ways that might seem insignificant to some, but are major to me. I saw RVs returning home from wherever they had taken refuge. It was good to see people with enough confidence to come back again. A neighbor mowed his lawn yesterday, a rather mundane act but one that made me smile from ear to ear. We have to do all of these little things to feel good again. Bit by bit, step by step I think we are going to make it, and hopefully we will have learned much to guide us in the future. 

Stubby

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Who knew that a tiny gecko was capable of bringing so much joy? No, I’m not speaking of the Geico gecko even though he is a rather dashing fellow. I am referring to a resident of our backyard whom we have named Stubby.

Stubby lives underneath a potted hibiscus plant that sits on top of two bricks on our patio. We first noticed him several weeks ago when he found the confidence to come out from the safely of his abode to sun himself while we ate dinner. Part of his tail was missing and not even the passage of time has remedied his affliction like we thought it might. He’s a rather ordinary fellow all in all but he has a charisma that draws our attention to his antics. Since we eat outside most evenings we now look for him, and so far he has not failed to greet us.

He is quite fond of entertaining us by climbing onto the seat of a wrought iron chair near his domicile. Once he reaches his perch he celebrates by puffing up his mouth until it reveals a brilliant red color. He’s a bit of a show off but that’s actually what makes him so much fun to observe. He’s quite a character with a penchant for being a star. We’ve noticed a number of tiny offspring wandering not too far from him and wonder if he is their proud father.

I suppose that it may sound a bit sad or even crazy that we derive so much joy from Stubby, but our interest is easily explained. We’ve had quite a round of trauma of late. We’ve had to change our lifestyles as well as our outlooks. We’ve come to appreciate the blessings that we have, and one of them is having a remarkable creature like Stubby right in our own backyard. We are actually quite happy that he has so graciously accepted our hospitality. I suppose that his antics are one way that he demonstrates his gratitude for our largesse.

I worried a bit about Stubby when our grand dog Cooper came to visit recently. I didn’t know if the little pup would chase or harm our resident gecko. Luckily Cooper is a bit overweight and as a result slow on his feet. If he even noticed Stubby he didn’t let on. Instead he ran straight for the fence where our neighbors’ dog greeted him with a bark. He proceeded to mark his territory and let out a warning salvo. After that he simply went in that direction every time we let him out just to see what was happening next door.

Cooper is quite fun in spite of his lack of athleticism. He is a very polite and laid back dog so he doesn’t perform any daring feats like Stubby, but he has the warm heart of a lover. He likes to sit next to my husband Mike and only requires a little scratch or two now and again for thanks. I suspect that he is still pining a bit for his brother dog Shane who recently crossed the Rainbow Bridge. We try to be very accommodating to Cooper’s every need in this difficult time for him. Mostly he’s willing to placate us as long as we feed him at the correct time.

It is little wonder that even soldiers with PTSD are often advised to get a service dog for companionship. Pets have a way of diffusing stress in the most amazing ways. They make us laugh and fascinate us so well that we forget the cares and woes that may be demanding our attention. They are actually as good at making us feel better as a cocktail of psychotropic drugs. I don’t advocate eliminating medications in favor of a pet, but I think that adding them to the pharmaceutical mix is a powerful antidote to anxiety and sadness. I know that it works quite well for me just to allow myself to be almost hypnotized by the things that they do so well.

Birds also have an incredible capacity to  bring us peace of mind. We have a single hummingbird that flits from one side of the yard to another. His speed is so remarkable that sometimes it’s difficult to keep up with him. I never fail to smile when I see this wonderful creature, but my favorite among the feathered friends is a dove who perches on our roof and sometimes dares to get rather close to us as he balances on the rim of our fountain preening himself and partaking of a drink. I like hearing his cooing which is as soft and comforting as a lullaby. He has a mate that has been absent of late. I wonder if she has been busy nesting or raising her young. I long for her return because the two of them are so much more magnificent together. I hope that she has not run afoul of some terrible injury, but for now I have no way of knowing what has happened to her.

We’ve got a rather impressive colony of bumblebees in our yard contrary to the thinking that they are almost extinct. I managed to step on one a while back and learned that I am allergic to its venom. I got quite dizzy and my tongue began to swell. Sadly I suspect that my attacker didn’t do so well either. I felt guilty for walking around without shoes and causing the demise of a worker who was only doing the job that came naturally. Now I am more careful as I stroll through the grass. I know that the lovely flowers that adorn my garden are enhanced by the bees who spread pollen even as they enjoy the nectar.

I’ve often thought that I might have enjoyed a lifetime of interacting with animals. ( I can hear my teaching colleagues laughing as they think that maybe I did work on an animal farm now and again. Of course I’m just kidding.)  Nature’s creatures can be so very interesting and I think they actually teach us a bit about ourselves. They remind us to enjoy the beauty and variety of the natural world. They demonstrate how much bounty is to be found in the plants, the trees, the sun and the rain that we all too often take for granted and don’t even notice. They invite us to slow down and live a bit in the moment so that the scales that are blinding us from seeing our blessings fall from our eyes.

I know that Stubby will one day reach the end of his days on our patio. I’ll be a bit sad when he no longer joins us for dinner. He’s helped me to deal with situations that are so difficult with a much bigger smile on my face than might otherwise not have been there. He’s adorable and I’d like to believe that he likes us as much as we like him. Of course I understand his anatomy and realize that he does not have the capacity for such feelings, but I guess that if a gecko can become a television celebrity, so too is it reasonable to think that maybe just maybe Stubby knows that he is bringing us happiness. Either way I’m just glad that he is here right now. He’s the right guy in the right place at the right time.

The Playlist

hqdefaultWhat if you attempted to create a playlist for your life. What songs would be there? Would the collection describe you or would it be composed of music designed to motivate and inspire you? How would the selections actually apply to the person that you are? I decided to attempt such a project and it was a bit more difficult than I at first imagined. There is so much music that I love just for the pure fun of listening to it. Finding songs that really speak to who I am, who I have been and who I want to be is a bit more difficult.

While I am a big planner I have found that life is full of surprises, many of which seem intent upon challenging us in ways that sometimes seem insurmountable and even unfair. The kinds of traumatic things have have happened to me made my first choice of music to be You Can’t Always Get What You Want by the Rolling Stones. The most important idea in the lyrics has always been one of my mantras, namely that while I may not always get the things that I think I should, sometimes I get exactly what I need. As Garth Brooks so beautifully reminds us in Unanswered Prayers we sometimes fail to realize that a plan even better than the one that we have imagined is unfolding even as we struggle to free ourselves from pain. It is in our darkest hours that we often come to realize what that we are made of sterner stuff than we may have thought or as Kelly Clarkson notes in Stronger what doesn’t kill us makes us stronger.

I wouldn’t wish some of the tragedies that have befallen me on anyone, not even myself, but they happened and I only had two choices when facing them. I might either have just given up and let them defeat me or I might have attempted to find a way to carry on. Each time I somehow embraced the will and the courage to keep going, usually With At Little Help From My Friends as the Beatles say. Like Learning to Fly by Tom Petty I took a leap of faith in myself and dared to do things that I never imagined, often because I was forced by fate to do so. I generally emerged from such experiences feeling pretty good about myself, even a bit proud. I was actually a better person for having to stare into the darkness and defeat it. I feel that I have become a warrior over the years and so another of my theme songs should be Roar by Katy Perry. “I got the eye of the tiger, a fighter dancing through the fire.” The Mother of Dragons has nothing on me!

I suppose that the key to my victories over difficulties has been my unswerving faith that somehow, some way I will always overcome my problems or at least learn how to make the changes needed to deal with them. I’ve always loved Don’t Stop Believin by Journey because my mantra has always been to keep on trucking regardless of how dire a situation seemed. The crazy thing is that I have seen and endured great suffering but because I truly believed that I was never alone I tended to Always Look On the Bright Side of Life just as the guys from Monty Python. That tune has always made me laugh even when things looked rather grim. In fact, I suppose that without humor, sometimes of a very dark nature, I doubt that I would have made it this far. A good chuckle can make a difference in even the dreariest of days and I so love being around beings who know how to help me to release my feelings with a good old fashioned joke, especially when that bit of comedy pokes fun at me and my worries.

I truly learned from each of the happenings that almost seemed unbearable at the time. I became wiser and more compassionate. I realized how much spunk I actually had and my confidence soared. I have always loved I Can See Clearly Now by Johnny Nash because it encapsulates my evolution from being a more self centered, silly and frightened child to becoming someone who manages to feel brave most of the time and to understand that everyone is burdened with struggles. I know now that I am not unique in my cares and woes. It is part of the uncertainty of living. One thing of which I am certain is that eventually things always get better which makes my next song one of great hope. Here Comes the Sun by the Beatles makes me smile and lifts the weight from my heart each time I hear its lilting optimism. Ironically another Beatle’s composition is also one that brings a smile to my face every single time that it is played, particularly as I grow older. Good Day Sunshine reminds me to be grateful for the blessings that I have and to see the good in the world rather than focusing on the many hardships that still plague all of us. I consciously choose to be Happy and so I dance away when I listen to Pharrell Williams’ tribute to feeling lighthearted. 

The world is still so imperfect and there are serious issues that are cause for concern, but I am still convinced that in the end we humans will choose good over evil. I tend to agree with Sting in his lovely creation Russians that people of all societies love their children just as we do. As such they will ultimately strive to build a future that will be better for all of us. We just have to Imagine as John Lennon says and continue to look for leaders and ideas that take us into a more perfect version of life. We might begin by reflecting on ourselves and asking what we may each do to help eliminate injustice and hatefulness. Man in the Mirror by Michael Jackson should be an anthem for everyone. We should start each morning by repeating, “I’m starting with the man in the mirror. I’m asking him to change his ways.” It is only in attempting to perfect ourselves that we will truly impact the rest of humanity.

Ultimately I see the beauty of life. Like the Beatles’ In My Life I have seen so much love that I truly feel that it will be the power that transforms us. I would like to think that the most optimistic song that I know becomes a reality for mankind. When Louis Armstrong sang What A Wonderful World I don’t think that he realized what hope it would give us. Listening to its strains and stanzas describe all that is lovely and wonderful reminds me to look for the beauty that is everywhere. My hope is that others will find that moment of contentment that I seem to encounter more and more often as I look back on a life of which I am proud. I Hope You Dance just as I now do. There is great joy in the most unexpected places if only we learn how to look for it. If we are lucky we find also the most Amazing Grace which is ultimately the greatest gift of all.