The Divided States

In some ways, our country has always been divided. Our two system party, the American Dream vs. Big Brother, North vs. South, Rich vs. Poor, Cowboys vs. Indians… Yet even with the violence of the civil war, our current divide seems more dangerous and more deadly. Is it because of our ever-growing population? Is it because of the ease of modern communication? Is it because of our growing and impassioned beliefs? Is it because of politics and the political systems in place? Or does it simply boil down to the fact that we are human and have a very primal human nature? Or is it because these continuing issues seem to be uniquely American in nature and are forever woven into the fabric of our life and our flag?
Our divided states are like one big chopping block instead of a melting pot. Combining and emersion are not encouraged; keep things divided, separate from others not like you, alienate anyone who is different. This is how the dividing occurs and we are willing participants because we all have opinions and preferences. I would rather not indulge some of our cultures worst traits, yet maintaining freedom means those traits get to stay. It is a serrated edge that cuts and separates the “what could be” from the “what is”.
“They” have us fighting with each other, solidifying the division, closing our ears and our hearts off to viable solutions. Alienate. That is what an abuser does. If he can alienate his victim, then the abuse can go on as directed, without interruption. The abused usually is clueless as to what is going on, too busy trying to juggle the blame and horror of the situation. That is what many of us are doing or experiencing. And yet we are blind to it.
If you say to me, “The kids don’t know anything about gun control! They were just eating Tide Pods last month!” Perhaps you are right. Still, as adults we are supposed to protect the children until they are old enough to make their own decisions, that is our job. It is our job to raise “responsible members of civilized society”. Whether as an adult or a parent, you have to realize that if we don’t like what the children are doing, then we need to educate them and guide them, not belittle them. The age of abuse is passing out of existence and we must lovingly evolve our thinking. Let us use communication as a tool instead of a weapon.
I believe that we are mainly divided by those who want change and those who don’t. It’s almost like a couple who is continually fighting. One side thinks everything is “just fine just how it is” and the other side is showing all the ways things aren’t fine. Perhaps there are some things that shouldn’t change. But we obviously need to sit down and really look at what is working and what isn’t. Isn’t that what you would do with car trouble? Or financial issues? What is working well and what needs to change? And then how do we change it? It is pointless to constantly point the finger of blame and not provide or explore working solutions.
I believe sometimes problems arise so that we can (together) find solutions. Perhaps strength and change come from having the hard and difficult discussions. Perhaps this is where we find our true humanity. Perhaps in the process of breaking down is where we create the strength of building up. Perhaps this is where we bridge the divide. Let’s fix this rift before it gets wide enough to swallow us up. We can fix things without losing what we have. But if we continue to fight amongst ourselves we could lose all that we have built. Divided cannot be United.

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The Peaceful Wallflower

You think I don’t notice all the ways you ignore me. I notice the way you treat me, different from the others. You make time for them, you include them, you smile at them. Don’t think that I don’t see it. I do. I see it, clearly. I won’t lie that it hurts. I won’t lie that it makes me mad. I wish that I didn’t care.

At least you are not outwardly cruel to me like you are to the un-liked others. Don’t think I don’t see that too, your obscure sense of kindness. At least you ignore me rather than push me, you look through me instead of directing your energy at me. I appreciate the kindness, even if you don’t. I would break under the stress of you and that is not something I want to do. I wish I didn’t care.

You swell in your pride and your hate. I know what it feels like, I know how consuming it can be. You think you are beyond reproach and so far, it seems that way. I wonder if the feeling will hold or if it will fade for you as it has for me? I wonder if you will change. I wonder if you could grow on this wall like I do. I wonder what your path looks like, what those shoes feel like, what your heart beats like… a drum or a nail, pressing deeper into the skin. I don’t want to care.

You don’t think I notice, but I do, I see you.

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Camp Nano

If you follow my blog, you know that learning my way through this writing process has been a favored topic. This is not only so that I can analyze what I have learned but also a way to keep a record of this journey, much like a journal. This past year has brought me so many lessons and the learning I have done has brought forth a positive part of myself that I feel I should share with others who are either on my same path or are thinking of starting something new.

The other day, I met a woman who was taking her first steps on this journey that I have been on for the last few years. This flashed me back to some of the first public writing groups that I met, thinking I knew so much when I really knew so little. I was hit with the feelings all over again, the curiosity, the bewilderment, the unknown and uncertain paths, all the things that perplex us in the beginning, all the frustration for there being no one single “right way”.

Within the first few months, I successfully learned all the wrong ways. There were ways that I tried that left me spinning in circles, never getting myself anywhere. I finally learned not to write and edit at the same time even though I swear this is what I was taught in high school English classes. I learned that not writing every day is one of the worst things you can do if you want to be a writer. I learned that not sticking to deadlines prevents finished projects. I learned that writing with money in mind will only bring forth writing that contains no heart or passion.

I learned that some kind of support is paramount. It helps if you have someone you can talk to about your work. Someone to share your excitement. Someone to hold you accountable. “How’s your book coming along?” is a steady motivator. Having an online group that shares your small successes is encouraging as well. Even keeping track of your word counts supports that forward motion. I’m often motivated when I look back at how much I have already written.

I’ve decided I must be a glutton for writing punishment. I have committed to writing another 50k in April for Camp Nanowrimo (which is basically Nanowrimo-National Novel Writing Month- only done in April instead of November) on my next novel. This is not an easy task. Only 17% of the people who start Nano, finish Nano. The odds are not in my favor. However, I have found that this crazy method works for me so I will stick with it. Plus, I learned so much about the writing process from the last one that I want to see what more I can learn the second time around.

What will I gain from all this? Hopefully another finished novel and a better sense of my writer’s voice. A feeling of success and accomplishment for sure. I will also gain a dirtier house and friends and family who will claim to miss me. I will disappear into the recesses of my story as I watch it unfold before me. I will lose sleep and miss fun activities but I will be a better person for it. I will strive to learn all I can as I create something new, something that didn’t exist before I put it on paper and for that, there is no greater reward.

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The Cost of Value

The concept of value differs depending on how you use the word. As a noun, it’s the importance or usefulness of something. Yet as a verb, it’s the monetary worth. We all value different things. To one person, the truth might be valuable and to another, it might be a cost. The things I value will not necessarily be the same things that you value. Therefore, to me, a value is relative and changing. Value is intrinsically individual.

To draw deeper into this idea, there are also personal values that shape who we are and shape our decisions. What we personally will or won’t spend money on, what we hold dear, what we cherish and believe, what we live for, what we would die for. These are things that cannot be priced yet they often have a cost. I value hard work, not just for the money it affords me, but also the feeling of freedom and satisfaction it awards me in the long run. Putting time into relationships also affords a cherished experience that we could not have without putting in that time. Finishing a project brings pride and a sense of accomplishment that we could not have without putting in the hard work to make it happen. You hear about lotto winners saying that the money did not bring them happiness, this is because life does not work that way. Life is all about hard work and motion, if you just sit there on your ass you will never get anywhere. You must value motion and get to work, that is the cost.

So, while some people value education and pour their time and money into that, others value fun and experiences, spending their money on vacations or toys. Some value their image and spend money to maintain that image on everything from cars to name brand apparel. Some value privacy and freedom preferring to live a simple and muted life. Some value family above all else and solely strive to provide for their family unity and connectedness. My list of examples could go on infinitely, but my point is that many of us carry strong values that permeate our lives and all our decisions.

It should become obvious then, that these differences are the basis for both human connections and rifts. If you and I value the same things, then we are connected. If we value different things, then we are split apart and there is less to connect us. The universe pulls us in different directions and blinds us to the real reason for the rift. Something I cannot connect with is not important to me, leading to an apathetic viewpoint. While variety and diversity are the spice of life, the differences between what people value can separate and divide us (the clearest examples of this are politics and religion). What one person values and cherishes another may find ridiculous and ignorant, yet shared values can hold people together and create bonds that last a lifetime.

So, what can we do to keep our values intact (or perhaps be open to re-examining them) while still respecting the values of others? How can we change the dynamics without going either rogue or militant? How can we bridge the gap and the honor the diversity of all humans? Is there even a way? Does this mean that we must respect the bad and evil in this world as well?

For me, I think that we can all make improvements on how we communicate with our values and value systems. For instance, we can listen and be understanding, perhaps offering a little more caring to someone who doesn’t share our own values. We can try to understand why something is valuable to another and respect that viewpoint even if we don’t agree. It’s doubtful and foolish to try and change someone’s mind about their personal values. I think it is more advantageous to attempt to understand even if we are unable to be supportive.

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Take Time to Listen

What makes someone a good listener? When they sit quietly, focused on intense eye contact while someone else talks incessantly? When they nod in agreement? When they get outraged or sad in all the right places? Or do you find a good listener to be someone who gives feedback? Or do you simply want to be understood? Do you desire someone who can empathize with you? Since communication is the backbone of humanity, it makes sense to improve these communication skills; it is the “miracle grow” to our developmental evolution. Listening can tune us into our fellow humans, helping us dive below the surface of things, and enriching our communication along the way.

 

I was in my late 20’s before I realized I wasn’t a good listener. I was young and self-absorbed. I rarely paid attention to anything that was said to me (perhaps that’s why I never followed anyone’s good advice…) so when slapped in the face with this embarrassing fact, I knew I had some personal development work to do. At the time, I was taking classes at the community college, so I signed myself up for a class called “Interpersonal Communication”. It happened to also fill my speech requirement for my Associate’s degree yet it wasn’t an actual speech class, which I would have hated. So, I jumped into this class not realizing it would change my life or how.

 

I approached the class with the idea that not only would I improve my listening skills but also my communication skills which I knew were severely lacking. I walked into class confident that I would come out the other side as an active, resourceful, and skilled communicator. The class was anything but that for me. I struggled more than I expected. In fact, I don’t think I made it through a single presentation without crying. I still don’t know what about the whole experience was so heart-wrenching for me besides the sensation of overwhelming vulnerability, or beside my inability to open my mouth and finally honor the muzzled girl who lived within me for far too long.

 

I recently decided to re-read the textbook from that class. After more than a decade, it no longer gives me anxiety. Instead, it is like re-watching an old movie. I barely remember it but when I look back to the person I was then, I am surprised at how far I have come from that girl into this woman. I have to remind myself that as adults, it is up to us to fill in those blanks from childhood and give ourselves the proper tools through learning, so as to ensure our future success.

 

Becoming a better listener has improved my quality of life and enriched my relationships with others. It has helped me to see that the heart of listening is in understanding and while it is difficult to understand something that you haven’t personally experienced, it is a good thing to try. It is good for the person who wants to be listened to, and good for the person listening. So, let’s all step up to the possibilities of language and each do our part to help each other evolve and grow. Let’s strengthen the backbone of humanity and enrich what it is to be human.

 

Take time to listen.

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Happy

Growing up my immediate family raised German Shepherds. In fact, during my school years, I watched 17 litters of puppies come and go. We bred, reared, and sold them to families or we trained them and sold them to the local Sherriff’s department. I was known as and referred to as “the girl with all the dogs”, yet none of them were mine. That is until my step-dad brought home a dog that we didn’t breed.

She was the perfect dog in every way. She was a black and silver German Shepherd about 2 years old. From the moment my eyes locked with hers, I knew we were connected. She was well trained before she came to me, beyond obedient. Her name was Happy, and she always looked like she was smiling, yet I always felt she carried a heavy shattered heart, just like me.

I always loved how different each dog was. I loved them all, but I never bonded with another dog the way I bonded with her. Only now, have I realized that she probably saved my life. She slept next to my bed. She sat next to me where ever I sat (except at the kitchen table). She walked next to me but never once got underfoot.  She responded to everyone but responded to me with an urgency and loyalty that I have never experienced before.

I remember Bob saying we got a good deal on her. Shepherd’s contained the vitality of his life’s commodities. We started going with him to his weekly training class, but I knew it was to train me rather than her. He tried to get me to show her, but my heart wasn’t really in it and it showed. She would perform all the right steps, but she didn’t want to either. I felt claustrophobic the times I did show her, and it was obviously awkward for us both.

I remember her hair was short and thick with a little touch of a wave that you could only see up close. Her eyes the color of rich amber. She was a medium size dog with a good lineage and her actual purchase had been with the intent to breed her with our stud, Dago, who had been imported from Germany as a puppy. The two were a good match and I watched with growing curiosity afterward, as her belly swelled until it was round and tight.

Over the years, I had been present for only a handful of actual live births by that point, usually, I chose to watch from a non-threatening distance. Some of the mothers were very territorial during and after giving birth. I had been growled at and nipped at enough to know where my place in the process was. I had a deep respect for what these mothers had to do, and I mourned with them when they lost one of their babies.

This was Happy’s first litter and she grew wearier as the birthing day approached. She seemed confused as to what was going on and often watched her own stomach move as the puppies wormed around inside her. As it happens, I was alone with her when she went into labor, with no back up arriving for hours. I had already staged the birthing area weeks prior, just in case.

The containment was a custom wood box Bob had made to keep the puppies enclosed until they were bigger and had been used by a handful of mothers before her. My job was always to cover the floor of the box with a thick layer of newspapers. Then making a nest of old blankets for the first few days in one corner. She looked worried as I ushered her into the box. I rubbed her stomach gently and gave her a lick at the water bowl when she looked like she needed it. We were both scared.

When the first sack came out it was unbroken. Happy and I both just looked at it. A little moving sausage with puppy ears smashed against the clear encasement. I moved cautiously towards the sack, seeing her trust and bewilderment, I poked a finger through the sack at an open spot between limbs and fluid spilled out onto the blankets. The pup moved wildly now, it’s head still stuck in the deepest part of the sack. She heard the peep it made and went to work bringing her first pup into the world, fully wet and shivering. After that, each new pup came out and was cleaned up without my assistance and by the fifth one, she was a pro.

In the end, she finished with four survivors. All beautiful and strong like their mother.

She was a natural in the weeks to come. You could tell she wasn’t one of those mother’s that just want to get away from the little parasites that draw their teats down into a funnel-shaped cone. Instead, she showed her offspring the same loyalty and dedication that she showed me. She cleaned them often and kept them close, concerned about the slightest peep, circling them when they played in the yard.

1983 ended up being one of the worst years of my childhood. There’s nothing like coming home from school only to have your parents tell you that they sold your dog. They gave me no warning as if it was a band-aid being ripped off a painful wound. That was a pain that I never really recovered from. I never forgave them for it and went into a pre-teen depression that matched my gloomy devastation. I was truly lost without my best friend.

I don’t currently have any animals. I’ve had cats over the years, mostly because they are easy and so independent. I’ve thought many times about getting a dog, especially a Shepherd, but I doubt that any dog will ever compare to her. She is long gone by now, no doubt. I still think of her and her non-offensive dog breath and wonder how many puppies wander the earth with a piece of her smile or her huge heart.

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A Voice Full of Faults

 

There are moments in life that just stick with you. They plaster themselves on the big screen in your mind and replay the scene for you at random times, sometimes years or decades later, usually on the tails of some epiphany or regret. This particular epiphany hit me out of nowhere and bruised me with a harsh dose of unexpected reality. The unconnected moments stringing their stories together before my eyes.

Lately, I’ve been reading numerous books on writing to usher me along my current path. While reading through a chapter on finding your writing voice, I was hit with a memory from nearly a decade ago. It was an important crisp spring day in Vancouver, Washington, and my son had just tied the knot. After listening to several great speeches, I choked on a handful of words that I had scraped together for the occasion. I’m sure that I was expected to say something wonderful and inspiring or welcoming to my new daughter-in-law, but instead, my underdeveloped words hung in the air like an unsightly stain. I saw the disappointment and disbelief on my son’s face and I still carry that disappointment with me daily.

I had not found my voice at that time. Over the years, I kept my voice safely at the surface where nothing ever happens, only grazing the top, only skimming off what can be seen on the surface– never delving to the depths of my soul. Perhaps, I was still scared to go beneath the surface and see my faults brewing below, just out of sight. If there is one thing I have been sure of in this life, it is that I was full of faults. I never understood why I was given such an awkward starter pack. The life tools I possessed were unhelpful at best.

The voice I’ve been accustomed to using for the past 40 years or so, was biting like my mom, chomping her teeth at me as though she could eat my flesh if she chose to. All my genuine voice could manage to do was spin around in the same dirty dishwater for years while it waited for me to find it. Even when I have found parts of my voice and managed to make it work at all, it would lock up at some point, my throat choking off my very words. I never realized that finding my voice would be the missing piece to finding my true self.

I’ve always found it easier to use my voice on paper. Only there can I share my acknowledgment of these mistakes, knowing that I deserved any bite ever received from my son for all my fumbles over the years. However, I am also blessed with his forgiveness for my mistakes throughout those parenting years. His love and acceptance has lead me to become a better person as well as giving me the courage to find my voice and the freedom to use it. My quest to find my voice has helped me bring up the fresher, deeper truths, like discovering rich fertile soil in the spring. Two unconnected moments meeting together, changing the layers of my life, opening doors that I have never had a key for, releasing my voice into the world.

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