A Grocery Clerk Can Change Your Outlook

arren-mills-LnDEnE7n_Eg-unsplash

Photo by Arren Mills on Unsplash

“You have an interesting accent. Where are you from?” A conversation begins, enthusiastic exchanges, small family history tidbits, a flash of red hair and she’s gone.

Jogging up to an elderly man in a mobility cart, “Can I help you out with that, sir?” He looks at her abruptly, as if he needs the help, but softens, and smiles, “Sure, honey.” “You drive out and I’ll drive her back!” she chirps as she follows him out to the parking lot.

By the time it’s my turn at the register, she has returned. Grabbing groceries and putting them into reusable bags, she comments “Oh, I love these! So good!” I smile and laugh.

Does this woman have anything negative to say, ever? With all that energy, all those smiles, you’d think she were nineteen years old, the world before her, but she’s not. She looks to be about thirty, young but not a baby anymore, old enough to be worn down a bit like many of my neighbors. I wonder if she goes home from her shift at the grocery store happy and humming along, or does she collapse onto her couch in exhaustion. Is this her natural state, or is she putting on a show? All I know is that it is impossible to be sad or grumpy around her. I’ve seen a few people try and fail.

As she finishes up and runs to the next check stand to bag more groceries, I make a comment completely outside my own comfort zone. I feel compelled by her enthusiasm to speak up. “I just can’t help but smile and leave here in a better mood than the one I came in with when she’s here.”

The checker agrees, “Who? Joi? She’s amazing. We can’t help but be happy around her either. Feels like we’ll let her down if we do. You should tell our manager that! Oh, wait. He’s right here.” We stand and chat for a few seconds. It seems everyone that meets her, loves her. It must be nice.

As I’m heading out the door, she comes walking back in the store. I hear, “Hot out there?” It’s over 100 degrees in the desert parking lot. “It is!” she smiles, “but the wind is blowing nicely so it isn’t bad at all!”

I smile thinking about her as I start putting my groceries in the truck. And there she is again, chatting with an older woman, pushing her cart to her car.

Groceries loaded carefully in the back seat so that they don’t go sliding off the minute I turn a corner, I hope, cart returned to the corral, I climb in the front seat and start the truck. As it idles and the air-conditioning starts to cool off the interior, I take a deep breath and relax for just a moment, thinking about Joi and the joy she apparently carries.

It’s been a difficult day, not for any reason other than a bad mood, a dark cloud I just can’t seem to get out from under. It isn’t like anything is wrong, no crisis looms, it’s just…sadness. Watching her interact with the people around her, I feel chastised. Why can’t I be more like her? In a lot of ways, I am. I don’t usually tend toward the negative. I am generally good natured. But there is one thing very different, she’s not afraid to talk to people.

Several times, on this grocery trip and others, I’ve seen her notice and compliment people. She compliments the things people are wearing, shares her love of the things they buy, or asks where people are from. I notice those things, but I rarely engage people. Why? Because I’m afraid. What if I say the wrong thing? What if they don’t want to talk to me? I smile politely and nod to people, keeping even my positive comments and compliments, my joy, to myself.

Remembering the checker and the store manager’s reaction to Joi’s enthusiasm and openness, I straighten up in the front seat and resolve to be more like her from this moment on. Her honest love of people is infectious.

Shifting into gear, I remember…crud…I have a package to pick up at the post office. Should I get the groceries home before the milk spoils and then come back into town for the mail? Nah, I’m sure it will only add a minute to the drive home and I’ll save the gas of the extra drive.

I pull into the post office parking lot and run inside. Perfect. Next in line. While I wait a woman walks in behind me. The first thing I notice is the beautiful scarf over her head and around her neck. It reminds me of an Arabian princess, a flowing silk thing to keep the sun off her head. Now’s my chance to say something kind. On second glance, she is small and frail, her head is shaved close, and I hesitate. What if she doesn’t want that kind of attention? What if she thinks I’m weird for making such a comment about a stranger? I stay silent, get my package and leave.

 

Personal Narratives Can Change

liana-mikah-ziWMqRTdGXc-unsplash

Photo by Liana Mikah on Unsplash

We all have stories about how things are supposed to work out. We get them from our parents, our extended family, friends, education, entertainment, everywhere. The trouble is, they aren’t always true, or at least they aren’t true for everyone. What happens when we run into a reality that conflicts with our established narratives? Motion sickness.

I’ve always been very susceptible to motion sickness. I was the kid in the back seat of the VW bug complaining that it was too hot and turning green on the way to the grocery store. I was the one that had to sit in the front seat with the AC on in my face. I’m the one using every trick in the book, from deep breathing to focusing intently on the road ahead, to keep from having to pull over and rest on the way to anything. And not just on mountain roads! I can get sick just driving down the freeway if someone asks me to look at the map!

Motion sickness is said to be caused by a conflict between your eyes and your ears. Your eyes tell your brain that you are still, but your inner ear says that you are moving. Conflicting information causes your body to rebel and become nauseous. I’m not sure what evolutionary help this is, but it does cause someone like me to reflect on the bigger picture.

As we grow we all create these personal narratives. They make it easier and more streamlined to deal with all of life. This works like this. He acts like this. This relationship works this way. We don’t need to think about those things as much. We put them in the back of our head and work on the new things.

But what if the story we’ve built in our heads about how things are supposed to go doesn’t match the reality of the situation we are currently in? Anxiety, anger, depression, that nauseous feeling that something is horribly wrong!

Just like when I start to get motion sickness, it’s time to focus on the reality and take some deep breaths because things are about to change. It’s what I have learned to call a “growth point,” the place in my life that I learn something new, my world is about it become bigger. It can be so scary though. What if reality isn’t nearly as good as my fantasy? Then again…how can one live in a fantasy permanently? Life, no matter how complicated, is much easier to deal with when we accept the reality, or at least as close as we can come to it.

Change is unavoidable. How we deal with those changes is what makes the difference in our lives.

Do we hold on to what we believed to be true and ignore reality? Do we get angry and blame the people around us for letting us down? Do we walk away from situations, people, environments when they fail to meet our expectations? It doesn’t seem very productive. If we keep searching for the world that matches our narratives as we know them, we may never find it. We may just keep walking away from the very people and places that are offering us the opportunity to grow into something better.

What else can I do? I could stop, take a deep breath, and make some space for my feelings first. Things are changing, something is different. What is it and how can I see it more clearly? I could ask some questions. Is this person or situation failing me, deliberately hurting me, or causing me some kind of trouble? Or are they only doing what they have always done, doing what’s best for them at the moment? Will it really hurt me? Is it really wrong? Looking at the situation or person with an open heart helps. I want to understand.

What seems to help is talking to a special someone, someone that is as open to change as I am, someone that has no stake in the game. That person is hard to find and changes according to the situation. I’m not really looking for advice what I talk. I’m only looking for feedback, someone that will ask questions from a different point of view and is willing to go down some crazy rabbit holes with me. Talking to the wrong person can make my situation infinitely worse. I’ve learned to be very selective.

When I lack another human to speak with, I write. And I write a lot. I write whatever comes to mind, even the meanest and nastiest thoughts. Writing out the hurt and the angry words, the words sparked by fear and mistrust, seems to release them into the void and make space for clearer thinking. Once my narrative is out on paper alongside of the potential for change, I feel like I can think more logically. I come back to that same writing the next day and walk away feeling stronger and ready to embrace change, only to come screaming back to scrawl on the walls of my paper cave over and over again.

I talk to myself on the pages. I fight and scold and lecture, I listen and give myself feedback. Lord, I hope no one reads that stuff some day and has me committed! Some of it strongly resembles the raving of a very sick person. But maybe that’s the reality of it. At moment, I am sick. What my eyes see and what my inner ear feels doesn’t match, and my mind is reacting violently. But I know from experience, the feeling is only temporary. Focus and adjust, take a rest from the effort, and try again. It’s the only way to grow.

Putting It Out There

Creativity comes with the absence of inhibition, a strong self-confidence, a willingness to take risks.

Creativity is doing something, saying something, that everyone else around you isn’t. What if it isn’t accepted? What if it’s wrong? What if you look stupid? These internal narratives stop your creativity.

No one is born without it, but many are afraid to express “out of the box” ideas because they grew up being discouraged from expressing themselves and asking too many questions. They have learned to be safe, to be loved, they must be quiet and act like everyone else.

Being creative is not just about art. It’s about living in ways that make you happy, ways that may not be for everyone. It’s about finding and doing the things that fulfill you personally. It’s about discovering new ways to do just about anything. It’s about making life better for yourself and everyone around you.

We can’t teach creativity but we can support its development and encourage its growth by being accepting and allowing people to express themselves in any way they see fit. Teaching creativity would be like teaching personality. You just don’t. You can only allow people to be the individual that they are born to be.

How much better and more peaceful would the world be if more of us supported and encouraged others to be themselves without judgment?

Share the Love

 

20190806_091545.jpg

It’s the little things.

 

“Be brave,” says my spirit.
“Wait,” says fear.
“Have courage,” says my soul.
“Not yet,” says worry.
“Dare,” says my heart.

-Rachel Marie Martin

All of this and more, it speaks to me on so many levels. Thinking about writing, relationships, and my own self-expression, I’m sitting here on a Monday morning, trying to think of something positive to add into the world. I can think of several, but I’m afraid the negativity is sucking me down. I want to write about THAT! I want to say what’s on my heart, but at the same time I don’t want to feed the monster.

There are two big things on my heart this morning. The first of which is news media. Why do we keep watching these people, the vultures of all the ugliest parts of our world? They feed off our despair, our pain, and then feed it back to us as if they are doing some good for the world. “The people have a right to know!” and “Freedom of the press!” is what I hear, but what I see is a group of people getting in the way, clamoring for a good view, and speculating to the world about the disaster that has just happened, spreading fear and terror to the masses. Why? If something terrible is happening in another state, is there anything I can do at that moment to fix it? No. Is there something I should know to stay safe where I am at the moment, therefore needing the information? No. The only reason they are on the tv is to get me to watch, to raise their ratings, and to sell advertising time. This is not news, it’s sensationalism for ratings. It’s making money off people’s fears and insecurities. It took me less than five minutes to be reminded of why I do not watch these so-called news channels.

The second thing is this idea of “stopping hate,” as if hate is what is driving people to hurt each other these days. Newsflash: People have always hated other people. Do you know what’s worse than hate? Despair. We can hate another person and feel no need to take any action against them. But when we despair, when we feel there is no other way, that we have nothing to lose, we lash out in anger. A person in despair acts out in many ways, all of which are prevalent these days. Some medicate themselves with drugs and alcohol, some do themselves harm in other ways, physically and mentally. Some “live for the day” and throw themselves into hedonism, following every desire hoping it will bring them momentary joy. And some commit violence against others. Like a child without the means to communicate his anquish, he decides he has no other choice but to hurt others the way he is hurting, and he’ll use any tool he can find.

How can we help? I can think of a simple way. Stop sharing it on your social media. I know we think we’re helping our cause by raising awareness, but we’re not. We’re only causing people to despair. Every time we point out another hopeless cause, every time we point out the cruelty, the injustice, the hate we find in the world and then blame it on someone else, we create more despair. It’s hard not to do it. When I see how much one person is hurting another, or hear of one cause I believe if we only put our minds to we could fix, it’s hard not click “share” and show others in the hope they will join me against it. But that’s the problem. We’re all trying to get others to join us AGAINST something or someone.

What can I do to help? Spread hope. Spread joy. Share the highs. Share the love. There is so much in this world that is better than it has ever been. Why focus on what is not?

As I sat eating breakfast with my teenage son, discussing these feelings I have, the sadness I find in my social media feeds, he was baffled. His young friends and the pages he follows don’t seem to have this urge to share the negativity for the most part. It seems that’s an “old person” way to use the new technology. We have something to learn from our children.

A couple years ago, my sons taught me how to change my social media feed by unfollowing friends that only post the negative, and not liking and following news channels. I find my news in slower media forms, printed magazines and newspapers. That simple change filled my social media feeds with positivity, science, religion, relationships, and writers I love. It’s been a wonderful change. I do still have a few friends that consistently share the ugliest of things. I love them but I have to tune them out for my own sanity. And then, when something like this past weekend happens, even my most positive friends are shaken, and rightly so. That’s when I choose to put my phone down completely and let the dust settle. I don’t need to know the details as they happen. I don’t need the play by play, the body count changes, or the speculations as to why it happened. That doesn’t mean that I don’t care. It means I’ll wait until the event is over and read about it in a rational and complete way, one that doesn’t tear at my heart as if my own child is dying in my arms for days. Since I can’t control what others post, and I know it will hurt me for no useful reason, I put my phone down and I turn the tv off. I turn to my home, my family, my friends and my local community and live.

What if we all did that? The honest truth is that in this world, people are hurting each other and dying every single day, all over the world. It cannot be avoided. It cannot be worried and legislated away. The only thing that will make anything better is love. Love those around you, love them unconditionally whether they “hate” or not. Don’t push more people into despair by shutting them out. Stop giving people more reasons to feel like they have no other choice but to fight. Love people even when they make bad choices, or choices you believe are wrong. Love people when they are angry and love them when they hate you.

Start creating joy around you. Start creating love. Start sharing love, unconditionally and in as many ways with as many people as you can. And you can start with your own social media feed!

Honestly Offended by Your Honesty

I didn’t start to write anything on Friday, so now I’m behind for my Monday post.

Note to self: Write five days, not four, and then take Saturday and Sunday off.

I did start to write this morning though and you’ll get to read it tomorrow when I finish it. Right now, I need a break from that post. But I’m still left with nothing to post for you today, so I scrounged through some old drafts and found this to add on to. Strange thing is that it comes up today, after I received a text from a friend with different views that I was immediately offended by. I’ve been sitting here thinking about how to respond in a way that won’t escalate an argument, but open a dialog. Why does every exchange have to be so complicated? Probably because I want it to be.

I wrote this short outburst after an intense exchange with another friend, accused of “playing games” and “being judgmental” when I felt I was only asking questions and being honest about my feelings that change often.


How come we all can’t be more honest and open about our feelings, our thoughts, ourselves? Why can’t we ask more questions of each other and answer honestly? Why can’t we all assume positive intent when we’re dealing with each other? I think we’d get a hell of a lot farther in relationships with other humans if we stopped taking everything everyone else says, does, or feels as a personal attack. What if we all just didn’t assume anything about others? If you want to know, ask. And when you get the answer don’t get all butthurt about the answer!

We’re all feeding off each other. I don’t tell people what I really want to say for fear they will be angry or sad about it. So they assume my silence is something other than it is. Misunderstanding breeds a deeper pain. Once it comes out, they assume I was being cruel, playing games, etc. When really I am just a human that hates to wound another. Fear. It’s a circle of shit.
What do you think? Why are we so distrustful of each other?

You Can’t Make Me WANT Your Social Gathering!

I had the book “Bowling Alone: The Collapse and Revival of American Community” by Robert D. Putnam on my reading list because it was on Mark Manson’s list of “5 Books That Explain Why it Seems the World is so Fucked.” SEEMS is the operative word here, by the way. It really isn’t and he was right about this book! It’s a great read for those that think that social media is what is killing our desire for community. The book was written in 2000, before the advent and spread of Facebook. And he writes about things that have been in decline for the previous 30 years or so. He writes about my generation, the one that seems to have picked up the anti-community ball and ran with it.

The first thing that I found so intriguing about this book is that I have always believed I was in the minority when it came to my feelings about social gatherings of all types. I have never been a “joiner.” I have never wanted to be part of a club of any kind that wants to meet on a regular basis, other that maybe a book club or writer’s club…which also doesn’t seem to exist anymore. And even if it did, I’d be too scared to attend without a wingman. When I have been coerced into joining something, I find the group so desperate for leadership and volunteers, that I feel like I’m on a sinking ship trying to escape with my life. It turns out I am not in the minority at all. It’s more of a generational thing.

It also turns out that a lack of community isn’t a new thing. It looks to be cyclical. It isn’t that the world has always been a wonderful hodgepodge of community involvement and now because of social media addiction, everyone stays home. It rises and falls in popularity, mostly during times of crisis or scarcity. When there is a big war or famine, people tend to group together tightly for a generation or two, then the feeling wanes and we go back to our independent loner natures for the most part.

Weird to find, once again, that we aren’t in the throws of end times, but merely experiencing a low in the natural cycle of humanity.

There is one problem that I see becoming prevalent. Humans have a natural hormone response to being near each other, it doesn’t work through the computer. Bonding with and caring for others doesn’t happen through pictures and written words the same way it does through interpersonal contact. Is social media bringing us closer? In some ways yes, but not if we limit our interaction to online.

We should be spending some time together in a physical way: dinner parties, bar-b-ques, and community projects, are all ways we can build social capital that allows us to trust each other. It makes us happier people. In the past, we (most of us anyway) felt compelled to put in the effort of going to see each other. How else are you going to know what kind of a monster your cousin married? How would you get to know your nieces and nephews? And how would your Mom know you were happy and healthy? But now we have social media. We can see what everyone is doing without actually going. But it shouldn’t replace actual, in person contact. It should be enhancing it.

We can’t blame social media for what’s happening. It’s only building on how our generation has been feeling. It’s escalating our isolation from each other, but it didn’t create our need to isolate ourselves. That is a whole other ball of wax and this book gets into the patterns that have been manifesting themselves for several generations. And it does so without making us feel negative and hopeless at the end!

The answer isn’t more or different government, more voting, social media/internet bans or regulation. The answer is more socializing. And we have to want that ourselves. We cannot be coerced into it or made to enjoy it. We have to become aware that we need it and then seek it out. Personally, I think it’s a cycle we will work our way through all by ourselves sooner or later. Eventually, a few of us will get lonely enough, unhappy enough to want to change things. We’ll start seeing people more often, doing things together in small groups that build up into larger groups again. These things will build trust between us and will open us up to relationships and happiness we can’t get alone. We’re social animals after all and, contrary to popular belief, I think we’re smart enough as a species to know when we need to do something for our own immediate good. Those that aren’t and don’t have friends and family to pull them along, won’t make it. Evolution is alive and well.

The whole time I was reading this book, I kept thinking about when it was written, 2000. What would the author think about the state of community today? Has it gone the way he imagined it would? Does our current situation surprise him at all?

One really funny thing before I end this! I keep notes about the books I’m reading in a paper journal. I keep the journal and my favorite mechanical pencil with the book, underlining passages and making stars where I have a note in my paper journal as I go. While reading through my notes to refresh my memory about this book, I found myself trying to use my finger to scroll up on the paper page! I think I’ve been spending a lot of time reading articles on my phone lately.

Eyesight

20190629_200432.jpg

I didn’t know I was having vision problems until the DMV pointed it out to me. A pair of glasses fixed it.

Driving at night was becoming a problem for me. I wasn’t sure if it was the desert darkness on the highway late at night, worn out from long rehearsals, or just the fact that I was getting older, but it was becoming increasingly difficult for me to see at night. The glare of the headlights coming in my direction made it impossible for me to focus. My sons would keep an eye out on the road for people walking along the highway at night. Why people would choose to do that, I will never understand. For self-preservation alone, why do they not carry a flashlight or have something reflective on?

I continued to make the drive, carefully, only because I didn’t need to read the signs to know where to go between the theater and home, but I was starting to limit my excursions to daytime activities. Driving in unfamiliar places in the dark was becoming impossible. This must be part of getting older, I thought, although I would never have admitted it out loud.

As my 40th birthday approached, I found a driver’s license renewal from the DMV in my mailbox. Opening it, I figured I was going to have to pay the fee and be done with it. I’ve never gotten a ticket or been in an accident. To my dismay, I found I’d have to go in for a vision test. No problem, I thought, at least I don’t have to take the test again. Don’t make fun of me, but I barely passed the written and behind-the-wheel test when I was 16! I live in mortal fear of the day I have to study and take it again.

I made an appointment at the DMV and headed into the city the following month. I covered one eye and read the letters on the board ahead of me, as instructed. No problem. When I covered the other eye, the world went blurry. I could only read the first and second line! The DMV employee had me read it off the computer. “Sometimes the computer screen is easier.” She told me. I still couldn’t read it.

It was the strangest feeling. I’ve never had vision problems. My mother always wore glasses and I used to tease her when I was a teenager. Coming home in the middle of the night, knowing she couldn’t see the clock without her glasses, I’d tell her it was only 10:30 when she would groggily ask from her bed when we had woken her. My brother and I thought we were so clever.

I stood there at the DMV trying to focus on the letters to no avail. The DMV worker was so nice about it. She passed me but suggested that I get glasses right away. I made an appointment the next day. My vision was that bad. When I got my new glasses a few weeks later, I was absolutely amazed at how much better I could see. At night, the lights no longer fuzzed out and blinded me and during the day, I could see read the signs so much sooner.

Strange to think I hadn’t noticed my vision getting worse, that I believed I was seeing the world as I had always seen it. How could I have not noticed such a dramatic change?

That’s how we see life. The world around us is only our personal reality, shaped by time and experience that only we can have. No one else sees it just the way you do. It builds up slowly, day after day, experience after experience. And at any moment, something can come along to change that perception, someone can alter your perspective with a word. One experience can show you that you are missing something, and another can offer you new insight. Your whole world changes.

I could have stood there and argued with the DMV worker. There must be something wrong with your machine! Maybe there was something in my eye, I was tired, or it was allergies. I could have stood there holding tightly to my own perception of reality and never gotten any help. I could have continued to squint into the night and cause an accident or gone through life not knowing that there were trees on the top of that hill.

Hold lightly to your perceived reality, it makes it so much easier to change. There is so much we miss by holding on to the past and what we believe to be true, never changing.

On The Road

Campgrounds and RV parks remind me vaguely of a gypsy camp. People come in from the road throughout the afternoon. They’ve been driving from who knows where, from every direction, but they all know to come here, hook up to power and water, do laundry, go grocery shopping, visit with new people, and share stories. It’s interesting to see people doing the same basic things in so many different ways.

After we get settled, we usually take a walk around the park to look at other people’s set ups. What kind of truck do they have? RV, tent trailers, tow vehicles, etc., it’s all very interesting and each has its positives and negatives. People’s rigs reflect the kind of people they are, the kind of traveling they do, but the common denominator is that it’s all mobile, we can all be back on the road in a few minutes.

We talk with people, compliment their pets, ask where they are from and where they are headed. It’s short term community. A friend of mine once told me that camping was just pretending you were homeless for a few days. I thought it was a funny way to think of it, but it’s kind of true in a way. The reality is that it’s so much more. To me, it’s remembering our ancient nomadic past, an echo of our pre-agricultural eras.

Humans weren’t always so sedentary. Before we invented farming, humans used to travel constantly to head to a better climate or a better food source. We owned nothing, we stayed nowhere. I’m not feeling nostalgic for those days, by any means. The invention of farming allowed humans to stay in one place, build communities, and eventually invent the smart phone with unlimited data and excellent coverage, so that we could leave all our stuff behind and hit the road for fun! I wouldn’t change that for the world.

Camping in all its forms, from tents and gear packed in the back of a Subaru to a full-size house bus with a tow vehicle, reminds us that we can live with less than we have at home, that we can pack up some of our stuff and leave. The longer we live in our smaller, mobile space, the more we learn what is really important and/or actually needed.

Staying in the same place, with the same people, while beneficial in many ways, weighs us down. We become accustomed to it, even like it, but we start to think it’s the only way and should always stay the same. But life can’t always be the same. We’re forcing ourselves into a mold we can’t even see. We become bored and weighed down a little at a time and don’t even know it, until something shakes us and then we have to adjust, sometimes painfully.

To keep our bodies reasonably fit and ready for action, most people would say consistent, daily exercise is far better than suddenly having to run for your life. The same goes for our mental health and growth. When we deliberately choose to move out of the familiar space to see new things and meet new people, we waken something in us that we bring back home. It renews our thinking, planning, expanding brain, and makes life better back at home.

Traveling is one thing, but camping and rv-ing are different. Something about being on the road at a slow pace, coming to a common resting area, and gathering for a short time only to move on again in the morning, just does something for me. It feeds a spot in my soul that I didn’t know needed to be filled. I gain so much every time I go out.

We all know humans started as hunter/gathers, but agriculture helped us to stay in one place and thrive like never before. We are more than we once were. We do more. We create more. Camping, maybe, allows us to go back in time and relive the old ways in new ways to remind us what we have. We go out heavy and return light, back to a our home base where we continue to grow long after our return.

Bad Art

20190603_144435.jpg

Is there such a thing? Really?

I just read a headline on Facebook. I’m supposed to be writing…anything…but I can’t seem to focus. I only clicked over to read a message and, of course, stopped to look at the feed as well…distractions…or fuel?

“Study says art makes you mentally healthier, even if you’re not good at it.”

A study! Someone decided to do a study to see if doing something you like doing, whether or not you are good at it, makes you mentally healthier? Paint nights, karaoke clubs, blogs, and YouTube could have told you that. We all love our art, no matter what it is. Why? Because it makes us happy! And happier people are mentally healthier!

What is art anyway? It is an outpouring of an individual’s (or group’s) soul, a different kind of communication with the world around us. A baby’s cry isn’t good communication, but it works. We don’t need to be a good at speaking to communicate a need.

Art, in all its forms, is only communication after all. We tell something about ourselves through our chosen medium. We don’t need to be good at it to do it. We only need to try.

20190603_145256.jpg

Just about anything can be seen as an art, right? I stack rocks in the desert and call it art all the time. And some people have said my use of profanity is also an art form. But this, what you’re reading right now, is my real art, my words jumbled together and spun out in lines, my heart in the form of letters. I’m trying to communicate something to you. I may not be very good at it, but I try, and it does make me happier and healthier to try…most of the time, when I have my head in the right place.

We don’t need to be “good” at breathing to breathe. And we don’t need to be “good” at talking to talk. No one expects you to be “good” at anything to do it, other than art. We just go about doing the things we need to do, even if we aren’t good at them. Personally, I suck at meal planning and grocery shopping, but I still do it, and no one tells me, “You have no talent for this! Why do you even try?”

Seems strange to me.

Surprise! Communicating makes us mentally healthier! Every time we attempt to communicate in some fashion, we learn something and can communicate in better ways the next time. It’s the same with art.

You may not be able to make a living at it. Maybe your art isn’t something anyone else wants, but that doesn’t mean it’s not doing something amazing for you.

I think I have finally come to understand what “Art For Art’s Sake” means!

Pointless Fiction

You know when you learn something about someone that makes you feel less about them? Like you learn something about their past, their feelings about something important to you, the things they did growing up, or the things they do now and you’re like, “Ew. I do not want to get involved with that person!” But maybe if you did, you’d learn something about the world and about yourself; if you could separate the learning from the painful experience of dealing with someone else’s growing pains.

We all experience this with the people we meet, whether we want to or not, but we wouldn’t go looking for it and if we did, we’d be a mess. No one goes looking for pain…but many times painful experiences teach us the most about ourselves.

Reading fiction, novels, lets us do that without so much emotional personal pain. We experience other people’s lives and learn from them, but we don’t hurt from it as much because it’s not real, or if it is kind of real, at least it didn’t happen to us. It’s like looking at Medusa through a mirror. She won’t turn you to stone but she’s still hideous to see.

I’m reading a novel right now that makes me look at my life, my behavior and wonder if I have grown up at all the last 20 years. The characters in it closely resemble characters from my own life in my early twenties. I can identify with many of them and some of them I don’t understand at all, much like some of the people I worked with back then.

It’s fascinating learning from other people’s choices and points of view. Back then, when I was in college, would I have made similar choices if I were in that situation? Would I make different choices now? I believe I would but, to be honest, I’m not so sure. Sometimes I think I’m more mature, more open, more thoughtful, and then sometimes I catch myself falling into a tantrum fit over something instead of having a reasonable conversation. Some things about myself I want to change so badly and I realize there are some things I just need to accept.

But this isn’t about my behavior! It’s about novels and why we read them. Sure, they can be great entertainment, but they can be so much more if you let them, if you read them the right way, with your mind opened to learning from other people’s lives, fictional or not.

The best part about the character in a novel is that you get to hear their thought process, the reasons behind what they are doing. We rarely get that in real life. We only see our side of an argument, of a relationship, or an altercation in the workplace, on the road, etc. We only see our point of view. In a novel, we get to see all of it.

For me, reading novels reminds me that other people in this world are actually people with their own lives and agendas, their own traumatic childhood or disastrous family. The person at the stop sign next to me is not an NPC (non-player character) in my game of life. I had to go ask my son what that’s called, by the way. Do you know what I’m talking about? Those characters in the game that just fill space or give some background to the scene? They don’t really do anything. You can’t interact with them other than push them out of the way or run around them to kill time. The people in the grocery store aren’t like that. If you talk to them, they’ll remember it and go home thinking, “Wow. That person was so nice.” Or “What an ass!” They aren’t always there standing in line behind you or wandering the aisles looking for soup.

We get so wrapped up in our own lives that we start to think of the people around us as NPC’s. But I digress yet again.

Go read a book. Fiction is just as important as non-fiction! We can’t let ourselves get too wrapped up in it though, just like we can’t get too wrapped up in other people’s drama in real life. We learn what we can from story characters. Real people do need a bit more of our attention and love, but the bottom line is that their life is theirs, not ours. Besides, I have too much to read to take on your crazy life as well as my own!