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As I’ve put some years in my pocket, what I define as “big life moments” has changed significantly. When I was in high school, I had a very cookie cutter idea of what life happiness was supposed to mean and be. It wasn’t until I spent the summer at The School of the Art Institute of Chicago before college that I learned that the world was a much, much bigger place than I could have ever dreamed. I think I’ve written about that experience before…as the plane ride up is a life landmark that I will always remember. I just knew that my life was going to change forever. Being the oldest child of four, and being the first to leave home, was a big adjustment for my whole family. It represented the point in time that our family was no longer the same. I remember being tremendously homesick, especially when I started college at Jacksonville State University about two hours away from where I grew up. I was torn between this new life of freedom and missing out on the important things in my siblings lives. All and all, I think moving away for school really helped me to become more independent and develop into my own identity.
But back to the idea of life moments… when I was younger, I thought everyone’s path was similar: you graduated from college, you got married, you bought a house, then you had some babies. Those were the big things to look forward to. Now that I’m 33, and while some of these things are still important, they are not the only things to look forward to. The excitement of enjoying shorter experiences has become a priority – like Bonnaroo, eating good meals, participating in races, laughing with friends, birthdays, time spent with people you love…. those things seem to matter a little more. Because I think if you do these things, they can lead to the bigger concepts and ideas that we had when we were young. Or at least they can make it more rewarding when they do happen. And if they don’t, well, there is no rulebook to life. If you truly live, then your life will be a happy one no matter what your milestones are.
I saw this quote yesterday on a friend of mine’s Facebook page (thanks Meg!), which I think is relevant to this thought:
“What if a demon were to creep after you one night, in your loneliest loneliness, and say, ‘This life which you live must be lived by you once again and innumerable times more; and every pain and joy and thought and sigh must come again to you, all in the same sequence. The eternal hourglass will again and again be turned and you with it, dust of the dust!’ Would you throw yourself down and gnash your teeth and curse that demon? Or would you answer, ‘Never have I heard anything more divine’?”
- Friedrich Nietzsche
Yesterday I had a minor procedure done which I was scared out of my pants to do. Of course I over researched what was going to happen and knew way too many details of what was to come. While I was waiting in my little room, I was literally shaking in my gown. When the doctor walked in he immediately saw that I was nervous and started asking me funny questions. I laid it out there for him and said that I was afraid I was going to die….kidding of course (maybe), and he proceeded to tell me that I was going to be just fine. The whole thing took 10 minutes tops, and we all laughed at silly things while it was being done. As he was leaving with the nurse at the end, he said that I was one of the most fun patients that he’d had in a long time. That made me feel good, and I was super glad that the procedure was over with. Done & done!! And just FYI, this was an elective thing…nothing to do with my health or safety.
Letting go is a powerful release. It is the ultimate form of trust. We never really own anything… especially people. The only thing that is really ours, is ourselves. I can embrace certain ideas and hopes, and express desires of keeping the things that make me the happiest. I can also love, and hope that love is returned to me. Loving something or someone isn’t owning it, it is giving yourself fully to it. It is the highest expression of happiness, acceptance, fulfillment and future expectations. There are many kinds of souls to love – family, friends, partners, even pets….at varying degrees of depth. If you have nothing or no one to love, then I suggest you go out and find those special people or passions. To love is to live.
Oh lordy… I woke up this morning feeling like the sinus bus ran over me during my sleep. I don’t feel terrible, but my glands are swollen and I am definitely not 100%. I still feel OK enough to work and exercise, so hopefully it won’t get any worse than it already is. I always seem to have a delayed reaction to the pollen, so I guess the timing is about right since my car has been yellow for a little over a week now.
This morning I woke up thinking about the things that I want to make happen in my life. For those of you who read my blog on the regular, you know that I battle with living in the here and now sometimes. What’s different now though, as compared to times in the past, is that I consciously pause and try to be aware of the good things that are already present. I literally stopped myself in my tracks this morning to watch the sun rise, play with my cat for a few minutes and dance to some tunes in my bedroom. It made me feel good to appreciate another morning in the life of Jen West. We all have our own stories with peaks and valleys, each story just as beautiful and interesting as the next. I was talking to someone the other day about the “purpose” of our being here on this planet. I think most of us can agree that we are here to learn something (while loving each other) – and each person’s mission is unique. If I were to guess what my “lesson” is at this point in time, it would be acceptance. Acceptance of myself, my environment, my situation, my own journey. I have no problem accepting others… in fact, I probably do so more than I should sometimes. It’s finding that for myself that’s been the hard thing to do. The older I get the more significance I find in relaxation, adventure, and personal experience. And you can find them in almost any ordinary activity, on the most average of days. It doesn’t matter if I haven’t reached a specific goal or look a certain way, I can still enjoy what life has to offer at every waking moment…just by being present. I love that I’m beginning to understand this enough to see how rewarding it can truly be. My life is a story, and I’m an active participant.
I find myself in a very interesting life transition right now. I feel unsettled and a little unhappy at times. That may have already been apparent from some of my blog posts of late, or maybe not. While I absolutely hate to write anything that I feel is negative, ultimately the purpose of this blog is to be truthful through and through. I think most of you who’ve been with me from the beginning or who know me in real life are aware that I’m a fairly happy and optimistic person 95% of the time. But for the past few days I just feel like I can’t rise above this funk. Maybe it’s because my 33rd birthday is coming up next week, or maybe it’s the delayed January blues. Last night I seemed to reach a low point of hopelessness…but then something happened. I picked myself up. I turned on some music, cleaned my whole mini house and wrote out my feelings in a journal. When I feel like I am alone, that’s when I realize that I have the best person in the whole entire world on my side – me. It’s true, from time to time I am going to let myself indulge in a “it’s not fair” attitude, but it will always be short-lived. Life isn’t very fair for anyone on this planet most of the time. It’s what we do with what we’ve got in the time we are allowed. I may never realize some of my bigger dreams, but at least I try…every single day. And honestly I think that’s what brings the funk around every now and then, because I aim so high. My expectations are high. It would be unrealistic for me to not apply some sort of timetable shell on what I would like to happen in my life, but things have a way of unfolding all on their own despite our best plans.
Here are some of the words that I wrote last night in my journal, which honestly surprised me:
I also left some advice for myself in the short-term: Focus on my book, save money, keeping searching for opportunities, but always be present. While I don’t expect to make money on my book, I do hope that people will read it. I hope it is meaningful. Saving money will give me the freedom to act on life changing experiences like travel or eventually a move to another city. Always being open to opportunity keeps me alive, while being present in the moment makes me appreciate what I already have…no matter what happens in the future.
Last night I had my monthly date with my dear friend Debbie at the J Clyde. If possible, we always try to get the table in the bay window overlooking Cobb Lane. Since we usually meet at 5:15 on the dot, the last of the evening light streams through and lights up our happy hour conversations. They always have great music playing in the background too. My Morning Jacket seemed to be the band of choice for last night’s playlist. I’m never going to complain about that.
Since Debbie and I meet once a month, never more or less, we seem to have the exact right amount of information to catch each other up on over the last 30 days or so. We talk about our personal lives, our professional lives and our passions. Future game is also always included. :D I brought up the topic of contentment last night as it has been on my mind for the last few weeks. I asked Debbie how important it was to her, and if she’s ever had it. Her answer was very enlightening. She said that she felt like most creative people are never content, that it’s in fact that state of mind that drives creativity. Debbie said that she was about to turn 60 in 3 weeks, and there are still so many things that she wants to do. Then she said this – “Content doesn’t sound good to me, but I am tired of feeling anxious. I just want to feel like I am on the right path.” That was so validating for me to hear, as I relate 100%. I think we all need the piece of mind that we are going the right direction…but the hunger of wanting more is what gets us places in life. There is nothing fun about feeling anxious, which unfortunately is a common ground for a lot of ambitious people. So, I wonder if there is a way to turn that negative feeling into something positive? I guess you can find peace in knowing that you are always moving forward, and while you can try to pick the path, you never really know where it’s going to take you. We are all blindly navigating for the most part, but our internal compass is always better than we think it is.
I had such a good weekend full of friends, fun, and rest. The highlight, of course, was the Apollo Ball on Saturday night that I attended with my friends Vero, Ricardo, David, and Sarah. My dear friend Shelby McDonald styled the whole look for my Cinderella debut. Earlier in the week during our work photo shoot he pulled a dress from the wardrobe rack along with a faux fur wrap and said – you are wearing this. It fit perfectly. A few hours before the ball on Saturday I went over to his & Jonathan’s place to get my hair & accessories done. I had requested a fauxhawk, but Shelby said that I should just trust him as he had a different look in mind for me. I ended up with a gorgeous retro hairstyle with a custom-made (by Shelby) crystal hairpiece on the back. I called it my chandelier all night. Every gay man in the place went nuts over it.
So instead of losing my glass shoe like the traditional Cinderella story goes… I tripped and fell down the stairs when we first got there. I am not used to wearing high heels and a floor length gown, hence nearly falling on my face. I am sporting three colorful bruises on my legs to show for it. I laughed it off, patched up my ego and moved on with the evening. Just a small glitch on the radar of a very fun night!
On Sunday I spent the better part of the day with my friends Deke & Misty shooting their engagement photos around town. I do not claim to be a photographer by any means, but I can pull off a good shot or two outdoors if the weather is cooperating. I am also a Photoshop wizard, quite literally. So whatever I lack in photography skills, I can usually make up for it in post. They are two of my favorite people on the whole planet so it was great fun to share the afternoon with them.
There is a word that comes to mind often these days…and it is adventure. I want an adventure. Things don’t always happen quickly in life, but I am trying my best to create some exciting opportunities. Misty told me yesterday that ever since she’s known me I’ve been looking for something. I think that is a fair statement. What that is though, I have no idea. However, I do have specific ideas on some possibilities. Here is the trap I need to always watch out for – being able to be content in the here & now. I am so future oriented, always focusing on the “what’s next.” What about right now? I am well aware that right now is all we ever have. It’s just that sometimes I’m not where I’d like to be at that very second. Or feeling what I’d like to feel. Then I question, am I just spoiled?…or do I expect too much? Hmmmmm, I go back and forth on it. So far I’ve lived my life the best that I could, and I have zero regrets. I’m happy with that I’ve done & experienced so far. I am proud of the person that I’ve become. So maybe I’m doing something right after all…
Some days come and go, while others leave you significantly moved and inspired. This happened to me unexpectedly yesterday when I met the Edgar family. We do a lot of charitable giving at the place where I work, and I am the one responsible for managing who gets what. There are so many deserving nonprofits & fundraisers out there (and don’t forget, Thursday is Alabama Gives Day!!), but sometimes you are moved on a deeper level of urgency for some causes.
I got an email over the weekend from Carol Edgar writing on behalf of her brother, Wes Edgar (age 31), who is now on the Kidney Transplant List at both Piedmont in Atlanta and Vanderbilt in Nashville. Wes was diagnosed in July, 2011 with End Stage Kidney Disease. In mid-August, he had surgery to prepare for peritoneal dialysis at home and hemodialysis, if it becomes necessary. He has now started peritoneal dialysis on the cycler machine, which allows him to sleep while his dialysis is being done. Wes is doing fairly well on this treatment at this time, but he needs to have a kidney transplant as soon as a donor is found (living or non-living). In late December, Wes developed an inguinal hernia and had surgery for repair. Then in early January, his dialysis catheter clogged and another surgical procedure was necessary. His hemoglobin level is extremely low and results in fatigue. He is taking injections periodically to try to elevate this level.
I was moved by his story, and promptly signed us up for their silent auction and left an envelope for them downstairs. As I was leaving later that day to meet with a coworker, they both just so happened to be standing in the lobby. I got to meet Carol and Wes face-to-face. It took my breath away, literally, to see someone standing before me who could possibly die if action isn’t taken. He had a light in his eyes, and a smile on his face. We talked for a while and I got to hear more about his story. I was reminded about how fragile our bodies are…it made me feel vulnerable, yet lucky. He told me that he was a singer, and that he would be performing at the event that would hopefully save his life. When we parted, I knew that I wanted to help them in any way that I could to raise awareness about “When Words Aren’t Enough” on March 4th (flyer below). Please take a look and consider how you might be able to help.
If you have any questions or would like any more information, feel free to call Carol Edgar at 205-520-6789 or email her at firstname.lastname@example.org. You can also visit http://www.helphopelive.org to make a financial donation, just type Allen Edgar in the patient finder and you will be routed to his page.
Soooooo, this weekend I go to NOLA for 4 days… wooooo!! It’s for a work conference and a handful of my coworkers will be attending as well. Any reason to go to New Orleans is a good one, and I’m especially happy to be going with the crew that I am. In preparation, Shelby is going to do my hair the deep natural purple again with a few surprise lighter sections around my face. He always does such a good job. As always, I will post photos once it is finished!
With every passing day my heart heals a little more. I spent some alone time last night just to help with the process. The last thing anyone should do is ignore feelings of pain or push them to the side. They are there for a reason – because you lost something valuable and significant in your life. Letting the sadness go its own course also brings more clarity. While I’ll never understand why that had to happen, it did nonetheless and I have to move on. Plus, I want to remember her as often as I can.
Do you ever wonder why things that are made by other people mean so much more? For example, I could never recreate the magic that is my dad’s scrambled eggs (aggs) or sheep herder spuds. Well, I often try, but it just isn’t the same. Maybe it’s just the idea that someone else is taking care of you, which then makes what would be an ordinary event more meaningful. Or maybe a little piece of them is given to you each time they share something that they’ve had their hands on. There is nothing I love more than food prepared by someone else, or a piece of art that was made by somebody that I know. It adds so much value to life to know that beautiful experiences often come as gifts from other human beings. A continuation of positive energy being passed back and forth. So what do people do who live in solitude for so long? I think you can also get that same kind of energy from nature. It’s all about a connection with the things you interact with the most. If we take care of our house, it will take care of us. If we love our pets, they will love us. If we give, we receive. Just another form of what we’d call karma.
Thanks so much to everyone who reached out in the last day or so about the passing of sweet Kitten. It’s hard to realize that it actually happened, and that it wasn’t all just a bad dream. I keep thinking that she is still around… then I have to remind myself that she is in fact gone. So strange how quickly things can change. Sometimes I feel silly for thinking and feeling this way about a cat, but she really was a special little creature that meant a great deal to me. As hard as it was to see, I am glad I was there to be with her when she went away. Mike wrote a really great blog post last night about his own memories of Kitten. You can read it here. Warning though, you will need tissue.
This was my first death to ever witness in person. I can’t imagine what it must be like to see a person you love leave forever right before your eyes. I wish I could say that there was a magical moment afterwards, that I knew it was for the best, but all I could feel was confusion and sadness for a life cut too short. My other cat, Baby Kitty, has been lost without her friend for the last few days and extra clingy to me. At some point I would like to get her another friend, but I also wonder if I could take another beloved pet dying so unexpectedly. I am sure I will suck it up and do it though, as there are so many homeless kitties out there that deserve a life like Kitten had.
In the last 24 hours I’ve thought a lot about how fragile we are. It’s amazing that our bodies function so reliably day in and day out, for such long periods of time. It’s hard to know how lucky you are until you lose something important – whether it be a furry friend, another person, or an essential part of your own being. Death is too easy. Choosing to really live is the hard part.
Yesterday while cleaning my mini house, I saw a bug flying around in the corner of my eye at the top of the staircase in the sunlight. And it wasn’t just any bug, it was a lady bug. Kitten loved a flying bug, and it made me think of her. Maybe she sent it to let me know that she is OK.
Since I’m not writing everyday anymore, I find that it’s much harder to prioritize and sort through what I would like to write when I do sit down to do it. If I had a bad day before, I didn’t really worry too much about expressing why or why not, as I always knew that I would feel better the next day and rebound with something positive. Now I fear that if I put something out there that isn’t what I feel is a true “average” reflection of me, there will be this lingering negative energy until I go back and set it straight. That may be the superstitious part of my brain working, but it’s something I think about nonetheless. I believe that your outlook determines a great deal of what actually happens for and to you, so while it’s OK to feel down and bad sometimes… it shouldn’t be your permanent state of mind. All that to say – I’m lacking some super positive things to say today.
It’s not that anything bad is going on, it’s more an indifference. And I don’t like indifference. I like to be excited about things, I like to feel that things are moving forward. And while I know that I’m constantly moving forward, whether I want to or not, sometimes it feels like a snail’s pace. It’s kind of like that quote from When Harry Met Sally – “…when you realize you want to spend the rest of your life with somebody, you want the rest of your life to start as soon as possible.” And in my situation it’s not a specific “somebody,” but more of an idea or a concept of what I want my life to be. But maybe what we think should happen to us and what actually happens to us are very different things… and sometimes better than what we could have ever imagined for ourselves. I’m sure when I’m 80 that I could have never anticipated some of the paths that life ended up taking me on, and I’m also fairly certain that I wouldn’t want to change what was “my life.” I think wants and desires are more of a compass to lead us in the right direction, but the destination isn’t always clear. I also feel like the bad days are what make the good days so wonderful. Otherwise, how would we know the difference? Learning what you like and don’t like, want and don’t want through trial and error leads to better decisions, higher living and greater experiences. Life is one giant, complicated and fascinating experience… if nothing else.