Sunday, August 28, 2011

The Head and the Heart

I have a hard time making decisions. I don't know why I struggle with it so. I think I just don't want to make a mistake -- do the wrong thing then regret it. It has always been important to me to do the right thing. But how do you know what the right thing IS?

When I was younger, I remember my mother sitting down with me and teaching me a popular method for making decisions. She took out a piece of notebook paper and drew a line down the middle. On one side she wrote "pros" and on the other she wrote "cons." She explained to me what this meant. Then we started writing things down in the columns. I don't remember what dilemma was troubling me, but I remember this exercise.

And I remember it left me feeling a bit empty. I had a lot written on one side, and not a lot written on the other, and yet something in my heart was telling me to go with the side that had the least things written, which was exactly the opposite of what the exercise was supposed to accomplish. This, of course, confused me even more. I didn't understand at the time what this meant.

That exercise was all about logic. What looked "right" on paper. This became my standard for decison making and I think this might be where I lost the ability to listen to my gut and follow my heart. And that is funny because when it comes to anything else, I live mostly by my heart. I try to be logical, but in the end my heart usually wins out. In making big decisions though, I still struggle.

I have an important decision to make in my life right now.  The pros and cons are weighing heavily upon me. I think I feel my heart steering me in the direction I need to take, but I'm still uncertain. It's not logical, what my heart says.  It goes against my sensibilities.  One day I wake up and think, "Okay, I know the answer. This is what I'm going to do." Then the next day, I wake up feeling just the opposite. It's driving me crazy! And this is my typical pattern.

So I'm doing what I always do. I talk to people. I ask their opinion.  I ruminate on what they have to say.  And, as always, the opinions vary and they ALL make sense! Everyone has a good point. And I suppose, in the end, all this talking only buries my heart's voice even deeper

I also pray. I ask God to steer me in the right direction. "Tell my heart what to do. SHOW ME PLEASE!" Why can't God just yell in my ear, "Do this dummy!" Why does He have to be so secretive?

I often wish life was like that insurance commercial. The one where the green line shows up and all you have to do is follow it to go in the right direction.

Fear. Change. Consequences. The unknown. All factors in making important decisions. I guess in the end it's about listening to your gut and then taking that leap of faith. Not always playing it safe. The right thing for you might not be the right thing for someone else.  Maybe the choice won't seem practical or responsible. I suppose that isn't what is important in the end. It's about opening up a space in your life for good things to come in. Letting go of what isn't working for you. Life doesn't come with a blueprint. I wish it did!

What guides you in your decision making?

Thursday, August 25, 2011

The Sound of Music

Music is the answer to the mystery of life. The most profound of all the arts, it expresses the deepest thoughts of life. –Arthur Schopenhauer
Anyone who knows me well knows that music is a HUGE part of my life. In all ways. I am a singer and musician (I play guitar and piano). I have sung in my church choir for years and am currently part of a little band/group. I LOVE to play music with others. It feels wonderful to create something beautiful and meaningful with people of like mind and talent, and share it with others.  It's a high I can't even explain or describe. When I'm singing and playing, time and space do not exist. Only the music.
Sometimes when I sing, I close my eyes. There’s harmony in every breath I take; the drums become my pulse, the melody is the flow of my blood. This is what it means to lose yourself in music, to become a symphony of notes and rests and measures.  -- Jodi Picoult, Sing you Home
I've been singing my whole life. When I was a little girl, I would sing along to the music my parents played on their reel-to-reel tapes and record albums. The Beatles, The Mamas and the Papas, Blood Sweat and Tears, Gladys Knight and the Pips....these were just some of the groups my parents loved.  I can still see my dad putting an album on the turntable and getting this look of bliss on his face when the music started. We'd sing the songs together and dance around the living room.

I  sang in school choirs, acted, sang and danced in musicals, and participated in school talent shows.  I took piano lessons and voice lessons. In high school, my best friend,  Jean, taught me to play the guitar, and we'd play and sing harmonies together.  We knew all the Everly Brothers songs and never tired of singing them.  I started writing my own music, and would perform at an open mic in a local coffee house where I lived in Tacoma, Washington. While in college, I teamed up with my friend Anthony, playing guitar and singing duets like Mocking Bird by James Taylor and Carly Simon. We created our own harmonies to John Denver and Beatles tunes, and we'd perform our songs at the campus Coffee House.

Music has always been as natural as breathing to me. I can't imagine my life without it.

But it's not just making music that moves me so, it's listening to it as well.  I love almost all kinds of music, but prefer rock n' roll and modern folk, or "Indie" folk rock, like Mumford and Sons and the Avett Brothers.  I admire especially, female vocalists who sing with passion and power like Adele and Brandi Carlile.  Music from the sixties and seventies is my favorite because it's what I grew up with.  I joke that my whole life is like a soundtrack. I can hear a song and know what year it was on the radio, and where I lived and what was going on in my life.  I can almost always tell you what artist does what song.  When I'm listening to music, it's the same as when I'm performing it. I go into another world almost. I am completely absorbed in the song and transported to whatever time and place and feeling it connects me to.

I think music can be an amazing and powerful emotional experience for most people.  It touches something in all of us. There is something intrinsic in our human make-up, something primal that responds to sound and rhythm that is put together in a pleasant and harmonious way.  Now, what one person thinks is pleasant and harmonies might sound like more like noise to another, but the connection is there, to something within. 
When I hear music, I feel no danger. I am invulnerable. I see no foe. I am related to the earliest of times, and to the latest. -Henry David Thoreau
I don't quite understand it--how music affects the brain and therefore the emotions and memories and certain responses. But I know it's real. Psychologists and researchers in recent years have started to really focus on the power of music to heal.  Music therapy is gaining notoriety and legitimacy as we see real results in patients with emotional problems as well as memory issues.

I recently saw a wonderful movie produced by Mickey Hart (of the Grateful Dead) called The Music Never Stopped. It was based on studies and stories there were chronicled in a book by British neurologist and psychologist, Oliver Sachs. His book Musicophilia: Tales of Music and the Brain, was also the subject of "Musical Minds", an episode of the PBS series Nova. The movie tells the story of Gabriel, a man who lost his memory due to some kind of trauma, when he was a teenager in the 1960's. Years later, his parents decided to explore music therapy as a way to reach him. The therapist would play old Grateful Dead and Bob Dylan albums, and as soon as the music would start, Gabriel would be instantly transported back in time. He would start talking about what was going on in his life, but he had no idea that he wasn't still a teenager.  It was the music that revived his memory and enabled him to converse as if no time had passed. How powerful!

In Jodi Picoult's latest novel, Sing You Home,  the main character of the story is a music therapist. She works with the elderly as well as with children and teenagers, using singing and drumming to reach them.  Just the idea that an author would portray her character as a music therapist is a reflection of how open we've become to the idea that this is very real, and anyone can relate to it.

I am fascinated by all this. Here is a really interesting VIDEO about Mickey Hart and Oliver Sachs and their efforts to improve lives through music.  It's not too long, I hope you will take a moment to view it.
Real music is not for wealth, not for honors or even for the joys of the mind…but as a path for realization and salvation. –Ali Akbar Khan

How has music touched your life?

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Spiders and Snakes and Karma

My house is over-run with cobwebs right now. I just can't bring myself to sweep them away. Our little house spiders aren't hurting anyone. In fact, they are providing a useful service by catching all those nasty flies and mosquitoes that have also found their way inside.

Spiders good, flies and mosquitoes bad.

I have a soft spot for these spiders that, through no fault of their own, have somehow wound up in our home rather than outdoors where they belong. They didn't ask to be here, they just lost their way. Why should I kill them when they aren't causing any trouble? I know it sounds silly, but I just can't justify taking the life of something that is simply minding its own business. My children laugh at me when they see me take a tissue and gently trap the spider inside it, then take it outdoors and set it free.

But it's a whole different story with any critter that MIGHT cause harm. For instance, where I live in Northern California, the dreaded Black Widow spider strikes fear into the hearts of children and grown men alike. We have a few of those in our yard.  Probably more than a few, but I choose to live in denial. (That's true about life in general, but we'll save that for another time.) They hide under ledges and flower pots and can strike when you least expect it.  I have no qualms about killing them. Well, that is not entirely true. I still feel guilty when I have to snuff out a life, but I do it anyway because I simply can not have that kind of danger lurking around my home. Just a few days ago I had to kill one that was living on a plant by our front door. I begged my teenage son to come do it for me, but he was too lazy to get up off the couch and put his shoes on. It had to be done quickly because those wily creatures know when you have spotted them, and they disappear in the blink of an eye. They are masters at hide and seek. I had no spider spray handy, and we have found that doesn't always work anyway, so I had to stomp on it. I can still see my shoe lifting and coming down on that poor spider's back, and this vision has haunted me for days. But I had to do it! Lord, please forgive me.

I feel that same remorse anytime I have to kill anything. Ants, flies, mosquitoes and yes, even cockroaches, the most disgusting creature on planet Earth, maybe even in the entire universe. That is why I like spiders. They do the killing for me-- all in the name of survival. The whole food chain thing is ok by me. I'm down with that.

I won't kill mice though. Those traps are inhumane. We had mice once. Lots of them. I asked my husband to please buy the live traps and I promised I would deal with the result. We caught several, and I took the traps outside and let them go in a field near our house. Now that I think about it, maybe those "several" mice were/was actually the same one returning for more free cheese.

One time we woke up to find a real live bat on our living room ceiling! Now that is nothing to mess around with. When a bat finds its way into your house, something is probably wrong with it, and we all know that something could be rabies. I had to call animal control to come get it. I didn't know that animal control, once they captured it, would have to euthanize it to test if for rabies. I still feel horrible about that. But what choice did I have?

Luckily we have never had a snake in our house or in our yard, but if we did, I wouldn't wish it dead. I would run screaming to the nearest phone to call animal control and let them deal with it.

I'm ok with my soft-hearted ways, even if others think I'm foolish. Compassion for all living creatures is a major tenet of many religions. Do unto others ... even if the others are spiders and snakes. It creates good Karma. What comes around goes around. We all share the Earth and we must keep in mind that each small action by one has a ripple effect on others. Killing something for no good reason--well, that could just come back to you in a pretty bad way. Think about that!

So the song that has been in my brain while writing this is this oldie but goodie by Jim Stafford. Lordy, am I dating myself!

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Beauty and the Beast

This is a plant only a mother could love. I mean, look at it. Tall and spindly with awkward limbs and prickly things all over it. The poor thing. I guess it's original mom (my neighbor) didn't even love it because she abandoned it by the roadside when she moved away.

So I, being the mother of all lost and lonely things, decided to adopt it. I sent my husband across the street to get it for me. He kept asking me if I was sure I wanted it. He knows that I have no love for gardening. I have a brown thumb--no, make that a black thumb. Only plants that require no care and prefer to be left alone, are plants that will survive in my home or yard. I said "Yes, I am sure. It's a cactus, I can't kill it."

Poor thing. He has been through a lot. He is bruised and scarred. See that front limb that is cut off? That was an act of vandalism. Our house happens to be next to a greenbelt that gets a lot of foot and bike traffic. I guess someone took offense to Mr. Cactus (or to us) and thought mutilating a poor, homely, defenseless little cactus would be fun. Can you believe it? People can be so cruel. So we promptly moved him to a small little patio that is protected by a fence.

And there he sits. Bothering no one and asking for nothing. Sometimes he gets a little water because I do remember that a cactus needs a little water now and again. Quiet and unassuming is a good thing in a plant.

Well, I guess Mr. Cactus is grateful for even the smallest of favors.

Remember when mother told you, "Never judge a book by its cover?" Well, never judge a plant by its cover either. It is true in people and true in plants, that beautiful and wonderful things can lurk beneath the most unlikely facade.

Monday, August 15, 2011

What's in a Name?

Hi. My name is Michael Ann.  Yes, Michael.  Ann.  Like Mary Ann, but Michael instead. Yes, like the boy's name.

My name was supposed to be Melissa. Isn't that nice?? But mom changed her mind at the last minute while watching her favorite tv show, "Dr. Kildare." There was a nurse character named Michael Ann, and I guess that just tickled mom's fancy, and she changed her mind only days before I was born. Curse Dr. Kildare!

All my life I've had to suffer through the same questions by well-meaning strangers.

"Are you sure it isn't Michelle?"

 Uh, yea, I'm sure.

 "Did your parents want a boy?"

 No, they already have one.

  "Are you named after your dad?"

 No, my brother is, and his name is Peter.

Grr.... I understood their curiosity. I understood my name was unusual. But I was just a kid for goodness sake.  I just wanted to be normal. To fit in. Why couldn't I have a name like Susan or Debbie or Kathy like all the other girls?

When I was in high school, I had the idea to change the spelling of my name. I thought maybe that would make it seems less unusual, or less "boy."  I changed the spelling to Mykle. Um...yea, I know. That didn't really help. In fact I think it made it worse.  So I changed it back to Michael, causing even more confusion.  When I was in college,  someone in my dorm started calling me Mickey, and others followed suit.  I didn't really love it, but I thought it was better than dealing with all the Michael questions.  After awhile, that nickname grew on me and I liked that most people didn't even know my real name was Michael. Mickey suited me--it's cheerful and spunky, exactly like me. :-)  My college friends still call me Mickey.

That was fun while it lasted, but when I got my first job out of college, I decided it was time to let go of Mickey, and embrace my adult self and the name that I came with.  I decided to reclaim it with pride. Yes, I am Michael Ann! That's my name and don't wear it out!  Oh, did I say "adult?"

Now days, having an uncommon name is not, well, uncommon. In fact it seems to have become desirable. The weirder, the better.  Children with names like Apple and Rocket probably won't experience what I did while growing up. Different has become the norm. Kind of defeats the purpose huh? Better off choosing a name like John or Ann. Now THAT will really be unique!

I would like to give this story a happy ending and say that as an adult, I am finally learning to accept and even appreciate my special name, but honestly, I still struggle with it.  Maybe I just can't shake my history. I know I could go and have it legally changed...but I've never been willing to go that far. That just somehow seems wrong. It wouldn't be ME.

Wait a minute. Me. Yes....I guess Michael Ann really does feel like me. It should after all these years, huh? Ok, I admit, it hasn't been ALL bad. I have had my share of compliments too. And I have to tell you, when I am introduced to someone and they immediately say, "What a lovely name!" it completely makes my day!

I  realize in the grand scheme of things, this is a minor issue, but I'm still going to tell the Starbucks barista my name is Michelle.

Do you have an unusual name?

I leave you with this song.

Friday, August 12, 2011

Where There's Smoke....

So I just got back from Las Vegas. My parents invited me to go with them and I jumped at the chance. I had never been there and I needed a vacation! We had a great time touring the hotels and casinos, people watching, eating some great food, seeing some shows, and relaxing by the pool.  I loved it there and look forward to going back another time.

But one thing I did NOT like about Vegas was all the cigarette smoke! I am very sensitive to smells and I had a headache every single day we were there. Just one wiff goes straight to my sinuses and my head. I know I'm not alone in that. (Perfumes and cleaners do that to me too.)  It just makes me feel yucky. Plus, it got into my clothes and my purse and my hair and my pores.

When I got home, everything I took to Vegas smelled like smoke. I threw it all in the laundry and I thought that was that. Later that night, as the evening was cooling off, I decided to open all the windows and let some fresh air cool the house down.  Then I smelled it again. Cigarette smoke. What? I thought I'd washed it out of everything. Then I realized it wasn't coming from me or my stuff, it was wafting through the windows from outside. My new neighbors are smokers, and they were out in their backyard puffing away.

Now, I have nothing against cigarette smokers. If they want to smoke that is their business. But I do have a problem being forced to inhale their smoke along with them. I am very happy with all the smoking laws that have been passed. Let smokers smoke in their homes but not in places where everyone else is exposed.

So, where does my situation fall?  It falls through the cracks of the laws and the system.  My neighbors ARE in their home. Or at least in their yard. They have every right to smoke. But I'm in my home too and I have a right to fresh air. Yes, I can close my windows, but I WANT them open. I like fresh air, and then I don't have to run my air conditioner at night.

The irony of all this is that it really pisses me off that the anti-fireplace group here in Davis, wants to ban wood burning. Their concern is people with asthma and other breathing problems.  I get that. I actually have asthma, but fireplace smoke doesn't bother me. Cigarette smoke doesn't  bother my asthma either, it just bothers my sinuses.  I want to be able to have a fire in my fireplace.

So...I don't know what the answer is. Personal rights versus the rights of many. I like things to be fair.  I isn't fair.  So, I guess I have to keep my windows closed as long as smokers are living next door.

What do you think?

Oh, and because everything I think about, puts a song in my head, I'll share that with you too.

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