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Renee Dubeau

Creative Nonfiction & Inspirational Shit

How to save the world: Step 1

Do you ever feel like we are totally doomed?

Does watching television or reading the morning paper fill you with anxiety and feelings of dread?

Do you schedule important events around your quarterly existential crisis?

Do you find yourself in a state of perpetual outrage?

Have you ever considered faking your death and running away to a remote foreign land to escape the idiocy that surrounds you?

Have you ever wished the apocalypse would just hurry up already? Or, wondered if we’re right in the middle of it? (Zombies, everywhere!)

Do you ever wonder if the world would be a better place if run by baby chinchillas, unicorns, kittens or goats?

Do you ever feel like you’re too small to make a difference? Like, your voice isn’t heard or doesn’t matter?

Do you feel hopeless about the future, or helpless to change it?

Do you use dystopian novels and movies as an escape? Do you later compare said dystopian works of fiction to the shit show that is our current reality and feel even worse?

When asked where you’re from, have you ever lied and said, “Canada” instead of “‘Murica”?

Do you frequently wonder how we got so lost? Or why we seem to waste all the amazing technology, resources and opportunities available to us?

If you said, “yes” to any of the above we are in the exact same boat. And the good news is, it’s a great big boat, and there are lots of smart, reasonable, frustrated passengers on it. It may not feel like it– especially if you’re watching the news or spending a lot of time on social media– but, there is still intelligent life here.

Here is the problem: we’re segregated.

It’s human nature to organize and categorize things into neat little piles. It helps our brains process all the chaos around us. We’re bombarded with stimuli: sound, color, energy, responsibilities, emotions, a million thoughts a day… if we didn’t mentally sort things and put them into little buckets, we would be constantly overwhelmed by it all.

Putting things in buckets is a subconscious thing we are all doing, all the time: Cold things go inside the refrigerator, school notes go on the outside of the refrigerator, cars drive on the right side of the road, coffee is an appropriate beverage choice while at work,  pineapple pizza goes in the garbage can… 

This process requires us to make little judgements about almost everything we see in the world. If we can identify something and make a quick judgement about what it is, we can move it neatly into our little mental bucket and move on to the next thing.

Unfortunately, in our very limited human perception, we’ve categorized and divided ourselves. 

We make the same quick judgements about other people based on very limited information, and sometimes no personal interaction at all.

We judge on appearance: young, old, short, tall, fat, thin, race, color, ethnicity, gender.

We judge on circumstances: relationship status, zip code, level of education, title at work, religion or lack there of, socioeconomic status, sexual orientation.

We take stereotypes, attitudes passed down to us from our families, or things we learned in the place where we are from, and maybe some past experiences into account when making these snap judgements. They happen almost without us realizing we’re doing it. But, somewhere in the background of our mind, it’s there.

Because we’re all sorting people into little categories to make sense of the world, we’re simultaneously looking for “our people”. The ones who look like us, think like us, talk like us, like the same things as we do, have the same belief systems and values and so on. In the pursuit of our own personal tribe of likeminded awesome folks to share our human experience with, we may decide that the folks who didn’t fit into our little bucket on first glance don’t belong there.

This is what is wrong with the world. 

Dividing, judging and categorizing ourselves into neat little buckets has basically turned the world into a giant high school cafeteria. Think about it: Preppy kids at this table. Band geeks at that table. Stoners over here. Jocks over there. Wanna sit at a different table? Good luck with that. 

And, so is life in America today. White church over here. Black church over there. Feminists at this table. Men who are terrified of feminists at that one. Young folks way over there away from the old folks. Hippies in the patchouli section. Asthmatics as far away from the patchouli as possible. Divide, divide, divide.

What happens when we’re divided up into groups? Competition for one. Sometimes the big group will even divide in smaller subgroups and create drama within the group. Ever sit at the nerd table and listen to the Star Trek vs. Star Wars debate? DC vs. Marvel? Superman vs. Batman? 

We want to be right, we want to be the best and we want that thing we love to be honored for the awesome thing it is. This creates an atmosphere of us vs. them.

Just like the high school cafeteria, we look at other humans and say, “you can’t sit here,” because our snap judgements have told us that they don’t fit in the bucket we are sitting in. We think our bucket is the best one. We think our beliefs are the only way, our values are the only ones that are right, and we dismiss everyone who doesn’t honor them.

The other product of all this division is conflict and fear. We may try to convince people who don’t think the way we do that their beliefs are wrong, bad, immoral, unjust, offensive, sinful or hateful. We may go around pushing our beliefs and agenda on others. Usually, this does not inspire change, it just pisses people off. We may jump to wild conclusions about people who think differently than we do. If you just go to the internet for half a second, you’ll find all kinds of example of this.

We often fear the unknown. Most of the hate I witness in this world is driven by fear. People can be passionately ignorant– rejecting the unfamiliar without any education or experience simply because they fear the unknown. Maybe they’ve been indoctrinated by religion, or grew up in a racist family, or picked up misogynistic attitudes from the media. Maybe they’ve never left the place they were born to experience other cultures, languages, religions and people. People have all kinds of ridiculous reasons to treat others like trash. It’s unacceptable, and it’s eroding our society and respect for humanity.

Here’s the question: How do fix this shit?

Step 1 to saving the world right now: We have to take all the little buckets we put people into, and dump them into one giant bucket with one giant label on it that reads: HUMAN.

This means every other label disappears in our minds, and instead of man, woman, old, young, black, white, gay, transgender or anything else we see a human first. We honor the human. We respect the human. Appearances don’t matter. Bank accounts are not important. Country of origin makes no difference. Because, we’re all just humans. We’re all basically the same. We all want the same things. We all have the same basic needs. We are all flying through space on a ball together in our little meat suits, and the least we can do is treat each other with kindness and respect.

If we want to create peace and unity on this earth, it begins with every individual making a conscious decision to extend empathy and unconditional acceptance to others. If we could learn to stop judging and dividing ourselves into us vs. them situations, all conflict, competition, and fear would subside, and we could refocus our energy in more positive directions.

If you want to save the world today– go out there and be kind to people who are not just like you.

Smile at strangers.

Speak up when you see injustice.

Be an advocate for change, a voice for the voiceless, a light in the darkness that is our world.

When you’re introduced to an idea that is unfamiliar, be curious.

Educate yourself.

Travel far and wide and experience life in different cultures.

Celebrate all the things that make us unique and special, while remembering that we all belong in the same big ol’ bucket.

Be a cool kid. Invite someone new to sit at your table.

This is how we fix what’s broken.

This is how we teach others how to be good humans.

This is how we change the world, one day at a time.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Are you looking for Love?

We  sat across from one another, ordered appetizers to share, and just started talking. We talked about the day, and plans for the rest of our busy week. We talked about the house we’re building, and plans for our wedding next year. We talked about the kids, and all the good stuff they have coming up. We fell into our own little world talking, laughing, and enjoying a few uninterrupted moments together.

Each time our server stopped by to check on us, he lingered, joining in the conversation for a bit. He was a sweet young man, bursting with enthusiasm. He spent a few minutes at our table telling us stories about the restaurant business, and some of the crazy things he’s seen people do.

When it was time for us to leave, he asked if he could give me a hug. He looked at me earnestly and said, “Hold onto what you two have. I see so many unhappy couples come in here. They spend the whole time on their phones ignoring each other, or they argue the whole time and it’s super awkward. But, I can tell y’all really enjoy each other’s company. I can feel the love over here, and that’s really special.”

His kind words surprised me. I thanked him and gave him a hug.

After a year of cohabitation, blending our family of six into one functional unit, co-sleeping, co-mingling finances, and planning the next phase of our quickly changing world- we still dig each other. We communicate well, we treat each other with kindness and respect, we play like kids, and plan wild adventures together. Life is truly wonderful– so much so that strangers can see it in a few stolen moments together at a local chain restaurant.

That’s the thing about love: when it’s organic, pure, and real–  it’s unmistakable. It’s undeniable. When we see it, we can’t help but smile. When we’re near it, the vibration is almost palpable. And, with all the shitty things happening in the world right now, isn’t it refreshing to see love instead?

If you pay attention, it’s everywhere.

Love lives in the corner booth where the happy couple is planning their wedding, and also in the coffee shop where three college students make a pact to pass that calculus class together.

It’s in the eyes of every little child who is innocent and unaware of the atrocities that surround them every day. It’s in the hands of moms and dads who work tirelessly to make a nice life for those little ones, and the hearts of the grandparents who treasure the days  that slip by too quickly.

Love is the string that ties us together through distance, years, and change.

If you listen closely, love is the subtle humming in the background of all the noise in the world. If you can be still and silent even for a moment, you can hear it. It’s always there.

Love keeps the earth on its axis in times of war, tragedy, disaster, plague, and pain. It gives us a reason to fight through our hardest days. It keeps us reaching out for connection, looking for purpose, and creating everything beautiful in the world.

To love, and to be loved are the greatest gifts we can give and receive. Not just romantic love, wonderful as it is. Unconditional acceptance, the kindness of strangers, friendship, philanthropy, and passion for anything that makes the world a better place are all rooted in love.

Love is the force that drives positive change. Change in society, like greater equality and social justice begin with our capacity to love others. It’s the antithesis of fear, hate, judgement and discrimination. Love inspires us to reach beyond the familiar to experience new cultures. Love dissolves barriers built by ignorance.

All self-improvement is a product of self-love. Every good decision we make, every effort to become happier, healthier, and more authentically “us” begins with our ability to love ourselves. This is nearly impossible in a culture so determined to tear us down and make us feel insecure or inferior. To love ourselves is to accept every part of who we are, to embrace our perceived flaws, and make peace with our pasts. True self-love means unconditional self-acceptance. It’s speaking to ourselves as we would a dear friend- using words to encourage and not harm. It’s carving out time to do what we love. It’s taking care of our mind, body, and spirit in the way that only we can.

When we see love in the world, it is a reflection of the love that lives inside us. We recognize it effortlessly, because we are a literal embodiment of it. It’s the force that make our hearts beat and our lungs breathe.

I stopped by the grocery store on my way home that night after dinner with all of this swirling around in my brain. A woman stopped me in the frozen foods aisle to compliment my tattoos. We talked for a few minutes about local tattoo shops and the meaning of all the pieces of art on our bodies. She hugged me when we said goodbye.

These brief moments of connection- the server in the restaurant, the stranger in the store- these are expressions of love for humanity. People are hurting. We have more technology for connection than we ever have. But, we’re more lonely and isolated than ever before. We are inundated with images of violence, and sound bites of fear. The world is a harsh, scary place. There is much uncertainty, and despair. Just beyond the distraction of it all, love is still there. It radiates all around us. If we’re looking for darkness and doom, that’s what we will see. But if we look for love instead, it will find us over and over again.

Photo: Pexels

 

Is Ignorance Really Bliss?

It’s strange times, to say the least.

It seems the whole world has gone mad. Or, maybe it’s not the whole world. Maybe it’s just ‘Murica. Our president is a twat, violence is more rampant than ever, and the news ranges from depressing to downright frightening. We’re more segregated, more afraid and more polarized than ever before.

I’m a sensitive girl. When the world gets too harsh or scary for me, I retreat into my little bubble. I don’t read the news. I avoid social media. I stay as far away from the negativity, fear porn and hype as I possibly can. It’s a good place for me emotionally and spiritually. Just all nestled in my little bubble, where I can just focus on rainbows and puppies, taking care of my family, and just generally ignoring the world around me.

Then, I see something shocking- like the babies in cages at our border, or the white supremacist who advertised their political campaign with the slogan “Make America White Again”, or the homeless people baking in the sun on the hot Tennessee asphalt, or the bill congress passed making it legal for adoption agencies to discriminate against gay and lesbian couples. This shit infuriates me to the core. There are no puppies and rainbows when I’m in that headspace. Just sadness, rage and guilt.

Sadness, because goddammit, it’s 2018 and I just feel like we should be more evolved as a collective body of human beings. If everyone could stop trying to divide, devalue, degrade, dehumanize and disrespect others the world would be a fucking spectacular place to live. I don’t understand why we haven’t all figured this out, or why people put so much energy and effort into trying to hurt other people. It doesn’t make any sense to me at all.

I’m sad because I want to help and make a difference, and I just don’t even know how. How do I comfort the families who lost their children in a school shooting? How do I support gay and transgender people whose families are too indoctrinated in the hate of their chosen religions to show unconditional love and acceptance to their own children? How to I convince our government that people matter more than money? How do I convince my children that the world is a safe, lovely place while also teaching them how to protect themselves from acts of violence?

I’m sad because I know people are hurting, and I can’t fix it. I wish I could just sprinkle some glitter around and say some magical words to make all the hate, hypocrisy, judgement, fear and pain vanish. As it turns out, glitter and pretty words can’t change the world over night. Knowing this makes me feel helpless, hopeless. I’m just one person, and sometimes it feels like I am too small to make a difference. In my frustration, I do nothing. I sit back complaining instead of trying to do something- anything- positive or productive.

The rage comes after the sadness. I am a pissed off little hippie, because my utopian dreams depend entirely on everyone getting their shit together. This is not fucking rocket surgery- it’s basic decency and respect for human life.

Here’s the truth about people as I know it: we are all different, and we are all the same. Each of us has a story, a past, a gender, a race.  Our skin is a certain color, and we speak a certain native language. We have as much education as we have, and we make as much money as we do, and we live where we live. We have unique gifts, talents, strengths and weaknesses. We believe in god, or we don’t. All these things shape who we are, and how we experience the world around us. None of these things are good or bad, right or wrong. It’s all just part of our individual human experience. Being individuals is so important- we all need to have our own identities, beliefs, values, and things we do that make us who we are. That’s good shit.

Everyone has the same basic human needs. We need food, water, shelter and safety. We need love, community, family- a place to belong. We need a purpose- something to do that brings us joy. Everyone deserves to have the same opportunities for success- education, health care, and jobs. Everyone is entitled to respect, dignity, and freedom. Everyone is searching for these same things in the world- and no one has the right to take or keep us from them.

The guilt is real, and heavy, and sometimes almost too much to bear. I feel guilty for having so much and giving so little to those in need. I feel guilty for sitting idly by while everything goes to shit. I feel guilty for not making more of an effort to be a voice for the voiceless. I feel guilty for complaining instead of taking action. I feel guilty for not dropping everything to go to Texas to rock those babies who were taken from their mothers, or spending time with the elderly people wasting away in nursing homes without any visitors, or serving more meals at our local homeless shelter. I feel guilty for staying out of politics, instead of joining the activist efforts that are at least trying to influence social changes.

Most of all, I feel guilty because I know that my inaction is a product of my privilege. I am a straight, white, cis-gender, middle-class woman. I live in an affluent area. My kids have great schools. Our daily needs are met. My life is comfortable, and outside of the occasional chauvinist or judgey religious person, people generally treat me well. It is a privilege for me to be able to choose ignorance over action. It is a privilege for me to look away when the world gets too scary and dark. It is a privilege for me to choose silence, when I should be screaming from the rooftops about the atrocities I see. It’s a privilege to turn off the news and ignore the pain of other human beings, who are just like me, who are searching for the same opportunities and comforts I so easily take for granted.

Ignorance comes in different flavors.

In my privilege, I choose to look away from the terrible things in the world. I choose to be uninformed, and unbothered by the pain of other human beings. I choose to be ignorant to the events in the headlines, because it hurts me to look at them. This ignorance insulates me from the fear and hate out there. It gives me the illusion of safety. Unfortunately, problems don’t just go away because we choose to avoid them. This chosen ignorance, or avoidance, feels like self preservation. But, it’s actually part of the problem. If we don’t do something, who will? Maybe one person can’t change the whole world, but small acts of kindness and speaking up for what is right certainly can make a difference for those around us.

The other flavor of ignorance that seems to be fucking rampant in our society is the fear-based kind that breeds hate. This one is also a choice, but I don’t think some people even realize they are choosing it. Most of them probably learned it from their families, churches, and peers. This is the malignant kind of ignorance we must challenge as a society. We do this by traveling, moving around the country, leading by example, exposing people to new ideas, and sharing our stories.

Racism is a fear based ignorance that we can no longer excuse or tolerate in our culture. Discrimination or degradation of the LGBTQ+ community under the guise of religion is antiquated ignorance that must stop now. The chronic objectification and dehumanization of women is no longer acceptable. Xenophobia, and all the ways it shapes our politics and our attitudes is absolutely not ok.

As much as I would love to remove myself from all the unpleasant things happening in the world, I can’t do that anymore. My little bubble may be cozy and warm, but there is a great big world out there that needs me to care enough to participate in making it a better place. Maybe I can’t change the whole world. But, I can use my voice. I can stand up for what’s right. I can contribute to efforts in my local community to feed the hungry, educate the children, and influence our leaders. I can be a support to people who are hurting. We can, and we must.

No, ignorance is not bliss. Ignorance is a privilege I will no longer allow myself. Ignorance is a source of fear of the unknown, and hate of the unfamiliar. Ignorance is the antithesis of the love, community, safety, and shelter we all crave. Ignorance is not bliss, and it’s not acceptable.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

How to Fight for Your Life.

When someone is critically injured, or is diagnosed with a serious illness, we often say that person is “fighting for their life”. As a healthcare worker, and hospice volunteer, I’ve watched many people fight these brutal battles. Whether a heart attack, cancer diagnosis, or a serious accident, patients have some common things they do while preparing to fight for their lives.

First, they assemble their teams. Or as we say in the South, we circle our wagons. We get our crew together, because, this is not a fight we can win by ourselves. No. We need help. So, we call our insurance company and find out what we can depend on them for. We research and find the best doctors, the most renowned hospitals, the most sought after  specialists. We make friends with the nurses, the pharmacist, the kind lady who delivers our meals. We gather our friends and family, and though it breaks their hearts a little bit to see us hurting and afraid, they suit up for battle. They will be our strength, our translators, and probably our sanity for as long as it takes to walk away from what are likely some of our worst days ever.

Once the team is all in place, and loved ones have gathered at ground zero, the planning begins. It’s time to make a treatment plan. We trust our doctors, the experts, to lead this process. We trust our intuition to tell us if they are on the right track. We get second opinions, third opinions whatever it takes until we feel comfortable.

We disobey our doctor and go to the internet. We Google our condition and read all the internet horror stories we can stomach. We look at the pictures. We can never un-see these awful pictures. Why did we go to Google after our doctor specifically said, “Hey, do yourself a favor and don’t consult Dr. Google.”?

Well… we can’t not go to Google. Google knows things, and what we need now is information, education, reassurance. And, we need to see those terrifying  pictures. We’re preparing. Planning. We can’t take anymore surprises. It’s time to go to war. We need all the help we can get.

When our team is in place, we’ve learned all we can, and a treatment plan is complete, the battle has only just begun. Now is the time to find out what you’re made of. Maybe, you begin chemotherapy, and quickly understand what people mean when they say that the treatment is worse than the disease. Maybe, you go to surgery to have your body cut apart and stapled back together. Maybe, you learn to walk again, talk again, how to swallow and speak. This is the dirty work. The nitty-gritty, gut wrenching chore of fighting through the pain, fear, set backs and sometimes unbelievably slow process of healing.

This is when your team is your lifeline. They make sure your needs are met. They don’t let you suffer alone. They’re right there in the trenches sharing your struggles, and marveling at your strength. They hold your hand, and your hair. They remind you how utterly capable you are. And when you sleep, they lean on each other. They cry. They pray. They take turns sitting at your bedside while the others run errands, and try to get some rest before their next shift of bedside watch.

Sometimes, things go exactly as planned. Sometimes, they don’t. Sometimes your victory is swift and sweet. Sometimes, it’s hard fought and bitter ’til the end. Sometimes, we have to surrender to what is, and accept defeat. Win or lose, this fight changes us. We begin to look at our life in a new way. A line of demarcation is indelibly drawn, neatly compartmentalizing our life into the things that happened before the event that changed everything, and everything that happened after.

Before the cancer.

After the car accident.

Before the stroke.

After open heart surgery.

Somewhere along this road, something really important happens: We finally start getting our shit together.

We reprioritize everything. We get focused on what’s most important. Facing our mortality, being vulnerable and needing support, feeling weak and afraid– these are huge motivators for rethinking all of our life choices.

In the days and weeks that follow, we become masters of self-care. We are forced to listen to our bodies and examine every single thing that goes into them. We may give up our bad habits, our favorite foods, anything that stands between us and our healing. Because, we know without a doubt that we would trade anything in the world for the healthy body we probably took for granted right up until this terrible thing happened. We wouldn’t trade any number of pizzas, bottles of wine, or packs of cigarettes <insert applicable vice here> for the opportunity to have our health and wholeness restored.

Usually, we begin to focus on relationships. We find a new appreciation for our team, for all the things they sacrifice to take care of us when we need them most, for the ways they encourage us, support us, keep us laughing, and sneak us in our favorite take out, even if the nurse says, “no”. We know who our real friends are now. They are the ones who didn’t run when shit got difficult. They stayed, they loved us through it, and we cannot wait to return every single favor just as soon as life allows us the chance.

While fighting for our lives, we make amends with those we’ve wronged. We ask for forgiveness. We forgive others. We mend our fences, because we have to be ready for the unthinkable, and we can’t leave any unfinished business behind. We take a good look at our lives and take an honest inventory of the person we have become. We engage in life review- revisiting our favorite memories, our most painful moments, our regrets, and maybe even that list of things we always said we wanted to do “someday”.

You know, someday.

That day in the arbitrary future when whatever perfect world scenario we’re waiting on is supposed to come to fruition. When work calms down, when the kids are bigger, when we have more money, or time, or focus, or whatever limitation we’ve imaged is keeping us from doing that thing we want to do.

When we realize that we might not get another someday, those experiences, goals, accomplishments- whatever we were putting off- might just be our motivation to keep fighting. We start doing whatever it takes to make sure we get to see the sunset in that city we always meant to visit, write that book, stick our feet in that ocean, or hold that grandbaby we just know will be on the way just as soon as the kids are ready. Whatever it is suddenly consumes us. It gives us hope, purpose, comfort.

This thing we return to on the days when we think we can’t fight anymore is there to remind us that we’re not done living yet. It becomes our touchstone.

Sadly, in our culture of chronic busyness and distraction, sometimes it takes something dramatic like a heart attack, or a car wreck to wake us up. Sometimes unthinkable things happen to make us fight for the privilege it is to exist on this earth. To remind us what’s important, or teach us how to take care of ourselves.

Life throws us all kinds of curves- they don’t have to be health scares. They can be anything that makes us turn off our autopilots, stop coasting, wake up and really get serious about creating the lives we truly desire.

My life has lots of these lines of demarcation- and moments that changed me.

I was a different person before my first child was born.

After I left my hometown.

Before my grandmother died.

After my divorce.

Before returning to the workforce after a decade at home.

After meeting my husband-to-be.

The process for major life changes is pretty much exactly like navigating a serious illness or injury. The same gathering of important people and reprioritizing everything else needs to happen. And, holding onto our touchstone reminds us why we need to do the very important, difficult, sometimes heart breaking work of tearing down our life and rebuilding it.

While fighting for the life we most desire, we need our team. They will remind us that we are utterly capable of dealing with whatever we’re going through. They will listen, they will hold our hands, they will remind us who we are, and why it’s so important to keep on keeping on the journey. They will be right there in the trenches while we gut out the hard days, and when we rise victorious, they will celebrate with us.

We need a plan. Not just dreams or goals. Actual plans that do not begin someday.

If you want to buy a house, change jobs, lose weight- whatever the practical things are you’ve been putting off- make a plan. Consult the experts, read, learn all you can about the things you want to do. Then, do them.

Do the practical things and the fun things you’ve been putting off.

Do the things you wish you could do, but fear has kept you from them.

Do the thing you would do if you knew you couldn’t fail.

Do it all. Make a plan, and do it soon, because  someday is not promised.

Our someday is today. Right now. This is when life happens. Now.

Become a master of self-care. Take all the time needed to take care of yourself, improve yourself, and make yourself the happiest, healthiest, best self you can be. Examine every single part of your life and decide what makes you better, what depletes you, what feels good, what makes you feel satisfied. Listen to your body, your intuition, your spirit. Then, adjust accordingly. Leave the job you hate. Move to that city you’ve always wanted to call home. Open the restaurant, do the open mic night, hang your art on the walls of your favorite coffee shop. That’s your touchstone. That thing- the idea of it, the feeling of accomplishment, satisfaction, fulfillment that you know will come with it- that’s your motivator for rethinking all your life choices.

You see, we don’t have to be sick or injured to fight for our lives. We can fight for them everyday, through the sea of distraction, and the mountains of excuses we make to stay stuck. We can assemble our team, learn everything we need to know, make a plan, and go to war until that impossible thing we thought we might never do becomes a line of demarcation in our life.

When we look back on the time we fought for that thing, we see our courage and strength. We see how life seems to give us everything we need, right at the time when we need it most. Most of all, we see what’s really important, what makes us feel happy and safe, and how utterly capable we are to handle any challenge.

Circle your wagons. Find your touchstone. Mend your fences. Make a plan. Get in there and fight for the life you deserve.

 

Photo: Wiki Commons

Choosing my legacy- the saddest funeral ever.

“She made the best chocolate chip cookies.”
Everyone in the room agreed. Her cookies were the absolute best. They were the perfect ratio of crispy edge to chewy middle. Soft, but not doughy. Crisp, but not too crunchy. Buttery and sweet, with just the right amount of chocolate chips. If you wanted the perfect cookie, she was your girl.
Normally, this would have been a kind compliment. But as we sat in the cold little church that November afternoon in rural Michigan, it was nothing short of tragic.
The words still haunt me today.

“She made the best chocolate chip cookies.”
My aunt lived a difficult life. She did the best she could with all of her challenges- that’s all any of us can do. She raised four children without a partner to help. She worked her whole life beside her mother and sister at the family business. She lived in poverty, and did what she had to do to survive as a single mother with no education. She was tough as nails, but sadly, addiction ruled her. She lost her life to an accidental opioid overdose, just years after losing a son to suicide.
When she died, a handful of friends and family gathered in the tiny corner church near my family’s farm to say goodbye. The minister of the church gave an odd little service- a mix of things from the Christian Bible, and Janis Joplin music. (She would have loved the second one.)
When we reached the part of the service where the preacher asked if anyone would like to stand up and say a few words about the dearly departed, the room was silent and still. We looked around waiting for someone speak.
The preacher began coaxing us. She was a mother, a daughter, a sister, a friend. Surely, someone there wanted to stand and share something– a memory, a story, something we would miss without her presence on this earth. Surely, after approximately fifty trips around the sun, somebody wanted to say something. Anything.
“She made the best chocolate chip cookies, ” someone finally offered.
Heads began to nod in agreement. “She sure did,” someone added.
Her surviving children were called upon to speak briefly about their mother before we were ushered into the little room behind the sanctuary for the Midwest version of a covered dish supper.
I stayed behind for a moment with my sister. We approached the little box on the altar that held my aunt’s ashes. I was so sad– not because she died. I was sad because in those moments I realized that she never really lived. She left the earth in debt and disease, having scarcely ventured past the corners of the family farm. Her legacy was a cookie she made from a recipe printed on the back of a chocolate chip bag.
When I returned to Texas after that sad trip home, I began thinking about my own legacy.
What will people say about me when I die?
Will I have lived a life worth remembering?
Will my children have fond memories of me?
Will I have made a mark on the world that will last when my physical body is gone?
Will my life have meaning and purpose beyond my front door?
In my heart of hearts I know my aunt’s life had purpose and meaning beyond her cookies. (Did I mention they were damn good cookies?) But, when it really mattered, on that cold day in November in a tiny country church where my family gathered to remember her, “She made the best chocolate chip cookies,” was all we had.
More than a decade later, I’m starting life over again, again. This memory came to me as I was feeling lost and unsure of what the next stage of my life should look like. I want to make my next steps with clear, focused intention, because in those steps, I know I am building my own legacy.
The workaholic, burnt out, tired, crabby, disconnected person I see in the mirror is not the woman I want to be. And so, I must choose carefully a better path. A path to happiness, health, and prosperity in every area of my life- and leave this worn out version of myself behind.
I want to be remembered as a cheerful wife, who loved my husband selflessly with my whole heart and soul. I want to be the mother (and step-mother) who had my babies’ backs through every stage of their lives- a teacher, a friend, and an example of what it is to be a strong, educated, independent, successful woman in the world.

I want to embody compassion, empathy, and love.

I want to share my experiences with the world in a way that brings comfort and validation to others who share my struggles.
I want joy, peace, creativity, and freedom to be part of everyday I spend on this earth. And when I die, I want people to say that I lived and loved every single day I was here.

Beyonce- I Was Here

What if we skip the thoughts and prayers, and do something about school violence?

“I’d jump in front of a bullet if it meant I’d save someone else.”

The words stopped me in my tracks.

Please, don’t be a hero. You’re my only son.” Was all I could say.

I’d never heard something so brave, or terrifying from my little boy. To be fair, my “little boy” is a man now. He’ll be eighteen in a couple of weeks. Still, he’s my baby, and the words shook me, leaving me in angry tears.

I wondered if my father had said the same thing at the tender age of seventeen when he left high school to enlist in the U.S. Army during the Viet Nam War. The only thing he ever wanted to be was a soldier. He was prepared to do what must be done for his country, no matter the consequences when he was my son’s age.

“I would take a bullet to save the life of another human being.”

Did those words leave my father’s lips as he prepared for war? Could he speak such a thing to his mother? Or, would it have left her in tears, too? Mothers don’t want to think about our young men going off to war or jumping in front of bullets.

When my son said he’d take a bullet, I believed him with my whole heart. The only times he’s ever been in trouble in his young life, he went down protecting or defending someone else. He stands up for the underdogs. He loves his friends fiercely. He will do anything he can to help someone else, even when it hurts him. That’s the kind of compassionate, selfless young man he is.

Yes, my son sounded like a brave soldier that day. But, he wasn’t talking about deploying to a distant warzone. He wasn’t talking about taking a bullet for one of his brothers who fought beside him in combat. No, my son wasn’t going away to war. He was going to his high school in Nashville, Tennessee, prepared to take a bullet to save a classmate in the event of a mass shooting.

“I’d charge down the hallways at some asshole with a gun if I thought I could stop him.”

His words filled me with pride, and dread. These are thoughts my brave, sweet son should not have in his seventeen-year-old psyche. These are things kids just shouldn’t have to think about at all.

When I was a kid, we had fire drills to make sure everyone knew how to get out of the building in case of fire. We had tornado drills to make sure everyone knew how to get to a safe zone to tuck and cover. We had evacuation drills on the bus, to learn how to get out quickly in an emergency. We did not have active shooter drills. Active shooter drills did not exist when I was in school.

Back then, our faculty watched the perimeters of our campus. They made visitors sign in with the office, and made sure the dangers of the world didn’t make it to our halls and classrooms. It was easy then, because the bad guys with the guns were outsiders. They were easy to spot because they were out of place inside the walls of our school building.

Back then, the bad guys with guns weren’t students.

Tomorrow, my son’s school district has closed in response to the most recent school shooting in Florida. They want to gather all of their staff, faculty, resource officers, and leadership to revisit and revamp our school safety protocols and policies. While I appreciate the proactive approach, I absolutely hate that it has to be this way.

I went to social media to talk to other parents about the school closures, curious if we were the only district, or if others had done the same thing. Our district stated in an email to parents that there have been eighteen shootings in the past six weeks in American schools. This began a Facebook debate about what exactly qualifies as a “school shooting” since in some of the eighteen instances in which a weapon was fired on a school campus there were no injuries to students.

What in the whole, entire, holy actual fuck are we doing, America?

Have we become so numb to the violence in our culture that we now need to quantify in bloodshed or lives lost what “counts” as a school shooting? Or, can we just for a minute agree that if someone is firing a weapon on school property, that’s not ok? Even if no one was hurt, the potential for danger was present, and real, and for fuck’s sake— why is having a gun in a school ever ok?

And, before we jump on the gun control bus, let me state very clearly my position on that. It’s basically the same as my position on everything: power to the people. The more you try to take guns away from the good guys– the law-abiding citizens who go through the proper channels to purchase guns legally for protection, recreation, or hunting– the less good guys we’ll have with guns. But, the bad guys? They’ll still get their guns on the street, or by force, or however they can, just like they do right now. Unarming the good guys is not the way to take guns away from the bad guys. And personally, I’d like to know there are some good guys out there with weapons, just in case we need them.

Every time there is another school shooting, the gun control debate ignites. And, while I think it’s important to have that conversation, I also think we’re missing the actual root cause of the issue.

It’s fine for responsible adults to own guns. It’s not fine for kids to have access to them without adult supervision. Period. That’s one question I need answered. How do the kids who shoot up their schools get their hands on these weapons in the first place? Do their parents know their children have access to deadly weapons? Do the kids get the weapons from the parents? Where are the parents?

Right after the gun control debate, we go to the other, classic question. Where are the parents? It’s easy to judge, to assume they must be absent, or abusive, or just plain irresponsible and reckless. But, what if they’re not? What if they are just like us? What if our kids aren’t so different from their kids?

This isn’t an us and them issue, as much as we would love to put that space between ourselves and the parents of the kids who have done these terrible things. We have to stop blindly blaming them. We actually, really need them. We need their knowledge, their insight, their shock and regrets. We need to know what they saw, what they experienced living with their children before they become the kids who killed their classmates. Their stories might be the key to predicting and preventing the next horrible act of student violence.

Are these kids abused when they’re little? Are they bullied by other students, or treated unfairly by teachers? Are they mentally ill? Strung out on drugs? Are they desensitized from years violent video games, movies and television shows? Do they just snap under the sheer weight of their lives?

Maybe I’m naïve, but I just cannot accept the idea that any child is born with this kind of malice and hatred in their precious little heart. I have to believe they learn it. Maybe it comes from bad guys who inflict pain directly upon them. Or, maybe they absorb it from the rampant disregard for humanity that seems to dominate our bullshit culture. Maybe there’s something even darker at work here that I can’t fathom. I don’t know how it happens. I just know we have got to figure it out. We’ve got to fix this, and now–and no amount of thoughts and prayers is going to cut it. Enough with that. We don’t need anymore thoughts and prayers. We need action, and real, dirty, horrible conversation about the process that converts an innocent little child into a cold-blooded killer.

How do these kids become the kids who murder their peers? And, how can we reach them before they become school assassins?

That’s the conversation I hope our school district will have tomorrow. Are there warning signs? Can they tell which students might have violent tendencies? Is there any way to predict an event like this?

How do the kids get the guns in the first place, and how to they get them into the school building?

Do we need TSA style security checkpoints in all entrances of our public high schools?

What will it take to end this madness, and keep our kids safe?

This is the discussion we need to have. All of us. School officials, law enforcement, parents and maybe most importantly, the students. How can we all work together to make sure our schools never end up on the evening news?

My son will graduate in a few short months. He should be focused on his grades and getting ready for college in the fall. He should be thinking about prom, graduation, his birthday celebration and plans for the weekend. Instead, he is planning how to strategically take down an assassin in the halls of the very place he should go every day to feel safe, and concentrate on his future.

Hearing my son talk about his affluent high school like a warzone really made me realize how much trouble our kids are in. I’m proud of our school district for taking time out to make sure they’re doing all they can to keep our kids safe. I just hope they’re going beyond rules and procedures, and getting to the heart of the human element of this kind of violence.

The schools can’t do it alone, and they don’t need our thoughts and prayers. They need our support, and our candid conversation. They need us to be active and engaged in our kids’ lives, and the lives of their friends- to be present enough to know if they are struggling with something. They need us to show up, and talk to our kids about the hard things none of us want to think about.

 

 

 

It’s ok not to be ok.

“Fine.” It’s the superficial answer we give when someone asks how we’re doing today.

“Fine.” It’s the word we choose to describe something when we don’t want to get into why it isn’t horrible, but probably could be better.

“Fine.” It’s what we tell ourselves when we don’t want to expend the necessary energy it would take to fix the situation that deep down we are certain is absolutely not “fine”.

“Fine” is part of the mask we wear. It’s the lie we tell ourselves and others when the idea of sharing our true selves feels too heavy. It’s the way we avoid vulnerability, and thereby connection and authenticity. It’s a way we allow our denial to suppress our truth and keep us from becoming all we were meant to be.

I wasted far too many years trying to convince myself and everybody around me that I was “fine” when I was dying inside. I worked so hard hide my bleeding wounds, I could never heal them. They just festered under the surface until I was ready to get real and face them.

We live in a culture that makes us feel like perfection is the only acceptable standard. Perfection is all around us- look at any nearby screen and you’ll see it. But, it goes beyond the photo shopped images we’re bombarded with. Just looking perfect is not enough. We’re expected to have our shit together at all times, too.

Vulnerability is seen as weakness. Admitting that things aren’t perfect can be the hardest thing to do when we are programmed to be positive all the time. I’m here to tell you that expressing painful emotions is not negative. We have a right to our emotions- good, bad, and ugly. It’s not negative to express how you feel honestly. But, unfortunately, people usually just can’t handle that level of realness.

Why?

Well, we learn it from the time we are small children. When we whine, cry, criticize, or lament the cruelties of our lives as children, there is always an adult around to tell us to stop crying and get our shit together. They shush us. They tell us that what we need or want in that moment is not important. They tell us to be good little girls and stop complaining. To take what we’re given and not ask for more. And, we carry those lessons with us for the rest of our lives.

Essentially, we learn to put the comfort of others above our own needs, desires, and feelings. That’s what we learn from the adults who shush us when we are little.

Then, when things get tough, we take over where our grown ups left off- telling ourselves to just be grateful for the scraps we’ve been given and stop asking for life to give us what we really want. We hold ourselves back, because at the end of the day, we just don’t feel like we deserve anything more.

But, the truth is, we do deserve more. We deserve to have every single thing we desire in this lifetime. We were not born to struggle. We were born to shine. We were not meant to hide our negative emotions. We’re supposed to listen to them, and follow them where the lead so we can find our purpose.

Despite what we are taught, negative emotions are not a bad thing. They are powerful teachers and guides. Without some frustration, anger, irritation or sadness, how would we ever really find our bliss?

Negative emotions help us to determine what we don’t want. And, usually, that’s a huge step toward figuring out what we do want. Without that contrast, how would we ever know which direction to move in our lives? Without some pain, how would we really know where to find pleasure?

Too often, we conceal our negative emotions for the comfort of those around us, and we pretend that everything is fine. Maybe we don’t want to look weak. Maybe we don’t want to burden someone else with our problems. Or, maybe we would rather just stay in the land of sweet, sweet denial where we don’t have to deal with our shit.

But, when we go around pretending that everything is great when it isn’t, we actually rob the people we love of the opportunity to be there for us. We keep our true selves hidden from them and sell them a lie. The fake smile, the small talk, the superficial interaction is really just bullshit. They can never connect with who we are when we are hiding behind our mask of perfection.

But, if we allow ourselves to be vulnerable and honest, we create more depth in our friendships. Being authentically who we are can only create space for others to be authentically who they are. When we share our imperfections, pain, mistakes, regrets, and dreams with another human being, it often inspires them to share with us as well. This is the foundation of an honest, loving supportive relationship.

Our masks may feel like little security blankets, but really, they can only push people away and keep us from the sincere connections we so desperately crave.

At the end of the day, it’ ok not to be ok.

It’s good, healthy, and honest to express our emotions for what they are. And usually, when we open up and share those scary things, someone is waiting to help us see our way out of whatever hole we’ve imagined ourselves into. Real connection begins with the courage to drop our masks and share what’s going on with us just beyond our “fine”.

 

 

Photo: Odd Stuff Magazine

The Intuitive Language of our Dreams

I was sailing a small boat out on the ocean, alone. Except, I wasn’t really alone. Another small vessel followed closely behind me. It approached the side of my boat, and I walked over to say hello.

On the other vessel, was my ex-husband. He reached a hand out toward me, I took his hand, and we held onto each other for a moment. Our boats moved easily beside one another. The water was peaceful and still. We stayed in that moment until something caught my attention over his shoulder.

I looked past him, out into the water that surrounded us, and saw a group of orcas approaching. Excited, I pointed to them and told him to look. I was in complete awe of the beautiful creatures.

“We’ve got to get out of here!” he shouted, scrambling to adjust his sails.

But, I didn’t want to leave. I walked to the back of my boat to lean over the side, where the orcas greeted me. One by one they took turns jumping up out of the water to meet my outstretched hands. I would caress the enormous creatures, and kiss each one that rose from the water to connect with me. My boat spun in a gentle circle, as the giants swam around me. It was a magical experience. I felt completely at peace there in my little boat, surrounded by killer whales.

When I glanced up to see if he was watching the amazing thing that was happening, he was gone. His boat was disappearing into the horizon where the sun was beginning to set. In his fear, he ran away, and missed out on an incredible experience.

This powerful dream came to me not long after our divorce. We were still navigating our new normal, and creating new boundaries. I was getting reacquainted with myself after years of being only wife and mother. To say that I was right in the middle of an identity crisis would be an understatement. That’s why I was so grateful for the clarity that came with these amazing symbols.

In our dreams, water is often symbolic of emotional and spiritual cleansing. It is also an indicator of the emotional climate of a situation in our waking life. The calm, peaceful water in my dream was showing me that there was no need to fuss or fight about anything. I could just stay in the flow of my life and allow things to unfold until my transformation and healing were complete. I didn’t have to do anything to bring the orcas to me. The ocean brought them to me when I needed them, the same way that life seems to always deliver exactly what I need when I’m tuned in and allowing myself to receive it.

Being the captain of my own sailboat was huge. It showed me that I had taken control of- and responsibility for- my own life and choices. After years of being bound together in an unhappy marriage, we were free to be individuals again. When he chose to sail away, he didn’t try to drag me along with him, and I did nothing to make him stay. When he left, I was surrounded with love and protection, sent to me by the ocean itself. I was never alone, there was nothing to fear, and life was spectacular.

I felt the orcas rising up out of the water to connect with me was symbolic of the reconnection that was happening inside. I was getting to know myself again, connecting my emotional and physical bodies more soundly to each other. I was becoming aware of my own connectedness to the universe, and the other beings who inhabit it. I was expanding, becoming aware of something much larger than myself.

I knew when I woke that morning that our friendship would soon end. And, though that was not what I wanted, I trusted that it was the right thing. I knew that I would be completely supported through that transition, and just as the ocean sent the whales to me, life would continue to supply everything I needed. When he eventually started to pull away, I let go, and let our twenty-year friendship die.

Through the death of our friendship, I found a truth I’d not considered while I was clinging to it. To be friends with him, meant continuing to wear the mask I wore in our marriage. It meant bending to fit his expectations of me, and trying to keep him happy. To be friends with him, I would have to give up being my own best friend, and go back to the people pleasing, weak woman whose soul atrophied almost into oblivion while in his care.

It was time for me to let go of the attachments I had formed in the early days of our separation when we made promises from a place of fear and pain. It was unfair, unkind even, to make promises to each other in that emotional state. The things we promised were not realistic, an in the end, I realized how unhealthy it would have been for me to continue holding onto that friendship.

I was grateful for that dream, because it helped me prepare for the final cutting of our emotional ties to each other. In my heart, I know that I could only be a reminder to him of the man he didn’t want to be. His fear of that truth made him run away over and over until I stopped trying to pull him back. Watching his little boat disappear and feeling completely at peace was so incredibly powerful. I knew that I would be ok without him, after what seemed like a lifetime of believing that he was somehow necessary for my survival. When I got really honest about our relationship, I was shocked at how truly toxic we were together. What was I holding onto?

Our dreams can bring us all kinds of important messages about our waking lives. Often, our subconscious mind speaks to us in dreams when our conscious mind is not ready to process something, or if we’re ignoring or avoiding something that needs our attention. If we take time to listen, and study our dreams, we can learn a lot about ourselves. Sometimes, we can even predict how a situation will work out, or see the outcome that would be best for us. The more we trust these messages, the stronger our intuition becomes.

PhotoPixabay

 

I Made a Thing.

They say when life gives you lemons, you should make lemonade. They also say that writers should avoid clichés, but this one really works for me…

There are lots of ways to make lemonade- to focus on the positive, to find a place of gratitude in our struggle, or make things sweet even when they just kind of suck.

Writing is my lemonade. It’s the best therapy I’ve ever found, and the only way I’ve ever been able to make sense of my life.

Today, I published my first book, Dysfunction Diaries. It’s a collection of short stories from my early years as a humor writer. It’s ridiculous, vulgar, and exactly how I had to tackle the impossible job of becoming an author. It was my first little blog, the first website I built all by myself, and today, it’s my first book. That feels pretty awesome.

Thanks to everyone who helped make this happen. I’m the luckiest girl in the world to be surrounded by so much love.

Namaste

xo Renee

 

 

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