Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Mental Health Day...

One must still have chaos in oneself to be able to give birth to a dancing star.
~~Nietzsche

I took a mental health day today. I called a co-worker to cover my shift at the bookstore and called in sick. I’ve had a migraine for three days. I don’t usually get migraines, so when I get one I know my body is telling me something I need to hear. Usually my body reacts when I’m taking life too seriously and spending too much time in my head and not enough time in my heart.

This week has been a lot to integrate for me. New job possibilities. Interviews. My annual review at my current job. And just to make it interesting, a number of unexpected jw triggers. Just when you think the past is dead and buried it rears its head once more. “We may be through with the past, but the past ain't through with us.” (Magnolia, screenplay by Paul Thomas Anderson)

So, I spent the day with myself, getting back into my body. Did some yoga. Had a light lunch. And cleaned my apartment. Cleaning house is the physical manifestation for the same mental act. When I want to “clean house” mentally and emotionally, I scrub my toilet, wash my dishes, sweep my floor. There is something zen in the repetitive action. It allows my mind to settle around the issues and before I know it, they’re not issues anymore. I usually collapse into laughter in the middle of my cleaning journey. And then, I pump up the music on my Itunes and dance around my clean space and remember what it is to be human. To be. Just be.

I wonder what it would be like if the whole world could stop and take a mental health day. What if the whole planet decided on one day where everything just stopped; where everyone just sat still for awhile; or spent time in nature just observing; or only did things that day that they really wanted to do. What would that look like?

I wonder what would have happened if George W. had declared a mental health day for the whole country after 9/11. A day of quiet. A day of reflection. A day of being. What would have happened?

Do we really need the chaos to give birth to the dancing star as Nietzsche suggests? I just don't know.

tall penguin

Monday, February 25, 2008

Look Who's Talkin'...

I went for a job interview today. It was arranged through the temp agency, which I talked about a few weeks back. Once again, I felt as if the words were just coming out of my mouth, from a very core place. I watched myself talking with the interviewers. And I listened as the penguin in the chair said all manner of things she wouldn’t normally have said during an interview. Like this:

Interviewer (of non-profit organization): What word would your current co-workers use to describe you?

tall penguin: (laughs quite loudly, gleaming with a devilish smile) Fun.

Now, the old people-pleasing, persona-wearing, I’m-desperate-give-me-this-job penguin would have went through a million different possibilities before responding, thinking about what it is they would want to hear. Competent. Team player. Diligent. Hard-working. But no, I said Fun. Yup. That’s right. Fun.

I left thinking that these ladies would be calling the temp agency asking what kind of crazy person they sent to work for their very prestigious organization. But apparently they liked me. I was offered the job. (I’m not going to take it. There are other things in the fire. Stay tuned.)

It’s funny. I was just watching the clip from the Barbara Walters pre-Oscar special from last night. She interviewed Harrison Ford, who I’ve been in love with since I was a little girl. And he was talking about his first bit part in a film and how, after filming, he got called in to the studio exec’s office to discuss future opportunities. Well, Harrison made some very frank remark and ended up getting thrown out of the studio. But he had this to say about the incident:

“That line set me off on a path, a kind of independence of mind that didn’t serve me well at first but probably has served me well in the long run.”

I understand.

tall penguin

Sunday, February 24, 2008

A New Earth...


I'm not a fan of bandwagons, but I must admit to enjoying the latest Oprah's book club pick, A New Earth, by Eckhart Tolle. Granted, I actually read the book before Oprah chose it. I've been a fan of Tolle's work for the past couple of years. His book The Power of Now is one of my favorite recommends at the bookstore. While it's shelved in self-help it's so much more profound than the usual schlock in the section. I describe it as being closer to Zen Buddhism. Tolle's focus is on present moment awareness and the shift from ego attachment to authentic being.

I think wikipedia's page on Tolle does a good job of outlining his basic teachings:
  1. You are not your thoughts. You are the awareness behind the thoughts. Thoughts are often negative and painful, yearning for or fearing something in the future, complaining about something in the present or fearing a matter from the past. However, the thoughts are not you, although your ego wants you to think that. Awareness of your thoughts without being caught up in them is the first step to freedom.
  2. Only the present moment exists. That is where life is (indeed it is the only place life can truly be found). Becoming aware of the 'now' has the added benefit that it will draw your attention away from your (negative) thoughts. Use mindfulness techniques to fully appreciate your surroundings and everything you are experiencing. Look and listen intently. Give full attention to the smallest details.
  3. Accept the present moment. It is resistance to the present moment that creates most of the difficulties in your life. However, acceptance does not mean that you cannot take action to rectify the situation you are in. What is important is to drop resistance so that you let the moment be, and that any action arises from deeper awareness rather than from resistance. The vast majority of pain in a person's life comes from resistance to what is.
  4. Observe the pain-body. Years of conditioned thought patterns, individually and collectively, have resulted in habitual emotional reactions with an apparent personality of their own. During 'pain-body attacks' we become completely identified with this 'pain identity' and respond from its agenda—which is to create more pain for ourselves and others. Observing the pain-body is awareness itself arising—as it allows humans to separate from this unconscious identification with pain."
This could be life-changing. It's simple, but it requires you to investigate what you hold to be true about who you think you are. It asks you to look into the deepest parts of yourself, beyond the story, beyond thought, beyond emotion. There are no beliefs required. Just a willingness to look. And that, is where the magic happens.

tall penguin

Worth a Thousand Words...

There’s a story here. A story of love, grief, joy, pain, community, solitude and hope. It’s there in his eyes. It’s there in her smile. It sits in my heart each day. It brings me tears of joy, tears of sorrow. I’ve tried to write it many times. But the words fail. They often do.

tall penguin

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Mental Note...

Stop using the oven timer as an alarm clock. My roast chicken just went off and I immediately jumped off the couch and proceeded to the shower.

Call me Pavlov's dog.

tall penguin

What is, what is not...

I’m learning more and more about the depression/anxiety that this particular penguin experiences. Not from any therapist. Not from any book. But from watching it. Even in the middle of a panic attack or serious dark cloud appearance I am learning to watch and see what is happening.

So, what am I learning? First of all, that I am not that. I am not the depression or anxiety that this mind and body deal with. I am that wonderful, quiet consciousness looking on from beneath it all. I am the still place within that holds the space around all the gobbledy gook. I am.

And I am learning that this life is mine to live. Seems pretty evident. And perhaps it is to most people, but it’s something I forget and get clocked on the head by depression and anxiety to remember. I often feel the dark cloud roll in when I’m attempting to live by someone else’s rules or expectations, by someone else’s schedule, or even by the contrived story in my own mind of how things should be. It’s a sure recipe for disaster. The thoughts spiral down into a suicidal abyss and before I know it I’m feeling panicky and trapped in my life.

I spent some time in the gobbledy gook this week before I got a little tap on the shoulder from my kinder, gentler self and was reminded that this is my life and I can direct it any way I want. Once the light bulb went on, I was only breaths away from smiling again. Amazing, isn't it?

tall penguin

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Those Who Know...

Sometimes, the minutes fall like rain on pavement. You search for an umbrella but realize there’s no point; you’re already wet. And you cry because no one will be able to see your tears. And you think you know why you’re crying, but really, you don’t.

Sometimes, the hours pass like snowflakes in the wind. You watch them from behind the window; where it’s warm, where it’s safe. And you smile because no one will be able to see your smile through the white blanket. And you think you know why you’re smiling, but really, you don’t.

And sometimes, the days don’t pass at all. You watch, you wait, you sing, you dance, you laugh, you cry, you jump up and down, but the day just won’t budge. You think you know why, but really, you don’t.

tall penguin

Monday, February 18, 2008

Gay and Proud...

They say you shouldn’t drunken text. Well, you probably shouldn’t drunken blog either. But hey, life is too short not to do all the things you shouldn’t do.

So, for the second time this weekend, I went to the gay bar. Same one as the other night when I was accosted by the dude in the coat check line. Tonight, well, I’m not even sure I can explain what happened tonight. But I’ll try.

I went out with two friends from work, one straight gal and my little gay buddy. At some point in the evening, they disappeared to watch the drag show and left me to dance on my own, which I’m totally cool with. If you know me, you know I’m all about the dancing. If the music is good, I don’t care who I’m with, I’ll dance all night. And dance I did.

I was off in my own little world, eyes closed, dancing my little heart out when I feel this guy slide up next to me. Considering where I am, I’m not expecting this. But hey, he could dance, so what the hell. So we’re grinding it up and his boyfriend looks a bit jealous so I invite him to join us. Soon enough, the three of us were getting lots of attention. By the time my friends returned from the drag show, I was sandwiched in the middle of all kinds of gay/bi/straight/whatever men.

Now, I’m new to this. I mean, I used to be the good little Jehovah’s Witness girl who knocked on your door Saturday mornings with the Watchtower and Awake magazines. My sole purpose in life was to warn you of God’s impending judgment. So, me on the dance floor of a gay bar being grinded up by about five different men is funny to me, if not downright hilarious. There are pictures. If I don’t look like a complete drunken crazy in them, I’ll post some later.

Oh, and did I tell you one of the guys was from Milan?! Oh my! Yup, it’s official. I’m a fag hag.

tall penguin

p.s. And my jw parents will be here in less than 10 hours for our official Family Day lunch. Oh, if only they could see how far their daughter has strayed from "the faith". Booyah!!!

Sunday, February 17, 2008

The Spiritual in the Mundane...

If spirit guides exist, mine’s an old guy with a beard and an Irish accent.

I was working on cash today, which I rarely do. Usually I work on the floor helping customers find books. A man steps up to my counter and forcefully lays down some magazines. He’s older, maybe late 60’s. His mostly gray beard has just a little bit of black hair still showing from his youth.

I begin ringing through his purchase. I can feel his eyes studying me. I stumble over my words as I move through the transaction, but continue smiling.

“So, when you going to get a real job?” he asks. I laugh nervously. I’ve never seen this man before in my life. The question startles me.

“Well…umm…what do you mean…isn’t this a real job?”

“Not for you,” he says, without missing a beat. His Irish accent is endearing albeit a bit terrifying. A little grandfather mixed with IRA assassin.

“Well actually, I’ve put some things in motion this week. We’ll see what happens.” Why am I telling him this? I look behind me expecting to see a hand up my back. The words are coming out of my mouth but they’re not mine.

He looks me in the eyes and says, “That’s good because we’ve got big hopes for you.” He gathers up his purchase with a wink and a smile and walks away.

I wrote here about a similar experience. They happen every so often. Perhaps they’re just random occurrences. Perhaps they’re just crazy coincidences. But what if they’re not?

tall penguin

Saturday, February 16, 2008

Scene from the Coat Check Line

It’s past 3:00 am. I’m standing in the coat check line at the gay bar, waiting to collect my belongings and head out for some post-drinking munchies. My little gay buddy, who I’ve accompanied out for the night, is off chatting up some new found friends. Out of the corner of my eye I see this tall guy who I can tell right away is checking me out. My sleaze radar goes off. He starts making his way towards me. Uh oh.

“Hi, how are you?” he asks, joining in the coat check line behind me. I notice he already has he coat on. How dumb does he think I am?

“Good.” He’s not bad looking but something about him just doesn’t sit right with me.

“What’s your name?”

“Nicole.” Not my real name of course, but he doesn’t need to know that.

“I’m Matt. You here with friends?”

“Yes.” I’m hoping my buddy will make his appearance at this moment, but alas I am left to fend off this loser on my own.

“So, are you straight or gay?” He slides the question across the air like a dealer slides out the cards at a Blackjack table. If he’s drunk, he’s not showing it. I have to wonder if he’s been stalking girls all night, hoping at least one of them might be straight and/or stupid enough to take him home.

I think fast. I mean if I’m going to use this line, this is the best place to use it. “I’m gay,” I reply.

“Well, you must be bi, right?”

“Nope. I’m a lesbian.” I giggle at the thought, not just because I know it’s a lie but also because the idea amuses me. I imagine how the night could have unfolded if I’d pursued the advances of the many hot ladies on the dance floor who grinded themselves up to me.

I figure that would have been the end of it but nope there’s more. He leans in and kisses me on the cheek!

“You don’t feel anything from that?” he asks, thinking his lips were somehow magical enough to make my sexual persuasion change. On the contrary, if they were an indication of things to come, sex with him would’ve been limp and slobbery.

“Nope, not feeling anything.” I start laughing at this point. He remains silent for a few moments. I can see his wheels turning.

“Well, can I just ask you for one thing?” He asks, smiling.

“Sure, go ahead,” I say. I’m curious to see how much more ridiculous this interlude can get.

“May I just hold on to your tiny, tiny waist?”

Can’t say I was expecting that one. “No thanks.” I reply.

“But why?” This guy just doesn’t get it.

“Because I don’t want your hands on my body. That’s why.”

He then turns and walks away.

Do people really hear themselves? Gee…zuz.

tall penguin

Thursday, February 14, 2008

Valentine's Day...

Happy Big Heart Day everyone!!!

I wish you all love, joy and peace this day. Even if you’re not in relationship now, it’s a great day to celebrate the loves you’ve been privileged to enjoy in your life.

Me, I’m working at the bookstore tonight. I’ll be watching as the couples come from their expensive dinners and hang out in the Sexuality department amorously giggling over Kama Sutra books. May I be able to celebrate their love without throwing up in my mouth.

tall penguin

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Temporary Insanity...

Stop me if you’ve heard this one before. No, I mean really stop me. I’m having déjà vu and I think I’ve already shared this story with you. Very weird.

So, I went to a temp agency today. Ventured out in a blustery winter storm to get there. Decided to take a different tack than when I was there five years ago. Back then, I was a desperate little jw just trying to find work to support my goal of being a full-time minister for the cult. And I was hell-bent (pun entirely intended) on putting on appearances, pretending to be whatever was necessary to get the job done. Being a jw taught me that one too. Nothing like being one of “God’s chosen people” to split your personality.

I'm in a strange place with my life. I'm almost treating it like some kind of sociological experiment. It's like I don't give a fuck anymore, but not in a bad way. Just that it's all part of this elaborate story, this crazy matrix and I see through it and really don't take it that seriously. Maybe I'm just going crazy. Won't be the first time. Anyhow...

Recruiter lady asks me what I'm looking for and I tell her I really don't know. I tell her I still don't know what I want to be when I grow up. She laughs and says, "That's great!"

I said, "Umm, really?"

She thought that was exciting for me. So she asks me to tell her about myself, what I've done, what I'm interested in, what I'm looking for, etc. And well, I said shit I've never said before. I kind of laid it all out. I told her I like working with people. I told her I think ad agencies (which are many of her clients) make me ill and that I can't work for companies I don't feel connected with on a value level; like being a cog in the wheel of some corporation that really doesn't add much to the world. I told her that I have to do work where I understand my role in the bottom line and that if I'm just another face in the crowd it's not going to work for me.

I watched myself have this conversation and part of me was like "What the fuck are you doing?" The other part was like "You go girl!" Recruiter lady got a real kick out of me and said I'd be great for a not-for-profit, at which I smiled. She said she had a client in mind and that she'd see what she can do.

So, I told someone what I really felt and the world didn’t fall apart. In fact, maybe I’m that much closer to finding work that makes me want to get out of bed in the morning. Or, I’ve now been blacklisted from working in most of the companies in my city.

tall penguin

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

So this is survival...

"The mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation.”
~~Henry David Thoreau

I’ve always had a hard time understanding what motivates people, or how it is that people make it through their mundane existence. Over the years, I’ve watched as friends around me used caffeine, drugs (prescription and non-prescription), alcohol, partying, relationships and other such things to get through their day. And I just didn’t get it. Until now.

For the past six months of being on my own, in my own apartment, paying my own bills, I have had to survive. Which means finding a way to muster the will and energy to get through fifty hour weeks of bookstore duties and munchkin corralling. It started off well when the daylight provided the needed energy boost. Or the experimenting with love, sex and all things new and unusual.

Then winter set in. Not so easy to find the get up and go. So I began to start my days off with a visit to Tim Horton’s. Extra-large Earl Gray, double double. I was now one of the masses; traipsing through snow and slush, head down, holding my coffee cup, mentally gearing up for the day ahead.

Then I became one of those people who gets through the week by keeping in mind the Friday night at the bar. The promise of drunkenness, dancing and the groping of random young men.

Or I’d plan my day around my meals. Holding on through bitchy customers or dirty diapers to sally up to the sushi bar and order some California Roll or Maguro.

It was exciting being “normal” for a change. I get it now. I see why people do this stuff. They do it to survive. They do it because they have to pay for a place to sleep at night. They have to eat, clothe themselves and take care of the sundries of life. But it gets stale pretty quickly. How do people do this for 40 or 50 years?

So, this is survival. When do we start living?

tall penguin

Monday, February 11, 2008

Goodbye Pollyanna...

I came to a realization. If I'm going to survive in this world, I'm going to have to develop a thicker skin, learn to set better boundaries and become more selfish.

I was raised to sacrifice for the sake of others. As a jw, and also as my mother's daughter, I was taught that my needs were not of concern but that if I could defer to what someone else needed, that God blessed that kind of sacrifice. Apparently he had some kind of cosmic Excel spreadsheet to take note of every time I set aside what I wanted, needed, thought or felt and would tally it up come the end of the world.

I was raised to be sensitive to people's needs, even the ones they didn't know they had. My home growing up was one of emotional...strangeness. My mother, an incredibly emotional person, hid her feelings behind a painted smile most of the time. My father showed very little emotion, except the occasional burst of anger. So, most of the time I was left trying to figure out what was really going on with my parents, and brother too. I turned up my empathy barometer to sense what people were feeling and subsequently sort out what they needed from me. I remember being acutely aware of this ability from the age of 6 on.

As a jw, it's all about keeping the peace with everyone in the congregation, whether you like them or not. Actually, you're not allowed to dislike your "brothers and sisters"; you must "cover over any grievances with love". There was no room for boundary setting. No room for saying "No" and meaning it. No room for saying, "This relationship is unhealthy and I don't want to be part of it anymore." Once again, there was no room for my individual thoughts, feelings, and ideas. All was to be sacrificed for the greater good of the group.

Well, fuck that. The more time I spend observing human nature, the more I see animals vying for survival. While we like to think we're an altruistic bunch, I sincerely believe that we're a long ways off from being the loving, giving sentient beings we may aspire to be. Evolution is slow. Both personally and collectively. So, I think it's high time I thickened my skin, learned to say "No", "Enough" and "I don't like you/this/that". And to take stock of what I need and want in this life in order to survive and be willing to put myself first for awhile to get it.

So get ready. This penguin ain't takin' no more shit.

tall penguin

Thursday, February 7, 2008

Putting it together...

I notice I get depressed when I know there is change that needs to be made in my life and I don’t want to face it. They say depression is anger turned inwards. Yes. My body tends to do this defiant 2 year old tantrum thing when I feel impending change coming down the universal pipes. It gets all achy and painy. My mood drops and the dark clouds roll in. I’ve watched it happen over and over again in my life but never with the consciousness I have of late. I see it now. I watch it unfold. It’s funny somehow.

I wake up some mornings with clenched fists, knowing I have to drag my tired, lifeless body through another day of work, purely for my own survival. I sometimes think my depression and other chronic health issues are my body’s way of flippin’ the bird to every one and every thing, tangible or not, that has lead me to where I am at this point in my life. Only one problem: the only one hurting is me. No one else gives a flying fuck about what happens to me. That’s not to say I don’t have people in my life that care. I do. But the reality of life is that if you’re going to make change, you’re the only one that can do it. There’s no cosmic knight in shining armor (read Jesus, God, or any other imaginary friend you hold dear) coming to make it better. Somehow, along the way, I missed that vital life lesson. But I’m getting it now. Geez, am I getting it.

The bright side…anger is pretty powerful. When I’m able to channel all that guck into moving forward with the bits of my life that scare me, amazing things happen. Watch. You’ll see.

tall penguin

Wednesday, February 6, 2008

Blame it on the...

So, I’ve got it. The scapegoat for all that ails the world. It’s been there all along. Global warming, terrorism, George W…only one thing we can blame them all on. Sing it with me:

“Don't blame it on the sunshine
Don't blame it on the moonlight
Don't blame it on the good times
Blame it on the boogie.”
--Jackson 5

And you thought this was going to be a serious entry didn’t ya?

tall penguin

Tuesday, February 5, 2008

My funeral...

I recently went to a funeral viewing. Whenever I attend a service for the deceased I ponder how I’d want my own final arrangements to proceed. I have blogged here about what a traditional Italian funeral viewing is like. Not my idea of fun. Way too quiet.

I want people to talk. To share what they liked about me. Or didn’t like about me. I want people to get up and say that they thought I was a totally cool babe, or, a completely psychotic bitch. I want my secret lovers to profess their everlasting devotion. I want my enemies to come up and spit on my coffin. I want my friends to tell stories of drunken nights. I want my family to recount tales of scraped knees, book reports and high school awards.

I want all the unsaid words to finally be said. I want people to walk away feeling that when my body is lowered into the ground, that they’ve made their peace with me, in whatever way they needed to. I want them to know that whatever it was that tied us together, good, bad or otherwise, it can now be released into the ether and that, in the end, we are all free.

Shit, this sounds like some party. Are you busy?

tall penguin

Americano...

He bends down to reach a book on the lowest shelf. His backpack still lodged on his back, headphones in, he thumbs through the pages. She can’t make out what he’s reading. Whatever it is, it has his attention.

She watches him get up and move to the café. He orders an Americano. He always orders an Americano. Waiting for his order, his fingers fidget and his eyes shift around. He thinks no one notices. But she notices. She notices everything.

Coffee in hand, backpack still on, headphones still in, he passes her. There are no words exchanged. Not even smiles. They pretend they’ve never met. But she knows. And he knows.

But they’re not saying.

tall penguin

Monday, February 4, 2008

Caught between a tune and New York City...

She walks. The song streams into her earphones. She sees him. He is playing guitar. He often plays guitar. To cheer her. To cheer himself. He sings to her. She thinks it’s love. She hopes it’s love. But she really doesn’t know anymore.

The wind stings her face. A stray tear spills onto her cheek. She has somewhere to be but can’t remember where. He strums the guitar strings, hiding behind a smile. He loved her once. Or so he thought. Or so he hoped. He really doesn’t know anymore.

Her feet carry her forward, set on their destination. If only she could remember where she is headed. The song continues to play. They lay at opposite ends of the couch, their legs just touching. Buried behind books, they quietly read, stopping only to share exciting finds along the way. He reads to her. She reads to him. They seem happy. It sure looks like love. But they just don’t know anymore.

She steps into the lobby. It is familiar. She removes her hat and gloves and turns off the music. The song is over.

tall penguin

Saturday, February 2, 2008

Poster Child

On my way to work there is this woman who regularly panhandles. She holds a sign that says: “Unable to work.” The sign then goes on to outline that she is unemployable due to various health conditions and needs money to pay rent and buy medications. Every time I see her I wonder what would happen if her health suddenly improved and she found herself able to work again. Would she be able to make the mental leap back into the working world? Would she be able to live without her story that she’s held onto (quite literally) for so long?

And that leads me to my own story. I’ve watched from the far corner of my mind as my life plays out before me. I see all the strings interwoven into this tapestry that has become my story. It’s full of all the things I think about myself and the world around me. Full of people, places, events. Full of emotions, thoughts, perceptions. And the more I live it, the more I realize how contrived it all is. How much it is a fabrication of my own psyche. I carry my personal placard each day, my story of how things are and how things will be. But what if the variables changed? What if I decided to change my thinking? What if I decided to lay down my story and challenge every single belief I’ve ever had about who I am? And what if you did the same? What would happen then?

tall penguin