Tuesday, December 30, 2014

An Open Letter to 2014

Dear 2014,

Christmas is over and the new year is just around the corner. I've been reflecting a lot lately on the past year, and I decided to share of few of my thoughts (because clearly they are important enough that I naturally assume everyone cares!)(also, hubris!).

And let's face it, 2014, you weren't very kind. From what I hear, you didn't play well with others, either. Like, lots of others. Most of the others.

(Isn't there a horror movie called The Others? Now I'm creeped out. But I digress.)

While I can't speak for everyone else (they'll have to take up their beefs with you individually), let's just go ahead and do a quick rundown of the many ways in which you screwed me over this year:

Polar vortex (welcome to Wyoming).
BTW, EOG owns you, bitch (otherwise known as the agent who lied).
Jerkface family member that decided to lie about me rather than face her own personal messes she'd made and lies she'd been living.
Friends who decided I wasn't worth the effort because I moved to a state they didn't approve of.
Aching, crippling homesickness (I love you, Seattle. Call me).
Family cancer scare #1.
Work/life balance that was impossible to maintain (for all involved).
Family cancer scare #2.
Worst. Vacation. Ever.
More crippling homesickness.
Actual family member cancer.
Unexpected debt (broken vehicle #1).
Bright spot (yay!).
Ripped bright spot away (glare).
More asshole family members (they came from all directions this year).
More unexpected debt (broken vehicle #2!).
Another bright spot (yay!).
Oh wait just kidding... (boo!)
EOG is back and wants your soul.
Family health emergency during Christmas.

See, 2014? That's quite a hefty list. And that's only a partial. I've left a few off for the sake of privacy, time, or the utter mental exhaustion of rehashing it.

So I think it's fair to say you sucked, 2014. You let me down. You let me down real bad.

Now, I will acknowledge the fact that a few good things did come out of this otherwise shit-tastic year.

I got to fly back to Seattle, surprise my mom, and attend the Women's Show (and come away with yet another ear piercing, because alt girl forever).

Hubs got an awesome new job.

My writing career has started taking off more.

I discovered Curt Gowdy State Park (yes, there are trees in southeastern Wyoming!).

And I've pretty much honed that whole grace-under-fire thing.

But to be honest, this year has left me exhausted. Straight up mentally and emotionally drained. You wore me out, 2014, and not in a good way.

But despite my pervasive snarky demeanor (I'm a joy) and nearly-consuming levels of stress (tea!), I've managed to come away with a few positives that I'm looking at carrying with me into 2015. Because optimism is a sure-fire way to deal with life's incessant curveballs.

Well, that, and a lipstick taser.

First of all, I'm letting my self-doubt go. I admit, I've been awash in self-doubt for... well, how old am I?

Yeah, most of that time.

I mean, hell, I gave myself an ulcer at 9 years old for crissake! Can you say perfectionist? Actually, can you say stereotypical oldest child?

Anyhoodle, the crapfest that was 2014 finally gave me the cojones to just let it go. I'm going to pursue my dreams, dammit, whether you like me or not!

Because guess what? I don't want to go through my life swimming in mediocrity. I don't want to be "kinda" happy, or "somewhat" fulfilled. I want to live each day in a crazy, joyous, vibrant sort of way.  I want to dig my toes in the sand, yell from the top of a mountain, and literally dance in the rain. I want to experience everything. And I want to write about it. And in order to do that, I need to stop getting in my own way. Or letting others' perceptions get in my way.

Second, I'm going to live my truth. I can no longer justify not being my true, complete, authentic self. I've always held back, hedged a bit, worried what others would think. (Again, ulcer at 9). I've always sought others' approval, acceptance, and acknowledgement. If 2014 taught me anything, it's that I'll never make others completely happy, and trying to will only make me less so. Living your life according to others' expectations is, quite frankly, a fun sponge. It sucks all the joy out of you. So I'm done.

And third, I'm cutting out the crap. The toxicity, the garbage, the baggage (mine and other people's). I don't have time for it. I don't have patience for it. And I don't want to deal with it anymore. Yes, I will be digging out of the mess of 2014 for awhile. And yes, some of the bullshit will continue into 2015. But I'm going to choose how and what to address, and when.

Don't like it? Take it away, Rhett:

Clark Gable, you sexy beast
You were rough on me, 2014. You left me battered and bruised and licking my wounds. But I'm not broken. I'm more focused than ever.

And 2015? You better be paying attention. Because if you suck too, we're going to have a pretty serious exchange of strong words. So play nice. Mmmkay, pumpkin?

Thursday, November 27, 2014

Sunday, October 19, 2014

Pursuing serenity

I'm not a particularly religious person. Or religious at all, for that matter. But one thing that has stuck with me since my childhood is the Serenity Prayer.

To me, the Serenity Prayer is not about religion or God or any sort of faith-based ideology. Rather, it's about mindfulness.

It's about being present; being aware of what's going on in your life and what is and is not worth worrying about.

Because there is so much that we can't do a damned thing about, yet we waste hours stressing ourselves out, losing sleep, and affecting our overall health worrying about it anyway.

I've been back in that cycle over the last few days. Life has thrown a few curveballs my way, both personally and professionally, and yes, I let it ruin my zen.

Life has been hectic lately, full of the usual daily demands, the effects of cold and flu season, and a general let's-see-how-much-Sarah-can-handle-before-she-cracks.

Well, I cracked.

After a series of... obstacles... this week, I began to seriously question my sanity in pursuing writing as a career. Is it really possible to make a livable wage writing, especially as a freelancer? Am I wasting my time? Will I have to put up with shady clients and/or unreasonable or inappropriate demands forever? Will someone ever give me the chance to prove myself and pay me well? I know that I write well, but is it enough to actually "make it"?

While I am going to continue to plug away at it, I'm feeling pretty uncertain about the whole thing right now. If this truly is my dream, I'm going to have to work through the self-doubt and crappy clients. Some days it's tough though. I'm sure there is light at the end of the tunnel, but with everything else we've had going on lately, I'm struggling to even find the tunnel in the first place!

Also, as has been well chronicled, my Suburban kinda went boom this summer, resulting in buying a truck to replace it and taking on a hefty loan payment.

Well, Hubs' car finally gave out this week. We've dumped more money into that thing than it's even worth, with it being in the shop as recently as last month.

We've regularly joked that, lately, it's been held together by nothing more than duct tape and hope.

But it finally gave up the ghost.

And so we are now facing taking on another car loan payment, because we're not exactly Scrooge McDuck around here with bags of money with which to purchase a car outright.

(If you happen to have McDuck's number, feel free to give it to me, because I feel like he and I could have a pretty useful chat over a cup o' tea!)

So needless to say, I'm back being stressed about money again. While, yes, we can afford to take on another payment (within reason), that'll risk maxing us out. Right as we're heading into the holiday season.

Time for some straight up hustlin'! Cuz Santa ain't cheap.

Okay, enough made-up words and apostrophes.

I'm not one for being all about the money, because you can't take it with you, so I don't usually get all bajiggety over it (another made up word, sorry). But this whole dead-car-redux has gotten to me.

Trying to do this 
Would rather do this
So I decided to take a new approach. The Serenity Prayer approach.

What can I not change?

I cannot change what happened with the Suburban, the truck, etc. I cannot change the clusterf*ck of a vacation we had, and the financial havoc it wreaked.

I cannot change the fact that a 10-year-old Volkswagon finally died. Old cars eventually crap out, especially VWs (they go from great to WTF pretty quickly). It was inevitable, though we tried like hell to prolong its life.

I cannot change our need for two safe and reliable, 4-wheel-drive vehicles going into Wyoming's winter. We cannot have a repeat of last year, digging our way out of snow drifts on a regular basis (usually in our driveway, which only added insult to injury).

I cannot change the majority of our bills and financial obligations.

I cannot change life's curveballs, because they happen.

What can I change?

I can make some necessary cuts to our budget here and there, saving money wherever possible.

I can ramp up my freelance writing, taking as many orders and projects as possible to bring in extra cash (and just deal the occasional with less-than-ideal client). I can blog more, hopefully driving more traffic and maybe, finally, earning something from it.

I can support Hubs while he travels for work, which supplements his income through reimbursements.

I can practice being more flexible and open to the journey, even if said journey does not follow any sort of plan.

I can control my attitude, choosing to be grateful for the good things we have, rather than obsessing over the imperfections that life brings.

I can remind myself that this is temporary; that we will dig out of the Year of The Dead Cars. That things will get better and good things are on the horizon.

I can remember to breathe, and remind myself that so many others are facing far worse situations than we are. We are fortunate to have options, even if they are not the most convenient.

Do I have the wisdom to know the difference?

This one may be a bit of a struggle still. Sitting down and working through our budget, I can see that, on paper at least, we have the wiggle room to take on another car payment, assuring us the reliability and safety of a new car.

I can also see that, in terms of the writing industry, it takes time to establish yourself. The "overnight successes" are rare, and usually aren't overnight after all. It takes time and patience and being paid peanuts before someone takes a chance on you. All I need is that chance.

I also know that life happens while we are busy planning. Life likes to keep things interesting, and the best laid plans can easily go sideways. This makes me nervous, and I can feel the ulcer burning in my stomach while I muddle over straining our budget even further.

So, do I accept the things I cannot change? Do I have the courage to change the things I can? And do I have the wisdom to know the difference? Not always. But with a little mindfulness, I know I can get there.

Here goes...

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Living for the todays

Last Thursday was a tough one for me.

It would have been my dad's 56th birthday.

As I've mentioned before both here on Zen Veggie, as well as over on Muddled Lemons, my dad lost his battle with colon cancer when I was 16. For better and for worse, it's one of those life experiences that ultimately shapes you as a person. It alters your perspectives; it breeds fears and insecurities you didn't previously possess; and it allows for the opportunity to prove to yourself just how strong and resilient you are.

Now, I'm generally not a wallow-y kind of person. Shit happens, you move on. But I admit that there are the occasional days where not having my dad around hits me pretty hard. There's so much we missed out on. And so sometimes those days entail a bit o' wallowing.

Sometimes it's the anniversary of his death that hits me the hardest. Sometimes, like last week, it's his birthday. And sometimes it's a random moment of a random day that totally catches me off guard. It varies, and I just try to go with it.

One thing that I have taken from my dad's very early death (aged 41) is that life isn't a guarantee. No one knows how much time they have, and [despite some overly certain arguments stating otherwise] no one knows what happens once our time is up.

(Along those lines, I recently discussed a random, existential/meta train of thought that brought me down the rabbit hole. I blame Lana Del Rey. When in doubt, always blame Lana Del Rey.)

Anyhoodle, as I was saying. Nothing in life is guaranteed. You may get 10 years or 110 years on this earth. And as someone who is sitting here watching time go whizzing by at neck-snapping speeds, I can attest to the importance of grabbing on and enjoying the ride while it lasts.

I want to live as long as possible (my goal is 120), but I also want to live as well as possible. I want to experience my life; to live vibrantly and boldly and enthusiastically; to not just be a casual observer. I want to climb mountains. I want to travel to exotic and not-so-exotic locations. I want to show my kids the wonders of nature, humanity, and the universe. I want to laugh until I'm crying and feeling slightly nauseous. I want to break out dancing to a song I love and embarrass myself and those around me. I want to go for my dreams, and support the dreams of those around me, regardless of how ridiculous they may seem. I want to truly, wholeheartedly embrace my life.

I will turn 31 in exactly two months, which means that, realistically, I may have only lived one-third of my life so far (or one-quarter if I get my way). I'm excited at the prospect of having so much time to engage in this journey!

At the same time, however, the past almost-31-years has flown by like a fleeting dream. This realization makes me a bit panicky! The next 31 will probably seem to go just as quick.

I think this is part of why I finally decided to just go for it and pursue writing. I've always wanted to. So finally I just did. I may fail terribly. But at least I'm living boldly.

I'm done wasting time with the what-ifs and the maybes and the somedays. Life is about the todays.

Let's all live for the todays.

Sunday, September 7, 2014

[Repost from my other blog Muddled Lemons] This hippie is high on life

So let me just preface this post by saying that I do not do drugs. I've never smoked weed or dropped acid or dabbled in any sort of mind-altering substance. 

I'm also not religious. I was raised by an ex-Catholic Earth Mother Pagan type, and while I have attended various Christian-based services in the past, I quickly discovered they are not my "thing".  

(Although I think I could get on board with the Flying Spaghetti Monster. Seems like a pretty cool dude. But I digress.)

My personal spirituality is sort of an amalgamation of Eastern and Norse philosophies, tied together with a tree-hugging, wool sock-wearing, organic granola-munching, love-the-people, humanist side. I dig Pope Francis and think he's a pretty awesome dude, but I also think it'd be cool to have tea and chat with Richard Dawkins. 

I'm open-minded, but not in the "expand your mind by eating 'shrooms" kind of way. I've never been the one in the corner contemplating the meaning of string and watching the walls pulsate; I've likewise never striven to speak with God, or gods, or any sort of deity really. I rely more on science, less on blind faith. 

Okay. So we've pretty much nailed that one down, yes? Mind is not altered, nor is it influenced by a monotheistic worldview.

Okay, we can move on now.

So earlier today I was listening to the 107.7 The End app on my phone (because there aren't really good radio stations in this neck of the woods, at least in terms of my musical preferences) and Lana Del Rey's song "West Coast" came on. The vibe of the song always leads me to picture a sepia-toned 8mm video of the California coast in the 1960s (ironically, the video is actually in black and white, though I didn't know that before writing this post).

Anyway, I suddenly found myself immersed in this strange, unfiltered train of thought:

The 8mm film of the '60s is like the cell phone videos of today, or the stone carvings of ancient times. The modern tools we use to capture a moment in time. A moment that is fleeting. A moment that will soon pass and never been felt or experienced again. The people that experience these individual moments will find themselves surrounded by new technologies that the next generation will use to capture their also-fleeting moments. These moments are important and pivotal to our existence at the time, yet in the grand scheme of things they also don't really matter, because the human experience is fluid and in constant forward motion. The individuals throughout time who have sought to capture their moments have all passed on, as we all will someday as well....

...Pass on. What happens when we pass on? We exist in this consciousness, this awareness of our awareness. But what happens when we die? What happens to that consciousness? Is it like falling asleep? Are we somewhat aware that it's happening? Or is it like a light being switched off? Instantaneous. We just suddenly cease to be aware, cease to have the capacity of awareness. Our light is just snuffed like a candle wick. Is it just over?...

...Our consciousness is an energy. Our consciousness is what makes us human. Otherwise, we'd be like an earthworm or an amoeba or a piece of kelp. Our consciousness is what the human experience is all about, what has transformed society into that which it is today. So what happens when we die and that consciousness stops? If energy can be neither created nor destroyed, what happens? Are we aware that our bodies have died? Do we pass on to another plane within the universe? Does our consciousness continue in a new life, but only in flashes of deja vu, or are we cognizant of having lived before? Do our conscious minds continue after our bodies have perished, like some sort of cosmic audience to the passage of time? Do we watch our children, and our children's children, and each subsequent generation of humans? Do we continue to exist along the space-time continuum, expanding with the universe and experiencing an awareness that our simple human brains cannot fathom? Is this what people see when they have near-death experiences? Is this what the tunnel of light is; our consciousness passing through to another realm? Is this what people perceive as Heaven, or Valhalla, or Brahmaloka, or Nirvana?...

See? I'm telling ya folks, I don't need mind-altering substances to trip myself out. I just need a few moments of silence and some musical inspiration!

Monday, September 1, 2014

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Finding the courage to be authentic

Years ago, I was turned on to the idea of discovering your authentic self, living your truth, and pursuing your inner happiness and calling. It seems like an easy enough concept: just do what you feel you are meant to do, follow your heart, yadda yadda yadda.

Well guess what?

Discovering your authentic self isn't necessarily easy, and living your truth tends to invoke a lot of opinions and 'helpful advice' from well-meaning friends and family.

For instance, I've wanted to be a writer for... well, pretty much as long as I can remember. And that dream was pretty quickly shot down by virtually everyone around me.

"You'll never make it"

"Getting published is impossible"

"You'll never make any money"

"You really think you're good enough?"

Or my personal favorite: "That's stupid" and "You're crazy!"

What's so stupid or crazy about pursuing a dream?!?

Well after so much negativity, I began to believe that the naysayers were right. What was I thinking hoping to be the next Anne Rice (a little time-frame perspective for ya!)? I needed to be serious and focus on real goals.

So as I grew up, I considered law school, nursing school, social work, foreign language, and history. You know, real, serious, practical goals.

(My degree is in Business Management. About as practical as it gets.)

But none of those really spoke to me. Okay, yes, I am fascinated by history (my favorite book genre is historical fiction), and being fluent in one or more foreign languages is on my bucket list. But in terms of turning those into careers? I was underwhelmed. They always came a distant second to my secret wish to be a writer.

After dabbling for a number of years, writing short stories that no one was allowed to read, trying my hand at poetry (then deciding to do the merciful thing and never try poetry again!), pursuing the "safe" avenue of blogging, I finally decided to grow some cojones and just go for it.

"You love to write, so just do it" Hubs encouraged me.

Of course, all those years of negative, unsupportive responses weighed heavily on me. In fact, they still do. I am still plagued with self-doubt and self-deprication. I worry that I'm not very good. I worry that I'm wasting my time. I worry that any good idea I have has already been published by someone else, and that I'm too late to the game.

And worst of all, I find myself embarrassed to admit to some of those unsupportive people that I've chosen to go for it. In fact, few of them know what I've been up to lately; that I've been working furiously on three different novels, that I freelance, or hell, that I even blog. I mentioned my freelance work back when I first started writing for Yahoo, and a few key people were ambivalent at best, almost mocking at worst. So those people are no longer privy to what I'm striving for.

When it comes to chasing your dreams and seeking your authentic self, there comes a time when you have to make the choice to shut out the haters and just do your thing. I have enough worry and doubt in my head, I don't need anyone adding fuel to that.

So here I am, trying to find my footing in this scary world of writing. Hell, I can barely muster the courage to call myself a writer! I feel like a poser. People's first question when I say I'm a writer is always "what have you published?"

Well.... freelance articles, most of which were ghostwritten... and my blog posts...

Then there's the 'look'. The expression of "that's it?!?" and the instant dismissal of my claims to be a writer.

Many people judge the value of calling yourself a writer by how many books you've successfully published, but I prefer the sage advice I was given a few months back:

"If you write. If you eat, sleep, and breathe writing. If you devour books. If you spend most of your waking hours with one foot inside a world which you made up, a world of magic, intrigue, fantasy, action, or quiet introspection. If your daily encounters feed the dialogue constantly running in your head. And if you write any of this down. Then yes, you're a writer."

So I guess I'm a writer. Currently unknown. But a writer nonetheless.

If you love to paint, you're a painter. If you love to sing, you're a singer. If you love to cook, you're a chef. And if you love to write, you're a writer.

Don't wait for the world's approval. Don't wait for fame, fortune, and global acclaim. Pursue what your heart is calling for you to pursue. Listen to your authentic self. Live your truth. And let the rest work itself out. Opening your mind and heart is the first step to opening doors.