Everything is Awesome and Everything is Boring

All of the people who traveled thousands of miles to look at the Mona Lisa … on their phones.

A few months ago, I was browsing the internet, as you do when you’re bored, and per usual the news was disheartening and infuriating, Instagram was full of the same pictures of people’s food and their new clothes or the photoshoot they staged in front the Louvre and everyone was warring on Facebook and Twitter. So I tried to read a new book, but quickly grew bored. I tried to watch a new movie and maybe I wasn’t bored but it was a remake of something old and I suddenly became acutely aware of the stale air permeating everything both informative and creative and I grew ravenous for something fresh.

And so I did something contrary to what you might assume of someone who was hungry for something fresh and new and I dug backwards through history to sink my teeth into something old.

I started rereading the classics, I watched classic movies and I listened to classic rock and also Mozart and I felt like I started to come alive again. I was interested in that phenomenon. How could something like Wuthering Heights, something I’ve read several times before and something written over 170 years ago, feel fresh? 
Why would going to see a Shakespeare play, set in a circular open air replica of the Globe theatre, feel new and exciting? Why would listening to Def Leopard and watching Hello Dolly and staring at ancient art feel like the new “it” thing?

And I think the answer is actually quite simple. This was art when it still felt genuinely human. Before it was made up of plastic and code and created using a template rather than a muse. Back before it was only considered successful if it could be turned into a funko pop, put on a t shirt or stripped down to a barely there outfit and made to dance on stage, in full hair and makeup. 
Bottom line? In today’s world a starving artist, no matter how genius, is just a drain nobody has time for whereas a successful artist makes somebody rich, fast. (Never mind you, Emily Bronte and Vincent Van Gogh. Go sit back down.) And successful artists have become an easy thing to mass produce (and all things mass produced are easy things to dispose, but reality is such a drag. I shouldn’t bring it up.)

That’s not to say book deals and recording contracts are new things. Money and art have long had a complicated relationship with one another. After all, a starving artist would always rather be a rich artist and history reflects that too. A book deal is arguably what drove F Scott Fitzgerald to alcholism and near ruin. (Well, that and Zelda.) Paintings were commissioned at a high price (what’s up Leonardo?), and movie stars were rich and 80s hair bands did strip down to barely any clothes and dance on stage in full hair and makeup to make millions. P Diddy actually made no bones about it being “All About the Benjamins.” But even so, something about the art of old speaks to a part of me that lights up and I’m pretty sure it’s because it feels like it was made by a human being.

In other words, I still sense that it was art for the sake of being art. Expression. Talent. It was created by a person with a story to tell. It was painted by a person who was always pushing beyond their ability and looking for new techniques. It was sung by people who were not the best looking, or the had to most potential to sell merchandise, but people who could write kick ass lyrics and pair them with music that rang out of their souls and spoke to humanity—not the latest drama in a career-long streak of drama. 

The movies didn’t have to have a billion dollars worth of special effects to be interesting, because the talent and the writing and the story itself, was interesting. The music didn’t have to be attractive. It just had to be something you could dance to, sing to, or cry to. The books didn’t have to meet some distinctive formula composed of intros, and stakes and midpoints and pinch points. They just had to have characters that felt like real people with real human issues and sometimes they got resolved in the end and sometimes they didn’t because just like in real life, not every character is going to show growth. Some are going to die miserable and mired in their same old miserable ick. 

If you feel this same sense of disenchantment with the way things are, but maybe need proof that you’re not just you feeling jaded, pick up any recent book on writing and see how they instruct the reader to write a novel and then use what they teach to dissect anything recent you’ve read and any movie you’ve recently seen. It is so formulaic you’ll forget you’re looking at something that’s supposed to be art, and wonder if you’re in some weird story-generating laboratory. Look up the current most popular pop stars and listen to their music and look at their image, then look away and see if you can remember who’s who. Pull up this Youtube video and see just how country music is being created in Nashville. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FY8SwIvxj8o

Whats more, this same overly curated, consumer driven, hyper focus on image and formulas and what sells or garners interest, has infiltrated everything. It’s no longer limited to entertainment and art. The same flavorless theme is saturating behavior in general society too. People used to travel for the sake of going to experience something enlightening or educational or inspirational, and now they travel for the instagram photo. The next time you are somewhere interesting, take a look at how many people are looking at everything they see, through the camera lens of their phone. They will quite literally, albeit accidentally, fall off a cliff for the sake of getting a thumbs up.

People used to throw baby showers and birthday parties because they loved the people for whom they were throwing the party. Now the party, itself, is the important thing and it needs to be larger than life and photogenic and posted on every social media site possible and now all the people at the party are on their phones, taking and posting selfies and the person of honor is … well, who again?

The world has gone bloody mad and it’s all got me longing for the days when people were just real. They wrote what burned within them, sang the song that moved them, painted the feeling they couldn’t shake, visited the place that spoke to them, and didn’t just throw the party for a person but threw a party for the person. They were humans connected to other humans and the evidence of it was in their art, their photographs, the way they acted at parties and the many tacky thimbles on display in their living room, from that time they collected them on a road trip out west. 

I understand there are no new problems. While the human condition advances from generation to generation, humanity has stubbornly remained very much the same. Artists have always hoped to sell their art so they could make a living doing what they love with their God given talents instead of relegating it to a side hustle and people have always been eager exploit one another if it meant more money in their own pockets. It’s human nature to want to be liked and to have people recognize you for being pretty or having something cool or throwing a great party. So new? No. It’s not at all.

We’ve just gotten really good at its production. We know what sells. It’s easy to make was sells. And so why take a chance on talent that doesn’t check all the boxes of what sells, when you can safely draft this kid off the street and turn her into what sells? We know how to curate and package and publish a lifestyle on instagram that farms a lot of likes and maybe even enough likes to get paid by affiliates.  Society wants to buy it, it’s easy to produce it, and as long as people keep consuming, this will be one of the many challenges to humanity in the upcoming 2020s. A paradox of cheap entertainment that pays back in the millions, even though it’s all bland. It’s all the same and we’re all bored and they’re all rich but everything is disposable and forgettable and nobody is really feels anything anymore.

And long story short (ha. right.) that brings me to what I’m doing here. I want to reconnect with the world in meaningful ways. I’m looking for the stories that make people and places and books and music and food and art interesting again. 
I know I can look through the archives of history to find the interesting things. And I’m hoping I can find some diamonds in the rough of the contemporary. To find new ways to connect with it too. If for no other reason than to reassure myself that there is still life out there that looks like real life. That it’s not all part of a factory or huge money printing machine. 

I’m hoping you’ll help too. That we can be a community of hunter-gatherers who scour the earth for the things that are lovely and then bring them back here so we can all feast upon them in a nourishing way. I’m hoping we can reconnect. To one another. To the world around us. To ourselves—which are so easily misplaced in this chaotic and gluttonous environment. And I’m hoping through all of that, that maybe we can be changed. Not because we need to show growth in some mechanical formulaic way. But because we should show growth in the most organic and natural of ways. Through human connectivity and expression. Changed from the inside out. As history has always reflected and art has always intended.

I believe it still exists so let’s go find it. And we can post our discoveries to social media, just to be cheeky.

Ralph Knows What’s UP.

When we moved overseas there was a time when every single thing was a struggle. We failed at something every day. Whether it was learning how to drive on the other side of the road, how to use the washing machine or something as simple as where to buy groceries, everything was hard and there was failure everywhere and when there are too many days in a row of feeling like a failure, it can start to mess with your head!

“Finish every day and be done with it.” Emerson’s quote is proof that these feelings and anxieties have afflicted the human spirit for a long time. Do not allow your day to be stolen from you by the feelings you have about yesterday! Be done with it! We all tend to struggle here but it is a struggle of the mind and NOT reality. The reality is there is a solution to almost every problem. And most problems are made overly complicated by our sense of anxiety over it. 

Try to sit down. Take a deep breath. Make a cup of tea. See the problem for what it is. If it can be solved by something being done (and most problems can be) then it’s likely not a failed life but rather, simply a failed task. And that is empowering news. Failed tasks usually require nothing more than some time allotted to them and a different approach to tackling them. That is literally it.

Every day after the move, we woke up to new opportunities to meet the struggles of yesterday as well new and unforeseen struggles with which to contend. And every day we grew more confident in our ability to meet the challenge and solve the problems. It didn’t happen overnight, and in fact it was the hardest thing we’ve ever done. But now it feels like we’ve lived here all our lives.  I can so easily recall the feelings of stress and exhaustion of those first months, and yet they feel so strange compared to how routine and easy things have become.

So rest confidently in the idea that you were created with a brain meant to solve problems! And you were gifted with 24 hours a day to do that! And lookie-here! Today is a whole brand spanking new set of 24 hours. Untouched by any sort of failure. So try again. And if it doesn’t work, you’ll unbox 24 more hours and a renewed hunger to solve it tomorrow, and that means anxiety and fretfulness have are of no meaningful use to you. What a relief to know you can show them to the door.

Life with Brutus

Brutus Bartholomew is our newest addition. He is hilarious, mischevious, confident and smart as all heck. And while he is all the hands-ful, he’s all the hearts-ful too.

Brutus at Seaham Beach
Brutus had his first big outing, in town. We went to tea and then on a lovely walk through Valley Gardens.

Maybe it’s Time to Move Along

You guys, I’m sorry, but this has to be addressed. You know that phrase “don’t drink the Koolaid?” It refers to being brainwashed by other people’s bad ideas and wacky beliefs. Well, I’ll do you one better. 

When I saw this sign it immediately made think of a time I was having a chat with a friend, and she was telling me all about how she’d reached a point in her life where she had to make all new friends because her current friends contaminated her water supply, which was a bit more significant than just drinking the Koolaid because a water supply is a life or death issue. She didn’t go into much more detail than that, but when I saw this sign it brought all of that back and got me thinking. You don’t travel a great distance to get a drink of water, do you? No. You typically grab water right where you are. And if that water is contaminated with crap, you’ve got an environmental catastrophe on your hands.

We have a tendency to “keep” people. For the sake of nostalgia or the sake of sticktoitivness or the sake of just being too lazy or too scared to go out and find a new circle. But if you can’t drink the water where you are, then you have a survival issue.

We cannot thrive in environments with filthy water. We can only barely survive and only for a little while. So move along. Change your circle. Don’t be around people who allow your water source to become contaminated with their bad ideas, or negative comments or disbelief in what you can do. When people shout you down, put you down or hold you down, it’s because that’s where they want you. Down. And that’s one hundred percent of the time, because they, too, are down and they don’t like being there alone. Nothing is more uncomfortable to them than having to look UP at you. It gives them a kink in the neck. But there’s a solution that bodes well for everyone. Just move along. They don’t have to be uncomfortable looking up at you and you don’t have to be miserable being down with them. Don’t drink the water if it’s got crap in it. Fish crap. Animal crap. People crap. Friend crap. You can do better and probably just a little way up the road.

Holy Ground

“There comes a day in every man’s life when he decides the kind of man he’s gonna be. And if you don’t know the story, you don’t know the man.” — Frederik Backman

Years and years (and years!) ago, in what seemed like an act of pure lunacy I flew as far away as I could without leaving the country and I ended up here. There weren’t all the tenants of a blockbuster movie. It wasn’t the sex, drugs and rock n roll story which would likely be so much more interesting. By comparison, I was pretty vanilla. But I imagine rock bottom feels the same no matter how you get there, and I was a girl who was stuck on the bottom while my dreams ran amok above me. The thing about stuck people is that it becomes easy to stay that way. Not because you like it. Not because you don’t want something else. But because when your choices land you on something that feels like fly paper, flying away feels like an impossible, exhausting feat and you’re just not sure if the result would be worth the effort — or worse — make things worse! I believe that is why so many people never even try.

I thank God there was something in me that refused to believe that wasn’t it for me. Instead, there was a little voice who knew better and I gave that voice more attention and more attention and it got louder and louder each time I listened. “There’s more.” It kept saying. “This doesn’t have to be it for you.” But sometimes life is hard to see objectively when you’re so close to and caught up in it, and so I bought a ticket to San Francisco. I let the sea fog lick at my bare shoulders while I hiked along the coast line. I watched whales flip their fins in an ocean that seemed much more alive than my Floridian gulf waters. I rented a little cherry red convertible and drove back and forth across the Golden Gate bridge, music blasting and heart thumping, until I was mostly sure I’d figured things out.  Then I flew home and changed my life. (It really WAS that simple and yet so so hard.) It was indescribably rewarding to drive this bridge with my family–too many of us to fit into a little convertible– knowing none of them would be here if not for that girl in that car so long ago driving answers out of the San Francisco Bay with the wind in her hair and a hunger in her soul. I’ll write the whole story one day … but for now, I just want you to know you are never really stuck. You are never really unable to change your life no matter how daunting a task it may seem. And while it can’t hurt to change your scenery for the sake of adjusting your perspective, you already have everything you need right where you are, and wherever that is, will become sacred to you. For me, this is where it happened. This is the place where I grew up in exactly one day. This is the place I realized I was smart enough and tough enough and stubborn enough and good enough to take back my life. 

Wherever that happens for you, I encourage you to revisit it one day. Ten, twenty or seventy years later. Go there and look for that girl. See her in your mind’s eye, driving that car with the wind in her hair and that determination set in her jaw, and then you give her a solid thumbs up so she knows she’s on the right track. She’ll need to see you there, and you deserve to go back and see her too. Yes, to feel assured. Proud, maybe. But mostly to feel the spirituality of a full circle. It’s at that moment the person you were trying to be, meets the person you became. And whether it’s your front porch, the center of town, the top of a skyscraper or an iconic bridge … the birthplace of a life you built on the hard choices you made, becomes your own Holy Ground.

How a Day at the Beach Knocked Sense into my Soul.

Sea Glass
Treasure by the fistful.

About an hour from here is a place called Seaham Beach and it holds a good amount of interesting treasure, for those who can see the beauty in a thing like sea glass.  About a hundred years ago, an old Victorian bottling company closed up shop, and then dumped all their glass into the North Sea (This obviously predates, all environmental “woke-ness.”) and ever since, the ocean has tumbled it and frosted it and smoothed it into beautiful gems, and then the tides dutifully bring it back to shore depositing it among the millions of stones, pebbles, and acres of tawny sand. If sea glass is what you’re after, it’s a beach comber’s dream.

I grew up in Florida, and scouring the beaches for unusual treasures was always a peaceful and rewarding way to spend a couple of hours. The sound of the waves, the smell of the salty air, the spotting of a beautiful shell gifted at my feet was the stuff of soul renewal. But this was a different endeavor, as it required a lot less scanning and strolling along the waterline and lot more work.

It required me to dig.

After low tide, I walked along the drifts of rock and pebbles, took a seat and started digging and sifting, and I dug and I sifted a lot, moving vast amounts of earth and stone in order to spot that one little glint of color among it. Then I “ooohed and ahhhed” and stuck it in my bag and kept digging, and I couldn’t help but think, this is the life of a creative. You dig and sift and dig and sift, and move things around and search and seek an entire beach’s worth of rock and sand to find a fistful of something extraordinary. And admittedly there are many times when that seems like the most frustrating and draining of all the things in the world and so you often ask yourself if it is even worth it to work so hard for so little. But yesterday, it dawned me. It’s extraordinary because there’s only a fistful. After all, if all beaches were made of sea glass, we’d sort and sift and dig through it to find the sand and rock. 

Which means maybe it isn’t about the sea glass at all.

Maybe it’s all about the dig.

Maybe it’s about the perseverance and the search. The act of looking and working to find something special. When I found a piece, I tucked it away and went looking for more. Just like when JK Rowling finished Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, she went back and wrote Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, and then back again. And then again. It’s why Albert Einstein never stopped exploring physics. It’s why Freud never stopped seeking answers to the human psyche. It’s why Leonoardo da Vinci never stopped painting or inventing or writing (there’s a guy who will wear you out.) Humans have to dig. And when we find what we’re after, we just keep digging.

Do you know why that revelation spoke to me so deeply? Because lately, I’ve been too focused on and overwhelmed by what I was digging for. I’m a writer by nature, not by trade. And most days, the idea of seeing a project all the way through to the finishing of a novel seems like too big a feat for me to accomplish. The idea of putting all that work into something that may never get published makes me sick to my stomach. The fear of trying and missing the mark absolutely paralyzes me. But that’s how any big discovery or achievement must feel, if you’re hyper-focused on the discovery or achievement alone. And then you’re defeated before you’ve begun.

I really felt the message to me was “You need to relax into the dig. Enjoy the work of it. Stop letting the idea of the finished product strike fear into the deepest parts of you and cut off your oxygen supply.” How many of our goals do we see that way? Weight loss, education, a big move, a challenging relationship? How many times do we refuse to do the work, because we’re so far away from the goal and we’re too focused on the distance?

If I would have looked at that beach yesterday, seeing nothing on the surface and focusing on the fact that I’d have to move a lot of ground for a tiny piece of something special, I’d have come home with a whole lot of nothing. But instead I sat down, and enjoyed the process of digging. As a result, I came home with a handful of something beautiful. And a handful of something beautiful is worth a beachful of work any day, all day, every day, for the rest of my life. Not because of what it put in my hand. But because what it did for my soul.

The Thing About Adventure is … Orcs

unnamed (1)Two weeks ago, we sold our car just outside the Orlando airport, and boarded a plane with one-way tickets to England. It was just as crazy as it sounds, and it’s been crazy ever since. No fewer than 89 times have I been asked why in the world we would do this. Because on the surface, it’s just plain nuts, and also on the surface, we are not.

But that old saying “Adventure awaits?” Well, what if it doesn’t? What if adventure doesn’t wait for anybody? Maybe it just swirls around in the air, like those colorful tendrils in a Van Gough painting, and you can choose to jump in and get swept up in it or you can choose to stay on solid ground. But we got to thinking maybe those swirls of excitement move on whether you jump in or not.

So we jumped in.

We sold the house on the cul de sac and the minivan, ditched the little league games, girl scouts and violin lessons and chased something admittedly insane.

Truthfully, I half expected the first few weeks to feel like vacation, but instead it’s felt more like competing in the Olympics without actually training for the Olympics.  Fortunately, we’re scrappy and we’re agile, and if Olympic grade punches are coming our way, then we’ll just have to adapt.

But holy buckets of basket cases we have been adapting a lot and all over the place and more than once I’ve almost lost my mind.

We’ve navigated the vet for my dog whose hair is falling out from stress, the emergency room for my son who split his head open, sickness because sick germs are covering the planet at the moment, shipment deliveries that are short exactly one x box and full wardrobes for two whole people who’ve been wearing the same three outfits for 7 weeks, being lost, driving on the wrong side of the road, being locked inside the house, flooding the kitchen, falling down the stairs and so much more.

I feel like it’s taken two weeks just to get familiar with the washing machine and the stove and the fact that the broom is only about two and a half feet long–I have broom-induced back pain. For real.

But here’s what I know. Bilbo Baggins didn’t defeat Smaug after skipping lazily down a path woven from unicorn hair. And Frodo didn’t destroy the ring after giggling his way through the lollipop forest. There were orcs and goblins and trolls and large spiders and then of course Gollum. It was dark and then it was cold and then it was battles and fire and poisonings and wraiths. In other words, it was disaster.

And adventure often is. If you want to see the mountain top, you’ve got to climb. If you want to see the bottom of the ocean, you’ve got to dive, and all that jazz. So this is us right now. Climbing and diving and some days struggling for barely an inch.

But in the evenings, when the dust of the frenzied days settle, we sit around a table and laugh our heads off at how insane it all feels. And it’s real belly laughter. With tears leaking out and sore jaws, and if you can find the hilarious among the chaos, then you win. 

So yeah. The orcs. They’re here, in the form of no half and half, a small washing machine and not really knowing the best place to buy shampoo, all while we diligently shove steroids down our dog’s throat and put the prescribed cream on our son’s glued-back-together forehead (because they promised it would reduce the scarring) only to discover it’s actually for severe conjunctivitis.  This is our own Tolkien-esque adventure story that does not entail a quest nearly so nobel as ridding the world of a devastating dragon or an evil and powerful Eye of Sauron, but one borne of a simple desire to experience a life lived fully along the new and daring edge.

If you want to taste the honey, you have to brave the bees. And so we suit up, keep calm and carry on, tiny brooms ablaze, riding the colorful tendrils of pulse-racing opportunity as we make a life here, an ocean away.

It’s strange to somehow know you’re on the exactly right path even though you know nothing about the path. But that’s where you’ll find us for now. With an invisible map a compass that always points to the true north of our hearts and some ointment for pink eye. I can’t wait to see where it leads!

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