Take Note ~ Journaling

“For any writer who wants to keep a journal, be alive to everything, not just to what you’re feeling, but also to your pets, to flowers, to what you’re reading.”  ~ May Sarton

Last night our family conversation drifted into journal keeping.

My father kept journals for about the last thirty five years of his life. I have many of them and their value to me is immense, but I saw how vital they were to dad as well. He often referred back to them to find locations, dates, names of people or when a certain experience in nature happened so that he could see if it was a single occurrence or cyclic.

My father, beginning in elementary school, taught himself Spencerian script. He wrote in it through the length of his life and examples of his handwriting were sought out by teachers, historians and calligraphers all over the country. When you received a letter, handwritten from my father, you held within your hands a labor of love and you knew it.

So within my possession are thousands of pages, elegantly penned, that speak of a life lived for nature, for immersion in the wild world, and for his efforts to share and teach what he knew. But buried within those pages are frustrations, hopes, dreams and rage. They contain diaries of vacations and memorials of those who had died. Sadness over broken friendships, discoveries of his own gifts and his utter, childlike delight in the green and natural world.

They are my father, whispering to himself, all of the things that he thought were important, beautiful or rife with meaning.

An entry from one of Dad’s journals showing his exquisite penmanship.

dad-journal

I journaled quite a bit. For years, dad and I would always have either our tiny notebooks or our full sized journals with us everywhere we went and you could find us sitting at picnic tables at the end of wonderful days recording what we had seen, heard, felt and learned. It was one of the things that connected us greatly during the middle years of our time together.

I had about two dozen journals of differing design, filled cover to cover with thoughts, poems, observances, confessions, drawings, pressed leaves, pieces of my broken heart and all of the other myriad things that fell into those pages. During one of my last hospitalizations, those books were destroyed by the negligence and carelessness (and perhaps callousness of others) but that isn’t what this is about.

Gypsy and I were impressing upon Erych that journaling would be good for him and in so doing, we found ourselves both bitten with the bug to begin journal keeping again.

What will a journal cost you? Depending on your needs, a good usable journal can set you back from $0.99 for a spiral bound notebook at your local drugstore, to hundreds of dollars for hand bound leather books with handmade satin paper pages, but plan to spend six to ten dollars for a nicely bound book that will stand up to being opened all the way and won’t begin to drop pages after a few weeks of use.

By the way, I discourage keeping digital journals. While there are certainly wonderful journaling apps and programs out there, I believe that it limits creativity, self-evaluation and the loss of the tactile sense of an actual book is pretty serious. I have tried electronic journaling and it left me with the same feeling that tofurkey does. It will keep you from starving, but it isn’t what you want…

What kind of journal you should buy will most likely be a journey of discovering your own needs. Do you prefer lined or unlined pages, perfect binding, spiral bound or top bound? Do you draw as much as you write, do you need bigger pages to fill with doodles, sketches or plans? Are you like me and do you only write on the fronts of pages? I do it because I have a heavy writing hand and if I write on both sides, I invariably poke holes in the pages which is a disheartening thing.

Dad wrote front and back and always in ballpoint pen. I prefer rollerball pens, but I also fall into times when I work in sharpies, felt tipped pens, mechanical pencils, crayons and colored pencils. I have also done finger paintings in my journals using my own blood. (Don’t ask, it was a complicated time.)

So for an investment of less than ten dollars, (and let’s face it, if you are reading this, you most likely already have at least the writing implements section of this covered) you have a medium and method for self-discovery and self-expression that is pretty much unrivaled in the modern world.

My current journal and one of Dad’s old ones, along with my current favorite pen.
dad-journal2

“Okay, okay, I get it, it isn’t expensive or complicated, but why should I add something ELSE to my already full plate?”

I hear you. I get it. But here’s the thing. Journaling, especially if done with regularity will help so many other aspects of your life.

Because I believe in having people do much of their own research, I will only give you the basics here, but trust me, I have vetted them out.

Stress reduction. Writing out your pain, your frustrations, your angers and your problems, helps ease the burden of them and often helps us find solutions that were lost in the clutter of our emotions.

Writing activates the left brain, which while engaged, encourages the creative right side of your brain to be free to make connections, seek solutions and express itself within the writing itself.

Journaling is also a journey of self-discovery. We often find clues or glaring declarations of our own passions written with open honesty within our journal pages. The key there is to not exaggerate. Do not try to make yourself grandiose. Remember that the journal is a confessor, not something that is truly meant for others and so you are free to be yourself within those pages, with no call to impress or to pretend passion for something that you truly have no love for.

There is an anonymous quote that says, “When you have to make a hard decision, flip a coin. When that coin is in the air, you suddenly know what you’re hoping for.” It is the same with journaling. If you allow yourself to be honest with the pages, all the time, your truth will find its way onto the paper.

Gypsy and I have decided that we are going to take Erych out later this week and let him pick out a journal. Then we are going to have at least one evening a week (hopefully more often) when we sit for an hour and do nothing else but write in our journals. I actually got the jump on this and filled three pages this morning and it feels amazing to be back at it.

I encourage you to join us. Pick up something to write with, something to write on and see what it does for you and see what emerges from it. I do not think that you will be disappointed.

Take care of each other and yourselves.

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Frankenstein Heart

fog

~

It is difficult to be vulnerable.

To allow yourself to place your heart on the chopping block and take the risk that the person you are showing it to will not drive a knife through it and walk away, laughing.

It is also very easy to stab someone through the heart this way, especially once it has been done to you.

For much of my life was the well armored clown. The man who made you laugh, kept you at ease, kept you amused, anything to keep you from looking too closely at me, close enough to see the flaws, the broken pieces, the scars, the still seeping wounds and the fear…

I am a master magician. I am flawless in my misdirection, I can conjure dragons and peonies from the very air if it keeps you from noticing my pain.

I have also become a master surgeon, I have grown quite skillful at taking my butchered heart and binding it back together with staples, wire and butcher’s twine. In my romantic’s mind, I like to think of the Japanese custom of repairing broken pottery with gold, thus making the flaws beautiful and so I hope that my jigsaw heart has been made more beautiful because of its suffering, but I am not sure.

My journey over the last year or so has been profound. It has altered me more than any other path I have followed in my life. More than the years studying Zen, more than my life as a martial artist, a practicing pagan or a poet and author. In the last year I have come at last to the big reveal and though I am far from the end of this road, I can finally understand the beauty of my Frankenstein heart.

In this era of social media, much of the world has found a home for their hate, their anger, their frustrations, it is seemingly a world with no consequences. I do not like to believe that it is human nature to be hateful, to mock those different from you, to belittle others for their character, but there is so much of it to be seen that it must be true, right?

I don’t think so.

As it has always been, the most insecure, angry and hateful are the ones who are the most willing to be loud, to scream their opinions from the parapets and to force change through fear of reprisals. But beneath that blackened surface lies a whole world of beautiful people. Ones who love with all they have, support others with every fiber of themselves and care for even the most misunderstood.

We notice the monsters more because they are the ones that make our hearts hurt. We scroll through our timelines, we dial through our radio stations, we flip through our newspapers and we almost instinctively find the things that make us believe that the world that we know and love is coming to an end.

This is not just about this election and inauguration. This isn’t about any political stance, this is about the spirit of mankind.

I do not believe that everyone can be saved.

There, I have said it.

Humans are flawed, like any other organism, but unlike most of the others, we do not have a natural culling process that weeds out the ones that disrupt the balance of nature, the ones that keep it from being all that it can be.

Now, I know, some of you that have been reading me for years are beginning to think, “Ah, there is the old bloodthirsty bastard I remember, about to call for a killing.”

Sorry to disappoint you, but no.

Here is today’s metaphor. We are on a gigantic sinking ship, but some of us have found a raft, a huge one that looks like life and have climbed aboard.

It is now our job to look around.

Here is what you will see.

There will be the loudest ones, the ones screaming about how faulty the ship was, and how weak we are for climbing on board the raft instead of floating around waiting for god or the government to save us. They will blame the ocean for stealing their ship. They will claim that it sank because we are not Christian, or because we are sexually experimental, or because we don’t see skin color in our judgements. They will scream for attention and as they scream, the ocean will rush in and one by one, begin to take them down.

Then there will be those who are just floating, not even noticing that the boat has gone down, they will be glued to their devices, to their stock portfolios, they will only notice that the world has changed when they go to buy themselves something to make themselves feel more complete and discover that they died long ago.

Lastly, there will be the important ones. The ones with the desperate tears streaming from their eyes, the ones looking at us unsure if they can trust us, the ones that have been whipped, wounded or sure that they are about to be whipped or wounded. The scared, creative, solitary, introverted people with hearts so bright that you can see them even below the surface.

Save every last one of them.

Let the rest go.

It is for the best.

Now is a time for bravery.

Look around, you know that one friend or family member who cannot change or be reasoned with, that one person who lives for the celebration of their hate and bigotry.

Call out to them, once.

Tell them that there is room on your raft.

If they refuse, then turn away and look for someone else.

Let them go.

It may seem cruel but now is no time for tilting at windmills, now is a time for burning bridges so that we can use the light from that fire to see the road ahead.

We can burn them, because we built them and can do it again.

Come onto my raft, there is plenty of room within the sound of my Frankenstein heart…

Take care of each other.

Gardens in the Trenches

Last night, one of the most compassionate people I know had a moment. She posted about it on facebook and when it scrolled through my timeline, it made me pause. She spoke of being adrift, scared when facing the world that we have currently sculpted for ourselves and upset because she felt that she was not able to adequately help others who felt the same because she wasn’t sure there was any hope to be found.

I felt terrible when reading her words because I too feel many of those fears, worries, inadequacies, and feel woefully underprepared for the what if’s posted to me, especially by my step-son.

But as I thought about it, I realized that this is what we are best at. If you remove government, corporations and commerce from the equation, if you slap media out of the conversation and get right down to it, we can be pretty amazing to each other.

Sure, there are people out there who are quite horrible, to other people, to the environment, and just in general, but take a step back and think for a moment, ask yourself this question, “What can I do in the face of such wanton disregard and inhumanity?”

The answer is that you can be kind.

Yes, our country is on the verge of tearing itself asunder but our country, on the most basic of levels is not us. Sure, the country is made up of us, but we are made up of 75% water and it does not make us a birdbath.

Do you remember a proverb that circulated back in the mid to late 90’s that said, “It takes a village to raise a child.” Hillary Clinton used it in a book title and it was attributed to be an African proverb, though there is some controversy as to its origins. Be that as it may, it is nevertheless true.

But it isn’t only children, we need community, tribe, family, a group of people around us that we can rely on to be kind to each other.

For all of human history, as things were happening in the upper echelons of society, things that could often lead us to very bad ends, things that could mean our very lives and deaths, you could find tiny pockets of people who strove to look after one another on the most basic human levels, with love, caring and kindness.

This is not me saying that we should not be politically involved, I am not saying “Let’s retreat from the grid and build a commune.” and I am not saying that what is happening does not matter. But I am saying that while we are aware of what is happening and we will deal with it and be involved, we will also protect, care for and be kind to our village, our tribe, and those people around us that right now, need a little extra reassurance.

My step-son is transgender, bi and eccentric as hell and this new administration scares the hell out of him. He worries for himself and for his rights in the future. He worries at the open mockery, hate and divisiveness that he is seeing thrown up on a constant basis by the media and around the dinner tables of his less than enlightened associations.

How do we contend with it? How do we make sure he knows that he is safe? How do we show our support and help him feel safe? By doing those exact things. We contend with it. We talk about it, when he wants to talk about it. We do not shrug off his concerns, we address them, right then and there and we make sure that we have truly answered his questions and reassured him before we move on.

We cannot be with him every minute of the day, but we make sure constantly that he knows that we have his back, or her back, depending on the day. He is still finding his way and I tell him all the time, “So am I Sparkle Boy, so am I.”

I read Jenna’s post and it made me tear up and wish for arms long enough to reach her, but her tribe has her back and so all I did was try to hold up the mirror and remind her of her worthiness, her magic and her kindness. Isn’t that what we should all be doing for each other, all the time?

It is, but we forget.

The barrage is endless. One side is calling us oversensitive, mocking the strides we have made in equal rights, and all the while rushing to stuff their pockets with as much as they can, all the while screaming, “You can’t have any, it’s all mine!”

Meanwhile, the other side can’t stop finger pointing long enough to do any lasting good and are so lost in their own agendas, causes and fears that they can’t stop long enough to say, “It is important to help everyone, but right here in front of me is someone suffering and they need me for a moment, an hour or a day.”

Is it missing the forest for the trees? Sometimes. But each tree has needs, and while it is vastly important to preserve the forest, the suffering of so many individual trees is just as big of a threat.

Do something for someone close to you that needs it. Pull your head out of the sand or climb down off of the soapbox for just long enough to help one or two real, flesh and blood people that need you. And if you are scared, overwhelmed, suffering, reach out.

Here in the trenches of the world, we are growing gardens and in those gardens we are doing something that makes us worthy of our time here. We are loving one another, we are saying thank you and meaning it. We are listening, I mean truly listening to the voices of the frightened and at the end, we are telling them that it will be all right. And it will be all right because it is what we do for each other that speaks loudest, even when the world is screaming…

We are stronger together, not as a movement, as a statement or even as a social network. We are stronger as a family, a tribe, a people.

Take care of each other and if you need me, I am here…

Half the Man

380 pounds.

I am beginning the year, this beautiful New Year filled with possibilities at a body weight of 380 pounds.

I am two, count them, two reasonably sized guys. Three small ones. I am a crowd, enough for a party, or at the very least an interesting game of monopoly.

This is not the heaviest I have ever been. No my good reader, I once topped out at nearly 500 pounds but that was long ago and for a very different reason. So at one point, I was a girls’ volleyball team.

But now, here, today, I am 47 years old, I will be 48 in July and I am 380 pounds, which by almost anybody’s statistics means that my time on this planet is extremely limited.

I can tell you all sorts of things that on their surface makes it not as bad as it seems. For instance, my usual blood pressure is 110 over 70. I am very active for a fat guy. I am capable of fending for myself, taking care of my family, I can escape the house in case of a fire and if the fight doesn’t go on too long, I can beat your ass in rather brutal fashion.

I can touch my toes, I just can’t see them if I am standing upright.

I am not subject to depression eating or stress eating, not even of boredom eating, but I eat bad things, things that are incomplete nutritionally and I do not move around nearly enough, which in combination has led me to being here, writing to you from a very large, slightly bowed computer chair, telling you how I feel.

I hurt. Emotionally and physically I hurt. Each day, I begin the day trying to get my body, which has seen its share (and possibly someone else’s) share of trauma to work correctly. I often tell Gypsy early in the morning that my body feels like it has been assembled by a group of drunk dyslexic kids with poorly written instructions.

My feet hurt. All the time. I do not currently have good walking shoes as money has been an issue recently, but standing for long periods of time hurts them because of the weight I am carrying.

I have a couple of pounds of steel in my left leg, the reminder of a car accident that nearly took me out for the long dark ride. My leg aches, I mean throbbing, toothache kind of aches at the end of a long day. I don’t complain, I have done this to myself.

My lower back hurts, it hurts when I sit, it hurts when I stand or walk, it was not built to carry this burden.

In general, I ache more than I thrive and that too is shortening my life.

I cannot climb a set of stairs without feeling exhausted at the top of them and I balk at some activities because I feel incapable and I cannot fit in the rides at most amusement parks.

I cannot find nice clothes on a budget. I do not even own a suit. A man should own a suit, especially when you are burying your friends, and in 2016, I buried a lot of friends.

You should not have to feel self-conscious at your friend’s funeral because you can’t wear a proper suit.

I do not feel attractive.

I have some nice features.

I am charming.

Well read.

Well-traveled.

I am an amazing storyteller.

I am funny.

I see magic in the everyday.

I can be very uplifting and supportive to others.

And, I am learning to be kind, tolerant and compassionate.

I am also a phenomenal cook, which in its own way is a big part of the problem.

But I feel wretched, I feel hideous and I feel like a slob most of the time and feel ashamed to be seen in beautiful places on the arm of my beautiful Lady because I feel like she deserves better.

The arguments will come, loudly from those who love me, they will say that I am fine, just the way I am, but they know and I know that I am not fine and if I do not do something about this in the immediate future that it is not going to matter for very much longer.

A year ago, even a few months ago, I would have NEVER allowed you to see this picture, none of you, that is how important that I think this is and how desperate I am to change my life!

fatboy

Fat guys, unless they’re Santa Claus don’t live very long.

Gypsy and I are both overweight and both sick to death of it and over Christmas, without planning to, she dropped a challenge in my lap. But it wasn’t just my lap, it went out to her brother, her son and I. She said, “What if we set a challenge to all lose 50 pounds next year.”

It was very quiet at the table for a second, maybe five, then one after another we all began to nod. Just that quickly it was settled and it has grown to include her sister and one of her cousins.

Now her sister isn’t looking to lose 50 pounds, but to tone up and feel more fit, but the rest of us have committed to this and we have established a text message group to support each other.

This may be the greatest physical challenge that I have ever faced. I once learned to walk again after spending two years in a wheelchair. I have earned four black belts. I have climbed mountains, swum rivers and camped rough in a variety of locations, but I was younger, I was more sure of myself, I was better off financially and I thought myself immortal.

I’m not.

That is why this is so damned important.

I am a great one for talking about living in the moment and being mindful, but I do not blame you for not completely taking my message to heart if I cannot even take care of my one true possession, my body.

But that will be changing.

“How?” you ask.

We as a family will be eating better. The teenager will balk, but he knows he needs this too and I will get him involved in creating the menu.

As of yesterday I gave up one of my most long standing traditions, sugar in my tea. I had already given up (for the most part) drinking soda, so this is the next logical step.

We will be eating a lot more veggies, no more processed or instant foods. Pasta will be an occasional thing and breads will be kept to a minimum, at least for Gypsy and I.

The exercise thing leads to some more serious challenge. Because of the pain in my leg and feet, large amounts of walking will be difficult for a while and the two things that my doctor recommends biking and swimming are both a financial outlay that aren’t feasible at the moment.

Normal bicycles are not built to handle my bulk and so a specialty bike is required and specialty is an old Latin word that means (expensive). But I will be keeping my eyes open for possibilities and hopefully sometime in the new year finances will turn around and we can overcome these hurdles sooner rather than later.

Are you in the same situation?

Are you dying from nothing? From doing nothing?

What will it take? What kind of a scare will it take? Dizzy spells, constant pain, hospitalization, a heart attack, or a stroke?

Are you complacent about how the world will thrive if you die early? How about your families, your friends and your lovers? If you think that it won’t make that much of a difference in their lives, then let me tell you from first-hand experience, I have attended the funerals, I have watched the faces of the survivors, I have heard them crying and many of them, still are.

Come with us. Make a change. I can’t live this way anymore, neither can Gypsy, and you know, neither can you…

Take care of yourself… Please!