Sunday, August 31, 2014

The potential for anything

August 31, 2014
Day 123

If evening is the time to allow our eyes to see unexpected light, and collect unexpected wisdom, morning helps us see what's right there in front of us all the time.

Here in the Green Mountains of Vermont, it's hard not to see all the beauty of nature around us at all times, but in the early morning hours here on Lake Pauline, I look out and see not just a pretty mountain scene, but all the potential for my day too.

As the early morning fog wafts across the lake and up the mountainside, it's as if the Earth itself is being recreated all over again.  Birds awaken and begin to call out, the sun climbs up over the top of the mountain rise, and takes a peek at what's going on, and all of nature, in all its chirps, squawks, quacks, and yawns opens their eyes to see what this new day might bring.

Today is Sunday, August 31, 2014, and it's 7:54 AM as I write this.  Tomorrow, I make my journey back down to Long Island, but today?  Today I have one more chance.

One more chance to experience a full day up here in Vermont, one more chance to appreciate all the beauty of this part of my beautiful country, one more chance to breathe in the mountain air and feel, as best I can, at one with nature.

Who knows what tomorrow may bring?  But for that matter, who knows what today might bring?  So as I greet this new day with you, let's both of us make a pact: let's make this new day something special.  Let's appreciate the potential for anything today.  Let us allow the new day to fully seize us, as much as we seize it.  And let us appreciate the power of ourselves in a world that's just now beginning to finally wake up.

Saturday, August 30, 2014

Those quiet moments

August 30, 2014
Day 122

Even though I'm up here in the mountains, staying on a beautiful lake and basking in all that vacation brings, this isn't a retreat.  I'm here with family, and we're all trying to have a fun vacation.  Even though there are many quiet moments, they're not constant, so I try to grab them whenever I can.

Last night, I went out onto the deck around 8 PM, and laid down on one of the chaise lounge chairs.  The night sky had not yet fully revealed itself in all its glory, but a few of the brightest stars were already very clear.

I know so much of what I write is something you've heard before somewhere else, but I hope this reminder helps: sometimes only in the darkness can some light reveal itself.  We find our way well enough when the sun is shining and everything is hunky-dory, but when the day is at its darkest, new kinds of light are shone on everything.

In the darkness of 8 PM last night, I could still make out the lake and mountain rise in front of me.  I could see the occasional bat scavenging over the lake.  And I could still see all my surroundings, just differently.  In the darkness of evening, your eyes don't search for birds in the trees or fish in the water, and in the full darkness of nighttime, your eyes only look up, searching for new light, and new revelations.  The darker it gets, the more stars you begin to see.

Just as I escape the city lights to my resting place in the Green Mountains of Vermont, we all find clearer thinking and clearer sight sometimes when we're surrounded by the darkness.  Those quiet moments alone, away from the sounds of others, whether literal or metaphoric, are waiting for us everywhere.  To shut your brain down and begin to really see clearly, you need to shut off all the external distractions around you as best you can.

Your mind might still want to flip through a War And Peace-length novel of distracting thoughts, but if you turn out the lights and sit apart for a while, you might just convince that annoying brain of yours to listen to the silence, and appreciate the darkness.  As the darkness grows, the stars shine brighter, and they have something special they want to whisper to you, and you alone.  Give them a chance to tell you their story.

Friday, August 29, 2014

Vermont Vacation Musings

August 29, 2014
Day 121

I've been having a very nice time here so far, and still have another three days left.  Each morning, I'm up around 7 or 8 AM, I come downstairs and have my coffee and try to go online briefly (if the internet decides to work), and eventually have some breakfast and write this blog.

By 10 or 11 AM, I shave and shower, and get dressed for the day's activities.  Each day brings a new schedule or non-schedule, as the case may be.  I may find myself fishing, or playing a game of ladderball, or sometimes just writing.  Other times, we go off on little trips to nearby towns or activity spots in Central Vermont.  Weston was our first jaunt like this, and I went to the Vermont Country Store, the Christmas Store, and the little marketplace to buy some fresh fudge (in both Maple flavor and Carrot Cake flavor ...yum!!!).

Yesterday, a few of us went to the VINS bird sanctuary and the Quechee Gorge.  Today, we may go to the Okemo Mountain Adventure Zone to enjoy some miniature golf and the mountain coaster there (a small, easy roller coaster that winds down the mountain side, and you control the speed).  And this weekend I'll also hit up the top of Killington Mountain, where I pay for an enclosed gondola ride up to the top, then walk around a bit taking photos of the majestic views.

And in between all of this, there's more fishing and lots of relaxation by the lake.  I read, write, take photos, and just absorb the beauty of nature as best I can.

We plan our breakfast, lunch, and dinner on the fly most often, but I've already enjoyed some delicious meals courtesy of my sister-in-law Tricia and my brother Billy, as well as my sister Marilyn and her girlfriend Annie.  Aunt Jane and I haven't cooked, but especially in my case, that's probably a good thing.  I can boil and fry, but my culinary skills (of those I have) are sadly rare these days.

Bedtime is usually 11 or 12 each night, and is always preceded by stargazing.  Thousands of stars can be seen in the sky up here, so it's a really special treat looking up and seeing them all.  Amid the stars, I see planets, shooting stars, and satellites circling the Earth.  I even once saw the space station while I was up here, but haven't spotted it yet on this trip.

My Vermont vacations are always full, but filled with lots of quiet emptiness as well.  It's a special week or so I take every year to recharge my brain and body, and it's a very welcome transition trip between summer and fall.

Anyway, thanks as always for reading along, and I hope you'll keep "tuning in" for more of my daily musings from Vermont, as well as all my other destinations in the next eight months ahead!

Thursday, August 28, 2014

5 Things Fishing Can Teach You

August 28, 2014
Day 120

I only fish once each year while I'm up here in Vermont.  I've been coming for 10 days the past few years, and though they sell a 7-day and a 3-day license, it's actually a few dollars cheaper to get a season-long license rather than two shorter ones.

Once I'm out on the dock, the adventure begins, and a whole lot of thoughts come at me at once.  It's easy for this to happen, because fishing is 99% waiting and 1% doing.  So I thought I'd just flesh out some of the lessons I've learned this week...

1) To attract people to yourself or to spirituality, or to anything else, you need to use the right bait.  Just as certain fish like certain types of bait (a worm, a minnow, or any kind of artificial bait), so too do you need to understand your audience before you can hope to "catch" them.

2) Time and patience are essential.  Not only do you have to start with the right bait, but you need to allow your "audience" to get used to it too.  Fishing is about tricking the fish, so I don't mean that here.  For human beings, you just need to respect their space and choice.  You can only do what you can do, and they'll either be interested or not.  In fishing, you put your bait in the water, and you allow the fish to see it and understand it first.  They won't just take a bite right away.  And very often, neither will people.

3) Appreciate the mean time.  Iyanla Vanzant has a book called In The Meantime: Finding Yourself and the Love You Want.  I read this book back before I met my partner Andy, and it helped me immensely.  The logic of the book is the same as fishing.  When you're hoping to find a lover or a life or a career or whatever, you need to appreciate the mean time, and not just focus yourself on the singular task at hand.  The fish won't bite if you're literally casting out that bait constantly, over and over, hoping to just hit one on the head or something.  No one's attracted to desperate or unhappy people, so if you focus your energy first and foremost on personal happiness and relaxation, you can catch more fish!

4) Set the hook.  If a fish has bit your bait well, the hook may not yet be really in the fish's mouth.  If you start reeling in too quickly, the fish can slip right off, and swim away.  In the same way, you need more than just good bait to attract people or things into your life.  You need to also set the hook, to really seal the bond, the relationship, or the event.  Don't rush people, and don't rush life.  Respect people's space, and respect the way things work.  If you fight the system or put yourself forward too brazenly, you'll lose whatever or whomever you're trying to catch.

5) Know which ones are keepers and which ones aren't.  Lots of fish will swim into your life, but not all of them will be worth bringing to the table.  Appreciate the ones who swim through for a time, even if they don't stay, but don't surround yourself with anyone or anything that doesn't feel completely right.  The good fish will be worth photographing, and not just because of their beauty, but because of how much of a positive impact they make on your emotional scale.

So be a fisherman or fisherwoman.  Be someone who respects the time and the patience as much as the actual catching of the fish.  And above all, respect the fish too.

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Clearing Your Mind

Photo from my first morning here, Sunday, August 24, 2014.

August 27, 2014
Day 119

Before I began my Vermont vacation, my mind was feeling ultra stressed.  A large confluence of issues and causes was creating a high-blood-pressure, low-comfort annoyance, and a headache in my soul.

Now that I'm here, I'm feeling more and more like my true self again, the person I always think I am, but not always in touch with.

Obviously though, Vermont is not someplace I go too often.  Though I'm sometimes here twice a year, more often than not, it's just this one week or so at the end of summer.  And I'm guessing for most who will read this, any mountain getaway is not as easy or as often as you'd like it to be.

Nature is everywhere around us, of course, and though we can't always find a mountain vista, or a fresh mountain lake to sit beside with our coffee or cocktail, we can find clear thinking and a refreshed soul if we just make the time to sit alone apart from everything for a while.  And by everything, I mean your phone, your TV, your radio, and every other piece of electronic distraction you might want to use.  Don't bring ANY of it on your walk or trip.

I have my netbook computer with me on this vacation, so I can keep up with my blog writing, but I've mostly stayed away from it while I'm here.  I'm also here with some of my family members, so I have to walk away from people too.  Even the talking distracts me from my meditation and reflection.  Sometimes I just walk out on the dock or find a chair away from everyone, but other times I'll just take a drive or a walk to get away.

Clearing your mind is easier than you think, but you have to want it to happen, and you have to make every effort to relieve tension and stress from your brain.  Invariably, I'll get a response like, "Yeah Sean, but for some of us, it's just harder."  I understand.  We can work on that together though if you'd like.  My "Be still and know that I am God" meditation helps me enormously, as does just listening instead of talking.  Listen to the sounds around you--every sound--and don't think about the sounds, just hear them.  Be a passive soul among active souls, allowing the earth and all its creatures--and people--to envelop you and exist around you.

And when all else fails, practice, practice, practice.  You can't be a Zen master on the turn of a dime, so lower your expectations if you think it's that easy.  At the same time, double your efforts to attain inner peace.  If you're failing so often, work even harder at it.  Silence yourself and the noise around you more often.  Be.  Be.  Be.  Do or do not; there is no try.

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

The day my dad died...and lived

My dad, circa 1980, Nunley's Amusement Center.

My dad, top left, just over the third guy in bottom row. This was taken back
in the early 1940s in Ireland when he worked on the Irish Rail System.
August 26, 2014
Day 118

Today is the 15-YEAR anniversary of the day my dad died.  I can't believe it's already been so long, but in some ways, it all makes sense.

But unlike every other loved one I've lost, my dad's death was a one-of-a-kind experience for me.  I've told the story many times, but it always bears repeating!

I was on the Long Island Rail Road, heading home to be with him in what I was told was looking like his final hours.  He'd been dying of lung cancer for the past 8 months or more, and it was clear the illness would soon claim him.

Somewhere between Jamaica Station and Rockville Centre station, time stopped.  I've often quoted the one and only Robin Williams to say that mine was a total Na-Nu Na-Nu type experience.  I was in another state of reality I'd never been in before, and have never been in since.  It wasn't brought on by stress, and no part of what happened could be explained away by science, though some would certainly try to tell me as much.

My father's soul appeared to me as clear as day.  It wasn't that he was a ghost, or that I was asleep or daydreaming, or any other weird variance.  He was just there, standing or floating in front of me, in complete communion with me.

"Well, you're out of pain now," I said, and he nodded.

"Say hi to Jesus and Shakespeare for me," I requested, and he nodded and smiled this time too.  He smiled!  I had an instant knowing that he couldn't speak, so I didn't wonder why he wasn't.

And then, as quickly as it happened, he was gone again, and ordinary reality resumed.  I was back on the Long Island Rail Road train, and we were approaching Rockville Centre.  Though there were people around, no one was looking at me as if I'd just been talking to no one (this was before cell phones too).

Once my station came and I got off, I began running home to my parents' house, where my dad was in a hospital bed in the living room.  The house was only about six blocks away, and my sister had told me earlier that this was looking like the end, so I was running fast.  Halfway home though, maybe 2.5 blocks away, I stopped running.  It wasn't because I was out of breath, or scared about what I'd find at the house.  It was that I remembered.  I remembered he had passed!  I just saw his soul, and it was gone already, moving forward to somewhere other than my parents' house.

I walked in the house, and my family members were all sitting around the living room in tears.  I was told that my dad had just died a few minutes earlier, and without any hesitation, I assured them I already knew, that I'd just seen and spoken to him on the train.  I wasn't trying to impress anyone with this; I was just letting them know an absolute fact.  I knew my dad's body had died because his soul stopped by briefly to say goodbye.

Today is the 15-year anniversary of that day, and it's a moment in time (or nontime) I will never, ever forget.  On August 26th, 1999, my father died.  And then, quite beautifully, he lived.

Monday, August 25, 2014

All these creatures, great and small

August 25, 2014
Day 117

One of the fun things about making the trip up here to Vermont is that I see a whole lot more wildlife than I do back home.  On the trip up, I saw a deer, two groundhogs, a turkey, and the occasional horses and cows.

Since I've been here, I've mostly been close to the lake, so I'm more limited.  Still, I've seen ducks, finches, a cormorant, a blue herring, some crows, and even an eagle briefly.

None of that makes up for the creatures I want to see though!  For 30 years, I've seen signs for moose and bears up here.  The number of these creatures I've seen?  Zero!  Now I'm not saying I really want to see a bear, especially if I'm not in a car at the time, but you'd think in Vermont I'd see some moose by now, right?  The signs are all over the place, and you can't walk through a gift shop up here without seeing all manner of items with moose decals all over them.  Clearly, there are moose around here somewhere!

So though I'm happy seeing the cool birds and all, let me be very clear: I want to see a damn moose, already!  I don't care how many antlers it has, or even how far away it is from me; I just need to see it, damn it!  I don't need to photograph it or watch it eat.  I don't need to see it run away or do anything extraordinary.  I just need the frickin' thing to let me see it!

Moose, I know you're out there.  I will find you.  You've managed to evade me this long, but the time for hiding is now past.  This is the year.  I just know it!!!

(I hope.)

Sunday, August 24, 2014

Vermont Vision

Lake Pauline in Ludlow, Vermont. August 24, 2014 around 8-9 AM. No filter.

August 24, 2014
Day 116

There's just something about this place up here in Vermont that makes us call it our home away from home.  I've been coming here for the past 30 years, minus four years in the late 90s when I was a monk.

The house we stay in is hardly four-star, but no one would ever advertise it as such either.  The accommodations are simple but comfortable, and the quality of services in the house would best be described as acceptable.  But no one comes here for the material used in the kitchen countertops, the majesty of the bathrooms, or the size of the TV anyway.  We come here for the atmosphere, inside and out, the memories and memories-in-the-making inside and out, and of course, the location.  Yes, location, location, location!

This view we have here is a constant, even though it changes all the time.  There's always a different "look" out there, whether it be in the way the water's moving, the place the ducks feel like playing, the number of (or lack of) people swimming or rowing by, and even the way the light hits the mountain.  Our singular view actually has a million different versions, and you never know what you'll see from one day to the next, or even one moment to the next.

So I think that's my lesson for today: vision.  Just as the view changes here constantly, so too does my life change from one day to the next, one year to the next.  I've got the same basic location in life all the time, but the scenery still manages to shift around me.  And maybe I'm learning slowly to look at things differently too.  No matter what stresses or challenges life brings my way, I always have the free will and free choice to look at it all however I'd like.  I can see the clouds and the stillness, and feel lonely if I'd like, or I can look around and feel the glory of nature in all its beautiful disguises surrounding me at all times.

This journey to age 40 is once again a journey of perspective.  And right now, especially heightened by this beautiful location, my perspective calls for sunny skies and lots and lots of happy thoughts.

Saturday, August 23, 2014

Exquisite and Fanfreakintastic

My brother Billy and my Aunt Jane out on the dock (previous year).

August 23, 2014
Day 115

We're here!!!  Back in good ol' Ludlow, and basking in the beauty of Lake Pauline!

I asked my brother Billy, my sister-in-law Tricia, and my Aunt Jane what I should title this blog, and Billy suggested both of the words I used, so thank you to Billy!

When I plugged in the GPS for my trip today (even though I could do it blindfold if I had to), it said I'd arrive at 12:24.  Christmas Eve!  Ahh, all the expectation of what would soon be mine!

We come up to Vermont every summer at this time, the week leading up to Labor Day (first Monday in September in the states).  It's always extra special, because we've waited all summer for this experience, and because we know autumn awaits us on the other side.

How do we describe this place, this magical, beautiful place in the green mountains of Vermont?  Exquisite!  Fan-freakin-tastic!  And maybe a bit peaceful too?  I think so.

Our time here will last almost 10 days in all, so though most reading this cannot be with us, I hope I can bring you along in some small way over the next week or so!

Friday, August 22, 2014

I need you, Vermont!

Click for full view and then "x" out in the top right to return.

August 22, 2014
Day 114

Have you ever noticed how some vacations arrive right on time?  They seem to be timed perfectly to coincide with high stress points in your life, and are there as a treat at the end of a dark corridor.  Maybe it's like when you need to pee, and the urge only increases with your proximity to the bathroom.  Your urge to go on vacation only multiplies the closer you are to that moment.

Today, Friday the 22nd of August, I am in that moment.  My vacation awaits me beginning tomorrow morning around 8 or 9 AM. 

The last two weeks have been extra, extra crazy.  A family picnic, a Broadway musical, a midnight show at Studio 54, a New York International Fringe Festival play, a pool party, a lunch out with coworkers, and a wonderful Shamanism class: these were the highlights.  All fun, but all kept me busy this way and that, and were sadly punctuated by some less than happy occasions in between. 

Andy's Uncle Fai has been in the hospital with a critical illness starting in his stomach, possibly related to food poisoning.  He's gone from critical to serious to critical to serious a few times now, and though he's stable and possibly/hopefully mending now, the concerns are still high.  Andy and I have visited him in the hospital almost every day, and it's been very difficult seeing Fai like this.  He's only 67, but has resembled a man in his 90s at times.  Tubes everywhere, bags of medicine going in, other bags collecting what comes out, his hair all over the place, his eyes and mouth opening wide in what appears to be drug-induced visions all around him: it isn't pretty.

We've also got Andy's parents staying with us for the past week or so, and I must confess, that has also been quite difficult for me.  (Don't tell them, though!)  We love them both very much, but our small house is just that much smaller with double the people living there, especially with their different schedules and all of our hospital-visit time throwing things up in the air too.

Suffice it to say, I need my vacation!!!  Andy's uncle seems to be slowly on the mend, and both Andy and his aunt seem okay with me taking my departure, so I have no guilt in my escape.  I think having one less person in my house will help everyone a little bit anyway.  I've mostly kept my temper in check, but there have been moments when the thermometer on my head burst a little, my blood pressure spiked, my sleeplessness made me cranky, and, and, and...

Yes, Vermont!  I need you so much right now!  I can't wait to see the beautiful Lake Pauline again, as well as that adorable little town of Ludlow.  I am already craving the sacred peace and quiet my mind and body need so much right now, and all of it will be there for me starting tomorrow! 

Some vacations arrive right on time, don't they?  This one here has arrived right on schedule! 

So keep an eye on this blog now for my daily updates from Vermont, where I'll hopefully be writing a lot about peace, nature, and plenty of nice fun stuff like that!

Thursday, August 21, 2014

My weird date with Igor, the Gap guy

August 21, 2014
Day 113

I thought things might be weird as soon as he told me his name.  It was one of the weirdest names a man could have, so it just didn't bode well.  To protect his privacy though, I'll call him Igor.

Igor and I met at a mall parking lot one afternoon, where I left my car and got in his.  When we first met, he did one of those half pull-downs on his sunglasses, in a kind of, "Aren't I just the hottest guy you've ever met?" kind of way.  He wasn't.  And what followed was so strange, it was almost alarming.  First, we went to a Gap store he worked at.  Maybe Igor wanted to pick up a check, or see a friend, I don't remember.  We got there, and Igor did his thing, talking to people there and leaving me alone.  Fine.  Whatever.  I can deal with this, I thought.

Then we left the Gap store, and he drove us somewhere else.  To another Gap store.  God knows what he wanted to do there, or why he wanted to bring me along, but that was his plan, and I didn't want to argue with him about it.  We were on a date, and my car was now miles and miles away.

Once Igor showed me this second store and talked to some people there, we were on our way.  Okay, I thought, weird start, but whatever.  Maybe he had to take care of something, and he figured I wouldn't mind too much.  Before I knew it though, we were on our way to a third GAP store!  This, I can tell you with full recollection, was the moment I wanted to scream out, WHAT THE FUCK IS WRONG WITH YOU, YOU CRAZY ASSHOLE?! 

Instead, I quietly (impatiently) accepted my fate.  Once we left this third place though, I suggested this was all too much now, and I'd rather just go home.  Igor seemed genuinely surprised, thinking I would have really loved this grand tour of every fucking Gap store in creation.  Strangely enough, I did not.  So he brought me back to my car, we said our goodbyes, and that was that. 

I can't remember if I bought anything that day, but I knew for sure I wasn't going to buy whatever he was selling.  Sorry, Igor.  You're way too weird for me, and the gap between us is far too vast.

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

The Importance of Following Directions

August 20, 2014
Day 112

I was in 4th Grade when I learned this lesson, and it was a class I'll never forget.  Mrs. Marks handed out the assignment, and told us to begin whenever we were ready.  We all got to work right away. 

The assignment was unique, something I'd never seen before, but I liked it a lot.  Write your name in a certain part of the page.  Draw a box around it.  Circle "1."  Underline this, cross out that, keep going and doing everything as the assignment explained.  (The one pictured here isn't the version she gave us).

We were all working quickly, but one of my classmates, my friend Lex, was always extra fast.  He apparently sped through the thing like it was on fire...but that isn't how we knew he was done first. 

From the front of the classroom, Mrs. Marks was in hysterics looking at Lex, as he was now quickly erasing most of his work.  What the heck?  We didn't understand, and though we laughed along with the teacher (and Lex too, as he kept erasing), we didn't know what was so funny.  Well as I recall, Mrs. Marks told us all to stop, and then read the first and last instructions to understand.

On our sheet, the first instruction said, "Read everything before doing anything."  This first instruction was one that every single one of us failed to do, because if we had read the instructions clearly before beginning, we would have realized the last instruction on the page advised us to only do a small part of the whole assignment.  "Now go back and only do number 1," was what my assignment ended with.  Of the 25 or so of us in that room, not one of us had read everything before beginning.  Mrs. Marks (and I imagine, teachers everywhere) are counting on this when they hand out this kind of assignment.  Sometimes students should fail in order to learn.

It was a lesson I'll never forget, because I never laughed so hard in a classroom as I did that day, and probably very rarely so much since.  Seeing my teacher laughing at the furious speed of Lex and his eraser was just such a fun experience, especially once we realized what the reason was.

So what did I learn from this?  Well as it turns out, lots of things. 

I learned creative teaching techniques are often more effective than the norm.  I learned a teacher with a sense of humor will do much better in the classroom than one without.  I learned that sometimes failure is an option, and once we experience it, in whatever form it takes, we can learn from our mistakes.  And most importantly, I learned the importance of following directions.  From the day I received this test in 4th grade onward, I have always read the directions of any form very, very carefully.  And when all else fails, it's also always a good idea to keep an eraser close at hand!

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Everyone Loves Aunt Jane

Aunt Jane fishing up in Vermont last summer with my sister Marilyn.
Aunt Jane had just turned 81 at this point.

August 19, 2014
Day 111

Today is my Aunt Jane's 82nd birthday, so who else to feature than this wonderful woman I've been so blessed to have in my life.

Aunt Jane is my mom's older sister, and since she never married, she's always been a second mom to all of us.  At one point I used to say, "like a second mother", but the distinction is important, and I'm happy to have learned to leave that "like" out now!  She is our second mother!
At her great-great niece Emma's birthday in 2013. 80 years young.

There are a million things I could tell you about Aunt Jane: how she's always been firm but filled with love, always a teacher but always willing to be taught too, and of course how beautiful she is--of that, I must be clear!  But more than any of this, she's just been a very, very good human being.

Aunt Jane's got a list of charities she gives to all the time.  She's smart enough to say no to the ones who pester her incessantly, but gives generously as often as she can.  But money alone is not what makes this woman generous, because Aunt Jane has always been beyond generous with her time and attention.  When you sit down to speak with her, she listens carefully to what you have to say, and she shows a genuine interest in your story.  The rest of the world stops when you're in a moment like this with Aunt Jane, and nothing else matters but the experience you're sharing with her.  These are just some of the many reasons why we all see her as our second mother.

Her unconditional love has never, ever wavered, and her dedication to each and every one of her many, many family members is proof of this.  With all of the medical struggles she's faced in recent years, especially in relation to her Parkinson's, Aunt Jane still always knows all of us very well.  Every child, every name, every story.  She hates that her age and illness slow her down, but she handles it all with so much grace and dignity, and is a true inspiration to us all.

So today, please send a happy birthday wish to Aunt Jane, either in a response to this sharing online, or as a prayer of thanks to God.  There are lots of people we incorrectly (though generously) call saints in this world, but I gotta tell you, this woman right here?  She is hands-down the saintliest woman I know, and if you have ever had the pleasure of meeting her, you'd absolutely agree!

Happy Birthday, Aunt Jane, and...Happy Birthday, Other Mom!  I love you SO MUCH!!!

Monday, August 18, 2014

My Billy Elliot Obsession

August 18, 2014
Day 110

I can't really explain it.  That's where to begin this reflection...with a line from the show.  When in doubt, quote Billy himself.  The scene it comes from arrives late in the stage musical, when Billy is asked what it feels like when he's dancing.  His love of dance is indescribable, no matter how many words he's able to piece together to explain himself.  And at some point, he can't even keep describing it.  He has to just burst forth in dance to show his questioners what he means!

Well, rest assured, I am not attaching a video of me dancing!  It just isn't my preferred art form, and it's definitely not a skill I possess.

But when you ask me why I've seen this show so many times, I will find myself circling through phrases just as Billy does, rattling off anything I can think of to help you understand.  And for me, those phrases would include: teaches you to just be yourself, to believe in yourself, to not listen to the establishment, to scream out against injustice and discrimination...helps you see things differently and appreciate the differences in people, helps you smile more at the silliness of life, and cry more at the awful goodbyes we all go through...guides you to live more, laugh more, and chase your dreams however you must in order to achieve them. 

I've seen the movie dozens of times, and I've experienced the stage musical 56 times worldwide (London, Broadway, and many cities up and down the east coast on tour).  The musical has so much to offer so many people, but for me, the story is also familiar. 

My dad was an old-school, Irish-born lower-middle class guy with a very strong work ethic, a love of drinking and smoking, and a penchant for anger.  He also carried a heavy heart over the loss of his first wife when his kids were still very young.  Though I had a best friend named Michael growing up, it was always me who was the poof, so to speak, and it was very difficult for me to fit in with my peers. 
My mom was my friend and my greatest supporter, and though I still speak to her often, I lost a great light in my life when she died.  I'm no dancer, but my hopes for a successful career as a writer are still propelling me forward all the time.  (You can support the arts by buying my books!)  There are plenty of differences between my life's story and Billy's, but the movie and subsequent stage production have enough similarities to make me feel very much at home. 

But why do I obsess so much about a story like this one?  Because beyond all the similarities, there's a killer script by Lee Hall.  I admire his language and storytelling so much, and I'm constantly amazed and inspired by his ability to make me laugh, then cry, then laugh, then cry, over and over again throughout the show (and the film).  That kind of emotional roller coaster effect is far from easy to produce, and it's certainly helped by the amazing actors who I've seen in the stage musical over the years.

And when it comes to amazing, this show has it all, not least of which because the boy who plays Billy has to convince us from the beginning that he has some basic skills, but no training at all, and by the end, he has to have shown us how much hidden talent he had inside him, ready to burst forth for all the world to see.

Billy Elliot The Musical is no longer on Broadway, and the Tours are done now too, although there are some incredible regional productions popping up here and there.  Most of you who read this won't be able to go see the show anytime soon, but some of you will (Londoners and Europeans all over have a lot to celebrate still!), so none of what I write here is to convince you to go see the show right away.  It's just to help you understand some of the many reasons I kept going back time and time again to witness its magic live. 

The musical is gone from the New York scene for a while now, but the movie is still available.  Check it out when you get a chance, or watch it again if it's been a while.  I think you'll see why so many people have seen it worldwide, and why the subsequent musical won as many Tony Awards and other prizes as it did.  It's an inspiring story about possibility, willpower, and promise, and it's guaranteed to have you flying with joy by the time it's over!

Stage Musical Commercial
Original Movie Trailer

Sunday, August 17, 2014

The shell-stealing incident

August 17, 2014
Day 109

It wasn't a real crime; I should start with that.  No one was really hurt, and the value of the piece was hardly irreplaceable.  In fact, it was quite the opposite.  The theft was, however, very scarring to me at the time.  And because I've chosen to write about it here, it's obviously stayed with me my whole life.

I stole a shell.  Maybe two.  It or they were in my grandmother's neighbor's garden, creating a sort of design, so removing even just one was messing up the beauty of the look she'd artfully created.  It wasn't as if I thought this through of course, because it happened when I was just a child.  9?  10?  I'm not sure now.  I was young enough to not yet understand that what I had done was very wrong, but old enough where I ought to have known better.

My crime was quickly discovered in a series of events that would impress any great inspector throughout history.  Miss Marple, Columbo, Jessica Fletcher, Inspector Gadget--they'd all have admired the process that must have occurred leading up to my identification as the thief, and my subsequent punishment as the villain in question.  I don't know how the neighbor and my aunt (who lived with my grandmother) identified me so quickly, but they did.  Once I was found and I confessed for my sin, within mere minutes I was judged, sentenced, and fully guilted for my crime.

And it was this guilt, and the lesson overall, that mattered most.  I needed to be taught that what I did was morally wrong, so that as I grew up, I'd have a better understanding of how the world worked.  When something is not yours, leave it alone.  Respect other people's property.  And, oh yeah, don't even think about lying to get away with something!  Just come clean, and the truth will set you free...eventually.

The incident is a tiny one, as tiny as the shell or shells I snatched that day, but the beauty of the lesson was huge.  It has stayed with me so strongly over the years because I still feel very badly about it.  Guilt is powerful, but fully understanding morality in general is much more important than any temporary scolding can teach us.  And so I'm grateful to that neighbor, my grandmother, and my aunt for teaching me more than they know in one random moment one random day many years ago, when I was still just a boy.

Saturday, August 16, 2014

Butter and Mayo

August 16, 2014
             Day 108

I have two lifelong friends who have sadly also been lifelong enemies.  I'll occasionally invite them to live with me for a while, but they always wreak havoc, and I'm always left regretting the decision to invite them in at all.

Right now, Butter is allowed in my house only on a count of his brother.  I'd been hanging out with Crock for years, but realized as sweet as he seemed, he was slowly causing me lots of emotional pain, and even weight gain.  So I told him recently to just leave and never come back, and then invited Butter to move back in.  Butter has a saltier sense of humor, and hasn't exactly been helping me in my weight loss efforts either, but he's easy to get along with, so I keep him around.  He sure knows how to butter me up though.  Manipulative bastard!

And my other on-again, off-again frienemy is Mayo.  Ugh!  Where do I start?  This guy is so much fun to hang out with, and every time I eat with him, he makes me feel so good.  But then after a little while, I feel terrible.  I feel bloated and upset, and I realize that once again, he's hurt me.  Mayo is one of those friends who's a total enabler.  (I think he might even be a feeder!)  He just sits there and tells me how good he'll be before I even start eating, but by the time I'm done, he still looks great but I feel awful.  What an idiot!  The last time he visited, I almost threw him out, yelling, "I hate you!  Just stop giving me so much hell, man!"

Mayo isn't allowed in my house, but when I do invite him in, he's gone in three or four days anyway.  Occasionally, I even hang out with both Butter and Mayo at the same time.  They get along well when I don't overdo it, but the results are always sickening. 

I've mostly given up Mayo now in my house, but Butter is still allowed to stay.  All things in moderation, I guess, and as long as I spread out my time with him, our friendship will be okay.  Last night, I told Butter a story that made him melt; it was so sweet watching how much it affected him.  But I have to admit, even when he's soft with me, I still keep the knife close by.

Friday, August 15, 2014

All the other beautiful days

August 15, 2014
             Day 107

Today's entry won't be too long, because I'm working on just three-and-a-half hours of sleep, but also because there's been a lot of sadness this week already, and I'd rather not overdo it at this point.

First things first, a fact: Today is the 6th anniversary of the day suicide took the life of my friend Sal.  I purposely phrase it that way because I've come to see over time how his mental unclarity obviously got the better of him.  He didn't end his life after careful planning and months of agonizing over his choices.  The illness, in whatever form it affected him personally, just took over his brain enough to convince him of a lie.  It told him he had no other choice, though he always did.

I never judged Sal for his action that day, because to me that'd be like judging someone for crying.  When pain reaches certain levels, certain responses just happen.  Tears just happen, emotional pain just happens, and yes, even depression in all its scary, acute forms, just happens.  None of us are in any place to judge, or even casually pretend to understand what goes on inside a person who becomes a victim of suicide.  We don't share the same headspace of those who get to this point, so we have no right pronouncing our wisdom on the situation. 

Depression sucks.  Suicide sucks.  And people who pass judgment should seriously just shut the fuck up, and remind themselves how difficult this life we're living can be at times.  Suicide is a choice, but it's a choice that manifests from cloudy thinking, not clear thoughtfulness. 

When someone you love is taken this way, you're left feeling like hope itself has died, as if all possibility for a happy ending in life is forever marred by the fact that depression claimed the life of a dear soul.  My friend Sal was a very, very dear soul.  Like most 26-year-olds, he loved to party and have fun, but he was also a fierce friend, especially to those he respected and loved.  On one day six years ago, he lost an internal battle we didn't realize he was fighting.  And that just sucks.  Suicide just fucking sucks.  But sometimes it isn't enough to want to have joy.  You've got to believe in the joy you cannot see through all the cloudy thinking. 

When suicide claims a life, it's important to remember all the joy the person left behind, and not the last few moments of sadness.  For all the trauma Sal's loved ones went through in the months following his passing, the actions of his last day were just a few moments in the bigger picture of his abundantly beautiful life.  And it's that abundantly beautiful life that I know he would want to be remembered for.  Whether it's cancer or murder or any other disease or horrible ending, what one of us would want our last day to be remembered above all the other beautiful days we've lived? 

So we remember Sal, and we remember all of our loved ones who have passed this way, for all the other days.  So many cherished memories.  So much life.  So many beautiful days. 

Thursday, August 14, 2014

My clinical depression

August 14, 2014
             Day 106

In 1996, I was a mess.  One person even described me as being completely crazy.  I was sad, I was confused, and I was lost.

And then it got worse.

And then, it got worse than that.

In 6th grade, when I was just 11 years old, I began feeling attracted to boys instead of just girls.  The feeling grew until 9th grade, when I was in an all-boys Catholic high school, and felt very much attracted to my classmates.  By the time I joined the monastic life and became "Brother Sean", I felt by taking the vow of chastity, I was vowing to give up women, which wasn't all that difficult to do!  Since I was 18 then, and never did anything about my other leanings, I felt they would just stay dormant in me, asleep, and not cause me any problems.  Throughout college though, even though I was a vowed Catholic monk, I found myself still thinking about my classmates at Manhattan College, and the feelings were just getting too difficult for me to contain.

On January 1st of 1997, just a few minutes after midnight, I came out to another person in my religious order.  It was the first time I'd ever said the words out loud to anyone, let alone myself.  And though the moment was extremely painful for me, the equivalent of passing a stone I'd guess (an emotional stone for sure!), the day that followed was one of the happiest I have ever experienced in my almost 40 years of life on this Earth.  It was just such an amazing feeling knowing someone else now knew my biggest secret, and I felt like everything would now be better.

It wasn't. 

The depression got even worse now, as I realized not only could I accept being gay, and think that maybe even God wasn't judging me, but now I was reminded of my situation.  I was a Roman Catholic monk in a very conservative religious order, and escape was not an option.  I literally felt completely helpless, completely powerless over my life.  I'd told God I'd be his servant, and I wasn't going back on that promise, no matter what feelings I was having.

I don't know what kind of "crazy" I must have given off in those days, but my religious superiors noticed it, and decided to get me help.  I was brought up to Dunwoodie Seminary in Yonkers (Saint Joseph's Seminary), and introduced to a psychologist named Paul Moglia.  The day I met him, Paul was giving a standard psychological test to a group of men studying for the Deaconate.  I learned he was the official psychologist of the Archdiocese of New York, so I knew I was in good hands.

He gave me a series of tests, asked me to answer a whole bunch of questions and even draw a few items, and then later told me I was suffering with clinical depression.  I can't tell you exactly how I felt when I heard this, but I must confess there was definitely something good about it.  Paul helped me see right away that there was something chemical going on in my brain, and the severity of my emotional lows were not the result of something bad I'd done, or any truth I happened to believe.  He also knew right from the start that I was gay.  I didn't have to tell him, because my religious superiors had informed him in advance.  (They'd gotten it out of me in what was its own extremely difficult conversation days earlier!)

Six months followed all this, and I went to see Dr. Moglia once a week for the entirety of this time.  I was told not to tell my fellow Brothers where I was going.  "If anyone asks, say you're going to visit the other community," is what they told me.  My depression and my struggle in general was my new biggest secret.  Not only was I a closeted homosexual, but I was a closeted clinically depressed homosexual too.  And throughout this time, I was also in my final semester at Manhattan College, pursuing not one but two degrees as a double major. 

At some point right near the end of my battle with clinical depression (and it was absolutely a battle), my doctor finally said he'd done everything he could for me, and would be happy to keep seeing me, but said I absolutely needed medicine for my condition.  He spoke to my religious superiors directly, and I did as well.  They said no.

They didn't just say no, actually.  They told me the Holy Spirit would help me, and not medicine.

My doctor, who you'll recall was the official psychologist of the Archdiocese of New York, was livid.  He contained his emotions, but he was very upset that these people were denying me basic healthcare.  He suggested we take the next step, and secretly talk to my parents.  They didn't know what was going on really, but they knew I had lost an awful lot of weight, and wasn't very happy.

And then, before any of this secret medical help even happened, I was summoned to meet with my religious superiors out of the blue one day.  "You're not happy here, we think you should leave the religious life, and we think you should leave right now."  The words aren't exact, but trust me, they are pretty much exactly how it went down.  (I'd failed out of their high school as a freshman, so this was now the second time in my life I'd been told to leave the premises.)  An hour after the meeting, I was dropped off at my parents' door, just a handshake and a wish of good luck to end it.  Four years of my life had just disappeared in a puff of smoke.

Now I can't tell you how to heal clinical depression, or how to treat whatever version of it you might be suffering through, but I can tell you that seeing my psychologist was more helpful than I can even put into words.  Seeing any doctor, especially if you have a great rapport with the person, is one of the best things you can do to help heal your hurting head space.  And for me, getting out of the religious order was enormously helpful too!

Though the day itself was one of the worst I've ever had, the days afterward slowly got better, and I had a new sense of hope and optimism about my life.  I had no money to my name, no bank account, and very little possessions, as I'd given most away when I joined the religious order, and only took a few boxes back out with me when I left, but for some reason, just getting away from some of those people really was the best thing for me at that time.

No, I can't tell you how clinical depression works, or how exactly to fight it, but I have learned it's a cruel fate for anyone to go through.  You feel lost and alone, depressed beyond measure, and nothing can help you feel better.  You need professional help, and nothing short of it.  And even before getting the help, you need to admit you need the help.  You need to surrender to the help others can and will be happy to give you. 

If there's a person, a group of people, or a situation that's making you feel this way, you need to get away from them, even if just for a little while.  And if you're a friend or spouse or family member of someone who's going through what seems to be depression, you need to help them do this.  Don't guilt them for needing to run away for a little while, even if just metaphorically.  Encourage it.  Obviously, don't let them be alone any more than they need to be, but if some kind of escape from responsibility or schedule will help ease their brains, please consider helping them through that.  And most importantly, find a professional psychologist to help too! 

If you had a broken arm, you'd want to get treated immediately.  The same is true for depression.  It needs to be treated through tender care and careful counseling.  It helps soooooo much, trust me! 

I'm no doctor.  I can't help you with all your pains.  But look one up in your area if you need to.  Most work with health insurance companies too, so you may only have to pay a copay.  And if you don't have insurance or money, please talk to me or someone else close to you for help.  No guilt!  If you're in need of medical help, your loved ones will help you however they can.

My particular story may sound unique, but depression itself is unfortunately far from rare.  Too many live through it without telling anyone, and so many others battle it with drugs and alcohol (or many other programs, communities, and tactics) instead of dealing with it the right way, with qualified professionals who know how to help you. 

As Professor Albus Dumbledore put it, "Help will always be those who ask for it."

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

The thin line between sorrow and joy

August 13, 2014
             Day 105

I had another reflection planned for today, but too much is going on right now for me to be as light as I was hoping to be.

Last night, I was filled with joy standing on line to see Newsies on Broadway, when a few feet away from me, I spotted someone who had just lost a very dear friend to suicide.  The someone was Harvey Fierstein, and the friend, of course, was Robin Williams.  Harvey looked very sad and out of it, not the joy-filled version of himself I've come to know on video, and when I've seen him around New York before, and my heart immediately ached for his own aching heart.  All the joy I'd been feeling seemed to evaporate immediately.

By the time we got into the theatre, the excitement of the evening returned, and we had an absolutely wonderful time at the show.  My friend Michael was with me, and we had some fun stage-door adventures after the show too, including my opportunity to introduce Michael to one of the cast of Newsies, Giuseppe Bausilio.  Overall, it was a really nice evening in New York, and as I closed my eyes last night in bed, I felt very happy.

This morning, things changed again.  First, we realized the weather had wreaked havoc all over the island, causing Andy's train to get canceled and requiring me to bring him to another station.  The roads all over Suffolk County are apparently under water, and people have lost their cars in what will certainly be permanent flooding damage.  And then the really bad news came in: Andy's uncle (his mom's brother) is in the hospital in what may be his final hours.  He apparently got terribly sick this past weekend, and was admitted in serious condition.  Emergency surgery revealed some horrible, probably fatal truths about his condition.

How do we do this?  How do we all pivot so often on the joys and sorrows of life, and still manage to stay sane?  Obviously, so many of us do not.  We get depressed or angry, or both, and life's many truths often feel like an insufferable, never-ending tragedy.

I'm not writing this reflection in order to explain how to deal with awful things, or even to convince you to choose joy.  I'm simply recognizing the precarious, delicate line we all walk on every day.  We are faced with joy and sadness constantly, and we never know if they'll hit us at the same time, or in rapid, alternating succession.  We just have to go with the flow, and remember to appreciate every joyful moment while we have it, because all too often, the sad moments are waiting for us right around the corner.  The thin line between joy and sorrow requires us to walk with one foot in either emotion at all times, out of profound respect...for both.

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Polarizing Figures

August 12, 2014
             Day 104

You're a polarizing figure when you constantly divide people into "us" and "them".  People who do this seem to think if someone believes one thing differently, they're automatically part of another group they don't want to be associated with. 

Star Wars taught me a great line a few years ago that's stayed with me.  Anakin Skywalker (the future Darth Vader) yells to Obi-Wan Kenobi, "If you're not with me, then you're my enemy!"  Obi-Wan frowns, and then scolds back at him, "Only a Sith deals in absolutes!"

We're all such vastly different people, and what seems to surprise us in this new age of technology and social media is that we're already close to the people we'd have otherwise "thrown away" as our enemies.

Social media is slowly teaching us that we're all connected to one another much more than we realize, and we're learning over time that we really are much more different than we thought.  We see friends and family members answer differently than we would have to random quizzes and surveys, we see them share things we'd never in a million years think is funny, and we see in a million ways all the time how many things we're all choosing to care differently about. 

It's helpful to remember though, that a polarizer is a good thing in camera work.  To quote Wikipedia, a polarizer "can convert a beam of light of undefined or mixed polarization into a beam with well-defined polarization".  The part of that line that jumps out to me right away is "well-defined".  When something or someone is polarizing, they are well defined.  We know who they are and what they believe.  Even if they are polarizing, pushing people into boxes, and making this world into an unnecessary game of us vs. them, they have at least shown us who they are.  They are standing firm in their beliefs, whether politically, socially, or fiscally.  When they do this, we can choose to avoid them or choose to gravitate toward them based on what they believe.

Either way, we are already surrounded by polarizing figures in our lives on social media, and it's forcing us to accept the many differences we all have.  More importantly, we should remember that for some, we ourselves are sometimes those polarizing figures we think we only see elsewhere!

Monday, August 11, 2014

The time I cut school

August 11, 2014
Day 103

Today's reflection is another "one for the album", where I gather my thoughts of significant life events before approaching age 40.  Some of these may not seem related to my journey, but for me, they all are.  If they're important enough for me to spend time talking about, then they're part of the baggage (and luggage!) I bring with me in the walk toward my birthday next year.  So here's how this little adventure went down. 

First, we needed a forged note.  We decided on a doctor's appointment note that we knew we could easily change the date on.  It wasn't the type of paper we could reuse too much, but it was enough to do the trick.  It would also be used at two different high schools for three different people.  Once again, I'll leave out the details of whom and how to protect the not-so innocent!

Once the day off was set up, we still had parents to fool.  Since my schedule was very known to my mom and dad, I had to stick to it.  That meant leaving the house after 7 in the morning and walking down to the bus stop.  A friend who drove would be waiting nearby with his car, so I just had to look for his car and get in before the school bus pulled up.  This was way before cell phones, so the plan had to work perfectly in order to succeed. 

Thankfully, my friend was waiting in his car (a 1977 Pontiac Bonneville, or "Bonney" as we called her), so I immediately felt a sense of relief and excitement that this was really happening.  I tapped on the window to get his attention (he was fast asleep, having apparently spent some of the night there waiting for me), and off we went.

Now anyone who's ever seen Ferris Bueller's Day Off will understand these things are a hell of a lot more complicated than you'd think.  You start with exact details of where you need to be in the morning, but you still have the afternoon to worry about too.  Everything must be kept on schedule.  We knew to the minute what time I would need to be home, and my other friends did too.

Strangely enough, I can't tell you what we did that day!  It's not like we did something illegal or morally ambiguous, although both are entirely possible.  I just can't remember how we chose to live out this day of freedom.  And I think that says a lot about the experience.  It didn't matter what we did.  It mattered more that we had pulled this off at all.  (We probably just drove around, maybe played some pool, grabbed some lunch out somewhere, I don't know.) 

We'd cut school, and gotten away with it.  It was an accomplishment in and of itself, three Catholic high school boys fooling the systems of our respective schools, and getting away with a day off on our own, while our classmates suffered through what I tell myself was the worst school day ever. 

I'm not the type of guy who likes breaking rules.  In fact, I've always been the complete opposite, even to the point of scolding others for every traffic rule bent even slightly (just ask Andy how annoying I can be).  So I guess I'm telling you this story in a way because some part of me wants to celebrate the occasional adventure I've had in life.  I'm a mostly good guy who has occasionally misbehaved in some funny/smallish ways in life, and I think that's okay.  I've never tried to be absolutely perfect, and sometimes it's fun to be imperfect anyway.  "All things in moderation" is a good mantra to go by, I guess.  But so too is "live a little", don't you think? 

So be safe.  Be good.  But when you can, have a little fun too.  Because really, life's too f***ing short!

Sunday, August 10, 2014

A family picnic

August 10, 2014
            Day 102

So today as I begin this reflection, I'll soon be heading to a family picnic.  It isn't with all of my family, and not just because some of them are dead, but because my family has never, ever been just one family.  We're more like a huge conglomeration of families, many of whose members are closely wound up with one another, and some of whom are less so.  And as one person gently reminded me, this isn't a family reunion, it's just a family picnic.

None of this is dysfunctional, by the way.  It's actually quite normal.  The older I get, the more I see how true this is.  We're all vastly different people who just happen to be linked by blood and marriage with a whole bunch of other vastly different people.  And that's...okay.

But I digress.

Today is a family picnic.  The exact participants are less important to this reflection than the simple fact that it's a picnic, and some family members are gathering to go to it.  The fact that none of us would have otherwise gone to a park and eaten outdoors today is worth mentioning.  So too is the fact that had this not been planned, most of us would not have seen each other today.  I suppose a few of us would have, but not all of us, and certainly not the large number who are going. 

So there's something to be said for the fact that this event, if you want to call it that, is already a success just by the fact that it's happening at all.  Kids may fall and scrape their knees, ketchup may be accidentally squirted all over someone's shirt, and a couple of bees might decide today is an ideal day to attack a large number of us.  I really don't know what kinds of negatives might happen today, but no matter.  Today is already a success simply because it's happening.  Some of my family members are getting together to see some of my other family members, and that's not just a success, it's a celebration!

It's a celebration of all we've been through together as a family.  It's a celebration of all the familiar stories and people from our shared pasts we'll reminisce about.  And it's a celebration of the fact that we're all still close enough to each other to want to keep these relationships active and special.

In just a few hours, people who have grown up with one another will come together to celebrate.  We won't be celebrating perfection, because perfection was never the goal to begin with, but we will be happily celebrating the many, many years we've all been blessed to know each other. 

So bring on the scraped knees, the ketchup stains, and sure, even the bees.  Life isn't perfect, and neither is my family, but for reasons I've never understood, I actually really like it that way.

Saturday, August 9, 2014

The Dream Dimension

August 9, 2014
Day 101

If I find myself in Heaven one day, needing to explain life to any souls who have not yet traveled to Earth as human beings, one of the highlights of my trip here will be my dream world.

"And then, each night as you go to sleep," I'd tell them, "Your conscious self disappears, and a whole different dream dimension begins revealing itself to you."

I'm guessing it'll be very hard to explain to them, but that's because it's just as hard for us to explain it to ourselves! 

The kinds of dreams I've had in my life so far have been all over the map as far as topic and ability.  In some dreams, I'm just experiencing repeat performances of old parts of my life, new takes on people and places I haven't seen in years.  In other dreams, I'm part of a world of possibility I've never come close to experiencing here on Earth, in ordinary reality.

In some of my most memorable dreams, I've met the pope, fought the devil, hung out with deceased relatives and friends, saved the baby Jesus from a burning church, met celebrities, and even once watched the pope get married in an underwater stadium.

There's no way for me to map out all of the many dreams I've had in my life, but I do write them down whenever I can.  And the most powerful dreams (some of which I've just mentioned) have all stayed with me in amazing clarity and understanding over the years.  And it's the powerful teaching dreams that have always been the most vivid when I wake up, and the ones I've never forgotten.

I wish I understood this dream dimension better than I do, but I think what strikes me as the most amazing fact of it is, we cannot go to this amazing place where incredible things happen to us unless we are first consciously putting our conscious self to sleep.  In other words, we cannot have our eyes opened until we shut them, and go into a place of peace.  We cannot discover new lands until we forget about the lands around us.  And we cannot truly see with dream-dimension eyes until we close these human eyes, and believe in the kind of seeing that never happens through our face.

Friday, August 8, 2014

Day 100

It never ends (yet).

August 8, 2014
Day 100

For a hundred days in a row now, I've shared a daily reflection with you on this blog.  And for a hundred days in a row now, part of me has not really enjoyed the self-made requirement very much at all.

Regardless, I've done it, and for that fact alone, I'm quite proud of myself.  For the record, it's taught me a few very valuable life lessons:

1) The more I write, the better I write.  I'm just teaching myself through this process how to be a better blog writer, a better article writer, and just a better writer overall.  The more I write, the more I learn how to manage my craft, my time, my desire, and my inspiration.  And I think I'm doing pretty well so far!

My internet and all of our servers were down there at work the other day,
so I mapped out what my blog entries will be about each day
between now and September 6th.
2) With just a few minutes of careful thought, you can come up with a whole slew of interesting topics for blogs or any other writing adventure.

3) Blogging makes you a more honest person.  Unlike social networks, where you feel forced to conform within a few lines of life-sharing, blogging asks much more of you.  Soul bearing is not just rewarding in this process, but quite required, too.

4) And finally, it's taught me that under no circumstances will I ever want to do this again.  It's going to be something I'll look back on and appreciate very, very much, but it's also something I will be absolutely thrilled to be done with once it's over!

So that's it.  Today is number 100, which is awesome!  I've come so far! 

And yet,  because this will take me until May 1st next year, I still have another 265 left!  Yikes!!!!!!! 

Thanks for reading along!  Your views, likes, and comments are all very much appreciated! : )

Thursday, August 7, 2014

The five-year-old uncle

Me, circa Godonlyknows
August 7, 2014
             Day 99

I have a horrible memory when it comes to my early childhood.  I guess there are a few vague recollections about a few small life events here and there, but really not too many. 

So I think it says a lot that I can clearly remember that special day when my first niece was born. 

I was just 5 years old at the time, and I remember people telling me I was about to become an uncle.  Though I'm not sure I fully understood what that meant yet, it did make me feel an immediate sense of responsibility, like some part of me was meant to grow up faster than everyone else.

Though I was still only just 5 years old, my name was already changing--some of the time--from Sean to Uncle Sean.
My niece Shannon, my younger sister Marilyn, my nephew Brendan, and me.

Shannon Patrice was born on August 7, 1980, so she's now 34, and I'm now 39.  How time does fly!  Happy Birthday, Shannon!

I should add, though, growing up with nieces and nephews so close to my age became somewhat confusing. 

Not only was I often mistaken for an older brother instead of an uncle, but my title was used very rarely, too.  It didn't make sense for a peer around my own age to call me his or her uncle, so more often than not, I was just called Sean.  And that was fine with me!

It also made it even weirder and funnier when other younger nieces and nephews absolutely felt more comfortable calling me Uncle Sean, even in some cases when their own older siblings didn't!

But it's all good.  I love all my nieces and nephews (over a dozen of them) very, very much.  And I love my great niece Emma just as much too.  Emma is my niece Ellen's daughter, and she just turned 5 recently...but something tells me she won't be an aunt for quite a while still.  Just as well, because being 5 years old is enough work all on its own!

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

My shoplifting confession

August 6, 2014
Day 98

I've never written publicly about this before, and though it happened a long, long time ago when I was still a kid, I'd rather not divulge the exact details, but there was a time when I was young that I shoplifted a few small items.

I'm not proud of this fact, and the only reason I'm mentioning it here is because I'm in this year-long process of reflecting of my life leading up to my 40th birthday.

The items were small and easily grabbed: baseball card packs and small food items.  And I had an affiliation with the store, so it was very easy for me to take a couple of things without getting caught.  Knowing this, I suppose, was part of the thrill.  I would never dare do this as an adult, but I guess from my experience many years ago, I at least now understand why people shoplift (apart from those who are in desperate need). 

Grabbing something in an area where you know no camera can see you, and finding a place for it in your coat or pants pocket, and then walking out of the store casually, as if you've done nothing wrong?  It gave me a rush, of sorts.  It made me feel powerful, and I guess more than just a little clever too, like I could pull one over on a large number of people.

Now I'm in no way saying any of this to brag or be proud of my actions.  Shoplifting is wrong, and it's just plain stupid, too.  You could go to prison for it easily, and from what I understand from HBO and Showtime, a hell of a lot worse could befall you in jail.  But even if there was no retribution or criminal case against you, you still shouldn't do it because it's wrong.  It's stealing.  It's not your possession to take.  And have I's wrong?

I'm deeply sorry for these sins of my past, and though sharing this reflection does make me feel a little better, I'll never stop carrying this guilty fact around with me through life. 

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

The ants in my kitchen

August 5, 2014
             Day 97

I really wish the title of this reflection was a euphemism for something funny or interesting.  Unfortunately, it's just a sad fact of my life.  There are ants in my kitchen, and I've yet to wipe out their entire population through mass antocide.

At first there were just a few.  Scavengers perhaps?  You know, the ones sent ahead to see what kind of food my kitchen might offer?  Perhaps these first few knew there was a good chance they wouldn't return from their mission, but they offered up their lives for the colony.  And while I can applaud that level of sacrifice, it has always been my opinion that ants inside my house should be slaughtered en masse, and smushed completely and immediately upon entry.

The part I don't get is, they keep coming in from all manner of cracks I don't know about (but later seal), and they keep getting killed...yet they keep coming back.  No matter how many of their fallen comrades they see crushed on the battlefield, or doused in a pool of Windex or household cleaner, they still keep invading.  It's as if there's an ant king or queen who sends these creatures into battle, knowing full well that most if not all of them will be killed, and then when they don't return, another hundred are sent right in afterwards.

Are they still not realizing I'm going to kill them?  Do they still not see how much certain torture and death awaits them once they run across my kitchen counter? Are they truly so starved for the tiniest remnant of human food that thousands of them are willing to kamikaze their way into my home?

No.  It doesn't seem like they care at all.  Instead, they see the dead bodies all over the place, and they see no natural force has caused this, but rather that some human with a demented world vision has slaughtered them all, and in the face of this, they keep searching for food in my kitchen anyway! 

There's a theory I've heard that if you provide an offering to the ant gods outside the house somewhere, they'll respect your space inside...but I don't buy it. 

For me, the only conclusion I see ahead of me is complete annihilation of the species.  I haven't been keeping track, of course, but I'd be willing to wager I've now murdered tens of thousands of these creatures.  And like any good mass murderer worth his title, I've long since turned off any emotional attachment.  These are not living creatures I'm killing.  They're things.  They're things in my kitchen that weren't invited.  And they must be destroyed.

So if in some future life I am held accountable for my antocide, I can only pray I am not judged too harshly.  For if I find myself in some spiritual courtroom one day, and an ant god is pointing at me in accusation, I'll just throw up my hands in disgust and scream out, "But they invaded my fucking house, you crazy fucking ant god!!!  DON'T YOU SEE I had no other choice?!?!" 

And then?  Well...  And then I'll probably just crush the ant god, too.