Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Stuck? Maybe This Can Help

This crossed my newsfeed on Facebook this morning, and naturally I shared it with a big "Mmmm Hmmm!" running through my head.

It took me back to what I think is one of the most powerful of the 12 steps, Step Four. When I was in rehab almost four years ago, I can recall the chronic relapsers all admitting this was "the step that takes you back out." It is, in fact, a really tough thing to do--to look at your life, your actions, things you've said and done, things that have happened to you and to assess them HONESTLY. See, we all have a natural tendency to ease our own consciences by excusing behaviors by making up stories or scenarios and convincing ourselves they're true or by trying to push all the blame for our shit onto other people. But at the end of the day, the real question is, did you do this or did you not do this? WHY does not matter in the least. You still did it.

(For me, that was really the first major step towards getting better--that, and accepting the truth that I just can't handle alcohol. I don't have a "stop" button. Period.)

After you own your own story, smudges on the page and all, you can then see where your own actions don't align with your values and examine why you chose to compromise them. For me, I found that a fear of some kind was usually the culprit. Take lying, for example. Some people exaggerate their accomplishments or just make up stuff because they fear people won't think the real them is good enough. Or we lie because we fear some other negative consequence--"so and so will leave me," or "to admit to that is to mean I'm a little sick in the head" or "someone who would do that is selfish," and it can be tough to realize you've been acting out of these fears. Or that sometimes you've been making crap up to keep yourself from facing them head on.

But what I learned in rehab is that even people who'd done some godawful things were still wonderful people. Some kid who'd been a gangbanger and still acted like a punk most of the time was somebody I didn't really care to get to know at first--until one day, a stray dog wandered onto the property and I watched him with the dog. I saw so much love and concern for this helpless creature being expressed by that kid that I saw him with entirely new eyes. I talked with him a few times after that and I realized he was actually okay. He'd just been running with the wrong crowd.

Nobody is a perfect person. So rather than beating up on myself for being a dumbass sometimes, I realized I needed to forgive myself and just STOP doing the things that didn't align with my values. You don't want to be a liar? Don't lie. You think you may have some unresolved emotional issues? Get help. You don't want to be a drunk? Don't drink.

And then self-love and self-esteem will return to you.

Having been to hell and back, see it for what it is: a gift. Forgiving yourself makes it easier to forgive others. Loving yourself makes it easier to love others. You learn that happiness is totally within you and is not a thing someone else can give you or some possession can give you.

You set your mind free.

Saturday, July 27, 2013

So... the Jamestown Story

George Percy
I've finally got a little time to settle down and write the promised personal "story behind the story" regarding Jamestown Colony. If you'll recall, some time back I had my DNA tested by 23andMe, and I wrote about it here. Since getting my results back, a handful of people at that website have contacted me to say we're related based on certain genome matches (the company estimates things such as 3rd, 5th, 6th cousins, etc). But I was unable to tell them how we might be related without having a family tree done.

Well, so now I've embarked on the genealogy wagon on ancestry.com, and I have to say, I'm finding out some interesting things. First of all, I've debunked two "family legends"--that we are related to Mary Todd Lincoln and Ralph Waldo Emerson. There is a Mary Todd in our tree, but she is not the one who married Lincoln. And, there is also a Ralph Waldo Emerson, but he is not the same man who was a Transcendentalist and wrote the wonderful essays. But one "legend" is true: both sides of our family have been in America since its founding. I've got Quakers on one side and Revolutionary soldiers on both (including a Capt Mordecai Abrams from London, who fought in the Revolution and was Jewish! on my father's side.)

But this brings me to Jamestown Colony. One of my ancestors is an English gentleman named George Percy, who arrived with the first three ships to Jamestown Colony. His father was Henry Percy, Earl of Northumberland, and his mother was Lady Catherine Neville.

Back to the story. George Percy actually had the highest social rank of every last gentleman on that first trip to Jamestown. I suppose we can guess that he was new to hard labor (although he was an experienced soldier). But he also had terrible asthma and quite possibly suffered from epilepsy. Thus it's not really a surprise the colonists didn't put him on the Virginia Council. Once Capt. John Smith, Gabrielle Archer, and John Ratcliffe took over the colony, poor old Percy became their subordinate and did as he was bidden.

However, he must have gained enough respect since he became president of the colony after the departure of Captain John Smith. But it was during Percy's tenure that Jamestown went through "the starving time" discussed in the video below. Even though Percy kept a record of his time at Jamestown colony, he never mentioned cannibalism--though if he knew it was going on, that's not really a surprise since it would reflect poorly on him. Besides, he was ill so often that he pretty much left the colony in the hands of Archer, Ratcliffe, and another fellow named John Martin. 

In June 1610, when Thomas West (also my ancestor), the 3rd Baron de la Warr, arrived just in the nick of time with more colonists and supplies, Percy gladly gave up his position to him, although he chose to stay at Jamestown. At that point, the colonists were finally able to gain a foothold in the area, largely because they went on a slaughtering campaign of the local Indians. I don't mean just the Powhatans, either. La Warr himself made use of Percy's military experience to send him and 70 men to annihilate the local Chickahominy and Paspahegh Indians. Because of this, de la Warr made Percy Governor of Virginia in his absence, having been called back to England, and Percy held that post until he returned to England in 1612.

Here's the thing that astonishes me: despite his health issues, Percy was at Jamestown Colony from its founding in 1606 until he left in 1612. So many men died--at one point, they were down to just fifty--yet Percy managed to survive the whole time. When he departed, he left a wife there (Anne Percy), so perhaps he intended to come back. He did not make it back, and she died in 1618. He also left a daughter there, Anne Claiborne, who wound up marrying John R. West, the grandson of Thomas de la Warr. John West became the 3rd governor of Virginia.  Their daughter, Alice, married one Thomas Harris--and then it's a straight line to my mother, Joyce Harris Luck.

So, it's an interesting story and interesting that I have a personal attachment to it. I can't say I'm fond of the fact that my ancestors slaughtered Indians, but the flip side of that is that they played a very large part in the founding of this country we now call the United States of America.

Thursday, July 25, 2013

Jamestown Colony

This is a little small, but if you have a Netflix account, you can also stream the whole documentary on your computer from there. Just search for National Geographic's "Nightmare in Jamestown." Check my blog some time soon for a personal story behind the story.

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Why Are You Here?

What is your soul's purpose for this incarnation? Think hard about what brings you the most joy. Is it, in fact, to find joy? Peace? Happiness? To fight for what you believe in? Is it money? Is it love?

What brings me the most satisfaction is serving others, helping others, or, at the very least, making others smile or laugh.

Then consider what your unique talents are. Mine are writing, clear expression (with a fair amount of humor), diplomacy, and to a lesser degree the arts (painting, playing music). Then put the two together to make a kind of "life objective" statement. Mine goes something like this: I teach and I write with the goals of helping students gain writing skills they will need to succeed in life, and I also try to open their eyes and help them care about the human condition. I try to do so without cracking a whip and breaking down someone's hopes and dreams--though I stick to standards because I'm not serving someone well if I pass them and they're not ready. I draw, I paint, I play music, I kid around to share the human condition as well, but also to spread joy and love. And sometimes I write specifically to share things I hope will help others in some small way--or maybe even a big way; one just never knows.

Sure, I occasionally get tired and whine and moan and complain, but really I'd have it no other way. I'm truly blessed to do work I find meaningful and to also have hobbies that serve my goals, for, ultimately, helping others helps me to evolve and become a better person.

So, why are YOU here?

Monday, July 22, 2013

Last Week of Summer Session, Oy

Well, it's arrived. The good news is it's the last week of summer session. The bad news is it's the last week of summer session. GOOD because afterwards, I get a short break to catch my breath and get ready for fall semester. BAD because this week the Writing Center will be crazy full of students who've slacked off all semester about getting appointments in and their hours done; there will hardly be a moment to breathe or even run down the hall to pee because the stand-by list will be packed full of kids sitting there waiting and hoping that somebody flakes on an appointment or an appointment will run short and we'll be able to squeeze them in. As a bit of an empath, I feel their tension and worry and even rage that there aren't enough of us to see them all. Oh, I'll throw up a mental cone of protection to ward some of those negative energies off, but it can be tough to block them all off.

And then there's my own frustration I have to keep in check, especially with the students who sit down in front of me for their first lab visit of the semester, not caring what kind of help I give them with an essay--some will even outright admit with a shrug, when I ask them "what can I do for you?" "Whatever. I just need a signature." I do my best to summon patience and peace because I know the situation they're in is not my fault--but it's still just a hard week to get through without my own stress bursting through and giving some of them a not-so-tactful piece of my mind.

Oh, well. I've survived it before; I'll survive it again. Meanwhile, I find it helps to meditate and ask the God of My Heart to help me put forth my best and to not get lost in the worst.

Lord, make me an instrument of your peace,
Where there is hatred, let me sow love;
Where there is injury, pardon;
Where there is doubt, faith;
Where there is despair, hope;
Where there is darkness, light;
Where there is sadness, joy.
O Divine Master,
grant that I may not so much seek to be consoled, as to console;
to be understood, as to understand;
to be loved, as to love.
For it is in giving that we receive.
It is in pardoning that we are pardoned,
and it is in dying that we are born to Eternal Life.

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Izzy's "Somewhere over the Rainbow" All the Way Through

Okay, well, I showed off my new ukulele my in-laws gave me in my last post, but I failed to mention how nice this one really is. Not only is it a concert uke, but the top is made of Hawaiian koa wood and the inlay is rosewood. It's truly a beautiful instrument.

Now, those following me on Facebook know that I've been trying to learn Israel (Izzy) Kamakawiwo'ole's version of "Somewhere over the Rainbow," which honestly probably isn't a hard song for more experienced ukulele players to play since it consists of only seven chords, but being more accustomed to guitar, I'm having to adjust to much skinnier frets and having only 4 strings as opposed to six or twelve. So the chord shapings are completely different, and the other odd thing to me is that--well, if you even want to consider it a bass note--the lowest note is on the second string from the top. So an open strum sounds like complete discord.

But, brave soul that I am, I've now pretty much learned the song all the way through, although not by heart. So in the video below, I was following along with a video with the words and the chord changes, and it froze on me for a moment and my reaction was to say "fudge." Except I didn't say "fudge." You'll get my meaning if you're familiar with A Christmas Story.

Anyway, here is my first total pass through of the entire song, including me singing, so you're just gonna have to wince your way through the bad notes I hit. No worries, brah, my friend Lisa will be joining me sometime this weekend to sing it and she can actually sing.

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Temple of Horus at Edfu

Here is my latest painting. As you may gather, it's the Temple of Horus at Edfu, Egypt.

Some background: we visited the temple at midnight under May's full moon. Hence the full moon in the painting, although I was so awed by the colossal "supermoon" last month that I took the license to use that instead.

The painting depicts the view of the entryway pylons from inside the temple in the courtyard. This is basically what it looks like, except the Eye of Horus is not on the pylon, and the statue of Horus is elsewhere in the temple (if memory serves, this one is right outside the Hypostyle Hall, but don't quote me on that).

The entire temple is all about the triumph of light over dark. In Egyptian mythology, Horus is the son of Osiris and Isis, and he kills his evil uncle Set, who had killed his brother Osiris in a fit of jealousy, cut his body into 14 pieces, and scattered him all over Egypt. Isis patiently goes in search of each piece, conjures Osiris by magic back together, and then Osiris goes on to rule the underworld. Each Egyptian king or pharoah was seen as the falcon god Horus, whose job it was to ensure the protection of Egypt from chaos and the continuation of ma'at (truth, justice, order).

But humankind faces a continual battle over darkness and light--the struggle of the Soul to evolve, be purified, and achieve mastery over our most base, selfish, and materialistic desires. Hence behind Horus I painted his shadow (what can I say, I like Carl Jung), ever present and looming. And hence the entire painting shows the interplay of darks and lights. However, the nighttime light (the moon) dominates the painting to display light's ultimate triumph, keeping darkness and the forces of evil in check. The Eye of Horus, a symbol of protection from dark forces, oversees it all.

Monday, July 8, 2013

Back and in a Better Mood!

Yep, when you're grumpy, nothing will cheer you up like shooting a few bullets at imaginary people who get on your nerves!

Actually, as I joked on Facebook, no living critters were harmed in the making of this film. Chelle and I had the rifle--and this is only a Marlin .22 with bipod and scope--set up on the balcony surrounding her parent's house. Chelle had gone out onto the property and tacked up several targets to trees and tree stumps, all at different ranges. This was my first experience with using a scope, so the first issue I encountered was whether or not to keep my glasses on. Ultimately I decided it was easier to shoot without really using them because I am (primarily) near-sighted, so the scope does the job my glasses would do anyway. The bigger problem is that it's more comfortable to me to aim using my right eye. Aiming with the left feels weird to me. That's a problem because I have astigmatism in my right eye, and the glasses correct that. Still, the scope allowed me to shoot accurately enough. The major problem I kept wrestling with was my annoying habit of zeroing in the bulls eye in the cross hairs, then instinctively leaning in closer to the scope when I'd go to pull the trigger. Every time I did that, my beautifully aligned target would go black. Argh! I felt like James Thurber in that famous story he wrote about his failed attempts in science class to successfully look through a microscope at a slide.  "Thurber!" roared his teacher. "You're looking at your own eye!"

But with a little practice (and patience with proceeding slowly--and why not, since the targets weren't exactly moving), I am proud to say I didn't miss a single target and actually even hit a few bulls eyes. (These were neat targets, too, that showed a differently colored splotch where the bullet actually hit.) Here is my best shot on the first day--on the second day I did a little better, but I didn't take photos-- and here is a photo that shows you the approximate distance from the targets to the house.

Bulls Eye!

This was the distance from the closest target.

I asked Chelle how she'd rate my shooting, and she said, "Not bad for somebody totally new to this." Psssssh. Leave it to Ms. Alpha Dawg Deadeye to let me know I need to get significantly faster and better. LOL

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

Bleah. Ugh. Ack.

Well, heck. I must be in trouble. A couple of people close to me now have asked me if I'm okay.

The short answer is "no, not really." The longer answer is that I'm depressed. Ugh. No idea why--it's not like something has happened to cause a case of the blues. And, it's not sad depressed, such as uncontrollable sobbing. It's lethargic-depressed. I'm just not in the mood to do anything. (Well, except for maybe painting and watching a couple of tv shows--and even then I have to muster the energy to do that.) My job isn't bringing me joy this summer. Playing Castle Age on Facebook suddenly seems less like fun and more like a job, too. I must do this; I must do that. Frankly, I just don't feel like doing anything.

I keep searching for "reasons"--maybe just the anticlimactic feeling one gets after doing something really exciting, like the trip to Egypt. Except... I've been back for a month now, so you'd think that have passed.

Or maybe it's hormonal. Or maybe I've just been eating too much junk (ice cream) and am experiencing blood sugar crashes.

I post silly jokes to try and be funny, and I'm happy to say I haven't totally lost my capacity to smile, but then last night I got dinged by Facebook for violating the Terms of Service. Apparently somebody reported a joke I'd posted. What's peculiar is that I'd found it on Facebook and merely shared it. But I'm not even upset about it. What I feel is disappointed that whoever reported it didn't feel they could simply directly ask me to take it down if they found it offensive or inappropriate. Now, see, I'm left wondering whether the person is just someone who is uptight, or whether they were afraid their kids might see it, or....? So I'm left in the funny position of not knowing whether or not I should even care.

Which makes it hard to, well, care.

So, sorry my blog has been quiet lately. It's because I've been occupying this weird mental space. I'm sure this, too, shall pass.