Just Believe for Twenty Minutes

I was recently watching an episode of Doctor Who that I had not yet seen. For any fans, it’s the episode titled, “The Eleventh Hour.” The first episode after Matt Smith has taken over as The Doctor and Amelia Pond is meeting him for the second time, having first met him when she was a child. The world is ending in twenty minutes and The Doctor, as usual, is trying to save it. However, Amelia thinks that The Doctor may just be a figment of her imagination. She’s convinced she’s losing her mind so, in an attempt to give herself more time to sort it out, she closes The Doctor’s tie in a car door and locks it, essentially holding him captive. The Doctor, urgently trying to free himself, tells Amelia, “Just believe me for twenty minutes.” And it works. She lets him go and (spoiler) they save the earth, once again.

Just believe for twenty minutes. That phrase really stood out to me and I found myself imagining the different ways in which I could apply it to my own life.

Self doubt comes to mind first. In any situation where we are unsure of our abilities, couldn’t we choose to believe in ourselves for just a short time? To believe for even just twenty minutes? Just long enough to avoid 20 minutes of anxiety or to get the ball rolling on a new way of viewing ourselves.

I don’t recall where I learned it but, somewhere along the way, someone taught me to break up large tasks into smaller ones to make them more manageable. One way to do this is with time. Tell yourself you’re going to spend just 30 minutes (or 20 or 60) on a task, rather than committing to the entire task, just to get yourself started. More often than not, once you’ve started, you keep going and you get a lot more done than you would have had you avoided the task altogether. The worst case scenario being that you worked on the task for the amount of time you committed to, which is still not a bad scenario.

Couldn’t we apply this same concept to how we feel about ourselves or feel about our abilities to give us just enough empowerment to take action? What if instead of avoiding creating that budget, starting that business you’ve been dreaming of, writing that blog post, or asking out that friendly barista, we told ourselves that we are capable and we are worthy for just a short time. Maybe it’s not possible to believe in ourselves all of the time but pretty much anything can be believed for a short time. When we watch sci-fi or fantasy movies (most movies really), we suspend our disbelief for 90 minutes on average. Why not suspend our disbelief in ourselves for just 20 minutes at a time? Over time, getting used to what it feels like to trust ourselves, we would then have the ability to suspend our disbelief for longer and longer periods of time. Maybe even believing in ourselves more often than doubting ourselves.

Envision what a different life we’d lead if we imagined ourselves into doing things we would normally visualize ourselves too shy or unintelligent or too old or too fat to do. We would start to challenge our long held beliefs about ourselves and about our place in the world just through sheer imagination. If we can imagine or believe ourselves into NOT taking charge of our lives, into staying in our current, inhibiting patterns, routines and habits, then we can most definitely imagine ourselves into DOING what we have always wanted rather than just wishing for it. We hear over and over again that it’s better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all. That trying and failing is still success versus not trying at all. But so many things still seem out of reach for many of us. We hold ourselves back. We procrastinate. We tell ourselves, even if in subtle subconscious ways, that we don’t know what we’re doing. We convince ourselves that we will always struggle with money, that we will always struggle with weight/health or with relationships or with all of the above. Yet, for many of us, there are no physical barriers holding us back, only mental ones. So if we can imagine ourselves into a life that we don’t fully love, that means we can CHOOSE to imagine ourselves into a life that we WANT to live. We can imagine ourselves taking first steps without knowing the outcome and imagine ourselves being healthy enough to cope with failures or setbacks, being able to continue on. If we believe for even just a short time that we are capable of anything then that becomes our new reality. We’ve created the life we currently live and the person living it. We can choose to create another life, another us.

“What you do in life chooses you. You can choose not to do it. You can choose to try do something safer. Your vocation chooses you.” – Jim Carrey

“[Peak experience] involves a renunciation of the notion of the perfectibility of man.  Man can be perfect – but for five minutes . . . in a peak experience. Some great moment. It’s possible. But we just can’t stay perfect. You must give up the notion of the permanent heaven. We can get into heaven – but for five minutes. Then you have to come back to the world again.” – Abraham H. Maslow

 

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Wholeness

I’ve struggled with the idea of wholeness pretty much my entire life. I’m almost certain that most of us do. It starts out as a subconscious struggle for most. It did for me. I was raised religiously and the whole foundation of religion is based on the premise that a person is not whole without something that exists outside of themselves (god) or, seemingly outside of themselves, at the very least. This is obviously due to misinterpretation of what god is and where it resides or doesn’t reside.

Being raised religiously, among other things, like being indoctrinated with the idea of romance or a soul mate, like pretty much all of Western civilization, and the wellspring of marketable insecurities taken advantage of by those willing and able to line their pockets with our tears and fears, you basically enter this world being told that you need something beyond yourself to give you worth, to justify your existence. That someone is going to swoop down and save you; god, adoptive parents, a best friend, a lover, Santa Clause, Superman, you name it. The illusion has many faces and goes by many names.

I’ve been a first time dog owner (my first dog as an adult that is all mine) all of two months. I’ve had cats for years and I’m an awesome cat mom, if I do say so myself. We definitely share a bond and a vibe. I’ve always wanted to have a dog but never felt I could because I’m gone a lot, traveling to another city for work and enjoyment (I promise this is going somewhere relevant). Once I realized I could get a small dog that enjoyed car rides and didn’t require hours of exercise each day, I decided it was okay to FINALLY adopt a dog. So I did. She’s about 6 years old, I’m told. A small Poodle breed. She was not spayed when I got her and it looks like she may have possibly been popping out puppies for someone at some point, unfortunately. I have since had her spayed, of course. I am told that her owner passed away and the family surrendered her to the shelter. I found her through a rescue. I call her Leeloo. If you know the reference, you get bonus points.

Leeloo was attacked by an off-leash dog this past Friday. Not only an off-leash dog but a homeless man’s off-leash dog. I only mention that part because part of my frustration about the situation is a total lack of accountability. Not because the owner doesn’t WANT to be accountable. He seemed like a nice guy, genuinely upset, and had possibly newly taken possession of the dog so they may not have been very familiar with each other yet.

I’ve had very few violent encounters in my life. This one was, by far, the worst. The dog latched on to Leeloo two different times, the second time latching on to her lower jaw, which she ended up losing a portion of.

As a new dog owner, I had been doing TONS of research about how to deal with a situation like this. I have lots of off leash dogs in the neighborhood where I live. In this case, I was walking in my sister’s neighborhood, which we thought, incorrectly, was safer. Despite my research and efforts, I walked away from the situation feeling completely inadequate. I’ve been replaying the scenario over and over again in my mind, trying to figure out what I could have done differently to prevent it or to lessen the impact.

After beating myself up as much as possible while still trying to be logical, I’ve come to the conclusion that not all traumatic experiences are preventable. Some are. Drinking and driving and killing someone; preventable. Have a designated driver, use a shared ride service. You get the idea.

However, in a situation like this where your options are to trust the world enough where you can walk to the park and back with your dog or to stay inside and make both your dog and yourself miserable, the thing to do is to go outside. Get fresh air, get exercise, feel good. Your dog will thank you. In the rare circumstance where something horrible does happen, like it did to Leeloo, you might start questioning your decisions, like I did.

So then it comes down to this; what did you really lose or gain in that moment? The moment itself was incredibly stressful, for sure. But what about beyond that? They say that dogs have the special talent of always living in the moment and, after that, they look to you, their pack leader, for an indication of how they should feel and what they should do; who they should fear or who they should protect you from. I have to say, after it was all over, Leeloo’s little jaw hanging from her face, she seemed to have no idea that anything was wrong. I was definitely more traumatized by the experience than she was. I am taking a lesson from her; if you live intentionally in the moment, there will be such rare instances when you wish you were somewhere or some time else.

My guilt eating away at me, of course, I couldn’t help but think about the difference it would have made if I had taken a different route, perhaps reacted a different way or fought smarter to free Leeloo from the other dog’s bite. But I kept finding myself at the same place; how could anyone predict what was going to happen, how it was going to happen and how a domesticated wild animal would have reacted to any of it? They couldn’t. And that’s finally what I’m allowing myself to believe.

So now that we’ve gotten through the blame game, what do we have left? Loss and experience. Leeloo lost part of her lower jaw and she’s in pain, which we are relieving with pain medication from the vet. I was also slightly physically injured in the scuffle, which I’m reminded of daily, but my physical pain and suffering is much less severe than Leeloo’s. More than anything, I lost any fleeting sense of security I may have once had when walking a dog. Just owning a dog feels like I have invited chaos into my life.

So what does that mean? Did security from dog attacks ever exist? Absolutely not. Instead my outdoor walks in neighborhoods where dogs reside, some off leash, increased significantly. Therefore increasing my chances of meeting an off leash dog. Not to mention the fact that I now own a dog, which makes those chances even greater since dogs are generally dog aggressive rather than people aggressive. So this was not a sign to tell me what a shitty dog parent I am. This was simply a numbers game stacked against me. Leeloo and I were just in the wrong place at the wrong time with the wrong dog.

As far as experience, for my entire life I’ve been holding onto this notion that I’m preserving something. Almost like preserving youth or innocence. Part of my guilt over Leeloo was feeling that I should have better protected her. That I could have done more and she would have lost less. She’s back home with me now. She’s on medication so she stumbles around a bit but she’s eating food, drinking water and doing dog things just fine. She needs a bit of help right now but she doesn’t seem to have lost anything. And, if dogs truly live in the moment, like dog experts say they do, then she has no cause for alarm. Her world is exactly as it was and will be even more so in a week or two when she is completely healed up and doesn’t have to take any more medication, which she hates.

The situation has gotten me thinking; are we really anything without our experiences? If we can straight up live in the moment like dogs do then more power to us; we will rarely suffer. But, most people I know can’t or won’t live in the moment, at least not for every moment of their lives. So their next best option is to strive for understanding. Understanding that we are not here to protect anything. We are not here to make anything whole or to be made whole. We are already whole. Any perceived loss we experience only enlightens us to who we are at our core, what we truly have faith in and what we’re capable of. No one ever found out just how capable of surviving they were without at least feeling heat from the flames. Or without fighting off the aggressive dog. A moment of intense loss or pain tells us more about ourselves than any happy, carefree or even peaceful moment ever could.

Edit Sunday 11/26/2017:

I’ve had several people approach me about assisting with Leeloo’s vet bill. I’ve decided to set up a Go Fund Me Campaign. If you would like to donate or share, the link is https://www.gofundme.com/help-vet-bill-leeloo Any and all help is very much appreciated.

Mean Grandma

One of my childhood memories, that stands out to me most, is a visit to my grandparents’  home when I was probably somewhere between four and six years old. We were there for Thanksgiving, I believe, so it would have been fall and the sun would have been setting early so we arrived after dark.  I remember taking a paper bag full of toys out of the car and attempting to walk into the house with it only to be stopped short by my grandma who was blocking the entrance to the house with her body. We called her Grandma but you’d think she would have insisted on being called Grandmother. She was that kind of stern. She promptly told me that there was no way I was bringing those toys into her home and informed me that we would actually be sleeping in the barn. Ouch.

Sleeping in the barn isn’t as terrible as it sounds. Or maybe it was. We weren’t sleeping on hay or anything. It’s a huge barn with a finished floor and normal beds but open to the natural barn ceiling where bats flew back and forth all night. At this stage in my life, I mostly played with one of my older brothers so I was of the mindset that I was much tougher than I actually was (you have to be if you want to hang with older brothers). So I convinced myself that I was not afraid of the bats, or the dark. . . and that I was totally okay without my mom, who was sleeping in the main house with one of my sisters, still a baby at the time.

I wasn’t alone. I had four of my siblings with me. But more than the bats, the thing that haunted me the most was how unkind my grandma seemed to be, even to me, a little kid. I thought grandmas were supposed to LOVE little kids. My best friend had the perfect grandma. She was short and stocky which made her an excellent hugger. She was a great cook and always cooked huge breakfasts with tons of choices. She smiled a lot and made you feel welcome. She even sent my best friend money in a card for her birthday! How come I couldn’t have gotten a grandma like THAT?!

My grandma was standoffish and private. She seemed to speak only directly to my mom. If she did speak to us, it was to enlist us to help with chores. That was about the extent of our interaction. Even though we only lived a couple hours away, we didn’t visit very often and, when we did, I made it a point to spend most of my time outdoors where I wouldn’t have to encounter her. I spent my entire childhood calling my grandma “Mean Grandma” to my friends. It seems that mean grandmas are indeed pretty rare as I have yet to meet anyone who shared this experience.

As an adult, looking back, I see that my grandma is just kind of reserved and not necessarily a great communicator with children or adults. And that’s totally okay. Everyone communicates differently and not everyone is in tune with the needs of children.

A few years ago, my grandma had a stroke and lost most of the mobility on her left side. My parents take care of her in her home so that she doesn’t have to stay in a facility with strangers. Although the few times she has had to stay when recovering from an injury, the people that take care of her in the facility are really great, loving people. I’m not convinced it would be that terrible but she misses home when she’s there. The home she lives in is the home she spent most of her growing-up years in. It’s also the home she took care of her own mother in, until her mother’s death. It’s been in the family for over 70 years. She feels safe there. Which is extra important because she also has dementia. That feeling of security is vital for those living with dementia because so much of their world can seem out of place and confusing at times.

Just a few months ago, my mom was diagnosed with cancer. She is going through treatments and doing well. She’s tired sometimes but her spirits are always high. The cancer did attack her bones in her hip area so, while the bone strengthening treatments are working and enabling her to walk without support, she is still not quite able to do everything she was able to do before. Which is why, and how, I have come to be the one that showers my grandma.

If you would have asked me even five years ago, I would not have been able to predict that showering my mean grandma would be on my to-do list.

Almost exactly four years ago, I was fortunate enough that the company I work for agreed to allow me to work from home. I was living in Austin, TX at the time, as I had followed my job there but, since I was now able to work from home, I was also able to move anywhere in the U.S. that I desired. I had been living in Austin for five years and felt I was missing out on time with my parents, now in their 60’s, so I decided to move about ten minutes away from where my parents (and grandma) live. When I first moved back, Grandma was a little more mobile than she is now so we were able to, not so easily, take her out to eat and on little adventures in the area, like to one of the local historical homes that they treat as a museum. I’m pretty sure my grandma actually KNEW the people that had lived there when it was still occupied. Through these adventures, I was able to connect with my grandma, not as who she had been, but who she was right now. While those who had been close to her most of their life felt they were losing her to dementia, I, on the other hand, was developing a relationship with her for the first time.

Over time though, of course, our bodies decline and Grandma, almost 88 years old now, is not as able as she was even four years ago so our adventures are now turned more toward watching old movies, coloring and reading books about Thomas Jefferson establishing the world (according to Grandma). Our newest adventure, of course, being shower time.

Shower time is not easy. Shower time involves lots of bending, scrubbing, lifting, sweating and splashing water on the wood floor (to both my parents’ and Grandma’s dismay – Maybe you shouldn’t put wood floors in a bathroom, just sayin’).

But there’s also something really special about shower time. It’s our quiet bonding time. We talk very little but communicate so much. It’s gentle and safe and, right now, it’s just ours.

No one jumps for joy when selected to be the one to give their elderly loved one a shower but experiences like this can often be great revealers of truth and I’ve found that I’m learning quite a bit. I’m learning about caring, selflessly, for another person. About helping that person feel supported and safe. About feeling closeness without words. About doing something for someone else with absolutely no expectation of receiving some kind of award or acknowledgement. My grandma does acknowledge me though. She simply looks me in the eyes and whispers, “thank you,” when it’s just me and her. It brings tears to my eyes every time. I can see what this means to her.

One of the best things I’ve learned through spending this time with my grandma, I learned through repetition. I started noticing that she was calling me her “little baby granddaughter” to all of the hospital staff during her appointments. At first I didn’t think much of it. She’s old, she has dementia, this is probably just something she says. Besides, I have two sisters. They are also her little baby granddaughters, surely. But then eventually she expanded on it. She went on to tell me about the first time my mom brought me to visit after I was born. How my great grandma, her mother, had made a special dress for me. She even described the dress. She described how excited she was to meet me and how tiny I was. So when she was describing me to the hospital staff, she was describing me as a literal baby. The baby she remembers meeting, vividly it seems, for the first time. Then it hit me, that I am the eldest granddaughter and what a treat that must have been for her and her mother, as it was for my own parents. This is not something she is saying without meaning. This is a special moment in her life that she is looking back on and cherishing. She’s cherishing ME. And she’s been cherishing me since that day, back in 1981, when we first met.

What the Woodpecker Knows

The Woodpecker knows his role, his purpose, his talents

He goes about his day, without hesitation, drilling his way into trees, finding his dinner

He never doubts what his beak is designed for

He doesn’t doubt any of the actions he takes; flying, drilling, drumming on trees

He doesn’t think, he just does

He never worries if other birds or animals are judging his methods or if he’s making too much noise

He never once questions the outcome of his actions

He knows instinctively that his actions will result in what he intends because the actions are ingrained in him as truth, they are who he is

Trees and grass don’t think, they just grow

They do what they are designed to do

They exist in their truth

Nature’s intuition?

We must take cues from nature

She is here to remind and instruct

Do what you are intended to do

Share the gifts you have been entrusted with

The people who are destined to benefit from your gifts and experiences depend on you to know what the Woodpecker knows

To know that you can do no wrong, but that you can do SO MUCH GOOD, when you are doing what you are designed to do

Be who you are. Exist in your truth.

How to be a Cat Caregiver

Yes, cat caregiver is a real term. I recently ran across this term while researching some cat rescue related content and realized that I am a cat caregiver and, even better, a cat caregiver with a free-roaming cat colony. Take that, cat ladies!

According to some of the articles I’ve read on the subject, being a cat caregiver includes feeding, making sure they have access to fresh water, getting the cats spayed/neutered, attending to sick or injured cats as necessary, etc. However, there are a few things I have found to also be true of a cat caregiver, especially if you are maintaining a free-roaming cat colony.

In addition to the above, the following are my tips and tricks for maintaining a successful cat colony;

  1. Just like with indoor cats, let the cat come to you on his own terms. He will either eventually warm up to you, having built trust with you (stray), or he’ll continue to make his rounds through your yard, glaring at you as he walks by (feral). Either way, he’ll be eating the food you left out for him. Don’t take it personally.
  2. Spend as much time giving your outdoor kitties affection as you can. Anyone who doesn’t know better will tell you that cats are just here for the food and that is partially right but, when they are getting fed regularly, are feeling good and cared for, their needs turn more to affection. So much so that they will bypass food you’ve left out for them in search of some good ol’ TLC. Even though outside kitties generally have multiple food resources, it’s not often that they also have friendships with those sources. So, make the time, let them know they are loved. It keeps them friendly with you and with other cats in the colony. The hope being that, eventually, you can find a good home for the ones that are now used to regular human interaction.
  3. Partner with your local SPCA or veterinary clinic. Especially in areas where feral and stray cats are rampant, there are generally spay/neuter programs in place for either free or discounted services and vaccines. A Havahart (have-a-heart) trap is great to have around for those untouchable feral kitties or any random male that shows up looking for a female in season. . . Ooooor if a possum decides to move into your garage after finding kitty food there. It happens.
  4. Reflective cat collars with bells for the cats that are friendly with you/allow you to touch them. Not only does it make them more visible to drivers at night, the bell helps alert birds and bats when they are being hunted so they have a better chance of survival. The bell is also a friendly alert when your kitties are nearby and in need of your attention.
  5. Build a raccoon-proof raised, freestanding house or covered platform for your colony (that they may or may not use). Wrap the bottom of the platform with metal sheeting, which raccoons are unable to grab hold of. Also, be sure to place the structure in an area away from buildings or trees that raccoons could then drop down or crawl over from. Raccoons can climb but they can’t jump so this will keep them from being able to eat all the cat food in one sitting while still giving your kitties easy jumping access to the platform. This is especially handy if you leave town for a few days at a time and don’t want to leave your colony without a food and water resource.
  6. Have a backup caregiver. While the above mentioned platform is an awesome resource, it is no replacement for an actual human overseeing the care of your colony. The platform can make your backup caregiver’s life a little easier but you should always have someone checking up on your colony while you are gone.
  7. Give up on your patio or outside furniture being your own. If there are cushions to sit on, they will be sat upon by your outside kitties. All day. Every day. If possible, buy or create safe, warm spaces for your kitties to snuggle up, especially if you live in an area that freezes over night. Cat bed liners with the heat reflective material inside that reflect the body’s own warmth back to it are a nice, inexpensive option that the cats seem to really appreciate on cold nights.
  8. Create space. Even though kitties of a single colony are friendly enough with each other and get along, they are still instinctually contending for resources. That means creating perceived separation, especially when there are 5 or more cats, to keep the peace. Have several feeding stations around your property where the kitties can come and go with little to no interaction with other cats of the colony, if they prefer. This includes watering stations and bedding areas as well.
  9. Finally, understand that, as much as you try and as much as it may feel like it sometimes, the lives of your free-range kitties are not entirely within your control and protection. You are here as a guardian and caretaker but you won’t be able to protect them from everything, especially cars, vicious dogs and wild animals. Do your best, do what you can, but never blame yourself for something that is ultimately beyond your control. Control is an illusion in all aspects of life and being a cat caregiver of a free-roaming cat colony is no different. That being said, be sure that your local non-emergency and emergency animal control phone numbers are programmed into your phone or kept somewhere handy, just in case.

Obviously, a cat colony is not for everyone as it is a commitment. The cats you choose to care for depend on you. If a colony of free-roaming kitties happens to find you and adopt you as their caregiver, my hope is that you’ll find my advice helpful and that you will be encouraged to assist in any way you can. I believe you will find it quite satisfying and your neighborhood stray and feral kitties will thank you for it, each in their own way.

For  more resources on becoming a cat caregiver, please check out Feral Cat FOCUS of WNY They have a ton of great information on caring for your local stray and feral kitties.

If there are any other cat caregivers out there, let me know in the comments, what would you add to this list?

I’m a terrible vegan

I’ve been following a plant-based – alright alright – VEGAN, diet for approximately 6 weeks now. There’s, understandably, quite a bit of a learning curve and I find myself focusing primarily on what and what not to eat. There are a number of reasons to switch to a vegan diet and so many of those reasons come from personal convictions about our place in the world and how we choose to coexist with other living beings, both human and those of other species, i.e. global warming, animal rights, the very basic right to life, etc.

For myself, the most compelling reason involves living in such a way that allows me to live as in tune with my true self as possible. That’s where peace and freedom exist, therefore, that’s where I want to exist as often as I can.

Today, I purchased a new pair of sandals and then wore them around the rest of the day while running errands. While I was waiting in line at one point, it dawned on me that the top part of my sandal might actually be leather. In disbelief at my, possibly, obvious oversight, I pulled out my amazingly small computer (a.k.a. my phone) and started doing some research. To my utter disappointment, my suspicion was confirmed; the belly of an unfortunate animal was unnecessarily used in the making of my sandal strap. A synthetic material would have been just as strong, just as comfortable, just as reliable and without the pain and suffering of another. And this after going out of my way to find a coffee shop that offered a mocha that didn’t contain dairy. Words of defeat escaped my mouth, “I’m a terrible vegan.”

I then started thinking back on other purchases I had made throughout the day. What else had I totally blown it on? I had picked up my first guitar not long before. It seemed safe enough but, after further inspection, I discovered an inlay of abalone – another blow to life and my conscience.

I am a terrible vegan.

I am an imperfect person. . . as we all are.

Like probably almost everyone else on the planet, except maybe the sociopaths, I’ve spent much of my life believing that perfection does exist . . . just not for me. It existed for others who were smarter, more talented, more in tune with existence (and themselves) and better looking than I am. Everyone else seemed to have their shit together but me.

I’ve finally, and with much relief, come to the realization that EVERYONE believes they lack where others thrive but, in reality, none of us have it exactly right and none of us ever will and that’s perfectly alright. You might even say, perfectly imperfect (cheesy but true!).

So, yes, I’m an imperfect person for always and a terrible vegan for right now but part of growing as a person is making mistakes and learning from them. These things stick with you and help you make better decisions going forward. Just because I messed up today, doesn’t mean I’ll keep messing up in the same way for the rest of my life. I will continue to screw things up, there’s no doubt about that, but I will not let a mistake define me. I’ve done that for far too much of my life.

Maybe you look back on your life and wonder how it could have turned out differently. Maybe there are regrets that you live with every day; you dated/married the wrong person, you cheated on your spouse, you didn’t go to college when others did, you didn’t try for the job because you thought you weren’t qualified. Maybe you had children too young or not at all even though having children was something you always imagined for yourself. Maybe you’ve let your health go and are struggling to regain it. Whatever it may be, every passing moment is a chance to turn it all around. So, seize the day, as they say! Grow from mistakes and experiences but don’t let them define you. The only moment that exists is the one you’re in right now. Choose to forgive yourself and start fresh. Choose to embrace the reality of imperfection rather than be held captive by the debilitating  notion that perfection exists for others but not for yourself. We are all the other to someone. Choose to live in the present moment rather than one that can not be reclaimed or edited. Choose love for yourself. Choose life.

 

 

Maya Angelou was a strip-tease dancer?!

Sweet, pious, beautifully spoken, Mother Teresa-meets-Martin Luther King Jr, “Touched by an Angel” poet Maya Angelou?!

Indeed, Maya Angelou spent a brief four month stint as a strip-tease dancer at the Bonne Nuit Dance Club in San Francisco when her marriage had ended and she was looking for work to support herself and her son. I stumbled upon this little nugget while reading what is said to be considered Maya Angelou’s most deeply personal memoir, Mom & Me & Mom, in which she describes her relationship with her mother and how it shaped the woman she became. While she calls it strip-tease dancing, and although she was scantily clad, Maya never actually took her clothes off on stage for money. In her memoir, Maya mentions how she didn’t want to be known as a strip-tease dancer. She had studied dance most of her life, at that point, and was liberated by it. When she was dancing she felt as if her body “had a reason to be.” But the “prospect of three hundred dollars per week was tantalizing.” She calls her mother and explains her dilemma. To my surprise, and possibly to Maya’s, her mother encourages her to apply for the position. Together, they create a revealing but theatrical costume and Maya hires a drummer to play for her while she dances. Maya quickly becomes the most popular and most sought after dancer in the club with patrons even “turn[ing] their backs to the strip dancers.” She gains regular visitors who come to the club to watch her dance and her performances are even written about by several popular San Francisco columnists who praise her dance skills and  business acumen. A group of her regulars become her future employers, hiring her to star as a calypso singer at their club, the Purple Onion. She goes from making $300 a week to making $750 a week. Her mother tells her, “Now you will see some of the world and you will show the world what you are working with.” This opens up other opportunities to sing as a way to support herself which opens up opportunities to travel and see the world.

I’ve had a specific vision of Miss Angelou, a name she kept because she “liked the sound of it” (from the very marriage whose end drove her to become a strip-tease dancer), for most of my life. I’ve come to realize that my vision of Miss Angelou was skewed yet she is now no less angelic in my eyes. On the contrary, learning more about who she was, where she came from and what she experienced in her life and adding that to what I had known of her in her later years just fills me with even more respect and adoration for the woman. She never apologizes for being human. She shuns this idea of perfection that we all hopelessly cling too and speaks only of love, understanding and acceptance. She does not define herself by her experiences but rather allows relationships to mold her. She embraces the imperfections in herself and, by doing so, gives us hope that we can do the same for ourselves. My vision of Maya Angelou never even came close to capturing what a badass she truly was.

There’s a valuable lesson in Maya’s provocative yet short-lived strip-tease dancing career. I believe Maya’s mother,  Vivian Baxter, said it best; “You are going far in this world, baby, because you dare to risk everything.”