Thinking About Turning Points

IMG_1708

Giant Flower Pots, Mexico City Airport

This morning I’ve been thinking about turning points for some reason, and I think I need to sort this idea out here. I Googled “Turning Point” and found a church of prophetic signs, a mental health organization, an interactive polling solution website, a youth empowerment organization, an apartment complex and a Mormon TV series on byuTV. It’s clear that a lot of people have an idea about this, and that there is only vague agreement regarding the meaning of the concept. It you look a little further down the list, “Turning Point” is abandoned and you find “Tipping Point: how little things make a big difference.”

The reason I’ve been thinking about this began with a painting I did a few months ago, one that led me to realize that a certain time of my life was significant in ways I didn’t understand until many years later. It was in some way a turning point, but I didn’t know it.  Recently I’ve been trying to write the story of this part of my life, and it was only when I did the painting that I realized that this had been a significant time in ways that I didn’t understand when it was happening.

Purple Mountain Majesty

Purple Mountain Majesty

This is the painting. It isn’t one that would have any great appeal or significance to anyone but me, and I won’t tell the story here and now. But what I learned from painting it is that this time in my life was the point at which my lifelong beliefs were changed. I’d always believed that there was a basic rightness in the world and that was the basis of everything. I titled it “Purple Mountain Majesty,” because as a child we sang the song “America” so often in school. It is imprinted in my brain as deeply as my own name, I think, and for me it was always a comfort, a knowing that the mores with which I grew up were basic and true, and no matter what happened, they would remain the underpinning of everything. At this point in my life I reached a point where I could no longer believe all that.  I was going to have to save myself; the chain of events I had always imagined were not going to happen. As I tried to figure out what to paint here, I suddenly knew that I had to paint mountains, purple ones and upon doing so, understanding  was mine.

So, was this time a turning point in my life? Maybe, but I didn’t realize it to be anything but hard. It was a very painful, confusing and pressure-filled time, one that you have to concentrate so much on surviving that you can’t take time to think about it until long after it’s over. In my case, 45 years later.  I think a turning point is a time in one’s life after which something is different. Maybe everything. That’s really vague, I know. Is it a specific moment, a series of events, a period of time? I’ve always thought of a turning point as kind of an Aha! moment, one in which everything irrevocably changes. But now I’m not so sure. That would make it seem that you know it’s happening when it is. Like, “Whoa!! I just had a turning point!” but I don’t think it’s like that.

I also don’t think you can make one happen, no matter how much you need change in your life. You don’t get up one morning and think, “Boy I need a turning point. I guess I’ll get that going today.” As much as I’d like a good turning point in some areas (like eating better, keeping my house clutter free, managing my money better, meeting the love of my life, things like that) I just have not managed to make one happen yet.

Is every life change a turning point? When I became a teacher in 1992, my life changed forever. It was a good thing for me, but was it a turning point or just a career change? I think it’s becoming more clear that I have no way of defining this thing. Maybe each of us gets to define it in our own way.

This morning as I was driving to the coffee shop listening to a novel on Audible, the writer began talking about turning points. I think his thought about it is interesting, and worthy of some thought. He said, “And so there must be in life something like a catastrophic turning point, when the world as we know it ceases to exist. A moment that transforms us into a different person from one heartbeat to the next. The moment when a lover confesses that there’s someone else and that he’s leaving. Ot the day we bury a father or mother or best friend… Or are such moments merely the dramatic conclusions to lengthier processes, conclusions we could have foreseen if we had only read the portents rather than disregarding them?” (The Art of Hearing Heartbeats by Jan-Phillip Sendker.) Serendipity, right? I needed to read this at this very moment because it clarified the question in such a lovely way, even if I don’t quite agree with it all.  Even if I think that turning points don’t have to be catastrophic to be significant. I do think that had I read the portents in the situation of that painting my life would have turned out very differently. But that’s hindsight, and I wouldn’t change it if I could, pain and all.

WkrqIL9OQfC0DrE4bui5Bg

The photo above is the site of a recent turning point of sorts for me, one which I am only beginning to understand. I had been cleaning the tables on the far side of this patio on my first morning in Mexico. My cleaning cloth got really dusty so I went to the other side of the patio to shake it out. I was doing that when a big dog came running across the patio from where he’d been sleeping under said table, and bit me on the leg. He broke the skin and tore my pants and left me stunned. I am a dog person. I like them, they like me and suddenly one had raced across a rather large expanse of space to attack me in a run-by biting. (Leaving the slowest healing owie of my life!) He later apologized with a gentle lick on my other leg, which was sweet, but only slightly diminished the pain of the event.

This occasioned the beginning of a week in which I felt like I wasn’t really liked very much by anyone, dogs or people. I found myself trying to be different, to talk less, to be more likeable, a quieter person. Someone that people would want to do things with. All my lifelong fears of being wrong, of not being enough, of not really being liked, bubbled to the surface and I struggled with them all together, all at the same time in this beautiful place that wasn’t home. That’s not to say I didn’t enjoy the week, because I did, and those I met were good people, but this was working underneath it all.  On the day I left, as I waited in the Mexico City airport a realization bubbled to the surface. “What other people think of you is none of your business.” Right? That whole thing of whether or not people liked me just didn’t matter.  I’ve known this for at least twenty years, and suddenly it was the most important thing I’ve ever heard. During a long texted chat with my friend Sonya, I remembered in a new way that I am enough, just as I am. I don’t have to try to be more likable, to be better, more interesting so someone will like me more. I can only be who I am and that’s all. I am enough. As are you, and you and you. Enough. And that is a turning point that I will hold on to.

 

 

Traveling to Oaxaca

“Peculiar travel plans are dancing lessons from God.” Kurt Vonnegut.

PART ONE: Planning the trip

In late January I received an invitation to go to an art workshop in Oaxaca Mexico. I’m sure invitations were sent out back in the Fall, and I may have seen it before and ignored it, thinking it wasn’t something I could do.  By January I had a niggling little urge to go to Mexico. My mom lived there for the last 25 years of her life, and I visited her frequently. Since she passed in 2011 I haven’t been there, and I was missing it. But the idea of figuring out a whole trip by myself wasn’t something I’d gotten around to yet. The idea was still just a little flicker in the background until this email arrived. The workshop is called “Textiles and Talismans,” and the invitation was accompanied by brilliantly colorful photos of Oaxaca’s signature textiles.  Hello! Who doesn’t like a good talisman? And those brilliant textiles and the little carved, painted animals? Yeah. That was pretty irresistible to me!

The art part of the workshop is making a travel journal. Lots of paint and collage, it looks like. While I have never really aspired to learn to make a travel journal, I’m sure I”ll enjoy it. It was the other details of this trip that grabbed my attention. The workshop includes traveling to some textile villages and shopping in the mercados. And there is Monte Alban, a Zapotec ruin that very much intrigues me, only a half hour away by bus.  Dinner out and about every night.  As soon as I’d read the details I signed up. All of it sounds super interesting to me, and I get a trip to Mexico by myself without having to figure out the where to go and where to stay. I can scope it out and come back if I want to later. Done and done!

So I have been getting ready ever since that day. Preparing to travel, for me, begins with the lists. What I will take with me, coordinating clothes to keep the bulk down, art supplies, journal, books…the list is mighty. Then who will stay at my house and care for my dogs, how will I get to the airport and back, on and on. According to an article in the Huffington Post, planning and anticipating your trip can make you happier than actually taking the trip. I linked it here so you can read it. It’s a little fluffy, but never mind. I agree with it because planning my travel makes me so happy. I love the actual travel too, but am I ever a planner.

However, here’s the kicker. For all the planning I do, I still don’t have a good carrying bag figured out. I’ve got two suitcases, one of which will fit inside the other so I have room to bring some things home, but I have no idea what I’ll use to carry the extra change of underwear and toothbrush I would need if my checked luggage got lost. I had plenty of time to figure this out, and for all my planning I failed to nail this one down, and I leave the day after tomorrow. But I’m not worried about it. I’ll figure it out. (UPDATE: I found something serviceable at Ross and after my “Tuesday Club” -read Senior- discount, it was only $39. The exact one I wanted was $319 at Kohls. WHAT?? Does anyone pay that much for luggage now that we have TJ Maxx or Ross?!) So I’m all ready now.

I’m taking one book, The Alchemist, by Paolo Coelho. I love this book and have read it so many times. My favorite version is El Alquimista, in Spanish. There is a beauty in the Spanish version that supercedes that of the English and I’m taking that one. I will probably need some refreshment of my Spanish, so reading my favorite book in Spanish ought to be just the ticket.

Having decided to go and having added three days to the actual workshop time, I’ll be gone for ten days. That is a good amount of time and I plan to make it a retreat. I’m leaving my iPad and computer behind, and have decided to ‘go analog” for the duration of the trip. I’ll have my phone for taking photos – I’m not taking my big fancy ass heavy camera with me – and I’m deleting Facebook and Solitaire and that word game that sucks me in before I go. All those things that draw me to look at my phone rather than paint or write or draw or meditate or take a walk are going on hiatus for ten days. It’s been a long time since I haven’t had those things. I’m sure I can do it.

Here’s an interesting thing. Every single time I’ve told someone I’m going to Mexico they have asked, “Who are you going with?”  I guess I understand that, because most people do travel with someone else. I learned years ago that if I waited for someone to go with me, I would never go anywhere. Usually I am going someplace where I will meet and spend time with other people, often people I don’t know yet, but I’ve traveled by myself for a long time. I think it’s an important thing to do, actually. It lets me see myself in the context of unfamiliar places, situations and cultures. I see how I react to unforeseen  events and it helps me to grow. I have found that every single time I travel alone the world seems to pick me up and help me along. Problems are resolved in ways I don’t expect and things just seem to work out. It’s like Kurt Vonnegut said in Cat’s Cradle, “Peculiar travel instructions are dancing lessons from God.” I believe that, and I’m ready to dance!

So that’s that. The preparations are made, bags are packed, my son is staying at the house to take care of the dogs and tomorrow morning I’ll be off! I’ll Post Part 2 in about two weeks! It’ll have photos. Bye!

 

On releasing that which doesn’t serve us

QCtJAX%nTrGxsxmfcD5WcQ

The other morning as I walked along this white sand beach I was thinking about the things that bind us up. I began to think about substance abuse. (Because doesn’t everyone think about substance abuse while walking on a pristine white beach with a breeze blowing a balmy 35 degrees? That might be the first clue to my need for some help.) This has been on my mind a lot lately because I have an addiction that I just can’t seem to kick and I feel my health demands that I do so. I come from a family with a history of alcoholism. I never began drinking because I feared I’d become an alcoholic too. The danger was high and I wasn’t willing to risk it. That didn’t keep me from marrying one, but that is not the subject of this blog post.

I am completely addicted to sugar. I have quit it before, and as long as I stay away completely I can stay off.  I feel way better when I’m off sugar. When I mention that I have to completely avoid it, some well-meaning person will say “That’s not realistic. You need to be able to have a treat sometimes. Just learn to control yourself and only have one _________ (fill in the blank with anything sugary). I quickly agree with them, and help myself to whatever the treat is. And maybe I’m content with that the first time. But there always comes a second and and third and pretty soon I’m taking extras in my pocket for later on, or I’m casually helping myself to a second portion, as though the first one wasn’t a thing, or as if I won’t go off the deep end. I take some home for later, and maybe just pop into the supermarket for a carton of ice cream. Organic ice cream is okay, right? No. It’s not okay because I know that I will have to eat at least half of the carton at one sitting. Maybe even the whole thing. For a sugar addict like myself there is no such thing as just a tiny little bowl of ice cream. I always marveled at my mom who could have a little ice cream in a custard cup and two tiny Trader Joe’s cookies and be satisfied. I would have my ice cream in a big bowl and eat all the cookies. No question about it.

As I write this I hear the voice of a friend of an alcoholic offering just one beer, not realizing that there is no way that will only be one beer. Or one hit of meth or whatever nasty thing a person is addicted to. There is no way a person who is not an addict can understand the needs of one who is. Someone who can have only one just doesn’t get someone who can’t.  That is not a failing of that person, but we who are addicted to something have to know better than to listen to them.

I hear you. You who are suggesting that my equating an addiction to sugar to that of alcohol or methamphetamines is bunk. You think I’m being overly dramatic, making a mountain out of a molehill, and I get it. You can buy sugar at every single place that sells anything. You can buy it at any age. How can it be like a controlled substance? Well, it is and it isn’t.

It’s like it because I can’t say no to it. Or maybe I can for a little while, but once the idea of it is in my head it will buzz in there until I go get the thing. For example, someone mentions Junior Mints, and how they always used to eat them in movies. That will begin the buzzing. Hm…Junior Mints aren’t that bad. The chocolate is dark and they are really small. Well if you only ate one or two maybe it wouldn’t be such a big thing, but I know I will want a movie size box of them. And I won’t quit eating them until all are gone. And then I’ll look around for what other sweet treat I can eat. Maybe some organic ice cream…

Sugar isn’t like alcohol or other drugs because it isn’t a controlled substance. Bingo! It isn’t controlled so it’s socially acceptable to be addicted to it, unlike drugs or alcohol which are controlled by the law.  You can’t buy drugs within the law at all. And alcohol is at least controlled for age. I don’t think a recovering alcoholic would think that is enough control, but I don’t know enough about being one of those to even talk about it. None of the alcoholics I’ve been related to ever recovered from it.

The thing about sugar is that it is responsible for so many bodily ailments. It is highly inflammatory, and that leads to all sorts of illnesses. If you Google “Effect of sugar on…” you have a choice between brain, body, blood pressure, liver, skin, mood, health and plant growth. Okay, leave out plant growth. I didn’t read the whole thing, but apparently it’s not so good for plants either. Listen to all this:

  1. Your Brain: Eating sugar gives your brain a surge of dopamine, which feels really good. But in order to continue to get the same level of good feelings you need more and more sugar. This helps create that addictive craving for sweet treats.
  2. Your mood: When you first eat sugar you get that dopamine ‘high’ and you feel great. But as it is absorbed, you ‘crash,’ which leads you to feel anxious. Eventually this can lead to depression.
  3. Your teeth: Your mom undoubtedly told you all about sugar and cavities so I won’t. But it’s true. Eating sugar causes cavities.
  4. Joint pain: Sugar causes inflammation which can cause your joints to ache. Studies show that sugar consumption can actually lead to rheumatoid arthritis.
  5. Your Skin: As sugar attaches to proteins in your bloodstream they create something called AGEs (advanced glycation end products) which make your skin look old. In short, it causes wrinkles!
  6. Your Heart: Oh my, this is huge. The excess insulin in your bloodstream can cause your artery walls to grow too fast, causing damage to your circulatory system. It can lead to heart attacks, heart disease and strokes.
  7. Your pancreas: When you eat too much sugar your pancreas tires out from putting out all the insulin that is needed to process it. Eventually it shuts down, setting you up for pre-Type 2 diabetes and heart disease.
  8. Your kidneys: If you have diabetes, too much sugar can lead to kidney damage.
  9. Your liver: Fructose can trigger your liver to build up fat around itself, leading to non-alcoholic fatty liver disease. This was rarely seen before 1980 when sugar consumption began to be so huge in the U.S.
  10. Your Body Weight: Ugh! Do I ever know this story. The more sugar you eat, the more you weigh. Especially watch for sugar sweetened beverages. They really pack on the weight.
  11. Sexual health: Too much sugar can make men impotent. This goes back to the part about circulation problems. The blood can’t get to where it needs to go. Enough said.
  12. Cholesterol: There is a connection between excess sugar consumption and the elevation of bad cholesterol. I think this has been surprising because people have always connected bad cholesterol with fat consumption, but studies are showing a connection that involves sugar.
  13. “Type 3 Diabetes:” A Brown University study found a connection between a high-fat diet, insulin resistance and Alzheimers. They likened it to “diabetes of the brain.” In this case the brain’s ability to use glucose and produce energy is damaged.
  14. Sugar makes you hungry: When you regularly eat too much sugar, your body loses the ability to tell when you’ve had enough to eat. You still feel hungry even when you are overeating. Back to the overweight thing.

Have you read enough yet? It’s overwhelming isn’t it? I’ve included links to the articles I read so you can read the plethora of details for yourself.

Sources: Web MD , Prevention Magazine , Health.com, Dr. MercolaWellness Mama

Once again, I’m convinced. I can easily forget all these things when I’m on a roll with sugar, but I never don’t know it. I just look the other way. So what am I going to do about it? It is clear to me that I need to quit eating it. I was pretty much sugar free for the past week while on vacation, not because of virtue, but because of availability, so I guess this is a good time to keep it going. The thing to remember is I have an addiction to the stuff, and I can’t just decide my way out of an addiction. Cold turkey only lasts until I pass the ice cream freezers at the supermarket, so here are a few things I will do, in case you might want some suggestions too.

  1. Drink more water. When you crave sugar there is a good chance that you are thirsty. As we get older our body disguises thirst as sugar craving. So I will try drinking a big glass of water whenever I crave sugar.
  2. If I am craving emotional comfort and look for some sugar to assuage that desire, I will try EFT tapping. I have done a little of this and it is very calming . It isn’t just for sugar cravings or weight loss, but that is one thing that it is useful for. There is an excellent book about this by Jessica Ortner called The Tapping Solution for Weight Loss & Body Confidence. I got it on Audible, and I obviously can’t practice tapping while I drive, which is when I listen to books, but I will be setting aside time to listen and practice at home.
  3. Sometimes people recommend using a sugar substitute like Stevia or honey or maple syrup. While I love those ideas just like I love sugar, they are just a substitute. For me, that will just lead back to the real thing. So I won’t be substituting some other substance for sugar. It’s the habit and practice I need to change, not the taste.
  4. I think it’s a no-brainer to say that I’ll remove all of the sugar from my house. The ice cream in the freezer, those Kind bars I got at Costco, all of it. It will lurk until I eat it, so out it must go.
  5. I always begin the day with a breakfast that has fat, protein and vegetables. That will continue. It makes me feel balanced and solid as I start the day.
  6. Meditation. Purposeful calming and centering will be a helpful way to divert my energy from emotional eating, which always involves sugar for me.
  7. Walking. When I walk regularly, even for half an hour, I feel centered and solid and less likely to have the emotional fluctuations that will lead to gobbling sugar.

This could go on forever. Thanks for hanging in with me until the end. This is such a big topic, and it affects so many of us that I think I have to just stop, rather than think I can actually finish. I will return to this topic as my quest continues, and would love to hear anyone else’s experience and suggestions about it.

Listening to My Own Voice

New Art Desk

How cool is this? It’s so big! So flexible it its uses…There’s only one picture. I took it off Facebook where there were several pictures of it.

Yesterday I bought a desk for my upcoming art garage. It’s really big, about seven feet by three feet.  It has a drafting table top that is hinged to the table, so you can elevate your work space a few inches. Or however much you want to, actually.  I found it on Facebook Marketplace, and I knew of its owner. He has been an architect in my town for many years. I thought it would be good juju to buy his desk because he’s so good at what he does.  He is also an artist who paints the most beautiful paintings.

I originally went to meet his daughter to buy a begonia in a yellow pot. Before I got there, I found that they were also selling some desks and cabinets. This one is so big, with all those cubbies on the sides and the drawers for tools and that hinged top that can open out to make a huge space to lay out a quilt or something. It’s so great! And the best part is it was only $50!

After I bought it (so no one else could) I had to figure out how to get it home. My son in law with the truck is the obvious answer. He’s always very nice to me, so I figured he’d help me out. He still doesn’t know about it. It’s really big. But so is his truck and so is he so I think we can make it work.

The biggest obstacle right now is that my garage is a hell-hole of a mess. All that stuff I brought home from school last June has multiplied, I swear. It was one little Prius-full, but now it seems like I’d need a U-Haul moving truck to get it all out of there. I keep going out to clean it up and I get immobilized by it all so I sit down and paint for a while, or do a load of wash and go inside where it’s clean and putter around. Or watch a little TV. Yep, in the daytime. (And I judge people who watch daytime TV. Retirement is destroying my previously firmly held beliefs about a lot of things.) But I digress.

Shortly after I bought it, my daughters invited me to join them for diner at a community food truck event at the Elk’s Club. I went straight there, parked about forever away, and walked to the event. When I finally found my girls, bought my food and we sat down to talk and eat, I told them about my great find. One of them, not the one with the husband with a truck whose help I’m looking forward to, looked at me with a skeptical look on her face and said, “Did you buy it on Facebook Marketplace?” As if that was the dumbest thing a person could do. As if I do that all the time and often buy dumb stuff.

That look crossed her face that people get when they think you are impossibly unrealistic, or maybe just kind of tiring. I’m still not sure why she felt that way. It’s not like I’m a inveterate Facebook Marketplace loser. I get good stuff there. And I really don’t even go there very much. I said, “Well, I need a worktable for the garage. I don’t think anyone is going to build me one, so this one looked good.” I think her objection was its size. She must think it’s unreasonably big. And she could be right. But she could also be wrong. I think it might just be the best thing ever.  The exact thing I need. I’m motivated to get out to the garage this morning to make some room for it. The possibly dumb thing I bought was the begonia. The yellow pot looked really big in the picture that drew me in, but it’s actually quite small. If she paid $30 for it she got taken. But, again I digress.

The reason I’m bothering to write about this is this: even though I like this item quite a lot, and think it will be a good thing for me, in fact exactly the thing I need, I let that voice of doubt slip right in. I lay awake for quite a while last night, berating myself for my dumb move, and now what will I do with it? It really is so big. What was I thinking? Should I forfeit my $50 and say never mind, I don’t want it? But I do want it. I do. But really? What will I put in the cubby holes? Where will I actually put it? What will i actually use it for? Can I paint on it? Do mosaics on it? I tossed and turned, arguing with myself.

This morning I have set aside all the uncertainty and indecision. I acted on my inner voice when I bought it. I felt that bolt of clear energy, pure excitement on finding it, and that is what is true. Not someone else’s doubt, no matter how much I love her and trust her judgement. I have to listen to my own clear voice. And that lesson, the remembering to trust my own vision, is worth the $50 I paid for the behemoth of a desk.  She may have to deal with getting rid of it someday, but between then and now, I will make some art on it and I’ll get my $50 dollars’ worth.  Actually the dumb thing I bought is the begonia. I paid $20 for that tiny little thing. Now to go make some room for the desk. It’ll have a begonia sitting on one corner, I’m pretty sure.

Welcome!

 

Art in the Garden

“Hamsa Hand.” Mosaic, 2016.

Hello. I’m so glad you decided to stop by and check out my new blog. For the past nine years I’ve had two blogs, one about teaching and one about whatever else I wanted to talk about. When I first started the personal blog, it felt like such a huge step! I was going to be writing about what I was thinking for the whole world to read. It felt especially daring because the first post was about being plus-sized, and how hard it was to buy cute clothes. I felt like my secret was out. Now everyone would know that I needed to buy those sizes. The joke was on me though. First, anyone who had ever seen me already knew that and second, nobody ever read the post. for a while it was an online journal, super private despite it’s public availability. The irony of the fact that its2008. address was “casimira,” which means “almost seen” in Spanish completely evaded me.

I started the teaching blog to share lesson ideas and to share my impressions of a trip I made to a TESOL conference back in 2008. Eventually it became a reflective place where I could tell stories about my students and my classroom, and the joys and struggles I faced there.

So, here I am, starting something new. This past June I retired from 25 years of teaching middle and high school English learners. I have nothing more to add to that blog, because, well, everyone knows that the minute you step out of the classroom your credibility as a teacher begins to fade. Plus I no longer have students to write funny or touching or sad stories about. So I’ve written my swan song there.

The other blog, as much as I love it, I haven’t touched in a year. A year. Since I’m starting a whole new chapter of my life, I decided lit was time for a fresh new site. I decided on the title, “Awake and Aware” because that is what I am and plan to continue to be. So here I am. Here we are. I’m so glad you’re here. Let’s see where this goes.