June 29, 2012

Post #8: Week Two: Small Dreams

"The future belongs to those who believe in the beauty of their dreams."

- Eleanor Roosevelt

I have to be honest, I've been struggling a lot with this one the past few days. This chapter says that small dreams are all too often just to-do lists, tiny goals that are easily within our grasp if we make the effort. I don't entirely disagree. For example, I would love to visit Europe again or go on another cruise. If I work hard enough and save up enough money and vacation time, those dreams can easily become a reality.

I had an ethics teacher in college who proposed that whatever decisions we ever make are always about what we most want. He said that if we skip out on going to a concert we're invited to at the last minute in order to help a friend move like we promised, then we aren't being self-sacrificing; what we truly want in that scenario is to not have our friend upset with us more than we want to attend the concert.

This makes me think about big dreams I've had in the past. Last night, my husband and I went to see Black Swan, and I was reminded of the dream I had when I was very little. I wanted so badly to be an actress. I thought I was destined to be one. However, I specifically remember one occasion when I was five years old and my parents wanted me to audition for a commercial. I was such a mama's girl that I bawled my eyes out and protested the idea because I had the notion that acting meant I would have to be away from my mom on plane rides all the time. That was a silly worry, of course, but it wasn't entirely invalid. When someone is a successful actor, he or she has to be away from their loved ones frequently. I wanted to be with my family more than I ever wanted to be an actress.

Even aside from that, breaking into the industry is so difficult. Even when I was in elementary school, I tried out for speaking parts in our Christmas play year after year and was never chosen. In high school, the theater classes took place at the all-boys high school several miles away, and the hours for rehearsal were so demanding. Not to mention, it was pretty expensive to join. I was worried that all the stress would make my grades suffer, and it was more important to me to do well in school. I think life throws obstacles in the way as you chase a dream to make sure it's what you really want. It's a good thing because it helped me realize early on that I didn't want to act badly enough to overcome those obstacles.

I've also wanted to be a singer, a writer, a guitar player, a pianist, a champion of causes. I've always had this gnawing feeling that I'm destined for greatness (all of us are, really) but am missing two key components to achieving it. One, I haven't found my life's passion. Two, I haven't worked hard enough to find it. Even when there have been times that I've felt truly moved by an event or an idea, I have become obsessed with the topics to the point that I don't even like the person I've become. The conclusion I always come to is that balance is the most important thing to me in life. Relationships and my self, work and play, time and money, dreams and reality. And the list goes on and on. It's the same for all of us. Does everyone feel that burning desire to fulfill their potential like I do? We must, right? Or else why would we keep going?

I have turned down jobs that would consume too much of my time and energy because spending time with friends and family is more important to me. I don't live to work; I definitely work to live. I didn't study abroad because I wanted to continue developing my relationship with my husband when we were dating. My life has been a lot about flexibility, compromise, diplomacy, and, yes, balance. I've always told myself that I don't have to choose between two things, between dreams and reality.

I wanted, badly wanted, to study in Paris during college. Once I started dating my husband, I just felt like it wouldn't be the right time to leave. I told myself that it would be silly to chase a dream that would last three months that might jeopardize the future I could have with someone for the rest of my life. In hindsight, of course, we probably would've been just fine. But it was the right choice for me at the time. My compromise was that my husband and I would go to Europe together later. We're planning a trip for a couple of years from now.

The thing is, I've just never stubbornly wanted something in just one way. I saw the possibility that my dream of studying abroad could be altered a bit so that it could adjust to the changes that occurred in my life since thinking up the dream. Granted, some dreams should not be dropped for other people or things in life if they aren't worth it. I found my husband to be worth it. He always says he would've joined the military if he hadn't met me because he wanted the experience of serving our country. In less than a month, he'll officially be in academy for the Los Angeles County Fire Department. Dreams evolve.

Sam Davidson even mentions in the introduction of this book that passions change throughout our lives and we need to be open to realizing when one passion has faded and a new one has presented itself. Maybe my dreams have changed because of fear. Maybe I feared I would fail, though I think my deepest fear was if I were to succeed. What if I became a famous actress and was never anonymous again? What if my every move were monitored by the paparazzi, exposed by the media, judged by people everywhere? What if I were a successful singer and had to be on tour constantly far away from my family? What if I were a philanthropist who was too involved in raising funds for a nonprofit to spend time with her husband and children? It's all silly, I'm sure, but I've been afraid of it. Why?

I don't think I'm merely rationalizing when I say that my small dreams of being a good wife, mother, daughter, sister, aunt, and friend with a variety of somewhat undeveloped talents but a balanced life makes me content. Perhaps being content with what I have IS my big dream. After all, isn't contentment one of the most elusive things in life?

John De Paola is quoted as saying,"Slow down and everything you are chasing will come around and catch you." I've always felt that there are a lot of people out there chasing money, fame, etc., when they're really all after the same thing: happiness. Being the youngest of four and daughter to a lovable worry-wart, I've spent my life watching other people's mistakes and trying to figure out how to avoid making the same ones. I've always tried to figure out what makes me truly happy before becoming one of those people who doesn't figure out until much too late in life that what really made them happy was there all along.

But, of course, contentment is far off. I'm not so self-centered as to be content with my life when there are so many people in this world who are suffering. And, yes, I would like to help do something about it. My first step toward that is to be the best, most balanced person I can be in my own community first. My ethics teacher also posed the question about at what point we know we have given too much of ourselves. He asked, "Are we supposed to give to those who are worse off than we are to the point that we're all the same? To the point that they are then the ones who are better off than we are? When do you stop giving?" I really don't know.

What I do know is that I want to be a positive force for the people in my life because I think that's a small thing that makes a huge difference. As I said before, I have the tendency to get lost in causes that mean something to me. While that's good for the cause, it has never been very good for me or the people in my life. I'm building my foundation before I think about crusading into the world. Baby steps.

If you haven't caught on yet, I'm a somewhat conflicted person, though I'm hoping I can start seeing "conflicted" as actually being "balanced." I have this blessing/curse thing about me that makes it so I always see (or try really hard to see) both sides of things. Some people think horoscopes are bunk, but, being a Gemini to the core, I tend to think there's something to them. I have two sides to myself; no, that doesn't mean I'm two-faced. I just have this dichotomous thing inside me where I'm always pulled to thinking or feeling two ways about things, which makes it difficult to ever know who I really am. I'm always feeling like a hypocrite because my opinions change so frequently, but maybe that just means I'm open to learning and evolving. I don't know. I really just don't know. Are you beginning to see why I always wanted to be an actress?

Maybe I could've worked out all of this on stage and figured out who I was a little better. Then again, someone once said that life isn't about finding yourself but creating yourself. I could seriously debate myself for days. No, I'm not crazy. I'm just honest, searching for truth. Let's face it, most of us probably don't like labeling ourselves and calling it a day, or a lifetime.

Okay, back to the point...big dreams, big dreams, big dreams...I seriously couldn't think of any this week. I think, years ago, I started making my dreams so realistic that none of them are big anymore. Sometimes big dreams can be selfish though. Sometimes we put our big dreams ahead of the people in our lives, but sometimes there are people who are meant to do that in order to cause big, necessary changes in our world. When do you stop chasing big, unrealistic dreams though? And who's to say what's unrealistic in the first place?

I guess we're all just doing what my ethics teacher said. We're all following what we want to do the most deep down. I guess what I want most is small, attainable dreams. Big dreams make me go wild with frustration and dedication. But now that's starting to really get to me. I suppose not all of us were meant to be Oprah Winfrey or Bill Gates or Martin Luther King, Jr., or Mark Zuckerberg or Michael Jordan. We can't all be the best at everything, but we can be the best versions of ourselves by fulfilling our potential. We can push ourselves further, we can challenge ourselves, but when can we stop? When is it okay to stop?

(Next week's thing my life doesn't need: Untaken risks.)

Originally posted on: 1/29/12

June 5, 2012

Celebrating a Woman's Life

"As a well-spent day brings happy sleep, so a life well used brings happy death."

- Leonardo da Vinci

It's so odd to me that I couldn't fall asleep last night. I found out this morning from my mom that her mother, my wonderful, loving grandmother, my Nanny, passed away in her sleep last night. My initial reaction was one of just pure calm because I couldn't help but be amazed that my Papa passed away in his sleep just over a year ago. I honestly can't think of any better way to leave this world than they did other than if they had done so together on the same night. I would say just over a year apart isn't so bad. He was 88, and then she was 89.

Her birthday was almost a month ago tomorrow, and my mom happened to visit her for that week between her birthday and Mother's Day. I had sent her a bouquet of flowers on her birthday, but then Mother's Day snuck up on me, and my card was several days late. I felt awful. I made sure to write her a nice note because she is seriously the most wonderful, patient, loving woman. She used to be a nurse and was the mother of seven children, 16 grandchildren, and 13 great-grandchildren (with two more on the way). Everyone loved her.

It's funny the little things that strike you in hindsight. This past week, I received a thank-you note from her for the flowers I had sent, and Kyle had thrown it in the waste basket without realizing what it was. I saw it in there along with another piece of mail and pulled it out. I'm so glad I saw it. It's my last little piece of my grandmother. Something special from her to me. Gosh, she also gave me this wonderful set of vintage plates and cups and bowls the last time I saw her, and I just remembered that I never wrote her a formal thank-you note for that. I'm sure she knows how grateful I was, but I'm regretting that now. She had kept the whole set for something like 50 years without ever using it even once.

A few weeks ago, she told my aunt she saw a woman in white sitting on my Papa's side of the bed. She said she knew she wasn't dreaming because she had reached out to touch the woman. She had also seen a man in her bedroom shortly after my Papa passed away last year. Seriously, it is still so incredible to me that they both slipped away so peacefully into the night. No one saw it coming either time. I'm so happy for them. They were two of the hardest working people with the most integrity that I could ever imagine. They've created this huge family, and they only had to live without each other for a year.

I'm so glad my mom had that time with her mother last month. I think that will really help her get through this tough period knowing she had quality time with her toward the end. They were always very close, and I feel so lucky to be close like that with my mom. She learned everything she knew from my Nanny, and I told her that in her Mother's Day card. I'm so glad I did that because I really hesitated writing it and bringing up my Papa in it. But I don't think it helps to pretend people never existed. If anything, it must be more painful to have people dodge the topic around you when it's probably the majority of what you ever think about and wish so badly people would talk to you about.

In my post about my Papa, I mentioned how he built a birdhouse with me years ago, so birds always remind me of him. Today my mom said that when she learned about his passing, she looked out the kitchen window and saw a hummingbird. Then when she heard about my Nanny's passing this morning, she looked out her bedroom window and saw a mama bird feeding her baby bird. I know a lot of people attribute stuff like that to coincidences, but I tend not to.

I have so much more to say about my Nanny, and I want to give her all the credit and recognition she is due, so I'll be back soon enough.

Originally posted: 6/5/12

Post #16: Celebrating a Man's Life

"My grandfather once told me that there were two kinds of people: those who do the work and those who take the credit. He told me to try to be in the first group; there was much less competition."

-Indira Gandhi

My grandfather, my papa, passed away just over a week ago. My mom told my sister and me when we got together for lunch. He had gone in his sleep the night before, and it was the peaceful sort of passing he so deserved. I don't think it quite hit me right away since we have always lived 400 miles apart. I think I was just happy to know that he didn't suffer. At 88 years old, he'd had a long, fulfilling life.

Still, though, you never expect someone in your life to go away for good. It's funny how death is one of the only things we can expect for sure, yet it is always so surprising when it happens. In some strange way, he has been more alive to me in the last couple weeks than ever. Perhaps it is because he has been the main topic of conversation, and we've all been swapping stories about wonderful memories with him. On the other hand, I think it has something to do with the fact that I feel like we can know each other better now. I've always had the idea that people gain an unfathomable amount of knowledge when they cross over into what is unknown to us. After all, he was only one Papa to seven children, 16 grandchildren, and soon-to-be 12 great-grandchildren. It would have been pretty difficult for this hardworking, virtuous, man of few words to get to know his granddaughter from 400 miles away.

I have many memories of my papa, but my most vivid one is from when I was about seven years old. He was out in the backyard working on a project, and I was rummaging through an assortment of wood scraps he had in a trash can. He could have easily ignored my pesky curiosity, but he put aside what he was working on and embraced it. I can't recall if we even really spoke, but he gathered up some of the various pieces and made a birdhouse with me. Having always been a talkative young girl intimidated by this quiet grandfather of mine and confused by his sense of calm, I felt like we had truly connected for the first time. I guess we can never choose the way people will remember us or what we do that will stand out to them in hindsight, but I'm so thankful that this is my memory that sums him up in my mind. I'd like to think that he'd be pleased with this view I have of him. Over the last few years, I've discovered my love for birds, and I don't think I'll ever see another one without thinking of him.

Sharing memories like that one with my family and looking through all of the old photos set up at his beautiful funeral, it was so clear that he truly was one of the good ones. He served in the U.S. Navy during World War II, married a truly fantastic woman, and raised seven children with her. He worked the same job for 34 years. He continued working throughout his 28 years of retirement by helping his family and friends improve their homes. He was early to bed, early to rise. He always gave his best to anything he ever did. He was a product of the greatest generation. He was strong, quiet, humble. He loved vanilla ice cream. He really did bring out the beauty in simplicity. He was my grandfather, my papa.

Henry William Wright, sometimes better known as Hammerin' Hank, has been and always will be an inspiration to me. Not only was he a man of tradition and family, but he was also a man who was open to and accepting of things that some might find unconventional. I think Papa, like many of us, realized that life has more and more gray areas as we get older. That's why I'd like to think that we aren't just alive or dead but, rather, just are. I'd like to believe that we simply exist in the memories of those who know and love us and that the rest is just details. I hope he would be proud of my attempt at keeping it simple. I love you, Papa.

Originally posted: 3/21/11

Up All Night

"New York's terrible when somebody laughs on the street very late at night. You can hear it for miles. It makes you feel so lonesome and depressed. I kept wishing I could go home and shoot the bull for a while with old Phoebe." - The Catcher in the Rye

I can't sleep. It's like I caught some sort of second wind by being crazy enough to go to LA and back on a Monday night. I had fun with good company though, so it was worth it. I wish I could fall asleep because Heaven knows I'll be wishing I could fall asleep under my desk all day tomorrow.

What I wouldn't give to be four years old again and have naps scheduled into my day.

Gosh, this is just mumbo jumbo that I'm writing in hopes that it will bore me to sleep. Maybe it will bore you to sleep before it bores me.

Everything feels more dramatic after 2am. Ted Mosby's mom told him nothing good happens after 2am. I don't totally agree with that, but I would agree that sleep is one of the very best things that can happen after 2am. I'll give it a shot. What do you have for me, Pandora? Ah, some Regina Spektor. Thank you. Goodnight.