good, better, best

One of my jobs is painting houses. I love it, and I buy a lot of paint brushes.  I had a favorite for many years, it was purple (go figure?!) made by the Purdy company, which makes exceptionally high quality brushes, and a  local lumber company in my area had a manager who would always put some purple brushes aside for me when he unpacked a new order.  He often reminded me that girl painters who liked purple paint brushes were not all that common.  He even once called my cell phone when he got an order of 100-foot extension cords and one of them was purple 😉 but I digress…Now that Purdy no longer makes these purple brushes, I have no particular devotion to one brush or another & so I now shop at Home Depot quite a bit and have found that their own store brand of brushes are categorized as ‘Good, Better, and Best.’  When I first noticed this rating system, I was using a primer  for water stains that, unless you keep denatured alcohol in your truck, you’ll never get it out of the brush and therefore need disposable brushes when you use it, so I bought the cheapest brush they had, which was labeled in the class of “good” and as you might surmise, it was total shite! The bristles came right out of the brush with every stroke.  The handle was oddly shaped and did not feel good in my hand and it was totally disposable, not ‘good’ in any way at all,  and I thought to myself, what use is describing an item as “good” if it really is shit?  Would it not be better to describe an item as “totally disposable” or “crap” so that a person would not be confused or misled by the rating?  To me, good/better/best, is a rating system that should be functional.  Sort of like a voice in your head narrating, “this one is barely tolerable, this one is pretty decent, and this one is actually something you will like and keep.”  …BUT in reality, at Home Depot, with their own brand of brushes, “good” is really not very good at all.  The label says that it is “good,” and somebody rated it as such, but to me, it is FAR from good at all.

You might be wondering how this applies in any way to our 21 STEPS…well, STEP 18 is somewhat a recognition of the rating system at Home Depot of their own brand of paint brushes…good-better-best…and how some think about or “rate” people.  Is the BMW driving executive with the magnificent house and amazingly organized wife and two smart and athletic children who attend private school, better than the chain-smoking plumber who seldom pays his electric bill on time and spends much of his paycheck at the bar before midnight on Fridays?  Is the fancy purse carrying Louboutin pump wearing accountant with the time share in the Keys, better than the black girl with three different colored kids buying Cocoa Pebbles with food stamps in front of you at the grocery store?  Some of you readers might think yes, because you are so swayed by what you think you know about them, and what you appear to be seeing, and what you’ve believed all your life…their jobs, or lack thereof, their words and actions, what they wear, their houses or which unit in a housing project, their kids, their cars, whatever…we live in a world filled with judgments and people who judge, and I have to think, what difference does it make what Home Depot thinks about the quality of their brushes, when I find their rating system to be terribly flawed, and are we not this way when we judge and rate others, terribly flawed?

That one person thinks they can categorize another, just boggles my mind, much like somebody thinks the “good” rating on those crappy brushes is an acceptable description.  STEP 18 is kind of like Home Depot’s rating system.  AND makes me think…if somebody who manufactures these brushes can label the brush as “good” and I think it is terrible, then is it not sort of the same when somebody labels someone as a good, when I think they are a total shit of a person, or I think somebody is fabulous and other people think, not so much?  Sure, his BMW is always clean and his suits are from Savile Row and not the Men’s Warehouse, but he’s been diddling his secretary for the last year and his wife has no clue and people at his office feel pity for her when she talks about “my husband.”  Sure, her handbag is beautiful and only seen in high-gloss three-page ads in Vanity Fair and not K-Mart flyers in the Sunday paper, but she pads her tax return every year with receipts that are really NOT deductions and has not spoken to her daughter in years over a long forgotten argument.

How about nobody rate anybody?  How about the only person we judge, or rate, or categorize, is our very own self?  How about believing that nobody is better than anybody else, no matter what you might think, or have been raised and molded to believe, and the only person we ever think we are better than, is the person we were yesterday, or last month, or four years ago.  How about giving STEP 18 a try, and not worry about the rating system we seem to have here in our country on earth among our fellow humans, it’s terribly flawed anyway…I know, I bought the brushes…

step18

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Life 101

There is no easy way to get to this age. Whatever age you are right now, this minute…it does not matter if you are sixteen or 66…just the fact that we all are simply only a result of the meeting of one sperm out of millions, and one egg, at the precise perfect moment in time, that grows into a human, is hard enough, but here you are, THIS age, alive on this planet.  There were days that were hard, and there were days that flowed easily and without a care in the world, and there were lessons after lessons after lessons.  From the moment we take our first gulp of air, we begin to learn.  “oh, I cry and then I suck and am no longer hungry.”  check. “oh if I make this motion with my mouth she smiles at me and I feel good so I will do this with my mouth.” check.  “oh, if I touch this my hand hurts and burns, don’t do that again.” check.  AND on and on it goes…minute after minute, month after month, year after year, learning by living.  Do this, or do not do that.  Want this? must do that.  Like this feeling? do that again.  That hurt, must not do that ever again.  Interestingly, to me at least, I have grown old enough to know that you/we/I  don’t always understand there WAS a lesson until well past the end of the class or the lecture or the assignment.

There’s a Pearl Jam song that ends with the lyric, “If I had known then what I know now” and it is very much what STEP 17 is about…but ‘if’ is meaningless in this circumstance because, you didn’t.  I didn’t.  You and I behaved in a way that was based on unknowns, or misleading facts, or absent details, or over exaggerated particulars, or ANYTHING.  WE humans, not just me and not just you, US…we’ve all at some time acted in some way that we later wish we had not.  I’ve found out a very important thing in my years on this planet; I can beat myself up and talk mean words to myself, and deeply regret, and wish otherwise, and woe and whine, or I can let it go…like blowing on a dandelion on a warm sunny day…puff…poof…gone…step17Would you ever treat an infant baby or a toddler or a small child like you treat yourself for NOT knowing something??  Would you EVER look into the eyes of a child you loved, or any child for that matter, and say the kind of spiteful and despicable words you sometimes to say to yourself when you look in the mirror, or when you are at rest and those voices in your head start that non-stop jabber?  I dearly hope not.  No…we show patience and tolerance and understanding and kindness when we know that this human is simply finding her way in the world, in her skin, how things work on this planet.  Learning. WHY then do we torture ourselves? … our tender, kind, patient, loving selves, when we are learning???  Would you ever speak so harshly and hatefully to a child like you speak to yourself in your head?  I hope dear reader that the answer is no.  But we do this.  Not all of us, but I would suggest most of us do, and so I believe that STEP 17 be embraced and loved and cultivated like a newly planted seed…it’s almost spring here in south Jersey…it’s just about that time to tend to the earth and start to grow things.  The only way we evolve is through learning and change, and changing is part of growing, and forgiveness is part of evolving…changing the way we think about a situation or a person, forgiving is good for you, like sun and water is for flowers…if you think STEP 17 might do you some good, and you are feeling in need of something different, how about starting with your own loving soul…grow that.

make. do.

step16

I know that Joss Whedon is a writer of screenplays because I read about him in Vanity Fair, but I don’t believe I have ever seen anything he wrote.  I did however see this quote on Pinterest some weeks ago and decided I liked him very much, despite my limited knowledge of his work.  I like what he says here, a lot.  STEP 16 is important because it, at least to my mind, differentiates being “busy” from being active.  By this I mean that actively participating in life, DOING something, is not at all the same as being busy, or appearing to be busy, or creating an illusion to both yourself and to others that you are doing something, because don’t we all honestly know at least one person who always seems like they are busy, in a rush, overwhelmed with too many tasks and not enough time, but nothing ever really gets done?  Rush-rush-rush, busy-busy-busy, but the result is a whole lot of nothing completed…a task from start to finish, beginning to end, no matter how long it takes, is a gratifying experience, regardless of what the experience is.

I think STEP 16 just wants to lead us in a direction towards creativity, or maybe domesticity, or perhaps just a reminder that before there were iPads and televisions there were books to read and candles to make and food to jar and rows to hoe and we humans HAD to be actively DOING things to survive.  Now we live in a world where we can sit on the sofa and order food that gets delivered to our door, and our Visa in on file so we don’t even have to stand up to pay the driver, and some of us can earn money by sitting on our bottoms and tapping keys on our computers to draw a paycheck,  and we don’t have to DO  to survive.  Perhaps STEP 16 is an invitation to go backwards, a little bit old-fashioned perhaps, to a time when we HAD to DO things so that we could live, and maybe some of us would be better off if we did more of these things, no matter what they might be.

I find I am stimulated greatly when I am around creative people.  I feed off of their energy, whether they are people who are good cooks, or good musicians, or good artists, or good hostesses, or good talkers, heck, I even inspire myself sometimes when I’m in organizing mode, or cleaning mode; emptying out a closet and refolding everything brings me just as much pleasure as preparing a complex recipe after a trip to the supermarket.  I feel good, better, when I feel like I’ve DONE something.  It’s not “what” gets done, a task brought to fruition, starting something and finishing it, but that something gets done at all.  So…in joyful celebration of STEP 16, MAKE something…make time, make a date, make a snack, make music, make plans, make a craft, make a pie, make love, make a list, make a bed, make a garden, make dinner, make breakfast, make friends, make memories…but just DO something.

Judge Not

I think there is a big difference between being opinionated and being judgmental, however, they seem to have the same result, in that one person feels criticized, and the other person feels  superior.  I am the ridiculously liberal daughter of a ridiculously conservative family, the proverbial black sheep if you will, and I have little, if anything, in common with my family regarding social issues, politics, religion, war and peace, or society in general…yet, I love my family very much and feel deeply loved by them.  I am faithful to NPR, Rachel Maddow, and Jon Stewart, just like they are faithful to Fox news, Rush Limbaugh, and Bill O’Reilly.  I like to think of myself as very left of center, perhaps some would call me a wannabe-socialist, and they simply think they are correct and I am wrong.  Part of my personal evolution has been to “get over” feeling judged or criticized, and simply to accept others as they are and hope that they accept me as I am, and to default to the go to “F**k ’em” if they don’t.  It takes a lot of work, I mean, really, we want people to like us right?  However, part of becoming who you are is understanding that YOU have to like you, and what you think and how you think.  That job belongs to nobody but you.  Like we learned in The Four Agreements, what other people think of us or about us is none of our business.

I gave up years ago thinking one was right, me, and one was wrong, them, because I realized all that really matters is what I believe, what I think, and how I try to live on this earth, and try to be the best possible human I can, on this go-round in this physical life.  I have learned that this is the best way to live, for me.  I no longer believe that what I think about anything at all, be it poverty, war, abortion, the environment, or Wall Street, matters to anybody else…all that matters is what I believe, from what I have read, heard, and seen, and I try to live my life accordingly.  I try to be informed, I am well-educated and well read, and I do my best to get information and process it, it’s all we can do.  I can only live in a way that feels right and good for me, and I can only hope that others do the same.  I respect your beliefs and values and hope you respect mine, no matter how divisive they might seem.

I have long believed I am far more ‘Christian’ in my beliefs of what it means to be a human on this planet, what it means to “do unto others,” what it means to be kind and be good, than some I have met in my life who claim to “know” Jesus or believe in God or claim to live a Godly life.  I learned a long time ago that we are what we do, and how we act, not what we say and what we say we believe, and I accept this.  This is the way things are.  I suppose  I was in college when I stopped trying to understand how other people think, or to make sense of why they think like they do, in all subjects or areas that were different from my thoughts.  I figured out that *we ALL think the way we think is THE way to think.*  I figured out that no matter how uninformed, misinformed, or oblivious somebody might seem to me, I understand that this is how I must appear to them…so STEP 15 is not about “changing” really at all.  STEP 15 I think is more of a celebration; embracing what you believe, and owning it, and just understand that it may not be right for me, or your neighbor, and what I believe may not be right for you or my neighbor, but it’s o.k.   You don’t have to judge or criticize that which is different, you don’t have to push what you believe down the gullet of anybody else, in fact, you don’t even have to ever let on to anybody what your framework, philosophy, or beliefs are.  If they work for you, that is all that matters.  “Come on people now, smile on your brother, everybody get together, try to love one another right now”  just as they are, just as you are, just how they think, just how they look, no matter what they believe or you support, not someday.  Yes, right now…

step15

Welcome. Please, do come in…

step14I have heard people use the expression that when one door closes a window opens, or something like that, but I like fresh air a lot, and am so anticipating the arrival of spring, and even though my brother-in-law provided me with a magnificent and highly efficient HVAC system when I built my house, I leave windows and doors open all the time throughout as much of the year as possible.  I am fond of the flow of the air, and the flow of the energy of the world around me, and when your doors and windows are always closed and your house is always locked up tight, no new energy can really get in.   Welcome to STEP 14.

I am sure you know people as I do who seldom or never have people into their home…they don’t entertain and they don’t really welcome anybody through the door, and then there are those who crave company and gatherings and can throw together a cocktail party in ten minutes and think nothing of an impromptu dinner party or play dates for their kids, and they just want that energy surrounding them…I think most of us fall somewhere in the middle of the two extremes but what about what we let inside, the REAL INSIDE?  …what we let in our heart, our brain, our soul…what we let get through the walls and barbed wire barricades of our comfort zones…

We don’t KNOW what is going to happen today.  We know it is supposed to snow tonight after 11 o’clock here at the Jersey shore, and we know that on Saturday night before we go to bed we are supposed to turn the clock up an hour, which is supposed to create a longer day…but so what?  …just because we ‘know’ something and have a plan, does not mean that it WILL happen…We might think we know, and we might have something on the calendar that we are supposed to do, and we might have it set as an alarm on our iPhone, and we might have a post-it on our dashboard, but that does not mean that what we think is going to happen today IS GOING TO HAPPEN.  A man I was dear friends with many years ago died in a fire a week ago, and the guest cottage of a dear friend of mine blew up in a gas explosion, and a bill I expected to be $640 this week turned out to be $850…three different events, all totally different from what each of us expected that morning of the event…we can plan and plan and plan and reject everything that does not fall within our plan, and we can claim we know what we are doing and we can do what we think are all the “right” things, and guess what?  OTHER things happen.

I think STEP 14 wants us to just not be closed.  You don’t have to open your door to a man wielding a chainsaw with a hockey mask on his face and fingers made of knives to let him steal all your jewelry and flat screen televisions, but when that image and that fear factor is what you SEE with your closed mind, when you look with your eyes at a black man wearing a hoodie walking in front of your house, in a neighborhood where there is nobody who is black, you immediately have closed  yourself off to the possibility that he might be the best small engine mechanic in your county who just moved to your street and you actually need your lawnmower fixed, but you didn’t wave or say ‘good morning’ as he caught your eye when he walked right in front of you when you got your paper from your driveway…You don’t have to marry the most unattractive woman in the room, but maybe you should talk to her, and not reject her because of your shallowness, closed off to the possibility of even speaking to her because she does not fit your ideal image of who you should be seen beside, because if  all the really pretty skinny ones use words such as “amazeballs” and expressions such as “that’s so sick” and say “like” to connect every three or four words, and they often finish each sentence they utter with “and blah blah blah” and go to the bathroom too many times in an evening to attend to their overly made-up faces, you, the man who loves science, golf, and fishing, missed a chance to have a glorious conversation at the bar with a marine biologist who has a swing like Bubba Watson and the most beautiful green eyes you’ve  seen, if only you had really looked at her and opened your mind and closed your shallowness…

It’s not just who we meet or who we talk to, it can be what we do and what we try…going to the non-fiction section of the library for a change, renting foreign films that you have to read since you are not fluent in Japanese, taking a different road to work, stopping at 7-11 instead of Wawa…these might seem trivial but they might change everything…YOU just don’t know.  You simply CAN’T know anything and have to be open, or at least try sometimes to be open, to whatever wonderfulness might be on the other side of the door…