Well if the World's Gonna End and All...

I thought I'd just snub the whole New Year/post-about-the-New-Year thing, since that would just be so unoriginal.  But on the eve of a brand new year, what else could I be meditating on but the closing out of what has been an oft-challenging and trans-formative 365 days and the welcoming in of all things fresh, the chance to reboot?  I feel I would somehow be remiss if I didn't pause for a moment, turn and curtsy to the good and bad of 2011 (and it's all good in the long run, isn't it?), and appreciate the sun's rising on 2012.

By the way, this is one of the images that comes up in a Google image search for "2012"

Uhhhh.  Yeah.

So anyway, this is what I plan to focus on in the coming year (thought I'd better try to squeeze a little more out of this year if this is to be the last :P ):

    ~Make financial goals: living within my means and working to generate more income (god I hate that phrase--it's sounds so Rich Dad, Poor Dad (not that I've ever read that book so I really shouldn't judge), possibly even pay down some extra principle on my student loan.

     ~Continue Writing: the end of 2011 brings good news in that way, what with pieces written and actually submitted.  I've finally grown the ovaries needed to start putting my stuff out there :)

     ~Potty-train Kalil: Ugh.  Just the thought.  How is a mom supposed to do this with a boy?  I'll worry about the complications of making pee-pee with boy parts later, but we really need to start making headway with #2.  So far all invitations to do a poopy on the Sesame Street potty chair I bought some time ago have been met with a polite but firm "no, thank you."

     ~Enjoy my second chance at single life.  Of course single life is something different entirely when you're a mom.  I certainly don't mean single life in the way I knew it before I got married, but now that I've known married life, I think I can appreciate single life in a different way.  It's nice to again be able to explore all the things I want to do with my free time without having to come to a consensus on it with anyone else.  When my free time is spent with Kalil, my choices are dictated by what is appropriate and what would be enjoyable for him (as is the case for every parent); it's a small but significant consolation that--when I have to be apart from him--I can spend the time how I choose.  (I realize some married folks have mastered the ability to do this and be married at the same time, but I did not)

     ~Find a nice volunteer opportunity:  It's been years since I volunteered anywhere, and talking with a friend yesterday got me thinking about it again.  I think I can make a twice-monthly commitment these days; it would certainly be more interesting and rewarding than some of the time I waste online or doing other pointless things.

Um, I think that's a pretty good start.  I can add to it a bit though: get reacquainted with my intuition, hear more live music, dance more, read more, exercise more, keep laughing, learn new recipes (and get Kalil to try them), take a real vacation to somewhere far away, learn some video editing, stay in touch, at least flip through all the magazines on my desk, get prints of and frame more pictures.

This isn't too much to ask in the course of a year, is it?  It's nothing crazy (except maybe the faraway vacation), just requiring of extremely good time management (nooooooooooooo!).

And hey, this is what I wish for my son, myself, and you in the coming year: continued growth, peace in our hearts and minds, clarity like we've never known, and the exploration of happiness.

Here, let's toast to 2012 with the song nobody understands and which makes most of us want to cry:

Happy New Year to you and yours :)


Making More Room for Creativity...

Before I went back to school to once-and-for-all finish my bachelor's degree, and continuing for the next 4 years or so, my life was full up with creative people.  I was living, at times, with my friends Kelsi and Nicole--a musician and an artist, and later moved in with another roommate, also a musician and founder of her own record label.  There were always musicians and artists hanging around or passing through our homes.

And much of that time, I was completely immersed in the English Department at SJSU, which had recently begun to offer an MFA in Creative Writing, so there was a great deal of writing going on there.  During those years I attended literary readings, plays, local artists' and musicians' shows, and open mics.  And surrounded by all those people's dedication to their respective arts, I found it pretty natural to remain, often, inspired myself.  It was a really nice period of my life and one I've missed from time to time.

There were also times when I convinced myself that the last thing I needed to do was to surround myself again with more dreamers like myself.  The thing about people who are drawn to the Arts and Humanities is that they really can talk a WHOLE lot of bullshit.  We could bullshit and dream and speculate and weave saucy tales all day long, live on subsistance salaries, pray/eek/grit our ways through every month's bills and stop so long to smell the roses, then talk/write/paint about the roses that we don't even notice when they've dried up and winter's come.

What I really needed was balance.  I needed to move forward with my adult life and career, yes.  But I took it a bit too far and decided to nix the creative elements (and people) from my life entirely.  In recent months, I've been happy for any opportunities to welcome inspiration back in.

Which is how I ended up at Rosie McCann's with Kelsi Monday night.  I learned (thank you, Facebook) that the band of an old acquaintance of ours from my carefree college years (who used to play at an open mic we frequented) was playing down there, and I thought going would be a nice way to close out the holiday celebrations.

So Timeless, Jonah Johnson's project, is nothing if not inspiring.  The group (a revolving kind of collective comprised of Jonah, his sister, and a gang of talented musicians including a brass section) is so full of positive, uplifting energy that even an overcrowded dance floor of people at snooty-ass Santana Row couldn't help but smile and be nice to each other.  It probably helps that most of those folks were lured there by So Timeless itself, which tends to attract other positive people, believers in what you put out there coming back to you.

It was really nice to be there with Kelsi, too.  I love going to hear music with her because we can dance and talk, but also just listen together, appreciating specific instruments or beats or whatever.  The highlight of the night as far as music goes may have been this hip-hop/jazz/soul/r&b group's take on The Cure's "I Will Always Love You," which I really wish I had a recording of.

The highlight of the night apart from the music was the simple act of remembering that creativity and inspiration are ALWAYS there when you are ready to embrace them.  I used to associate those days of readings and concerts and the open mic where we met Jonah and bullshitting about all of the above with my youth, time-capsuled off and traded in for more responsible endeavors.  But that thought itself is bullshit.  I want to live the rest of my life surrounded by inspiring people who aim to put something new out into the world.

We can't all be that way, for sure.  Some people were born to appreciate the art that's put into the world and not necessarily create it (sometimes I feel I belong in that category), but surrounding myself with creators enriches even the act of appreciating those creations.  When I see the people behind the efforts, learn about what inspires and drives them, and sometimes even get to witness the creating, I think I am more open, less critical; I see and hear things I may not have otherwise.

That also makes me more forgiving of my own efforts and more able to just start.  Just START something to see where it may go.  When I'm closed off and critical, I'm fearful of even the starting.

So I offer up a toast to Monday's outing, and Kelsi and I have pledged to do these sorts of things more often together--to take our minds off the concerns of parenting and (in her case) marriage for a spell and get back into the realm of creativity.  I'm beginning to believe that--if there is anything real about the concept of a Fountain of Youth, the realm of creativity is where it dwells...

Here's a really sweet So Timeless song as a parting gift (gotta wonder why the horns are here when I don't actually hear any in the song, but they are usually actually *playing*, hahaha) :)


Closing out the GGA in Heart-Filled Doodles...

I've been thinking I needed to write a recap of the GGA Project--now already 2 weeks in my rear view mirror--before moving on to post on other subjects, but as the time goes on I'm finding my lack of motivation to write that recap is standing in the way of my writing about other things.  This is not good!  So, as a lazy compromise, I offer this somewhat brief summation:

The GGA Project was, I think, the best thing I knew to do to help me through the past year.  Through it I discovered a lot of interesting places and happenings in the area that I wouldn't have sought out otherwise.  I ate a crapload of good food and have a dozen new baked goods recipes in my toolbox.  I reconnected with old friends, and tried new fun forms of exercise as well as new torturous ones.  And, simply, I re-learned to focus on all the promise of joy out there in the world.

This last part was huge.

I'm not exactly sure when I stopped paying attention, where along the way I learned to put out of my mind the fact that my life is a fleetingly brief smidge bit time in the overall sense--the equivalent of a cameo appearance in movie that lasts 2 decades.  When I lost sight of that, I was the worst version of myself I'd ever known: the version that stopped believing in wonder and dreams and the happiness that comes when I am truly, fully open to life's offerings.  I settled for what I could see and touch right in front of me and decided to ignore all that could be, even all that I'd already known was.

But somehow, through no particular series of events or logical causal relationship, the GGA Project snapped me out of it.  For that, I will be forever thankful that I chose to spend 365 days of my life in that way.  I have emerged, yes, divorced--but rather than bitter and discouraged, I am hopeful and renewed.  I am once again joyful.

I'm not trying to say my life is one big happy ball of fun.  I have my down times for sure.  And I have my setbacks and insecurities and mournful, broken-hearted moments too.  But they do pass.  They are to be felt realistically and embraced, because fully alive, sentient beings do experience pain.  And those moments are to be appreciated for the brilliance with which the coming, brighter days will shine in comparison.

A few weeks ago an elderly regular customer at the bank came to my window, and we started chatting about the Indian restaurant he owns up in The City.  He knows I've never been there, so he started telling me about it, and this was the detail he chose to share about the restaurant's interior: "There are over a million hearts on the walls of the dining room," he said.  "I've drawn most of them myself."  He picked up the pen sitting on the counter, asked for a piece of paper, and drew a single heart at the top.  "I might start like this," he said.  "And then I look at that and think, 'that's no good.  I can do better.'"  And with that, he drew a second heart around the first.

He kept going while I printed out the cashier's check he needed and completed his other transactions, which have faded to the background of non-memorable parts of that encounter.

By the time I finished, he'd created this, which he signed and dated and asked me to hold onto, "until he becomes famous," he said, with a wink:

It's on my wall above my desk.  And here's why: I think my own heart is like his must be.  My heart is full of love-to-give such that I could easily picture myself handing out heart-filled doodles to near-strangers in banks.  It seems elderly men can pull this move off a little better than those in other segments of the population, so I'll hold off on that, but I loved experiencing that recognition--a kindred spirit and hopeful soul.  The man's face was pure serenity and wisdom, and I thought: this is why you keep moving forward, keep opening yourself up to life and love and joy--so that everywhere you roam, you embody and spread peace and are the bright spot in the monotony of a bank teller's (of an anybody's) day.

That is where 80 years' worth of that kind of living takes you.

I will look at that little piece of paper and it will bring me hope when I'm discouraged and calm when I'm full of anxiety.  The single upside-down heart is, I think, a nice touch as well.  It's a reminder of variations on the theme, maybe even of design flaws or production failures.  It's the phase in a person's life that didn't go according to plan, but which made an equal contribution to that life's perfection--perhaps a more interesting (certainly more character-building) contribution than all the years that did pass smoothly, unremarkably.

I know that upside-down heart phase now too, and in a way I know I'll never be able to fully put words to, I'm thankful for it.

I want to give a huge thank you to everyone who has followed my project and supported my efforts to end up in a much different, much better place now than I was a year ago.  I have leaned heavily on many shoulders for support, and all of those shoulders have proven strong enough to carry me but soft enough to offer comfort.

To my family and my chosen family-of-friends, I wish you a Merry Christmas and a New Year full of inspiration and the energy to follow through on it.  I wish you both smooth sailing and enriching, stormy seas.  And, as always, I wish you joy.

So with that, I'm officially laying the GGA Project to rest and moving on.  I hope you'll keep reading as I share all that inspires along the way...


The GGA Project -- Day #365! "In a Late Fall Chill, In Stillness, In Quiet, In Peace"

I have been thinking about this day for months, wondering what I could do that would be worthy of the last day of a year-long project.

I thought I should go away somewhere.

I thought I should stay here but do something amazing.

I thought I should have an album of gorgeous pictures to show for it.

And then I had this other thought that just said, 'be still and be you, and meditate in the joy of that alone.  And also: drive.'

Last night it occurred to me, where I needed to go.  I'd written recently about a drive I took to Lick Observatory at the top of Mount Hamilton, in the middle of my pregnancy, on one of the saddest days I can remember.  I thought that, in keeping with a couple of the do-over days that were part of this project, it would be nice to take that same trip in reverse.  Last time I'd driven down the back way and through Livermore, from where I hopped on 580, 680, 280, home.  Now that I live in the East Bay, I thought I could start in Livermore and come down into San Jose, maybe visit my friend Nicole before heading home.  I thought I could just enjoy the drive and think about all the healing of the past year, all the places I'd traveled from and to--literally and figuratively, emotionally--and experience a few hours of quiet, me and Monkey on the road.

The day started out according to that plan.  I packed a picnic lunch for Kalil and myself, figuring we'd grab a bench outside the observatory when we got there and hoping we'd be warm enough to enjoy the food and the meal.  We had jackets, he had toys, we had water and juice and cookies.  We had the camera and Slacker radio to feed us Christmas music even when the radio stations were beyond our reach.

All I needed to remember was to get gas before we got out of Livermore.

And before I knew it I was out of Livermore, onto Mines, the country road that would take us farther and farther away from anything resembling a gas station.  Sure, we had enough gas to get us to the top, but I wasn't confident we had enough to get us all the way back down.  Coasting could only get us so far.  It was as I was realizing my oversight that I saw a sign reading: Del Valle Regional Park: 4 miles.

Well, if there's one thing I certainly learned in the wake of deciding to end my marriage just 7 months into my son's young life, it's that things don't always go according to plan.  Actually, what I remembered--because I can't say the whole thing was news to me--was that I was never one for planning in the first place.  Almost every event in my life that I now find worthy of a storytelling moment, in the aftermath, happened either spontaneously or was the result of a departure from the original plan.

Today's New Activity: Lakeside at Del Valle Regional Park

I certainly didn't imagine that the 365th day of this project would find me doing the hold-the-camera-out-faced-at-us pictures in front of a lake at an East Bay Regional Park (of course I didn't), and yet:

Kalil, what a sweetheart.  He "helped" me push the stroller through the parking lot

before getting bored with all that and wanting to run.

And he really was a sweetheart--fascinated with everything and so very chilled out when we sat down for lunch by the lake.

He asked about 15,000 questions about the geese, which were plentiful.

And he giggled uncontrollably when I pointed downward at the gravel beach and told him to watch out for the goose poopies.  "Goose poopies?!" he asked, shocked, with a smile of slight embarrassment in his voice.

We checked out crazy cool, exposed roots,

sat rapt as a single crane crossed our path, following the shoreline with a speed that suggested nowhere to be,

and relaxed as if we too were so free from obligation at the moment.

And you know what?  We were.

Sure, there's plenty to be done.  There always will be.  And there are bills to be paid and new projects to embark upon and always, always something to be washed and folded.

And then, here today, there are these dozens of geese, and a handful of fishermen, and a quietly lapping body of water...and us.

I didn't think I'd be emotional today.  It's not that I thought the last day of this project would find me feeling nothing, but I didn't wake up feeling mournful about the end.  There's something like relief there, though it's closely trailed by the dozens of other things I want to get started on, now that I'll have some more time.

And yet when we pulled into the park today and I caught a glimpse of the sun reflecting off the water and the mostly leafless trees and the absolute stillness of everything, I was overcome with the sense of what today means to me, of how far I've come, of the reawakening of my heart.

I felt it again when, after lunch, Kalil asked me to pick him up so we could go look at the lake close up.  He asked about the shells we found by the water's edge, about a stick jutting up from the lake's surface, and when a flock of geese flew westward overhead, he asked if they were going home to see their Mamas.  And, of course, I said yes.  And then the power of that word, of that concept struck me: Mama.

I hugged him tightly against me, so grateful for the blessing he is and so humbled by the tremendous task I have in raising him, the tremendous honor.  Tears came fast and warm and salty, and before 10 seconds could pass, Kalil was asking me more questions, about the sounds of the water and wind and an approaching motorboat.  No time for steeping emotional tea bags with a toddler around: best to just feel the moment and move on.

And for today, that was perfect.  Sometimes a person doesn't need to cry and cry and cry.  She just needs to cry.  And to look backward with gratitude.  And to look forward with greater wisdom.  And to remember that each day in any given year is a gift and a blessing to be cherished, each person who enters her life a teacher, if she's willing to learn.


The GGA Project -- Day #364 "In the Eye of the Beholder..."

I was never much of a theme party person before this year.  It's weird, because my nature is to be generally down for things, but I suppose I just never had the chance to attend a theme party because nobody I was hanging out with was throwing them.

But my branching out this year started with my friend Brian's Mad Hatter birthday party (the theme aspect of which I actually opted out of, merely for lack of time to prepare), and the passing months have given me a number of opportunities to dress up for various themes and explore alter egos :).  Theme parties are fun, and kind of addictive, if you actually decide to go all out and participate...

Today's New Activity: Nasty Bedazzling of an Already-Ugly Sweater

So I guess I was sort of itching for one final ultra-cheeseball bash to close out the year, and it was with this in mind that I oh-so-subtly hinted to my friend Kenneth that he and Peter should throw an Ugly Sweater Party (I believe my exact, subtle words were: "You and Peter should throw an Ugly Sweater Party").  I'd never been to one before, but there was something so appealing about the idea of trolling the thrift stores for a uniquely qualified monstrosity and wearing it with a special sense of pride.

Which is how I ended up wearing an article of clothing that started like this:

and came into its full glory as this:

Do you even need to ask if I took home the prize for evening's ugliest?  Well, I did.  The prize was a snowman coffee mug, which I was very happy to bring home to Kalil, as he's developed a recent obsession with coffee mugs (I swear he played with a travel coffee mug for an entire day, and I had to wrestle it from his grasp just to get him down for a nap).

Anyway, there was plenty of ugliness to go around at this party, and fortunately it was limited to the attire.

Tonight was really refreshing for me.  On the way home I was thinking about the change in my frame of mind since I first reconnected with the friends I'd become virtually estranged from during my marriage.  Just about a year ago, when they'd first started inviting me to join in festivities, my desire to reconnect was bordering on desperation.  I'd come to feel very isolated--far-removed from so many of the people I knew and had once cared about.  I think I also welcomed with open arms anything that could take my mind off the constant rumination about my separation and what lie ahead.

But it's nice to get to the place I am at tonight, where I feel happy for the chance to see some friends, but not in any way like I need a mental escape.  It was just a couple of hours--likely the only hours I'll have for these particular friends during the month of December--to laugh, catch up, and get all itchy in our horrible (mostly) 80's sweaters together.

My life feels rebalanced again, with plenty of connecting, of laughter, of friendship to carry me through the spaces in between.  And having now accepted that my life is here, in the East Bay, I was eager to get back home early tonight--back to the house decorated beautifully for Christmas by my Mom (the Queen of Christmas), back to the bedroom where my son was sleeping quietly, back to my warm, inviting-though-less-than-comfortable bed, back to my dreams, which continue to grow at once wilder and more within-my-grasp than ever before...


The GGA Project -- Day #363 "Home Stretch"

Well what a nice treat.  I got to spend the whole day with my beautiful Mom and my beautiful son, shopping and eating and laughing and playing.  I can't say that anything incredible happened, nothing worthy of the next-to-penultimate day of this project.

In fact, the only new thing I did was to go to Andersen Bakery, which I always avoid (only really ever notice them in the mall) because it's the mall--there are so many more greasy, horrible-for-you options.  Who eats a nice little deli sandwich under those circumstances?!

Today's New Activity: Roasted Tomato Caprese & Avocado Insanity

Shame on me for not trying the healthy bakery option sooner!  I can honestly say this was one of the best sandwiches I've ever eaten (the olive oil and fresh basil were what made it, plus the fact that I asked them to substitute the fresh mozzarella for pepper jack).

So yeah, I had an amazing sandwich, which isn't much to celebrate or write about, but I had an even more amazing gift of a day off with two of my favorite people...I wouldn't have wished to spend it any other way.


The GGA Project -- Day #362 "noun: attempt - try - trial - test - experiment verb: try - attempt - assay - test - sample - endeavour"

The above is one dictionary's definition for the word essay.  French for "to try," essay connotes a piece of writing that strives to put forth an argument, to convince, to compel.  It's a form I'm particularly attracted to, not only because I like to write from the 1st person perspective about non-fiction events, but because it's about the maximum attention span I have for a single piece of writing.  I feel like I write mini-essays on this blog about once a week or so.  But that's just lazy stuff.  Just-for-fun essays (oxymoronic as that may sound).

My friend Renee, on the other hand, is a serious writer.  By that, I mean that she--despite having a husband, two children under the age of 3, and a full-time teaching position--CARVES out time in her life to write.  And I'm not just talking about blog writing (although she does that, too).  I mean that she answers calls for submission and actually gets her work published.  Not only that, she also edits and publishes other writers' work.  Oh, and there's that bit about the spiritual memoir she's writing, too.  I marvel at both her drive and discipline.  And as she has done since we were best friends in high school, these days she really motivates me to try harder and put forth more effort--into my writing, for just one example.

A few weeks ago Renee proposed that we exchange some writing--a two-person writing workshop.  She said she does better when working under a deadline, and I can certainly identify with that.  So we set a date for an exchange--her for a chapter of her memoir, me for an essay fit-for-submission.

Today's New Activity: Not-for-Fun Writing Workshop

It's not that I've never written an essay for submission (though the occasions have been rare and limited to pieces even shorter than typical essay length).  But in the past year of just getting back into my glow (ha, I meant to write "flow," but "glow" works too :), merely getting my feet re-wet in the writing arena, I've neglected to even dream of submitting.  It was a true inspiration to have Renee make that suggestion.  That she has faith in my ability to offer her helpful feedback I consider a true compliment.

One thing today's writing exercise says to me (or screams in my ear, I should say) is that I've a long way to go when it comes to writing for submission.  The beauty of the blog is also its writer's downfall.  It's just. so. easy.  No publication's-typical-audience-preferences to consider (my blog's typical audience is my friends (with a couple of significant exceptions).  They don't really mind what I choose to write about or how.  They're mostly reading to be supportive, anyway), no set deadlines or focused subject matters, and, best of all, no maximum length limits.  In order to submit for publication, I will have to keep in mind all these factors, researching the intended publication and working within their established guidelines.  That means discipline.  That means planning and executing.

Ugh.  The thought of it makes me feel the overwhelming desire to take a nap.

But it's really the best kind of pressure I can place upon myself right now, because putting my energy into writing is the single most satisfying thing I do outside of Mamahood.  And I trust 100% in Renee's guidance and editor's eye.  It'll be an honor exchanging (written) words with her...


The GGA Project -- Day #361 "I'd Like More Time With the Giant Beetles & Tarantula, Please"

I bet you're wondering what this

might have to do with these

or this

Well, friends, these are some of the few animal-related things to be seen at the zoo--when you go at night that is.

Today's New Activity: Zoo Lights!

When my Mom asked me today what I was writing about for my blog and I told her it was the Zoo Lights, she was shocked.  "You've never done that before?!" she said.  Well, I guess we can't all be cutting edge.  I'd never even heard of it until a few weeks ago, and I really wasn't sure what to expect from it, but it's pretty much like it sounds: they put a bunch of lights up at the zoo and we go look at the lights.  That's about it.  Apparently zoos the nation over do it, but it was definitely new to me.

On the way there I'd started to wonder if the animals would be up and about, though I had a hard time imagining how we'd be able to see them.  Anyway they weren't.  There was one little light show, and the rest of the Zoo Lights experience was simply stationary decorations and the thrill of being at the zoo at night.  And that WAS a thrill.  It was pretty freaking cold, so we had to take measures to stay warm, but that kind of added to the fun.  Getting bundled up and being out at night in December is FUN.

But that's not to say that the reptile and insects huts, their thermostats set to a toasty 76 degrees, weren't a super welcome refuge.  I've never been so grateful for the chance to observe the actions of 18 overgrown beetles lying around on top of each other, or an enclosure full of Walking Sticks so motionless it was impossible to say for sure whether or not they were even alive.  And that was just as well, because Monkey was loving those critters.  Even the giant tarantula didn't solicit so much as a flinch.  I think he might have crawled right into the mass of ants behind glass and been pretty content.  For a while, anyway...

What I like about the rare occasions when I take Kalil out at night (Christmas in the Park is really the only other previous example that comes to mind, aside from the times we're simply driving home from somebody's house after dark), is that doing so gives me the same kind of rush that being out after dark did when I myself was a kid.  I remember my parents used to take Kris and I to their church choir practice at night when we were kids, and we'd be dressed in footed pajamas.  It always felt like such a privilege to be out when we were supposed to be in, such a thrill to see what happened in the outside world when we would normally already be in bed, or at least finishing up bedtime stories. Being out tonight I felt like a kid again too--so happy to be doing something special and outside the normal routine, and with good company to boot!

While the zoo lights wasn't the most exhilarating spectacle I've ever taken in, it was definitely worthwhile.  And any spectacle that affords me the chance to see Monkey in awe is exhilarating enough for me.  With fun, joyful companionship, warm apple cider, and the opportunity to put an end to my wondering about what a centipede looks like up close, I'd say the Zoo Lights was a pretty good call!  :)


The GGA Project -- Day #360 "On Goals, Sucking Less at Them"

I have never, ever been the kind of person to make New Year's Resolutions (hereafter referred to as NYRs).  I used to have this high-and-mighty kind of spiel about it, along the lines of saying that the coming of a new year is, at best, an arbitrary reason to set a goal or make a resolution.  Goll.  It appalls me sometimes to acknowledge how cynical I have been at times in my life.

I was thinking about this this other day (tangent coming, just for fair warning--as if one hasn't already come to expect them from me).  I always thought that people got naturally more jaded, closed-off, narrow-minded, and set-in-their-ways as they got older.  I think I was headed down that path.  But something switched in me in recent years.  I think if I had to put my finger on it I might say it had to do with becoming a mother.  I don't know how one begot the other, but I just feel I am much more accepting of people's varying life choices than I ever was before.  I am slower to feel shock or disbelief when presented with a lifestyle significantly disparate from my own.  And I'm also open to things as I never was before: music genres I used to poo-poo, cheesy self-help gurus and--in that same vein--new age concepts, corny jokes, theme parties, videos featuring animal mishaps or silly kids...just so many things I used to somehow imagine myself to be too cool for before.

Anyway, I can finally identify and admit that the real reason I never made NYRs was that I didn't believe I'd ever be able to keep them.  Hey, I've committed more than my fair share of stops-and-starts.  Easy solution: don't make them, then quietly dismiss all the people who were foolish enough to believe they'd stick to theirs.  Brilliant!

But something occurred to me the other day: I became a vegetarian in January of 2003.  If you never heard the story behind that decision, you might assume it was a NYR.  It wasn't, but it it did stick like I'd hope a resolution might.  I mean c'mon...that was almost 9 years ago!

And then, of course, there's the GGA.  Knowing myself and my track record, I mentally gave myself about 4 months, tops, on this project.  At the four-month mark, there were few enough people reading it (as opposed to the HANDFULS of people who are reading it now :P) that I might not have even felt that bad dropping it altogether.  And hey!  I had well fleshed out excuses ready to go--legal matters and work and, the ultimate trump card: Motherhood.  And yet here we are, 5 days to go and I feel pretty comfortable declaring this goal a success.  I mean I don't want to get too far ahead of myself here, but I'm sayin' I never dreamed I'd keep it up this long.  Granted, many, many days have been less-than-thrilling, but I've forgiven myself any shortcomings and have decided to focus on the days I felt taught me a lesson or enriched my year in any way, of which there are many.

The point I'm trying to make here is that I've now, finally, got a couple of examples of times in my life when I did see a goal through, at least for a significant period of time.  And so, fresh on the heels of that realization, I've decided to take my inkling of a desire to start the new year off with a goal in mind and run with it.  So much so that I'm starting the new year early, at least in this respect.

Today's New Activity: New Year's Resolving (Three Weeks Early)

I think part of what's intimidating to me about NYRs is that they start on this auspicious date and therefor get built up in my mind.  In fact I would venture that part of the credit for my sticking with vegetarianism and the GGA Project was that neither had anything to do with NYRs.  Yes, they were started around the new year, both, but without the pressure of a NEW YEAR'S RESOLUTION.  It was with this in mind that I decided to embark on my new resolution without waiting for the new year.

I don't want to give it away (not that it's exciting...in fact it's like the opposite of exciting, though I can see getting excited about it in a really nerdy way), partially because I want to discuss it with a friend of mine--as well as my family--first.  I'm sure I'll be writing about it somewhat along the way.  But the point is, it starts today.

Bam.  Resolved.


The GGA Project -- Day #359 "What's in a Name?"

About 5 1/2 years ago, I went to the Social Security office in downtown San Jose to change my name.  I'd decided that, being no longer maiden, I'd go ahead and leave my maiden name behind.  I was excited to do so.  I was married!

I'd never considered keeping my maiden name after marriage.  First of all, I'd only just recently made peace with my alliterative full name in the first place when I decided to get married.  I used to think it was super cheeseball, and I disliked that people asked me, my whole life, whether my middle name also started with a "K," as if that were such a funny joke :P

But I really didn't think ahead to all the implications of changing my name.  First of all, I only appreciated in hindsight how nicely the alliterative Kisa Konrad had rolled off my tongue.  Because my married name started with an "A," I always had to make a pregnant pause between first and last names when introducing myself as a married woman just so people would be able to understand what I was saying (I'm super shy about using my first and last name when introducing myself anyway--I don't know why...I just feel so cheesy, as if I'm this important person and you have to know my full name.  Then again it's equally goofy to just say my first name, as if I'm, you know, Cher or Charo or something).  All the way around it was just uncomfortable.

But I think the aspect of the name change I really didn't consider was what a strong identifier it would be--and identifying me in a category to which I didn't truly belong.  Having a Muslim married name, I was often positively reacted to by Muslims, especially when my work name tag contained both my first and last names.  Muslim people would enthusiastically ask me where I was from and want to make conversation.  The thing was that I'm not Muslim and never was.  When those same customers asked me about my faith and I shared honestly that I hadn't converted to Islam but had simply taken the Muslim name of my then-husband, the conversation would take a marked downward dive--the conversational equivalent of a wah wah waaaaaaahhh.

Apart from my own situation, I wonder whether or not many men stop to consider what a big transition it is for a woman to change her name.  Some women probably don't find it to be so.  And like I said, I was eager and happy to do it myself.  But in the aftermath, I couldn't help but feel that a little part of me had died when I did so.  And maybe a little part of me had.  The me that was single was gone, and--it would seem--my youth along with it.  Maybe it isn't such a bad thing that women, if they so choose, have this very concrete symbol of the transition into married life; everything can be thought of in terms of the person you were before marriage and the person you were after (literally, the name on the outside of the envelops you receive and which aim to identify YOU, changes).  But I think that if I'd known how much of me would come to slip away in the years following that seemingly minor and very common change of last name, I might have held a little more tightly to Konrad.  I might have put up more of a fight before I let go the version of myself I'd spent 27 years cultivating.

Today's New Activity: Maiden Name Reclamation

As of this morning, by virtue of the powers vested in the Social Security Administration, and for the foreseeable future, my name is Kisa Konrad, and I'm happy to be back.


The GGA Project -- Day #358 "Check, Check 1"

I've known for some time that, despite the unpleasantries of divorce, I would not let my heart become cold and hardened in the way that I think I feared at the outset (allowing for vulnerability would mean allowing for the prospect of future pain, after all).  By Valentine's Day of this year, I was pretty sure the soft squishies of my insides were still in tact, though the theory was yet to be tested.

Today's New Activity: Heart Functionality Test

Today I had a conversation with a friend that allowed me to try that theory out.  It's a conversation we've had before.  In fact it's a conversation we never really stopped having.  But I don't think the previous conversations really touched me on the level today's did.  Today's conversation forced me to check in with my feelings and see that--whoah!--they were doing their feeling thing.  They were doing it for real.

It was so nice to know.

I've always had a certain kind of appreciation for pain.  Not in an S&M kind of way.  It's just been a recognition that life's highs wouldn't even be measurable as such without life's lows.  People feel out-of-sync during depressive episodes because they know what it is to feel elevated.  People cry at funerals because the loss of a loved one brings to mind the happiness their presence brought.  Duh.  These are the big, obvious examples.

But it is also worth remembering, for me, that one has absolutely no chance of experiencing the fullness of friendship's potential joy without opening one's heart to good, close friendship's potential pain.  Or maybe I should say that the other way around.  Either way the effect is the same.  When you care about a person--when you decide that you really care about a person, it's the equivalent of signing a waiver that says you know what you're getting into, and what you are getting into might, on some future date, cause you to hurt.

And "some future date" was today for me.  But not in a terrible way.  In the best possible way.  In the way that told me: Hey!  Lookit that!  You're feeling!  You're alive.  And it's not that I've never done that before.  It's that despite the instinct I might have had to go into a protective mode with my heart in the wake of my divorce, I have decided--on an emotional level (as opposed to the theoretical way I recognized it last Valentine's Day)--that I'll take life's potential pain over its potential pain-free emptiness any day.  Every day.

What a gift.


The GGA Project -- Day #357 "Sweet Accompaniment"

Tonight was my company's holiday dinner at Maggiano's (which, if you'll remember, was where I was just shy of a year ago, when I decided to start the GGA, or Great Gnocchi Awakening Project).  The dinner isn't always held at Maggiano's, but it went off so well last year as planned by one of my coworkers at my old branch that when my boss asked me to plan this year's dinner for this branch, Maggiano's seemed a good bed.

The upcoming dinner and the thought of getting dressy for it was what prompted the Biggest Loser Challenge we started a month ago.  Yeah...that didn't go so well.  The only person who lost more than a pound was my coworker Elias, who lost 17 of them!!  That's pretty awesome for one month's work.  The rest of us, sadly to say, actually gained about a pound each, hahaha.  My boss suggested that had we not been doing the challenge, the damage might have been worse over the Thanksgiving holiday, and that's probably true.  So I guess it's a success of sorts, especially for Elias, whose wife is pregnant and who wanted to get a little healthier in advance of his first child's arrival.

Anyway, weight loss or no, the talk around work over the past few days was about what we were all gonna wear.  The women were exited to dress up, and the guys went along with it.  Being a little spiffed up and all, I thought that--in ordering a drink with dinner--I should forego the very blue collar option of beer, which is pretty much the only alcohol I care to consume these days, aside from the occasional glass of wine, and go with a more, well, girly option.

Today's New Activity: Lemon Drop!

I didn't even know what a Lemon Drop was.  I'd just heard of it, and I must have seen somebody order it once because I knew there was sugar around the rim.  It looks like this (yanked this image off Google):

And it tastes just exactly how you'd expect something called a Lemon Drop with a sugary rim to taste.  Yummy.  Oh so girly.  It was fitting.

The dinner was a little awkward at the outset, since they put us in a room in the back and we were missing the (for me) welcome distraction of other people to watch and conversation to overhear.  But once the food started coming everyone loosened up a bit.  Mostly, it was just nice to be with coworkers and not have to be wearing our ill-fitting, synthetic material uniforms for once :)


The GGA Project -- Day #356 "Pretty Sure This Whole Project Was Leading to This..."

Stanley Turrentine came, I missed that series of shows, and then he died.

Dave Brubeck has come and gone 10 times since I moved to the Bay Area, and I missed all of those shows, too.  

In fact, most every living jazz great who still plays has been to this place I've been trying to visit since moving to the Bay Area, and I've missed them all.  So I knew there was NO WAY I was letting this project end without experiencing

Today's New Activity: Yoshi's!!!!!!

If you know me even a little, you probably know that I like jazz, and that I especially like hearing it live.  But somehow I've just never made the concerted effort to get to Yoshi's.  First of all, it's kind of pricey--for a student's budget anyway.  So there were a number of years when it just wasn't feasible.  And then it was.  But it just kind of dropped off my radar for a while, and when it would come to mind....I don't know.  The bottom line is that I just didn't get there.

A few weeks ago I even got really close.  I found myself across the street from the original, more well-known Oakland location when my friend Neal and I checked out Jack London Square.  This time around I grabbed Neal again and headed to the newer location in San Francisco, namely because the project was almost over and--of the upcoming performers--the one playing tonight in SF was the one I most wanted to see.

I really, really, really wish I had both better pictures and some accompanying audio for this post, but all I had with me was my phone camera, and audio was, of course, discouraged (in fact, we witnessed what happens when somebody breaks that rule.  A guy down below in the crowd flashes his flashlight at the perp and makes the hand-to-the-throat, slashing motion.  Ooooooooooh).

Lookit that.  A boda fide jazz club, replete with two-top bistro tables, an amazing sound system, and just enough room cleared of tables for the feelin'-it couples there tonight to dance their asses off to Eddie Palmieri's salsa orchestra.  What energy (not so much from Eddie himself, who was celebrating his 75th birthday(!)--though one thing I do love about jazz musicians is that they just keep right on grooving into old age)!

I loved the moments when the musicians just kind of worked up into a frenzy, the pure joy coming through in their smiles.  And--as always when I listen to jazz--I spent a nice moment remembering my grandfather, who introduced me to the genre in the first place.  It was also really nice to sense Neal, who's a bit new to jazz/salsa at this point, feeling the groove too.

Though there's a week and a half left of my project, I can honestly say that my mission here has been accomplished.  Not because of today's activity alone, but because I can say with confidence that the year of reaching into new, unfamiliar realms has somehow led me right back to myself...to me...the version I always liked best and knew was still in there somewhere.  It seems a bit paradoxical, but it's true.

Tonight I will sleep well, and in a new kind of peace....


The GGA Project -- Day #355 "Bottom of the Barrel..."

Okay.  You know you're 355 days into an EVERYday for 365 days project when the best you can come up with is

Today's New Activity: Ridiculous Mouth-Washing Experience

So I wanted to try out the new Listerine whitening mouthwash.  And so I did.  But I'm not sure I'd advise it.

Here's the thing: it contains hydrogen peroxide.  Did you even know you could put that in your mouth?  I didn't.  Anyway, you have to swish it around for a whole minute while it burns and burns the insides of your mouth.

And THEN, you wake up the next morning with the inner lining of your cheeks sloughing off.  What the hell is THAT?!  Could this really be a safe, good idea?


The GGA Project -- Day #354 "Suck it UP"

A few months back I mentioned doing a Facebook friend sweep, unfriending the people with whom I'd had no actual contact since accepting or sending a friend request.  I did this, mainly, because I tend to share a fair amount on the site, and I felt it was disingenuous of me to have "friends" know things about me that I wouldn't share with them should I see them in person, which would never happen as it would with a real friend.  I suspect most of the people didn't even notice the unfriending, which is better, since I didn't mean to be hurtful...I just didn't want to be phony.

Fast forward to a few weeks ago, when a very generous and kind, supportive action on the part of one of these recently unfriended friends--coming as a total surprise--caused me a bit of sweeper's remorse.

Today's New Activity: Tail-Between-the-Legs 2nd Request

I was touched by and grateful for my friend's outreaching, and though I suspected he never noticed we weren't still "friends" (the thing he did happened via a mutual friend's Facebook account), I wanted to reach back.  The problem is, when you unfriend somebody on Facebook, you can't just decide you're friends again.  You have to send a new request.  And I thought that was a perfect opportunity for me to write a message to reconnect, catch up, and explain why I'd unfriended in the first place.  Because with this particular friend, it was more than just lack of contact...I'd convinced myself that he didn't want to associate with me, even though there was nothing about him that should have caused me to imagine that.

Perfect opportunity for a little honest sharing and clearing of the air.  It turns out there was nothing of the sort going on.  And you know what?  I've found there almost never is (because the past year has found me checking in with a few different people whom I'd made assumptions about or who I'd thought were judging me)!  And even in the cases where there is, I've finally realized how much better it is to just suck it up and have a somewhat uncomfortable conversation and KNOW (even if there is some actual air clearing to be done) than to sit and wonder and imagine things in your mind.

Learning, learning, learning...


The GGA Project -- Day #353 "On Traveling Light"

Forever I went through life with the tiniest of purses.  And I loved the lightness that afforded me, especially in places like the salsa stage at the San Jose Jazz Festival, where I could dance to my heart's content with absolute freedom of mobility, my tiny purse no more than a nod in the direction of attachment to belongings.

So how on earth did I get to this point?

Okay, wait a sec...I can do it nicer than that:

Yes, people.  ALL that junk was in my purse.

For the record:

1 each--wallet, phone charger, laptop power cord, camera with case and USB cord, phone, lotion, deodorant, bottle of ibuprofen, Visine, hair tie, package of Kleenex, name tag, powder compact, lipstick tube, lipgloss tube, chapstick-like tube, mirror compact, box of mints, package of oil absorbing sheets for the face, coin purse, USB stick, grandmother's rosary, small notebook, checking account register, savings account register

2 each--dead batteries, earrings, eyeliners, sanitizer bottles, essential oils, packages of gum, loose mints, napkins, business cards, events fliers, sets of keys (personal and work), checkbooks

3 each--"feminine hygiene" products--hate that term!

4 each--ticket stubs, crayons

5 each--pens, receipts

10 each--jelly beans

Holy Shit!!

So why do I have dead batteries even though I've already matched them and bought their replacements?  Why do I have a savings account register when I have no savings account?  How did I end up with two eyeliners in my purse when I have never, ever even once applied eyeliner after leaving the house?  Why can't I find a pen when I need one although I apparently have 5 of them on my person at all times?  Why do I need a mirror when there's one in my powder compact?  How did I not even know I HAD a mirror in my purse?

The answer is the same to all of the above questions: I just have too much crap in there.  I started buying purses bigger a few years back and simply grew into them.  I used to use the excuse that I had a mom purse, back when I carried all of Kalil's diapers in there, as well as the things I kept on hand to keep him entertained.  But the only thing left of that nature is the little box of crayons I got from a restaurant.  And what good does that do if I can't even find it in the event of a True Crayon Emergency (that's a thing right?)?

I've been meaning to do this for a week.  But any sane mother knows you don't dump out the contents of your junked-up purse when there's a toddler around.  So in the wee, quiet hours of this morning, still somehow wired from a decaf Americano, I took on

Today's New Activity: Purse Down-Sizing

The thing is, I LOVE to travel lightly.  I used to be firmly committed to the idea.  But I think it's much harder to let go of things than it is to accept them into your life.  That goes for all things, not just the crap to be found at the bottom of my purse.  But what a wonderful exercise in cleansing and making room and clearing the space in my head (starting, YES, with my purse) for all the thinking and doing yet to come.

First, I whittled it down to absolute necessities:

Essential oils not so essential are ya?  Yes, the camera gets to stay.  Yes, lipgloss falls into the "necessity" category.

Then I opened it up to the not-necessary-but-nice-to-have:

I could fit the USB stick into a smaller container than that giant Babushka coin purse (when did a USB stick become so important to me?), but I don't have one at the moment.  Which brings up another thing: I somehow got rid of all the small purses in my life except for the nice clutches I take for dress-up events.  This is NOT an excuse to go shopping--just an acknowledgement that I'll have to take extra precautions to avoid filling up my big ole purse again.

Eh, maybe it's best to go shopping.

No.  No!  If there's one thing sticking to this project has finally drilled into me, it's discipline.  Stay strong...


The GGA Project -- Day #352 "Serious Business Happening Here...."

I'm just now beginning to realize how much I'm like my Dad.  Sometimes it trips me out--now, in my adulthood-- to see my parents up close after living states away from them for over a decade.  To really see how they are outside of how they are as my parents is at once fascinating and a little freaky.  That I'm so much like both of them (in different ways) says a lot about both/either the power of the nature argument (I'm so much like them even though we've been apart for so long) and the nurture argument (what I learned from them at a young age about how to be in the world stuck hard through my late teens, 20's, and early 30's, even though they were far away).

Anyway, the point is that I have a lot of things in common with my Pa.  But taste in reading material is not one of them.  Mostly, my Dad reads books from the business/management section of the bookstore.  Mostly, I'd rather chew on rusty nails (a lil Tapatio and we're good!)

So I probably cringed ever-so-slightly when, after Thanksgiving dinner, my Dad busted out a copy each for my bro and me of a book he'd read recently and which he thought we both might find beneficial.  It's just the same knee-jerk reaction I have to EVERY business book, though.  It wasn't that I didn't appreciate the gesture or trust him.  I was actually pretty excited to check out a book that my Dad thought I would like.  I feel like--now that he knows me better as I am in my adulthood--it would probably get to me on some level and in a positive way.

Today's New Activity: Business Book Reading on the Pop's Recommendation

I've only read the introduction so far, but I can see that it'll hold my interest just by the things the author promises NOT to do, which are all the things that put me off about the thought of business how-to books in the first place.  I'm looking forward to discovering what I can learn from it...

Total, off-the-subject sidenote.  Jeez Louise am I grateful for today, even with the emotional ups and downs the afternoon brought.  Outlook: hopeful, strong, unflinching, joyful, alive.

And as an off-the-subject sidenote to THAT sidenote: last night I chanced upon a blog I wrote a number of years ago that I'd forgotten, but which I found incredibly relevant today.  "Deathbed Therapy," it seems to me, might be worth revisiting about now...Though I do feel I've lived the past year in a way that I won't ever regret, I see that there is plenty of room for improvement in that area.

As far as we know, we only get one shot at this, folks--this life thing.  I hope you're living in a way that makes you feel fulfilled, peaceful, and proud when you go to sleep each night.  I'm working on it myself....


The GGA Project -- Day #351 "You Exit Halfway Across the Bridge..."

I'm not sure where I first heard about it a few months back, but

Today's New Activity: Treasure Hunting at Treasure Island Flea

has been on my to-do list for about 3 months now.

Here's the problem, Treasure Island Flea only happens once per month.  So having my schedule clear to attend any of the summer markets proved an impossibility.  And I'd actually been under the impression that it was just a summer thing that would be over by September, so I was pleasantly surprised to not only discover that it'd be around for the foreseeable future, but that there were free admission tickets floating around.  So then...

First of all, if you've never been to Treasure Island (and provided you live in the area), you should really check it out.  It's much bigger than it seems from the Bay Bridge you take to travel through it, and the views of The City from there are just beautiful.

The first thing I noticed approaching the flea market was a huge statue of sorts that had apparently been taken from a Burning Man a couple of years back.  Bliss Dance, as it's called, is 40 feet and 7,000 steel pounds of pure beauty, which--in the words of the artist, Marco Cochrane's words--"celebrates humanity, and in particular the feminine beauty, power and strength that emerges when women are safe, and free to be themselves."  I LOVE that.  This piece was quite the draw, dozens of people swarming around and taking photos from every angle, just as I was.  But anyway, that wasn't part of the flea market, just an unexpected icing on the cake.

I'm not sure who took in this scene and thought 'a flea market needs to happen here!!!,' but I'm glad for it.  It was a great environment, and great weather, in which to treasure hunt!

I didn't take many pictures of the offerings at all, just because I didn't think about it when viewing the most captivating things for sale, but there was a good variety.  There were antiques,

and whimsical who-knows-whats,

and world market-type goods,

and plants

and even, apparently, tarot card readings

There were artists selling prints and textiles and jewelry, and a lot of venders selling vintage clothing.  What was great about the clothing and antique vendors is that they didn't just bring a whole lot of junk.  It was like somebody had done all the dirty work of picking through the Goodwills and Savers of the world and brought along only the best stuff.  And what was really great was that the prices were very reasonable: more like a garage sale than an antique store or vintage consignment shop.

There was a great reggae band called Counter Culture (and I'm pretty picky about reggae, so when I say great, I really mean it.  If you follow that link, check out their song "Peace." I loved it!) there for entertainment. 

I had to drag Kalil away from that scene.  He listened for quite some time before standing up and dancing around like crazy for a few songs.  I love to watch him feeling all different kinds of music :)

I did a bit of Santa Claus-related work.  And then I picked up a cute little wall-hanging cabinet with hooks that I have big (new project, once this current project ends) plans for.  Seven bucks!  Not bad at all.

So the Treasure Island Flea is taking a break for December but will be back in January and indoors (still on Treasure Island obviously, but building to-be-determined) for a few months.  I can't wait to go back.  And I'm dragging all my treasure hunt-lovin' friends with me next time!!