The Journey

Tears of golden glass. A sunset refracted through crying eyes. Fear and sadness are siblings. They prey on anxiety and desire.

It will never happen. You have lost before you started. You will never see the fruition of your efforts, feel the success of your calling. It is all stillborn. So why try?

Why try? Because there is no other path, no other choice. To be myself – to truly inhabit this body and this brain and this heart, to truly honor this life – the only choice is forward… even if it is leads to failure.

The Journey The Journey The Journey The Journey The Journey The Journey The Journey The Journey

It is impossible to fail because the purpose is The Journey, to acknowledge and experience and feel The Journey, wherever it may lead and whatever it may bring.

So you are incapable of failing – not ever, not truly.

We are the Reason Why

Life is Mystery. We may think that it is math and physics, hard and immovable, but in fact it is poetry and song, liquid and dynamic. Life is the living, breathing water in which we swim. Even just a single strand of our hair reflects all the shimmering colors of the rainbow as it flows through the living water.

But we don’t know this. We can’t see it. In sadness and confusion, we seek out a wise sage on top of a high mountain and ask, “Where is the beauty? Where is the joy?” And she answers, “You are the beauty. You are swimming in the joy. You cannot see it because it is everywhere. You are a fish asking ‘Where is the water?’ You are a bird asking ‘Where is the air?’ You are a dancer moving gracefully across the stage, twirling and leaping with each step and asking, ‘When will I begin my dance?’”

“I do not feel joyful or beautiful,” we reply.

“That’s because you have defined joy and beauty very rigidly. You expect it to a look a very specific way or feel a very specific way. Let go of your illusions of joy and beauty and discover joy and beauty, live joy and beauty. Let it unfold in you. Let it be you,” she replies.

And this makes sense to us and we can feel it, and so happily, we descend the mountain. But then we forget again. It evaporates like the mist of the dawn giving way to the noonday sun. We forget that we are not only dancing, but that we are the dance. We are both verb and noun. We are the reason why.

The Excitement of the New Year

It’s the New Year which is my favorite holiday. The New Year brings excitement and hope, and, most importantly, action! We act upon our feelings of hope and desire. “This is the year that I’m going to get healthy!” “This is the year that I’m going to start my own business!” “This is the year that I’m going to write my novel!”

Unfortunately, the fire that fuels us at the New Year will die down to an ember and will no longer push us forward to our goals after a few weeks. We must find other ways to motivate ourselves, and we only have a few weeks to put those other motivators into place before the New Year’s magic disappears and we lose its power.

I’m going to share with you the two things that help me stay motivated as the excitement of the New Year grows stale, and we have to find that impulse deep within ourselves to keep going.

First, have an achievable plan in place. The key word absolutely is “achievable.” Our immediate desire almost always outstrips our abilities. We want to be fit now! We want to be an accomplished artist now! We want a successful business now!

We want to skip the journey and get straight to the result. We believe, falsely, that the result will make everything perfect. Once we are a certain weight or make a certain income or can perform a certain feat, then we will be worthy. Everything will finally be okay, and we can quit hurting, feeling less than.

But nothing exterior to you will ever make you feel worthy. If you were magically transported to your goal weight, you would still hurt. You would still feel less than.

The journey is the key. The journey transforms you. You learn and grow and become. You’re not the same person at the end that you were when you started. So when you’re finally healthy at whatever weight that may be, it’s not the way you look in the mirror that makes you feel worthy; it’s everything that you learned and experienced – your internal transformation, not external – that makes you feel worthy.

The journey is hard and long. And it starts with an achievable plan that takes into account “failure.” You’re going to fail. You’re going to make mistakes and wrong turns. You’re going to be thrown curve balls by life. Course correct and keep going.

I have found that most goals are actually built upon habits. Do you want to get healthy? Get into the habit of exercising and eating well. Do you want to be an artist? Get into the habit of drawing everyday.

And this is where your achievable plan begins: work on one small habit at a time and use a trigger. And be consistent – practice drawing the same time everyday or in the same place everyday.

One small habit. One. Small. Consistent. Move slowly and change slowly. Live your journey and inhabit your story.

The second thing that helps me is to stay positive. The negative self talk in my head can be debilitating. To combat this tendency, I listen to uplifting YouTubers. I have uplifting quotes littered around my house and placed all through my planner. I listen to positive music. I try to be a positive person, complimenting and saying kind things to others. All of these practices set up a feedback loop that keeps me from spiraling into a negative headspace.

Stay positive. It’s how you win.

Good luck. And Happy New Year!! May 2019 be wonderful!

Guns in my children’s middle school

My family had a terrible day – a day filled with fear, anger and hopelessness.

It started for me at 11:36am when I received the following texts from my 13-year-old daughter, Lily.

As parents, we are plagued by nightmares – our children drowning while unattended, our children getting abducted, our children getting involved in drugs…

Our children having an active shooter at their school.

My heart began to pound. I started shaking. I texted her back.

As I called my husband, she continued to text.

By this point, I’m crying as well as shaking. My husband and I have a rule in place because, as a manager, he attends a lot of meetings. If I call three times in a row, it’s an emergency. I’ve called him twice now. I quickly text my daughter back.

As I’m calling my husband the third time, she texts:

My husband picks up. Our conversation is brief. Through sobs, I tell him, “There’s a shooter at Lily’s school!”

“What?!” His reaction is immediate.

“She says she’s safe. She says there are sheriffs with rifles in the hall.”

“I’m leaving now!”

“I’ll meet you at the school,” I reply and we hang up.

I text my daughter as I’m looking for my keys and shoes.

By 11:44am, just as I’m getting in my car, she texts:

On the way to the school, I phone my husband. I give him the update from our daughter, but we don’t know where our son, Damian, is or how he’s doing. Lily’s in 8th grade and Damian’s in 6th grade, and they both attend Murchison Middle School in Austin, Texas. We hang up so he can phone our son.

When I get to the school, there are parents waiting outside the school. I find my husband, and he says that Damian in not answering his phone or his texts. The bell rings and kids begin to pour between the portables outside and the classrooms inside. My husband and I don’t wait with the parents outside the building; we decide to go in. Inside, there are even more parents standing outside the administrative office.

The noise and chaos is loud and everywhere. The kids are all talking to each other and hugging each other. My daughter and her friends find us and we have a massive family hug, but we can’t get into the office to find my son. The office is still locked with all of the lights inside turned off. We see the people through the glass door stuck on the other side. My daughter starts telling us what happened and how scary it was.

“I was in lunch and there were like 100 kids. And they were yelling at us to get behind the stage. They kept yelling, ‘It’s not a drill! It’s not a drill!'”

Finally, the office opens and the parents stream in. There is little girl there with her mom – she’s so small that I’m sure that she’s a 6th grader – and her eyes are all puffy and red and fear is still on her face as her mom hugs her. I have to wait in line, and when it’s my turn, the administrator herself has to go get my son because they are so overwhelmed with parents. Only a few student office helpers are there, and they have all already been sent off to fetch other students out of classes.

Everyone is fine. No one was hurt. And when we finally get home, the following email has been sent by the principal, Brad Clark, to all the parents:

——-

Matadors,

All students and staff at Murchison Middle School are safe, and we are operating under normal procedures. Here is a summary of today’s event:

At approximately 11:15 a.m. we received a report that a man in plain clothes wearing a firearm was walking in our building. I immediately placed the building on lock down. Students and staff followed lock down procedures. AISDPD and APD officers arrived immediately to ensure the safety of all students and staff. Through the course of their investigation, it was determined that there was a man in plain clothes wearing a firearm in our building. They confirmed that he is a Murchison parent who was here on unofficial business to attend a parent-teacher conference and that he had checked in properly at the front desk but that neither me, security, nor our school resource officer was made aware of the the presence of a legally armed person in our building. We are working on a system to notify all necessary personnel in the event of a legally armed visitor to Murchison Middle School.

Please know that we responded well to the incident and that all lock down systems worked.

Teachers have been instructed to allow students to see their counselor if they feel the need.

I will re-send my REMIND link to you all with instructions for signing up to receive real-time updates.

Thank you for your understanding.

Sincerely,

Brad Clark, Principal

——-

For my husband and I, the adrenaline running through our bodies immediately turned from fear to boiling anger! A parent?! A “legally armed” parent was allowed into the school with a gun?! And not only that, but they were going to continue to allow “legally armed person[s]” in the school with guns?! Seventeen percent of Texas schools allow staff and/or board members to carry guns on to school property. At no point in the email did the principal reassure us that guns are not allowed in the school. No. He told us that they were going to put a better procedure into place to allow “legally armed person[s]” into the school with guns.

Principal Clark sent a follow-up email later that evening as his first email had created confusion. It was a much longer email and included the following paragraph:

——-

Understanding that many parents were learning of the incident from their children’s text messages, I felt an urgency to notify the community that we were safe and to provide a cursory explanation of the incident, which I did. In my initial email, however, I referred to the man only as “a legally armed person in our building,” rather than as a law enforcement officer in plain clothes. This omission was due to my uncertainty as to which branch of law enforcement the man works – police, constable, probation, parole, etc. and my desire to provide you with a clearer explanation; however, I sent it before learning the information. This unintended omission confused some people and caused concerns about who can legally carry a firearm in a school. Please know that only a “law enforcement officer” can legally carry a firearm in a school.

You have my sincerest apologies for this omission. It was made in my intent to get the message out to you as soon as possible.

——-

Though I was relieved to know that parents in general were not allowed to bring guns into the school, this second email did little to stop my anger. In our national discourse, we’re having the ridiculous debate as to whether teachers and staff should be armed. I can now tell you that after today’s events at my children’s school, I know beyond the shadow of a doubt that I do not want the teachers and staff armed. There is no debate for me. I do not want adults routinely walking around my children with guns, not even off-duty police officers.

The NRA, politicians and pro-gun advocates have forced guns in the school with my children regardless of my feelings or views on the matter. My children had a man – a man that I know nothing about – walking around their school with a gun today. The terror that I felt, that my husband felt, that other parents felt, that my children and every other child in Murchison Middle School felt meant nothing. This story was barely reported on.

And that is when the hopelessness settled in. No matter what we say, no matter how many children and adults are killed by mass shootings, no matter how much fear and pain we feel as American citizens, it never changes. Year after year, child after child, life after life violently destroyed, it never changes. Our politicians will not change the gun laws.

This is my tiny voice. It’s so small. In the vastness of this world, among the masses of people, my voice is so small. But I have to try. We have to try, don’t we?

We have to keep yelling. “We want gun control!” Louder and louder and louder. WE WANT GUN CONTROL!

All of us, together, our tiny voices becoming powerful and one in unison. WE WANT GUN CONTROL! So loud that the roof of heaven can feel our pain and our resolve and our hope for our nation and our children.

WE WANT GUN CONTROL!

Awake

You will die. As surely as you are breathing now, you will die. This life is as fleeting and as magical as your first kiss. And therefore, don’t waste it.

I’m telling you this as I tell myself this. I’m being your cheerleader as I encourage myself to live out loud, to dance with every movement, to wake up. I’ve been sleeping too long, living in the darkness of fear and fantasies. My body, having been ignored as I slept and dreamed of other worlds, has dulled from years of indifference.

But I’m awake now. I see the magic. I don’t know where this path will lead, but I don’t want to sleep anymore.

The Forest of Imagination

There were three lost children. Each child thought she knew the correct way forward and that the other two were hopelessly lost. But, truthfully, they all three were lost, each in a forest of their own making. Each forest was unique with its own terrible and fearsome trees, and each forest was borne into reality from the imagination of each child.

This story is about the middle child and her forest. Running and hiding and clawing her way among the dense trees of her forest, she couldn’t see that she already was where she desperately wanted to be. The trees looked frightening and threatening. If she had been able to see with clear eyes, eyes not distorted by fear and loneliness, she would have seen that the forest was indeed her forest, welcoming and magical. She had brought all the fear and anger and helplessness with her and had painted it over the top of the trees like a canvas covering a rainbow.

“How do I let go of the fear and hopelessness?” she asked the trees with desperation coloring her words.

“You simply believe that it’s true — it’s all true. Believe in your power and our power and the power of all creation. Let go of the fear, and trust in magic and hope and love.” The trees swayed in the wind and spoke to her softly. Their words were songs of comfort that soothed the fire burning in her brain and heart.

“Trust,” they repeated. “Let the magic happen. Quiet your brain and calm your heart and allow the magic to happen. It’s been inside of you the whole time, waiting for your sunshine. So quit running and searching, and shine.”

Leap of Faith

Today I looked on Google Analytics to see how many people visit Benign Chaos.

None. Not even one.

Twice before I have built up a website audience of about 200: once with manga translation links back in the 90s when I was in college and more recently with diyplanner.com planner printables, so I know it can be done. But it still felt like a hard slap across the face and a punch to the gut (yes, it felt like both of those things at once). And I thought in despair, “How am I going to do this? I don’t exist. I spend every day working, but my talent and light are hidden in the vast noise of the internet.”

And of course, the only answer is “Have faith.” It’s always the answer given to every artist as they slam up against the inevitable question, “Why the fuck am I doing this? My voice is swallowed by the expanse of our population, by the magnitude of our existence.”

Why the fuck am I doing this?

Because it’s who I am and I actually have no choice in the matter.

Acceptance

Yesterday, I sent my manuscript off to yet another publisher. It took me four hours to do one hour’s worth of work as I wrote my cover letter and prepared the pdf of my manuscript. The emotions were crushing me and slowing down my work.

And when it was done, I cried. I cried, on and off, for two hours. Art is not a birthing process; it is the careful packaging of a part of your soul and setting it free into the world for others to experience. An artist and her art are not separate; each is the living, breathing counterpart to the other.

I had emailed a part of my soul to yet another publisher knowing full well that it will most likely be rejected. I had taken part, as I pressed the Send button, in the demise of my childhood and lifelong dream of being a published author.

And as I cried with the depths of a barren woman, feeling my dream burn into nothing around me, I realized something: I am only a writer. When you strip away the dream and ask, “Well, if you can’t write, what will you do?” there is nothing there. I have other things that I enjoy such as music, but I am only a writer. There is no fall back. If I can’t write — if I don’t write — then I am genuinely not fully alive.

So standing there, holding the husk of my dream and my cheeks still wet with my tears, I made a decision. I will write. I will write until I die. I will write until all my words have blown away into the winds of time and I’m not even a memory in the minds of my great grandchildren. I will write because that is all I am, and if no one can hear me and the universe swallows my voice, then so be it.

And when the time comes for me to draw my last breath, I will die happy because I will have lived as a writer.

A Girl and her Heroine

I have a confession to make: I don’t just eat sugar; I make love to sugar. Like an adored mistress, I meet sugar throughout the day – much more often than is socially or healthfully acceptable – at various hideaways and make slow oral love to her.

It’s a passionate love affair that I have actively maintained my whole life and have never been able to give up. Whenever my poor, abused body comes forward to beg for fruits or vegetables, I patiently listen to the plea, and then try to imagine my world without sugar. But, for me, a world without sugar would be like a world without the sun.

But perhaps that analogy is wrong. Perhaps, a world without sugar would not be a world without the sun but rather, a world without heroine. Perhaps sugar is not life-giving but life-draining. Perhaps, for all its delicious high, sugar may actually be making my life worse… much worse. And it’s time to put the needle away and go through the withdrawal symptoms to get to the other – much more healthy – side.

But, as any addict will tell you, that is much easier said than done. Giving up an addiction is probably one of the hardest things to accomplish in life. It takes industrial-strength willpower applied over a lengthy period of time. The cravings eat at your mind, preying on your weakest moments and habitual inclinations. Your internal dialogue becomes reduced down to the single thought of your dependence, a repetitive monologue centered around your intense, all-consuming hunger.

But I have decided to enter the belly of the beast. My heroic journey does not involve conquering monsters or armies. I won’t face demons or Herculean myths. No, my heroic journey – the journey which angels will write books about – is simply (if such a word can be applied) to overcome my addiction. My heroic journey is entirely inward, to face the demon inside.

Faith in Darkness is Light, reprised

Light my path to help me see.
Touch my heart to help me believe.
Catch my tears to help me heal.
I’m lost in the sea
of opportunity and fear.
And I seem alone
though I know I am not.
And I feel alone
though I know I am not.
I do not understand the language of angels.
Faith in darkness is light.