Physical Struggles are not all Bad

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"Broken" 11x14 mixed media (SOLD); prints available.

“Broken” 11×14 mixed media (SOLD); prints available.

Yeah, I’m slowly getting better after having surgery, but I’ve gotten way behind on my blogs and my artwork. My house is in a sad state of affairs because I can’t lift, bend, or even bathe yet. Had the staples taken out yesterday, and now another five days of showers only.

But what’s the alternative? Have surgery or continue feeling crappy because I was too busy to have my stone-filled diseased gall bladder removed? I do know that in a few short weeks, I’ll start reaping the benefits of the surgery and catch up with my other responsibilities. There’s one thing about work. It usually waits for you.

I’ll take a physical struggle any day over one that you can’t see. I learned this from experience. During a difficult marriage I felt like Don Quixote fighting windmills and imaginary demons. One day when we had a deluge of water from a downpour, our basement windows filled with water. The whole family was outside with buckets scooping water out and away from the house.

"Tickles from God" acrylic on canvas

“Tickles from God” acrylic on canvas

While bailing, I felt exhilarated. Here was an enemy I could actually see and I was doing everything in my power to defeat it. Every muscle in my body was engaged. Our family was working as a team. My husband and I were finally on the same side, fighting an enemy that was real. We were drenched when it was over, and we hadn’t succeeded in saving our basement carpet, but we were united around a common purpose.

The struggle invigorated me because:

  1. I had the tools,
  2. I knew what I was up against, and
  3. The outcome didn’t really matter because we all did the best that we could and we did it together.

I’ve had many challenges in my life, but most of them I worked on alone, and I was the benefactor of my efforts. The kitchen floor of our first tiny home was covered with black tiles that were so thickly coated with wax that every scratch and scuff showed. I made it a goal to restore its former beauty.

Each day I’d razor blade one or two tiles, three if my two babies were good. I kept at it doggedly. I made a decision that I didn’t care how long it took. I was more concerned about sticking to my goal and completing the task I had committed to.

"Looking Outward" (old window frame); acrylic on glass/canvas

“Looking Outward” (old window frame); acrylic on glass/canvas

Six months later the floor was done! I cleaned it and gave it a slight sheen. They looked like brand new tiles. This struggle not only gave me a better looking floor, but a sense of accomplishment. I had completed what I set out to do. I was determined. I knew that if I could do this floor, I could do anything I set my mind to.

In this way, I taught myself how to sew clothes for me and my children, make quilts, sew wall art, crochet, knit, cook, make bread and doughnuts, learn how to can fruits and vegetables, etc.

Over the years I followed this same “modus operandi.” I became tenacious to a fault. Sometimes I’d forge ahead even though it became obvious my efforts weren’t reaping what I’d hoped. Learning how to stop something that isn’t working is just as important as sticking to a goal and seeing it through. Once you determine when a project or a goal must be revisited, analyzed or changed you save valuable time and energy.

Your efforts must be guided and focused. What you learn from your failures and mistakes is just as important as what you glean from your successes. You have to figure out what struggles are worth it and which ones are not.

What if tomorrow never comes and you blew it?

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My summer literally started off with a “bang.”  On vacation, I fell face forward onto a hardwood floor. It literally felt like someone had taken a 2×4, swung it like a bat, and hit me across the face. Free falling onto a hard surface does shake you up.

When I returned from vacation, I had an EGD and another look at my esophagus and stomach. Then a week later, off to the hospital for outpatient arthroscopic surgery to remove my gallbladder. Are we having fun yet?

Obviously, my blogs and artwork have been on hold. But that doesn’t mean that everything else stands still waiting for me to play catch up. Life goes on, spinning slightly out of control as we who are left behind try to keep our balance and maintain some semblance of control.

This is the “stuff” of life that keeps us on our toes and makes us stronger for the road ahead. We are made of human flesh that is subject to accident, disease and illness. Our job is to learn to deal with it. Pain is part of life. One woman captured it beautifully when she said to a group of younger women, “after age 60, it’s just patch, patch, patch.”

God love her! That woman is now me. The clock never stops ticking and the calendar never stops turning. If we’re not careful, we will finish last!

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How many things do you put off until tomorrow thinking you’ll have more time later? Someday, you’ll write that book. You’ll take that painting class. You’ll learn how to play the piano. You’ll go back to school. By the time you get to “someday,” you’re in your forties or fifties and realize that your dreams will never happen because you procrastinated for the wrong reasons. You allowed your priorities to get so screwed up that your life will soon be over and you haven’t even started living yet!

Another thing that may cause us to go awry is word or event association. When my mother and father moved into a new house when I was about 13, they had just painted my bedroom a bright pink thinking I would love it. But “Lo and Behold,” I came down with the flu when we moved in and forever associated pink with nausea and illness.

images (8)Of course, the bedroom didn’t get repainted, but I hated that bedroom and the color pink for years. Only recently have I come to think it’s an okay color; maybe even pretty.

When we associate the things that happen to us with something we dislike it can forever throw us off track. It may not be anyone’s fault, really, but as long as we associate that person with the bad things we remember, any good memories will forever be affected in a negative way.

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A counselor once asked me to think of all the positive things that were going on in my life and write them down on one side of a page, and then write the bad things on the other. Of course, the list on the good side of the page was far longer. This exercise helped me gain a better perspective on what was perceived and what was actual – real versus imagined.

Sometimes our memory can play tricks on us if we dwell too much on the negative elements of a relationship or of our lives. The old fable of “The Tortoise and the Hare” is a good example.

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The race was on. The hare thought he was a cinch to win. Obviously he was faster, smarter, more surefooted than the tortoise. But the turtle had one thing going for him: “tenacity.” He knew where he was going and why, and he was determined to get to his destination.

The hare, on the other hand, was flighty, easily distracted, and arrogant. He also had “friends in high places” who could fudge for him here, and cover up there, and maybe for a few bucks, cover his tracks if he made a few detours or slips.

images (5)The hare had plenty of time. The odds were in his favor. Practice and effort were pointless. It wasn’t a race against time, for heaven’s sake. This was a turtle!

We all know how the story ends. The one with the most stick-to-itiveness won. The racer who never gave in and never caved in crossed the finish line.

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And so will I.  I’ll drag my battle-scarred body and my stapled belly to the computer and plug away, even though I’m in pain. In a few days, I will manage to start painting again. Defeat is not in my vocabulary. I may never excel in ways that I would like, but I’ll “kick butt” as long as I have breath. This, my friends, is how we get through life and still hold our heads up high.

Find your Anchor, believe in yourself and Go!

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Do you long for a constant; something that stays the same and never falters or waivers? Forget about it. Unless you’re talking about God who is omnipotent and eternal, everything else in life is in a state of flux and is ever changing. Without an anchor for your soul, it is easy to flounder.

Other people or circumstances may sabotage your efforts, but most of the time; you are your own worst enemy. And it is fear that goads you. Where does this deep-seated fear come from? Look to your own insecurities. A low self-esteem diminishes trust in yourself and others. Feeling insecure increases your sense of aloneness.

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When you face your demons and doubts head on, that puts you back in the driver’s seat and in control of your present and your future. Live life on your terms not on someone else’s.

If the talents and skills of others intimidate you, compete with yourself instead. Do something better or differently than you did yesterday. Surpass yourself in stamina or creativity. Accomplish a difficult task at long last. Take a different course and see what happens. Surprise yourself in a good way. Stick to a plan and see it through. It’s not a race against the unknown it’s a race against you yourself. What others do doesn’t matter. Beating your own record, now that’s something to smile about.

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I speak from experience. I’ve taught myself many new and unusual skills. My goal has always been to see if I could. Was I capable of learning how to sew, to crochet, to knit, to quilt, to write, to paint, to get paid for what I do? Then I took it a step further. Was I able to interview people, research unknown places and topics and overcome my own fears and insecurity? The answer was yes!

I didn’t do it all at once. I battled one new skill at a time. I discovered what was, for me, lasting, and what was merely a whim. Once I mastered one craft or art, I moved onto the next. Each time I succeeded, I added another notch to my self-esteem belt. I did my homework. I was sometimes still working at my computer until two or three in the morning. I wasn’t competing with anyone else, only me.

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I put myself out there. I dared to think that if someone else could brave the turf, so to speak, why not me? I networked. I made connections. I found myself working as a consultant and being paid to write training and education materials. I used my imagination to craft children’s stories, articles, and educational film scripts. I ventured into illustration and never looked back.

As a commercial once quipped: “I’ve come a long way baby” from the shy backward girl of my youth. I did it by proving to myself first that I could. When rejection came (and still does), I keep on going. If I feel good about what I’ve done and what I’ve created, I figure someone else will, too.

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Some of the very things that were rejected by so-called experts have been the very projects that have sold and appealed to others. What that taught me is to trust my gut and “stick to my guns.” And I’m telling you now, if I can do it, you can, too.