Closer To Fine

How the hell did my life get to this?  I asked myself while lying in bed (alone) last night.

It’s been over three months since I have written any kind of story and I have been working like a dog. This has led me to that nasty place where I start to play the movie of my life in my head over and over and over again and try to figure out where I went wrong.

Could I try to rewind the film and find THE MOMENT where I “chose” the life I am living????

Let’s see……

I am having my 20th class year Optometry reunion this year. I don’t have any regrets about living four years in the beautiful state of Oregon and meeting the people who are still my best friends. We had a blast and the physical landscape of that state remains a part of me. So, that is not the moment. The being an optometrist part has had its ups and downs but I figure that must be the way it is for all occupations. (Please say, “Yes, GGJ that is the way it is for all occupations.”)

After graduation I had to figure out where to live next. That was a real bitch to figure out.   In hindsight, I didn’t really want to leave my friends and the greater Portland area- but almost all of us were leaving- and I was like a little bird who was getting kicked out of the nest.

Optometry at that time was a little backwards and you graduated and then took your last board exams and then you waited all summer to get a license to practice. You then had to go to the individual state you wanted to practice in and take their own test and wait for their results to get a license. What??? This basically means that you have no way to make a living and your student loan payments start coming in… and there were a lot of stressed out optometry graduates.  Medical doctors have long ago figured it out and they basically have one test and if you pass you are in…. you pay the fees and get your license the next day. But, no. Optometrists do it the hard way.

My Mom was a super Mom and helped me drive a U-Haul truck that was leaking oil from Portland to Wisconsin.  Then we went on a road trip to Austin, TX and I took and passed that test. But, I wasn’t sure about TX. I liked Austin a lot. But, it’s really hot there and I am a fair skinned, blue-eyed part Irish gal that would burn to a crisp.  Can you say melanoma?

One of my best friends was living in Winston-Salem, NC and I went out there and took that test. That test was well known for being impossible to pass. They don’t let in a lot of doctors to the great state of NC.  Luckily, I had to bring a “patient” to the test and my girlfriend agreed to be the guinea pig. She just happens to be gorgeous and was wearing a lovely little sundress. The exam building was freezing and she was clearly uncomfortable. The head examination guy took off his crisp, blue blazer and hung it around her shoulders. She wrapped herself up in that jacket and we went from station to station and I examined her eyes….

I was convinced I had failed because the test atmosphere was not exactly warm and fuzzy. I cried a lot and we went to the beach for a few days.  I was a complete train wreck and not an easy person to be with- I owe my friend a vacation (and possibly my NC license- thanks for wearing that dress)!

I drove back to Wisconsin in complete despair, certain that I had failed. I hadn’t failed any tests up to that point so I was freaking out. I waited another six weeks and the letter came….. I opened the letter…. and….. I freakin passed! Yay!  In the coming weeks I got a whole bunch of letters from doctors looking for associate doctors. It was manna from heaven.

I ended up accepting a position in Charlotte, NC.  Is this the moment you ask? No, not this one. But, this one was a test.  You see, I was stupid.  I picked the wrong city in what possibly could have been the right state. I went for the money. I should have either picked the city where I actually had a friend, or the city where I would have like to have lived. Had I chosen Asheville, NC – my life may have been completely different.

North Carolina is a tough state to move to when you have just spent four years in the Pacific Northwest.  North Carolina, and specifically Charlotte, was a banking empire- conservative in all areas of thought/politics/living and was definitely an alien place for this Yankee.

It has its perks though.  Any state that has both mountains and coast is one to be considered as a desirable place to live. I still love Asheville.  I keep my NC license active (just in case) and go to a conference there every once in a while. It’s at the Grove Park Inn which is a place that deserves a drop by if you are ever in the area. The Biltmore is also a fun place to see. It’s like Downton Abbey only in America.

North Carolina was a close call- but not the moment that could have changed my life forever.

I have to go back further.

While an undergraduate at the University of Wisconsin I was a pretty good student.  I could have been a lot better of a student if I actually went to class or studied.  I think we are getting warmer…..

I was such a putz though. No one tells you that when you are 18 years old and have just left your friends and family for the first time that you are on THE PATH for the rest of your life. I really wish someone had told me that and that I would have actually listened.

I lucked out a little bit. Freshmen year I was hanging out with some hippie types. There was a lot of listening to the Grateful Dead -American Beauty CD.  I just happened to be stumbling through a calculus problem not understanding one bit of it when one of my hippie friends sat down and explained the whole thing to me. I learned that one problem.  Lucky for me- that was the problem to solve on the test… and I got a really high score! Yay for me.  Everyone was stunned, including myself.

I was in a jam trying to figure out what my major should be. I always thought I would be a writer. But, then I took a whole bunch of science classes and got good grades. My Mom and Dad really, really, really wanted me to become “something.”  I finally settled on being a History of Science major.  My Dad said, “What do you do with a History of Science major?” and I laughed and said, “Oh Daddy, nothing!”

Not to poo-poo history or science. They are both interesting subjects to learn and to possibly learn from… you know that whole thing about history repeating itself?? We are certainly in an interesting historical/scientific period right this very moment.

Living in Oshkosh is working out in that department. We have a couple of really nice museums here in town. For artsy fartsy stuff the Paine is excellent and the Oshkosh Public Museum has a lot of good traveling exhibits. My favorite is probably the EAA museum. It doesn’t get much cooler than to see the how the invention of flight has changed the world. History of Science, baby.

Many years ago I went to a D-Day talk at the EAA museum. It was a dress up kind of thing where we were supposed to wear period attire.  Looking back at it now, I was border line inappropriate. I went with my now ex-boyfriend/still friend and his Mom. They put together some outfits from his Dad’s gear from WWII and I rented a little blue air force jacket from the crazy lady down the road who does Halloween costumes. I wore the jacket with a blue mini-skirt….definitely NOT up to code. But, my legs were good so it didn’t matter too much. I don’t think I wore anything under the jacket…. Oh my!

As we were leaving a bunch of young active duty soldiers asked me if I would dance “half a dance” with their superior officer (who had a really good outfit).  I said, “Ok.”  We danced half a dance and then he sent me on my way. The ex-boyfriend/still friend and his Mom took it in stride and danced half a dance too.  When a soldier asks you to dance, you dance.

I had a chance to be brilliant while being a student at Madison.  I had applied for a position to help a professor with research to cure (I can’t remember what we were trying to cure) something. I accepted the position. When I returned to our rental house on Pinckney Street I was super excited and told the news to my housemates.  They asked me what it was all about and I told them. Then I got to the part where I would have to inject dogs with stuff and then take blood samples.  Silence. Then came, “There is no way you will ever be able to inject dogs with anything.  You have to call that professor and quit.” I came to my senses and called the professor. Sorry, gang. Maybe we could have cured something like diabetes- but I just don’t have it in me. I would have let all of the animals loose and gone to jail.  Dodged a bullet on that one.

The moment that changed my life forever was Thursday April 23, 1988.  That was the first day I was a bartender at Clearwater Harbor in Waupaca, WI.  I was barely 19 years old and did not have a clue.

Opening day is always crazy and that first day (or actually night) was a lesson for the record books. I got my ass handed to me- both figuratively and literally. At that time it was still a beer bar (the liquor license would come sometime in July of that year) and we were a bunch of newbies playing full contact bartending – shoving and pushing to get our cold beer into our thirsty patrons sweaty hands.  I happened to be standing in front of one of the bottle openers that are screwed on the front of the beer coolers. An old timer stuck his hand between my legs and opened a bottle of beer to serve to his customer.  Should I have been horrified? Or, was it okay that I liked it?  There goes the nice, sweet GGJ and here comes the fun….

I learned a lot of important life lessons tending bar. I had to toughen up or get run over like a freight train. I learned some common sense.  I learned a lot about relationships – both good and bad. I learned a lot about friendships- all of it good. I learned how to handle cash, drunks and myself.

My first day, I sucked. Year after year, I got better. I learned a skill.  I figured out when you should talk and when you should stay silent.  (Talk when someone is low and needs a laugh. Shut the hell up when a big shot walks in the door with a girl who is not his wife…)

The best lesson I learned is to look up.  Yes, look up.  A lot of new bartenders have their heads down- because that is where the booze is, where the glasses are, where you store stuff…. But you have to look up in order to see who needs you.  You have to look up to see if someone is low on their drink and needs a refill. Don’t make them ask. Go to them and ask if they are ready for another one. Look around, see who has been waiting first.  Go to that person, not the big loud mouth who just muscled his way in and thinks just because he knows you from that one weekend last summer that you are going to wait on him first. Take care of your patrons, and they will take care of you.

Life is like that too. Look up. I have seen a bunch of bald eagles and other neat birds.  Some people say that they have never seen one.  Well, if you live around here you should have.  But, you won’t find them if you don’t look up.

I used to bartend Sunday mornings with Bender.  He was and still is a great food and beverage person.  We would be getting the bar stocked and cleaned and would listen to this Indigo Girls song….

I’m tryin’ to tell you somethin’ ’bout my life. Maybe give me insight between black and white. And the best thing you’ve ever done for me Is to help me take my life less seriously. It’s only life after all.

Well darkness has a hunger that’s insatiable, And lightness has a call that’s hard to hear. I wrap my fear around me like a blanket. I sailed my ship of safety till I sank it. I’m crawling on your shores.

I went to the doctor, I went to the mountains I looked to the children, I drank from the fountain. There’s more than one answer to these questions Pointing me in a crooked line. And the less I seek my source for some definitive, The closer I am to fine. The closer I am to fine.

 I went to see the Doctor of Philosophy With a poster of Rasputin and a beard down to his knee. He never did marry or see a B-Grade movie. He graded my performance, he said he could see through me. I spent four years prostrate to the higher mind, Got my paper and I was free.

 I went to the doctor, I went to the mountains I looked to the children, I drank from the fountain. There’s more than one answer to these questions Pointing me in a crooked line. And the less I seek my source for some definitive, The closer I am to fine. The closer I am to fine.

 I stopped by the bar at three A.M. To seek solace in a bottle, or possibly a friend. I woke up with a headache like my head against a board, Twice as cloudy as I’d been the night before. And I went in seeking clarity.

I go to the doctor, we go to the mountains. We look to the children, we drink from the fountain. We go to the Bible, we go through the work out. We read up on revival, we stand up for the lookout. There’s more than one answer to these questions Pointing me in a crooked line. And the less I seek my source, the closer I am to fine.

 Songwriters: AMY ELIZABETH RAY, EMILY ANN SALIERS

They say (who is they anyway?) everything happens for a reason. You cannot see it at the time… but things have a way of working out for the best.

Is it just a coincidence that I woke up with this story in my head and today also just happens to be the opening day for Clearwater Harbor in Waupaca, WI?  I think not. Everything happens for a reason.

I won’t be there today. I might be there this weekend.  If you get a chance, stop by for a cold one. The sunsets are spectacular. Look around to see which bartenders are looking down. Tip them a little extra. It’s their first day. Who knows? They might end up being your eye doctor someday.

I learned how to laugh at myself and not take everything too seriously. I listened to some great bands. I made some life-long friends. We worked hard and we played hard.

My life hasn’t always gone according to plan or worked out the way I thought it would. That’s okay- I’ll just head over to the Harbor and see what happens next.  Change a thing… not a chance.

GGJ

Harbor 1990-1991 (2)

 

 

 

 

Zen Baby

For those of you who have been reading my stories, you know that I have been on a quest to find some “Zen” in my life for quite some time.

The last couple of weeks have been challenging for me in the Zen department. For the first time in almost 20 years I had a patient tell me to “F%*K Off!”  What???? I was so shocked I didn’t have a chance to respond. In hindsight, that is probably a good thing. Later my staff informed me that they thought there was some alcohol involved. (Not me, just in case you were wondering.)

I am no stranger to the F-bomb.

I come from both an Irish and German/Danish lineage so there is some fire running through these veins.  It’s just that I usually use it around people I am emotionally connected to – like my family, friends and loved ones.  I would never use it on a stranger. Sheesh.

It got me to thinking…..

  1. Why is that all I can think of – when I had many other lovely patients these last few weeks?
  2. What can I do to manage the unmanageable?
  3. I am pretty sure that is why Zen masters don’t work with the general public.
  4. What would the Dalai Lama do?

It just so happens that I went to my Mom’s last night. I found an old Zen book in an abandoned bookcase. I started reading it and think it is right on target. It was written in 1995 and I have had it probably for 15 years. It is called, “It’s Easier Than You Think” by Sylvia Boorstein.   There is a lot of useful stuff in that book.

First of all, you need to know that trying to be Zen or Buddhist is not going to interfere with your other religious beliefs.  You can be both. Please don’t email me telling me I am going to go to hell. Thanks!

In a nutshell, the entire thing is devoted to one simple idea/plan. How can we manage the events in our life that are beyond our control? That’s it. Simple, right?

There are 4 Noble Truths in the Zen world.

The First Noble Truth:  Pain is inevitable.Buddha quote 2

We can’t control what happens, we can only control how we react to what happens.  Pain is not an option.  It is going to happen no matter what. Because my lovely friends, in order to experience a full life we will inevitably go through pain. Lots of pain. That is the human condition.  Everything will eventually change and/or die. Please don’t despair and go stick your head in the oven. It’s not that bad…. I have said this for years and I totally believe it….you get points for trying.  I think. Well, in my Zen World you get points for trying.

So once you have figured out that life is just a series of painful events…. Then you have to make a decision.  This is the important part. How you suffer is on you. Read that again. How you suffer is on you.

The Second Noble Truth:  Clinging To Attachment = Suffering

This is a tricky bit. Obviously, many things require commitment. Which in my mind is the same thing as attachment. So, what’s the problem? I think that sometimes we chase the fleeting moments that we have been lucky to experience and wish to make them into something permanent, expected, and certain. Clinging to that notion leads to suffering.

I have loads of examples of clinging leading to suffering. You probably do too.  How many times have you longed for the early days of a relationship when you couldn’t get enough of each other? You didn’t need to eat, sleep, breath oxygen… it was so good. So then you settle in to everyday life. Something happens and it’s not the same. While the relationship is still good- it’s not crazy good anymore and you can’t help but wonder what went wrong? Nothing is wrong. Clinging to the notion that the next moment should be like the first moment is wrong.

Looking in the rear view mirror leads to a lot of wrecks.

You need to focus on what is right in front of you.

How can we not want to want? Fundamentally, that means that craving anything is suffering. (That is in the book.)

I crave lots of things. I have some work to do in that department.

Maybe I can put together the NEW ZEN DIET PLAN and make a ton of money. Don’t crave anything. Eat whatever you want and whatever you think is good for you and see what happens. My sister says you have to wear structured pants (not yoga pants) at least once a week so that you know if you are still okay. Don’t try to be the same you as last year or when you were 27. (I picked 27 because those were some pretty good years… no wait! That is super un-Zen!) Anyway, let’s just strive to be the best we can be now.

Let’s talk about clinging some more.  There is a quote in the book that goes something like this, “My life happened when I was busy making other plans…”  Sounds about right. I am a list maker, a dreamer, and lots of other things. I have to say, the here and now just doesn’t work for me. I am always better in the future. Now that I think about it, I was better in the past too. I think this whole thing may be a Jedi mind trick.  It is THE FORCE! George Lucas is probably a Zen guy.

Remember the old school yard saying?  “Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words can never hurt me?”

That is total bullshit. I have broken a bunch of stuff. The bones and ligaments healed. They don’t hurt me at all anymore. But words? Words hurt.

In the book, Sylvia used a little demonstration very effectively. How many of you have had bones break or other bodily injuries? Raise your hands. Now, ask yourself… does it still hurt? If so, keep your hands raised. Very few hands were raised. Next question. How many of you have been hurt by other people’s words? Hands go up. How long ago was that? In the last year, last five years, ten years or more? Lots of hands were up.  Words hurt.

Where am I going with this?

Forgiveness. That’s the ticket to addressing my issues with my patient who told me to F%#* Off! It happened. It’s over. Nothing more is going to come of it. Time to forgive and move on. It’s over.Buddha quote 1

I have to say, once you forgive someone it is kind of hard to keep caring if they told you to F%$* Off!

It just doesn’t matter! (Remember the movie Meatballs?) It just doesn’t matter… It just doesn’t matter! Yeah, baby!

So now that we have figured out that we have to forgive all the morons who hurt us in the past- we have to figure out how to handle the “Now” part.  Okay, we need to try to be decent human beings. In the book there is some discussion about how to live your life when there is the burden of knowing that every action has the potential to cause harm. Yikes! That is kind of overwhelming. Trying to avoid shame or dread is a good start. Uh oh….there goes my crazy dancing at my favorite band! Just kidding. Not that kind of shame or dread- only the real deal bad kind of shame and dread.

Instead of going through a whole list of Don’ts…. Let’s focus on the Do’s.

I am going to try to say, “Yes!” whenever possible as long as I am not going to die or do something harmful. I like that idea. That idea really works for me. A good friend of mine has a saying, “I’ll do anything… twice!” She’s living a very interesting life by the way!  She is pretty good at living in the moment. I’ll ask her what the secret is and get back to you.

There are two more Noble Truths but they will have to wait. It’s Sunday night and the Green Bay Packers are playing tonight. I have to go make a lasagna and some garlic bread (double carbohydrates) and go watch the game. It is a good place to start with enjoying the here and now! Nothing is happening in Wisconsin until the game is over.

Zen baby.

GGJ

Zen Boy Scout

I am an uptight person.  There, I said it. What do they say? That the first step to recovery is admitting you have a problem in the first place?

For those of you that know me in real life it is not a total surprise. I run a pretty tight ship. My work desk is spotless and I could pack it all up and leave it pristine if I had 2 minutes and a banker’s box.

When it comes to work stuff being uptight is actually a good thing. But once you have figured out all of the work stuff and your life is basically under control it is time to find some Zen.

Somewhere along the line I became interested in Zen/Buddha ideas and sayings and paraphernalia.

In one of my old houses I had a mantle from an old fireplace in my bedroom.  I got my first Buddha statue shopping on Main Street in Oshkosh. There is a shop called Satori Imports that has lots of good stuff if you are ever in need of a glow in the dark Frisbee, a gigantic bong in the shape of a dragon or Buddha statues.  Right now if you spend a 100 bucks you get a free sweatshirt that is totally awesome. I want one bad.  I haven’t spent the 100 bucks yet but I am tempted to buy a gift certificate just to get the sweatshirt. It’s that good. Seriously.

So, my first Buddha was a gift from a sweetheart. Over the years he would give me many others as a surprise, usually for no good reason.  I had a whole bunch and I really loved them.

Then some bad stuff happened and I got mad. As in majorly pissed off and for good reason. I swept all of the Buddhas into a box and returned them to sender. I know, I know….you are thinking “Jeez, Gypsy Girl Jilly you are so dramatic!”

I do regret it now.

Anger is not a good thing.

You will not be punished for your anger, you will be punished by your anger.

Buddha

Holding on to anger is like grasping a hot coal with the intent of throwing it at someone else; you are the one who gets burned.

Buddha

Holding onto anger is like drinking poison and expecting the other person to die.

Gautama Buddha

I especially like the drinking poison one.

Just so you know how the story ended. We did eventually make up and the Buddhas were offered back to me as a good will gesture. At that time I said no because my feelings were hurt. (Me being my stubborn, hardheaded self. Totally un-Zen. Shame on me.) Last I heard they were living in a box in the closet.  It’s been awhile so perhaps they have found a new and happier home. I hope so.

So a few years passed and I found that Buddhas were making an appearance back into my life.  This is a good thing.  Basically, the whole Zen thing is about acknowledging the present. Breathe.

The past is already gone, the future is not yet here. There’s only one moment for you to live, and that is the present moment.

Gautama Buddha

For me, the biggest challenge is not living in the past. If you spend all of your time looking in the rear view mirror you can’t see what is up ahead. ‘Would-A, Could-A, Should-A Syndrome’ (WACASA) is the worst!

I used to sometimes think about what I would do differently in life. I would think about decisions and events… it was amazing how far back I was willing to go in the time machine.  Way, way back folks. That is like erasing your whole life. That is crazy and ill-advised.

Zen really helps fight the WACASA.

My Mom is a wise lady. She has these little sayings that kind of help in times of crisis or sadness. She is very masterful in knowing when you need a hug or a good swift kick in the derriere and knows how to administer both.

Life goes on.

My Mom

Something happens after you turn 40. On the one hand everything that happened in the first 40 years has kind of dictated your current everyday living (read The Grind for further details) with the other hand being that there is some light at the end of the tunnel in which you are now considering what you will do in the second act of life. It is a time for thought not necessarily action. This can be a difficult time if you are like me, a little restless and craving adventure.

This is the time for Zen.

It really is the little things/stuff that matters. It is a recurrent theme in my blogs. I always need to remind myself.

I don’t have any children, but my friend’s children have been pretty fun along the way.

Kids seem to live the Zen way until we adults re-program them.

They speak the truth and tell it like it is. They cry and get mad and melt down and then they get over it and go out to play. They live in the moment. They forgive and forget. They make do with what they have. You got a stick? I have a ball…let’s play stickball!

These are the things that typically are not for sale but come free as long as you are present and available.

Zen baby.

(I got the present and available idea from an interview that Charlie Rose did with Bill Murray and Bill was explaining his amazing career…something to the effect that “he was present and available.” I think the interview can be found on Netflix. It’s worth a look.)

It is better to travel well than to arrive.

Buddha 

It is a very difficult task to live in the moment if you are a planner. In my family, arriving on time means arriving ten minutes early. Trust me, if I give you directions you will not become lost. Sometimes the ‘plan’ gets in the way of the actual doing.

Not all planning is bad.

In modern times, it is essential to plan a little bit especially if you are a woman with good genetics. I mean, I don’t want to have to eat cat food as an old woman because I am broke and didn’t plan ahead. Luckily, I have a trusted friend and financial advisor who takes care of all of that for me.  I just have the dough siphoned off before I see it and figure it’s in good hands (not mine.)

What is the Boy Scout motto? Be prepared.

Be a Zen Boy Scout. That would be good.

The End

P.S.   So, I bought myself a new Buddha statue. It’s a happy one. I also got one for a friend for her birthday. It has a belly you can rub for good luck. I hope she likes it.

GGJ