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Archive for the ‘Creative Nonfiction’ Category

Stress Buster Series Part 2 — CREATE — 7 strategies to reduce stress

Here are 7 CREATIVE ways to effectively deactivate stress…

There’s no joking around about the seriousness of stress. At the very least it eats away at us, preventing us from enjoying life fully. At its worse, it is deadly—a major contributor in obesity, high blood pressure and other critical health conditions and diseases as well as mental illnesses, including problems with alcohol and other drugs, anxiety disorders and depression. It even has been linked to many instances of suicide. Tame the beast—take action to help manage stress.

  1. Daydream—you may often hear advice about meditation, and that certainly has its place, but… daydreaming has become a lost art by far too many. Stare at the clouds, gaze into the water or just simply stare off into space. Let your mind wander and imagine yourself in dream lands, surrounded by people you enjoy or off on your own to explore and revel in creative bliss… all inside your own skull.
  2. Write—oh stop worrying; no one said you need to publish this, but you just might want to once you’ve done it long enough. Just get the stuff stuck inside your head and your heart outside and take a look at it. Go ahead and write about what’s scaring you, or not. You may choose to write a better story; one where you are empowered and actively achieving all you desire. Or, even still you may choose to channel your inner voice, and give it a platform to express spirit, wonder, gratitude and grace. Or… all of the above.
  3. Draw—I don’t care if your version of a Renoir looks exactly like blotchy, lumpy diseased stick figures. Draw something—groupings of circles, an abstract of the horizon at dusk, a blade of grass or leaves, clouds… anything. The point is to explore expressing yourself non-verbally. We relay far too much on words and give them far too much power in our lives. Here is an opportunity to explore the connections between your eyes and your hands in a creative fashion. Use a pencil, your favorite pen or go wild with pastels, colored pencils or even crayons. Have fun and explore
  4. Sing—whether you’re a nightingale or more closely resemble a quacking duck, put your favorite tune in your head (or go ahead and queue it up on your Mp3), and sing that song! Fill up your body with air and let sounds reverberate through every atom that makes you… you. Don’t be shy and activate your whole self in song. Throw all of your energy into making music—the very expression of your own breath.
  5. Dance—that’s right, get down and get jiggy with it! Or slip into some Ravel and go on point if that’s your pleasure. Experience music as an expression of your whole body. Oh come on no one’s looking. And so what if they are? Make them envy your joy! They should feel so free.
  6. Create—just start and go! Have you ever wanted to sculpt? Play the piano? Paint a mural? Write a story? Compose a song? Choreograph a dance? Just start. You may not like where it takes you at first, but you started! That’s more than most people ever do. Great work! Now, keep doing it, and by accident, if you keep doing it enough and work on doing it a little better each time, you’ll find at some point—you’re actually kinda good. Maybe ever great! But that will never, ever, ever happen… unless you begin.
  7. Pretend—pretend you’re somebody else. If you could be a different type of person… you might walk differently, speak differently, behave differently… dress, attitude, habits, preferences… all different. Even how you choose to spend your day might be different. For one morning, afternoon, or one evening, go somewhere where no one knows you, and go BE that different person. Keep your name, and please do try to keep your sanity and return to reality once you’re done with your “trip,” but also do take note of all being that alter ego taught you. How were you treated? How did you feel? Did you see things differently, value different things and take notice of different things than you normally would? Were your interactions with people different? Overall, how did your experiences differ, and what lessons from this experience can you incorporate into your real life and real personality to be an even more authentic, happier and empowered you?

Activating your creativity helps to deactivate stress by opening a portal for that negative energy, and with you and your creative spirit serving as the conduit, you have the power to turn the negative energy—STRESS—into a very positive energy—ART.

kandinsky - transverse line (copy)

kandinsky – transverse line (copy)

Daphne — Urban Mouse Hunter

He looked at me, twitching his whiskers, taunting me… mocking me…

It wasn’t a subtle appearance—they were bold as if they perceived themselves to be thoroughly welcome house guests, anticipating their own set of fresh linens and tasty late night snacks.

20110930-mice-on-bedding-IMG-3948A pair of beady little black eyes and long gray whiskers jutting out from a tiny furry body appeared from behind a box of unopened oatmeal. We stood there staring at each other for a bit, then he scurried into my stove, out of view. I took in a deep breath and sighed. I hoped we could be friends, but these sorts of friendships never end well. One thing was certain, however…

Damnit! I have mice. Oh, sure I only saw the one, but where there’s one, there’s more. How many more is anyone’s guess.

I quickly decided that the last thing I want these infernal things to do is go running all over the apartment and get into my food in the kitchen. So, they’ve commandeered the stove—great. The stove is theirs for the time being until I can figure out how to capture these vermin. That means for me that the stove is off limits. I certainly don’t want to prepare food where these things are dwelling. They are not the tidiest of creatures to put it mildly.

How to keep them out of my food? Well, I will feed them, of course! If they eat their own food, they will stay away from mine. (Interestingly, that tactic actually worked. Don’t knock insanity until you’ve tried it!)

I’ve found that they are quite fond of peanut butter and crackers, and I realized that there were certain times of day that they went about foraging. They seemed quite pleased with the convenient and thoughtful bits I’d leave for them. Little did they realize that my ultimate goal was their capture. I’m certain they found me very hospitable.

And capture I did! Two—the only two I thought I had—I placed their food into an open cage that I had set on the stove. When they entered, I slammed a bit of plastic over the opening so they couldn’t escape. I then secured the opening door behind them, and I had mice in a cage.

How did that work? So, yes. This means that I had to stand alone in my kitchen, during the times I knew they dined, and waited patiently to make my move. Yes, this took hours. Yes, this happened over a matter of days…longer, actually. No, I have no discernible life—stop judging me, okay?

Oh, no. The story doesn’t end here—this is only the beginning…

As I went about my mouse-free life, my mother suddenly fell ill, and I needed to stay at her apartment and help with her dog and a few other responsibilities as she recuperated. Meanwhile, I had a cat that stayed in my apartment, and I would visit her daily, feed her, pet her—all of those things you do with cats as they go about mauling you for fun. Then, when I realized that my stay at my mother’s was going to be extended, I moved the cat over to her place, too.

I’d still go visit my apartment, clean, check on things, discard old food, etc. And, that’s when I noticed it—a pair of old slacks I had meant to donate had pieces shredded from it, and it was lying on the closet floor. I examined other bits of this and that to notice more shredded fabric and debris. Mice!

Now it was clear that while I rid myself of a couple rodents, several more made their way in and called my mostly vacant apartment home. I noticed droppings here and there, food packages with holes in them, and of course the shredded fabric where they attempted to make little nests for themselves.

I decided it was time to move back in, and reclaim my apartment from these vermin. Bastards aren’t even paying rent!

This time there will not be any attempts at trapping them by hand, but I did go out and buy several “no kill” mouse traps, still with the thought in mind that I would just relocate the furry fiends, and we could all just go about our lives… separately.

One afternoon, I’m sleeping. (Hey! I work at night…) I wake up to find a pile of sunflower seed shells up next to my pillow. I was livid! The little bastard is taunting me, mocking me!

I could just picture him there, piling up his mid-day lunch next to my head, then crunched away on my seeds with a smug little look on his face whilst watching me sleep. As if I was some sort of entertainment to him, an amusement.

All sense of civility left me. I yelled at the worthless cat, threw out the “no kill” traps and banged on the stove to make sure the little critters were paying close attention and officially declared war!

I called an exterminator and set an appointment—they would arrive in three days. Yeah, I know. Most of you are thinking—what the hell took you so long? Look, when I was a kid, friends of mine had mice as pets. It’s not as simple as it might seem. Of course other friends had pets like snakes and lizards that ate mice, but I didn’t have access to a snake or carnivorous lizard at the moment, and the cat, like I said—worthless.

I need a mouser…

Walking back to my car late at night, I noticed something. We have a family of half-feral cats living among us. One is friendly enough that she lets me pick her up. Idea! Maybe I can do away with the expense of the exterminator and just kidnap this cat to do a little mousing.

I went back into my apartment, and shoved my worthless cat over on the bed so that I could try to get some sleep. When I’ve almost drifted off, I see my worthless cat out of the corner of my eye prancing around. I look up, and there she is in the center of the room… with a mouse in her mouth!

I sit up in glee—what a wonderful sight. Life’s food chain in full action! My cat isn’t worthless after all! But, if she’s such a great mouser, and she indeed appears to be, why haven’t I seen any mouse corpses lying around?

catmouseJust then, she walks over towards me, and just beside the bed, she is still toying with its near lifeless body.  I watcher paw it, nibble it, lick it and suck on it until I watch her devour it whole… little bones, tail whiskers and all!

The next day I cancelled my appointment with the exterminator. It appears that I’m living with one, and she’s finally covering her share of the rent in labor. Good cat!

 

Alien trying on a human suit — a personal essay on attachment

There are markers in life, much like creases in a paper back novel where the binding has been scarred, pointing out the more profound moments where we pause, linger and think.

Perhaps these markers serve a purpose—branding some teachable moments that grip us and hold us down until we succumb to the lessons we ought to learn. I think these markers exist, too, so that we may return to these moments in time and quarry lessons that we may not have been ready to learn when they first occurred. Time, it seems, wields magical powers that discards debris, leaving only that which is purposeful behind for easy discovery when we most need it, though seldom want it.

It is the reoccurring marker that I find most disturbing. It is timeless, unchanging and it smells of burnt embers and damp dirt, haunting me in various incarnations throughout my life, and it marks the same story each time: attachment.

Very recently during a certain tragedy, this marker slipped into place once more, and I knew it too well. Interestingly, this wasn’t my tragedy to claim as my own—they never are. I’m just a bystander. Or worse. I’m trapped in a limbo, a perpetual waiting room with no doors or windows. And it’s quiet. I’m only aware that the tragedy exists—I can’t see it, hear it or know of its details. In fact, it is this absence that weighs on me, and emotions start coursing through me like electricity. This is the source of my suffering: I worry.

Okay, truthfully it’s not as bad as all that. In fact it wasn’t — it hasn’t been and it isn’t. But it’s an accurate description while melodramatic. The point is, I worried.

Worry? That doesn’t sound so bad. People worry all the time about their bills, relationships, family, friends, jobs, reputations, wardrobe, what brand of moisturizer to use and exterior wall paint color. Yes, people do. I don’t. The gods felt it wise to have the “worry gene” lay dormant in my DNA. And that’s not all…

Compassion, empathy, sympathy and worry, these simply are not strong traits in my character. I have enough to be classified human and sane, but not enough trace evidence of it that you’ll hear anyone join these words up with my name outside of sarcasm. You won’t find me teary-eyed over a friend’s grief: love, life, loss… After all, that’s his grief. There’s no sense in both of us getting all torn up about the thing, right?

Right.

Well, mostly. And then the marker slips into place. Every once in a long while, my immunity to attachment weakens, this DNA reanimates, and there you have it—I care. Not with everyone, just with a select person or two, I end up attached. Maybe if I were a little more practiced in this art I wouldn’t be so jarred by it, but as it stands, I’m not a fan, and I pretty-much suck at it. Please don’t misunderstand me, this isn’t some altruistic caring for others that overtakes me. No, it’s completely, obsessively selfish. I think…

Somewhere I have to believe that there’s a seed of goodness, of altruism, of genuine concern for the other at the heart of my dysfunction that is intended to somehow be beneficial to them. I often hear it’s a good thing to care about others and their well-being. I’m not so sure. I’ve yet to find an instance when worrying about anyone or any circumstance has actually done any good. From very limited experience, I do know that it can be quite painful for the worrier, so I’m torn on this matter of goodness.

Either way, over the years I’ve made attempts to not allow this alien state to infect all of my sensibilities, and I’ve worked to alter may behavior so that over the years I seem less and less creepy. It hasn’t been easy. Trying to channel the swell of emotions—love, fear, hope, sadness—into something positive, or at least less creepy, has taken decades of work.

Well, sort of. As I said, this a very rare occurrence for me, so each time it happens (maybe every ten years or so), I just try to do a better job with it. And I refer to markers past for reference—fine examples of exactly what not to do this time around. I do know that following instinct here will ensure failure, so reason must override my behavior if I have any chance of success.

For instance, while I may have an overwhelming urge to attach myself to a select suffering friend like a needy baby gorilla, I refrain, believing that behavior would be quite irritating after a short while… for them. Good insight, no?

This time, as the marker settled in and emotions began to build, I don’t think I was as miserable a failure as I have been in the past. I don’t think. The story hasn’t fully come to a close yet, either. What I do know is that this time I deliberately framed my communications before blurting them out in some desperate weirdness. Reason over instinct. Instead of saying: “Call me right away before I jump out of my skin and go kick a puppy!” I said something like, “Please give me a call sometime if you feel up to it.”

See what I did there? I transformed this psychotic-babbling demand to a passive and nearly aloof request. Better, no? Admittedly I did fail at communicating anything honest, but as you can see, full honesty in this case would put my behavior way up the creep scale—the most important thing I am attempting to avoid in this life-lesson. However, I also failed at getting the desired result, which caused me to have more of those damn feelings. Not entirely a success from my perspective.

Now, still left with this mess of tangled, alien feelings—the love, fear, hope, sadness—I found also that at times I actually became a little anxious. Me? Anxious? Another foreign land for me to navigate, but there it was so I had to deal with it.

So, what is anxiety? Anxiety is a mass of powerful energy; a surge of adrenaline that causes a variety of responsive symptoms, I realized as I was trying to remember to breathe (oh I wasn’t hyperventilating or anything nuts… just a little anxious, but still). So, what can be done with an energy surge?

Well, energy can only be one of two things—positive or negative. Rationally, I know that positive is better than negative, and what I was feeling, or perhaps more accurately is… how I was interpreting the feeling was entirely negative.

But it is me—my very body is the conduit that has all the power necessary to change the frequency of that energy from negative to positive. How? Perception.

I had this great idea! Once the anxiety built to a level that had me fully agitated, all of this highly irritating energy stored up, I went quiet, and I focused on love, and I prayed. Using the full force of all of the built up negativity, I redirected it in prayer and released it. Ha! That worked! Negative turned to positive, and anyway you look at it, I was free from it. (Greater success than the passive aloof phone message was—I still have work to do on that one.)

What does all of this mean? Markers serve a significant purpose in helping to guide us through our life journeys and discover instances of personal enlightenment. Though, I submit that the jury is still out on whether emotions serve any helpful purpose. I understand that a degree of emotiveness is important in humanity, to assimilate, fit in, play well with others and to demonstrate care for people important to us—even if in my case that only seems to come up every decade or so. But does feeling pain, empathy, sympathy and worry—does this do any good? I don’t know.

What I do know is that I’m absolutely not a fan of being human. And, half of me wants to take this whole horrific experience, and the other ones that came before it, pack them up in a duffle bag with a bathing suit, toothbrush and flip flops and hide out in a fishing village in Costa Rica drinking too much rum, eating tacos and writing weird fiction novels no one understands.

The saner half of me knows that I need to get my shit together, celebrate that this time having emotions wasn’t a complete failure for me—it didn’t cause any relationship damage or awkward embarrassing moments, potentially alienating me from the friend I care about and eventually humanity at large. And I can move on, work at trying to be better at this human thing next time it hits me.

And the markers with their earthy odor that continue to haunt me—I don’t think I’ll fear them anymore. I’m learning to appreciate the lessons, in part. Perhaps it’s time to call out the monsters from under the bed—the love, fear hope and sadness—and offer them milk and cookies. Make acquaintances with them even if I’m still suspicious of their friendship. They’re not really that scary after all.

Now, where did I put that duffle bag?

monster001

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