Found Poem

In an effort to encourage myself to keep writing, I signed up for a class last Sunday titled “Unleash the Writer in You”. The classed is offered by this wonderful organization in Houston called Writerspace (http://www.writespacehouston.org/).

For second there, I imagined that perhaps one day I would write something wonderful and I would become a real writer, perhaps even an author. But then a second passed and I realized how unrealistic that was. HOWEVER, I also immediately reminded myself that I am not pursing this because I want to make a career out of it, but because writing is something that I enjoy. Why shouldn’t I take the time and make the effort to do the things I enjoy to do? I make time for work and grocery shopping. Why not writing?

So, back to the workshop. The class was taught by Leslie Contreras Schwartz, a poet, essayist, and fiction writer who recently pushed a collection of Poems titled Fuego. One of the prompts that she used to get us to start writing was to take a page from a book or magazine and to circle words or phrases that stood out to us personally. Then we were instructed to use those words or phrases as inspiration to write poem or short story. She brought books she had at home and asked us to rip out a page so that we could select our words. I had been eyeing Fitzgerald’s “This Side of Paradise” since the class had starated, but when she told me to rip out a page, it almost felt sacrilegious.

Despite the guilt, I ripped out page 85 and I wrote the following poem. This is technically called a Found Poem because it includes words or phrases that I “found” on a page.

Poem Inspired by Page 85

With the instict of a child, she slipped her hand into the blue darkness of the water and felt the coldness bursting trough her fingers.

She waved her hand swiftly, forming endless ripples, and noticed how the moonlight’s reflection sparkled in each wave.

A black cloud passed over the moon and she suddenly became aware of the darkness. She listened to her quiet breathing and felt her heart knocking inside her with the rhythm of the waves around the dock.

She wondered if there was someone out there who was also being followed by the moonlight -someone who perhaps would be able to grasp her fear of white walls.

She tasted salt on her lips, and she licked them.

-N.M.

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I Had Forgotten About That

The guy at the consulate appeared to be my age, perhaps a little bit younger. I thought he might be a good fit for my sister and I imagined asking him if he was seeing anybody and if he’d like to meet my sister.

“Please put your index fingers in the screen.”

I pushed my index fingers into a little black box in his station and a green light lit up from the box.

“Those are the ones” he said with a flirty laugh, as if we had enough time to become acquaintances.

“Now your thumbs.”

I was nervous because I wanted to get my passport as soon as possible and I was afraid I might have forgotten some paper that they would need.

“Now push your index fingers in this black ink box and press them against this page”.

I took my thumbs to the black ink box.

“No, I said index fingers.”

“Oh, right.” I said, unsettled.

“Are you getting married soon ma’am?” He asked casually as he reached under his desk to get something.

The question made me even more nervous. I was trying to focus on my fingers.

“Not for a long time,” I said with certainty.

“Oh, because I see that large rock on your finger”, he said with a smile looking at me.

I had forgotten about that. The ring. The symbol that I had agreed to marry somebody in the near future. Why did I wear it? He wouldn’t have known if I left it at home.

“Oh, right. But it’s still going to take a while,” I said, as in Don’t give up hope. You still have a chance, and so does every other guy in this city, because I’m really uncertain that this wedding thing – with this particular guy who gave me this particular ring – is going to happen.

“You’re all set,” he said again with a gotcha smile looking straight at me and handed me a slip of paper. “Take this to the next window to make your payment.”

“Thank you,” I said sincerely.

I took the receipt and walked over to the payment window. Now everyone knows I’ve changed my mind.

David Michael Brady

About a month, I participated in the annual tradition of assisting to the Kolache Festival in Caldwell, Texas. I love going to the festival. The weather is always perfect – sunny with a hint of cold breeze – and there is always a wide variety of food and handcrafts. My mother, my sister, and I walked through every area of the festival looking at kinds of things – plants, furniture, snakes, quilts, jewelry, giant dream catchers, and quarter size baby turtles. As we walked along along a street, I noticed a vendor that had a tall easel with to paintings sitting on top of each-other. There was no tent, just the easel and dozen boxes full of blue and green ceramic bowls. I stepped into the vendor’s area to look more closely at a painting that absolutely captivated me. The gentleman who was selling the painting was talking to another gentleman about the pottery he also had in display, and so I took a business card and kept walking.

“Man!” I told my sister. “I really, really like that painting. It’s beautiful and it’s an original piece of art by a Texan artist. I’m going to call him latter and ask him about the price”.

“Well, why don’t you go ask him now?” My sister answered with a smart-alecky tone.

So I went back and told him that I thought his painting was beautiful. He said Thank You and proceeded to explain a little bit about his painting method. He said that, like van Gogh, he loves to use texture in this paintings, and like Picasso, he loves the use of bold colors. We briefly discussed the price and I told him that I would think about it and call him, but it was just a matter of discussing it with my conscious – my sister.

She said “Go for it. You’ve been looking for this painting for years. I know because I’ve looked for it with you.”

So a few hours later, I called David Michael Brady and left him a voicemail. I didn’t hear back from him until later in the afternoon when the festival had wrapped up. The whole time I had been worried that perhaps someone had already purchased the painting, but David said he still had it and was thrilled that I wanted to purchase it. I told him I could pick it from his studio in Hearn, Texas the following Saturday and he offered to cook us some lunch to celebrate.

Below is a poem I wrote about the Saturday I picked up the painting at his studio. My sister and mom went with me.

For more information about David and his beautiful art, you can follow this link: https://www.davidmichaelbrady.com/

 

Meet Up

A light canopy of translucent light and green leaves
offered a kind welcome into your home.
Eventough it was a hot Saturday afternoon,
We could feel the air running through the trees.

You came out shortly and greteed us as old friends
who hadn’t had the chance to meet before.
You led the way into your home,
and told us how you built it with your hands.

Inside, the home was bright and cozy,
“a dog trot house”, you said.
In the corner you had your potter’s wheel
And I immidately felt home.

In one room you hung the fruit of your labor,
the results of your blessings,
a vibrant mosaic of bold beauty and feeling,
reflecting all landscapes your eyes had seen.

This room, with it’s chair and it’s chimney,
made the light outisde seem lighter.
And I felt, like a distant echo,
all the feelings you perhaps once felt.

In the other room you hung your heritage,
your photographs and bullhide shield
– the personal items that reflected,
not what you had seen, but who you are.

You prepared for us a southern meal
and we gladly shared it in conversation.
We talked about your work and my wedding.
And I forgot all the things I wanted to ask you.

When we left, you handed me my precious jewel,
a vivid landscape of a Sweedish apple-orchard.
I have never been to Sweeden.
But now I know how it must feel.

Anchors

A discussion about minimalism, from the perspective of the book “Everything That Remains”, would not be complete without an examination of anchors.

In the realm of minimalism, anchors refer to things, habits, or relationships that keep us stuck where we are. These anchors prevent us from moving forward or outside of our comfort zone because often times these are the very things that seem to provide security in our lives. In short, anchors are the “pacifiers” for which we sacrifice our potential to grow and live meaningful lives. I love that Joshua describes these anchors as pacifiers because they truly are. Without these things, we would literally be crying in desperation.

In an effort to better understand this concept, I will provide a list of what I consider to the current anchors in my life.

  • Job – it provides with money, but it makes me pretty miserable most days
  • Mortgage – it allows me to sleep with a roof over my head and it gives me a superficial (society-based) sense of accomplishment, but this house is way too big and I must fight the urge to fill it up with stuff.
  • My fiance…? – I know that sounds awful but I would be lying if I said I’ve never imagined a life without him. My plans and ideas for the future are inevitably affected by his. Sometimes I wonder if I would even live in this city if I wasn’t engaged to him. Maybe my company would allow me to work remotely from another country. Who knows. A world of opportunity does open up when you’re free to do as you please.
  • Socioeconomic status – I am not wealthy by any means, but I do live a comfortable life. This anchor is a particularly difficult one because I realize that so much of my identity is tied to it. As the daughter of immigrants and a first generation college graduate, my “good” desk job and relatively big house are seen by my family as a sign that I’ve made something of my life. They are proud of my house, they are proud of the Master’s degree hanging on my living room wall, and they are happy that I was able to pay off my car. These are all the things they can see that indicate to them that I am successful, which to them, and the rest of society, it must mean that I am also happy. It isn’t until I tell them about how stressed out I get from work, that they too wonder if this is what’s best for me. Ultimately, I know my parents want me to be happy and I know they can understand  that money and comfort do not always lead happiness, but it would still be difficult to live without this superficial sense of accomplishment. After all, it seems to be all I have. I can’t say that I have perused anything more meaningful.
  • The sense of who I should be and what I should have accomplished so far in my life based on the standards of social media.
  • These sense that I am responsible to do the cooking around the house. My fiance says that I don’t “have to” cook dinner or wake up in the morning to fix him breakfast, but I was raised by a mother who precisely did this for her husband and children every single day. Don’t get me wrong, my mother never told me that I would “have to” cook for my husband or anybody for that matter, but unfortunately that’s they example I grew up with. When I don’t cook dinner, I feel….bad. I feel like I fell short. I feel disappointed with myself that I am not Rachel Ray. I feel like maybe I didn’t try hard enough. But the truth is that I don’t like cooking. Why oh why must I feel so bad for not doing something that I hate to do?? It makes no sense.
  • Pets. We have a fish, a turtle, and a dog. I love them all, and all have provided a deeper layer of love and meaning in my life, but traveling has become a logistical difficulty. We went away for a three day weekend to my parent’s house and it was a nightmare having to carry all three animals along with all their tanks, cages, and other necessities. Still, although this is an anchor in my life, it is not one that I am getting rid of.

I guess not all anchors are necessarily bad. My dog and my fiance (I hate to put them on the same lever) do add a level of difficulty and responsibility to my life, but they also add a deep layer of love and meaning. The job, the house, the cooking, and the socioeconomic status – those are all things that I can definitely work on.

The illusion of security

Minimalism advocates that we release ourselves from the things that absorb our time without providing any value in return. These “things” can be material things, but they can also be relationships, habits, and yes, our jobs.

There is a quote on the book, “Everything That Remains” that really scared me. I do not have the page number handy (I lent the book to my sister), but Joshua spoke of how we’ve been taught , from an early age, to work ridiculously hard for a non-living entity that demands our most valuable possession – our time – in exchange of a paycheck.  Our time… I had really never thought it that way. Our time on this earth is so limited, and yet I dedicate most of it to a job that I really, really, really dislike.

Of course, I’m not the only person that strongly dislikes his or her job (I’m not ready to say “hate”), but considering the significance of my single opportunity to live in this earth, shouldn’t I at least try? Shouldn’t the fact that I only have one life be enough encouragement to prompt me to make it better, to make it more meaningful? The simple answer is “yes”, but taking action is much more difficult. You see, I dislike my job, but my job offers me a steady, reliable paycheck, which I need in order to buy food and pay the mortgage. My job also offers a few weeks of paid vacation. Of course, the vacation is not enough…never, but it’s still something to consider. Also, I work for a company that contributes to my retirement account. That for sure is a good thing, right? After all I give to this company (my peace of mind, my time, my energy, my health), it’s fair for them to give me a bit of extra money for retirement. They also provide health insurance, so the amount I pay per month is relatively small compared to other people whose jobs do not provide it. I only use my health insurance once  a year, so I know I am paying for a service I rarely use, but I guess it’s nice to know I have insurance, you know, for emergencies and such.  So there you have it, you could say I have “good” job – good pay, good health insurance, good retirement plan, good vacation time. But is it still worth all the misery and stress? Is it worth my valuable, limited time on earth?

This is when Joshua turned into the subject of Security. He explains that we hang on to jobs that make us miserable because we believe that there is security in them, but in realty, he argues, these jobs can instill in us a great feeling of insecurity because we have more to lose. He explained that hisg paycheck made him feel less secure because he was afraid of losing the income and lifestyle he was used to.

I can see the logic in this. If you live a simple, inexpensive life, then you can get by with a simple, minimum-wage job, and if you lose that job, it’s not as terrifying because you’re already used to a small life. You don’t to freak out about not being able to buy the latest fashion, the latest phone, paying for your luxury car, paying for the all-access cable package, etc. I get it. The less you have, the less you have to worry about.

Considering that my car is paid off, that I’m not concerned with the latest fashion or latest gadget, that I do not have cable in my house, and that I am not accustomed to eating out often, I guess I could say I have relatively simple life. I can afford to take a pay cut, perhaps work for a non-profit. I could find a job that offers less pay, but much more meaning. But the questions that nags at the back of my head is this: what about the future? I know there is no guarantee I will be here tomorrow, much less that one day I’ll be old enough to retire and enjoy life. But what happens if do I get to that age?

I imagine the old me, the me that left a decent-paying corporate office job to work for a non-profit. That version of old me is happy. She is happy because she has being doing work that added value to her life and many others. She is happy because she lives a simple life. She’s in good health because in her twenties she read about minimalism, which encouraged her to build the good habit of jogging every morning. However, she worries sometimes because her rent is too expense, and although she’s in good health, she inevitably must take some medication. She invites her sister over to her house to drink coffee regularly, and sometimes her sister brings her some groceries, which she first rejects, and then kindly accepts as a gift.

Now I imagine the other version of old me. The me that stuck with her horrible job for over 30 years. That version of me is also happy. She is happy because she finally gets to retire. She has a comfortable home that she just finished paying off and for the first time has no bills, other than the internet, water, and electricity.  She has enough money to travel and pay for a gym membership, where she takes a class in water aerobics.  She understands the value of meaningful relationships and has enough money to go to the local coffee shop with her sister on a regular basis.

I know, I know…the future never really turns out the way we expect it. I could sit here imagining all kinds of scenarios and none will resemble my actual future; but this exercise did help me realize that perhaps I am not doing myself a disservice by staying with job. Either way, I think I will be happy. Joshua does clarify that real security is found inside of us, in the pursuit of “constant, personal growth”. Can I participate in this pursuit while participating in my horrible job? Is this what the life-work balance is all about? Am I okay as long as I don’t let my job consume me 24-7?

I am indeed taking measures to work only my 40 hours. I now realize that working in the weekends does me no good because I never catch up, so I don’t intend to work another weekend ever again. This means that I do have some time, albeit it’s only a little bit, to spend with my family and friends. I have been committed to jogging and writing every morning because it makes me happy.

Perhaps leaving one’s job is a recommendation for people that are literally obsessed with it, people whose lives and identities revolve around their job.

That’s not me, and I hope to never become that person. I know now better.

Bad Habits

I discussed earlier how I discovered that scrolling mindlessly through Instagram helped me free up some time for activities that I do enjoy and add value to myself. Instagram-scrolling was a pretty obvious unproductive habit. The habit had a bright sign that said “I am a HUGE waste of your time!”

But the second unproductive habit that I would like to discuss was a bit more difficult to accept and manage. The habit is Oversleeping.

Thanks to my fiance’s work schedule, I go to sleep earlier than most people I know. By 9 PM I have to be in bed because my fiance gets up to go to work at 4:30 AM. That’s seven and half hours of sleep.

Being the super nice, wonderful fiance that I am, I wake up at 4:30 AM too to fix his lunch and make him something for breakfast. He leaves around 5 AM, but I don’t have to get ready for my job until 7 AM. So the option of going back to bed from 5 to 7 was, in my view, a no-brainer. Going back to bed (at least on my list) is one the top 5 best feelings ever. It’s just so nice to curl back in bed and pull over the covers…specially at 5 AM.

I always knew that I could use those couple of hours to do something productive, and sometimes I would – I would read a book, do a bit of laundry, get to work earlier, etc. But most of the time, it was just so much easier to get back in bed and close my eyes, even if I wasn’t particularly sleepy.

This changed when I read “Everything that Remains”. There is a sentence (just one), in which Joshua, the author, explains that he has been getting up an hour earlier everyday so that he can have time to write before going to work. This got to me. I mean, I’ve always known of productive people that wake up very early to go jogging or do yoga, you see those people in movies all the time, but I just never thought of myself as “that kind” of person. It just seemed beyond me to reach for such a self-sacrificing habit – to give up my sleep! But I think that what struck me about Joshua’s comment is not only that he was honest about the sacrifice and drudgery of his morning habit, but most importantly, that he made it clear that it was all worth it, that it wasn’t just about giving up sleep, but about getting something much more meaningful from his time.  The reward he got from his habit was much greater than the sacrifice, which after a while stops feeling like one because it turns into something you enjoy to do.

In the past week, I have been staying up after my fiance leaves home at 5 AM. I work on this blog for about an hour, then I read a book until the sun begins to rise, at which time I go for a quick run around my neighborhood. In these two hours, I do more for my self, for my personal development, than I do the rest of the day. It’s seems silly now to give up these activities for two extra two hours of sleep.

Don’t get me wrong, I am no super human and I have only been doing this for a week. I don’t have set record yet. But every time that I feel too lazy or maybe still a bit too sleepy to start writing, I remind my self that it’s supposed to be hard and that it’s supposed feel like drudgery, because only the activities that feel like that (at first), are the ones that lead to meaningful results. I have nothing to show for all those hours I spent oversleeping, but I certainly have a few things to show now for staying awake.

Priorities

There is one thing from the book “Everything that Remains” that seriously changed my perspective about my daily life. The core idea of minimalism, as far as I currently understand, is that getting rid of all the “extras” in your life will help you make room for the things that really matter. My initial thought goes to the material items. All those “extras” must refer to extra clothes, extra books, extra dishes, extra furniture, etc., you get the idea. However, minimalism doesn’t only invite us to get rid of items, but also to diminish or remove other aspects of our lives that are also consuming us, often times without our knowledge.

One of those aspects I would like to discuss are Habits. In the same way that we can identify (albeit with some struggle) which clothes we no longer need or which books we should donate, we can attempt to identify habits that fail to add value to our lives.

At first glance, it appeared my daily life did not include any habits. Everything was more of a routine – get up, eat breakfast, feed my dog, go to work, get off work, fix dinner, shower, and sleep. Monday through Friday I was on repeat. But feeling as miserable as I did at the end of every workday, I had to ask myself “Really? Is there no room in my day for reading or exercising? Or doing something I may really enjoy?” And so I put on my Minimalist hat and began to really look at my day and how I spend my time.

The first, and most easily identifiable junk-habit I could find was Instagram. I don’t have Facebook (it personally drains me), but the simplicity and visual appeal of Instagram convinced me to set up an account. I began using Instagram as a tool to keep in touch with relatives and close friends, but really soon I started following all kinds of people – celebrities I liked, celebrities I barely knew, a gazillion travel pages, a gazillion cat and dog pages, people who dressed nicely, people who seemed funny, people with tattoos, etc. It was an effort to make my Instagram experience more “interesting” and “entertaining”. And it was in fact so interesting (to me), that almost every day after work, the first thing I would do was sit on the couch and scroll down on Instagram. I could spend a good 20 minutes there, just slouched on the couch looking at all the super cool people and all the super cool things they were doing. According to that part of myself who doesn’t always critically analyze her actions, I was simply “relaxing”, “winding down” from a stressful workday by looking at dozens (maybe hundreds?) of pictures and videos that nothing to do with my life. As you may already know, this habit rarely left me relaxed or in peace. In fact, it was just the opposite. Every time after putting my phone down, I would feel like I had just uploaded a bunch of extra junk into my brain…for no reason. AND, on top of it all, I had spent about 20 to 30 minutes doing something that added ZERO value to my life.

So I have taken some measures. Instagram, sadly or not, is still the main way I’m able to check up on family and friends. I do want to know what they are up to, and occasionally I like to share with them, especially the ones I don’t see often, that I am alive and well.   So I still continue to use Instagram, but I’ve removed all the EXTRA people I had allowed to enter my little Instagram world, and consequently, my head. Luckily, most of my friends and relatives post in moderation, so that when I do have a few minutes I take a quick look and see what my peeps are up to. No longer do I get drawn like a bug to keep scrolling mindlessly to the bottom just to see if the next picture from so-and-so is more outrageous or outstanding than the previous one. I just notice that my sister got a new lipstick, my cousin is in France on vacation, and I move on….hopefully to a better habit.