Start at the beginning

I like to play video/computer games. They became popular when I was a teenager, and I liked them from the start because I could play them alone. Like a lot of people, the first one I ever played was Space Invaders. I worked in a restaurant bussing tables in the summer, after school and on weekends, and I spent a portion of my tips after work in the bar playing everyday. When I was 16 or 17 I got the Atari 2600 for Christmas. I was addicted to that thing! I loved Asteroids, and Frogger and so many others.

One thing all those games, and their newer cousins on computers and phones, have in common is that it gets harder to win as you pass each level. The problems are harder to solve, the best strategy is harder to figure out, the tools you have at your disposal are in shorter supply, though you usually get better tools as you level up. Typically, though, you get 2 or more “lives” to play with, so that you’re not defeated immediately. This was especially important when you were paying for the privilege of playing. Still true with most of them now, though, probably so we’ll keep playing longer and see more of the ads.

I feel like these games are a metaphor for life. For me, the level of difficulty has increased with each passing year, and though I’m better equipped to face new challenges as I age, having learned from previous experiences, sometimes I “fail” a level and have to try again. Fortunately, these failures have not resulted in death, as there are no new lives in the offing in reality! We all only get the one we start with.

Unlike a video game, you can’t just start life over, either. We can’t go back to Level 1. We can’t go back and start over as a child and do the stuff that was difficult then, but that seems easy to us now as adults. I, for one, would not go back to 10th grade and have to learn geometry again if you paid me $1 million! I like feeling like I know what I’m doing, even if that’s almost completely an illusion some of the time. The knowledge that I’ve accumulated in 61 years about how to handle myself on this planet was hard-fought and is very valuable to me now. Thank you very much.

Being a beginner is exciting in a lot of ways, but it’s hard, too. Especially if you’re not used to it, like you were as a child. As adults, we have few opportunities to be a beginner, though the rate at which the world changes now keeps us on our toes, doesn’t it? Most new things, though, if not exactly something we’ve done before, are usually similar enough to something we know how to do that we can master it fairly quickly. Very few things require a completely new set of skills.

Unless, of course, you decide to do something that is really new to you, something you’ve never done before that requires a unique skill set and use of tools you’re not familiar with. Just for fun! Just because you want to. Totally outside your comfort zone, for absolutely no other reason than it looks like fun and you want to try it.


That’s exactly what I did last fall. Art Journaling. Heard of it? I had not. Totally new to me, and completely intriguing. I stumbled upon it quite by happy accident, but once discovered, it became an important element of my wellbeing practices. I invested in a truckload of art supplies and dove in head first, knowing absolutely nothing about how to use any of them. Water color and acrylic paints, inks, collage materials, watercolor pencils and crayons, oil pastels, paint pens…oh my! So many pretty colorful things! Brushes and stencils and stamps, drawing pencils and erasers, sponges. Special stuff to clean it all up after I’m done making a beautiful mess!

I set up a dedicated area at my little house, and I spend an afternoon there every weekend creating a page in my journal. I have no expectations and no plan. I just do whatever feels right and expresses what I am feeling or thinking. It’s a blast! It’s just for me – I don’t have the talent or the desire to produce anything for public consumption – and that’s exactly what makes it so freeing and wonderful. I don’t expect to be good at it, cuz I’m a beginner! I have no idea what I’m doing most of the time! I just have fun.

I have made my living for the last 28 years as a graphic designer, so I’m not a stranger to the color wheel or composition theory, so that’s helpful. All the graphics I create at work, though, are on the computer. It’s a completely different process, using programs that do a lot of the design and color work for me.

This is 100% hands-on. Nothing exists on the page unless I paint it, paste it, color, draw, stencil, stamp or spray it. It’s a direct path from my brain, through my hands, to the page. I haven’t created like this since I was a child. I loved art class when I was in elementary school, and I feel just like I did about it then – how fun is this?! How pretty! Look what I made!

I have that same enthusiasm now, because when it comes to this new endeavor, I’m a total beginner! No expectations of results. In fact, I expect to fail, so when I do, I laugh and figure out how to fix it, which, as it turns out, is usually fairly easy. It’s only paint. I can paint over it if I don’t like it, or turn the page and start over! Nothing lost. There’s plenty of paint and lots of paper. This is just for me. I’m the only one who cares about it. No one else will see it, let alone have the opportunity to approve or disapprove of it, as with my work. This is play, not work, and I’m the only person who decides its value.

I watch YouTube videos and I learn how to use the supplies, and with each page I learn something new. I’m not an artist, but I am creative, and this is filling me up in ways nothing else has. Expressing my creativity – my heart and soul – in this new way seems more meaningful in some ways than the writing journal practice I’ve done most of my life. It seems to access a different part of me that has not been expressed previously and that’s just a really cool thing at this point in my life!

I think it a very real way, I’m allowing my inner child to have a voice finally, and as it turns out, she has a lot to say! She was shy about writing, but she’s all in on this, and that’s pretty cool. We’re having a ball together! Making pictures with pretty colors and doing what we want – no one gets to tell us not to be messy, or that the sky can’t be green, or that those colors don’t look good together. Who cares? This is fun!

I encourage you to find something at which you are a beginner. It opens up a whole world of possibilities. As adults, we think we know what’s real, and what’s useful, and how to live. That’s all important stuff, but how boring! It becomes so restrictive and our worlds and souls shrink to those limits. Break out! What have you wanted to try but thought you were too old or didn’t have any talent? What looks like fun? Try that thing. Do it just for you! Embrace being a beginner with no expectations. You might be surprised by the path of hidden reality and sheer enjoyment that opens up before you!

What’s in your wallet?


19 years ago, at 7 am in a near blizzard, I got in my 9 year old Subaru Loyale, and drove 50 miles to bankruptcy court. My lawyer, whom I had met with once, several months prior, was supposed to meet me there.

He was an hour late, citing the weather. He got no sympathy from me. Even the trustee was unimpressed. He pointed out to him that I had come farther, and that I had been on time. I missed my scheduled time because of him, so I had to wait until the end of the regular schedule for my hearing.

I think the trustee felt sorry for me that my guy was such a loser, but that didn’t stop him from levying a $37,000 judgment against me. I had to borrow the money to pay the judgment from my parents, who had to take out a second mortgage on their house to get it. It was 3/4 of the total amount I owed. So much for starting over.

I paid my parents $500 per month for the next 7 years to repay that debt. They wouldn’t let me pay interest. I had a good job, and after a few years I was able to get a secured credit card, so was able to start rebuilding my credit. In 2009, I was able to get a loan to buy a house, and I felt like I was in the clear.

Then my dad died and I moved in with mom. Dad had been ill for a long time, and by the time he died, the house was in severe disrepair. Those repairs, along with the steep property tax owed for the next few years, forced me into credit card debt once again. Given my history, I didn’t make that choice lightly, but neither mom nor I had any savings, so I had no other recourse.

I had built good credit over the years, though, so 3 years ago my credit union offered me a high limit, low interest credit card that I used to transfer all my debt from the other high interest cards.

This past Saturday I made the last payment on that card. As I write this, I have no credit card debt. In fact, the only debt I have now is the mortgage on my little house, cuz last fall I paid off the car I bought 5 years ago. I don’t really consider my mortgage a debt, per se, cuz if I wasn’t making a house payment, I’d be paying rent, so to me it seems like the same thing.

No debt. I can hardly believe that’s true. I feel free in a way I haven’t since I left high school. Student debt that took 12 years to pay off, credit card debt, car payments on 6 or 7 cars over the years, the bankruptcy judgment, more credit card debt; owing someone something has been a constant in my adult life.

Owing, or being in debt is a powerful metaphor. Not only do I believe in karmic debt manifesting in this life, but I think psychologically I always felt I had to pay my way here because I didn’t really belong. As a child and then young adult, I felt that there was nothing here for me; that my presence on the planet was a mistake, and that I had to make up for what it took to sustain me.

I don’t feel that way now, thank goodness, so I’m hoping that my new found freedom from debt is permanent. The tide has turned. The money that was going to debt payment is now going into savings. After 20 years at Acme Health Services, I have a nice pension fund building. I’m hoping to refinance my house soon, and in a couple of years, transfer it to a reverse mortgage or sell it.

So I’ve kind of backed in to a good financial situation. I’m not rich, and I’m probably not ever going to be unless Publisher’s Clearinghouse is involved, but I feel good about my financial future in a way I never have before, and that’s a very good thing. On that day 19 years ago, I never would have imagined this day would come.

I found my way through the blizzard, and I can see my way forward clearly. It took 58 years, but I made it. Hallelujah!



Shadows on the wall

Treasure - Joseph Campbell

I came across this quote from Joseph Campbell a while ago and it struck me immediately. Yes! Of course. Life is hard. It’s not a bug; it’s a feature.

If you’re having a hard time, you’re not doing it wrong. It’s hard for everyone, even if it doesn’t seem like it. Most importantly, you’re ready for it, even if you don’t know it yet.

Humans are equipped for difficulty. We are outfitted for adversity by design with our big creative brains. We are hard-wired for problem-solving. We have the ability to think about the past, the present and the future; to remember and to anticipate. We can visualize our place in time and space.

We can control our thoughts. We can learn from mistakes. We are able to empathize with other creatures – to think beyond ourselves and our own needs. We can anticipate and avoid danger, and this has helped us survive as a species.

Somehow, however, we have become so averse to experiencing hardship and it’s accompanying emotional pain that we’ve convinced ourselves that it’s not supposed to happen. Worse, we believe that there’s something we can do or something we shouldn’t do, that will ensure a carefree life.

Happy, Happy, Joy, Joy!

But here’s the reality: That’s not the way life is, and it’s not how it is meant to be. It just is what it is. Up and down, good and bad. There’s nothing you can do, or anything you can stop doing to ensure a smooth journey through a joyous life. You can’t avoid experiencing the bad stuff. Full stop.

Every being on this planet experiences hardship.

Sadly, though, you can avoid dealing with the pain of those experiences and that’s what’s getting us in trouble now. Our big brains have solved the “life hurts” problem in the short term with all sorts of distractions – food, drugs, sex, social media – it doesn’t really matter what the distraction is as long as it pings the pleasure centers in our big brains, and gets those magic endorphins swimming around in there.

I say in the short term, because typically you can only employ these methods for a relatively brief time before they start contributing to the “life hurts” problem more than solving it, and that’s only if your distraction doesn’t kill you and/or something in your life that matters to you.

Honestly, our happy shiny/everything’s fine/I’m okay you’re okay/skating on the surface/ first world existence is killing us and the planet. Everything is not okay, and our belief that if we’re not “happy” all the time, and doing everything “perfectly” according to society’s whims we’re doing something wrong, is sad, dangerous, and just plain incorrect.

Give yourself a break. Life is hard, and if you get that and you’re facing it head on, then you are doing it right. Bad stuff happens, good stuff happens, and your reaction to both is what has the potential to make your life meaningful, to yourself, other people, and to the planet.

Instead of trying so hard to avoid stumbling, and avoiding the dark places, the problem we should set our big brains on solving is how we can better help each other go in after the treasure, holding hands, and reassuring one another. No more distractions. No more shadows on the wall. Let’s get real. In this year of perfect vision, let’s take the blinders off, and gently, kindly, help each other find our way through in the dark.

If your life is going smoothly right now and you’re having a blast, good for you! Enjoy this time. Regroup and recharge.

If you’re stumbling, do the best you can to keep going. You’re not alone. It doesn’t seem that way if you spend a lot of time on Facebook or Instagram or watching TV, but that’s all fiction. Rarely is real life depicted there. Hang out in the dark for a while until you come out with the treasure. It’s there, and you’ll find it if you look for it, rather than trying to distract yourself from the pain. Be brave.

Feel the pain, but don’t dwell on it. Listen for what it’s trying to tell you and then let it go. Pain is inevitable. Suffering is optional.

You may need a guide to lead you through, or maybe just a helmet and some rope. Get what you need. Take care of yourself. Take sandwiches; you may be in there a while. Wear warm clothes. It’ll be scary, but don’t give into the fear. Find your way through, grab the treasure – the wisdom, the healing, the fundamental truth about yourself, and/or your life, the understanding, the ability to go on – and come back into the light.

We’re waiting for you with open arms.