I decided to make 2016 the best year of my life. So, was it?

A year ago today (Dec. 31 2015) I came up with an odd plan. I read the quote The most important decision you make is to be in a good mood* and I decided to challenge myself to make 2016 the best year of my life. It’s been a year now. How did it work?

Well, implementation was challenging. A few days into 2016 I realized that I had already forgotten my plan, which wasn’t exactly an encouraging start. So I considered how most mornings I write down anything I have to do that day, often adding things I’d like to get to, errands I’ll run if I have time, that kind of thing. This daily note to myself works to ground me, it keeps me from worrying that I’ll forget something important, and it often sets my mood for the day.

Aha. Mood for the day. Well, it looked like I could just make my little lists the key. Soon, instead of merely putting a date at the top, I was writing out things like January 16 2016, the best January 16th of my life. It was a little goofy (and cumbersome) but it got me in the right frame of mind. Why shouldn’t this be the greatest January 16th I’ve ever had? I mean, I don’t remember the others.

The good news was that after a few weeks of this I didn’t have to write out the whole thing. I got the point where I could merely write down February 2, 2016 and the voice in my head would oblige by chirping out the rest. The best February 2 of my life. And instead of yelling at the little voice to shut up, I’d go out the door and try to make it so.

blessed weird 3Some days, I forgot my mission by the time I got to my car, as a minor irritation like forgetting my coffee or finding my gas tank low took over and I never recovered. Other days I kept at it for a while, or for all of the day, and occasionally I got a second wind. When any of these happened I actively looked for evidence that this March 10th was special. It won’t surprise anyone that when I did look for evidence of how fine the day was, I found it.

Glitches occurred on days that had strong past memories. Take March 17. It’s going to be hard to ever top the year I was in Ireland for St. Patrick’s Day, so I had to aim for my second best March 17 ever. Or take March 28, the day my dad died two decades ago. I tried to have a less painful day than usual, one with a bit of unexpected comfort. Yes, I found it, too.

As spring turned into summer I realized that I was helped by the fact that some things about this year really were particularly good for me. I’ve recently moved to a part of the country I like much better, and I’ve been able to go from working full time to part time and to put my extra free time into taking better care of myself and doing more things I enjoy. That’s got to be good, right?

My husband likes to point out how we seldom notice what doesn’t happen and he’s right. Late summer and early autumn brought more time than usual with those I am close to, and my new focus forced me to notice how those I love have remained healthy and safe this year, and even in many cases found more happiness of their own. Wow. A good year for them is a better year for me. Chalk up more evidence on the “best year ever” side.

But not everything in 2016 could be classed as “best ever.” There were challenges I did not anticipate on December 31, 2015. I believe strongly in tolerance and in the important of treating each other with compassion and consideration. As the presidential race came into the home stretch, and concluded with the worst of all possible outcomes in my opinion, I was horrified that so many of my fellow humans placed such little importance on these traits. I’m still trying to get my arms around that, and around my own fears for the future based on the outcome of the election.

raising ecstacy 1So, was 2016 the best year of my life? Probably not, though it offered me a lot for which to be thankful.

Was it a better year than it would have been without this goofy challenge to myself? Absolutely.

Is 2017 going to be the best year of my life? Maybe. Probably not, but I hope it will be. Am I going to try to make it so? You bet I am.

Tomorrow’s little list will say “January 1, 2017, the best January 1 of my life.”  I’ll take it from there.

(Visit “My Best New Year’s Resolution Yet” to read my Dec. 31, 2015 promise to myself to make 2016 my best year ever.)

*The quote is from François-Marie Arouet (1694 – 1778), more commonly known as Voltaire, a French Enlightenment writer famous for his wit and his advocacy of freedom of expression. He also said Common sense is not so common and Those who can make you believe absurdities can make you commit atrocities. He was man at least 300 years ahead of his time.

Party like it’s ……

fireworksWho can’t fill in the blank on this one? In the introduction to y1, the millennium nears it end and thirteen year old Zane waits for the year 2000 while singing “1999” by Prince.

While Zane struggled to flex his orbicularis oculi, a small but industrious segment of the world’s population was spending much of its time confronting the possibility of chaos and doom. These computer programmers, mostly aging geeks who knew machine code and legacy programming languages like Fortran, Basic and C, found themselves hired by companies the world over to fight small personal battles with ancient (that would be 1950 through 1980) software. Their mission? To see that computers, and all the myriad of utilities, finances, government records, shipping, and communications now largely run by these machines, would not all come to a grinding halt because decades ago well-meaning programmers just like themselves had told computers that years only had two digits.

As the year 1999 neared its end, another segment of the world’s population wrote increasingly horrific articles about this villain, dubbed Y2K, telling of confused computers leading to the end of modern society. As the end of December approached, security forces the world over went quietly on the highest of alerts. Just in case.

Prince’s 1982 hit “1999” was re-released again in time for year’s end, and at least seven other recording artists did timely covers of the song, leaving much of the world’s population singing that they personally intended to start partying like it was 1999. It was an exciting time to be alive, this end of a millennium.

But wait. It wasn’t actually the end of the millennium, and everyone past the age of four knew it. Because the Gregorian calendar, based on a perceived date for Christ’s birth and now in common usage the world over, had begun with the year one, not the year zero, everyone knew that December 31, 2000, not 1999, would mark the real end of the millennium. And no one cared. December 31, 1999, was the big day. It was the day on which the odometer turned over, the day on which all the nines rolled into zeroes. It was the day that everyone cared about. It was the day on which the world might end. It was the day on which everyone wanted to be somewhere safe. Or somewhere special. Or both.

20121101_215834If there is one thing harder to find on the internet than videos of performances of Disney songs, it would have to be videos of performances by Prince. Click on 1999 below to see this wonderful one from France that captures the energy of this great song. Enjoy!

1999

(You can buy this millennial hit at Amazon.com.)

With the second song of each book, I pick up on the intensity of the theme a little more. Click on to read about x0’s “We are the World“, z2’s “Only the Strong Survive“, c3’s “Heads Carolina” and d4’s “I Follow Rivers“.

Proud to be Irish

Dalai8My husband is 100% Irish-American, and in spite of the three generations that form a wall between him and the old country, he feels the tie. Maybe it is the 100% part — all of his family history and traditions come from the same place. Maybe it is the 16 years of catholic schooling he got along the way.  Today, he is proud of his heritage in a new way. The people he has to thank for his genes and much of his outlook surprised the world.

They didn’t hold a bitterly fought election on gay marriage in which one side managed to barely out talk the other. Instead, they voted in droves, as parties ranging from conservative to liberal stood up and said “it’s wrong to oppress people”. As a group, the Irish do know a thing or two about being oppressed. As a group, it looks like they’d as soon see less of that in this world.

The odd thing is that many in Ireland continue to hold very traditional religious views. I’ve gotten to visit the island four times, and wouldn’t particularly describe it as a hotbed of progressiveness. However, I would describe it as having a culture in which being openhearted is considered a virtue. My thoughts are that, as a group, the Irish just voted to put warmth and kindness ahead of politics or religion. You have got to love that. I plan to drink a Guinness or two tonight to celebrate. Go Ireland!

 

 

Too much joy?

cakeOne of my clearest memories is eating too much frosting as child. It tasted so wonderfully sweet all by itself that I couldn’t stop shoving globs of it into my eager eight-year-old mouth. As you might guess, I was incredibly happy for a short while, and now decades later I still don’t care much for the stuff.

click to like Your Beautiful Life

click to like Your Beautiful Life

I’ve had a bit too much emotional frosting the past couple of weeks and am suffering from a similar need to go lie down. A major family thanksgiving gathering was followed immediately by a birthday celebration that was followed by the graduation of a family member that was rolled into about ten straight days filled with food and drink and visitors and it all was very wonderful but I’ve got a tummy ache that makes me wonder if sustained joy is particularly healthy.

I think about the nature of happiness a lot, given that the ability to experience joy is one of the central themes of my novel y1.

One can wax eloquent about how we need valleys in order to have hills and while that is true, I don’t think this translates into a truth that one must endure intermittent horrible sorrow in order to feel deep joy. Perhaps it is only necessary that great times are broken up with quiet times and my problem is simply one of overload. Obviously we all need a break from rich food and alcohol, but I think that we also need a break from noise and conversation, and time to process input. No matter how much we live in the moment, at some point we need to step out of the joys of that moment and regroup. It’s a human thing.

click to like Your True Voice

click to like Your True Voice

We also need unstructured time, to do the silly and unplanned. Gatherings with loved ones can provide that, but let’s face it, they usually don’t. Groups need a certain amount of order, at least when attending functions together, and all that structure wears one out after awhile.

Joy. It comes at you lots of ways. Some weeks it’s your sister from across the country and your kids all home for a holiday and the best restaurant in Austin Texas. Other times it’s nothing but salad and fresh fruit for a day and time spent staring into the fireplace at night. Maybe even lighting a fire there first.

 

 

Holiday stress? Celebrate in your own way

click to visit The Dalai Lama

click to visit The Dalai Lama on Facebook

I recently was part of a group who was asked to explain what about the holidays makes them so stressful. Others responded with very reasonable answers. Holidays bring back memories of those they miss. Holidays push them to spend money they don’t have, or take in calories they don’t need. I can identify with all of these, of course, as can most. But what popped into my mind first was that holidays push me to celebrate in ways I don’t particularly enjoy.

Odd. I am a grown woman and nobody makes me do anything I don’t want to do, at least not these days. Yet I feel pushed to honor traditions that don’t resonate with me. I don’t particularly like turkey, but will make one because some of the family cannot image Thanksgiving without this traditional dish. I will put up a tree because all three grown children will be home and how can we not have a Christmas tree. I will buy presents because everyone gets presents for Christmas, even though as a family we have all that we need, and so much of what we want, that we have trouble coming up with gift ideas.

Click to visit SpiritualShit on Facebook

Click to visit SpiritualShit on Facebook

Don’t misunderstand. There are holiday traditions at my house that I do love. We will have fresh artichokes and lobster for both feasts. We will each pick a game to play and hand out our presents after the family has humored us and played our game. That means I get to play ping pong AND eat lobster in the same day. I like my twinkly lights lining the porch, even while I find other decorations annoying. My expressions of Christmas spirit may have shrunk down to a short list over the years, but I don’t begrudge those few things I do love the time and energy that they require.

Click to visit Hippie Peace Freaks

Click to visit Hippie Peace Freaks

So how can I make the holidays more my own? No cards again. Ran out of oomph on those about four years ago when I started to write novels, and I don’t think a soul out there minds. Okay, I’ll do a small turkey. And a little tree. Some simple presents that are usable.

Why should I bother? Because the holidays are a time for love and I want all of my family to have some of what is special to them also. I’ll try to find that middle ground. I’ll try to learn which traditions, if any, the rest of family is every bit as happy as I am to forgo. I’ll try to fill the season with things that bring me joy. I’ll try to be cheerful about the compromises I choose to make, remembering that smiles on the faces of the people that I care about are one the greatest joys of the season.

Celebrating my family values

weddingThirty-two years ago today I got married.  In retrospect, I wasn’t a particularly great candidate for a good marriage.  I liked being alone, liked making my own decisions and wasn’t terribly motivated to be a wife. However, the planets aligned.

The groom, who was no more likely than I to achieve happily ever after, grew into a better friend with each year. We gave each other space, we tried to fight fair when we had our many fights, and we tried to forgive each other when we forgot to fight fair.

Along came three beautiful children who turned to us for love and stability and who provided us with incentive to work harder at our relationship. The next thing we knew they were leaving home and this whole marriage thing had worked out considerably better than it could have and in fact much better than it usually does. Lo and behold, a couple who had started out as kids in tattered jeans had achieved the ideal of the family values crowd. So, does that mean that we have family values?

Good question. I am happy and healthy and I like my particular life. I also like red wine and raisins. Do I think everyone should have to like red wine and raisins? Even if both are good for  you? Don’t be ridiculous.

Just because I am a woman attracted sexually to men, this is no reason to decide that other women need to be like me. Just because I decided to create a monogamous relationship with one other human, why would I think that this means that everyone should? I wanted to raise children. That’s nice. It doesn’t mean that you should. My choices are mine and they worked out well for me.  Your choices should be yours and if they lead to your happiness and better yet they also lead to the happiness of others, then that’s great too.

pouring wineDon’t get me wrong, I don’t wish anyone well for being hurtful to themselves or others. I just think that living your life differently than mine is not, by definition, the wrong way to live it. Has anyone ever been made less, or their own personal joy diminished, by acknowledging that there are a lot of fine ways to go through life? There is a Buddhist saying that there are many paths to the top of the mountain, and that the view from the top is the same no matter which one you choose. Clear message: take your own path.

Do I have family values? You bet I do. Tolerance. Patience. Empathy. Respect for others. All others.  I don’t always live up to my ideals, I never have. But I keep trying.

Care for some red wine? I’d love to pour you a glass. Just as happy, of course, to share some lemonade with you. Happy also to make you a vodka martini, even if I don’t care for one myself. Don’t worry, I’ll leave out the raisins. Unless of course you insist that I don’t.