A Year of Thanks

1 post a day for 365 days showing gratitude

The American Dream October 9, 2014

Filed under: self-discovery,self-growth — courtsbrogno @ 9:28 am

One of the first class activities I do in my critical thinking class goes something like this (there are varying ways to do this activity, but this is the easiest):

I tell the class to close their eyes and imagine their life at 35 years old. What do they see? Imagine? Then I ask the students to open their eyes and write down what they envisioned. After about five minutes I ask students to share.

Almost always they have all envisioned the same thing: a house with a green lawn, a few kids, a handsome/beautiful husband/wife, a nice car, a good job where they’re climbing the ladder of success.

I ask them to consider why they all have seen themselves in the same way ( and most of them are a bit shocked that their dream is the same as everyone else’s) ? Eventually, someone will say, “well, because this is the American dream.”

This is a great way to discuss group think or the collective conscious. We don’t even think critically about our future. It’s seemingly implanted in us from birth. Now, I don’t think there’s anything wrong with the American Dream and the point of this assignment is not to negate any student’s dreams (unless I choose to play and dissect the Talking Heads’ song “Once in a Lifetime.” Then the whole class gets really somber), but rather to show them the power of not thinking critically.

And then to ask: What happens when you turn 35 and perhaps you haven’t achieved this goal? Someone always blurts out, “You take anti-depressants,” and we all laugh, until we realize the truth behind this statement.

All this is to say that this past weekend, as I was driving down to my 20 year high school reunion, I couldn’t help but think of the American Dream and how much I don’t fit into its perimeters. Normally, I’m okay with that. I like my life–actually, I love my life. It’s unconventional, I know, but it’s also my reality. And why would I feel badly about my own reality? I worked hard to get where I am and I am proud of my achievements even if they can’t be labeled nicely or fit into a tight definition.

But even I have my doubts. And as I drove down to Newport Beach last Saturday, I couldn’t help but feel insecure. I was about to see a whole lot of people that, for the most part, I haven’t really seen in 20 years. But some of them I follow on Facebook, so I can see how perfect their lives seem: they are the epitome of the American Dream.

I arrived at my hotel, checked in, and immediately took a nap. The drive was exhausting, but I think I needed a mental shut down before returning to my past. Because I was going to the reunion by myself (my best friend Michelle is about to have a baby any day now, so she bowed out, and my other friend Danielle refused to go), I had made arrangements to meet up with a friend from high school, Toffer, who was also going alone. Interestingly enough, Toffer and I, while acquaintances in high school, have developed a pretty good friendship via Facebook. Actually, I think he’s the only person I’ve ever become better friends with on Facebook.

Toffer is single, never married, and has no children. Perhaps that’s why we gravitated toward each other as the days leading up to the reunion neared: texting each other and making silly jokes. To be honest, it was Toffer who convinced me to go in the first place, using FINE persuasion skills (his JD degree is not going to waste, that’s for sure). Anyway, he met me at my hotel room and we got ready together and caught up on our lives. But we were both nervous (albeit, me more so) about not fitting in. Toffer was worried that everyone would ask him why he’s never been married (His joke: because of 9/11. The reality: he’s picky and was in school for a long time), and I was worried about having to answer to having 2 kids (who are the dad? dads? wow! dads! and still single!). But we put on our game faces and went.

And it was actually fine! Everyone looked great–I don’t know how we did it, but I think we all looked tons better than we did at 18 (OK, if you think about the fashion of 1994 then some of this makes sense, but still…). And there were so many people that I didn’t expect to see and yet was so happy to catch up.There was no hierarchies of “coolness” leftover from 20 years ago, and everyone seemed to mingle in and out of groups. Of course, there were people that I barely knew in high school that I didn’t talk to, but for the most part, it was really nice to see everyone.

While it was nice to see everyone, the conversation tended toward superficial: where are you living, what do you do, how many kids do you have, your wife/husband does what? But I think that’s to be expected when re-meeting so many people after such a long time. yet even though the conversation was kind and no one said anything judgmental or asked any overly-invasive questions, I still had this lingering feeling: God, everyone here has achieved the American Dream. I mean, really, the statistic could have been that everyone owned a nice house, most living in California still (and many still in Southern California), 2.5 kids, a dog, a nice and expensive car, a wonderful spouse. I couldn’t help but feel a bit of shame for my low(er) income, my renting status, still being single, and even my aging dog.

But then people started drinking more and slowly things began to change.

The drunker people got and the more comfortable, the more “real” their lives became. Many are in unhappy relationships, but feel stuck (I say feel because I don’t buy into the “I am stuck” version of life. We choose to remain stuck and can un-stick ourselves at any time) because while they’re in a loveless marriage, they have kids and a stable 2 person income. Many hate their job (I swear, one guy I spoke to, I actually thought might kill himself the next morning, he spoke with such bitterness). Kids, well, we all get overwhelmed with kids so that’s no big surprise. But slowly the American Dream didn’t look so good anymore.

And while I’m no statistician, I have to say that this was not a small sampling of people at the party. This was almost everyone I spoke to. During our post-reunion conversation, Toffer said he had the same experience, so between the two of us, we covered many of the attendees.

I didn’t actually have any real moments of schadenfreude, but rather, I just felt really good about my life. It might not be the most conventional way of living, but I am happy. I do like my job. I may be single, but I’m not miserable at all.

I don’t know what I think about the American Dream anymore. Some people make it work brilliantly and others get caught in misery. I do know, though, that we should all look at our lives critically and understand that the American Dream is, in fact, mostly just a dream.

 

my new year’s resolutions January 5, 2014

Filed under: self-growth — courtsbrogno @ 11:45 am

This post is a little late and not because I’ve been busy, though I have been actually, but because I didn’t think I would make any new year’s resolutions this year.

As the new year came upon me, I listened to my friends’ resolutions and read much advice from online magazines, newspapers, and websites, most being passed around and shared on facebook.

But nothing seemed to fit. Sure, I could get out and exercise a bit more, but whatever, it’s not enough for me to make a resolution about. I could also eat better but chances are, once school starts again, I won’t and I don’t need to feel guilty about not fulfilling a resolution I knew wouldn’t be possible or wouldn’t be something I cared enough to do.

Of course, I thought about being a better mother, taking the kids to do fun stuff more often, but hell, I think about that all the time, so again–no need to make a resolution about it.

So I settled on making no resolutions. Letting this be the year of “my resolution is not to make one.”

But I failed in that case as well because I have, in fact, made two resolutions I greatly care about. Two that I do hope to accomplish in 2014.

The first one came to me when I received an email from wordpress.com letting me know my 2013 stats. Sadly, I had only posted 9 new posts for the past year. Going from 365 posts a few years ago to 9 seemed unfathomable, and yet…there it was: Only 9 posts. When I received this email, I had been sitting down to rewrite a portion of a book I wrote this fall. Amidst all the work and chaos of fall, I did have this complete urgency to write, and so I took a few minutes here and there, a few hours alone in my office when I didn’t have grading to do, some late nights sitting in my bed, and wrote–in about one month–a draft of a new novel. And it’s  a story I really like. Something that has potential. I want to publish this. I’m proud of my draft, every chapter hand written.

book 1(This turned into….)

book 2(This. A completed first draft of a novel)

During the fall, I also had time to type the first 7 chapters (about half the book), making revisions as I typed, and send it to my friends Melanie and Neal to read. They both had great revisions for me to make, and I didn’t feel discouraged. But then, during the holiday break, I found myself trying to type up Chapter 8, but the revisions weren’t coming to me. I essentially got writer’s block even though I had already written the book. Maybe what I really got was revision block. Anyway, sitting at my computer typing words onto a word document that I didn’t really like, I got the email from wordpress about how little I had written in the past year. I know that the key to writing is just sitting down and doing it. I teach this everyday to students, but it’s become apparent that despite my sudden burst of creativity, I can fall into the dredges of not wanting to write anything because I’m not inspired when the truth is I’m not writing because I’m out of practice.

Thus, Resolution #1: Write more often.

My second resolution came from a conversation between Kirby and I as we were getting ready to go out on New Year’s Eve.

nye 2(Kirby and I posing after we finished getting ready)

We weren’t discussing resolutions, but Kirby was talking about some girl he met–something not really that important in the bigger scheme of things, as in it was just a normal, boring conversation–when he said: “Listen, I’m 34 years old, and I just realized I’m beginning to go bald. When did that happen? And I don’t really care about my age, but I know that every day I get to live on this planet I’m going to live it according to my rules and not what others think of me. I don’t know when I’m going to die or when I’m going to be totally bald, but I do know that I’m going to live each day to the fullest.”

O.K., so that’s what I recall he said, though it certainly wasn’t that verbatim. But in that moment, it kind of hit me: that’s how I’ve been living recently. I have stopped caring about what other people think of me because I know I’m a good person who makes mistakes and lives with them and tries to be better and sometimes succeeds and sometimes fails–in general, I’m a normal person. But all the pressure from what people think about my decisions, I’ve generally let go of. As in: I don’t give a shit and I just want to live my life.  Now to live each day to the fullest is a complete bullshit, yolo idea and I’m actually pretty sure Kirby didn’t use that cliche exactly, but it amounts to the idea of what he was saying. And I know I won’t live each day to the fullest because no matter how bright my outlook may be each morning, by the end of many, many days, I know I’ll be mired down in work, and kids, and schedules, and I’ll be so exhausted that to think of “how I lived my day to the fullest” will sound like the cruelest of sentiments (even if I can rationalize that doing all my day to day stuff IS living my day to the fullest). But in the free moments I have, in the moments where I can be alone or go out or sit down with my kids or take them to the park or eat a family dinner, I can promise myself that I will live according to my terms, and my terms do include taking in consideration my children’s needs because they are essentially appendages of me and my life.

Resolution #2: I will live each day according to my rules (and I must point out that I do not mean this in any kind of Nietzsche-an “ubermensch” way, but rather in the way that makes me and my family happy while still living in a world with confines and rules, though not necessarily allowing myself to be governed by what others think or by what society tells me I should be doing).

So Happy New Year to everyone. And to myself. 2014 is already shaping up to be an amazing year.

nye(S and me on NYE)

 

 

 

regret…oh how i love to cling to it October 2, 2012

Filed under: self-growth — courtsbrogno @ 11:26 am

and yet, I shouldn’t.

I love this video. It’s so true:

 

But how to actually put these words into action? Tell me that.

 

 

1640 words of “the end,” paralysis of analysis, Prufrock, and a new start (and I’ll keep blogging) March 22, 2011

Filed under: favorites,self-discovery,self-growth — courtsbrogno @ 6:44 pm

It’s obviously been more than a day since my last post. Quite awhile. And while I’m usually a quick writer, I began to feel incredibly stuck with writing a significant last post. Usually, my writing process starts in my head. I mull over what I want to say and organize my thoughts all in my head. Then I set out either writing an outline or just going for it. For this blog, I usually just write quickly whatever may come to mind. There have been some posts that have been planned, but I’ve felt no obligation to be deep or even grammatically correct. I knew when I began writing this blog, I wouldn’t have the time nor interest in aiming for perfection or deep insight.

But my last post? The end of my year of thanks? I knew that should be deep and mindful and even inspiring.

So I started thinking and reading some old posts, and then I froze. I just didn’t know what to say. So much happened in the past year and I was overwhelmed. I didn’t even know where to start. Every day I thought of a story to start this important blog post. Perhaps I’d write about the time I started a photography class and then quit. Perhaps I’d start with an early story from my childhood, one that elicited when I broke, when my emotions shattered from disappointment and how I built myself up from that. Maybe I’d start with how hard I worked to put myself through school, all the late nights spent writing long essays about, oh, say, Tennyson and how much I’d grown from those experiences.

But I didn’t write a thing. I developed paralysis by analysis. I couldn’t put into words how I was felling or how much I’d learned. I spent over 2 years reeling in the muck of my life, beating myself up for past failures. Then I spent a year building myself up, working diligently to change my viewpoint by chronically what I was grateful for and delving deep into my insecurities through therapy.

I didn’t know how to record the changes, the deep, deep changes I’d made in myself. Plus, I wondered how much of these deep changes were even tangible. Again, paralysis by analysis.

So I did what I always do when I’m stuck. I went for advice in the best, greatest minds. I perused my bookshelves and reached for the first book that called to me. Surprisingly, it was a book of poems my T.S. Eliot.

I can’t even remember the last time I read T.S. Eliot. Probably in graduate school. And I don’t know what drew me to this particular book, but I grabbed it and sat on the couch. I turned to my favorite Eliot poem. And while I know “The Wasteland” may be his most famous, I can’t help but love “The Love Story of J. Alfred Prufrock.”

I read. And I thought. And I knew that while I had healed myself in a number of ways, I had also turned slightly into Prufrock. My life had become Prufrockian.

Case in point: I read this stanza at least 20 times:

And indeed there will be time
To wonder, “Do I dare?” and, “Do I dare?”
Time to turn back and descend the stair,
With a bald spot in the middle of my hair–
[They will say: “How his hair is growing thin!”]
My morning coat, my collar mounting firmly to the chin,
My necktie rich and modest, but asserted by a simple pin–
[They will say: “But how his arms and legs are thin!”]
Do I dare
Disturb the universe?
In a minute there is time
For decisions and revisions which a minute will reverse.

For I have known them all already, known them all:–
Have known the evenings, mornings, afternoons,
I have measured out my life with coffee spoons;
I know the voices dying with a dying fall
Beneath the music from a farther room.
So how should I presume?

Is it even more prophetic that I was actually reading this as I stirred the sugar into my coffee with a spoon? Oh Prufrock, you may be a man, but you summed up how I was feeling, as a woman.

Had I over-examined my life?

Had I stopped living?

Was I dealing with the same overwhelming life question of Prufrock:  How can I live a meaningful existence within a modern society and within my own mind with walls built so high that I can barely see over them?

Have I been a passive observer of my own life?

Finally, who is the intended audience of my life?

Paralysis of analysis.

I have accomplished so much in the past year, the least of all actually staying committed to writing for an entire year. I have looked backwards and forwards and mostly stayed in the present. I have felt some old wounds heal and watched new ones grow. I have become stronger, more dedicated, and less prone to self-doubt. I have realized the wonderful and devoted friends that surround me in all aspects of my life. I have felt loved and less lonely (when, truth be told, I didn’t even realize how lonely I had been).

But I hadn’t really put all of that analysis in action. And I got stuck with the question of NOW WHAT?

I looked back to the “About” section of my blog in which I hastily wrote on March 4, 2010 as I was just learning how to put together a blog:

After 3 relatively messy, lonely, boring, and thought provoking years, I am attempting to re-center myself. First step? Taking a year to note what I am thankful for. From there? Live and move on.

I believe I made a commitment before I even started writing to finish the blog and then to “live and move on.” Good advice from over a year ago. Wise advice. Live and move on.

Gratitude has been great, overwhelmingly good for me. Living out my life, not passively but actively, will be a bit more difficult. Difficult and unsure, I will live life, full of gratitude and composed of action. Yes, I will observe and record, but I will also write my own story.

So let the adventure begin.

But first, my birthday. It was a grand day.

Starting with hearing my best friend Sofia tip toe into my house at 5:15 a.m., driving from San Diego all night after she got off work. Then at just 7 a.m., coming downstairs, wide-awake and ready to walk downtown to take me to coffee. Sofia, I’ve decided, doesn’t need sleep. She may be a vampire. But she’s my best friend, my love, the woman who constantly inspires me.

(walking downtown with the kids, Sofia, and Sofia’s daughter Isabella)

(Isabella and Maddie: happy best friends as well)

Then we came home and my brother-in-law was cleaning up my yard and my friend Jenn was cooking in the kitchen. We talked, cleaned a bit, and waited for Jill and Ryan to arrive, my best friends coming from Orange County.

They arrived and Sofia, Ryan, Jill, Luke, and I all went on a hike. Taking a hike was the one thing I really wanted to do on my birthday, and I even chose a path I had never been on before. Having my best friends there to accompany me made the hills, the sky, the air even more magical.

 

(Jill, Sofia, and Ryan: they make me so happy)

 

(I glow with happiness to be with such great friends, on top of a mountain, surrounded by my beautiful town)

Once we returned to the house, we were on a quick run of cleaning the house and getting ready. Kids were gone and bottles of wine were opened. I had wanted to take picture of every one of my friends who came, everyone who helped mold and change my life in some way, but I was having too much fun, and the following photos don’t capture all the dear, dear friends who came and helped me celebrate turning 35, but for everyone who was here, and for all the friends who couldn’t make it, I am incredibly grateful to have you in my lives. Truly, this was more of a celebration of them than me.

(My  sister and Jenn. Without them there would not have been a party. They did everything!)

 

(Sofia. She may be a vampire, but if I was a lesbian, she’d be my wife.)

(Colleen, who helped cook and get the party ready. She is an inspiration to all who know her)

 

(Mike: the kindest man I know)

 

(Sofia and Grace. Grace is the epitome of her name. I love her so much.)

 

(Mike and Reese, the best musician I know)

 

(Michelle, Jill, and Grace. I’ve known Michelle since I was 15; Jill since I was 17. I look up to these women and aspire to be like them)

 

(Malik, the best DJ in town and Tim, a wonderful food-savvy friend)

 

(My very, very best friends)

 

(All of us together)

(A party in action)

 

(My beautiful birthday cake, brought by my best friend, my soul-mate, Denise)

(That’s a lot of damn candles)

 

(THANKFUL)

And so it ends, the year of thanks. It’s been a good year, a healing year.

A year that I already miss, but am thankful to for.

And yet, surprisingly, I’m missing writing.

So there will be more.

Thankful Tuesdays will start next week. And while I know Thankful Thursdays sounds better (that great “th” alliteration), Tuesdays I don’t have Luke and so I have more time to write.

I will still be thankful, but I promise I will also be active.

Because as Mary Oliver says, “”Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?”

Oh, Mary Oliver, I plan to do it all.

 

 

 

 

 

the facebook revolution February 13, 2011

Filed under: self-growth — courtsbrogno @ 6:18 pm

I often wonder what life was like before facebook. How did I keep in touch with all my friends?

Oh, wait. I didn’t.

What did I do when I had a spare moment of time and didn’t have a facebook account to check?

Probably something really productive. Or intellectually stimulating. Something more noteworthy than commenting on a funny youtube video posted by a friend.

These examples sum up facebook, I think. It’s ridiculously useful when trying to keep in touch with friends and family and it’s stupidly counterproductive to anything else really useful in my life. Yet as much as I want to jump on the bandwagon of hating facebook for a million socio-political-ethno-reasons, I have to admit, even with all the negatives, facebook is still pretty badass.

Case in point: the other day, I was driving down the road and I saw a man cross the street and I thought to myself, “He looks familiar.” A few minutes later, I thought, “I think that was Spooner.”

Spooner. A name I hadn’t thought of in at least a decade. He was a guy I really, really briefly dated over a decade ago. In short, he was  a cool guy and I basically ditched him and was a total bitch in the process.

Come on, I was young. And stupid.  And immature. O.K., I was a raging egotistical mess.

So, after his name popped into my head, I thought, “I should apologize to him.”

But since I couldn’t remember his real name (Spooner, of course, was a nickname), I sent my friend Katy a text, and by the end of the night, she had texted me his name back, and then I did a simple facebook search, found him, and sent him an apology message.

So easy.

And, he responded and accepted my apology.

While my apology was hardly life changing for either of us and probably on many levels not necessary, I still am glad I took the time to apologize. I’m glad facebook made it so easy to find him.

In the end,  guess facebook can be whatever you really want it to be. I check my facebook daily, but not obsessively at all. I use it to communicate with friends and family, but not stalk random strangers (like a lot of my students do. You should hear their stalking stories!). I’m pretty thankful for facebook today and for the chance to send out a small apology from a short period of my life. Small, but significant.

P.S. I’ve been trying for years to find Aaron Farnsworth on facebook with no luck. Aaron was in my 3rd-6th grade class. In 6th grade, he was the oldest of 12 kids (I’m serious). His family was really poor and none of his clothes fit—his pants were always at least 4 inches above his shoes and all the kids made fun of him, including me (though, to be honest, not as much). He was totally bullied by all the bigger boys in the class (and this was before bullying was a school buzz word, and so he really had no protection). I still think about this kid and feel bad all the time. I want to apologize so badly. I guess facebook can’t make everything right, so to make it public:

Aaron, I am so, so, so sorry for the way I behaved when I knew you in 3rd-6th grade.  You deserved better friends and better school protection against the bullying and teasing you endured. I would do anything to go back in time and be your friend.

 

being unprepared to discuss art and myself as an artist February 11, 2011

Filed under: self-discovery,self-growth — courtsbrogno @ 10:03 pm

About a week ago, a woman I know, Mary Kay, who taught at the university with me and who basically taught me how to teach and who is also in my book club, a friend, and someone I admire so much, sent me an email asking me if I was available today, from 10:30-11:30 to participate in a panel discussion about mentoring in the arts, taking place at the university.

I usually have office hours during those times, but I knew I could cancel, so I responded that I as available.

Mary Kay emailed me the information, but to be honest, it was pretty vague, and all it basically stated was that I would be part of a panel discussion about what Mary Kay said: mentoring in the arts.

So when I got to campus and looked up where I was supposed to meet Mary Kay, I was a little unnerved to discover that it was taking place at the university’s performing art’s center…on the stage.

And when I arrived, I quickly found out that I was part of an 8 person panel discussing, of course, mentoring in the arts, IN FRONT OF AN AUDIENCE. A large audience. An audience of top local big shots and artists.

I am not exaggerating when I say that I have a serious panic attack.

But before I even had a chance to take a deep breath, I was seated IN FRONT OF ALL THESE PEOPLE. While everyone was introduced, I realized that all these women had amazing stories to tell. Some were dancers, some were musicians, some where painters/sculptures. It seemed like everyone had traveled across the world to perform/showcase their art.

I honestly had no idea why I was there (I was representing the art of writing!).

We were asked to answer the question: how old were you when you discovered your passion for this art and how have you cultivated it?

Of course, every woman had some amazing answer about how as a child she started cultivating her art, she devoted herself to it, she traveled the world expressing it or in search of it.

When my turn came I answered honestly: My biological father was an amazing storyteller. My parents divorced. Stories were no longer told. I majored in history because I loved stories. After my BA, I kind of stumbled into writing not necessarily because of a passion, but more because I didn’t know what else to do. And yes, writing is a passion of mine–not fiction, mind you–but it all came rather late in life (compared to the others), and has only been something I cultivate when I have time (which is not a lot). But I do love telling and hearing stories.

That was a condensed version. I’m sure I was more eloquent. I hope I was, at least.

More questions were asked and I did my best to just answer honestly, even if that meant I didn’t actually have a wealth of knowledge on the subject.

I felt like such a loser. I couldn’t compete with these other women at all. I didn’t even know why I was there.

But then as I was leaving, a few people from the audience came up to me and said how much they admired my story, how much they are still searching for their passion, how my honesty was refreshing.

It made me feel better. And it made me realize that maybe I do have a bit of wisdom to share, however small it may be.

Besides the fact that I’m still not sure why I was there, I am thankful I participated (and didn’t run away as soon as I saw the large audience).

I guess sometimes the best lessons in life, even the best artistic lessons, are stumbled upon.

 

letting go February 9, 2011

Filed under: self-growth — courtsbrogno @ 6:54 pm

I’ve often written about how thankful I’ve been for cleaning my house when it was the last thing I wanted to do. After cleaning, I’ve always felt so much better and have gone to bed with a sense of accomplishment.

Not tonight.

Tonight the house is destroyed.

Luke’s mess:

Maddie’s mess:

My mess:

 

I will not be going to bed with a sense of accomplishment tonight, and after thinking about my schedule tomorrow, probably not tomorrow night either. The mess will grow bigger and bigger. By the time Friday rolls around, I may even find it difficult to walk across the living room.

Oh well. I’m really busy right now, and I’d rather spend my spare time hanging out with my kids and even grading a few essays than scrubbing a toilet, vacuuming, or sequestering Maddie to her room to pick up.

I’m pretty sure Friday’s going to be filled with cleaning, but until then, I’m thankful to be at peace (for now) with letting go of my house duties.