Controlling the Chaos

My current project of decluttering my life is already producing the effects I wished for. With each thing I discard I feel freer and lighter. This isn’t confined only to the material possessions I’ve kept through the years, it also includes outdated, ill-fitting, or otherwise unnecessary ideas and goals, but it begins with the material world and filters on through the mental, emotional, and spiritual. Funny how that works. I’ve always maintained that our outer environment reveals the condition of our inner state and, this cottage, with its doilies, figurines, lace, and old family chotchkies revealed my need for a home life I enjoyed growing up. It’s been nurturing and safe, but I’m ready to step out from that womb. I’m not saying I don’t like the cottage style, I’m just tired of it. It’s holding me back and it no longer resonates with who I’m evolving into, and who Nettl and I are becoming as a couple. Oddly, when I was younger I adored the grandma look, but now that I’m of the grandma age, I want a more active look. As I said to Nettl one night last week, “I don’t want the ‘Arsenic And Old Lace’ look anymore.”

I have about two weeks to get this place ready for the new furniture and as you probably have experienced in your own life, when you pick out a new sofa you notice other things that need to be replaced. Suddenly, the drapes are tired, the coffee table is out of place, and the walls are no longer crisp. Fortunately, our current wall color, a warm café au lait, works well with the new colors, which are taupe, tan, and espresso, like this Peppered Tones palette, minus the blue. I can’t tell you how relieved I am. I wasn’t looking forward to painting these two rooms again. But buying the right paint really paid off. It hasn’t faded, chipped or washed off a bit since we rolled it on nearly eight years ago. Now, that’s great paint!

The most arduous part of this project is emotional, though. Thoughts of Oh, look. Mom’s doilies! and I remember when we bought this! flood my mind, and I’m forced to decide which box something is destined for: “Keep on Display,” “Store in Attic,” “Donate to Habitat,” or “Trash.” You have to be mentally and emotionally ready for this kind of decluttering; it isn’t something I’d advise you force yourself to do. You’ll know when (or even if) you’re ready when the urge to feel unencumbered  outweighs your sentimentality, and when your peace of mind is crowded and pinched by the things you’ve been holding onto. Whether it’s an idea, a habit, a relationship, an attitude, or a table, you’ll know when it’s time to let it go. If it happens at all. I mean, it’s not mandatory for everyone in order to maintain their happiness. For me, it is. I’m done with the pain, the drama, the fear, the xenophobia, and the chaos of modern life and I’m creating a private world where curiosity, the arts, intellectual pursuits, wanderlust, and the celebration of our diverse and magical world can be celebrated. As above so below, as without so within.

Physically, the hardest part is redoing the gallery wall above the piano in the music room. I’m already taking down the Baroque frames and now irrelevant images, which I want to replace with photos of our travels, book-related events we’ve attended, and our musical performances. All that frilly filigree? Gone. Likewise, the larger wall in the living room is undergoing a radical change. Three framed pieces are being moved to other walls to make room for a grid of black and white photos we’ve taken through the years. Not photos of people, but of architectural elements, storefronts, and other interesting things we’ve shot here in Stillwater.

Mostly, my work right now consists of cleaning out the debris and clutter I’ve accumulated in myself through the years. The physical part of this project ends at the close of the day, but the mental, emotional, and spiritual parts continue.

Hm. I wonder how my inner self will relax once my outer self is planted in the recliner we’re buying…

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Your Daily Accord

So how’s your head? Are you reeling? Clutching your gut? Mopping your brow? Barfing over the rail? I admit that over the past week it’s taken a small jug of Chianti, a box of Cheez-Its, a couple of Klonopins, and a whole lot of my Woodstock & Big Sur Mood station on Pandora to make it through. I’m a strong woman, but sometimes I get pushed to my outermost limits, and the past week was about as bad as I’ve ever survived—with the exception, of course, of suddenly becoming an 18 year-old widow with a two week-old infant. That was as bad as it’s ever gotten, but there have been so many chaotic episodes in my life, it’s hard to judge.

I’m not going to go into why this week has been so rough. You know why, and I’ve chosen not to spend my Sunday focusing on it. I’m not even going to name it. I need one day each week to hold a private moratorium on the chaos, and this is it. Today I’m cleaning the house so that I can spend next week recording. I’m getting a massage. And I’m listening to my aforesaid station. Tomorrow will be here soon enough.

Living with an advocate for women of sexual assault and domestic abuse, I’ve learned a lot about self-care and how important it is. No one can stay on the front lines indefinitely. We need to be spelled once in a while in order to regroup before heading back out into the fray. Liken it, if you will, to an emergency landing on a jet. We’re instructed to put our masks on first before tending to others. The reason for this should be obvious. In the same way, when fighting any major chaos in life, it’s important to tend to one’s own immediate well being before trying to help others. And that means self-care. Go out for a walk, enjoy the normalness going on around you, the cars still drive by, shop windows are still full of things to look at, and the sun still feels warm when it’s on your face. Stop in somewhere for a coffee, a tea, a beer, a chocolate. Smile at others and enjoy their smiles in return. Then go back to the internet and the marches. You’ll find you’re stronger and calmer, and better able to lend your hand where it’s needed. One or two hours away from the chaos isn’t going to send the world plummeting into the abyss, and the self-care you’ve enjoyed will only make you stronger.

Have a beautiful Sunday and a centered week ahead.

“In dealing with those who are undergoing great suffering, if you feel burnout setting in, if you feel demoralized and exhausted, it is best, for the sake of everyone, to withdraw and restore yourself.” – The Dalai Lama

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Quiet Zone


I enjoy a great deal of quiet in my life. Not as much I’d like to, but enough to keep me happy and sane. Because I was raised in a quiet household, unnecessary noise really bothers me. Slamming doors, loud voices, visual clutter, and emotional unrest really play havoc with my nervous system. I’m not sure I’ve completely recovered from the “noise” that invaded my life in the ’90s, but it’s gotten better and I at least feel that I have some control over the volume in my life. I’m constantly having to nudge the clip and gain, but for the most part, the master volume remains well below the red line.

Some people are loud because they need attention. Some people need noise because they’re uncomfortable with silence. Some people need noise because they simply know no better. It’s the first one that wears me down the most, but sometimes that kind of noise is so deeply ingrained, even they don’t realize the attention-getting demands of their personal volume levels. Slamming cupboard doors and talking far too loudly for whatever room they’re in has become involuntary. Like kids whose voices get louder and louder the more their parent ignores them, some people talk, laugh, bump, close doors, and just generally go through life more loudly than is necessary.

“Silence is only frightening to people
who are compulsively verbalizing.”

William S. Burroughs

If you’ve been reading my blog very long you already know that I find a direct correlation between what goes on outside a person and what goes on inside them; I often refer to this as my “as above so below” rule. Do we really need to call attention to ourselves in everything we do? This is why boom cars irk me so much. I feel hijacked while that car drives by, or sits in the driveway across the street. “LOOK AT ME!” That’s what gets to me. I don’t know you and, chances are I’m never going to know you, so why should I be forced to listen to you? If you want everyone’s attention then do something worth paying attention to. Be considerate of your neighbors. That’ll get my attention, but your loud car stereo and your headlights shining in my window at three in the morning tell me only that you’re part of the troubled, insecure, inconsiderate masses shouting and slamming your way through life in a vain attempt to feel significant. But guess what? Unless you start paying attention you’re pretty much damned to being exactly what you are right now: a human noisemaker, never developing the new brain cells it takes to create true and lasting significance. You’ll spend the rest of your days waking up to loud music, a squabbling family, a loud car stereo, your loud workplace, the TV, and then your loud earbuds that help you sleep at night. Noise +noise + noise = stunted brain and crippled personal growth. Zero evolution. Recent studies found that two hours of silence daily leads to the development of new cells in the hippocampus, a key brain region associated with learning, memory, and emotion. I rest my case.

“Nowadays men lead lives of noisy desperation.”
James Thurber

Of course, I’m being half-silly here and today I’m feeling a bit more generous. Today, I’m able to see that the unnecessary noise people make is nothing but a deep need to feel they matter, that their existence holds some small significance. “LOOK AT ME!” becomes “I matter… don’t I?” And when I look at it like that, I can be more patient. I admit I have a lot of inner noise. That’s why outer noise is so disturbing for me. Until I moved to this small university town, I’d never lived in so much constant, unrelenting outer noise. I blame this on the lack of adequate noise ordinances. Even in Denver, a huge metropolis, there were ordinances in place concerning car stereos, and signs were posted that warned drivers to keep their music to a sane volume or else they’d get ticketed.

I realize that being raised in the country has a lot to do with my lack of tolerance for noise, and this is why I’m so dedicated to returning to the country life just as soon as we are able. Meantime, I work at turning down my own unnecessary noise. I don’t have to turn a yawn or a sneeze into a news bulletin. I can speak with a softer voice. As for the outer noise, I write, I think, and I meditate while giving myself an hypnotic suggestion that the noise on this corner, with its boom cars, sirens, muffler-tip pickups, and screaming kids, is completely natural to my current situation. Sometimes things are quiet, but sometimes it just doesn’t work. And sometimes I’m just going to yawn really loud.

Good Reading: Why Silence Is So Good For The Brain
Photo Credit: Deep Silence by Joachim G. Pinkawa

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Symbolism From a Relic

Butterfly leave that shit behind.

Although I’m a relic of the Sixties, I never felt comfortable with my fellow Flower Children’s symbolism concerning butterflies, rainbows, or blossoms. None of that was lost on me, I just found it rather trite and Disney girlish. But sometimes these things hit home. This morning it came to me that when a butterfly emerges from its chrysalis, it does so, completely. It doesn’t pause to reflect, to ponder, to grieve, to philosophize, to regret, to understand, to blame, or to heal. It just opens up its wings and leaves. The butterfly just leaves that shit behind forever and before too long the old cocoon dries up and disappears. That’s what happens when we truly leave the past behind, when we don’t snatch it back again and again to gnaw on like a sore tooth.

So as I head into a new week, this is what I’m determined to do. Maybe determined isn’t the appropriate word, because leaving something behind means surrendering to the void. It means giving up all my illusions of control, not bravely, but with anticipation of what lies ahead, unseen and unknown. And determination is a sort of wish for control, isn’t it? The opposite of surrendering.

Have a great week!

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