Things About Manifesting (And Me Being Always Right)

I recently had an argument with a friend about the whole idea of manifesting goodness in your life. You know, that hinky, feel-good contrivance about imagining how you want things to be in your life and making them magically unfold through boundless optimism and faith? Like what that silly book The Secret was pushing.

Anyway, my friend was insistent that it was working for him, because he had some good things fall into place once he decided that they were going to happen. The argument basically went down like two one-sided discussions where I told him he was wrong because what REALLY made things happen was his hard work and focus, and he ignored me and continued heralding the praises of manifesting things out of thin air through nothing more than optimistic thinking. Whatever. If it works, it works, I guess, although I still maintain that he passed an important test because he actually studied and worked hard, and not because the Cosmic Powers decided he was joyful enough to grant him an Advance to Go card.

I don't think manifesting is the thing. I think what really helps is the DECIDING part, where you completely settle on what it is you want, and then start moving forward to make it happen. It's the waffling indecision that holds us back from plunging head and heart first into the Really Important Things. I mean, you don't get a job by sitting on the couch and imagining how great it's going to be. You get a job by convincing an interview board that you're the BOMB, because you've decided that you want. that. job. But you still have to go through the hellish interview process and iron a suit or decide which eye shadow is the least whoreish.

You don't build a strong relationship by hoping things work out and waiting to see. It takes risk and hard work and pain and digging in your heels.

Just like you don't pass a test by believing that the answers will mystically emerge from your noggin, you pass a test by studying hard and removing distractions that block you from accessing the information that you've put in there. Or by taking Ritalin. Either way, you've decided it's important, and you make it happen but going there and doing the thing and feeling the stress and overcoming.

no easy button
Last year I read some self-help book that I can't remember now that changed my way of thinking about how I went after things that I want. I've always been trapped in this learned helplessness of predestination and The Will of The Lord for my life that is completely ensconced in happily-ever-after fairy tales and meant-to-be bullshit. It's only in the fortieth year of my existence that I am really coming to terms with the ownership of my own "destiny" and the importance of my decisions and choices - not necessarily on what happens in my life, although as much as possible I am learning to exercise control where I can, but more on how I respond to the things that happen around me.

I'm slowly evolving from the intimidated position of choking down the sludge that I am dished out in belief that it's what I deserve based on what I have been told by the outside world, to knowing and believing that I am the one who gets to decide what I deserve and can digest the consequences of my actions accordingly, along with the rewards of the fearless taking of what is mine without remorse. Crappy things happen in life. Sometimes we don't deserve them. Thinking I can avoid them by imagining good things is just a setup for major disappointment.

But good things happen too. Not because I imagine them, but because I have decided to move forward one (sometimes painful) step at a time in the direction that I know is right and that opens doors. Sometimes, occasionally, or, if I am honest, often, The direction that "I knew" was right ends up being slightly off course, but I have learned from experience that there is something down every path for me, even if it's the wrong one. Because no wrong turns. Because sometimes the wrong way ends up being the adventure you didn't expect that changes your life. Sometimes it seems like a lucky break, but most of the times I've been lucky it's because a step that I took somewhere along the way put me in the position to run into an opportunity. Seneca says that "Luck Is What Happens When Preparation Meets Opportunity," and I want to be prepared for the opportunities, not just wishing for them.

If manifesting works for my friend (who is still wrong), then that's great, but I see the hard work that he's doing, the steps he's taking, to "manifest" the good things and open doors in his life. If he wants to give credit to some higher mystical powers for his wins, that's his choice, but I plan on taking credit for the shit that I have to slog through to get where I want to be.

I believe in good things alright, I can see them in my mind's eye, but imagining and hoping isn't the thing. It's the getting back up and dusting off your ass when life kicks you square in the gut and tells you to stay down - that's what wins the day. It's the courage to ask for what you know you deserve, and not apologize, which I am still learning. It's the balls to keep going, step by step, down a path that sometimes seems bleak and endless and lonely, knowing that right around one of those corners all the trudging will pay off for a little while. But it's the trudging, not the dreaming, that gets you around the corner.

So what he calls manifesting I call manual labor, or hard work, and we can agree to disagree. (But I am still right.)

Things About Chasing Tail(s)

I've figured out that life is a never ending game of tail chasing. Either you're chasing someone else's tail or you're chasing your own tail of self-identity. If you're lucky, the game of chasing tail that does not belong to you will be short lived and the victory will remain for ages. Or, if you're like me, it's an endless game of both. Many of us find ourselves in the confusing world of perpetual self-tail chasing along with the constantly frustrating and disillusioning chase of tail that isn't our own.

I've got no advice to offer on the subject of chasing the tails of others since I have little success from which to draw, but I am gradually learning a thing or two about chasing my own tail. 

Lately (loosely translated: all the time in my whole life), I find myself in the midst of an identity crisis. When I was 19.5 years old it was the teenager fresh from the bunkbeds of a shared room with a little sister to the bumperpad-to-bumperbad cribs of two small infants in a studio apartment with a husband I barely knew. When I was 26 it was the almost-certified wildland firefighter banished from the practice controlled burn because it was "unsafe" for me at 6 months pregnant with child number four. At 32 it was the untapped teenage angst in the body of a single mom with four kids, three jobs and a full credit load of online college classes and a penchant for microbrews. I've always been seeking "myself," but it isn't until I got to be 41 that I realized that my "self" might be just as enigmatic to me as it was when I was three years old and climbing to the top of my Dad's Oak etageres to see if I could fly. But my "self" is also as familiar to me as the pillow I keep tucked between my arms every night. I know who I am. Sometimes, I just can't see the forest for the trees. 

Mark Manson talks about the diversification of identity, and I guess that's what I've always struggled with. I know how many things I am, and I know that a lot of those things don't fit the prescribed mold, or at least, not in the moment. Three year olds don't generally fly, even from a six-foot etagere. 19 year olds aren't the best mothers, unless they're a saint, like my younger sister might have been, or maybe even my Second Daughter given the chance (but thank you for waiting). Pregnant ladies aren't the best suited for wildland firefighters and 32 year olds should just stay away from microbrews, I've learned. 

But through it all I keep pushing, keep seeking"myself." And now I am 41. I am older and wiser and doing 41-year-old things. Going to my kid's ball games and graduation ceremonies. Paying my bills and having a savings account and learning the correct pronunciation for Roth IRA, etc. I wear jeans without holes (occasionally)(unwillingly) and craft lofty and condescending justifications for my tattoos. Deep inside though, I am still chasing my own tail. Trying to figure out just who I am, and the difference between what I WANT and what I NEED and who I AM. Those lines get blurry. But the definitive moment is always just barely out of reach. Like my tail.  

I always imagined that grown ups had no question about who they "are." They are just THEM. Doctors, teachers, mothers, transportation planners, rocket scientists. It seemed so simple. I thought maybe if I decided What to Be, that I would suddenly find this serenity and zen about self-identity that would once-and-for-all end my need to climb etageres. (By the way, if you haven't Googled etagere yet, you can click on the link.) But I've decided at least 23 times what to be when I grow up and I am still not completely sure that I can't fly. Because what IF?

So the tail-chase has continued. Sometimes I thought that if I caught the tail of someone else that I was chasing, I would suddenly KNOW. The epiphany of why I exist would descend upon me in an opaque and irrefutable destiny and all of my seeking would come to an end in the person that I belonged to. I'll admit, it seems to work for a year or two, maybe even close to a decade, especially if you bury your soul in the fabric of another person and/or community who Clearly Know What's Best For You and Don't Mind Telling You. But at the end of the day, or the decade, it's really up to you, or, in this case, up to me, to know who and what I am, and what's best for me, and if I know ANYTHING, it's that nobody can tell me What's Best for Me but my very own self. (I have at least 6 for-real psychologists who will back me up on this in their less-than-helpful-self-help-techniques. For a fee. )

But anyway, here I am, 41 and still chasing tail. Still slightly insecure about what I know about myself, but knowing, deep-down and just-the-same that I KNOW who I am. I am Liv. Not Liv the mom, Liv the firefighter, Liv the Writer, Liv the EMT, Liv the girlfriend, Liv the NOT girlfriend, Liv the former wife, Liv the messy, Liv the teacher, Liv the Cashier's Assistant, Liv the student, Liv the Avett Fanatic, Liv the emotionally unstable, Liv the self-aware (The psychologists told me that. For a fee.), Liv the beer girl, Liv the wannabe... I mean, yes, I AM all of those things... but I am not just one, I am every one, all of the time. And if Liv the writer is feeling angsty at Liv the mom's basketball game, then Liv the self-aware can take the steps to do what she needs to do and get the words out. And if Liv the former wife (please review my stern disapproval of "ex" terminology") is making a mess of Liv the girlfriend, or even Liv the NOT girlfriend, then Liv the self-reliant can make the adjustments she needs to make because ALL of those things in me have given me the tools to adapt. 

Chasing tail makes the world go 'round, as it happens, both biologically and psychologically. It's the ones of us that keep seeking and keep asking questions, like "Why am I cooking french fries at 41 years old?" that make life bigger than a single wide mobile home and a 1992 Ford Escort. Not that there's any shame in starting there, Daughter with said vehicle. 

Mark Manson, whom I clearly revere and tend to overcite, says that the idea of seeking your passion is bunk, because we're already putting our time into the things we're passionate about. For some of us, that's a 9-5 job that gets us where we need to be financially, a legitimate passion to pursue. For some of us, that's hours of journaling hopeless love letters that will be burned, unread at a later date. I know people in both camps - some more intimately than others, and I believe it's true that we put our money (read:time/energy) where our real passion lies. For me, when I get writer's cramp from journaling, it seems to be at the local brewery. I am not ashamed. I am me. And I've got some fine tail to keep chasing. Plus I MIGHT be able to fly. Who knows? 

Did I mention Liv the Whisky Drinker?

Things About Beer, and Words

Today, it happened. Today, as I sat cozied up to the bar at my favorite brewery, some guy came up next to me and started talking beer. It wasn't ten minutes into the conversation that he asked me if I was the "one who writes the stories in the paper." I answered in the affirmative and he said he recognized me from the headshot with my beer column. This means I am famous. This makes me a celebrity. I have arrived. I will be selling autographs later.

It's not really that I am famous. It's really just that beer is the great equalizer. It brings people together and levels the playing field across generations, fashion sensibilities, mood swings... Beer is love. Beer makes every conversation bearable, every task (almost) enjoyable, and any company endurable. Beer is the best.

Lately I've been having a hard time writing. I mean, I can do the stuff I have to for work, but I have certainly been feeling less than inspired to spew original ideas that have any real merit. Running into somebody who reads, and actually digests, and maybe even enjoys, the words that I write, helps me feel like I am not always screaming my words into an echoless void, which might be a writer's worst nightmare - it's definitely mine.

When I left my post as the writer at the Silverado, it was more of a release of the THING that offered me a pathway into the community than it was quitting a job.  Much like beer lubricates a conversation, or a relationship, or a bad decision, writing for a local paper gave me an in. I let it go because I knew my heart was headed in a different direction, which it always it, the direction with less commitment and more insecurity, because I like adventures. And suffering. And I like having an "in," but I've found that I also like to sit back and observe in anonymous ambiguity, watching and waiting for inspiration.

I love writing about things I love. Like beer. Or history. Or psychoanalytical bullshit that I make up randomly. I don't love writing about things that I don't care about and then having to have conversations about those things with people who read my stories and expect me to be interested and/or have expertise, when in reality, I did what I was told. And doing what I am told has never been my favorite.

So back to the beer I go. For drinking and writing and making friends. And back to the writing, for thinking and understanding and being famous. Or not. Either way, as long as there's beer.

Things About Feathers and Angels and Heroes

In 2015, my life was forever changed during a very short visit to the shores of the Normandy region of Northern France. My fascination with the history of the World War II battles that transpired there had made it one of the most compelling places in the world for me to visit, and I finally got to, with my mom and Dad (who is also a war history buff) and sister. What I experienced in the brief time I spent there in the surf, on the once blood-soaked sands where the fate of the world changed forever on that June day so long ago, in the villages that still wore the battle scars from days and weeks and months of onslaught, and in the American Cemetery at Normandy - what I felt, I don’t know that I’ll ever have words for.

We stayed the night in an old bed and breakfast overlooking the town square of Sainte-Mère-Église. my bedroom window looked directly out on the bell tower of the old churchyard where American paratroopers had dropped, miles off course from their intended target, and many had met a quick end, falling into German guns like gifts from above. I stood in the moonlight by my window that warm June night in 2015, some 71 years later, and could see it all happening.

But the most surprising revelation on my trip to Normandy wasn’t on the beaches where the boats landed, or the cliffs that the Rangers scaled, or the cobblestones where thousands of American boots marched, although those places left a deep mark on me.

 The most peculiar and unexpected awakening happened for me at a castle. The most ironic part was that I wasn’t very happy to leave the battlefields and war museums to visit a castle, but my family was keen on it, so I went along grudgingly. The castle had once functioned monastery, and a prison, and many other things throughout the centuries.

The dramatic spires of the place jut up out of the ocean from the giant rock perch where Mont St Michel sits against the backdrop of the English Channel. The ancient church is an island when the tide comes in, and somewhat inconvenient to reach even when the tide is out. Surrounded by sea water or bog-like sand, the old monastery and it’s supporting village were built in and ever climbing spiral upward, as the rock allowed no more outward growth.

Toward the top of the man-made mountain is a Great Hall, where perhaps once Kings and nobles dined. Where once monks chanted in echoing reverence and solemn glory.  The ceiling of the great hall, arching nearly 30 feet overhead, was filled with floating white feathers. Suspended magically in the air by some invisible force.

I asked several people what the feathers meant. I went home and googled it, and found no cohesive answer.

While I was there, I sat in a courtyard and wrestled with my own soul over some of the never-ending personal battles I was facing. I was staring up at a golden statue of St. Michael, the patron saint of soldiers, law enforcement, fire fighters and EMTs. The monastery was dedicated to him, and emblems and depictions of the arch angel were everywhere.

I sat there, while my family milled about the passageways and halls of the ages old stone buildings, and I had a talk with St. Mike. I made him some promises, about keeping my faith for as long as he would keep my brothers and sisters safe. The cops I love and the soldiers. My firefighter daughter and all of my friends on the line. I promised I would hold fast to believing in the protection he offered and the reasons that so many people run bravely into the fray for the freedom and safety of others.

St. Mike answered me, in a way, with the feathers, which, three years later, I learned were part of an artists display for an evening event. But for me, they were the floating remnants of a battle between good and evil. Pieces of an angel's wings left suspended throughout the ages as he wrestled the dragon. I saw the fight between right and wrong, between freedom and tyranny, between danger and security being waged in a timeless space that continues every day that brave men and women engage in the battle.

Francesco Maffei, The Archangel Michael overthrowing Lucifer, ca. 1656

Shortly afterward, I had the feather of a Red Tailed Hawk tattooed on my arm, because those are the feathers of my homeland (now you know why!), and because I wanted a constant reminder of the war being waged and the pledge between me and St. Mike for my loved ones. Most days I wear his medal too, right next to my heart, where I hold the faith that good will always triumph, as it did on that fateful June day so long ago in Normandy, when thousands of heroes ran up against the dragon of evil and remain buried on that shore.

Normandy will always hold a very special place in my heart, and I can't wait to go back and have another chat with St. Mike about our deal and all the ones we are proud of.

Things About Crying in the Sink

I used to joke that all of my exes*, rather than being from Texas, were from Wisconsin. Back then I took some pride in the fact that other than the mere fact that I had more than one "ex*" to claim, there wasn't much else about my life that resembled a country song. The fact that they were from (as I think it should be called) the Middle East of the U.S.A., just meant that there was less deep-south heartbreak to correlate with my breakups, plus, my dogs were still alive and my kids were all smart and attractive, and nobody in my family had been thrown in jail in a couple of generations.

Lately, my bragging rights to a relatively melodrama free life have been circling the drain. Both my big dogs died, leaving me bereft and without a hound dog to ride shotgun in my pickup. My employment situation wavers perilously on the brink of the down-and-out blues, and my love life went tits up, relegating me to a life that is the smack dab epitome of a cry-in-the-sink country song.

Most of these things, with the exception of two dead dogs, I can boil down to matters of choice. My career path has been, to say the least, a meandering one, for which I make no apologies and generally thrive in the flexibility and enjoyment that I usually get out of it, however much stability is lacking. That's a choice I've made and I own it.

 In love, I can only blame my choices for the broken hearts I have borne. Either I chose the wrong guy, or I chose the wrong behavior. And maybe sometimes, like my recent past, I chose both.

I'd like to say that my choosing has gotten better over the years. Albeit much too gradual for my impatient taste - but I know that I have been choosing better and better in the men department and I know that as far as behavior goes, well, I wouldn't hardly recognize the girl I was ten years ago if I bumped into her today. I am getting better, no matter what they say.

But still, no matter how real those increments of improvement might be, they haven't arrived me at blissful perfection yet, and while the number and geographic diversity of my "exes*" have grown a little, so has my ability to be the kind of person that someday, when I choose the perfect guy, will make me nigh unto perfect myself, and I'll be singing the B side of that heartbreak album about heaven and having everything I ever wanted. Someday.

*Authors note: I am strongly adverse to the terminology of "exes" - I tell my girls that once a relationship ends, you aren't their anything, and they aren't yours. I don't like the ownership idea that it conveys. I have former husbands and past boyfriends (don't really like that word either...)... but they aren't "MY exes."

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