Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Grace: The Life Gone Could Have Been Mine

My sister Angi and her youngest daughter.
I recently read a memoir by Gregory G. Allen called Proud Pants, a story written from the author's brother's deathbed perspective.  Johnny has led a life of anger, addiction and consequences.  Now lying in his birth mother's house, it's a brain tumor that's finally going to put Johnny out of his misery.  Allen weaves the story brilliantly as he gets into his brother's mind so we get to know troubled Johnny and his search for escape.  We don't always understand Johnny and why he's so angry and does the things he does. The worst part is Johnny doesn't know why either. He's compelled to act out for some reasons not known to anyone.

What captured me most about this story was how different siblings can be. One brother acts out in devastating ways while the other makes the best of what the world provides him.  This idea got me to thinking about my own siblings.

My sister, Angi, died last year when she got drunk and got behind the wheel of a car.  This followed a period where it looked like she might finally get her life together. Before that she spent six years in prison for forgery and writing her own prescriptions for pain killers.  I don't mean to speak ill of the dead, but I'm not going to sugarcoat it either.  Angi's life was what it was.  It's the life she made.  I'm only sorry it ended the way it did.  She deserved better; whether she knew it or not.

When she died, my other sister, brother and I looked at each other and dared to wonder why not us.   My living sister was in a near fatal car crash many years earlier, but by some grace she lived and walked away with a broken neck. She had also been drinking.  I know my brother and I have both driven after way too much to drink.  By some grace neither of us were killed or killed anyone else.  Why wasn't Angi given the same grace?

After some thought, my living sister and I realized that perhaps Angi had been given the same grace, but she had been given it years earlier.  She pushed her luck and didn't come out ahead in the end.   The other three of us have each had our own struggles with addiction and alcohol, but we've learned from it and moved past it.

So back to the question, why one sibling and not another?  Angi had a different biological father, but I don't know that other than biology, she had things any differently. We were all raised together.   When we look at the biology though we do find that Angi's father was an alcoholic and ended his life when she was a teenager. Could that have been it?

Angi left behind two beautiful daughters. I look at them and hope against hope they'll come out of this relatively unscathed.   My parents have raised my nieces as their own from early childhood for the oldest and from near infancy for the youngest.   I want more than anything for those two girls to break the cycle and live a good, long, healthy life.   This is a case where both siblings should succeed beyond their wildest dreams.  They deserve it.

As for myself, I've stopped asking why. It doesn't matter why as long as I make use of each day I have. That's all any of us can do.  As for Angi, I hope she has found peace.  I believe that's all she was ever really looking for.

For more information about Proud Pants by Gregory G. Allen, check it out at Amazon.com or Barnes and Noble online.  You can download it for your Nook or Kindle.

Friday, July 15, 2011

Social Networking or Avoidance of Real Intimacy

We are living in the Facebook Generation.  For better or worse, Facebook, Twitter, and other networking sites are how we get our news about friends, families and even total strangers who have enough courage to share openly on the information superhighway.

I wonder what our grandparents would have thought of Facebook, or how our grandchildren will view it.  Our grandparents probably would have thought we were putting all our business in the streets.  And we are.  Our grandchildren hopefully will have moved past this and found a better way to connect with one another.  That will remain to be seen.

Are we making personal conversations and guys (girls) night out a thing of the past?   Instead of real intimacy, are we choosing the safer and more immediate solution of observing our friends through status updates and notes?  I think on some level we do opt for the Facebook way. We can see at a glance how the people in our lives are.  We can also see if someone is having a bad day and maybe it's time for that phone call we've been putting off.

We learn when our friends lose their jobs, get new ones, meet Mr.or Ms. Right and then lose Mr. or Ms. Right.  We watch relationships move from "single" to "it's complicated" to "in a relationship" before both parties are aware of where the relationships are going.  We are voyeurs in each other's lives.

Sometimes we learn of the death of a friend, we might not have heard about for days. Then Facebook seems like a good idea.  We watch how the people this person touched make comment after comment about how this person affected their lives.  The whole world suddenly gets smaller as you find you're grieving the same loss of a friend as someone thousands of miles away.  It's not a hug, but it is something.

There are smarter people than I who will study how Facebook affects relationships, but I can tell you that I think it does bring us together in ways we couldn't have imagined a few years ago.  Sure, it's not as intimate as sharing a cup of coffee with a friend, but if you use Facebook correctly, you can set up that coffee date and tell your friend how you're really doing, and you can do it  in more than 140 characters.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Olive, an Urban Dive

The Swiss Chard Tart is amazing.
I don't usually do reviews, but I'm going to make an exception.  Kinda.  If you live in Dayton and are a fan of downtown businesses, you've undoubtedly heard of Olive, an Urban Dive.  If you haven't, you certainly will. Olive is at the corner of Wayne Avenue and Third Street.  It's in the old Wympee's building.

Olive is the brainchild of Kimberly Collett, someone who has spent her life making other restaurant and catering businesses a success.  Now as a small business entrepreneur, Olive is her baby. From the bar she built herself to the late hours she and others spent gutting the old landmark, Kimberly has had her hand in every part of making the restaurant a reality.

Go Kimberly!

Now, I love Olive for two reasons really.  I love it because the food is delicious and the restaurant is dedicated to using all local farmers and products for it's menu.  The second reason I love it is it's a dream come true for a hard working person who deserves success.  Opening a restaurant in a depressed area such as Dayton could be an insane idea, but because of the heart Kimberly puts into it, it's a brilliant idea.  People love success stories and no one deserves it more than someone willing to put her all into it.

Experts say during a recession is the best time to start your own business.  I suppose I have to agree.  Anyone who has ever had a dream deserves to see that dream come true, especially when everything we hear on the nightly news is bleak.

If you're interested in supporting a local business and having an excellent meal, check out Olive, an Urban Dive.  Right now they are only open for lunch, but plan on dinner by October.   For more information, check them out on Facebook or at their website, www.olivedive.com.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Starting Over

A friend recently posted on his Facebook account that he wishes life had a bankruptcy clause where you could you walk away from everything and start fresh. I've been thinking about that too. It's not that I want to walk away from my family and friends, but the idea of beginning fresh has a whole range of possibilities and could be exciting.

I think biology says, if I remember correctly, our cells renew every seven years.  So, essentially we are a new person every seven years, but we're still stuck in the same old patterns, expectations and limits we place on ourselves. What if we broke free from that? Can we?

I think we can start over, but it takes courage.  What we know is comfortable, even if it isn't always what we want.  Starting over means stepping out of the comfort zone and trying something new.  A new location. A new job. A new outlook on life.  A new identity of sorts.

We can start over because it is we who defines ourselves, not those around us.  Others may have their expectations of us, but we set the rules for who we are.  We can never let go of that power or we become who everyone else wants us to be and we lose ourselves in the process.

Be who you want to be.  Its never too late to redefine yourself.

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Sometimes You Have to Splurge

I like to rent cars.  It may seem odd, but it's true. Weekend car rentals are usually inexpensive and with last minute deals and coupons, you can rent a 2011 Ford Mustang for less than thirty dollars for the whole weekend.    This comes as a surprise to many, and of course the same deals aren't available everywhere, but I usually have great luck.

I live a relatively practical and frugal lifestyle. I drive a car that's small, but gets great gas mileage. I turn off the lights when I leave the room and I turn down the air, when no one is home.  I recycle and save jars to reuse as canisters or containers for holiday baked goods.  I grew up in a time when money was tight and with my father in construction, we didn't always know when he'd finish a job how long it would be before the next one.  There were many nights of macaroni and cheese, hot dogs,  and peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. We were always cared for, but money was something I learned to respect.

As an adult I haven't always been good with my money. When I began earning my own, I rebelled against my childhood fears of poverty by splurging and sometimes spoiling myself.  Those spending habits didn't last long before the reality of poverty set in again.

Now I know the real power of money is that it offers options.  Not happiness. Just more options.  Even though I struggle with every paycheck, like so many these days, every now and then I have to splurge.  When I rented a car recently I had a choice between a practical midsize sedan or a  convertible. The cost was $23.13 for twenty four hours. I chose the convertible.

I drove down interstate 75 with the moon shining over my shoulder and the wind blowing through my hair.  It was the perfect end to a long day and month.  I cranked up the volume on the car stereo as the ideal song began to play.

"On a dark desert highway, cool wind in my hair.
Warm smell of colitas rising up through the air.
Up ahead in the distance, I saw a shimmering light." 
~ Hotel California

Whenever you get the chance, choose the convertible.  It makes the peanut butter and jelly sandwiches worth it.

Friday, July 1, 2011

The Price for Your Soul in a Bad Economy

If you had a friend who came to you and told you that her husband was mentally and emotionally abusing her, please tell me your response would not be, "Well, at least you have a husband."   It sound pretty ludicrous, right? We've moved past the 1950s mentality of needing to be married so much that we're willing to put up with abuse.  Right?

What about work?  "Well at least you have a job," I was told after telling someone the kind of mental and emotional abuse I was having to deal with at one job.  It was so bad at one point, I would sit in my car sobbing before I went in to work.  At it's worst, I actually considered suicide because I saw no other way out.

Not to downplay the reality of the job situation out there, but do we really deserve to be abused?  People are losing jobs they spent years at only to find jobs making a fraction of what they used to make, putting up with abusive bosses and human resources departments because there is a stack of resumes sitting on someone's desk proving that others might be more willing.

Some unscrupulous bosses and companies are pushing the limit of what people can and are willing to take.  Workers compensation cases and sexual harassment cases are down.  It could be fewer people are employed, or it could be those employed are too afraid to rock the boat.   They are being bullied by the higher ups.   As people fight to keep their jobs and a roof over their heads, they will accept more and more abuse. We qualify it.  "Well, at least I have a job."  Pretty soon we believe what we're told and we lose a little more of our dignity every day.

It took me a whole lot of years to find my self esteem and know that I'm worth more than what others tell me I am.  I will not give that away to anyone.  Least of all an employer who only sees me as a line item on a budget.

I've always been a "power to the people" kind of guy and this is no exception.  When the financial crisis is over and people aren't forced to accept the scraps offered, I hope the American worker rises up and turns the tables.

Corporate America with your over-paid blow-hard CEOs, you're about to get the finger!  Or five.  Bend over.