Saturday, September 2, 2017

9/3/17—Painting What's Inside And Out

My new house colors. One friend said the colors
looked like "a praying mantis in moonlight." Love that!
I recently got my house painted. It's interesting what that will do to people. 

I'll begin by saying my neighborhood is the embodiment of "location, location, location". It's a blue & white collar neighborhood snuggled between 100-year-old, multi-million dollar mansions and a neighborhood of architecturally historic homes, a few miles south of our nation's capital. In this wide tract of land flanking the Potomac River, my neighborhood is one of just a couple pockets of post-war homes affordably built for returning WWII soldiers. 

While all the neighborhoods around these pockets have Homeowner's Associations (HOAs) to make sure everything is neat and trim and perfect, as most neighborhoods do these days, my neighborhood has none. Which means me and my neighbors can do whatever the fuck we want. For the most part, despite not being threatened with terrible consequences, people do little to complain about in that regard. 

And, not for nothing, when complaining is fruitless, you tend not to even notice stuff that would cause an HOA to storm a home. We like the diverse expressions of personality displayed in our neighborhood, from people who literally plant plastic flowers in their gardens to those with impeccable curb appeal. We don't want or expect a pasteurized neighborhood. Which is a good thing because most of us can't afford one even if we did...haha. 

So anyway, I posted before and after pics on to promote my painter, who is a young, hard-working immigrant who did a great job for extremely reasonable rates. And instead of seeing the thread as a recommendation, as it was, some people used it as a forum to show just how uptight, conventional and boorishly unimaginative the people who live in the rich neighborhoods around me are.  

First, let me say, their opinions don't bother me. I have been expressing myself creatively in a very subjective industry for 30 years. I'm used to opinions about my creative choices. In fact, I find them valuable because those opinions, depending on what they are and how we address them, help both me and prospective clients either a) improve our outcomes or b) determine whether or not we'll be a good fit. When it comes to creative expression, opinions are both invaluable input about the person/organization I'm dealing with, and inconsequential to my confidence as a creative thinker. I'm not so confident when those opinions are directed at my appearance or whatever, but enough people see my value as a writer that I actually believe them.

What I am fascinated with is the...odd? inappropriate? telling?...comments that came from people...comments that had nothing to do with the painter I was recommending and everything to do with discomfort over my color choices and landscaping choices. One person made two comments, back-to-back, about how the HOA (we have none) and the neighbors wouldn't be happy about my color choices. And another person said I should get rid of all my "shrubs" up front because they take away from the home's architecture. Those shrubs are pinkish red azaleas. Just imagine how spectacular my home's architecture will look next spring. :D

The old colors with the "unsightly shrubs"
nearing full bloom. 

The funny thing is that the new paint job changed my house from MORE controversial colors (a brighter blue and yellow that was visible from space) to warmer and less attention-getting colors. AND I was torn between green and plum for the trim. A couple of neighbors were pushing for the plum, which would have been beautiful, but more overt. I decided on the warmer, more sedate colors because I had been living in a house that stopped traffic (nearly every other house on the block is either white or beige) for a decade and wanted something more "mature" and blendy for once. 

Which is to say, if someone can't abide color on a house, it could have been WAY worse! In my mind, I actually made the conservative choice. Which is why I find the comments so interesting. I mean, I've always been a bird of a different feather and I surround myself with like minds. I had almost forgotten people that uptight existed. As I told one of my friends, I had always wondered what an elitist was, and now I know. More than that, I finally know I'm not one of them...haha.

I will say, two of my neighbors swooped into the thread to give a thumb's up to my house and I received other compliments as well. (I think many on my block are probably just grateful the yellow is finally gone.) I just happen to live in a small clump of creativity, too. The two houses behind me are non-beige. The house next to me, while beige, has many artistic choices in the yard and exterior finishes. And the house in front of me, also beige, has artistically aesthetic landscaping they tend to religiously. 

To me, there is soul in a house and in a neighborhood. I have lived in this house longer than most of the neighbors I just mentioned. I know who lived in their houses before them, and in some cases, even before them. All have always been occupied by unconventional people, either in their exterior, interior or personal life choices. Same with my house. The couple who lived here before me was creative in the renovations they did on the inside. Isn't that interesting? It's like the energy of the individual home attracts the right people to it. It's like the home wants to express itself in some way. 

I have to admit when I changed my house from white to bright blue and yellow 10+ years ago, my motivations weren't entirely pure. My desire for color was pure, but I did kind of choose the colors with a bit of a middle finger raised to conventional standards. I got a good amount of push-back. It was polarizing—you either loved it or hated it. So there was some discomfort for me. I wasn't as confident then. 

But I don't know if it's age or the intention behind it—I mean, I really feel I tempered my iconoclastic urges this time around for something everyone can love—but any adverse opinions that come from this don't bother me this time around. I just find them fascinating. I was recommending a painter, not seeking approval for my paint job. And the fact that my truly adorable and expressive home troubled some people so much that they felt a need to throw stones just fascinates me. 

Do they feel suppressed in their own world and have to lash out at those who express themselves freely? Do they think their opinion holds any sway in my neighborhood (they were from surrounding neighborhoods)? Or do they just get off on being haughty? I mean most people keep their critical opinions to themselves, especially when opinions are not requested. So it's interesting to examine.

But it's also interesting in the context of how vocally polarized, opinionated and intolerant we are in the US these days. And I include myself in that mix. Our Racist-In-Chief is really bringing out a lot of internal struggles for pretty much everyone, his fans included. People are foregoing conventions, struggling with denial, fighting against truth, arguing for the sake of arguing, insisting on being heard, acting from fear and battling a host of other spiritual and personal demons—on both sides. (And there are many fine people on both sides, too...haha.)

The longer this goes on, the more I'm able to see the divine wisdom of it all. It's forcing us all to express and confront who we are, how tolerant we are, and what we are willing to accept and not accept of what is inside of us, as individuals, as communities and as a nation. From what I'm seeing, despite a president who believes otherwise, most of us support freedom of expression and a mind-your-own-fucking-business-and-stop-focusing-on-mine way of life. Some, while they feel that way for themselves, are having a hard time letting others feel the same way, too, right now. On both sides. And it is causing tension. And it is creating opportunities for self-reflection. And I am optimistic it will have a good resolution.

Freedom is not about homogenizing individual expression to acceptable levels. Perhaps it is when it comes to being a civilized society—we are rightly restrained by laws and defensible levels of behavior. Rather, freedom is about feeling safe to be who you are, whether that's living as a boy when you were born with ladyparts or giving the outside of your home some personality. The world is a better place when people have the freedom to express on the outside what is true to the person within. And I think all this turmoil going on around us and within us is bringing us around to a deeper appreciation of that. Painfully, perhaps. But I believe Americans will always choose freedom in the end.

Sunday, August 27, 2017

8/28/17—Sharing Five Things About Happiness

This is a classic post....

Odd piece of trivia: people tend to like enumerated lists of things. So if you get an email with a subject line that says "Five Things Weird People Do," you're more likely to open that than an email that just says "Stuff Weird People Do." 

Before you protest and tell me all about how you'll read any email with "stuff" in the subject line, there are, no doubt, exceptions. And you, a board-certified snowflake, may be one of them. But it's just one of those things the advertising industry does research on, then pumps into my head. So I thought I'd share it with you. Because tonight I'm really tired. And instead of writing a brand new post from scratch, I'm going to share a classic one with you—Five Things To Know About Happiness. 

1. Happiness Isn't All It's Cracked Up to Be. You very well may be happy right now and not even know it. It doesn't necessarily come with a balloon and streamers attached. It's not necessarily something you get in exchange for something good you've done. It's merely a feeling of remarkable wellbeing in body, mind, emotion, and/or soul. And by "remarkable", I'm not talking "rare". I'm talking, "hey, I'm remarking that I'm happy!" (Notice the lone exclamation point?) So it's not quite joy or bliss (which *do* come with streamers...AND a few extra exclamation points). Happiness is just a nice smile that comes from within. :) 

2. Happiness is Not a Destination. It's part of the journey. There's never going to come a day when you're "Happy. Period." We all have ups and downs. We may be happy in one area of our lives and less than happy in another. It's not a place to land and plant roots. Nor do you want it to be. Because happiness should never become mundane. If it's how you felt all the time, it wouldn't be such a gift. 

3. Happiness is a Choice. In most moments, you can choose to be happy. You can choose to see your situation as a gift. Sure, if the bad guys are chasing you with guns, it's hard to be happy. Unless you like that sort of thing. But most of us lead pretty tame lives. And we can choose to let some inconsiderate person, for example, ruin our day. Or we can choose to focus on the positives, see how good we've got it and let our bodies and minds flow with gratitude. Now, chemicals in our body can make our moods shift. But even those, we can choose to improve through exercise or pharmaceuticals or whatever. But still, we're all human, so there will be times it won't be a choice. But many times it is. And since I promised you only five things...

3a. Gratitude is a Direct Route to Happiness. Want to be happy? Count your blessings. We are all so incredibly blessed and we don't even realize it half the time because we're looking at all the areas where life has fallen short of our expectations. Well what about the vastly larger number of areas in which it has met and exceeded...or at the very least mirrored the effort we put forth?

4. You Can't Know Another Person's Happiness. So stop looking over the fence and thinking that person is happy! C'mon...think about all the times you walk around with a smile on, even though you're less than happy. Well, newsflash. Everyone else is doing that, too. In fact, some people are significantly better at looking happy than you are. The Dalai Lama is probably the happiest person on earth (that I know of, at least) and even his moods modulate. Besides, he's waited on hand and foot, worshipped far and wide and hugely respected. He was literally born to be a leader and a holy leader. But he was a leader in exile most of his life and his people were oppressed...all this happening to a very compassionate man. You want his problems? I didn't think so. So be careful what you're wishing for. 

5. Happiness Shouldn't Necessarily Be Your Goal. Contentment should. See, the ultimate goal in life is supposed to be balance, right? Well, happiness is weighted to one side of the spectrum. It's not in the center. And the things beyond center are harder to maintain. Not only that, but in order to have balance, things that are weighted to one end eventually have to be mirrored by things weighted at the other end. But contentment is at the center. It's satisfaction. It's upturned lips and a relaxed brow, but not quite a full-on smile. With contentment, there may be things in your life that are less than hunky dory, but you'll take it. Because it's pretty good overall...pretty good for a Wednesday. It's the wellbeing without the exclamation point. And it feels really nice. And, with the right mindset, you can maintain it longer.