Diversions

Ooo, shiny!

We live in an insatiablely intolerable world at times. Life is a messy, dirty, steaming pile of excrement some days. There is no escaping the to-do lists and the schedules and the ever growing piles of bills. It almost makes me jealous of the people of old who lived short miserable lives. At least they were short…

I’ve never been able to drown out my worries with diversions. I hear of people escaping their troubles and woes with movies, music, video games, or even alcohol. Perhaps I’m just not a focused enough person to forget my cares and immerse myself in numbness or fantasy? I can only be so distracted before my mind wanders back to the struggle of the day.

Painting, writing, playing Pokémon GO with my kids and wife. I enjoy these. But none provide any forgetfulness. Stress is always right there making it hard to find forgiveness for not accomplishing everything on that to-do list. “Why are you taking a break when you should be doing this?!”

Will it ever change? Maybe. Maybe one day my cares will be few enough to drown out with frivolity, at least for fleeting moments. Until then I’ll just continue distracting myself half-heartedly.

What’s Up With Marie Kondo?


There’s a new craze going on. People are going “KonMari” on their homes and tidying them up. Lives are changing, with every cymbal flourish and Marie Kondo Coo, rooms are being magically transformed from dumps to habitable spaces.

I knew nothing of this show until it started appearing in my newsfeed. Then my wife watched it…

My wife has spent literally the last ten years trying to KonMari our house without knowing she was doing it. She has emptied her closet onto the bed several times and whittled down the clothes to a manageable number. She has sought to create spaces for the objects that she loves to be on display to bring joy to her house. She emptied and rearranged kitchen cabinets, she disposed of piles of things that no longer meant anything to anyone (and a lot that she still loved).

But because of me, this labor was in vain. I am a hoarder, or at least a recovering one. I have held onto papers and books and random objects from my youth for odd and unhealthy reasons. It’s been a process, slow and painful (yet cathartic), to get rid of my stuff and only keep what really makes me happy.

So seeing the craze, and hearing my wife’s reviews, I decided I should watch a few episodes myself and see what it was all about.

First off, skip the first episode unless you want to know why the rest of the world dislikes Americans. Stereotypes exist for a reason, sadly. The one upside to the episode is that it normalizes breastfeeding.

But episode three was great (we accidentally skipped episode two), especially for us, because we live in a smallish house with seven people in it. Seeing another family downsize from a huge space to a tiny space was uplifting and gave me some hope for this household. Plus they were just so dern wholesome. The kids were polite and the parents well spoken. They seemed like normal people trying to get by, just like most of us.

There was another episode with a couple just like us, the wife (in our case, me) just couldn’t bear to get rid of her clothes, books, and miscellaneous items. We had to laugh because if we didn’t laugh we would cry. This woman said many of the things I do. It was humbling to see someone else do it. She kept things for  various reasons, usually utilitarian in her mind. I completely understood what she was saying. And her husband? The words he spoke could have been stolen from my wife’s mouth.

So what do I think of Marie Kondo?

Well, first off, she seems like an absolute sweetheart. She doesn’t come into her client’s home like a wrecking ball, deriding them for having stuff. Instead, she sweetly reminds them of some pretty common sense stuff like you’re all in this household together, so you have to work as a team to keep it tidy and only keep what brings you joy. Common sense frequently escapes me, so her reminders were well needed.

Other shows of this genre show you “horrible” people and build up drama around their horrible addiction to materials. They literally guilt you into cleaning up your house, because only “horrible” people live in messy houses. Not “Tidying Up”, this show shows you average people who are just trying to get themselves out from a completely relate-able situation. It’s feel good TV.

People will mock Marie because of her Shinto beliefs, saying she does odd things like “waking up books” and greeting the house. Sure, there is a bit of superstition involved, but that doesn’t make everything she does incorrect. Watching her talk about her beliefs got me to thinking, what is the correct way for Christians to think about the objects in their house?

So many Christians in America just go along with the materialism of our culture. We buy stuff we don’t need, we collect things with no intrinsic value, we hoard and take pride in our displays of wealth and blessings. Most of us are able to keep our material possessions manageable, but there are more than just a few of us that are drowning in them.

Wealth is not bad. Having material possessions isn’t sinful. Buying stuff you don’t need or having collections are not intrinsically bad behaviors. But, like all things we do, we should examine our motives and the effects the behaviors have on our lives and the lives of those around us.

Watching the show encouraged me to ask myself a few questions:

Does my home or the objects in it hinder my ability to share the Gospel?

I can’t share the Gospel when I can’t invite anyone in to my home. My home is an extension of my life, and the best way to spread the Gospel is to let others into it. But I am too embarrassed by my chaos to let others in.

Does my home reveal a lack of self-control, a Fruit of the Spirit?

My home definitely reveals some lack of self-control. There are places for things, but things are not put away. Clothes are not put in hampers, dishes are lost in far corners, the tables are used as catch-alls. Habits are not maintained.

Is there peace in my home, or is it chaos?

There is no peace. While training to be a bus driver I was told that having a clean bus actually encourages good student behavior. This is obvious even in my home. My kids aren’t bad, but clutter stresses them out and can lead to grumpiness, sloppiness, and laziness. How much more relaxed would they be if they knew where their stuff was? How much more willing would they be to keep up with their chores if they didn’t have to shift around mounds of stuff?

What does my mountain of stuff and my inability to get rid of it say about what me and what’s important to me?

What’s more important to me: this stuff that I’ve been dragging around for years, or the health and well being of my family? Stuff, or my ability to have friends over to share my life? Stuff, or my ability to do the things I love instead of wasting my time moving sand dunes of clothes and papers around?

Do these objects rob me or members of my family of joy, also one of the Fruits of the Spirit?

Joy is the one thing that Marie brings up more often than her love of tidying. Objects can rob us of our joy. Mountains of material possessions can drag us into depressing and awful places.


We should only keep what brings us joy. We should not hold on to the stuff that robs us of joy or inhibits our ability to share the Gospel. We should use our home to bring joy to others. Keeping a house full of clutter often means keeping a home empty of friends.

Go check out the show, then go KonMari on your house, you won’t be disappointed.

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No-stalgia

My carefree childhood, I was such a dork…

What is it about the past that we think was so much better? Why is it so easy to sit in a current rough patch and think “I wish I was back in such and such a time”? Was the past really that great?

I watched the CNN produced documentary “The Nineties” on Netflix last week. Despite living up to the “Clinton News Network” nickname (that man could do no wrong in CNN’s eyes), it did make me miss some of thatdecade’s better features.

The thing I miss the most is the popular music. I’m not up to date on the latest pop music, everything modern I listen to now is “weird” to most people. Most people meaning my wife, her opinion is the only one that matters. The rare time I do get to hear current hits I gag a little. At least in the nineties the mainstream was trying to be creative and make something people had not heard before. Now it’s just repackaged garbage from some other time and place. Just because that time was often the nineties doesn’t mean they do it well though.

Other features of the decade? Was it really that great of a time? I started high school in the final year of the decade, so my memories are a jumbled heap of childhood memories and silliness. Comparisons are easy to make though, one doesn’t need precise memories of events to remember that some stuff just plain sucked back in the day.

I definitely don’t miss dial-up internet. Yes, kids, there was a day when the internet wasn’t “on” all the time. You had to pay by the minute, and those minutes did not produce much more than a page or two of TEXT. Pictures? Come back after you have gone to the kitchen for a Surge and a bag of Cool Ranch Doritos. I remember the first time I heard of Ethernet, it was a mind blowing concept.you meqn the internet is always connected? You can watch movie clips on it?!

Cell phones? As a kid i only knew one person with a cell phone and it was corded and attached to a bag. You could not watch movies on it or play Candy Crush”. The only cool feature on a cell phone back then was “Centipede” which could be played on a black and green screen. You could play it for days though without charging the phone. My memory could be a bit skewed but I swear those phone batteries lasted for-ev-errrr (if you don’t get that reference, you’re killing me, Smalls).

The movies were better then. I mean, they actually had to try. CGI was limited to Star Wars (and it was bad), so Hollywood actually had to build sets and scale models. And aside from the epic that was Titanic, not every movie was a three hour highly involved action sequence. You could watch an hour and a half movie and then go about your day. After you returned the video cassette to Blockbuster of course. If you were kind you would rewind. If you were a jerk… Well…

You didn’t have to commit hours to sitting around binging on TV shows either. What was on TV was what was on, you didn’t get to pick, and you definitely didn’t get to skip commercials.

For some of us TV was called “Cable” which despite being roughly the same technology as today, was nothing like it’s current counterpart. There were no DVRs and no easy index channel which could take you directly to the channel of your liking. You had to wait for the preview channel to scroll through allof the channels and then manually get yourself to the show you wanted.

Most people had a VCR, which, if you had a degree in engineering (or nursing, as did my mom), you could program it to record something. But.It had to be on the right channel. It was largely just used for playing movies, not recording them.

If you didn’t have cable you had to stick to the old rabbit ears and a non-digital *gasp* signal. Which meant you got like six channels. You missed out on Nickelodeon, the beginnings of the Cartoon Network, and all the major 24/7 news channels.

Which reminds me:

The politics haven’t changed.

The 90’s was full of political scandals. But they seemed to move a lot slower than current scandals. Even with 24/7 news networks coming onto the scene the slower pace of information streaming (well, it was dial up, there was no “streaming” as we know it) meant that you could watch the news and not be suffocated in useless data. There was only so much new stuff to report so you could watch an hour and pretty much get it all.

I certainly don’t miss the outfits or the hairstyles. Except for the grunge. We can keep the grunge. Bring back flannel already!

What were we thinking? And she’s going to kill me. Also: Epic 90’s album cover material!

I will be happy once modern fashion gets out of its 80’s slump. That is a decade I am too young to be nostalgic for. Except for Reagan, who isn’t nostalgic for Reagan? There I go with the politics again…

I will probably always be sappy and sentimental, it’s just my nature. But closer inspection reveals that the past wasn’t really better than the present. Sure, I was a kid and responsibilities were fewer and stakes were lower. But if I were the me of today living then would I find it better? Probably not. How would I make money? How would I talk to you on this blog? How much smaller was the world back then?

It’s nice to think back on those days, but I’m content to see what the future will bring.

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Reinvention

People are always talking about changing themselves. They seem discontent with who they are and want to “reinvent” themselves. They go out and get a new haircut or a new wardrobe, they lose certain friends or go on fad diets. Constant change is seen as a good thing, but is it really?

I have spent many years of my life trying to be other people. I let others dictate my moods, my likes, my diet, and even my thoughts and beliefs. Mine is a super sympathetic personality. I mimic. To a fault.

So when I started trying to change that fault of mine the first inclination was to reinvent the wheel and become a whole new me. Reinvention never happened though. Not only is it hard to change old habits, it’s impossible to deny personality traits and innate passions.

There are things that I like that I had spent a ton of energy trying not to like or denying that I liked them out of embarrassment. I was trying to please other people by denying my own tastes. Honestly it makes no sense why I did that, except that I can be very insecure sometimes.

Some people want to reinvent the wheel. But the wheel doesn’t need reinventing. You can’t find something to replace the basic design, it’s already functional enough.

Although you can’t reinvent the wheel, you can improve: You can add rubber tread and a motor, or cogs and a chain, or a belt and a series of wheels. You can make the wheel do what you need it to do.

You can’t easily change your personality, or your tastes. But like the wheel you can make them work in your favor. You can embrace them and run with them.

That’s what I hope to do in the next few months. Perhaps you’ll be seeing some changes around here. Stay tuned!

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The Exhaustion of The Hunt

Maybe I have mentioned this before, I’m a romcom aficionado. I get all teared up and then all warm and fuzzy after watching them. Even a good romantic drama gets me right in the feels. I’m sappy. Too sappy.

There is a common theme in a lot of these comedies, a theme that has also shown itself in stand up routines and has seeped into my own social life: finding a mate is hard work.

My wife and I occasionally have the “if you died” discussion (sounds morbid I know) and we have both come to the conclusion that we would end up old spinsters.

Well, she thinks she would be, and I think I would be, but we are pretty sure the other would be just fine.

She’s hot, she’s hilarious, she has other qualities that would be inappropriate to discuss on this blog, why would she have a problem finding a man?

I’m hot (apparently), I have a great personality, I connect emotionally, and I’m good at… things…. Why would I have a problem finding a mate?

Because the market sucks!

I don’t envy the 20 and 30 somethings out there playing the field and trying to pick up women. I don’t wish to trade places with anyone trying to find someone to settle down with. Even the thought of perusing dating apps and bars and even church is enough to make me want to stay single.

From what I can tell listening to comedians and friends, people are mean. They are deceitful, manipulative, emotional, selfish, and ugly. All the attractive ones (ie not like those) are taken. It is an awful world out there for love.

Even if I managed to snag a good one, it wears out my spirit just thinking about going through the initial stages of a relationship right now.

I remember the boiling passion of our early relationship, it would be insane to go back to that. I am quite content with the simmering passion we have now, the kind that occasionally flashes out of the pan, but never leaves us feeling burned out by the other.

If I ever end up in the market for a new lover, I will probably end up taking out a want ad in the paper, asking for a particular set of qualifications, a photograph, and a promise that she is not nearly as sappy as me.

Because that would just be too exhausting.

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Persistence

“Jesus said, “In a certain city there was a judge who neither feared God nor respected man. And there was a widow in that city who kept coming to him and saying, ‘Give me justice against my adversary.’ For a while he refused, but afterward he said to himself, Though I neither fear God nor respect man, yet because this widow keeps bothering me, I will give her justice, so that she will not beat me down by her continual coming.’” And the Lord said, “Hear what the unrighteous judge says. And will not God give justice to his elect, who cry to him day and night? Will he delay long over them? I tell you, he will give justice to them speedily. Nevertheless, when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth?” Luke 18:2-8

Persistence pays off.

Giving up is easier, waaaay easier. But when you give up you gain nothing. Persisting, though painful, usually pays off in dividends greater than the sacrifice you made.

Think about some of the things where persistence is vital. Diets, working out, blogging, painting, relationships, and on and on. You make sacrifices for these things and after a bit of time and sacrifice you end up with returns far greater than the sacrifice.

At least usually. Sometimes it doesn’t matter how much you put in, you don’t always get everything or even anything back. Persistence in this world sometimes means you are beating your head against a wall. Of course that’s no reason to quit.

But in prayer, we have a guarantee that our persistence will pay off. There is no such thing as “unanswered prayer”, Christ assures us that justice will always be done when we are persistent in prayer. Even if we don’t get exactly what we want, we will always get what is just.

It may be easy to give up on diets or exercise, because they frequently fail us, it should never be easy to give up on prayer.

Honesty

How honest are you? In real life? In social media? Would the people who know you be surprised if you did something shocking?

Back in the day when someone went off and committed some horrid thing you would see the neighbors saying things like “He was always a little strange, but we never saw this coming.” Now that we have social media the circle of people who “never saw it coming” has grown.

And the ability to sugar coat has gotten easier.

Not only have we gotten better at hiding the bad, we have gotten better at exaggerating the good. When a man flies off the handle and kills his wife and children, we look back at their posts and say “but they had such a great marriage!” We look at smiling pictures of those who commit suicide and wonder where the problems were hiding.

So how honest are you? How much do you show the warts in your life? How much do you confide in real people? How much do you share with virtual people? How much do you exaggerate the good? Would your friends and neighbors on and offline be shocked if you did something tragic?

Why do people hide behind positive posts and perfectly filtered pictures? Are they afraid people might know their secrets? It’s easier to hide secrets now that we can bury them under a facade of beauty. It’s no longer just “he was a quiet guy”, now it’s “he really seemed to have it together.”

It is my goal here and elsewhere to be honest and open. I don’t ever want to sugarcoat my situation. If I ever seem too optimistic, call me out on it. If you ever need to confide something, I’m here.

The last thing we need is to be all over the news with our friends and neighbors surprised that our lives were really not so great.

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Not There

I’m not where I want to be.

This might come as a surprise to most of you.

Or not.

Maybe you have guessed that I am a bit restless in my current situation. Maybe you suspect that I am merely living a lie and will eventually give it up and go back to my old way of life.

I don’t want to go back.

I left a career of nearly ten years to go do something else that I loved. Then I left that after two years to give my wife an opportunity to do something I knew that she would love (and I wasn’t wrong). But am I doing what I love?

Yes and no.

I love being with my kids. I love teaching them and talking to them and watching them become great little people.

But sometimes they are real jerks. Sometimes I get tired of being around them. Frequently I feel like I fail them on so many levels. But I love them. So yes. I love what I do.

But.

I need adult interaction. And more than just the superficial internet interactions. The presence of people is a balm for my anxiety and loneliness. There are times when being around the kids perks up my spirit, but they are the takers in the relationship. Adults give and take, the dynamics are different. Right now where I am I do not get the kind of adult interaction I need.

I have dreams and goals. But I never think I am good enough. I am always the contingency guy. I have a goal, I assume right off the bat that I won’t get to it, so I automatically search for all the secondary plans.

Where do people get their optimism? How does one make a goal and dream and actually think themselves good enough to get them? How do they take control of their lives and make the things they want happen?

Or do they? Do people ever actually get what they want? Or am I just watching too many movies? I swear I see people out there on blogs and Facebook and elsewhere living the lives that they want. Surely there is something flawed in their life, something they don’t like, something that is not quite right.

How do they live joyously despite those things? How are they successful in jumping past those kinds of problems and focusing instead on the good things, the successes?

The simple answer is that they aren’t. Everyone has struggles. No one is arrived 100%. Some people are just better at displays than others. They are simply good at social media.

Or perhaps they really are hopeful. Some people are just optimists. They do a good job at seeing the good and understand the best way to make those good things happen is focused work towards them.

So the answer to getting where I want is simply focused discipline? Make an effort to get adult time? Focus on the good goals and spend a little less time on contingency?

Time will tell.

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MAAM, July 30, 2018: Art as Escapism

I want to go to there…

What is it about art, photography, and to some extent music that makes it so enticing? Why do we like to look at pretty things? Why do we seek it out and pay tons of money for images?

If I was to answer that I would have to say that I am an escapist. The reason I collect and create so many images is that I like to look back at them and put myself in that space and that time.

Images create an imaginary world where I can fill in blanks and put myself there. They can transport me back to a time that my mind can idealize. They can put me in a place where I have never been but want to be.

It isn’t just art, it’s imagery in general. I love historic pictures as well for many of the same reasons. Even other people’s vacation photos aren’t immune to my idealization.

I can’t speak for everyone, but I imagine many if not most people are like me if they examined their reasons for appreciating art.

Is it wrong?

I don’t think so. I don’t think there is anything inherently wrong with imagining ourselves in other places and times. If it were we should avoid fiction books and movies altogether. We utilize things like art and books and movies to make us happy, teach us life lessons, and to make life that much better.

But can it be wrong?

Yes, if we are consumed by our imagination. If we obsess over images and the worlds they place us in they can become an addiction. Those places will seek to usurp reality and rob us of contentment. They will become idols and push us away from God.

Anything enjoyable can become destructive if overindulged, art included. That is why we must be careful to balance the beauty of fantasy with the often ugly reality.

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Stabbing Anxiety In the Face With a Soldering Iron, Part 1

Panic attacks, overwhelming urges to freak out, dark thoughts, emotional numbness, emotional rage: good times in the life of an anxiety ridden mind.

As I mentioned on Wednesday, I have managed to get a hold on my anxiety this year. Sure, it rears its nasty head sometimes (like yesterday and today, ironically), but it’s so much better than it once was.

So how have I managed it?

Anxiety has two different parts to it, at least mine does, one is a physical part, the other is mental.

The physical part frequently manifests itself as a feeling of dread. I get a tightness in my chest, my heart races, every stimulus becomes overwhelming, and I get an urge to move and yell and just generally explode. It can happen any time, but often after a ton of overstimulation or too much caffeine.

The mental is a bit more difficult to describe. Most people use the word “anxiety” to describe worried thoughts. But what I have experienced is a bit more than that. I had utter dread of future events, inability to think positively about anything, always searching for the negative. I create a hundred scenarios in my head and find every single negative possibility, every single thing that can go wrong, and every reason why those things don’t have a solution. My worry goes beyond the simplicity of “what shall I wear?” or “what will I eat?”

The thing is I know all things will turn out. Intuitively I know God cares for me and will provide. I know I am saved by His grace and I will some day be in Heaven with Him. I’m just not a huge fan of the wait.

But as I read in a quote this week if salvation was merely about attaining heaven we’d have a long gap between baptism and our funeral. God has given me the mind that I have and the personality that I have. He knows that my struggles with my mind and personality will drive me to Him. I sin far too much because my mind wanders….

But I digress. This post is not so much about how I don’t trust as much as it is about how I have learned to trust.

Trust takes care of the mental, I’ll get back to that in Part 2. But first let’s tackle the physical.

I’m not a doctor, so don’t take this as medical advice without talking to your doctor and doing your own research. This is just what has worked for me.

First, herbal supplements. I take a regimine of passion flower, lemon balm, chamomile, vitamin B, and CBD oil. On top of that I take a multivitamin. The dosage varies depending on how I feel, I may increase on particularly stressful days or decrease when I feel better.

They took awhile to start working but when they did it was a complete change. I actually had a ton of difficulty getting used to having feelings again. My anxiety had numbed me to so much when I actually had clarity it was scary to navigate.

Exercise. This is always the standard answer from most people. “Work out and you’ll feel great!” It doesn’t work like that for me, but combined with the above regimine I find it does wonders. When I stop doing the herbal remedies, or I stop working out, I find it much more difficult to get through the hard times. Panic attacks come back, my focus wanders, and I just generally have a bad time.

That would explain this week…

I also drink a little. I know it’s taboo to recommend alcohol as some people can get addicted. But I find one drink of wine or spirits can sometimes settle my mind enough to help me think clearly. If you are the type of person who struggles with addiction, definitely don’t go this route, but if you can control your appetite then moderate consumption may help you.

Diet has also been a great help. I cut back on sugar and processed junk. I reduced my caffeine intake. I started eating more “real” food. It was a night and day difference. I felt less sluggish. When your body feels good, it’s mush easier for your mind to go along with it.

For acute attacks I have found lavender to be particularly helpful. You can drink it as a tea (chamomile too) or diffuse the essential oil in your room. We also have a lavender lotion that is great for rubbing down tense muscles. Another great essential oil is Palo Santo. Diffuse it with lavender and you’re almost guaranteed to fall asleep!

As I said, I am not a doctor, so don’t take this advice as Gospel. I just have found these things to help with my generalized anxiety. If you have more severe anxiety, or depression, or other mental health issues, these may not work for you.

Next time I will discuss what I have done to get the thoughts under control.