Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Alice in Wonderland

For those who haven't heard, this is not merely a re-telling of the little girl gone down the rabbit hole. As it happens, it is somewhat a mixture of Alice in Wonderland and Alice Through the Looking Glass, with a few dashes of good old Tim Burton flair thrown in. We've gone to see it twice now, once in the standard version, once in 3-D. I'm becoming more and more attached to this whole 3-D movie idea, and I would recommend seeing the 3-D version.

The movie plays about with a number of the classic conventions of Alice, but adds in little details like Alice's clothes neither growing nor shrinking with her. The March Hare is highly amusing, and Stephen Fry's Cheshire Cat is, in a word, delicious, for all that his part seems small in the film.

Johnny Depp as the Mad Hatter, unsurprisingly, is a role with significantly more depth than I'd have imagined for the character, which is carried off phenomenally. Changes in the Hatter's mood are marked by his shifting accent, anywhere from a proper British Received Pronunciation with a slight lisp to a booming Scottish accent that makes Braveheart look mild. I've honestly never read the books (though I now plan to do so as soon as I have time) so I have no idea how focal the Hatter is in the original work, but Burton found a way to do so that makes sense.

Helena Bonham Carter's Red Queen shifts pronunciations and personality traits slightly as well throughout the film, and again in ways that make sense and have a definite pattern if you know what you're seeing. The contrast with Anne Hathaway's White Queen is very direct, and I'll tell you now that the previews did not do the White Queen justice. For the Queens, this is all a very elaborate game, with strict rules that must be followed by both parties.

In all, the movie manages to capture a level of whimsy with that delightful dark twist that was the way of faery tales before the Victorian Era got hold of them. Add into that the excellent casting, going beyond our main players to include Timothy Spall, Matt Lucas, Crispin Glover, Alan Rickman, Martin Csokas, Christopher Lee, and Lindsay Duncan (who played Adelaide Brooke in Doctor Who: The Waters of Mars) in supporting roles, and you've got a truly well-constructed adventure. Finally, I'll say that I've never seen Mia Wasikowska's previous work, but after her performance as Alice, the hunt begins.

I'd give more details, but it would really ruin the surprises...

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

What I am Building

I quit going to college around six years ago, and while I can't precisely say that I haven't looked back, it is not a decision that I particularly regret. I wasn't going for the right reasons, had no idea what I really wanted to do, and was absolutely terrified that I would get all the way through to graduation only to realize that I really wanted a completely different degree for a completely different career. I also allowed that fear to influence my work ethic, and fell into the same habits I had in High School. I finished assignments late, poorly, both of the above, or not at all. It's not that I couldn't do the work, or that I didn't have time--I just prioritized poorly, and my GPA paid the price. I graduated HS with a 3.23 on a 5-point scale, and the last I checked, my GPA at Parkland was somewhere in the realm of a 1.16 on a 4-point scale. Because I hate writing papers.

Odd, isn't that, since I'm writing this, and I love to write in general. Why don't I like writing papers? I used to think that it was specifically because of the requirements of style and citations, or perhaps it was because I didn't get to pick topics that specifically interested me, and while those were and are contributing factors, I think the problem is rooted slightly deeper than that. In my previous post, I talked about having non-useful habits, and a severe lack of time management has always been my biggest shortcoming. I'd rather read, spend hours typing up random factoids that have no bearing on my life whatsoever, or daydream, than do what I was "supposed" to do. At twenty-seven, it is becoming more and more clear to me that this really isn't a good way to go about my life.

This is one of the major reasons I have chosen to shift my perspective so drastically in recent weeks, and one crucially important factor in this whole process has been my spiritual life. I've said in a post or two, and for those reading this on my Facebook, I drop hints or comments now and then (along with having listed my religion in my Info) about the fact that I am Wiccan. For those less familiar with the term, it means I identify as a witch--which probably bears some explanation in itself, but we'll get to that. This does all tie together, I promise, so bear with me, and I'll try not to ramble too much here. One of the problems I have faced for a long time is a tendency to compartmentalize various portions of my life, and often in neither the most sensible nor most helpful fashion. I definitely "bring it home with me" when I come home from work, especially if something has been bothering me lately. Much of the time, I do the equal and opposite, too, bringing things in my personal life to work with me, and not letting them go throughout the day.

Now, the interesting thing about many of the things I've talked about in the last two posts is that not only do they apply from a psychological perspective, and also function in the concept of the Law of Attraction, but they are things that I have read, time and again in one form or another, in books on the Craft. While I generally dislike the reputation that Aleister Crowley gave the movement, his is one of the best definitions of magick: "The science and art of causing change in conformity with will." This is a practice I have been at least nominally studying for nearly ten years now, but I have, admittedly, not been learning much. Despite my very deep interest in the Craft, I allowed myself the same laziness in my understanding of my religion that I did in school. As I mentioned above, I needed a change--I wanted a change--I just haven't been sure of how to go about actually causing that change in my own life until more recently.

So about four weeks ago, I set myself some goals. I have been collecting a series of books by Christopher Penczak, his Temple of Witchcraft series, for about six years now, and I am beginning to work my way through the books. I also decided that it was finally time for me to buckle down and actually learn Gaelige (Irish Gaelic) rather than just having the books to do so sitting on the shelf gathering dust. I drafted a "class schedule" for myself, with specific assignments to be completed on a weekly basis.

Gaelige is mostly a fun activity for me. I am great with languages, but this one has proven challenging, due to wacky spelling and pronunciation rules (almost as wacky as English, believe it or not) and complex grammar. I like a challenge, so I've committed to grabbing this one by the horns and going for it. By the beginning of April, I will have a strong enough grasp of the language to begin using it for my daily journal, and referencing a dictionary when I need it. A friend of mine keeps haranguing me because it's not a language used by many people in the modern world, and it won't really be useful to me, but I view it as a badge of pride to do this and be successful in it.

With regard to the Craft, I have begun working through the first book, The Inner Temple of Witchcraft for what is now the third time, with the intention of actually completing the exercises, meditations, and actually learning and internalizing the content. So how does it tie in to all of the rest of my mental redecoration? I hope Mr. Penczak doesn't mind, but I'm going to quote my favorite paragraph from the first lesson in the book here (emphasis added):

"Though you don't have to do magick to follow this spiritual path, such training is part and parcel of becoming a witch. You do not have to actively cast spells to make the concepts behind their working a part of your everyday life. One part of magick that is not usually focused on in many books and classes is that magick is any change caused by your will, including internal changes. We tend to focus on external changes, manifestation in the physical world, as "proof" that magick really works. We all need to see the results of our actions, but some of the most important, profound, and healing magick comes through an internal change, a shift in perspective or consciousness. In that sense, if you choose this path of the witch, you may not necessarily be doing spells and rituals all the time, but you will undeniably be doing magick. Magick is a part of each breath we take and every action we make."

Another important point that has come up in the book, and something that I've had to really think about and work to internalize, is the concept of personal responsibility. We are the only person we can blame for the words that come out of our mouth, or the thoughts that come out of our head. For me to not only learn my path, but to truly walk the walk, I must learn to always take responsibility for what I say, think, and feel. I have spent a long time refusing to learn this lesson. Of all of the things for which I've chosen to kick myself over the years, this is the one thing both most deserving and least attended. I have blamed others for my shortcomings, and chosen to take offense where none was offered, rather than taking responsibility for who I am and making the choice to take the higher road, not just for myself, but for those I love as well. I have selfishly and needlessly hurt others in my life for no other reason than this, and it shames me.

It is my belief that the "will" of which Crowley spoke is not just an expression of the needs and wants of our physical life here in this world. It is the will of the spirit, that eternal piece of us that drives the body forth each day, that is what is really important. When we learn to look at the beauty in the world around us, and at the good things in our lives and hearts, and to focus on those things, we begin to understand what we really want. It is through this alignment of the mind and the self with our true will that we grow. This isn't just a truth in the Craft.

"You don't have a soul. You are a soul. You have a body." --C.S. Lewis

So in the process of remodeling that I have begun, my goal goes beyond just getting out of bed at a better time of day, or eating more healthfully. I am tearing the whole house down, examining each piece of my life, my heart, and the thoughts with which I've programmed myself, and building again from the ground up. I'm not just re-painting the living room, or putting up a new shower curtain. I am working to build a new, better version of myself from the ground up. One that is thoughtful, sees the better side of all things, and has learned what he really wants. One who is closer to the person I really want to be. One who has these traits in all aspects of my life, and does not compartmentalize certain truths or facts to being only true when I am at work, or only true when I am in a Circle--all truths are the same truth, if you know what it is you seek.

It occurred to me as I was writing this that some of you may be concerned or curious about my religious path. Saying, "I'm a witch!" isn't the easiest thing in the world, especially knowing that the uninitiated (pardon the pun) might not understand, or might be uncomfortable with that title. It is what it is, however, and my not saying it won't change that. So, this being the case, I'd like to open this up for you: if you have questions about what this means, or questions about what Witchcraft is or is not, I want to hear them. Send me an email at ciaranruadh@gmail.com and ask. I'll put up a post at the end of next week (so around the 20th) with your questions and answers. Ask me anything you like, and I'll answer it to the best of my ability. If it's something to which you'd prefer a private answer, I can do that as well, just let me know in your email. Don't be shy, and don't worry about hurting my feelings. I want to know what you think, or I wouldn't be posting this up for the entire Internet to read.

On the nature of love

Our hands touch, and the distance between us closes. We shut our eyes, shutting out the world, just for this moment, just to feel this single, solitary feeling. Our lips meet, each of us wrapping our arms around each other. We can feel two heartbeats. They do not beat as one. We are not one. You do not complete me, nor I you, for this implies that each of us, on our own, is somehow incomplete. But we complement each other, you and I. In this moment, all my guard falls away, all the walls I keep around myself, and I just...feel. There is a connection between us that I can feel, like a single candle flame in the endless caverns of the mind, of the soul. We are not one, but the light in each of us is made stronger by the light in each other. The kiss ends, and the embrace, but the feeling does not.

"Remember to pick up sweetener at the store, and to order that thing for my phone," you say.

"I will."

I have lunch with a friend, take your paycheck to the bank, have coffee with another friend, see a few people I know at the cafe, take a leisurely drive through town on the way to the grocery store, observing this house and that, wondering at the sort of house we'll buy when we move to Massachusetts in a few years. It occurs to me that the rigors of daily life go on. The house must still be cleaned, the laundry done, the dishes washed, the food cooked, the jobs worked. Love doesn't make me enjoy any of these things more, and there aren't birds singing all the time--though you are--but it's moments like that kiss that keep the day going.

Love doesn't mean spending every waking moment together, it doesn't mean we always get along perfectly, it doesn't mean sex every day or sharing a plate of spaghetti like in Lady and the Tramp. What it does mean is knowing that at the end of the day, or week, or month, or year, we will have moments like that. It means knowing that when it matters the most, and sometimes even when it matters least, I can let my guard down and just feel that connection; feel the light in each of us combining to make something beautiful.

I love you.

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Considering the Structure

Since I'm in a writing mood, I think I shall capitalize on it, and continue with my explanation of the process of Remodeling My Brain. When you are doing any sort of remodeling, one must consider the structure in which you are working. If you are remodeling a kitchen, you have to consider all aspects, not just where you want the cabinets, but the location of pipes, wires, walls, and the condition of all of the above, as well as setting up a sensible layout (if your kitchen is only 10x8 with large doorways and limited wall-space, a center island is not a good idea, for example) so that your remodeling continues to provide you with a usable space.
The same is true of remodeling your brain or your life. One must consider the structure, both current and desired, and what changes must be made to said structure to create something effective, efficient, and useful. In my case, a lot of this involved reviewing my daily and weekly routine and considering which parts of it were useful and which were not. Let's have a look, shall we?

Take a day where I was scheduled to work from 8am-5pm:
  • Alarm set for 5:55AM.
  • Snooze for 9 minutes apiece until 7:20 (ruining both my sleep and Michael's), roll out of bed.
  • Search frantically through dryer for work clothes. Decide clothes are too wrinkled, set dryer on fluff cycle.
  • Wait for clothes to fluff for ten minutes, search even more frantically for work clothes, underwear, socks.
  • Get in shower at 7:35-7:40, shower for 10 minutes.
  • Brush teeth.
  • Shave, maybe.
  • Pack laptop up in bag, run out door at 7:50-7:55.
  • Arrive at work 8:05-8:15, beginning day late, frantically try to get through morning office work and opening Cafe.
  • Cafe opens at 9:00.
  • Finish opening duties 9:30-9:45 because I've been waiting on guests while trying to finish opening duties that should have been done at 9:00.
  • Be frustrated and running behind all day because of poor open.
  • Get to 5PM, punch out, then remember six things that I had to do, decide to do them before leaving, bitching about how much needed to be done.
  • Get home around 7-7:15pm, tired and cranky.
  • Growl like a thing possessed when Michael suggests going to the gym.
  • Screw around on Facebook until 12:30-2:00am, finally going to bed when I can't keep my eyes open any more
  • Repeat cycle.
Sounds like a great plan, right? Clearly, this wasn't working for a number of reasons, including, no time to eat breakfast, always being late to work, not always having time to do things like shave when I really needed to, et cetera. I had to think in detail about what I was doing wrong here, and correct it. So let's look at the specific things that were screwing up my day:
  • Not going to bed until well after midnight when you need to be at work at 8AM isn't a great plan. My sweet spot when it comes to sleep is about six hours, so I needed to adjust my sleep patterns to accommodate this.
  • Setting the alarm for 5:55AM. My goal has been 6AM for a while, so why was I setting my alarm for 5:55? So that I could snooze it and still be up relatively closely after 6. Except that I wasn't doing that at all! I kept snoozing until after I absolutely had to be out of bed to be on time for work with the bare minimum of preparations.
  • Not having clothes ready, and waiting until they were done fluffing in the dryer before getting in the shower. Clearly, not a productive use of my time. What did I do while I waited? Play around on Facebook. Hmm...
  • Why wasn't I getting enough sleep? See above bullet point including the word: Facebook.
  • No breakfast! Biggest mistake that any of us can make, and so many of us make it consistently, for a variety of excuses.
All right. The basic problems have been identified, so now what? Well, the obvious next step is to correct these basic problems with the structure, followed by installing new, additional goodies to improve on the things you've corrected. Here is what I've done:
  • Set alarm for 6:00AM. When alarm goes off, get out of bed. Now, some mornings, today for example, I set a timer and go back to sleep for an hour if I really feel like I need it, and on these days my routine is always a little off. The important key here, however, is that on days when I have to work, I know how much time I need in the morning, so rather than setting my alarm for 5:55 and expecting to hit snooze repeatedly, I set my alarm for 6:00, when I intend to get up, knowing that when the alarm goes off, it's time to get up.
  • Immediately go to the bathroom, brush my teeth, and step on the scale. Disposing of your body's waste and natural toxins first thing also gives you time to do something that doesn't require a lot of brain-power while your mind is still "booting up" for the day. By the time I step on the scale, I'm feeling a little more grounded and awake.
  • Proceed to the kitchen, start a pot of coffee or warming the teakettle, decide on this morning's breakfast fare and begin cooking. This takes 15-20 minutes, so breakfast is usually done around 6:30 in the morning.
  • Once breakfast is cooling on the table (I make things hot and let them cool for a bit before I start eating), run downstairs to check and make sure there are clothes ready for when I go to work. If the dryer is holding them hostage, I start the fluff cycle, letting it run long enough for me to go eat.
  • Check Facebook and the news while eating breakfast, stopping only to read the articles that are truly important or interesting.
  • After breakfast, get clothes out of the dryer (if needed) and hang them up.
  • Proceed to Craft room and select today's meditation. We're at 6:45-6:55 at this point, so the specific meditation will depend on how much time I have--I use pre-recorded meditation tracks as I've not yet developed the skill to count myself down and remain focused for all of the necessary time. I'll talk more about this in a separate post. I have chosen to meditate for a minimum of 10 minutes each day, just enough time to help calm my mind and give me the sense of peace and focus that will help me tackle whatever comes my way.
  • Get in the shower around 7:15AM, be out by about 7:25 with enough time to shave, do my hair, and be ready to leave for work around 7:40-7:45.
  • Arrive at work at or slightly before 8:00, on time, which both keeps me out of trouble with Erik, and lets me not feel so stressed and rushed to get everything done. Since I'm not trying to rush, I don't miss the details, and the morning goes much more smoothly.
  • Leave work on time or very close after my scheduled "out" time.
  • Change out of work clothes into something comfy (jeans and a t-shirt, usually, but the point is to stop being in my work clothes) and eat dinner, talk to Mike about my day, play with the cats, etc.
  • Read the news, check Facebook, read a book, watch some TV, whatever.
  • Write at least a page in my journal about my day--whatever comes to mind, whatever was important to me about the day.
  • Go to bed between 11:30 and midnight, to get at least six hours of sleep.
The really amazing thing here is that the three major points of what I did to change my day were just this:
  • Wake up at a specific time, giving myself sufficient time to do whatever I need, and having enough sleep to do it.
  • Eat breakfast every day.
  • Meditate every day.
By fixing the things that were wrong with my structure (largely to do with timeliness), and adding in two things specifically that I felt would make my day go better (breakfast and meditation) I have drastically improved my quality of life. As I mentioned, some days I don't get up at the same time, and my routine gets thrown off a little, but I am still getting up earlier than I ever used to, feeling more well-rested, and building a sense of balance in my self and my life that was sorely lacking. It is so much easier to maintain positive thought when you build useful habits and routines, rather than maintaining habits and routines that do not serve your best interests.

Step 2: Consider the structure. Fix the little things before you start the big remodeling project. Know what you want from it, and add things into your routine that support those goals.

A view of the inside of my head--careful, I'm remodeling!

For anyone who's been reading on my Facebook status updates of late, I've been dropping a lot of little hints and vague references to what has been going on in my head lately, but I have left out a great deal of detail, both due to time constraints and, frankly, due to doubting anyone would be interested. Based on comments and conversations I've been having with friends and family, I've come to the conclusion that I may have been mistaken. In light of this, I've decided to share the practices that I recently chose to add to my life, with the intention of bettering myself.
To begin, I will qualify the phrase "bettering myself." I think we all have some idea of who we are, how we perceive ourselves, and how we are perceived by others. I have struggled for a number of years now with a major conflict between who I wanted to be, and who I feel I am. When I was younger, I think around second grade, I took one sort of IQ test or another, and while the number is long lost to me, my dad has always told me it was a high one. Understandably, Mom and Dad were both stymied when I consistently got middling-to-poor grades in school, and those were the result of a lack of application. In short, I was smart, I just never did the homework, because I'd rather be off drifting in my own head somewhere. This continued through high school, and until I gave up on college around six years ago, and my GPA was abysmal at both.
This is merely one example, but my overall point is that I came to the conclusion that there are several areas of my life in which I had chosen not only not to succeed, but not to try at all. In the same vein, I am also exceedingly talented at tearing myself down for what I viewed as my shortcomings, and can very quickly bring all good things grinding to a halt while I spend days, weeks, or months berating myself for not being good enough. In recent months, this became particularly prevalent in my way of life, and has had an effect on my work performance, the condition of my home (including the basement floor that I have still not finished) and my relationships with friends, family, and husband.
And then I realized, it had to stop. Even ignoring (for a moment) the effect it was having on my relationships with those around me, by continuing to indulge this behavior and attitude, I was ultimately doing more damage to myself than anyone else. Not to say that the damage to my relationships with others is not important--on the contrary, repairing this damage is absolutely a priority for me--but to even begin that, I had to first start with the person causing all of it.
So, to that end, I had to make specific decisions about how to change my own attitude. I've recently been spending a lot of time talking both with my husband, and my friend Bryan about the Law of Attraction. (Pause while you roll your eyes, but I beg you to continue reading.) The concept of the Law of Attraction is, in short, that you create your reality through your thoughts. If, for example, your thought process continually consists of, "I can't do anything right. I am not good enough, smart enough, prosperous enough, healthy enough, patient enough..." and so on, things seem to go wrong a lot, don't they? Now, I could get into the ideas of quantum mechanics and how the Universe reflects what we tell it, but let's talk about this from a psychological perspective.
If I continually tell myself that I screw up everything I try to do--if I am actually convinced that this is an irrefutable truth, and that there is nothing I can do about it--will I actually try very hard? Think about that for a moment. Think about people who spend all of their time complaining about everything that is wrong with their life. They never talk about anything good happening--even if you see certain things going right for them, they just don't seem to think it matters. Wouldn't you say that is a way of the Universe reflecting their thoughts back upon them?
So, suppose this same person focused on all of the good things in their life, instead. Let's take it from a middling-to-slightly-more-positive perspective. "My bills may be a little high, and my job may not be exactly what I pictured myself doing as a kid, but I have a job, a house, a car, a husband, food on the table, a little money in the bank, and a vacation planned in a few months." Sure, things may not be perfect, but look at what you have! Okay, so you have a car payment--because you have a car and can use it to get from place to place. It's a matter of perspective. So, step 1 is to appreciate the good things in your life. You have them, we all do, so look around and know what they are. Be thankful you have them.
Step 2 is dependent upon Step 1, for to do this, you must first truly appreciate the things around you. When something less-than-pleasant happens, take a moment and think about all of the good things happening in your life. So maybe that egg didn't crack perfectly when you put it in the frying pan, and a little shell got in--Egg down! Egg down! But you have the frying pan, and you have more eggs. You have the kitchen in which you're cooking the eggs. You're not going to go hungry because of one piece of eggshell. (And a mega-honking piece of eggshell it was... I may as well have just put the whole damn thing in a blender...) Step 2 can be summed up as, "Unpleasant things are not roadblocks--just speed bumps." If you keep the positive attitude going, eventually they're more just the cracks in the pavement. You feel them as you pass over them, but they don't mess up the ride.

So, this is Part 1 of what I have been doing--changing my perspective. I've swapped "Life sucks and then you die" for "Every day is a gift." I'm not 100% there yet, and I'll freely admit it, but I am light-years away from where I was even three or four weeks ago. Now, some of my friends have said, in answer to all of this, "Yeah, but where did you get the motivation to keep this going? Why is it so easy for you, because it's not easy for me to do that!"

Stop.

Problem 1: You've convinced yourself that this is difficult, perhaps impossible. Because you have convinced yourself that this is difficult or impossible, you will subconsciously and subtly sabotage yourself, and then be frustrated when it isn't working. So, change your mind. Tell yourself (I like the idea of standing in front of the mirror and saying it to my face) in no uncertain terms that this is only as easy or as hard as you make it, and you're choosing to make it easy. The point at which you make the conscious decision that there are no roadblocks--speed bumps, maybe, but NO ROADBLOCKS--then you have begun the life-changing process that follows.
When something shitty happens, do not let it bog you down. Refuse to let it stop you, and say to yourself, "This is only a speed bump. I am not stopping for it." It is that easy to re-program your head, and suddenly you start thinking of things differently. Now, do you catch yourself saying, "Well, but what about this thing, or that thing that happened. Those are definitely roadblocks!" Decide that they are not. Have a vision for where you intend to go. Other people get there, so there are ways. Those other people did not all get to that place by the same road. So, maybe this road isn't the one for you, but there will be others. Commit yourself to finding the way to get to your goals, speed bumps be damned.
No matter what you do, never give up hope that you can do what you want as long as you stop telling yourself all of the reasons you can't, and start looking for all of the reasons that you can. If you're looking for them, you'll find them.

If you're interested in trying this for yourself, I'd like you to take five minutes at the beginning and the end of your day, and sincerely look around at all of the good things in your life, and be thankful. Thank yourself, and thank those around you who contribute to the good in your life. Lately, I've had Jann Arden's song "Good Mother" stuck in my head, and it seems so perfect. Here's a link to a cover done by the incomparable Jay Brannan and available on his album In Living Cover. The first verse particularly sticks in my head as a reminder of the good things in my life.

"I've got money in my pocket,
I like the color of my hair,
I've got a friend who loves me,
Got a house, I've got a car,
and I've got a good mother,
And her voice is what keeps me here,
Feet on ground, heart in hand, facing forward, just be yourself
I've never wanted anything, no I, oh I,
I've never wanted anything so bad...

Cardboard masks of all the people I've been,
Thrown out with all the rusted, tangled, dented, God-damned miseries,
You can say I'm hard to hold,
But if you knew me, you'd know
I've got a good father,
And his strength is what makes me cry,
Feet on ground, heart in hand, facing forward, just be yourself
I've never wanted anything, no I, oh I,
I've never wanted anything so bad...

Feet on ground, heart in hand,
Feet on ground, heart in hand..."
Good Mother by Jann Arden