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I don’t know how many of you can remember the day you “got it,” but I can. Clearly. I don’t remember the actual “date” of course, nor ever really what time of year, but I think it was Spring of 1983.

I was sitting English class with the rest of the pseudo-brainiacs of my rural, country, shit-kickin’ high school. The truth of the matter is that we were quite a diverse bunch because some people’s parents lived in the country because they were quite wealthy and could afford a hundred acres of luscious horse farm; some were so dirt poor they couldn’t afford decent screens on their trailer in Hog Valley. (Yes, there is a Hog Valley, Florida.) We had about a 49/49 black/white ratio with the other two percent being various shades of whatever. But skin color alone would tell you nothing of our diversity; you’d have to factor in, among many other divisions, rednecks vs. potheads, horse farmers vs. dairy farmers, simple country folk vs. those destined for the Ivy Leagues.

In English class that day were one or two smart jock types, several cheerleaders (I wasn’t one), a number of nerdy but wickedly funny guys, and lots of band members (yes!) in the “advanced” classes. We had a mix of the popular and the not-so-much but this group of kids, for the most part, always seemed to have the same classes.

Now, we were smart, but pretty typical kids, and today we were studying poetry. Squished into our 1940s style slide-in wooden desks, books tucked under the seat, with the appropriate amount of slouch for the guys and side-ways curl for the girls, we read aloud, stanza after stanza of 19th century British poetry. Yep, poetry. Mrs. Unold (real name, folks, and it’s pronounced “mizzez you-nold”) was sitting in her own 1940s desk, the top scattered with decades of carved initials and sanding where the more, ahem, inappropriate remarks had been removed by the custodial staff or the offenders in detention. And here it is, the poem:

TO THE VIRGINS, TO MAKE MUCH OF TIME.
by Robert Herrick, 1891


GATHER ye rosebuds while ye may,
    Old time is still a-flying:
And this same flower that smiles to-day
    To-morrow will be dying.

That age is best which is the first,
    When youth and blood are warmer;
But being spent, the worse, and worst
    Times still succeed the former.

Then be not coy, but use your time,
    And while ye may go marry:
For having lost but once your prime
    You may for ever tarry.

The glorious lamp of heaven, the sun,
    The higher he’s a-getting,
The sooner will his race be run,
    And nearer he’s to setting.

 

Imagine, if you will, a class of unsophisticated, heavily Christian, hormone-hyped, basically bumpkins reading aloud Mr. Herrick’s words. After the last line was uttered in the halting monotone of a 16 year-old voice, Mrs. Unold stared at the class. We stared back.

“Well?”

Silence.

“What does it mean?”

Glances exchanged, looks of confusion, and still, the silence. Ten seconds pass, twenty, thirty.

“What point, children, is Mr. Herrick trying to make?”

Ms. Unold holds our collective and slightly stupid gazes till she’s had enough of our dumb-asses.

“It’s about sex!” Her hand slams down on the top of the desk, “It’s about getting it on!!” Slam. “It’s about ‘what are you saving it for?’!” One slam for each syllable.

And the light bulb went on, the darkness disappeared, and I got it.

Not the sex part. No, Mrs. Unold and Mr. Herrick could not overcome 16 years of Reverends’ Chapman, Henry, Walker, et al reigning down hellfire and brimstone in regards to normal, healthy biologic functions. And I was still way too young to realize I was, in fact, living under Damacles’ sword – time.

I got the words. Language. Meaning. Rhythm. Meter. Beauty. Emotion. Love. Fear. Joy. In an instant, it all made sense. Words on paper transferred one person’s intention to another person across time. Mr. Herrick was talking to me. His message had meaning — relevant, real meaning — to me, personally, and I felt it like a lightning bolt.

Moreover, like a giant puzzle that magically formed a perfect picture, I saw that words were the pieces. I think I must have read that poem a hundred times. The sense of “getting it” was so strong. Soon, I was reading Shakespeare’s sonnets and understanding the meaning behind them:


LX

Like as the waves make towards the pebbled shore,

So do our minutes hasten to their end,

Each changing place with that which goes before

In sequent toil all forwards do contend.

Nativity, once in the main of light,

Crawls to maturity, wherewith, being crowned,

Crooked eclipses ‘gainst his glory fight

And Time that gave, doth now his gift confound.

Time doth transfix the flourish set on youth,

And delves the parallels in beauty’s brow,

Feeds on the rarities of natures truth,

And nothing stands but for his scythe to mow;

    And yet, to times, in hope, my verse shall stand,

    Praising thy worth, despite his cruel hand.

 

And when I went to college to study theater and acting, my mastery of language grew so that when Roger Rees (of Royal Shakespeare fame) conducted a master’s class he whistled in appreciation at my ability, at the age of 20, to nail in performance this particular piece of the master’s work.

I got it.

And as I started making a minor living as an entertainer I was able to read scripts and instantly go to the meaning of the words. Like one of those pictures that make no sense until you stare at them just right and a 3-D image “magically” appears, I could look at the words and in seconds see the meaning in stunning reality. I was, and I think still am, a rockin’ good sight-reader.

I got it.

And as I grew in the craft of acting, using words to create new life, I started to see how both the writing and the intent could be shifted and manipulated to vary meaning and outcome. Change this word for that you could completely change the imprint left on the reader’s soul. Move a word from here to there, and what was benign could become sinister and vice versa.

I got it.

And as I aged off the stage and started writing words as opposed to performing them I realized that I — little ol’ me — could have the same effect across time as Mr. Herrick and Mr. Shakespeare. Now I’m not so vain as to think my efforts are quite to their standards, but I’m also not so modest as to think it isn’t pretty damn good. I write for this blog, which is mostly for myself and I’m lucky that some of you folks seem to enjoy it, and find it entertaining and maybe even enlightening on occasion. And I write for clients, who are trying to impart something worthwhile to their visitors, customers, and other strangers.

Words are not only my joy but my living. I write for pleasure and for profit and because I’m reasonably good at it I enjoy the fruits of this labor. With my Beloved, our company also spreads a little wealth around; I hire other writers and performers, buy goods and services, and certainly give a good percentage to Uncle Sam.

It was you, Mizzez Unold, who made it all possible. One day in maybe the Spring of ’83, you connected two dots for one little Redneck kid in a nothin’ little town in jerk-water Florida… and the world unfolded. And my life changed forever and for the better. I hope over the past 27 years I’ve applied this moment of clarity in positive ways and used my humble powers of prose for good and not for evil.

And so, to you Mrs. Unold, I want to leave you with this – Thank you. Your beauty, your skill as a teacher, your willingness to get to the meat of a matter, your daily commitment to the often ungrateful, unwilling, and oh-so-unknowing teenagers, and certainly to this one, has transcended time and place. One day I may be able to do better, but for now, I have to steal from my main man, Mr. Willie Shakespeare:

And yet, to times, in hope, my verse shall stand,

    Praising thy worth, despite his cruel hand.

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So we continue on with last weeks Project 365 that I’m combining with a little of the essay writing I want to accomplish. By God, I’m going to get this stuff on pixels!!

Moving on…..

Tuesday, Feb. 16, 2010 – More than the eye can see    

So I spent Monday with my head in the old books, working on a post that isn’t quite ready, and realizing how much of who I was (though I’ve moved on from and discarded much of it) still impacts who I am in, I think, I very positive way. When someone talks about sexism, racism or religious dogma, I never tell them they don’t know what they’re talking about or worse that it doesn’t exist. I also have a tremendous compassion for the sexist, racist, and dogmatic religious “nut” because I have a deep understanding of how they got that way. Moreover, I fiercely love those very same sexists, racists, and dogmatic nuts. Then I realized I hadn’t taken a photo and started looking around my house. I didn’t make the connection until I chose the shots but here it is — my house (like my life) is much more than it seems when you know a little more about the pieces and how I got them.    

The grand piano is on “permanent” loan from my mother, the art hanging on the walls was a second-hand find. The candelabra on the piano were a wedding gift from a friend of my mothers who was the pianist in the first church I remember as a baby and my first piano teacher. The photos in the frames are (on the left) my father’s parents and family and on the right, Mike’s father and grandfather. I think, like me, it all works pretty well together. It certainly is “my style.” But is, in fact, pretty much a representation of me, a collection of ideas and things, modified and redefined to hopefully create something warm and beautiful.     

You’ll also notice there isn’t a lot of clutter. I’m ruthless about getting rid of things that are ugly or serve no purpose, that clutter up my home and give the place a cramped or oppressive air. I’m apparently the same way about ideas, and in fact, even people. People that bring ugliness into my life are out or at least limited in the amount of time and space they are allowed to take up.

I am delighted to receive plenty of compliments on how my home looks and feels; I also get plenty of positive encouragement from friends about who I am, the me they see, and the person I try very hard to be. My favorite of all, though, are people who come into my house and say “Wow. It’s so beautiful and so comfortable. I just feel great here!” But it’s understanding the back story, knowing how and why it got that way, that gives the space (and people, IMHO) depth and meaning.   

47-365_Not what it seems_Tues-02-16-10

 

  Wednesday, Feb. 16, 2010 – I miss you G’anny   

My father’s mother (G’anny) was quite different than my mother’s mother (Granny). Where Granny was active in the church, G’anny was pretty much a recluse. Where Granny held vices like smoking, dancing, and high-falutin’ TV shows in great contempt, G’anny smoked like a chimney and whiled away her nights watching Lawrence Welk or reading The National Inquirer. I wrote a post about her here.   

She was sad and morose and it wasn’t until long after her death that I started to get to know her though her diaries and long misunderstood family stories. As a young woman she worked, danced, and partied. After she married she amputated that part of herself with alcohol, drugs, and self-isolation.   

In this photo, from left to right, are a small cigarette holder (with a pink rose); a green perfume bottle along with an embroidered pocket ashtray, and a compact/lipstick combination set on a vanity mirror. Behind it is a brass ashtray. continuing to the right is a collection of her Zippo lighters, including one in a box that belonged to her brother, Uncle Buddy, that he carried in WWII. Reflected in the blown glass of the china hutch, you can see my mother’s piano and the candelabra.  

Like Andrew’s dual image painting from yesterday’s post, this is a dual photo that represents dual people. G’anny — who she really was vs. who I was allowed to see, but also her life — stifled and isolated, wanting glamor and experience but ending up with a form of benign self-destruction — and my life, that I believe was, prior to the Dogged Pursuit, on an oddly on a similar path. Not the self-destruction part, but the isolation. It was sneaking up on me as daily I had been letting go of or cutting off the things that brought me joy (like dancing) or filling my house and life with people and things that didn’t lift me up, but rather brought me down.
 
48-365_I Miss You Ganny_Wed-0-17-10

 

Thursday, Feb. 18, 2010 — Just Dance  

So the next night we went to listen to a new band that Mike is playing with to check out the location. Loved it!! We got dressed in our sexy attire and headed out. This band is fantastic, uber-professional, and Mike, awesome rock-god that he is, is gonna be first sub on lead guitar.  

The song playing when I snapped this pic was “Just Dance,” and within moments the dance floor was so crowded I wouldn’t have been able to take the picture any later. I love the blond woman in the upper right. She looked like she was in her late 40s or early 50s. In fact, there was a dance group there that night, people who can REALLY freakin’ dance, whose ages appeared to range from mid-30s to 70 or better. And these people got down and rockin’ to every song from hip-hop to hard rock, Madonna to Santana, Prince to Lady Gaga. Those people haven’t given up on the sexy, touchy, funky life.   

But here’s the thing — I spent the whole night watching the band, watching people dance, watching, watching, watching. I mentioned my G’anny earlier. In her youth she went to juke joints, she got out there, she DANCED! The she got married, and she quit; hell, for all I know she never even went to watch anymore.  Her spirit shriveled and died long before her body gave out and God knows she was doing everything she could to wreck her body too. Her life wasn’t easy either. She was institutionalized, she received electric-shock treatments, she was ostracized and isolated. In less charitable moments people have suggested she was just a bad, selfish woman, a drunk and a druggie. When people are remembering her with a little more compassion they say maybe she was depressed, maybe she was an addict, maybe she was bi-polar. 

Personally, I think maybe she just wanted to go dancing. 

49-365_Just Dance_Thurs 02-18-10

 To be continued…..

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Once again another week has gone by and as I started putting this together I was just generally annoyed; I have posts started, but not finished. Moreover, I’ve been experiencing a general feeling of disconnectedness but with a thread holding it all together that I just can’t follow. So I was planning to start this post with a colossal whine of “what the fuck is wrong with me?” But then, a strange thing happened….
 
I do my Project 365 a little differently than most folks who take and post a shot every day. Instead, I take photos all week, store them in a single folder, then on one day go through them and pick out my faves. On most days, I’ll have pictures from various events throughout the day — e.g. morning bike ride, lunch, evening out. I remember all of the events very clearly (Something I didn’t do very well before I started this Project.) and a memory of something beyond the image comes through. Once I have the memory, I select my top seven shots to post up on the Project 365 Flickr group. For here though, I’ll sometimes add an additional photo that helps me tell part of the story.
 
Now I’m ready to start on this page. First, I add the photos without any text. One by one they go into the gallery all the while the individual stories are taking shape in my mind hopefully to soon go into the post. This time, like when you look at one of those posters of dots that if you stare at it just right becomes a 3-D image, this weeks theme suddenly appeared. I’m not going to label it, but instead just let the stories and the images work together, like their own conversation.
 
Many of you know that I’m fascinated by why we are the way we are. I’m not sure about you, but over the past few years I’ve realized that I’ve lived most of my life on a default setting, holding values placed there by my family who loved me, the culture I grew up in, the groups I chose to join, and just generally the turns my life took. That’s not to say I hold the same opinions now that I did when I was thirteen, but I can see a deeper imprint now.
 
FYI – this is going to be at least a two-part series since as I started writing the paragraphs around the pictures it became quite long. So today, I’m going to break it up and maybe in the future I’ll do the same thing — combine a little more writing with the images. We’ll see.
 
So with that said, Week 7 —
 
Saturday, Feb. 13, 2010 — Art and artists
 
Most of our friends are artists of some type — actors, musicians, painters, writers — and it’s something I often take for granted. About a year ago we made friends with a couple (real names — Andrew and Brigan) both visual artists whose works hang in galleries around the country, and as usual, found that we fit with these folks. We get them, they get us, and when we get together there isn’t any of the tension that arises when you’re trying to squash part of yourself that you know the other person will find offensive or take objection too. It’s most obvious when I’m around my extended family, with whom I quit fitting in years ago but still love.
 
But even with the artists I know that I am a “dual person” with a  public and private face, acceptable and unacceptable beliefs and behaviors to be revealed and withheld depending on the situation. Most of us know that about ourselves.  But I’m also a dual person in a “before and after” sense and this line is constantly shifting with me. If you would have asked the Stasha of last January a question, you would have gotten one sincere and completely truthful answer; if you asked that same question of me today, the answer would be completely different, yet still sincere and truthful.
 
So Andrew had new show installed at a local gallery and was hosting a talk. It’s a clear departure of his previous work and to me, shows that his life in general is moving forward. The overall theme of this collection is conversations and obstacles. The photo below is a small corner of a much larger work. There are actually two images of the same woman in this picture — one of a woman in a white shirt sitting on a couch, head raised and tilted back, both arms down by her sides, the other image occupies the exact same space and the same lower body, but her head is laying on the back of the couch, and he left arm is draped over the back of the couch as well. In both views the woman’s naked legs are spread revealing simple, white underpants. In either view, she is still exposed to the viewer. 
One person, two realities in the same space, a constant conversation between who I am, who I was, and who I want to be, open to the world.
That’s how I feel almost every moment of every day.

44-365_Andrew's Art_a constant conversation_Sat 02-13-10

That same day Mike and I went to see another group of artists — a play at a local theatre that a friend of our was in. The show was The Fantastix and if you’re not familiar with it, in a nutshell it’s the story of how real life and its struggles enrich the lives of two idealistic and romantic young lovers.     At the theatre that night, I saw an old friend; an actor and an artist I’ve known for twenty years who could tell you more about real life than you probably want to know. He’s a gifted artist who has, in his lifetime, spent time on the ragged edge (sometime slipping over) of homelessness, alcoholism, drug addition, and a host of other addictions. He’s been in love with some wonderful and not-so-wonderful women. He has done things that have made angels both laugh and cry. He has truly flirted with the devil in many, many respects. He is, I think, what the play tried to be. He is also a great example of Andrew’s work as well, an ongoing conversation between who we are, and who we choose to be.

I love you, Jazz.    

Jazz and me_Another artist, an old friend

 Sunday, February 14, 2010 — A tribute to Tom Waits    

Valentine’s Day found Mike and I at a fantastic event. A very successful artist in our area hosts concerts in his home once a month. Basically, he opens his house to whoever shows up, for free, and only asks that the guests bring a bottle of wine to share, don’t make a mess, and stay out of his wife’s kitchen. This evening was a tribute to Tom Waits, a writer/musician who gets the notion that we are all both tough and fragile at the same time. This night about 200 people showed up.    The shot below was taking from the loft looking down on the “stage.” In the upper right is another friend of ours is on lead guitar, wearing a pork pie hat.    The energy of that night was phenomenal! Moreover, it is an example of what I’d been missing for years. Speaking of before and after, a few years ago Mike and I sort of defaulted into a pretty boring routine. We didn’t go out, didn’t seek the experience we wanted to have, didn’t engage with the world the way we wanted to. The bad part of this is that we’d find ourselves on the couch on a Saturday night at 9:30pm, contemplating not only going to bed but where the heck the time was going.        

I started The Dogged Pursuit in part to figure out why I wasn’t happier with my seemingly idyllic life but also to rediscover those things that I’d lost or never fully embraced. Let me tell you something, folks, this is a huge part of it. I love going out; I love music and dance and art and people and experiences and energy and life and I wasn’t fucking living it. Heck, WE weren’t living it.        

It’s actually one of the most interesting things I’m discovering about my Beloved and I, and a huge part of our before and after. I used to think in my head that “he, due to his “introverted nature,” was holding me back from all I wanted to do. Bullshit. I was holding us back. I am the spark of the Mike/Stasha unit. He is the engine. And while my Dogged Pursuit of Happiness is intrinsically tied to him, it works best when I am looking forward, not backwards or sideways, and he is doing the same.          

45-365_A Tribute to Tom Waits_Sunday 02-14-10

  Monday, Feb. 15, 2010 — Legacy

Most of you know by now that I’m a book nut, a word nerd, and lover of learning and language. Knowledge shapes who we are, molds our beliefs, and ultimately makes us who we are. So if you want to know why someone is a certain way or believes a certain thing, you’d be wise to read what they read and when they read it. It is especially important when you consider the people who made you who you are, who set your “default settings” so to speak. In my case, my parents, grand-parents, and the deeply religious and Southern community in which we lived.      

The books below all belonged to my Granny, or  my Mama’s mama. In this photo — and you can barely see it due to my cropping — the books are resting on a hand-pieced and hand stitched quilt that she made from various scraps of worn out clothing, gauging from the patterns and fabrics, sometime in the early 60s or 70s. That quilt is part of her legacy to me. Also in the photo is one of her necklaces (she didn’t have much jewelry) and a pair of earings that think (hope) my Granddaddy gave her. By today’s standards, he wasn’t a great husband but, by the standards put out in these books, she was a pretty good wife. Which is really quite sad.     

I have a whole post I’m working on dedicated to these books but let me give you a quick tour. The green cover in the upper right is titled Fighting the Traffic in Young Girls: or the War on the White Slave Trade.  The opening paragraph reads “By the white slave trade is meant commerce in white woman and girls for wicked purposes. Most of it’s history cannot be written, for two reasons: That these crimes are kept secret as far as possible, and that they are so revolting that their details cannot be published and ought not to be read anywhere outside of the bottomless pit.”

Moving clockwise, the next book is Sweet Smelling Myrrh which is essentially a vile story of emotional, physical, spiritual abuse presented as an example of a woman’s true place and a virtuous life. Granny believed this to her core. Build up your treasures in heaven, accept all suffering, bear all injustice because God’s decided you get nothing but a shitstorm here.        

Growing Up and Liking It was well-intentioned and probably pretty progressive then, but it’s comical now if you know better. Trouble was, I didn’t know better. Shit, I didn’t know this much ’cause I was never even given this messed up book.        

But the most disturbing is the book open in the center. It is titled A History of the People of the United States and is a text book. On its delicate and fragile pages are notes and names of friends scrawled in the margins as well as questions and homework assignments. She studied this book. She was tested on it. She (and the rest of her friends and family) were graded on her understanding and knowledge in this book. It teaches with authority about the War of Seccession, the brutal occupation and dismantling of the South, the social and political disorder created when mentally inferior Negros (who were loved like children and pets) were unfortunately released into a society they couldn’t comprehend or contribute to. The injustices committed by the North and Northerners are detailed and reviled. Some of the headings in this chapter are:  “The Bravery of the Southern Woman,” “Actual Distress of the People,” and “The Faithfulness of the Slave,” the latter of which waxes nostalgic about how the faithful Negro would follow (as if he had a choice) his master in to the field of battle, rejoicing in the Confederate army’s victories and sharing his master’s sorrow at defeat, and if necessary, bear his lifeless body home to his kin. At home the faithful Negros left behind would protect the master’s women, children and other property while ensuring as best he or she could the prosperity of the old homeplace.        

Now I ask you, if this is what you believe, and this is what you teach your children who in turn teach it to their children, and everyone you associate with believes the same thing, and your understanding of God backs up your belief as not only accurate but Devine and Ordained, would you be surprised to find out a mere generation later is still pretty fucked up?        

More on this particular legacy another day.        

46-365_A legacy_Monday 02-15-10

 To be continued……

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For those of you who aren’t aware of it, it hurts to get punched in the face. It’s also not a lot of fun to take a knee to the thigh or a kick to the tits. But take it I do; and no, I’m not an abused wife, masochist or BDSM aficionado (though as far as I’m concerned, there’s nothing wrong with the latter two if that’s your thing).

You see, I fight as part of my karate training. I’m not very good at it — sparring, that is — but I suit up, shut up, and get my butt in the ring with grown men (and one other woman) and do my best to kick their asses. Every now and then, I land a really good punch and a few times I’ve knocked a few of ’em down. Or maybe they tripped. Who cares, I still got the credit! — and that part I LOVE.

We usually fight in two-minute rounds which doesn’t sound like a long time until you’re a minute and thirty seconds into it, wheezing like an asthmatic, and trying to remember to “block AND punch,” or “block AND kick.” On the edge of the ring is Sensei, shouting out every damn thing you’re doing wrong, “Keep your hands UP!” “Don’t let him back you into a corner!” “Follow up with a kick! A KICK! Jesus, you have feet! Remember!!! Ai, yi, yi!!” (Sensei is Puerto Rican and the former US Army Martial Arts Champion and all around bad-ass.) 

When Sensei is in a particular mood or when we’re testing for the next belt level, we fight the gauntlet. One person takes the center ring then the rest of the classmates and the two black-belt assistants (10 people total) fight that one person, 30 seconds at a time. So that means, one person fights continuously for 5 minutes all the while getting a fresh, non-tired opponent every thirty seconds.

I definitely get bruised and a couple of times I’ve gotten bloody. So far it hasn’t happened to me, but a few of my classmates have thrown up either as a result of a well placed kick or general exhaustion.

Which all begs the question — why? Why on earth would I do this to myself?

It’s a good question, and here are a few thoughts:

I love it because it scares the hell out of me. I KNOW it is going to hurt; and I get in there anyway. I know my opponents are bigger, stronger, and often better than me; and I face off against them anyway. I know it is unlikely that I will ever compete in a tournament or actually be IN a “real” fight; and I work hard to get better anyway.

I love it because it makes me stronger. Not just physically, which it does, but fighting increases my mental toughness. In addition to the fear, when you get hit, the pain starts a cascade effect of chemical reactions in the body. The first thing I have to overcome is choosing “fight” over “flight.” I have to decide to fight back therefore over-riding years of social conditioning that taught me to run away from things that make me uncomfortable or difficult or painful. Looking through my raised gloves, protecting my face, I see the jab come straight in; step and lean back, the fist pops my head back but then I explode forward into the red zone to return a front kick into his ribs.

I love it because it makes me more calculating and less reactionary. When someone is punching and kicking you, the first reaction is to simply lash out, swing back, and try to connect a fist or a foot with some soft tissue, and that’s a good way to lose and lose fast. You have to watch your opponent, see what he’s going to do, predict what is coming your way. You have to learn quickly what he does over and over and what opening he usually presents because we all present an opening sooner or later. He always fakes two steps, lift and fake, lift and fake. After the second fake he brings up a rear leg roundhouse. I turn in and take the kick to the gut as he over steps the angle, leaving his chest wide open for side kick. When it’s there, you have to attack it.

I love it because it calms my mind. A person purposefully hurting you usually causes anger. Again, it’s a chemical and justifiable reaction when someone is trying to hit you but one you CAN control; you don’t have to get mad even though it’s easy to do. The more of their moves that connect the calmer I have to be; in fact, I often try to focus to the point that time slows down so I can see the kick coming, block it with my left forearm, while pulling power from the ground up through my leg, butt, and back, down my arm and returning a vicious right cross.

I love it because we learn from each other even while we’re hurting each other. My partner is my opponent, not my enemy. He too, is a student and though often more adept than me, he is learning as well. He tries but can’t always pull his punches enough not to send my flying backwards on to my ass and sometimes lands a hard punch square to my face mask. I sometimes flail back, landing punches to the face or below the belt. We know the problem is a lack of skill not a lack of intelligence and certainly not a lack of character. Hands up, palms out. We back up, breathe deep, and circle around looking for our next opening.

I love it because it isn’t soft or nurturing. Sensei’s encouragement is aggressive and no holds barred. He has no interest in being supportive and he isn’t going to be nice. “That hurt? Well don’t just stand there and take another! Hit him!” “Good one! Make ‘im feel it. Don’t let  him think he shouldn’t be afraid of you.”  When coaching my opponent, “Don’t worry about the fact she’s a girl, get your foot up there!” “Strike harder, she’s not made of glass and if she is, tough shit! That’s her problem, not yours!”  

At the end of two minutes (or five!) I usually have spit running down my chin because the mouth protector is hard to swallow around; my body is dripping with sweat; I have at least two or three new bruises, usually on my thighs or shoulders, where there is no padding. My partner and I touch gloves, bow, and leave the ring where we then slide down the wall into a semi-sitting/squatting position to remove our head-gear. We catch our breath, drink some water, then stand back up to cheer on the next two combatants.

Every time I spar, every single time, I get better. And the improvements carry over into life. I face down fears, especially painful ones, head on. I am mentally and physically tougher in all my dealings, whether it’s dealing with the beaurocrats at City Hall or with an obnoxious sales clerk, I stand my ground. In an argument or a debate with the same beaurocrat or clerk, I look for the opening I need and when it is presented, I attack. I no longer easily accept someone else’s limited responses as an appropriate response. I rarely get mad at “opponents” or people who are standing between me and getting results. I am not reduced to anger by someone merely striking out at me verbally. I don’t expect my partners (husband, friends, and general acquaintances) not to hurt me. They are learning too. But I do expect them to get better, and to pull their punches. If they don’t, then they aren’t partners. I don’t listen for gentle encouragement, but instead hear an inner voice shouting out to me from ring-side, “Get in there, Stasha!! Kick some ass!”

I don’t worry too much about taking names though. I’ve learned it slows down the ass-kicking.

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First a quick update on the Dad(s) situation. You read that right, we’ve now got TWO of them off-line. On Wednesday evening this week, we found out my 81-year old Father-in-Law (FIL) fell and broke his femur. Great googley-moogley, what the hell!? Anyway, FIL is currently unable to walk and has just been transferred to a rehab center/nursing home where hopefully the bone will heal and in a few months he’ll be able to walk again with a cane or walker. Right now he can’t and boy, does it suck. Another reminder of what we all get to look forward to in our “Golden Years” he says.     

This shot didn't make my Project 365 cut. It was also taken at Mama and Daddy's house.

Daddy finally got an appointment with a neuro-phychologist who confirmed what we already know (memory and verbal centers damaged) and we’re hoping to start working on a new plan. However, there was one worrisome bit — this time when asked who the president he said “Osama.” Mama told him he was off by a letter but it’s still troubling. He had been getting this question right though we weren’t sure if it was because he remembered or because he learned. Either way, it’s a bit of a set back.   

By the way, I highly recommend “My Stroke of Insight” by Taylor if you know anyone who’s had a stroke.    

But enough of all that for now! Back to me, me, me!!   

In response to a great idea by my buddy Hubman, I’ve decided to participate in Project365 where you commit to taking and posting a photo every day of the year for one year. I don’t have a fancy camera, just my iPhone and my old 4 mega pixel Kodak Easyshare but never-the-less, I’m in. Rather than posting here everyday, my plan is to put up the week’s photos on the weekend. (Oh, and I didn’t get anything for Jan. 1 so I started on the 2nd.)   

Click here to see this week’s photos. Enjoy! (more…)

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[Jan. 4 2010 — Odd thing just happened. This post disappeared from WordPress so I’m reposting it. Apologies to all of you who already read it and commented. I’ll try to find the comments too.]

And 2009 is….. outa here!! Enter 2010! Not to slag on ‘09 or anything, but damn! But before I get into all of that — an update on Daddy

The good news!! – He appears to be recovering some of the usual thought processes but also his sense of humor. He even jokes about it, “Let’s head over to church and see who else I don’t remember.” Names and past events are a problem but he is certainly able to engage. 

The bad news – The personality shift is very apparent and, if not permanent, will take a while to recover. He will engage in conversation but only if you engage him first. Otherwise, he’ll sit in silence. His curiosity and desire to explore and expand his understanding of people and places is simply gone. He’s “Daddy-lite” so to speak. 

And that’s part of the problem with wrapping up a year on such a crappy note. You look back through a haze of negatives and the only things that seem to stand out are more items that match it. 

Well, to hell with that. 

On New Years eve, as my Beloved and I sat on our back porch, drinking vino and otherwise recovering from the week and year, I decided to focus on only the good things that came out of the year and I must say, it was quite a cool list. And since I’m not much of a “resolutions” kinda gal, I decided that my plan was to identify what really worked for me last year and to do more of it all the while making note of those things that I realize no longer serve a purpose, and cut that shit out wherever possible. 

So with that in mind, a few highlights: 

Oct. 2009 -- Testing for my Green Belt in Karate. Yeah, I passed.

I conquered a demon last year — body image. After four decades of self loathing, I’d had enough and discovered I didn’t have to wait until I was thin happy with my body to start enjoying it. I still don’t think I can accurately describe the positive change this even brought to my (and Mike’s) life. With that in mind, in 2010 I plan to remain vigilant on this. It’s possible this monster isn’t dead but just resting will creep back into my life. I will not let that happen in ‘10. I will visit more nude resorts when I have the time and write about the experiences; I will buy and wear attractive and sexy clothes; I will flirt shamelessly and will welcome the attention that it brings. I’ve earned it.  

SIDEBAR: After the body-image epiphany I actually lost about 20 pounds. Yippeee! I plan to lose another 20 – 30 in 2010. But here’s the thing — in 09 I discovered the only way it works for me. 1) Total caloric intake daily average:  1000 – 1200. 2) Total caloric expenditure per day [exercise and base metabolism]: 2200 – 2400. 3) Gross average weight-loss per week: 1/2 to 1 pound. You read that right, cowkids; it takes having an AVERAGE caloric deficit of roughly 1000 – 1200 calories per day for me to lose almost a pound in a week. Sucks, doesn’t it?  

I also realized that event did more than conquer fat-fear, it proved to me that I can conquer any fear, any self-imposed limitation, without any help from anyone. Mike and I’ve talked at great length about how much it hurt that he can’t or won’t embrace something that finally works for me. He says he’s ambivalent about it. But I don’t want to go explore this new and awesome experience with an ”ambivalent” companion by my side so my option is to continue on alone or to forgo it altogether and once again wait for someone else’s “approval” to live my life fully. In his defense, he says he’s perfectly fine if I go solo but I’m not sure how well that will stick if I start to develop friendships, spend money, and otherwise create a separate life from him. I’m also pretty sure it won’t work for me. He is my Beloved, and to know that he doesn’t want to be with me sucks the joy out of any activity. It’s a fuckin’ rock and hard place and I don’t know how it will resolve in 2010. 

Another highlight was getting published. Now I’m a writer/producer by trade but my work doesn’t show up in print magazines. However, I wrote an article for “N” Magazine (FYI – for some reason the formating on this article is awful. I swear, I didn’t write it that way!) based on my trip to Cypress Cove and was even paid for it! (A whopping $50 but who cares?! I had a byline! Wheeee!!!) In ‘10 I plan to write more and expand beyond my work and blogging life.  

Speaking of blogging, the Dogged Pursuit is a major highlight of ‘09. The feedback I get is fantastic (who doesn’t like to be told they’re wonderful?) but more than that is its effect — on my and on others. For me, I’m clearer. Writing here helps me focus, plan, and place a critical eye on the bullshit that espouse every day. I think I am a better writer. I know I am a better person. But that’s small potatoes compared to the effect it’s had on others. For those of you who’ve found something useful on these pages and have let me know, thank you. I’m so very glad you found something of use here beyond just “Hey, did j’a see what Stasha said this time! Da-um!!”  If something I wrote here resonates with you, I’m glad I was able to give it a voice. I’m also glad when it helps us both see that we are not alone. I’m going to continue with the long form format and am going to revise my target number of posts down to just one a week. I’d originally planned to do 3, but that’s too much for your humble  servant. (Curse your productivity, Joan!) 

Speaking of productivity, I realized that while I did a lot of things last year, I could’ve done a lot more. I spent a lot of well-worth-it hours reading blogs, reading books, learning and generally exploring new concepts and ideas that for reasons explained in other posts, I’d missed most of my life. But in ‘10 I think it’s time for a little more action. I’m not a TV watcher per se (except for a couple of favorite Tivo’d shows) and there’s no reason I can’t get a few more things done.Reading and learning is swell ’n all, but doing is sooooo much better! So, in addition to more writing, organize my damn photos! They’ve been in plastic bins for years. Also, now that all of my grandparents are gone, I’m going to do the same with the mountains of old photos we’ve found around the houses. If I can accomplish this in a year it’ll be a freakin’ miracle but my work in museums has taught me much about the importance of archiving your history. Wish me luck on this one. 

Moving on, I also had some fantastic individual days last year and several stand out — too many to detail here — but they did have a couple of things in common. 

April 2009_ A refuge in Wyoming. What a day.

First, they were all spent getting to know people. One day in particular I spent on a wildlife refuge in Wyoming with an uber-awesome park ranger. She took me on a 5-hour tour and it felt like we were the only two people on the freakin’ planet. In that time we chatted about life, nature, work, art, etc. and it was time well spent. By far one of the best days not only of the year, but of the past several. More of this please. I also expanded our local circle of friends. We had more dinner parties and I invited people we wanted to know better; we attended regular parties (one group in particular — Nutsy, anyone?), we met more friends and neighbors for drinks at our local watering hole. I’m also making a wide range of interesting discoveries in the blogosphere –fascinating and wonderful people. Some are old friends I never really knew until I started reading their blogs, others are folks that have reconnected with me and we send private emails back and forth now, still others are new and growing friendships with people who are at the same time radically different but remarkably similar to me. More, more, more please!! 

Jan. 2009 Hancock Shaker Village Massachusettes. Beatiful! But cold!!

The second thing about most of the aforementioned ”great days” was they included my camera. Now I’ve never been great at taking pictures; not because the shots don’t turn out, but because I forget to take them. But I’ve gotten some fantastic images this past year and want to take more. My beloved was going to get me a new camera for my birthday but we can’t find exactly what I want to I’m going to continue with my old 4 mega pixel Kodak and iPod but I’ve decided to follow Hubman and Emmy’s example and participate in Project 365 this year. I may do a post a week here with the week’s shots all at once rather than once per day. I’ll still try to upload daily on the Flicker site, but we’ll see how that goes. 

The second to last most wonderful thing about 2009 was the intensely increased communication between my Beloved and me. Though a complicated series of events, we became closer, discovered what real honest marital communication feels like (both good and bad) and consequently have become much closer and more committed than ever before. That’s not to say that all is hunky-dory fairy-tale story perfect around here. In what marriage is it ever? But I certainly want this part of who we are to continue growing. On the more challenging side, it is intensely difficult and frightening to share your inner self with someone, even someone you love and trust. The potential for hurt magnifies right along with the potential for understanding. It’s worth it, but it still hurts. It also means laying bare your innermost desires, dreams, hopes, and fears before someone to ridicule or be repulsed by. It also means offering them an oportunity to help you make them come true. And for you to do the same for them. What an awesome responsibility. What a frightening sense of vulnerability. 

And finally, full circle, to Daddy’s stroke and Granddaddy’s death. The latter was a longtime coming, and his passing was life-changing but also a relief. The former was a bolt out of the fucking blue and I’m still reeling. But both are a continuing reminder that our lives are short and unpredictable. That memories and the people and events that make them matter and are very, very fragile. That relationships are everything. The experiences make up the sum of your life. That now matters more than then; and that you (me, you, us) matter more than them — those who would limit us, those who mock our dreams, those who embrace ignorance, those who peddle fear. 

July 2009 Mt Airy, NC - On the road of life, how can you beat this?

So in 2010, I am not resolved to do any more than to simply do more of what seems to work. I will work harder, play more, be more aware in my travels, more eager to embrace all the good that comes my way. I will deal with challenges in the only way I know how, one day at a time — and be more attentive to the beauty and grace that appears to follow me around. I will love my friends more and will continue to hold my Beloved close to my heart as we journey on together. 

Happy New Year! 

Stasha 

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“Where were you going, Daddy?” 

“Well, I decided to pick up your Uncle Chuck, grab the key from Phil’s place then head on over to your brother Joe’s house.” 

October 1998, Daddy and I heading down the "aisle" to meet my Beloved, Mike. Daddy built the house in the background.

 

Seems simple enough on its face until you realize that I don’t have an Uncle Chuck, my brother’s name is not Joe, and I have no idea who “Phil” is. We’re in the emergency room two days before Christmas, and my father is, to put it euphemistically, not himself. He can’t tell me what year it is nor can he name the president. He knows me and my cousin, who’s standing with me, but gets the name of his associate pastor, who’d stopped in after hearing the news, wrong. When he speaks it’s in vague generalities, without detail; no specifics regarding who, what, when, or where. What’s worse is he seems to know he’s getting it all screwed up and he can’t quite figure out why. 

On December 23, 2009, Daddy had some type of neurological event. 

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