Wednesday, May 10, 2017

Places!

Let's try and talk about trips for a bit. I have been very fortunate to travel a lot for my job and also in my personal life. I grew up in the military and loved moving, hiding behind "box forts", collecting as much clear packing tape as possible to make a giant tape ball (having contests with my sisters to make the biggest one!)
As an adult I don't collect packing tape any longer (well in a way I do but that's to ship animals not to make giant tape balls!), but I do collect memories from my trips. Networking, drinking (tomat-o, toma-toe), flights, layovers, presentations, meetings, and early morning coffee to combat the late night drinking.

Whether I am driving on a long haul animal transfer or flying across the country to a conference, each trip has led to many lasting memories and wonderful friendships. From workshops to trainings, I can honestly say that traveling is a better form of finding happiness than shopping or being a lazy bum on the couch for the weekend (though those do have their own merits!)

Portland and a Goat
The first real big shipment that I've had the luck to go on was my longest drive to date and it took me right through a city where just two days later I would fly into and present on a topic that I took pride in with my previous job at my first big conference. The trip started out simply enough, driving through Colorado listening to my cohorts talk in the front seat while I folded art brochures for an upcoming event.

22 hours later and we still had a few hours to go before our final destination! Driving through construction traffic in some city at 2 am, cruising past a tree farm and marveling at how straight the rows were, and then also celebrating one of the co drivers birthdays by acting like we were Facebook sending notifications and hashtag (ding! HAPPY HAPPY HAPPY BIRTHDAY P-DUBS!!!!!)...we definitely found ourselves a bit slap happy by the end of our 3-4 day journey. I will say that the beer we had when we finally reached our hotel and destination at the end of a 25-26 hour drive was one of the best beers of my life!

Piggybacking with that trip we were all participants in an online behavior course that had just started, which was led by one of the most incredible women I have ever known. She has the ability to speak softly and soothingly yet command more respect and attention than a marine drill sergeant. Her philosophies on life are ones that I have always worked towards and her attitude towards people is one that I am working hard on adopting.

Life is not all positive, whether in a training aspect or simply in a viewpoint/actuality. I don't trust people that are all sunshine and daisies every day, it doesn't feel natural. I have strived to be honest, to myself and in the way I represent myself. The problem with this is that when I am not a "fan" of someone, they know it. And truly, I don't view this as a real problem, I despise people that are fake-whether for the sake of being political or simply because they don't want to hurt someone's feelings.

The wonderful thing about Susan is her ability to make every individual feel as if they are the most important person in the world and the complete center of her attention. I find the notion that someone can be this good baffling, and she'll be the first to admit she isn't perfect but her openness and acceptance of everything is perfect.

A Gorilla and some corn fields
Less than 6 months after my first long haul I found myself on another, this time to California and this time with a much more odorous companion. I don't mean (Dina) but rather, a dark new friend in the back half of our van. Thankfully the straight through drive on our return journey was less than the straight through drive to Oregon but if you've ever smelled a gorilla, well let's just say that at the end of the trip, there was no need to refresh with deodorant, and no one ever knew the difference!

The best part about long hauls (coming from someone who hates driving and has never kept that secret) is the bonding with the other people in the car. Watching car pool karaoke, stopping at an Indian casino for gas (ironically the same one on both sides of the trip!), souvenir shopping at a small place in Arizona or looking for cold beer at the grocery shop in Santa Barbara, it was all a wonderful time spent together!

Not long before that trip (or was it after? Time melds together so easily) was another conference trip, this time to a place I had lived for the least amount of time. Funny how six months in a place can make such an impact on your life, but that is what Omaha did for me and my return journey there was no less insightful for me. A quick flight there and a snowy 8 hour drive home with 20 some-odd egrets while another zoos staff drove ahead and updated us on the number of rolled over semis, and it was overall another amazing opportunity to find a place in the world for me.

I had (by most concerns) no right to be interested in this particular conference. Not being in a position of "importance", or having worked with any of the species, but being good friends with Cali, and learning more about who I was and what I wanted. Most importantly I found a place where I felt comfortable, respected, heard, and even a bit knowledgeable. I fell in love with a species I had never heard of before (look up Saola. Just do it.), and made new friends that I would connect with again in Albuquerque, where I would once again feel that connection of belonging.

"You know your stuff. And you're good at what you do. But you don't know what you know." It might sound like an odd quote but it is one that has helped encourage me and given me the reinforcement that I needed to keep going some days. I miss Cali, but I know that we are both where we need to be and she is continuing to inspire me and encourage me every day.

Sunday, April 23, 2017

Mae'n Dyrys (It's Puzzling)

Two people whose eyes meet across a room, and they feel a connection that can't be explained; Through life we are slowly finding pieces of our puzzle to put into place. Sometimes the cat steals a corner piece, or we think we found a perfect fit and a few rows later we realize that the piece was jammed in the wrong hole (sometimes the square pegs look like they fit in the round holes). Even though we try to reach nirvana (heaven) and fill in the entire puzzle, that isn't always what will happen in the this life. It might take a few. It might take the puzzle falling apart a few times before we figure it out. Finding someone who makes us feel like we are home, someone to help us with our puzzle while we help them with theirs, that can be the most satisfying feeling in the world.

Maybe we are meant to have more in this life, or maybe less. Life is definitely not fair, but maybe through this puzzle we find pieces that make sense and we can fit them in. And maybe sometimes the only pieces that make sense are the ones in the middle, the ones that make up the face of a sloth, and the jungle is a tangle that we can't seem to sort through. It can be frustrating to see what makes sense, to feel it so close, yet not be able to connect it just yet.

When we meet our "puzzle sloths" (insert whichever favorite animal you prefer), it can become easy to fixate on them. When you've built up your border, and year after year through resilience and fighting you have found and pieced together corners of the jungle, maybe a tree here and a canopy there, but you feel lost and stuck after that...and then you stumble upon a complete, familiar face, how do you not focus on it? It gives you a center, a familiarity that you finally feel like you can see what the whole picture will look like. You are filled with a sense of strength that you forgot you had, and you are reinvigorated to continue piecing the puzzle together, to find where the sloth will be.

Sometimes there are days when I want to flip the table, everything feels upside down, the puzzle might as well be too, right? But then I see that sloth, and it reminds me, even its distance, that it's ok. Today might suck, hell this whole year might, but it will be ok.

It's hard to find where you want to be and what you want, but to be unable to get there makes it even harder. All through life we take steps towards a state of nirvana (or heaven, whichever you believe). Sometimes knowing what you want in life is a blessing and other times it feels like a curse. In some lives we may not ever know what we want, so to be sure of it and to know that we are on the right path can be reassuring, and perhaps this life we are meant to learn patience as we travel to where we are meant to be.

I do cherish the moments in my life where I was wrong. If I had not been so bigoted in my younger years, I couldn't have had such a strong "come to Jesus" awakening in high school of how much more to life there was. And I don't mean that in a "being an adult" sort of knowledge, it's much more existential than that. One lesson I am grateful to have learned is how to live and be non judgmental. (Ok I will admit I am not perfect and I do judge....but only stupidity and ego.)

Happiness...what is it? Talking and having an honest conversation with an old friend who is genuinely there and cares about you enough to actually respect you? A quiet walk by the creek with a trusted companion? Or a cup of tea and a pile of blankets with a warm cat in your lap? Happiness can look like a lot of different things and at different times mean either more or less. To be in a position where you know what happiness looks like for you can sometimes be the hardest part.

Along with that is being comfortable and confident in yourself. Finding happiness within yourself, knowing who you are and what you're feeling, that's vital in life. It's one thing to be told that you're beautiful, it's another to feel it. And when you are raised in an environment that was real and honest, but maybe never told you these words, does it make it harder to believe as an adult? Perhaps. To hear the words "you are so incredible, and so wonderful...Such an amazing woman and so beautiful.", how can these words mean so little?

I've learned that you can't simply tell someone with low self esteem or poor body image something and make them believe it. No more than you can tell someone with anxiety to calm down or someone with cancer to not be sick. If someone feels unattractive (even if they shine like the sun on a summers morn over the Atlantic Ocean), the last thing they need to hear is "you're so beautiful!", because I can guarantee that they will feel hollow and empty inside if they don't believe it. To go back to the puzzle metaphor, if they have a few staggered pieces here and there with no foundation, it will slip through the cracks and drain them of their energy.

What can you do say to someone in that position instead? It's hard to write a script for that moment. You have to truly care enough about them to understand how they feel loved, how they feel heard, and how they are feeling even when they are lying. Reading the signs, riding the waves, it's a constant change. Building them up, finding ways to give them indirect compliments that help build their self esteem...that's the tricky part but can be easy if you know them well.

Trying to figure out where to go in life, having bad days and good moments. Some good days with bad moments. Knowing that happiness is a state of mind, a choice, and shouldn't be found in a person.

That's enough cliches for this chapter (maybe), but the truth of it is that while I am happy with who I am, I'm not perfect. I do still derive some measure of happiness from those around me, perhaps that is the empath in me, perhaps its' simply the human part of my emotions.

Hearing from someone who means a lot to me can sometimes be enough to make me smile and cheer me up. Even if they are telling me "F*** you, ;-)" in jest, in a way that makes it feel like even more of a weight has been lifted off my shoulders. And likewise, telling someone that I didn't have a great day and simply having that 'ignored' and only followed up with a "good night, love ya" can be enough to bring me down a little. In a hollow and empty way; because it seems that I have discovered where my heart truly lies and that in itself has been an interesting discovery.

Every once in awhile we take our puzzle apart a little before a bigger piece falls into place. Sometimes we have to take a chunk somewhere else and get fresh eyes on it to see how it fits in. And then sometimes we look away from building ours to help a friend build theirs, and occasionally we discover that both are interconnected in someway, or that they had the missing piece that we had been searching for.

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Giraffes & Training: Together?

What do you do when you find yourself cross eyed for a cupcake and so blind to the sugar that your loyalty is on yourself, and the sugar, more than on the supplier?

Just as with humans, animal relationships are the same. It's all a philosophy of looking at souls. It's
not about black skin or white skin, it's not about a dog or a giraffe. Building a relationship to a point of loyalty and trust takes a long time, it takes a lot of deposits into a trust account. Only once you have that history can your relationship handle withdrawals and a few dips in the market. Anything, over time, can fade away, and sometimes it will break without a warning. At least not a warning that is immediately identifiable, but there is no reaction without an action.

Whether you are training an animal to allow you to stick a needle in them, or you are creating a foundation of trust and love with a close friend, if you don't allow them choice and control, or options to participate willingly, there is an inevitable end where the behavior or the relationship will break. With time you can bring it back, until you can't anymore. You never know when that point is until you've reached it, but hopefully with an enlightened point of view, and a willingness to admit fault and grow, with conscious effort to be better, the chances of that are dramatically decreased. Pez-feeding a relationship with cupcakes, crackers, words, or gestures can only sustain it for so long. Allow them the option to choose to be with you; help them fall in "love" and genuinely enjoy your company, so that when the inevitable down slopes of life occur, they know that spending that time with you will make it better.

It's natural to crave a level of intimacy in our relationships that fills our desire to be needed and wanted. Whether we are moving onto a new career, or starting a life with a new family, or even just starting a new relationship with a new soul, we all want to feel "helpful". Sometimes that helpful is to bring an animal comfort and joy when they are around us or see us. Sometimes it's to help a close friend through a tough time, or even an easy time, but simply being there to curse, or listen, or have a tissue or a beer fulfills our sense of duty and obligation.  When someone leaves you unexpectedly, it makes you want to crawl into the hole they left behind and stop trying.

But you can't. Well, you can, and your soul simply won't grow, and for some people that's ok. After enough cycles, we build resilience and a little voice inside drives us to keep going, it feeds us keep going signals even when we have no faith in hope, because we know, that it's ok. We know that it's for a reason and on levels we don't even consciously recognize, there is a comfort in that. It isn't hope that drives us at that point, it's a resilience built from lifetimes of fighting and pushing and growing to where we are now. And for those around us 'old souls' that struggle and fall down and need a hand, we feel obligated to be there for them, sometimes even when all we want is to leave the world behind, because it's the right thing to do.

It may not be the end of the world, but pain is perceived differently by everyone. Who knows why one cryptorchid moose will allow a hand in places that cause grown men to blush, but another won't approach a human they've known for years? One heartbreak might bring a grown man to his knees, whereas a thousand broken hearts leaves a woman standing stronger and unflinching. Until the soul she never thought she'd lose, the one she felt more akin with than her own even, becomes like a will-o-wisp and leaves a tangibly empty hole that brings a pain into her life that infiltrates everything. No matter the pain or anger caused by other fairly substantial events, the repeated phrase is "I think you're more upset about 'her'. Someone who has nothing to do with this event directly." And each time, there is zero denial and 100% acceptance of this statement.
Ultimately we are all stronger than we think. It takes a strong crash to awaken us to it sometimes, or a needle poke to realize where our loyalty is. Is it with the supplier of the cupcake, or have we been cross eyed this entire time? Where do we stand now?