2017 NYE: Bikram Yoga

For the first time ever, ringing in the new year at a yoga class sounded like a good idea. Actually, I went out dancing on the eve of New Year’s Eve, which was fun until the next morning. If I were inclined to make new year’s resolutions, it may be to stop dancing salsa with younger men. They are a little too energetic for my left knee. A festive table greeted those of us who braved through the miraculous snowdrift. Had I known it would snow, I may have stayed home to watch it all unfold on TV. This was the second time snow had fallen in Austin in the eight years that I’ve lived here with the first time being a few weeks ago. Both times, I was caught by surprise out in it.I’d confirmed that we’d toast with sparkling apple cider and not champagne prior to class, but during class, I heard the yoga teacher ask her husband, “How’s the Korean barbecue going?” and for some stupid reason, I believed we were going to have that with the cider. Just goes to show how gullible I can be doing yoga that late at night.Most of the bright lights were outside the hot room in the reception area. The disco ball and mirrored walls reflected the disco lights and a speaker belted out a set list. The yoga teacher didn’t turn down the music as she guided us through class; so I missed some of her signals to go into a posture or change it. As a matter of fact, I was glad I had the habit of setting up in the front of the room or else I would not have been able to see myself in the mirror.

The class ended minutes before midnight and we toasted while in the yoga room. People cleared out rather quickly, which meant I could hop in the shower without having to wait in line. As I stood in the women’s locker room with a towel wrapped around my nakedness and applied deodorant, I heard a small crowd in the lobby yell, “Happy New Year!” Welp, that was just as good as any way to ring in a new year, I guess.

Fortunately, the snow had melted and the roads were clear. I only snapped this picture of a light dusting of snow on one of my neighbor’s car once I arrived home–before I got out of my car. I missed the opportunity to take a single picture of the first snowfall a few weeks ago, thinking it would stick around for a bit. So far, none of it has.

This had been the first Christmas to New Year’s vacation I’ve enjoyed in a long time. Not only did I ring in the New Year at a Bikram yoga studio, but I’m also participating in the yoga challenge by attending a class 6 days a week. That’s truly helping the ever-present rollercoaster ride of being an independent health insurance agent!

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Bah Humbug!

Admittedly, I approached this past Christmas with a Scroogy attitude. The real gift was reconnecting with my family; so when the actual day arrived, it seemed less spectacular. One of my nephews was wrapped up in a blanket in the living room as if Santa had left him along with the other gifts.One of my nieces and I immediately changed into our Christmas festive attire.  Whereas her Santa Dino sweater and Grinch leggings were manufactured, I’d sewn a stuffed animal, which I named “Bah Humbug,” onto the front of my sweater. Although I thought of it as a simple way to be Christmassy, I didn’t realize how having Bah Humbug sewn onto my sweater would amuse other people as much as it did. Everyone initially thought I was carrying a stuffed animal until I stood up.

Apparently my costuming idea was so impressive, my 17-year old nephew asked me to stand up and say a few words, so he could post it to his Instagram.  Now, there’s a vote for being unintentionally cool!

Yet, he’d showed up all of us on Christmas Eve by dressing up in his Winter Wonderland suit for church. The pastor was so distracted that he asked my nephew to stand up for the congregation just in case they hadn’t seen him. The pastor complimented how confident my nephew was, supported the idea he’d be a millionaire by age 25 and then delivered the sermon.

As in the past few years, we started off Christmas morning eating breakfast.  With the youngest child being 17, there was no over-the-top early morning anxiousness. Everyone had a chance to fully wake up, change out of their bed clothes, eat and then open gifts.

These three assumed their usual positions on the floor in front of the tree.One of my sisters miraculously hadn’t gone to bed on Christmas Eve since she had an impossible number of things she wanted to accomplish before our Christmas celebration. I appropriately gifted her Obama-decorated-as-saints candles.I didn’t think this nephew would stick around after receiving the burlesque dictionary I’d gifted him, but he stuck around until the gift-opening had ended.For the other nephew, I gifted him a small journal made from recycled panda poo since he always read and jotted down information in perpetual research mode. I told him there were no ideas too crappy to write down in a panda poo journal! Of course, he had to sniff it.

Later, I helped him assemble a preowned practice drum kit that he and his sisters had bought for their mom.  Truly a discovery learning process for us two Virgos since the box had no instructions nor diagram.  He found a picture of an assembled practice drum kit for us to follow.  There were a few missing pieces, but we assembled what we could and even had his mom to drum a little.

This had been the perfect visit in so many ways. There was only one awkward argument, which didn’t involve me, but I witnessed. I didn’t do a lick of work, unlike last Christmas, where my shitty job at the time didn’t give me many paid vacation days and I had to work half the time my parents were there. Plus, I’d established the tradition of sleeping in my nephew’s room, so I could close the door, blocking out much of the sound and light of the true night owls in the family who wanted to stay up later. We visited one family of cousins and another family showed up as well. And of course, I cannot forget about all the delicious food.

From the day I arrived, At least one person cooked something.  I helped one of my nieces, who is a vegan, make peanut butter cookies. We started the process after midnight.  Once the last batch had been laid out, I showered and went to bed, but my little niece kept going and made both chocolate chip and thumb print cookies, not going to bed until 4:30 AM.

My brother-in-law made three types of sweet potato pies: regular, vegan and sausage. Then he followed that up with many of the dishes, both regular and vegan, that we ate for Christmas Eve: mac and cheese, stuffing, string bean casserole and others. My sister made pecan pies. Mom made a cheesecake and potato salad. Dad made hash browns. My other sister brought a red velvet cake.

This was in addition to all the various fruit, nuts and processed snacks they normally buy in bulk. So, much food that I ate dessert after every meal. I limited myself to only one glass of wine a day, but still had eggnog nearly every day and a taste of moonshine at one point.

I did some yoga stretches every night, jogged on the treadmill once, and always agreed to go shopping just to get some walking in. I never have the new year’s resolution to lose weight–other than the temporary pounds I’ve gained with my holiday eating, coupled with my holiday reduction of exercise.

All in all, the nearest perfect Christmas visit as could be expected.

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Aunt Teresa’s Burlesque Dictionary

Last Christmas, when my immediate family got together, I had a few conversations with one of my nephews, who was 25 at the time. During our conversations, he asked me what certain words, like “ambiguous” and “prolonged,” meant since I’d peppered my conversations with such vocabulary. At one point, I told him that if he’d read more, he’d know the meaning of those words.

Unlike other members of my immediate family, I’m not induced into thinking that just because this particular nephew is on the autism spectrum that he can’t do better. I’ve witnessed him manipulate other people, especially my parents, into doing things for him. He ‘d mastered that behavior at age three. Since I’ve lived out of town for most of his life, I have always seen through the learned helplessness charade. Not every struggle can be written off as intellectual disability, especially with someone smart enough to scheme.

For that Christmas, I’d gifted him a nonfiction book and two literary magazines. I knew he liked history and the novel was about a married autistic man’s journey to being a better father and husband by learning how to be more empathetic–lessons I thought my nephew needed to learn as well.

Just on a fluke, I told him for next year’s Christmas gift (2017), I’d get him a dictionary to help build his vocabulary. Then I added that I’d probably had to decorate it with pictures to get him to read it. I asked him with which kind of pictures he’d like me to decorate the dictionary.

“Big titties and Kim Kardashian!” he answered without the slightest hesitation.

I told him I wasn’t going to buy any porn, but I still kept the request in mind as I flew back to Texas. The more I thought about it, the more I was intrigued with the challenge of modifying a dictionary to the point that a 25 year old man would actually look at every page.

So, on January 2nd, I went to Half Price Books and checked out the reference section. I wanted a dictionary that had around 300 or fewer pages, medium-to-large print, hardbound, and thickish pages. I loved the irony of the small print at the top of my dictionary choice: “A vocabulary book for people who don’t need one.” Oh, my nephew definitely needed one!

While at the checkout counter, I told the guy my intentions for buying the dictionary. Then I asked him what Half Price Books did with their old magazines, emphasizing that I didn’t want porn. He directed me to the recycling center in the back of store, telling me that perhaps there were some gentlemen’s magazines that hadn’t been recycled them yet.So, I explained my project to one of the women who worked in the recycling center. As fortune would have it, she had a shopping cart full of vintage Maxims and similar magazines. She handed me a heavy stack of 12 magazines. I’d originally thought I’d have to go through a lot of junk mail to get such pictures from racy ads. The universe conspired for me!

Then, I went to one of my favorite craft stores, told the story behind the dictionary project and asked for a recommendation for a pen I could use to write on the pages. Again, the cashier was more than happy to direct me to the scrapbooking section where I found gel pens that were chemically neutral and wouldn’t bleed. My intention was to write a comprehensive sentence at the top of each page, using the framed vocabulary word.

When I say “framed,” I mean just that. For each page, I planned to paste, using the acid-free glue sticks I bought at the craft store, an eye-catching picture, which will cover up some of the other words.  With colored pencils, I’d create a colorful scenic/decorative background to make all the other words on the page recede, leaving one vocabulary word and its definition(s) uncolored; so he’ll be able to see the definition of vocabulary word I write at the top of the page.

In about six weeks time, I’d decorated every page with, what one woman had referred to as “cheesecake shots.” Regardless of whether the page had text on it or not, I made use of all the available space.The overall plan was to add inspirational quotes from famous women on those pages where no vocabulary word was highlighted. Since my nephew is a history buff, I wanted to make sure he’d read the words of a variety of successful and influential women.Based on which word I chose to highlight, I glued an appropriate-sized picture for that page.
After all the pictures were placed, I then boxed in the highlighted word, using a gel pen. For certain pages, such as the index, I wanted my nephew to still be able to use them, yet I decorated those pages as well and added the inspirational quotes later.

The next step involved writing sentences for each highlighted word. Ever the perfectionist, I knew I’d edit them later. Yet the sentences guided me on how to decorate the dictionary with colored pencils and stencils. Having the handwritten sentences were much easier to reference and saved ink and paper of printing out typed up sentences.

I thumbed through the book to see which pages needed inspirational quotes from famous, successful women. Those identified pages were the ones that had no highlighted vocabulary word. So, I knocked out getting quotes for those pages in one setting.

The most intense labor of love had to be designing the background for all the pages with highlighted words. I spared my sanity by searching for image outlines online to print and trace rather than drawing them freehand. This saved time and helped make the illustrations look better. Just think: mastering cutting paper and coloring in kindergarten still served me so well much later in life.October 7th marked a significant day in the making of the burlesqued dictionary: all the hand-illustrated backgrounds were completed! Months of reading the sentences; looking up a black and white outline to copy and paste into a word document; printing out the outlines to use as stencils; finally tracing and coloring the resulting backgrounds.

The penultimate stage has begun. I’m now writing in the inspirational quotes on the pages that lack vocabulary. I’m not sure that I can take the project out to other places and complete this stage like I could when tracing and coloring the backgrounds. I could still follow conversation while doing those things, but I’d like to have no conversational obligation when copying sentences. I need more concentration. At least I have white out.

I figured this last stage would zip by. Compared to designing the backgrounds by hand, this last step in dictionary design was a breeze. The only things that slowed me down was when I inevitably edited the sentence or had to white out something that was sloppily or erroneously written. Nonetheless, what a pleasure to revisit the example sentences I’d written just months ago.

Once I completed writing the sentences by mid-October, the only thing left was to scan all the pages for prosperity’s sake. Thank goodness I finished relatively early since I needed to practice the scanning technique. Most importantly, with all the choices I could save the images to, I initially had no idea which format worked best for which platform.  I’ve since learned that TIFF is the best for an overall record; PDF is best for book publishing; and JPEG is best for this blog! I’ve no idea what PNG is good for. I’m sure I’ll find out after I’ve gifted the dictionary to my nephew!

I forewent the normal Christmas card and wrote out my thoughts on an index card instead. Even so, I don’t think I tricked him into thinking it was a normal study guide.Speaking of whom, here’s the satisfied gift recipient.

And just as I’d hoped, he’s now reading in bed! Now, all that remains is how many words he’ll actually learn. At least other people can build their vocabulary as well, reading Aunt Teresa’s Burlesque Dictionary.

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Burlesque Dictionary

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Holiday Celebration 2017

Who would have thought that nearly a year ago at the holiday party sponsored by the company we all worked for, where we all shared the same round table, would turn out to be prophetic? During the course of 2017, we all grew tired of having our talent squandered, and being under paid and over managed. By the end of September, we all worked for the same company as independent health insurance agents.

I’ve told everyone who’d listen that I started living my “happily ever after” when I had control of my schedule and earned enough money to pay my expenses, pay down my debt, while still working fewer than 40 hours a week.  I’d previously thought that the first thing I’d buy myself once I got out of debt would be a more comfortable office chair. When that great day arrives, I’ll buy a new phone instead.

What I discovered was that I didn’t need a more comfortable chair, I needed a more comfortable job! Now that my work doesn’t require me to sit on my ass 40 hours a week, I spend far more time living life than earning a living. That in and of itself is more than enough reason to celebrate.

Nonetheless, I enjoyed getting together with coworkers, dressing up, and having very lively conversations, which cleared all of the other tables around us, as we ate delicious Colombian food after doing a shot of aguadiente (fire water).  I sipped mine since I rarely do shots.  I want to enjoy my alcohol.

We have supported one another through this health insurance agent journey for over a year now. The other ladies bought gifts. I chose to make everyone cards. Tears welled up in two of my coworkers’ eyes. How sad it is that we have so many means of communication and yet, we hardly ever tell one another the qualities we admire in each other. Or truly thank someone for good advice they gave us or the impact they made when they took the time to help us.  Even the small gestures that turned out to have a significant, life-altering result. I’m just happy I took the opportunity to tell them all the positive things that I see in them and how they have helped me become a better agent and person.

We plan to get together once a month since we no longer have regularly scheduled meetings. I love not only the shared experience we have, but the informal professional development we provide for one another. It’s terrific to have a support group to count on, which we use to improve. One thing’s for sure, we’re all visualizing ourselves making six figures for 2018. The best part about that is that we will hold one another accountable throughout the year.

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What Christmas Means to Me: The Scrooge Edition

One of my sisters wrote and directed a Christmas play, complete with carolers, a praise dancer, and a simple heart-felt narrative to be performed at her church. If it were a movie, it would air on the Hallmark channel, her favorite channel to watch back-to-back saccharine sweet Christmas movies, prompting me to tease her about the need to follow up with porn just to balance things out.

It’s no coincidence that she’s also the sister who, year after year, hosts our family’s Christmas celebration. With her husband, their three kids, my other sister and her son, my parents and me, we’re quite a full house.

I live alone, so sharing a space for several days with nine other people and two bathrooms, becomes intense. Optimistically, I like to think of it as an opportunity to put my yogic breathing to practical use.

In most social situations, I gravitate toward people with whom I share common interests and lessen my time with people who I don’t, but DNA and in-laws are in a special category since you don’t get to choose. You never know who’s going to be born or married into your family. So, there’s that unrealistic expectation that we should all just get along.

I’d finally reached another milestone of my adulthood when I permitted myself to admit that certain relatives and I would never be friends, but since we’re human beings with relatives in common who care about us, we should be cordial for the sake of peace.

So, my sister’s Christmas play was called, “What Christmas Means to Me.” I was the editor and I discussed with her the organizational logistics of how to run rehearsals and structure the play since she acknowledged my ability to organize things as one of my super powers. I call it just being a Virgo.

Her creative effort inspired me to write about what Christmas means to me, the Scrooge Edition.

There have been moments in Christmas pasts where the verbal jabs have bounced around the room like the inside of a pinball machine. That’s when I remember my mantra: “I will NOT curse anyone out for Christmas.” So far, I’ve held true to my belief. Even during the most intense times when I feel that I’m surrounded by religious hypocrites, who all attend church regularly, most have been baptized, and make explicit Christmas lists of all the material things they want in observance of the birth of Jesus.  Even those who don’t literally write down their Christmas list, still bring their exacting expectation of what they should get for Christmas.

Holding my tongue, especially during the big reveal where we all gather to open our gifts on Christmas morning, I inevitably witness someone ungrateful about what he or she has received. One complaint that hurt was when the recipient of a sentimental cookbook I’d gifted, which had four of our recipes in it, was not well received because this relative now used online recipes, but didn’t realize that for that particular gift, that cookbook represented the most expensive gift I’d given anyone that year because I’d been chronically underemployed. Upon hearing the compliant, I thought, “Wow, that cookbook cost half of my weekly grocery budget.” The sad part, in the big scheme of things, it wasn’t even expensive.

Granted, this relative didn’t need yet another cookbook. As a matter of fact, none of my relatives for whom I regularly buy gifts, need another anything for which to encroach upon the limited floor space in their respective houses. For some, as I’ve said before, I’d love to buy “ambition or motivation or logic or common sense or sanity,” but alas, those things are never for sale.

Regardless of the size of my Christmas budget, I’m always mindful of buying for nine people. As much as I’d love to say that I spend equitably for everyone, I do a layered set of calculations to spend within my preset budget.

First, I take the total budget and divide it by nine, which tells me how much I can spend on each person. Then, I enter a free Christmas bazaar, because some have an entrance fee and overpriced things. So, I go to the free ones, and I browse. As I see something that catches my eye because it’s within my price range, I think about who I can gift it to.

Then the next layer of calculations kick in. Is the person I’m about to buy this for really worth the full portion of the money I budgeted? Did he or she commit, what I consider a major sin of actually complaining about something I gifted them last year, which is an automatic deduction from their amount to be spent on a gift for this year.

Then I toy with the fact that if I spent just a little less on this person’s gift, I could spend that extra dollar or two on a nicer gift for one of my parents. Then I have to evaluate whether the gift appears too cheap and how could I doctor it up with something in my artist’s chest of crafting material, which then leads me to reevaluate my entire budget.

If I stick to the cheaper end and just doctor everything, that’ll save more money and move some materials out of my closets, which is a dynamic I like. After all, I buy myself used things and clothes and fix them up, except for underwear and swimwear.

By the time I finally emerge from the bazaar with gifts in tow, I’m exhausted. As fun as doing mathematical-logic thought puzzles are, weighing the dollar amount of gifts against the worthiness of the recipient truly takes a lot of energy. I also have to actively suppress going against the prevailing logic of buying something not truly needed with money I’d rather do something else with for a person who probably won’t appreciate my efforts.

Bah-humbug!

Yet the Scroogiest Scrooge thing I fantasize about doing is this: one Christmas, I’d love to pass out large, crisp, white envelopes. Inside would be an ol’ school polaroid picture. Each recipient would receive a different picture of me with some material good and at the bottom of the polaroid, where the convenient white paper frame is, I’d write a caption such as, “These are the memory foam leather slippers I bought myself. The receipt is taped to the back of this picture and you may reimburse me at your soonest convenience.  Merry Christmas, Teresa.”

You may think that sounds bad and perhaps it does to the uninitiated, but I know that the only surefire way to get what I want for Christmas and every other day, is to buy it myself. For every gift someone else gives me, I graciously say “thank you,” whether I like it or not. After all, everything can either be used as intended, regifted or made into a future costume. Waste not, want not.

The most heartfelt loving thing I do every year is make handmade Christmas cards. I write a personal letter inside each card where I try at least three times to say something that will cause the recipient to laugh. I usually complete this task around the Thanksgiving weekend while everyone else is killing themselves with Black Friday and Cyber Monday shopping. I finish up my Christmas cards, which some years, for certain friends, don’t even have a Christmassy theme on the front, especially for my Jewish friend.

Those cards represent something I do very well, which is use inexpensive things to create a product more valuable than the materials. Most of the card decorations are cutout pictures from junk mail. The cards themselves were invitations for a school that no longer exists, so I now get to repurpose them. Plus, I love loving people from afar because I can fit it into my schedule and organize the entire production.

What Christmas means to me, beyond the commercialism, the consumerism, the unrealistic expectations of reactions and emotions, is the joy that comes from eating, drinking, storytelling, joke telling, and laughing with my family.

If only I could convince them to change our focus away from exchanging store-bought gifts…

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Internet Porn Birth Control

A male friend recently told me of an alarming crisis: younger men have become so used to having multiple tabs of different pornographic websites open, which they rotate through several times in one setting that they cannot get an erection when they are in the presence of a naked woman since they are under stimulated. As he articulated the horrors of a heterosexual man, who’s fortunate to be in the presence of a consenting, naked woman, and not able to perform, my thoughts drifted elsewhere, as they usually do.

If the younger generation of men are no longer aroused being intimate with a naked woman, might this possibly be the answer we’ve been looking for? “We” meaning those of us who are concerned about all this rampant fertilization. There are already over seven billion people in the world, wouldn’t it be wonderful if internet porn became the birth control of choice for younger men? Finally, men can enthusiastically embrace a form of birth control.

There are lots of men who claim that the “real reason” they watch so much porn is that they don’t have enough money to have a girlfriend. Let’s transform the poor man’s plight. Instead of focusing on these guys’ lack of money, let’s think of all the resources they’re saving by not fathering more people to consume them.

Now, if we’re going to honor men who use internet porn birth control, we shouldn’t shame them about their selective erections. After all, when these guys actually want to reproduce, they can always store some of it in a sperm bank. If this becomes really popular, men will eventually have their own personal sperm banks at home.

Plus, and here’s the real exciting part, men who have erectile challenges can get the latest designer penile implant, but this isn’t your grandfather’s penile implant. These are the new and improved devices that can be controlled by an app.

Imagine girlfriends or wives using a cell phone app to select from several different vibrator settings. Now the implant pump that controls the reservoir of saline solution to produce and deflate an erection will still be done manually. Wouldn’t want an app to activate an erection at an inappropriate time.

Another fine feature will be that women could keep track of their men via the penis tracking app, especially for those powerful men who need reminders avoid forbidden places.  Warnings would be pinged to their penises when in they are about to enter certain places. A cloaking feature, emanating from the implant, will render the penis invisible to cameras, preventing dire consequences during those momentary lapses in judgment when a man tries to take a dick pic.

Of course, those are the special upgrade features offered only to rich, powerful men who need to be saved from themselves. Poor men, on the other hand, are still expected to exhibit self-control of their penises. As the saying goes, dear fellows, “You have no excuse because you have no money!” But take heart, all men can truly think on their feet when thinking with their penis.

Internet porn birth control…a family planning solution that men will enjoy using!

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2017 Thanksgiving

On Thanksgiving Day, I attempted to make pao de queijo (Brazilian cheese bread). The first thing that threw me for a loop was the tapioca flour.  My regular grocery store had about a dozen different flours, none were tapioca. I made a special trip to a high- end grocery store to get it. Next, I didn’t quite have enough olive oil and used vegetable oil to make up for the gap. Then, I added the milk to the oil and brought them to a boil. Afterwards, I removed the wok from the burner and stirred in the chopped garlic and flour. That tapioca flour was a different animal altogether. I think the recipe referred to the texture as “sticky,” whereas as I would call it “rubbery,” but perhaps the texture was off since I’d never made it before.

As if that wasn’t bad enough, I then stirred in two beaten eggs and the finely grated parmesan cheese. At that point, I put the wok on the counter and used two wooden spoons to integrate the eggs and cheese. Reminded me more of a science experiment than a cooking technique. One thing that eventually became true, as predicted by the recipe, was the cottage cheese appearance.

As best I could, I dropped one wooden spoonful of dough onto an ungreased cookie sheet. The batch didn’t look like much going in, but once they came out…I of course, did a quality control check and ate one. Absolutely delicious even though it was my first time.

Perhaps the biggest compliment came from an adorable child who was almost 2. He kept eating so many pao de queijo, to the surprise of his parents. Admittedly, Thanksgiving would have seemed weird without the bird. The host prepared a special, initially secret, flavor injection. Then, he took it outside where the turkey fryer awaited. As he carefully lowered the turkey, I reminisced about the early dangerous days of the first generation of turkey fryers that got so hot, it burned down people’s wooden decks. The newer generations are a bit risky, but nothing like their ancestors.

The turkey was as moist and delicious as it was beautiful. I loved how we all brought side dishes and desserts that went beautifully for this gathering of adult orphans.

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Puzzle T-Shirt

Once again, I dealt myself a challenging costume card. Not only did I have just shy of a week to complete the latest outfit, but I first had to put together a 1000-piece jigsaw puzzle.Following tried and true puzzle logic, I first separated out the edges, even setting aside the few pieces that were already together. I took a risk with this puzzle since I’d bought it from Goodwill and the box had already been opened, but at least the previous owner hadn’t completely broken up all the puzzle. I’d just hoped that no pieces were missing.Over the next four days, I binge-watched “Stranger Things” while putting the puzzle together. Apparently I was overexerting myself because I felt a little feverish and met myself coming and going to refill my water glass. My work paid off toward the end of the week when I finally put the last piece in place. Then, I leisurely removed swatches, brushed puzzle glue on top of them and set them aside to dry.Once I had all the swatches I wanted, I bagged up the rest of the puzzle.  After all, why should I put the remaining pieces back in the box since there were now gaping holes? At least I bagged pieces that all went together. The next morning, the glue on the swatches had dried and then I used my crafting nemesis: spray glue. For this step, I went outside on my balcony and put on even shittier clothes than what I normally wear around the house. I’d turned a gray T-shirt inside out, sprayed one swatch at a time and placed it on the T-shirt. Trump’s “Art of the Deal” swatch went on the back of the T-shirt.I gingerly put the shirt on since the stiffness of the puzzle pieces made it seem as if I could pop them off with one inadvertent flick. Fortunately, there weren’t any casualties, even when I put on my seatbelt and the times I sat down. After I read my spoken word piece, “Interactive Life Puzzles,” I gifted every audience member, including the bookstore employees, two plastic bags of puzzle swatches. I hope to hear/see what those other creative souls did to repurpose their pieces of the ’80s.

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Interactive Life Puzzles

Life is composed of many pieces that can be put together in several different ways, unlike a static jigsaw puzzle where you separate out all the edges, put them together and fill in the rest, using the convenient pretty picture on the box. Those puzzles can only be done in one way, regardless of your ethnicity, religion, gender, politics, or socioeconomic level.

Interactive life puzzles are a beast in comparison. None of the pieces fits together in a neat picture. The infinite number of pieces can be put together and interpreted in an infinite number of ways and are only limited by one’s lifetime.

An entire lifetime collecting pieces of the puzzle, either making sense of it or not. Pieces may have meaning or not. Each piece has no more value than any other until it’s part of something meaningful. And we don’t even agree on what’s meaningful or not.

Puzzling, isn’t it? We’re not creating the same overall picture even with access to the same pieces of information. Some have a financial or political obligation to interpret the puzzle in a logic-defying manner like saying the way to curb gun violence is more guns. Or by blaming mental health issues for violence perpetuated by guns and then taking away affordable health care, which could help remedy those mental health issues.

Now, just throw freewill into the mix. Could you imagine when opening a jigsaw puzzle box and the individual pieces had freewill? They could flip themselves over to hide what’s printed on the other side or change their picture. Edges could become curvaceous and vice versa. Or a certain group of pieces could refuse to join with other pieces, regardless that they’re all part of the same puzzle.

We’re all puzzle piece collectors, dragging around our incomplete collections. Over time, even the pieces we’ve lugged around for so long become misshapen, not truly representing what they originally stood for. Pieces that loomed so heavily on us when we were children have been long buried and forgotten until something random triggers its activation. Upon reflection, we may detect patterns in those pieces most personal to us while being mere buoys raising and falling in the change of pieces that affect our community.

Let’s not forget those historians emphasizing the winning side’s interpretation of the puzzle while conveniently omitting those pieces that mar its pretty view of the past. Perpetuating those glossy celebrations of decorative pieces of history magically filling in the factual gaps with lore, exaggeration, adult fairytales and outright lies.

Whenever someone wishes to return to the good ol’ days, I always wonder which part of the past are they conveniently forgetting or oblivious to, which existed back then that even those ol’ time contemporaries didn’t like and fondly looked further back since all those modern-day, new and improved pieces with their jagged edges still pierced into the pretty picture they were trying to make with inflexible pieces.

There’s never been a golden age of human beings or civilization. They all rise and fall. We are the same vicious assholes we’ve always been. Despite technology, innovations, living longer, access to creature comforts those in the good ol’ days could never imagine, yet our species still drags around a self-destructiveness, which manifests itself in the form of greed, jealousy, hate, irrational reactions to the unknown, especially when the unknown is in the form of another human being with such perceived differences, the fearful forgets their humanity.

And therein lies our self-destruction, not really new and improved. Just reinvented with the latest upgrades to handle the same shit we’ve struggled with all along. The picture on the puzzle pieces may look different, but it’s the same struggles as before.

Always some group who view themselves as being above the law and deserving more than others, using the same tried and true strategy of divide and conquer with whichever modern twists that gives the illusion of something different, but it’s still the same ol’ puzzle. No matter which pieces you get in life, it’s the same puzzle. Make the best picture you can.

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