Friday, November 11, 2016

A tale of trolls and presidents

In the wake of an emotionally draining election year, I’ve been feeling discouraged. Despite my personal opinions and frustrations, I made the decision that no matter what happened on election night, I would be supportive of the winner and try to stay upbeat. The drudgery, anger, and negativity that filled the entire campaign season had worn me down. I could not handle it anymore. So, I just decided not to.

I went to bed accepting of the results. I woke up optimistic and peaceful. For those who know me, I’ve never been shy about my dislike for Donald Trump. I think he’s mean and bigoted and he lacks any ounce of tact. Still, I conceded that having someone in the White House who isn’t a career politician could be a good thing. With both the House and Senate squarely controlled by Republicans (including many who have been outspoken about their disapproval of Trump), I have hope that they’ll be able to steer him in the right direction.

I knew people would be angry. But I didn’t know how angry they would be. I never anticipated the rioting and hatred. Protests? Sure. But the attacks against cops, mocking of voters and violent rhetoric that have blown up all over the place (from both parties) … not so much.  The anxiety and anger stress me out. I find myself unable to focus on work, I snap at my kids, and I constantly comment on Facebook posts only to delete my comments moments later because I know rationality is lost on the people who need to hear it most.

Trolls changed my attitude

Luckily, I had an odd realization today as I sat in a dark movie theater. My youngest daughter has been nagging us to go see Trolls. Daily. For weeks. Since before it was even in theaters. We marked today on the calendar weeks ago (accented by stars, hearts, and arrows) so we could point to the day every time she asked when we were going to go see it.

I knew going in that the movie was going to be silly and a bit perky (I mean trolls… in technicolor…) As much as I enjoyed the film, I suspect it’d be even more entertaining in states like Colorado and Oregon.

In case you haven’t seen it: the movie follows two trolls named Poppy and Branch. Poppy is the future queen of the Trolls. Always happy and cheerful, she sees the world through rose-colored glasses. She believes everything will always be okay. Branch, he’s more of a realist. He doesn’t understand why Poppy is so positive all the time.

The two pair off after a Bergen kidnaps some of the Trolls. The Bergens are creatures that believe the only way to be happy is to eat trolls and absorb their happiness. (I know- it doesn’t sound very kid friendly, but it’s not nearly as Silence of the Lambs as it sounds).

During one scene Branch asks Poppy why she’s so happy. Why does she refuse to believe bad exists in the world? Why can’t she accept that bad things happen and that fear is the only way to protect yourself from the bad.  Her answer was simple: “Because I’d rather believe the world is all cupcakes and sunshine.”  In other words: It’s a choice.

Near the climax of the movie, the situation turns dire and Poppy loses her joy. As the trolls are all standing in a pot together their colors fade. This movie which has been so vibrant and bright is suddenly dark. The scene feels hopeless. They are waiting to die while the Bergens are shouting in almost riotous glee.

Suddenly Branch leans in and starts to sing. Perhaps it was Justin Timberlake’s crooning voice or maybe it was the song choice (True Colors), But, I remembered: Happiness is a choice.

To quote Poppy: “Happiness is not something you put in your body,” (also a good quote for the front of the refrigerator!)

These people rioting in the streets because they are angry are choosing to be angry and hateful. Nothing anyone says or does can make them behave that way. It’s a choice. It’s also a choice to be happy despite the insanity. It’s a choice to feel peace even when the world feels like it’s going to hell. It’s a choice to see the positive, to see the possibility.

Go see Trolls. It’s bright, vibrant, and funny. It’s cheesy, but it’s hopeful and I don’t think this movie could have come out at a better time. I left feeling a little happier and a little more optimistic because that’s how I want to feel. That’s how I want my kids to see me feel.

Choose to be optimistic. Choose to be the kindness you want to see. Choose to give hope a chance. Choose not to fall prey to the drama and doomsday tellers. Choose to be positive and happy. 

Happiness is inside all of us, sometimes you just need someone to help you find it

Monday, February 8, 2016

How our Excuses Define our Lives

I had a bit of a light bulb-moment today. I was reading an article online about a woman who had gone to jail for selling drugs. Her story was quite sad. She was a single mom, had a sick mother and worked a low-paying job in a restaurant. She felt like she did not have any other choice to support her family, so she started selling/distributing drugs and the court sentenced her to 25 years in prison.

For a first time offender, her sentence was harsh, and considering other aspects of her story, she may have been messed over by the courts. However, my light bulb-moment is more about the comments on the story than on her story, which, while tragic, shows the consequences of a bad decision.

Comments on this post varied from “we don’t jail people who sell alcohol when a drunk driver kills someone,” to “people who took the drugs made their own decisions,” to “well, she was poor … she didn’t have any other choice.”

The ignorance of all the comments drove me a bit nutters (alcohol is legal, heroine isn’t and yes, people who take drugs chose to do it, but she still committed a crime because selling drugs is illegal!) but I found myself most frustrated with those justifying her decision to sell drugs because she was poor.

I am not going to pretend that my life isn’t pretty good. I live in a comfortable apartment, drive a reliable car and my kids go to safe schools. However, my mother’s life was not “pretty good,” in fact, it was pretty terrible.

Abuse. Sexual assault. Poverty. And that’s all before she was a divorced mother of four living in a burnt out home. Literally. Our house caught fire before my parents were divorced and we lived in it during the last stages of fixing it up.

By all accounts, she had every excuse to turn to illegal activities. It would have been easier. She could have made more money. But she didn’t. She walked miles to work at a grocery store and then she walked to sell plasma so we could pay rent and buy groceries. She got help to put food on the table and then she worked until she could put herself through nursing school.

Was it hard? Hell yes. We didn’t get everything we wanted, but she did the best she could to make sure we had what we needed and even made sure we were involved in some activities. I have a good life because she chose to live a hard life. Was my childhood perfect? Nope. Is my mother perfect? No. But she made a perfect choice to work her ass off and do good by her kids so we didn’t have any excuses for failing when we grew up.

I listen to my mom telling me that she regrets missing holidays and having to work so much. I remember feeling guilty as a kid because we would spend most of our holidays away from her. But, I for one, am glad that she feels guilty for working because she doesn’t have to feel guilty for doing something illegal or desperate.

I empathize with people who think the only choice they have is to sell drugs, or worse. What I feel worse about though is that these people never believed they had another choice. Yes, society sucks sometimes, and yes, the government can be unfair, but, our own worst enemy is ourselves.

When we give up or settle for less because we tell ourselves, “we don’t have another choice,” we’re teaching our kids they don’t have another choice. People succeed. People in far worse circumstances than you (or I) will ever be in, succeed. They succeed without turning to illegal activities, and sometimes they overcome those things and still succeed.

It is far too easy to make excuses for why we are stuck. The hard work, which is often long and frustrating, comes from ignoring those excuses and choosing the “road less traveled” because it has a better view at the end.

I have my own excuses to kick over. I make excuses every day, but today it became clear that most of the reasons that my writing career is only so far and my weight loss is only so far, is because it’s easier to blame someone or something else than to find a way to make it work.  I don’t want to end up in a prison of my own making years from now and realize if I had worked harder or tried to find a different way, I could be free.