Life 101: Is yours what you really want it to be?

I’m down for the count with a minor illness, which always makes me more contemplative than usual.

I quit my soul-sucking, bleeding-the-life-out-of-me job nearly two years ago to try to live a better life. People have asked me how I did that and/or why. The job, which I had loved for quite a few years, just became something I didn’t.

Less than two years before that, my younger brother (whom I adopted as my own, and he me, when we were in our teens) and my mother died, both of them unexpectedly, just nine weeks apart. Couple that with the death of two beloved German shepherds, one three months before my brother died and another just eight days after my mother died. That six-month period – which included getting two new dogs after the one died and finding out one of them was terminally ill just weeks after I got them – shook me to my very core.

After I wandered around in a fog of grief and pain for several months, my mind started asking questions, just a few of which I will mention here because they are important.

Why did all of my beloved family members die well before their time should’ve been up? They had hopes and dreams and things they were living for and boom, it was over, and all of those hopes and dreams were gone and wasted.

That led to: What do I still want to do with my life? What things do I really want to experience before I die? What places do I really want to go? Who are the people I really want to meet? Are there any things that I really want to purchase? And are there changes I want or need to make to make my life the best it can be before I die?

Answers came quickly. What to do about each of them took longer.

The first thing that came to my mind was Star Trek. Really. I remembered watching “The Original Series” when I was a child, when it was on in syndication. I loved it so much. That got me thinking about what I truly loved that I needed more of in my life and what I didn’t that needed to go out of my life.

Before Star Trek, when I was younger, I saw the animated “Rudolph The Red-Nosed Reindeer” for the first time. I realized immediately that I was a misfit toy and that there were other misfit toys out there for me to be with who would accept me and love me for me. I just had to find them.

Spock made me feel the same way, but on a deeper level. He helped me know that I would find my place in the world, even though I was different from others, and I would find people who would not only accept me but even adore and care about me just the way I am. That was profound and it echoed throughout my life, as it continues to do to this day.

Well, there it was, the answer to question one: Star Trek. I had watched “The Next Generation” when it was on television, but since I had given up TV for other pursuits, I hadn’t seen any of the other series. My first goal was to watch them all.

That first revelation happened to come to me in December, just in time for a new year. I only make one resolution every year. (You can read more here about that.) I decided to watch everything Star Trek I could get my hands on, starting with all the series, every episode, and then move on to the movies and then any documentary I could find. I started Jan. 3 and I finished Dec. 27. I watched at least one Star Trek episode every single day. I had daylong and even weekendlong marathons. It was glorious.

In February, I starting thinking about those conventions they used to have. Surely they didn’t still happen, did they? A little Internet research showed they did and that the longest (in terms of days), biggest one (in terms of number of celebrity guests) was in Las Vegas. A few more clicks and a not-so-small amount of money purchased me a Gold ticket for that very year, at the end of July/beginning of August.

That trip changed my life. I had found my Island of Misfit Toys, my tribe, my new family. I was home. (You can read more here about that.) I now go every year and it restores my mind, body and soul.

Next, I started focusing on my health. I had been in a car accident less than a year before my family losses. I still wasn’t 100 percent recovered, and all the grief had halted my healing in its tracks. I started working on getting better and losing weight. That has been a long journey in its own right, but I still work on it every day. (That’s another post for another day.)

Next, I quit that job and moved across the country to live near my father and spend time with him while he still has time left on the planet. There have been ups and downs in this new life, and some hard times, but I’m now in a much better place than ever.

I’m now a freelance writer who writes what I want for whom I want when I want. I’m not making a lot of money, not like when I was managing four newspapers for a multimillion-dollar corporation, but I am making enough. And for the first time in my life, enough is good enough for me.

I have time to spend with my dad, to play with my German shepherd, to work on my beloved Camaro, to figure out who I really want to be, to make those changes that I want and need to make to get there, to make a new life and more good friends, and to spend time each year with my new family. Life is good.

Are you right where you want to be now? Are you living the life you want to every day? I’m happy every day. Maybe not all day every day, but every single day of my life is happy and good.

Every journey starts with a decision, one that you have to make with your heart and your head (I’ll write more about that later, because they are two very different things). And then you have to make a real commitment and take small steps toward your goal. That’s it. It really can be that simple. If you let it be; if you make it be.

Now, what is it you want for your life that you don’t yet have? Think about it. This isn’t a dress rehearsal and there are no do-overs. Get out there and be the real you. And be happy.

If this post speaks to you, I hope you will share it with others.

Get to know your parents now, while there’s still time

I bet if you asked 10 people, most of them would say they know their parents. But knowing them when you’re a child and when you’re an adult are radically different things.

I feel lucky to have learned this lesson, mostly before it was too late.

A few years before my mom died unexpectedly, I was watching a movie about the assassination of Bobby Kennedy and it occurred to me that she was a young woman during that time. So, during our weekly phone call, I asked her if she remembered it. She did and she had an amazing story to tell.

The next day, during my weekly phone call to my dad, I asked him the same question. He and my mom were not yet married at that time, and he also had a cool story to tell me.

All during the workweek, I kept thinking of something else I could ask each of them, and that started a weekly Q and A with my parents that lasted until my mom’s unexpected death three years ago. What I learned about them was awesome, and still is in the case of my dad, who I now live near and talk with almost every day.

Here are some of the questions I asked them, or things I suggested they tell me about, to give you an idea of how to get a conversation started:

  • What did you want to be when you grew up?
  • What were your best and worst days ever? (Interestingly, while my mom clearly remembered a beloved best day immediately, my father said he hoped it hadn’t yet happened to him.)
  • Where were you when John F. Kennedy, Bobby Kennedy and Martin Luther King Jr. were killed, and what do you remember about those times? What about when we landed on the moon? Where were you on 9/11? Do you remember the Challenger disaster?
  • Do you remember the first time you saw a movie and what was it?
  • Tell me about the first time you fell in love.
  • Tell me about when you met my mom/my dad.
  • Tell me about you when you were a child and teenager.
  • Do you remember your first favorite pair of shoes, and what were they?
  • Tell me about your first pet.
  • What was your first car?
  • Do you remember your first job? And what was your favorite job?

(Just for fun, after writing this column, I Googled “get to know your parents” and there were 19,100,000 results! Try that if you need more questions.)

Sometimes, stories can just pop up if you ask a question about a comment one of your parents makes. Yesterday, my dad said something was “rough as a cob.” Knowing he had grown up on a farm where they had an outhouse when he was a child, I asked him if he really had ever used a cob. The ensuing story was hilarious and we both laughed until we had tears in our eyes. I will never forget that story as long as I live.

(And so you know, yes, they did use cobs because they couldn’t afford store-bought toilet paper. But they used gloves to rub down the cobs first, so they were actually fairly smooth on the surface. “Hell, it was better than a page from the Sears & Roebuck catalog!” he said. “That slick paper wouldn’t do you much good.”)

The conversations I had with my mom before she died, and the ones I continue to have with my dad, have enriched my life and made me look at my parents in a whole new way. I have come to appreciate things that were hard for them, and to really enjoy some of the things they have loved.

Knowing them as they were throughout their lives, instead of who I thought they were based on the memories of a child, has been a huge blessing.

Memories are all we really have, when you think about it. There is nothing else that you can take with you. So, adults, why not pass on some of your memories to your children today? And to those of you who still have one or both of your parents, why not ask a few questions now to gather some of those memories? One of these days, it will be too late.