True Art

You paint your face

in ways handed down over the years

and learned through hours

of careful study,

and you say

you’re not into art

because nobody ever told you

that’s what this is.

 

You play a game

with a story

as complex as a

Greek tragedy,

as compelling as film,

and you say

you’re not into art

because nobody ever told you

that’s what this is.

 

Nobody ever told you

God is not a

fearsome old man,

but a child with a paintbrush,

holding each of us up in turn,

and, needing no critic,

saying,

“It’s beautiful.

It’s exactly

what I wanted it

to be.”

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To My Teenage Self

At the end of May in 2017 you will
have survived much worse than this.
You will wake
and love the warm weather
until
your allergies assert themselves,
but
a headache is nothing as a price of happiness.
You will boil water to mix with honey and lemon.
Inhaling the aroma,
you will just begin to heartily agree with your record player
that yes, only the good die young,
when
your phone will ring to nothing but
a wrong number.
You will allow yourself a little sarcasm in saying
you have no idea who they’re asking for.

You will tell the young Billy Joel
“Blame it all on yourself” is
an unhealthy relationship model
and someone who really was always a woman
would have told him so
but you’ll think he seems to
be doing alright
despite the pain of his years,
and you’re not that far yet,
but so are you.

The pain I am writing to you from within
will soften enough for
a barefoot jaunt in the front yard,
for stray liquid droplets upon your arm
to whisper that
the greatest heat will
always be broken by rain;
for you to smile at the reminder that
all kinds of weather have their music.

poem by Angela Cook, 2017

Changes to the blog/Life coaching

I’m going to be posting on here more often. It was something I kept saying I would do, but, like many things we say we intend to do, it often fell by the wayside. It’s easier for me to jump into something  than to spend too long thinking about it.

I’m focusing on working as a life coach now, though I’m not going to stop my creative writing. I don’t want to stop working towards becoming a licensed mental health counselor, either, but unfortunately the many regulations, good as they are, make it tough to break into the mental health field. Like I’d tell any client, through coaching or therapy, it’s disappointing when life throws us a curveball, but we have to be able to adapt. The more I’ve thought about it, the more positives I see to coaching as opposed to mental health counseling. It’s a negative in some ways that I’m not authorized to make any mental health diagnoses as a coach, but I can see that as a positive, too. I think mental health counseling often gets overly bogged down in diagnosis, and I don’t want to see people as lists of symptoms, I want to see them as people. Sometimes someone needs a diagnosis, and I’ll gladly refer to mental health professionals if need be.

I had started a separate blog for mental health related posts, but my posts here and on that one have bled together in their scope so often, I’m trying out using this single blog, though with the use of tags. Writing and reading can certainly be therapeutic! To each their own, but I find compartmentalizing my interests can get exhausting. Some people might judge a professional for posting about personal thoughts, sometimes jokes, in the same place as professional thoughts, but I’m at a point in my life where I know some people will judge me harshly no matter what I do and I’m not out to try the impossible task of pleasing everybody! Not anymore, though some of that sort of thinking led to issues for me in the past!

I’m trying out different things with blogging and advertising, and, like many people today, in this tough economy, I have “side hustles” I’m working on, like art I’m getting into selling on places like RedBubble. I don’t want to be the kind of person who bombards you with self-promotion, but I intend to sometimes mention various projects I’m working on along with stuff friends of mine are doing. Apologies if my trying out various blogging methods results in some mistakes, but, another thing I’d tell anyone I’m working with, mistakes must be made to grow!

Here’s hoping for some great growth to this blog in the days to come.

Phoenix Imagery/Rising from the Ashes

Rise

“Rise”, digital art of mine

I love the symbolism and mythology of the phoenix. A quote from my favorite book, Fahrenheit 451, references it:

“There was a silly damn bird called a phoenix back before Christ, every few hundred years he built a pyre and burnt himself up. He must have been the first cousin to Man. But every time he burnt himself up he sprang out of the ashes, he got himself born all over again. And it looks like we’re doing the same thing, over and over, but we’ve got one damn thing the phoenix never had. We know the damn silly thing we just did. We know all the damn silly things we’ve done for a thousand years and as long as we know that and always have it around where we can see it, someday we’ll stop making the goddamn funeral pyres and jumping in the middle of them. We pick up a few more people that remember every generation.”

-Ray Bradbury, Fahrenheit 451

Yes, it says “damn” a few times, but, well, I’ll be damned if I’ll remove them like people pulled in some versions of the book! Ironically, due to the book’s emphasis on censorship being bad. (Bradbury officially stated he was focused on, not censorship, but the bad influence of television, but especially because he himself benefited greatly from writing scripts for television, I freely invoke death of the author in getting my own meaning here, death of the author referring to the trope, not the fact he’s literally dead, though his was a celebrity death that got to me.)

I’ve been inspired by the idea of “rising from the ashes” in my own life recently, after having cut ties with toxic things and people of my past and being happier than ever moving forward. We always have the power to make a choice, to choose, at the very least, how we feel and react. Never forget that.

I painted this digitally with my Wacom tablet I’m very happy with. A print is available on my RedBubble if anyone’s interested!

Let’s talk about the number of people who could benefit from mental health treatment who have felt dehumanized from the very treatment meant to help them.

I wrote the majority of this post many months ago, but I didn’t post it, because I was afraid of what it could do to my reputation with mental health professionals, and as a person with a degree in clinical mental health counseling, I didn’t want to be looked down on by the field I was job searching in…but I thought about it. I thought about it a lot. And if a mental health professional will judge someone for pointing out what’s wrong with the profession, if they’ll judge me when part of the job is about nonjudgmentally listening to people, I’m sure not the problem. They are! I talk about wanting people to not be afraid to be who they are. But I myself have been afraid for a long time. I felt like I have to act much more straitlaced than I am to be taken seriously enough to get the kind of career I want. And you know what? Fuck it.

I swore. On the Internet that’s full of swearing. How dare I, right? Well, I’m done acting overly prim and proper, because I’ve come to the conclusion that if someone is offended by me swearing more than they’re offended by injustices I point out, I have little respect for that person, so their opinion matters little to me. That’s the kind of confidence mental health professionals should celebrate. They should instill it in people. But many of them, let’s face it, aren’t.

I sometimes chat with people online. This should be a normal thing to admit by now. I met my husband online, for God’s sake, like many people do these days, yet there are still people who will side-eye anybody who talks about having online friends. Sometimes I talk to people online about mental health, and, like about many topics, when these conversations happen online, people are often more honest than my “real life” friends tend to be. I’ve noticed a disturbing trend, though I understand it. I will often mention I have a mental health counseling degree in casual online conversations (I never claim to be offering any professional advice.), and often, people will naturally bring up their mental health issues. I can’t count the number of times I’ve talked about the helpfulness of therapy and someone has immediately come out with a story of a therapist or psychiatrist who was so bad they never want to get professional help again.

I’m not talking about their perception being bad. I’m talking about the person whose autism spectrum diagnosis has turned into more of a hindrance than a help, because “the professionals made my mom believe I suddenly couldn’t do all of the independent things I’d always done.” I’m talking about the people who identify as asexual being absolutely belittled by professionals who insist on focusing on “sexual disorders” despite the fact that these people often personally have no problem with their lack of interest in sex! I’m talking about the people of other sexualities with legitimate sexual problems whose distress is downplayed. I’m talking about the physically disabled people who want everyone to know their physical disability does not include a mental one, so stop talking down to them please. The intellectually disabled people who are completely capable of independence but held back by professionals who wrongfully insist they can’t do things on their own, while talking down to them in the process.

I’ve been on both sides. I’ve not only heard the horror stories of people who have felt un-helped by or even talked down to by mental health professionals, I’ve been there. I used to worry about disclosing it when I want to focus on being a mental health professional myself, but I have a diagnosis of anxiety disorder. I won’t hide it anymore. If I talk about ending mental health stigma, it would be hypocritical of me to not admit to my own mental health issues. Yes, it’s a struggle at times, and getting my own therapy has helped immensely, so I know how useful therapy is. I’ve also had bad experiences with therapy. I’ve talked with therapists I did not feel truly understood me or even tried. I’ve had pills pushed on me by psychiatrists despite my insistence that wasn’t what I wanted. I’ve dealt with the frustration of side effects I was told to deal with. I’ve dealt with knowing my own body well enough to know for certain something was a side effect of a medication, and if I hadn’t had the guts to insist I stop the medication, because I was fed up, my psychiatrist would not have believed it was the medication. I’ve finally, after over a decade, started losing the 100 or more pounds I gained from one medication. I’ve been told “Why don’t you try a different medication?” much more than I was told to make actual improvements in my life, and the latter is what has helped me so much more.

Don’t get me wrong. I don’t discount the helpfulness of medication, but for me personally, though at times it’s been helpful, it was often much more trouble than it was worth. To each their own. But that’s my point here. Mental health professionals are meant to help people. Helping people is NOT about shoving what WE think will be most helpful down their throats. I know how that felt. I can definitely see how it’s an attitude that drives people away from ever seeking help again.

I’m not the kind to give up. Not at all. I see so many problems with the mental health field, but that means there are so many things we need to change. Change the culture. Respect your clients. Respect that your client is an expert on his or her own life; his or her own body. If you were at your wit’s end, would you want someone condescendingly saying, “You should try the exact steps I tell you!” I don’t think so. You’d point out how unhelpful that is. If you’re as no-nonsense as I’ve become, you’d call that attitude what it is: bullshit.

 

Zen and the Art of Virtual Farm Maintenance: Life Lessons from Stardew Valley

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We all need to slow down in today’s fast-paced information highway laden world. But slowing down and feeling connected to nature again can come from, of all things, a video game. This is no surprise to me. I grew up with video games and have always found relaxation there, from both violent games (They don’t cause violence and I literally wrote a whole research paper on it you can find here ) helping me work out aggression and from slower paced games to help me unwind. Stardew Valley, an independent game all made by only one person and now a rousing success, has a concept I’m familiar with, having played the Harvest Moon series of games it’s inspired by, but it’s not the kind of thing most people might think of as a video game.

In the intro of Stardew Valley, we’re shown someone beaten down by the corporate world who decides to take over a family farm for a fresh start in life. The person is you, the player. You move from “cubicle farm” to real farm, moving from your corporate office to the peaceful small Pelican Town in Stardew Valley. There are quests, like many games, but they’re largely optional. There are many things to do. You can clear your farm of rocks and fallen lumber and save up the materials to build things. You can plant and harvest crops or raise chickens and cows, gathering milk and eggs to sell, cook, or make into other products like mayo and cheese. You can talk to and befriend the townspeople and learn more about them and their lives, and you can choose one to court and marry if you want.

Like most things in the game, getting married is optional, though you can court any of the single people regardless of the gender you picked for your character, a refreshing take on the dating sim aspect, though it’s become more common over the years ever since The Sims broke the mold. The Sims broke the mold by accident, when two female Sim wedding guests in a live demo decided on their own to kiss in front of the crowd, and because of the public approval, the code was left as it was. (Details on that here) The townsfolk of Stardew Valley don’t make a big deal out of it if you marry somebody of the same gender. If only real life relationships started as simply as talking to and giving gifts to your lover every week though, right?

I put many hours into the game at first, but I started enjoying Stardew Valley less after a while, and when I thought about it, I realized why. I had started focusing on the next thing I wanted. “If I grow more of this crop I can unlock something.” “If I gather more wood I can upgrade my house.” When I started thinking about it that way, the game became less fun.

There was less beauty in the valley if I saw it as means to achievements. I hadn’t only let the game become that way. I’d let my life become that way too. I kept focusing on what I don’t have, on what I can do to get more things I want. That kind of attitude makes you start to enjoy what you already have so much less.

There are many who actively discuss Stardew Valley online, and there’s plenty of advice for new players. One big piece of newbie advice I saw was, “You can’t do everything at once. You have to pick what you’re going to focus on.” Another was, “Some people focus on the quickest possible ways to make money, but I don’t play that way because it’s less fun.” This isn’t just advice for Stardew Valley. It’s advice for life, and I’m going to keep it in mind.

Elemental Cycle

Snowflakes travel far
Trees lose luster of their leaves
born again in spring

Wind in the bright trees
ripples in the hidden streams
Listen to the sounds

The sea calls out songs
Waves upon the shore sing true
Water sings of life

Clouds upon the bay
Snails and ants upon the clay
beneath the bright stars

Beneath the bright stars
suns and moons, whirling planets
water sings of life

Listen to the sounds
Waves upon the shore sing true
singing songs of life

The fire of sunset
both endings and beginnings
engulfed in bright flames

Engulfed in bright flames
suns and moons, whirling planets
born again in spring

Shattered Beauty

Perhaps down memory lane
I said I can’t feel
when I changed
one flesh of a dream from
blowing away
from my heart.
Yes, the universe only did call from an addiction.

Yes, everything could ignite the swords kept cutting through
a cracked egg
to paint it, I suppose.
Look what I shouted:
that simple satisfaction like its innocence and more: more lonely, and more: more for love, a necklace of life.

I try to fade in rhythm to love, from the other and mountaintops and drank a discarded flower, wilting away, in how time would be free.
Consider the sun upon opposite shores.
I simply want my own mind to retrieve it, standing alone
after every last wish.
Wait for it.
for swords, after this one word you tap a page splotched by a dime. He said
the day is tentative. I’m ready for me on you. But on my mind’s corners, leering at a dream of bowing low to do.
Passion fades at life’s daily news.
Life brings me again, safe and caring and beautiful and shatter.
I did. I’m tired and drank a solitary figure as virtual people have said.
I always craved wings
more sure of words through the heart,
in one last moment taken up for anything
and know I dreamed of quickly evolving emotion and shatter.
I share an egg cracked open. It doesn’t feel lost.

More rumble of a scholar of paper could say
when young and flowers surrounding one somewhere
will not hold me an addiction to another.
and not wish I get away, but
this little girl with swords
met idyllic beauty.
a wordless cry cracking
along the sand between us
and now feel the joy

(a found poem made by putting the text of many of my own poems through the freeware random text generator JanusNode, then deleting all but some of the words and adding spaces. JanusNode is a free download available at http://janusnode.com/ )

New Millennium Soliloquy

We were told more technology would mean less work.

We were told we needed college; told the loan debt was a necessary evil.

We were told to look for dream jobs; told long hours and little pay can be a necessary sacrifice.

 

We were lied to.

 

We know it.

 

We’re told “that’s just the way things are”

which is what all those who want to change the world are told.

 

We are called entitled

as we lower the ceilings of our dreams

to a small house to call our own;

a few dollars of a paycheck we can keep,

maybe get something for ourselves for once,

not much, like a book or a coffee, something to enjoy

until the voice of regret tells us that money always has more important uses.

But our pay is instantly half earmarked,

sent to companies full of people we’ve never met,

though it’s not their fault, many of them struggling too.

They didn’t make the decisions that led to the downsizing of our dreams

but we’d like to know who did, or what did, and you laugh at our questions

from the comfort of your paid-off house and your secure job,

your job you got right out of high school when you shook the manager’s hand,

so you don’t understand why it’s not that easy anymore,

or you don’t want to

 

because it’s easier to say a generation is selfish.

It’s safer.

It’s far less terrifying than admitting that maybe you managed to snap up a portion of that American dream

but left none behind

for your children who see nothing but the dollar signs if they think of children of their own

but they’ll try some cats, or a dog, something to care for still,

 

something still left too often behind

in a house too scarcely enjoyed

by those struggling to pay for it.

The Well-read Critic

Maybe so much does depend

on a red wheelbarrow

beside the white chickens

 

but I’d rather not spend an hour discussing it.

 

If there is beauty in simplicity,

in few

words spoken

 

why are we talking so much?

 

Give me

a slow roasted poem

with imagery that falls off the bone, and if

I can taste the decadent emotion of

the words, I’ll give

my compliments to the chef,

whoever they may be.

 

If you turn up your nose at my favorite dishes

because

no critic has rated them five stars,

so be it.

 

Let other people dictate your desires.

 

Keep debating

what exactly depends on

a red wheelbarrow.

 

I’ll be eating the chickens.

How to be Popular

Do not express joy.
Someone will be jealous.

Do not express any stronger pain
than mild annoyance.
Someone will tell you to suck it up.

Hate only those currently acceptable prejudice tells you to.

Love no one but yourself
but give out false praise to the top dogs of the pyramid,
and if you ever disagree with them,
keep it to yourself.

Give off the appearance of justice
for it will help you
towards your selfish ends.

Backstab allies whenever necessary
as long as you cover your tracks.

Do not pull off the layers of pretensions, even as
your true face becomes a mystery
even in the mirror.

Do not stop to fear what
you are becoming.
Not until it’s too late.

Do not focus on any unhappiness growing inside.
You didn’t ask how to be happy.
Fake a socially acceptable
moderate degree of happiness
like you fake everything else.

Accept your throne and your crown
with a pasted-on smile.
The world is yours, like you dreamed.

Think nothing of the casualties.