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6527212 September 05, 2008

Left, Left, Left, Right, Left

When most people hear that I own a 25-foot trailer and a sleeping bag, they comment that I don’t strike them as the camping type. Sometimes they actually drop the jaw and let out a chuckle. I’ve never been the outdoors type but my attraction to nature has recently grown exponentially. I've realized that it offers a perfect place for my overwhelming right brain and tenacious left brain to meet in peace.

Although I didn’t understand it at the time, I heard the same nature call as a young kid riding my bike. It whispered sweet nothings into my ears as I rode down street after street, trying to imagine who lived in each house. I wondered who the inhabitants were, where they came from, and how they landed at just those addresses. I wondered about the stories they had to tell. Although a bit shy, I was fascinated by the differences and similarities in people. To me then, and still, each person is like a Pulitzer Prize winning book. So I loved studying their yards, their cars, and if I saw them, their faces, too.

As a child, I wanted another story so badly that I reveled in thinking of theirs. It gave me hope that one day I would have a different tale and that my life at the time would turn out to be but an early, disjointed chapter. On my bike, I loved the wind, the sky, the trees—all the forms and colors of nature. Each felt like an emotion. I rode for blocks without touching the handle bars simply to suck in the best possible one with nature feel I could cop. I took deep breaths that felt like meditation before I knew the concept.

Recently, I acknowledged that the colors, bizarre shapes, smells, and textures of nature still whisper to me. Nature is pure—raw, untouched, ugly, and beautiful at once—and it still equals emotion, the right brained, sometimes scary, creative force I could easily become trapped in without the strength of my left. I consider myself highly creative yet I’ve also been gifted with the ability to organize, plan, set goals, and follow through. I’ve seen many highly creative people fail to travel between the crucial right and left brains long enough to unshackle themselves from the emotions they call their freedom. As many have learned the hard way, sweet nothings in the ear can often lead to more of nothing.

As a young adult, I had an apartment on the right. I had several actually, because the right doesn’t stay in one place for too long. Then I traveled to the left and helped build a home, a life. It was a great life, filled with all the things I longed for while loitering aimlessly on the right. I wrote several books, became a Director at Johnson & Johnson, and earned a Master’s Degree. All the while, the right was growing restless, yearning for something so raw and pure it could set fires and blast down hidden valleys like a flood. Oh, how it used to feel, the swinging, moving, swaying days of the right, filled with pleasure and pain as deep as a drowning ocean and high as the suffocating sky, breaking and twisting my open spirit into a beautifully gnarled tree.

At the breaking point, I thought about this for several months. I thought about what I had become, and who I still wanted and needed to be. I looked into the right with wide, passionate eyes while trying to keep my feet in the left. Luckily, I’d grown wise to the fact that the unbridled right is to dangerous for the likes of me. So I set higher creative goals. I picked up a paint brush. I looked at myself in the mirror and said, “My name is Penelope Przekop, and I am creative." If there had been a 12-step program for accepting it, I would have joined. I focused on how I saw and felt emotion in a floating leaf whether it fell on the right or on the left.

I ultimately decided to find a way to keep a solid foot on each side. Now I ask myself how I can possibly aspire to be a creative force living in the home I built on the left. Can I lose myself in everything ugly and beautiful, solid and floating that puts me in touch with the almost ethereal zone where truly unique and extraordinary art is created? Can I do that and keep my left life intact, the one I methodically worked to produce? The one that makes sense, and that, like a brilliantly crafted building, can also be called art?

Fact is that I never wrote a book while skipping around on the right. My best creative work emerged while using my left-brain talents to harness my creative right-brained notions. If that happened while I was intensely struggling to dampen my creative emotions, to squelch them with my soccer mom home on the left, what more can I do with my new-found strength? Now that I’m brave enough to loosen the damn, what will happen? I know now that a flood will only kill and drown a valley that deserves to thrive, that should live. I realize that living solely in the right, or the left, created for me a lopsided world. The beauty of their connection is that they bring out the best in each other, like lovers the two can unite to create what one alone can never achieve.

So now I am the camping type because standing in the woods, gazing up at twisted trees and busy, fluttering leaves—all the colors of late summer—tears a hole in the right of me. It tears me open just large enough to sting my eyes and burst my heart into a million pieces. But my 25-foot trailer containing a microwave and refrigerator offer the security of knowing I will sleep soundly in the wood. I will lie on a soft cushion and hear the crickets howl and the wind roar. It will ensure that the self-destructive wind roaring in my heart cannot do me in. While I sleep, my left will methodically pick up each of those million tiny pieces of heart. Through the darkness, it will expertly cobble them back together to create something called art, and something called a life.

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6527212 August 06, 2008

Make Me Perfect, Please

Who wants to be perfect? Raise your hand. (It’s tough to type with one hand so I’ll put mine down for now). Even as young children, most of us realize that perfection is a dream. But we still crave it, right?

You bet your britches I do.

The dictionary defines perfection with phrases like: the highest degree of proficiency, skill, or excellence, as in some art; a perfect embodiment or example of something; a quality, trait, or feature of the highest degree of excellence; the highest or most nearly perfect degree of a quality or trait. So who defines the highest degree? Who describes the perfect embodiment? Can I have that job?

You bet your britches I can.

I’ve always longed for perfection. As a small child, I hungered for the perfection I thought would make my mother happy. As a teenager, I chased the perfection I thought would make me loved by all. As a college student, I craved the perfection that would get me into medical school, get me the boy I loved, and snag my mother, too. As you can guess, I failed miserably time after time.

It turned out that I really didn’t want to go to med school. I also wasn’t suited for the love of my college life, and as for my mother, I realized her capacity to love me was already at its max.

Now I look back at pictures and see a thin girl who thought she was chubby, a smart girl who feared she was dumb, and a lovable young woman who failed miserably to love herself. How do we accept who we are? It seems so easy for some people. I envy them. I wonder if those lucky folks are wired with simple circuits, or if they are so complex that they’ve got it all figured out. Now, I know they’ve got that job I want.

When I was about twelve, it dawned on me that I loved the protagonists in great books despite their flaws. I then chose to view myself as a character in a fabulous novel, complex and flawed, beautiful and ugly. Then all those voyeurs following my life story would surely embrace me with open arms. They would love me for exactly who I am because without me, there would be no story, no purpose, no entertainment. No one else could possibly fill my role. I could be perfect because they would think I was. I was onto something but not quite there.

And doesn’t this smack of romance? How many times have we been swept off our feet, pulled toward the look in someone’s eyes that tells us we’re perfect, if only for a moment, if only for one night? Oh, doesn’t it feel so damn good? How I wish I could drag those moments out into hours, days, years. If I could capture the perfection that blinded them before they actually knew me, I’d float there and soak in it ... too bad that sponge got squeezed every time. As they saw my flaws seeping out, some hung around awhile and some ran as fast as they could. I failed every time.

If we’re lucky, those fantastical moments of perfection intermittently poke through real life. For those of us still job searching, we live in jeopardy of snatching at them, trying to build something that feels real. If you’re like me: a hopeless romantic with an overloaded imagination, easily bored, a dreamer, a believer in miracles, you may understand what I’m getting at. Some of us are far more practical. I used to think the hearts of practical folks beat much slower than mine. I found out I was wrong. So if you’re not quite like me, I’m guessing you get it, too.

I do believe in true love, the kind that lasts forever and embraces the sponge, full and empty. I think I’ve finally found it. But I can’t count on it anymore to make me feel as if I’ve reached perfection. The only way I’ll ever reach perfection it is to give it to myself, to define and describe the metric I want to hit.

But wait, that’s still hard. Well, nobody said life was easy. Who wants to keep trying? Raise your hand.

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