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I Can Do Hard Things

14 Jun

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I got off work at 3:00 and made the journey to Koreatown. Without traffic this was supposed to take a half hour. With traffic…

(Scary music)

NO ONE KNOWS.

(Banshee scream)

It took an hour and a half. I listened to a podcast featuring Speidi, which later sent me into a spiral looking into their current lives. They live rent-free in my dream town and Snapchat and housewife all day.

I shall work my whole life and never afford this town.

Life isn’t always fair.

But then again, I don’t want to be Speidi.

My friend Bailey recently performed at an open mic poetry night. That is a story for another time, or perhaps those characters will just be in a book of mine. The social justice poet who cast a spell. The aspiring alien researcher wearing planet pants. Truly those in this world not trying to fit into whatever standards we have collectively decided are “normal.”

I admire that and them.

Bailey read a poem about mental health, and at one point she talked about the questions you’re asked in a mental health journey—questions by a therapist, by those who monitor such things.

“Do you feel suicidal?”

“No, but I feel hopeless.”

Hopeless is a word I know well.

It’s a word I felt yesterday, for no reason at all.

When you’re low, or sad, or anxious, or whatever your particular brand of struggle is, it’s easy to go hopeless. Your life stretches out before you and you say, well, what I’ve known is sadness/anxiety/this struggle and I’m supposed to keep doing this forever? This never ends? What’s the reward? How do I get through?

It feels hopeless.

Yesterday’s hour and a half car journey was so I could go to a live recording of my one of my favorite podcasts.

This is the time when I wholeheartedly recommend Harry Potter and the Sacred Text as something very, very special.

I told a friend who is a middle school English teacher about the podcast and she has incorporated it into her Harry Potter unit at school, listening to it, doing some of their practices.

I put it on on days when I can’t take the news, when I need something comforting and filling.

It’s like mashed potatoes and pot roast all covered in gravy with those really buttery vegetables on the side.

This podcast reads one chapter of Harry Potter each week under a specific theme. It examines the text as we would a religious document. It blesses characters, does a spiritual practice, and generally uplifts the world.

This week’s theme was Truth.

This week’s chapter was Book Three, Chapter 12.

The Patronus

After some discussion on the text, we were asked to write down a truth about our lives that we wanted to remember.

I thought about it, not very long, and wrote in large font

I can do hard things

It’s the antidote to hopelessness, I think. Not only remembering truths about ourselves and the world, but a reminder that you’ve been here before and you got out OK.

It’s what I tell myself when it’s late and hopelessness hits hardest. Tomorrow is another day. When you wake up you will feel differently.

And also

I can do hard things.

Garlic Knot of a Human

11 May

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I’d been tense all day.

It started with the news, as it always does in this, the year 2017. I read the news and I’m boiling, raging mad. I’m venting and picking fights, discouraged and mourning.

More than slightly nauseous.

I went about my day, gathering grievances like cat hair to black leggings. By the time I got home from work at 9:30 I was a twisted spiral garlic knot of a human.

I put on a meditation. Ten minutes. I could do ten minutes.

My thoughts wandered. To the news. (To the news!) To the relationship I’m struggling with. (To the struggle!) To this blog post I started in my head and the to-do list I was composing. Could I accomplish 53 things before bed? What time was it now? 9:32?

I made it out the other side of the meditation.

If I was a 9 before maybe I’m an 8.

8.5?

I’ll take it.

There are a few things my therapist says that I think about regularly.

One is to do it even if you don’t think you have the energy.

Do the things you know will make you feel better even if you’d rather lie in bed and mourn your life. Go to the yoga class. Put on the running (walking) shoes. Drink the water.

Meditate for 10 minutes.

The other thing is radical self-acceptance.

I truly don’t know how this works, but the idea is that I say, OK, you know what? Maybe I do x, or am x. That’s OK.

Maybe I trend towards this or that, these things, traits, characteristics I’ve assigned as bad or good. But they aren’t bad or good. They are things about me.

And I can work on me, I do work on me, but I also need to accept myself.

This goes against everything inside of me. Inside me I hear that I can work my way to perfection. That I can earn it, somehow. That I have to give my best and somehow my best is different than everyone else’s best. Somehow my best is the theoretical best ever. Perfect.

If I practice radical self-acceptance aren’t I saying I’m OK the mess I am now?

Won’t I stop improving?

When I read ebooks I check every single page to see what percentage I’m at. Sometimes I haven’t even moved up 1% but I still check. A tic. I can succeed, I can accomplish even in my leisure activities!

I don’t like ebooks very much.

The point of this all, I suppose, is that I am not a person who will stop improving. It’s not in me. I need to let go of the notion if I accept myself then I’ll never try again.

My therapist remarks how she’s never seen someone attack their therapy homework like me and yet I’ll come in and apologize I haven’t done more.

I’ll tell my friend I have no energy and they’ll say you just sent me 60 texts about x topic.

I don’t have an accurate gauge on myself or my best self.

And so radical acceptance, I think, is something like saying, you know what?

Enough. Enough!

I’m OK. I’m ever so much more than I realize.

As is.

Today.

Garlic knot and all.

4 Minutes (Not The Madonna Song)

27 Apr

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It took about four minutes. Four minutes and 20 posts before I was utterly depressed.

I don’t follow certain types of bloggers for this reason. They are not aspirational to me, they are depressing.

Suddenly I’m looking at their tiny bodies in tiny bikinis, on everlasting vacations paid for by others. Suddenly their luscious locks and free clothing make my life feel like one giant slog towards death.

Suddenly the questions I ask myself are

Where did everything go so wrong

Should I make mac and cheese

Wouldn’t that be coping with food

You’re not even hungry

But it will make me feel better

Fine, you have no self control look at that tiny body

Suddenly I’m there.

The thing that bothers me most about these bloggers is that they are selling this as real life. It’s different than a fashion ad in a magazine where you know it is a model posed to sell the clothing. These girls are posing to sell clothing, but also under the guise of “sharing their life.” Here we are on vacation. Again. Best husband, best sunset, best life.

And when you make it personal like that, when you take away hey this just an ad designed to sell clothing and instead say hey look my life is so out-of-this-world, if you bought these things yours would be too, then it becomes dangerous.

No one gets a free pass in life, an existence smooth and wrinkle-less. We all have things.

Christine Amorose, a writer I follow, posted recently about travel bloggers. She said:

I’m friends with a lot of travel bloggers (both online and in real life), and there’s often this very obvious (or sometimes sneakily subtle) feeling of superiority because they travel regularly and make a living from it. Sometimes they even want to teach you how to do it too (!), as if the world needs fewer accountants and engineers and secretaries and is instead calling out for more people to get paid to take photos of waterfalls and post them on Instagram. Even as someone with her toes dipped in the industry, I have the very real sense that this whole travel influencer thing is all a huge bubble that might very well burst. And I see all of the ebooks and guides on “how you can do it too!” and headlines screaming about six-figure salaries while thinking: but is the behind-the-scenes as desirable as the highlight reel? Is that flashy salary paying for health insurance and 401Ks? Are you really as content as the life that you’re trying to sell?

Because within this narrative of exotic travel equaling the dream life, there’s a latent disdain for a life of commutes and offices and mortgages and “the real world” in which many of us live. Speaking as someone who regularly deals with train delays and arbitrary work hours and exorbitant rent payments, I can say quite honestly that there are certainly days in which I would prefer to be sipping a margarita while staring at a turquoise sea instead of dealing with “real life.” But as someone who travels fairly regularly for work and for play, I can also say that real life has a way of catching up with you, no matter where in the world you are. There can be joy and heartache and arguments and the feeling as if everything is finally clicking together at home or the office or while stuck in traffic on your way home just as much as it can happen on vacation.

I so appreciated this, and I so appreciate this writer. She is someone who gets paid to travel, she’s always honest about it, and she never makes her life into something it’s not. I never stare at her and think why not me?

The truth of the matter is, I’ve never wanted to switch lives with someone I know. As soon as you know someone, you see their struggles and realize, oh, ok, no thanks. But it’s the allure, the illusion of perfection of someone you don’t know who convinces you that others out there. They are experiencing a smooth, wrinkle-free life!

Another writer I love says it this way:

Chances are, if you are reading this, you’re noticing a bit of a chasm between the life you lead and the life you want to lead, and here’s a secret: we all have this chasm. We all have this gap. There is nothing broken in you that is not broken in everyone. We are each conditioned to want something different than what we have been given. And so, you have two options: (1) Chase someday, or (2) Accept today. I recommend the latter. Remind yourself that you are here, breathing, alive and well(ish). For now, let that be enough.

I think what’s missing for me in (many) of these types of bloggers is the “we all have this gap” aspect. I read stories and write stories to assure myself that what I feel is normal, that we’re all in this together. We have chasms, we chase after things we shouldn’t. But there is nothing broken in me that isn’t broken in everyone.

I spent four minutes of my beautiful, flawed life looking at someone’s fake, flawed life and it was not a good use of my time.

But I am here, breathing, alive and well(ish). For now, that’s enough.

(And one day, I’ll forget to look.)

A Moment of Clarity

13 Apr

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Earlier this year I found myself at an English lecture I didn’t particularly want to attend. There was a guest speaker that day, and enough people that everyone felt safe pulling out their phones and laptops under the guise of taking notes.

I looked around me at the man on the front row playing a game on his phone. How rude, I thought, as I pulled up an ebook.

At least have the class to hide your disinterest.

It was in that moment that I had a flash of light.

That woman, the guest lecturer, had taken her time to come to this classroom. She had put together a presentation, she had invested her thought and expertise and bad jokes into this. The very least I could do was give her the courtesy I would want to receive.

Attention. A laugh. A raised hand. A thank you at the end.

I put away my ebook and my laptop and dutifully listened for the next two hours.

The content wasn’t anything that overly interested me, and the presentation itself didn’t change me much. But that choice, that moment of light, did.

It feels like the type of thing Anne Lamott would write about. She would say something along the lines of–as human beings in this broken world, all we can do for one another is show up.

All we can do is listen attentively, to give our time and interest to another human being. To treat them with respect, even if it’s slightly unenthusiastically at first.

This is where grace and mercy and healing starts.

I understood that, for a moment that day.

It took me 29 years, but I understood it then.

My Friday Night

12 Apr

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Tonight, some time after the sun went down, I finished a big project I had been working on for weeks. It was a nasty boil of a thing, one that drained me and irritated me in every way and suddenly it was Friday night and I was done!

What would I ever do with the freedom?

I decided I wanted blackberry tart frozen yogurt and pot roast. In that order.

I wanted to finish S Town and Swing Time.

I wanted another Diet Coke.

And so I set off in my car, surprised I had the energy to drive across Malibu.

The night unfolded much like I thought it would, and then nothing like I did.

I ran into some cat callers in the parking lot who harassed me and scared me and I hate that. I hate that those men think they have the right to make comments about my body and get into my personal space. I hate that it’s so commonplace.

I hate that we elect men who act the same way.

The pot roast was good.

So was the frozen yogurt.

In reverse order.

Swing Time! I have thoughts. The primary relationship reminded me a bit of Lenu and Lila from the Neapolitan Novels. That rich, female bond that yields the chocolate mousse of relationships. Says Holly Bass in the NYT review,

There’s something beautiful about the way young girls choose their best friends. A swooning, love-at-first-sight experience, it rarely takes into account social hierarchies, societal expectations or even basic commonalities. And it can be surprisingly decisive, cementing a relationship that persists for decades without any logical basis.

Chocolate freaking mousse.

And then S Town. Holy cow. I didn’t know what I was in for with S Town, but I’m still unraveling it in my mind.

That was genre bending, so much more than what I thought a podcast could be. That was journalism, but that was also a story, a Great American novel, a Southern Gothic with an eccentric protagonist up there with the best, saying hi to Ignatius J. Reilly. A protagonist who exemplified the complexity of the human experience. Who mirrored the complexity of the world he was so worried about.

There is, of course, the question of ethics with S Town.

But, selfishly, right now, I want to ignore that. I want to bask in that story, in that work of art.

Holy cow.

I want another Diet Coke.

Rallying Cries for Women Throughout History

27 Feb

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I am, I am, I am — Sylvia Plath, The Bell Jar

I am, I am. I am, still. — Margaret Atwood, The Handmaid’s Tale

And Still I Rise— Maya Angelou

I’m a keep running cause a winner don’t quit on themselves — Beyoncé Knowles

Nasty woman (About Hillary Clinton)

Nevertheless, she persisted. (About Elizabeth Warren)

 

My Life Flashlights

21 Feb

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Anne Lamott essays

A kind comment on my writing

“Me too”

Putting words to paper

A universal story

Shavasana

Some Female Artists To Follow On Instagram

21 Feb

Maybe you’ve been following all along, but my life has exponentially improved in the last few months as I’ve started to watch this pack of bright female artists.  They are in the business of translating real life into relatable, digestible art and its inspired me in so many ways. I tried to draw the other day! You won’t be seeing it!

But maybe, maybe, maybe, maybe I’ll post some poetry sometime? Eeeeeeekeeeek.

Poets on Instagram. That’s another story.

Here are the artists and some of their best stuff:

Gemma Correll

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Lucy Knisely

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Sarah Andersen

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Emily McDowell

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Ann Shen

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Kate Bingaman-Burt

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Liana Finck

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Mari Andrew

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Julie Houts

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The Good Things Text

19 Feb

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A couple years ago a friend and I started a daily “here’s what went right” text. At the time, she was going through some really difficult things and naturally, a lot of our conversations revolved around everything challenging and frustrating.

It got exhausting, though. For both of us. It’s exhausting to live life focusing on all that is bad, all that is wrong, all we are upset with. I do it very naturally, with or without difficult things going on.

And so we started the text.

It was hard at first. Some days I would announce that I had combed my hair and that was all I could come up with. Other days she would say she took a shower. Sometimes it felt stupid or ridiculous trying to come up with fake good things when all I wanted to say was TODAY WAS HORRIBLE, FEEL BAD FOR ME.

Eventually though, like any muscle that’s exercised, finding the good things got easier.

My friend confessed that she was doing things just so she could share them. I started to look for what was going right, even the small, fake things.

Over time our lives utterly transformed.

Today that friend is a Buddhist monk, who travels the world sharing how she found inner peace. She’s a multimillionaire self-help author…

Oh wait! Wrong friend!

In truth, that friend and I are still bumbling through life.

We continue to do the “good things” text every day, now with a few more people involved.  It isn’t as urgent as it once was, or as difficult as it once was. She’s in a much better place, as am I. I think the text helped her. I know it helped me. And we may not be Buddhist monk level of acceptance, but my goodness are we closer.

Desmond Tutu talks about this in The Book of Joy with the Dalai Lama. He was asked how he stays positive, even during difficult times like his cancer treatments. He says,

I think we ought not to make people feel guilty when it is painful. It is painful, and you have to acknowledge that it is painful. But actually, even in the midst of that pain, you can recognize the gentleness of the nurse who is looking after you. You can see the skill of the surgeon who is going to be performing the operation on you.

It is put another way in the wonderful, wonderful children’s book All Rise for the Honorable Perry T. Cook. Perry was raised in a minimum-security prison and there learned tricks for surviving any experience with a measure of grace and optimism. One such trick is the “Win-Win.” 

The first ‘win’ means you count all small good things that happen to you every day. The second ‘win’ means you do things that bring victories to others. I’ve heard Big Ed say that at least a hundred times, ‘No matter where you live, you have a community of some kind. And you can be a contributor.’ New intakes sometimes roll their eyes at all of this. But the ones that try to follow his advice, well, it just goes better for them. I’ve seen it a hundred times.

“It just goes better for them.” Isn’t that what it all boils down to?

Life, prison, cancer treatments, it just goes better if you notice and count those small victories even when they seem stupid and fake AND FEEL PITY FOR MY TERRIBLE LIFE.

Tonight I’ll get off of work and likely get Jack in the Box tacos for dinner. I’ll come home and crawl into bed and text my friend all the good things that happened today.

“I wrote a blog post!” I’ll say.

I wrote a blog post and I helped someone choose out a great book and hey, guess what

Today I combed my hair.

It’s So Simple It Sounds Absurd

17 Feb

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The walk from my car to the yoga studio is about five minutes. Over the river and through the woods. I scale down a hill, pass the pool, make my way through the alley…you get it.

Typically I’m on my phone this whole time, texting and checking and I don’t know. Whatever you do on a phone.

This last month, though, I decided to leave my phone in the car.

It’s so simple, it sounds absurd. Ten minutes a few times a week where I put my phone away. Where I just walk and feel the breeze and say hi to the palm trees and think about whatever I want to think about.

It’s made a difference, though.

The last thing before I step into the yoga studio isn’t an Instagram post, and the first thing when I get out aren’t missed (unimportant in the scheme of things) texts. I have 10 more minutes just to myself. Ten minutes to notice the world around me.

It’s so simple it sounds absurd.