Category Archives: general musings

what’s in a name, revisited

This fall, as I was in the midst of pushing toward completion of my first book, I had the good fortune of picking up Cheryl Strayed’s Wild.  If you haven’t read it, you simply must.  Seriously.  Stop reading this and head immediately to your locally-owned bookseller and purchase a copy, because you’ll want to read it again and again.  Or, if you do not have a local bookseller available to you, open a new browser window and head to Amazon whereupon you must order a copy and commence reading it as soon as it arrives.   Yes, it is that good.  Both in content and in remarkable storytelling.  It’s so good, in fact, that it caused me to have panic attacks about the quality of my own work, inspiring me to rip apart my manuscript draft and completely reorganize it into a different book altogether.

But this is not a book review. It is, as the title suggests, about the meaning of names.

I have, of late, been thinking quite a bit about names, an exercise prompted by the realization that I must come up with a proper pseudonym under which to publish my future work, in order to protect my children’s identities.  My typical nom de plume has relied on a name gifted to me by my birth mother and listed on my first, later-sealed birth certificate.  But, for reasons that I detailed in a recent post, I have finally relinquished my claim on that name.  I now realize that it was simply a placeholder, no more.  And so it is time to move on.  But I am fairly stumped as to how.

At the end of Cheryl’s book, she explains how  she came to have the unusual surname of “Strayed,” and the story is both simple and mind-blowing.  Simple, because she just picked it.  Mind-blowing because she picked it not because it sounded good or reminded her of someone she’d once loved or was a distant family name, but because it was descriptive of who she is.  She decided that she needed  a new name to go along with a new beginning, and she sought one that best described the essence of who she was and is.  And, because she is someone who has struggled to stay on a designated path (even one of her own choosing), she picked the fabulously abundant “Strayed.”

Which made me wonder …  if I were to do the same exercise, what name would I pick?  What combination of letters would produce a meaning that best reflects and captures the choices I’ve made, the roads I’ve taken, the mistakes I’ve pushed through? For the better part of a day, the question rolled around in my brain, tantalizing me.  My imagination alighted on various words before discarding them — Attempted, Gave, Found, Sought, Wondered, Persevered.  All were good in their own way, but none felt exactly right.

And then I found it.  My descriptive surname a la Cheryl Strayed.

It is Hoped.

The only constant in my life has been my hope.  I think it has both held me up and caught me from beneath more times than I could possibly count.  It is, most definitely, what I have done most and what I expect I will always do.  While this discovery does not solve my question of what surname I shall use for my upcoming book, it was a satisfying and insightful exercise.

So now I ask you, what would your word be?  What mingling of letters would you use to tell the world your story in one word? Feel free to share it here or keep it to yourself.  Be sure to look forward, as well as back.  And, most importantly, don’t worry about what meanings others might attach to the name.  Your meaning is what matters.

And whatever your word, whatever its genesis or cause, I wish you a self-aware and mindful 2014, constant with peace, serenity, and love.  And, of course, hope.

a-ray-of-hope

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the year of the dragon, revisited

The year 2012 was, for me, an “annus horribilis,” to borrow a term from Queen Elizabeth II.  When I look back on the year that just passed, I am primarily filled with a sense of relief that it is over.  Sure, there were some beautiful, precious moments that I shall cherish, but, on the whole, the year was tainted with crippling depression, professional trials, financial crises, and romantic disappointments.

But I can’t say I wasn’t warned.

In March of last year, I wrote a post I called “the year of the dragon,” in which I relayed the prophecy given to me by my dear friend, Ling, a warm Korean woman who is well-versed in the Chinese zodiac.  For those of you who don’t want to re-read the post, the short version is that the Year of the Dragon is something to be endured rather than celebrated.  It is a year that the Chinese faithful view with apprehension and resignation, a year when life as we know it is scorched by the dragon’s flaming breath, creating a rich and fallow field for rebirth and re-creation the following year.  When Ling first described this to me, I was not pleased; the idea of a “scorched” life didn’t sound particularly appealing.  And now, as I limp through the tail end of the Year of the Dragon (with the Year of the Snake solidly in view!) I can positively attest that my Year of Dragon was indeed scorching. I understand and accept that this was not true for everyone (and good for you, seriously), but it was definitely true for me.

I think the best summation of 2012 for me is this:  Not a single thing (without exception) turned out the way I had anticipated.  Not. One. Damn. Thing.

Everything I felt certain about in 2011 came crashing down or simply vanished.  Everything I worried over and stressed over came to naught.  Everything I thought I knew about relationships and friendships and love was put to the test.  My concept of myself and my world and my goals shifted dramatically.  Twenty-twelve was, for me, one long, slow kick in the ass.  And, boy, do I have the third-degree dragon burns to show for it.

On the last day of November — when the job that I had hung my entire professional future on did not materialize — I was finally and truly done fighting the dastardly dragon.  I threw down my sword, tossed my shield aside, and surrendered.  And then, miraculously, the god-awful, fire-breathing dragon tucked his tail and began his slow retreat.

So I sat in the middle of the blackened earth and examined what was left.  I am very familiar with scorched earth.  I live in a state plagued by what are quaintly called “wildfire seasons,” and I pass the barren, floral carnage of the state’s second-most destructive wildfire each day on my way to work. The destructive decimation of heat and flames is altogether too tangible to me.

But, I also have seen the restorative properties of nature that follow quickly on the heals of a destructive burn.  I have watched the small pine saplings poke through the earth and begin their journey toward the sky.  I have seen the small critters return to their habitats and adapt to the scarcity.  I have witnessed the slow greening of the underbrush, like soft baby hair upon the brown soil.  The very fire that destroyed the pre-existing flora and fauna gives birth, through its ashes, to a richer and more potent environment for future generations.  It is a natural cycle, thwarted only by man and his need to control his world.

After my career hopes were dashed that Friday, I took a deep breath and took stock of my life, and realized (as I so frequently do) that I actually have most everything I need.  True, so many of the hopes and dreams that I’d been clinging to were not going to bloom, but I have two healthy and happy children; a safe and cozy home that we love; a job in which my co-workers appreciate and rely on me; a bank account that lets me pay for our necessities and a few extras; generous and loving family and friends to care for me and support me; and a rich spiritual life to sustain me through years like the Dragon.  So I brushed myself off and opened my heart and decided to see what new flowers I could grow for 2013.

My grandma liked to say that “Bad times never last, but good people always do.”  The Year of the Dragon would seem to be a test of her conviction.  And given that I am still here, albeit slightly more bruised and burned, I would say that once again she was right.

And the only other thing I have to say to the Year of the Dragon is this:

pfft

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2012 in review from wordpress…

The WordPress.com stats helper monkeys prepared a 2012 annual report for this blog.

WordPress does this nifty little thing each year where it tells us some general stats about our blog and page.  For those of you who like numbers, this is my end-of-year gift to you.  😉

Click here to see the complete report.

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be a warrior in your life, not just a survivor

I work side-by-side with a very sweet, warm woman who, last year at this time, underwent a radical mastectomy after being diagnosed at Thanksgiving with advanced stage breast cancer.  Within a week of “Meredith’s” diagnosis, word came from the East Coast that her mother had advanced stage pancreatic cancer. Oomph.

Meredith pulled through her surgery and the resulting complications with barely missing a beat at work.  I can honestly say that I hardly ever had to pick up any additional slack because of her illness, surgery or recovery.  I have no idea how she juggled it all.  Almost as soon as she was back on her feet and fully recovered physically, her mother passed away before Meredith could get back home.  But again, she mustered what was left of her strength and pushed through the ensuing grief and emotional pain with hardly a misstep.  Never once did I hear her complain that life was unfair or that she couldn’t go on.

I hear people refer all the time to breast-cancer “survivors” and “survivors” of violence and “survivors” of divorce — it seems to be a general term linked to the worst that life throws at us.  But, to me, it suggests a passivity that I find mildly irritating.  Because the truth is, lots of people do a lot more than survive what life throws at them; a lot of people face those challenges head-on and emerge better and stronger and more intact spiritually than they were before the crisis befell them.  Meredith did not merely survive her cancer — she kicked its butt soundly.  She refused to allow it to change who she was or to make her bitter or to define her.  She accepted it and met the challenge and pushed back with everything at her disposal.  I admire her attitude enormously.  She is definitely more than a survivor.  She is a warrior.

survivor: (n.) one who survives; a person who continues to function or prosper in spite of opposition, hardship, or setbacks.

warrior: (n.)  a person engaged or experienced in warfare, soldier; a person who shows or has shown great vigor, courage, or aggressiveness.

Which would you rather be?

Lisa Arends, over at Lessons From the End of a Marriage, wrote a great post about rediscovering her inner warrior recently. In that post, she expressed some similar sentiments and made some other, very good points.  I think how we define ourselves in the midst of our struggles is very important to how we tackle those struggles.  Are we a victim of our circumstances?  Or are we drivers on a road with many obstacles in front of us that we must do our best to go around or through?

I think that we all feel beaten down by life at times.  Sometimes really bad things happen to really good people.  None of us is exempt from tragedy or pain or suffering or illness or injustice.  They happen.  I think the real test of character is in how we handle them when they do…

My girls and I have a favorite YouTube video.  It features some cancer patients and nurses at the Seattle Children’s Hospital singing and dancing along to Kelly Clarkson’s hit, “Stronger.”  When I first saw it last spring, it gave me chills — I mean, is there anything more tragic than a seriously ill child?  Or more inspiring than that same child facing her illness with a smile and a song?  My girls and I have talked at length about the video and how and why it inspires and awes us.  Those children and the women who care for them each day are most definitely warriors.

When I look around me, I see so many amazing people with similar stories of a life dotted with tragedy or pain or failure of some sort.  And I see that most of them have not let those moments define who they are.  They, like Meredith, have refused to become identified by one moment or circumstance in their lives.  They are a tapestry of moments and circumstances, rich and layered, and stronger for the challenges put before them.  They experience fear and insecurity and self-doubt, but that does not define them, either, because they push forward anyway.

So, whatever unsavory stuff came your way over this last year, why not grab it, take one last look at it, and then let it go? Meredith and I have talked about how glad we’ll both be to see 2012 in the rearview mirror, but we’ve also talked about how it will not be the year that changed everything.  Nope.  It will simply be another year of learning and growing and facing things neither of us wanted in our lives but got anyway.

And emerging stronger because of it.

Video bonus:  Seattle Children’s Hospital’s version of Kelly Clarkson’s “Stronger”

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the assumption pitfall

There are few things that get me in more personal trouble than my tendency to assume things.  Yes, of course I’ve heard the old saying that “To assume makes an ‘ass’ out of ‘u’ and ‘me'” and I swear that I don’t mean to assume things… but I do.  As an adult, I’ve realized that there is a certain arrogance inherent in an assumption — basically what we’re saying is that we are so smart that we can discern what someone else is thinking or feeling based on selected, minimal, or even no evidence.

It’s no wonder that our assumptions are wrong at least as much as they are right.  But because humans tend to ignore information that contradicts our belief structure, I think we generally place more weight on memories of the times our assumptions were correct.  “Aha!” we cry, “See?! I knew it all along!” This reinforces our future reliance on our brilliant ability to assume conclusions that may or may not true.

Crises of self-doubt result when our assumptions are wrong, so I think we try to avoid addressing those head-on.  Admitting that we based decisions, hopes, dreams, or even just directed emotional energy toward something that was born from a very flawed assumption is pretty hard to swallow sometimes.  And it seems like when we do face the fact that we relied heavily and to our detriment on a flawed assumption, everything from mild embarrassment to complete self-loathing can occur, depending on how erroneous and painful the actual truth was.

Most of my assumptions tend to the negative, although there are some ridiculous, Pollyanna-ish exceptions in my past that still cause me to grimace in shame.  But, if I’m being honest, I know that most of the time, when I’m scared and uncertain, I’m assuming a poor outcome will result and rationalizing it under the “Assume the Worst; Hope for the Best” rubric.  And we all know how easily this can become a self-fulfilling prophecy, which is a whole other post in itself, I think.

I think that most of the time we cling to our negative assumptions out of fear — fear of being duped, fear of repeating past mistakes, fear of being wrong.  Basically, it’s fear.  And I think that we cling to our positive assumptions out of hope — hope that things are not as they seem, hope that they will resolve themselves, hope that if we wish hard enough, it will be true.  So, basically, it’s hope.

Both kinds of assumptions are bad news in relationships.  In my relationship with Pete, he assumed certain things about my feelings and about us, based on his own feelings and wishes, which he projected onto me.  As a result, he was far more upset at our relationship’s end than he might have been if I had realized the assumptions he was making and made necessary adjustments.  He was basing his assumptions on what felt like good, solid evidence, but mostly he was just being hopeful, and there’s really nothing wrong with that.  It just sucks when you’re wrong. We frequently see this kind of post-break-up assumption in the form of our expectation that the object of our desire will “come to their senses” or “see the light” and realize how special and wonderful our relationship was.  Sometimes this does happen, but it’s pretty rare, isn’t it? A couple of years ago, my friend Annie had a boyfriend of four months, Ned, who simply refused to accept that her feelings for him were never as deep as his for her.  Months later, he was still blathering on about it and resenting her for being heartless and moving on.  Most of us have been in Ned’s position at one point or another, and it definitely feels terrible.  But clinging to assumptions that are nothing but false hope is one of the worst forms of self-torture.

Conversely, in my relationship with James, I have made many erroneous negative assumptions, again based on what felt like good, solid evidence, but was mostly just fear.  I have a long list of moments when I was too petrified to ask a pointed question, lest my worst fears be confirmed.  So instead, I clung to my assumptions, which were generally worse than any reality might have been.  This is a particularly insidious kind of assumption, as it allows you to beat yourself up with the assumed facts first, and then go round two with yourself when you discover the error in your assumption.  Good times all around, for sure.

Assumptions are pretty easily avoided, of course.  “Just ask,” would seem to be solid advice in this regard.  But it’s not really that easy, is it?  Because we can be blinded by both hope and fear, and most times we’re not even aware that we’re assuming.  It’s only that pesky hindsight that usually shows us how fast we traveled Assumption Road toward Conclusion City.

So, I don’t have any answers to this particular problem, except to say that I’m really working on it in my own life. And I hope it will get easier. Or at least I assume so.

assumption sign

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I need patience and I need it now

Sunday, at yoga, the teacher instructed us to set an intention for our practice that day — specifically, she asked that we each focus on something that we need this holiday season.  As I stood, eyes closed and hands over my heart, I knew immediately what I wanted — patience.

My life is currently in a space of flux.  Typically, for me, this happens with lightning speed.  Life changes are not dithered over in my world.  I make a decision, I execute said decision, and I move forward.  Simple as that.

Except when it’s not all in my control. Then it often comes To. A. Screeching. Halt.

Right now there are a couple areas of my life that require a measure of patience and acceptance that does not come easily to me.  In one area, I am only partly responsible for the outcome, and in the other, I have no say whatsoever.  In either case, I cannot rush to the conclusion.  I cannot extract a guaranteed outcome.  I cannot peek into the future and get a hint of what lies ahead.

No, I simply have to be patient.

Which isn’t simple at all.

I found myself last night lecturing my 9-year-old about patience as she was whining that she absolutely, positively CANNOT wait until Christmas morning to see what Santa is bringing her.  She had herself all worked up into a grumpy mood because she is terribly worried that she won’t get her heart’s desire (an electric scooter) on Christmas morning.  And so, as every good mother does, I lectured her on the value of enjoying the journey — in this case, the Christmas season — and not rushing through it to get to the end.  I reminded her that this is her favorite time of the year, what with all the yummy treats, the Christmas carols, the decorations (nothing Bryn loves more than a little bling all over the house), and the delicious anticipation of Christmas morning. I was able to smooth her cranky mood, and we cuddled in the big chair, watching a favorite Christmas movie.

But after putting her to bed (“What are you grateful for tonight, Bryn?”  “Christmas, of course!”), I fixed myself a cup of steaming tea and reflected on how hard it really is to follow the advice I had so blithely delivered to my daughter.  It is so very easy to believe in the concept of The Journey Rather Than the Destination, and so much harder to live it every day.  “If only someone would tell me it was going to end well, then I could enjoy the waiting time,” we lament.  But that defeats the purpose, does it not?  The whole idea — the whole challenge — of embracing the journey is to do so without certainty in the outcome.  Learning to relish the moments as they come, as an end in and of themselves, rather than simply a means to another conclusion, that’s supposedly the elusive secret to happiness, right?

Reflecting on my advice to her, I was made aware of how much I would be missing were I to give into the anxiety and fear surrounding the potential outcomes to the unresolved parts of my life.  I can easily imagine my stomach in knots and my throat constricted as I, like my daughter, hold too tightly to my fear that I will not achieve my own heart’s desire.  Indeed, earlier this weekend, I briefly felt irritable and out of sorts, possibilities and scenarios swirling around in my head.  But I quickly snapped out of it. Because, as we all know in the logical parts of our brain,  no amount of  fussing and worrying will  promote anything beneficial; indeed, it could wreck the only pieces over which I have any control.  My head knows, with complete certainty, that the only positive path lies through the door marked “Patience.”

I know this, but it still pisses me off sometimes.

Sometimes we just have to wait and see.

As a rule, I am terrible at waiting and seeing.  But the alternative for me at this point is to ruin my favorite time of the year (and possibly more) by being grouchy over issues beyond my complete control.  And I would once again be sacrificing what could be wonderful, precious moments to nothing more than speculative fears.

So, instead, I am focused on being present and patient.  I know from past experience that sometimes the slowest moments afford the sweetest memories.  I have been grounding myself in the conscious decision to be present in all the preciousness unfolding around me right now… Christmas cards to friends I haven’t had contact with all year, a holiday party with work colleagues that are my only reason for smiling during the work day, snuggles in front of the fire with my girls as we catch up on each others’ days, and special moments with friends that remind me what’s important to me and why.  All of this, I would be missing if I were caught in the anxiety and insecurity of the unknown outcome.

Perhaps this contentedness is nothing more than borrowed time and in a few weeks or a month, I will be sad and frustrated by the outcomes as they play out.  But perhaps not.  And until or unless that happens, I refuse to relinquish my Christmastime to anticipating such sadness.  If it is to happen that way, it will.  But at least I’ll have some nice days in the meantime.  And if it doesn’t happen that way — if all that is churning along resolves itself positively — then I won’t have to look back on this short period as I do so many others and castigate myself for foolishly rushing past the wonder of the in-between to get to the endgame.

Whether your anticipation rests on the delivery of presents by a jolly man in a red suit or something a little less legendary, patience can be very, very difficult.  But it can also give birth to some pretty special moments to cherish, no matter what.

patience2

Video bonus: If you’re old enough to remember this song, you might be surprised at how well it’s held up.  Enjoy….

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the perfect day (or defining happiness through little things)

This being the time of year when we are supposed to be consciously thankful for the good things in our life, I have been contemplating the idea of gratitude.

Gratitude is a tough one.  The Dalai Lama teaches us that we cannot have happiness without gratitude.  For myself, this is true.  I can be exuberant or excited or giddy without gratitude but to be truly happy — to wake up with a smile and go to sleep with a sigh — I must have gratitude.

I think the tricky part of gratitude is that we all tend to hang it on a couple of big things.  Or we have socialized ideas of what it “should” look like.  Or we merely graze the surface when noticing the good stuff in our life — like being thankful for our kids, rather than specifically noticing how lucky we feel that our kids have talents that bring them joy and confidence.  I am as guilty of these trespasses as anyone else.

I read something once that the best way to locate your gratitude is to get into a gratitude habit.  The suggestion was that you start each day, before even getting out of bed, by counting your blessings, in detail.  Spending a few moments, each morning, running through a list of the small things for which you’re grateful, so that pretty soon, recognizing those small, perfect things becomes a habit that you do all day long.

I wish I could say that I have mastered this, but I have not.  I am working on it, in much the same way I am working on my yoga practice, which is also far from perfect.   But today, I had a glimpse of what it must be like to carry gratitude with you throughout your day, every day.

It was a simple day.  A perfect day.  I awoke early, well-rested, for a haircut appointment with my stylist.  For breakfast, I had my favorite bagel with my pumpkin-flavored cream cheese that is only available this time of year.  That, my hot chai tea, and one of my favorite blogs provided a nourishing and warm breakfast.  I ate consciously, enjoying every bite and every word.   I drove to my stylist’s and was grateful that I was on my side of highway and not the other, where there was a long traffic jam behind a bad accident.   At my stylist’s, I was aware of how wonderful it feels to have someone else shampoo my hair… the gentle fingers massaging my scalp, like a mini spa for a few precious moments.  We chatted as she clipped, about family, holiday food, and the state of my love life.  As always, my Korean friend had a wonderful Eastern-based perspective, for which I was thankful.  After, I went shopping for Christmas presents for my children and food for our Thanksgiving dinner.  As I selected the presents and the food, I was grateful that I have the money to make those purchases.  Every small stocking stuffer and every piece of fruit separate me from those less fortunate.

Once I had unpacked my purchases, I took my sweet dog and went for a long walk on a trail by the creek.  I watched the angle of the sun glancing off the water, and how happy my dog was, trotting gleefully from creek to tree to rock, taking in all the smells and running back to jump on me, as if saying, “Isn’t this positively the BEST?!!”  When we returned from our walk, I gave the dog a bone and I laid down for a nap.  I drifted off with the window open and the slanted sunlight on my face.

After my nap, I went to a yoga class hosted by one of my favorite instructors.  I was grateful that I arrived early enough to get a good spot and that the instructor moved us through our poses firmly but gently.  The sweat was pouring from my shoulders, and my arms felt like over-stretched rubberbands, but I was thankful for a body that allows me to move and stretch.

I came home, started the fire, and took a hot shower.  I fed my skin with my best-smelling, all-natural lotion and closed my eyes to absorb the perfection of the scent.  Then I made a delicious dinner that I savored while watching a favorite movie in front of the fire.  I sit there now, sipping a cup of my favorite tea and grateful for this outlet for my creativity.  Soon I will go to bed, quietly preparing for a day tomorrow with my eldest daughter.

None of these things in my day could be described as particularly unusual, but they were special.  They were special because I saw them — perceived them — as such.  It is not always easy to notice our blessings in the midst of our hectic lives.  And when some of the big things are absent or going wrong, it can be particularly hard.  But every time, every day, it is still a choice.

Today, I choose to be grateful.

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every time I get my ducks in a row, one moves

Today I was bored and decided to play with Google.  (This being, of course, after I had exhausted all my Words with Friends games, reviewed all the best memes from last night’s debate, and laughed myself silly at the Damn You Autocorrect website.)

But I digress….

I typed in “that precarious gait” and to my utter astonishment, my blog came up first in the Google list!  Now, I feel certain that Separated Dad will inform me of some algorithm or other that dictated that to be so for me and me alone, but until then, I am going to feel pretty darn impressed with myself.

Imagine!  I’m more popular with Google searchers than the wonderful Emily Dickinson poem that loaned its name to this blog!  (Okay, so it didn’t exactly loan it… I more or less stole it.  But still, you get the point, right?)

That fun Google discovery led me to wonder how my blog has been interacting with search engines lately.  I wrote a post about this not long ago, but for those of you who are new (or aren’t loyal readers – TSK! TSK!), I’ll explain.  You see, WordPress, the web platform on which my blog is based, shows me certain data about how you all find me — like which search engine terms directed people to my site — which would be useful if I ever bothered to do any marketing.  But since I don’t, its usefulness is mainly confined to entertaining me when I am sprawled on my sofa, fighting off what I’m certain is going to be the worst cold known to man.  Ever.

So, here’s what I found, along with my own snarky comments, ’cause I’m just like that when I’m sick:

“large gait nude woman” — The visual here, for me at least, is of a morbidly obese, bow-legged woman, but then I realize that the “large” adjective likely only modifies the noun “gait,” right? And then I realize that the large gait is not necessarily bow-legged, but could just be a long-legged gait.  And then I realize that I am spending way too much time thinking about this search term.

“my voice should be louder than your reasoning” — I’m pretty sure I’ve dated this guy at some point.  (And guys, don’t bother asking me how I know it’s a male.  I’m sick and I’m cranky — you’ll likely get something thrown at you.)

“old people love photography” — See that?  You learn something new everyday!  And here I thought they just like canasta and dinner theaters.

“do married women go to Cancun by themselves?” — Ummmm… No.  In fact, I don’t know if anyone goes to Cancun totally by themselves.  But why in the world would you do it if you were married?  Unless, of course, you hated your spouse.  But no, I’m sure that’s not the case with your wife, mister.  I’m sure she’s just there to paint pottery.

“jeans that make your bum look good” — If you find such jeans, please let me know.  Oh, and I think I’ll start referring to all butts as bums.  It just sounds so much cuter, doesn’t it?

“i hate men.  i really do” — I think most of us with a vagina can relate to this one, from time to time.  And some with a penis probably can, too, for that matter.

“deepest vagina ever” — Well, I’m going to have to take your word for it, and I actually kinda hope you’re a medical student.  Or a tampon manufacturer.

“girls want a guy who will take cute and funny pictures with them” —  Yes, and that’s reason #427 why every girl needs at least one gay friend.

“my girlfriend is a lingerie model” — Hmmm.  This one stumps me, truly.  Most people search for answers to a problem, dude.

“is he worth fighting for even if he doesn’t want a relationship?” —  In a word?  No.

“once my ducks are in a row one moves” — I think this might be my new favorite saying, because damn, it’s true.  Although I think in my case it’s usually that one duck pinches another duck, and mayhem ensues, and I’m in the middle playing referee, with duck feathers flying and all the other ducks scattering.  But hey, that’s still not having your ducks a row, so it’s basically the same thing.

The lesson, my friends, is a simple one:  think before you Google, or you, too, could be someone’s punchline.

Happy Searching!

aren’t these duck bums adorable?

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cling less, love more

My friend Ryan is talking a lot lately about trying to become less attached to “outcomes” in his life.  For example, rather than going out with the hope of meeting someone new, or starting a project with the hope of a promotion, he might just pursue something for the sake of doing it, knowing that the experience itself may be the only outcome.  Although perhaps oversimplified, this is a tenet of the Buddhist practice — being in the present, completely, and feeling and sensing it and experiencing it, without attaching a “want” to what comes after or letting the what comes after determine the value of the experience.

I’m sure most of you have heard of this approach, and some of you may practice it. How often have you gone on a date or an interview and told yourself to keep your expectations in check?  This is a common version of this practice, even by non-Buddhists.  And, in all likelihood, all of you have experienced the wonder that can come of it.  Like those evenings when you set off for what you thought was a normal, run-of-the-mill night out with friends, one for which you had no greater expectations than to simply get out of the house, and instead you returned home from one of the most memorable or special evenings of your life?  And, in the reverse, how many times have you built up a date or a vacation to such enormous expectations that it felt flat and vaguely disappointing when it actually happened?

Attachment to outcomes is something that undermines all of us, I think.  It’s just too damn easy to do.  We get excited about something, our imagination starts to run, and we convince ourselves that we will only be happy if a particular outcome occurs.  We don’t even realize how tightly we are clinging to a particular outcome, until it collapses (often of its own weight).  I see this happen a lot when we face having a difficult conversation.  Think about the last time you had to prepare to talk to your partner about something that was bothering you.  Most of us tie the success of that conversation to whether our partner hears us and understands and makes it better — but those are outcomes.  How many of us tie the success of the conversation to the fact that we are having a voice in our life and being clear and honest and authentic in that moment?

I also see this frequently with friends who are freshly dating after a divorce or break-up.  Each new suitor holds such enormous promise, that when the new relationship naturally peters out after a date or two, the feeling of let-down is disproportional to the nature of the relationship.  We hardly knew this person, we barely shared any time with this person, and yet we feel deflated that he was not “the One.”  But why?  Because we were attaching an outcome to the experience.  Just going out on the dates, just sharing space with someone and having a nice conversation, just being present in the moment, was not enough.  The value of the dates lie solely in their ability to propel the relationship forward, closer to the goal or couplehood or commitment or even marriage.

Women are not the only ones who do this.  On my second date with Coach, a busy dater and notorious commitment-phobe, he was already talking about how my children could attend the university at which he worked for a small percentage of the usual tuition.  A clear indicator to me that he had allowed his imagination to entertain the possibility that I would be the one to cure him of fear of commitment (a theory confirmed by him many months later).   When it is presented back to us, in black and white or verbalized aloud, the ridiculousness of pursuing life that way becomes obvious, but when we are in that moment, it seems normal, even natural.

Which is why it’s so hard to not do it.

I think it’s also important not to confuse outcomes with goals.  Goals are usually medium- to long-term ideals that we set for ourselves, such as buying a house or running a marathon.  Most of us need goals in our lives to propel us forward, and they can be helpful in creating and sustaining our focus.  Those are not outcomes.  Outcomes have to do with how we live the moments on the course to our goals. If every moment and every decision is laden with outcome expectation, the path to the goal becomes heavy and monotonous, indeed.  But if we release ourselves from the outcome expectations, the journey ahead becomes lighter and more pleasant, and more valuable for its own sake.

The real danger in outcomes — which again distinguishes them from goals — is that they are beyond our control for the most part.  You can be pretty determined to meet your soulmate, but as any dating single will tell you, no amount of determination will make that happen until it’s supposed to.  Same with that dream job — no matter how much you want that job and lobby for the job and effectively advocate for yourself in your pursuit of that job, it is ultimately out of your control.  And going back to the example of the conversation with your partner — you can be the best communicator in the world and deliver an oration that surpasses the Gettysburg Address in eloquence, but you cannot control your partner’s reaction.  Perhaps they will hear you and understand, but perhaps they will not.  You can only do your best and know that their reaction is out of your control.  To the point, the outcome is not yours to dictate.

Shortly after returning from my trip back East, where I listened to Rob discuss his struggles to let go of outcomes, one of my favorite bloggers shared an article from Psychology Today, “Cling Less, Love More”, which talks about exactly this issue.  (If this topic interests you, I’d suggest a quick read, and you can see her post about it here.)  One of the things I love best about this article is how it describes the physical tightness we feel when we’re clinging to an outcome.  Can you feel that in yourself, hear it in your voice, when you are clinging to an outcome?  If not, I’ll bet you can see it and hear it in a good friend.  Watch their body language and listen to how their voice sounds almost brittle as they cling to their outcome.  Usually, these are the conversations in which I find myself gently asking, “What are you defending, and to whom?” because they can sound very much like someone being defensive.  I suppose, in a way, it is a kind of defensiveness, in which we’re defending the importance of clinging to that outcome.

I’m not sure how to live a life free of outcome expectation, but it’s one of those things I’m working on.  I know how much more relaxed and happy I am when I focus on my goals, rather than my outcomes.  So, apparently, at least for me, it’s a valuable endeavor.  If you’re already doing it, Ryan and I would both love some pointers…

Photo courtesy of Clinging to the Rock blog.

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Filed under dating, general musings, love, personal growth, relationships

be yourself. everyone else is taken.

At the end of my marriage, after Bryce and I had decided to divorce but before I had moved out of the house, we had a conversation standing in our sun-soaked kitchen that might prove to be the crowning achievement of our marriage.  We agreed that we had had a conventional marriage.  We had done everything we were “supposed” to do.  We had lived up to everyone’s expectations.  Except our own.  We vowed that our divorced relationship would be different.  We would make it what we wanted it to be, not what others thought was “right” or “appropriate” or, God forbid, “normal.”  We would craft something that worked for us and our children and everyone else could just deal with it — or not.  They weren’t our problem, and we’d spent too much of our lives living a relationship that had made everyone else comfortable and us eventually miserable.

To our credit — and my astonishment — we have kept that word to each other and ourselves.  Some people in our wide circle are uncomfortable with our situation.  How do we get along so well?  Why do we sit together — with our partners, even! — at school functions for our children?  Are we actually — gasp! — friends??? But fortunately those individuals are pretty rare.  Most of the people in our wide circle applaud us for fashioning something that is different from the standard divorced relationship paradigm.  I think they can see that it’s good for our children, but I also think that they can see that it’s good for us, too.  We are still, in many ways, a family, even though we are most definitely not a couple.  This makes us happy, and that’s really all that matters.

It has not always been an easy task — this concept of carving out a new relationship through the jungle of established habits, familial expectations, and emotional scars.  There have been times of post-divorce conflict, when one of us has had to remind the other of our shared vision for a healthy divorced relationship that works for all of us.  But those reminders have always successfully steered us back on course, which is, in and of itself, amazing.

It has been my experience that most of the dramatic change we experience in ourselves does not last.  We try on a new version of ourselves, wear it for a while, and then it loses its novelty and fades away.  And pretty soon we’re back to basically the same person we always were.  It’s as if our essential nature is some kind of homeostasis to which we return after a short disruption.  I am so very glad and very grateful that Bryce and I have remained strongly committed to that vision we shared that day in the kitchen.  And it has taught me that I am capable of making something different than what is the norm in our circle, and having that work for me. That lesson has been rolling around in my mind this week as I have unpacked the emotional shifts and “aha!” moments that occurred within me during my short visit back East.

And let’s just say, it’s been a busy week.

I’ve settled back into my Colorado life, but with some new understandings of what I want this life to look like and who I want to be in it.  I keep coming back around to the idea that the relationship model that works for so many around me is not going to work for me, and it is entirely likely that the romantic relationship that makes me the happiest might not make sense to other people.  And that’s okay.  Other people don’t have to be comfortable with it.  As long as I’m not hurting anyone else, I just need to be happy being me.

When I was much younger, I knew this about myself.  Katrina and  I used to half-jokingly say that she would be the school-teacher with 2.3 children and a house in suburbs, and I would be the cool “aunt” who would jet in from some far-flung end of the globe, bearing wonderful gifts and fun stories.  There was no judgment inherent in either path; we loved each other too much and too purely to have judged each other harshly.  It was simply an acknowledgment of our different approaches to life.

As it turns out, I did far more of the white-picket-fence experience than anyone ever expected or could have predicted, including me.  And I don’t regret a second of it.  Truly.  But I also see now that the choices that I have been making since my divorce were subconsciously guided by my need to create something different.  Those choices have made sense to some of my friends but not to others, who have offered well-intentioned advice shared with love.  I think I felt disapproval and internalized that in a way that left me confused about my vision for what I wanted my life and romantic relationships to be.  My friends wanted me to be happy, and so they encouraged me to be happy in the things that make them happy.  This is logical and kind and I treasure their good intentions.  But in my post-divorce state, I think it only served to confuse me.  Unlike in my endeavor with Bryce, I felt alone in my journey and I lost my clear vision of who and what I am and want to be as an individual.

But now I remember.

I have lately felt that I am my truest self again.  I feel at home with who I am and what I want and the understanding that it might be different from what others want from me or for me.  But the honest truth is, what they ultimately want is for me to be myself, whether they fully know it or not.  Because when I am most myself is also when I am most sought after by my friends.  We all naturally gravitate to people who are truly comfortable with themselves, who are real and present and open to the world. Whatever version of ourselves places us squarely in that description is truly our best version of ourselves.

Each of us must steer our own ship.  Only we command the helm.  The waves of opinion and expectation may buffet us, but if we hold a true course, we will reach our destination safely and triumphantly.  That is our challenge, every single day.

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Filed under divorce, friendships, general musings, personal growth, relationships, single mom