Category Archives: general musings

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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Filed under general musings, personal growth

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

fuzzy edges

A few weeks ago, I went to the doctor for what I thought was an eye infection. She suspected something different and within a couple of days, I was in front of an opthamalogist/eye surgeon who was telling me that I had contracted an upper respiratory infection and transferred it to my eyes, probably while crying so much when mourning my aunt’s passing last month. Anyway, the nasty virus had damaged my eyes pretty seriously. I was ordered out of my contacts and all eye make-up or creams for at least two weeks  (later extended to at least 4 weeks). Steroid eyedrops were prescribed for the searing pain, but I was glumly told that the other symptoms would likely persist for maybe 6 months, possibly up to 2 years.

Awesome.

This is definitely not the news you want to hear. But at the same time, I was enormously relieved and grateful that the damage was not likely permanent, and that the doctor could relieve my pain with his little prescription pad.

I left his office, removed my contact lens, and embarked on a journey into another world.

In this world, nothing is crisp or clear like it was with my contacts for the last 20 years. My vision is good enough that I can almost get away with not wearing my glasses at all, and the prescription is only right for a certain distance (basically the distance from the front seat of my car to a stop sign I’m approaching), so I have been foregoing them quite a bit. (Except when I’m driving. It hardly seems fair to imperil everyone else in town just because I hate my glasses…)

The world without my contacts or glasses is a fuzzy one. Soft edges. Less intense colors. Kind of like one, giant Monet painting. I have trouble discerning facial expressions from more than 3 or 4 feet away, so I’ve turned into something of a “Rainman” character in that I don’t see nor respond to other people’s frustration or grief or anger or humor until they are right upon me. To me, everyone wears the same expression.

My children read signs for me and locate grocery store prices. My colleagues whisper to alert me to whom is waiting for me at the counter so that I don’t inadvertently offend anyone with the wrong name. My boss has grown accustomed to pointing out the mistakes that spellcheck doesn’t catch and I can’t properly see.

I went to yoga last week and fell out of nearly every balancing pose I tried, not having the ability to focus on a point in the distance to hold my balance. Staring at my computer screen is a hit-or-miss proposition. Sometimes – like tonight – I can see the letters fine as I type them. Other times, when my eyes are more tired or the light is too bright, I can’t, and the result is something resembling an ancient Cyrillic language.

Small items or things at a great distance run the high risk of being completely mistaken for something else altogether. I plucked a black widow spider out of my shower the other morning, just as it was making a run for my foot. To me, it looked like black fuzz from the sweater I’d been wearing; I thought it had fallen from my hair into the water and was being washed toward the drain. Only when I dropped the spider in the toilet and saw the distinctive orange marking did I realize what it was.

A few evenings ago, I nearly allowed my little dog to “make friends” with a raccoon I’d mistaken for a fat, fluffy canine, and tonight, while on my villa balcony in Cancun, I saw a man on the plaza below looking up at me with his arm raised. I looked around and saw no one. So I waved back. He held his posture, so I snuck inside, retrieved my glasses, and discovered that I’d just waved at a statue.

Being sight-impaired for the short- to medium-term is something of an inconvenience and, occasionally, funny. But it’s also opened my mind to things I hadn’t seen before. I’ve discovered that I listen better and more clearly. Without being able to read the nuances of facial expressions and body language, I react less quickly and take offense far less. I am slower, more deliberate in everything I do, because it’s awfully hard to rush around when you might crash headlong into something if you do. Nothing is black and white; my entire world is a grey area. There are no absolutes. I am perpetually vulnerable and unable to pretend otherwise. It is a humbling and amazing place to be. A surreal world with fuzzy edges.

The limitations on my ability to read and gauge others’ feelings and thoughts has also caused me to rely more strongly on my own. When you can’t tell if the person sitting across from you is saying something that they don’t really believe just to be nice, you have to take them at their word and decide for yourself what you think. When you have blonde eyelashes but can’t wear a lick of eye make-up, you have to set vanity aside and decide that it’s up to them to see the inner beauty of your happiness. And when you wake-up every morning able to still see your children’s faces, you remember gratitude for what is still clear, rather than cursing what is fuzzy.

My eye damage has been the classic blessing in disguise. I am not sure why the universe chose this particular means of reminding me of so many valuable lessons, but I am grateful for them nonetheless. When my eyes are healed and I return from the land of Mr. Magoo, I will be relieved to have my sight fully restored, but I’ll also miss some of the softness and gentle realness of this world, too.

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first crush

Yesterday afternoon my 11-year-old daughter, Sabrina, returned from three days of wilderness camp with the 5th-grade.  She perched on the Tiffany-blue stool in my bathroom as I sprawled on the floor, tools in hand, replacing the guts of my toilet tank.  I expected a play-by-play rundown about camp, but she answered my questions obliquely and distractedly.

And then it was revealed that something else entirely was on her mind.

A boy.

Turns out my little girl arrived at her dad’s a week ago to discover that a boy she likes, whom we’ll call “Justin,” had called a day or two earlier to ask her to play tennis. They take tennis lessons together each week and have known each other distantly since they were toddlers.  Since she’d been at my house that week and her dad was clueless that this boy was anything special, he’d  simply asked Jay to call back another time.  Which he didn’t.  And poor Sabrina was beside herself today, a week later, when she returned to my house.   I struggled with the wrench as Sabrina laid out for me her worries.

Sabrina: Mom, what if he doesn’t really like me and he was just bored?  And what if, since I didn’t call him back, he asked the new girl in our class to play instead and now he likes her?! (She is kinda pretty….)  Or what if he does like me but he thinks I don’t like him because I didn’t call back right away and so he’s given up on me?  Ugh!!!

Poor Sabrina is in the throes of her first real crush.  We talked about Jay and what it is that she likes about him (“he’s smart and goofy and funny”), and what she wants with him (“just to hang out with him and be his friend and maybe later when we’re older, he can be my boyfriend”).

Out of the corner of my eye, I watched her rocking back and forth on the stool, face anxious, brow furrowed.  And I was struck by how our wants and our fears never really change.  No matter the age, we basically just want to be near that person — to share space with them and know more about them and feel the warmth of their attention on us.  And we worry about the unknowns —  Does he love me?  Does he love someone else more?  Will he love me tomorrow?  Does he know I love him?

So we tackled her concerns one at a time:  1) He wouldn’t have called to spend time with her if he didn’t like her; 5th grade boys don’t spend time with girls that they don’t like.  2) When we really like someone, we don’t change our mind in the span of a week, even at that age, and even if he did play tennis with the new girl, he might not end up liking her nearly as much as he likes Sabrina, because finding someone we really like is never easy.  3)  He probably does think that she’s not particularly interested in seeing him outside of tennis class, and I explained that it was her turn to call him back, acknowledge his phone call and see if he’d still like to play.  She visibly blanched at the idea, but I reminded her that she wasn’t having to ask him cold — he’d already taken the first step toward her and indicated that he’d like to be her friend.  She hesitantly agreed to the logic of that.   And then —

S — Maybe I should just ask him if he likes me.

Me — No, you won’t have to.  If he likes you, he’ll want to keep spending time with you.  You’ll know soon enough.  What he tells you won’t reveal nearly as much as how he behaves. He might not even know how to answer that.  He’s only 11.

S — But I just. want. to. know.now!

Me — <sighing>  I know sweetie.  Boy, do I know.

I withheld the obligatory and unhelpful lecture about how that feeling never changes and how she will be saddled with those uncertainties for the duration of her dating career, but I couldn’t help but wonder at how many variations on this precise conversation I’ve probably had in my life.  How much effort and energy do we expend toward trying to figure out the heart of another?

I also found that I was providing her with the same advice that I give myself (with varying degrees of success):  You can’t worry about that other girl or how he sees her; you can only be the best version of you and if he can’t see how amazing that is, or if it’s not what he wants, then that’s only his problem.   She received this advice with the same skepticism I sometimes feel when staring into the black hole of insecurity.  In fact, as she rolled her eyes, I couldn’t help but sympathize.

In the end, we agreed to obtain Jay’s phone number from her dad’s tennis club directory and Sabrina will call him for a friendly game of tennis.  I promised her I would help script her proposal so that she wouldn’t flub it.  She seemed satisfied with that resolution, but I could tell that it still sat heavily with her through dinner.

And she wasn’t alone.  I felt the heaviness of a different kind:  the realization that we had crossed yet another threshold on this journey to adulthood.  Somewhere in our shared future, she will revel in the soaring, overwhelming buoyancy of first love and the stunning, scintillating experience of sex.  She will discover new facets to herself and see her strengths and failings reflected back in the eyes of someone she wants to think her perfect.  And she will also suffer rejection and a broken heart and the disillusionment of the end of a fairytale.  All of these things are inevitable.  All of these things are life.

At this point, I am grateful that she so freely confides in me and allows me some entry into the affairs of her small, innocent heart.  I hope that this is always the case, but I know that in all likelihood, it will not be.  For now, though, I will do my very best to guide her, and protect her, and catch her, as she moves headlong toward the discovery of why crushes are called crushes.

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the watershed

I spent the day today making my little corner of the world just a little prettier.  Lillies and impatiens in the planter on my deck (with a pink flamingo, just for fun).  Herbs and strawberry plants in big pots on my kitchen patio.  Fresh water in the bird bath and fresh food in the bird feeder.  Patio furniture scrubbed, paths swept, and tiny lawn mowed.  A new rosebush planted outside my bedroom window in honor of my aunt, with pink blooms that perfectly match the lipstick shade she wore every day of her adult life.

My girls and I finished our spring cleaning yesterday by tackling Sabrina’s closet, which had become so unwieldy, it was like a scene from a film where you open the door and everything rains down on your head.  No exaggeration.  But our little home is all neat and tidy and sparkling clean now, inside and out.

A few weeks ago, these chores would have rested heavily and uncomfortably on my shoulders.  I would have felt dismal and overburdened by them.  Indeed, only a few weeks ago, I was feeling that life was a somewhat monotonous repetition of obligations, chores, and responsibilities.   I awoke in the mornings despairing of another busy day of nothing to look forward to, and climbed into bed each evening feeling frustrated, sad, and lonely in my life.   I plodded through everything quietly and determinedly, weighted down by a silent melancholy and pessimism born of a fear that I would always feel that way. 

And then, my only aunt died last week.

And that changed everything.

When I received the news on Monday night that she was in the hospital, in debilitating pain, and not expected to survive the week, I was devastated.  Her death Tuesday afternoon contained as much relief (in freeing her from her suffering) as it did grief.  The text informing me of her passing came from my young cousin, her grandson.  It reached me just as I was convening a very important meeting at work.  It said, simply, “Grandma went to heaven at 12:45 PM.  I love you.”    I’ve no clear memory of the subsequent two-hour meeting, although I’m told by colleagues that it went well.  Thank God for auto-pilot.

I spent most of Tuesday evening talking to my cousins and my mom, allowing them to hurl themselves into their grief and find some solace in our shared memories of my aunt.   Then later, an ex-boyfriend provided the same sounding board for me:  letting me remember all the best of my aunt and celebrate her life by sharing her with someone who’d never met her.  All last week, friends checked in and provided support and love in beautiful, small ways.

Last weekend, before receiving the news of my aunt, I’d enjoyed a four-day weekend and an amazing, soul-drenching visit from a high school friend I hadn’t seen in 20 years.   My friend, “Kathryn,” is someone who truly sees life as a glass half-full.  Not in the annoying Don’t-Worry-Be-Happy! way that makes me want to smack some people, but in a quiet, consistent way that makes me ashamed of my own tendency to host pity parties.  Whether it’s a rocky divorce, a professional set-back, or a romantic relationship with some pretty daunting challenges, she tackles them all with a cheerfulness and gratitude toward her life that is inspiring.

We spent the whole weekend talking, eating, reconnecting and rediscovering all the things we have in common.  We played tourist and exchanged advice and walked my dog and just marinated in the comfort of female friendship.  It was wonderful.

When I dropped her at the airport, I was sad, but buoyed by our time together.  My head was spinning with all that had been said and I could feel something dormant in me re-awakening…   And then my mom called with the news of my aunt.

But rather than undermining those good feelings from Kathryn’s visit, my aunt’s death actually built upon them.  In fact, the cascade of tears that I cried for my aunt this past week washed away all the negativity and melancholy I’d been carrying around.  It is as if my grief broke through some emotional levee and allowed a torrent of frustration and sadness and fear unrelated to my aunt’s death to be carried away along with my grief over her passing.  To my great surprise, I have emerged from my utter sadness over losing her more contented and peaceful and optimistic than I have been in many, many months.

It is a watershed.

I have stopped looking backward.  I have accepted where I am at this moment and am embracing it with a joyful and hearty hug.  I am mindful and aware of all the small, perfect things in my life right now — the softness of my sheets, the sweetness of waking up to dogs licking my hands, the way the aspens are leafing out on my drive up the canyon each morning, the softly tanning skin of my daughters, the amazing people that are my friends.  Each of these things is perfect, and I had stopped seeing them.

The irony here is that my aunt was also a glass half-full kind of person.  She saw everyone and every situation in the most flattering light.  She genuinely believed and lived by the adage that if you don’t have something nice to say, you shouldn’t say anything at all.   When life threw her a curve ball (and some of her curve balls were mind-blowingly unfair by any measure), she never asked “Why me?” but rather “Why not me?”  When offered sympathy, she would shrug and say “That’s life,” and typically recount some friend’s circumstance that was worse than her own to justify her sense of gratitude in the face of misfortune.  I’ll be honest, at times it was maddening to face her perpetual positivity, but this week I’ve remembered that she was the wiser of the two of us.  Cynicism and pessimism and anger and fear are greedy houseguests.  They leave no room or sustenance for contentment or optimism or happiness.  Being perpetually vigilant about what might next befall you or spending all your energy counting the ways that life is unfair will keep you busy, but not happy.  Definitely not happy.

Watershed moments are one of life’s small little miracles packaged as struggle or pain.  Sometimes they come in the form of job loss, or divorce, or hitting bottom with an addiction, or, as in my case, an actual death.  But regardless of the form they take, they have the capacity to shock us out of complacency or denial or fear and blow our world wide open. Sometimes the destruction is an opportunity to create something new and better; the watershed acts as a catalyst to gently resume the forward motion toward our dreams.  Other times we are incapable of seeing the opportunity before us, so busy we are staring at the closed door behind us.

I don’t believe that it is a coincidence that Kathryn visited right before my aunt passed away.  I believe that life was slapping me out of my melancholy and frustration.  I believe that it provided me with two very strong, very stark reminders of all I was missing.  I believe that each of us makes a choice how to see the world around us, and that sometimes we get lost and can’t figure out how to get back to equanimity.  And I believe that when we’re lost, life will always show us the way, if we let it.

And I believe that my aunt would agree that my new rose bush is simply perfect.

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Filed under general musings, happy endings, healing, personal growth, relationships, sadness

i’m sorry i put asians on your wall

My readers who are not also bloggers may not realize that WordPress, the web platform upon which this blog is built and maintained, provides blog authors with considerable information about how readers find our blogs, which posts they’re reading, and which parts of the world they are from. If you’re using your blog to market a service or business, this information can be very useful, indeed.  For the rest of us, it’s just interesting and, occasionally, amusing.

My personal favorite is the section that tells us which search terms, in Google or Bing or some other search engine, deposited readers on our metaphorical doorstep.  Sometimes these are logical — the search term “broken-hearted” keeps my post entitled “broken-hearted little girl” near the top of all my posts in terms of number of times read, although my “worst. sex. ever.” post is closing in fast, thanks to the searched phrase “worst sex ever”.  Apparently a lot of people out there are having really bad sex and turning to the internet for comfort….

Some more of my all-time  favorites, just for fun, along with my editorial comments:

1.  kitchen girls (Sounds like an all-girl band from the 1980’s, with teased hair and leopard-patterned mini-skirts.)

2.  sex with her was the worst ever,  and  guy I loved said I was the worst sex ever (Ya gotta wonder if these two Googlers are talking about the same experience… One word:   Ouch.)

3.  bad karma, small penis (Damn.  That’s a double whammy right there. My condolences.)

4.  gait boobs sex pic (Wow.  Sorry to disappoint, searcher.  I’m not sure what you were looking for, but I’m pretty sure it’s not on my blog.)

5.  joan rivers has an odd gait (True, perhaps, but is it precarious?)

6.  sexy kitchen (What exactly makes a kitchen sexy, anyway?  I used to be an interior designer and I never had a client ask for a sexy kitchen.  Hmmm….)

7.  love is messy any comment?  (Why yes, in fact, I have a whole blog post written on this topic.  Right this way….)

8.  woman for a day (Glad to know that I’m reaching the transgendered niche.  Welcome!)

9.  duct tape mouth (Three different people searched for this.  THREE.  Seriously?  Am I missing something?)

10.  dumb guy walking away from girl (That about sums up perhaps half of my posts.  Well done.)

11.  elvis birthday cake designs (Okay, the only valid excuse for this one is a White Trash theme party.  Honestly, people, in the name of all that is good and holy, doesn’t the man deserve to rest in peace without having “Happy Birthday Jolene” written in cheap gel frosting across his forehead? Enough already!)

12.  don’t trust a man with a suitcase (A suitcase?  Really?  This is a new one to me.  A wedding ring, sure.  A penis-compensation vehicle, absolutely.  But a suitcase?)

13.  women are my blessing and my curse (Yes, they are.  Get over it or date men.)

14.  bossy woman quotes (Excuse me?  I am not bossy! Okay, maybe a little.  Sometimes.  Oh, alright, I am.)

15.  what is meant by crickets and tumbleweeds in dis bitch (Tsk, tsk.  No need to resort to calling me names.  Besides, my blog post explains it, asshat.)

16. jolly good fellow marriage (For some reason, this one always makes me think of Dick Van Dyke tripping over that footrest and bouncing back up.  No idea why.)

17.  dear god protect my facebook friends  (Who needs a priest when you have Google?)

18.  couples therapy fake funeral (I’m not sure why you’d have a fake funeral.  Sounds painful and gut-wrenching.  Kinda like couples therapy.  Oh wait, I see the connection now…)

19.  ex wives are a nightmare (Maybe so, but a lot of ex-husbands aren’t exactly peaches, either.  And that’s why they’re exes….)

And finally, my absolute favorite:

20. i’m sorry i put asians on your wall (No problem.  I put Spaniards in your gas tank.)

I mean, really.  That’ s just plain awesome.

See, you should get a blog.  Just to see what kinds of crazy search terms people come up with.  It’s hours of entertainment.

Now, excuse me, but I have to go clean Asians off my wall.

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Filed under general musings, relationships

moments

I started my morning today with a friend who told me the story of a man she’d recently met in a local photo shop.  They started talking cameras and ended up talking about friendship.  It was one of those simple moments in which we make a connection with a perfect stranger that stays with us, even days later.  Not a romantic connection, but the kind of connection in which there is a recognition of a similar way of thinking, of a similar wanting in this world, of a similar desire for human connectedness.  Some might call it a soul connection.

As I drove to work, my mind played with the kinds of moments I’ve shared with strangers.  Some are very simple, others life-changing.  In some of those moments, I am convinced that the other person shared the experience, but in others, I suspect that I passed through their life with little impression or impact.  That doesn’t, of course, make those moments any less special to me.

Hours later, driving home from work, a song cycled through my iPhone and I was reminded of one such moment that I shared with a man, 20 years ago.  At that time I was barely 23-years-old, working in the British music industry, promoting artists to radio and television outlets.  It was late afternoon on an early summer day, and I was backstage at a radio station-sponsored charity concert, supporting one of our acts.   They finished and filed off the stage, grumbling about their performance (and granted, it wasn’t their best).  I murmured words of encouragement and offered hugs, then turned to follow them out of the stage area.  As we moved, single-file, the next band was coming on, single-file next to us in the narrow, short hallway.  From a short distance, I made eye contact with the other band’s singer.  We locked eyes, holding the gaze as he walked past me, so close I could smell him and see the flecks in his eyes.  As I passed, I craned my neck to hold his gaze, and he managed to turn himself completely around in the tight space, guitar in hand, watching me move away from him until his bandmate shoved him onto the stage.  As he struck the first chords on his guitar, my colleagues and I stepped out the door, into the blinding sunlight, and away from him.  I’d never seen him before, and I never saw him again.  But 20 years later, I still remember that moment.

Now remember, I was a young American girl in the British music industry who favored body-hugging catsuits and thigh-high boots.  Turning heads backstage was not an uncommon occurrence in those days.  But that moment was different.  Deeper.  Special somehow. What was it about him that arrested me in that moment? It wasn’t his good looks; he actually wasn’t the physical type I went for back then, and I’d never given him a second thought, despite the fact that his band was splashed all over magazines and tv in Britain at that time.  No, as I looked into his eyes, I felt something different… a pull… a desire to sit and talk to and know this person.  Likewise, in his eyes, I saw not the simple, hot, predatory hunger of lust that I was used to, but a kind of…. recognition… surprise… attraction. Later, his band skyrocketed to fame and had two gigantic hits stateside after my return.  But to me, he’s always been a pair of hazel eyes in a dim hallway.

Life is made richest by those precious, unexpected moments of connection.  Some are shared with people we already love, when we discover a new intersection of understanding or shared passion.  Others — and in many ways these are the more delightful — are shared with people we barely know.  They are reminders of interconnectedness, of the fact that we are not alone in this universe, small islands merely bumping into each other as we navigate the physical world.

I have very few of these moments these days.  My life is so constructed as to limit the opportunities for me to meet new and dynamic people.   Sometimes when I think of how many of those moments I experienced in my 20’s, I want to go back and shake that young woman.  I want to tell her how much rarer those moments become as we age.  I want to yell at her to turn around and talk to that young man backstage, to wait for his set to end and him to come find her.  I want to inform her that those are the moments that change our lives.

Then again, my life in my 20’s was very different.  When I was living in England, I was surrounded by artists of all kinds — musicians, actors, painters.  Their way of looking at the world challenged me and pushed the limits of my creativity.  I spent most nights in nightclubs and recording studios, often not arriving home until noon the next day.  When I gave that up, I plunged myself headfirst into law school.  Again, I was surrounded by people who pushed me, scared me with their intellect, and forced me to debate and defend my beliefs.  Those two periods of my life were very different in so many ways, but shared a vital similarity:  I was open and curious and hungry for the world around me in my 20’s.

In some ways, I am still that young girl.  I am still emotionally and intellectually curious.  I am still intrigued and arrested by dynamic people who can blow me away in one fashion or another.  But age has bred caution, and knowledge, and a certain disappointment in human limitations.

Even so, every once in a while, I am still blessed with one of those perfect moments.  And now, the awareness of their rarity makes them all more sweeter.

Someone asked me today what I want most right now.

Moments.  I want moments.

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Filed under friendships, general musings, happy endings, love, personal growth, relationships, single mom

the release valve

I encountered a small problem at work recently that left me stumped.  The nutshell version is that I needed an accurate map of our town, showing town borders, property lines, street names, and address numbers, and only those things.  Without this map, a massive project that I’ve been working on for months could end up unraveling at a pivotal point.

Given that I work in town administration, you might think that obtaining such a map would be fairly easy.  But, no.  This is a very small town with very limited resources and we had no such map.  We had other maps, lots and lots of other maps, but not a map like this.  I was beginning to quietly panic. I had to have this map, and I had to have it by next Tuesday.

And then I was reminded that when we are kind to people, it usually comes back to us tenfold.

A colleague of mine, whom I’ll call “Todd,” arrived in the office a bit ago, with a big smile on his face.  “Hey, T,” he called out, “I have something for you!”  Now, there are only 7 of us working here (ten, actually, if you include my colleague’s adorable 3-month-old baby boy who comes to work with her every day and the 2 dogs that serve as “canine ambassadors” to members of the community who stop by).  Most of us crowded into the break room to see what had our normally recalcitrant Todd sounding so buoyant.

With a flourish, Todd handed me a large, rolled up paper.  I looked at him, with his shit-eating grin on his face, and frantically opened the bundle as if I were about to discover the Superstar Barbie I’d begged for at age 8.  And there it was.  In all it’s glory.

My simple, perfect map.

Me:  “How….?  Where…..?”

Todd:  “Will and I sat down yesterday and played with the software and figured it out.  I knew you needed it.  It took us a couple of hours, and it’s not been fully-proofed, but I feel pretty sure it’ll be accurate.  I went to Kinko’s this morning and got it enlarged for you.”

I honestly did not know what to say.  Todd is currently cramming to get things done so he can take off for a much-deserved vacation.  He absolutely did not have the time to do this for me.  And Will isn’t even employed by the town anymore.  I’d noticed that he was in the office yesterday, but hadn’t thought anything of it.  After thanking Todd profusely, I had to retreat to my office because I honestly thought I might cry.

Right now I am shouldering more stress and fear and moments of panic than I have in almost 20 years.  There are financial pressures that are weighing heavily on me, employment concerns that come with the territory when you work in a political job, and middle school looming for my overly-sensitive eldest daughter.  Add to that an ex-boyfriend who has showed up with no apparent intention other than to wreak further emotional havoc on my life, and you can probably understand that I’m feeling pretty lost and lonely and overwhelmed and unsupported right now.  It happens.  It’s life.  But it still sucks.

But it is also in those moments when we most realize our value to the people around us, the ways that we are connected and care for and about each other.  I drove to work this morning, reminding myself that I have friends I can turn to.  Annie will listen to me cry.  K.C. will give me or loan me any money I’d ever need.  Katrina will keep me company so I’m not lonely and panicked.  I don’t have to shoulder everything alone, always.  I don’t have to be a strong, together, poised woman every. single. minute.  I am allowed to be weak, and scared, and uncertain sometimes.  We all are.  None of us are superheroes.  Sometimes we have to ask for help, for friendship, for support.

I hadn’t asked Todd for his help, but he gave it anyway, and I know why.  Back in January, at a drunken going-away party for another colleague, Todd confided in me that he is in love with a woman 2,000 miles away and he is, frankly, heartsick over her.  Since then, I have listened when I didn’t have the time, and inquired how he’s doing when I could tell he needed to talk, and encouraged and supported their tentative steps to creating a relationship against the odds.  They are small things, to be sure, but when you’re in that space, is there anything better than knowing that someone cares, just a little bit?

That’s why he made me my map, I am sure of it.  To let me know that he appreciates me, too.

Sometimes a small, random act of kindness like that serves as a release valve for the pressure you’re feeling.  Locked in the crucible of a stressful situation, it’s easy to feel that something has to give — and fast — or you’re going to quietly explode.  But then a friend comes along and offers a hug or a favor or a word of encouragement and it’s just enough to release some of that force that’s pressing in on you.  And life goes on.  And somehow we muddle through.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to go give Todd a big hug before he leaves on his vacation.

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Filed under friendships, general musings, relationships, single mom, work

the dream house that nearly was

I spent the day today with a friend who is looking for a new home for himself and his kids.  The home he currently lives in is very beautiful and suits him perfectly, but he was forced to sell it in his divorce settlement, so at some point in the not distant future, he and his children will need a new home.

Property in our area is quite expensive, so our scouting expedition took us practically the entire length and breadth of our county, plus some short forays into neighboring counties.  We climbed roads accessible only by 4×4 vehicles.  We rode switchbacks that made me carsick.  We got out and walked through high prairie scrub to views that were truly breathtaking.   And then we’d get back in the truck and keep looking.

Last month he had a contract on a house that, almost as soon as I saw it, I pictured him comfortably in it.  He withdrew the contract because the house — once owned by the infamous “Marlboro Man” of advertising history —  is seriously dilapidated.  Too unique and perfect in some regards to simply scrape, it would require mountains of cash and construction expertise to rehabilitate.  Even so, there is something about the property — the  house, the barns, the trees, the views all the way to the Back Range of the Rockies — that makes me think he may yet wind up there.

The interesting thing about making these drives with him is that I have watched him building new dreams, post-divorce.  The house he lives in now was a boring, dark ranch-model home when he bought it for his then-new family.  He lovingly turned it into a dream house, complete with a man-made freshwater pond in the backyard for swimming and a giant deck for entertaining.  But that home is no longer his, and his family is no longer what it was.

Over the last year or so since we’ve been looking at properties together, I’ve watched him become increasingly comfortable with the idea of letting go of his current home and starting afresh.  I watch him survey a prospective piece of land or house, his arm arching the sky, describing what he’d build and how it would look.  I can see the memories he’s imagining that he and his children will make in each place.  I observe him moving forward, onward.

On our drive today, we passed a large farmhouse that is probably close to 100-years-old.  It sits solidly on its flat lot East of the foothills, facing the looming mountains across its fields.  The trees surrounding it are large, probably nearing the end of their lifespan, and the house itself has seen better days.  But it is solid.  It has, as we like to say, “good bones.”  As we motored past, I stared at it wistfully.  Renovating an old farmhouse was something I’d always dreamed of, and it was one of those dreams that seemed attainable, especially after I started my own interior design business.  I think I always kind of thought that someday my ex-husband and I would do that together, and then grow old in that mythical house, with grandchildren running about the yard.

But it turns out that Bryce never really liked home improvement projects much, and so that work fell to me.   And now, given my markedly different financial situation, the likelihood of my ever having a little farmhouse to renovate is decidely slim.  That dream  is yet another casualty of my divorce.

Rolling along today in the sunshine, I experienced a moment of deep melancholy.  Perhaps that is the most difficult part of divorce — relinquishing dreams that you held so dear, some of which were so close, but only just out of your grasp.  Some of those dreams are huge and profound — like the idea of celebrating a 50th anniversary with your partner for life — while others are simpler and smaller — like being able to sit together as one family at your daughter’s wedding.  But big or small, they are the dreams that we pin our hopes to, hitch our stars to, and throw ourselves headlong into life in order to —  just maybe! —  grasp them.

I think sometimes we don’t even realize that the dream is gone, until it suddenly hits us on a sunny spring afternoon, with the truck kicking up dust on the unpaved road.  As I craned my neck to look back at the farmhouse, I silently said goodbye to yet another small dream from my hope chest that slipped quietly away when I was wasn’t looking.

It’s easy to hold too tightly to those dreams that evaporate when we divorce.  We could spend years, or even a lifetime, looking back on what was lost.  But in doing so, we lose all possibility for creating new dreams and chasing those down. I had to remind myself of that as the road turned and I lost sight of that old farmhouse today.  There’s no use looking back and pining for what might have been.  Not when I could use that energy to manifest dreams that are possible on the road in front of me.

I asked my friend once if he was going to be sad to leave the house he’d built as his dream home for his family.  He was quiet for a just moment, and then he said, “Sure.  I’ll probably cry like a baby.  But then I’ll move on.  Because that’s over, isn’t it?”

Indeed.

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Filed under divorce, general musings, healing, relationships, sadness