three things: 2/4/17

FEED: Franz Kline is usually thought of as a black and white painter (and in fact, one of my favorite of his paintings is black and white, I’ll show you after I show you this one), but he did some magnificent paintings with brilliant color. This one just dazzles my brain cells and makes me so happy.

I can’t find the title of this painting anywhere

See how important the grays are to the success of that painting? The brown slashes, the spits of charcoal? And the potency of those primary colors, the pureness of that red, that yellow, colors unresolvable to anything but themselves. Prime colors, I guess.

And here is the black and white one I love so much — it hangs at MoMA, and I took a selfie with it last Wednesday. I’m honestly not sure why I love it so much, but that doesn’t matter. Whenever I see it, my pulse quickens.

“Painting Number 2,” 1954, Franz Kline

SEED: SO! Anchoring the idea of ‘slow’ in my mind has been very helpful. I had just become so tizzified, so terrified, so frantic in my mind, and while I was extremely active during that period and not simply frantic, it was hard going. It was draining, exhausting, and I worried that like so many of my friends, I would get sick because of it. Because it’s true: so many of us are getting sick. Not just susceptible to colds, etc., and not just drifting into despair, but full-on sick. Unable to get out of bed, or to stay out of bed for long. I worried that would happen to me, too, given the intensity of my frantic tizzy.

What we’re doing is having an effect. Learning that has helped, too. It’s easy to feel helpless in the face of a tyrant and his administration who are willing to overturn all the rules to do whatever they want, and who are fed by a man whose stated mission is to destroy the country, but what we are doing, we in the resistance, is having an effect. That helps.

June 28, 1969

I’m making three phone calls a day. I’m monitoring the actions of Congress and following exactly what our elected representatives are doing, how they’re caving or resisting, and keeping notes because we are going to have to elect new representatives, that has become clear. I’m reshaping my social world to include more women who are fighting alongside me, and letting go those whose votes have brought this world into being. I’m noting and scheduling into my calendar every possible march and protest, and attending them. Today, for instance, is the LGBT rally at Stonewall, which is the birthplace of the gay rights movement in this country. Read the history here. I can’t wait to stand alongside everyone at that rally. Those experiences energize me and keep me able to fight and persist.

I’m going on Facebook only in the morning, for no more than half an hour, and my posts are now more pointed. Less hysterical. And I try to include at least one thing to give us a smile, we in the resistance who need a smile so desperately. Fight on, sisters, we will prevail. Slow news, slow thoughtfulness, slow reshaping of your world to help you fight.

Required reading for every American

READBetween the World and Me is as good as the reviews and press have claimed, and it’s very hard to read. Not in the sentences — the sentences and prose are quite good, evocative, clear, powerful, hard. But it’s very hard to read because of the truth of it, and the resulting overwhelm. I have participated in Black Lives Matter marches and rallies, and I’ve stood there knowing that I don’t and can’t know what it is to be black, but ready to try to know, and to fight. I’ve fought with people who tell the lie that “all lives matter,” always with bewilderment. WHEN black lives matter, THEN all lives will matter. And right now black lives don’t matter. The thing that is so difficult about Between the World and Me is that he does such a good job of showing the complete pervasiveness of racism. The murderous cops aren’t even the problem; it’s the society that invests them with the right, the history that endows them with the purpose. It’s like dropping some ink into a vessel of water, and when it’s completely dispersed, trying to pull out the ink. You can’t. The water is permanently changed. Our very ground is built on the racist murder of black bodies, our wealth, our heritage, our worldviews, and I’m left having no idea how we change this. I’m about 60% of the way through the book so I hope Coates offers some ideas, although it’s also up to me to find ideas.

One point Coates makes so poignantly is that slavery is not a thing, it is personal. It’s a specific woman who had a specific life, and who had hopes and thoughts. It’s a specific man, a specific child, a specific family, all with names and bodies. (Eric Reidy makes a similar point about refugees in this must-read piece.) It’s easy to paint with a flat brush and talk about the “institution” of slavery, but that erases all the lives of those enslaved people. In this country, we enslaved black people for 250 years. They have not yet been free for that many years.

At the giant march and rally last Sunday that started at Battery Park, within sight of the Statue of Liberty, I stood among tens of thousands of people of all hues of skin color, most of whom were holding signs about the anti-Muslim ban. And I stood next to a black woman. I wondered if she felt betrayed, because where are the crowds of this size rallying against the ongoing murder of black people for the crime of being black, for driving, for walking, for holding their hands up in the air when demanded? Yes, some white people march and rally, but in small groups, and only after the most egregious of murders. But innocent murder is innocent murder is innocent murder, and we just aren’t responding the same way for black lives — because we shrug. And we too-quickly think well, the police force has problemsThe problem is with police training, etc etc etc. Maybe we allow ourselves to think that because at some level we know how vast the problem is and in the face of that overwhelm, it’s easier just to point at the symptom.

As I’m reading, I find myself thinking Yes, this is terrible and we have to do something but right now the whole place is going up in flames and so for right now we just need to….. X….Y…..Z. And that’s not completely untrue, but at the same time it’s a part of the complexity of our country, a country filled with enough nasty voters to bring the new administration into power, and so it’s another piece we need to understand. Read Between the World and MeYou will be uncomfortable, and we all should be.

I agree with Bannon about one thing: this country does need to be destroyed started over. We do need to do that. Of course I differ with him completely on the methods and what the reboot would look like, but what we have become—and it’s a direct arrow from where and how we began—is deadly and terrible.

BONUS: Check out this link, a crowd-sourced collection of relevant books, movies, TV, podcasts, and other things (including some under the category of “escapism”) that will help us all at this particular cultural and political moment. I found lots of good stuff, and I imagine you will, too.

four things: 1/4/17

1)   When you are trained to do research, you learn to “operationalize the variables.” What exactly do you mean by a term, in measurable detail? What score, what specific behaviors, what specific frequency, etc.? Maybe “depression” means “at least 6 items on this 10-item list within the last two weeks” or “a score of 70+ on the Depression Scale.” It’s the bringing-down-to-earth of lofty questions to answerable definitions, and it usually drives the interesting right out. You start off wanting to study big things, like why some people survive, and by the time the variables are operationalized, you’ve got 18-year-old college freshmen sitting in lab rooms stacking pennies against a timer, or something. Still, not to throw the baby out with the bathwater, I saw this and after my initial positive impulse I realized I could operationalize these variables! Here we go!

Stop doing shit I hate: a quick and simple ‘no thanks’ works! I’ve been getting better at this, especially since I learned that it’s best not to give a reason (which just invites a counter-expectation and then a trapped feeling). No, I can’t, thanks for the invitation I hope you have fun! My friend Deb says, “Apologies, that’s not going to work for me” and just keeps going. It really disrupts the excuse paradigm, and people just say OK. Since my time in Austin is so limited, I can (with flexibility) choose how many things I have time to do during an Austin time, and then only say yes to that number. It’ll mean saying no more often, but that would be good for me because I end up feeling overwhelmed by trying to squeeze everything in, leaving me little time just to myself — which is important, because the whole time I’m in NY I don’t have a moment of silence for myself.

Love my body more: Four words: daily moisturizing, morning/night. I’d like to add ‘shutting down talking smack about myself’ but (a) I’m already getting better at that and (b) I want to operationalize this, make it simple and schedule-able. Who knows, once I get used to this one and it’s habit, I might add in all kinds of operationalized ways to love my body more. And then I might end up really loving it. 🙂

Love louder: I did this great 40-day project a few years ago that included a morning email, one each morning, to a different person telling them what they meant to me. That’s a way to love louder, tell people why you love them, what they mean to you. It shocks the hell out of them when they get it. Someone turned around and wrote one back to me and it shocked the hell out of me! I sat down and made my list, first, and then the email just took me a few minutes each morning. And the best thing was that it also started my own day off so wonderfully — a two-fer. That’s one way I can love louder, and it can go right into my calendar. “Love louder, check!”

Anyway, that’s the general idea. Specifics, measurable, broken down to a checklist-type action. You might also see this kind of thing and think yeah, I want that but then you get up the next day and it’s another old day. Operationalize! Bring it down to specific actions.

2) On being a Scheduler-Deluxe. Well, shoot. So I have these Excel Spreadsheet TendenciesTM that start off with the best, most orderly intentions of Fitting More Into My Day/Life. (Also TM.) I want to see all my people, read more books, do daily activism (fight the power! down with the man! fuck trump!!), love louder, exercise, write my book every day, etc etc etc. My first impulse is to create a spreadsheet….no wait, one for each day of the week! An Excel book of seven spreadsheets, each tab a unique color! And as long as I’m doing that, set it up like a calendar, in hour-slots….no wait, half-hour….15 minute slots! And then I can just put these things in so it all gets done! (And as long as I’m doing that, I can add in food/weight/exercise/stats and then connect them to charts and graphs on a separate sheet, and I can analyze….) When I was 18, I worked for a consulting firm that required us to log our time in 6-minute slots, and we all complained bitterly — “8:06-8:12 went to the damn bathroom.” Maybe that’s the origin of my tendencies, but the bad thing is that they start with good intentions and it’s just too much, too tight, and so of course I bail pretty quickly.

THIS. I DO THIS.

I’m not going to do this. This is ridiculous. When I was in college, I was a research assistant to this beautiful woman from India, Preeti, who wrote by hand on a legal pad everything she needed to do, task-focused, crossing them off when she finished. The next day, she drew a strong line and then recopied the undone ones and added new ones. It was a lot of recopying — very inefficient, unlike a good spreadsheet! — but maybe something about handwriting a thing over and over makes you finally get sick enough of it to do the damn thing. Maybe I’ll try something like that. Given the full-on failure of my memory at this stage of my life, I have to write down what I want to do, or I won’t remember I want to do it. I aspire to bullet journaling but it feels overwhelming to learn how. I can just sketch out a week by hand in my beautiful moleskine and then simply list the week’s to-dos in a more normal way. Just be more normal, Queen, sheesh. My planning impulse (born of and reinforced by my years in college and graduate school while raising three kids) is so automatic, my mind is spinning with ways to approach this. Sunday evenings, plan my week so it’s humane and I get done the things I want to get done, on purpose. Do you have a way that works for you? I’m running out of time to just drift through my days.

3) This morning I’m going to the quiet morning at MoMA and I intend to be slow, still, quiet, fully present. Which means that, at a bare minimum, I’m going to silence my phone and leave it in my purse. It might mean that I even leave it at home, although after days of rainy, gloomy, truly miserable weather, it’s supposed to be a bit more blue-skied, and so I might wander home through Central Park afterwards, and want to take some photos. Anyway. Slow, quiet, art, meditation, silence, MoMA, a sure-fire cure for the blues, at least in those precious 15-minute segments. 🙂 When I lived here full-time, I always had a membership to MoMA and I sometimes walked there on my lunch break when I worked at Oxford University Press, always giddy that I COULD WALK THERE ON MY LUNCH BREAK. I’m so grateful to get to be in NYC on such a regular basis, grateful to Marc for making it happen in all the ways he does.

4) I love Lucille Clifton:

each morninig i pull myself
out of despair

from a night of coals and a tongue
blistered with smiling

the step past the mother bed
is a high step

the walk through the widow’s door
is a long walk

and who are those voices calling
from every mirrored thing

say it coward say it

rumbles

Tectonic plates shifting, that’s the image I keep getting as I think quietly about this change I feel — a change you aren’t aware of, but you are if you come back here to see if I’ve posted and then see that I haven’t. For people with my particular struggle, going dark like this might mean depression is lurking around in the dark corners, but this has nothing whatever to do with depression. And thank heavens for that. I mean it, I’m so grateful not to be depressed.

Instead, I’ve been going through a tremendous shift that has very much to do with telling on/about myself. It has mattered to me a lot to tell my own story, which I’ve done relentlessly for more than a decade, now; I can’t remember exactly when I started blogging, but it was in the LiveJournal days….oh, wow. Anything you want, and everything you’ve ever done, can be found online, and I just found mine. I started my LiveJournal on March 3, 2004 (here’s my profile, wow, that’s amazing, and my posts here). No need to look at the posts, because they cover the same major themes and topics back then that I still write about. My kids and I all started them at the same time, because the girls were off in college and we figured it was a way we could easily keep up with each others’ lives, and then when we spoke on the phone we could talk about the big stuff, with the little stuff already shared and covered.

Writing like this stuck with me, and I moved away from LiveJournal to a blog called Out of a Stormy Sleep, which I then transitioned over to Thrums, and had to hide that one because of the creepy stalker who sued me, so I came here, to my pillbug palace. I’ve said everything I have to say, over and over and over and over and over.

But that isn’t why I’ve been quiet — because God knows, the mere fact that I’ve already said something several times didn’t stop me any of those instances, right? I’ll say it again. Instead, I’m having a big shift to wanting to hold my own thoughts and experiences for myself, and to share them in a different way, a closer way, a more personal way.

This change also goes along with another shift involving other people. I kind of atomize myself and spray outwards, falling on anyone who will accept my presence. I have a lot of friends in Austin, and that’s great, but it feels unwieldy, it feels like I can’t keep up, and because I’m gone so much, the connections remain relatively shallow. My “book club” has disintegrated because really, almost none of them wanted to read books, and absolutely not the books I want to read. Without that central pole of “book club” holding us together, I think we’ve drifted apart into our friend-pairs and that’s a change — but one that goes with this deeper change I’m feeling, too.

As autumn approaches, a time that feels more focused and ‘serious,’ the mindful focus I’ve been working on the last couple of years turns toward my social connections, and by extension, toward the way I share myself. I do want a book club, but this time I will create one from a thoughtful place instead of “hey I want a book club, everyone in the pool who wants in!” And to be fair, when I first moved to Austin and had to create a world from scratch, and didn’t know anyone other than my kids, I did the best I could — and my poetry group worked out beautifully.

And so I will be letting a bunch of acquaintances continue to drift away in their own streams and I’ll dig my own stream a bit deeper. I’ll share myself more discriminantly, not with groups (with one exception), but instead with a few very good friends and thus deepen those relationships. That just sounds so good, and less frantic.

I’m not sure what it means for this blog. I’m certainly not shutting it down, and I’m not making any claims for what I will and won’t be doing with it. I’m also feeling kind of social-media-fractured, between Instagram where I love sharing photos, and Facebook where I love sharing funny or moving things, or recommendations, and Goodreads, where I loving keeping notes on books I read. And in all those cases, I really enjoy friends’ photos, and friends’ posts.

Mostly, I’m leaving this post here by way of explanation. I’m still here and will still be here, I’m just shifting things around and trying to figure things out. Some of my friends are so far away I only share my life and keep up with theirs in this online way, and to lose these forms would be to lose those connections…..and that feels like a loss I want to avoid.

Anyway. Still here, still changing, still figuring it all out. xoxo

silence and thinking

So obviously I’m having a hard time coming here to write. I think the truth is that I’m in a bit of discomfort with an unexpected consequence of the changes I made more than a year ago. Most of the consequences have been remarkable, and positive, and self-reinforcing. But you know what’s really weird? The quiet inside me doesn’t feel uniformly good. Maybe that shouldn’t be surprising — nothing is uniformly one thing — but still, it surprises me.

I’ve been waiting, letting this discomfort be, because for all I know it’s just that I’m not used to peace! I’m not, that’s true. So prolonged periods of peace and quiet make my nerve endings start to itch just a little bit. I don’t want to stir up trouble, it isn’t that; it’s more like I’m waiting for that shoe to drop, the one that hangs over my head like a piano dangling on a hair-width thread. I’ve been just letting this discomfort be as I adjust to this new version of normal. Of course the shoe drops in everyone’s life, and it will drop again in mine, and that is just the truth of the world. Just like breathing, and loving, and laughing.

Another aspect of it is that inner quiet, in my life’s experience, has come along with the black dog of depression. One version of it brings a blank mind, a blank heart, that kind of bleak emptiness that isn’t the huge pain of other versions, but is its own kind of pain. I’m not depressed, but that quiet has always been part of that depression — so I have also been just letting it be so I can learn a new association with it, break the link that inner quiet EQUALS depression. I wondered if, with enough time, I wouldn’t still have that whispered wondering . . . no, my quiet is just quiet. It isn’t that depression is slouching around in the corners. It’s just quiet.

And maybe it’s also just so incredibly new, even as it’s been part of my inner make-up for just over a year now. So in a 57-year life, one year has been quiet inside, but the other 56 were thrashing! I have so much experience with a frenzied inner life, a racing mind, and only one year of experience with this quiet. Just because it’s generally good, that doesn’t mean it’s immediately and happily incorporated. It’s like walking around with a quiet little pea in my shoe.

So I feel unsettled a little bit. I still feel suspicious of it, a little bit. I frown, turn my head slightly and squint my eyes out of the left corner as if I can get a closer look. What is this? My old-style thoughts arise, thoughts I have neurotically chased around trees, around and around and around, but they now seem obvious, already understood, trivial, temporary, unimportant, whatever. Bubbles.

I have a couple of little thoughts to share, recommendations, etc., so here goes:

  • Make this recipe immediately. Use fresh corn on the cob if it’s available — in a pinch you can use frozen, if it’s winter for instance, but the fresh corn really makes it. Fresh lime juice. Good avocados. Cilantro. Red peppers. Olive oil. Black beans. Garlic and shallots. My goodness. Everyone I make it for goes nuts for it (not my recipe, I just follow the instructions), and it’s so so easy to make. You can also add some sliced cherry tomatoes if you like, I’ve done that and it’s good, but all the variations I’ve tried have not improved the original recipe. I’m not even a fan of red bell pepper but it’s so great in this recipe. Dang. And yum.
  • I always feel a bit anxious saying something about “who I am” because it might just be my little fantasy of who I am, and maybe your eyes will grow wide and you’ll think, seriously?? You are the opposite of that! I thought about this when I saw a man I know post something on Facebook about how being a gentleman is a matter of choice, and he makes that choice every day. Eyes wide, right here. I met him when I first moved to Austin and was as devastated as I could be. We met in a social group and he started hitting on me, HARD, and I told him I was only looking for friends, absolutely nothing more. He agreed and said he was too, and then he went right back to groping me. And every time we were in the same space he groped me. Once he just showed up at my house uninvited and unannounced. Perhaps we just have different meanings for that word. (But seriously, if I ever do that, just nudge me and say, “eyes wide right here” or something.)
a glimpse of the timeline view
a glimpse of the timeline view
  • I have a fabulous gratitude app to recommend! It’s called DayOne, and it’s free, and I’ve used it for the last 229 days, ever since Laura recommended it to me. I loved the old one I used, but the site closed down. One thing I love about DayOne is that, since it’s a phone app, you have the ease of adding a photo to each day’s entry. The photo doesn’t necessarily have to be the thing you’re noting gratitude for, of course (took me a long time to realize that, silly). You can also tag each entry, so if, for instance, I want to see all the posts I’ve written noting gratitude for Katie, I can tap that tag and see them one after another. It’s fantastic, no kidding.

My bad tummy the whole time in NYC was probably due to the fact that I ate 30 pounds of Marc’s amazing homemade pickles. Plus two pounds of his gravlax. And otherwise, I ate nothing but enormous raw salads — his Greek salad three times, huge chunks of cucumbers and tomatoes and onions, with dill and pepperoncinis and olive oil and kalamatas, and feta; his amazing Caesar salad twice, with homemade dressing, that coddled egg, lots of garlic, and fresh parmigiana, and anchovy, and olive oil. Morning green smoothies, yeah, but otherwise it was just lots and lots of cucumbers in various forms. (Seriously, I ate 30 pounds of pickles. I’m not kidding about that.)

Aside from that, here are a few pictures of the last few days of my life:

driving home from Dallas under that huge blue sky
I just never, ever get tired of a Texas sky. Never.
after all the pickles, it’s a relief to juice — this was carrots, cucumbers, celery, ginger, strawberries, and a dash of turmeric.
the reason for my quick round-trip to Dallas — lunch with my beautiful, dear Dixie and her daughter and grandchildren. Plus her husband, taking the picture, and her father-in-law. It was a table full of beauty. (And aren’t I a giant?)

OK, so HI, I’ve missed you, I’ve missed wanting and needing to write, and I hope you’re having a good Saturday. Hope to write again soon. xoxoxoxoL

contradictions

Time to snip the tiniest little bit from Leaves of Grass (go here to read it in full if you don’t own a copy, but I recommend you have your own copy — with you, always):

Do I contradict myself?
Very well then I contradict myself,
(I am large, I contain multitudes.)

Even though I love this poem, and this bit of it specifically, and even though I believe it as one of the truest things I know, I still struggle to remember it, because my multitudes frequently contradict each other and pull at me and my sense of identity: I’m this. I’m that. No wait, I’m this.

blue moonThe evening of the blue moon, I had an extraordinary experience and I’m not sure how to talk about it. I’m not even sure of the meaning yet, so I’m not ready to talk about that aspect either. But essentially it was a deeply spiritual experience, and it required me to be open to the world in a specific way that has sadly become uncomfortable to me since I entered my PhD program back in 2000. It was led by a friend of mine who has strong Native American Alaska Athabascan heritage, and it drew, I believe, on many of the rituals and songs of her culture. Her incredible use of her drum and rattles, and burning sage, and whooshing wind from a feather fan, and her amazingly strong voice singing and calling — all while our eyes were covered as we sat outside in the dark — was disorienting and deeply personal and moving.

As I drove home later, thinking about everything that had happened within me, I was trying to reconcile being a logical, rational person trained in the scientific method, and a spiritual person open to the larger world that goes far beyond that. I found myself thinking, “Oh, I’ll be that flowing spiritual person.” [silly] The funny thing is that I have no problem appreciating the flowing-together of science and spirituality. Richard Feynman said,

I have a friend who’s an artist…He’ll hold up a flower and say…”I as an artist can see how beautiful this is but you as a scientist take this all apart and it becomes a dull thing,” and I think that he’s kind of nutty…I can appreciate the beauty of a flower. At the same time, I see much more…I could imagine the cells in there, the complicated actions inside, which also have a beauty… The fact that the colors in the flower evolved in order to attract insects to pollinate it is interesting; it means that insects can see the color…the science knowledge only adds to the excitement, the mystery and the awe of a flower. It only adds.

I believe that! With all my heart! It’s my own very regular experience, even. I’m not sure why my default automatic response is to insist on either-or categories, when a moment’s reflection reminds me that there are so few absolutes I believe in that I can’t even think of one at the moment.

It’s funny how my mind moves out to the superficial when I encounter a conflict like this — kind of ‘presentation of self’ stuff. I’m pretty smart and thoughtful and love talking about big things, love extremely intelligent people, and feel most comfortable there. So when I came face to face with my openness to a more spiritual world, my superficial thoughts were about how to dress. Loose, flowy, specific jewelry and hair vs more tailored. Isn’t that silly? I think it’s just a top-level entry to bringing myself to thinking about how these different ways of approaching the world can live together in a deeper way. My kind of clothes with specific jewelry and hair. Rational and intelligent and scientifically minded and open and understanding Big Things that you come to through ritual and guides.

One clear thing that happened in that experience kind of cracked my heart, and I can talk about it. So very clearly I saw that I’m a tightly closed person, tense, scared. It surprised me (and it surprised me how true it is) because this is an area in which I have grown  so much. When I started therapy in New York back in 2005, my primary goal was to stop being a terrified person in the world. So when you are at, say, 0% of something, 50% looks amazingso dazzling you can hardly believe it. But it’s only 50%, it’s not time to stop. I have a lot of opening to do. I have a lot of guards to let down.

Perhaps my friends and loved ones would argue with me, no, you’re not closed, you’re open. But maybe they wouldn’t (except for Dixie of course, who loves me with soul-filled eyes and heart). Maybe they’re aware of my tightly guarded borders. Luckily I have people in my life who model the very parts of myself I’m struggling to become and remain open to. We’re all our own unique combination of bits, and contradictions, and so none of my models have the same amalgam of things I do, but that’s more than fine.

Thanks, beautiful blue moon, and thank you, my friend, and there’s nothing to wait for anymore. Time to do it.

[embedplusvideo height=”350″ width=”604″ editlink=”http://bit.ly/1JXYemY” standard=”http://www.youtube.com/v/dqwSde_eEv4?fs=1″ vars=”ytid=dqwSde_eEv4&width=604&height=350&start=&stop=&rs=w&hd=0&autoplay=0&react=1&chapters=&notes=” id=”ep5292″ /]

“be a person who”

Zoolander always makes me think of my son
Zoolander always makes me think of my son

I know this is a regular theme of mine, but it amazes me so much I keep finding my way to a surprised reflection on it: I hardly recognize myself.

  • I exercise every single day, at least once — yoga and/or walking and/or strength training.
  • I am a vegetarian (though when I’m in NYC and my husband cooks, it’s hard hard hard).
  • I have a tan. (The least important of these changes, but the most remarkable for eternally lily-white me. This is mostly due to my ease with my body, now, so my willingness to be outside in a bathing suit.) (Plus, I think the daily dose of sun has been great for my spirits.)
  • I start every day with a green smoothie, and now I also have a juicer.
  • I meditate regularly.
  • And then these two, which are in a different category but all of a piece with the whole:
    • I’m not motivated to hide my smarts any more.
    • I have more friends than I have time to be with, and a rich social life.

NONE of that was ever true for me, ever. Ever. Not once in my 56 years of life. In fact, the inverse of those things has been true. It’s so weird, and since I think a lot about change, I’m kind of fascinated by how it has happened — especially since it has stuck for an uninterrupted year, and the changes are expanding, and my very sense of myself has changed.

Jeff, my VERY sweet and deeply thoughtful health coach
Jeff, my VERY sweet and deeply thoughtful health coach

It’s easy to say that my food-related shifts are due to working with Jeff, my health coach, but he would insist — and I’d have to agree, now — that he facilitated something I was really ready to do. I’d become so overwhelmed and frustrated and anxious about everything having to do with food, I had no idea how to eat any more, and I was tired of yo-yoing. Up 50 lbs, down 50 lbs, repeat. Just so tired of that. And with eight little words from him, everything changed: You can eat ALL the fruits and vegetables. Of course it was more than that, it was having him to talk to about it, and even just deciding to pay someone to help me with it, but that eight-word sentence started a shift.

I think if I’d just “decided to become a vegetarian,” I might’ve done that for a while and then drifted back to unhealthy eating, my life-long M.O. But then, once that change was underway, I was a vegetarian who also started each day with a green smoothie. A person who bought a VitaMix. A person who stopped at JuiceLand for a treat, instead of the grocery store for a pint of ice cream. (Though on occasion it’s still a treat!) In talking with Jeff about health in general, I started moving more, I got off the couch. I finally listened to my own self — Lori, you love yoga, just do some damn yoga. And after a bit, I bought myself a very nice yoga mat and some blocks. And after a few weeks of using a free app on my phone for yoga routines, I signed up for YogaGlo, an inexpensive monthly subscription to hundreds of online classes. Well, by this time I was a person who ate all the fruits and vegetables, started the day with a green smoothie, did yoga, and then I started walking more regularly.

All those incremental shifts accumulated and settled into place, and became habit. I grew into a person who did those things. A person whose life held those habits. And when you’re a person with those habits, other habits make great sense and fall into place more easily. Now I’m also a person who owns a juicer! I’m about to become a person who bicycles, as soon as I find a bike. Now I’m a person who lives a healthy, conscious, engaged life.

And so I’m wondering about this construct, “being a person who….”. I wonder if change happens more deeply if we have a different view of ourselves as a person, so perhaps a kind of top-down shift. (Although my shift was definitely bottom-up, beginning with one tiny change that collected others in the neighborhood.) Maybe the issue is that once that top-down understanding has arrived, the rest is easy and the change is permanent. I no longer feel like I’m resisting my old self — a feeling I had for several months as I started making these small changes.

Maybe you want to be “a person who makes a difference in the world.” Maybe you want to be “a person whose life is creative.” Or “a person who draws people together for art/music/poetry.” I don’t know, I’m just brainstorming. But I wonder about this; would it be different if you signed up to volunteer somewhere as opposed to wanting to be “a person who makes a difference in the world” — and then perhaps signs up to volunteer somewhere? Maybe your own understanding of what you’re doing would matter, would help you persist through disappointment or frustration.

If you aren’t all that happy with the way you’re living your life — and let’s just say in this general domain, for the sake of discussion — what would it mean to you to be a person who lived a healthy life? It might look very different from my version. I wonder if starting with that question and then just plucking different elements to work with would be helpful? Hmmm. I think I’ll do that with myself on another topic, now that I think about it. So I think this becomes less about change, and more about growth.

I remember when I was staying at home with baby Katie, and one day as I was making the beds and planning to clean bathrooms, I thought, so this is my life, making beds and cleaning bathrooms — but immediately after that I realized no, my life is making a cozy home for my dear family. The big-picture view instead of the foot-level view.

Anyway. If you live in Austin and know someone who wants to sell a bike, I’m all ears.

becoming THAT person

rulesI am a rules follower. It’s one of my least favorite aspects of myself. Following rules probably saved my life as a kid, but it’s not required now and so it’s not serving me well to be so dedicated and insistent on following rules. I feel deeply uneasy when I don’t follow some rule, some social guideline, some authority. The problem is that it’s not just myself as a rules follower that matters; it’s that I hold it so deeply that I think everyone else should be following the rules too, all of them all the time.

There are so many times I dislike this about myself, but one of the strongest is when I am in some social setting, a public space like an airplane, or an airport waiting area. I’m in those places a lot, so this comes immediately to mind — especially since I recently had this experience. Or in the subway in NYC. For instance, there’s a kind of unspoken agreement that we don’t eat on the train, especially stinky food. It’s a shared space, it’s crowded, sometimes it’s very hot, and long after you leave, the smell remains behind. (And we’re already dealing with other kinds of smells, body odor and perfume and alcohol.) I get so furious when someone is sitting there with a big container of strong-smelling food, eating it like they’re just at home. Shared space! Shared space! (Even though usually it’s a smell I love, a strong curry or something!)

So when I’m sitting there and someone violates one of these rules, I start fuming. And the horrible voice in my mind starts ramping up, and it’s ugly. Who do you think you are! Oh, you’re too good to X. It’s so ugly. And then my expression gets hard, I can feel it. And I’ll cut my eyes at the “offender.”  This is one aspect of myself that I’m most ashamed of, one that I work on so often. The last time it happened, there was a bunch of young teenage girls sitting together waiting for the flight to board. They were being very loud and laughing and doing that excited squeal that young teenage girls can do. Otherwise, the waiting area was very quiet; it was a very early flight and the rest of us were reading or talking quietly to others.

The fuming started inside me. I lowered my shoulders, took a deep breath again and again. Looked at the girls, realized they were excited about their trip together, tried to find a place in myself that could connect with that — the thrill of being a very young person going on an exciting trip on an airplane. Breathed some more. Felt my face getting hard, tried to relax it. Allowed myself some self-compassion; I know this mean voice, I know its origin, I’ve been its lashing object since I was a little child. But then I started frowning at them. Breathed some more. And then they did a tremendously loud squeal together and my hard-frowning face turned towards them and I flashed a terrible look at them. They literally flinched.  I recoiled from myself.

harridanI became that woman. The harridan. The shrew. The one you move away from.  I do not want to be that woman. I want to be the one who smiles at the young girls, off on an adventure, having fun together. The one who thinks yum, that curry smells so good, I want some! I want this neurotic aspect of myself not to come out at others, definitely.

But I also want it not to come out toward myself! I want to color outside the lines. I want to make noise (well…..thoughtfully maybe). I want to be as exuberant as I feel. I want to feel looser about these rules — aware of them but not sadistic with myself about following them. I want not to be so sensible all the damn time. (“Yeah, but if everyone walked on the grass here it wouldn’t grow! That’s why the sign is there!”) Maybe I’d like to just that one time take my shoes off and walk on the damn grass.

This is an ongoing struggle, and like the hardest ones, it’s an inside job. Even if you’ve battled this kind of thing, your fix is unlikely to be mine, so I keep at it in the dark but I bring it into the light and try to look at it. I’ll keep working at Kurt Vonnegut’s beautiful advice:

“Welcome to Earth. It’s hot in the summer and cold in the winter. It’s round and wet and crowded…you’ve got about a hundred years here. There’s only one rule that I know of…God damn it, you’ve got to be kind.”

on not being a monster

There is a psychological theory that says people sometimes incorporate another person into themselves — a kind of psychic possession. It goes far beyond just feeling merged or bonded with another person, it’s deeper and more all-encompassing than that. It’s probably a psychoanalytic theory, and I tend to be very dismissive of them, so my tendency would otherwise be to toss this one on the pyre, good riddance to bad rubbish.

But I can’t. For so so long, decades, I had incorporated my father into me. I was him, he was me. It probably began, as things sometimes do, with my being told over and over as a little kid, “You look just like your father, you disgust me, go to your room.” “You are exactly like him, that sorry son-of-a-bitch, get away from me.” Etc. And there were some ways we were alike; we shared a deep love of reading, and old movies, and an easy sentimentality that left us touched very deeply by the world. I wasn’t old enough then to parse the characteristics, to see that we only shared a few things, not everything. To see that while I may have looked a bit like him, and shared some preferences and a couple of small quirky behaviors and a soft heart, the ways we were different were much greater — and critically different.

So I took my mother’s words to heart and believed her . . . not my first mistake, but perhaps my worst. I grew to believe that I was a monster. That I was fully and literally a monster, and wore a very thin sheen of something else on top that fooled people. A very thin mask, just a couple of layers of skin cells thick, so thin that sometimes you could see through it if the light was right. Sometimes a glimmer of a monster expression would flit across my face, I felt, betraying what lay beneath. When I met Jerry back in 1978, as we were falling in love I warned him over and over: “I’m very bad, you’ll see, very bad, you should stay away.” He’d ask, “But Pete, what’s so bad?” I couldn’t articulate it, I could give no examples, it just was true. It was so true and pervasive and all-encompassing, all I could do was smile sadly for him, shake my head, and say, “You’ll see.”

When I felt all the rage inside me — and it was all justifiable — I was terrified by it, believed it was the monster, and if I let it out a tiny bit it would kill everyone around me. And so, like my father, I often shimmered with rage, but I held mine very tightly. Every time I felt it, I took that as proof of the truth: I am a monster.

I sincerely believed that the entire time I was raising my children. I felt such great relief seeing that they were not monsters, that they were not like me.

When she was a young teenager, Marnie and I read John Gardner’s Grendel aloud to each other, a time I remember with such joy. But when I first saw the cover of the book, my stomach dropped away. It was a painting of me.

grendel

It was exactly a painting of me, even the way the head was tipped up and rage was pouring out of the mouth. That lived inside me, that was me. I wore a pale skin suit over it, but that was me. How did that artist know me?

When I was in my very early 50s — so not very long ago at all — I finally exorcised him. The better way to say it, obviously, is that I finally realized I am not him. I made this image, in the final agonizing throes of that exorcism, to show how it felt:

haunted

That’s my own real shadow, and superimposed is a ghostly silhouette of a photo of him. I added a whip in his hand. I felt utterly haunted by him, and tormented. It was such a relief to finally be able to see the truth of who I was all along: not a monster, never a monster (among a lot of other wonderfuller things).

But what’s heartbreaking and true is that tiny little surprise pockets are still alive, tiny little landmines, and can ambush me. Yesterday I went swimming and wore my two-piece bathing suit. I walked tall, and I was happy to be there, and didn’t feel ashamed or embarrassed. I was going to swim in the sun, feel the cold water on my tummy for the first time ever. It was going to feel wonderful. I spread out my towel in the sun, looked around at all the young moms with their little children splashing in the shallow end and the lap swimmers back-and-forthing at the far end, and as I started to take off my wrap, I was instantly paralyzed with the thought that the mothers would be horrified because I was scaring their children. That they would grab up their children and run away in fear.

It wasn’t that anyone would look at me and judge my body, my soft tummy a delta of silvered stretch marks. It’s that they would see me as a monster. Exposed.

My eyes filled with tears and I wrapped my arms around myself, rocked myself a little, felt sorry for that little hidden bit that is still afraid that’s true. That’s not true, honey, and it never was. You are wonderful. Come on, let’s go swimming. So I stood up, dropped my wrap, held my own hand and walked into the water with a great big smile. A little boy with blue, shivering lips walked past me in the chilly water and said, “It’s so cold!” and I laughed and said, “It is, but look up at the beautiful blue sky, and those amazing clouds.” He and I stopped and tipped our heads upward, and the only thing that came out of my mouth was a laugh.

quiet bones

bones
there was live music in the studio for this lovely class

Yesterday I took a 90-minute yoga class called “create a quiet presence in your bones.” I was drawn to it for both the quietness aspect, and for it being centered in the bones. It’s possible to create a quiet presence in your heart, your soul or spirit, your mind . . . but this was in the bones, and that was appealing to me.

I’ve been doing this for almost a year, now. Daily yoga — well, near-daily yoga — meditation, mindfulness, my old ‘one thing at a time’ deal. Vegetarian eating when the choices are mine. I think it has stuck as a life change, and believe me, no one is more surprised about that than me, the professional changer.

But here’s the deal. Just because it has stuck, and just because I’m coming up on a whole year of doing it, that doesn’t mean it has become mindless and automatic. (Mindless, ha! Yeah, no, that’s the antithesis of the point I guess.) Nothing about it has become automatic, by which I mean I have to choose it all the time and sometimes I don’t want to do it. I’m not rigid about any of it, but I don’t want to stop, even if on a particular day I don’t want to go, either. Some days I eat that pint of frozen yogurt and enjoy the hell out of it. Some days I am so deeply exhausted it’s better for me to take a warm shower and go to bed with a commitment to practice yoga the next day. Or I have a nasty head cold and a sliced-open finger and an especially grieving heart (which probably contributed to slicing open the finger). Take care, take care, take care, start again.

Still, after a year of practicing, it gets noisy inside me. I get overly distracted by shiny fast things. I notice I didn’t even notice the dinner I made, or ate. I feel adrift, maybe even unmoored at times. And so yesterday I was drawn to the ‘quiet in the bones’ practice because I really felt I needed that. I felt so little quiet inside me, anywhere. It’s not like it used to be, all whizzy and frantic, but I can notice that the stillness is gone. So I have to go searching for it again. I wanted to soak it into my bones so it holds me still and quiet from the inside.

Charlotte Joko Beck, an American Zen teacher, said this:

One idea that really hampers us is to believe that people get ‘enlightened,’ and then they’re that way forever and ever. We may have our moments, and if we get sick and have lots of things happening, we may fall back. But a person who practices consistently over years and years is more that way, more of the time, all the time. And that’s enough. There is no such thing as getting it.

It was a nice bit of synchronicity, my coming across that passage at the same time I was thinking about this. Thank heavens one change that has not wavered is my understanding of balance, that the wobbling and leaning this way and then that to recenter IS the balance. Balance is not a perfect still point, unmoving and fixed — not even if you are a solid object like a cement pillar, but especially if you are a human being.

And here’s the coolest, most amazing thing of all about life. I really love this, and think about it all the time. With the next breath, you can shift and start over. I just find that so wonderful, so remarkable, and so worthy of gratitude. Went on a little junk food jag you regret? OK! Start eating the way you want to eat right now, problem solved. Gotten off track with your meditation practice, or your regular jogging routine, or lifting? OK! Start again today. Tomorrow presents opportunities galore, and if you’re in some kind of dreadful boat cast off from the shore and it’s storming — and buddy, life will do that to you sometimes — there will come a tomorrow when the skies clear and you can start rowing for shore, and in the meantime you do what you can.

same slope and starting/ending points, but different trajectory in between
same slope and starting/ending points, but different trajectory in between

At least this is true for me, and for people I have known in my life. You go forward then back but usually you hitch up your britches and go forward again. Sometimes it’s a long way back so it’s a long way forward to get back to where you were, and sometimes it’s a bit of a plummet. Well then, OK. I suppose it would be nice if we wanted to do something and just did it perfectly and forever and always. It would be weird, too, wouldn’t it? We’d all eat right and exercise and recycle perfectly. We’d follow through perfectly on hobbies so we’d all become experts. I don’t know, I just don’t see it. 🙂

And so once again I sought out the quiet and settled it in my bones, and there it sits. It’ll leach out and I’ll seek it again. Whatever it is you’re after, you’ll probably let it slip out of your hands once in a while, and that’s just the nature of life. Life is not a problem, it just has this nature. And isn’t that OK?

what you let go

doesn't seem so hard when you put it like that...
doesn’t seem so hard when you put it like that…

The other night I was taking a yin yoga class with Felicia Tomasko over at YogaGlo. I love so many things about her classes, and I especially love her yin classes. This one in particular was focused on detox, so lots of twists and long, long holds (languid, as she likes to describe them).

During one twist she said, “What you let go of is as important as what you take in.” She was specifically talking about breath, about exhaling, but it struck me as being very important in a much bigger way, and a way that is certainly relevant for me. You too, maybe.

As a person who has historically had an impossible time with conflict, especially with saying no, I don’t want that, I have found myself with an accumulation of relationships over the years — like we all do. During my childhood, when we moved every few weeks, I remember explicitly thinking that it didn’t matter about that person because we’d just be moving soon. And so I both learned that as a strategy, and simultaneously never had to learn how to stick with people and work things out. No need! Moving on, moving on, moving on.

Since the beginning of 2013, I’ve ended two friendships, the only two times in my life I’ve done that. Both relationships were toxic and quite bad for me, and in both cases I ended them completely, without equivocating. The two women involved made it very easy for me, and I’m grateful for that. I’ve never been able to end any relationship directly and so it was good that the need and reason were both so loud and clear.

And now, in the wake of the wide-ranging changes that have been happening with me over the past year, I find that I am listening to what people say in a different way. I am hearing them, hearing their actual words. I even kind of hear them in real-time, instead of a split second later which is how I used to hear them if I heard them at all. With a time lag, I’d realize what had just been said and my moment felt lost, the moment to say What? What did you just say to me?!

It’s not like this change is an easy one, necessarily, because it means I’m more likely to face a moment when I need to challenge what someone says, in that moment, and I’m not very skilled at that. (Plus, it’s scary. With only one very recent exception, most people lash out if you say something they don’t want to hear, turn the tables and blame the other. I need to remember my recent exception to this and let it hold weight.) And if I listen carefully to what people say to me, and there are enough instances of a certain kind, it may be that I need to let relationships go. There is only one current relationship I have that feels wobbly in this specific way, and I’m certainly not itching to throw gas on anything, or make a problem where none really exists, but I am hearing what she says.

It’s worth thinking about. What you let go of is just as important as what you take in. I don’t have trouble letting go of stuff; my life taught me all about that. I let go of place pretty easily, for better and for worse equally. The events of my life have taught me pretty loudly that nothing lasts forever, that it’s all, every last bit, going to change, transform, perhaps disappear in the way I have it. I haven’t yet faced a loss within myself that is grievous—all my limbs work painlessly, my senses all work, the most important organs are just pumping along without a problem, my mind works well enough—so dealing with the ordinary losses of aging have been easy to accept. Looking ahead to the losses I’m likely to face as a consequence of aging is a waste of now, and luckily now has become my favorite place to be.

Felicia’s comment about the importance of what you let go is surely about the things we choose to let go, like relationships that aren’t good, work that is crushing, habits that hurt. Since life feeds up a banquet of letting go of things we don’t want to let go of, perhaps the critical corollary is How you let of things is just as important as everything else.

You grieve. You acknowledge. You honor. Perhaps you find some kind of ritual. You understand the place of the loss in the scheme of things, yourself, your life, the world. You cherish and then you open your hands. You discover who you are without it, you discover who you are now, and you allow time for that to settle. In the perfect world, the one I hear about and only make the tiniest visits to, that’s how you let go of things. But it’s always worth the effort, I do believe, and the effort may take a very long time, a number of passes, some forwarding-and-backwarding. You understand that maybe it’s a process, not a one-time-only deal, a one-stop-shop.

Another lesson learned on the mat. xoxo

riches

Last night we celebrated the birthday of one amazing woman in our book club. We gathered at a cool Indian restaurant near downtown; the last time I ate there it was a food truck. This happens a lot in Austin.

friends
my wonderful book club (minus Karyn, who was traveling) and various husbands, friends, sons, daughters, sisters.

It was an exceptionally joyous evening, I thought; we love celebrating together, and we make a point of celebrating birthdays, but there seemed to be something a little extra special about last night’s celebration. It was also a lovely evening, early spring, soft.

While we were there last night I realized all this, but it was in looking at this picture this morning that I felt washed over with gratitude. This group of people, this welcoming, loving, warm, intelligent, loving group of people represent so much of my beautiful life in Austin. The beating heart of it is Katie and Oliver, of course, but when I think about what makes my life so large and textured and beautiful, it’s big: it’s Katie’s little family, these beautiful people, my poetry group, Nancy who I still cannot believe my great good luck to know and love and live next door to, Cindy who crosses so easily into my honest heart, other friends I care about and simply don’t get enough time to see on a regular basis. My beautiful, sweet home. This place, Austin, that is the most deeply familiar place I’ve ever lived — two of my children were born here. Bluebonnets. Deep Eddy. Great food. Live music.

I’m so healthy it’s amazing. How lucky is that?! I’m strong and look pretty good for an old gal and have enough work and get to see the world but I have my solid base here.

I look at that picture and easily remember the last time I was at that restaurant a couple of years ago. It’s where I first met two of the women in the picture, actually, but I barely remember because I was in such terrible shape that I’d forced myself out the door and couldn’t wait to hurry home and crawl back into my bed to cry. Two years ago. Then I had Katie and Trey, horrible grief over losing everything, and the house I’m renting. And now, just look. Everything is as different as it possibly could be. I’ve been sitting here trying to see if there’s anything that isn’t different, and the answer is no, not really. It’s all so different. Even our grief over Gracie has found a level that allows us to live with it.

Dang, y’all. Life can pull a 180 and even though you think it’ll always be dark, it really isn’t. Lucky, lucky me.

integrity and persistence

A couple of days ago I saw something flying through Facebook about this being National Women’s Month or something. And my first — and very loud — thought was a nasty, sarcastic one. Oh, aren’t we lucky, acknowledge us for one month of the year and then go right back to trying to take away our rights. I heard my bitterness and it made me feel bad.

That bitter feeling is a familiar one to me these days. I hate the way we talk to each other now. I hate the way our politics have become so laced with acid (pointing that finger back at myself too), I hate the way people troll and bully others just because they believe they can get away with it, I hate the contempt we all seem to have for each other, except for the people in our immediate life. I hate the contempt so many have for poor people, for marginalized people. And I feel great despair about it changing, exactly because of how we cannot talk to each other.

This morning I just happened to catch the tail-end of Meet the Press, a show I never watch. John Lewis was on the screen, speaking in his quiet, urgent, non-rancorous way. This isn’t from this morning, but he’s here in this clip talking about Selma.

[embedplusvideo height=”350″ width=”604″ editlink=”http://bit.ly/1MhFVum” standard=”http://www.youtube.com/v/fpMaaIA4NmY?fs=1″ vars=”ytid=fpMaaIA4NmY&width=604&height=350&start=&stop=&rs=w&hd=0&autoplay=0&react=1&chapters=&notes=” id=”ep7517″ /]

 

It’s funny, because about a week ago I was thinking about gay marriage, and how we do seem to be getting somewhere even though it’s still being fought with nastiness in parts of the country, including Texas. But it’s getting somewhere. Would I have thought it really would be possible several years ago? Would the early gay activists have thought it really would happen some day? They were so busy fighting for such basic things I wonder if they even thought that far ahead.

Women in this country haven’t even been voting for 100 years yet. African-American people only been voting for 50 years. So that means we’ve only had something like a democracy for 50 years. When African-Americans started fighting to be treated as human beings — as human beings — the fight ahead was so incredibly long. When women started fighting for their rights as human beings, the fight ahead was so incredibly long. These two groups are still fighting.

acknowledgement of a hero
acknowledgement of a hero

And still, change happens. It’s slow, it goes forward and then backwards, but then forward again. I have to believe that we will get there, and I know we can’t get there the way we are now. John Lewis is always asked if he’s bitter, and he always says that he’s not. That he has never been bitter, that he is not bitter now. He came up in a system that believed in love, and not bitterness. He’s quiet, he’s very serious, he sees how things are now, but he just quietly keeps moving forward. Today a step forward. Tomorrow a step forward. His movement is bigger than him, and today he steps forward.

It’s great to find a person you can emulate, a kind of hero. A person to call to mind when you feel despair. John Lewis is that for me. That kind of integrity, plus that kind of passion, is what makes things happen.

Happy Sunday everyone. <3

AA order

actionI have lots of problems with AA (and the other -As), but acknowledge that they get some critical bits right. The one I’m thinking about today has to do with the order of things. Therapy culture takes this path — even CBT, the least interesting one of all in my book: figure out why, and then the change will happen/be easier/last longer. A stripped-down version of the AA path: make the change, then do the rest.

When I started working with my food coach a couple of years ago he said something similar — something like we can talk about all the whys, but you just have to get off the couch.

I love the double entendre of that — get off the couch, the literal couch, the therapy couch, get up and act.

Perhaps it’s just me, but taking change in this order feels so startling, and so much simpler. And it makes much more sense, too. One great thing is that the moment you do something different, you start changing. You aren’t thinking about changing, you are changing. And the more times you do that thing, the more you become a person who does that thing. That isn’t to say that you forevermore only do that thing, but the change you’re seeking is happening.

This post isn’t about yoga, but yoga offers such a great example (taken from this article):

click to enlarge
click to enlarge

So look at the ~12 to 3 part of that image. AFTER A CLASS, those things happen. You can follow around to see the effects after a few months, after years, but I think it’s the things that happen immediately that are most fascinating, and most relevant to my point in this post. Changing changes us, kind of definitionally!

Actually, this post was stimulated by my previous post about not explaining myself. I wrote near the end of that post that I realized that I explained myself because xyz, as if I’d done that thinking first, figured it out, and then stopped explaining myself. But that wasn’t the order! I stopped explaining myself, and then realized that I do it because I think I’m going to be judged. The accidental genius of changing first was that immediately I got to see the flaw in my thinking! It’s great when I accidentally do something smart. I didn’t explain myself, no one said a judgmental word, no one betrayed a judgmental flinch of expression, and then it was easier to do it the next time.

The biggest change that’s happened to me since last June is that I seem to have resigned my position in the Overthinkers Club! As CEO, CFO, CIO, CTO, C-all-the-Os of that club, I am shocked, but so much happier.

It’s bitter cold and super windy here today, and lots of snow coming on Monday, so I’m SO looking forward to heading back to Austin on Tuesday, and simultaneously anxious that this weather will keep me grounded. Fingers crossed, yo, and have a good weekend!

evolution, not resolution

Although my graduate research was all about the specific words we use, and what that means about us, I went to graduate school to study something entirely different — why some people survive terrible trauma and others don’t. Like most research psychologists, my research was me-search. I’d fought so very hard to change everything that was familiar, everything I’d grown up with so I wouldn’t cause the same trauma to my children, and while I believed that a lot of people fight just that hard, some make it and some don’t. The research was too close to me though, too personal, and too difficult to do with the required level of dispassion.

But I may as well have a PhD in the psychology of change, because I think it’s one of my real areas of expertise. I know a huge swath of the literature but I have also spent so much of my inner energy and strength and mind and heart on it.

I’m thinking about this as January 1 approaches, because I know so many people are thinking about their New Year’s Resolutions — most of which, I’d wager, are physical/health-related. That includes losing weight, getting in shape, quitting drinking or smoking, eating better, incorporating exercise into their lives, things like that. Weight loss and getting in shape have been on my list most years of my life, though they aren’t this year.

It’s been 183 days, now, since I started my life-change project, and I’ve been about 90-95% successful. I’m still doing yoga at least once a day, twice when it’s possible — seven days a week. (Except on vacation, when it just didn’t fit so possibly.) I’m still eating primarily a vegetarian diet. If I’m eating at someone else’s house I eat what they prepare, and gratefully; I just eat as well as I can given what they have lovingly made for me. But when it’s my choosing, it’s all vegetarian and not all that much of it. I’m still meditating every day. I’m on day 4 of a 40-day meditation project (“I am Grace of God,” Kia Miller on YogaGlo). I’m still doing one thing at a time. I still spend the bulk of my time in silence, which I find so nourishing it’s hard to describe.

how about right now, in this moment? WHY NOT?
how about right now, in this moment? WHY NOT?

I think a lot about why these changes have slipped into my life so fully — why they’re no longer “changes” but are instead just who I am and what I do. There was one big difference in the way it all started this time, so I share this with you in case it’s helpful. Instead of picking a time in the future — “Monday,” “January 1,” “the day I go back to work,” “the day my vacation begins” — I just started in the moment I decided to do it. It was late in the afternoon, but I didn’t even wait to start first thing the next morning. I think one reason this was powerful was that I didn’t sabotage myself in advance, or set it up only to find some reason it wouldn’t work. In the past, starting at some point in the future usually led me into a frenzy of doing before the date came. So I’d eat a whole lot, let’s say, because on January 1 I couldn’t do that any more.

This time, I was writing about it at ~4pm-ish and just started doing the things I wanted to do. I turned off the television and just wrote, doing that one thing. I downloaded a free yoga app to my phone and did 20 minutes of yoga (a lot for me then, left me sweaty and panting). I scrambled around in my refrigerator and pantry and made the healthiest meal I could. Was any of it perfect on that day? Oh, no. My meal was not. My yoga session was not. The silence felt weird. Was any of it perfect the next day? Oh, no. It took me a couple of weeks to find the pieces I needed, but I found them while I was doing it, while I was changing my life.

If you read the “Dear Sugar” column that Cheryl Strayed used to write in The Rumpus, maybe you read the column about a woman’s fear of changing her life mid-life “before it’s too late.” I just love these sentences Strayed wrote about change:

“Real change happens on the level of the gesture. It’s one person doing one thing differently than he or she did before. It’s the man who opts not to invite his abusive mother to his wedding; the woman who decides to spend her Saturday mornings in a drawing class instead of scrubbing the toilets at home; the writer who won’t allow himself to be devoured by his envy; the parent who takes a deep breath instead of throwing a plate. It’s you and me standing naked before our lovers, even if it makes us feel kind of squirmy in a bad way when we do. The work is there. It’s our task. Doing it will give us strength and clarity. It will bring us closer to who we hope to be.”

And that’s so right, even if the real change is just losing weight. Turning off the television. Adding exercise. Whatever it is, the change happens at the gesture.

And guess what, when you revert to the old familiar, all is not lost! Again, it’s about the gesture. So when you have a day of eating like a maniac and lying on the couch watching absolute crap on TV and also flipping through your phone or iPad and having a glass of wine before — and maybe during, and maybe after — dinner and screw it, the weather is crummy so you’re not going to go out for a walk and you just don’t feel like even doing five minutes of yoga, screw it, and there are some Christmas cookies that need to be eaten before they go stale…. you can just return. All is not lost, that was then and life is imperfect and so you brush your teeth carefully before turning in. You get out your very best lotion and put it gently on your face. Massage some into your chunky thighs, with a bit of love. You take care of yourself, not the best day maybe, not the way you want to be taking care of yourself, but now you are taking care. Now you are. So you drink a glass of water, you take some deep breaths — maybe you stretch your body, and you get a good night of sleep. You don’t have to wait for the next “Monday,” or “first of the month,” or “bathing suit season,” or anything at all. Change happens in the small gesture. Evolution, not resolution.

stepping back with intention

it really does feel like this inside me
it really does feel like this inside me right now.

I don’t mean stepping back from writing here on my blog, though it has been very quiet here for quite a while now. For a while now, it seems like all I’ve had to say was that the changes I’ve been making are so very good. And they still are, and it’s quite still in my mind, like a deep clear lake. Occasional small ripples from a breeze, not more. Big blue skies above, reflecting on that lake. It’s wonderful, and I share this post in case any piece of it is useful for you.

The style of yoga I do is vinyasa, which focuses on the breath and coordinating it with a flow of poses. It feels quite beautiful to do it (and at the same time I’m glad there isn’t a mirror nearby to show me what I actually look like doing it…), and I am enjoying feeling and seeing my muscles change, become toned, work more smoothly. Vinyasa relies on a specific kind of breathing called ujjayi pranayama, and it makes a bit of sound. It’s like whispering in your breath, there in the back of your throat. It’s a long, deep breath, in, out, coordinated with the poses, which are typically arranged for the in-breath then out-breath. Breathing is something I’ve always had trouble with, as in I forget to do it and I do very tiny little shallow breaths when I do breathe. It turned out to be a great thing that it was vinyasa yoga that drew me in, because this focus on the breath and this specific kind of conscious breathing has helped me off the mat, too. (It’s fascinating the way each little thing ripples out so far.)

My morning ritual has expanded a bit too, and while it’s much harder to maintain in NYC, it makes me so happy and starts my day so beautifully in Austin I’m more determined to find a way to do it there. (There are so many fantastic things about living alone, I’m telling you!) My alarm goes off at 6:30 and I lie in bed stretching a little bit and thinking about what I want to accomplish in my day — but not in a to-do list way. Here’s an example from yesterday, when my to-do list included making a carrot cake, washing my hair, working for several hours, and going to Katie’s house for Halloween night. What I wanted to accomplish, though, was to enjoy making that cake, enjoy the fantastic smells of fresh grated ginger, carrots, pecans toasting. Enjoy the transformation of ingredients into a gorgeous batter. Be present on my yoga mat. Just be there for Oliver’s first Halloween, my mind and heart there, with my family, present. Relish the giving of some carrot cupcakes to my most wonderful friends Nancy and Bob, just a little bit of pleasure for me and for them. That’s what I thought about yesterday morning before I got out of bed.

the dropdown box shows some of the kinds of classes
the dropdown box shows some of the kinds of classes; click to enlarge if you’re interested.

Then I stood up, did some long body stretches reaching my arms up, leaning back, moving my shoulders. Drank some room temperature water with lemon squeezed in. Brushed my teeth, changed into my yoga clothes, and went to the mat. If you are interested in developing a yoga practice at home, I can’t recommend YogaGlo enough; it’s the best $18 I spend every month. SO many classes for all levels of ability, for so many durations (all the way from a 5-minute session to some that are 120 minutes long), dozens of teachers and a variety of styles. And you can combine filters to see just the classes that might work — a level 2, 15-minute, working on balance session, for instance. The 30-minute practice I did yesterday morning was a reverse energizing flow, kind of GENIUS. It started lying on the mat for a few minutes, the way most sessions end. And slowly, slowly, the poses required a bit more. Lying down, then some lying-down twists, then some hands and knees, then some lunges, then sun salutations. By the time my little practice ended, my heart was working and I felt so ready to get going. And it was just after 7am. Most mornings I just do a 10- or 15-minute practice in the morning, but yesterday I had time and wanted to do more since I was not sure I’d do a longer one when when I got home much later in the evening.

That gets my day off on just such a beautiful note. My body is warm and I’ve decided to take care of myself and my world, just for that day; I know what matters to me for that day; any kinks and hurts are helped, if not removed. After that I make my beautiful pot of French press coffee (oh the sound of the beans grinding, the sound of cold water going into the kettle, the smell of the grounds, and then the plunging…oh, and the drinking 🙂 ) and get to work.

I also developed a nightly ritual that means a lot to me. Sitting on my mat, I hold my singing bowl in my palm and tap it, feeling the vibration in my hand. When the vibration dissolves, I place it on its little pillow and meditate for at least 10 minutes. I close that little practice with another gong on my bowl and then place it on the shelf. Make-up removed, teeth brushed and flossed and mouthwashed, house (and mind) settled for the night (locks checked, lights out, thermostat set, ceiling fan on), and I tuck myself in. Bedside lamp off, no television or cell phone, and a bit of Kindle reading until I fall asleep. It’s a quiet and peaceful routine and I go to sleep with everything cared for and in its place.

This quiet and stillness is helping me step back and think about what I want to do next. I have a book idea, a non-fiction book, and I’m putting the pieces together in my mind, at the high level. My life is about to get very busy — my birthday next week, a long 4-day weekend to Chicago to see Marnie and Tom, back to Austin for 3 days then off to New York for a few days, then off to Laos, Cambodia, and Vietnam, and I won’t be home until December 9. And then, of course, the holidays. So I’m not expecting a product of any kind from myself, I’m allowing myself the time to mull and ponder, the space for something new to arise, and the pleasure of the process.

It’s the first of November, another year is starting its slow winding-down, its settling-in, its immersion into quietude (well, in the northern hemisphere anyway). I love this time of year and hope you are finding some peace and pleasure of your own, however it may look. xo

brooding

broodingIt’s gone so quiet here on the blog, in large part because I am in flux between old and new. I’m brooding……but the egg-sitting meaning, not the dark glowering mood meaning. I am sitting in quiet, listening for the creative consequence of this enormous change that has happened to me. As time passes I am feeling more confident in the shift, more solid about it. Of all the things I’ve been in my life, I’d say “professional changer” has been central. Some of the changes took place very slowly and required a lot of incremental shifts and constant effort, which is not to say that the change always moved forward. Plenty of my changes took that two steps forward, one step back route.

Plenty of other changes were short-lived, or visited and revisited and revisited and never really took hold the way I wanted them to. (Which, of course, begs the question of ‘want.’) I’ve only been making these changes since June, but for the last four months there haven’t been any steps backwards and the pull of the old has faded to the point where I can barely see it there, receding behind me. In a strange way, this shift has been extraordinarily simple, like an insight. The cool thing about insight is that it feels effortless, whole, complete — all at once things look different, and you can no longer remember why it wasn’t always this obvious.

Yesterday I had lunch with my gorgeous, luscious, beautifully creative friend Traci. I was telling her that I have nothing to write anymore, and she smiled and said that I will. And I believe her — in part because I trust her, and in part because I feel it myself. I’m beginning to think that what’s ahead in this next stage of my life will look very different. My subject matter before this shift was my own story, but I am beginning to think that my subject matter is moving toward straight non-fiction. It’s beginning to be exciting as I listen hard for what’s coming.

One thing that’s coming — to gently segue — is lots of great travel and times with friends! In the little period of time I’m back in Austin I have so many things lined up with friends and family to stretch out my celebration of my birthday. O I cannot wait for that. I think birthdays ought to be properly and joyfully celebrated — mine and yours! I’m so glad I get to have a whole week of chances to be grateful for another year twirling around the sun. Then a 4-day weekend in Chicago to see Marnie and Tom, then a few days later back to NYC and then a few days after that, we’re off to southeast Asia again.

the morning alms round in Luang Prabang -- my Thanksgiving morning will begin by helping feed the monks
The morning alms round in Luang Prabang — my Thanksgiving morning will begin by helping feed the monks
a great alley of food vendors in Luang Prabang -- my Thanksgiving dinner this year!
A great alley of food vendors in Luang Prabang — my Thanksgiving dinner this year! A heaping plate of food, $1.25, but with a BeerLao it comes to $2. 
sidewalk eating and drinking in Hanoi
Sidewalk eating and drinking in Hanoi. This is just a little cafe on a side street; on big streets, the entire sidewalk as far as you can see is filled with these little stools and tables, and people eating pho, banh cuon, bun cha, chao ca, bun rieu cua, and other stuff I don’t know but want to eat immediately.

Between now and the end of the year, I have so many things going on I may still be brooding, percolating, developing. I have a couple of ideas starting to press on my mind, and I may be hitting you up for some help. In the meantime, I’m also starting to think about goals for my next year. More on that process very soon!

xoxo

after the thrill is gone….

….happens to be the title of one of my favorite Eagles songs from the 1970s. But I was also thinking about this yesterday when I was doing yoga. On June 27 I started a big project I kind of jokingly called the “anti-flailing project.” As of yesterday, that’s ONE HUNDRED AND TWO DAYS. First of all, a big hurrah for sticking with it for 102 days. Hurrah! Hurrah! Hurrah!

changeI have nothing new to say about the benefits, the changes I feel that seem due to this new way of doing things. But I do have something to say about the slog factor that hits once the thrill of newness fades. When I was on the yoga mat a couple of nights ago, I was facing that feeling. Actually, I faced it before I started. Ugh, I just don’t feel like it. No thrill to get me out of that chair. My focus was on how tired I felt, instead of on how great I knew I’d feel during the practice, and afterwards. A few weeks ago I went through a brief 1.5-day period of slipping back into my multi-tasking ways. Television on in the background all day, I’m sure I cooked and ate but I don’t remember, noise all around. When it hit me what I was doing, I thought nah, I’m just going to watch this show while I work. But pretty quickly, on the second day, that new wore off too. So moving as if I were wearing weights and reaching through molasses, I found the remote and turned off the television. Kinda resentful, I felt.

sloggingIt can be very hard to persist in a change when it’s no longer something new and different. When the contrast between before and now has faded in your memory. Across the span of my life I’ve tried to make changes, hit that persist point, and for any of a number of reasons just went back to my old ways. You know, they’re so comfortable! They’ve been my ways as long as I can remember! They’re normal, natural! That’s pretty seductive, especially when you feel a little weary of the new thing, when you feel like you’re just slogging along.

There are a couple of ways I have found that help me with this slog deal:

  • As in meditation, find the attitude of “just bring it back.” Just bring it back. OK, just turn off the television, bring it back. OK, just go change into your workout clothes. OK, just run to the market and get something fresh to make for dinner. No judgment of any kind (you’re not “bad!”), no stories (“well hell, I’ve ruined it now so whatever, more cake!”), just bring it back. I love that old Chinese sentiment, the best time to plant a tree was 20 years ago. The second best time is today. OK, maybe you’ve fallen off and that was several days/weeks ago (20 years), just bring it back (today). The “just bring it back” attitude is gentle and compassionate, and has nothing to say about what went ‘wrong,’ nothing at all. It’s not chiding. Just bring it back, that’s all.
  • If the compassionate approach doesn’t seem motivating to you, try the JFDI approach! People in an online weight loss group I belong to (now I just stay there to support the others) use that acronym on occasion and it always cracks me up. Just Fuckin Do It! As a Texan I drop my Gs, so that’s how I hear it. Now and then you might just have to be your own drill sergeant. For me, JBIB works better, but I share this in case you think it’ll help.
  • If that doesn’t work, use a cognitive-behavioral therapy technique: tell yourself you’re only going to do it for a set period of time. “OK, I’m just going to turn off the television for the next three hours.” Implicit there is that you can go right back to it when the time passes. And probably, assuming it’s something you really do want to be doing, probably you’ll remember why you were doing it in the first place! Probably it’ll feel good. Probably you won’t want to go back to the old thing after all.

Those have helped me when I stumble. To help with the long haul, though, at some point you have to let go of the words and idea “my new thing.” At some point it has to become just part of your day, part of your life, part of your identity. I am a person who tries to do yoga every day and mostly succeeds, unless I’m having an airport and flying day. (Even then I think about it and try to do some stretches when and where I can…..because I am a person who….) I am a person who tries to be present as much as possible. If the new thing can be phrased more simply (e.g., “I am a Quaker” instead of “a person who”) that’s even better. That is in fact an identity statement. The changes I’ve made don’t lend themselves to that, but the more I incorporate them into just who I am and just how I live my life, the easier it is to do the long haul. Because now it’s just my life.

Making a substantial change and sticking with it is so hard, and not all that common! Millions of dollars are spent on self-help books, diet books, and if they worked, the need for them would quickly disappear. Instead, people try this thing and then give up, so they try that thing and give up, and on and on. It’s hard. I’ve never been able to do it before, in all my years, and to be honest I’m not exactly sure why it’s been so easy this time. Maybe there’s an element of being ready for it. I’m sure that’s true.

If you have other tricks of the trade that have helped you stick with a change, please share them! Most of us are trying to make some kind of change, and we need all the help we can get. xo

time and change

It’s been so quiet around the palace! It’s been quiet in my head too, all those swirling twirling eddies of overthinking and worries and time travel quieted down. Something appears on my mental horizon and as it drifts toward me, I smile. Bubbles.

slowMy days are so full, so busy. An hour of yoga each day, now, and each minute of it is pleasure. Twenty minutes to meditate (not all those minutes are pleasure!). A daily walk (more when I’m in NYC). Time with Katie, Oliver. Time with my dear, dear friends here and there. Time to make a beautiful dinner, time to enjoy it, time to clean up. Time to travel . . . so much travel coming up in November. And yet time is slower than it used to be, the days feel longer somehow. My actual experience of time passing feels slower. It’s very interesting. I think this is the longest time a behavioral change has stuck with me, and while I don’t say this with absolute certainty, I do feel like this head shift is going to stay. Doing one thing at a time, tending to being mindful, being present, I continue to be very surprised by the ripples and implications.

IMG_5423And I’ve lost 25 pounds since June — 4″ around my hips, 5″ around my waist, 2″ around my rib cage. Historically it’s the return of a depression that throws me back into overeating, and I’ve cycled through depressions enough times to leave space for that to happen to me again. I hope not, of course, but I cannot be certain on this topic. I sure do love the body I’m in right now. I’ve dropped from a size 14 to a size 8, which is impossible to believe because I’ve never worn that size, ever (except in elementary school). I had to buy some new pants the other day because I couldn’t keep any of mine up and the furthest-in hole on my belts were still not enough. I just keep looking at the tag on the ones I’m wearing to convince myself it’s true. It’s so strange. I think these internal changes have helped me here, too. It’s such fun to have fun with how I look, instead of picking clothes that disguise rolls and parts of my shape that I didn’t like.

I’ve been thinking about this blog, especially since I’ve had nothing to post for quite a while now. For so long I used it to work my way through things I was thinking about or troubled by, as a way to figure things out. Since I was the CEO (hell, the whole C-suite!) of the Overthinkers Club, and since I was still grappling with many of the events of my life, I had a never-ending source of material. With the arrival of the gorgeous bubble idea, I seem to have been relieved of the overthinker’s burden, and hallelujah for that.  I don’t know what to do here, now. Write to share stuff? Books and movies? Write when something interesting happens, when I travel, when something big (fun or trouble) happens? I just don’t know, so the blog will be a bit fallow as I work my through the next incarnation. I can’t imagine not having it; I’ve been writing a blog of one kind or another for fourteen years. Bear with me, which is easy if you’re a Facebook friend of the site or if you subscribe. I’ll show up when something posts, otherwise out of sight out of mind.

I hope you have a wonderful and beautiful Sunday! We’ve had spectacular weather in Austin this weekend, and today I’m going to work outside, on my patio, and then see Gone, Girl with some of my girlfriends. Maybe I’ll have something to say about that. 🙂 xx

changing a changer

One of the stablest things about me is that I seek to change things — myself, my responses, my views of the world if they are causing me problems. And so I undertake these various projects, or sometimes I just work on one thing, one small thing. What usually happens is predictable—and not just for me, because change is hard: I/we enjoy the change, stick with it and then slip back to the former state. Another time, later, down the road, we try it again.

implicationsBecause this has been the pattern for me, changes never stuck around long enough for me to notice and grapple with the implications of the change, the way that change ripples into other parts of my life. Among other things, this means that the attempted change stayed localized in some way — ok, I went back to eating badly. That’s the sum effect.

Since I instituted my anti-flailing project on June 27 (what a silly and funny name, but it has a specific personal meaning for me), there have been a lot of shifts inside me. I was trained as a scientist and so I think about other things that could be happening that may be partly or even entirely responsible for the changes — maybe it’s not the new things I’m trying, or not just the new things I’m trying. But I’m staying focused here, and in my life, on these changes and was thinking yesterday about the unexpected implications of them.

Doing just one thing — this one small, focused effort has had such a huge impact, I am kind of dizzied by it.

  • If you are my Facebook friend you may have noticed that I’m really not around there very much. I used to check it throughout the day while I worked, and while it felt fun and connect-ey, it also kept me from being as efficient as I could be in my work (which cost me money) and it also left me feeling fragmented at the end of each day. What did I do that day? Everything and nothing. Doing just one thing at a time has broken my knee-jerk need to check it, my practical salivation when that little red number appeared indicating something new.
  • My mind is not crammed full of trivial crap I could not care less about (cf the Kardashians, what Angie and Brad are up to, “You won’t believe what happened when this husband did this!”, the nine simple ways to feel happy right now, the three foods women should avoid for a flat stomach, why Boehner’s orange face looks like that today). Instead I can seek out information about things I do care about, like the horror in Gaza, the tragedy of our country’s response to refugee children, worries in Ukraine. I have to take those in very small doses, but I get to control my intake.
  • My mind is so much quieter, the water feels very deep and still. It’s a funny thing, but I feel much less self-focused, self-tizzied. I feel more like a quiet watcher of the world, a thoughtful participant in it, rather than a frantic observer of myself—why did I say that? why do I do this? what do I do about the other thing?
  • My entertainment is still time spent with people I love, reading very good books, watching good movies, but I’m also spending time with Pema Chodron and dharma gatherings.

This goes very pointedly and experientially with doing one thing, but it is also its own thing: Taking care of myself. Again, a shocking web of unexpected consequences:

  • Movement: I so look forward to doing yoga every day, with pleasure.(!) This is directly related to mindfulness, but I hadn’t expected to look forward to it the way I do. I’m not very flexible right now and have to modify so many of the poses pretty dramatically, but I enjoy it. I enjoy stopping what I am doing to go to the mat. I enjoy being there, in that moment, holding the pose, moving as gracefully as I can into the next. I enjoy holding that exalted warrior and crying, which I always do. In New York I enjoy taking my daily walks. (It helps that it’s cool here, and I have beautiful Riverside Park, but there is real joy in doing the walk itself.) I don’t spend the time worrying over work, or what I should be doing, or what waits when I get back. I just walk. I just move through the poses. I enjoy feeling my body doing those things. Never felt that before, ever. And didn’t expect it now, either.
  • Food: I’ve spent my life looking at food either in terms of calories for weight loss, or indulgences. I started working on changing my approach to food last year when I worked with Jeff, my health coach. He gave me a way to think about food — just eat all the fruits, all the vegetables, you can’t go wrong! So that’s a change I’ve spent quite a while with, but for some reason as I just do one thing and want to take care of myself, the shift has shifted a little more. I enjoy my food, I enjoy shopping for very good, fresh food for myself. I enjoy preparing a beautiful dinner of that very good food. I eat whole food only, though I didn’t set out to follow that specific diet. Somehow all these efforts have converged into making food a wonderful pleasure that is also very good for me. I can almost always make it work wherever I am, so I am not a pain in the butt for anyone, either.

Really really weird, all this shift essentially from deciding to do one thing at a time. I can see a convergence of all kinds of efforts and coincidental timing, but it came together around mindfulness. And it turns out that “anti-flailing” is exactly the right way to think about it, because the whole thing together leaves me feeling like I’ve pulled my arms in, the frazzling tizzy of all my attentional energy is quieter and still, and I’m not racing and spinning in circles.

waterThere are other implications that are a little uncomfortable for me right now; even though my mind feels still and clearer, I somehow feel like all the water around me is muddied and stirred up, and I don’t know where I am. I have to be patient and wait for the silt of all this change to settle. The quietness and solitude is good, and the inner quiet is good, but it’s a kind of feeling that always accompanied depression and so that association is pretty powerful. I am not depressed, and I think the longer I sit with the change the weaker that association will become. Change is uncomfortable even when it’s good . . . or rather, there are aspects that aren’t comfortable because they are unfamiliar, and you just have to be patient while they become familiar.

I can’t recommend mindfulness enough — just do the thing you’re doing. That’s all. Just do that thing. Bring your mind back to it whenever it wanders. It’s quite amazing and powerful. I’ve been thinking about a bunch of stuff in the midst of all this so I’ll be returning to regular posting, too. Love y’all a bunch.

subterranean shenanigans

underwaterWell, something something is going on and I am only informed of it while I’m asleep. During the days I feel fantastic. I’m eating well, just the way I want to eat. I’m seeing my people. I got to spend time with both daughters at once, and hold and cuddle sweet Oliver. I’m home, that one’s huge. My body is feeling good, I’m laughing, I’m doing things that mean a lot to me.

But once I go to sleep, it all changes. The second night I was home I kept waking up not knowing where I was. Fair enough! I’d been gone six weeks and had slept in a lot of different places (and countries, even). That night didn’t trouble me. It left me tired, but it didn’t trouble me. But the last three nights have been different. I wake up all through the night — last night 9 or 10 times — and when I awake there’s something very wrong. One time I woke up last night I was patting myself down, both hands all over my body with great pressure, like I was looking for something and I was very upset. Another time I woke up in an instant, staring hard at the ceiling and in deep anxiety. Another time I woke up not knowing where I was. And another time I woke up tearing through the sheets looking for something. Every time, whether it’s dramatic like those or not, I am upset and terribly anxious about something.

So I seem to be searching for something I’ve lost, and it’s something very important, the loss of which would apparently be terrible. Maybe this is a delayed response to deciding to give up on my memoir. Or maybe it’s a response to my decision to go forward after all, and I’m looking for things inside myself and scared I won’t find them.

Or maybe it’s because I’ve been eating too many green grapes.

Or maybe it’s just an unsettled interior, just a basic ‘where am I’ from the changes I’m making in what goes in. Working in silence, sitting in silence, thinking in silence, reading in silence. Reading startling language in silence. Reading things and watching things that are trying to answer Big Questions. In silence. Focusing on things one at a time, being as fully present as I can be. I do feel an exhaustion from that, and I assume it’s no different from just taking up a sport, and those muscles are sore at first. Today I feel disoriented, strange, not myself — maybe because my self had been scattered and bombarded by sounds and irrelevant things and junk all at once as the norm, and all that is gone now…and it’s been gone enough days that my insides are starting to notice.

Have you ever made a substantial change and had this kind of consequence? I’m looking for ideas, explanations, possibilities.

WIPs

wipLike any hobby, knitting has its own jargon and acronyms. Knitters talk about their FOs (finished objects) and WIPs (works in progress). When I was trying to figure out what tattoo to put at the very bottom of my spine in the empty space I’d left, I was mulling it over with my son Will one day and he suggested that I find the characters for “work in progress,” and just get the outlines of the characters. I loved that so much I nearly did it, and the idea still tickles me.

I’ve mentioned her before — I have an old friend with a very traumatic childhood, and now she has this laugh that stops people with its beauty. It somehow comes from way down inside her and there’s a feeling of it bubbling up from a deep well. Once someone told her they wished they had her laugh and she stopped cold and said, “I earned this laugh, you can’t just have it.”

Yesterday I was thinking about her, and about works-in-progress, and me and everyone I know. But I can’t talk about others so I’ll do all I can, which is to think about my experience in a broad enough way that it applies to you, too. So I’m halfway through my life and I’ve learned a lot of things along the way. I’ve done a lot of work on who I am, I’ve tried to change things that hurt me or others, I’ve tried to build up parts I found helpful, I’ve spent a lot of time and money figuring out roots and wounds so I could understand and patch.

And here I am, 55 years old, and I am who I am. I know who I am and who I am not, and that’s not to say that I like every part of who I am — it’s just that I know. Like my friend with the beautiful laugh, I have worked hard and earned whatever there is good or helpful about me, and as CEO (and CFO and CTO and CIO and every other C-) of the Overthinkers Society, who I am now is largely the result of thinking hard about stuff. Maybe your work didn’t have to be so effortful and maybe you are naturally easier going than me with my overthinking ways, but it’s true for you too. At this stage in life, you are responsible for who you are. I am wholly responsible for who I am, good and bad and in progress.

There is still SO much work to be done, I’ll probably be working until the day I die. I still keep a metaphorical foot out the door ready to run. I still assume too easily that I will be abandoned, despite all evidence to the contrary. I still get too scared and freaked out in the face of others’ anger, especially when it comes out of the blue. I still struggle to say what I think if it is unpleasant. I still struggle to see how I really look. I still struggle with some of the old wounds and they still hurt. I struggle to hold my own self in the scene and will give myself away until I feel too depleted to keep going — do that to myself. I still get swamped sometimes with sorrow and while I’ve learned ways to manage it better than I used to, I’m not there yet.

But it’s OK, it’s the deal. It’s all the process, it’s all the path, and there is real pleasure in getting down the path because you get so much as you go. You learn what to hang onto and what to let go, who to keep around you and who to let go, what to strive for and what to let go (hmm…..lots of letting go). I guess that’s a point: you learn to let go, which is a major relief.

I love all of you beautiful works-in-progress. xo

 

change tempo

changeMy husband is one of those people who hates change. He just does. I don’t know what he would say about it, but I’ve observed him for a very long time and he hates it. He only makes a change if he is absolutely forced by circumstance to do so, and then for a very long time he hates the new thing and the old thing becomes glorified. When we first met, he had a falling-apart Toyota and I had a pretty new Honda. His car finally and completely died—had to be towed to a junk yard because it was just so thoroughly and completely dead—so he had no choice. He decided to get the same kind of car I had, so for a while we had matching Honda Civics, mine red and his gray. Well, as soon as he started driving it every single thing about it was horrible, and certainly not as great as his old Toyota. Oh this car is so much harder to park. The trunk is stupid, my old hatchback was so much better. Etc etc etc. I don’t think he particularly liked his Toyota until he didn’t have it anymore. And I don’t think he likes his Honda but he will suddenly see it as so much better than the next car if he is ever forced to buy one.

My first husband was kind of like that too, in a different way. He needed things to be in his certain way; for example, one place we moved didn’t have room for his desk and he just harrumphed around and said he couldn’t pay bills because he didn’t have his desk. This was utterly mysterious to me. For a while I thought he was joking, but then I realized he wasn’t. I mean it literally when I say it didn’t make sense to me: the sentence was confusing, I couldn’t get his meaning. OK, so here there’s no spot for a desk so you work at the kitchen table! Or on your lap! Or in the chair! Big deal. But he had lived in the same house from the time he was born until he left home for college, and everything was always in exactly the same spot.

Boy, I am just not like that at all. Are you? There may be changes that hurt more than others, changes that stem from major disruption and have dangling tentacles into so many things that making the change is a big process, but OK, it’s what life is. Life is change. Every single day, life is change.

One fantastic skill I got from my peripatetic life is the ability to go with change and hit the ground running in the new circumstances. My kids are that way too, from their own peripatetic young lives. I get to a new town and BAM I am there. There are simple tasks to get done — find a haircutter, locate the best grocery store, find a doctor, things like that — and then there I live. My psyche might take a bit of time to catch up; when I first moved back to Austin I had a dream where I couldn’t remember which driveway I would pull into when I got home. I had that experience in real life once, in New Britain, CT. But it’s not just about moving, it’s broader than that. Oh really, now I’m an industrial hygiene consultant? OK! Now I’m an advisor to a school system? Cool. Gosh, got a PhD, weird. Market research? Who’d a thunk, but OK! Whoa, publishing? Really? I’m game. Hey, I’m an editor how d’ya do.

When I kept my hair short for all those years, I played with color all the time. Big deal! It’s just hair, and if I didn’t like a color, it would only be a couple of haircuts before it grew off. Or I could just recolor it without worrying about damage, for the same reason. Whenever I’d find myself feeling scared and nervous about changing my hair color, that fact would scare me more than anything. I’d worry that I was seizing up, getting old, fixed, unwilling to change. So I’d push myself to color my hair, just to keep my change muscle in shape.

It’s funny — my change muscle is the only one I am kind of focused on keeping in shape. 🙂 How are you about change? Does it freak you out and take you kicking and screaming?

when did the kids take over?

"You kids get off of my lawn!" (and yeah, that's Mick Jagger)
“You kids get off of my lawn!” (and yeah, that’s Mick Jagger)

At the risk of sounding like a crabby old woman — I’m not, honestly — I do wonder when all the kids started taking over the world. It’s always a little disconcerting to see an airplane pilot who looks like he’s just out of college, or a 12-year-old (looking) cop. Sometimes I laugh.

And then there is the cohort of little kids who are all BFFs — Jimmy Fallon and his buddy Justin Timberlake, Seth Myers. To me it often looks like the young ‘uns are playing “talk show.” Don’t get me wrong, I adore Jimmy Fallon and am so glad Jay Leno is out of there, it’s just that it looks like the kids have taken over everything.

When I’m standing in line at the grocery store and staring at the magazines/rags on display, usually I have NO idea who anyone is on the covers, so it’s hard to get really worked up about why she and her boyfriend are breaking! up!

It isn’t that I’m unhappy about this [at all!], it’s just that I’m so bewildered by it. How are they old enough to be doing all these things? Where are all the people my age who surely have deep and rich experience? And who are those little kids on the magazine covers and why in the world is it news if they break up? 🙂

It’s a weird world. People are famous just for being famous. It’s news (in my world, anyway) that now there’s a system to let you read a whole novel in just a few minutes. Most of us feel hopeless about our country — from every direction — and don’t see how to change it. I recently watched a documentary on PBS called The Sixties and was kind of staggered by the overwhelming assault on the political world by regular people — kids, largely, but not entirely. I mean, I knew that of course, I knew that kids protested the Vietnam War, fought for civil rights, I knew all that stuff, but watching it gave me a different sense of it, partly because I despair over how things are now. I once had an idea that it needs to be women my age who band together and fight en masse, like the young people did in the 60s. We women are not having it, we kind of don’t give a shit about propriety, and we’re all kind of pissed off and often sweaty. The other day I read that the generation stupidly called “millennials” votes like MAD. I hope so. Y’all save us. Maybe the kids really need to take over the whole game — get into politics! — because we have and are making a royal mess of things.

I hope your Saturday is whatever you need it to be — productive, relaxing, a bit of both! xo

more on writing and therapy

I actually had glasses exactly like these! Wore them all the time, loved them. Wish I could have another pair.....
I actually had glasses exactly like these! Wore them all the time, loved them. Wish I could have another pair…..

Yesterday a good friend mentioned a technique she’d heard about involving rewriting your personal history with rose-colored glasses. As I went to reply to her Facebook comment, my mind started whizzing so many thoughts about it I became paralyzed and unable to leave a simple response. When she mentioned it, I realized I’d heard of it before, but my efforts to Google it didn’t pull up anything useful. I think it might be at least similar to the idea of writing a new ending — or maybe just exploring your history and reframing it. Instead of “I have suffered with depression for 10 years,” maybe “I have learned how to live with depression.”

If I assume the goal is to feel better right now, there might be two routes:

1) to reframe what happened in the past
2) to imagine a more positive present or future

Through my life, I’ve grappled with the first option. All along, even in the immediate aftermath, I wondered how different I might feel if I were able to tell a different story about what happened to me when I was growing up. I believed it would make me feel very different than I felt, and I desperately wanted to tell a different story. After years and years of work, I was finally able to see the other possible story I had to tell, which is one of brilliant survival, perseverance, creativity, wow look at that, what a great story. But in the midst of those years and years of work, I couldn’t even see other stories, even as I wanted to and even as I tried so hard I nearly blew out my mind and heart. And I wrote and wrote and wrote about it, too.

One problem, and I definitely know this from my graduate research, is that the more I wrote and talked about it the more concrete and solidified the story became, until I could essentially disconnect and think about anything else while the story came out of my mouth or fingers. I could make a mental grocery list while my mouth told the story; it became rote and fixed. And of course the fixedness of it kept me from getting somewhere else with it. We know that the more we tell our story differently (and our research focused on pronouns, emotion words, and the small words, articles, a an the) from one time to the next, the better our outcomes. And of course the degree and extent of trauma have to be considered in the mix too; if the worst thing that happened to you was the untimely death of your dog, your work will be qualitatively different than if you were held hostage and raped for years and were constantly afraid you would be killed, like those girls in Ohio held hostage by Ariel Castro. It just will be.

I do suspect that writing — with some help and guidance — might help you find a different story inside the one you tell. I don’t know that for sure, because we never tested it (at least when I was still in graduate school and involved in that research). Perhaps there’s something about a person who does that automatically that helps them get somewhere faster, and ‘forcing’ someone to do that, who wouldn’t otherwise do it, is a failed enterprise. It’s an interesting question.

The other possibility for writing a new ending is the one that confuses me, although perhaps it confuses me because I see all the brilliance in my life. Maybe it would be different if I tried to write a new ending during one of the periods I was in the dark hole, grappling with the monsters. Although at those times, I couldn’t even see if there was any light above the hole, much less imagine a different ending. Since it’s all a continuous stream, today is my ending, and tomorrow will be my ending too, and the next day. Each of the days I’ve lived since I left my original family has been the new ending, and even the terrible ones were connected seamlessly in time to earlier periods which had been better.

I think of the psychological concept of chunking, which refers to how we understand when something begins and when it ends in order to determine causality. People chunk things to their own benefit, quite often; if I am having a fight with someone I am likely to feel like I was just there minding my own business and the person antagonized me or picked the fight, or something. And so I start it right there, BANG. He started it. That’s where the chunk begins, that’s how I explain what happened after that. But he might have been responding to something I did a bit earlier, so he starts the chunk right there with what I’d done. Countries in conflict do that too — look at Israel and Palestine, such different stories about the start of the trouble, about the instances of ongoing retaliation. When you’re trying to write a new ending, it’s a question of where you draw the line at the other end, because the beginning of the chunk might be clear — it was the way you were wronged. But how do you know where to draw the end? Every day is the ending.

And that relates to my sense of the mystery of my own life, and perhaps you feel the same way. When I think of the various ways I have imagined my life going over all these years, I don’t think any of them came to fruition, whether they were ‘good’ things or ‘bad.’ And when I look at how my life has actually gone, absolutely none of it was how I thought my life would go. Even when I started college, and graduate school, I started believing wholeheartedly that I would not get the chance to finish them, that my life would get hit by some kind of big bomb and I would have to quit. Yesterday I was talking to a very dear friend about where we find ourselves right now, and that we never thought we’d be here. She never thought she’d be living where she is, doing the things she is doing (though I for one am so grateful she lives where she does!!). I never dreamed I’d live in Austin again. I never dreamed I’d work for myself. I never dreamed I’d get paid to read. I never dreamed I’d go to the kind of conference I’m going to this summer. I never ever dreamed I would love living alone the way I do. I never dreamed I’d travel the world the way I do. (I also never dreamed the bad thing that is happening in the background. UGH.) Never dreamed or imagined one little bit of it.

Maybe I am just so passively oriented toward my life and others are more ambitious, more decisive and goal-directed. I’ve kind of followed my life where it led because I didn’t have a sense of agency. But still, I find myself constantly surprised by how my life is turning out. This is not at all an ending I’d have written with my rose-colored glasses, nor are any of the other versions of my happy ending. And yet they are my happy endings.

Perhaps the answer to writing a new and happy ending is not to be too specific. Not “I will get paid to read” but instead “I will be free of the guilt/shame/sorrow.” Maybe simply “I will find a way to be happy with myself/my life.” I just don’t know, I’m missing something. I hope to get to talk to my friend about it since she knows more than I do.

And this is why I couldn’t write a quick response to her Facebook comment. 🙂 It’s a busy Friday for me, breakfast with a friend and lunch with a friend and then a haircut. Spring is making its way here in fits and starts, and I hope today is a start for us all! xo

it’s so strange isn’t it

Life is really so strange sometimes. It’s September 11 again, the 12th time we’ve all hung our heads. It’s the first time since 2005 that I’m not living in New York, a heavy and sad day there. Last September 11, I was busy getting ready to go to Myanmar, a thrilling treat after the dreadful 6-month treatment Marc (and I) had endured. I was hoping to finish Gracie’s quilt before she was born. I took her Christmas stocking on the flight with me, hoping with all those hours of flying I’d get it finished in plenty of time. Last September 11, I lived in New York City and was going to be a grandmother and was getting away on an exciting vacation with my husband. That was last September 11.

We all miss Gracie, I certainly do, and that’s a hole in our lives, but other than that, I cannot say that my life is worse — it’s just so, so different. Different in ways I never could’ve imagined last year on this day, including my never dreaming that I’d be living apart from my husband, and in Austin. And the strange thing is that so many of the ways it’s different are ways it’s better. My life is more peaceful and also more connected and adventurous. I have so many more people in my life, friends and family. I have a much busier life, with so many things to do and people to see I’m kind of horrified to see that I’m booking 5 weeks in advance at this point. There are ways it’s a little emptier, a little lonelier, but so many more ways it’s much richer and filled. How do you make sense of that?

lifeLife is really strange. Those people who went to work in the WTC that morning couldn’t imagine in their wildest nightmares that an airplane would fly into the building (and on purpose), they couldn’t have imagined that no matter how very hard they tried. That’s an extreme, but we do have such paltry imaginations. We don’t imagine the bad things that will happen to us — we think they won’t happen to us, in fact. Houses burning down happen to other people. Freak accidents happen to other people. Floods and robberies, other people.

Except for Gracie’s death, I don’t regret any of the things that happened in my life this past year. All the ways my life is entirely different than I imagined, I’m glad for them because it’s my life, and it surprises me. I never would’ve imagined any of the things that happened to me throughout my life, good and bad, so this past year has just been more of the same. Really, what we ought to imagine, when we sit and try to imagine, is that we have absolutely no idea what may happen. That life will be strange, it will take unexpected turns, that there are hidden moments and experiences already unfolding and we aren’t aware — good and bad! — and that we have to open our arms to them, because they’re our life.

Postscript
~Seamus Heaney

And some time make the time to drive out west
Into County Clare, along the Flaggy Shore,
In September or October, when the wind
And the light are working off each other
So that the ocean on one side is wild
With foam and glitter, and inland among stones
The surface of a slate-grey lake is lit
By the earthed lightening of flock of swans,
Their feathers roughed and ruffling, white on white,
Their fully-grown headstrong-looking heads
Tucked or cresting or busy underwater.
Useless to think you’ll park or capture it
More thoroughly. You are neither here nor there,
A hurry through which known and strange things pass
As big soft buffetings come at the car sideways
And catch the heart off guard and blow it open

Happy Wednesday. Tell your family and friends you love them today, because who knows what tomorrow will bring . . . but today brings opportunity, so grab it with both your hands. Grab it, hug it, smile at it, take it as yours.

signs and signifiers

Having grown up in Texas, one thing that surprised me most when I moved north was that there is a discernible shift in the light when the season changes to fall. And I mean that it seems to happen on one particular day. I never paid attention to what date it was each year, but I never failed to see it. I’d walk out the door and there it was — the light was coming in lower, or it had a different quality, some of the yellow had drained out of it or something. I do not know how to describe it, but it’s not just an emotional shift. It was a physical shift, recognizable by the senses. It was always my favorite day of the year.

Being this far south, I guess, the shift surely happens but it isn’t dramatic enough to be spotted. And the temperatures don’t make such a dramatic shift, either. Today it’s going to be 103. We don’t have the kinds of trees that turn gorgeous colors in the fall; we have a lot of evergreen kinds of trees, and otherwise the leaves mostly just turn brown and fall off. As I accumulate months and years here, I’ll probably notice changes in the birds’ movements if I pay attention. My darling little father-in-law, Kiki, kept careful logs for decades of the arrival and departure of the purple martins (and the births of the babies).

Still, there are signs and signifiers if you look. When I look out my French doors, it looks like just another perfectly ordinary summer day. Hot. Dry. Parched. No breeze. Trees still clutching all their tiny leaves. But a step out onto my patio showed my eyes something deeper was happening.

tiny bits of evidence scattered all around
tiny bits of evidence scattered all around

A little mess, something to be swept away, but a very loud sign if you pay attention. The trees are releasing their leaves, deciduous vegetation is dying as a function of shifting light that I can’t detect. The world is turning, it is, time is passing and we can feel that. Summer is waning, fall is coming, and in the northern states it’ll be brisk and crisp, soon, and I remember and love that air so much. I’ll get to see it and feel it when I go to NYC.

Tuesday night poetry group met at my place, and it was as wonderful as usual. One of our members is the youngest person in the group (so far), a ~23-year-old guy I really like so much. The poetry he brings is very different from the stuff others bring. Most people bring poems they wrote, but some (like me) do not write. He doesn’t write poetry, that I know of, and he brings poets I’ve never heard of (and no one else has, either), but the poems are shocking and wonderful, and thick with beauty and ambiguity and stuff to puzzle over and lines that echo. Last night, one he brought was called “Crush,” by Ada Limon, and we chewed on it for quite a long time.  And then we had a brand new guy last night who stood up and performed a piece he’d written that was so great we all spontaneously applauded when he finished. It celebrated his love of poetry and included this stanza:

I want my poems read
I want your poems read
I want prime time poetry, I want poet tv
I want a world series of poetry
A super bowl slam, a Whitman cup
I want water cooler talk about poetry
On the tv last night….
I want a pornacopia of pornetry

It was just so delightful, and that’s just one small bit of it. And I want all those things too! I keep thinking I’m going to shut down the meetup group and just keep the small subset of people who reliably come, but then those two guys showed up and I wouldn’t have met them if the group were closed. I love the way life can surprise you sometimes — and it’s good. There are plenty of shocking traumatic surprises, but sometimes the surprises are good. Sometimes they’re a gift.

Fall formally begins in 17 days, but I’ll bet you can find little signs in your own yard. I always find it easy to feel like autumn is one of those big gifts in my life, along with skies full of clouds, little pink birds, and friendship. If you’re in a dark valley — and I know many people who are — I hope you can tune your eyes to small joys and tiny beauties and take some comfort. Or maybe you can get a little help from 105-year-old Edythe Kirchmaier who says, “Find a place inside where there’s joy, and the joy will burn out the pain.” I figure she’s been around long enough to know a thing or two.

Happy almost-fall y’all. I hope you have a wonderful Thursday.

abundance

vacancyCuriously, in the last seven days two women have asked if they could stay with me for a number of weeks. Friends, women slightly younger than me, women I dearly love and cherish.  I’ve lived here almost nine months and despite asking over and over, no one has visited me and stayed in my guest room. That’s OK — I keep it there, available and ready at a moment’s notice for my son, should he decide to move home to Austin. I don’t convert it into an office or use it in any way. It is a spare bedroom, and it hasn’t been used yet.

After all this time, suddenly twice in one week? That’s kind of interesting. My friends have very different reasons for asking, and it made me so deeply happy that they did. Still, isn’t that kind of funny? Twice in a week, asking to stay for several weeks?

One thought I had was that somehow I have a psychic “vacancy” sign above me. As I thought about that a little bit, poking it, I realized that perhaps it’s true — and it’s true because I now have plenty. I have an abundance, more than I need. A gracious plenty, which is a Southern phrase I love so much — and I hear it in a honey sweet old Alabama drawl. A gracious plenty. That’s my life now, and aren’t I the lucky one?

I have a beautiful little home, and I think it’s not just comfortable to me, I think it feels like that to people when they walk into my place. I think it feels like a welcoming real home, settled, a home. I’ve always known how to do that — one of the great side-effects of a gypsy life, you know how to hit the ground running — and my daughters are the same. Their homes are such homey homes, you feel it right away when you walk through their doors. My home is small but plenty big, it’s not luxe or fancy but it’s beautiful and comfortable and more than enough.  I’ve come to think people are drawn to a person who emanates home. Home, where there is good food. Home, where there is a comfortable and welcoming bed for you. Home, where you kind of know where to find things in the kitchen. Home, safe and loving.  And I have that, and it’s worth everything to me.

I have enough to share, more than enough to share, and thanks to my friend Marian, I’m not afraid (to the degree I was, in January and February) of lack or want. I’ve always taken care of myself, and I always will (barring some terrible accident) and if you need something and I have it, it’s yours.

Nine months is long enough to make a whole new life, a whole new person. When I think of where I was nine months ago — arriving in Austin to my beautiful daughter Katie’s welcoming arms, thrown back by the grief of losing almost everything, and with nothing but my clothes in suitcases — and when I think of the months that followed, all that heartache, all that fear, all that pain, and when I look around now? Whole new life. Whole new person.

So my friends and family, near and far: the door is open and the vacancy sign is on.

baby steps

I’ve heard that over and over and barely even listened, it sounded so trite. “Baby steps, start with baby steps.” NO! I will jump in at the deepest end — the Marianas Trench if possible — and I will do everything all at once! I will completely change what and how I eat and become an Olympic athlete and a brilliant writer and social butterfly poof! All. At. Once. And yeah, that lasted about 10 minutes. People like me, black and white thinkers, hit that first failure and up go the hands. Well, I blew it, where is that cake.

And here’s another trite little idea: Doing the same thing and expecting a different result is kind of crazy. At some point you just have to try another way. You just have to. I just have to.

And so I am doing little things and believing that they will accrue, believing that everything will change, that I will change, that maybe doing the opposite of my old ways will make things different. It’s the George Costanza method.

[embedplusvideo height=”496″ width=”625″ editlink=”http://bit.ly/14s8Yvz” standard=”http://www.youtube.com/v/cKUvKE3bQlY?fs=1″ vars=”ytid=cKUvKE3bQlY&width=625&height=496&start=&stop=&rs=w&hd=0&autoplay=0&react=1&chapters=&notes=” id=”ep1514″ /]
 

To get me moving, Jeff and I are setting up timers (he’s doing it too, at his place). On work days, my first timer ticks off an hour, while I work. Then a 10-minute timer marks off a period of moving around. For 10 minutes, I’m out of my chair doing whatever. I’ve been doing 3 sets of plank with downward facing dog in between, and then filling out the 10 minutes on my little elliptical machine in my bedroom. What can you really do in 10 minutes — well, let me tell you. My muscles hurt. My heart races and I get out of breath. It isn’t much, but it’s 70 minutes of movement in a workday that I wasn’t getting before. These little sips of movement are good for themselves, but I also hope they seep into the cracks and shift something deeper. I hope they get me used to moving and shine a little light somewhere that’s dark.

All I’m doing is drinking a smoothie to start my day. That’s all. Spinach and a banana and a handful of frozen fruit, plus water. That’s all. We haven’t had our first formal meeting yet (that’ll happen August 12) but I’m trying to eat at home and make all the vegetables I can possibly eat. Luckily I love vegetables, and tofu, and I enjoy cooking. I’m not “following a diet” or feeling rigid about anything at all, I’m just trying to eat some vegetables. When I eat something else, something that’s perhaps not part of the change I’m hoping to make, I try to do a little shrug and then move on. Last night I went to perhaps the worst play I’ve ever seen (with the worst performances) and when I got home at 10:15, I ate some cheese and had 1/4 a glass of wine — my old style — but this morning it’s a new day and I’ll make my smoothie and get moving. Little shifts. Breathing.

Happy Sunday y’all. It’s a brand new day, and baby steps are just so easy to do.

the impossible-to-do basics of life

What are the most basic things? Breathing, eating, sleeping, going to the bathroom. Basics, your body has to have them/do them or else, and they mostly just happen (except for eating). You breathe in and out without having to think about it at all. You sleep at night, and/or when you’re tired. You go to the bathroom when your body does its thing. You eat every day; I realize this is inherently the most complicated of the basics. And I cannot do any of them.

Obviously I breathe enough to stay alive, but just barely, quite often. I think I completely forget to breathe for long periods, and then I’ll unexpectedly do a huge gasp and realize I hadn’t been breathing. (My kids will say, with a thick accent, “Breathe, Lo-ri!”) Most of the time my breaths are extremely shallow, demitasse spoons of air in the front of my nose only, even less making it into my lungs. Trauma produces this kind of breathing, and I guess it became a habit? For so many years I was in a traumatic environment and my system must’ve decided this is how we do breathing. This is not how we do breathing, self. 

Sleeping, can’t do that either. Some of my inability to sleep is due to life stage; menopausal women have particular sleep problems (staying asleep) and sleep has always been complicated for me. You too, I’m sure. I’m amazed that so few people can sleep without trouble of one form or another. I’m chronically sleep-deprived; it’s really just a question or more or less deprivation, rather than good sleep/bad sleep. Once in a blue moon I’ll have an uninterrupted night of beautiful sleep. I wish that blue moon would come around a little more often.

Bathroom, well, I don’t need to go into this one but human beings go to the bathroom more frequently than once every two weeks. They just do. My intestines didn’t seem to get that memo.

And eating. Well, I’m in a big giant club with this one. Who knows how to eat? Who eats easily, un-neurotically, with a steady course? Not that many people. My situation is that I’ve dieted my entire life (punctuated by periods of compulsive shoving food into my mouth). And each diet was rigid, but always different. In this one, you must only eat X and Y but never A! If you eat A, you’ll screw up the diet completely!! Then here’s another, where you must only eat A and B but never X! Eat X and the whole thing will make you fat. Only meat and cheese but no carbs!! Only carbs but no fat! So each kind of food now terrifies me, and I just don’t know what to eat. No idea. Since 2005, Marc fed me every day, beautiful wonderful meals, rarely healthy but always made with love and so much deliciousness, such subtle food, my favorites, Asian food frequently, curries made from his homemade curry paste, whatever I asked for. I used to cook, but I’d cook for my family and often just watch them eat because I was once again dieting.

If you’ve been reading my little blog since the Thrums days, you’ve followed me through this path and that path and the other path, as I try to get a handle on all these things. Oh how I have tried, and had temporary successes here and there. Now, my life has settled down, it’s not undergoing seismic shifts (hallelujah), and I have only myself to think about and tend to/care for on a daily basis. I’m in excellent health, I’m only 54, and I want to (a) get ease around food and (b) be here and healthy for several decades to come.

So on Monday I hired a health coach. I don’t even feel silly about it because I’m just so confused and I need help. I need to know how to eat, how to think about food, how to understand the constantly changing food ‘rules’ (probably by learning how to ignore 99% of them because I just understand food), and how to get a good and healthy routine going, one that’s realistic for me. He’s wonderful, very down to earth, only interested in figuring out what works for me as I want to live my life, and interested in helping me make the changes I want to make. It’s a 6-month commitment, two meetings a month. We can have a meeting at the grocery store if we want; we can meet at my house to cook if we want; we can have a meeting in my kitchen to see what’s what and what would be better. We can meet at the gorgeous grounds of the Laguna Gloria Art Museum and walk and talk for a meeting. As he told me yesterday, coaching isn’t therapy, it isn’t about sitting on the couch and talking about stuff, though understanding stuff is important and helps. But coaching gets off the coach, the coach knows his stuff and understands yours, and stands beside you to support you while you fight the dragons, and sticks with you through the long-term effort to change something. I like that it’s a 6-month commitment, because I could buckle down, hunker down and get these 15 pounds off me by starving and starving and starving, and when I got them off I still wouldn’t know how to eat.

I think it all goes around and around and around in a circle, and you can let the circle run and never make things different. For instance, I’m in a period of really not sleeping at all, so if I finally go to sleep at 6am, I’m going to sleep until I wake up, because I need the sleep. But then my morning is off to a late start, and I think I don’t have time to go take a walk (plus, it’s already getting too hot) so I just start working and work until the day ends. But if I’d get regular exercise, I might be able to sleep better. But I’m too exhausted to get up early, and it’s already too hot if I start late, so right now I’m privileging sleep. And it’s not like that’s a foolish thing! As I learned earlier this year, things do not go well for me when I go long periods of time with no sleep. But nothing is changing, and so I have to interrupt the system.

My health coach, Jeff, is vegan and said he will be encouraging me in that direction but only because he thinks it’s healthy — but he won’t push me at all. He’s starting by encouraging me to eat more (him and everyone else….), and to begin the morning with a smoothie. A banana, a handful of frozen fruit of whatever kind, and a big pile of fresh spinach, with enough water to make the blender work. Just that, just start there. I did that today, and of course it was simple and delicious, and good for me. Tonight when I get home from a happy hour with friends (no drinks for me, I’ve figured out that even one glass of wine or one beer screws up my sleep) I’ll eat the couscous I just made:

couscous

Lots of fresh steamed asparagus, dried apricots, fresh mint, red onions, a handful of chopped pecans, garlic, lemon juice, a splash of olive oil, and some kalamata olives. I worry about the couscous, since it’s a pasta, but this is my dinner. Last night I stir fried broccoli and baby bok choi and carrots and ginger and shitakes and green onions and tofu, very very good. Whether it’s what I need to be eating, or the amount I should be eating, it’s a start and it’s fresh food. I freak out about it, I think it’s too much, wrong food, but for now I’m just eating. I’ve been doing so many social activities, or else not knowing what to eat and then I end up starving so I go out (spending money) and eat something I definitely regret. A juicy drippy hamburger with a fried egg on top. For instance.

This is so hard, eating, and it shouldn’t be. Jeff said the food industry and the government have worked very very hard to confuse us, and then there’s media and the diet industry, and I have fallen prey to the whole damned lot. Last night at a happy hour, one woman was talking about an anti-inflammation diet and I thought oh yeah! Inflammation! I read a book about that — now how do I fit that into how to eat?! And I need to think about my osteoporotic bones, and my complete lack of estrogen — ah, what about plant estrogens, I ought to work those in somehow! There’s also all the ‘shoulds,’ like: you should eat local. You should eat clean. You should blah blah blah. Well, that’s fine, but that can be expensive, that is time-consuming! I practically need to go to the store every day for fresh food, because it seems to go bad and then I throw it away. But who has time for that!

AAARGH. I’m going to blog the process, including the failures and false starts. I want to be as honest about it as I can, because it’s not going to be quick and simple. The very reason I chose the particular health coach I chose is that he was obese and had such severe health problems that he nearly died. He changed his life, and as that process was happening he was so intrigued by it he decided to get a real education and training to become a health coach. So he clearly knows what it’s like to decide to eat a whole cake and two boxes of Pop-Tarts (or whatever). He knows how hard it is to make big change, and he knows how hard it is to make yourself exercise when you have never done that. He’s open about the hard bits he faced, and I will be too. I don’t have the kind of problems to face that he had; mine are more internal than visible, but battling food is battling food. And I’ve got a seasoned warrior helping me. I’ll put all these posts in a new category, “health coaching.”

Day 1, feeling optimistic.

change, in one easy step!

Remember that old skit Steve Martin did on SNL, way back in the late 70s? It gave him a chance to introduce a couple of phrases that went viral, although we didn’t say that back then. Here:

You.. can be a millionaire.. and never pay taxes! You can be a millionaire.. and never pay taxes! You say.. “Steve.. how can I be a millionaire.. and never pay taxes?” First.. get a million dollars. Now.. you say, “Steve.. what do I say to the tax man when he comes to my door and says, ‘You.. have never paid taxes’?” Two simple words. Two simple words in the English language: “I forgot!” How many times do we let ourselves get into terrible situations because we don’t say “I forgot”? Let’s say you’re on trial for armed robbery. You say to the judge, “I forgot armed robbery was illegal.” Let’s suppose he says back to you, “You have committed a foul crime. you have stolen hundreds and thousands of dollars from people at random, and you say, ‘I forgot’?” Two simple words: Excuuuuuse me!!

It still cracks me up — that quick sliding over the “how to GET the million dollars” bit. It reminds me of this great cartoon from the New Yorker:

miracles

That’s funny, no matter how many times I see it, and it seems like the missing magic step in so many how-to books. When I was young, my mother would say to me and my sister, “He’s cute, why don’t you date him?” OH! We’d smack our foreheads. Yeah, why didn’t we think of that. Done.

So with that acknowledged context, it’s still true that if you want change, you have to change. Period, that’s just the truth. Change might come if you don’t do anything, but it’s probably not going to be what you had in mind. If you keep ignoring your mail and just don’t do anything, something might happen but it probably won’t be money fairies visiting you at night to pay those outstanding bills. Probably not.

If you want change, change. Complaining won’t do it magically. Wishing it would change won’t do it magically. Wanting someone else to change so you don’t have to probably won’t do it for you (or rather, it won’t be the change you really wanted). It isn’t that you have to attack the Big Thing head on and suddenly be a dramatically different person, though that’s how people like me tend to think and approach it. I want to be a healthier person so I’m going to completely change what I eat and how I think about food and how I cope with trouble and I’m going to train for a marathon and work out every single day for hours. DONE. Until an hour later when it’s not done at all, and I’m right back to complaining about wanting or needing to change. It’s hard for people like me to remember that change can start in a tiny way and still count as change, change can be incremental, change can take place over an extended time. Once you start the process of change, change starts happening.

And if you just keep circling the drain, weeks/months/years/decades spent talking about the same change that’s never made, then maybe you have to think about that. Because maybe you want something else that’s inconsistent and you actually want it a tiny bit more. For me, there’s a tension between eating in a controlled way so I remain lean, and giving food a different place in my life, a place that’s about relish and pleasure (but not gluttony). That’s a simple and excised choice that’s really embedded in a larger context, but it makes the point.

Then, of course, there’s psychological change, and that’s not at all so simple. Ah! I don’t want to live in irrational fear any more, *snap*! Done. I’m not talking about that, though even there, a point comes when you just have to try something that’s scary and outside your comfort zone. I’m not saying that’s easy — ever, with any change — but basically, if you want change, change.

Happy Friday, y’all! Today it’s 106 here, and that’s just hot whether it’s a dry heat or a humid heat. Lots of love to you, wherever you are and however you are. xo