Icy Roads With A Chance Of Say Your Prayers

This is the forecast for the morning commute tomorrow. Ask me how excited I am. They might as well have written this:

Tomorrow morning your commute will be shitty. Make sure you have your insurance card ready for the accident you will likely be involved in. If you do manage to avoid an accident, rest assured it will take you a full hour longer to get where you are going. Oh….and the roads will be ice covered in snow for the afternoon commute, so that should be fun. Good luck, losers.

I mean, with recent Covid-19, work-from-anywhere transplants from Texas, Florida, California, and Georgia will be on the roads. How bad could this be?

Let’s go!

The Word For The Year Is Boundaries

I was reading through The Gifts of Imperfection by Brené Brown today when I came upon this:

“The heart of compassion is really acceptance. The better we are at accepting ourselves and others, the more compassionate we become. Well, it’s difficult to accept people when they are hurting or taking advantage of us or walking all over us. This research has taught me that if we really want to practice compassion, we have to start by setting boundaries and holding people accountable for their behavior.”

This hit me hard because I have had a long-term struggle with boundaries. As a child, I learned that it was not okay for me to set them. So as an adult, to avoid conflict, I have continued to shift my boundaries to accommodate what someone else wanted or expected of me. Doing so made me bitter without any understanding that the bitterness was coming from my giving what I wanted and needed away to keep someone else comfortable. Giving others their peace took away my own. Not setting boundaries kept me stuck. Understanding that keeping boundaries is essential to being compassionate to myself and others empowers me to stand my ground, to make room for myself, and to find that peace I have been lacking.

Over the past year, I have been working a great deal on boundaries. I didn’t come at this through the knowledge that it would allow me to better practice compassion. I came at this because I finally got to a point in my life where I realized that not having any boundaries in place for myself was no longer a tenable situation. The pandemic, and lockdown particularly, taught me I need boundaries to stay sane and to be pleasant towards others. I learned that I need space. I need silence. I need peace. And I need to stand up for myself to have these things in my life. If I don’t set boundaries, if I am not willing to ask for (and demand, if necessary) what I need from others, then I will forever be a grumpy, negative person who feels powerless. I don’t like that. I don’t want that, and I don’t want to be that person. So, I am learning to set boundaries and to accept that those boundaries will piss some people off and completely alienate others and that is not my concern. My concern is keeping myself and my sense of self safe from those who would use my difficulty in advocating for myself against me.

“The only people who get upset about you setting boundaries are the ones who benefitted from you having none.” ~Unknown

“You are not required to set yourself on fire to keep others warm.” ~ Unknown

I might start saying no more firmly this year. You might hear me saying things like, “I understand that is what you want, but that doesn’t work for me.” I may full well make some people uncomfortable by refusing to do what they think is fair and right because I believe it doesn’t align with my core values and what I need. This will be hard for me because I was raised to believe people would only like me if I made myself likable by acquiescing to their whims. But I’m old enough now to understand that it’s not only acceptable but imperative that I set boundaries where I need them and tend to them to keep them secure and impenetrable. I will ruffle feathers and others may use my boundaries as talking points to turn others against me, but I no longer care about that. I’m exhausted from being the willow tree that bends. I’m ready to be the rock that the tree learns to grow around.

A Table With An Extra Leaf

Me and Thing One

We dropped Thing One at the airport again this morning for his flight back to Walla Walla. He has been in college a year now and, overall, these comings and goings have become easier for me. Not because I don’t miss him but because he has proven himself more than up to the task and I have seen that life without him after 20 years with him is okay. I am okay. My time as Mom isn’t over but the role has shifted. Joe still needs me often enough, but he’s also on his own a lot more. So we dropped him at the curb with his bags and drove off without incident. No tears. Everything was copacetic.

Everything was fine when we got home too. I was feeling pretty proud of myself. It was the easiest drop off yet. Yay, me! I got to work on life around the house, laundry, vacuuming. Then I got to the kitchen table. I removed the placements, wiped it off, and went to take the fifth chair away. That is when I got sad and teary eyed. I put the fifth chair back at the dining table where it lives and then set about taking the extra leaf out of the kitchen table and returning it to its usual 4-person size. I stood there for a minute overwhelmed over the loss of that extra seat.

A little later after I thought I had moved on again and pulled myself together, I put on a hoodie Joe left behind for me. It smelled like him. I got teary eyed again.

Letting go is a process, one I have to keep reminding myself about over and over. I know I will never stop missing Joe or being sad when he leaves, but it will become part of our new relationship contract. I told him today that I was a little sad about the table. And then I told him that it is all okay because I love him with my whole heart and I am happy that he is off pursuing his own life, but I will always miss him when he leaves. Then I told him that someday he will miss me when I leave and that is life. He told me we’d best not talk about that ever again.

Relationships aren’t easy, but they are worthwhile. And I will always have a table with an extra leaf for those times when the important people pop back into my life. Until then, there’s this little guy who is here for me.

The son I got to replace the son who sent to college. I will have to get another when Thing Two goes to college. And I am really glad I didn’t have more children because I can only handle two dogs.

My Life As A Stock Photo Model

A few months before we went to Hawaii, I mentioned to my husband that it might be a great opportunity to have some family portraits taken. So, I did some research to find us a photographer. The one I tried to book was already spoken for, so she pointed us towards another woman and we booked a thirty minute photo session with her. We ended up taking the photos right at the house where we were staying, which was perfect. At any rate, the photographer took all sorts of different poses with different groups of us. And when we received the photos today, we were happy to discover that we did all actually clean up well and take some lovely photos.

We took some more traditional, look-at-the-camera-and-smile photos, and then she said she wanted to take some candids. She asked us to look at each other and pretend like we were having funny conversations. So, we did. And this is when I discovered my true calling.

I could be a fake model. I am really good at tossing my head back and laughing as if someone just said something really funny. Now that I’ve told you about my skill, though, try to forget it when you tell me a joke.

Serve Yourself A Self-Love Sandwich

Tonight’s dinner

Some times, due to time constraints, you have to cut corners and do something less than optimal, like have a plain turkey and swiss on gluten free bread for dinner. On those occasions, though, don’t think of yourself as anything less than the marvelous queen (or king, I guess) that you are. Even if dinner is just a yawn of a sandwich, make sure you cut that shit on the diagonal because you are absolutely worth it.

True Love Is Not Blind Despite What They Say

The people I love the most

Love is blind. I know we have all heard that platitude a million times, but for some reason today it didn’t sit right with me when I heard it in a song. This, I assume, is because I am growing as a person and seeing life through a different lens. I used to think that phrase meant that when you love someone you are blind to their faults. Maybe that part is true when you are first falling for someone in a romantic way, but I don’t think it’s true once you are fully committed to a person or in relationships that are not romantic in nature, like with siblings or children or parents. I love my children more than anything and would give my life for theirs in a heartbeat, but I’m not blind to who they are, all of them, the good and the bad traits (some of which definitely came to them through me). And I think they absolutely could tell you what the positives and negatives are about me.

I am no expert on love, having come to know it only in the last half of my life thus far. As I was growing up, I understood love on an intellectual level. I had no real concept of it because I had experienced no real example of it. I assumed my parents loved me because they would get angry if I came home late. But if love was indeed blind, then my parents didn’t love me because they definitely knew my shortcomings and pointed them out regularly. So love confounded me. How did it work?

Here is what I have learned about love since having my own children. Love is not blind, and it shouldn’t be. Love is knowing someone intimately and wanting the best for them always, even when they are confused about their gender identity or in jail because they got a DUI or lost the thousand dollars they got from you for Christmas. If you aren’t able to recognize someone’s struggles, weaknesses, and issues, how can you be there for them, to support and encourage them, to take care of them when they are at their worst? Love isn’t about being blind to who someone is or what they do. It’s about being there for them in spite of the things about them or that they do to make you crazy, stressed, worried, angry, or frustrated.

Love is all seeing and ever present. It exists in the hard work of being present for someone else no matter what. It’s you seeing someone else in all their humanity and appreciating them both for it and in spite of it. It’s in the sacrifices you make for another person. It’s in the suffering you take on to ease their pain. Love is about showing up. It’s a lot harder to show up if you can’t see.

The Budding Botheration Of Climate Change

I went on a walk today with my oldest son and my youngest dog. I’ve been on a quest to get our puppy as much exercise as possible because he’s a really good dog when he’s tired. And long walks outside are totally feasible in the winter in Denver because it’s not unusual for us to have a spate of 30 degree days followed by an equal portion of 50-60 degree days. During those warm periods, I love to get outside, and this has been even more true in the time of Covid when any opportunity to get out safely in the world brings me joy.

But while walking today, I noticed an unwelcome sight. The cottonwood trees are beginning to bud. It’s mid January, and this is not good. We had an exceptionally warm December and didn’t receive our first snow until midway through the month, which is about two months later than we used to see our first snow of the winter. Colorado and many western states are reliant on heavy winter snows in the mountains for fresh water. We are not seeing snow levels here like we used to. Colorado had seasons when I was growing up. We’d have a cold winter with some warm days, followed by a snowy spring that eventually gave way to a warm but not ridiculously hot summer, which led into a temperate fall that was inevitably cut short by an early winter snow. More recently, we have joked (sadly) that Colorado has two seasons: winter and fire. But now I even see our winters abating.

I’ve never been a climate change denier. The scientific evidence Al Gore presented in the first Inconvenient Truth film made sense to me, and the second film 11 years later simply backed up everything he reported in the first film. I’ve accepted what the scientists have said and what the climate continues to demonstrate. We are in a bad place. Warmer, drier summers mean more drought and fires. Warmer, drier winters mean less water for crops in the spring and summer. Warmer weather means mosquitoes and mosquito-borne illnesses are likely to increase. And when plants bud early and insects appear sooner because of warmer temperatures, migratory birds become imperiled because they may arrive in the spring to find they are too late for their food. We’ve seen droughts and wildfires on the rise. We’ve also witnessed storms growing worse, flooding happening more often, and unprecedented heat waves occurring in areas that are temperate (I’m looking at you, Seattle and Portland). I’m not sure why we aren’t all freaking out about this, but I assume it’s like the fabled frog boiling experiment. Because the changes have been amortized, they are easier to ignore as one-off situations. But as these storms, fires, floods, droughts, and heat waves become more common, your head has to be buried deeply in the sand to miss their message.

One area I’ve been working on in my life is accepting the unwelcome changes that are an inevitable part of life. The Buddhists call this practice “groundlessness” or “impermanence.” It simply means working to accept that everything is fluid and nothing is constant, and it’s our human desire to expect that we can settle into and keep things comfortable and changeless that causes us pain. So, I accept that climate change is real. I accept that Colorado’s climate will never again be what it was in my childhood. I accept that the warmer, drier winters will likely mean water restrictions and rationing in the years to come. I accept that having smokey summers will be the norm. I accept that ski seasons will continue to shorten until there isn’t even enough snow to ski on anymore. I can accept all this, but it makes me sad. Sad we didn’t think this would happen despite the overwhelming scientific evidence. Sad that we are too comfortable and complacent in our lives to make the sacrifices necessary to prevent this. Sad that trees are budding in January instead of April or May. Sad there is nothing much to be done to change this unless 90% of our world’s population suddenly become Greta Thunberg clones and begin demanding more from our governments and leaders.

What I know about life, though, is that adapting to change and accepting it diminishes suffering. So, I will continue to enjoy my warm, winter walks with our dog and ignore the trees budding in January because I will take the good where I can find it.

The Trouble With Time Is That It’s Too Easy To Waste

It’s not that we have little time, but more that we waste a good deal of it.” ~Seneca

I have wasted a ton of time since the pandemic began. I can’t even begin to calculate how much time. If you checked my Nintendo DS, you could probably find a record of how much time I spent playing Animal Crossing during lockdown (okay, and beyond). It would be a gargantuan number of hours. Add to that the time I spent on TikTok or researching travel I could not undertake or playing Archery in my text threads with my sisters or reading tweets, well, it’s embarrassing. I know that my misuse of time stemmed, at least initially, from the overwhelm of being in lockdown and uncertain about what was going to happen with the pandemic. But, once things relaxed a bit, did I get back on track with living my life? No. I did not. The ups and downs of “do we mask” and “can we trust the vaccines” and “why am I wearing a mask when so many people aren’t” and “how far do I have to travel to get a vaccine” and “what do you mean cloth masks aren’t effective enough” and “will there even be room at a hospital if I have a stroke or something” made me want to check out. So, I did. I continued to bury my head in nonsense.

But then we went to Hawaii for Christmas, and I put my phone down more often and lived. I sat in the sun on warm, black lava rocks, and watched the waves roll in shades of turquoise. I walked among swiss-cheese rocks and looked for shells both teeming with life and devoid of it. I woke up to the sunrise ten out of eleven mornings there. I felt the sand between my toes, smelled plumeria blossoms, and tasted fresh, Kona-grown coffee. It felt good to be alive again.

I missed living.

So today I spent some quality time with our puppy because he makes me laugh every day. I savored my food and appreciated it. I went to my meditation meeting and listened intently to what the other participants said about their practices. I worked hard to be present all day.

Maybe it was my Hawaiian holiday. Maybe it was watching Don’t Look Up. I’m not sure what has brought me to this place, but I have definitely been more present so far in 2022. I’m tired of wasting time and then being frustrated that I didn’t do all the things I wanted to do. I know what I want for this year, so I am setting an intention to show up for my life and the people in it. I’m going to spend some time this week figuring out what that looks like and how I think I can best accomplish it. And then I am going to get busy living again. It’s not a New Year’s Resolution. It’s a Life Revolution.

“I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived.” ~Henry David Thoreau

Don’t Look Up: The Reality Of Our Present Condition

(Warning: Spoilers for the above mentioned film exist below this text. If you haven’t viewed this film and think you might want to in the future, you might want to skip this post for now.)

Photo by Colton Sturgeon on Unsplash

A couple nights ago, my husband and I finally got around to watching Adam McKay’s satire Don’t Look Up on Netflix. When I first saw the movie trailer a while ago, it intrigued me. Then I happened upon myriad reviews by professional film critics and, based on their nearly universal panning of the film, I almost skipped it. I am glad I did not because it has been turning over and over in my head since I watched it Saturday night.

Don’t Look Up is a satirical film about American scientists who discover a planet-killer comet on a collision course with Earth. Try as they might to inspire the government and the American public at large to take this threat seriously, no one really seems to. The messaging just isn’t there, and people are too distracted by noise (social media, famous personas, politics, faux news, and their own biases and self-absorption) to check in long enough to realize this is the end of the world as we know it. They are so busy looking down that they don’t even see the comet hurtling towards earth until it’s too late.

McKay has stated that the film is about our lack of response to the scientific evidence behind climate change (Al Gore would agree this is a problem), and if writer/director McKay says that is what is about then I guess that is what it is about. And while it had to be cathartic for climate activist Leonardo DiCaprio to embark on a thinly veiled, paid, unhinged rant in the film about our combined ignorance and lack of action on the comet (climate change), I still only vaguely felt that was the true impactful message of the film. Sorry, Mr. McKay.

What I took away from the film, if you strip away all the comet nonsense and/or any topic you want to insert in its place (like the pandemic), is that Americans are lost. Like, literally unable to see what is happening right in front of our faces, running-around-blinded-to-reality lost. Why are we lost this way? Because our heads are always downturned towards the phones in our hands. This is the irony of the phrase and the movie title “don’t look up.” If we were able to unplug ourselves from our phones, social media, the siren’s call of the text message alert, Google in all its iterations, and all the myriad other distractions we hang our lives on in the palm of our hands rather than paying attention to what is happening in our immediate surroundings, then we might be capable of fixing the broken planet. As it is, with our acquired inability to focus on the present and our acquired ability to check out of reality constantly, we really are doomed. Distracted by shiny objects in the film, a comet wipes out the planet because people literally can’t, or won’t, look up and see it approaching. Distracted by shiny objects in America today, we have ignored climate change, bickered about personal freedoms rather than focusing on public health during a pandemic, and concentrated more on the romance between Jennifer Lopez and Ben Affleck than on the crisis happening in our democracy. We seriously are our own worst enemies. The film drives this point right off a cliff like Toonces the Driving Cat.

I have to say that by the end of the movie, I was rooting for the comet to wipe everyone out.

I know there is still good in the world. The only way to find it, though, is to step away from our screens and get back to the work of being human, of interacting with each other in person and not through anonymous mean-girl comments online, of recognizing our shared humanity and acting like adults. Yes. It’s hard work. And it will be even more difficult now that we’ve grown accustomed to our distractions. We are out of practice. But if we’re to stem a climate change meltdown or pull ourselves out of this pandemic or restore faith in our fellow citizens and our democracy, or maybe even destroy a yet unseen comet heading our way, this is what we need to do. We need to step away from our devices, read more, and brush up on our interpersonal communication skills. The dinosaurs lasted approximately 165 million years. Modern humans have only been around 200,000 years. I’m no longer sure that homo sapiens were named correctly. I don’t think we’re all that wise.

Existing Or Living: It’s A Choice

Is he existing or is he living his best life?

We’re sitting at home watching Queer Eye on Netflix (full disclosure: I’m only sort of watching because I am doing on some online shopping with my eyes) and someone on the show mentions there’s a difference between existing and living as you get older. This caught my attention. It is easy as you age to fall into habits and get into patterns that don’t leave much room for new experiences and personal growth. After all, you’ve been around 5, 6, 7 decades and you’ve got a history. People hold you accountable to that history. You’ve been defined, and being thus defined you settle into place like gum stuck under a table. You are stuck, and you exist in the well-worn grooves.

I’m going to be 54 in May. My husband and I will celebrate 27 years in August, and later that month our youngest will begin college. This is when the gum can get stuck to the wall. I know a lot of people my age and older (and even younger) who are stuck. There is nothing new in their lives. There is no freshness, no growth. They are existing.

I don’t want that for my life, but I know that since March 2020 that is what I have been doing. I have been simply existing. I’ve been lazy about self-care and home care. I have been going through the motions. And, yes. There has been a lot of change, stress, anxiety, and adjustment these past two years just trying to negotiate our Covid-19 world, and I have to give myself a little grace for that. But I am ready to move beyond this stagnation and start living again. I’m ready to carve out a place to care for myself and not self-soothe by checking out. I’m ready to accept myself where I am at and move forward and live again because time isn’t slowing down, Covid isn’t going away, and the longer I stay stuck the more difficult it will be to pry myself loose.

If you did a self check in right now, where are you? Are you living or are you existing?