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.
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.
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.
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
(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.)
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.
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?
Joe seeks an escape from the deadly dinosaur fangs of a teething, five month old corgi puppy. He finds refuge in the escapee’s usual area of perpetual confinement. Loki runs towards him, desiring to sink his teeth into the socks of distraction, and realizes with regret his fangs cannot find purchase with the plastic wall of dissatisfaction in place. With nowhere for his hormonal malice to go, our tiny, angsty dinosaur regards the human in his cage, and asks the question on everyone’s mind:
“Who’s a good boy?”
A few months ago, my sister sent me a journal so I can practice some narrative therapy. Narrative therapy helps an individual become an expert in their own life through telling the stories they have carried around. Putting the stories of your life into writing gives meaning to your experiences and influences how you see yourself and the world around you. When my sons were younger, I used my blog as a form of narrative therapy to help me rearrange my negative perceptions about their struggles and create a better path forward for all of us. More recently, I’ve used blogging to tell stories from my childhood as a way to validate those experiences and increase my own voice and messaging around those pivotal events that shaped who I am. Through these exercises, I’ve begun to understand myself more fully. I am more aware of why I am the way I am and more capable of making adjustments in areas where I’m not fond of the trajectory I’ve taken. The process is helping me have greater self-compassion because I understand that my fears, coping mechanisms, and judgments didn’t originate in a vacuum. These behaviors arose to protect me. Now that I understand why they existed in the first place, I can begin to jettison habits that once protected me but no longer serve me .
One thing my sister and I have challenged each other to do is start some reconstruction. We are creating lists that outline what we like so we can recreate ourselves fully as the people we actually are and not the people we were told we were. We are rewriting our stories. That may sound odd or even disingenuous but, when you have spent your life in a pattern of reaction borne out of the fallacy that you are not an expert on your own self, you need to start with the basics to reclaim your identity.
Today my sister threw a gauntlet down. She sent me a photograph of a page where she has started listing things she knows she likes. To keep things equitable, I too started a list. My criteria? Things that make me happy or give me a sense of hope and possibility. Here’s what I have so far:
- a sunny day in the mountains
- medium roast espresso
- attending concerts
- puzzles and word games
- all types of travel, including long road trips
- smelling lily of the valley and lilacs
- long, hot showers
- deep conversations about faith, life, death, philosophy, space, current events, politics, or anything that avoids the pointless drivel of small talk
- skiing, camping, hiking, cycling, kayaking, snorkeling, being active out in nature and not in a gym
- documentaries and foreign films
- anything with the flavor of passion fruit
- the color of a green apple
- lectures presented by experts in their field
- Coca Cola and Bugles
- the Buffalo Bills
- Wes Anderson films
- wool socks
- satellite radio
- flip flops
- down comforters
I will keep adding to this list in my journal as items come to mind. In the meantime, I know that being bold enough to enumerate here these items is the first step reclaiming my story. I know who I am. I know what I like. No one knows me better than I do. And I’m finished letting others dictate to me who I am.
It was an unexpected, although welcome, snow day for our high school senior and his carpool-weary mom today. We knew there would be a late start this morning because of the snow, ice, and subzero windchill this morning, but when I woke up and started getting dressed to go out and shovel the driveway so I could drive Luke to school, hubby casually said, “You know it’s a snow day, right?”
It was the kind of unanticipated gift that can make life better after a slow and difficult re-entry to real life after a beautiful holiday in Hawaii. I determined it would be a catch up day. I felt overwhelmed when we returned home on Monday afternoon and had to turn around and start back into reality at 6 am Tuesday. So I l planned to use this gifted day to catch up on laundry and take down all the holiday decorations that had grown tiresome. The best part was that I now had a full day to do it and two sons at home to help.
After we had returned our home to its pre-holiday state and Joe had worn out the dogs with playtime in the yard, he approached Luke and said he had an idea. Joe has ideas a lot. When he has them, he involves Luke. Luke tries to get out of what ever Joe is scheming, but more often than not he ends up giving in because he knows Joe can be relentless. He will not stop hounding you until you give in. I usually cringe for Luke in these situations because I know, as an introvert, what Luke wants most is to stick with what he is doing and not get dragged into Joe’s plans. Today, though, Joe whispered his idea into Luke’s ear, and I was surprised how easily Luke acquiesced. They found their snow gear, grabbed sleds they’ve had for ten years, and headed out to the open space. When they returned home, I heard Joe remark to Luke how much lighter and easier to handle these sleds are now. It made me smile.
Today our adult children seized the day and took advantage of their snow day as they might have when they were 8 and 10. It made me happy. We tend to give Joe a little grief when he says he has an idea, but the truth is that a lot of the really amazing things we’ve done started with one of Joe’s ideas. Luke is amazing at accomplishing things, but I thank heaven every day for Joe who is amazing at reminding Luke (and the rest of us) to let go and have fun once in a while. Every family should have a Joe to dream up plans and interminably pester everyone until they come to fruition. Don’t we all deserve to have that one person who reminds us not just to live but to practice being alive?
It can be difficult to know when you are ready to step away from therapy, either for the short or long term. Some days therapy is incredibly useful, and others you may walk out feeling like it was a waste of money. After my session today, though, I am fairly certain I know when I will be ready to call it good for a while:
- When I can get through a session without thinking to myself, even for one quick second, “Eeesh…do you hear yourself? Blah…blah…blah. Who cares? Get over it and shut up.”
- When I can walk out the door as the session is ending without thanking my therapist and apologizing to her for making her listen to me ramble on for an hour.
I did both of these things today, and it troubles me that I am still struggling to be compassionate to myself for being human and having emotions and thoughts I need to work through and I’m still not believing I’m worth the trouble I put my therapist through, despite the reality that I am paying her to listen and guide me to a better place.
The good news is that I am no longer in the dark about these things. I know the areas where I have room for growth, and I’m not afraid to explore them and move forward despite understanding the speed bumps ahead. This proves that I have become more mindful, so there’s that.
Just keep swimming, Dory said. And so I shall.