Henry David Thoreau-ing It

“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, to discover that I had not lived.” ~Henry David Thoreau

Me a bunch of years ago celebrating at Red Rocks (with food I can no longer eat)

Birthdays over age 50 are something else. On the one hand, you have to acknowledge you are definitely over that hill and the time ahead for you is far less than the time behind you. On the other hand, you know people who have already left this world, perhaps classmates that didn’t make it to your advanced age, and you are grateful to be here. It’s a mixed bag. I’m simultaneously glad to be 54 and annoyed to be 54. But time marches on and the only way to stop it is death, and that is not an option I am anxious to explore. My fingers are crossed that my luck continues to hold.

While I did not go into the woods like Henry David Thoreau, this month I have been taking a much needed hiatus from social media. My reasons are a little different than Thoreau’s, but the thought is the same. I wanted to eliminate the bullshit. I wanted to face only the essentials of life, to see what those people around me and the situations we shared in person together could offer me. I wanted to delete the distractions provided by the socials. I wanted to ensure I wasn’t wasting my life gawking at other people’s lives. And I needed to make sure I wasn’t so busy presenting a life to others that I was no longer consciously living one myself. I picked a curious time to do it too, given that this month is filled with experiences one would love to post on social media…birthdays, graduations, parties, reunions, and travel.

Still, I’m not doing it quite right. I admit to playing some games on my iPhone and watching playoff hockey and episodes of Formula 1: Drive to Survive. I’m not checked in 100% of the time, but I am present more than I have been. This is both good and bad, as I’m struggling with accepting that our youngest will graduate one week from today, and in August we will drive both sons to Washington and leave them (along with part of our hearts) there and return to an empty house. So it’s useful to give myself, from time to time, the opportunity not to focus on the huge changes that are afoot. It’s important to feel your feelings, but it’s my birthday and I don’t want to spend it sobbing about my most challenging, most favorite job ever coming to an end.

This weekend, Steve and I will be taking scuba classes. This should keep my mind off my kids and allow me to celebrate myself and my life and what I am able to learn, overcome, and accomplish, even at the advanced age of 54. This weekend I start the next phase of my life even as the last one is wrapping up. It’s time to make new friends. And if everything goes well and my ears clear and I don’t freak out underwater trying things that are way outside my comfort zone, on Sunday I will finish my first two dives at the aquarium among my new fish friends. I’ve done a lot of exploring on land in my life. Time to see what the sea has to offer.

I’ve decided to refer to this social media time out as “Henry David Thoreau-ing it.” I think he would appreciate my wisdom and the shout out.

The Best Laid Plans

Hopefully all of this will look better in the rearview

You know what is really awesome? When you are just an hour into your horrific, five-hour drive through lower Wyoming and your son (the one you are heading to pick up) texts to tell you a friend whom he sat next to at dinner the previous evening just tested positive for Covid. This normally wouldn’t be a huge problem, but the next three weeks are big for us. There are two birthdays, scuba lessons, graduation, a graduation party at our home, and then a trip to Rome to board a cruise. We would really prefer to remain Covid-free. We kind of need to.

But, sadly, viruses do not give a flying fig about your plans. They’re jerks that way. So, Joe is going to be wearing a mask at home and eating and drinking and sleeping separately (even in the car on the ride home) until he gets through 10 days symptom free and with zero positive test results. Because a car is such a small, enclosed space, I might decide to wear a mask in the car even though Joe is wearing his, just in case the seal on his mask is not entirely optimal.

It’s possible Joe is fine. He was vaccinated twice and boosted last November. He had Covid in 2020. The same is true for all four of us. I know we are being a bit overcautious, but we are committed to doing everything within our circle of control to ensure Luke gets to attend his graduation in person. Keep your fingers crossed for us.

Stupid virus.

Finally Going To Take My Own Advice

I have posted this quote from Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland on here before and it is the intro portion on my Facebook bio.

Me in a nutshell

Tonight, though, I’m finally deciding to take my own advice for real. I have been thinking for quite some time now that I need to take a social media hiatus. To that end, I’ve decided to go dark on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter for a month. I’m not walking away from the platforms forever, just long enough to give my life a good detox. It’s not even that I necessarily spend too much time on them. It’s just that the time I do spend on them often leaves me feeling negative or isolated or frustrated or annoyed. I don’t need the ads. I don’t need the opportunity for comparison. I don’t need the divisiveness or the unhelpful and unnecessary commentary. I feel like too much of my life and my headspace are being taken up, frankly, by crap that does not matter.

Facebook has done some good for my life over the years. I’ve reconnected (even if a bit superficially) with some truly genuine people. I’ve used it to check up on and check in on friends who live at a distance. It’s been a good place to store memories of things I’ve done and places I’ve gone. If I scroll back through photos I posted, Facebook is a flip book of my life over the past 14 years. Back in those early days, Facebook was fun. Sadly, it has changed since then, but then so have I.

What at last led me to the conclusion that it may be time for me to take a vacation from the site was, oddly enough, an episode of South Park that I watched last night. Stan doesn’t want a Facebook account, but his friends create one for him. The next thing he knows, he has hundreds of thousands of followers. His girlfriend, Wendy, is mad at him for a comment another female made on a photo of him in a bunny costume. (That person turns out to be his grandmother’s friend who is 92.) His dad keeps bugging him to be his Facebook friend and to “poke” his grandmother. Remember pokes? Ugh. Sick of the whole thing, Stan decides to delete his account, but his profile has become more powerful than its user and it can’t be deleted. There’s a scene reminiscent of the movie Tron where Stan is now actually in the Facebook realm and there he runs into the profiles of family and friends. They keep saying things like “Grandma likes Teddy’s photo” and “Teddy thinks Stan’s bunny costume is fantastic.” And that is when the insanity of Facebook really hit me. This is what we’ve become.

In lieu of actual human interaction, we’ve become a nation of people who show our support and friendship with a thumbs up or a heart. Instead of getting together over coffee and sharing photos of our trips, we post them online for the world to gawk at. Rather than calling someone to catch up or writing a card or even sending an email, we hop online and try to validate each other’s existences with quick comments, funny memes, and likes. We also use Facebook to leave unnecessary, snarky opinions on each other’s posts as if this type of hit-and-run commentary is actually useful dialogue. It is not surprising to me at all that Gen Z is the most depressed and anxious generation yet. They may not use Facebook, but Instagram, TikTok, and Snapchat serve the same purpose, a giant popularity contest and yardstick against which to compare themselves. Imagine the psychological damage when you discover others don’t find you interesting or likable at a time when you are still discovering who you are.

I am going to keep on using WordPress because I am still on my blog-every-day-for-100-days timeline, and I will keep Snapchat because I only use that to send silly selfies to my son at college. My other social media apps will be temporarily deleted from my phone so the temptation to open them is gone. I have no idea what this detox will do to me. I’ve been a fairly regular social media user for years. I’m hoping that by sometime mid-next week I will find my brain focusing a little better and my productivity at home increasing. If I am able to be more mindful and rediscover my inner peace, it will definitely be a win. I’ll let you know on June 5th.

Calm Down

I saw this yesterday and appreciated it so much I had to post it to Facebook, and I rarely post anything to Facebook other than links to my blog posts because my blog posts cover most of what is happening in my life anyway. But I thought this bit was brilliant. Brilliant not just because it was amusing but because it was honest.

Thank you, Tom Papa, for your wisdom.

It’s kind of crazy how much time some people are willing to devote to their careers. Their jobs come before family. Their jobs come before their health, their friends, their home. And for what? Money? A title? Some imagined (or real but not incredibly significant) career legacy? So few people land where Steve Job, Elon Musk, or Jeff Bezos did. Those men have made their mark on our lifetimes, but how long those marks will last remains to be seen. Who from the annals of history do we recall? The great philosophers — Socrates, Plato, Aristotle? Genghis Khan? Caesar? Napoleon? Consider the number human lives lived during the same period that these men lived and how few of those lives had a significant, lasting impact on the world, the dissemination of their genes into the proverbial pool, notwithstanding. Most of us will live quiet lives, so why do we stress ourselves out with long hours and dedication to work when ultimately our significance in this life will remain inside a small circle of personal influence. How much time do we lose in that circle by pawing for things that don’t really matter in our life’s grand scheme? Did we learn nothing from the 1974 Harry Chapin hit Cats in the Cradle?

It’s something to think about. I think most people know the most important things in life can’t be bought. It’s too bad so many of us don’t live that way.

The One Where Fun With Flags Pays Off

On Wednesday nights, our neighborhood coffee shop/bar/gathering space hosts DJ Trivia. We have gone a couple times with some of our awesome neighbors. This week, none of our neighbors were available to join the festivities. We thought about skipping out too but, with Joe home from college and Luke without homework before spring break, we decided we had enough of a team with just the four of us. The boys were so not thrilled that we were dragging them along that Luke decided the only appropriate team name was Two Willing Participants since they didn’t want to be there.

We got through the first round with all the possible points, but it’s the easy round. We clinched the bonus question because of my gift with lyrics. Who knew that my brain would pull Def Leppard’s Pour Some Sugar On Me out of its cobwebby recesses? I haven’t willingly listened to that song since, well, ever. Anyhoo, we struggled the second round and ended with 20 out of 40 points and didn’t even dare take a stab at the bonus question. We were sitting in 6th place out of 7 teams, and our confidence was flagging. Somehow, though, we rallied in the third round, scoring 60 out of 80. Luke knew the bonus question about the alloy of copper and tin (it’s bronze), and we were right back in it. Suddenly, we were sitting in third, which meant we were in prize territory.

The final round is fill-in-the-blank questions rather than multiple choice. We got the first two fairly easily, but missed the next two. We were somehow still in third place as we waded into the final bonus round, called the Do Or Die Dare round. We strategized how to play it and decided it was go big or go home. If we got the question right, we would double our entire score and could finish in a higher place, or at least hold on to third and win a prize. And then, as if the gods were on our side, the title of the bonus round question hit the screen. The title was Fun With Flags. We all looked at Joe. This was our Slumdog Millionaire moment. Joe has long been a fan of geography and flags. He’s a regular vexillologist. In his senior year, he had to give a 45-minute presentation on a topic of his choice. The title of the presentation he shared with his classmates? Fun With Flags. I shit you not.

Yeah…I know that flag

Steve pushed himself back from the table with a “this is it” flourish of glee. A flag appeared on the trivia screens. Joe looked at it for a nanosecond, leaned forward, and said quietly with the utmost confidence, “Uzbekistan.” I grabbed the paper and wrote it down. We handed it to the DJ judge in five seconds flat while the rest of the tables sat hemming and hawing and conjecturing. It appeared no one wanted to risk all their points with an answer. Finally, a representative from the Vandalay Industries team stood up and walked to submit their answer. We all knew Joe had provided the right answer. Not because any of us had a clue about the flag of Uzbekistan but because Joe. The DJ did all the tabulating and then announced that only two answers had been submitted for the Do or Die Dare and only one of those was right. The correct answer was Uzbekistan.

Yeah, baby!

The DJ read off the name of the third place winner. We smiled. Second place went to the team that often wins each week, Hot Fuzz. The room was dead silent. Someone had pulled off an upset. The DJ put our team name on the screen, and we high-fived all around while Hot Fuzz looked over at us like we’d just kicked their puppy. Two Willing Participants won largely due to the efforts of its two unwilling team participants, and the coveted $25 brewery gift card and bragging rights for the week were ours. It was positively glorious.

A member of Team Hot Fuzz, still flabbergasted by their unexpected loss, shouted over to Joe to inquire how he knew the answer to the flag question so quickly. To which Joe replied, “I have the flags of the world memorized. It’s a good party trick.” This twenty year old kid just ruined their evening, and I couldn’t have been any prouder. It made all the hours I’ve spent quizzing Joe on flags and listening to him prattle on about the poorly designed ones totally worth it.

Joe with his personal Uzbekistan flag at home after our win

I guess there are a few lessons to be learned from our trivia evening. First, never, ever assume something you are asked to do (like attend a trivia night with your parents) will be a waste of time because you never know what you might learn about yourself or others. Second, if you encourage your child’s obsessions, they might pay off. Third, if you’re going to trivia night, take Joe and Luke with you. Their arcane knowledge about flags or every letter of the Greek alphabet or the names of Roman emperors might be just what you need to humble Hot Fuzz. And finally, if your kid wants to collect flags, let him.

My Life Is A Thrill Ride

Photo by Matt Bowden on Unsplash

I’ve been on an emotional rollercoaster lately. I have worked so hard to determine my boundaries, to believe in my agency in my life, and to have faith that I can move beyond the things that have held me back. One day I am 100% confident I am on the right path. The next day I am terrified about my ability to do the most basic things to move myself forward. And on top of all this, my emotions are raw, and I can cry about anything at any moment. I’ve never been like this before. I used to feel in control of my path and my heart. These days, I am a bag of mixed nuts. I feel like a train wreck, but in the best way. I’m embracing the uncertainty of it all. I’m feeling every feeling. I’m excited. I’m nervous. I’m laughing. I’m crying. I hopped on this ride, and I’m here for it.

Fear, Superpower, Eleanor Roosevelt, and Shakespeare

Photo by Rohan Makhecha on Unsplash

After a long, heartfelt, open discussion last night, I am feeling much better today. Sometimes, you have to face your fears, speak your mind, listen carefully, and breathe through the discomfort of it all to reach a better place. I woke up this morning a little anxious because it’s hard when you’ve opened up and been vulnerable. It’s difficult to know if others were able to see and feel your heart. As the day progressed, though, I became more and more relaxed as a realization sunk in. I’ve spent my entire life giving other people power over me. It started when I was young and I gave up my power because it was a survival strategy. Then I was older and still operating under the rules of that previous paradigm, wanting people to like me, wanting to be fair to everyone else, wanting to be the “good girl” I was told I should be. I stayed in that good girl bubble for a long, long, long time. And then it hit me today. People only have power over me because I have continued to give it away. I can be both a good person and a person who holds her own power. I can help people with love and compassion and not be a doormat. I can listen to and hear people and still speak my truth. I can be and do those things because that is my superpower. So today is a good day because I finally realized I am a goddam superhero.

Now, not everyone is going to get me or like me or agree with my previous statement, and that is okay. Some people may even puke in their mouth a little bit when they read this. And that too is okay. I am not for everyone. But the people in my tribe know my heart and benefit from my light, and those can’t or don’t want to see my goodness may never. And that also is just fine. Whether or not others see my goodness doesn’t determine whether or not it exists. It does. It is always there even when others deny it. As long as I know it, as long as I feel it, as long as I try my hardest every day to be decent and kind while respecting my own choices and gifts and goals, nothing else can touch me. I will make mistakes. I will upset people. I will land in some awkward situations. No doubt. But none of that detracts from who I am. It only proves I am human. But now I am a human with an invisible but powerful cape.

All of this reminds me immediately of Eleanor Roosevelt. She was a brilliant woman. During her lifetime, she dispensed a great deal of wisdom. Here are a few of my favorite quotes:

“You gain strength, courage, and confidence by every experience in which you really stop to look fear in the face. You are able to say to yourself, ‘I lived through this horror. I can take the next thing that comes along.’ You must do the thing you think you cannot do.”

“Do what you feel in your heart to be right — for you’ll be criticized anyway.”

“No one can make you feel inferior without your consent.”

“When you have decided what you believe, what you feel must be done, have the courage to stand alone and be counted.”

And the final quote is the one that inspired this blog, Live Now and Zen:

“Yesterday is history. Tomorrow is a mystery. And today? Today is a gift. That is why we call it the present.”

So, put yourself out there. Be vulnerable. Don’t let anyone dim your shine. Own your shit, but own your brilliance too. And if you won’t listen to me, listen to Eleanor Roosevelt or even Shakespeare, who penned in Hamlet:

“This above all: to thine own self be true.”

Go get ’em, Tiger. Or, as my sister says, TOWANDA!

Life Is Often Found In What We Are Trying To Avoid

Someone does not want to feel their feelings

I have a confession. Every time I take a flight, as we’re taking off I make peace with my life. I think about how grateful I am for the beautiful, fortunate journey I’ve taken thus far and I think about how much I love and appreciate those who have earned my confidence. I suppose it’s the equivalent of a little prayer of thanks because you just never know what might happen. I am not fearful of flying but, like most people my age, I’ve seen my fair share of air disasters. LOST remains one of my favorite tv series ever, so I am acutely aware of airplane crashes. Even with all the uneventful air travel I’ve enjoyed, the thought of plummeting from 30k feet crosses my mind. Call it fatalistic. Call it macabre. Just don’t let anyone say of me that I was ungrateful for this life or that I was unaware my life, like all lives, had an expiration date.

This morning as our flight was taxiing out of PDX, I did my usual rundown and rehashing and the tears clouded my eyes as they always do when I think about my life and loves. And as I was flooded with the gratitude of a full heart, I reflected on how emotion adverse we humans are. We don’t want to be sad or lonely or frustrated or ashamed and we will do almost anything to avoid feeling uncomfortable. We seek only positive, happy, or joyful experiences. In the absence of those feelings, we will settle for zero feeling because neutral is better than pain. This is why we numb ourselves with all the usual vices, alcohol, drugs, busyness, food, gambling, video games, whatever it takes to move us to a place where we can forget our emotions.

There is something, though, to the exhortation of therapists to feel your feelings. Our emotions are what give our lives life. They comprise the sum total of the human experience. Barring any mental hardwiring that makes experiencing darker emotions unbearable, feeling our feelings is the most important thing we can do to live our lives fully and completely. Is it easy? No. It isn’t. But feelings are the only constant in life. The goosebumps you get when your favorite song comes on the radio, the rapid beating of your heart with anxiety before a presentation, the tears that fall when you lose someone or something precious, the butterflies in your stomach when you realize the person you like likes you back, they are everything.

I’ve long been impressed by Buddhists who shun alcohol and drugs because they alter our ability to stay aware and present. It takes courage to live with ourselves 100% of the time because we are not always likable and our actions are not always honorable. Numbing makes the most horrifying parts of our life travels palatable. Choosing not to numb means we must suffer. We must sit with our darkness and our light. We must feel. I honor Buddhists (and any other individual or group) who choose to say yes to all of life. I’d like to say I could be that brave throughout my entire human experience, but I am not a Sith and am therefore unable to deal in absolutes. I like to keep all options on the table. Still, though, I think their path is probably the most honest way to experience life.

So, I take my therapist’s advice and feel my feelings as much and as often as possible. The anxiety, the heartbreak, the love, the anger, the boredom, the joy, the stress, the fear, it’s all necessary. So if you see my eyes tear up when I am sitting on a flight about to take off (or at any other time, really), no need to ask me it everything is all right. It is. I’m just feeling my feelings, grateful for the opportunity to do so.

The Midnight Library And The Lives We Left Unlived

I started reading (okay, fine, listening to) a new book today, now that I have finished The Gifts of Imperfection. This book is a novel by Matt Haig entitled The Midnight Library. My sister mentioned it in passing twice last week and seemed so taken by it I decided to go ahead and get on the bandwagon. I also jumped on the Wordle bandwagon yesterday, but that matters not at this point. In any case, I’m a few hours into this damn book, and my mind is in classic overthink mode. This means it is a meaty story.

The Midnight Library is about a woman named Nora Seed who, feeling lost and depressed about her life, decides she no longer wants to live. She takes some pills and washes them down with wine. She drifts off and ends up at a library. The librarian, a woman Nora knew from her childhood, shows her a book filled with Nora’s life regrets and tells her she can go to any of a million different iterations of places her life might have led had she made different choices. She simply needs to select a regret and she will be transported to that divergent life, already in progress. The books allow Nora to answer the age old question “what if.”

It has taken me a long time and a lot of therapy to land at a place where I no longer abuse myself over my “what if” regrets. I’ve discussed that here before. Your what ifs are impossible because in the past you made choices based on who you were at that time using information you had available to you at that time. Looking back now, with a different mind and different experiences, alters the light you shine on those past events, people, and opportunities you let slip away. It makes them either shinier and more attractive or duller and less attractive but, either way, your current consciousness transforms them into something they are not. All of this makes our regrets like our worries…thinking about them will give you something to do, but it won’t get you anywhere.

I am curious to see where Nora lands after exploring these alternate-ending lives. If she finds a better existence for herself or if she decides to go back to her old life or if she dies from her overdose as she had originally intended. But all this thinking about disparate endings to our one (as far as we know it) life has me stuck on one thought. We can’t go back and change our past, which has led us to our present. We are, for better or worse, here where we’ve arrived as the result of millions of small, insignificant choices and a few quite large ones. Our story, thus far, has already been written. It’s the future that has yet to be determined. In some cases, our what ifs might still be able to come to fruition if we take steps in that direction today. We just have to find the courage to believe we can change the outcome. If we couldn’t do it in our past, perhaps we can now.

And while I noodle on what I want my life outcome to appear, for as much control as I have over it, please don’t comment here about the book if you have finished it. I will likely finish it tomorrow, and we can talk about it then. I look forward to 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