Friends

Good Writers Ruffle Feathers

“As far as I can tell, it’s just about letting the universe know what you want and working toward it while letting go of how it comes to pass.” ~Jim Carrey

Last week, I made a big decision. I decided it is time to start taking myself more seriously. Now I absolutely do not mean that in the way where I plan on losing my sense of humor about life on this planet. I am working toward levity and whimsy in my life. It’s part of my path toward zen. I want to be able to laugh at myself easily and get my panties out of a bunch with greater speed when something goes wrong. In fact, my goal is to avoid getting wadded up in the first place, but that is going to take a lot of personal growth. I am working on it. What I mean is that I want to start taking myself more seriously in terms of what I can do. I want to have greater faith in myself. I want to act bravely, to take risks, and to give myself room to achieve things I’ve always wanted but have been afraid to ask for.

So, with that singular goal in mind, I visited my therapist on Thursday. I told her what I want for myself and together we brainstormed ideas to help me move toward my goals with courage, conviction, and purpose. I am ready to promote myself and see what may develop for me when I admit, without hemming and hawing, that I am a writer. We discussed my self-defeating habit of apologizing for and belittling my own work. We discussed that there is room for all kinds of writers in the world. My work doesn’t have to be for everyone, and merely because it isn’t for everyone doesn’t mean that it is without merit. I left her office feeling buoyed by intention and clarity of mind.

And then yesterday, less than 24 hours after I had spoken my dreams aloud and vowed to move in the direction of my writing goals, the universe sent me my first test. No warning. No time to work on a mission statement. Land mine. Boom! You have to love how that works. To give a long, hairy story a crew cut, something I wrote profoundly upset someone and suddenly I was in a maelstrom of self-doubt. Although I hadn’t intentionally been hurtful, something I had written caused duress. For awhile I felt so badly that I thought about taking the post off my site. I spent the morning and part of the afternoon cycling through emotions, rolling between incredulity and chagrin, frustration and trepidation. I had really stepped in it now. I was making enemies with my mommy blog. How was that even possible?

I reached out to a couple reliable friends, hoping they could stop my tailspin and rein me back in. And in the midst of my mental turmoil, one of them made this simple statement. Good writers ruffle feathers. Just like that, things stopped spinning. She was right. While I can do my best to avoid damaging personal relationships by composing mindful articles, at the end of the day my primary responsibility as writer is to my audience and my craft. Words, whether spoken or written, can hurt. If I live within a paradigm where I own others’ reactions to what I say, I will never be able to write anything meaningful to me or anyone else. And that is not the writer I am nor the writer I wish to be.

So thanks, Universe, for the test. I get it now. While I am sorry that someone was hurt because that was not at all my intent, I stand by my article. It was part of my blog, and my blog is an honest account of my stories. Not everyone is going to appreciate them, and I’m okay with that. I don’t always appreciate their stories either. There is room for me in the grand posse of writers, and I am going to keep diligently working toward my goal and stop worrying about the path my journey takes. There will be stumbling blocks and paralyzingly moments of self-doubt, but I am finished letting others dictate what is appropriate for me. If you get me, great. If you don’t, that is fine too. Life is too damn short not to be true to myself, whoever I happen to be in this moment.

These Weirdos Are My Tribe

These weirdos are your tribe.

Weirdos preparing for the polar plunge on a 4 degree day.

“When you find people who not only tolerate your quirks but celebrate them with glad cries of ‘Me too!’ be sure to cherish them because those weirdos are your tribe.” ~Anonymous

I am a writer. I am also socially inept. I’m not sure if the social ineptitude is a result of the writing or if I write because I want to appear less socially inept. Either way works, I guess. Let’s just go with the notion that I’m awkward. I’m not in tune with other people’s feelings. Blame it on my being INTJ. Blame it on my ill breeding. Blame it on the aliens who abducted me as a child and conducted sloppy experiments on my brain. All I know is it is what it is. In forty-six years, I haven’t been able to outgrow it.

Every August, our sons’ school holds their annual Back to School Night. They host a tastefully catered meal for parents to enjoy while they go over school policy minutiae before sending us off to our children’s classrooms to receive more information that we of course will promptly forget. I’m sure many people look forward to these type of social events, a chance to get together again with friends from last year and to meet new people. Frankly, I’d rather have my spleen removed by a 10-year-old surgeon wielding a teaspoon as a his primary implement. I have to drink two glasses of wine before I go simply so I will be somewhat comfortable making small talk. Small talk stresses me out. Small talk is never small talk. The amount of effort small talk takes makes it big talk.

This year, we arrived at the dinner and found out that it was not going to be out on the lawn because of the threat of rain. They had the dinner set up inside the gym. I prefer the outdoor setting because it’s easier to flake out when you are in open surroundings. Still, we went inside, like socially weird teenagers, praying we’d get in and get out without being guilted into signing up for any random committees we’d rather die than be on.

We weren’t in there long before a couple we remembered as the parents of one of Luke’s friends from the previous year approached us. We didn’t know them very well, but I sensed they wanted to be there about as much as we did. We exchanged some pleasantries and they asked us to come join them at their table. Having fairly successfully avoid social interaction at the school during the previous year, we had no one else to sit with so we dragged our paper plates to their table. I tried my best to be cordial, but holy cheeses that is hard for me. At some point, I notice how weird that thing I just uttered was and then I begin to spiral clockwise in a whirling toilet flush of social doom. One way or another we got through the dinner, and Steve went with them to Luke’s class while I ducked out to sit in Joe’s classroom in my girl-in-the-plastic-bubble-of-pitiful-but-comfortable-silence sort of way.

On the way home, Steve and I had our usual debriefing about the night’s events.

“I think Lynne is trying to make friends with you,” he said.

“No. I don’t think so. They just didn’t want to sit alone. You know you’re always looking for someone you sort of know so you don’t end up with the new crazies you don’t know at all. Lesser of two evils,” I retorted.

“She came right over to you,” he replied. “Maybe she likes you.” What is this? Third grade? I started wondering if he thought she was trying to pass me a note. I played it off.

“Only because she doesn’t know me,” I said. “There’s a reason I don’t make friends easily.”

“Yes. It’s because you don’t know when people are reaching out.”

It’s true. I’m obtuse. I have never been successful at discerning when people are being nice because they feel they have to be nice or when they are being nice because they truly want to. I’m simultaneously suspicious, pragmatic, and cautiously optimistic. I tend to assume the worst, expect the mediocre, but subconsciously hope for the best. I’m complicated. It’s no wonder I don’t make friends easily.

Over the past few months, Lynne made a concerted effort to set up a couple of opportunities for our boys to get together. Her initial efforts made it much easier for me to insinuate myself into her life like a fungus. And it turns out we have a lot in common, like introversion, yoga, a penchant for expletives, a taste for fine vodka and any kind of wine, a troubling addiction to internet memes, and a gift for dry sarcasm. In other words, we’re awesome, something she was intuitive enough to ascertain before I did.

In so many ways, I remain the dorky kid who walked to my first day at a new school in third grade in handmade clothes feeling like an anomaly in a sea of popular and normal. The friends I’ve made over the past few years have all reached out to me first, which is a good thing because otherwise I’d still be standing stiffly in the corner, gazing at my feet, wondering why no one likes me. Every day I cherish these friends who made the effort and who have been able to recognize that my crazy is simpatico with their crazy. These weirdos are my tribe.

 

Game, Set, Match

Can you see my bunny mind working?

Can you see my bunny mind dwelling on this blog?

Yesterday my sister sent me this Bunny Buddhism quote from the back cover the book:

What the bunny mind dwells on, the bunny becomes.

A couple weeks ago, my friend Heather convinced me to sign up for tennis lessons with her. Neither one of us had taken a lesson since middle school. With the end of the kids’ school year approaching, it seemed like if we were going to do something for ourselves the perfect time was dwindling quickly. So we signed up for Beginner Tennis 1.0, relieved that they didn’t name the class Beginner Tennis 0.0. Heather suggested that our motivation to complete the class should be earning a darling tennis skirt for future lessons and impromptu games. I liked that idea because it seems pretentious to show up at a court wearing a tennis skirt when you’re incapable of hitting the ball over the net. My real reason for signing up, though, was not clothing related but age related. I believe that we stay young by trying new things. I’m comfortable with aging, but not so comfortable with the idea of becoming old. Tennis lessons and a cute Athleta tennis skirt seemed like a good way to practice being actively alive and in the moment, open to life and its possibilities, and not the least bit fearful of being old.

Of course, as I drove to the lesson this morning, I began to revert to my typical thought patterns. I was becoming nervous. The negative thoughts were creeping into my bunny mind. I have wonderful friends who don’t have this problem. They approach every new adventure with enthusiasm and excitement. They are never disappointed because they don’t take everything seriously. They know how to laugh at themselves and they possess the fortitude to keep on trying even when others might think they are embarrassing themselves. They are my heroes. So today as I drove to class, I centered my thoughts around those friends and that bunny quote. If my thoughts are negative, I am negative and negativity consumes my actions. What if I approached the lesson with a can-do attitude and no fear of failure? What if I housed reality, rather than faulty assumptions, in my back pocket? Reality is that I haven’t taken a lesson in 33 years. There will be foibles, flubs, and faults. I’m going to miss the ball sometimes, but it doesn’t matter because I am a 46-year-old newbie. It’s not only acceptable, it’s expected. I kicked the self-limiting thoughts to the curb and confidently walked toward the indoor tennis courts thinking, My bunny mind dwells on fun.

The instructor wasted no time getting us hitting balls. In the first three balls he tossed to me, I missed two of them. Normally, this would have put a serious chink in my confidence. Today it did not. I’m a beginner, I reminded myself and got back in line to get ready for my next opportunity to take a swipe at the ball. Midway through class, I knew my attitude of fun was working. I was having a good time. I wasn’t hitting every ball, but I was hitting most of them and they were going where they should be for the most part. As the balls were lobbed at me from the machine, I noticed I wasn’t tense or stressed about hitting them. Instead I was focused on my set up and on the finer points of my stroke. I kept my attitude light and shut down my negative self-talk. It worked. Class flew and by the end I honestly felt as if I’d learned something. What was even better was that I wasn’t over thinking or second guessing anything from the past hour. I’d had a great time. That was all I’d set out to accomplish. No need to rehash missed balls or worry about how goofy I looked. I’d tried and I’d enjoyed myself. It’s all good.

What the bunny mind dwells on, the bunny becomes.

I’m going to keep working on this bunny mind thing because initial results confirm that it’s true. Where my thoughts go, I follow. Unchecked, my mind conjures all kinds of ridiculous, untrue assumptions about who I am and what I’m capable of. I’ve got to train my bunny mind to focus on possibility and positivity. When it wanders into clover fields filled with manure, I need to turn my thoughts around, step over the crap, and head back the other way. My goal for this year was to lighten up and have fun. I am working on it each day. If my bunny mind keeps dwelling on it, I’m sure this year will be game, set, and match for me.

 

 

 

An Introvert’s Life Among The Extroverts: A Dramatization

If a tree falls in the forest and you don't tell anyone about it, you're probably an introvert.

If a tree falls in the forest and you don’t tell anyone about it, you’re probably an introvert.

It’s 10 a.m. and, despite the fact that I had a double shot espresso this morning, I already need a nap. This exhaustion is not because I was up all night with a sick child because I wasn’t. It’s not because I ran eight miles this morning either because I didn’t. I’m wiped out because I was part of a ten-minute long conversation this morning. I am an introvert. This is my story.

After grabbing my caffeinated crutch from the Starbucks drive thru this morning, I headed to the boys’ school where I was slated to volunteer for a couple of hours. I pulled into the parking lot, dropped the boys off, and walked into the main office to find out how I could be of assistance. The school secretary was looking for the stamps and mailers I needed when a bright-eyed, perky mom in jeans, running shoes, and a yoga hoodie bounded into the office. She immediately entered into an animated conversation with the secretary while I stood there silently waiting for my supplies. The secretary found them, handed them to me, and I sat down to get to work, and all the while the spunky, blonde mom carried on her running conversation.

A few minutes later when the secretary ran out of the office to find something, the other woman approached me. I had hoped it would not come to this. I prefer to hide in the shadows in the presence of strangers, not because I am shy but because I am marginal at best with small talk.

“Hi,” she said cheerfully. “I’m Suzie Sunshine.” (not her real name)

“I’m Justine,” I replied, extending my hand as an introduction as I always do.

She shook my hand weakly, perhaps surprised by my formality, and continued.

“I’ve seen your name before,” she said. “You volunteer a lot. I’m the volunteer coordinator.” This I already knew because I volunteer a lot and I’d seen her name on myriad emails in my inbox. She sat down to help me with the 75 or so postcards I was busy adhering flag stamps to.

“So,” she went on, “what grade is your son or daughter in?”

“I have two sons here. Joe is in Room 159, and Luke is in Room 161B.”

“Oh. My daughter is in Room 12, I think. Either that or Room 7 or Room 13. I always get them messed up. I have a son named Luke, well…Lucas, actually, but he doesn’t go here.”

I smiled, nodded my head, and kept on working, not having anything to add.

“Is your son a Lucas too?” she inquired.

“Nope. He’s just our Cool Hand Luke,” I replied. I didn’t tell her that I intentionally did not name our son Lucas because I couldn’t get over how it rhymes with mucous.

“My son is 12. He’s really into sports. He goes to the STEM school.”

“Oh. I’m interested in that STEM school,” I said, pausing briefly when another mom popped into the office and approached the secretary. She was wearing a college sweatshirt. I tried to continue. “Where is that STEM….”

“Hi, Katie,” Suzie interrupted, excited to greet the newcomer. “How’s it going?” she asked without waiting for a reply. “I love your sweatshirt. How’s your son liking college there?” She fired off her words, releasing them like rounds of ammunition from a machine gun belt. I watched in amazement.

“He likes it a lot. He’s coming home for Spring Break in a couple weeks.”

“Is that college in the city, then? What do you think of it there because I was there once and it was not at all what I imagined. I thought it would be a really big city but it seemed small to me.”

“Well…I think it’s pretty big,” Katie said. “I mean, the suburbs and surrounding areas…”

“Maybe it just seems small because I’m from Houston, and Houston is so huge that other cities seem tiny by comparison.”

Because I am an introvert and casual conversation requires concerted effort on my part, I was waiting for a chance to tell them that I used to live just a few hours from the city in question. I was hoping to back up Katie’s assessment of it by offering my opinion. I began formulating the message of my intended verbal output while waiting for a lull in the chatter so I could carefully insert my commentary.

“What’s he majoring in?” Suzie asked as my opportunity to speak evaporated.

“Civil Engineering,” Katie replied.

“What’s he going to do with that?”

“His dream job would be designing golf courses,” Katie said.

“Oh. I didn’t know he played golf. Lucas plays golf. Actually, he plays golf and football but I’d really rather he focus his attention on golf because it’s just a safer sport, you know?” And from there she began telling us about what he hopes to study and how she might get him some additional golf lessons this summer at this course near home. She talked for the next few minutes with Katie about colleges, internships, and sports while I kept placing stamps on mailers as quickly as my fingers could move, looking up occasionally to acknowledge I was at least superficially involved in the conversation.

After placing the last stamp on the last postcard, I gathered up what I had completed along with the remaining stamps, handed them to the secretary, silently waved my goodbye so as not to interrupt the continuing conversation, and wandered out into the hall. I heard Suzie shout a perfunctory “Nice meeting you” from the office and I echoed the sentiment as I continued heading for the door. When I got to my car, I leaned back into the seat and closed my eyes. I dropped my skull onto the headrest and took a deep, cleansing, yogi breath to bring fresh oxygen into my enervated brain. Social interaction wears me out.

In the past, I’ve unwittingly bothered extroverts who found my reticence problematic. I’ve been labeled conceited, aloof, and even rude, because I’m not gifted in the area of small talk or rather in the art of being able to sneak my two-cents into an already busy conversation. To further exacerbate the disconnect with these extroverts, when I’ve been confronted with these allegations I’ve found myself nonplussed; I had no idea my lack of conversation could say so much. The upside of being an introvert in an extrovert-focused society, though, is that you are happy living in your own head. If others don’t get you, you don’t spend much mental energy on it. I have no idea if Suzie found me conceited, aloof, or rude, and I’m not about to lose sleep over it. She seemed like a nice enough gal, and I’m pleased to have put another name with another face at the boys’ new school because it takes a long time to get to know people when you’re not immediately communicative. For now, I’m going to go focus what’s left of my energy on the downtime I earned this morning. And hopefully there won’t be any fallout about my introversion (or my blogging about it) later.

You Just Never Know

Our jar filled with things we did in 2013 that made the year memorable.

Our jar filled with paper reminders about all we did in 2013 that made the year memorable.

My friend, Rachel, posted this to Facebook earlier today, and it’s been tumbling through my mind like socks in a dryer all afternoon.

People like to use New Year’s Day as a “clean slate” or a “new beginning” but in reality every second of every day is a new lifetime, one you have never lived before, so if you are ready to make a change do it. You are the master of your fate. Use every new moment to be who and what you want to be.

Boom! There it is. What an amazing revelation. Every minute we’re given an opportunity to start fresh. The past is behind us. Our future becomes reality one minute at a time as the present begins anew. There’s no need to wait for New Year’s Day to begin a resolution. You never know what’s coming up next. We fool ourselves into believing there’s always tomorrow. But, sometimes there isn’t. The time to go, to do, to forgive, to trust, to try, to adventure, to reinvent, and to begin is now. No matter how bad things seem, you can make an improvement if you really want to.

Yesterday I spent time with a friend I haven’t seen in a couple of months. I mentioned that hubby and I are planning a trip to Peru next year. It’s a trip we’ve talked for twenty years about taking but have found somewhat legitimate excuses to put off. We recently pulled the trigger and booked the trip, rational thought be damned. As I relayed my concerns about leaving our boys for 12 days of international, out-of-touch travel and adding way too much debt to our credit card at one time, my friend implored me not to delay any longer. She understands that there’s no better time than the present. Her husband is 48 and is suffering from progressive MS with an emphasis on progressive. In six years he’s lost the ability to complete simple daily tasks most of us take for granted. His body is betraying him and his sons and his wife provide support so he can get dressed, get in and out of bed, and function as best as he can each day. As she has witnessed her husband’s decline, she’s learned a lot about life. Life is too short to wait for anything. The time will never be right. There will always be things that stand in our way. But, honestly, sometimes there is no better time. Sometimes there is not even a tomorrow. And we may not know that until it’s too late to do something about it.

Tonight at dinner we sat down and went through a jar we’ve been keeping since January 1st, 2013. We filled the jar all year long with paper reminders of all the memorable things 2013 brought us. As a family we recalled camping trips, personal accomplishments, and cool adventures. We relived our year, and it was pretty great. Universe-willing, 2014 will be amazing too. Steve and I will be hiking the Inca Trail in July. And in the meantime, we’re going to continue to hug our kids and tell them we love them every day. We’re going to wake up and be grateful for what is good rather than lament about what is not the way we had hoped. Some days we’re going to do crazy things, like splashing into 37-degree water on a brisk New Year’s Day, just because we can. I’m going to take deep breaths, revel in joyful little things, and accept last-minute invitations. I’m going to let the laundry pile grow while I go for long walks. I’m going to welcome new friends into my life and linger over the last sip of wine in my glass with old ones. I’m going to be more bold, practice being at peace, and enjoy my precious time on this planet because you just never know. And if a year from now I’m still fortunate enough to be on this crazy ride, I’m going to sit with my family again and add up the gifts I was willing to reach for, one minute at a time.

 

Not Just A Laughing Matter

Dang…this movie is funny!

After the debate tonight, I did something I never do. I flipped through channels, found a movie, and watched it. The movie was Bridesmaids. The first time I saw it, I saw it in the theater with my friend Heather. We laughed until we got to that point of no return when everything you hear is funny. We would get ourselves under control and then laugh again when someone else in the theater started laughing. In fact, I remember that I laughed so loud that I snorted, and then I laughed because I snorted. (I am nothing if not dignified.) When the film came out on DVD, I bought it. I forced my husband to watch it. Tonight, I knew it would be the perfect debate relief. It was. I once again laughed until I wanted to cry.

As the credits were rolling tonight, though, I thought about the story line between the police officer and the main character, Annie. I like him, not just because he’s got that darling Irish accent, but because he knows she’s batshit crazy and he likes her anyway. He seems to sense she’s going through a rough patch and rather than judging her for her irrational behavior he hangs around long enough to see her through it. I think that’s beautiful.

We don’t do that often enough for each other these days…give each other the benefit of the doubt. We don’t accept apologies willingly enough. We don’t overlook faults quickly enough. We hold onto grudges and keep our guard up so we won’t get hurt. It’s too bad, really, the amount of misunderstandings that occur because we’re so concerned with things being equitable and neat. I know I am so guilty of this. I should try harder to be like Officer Rhodes, to see past the imperfections of others (and myself) and just be nicer.

Not all things in life that are a laughing matter are without a lesson.

Five States In Three Days – Chapter Two

Our travel map for the day

Our car trips (and, sadly, our entire lives) are fueled by Starbucks. Knowing we needed a latte for our two hour drive to Mystic, we decided this morning to tempt map fate by driving to Connecticut directed solely by the map on our Starbucks app. So, we picked a store near Walpole, Massachusetts, as our first stop and then continued following the map of Starbucks stores ever further south, inching our way toward Mystic. Chasing Starbucks stores…that’s how you live life on the edge.

While we drove the entire length of Rhode Island, we were on a mission to meet our friends and didn’t stop to visit the state properly. Still, we spent two full hours on its interstates, so we’re calling it an official visit…with the caveat that we will return and visit Providence and Newport one day.

Lighthouse view

We arrived in Mystic and met Edie and Tom at, you guessed it, Starbucks. From there we headed to the lighthouse museum in nearby Stonington. We don’t have many lighthouses in Colorado, so the maritime information was quite interesting. The museum is housed in what once was a functioning lighthouse. We climbed the stairs (and a small ladder) to the lighthouse tower to take in the scenery. I got to use the panorama feature on my iPhone 5 to capture 180 degrees of the view. The museum also had whale bones. Colorado doesn’t have many whale bones either.

Preparing the apple mixture for the press

Our next stop was the B. F. Clyde’s Cider Mill in Mystic. We made it there just in time for the 3 p.m. cider pressing demonstration. The mill contains the last steam-powered cider press in the United States. We watched as they spread the chopped apple mixture onto the pressing plate and then ran the plates through the machine. Once the cider had been collected, they moved the remaining apple pulp out to a collection bin behind the mill. The mill, aside from producing incredibly tasty cider, also makes apple wine and hard apple cider. We purchased some apple cider donuts, which we devoured, and some 28-proof hard apple/cranberry cider for later.

Mystic, CT

It was raining when we left, so we headed into the shopping and restaurant part of Mystic along the Mystic River for some dinner. Edie had picked a cute little restaurant called The Ancient Mariner. Steve had lobster macaroni and cheese and we both tried “stuffies,” which are stuffed clams. We’d never eaten clams before (don’t have many good clam restaurants in Colorado), so we had to give it a shot. Afterward, we took a short drive to get a scenic view of Mystic. The town, which is as darling as you would expect, was even more charming today in the rain.

It was another great day of travel. Tomorrow we spend some time in Massachusetts. Planning to visit Salem before heading back to Denver, exhausted, well-traveled, well-fed, well-educated, and ready to see our boys!