Positivity

Putting A Lid On My Monkey Barrel

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Bowls so full they almost look solid

(Snapped this photo quickly on my way out of my first Buddhist meditation class tonight. It’s not an impressive photo or anything, but I was drawn to these glass offering bowls from the moment I saw them. How did they fill them so precisely? They remind me a bit of the offering candles in the Catholic church we attended while I was growing up. I’m not sure if the intentions are the same behind both, but I find it intriguing where different traditions intersect.)

The idea of physically attending meditation classes, rather than attempting to learn meditation solely through an iPhone app I bought, came to me through my incredible drum instructor, who also happens to be a Buddhist monk. He is a calm, centered person who listens intently, thinks before he speaks, and is a perfect antidote to my nervous personality. He has talked to me about how mindfulness can help me get into a better mental state for my drumming, and I certainly could use any help I can get. But, beyond that, I noticed recently that I have been letting my mind run away with me too often. It’s embarrassing what the lawless monkeys in my head will get into if I leave them unattended.

Before Christmas, I was speaking with my father about world religion and he said, “Buddha is good for personal improvement, but I don’t need it.” While I appreciate his self-assurance about not needing help with personal improvement, I don’t have that same certitude. I openly admit that my head is a mess in need of a maid. If I want to overcome negativity and increase happiness, if I want to foster the mental fortitude for writing a book, then I need to rein in those damn monkeys and harness their energy for later use. Given how active they’ve been lately, this may prove a harder task than I imagined. And given that I was also born in the Year of the Monkey, perhaps I was doomed from the start?

Still, hope springs eternal so Steve and I drove to the Kadampa Meditation Center downtown where tonight’s theme at the beginner’s class was New Year, New You. Ruth first spoke a bit about New Year’s Resolutions and how people (myself included) think that by changing external things in our lives, like getting a new job, finding a significant other, or getting fit, for example, we will find happiness. She then burst our bubble by telling us something we probably already knew…happiness only comes from within. So, all our work running around trying to establish new habits or make changes to create a better sense of self are more or less worthless if we don’t change our minds at the same time. We can create the illusion of happiness externally but, the minute something derails, our minds will still freak out and remind us we aren’t really happy after all.

After speaking to us for a while about meditations and Buddhist teachings, she guided us through a short meditation. I have meditated before, mostly for short periods of time, and I’ve some experience with conscious breathing courtesy of yoga practice, so I didn’t find the exercise altogether impossible. I was able to redirect the monkeys that began jumping around when my legs got twitchy and even shut up the ones that started chattering when my phone vibrated in my bag courtesy of an unexpected, ill-timed Facetime call from my sister, although Steve did mention he could hear my yoga breathing get louder during that episode. Hey…wait a minute. He shouldn’t have been focusing on my breathing. He was supposed to be paying attention to his own breath and keeping his mind on his meditation. Hmmmmm….guess it’s a good thing we both attended this class.

Before we left, I took a moment to notice where my mind was. I felt relaxed, focused, and confident, which is the way I usually feel after a yoga class. I thoroughly enjoyed my evening and learned a thing or two as well. I’m ready to train my mind not to fly off the handle or to become overwhelmed by negative thoughts. I think I’ve got the timing right on this journey too. If the current media reporting is any indication, this country is on the precipice of major upheaval. I’d best begin taking lots of meditation classes and getting a lid on my monkeys. 2017 may be a bumpy ride.

Roar — The Dragon Mother Has Awoken

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Look at that mane. You just know I can roar.

I am not okay today. I’m not. Yesterday morning I was excited. I was powerful and bold and, dare I say, optimistic for once against my more skeptical nature. Today I am sad, and it’s not that garden variety of sad where you can’t put your finger on it. It’s not general melancholy. It’s in-your-face, raw, jagged, emotional pain. It’s pathetic, disconsolate, achy-breaky heart sickness. This country, which I was starting to imagine was leaning towards becoming more inclusive and welcoming and more like our forefathers envisioned and Lady Liberty professes, pulled my heart out of my closed chest last night with some crazy nunchuck moves and then used it as a target for AK-47 practice rounds. So I am not okay today. I am struggling, and I know I am not alone.

I am not okay today because of who I am and not because of what happened yesterday. I am a woman. A well-educated, well-read, white, straight, upper middle class, clearly privileged woman, to be sure, but a woman nonetheless. I am a mother. I am what my detractors would term a “bleeding heart” liberal. I am an agnostic. I am a feminist. I am a friend to gays and lesbians, people of all faiths, and all colors. I labor to keep an open mind and I search daily for our common values so I can remain open hearted and accepting. It is hard work, but I do it ceaselessly, remaining friends with people I don’t agree with in the hope that I learn more about them and their views and grow in understanding. For a while, I had tricked myself into believing that I was part of a majority and that, as a collective, we would triumph, love over hate, stronger together, all the while going high. It didn’t happen.

An election is an election. It is politics as usual. So, at 48, the election of someone I did not vote for is not something with which I am unfamiliar. I was deeply troubled in 2000 when Al Gore lost the presidency. I worked in the renewable energy industry. Jobs were lost. I’m familiar with disappointment, but this is different. For me, this is a personal loss. I can put aside politics. I can trust that the next administration will do their best. I can be a good US citizen and play nicely with others when my candidate loses. This loss was not about politics for me. It was about sexism, racism, xenophobia, and hate. And when those are your stakes, when you are not simply voting democrat versus republican, a loss is devastating. Today I am poignantly aware that I am in the minority. I am on the outside. To many, I am an unwelcome aberration, at best an anomaly and at worst a nuisance. But if you think for one second that I am going to go quietly, to shut up, stay out of things, and let hatred and ignorance rule, you don’t know me very well. And you don’t understand Pantsuit Nation at all. I’m a middle aged woman with time, money, and pussy-grabs-back attitude. I’m not going quietly.

This is my challenge and my charge. I have only one choice and that is to rise from the heap of those left disenfranchised and make my voice heard. My privileged white sons are about to witness something powerful. Their dragon mother has awoken. First thing this morning, I set up a monthly donation to Planned Parenthood, the first place that opened its doors for me when I was a young college student without insurance looking for well-woman care. Planned Parenthood saved me from a sexually transmitted disease that was on its way to becoming cervical cancer. Because of that, I have long stood with them for the health of all women, women like me who needed some help when nothing else was accessible. As women before me suffered for causes like the right to vote, I will gladly step up, with my money, my voice, and my body to keep the doors of Planned Parenthood open. It’s imperative. Whatever it takes. Don’t even think you can stop me.

When I was younger and an important relationship would end, I would pull out every song that reminded me of the person I’d lost and play them over and over until I was reduced to a tearless, dehydrated, emotionless lump of flesh. Today I thought about playing Lee Greenwood’s “God Bless the USA” and just having a good cry. Instead, I found Katy Perry. Today I am giving myself permission and space to mourn. Tomorrow I roar.

The Beginning of Badassery

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I am standing in the Best Sellers section of Barnes and Noble and, directly below my reason for the visit, a bright yellow book with large black text screams to me. You Are A Badass. I ignore it (of course) and pick up the book I came in for. I begin reading its back cover. Again the book below beckons, this time it tries with a whispered “Pssst. Hey…I’m talking to you.” You Are A Badass. I look behind me. Who? Me? I pretend I heard nothing. I go back to reading. A third time it speaks up. You Are A Badass. Okay. Okay. Enough already. This book is a relentless, attention-seeking menace. So I set down The Girl on the Train and pick up the yellow book. I read the author’s first line in the Introduction, which begins directly under an inspirational quote.

I used to think quotes like this were a bunch of crap.

I decide I like this book. Because I’ve made a commitment to work on my self-esteem, and because I am intrigued and humbled by the way the Universe works and therefore it’s not lost on me that the book I came in for was placed directly above this book on an open shelf in a book store among tens of thousands of books, I buy the damn book. I have no choice.

Truth. I’m a great purchaser of self-help books. Their potential for crushing my issues in a relatively quick 200 pages suckers me every time. Second truth. I am not a great reader of self-help books. I rarely finish them because either they’re too mired in psychology and I get bored or they’re too weighed down by cutesy platitudes and I lose respect. When I get home, though, and start diving into this book, I realize this might be The One. I begin underlining ideas like a being possessed. Nearly everything the author writes is a line I can identify with or is something I desperately need to hear. It’s like one giant hug of You’re-Awesome-And-You’ve-Got-This. And at this point I feel could underline the whole book. I don’t, though, because that would just be silly.

Yesterday, I am reading (and underlining) and I run across this:

It’s not that the things and opportunities that we want in life don’t exist yet. It’s that we’re not yet aware of their existence (or the fact that we can really have them).

I get really stuck on the part in parentheses. Traditionally, I haven’t been brave enough to believe that I deserve my dreams. The voices in my head won’t allow it. What makes you so special that you deserve your dream? Don’t you appreciate how lucky you are already? Get over yourself, keep your head down, and realize that life is about living and not dreaming. Etc. Etc. Etc. Because of the voices, I’ve never allowed myself to have a dream.

So, I reflect for a few minutes about what the author is saying and try to imagine a world where I could really have a dream. What would that look like? And in my heart the answer raises its timid hand. My dream is one where I get to write every day and someone, somewhere, reads my words and finds a connection with them in their life and their experience, the way there is a connection for me with the writer of this book I am reading. As an added bonus, if I got paid for my work and never had to go back to a traditional workplace again, that would be perfection. Wait, though. Isn’t that what every writer wants? Who am I to….the negativity creeps back in, but I force it out. What if I could be a writer who made that happen? I imagine it. I let the thought in and then allow the possibility to wash over me. Mind. Blown.

A couple hours later, long after I’d stopped my reverie to let real life intervene, I stumble upon a friend’s link to a Washington Post article about a new book by Glennon Doyle Melton. Glennon (aren’t we on a first name basis?) is a blogger who has written several books, the latest of which was picked by The Oprah for her book club. My friend has written this long introduction to the article, talking about honesty and truth telling. And there, near the bottom of her post after she mentions Glennon and Elizabeth Gilbert of Eat, Pray, Love fame, I see this:

Oh, and Justine, my beautiful FB friend, your truth, your journey, fully resonates with me. Bless you for being willing to take so many risks – you are the real deal!

I read the post a second time. Then a third. Did she just mention me in the same post along with Glennon and Elizabeth? I let that sink in for a minute. Then I went into a full on cry. The good kind. The therapeutic kind where the emotion of the moment, filled with a mixed bag of joy, surprise, hope, gratitude, dreams and, yes, even self-love, swallows you whole. I let the thought occur to me. Maybe I could live my dream. For real. Kim generously reminded me that I am already on the path to doing what I previously didn’t dare dream I could do. I am writing and when my words strike the right set of eyes there is a ripple in the pond.

I went back to the Badass book to search for something I had underlined.

You don’t have to know exactly where it’s going to take you, you just need to start with one thing that feels right and keep following right-feeling things and see where they lead.

So that is my plan. I am simply going forward doing what I love to do, what feeds my soul. I am going to write with honesty and share my truth. I am going to stop second guessing things that feel right and I am going to stop thinking about who I might offend. I am going to see what kind of ripples I can create and revel in those small moments and learn from them and move on to the next one. Sooner or later, the collective ripples will become a wave, and I will sweep up my tribe and we will go be badass together.

 

 

Un*#@% Yourself

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Me back in the days before I had self-awareness

Un*#@% yourself. Be who you were before all that stuff happened that dimmed your *#@%ing shine.

If you’re lucky, there comes a time in your life when you wake up. I mean really wake up. And it’s the kind of wake up that comes at the end of a nightmare where you are falling into an endless abyss or your children are drowning before your eyes while you stand powerlessly nearby or you are being crushed under a collapsing building and your lungs begin to burn with suffocation. It’s the kind of wake up that leaves you shaking and stunned and mind blown and sick to your stomach. It might happen from one singular event (“I’m sorry, but you have cancer”) or, as in my case, it might happen over time as the weight of a lifetime filled with little injuries finally snaps something inside of you. Some people never wake up. But, if you’re lucky, it happens, and you can start living consciously.

I went back to therapy yesterday for the first time in nearly a year. I went with the idea that, at forty-eight, it is finally time to get over my obnoxious lack of self-esteem. So, I told her that I need to get my head on straight about myself. I do not see myself as others see me. I self-sabotage my own potential for success. My stinking thinking has got to go. I need tools, I told her. To gain some insight into where we should start, she conducted some basic reconnaissance work.

Her:  What if you won an award? What would that feel like for you? What would you think?

Me:  *head tilt with impressive pensive expression as I tried to imagine facing success*

Her:  I’m guessing you would feel it was undeserved? 

Me:  Ummm….yeah. But that is not the worst of it. I would assume there had been a mistake.

Her: *consciously trying to keep a neutral countenance* 

Me:  I would be thinking that they must have run out of other people to give the award to.

Her: *noticeable eyebrow raise* 

Me:  I would assume I was their last choice.

Her:  Wow. Okay. We have some work to do. 

Being me, my next thought was that she was making a mental note to determine if my insurance would cover enough therapy sessions to help me out because that, my friends, is how deep my internal negativity goes. I am appallingly cynical. It would make for great sitcom dialogue.

After a little more chatting, we came up with some strategies. I need to write a letter saying goodbye to the person I am now and all the baggage she carries that is unhealthy. I need to define who I think I really am underneath all the old junk and what the new me looks like inside. I need to make a list of things the old me would not have attempted because of fear and negativity and then start doing those things to reinforce positive behaviors. I need to decide on a mantra I can use to replace the old thoughts when they creep in and start messing with me. I need to surround myself with positivity and people who support my goal. And I need to be willing to talk about this journey without judging it or myself, which is why I am writing here today.

All this makes my head hurt. A lot. But, it turns out that the copious amounts of wine I have been imbibing and augmenting with generous servings of Ben & Jerry’s are not helping me feel better either. Trust me. I have tried that therapy for a year. It’s possible that only because that therapy didn’t work I had to go to real therapy. (Well….that and an increasingly obvious waistband issue.) I now have no choice but to do the hard work. My desire to change has finally exceeded the ease of staying stuck in the miserable same. It’s a weird place to be.

Putting yourself out there is rough. It’s hard under the best circumstances, but it’s harder still when what you’re putting out there is a shameful something you’ve spent your lifetime ignoring. If it weren’t for the waking up, though, I wouldn’t be sure it was worth it. If it weren’t for the annoying headache brought on by mental overload, I wouldn’t know for sure I am more awake today than I was yesterday. Admitting you have a problem is the first step, right? Well…I’ve done that. Now it’s time to get to work. I am cautiously optimistic that I will like the new me. I think she’s a good kid with crazy potential.

Boldness Is Another Word For Temporary Insanity

Taking the plunge…holding up my top with one hand and telling the world to shut it with the other.

Taking the plunge and holding up my top with one hand while telling the world to shut its big, fat, negative yap with the other.

Damn Facebook and their annoying, personalized, Minority-Report-level-of-creepy pop-up ads. It’s depressing when Facebook reminds you of who you are. It consistently vexes me when an ad pops up for the exact shirt I looked at online yesterday. I want to shout to the heavens…You don’t know me. Yes. Maybe I briefly toyed with the idea of that shirt yesterday. But I am a different person now. Maybe I changed my mind. Maybe I don’t like that shirt anymore. Back off! You don’t know my life! But, alas, they do.

And it is because of Facebook and the existence of profiles and cookies and other Internet hocus pocus that I do not yet fully comprehend that I today impetuously spent $400 and 50,000 frequent flyer miles I’d saved up for years on something that up until the very second it appeared on my screen I had no idea existed. Today I registered for BlogU, a weekend conference for women, moms, bloggers, and writers that will take place in Baltimore in June. I clicked on the ad, saw that the conference was being hosted by a few successful, female bloggers on sites I recognized (like Scary Mommy), checked out the seminar topics, noticed that there was an option for a “single room” that was rapidly selling out, jumped the gun, and bought myself a seat at the table. Just like that.

After I’d received my emailed confirmation, though, the panic set in. What the hell are you thinking? You are going to have to TALK to other women now. In real life. For three days. Women you have never met before. Women who are probably better writers than you will ever be. The doubt began to seep in. Suspecting the insidious negativity demon was planning an all-out mental assault, I quickly pulled up the site for United Airlines, logged into my account, and booked a round-trip flight to Baltimore for the first weekend in June. Boom! 

I sat back and stared at the confirmation on my screen, simultaneously dumbfounded and impressed, cycling between abject terror and confident detachment. My whole impulsive display of bravado boiled down to a quote by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe: “Boldness has genius, power, and magic in it.” It doesn’t get much bolder for a confidence-challenged, fledgling blogger than registering for a conference for writers. It first requires a belief that you deserve to be in that company of writers.

A couple of weeks ago, a friend asked me what career I would want if I could choose to begin it tomorrow. And, for the first time ever, my ideal job description was easy to articulate: I want to write what I want and make money doing it. Now, I don’t live under a rock. I know this is the dream of every poor and frustrated writer on the planet and probably some in outer space too if we are, as I suspect, not entirely alone. Still, I’ve wanted this ever since I was a girl and I stumbled upon a copy of Erma Bombeck’s The Grass is Always Greener over the Septic Tank. As I perused the pages of that book back in my grandmother’s bathroom in Buffalo, New York, I realized that there was a woman out there who was being paid to write her mind. I tucked that knowledge away in the deep crevasses in my brain. A couple of weeks ago it bubbled to the surface and skittered its way out of my mouth before I had the chance to swallow it with good sense again.

Truth is that I’m tired of the self-doubt. I’m tired of the second guessing, the pooh-poohing, the maybe-somedaying. I’m not the best writer on the planet, but I’m not the worst either. Yes. Anyone can write. And it seems that anyone and everyone does. We all have a forum these days. But, there is a time to make an investment in your dream and to have faith in yourself…or at least to be willing to research the possibility of it. I’ve reached that point. And I have a few months to work with my therapist on developing self-confidence or at least the bullshit skills to fake-it-until-you-make-it. I’m hoping that in four months’ time I’ll be able to converse in person with other writers. Maybe even without having to consume a half of a bottle of wine first.

Circumstance Is A Weak Choice

Scenic view or septic tank? Your choice.

Scenic view or septic tank? Your choice.

“I am who I am today because of the choices I made yesterday.” ~Eleanor Roosevelt

Here is my blanket statement of the day. There are two kinds of people in this world…people who embrace choice and people who don’t. I’ve been thinking a lot lately about this differentiation. I know many people who live their lives through the filter of circumstance. Things happen to them. They are firmly locked into the victim mindset, unable to let go of what is now in the past. Life has been unfair to them, and life has made them unhappy. But life is unfair to everyone in one way or another, and this is where choice comes in. When something unwelcome happens to you, you unexpectedly lose your job or your child or your home, for example, that is circumstance. How you deal with circumstance is choice, and that choice is the difference between lifelong happiness or lifelong disappointment.

I’ve cycled through both the victim and the champion role in my life, gratefully remaining more on the champion side as a rule. Sometimes I would sit in suck-i-tude for a while before putting on my big girl panties and making changes. And it’s true that sometimes you need to let yourself be where you are in your disappointment, sadness, and regret. It’s part of the human condition. But I’ve realized that remaining stuck there is a waste of time. Life is too short to hang out too long where grief and sadness reside. I am in charge of writing my story. The people I have most admired have taken what life has handed them and worked it in their favor. It might not have happened overnight, but it happened. It’s a process.

Now that I am better at not relegating my life to well-gee-it-is-what-it-is, I find myself struggling with the appropriate way to act when others are marooned in the quagmire of circumstance. Some people only feel better when they are getting attention and sympathy from others, and the best way for them to do that is to remain lodged and helpless in their unfortunate circumstances. When you are involved with people who rely on you to make their life better, interactions with them are exhausting. How do you show empathy while maintaining self-preservation? It’s a tough line to walk. I’m working on being compassionate while remaining cautiously distant so I don’t get sucked into their vortex of pity-poor-me. That attitude is like the flu and, if your choice mindset is underdeveloped or suffering a setback, you can catch that victim bug more than once. And I have.

I don’t want to feel trapped by anyone’s circumstances, including my own. I want to be creative and find ways to negotiate obstacles as they arise by determining what choices I have in the situation. I know I don’t have to own or be responsible for any choices others make to remain trapped in their situations. Intellectually, I understand that, but I invariably wrestle to free myself of others’ negativity and focus on my own reactions instead. I’m striving to be braver and to recognize the bad for what it is…a chance to grow and adapt. I’m getting there. And, someday I will successfully be able to navigate the landmines that life’s victims leave for me. For now, all I can do is worry about myself and tread lightly in the direction of positivity.

 

 

The King Of I’ve-Got-This

He has the smug look of a Patriots fan down pat.

He has the decidedly smug look of a Patriots fan down pat. I’ll give him that much.

Although I wasn’t born here, I’m a Colorado gal. I’ve lived here 33 years, which is approximately 72% of my life if you’re into numbers. People here love the mountains, the sunshine (over 300-days a year, baby), and the micro-brewed beer. Above all these, though, there is one universal truth to life in Colorado. People are a bit crazy about the Denver Broncos. Families who are fortunate enough to have season tickets hang onto them for decades and leave them to family members in wills. And on the Friday before a game, it’s commonplace to see all kinds of folks of all sorts of ages, shapes, and sizes decked out in team colors. We are United in Orange, it seems. Well, most of us are.

It’s Friday, so this morning I reminded the boys that they might want to pull out their orange jerseys for school. When they were showered and dressed, I discovered only one of my sons had complied. Joe was wearing a Manning jersey. Luke? Well, he went another route. Luke came out dressed in jeans and a Patriots t-shirt, which was of course covered by a Patriots sweatshirt. For years I’ve tried to convince myself that Luke is both a Broncos and a Patriots fan, like I am a Broncos/Bills fan, but I’m starting to suspect that may have been wishful thinking. I think Luke has gone over to the dark side entirely.

“Luke, are you really going to wear that?” I asked.

“Yep,” he answered plainly.

“You know you have Broncos stuff you could wear, right?”

“Yep,” he said again, clearly nonplussed by my line of questioning.

“The other kids are going to give you hell for that,” I prepared him.

“I know. That’s the point,” he replied. “I like this.”

That was the end of the discussion. I had not needed to prepare him. Not only was Luke okay with wearing the Patriots gear, he was choosing to wear because he likes it and he doesn’t care what anyone else thinks. He was not at all afraid of the idea of conflict. I stood there and stared at him for a few minutes while he continued to get his backpack ready for school. He sneered at me. Okay. Maybe it was more of a smile, but it’s so hard to tell with those defiant Patriots fans.

I thought about Luke and his choice as I drove them to school this icy morning. Luke may be the second smallest in his class. He may seem cute and cuddly (and he is). But underneath all of that he is a force to be reckoned with. I’m not exactly sure where he got his compunction because neither his father nor I have it. It’s one of those cases where nature gave him a gift. The kid has had a confident, can-do attitude since birth. As a toddler, he was the King of Me-Do. In his preteen years, he’s become the King of I’ve-Got-This. He knows that he can do anything, be anything, achieve anything. He knows his talents. He never has to be told or praised. He never questions the how or why of it. He simply knows it to be true. He is awesome.

I am working on myself this year. I am struggling to improve my self-esteem and my self-confidence. I’m focusing on positivity and goal setting. And I’m watching Luke for tips because, when I grow up, I want to be just like him.

 

 

 

What A Wonderful World

A glimpse of our wonderful world

A glimpse of our beautiful world

On the way home from school today, Joe began talking about the shootings at Charlie Hebdo. He was curious if the shooters had been found. I told the boys about the attack shortly after picking them up yesterday because I knew they would hear about it anyway. Today Joe garnered more information about it while watching a youth-focused version of CNN at school, and he needed to talk about it. Joe is a facts-based person. He seeks to understand things, and sometimes his understanding leaves him concerned. He processes news differently than his brother, who is far more touched by the emotion of human tragedy. For Luke, it’s not the fear of something happening to him, but the sadness of something happening to someone else.

When they were very young, we shielded them heavily from the news. Our ban on television reporting began late in August, 2005, when Hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans. Joe was 4 then, and I knew that any video of flooding after the levees broke would send my safety child into a panic. I pictured him poised at the top of the stairs, climbing to higher ground for the rest of his natural days. Steve and I began taking our news in primarily via the Internet, where we could quietly absorb the stories and determine what to share with our children. When a gunman killed 12 people in a movie theater in nearby Aurora, Colorado, we carefully explained what had happened to our boys as soon as we could because we didn’t want them hearing about it from anyone else.  Two years later, Joe is still hesitant to see movies in the theater, and he never saw one iota of television news coverage about the story. If he had, I imagine he’d never want to leave the house. (On a side note…that would save us a cool fortune in dining out costs.)

Today as Joe was talking about the news from France and Luke was trying to understand how anyone could take satire for anything other than satire, I stopped them. I reminded them that the world is full of good things that never get reported. We only ever hear bad news, which is why we spend an inordinate amount of time online trying to get cheerful by watching videos of cute animals or cute children. We’re constantly bombarded by the bad, the ugly, the scary, the repulsive, the unexplainable, the ridiculous, and the pointless. The news continually pits us against one another in a contest to determine who is the most wrong and who is the most righteous. Imagine if the news were instead filled with stories of people shoveling snow for an elderly neighbor or friends pitching in to cook dinner after someone’s surgery or a teenager buying a meal for a war veteran seated nearby. Small acts of peace, friendship, gentleness, generosity, and goodwill occur every day in a frequency we don’t see. So instead of allowing the hope of those good things to penetrate our lives, we become consumed with negativity and pessimism about the world that is presented to us.

Bad things do happen. Extremists murder journalists. Children get cancer. Soldiers leave and return in coffins. But if we spend our time in this life focusing solely on the tragedy in this world and looking for answers that will never come, we change. We become fearful. And with each act of violence and hatred, we lose a little bit of our souls. I work every day to show my children why life is worth living and why you can’t let the bastards get you down. When I got home, I showed the boys photos of the vigils in Paris where locals held signs that read “Not Afraid.” We need to be brave, I assured them. Everything is going to be all right. We can never make sense of the dark, but we can light a candle and pass it on.

 

 

Self-Portrait of the New Me

The forties have been an interesting decade for me. I started them with some sort of vendetta, something to prove to myself and to others. After a few years of tearing down my comfort zone and boldly going where I had not gone before, I began to get restless in a different way. I began to feel like none of it mattered. Like everyone else on this planet, I was simply getting older, and no amount of fighting the aging process was going to stop the clock or stop time from marching across my wrinkling, sagging body. Why bother? I mean, we’re all going to die anyway. Who cares if I do it ingesting chia seeds or peanut M&Ms? Most recently, though, as I approach my 46th birthday, I’ve hit upon a new phase. It’s a whole new thing for me, something I’ve not yet experienced. I’m trying to find softness, to forgive myself for what I’m not and to appreciate what I am. After a life of being a perfectionist and being unfairly hard on myself, I’m starting to look the other way on my shortcomings and focus instead on the good.

As I begin this new phase of self-discovery, I’ve found that there are people in my life who are determined to derail me. They remind me of what I’m not, rather than celebrating what I am. It’s a constant battle to remain ahead of the naysayers who want to throw sand on my picnic. Last night, I was sharing something Luke did at school with someone. I was particularly proud of this project and was excited to show it off for him.

Luke's self-portrait

Luke’s self-portrait

One of his teachers had him draw a self-portrait. Around the self-portrait, he’d written ten statements about himself. All of the statements were positive. I asked him if he’d had a hard time coming up with ten nice things to say about himself. He said he hadn’t. I was so proud of him for having a level of self-worth at 11 that I know I don’t have at 45. The person with whom I shared the artwork had only one statement about it: “Well…he’s cross-eyed.” I looked at the drawing again. It’s true. Luke had drawn one of the eyes toward the center edge, and I guess it does look a bit cross-eyed. I hadn’t noticed that earlier because, well, I was so impressed with the wording around the drawing that I simply hadn’t noticed. Guess my pride in my son clouded my critical, artistic eye.

Today, I spent a bit of time reflecting on the negative comment on my son’s sweet piece of artwork. Putting yourself out there like that is a bold move. Letting your mom share it with others is even more bold. If he could be that brave, I could to. I decided to put myself to the test. I decided I would draw a self-portrait and see if I could come up with ten positive statements about myself. I wanted to share my page with Luke because he’d allowed me to share his page with others. I also shared it with three other people just to get used to the idea of having confidence in my own self-worth. Tonight, though, I am taking it farther still. I’m going to share my self-portrait with the Internet.

My self-portrait

My self-portrait

I’m no artist, and this activity was difficult for me. As hard as it was to try to sketch myself, harder still it was trying to find complimentary things I was willing to say about myself. It took less time to draw and color my sketch than it took to compose ten positives, and even then I felt very uncomfortable owning everything I’d written. In my head was that little voice spewing self-doubt, saying Who are you kidding? and A lot of folks believe they’re good writers so you’re not special. It was a good exercise for me, though, and one I desperately needed today. It’s not easy for me to find positives because I’ve fairly well breathed a steady stream of negatives through outside voices and disparaging self-talk my entire life. I’m more likely to look in a mirror and find five things wrong than I am to find even one thing right.

When Luke got in the car after school, I told him that I’d spent my afternoon drawing and I was hoping he would critique my work when we got home. Luke, being the kind-hearted kid he is, appraised my art and told me that he thought it was pretty good. Considering how much I had struggled with it, I thought pretty good seemed really great.

It’s a long road I’m on, this path to self-love and self-acceptance. It has to start somewhere, though, and I’ve decided that somewhere is here and now. Some people will approach everything from a point of cynicism and negativity. I don’t have room for that anymore. I don’t want my children growing up with a mom who has nothing nice to say about herself. I don’t want to be that model for them. The world will beat them up enough. They don’t need to be experts at it too. As for me, I am making changes. You’re entitled to your opinions about me, about how I live my life and how I’m doing it all wrong. You can even share your opinions with me if you want. I’ll hear what you’re saying, but I’m not absorbing it or changing to meet your expectations. I’m happy with the life I’ve built and the person I am continually becoming. I’m not perfect by any stretch. I make mistakes. Point them out if you must, but know that I’m kicking negativity to the curb. If you have nothing positive to say, you can go with it.

The Daily Pearls

Being a wise bunny and soaking up the moment with some sea lions in the Galapagos Islands.

Here I am being a wise bunny and soaking up the moment with some sea lions in the Galapagos Islands.

 

As the time ticked by this evening and I was watching the Colorado Avalanche lose game 6 of the first round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs, I knew that writing tonight would be damn near impossible. I was distracted and I could not think of a thing to say. I’d pretty much resolved to call it a night and put off writing until tomorrow when I came across this little Bunny Buddhism gem in my book:

The wise bunny knows there is no tomorrow, only a string of todays.

Well, crap. That’s a wrinkle in my procrastination plans.

I try to remind myself of life’s fleeting nature. I try not to take anything for granted. I get out of the car every morning at school drop off to give my boys a hug and a kiss. They hate it. On some days, they tear out of the car and I have to chase them across the lawn in front of the building to do it, catching them by their backpacks and kissing them on their heads in front of their teachers and friends and embarrassing the living hell out of them, but I make sure I am never in too much of a rush to miss the opportunity. I may only have today to show them how much I love them. It’s worth the full-scale sprint in my yoga pants in front of the carpool parents because you just never know. I live 6.5 miles from Columbine High School. My heart is engraved with unexpected loss.

I seriously doubt that overnight a full-scale invasion by a malevolent alien race will kill my chances for writing tomorrow. I also doubt that I will die quietly in my sleep (knock on wood), which would certainly render it more difficult for me to compose anything on WordPress tomorrow. (There might be a story idea in there, though, about zombie writers.) In all likelihood, there will be time for me to write later because I will wake up tomorrow, chase my kids down at school, and return home to my laptop refreshed and hopefully with something clever or at least vaguely interesting to say. But, just in case, I will put these words down now as an insurance policy because I understand that no one is guaranteed a tomorrow. If you spend too much time counting on future moments, you fritter away the ones that are happening now. There’s always time in the present. Recognize it’s there and make the most of it. Today is as good as it gets, people. Each day is a pearl on a string. If you’re lucky, one day you’ll have a magnificent strand.