No Big Deal

Yep. Ready for camping, all right.

We’re leaving tomorrow for three days and three nights of camping in the mountains west of Aspen. You could not tell this by looking at our camper right now, buried in the garage under unsold garage sale rejects and boys’ toys. In theory, we will leave in the morning. In theory, after we dig out the camper, hook it to the car, put all the superfluous stuff back into the garage, and load the camper, we will be on our way. In the meantime, we’re having friends over tonight for game night because I don’t like to be bored. Well…I got my wish.

I have learned to slow down a bit. It’s hard to tell on days like these when I am being pulled in a million different directions by things I willingly took on before analyzing their potential impact on my mental health. But, I do a lot less these days than I used to. It’s true. It’s simply hard to tell.

I’m trying to make memories for my boys. Memories of happy summers playing with friends, exploring, camping, traveling, and trying new things. To accomplish that, there is a lot of planning, coordinating, preparing, and cleaning up to get out of the way. Things get a little hairy for me as the at-home parent. But, I know I am making progress toward becoming more zen…if not in the way of scaling back then definitely in the way of not stressing out as much as I used to.

I’ve learned that things have a way of working themselves out. I play this little game with myself to remind myself why life is not worth stressing over too much. For whatever it is that is standing in front of me like an impenetrable road block, I ask myself what is the worst that could happen. For example, what is the worst that will happen if we don’t get the camper cleaned off tonight? Answer: We’ll do it tomorrow and get to the campground a bit later. No big deal. What is the worst that will happen if I forget the boys’ swimsuits for playing in the river? Answer: They’ll swim in their shorts. No big deal. What is the worst that will happen if we don’t get our stuff together to go camping? Answer: We won’t go camping and we’ll lose the $70 in camp fees. The world won’t stop revolving. The kids won’t die. We’ll truly be not much worse for the wear. No. Big. Deal.

We’re still busy. I still overload our schedule with “fun” things to do that will cause me oodles of extra work I didn’t need to take on. But, I’ve taken my harried, stress-over-every-little-detail behavior down about fourteen notches. Oh. I still stress. My husband can verify how snippy I can become when he forgets the camp chairs and that was the only thing I asked him to remember. But, I am less uptight than I used to be. Sad, but true.

Unwinding is a process. And, for some people like me, it’s a lifetime’s worth of work. And, for some people who have to live with me on a daily basis, my unwinding process isn’t moving nearly fast enough.

Rolling, Rolling, Rolling….Rawhide!

Me and my riding shadow.

Tonight the kids are staying with their aunts, so hubby and I are enjoying a quiet, relaxing dinner and a bottle of wine, right? That’s what any rational American couple temporarily released from the bonds of parenting would be doing with their free night at home. That’s not, however, how it works in our lives. Instead of savoring the solitude of an eerily vacant house, we’re getting our bike gear together because we’re meeting friends at 6:45 a.m. tomorrow. It’s almost 10:30 and on our night off we’re getting ready to go to bed. No. Really. To bed. To sleep. Our Saturday plan is to get in a vigorous 80-mile bike ride, hopefully before the skies open up and we get hailed on. Why are we doing this? Because it’s our final opportunity for a serious training ride before we do the Colorado Bike MS 150-mile ride two weekends from now and because, well, we’re insane. That’s the only logical explanation I can come up with right now.

I like to ride my bike, especially with friends. I enjoy it as much as I can enjoy any activity that is technically exercise and therefore is good for me. But, the getting ready, the gearing up, the waking up early, and the first ten minutes of the ride are pure torture. Once I get going, I truly do like riding. It’s the getting there that kills me. I try to live in the moment. I do. But, right now, I wish I could fast forward to 4 p.m. tomorrow when I’ll be finished doing the 80-miles, feeling the rider’s endorphin high after burning about 3,000 calories. Sitting here in bed in this moment, though, I am already exhausted simply thinking about 80 miles tomorrow. I would give my sons to the devil if he could make the next sixteen hours finish in an instant. All right. Maybe I wouldn’t give my darling boys to Satan, but I’d be tempted.

I know I will have a wonderful time tomorrow. I know I will enjoy it, even when it gets tough, because deep down I relish the opportunity to push myself a bit. But, as the idea of tomorrow stretches out before me, I am not enthusiastic. I am tired and I am going to sleep. And, I am praying that my forty-four year old legs are well rested, my new bike tires repel sharp debris, and the 800+ miles I’ve put in so far this year on my bike (mostly on its indoor trainer) will make this outdoor ride bearable. No matter what happens tomorrow, I can guarantee you two things: 1) tomorrow at 4 p.m. I will be drinking a beer that I truly earned and 2) tomorrow night I will sleep like the dead. Wait. Maybe that’s why I do this? 😉

A Diversified Life Portfolio

A little path leading somewhere unexpected.

“All life is an experiment. The more experiments you make, the better.” ~Ralph Waldo Emerson

Today is my birthday. I am forty-freaking-four. Trust me. There are a lot of “F” words there for a reason. While I can’t believe I’m this old, I’m grateful to have made it this far. This morning, after sucking down the latte hubby brought me for breakfast, I decided to go for a walk. We’re up at our home away from home in Steamboat Springs, and there are lots of trails within walking distance of our house. So, I leashed up the dog and headed out while Steve took the kids swimming.

The trails around here are not deliberate. They meander as if the persons first traversing the area weren’t quite sure which was the optimal way to travel. Each path ends in a fork. It’s quite easy to get turned around and forget from which direction you came. As Ruby and I traipsed along turning this way and that, I thought about how today’s walk was a metaphor for my life because I am a wanderer perpetually sauntering in a new direction.

I’ve always admired people who are driven, who found their calling early in life and pursued it with a relentless passion and a fervor for success. I have admired those people because I’m not one of them. Although I am motivated when I find something that interests me, I’ve discovered too many things that intrigue and inspire me. I’ve been a bit ADD and, throughout my 44 years, I’ve flitted from thing to thing seeing what each had to offer. Consequently, if you look at the sum total of what I’ve accomplished in terms of measurable career achievements, my work resume is fairly flimsy. It’s a hodgepodge of eclectic jobs, from retail manager to meeting planner, from library research assistant to communications specialist. I’ve cleaned houses, rented cars, and handled the drive-up lane at a bank. I’ve managed movie theaters, merchandise, and people. I’ve been all over the map, and my resume reflects that. It is what it is. I’ll never be a woman with an enviable career, and I’ve had to come to terms with that because before I knew myself better I planned to measure my success with a brilliant curriculum vitae.

My path through life has been like the flight of a butterfly, erratic and seemingly directionless. There is a beauty to the rambling that I’ve done, though. Because of my ardent, if temporary, interest in so many things, I’ve learned a little bit about a lot of what life has to offer. I’ve studied French, Spanish, and Italian, and spent a year and a half learning to translate Latin. I’ve been artsy and tried painting, jewelry making, paper crafting, scrapbooking, drawing, and needlepoint. I’ve taken classes in cake decorating, rock climbing, drama, baking, tap and swing dancing, cooking and culinary skills, and burlesque. I’ve tried my hand at athletics: tennis, golf, gymnastics, water skiing, snow skiing, snowboarding, road cycling, sea kayaking, mountain biking, softball, canoeing, and yoga. I can twirl a baton, bake an awesome pear and almond galette, and point out some constellations or tell you about your astrological sign. I can still turn a cartwheel and do a headstand at 44, and I think that’s pretty cool.

So, I guess what I’ve discovered about myself after all these many years on this planet is that although I may not have a very impressive resume, I’ve got a fairly diversified life portfolio. Without consciously acknowledging it, I’ve been taking Emerson’s advice and making lots of experiments. And, I’m not finished yet. There are a multitude of things I’ve yet to try that are on my long to-do list. For example, I’m still looking for a friend who is willing to jump from a perfectly good airplane with me on a future adventure. If you’re looking for something to add to your life portfolio, maybe a little skydiving is in order?

Excuses, Excuses

What was that you said I couldn’t do?

 

“If you really want to do something, you’ll find a way. If you don’t, you’ll find an excuse.”       ~Jim Rohn

My friend Lisa posted this quote on her Facebook wall the other day. I’ve seen it before but never given it much thought, probably because I’ve never thought of myself as an excuse gal. I like to believe that, as a rule, I make things that I want come to fruition. I am determined by nature. Tell me I can’t do something. I’d love to prove you wrong.

In high school, our marching band was going to a competition in Florida over Spring Break. I wanted to go to Florida. I didn’t play a musical instrument, though. Problem, right? Wrong. The band needed a cymbal player. I could play cymbals. I mean, how hard could it be? Well, I don’t read music of any sort, including percussion music. Problem, right? Wrong. I simply got a recording of the songs we were going to play and memorized where the cymbal crashes occurred. I can walk and chew gum at the same time, so marching in formation while banging some cymbals together would be no problem for me. I was golden. So, I went to Florida with the band. I marched. I splashed in the Gulf of Mexico. I got a ridiculously painful sunburn. I went on a Journey Into Imagination at Epcot Center. It was awesome, and well worth the very early morning band practices on a cold, frost-covered field in Castle Rock.

Thinking back to the quote, though, if I’m honest with myself I must admit there have been a few times when I made excuses about things I should have attempted to achieve. I choose not to acknowledge those times, however, because I don’t consider them to be traditional excuses. I know this sounds like semantics, but it’s not. Here’s why. Sometimes an unconscious lack of confidence in my abilities convinces me that I cannot reach a particular goal. Because I inherently know I can achieve anything I want, my brain simply chooses not to want things I’m convinced I could never achieve. It lets me off the hook. I don’t have to find a way to do something if I convince myself I never wanted to do it in the first place. It’s an incredibly brilliant rationalization, but a rationalization all the same.

The reason I bring this up is because of my recent decision to brave my fears and attempt to write something other than a blog. If I’m being honest with myself, I’ve always wanted to be published…and not just by myself on a page I slapped up onto the Internet or via a bound copy of my master’s thesis housed in the library at Illinois State University. I’ve always wanted it. I’ve just never believed I was capable of it.

When I started this blog back in January and committed to writing every single day without fail, I thought I was doing it to get back into writing, something I’d given up when my oldest son was born almost 11 years ago. What I didn’t imagine, however, was that by practicing writing I would find some measure of confidence in myself. By writing every day, I was able to overcome my self-imposed road block. I realize now that the only current difference between me and published authors is that they tried and I did not. I may not write the next classic American novel. I may not become the next J.K. Rowling or Suzanne Collins. But, I will never know for sure what I might be if I refuse to allow myself the opportunity to find a way to do the thing I have forever longed to do. I look at it differently now. That is all that has changed. If I try, I might fail. But, if I don’t try, I will have sold myself short. That, I now believe, is a far worse fate than failure.

Because Virginia Woolf Said So

Halfway through clean up

“A woman must have money and a room of her own if she is to write fiction.”                 ~Virginia Woolf

Years ago when we moved from the city to this bigger house in the suburbs, I appropriated one room for myself. It was to be an office space, although I had no idea what I needed an office for because I didn’t have a paying job. Over the nearly ten years we’ve been at this address, my office has moved locations three times. It has been situated for the last six or so years down the hall from our bedroom in the smallest room in the house. It’s located over the garage. It’s freezing in the winter (like “use a space heater or wear mittens” freezing) and ungodly hot in the summer. But, it has a cute little window seat that I made a cushion for, a full-size closet I can cram all sorts of stuff in, and eastern exposure sunlight, which makes it bright and cheerful in the morning.

The first thing I did when I moved my crafting supplies into that space was to have hubby install a keyed doorknob. I planned to keep the boys from pouring permanent ink onto the floor, super gluing themselves to something, or ending up in the emergency room after messing with one of my sharp, paper-cutting implements. There was something so awesome about having a space I could lock up and keep private too. It was my own little oasis. That was the plan, anyway. Instead, what happened is that my private room became a catch-all for the kids’ school artwork, printed photos, birthday and holiday gifts that needed to be stored and then wrapped, and packing/shipping supplies. During the holidays, the room gets trashed by my whirling dervish behavior. Between the holiday cards, the gift wrapping, the treats for neighbors and teachers, and the scrapbooks I give as gifts, I find I can no longer even walk in there by December 25th.

So, I lock the door and ignore it…for about four months. Sometime in April, I cautiously peer in there to remind myself what I’m up against. Then, I quickly close the door and lock it again. Sometime in May I remember I am soon going to need a hiding place when school lets out for summer, and I begin the dreaded clean up process I’ve been avoiding. Today, though, as I began the cleanliness assault on my space, I was honestly excited about it because I’m not just cleaning up my crafting mess. I’m setting up my writing space too. I’m giving myself a room of my own, just like Virginia Woolf told me to, so I can write this work of fiction that is bubbling in my brain.

My office always had two desks. One was to be for crafting and the other was to house my laptop. I’ve never actually used the space that way, though, because the writing desk has been perpetually littered with, well…for lack of a better word…crap. Not anymore. Today I am turning over a new leaf. My writing desk will be for writing. I’m setting up files for my research and notes. I’m putting up my favorite inspirational quotes. I’ve dusted off my hardcover dictionary and thesaurus. I’ve hung my college diplomas to remind myself that I’m plenty capable of this. I’m ready to kick some creative ass. I’ve got a little money. I’ve got a room of my own. I’ve got some inspiration. What else could I possibly need?

I’m thinking wine fridge. I bet there has been some research done that shows that wine helps the creative process. And, chocolate too. It might be a good idea to toss a little chocolate in my wine fridge. I’m certain those two things will improve my creativity. I think I’m finally going to get a handle on the perfect office for me. And, I’d bet cash money that Virginia would approve.

Unstuck At Last

It’s always darkest before the dawn.

“Everything in life is writable about if you have the outgoing guts to do it, and the imagination to improvise. The worst enemy to creativity is self-doubt.” ~Sylvia Plath

A couple years ago, I had a flash about a story I might like to tell. I just could not figure out how to do it. What person should I use to tell it? Should I tell both points of view or just one? How could I tell the story of a lifetime in bits an pieces and still tie it all together? How far would the characters go? How would it all work out? I became trapped in the quagmire of questions. I could not get unstuck.

So, I made some notes, tossed the idea on the back burner, and waited for the rest of the inspiration to come to me. I waited two years. It did not come. This weekend away from my family, I knew I would have time to revisit this with a clear head and no obligations. Late Friday afternoon before meeting a friend, I pulled out the laptop and resurrected my notes. I thought they might look different to me after all this time, so I looked at them. Actually, I stared at them until I went cross-eyed. Nothing. I could not stop over thinking the logistics of the story I had already mapped out in my head. They were killing me. I gave up, closed the laptop, and went out with my friend.

Then, an incredible thing happened. After a couple Moscow Mules, I began to get unstuck. My brain opened up and started entertaining possibilities instead of stopping at road blocks. The ideas started to flow. I spent most of yesterday thinking about the conversations that had happened the night before to jumpstart the creativity.  And today, with nine uninterrupted hours in the car driving home from Utah, I brainstormed. I got out my iPhone and took voice memos. When I stopped, I took notes. Suddenly, I felt confident that I could say what I needed to say. What had bogged me down, it turns out, was a lack of imagination. With my background in professional and technical writing, I’ve not traditionally been allowed to change details or move a story around. But, I’m not that person anymore. I’m free of those fetters. It’s my story. A fiction story. I can make up whatever I want. 

I’m certain there will be other things that will stop me in my tracks throughout this process, but after this minor  breakthrough I feel I can handle any additional challenges with a different perspective. If I get stuck again, I will go back to my muse for inspiration. And, if that fails, I’m heading to a bar because I think another couple Moscow Mules might fix me right up.

Digging Deep

Oh...I really had to dig deep this morning.

“You’ve got to get up every morning with determination if you’re going to go to bed with satisfaction.”             ~George Lorimer

I’ve had this rotten cold sucking the life out of me for days now. Most people hate to be sick. I know this. But, I think my hatred of being sick goes beyond that of a “normal” person’s hatred of being sick. When I feel a cold coming on, I immediately give my body a good talking to. Oh no you don’t. You are not going to get sick. You’re not. End of story. This, of course, does not work. My body does not care what I have to say. If it listened to anything I had to say, I wouldn’t have stopped growing until I was 5’9″ tall, 135 pounds, and 34C. Did. Not. Happen.

Once I succumb to illness, I go to my back up plan. Realizing that my body is not listening to me, I serve a mandatory eviction notice to the cold itself. It has just seven days to reside here. No grace period. I figure I’m being fairly generous to those foreign invaders. They have two days to set up shop and get me good and sick, two days for debauchery and mayhem, and three days to pack themselves up, clean up their mess, and get out.

In preparation for the MS150 in June, I’ve spent the past 6 weeks getting myself back into a steady cardio workout routine after a winter of doing not much. It takes a while to build the habit of working out six days a week without fail, so the arrival of this wretched cold this week was certain to derail all my hard work. Colds have always managed to mess my training up. Why? Because a cold offers me an excuse to be lazy and rest. I am free to sit on the couch watching my favorite show du jour (currently that means back episodes of Friday Night Lights because I have a massive crush on Tim Riggins). I knew I would have to dig deep this week to stay on track. I mean center of the earth deep. But, I did it. 15 miles on the trainer on Tuesday, an hour of hot yoga on Wednesday, 13 miles on the trainer yesterday, and today I somehow managed to get myself to Red Rocks to climb stairs. And, you know what? I did climb stairs. I worked it out. It took me longer than usual, but I completed my usual circuit of stair climbing there. I powered through.

I’m proud of myself. This week, for the first time ever, I fought the urge to use my cold as a free pass out of exercise. As the cold germs partied on while I was exercising, I put my fingers in my ears and sang “lalalalalalalalalala” to block out its ruckus. They may have taken temporary possession my body, but my determination ensured I won the war for my soul. I feel pretty good about that. And, I truly believe this cold will be 100% gone in three days now. It knows I mean business.

I Was A 98 Year Old Author

One stack of books I am working my way through.

“We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit.”             ~Aristotle

I feel like a kid in school again. There is so much I need to do if I want to realize my goal of writing a major work. Yesterday, I spent a long time in Barnes and Noble in the Writing section flipping through books on every conceivable aspect of writing and publishing. I looked through books with ideas, books about the process, books about writing every possible genre, books about self-publishing, and books about finding an agent. I sat on the floor thumbing through pages becoming more and more overwhelmed with every passing second. The amount of information is astounding. I could spend a lifetime reading about how to write a book and never even write a book. It made me question if I was insane for imagining I could do this. I left the bookstore with four books, two about writing and two about feminism, a headache, and a hole filled with doubt in the pit of my stomach.

When I got home, I opened up one of the books, A Novel in a Year by Louise Doughty, and started reading. Ms. Doughty offers 52 weeks of exercises designed to break the unconquerable task of writing down into bite-size bits. It is filled with useful advice on writing and practical exercises to “help writers develop confidence and style.” Yep. That sounds like something that might help me. I’m, more or less, starting at ground zero right now. I could use all the advice and practice I can get. The first exercise was simple. She offered a sentence for us to complete. I turned my sentence into a paragraph and felt reasonably pleased what I had written. Funny how the fear of writing goes away when you write instead of merely thinking about it, preparing for it, or talking about it.

And so I’ve decided to look on this as a journey, not a destination. The goal is to publish, but the timeline is flexible. If I work constantly thinking that the only way I will be successful is when I actually publish, then I’m unduly stressing myself out. I am on a path, not a racetrack. Every time I write, I learn something about myself through my emotion, my choice of words, the mere act of putting thoughts on paper (or a screen). I do mean to publish, but if it doesn’t happen until I’m 98 that is fine. If I write repeatedly from now until then, I might just turn myself into an excellent 98 year old author.

I Was Wrong

Today marks my 100th consecutive day writing on this silly blog. About 101 days ago, I was not sure I could do it. I’m happy to report that I was wrong. I was the only thing standing in my way. I’m glad I stepped aside and let myself through. I’m not going to prattle on about this accomplishment because I truly hope that I’ll make it every day this year without missing a post, and I’m sure no one cares about these milestones aside from me.

However, in reflecting on how I got from Day One to Day One Hundred, I realize that the only thing that made this blog possible was the decision to do it. It took only the desire not to miss a day to ensure I didn’t miss a day. Admittedly, it was not easy…but it was possible.

I’ve always loved this quote but it seems especially appropriate today, so I thought I would share it:

“Whatever you do, or dream you can, begin it. Boldness has genius and power and magic in it.” ~ Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

If there’s something you haven’t begun or attempted because you’re not sure you’ll have the time or the energy or the fortitude to be successful, go ahead and step boldly in that direction. Make yourself a priority. Believe in what you can accomplish. If you do, one day fairly soon you too will be fortunate enough to admit you were wrong to sell yourself short. I don’t know about you, but if I have to be wrong I think this is the best way to go about it.

Filling Out a Deposit Slip

The sky in my present world.

“You can clutch the past so tightly to your chest that it leaves your arms too full to embrace the present.”                    ~ Jane Glidewell

I have to admit that I feel like something of a fraud. I come here daily to blog, to write about living now and living zen, but for the past few months I’ve been doing nothing of the sort. I’ve been hanging onto some things that I really need to let go of…slights, memories, and long-dead hopes. I’ve been in a quagmire of disappointment and self-doubt. Today I read a quote that nudged me just enough to start my momentum. The quote read: “There are two types of people in your life…those that make deposits and those that make withdrawals. Cut out the latter.” (Thanks, Reshell.)

This afternoon I finally shifted my position enough to get a new perspective, to admit that I’ve been stuck in negatives when I should be nothing but positive. They (whoever “they” are) say that the first step to recovery is admitting you have a problem. So, I’m telling you all I have a problem. I’ve been an Eeyore. I’ve felt sad and hopeless and insignificant and silly. It’s been a horrible waste of my abundant energy. I know that once I let go of the negatives that are holding me back I will lighten like a balloon filling with helium and have nowhere to go but up. That’s a beautiful thought.

So, starting here, starting now, I am moving on. It might take me a while, but I will make it. Life is too short to give your time and energy to people or situations that don’t buoy your spirits and breathe life into your being. I’m going to jettison some things and get out of my own way.

Suddenly, my life feels like the photo above. There are still clouds, but the sun is coming out. I like how that sounds.