blogging

My Midlife, Middle School Experience

Hello, stark, college dorm room!

Hello, stark, college dorm room!

This past weekend I traveled to Baltimore for the BlogU Conference I impulsively signed up for months ago. As I was packing on Thursday, loading my suitcase with business cards, business casual attire, and an awkward middle school costume for the Saturday night party, I was cautiously optimistic. From the exchanges I had with a few of the attendees on Facebook in the weeks leading up to the conference, I had every reason to believe that new friends were on the horizon. I was looking forward to learning, networking, and growing my blog. I knew that masquerading as a successful blogger would be tough. Some of the attendees have readerships in the hundreds of thousands. Last time I checked, I had 1,549 followers. And that number seems shockingly high and inaccurate to me. Still, I was up for an adventure, so I boarded my flight and practiced my “I can be an outgoing introvert” mindset over and over for 1,500 aeronautical miles.

Upon landing in Baltimore, I learned a couple other attendees had arrived late after delayed flights and had missed their rides. Because I had a rental car reserved for myself, I offered to be their shuttle, figuring it would be a chance to make some friends before even getting my official name badge and conference schedule. One of my biggest reservations about attending the conference alone was an image I had of myself wandering around lost and friendless in the cafeteria like a middle school outcast. Perhaps offering a ride would keep me from that fate. Alas, that was not the case. When the three of us arrived and checked in, we went our separate ways. It’s okay, I told myself. There are a couple hundred folks here. My tribe is here somewhere. I shall find them eventually. 

I went to dinner on Friday night alone. The cafeteria at Notre Dame of Maryland was packed when I got there midway through meal service, its large, round, communal tables filled with chattering ladies of all shapes and sizes. I grabbed a plate, threw together a Caesar salad, filled another plate with halfway overdone-halfway underdone roasted vegetables, and began the hunt for a place to sit. I was overwhelmed. It seemed every person at the conference was there and successfully friended. I began to feel the fingers on my right hand forming the L-shape I knew belonged on my forehead. Conspicuously unfriended, I hastened to a nearby table where three women were engaged in animated conversation while a fourth woman sat to the side. Here’s another lonely soul just waiting to be my tribe, I imagined. We introduced ourselves and struck up polite conversation. Because she had finished her meal, she carried the lion’s share of the exchange while I scarfed down my veggies. As mealtime began to wind down, I realized I hadn’t had much opportunity to share about my blog. I was out of time, though, so I excused myself to prepare for the evening session. I kept telling myself that the introductions would become easier and my next meal would be at a table filled with new friends. It was early. There was plenty of time.

Perhaps I am as unfriendly looking as this sawtooth shark?

Perhaps I am as unfriendly looking as this sawtooth shark?

That night the conference hosted a pep rally. Writers who had won the submissions contest got to read their poignant and emotional pieces. During the break, I had the opportunity to touch base with a couple more bloggers. It felt good to share mom and writing experiences with women who could relate. When the program ended, I headed back to the dorm for the Open Mic session where we would put our names into a bowl and take turns reading our work. By the time I got to the lounge where we were meeting, though, it was standing room only and women were already sharing. The bowl to add your name to was at the front of the room through a maze of women seated in chairs and on the floor, placed on the floor directly in front of the gal at the mic. I didn’t want to be remembered as the rude woman who interrupted the speaker by stepping over other people to drop my name in the bowl, so I stood at the back sandwiched between a wall and a table for a while, just listening, before finally accepting that I had missed the boat on this event. I went back to my dorm room, mentally exhausted and ready for some introvert, alone time.

After a restless and wretched night of sleep on a squishy dorm bed, I hauled myself into the bathroom I was sharing. The other gal had left her Sonicare, her empty coffee cups, and a gob of chocolate-tinted toothpaste spit in the sink for me. I chose to assume this was because she didn’t realize it was a Jack-and-Jill bathroom. I locked the door, donned my shower shoes, and washed the dorm room off of me before driving to Starbucks for the most highly caffeinated latte imaginable. As I sat through the first two lectures of the morning, I eyed my fellow classmates looking for a like-minded soul. I suppose that would have come in the form of a carefully hidden yawn or a surreptitious glance at an iPhone. I saw none of that. Everyone was engaged, taking notes, and asking questions. The classes offered useful tips and I hastily scribbled just-barely-legible notes into my notebook, but the feeling that I was way out of my league persisted. I began to wonder if perhaps this wasn’t the best conference for me.

I stumbled into lunch in a state somewhere between dread and resignation. I once again wandered around alone, looking for a friendly face to welcome me to a table. No such luck. After sauntering casually with my food for a minute that seemed to be ten, I found an empty table and settled in alone. I checked my flesh for signs of leprosy and found none. Still, I had to wonder. I sniffed my armpits. Yes. There was deodorant there. I finished lunch and went back to the dorm room to freshen up just in case. On my way back to the classrooms for afternoon sessions, I set off a fire alarm on a poorly marked emergency exit. As I sped up my pace, praying no one would realize I was the goof who caused the ruckus, I decided my transformation from middle age nobody to middle school loser was complete.

I finished the next two sessions in a daze. In the 24 hours I was there, I made zero new friends despite putting myself out there as much as my reserved self could. The thought of sleeping in the dorm bed and sharing the bathroom again depressed me. I pulled up Expedia on my smartphone and booked a hotel room 15 minutes away. I didn’t need a Middle School To The Max party to feel any more unpopular than I already felt. Some takeout, a bottle of wine, and a private bath were all I needed to remind myself I was a grown adult and not a middle school reject.

Sunset on the flight home…all is right with the world.

Sunset on the flight home…all is right with the world.

That night while I was relaxing at the hotel and finishing up a blog post, against all odds, another attendee (one whom I hadn’t even met yet) reached out to me on the conference Facebook page wondering where I was. I was shocked. You know that scene in Pretty in Pink where the cute girl at prom motions to Duckie and he turns around to see if she’s talking to him? That’s how I felt. I quickly responded, telling her only that I was “out of sorts” and offering to meet up at the closing session the next morning. That’s what we did. As the conference drew to a close, my new friend, Martha, another blogger about mindfulness and zen, and I decided to drive into Baltimore to visit the National Aquarium and consume a crab cake lunch. The conversation was effortless and affirming and exactly what I needed. I pulled the thumb and forefinger L away from my forehead. I had found my tribe. That it was a tribe of one seemed perfectly fitting for this introvert.

My experiences at the conference were, I’m sure, vastly different from most of the attendees. Most of them are successful and gifted writers, humorists, and mommy bloggers on a mission. The conference, while not quite my milieu, offered loads of helpful information I will be able to incorporate into my publishing experience going forward. My blog may never have hundreds of thousands of followers. I may never make a living from it. What I realize now, though, is that those things don’t matter to me and they never really have. My plan from the start was to use writing to learn more about myself, to share what I experience with others to prove our common connections, and to find greater peace and stillness in my present. In those ways, I’m already a successful blogger.

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.

My Anne Lamott Dilemma

Image“You own everything that ever happened to you. Tell your stories. If people wanted you to write warmly about them, they should have behaved better.” ~Anne Lamott

I came upon this quote last year while reading Anne Lamott’s book about writing, Bird for Bird. It’s been traversing in and out of my head since then. It’s bold, brash, and unapologetic, like so many things Anne Lamott writes. Sadly, I am not Anne Lamott. And, as much as I love this statement, I’m paralyzed by it. It she actually suggesting that I write whatever I want without any concern about whom I might hurt in the process? To be honest, I’m not entirely sure if I’m that brazen yet. I’ve always been careful not to burn any bridges until I’m certain I don’t want to go back, and I don’t often find myself 100% certain about anything.

If my sister does something that irks me, is it honestly okay for me to blog about and then post to Facebook her transgression? I think I would hate it if tables were turned and my sister were the writer. I’d be scared to say or do anything around her for fear that I would end up as the next diatribe or anecdote in her blog. My sons already beg me not to write about things they’ve done. On a few occasions my husband, who is wholeheartedly supportive of my writing, requested I not share something he’s done. When does my right to tell my story outrank their right not to be lampooned on the World Wide Web?

Anne is right. These are my stories, and I should be able to tell them because as much as they belong to the others involved they also belong to me. I’ll be honest. I have a lot of kooky stories I could blog if I threw caution to the wind and ratted on the people in my life because my tribe is freaking crazy. I mean, of course they are. I am one of them. But just because they’re nutty doesn’t mean their privacy should be squandered.

So, I ask you. What is a writer to do? Am I honest and true to myself, my stories, my craft or am I fair and kind to my family and friends? If you’re a writer, how do you handle this? If you’re an unfortunate relative of a writer, how would you feel having your quirks and frailties littered across the internet?

I hope someday to be audacious enough to tell my stories. All of them. I guess between now and then I’ll have to figure out a way to do it without alienating people who matter. Or I’ll have to become such a skilled writer that I can craft a story so well that no one would dare dream of being offended by it.

Almost Famous

My thirteen year old reading my blog on his iPad.

Joe reading my blog on his iPad.

The other night, my sister stayed with our sons so hubby and I could attend a theater performance. Now that our boys are older, we get out quite a bit more than we used to. Usually, though, we are gone just for a couple of hours and remain completely accessible by text, phone, or Facetime. Our sons often avoid talking to us when we’re out for short periods of time. They’re too busy enjoying their Xbox or iPads without complaints about too much screen time. When we got to the theater, I turned off my phone, completely comfortable knowing the boys were in my sister’s capable hands, and settled in to enjoy an uninterrupted bit of culture.

After the play was over, I checked my phone just in case. There were four texts and a few notifications on my blog. Two of the texts were from my sister. Apparently Luke’s stomach gave him some trouble so he sacrificed most of his dinner to the toilet. “Too much food” was his excuse. (It’s taken me years, but I’ve gotten my children mostly trained to throw up for other people and not me.) Not surprisingly, the last two texts were from Joe inquiring when we would be home. It takes about three hours’ worth of time before our sons finally notice we’re missing. Once we pass the three-hour mark, Joe begins badgering us relentlessly via any electronic means possible. I expected that on the drive we would receive at least 5 additional text messages (it turned out to be 6) and possibly a request for a Facetime chat. It was nearly 11, and we’d been gone for about 6 hours already. He was tired and stubbornly refusing to fall asleep until we were there. We made a hasty exit and headed home.

I decided to check my blog comments in the car. Turns out one of the comments was on my Contact page. It was from Joe. It simply read, “Hi Mom,” which really cracked me up because this was a new and completely unanticipated way for him to contact me in my absence. My sons have known about my web page for years, but neither of them has ever really shown much of an interest in it. They just know that I write, often about them. I had told them what it was called, and Joe simply looked it up. I was shocked that he’d remembered the title and gotten a wild hair to check on it. This was a first.

When we finally got home, I checked on Luke. He was feeling better and having a snack to make up for his lost dinner. My sister had already crashed out for the night. I found Joe sitting on his bunk bed with his iPad.

“I saw your comment on my blog page,” I said.

“Yeah. I was reading it tonight,” he replied.

“I didn’t know you read my blog.”

“I just started,” he said. “I read the one about Safety Dad when Dad and Mr. Jeff went snowshoeing on Mt. Evans.”

My mind thought back to when I wrote that. It had to have been one of the first entries on this blog. He’d started in the archives. He was working his way through them. My heart was full.

“You’re a good writer, Mom. Some of those are pretty funny.”

I couldn’t decide what to be happier about…the knowledge that my son had actively sought out something I had written or the notion that he had actually appreciated it and me.

This is the most important comment I have ever received.

This is the most important comment I have ever received.

Yesterday I caught him going through my blog again. This time he asked me how he could put a comment on one, so I showed him. I know he’s reading them trying to find posts written about him or his brother. Sooner or later, he’s going to find a couple that I am sure he will protest. He is a teenager and having a mom who is a writer can leave you feeling a bit exposed. When that happens, I’ll show him a couple posts where I embarrassed myself and prove that no one, not even me, escapes the occasional embarrassment. Then I’ll use the opportunity to teach him about poetic license and the First Amendment. In the meantime, I am so honored that he is using his free time to find out more about what I do.

I often say that I write for myself. And this is absolutely true. I use my web page to keep myself accountable. If I know I need to publish something, it diminishes my myriad excuses for not writing. I never started out writing with a plan to build an actual readership. I never truly figured anyone would read it. I simply shared it so I would have the impetus to continue writing. Every single time someone follows my blog, I feel like I’ve won the lottery. I never felt my blog was important until this weekend. With my readership increased by this one special person, I feel almost famous.

 

 

Beginning Bunny Buddhism

I don't patronize bunny rabbits.

I don’t patronize bunny rabbits.

Late last week, my sister introduced me to a book I knew was a game changer. The minute I saw it I knew I needed a copy for myself because it fits right in there with two things that appeal to me…working towards my zen and coveting fuzzy things. (Yes. I know to be truly zen I would have to not covet things, even soft, fuzzy things, but this is why I said I am working towards my zen. I am not there yet, people.) The book is Bunny Buddhism by Krista Lester. It is an adorable tome filled with wisdom about life and illustrations of darling bunnies on the path to bunniness. As soon as I got the name of the book, I was one-clicking my way through Amazon to get it here as fast as humanly possible. (Yes. I know instant gratification also goes against my path to zen, but I can only make this journey one step at a time.) Today the book arrived, and I devoured 186 pages of bunny thoughtfulness, carefully marking statements that resonated with me. Fifty some Post-It tabs later, I realized I have a lot more travel ahead on the road to zen than I originally thought.

Last week, a fellow blogger (and all around kind gal) commented that she missed my blog postings. She told me she was planning to write every day in April. I was tempted to join her on her journey, but ultimately decided that after all this time off I’d gotten too lazy to commit to a whole month. That seemed like an awful lot of work. Then Bunny Buddhism arrived in my mailbox, and with it came my inspiration. And so for the next couple weeks, or until I am plumb bored with cute, fuzzy things or deep, life-changing wisdom, I am going to pick a thought from the book and blog a bit about it.

Today’s Bunny Buddhism mediation is this:

Even a reliable bunny misses a hop sometimes; then the important thing becomes simply to return to hopping.

That is what I am doing right now. I am returning to hopping by blogging again. Once I was a reliable writer, composing something every day for a full year, but I lost my way. I decided other things in my life were more pressing. I reasoned that because writing is not a paying gig for me, I had best focus on my primary job as wildlife manager (aka “mom to two sons”). I thought maybe all the time off blogging would give me more time to focus on writing a book. It didn’t. I found other ways to occupy my time when I put writing on the back burner. I rewatched all the seasons and every single episode of Breaking Bad, Mad Men, and LOST. I read way too many articles about our food system that scared the bejeezus out of me. I spent appalling amounts of time on Facebook. And through it all, the only thing I learned is that I am a first-class escape artist. But at the end of the day, no matter what I do or don’t do, the one thing I can’t avoid is the knowledge that I am a writer. I may not be a world-class writer or a published writer or even (gasp) a working writer, but I am a writer. It is what I do. Writing is as much a part of me as my blue-hazel eyes, my constellations of moles, and my stubby fingernails. Denying it doesn’t make it less true. It only takes me further away from my true self.

My writing is not unlike my path to zen. I have a great deal to learn and a lot of room to grow. But I can’t make any progress by freaking out and freezing up when I miss a blog. Life will continue whether I write or not, but every day I skip writing I miss an opportunity to be my most authentic, wonderful, flawed, and yet-somehow-still-perfect self. And so I begin again. They say a journey of a thousand hops begins with a single hop, right?

An Award? For Me?

Wow! I take a break off writing for a week and I come back and find an award waiting for me. How cool is that? Kerri, of Undiagnosed, But We Are Okay With That, nominated me for a Liebster Award, which is an award we bloggers share with each other for a job well done. So I am, of course, incredibly grateful to Kerri for shining a light on my little Live Now And Zen blog. Thank you very much!

When you are given a blogger award, there are rules you must follow. So, I’m going to follow these rules today in acceptance of this award. Then I will go back to my regularly scheduled writing.

LiebsterAward_Orange

The first part of the rules involves sharing with my readers some other bloggers whose work I admire. As a rule, I am not a great blog follower. My reason being that I have limited time each day to write and therefore I don’t devote a lot of time to reading. That being said, here are some of the folks I follow and why:

Paul Mark Sutherland of GoalHabits.com offers me daily inspiration in the form of inspirational quotes. I can’t tell you how much I love this…mainly because I am perpetually in search of inspiration but in that sort of way that I’m too lazy to look for it and hope it falls directly into my lap. Thanks to Paul, it does!

Joy at Nomadicles is another favorite. She’s an artist, designer, dog lover, athlete, and hockey fan, so there is much for me to love in her posts.

iRuniBreathe I identify with so many of the thoughts and experiences of this wonderful blogger. No. I don’t run unless I am being chased, but I am an athlete and can certainly relate to her struggles all the same. And, like her, I am also a mother, a baker, and a woman who hates to talk on her iPhone so much that I’m perpetually surprised when it rings.

Now that I’ve shared a few other bloggers with my readers, I’m supposed to write 11 unknown (or, perhaps, lesser known) things about myself. Here goes:

  1. I can twirl a baton, although I’m not so great at tossing it up and catching it anymore. (Need a helmet for that now.)
  2. My favorite yoga pose is balancing stick (tuladandasana).
  3. I can’t stand the flavor of wintergreen and I despise root beer.
  4. Although I studied French, Spanish, Italian, and Latin, I can’t speak or read a foreign language fluently.
  5. My favorite zoo animal is the elephant.
  6. I majored in Literature as an undergrad so someone would force me to read all the books I knew I should read.
  7. My given middle name was Veronica.
  8. Awards and accolades make me really uncomfortable.
  9. I can’t stand Valentine’s Day.
  10. My worst job ever was at a car rental place.
  11. I am the dog in this scenario.

The next part of the award is that I have to answer Kerri’s questions for me.

  1. If you could change one thing about yourself what would it be? I would like to be taller.
  2. High heels, sneakers or flip flops? Flip flops
  3. The Beach, the City or the Mountain? Mountain (in summer) and beach (in winter)
  4. Who is your favorite singer/group? Ooohhh…tough one. Not sure I can name one. Right now I’m listening to Alt-J a lot.
  5. If you could vacation anywhere (expense is not a consideration) where would you go and why? Thailand…exotic locale, beautiful beaches, amazing food, and the opportunity to ride an elephant.
  6. Do you mind that my blog is sometimes snarky? No. I’m snarky 99% of the time. I feel at home.
  7. What is one thing we would be surprised to know about you? I hate to speak to people I don’t know. This is why I blog.
  8. Favorite, guilty pleasure, TV show? Don’t watch much television, but Breaking Bad is my favorite.
  9. Favorite book or author? F. Scott Fitzgerald
  10. Do you admit to having a favorite child? No. They are both my favorite sometimes. Sometimes neither of them are.
  11. If you could replace your life with one from the Disney Channel which show would you pick? Never seen a show on the Disney Channel. I love all mice except Mickey. True story.

Okay. I think I’ve done my due diligence for this award. I’m not always great about accepting awards from my fellow bloggers. So, to all those who once nominated me and felt ignored when I did not accept in full compliance with the blogger award rules, please forgive me. I always appreciate the accolades. I’m just not great at accepting them.

Busting At The Seams

Image 3

Ready for The Avengers

Four entries left in this 366 day experiment of mine. I had all day to come up with something to write, and yet nothing came to me. Instead of thinking, researching, clawing at the world to find a subject for this blog tonight, I went out to dinner, played foosball, got Pinkberry for dessert, and then settled in to watch our go-to family movie, The Avengers, with my boys. (On a side note: every time I watch this film, I wonder why when Dr. Banner’s shirt rips and falls away as he becomes the gargantuan green monster that is the Incredible Hulk his pants seem to grow with him instead of tearing apart like his shirt. I suppose, though, that if Banner’s pants ripped apart and there was full-frontal, green southern exposure, the film would lose its PG-13 rating. Probably not very family friendly at that point. But, I digress.)

I have three days left to determine the future course of this blog. I plan to continue it but on a reduced publishing schedule. I would love to devote more time to writing for publication, and the truth is that this blog can take two full hours of writing time each day away from those efforts. It’s time for me to move on in my life and tackle Phase 2 of my trek back into authorship. This blogging journey began as a selfish adventure. I wanted to see if I could do it, if I could get back to writing the way I used to back in the days when writing was an imperative, a calling. After my sons were born, I went through years when writing was something I wanted to do but couldn’t imagine how to accomplish.

After nearly a year of plugging away at my passion, I now realize two things: 1) this is what I’m meant to do and 2) I’ve only made it this far because of you. I’ve been overwhelmed by the support I’ve had from friends, family, and strangers as I worked each day within this crazy realm of blogging. So, I’m opening this up to those who have supported me. I know I need to make a change, but I don’t want to lose what I’ve established. What to do….what to do. What do you think? I’m considering going to two full entries and two shorter entries per week. Will this type of schedule dissuade you from caring? Will it all work out in the end and will I not find myself alone?

Not unlike the Hulk, I’m undergoing my own personal transformation here, busting out of the mold I’ve established. I hope that my journey has made me bigger than I used to be. I hope that I’ve grown. I know I’ve become much more exposed than I ever was before. Now I’m simply wondering if I can make this next transition successfully, gracefully, and with my pants in tact.