Wide Net, Small Circle

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I kind of have the blues today. I’d been ruminating on a blog post I wanted to write about friendship, an essay that was taking shape in my mind based on a situation that arose with one of my best friends. Why blue? Because my heart feels worried about someone I love. Specifically, that I may have done something to dishonor the friendship.

While it’s definitely true that my manner of living is to basically throw my heart into the world, I am selective about those I hold dear in my inner circle. I am fiercely protective of my children, my partner, and my closest family and friends.

My idyllic childhood meant I learned to trust easily. I grew up counting on my attachments and as I grew into adulthood, I had expectations around those attachments. As a kid, I had no idea what it was like for many (most?) people. Sure, I had friends with far less cozy home environments, but I assumed theirs were exceptions.

The single biggest WTF of my adult life was learning that those expectations I’d developed had heartache built right into them. The first friendship I had fall apart in college was truly shocking to me, but I am certain I took very little responsibility for it even as I suffered over its loss. And of course, the disillusionment I experienced around my less than happy marriage was rooted in these expectations.

“Disenchanted” is probably a better word for the kind of growth that came from those experiences. After all, freedom from enchantment is a gift.

When you have expectations from your attachments, there is a tendency to operate from a place of entitlement. There is little motivation to nurture relationships because you assume they can be taken for granted.

In losing a marriage, I learned that I want a partner, and I need to like him, which sounds like, well, duh. But I just assumed my marriage was bullet proof for so many years that I didn’t notice the disengagement until it was too late. From that loss I learned that love is a verb, and I can choose the (in my case) man I love every day. And that conscientious choice makes a difference.

In losing a friendship, I learned that I only have so much time and bandwidth to give, and I want to give that time and heart to friendships where the nurturing is a two-way street. But also, where there is a respect and understanding that we all have busy lives, and if I choose to spend my time with you, it’s because I genuinely value your presence in my life. I don’t have any expectation beyond holding space in my heart, and knowing the friends in my inner circle do the same. I make time for each friend and nurture those relationships because they matter to me. I have dear friends I see only once a year; a few I see even less. But their place in my heart is secure.

In walking away from a family member whom I’d assumed would always be part of my life, I learned that you do not need to be an audience to toxic people. You do not owe it to anyone to allow them to take more than you can give. It is not your responsibility to absorb their negativity, even if the person is family. You can choose to walk away, or establish a boundary with that person and stick to it.

In experiencing the end of friendships or relationships, I have learned that I will naturally be affected when an attachment I value is severed, because that is who I am. But I also recognize that there is no relationship that is bullet proof. This means I will do my best to honor relationships in my life that I want to keep. I will try to live with my whole heart and to be a good mom, partner, daughter, sister, friend. This doesn’t mean I’ll be perfect, but the awareness of the impermanence of relationships gives me a reason to value the close friendships I have all the more, in a way I simply couldn’t when I was taking them for granted.

Since recognizing some of my idealistic ways of thinking and letting go of entitlements around relationships, I believe my life has blossomed in ways I couldn’t have imagined. I have dear friends that go back thirty years, and one very important person I’ve only known a little over a year. The length of time is less important than the knowledge and acceptance of “choice”. This is oddly comforting, if not empowering. I still fear loss, yet choosing each other is also pretty sweet. Yes, I still worry, feel things too deeply, and struggle with anxiety over things I can’t control.

I still have far too big a heart than is probably good for me. But a decent chunk of this heart holds pragmatism and a fairly well-tuned bullshit-meter. Yes, an occasional bad apple has gotten through, but overall, I believe I have excellent taste in the people in my circle.

I am deeply grateful for the people in that circle. Thank you.

 

Featured art cred, Shawna Erback “Under the Tree of New Beginnings”

 

 

 

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Ducks in a Row…

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I used to be someone who liked all her ducks in a row.

Hold on. Let me try that again. I am a person who likes my ducks in a row.

About twelve years ago, my ducks were not only not lining up, but the little fuckers were flying all over the place and I’m pretty sure someone was shooting at them.

And since then I have noticed that this happens a lot. Almost like the more I try to line them up, the more the universe laughs at me and says “Think again, Lady.”

When I lost my brother, suddenly and for no reason other than he had a faulty heart, I realized this truth – the only thing written in stone is deathEverything else is fixable. Everything else, you can work with. Everything else is – well, not death.

What I learned was something that comes around to me again and again – there is no such thing as certainty.

And fuuuuck me if that isn’t an incredibly hard thing for me, the duck in a row girl, to be okay with.

Unknowns are hard. I’m pretty sure (certain, even…!) that I’m not alone in that sentiment. I think most of us like some assurance. We like jobs with some security, we like knowing what to expect daily and weekly, we like a little predictability. And that’s all well and good and yep, it’s normal. The months and years and seasons change predictably and we cycle through our day to day lives (mostly) predictably.

It’s what we do when life throws us a curve ball that can be so challenging. I want to learn how to embrace uncertainty. I want to remind myself that I cannot know anything with any absolute certainty and I want to learn to be accepting of that.

Instead of trying to predict the outcome and protect myself from “what if”, I want to look forward with “let’s see”.

I know. Scary AS F. Right?

Life can change in a blink. And yeah, it often changes for the worse. Shit happensyou guys. To me, the expression “everything happens for a reason” is pretty much solid bullshit. Because some stuff you just cannot find one good reason for. Do I need to make a list of all the things that have zero good reasons? I’m sure you have your own – and it’s probably close to mine. Babies dying. Cancer. Mass shootings. My sweet friend who is suffering daily with pain bigger than him. My brother dying at 39 years old.    No. Good. Reason.

Bad things don’t come with their own reason built in, you see. The “reason” is only what you decide to take from the experience. What you decide to do with it. How you decide to grow. Or, not.

Life can change in a blink. But often, it changes for the better, too.  And for me, looking forward with an attitude of “let’s see what’s next” feels better. It calms my anxiety, takes my mind off the ducks running amok.

Finding the willingness to accept what is and look forward with an open heart at what can still be is an exercise for me. I have to remind myself to build that muscle. I still want certainty and feel anxious at its lack. At my core, I am a person who listens to her gut and also follows her heart – and these two things can be in conflict which can lead to a trip on the Crazy Train. All aboard!

But this is when I get to practice. Can I predict the outcome? No. Can I control the outcome? Not really (but watch me try…!) Will worrying change anything? So far, not. So how about instead, let’s see what happens. Trust is big here – trust yourself to know better when it’s time to observe and when it’s time to act. But do pay attention to that anxiety. More often than not, it’s your body knowing something before your brain does. Unfortunately, you often have to relax into that anxiety until the reason for it is revealed. Try to observe it without feeding it. Pay attention to what it’s trying to show you, but don’t let it consume you.

How? I know it’s easier said than done. This is why I say “practice”…

Here’s what I do. I acknowledge the anxiety and ask myself if I know why it’s there. If not, I thank it for keeping me aware, and then I make an agreement with it – I will not push it away (pushing it away only makes it get louder, anyway), but I ask for its patience. It might sound something like this: Yo, Anxiety! Please be patient while I observe and gather all the information I need to act. I promise not to ignore you, but I need some time because I don’t know enough yet. So, chill, baby.

Keeping Her Dreams Alive

It might sound a little nutty, but it works. However, a key part of this is trust.

I trust myself.

I trust myself not to ignore my gut. I trust myself to be fair to me and speak up about what I need. I trust myself to listen to my heart and I trust myself to know when it’s time to move on and let something go (oh, that again). I trust myself to be okay.

Because you know what? Looking back at all the wonderful things and people and experiences that have come into my life over the last twelve years since those ducks went flying tells me that so often, it is more good than bad. And the pain I experienced only makes me relish the joy so much more. And it makes me so grateful that I was willing to let it come to me.

I am willing to be. I am willing to be with. I am willing to be without. Letting what comes, come. Letting what goes, go. I am willing to be. 

Artwork: Keeping Her Dreams Alive, Shawna Erback

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Hey Girl…

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Do you ever walk by a mirror or see your reflection in the window of your car and think, “Who the fuck is that?” Like, seriously…what actually happened to my face? Why is there a line there? And what is this black hair doing coming out of my chin?

Yeah. Me too.

A friend of mine posted something on Facebook a few weeks ago. She wrote a few paragraphs with a photo of herself stating what she likes about her appearance. And it occurred to me that this was an act of bravery. 

How many of you can find ten things you like about your physical appearance? Your body, your face, your hair – what do you like when you look in the mirror?

Alright, maybe I was being kind of ambitious. Is ten too many? How about eight. Still too high? Do I hear…six? Anybody have four? Three?

So I know we don’t exactly live in a society that encourages us to compliment ourselves, especially in a public forum. But, this is just between you and me. So think about this, please: what do you like about how you look?

As for me, I have four things I can admit aren’t bad. But I am sorry to say, all four things are conditional.

  • I like my hair. It’s good hair, even if it is prone to go flat in overcast weather and my bangs took 45 years to train.
  • I like my eyes – they’re a good color and bright…but they’re starting to get these heavy lids as I get older. I don’t love that.
  • I like my smile, even though I think my mouth is too small.
  • I like that I’m tall, even though scoliosis has robbed me of a couple inches and gives me a crooked back (and my BACK actually used to be one of my best features).

Sadly, my list of what I don’t like is much, much longer.  Anyone else feeling me on this? I mean, in addition to the impossible standards of beauty I’ve been struggling to live up to for what seems like my whole life, it’s hard to watch myself get older, too.

SIDE NOTE: I think it should be noted that age does bring with it a certain attitude that releases you, at least a little, from things that once mattered so much in your twenties and early thirties. For instance I am willing, at the ripe age of 45, to run to the store even though I have not showered, wearing no makeup, hair either not combed or tucked into a hat, in torn jeans and a t-shirt with ketchup stains on it. I would have DIED before doing this at 23. Now: IDGAF. As we become more “invisible” as women, ironically, we are released from needing to put out so much wasted energy.  You gain a certain acceptance of yourself. You also let go of what you need to look like to run to Vons.

AND YET…and yet…in the twisted game life plays on us called AGING, while at the same time we gain this modicum of acceptance, all of a sudden there are new things to dislike about our appearance. New OLD things: gray hair, crows feet, marionette lines and jowls and everything else gravity was working on (while you were worried about cellulite). I mean, really, Face? You needed to add a line there? 

We are being challenged as a society to change our thinking and it’s beginning to be reflected in our advertising. The trend towards Body and Image Positivity is remarkable and way past due. It’s wonderful to see the game change – we can value age/wisdom, variation in body types and variation in beauty.  I love this shit.

Think of the impact Social Media has had: there is a push for truth, a call for a more genuine and realistic representation in advertising. There’s been a calling out of the industry for presenting impossibly idealistic images as the standard. We want REAL! We want to see OURSELVES reflected in the pages of your catalog! Stop airbrushing out the cellulite! Don’t soft focus all the wrinkles and signs of aging. Show real size models! We aren’t all a size 2, and we can’t look like we are 17 forever.

I am great at admiring and appreciating varying qualities in others, but it’s so much harder to value them in myself. I think it’s just a matter of reprogramming. One of my former students is a body positivity role model, pro-surfer, and all around bad-ass. Bo (see her website here ) has often posted messages that hit me right in the heart – the student has literally become the teacher. Bo is amazingly brave and her message is one for all of us.

I don’t know how or when I internalized an impossible standard for myself (which is surely something I share with many women -and men, too) but I am a product of my generation. Being a teen in the 80s (totally superficial) and 90s (hello, Supermodels and airbrushing) I internalized many messages about what I was supposed to look like. I hung images of supermodels on my bedroom walls, then starved myself and made myself throw up to be thin. I was desperately ashamed of my body, which I felt didn’t fit the ideal. I mean, where was J.Lo when I needed her? Her ass started a movement.

Shame can so quickly become internalized, and yet takes so long to undo from your wiring. I still catch myself comparing me to an image I’ll see – one that I hold as ideal in some way. And if I’m feeling down, I’ll pick myself apart.

I believe there is a duality that exists in us: Intellectually, we know our value isn’t tied to our appearance – and yet, we sometimes treat ourselves as if it is. I mean, I love me. But, man, sometimes it’s so hard to love me, or at least the me reflection.

And I don’t think I’m alone. Even as we push towards honest, truthful images in our advertising, our own Social Media pages aren’t always so real or honest. We all want to present our best side, show ourselves in the best light. I’m photogenic? Yeah, sure,  cause I delete all the bad pics, People! ::eye roll::

Me on social media VS me in real life…

I read today that we often teach what we are striving to internalize ourselves. I definitely see that in these pages and in my attempt to reveal a truth here – love for myself does not always actually extend to love FOR myself. I look in the mirror and have to fight not to despise what I see. I want to be thinner or have less this and more that. I want to look like the perfectly lit, airbrushed version of myself that doesn’t exist. I want to erase every line, every dimple, every bulge.

So. On International Woman’s Day, I am challenging myself, and extend a challenge to you. When we catch ourselves disparaging our appearance, let’s counter that negativity with a compliment. I mean, I no longer have the energy to be mean to me. Do you? Time to be brave.

So, I love my eyes. The crinkles around them show the life I’ve lived – the laughing I’ve done. I think my eyes show that I’m happy. My mouth fits my face, which is round and soft. My shoulders are strong. My legs are strong. I can run pretty far. So, yeah, my body may not be perfect, but it’s super capable. I made two babies, and I made them well! Yes, making humans takes a toll on a body, and that’s okay. (100% worth it, as all moms know). I am healthy and fit, and yeah, I’m soft some places. But I think I’m supposed to be. I can also lift shit you wouldn’t believe. Strong AF. And mostly, even though it can’t be seen, I love my good heart.

The age that creeps into our faces can be so hard to see. But, that age is well-earned. It’s the reflection of a life lived. A life. 

And if we aren’t getting older, we are just dead. So (let’s try to) celebrate those lines and sags and for the love of all woman kind, STOP picking other women apart. If we can learn to lift one another up, and see the FUCKING BEAUTY in all this ripening we’re doing, well then I think we can reprogram the wiring after all.

So tell me now, Dear Reader ~  Be nicer this time…

What do you love about you?

 

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What’s Your Story?

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So you know how some people seem to have a story that they never get over? Something they have to tell over and over and over….and you listen to them talk and you’re like, sheesh. You’re never going to get over this, are you?

Yeah. I might be talking about you.

And I’m for sure talking about me.

But the ones I am really talking about are the ones who are still telling a story from like, ten, fifteen, twenty years ago. And they’re still pissed. Or they’re still sad.  Or still want to know but why? You know the person I’m talking about – cause we all know at least one. They’re stuck.

For example, I’m thinking of someone I used to know who has never gotten over her ex-husband. Rather, she’s never gotten over the circumstances of her life with her ex-husband. Now, she’s been divorced from him for over thirty years, and granted, their marriage was far from ideal. In fact I would have to agree with her that it was a shitty situation – from the way they got together (she got pregnant at 18) and how she was treated when he brought her home (she was from another country and his mother was anything but kind to her). But thing is,  I DID agree with her. Every. Single. Time. She told. The story.

And it wasn’t (isn’t, cause I’m sure she is still telling it) just me she told that story to repeatedly. Within ten minutes of meeting her, she would tell you some part of the narrative. Anyone who took an interest in her got treated almost immediately to the saga that had been her life.  And if you knew her over time, you’d hear it more than once. And the sad thing is, she is a remarkably interesting woman, with so much more to her than just this story. But it became her identity. She’d been broken by that life she’d led. She couldn’t differentiate herself from an event that happened in her life.

I get it. I was thinking about this because I realized recently that I no longer need to tell certain stories. About five years ago I had my heart broken badly, and I suffered in a way I hadn’t expected. I needed to tell that story for a while. I think I grew to understand as I processed it, and telling the story was part of that process, part of my healing. And even though that experience is part of who I am today, and I am beyond grateful for how I grew out of it, I don’t need to tell it anymore.

It is true, though, that some stories will always need to be told.  I lost my brother, which will alwaysbe part of my story. My parents, well – they lost a child – the unimaginable. That’s a story that they – we – may always need to tell on some level because it’s not something you ever really get over. However, I have watched the story evolve for each of us. Not the details of his death – the event and its impact on us is unwavering. What evolves is how we, as ever-changing and growing humans, accept its impact on our lives. Losing someone like this is not a thing you can ever make sense of. It makes no fucking sense, believe me. But, accepting a loss like this changes you. I look at my parents and I marvel at them – at how they manage to not be stuck there. I’m so proud of them for that.

Not to sound to new-age, self-help, growth-mindset jargony, but if you’re not growing from the experiences in your life, you will end up like my former friend who is still telling that story about what happened to her over 30 years ago.

(Please note, I am not talking about people who have experienced extreme trauma and have PTSD or other psychological issues related to events in their lives – obviously shit happens that can scar and stay with us forever and I in no way intend to imply “just get over it” works for all trauma or heartbreak…) I will say, however, there are some remarkable examples among us of people (and animals…) who have been through some shit and managed to keep moving on. Easily? Nope. But the inspiration found in these examples is undeniable, in my opinion.*

Look, we all have baggage. We all have scars from our past. We’ve all been hurt and we’ve all been the cause of some hurtin’ at one time or another. I think it’s when we don’t deal with things – by that I mean, go right through the pain and process it and accept that you may never understand why something happened, or why someone behaved the way they did. Truly, they may not even understand it themselves (’cause a lot of people just aren’t that deep or introspective, let’s face it).

Don’t get stuck in an old narrative, trying to make sense of something done.  Even your circumstances now don’t have to be all there is to your story.  Let the lesson come and then move on. It doesn’t have to be who you are. You can decide which stories have power, and which simply don’t. And we are back to my favorite story to tell – let that shit go. :). 

So, Friend. What story are you still telling?

Cover Image by Shawna Erback – https://www.etsy.com/shop/erback

*Examples of people overcoming some serious shit (and you guys, Malala isn’t even on this list):

https://www.oprah.com/oprahshow/14-stories-of-overcoming-the-odds

And don’t even get me started on animal stories, especially dogs. Talk about surviving hard shit (and the dodo kills me…)

https://youtu.be/w8V7_CBCmQk

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don’t look back…

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I write a lot on these pages about love and loss and letting go and holding on to hope.  I’ve learned something about myself as I’ve gotten older. One, I am terrible at letting go. And two, I am incapable of giving up.

Those two things sound the same but they aren’t. Here’s the difference.

Letting go is necessary to being able to embrace what’s next. We are, all of us, guilty of holding on to something that needed to be released long ago and we do this for as many reasons as there are people.

Not giving up means that once you release your “stuckness” by letting go, you continue to believe in your worth and your value. You fight for your own happiness. Live the life you imagined (or at least as much as possible minus the million dollars and the mansion).

I held on to a marriage way past its prime. My reasons were good, I thought. I had a family. I wanted to keep it together. I had to learn that the dynamics that develop between two people in a marriage can be more harmful to a family than to break up and live separately, providing two happy households. Exposing my kids to the dynamic between my ex and me was not good for them; it wasn’t healthy for any of us.

When I let go, I did it for all of us. Took one for the team. That was what I did for my family. Yes, it was hard. Yes my ex re-wrote history and hated me. No, my kids didn’t understand cause they were little*.  Ultimately, though, it was the best thing for all of us. It was at this time that many people called me “brave” and “courageous”.

Now, those aren’t words you can generally use to describe yourself. Right? You can’t call yourself brave. You can’t be all, “Look at me, I’m so brave!” But you can decide to be brave. And when I see someone taking action in their life like this, I recognize that it took guts to leave, or change, or grow, or say no, or make the “unpopular” choice within their tribe. I recognize the courage.

So then, can you see the difference between letting go and not giving up? I let go of that scenario, an ideal I had in my mind and heart about what family meant, because I wasn’t willing to give up on happiness – my own, my children’s, and even my ex’s.

I believed, and I still do, that there was a happier life for me, for all of us. I certainly don’t mean to make it sound like once I decided to let go it was clean cut and easy. Not by a long shot. There were times I looked back and thought, did I leave something behind? Did I mean to let that go? (Generally, I’d spend ten minutes with him and go, oh yep, yeah, I meant to drop that like it was hot.)

*Note that while its true that my kids didn’t understand at the time, there were benefits even to them that came from splitting, and that now, at 15 and 16, they do see that and understand.

I am living proof that happiness is meant to be yours if you don’t give up. Finding your path isn’t always easy and it isn’t always clear. There are wrong turns but you course correct and keep moving forward. It’s natural to question your choices, but, when you run a race, you don’t head back the other way – you keep running forward. You left things behind for a reason – the things you left behind weren’t right. 

One of my favorite quotes is from a letter of love advice John Steinbeck wrote to his son, Thom. He said, “And don’t worry about losing. If it’s right, it happens. The main thing is not to hurry. Nothing good gets away.”

Let go and keep moving forward. Trust yourself. Trust that the path ahead holds more for you than what you left behind. And trust that your happiness isn’t selfish. It matters – and affects the ones you love too.

*-outlook by Rupi Kaur Milk and Honey https://rupikaur.com

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