To Honor a Decade

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My reflections on the year behind me usually work their way out in the form of a journal entry, but this year I was inspired to do a little more because – in case you missed it – it’s not just the end of a year, People.

I myself kept forgetting that this year was not just the end of a year, but a decade.

While I was falling asleep last night I started to walk through the memories, really thinking about all the beginnings and endings of the last ten years. And well, it seems worth noting what stood out for me the most each year.

2010: I ran my second half marathon and discovered I loved it, even if I also discovered Plantar Fasciitis and an IT Band issue that never goes away, ever, and proves that even if my body doesn’t love running, my mind and soul seem to need it. I sold the home where my kids had grown up in one last effort to save a marriage that had been dying a slow death for years. A highlight was traveling to the coast of Italy (part of the same effort). We had a wonderful time, but upon coming home realized we were still we.

2011: Moved to SLO County. Kids began a new school year at a new school. And their dad moved out.  That was a tough one. I’d had surgery on the Plantar Fasciitis that day, and in my release documents, noted the part that said not to make any big life decisions in the 24 hours after because of the anesthesia. Guess what? I did. Finally, finally, the cancer had grown too large. We were over once and for all.  I felt sad for my kids but relieved for so many other reasons. I got a tattoo of a crescent moon with 13 stars to remind myself that I belonged to myself.

2012: My first year as a single mom. It’s a blur, really, but I know it was tough. Although, not really the single mom part, but the sticking to the divorce part. I knew it was the right thing to do, but my ex challenged that at every turn. There were sad, sad days. There were hard days. And, there were also bright spots. Like moving to a new house. Like running my third half marathon. Like connecting with other divorced people who told me it really would all be okay. And, the feeling of liberation I had. This was the year my life began to blossom.

2013: I thought this would be my lucky year: I like the number 13. I’d been married 13 years, a half marathon is 13.1 miles, and I ran my fourth half which was also my best. I thought it was my lucky year when I met someone and fell in love.

2014: This was actually my lucky year, even though I didn’t see that at the time. It was a brutal one. I experienced a painful break-up, was told I had to move out of the house I was renting (and LOVED) because the owners were selling, and I got sued. It’s very hard when you’re in the shit to see how that shit is necessary to your growth, but all of that shit was a blessing. The break-up? A blessing. The house? That let me clear out and start over symbolically and put me on the path to owning my own house. The lawsuit? Well, that sucked. Ain’t gonna lie. But, my divorce was finally final, and that was a good thing.

2015: And here’s where it started to get good. I ran another half. I attended my first ever Central Coast Writers Conference. Life changing. I started to practice the craft of writing. I figured out that I wanted to write for the sake of creating, because I love it, because it’s how I express myself and I need that creativity in my life. And, I started writing my book. I also took a trip to England and Scotland. Not bad.

2016: EPIC YEAR – I bought my own house! The culmination of all the strategizing, hoping, watching the market, and creative planning – plus some luck and a very, very good friend who helped in the final stretch. I sent my kids on a scavenger hunt leading to the keys at the house. We remodeled, doing almost all the work ourselves (aside from electrical because obviously) and had our Property Bros moment. I ran an Ultra Half Marathon (IT band didn’t care for that), and attended my second CCWC.

2017: I continued to develop my handiness, doing a lot of projects on my house under my dad’s tutelage. Found out I can do some stuff! And I love the time with my dad, who I think is a tiny bit proud of me. ūüôā Ran another half and decided to hang up my half-distance laces. Attended my third CCWC, but this time on the Advisory Committee. And I can’t begin to list the friendships that have grown out of this wonderful little conference. (Andrea, Jordan, Natalie, Peter, Teri – I’m looking at you!)

2018: Did I say I hung up my half-distance laces? Sure, except I did TWO this year. But in the form of a relay (eight out of thirteen miles) and an Ultra that I didn’t train for. I don’t suggest doing it that way – except it was a lot of fun. The first of an annual writing retreat with my dearest writing team.  My Tribe grew with CCWC, where I once again served on the advisory committee. And February brought a sweet beginning.

2019: A tough start to the year. But then I finished my novel! Yeah! A sweet personal victory was followed by a tragedy and an unbelievably painful loss of a precious friend. Something I thought was ending was actually beginning. Traveled to New York, pitched my book, grew my tribe. CCWC took on new meaning. I took my kids to Europe with my mom. I spent a night in the desert and grew something special with someone I love who loves me back.

And for 2020, I will continue working on things that matter, I will make mistakes and learn and grow. Through it all, I have tried to focus on what I am grateful for and what I want to nourish in the here and now. That isn’t always easy – when you’re in the weeds, it can feel impossible to see the good that’s just around the corner. Looking back, I am struck by how I needed some things to fall apart so I could be here now. When I say my life blossomed, it’s not an overstatement. I love what this life has grown into and what it continues to promise.

In the words of Neil Gaiman, “May your coming year be filled with magic and dreams and good madness.” 

Art cred unknown.

 

 

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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 Рthe only thing written in stone is death. Everything else is fixable. Everything else, you can work with. Everything else is Рwell, 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¬†happens,¬†you 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 Рand 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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