Hard Truths, part 2

I may have to do some research to find out if Einstein’s Theory of Relativity explains how quickly time passes when Conall is at nursery…

Though I know from subtle spying that my two-year-old is fine five minutes after I drop him off, there is nothing more painful than hearing him scream and reach for me as the nursery teacher carries him away. It’s never easy to let go of our babies (literal and figurative) so they can go out and grow in the world; and that segues nicely to the conclusion of last Friday’s post about admitting hard truths to ourselves and others. The truth I’ve finally accepted is that it’s time to let go of my first book and send it, too, out into the world.

I haven’t talked honestly to many people about the emotional odyssey that has been this book. It has given me an identity and been a source of hope that I could have the creative life I imagine. I’ve toiled over countless drafts and celebrated its “completion” three times. I’ve felt the ecstasy of achievement when an agent has asked to read the full manuscript; and I’ve felt heart-wrenching pain when the rejections have come. I’ve struggled with the embarrassment of answering considerate friends who ask me how it’s going, trying to find a positive spin for what looked to me as the personal failure of not yet being published.

During the past six months, I’ve been learning a great deal about what’s known as mindset research. (I’m sure I’ll be writing about this a great deal… so be prepared). Dr. Carole Dweck of Stanford University has defined two mindsets (from her website):

“In a fixed mindset, people believe their basic qualities, like their intelligence or talent, are simply fixed traits. They spend their time documenting their intelligence or talent instead of developing them. They also believe that talent alone creates success—without effort. They’re wrong.

In a growth mindset, people believe that their most basic abilities can be developed through dedication and hard work—brains and talent are just the starting point. This view creates a love of learning and a resilience that is essential for great accomplishment. Virtually all great people have had these qualities.”

Until I started reading the research, I definitely had an entrenched “fixed” mindset. I took every book rejection as evidence of lack of talent and an inability to succeed. Only once did it occur to me to ask an agent for feedback so that I could improve my work. And because I took every rejection as a reflection of who I am and what I can achieve, I struggled to stay motivated and to put in the necessary effort to achieve my great dream of publication.

Finally, I understand… I understand how hard one must work to achieve one’s goals. I understand that a rejection isn’t necessarily personal or an indictment of a book’s potential. And, most importantly, I understand how to grow from a challenge and look at it as an opportunity.

So, doesn’t it sound like I should be redoubling my efforts and digging in to make my book happen? Well, here’s why I’m not… exactly.

I wrote the very first draft about ten years ago. I was a different person then in a million ways; over the decade my interestes have evolved, my style has changed and I now have a clear idea about what I want to be saying.

Also, here’s another part of the “truth” I’ve recently realized: I wrote my book as a fantasy novel, not because I wanted to write about a different world, but because I lacked the courage to write about the spiritual and philosophical ideas in which I believe in a “real world” context. I hid myself in the fantasy.

Well, that’s certainly changed.

I’m ready now to begin a project that truly does represent me as a writer and a person. A project I will be able to take to agents and publishers with passionate enthusiasm.

Still, I love my first book the way one loves a dear friend one doesn’t see very often. I enjoy it, believe in it and want it to succeed. It’s just I’ve moved on… and it should too.

The world of “self-publishing” has changed a great deal in the past few years. It used to seem to me to be an admittance of “failure” (there’s that word again), but with the help of articles like this (recently in the New York Times), Amazon Signs Up Authors, Writing Publishers Out of Deal, and the encouragement of friends and family (thank you, Jim Merikangas), I’m ready to chart a new path for my first true writing endeavor.

So, it is with great pride and excitement that I announce THE BOOK UNLOCKED will be available for download to Kindle in time for the holidays! (wink) Please be prepared for some shameless self-promotion. I promise that won’t be ALL the blog is about. But I should mention that the title of this blog – Temple of Inspiration – comes from the book. Intrigued? Hope so!

Thanks again to everyone who has encouraged me. As the year begins to draw to a close and I think about all the things I’d wanted to accomplish, I hope this decision turns out to be something for which to remember 2011! I’m off to pick up Conall now. Funny… it’s always difficult to send him off, but I know he’s just fine once I let go. Something to think about.

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Hard Truths

First, let me just say hello… it’s nice to be back!

Now, today’s topic…

I have some trouble being honest.  Not about the big things… but those little white lies spring easily to my lips:  “Yes, lamb for dinner would be great.”  “No, that hair cut isn’t a disaster.”  “Sure, I’m very happy to help out with that project.”  You get the idea…

In the last few days, I’ve forced myself to be honest about a couple deeply personal issues and I thought I’d share them in case they help any one else feel better about saying those difficult words: the truth.

As those of you who are on Facebook with me know (and to the rest of you, friend me on Facebook!), I started coaching diving recently.  I don’t go very often due to the fact that I really like being married and I’m afraid that would change if I were out of the house every evening (not earning money).  Therefore, I know when I’m there, I am just helping out where there’s a need.  Somehow, though, I fell in to taking over a particular class.  At first, I was just sticking around during the class because I wanted to keep coaching.  But when the instructor was no longer available, I found myself in charge.

However, as my enthusiasm for Saturday mornings began to wane, I had to ask myself what was going on.  The answer was a surprise and made me admit an uncomfortable truth about myself: I don’t like to be “in charge.”

Why is this an uncomfortable truth?  I feel like it says something fundamental about me – that I’m not a leader, for instance.  Everyone likes to think of themselves as a leader.  This isn’t to imply I’m a follower; I just don’t really fit neatly into a group.  I’m more comfortable in the role of independent contractor or consultant.

I first noticed this about myself in my social life.  I feel dreadfully uncomfortable having to make decisions for anyone besides myself about even the most mundane questions – where shall we eat? What movie shall we watch?  I always have an opinion, but I hate to feel like I’m imposing it on any one else.  Maybe I’m afraid of making other people unhappy; I can deal with my own disappointments but hate to be responsible for others.  This trait certainly hindered my development in the corporate world.  I couldn’t stand up with confidence and say, “This is what we’re doing.”

So, why should this bother me with eight pre-pubescent divers?  I suppose the short answer is, it shouldn’t; which is why I was so embarrassed to tell the HC (head coach) I didn’t want to run the session.  Part of the problem for me is that beginners’ repertoires are limited and I seem to lack the necessary creativity to make their lessons interesting.  With advanced divers, it’s easy: they come in and run through drills and all their dives.  But with beginners, they stare up at you with their little faces after they done their front jumps and back jumps, their bright eyes wondering what exciting thing they’ll be asked to do next… and there’s me, with no good ideas.

Most people are probably clamoring for more autonomy and control.  Yet, I sounded, to my mind, rather pathetic as I begged off.  I was nervous about 1) losing the HC’s respect and 2) frustrating him by making him feel he had to take on even more responsibility.  Both ideas make me feel lousy.  But, the more knotted my stomach at the thought of the class, the more I felt I had to say something.  So say something I did.

As it turns out, at just this point as I was writing the blog, the HC called me to discuss.  He was actually nervous to talk to me about an unrelated subject for which I felt he had no reason to be uncomfortable… and the subject that I was so reticent to discuss was, for him, no big deal!

It’s amazing (she says, wryly) how accommodating and supportive people can be when they understand where you’re coming from.  And it never ceases to surprise me how the things we feel awkward about are far worse in our own minds than they are in actuality.  Ah, communication, what a useful tool you are.

The second thing has to do with a very significant decision I’ve made about my book.  But, as it’s after 5:00 and my little boy is waiting for me at nursery school, I’ll have to write about it and the ramifications of truth-telling on Monday.  Tune in!!!

 

 

Published in: on October 21, 2011 at 5:25 pm  Comments (6)  
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Long distance learning

Over the past two years, my outlook on life has changed dramatically.

I used to live, like many people do, with fear of lack and limitation.  I worried about jinxing myself if I thought about something positive happening to me (I’m not kidding – I actually worried that thinking about a positive outcome would bring about a negative one).  I also had fiery and often uncontrollable temper.

My whole way of thinking changed when I stumbled upon a podcast by Reverend Patrick Cameron, the spiritual director and senior minister of The Centre for Spiritual Living, Edmonton.  I had been searching for entertainment to wile away the time, while I walked miles and miles to whittle away my baby-weight, and found a new way to look at life: New Thought.

Much of what I write about relates to what I’ve learned from New Thought, but I’ve never actually written about the man who introduced me to these ideas.  Without ever having met him, Reverend Cameron has become an inspiration in my life – a guide, and even a friend, of sorts.  I turn to his voice when I’m feeling lost.  And for all the times he’s helped me center myself, I am grateful beyond words.

The same boat

Before I discovered Reverend Cameron’s podcasts, I’d never heard of New Thought or the Science of Mind.  I strongly feel that one’s relationship with God is a personal matter, so it’s not at all like me to listen to sermons in person, or otherwise.  Had he been a different kind of minister, I probably would have been turned off right away.

I’m someone who finds it easier to learn from people to whom I can relate and Reverend Cameron is eminently relatable.  Immediately apparent is how genuine he is.  Ironically, he’s a former actor who, in no way, appears to be putting on an act.  He has a deep understanding of his material, but presents it from the perspective of a person who is figuring it all out as he goes along and still has some learning to do.  For me, this lends credibility to everything he has to say.  Listening to him give his Sunday sermon is like a jovial family brunch.   He includes everyone in his conversation and gets his points across with humor and authenticity.

To explain the lessons he wants to impart, Rev. Cameron draws heavily on the personal experiences of people he knows, authors he’s read and very often, himself.  He talks about his childhood, as part of a large Midwestern family and about some of the baggage he had from his own religious upbringing.  He talks about his experiences trying to make it as an actor before realizing that acting was his passion, but not his calling (a difficult admission for which I admire him).

Rev. Cameron’s life has not been entirely smooth and easy, but he knows that the challenges he faced helped him grow into the person he has become.  When he talks about his little irritations – like the story of his unruly tenant who had to be evicted, or the time his truck was broken into or when he missed a flight for his vacation – I feel how human he is.  He comes across as someone who’s in the same boat as the rest of us… someone who is using the teachings of New Thought to make the best of life and is sharing his experiences so we all might benefit.

Not the Sunday sermon of my youth…

I’m skeptical of religious and spiritual gurus who talk with certitude, seeming to conflate faith with fact.  Reverend Cameron’s sermons immediately appealed to me because he expresses humility and open-mindedness. “Here’s what I happen to believe,” he seems to say, “Take whatever works for you, or leave it, as you see fit.”

And if you don’t happen to like anything he says, Rev. Cameron isn’t offended.  He just thinks, “Some bless us by coming into our lives; some bless us by leaving.”  Fair enough!

There’s little pomp and formal ritual to the sermons, nor is there dogma one must accept.  Even little ceremonies are left to the individual’s discretion.  For example, Rev. Cameron likes to sing a song before he begins his speech, but I love that he introduces it by saying, “You’re welcome to stand and join in if you like, or don’t, if you prefer to stay seated.”

Rev. Cameron frequently says that New Thought isn’t about worshipping a particular figure, like Jesus, but about learning the lessons he taught.  And yet, it is by no means just a Christian organization.  New Thought respects all religious traditions and draws from each the most positive, helpful and loving messages.  Ministers are just as likely to quote from the Bible as they are from the Koran, or from Sufi mystics, or from Einstein, or from contemporary psychiatrists.

In his message to the public on the Centre for Spiritual Living, Edmonton’s website, Reverend Cameron writes:

Imagine a place that welcomes people of all races, religions, sexual orientations and social backgrounds in respect, dignity and love. A community that nurtures diversity and provides multitude of opportunities for anyone, at any stage of life, to grow spiritually.  Imagine a spiritual community that communicates and celebrates the positive aspects of humankind, the world around us, and our relationship to the Power within.  What would it be like to be part of a spiritual community that is practical and provides tangible steps and programs for individuals and families to change and apply spiritual principles in their lives immediately?

From what one can gleam through the podcasts, Rev. Cameron’s community is exactly as he describes – a positive, hopeful, kind, inclusive and loving group of people, who aren’t out to tell you that their way is right and your way is wrong.

 “New Thoughts” I owe to Rev. Cameron

So, now that I’ve gone on and on about Rev. Cameron, you may be wondering what I’ve actually learned from him.  I thought I’d list five specific ideas that have had a profound impact on my life, all of which I’ve written about either specifically or generally.

1)     “You are what you think about all day long.”  Emerson is among my favorite writers, so when Rev. Cameron quoted him, I was hooked.  Rev. Cameron made me stop and think about what Emerson was really trying to say and helped me realize that my thoughts are largely who I am.  If I focus on negative, fearful ideas, my life will seem negative and frightening.  When you’re driving, you tend to steer where you’re looking… the same is true with living.  If you’re thoughts are gloomy, you tend to steer yourself toward gloomy experiences.  If your outlook is optimistic, you lead yourself toward situations that make you happy.  Rev. Cameron has helped me take responsibility for what goes on within my brain.

2)    The Great Leap and Five Wishes.  Sometimes Rev. Cameron’s sermons take on the qualities of a spiritual book club, which I love.  He finds authors I would never have considered reading and talks extensively about their work.  In my writing, I’ve often referred to writers I found through Rev. Cameron, in particular, Gay Hendricks (who I wrote about here, here and here).  In The Great Leap, Hendricks describes how most of us have a subconscious limit on the amount of happiness and success we feel we deserve.  When we begin to reach that point, we sabotage ourselves.  If it hadn’t been for the Reverend, I would never have recognized my own “upper limit problem.”

3)    “Evolved people.”  Rev. Cameron often refers to the work of Michael Beckwith and I have written about him here and here.  Though I personally find Beckwith a bit difficult to read, I have tried to take to heart his contention that “Evolved people race to see who can forgive first.”  It’s helped me to let go of unproductive anger and hurt.

4)    When making up stories comes to no good.”  I owe this significant change in my psyche entirely to Rev. Cameron.  He told an instructive tale about moving into his new home and making friends with his neighbors.  One neighbor, however, seemed to be particularly unfriendly.  Rev. Cameron would wave from his driveway and the man just blatantly ignored him.  “Wonder what that guy’s problem is?” he thought, as he tried not to be offended.  Then, one day, the neighbor’s wife came around.  In the course of conversation, she mentioned that her husband is blind.  Aha – so that’s why he didn’t wave back!  Rev. Cameron’s imagination could have invented all kinds of reasons why his neighbor ignored him, but he never would have guessed the truth.  How often do we incorrectly assign a meaning to someone else’s words or actions?   How often do we unfairly assume a negative connotation that was never intended?  Of late, I have saved myself countless hours of angst by refusing to indulge in imaginary tales that do no one any good.

5)    Meditation.  Who was it that made me understand how vital meditation can be to one’s health and happiness?  You guessed it!  Meditation is a vital aspect of New Thought practice and I probably would never have given it a try if it hadn’t been for the Rev.  And as I’ve since learned, meditation isn’t just for one’s spiritual benefit; science is beginning to prove that meditation is beneficial for our health – it can actually change the structure of our brain (read more here).

This list of what Rev. Cameron and New Thought has taught me is by no means exhaustive – in fact, it’s just the tip of the iceberg.  Hopefully, the blog itself is testament to how helpful I’ve found this teaching and how much happier I am for it.

With that in mind, I wanted to express my appreciation and share the source of much of my inspiration with the hope that others might also find it valuable.

The podcasts to which I refer are available free through iTunes and from the Centre of Spiritual Livings’ website.  May your own lives be filled with “new thoughts” that help you become the best of who you are meant to be.

***  Due to time constraints and travel, the Temple will likely be very quiet over the summer.  Thank you to everyone for being so encouraging and supportive since I began writing.  Please peruse previous posts and join me again in a few months!

The pursuit of happiness

I recently finished watching a documentary series about the American presidents.  Of course, Thomas Jefferson is among the more esteemed office holders in our history, but his greatest achievement was accomplished long before his election.  The Declaration of Independence is among the most influential documents ever written.  I was thinking about the great care and deliberation with which Jefferson chose his words; in particular, I’ve been thinking about our unalienable rights: life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.

Rev. Arlene Bump of the Center for Spiritual Living, Fort Lauderdale, once said in a sermon (available as an free podcast on iTunes) that it is important to note that Jefferson did not say we have an unalienable right to happiness, but to the pursuit of happiness.  The distinction is significant.

No one – no government, no parent, no spouse, no religion – could ever promise anyone a life of happiness.  We will all face unanticipated challenges and personal struggles that help us discover who we really are and what we want from life.  But, every individual has an innate ability – and a right – to try to create a happy life, whatever that might entail.

To be (happy) or not to be…

We’re about halfway through 2011 (is it just me or is that hard to believe???).  If you’re like me, you hardly even remember what your New Year’s resolutions were.  Maybe now is a good time to reflect on the past six months and ask ourselves if we actually are pursuing happiness in our lives.  If not, we should examine what we  are pursuing and whether it’s worthy of the time and attention we’re giving it.

Do we spend too much time at our jobs?  Do the hours we put in contribute to our personal pursuit of happiness?  Would the world come to an end if we left on time and let some tasks wait until the next day?  (And if so, Harold Camping would appreciate it if that work was left for October 21.)

Do we continue to hang on to a relationship that we know ought to end?  We deny both ourselves and our partner the opportunity to experience life’s most profound happiness – true love – when we refuse to move on and let go.

Do we live in the past and allow our memories to dictate how we feel and act?  Each morning, we’re given the opportunity to have the life we want.  What happened yesterday or yesteryear only has the power we give it.  We can be whomever we choose, regardless of what’s come before.  We become our own anchor, weighed down by our history when we don’t let go of what isn’t relevant today.

And similarly, do we hold on to anger and grudges?  If so, does this serve our ultimate good?  Being angry and a victim takes a lot of energy; energy that could be put to better use.   Rev. Bump asks, “Woud you rather be justified and right or happy?”   Old, worn out anger deprives us of friendships and experiences that we might really enjoy.   We will quickly become very lonely if reject everyone who sees world differently than we do.

Big picture

In a previous post, I mentioned Gay Hendricks, author of The Big Leap.  He’s also written a little guide called Five Wishes, in which he describes the conversation that changed his life.  A stranger at a party asked him to imagine himself on his deathbed, asking the question, “Was my life a complete success?”  Assuming the answer is no, the next question is “Why not?”  What are the things that you’d need to have achieved in order to consider your life a complete success?  It’s worth the time it takes to sit down and identify what you want from life.  If you don’t know, how can you “pursue” it?

Our wishes don’t have to be grand affairs – “I want a yacht and six houses.”  Our individual, ultimate good might just include having family and friends around us.  Or learning to play the piano.  Or refusing to give up on a dream, no matter how many times we are told no.

Minute by minute

Though we may not spend each moment of our day striving for our big picture goals, we can still “pursue happiness” in small ways.  I love quotes by Ralph Waldo Emerson, especially this one: “We are what we think about all day long.”  We can ask ourselves: Am I thinking about (and giving my attention to) things that make me happy?

As an example of the trivial, last night I got home late from the gym and all the parking spaces on my street were taken.  The old me would have been infuriated at this small inconvenience.  I would have stormed into the house (after walking the extra 30 feet from the street around the corner) and spent the night muttering about my jerk neighbor who has a driveway, but parks on the street anyway.  However, last night, as I felt my irritation rise, I thought to myself, “Is this worth my attention?”  I wasn’t going to go confront the neighbor and ask him to move, so there wasn’t anything I could do about the problem.  Thus, I determined it wasn’t worth my energy to be angry.

We’re always going to have those day-to-day irritations, like cosmic mosquito bites: the woman who butts in line for groceries, or the hotshot who cuts us off on the highway, or the colleague who has something nasty to say about our work.  None of these things matter any more than we let them.   We are in control.  The sooner we let go and forget, the happier we can be.  Reserve the energy for things that matter.

Hurt vs. Happiness

Of course, there will also be more serious situations – for example, someone we love does or says something that hurts us terribly.  Again, it is our choice whether or not to keep that person in our lives and accept who they are and what they’ve done.  It’s a big question, but generally, the answer will depend on whether we think that person adds to our ultimate good.

We’re never going to like everything about another human being; even those we love the most will occasionally ignite our inner fury.  But since we can’t control our friends and family, all we can do is decide what’s in our own best interest.  What makes us happy – holding on to an argument or calling a truce?  In my experience, forgiving is far more powerful and fulfilling.

Pursue happiness, all day, everyday

To tie this back to the beginning, the thing to remember is that we are all entitled – or to quote the great Jefferson – “endowed by our Creator” with the right to pursue happiness.  It’s what we’re meant to do with our lives.  And if we aren’t happy, then we need to look around to see what we can fix or change.  The answers are always within us.  It’s our job to continue to “pursue” them.

We all deserve to be happy, and should feel no guilt as we attempt to create a better life for ourselves.  Whether it’s a big change – like starting a new career – or a little change – like making time to read a novel – we should feel proud of our efforts… and maybe even a little patriotic!

Make the most of yourself

“Make the most of yourself, for that is all there is of you,” said Ralph Waldo Emerson.

The thing I want most right now is something I cannot control.  It depends on the whims, interests and subjective opinions of people I’ve never met.  The best I can is to try to perfect my work and continue to put it out there into the world, until I achieve my goal.   The only way to fail is to give up.

It’s so hard when you can’t control the thing you want most – like, for instance, finding love.  You could go out on a 1,000 internet dates and not connect with anyone, only to meet your perfect match on a train during your daily commute.  Since we have limited ability to affect anything that involves another person’s will, we have to focus on creating our own happiness.

This is where Emerson comes in: we make the most of ourselves.  We look at the aspects of our life over which we have complete control.

Fitness

One thing we can control is our physical well-being.  We can eat better – less processed food, more fruits and veggies.  Cut down the alcohol.  And start to move a bit more.  I know, exercise… bleck.  But it doesn’t have to be a chore.

After Conall was born, I lost baby weight by carrying him for long, daily walks.  As he’s gotten older his willingness to be carried has become limited, as has my ability to lift the lump.  Without this daily exercise, I started to put on weight again, much to my frustration.  I really didn’t want to join a gym, so I started to think about activities that I used to love: gymnastics, diving and dance, for instance.  I’ve been able to find classes that I enjoy and have even started coaching – something I’ve always wanted to try.

Just being up, off the couch and away from the fridge can work wonders on our appearance.  Wii games, walks through a park away from our neighborhood, yoga, playing catch with a kid – it all adds up.  The key is to set small, manageable goals, and build on them.  Don’t start by trying to run a marathon the first day – maybe just take a quick walk around the block.   I’m often motivated to walk longer distances when I’m listening to a podcast.   And the best way to success is to find something you actually enjoy doing.  If that’s joining a local wiffle ball team, great!  If it’s listening to music your kids hate while you walk, fantastic!

Education

It’s never too late to learn something new.  Anyone with an mp3 player has access to courses at some of the world’s best universities and think tanks.

See my article on Rebel Mom about iTunes University for more.

Make time during the day for yourself, even if it’s 20 minutes getting lost in a book before bed.  Go to your local library or town hall’s website – it’s remarkable how many fascinating speakers pass through small towns.  Listen to a Ted Talk – these are inspirational, educational speeches (usually less than 20 minutes long) given by some of today’s leading figures in literature, technology and education.  If you feel like you’re in a rut from your daily routine, expose your mind to something a little different – give your brain something new to think.

Hobbies

One thing I’ve learned over the last few months is that there is nothing wrong with indulging a childhood fantasy or lifelong interest.  I thought I was much too old for gymnastics and diving, but it turns out there are a lot of people my age just starting to learn the sports for fun.  Always wanted to act?  Most communities have local theater programs.  Want to learn to knit?  Or sail?  Or dance? Or ride a horse?  Or work at a zoo?  These are just a few of the local clubs I’ve recently found.  And there’s always http://www.meetup.com to help you find other people interested in anything from dogs, to art, to board games, to gardening to baseball to….

All day long

Emerson also said, “You are what you think about all day long.”  We may not be able to control some important aspects of our life, but we can choose what we think about and what we do with ourselves.  We can make the most of who we are and what our daily experience includes.  The more we fill our lives with “want to’s” instead of just “have to’s” and the more we explore our own interests, the more complete we will feel as individuals, no matter what is happening in the realm of that which we cannot control.

Happiness is not something that happens to us, it’s something we create when we make the most of our ourselves.

Published in: on May 19, 2011 at 1:22 pm  Comments (4)  
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Around the corner…

Lately, I’ve been a bit impatient.  I have a couple goals I want to achieve immediately, if not sooner.  I spend my days hitting refresh on my email desperately hoping to find a message of progress.  I recognize that it isn’t only pots that don’t boil, but it’s hard to look away.  I do, however, have a way to console myself: the “around the corner” philosophy.

We never know what’s just around the corner…  Life is funny like that.  An answer often appears just when one is about to give up.  How many people have gone out on a million bad dates, only to meet their partner where they least expected it?  How many people were at the end of their employment rope only get a job offer out of the blue?  How often has an untenable situation been solved at the last minute?

Opportunity calling

In my experience, it’s happened with some regularity.  I was unemployed and had given up my apartment with no where else to go when a friend called me up and asked me to come interview.  It turned out that a position had opened up because the current occupant was moving with his wife to Ohio for about a year.  And when that year was coming to an end and the person was returning (leading to some discomfort about how the roles would change), I got a call from a college friend asking me to interview for her.  Suddenly, I was moving to New York City, where anything can (and does) happen.

And that job changed more than my zip code.  I had come to accept the idea that I might be on my own for the rest of my life – and was quite comfortable with it – when I heard the laugh that rang ’round New York.  It was in the middle of a conference about bird flu and the laugh’s owner kept talking about toilet sanitizing, but I could feel the prickles of excitement telling me my world was changing.  Ironically, the guy obsessed with restroom cleanliness first described himself to me as a “cleanish rugby bloke”… cleanish because of the mud that was caked on in the locker rooms where they changed after a game.

Just when we were starting to think we’d like to give the relationship a go, but had to contend with a slight issue – the ocean between us – a job opened up for the rugby bloke in New York.  And after a year, when we had decided we’d like to move back to England?  You guessed it, a job opened up with a company in London willing to pay for our relocation.

Surprise, Surprise

I’ve often heard people despair about meeting the right person.  They fear they are too old, or don’t work where they can meet anyone, etc.  But I strongly contend that it can happen anywhere, anytime, for anyone.  You might spend a year going out on internet dates, but meet the person you’re meant to marry on a subway.  I certainly wouldn’t have expected to find my future spouse at a bird flu conference.  One of my favorite love stories is my dear friend’s, who met her husband while dressed as an oversized Snow White at a rugby match in Hong Kong – talk about not prepared for the moment!  (To read about this romantic adventure, visit Patricia Sexton’s blog: Land of the Blue Sky)

Whether you’re going through a divorce, or waiting to hear from an employer, or trying to fulfill your personal legend, there will be days when you feel like there’s only an indefinite dark tunnel.  And those days are tough to get through.  But then, one day, there’s an unexpected bend and suddenly… boom… daylight.

I am reminding myself of this today as I close my email and go about my life… Eventually, the water will boil and the email will come.

Published in: on May 13, 2011 at 3:23 pm  Comments (11)  
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What my son is teaching me about my mom…

Walking among the bluebells, yesterday.

Last night

The seconds crept by one by one, seeming to lag in some physics-defying black hole.  As the piercing screams intensified, my eardrums threatened to rupture.  The monitor projected each traumatized sniffle.  I could almost feel the buckets of tears seeping through the ceiling onto my face.  I looked at the clock… 7:45 pm.  Bedtime is usually 7:00.  I looked at my husband, who looked back at me.  He’d been home only twenty minutes and already, he was showing the strain.  “I’ll go,” I said.

Conall had been unusually grumpy all day long, so my nerves were already deadened.  I climbed the stairs and opened his door.  His security blankets had been thrown out of the crib and onto the floor (a subtle way of letting us know he refuses to be comforted).  His face was blotchy and wet; his hair stuck to his cheeks.  I picked him up and settled down with his new favorite book, Peekaboo.  Within minutes his eyes started to close, but when I tried to put him back in his crib, his arms pinched me like a vise, his eyes popped wide open and he wailed as though I had tried to take off his toes.

At 8:15, I finally placed the sleeping baby in his crib and went downstairs for dinner.  I was exhausted.  Not just from the day, but from the previous 28 months, if you count pregnancy (and I do!).

Stamina

There is a 16 year gap between my oldest and youngest siblings.  I’ve only just realized that my mother must have been thoroughly exhausted for about twenty years!  And yet, the only evidence I have to support this idea is her occasional use of the phrase, “I’m tired, you go to bed.”  How did she do it?  Twenty years of small children’s bedtime tantrums, midnight feedings, nightmares, complete dependency…  She’s like an ultra-marathon runner!  I don’t know how she’s still conscious, but I do, at last, understand why she wakes at a pin’s drop!

Empathy

“Do you want help?”  Fifteen minutes into my vigil, Nick came upstairs to check on me.  “I’ll take him,” he offered, but as soon as we tried to change positions, Conall was, again, hysterical.  Seeing his arms reach out for me and his eyes looking at me as though I’d somehow betrayed him, I took him back immediately.  His anxiety was my anxiety; his fatigue, mine; and when, at last, he relaxed on my lap, I felt my own clenched muscles release.

Christianity talks about the 7 Dolors of Mary, or the 7 sorrows of her life, which are depicted as knives in her heart.  My mother has often joked about the dolars she carries for us and I’m just starting to understand what she means.  A mother experiences her child’s every feeling, physical and emotional, joy or sorrow.

For over forty years, my mother has felt our pain and pleasure as if it were her own.  For every success or failure,  my mom was with us.  Mothers can look at us and know what was in our hearts.  What my younger self perhaps didn’t realize was how much strength it took her to carry all those emotions.

As I watched Conall for a moment after putting him in his crib, I sighed deeply.  This is just bedtime.  How will I ever manage the highs and lows of life?  My little prayer? May I be as strong as my mother…

Selflessness

Those who know me are aware that I was never sure about becoming a mom.  I am honest enough to admit that I am a bit self-involved.  I knew I would struggle with the 24/7 demands of motherhood (and I do).  There are many times when I just want to be left to myself, to pursue my own dreams and ambitions, to sit down and eat my dinner… but the call of the wild through the monitor is unpredictable and impossible to ignore.

I tell myself that just because a good quality does not come naturally, doesn’t mean it does not come.  I may not ever be truly selfless, but I can always be more generous.

Whereas I am conscious of every effort I make for Conall, it always seemed to me that my mother couldn’t imagine any other way.  I always felt like the focus of her entire being was on ensuring her children’s happiness.  Maybe this is the magic of motherhood – that you can give your child this impression while carrying on a different inner dialogue; but to this day, I live under the impression that there is nothing my mother wouldn’t do for me if she could.  And I’m sure this is true because despite my flaws, I know there’s nothing I wouldn’t do for Conall.

I heard the screaming as I walked the dog near my neighbor’s house.  Part of me wanted to turn around and walk the other way.  But, of course, that’s not actually an option.  You open the door.  You head up the stairs.  You do whatever ever you can to bring peace and comfort to the little person you’ve created.  Whether it’s what you want to be doing or not… It’s motherhood.

Thank you, Mom!

Conall and his grandmother


This year, as every year, I offer my mom my heartfelt gratitude.  But today, it comes with a little more awareness and a lot more appreciation.  And to all the wonderful, hardworking, devoted mothers out there:

Happy Mother’s Day!

Published in: on May 6, 2011 at 4:13 pm  Comments (7)  
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Married in the mornin’…

England is gushing with excitement over the royal nuptials taking place tomorrow.  The national holiday is the start of a four-day weekend of celebration.  Documentaries abound on past royal weddings and on Will and Kate (excuse me, Catherine).  The airwaves are saturated with interviews of friends who have not spoken to the happy couple in years.  The newspapers have printed every photo ever taken of the future queen.  I, too, have gotten into the spirit, having purchased a Will HEART Kate mug and a union jack top hat.

However, there is one aspect of the hoopla that has bothered me: the media’s insistance on teasing William’s fiancee for all the time she’s spent dating her prince before she got her proposal.  “Waity Katie,” they’ve called her, as though it’s a bad thing (rather than a sign of maturity) to take time to make sure one’s future spouse and, for her, life-long career is truly right.

A goldfish has a longer memory

It’s as though the media have forgotten what William clearly has not – a bad marriage made in the light of a billion viewers can have devastating, and even fatal, consequences.  Even though we love to treat our celebrities as though their lives are purely about our entertainment, those are real people who experience some parts of life (love, happiness, friendship) just as we do.  Certainly, William has never forgotten his parents’ crushing unhappiness together.  Surely, he has not, for one day, forgotten that his mother was hounded to her death, and any woman he might marry would be the prey of the same relentless paparazzi.

Why were the media so severe with this (still) young couple for taking their time and living their own lives in their twenties, before embarking on a life-long commitment?  What does this say about our celebrity culture that we almost expect to hear about wedding bells after a couple is spotted on their first date?  Is the divorce rate any wonder?

The difference between a wedding and a marriage

Many young women spend much of their youth dreaming of the “most special day” of their lives – their wedding day.  I was no different.  I wanted to know the future, to settle something in my life, to know I would never be alone.  I was twenty-two.  Universes could be filled with what I didn’t know at twenty-two, but, of course, I didn’t realize that.  The thing about which I was most unaware is that a wedding is a day; a marriage is every day.

It all seemed so romantic.  Love at first sight.  And he was so sure it was love that he wanted to marry me, after only six weeks!  It all fit in with my fairy tale idea of how love works.  But people behave differently during the “wooing” period of a relationship (usually about the first six months).  They are trying to impress and are on their best behavior.  They try to hide their flaws and may even pretend to be someone they absolutely are not.  In my case, I pretended I was happy being a small-town girl devoted to my man’s career.  My then-fiancee pretended he was romantic and interested in what I wanted out of life.

Because we were engaged so quickly, we were getting to know each other with the pressure of the wedding looming over us.  Any doubts we might have had were overshadowed (for me, at least) by the knowledge that a break-up would be a public affair and would involve telling everyone we’d invited – hundreds of little humiliations.

With our grandparents’ health in doubt, we moved the wedding up to June (a year after we’d met), rather than the original December date.  My mother has often said that she is sure we would never have married if we had not done that.  She is probably right, though I remember feeling so overwhelmed by the momentum of it all, and the excitement of the day, that I’m not sure I would ever have been honest with myself.

It took me four long years to gain the strength I needed to recognize the truth – we’d made a mistake.  And a mistake that could be fixed.  We were two good people, but a very bad couple.

Love takes time

It’s not that I don’t believe in love at first sight; after all, I had it with my current husband (he, on the other hand, couldn’t remember what I looked like after we met, so it wasn’t mutual).  But I believe we must know each other after the wooing period, when we are just ourselves… we must know each other through all seasons and in both good times and bad before we can really determine our compatibility.  Having done so the second time, I have found a partner who makes me happy every day and with whom, life just gets better and better.

With all the extra complications surrounding them, perhaps the media should be applauding the example set by William and Kate, who took their time getting to know themselves and each other as adults, before embarking on the adventure of marriage.  Unlike many celebrities, they are showing that they take this commitment seriously.  Whatever happens, they are more likely to succeed because they already know each other so well.

I, for one, admire them and wish them well.  Oh, and the day off is great… I’m all set for mimosas in the morning!

Published in: on April 28, 2011 at 4:37 pm  Comments (6)  
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Darkest before dawn…

Earlier this week, I was listening to my iPod when a song I hadn’t heard in a long time began to play.  Suddenly, I was transported back to my basement room in Washington, D.C. in 2004.  I was heartsick over a man I thought I loved and I was listening to The Corrs sing “Runaway” over and over.  And over.

I was in that basement, listening to that song and thinking things really couldn’t get much worse.  I had been invited to quit my job and had no idea what to do next.  I had very little money.  I had a week to move, but nowhere to live because I’d been intending to move in with the man.  My beloved miniature schnauzer had succumbed to cancer the day before and I’d just spent all night on the phone listening to him explain 50 ways to leave me.

Elia: angel of unemployment

You can imagine I was feeling rather low the next morning as I got in my purple Geo metro and drove off to the unemployment office.  Little did I know my perspective on life was about to change radically.  Sitting in the waiting area near me was a beautiful blond, who introduced herself as Elizabeth, but goes by Elia.  She was 32, engaged and remarkably happy about life, considering where she was.

She shared her story and I shared mine.  When I finished, she looked at me, astounded.  “How old are you?” she asked.  “28,” I replied.  “Good lord,” she said, “You take life so seriously!  I never even thought about having a boyfriend, let alone getting married, when I was in my twenties!” (I didn’t tell her I’d already been married and divorced.)  “I just wanted to have fun!” she continued.  Fun, hmmm, there was a concept on which I’d not spent much time.  “I only met my finance after I was thirty and I’m really glad we had our own lives before we got together,” she said.   Shortly after, her name was called and off she went, completely unaware of the impact she’d had.

I’m not going to say that I was over the break-up, in fact, that took the next few years.  But, I gained perspective.  I knew someday I wouldn’t be sad anymore, which was enough to give me hope for a happy future.  And I started to live my own life.  Elia showed me how much still lay ahead of me… how much was still unknown… and how exciting that could be.

Good Morning

When I got dressed to go to the unemployment office after a long, dark night, I didn’t think my life could get any worse or would get any better.  But after one conversation with a bright, sunny woman, my perspective was changed and then, over the next few years, my life was changed.  Everything I truly wanted seemed to come my way – I’ve married the man of my dreams and together with our beautiful son, we live in a lovely part of England, where I get to work on my writing.  I’m sure there will be more challenges ahead, and the realization of more dreams… we’ll just see how the years unfold.

The amazing thing is to look back at what we’ve experienced and realize how much we have to learn from the hardest challenges we face – how much they can help us to grow and develop as people.  That night changed me completely.  Ever after, I knew I could handle anything life through at me.  I’d always say, “Well, I got through that night… this is nothing.”

My teacher, the cow…

I mentioned in my last post that I recently read an incredible book by Dr. Sean Kenniff, called Etre the Cow.  Etre is the only self-aware cow in the pasture, because of which, he feels isolated and alone.  The book follows Etre’s journey to free himself and the cows he loves.  It sounds a little bizarre, but because of Sean’s remarkable writing talent, one finds oneself understanding and empathizing with a cow’s longing to have a meaningful existence.

I bring it up because of Sean’s story.  He was on the first season of Survivor, which he parlayed into a career as a healthcare correspondent.  Then, when the recession hit, his job was discontinued.  Driving home, pink slip in hand, Sean saw a cow with its head between a pasture fence, staring out at him.  He felt how that cow looked: powerless over his life.

Inspired, Sean went to live with the cows and the result is a book that could easily take its place among literary classics, such as Animal Farm.  If it had not been for the embarrassment, frustration and despair he felt after losing his job, he may never have discovered his extraordinary writing talent.

Though it’s hard to remember when one is facing down the dark, I’ve found that the most difficult times of my life have been the catalyst for remarkable change and exciting, new opportunities.  We just have to be open to learning the lessons from wherever they come, whether it’s a beautiful blond or a big fat cow.

Published in: on April 20, 2011 at 4:42 pm  Comments (11)  
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I am a…

Conall is eighteen-months-old today.  Which means it’s been eighteen months since the start of my identity crisis.  I never saw myself becoming a parent.  Heck, I never really saw myself becoming an adult.  Left to my own devices, I’d be eating broccoli in tomato sauce and tuna mixed with canned corn every night; I can hardly feed myself, how can I be responsible for the life of another human being?

Well, actually, it isn’t so much the responsibility with which I struggle, as it is the very idea of being a mom.  Being a “mom” means doing all those things that never interested me – carpools, play dates, coffee mornings.  I have a panic attack at the very notion of having to carry on conversations with a group of women with whom the only thing I have in common is an offspring.  When I think of standing outside the elementary school waiting to pick up my son, I have images of myself as a Japanese snow monkey chased out of the hot spring by one of the cooler snow monkey moms.

I struggle to define myself as a mom, but what else am I?  I’ve tried working in all kinds of fields and not really found my place.  I am a writer, but then, I’ve not yet gotten that stamp of approval that makes me feel I can legitimately define myself that way.  And this begs the question: ought I to be defining myself at all?

I AM…

Yesterday, I read a quote by Deepak Chopra: “Your only identity is I AM undefined and infinite.  Any label you give yourself limits yourself.”   Hmmm… that’s a head scratcher.  I’ve always been under the impression that defining one’s identity is part of the human endeavor… part of understanding who one is.  But, if the past year and a half have taught me nothing else, I’ve learned that trying to define myself by my relationship to another or by what I do, in fact does feel limiting.  It doesn’t capture the wholeness of who I am.  And, as I haven’t yet achieved some of the things I’d like to, it can feel discomfiting.

It’s a challenge, though, isn’t it?  We need a bit of an “elevator speech” to provide others an idea of who we are.  “I am a … (fill in the profession)” and “I am (fill in: single, a single parent, a wife, a husband, a father, a mother, an only child, the 3’rd of four, etc.)” and also, “I like (fill in the hobby).”  We use these quick and easy definitions to help find points of commonality with others, or to frame an interaction between people.  Like the snow monkeys, there is a way things are done and we all understand the common rules.

But, do these labels stifle our creative instincts?  Do they cause us to stop exploring new ways we could express ourselves in the world?

Often, many of us become so comfortable with the notion that we are our jobs or our relationships or our interests, that we stop wondering what else we could be.  And then, if we are faced with divorce, or the loss of a loved one, or the loss of a job, we must struggle through, not only the loss, but the lack of that identity.  We can feel set adrift on a metaphysical sea.

Undefined…

The best case scenario is that we reestablish ourselves in some better way – find a new talent, a new comfort with who we are, a new relationship with another person, or with the world in general.  For example, Dr. Sean Kenniff made a name for himself on the first season of Survivor.  After the show, he broadened his career to become a journalist, covering health issues.  When his job was cut, due to the recession, he felt lost and powerless.  Drawing on these emotions, he was inspired to write an amazing novel about pushing limits and challenging destiny, called Etre the Cow.  But should it take a blow to our vitals to open our eyes and see all the possibilities the world offers to us?

Perhaps Chopra is right… the less we try to define ourselves, the more open we can be to all we can be.  And if we must, for the sake of conversation, label ourselves, at least we should stop and rethink those labels every so often… make sure they are what we want them to be.   And perhaps, we should take the time, now and then, to imagine what else is out there for us.  Life is opportunity.  We are not Kenniff’s poor cow starving in a pasture for a better existence.  We are … anything.

“Your only identity is I Am…”