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Books

Thoughts

Everyone is just waiting

October 13, 2017

When people find out you write words for a living, it’s inevitable they’ll also ask you what you like to read. I actually despise answering the question because it’s typically just judgement lurking behind that mask of genuine curiosity. Like my selections should be so sophisticated, so expertly curated, that you’ve never heard of any of the authors, both classic and contemporary, gracing the rows and rows of bookshelves in my Beauty and the Beast style library. But I’ll answer it for you guys here because 1) I like you, and 2) it brings me to a larger point.

I love my Brene Brown, and Glennon Doyle Melton, of course. Plus, the all-time greatest SNL lady duo (Tina + Amy, respectfully). If fiction’s your game, the Kevin Kwan books are fun and both The Shack and Kite Runner shook my soul a touch. But if we’re talking about my favorite, the one I’d read a million times, the book that I reference most often with my friends large and small, it’s Oh, The Places You’ll Go!

You know the book. By the good Dr.

If you graduated, you likely got a copy or five. You probably even have one inscribed by a parent or teacher or creepy neighbor.

I adore everything about this book because I see myself in it. I saw myself in it when I was little. I saw myself in it when I got my second copy before leaving for college. I saw myself in it as a new mom staring into the eyes of a life I’d created. And the other night, when I read it to my girls, I saw myself in it yet again. I am the little man, who only wears yellow, topped off by a ridiculous hat, being carried away in a semi-deflated balloon.

It’s different every time, but on this particular night, this got me:

You can get so confused
that you’ll start in to race
down long wiggled roads at a break-necking pace
and grind on for miles cross weirdish wild space,
headed, I fear, toward a most useless place.
The Waiting Place…

…for people just waiting.
Waiting for a train to go
or a bus to come, or a plane to go
or the mail to come, or the rain to go
or the phone to ring, or the snow to snow
or the waiting around for a Yes or No
or waiting for their hair to grow.
Everyone is just waiting.

Waiting for the fish to bite
or waiting for the wind to fly a kite
or waiting around for Friday night
or waiting, perhaps, for their Uncle Jake
or a pot to boil, or a Better Break
or a string of pearls, or a pair of pants
or a wig with curls, or Another Chance.
Everyone is just waiting.

Gah, don’t you guys ever feel like this? I do. Except instead of a string of pearls, I’m waiting for an unlimited flow of money so I can redecorate my house to look like grownups live here instead of frat boys. And instead of the fish, I’m waiting for motivation to move my ass and really create change in my body. And instead of a wig with curls, it’s a book idea. And instead of wind, it’s time to get lost in the woods. And instead of Friday night, it’s … Ok, that one holds up.

I am waiting. Just waiting.

The day after reading the book and getting caught up on this section, I was listening to the Rich Roll podcast in my office at work. And his guest, whose name is escaping me at the moment, but he has a tea business I believe, was talking about being present. It’s a topic that comes up all the time. In fact, some would say it’s entirely played out. But it keeps coming up because none of us are doing it.

I mean, I sure as shit can’t say I’m present. Can you?

He was talking about social media, and how it encourages us to live in the past. We’re scrolling through, looking at things that happened seconds, minutes, hours, days ago, and experiencing all these feelings about what we’re reading in the posts. How we should have taken our kids to the pumpkin patch, or tried that watermelon fruit carriage for our sister’s baby shower, or had a gender reveal party where things exploded into pink or blue dust. And all the while, as we scroll and envy, we’re missing our lives.

The bigger question he arrived at was, if you’re never really present in the moments and happenings of your life, then what’s the true point in living it? When you get to the end, will you think, “That’s it?” or “Damn, that was a life well spent.” And holy handclaps that made sense to me.

I fall victim to the temptress that is “life through the filtered lens” all the time. I see others trying new workouts and getting good results, and I think maybe that’s what I’m missing. I scroll and Google and research the best remedies for my anxiety and my shortcomings all the time. And I could be spending that time actually doing things that would relieve my anxiety and lessen my shortcomings. I could be reading to my kids. I could be hiking. I could be living my gosh dang life.

But I’m waiting.

I’m waiting for the pounds to go,
Or waiting for the funds to flow,
Or waiting for the world to change,
Or waiting to feel a little less strange.

I’m waiting for some muscle tone,
Or tasks to get done by my very own clone.
Or the kids to eat, or the fear to numb,
Or waiting for the right words to come.

I’m waiting for the work to slow,
and the food to cook, and the flowers to grow.

I’m always just waiting.

And I get so sick of it.

They also covered the current state of the world on that podcast, specifically how everyone is living out of fear. And a fear-based life can really ruin the time you have, which is a surprise to no one, and yet, I know I can’t shake it. But the only thing you can do is live your truest life. You can only focus on creating change, not what others are doing to destroy it. You can only focus on your actions, your intentions, your mind. And if you’re in a good place with all of those things, the fear should subside a bit.

Or so they say.

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Your summer reading (or listening) list

June 30, 2017

Four years ago I made a promise to myself. No longer would I be the girl at the party just nodding politely when the conversation turned to books and the like. No longer would I only pretend to be well-versed in trending literature while others rejoiced in the entertaining pages of the latest best seller. The Gone Girls and the Hunger Games and the 50 Shades of Sex Reading would elude me no more.

There was just one little problem … time. And the fact that I didn’t have any. And I was even one child down at the time!

It was then I discovered the true beauty of the audiobook. All the pleasure of reading without the pressure of carving out additional down time. I play those puppies while I’m in my car and make my commute, long or short, a delicious dose of indulgent me time.

Before you get all Audible crazy, there are a few risks you should be aware of. First, the narrator has an unfortunate amount of clout in this situation. A bad reader can ruin a perfectly acceptable book. I once suffered through an entire series (cough, cough, The Mazerunner) – three books – with a gentleman whose lisp made me daydream about a fictional man with a 3-year-old’s face. Conversely, I’ve been carried away to Australia, England and the inner depths of the soul by masterful, enchanting voices, too. It’s a roll of the dice.

Second, you still have an obligation to not drive like an asshole. I’ve had books both mesmerize and infuriate me while I was behind the wheel. I finished Gone Girl going 70 mph down the highway. That’s living dangerously, my friends.

These books are some of my favorites ever, of all time. Almost all of them are available on audiobook, but the good old fashioned bound versions are just as worthy of your time. I hope this summer is filled with stories that move you, change you and keep you entertained.

FICTION FAVES

The Shack by William Paul Young

Me Before You by JoJo Moyes

Crazy Rich Asians AND China Rich Girlfriend by Kevin Kwan

Big Little Lies by Liane Moriarty

Wild by Cheryl Strayed

Looking for Alaska by John Green

The Walk Series by Richard Paul Evans

TRUTH TELLERS

Carry On, Warrior: Thoughts on Life Unarmed AND Love Warrior by Glennon Doyle Melton

Year of Yes: How to Dance it Out, Stand in the Sun and Be Your Own Person by Shonda Rhimes

Rising Strong AND Daring Greatly by Brene Brown

For the Love by Jen Hatmaker

Present over Perfect by Shauna Niequist

Tiny Beautiful Things by Cheryl Strayed

Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear by Elizabeth Gilbert

10% Happier by Dan Harris

Born to Run by Christopher McDougall

FOR SHITS AND GIGGLES

Bossypants by Tina Fey

Yes, Please! by Amy Poehler

Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me? by Mindy Kaling

When I become obsessed with a book …
Want to read more about some of these beauties? Check out these posts from the past:

Falling Hard for Amy Poehler
10% Happier Ain’t Too Bad
Go Get You Some Big Magic
Little JoJo and the Case of the First Grade Burdens
Working on my Core
Warrior in Training

Mindfulness

Working on my core

February 28, 2017

Let’s start with a game.

I’m going to ask you to pick three words. The first three words that pop into your mind, OK? The prompt is: What drives your day?

Three words … and … go.

Got em? OK, what were they?

Full disclosure, so it’s all out in the open, my three words were: work, schedule and kids

Don’t forget your words.

So, I wanna talk about this book I read. Because we NEED to talk about this book I read. Oh my gosh, oh my gosh, the dope pages of “Present Over Perfect.”

Present. Over. Perfect.

This audiobook came in for me at the library on the same day the Lauren Graham book, “Talking As Fast As I Can” came in. I was getting ready to leave for my Florida trip, I wanted something light, and so I opted for Lauren first. Now I’m watching Gilmore Girls because, let me just save you the suspense, the book is likely one trillion times better if you are watching or have watched the series. Which I hadn’t. So now I am.

Anyway, her mouth was really moving because it went super quick. Having wrapped the Gilmore diaries, I looked down the Tuesday after my quick Tampa weekend and saw the other audiobook, “Present Over Perfect” sitting on my passenger seat. I’d almost forgotten about it. I put in the first CD and a sweet voice filled the cabin of my SUV. Minutes later I was crying, clutching my chest and holding my breath. I think I was nodding, too.

Um, wait, did I write this? No, I didn’t write this. I’m not that good. This was instead a classic case of my very favorite thing; when it feels like the author, in this instance Shauna Niequist, chose her words specifically for me, her attentive audience of one. Shauna is, naturally, part of the poignant sorority that boasts the likes of Brene Brown and Glennon Doyle Melton and Jen Hatmaker that I so wholeheartedly worship. These truthtellers have got it goin’ on, you guys, I’m tellin ya.

Sobbing like the latest Bachelor cast-off after just 5 pages is a promising sign. And it proved a match. Completing this book in its entirety was like having a conversation with myself after we hadn’t spoken in years. It drudged up a lot of honest crap I’d been denying or shrugging off for years. It was a mirror I’d tucked in the back of my closet and now I was staring right at all the blemishes and cracks and imperfections.

Let’s dive right in.

“Present is living with your feet firmly grounded in reality, pale and uncertain as it may seem. Present is choosing to believe that your own life is worth investing deeply in, instead of waiting for some rare miracle or fairytale. Present means we understand that the here and now is sacred, sacramental, threaded through with divinity even in its plainness. Especially in its plainness.”

Let it soak in. Let it marinate and send sweet reflections through your scattered mind. But don’t linger too long. This is good. Really good. But Shauna was just getting started here. She was toying with me; Dangling her heart-squeezing verbiage in front of me like a gorgeous orange carrot to a tired, famished bunny, so I’d wrap my front paws around them and she could just then … at the perfect moment … yank me into her web of truth.

“Many of us, myself, included, considered our souls necessary collateral damage to get done the things we felt we simply had to get done – because of other people’s expectations, because we want to be known as highly capable, because we’re trying to outrun an inner emptiness. And for a while we don’t even realize the compromise we’ve made. We’re on autopilot, chugging through the day on fear and caffeine, checking things off the list, falling into bed without even a real thought or feeling or connection all day long, just a sense of having made it through. … I don’t want to get to the end of my life and look back and realize that the best thing about me was I was organized.”

Or capable, or a great multitasker, or punctual or anal. Remember your words?

“But what I eventually realized is that the return on investment was not what I’d imagined, and that the expectations were only greater and greater. When you devote yourself to being known as the most responsible person anyone knows, more and more people call on you to be that highly responsible person. That’s how it works. So the armload of things I was carrying became higher and higher, heavier and heavier, more and more precarious.”

My current currency is completion. A demand comes in, I respond and then I’m paid in checkmarks. I can take something off the list. I can crawl into bed knowing I’m rich in lines drawn through the middle of pressing matters like ordering new checks, refilling the dog’s prescription and sending peanut-free, gluten-free, sugar-free cookies in for the school fundraiser. I’m walking through my life collecting chores and calls and duties and no one is keeping track of the gold stars I get in return, how many pieces of flair I have on my lapel. Except me.

My collateral damage can be tallied in many forms, but perhaps saddest of all is my connection with my husband. This is not to say that we aren’t in a good place or we’re having problems, but the life and the routine I’ve built for our tribe certainly has the potential to break what has always been so good about us. The rich stuff. The stay-up-late-talking-and-laughing-over-gin-and-tonics stuff. My hand to God, he sent me a calendar invite to “hang out” this past Sunday. A calendar invite! I accepted and then immediately felt the asshole aspect of the situation rain down upon me.

The other day in meditation, I silently asked myself if I was giving enough to my marriage. On the drive to work that morning, I saw a “Henry’s Plumbing” van. I’ve never seen a “Henry’s Plumbing” van in this town, or in my life and now a toilet tender’s business bearing my husband’s name was turning in front of me. Just 24 hours later, a sign we kept in our bathroom that said, “I love you because _____” fell down. You know, the kind you write on with a dry erase marker? We’d had it for years. We’d leave silly and sweet little notes on it from time to time. Well, it fell off the wall. Gabrielle Bernstein talked a lot in her book, “The Universe Has Your Back” about signs. Ask for them. Look for them. Be open to them. Well, I got three of them in as many days.

I made the comment to Hank that I often feel like we’re business partners, particularly during the week. We are tending to our tasks and checking in on the progress of various projects. “How’s that poop test result coming, Jones?” “Doctor said to have Sloppy Joan lay off the corn kernels, Banks.” And so on. I can’t pinpoint when I committed to full-on ruining all of the things that made us fun and all give-a-damn about everything. I just know that it happened in spite of our best efforts to stay cool.

“It seems to me that one of the great hazards is quick love, which is actually charm. We get used to smiling, hugging, bantering, practicing good eye contact. And it’s easier than true, slow, awkward and painful connection with someone who sees all the worst parts of you. Your act is easy. Being with you, deeply with, is difficult.”

“It is better to be loved than admired. It is better to be truly known and seen and taken care of by a small tribe than adored by strangers who think they know you in a meaningful way.”

“What kills a soul? Exhaustion, secret keeping, image management.
And what brings a soul back from the dead? Honesty, connection, grace”

“The world will tell you how to live, if you let it. Don’t let it. Take up your space. Raise your voice. Sing your song. This is your chance to make or remake a life that thrills you.”

I know, brothers and sisters. I know.

This particular thread running throughout the pages was the big one for me; The slap that jolted the reality to the surface for me. If you think of your social connections like an onion, the center is likely comprised of your husband, kids, immediate family and ride or dies. Next, would be good friends and extended family. Then we’re looking at friends. Then acquaintances and gym buddies, and so on. As you work your way out through the layers, the connections get softer and softer. But what happens, and what has been happening with me for years, is we spend so much time committing, saying yes, donating our time and our talents to the people in the outer layers that we exhaust all our good stuff.

By the time I leave work, take care of any outlying obligations, make dinner and get through the kids’ checklist of “necessities” for the next day, I certainly don’t have the mental lightness to roll around and play tickle torture. I am depleted and primed to fail.

And while this all seems to be the norm these days, and I know that my priorities, in all their backwards glory, are not uncommon for mothers, the whole thing really is super freaking messed up, right? Because I volunteer to help causes that are important but not that close to me personally, I miss hearing JoJo’s recount of her bee experiment that day. And we all know those stories are always best the first time around. Because I said I could step up my freelance game for extra sitter money, I rush through the bedtime ritual and feel annoyed that my five year old dare ask for “one more butterfly kiss.”

It’s a mess.

My flow is all fucked up.

It’s clogged with boulders of bullshit excuses and obligations made to third- and fourth-layer acquaintances. I have to learn to choose no when yes means less of the good stuff. Less cuddles, less sanity, less conversation, less eye contact. I have to learn to say no even though the yes is wearing pretty clothes. Even if it means more money or smart connections. I have to learn that if yes doesn’t feel good in the moment, it’s not going to feel good on a Thursday night at 9:30 when the laundry needs folded and Sloppy Joan has gotten out of bed for the 14th time.

“I almost left her behind. I almost lost her when I started to believe that constant motion would save me. That outrunning everything would keep me safe. You cannot be a mystic when you’re hustling all the time. you cannot be a poet when you start to speak in certainties. You can’t stay tender and connected when you hurl yourself thru life like being shot out of a canon, your speed a weapon you wield to keep yourself safe. The natural world is so breathtakingly beautiful, people are so weird and awesome and loving and life-giving. Why then did I try to hard for so long to get away without feeling or living deeply?”

Go back to your words. Think about what they mean to you and what you wish they were instead. Because, why not wish for what you want?

I want to move work to love, and schedule to passion, and kids to … well, the kids can stay. But I want to stop letting responsibility be my defining asset. So I can get it all done? What’s the good in any of that if I’m miserable? Who’s keeping score anyway?

It’s time to shake things up and slow things down and really, truly, deeply focus on the middle of my onion. People are always saying they need to work on their core, strengthen their core, build from their core. Well … there ya go. This is the kind of core work I need. Screw abs, I want to be present for Spike’s story hour and the chicks’ gymnastics show in the front room, with Sloppy Joan wearing her “bathing soup” as a leotard.

These are the people I so desperately want to hold close to me. Because at the end of the day, I’d rather be focused than frenzied. I’d rather be late to a meeting than missing as a mother. I’d rather be known for my mess than tidy and tired.

I’d rather be present than perfect.

Pages

Yes ma’am

August 4, 2016

“Losing yourself does not happen all at once. Losing yourself happens one no at a time.”

Books are great. They really are. All the letters and the smell of fresh print and the way a bookshelf looks when it’s crowded with interesting titles. But for someone who despises paper and would gladly speak for the trees, I think an amazing audio book is where it’s really at. A captivating voice – all the better if it’s the author’s – orchestrating rich characters and delivering slivers of dialogue that widen your eyes and sing to your soul … Yeah, that’s my jam.

Going into “Year of Yes: How to Dance It Out, Stand In the Sun and Be Your Own Person,” one would anticipate a good show. I mean, the woman (Shonda Rhimes, of course) fashioned the twisted minds and friendship of Meredith Grey and Christina Yang for McSteamy’s sakes. As if grandstanding, she then gave us the quivering, lavish lip and firm-but-passionate prose of white-hat-wearing Olivia Pope. She claimed a land and a night of the week and an acronym and a hashtag. I would expect the woman to be able to write a book. But she didn’t.

Book cover

She didn’t just write a book. She wrote her cliff’s notes for self-improvement and true satisfaction. She, herself, is not a specimen of human perfection. You don’t begin the book thinking she is and, even after following her through 365+ days of extending and challenging herself, you don’t end the book thinking she is. That’s not the point. Perfection is not the end game. Happiness is.

Once she gave herself permission to be uncomfortable and bold and a tiny bit selfish, that’s when she met the best parts of herself and her life. Let’s face it, we all take comfort in the layers. We cover the raw truths with whatever it takes … food, sarcasm, passive aggressive quips, makeup, clothes, work, Netflix, wine, excuses. It all works the same. It all creates a barrier between the yucky bits of our true selves and the perception of our true selves. I know what my layers are made of. You can probably figure yours out as well. For Shonda, it was predominately food and social sheepishness. She was hiding behind an unhealthy weight and choosing evenings on her couch over once-in-a-lifetime galas and interviews.

What she reveals in the book is that, by saying yes to her body and yes to her peers and yes to her accolades, she was able to shed those security layers and uncover a happier version of herself; one that felt more fulfilled and appreciated and alive. Relieving yourself of that weight – both literally and figuratively – frees up all this space for joy and adventure and self-acceptance. It’s beautiful really.

I recommend this book because it’s masterfully written. I recommend it because she reveals which Grey’s Anatomy cast member is in her ride-or-die group of friends. I recommend it because you’ll see yourself in it somewhere. I recommend it because it’s clever and honest and she was about as transparent as she could be without compromising herself or her relationships. And I recommend it because it makes you want to say yes, or at least consider it.

Welcome to the church of Shonda …

1 copy

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This is everything, but it’s even more than everything from 16:20 on:

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Thoughts

Meet me where the glass ceiling used to be

July 29, 2016

The world has gone crazy. She has lost her way. There are so many different energies pulling everyone in so many different directions that we’re all simultaneously colliding and treating each other like ghosts. But on a planet where commonality has become the ultimate unicorn, I have identified one undeniable truth. One fact we can all say, “Amen” and “Hallelujah!” to with an enthusiasm otherwise reserved for Bad Moms trailers and quotes from Scary Mommy’s facebook page. This truth I’ve stumbled upon is undeniable and invigorating and, let’s face it, a giant middle finger to a lot of folks who’ve had a big middle finger coming for some time now. So, here it is … Ready …

Women are kind of having a moment.

For a person who has the word “Superwoman” in the title of her passion project, it seems negligent to breeze past the forceful feminine momentum in the air. And more exciting? For once it really has nothing to do with Beyonce. I mean, other than I almost took my sweat-soaked shirt off and swung it around my head when Run the World (Girls) came through my headphones on my morning run. (“Strong enough to bear the children – Then get ta business.” I mean … somebody had to say it.)

RearView

And I’m not just talking about ole Hil’s recent nomination, either, although no one can diminish the historical significance of her accomplishment. For me, it has everything to do with this speech and this woman:

If she was acting, I volunteer to polish her Oscar for the rest of my days. That speech had stank on it. It was a master class in delivery and poignancy and perspective. She threw her rhetorical spaghetti at the wall and it stuck. To everyone. Everywhere. The part about her girls playing on the White House lawn … I felt like I took an emotional bullet.

The chicks and I were driving home from their grandparents’ the other night and got into one of those driveby formative chats.

“And who is the president, girls?” – Me
“Barack Obama!” – Both
“Right, and who is his wife? Who’s the First Lady?” – Me
“Ahhh, Michelle Obama?” – JoJo
“Right!” – Me
“I love her.” – JoJo
“Yeah, I love her, too” – Spike
“Why do you love her, JoJo?” – Me
“I don’t know. Because she’s pretty and she helps people.” – JoJo
“She does. That’s right.” – Me
“Why do you love her, Mom?” – JoJo
“I love her because she is a wonderful woman. She cares about children and education and people’s health. She has a garden and she says things that change people for the better. She is very strong and all of us girls should try to be strong, right?”
“Right” – Both
“Because, girls are …” – Me
“Awesome!” – JoJo

These unexpected conversations put just a hint of hot vomit right at the base of my throat. I feel such a responsibility to say the right thing. To offer those profound nuggets that will turn up in their nonfiction works 30 years from now. But more often I falter here. I think my FLOTUS contact high got me through this particular incident just fine.

Perhaps the female feels are also heightened for me because of the book I officially finished this morning, Shonda Rhimes’ Year of Yes. The writing on these pages makes everything from the brain in my head that forms sentences to the tip of my fingernails that tap furiously on dirty keyboards so jealous I’ve been reduced to a humbled heap of fragmented story ideas. Dear reader, I don’t know what your craft is, or your interest, but have you ever been witness to someone who does that craft or hobby so masterfully that you feel both defeated and on fire all at once? That’s me now. I’m all jumbled up in awe and inspiration. Her intimacy with characters and uncomfortable transparency in this book were so admirable and so well done it sparked a desire in me to quit writing altogether and just succumb to the towering shadow cast by her rare creativity and run away to furiously write for weeks in a small cottage in the Ireland countryside all within the final letters of the final chapter. //More to come on this masterpiece later.//

The entire book was captivating, but one speech featured in Year of Yes in particular stirred something in me. Something I didn’t realize had settled. If you are a woman, a professional, a master of your craft, a novice, if you have a pulse, give this 8 minutes of your time. Let it pour in and take up some space where a negative thought used to live.

I love the idea of the glass ceiling being this tangible place, this possible meetup. Like it’s a designated location where we can all go to celebrate our victories and plot to right all the gender-specific injustices. I’ve been lucky. In my working years I’ve never truly felt oppressed or discriminated against. I’ve been given platforms and the benefit of the doubt and opportunities. I don’t feel like I need to burn my bra (they’re too expensive for that anyway) or march with other womanfolk. But that doesn’t bestow upon me some fast pass to get to the front of the line. It doesn’t mean the struggle of other women doesn’t leave bruises on my heart. It doesn’t mean I don’t get a righteous tickle where my internal plumbing resides every time a lady sticks it to some condescending sucker.

I have three little girls. Three girls. I want more than this moment, for them. I want them to, not only chase their dreams in a world that is free and just, but also respect and appreciate the fact that other women went toe-to-toe with adversity and beat the shit out of stereotypes in order for them to do so. I want them to watch Michelle Obama’s speech and feel the weight of her words. I want them to let other women’s stories shake them up a little bit and flip their perspective. I pray, of course, they never feel less than or unequal to, but if they do, that they know that’s when it’s time to go high.

It isn’t the end of the struggle, but yes, we women are having a moment. Whatever side of the party lines you fall on, whether you’ve been held down or lifted up, whether you have children or you don’t, there is something to celebrate here. So keep those over-the-shoulder boulder holders clasped and your eyes on the prize. The world just might find her way after all.

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Admitting I can’t be a screamfree parent

March 18, 2016

I locked eyes on her, like a famished lion stalking a tired antelope. She returned the glare.
We both knew someone had to blink. Someone had to release their shoulders and concede. But it wasn’t happening in this moment. Oh hell no.
She sat on the ground, her untied shoelaces mocking me. The contents of her bookbag strewn about as carnage from a furious storm.
If she would only get her crap together so we could catch the mother lovin’ school bus … I thought.
If she would only let me go get my darn stuffed puppy and markers … she thought.
And thus we found ourselves on the brink of a bubbling, violent volcano.

These are the moments you don’t see on Instagram. The ugly, infuriating, truthful snapshots of a messy life where little people have opinions, grownups have crammed agendas and no one is on the same clock. While I find these occasions overshadowing the sunny times more and more as my children age, I think moms speak about them less and less. I’m just as guilty! I put the good out into the universe because it’s cute and I want to remember my girls like that. I think we all want to view the time that’s passed through a clean, filtered lens, editing out all the untidy down days. But if I’m really being honest, the frequency at which I post to Instagram is way down, and the standoffs are way up.

scream

After losing my shit to a particularly hot degree one night a few weeks back, I decided to checkout the book Screamfree Parenting, by Hal Edward Runkel. I am a yeller. I have a small, whisper of a wick of patience that, once lit, dissipates very quickly. It’s disappointing, too, because in my mind I’m this peaceful, supportive Mother Earth type. But outwardly, I’m more of the hell hath no fury type it turns out.

But can we be real for second? They want us to yell, right? Every time they ignore you, snap at you, spill their water by trying to drink it with no hands, fight with each other, express their distaste for the dinner you prepared after working 8 hours, ask the same question 20 times, hit each other, leave their clothes on the floor, splash water out of the tub, scream when you comb their hair, knock folded laundry off the bed, speak to you while you’re in corpse pose, refuse to get ready for school, or just act like wild, farting baboons,they are essentially filling out the card, licking the stamp and sending an invitation to go 100 percent ape shit on them. What really gets me is, depending on the day, the same things that make me want to freak the frick out on them, are the same things I get nostalgic about. (Being a woman is wild ride, man.)

But if Hal had a front row seat to my screaming, he would tell me that all of the negative noise is halting my efforts to create the well-rounded ladies I so desperately want to send out into the big world. The concepts of the book are reasonable and simple: 1) Take a pause and calm yourself down before interacting with your children, and 2) respect their space and place. There’s a lot more to the book but for the sake of this post, these principles pretty much sum it up.

When I lose it on my kids based on something they did, I am actually telling them they need to, “Calm me down,” according to Hal. I am holding them responsible for my mood, which is way too heavy for a 4 or 6 year old. And also, the author asks, what does that say about your self control? [Insert feelings of inadequacy.] It’s essential that you let your little one have their meltdown while you go to a happy place in your mind. You can’t react to their frustration. It’s theirs. Let them feel it and have it.

He also spoke about places and spaces. Now, to be fair, I was multitasking and tired during these chapters, so I’m a little fuzzy on the differences between the two, but he spoke at great length about a child’s bedroom. We tell them it’s “their room” but then we dictate how they should clean it , arrange it, maintain it, and on and on and on. Hal suggests resisting all urges to take a trash bag in and pitch everything out of  a fit of rage (my words) and instead offer to help your child clean should they feel so inclined. You should also knock and ask them if you can come in. If they say, “no,” then you will have to come back at a later time. This spacial theory goes for all decisions. You have to let your kids fail so that they can learn how to make decisions and live with the consequences, good or bad. You should always listen and offer to help, but never hover and never micromanage. Inspire your children to motivate themselves. This goes for homework, friends and social engagements, volunteering, and all of the other 8 trillion tiny decisions we want to just go ahead and make for our children so they can be as amazing as we, their parents, are.

And finally, Hal reminds his readers that you must put on your own oxygen mask first. You can’t help someone else when you’re gasping for air.St Bernard of Clairvaux, a French monk and notable thinker, had a theory about the different degrees of love. The first degree was love for self’s sake. The second, was loving another for self’s sake. The third was loving another for another’s sake, and the fourth degree was loving self for another’s sake. Hal suggests that we must adopt the fourth degree of love. We must care for ourselves and make time for ourselves so that our children don’t feel the pressure or responsibility to do it. We must make ourselves a top priority to show our children how much we love and respect them.

And that’s it, basically. Those are his secrets. I must admit the room thing had me like whoa, but there is some really good stuff to work with here.

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So, what would a Screamfree Parenting scenario look like?

Say, for example, your child won’t tie her shoes. She knows how to tie her shoes, which makes the entire situation baffling, and, for a little mustard on top of that shit sandwich, you have 3 minutes to get to the bus stop. As she cry/screams that she just can’t get the laces right and her sock feels funny and she’s tired and she didn’t want Fruit Loops for breakfast and all of the other world-ending dilemmas she’s facing, you should simply make noise, like an ‘uh huh” to acknowledge that she’s speaking, all the while repeating Adele lyrics to sooth the flames in your soul.  Then say something calm and supportive like, “Gee, I hate it when my sock feels funny. What are you going to do about that?” And then stand back and watch her magically work through the situation. When she sees you aren’t reacting and she’s distracted with working through the problem in her mind, forward progress will be achieved. Thank you, Hal.

Now, I’m about 2 days off the book, and I would put my success rate at about a 15 on a 100-point scale. The problem is that this book assumes you’re working with rationale children and rationale adults. But there are just certain scenarios where no one is being rationale and the clock is ticking and you’re dealing with a room of punks. Practice makes progress, I suppose, but we’ve been on a roll with Titanic-size tantrums around these parts lately and I might need something a bit stronger than the Screamfree protocol.

Any other great parenting books out there?

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Go get you some Big Magic

January 14, 2016

Admittedly, I was not a huge fan of the book “Eat. Pray. Love.” I actually, and this never happens with me, preferred the movie to the book. [gasp!] I also didn’t make it all the way through the paperback, so that might have had something to do with it. But her latest work, “Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear,” really resonated with me.

Big Magic

True, I’m very lucky. My job, and jobs to this point, have allowed me to use that wacky, wonderful creative sphere of my brain in a capacity that brings both a general sense of satisfaction and suitable income. But the majority of folks have to find a way to interject creative beats into their work. I have a friend who’s a dental hygienist, for example. I don’t imagine that, on a routine day, plague and floss do much to lube up the creative wheels in the cranium. I could be wrong. My folks sell insurance. I don’t see those creative sectors of their message center lighting up on the regular. But again, I could be wrong.

But what Liz is saying with her book is that you don’t have to make a living from whatever medium you like to play at. You don’t have to torture your hobby to manipulate it into what defines you. But you do have to entertain it. You do have to create. paint. draw. write. act. sing. garden. cook. sew. knit. bake. sculpt. storytell. Something that lights up that part of your soul often enough that it doesn’t extinguish entirely.

I have this friend who’s an actress out in L.A. She comes home almost every December to spend some time with friends and family over the holidays and, it never fails, someone always asks her about her backup plan. “What will you do if you don’t make it?” they ask. “The thing people don’t get,” she explained over whiskey and ginger beer on New Year’s Eve, “is that I’m doing what I love. I have made it. I’m making a living acting and creating art and work that I’m proud of and that’s all I ever wanted. You may not see me on TV, but that’s not what it’s about for me.” The sentiment aligns so beautifully with this line from Big Magic: “You can measure your worth by your dedication to your path, not by your successes or failures.”

Liz doesn’t demand that you quit your desk job and pursue your long-hidden aspiration of painting a scene from the top of Mt. Everest or anything (unless you want to), but she does plant the seed and water it a little.

“Creativity is sacred, and it is not sacred. What we make matters enormously, and it doesn’t matter at all. We toil alone, and we are accompanied by spirits. We are terrified, and we are brave. Art is a crushing chore and a wonderful privilege. Only when we are at our most playful can divinity finally get serious with us. Make space for all these paradoxes to be equally true inside your soul, and I promise—you can make anything. So please calm down now and get back to work, okay? The treasures that are hidden inside you are hoping you will say yes.”

She also offers a bit of caution. Ideas are fleeting and can often be fickle. If we don’t nurture that grand invention or storyline or project that whispers in our ear, it might just pack up and move onto a soul that will listen.

“ideas are alive, that ideas do seek the most available human collaborator, that ideas do have a conscious will, that ideas do move from soul to soul, that ideas will always try to seek the swiftest and most efficient conduit to the earth (just as lightning does).”

It’s a quick read and I’d encourage you check it out so you can at least entertain the notion that a a little creativity can bring a great deal to your days. You don’t have to write a book, but start a journal. You don’t have to open a bakery, but maybe try decorating a birthday cake yourself. Plot out a killer garden. Put together a play with the kids. Just play.

Here are some more of my favorite excerpts from the book.

“Creative entitlement simply means believing that you are allowed to be here, and that—merely by being here—you are allowed to have a voice and a vision of your own.”

“Argue for your limitations and you get to keep them.” (1)

“So whenever that brittle voice of dissatisfaction emerges within me, I can say ‘Ah, my ego! There you are, old friend!’ It’s the same thing when I’m being criticized and I notice myself reaching with outrage, heartache, or defensiveness. It’s just my ego, flaring up and testing its power. In such circumstances, I have learned to watch my heated emotions carefully, but I try not to take them too seriously, because I know that it’s merely my ego that has been wounded–never my soul It is merely my ego that wants revenge, or to win the biggest prize. It is merely my ego that wants to start a Twitter war against a hater, or to sulk at an insult or to quit in righteous indignation because I didn’t get the outcome I wanted. At such times, I can always steady my life one more by returning to my soul. I ask it, ‘And what is it that you want, dear one?’ The answer is always the same: ‘More wonder, please.’ As long as I’m still moving in that direction–toward wonder–then I know I will always be fine in my soul, which is where it counts. And since creativity is still the most effective way for me to access wonder, I choose it.”

“The universe buries strange jewels deep within us all, and then stands back to see if we can find them.”

“But to yell at your creativity, saying, ‘You must earn money for me!’ is sort of like yelling at a cat; it has no idea what you’re talking about, and all you’re doing is scaring it away, because you’re making really loud noises and your face looks weird when you do that.”

“Do whatever brings you to life, then. Follow your own fascinations, obsessions, and compulsions. Trust them. Create whatever causes a revolution in your heart.”.

“Because the truth is, I believe that creativity is a force of enchantment—not entirely human in its origins.”

“Recognizing that people’s reactions don’t belong to you is the only sane way to create. If people enjoy what you’ve created, terrific. If people ignore what you’ve created, too bad. If people misunderstand what you’ve created, don’t sweat it. And what if people absolutely hate what you’ve created? What if people attack you with savage vitriol, and insult your intelligence, and malign your motives, and drag your good name through the mud? Just smile sweetly and suggest – as politely as you possibly can – that they go make their own fucking art. Then stubbornly continue making yours.”

“I have a friend, an aspiring musician, whose sister said to her one day, quite reasonably, ‘What happens if you never get anything out of this? What happens if you pursue your passion forever, but success never comes? How will you feel then, having wasted your entire life for nothing?’ My friend, with equal reason, replied, ‘If you can’t see what I’m already getting out of this, then I’ll never be able to explain it to you.’ When it’s for love, you will always do it anyhow.”

Big Magic (1)

“Pure creativity is magnificent expressly because it is the opposite of everything else in life that’s essential or inescapable (food, shelter, medicine, rule of law, social order, community and familial responsibility, sickness, loss, death, taxes, etc.). Pure creativity is something better than a necessity; it’s a gift. It’s the frosting. Our creativity is a wild and unexpected bonus from the universe.”

“A creative life is an amplified life. It’s a bigger life, a happier life, an expanded life, and a hell of a lot more interesting life. Living in this manner—continually and stubbornly bringing forth the jewels that are hidden within you—is a fine art, in and of itself.”

Mindfulness, Pages

10% Happier ain’t too bad

September 30, 2015

I just finished 10% Happier: How I Tamed the Voice in My Head, Reduced Stress Without Losing My Edge, and Found Self-Help That Actually Works – A True Story by Dan Harris, and it was a game changer. Like the majority of people seeking calm and clarity, meditation is certainly on my radar. I even tried to do it for 30 days straight, remember? While my initial attempt was a weak, failed effort for sure, this book rekindled my respect for the practice.

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I love the fact that Dan comes at the topic from a hater’s perspective. He isn’t a Buddhist or a zen master. He’s actually a bit of a self-absorbed prick. As a popular newscaster, he ends up covering a series of intense stories, which had a more severe impact than he realized and led to an infamous panic attack during a live news broadcast.

What followed, over the course of several years, was his pursuit of a little bit of peace, patience and control. He was trying to be less of a prick. The prescription that seemed to deliver – much to his shock – was meditation. Following the progression of his practice and facts from the perspectives of some of the most recognizable figures in that sphere was fascinating. Along with mindful pauses, the idea is to stop living for fruitless, empty endeavors, and be in the beauty and absoluteness of the present. I’m so guilty of this: I wake up at 5:40 so I can shower, so I can get the girls ready, so I can get JoJo on the bus, so I can  pull analytics before the 8:30 meeting, so I can write the article, so I can get lunch in time for the next meeting, so I can … It’s a hamster wheel that leads to exhaustion and frustration, with no satisfied conclusion or feelings of attainable joy. The people turn into a blur in your peripheral rather than the beautiful objects of purpose they are. This book is a convincing proposal for a more intentional life.

But by the last chapter, Dan, while undoubtedly a devoted champion for the practice, doesn’t make any unreasonable claims. Meditation isn’t a magic pill or fountain of youth. It does, however, make him about 10% happier, he decides. But think about what the world would be like if everyone was just 10% happier. Seems like it’s worth a closer look.

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Here are some of my favorite quotes, but don’t cheat yourself. Read the whole thing:

“But it was in this moment, lying in bed late at night, that I first realized that the voice in my head—the running commentary that had dominated my field of consciousness since I could remember—was kind of an asshole.”

“Make the present moment your friend rather than your enemy. Because many people live habitually as if the present moment were an obstacle that they need to overcome in order to get to the next moment. And imagine living your whole life like that, where always this moment is never quite right, not good enough because you need to get to the next one. That is continuous stress.”

“If you stay in the moment, you’ll have what is called spontaneous right action, which is intuitive, which is creative, which is visionary, which eavesdrops on the mind of the universe.”

“Striving is fine, as long as it’s tempered by the realization that, in an entropic universe, the final outcome is out of your control. If you don’t waste your energy on variables you cannot influence, you can focus much more effectively on those you can. When you are wisely ambitious, you do everything you can to succeed, but you are not attached to the outcome—so that if you fail, you will be maximally resilient, able to get up, dust yourself off, and get back in the fray. That, to use a loaded term, is enlightened self-interest.”

“The ego is never satisfied. No matter how much stuff we buy, no matter how many arguments we win or delicious meals we consume, the ego never feels complete.”

“What mindfulness does is create some space in your head so you can, as the Buddhists say, ‘respond’ rather than simply ‘react.’ In the Buddhist view, you can’t control what comes up in your head; it all arises out of a mysterious void. We spend a lot of time judging ourselves harshly for feelings that we had no role in summoning. The only thing you can control is how you handle it.”

“Marturano recommended something radical: do only one thing at a time. When you’re on the phone, be on the phone. When you’re in a meeting, be there. Set aside an hour to check your email, and then shut off your computer monitor and focus on the task at hand. Another tip: take short mindfulness breaks throughout the day. She called them ‘purposeful pauses.’ So, for example, instead of fidgeting or tapping your fingers while your computer boots up, try to watch your breath for a few minutes. When driving, turn off the radio and feel your hands on the wheel. Or when walking between meetings, leave your phone in your pocket and just notice the sensations of your legs moving. ‘If I’m a corporate samurai,’ I said, ‘I’d be a little worried about taking all these pauses that you recommend because I’d be thinking, ‘Well, my rivals aren’t pausing. They’re working all the time.’’ ‘Yeah, but that assumes that those pauses aren’t helping you. Those pauses are the ways to make you a more clear thinker and for you to be more focused on what’s important.”

“The ego is never satisfied. No matter how much stuff we buy, no matter how many arguments we win or delicious meals we consume, the ego never feels complete.” (2)

“Everything in the world is ultimately unsatisfying and unreliable because it won’t last.”

“May you be happy. May you be safe and protected from harm. May you be healthy and strong. May you live with ease.”