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Fear

Thoughts, Uncategorized

Thanksgiving and 31 flavors of joy

November 29, 2017

I’ve really been getting into joy lately. I think because sometimes, if I’m not careful, joy can feel like a bit of a unicorn. And, let’s be honest, who wants to live in a world where the most pleasant of emotions is as rare as a leprechaun sighting in Alabama? (Or is that really rare, after all?)

Here’s the thing, I fight fear like most people fight the flu; proactively minimizing my exposure and sniffing out supplements to stack the deck. That’s not only for my own sanity (though that’s the primary reason), but also to prove a point. Because sometimes I think those who seek to instill fear get the most pleasure out of creating the illusion that it exists. It’s the scary music. The mask. Sometimes I think that gets them off even more than carrying out the actual act that elicits the fear. I’m trying to strip it of its power. I’m trying to diffuse the pressure cooker of potential catastrophes lurking in both my imagination and my newsfeed.

It’s a work in progress. Some days I notice every nuance of the sunrise and some days I hyperventilate over whether my children will see their twenties.

But this past week I was so aware of joy, you guys. I was bathing in it. It felt more tangible than it’s felt in months. I could hear it, see it, taste it. Joy! In all its delicious flavors.

Why? I don’t know … lots of reasons. As the years go by, Thanksgiving becomes one of my favorite holidays. It brings some of my most treasured traditions. The 4-mile race, cold and challenging. It wakes me up and makes me uncomfortable in that way that can only be followed by extreme elation once complete. Then we go out for a warm, carb-loaded, maple syrup-soaked breakfast with a flowing stream of creamed coffee. Everything tastes like joy after a chilly trot in 30-degree weather.

Then I love going home to watch the parade with the girls, waiting for Santa to come down a crowded New York street, confetti flying around his jolly bearded head. Then the dog show, with the wild-haired breeds no one’s ever heard of. I savor the satisfaction of packing up the food we’ve prepared to share – this year, cucumber sandwiches, crescent rollups with garlic and red pepper and a vanilla bundt cake – and loading everyone into the car.

For the past few years, Hank’s Grandma Marge hadn’t been well. I remember two years ago on Thanksgiving, we all took pictures with Grandma, an unspoken nod to the reality of her condition and fleeting time with her beautiful face. This year, there was talk of babies and ripples of laughter. Life, it seems, has gone on, and there is still joy to be had. Next year, there will be a new beautiful face at our dinner. A sweet little boy.

Friday morning, all I had to do was have Hank get the red and green totes out of the attic for the chicks to release their unbridled cheer all over the first floor of our house. JoJo pulled out every homemade ornament we had – stick-on jewels and stretch cotton ball beards – and hung them on everything standing still. Every thing. She put a string of plastic snowflakes around the handle for the freezer. She threw gold glittered Christmas trees in potted plants. She was running around like Buddy the Elf at Gimbel’s. Joy! I said to myself as I saw it run past. This is what joy looks like!

And then there’s my Spike and her powder pink ukulele. I hear her sometimes, strumming the strings in a quiet corner of an empty room. She’s more of a songwriter, see. She’s about the lyrics. After two days of mumbling along with an unfamiliar melody, my brunette beauty came out and told me she was ready to share her song. She sat down, wearing nothing but a camp t-shirt and a pair of fuzzy boots, and she poured her little heart out.

Mya from Courtney Leach on Vimeo.

It was a song about Mya, who is our dog. But this tune was not about our dog, specifically. Mya was the name of the fictional dog who runs away in the song. It’s moving … haunting, and I’m kicking myself for stopping the video just shy of her dramatic finish; three deliberate strums and unbroken eye contact. She was so proud of herself and her moving tribute to puppies, even though she hasn’t been able to replicate the tune since. Joy, in the key of who the hell cares.

Saturday we lit the lights at my parents’ house. The Grand Lighting, as we call it. Every year, on the Saturday after Thanksgiving, my mom works her ass off to make all our favorites – turkey, deviled eggs, stuffing, broccoli salad, gravy and mashed potatoes – and we all sit around laughing over the same stories we’ve been laughing about for 30 years, while Dad bitches about outlets and breakers.

It’s one of those traditions steeped in self-inflicted inconvenience. My dad’s dad, Red, was huge on Christmas displays. In turn, my dad was. Until one year, he wasn’t. But the damage had been done. We all had expectations by that point. Not to mention the grandkids who’d come along by then. And so, with my mom taking over the helm, the exterior illumination show has gone on. And we, the display’s humble admirers, still stumble outside, bellies full and wine in hand, to watch as the strings of twinkle lights shine for the first time. And it’s one of my favorite nights of the year.

We sat down for a round of Cards Against Humanity afterward. I’m tellin’ ya, you just haven’t lived until you’ve heard your mother utter the phrase, “tasteful sideboob” or “Lance Armstrong’s missing testicle”. The sound of joy.

The final day of our long weekend was also Mom’s birthday. Matt took over Big Breakfast to give our folks a little break. This family tradition is rich in joy; loud, sticky, buttery joy. The people I love most in my life, sleepy eyed in plaid pajama pants, gathering around mugs of strong coffee and plates of dippy eggs. The cousins – an army of girls punctuated by one teenage boy – flip in the front room, meandering in here and there to claim cinnamon rolls. The only rule at Big Breakfast is to come as you are.

And finally, last night I watched my three little girls hang a full tote of Hallmark ornaments on our happy little Christmas tree. One by one they picked up the ballerinas, the snowmen and the penguins wearing ice skates, and assigned them to the perfect branch. The Grinch was playing in the background, stealing their attention here and there. I should have made them go to bed by 8. I should have turned the movie off. But, the joy … oh, the joy.

The more I learn to grab it when I see it, the more I think joy is always there. Sometimes it’s concealed in discomfort, like change or unexpected news. Sometimes it takes awhile to shine through. But it’s there.

Sometimes it’s true, I have to kill a fair amount of fear so the joy has room to grow, but, like I said, I’m working on it. Worry will be the most overpowering weed in the garden if you let it. And Lord knows it’s easy to let it. But joy is where it’s at, I’m tellin’ ya. Joy is the remedy and the resolution. Let it filter in through every crack and see you through every shadow. Feel it, taste it, hear it, smell it, look for it … every day, everywhere.

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.

Mindfulness

Drop the damn bananas

July 21, 2016

What if I just let go?
What if I dropped all the weight, right here, right now?
What if I managed to slip away?

Like the majority of my fellow estimated 152 million bloggers pounding the keys somewhere in the world right now, this particular platform is not my primary source of income. [I’ll pause here so you can recover from that shock. We good? OK.] Yes, I have an honest-to-goodness 9-to-5 job in the corporate world. You know, the one. Where women wear smart skirt suits with white tennis shoes and everyone keeps a carpal tunnel brace in their top drawer for days when it’s damp outside. This is just my side gig. My alter ego.

One of the perks of my big girl job is that I get to do a lot of writing and a lot of editing. One of my favorite people to work with is my main man Dr. Dave. You know that dance you do when engaging in a conversation with a hyper-intelligent human being … When you nod on the outside and say things like, “How interesting,” and “Huh. Really?” but inside your brain is like an Amazing Race contestant frantically trying to put the puzzle together? But then, like Steve drawing the final hint on Blue’s Clues (I will never acknowledge Joe), it’s all there. Bam! You get it. And it’s genius. Life-altering even. It’s the type of exchange that’s worth the work because the thought changes you. It expands and alters the makeup of your brain. That’s my entire relationship reading and listening to Dr. Dave. The guy has this gift for inspiring and shaking cores and soothing souls. Sometimes he takes a straight path to deliver his message, but often he invites you along on a series of unexpected U-turns and gravel paths before delivering you to the promise land. To the epiphany. Yeah … he’s one of those people.

Recently, Dr. Dave shared one of his favorite metaphors. It seems that some time ago, in a small village in India, there was an obnoxious monkey population. The primates were so numerous, in fact, the townspeople decided to round them all up and take them to a lovely little monkey farm in the country somewhere, where they would have a better life and live out the rest of their monkey days. To catch them, the people would place a bunch of bananas inside an upside-down bamboo cage with fairly narrow bars. The animals would approach the cage, see the fruit, reach in and grab the banana. With their hands clenched tightly around the fruit, the monkeys couldn’t remove their arm from the cage. The harder and longer they would try, the louder their screams would get. This attracted more curious monkeys who would repeat the same imprisoning process. And thus the animals were had.

Of course the monkeys could have escaped easily if they would have just let go of the fruit. If they’d just drop the damn banana they would be free to go swing with their posse through the mossy trees and throw poo like little jungle punks. But they just couldn’t. They were panicking. They were frozen with fear. They were reacting. They were trapped. Then Dr. Dave went on to define what constitutes a banana for us – that being the feelings or actions or situations in your life that elicit a strong mental or physical response. Probably detrimental. Likely toxic. Definitely negative.

Holding Onto Bananas

After reading Dr. Dave’s piece, I spent nearly my entire 3-mile run the next morning thinking about my bananas; The toxic things that I cling to and the response they trigger in me. The noxious notions that infiltrate my thoughts and ridiculous requests I place on myself.

I hold onto sugar.
Boo hoo, I know. But truly I’ve long battled some sweet, sticky food addiction demons. Growing up, treats and large meals were a mark of celebration. I, in turn, have carried this tradition on to my own family. Frozen yogurt, brownies, greasy gyros from our favorite place … it all adds up to a slippery equation of food + happy = reward. And who doesn’t want to be rewarded? Like, all the time. The problem is I’ve come to a place where those little white granules (perhaps the poop of angels, I hypothesize) now own me. They control me. They take me so high and then drop me on my head. But no matter how many times I tell myself – usually in the haze of a sugar-induced hangover – that I am done, I end up following the syrupy trail right back to the honey pot.

I hold onto perfection.
Real talk for a second. I started an entire blog based on this concept. Based on the pursuit of a perfect balance between all of the parts of myself that battle for time and attention. I want to see the world. I want to stop screaming at my daughters. I want to cook with ingredients I pluck from an organic raised garden bed. I want to kill it at work. I want to be perfect at this blog where I write about my pursuit of perfection. With my body, with my habits, with my profession, with my parenting, I hold onto these unrealistic expectations for myself so tightly that I don’t even know what a feeling of perfection would smell, taste, look or feel like at this point even if I somehow managed to reach it. Sometimes I think it’s just easier to keep looking past where we are rather than live contently in all the messy, dirty, imperfect bits of ourselves. Defining yourself as a work in progress is the ideal guise for an existence riddled with rough edges.

I hold onto fear.
This is a huge one for me. I’ve talked about my anxiety and I’ve talked about my struggles with parenting in this violent world here before, but truly, the terror I live with runs crazy-deep. I attribute at least some of this to the fact that I am a prisoner of push notifications. My job requires me to be online for the majority of the day. My phone, my laptop, my desktop, my television, whatever it is, there’s some horrifying news alert popping up on it. Flashes of events that point to the demise of character and kindness and sanity and love for humanity flood my newsfeed and thus, my mind. In one of my more recent social media-induced meltdowns, my brother (you remember Just Matt) told me to get a grip and remember they’re just leaving out the good stuff.

My thought of the day for you regarding the world we live in … You’re better off not watching the news. It will make you a happier person. Something negative happens and they beat it to death to keep you tuned in. Try shutting it off. The world is full of wonderful people, so many caring and selfless things happen on a daily basis, but that isn’t what anyone focuses on. All any of us can do is help one another and love one another and raise our kids that way and to not let a few bad people keep them from loving every minute of the short life we all get. The kids and I will sometimes pick up a bill in a restaurant for someone. They love it and you have to think that it makes that person’s heart happy and makes them want to pass that feeling along to someone else. Bad things have happened since man was created and always will, but at the end of the day people are good, that just isn’t news. The positives far outweigh the negatives on a daily basis, but just like the evening news, we tend to focus 28 minutes on all of the negative and just set aside the last 2 minutes to talk about how a stranger donated an organ for some child they don’t even know so they can live a happy normal life and love their friends and family. So shut off the crazy people on the news and focus on all the awesome people you are surrounded by on a daily basis, like me for starters.

– he wrote

And he’s right. I know he’s right. But then I go to sleep and have vivid dreams of nuclear attacks and running through crazed streets grasping my sobbing children and all the horrible things the dark parts of our brain push aside during the daylight hours. And I wake up drenched in sweat and succumb to the fear. How can I protect them? What would I do if …? Why is the world so broken? I feel helpless and small and scared to death.

I hold onto my routine.
Ask anyone who’s close to me and they will tell you I live and die by my meticulous schedule. They’ll also tell you it’s annoying AF. Almost any hour of the day I can tell you where I’ll be and what I’ll be doing with about 80 percent accuracy. Any deviation from this cadence requires additional planning to compensate appropriately. Any unplanned deviation has the potential to send me spiraling downward … smoking engine, towering flames, the whole scene. The thing is, it annoys me, too! I swear it does. But it’s a survival mechanism. Unfortunately, to conquer the Everest that is training for a half marathon, dressing and getting 3 children ready to go, working a full day, making dinner, doing baths, menu planning, meditating and getting a semi-decent amount of sleep, only, mind you, to wake up and do the whole damn thing over the next morning, requires a solid plan. Otherwise the wheels just fall right off the wagon. But there’s certainly a strong argument for a little more flexibility. A little less rushing along and a little more “in the moment”. But if I’m really honest, even when I’m cutting loose and playing along with the pull of the universe, I’m still calculating the time lost and required compensations in my head. Maybe that’s just being a mom. Maybe that’s just me as a mom. Maybe I’m a total psycho who needs drugs and liquor.

Free Bird

It’s brutal holding onto these bananas. They’re rotten. And honestly, it’s exhausting. So much of my energy is pumped into fueling these cyclical habits that positively drain me. So, what would happen if I just dropped them? If I let go and pulled my arm back out of the cage? Would I be free? Could escaping anxiety and shedding all that extra weight really be that simple? That obvious? Something I could have just done 5 years ago? Am I held by a trap I set out for myself? I don’t know …

If only bananas weren’t so sweet. You know how I like my sugar.

Thoughts

10 things Papyrophobics totally get

August 21, 2015

LJIZlzHgQ7WPSh5KVTCB_Typewriter

For as long as I can remember, I have loathed paper. It’s smooth, but sometimes grainy, and it just feels dreadful and sickening when you drag your bare arm across it. Strange, for someone who became a writer, I know. Strange, also, just for a human being, but it’s very disruptive and, since it has an official name, very real.

I don’t know if mine is a full fledged fear – Papyrophobia is the term – or merely a severe dislike, but there are certain instances that make my insides shrink to raisins, my arm hairs rise and the tiny whisplets of baby hairs around my face stand up. Any time any paper comes into direct contact with dry, scratchy markers or dull, catchy pencil lead the situation escalates to a point where I have to excuse myself. Certain stock or flat finishes are my kryptonite. Now, if it’s worn, recycled or glossy, I’m good. In fact, when I was in college, I used to take a fresh sheet of paper, wad it up, crumple it real good, spread it back out and use that to write notes. (This, my friends, is called owning my weird.)

Here’s the shortlist of situations related to my self-diagnosed mild Papyrophobia that reduce me to a shrieking, shuddering pile of goosebumps.

1.Hell, for me, is a room full of cardboard boxes, 3 semi-dried-out Sharpies and a directive to label.

2.The only thing worse than being forced to write a 20-page essay on printer paper using a dull pencil while wearing a short sleeve shirt, is doing all that on warm printer paper fresh out of the machine.

3.Whenever someone walks over to show me something on a document, I say a silent prayer that they won’t drag their fingernail across the page to reiterate the phrase they’re trying to highlight.

4.The best thing to come from the digital revolution was the decline of newspaper.

5.Magazine publishers who choose that thick paper stock that feels like it’s tarred and feathered in sawdust for their cover are just showing off …and also, trying to ruin my life.

6.When I get my People magazine every weekend, the very first order of business is to go through, remove the inserts and throw them directly into the recycling. Even if Jennifer Aniston is on the cover.

7.Everyone thinks I don’t send Thank You notes because of my chaotic life and endearing forgetfulness, but it’s really those crisp, disgusting white envelopes. Let me take this opportunity to thank everyone who ever gave us anything or did anything thoughtful for anyone who lives in this home, with its Papyrophobia-riddled matriarch.

8.Handling a new manilla folder is the paper equivalent of a shot in the butt with a footlong needle.

9.The charm of a good library book is the worn, wonderful, soft pages. There’s nothing worse than a tightly bound novel fresh off the press. Reason 387 why I also adore a good audio book.

10.If anyone ever wants to break me, forget the water boarding, skip the starvation, and just wrap me like a burrito in one of those giant reams of construction paper they roll around in elementary schools and put a paper coffee cup in my hand. I will wilt before you.