Sunday, October 15, 2017

It's a bummer to fear your president

You know how you let things go. 

You wear less make-up and stay on your treadmill longer because feeling better makes you look better.

You stop making starchy sides with entrees because greens make you feel better and more responsible.  

You don't dress up as much because you have a better time when you're comfortable. 

You stop expecting your president to act like a president because you're so repeatedly shocked by his behavior, you are becoming a chipmunk.

My husband used to yell out from the stands when our son was up to bat:  "Okay, you've seen it!"

We will continue to be disgusted, but not surprised anymore.

We've seen it.

Trump has already said things that are worse than his "moved like a bitch on her" comment, which still brings out every woman's ugly. 

But, everyone has their threshold. Even as Trump has challenged our ability to remain reactive, we all have the deal-breaker, a thing, the thing that Trump has said, done, been caught doing, or will be, that makes us put down the paper, turn from the news, stop reading Facebook, and just mentally start crossing off the days (1192, as of 10/15/17) until we can rise without taking cleansing breaths. 

It was the paper towels, for me.
No, that wasn't it.
It was the threat to withdraw federal assistance from Puerto Rico.
No. It wasn't that either.


Was it Trump responding to human suffering with delay, self-aggrandizement, and then assaulting the beleaguered, traumatized mayor of San Juan with punitive, antagonistic, shaming, and threatening language because she didn't love him enough for what he believed he did?

Yes, I think that was it. 

But now?

Trump, a spotlight junkie who rages when criticized, and turns vindictive when he can't get the praise he thinks he deserves, has taken it up a notch. He can't surprise us with tantrum-tweets anymore, so he's scaring us with terror-tweets. They start with "I might," or, "Maybe," or, his latest cliffhanger:  "There's only one thing that will work with North Korea..." 

It's always the "..." that bothers me. 

 have learned to keep my fear of terrorism in check, and can live with uncertainty and risk. But I've never wondered if our safety mattered less to our leader than a perfect political strategy to get back at someone who called him a name on Twitter. 

It is becoming imaginable that he will throw all of us under the bus and then hop into the driver's seat.

I've loved and loathed leaders of the past like you have, but I have never kept track of how many days it would be (1192) before we could stop worrying that our own president would run us over. 

It reminds me of kids who rail against their parents' rules, lobby for their "rights," fight to be understood and respected, and are unabashedly vocal because a) it poses no threat to their life to be vocal, and b) because if they think their parents are wrong about curfews, they also know their parents would lay their lives on the line for their welfare.

In other words, if they feel wronged, they still feel safe enough to act for change. They know that the people in charge have the interests of everyone at heart.

And then, there are children who live with unpredictable, chaotic parents who can never be trusted to show up, to aid, to guide, to impose a single rule because their first and foremost concern is themselves. Kids in homes like that never feel safe, never know what's going to happen next, often become hyper-vigilant while they wait for the other shoe to drop.

What will happen to us, they want to know, because Mom and Dad aren't emotionally or mentally present to make the question unnecessary. 

As Trump rages about being misunderstood, hunted, cheated, screwed over, and takes to  Twitter, deaf to the pleas of sane people not to do that, while more and more red banners appear at the top of national publications to tell you that something is happening that you must know about, we are constantly waiting for the other shoe to drop.

What will happen to us, we want to know, because our president isn't emotionally or mentally present to make the question unnecessary.

I wonder, as Kathleen Parker did in her piece on the subject,  if we are all going a little crazy with Trump's splattering of crazy all over the place, attaching itself to damaged minds while the healthy ones just try to look at anything else.

But while we are becoming more afraid of what will happen to us, we have no choice but to become less shocked by Trump's atrocious words because Trump's potential deeds could be so much worse.

But it's not forever. 

If he doesn't kill us, we will never appreciate life more than we will in three short years. 

Whoever is president will be Batwo/man.
In the meantime, I will think about how every day shortens the time left  (1192 days) before a grown up is in charge again. Until then, I will be the brave parent to my scared child.

It's a bummer to fear your president.

Sunday, October 8, 2017

In the ways that matter, we are each other

Who we are, still.
After 9/11, I went into a CVS to buy a curling iron and some light bulbs. On my way out, I glanced at the headline and photo on the cover of the New York Daily News. A boy of about five, wearing a yellow rain jacket was shown praying, his head bowed into tiny folded hands atop the coffin of his mother. 

I went to my car and wept, and wept for days, over this photo of the worst things in the world.

It wasn't like that this time. I was sad and depressed over Puerto Rico, and I was horrified and numbed by Las Vegas, but the feelings never rose and spilled over. 

I had fog, but no rain. I wondered what had happened to me. I worried that it might be happening to all of us. 

Last week, New Hampshire organized a food drive to help residents of Puerto Rico. On Wednesday, I took the list of "suggested items" to the store and while I shopped, I thought about the Las Vegas shooting and tried to grasp the loss; the children who lost parents, parents who lost children, friends and lovers who lost each other. 

I saw a photo on the way out of flowers, stuffed animals, and candles laid at the scene. Too familiar, now, this was.

A few nights ago,  right before bed, I read about the doctors and nurses who met the  unrelenting flow of injured patients in Las Vegas, many of them critical upon arrival, some who died right after.

"We just wanted to get them in and stabilize them," said one.

The massacre had already forced the disaster in Puerto Rico to the next rung down on the crisis ladder.

We can't keep up with them now, I thought; the disasters.

We can't stabilize. 

Up and down the streets surrounding the Statehouse in Concord, sandwich boards directed traffic: "THIS WAY TO DONATE."

Main Street had been closed off.   

On Capital Street, which runs along the south side of the Statehouse, a  line of orange cones divided the busy road and volunteers in fluorescent yellow vests,  four or five of them in wait, jumped to attention when a car pulled up.

They waved me forward.
"Thank you," each one said, as I passed.
"Thank you," was all I could say.

When I came to a stop in this make-shift drop off lane,  I was swarmed by helpers.
While they unloaded my car, I looked to my left where items were being organized for transport. Water, canned meats and vegetables, energy bars, food for infants.

I thought about the hands of those helpers. Sorting, piling, carrying, giving, offering.

I thought about the hands of the hopeful, and the hopeless, receiving my bag of dried fruits, my boxes of energy bars, a bottle of my water, my canned chicken. 
"Thank you," they'd say. Maybe they would be holding an infant, holding up an elder. 
I thought about a small child eating from a can of my peaches packed in water.

I thought about these miles and miles between their disaster and my spot in the drop off lane. And how, only a few weeks ago, we were all okay, before they were crushed. 

I thought about the Vegas victims in a different way now,  the morning they might have had, maybe one like mine, before it all blew up. Maybe they'd gone for breakfast, like I might have.  Maybe they'd dropped off items at a food drive, like I'd just done. 

I thought about the hands that helped them, the hands they held onto later that night. 

I cried then, to know I am these people before they lost each other.  I am these people before the unthinkable happened. This was not a shooting that happened far away at all, but one that was all around me. 

This has stayed with me. I am not letting it go.

It has hurt and healed my heart  to know, that if we have witnessed the unthinkable evil that a human can bring, we are discovering the unsinkable capacity for human connection, because of all we have in common - fear, compassion, courage, resolve, determination, spirit, and maybe more important than anything, vulnerability.  

We are these things. We are these people.  In the ways that matter, we are each other. 

God willing, we will never learn to be less.

Sunday, October 1, 2017

Teaching a sleepless toddler and an anxious dog how to be alone.

"You're going where?"
First, some good advice:

On a flight, if an oxygen mask suddenly drops from the ceiling, and if you haven't already died of terror, remember to adjust your mask before assisting others.

You are of no help if you're gasping through your helpful efforts and then just collapse. 

When our first child Courtney was a toddler, she refused to go to sleep without us in the room. Faced with the short-term agony of letting her cry it out, or the long-term agony of letting her sleep with us, we did what any weepy, sleep-deprived parents would do: we bribed her.

I went to a dollar store and bought a bunch of cheap toys, and a stack of  brown lunch bags. Every night, I placed a toy in the bag and after we finished the goodnight ritual, we offered her the "surprise bag," told her it was her time now, and that we would see her in the morning.

She was too young for language, but she understood that she had to wait for us to leave before she could open it.

Downstairs, through the intercom we'd hear the paper crumpling and little coos of  "Ooooooh!" She rarely lasted more than five minutes. We recycled the items for a while, and eventually traded little toys for cloth books.

Almost a year ago, my husband came across Abby, a ten-month-old English Pointer who'd been found roaming alone by a rescue organization in Texas. Abby's write-up on the site mentioned the words "energetic and athletic!" several times, but her eyes got to me and my husband, who had gone years without a dog, was all in.  

At the time, he traveled Monday through Friday, while I wrote at home all day. But, I am Gumby when it comes to beings I care for and so I said to my husband, "Sure it will be different! But that's okay! I'll just switch some things around."

"You're going where?"
To be near the dog, I moved from my girl-loft upstairs to my husband's boy-office on the first floor. While I took files and tools and lamps and finally, my chair, from the space, our cat Gus, who has napped on my desk and at my elbow every day of his five years, stood watching from the corner. 

Not surprisingly, Abby came with separation issues. She didn't trust our presence, she couldn't bear our absence and she craved constant, energetic and athletic! interaction. She paced in and out of the office, barking from the hall when she couldn't see me. She barked if I went into the pantry or when I typed. She barked when I didn't make eye contact. She barked at her reflection, at the leg of the piano and the ceiling fan. I couldn't talk on the phone. I couldn't do laundry or shower without Abby losing it. 

After three weeks, I had written half an essay and I'm sure it was about dog hair on my laptop. Christmas was coming and I'd done no shopping. I moved from the office to the kitchen table, where she could see me all the time.

"Just crate her when you need to write," said everybody I know.

But this seemed harsh when I put myself in Abby's place. How would feel if, after being rescued and placed in five or six short-term foster homes, my forever family put me in a crate just for being myself?

One pre-dawn morning, while everyone slept and I kept Abby company, it became very clear that sacrificing my own place to make Abby comfortable in hers had not helped either one of us. Because, there Abby sat, looking at me,oxygen mask snugly in place while I was struggling to breathe.    

In the loft, we'd pushed the rolled up carpet against the wall, and where my chair had been was an empty file cabinet. The lamps were gone. It was getting dark but I needed some staples and so up I went, and there in the center of the empty desk, taking in what little daylight was left, sat Gus.

I sat down on the rolled up rug and looked around.

Here was where I'd finished a third novel and started a fourth. Here, was where I'd memorized the oddly bent branches of a tree while talking to our son Sam on his campus walks, or to Courtney during her morning commutes. 

Here, in this small, lamp-lit space, was where I found perfect words to express my deepest feelings and here, was where I could look anywhere and see a thing that touched my life. 

Here was my mask.

Once upon a time, we got kids to stay with babysitters and sleep on their own and venture out to school without us, by showing them that "separated from" does not mean "abandoned by." When it was time for kids to go, we'd all learned that closeness not only isn't threatened by separation, but often may depend on it. 

And so, I handled Abby's need to learn about solitude, and my need to recapture it,  the way any weepy, work-deprived writer would: I bribed her. Her "surprise bag" is a special chew that she gets only when she is to be in her crate. In the several minutes it takes for her to mangle it, she forgets about us and just curls up. We started small, and now she takes herself to the crate when she hears the bag opening.  

Like our daughter learned, our dog learned: when people love you, no period of time alone lasts forever. Parents and other people come back. 

It's been several weeks since I unrolled the carpet, brought back my chair and files and lamps and feather-capped pen that my daughter gave me and placed Gus's nap blanket near the corner of my desk. 

It seems to me that sacrifice and giving are different, in that giving enriches us and the one to whom we give, while sacrifice obligates them, in some way, to pay us back.  

I couldn't sacrifice my loft. Abby had no money. She would never be able to pay me back.

And so, we gave her time and reassurance instead. 

Today, we're all better for it.     

Especially this guy: 
Gus in his spot, wearing his mask.

Sunday, September 24, 2017

A chance for all of us to grow will come with this goodbye

One of my blessings with one of hers
"What's the biggest thing on your mind right now?"
           ---My friend Maureen,over a glass of wine

Every so often, when I'm tangled, I go to the altar of Oprah and try, as she describes it, to "be still and ask myself, what is this trying to teach me?"

More often than my friend Maureen probably intended, that question of "the biggest thing"  has centered me even more than the words of Oprah.

One day last week, after dealing with a funk that has had me on my own nerves for a couple of weeks, I woke up feeling so much  happier and easier to please, it made me kind of, I don't know, nervous.

A funk is not lonely and exhausting like depression is. A funk is impatient and restless. A depression makes you circle the same negative thoughts about how wrong you were about life.  A funk makes you annoyed with anyone who interrupts your frustration to ask if things are better.  

And I'll say this about coming out of a funk.  When people claim that, in the middle of a weighty, confusing time, they just looked around and counted their blessings and felt better, I want to say:

You're not helping the rest of us.

You can know very well how blessed and fortunate you are. You can look out the window and see the sun shining, and you can reflect on your good friends, and your endless luck and serendipity and bullets dodged, and it will not make a bit of difference  if you are unable to shove the clutter aside and dig out the biggest thing on your mind.

Sometimes you have to look for it, that big thing that is corrupting the small things.

It is almost always something that feels beyond your control, a thing you want but can't get, or something you have and can't get rid of.  It might be about wondering if you're all you were, or knowing that you are, but won't be forever.

At age never mind, I've learned that "being still" can be harder than either locating the biggest thing or  what it is trying to teach you. It takes practice to  make it quiet enough to hear your own heart.   

My daughter will move to California next month. Have I known about this for several months?  Do I know that this is the most exciting thing that has happened to her? Do I know that she's wanted this for eight years, and that  if it were taken away from her, I would feel as devastated as she would? And would I do anything to help her open every door if the chance for her happiness might be behind it?

Yes, yes, yes, and yes.


Do I have total faith in her ability to seize this opportunity, embrace the discoveries and power through the adjustments?  You bet I do.


When I am grocery shopping and reaching for vine tomatoes and realize that I miss her, will I be unable for the first time in twenty-eight years to book brunch on Sunday, or meet for a walk by the Charles? Yes, I will be unable to do that. We had that brunch and that walk, our last for a while, two weeks ago. 

The next day, I woke up and my funk was sitting there. "I just wanted to make sure you knew that the greatest factor in close relationships is proximity," said my funk.

Soon after, I met Sam for dinner in Boston. We covered the usual subjects; his job, my writing, what everyone in the family was up to. We talked about change; expectations of a year ago, the ones which have or haven't materialized. We agreed that living in the present is about making it worth remembering in the future.

Said twenty-three year old Sam:  "I tell my friends when we're having a great time, 'You never know when you're in the middle of a great memory.'"

The next morning, I woke with the attitude I'd been looking for. The funk was gone and the biggest thing on my mind was what kind of hotel I would make my go-to when I make those trips out west. 

I opened my calendar. I envisioned the year that was coming. What the weather is like in Michigan in March, in California in August.

I planned four trips.

Two to California, to see Jacqueline.

Two to Michigan to see Courtney who has just moved there with her new husband, Ken-who-we-love.

I googled hotels and found places I will love when I visit.

I got street views of restaurants where we'll brunch,  and places where we'll walk. 

I thought about what I don't know now, but will have learned  in a year from now.

And mostly, I thought about what this now-gone funk taught me before it left: that inside every change is an opportunity to grow  that may not present itself any other way. 

This change in my daughter's life will change my own, the way it should, not only because of  the great memories that have yet to be made, but because I intend to be in the middle of each one.

Saturday, September 16, 2017

The people we're supposed to be

Several weeks ago, I wrote about events that were changing my world too fast for me to keep up. My sense of humor was at half-power, my perspective was tired.  Worse than anything – anything - I felt uninspired.   

That's fine, that's life. Life isn't about removing stressors as much as going where they can't find you for a while. 

For me, it's my loft where I write.  Proof of my life is everywhere, from the crafty things my kids made for me as small children, to my first published article that my husband had framed. In the loft, I write to soft instrumentals and can see and feel the changes in the sunlight throughout the day.  

When my stretch of stress began, I decided that this would be a good time to make a list of all the things I haven't accomplished and, you know, just do all of them right now.

My big busy-ness would force my big issues into smaller spaces. Woe-be-gone! 

I made a calendar of twenty-five objectives (including "write novel"), put all my plans on a wipe board with dates and placed it where I would see it every day.

And every day I did that.  I looked at it and thought of how I would feel two or three months from now, when all those goals had checkmarks next to them.

I made my writing a shield.

My writing didn't want to be a shield.  It wanted to be the proof of my life, which is balanced, satisfying, promising, lopsided, frustrating, and precarious right now.

One morning last month, the thought of even going to the loft made me anxious. I dreaded the feeling of having nothing to say, nothing to care about, nothing to share.


But then. 

One morning soon after that one, surfing a sudden, surprising wave of nostalgia and social energy, I sent a group text to a small clutch of women I've known for a long time but have been wanting to know better, also for a long time.  I suggested we get together for a simple dinner and catch up. It wasn't like me. I've always been more of a one friend at a time person. 

But not this day.

We met last week. There were stories, there was laughter, there was intelligent discussion. We shared big plans and great memories. We talked about ridiculous things that have happened to us in the past and learned more about who we are today.  Mostly, we made plans to meet again next month, a thing that feels to me like a puzzle piece that's been hiding under the rug.

If you are in that spot of impending change, when you are moving too fast toward the next thing to say a proper goodbye to the old thing, or you're realizing you have two choices which are to grow or stay the same, or you are realizing that pals really mean a lot to you and you think you need more of them, 

Here are some things that might help you along

Don't give up on new ideas too soon. Give them a fair chance to unfold because before things feel completely right, they can feel like mistakes.       

You can't solve anything while you're in a panic over solving everything.  Calm down. Leave your loft for a while. Ask yourself: What is the most important thing on my mind? Go there.

Even things you love can be stressful – work, kids, spouses, friends. Don't overreact. Words you've said will be louder in your head when you're not upset anymore.

When change is forced on you and you're overwhelmed, take regular breaks to do something mindless and productive. Clean out a drawer. Return that sweater. Wash and vacuum your car. Get rid of the cloudy tupperware things in the back of the refrigerator. Easy stuff.

Stay in motion - drive or walk or bike – while you think about what you want to do. 

Compare what you need to be happy to what you're doing. Where you're short, pick a thing and plan it. Look forward to it. Do it.

Mostly. Mostly. 

Think of the people who have the greatest potential to wrest your attention away from yourself, who will make you laugh, who will force you to consider the bright side of things, and then, even if it's hard, make plans to see them, or talk to them, or text them, or all of those things. 

Be their shield, and let them be yours. 

Saturday, September 9, 2017

Peace among the pieces: Standing up to anxiety

Here is person who looks
like she is being offered excellent
  anxiety ass-kicking instructions 
Not pieces as in ruins.

Pieces as in all the things going on in our heads about all the things going on in our lives: working, parenting, friending, spousing, dating and, especially now, college-ing.

My blog topics are pretty eclectic but I've been watching my analytics to see what people care about most. Of all the topics, those related to anxiety are in the lead.  

By a lot.

It's not surprising; one in ten people will suffer an anxiety disorder this year. One in four will suffer an anxiety disorder in their lifetime.

As I've written before, I am a recovering anxiety sufferer. But more important, I am an anxiety veteran who knows that anxiety's ass can be very effectively kicked.

This week, I was contacted by a reader who began suffering terrible anxiety with the start of a major life transition. I could feel the distress this person was experiencing from the words on the screen alone, but also because here is what is different about  anxiety today versus twenty or thirty years ago: nothing.

When I was a wee anxiety sufferer, like wee anxiety sufferers do today, I carried the feeling around that if I was free of worry, I was probably not looking hard enough.

As a twenty-something, I no longer expected worry to hit me from behind, I just started to scan and plan anything out of my life that could be worrisome.

My "brand" of anxiety at this early-career stage of life was to fear mistakes; not small ones, but catastrophic ones,  ones that would be permanent, unfixable, humiliating, and to make it especially terrifying, would cost me the respect of people I really liked.

I knew I couldn't avoid mistakes so instead, I avoided attaching to anyone enough to care if I lost them. And that is what anxiety sufferers do. To avoid the feeling that life is bigger than they are, they shrink it.

That's sad, of course. But what is really sad, is that only some know in their hearts that it's not  okay to be like that, that they do not have to live that way, that they were not born that way,  and that life will not be a long-ass uphill trudge, punctuated by moments of stark terror and the intense need to flee.

It's not. They don't. They weren't. It won't.  

Somewhere in those anxious twenties of mine, when the only thing that seemed right about my life was my appearance, I changed this behavior with one decision. I looked up a psychotherapist – the mere word was terrifying -  and made an appointment.

"Do you know where I'm located?" he asked.
"No, but it's okay. I'll figure it out," I said.
"Would it be easier if I just gave you directions?"

It was the bravest thing I'd ever done to that point, and I'm not kidding. For some people it is just as hard as it ever was.

This therapist was a sensitive, mid-thirties guy who exuded warmth and affability, a person you could not imagine being at odds with anyone.

At the end of the first session, he looked at me and said, "Well. I believe you're going to be fine."

It was the sweetest thing I'd ever believed  with no proof that I should.

The feelings at the heart of anxiety are so powerful that whether you are a wee sufferer or veteran, you begin to feel it must mean something about the thing that's triggered them.

If you are a college student for example and are experiencing unbearable homesickness and loneliness, it's probably wrongly crossed your mind that you aren't ready for college.

If you are an older individual going back to work and feel anxious every time you see that someone has responded to your resume, it's probably wrongly crossed your mind that you are no longer a fit for the workplace.

If you are trying to make a major change in your life, and the uncertainty of it all makes you nervous and upset, it's probably wrongly crossed your mind that you are making a fatal mistake, one that will saddle you with lifelong regret and so on.

Basically, at glacier speed because I challenged everything before I embraced it, I was taught to separate  the feeling of anxiety from the situation that triggered it. I was to treat it as a thing to observe and feel until it passed, but no longer infuse with meaning, no longer trust to guide my behaviors toward or away from anything.

Anxiety stopped managing me, and I began managing it.

Do I occasionally step on a rake on the lawn? Absolutely. Do the feelings of anxiety feel better? Not at all.

But when they come, I know they're going to go and go they do, and whilst waiting, I make no sudden moves or decisions.

And it is the best feeling in world after knowing you're going to be fine, to start knowing you are the one making it happen.

It feels good to be your own proof. 

If this post is about you, believe, however you do it, you will do it.

Sunday, September 3, 2017

I want to, I would, but.

Here is a picture of old,
safe habits, and fear of the unknown. 
In 2014, Jim Carrey gave the commencement address at Maharishi University of Management. 

The speech was hilarious in places but took a sudden, poignant turn when Carrey described the fear of failure that keeps us from what we want, but won't prevent us from "failing at what we don't want." 

"As far as I can tell, it’s just about letting the universe know what you want and working toward it, while letting go of how it comes to pass. 

Your job is not to figure out how it’s going to happen for you, but to open the door in your head. And when the door opens in real life? 

Just walk through it."

We know more than we think we do. Somewhere in the tangle of craving change, we know what we want.  

We know.

We might erect our own barriers – put change out of reach – but it's in there, what you would do if those barriers came down.

It might not be easy to make the changes you know you should. You might have to put it off. You might have to plan it out. But it might be most uncomfortable, because:

You don't not know what to do.

You do know. 

If you are a millennial in a job that you don't love with no idea of what you would love, you do know, even if it might disappoint your parents and won't pay as well.

If you are a married person  in a troubled relationship and don't know how your life would be better, you do know, even if you hate the idea of standing up for your needs.  

If you are a new college student who can't stop fearing the unknown enough to settle, and don't know what to do about it, you do know, even if you'll have to risk social discomfort to get there.

If you are a  harried parent who has over-scheduled your life to the point of exhaustion and don't know how to back up and recalculate, you do know, even if you have to learn to say no a lot more than you do now.  

At the start of summer, I drafted a new book in my head. I couldn't wait to sit and write it out. With every day, I imagined character traits and plot points and this one, I knew, could sing with plot.

At the start of August, I had yet to draft it. 

I would like to think I don't know why, but I do. I've been ducking it because I'm afraid that after I take a year or more to write it, it will be rejected, and the only thing worse than rejection is feeling like it was inevitable the whole time you were wasting your time. 

Bringing this goal from my head to the page has predictably, churned up old mixed feelings about working on something with only the possibility of fruition, and distant fruition at that.  

But I'm opening the door in my head. For now, I'm allowing that to be enough. I am going to stop saying "I don't know," when I mean "it's too hard." I am going to break the habit of choosing certainty over possibility. 

If for you, change would be doable but for the uncertainty and difficulty of it, think about changing that.  

Some things to remember while you are thinking about changing that   
  • You know what you want. You do. 
  • If you've been trying and not getting what you want, you haven't failed. You just haven't gotten what you want yet. 
  • Ask yourself what the first step is. Spend a lot of time  planning how you'll do that one thing. 
  • When you're doing something very hard, it's possible to have a happy heart and a cranky head at once. Don't let the head win. 
  • Provide for yourself at least what you give to others. Practice this daily, until  it stops feeling selfish to get your way. Then keep practicing. 
  • Don't be sorry about not knowing more. Worry if you don't care about knowing more. 
  • Sometimes, things really are as good as you feared they might be, and will stay that way. Trust. 
  • The accomplishments you're aiming for probably won't happen if you aren't willing to try as much as you hope. Love the work.  Love the work. 
  • If you're keeping yourself from a thing you want, ask yourself why you don't deserve it.
I'm beginning to see old, safe routines and habits as the tractor that is traveling 4 mph and won't pull over to let you pass.  It is the sawhorse at the end of the street that bars you from your  favorite shops and restaurants.

Seize the energy of September and if you can't go right out and get what you want, just imagine having it for a while. The door will open, the tractor will pull over, and then...

you can take yourself shopping. 

Saturday, August 26, 2017

Empty Next: What will you do with all that you?

My empty next - writing full time

When our four children were under eight years old, I remember asking my husband not for a spa day or trip for my birthday, but a weekend alone in the house. What would I do with a weekend alone in the house, he wanted to know? 
"I'll spend two days in my own company, in my usual surroundings and eat Triscuits and cheddar slices for dinner," I said. 
Sixteen years later, our youngest left home and there I was, facing endless days in my own company, in my usual surroundings. And was I still as thrilled to have the house to myself? 
Yes. I was. 
However, a new challenge was before me that I hadn't expected, and it was this: to put myself at the center of my awareness where my kids used to be. 
I didn't need to embrace my freedom or go back to school, or volunteer. I needed to learn how to come first again, which felt like wearing shoes on the wrong feet. 
If you're going through this, or think you will, let me offer some pointers for getting used to this quirky twig of the empty nest. 
Starting now, journal and keep track of how you're changing. 
Before our youngest graduated, I started journaling every day; putting my feelings about the events that were changing me on the page where I could see them. The following year, when our house was empty, the proof of how I coped with ups and downs was right there.
When you've filled your awareness with other people for possibly decades, that awareness needs to go someplace when they leave. Be the someplace. Write to yourself. 
Empty nest is only one of the issues. The other is about empty "next." 
I remember leaning in the doorway of the first empty bedroom feeling a need to do something. If your empty nest is a couple of years or less from now, I can tell you, the "something" must  be planned in advance. It shouldn't be a thing to help you pass time, but a thing you would do now if you had time.  
I went to the local Boys and Girls Club and signed up to help kids write their life stories. It changed my life to blend my affection for teens with a passion for writing. It was hard to make time for it while my son was in the nest. But it was waiting for me when I needed the "next." 
The ghost in the house. 
When our kids were at home, I loved 5:00 in the afternoon. It was when I settled into the kitchen for cooking and conversation and where I felt most connected to everyone. When the house was empty, the old rhythms and the new ones collided in the kitchen at 5:00.  
When the kids leave, they leave that behind – a feel and rhythm in the house that has probably taken years to evolve. This phantom "feel" to things  can sting at first, but it won't last forever.
It won't be just a change in what you do and who you see that will move you back to the center. It will be the new feel and rhythm that grows around you if you let it. 
 Everything up or down, is just right now. 
After I'd become pretty good at my new me-in-the-middle life, a mid-November day sent me into a sudden, near-panic at the thought of November days that would feel nothing like the old ones.The ghost was back and with it came the earlier feelings of disorientation.  
And then they went. 
I helped myself by remembering a thing I had said so often to our kids:
Everything up or down, is just right now. No level of intense emotion, happy or sad can be sustained forever, unless you're a chipmunk. 
What you expect, you'll make true. 
Notice the relationship between your expectations and what you experience. I did not imagine I would be lonely and I wasn't. I did not fear I'd wander, but planned to meander mindfully.  More than I noticed quiet, I felt peace. 
Think hard about what you expect from a day, because with amazing consistency you'll see things happen as you envision them, up or down. 
Your work on-site is done now. But you are not through parenting. 
My children had my love, all the patience I was capable of, and the best of my intuition and intelligence as they grew. As adults, our relationships are true, and deep. 
I detect, in the expressions of some in my parent communities, their sense that an uncertain time is coming, like distant rain; something that might be overwhelming and cold, even dark. 

I say, get your rain coat and umbrella, and keep them handy.  The rain may come, as it should, but so will the sun shine, and growing things will be grateful. 

You included.  

A version of this post was originally published at