Saturday, March 27, 2010

The Bridge That Carried Me Over

I have observed before how quickly I can go from zero to sniffly. To wit, this morning Spangles and I got coffee and a croissant and strolled down to Clark Park, which on Saturday mornings is a quintessential West Philly scene and one of the main reasons I'm planning to move there. Every Saturday there's a big farmer's market, people, children, picnic blankets, dogs, and when the sun is out and the people are spring feverish there's not a more festive place on the planet. Today there was a large choir of Mennonites in the square, singing some gorgeous hymns - practicing, perhaps, for Palm Sunday tomorrow.

I looked forward to the time when Spangles and I will live close by together, able to roll out of bed and ramble down there as frequently as we like. If we get the apartment we applied for, we will live but two blocks away.

As I chewed a big buttery mouthful of croissant, I was overwhelmed with one of those "isn't life grand" feelings, and looked up at Spangles, and up at the trees, goofy with pleasure.

Less than an hour later, as I headed back to my apartment while Spangles headed off on a bike ride with his dad, the morning's glow had evaporated. I felt kind of anxious and off, some rocks in the stomach, un-pin-point-able dread. Was it just self-flagellation about my messy, gloomy apartment and the plants I've been neglecting? Have I been spending so much time in the company of Spangles that, pathetically, I can no longer enjoy the company of just myself?

When I got in, I found that MamaBear had sent me an article she thought I would like. It's a woman describing her struggle with losing her job and deciding to move and trying to slow down to appreciate the little things - except much more eloquent. And as MamaBear rightly assumed, there's nothing I love more than a good story about a sleepless, heart-wrenched woman whose pain slowly gives way to hope and gratitude, and I read it greedily.

One part in particular struck a gong, as she was describing her decision to move, and I found that I had burst into tears. But at the same time, the clouds suddenly parted, and I had the realization "Oh, you're sad about moving away!"

Not sad about leaving the tiny galley kitchen or or the lady who yells her conversations in the laundromat below at 8am on Saturday mornings, or about the awkard backwards-hung front doors or the occasional rodent roommate or the dropped ceiling that collapsed on us last summer. And most definitely not sad about moving to an apartment (I hope I hope) with hardwood floors and a little grassy patch outside and an actual dishwasher that is an actual machine and not Spangles in rubber gloves.

But it will be the end of an era. This is and will be "my first apartment." This is where I grew from a bewildered, wide-eyed recent college graduate into a bewildered but increasingly cynical cosmopolitan city girl. This is where I had friends over, sometimes, where my sisters slept over on the couch, but more often where I was alone. This is where I first encountered that "real world" they so often talked about, with its electric bills and errands to run and groceries to buy.

This is where I learned all of my most painful lessons of adulthood - where I learned about loneliness, unemployment, increases in insurance premiums. This is where I first felt the strange floatiness when friends announced they were engaged and I realized that we were now at that age where we do that kind of thing. This is where I learned that people you know can die in tragic, unfair ways. This is where I learned that there can be times when bad news just keeps washing in from all sides and it feels like the only option is to crawl into a bomb shelter with some canned goods and wait for Armageddon. This is where I sat curled in pain before I knew the name for what I had. And this is where I cried about it, logging long hours of tears.

There were good times, too. Bottles of wine and rambling conversations, nights we climbed out the window on the the roof, hours I spent talking on the the phone with The Twin, gabbing and wandering in circles through the apartment. The time Steph and I melted a patch of carpet while conducting an ad-hoc ceremony to release negative vibes and boys who didn't love us. I remember painting the walls with T-bone when I first moved in, the care he took in teaching me how to do it right, like passing down a family tradition, the way he bought me all the paint but didn't say a word, even about the bright tangerine orange color. I remember the first time Spangles came over, for spaghetti, when we were both kinda realizing that we both kinda liked each other.

This is the apartment that got me where I am today. Who was it that said, praise the bridge that carried you over?

And even though I'm ready for greener pastures, preferably pastures to which I have exclusive access through a back door, I'm realizing that old truth about how beginnings and ends are hopelessly intertwined. I'm realizing that I do keep getting older, and even though I'm still young, I'm not that young, I'm not the child that I once was. I can rent a car without the extra fee, I can apply for an apartment without a co-signer, I can roast a chicken and serve it to guests. I'm remembering that this, right here, is my life, in which I'm in the process of writing the story of my twenties. The stories which, when my elders told me theirs, seemed so set in stone, so final, as if they had simply been the decree of the Fates from the very beginning, not an uncertain present with an uncertain outcome.

It's just the passage of time, the most dependable thing on the block, and yet it's always finding new ways to sneak up on you. Surprise!!! You are older. Surprise!!! You are moving in. Surprise!!! You are moving out.

What can you do but shake your head, after the shock wears off, and say "You again. You get me every time." And try to smile, and try to be grateful that you will be allowed to move again, move anywhere at all.

Here is my send-off, from Dominique Brown's article:

I settle into my new home; its healing balm has been there all along, nestled in a sofa that beckons me to pick up a book, hovering outside the window inviting me to take a walk. I find room in my life again for love of the world, let the quiet of solitary moments steal over me, give myself over to joy. What a surprise! That I can cook a meal for my children, or take a long walk on the beach, or watch an osprey wheel through the sky, or set down a page of thoughts — these are moments of grace. Old Testament loving-kindness, the stuff of everyday life.

One adventure is over; it is time for another. I have a different kind of work to do now.

Friday, March 26, 2010

The Examined Life

MamaBear said she never thinks about whether or not she's happy - so she guesses this must mean she is. This was food for thought for me, who thinks about that kind of thing all the time. I can't help myself.

Now, this isn't to say that MamaBear isn't a reliable source of great wisdom, because some of my most fundamentally comforting beliefs come straight from her - mainly, the conviction that eventually things work out and that if there's something you want to do you can find a way to make it work.

But still, I found myself wondering, what accounts for this difference in the way we think about the world? Why do I spend so much time pondering, and Mamabear comparatively little?

For one thing, Mamabear has had many decades to find her groove. She has a lifelong partner to whom she's been married for more years than she hasn't been married to him, several lifelong friendships, was and is a peerless Mommy, has a meaningful career about which she is passionate. And she is also a force of nature. I don't know how much contemplation the winds need to do, because they just are.

Still, for whatever reason, this gust of prairie wind spawned a sensitive, emotional little creature who wept over Little Women at age 10 and still does at 25. Just this morning I got tearful reading an article in the Kenmare News about how the Berthold Bombers high school basketball team got warm-up suits that said "4 Hope," to show support for one of their teammate's mom, whose name is Hope and is undergoing cancer treatment but never misses a game.

But sensitivity is a strength, too (after all the more sensitive an instrument is, the more it costs). I am good at understanding people's motivations and feelings and I am empathetic (sometimes painfully so.) I have accepted the fact that I am someone with a lot Feelings. My waters are often choppy, my mental space unpredictable and requiring a good deal of verbiage to get me to where I feel peaceful and like I know which end is up.

It's true, that at times when I have done a lot of temperature-taking regarding my mood, it's generally been because my mood has been unsatisfactory. Generally, I think it's good to hope that you would be so caught up in living your life that you don't have much time to think about it.

But I think what I mean when I say happiness - or happyishness - is a shortcut for something bigger. It's not necessarily that I am looking to walk around at all times like a big yellow happy face at a parade.

His Holiness Martin Seligman writes that it is perhaps more useful to think about happiness, which is so unspecific and can mean so many different things to so many different people, in terms of "the good life."

And I think pursuing a good life is what I mean by pursuing happiness. A life with good stuff in it, stuff I care about and find important. And figuring out what those things are. Things like helping and being there for people, reading, writing, walking in the woods, eating great food around a big table. Laughing, music, re-discovering forsythia every spring. Having time to rest and think and nap.

For me happiness isn't so much about the way I'm feeling (although, obviously feeling crappy is not helpful), it's about the way I'm living. It's about trying to get my life to be in line with my values.

MamaBear is someone whose values are clear. You can see what they are by looking at her life: hard work, family, participating in democracy, being informed about world events, practicality, efficiency, advocating for what's right even when it's not what people want to hear. I think if she had one of those "your days are numbered" type encounters that you hear about, there's not all that much she would do differently. Overall, it seems that she's doing what she wants to be doing. One thing I love about Mamabear (in addition to her unparalleled cuddliness) is that her money is where her mouth is.

And here in early adulthood, I am in the process of a) figuring out where my mouth is and b) attempting to put my money there. Which is kind of what keeping this blog is about.

So although MamaBear would probably never write paragraphs upon paragraphs dissecting the meaning of happiness, the fact that I do do that makes me more like her, not less. By putting all my Deep Thoughts into words, I am trying to clarify for myself what's important to me, so that I can live a life in which that stuff comes first. It's so that I can live a life that I believe in - just like she does.

Monday, March 22, 2010

Treatise on Happyish

Here is an eloquent summing up of the nature of happyish by a brilliant teacher and soul with whom I also happen to share genetic material:

And the other thing that helps me keep my chin up at times like this is the concept of "happy-ish," coined by a very brilliant soul-searcher/philosopher I know.(Ed. note: Aw shucks.) The idea is that, okay, maybe there's a pothole or a rough patch, maybe sometimes you're sucking in exhaust on the Jersey Turnpike of life... but overall, all things considered is the trend of your life looking good? Do you like where you are and where you are going? Are you headed vaguely in the right direction? Are there little things each day that make you smile, and bigger things to look forward to on the horizon? Maybe today you feel irked or unhappy, but in general, in life, are you happyish?

And here is another inspirational excerpt from her oeuvre:

Maybe it ain't so pretty at times, but a certain level of craziness is also part of my me-ness. It makes me think of of the hilarious, whimsical series Walter the Farting Dog. Walter's greatest weakness - his potent farts - also turn out to be his greatest strength. Somehow, in bizarre and unorthodox ways, his farts always end up saving the day.

So I guess I'm kind of like Walter the Farting Dog. I might be inconsistent and distractable and punctually-challenged... but I'm also spontaneous and adaptable and creative and can think on my feet. I don't know that I could be some of those things without being the others.

Let us all think warm thoughts toward Ms. D, who is working hard to help the youths of today embrace the promise of tomorrow, using only some masking tape, a Smartboard, and her potent farts.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Recipe for Happiness: Harbor Style

1.Make plans to go visit a beloved friend.

2. Drive down in warm spring sunlight with the windows open and the music loud.

3.Once you arrive, flap your jaws for hours the way you only can with someone with whom you go way back.

4. Go out for sushi, drink some wine, continue to flap jaws.

5. Go back, keep flapping. Drink some more wine. Start listening to songs you love until it devolves into karaoke using spice bottles as microphones. Before you fall asleep, have her tell you a silly bedtime story.

Serve warm. Enjoy.

Thursday, March 18, 2010


Yesterday I experienced the the benefit of aiming for happyish. As alluded to, I had a deadline and I was in that horrible college mid-terms 50% done and I've been working for days phase, greasy hair, empty pretzel bags strewn about, desperation in my eyes. Nevertheless, Spangles was in the neighborhood so I was taking a break to meet him for a cup of tea.

As I drove to meet him, I was full of panic and self-loathing about my project, my deadlines, my ignorance, my inability to just buckle down and work ceaselessly for eleven hours straight - I mean what's wrong with me? I had put on Whitney Houston's "I Didn't Know My Own Strength", so you know things were dire.

But are you happy-ISH?, I asked myself. I found my response to be, "Well...sure."

I mean on the other side of things, it's a gorgeous day, finally spring, I'm going to see my steady, I got paid, and I'll probably survive this project. Beyond today, life is pretty broad and unencumbered and free... so, sure, if I don't have to be weeping tears of joy like I just won an academy award, I mean if you take the long view...sure, I'm happyish.

Et voila. The miracle of lowered expectations.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

The Secret of My Success: 30% Perspiration, 70% Procrastination

Well, I am on two tight deadlines that are kinda of own making today, so naturally it was a great time to surf blogs and make exorbitantly lengthy comments on blogs I'd never heard of until an hour ago. Still, rather than letting all that hot air go to waste, I thought I would reprint my comments here. This was in response to a question from this guy's reader, who had a job that was not-so-slowly destroying his soul and wanted advice. Now this is a topic I know a thing or two about. Below, my response.


I am another one who has been there. Last year I took a job I knew I would hate, because everything kept saying how awful the job market was, etc. I was, predictably, miserable. Coincidentally (or not!) I also developed a chronic inflammatory disease that has been linked to stress and which has been very expensive and time-consuming but thank god is treatable.

All I can offer is what helped me:

1. See a counselor, stat! Even if you don’t want to, you don’t think you need to, you can’t afford it…whatever. Just go. Does the crappy job have benefits? Find out if they include mental heath. If not, go anyway. Someone will work with you. Make it work. The Psychology Today web site has a good finder tool for therapists.

2. Lean on your peeps. I leaned hard on my boyfriend, my friends, my parents, my cousins. I mean I was a *mess*. But it’s true what they say, you find out who your friends are. If you don’t have a strong support network, see item 1. But have the guts to ask for help.

3. “One is not got out of the cave, one comes out of it.” I think Simone de Beauvoir said that. The only person who can save you is you. I think the fact that Mark wrote this email is a good sign that he’s workin’ on it.

4. Brainstorming your options. OK, so the traditional “send resume, wait for call” approach is not working right now. What else could you do? Leave no stone unturned. Could you move in temporarily with family or friends to save money? Have a roommate move in with you? Move somewhere where you don’t need a car? Give up cable? Do you have a skill or knowledge set that other people would pay to have access to that you could advertise on craigslist? For me, even thinking of really heinous options was oddly refreshing. Thinking about how much of a personal failure it would feel like to move back in with my parents was kind of motivating. There is always a choice, and there is more than one. Thinking that the only two choices are “be miserable or lose everything” is just false.

4. Taking care of yourself. Getting enough sleep, trying to eat right, trying to get some exercise. I realize when your job totally sucks you dry and when you’re really in pain, it’s hard to do anything but numb out with food/alcohol/TV etc. Maybe think of one thing you could do that would bring you some energy, or just some fun. I hate to admit it, but all that cliche touchy feely stress management stuff kinda helps – going for walks, taking a bath, calling a friend, writing in a “journal.”

5. Hear yourself: the job is literally killing you. It’s literally sucking the life force out of you. Save your own life, man! It is really risky and really scary to jump out of a burning plane. So you have to pick – scary jump with uncertain outcome? Or certain death by burning plane?

5b. That said, you don’t *have* to jump tomorrow. As tempting as it is to drop it like a hot potato (and I’m not convinced that’s *not* the best idea), you could also start small. Start plotting your escape. Add one good thing to your life each week. Or take one bad thing away.

6. You gotta believe. I know all too well how hopeless and impossible it seems when you’re in the middle of it. You just have to go on faith that a better future awaits and that better possibilities await. It really doesn’t seem that way when all you can see is the reality in front of you. But it really is true, i’m telling you. When you ARE in the right place (or at least headed there), you can tell.

7. Recognizing that it’s the work of a lifetime to find out your life’s work. Mark has a really good start because he already knows that what he’s doing… ain’t it. Cross that one off the list. Every person has something that they can give to the world – sometimes it’s hard to recognize because it’s right in front of you, a passion or a talent that seems like no big deal because it’s such a part of you that you don’t notice it. But to put it another way, the longer Mark stays in this wrong job the longer he is depriving the world of what he has to offer. If you can’t do it for you, do it for the rest of us who need what you got!

My life isn’t perfect or anything now, but it’s waaaay better than it was. I still look back on that time and cringe. If there’s any use for it it’s the ability to tell people “no, seriously, just get out. it IS possible.” Changing my life around felt less like a magic wand wave and more like crawling out of deep well using only my fingernails, but at least I was going somewhere.

Even just from his comments, you can see Mark has a lot going for him – he is articulate, apparently well-educated, good vocabulary. I’m sayin’, times are tough. No one’s saying it isn’t hard. It’s easy to get discouraged. But you gotta fight for your life, the good life, the one your soul is rebelling against not having. In some ways, this is bigger than you. Obey!

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

The Sacrament of Sunlight

I almost don't want to mention it, for fear of jinxing anything but... I think spring approacheth!

The sweet, sweet, sun is shining; green shoots are poking up out of the dirt; the flower shop is selling tulips and daffodils; there are actual BUDS on actual TREES!; and the surest harbinger, pre-schoolers are out in their lines on the sidewalks, holding hands, being ushered around by grown-ups.

The first arrival of spring always makes me feel Scarlett O'Hara, dragging myself over muddy ground in a torn dress, all "God as my witness, I'll never be shriveled and pasty again!!!"

At least until next winter.

Monday, March 15, 2010

C'mon Get Happyish

I decided to change the name of my blog. I realized that what was preventing me from sharing it with a wider audience (although my current audience of one, The Twin, will always be among my best) was that the title was just too earnest. Some days I am that earnest, but not all the time. Sometimes I like to land sassy side up.

Why Happyish? For one, I believe in setting achievable goals. For two, you would not believe how many blogspot domain names involving happiness are already taken.

Not to say that one couldn't sail right past happyish into the wide wide world of full-on, balls-out happi*ness* some days, but why set yourself up to fall short of the mark on days that are, all things considered, slightly above average. If you happen to knock it out of the park once in a while with straight up joy, all the better.

I think it acknowledges the reality that although it would be nice, you can't walk around in a effervescent glow of happiness at all times. Life is tricky; sh*t happens; happiness is slippery. So if at the end of the day you do all the adding and subtracting and wind up with a positive number, and overall you are happyish, then great. There are a lot more Greek Tragedy-esque ways it could've turned out. I mean, just read the newspaper. Happyish is nothing to sniff at.

Reading Material for the Chutes & Ladders of Life

Here's a list of directives from the ZenHabits blog on how to be a positive person. Like a lot of these types of suggestions, they include nothing new under the sun, but it's the implementation that's the hard part:

Realize it’s possible, instead of telling yourself why you can’t.
Become aware of your self-talk.
Squash negative thoughts like a bug.
Replace them with positive thoughts.
Love what you have already.
Be grateful for your life, your gifts, and other people.
Every day.
Focus on what you have, not on what you haven’t.
Don’t compare yourself to others.
But be inspired by them.
Accept criticism with grace.
But ignore the naysayers.
See bad things as a blessing in disguise.
See failure as a stepping stone to success.
Surround yourself by those who are positive.
Complain less, smile more.
Image that you’re already positive.
Then become that person in your next act.

I've been reading The Happiness Project, too, and she also has her own list of twelve resolutions to live by, and her blog readers write in with many more.

I too work on creating my guiding principles each year when I do my yearly goals - the method I use has you focus on three guidelines for the year that you set for yourself.

It seems like I've been working on this for years - trying to assemble a comprehensive list of guiding principles based on wisdom gained from my own or other people's experience - the Gospel of Liklik, if you will. I probably have pages and pages of these scattered over the various notebooks of the years. Perhaps this blog is a good place to try to assemble a comprehensive collection? An ongoing work.

I often find myself wishing for my own version of "scriptures" to read over when I'm feeling at a loss or particularly un-wise. I'm afraid that actual scriptures, while replete with many useful nuggets, are rather abstruse to parse through when you're looking for a quick hit of inspiration.

I do in fact have a binder I started in college to be my own little Book of Comforts. I collected in it poems, clippings, quotes I copied, things I printed off the internet - but after it filled up I kind of gave up on a second volume. The first is rather worse for the wear after a run-in with cat puke.

Ever since karaoke a couple week's ago I've had a line from Destiny's Child stuck in my head: "If I surround myself with positive things..." - that's kind of where I'm at right now. Another blog I was reading spoke about paying attention to what you're giving your attention to. Trying arrange for myself a feedback loop of the positive, the inspiring, the good.

And I should qualify, I don't mean smarmy fake positive. I mean gritty, earthy, maintaining-my-belief-in-the-human-spirit-against-all-odds positive. A positivity that can stand with composure in the face of earthquakes and devastation, poverty, injustice, unfathomable loss. A hard-won, single-weed-growing-out-of-the-concrete-cracks type positive.

And also the kind of positive that says yes, embrace all the chutes and ladders of life, believe in your own possibilities, your capacity for joy and bringing joy to others and survival and the capability to overcome and accomplish and thrive.

To life! And also, back to work, to make good on all this grandiose talk of positivity and self-actualization.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

You're Gonna Miss This

Life continues. I find myself at Sunday again, preparing for the week ahead. Ideally this is a day of return for me, a chance to pause and reflect on how things are going, how I want my life to be, and do some tinkering. The same stuff comes up - money, food, reading and writing, free time, cleaning, things to look forward to. Last week was such a whirlwind and I didn't get much of a chance to do the things I know I want to be doing.

Yesterday as Spangles and I were walking home through the rain, I found myself eager to get there, and also to Get There. Gretchen Rubin's blog mentioned the arrival fallacy the other day - the idea that we'll be happy and everything will be perfect just as soon as we Get There Of course, once we do, something else is always on the horizon. We think our way full-speed through life only to realize that um, it's over.

Trace Adkins has a song called "You're Gonna Miss This". The chorus goes like this:

You're gonna miss this
you're gonna want this back
you're gonna wish these days
hadn't gone by so fast

these are some good times
so take a good look around
you may not know it now
but you're gonna miss this

I tried to keep these lyrics in mind as we traipsed down 23rd street. This was that that weekend when we shared a meal with friends, and found our way over to their friend's ironworking studio, where the fires were burning and people stood around drinking beers and making stuff out of metal and a shop cat slept beneath the furnace. The weekend the streets were full of St. Patty's revelers dressed in green t-shirts and plastic beads and soaked to the bone. That weekend we had breakfast at Local 44 with toddlers at the tables on both sides who meandered over and inspected us wordlessly. The one where I lingered in the thrift shop and bought sweaters and an old-fashionedy suitcase, we had fondue at Bren-bren's, where Spangles and I dreamed and planned for the apartment we're going to share. When I had a full delicious Sunday completely to myself, to do whatever I want to with it.

These are some good times, so take a good look around.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Happiness Playlist: Just for Today by India Arie

I am gonna shine (shine, shine)

Just for today
I will not worry what tomorrow will bring, no
I’m gonna try something new and walk through this day
Like I’ve got nothing to prove, yeah
Although I have the best intentions
I can't predict anyone's reactions
So I’ll just do my best
I'll put one foot in front of the other
Keep on moving forward
And let God do the rest

I don’t know what’s gonna happen
That’s alright with me
I open up my arms and I embrace the mystery
I don’t know what’s gonna happen
That’s alright with me
I open up my arms and I embrace the mystery

Just for today
I’m telling the truth like it's going out of style
I'm gonna swallow my pride and be who I am
And I don’t care who don’t like it, yeah
I feel the fear but I do it anyway
I won't let it stand in the way
I know what I must do
There’s no guarantee that it’ll be easy
But I know that it’ll be fulfilling
And it's time for me to show, improve

It’s okay not to know
Exploration is how we grow
It’s ok to not have the answer
Cuz sometimes
It’s the question that matters

I don’t know what’s gonna happen
That’s alright with me
I open up my arms and I embrace the mystery
I don’t know what’s gonna happen
That’s alright with me
I open up my arms and I embrace the mystery

Recipe for Happiness- Double Feature

Sea Food for the Soul:

1. Acknowledge to yourself and/or your traveling companion that you are damn tired.
2. On your way home, plan a small detour to a spot by the water (Kiptopeke State Park in Virginia is nice, but anything local and in season will do)
3. Get out the car, take a deep breath, gaze out onto the sparkling water ripples. (Sunny days are best for this; even more delicious if you are incredibly sick of winter and it's just starting to be spring.) Keep breathing throughout.
4. Go down to the shoreline; remove shoes and socks.
5. Dig your toes into the sand, walk along the edge of the water, observe the doggy footprints, listen to the waves lapping and the birds chirping. Admire the way the sun clings to everything and makes it lovely.
6.Keep walking until your brain mellows out and starts to match the rhythm of the waves and the sunlight and quiet soaks in.

This recipe makes a happiness with a mild, relaxed flavor which can be enjoyed even if you're tired. It can be ready in fifteen to twenty minutes if the ingredients are already on hand.

Breakfast of Champions

1. The night before, come home to your sweetheart. If you've been apart for a few days, this recipe can be particularly fresh. Enjoy each other's company.
2. Sleep until you wake up. Be sure to plan in advance that both of you have nowhere to be in the morning. Add some lazing or lolling about if desired.
3. While your sweetie sleeps in, work on downloading songs for your happiness playlist. (I'm into India Arie lately, but season to taste.)
4. When your sweetie wakes up, go together to the coffee shop around the corner. Order a large coffee with cream and a healthy muffin.
5. Sit outside and watch the neighborhood go by: dogs, bicycles, people, cars. If a sparrow or other bird approaches fearlessly close, feel free to toss it breadcrumbs - harbingers of spring are especially nice this time of year.
6. Enjoy the burgeoning hint of warmth in the air and soak in subdued morning sunlight.
7. Linger as long as you feel like it.

Monday, March 8, 2010

A Postcard from Petulance

Greetings from the middle of Travelapalooza with The Parent Company. In many ways I have been dreading this week for a long time: a presentation to make to people I'd never met about a topic I don't know much about; two important deadlines in addition, and not a lot of time to work on them; early mornings (never a strength for me) that include a weekend day (a personal blasphemy); being away from my routine and my plants and rituals; wearing control-top hose; and I'll be honest, Bossman? He snores. Loud.

The tricky part of working for the Parent Company is that it's no trouble at all to stick me in a hotel room with them, thereby forcing 24-7 togetherness, which can be lovely, like the dinner and conversation I had with Bossman, or it can be, frankly, a little cramped (e.g. Bossman's choice of the infomercial for "Celtic Woman" as background music at this moment, which as far as I can tell is a lot of really perky women, presumably Celtic, dancing around in prom dresses while playing the violin?) . I'm not hatin' on the choice for his particular life's situation, I'm just saying that a supertogetherness trip such as this doesn't really give me as much of a chance to get away to do my own thang, as it were. And let's be honest, you can have a lot in common with anyone and still not want to do the exact same thing at the exact same time as them at all times for three days straight. The possible exception here is the Twin.)

This trip is something I've been fretting over for the last few days. Naturally, I couldn't just leave it at dread, I needed to add a little soupcon of guilt on top for color. I live in fear of being held ungrateful; the threat of being told I'm acting like a spoiled brat is the kind of epithet that has keeps me suffering in silence for many moons. I have a hard time complaining; I have a hard time not complaining.

So I will disclaim with the following: it's a good job; I like the (usually) flexible hours; it's interesting work and I don't spend my days feeling like I'm wasting away in margaritaville; i've been given a lot of trust/responsibility which it normally takes much longer to earn in a professional setting except that I kind of have a long-standing relationship with the Bosses, what with them also being my parents; also, it's a recession, I'm lucky to have a job at all, etc. etc.

That said... I'm having a hard time admitting that I'm dissatisfied with the current status of things. Which is, whirlwind pace, 6am wakeups, long hours over the powerpoint, short turnarounds, tight deadlines, pressure, stress.

I'll be honest wich'a , this job appealed to me on the grounds that it would, the opposites of those things. Make some copies, schedule some appointments, write up some reports, then go home and live your life.

It almost feels like sacrilege to say that. I am the daughter-slash-employee of two very committed, passionate, motivated, hard-working, hard-driving, high-expecting, high-achieving, long-distance sprinting people. In one sense you could say they are now living out their life's aspirations, making the most of careers they have worked hard in and sacrificed for most of their lives, paths and lives which they have chosen for themselves. So if homies are doing the all-night transatlantic consultant shimmy in the pursuit of achieving their career ambitions, it makes sense.

But pour moi? It's not, you know, like that. And I hear them, I already hear all the arguments in favor of said business trip: that it needs to be done, it's good experience, it's seafood dinner, it's travel, it's the opportunity to see knew places and get paid, work is work that's why they call it work. I hear all this, and none of it's untrue.

Buh like...I'm sorry, it's still not my jam. It's as if my momployer and dadployer are really accomplished collectors of an incredibly rare and well-regarded collection of, I don't know, bird's nests, and I totally respect that and I can groove with that. But they're all "Isn't this great? Don't you want to see a whole 'nother building full of these totally different bird's nests? Don't you want to drive all night to go to this really important nest-collecting area and then hang around with bird's nest collectors for three days talking shop? Isn't this rad?"

It's like, uh, homies? Again, much respect for your passion and for the importance of bird's nests, and I am genuinely glad that you have something with which you are like a pig in mud, but the answer to those questions? Is nooottt reaaallllly.

Look, part of it is generational. The babyboomers are all about work, it's what gives life meaning and pizazz. But how to explain that for me, it's non-work that gives life meaning and pizzaz. It's not that I have something so all-fired important to do that I can't suck it up and go live in a hotel for two nights. But for me, this stuff like mucking around with blogs, and listening to music, and having farting contests with Spangles, and eating sushi with friends, and sleeping and walking around watching the city and reading stuff, is what's important to me. Life, man! The good life! Fun, pleasure, meaning!

I found this web site over the weekend with links to all these articles about "my generation," (that is, Generation Y), and apparently one of our main characteristics is a commitment to "work/life balance" and having fun. I'll say that I highly doubt those articles were written by a Gen Y member, because I hafta say some of them sounded a little...judge-y.

It's about preference, people, it's about lifestyle. I will reserve judgment about what might look to me, frankly, to be a busy, stress-y, crazy choice of life, if you reserve judgment about what might look to you like a life a shirking responsibility, entitlement, unwillingness to do the hard work that's required.

What I'm saying is, required for effing what? I won't even indulge in the ranting rave about what can we really believe in in this bankrupt world of unethical corporations that are constantly looking for ways to dick you over for fun and profit and terrorist attacks and joblessness and politicians who can't keep it n their pants etc. etc. I mean honestly society, what have you done for me lately? Why should I feel any kind of allegiance to you? Doesn't it make perfect sense for me to be looking out for number one, in particular my brunch preferences? As one of these articles pointed out, my formative years had a big old flaming set of towers hanging over them, and all I know is that what we reached for at a time like that was not our WidgetCorp key cards. It was each other.

What all of this might just be a roundabout way of saying, and then I swear I'll let it go, is I wish the Bosses would acknowledge that this trip, perks though there may be, is not how, if given the choice, I would spend my time. And that for them, it kinda is.

Long story long, I felt I did a solid presentation today that still allowed me to be honest about my level of expertise (or lack thereof.) I just kinda decided a) as an experienced tour guide, if there's one thing I can do it's speak publicly, and 2) all I can do is go out there and speak my truth, such as it is. And now I've got the headphones in with the inspirational music playing, jammies on, broiled seafood combo platter in the belly, and I'm just riffin' out in blogworld, so it appears I'm going to make it to another day.

I just have to remind myself that it's a work in progress, and I'm just going to keep working on some of these HR aspects until we have all reached a situation of mutual satisfaction. For one thing I already talked about "working from home" more.

To conclude, I decided that I should sharpen my skills as an optimist by starting a new feature on the blog called The Twist o' Optimist - or maybe The Upshot - wherein, after a long, winding and whiny post like this one I try to sprinkle a little fairy dust on it, and see, if not perhaps the best in things, the better.

So, for example: this hotel mattress is durned fluffy; Brandi Carlile is rocking my world right now with her lyrics about have you ever wandered lonely through the woods; I'm typing this on my brand new computer that's all mine and I'm not even plugged into a power source!; I got to wear my big-girl pin striped skirt; I got some new decorating ideas from the hotel; and at least tomorrow I don't have to wake up at 6am.

It's something, my friends. It's something.

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Hitting the Reset Button

So the shitstorm is a-wailin' at the Parent Company, and I am like the foolhardy TV reporter clinging to the sideways palm tree.

I awoke in the middle of the night with a stabbing pain in my neck and shoulder, and rolled around in bed, on the floor, back in bed, with pillow, without pillow, got up and tried yoga poses, got back in bed and tried to ignore it.

Interrupted sleep is always such a rude surprise to me, because normally I'm an excellent sleeper. Among the best.

I finally took some Tylenol and tried the last, and least palatable, trick in my book, which is just to sit with the pain and focus on breathing in and out. (This trick is courtesy, well, lots of people over the years, but most recently I've been reading Full Catastrophe Living by Jon Kabat Zinn). When I allowed the pain rather than mentally running from it full-speed, I realized that it was coming in dull spasms that were a good 1 - 2 breaths apart. I found that I was able to calm myself down enough in between spasms that I got drowsy and finally fell asleep again.

As you might guess, I did not arise in the most rosy-cheeked and resplendent of moods. I had to get to the Parent Company earlier than my usual time, which meant rush hour traffic, I'd slept through the time I'd allotted to take a shower which was, to put it delicately, sorely needed, and it was raining, and I made my instant coffee in the dark and dumped in too much grounds so it tasted like crap-syrup. Plus, my right neck and shoulder still hurt like a beast.

Despite playing my emergency inspirational playlist entitled "Hold On," on the way to work, I was in decidedly poor shape by the time I got there.

I decided I needed to start over. Just go to the start menu, hit shut down, wait 30 seconds, and then reboot. I started with calling the massage place and scheduling a same-day appointment.

I've never had a massage before today and it both was and wasn't what I expected. Was, because it felt reeeallllly good, and I was pretty much zoned out drooling about two minutes into it. What was surprising was a) tearing up when she placed her hands on my head at the beginning and b) when she finally hit that sweet spot right where the ouchies were, I felt an immediate zing back down to the old irascible colon. It was like the ball of tension got scared out of its hiding spot and settled right back in its colon-cave, like a hermit crab of dull pain.

And what I was surprised to feel while I was facedown on the massage table drooling up the carpets, was something almost like remorse. It was like: wow, body - we've been in like, actual pain here. We've spent so much of the past year in physical and psychic pain, and I've been in such a hurry to leave that all behind, but my body has forgotten much more slowly than the rest of me.

And I started to feel sorry. I'm sorry, body, for yelling at you so much. I know you don't have language so you have to get the message across in whatever way you can. I spend so a lot of time plugging my fingers in my ears saying "shut up shut up shut up, I don't have time for this now!" when it's telling me we're tired, we're hungry, we're stressed out, we're still. in. pain. I keep trying to placate it by swallowing my palmfuls of pills, but it's like a pet that doesn't totally understand the whole gist of it all. All it understands is it hurts, it hurts, it hurts, and you gotta respect that. You can't just be like, "Hey, walk it off."

I felt sorry for dragging it all over town, stuffing in whatever food is on hand at whatever time is most convenient for the rest of my agenda, sorry for guzzling down caffeine as a replacement for rest, for energy, for the Life Force itself. Sorry for slapping it around and making it wear underwear with holes in it and skipping the night-time toothbrushing and forcing it to squint at streetsigns rather than taking the time to get a new pait of glasses. No wonder it's going on strike.

And I was sad to hear a phrase echoing back to me which I'd heard before from myself during those dark times when I was sick, like really sick, something the doctors couldn't tell me but which I nonetheless knew to be true. My body was speaking to me and it was saying, "Liklik, your life ain't right."

Dammmmmm. I mean haven't I learned this by now?! I thought for sure I had skipped merrily into the light, into a life of contemplation and yoga and watering my herb garden and reading personal growth books and writing in my journal with a special pen. But here I am with the rest of the mortals, running around like a headless chicken, pace too fast, demands too much, apartment like a bomb went off, playtime not nearly enough, and the herbs are all dead, dead, dead.

I left the massage place in a quasi-dream state. I felt like everything was in slow motion. "Keysss...keysssss...I need car keys now. Car keys. Caaarrrr keeeeys." The world seemed very loud and seemed to be moving very fast. I found myself crying in the car again, but these weren't like frenetic stress tears, or Dane Cook "I tried my best" tears. These were slow-moving tears from down in the bedrocks, tears that cried themselves with great compassion, out of respect for the great quantities of grief and pain there can be and is and will be in the world over. The tears of a sage! The tears of person whose people have lived through war and sickness and evil but kept living despite it all!

I came back, drank some water, took a hot shower. I consult the voice of reason. She says, it's not to late to start again. She says at least you know where you are, because that will help you get where you want to be. She says start over. Begin again, and again, and again, and again, forever and ever amen.

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Course Corrections

On Sunday, I was in the mountains of Pennsylvania on snowshoes, gazing at snow-sprinkled trees, trying to remember the words to "The Road Not Taken," by Robert Frost, spinning a historical fiction yarn in my head set in the adorable town-formerly-known-as-Mauch-Chunk, all but giving Spangles affectionate little eskimo nose-rubs.

Congratulations to me, I said to myself. I am turning the disappointment of a canceled trip to upstate New York into a spontaneous romantic weekend getaway into the foothills of Poconos with my beloved, not to mention living the life I've imagined, carpe-ing the diem, enjoying nature, all the types of things I'm always saying I ought to do to live a happy life.

Fast forward to Monday night, when I was in the car headed home from work, nauseous, scream-crying "I don't know! I don't know!" over and over again to myself in a primal-therapy-like fashion. I was what you might call a touch stressed out. I'll spare you the details, but suffice to say the basic story was, too much to do, too little time, coupled with the all the rationality, reasonableness and perspective that accompanies the ole' cyclical female hormone spike.

How did my zen-like weekend state unravel so quickly?, is I want to know. Granted, Mondays are always hard, a crash landing back onto Planet Goal-Orientation, made all the more difficult by a pleasant, relaxed weekend shuffling and daydreaming my way through the sylvan hollows.

But I have been helped immensely in situations like these by an internal project I've taken on, which is the cultivation of my Voice of Reason. She's like my wise, sassy, kind, don't-take-no-shit-from-nobody sidekick, who's there to slap some sense into me when I go off the mental deep end (which happens in some form or another pretty much like every fifteen minutes.) For example:

Me: OMG I can't believe I ate TWO porkchops for lunch! I am such a glutton! I am like one trip to Pizza Hut away from being the subject of one of those late night documentaries on TLC about the morbidly obese people who have to be cut out of their homes with a bulldozer to get to the gastric bypass operation! WHEN are you going to figure out PORTION CONTROL you fat stupid lazy moron?!!

VoR: Yeah, Liklik? With all due respect, you were hungry, so you ate lunch. It was pork chops and veggies. This is not a red alert situation. You can always go for a walk or something later. Let's move on with our life. K?

Isn't she smart? She's nice but no-nonsense. Actually she kind of sounds like my Aunt Jane. And she always has something good to say, if I just let myself listen for her input. Last night when I was melting down in the car she was equally as wise and solution oriented. Regarde:

VoR: OK listen. You're obviously stressed out, so let's just take a deep breath. The Bosses already told you that the five-day business trip is optional. Why don't you go to the first part, but skip the second part? That cuts the trip in half and gives you time to work on the other projects. I know your preference is to be the best at everything at all times, but let's not let perfection be the enemy of the good, here. Give yourself time to do a quality job and cut out the non-essentials. Tomorrow morning we're going to go in there and let them know the plan. All right?

Me: *sniffs* Ok. Fine.

VoR: And tell you what, when we get home, want to put on your jammies and eat crackers and download that Tim McGraw song you like?

Me: Yes. Yes, I do want that.

VoR: I thought you might.

Me: I like crackers.

Lo and behold, the next morning after a good night's sleep life seemed a lot more manageable. And on my way to work this morning I had a chance to reflect on everything a little more and give myself a nice pep talk.

I gotta remember that there's never going to be some magic finish line that I cross, after which I will be sublimely happy and no problems will ever confound me again. It's good to have bright, sunny days when I feel like I'm doing exactly what I want to be doing in life, and it's good to work toward a higher ratio of those kinds of days. But it's also OK if some days are just OK. It's OK to work at a job that doesn't leave you squirming with pleasure to the tips of your toes at every moment, especially if it allows you to take care of yourself and enables you do other things in life that you want to do.

And it's OK to get stressed out sometimes, get out of control, and then pull yourself back in. One of my favorite little life analogies is the explanation of how airplanes fly - it's not a matter of flying in one straight line the entire time. In order to get to a destination, it's actually a series of a zillion little course corrections, moving from one side back to the other back to other over and over again until it gets there. And that's what we humans have to do to - keep your eye on the final destination, and if you go too far to one side, just scoot back a little the other way.

It's a balancing act, a dance, an airplane flight, all of that. It's not about fixing something once and then you're set for life. It's just habit, or mental hygiene, or whatever. The dishes get dirty, so you wash them again. Happiness isn't a goal, it's a lifestyle. It's figuring out the balance between working toward a goal and taking time to play. It's about getting caught up in the flow of working on something, and taking time out to notice your surroundings and the passage of time. It's working toward getting what you want out of life, AND letting yourself fritter away some down time without beating yourself up.

It's saying, OK, this week is shaping up to be a beeyotch and a half, so why don't I schedule an appointment to use that massage gift certificate on Friday? It's staying tuned in to what you're feeling and wanting, and acknowledging it, even if there isn't much you can *do* about it at a given time. It's about taking care of yourself, and the sense of - and I hate to use this term but - the sense of empowerment that comes from knowing that you have the ability to take care of your own needs (even if that means reaching out for help from someone else.)

It's acknowledging that hey, you don't have all the answers, we're all basically wandering around like confused but purposeful ants, each of us just trying to figure out how to operate this big ungainly gift we got of a stroll through the glass-paneled dirt farm.

It's about practicing using and listening to your own Voice of Reason, and the comfort and serenity it brings to know you can summon it whenever you want.

Like right now, she's tapping me on the shoulder, saying "All right, wrap it up, kid. We thought writing this post would make you feel better, and it did. Now what's going to make you feel better is getting down to business and tackling some of this big ole' stack of work you have. You can return to the blogosphere later."

So, like a self-schooled experimenter in home remedies with a long-winded hypothesis on how it all works, I will now leave you to ingest a tincture of my own making, hoping to add it to my shelf of not-so-magical potions.

Monday, March 1, 2010

A small triumph, music by Billy Joel

I met a bunch of friends for karaoke on Friday. Although I love karaoke scenes - lively music, the chance to be silly, license to really stink up the place with no consequences - I have never actually sung karaoke by myself, without the safety of a friend to duet with. But I kinda got the feeling I should try it. Although I don't consider myself to be a shy person in normal circumstances, something about the thought of singing karaoke alone is almost paralyzing (quite a paradox for a girl with a hardcore fantasy of herself as a singer/songwriter, crooning to the crowds at the coffee shop open mic.)

As I stood there listening to people's renditions of popular songs of the 80's and 90's, I flipped through through the rolodex of personal advice I'd heard lately. I thought of The Happiness Project, in which she mentions the importance of "an atmosphere of growth," for happiness, which includes challenging yourself and pushing yourself beyond your comfort zone. I thought of the radio interview I heard with one of my personal heroes, Dan Gottlieb, a talented psychologist who also happens to be wheelchair-bound. He was saying how too many of us are too afraid of failing at things, and that we should seriously consider our relationship to failure. I thought of how joyful he sounded when he talked about how good he's become at failing at things.

I noted that 25% of the people in the room were a part of my party, so I knew no matter what it would be a pretty gentle landing. And everybody was drinking, so it's not like anyone's powers of judgment or discernment were at their peak anyway. And lastly I thought, you know what? Fuck it. Just do it. So I did! And guess what happened?

Not a whole lot. I sang "Only the Good Die Young." I got kind of breathless and flushed. People sang along, it all went by in a rush, no one booed, people sipped their Schlitz cans, the emcee moved onto the next singer. My friends clapped me on the back, and Spangles in particular was like, really into it, but then that's kind of his job.

And as I resumed my spot in the dark, I felt good! It was a rush, and it's a great song, and it was over before I knew it, and it might've even felt like I had liftoff for a second or two.

The world kept turning, my friends continued their discussion of R--'s domesticated fox, people arrived and left, Tony the Bartender rang the "Birthday bell," the patrons laughed and danced and smoked like chimneys, taxis hurtled by outside, the Italian Market veggie stands sat under the aluminum awnings in their nighttime emptiness, the snow continued its slow incremental melt, traffic lights cycled through their jewel tones, revelers stumbled through the dark streets, the skyline looked on, sleepy but awake, and on the whole nothing was different.

Or was it?