Wandering with my eyes and heart open, searching for pieces to add to my own personal big picture.

Tag: life lessons Page 1 of 2

Log Rolling for Life

The sport of log rolling is a perfect analogy for my life. I try to stay on top as long as I can, but I inevitably fall into the water. My only solace is that I’ve gotten better at getting back up over the years. And sometimes the water is nice, so I stay down a while and enjoy that moment.

“…great adventures await you if you give yourself a little time to string moments of awareness together, breath by breath, moment to moment.” From Wherever You Go There You Are by Jon Kabat-Zinn

As you probably remember, this past November and December got away from me. I ended up in the water and I wasn’t happy about it. I thrashed and screamed, instead of finding my way back on top. My struggling didn’t fix anything, it made it harder to find my footing again. And it made the lives of the people around me more stressful.

At the end of the year, I realized what had happened (somewhat) and decided to take January at home, doing nothing, to recuperate. February started to pick up, and then as March began to get planned out on the calendar, I started feeling that panic. I was losing my balance.

Yesterday was when I started feeling it in my guts. I did start to cry a little, but I didn’t lose my temper, and I didn’t call everything off. I did take a few deep breaths and let some thoughts go, and I finished the day. But in the evening, as I started to fall asleep, I started thinking…and then couldn’t sleep.

Today, the log is still floating and the only way to stay on top of it is to keep my feet moving and stay balanced. Focus is the key and I’m working on that.

I’m going to enjoy another busy day and not think about tomorrow, or the rest of the week, or the plans for the following week. Not right now. Each time I start to feel that panic, the “I’m not going to get to rest, I can’t get it all done” feeling that tightens my chest and races my heart, I’m going to take a breath. Just like when I meditate, I’ll stop a moment and feel my breath move in, fill my chest and belly, hold it a beat, and then deflate. Quietly, without drawing attention to myself. I’ll give myself one focused moment alone, and then return.

Something I realized about myself recently is that I do have a fear of missing out. Not in the sense that I see something someone else is doing and want to experience that too, but in a personal way. If I don’t respond to that text, read that book, keep the house clean, make the food from scratch, go visit that person, I feel like I’ll lose them all forever.

It’s crazy making. And it needs to stop.

People love me, even when they don’t hear from me every day. If I don’t do the laundry today, it will get done tomorrow. If I don’t finish that project this week, I’ll get to it next week.

Or not. That’s ok too. I can’t do everything I want to do. I can’t have everyone I want in my life at all times. I don’t have the resources for it: time, energy, money, etc. If I am here right now, focused on what I AM doing, I’m not wasting time and missing out.

That’s my goal today. Be here right now, enjoying what I have in my hands, not worrying about what tomorrow may bring, or what’s going on with friends and family when I’m not available.

Aggression or “Don’t Drive Angry!”

My dear reader, the aggression that I see on the roads has got to stop. Really.

Yesterday, I was telling you about how I had disconnected myself from the news media completely. I posted, and then got in the car to drive down the hill, still thinking about it. I started to shuffle through my list of podcasts but set it aside. I needed to think quietly a while, so I set my notebook out with my pen ready just in case I needed to capture anything that floated by.

I started thinking, “You know, Michelle, everyone is going to think you’re crazy.” I kept imagining the questions and the scoffs. I’m not new to this. I’ve attempted to explain before. But I always come up short-handed. I can’t seem to get my ideas through.

I jotted down, “principles: there’s a list of principles I go by when considering information” and then I sat in traffic trying to get out of the basin and my thoughts were scattered.

My town, and the surrounding area, is filled with extremely aggressive drivers. Do we not understand the basic rules of the road? Am I mistaken in believing that the point is to get where you’re going safely, not get there first? I didn’t know we were in a race to the finish. I watched people vie for pole position, pass me (in a no passing area due to major construction at 30 mph over the posted speed limit) almost forcing me into a wall when they hit the turn, and aggressively not allow other cars to merge into traffic as if they were in line for a prize and would miss out if someone “cut in front of them.”

I started to wonder (as I sat in the twenty minutes of stop-and-go caused by a lack of understanding of traffic patterns, something easily fixed, but you know, screw those people), is our driving aggression a reflection of how we are all feeling right now?

It reminded me of Groundhog Day.

Aggression in drivers.

I get it. Life is complicated. We’re all a tad upset and unnerved these days, but do we need to make it worse by attempting to kill each other on the way to work, school, and the grocery store?

Apparently, the answer is yes. I can’t change that, but I can drive defensively, respond not react, and let things go. Which brings me back to those principles I was thinking of when I started.

Not devouring the news doesn’t mean that I don’t care about what’s happening in the world, but there are natural limits to everything, and I choose to put my energy resources only into things that I can do something about personally.

When something comes into my life, I research what I should do about it, do what I can, and let the rest go. I am not always successful. There are times when I become overwhelmed. I hear something, google it, start to read news articles, and then start to panic. How will this affect me? What will happen? Will my loved ones get wrapped up in this? What can I do? We have to do SOMETHING! Rally the troops! We’re going to war over this!

Ugg. It gets ugly. But I am getting better at it. The space between receiving information and responding to it is getting wider through practice.

In the same way that I’ve chosen to deal with traffic, I deal with rest of the world around me. I limit my news sources to those that seem the least inflammatory and urgent, like printed magazines and books. Once a week, I listen to a few choice podcasts, interviews and conversations mostly. Online, I limit my interactions to those that are fun and entertaining, and I share only that which I am personally experiencing. That’s my version of “defensive.”

I try to respond to the world around me in peace instead of reacting in anger and frustration, as much as possible. I am human, so I fail often, but I do learn.

And the rest…I let go.

This is what is bringing me more peace. This is what is making me a better person than I was. And this is how I’m trying to make my surroundings better than how I found them.

Life Changes in Big and Small Ways

“Sometimes your life changes so slowly and imperceptibly that you don’t notice at all until one day you wake up and think: How did I get here? But other times life changes in an instant, with a lightning strike of good or bad luck, with glorious or tragic consequences.”

Nine Perfect Strangers by Liane Moriarty

Life Changes
Roll with it or Get hit by it

Yeah…it’s a little cliché, I suppose. That doesn’t mean I can’t love it! To hell with your literary rules! Bwa ha ha!

When I look back on the past …gulp… 47 years, I see a slow changing landscape. And the current picture isn’t far from where it started. My life doesn’t feel that much different that it was thirty years ago, but I know some of my friends and family may disagree. Their point of reference is different from mine. Like seeing your nieces and nephews every six months, seemingly growing in leaps and bounds, the actual changes are slow and gradual.

Life is always changing. We all know that, but when we’re in the midst of things it can feel like this moment in time, this situation will last forever.

At 21 years old, I couldn’t have predicted where I would be at 47, weeks before my birthday. What would I have thought if a mythical creature had waved a hand over a still, reflective pool of water and shown this version of me? Would I have been horrified?

“I look so old! And…I’m not working at the park?! Kids?! Nooo!!!”

Probably not. I think I would have been excited to know that my life would slow down, become calm and stable. Hard personal work and a lot of good luck have paid off well. But who knows? Sometimes I wonder if I really remember what I was like back then or if I have created a romantic image of half memories. Where’s my mythical vision giver now?

Have I had any moments that have changed everything?

Strokes of lightning? A couple. Two that I saw clearly as dramatic life changers even as they were happening. Two that I only see now was a game changer. What direction would my life have gone if those scene changes never happened?

We just don’t know where our lives will go.

We can plot and plan every detail, only to have the whole thing scattered with the wind at any moment. That’s not necessarily a bad thing. Like the Gambler, “you got to know when to hold ‘em.” And we don’t even really know what cards are in the deck. It’s probably better to wait and see what happens; play with the hand we’re dealt.

Are Words Magic?

brendan-church-pKeF6Tt3c08-unsplash

Photo by Brendan Church on Unsplash

“I’m just doing what I want to do,” he said. “Don’t call it by any other name. I’m just doing what I want to do – and that’s all my mother ever did, too. Just what she wanted to do.”

-The World According to Garp (p155)

I’ve heard a lot about “identity” over the last…oh, man…twenty years?! The two things I’ve discovered and decided to stay with until I find evidence to the contrary are these:

  1. What you do is not who you are.
  2. How you feel is not who you are.

I will not “identify” as anything but a human being. My “tribe” is human, as far as I can tell. There are so many facets that make up who we are and even if you had the same interests and background as I do, the odds are we still wouldn’t see the world the same way. We’d still interpret events differently because we are different people.

What’s the danger of defining your “identity?” The moment you start thinking of yourself as one specific thing, as part of a group, you put yourself in a box. You limit yourself.

Christians don’t do this. Mothers don’t act like that. Introverts don’t like these things.

The statements can go on and on forever until we’re chasing our own tails trying to be what the consensus of descriptions say we are, but who we are is not any of one of these things or any combination of them.

A personal example? If a homeschooler is what I am, what happens when I am not anymore? What am I when my child expresses an interest in going to school, my child’s father doesn’t want to homeschool, or I just find myself unhappy homeschooling? Suddenly, I have to change who I am. My whole worldview has to be adjusted. “I am homeschooling my children right now,” gives me more flexibility.

Michelle, that’s just semantics. You’re nitpicking about word choices.

Am I?

In my opinion, words have magic in the strangest ways. Even when we think we know what we really mean when we personally use a word, the culture we live in, the meanings that other people in our social groups give things, tend to creep into our thinking.

It reminds me of a witch’s spell and magic incantations. Ancient cultures believed that words could do magic. From Pagan rites to the Bible’s Genesis, words are powerful. We think we are beyond all that superstitious nonsense, but maybe we’re wrong. Words are potent. They can change how we perceive the world.

We should use them wisely. Instead of naming your group or identity, just do what you want to do, what feels good to you, and be honest with the people around you.

I am Michelle, a human and I’m on a path of my very own.

What if I told you there is no “right” way?

what if I told you

What if I told you…? I love those memes. It’s just so versatile. Searching for one, I found this one MOST profound.

But seriously. What if I told you there was no right way to do life?

It’s starting to become clear to me that there was no real plan all along. Anytime I made a specific long term plan, any time I said this is what I want my life to look like, it all fell apart or caused me so much pain and stress that I was forced to change direction. When I went for short term happiness, when I chose peace and quiet, the calm path of least resistance, I ended up right where I needed to be.

What if instead of creating expectations about how things should work out in the long run, we made the choice to be satisfied with most things just as they are? The old me, and part of me right now, would say that sounded lazy. If we lived like this nothing would ever get done. The me that I am today, the one that attempts to look back on things as clearly as possible, says I haven’t found that to be the case.

I’d like to say that I went to college after high school because I had a dream of being a Broadway stage designer and was working towards that goal. In reality, I was only doing what everyone else was doing and what the school counselors all said I should be doing. I chose the university because I just happened to tour it with my theater class, it had beautiful trees and old buildings. I applied and they accepted me. It was an expensive choice, one my husband and I both paid for the next 15 years, but it wasn’t a waste. I took away a lot of experience from those three semesters, even though I never finished the program.

I’d like to say I had a grand goal of a career at Knott’s and Disney. The reality is that I just found jobs and kept doing them. They were fun and exciting and, my mom was right, I didn’t want to keep doing them after I had kids and started getting older.

I’d like to say that I chose to be a stay at home mom and a homeschooler because I wanted to raise my kids right. The reality there? I was too tired and stressed to work at night and take care of kids during the day and my husband would rather have a peaceful home than a higher household income. I homeschooled because the public school in our area was terrible and we couldn’t afford private schools. I was already home so I chose the easier, cheaper route available at the time.

Everything I have ever done and had a successful outcome with was because I chose the less stressful, less tiring option. I accepted the reality of the situation I was in and made it work for me. And it has worked, right down to the basic tenets of our marriage.

So far, life has taught me that there is no preferred outcome other than letting it go and enjoy the ride. Do what you want to do. Let others do the same. There is no right way to live your life. There’s just your way.

All of Life is One Long Story

It’s an old story. The fates spinning their yarn and cutting off pieces. We tell yarns by the fireside, fantastic stories about people and places. Life is one continuous story, with no beginning or end, only chapters.

Wool is an amazing thing. Thousands of tiny strands are woven into one long piece of yarn. Each fuzzy piece is brushed and lined up with others. As it’s twisted, each piece reaches out to the ones next to it and bonds to the next, and the next. It can go on forever if you kept feeding it.

Watching a video showing how wool yarn is made reminded me of this quote from Orson Wells, “If you want a happy ending, that depends, of course, on where you stop your story.”

Humanity just keeps stretching out over time like one long piece of yarn. Each new human is added to the spindle and it touches the lives next to it and the next, going on into the future. Only in fiction or history books does a story start and end. We create it in our minds. This is the story of X and it starts here with this and ends here with that. It’s up to us whether or not the story has a happy ending.

Reality, or at least the reality that we perceive, doesn’t work that way. Life is one long story, never-starting and never-ending, a chicken or the egg thing. With every event that happens in this world we can ask, “What happened before that?” and “What happened after that?”

I used to believe my Grandmother’s story had a tragic ending until I zoomed out to see the bigger picture and found that her story never really ended at all.

My Grandma was the center of our family, the key to all our gatherings until suddenly she was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. Her health faded quickly and within a few months, she was gone. She was 70 years old. I don’t think any of had ever even begun to think she could be leaving us any time soon. It was a big shock to our whole family. A shock that, 15 years later, we’re all still recovering from in some way.

Did her story have a tragic end? Only if you end it there, but you’d be creating that ending, manufacturing it in your mind. In reality, her story is still being told. It’s being told in how her family reacted to her death and how her children and grandchildren adjusted without her physical presence. It’s still being told in family photos, holidays where we talk about her, and how we all, including her great-grandchildren, still feel the effects of her presence in our lives.

And if you zoom out, she is simply another small piece of wool in the yarn being spun, a thread in a tapestry that continues to be woven. We all are. We all die but no matter how far we zoom out, the picture never ends. No matter how far we zoom in, we keep seeing more of the details that make up our universe.

When things seem scary and overwhelming, I like to imagine zooming the lens out and make those things smaller, tiny details in an otherwise beautiful story. Suddenly, I’m not so worried.

My belief, my hope really, is that when we die, when we leave this physical world, we can zoom out even farther and see an even bigger, more glorious picture than we can imagine from this perspective. Life is one long story, each new human, each event, creates new color, texture, and depth.

In East of the Mountains by by David Guterson, I felt like he also had this closed story sense of himself, as if he wasn’t a part of the bigger picture.

Warning: Changes Are Ahead

What is the purpose of the yellow light at a traffic signal? There are two classic schools of thought, right?

“Go real fast!”
and
“Slow down!”

Honestly, though, the yellow light is a warning that a red light is imminent? What you do with that information depends on a lot of things; your personality, where you’re headed and why, how far from the light you are, etc.

The purpose of a yellow light is to warn you that things are about to change. It’s to prevent you from being surprised by a hard stop. If you’re paying attention, you won’t have to slam on the brakes at the last moment. If you’re close to the intersection, you’ll hurry up to get through and not be in the intersection when cross traffic gets there.

I think we get a yellow light in our lives from time to time as well. If we’re paying attention, we’ll get a warning that things are about to change suddenly and, hopefully, make some decisions based on our own needs and desires.

We meet people that change our lives for worse or for better. We get test results that make us think about the future and start plans. Our bodies slow down, ache and take longer to recover, making us realize that the ultimate red light may be just around the corner, prompting us to do the things we’ve wanted to do or say the things we need to say.

Don’t let the red light take you by surprise. Pay attention to your surroundings and the road ahead. See the warnings, not as a hindrance or a burden, but a reminder that we don’t have all the time in the world. Create the thing, go see the place, repair the relationship. There’s so much to do.

You Really Are the Master of Your Own Universe

You know how some toys are kind of boring if you just buy one part and so you keep buying accessories? The car, the clothes, the house, the spouse, the kids, the career. It just goes on and on.

There are video games like that too. Sure, you can download it and play for free, but you only get two levels and then you have to pay to upgrade. You play more but now you see that you have to buy a couple extras, charms that help you rack up the points and levels faster.

Humans aren’t like that at all. We’re a whole, functioning human being right from birth. All our accessories are built-in. Sure, we need a bit of extra care at first, but we learn and grow quickly with good support and before you know it, we’re out in the world on our own, doing our thing whatever that is.

But lately, I’ve been seeing a lot of people that look like they are searching for their missing piece. They wander from job to job, adventure to adventure, and relationship to relationship, never really getting anything from the experience and lamenting that the whole thing even happened while they transition to the next. They proclaim loudly that they won’t give up, they’ll find that career, place, or person that will complete them and make their lives better. That job wasn’t right for me. This place doesn’t have what I need. This person didn’t give me their all and left, so they suck.

What if I told you (lol) that you don’t need any of that to be complete? What if you have the power to stand on your own two feet, to control your own destiny?

You do.

Every time we start a new job, try out a new location or enter into a new relationship, we could be learning more about ourselves and the world around us. We could be using that information to make our lives more interesting and more comfortable for ourselves and those around us. It doesn’t matter what the job is or how long the relationship lasts. It doesn’t matter what kind of relationship you have: long or short term, purely sexual or platonic. It doesn’t matter if you buy a house and live there for ten years or rent out a basement and live there for three months. It doesn’t matter if you go to college right out of high school, wait until you’re 45, or ever go at all.

What does matter? It matters that we learn something about ourselves and that we connect with other humans in as many ways as possible, that we live every day no matter what’s going on.

The Stoics have a decent idea, “Memento Mori” Remember, we die. We don’t live forever and (as far as we know) we only have one life. We need to stop wasting time.

Nothing is a waste of time if you learn something from the experience. That one night stand you had with that hot babe you met? Not a waste of time if you enjoyed it and look back on the moment fondly. That two years you spent at an expensive university, only to drop out and work at an amusement park? Not a waste of time or money. You gained experience, you met people, and you had fun in ways you never knew existed. And money? You can always make more. Money was created to spend. And what about that “failed” marriage? Did it “fail” or did it just serve its purpose and now you’re both moving on to something else? That job you spent five years at and then switched careers gave you fresh insight about your abilities and a set of skills that you can use anywhere.

What exactly do we think we’re working toward? What are we stockpiling for the future? What will we do with all of this shit we’ve accumulated? We’ll die. That’s it. And all your stuff will be redistributed.

So why not stop working toward anything and just enjoy what you have? If you don’t like the job you are in, find another one. If you don’t like the area you live in, move. If you don’t like the relationship you’re in, move on. Stop collecting things and start experiencing things. If you have no friends or family to experience it with, do it alone! Maybe you’d find it more fun or fulfilling if you had someone to share it with? Then blog about it and post pictures on Instagram! Or start dating…anyone, right off OKCupid! Or join a club online or in person!

You are a complete package all by yourself. You don’t need anything to start living and experiencing the world around you. Just live, damn it! Why not?

We all walk around acting as if we are pawns in someone else’s game but we’re absolutely not. It’s your life. Do what you want with it.

You do have the power. You’re using it right now.

Reassurance IS Futile

resistance cactus

A cactus will grow with very little soil or water.

I heard Seth Godin say on a podcast recently, “Everyone has self-doubt” and “Reassurance is futile.” He also said that we don’t HAVE to hear criticism if we don’t want to and I’ve decided he’s completely right.

I have been crippled with self-doubt in the past. There are few things that I am truly confident about and writing is not one of them. I’m confident about my use of words and my grasp on English grammar and spelling but, expressing my opinion in public terrifies me. Do I really have anything to add to the conversation? Surely, it’s been said before. Am I sure I’m seeing clearly and have a right to say so?

My Dad and my husband are two of my loudest fans, but I’ve often thought that if I had just a few encouragers out there, a few less biased people with some positive feedback, some unsolicited reassurance, then I’d learn to put my self-doubt behind me. I’d be more confident. I know deep down that it’s just not true. I’ve had positive feedback and reassurance from several corners and the next day I’m just as doubtful about my message. He’s right. Reassurance is futile.

But you know what’s not futile, learning to stand on my own two feet. Accepting that I may make mistakes, I may not always be on top of things, and I have much to learn, but I still have my own perspective on this world and I have every right to tell it as I see it. I can put the self-doubt aside for a moment, write out what I want to say (even imperfectly or wrong), and post anyway.

For the critics? You may think I’m wrong. You may not like what I have to say. You may think I could say it in a better way or not bother to say it at all. And that’s ok. This message isn’t for you. You can move along and read something else.

For everyone else? Thanks for reading. I very much appreciate it.

You Can’t Just Dance Till You Drop

emmanuel-PV5jo94EGKo-unsplash

Photo by Emmanuel on Unsplash

I know I’m dating myself here but my best friend and I used to go dancing every weekend and not the kind you’re thinking of. It was the 90’s and (to us) country music was the thing and clubs that catered to line dancing, two-steps, and waltzes were in abundance. There were three right in my neighborhood. We’d show up right as the place opened and stay until they played the last song.

Two single girls on the prowl for young men? Looking for love? Or at least someone to take us out to dinner once in a while, someone we didn’t meet at work, someone not involved in the entertainment business at all? Not really. In reality, all we were looking for was to dance all night long with someone that knew how and that was generally the older, mostly married men, that were mostly interested in the same thing. I’m not saying we didn’t find a little love along the way but it wasn’t the driving force behind the activity!

Every Friday night went the same way. We’d arrive early and head straight to the bar for a shot of whiskey and a beer each. I’d buy the first round and she’d buy the second, then we’d take our beers to a spot we had scoped out by the dance floor. The reason we arrived right as they opened and not later in the evening when the place really filled up? There were dance instructors out on the floor for the first hour! We were not great dancers, to say the least, and could use all the help we could get. Line dancing was great mostly because we didn’t need a partner and it gave us the chance to warm up without looking like wallflowers. The whiskey gave us courage, the line dancing gave us confidence, and within a few songs, we had partners lined up for two-steps, cowboy cha-cha’s, and waltzes.

The music built up faster and louder as the night progressed and quieted back down during the slow songs. Sometimes we were right at the top of the wave, dancing our hearts out when the music would change and we’d reluctantly exit the floor. It was a forced rest, an instilled break from the pace, that we used to our advantage, in the form of rest and bathroom breaks, and the bar’s since we tended to buy more drinks when the music slowed down. Besides, a slow dance with a strong partner was a great break in the evening too. You don’t want to break your stride completely, just change up the pace and rest a bit so that the night lasts longer.

By the last dance and closing time, we were always exhausted and happily played out. Like kids on their way home from Disneyland, we rode that high all week at work until the next weekend rolled around.

Those night club dancing days are long past but they came to mind over the last few weeks of holiday preparation and execution. As I rushed from one event to another, one completed shopping list, one more baking day, one more quick run to the grocery store, I realized how busy I had become. By the time Christmas was over I longed for a break in the music, for a slow song to come on and push me off the dance floor for a bathroom break and a cold beer. And then I got one.

The week between Christmas and New Year’s Day is notoriously slow. It’s that “nowhere” feeling that you’re not sure what to do with. This year I decided to use it to my advantage and relax a bit, but plans were inevitably made and the pace slackened a bit but did not slow to a crawl as I had hoped. I made a promise to myself to slow down again this week and I’ve already had to reluctantly say no to invitations, twice. I want to keep dancing, but my body says I need a break and without a good DJ to force the issue, I have to slow the beat myself or pay the consequences.

This coming year, I plan on making a more conscious effort to take those breaks from the dance floor. I plan on looking at my calendar and blocking off work times, play times, and nothing times. Those nothing times must remain sacred if I’m going to have more productive work and play times. I have built a habit of dancing until I drop, which may have been feasible when I was younger, but these days is getting harder and harder to maintain. Building in breaks, time to stay home and literally do nothing but relax with a good movie or a book, is something I have to do to maintain my health and stay productive. The old way of just working until I felt overwhelmed and then dumping everything, even the things I loved most, has never been healthy and it tends to ruin relationships. Time to build some new, more effective habits. Busy doesn’t mean productive. And taking a rest is not an option, it’s a mandate.

Without a good DJ, the music only gets louder and faster until the bar goes broke from lack of sales, exhaustion sets in, and everyone goes home early. Be your own DJ. Build your own volume and pace, bring it back down, build it up again, and know when it’s time shut it down and clean up for the next event.

Page 1 of 2

Powered by WordPress & Theme by Anders Norén

%d bloggers like this: