Saturday, January 31, 2015

Coffee and Tea

Jan. 31

The problem with marriage is that it is impossible to be married without turning into roommates. While those planning for the big day envision an eternity gazing into the eyes of his or her beloved, days holding hands while strolling along sundrenched beaches, and evenings enjoying candlelit dinners complete with wine, music, and a suggestive glance, the reality is that eventually someone is going to clog the toilet, burn dinner, and forget to take out the trash. So, imagine twenty-nine years of this.

It is too easy for a couple to begin to take each other for granted. It is too easy for the chores and the yard and the house and the kids and the job and the cars and the in-laws to begin ranking above the spouse on the daily to-do. And I mean that in more ways than one. It is my opinion that couples who make marriage last, who stay together when others do not, fall into one of two categories, those who are together but not happy and those who have made a point to carve out space for the partner in the everyday.

I enjoyed just such a moment today. Granted it came after shopping for a basin wrench and a faucet or two. My husband and I, plumber’s putty in hand, decided to stop off at the bookstore before heading home. There was much to do and not really the time, but we did it because it needed to be done. We have been guilty in the past of moving each other to the bottom of the list. We are trying now to repair that.

He had a coffee, room for cream. I had a steamy Earl Grey. I flipped through a couple of magazines that I didn’t really read. He gathered books of which he bought only half. Mostly we talked. We talked of moving, of retirement, of wishes and wants and dreams. We talked of condos and neighborhoods, the country, the beach. We laughed. We joked. We paid for our stuff, and we left.

It was maybe an hour. I couldn’t say. The time is not the point. The point was that, after twenty-nine years, it was a message that read you matter more to me than that goddamned sink.

Friday, January 30, 2015

Namaste

Jan. 30

I’m taking back my life. It’s easy, isn’t it, to get caught up in the to-do’s, the have-to’s, the shoulds, the should nots? It is easy to fall into habit and routine. We wake; we eat; we drive to work. We work; we message; we drive back home. We eat; we read; we go to sleep. We wake, and we do it all again. Day in. Day out. We let others add their agenda to our days. We neglect to do those things that bring us joy, that make us smile and laugh, because there are things to get done, for Pete’s sake. We forget. We forget to eat beautiful food, to dance, to listen to music that is soft and smooth, to take long walks in earthy woods. Well. I am ready. I am ready to begin LIVING my life.

My day began with forty minutes on the floor, yoga pants screaming, “For the love of GOD, woman, when was the last time you did this?” I could say, “So this is how a body looks when it gets to fifty-one,” but I know it is not so much the body as it is the cookies and the cake. Husband at work, grown children in bed, I had the living room to myself. Myself, that is, and my three nosey dogs. There is something powerful about bare feet to wood floor, internet instructor guiding as I assume triangle, plank, and warrior one. No fancy equipment. No sweaty gym bag. Just me and my body, moving through poses I did not even know I could do. Well, some I don’t do. Who could? I bring my hands to heart center, return to my breath. Hair thrown up, arms strong and bare, I forget for a minute that there is snow on the ground, that there are dishes in the sink. It is a reprieve in a day that has not yet begun.

As I clear the clutter, rid my days of the trash, I don’t know exactly what BELONGS in my life. It has been awhile since my heart and I have had a chat. But I am a nervous sort with energy to spare. Yoga calms me. It calms me and helps me remember to breathe and to be still. It is beauty and compassion. It is peace and love. It is me. And so it stays.

The light in me salutes the light in you. Namaste.

Thursday, January 29, 2015

Lesson Learned

Jan. 29

It was just a passing comment. We were discussing volunteer opportunities and how to fit the opportunity to the person. I was talking with a group of students about a project I am having them complete. I have had this group before in other classes. I know them. An instructor develops a fondness for those repeat students. There is a certain closeness that forms.

The rest of the class had been dismissed. This small group and I were discussing how they might live the life THEY are here to live rather than simply performing as they see others perform. If I choose to work out, for example, I feel an intense pressure to join a gym. If that is not my thing, however, I am going to be miserable, going to make those around me miserable, and very likely going to fail to follow through. If, however, I am one who loves people, loves to talk and interact and gather like-minded souls together in a cause, if I have a strong sense of interconnectedness, empathy, and compassion, I might choose, instead, to gather a group of friends and train to run for a fundraising effort of one kind or another. I might lead my group in raising dollars for diabetes or Alzheimer’s or heart disease. I am still working out, but I do not carry a gym bag or a key card to do it. So, then, I share a story of personal example with this group.

When my children were younger, I used to enjoy volunteering in the schools. One teacher had me stapling bric-a-brac to bulletin boards. She asked me to make copies and to cut construction paper Pilgrim hats. I was alone in the hallway with nothing but my scissors, my stapler, and my multi-colored papers. I was miserable. I hated it. I never looked forward to going to school. I don’t care much about bulletin boards. I don’t care if they’re pretty. I don’t care if they’re blank. Bulletin boards could fall off the face of the earth and my life would be no different for it. Instead, I am moved by motivating. I like to lift and inspire. I like to show others the potential I see when I look their way. I like to teach them how to take every single great thing that’s inside of them and to throw it out at the world to make that world a better place. THIS is my thing.

I shared that the teachers I liked helping best were those who would allow me to take a student out into the hallway and to work with that student on reading or math. We would sit there, the two of us, alone, together, learning words, learning strategies, learning how to believe in one’s self despite every message to the contrary.

One student from my repeat group looked at me. He seemed quiet and reflective. “You’re one of those angels who helped me get through school.” I must have looked confused, because he continued. “You are one of the angels who helped me when no one else would. I was one of those kids.” I smiled, passed off the remark, and with a flippant air said simply, “I don’t really remember the kids that I helped. It was fun. I enjoyed it, but I don’t remember them.” And then he looked me in the eyes and said, “THEY remember YOU.” Tears. Instant tears. I was humbled.

And then I thought how many times do we take our actions for granted? How many times do we fail to consider the impact we have on a life? For good or for bad. That thirty minutes twice a week, for me, was nothing much more than a way for me to support my children in their education. For HIM, and for other students like him, it was the world.

Teacher became student in that moment. I ask myself now how I can be more intentional in my actions, how I can consider the positive that I throw out, the negative I inflict. It was just a passing comment, but what a vivid lesson learned.

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

She Wore a Smile


You have probably noticed that I’ve hit a dry spell in my writing lately. Call it lack of interest. Call it lack of time. Or call it, for lack of anything else, writer’s block. At the same time, I am feeling an intense need to turn inward, to focus on my personal health and well being, to move other things to the bottom of the pile and to focus on me. I know it appears that I write for my own purposes, and I do, but my words are meant always to speak to YOU, to lift and motivate, encourage, inspire. So, in an effort to find my way back to the keyboard and to move the focus onto my own needs for just a minute, I have decided to use this blog for the next little while as a journal of positive things that happen in my day. The goal is to post a snippet, a paragraph or two, even an entire essay on one thing that occurred during the course of the day that made me smile, that lifted me, that spoke to my heart. So, raise a glass and join me if you will. Here’s to words, real and true, beautiful in the way they paint a story, in the way they capture a moment, in the way they dance themselves onto page.


Jan. 28

She wore a smile and a look of recognition. Headed my way, the smile grew as she drew closer. She threw a hug around me that meant business, the kind that envelops your entire being. “I still have that picture of all those positive words we wrote all over the board.” They called her Zeta. She showed up in my class one term, for a bit. And then she dropped. Some students do this. A professor gets used to it. Sometimes you know the story. Sometimes you don’t. She was not wearing a smile during that first term.

Life has a way of testing us to see exactly how strong we can be. She passed this particular test and showed up once more in my class later that same year. I teach about people. About who we are and why we are who we are and what we might do to be better human beings. Sometimes lecture gets a little too “textbook” for my liking. Those who have had it easy in life, who have had dinner on the table every night, a warm bed to sleep in, parents who love them, tend to see development as nothing but bullet points, exam questions, and a flash card or two. We had reached just such a moment in class. Then Zeta raised her hand.

She had been passed around. Kicked out. Had raised a sibling or four. She lived in more places than I can recall at the moment. At one point in her high school career, a teacher had, with every intent of seriousness, told her that she would be good for nothing in this life except lying on her back making babies. She was from the wrong side of the wrong side of the tracks. But her spirit was large, her smile infinite. She was like the doll that gets knocked down again and again but just continues to keep popping back up.

We made class happen for her that term.

And, now, here she is coming toward me in the hall, smile as beautiful as always. “I still have that picture. I look at it. It makes me smile. It makes me remember your class. I STILL remember your class.” Oh, and Zeta. I remember YOU. I STILL remember YOU.

Friday, January 16, 2015

Big Fat Fake


I admonished a student yesterday for being okay with okay. This is sort of my thing. I preach constantly to seek a life of exclamation marks. We get one go around. There IS no going backward. There IS no rewind. There IS no Your Life, the Sequel. Why settle for existing when you have the ability to LIVE? I preach this. I teach it.

And, yet.

I could just as easily have been that student. I have settled in my life. I have been okay with okay. I have looked to others to supply the happiness, the fulfillment, which I should have been supplying myself.

I got a little negative feedback the other day. It had my knickers in a knot. The feedback was on my teaching, something in which I take great pride. Understand that the learning process is not something I half-ass EVER. To make matters worse, the feedback was behind my back and from another instructor. And suddenly someone else’s opinion of me and my teaching became more important than my opinion of me and my teaching. It became more important than the loads of positive feedback I have received over the years from my students. It became the ONLY opinion.

This is the thing.

I am great at taking stage. Make-up, lights, showtime. Put up the smile. Throw out the confidence. Emanate warmth, sincerity, positive energy to spare.

I am great at taking stage.

When I step down, however, when the lights go out, I always feel a bit like the wizard in the land of Oz. This giant persona to the rest of the world who in reality is nothing more than one who struggles with feelings of insecurity, lack of worthiness, and a fear of exposing her true self. I am not smart enough. This was my first reaction to the negative words. I am not smart enough to do this job.

You know what happens when we go THERE, right? It turns into an I-Am-Not-fest. “I am not good enough,” “I am not pretty enough,” “My boobs are too small, my butt too big, my face too plain, my hair too wild.” Everything is wrong. Nothing is right. No one likes me. Why, indeed, should they? I talk too much; interrupt even more. Suddenly I see everything I love about myself as something no one should.

And so I look to others to build me up, to prove that I am, indeed, capable and worthy and loved.

But here’s the thing. I cannot, for the life of me, show them who I am, share with them my full self. Rarely have I been able to do that. How would I, anyway, when I am not certain I have shown myself?

Why am I so afraid to just be me? Why am I so afraid to feel and to be real, so afraid to own my responsibility for my own happiness? Why is some random instructor’s opinion of me more important than my opinion of myself?

On a related note, I had a situation in my life that brought me great joy. I began to live in exclamation marks. I had not known that I wasn’t. This friendship opened my eyes to the okay-ness for which I had settled. At that point, the friendship came to an end. I may have been out of sorts. I may have thrown a tantrum or two. I wanted the friendship back. I wanted the happy that I had felt. I wanted it. I was upset at this friend for taking it away.

I groveled. A good long while, I groveled.

And, then, with the help of a very patient family member, an insane amount of time spent writing, and more than a few bottles of wine, I came to the point where I realized that this friend wasn’t the CAUSE of my happiness but had merely shown me how that happiness could FEEL. If I would stop settling for good enough, if I would allow into my life positive feedback, an honest look at myself, and a willingness to be vulnerable, open and real, I could once again find my happy. I could create it MYSELF. This is not my usual M.O.

I am striving this year to move beyond okay, to move beyond looking to others to verify my worthiness, to provide my happy. I am striving to insert more exclamation marks into my days.

I think for once in my life, I’ll take off the make-up, step down from the stage. I am who I am. That is not always the strong, together, pretty picture you see when you look at me. I know now, though, that in my realness, be it pretty or not, I am worthy, I am good, I am loved. And THAT, my friend, is contingent on no one and nothing. THAT is a given.

Saturday, January 10, 2015

Who ARE You, and What Do You Want with Me?


Ever have a weird encounter with a random stranger? I don’t mean simply chatting up the barista at the local coffee shop or helping an elderly woman with a door. No, I mean weird. Weird as in inexplicable, mystical, that which leaves you pondering the meaning of what just happened.

A man steps onto a bus.

Actually, a lot of men step onto the bus. I am on vacation. Disney World. This is a place where people are generally nice and happy and friendlier than they might normally be. They like each other, look at each other, make small talk, fill the void. Those who, in their regular lives, might avert their eyes, be short with you, or show little interest in your story, offer up smiles, nods, and where are you froms. They comment on your family, search for commonalities in your day. This has always been a favorite part of my vacations to the land of Mickey. Ordinary activities that would usually be a source of irritation become a means of connection between those who seemingly have none. And, so, I jump on the bus just as the driver closes the door.

My family is farther to the back, having gotten on before I could make my way through the crowd. There is no room to sit. People stand, holding onto straps and bars above their heads. The driver tells us to move to the back, keep on moving back. I squish in between my daughter, who is a good eight inches taller than I am, and a woman from Georgia who is here with her son. It is a boring ride as most rides are. I chat with my daughter and warn the woman sitting beside me that I am not very good at standing on buses and that should I land in her lap to not be concerned. Then through the crowd, actually to my back and right beside me, I hear a voice that sounds soothing, lyrical, very much like home, if we could define home in this case as some mystical spot that exists somewhere deep inside of me.

I turn to look. The man is talking to the woman, with the two children, who sits beside where he stands. “How old is she?” Calming, kind. There is no small talk about this. He is practiced and sincere. I know this soul. I am drawn to him. I am in prime staring position, and I take full advantage of this. His back is to me while he speaks with the woman. When he turns up to look out at the crowd, I turn my back to him and converse a bit with my daughter. Oddly, I feel like the schoolgirl with a crush. I cannot, for the life of me, make eye contact with this man. Understand that I make a point to make eye contact with strangers. I offer up smiles and strike up conversation as easily as I breathe. But I cannot look into his eyes. Neither can I stop staring the second he turns his head.

What is it? Why am I so drawn? Have we known each other in a lifetime past? Does he remind me of someone I know? Have we run into each other at some earlier point in our lives? It is embarrassing how much I stare. It is less embarrassing how much I eavesdrop on the conversation he has with the woman. As a writer, it is just what I do. I study his features. I am mesmerized by his voice. I take all of this in as if it is material for an exam.

And then he turns my direction.

I look away quickly, afraid he will catch me staring. I can feel him looking at me, can see him out the corner of my eye, scanning top to bottom, bottom to top. This is not a checking me out kind of look. This is taking me in. Studying me as I had studied him. I wonder if his soul recognizes my soul just as mine did his.

The bus comes to a stop. We have arrived at our destination. Everyone ends their conversations, says their goodbyes, and lines up to make their way to the door. This man is directly behind me. It is an awkward feeling. And yet exhilarating. I feel him at my back or somewhere near my back. This is not flirting. Our eyes never met. This is not a getting to know you session. We never spoke a word. Yet the energy is strong. For me, at least, the energy is strong. I wonder if it is for him.

We step off the bus, meet up with our respective families, and venture on into the park. I look occasionally, throughout the day, for his face but never see him again.

One bus ride. One man. One day.

Were he to step in front of me this minute, I am not certain I would remember his face. I cannot help but wonder why we crossed paths, why we connected without connecting, why I feel still the energy and the rush. I was the last one on that bus before the door shut. Circumstance? Destiny? Maybe. But why?