“There is doing or not doing. There is no try.” Somebody said that.  I don’t remember who. Yoda, maybe? (see what I did there?)

That may be true in the world of space heroes, entrepreneurs, and rock hard abs.Everyone there lives in charming and pristine homes. There is no  self doubt, no second guessing. It’s all action and creativity, all the time.

It’s not true in my world. I live in the land of commuting, government work and and pants that don’t fit anymore. I am knee deep in unfinished projects. I want to act, but I worry about outcomes: What if I can’t? What if it doesn’t work? What if it’s no good? Is this the best choice? Should I be doing something else?

“Just try,”  I will say to myself. This is slightly different than “Just start.”

Trying is having permission to be less than perfect, to (gasp) fail, or to just quit, if it turns out that the idea was bad, the color was wrong, or maybe I need to give it another shot tomorrow.

Trying is my bridge between desire and action, in cases large and small.  Starting is what I do after I have decided to try.

Will I start posting here again more often? Will I get back into my daily walking habit? Will I accomplish the other things I’d like to do this year?

I don’t know, but I’ll try.

 

 

The Kid is preparing for a cross-state move to finish her college education. In time-honored tradition, I am attempting to foist off  offering any number of household items -the wicker chairs, that table from Ikea, the white dishes…

While pondering this process on my way home from work this evening, and wondering whether it was too soon to move an elliptical machine into her soon-to-be-vacated room, the following memory floated to mind:

Before I married Dr. T., I had a serious relationship with someone else. We’ll call him THE BOY GOD, for that is what I named him shortly after he abruptly dumped me three years or so into our life as a couple.

We lived together for most of those three years- a first for both of us. We were youngish; most of our belongings were hand-me-downs, and most of them were mine. He had moved in with me, after all.

We were youngish, but old enough that after three years, it might have been reasonable to make permanent plans. A month or so before my dumping, however, I noticed a change in THE BOY GOD’s behavior: he was quieter, distant. “What’s wrong,?” I would ask. “Nothing. I’m just tired.”

This went on until the Fateful Friday he decided to tell me that he WASN”T HAPPY.

I’ll spare you the details, mainly because, mercifully, I’ve forgotten them. Except for this one, recalled today:

During the miserable week or so he took to move out, I bought myself a set of flatware- I guess to cheer myself up, or just because it was on sale. Who knows, now?

Guess what THE BOY GOD took with him when he moved out?

In retrospect, I have to give my younger, heartbroken, wimpy self credit for calling him on it. “Did you take the silverware I bought?” “Yeah, I guess so.”

I can’t remember the words I used at the time, but I will never forget the tone: “Why would I buy YOU new silverware?” (for dumping me?) He brought it back.

Most of us have said that at some point in our lives, but mostly it isn’t true. Last Monday, I truly could have died.

The rain was tapering off, but the roads were wet as I drove to work. My route consists of two lane roads. For the last seven or so months, I’ve been confronted with someone encroaching on my lane about every other day. Usually, it’s just a tire of an oncoming car straddling the line into my lane. Once or twice, a passing car has startled me before returning to its own lane. Monday was different.

As I passed a 55 mph sign, I glanced briefly at my speedometer. Just under the limit, which made sense, given conditions. I was running a little late, so I thought about speeding up, but decided against it. I’m glad I did. I looked up to see a car racing toward me, abreast of the freight truck it was passing, despite the double yellow line.

Clearly, the car could not pass the truck before it reached me. It was also going too fast to drop back behind the truck. Surprisingly, I made these calculations in time to pull off the road, into the soggy ground, before impact. Both vehicles whooshed past me. It happened so fast that I could not even hit my horn to express the rage that I felt.

The rage was the second surprise. There I was, breathing hard and realizing that if I had decided to piddle with the radio dial, or pick up my coffee cup, or anything else that might have diverted my attention for another second or two, I’d have been in a high speed, head-on collision. I could have died. And so could have that clown in the other car, in such a hurry that (s)he crossed a double yellow line. That clown could have died too.  I bitterly hoped that the clown had noticed. I was mad at the truck driver too, but I don’t know why.

After a moment, I pulled carefully back onto the road, and went to work. The rest of the day was routine. I left a little early, gingerly driving back along the same roads.

On a whim, I decided to make a detour and finally see about filling the eyeglass prescription I’d been carrying around since October. At the  trendy place I’d been reading about on Yelp, a nice man helped me choose something I would never have considered on my own.

Dr. T and I had dinner, watched a little TV, and I went to bed, after jotting a couple of lines in my electronic journal.

It didn’t occur to me until the next day that what I had chosen to write about was choosing new glasses.

This year, I’m trying something new. Rather than making a list of short-lived resolutions, I’m resisting the ubiquitous urge to become a “Happy New You” and declaring the current me to be satisfactory, and maybe even better than that.

That doesn’t mean I am getting as much exercise as I should; let’s face it, it doesn’t even mean that all of my clothes are fitting properly at the moment. Nor does it mean that I am reading enough for enjoyment, or that my house is organized, or…you get the idea. So what am I going to do about it? Nothing. Sort of.

I’ve been reading a lot lately about the negative effects of always striving for “better.” In our race to improve, the argument goes, we never get a chance to appreciate what we already are and have. Satisfaction is always around the corner, over the next hill. We’ll be happy when we are thinner, or better dressed, or when we get those hardwood floors installed. (Ok, the hardwood floors may just be my thing.)

Chasing better suggests that we are not good enough as we are, and leads to negative, self-punishing thoughts and behavior. We shame ourselves and deprive ourselves, and feel so dissatisfied.

I am not the first to point out that we would never treat someone we love like that. We would encourage them, point out what they’ve accomplished already, and actively support them in a positive manner. They aren’t perfect either, but we love them anyway.

So this year, I’m going to treat myself the way I hope I’d treat anyone I cared about. I will make sure that I am getting enough sleep, eating plenty of produce, and getting outside often enough. I’m going to take care of what I already have, and appreciate it. I’m going to nurture my curiosity and creativity. I’m going to gently nudge myself to take more risks, and accept attention. I’m going to hug my family more, and laugh loud and often.

And if I have to, I’ll buy bigger pants.

Well, this is embarrassing. The last time I posted here, I had no idea that it would be so long before the next time I posted here. As days, weeks, and months passed, it seemed more imperative that my next post be extremely meaningful or otherwise great to make up for my lack of productivity.

This is not that post.

This post is my “Welcome home, all is forgiven” message to myself.

I’d feel better about myself if I had been writing all this time, but I didn’t and I can’t fix that now. All I can do is pick up and go forward. So here I am.

It feels good to be back.

June 10th, 2011, was my last day at work at my last “real” job. I left that job to move cross-country, ending three years of bi-coastal marriage. Had I known I would be less than fully employed three years later, I might not have been so sanguine about relocating.

Those of you who have followed this blog know that I have been looking for work, with varying degrees of  effort, since I have been back in North Carolina. I tried to find a place in my field, and my efforts were met with indifference. Uncertain that I cared to knock myself out to start at the bottom  when I’d left at the top, I looked at new avenues of employment, and my efforts were met with indifference.

I realized that I was most likely part of the problem, and I began to explore the things that were holding me back. I’ve written about some of them, and will continue to do so. There is no such thing as “finished” when it comes to self-awareness and improvement. I got help with my resume, polished my LinkedIn profile, and started joining groups and getting out more.

Last fall, I rededicated myself to finding full-time work. I systematically searched and applied to a range of interesting positions where I felt my skills would transfer. By April of this year, I had made dozens of applications and inquiries, to “stretch” positions, but also to three investigative jobs where I had solid, easily recognized experience.

In mid-May, I was discouraged and despondent, bemoaning the lack of response to anyone I could get to listen. I tried to get a grip. I reminded myself of the adage “Success is what happens right after you don’t give up” and I felt cheesy.

Remarkably, the next day, I got a call. I scheduled an interview. Today, exactly three years after leaving my old job, I am accepting the new one, doing exactly the same thing.

There is another saying: “If you do what you have always done, you will get what you have always gotten.” Sometimes, that is a bad thing. This time it is not. What I will get now is another  opportunity  to be of help to people who need it, to spend my days with like-minded people in service of the same goals, and to know my place in the world again.

Did the resume, the online presence, the introspection and  all the rest help, or was it simply a matter of allowing opportunity to present itself? Either way, I am finally home.

 

More Fun With Nature.

The Great Selfie Project of 2014  https://thatdifficultstage.wordpress.com/wp-admin/post.php?post=2235&action=edit has been over for quite some time. Turns out, I’m just not that into me. I tried to stick with it, but not that hard, and not that long. The biggest problem seemed to be that I would get busy during the day, and then remember right before bed that I had not taken my picture for the day. The result: a series of shots of me, at my lowest point of the day, in the same spot on the couch. Bo-ring, not to mention demoralizing.

Despite my initial disappointment at failing to sustain the challenge I set for myself,  I am considering the project a success in one significant way: I have desensitized myself to the photo taking process, if for no other reason than it is truly no big deal. In the words of Bill Murray in Meatballs: “It just doesn’t matter.” Nobody in the world is going to look at any picture of me with the same intense scrutiny that I do. So what if I’m not photogenic? I live my life in three dimensions, not two, and I spend  the better (in all senses) part of my time looking at others, not me.  I’ve also managed to memorialize a few Good Hair Days, so that is another win.

And really, if I were to get hit by a bus tomorrow, I would want whoever found my phone to see images of people, pets, and places I love, not an endless parade of me. Wait, that’s what I would rather look at too.

 

 

 

 

 

 

The last time I recall swinging a tennis racket was during the second Clinton administration. The Kid was about 7 years old, and I took her out a few times to play. The last time I played seriously (if you can call my play “serious”) I was single, and in my early 30’s.

For a while, I played fairly often. Throughout high school, I played regularly with a couple of friends. In my early adult life, I had a couple of friends I played with on weekends and in the morning before work.

My court time was limited by my extreme self-conciousness: I did not want to play with anyone I did not know. I was just easing out from under this self-imposed limitation, expanding my play into a small group of mixed double players (mostly coworkers), when Dr. T and I got together. An avid player himself, he encouraged me to try his league. I demurred.

The last time I played tennis was not intentionally the last time I played tennis. I don’t remember it at all.

From time to time, I considered playing, but nothing ever came of it. Although I have embraced other forms of exercise, tennis never happened. At the peak of my physical condition, roughly ten years ago, I was ready to try tennis again. We had joined a small fitness club, very close to home. I was taking classes 5 days a week: yoga (Wednesdays and Saturdays), aerobics (Mondays and Wednesdays) , strength training (Tuesdays and Thursdays- at 6:00 a.m!), and a ballet/Pilates based class ( Sundays.)

The ballet did me in before I could get back to the game.  Something bad happened to my right knee in the course of leaping across the room at the end of a class. I hadn’t wanted to leap; I was there for the stretching. It wasn’t the leaping of course, but the landing that did me in. By the time I made the five minute drive home, I could barely make it upstairs to bed. I couldn’t go to work the next day. Nothing was ever the same.

I got a certain, small satisfaction in telling people that “I blew my knee out in ballet,” but my routine was forever disrupted, and I abandoned my fantasies about flying around a tennis court.

By the time I was able to resume my classes at the gym, they were being cut due to competition from a newer, fancier fitness center in town. Things changed, time passed, and tennis was forgotten.  I defaulted to the elliptical machine and  bouts of yoga.

My exercise routine since returning to Durham has consisted of walking, some home-based yoga and hand weights. (Emphasis on “some.”)

Dr. T has continued to play tennis, and encouraging me to play too. I’ve continued to think that maybe I should try again. The knee has recovered, after all. Early this year, I spotted a notice for “pre-tennis conditioning.” I decided to give it a go.

For the last three Mondays, I’ve been sprinting, lifting weights, and engaging in Mountain Climbers and Fast Feet, among other depredations. There I was, in a group of actual tennis players who all knew each other, some of them younger, and all of them more fit than I.

And it was fun, and they were friendly.

Last Monday, I stayed to play “mini tennis” (Did you know that was a Thing? I didn’t) with a fellow conditioning classmate.  This was well beyond my comfort zone. I had just met her. Her nickname on the court is “Evil Judy” due to her deadly drop shot. She’s been sidelined for months because of shoulder surgery; I’ve been sidelined for decades because of inertia. Other members of our class were playing real, live tennis on either side of us.

I surprised myself. My stroke was stronger, my feet were slower than I expected, but it felt familiar and comfortable. I want to do it again. And again. With strangers, even.

How many of you are familiar with Marlo Thomas? If you are my age, you may recall her as the spunky, spritely Ann Marie in the 1960’s sitcom “That Girl.” ( I wanted to be her.) You kids out there may recognize her as the spokeswoman for St. Jude’s Children’s Research Hospital, founded by her late father, the comedian Danny Thomas.

Somewhere between That Girl and St. Jude’s, Ms. Thomas married talk show host Phil Donahue, and more notably, generated the idea for a children’s book and album entitled, “Free to Be You and Me,” which celebrated diversity among all people.

I was too old to be in the target audience for that admirable endeavor, but the catchy title has stayed with me.

I’ve borrowed and adapted it for the title of my Icebreaker Speech this evening, which is:

Free to Be Me and Me

As a child, I learned to view the world simply. There was Good and Bad, Right and Wrong.

Doing what I was told was “Good;”  sassing or talking back, “Bad.” Simple, right? Especially for a kid with a burning need to be “Good.” I tried as hard as I could to be good. It was the only way to be.

There comes a moment in every kid’s life when childhood collides with reality, and shades of gray begin to color a previously black and white world. At some point, we must accept that we will not do everything right, all of the time, no matter how hard we try.

Nobody’s perfect, especially me. This was a tough concept for me to grasp.

Although I like to see myself as a certain sort of person, the reality is, I’m not just one way.

A hard worker, capable of staying on task for hours and producing great results, I am also capable of spending hours online, playing Lexulous with my friends,  filling shopping carts with shoes I will never buy, watching cat videos, and clicking through long slide shows with titles like, “8 Secrets about (the movie) Mean Girls.”

I’m a loyal friend, but very likely to forget your birthday, or worse, buy a gift that sits unwrapped and unmailed in the trunk of my car for months.

A health-oriented individual, I  nonetheless drink 3 cups of coffee each morning, wine nearly every evening, and my exercise routine fluctuates between walking my dog three to six miles five times a week, and sitting on my you-know-what for months, lifting nothing heavier than an ice cream scoop.

Despite a desire to present myself as put-together, I can spend an entire weekend in the same sweatpants, with my hair  doing whatever crazy thing it likes.

I’m the most morbid optimist I know, fretting into the wee small hours, equally certain of impending disaster and that everything will be just fine after all.

You get the picture. Despite my lofty aspirations to be the best, most productive version of myself, I fail. This used to discourage me to a degree that I would give up, and berate myself over every failure. I was just never good enough, smart enough, or anything enough. It’s the kind of faulty world view that leads dieters to eat the whole pack of cookies because they’ve already eaten one. (Not that I would know anything about that…)

It’s easier for me to recognize  and accept  conflicts and contradictions in others than  myself, but I’ve been working on it. If I can forgive you for disappointing me, shouldn’t I extend myself the same courtesy?

I  am serious and earnest, and silly and snarky. I ‘m a shy show-off.  I  dread going to parties, but I’m often among the last to leave.

Back when I was kid, I  wanted  to be a free-spirited single girl like Ann Marie. Today I’ll settle for  being Free to Be Me and Me. I encourage  you to be Free to Be You and You, too.

George Lakoff

George Lakoff has retired as Distinguished Professor of Cognitive Science and Linguistics at the University of California at Berkeley. He is now Director of the Center for the Neural Mind & Society (cnms.berkeley.edu).

Greggory Miller

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