Archive for September, 2011

September 30, 2011

The Sweet Double Life of a Widow

We move on. We must. Our partners would want us to keep living, loving, enjoying all that life has to offer. Some of us are mothers. Our kids need us. Some of us get new partners. We have new relationships – passionate, exciting, fulfilling.

And yet, we still carry the unfinished business of a life cut short – stopped in mid-term. So many loose ends to contend with, incomplete thoughts, plans that never materialized, conversations that were never completed, or maybe never even started…

Surviving the loss of a life partner can be a devastating blow. Much has been written about the pain of grief, and the long road to recovery. But even those of us who feel we are on top of our new lives, thriving and functioning well, still have to contend with those familiar waves of unexplained sadness, the strange echoes of past experience that can suddenly permeate present moments.

I love my life. I’ll say that outright. I have lived more intensely, more fully than I could ever have imagined. I’ve seen many sorrowful and harrowing moments, but I have also tapped into deep wells of joy and ecstasy far beyond my craziest dreams. I’m pretty sure the challenges and  hardships I’ve faced have been essential to the development of who I am today.

My current lesson is all about embracing the sensations of my past without fearing them. Rather than characterize them as haunting memories, I prefer to think of them as gifts of remembrance. They really do flavor my days with a kind of shadowy edge that gives distinction and dimension to the shape of my current experience. Similar to the way certain songs just pull at my gut with a kind of energetic drive flavored by deep longing, simple everyday joys are often tinged by nostalgia, regret, or out and out sadness. And honestly, I don’t mind.

The greatest challenge is in not allowing the patterns of my past to define my path forward. I sometimes feel as though the walls are closing in, trapped by a sense that history is repeating itself, and I am powerless to prevent it. Until I’m reminded that I can choose differently now. I can move forward in any direction I want. Nothing is stopping me except my own inertia, my own fear, my own allegiance to my past.

 

Two quick anecdotes:

This week I drove to visit friends in Long Island, a trip I’ve taken many times. Faced with terrible traffic jams, on a whim, I decided to follow a different route suggested by my GPS. At first it made me feel a bit anxious, off-balance. But it turns out that we got there just fine, and I saw a whole other part of my friend’s neighborhood that I’d never seen before, and it was really beautiful. On the return trip, I did a similar thing, explored a highway I’d never even been on before, and learned a whole new way home.

Back in the day when my husband used to endure three or four harrowing hospitalizations each year, sometimes up to a month in duration, there was this one moment I always used to love. On the day of his discharge, he – weak and a little unsteady from the weeks of terrible pain, infections or other complications he had survived, me – relieved at the coming respite from daily visits to this place, we would walk together slowly through the hospital corridor, hand in hand, taking in the sights and sounds of life all around us. Our breathing was always calm, we were quiet, and the joy flowed silently between us as we reflected on where we had been and prepared to take in our first breaths of renewed freedom together.

Photo courtesy of criswatk

September 23, 2011

One Day A Solo View – Better Late Than Never

Wednesday the 21st was supposed to be the day I blogged a piece for a project called One Day A Solo View. Instead, it was a day I spent largely freaking out about a piece I’d written the day before that was not sitting right with me. Wednesday was freak out Day 1 of 2, until I finally realized on Thursday afternoon that I could go back and edit until I was more comfortable with it.

So asking myself to provide details of that particular day, Freakout Day 1, is kind of ironic.
It was a day I spent deeply questioning the entire point of blogging, sharing, giving up personal information about myself, my past, my family and friends… Frankly, still processing…

I’m fairly sure that the basic details of my day are fairly familiar – i-phone alarm, somewhat stressed push to get my 8-year-old to school on time, make sure the dishes from last night are washed, prep myself for a day at the office, wash, apply clothing, ignore many messy piles around the house until there’s time to really deal with them, and then travel to office for a day of outreach and marketing.

Stare at the computer, alternately monitor personal and business twitter pages, facebook pages, email, review and re-review the to-do items in Pivotal Tracker (project management software) and my yellow notebook including write emails, make appointments, edit letters, check the guest list for an upcoming event, follow up with various team members, collaborators. Basically, alternate between basic administrative / housekeeping tasks, creative development projects, business outreach campaigns, product development, and any other loose ends, scheduling meetings and other appointments, and try not to think of all the other stuff I have to do that’s not related to work.

In between, eat my yogurt and honey (breakfast), my leftover coconut rice, pan-seared codfish and stirfried cabbage & mushrooms in coconut sauce (lunch – SO GOOD), and later, wish I was eating pizza (sigh).

Walk to the subway through mid-town, noticing the myriad of police cars and road blocks EVERYWHERE, learn that Barack Obama is in town, and tweet about it.

Get on the train and play Free Cell on my i-phone instead of reading, AGAIN.

Meet a friend for dinner, (still wishing for pizza) and make a delicious marinated chick pea and artichoke salad, with raw carrots and green peppers to go with some kind of cereal crusted chicken breasts (yum).

Spend a couple of hours processing how vulnerable and raw I feel from sharing too much personal information online.  Go to sleep. Happy with the knowledge that Thursday night’s dinner will indeed be pizza. And realizing that blogging won’t solve that burning desire to express my deepest, darkest, etc. For now, it seems to be a damn good place to talk about food.

And leave out a whole lot of other details…

Photo courtesy of Foodies

September 20, 2011

Holy shit, I’m a single mom!

What? Was I not paying attention? Do you have any idea how not ready I am for this?

So of COURSE I’m blogging. What the hell do you expect? You would be, too, if you were in my position.

My life is filled with the joyful chaos of a seemingly endless array of interconnected interests, passions, struggles and desires.

And yet, I am somehow expected to create a sense of order and rhythm for a growing mind, security and safety for a developing spirit, offer a stable home, nutritious food, adequate clothing, academic support and all manners of extra-curricular activities. So whom am I talking about here, me or my son?

Stuff I gotta think about now – FOR TWO!

1) Developing a routine – things need to be done at certain times. Like getting to school when it starts, washing your hands when you come home, doing homework before you start playing or watching movies. Dinner before dessert.

2) Learning how to talk to people – Ya gotta have respect for authority (this one is tough). I came up in the “Question Authority” days. I love my kid’s spirit, but you have to know when to just nod your head and say, OK. Like EVERY TIME I TELL HIM TO DO SOMETHING!!!

3) Eating well – Stop with all the sugar! It rots your teeth, messes with your blood and all your internal organs, and makes our emotions far too difficult to control. Seriously, do we need any more challenge in that regard?

4) TV, B’bye! – It started as a budget cut. Now I see that unplugging from the cable was one of the best things we ever did. Sure I miss the latest episodes of Chopp’d, and Project Runway is a thing of the past, and yes, I missed the premiere of my friend’s new documentary on VH1 the other night. But seriously, we get more done now. You’re reading this blog, aren’t you? And I actually sleep more. I’m pretty sure my dreams are more therapeutic to my brain than marathons of The Real Housewives of New Jersey.

5) Walking – This school year, I am walking my son to school every morning, and picking him up on foot, too. I think my ass is getting into better shape. And, we talk about lots of stuff on our long strolls. Plus, now we’re getting in the habit of taking an evening walk after dinner with my neighbor and her daughter. It’s fun, and relaxing. Taking a break from the computer once in a while is pretty helpful, too…

6) Doing fun things on weekends – I admit, we do go on some cool adventures. That playdate out in Coney Island with his friend from summer camp was awesome. They had a pool and everything.

7) They do get older – Eventually, they don’t need you with them 24/7. Oh, you’re complaining now, but just wait until they go whizzing up the street on their scooters, bicycles, whatever…  You’ll be happy for the freedom… even as you imagine every type of torturous accident and disaster in the world befalling your kid.

8)  Hey look, I’m a soccer mom! – Some of these Dads take this shit so seriously! But I can coach from the sidelines as good as any of em. Without trying to relive my youth.

9) Homework – Polishing up those rusty math skills. (sigh) It is what it is…

10) It just doesn’t stop. Every day, you wake up, and they’re still there. They need to be fed, watered, bathed, comforted, entertained, protected, disciplined and inspired. And your stuff? Oh yeah, you have to find time to deal with that too. Like your JOB. Your physical and emotional health. Cleaning up your dwelling. Maintaining SOME SENSE OF ORDER to your own life.

And yes, there are those mornings when I just can’t get out of bed, and the best I can do is to mumble, “go fix yourself a bowl of cereal and let me sleep some more,” while he parks it in front of Sponge Bob for an hour or two (thank you Netflix).

Photo courtesy of obyvatel

September 18, 2011

Just write already… but don’t share it all, OK?

Seriously, what the hell is the big deal?

You wanna have a blog, you gotta write. It’s that simple.

I have always been expressive. Flute, ballet, singing, acting… Later on it was dj’ing, directing… But always writing. From the first diary entries back in fifth grade (shopping lists, mostly, and laments about being flatchested and boys that ignored me… ahem, clearly connected), to the later journal pages, poems, essays, short stories, plays… aaah, so many words.

So much crap.

It’s like that when you’re writing. Really, if you’re putting pen to paper (or fingers to keyboard) on a regular basis, then 90% of what you’re writing is usually crap. But it’s the crap you have to get out of your system if you wanna get to the good stuff.

With me, I usually start out with overwrought cliches, trite phrases and predictable, badly mixed metaphors. Once I get those out of the way, I move on to talking ABOUT what I want to say. Finally, at some point, when I can calm down and stop thinking about who is going to read my stuff, how it might be received, and what I’m gonna wear on the book tour, I actually get to the point.

Once in a while, I lock into something that is inspired by something beyond my control. I like this. A lot. It reminds me of when I used to study the flute, and after a bunch of years, when I had practiced enough and started to develop some chops, I could actually play faster than I could read music. It was like my fingers had developed a mind of their own, and they would fly across the keys beyond my ability to consciously register their every move.

You wanna get to the really quality shit? You have to slog through the garbage. You have to practice every day. You have to get to where your ideas are flowing through your fingers faster than your mind registers the writing down of each and every letter. You need to put in your time, baby.

Julia Cameron had it right. That’s why The Artist’s Way is a classic, and has been translated into I don’t know how many languages, and she’s probably done very well for herself, thank you very much. Those morning pages are the real deal. Ya gotta do em. Ya gotta keep writing. Just do it.

But here’s the thing… You may want to think twice about sharing EVERYTHING you write. I mean, I know that every moment in your day is quite profound, and the level of detail you’ve put into some of those descriptions is, well… admirable. But you need to think about your readers. What are they experiencing as they read your stuff? Are you imparting anything worth sharing? Is there a lesson in all that verbiage? Some humor? Some insight into the human condition? Any advice? Words of warning? New information? Anything??

Blogging is a dangerous business. I know this. It’s very tempting to believe that because you can publish your words at will, that everything you have to say is worth reading. Sadly, this is just not the case. For most of us.

And believe me when I tell you, I am working to take my own advice.

Note: I have not been paid by Julia Cameron to promote her book or her online course. She doesn’t need my help to sell her stuff.

Photo courtesy of malsicuro

September 13, 2011

Keeping Your Head Above Water: Ten Suggestions for When You Feel Yourself Going Under

I’m one of those people who have studied all the “right” things to do.  I’ve consulted my share of therapists and healers, read the best self-help books, participated in support groups and been to spiritual retreats.  And I’ve given out some damn good advice to other people.  Yet I still find myself, from time to time, staring down the dark tunnel of self-loathing, feeling like a hopeless, useless failure.

I know, you’re probably saying, “God, what a drama queen.”  And you’re right – it gets pretty self-indulgent to stay in that place for too long.  But c’mon, admit it.  We’ve all been there.  I’m talking about those low moments when you wonder if everything you’ve ever dreamed about or worked for is just an illusion… when you wonder if you really are nothing more than a legend in your own mind…  And then you really start to get depressed when you Google your old friends from college to see how successful they’ve become…

Yogis and monks and spiritual leaders across the globe will remind us that the greatest and most divine rewards lie within us.  And they are right.  While everyone has to find their own connection to God, the divine, the spirit world, the earth mother, or whatever term you have for the unexplained forces that guide and protect us, I believe we all carry the seeds of that power within us, and we need to figure out a way to stay in touch with that force each and every day.

Hard economic times, natural and man-made disasters – life can get completely overwhelming sometimes.  Whether you are trying to hold a family together or write a novel, make enough money to pay your mortgage or meet your rent, or just make it through a day feeling good about yourself, your relationships and the work you are doing in the world, here are some simple things you can do to combat feelings of discouragement or hopelessness:

1) Take at least five minutes in the morning to tune everything out and start the day with some deep breaths. 

You don’t need any special gear or training.  You don’t even need a special place to do it – you can sit on a pillow, at the edge of your bed, on a comfy chair or a couch, even in the bathroom!  Practice breathing deeply and avoiding any worrisome thoughts or concerns.  If anything unwanted enters your mind, don’t beat yourself up about it, just gently push it to the side and replace it with a neutral, pleasant image such as a candle or a flower.

Don’t worry about what you call it.  Just do it.  What’s five minutes?  It’s a great way to start your day, and a helpful break from all of the anxieties that will be waiting for you once you finish.  And if you decide you like doing this and want to do it more often, you can always look more fully into meditation or some other spiritual practice.

2) Don’t waste time worrying about things you can’t change. 

It’s true what your friends in Alcoholics Anonymous say.  You need to accept the things you can’t change and focus your strength on the things you can, but first you have to figure out which is which.  A good basic rule is this – if it’s something you think or do, then you have the power to change it.  If it’s something that someone else is thinking or doing, you have no real control over it.  Don’t waste your energy!

3) Eat at least one thing that is good for you, each day. 

Most of us spend a lot of time worrying about our health and our bodies.  Many of us struggle with diets.  My advice is to take it one step at a time.  Make at least one good food choice each day.  I’m talking about eating some whole grain bread or a piece of organic fruit or even some plain steamed vegetables.  Or even just avoiding the most oversized fried chicken plate or opting for the roasted potatoes instead of the fried ones.  Don’t think of it as deprivation.  Think of it as an offering to yourself.  Try to give yourself at least one reason to praise your own food choices each day.  Choose the yogurt and fruit for breakfast instead of the pancakes.  Just for today.  Quit giving yourself excuses to beat yourself up.  Focus on one of your good choices.  Even if you do indulge later in the day, at least you’ll know you are capable of doing the right thing.  Changing old behaviors takes time.  Don’t try to do it all at once.


4) Focus on appreciating at least one good thing about yourself, each day.

Please.  Stop beating yourself up.  There must be at least one thing you like about yourself.  Do what you have to do to find it.  And appreciate it.  Every day.  Every single day.  Who knows, maybe tomorrow, you’ll find two?

5) Complete at least one small thing on your mental to-do list, each day.

It can be something as small as paying a bill or returning a phone call, doing the dishes or writing a letter to an old friend, exchanging something at the store or fixing something in the bathroom.  Take it off your list.  Don’t think you have to do it all in one day.  That would be way too overwhelming.  Chip away at that list, one item, one day at a time.  If you stick with it, you will begin to see progress, I promise.

6) Take at least one step towards reaching a long term goal, each day.

Few dreams are insurmountable if you work at them one step at a time.  If you are a writer, then write something.  If you are an artist or musician of any kind, spend some time practicing.  If you are working on solving a particular problem, take a concrete step towards finding a solution – read an informative article or book, or contact someone whose advice you value.  If you are building or creating something, spend some time on your project.  Don’t expect immediate results.  Be patient with yourself.  And don’t forget to identify and appreciate each step you take towards reaching your goal.

7) Stop worrying about what other people think. 

Really.  Just stop it!  I used to spend a ton of energy wondering about how friends and colleagues were responding to the things I said and did.  I thought for sure they were talking about me behind my back, and thinking all sorts of terrible things about me.  Until one day, when a very wise therapist told me, “You’re not that important.”  Believe it or not, it was a relief to hear that.  The truth is, most people are too busy thinking about themselves to spend that much brain time on you.  Once you realize that you are not the center of anyone’s world but your own, you can take the pressure off yourself.  Give yourself a break.

8)  Remember that every mistake is a learning opportunity.

You might be tempted to beat yourself up for your errors.  I know it’s often my own first instinct.  However, you must resist!  Mistakes really are gifts.  They give us the chance to review the quality of our choices and our work and figure out ways to make improvements.  Sitting around feeling terrible or guilty for something you screwed up is self-indulgent and an excuse for not correcting a problem.  Instead, honest self-appraisal can help determine where you may need assistance or even additional training.  Fully engaging in this process can also do wonders for your self-esteem, as you increasingly discover that you may already have the answers to your questions inside you.

9) Get out of your head and move your body.

Exercise and other forms of physical activity will make you feel good, but they’re also good for you!  Do some stretches in the morning after your deep breathing.  Take a walk.  Dance to some music.  Make love to someone you love who loves you back.  Don’t lose touch with your body!

10)  Surround yourself with good people.

The people in your life reflect back to you the person you want to be.  Don’t waste time on people who are overly critical or abusive with you.  You need to surround yourself with people who are loving and kind and appreciate you for who you are.  Believe it or not, you may prefer being alone than to being with some of the toxic people currently in your life.

*  *  *  *  *  *  *

Of course I know it’s not always that easy.  Even knowing the right things to do is no guarantee that you’ll always do them, and habits, especially bad ones, are very hard to break!  If all it took to make us feel better was reading an article or a book, there’d be no need for therapists or prescription medications.  In fact, some of us do require professional medical or psychological help, and should seek it when necessary.  But even if we are under the care of a doctor or a therapist, we can still remember to do one or two little things to be good to ourselves, each and every day.

Photo courtesy of Hamed Saber

September 4, 2011

Random Thoughts About Writing, Sadness and Community

I’ve been wondering why it is that I write, and specifically, why it is that I write this blog?

It’s not just that I write to organize the sheer volume and variety of thoughts that are constantly flying through my brain. It’s not just that I hunger for the feedback that tells me I’ve been seen, heard, understood and appreciated (although all of that is great). It’s for the feeling of being connected to other people. It’s for knowing that the things I think about and feel are shared by others, and that we are somehow part of something larger for sharing these things. It’s also the reason I love my work and anything that has to do with connecting people to one another in ways that bring joy or new possibilities.

I spend a fair amount of time on twitter. For business and pleasure. I find it a great communication and community building tool. Sometimes surfing the twitter stream brings me to unexpected places.

A few minutes ago, I happened upon the news that a well-known, respected and liked person in the marketing and social media world, Trey Pennington, took his life earlier this morning. As of this moment, his website is still up, as is his twitter stream. Hauntingly, his last tweet reads: Sure am thankful for online friends who are real friends offline, too. Love you. Trey Pennington. It was posted earlier this morning.

I did not know Trey personally, but we trafficked in similar online circles. As the news is spreading and the number of tweets by shocked and saddened friends & colleagues rapidly grows, I am expecting to see messages from individuals with whom I am directly connected. It is inevitable. This world is too small.

I suppose I am now a part of this wave of communication that is spreading like wildfire through cyberspace. I am sure many blogs will be written about him, and his life, and how someone who was perceived as so on top of things was actually suffering in silence. As for me, I am feeling oddly compelled to write this as a way to reinvigorate my online connection to my loved ones. Consider this a protest in response to the unfair demise of one whom many will mourn – like wearing bright pink at a funeral, or expressing grief by dancing and singing…

I do not generally suffer in silence. If I’m feeling sad, or overwhelmed, my friends and family will hear about it. I’m grateful that I’ve learned and been encouraged to reach out when I have the need to connect. And as I continue to express my thoughts and feelings via this blog, I’m reminded by this tragic incident that not only is it OK for me to explore matters of grief and sadness through these posts, it’s probably a good thing.

I KNOW I’m not the only one that experiences these things. Perhaps I’ve seen more than the average person’s share of illness and death in my family and close circle, but isn’t that what qualifies me to speak on them? It’s also what qualifies me to sometimes treat them with less than full reverence. It’s my humor and sarcasm that keeps me from becoming overly maudlin.

But right now, I don’t feel quite ready to muster up the humor. I am truly sad about this man I never met. I’m sad that despite the fact that he maintained an upbeat and positive online persona, he was miserable enough to take his own life. That totally sucks. And no amount of sarcasm can make that part go away.

My thoughts and prayers go out to the family and friends of Trey Pennington. May you all find solace and comfort in one another as you try to make sense of his untimely passing…

September 2, 2011

Seriously? It’s that simple?

When I write, people read. It’s kind of a small miracle. Like how people tend to stay on their own side of the road (most of the time – grateful), and hot water comes out of the shower (also most of the time – also grateful).

Sometimes I have to pinch myself as a reminder to just keep moving the pen across the paper… or my fingers across the keyboard. After all, I have no shortage of ideas. If anything, most of the time I’m writing as a matter of survival, to bring some order to the vast, chaotic collection of thoughts and images that relentlessly ping pong their way across the great viewscreen of my mind. It’s so freaking BUSY up there.

I feel the same way when I walk down the streets of midtown NYC during the middle of the day. For a psychic sponge like me, it can be a draining experience just dashing out for a cup of soup. Sample sale, wow, only $5 for that dress?, red light, stop, green light, cross the street, fumes, hey that guy just ran a red light, close call, fragments of German walking by, Spanish, French, (so many tourists), do you know the way to the Empire State Building?, now who’s texting me?, wow, these bicycle lanes are serious, that was close, couple arguing, how does she walk on those heels, what is that smell?, sunny day, my friends in Huntington STILL don’t have electricity, what the hell am I going to fix for dinner, I should NOT have had that coffee so late last night, now I need more just to stay awake, I need some acupuncture, so hungry, thirsty, restless, why can’t I FOCUS???, maybe if I eat some root vegetables, gotta get this mortgage modification, shit I forgot to call back that woman from the meeting, pay that parking ticket, buy more toilet paper, that guy is so looking at my ass, wow, only $10 for that shirt, what the hell is eyebrow threading, anyway?, $7 for a cup of soup???!!!

Inside, outside, not sure which is busier these days.

Now, I promised myself and you, that this blog would not be my “therapy.” This is not, therapy. I promise. I feel no closer to any truth or resolution. I only crave the opportunity to tell a story that some of you, maybe one or two of you will recognize. It’s about connecting, crafting a path from one soul to another. And yes, when I let so much time go between posts, it feels like I’m clearing the way for more coherent tales to emerge. But you and I both know, things just aren’t always that neat. And that’s a reasonable story to share, too…

Photo by SantaRosa OLD SKOOL