Author Archives: Jessica

Getting Unstuck & Letting Go

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“Don’t get stuck in the past, and don’t try to fast-forward yourself into a future you haven’t yet earned. Give today all the love and intensity and courage you can, and keep traveling honestly along life’s path.” – Shauna Niequist

I stole that quote from a book called “Bittersweet: Thoughts on Change, Grace and Learning the Hard Way.”

I haven’t read the book – only a handful of passages. She has some excellent thoughts, but there’s too much god-talk for a good heathen to tolerate, and she often comes across as judgy and sanctimonious. I like those two lines though.

I’ve been thinking a lot about my past. I found myself recently (and somewhat defensively) telling a friend, “I’m not who I was at 23.”

I’m not. But I don’t think I should be so defensive. I’m not proud of a lot of my past behaviors, but I’m also not ungrateful for what I learned from them. They’re a part of my past, a major factor in the person I am at 37, a woman I’m genuinely proud to be. I still have a lot to learn, but – barring a freak accident – I probably still have a lot of time left in which to do so. I hope so.

Regardless, I know what I value in a way that I’ve never known before. I love who I am in a way I never have before. I possess a self-respect that I never before had. I’m not afraid of everything and everyone anymore. For the first time in my life, I am unapologetically me.

Two years ago, I sat in my bedroom, alone and in tears shortly after telling my husband I didn’t love him and wanted to divorce, and posted on my Twitter account, “I am not a good person.” I think I really believed that for a very long time. And I don’t anymore. I’m not stuck in a past I can’t change. I’m no longer making decisions out of a sense of shame and guilt.

So maybe now I can concentrate on the second part and stop trying to fast-forward myself into the future. My present is nice. I need to treat it with care. Another new favorite quote is this: “Stay in the present moment, and the past and the future will fall naturally and easily into place.”

I don’t know to whom to attribute it. A friend wrote it in her notebook and posted a photo on Instagram, but I suspect she got it from somewhere else.

I keep trying. I’m not a fatalist. I don’t believe things are predetermined. I believe in human ability, not divine intervention. But I also know I can’t control everything. Only myself. And when I let go of what I can’t control, things do seem to fall into place. (And I’m a much better person to be around.)

There’s still a person I want to be, and I’m not her yet. I’m not as graceful as I’d like (physically and emotionally). I’m not as mellow, not as understanding. Not as well-read and educated despite all my formal education. Not as productive. I still have a lot of work to do. And I have all the control over that.

About a year ago, I wrote a list of immediate goals. I didn’t look at it again until recently and was surprised how many of them I’d accomplished, without really thinking about it. Imagine what I could accomplish if I dedicated real effort to it.

But it’s nice to know – since I’m always talking about starting things – that I have actually started. I haven’t just talked about it and sat back, letting life go by.

And Spring is a good time to start more things. It’s easy to feel alive and energetic when everything else around you is coming alive.

Hair. Beavers. (As in “hair and beavers.” Not “hair beavers.” That would be silly.)

I had a bad hair day today. 

That’s a misnomer. The phrase “bad hair day” implies “I’ve made every effort I possibly could to tame this mop, and everything has failed.”

What I had is an “I don’t give a f!@k” hair day. I woke up this morning, looked in the mirror, and thought to myself … “That works.” 

So I took a quick shower to clean my face and body but didn’t bother with the hair. Conventional wisdom has it that it’s healthy to not wash your hair every single day.

Conventional wisdom and I aren’t usually drinking buddies, but I like to save time when I’ve gotten out of bed late so I was cool with that. 

Until I got to work (on time) and looked in the mirror again. 

Either I was still asleep for my initial assessment or sometime during my 30-minute walk to work, a beaver couple moved into my hair and started a family. 

They’d left by noonish, but I can’t say it was an improvement. 

I worked two jobs today and interacted with lots of people. Admittedly, none of them asked me if my hair had been acting as a halfway home for beaver families. But they were thinking it. Don’t think I don’t know. 

It’s a superficial thing, maybe. But the fact is appearances do matter. How you FEEL matters even more, and I’m here to tell you, folks, feeling like a family of beavers is squatting in your hair does not make you feel like a professional. 

And the moral of this story is clearly that not everything I write on this blog has to mean something. 

This Week

The post office lost my divorce paperwork, and I will most likely have to spend another $165 to file again.

The tax preparer I went to did not help me. Or even like me, I suspect. And I owe a lot.

One of my dogs has started to have occasional seizures.

I frequently feel like I’m under attack at my primary job by people who don’t in fact know as much about my work as I do.

I got about two hours of sleep last night.

But …

I gave someone going through real grief a new and comforting idea.

I know – even if others don’t – that I did good work this week and got a lot done.

I got some unexpected time with someone I love.

I listened to good music.

I had a couple of good ideas I can mold into actions. I think.

I came to the realization that I should not, under any circumstances, have more than two drinks in a day because it will only make me either sad or angry or both.

I worked my body very hard, and it will be better for it.

I walked a lot.

There’s always next week.

Anger Management 101: Porcupines and No Answers

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There are moments when I’m so angry, I think I could physically rip apart the planet and send it careening into space. And would happily do so.

This is not peaceful.

I attended a Yin Nidra class last night. I’m not much of a believer in anything so I have to ignore much of what the instructor says when it starts heading in the direction of communicating with the divine. I’m allergic to that kind of talk. It increases my heartrate and blood pressure and causes a completely understandable desire to run screaming from the building. Nobody likes that.

But I liked what she had to say about intention. It comes up in my Headspace meditation a lot, too: keeping an intention in mind, what it is you’re trying to accomplish with your practice. Last night I really just wanted a good stretch for my aching body, but my overarching goal in all this meditation work I’ve started doing is to cultivate peace.

I’m not a peaceful person. I’m a bit prickly. I’m very prickly. In fact, I just decided my totem animal is a porcupine. I’m small but armored. I tend to avoid conflict, but if it insists on finding me, I pierce things. (Metaphorically, of course. Contrary to what my sister will tell you, I don’t actually stab people with scissors.)

I’m not certain where this comes from because the other women in my family become raging banshees when they’re angry. I just get quiet(er) and cold. And, well, prickly.

I now have this image of me sitting on a stool at my favorite bar, hearing something that makes me angry and instantly sprouting a mane of sharp quills, like a porcupine version of the Hulk. I kind of like it.

Here’s a bit of fun etymology. The word porcupine comes from the Latin porcus (pig) and spina (spine or quill). A regional American name for porcupine is “quill pig,” which isn’t nearly as fun as the Afrikaans name, ystervark, which means “iron pig.”

There are also characteristics that differentiate Old World porcupines from New World porcupines (which, geographically speaking, I would be.) According to Wikipedia, Old World porcupines are large and their spikes are grouped in clusters. New World iron pigs are smaller, have quills attached singly, and are excellent climbers. (Initially I read that as dancers, which tickles me.)

You now have a very good illustration of how my brain works.

What was I talking about?

Ah, yes. Anger. Intention. Peace. Porcupines. A natural progression. 

I’m trying to become less angry, more peaceful. To cultivate less longing for what I don’t have and more content with what I do. To worry less about what I can’t control and do more with what I can.

It’s impossible. I don’t think it’s ever going to happen. I have always raged (albeit quietly) against the world. I really don’t know how to change that. Sometimes I wonder if the best way for me to be more at peace and worry less is just to accept that I’m meant to softly rail.

My favorite part of this cartoon from the Oatmeal that I linked to in my last post (and will link here again, because it’s worth looking at more than once) is at the end … “I do these things because I want to be tormented and challenged and interested. I want to build things, and then break them. I want to be busy and beautiful and brimming with ten-thousand moving parts.”

And sometimes I want to be still and silent, but even then my brain doesn’t turn off. It rages and rails and argues and counterargues and overthinks and keeps me up at night and will probably continue to do so until I’m dead. Which, to be clear, I intend to be very far in the future. If Billy Joel and Lori McKenna are anything to go by, I’ll live to a ripe old age.

So maybe if I can’t worry less about what I can’t control, I can at least *also* do more with what I have. I feel like I should be able to channel my anger, frustration, and cynicism into something creative. Something that matters. To someone, even if it’s just other lost and angry souls who are looking for something meaningful to which to cling.

I feel like every blog post I write is just another question. Why don’t I ever have answers?

Taking a Break

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Here’s a secret. I despise social media.

I see its benefits. There are parts of it I like very much. The ease with which I can connect with people who aren’t nearby is hugely alluring.

And it’s my job so I can’t really get away.

But I just deactivated most of my personal accounts for an indefinite amount of time. Twitter only gives me 30 days to reactivate, but I’m assuming that – should I choose – I can simply log back in and deactivate it again for 30 days at a time. Or just decide to can the whole thing. Which is likely. I’ve gone without cable for a decade and home internet for more than a year. You can get used to anything.

I don’t like who I am online. And I rarely like who other people are online. I don’t want an easy, near-anonymous outlet for my emotions anymore. I’m an idiot online. A showoff. Needy and often unkind. I don’t like it. And I’m afraid it’s an attitude that is seeping ever so slightly into my offline reality.

So, I’m scrapping social media and spending that time being someone I do like. Someone who reads and writes a lot and works hard and thinks more than she speaks and walks to work instead of driving and takes care of things and is nice to people. Someone who would never tell another human being (no matter how awful they may be), “Good luck being stupid.”

Someone who doesn’t air her dirty laundry (though vaguely) for all the world to read.

Hard when you write a blog, because I want the blog to be authentic. But the blog is different. Possibly because only three people read it. They’re already right next to the hamper anyway. This metaphor isn’t working for me.

I’m tired, I’m sad, I’m angry and I’m hugely disappointed in myself. I think a social media presence will only continue to exacerbate that. Plus it wastes a lot of time I could spend on something productive.

My solution to overwhelm is almost always to jettison. We don’t need a lot of things in our lives to be happy.

Oh, speaking of happy. One of my two most favorite people in the world sent me this today. It’s comforting.

5 Things That Make Life Worth Living

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When I was in the Navy and at sea for long stretches of time doing work I often did not enjoy, I would make lists of things that made me happy. Usually they were tangible things like morning coffee, pens that scritch pleasantly across paper, good books, trees (I missed the color green so much when I was at sea.)

I recently started making a new list, and I noticed less tangible things were coming to mind. They were instead experiences that bring me – in various ways – real joy. And they aren’t things that necessarily happen on a day-to-day basis. But I live for the moments in which in these things occur.

That’s what I wanted to create. A list of moments for which my life is worth living.

(These are in no particular order.)

1. Physical, Mental & Emotional Pain

I started with a weird one. It might make me sound like a bit of a sado-masochist … but no. I am a firm believer (after many years of denying it) that pain not only makes you stronger, but reaffirms to your body and mind that you are alive. Truly alive. Not just passively moving through the world, but actively engaged in curating your life. You cannot be bold and also be free of pain and embarrassment. I have a lot to say about pain, more than I can say here, so suffice it to say that it doesn’t (always) repel me simply because I know there are lessons to be learned from it. And learning makes me happy.

2. New Insights

There are moments when I’m reading a book or a blog post or a news article or listening to a podcast and something tugs at my brain like an excited puppy because I’ve just come across some insight – a word, a phrase, a paragraph – that instantly teaches me something new about myself or someone I love. I don’t know how to describe the joy this brings, knowing that I’m just a little bit smarter – in a way that will affect my entire life philosophy. It’s intoxicating. It can happen in conversations, too, which brings me to …

3. Interesting, Intelligent, Intimate Conversations

These aren’t easy to come by, though it helps if you yourself are willing to be vulnerable and nonjudgmental, which encourages others to do the same. There are obvious people in your life with whom these conversations occur, but I sometimes have the most enlightening conversations with near strangers. And bartenders. Talking at parties and work gatherings and things like that often exhausts me – so much work for so little depth. I know when I’m having a conversation worth having when I’m energized by it instead.

4. Kissing in Public

God, I love this so much.

5. Deep Hearty Laughter

There are few things I love more than laughing. And my laugh is deep. And hearty. And apparently very entertaining to those who aren’t expecting it.

One of things I notice about this brief list is that none of it requires money. It’s all free and available to anyone. And will often happen whether you want it to or not so you might as well make the most of it. And of life in general.

Abdul Sattar Edhi’s Example

Google wants you to know today who Abdul Sattar Edhi was – and it should. In a country where so many misguided people want to take away others’ health care, they should read about a man in Pakistan who worked to develop his own health care foundation so he could provide free care to those who couldn’t afford it.

In a country whose rich lawmakers want to destroy a poor woman’s ability to plan her family sensibly but don’t want to provide any programs to help her care for the children this will force her to have, you should read about a man who, when he died, was the legal guardian of 20,000 orphans.

And in a country where this man would be detained (and in fact was during the Bush administration) at the airport for questioning because of what he looks like, you should read about how he helped raise $100,000 to help victims of … wait for it. Hurricane Katrina. Americans in Louisiana and Mississippi – many of whom voted for a man who will never be able to even comprehend that kind of generosity and dedication much less practice it – benefited from Edhi regardless, and they should know.

They should know that a Muslim man on the other side of the world worked hard to help bring them aid – and think about that the next time they think Americans shouldn’t be called on to help people outside of our own borders.

Borders are not natural. They’re a political construct, and in the grand scheme of things, they don’t mean much. We are world citizens. And if we don’t figure out how to take care of each other, then there will have been no point in us being here at all on this tiny blue dot that will not last forever.

What a horrible waste of thousands of years of civilization building. And millions of years of human evolution.

On Being Lost in the Woods

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How many times throughout my life am I going to ask myself, “What’s the brave thing to do? Is it brave or is it careless? Is the opposite smart or merely safe?”

I feel like I’m always tackling the concept of courage vs. security. In fact, I often feel I’m fighting an internal battle about everything, as if I’m made up of two halves of very different people. One who is frightened by the world and one who wants to meet each day with a roar. One who wants to laze about and dream about things happening, the other who wants to make things happen.

The lotus eater vs. the adventurer.

Maybe it’s just indecision, but I’ve never considered myself an indecisive person. Maybe it’s just a matter of finding myself for the first time completely in charge of my own destiny, rather than floating along in the wake of other people’s decisions – people to whom I felt I owed something.

I don’t owe anyone control anymore. As I posted recently on Twitter, I’ve left the path. And now I’m lost in the woods, trying to find my way. All the plucky heroines find their way. Often into the jaws of the wolf, but they make it back out again eventually, given time.

“I like stories where women save themselves,” said Neil Gaiman, one of my favorite fiction authors.

I do, too, and it’s just as well, because if there’s one thing I’ve learned, no one is going to save me. But stepping out into your story alone is hard. And honestly, I’m not quite sure what step to take.

Which means I need to just take one and see what happens. I’ll never be a plucky heroine if I stand among the trees waiting to be found.

And the wolves will find you whether you step out or stand still.

 

You Can’t Keep Things That Don’t Want To Be Kept

You can’t keep things that don’t want to be kept.

And you certainly can’t keep people. The ultimate respect you can confer on another human being is an understanding that, whatever relationship you have with them, they are autonomous. They can go where they please.

And if they don’t want to be with you, then … they don’t.

That’s life. It’s always a risk, getting involved in a relationship. We are such a possessive society. I originally typed race, but that implies it’s a genetic imperative. I don’t think that’s true. Possessiveness is a social construct.

Because of that social conditioning, it’s hard to let go of something we think we should have. That we think we’ve earned – through our kindness, our understanding, our financial backing, our LOVE.

But you don’t earn people. You ask them in, and if you’re very lucky, they stay. But if they choose to go, you let them. That’s the most generous thing you can do for another human being. That IS love.

It’s hard, because we make ourselves feel that their presence is part of our own self worth. And it isn’t. We are worthy regardless. The presence of other people isn’t what makes us worthwhile.

I’m still working my way through this. I am navigating the whole idea of relationships with a completely different compass. I often don’t do it right. No one does all the time. We have to be gentle with each other.

But I love the challenge of approaching relationships differently – friendships, romance, whatever. I want my life to be about my own choices – and that most certainly requires accepting others’ choices.

I want to love and laugh and listen to beautiful music and create lovely things and make love in the middle of an afternoon and accept. I want it to be about efficiency of time – my time. I want it spent in the best possible way, with the people I care about most. I’m always so afraid that life will be a drudge until the end.

Maybe my constant fretting about that is what makes it a drudge. I don’t know. Like I said, I’m still working my way through it.

But I’ve learned a lot about how to treat other people in the last year – more so than I think I learned in first 36 years of my life. And that’s saying something.

That doesn’t always manifest itself well on Twitter when I’m three bourbons deep. But I’ll keep working through it … and owning my mistakes. Hopefully it will lead me somewhere happy.

Getting Rid of Things

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I’m sitting cross-legged on a crumpled blanket on the floor of my apartment where my dining table used to be with my keyboard in my lap and the computer on the floor in front of me.

The Salvation Army came today and carted away my dining room table, four chairs, and a large TV console (useless since several months ago when I gave away my large TV. I now have a small TV that I’ve only turned on once in that amount of time – partly because it only occasionally wants to work, mostly because I don’t have cable or Internet and can watch DVDs on my computer. When I get around to moving it, it will easily fit on a bookshelf.)

Most of the rest of my furniture is scattered around in various stages of undress (i.e. it’s taken apart and all of its smaller pieces have already been thrown in the dumpster. The larger bits I’ll be taking to the dump Saturday.)

The only thing I’m keeping is my bed (and I’m seriously reconsidering keeping the frame), three bookshelves, and a nightstand. I’m also going through all my clothes and other belongings and aggressively removing items from my life.

By Sunday, my apartment will look very much like it did before I moved in. I’ve been waiting for this moment for years.

At lunch today I was writing a list in my Bullet Journal of actions I could take to reduce anxiety in my life. Further actions, since I’ve already begun the major one – getting rid of my belongings.

I’ve been wanting to do just that for a long time. At first, I lived with someone who would never have gone along with getting rid of all the furniture. Not that he’s a minority or even particularly unreasonable in this case. And then I was moving from a 3,000-square-foot home to a 720-square-foot apartment post-separation and was already getting rid of so much stuff, it felt a bit overwhelming as it was. And I didn’t know for sure what I would need in my new life.

Turns out, not much.

After a year of living alone in a tiny apartment with two dogs and a cat, I’ve come to the conclusion that less is most definitely more. (Fewer pets, too, but that will take care of itself in time.) Even at 720 square feet, it seems a monumental task to keep this place clean with all the animal hair and the dirt eight paws can carry (SO MUCH DIRT).

There’s a part of me that feels that most grown-ups don’t struggle with simply keeping their apartment clean. How hard is that really? It’s embarrassing. But there you have it. I’m 37 years old, and I despise housecleaning. I hate how furniture tucks away fur and dirt and spiders and fake-god-knows-what in its nooks and crannies that take Herculean effort to get out.

I’m trying to make the cleaning effort more efficient by simply not having furniture. I work two jobs – approximately 65 hours a week. And when I’m NOT doing that, I want to be able to read and daydream and write and make healthy food and workout and well, other stuff, and NOT live in squalor, without spending all my time cleaning. I have a healthy inner (and outer) world to cultivate. Ain’t nobody got time for that.

Plus ever since I read Minimalism, I’ve wanted to basically take an axe to everything I own (except the dogs).

So I’m starting over. I’ll sit on the floor a lot for awhile, because I plan to be very careful and cautious about the things I bring into my life (a metaphor if ever there was one). And it won’t be entirely comfortable at first.

But right now I’m sitting on the floor typing away, and it feels right. There’s still a lot of work to do. And a cushion would be more comfortable than this crumpled up blanket. The dogs seem puzzled but not disapproving now that I’ve come down to their world. And I feel more at ease than I have in a while.

It will only get better.