Friday, February 24, 2017

To Whom It May Concern

Dear Meditation,

I thought I’d be better at practicing you by now. 

I’m about to finish the book Real Happiness: The Power of Meditation, which is a four week program to learn all about meditation. I all read about the benefits of meditation, and I’ve practiced breathing meditations, body scan meditations, letting go of thoughts meditations and lovingkindness meditations. I’m now on the final week, and instead of being able to ease through the recommended five to six meditation sessions a week, at least one of which is over 20 minutes long, I still find myself wiggly and itchy and fidgety and peeking at the timer to discover that only two minutes had passed since the initial chime.
My massage therapist encourages me to keep it up, that meditation is like exercise and I just need to keep practicing so those meditation muscles get stronger and can be used for longer stretches of time. So I’ll keep trying, finishing this week’s lovingkindness focus with the mantra, “May you be safe. May you be happy. May you be healthy. May you live with ease.” And I’ll make sure that, in addition to sending those vibes out to those I’m fond of and those I’m not-so-fond of, I’ll include myself in lovingkindness wishes.

An Improving Meditator 

Dear Commercial Airlines,

Thanks for making your flights ridiculously expensive during Spring Break. At first I was totally bummed that flying four people to sunny Florida would require me to auction off my internal organs, but as Facebook friends continued to offer fun suggestions for road tripping with kids, I’m kind of looking forward to being trapped in a car with my family for many, many hours. I think back very fondly to the family road trips my parents took me and my brother on when we were kids, and I know one day my little ones will appreciate the time spent together as well.

A Mom Ready for the Family-Friendly Version of Spring Break

Dear Parents of Teenage Boys,

I have less than a week until my boy enters his teenage years. He is almost as tall as me, his voice is suddenly so deep I barely recognize it, and the other day he received his first love note from a young lady requesting to be his girlfriend. None of that really scares me though. That’s pretty typical. It’s all that other stuff that teenagers face these days that my generation didn’t have to deal with that really scares me. Snapchat. Cyberbullying. Internet porn. 

So parents, how do I get through these teenage years with my sanity intact? How do I get him through his teenage years with more wisdom than rebellion? How do I not screw it all up?!

Send some prayers,
A Parent About to Join the Club of Parents with Teenage Boys

Dear Lady in the Grocery Store Checkout Line,

I saw you out of the corner of my eye. I saw you look away when I looked at you. You and your husband were overdressed for Food Lion, likely picking up some essentials after church. You were an older couple, older than my parents, and I figured you averted your gaze because of my pink hair. And while pink hair isn’t as wild and crazy as it was once considered, I don’t think older generations get it. In fact, just minutes before, another older woman looked practically frightened when I passed her in the international foods aisle. So I thought I was about to get handed some harsh judgment when you tapped me on the shoulder and said, “Excuse me, but I just have to know…”

Here it comes, I thought. She’s going to ask me why I would do such a horrible thing to my long blonde hair. I braced myself and prepared to brush her off.

“Which came first: the hair or the shirt?”

Huh? I looked down and realized I was wearing a pink shirt, a shade that almost exactly matched my hair.

“Because you’re perfectly color coordinated,” she continued with a smile.

I laughed, and she gave me a wink. “I just love the hair,” she said to me, then linked arms with her husband and said to him, “Don’t you just love her hair, honey?”

I waved to the couple as I left with my groceries, hit with the realization that not only had this couple NOT passed judgment on me or make assumptions about me based on my appearance, but I had done exactly that toward them. 

With everything going on in the world right now, it sure is easy to pass judgment on others and brace ourselves in a defensive stance. My brief encounter with this sweet woman in Food Lion was a great reminder to keep an open mind, avoid jumping to conclusions, and by all means, take the time to share a laugh with others, even strangers with pink hair in the grocery store.
With thanks and appreciation,
The Stranger with the Pink Hair in the Grocery Store

Thursday, February 16, 2017

What Motivates Me: Time To Go Back to the Beginning

I haven’t been writing.

And when I say I haven’t been writing, I mean it’s been months. Not just days or weeks. I’m talking months since I’ve written much more than a Facebook status update.

I tell myself the noodling around I did on my novel in November for NaNoWriMo counted as writing. But it didn’t. I spent so much time revising while getting reacquainted with the characters I had abandoned since the previous year’s NaNoWriMo attempt that the actual writing of new words wasn’t really happening. And then I abandoned it again.

I tell myself I don’t have the zen writing spot in the house I moved into six months ago or the house doesn’t seem to have the right juju. But I have a whole office to myself (with a door that closes!), and I smudged my house to evict bad juju (twice).

I tell myself that I’m blocked because the last piece I wrote, a piece that was quickly accepted and published by the Washington Post, left me dealing with horrible internet trolls whose comments I had to stop reading, whose tweets I had to ignore, whose snap judgements made me question why I bothered to open myself up like that.

I tell myself I don’t have time. But I could make it.

I tell myself I don’t have the energy. But I could find it.

I tell myself I don’t have anything to write about, but there’s ALWAYS something to write about.

I tell myself that my hair stylist is right, that I’m not writing because I’m happy. And while it’s true that my most prolific periods have been during challenging times in my life, I can’t rest on that as an excuse because I plan to be happy for a very long time.

So what the hell is wrong with me?! Where are the words?!

Well, it turns out I might have finally found them hidden within a deeper message in someone else’s words.

I recently finished reading the book, “Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us” by Daniel H. Pink. It’s a research-based theory of motivation that explains how businesses attempt to motivate their employees in all the wrong ways. Most people assume that external motivation like money is the best motivator for hard work. But that’s not the case. In fact, studies show it often diminishes intrinsic motivation, decreases performance and kills creativity. So what does work? An approach that includes autonomy, mastery and purpose. Hmmm, I totally dig that.

I also liked the author’s explanation of the “Sawyer Effect.” Based on a fence whitewashing scene in The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, this theory asserts that (1) rewards can turn play into work and (2) focusing on mastery can turn work into play.

As I read the book, I tried to apply this theory of motivation to various parts of my own life. First, I realized that’s probably why the promise of a weekly allowance no longer motivates my kids to exert much effort into their household chores. And then I realized it might be why I’m not writing.

One of the reasons this blog has collected so much dust is because I started writing for other outlets. At first I wrote for free, because let’s face it, everyone knows what the Huffington Post is and it’s a great addition to a writing resume when you’ve never gotten paid for freelancing gigs before. But then I branched out and started writing for cool websites that not only shared my work, but also --oh my gosh! -- gave me money too.

So I wrote more. And got paid more. It’s not that I needed the money from freelancing. I already have a full-time job that pays the bills. No, it was the rush I got thinking I had turned something that was once a hobby into something worth being paid for.

But that rush is gone. Because just as the Sawyer Effect states, those rewards turned my play into work. I had to research media outlets, figure out what kinds of angles they wanted, how much they paid, how to submit pitches, how to write a pitch, re-submit pieces with suggested revisions. I found myself using a voice or phrases that weren’t quite my own because I was writing for a certain audience, a certain editor. I found that editors were altering my work more than I wanted, moving things around that I had placed for very particular reasons, changing headlines to get more clicks. And now with so much politically charged material out there, it took another step for me to figure out if I want to be associated with certain outlets that have veered in a more political direction than I’m comfortable with.

I’m an editor myself so I get it. I understand that’s all part of the game. I just feel like maybe it’s time to bench myself from the game for a bit so I can find my voice again.

One day during a recent meditation session my mind wandered to my writing, and I decided to follow it. At the dead end of those thoughts, I saw a big sign: Go back to the beginning.  

So I took that sign, combined it with the Sawyer Effect and ended up back here. At my blog. That I started over seven years ago with no writing background, no audience, no voice that I knew of yet, no clue whatsoever. What I did have was a desire to direct my own path (autonomy), an urge to make progress and improve at something that mattered to me (mastery), and the yearning to do something in the service of something larger than myself (purpose).

Autonomy. Mastery. Purpose. 

Those three motivators were the reasons I wrote every single day. I didn’t earn a dime. For a long time, my only audience was my parents. I wrote quickly, yet from the heart, without the fear of editors chopping my words. I actually enjoyed writing, to the point that I craved it, that something felt missing if I went a day without writing something, whether it was published publicly or journaled privately.

I want that back.

So now that I’ve had my aha moment, that I realized rewards might have turned my play into work, it’s time for me to focus on turning that work back into play. I want to enjoy writing again. I want to find my voice again. I want to use that voice to work on different projects, namely, that novel I’ve had written in my head for years but only pay attention to every November. I want to get back on the roller coaster that started it all.

Here I am.

Sunday, June 19, 2016

What the First Day after a Summer Co-Parenting Pass Off Looks Like

At 5:30 Saturday morning I left my children at an airport with their father. The kids are spending the summer overseas with him, and I won't see them for 10 weeks. Pass offs never get any easier, especially when the separation is so long, and my emotions are like a ping pong ball bouncing all over the place. This is what the first day after a co-parent pass off for an entire summer looks like:

5:30 am: I stand by my car at curbside drop off with tears streaming down my face, waving at my 8-year-old daughter through the sliding glass door as she cries and waves back. Her father must have called her name because I watch her turn and walk away. I stare at the empty space for 5 long seconds before walking to my car and driving home alone.

5:45 am: My drive home parallels the beach where I frequently go to watch sunsets, and the colorful sky reminds me how early it is. I have nowhere to be, so I pull over and watch the sunrise. Sitting in my normal sunset spot but facing the opposite direction, I realize I had never seen the sun rise from this beach I had been to a hundred times before. It is awesome.

6:00 am: I cuddle with my boyfriend and my dog, and I cry.

6:15 am: I call my mom. And I cry.

6:30 am: Time for action! Strip the kids’ beds. Start a load of laundry. Put away Xbox remotes and school backpacks and stray Nerf darts and dirty socks. Start a list of things to buy in 9 weeks before the kids come home. Throw away all the random clutter the kids told me not to throw out “yet” because they’re gone now and in 10 weeks they’ll never remember the shoebox filled with cut up pieces of cardboard or the year-old Dave and Busters tickets they found two days ago or the paperclip necklace that kept mysteriously showing up after I disassembled it. And pencils. Where did all these pencils come from?!

7:00 am: I’m exhausted. Crash on my deck with coffee, a book and Facebook sympathy and support.

8:00 am: I have to get up and move! Another load of laundry. Tidy daughter’s room. Trash more random kid junk. 

8:15 am: I’m exhausted. Crash on the couch with a book and my foot spa. Is this day over yet?

9:00 am: Kids call during a layover. They sound so far away.

9:15 am: Have to get up and move! Another load of laundry. Hang Nerf guns on designated hooks. Clean son’s bathroom. Trash more kid junk.

10:00 am: Have I eaten anything since the banana at 4:30 this morning? Tropical Smoothie run. Surely this super healthy smoothie and questionably healthy breakfast wrap will energize me and put my day on track for mega productivity!

10:30 am: The food failed to energize me or generate mass productivity. Back on the deck with more coffee and a book. My brain isn’t processing what I’m reading. I watch the kids swimming at my apartment complex’s pool below. Just two days ago it took me 15 minutes to drag my daughter out of the water. As we walked home she said, “I don’t want to leave.” I told her I realized she was having fun with her friends but it was time to shower and get ready for bed. “No, Mom,” she said. “I don’t want to leave you for the summer.” That was when the real tears started for both of us.

11:30 am: I’m taking a bubble bath. Not a typical Saturday morning activity for me, but today hasn’t exactly been typical.

12:30 pm: Overheated and totally relaxed from the bath, I let myself take a snoozer. 

1:45 pm: Feeling a bit more human after a nap and a gooey grilled cheese sandwich. I look at my planner and sigh at the extensive list of to-do’s I created for myself days ago, anticipating I would need distractions from the emptiness I knew I would feel. But I know not a single item will be checked off that list today.

2:00 pm: Back on the deck with coffee and a book. I contemplate going to the pool, but it’s crowded and my introverted tendencies are on high alert. 

2:30 pm: Deck to couch to kitchen to bathroom to deck to kitchen to deck to couch. TV on, tv off.  I should go somewhere, leave the house. I should stay home, I’m exhausted. Music on, music off. It’s not so much the silence that makes me unable to sit still. It’s the lack of their presence. 

4:30 pm: Boyfriend and I settle on the couch for a night of binge-watching the new season of “Orange is the New Black.” After the first episode, he picks up sushi so we can eat and watch in our comfy pants. I’m not going anywhere the rest of the day.

7:30 pm: On our way to the beach! I realize I’ve never watched both the sun rise and set in the same day from the same spot on my favorite beach.

7:50 pm: Daughter FaceTimes! The kids reached their destination safe and sound. Tween son is too cool to chat, but daughter looks tired, happy and beautiful.

8:26 pm: Sunset.

8:45 pm: Back in comfy pants. One more episode of OITNB. Wine.

10:00 pm: Time for bed. This tough day is over, and tomorrow it’s time to end my pity party. Daughter’s room will become the staging area for vacation packing. Meal planning will begin that includes more grown-up food and less chicken nuggets and squeezable yogurt. A new routine that includes exercise, guitar practice and writing will fill the hours I’d normally spend wearing my mom hat. 

I know the summer will fly by. I know my kids will have fun. I know I’m allowed to have fun too. And I know I need to spend this time reenergizing and doing things I can’t do when my kids are around. Let the summer begin!


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