Wednesday, September 8, 2010

The Power of….Wallowing in Self-Pity

It seems like the book “The Power of Positive Thinking” has been around my whole life…and I guess it pretty much has, since positivity (I think I made that word up—yay me!) guru Norman Vincent Peale first inflicted it on the world in 1980. I was 11 then, a wee wisp o’ a lass, but I remember the book’s place of honor on my parents’ bookshelf.

The book’s admonishments to “Believe in Yourself,” its reminders that “A Peaceful Mind Generates Power,” and of course, the wisdom of “How to Get People to Like You” have grasped the imaginations of millions of people around the world. The book has been printed in 30 languages. I didn’t even know there were 30 different languages on the planet! (okay, well I did—heard that somewhere.) Apparently, whether you reside in Billerica, Massachusetts, Anaheim Hills, California, Londonderry, England or Tianjin, China, the desire to be happy, wealthy and well-liked are pretty much universal desires.

So in an effort to buck myself up during some less than stellar months, I decided to pull that book off the shelf, blow the dust of it, and take a cruise through it. Yes, I do own a copy—a high school graduation gift from “Auntie Ellen,” my mom’s best friend at the time (apparently they didn’t apply enough “positive thinking” to their relationship because they parted ways not long after I entered college).

I settled into the crook of the love seat, glass of pinot in hand, and began to leaf through it. As I did, I’d hit a particular subject (“How to Have Constant Energy”) and think, yeah, sure, makes sense. Turn another page (“I Don’t Believe in Defeat”)—oookkkaaaayyyyy, you may not BELIEVE in defeat, but it’s bound to happen at some point. One more page (“Relax for Easy Power”)—tried that, it didn’t work.

As I leafed through it, I found myself in the unusual position of being annoyed by its positive outlook. Which is quite hilarious, since “positive” is in the title of the darn thing! I mean, duh!! Wasn’t “positive power” what I was looking for? At one point, my feelings about the book changed from polite interest to outright annoyance. I actually questioned whether Dr. Peale wasn’t just having a huge one over on all of us. I know, of course, that was just my bad mood talking. But I after reading the chapter entitled “Prescription for Heartache” I couldn’t help but help wonder if the author has ever felt that singularly unpleasant feeling that if even one more thing goes wrong, you’re just going to jump off the nearest tall building and be done with it?

So this train of negative thought lead me down a path I usually try to avoid, lest the little beasties who hide along that dark road reach out and grab me and keep me there permanently. But for once, I allowed myself to actually consider this thought: “Why not be bitter?”

Gasp! Me, thinking in such terms. Me, who has made such an art of looking at the bright side. Who sees a silver-lining in a pitch-black cloud-drenched sky? I admit it; I succumbed. At least for a little while. I wallowed in self-pity. Not only did I wallow, I completely immersed myself in the muck of “my life completely sucks.” I rolled around in it. I submerged myself. Covered myself in it from the little grey hairs that sprout out of the top of my head when it’s time for to see my stylist to the end of my overly-large and somewhat Fred Flintstone-like big toes. And it felt good.

Because, I must admit, there is a dark attraction to wallowing in self-pity. Self-pity is the one emotion you that conversely makes you feel worse, while making you feel better at the exact same time. No one understands me. No one has ever felt as bad as I do at this very moment. It’s different for me because I’m more sensitive than most people. Things are easier for everyone else than for me. Self-pity is, perhaps, the epitome of self-indulgence. And as anyone knows who has ever eaten an entire stick of pre-made chocolate chip cookie dough (as I have been known to do after spectacularly bad break ups), can attest self-indulgence feels good.

At least for a while. But truth be told, my brief sojourn down the dark path of complete self-indulgence bored me after a little while—and left me feeling guilty and slightly sick. Just like I feel after eating that cookie dough!

So after about 10 minutes in the “my-life-completely-sucks” mud puddle, I emerged….dirty, tired, sick at heart, but ready to clean myself up. Because (and here’s my positive nature coming out) despite what is undeniably a difficult time in my life, there are sooooooo many things I have in my life that makes every minute—even the bad ones—worth it.

The chief among these are my friends. Over and over again, I think how incredibly blessed and lucky I am to have people in my life I can call, if needed, at 2:00am. And they WILL be there.

So I guess I learned a lesson about the power of wallowing in self-pity. Oh, she goes! A “life lesson!” I imagine you rolling your eyes right now. But wait! It’s a good one—or a fairly decent one, anyway. Self-pity IS a powerful emotion, to be sure. But it’s the wrong kind of power. Rather than give you what you need to move forward, self-pity is so strong it holds you back. Believe me, getting out of the self-pity wallow was easier said than done…because once you’ve jumped in it, little bits of that nasty muck cling to you. It takes a while to scrub them away.

So I retrieved Dr. Peal’s well-intentioned book from the floor where I’d tossed it. I didn’t open it up (I still find its perkiness a bit annoying) but I did brush the dog hair off it (my dog Daisy sheds copiously—at any given time, big puffs of her fur are floating around the house and cling to whatever happens to be around, i.e.: socks, table legs, and the occasional thrown book) and put it back on the shelf. Perhaps sometime I’ll open it up again and try to find answers. Or maybe I’ll find a different book.

Or maybe, I’ll write a book: The Power of ….who knows. I guess a title will come to me when I finally figure it out myself. 

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Notes from the Real O.C.: Cleaning Out My (Mental) Closet, a.k.a.: Holy crap! I didn't know I still had this thing!

Notes from the Real O.C.: Cleaning Out My (Mental) Closet, a.k.a.: Holy crap! I didn't know I still had this thing!

Cleaning Out My (Mental) Closet, a.k.a.: Holy crap! I didn't know I still had this thing!

Anyone who knows me (and even some who don't, thanks to my propensity for telling my troubles to random people in elevators) knows that since about January I've been going through a sort of mid-life breakdown. Well, breakdown is too harsh a word. Crisis? Predicament? Calamity? Whatever. Basically, I realized that I needed to make some very important (read: life-altering) decisions and I just didn't wanna. (insert pic of me sticking out my tongue here.)

So, being the queen of distraction (I'd like to blame adult A.D.D. but that's just shorthand for an uber-short attention span combined with a heightened ability to procrastinate beyond all reason) I found ways to divert myself from the hard decisions at hand. Most of those ways included ingesting copious amounts of alcohol and not less than five skull-busting hangovers ( I promise you, a hangover at the advanced age of 41 isn't a pretty site). I dropped 20 pounds, but I can't say I worked hard at it--I lost complete interest in food for about four months. It's easy to get back to your high school weight (less than, actually) when just the idea of putting food in your mouth makes you want to vomit. The ultimate diet plan, eh? Move over Weight Watchers! I killed myself with volunteering, applied for a hundred jobs I didn't want (no interviews though--the laugh's on me), and sweated my way through re-planting my entire backyard by myself. All so I wouldn't have to think. Brilliant plan, right? Especially since while I was doing all these things, all I really was doing was thinking about the things I didn't want to think about. In other words, try your hardest NOT to think of a blue-eyed polar bear for the next two minutes....ha ha.

Thus, seven months of angst. But things are better now, mostly because I've finally made the hard decisions. Plus, (and here I get really corny, so either break out the tissues or be prepared to roll your eyes) I have been amazingly fortunate to have friends who have literally pulled me--kicking, screaming and scratching--through this period in my life. If it weren't for them....well, all I can say is that I love them more than life itself, and have come to realize what that phrase "family isn't what you were born into--it's what you make it" really means. My friends ARE my family. Okay, now you can roll your eyes.

So, in a symbolic nod to my new frame of mind, I decided last week to tackle my closet. Which, as disconnected as it sounds from my seven-month long dilemma, actually made a ton of sense. My closet isn't big--my house, built in '71, sadly lacks closet space AND storage (male architect, obviously--wink) --but it was positively crammed to bursting with over a decade of stuff that I couldn't seem to part with. Which in a weird way is what I realized has been going on with my brain the last half-year plus. Too much STUFF in it.

I'm talking about the stuff that we all accumulate over time. The expectations, the aging-thing, the guilts, the desires, the petty jealousies, the regrets, the bitterness, the resentment, the holy-hell-how-did-time-get-away-from-me-so-fast??s. The excuses--always a fave of mine. If I hadn't been doing (fill in the blank) then I could be (fill in the blank) by now. And so on.

So I started pulling stuff out of my closet, and with every removal (and some stuff was pretty hard to get out, given how packed in it all was--I mean, really, does anyone, anywhere, need 67 pairs of shoes???) I felt my spirit lighten a little. Away went the dress I wore to my 10-year high school reunion--a tight, panty-grazing, electric blue number with mesh cut-outs on the side. Not because it doesn't fit (depression as diet-aid, don't forget) but because it's from a time in my life where partying was about all I did, and that is definitely a "party girl" kinda dress. I'll admit: letting go of that was hard--I'd always envisioned a day I would put it on and hit the town. But putting it in the "donate" pile felt good--and that feeling that I still need to be 27 went with it.

Next went about 35 pairs of shoes (hey, I know I kept 32 pairs, but a girl's gotta have choices!). That was tough too, because every pair seemed to have a special association with it. I wore these on my date with that super cute "actor" who'd been an extra on Titanic. That pair was from my first big meeting as a freelancer in San Diego. The other pair--the stiletto black sandals with silver accents--was my first $100 splurge. Those ratty Avias--complete with blood-stain from a popped blister--are my "first marathon" shoes. But into the "donate" pile they all went (well, except the blood-stained Avias--nobody in their right mind would want those stinky, gross things). As did my need to obsessively revisit past events. I'd spent most of the last seven months going over and over and over past decisions, ad nauseum, as if by constantly picking at them I could somehow change the consequences that resulted. I realized as carefully laid those sandals down in the pile for some other woman to wear that I can't changed what I've already done any more than I can change the orbit of the Earth around the sun.

So on it went--for three solid hours, I culled, cleaned, evaluated, and ultimately dumped more than half my closet. And looking at the space (wow! I can actually see my clothes now, rather than guess at what they are based on their color and position) I felt an indescribable sense of lightness. Like I'd actually accomplished something worthwhile. But it was more than finding freedom among the shirts, dresses and belts. It was also realizing that letting go of "stuff" isn't going to kill me--material stuff or mental stuff.

For me, at least, holding on to "stuff" from my past truly prevented me from moving forward. Especially my expectations of what "should have been." I was so entwined with the idea of what I should have accomplished/achieved by this point in my life that I had almost become resentful. A resentment I covered with a quick and ready smile, true, but it was there nonetheless, like a bitter cherry inside a really yummy looking chocolate.

Letting go of the guilt--which was accompanied by several bridesmaids dresses I'd been holding onto out of a weird superstition that by getting rid of them, I would somehow adversely affect the marriages of the friends I'd worn them for--was probably the hardest for me to do. I love guilt. I wallow in it. It's probably the reason I'm such a gun-ho volunteer.  Guilt for things both large and small. Guilt for breaking someone's heart (in the ironic justice of the universe, I realize now that he was my soul mate and I would give anything to go back in time and respond differently when he said, "I love you."). Guilt for making selfish choices that haunt me to this day. Guilt for thoughtlessly spewed words that I can never take back--even though the people (one person in particular) I said them to have probably forgotten them by now. Guilt that I didn't try harder. Guilt that I made decisions out of fear and uncertainty, rather than be brave and do what was right for me.

So what now? I have a relatively clean closet and a relatively clean mind (there's still a smidgeon of that guilt left, like that cobweb in the topmost corner of my closet that I can't reach). And I'm feeling better than I have in months. The funny thing is, I hardly even realized that I had so much crowding my pea-sized brain, but obviously it has been there for quite a while--like that electric blue dress. I don't need it anymore. Either the dress or the angst. It's freeing, really. More room in my closet--both closest--to fill up with the things that I actually want to own. Like my future.

Monday, July 19, 2010

Take the Leap...But Do Try to Avoid the Scorpions Under the Rosebush

"The jump is so frightening between where I am and where I long to be. Because of all I may become, I will close my eyes and leap." --Mary Anne Radmacher

Sometimes inspiration comes from the most unlikely places. The above bit of wisdom I read, of all things, on a greeting card in a drugstore in Omaha, Nebraska. I remember that I gasped when I saw it. It spoke—no, shouted out—to me almost as if it had been written specifically for me alone and me alone. I snatched it up from the card rack (sending a dozen other cards cascading to the floor in my excitement) and bought it immediately. I brought it home and propped it on my desk. Ever since, it’s resided in my office, a daily reminder of the change I so desperately want to make.

But in the year that has passed—particularly the last six months—though I’ve made some positive steps towards moving forward, I’ve frequently found myself bogged down by a weird sort of torpor that threatens any forward progress at all. Usually, that inertia centers on thoughts that include (but aren’t limited to) “Well, its not that bad.” Or, “Why do I deserve better?” Or even, “What if I’m wrong? What if it’s a mistake??”

But all those thoughts (and their related meaner-spirited siblings like: “I can’t do it”, “What’s wrong with me?” and “Why can’t I just be okay with this?”) are really rooted in one thing: Fear. And I suspect that fear is what holds most people back from making the decisions they truly need to make to live full and fulfilled lives.

The inspirational quote above addresses that quite nicely—shame on me for taking so long to recognize it. “The jump is so frightening…” she begins. Well, yeah! You’re standing on the edge of a precipice—it’s not a really wide gap in the earth. Maybe 6 or 8 feet. You’re on fairly solid ground. Both feet are planted. You’re safe. But you look around and where you’re standing is barren, a few dried husks of tumbleweeds, lots of rocks and some dust. Or maybe you’re side of the precipice isn’t even that bad—there’s grass (albeit sort of dry and unwelcoming), maybe there’s a few thin trees. There might even be a bench to sit on (but watch out for those splinters!)

So you stand on your side of the precipice, shade your eyes with your hand, and look across longingly. After all, it’s not that far of a leap. You could do it…6 or 8 feet. Just take a running start…

But… while you can see that the other side is lush and green, with full trees dotting the landscape and—wait, is that silver reflection a stream?—you don’t really know if it will be any better over there than it is over here. You think it probably will be. You want to believe that it is. But the fact is, you don’t really know.

What you do know is that you are safe on your own side of the precipice, the side you’re already familiar with, the side where you know what areas to avoid because there are snakes curled up under rocks. You know that if you wait long enough eventually it will rain and you’ll get the water you need then. You know that while it may not be the best side, it is your side—and do you really want to give that up for the other side of the precipice that has no guarantees? The side that looks good but might be hiding a nest of scorpions under a rose bush? But underneath it all, you’re really just scared. What if you take that leap, but miss your footing on the other side? You slip down the side of the cliff, struggling to find purchase, hands bleeding, nails peeling back as you grab desperately for a root or rock or something to hold onto. But you fall anyway…

So you stand, undecided, scared, worried about the drop. The longer you stand there, the more you tell yourself that it’s not that bad on your side. Eventually you shrug your shoulders, stop looking at the other side of the precipice and decide to make your life where you already are. But you still glance over to the other side from time to time over the years and imagine what might have been, had you only had the courage to make the leap.

No great reward ever came without great change—and great risk. We’ve all heard the stories of people who’ve put everything on the line and five years later are happier and more fulfilled than ever. The corporate exec who leaves a solid six-figure income (and grueling, exhausting job) behind to pursue a dream of starting her own firm—and somehow, against the odds, succeeds. Or the work-a-day Joe who recognizes an amazing opportunity and borrows against his 401K to invest…and it works out beyond his wildest dreams. Or the man or woman who longs desperately to start over, get a fresh start in another place and decides to just do it—and makes an unimaginably happy life in a new location. We probably all have friends who’ve been through such a transition.

And I could come up with an equal number of examples of where taking a risk turned out to be the worst possible decision that person could have made….but I won’t go there, because that’s exactly the kind of thinking that paralyzes me—much like the person standing on the edge of the precipice and pictures themselves falling into the bottomless gap between the two places. If you dwell on the negative, you psych yourself out and can’t move forward. And that’s true in everything—the big meeting, the big game, the big speech, the big performance.

So knowing that the potential reward is so great, why am I so freaking scared? Why is anyone scared when they are making a life-altering decision? It’s because as human beings, most of us seek safety and reassurance. Very few of us are risk-takers. And that’s okay. I’m not criticizing those who prefer the safe side of the precipice to the unknown landing on the other side. There’s a lot to be said for security and familiarity. And the comfort of knowing which rocks to avoid, lest a snake chomps down on your ankle.

But there is also a lot to be said for stepping out of your comfort zone and taking a chance. One way or the other, it will work out. Things always do—even if they’re not in the way you hoped or even imagined. And that’s where I am now. Because when I picture staying on this side of the precipice for another year or five years or a lifetime, my heart sinks. And really, when it comes down to it, I want my heart to soar.

So because of all I may become, I will close my eyes and leap—and hope that wherever I land, I will find what I’m looking for there. 

**Mary Anne Radmacher, I discovered via Google search (gotta love google) is a writer/artist in Oregon. I love her attitude about life/love/finding your passion. She articulates how I feel, but have trouble discerning. Check out her page at

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

I Want to Believe

In the never-to-be-forgotten TV show “The X-Files” there is a poster on the office wall of the character of Fox Mulder. The poster features a shadowy, grayish image of a flying saucer accompanied by the words “I want to believe.” Of course Mulder, played with broody and damn-sexy intensity by David Duchovny, was desperate to believe in the little green men from outer space. Because, if you were a fan of the show, you’ll recall that Mulder’s little sister was kidnapped by aliens when they were both children. So there had to be aliens…otherwise, our man Fox had to be, well, crazy. 

However the show solved the “are aliens-are-real-or-aren’t-they-dilemma” I don’t exactly recall, but I do vividly remember that poster on Mulder’s office wall. But for me, it wasn’t aliens I wanted desperately to believe in. It was God.

Wha--??? Me, having doubts? Me, the avid church go-er? Me, devoted fundraiser for the church’s capital campaign, the former Sunday school teacher, et al? Yup. Me. But then, I’ve never been one to take anything on face value—as much as I may have wanted to. The idea of God—or the concept of an omnipotent being who controls every single aspect of life in this world, from whether the Patriots win their big game to how many seconds the light stays red when I’m running late for work—is extremely difficult for me to get my head/heart around.

The last decade has seen my most concerted effort to truly believe. Because I do want to—after all, who wouldn’t want to believe in a God who takes care of everything, who has it all handled, who can help and guide and love unconditionally? Sounds good to me—life is freakin’ hard most of the time, and there is great appeal in the idea that someone bigger than me has it all under control. That there is a plan.  That all the crazy, painful, maddening, confusing stuff that happens in the world has a purpose. We just don’t know what it is yet. (*sigh*)

But the more I attended church the last 10 years, the farther away from God I seemed to get. I did all the right things—went to church every single Sunday, volunteered like a mad-dog on every church committee I could get on, donated hours of time on the capital campaign committee to raise money to build a church-affiliated school, joined a Bible study, and committed to raise my daughters in the church. I figured eventually I’d find my faith, or faith would find me.

But listening to sermons left me cold—every week we were told again and again how horrible we all are and how only Jesus’ love will save us. What I wanted to hear—what I needed to hear—was how you take a 2,000-year-old story and apply it to modern life. The volunteer committees were good—I’ve always been passionate about helping others—but the things I would suggest were politely rejected. And to be fair, they had been doing things a certain way for a very long time and I was doing my best to shake things up. My Bible study was a flop—the first one I went to I brought a bottle of wine and the women looked at me so askance you would have thought I’d come in with horns sprouting out of my head. I laughed out loud when the Bible study leader asserted with calm confidence that the earth was only 6,000 years old—I thought she was joking. But she looked at me with such pity and sighed a deep, heaving sigh that basically communicated to me that I was a hopeless case.

Coming around to faith has been easier desired than accomplished. I have too many questions, ones that I can’t seem to find a satisfactory answer to. “You just have to have faith” isn’t working for me. Some would argue it’s not my place to demand answers of God, but I would answer back that it’s not fair to demand belief but not provide proof.

I’ve been admonished to read the Bible, that I will find all the answers there. I’ve read it. Several times. Perhaps I need to read it again, but if there are answers then either I am inept at finding them or they’re so deeply hidden only another reading—or another 10 readings—will reveal them to me. But I lose patience with the Bible. Or, I should say, I lose patience with people who tell me that every single word in the Bible is true and inspired directly from the mouth of God. The idea of Jonah surviving three days in the acid-laced belly of a whale unscathed is just….not possible. Or that Lot’s wife turned into an actual pillar of salt. Or that Noah managed to put two of every single animal and creature that walks, crawls or slithers across the Earth into a big boat to save them from an world-destroying flood. When I offer up that perhaps the stories in the Bible are just, well, stories, I’m told I’m not only misguided but willfully choosing not to believe.

But perhaps the most perplexing to me of the Christian tenants is the idea of being saved. I love the idea. It is an extremely comforting idea, that simply by believing I will live a life of everlasting peace and joy in a place so incredible that my pea-sized brain cannot even begin to fathom it. I have a choice to either “accept Jesus Christ as my Lord and Savior” or not. And herein lies my problem. They say it’s a “choice” but it’s a false choice. “Either you love Me or you go to a lake of fire and fry. But hey, it’s your choice.” That’s the spiritual equivalent of a mother saying to her child, “You can chose to eat this dinner or I’ll feed you to the alligators. But hey, it’s your choice.” I mean, really? What kind of “choice” is that? That’s not a choice, that’s extortion. Either I believe or I spend eternity in a lake of fire. Huh? I want to believe because my heart has accepted and my head agrees, not because I’m threatened with endless torture.

Which brings me to my final thought on religion and Christianity. According to the teachings of my church, if you don’t believe no matter how good a person you were on Earth, you die and you’re in eternal torment. It doesn’t matter if you were honest, forthright, kind, considerate, et al. Yet if you were the worst kind of serial killer in the world, if you “accept” Christ even one second before you die, you’re living it up in Heaven at the right hand of God. It just doesn’t make sense to me. My beloved dad, for example, not being a “believer” (he believed in a higher power, certainly, but generally felt as tepid about religion as I do) is roasting on a slow spit down below. He was a wonderful man, a man who would give you his last beer or the shirt off his back. I asked about this once in Bible study. And was told (kindly, I suppose) that, well, yeah. My dad was in Hell. Not really what I wanted to hear. And if the person saying it thought I would feel closer to God after she said that, well, her words had the exact opposite effect.

Why did I choose to share all this? This is the longest post I’ve ever written. I did so because I cannot be the only person out there who has these thoughts, feelings and fears. It seems like it sometimes. My husband has no patience for my musings—he has had the not inconsiderable advantage of being raised to believe unwaveringly. (Plus he’s fairly convinced that I’m going to hell anyway because I’m a Democrat.).

I have several friends who are big believers—one in particular who awes and inspires me with the depth of her faith. But I worry about offending them by telling them my doubts. My girls are being raised strong Christians—I can give them that. I think it’s extremely important to give kids that foundation of faith so that later on, they aren’t tormented by questions like I am. Or, if they have questions, they have the security of knowing there is a path home to faith.

And I guess the final reason I’ve chosen to share this is that it’s a way for me to reach out to others who might be able to help guide me on my journey. But I don’t want to be pushed or pitied or punished. I’ll resist. But I do wish there was someone who could patiently walk me through it all without judging. One thing for sure, I didn’t write this to disparage religion or God or believers. I have nothing but the deepest admiration for people—of any faith, of all faiths—that have a true and heart-felt commitment. Christianity is a marvelous thing, and I’d really like to be a part of it. But right now, I feel like there’s a locked door keeping me out…but there is a small window in that door, and when I peer inside I see that true faith can fills those holes in people’s hearts and lives, and especially, in their souls.

Maybe this post will help me find someone who has the keys to open that door—or, if not the keys, at least knows another way in. And then I’ll have my own poster—much to Fox Mulder’s chagrin—that will simply say, “I believe.”

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Finding the Passion...No, Not That Kind of Passion, Silly!!

I spent a great deal of last Saturday night discussing “passion” with strangers. No, not “passion with strangers.” And no, I don’t mean on a blue website, deep in the middle of the night when everyone else is asleep. So if your mind made a little foray into the gutter, you’d best take it out right now and put it on the right path! (wink, wink)

No, the topic of “passion” came up in the course of dinner conversation. I was at a surprise birthday-dinner party, given in honor of my husband’s boss. We sat at a round table with several of his co-workers. Nice people, all. Educated. I doubt there was one among us who didn’t have his or her MBA (except, of course, for me…I barely squeaked out of college. When they handed me my diploma I ran from the stage with it in my hot little hand, afraid they’d say, “Wait! We made a mistake! Get back here!”)  In any event, the conversation was smooth and non-controversial, and a little dull. But such is the stuff of office parties. You are still, really, at “the office.”

But since it was not my office—or my co-workers—I had a little less to lose than my husband, who was intent on “polishing relationships” and “developing cohesion.”  Yes, because that is a fine goal at any social occasion. In any event, I was a bit bored. But I was good. I nodded and smiled, I made small talk. I chipped in a bit of conversation here and there. And only once did I try to steer the discussion away from the “future of the semi-conductor market,” which is quite possibly the most boring conversational topic EVER (in my never to be humble opinion—and, conversely, I am sure there are those out there who think my passion for music is a dry-as-dust conversational topic too).

The conversation at last got interesting when one of the gentlemen at the table—a very nice man with a kind face and earnest way of speaking—talked about his son, a college student with plans to be a composer. The guy was incredibly proud of the boy, who apparently is some sort of genius musician. But he was worried that his son would never have a “real” job, or make any “money.” But, he added, with a wry shrug of his shoulders, the kid has passion, and hopefully it will all work out.

I was immediately at attention. I love the idea of someone having a true passion for something in his or her life, be it a career, a hobby or another person. I firmly believe that without passion, life—your home life, your work life, your romantic life— becomes a dull and rather sad place to be. To me, passion is more important than money, than recognition, than even a long life. Because who wants to live ‘till 99 if they’ve never experienced that particular thrill of true zeal, of true belief?

So I guess I said all this or something very like it to the man who was worried about his musically inclined son. And because I am me, I am sure I said it with, well, passion. And everyone seemed to have an opinion on the topic, ranging from passion being “overrated” (a rather bitter comment from one young man who looked like he had spent most of his life reading about adventures rather than actually having them) to passion being “essential” (in the words of the young wife of an account exec, who looked at her husband with such admiration that there was no question what kind of “passion” she was talking about.)

We all agreed on, however, that as you get older, finding and maintaining your passion is harder than ever. The conversation changed direction (to the passion of semiconductor sales, I think), but the essence of what we talked about stuck with me. In fact, I’ve been thinking about it all week.

I talk a good game about passion, but sadly the last couple years have taken their toll on my ability to actually feel it. I’m not talking physical/sexual passion—in the right mood, that’s a no brainer. I’m talking about the passion that keeps you going on a new project long after everyone else goes home for the night. The passion to rekindle a dream; take it out of the little box you’ve put it in, blow off the dust, and hold it up to the light.

So if the passion is lost, how do you find it again? That’s where I am right now. I think I may have an answer, and it’s pretty simple.

Go outside.

Huh? Yeah, that’s an answer. No, really. When you’re cooped up—in a house, an office, a mall—your attention is narrowly focused on your immediate surroundings. And your surroundings don’t change that much from day to day when you’re inside—the desk is in the same spot week after week, the couch is always in the living room (it may change angles every year, but it’s still essentially the same). And when you’re limited by your surroundings, uninspired by them, your passion begins to ebb away little by little. Such little ebbs that you hardly notice it’s gone until one say you go to draw upon your passion to help get you through something, and the passion account is empty.

Outside, though, is limitless. Just look up at the sky. Notice the color, the shape of any clouds drifting their way across. Look long enough and you’ll realize you can actually see the curve of the sky as it makes its way across the horizon. When you take a moment to look up, you may feel something surging back into your soul—passion.

Do something physical. The other day I went on a long bike ride with a girlfriend. At the end I felt incredibly regenerated—almost a new person. We talked endlessly as we rode along, and somehow talking while riding bikes was more productive than just sitting in the local Starbucks and chatting over coffee. The repetitive motion of the turning tires cleared my mind. I found myself talking about things I never expected to say out loud. It really helped me.

The years are gonna happen whether we want them to or not. It’s up to us if we live them fully—with passion—or just float along. I've become quite the little paper boat bobbing along in a stream the last few years. I don't want to be that little boat anymore. I want to be a captain! Okay, lame analogy. Whadda ya want? It's 2 am.

But passion doesn’t just magically appear. It’s something we have to work at, cultivate and maintain. And once you find it (or rediscover it) its essential to encourage it, to make it grow. Sounds like a plant, huh? I guess in a way it sort of is—a plant will obviously shrivel up and die without care; passion will do the same thing. And imagine—if we’ve got another 30 or 40 years of life in us (and statistical averages bear that out), wouldn’t it be great to live those years with meaning? With passion? I plan to. 

To paraphrase a line from “Steel Magnola’s” (a movie I love despite its over-the-top corn factor): “I’d rather have five years of amazing than a life time of nothing special.”

Friday, May 28, 2010

Belly Dancing, Botox, Tattoos...Mid-Life Crisis, Mid-Life Reinvention or Mid-Life Rebellion?

A couple weeks ago I was enjoying a rather pricey and extremely delicious bottle of wine with a few girlfriends. The conversation turned, as it is wont to do, on a number of topics. We skipped along, one subject leading to another, talking and laughing in that excited way people have when they really enjoy each other's company. One of the topics we skipped lightly over was that of the storied "MidLife Crisis." Not our assorted husband's mid-life crises--only one actually went out and bought a convertible Jag (and he has to share it with his wife.) No, the subject we danced over was our own mid-life crises.

But as these conversations often go, we spent maybe a minute on this and then flitted off to something else--I believe we started talking about sex, which, as everyone knows, is a far more interesting subject than whether or not we're going through early 40s angst. 

But over the next two weeks, my mind kept returning to the subject of a woman's mid-life crisis like a bee to a particularly tasty flower.  The idea intrigued me, because until someone brought it up, I figured mid-life crises were pretty much limited to the male side of the coin. The more I thought about it, though, the more I realized that not only are women as susceptible to those bouts of mid-life doubts as men, but perhaps even more so. Women, after all, (and here I am really, really generalizing, so if you are not one of these women, please don't take offense) are the ones who are more likely to adapt to accommodate the needs of others, rather than the rather than the other way around. In motherhood, in marriage, most women are likely to set their own desires aside for their families. Heck, Dr. Laura has made a whole industry of telling women they aren't accommodating enough and that is sole reason their marriages are rocky.*

So by the time a woman hits her 40s, it's very likely there is a definite feeling that she's just done putting everyone else's needs before her own. And she may very well be getting ready to put her own needs to the forefront for a while. 

So all this stuff was swirling around in my mind when I came to the sudden and somewhat obvious realization that I am going through my own version of a mid-life crisis. Now, I'm not gonna go out and buy a jag (not that I could afford it) or take up with that young, too-hot-for-his-own-good blond guy who works out at the gym (I'm certain he knows I have the "flames-down-below" for him--it's the drool on my chin that gives it away). But I have started doing things that four or five years ago I never would have even considered doing. One of those is taking a belly dancing class. Another is the Botox I got a while back (if you read this blog you know all about that), or finally getting that "Gallagher" (my maiden name) family crest tattooed on my hip. 

But it's more than these superficial changes. Beyond just the surface stuff, I've renewed my interest in spirituality. For years I've just gone along as the "good wife" attending the church simply because I thought it was what would make my family (read: hubby) happy. But after 10 years, I realized (well, I really knew all along) that I wasn't fulfilled. So now at 41 I finally have the confidence(or, at a minimum, am working on creating the confidence) to stop going to church for a while until I can figure out exactly what I'm looking for. It's been tough--you know my hubby is a deacon and he's been disapproving of my deviance from the expect path. Not tons of support there. But my friends are supportive, one in particular who made a spiritual journey of his own a decade ago. I seriously doubt that were I not going through this "midlife crisis" I would be on this spiritual journey now. 

The other thing that I've rediscovered is my identity as a woman. Beyond the whole "mommy" thing, I mean. I love being a mom, don't get me wrong. But I've let that role define me far too long. I sort of let the "woman" part of me be overtaken by the "mommy" part. I never was the "sweats-and-tshirt" mom or the "Lee Riders mom-jeans" mom--not even the "i can't drink because my kids will think bad of me" mom (both my girls learned to pour wine through the Vinturi by the time they were five) But whenever I thought of myself, I always thought along these lines, "I'm going to the store to buy healthy food because I'm a mom," Or, "I really need to vacuum the house because I'm a mom," even, "I have to get a facial today because I'm a mom." Then one day--a fairly recent day--it hit me: I'm a mom, duh, but I'm me first, and I deserve to do things for that reason and that reason alone. 

And lastly, all this mid-life introspection has helped me crystalize my goals. With all the falderall of raising two active girls (I spend far too much of my life in my car, ferrying them from one practice to another) it was all too easy to put things off because I'm a mom. But my "mid-life crisis" (for lack of a better term) has helped me realize that putting off my goals and claiming it was because of the kids is just an excuse--a bad excuse at that. Lots of women accomplish amazing goals as moms with young kids (uh, JP Rowling anyone?). I sort of let my goals slide 'cause I was lazy...honestly. Well, not lazy, in the strict definition of lazy. But lazy in that it was easier to make excuses than progress. So now I guess I'm using this point in my life to sort of re-invent myself--or, better put, re-discover myself. 

And to be completely, dead-honest with both myself and you, there is absolutely an aspect of mid-life rebellion. There are things I want to do. Period. So I'm going to do them. I really don't give a fart in a windstorm (thanks for the phrase, my Irish dad) whether other people think these things are okay or not. Like the Botox. Or the belly dancing. Or the tattoo. Or the sky-diving my friend Sue and I will do this summer. Or learning to ride a motorcycle at long last. I didn't do them before because they weren't the "right" or "safe" thing to do (in my somewhat narrow perspective of what is/was "right") Now, thanks to my "mid-life rebellion" I want to have these adventures. They're mine to relish....or regret. Hopefully relish!!!! And there is a real sense of freedom knowing that I'm making choices based on what I want, instead of what I think others want. 

The next time I am sitting around with my girlfriends drinking wine (which should happen fairly soon--we're pretty regular with our wine consumption) I am going to steer the conversation back to what we so lightly touched on those weeks ago. The subject of a woman's mid-life crisis. I am really, really interested in whether other people feel the same as me...or if I'm hanging out here in the wind all by my lonesome. Somehow, I suspect, I'm not the only one going through this. In fact, I'd lay money on it. As with all things, it's better to go through it with friends at your side. Then it's no longer a crisis, it's a party!

For a really interesting read on the whole woman-and-mid-life-crisis thing, check out this article from More:

*On a personal note, I bought into that idea for a long time, even going so far as to buy Dr. Laura's "The Proper Care & Feeding of Husbands." After all, I thought, it must be MY fault my marriage was blah--not long work hours, distractions, bills, or over-familiarity. But the book's advice was a no-duh--I'd already been doing everything listed in the books as "sure fire" ways to make your man crazy for you again. After months of trying to give him even more attention, even more sex, and even more endless compliments ("Thank you soooo much for putting your underwear in the hamper! I know it's a huge inconvenience."), I gave up on "The Care & Feeding of Husbands" and went back to plain ol' me. In all fairness, though, one of my very best friends says the "Care & Feeding of Husbands" book saved her marriage. Rock on to her. But for me...not a super success. So not everything works for everyone.

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