Saturday, December 11, 2010

Thoughts on Staying In

It's not unusual in this part of the country to be isolated at home by the weather. Today has turned out to be such a day: a raging blizzard has struck St. Paul, and there's no way my little Corolla is going to make it anyplace. Luckily I was smart enough last night to pick up fixings for a large meal and I have plenty of movies and in-home projects to do. I decided to take the blizzard as a gift of time rather than a frustrating weather event stopping me from my usual goings of here and there.

As I look outside, all I can see is the world being covered up by a huge bluster of white. There's nothing inviting about it (unless you're my yearling German Shepherd, who insists on sitting on the back steps with his head tilted in fascination). It's weather of hot chocolate, flannel sheets, and thick novels. Weather to stay in and stay cozy.

Ironically, this time of year no one in our culture "stays in." Normally, we are out hustling and bustling, gift shopping and party going. It's almost as though our cultural practice of the "Holiday Season" gives Mother Nature the finger while she persistently tries to keep us still with cold and snow. Today is one of the rare days She has met success. Metro Transit has shut down city buses, and anyone I see brave enough to venture out is walking on the street and not the sidewalk. Our Mother is telling us it's time for stillness and quiet, to stay in and be with ourselves, an ancient notion She is enforcing in full today. I hope others can see this as the true gift it is and not stew in frustration at winter's heavy lifting. It's natural to stay in, so just go with the flow, and enjoy.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Thoughts on Fresh Paint

Over the course of the past year and a half or so, I've been slowly changing the colors of all the rooms of my house. It started with the three-season porch (red to purple), then the master bedroom (nicotine off white to eucalyptus green), the kitchen (awful pastel sea green to straw yellow), and finally my living/dining room space, which has been the source of my labor for the past three days. This process has proven to be most therapeutic.

The history of my tenure in this home is a sad one. The emotional wounds have long scarred over and I have no wish to scratch them here, but occasionally a wound re-opens and I find myself wanting to live somewhere else. However, because of the timing of my purchase, there isn't a economically wise way out of the mortgage. So I'm left to deal with it, but I decided I'm not going to live with it "as is." My method of sealing the wounds for good involves paint, and not only the new color but the process involved.

Before you can think of painting, cleaning must happen first. All the dust and grime needs to go, all the nail holes filled in. This part of the process was particularly wonderful the living room, since the "ex" had decided it a nice idea to hang a print with not two, not three, but EIGHT roofing nails! I don't need to say why this was unwise, but when the print was removed it was destroyed and the nails left nasty holes in the wall. The holes are no more, and after a few weeks of the new paint I probably won't remember them anymore.

The color itself is much brighter than the old. I went from the same nicotine-stain off white of the bedroom to a much brighter porcelain off white. It's still neutral, but the color actually makes the room look bigger. With every brush or roller stroke, I sealed away forever every disagreement, every name-calling, and every tear that was shed in this space before, during, and after that relationship. A fresh coat of paint has become more than a new color. It is an intrinsic method of healing and moving forward without a constant reminder of what is behind.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Thoughts on Why I Voted

When I was younger, I used to get wrapped up in political issues. I often was involved in heated discussions at work or among friends regarding topics, myself falling on the more liberal side. I was dissatisfied and angry most of the time, and adversarial towards others who had different opinions.

Over time, I have become less concerned with large political things and more concerned with making my own way. Rather than go out and carry a sign and yell until I'm blue in the face, I focus on leading a life of peace and love; attempting to be the best person I can be. I learned I cannot improve the world by arguing over issues, but if I carry myself with respect and love for others I at least have a small chance of making a difference.

So when I strolled into the polling place this morning, I found myself wondering what I was doing there. Minnesota is electing a new governor, and while I watched enough of a debate to get an idea of who I liked best, I couldn't help thinking that the world will go on regardless of who is governor. And then there are all the small races, where only some of the names are familiar to me from seeing yard signs while walking the dog.

As I strolled out of the polling place it occurred to me that I vote because I can, and really no other reason. There are places in the world where elections are fixed, or the people are coerced into voting for one certain candidate. Even in our own country, it is as recent as a hundred years ago when women obtained the right to vote and as recent as fifty people of color obtained the same right. This is a right that was fought for, and not one to snub in the face. Lots of people put their hearts and souls into making sure people like me can have a say.

So although sometimes my methods are arbitrary (e.g. one of the small races, conservation officer or something like that, had a candidate with the same name as an uncle of mine, so I voted for him), at least I get out there and honor my right.

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Thoughts on the Ground Zero Mosque

I rarely get my thoughts wound up over political issues. I've noticed that most issues are either a flash lightening, hitting hard and fast but then gone, or they linger on and on like a bad smell in an old house. I generally stay away to maintain focus on what is mine to do and the impact I have on those directly around me. But like most Americans, I can't simply look away and allow the affects of 9-11 to tumble off my back.

In recent weeks there has been a large debate going on about the building of a mosque near Ground Zero. I have read that the likes of Newt Gingrich say that such a thing would be like hanging Nazi symbols at concentration camps. I'm not sure that comparison is apt. Islam is a faith, a religion, and while yes it collides with political ideology, one quick google search will tell you the Nazis were not a particularly religious organization. And in matters of war, the Nazis certianly did not behave as terrorist cells do today.

I have to wonder how many people who oppose the mosque personally know anyone who practices the Muslim faith. Through my travels, I have been fortunate enought to be of acquaintance of several, and getting to know at least one, a middle-aged woman. And because sometimes I'm a little too precotious for me own good, I had to ask about her thoughts on 9-11 and how Muslims are perceived in America today. Her response was surprisingly innocent: she said she just didn't understand how the actions of a very fanatical very few Muslims could create so much dissent among Americans; when at the same time there are also a very fanatical very few fanatical group of Christians commit crimes of domestic terror, not to mention war on an international scale. She went on to tell me that the basics of Islam are not so different than the basics of Christianity: be a good person. Love your neighbor. Don't lie, don't cheat, don't steal, and don't kill. And as with any religion, there are fanatics who twist the religious texts to say what they want it to say.

After talking with her I began to feel that the building of a Mosque at Ground Zero would be a message of peace, a gesture that prejudice against those of a different religion is dying, not running rampant like weeds in an unkempt garden. It seems that allowing the Mosque would serve to help Americans get over their fear of Muslims in general, where the fear is based on the actions of the fanatical few and not the every day, hard working, family raising, tax paying Muslim.

Sunday, August 8, 2010

Thoughts on The Fruits of the Spirit

One rare evening while zoning out in front of the television, a commercial caught my eye. The commercial depicted a kid walking through wet cement, then past an older gentleman who was putting down a sidewalk. The older gentleman just smiled at the kid, and the words "Patience, Pass It On" appear at the bottom of the screen to the tune of "Don't Worry, Be Happy." I was struck to see a fruit of the spirit advertising itself, and that somoene in our go-go-go me-me-me world felt the need to spread this message.

It also brought back an obscure childhool memory of vacation bible school. As a kid, my mom would stash us at church every day for a week or two, something that was painful at the time. From hideous arts and crafts, to having to hear about Jesus all dang day it was not my idea of summer vacation. Despite the pain, I remember enjoying some of songs we sang, largely because the Pastor would break out his bass guitar (let's face it, for Northern Minnesota Lutherans a bass guitar is pretty wild). One of the songs was called "The Fruits of the Spirit". The words were simple, the tune was "Row, Row, Row Your Boat" and we sang it as a round.

For readers unfamiliar with the fruits of the spirit, they are: Love, Joy, Peace, Patience, Kindness, Goodness, Faithfulness, Gentleness, and Self-Control. The idea of nuturing and sharing these fruits is one of the few lessons that has stuck with me from Sunday School days, as you don't have to be a Lutheran (or any Christian varietal) to practice them. Anyone, from the most die-hard right wing fanatic to the complete non-believing athiest can have any and all of those qualities.

Obviously, the fruits of the spirit in today's world are not so abundant, or the folks who run would not feel the need to advertise them. I find myself curious if a non-patient person might see this commercial, and actually make a change in their behavior because of it. I know it made me stop and think about how many times a day I feel unnecessarily urgent and impatient, for no particular reason other than the go-go-go me-me-me world says I'm supposed to hurry. It also reminded me of the rest of the lyrics to the song: "against such there is no law." There is no reason NOT to act in such a way, as you will not get a ticket for being nice, loving, and especially controlling oneself (gee if only more of us could do that). If we manage to nurture these fruits, and share them with everyone we see, the world just might be a little more pleasant.

To see the TV spot that inspired this blog, go here:

Monday, July 12, 2010

Thoughts on Being a Crazy Cat Lady

I grew up with pets. My parets always had dogs, and the dogs were a major part of our family. As a young adult, I found myself living alone in a small, inner city apartment with nothing living near me save the weeds growing in the sidewalk cracks. To remedy the situation, I found Frankie, my short hair orange tabby, at the local humane society. Over the years, two others, Roscoe and Deano (who I have recently re-named Miss Dean because she is a girly girl with a boy name) have made their way into my home.

During my heyday of dating, when I'd meet someone new and mention I have three cats the eyebrow always went up accompanied by a grin that told me the gentleman didn't want to express his exact thoughts. I had one man tell me I'm only truely a "Crazy Cat Lady" if I replace the cats as they pass away to the afterlife! Does that mean I am in pre-Crazy Cat Lady status, and the state of my Crazy Cat Lady-dom hinges on how long my sweet babies survive? That relationship promtly ended when I told him that I only date men who are more entertaining than the cats, because they will entertain me for hours with their antics of rastle and chase.

Yes, I call them my "sweet babies." At least one of them is always willing to play, one always willing to purr, and one always willing to lay on his or her back and look up at me with pure cuteness. When I'm settled in to watch a movie, Miss Dean curls on my lap, and the boys sit on either side, completely surrounding me with their feline goodness. When my alarm sounds in the oh-so-early A.M., Frankie will be there next to me, purring away with a purr that says "Don't go to work, mommy, lay here with me." No matter what I'm doing, they want to be there, next to me. I love them for that.

They don't ask questions, like why am I home later than usual, what's for dinner (although they freely beg for their dinner), or when will I mow the lawn. Their only expectation is that they eventually eat, have clean litter, and get scratched under the chin now and again. I love them for that, too.

While I do not have a house swarming with cats, the three I have are so lovely, so sweet, and I wouldn't give them up for anything. Frankie alone has lived in three apartments and one house, saw me through two unsettling break ups, tolerated a roommate (and the roommate's cat, another story all together), and he does have the final say. Frankie isn't going anywhere. As for the other two, Roscoe is so overweight he is a magnificent conversation piece and Miss Dean is so damn cute yet crafty and anyone who dares pet her receives a hiss and paw swipe in return.

And I love them all.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Conquering the Cookies

Today I was presented with a common challenge: the large platter full of large cookies at the center of a conference table. There were sugar cookies. M & M cookies. Chocolate-on-chocolate. Macaroon. Seemed any type of cookie a bakery could offer was on this platter. Each and every cookie spoke to me: if it wasn't demanding I pick it up and eat it then and there, it was asking me to discreetly package it in a napkin and wisk it back to my cubicle where the two us may enjoy each other in semi-privacy.

Unfortunately, this was a lunch meeting, and seeing as I am in the meagerest point of the month my lunch consisted of a PB & J, a sandwich variety normally reserved for school children. My appetite was no where near satisfied, and the murmur of "eat me" whispers coming from the cookies soon became a resounding choir of culinary Sirens, singing me to my diet doom. I tried to distract myself with the discussion of the meeting, but the voices of others were lost mid-way across the table, creating chaotic noise in my head. From my deepest depths, I tried to shout back at the cookies:

"No! I don't need you and your refined sugar!"

But the more stand-offish I was with them, the more tempting they became to me. And finally, I gave in. A perfectly round, light tan colored cookie flecked with M & Ms found its way into my eager hands.

"I shouldn't eat you," I thought, as I raised the first bite to my mouth. So soft, so scrumptous!

"This will make my stomach hurt," continued the thought, as I continued eating, now trying to break off dainty little pieces rather than chowing the whole thing down in three, ravenous bites. But I still ate the same amount: the whole cookie. I sat staring at the grease stains it left on the napkin, wrestling down the feelings of guilt and regret over the slip-up.

I spent the next hour and a half (the rest of the meeting) pondering my lost negotiation with the cookie. I know eating this one cookie will not sabotage me forever, and it is nothing more than my human nature rearing its head. It was time to conquer the cookies, to ignore them as though they were a puppy begging for attention. I decided not to allow one little (or insanely large) cookie destroy any amount of pride I have from all the accomplishments and hard work I have put in on my fitness journey. Once the decision was made not to listen to the temptations, they silenced and one would have thought cookies couldn't talk at all.

On any pursuit of better health, there will be temptations. Sometimes the temptations are weak blips barely noticed, other times they are loud bull horns demanding our attention. Which ever is the case, we must take them one at a time, and not get hung up when we succumb to ___________ (fill in the blank). It does not mean the journey is over, or the journey thus far was pointless, but that it must continue, one foot in front of the other.

Monday, May 3, 2010

Thoughts on the Finish Line

Everyone starts things. From college, to home improvement projects, to novels, to arts and crafts, many of us start long-term projects with no deadline or end in sight, and many of us leave those things undone and never finish. In my case, I have at least three unfinished counted-cross stitch projects in a drawer someplace, many poems that have never left draft form, and a garden that I continue to pull weeds from yet never get around to choosing and planting real plants. We all know someone who never finishes anything, having college debt for degrees they don't have and half finished basements. Perhaps it's because seeing something through to the bitter end means another responsibility is right around the corner, or now that the degree is awarded one must attempt to find work in their field or somehow succeed in it. That alone comes with fears of success, or lack thereof, or simply the unknown in general.

Last weekend I had a first experience of standing at the finish line of a local 10K/5K race my in which my friends were participating and I was not. I stood in the rain for well over an hour, under an umbrella, schlepping their warm-up clothing and goodie bags from the starting line to my car after the start gun. Then I went to settle in at the finish line and watched all the runners finish their race. There were so many of them that I could barely identify my com padres, but it was fun to see people finishing and cheer for total strangers putting in the final burst of energy to shave a few seconds off their time. I felt a sense of pride for each and every one of them, because I know they came from all levels of training and what it takes to finish a race, especially your first one.

Yesterday I had my own opportunity to cross the finish line, as a runner, in my first half marathon. When I first started entertaining the idea, I went to the race website several times but never signed up. I printed the registration form and let it sit in my desk for days before filling it out, filled it out and let it sit again for days before mailing it. I was terrified to commit, because I knew it meant I had to finish. The training lasted about two and half months and had its ups and downs, fears, tears, and joys. In the days leading up to the race, I was ready. Still scared, but ready.

Everything went wonderfully until the very last mile. I was pushing hard to stay on target to meet my time goal, and I was exhausted. My legs were burning and felt like they were full of buckshot. My breathing was difficult to control, and I was starting to feel light-headed. With light-headedness came a touch of fear that I might pass out. With that fear came extreme nausea and I was certain I was going to throw up at any second. I had to pull back and walk, with only a half mile left! I don't know for sure if it was fear that made me feel so sick, or if it was the sheer physical challenge of the run itself, or my failure to properly fuel myself during the run with electrolytes, but my way of contending with the nausea was to walk it off.

At the finish line, just a minute over my time goal, I was extremely disoriented yet euphoric at the fact that I finished. Since it was my first half, and the longest run I'd ever attempted, I decided not to beat myself up over the lost minute and simply be proud of all the training hours and the overall quality of the run, which far outweighed the lack of quality in the last seven minutes or so.

Now that I have finished a half-marathon, I need to look forward and figure out my next goal. A new goal means a new training schedule, and something else to accomplish. Maybe that's why some people have trouble finishing things: finishing something inevitably leads to starting something else. It means new endeavor, new unknowns and fears, and going through the whole process all over again. But running has taught me that while the workouts change and the challenges seem more daunting, each new goal builds on previous goals and leads to a new and beautiful experience. I can't explain why we feel fear for a new stage, and why we often resist going to new stages and pushing our own growth, often relying on external motivators to change instead. But I do know that using internal motivation is a lot more satisfying and leads to a greater sense of control and empowerment than simply floating willy-nilly on the river of life. Sometimes, that means crossing a finish line.

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Thoughts on Faith

My recent endeavors into a new industry has led me to think about faith quite a bit in the past several weeks. Not the Bible-thumping Good-News-Telling kind of faith, but the kind of faith that lies deep within our guts and tells us when something is "right" or "wrong." Not in the moral sense, mind you; rather in the sense that something is "right" for a person to do, or even that one can do something at all. One of the several definitions of faith is "a firm belief in something for which there is no proof."

Naturally, since my decision to embark in becoming a personal trainer was solidified last February, I have had my moments of doubt. What if I don't know what I'm talking about? What if no one will hire me? What if I hate it? All these questions and more have entered my mind a time or two, or three. And each time it's been a bit of an effort to push them back. Why not stay where it's comfortable? After all, the economy is bad, people don't have extra money to spend on personal trainers, and employers want employees who have experience. The odds are certainly against me.

Despite the odds, and what others have had to tell me about said picky employers and said bad economy, my gut's message to me is loud and clear: YOU MUST DO THIS. When I'm in the gym working out, and witness other trainers working with clients, I imagine how I might be better at it. When I'm running, or taking a walk, or showering, or doing any mundane thing, I see myself training clients. It's an image that has been in my head for years, but the closer my exam date gets, the more often I hold these images. I know this is the right thing for me, and not just because I want out of the cubicle life. I know it's right because it's what I love. And I'm not going to let any shadow of a doubt tell me to give up before I try.

My faith is what nurtures my ambition. Perhaps it is God in there telling me what is mine to do, I'm open to that. I have no "hard evidence" to support my future successes other than the knowledge that I will work as hard as possible to be a part of a pro-health movement. If it's not a scientific conclusion, must it be a spiritual one?

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Thoughts On An Old-Fashioned Ego Bruising

Self-image in our world is a toughie. The media displays perfect body after perfect body after perfect body, creating the expectation that if we are not perfect we are not beautiful. I have lived the majority of my life in a state of self-criticism when it comes to my physical self. I recall going to department stores to try on....well, anything, where the dressing rooms have those mirrors where you can see every inch of yourself under florescent lighting, and the cellulite dimples become unsightly sinkholes sucking down any last remnant of self-esteem. In those days, I never bought shorts or swimwear and generally avoided trying on clothes in the store all together.

Now I have learned that it is totally 100% normal to have some dimples, moles, freckles, even a spider vein or two and still retain some sense of beauty. I try to take the media's showing of perfection with a grain of salt and imagine how those clothes will look on me instead of how much better they look on her. Recently, I purchased a dress to wear to the theater and it fit me so well I was actually pleased with what I saw in the mirror. I had finally achieved what many women have not: looking at myself and thinking "yeah, all that hard work has finally paid off." I was walking high on the fence between healthy self-esteem and vanity, and I knew it. I was confident in my balance and was haughtily convinced I would not fall.

So a couple of weeks ago when I received a phone call that a local modeling agency was looking for a mid-thirties female with an athletic build to pose T'ai Chi postures for still photos as well as execute the solo form for a video, and I was the one suggested by my teacher, I was thrilled. I was even more thrilled after speaking with the woman from the agency, who gave the impression that they wanted a "normal person" as opposed to a professional model, and I would be compensated for my time. I sent her a snapshot of myself and everything seemed like it was a go. When I hung up the phone, I could not stop myself from prancing around the house with "I'm Too Sexy" by Right Said Fred playing in my mind and striking model-esque poses in front of the mirror.

When a few days passed and I had not heard back from the agency, I began to wonder what was going on. After a full week, I called the lady to find out what time they were expecting me to show and she broke the news to me that they had found a professional model to use instead of me. I politely thanked her, hung up the phone, and BOOM fell hard off the fence, past healthy self-esteem, and back down to low self-esteem. Every negative thought I could have about my looks surged through my mind in about ten seconds: I'm not that pretty. I'm short. My hair is unkempt. I have freckles. I have fair, un-tannable, white-ass skin. I have a gap between my two front teeth. And while these thoughts were stabbing their little daggers in any self-esteem I had left, I was choking back tears and trying to pretend I didn't care when I really did.

The ego was now black and blue, swollen, and didn't much feel like smiling or going anywhere or talking to anyone. She wanted to shrink behind closed blinds under bed covers in the daytime and never let a camera near her again. Lucky for me, I'd been there before and knew the ego could recover, and knew that all the things listed above that perhaps made me not a stunning super model are the things that make me the stunning ME. When I told my ego this (several times, she still needed a bit of convincing), the bruises faded and the bit of healthy self-esteem I had been working so hard on finally began to re-emerge. Had I let my ego get a little too out of control? Probably. But at least she got to fly for little while, even if it meant getting a big swat from the Universe and falling down again.

It is my hope that anyone reading this can look at her or himself in the mirror and see the things that make you a stunning YOU. I don't need to rail on about how boring the world would be if we all looked alike, that is such a cliche argument for unique beauty. Just be true to yourself, be confident in your uniqueness, and the Universe will handle the rest.

Friday, March 26, 2010

Thoughts on My Name

Most of us don't put a lot of thought into our names. Much like the color of our eyes, we have our names from birth. While our name is a fairly flexible piece of ourselves in comparison to our genetic traits, it's amazing how attached I was to mine and defined I who had become by it.

I was married at a very early age and subsequently divorced not much later. Any woman out there who has gotten married knows what a pain it is, and at the time of my divorce a paperwork swaff-oo (on my own part) kept my married last name. The only way to get my birth name back was to change it via the courts and at the time that was just too much work. Besides, my career was budding and I was already engaged to be married to the second man who won me over, so what was the point?

Well, the engagement didn't work out and I am now in the process of changing my career. I wanted to be who I really am, both inside and on paper. In most venues of my personal life, I was already representing myself with my birth name but because of that piece of paper I couldn't change my name on a bank account or a pay check. So nearly seven years after the divorce, I finally took the plunge, went to court, and it's legally done.

I was surprised at how happy and different I felt, even though all I did was get a judge to sign a piece of paper. When I get my Personal Trainer certification, my birth name will go on the certificate instead of a name that represents a time in my life full of strife and growing pains (not that I am free of those). Naturally, my mother asked me what I will do if someone else proposes; a question only a mother would ask and be concerned about. My response is to deal with that if the time comes. Considering my prior experience with "disengagement" I know anything can happen. So when anything does happen, at least I can be me, through and through, while I work with whatevcr life tosses me.

Saturday, March 13, 2010

Thoughts on the Fear of Change

According to Newton's First Law of Motion, a body at rest will stay at rest and a body in motion will stay in motion. As life hurdles me through the journey, I've come to understand this Law does not just apply to mechanics. I believe it also applies to human beings on a psychological and spiritual level, which is why so often we need an outside force to get us going rather than come up with the force ourselves.

All too often, people stay in places they don't want to be. From bad marriages and unfulfilling careers to toxic friendships or habits, as humans we struggle to change ourselves. Change is difficult, even good change. Newly weds get "cold feet" just before walking down the aisle and I think we all have experienced job interview jitters, even if the interview is for our "dream job." How do we overcome these feelings? The force to change the velocity or direction of ourselves must come from within. We can't always rely on outside events to prompt life changes.

Recently, I have experienced the fear of change in a large way. I made the decision to start changing careers and actually took steps toward this change. I have to add the "taking steps" part because I have been contemplating changing careers for at least four years, and since then have done little but become addicted to the lifestyle my current career provides. In my "day job," I make a decent, middle-class wage. I have health insurance, three weeks a year of vacation and two weeks of sick time. I have a large desk, a great boss, a flexible schedule, and am surrounded by a group of fun and fascinating staff people. It's a non-profit that provides housing to low-income people, so there is a noble cause involved. Not only does my career make my life "better," it makes the lives of others better too.

Despite all this, I have a restlessness about myself I can no longer bury. It manifests in many ways: sometimes I'm bored when there is lots to do, sometimes I call in sick for no reason, and worse of all, sometimes I get snappy, angry, or spiteful towards the work itself or towards anyone in my path. Negative feelings bubble up like carbonation: pour on the workday and many of my unlikable traits fizz to the surface. These negative feelings become comments or actions which are unlikable at best. My career brings out the worst in me, and I don't like it. Yet it seems like a necessary evil to my survival.

The dislike for myself was just enough force from within to start making changes. My dream of being part of the health and fitness industry became an obsession. I once again began seeing myself training others, teaching fitness classes, and writing articles and books. When I talk about fitness with others, I get excited and am overflowing with ideas. I have been told more than once by people who do not know about my dream that I should "be a trainer." So finally a couple weeks ago, I took an important first step: I registered for the certification exam. There was barely enough force inside me to do this. As I typed my credit card number on the registration screen, my heart accelerated and my fingers trembled, presumably with fear of the uncertainty and commitment of follow-through this change will bring. However, as soon as I printed the confirmation email, the fearful heart rate turned to a joyful, excited one. My attitude soared so high one of my office mates noticed enough to say "Boy you're in a good mood today."

I still have a ton of fear to resolve. Not only do I have to pass the exam, but I have to be new to an industry and gain experience. As the transition ensues, I will have to balance that with the need to pay a mortgage and hopefully retain at least a semblance of my T'ai Chi studies and spiritual pursuits. I have to keep faith that just because I don't know what the road looks like, doesn't mean there isn't a road. And that I am in motion, I have the momentum to stay in motion.

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Love, Honor, & Negotiate: The Little Marriage that Didn't

While vacuuming my hallway, I noticed I still have up a relic of my past. A framed, counted-cross stitch slogan stating "Love, Honor, & Negotiate." Amazing how these things can hang on the wall for years without notice, having been hung at one time when applicable. My life has changed enough in the past few years where such a statement is completely irrelavent, so I took it down and tossed it in the Good Will box.

As it clunked in atop some dated cookbooks and rummage sale flatware, I noticed the back was inscribed. This particular piece of craft was a hand-made wedding present from my former mother-in-law, who always tried to be "Mom" to me and inscribed nearly every gift she gave. "Karen and Jeremy, Follow this advice and your marriage will be a success, Love Mom." (I feel I should mention "Mom" was on her fifth marriage at the time of our divorce, but no one's perfect.) Needless to say, ours was a marriage of growing pains and blame games with little room for negotiation. Eventually, the steam from love peetered out and the marriage disintegrated along with it.

None of that changes how giving this thing to Good Will has taken on a new implication: not only was it a gift from the former mother-in-law, but an inscribed gift. Imagine browsing the trinkets at Good Will and finding something hand made with such a personalized note! I would never be able to buy something with so much energy from someone else. It will probably sit on the shelf, collect dust and be subjected to the fondling of cheap trinket seekers. Not a terribly bright future.

But is that a worse future than sitting in my attic along with all the other wedding relics? The wedding memory book, veil, cake topper, all sitting in a warped cardboard box labeled "wedding crap" so I know ever to open it. As of this moment, I don't know what I will do with this thing. The Good Will box isn't full enough to bring down just yet, so I have some time to think about it.
Sorry, "Mom," I just can't keep it on the wall.

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Thoughts on Mastery

In our society, we spend much of our time watching and admiring others who are masters. From master athletes to master musicians, master actors to master chefs, we are captivated by other human beings who can accomplish more than ourselves, and seemingly with pefection and without effort. I have observed many acquaintances admire a master, while holding back their own talent. The excuses are many, many I have used myself: I won't look good, I'm not coordinated, I feel stupid, or, the worst of them all, I just can't. How do we overcome these negativities and allow ourselves to get on a path? Where does the hobby end and the lifestyle begin? When does a new path morph from "trying something new" to an endless journey one cannot leave for an entire lifetime? These are all things that were floating through my mind this evening while attempting to do the T'ai Chi solo form at the studio (as a side note, I kept making mistakes because of these thoughts and how far they were from the immediate task at hand).

George Leonard has a fabulous book called Mastery: The Keys to Success and Long-Term Fulfillment that elaborates on the mastery path itself. Leonard discusses the shape of mastery's journey in that there is always progress, the inevitable plateau, backward movement in progress, and a return to the first step. The difference between the first and the last step being that the subsequent bursts of progress, or "breakthroughs" result in a higher level of mastery than the earlier breakthroughs. The theory is sound and when I first encountered it the world made sense. And it got me thinking: what are the things I love enough to tolerate a plateau and backwards progress, in order to master? For myself, as I'd imagine the case for most of us, these things are far and few between.

The problem is patience. According to Leonard, Western culture is poisoning us against the plateau by showing us image after image after image of masters pursuing their craft perfectly. Commercials, advertisements, and virtually everything we take in via the media hones in on the perfect shot or the perfect note. Furthermore, in my observation, when there is imperfection it is something to be made fun of and not something to admire at all. There is a reason why we enjoy watching the bad singers on American Idol: they are not perfect and we get a good kick out of watching them fall on their faces. Never mind admiring their courage for attempting to follow a dream, or going before judges who are brutal, or risking having a reality show make a spectacle of them when they fail. I know there are some who simply don't know on what level they truly are, but for each one who is arrogant of their own skill I wager there are several more who earnestly pursue music as a dream. And for those, I applaud their courage and willingness to stick out the audition and reality show process.

But I digress. We need to be willing to recognize that becoming a master at anything requires we love the plateau stage, as Leonard says that is where anyone on the journey will spend the most time. This is why a person cannot become a master at something they hate doing. It's possible to spend years in the plateau phase, so if you plan on being a master bed-maker you'd best enjoy the process of putting on the sheets and straightening the pillows, not just the end result. Sometimes that means practicing when you don't want to, or sticking out a tough phase. But in the end, patience with the process, along with a love for the process, will lead to fulfillment. Mastery may be a pleasant side effect.

As Leonard writes in Mastery: "The achievement of goals is important. But the real juice of life, whether it be sweet or bitter, is to be found not nearly so much in the products of our efforts as in the process of living itself, in how it feels to be alive."

So, how does it feel?

Friday, January 29, 2010

Thirties and Childless

The single, childless life of the 30-something female has been a romantic comedy focus since at least Bridget Jones Diary, perhaps earlier. As I get older and find myself in that category of women, I am pressed with a mixture of feelings. On one hand, I am secure in who I am, proud of the life I have established for myself, and content to never have to worry about a little grubber eating my cookies or getting into my porn. On the other hand, it's hard to deny the biochemistry of hormones and the strange fantasy of wanting a "little me." I have learned that I will only know many friends through the growth of their children, as our communication is more or less limited to the Christmas cards that only show the little grubbers, and as each one gives themselves over to the breeding lifestyle I know that is one less person I can call on a whim to have a cocktail and watch a rated-R movie.

I don't judge anyone's life or decisions to have children. It's a respectful and wonderful thing and I often wonder if I am selfless enough to raise them at all. But there is sometimes an attitude out there that those of us who have not begun to breed somehow have nothing to do and our lives and comittments are of lesser importance than those who have. Case in point: a rather snotty co-worker of mine and I were chatting one day and I was telling her about some of my life's activities outside of the office. Her reply was a very short, chippy "Well, you must not kids then." It wasn't so much the words as it was the tone. It was a tone that implied that if I had children, I would have better things to do than run distance and practice martial arts. A tone that implied I could have better things to do than enrich my own mind. A tone that implied it was silly for me to dip out at four when there was no smiling face for me to pick up from school, or dance, or hockey. A tone that carried a mixture of judgement and pity.

For what totally eludes me. Obviously, my choice to not have children has been rather deliberate. With my relationship experience, I could easily have made a baby by now, but the choice to the negative was because I am not willing to raise a child alone. And despite my hormones, child rearing is simply too much work to go at it solo. So why judge my ability to use birth control? I can't even reason out the pity, except to say perhaps someone like her who had a child at a very young age has never known her own life and maybe she thinks I'm lonely or something. I admit, sometimes the house is a bit quiet, but it's a quiet I enjoy.

This little rant is not to say I will never reproduce. If the right man came along and it felt right, I'll go for it. But in the meantime, I love my life.

Sunday, January 3, 2010

The Undisplaced Fracture to My Radial Head

A week ago today, I was happily walking through the cardio area of my gym, excited to indulge in my first workout since before Christmas. As I rounded a corner to head toward the treadmills, I noticed a ring of CAUTION tape, a ladder, and a couple of dislodged ceiling tiles. "Water damage" went through my mind, while my toes hit a rowing machine that I failed to notice in my path. I hit the floor, face first, elbow second, and my ego shattered like broken China all over the place. A couple of "concerned" women on the step mills asked if I was OK, and I told them I was more embarrassed than hurt. I must have been slow to get up, because shortly thereafter another woman approached me and again asked if I was OK. By now I was well aware of the blood gushing from my lip and I checked my teeth to be sure none were loose, and they weren't. I asked her for an ice pack, thinking all that was wrong was a bloody lip. She alerted the gym staff and I just sat on the floor, seeing stars, babying my fattening lip. Then, when I attempted to have a sip of water, I found my right arm refused to bring the bottle to my mouth. It hurt, a lot. I then realized I could not turn my hand up or down, and simply holding onto anything was next to impossible. Luckily, I was able to reach a friend to bring me to urgent care, which thankfully was nearly deserted, and I was in and out within two hours, donned in a sling and carrying X-Ray copies. I was told by the doctor that I was to be in a sling for ten days and I may experience some stiffness thereafter, and I needed to contact my primary clinic as soon as possible.

Thankfully, I have wonderful people in my life and I recruited help that evening for the uncompleted housework that I had been saving for after the workout. Only a very good friend will change the litter boxes and put sheets on the bed for you, and help out in the grocery store. Work was another challenge, though, and up until yesterday my typing prowess (normally a swift 55-60 WPM) was reduced to left handed hen pecking. Eating was yet another challenge, and I've concluded good way to diet would be to limit intake to your non-dominate hand, as I would always lose patience before I had the chance to over-indulge. Yet I amazed myself at how quickly I could adapt to using my left hand, and upon visiting the physical therapy clinic on Thursday, I realized how minor this injury is. I'm not in a cast, I'm not on crutches, and aside from the inability to lift and turn my right hand, I'm nearly back to normal. Nearly.

When I contacted my primary doctor, she stated only three days for the sling, a whopping seven days less than the old fart at the urgent care clinic, and I should begin physical therapy immediately. I have only needed physical therapy twice before, and both times I hated every second of it, but as the physical therapist I saw said, more work now means easier healing later. She assigned me a battery of boring exercises, four to six times a day. She measured how far I can move the injured side, and after just one set of the exercises my mobility improved. She advised me to still stay away from cardio exercise, but yesterday I couldn't take it anymore. What harm could it really do? It didn't do any, albeit I didn't try to run, just did some biking and elliptical stuff. I'm not able to put my hand behind my head for proper crunches or do planks (planks are my favorite core exercise), and certainly the sun salutation sequence in Yoga is out of the question for a while. But I can do cardio, and I can do T'ai-Chi, and today, I'm typing.

I am also going to try to conquer housework. I have three cats, and it doesn't take long for fur and other stuff to build up around the house. Laundry needs doing, trash needs taking out, and I just can't sit around anymore and watch it all build. So we shall see.