Throw out 50 Thoughts #16 – I can’t watch this

roller coasterIt was game two, and the Sox were behind 2-0. I had mixed emotions about it. After all, I’m from Detroit, and have spent far more years as a Tigers fan than I have as a Red Sox fan. All the same, my love for the Sox is stronger for having chosen it, rather than inheriting it.

Miguel Cabrera sent the ball sailing over the green monster, and I decided it was time to go to bed. I was tired. It had been a long weekend. My husband was already asleep. I had a lot of good reasons. The bad reason, however, overrode them all. I was afraid of the outcome and I didn’t want to see it. My lack of observance wouldn’t change it, nor would it decrease my disappointment. I simply didn’t want to feel bad right at that moment.

This is how I ride roller coasters. Eyes mostly shut, breathing deeply, and counting the seconds until it’s over. I don’t ride roller coasters often, and only under duress. I hear they are fun. I will take your word for it.

But should I?

Sometimes life is volatile. Not everything moves at a mostly constant pace, with smooth transitions between the rare upticks and slowdowns.  I’ve worked very hard, however, to keep the calm. I’m beginning to think I’m doing it all wrong.

Calm is not in how one avoids complications. Calm is in how one faces them.

I’m a writer. It’s not a stress free life. I have a novel that is 70% there, meaning it’s written, but not polished. The goal is to get an agent and pitch it. The idea absolutely terrifies me. I start to feel the car go up the incline, and I know the plunge is coming. Instead of throwing my hands up in the air and screaming with exhilaration, I close my eyes until the feeling goes away.

Have you ever noticed that exhilaration and fear often have the same symptoms?

The Dude woke me up from a deep sleep. He sounded panicked. “You have to come downstairs, RIGHT NOW!” And he took off.

I threw my bathrobe on and ran downstairs, expecting to find a dead cat or a hole in the ceiling or sewage pouring from the downstairs toilet.

Instead I heard the cheers of Red Sox Nation after Papi hit a grand slam, tying the game that I was sure was a lost cause.  The Dude and I hugged and danced and cheered and didn’t stop until the Sox won. It was awesome. What was I so afraid of?

Good question. Time to open my eyes and find out.

Words by J. B. Everett

Photograph “Wooden Roller Coaster” by JoshNV © 2007 Creative Commons

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Throw out 50 Thoughts – I deserve this

gelatoI had  just finished five hours of editing. Five hours of anything is difficult. I think even after five hours sitting on a beach and reading, I’d at least need a bathroom break. Slogging through my own prose for the 1,000th time is considerably less pleasurable.

When I came up for air, I needed something to mark the effort. I chose chocolate chip gelato. It was delicious. Did I mention that I’ve been doing a two-week edit-a-thon? That’s a lot of gelato.

Gelato was also my choice two weeks ago when I fell down the stairs and was whining about my bruised hip.  I deserved it then too. That time it was salted caramel.

I deserved a break from running since I had my flu shot and a YouTube viewing session since I finished assembling the first violin folders. I only have another forty to go.

Clearly, I’m a really deserving person. I wonder why it doesn’t feel that way. After I’ve had my well-deserved “treat” I feel like I’ve failed somehow, and wrapped my failure up in a pretty package and called it a reward. I’ve eaten food that isn’t good for me, avoided exercise that I need to be healthy, and I’ve spent time doing something other than what I should be doing.

I’ve killed the joy of the moment by requiring some sort of justification for doing it other than I’m choosing what I actually want.

Gelato is tasty. Sometimes the body needs a break. There are some awesome videos on YouTube. Right now, I love that wackdoodle Norwegian video about what the fox says.

I’m giving up on the idea that I am deserving of something, because I don’t have to earn it. I’m either going to have it, or I’m not. I will not taint the experience by attaching the idea that I have to decide if I’m worthy. Just as I don’t have to justify my “no” other than it is what I need to do, I don’t have to justify my “yes” either.

If I can let go of the idea of evaluating what I’ve done in the past to validate the present, I might actually experience the present for what it is. I can break the chain of time, and just be in the moment, enjoying that gelato, that lazy afternoon, or the fox saying ringdingdingdingading. After all, isn’t that what we all deserve?

Words by J. B. Everett

Photograph “Gelato” by Su-Lin © 2008 Creative Commons

Throw out 50 thoughts #11 – This is the worst effing day

redshoesIt’s six o’clock on Saturday and I am in the worst mood. This day has sucked from beginning to end, and I’m just waiting for it to be over.

My body feels like it’s been through torture. A few days ago, I fell down the stairs. The Dude says that I did so with perfect slide form. He half-expected I would pop up to a stand at the end, just like Jacoby Ellsbury.  Instead, I splayed across the foyer floor like one of my cats.  I have an enormous bruise on my right hip, and have been unable to exercise (or sleep) ever since.

I’m also having a bizarre allergic reaction to something, so my skin is covered with red, itchy welts. The discomfort makes me grouchy. The antihistamines make me sleepy. I have various appendages packed in ice for most of the day. I’m playing a wedding Sunday, and I’m wondering how I’m going to get through four hours in pantyhose. I need to wear them to cover the red welts. Speaking of which, I have to buy pantyhose.

My husband is out paragliding, so I am home with the Dude and a group of his friends, which means we’re having Domino’s for dinner. I despise Domino’s.  Yup. The worst effing day.

That being said, I’ve gotten a lot accomplished. I’ve edited another chapter of my novel, tossed it out to four betas, and queried a really cool indie mag about some quirky poetry ideas that will expand my reach and repertoire. The weather is looking great for the wedding, which isn’t a given this time of year.

The Dude and his friends are happily hanging out around the dining room table eating pizza, dissing each other and laughing about the stupid, wonderful stuff that teenaged boys laugh at.

I had the presence of mind to order a salad, although I’m enjoying a piece of deep dish pizza. I’ve made a pot of chamomile tea, and I’m reading a really good book. Because my husband isn’t home, I didn’t have to cook, and pizza involves almost no clean up.

The boys head outside to play basketball. I can hear them cheering each other on. The Dude is happy. I get myself a glass of crisp Sauvignon Blanc. It’s bright and citrusy and has a touch of effervescence.  I plow back into the book.

And I say it out loud. “What a great day.”

WTF? Wasn’t this just the worst day? How can it be?

The welts hadn’t disappeared from my skin, I was still limping around with a bad hip, and Domino’s hadn’t suddenly improved their menu overnight. But amidst all the crappy stuff, there was some good stuff–enough good stuff to make a difference. It didn’t suddenly appear. It had always been there.

I have always said that you can’t find happiness, because happiness is. If that is true, the only difference between a crappy day and a great day is what I choose to look at. The power is mine. Like Dorothy’s shoes, the ability to go home has always been with me. Telling myself it’s a bad day, with bad things, warranting a bad mood, brings me nothing but more bad.

This week, I will see the good among the bad. I will be grateful for Benadryl, good books, and a chamomile tea. I will thank the universe for producing beautiful days, beta readers, and fermentation. I will smile more and scratch less. And it will be a good day. I am glad to be sharing it with you.

Words by J. B. Everett

Photograph “Dorothy’s Shoes” by SpecificallyJane © 2011 Creative Commons

Throw out 50 Thoughts #7 – I really ought to read the New Yorker

magazineWhen I was in business school, I got a discounted subscription to the Wall Street Journal. The WSJ is the capitalist bible, chock full of success stories and cautionary tales, required reading for future moguls.  Every morning, I’d get my copy, kick back on the sofa…. and fall asleep.

I don’t blame the WSJ for my apnea. It’s the gold standard for business reporting. It’s just that I had zero interest in what it had to say. My area of expertise was marketing research, so O Magazine was far more insightful and applicable to my course of study.

When I finished business school, I didn’t cancel my subscription. I kept it active well into my consulting years. I’d get into the office, read the front page, and suddenly have something really important to do.  I’d take it home and put it on the dining room table, and there it would stay until the weekend, when I would “have more time.”

“I don’t have time” is a red herring. When people say that they don’t have time for things, that isn’t really true. They don’t make time for them because they value other activities more. If I suddenly had an extra hour at the end of the day, I would have preferred to clip my cat’s claws to reading the WSJ, and I never clip my cat’s claws.

All the same, they’d call to me every night, “Read me Jeannine, read me.” I would avoid looking at the pile as it grew larger each day. When the pile became large enough to be a fire hazard, I’d put it all in the recycling bin, at night, when no one was watching. When I left the business world, I was really happy to cancel my subscription. I really don’t need to be nagged by a pile of newsprint. People are so much more effective at it.

A few months ago, I had some expiring miles that I redeemed for a subscription to the New Yorker. I didn’t have to pay a dime–as a writer, this is a good thing. Every week I would get the holy grail for contemporary writers in my mailbox. Tom Wolfe, Zadie Smith, David Sedaris. I would learn so much!

I got my first copy, kicked back on the sofa…. and fell asleep. It’s been three months. The pile is getting big.

I know that I’m supposed to revere the New Yorker, and I do. I just don’t enjoy reading it. It’s a wonderful publication–for someone other than me to enjoy. Now, please don’t flame me for not liking the New Yorker. I don’t like a lot of things that I’m expected to, like Sex in the City, goat cheese, and traveling. Sue me. I would never judge you based on your preferences. Okay, I might, but I’d never say so out loud.

I love to read. I devour a new book like a box of Do-si-dos. I have a backlog of books I can’t wait to dig into. So why does that pile of New Yorkers make me feel like a failure?

Because it exists.

Thus, the solution is to make it disappear. So out they go, along with the idea that I really ought to read them. Perhaps when I’m a better writer, I’ll read a future issue and say, “my that was profound. I must have a subscription.” Or perhaps I’ll buy another five books and let the opportunity pass me by. What I won’t do is allow my sense of worth to be damaged one bit by an “ought” that isn’t my own. At least that’s what I ought to do.

What limiting thought will you throw out this week?

Words by J. B. Everett

Photograph “Magazines” by Sean Winters © 2007

Throw out 50 Thoughts #4 – I’m a middle-aged soccer mom

soccer momsFirst of all, my son doesn’t play soccer. He plays baseball. It’s the middle-aged thing that tends to derail me sometimes. I remember in my early 20’s, when I started in marketing research, we used to have age restrictions for survey participation. I thought 60 was so old. When I was 30, I mourned the end of my young-and-free years. When I was 40, I was locked into a career that wasn’t making me happy anymore, but the die was cast. It was too late.

Now I’m almost fifty. I like to think I face life challenges head on, but I do have that initial hesitance. I’m a middle-aged soccer mom. I can’t run a marathon/climb Mt. Everest/wear a 2-piece bathing suit.

I went on a beach jaunt with some of my dearest friends. The kind that never lie to you. The ones that love you enough to tell you not to ever wear those jeans again. They took me to a bathing suit shop and gave me a makeover. I haven’t worn a 2-piece suit since I was 6. I now own two. I know they wouldn’t have let me walk out of the store, let alone on a beach if I looked like an idiot. I just didn’t think of myself as someone who could wear a bathing suit like that.

After all, I’m a middle-aged soccer mom.

I have some wrinkles, and gravity has taken its toll. Underneath the dye, my hair is pretty gray. I also ran four miles this morning.

I had a business career, which I took as far as I wanted to go. Yes, I had a son to take care of, and yes, managing a two-career family was hard, but I’d already managed both for years. That life had run its course.

I’m only middle aged. That’s half a lifetime left. And I don’t have to spend any of it learning to walk, or talk, or even worse, learn derivatives. I have a half-life of experience– all leading up to right now. I will not climb Everest, not because I’m too old, but because I have no interest in doing so. There are many things, however, that I want to accomplish, and this half-life has just begun. So look out.

After all, I’m a middle aged soccer mom.

Words by J. B. Everett

Photograph – “Soccer Mums” by Ingo Bernhardt © 2009 Creative Commons

Clearing Space in the Cluttered Mind

clutterHumans are creatures of collection. We abhor white space and compulsively fill it with whatever we can find. If there’s a table, put stuff on it. If there’s a cupboard, put stuff in it. If there is silence, make some noise, and if there’s solitude, then clearly you’ve done something wrong.

About six years ago I heard Gail Blanke talk about her book, Throw Out Fifty Things. She encouraged people to find 50 items they no longer need or want, and explore what those items tell you about how and why you acquire.

We were preparing to move, so it was a good time to evaluate what we really needed and what we didn’t. I gathered up forty or so things I thought I could part with–clothes that didn’t fit and never would, items I’d purchased without thinking and wouldn’t ever use. That was easy. Goal oriented gal that I am, I vowed to get to fifty. I sat at my desk and contemplated, at which point I realized that I hated that desk. I had spent years of misery behind that desk. It had to go.

I’d just left my job. It had driven me to the cliff of crazy and dared me to pull a Thelma and Louise. My life needed more white space. If the eye and the mind cannot find a place to rest, it keeps moving until it does, always searching for some sort of equilibrium. The best way for me to find it was to get rid of the one item that had soaked up enough bad karma for a lifetime.

My husband thought I was nuts. We were moving in days. It was his choice–put it on Craigslist, or I would take it apart with a sledgehammer and burn it in the backyard. He decided that someone would want it. Someone did. They took it away and it was like I could breathe again.

I’ve been feeling restless lately, unable to stay on task, and I think the lack of white space is again at the core of my problems. Our home feels congested. Every closet, every drawer is filled with stuff–I’m not even sure what. We have old electronics and ancient software that doesn’t run anymore. We have manuals for appliances we no longer own, magazines that we’ll never read again. The house needs to go on a diet.

But the house isn’t all that needs a good purge. There is too much going on in my head. I so badly want to cross things off the to-do list. With each item I take off, however, four take its place. I know I am not unique in this regard. I have to wonder, however, how much I really have to do, and how much I think I ought to do. These are the barriers that keep us from moving–the “should” and the “really ought to,” the “can’t” and the “wouldn’t be wise”–the words alone make me feel anchored in place.

Last week I got the best comment on this blog —

Our light is full of all the writing ideas ever created, and meditation is the only way to discover them.

Lately, however, my mind is always racing, searching for the path to done. It’s time to clean house so peace doesn’t have to work so hard to find its way home.

Here is my version of the 50 things challenge. I will rid my self of 50 clutter-inducing thoughts. Each week I will find an idea that holds me back and play with what my world would be like without it. Physical items are easy to find and dispose of. I could put my mental clutter on the curb with a FREE sign and it would sit for days, because everyone has enough of their own. So why don’t we do it together?

I’d love to walk the path with company. Who is in?

What limiting thought will you get rid of this week?

Words by J. B. Everett

Photograph by Sean MacEntee © 2009 Creative Commons

Letting my thoughts run – Meditation for the Fidgety Soul

WalkingmazeI wrote this piece a year ago for another blog, but thought I might share it here today, as it’s reflective of where I am at the moment.

I’ve read that regular meditation alleviates everything from depression to high blood pressure. It’s free, doesn’t require any contact with a health insurance company, and has no negative side effects. Pretty impressive stuff.

I’m fairly crunchy for a city girl. A few years in California left its imprint. I’ve followed a regular yoga practice for years, I eat organic as much as possible, and I’m a huge advocate of acupuncture. Meditation, however, does not come easily to me. I can’t sit still with my thoughts for very long. I am a restless spirit.

I went to a guided meditation session, hoping to find the solution to my inner-antsypants. It didn’t work. I listened to five or six breaths, and the ideas began to intrude.

It started with little things. What should I make for dinner? The car probably needs an oil change. Don’t forget to pick up the dry cleaning.

The thoughts grew more complicated and stressful. There’s no way I’ll have the client report finished in time. We really need to redo our will. Am I giving my son the right dose of Tylenol? Does he take child or infant?

And then the doom loop started. I’m going to get fired. Could my husband be having an affair? What if my son got hit by a bus? What if the asteroid is coming and Bruce Willis isn’t there to save us? None of these thoughts made any sense, but they barged in anyway.

While the outer world was totally silent, I couldn’t stop the noise inside my head. It buzzed and whirred until my ears were pounding. The room began to feel small and airless. Soon, I would collapse, like a star, and drag everything into the black hole along with me. I started hyperventilating, sucking in great gasps of air. The adrenaline was rushing through my system, and I was pretty sure I was about to pass out. This didn’t feel like inner peace.

The seminar leader took me outside so that a) I could get some fresh air and b) I would stop frightening the other participants. She asked me what I was experiencing, and I told her I thought I was going to fly apart. I was coming unglued, literally–the force that bound my cells together was failing and I was going to explode.

I asked if this is what it was like to experience the universe.

No, she said. It’s what it’s like to experience yourself.

When people repeat things over and over, it’s generally because they feel voiceless. Sure, the squeaky wheel gets greased, but the emotion is not about the wheel, it’s that no one hears the squeak until it gets really loud. My psyche had become a very squeaky wheel. I had ignored it for too long, and without the rest of my life there to drown it out, it saw the opportunity to be heard.

The seminar leader took me to a walking mandala, where I counted steps and breaths, and made peace with my thoughts, promising never to ignore them again. It’s a work in progress.

I still cannot sit still to meditate for more than a few minutes at a time, so I run. My husband, also a runner, lives by the stopwatch, trying to get the fastest 2 mile time he can clock. Pushing limits is congruent with his personality, intense and determined.

I run slowly, but for miles and miles, until I’m exhausted and sweaty and empty. I put on music, lock into a cadence, and let the thoughts go where they will. I don’t ponder them, or hash them through, I acknowledge them—Namaste—and let them go.

I get home, ice my knee, and write. This is my meditation. It is also my saving grace because I love carbs in any form. If one could achieve inner peace by eating Ciabatta with a good Cabernet, I’d be dining with Buddha. Since that’s not going to happen, I’ll pop on my headphones and lace up my shoes.

Mindfulness, a quiet recognition of one’s thoughts, however crazed they may be, is a beneficial practice. It doesn’t, however, have to be in lotus position inhaling patchouli incense, although I know a fair number of people who actually do it that way. Maybe your meditation is gardening, or an evening prayer. Maybe it’s just watching light shine through grass, or clouds drift by. Whatever works. It’s all good.

I don’t know if I will find satori at some mile marker, but I have found peace of mind and endless writing material, including this piece.

Namaste.

Words by J. B. Everett

Photograph “Walk Walk” by Memphis CVB © 2010 Creative Commons