Thursday, July 24, 2014

On possible brain atrophy....



I haven't written since April. That's way too long. And I mean, I haven't written a single thing. I haven't journaled. I haven't even started (and then not finished) blog posts. Honestly, the only thing I've written in that time is weekly notes in my pregnancy journal. That's right. In the time I've not been writing, I got knocked up...something I've been hoping to be for a long time. And I haven't written a tiny, solitary thing about it! That's embarrassing for someone who fancies herself a writer.

I've lost some of the motivation to write, to be fair. And by "motivation," I mean "drama." It's a lot easier to find things to write about when my life is in upheaval. And for several years, my life was certainly that. Now? It's settled down. I won't have to move again for another two and a half years which is a welcome thing after having moved something like seven times in two years. It's nice to sit down somewhere and feel like it's home.

Last week, I experienced one of life's great joys when I talked to a girl friend for over an hour, someone I haven't talked with at length since before I moved away from Denver. Sometimes, there really is no thing more refreshing than catching up, laughing, crying, heart-to-hearting, and scheming with someone who just gets it. And she and I, man, can we do all those things...and we do them well! Specifically the scheming and laughing bits. 

It was in that conversation that we were reminded that we are good writers. We're actually very good writers. So what are we doing not writing? Between the lack of "drama" (read: available things to bitch about) or the increasing need for privacy, there just isn't a whole lot motivating either of us to write. Except maybe each other. 

I told my friend that I miss writing. I miss creating. I miss using my words. I want to write (and in an ideal world, I'd get paid to do that) and I want to inspire and provoke. I hate the feeling that my brain is atrophying. Often, I find myself struggling to find the right word (I couldn't come up with "deviant" a few weeks ago and it was infuriating) and I'm not one that's normally at a loss for words. But at the same time, I told her, I don't want to be a "mommy blogger." There are plenty of those out there and most of them are damn good at what they do. But the market is saturated with mommy bloggers (I can direct you to several good ones, if you're interested). And beyond that - and here's where I might lose people - I don't want my life to be only about my children. 

I'm excited more than I probably let on about being a mommy at the end of the year (though I'm scared sh*tless of actually getting the baby here). I can't wait to breastfeed and change diapers and wake up at all hours of the night and read stories and teach them how to bake and cook and bring them to visit Daddy in the hangar and cart them around the world for the next fifteen years of our Navy life. But I need my children to know that I am me. I need them to know that my world doesn't revolve around them. It revolves around no person, including me. I want to teach them that individualism is important and doing your own thing holds significant value. I want them to know that I am a writer, a singer, a baker, AND a mommy. And maybe, most importantly, I am their daddy's wife and partner. 

So with that, there could be something very exciting coming up for me. Something that gets my brain revving and will likely rattle my emotions in new ways. There's nothing really of substance to talk about regarding this right now so suffice it to say...something this way comes. 


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On balancing on the edge of alone....

Almost a year ago to the date, I started doing yoga. I’d done it a few times before, but this was the first time I did it knowing I’d be going back…again and again and again. I started slowly doing one class a week and then before long, I was at the studio three or four times a week and didn’t care what I had to do to finance my new “addiction.” I started learning things about myself and my body and my mind that I never expected to learn.
And then I fell in love with an instructor who seemed to know exactly what I needed during every single class. Magic happens when you find an instructor that you connect with. She had (and continues to have, though I’m now more than 1500 miles away from “my” studio) an intuition that I think can only come from being in love with oneself and ones work. She just…knows. She taught me some very important things which I try to carry with me in my personal practice, now that I don’t have her guidance every single week.
Of the many things I’ve learned from her, maybe the most important is that of autonomy. I’d been in the process of learning what that meant (divorce will do that for – and to – a person), but it wasn’t until I’d begun to invest in yoga that I was really able to unpack the idea. She taught me one of (what I think is) the most basic ideas in all of yoga: My mat is my own. I invite onto and reject from my mat whatever I choose. Whatever happens on my mat is mine and mine alone and has nothing to do with any other person in the universe. My practice can be as spiritual or mechanical as I want or need it to be and that can, will, and should change from day to day, hour to hour.
This idea of solitude reared its very weird head for me less than a week ago. I was in my new home studio, working through new class, struggling through dolphin pose. It was a class focusing on gratitude, about being grateful for not only the easy and comfortable parts of life (and yoga), but also for the challenging and painful parts. Now, to be clear, I’ve never been grateful for painful experiences. I think they’re nonsense, but I also realize they’re inevitable and so I choose to look beyond the pain into the growth that I hope will come from it. That’s my gratitude, anyway.
So I’m stuck in this pose and something is making it more uncomfortable that it should have been.
It was my (new) wedding ring.
Oh my god, it was driving my crazy. The diamond was keeping my hands – and therefore my arms – from laying flat which was the discomfort. I turned it around, the diamond now on the back of my finger, which was equally as uncomfortable and now was annoying the hell out of me.
So, in an oddly symbolic move that I didn’t recognize until much later in the day, I took my ring off and slid it underneath my mat (so my crazy dog wouldn’t accidentally swallow it). I immediately felt a thousand times better and lighter and more in tune with my practice. It was the first time since I started going yoga that I really, truly understood what it meant for my practice to be completely about me…and that it was okay.
There’s a lot about being alone that I’ve learned from being married, from not being married, and from yoga. And that’s deeply transformed the way I approach life as a married person (again). My yoga practice is very much only about me. I can’t make anyone love it (or sometimes hate it) the way I do. I can only do what my body allows me to do, nothing more and nothing less. Yoga requires acceptance of self. It’s necessary that I allow my body to do and feel what it needs. Often, that means shutting everything out and experiencing yoga in a profoundly personal way.
Learning to be an individual is incredibly difficult. I have a tendency to get lost inside all my relationships – friendships, marriage, or otherwise. It’s a little like I become that Julia Roberts character in “Runaway Bride.” I feel like I need to be whatever it is I think someone needs or wants me to be. Yoga is teaching me that being myself – really and truly being me – is more than just “okay.” It’s necessary. I *have* to be okay with everything about me in order to get from yoga what I need. I’m learning to accept my body for what is does and does not do, but more importantly, I’m learning to accept mySELF. I’m learning to relish my alone time and I look forward to yoga because it’s a place where I just get to be me.
Yoga is the most individual sport a person can do. I have absolutely no doubt about it. It’s the only place where doing something imperfectly is actually doing it perfectly. There are no coaches telling me I’m doing something wrong and how to do it right. There aren’t awards to be won or medals to gain. Yoga won’t ever be an Olympic sport. Yoga is a place where doing your own thing isn’t just accepted, it’s encouraged! Being an individual and doing what feels right for you, those are the only real “rules.”
Yoga is the place where, no matter what I’m going through or how I feel or what my attitude is that day, I’m accepted without condition. Yoga allows my body to stay where it is, but gently guides me toward “betterness.” Often, I don’t know I’m getting better at yoga until I’m well into a practice and all of a sudden, my palms are flat on the floor and I’m balancing without concerns. Yoga is the place where I can go with my tears and my giggles, my ridiculous music or my silence, my laziness or my ass-kickery.
Yoga is whatever I need it to be. Because yoga is about solely me.

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

On getting very naked....


Is there some weird chance the perfectionism could be labeled an "addiction"? It's easy to call something an addiction when you can see it. Like, in-your-face see it. I guess I never really thought about it before, but I suppose there are mental and emotional addictions as much as there are physical ones. I mean, I understand that all addictions come from a psychological place; it's just that so many of them end up manifesting in a physical way. We smoke or drink or eat (or don't eat) or obsessively exercise or whatever. And when we can see an addiction, we can more easily address the thing(s) that actually brought it on in the first place. 

But when it's something that's inside my head, it's harder for me to want to deal with it. I can hide it, I can ignore it, and I can give in to it. 

I can't really determine when my obsessive need for perfection began, but I know that it's been going on for a long, long, l-o-n-g time. My personal favorite moment of insane perfectionism involves cheesecake(s) and well over $100 in groceries. I was 22 when I first decided to give cheesecake a whirl. I'd had my springform pan for long enough that I needed to put it to use. So I bought all the necessary supplies for a cheesecake and found what seemed to be a good enough recipe and I mixed together a cheesecake. The crust was absolute perfection. I know without a doubt that I kill it with graham cracker crumb crusts. When it came out of the oven, the cheesecake didn't rise the way I thought it would; it sunk in the middle. It looked so sad. So I scraped the entire thing into the trash can and started over. Four more times. The fifth and final time, I was just too exhausted to try again, so I filled the giant, sunken cheesecake with cherry pie filling and called it a day. It was probably the longest baking day I've ever had. It was sheer madness.

My perfectionism rears up most readily in my cooking and baking. If something doesn't look the way I want it to, I beat myself up almost endlessly. I've probably thrown away thousands of dollars worth of food in my adult lifetime just because it didn't look right.   

I'm in a near-constant state of worry when it comes to people's perception of me and my life. I want to be the perfect cook and baker. I want to be the best-dressed in whatever social situation I find myself in. I want to be the perfect wife (which is turning into a whole new challenge with wanting to be the perfect Navy wife and the perfect Chief's wife) and to have the perfect marriage. I want my house to look perfect, my writing to be perfect, and my hair and makeup to be perfect. I want to plan the perfect parties. I always aim for perfection. 

When something doesn't go the way I plan, I start to lose my mind a little bit. It stresses me out. I work very hard to make sure things go "just so" and when they don't, I get very upset. I worry that people will think less of me. I worry more than anything that I'll let someone down or disappoint them.  

Worse yet is the feeling that not only have I disappointed another person, but that I've disappointed myself. 

Disappointing myself is something I've learned to both fear and regard. I feel like it keeps me in check. It makes me aim to do my best. At the same time, it cause for a lot of concern when it comes to my perfectionism. This is especially true in how I view my physical self. I beat myself up, both physically and mentally, over the way I look. I feel (probably excessive) shame when I don't look "just so" in whatever outfit it is I'm wearing at the time. I get angry at myself when I don't or can't lose the weight I want to and then get frustrated when I know that I can actually do it, but lack the discipline that's required. I vacillate between being content with my physical self and disgust that I can't fit into the jeans I want because of my gut. Is there any more awful feeling than that of contempt for oneself? 

The thing with perfection (and probably with any addiction) is that it's something that's been a part of me for so long, I don't know how to behave without it. And I don't know how people would react if I didn't do it. I find myself saying things that addicts say..."I can stop whenever I want" or "It's not really that big of a deal" or "It's not interfering with my daily life", but when I allow myself to really think about it, I can't stop, it is a big deal, and it does interfere with my life. 

One of my biggest fears is that I'll transfer this bizarre addiction to my children. I fear that they'll hate themselves as much as I have hated myself, that they'll feel as worthless as I have, that they'll crave perfection the way I do and place all their worth in what they think people think about them rather than concerning themselves with being educated, kind, well-rounded, and faith-full individuals...all the things I should be concerning myself with rather than worrying about throwing the perfect party or baking the perfect cupcakes. 

What I really don't want is for my future children to confuse perfection with love. I've done that before. I still do it sometimes. I fail to love myself when I'm not perfect and I fail to understand that people who love me - really, really love me - don't expect me to be perfect. 

The addiction of perfection inherently causes imperfection. It almost always causes failure at some point. I've been a huge proponent of "If you can't do it right, don't do it at all." It kind of makes me wonder about all the things I've missed out on because I was too afraid to not do it perfectly. Just in the last five minutes, I've remember about a hundred things I didn't do or quit doing because it didn't go perfectly quickly enough (or at all). And all those things I quit doing? I still beat myself up over...especially that big, huge "quit". I can't even forgive myself perfectly. Sheesh. 

So I think what I'm coming to realize is that I need to start thinking not about WHAT I'm doing, but WHY I'm doing it. The problem isn't that I want perfect cupcakes...the problem is why do I think the cupcakes have to be perfect in the first place? Why do I want the perfect body? Why do I want to throw the perfect party? Why do I want any type of perfection? It's going to be incredibly hard. And as with any addiction, I fully expect this to be a lifelong struggle. I expect to relapse. I expect to give in to perfection. I, frankly, expect to fail. 

But in my failure, I will try to love myself. 

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

On eating my feelings....


Now that I no longer have a 9-to-5 (something I do actually miss from time to time), I've taken quite a liking to cooking. There's always a new recipe I want to try and old favorites I fall back on. Yesterday was an "old favorite" day: pulled pork tacos. But it definitely didn't go as planned. 

I went grocery shopping on Monday, like I always do, and picked up (what I thought was) a pork butt so I could begin the process of slow cooking some shredded pork. Tuesday came and I pulled the pork out of the refrigerator to discover that while I may have looked at the pork butt, what I actually brought home was something quite different indeed. I'm not foodie enough to tell you what it was without digging through the trash to read the label, but it was in no way what I was planning on cooking with. What I actually brought home was bone-in and required me to cut off animal skin. Gawd, it was gross. I've never pulled skin off anything other than chicken and this.was.gross. I used kitchen shears, a carving knife, and finally a serrated bread knife which is what did the trick. It was foul. Never again will I make the mistake of NOT picking up pork butt. 

And whatever this cut was, it sure didn't shred easily. Normally, after about four hours of slow cooking, I can just use my trusty tongs to shred the pork. Not this monster. My shoulders actually hurt a little from all the pulling and prodding and jabbing and cutting I had to do to cut the meat off the bone. GAAAAA!!! 

Additionally, this cut weighed in at over three pounds. Now, had it been all meat (as I'd hoped I'd purchased), the shredded pork would have filled my slow cooker and soaked up all the delicious marinade (homemade green chili and Rick Bayless skillet fajita sauce, on recommendation from a friend). Not so much. I think I wound up with about 3/4 of a pound of meat after trimming all the fat and removing the bone. There was so much leftover marinade I was able to package it up in the freezer for the next time I make this meal with the correct cut. 

I've never been much of a cook, so trying new things is very fun for me and I'm learning a lot of tricks and techniques. The other day, I learned how to chop an onion without crying though I still tend to use my handy chopper tool more often than not (because it's fun and makes me think of the friend that gave it to me). 

What I'm coming to learn is that I'm much better at complicated recipes. The harder it is, the better I'll probably handle it. If it's easy, I will surely mess something up. Maybe this comes from 30+ years of baking (wherein exactitude is a requirement). Maybe it comes from my perfectionist being. I don't know. I really don't care. All I know is that I enjoy cooking and from everything I've read, seen, and heard, that's the whole point! Well, that and the eating, of course! 

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

On expecting the very best....



I'm a perfectionist. Often to a dangerous degree. It's not something I'm terribly proud of, but it's also not something I deny. I tend to get very uneasy when things don't go according to plan...my plan, that is. It's hard for me to adjust when I have something set in my head and it goes a completely different direction. Many of you have probably been witness to this. 

There are two areas in my life where perfection is becoming increasingly more important. Writing and running. I don't mean to say the activities themselves need to be perfect (Lord knows my injuries and editing errors prove that). What I'm really after is aesthetic perfection. I need the conditions to be right in order to get the most out of it. 

When it comes to writing, I need solid instrumental music that doesn't lapse into anything depressing ("Moonlight Sonata") or irritating ("Canon in D"); I prefer loads of natural, sunny light; a cup of hot coffee and my water bottle are necessities; and, above all, a comfortable space to be in essential.  A desk that holds the necessary writing tools (laptop, pen, journal, etc.) as well as the space for my coffee and water, not to mention several of my office-y accoutrements, and, of course, a comfortable chair. Right now, all I have is a folding TV table and a rather uncomfortable couch. There's barely room for my laptop on this thing, let alone my coffee and water. Sigh. And there's almost no natural light in our little apartment (never choose a home that faces north or south) which is incredibly annoying, but is an entirely different topic. 

The one thing I know I can always control here (and in running) is the music. Right now, I'm enjoying a Pandora station based on the stylings of The Vitamin String Quartet. If you don't know them, go to their site immediately. Okay, now that you're back, you can probably see what I love about them so much. The music is familiar and fun, but without the distraction of lyrics (I'm a chronic sing-alonger, which isn't helpful when I'm trying to write). 

My writing conditions could obviously be far worse. Fortunately, they're going to get a lot better in a few weeks when we get to our new house, full of very large windows and space for me to set up shop. And yes, I am counting down the days. 

When it comes to running, I'm finding that I'm increasingly becoming a "conditions snob." I really just want to run in weather that's absolutely perfect for me. Slightly overcast, 50-60*F, and a hint of a breeze. I blame the desire for these conditions on my first half marathon. Literally every single training run I went on, I was provided these conditions. It was a little ridiculous how lucky I got. The thing is, though, I really want to push myself to run in less-than-ideal conditions. I have some pretty fantastic cold weather gear so I should really get around to using it. 

Running, however, is becoming a far greater teacher than coach for me. I'm learning things that I honestly never thought could be taught. Things like patience and forgiveness of self. Injuries will teach any athlete patience. Just ask anyone who's ever jumped back in the saddle way too soon. Forgiveness of self is a far more difficult thing to learn, though not impossible. I no longer feel bad for wanting perfect running conditions (I can always use the dreadmill), but I'm finding there are really only two situations I absolutely will not go out in: rain and extreme cold. 

If I can forgive the weather its missteps, then surely I can forgive myself when my knee buckles and I can no longer run. It just means I'll walk the rest of my route. It means I'm allowed to be disappointed by a less-than-desirable pace, but I'm not allowed to give up because of it. It means that some days I'm the champion of the world and other days I'm a haggard old bag who can barely put one foot in front of the other. What forgiveness of self means is that I am enough. 

Giving up my perfectionist self is going to take a lifetime of learning. But as with any skill, it's not achieved overnight. It's a step-by-step process, taking pride in the small wins and not becoming unhinged by failures. And today, despite the weather, but because of amazing music, is a win. 

Monday, January 13, 2014

On punching the clock....

Since the middle of August, I've been completely without schedule. For as long as I can remember, I've lived life in fifteen minute increments. It's easy for me to keep a schedule and, generally speaking, stay on task. 

Without this strict schedule, I tend to lose focus. I haven't written nearly as much as I'd have liked to. Nor have I read as much as I'd have preferred. Yoga and run training are haphazard at best. 

So last week, I decided to take charge of my life again. I created a schedule of every day, Monday through Friday, blocked out in half-hour increments, each of them filled with something that I need or want to do. So far, it's gone fairly well. Waking up each morning with a cup of coffee and a bit of "emotional" reading before the puppies or husband gets up has been a refreshing way to start my day. Not that I don't love all of them...but "me time" is something that's always been very important to, well, me.

Scheduling my time has often gone with a feeling of, "I only have [this many minutes] left to complete [task X]!" which inevitably leaves me with feelings of either anxiety or despair. Now, especially when it comes to reading, I am left with feelings of happiness mixed with delightful anxiety. The kind that makes me think, "I only have [this many minutes] left and I still want to read a hundred more pages of this book!"

Writing is a bit more of a struggle when it's on my daily schedule. When something feels like I "have" to do it rather than I "get" to do it, I can get exceedingly distracted. Like right now. I've been sitting here for twenty minutes and I should definitely either a) have more written or b) be well into the editing phase. It's a little torturous. I wish I could be far more disciplined when it comes to writing. I suppose that's a little bit what this whole exercise in scheduling is about.

Working out? That's a whole different beast. I tend to get very lax with my training regimen. If it gets to be too late in the day, or I get distracted with something else, or the weather is crappy, I just throw in the the towel before I even start. I get especially lazy when I don't have an event to train for. If I don't have a reason to get off my ass, I just don't. I don't have any races in the immediate future and a slight injury from the last one has sidelined me more than I'd have liked. I despise working through and waiting out injuries. I don't have a great track record with patience and when that's the only real cure for this injury, it makes me a little loony. Which all just means that I need to find other ways to work out without exacerbating injuries and still maintaining a schedule. I guess I do sort of have a goal I'm working towards right now, though it has far more to do with yoga than running. Running, though, has certainly taught me a lot about patience...and it continues to teach me patience. I'm used to running miles and miles every week. Now, I'm relegated to a mile a day, three times a week. At least for right now. It's very frustrating and anyone who's dealt with a sports-related injury knows the feeling. I find myself saying, "I used to be a good runner." Well, the truth is, I'm still  a good runner. Maybe what keeps me a good runner is knowing when to slow it down.

So that's that. I've given myself a schedule to force myself to do the things I want and need to do. The real challenge is making sure I have the discipline to keep up with it. Accountability to myself is the hardest part...but disappointing myself is far more difficult to deal with.

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

On turning into a mental zombie....

I remember a time in my life when writing was all I could think about. I like to call this period:

UNDERGRAD.

Granted, my degree is in writing and editing, so the central focus of my entire undergraduate career revolved around writing. But, oh, the interesting things I got to write about! I created a new government. I dissected American Gothic literature (which was a labored, but worth-it effort). I wrote about Canada and Japan and how both of those countries have made an indelible mark on my heart. I got to write about, fight about, and talk about cheerleading and it's validity as a sport. I tore apart my grandmother's favorite movie and fell even more in love with it by doing so. I even wrote several technical instruction manuals (something I'm very good at, but also find incredibly boring). 

I remember when writing for a magazine consumed me and was my ultimate goal. Specifically, I wanted to write for Vanity Fair or The New Yorker. I realize these were (and are) very lofty goals, something so few people will ever get to do, but a girl's gotta dream, right? 

And then I graduated, got my fancy degree, and, well...stopped writing. 

Yep. I essentially stopped using the degree I'd worked so hard to get. 

I suppose there are plenty of people out there that experience this very same thing. Going to all the trouble of getting the degree and then having to get a job doing something entirely different just to pay the bills. It's the curse of the floofy liberal arts degree. (To be fair, I have had one job that actually paid me for my writing and it was a ton of fun, even if it was just the one copywriting job...I loved it.)

So, now that I have all this time, I'm trying really hard to set aside parts of my week devoted to writing. I'm reading books on writing (the irony destroys me). And I'm trying to engage my brain more fully, even if that means I'm just having conversations on Facebook about the weird Right, the nutty Left, or idiot clothing CEOs. Whatever it may be, I need to keep my brain from going into atrophy.