Tuesday, August 30, 2011

On smelling my memories....

Any time I'm asked, "If you had to live without one of your senses, which would it be?" I generally respond with, "I can't possibly choose." But if there's a sense that evokes the strongest emotions and memories in me, I'd probably have to go with smell.

Sight is a funny one. I love seeing things like sunsets and graduations and lightning storms, but I also get really queasy at the sight of blood...to the point that some scenes in SCRUBS has caused me to gag a little.

Taste is one that I could never do without...mostly because I love food so frickin' much! I've tasted some disgusting things in my life...mushrooms, ultra-hoppy beer, deep-fried artichoke hearts. But for all the ick, there's eleven billion times more deliciousness.

Touch is...questionable. Most of the things I hate in life (courduroy, certains types of t-shirts, mushrooms, pruny skin) generally have to do with texture. Most of the things I love in life also have to do with texture...the feeling of a long-needed hug, the way my hands feel after a paraffin wax dip, rinsing conditioner out of my hair. I love it all.

Hearing is one that's a no-brainer for me. My life would be much less interesting and fulfilled without all the music and laughter I have grown to love. But oh how I hate the sound of a fire alarm chirp or a yippy dog barking next door at 2am.

But smell? There are just so many to choose from. And they seem to come about at the most random moments.
The cologne of a boy I liked in high school...helps me remember all the pretty dresses I wore to formals in high school and who I went with to them.
Any time the R&D folks whip up a new pizza at work....mostly just makes me think about how much I love pizza.
A wood burning fireplace...makes me remember when my dad would make a big fire at 5am and put our pre-chosen clothes on the hearth so they were warm when we'd wake up for school.
Skunks...makes me giggle thinking about the one time my dad actually got sprayed. It also just makes me think about the house I grew up in and all the fun we had on all that land.
The perfume my mom wore when I was a little girl...makes me remember wanting to be grown up enough to wear it myself.
Fresh baked sourdough bread....makes me miss my grandpa so much it hurts, but also helps me remember every Christmas break I ever spent with all of my grandparents and how much I loved doing that (despite my extreme opposition of the roadtrips to get there).

Not all smells make me think happy thoughts.
Tequila and blueberries reminds me of some painful years and poor choices.
Brisk fall air is a double-threat, making me think simultaneously about football and delicious soups and hot cider, but also about the lazy, cold days of high school, sitting in the front room watching movies totally oblivious to the pain and commotion surrounding me.
York peppermint patties makes me laugh pretty hard when I think about wallpapering my dorm room with the wrappers with my best friend...but that smell also makes me think about how that was one of the worst and hardest years I've gone through to date and every bad thing associated with it.

I can't always choose when I smell one thing or another. I'm always grateful for the happy smells, especially the ones that are few and far between (the fire place or the bread). Sometimes, I'll even stalk the smells just because I know how happy they'll make me. Some are unavoidable, like the fall air...particularly in Colorado. So I force myself to remember the good in those moments. Cheering at a football game. Snuggling on the couch and watching crappy television. Going to the mall and wandering aimlessly because, hey, that's what we did in high school. Spilling coffee on the ceiling of my dorm room with said roommate (don't ask. It's a very long story). Staying up late to finish term papers and a pot of coffee.

It's not that I'm ignoring the painful parts of my life (or the lives of the ones with me). It's that I'm choosing instead to focus on the good. There will be bad, no matter what. It's a near-certainty. It's just that going through the pain is hard enough the first time. And while it's pretty much inevitable (for me, anyway) that those hard parts of my memory will come screaming back when I least expect it (and with as much force and indignity as the first time), I know that I have some happy things stocked up to drown out the bad.

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Wednesday, August 24, 2011

On climbing walls and crawling through mud....

This is going to result in some rambling. I'm okay with that. My blog; my rules.

I ran the Warrior Dash last weekend. I've been wanting to do that since it first came to Colorado last year. Obstacles, running, mountains...it all sounded like something that was right up my alley! Basically, it's like field day for grown ups...in that you get a delicious (free) beer at the end. Mmm! So with nary a training day under my belt, I headed up the hill with Todd and the dogs and embarked on "the craziest frickin' day of my life!"

I should know better than to race at elevation without training. I mean, yeah, I live at nearly 5300 feet so I can take on just about any sea-level challenge, no worries. But when the race itself STARTS at 10,000+ feet, I should have really reconsidered my lack of training. I DQd myself on the second (of TWELVE) obstacles because I had to launch myself over a 4-foot high wall...it should be noted that, thanks to years of cheerleading, I've generally focused all of my strength training on my lower body. So lifting myself (all 122 pounds of me) is a pretty daunting task. And I simply could not do it.

The rest of the course went about as expected: not well. The mud pit = hilarious and fun, but it's worth stating that there was mud in places that there should only be mud if I'm at a spa. Made for a pretty interesting run after that craziness!

The worst of it came at the end of the course when I wound up with disgusting bruises on both my wrists and my knees along with some pretty major cuts and scraping (which are finally starting to heal). It was just today, four days after the event, that I noticed some pretty nasty green and purple bruises on my legs from said obstacle. One is the size of a small continent.

Doing the Warrior Dash taught me some things about myself:
1. There are certain things that I cannot and will not ever be able to do. I need to be okay with that.
2. I really really am absolutely terrified of heights...to the point to near-hysteria.
3. I can be brave when I have to be, despite the hysterics (and, often, despite the cursing).

Bravery, I think, comes in a lot of different forms. And just because we ask for help doesn't mean that we haven't done a brave thing. Sometimes, asking for help IS the brave thing. I have friends that I think do brave things all the time. Some of them go back to school at nearly 30-years-old to pursue a dream. Some of them go off to war, knowing full-well the potential danger in front of them. Some of them simply get up every morning and face the day head on, despite what life as thrown at them. Some of them leave the safety of home in an effort to prove to themselves (and maybe others) that they are brave enough and good enough to do it.

I wonder, then, what makes us feel brave? Is it when WE feel it, individually? Or is it when someone else recognizes our fearlessness and applauds it? I'm honestly not sure. Maybe it's both. Maybe sometimes we need people to reassure us that what we're doing really is very brave, regardless of the fear or of the unknown.

Pursuing a dream is one of the bravest things I've ever seen. My best friend did it almost 10 years ago and I've seen what that kind of pursuit can lead to...and now I get to watch another friend do it!

And let's just be honest about how brave going to war is.

Sometimes life is just a real bitch. We don't know why things happen the way they do, but to not let it get the best of you? C'mon. That's pretty amazing.

Just having the gumption to change your life...that's...wow. Even if you do it (or did it) to prove a point to everyone EXCEPT yourself, you still did it...alone. And look how incredible you are because of it!

And maybe, just maybe, while we're all trying to prove to everyone else how brave we are, we really end up proving it to ourselves.

So did I have fun at the Warrior Dash? Absolutely.
Would I do it again? I'll never rule anything out, but I think I'll stick to being the cheerleader for now...

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Monday, August 22, 2011

On becoming who you will be....

It seems that back-to-school season is upon us. I don't have kids, but I know plenty of people that do. "First Day of School" photos are running rampant on my Facebook feed right now. My cousin's first day of Grade 1 is today...she's starting a new school in a new state on the opposite side of the country. And she looks all kinds of adorable in her Arizona-style clothes. I bet North Carolina's winters are going to be a little bit of a shock (invest in some Ugg boots, kiddo...you'll be glad you did!).

So this is a special edition of Use The Clutch, for all the little ones starting school this week.

School largely defines and shapes who you will become. Like an office for us grown-ups, it's where you'll spend almost all your time and energy. Work hard. Play hard. But the most important thing I can offer you is this: Be yourself. Be kind. Be the person about whom your teacher says, "I sat the new kid next to you because I knew you'd be friendly and helpful." But above all else, and most importantly, don't let anyone else decide the kind of person you should be.

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Thursday, August 18, 2011

On the necessity of sleep....

Vulnerability is a funny thing. It can hit us at the most unexpected moments. For some, it happens on an anniversary of an event. Or maybe passing by a certain restaurant or coffee shop. Scents are a good trigger for other people.

Me? I feel most vulnerable when I'm tired. And not just, "Oh, I could use a nap" tired, but completed exhausted. Absolutely worn to the bone. That's when I start having doubts about anything and everything. Nothing triggers my vulnerability more than sheer exhaustion. It's part of the reason I try (though sometimes in vain) to get at least seven or eight hours of sleep every night. I make better decisions and life choices when I've had a good night's sleep.

Being that tired makes me feel like crying, like not getting out of bed, like the only thing that can comfort me is snuggling my dogs. And even they don't normally like to hang out with me, making it that much worse. Exhaustion makes me question every decision I've ever made or should make. I start thinking insane things and on top of all that, my iPod seems to know when I'm vulnerable and chooses to play the most heart-wrenching and/or depressing songs. Can't a girl catch a break?!

So I guess I'm interested...when do you hit your breaking point? What makes you feel at your most vulnerable?

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Tuesday, August 16, 2011

On unintentional side-effects....

As is probably obvious at this juncture, I've been thinking about happiness a lot recently. And I've been having very Phoebe-esque reactions to it.

Remember that episode of Friends when Phoebe want to find a good deed she can do that DOESN'T have the unintended side effect of making her feel good? I wonder if I'm reacting to happiness in a similar (though backward) fashion. Is there something I can do (or am allowed to do) just because it makes me happy?

I've been getting manicures from the same woman for over 15 years. I love getting manicures. I love seeing this woman who, over many years, has really become a friend. So do I get manicures purely because it makes me happy? Not exactly. I like that it's HER that I get manicures from. I could get a manicure from anyone, anywhere, anytime I want. But I keep going back to the same person because she's the person that's been doing my manicures for 15 years and frankly, I'd feel terrible if I just stopped seeing her.

Baking makes me feel especially wonderful. It's a very happy place for me to be, the kitchen. But the alterior motive is that, well, I know I kick ass in the kitchen and I love to make things for other people. I can't really remember the last time I baked something and actually ate it myself. It's the process that makes me happy, not the result. The result usually makes other people happy. Which reminds me: I need to make some cookies for a girl friend sometime this week.

So when I think about doing something, anything, that makes me happy, I wonder what the unintended results might be. Will someone else end up unhappy? Will someone else end up happy? Will something I do cause a string of events that I have no way of predicting, thus no way of altering or stopping or whatever?

Sometimes, doing something that makes you happy has the distinct possibility of also making you feel pretty crappy. I feel that way, sometimes, when I go shopping. I like buying things for myself (specifically bags and jackets), but when I'm spending money on me, it means that there's a debt to be paid. It means that as soon as I sign the receipt, someone will call me to go for dinner or drinks and I can't. I have kind of intense guilt over spending money sometimes.

Similarly, when people tell me to "just do what makes me happy," I want to ask them if they'd still feel that way if they knew that what would make me happy has the possibility of making them UNhappy. So how does that work? I honestly have no idea. But apparently, I've been told, I'm the only one really, truly looking out for myself.

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Monday, August 15, 2011

On letting go and feeling alive....

Most of the time, I'm a pretty reserved person. I don't get all that excitable, as a general rule. Even when I'm doing things I absolutely love (like singing or baking), I don't really just let loose and go crazy. Karaoke, you'd think, is a pretty safe place to just go nuts with the singing (just watch my friend, Jill, and you'll understand) but I never really let go. She's a performer; I'm simply not. When I'm baking, I like things to be in order and clean...the idea of getting flour all over the place gives me a little anxiety because I know what a pain it is to clean up. Ugh. It turns into cement, if you're not careful.

But dancing? That's when I can really let my hair down (sometimes literally) and just be in whatever moment I'm in. Whether I'm ghetto-booty dancing with LT and JPB, or losing my head to pop music with Edubs (and sometimes Steph, if I'm lucky), or spinning around a ballroom with whomever my partner is at the moment, that's when I feel like I can forget everything around me and just live. I never thought I'd experience that feeling of having everything around me disappear, but when I'm dancing, that actually happens. It especially happens when I'm on a ballroom floor. Until I started learning "real" dancing, I didn't know how alive I could really feel.

Dancing, especially the waltz and foxtrot, makes me feel feminine and beautiful. Being spun around a dancefloor with a partner that knows that he's doing? Exhilarating. My dad and I do this Father-Daughter Ball thing every year and we're usually asked to teach some style of dance to everyone there. I like the teaching part, but dancing with my dad is something I never thought I could love as much as I do. He's a beautiful dancer, and ever-so-patient when I screw up a move. He loves teaching me new things and sometimes, like with the Viennese Waltz (one of the hardest I've ever done), we just make it up as we go.

Ballroom dancing seems rather counter-intuitive to everything (or at least, most things) I believe in. I'm a pretty independent person, probably a feminist (nah, definitely a feminist), I don't want to be treated like I'm going to break...these sorts of things. With dancing, I'm almost entirely dependent on my partner. After all, as the woman, I'm in a pretty precarious position, being the one moving backwards about 98% of the time. I have to trust my partner intrinsicly...that he won't let me fall, won't bash me into another person, won't break me or step on my feet.

Other than my dad, there's never been a single man out there that I've been completely dependent on for anything, ever. It's just not my style. But dancing? That makes me feel the way I think so many girls want to feel: protected, cared for, showed off, beautiful.

There's not much in life I'll let loose for. I'm just a reserved, fairly collected person (not to mention a sucker for etiquette). But get me in a swirly dress on a dance floor and you'll see just how crazy I can get...

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Friday, August 12, 2011

On the over-use of vocabulary...

For as much as I love words, there are definitely phrases and words that I tend to use rather frequently. I might even over-use them. The two phrases that come to mind are:

"No worries!" and
"Thank you!" (which often goes hand-in-hand with "No, but thank you for asking!")

The "No worries" thing came from when I was living in Canada. It was just a common phrase that I picked up. Other lingo from that time in my life that still sticks around are "A-boat" (which most Americans pronouce "about"), "bunny hug" (Canadian for "hoodie"), and "touque" (Canadian for "knit wool ski cap"...the Canadian version is just more efficient, if you ask me). "No worries" stuck around for various reasons, but the biggest one is that I never want someone to think they're inconveniencing me. I'm a master planner and with that comes a great ability to cancel, re-schedule, re-organize, generally work things out. So it really isn't ever a huge deal to me. Really...it's no worries. Simply stated: doing something for someone else isn't causing me great stress (if it did, I wouldn't do it) and having to re-work my schedule, also not a huge deal.

I have also been told, many times, that I tend to over-thank...especially at restaurants. I guess I always just want people to know that I genuinely appreciate the work they do. I hate when I do something for someone and I don't even get a simple "Thanks." I mean, honestly: how hard is it to say "Thank you"? It's not. I promise. Yes, at restaurants, servers are simply doing their jobs by clearing my dishes and filling my drinks, but c'mon. It can be a pretty thankless job...that, and they're basically being forced to act like dancing monkeys for a tip. If even one thing goes awry, they can sometimes kiss a decent tip goodbye. Sometimes I think that's really crappy; other times, I think, "Well, it's not like it was a secret what they were getting themselves into." So I try to at least make sure they know that I appreciate their help and work. And it's not just at restaurants. It's anywhere, anytime someone does something for me. It just feels like the decent thing to do, thanking them.

But outside of the phrases that I tend to over-use, there are plenty of words out there that are among my favorites:

Antidisestablishmentarianism (which I don't get to use nearly as much as I'd like to)

This list could get really long, really quickly....

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Thursday, August 11, 2011

On the guilt of happiness....

At what point does it become necessary to concern oneself with personal happiness? And on the same token, does personal well-being ever intersect with personal happiness? I've been thinking a lot about happiness lately. What makes me happy, what I can do to be happy, that sort of thing.
I grew up in a world where personal happiness was a relatively secondary emotion. In my world, doing the right thing - regardless of how it makes you feel - is paramount. It's not only an important thing to do, it's THE MOST important thing to do. So when it comes to being happy, I often brush my own feelings aside in favor of either doing the right thing or making sure that someone else is happy before I am.
This M.O. has brought a lot of quizzical looks my way. People tend to wonder why I do certain things when it's clear that I'm either miserable or just plain not happy. When I quit my last job, my giving two-weeks-notice was called into question on more occasion than one. Why would I stay there for any longer than absolutely necessary when doing so basically resulted in self-torture. "Because it's the right thing to do," I'd say. "I don't want to screw anyone over because I wouldn't want anyone to do that to me."

My own happiness has always sort of taken a back seat to me giving the perception of perfection. I don't like people to think that anything is wrong with me. I've always been the strong one. I'm always the dependable, together one. I feel like if I'm not happy, I'm letting people down, in some weird fashion. We all have moments when we're not happy and we're all allowed to unleash that on our friends and people we trust. So why does it feel like I'm burdening my friends when I do that? I had a conversation with a friend the other day about how my life is going and I actually felt selfish for even talking about myself. Why? Because she had something happen to her that was far more painful and intense than my seemingly-petty issues could ever be. Yet she wanted to talk to and about me. I'm still not sure how to process that.

So do I think about happiness? Sure. Do I think about my own happiness? Not really. So maybe it's time for me to start. It just seems like there are a few issues that come along with that. It feels really selfish. Concern for my own happiness could result in hurting another person. If I'm truly happy, that probably means there's someone else out there that isn't. Happiness almost seems like a good v. evil kind of thing. If I'm happy, that must mean someone else somewhere isn't, right? Probably not, but sometimes, that's what it feels like.

So I wonder why I often feel guilt for wanting to be as happy as I know I want to be?

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