This Is For You

April 8, 2014

You are loved. The same way you love your favorite song or your favorite book or that pet you adored with such fierceness that his death sent a hot poker through your core. You are loved that way. You are loved the way you want to be loved, the way you dream of being loved. But the love held for you is purer, deeper, more transcendent. New eyes are required to understand the way you are already loved.

It is everything you want and it’s already sitting there. Waiting for you to find it. Everyone has a different path to this love. Some people get lost on that path and find themselves tangled in the thickets. Some people blast through like Jedis on a mission. Some people take it slowly, gently and pause to rest. That’s what the rocks are for. You can blast through them or climb over them or simply sit on them for awhile.

There is no wrong way to approach a rock.

There is no wrong way to deal with a block in your path. You can sit down beside it and scratch poems in the dust. You can climb over it. You build yourself a catapult and hurl your body around it. You can approach the blocks in your path any way you choose. Just know that those blocks are part of your path. They’re part of why you’re here. Those blocks are here to teach you something new about yourself, to show you some way to love deeper. Those blocks are here to help you. So rejoice when you find one, because you are about to become a purer version of yourself. You may get lost for awhile and that’s okay. You’ll find your way back. You will get where you’re going, whether it takes you ten minutes or ten days or ten years.

There is nothing you can do wrong here. Everything you want is waiting for you. Everything you want is waiting for you to choose it. This is most true when you’re lost in the thickets and the brambles are tearing your skin and you want nothing more than peace. Accepting that you’re in the brambles – for now – will give you that peace. And show you where to find the matches. Set fire to the brambles. Launch yourself into the dream you hold for yourself.

We know that it’s aggravating to hear that you have everything you need. Because you’ve been taught otherwise. Your whole life, you’ve been taught otherwise. But nobody else has the something you need. They can guide you to your own knowledge. They can help you find your way. They can show you their roadmap or their stash of dynamite for the blocks and the brambles. But you are always your own best source. You have your own answers. You just have to allow yourself to find them.

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I really don’t know how to talk about this in a way that doesn’t sound insane. Or California fruity to the nth degree. Maybe it’s that East Coast education, but I generally try to keep my severe Church of Hippie leanings under wraps.

That said, there’s this thing I do. I really don’t know how to explain it, but if I’m going to write a blog post about it, I guess I have to try. When I have a question or more emotions than I know how to manage, I’ll sit down at my computer. Sometimes my questions are profound, sometimes they have to do with my to-do list. Then I’ll just start typing. When I read it back, it doesn’t quite sound like it came from me. It’s smarter and wiser and kinder, but has worse grammar and often misspells things. It feels like whatever this is has a better sense of the truth, a better understanding, more love, more wisdom, just more than I could possibly have with my limited senses and smallish, underused cerebellum. I remove myself and my brain from the process and just allow the information to flow through my fingers. Some of my favorite things have been written this way. I’m learning to tap into that and the more I practice, the easier it comes.

Sometimes when I start typing, this flow of information causes an emotional or physical reaction. There’s an energy to it. My nose will tingle or tears will start running down my face. It’s like all my senses get involved and something shifts energetically. It’s not even so much about the words, it’s more about the feeling.

When this happens, it really starts to feel like it’s coming from somewhere other than me. I know how that sounds. Because, what – am I channeling spirits? Aliens? The universe? If you google this type of writing, it sounds desperately flaky at best and charlatan-infested at worst. The cited wikipedia example is a woman who translates Martian messages into French. Which, let’s be real, would be amazing and I definitely want to see that.

But I’m learning to guide my life by what feels good – because we’re all just making it up as we go, so why not go toward what feels good? I’ve tried following the things that make me feel bad and I never end up in a place I want to be. And this feels good. It feels powerful, it feels energetic, it feels useful, and it feels loving. So I ask my questions. Because sometimes that’s all you can do: ask and trust that the answer that boomerangs back to you is the right one.

Recently, I started doing this writing for friends. Doing this on a bigger scale feels a little scary, a little vulnerable. But that’s what I’m trying to play with right now. Opening up to who I really am and trusting that the people who need this and who think it makes some sort of sense will find it and everyone else will just click away to the next thing on this infinite internet of ours.

But still, I think I’d rather take my clothes off in public than say I type messages from the universe. SEE? THAT’S WEIRD.

Calling All Guinea Pigs

Want to help me find out if this is really a thing?

If you’re game to be a guinea pig, email me with a question. (Click the “Send me a pandagram” box in the sidebar.) Or leave it in the comments. I would love to do this for you. I honestly don’t know what I need or what works. So far I’ve done it just with people’s names, but these are friends and I have some background knowledge of them. You can try sending me any burning questions you have. Or your first name and a little about your life and where you want some clarity. I’ll sit down with whatever I get and see what comes. Obviously, I have zero training and am not a coach or a doctor or anyone with any respectable letters after her name. All I know is that what I’ve written has been useful for me and seems to be useful for the people I’ve done it for.

If you’re willing to let me publish your question and answer here, let me know. (If you’d rather keep it private, that’s okay too.)I’d love to do this once a week on the blog for awhile, just to see how it lands. Maybe I’ll even give it a snappy name, although I am admittedly terrible at coming up with snappy names.

Have a question? Need some clarity? Let me know and I’ll apply my weird voodoo to it and see what I come up with for you. It may or may not give you any answers, but it will probably make you feel better.

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Fork in the Road

February 11, 2014

My dad’s sister got a reading from a psychic in San Francisco a few months after he died. Because that’s what we do in my family.

Dad showed up, as a spirit or a ghost or whatever you get to be after you’re dead, and the psychic said he was wearing jogging shorts. As far as I know, my father never owned a pair of jogging shorts in his life. He was fond of joking that running was the worst way to be healthy. “Sure you live longer,” he’d say, “but you have to spend all that extra time jogging.” Now that I spend a lot of time circling trails, I wonder how much longer he would have lived, and how much more peaceful he would have felt, if he had been a runner.

As she told me this, writing off dad’s curious post-death jogging shorts as psychic dissonance, I remembered a thought I had months before he passed away. Dad lived in Swall Meadows, right next to Inyo National Park. After spending the day in the care center with him, I would run in the shadows of the sunset-tipped mountains. This thought came to me in the middle of one of my afternoon runs, feeling weirdly like a vision – an idea I’m really not comfortable with, minus Peyote and a Native American chieftain or two. So I wrote it off as the product of mild heat stroke and my new and strange obsession with running. At the time, Dad had already started to talk about dying, but we wouldn’t accept it for months yet. But as I was running through the desert, I saw two paths for my father.

One, the widest and bleakest, the path he eventually chose, was of him spiralling down into the worst the human experience can offer – a broken body and a mind that can’t heal because both are so separated from their own processes and emotions that they can’t find their way back.

The second path, much fainter, showed my father running. Conquering what ailed him until he was healthy enough to become one of those sun-leathered old dudes pounding the pavement in running shoes with wet bandanas tied around their grizzled heads.

Knowing now how badly off he was by the time he fell, I don’t know if that was possible. Maybe what I was seeing was a path that had forked off many years previous and was no longer an option. Maybe it was a path he could have chosen. I don’t know. But I saw him running. I saw him healthy. I saw him beating back the demons with sweat and salt and endless miles of asphalt.
I’m writing a book about my father’s death. I’ll be sharing pieces of the Dead Dad Book as I work on it, because writing here and on Twitter led me to this book in the first place.

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I started doing these videos and then I stopped doing them and then I started again and that’s mostly the process of doing something new and intimidating. You start, you ride the high, the high drops to a plateau, the plateau feels flat because that’s how plateaus work, and you wander off in search of higher ground. Or you invent drama to give yourself an excuse to wander off, which is what I did. Boy drama, specifically, because that’s my favorite kind. You can excuse yourself for a lot of things when boy drama is happening.

But you know what doesn’t help the drama? Excusing yourself. Because that makes you less you. Because doing the things you love keeps your engagement with life at a steady burn and being engaged with life makes everything better, especially drama you invented because you wanted to give yourself some faux high ground. Or maybe you invent drama because you hit your upper limit of excitement and feel a subconscious yearning to drag yourself back down to a more understandable level.

When I find a foolproof formula for raising the excitement ceiling and squishing the drama, I’ll let you know. For now, it seems to boil down to “do your shit and let yourself feel as good as you can as much of the time as possible.”

So here I am, back to talking with my face about my process of doing scary things like becoming the person and the writer I want to be and, yes, that is scary. I’m also putting them here now, because that’s a bit more commitment than just throwing them up on youtube and hoping nobody notices.

Sometimes I doubt the value of the writing I do here under the juggling panda and the face talking I do on youtube. Because my external notion of what’s “valuable” doesn’t always match up with what my insides tell me is worthwhile.

But I do believe there’s value in sharing experiences. Because if you share, you and whoever’s feeling reflected in that experience both get to feel less alone. Because emotions and the wrangling thereof aren’t discussed nearly enough in our culture. Because if I feel it, someone else out there feels it too. Maybe that someone is you. I am not nearly the special feelings snowflake I thought I was. If I feel scared and lonely and joyful and overwhelmed and stuffed with love for things, you probably do as well. And the more we talk about who we want to be and what we love, the more connected we are. In the end, that’s all any of us want: to feel love, to feel connected, to just plain feel.

On That Note, Here’s Some Face Talking

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Anger’s Pure Burn

January 30, 2014

For most of my life, whenever I was confronted with extreme emotion – especially the loud, yelling kind – I would shiver like a chihuahua and search desperately for the nearest exit. Not this time. There were some opinions this weekend about how I live my life and they were vehement. Maybe I shouldn’t be proud of standing up, shouting straight in someone’s face. But I am proud. I gave as good as I got and I didn’t sit there and take what was thrown at me – something I did in different situations for a reasonable portion of my twenties. Taking someone else’s story as fact, especially someone else’s story about you, can be poisonous and that poison can eat away at your soul. I know, because I had to spend the first half of my thirties collecting pieces of myself from where I’d abandoned them, chewed up and forgotten.

Obviously, someone else’s opinions and stories won’t bother you unless you see a nugget of truth in them. That’s when other people’s opinions – as infuriating as they can be – are valuable. They can shine a light on a part of you that needs attention and love.

What needs attention and love right now is me.

You can’t ignore a child and expect them to flourish, you can’t ignore your career and expect it to expand, you can’t ignore a houseplant and expect it to be all perky and green. You can’t ignore yourself – your real self, whatever that means to you – and expect to thrive.

I need to surrender my habit of allowing my worth to be determined by outside factors. I need to surrender the fear that makes that possible – the fear of not being enough, the fear of not doing enough, the fear of not doing it right. Because when I judge my value by based on what I’ve written, the zeros in my bank balance, how my family thinks of me, how men think of me, it detracts from me.

When I get caught in a loop like this, it’s like I float out of my body. I go about my life. I look before I cross the street, I answer email, I do the dishes. But I’m not conscious of any of it. My brain is so far lost in what has happened or what might happen that I have no idea what is happening.

That’s why I’m proud of myself for being angry. It took me a long time to learn how to be that present with my emotions or that willing to share them. I dropped right into what was happening and anger is was what I found. It felt pure, somehow. It was a pure emotion that burned through me and I allowed the fire to the surface, instead of letting it blacken my internal organs. Without even trying, I fought fair. I was mad, but I didn’t hurl accusations or character denigrations. I just let how I was feeling in that moment fly.

Now when I think about how to let go of identifying myself through other people’s stories, I start to worry. Worry about how I can change that, how I can do it right, how I can be right so I can get what I want. Doing exactly what I’m trying to move away from.

But if I drop into the present moment, things start to feel clear. It’s a crisp, sunny day in San Francisco. I’m sitting in a cafe with a latte and a bagel. I can see the sun shine on dark blue and bright green and warm orange. I can take a deep breath, my fingers can type, I have legs that can run, and a brain that can think – and then accept when it’s time to stop thinking. I have plenty of money for the moment and ideas on how to extend that moment into the more socially acceptable future. I have a home today, I’ll have a different home on Saturday, and I have several good options for homes in the future. I have friends who love me and things to look forward to. I have so much and, when I focus on that, it’s hard to remember why I was worried in the first place.

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What Lies In the Beyond

January 14, 2014

In December, I was dating someone I really liked. The night we met, there was a ring around the moon. We gazed up at it, the water behind us, and it felt like that might mean something, something good. And it did. But not the way we thought it might.

Instead of marking the beginning of an us, that ring marked the beginning of a me. A me who can walk away for the right reasons, something I’d never done before. I would swallow what I wanted in order to not be alone. Or give him what he wanted and push aside what was best for me because I thought that’s what love meant. But the more you give yourself you, the less you can give up for another. So on New Year’s Day, I walked away. As I drove home, it didn’t necessarily feel good, but it felt right.

That ring around the moon did mark something special – but for me rather than for us. I want the us, but I won’t take the us without it being right for the me.

Walking away is scary, because you don’t know what lies beyond. So far, what I’ve found in the beyond has been better. But it doesn’t matter, really. Because whatever I get – whether it’s a me or it’s an us – will be exactly what I need.

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One of the things I’ve been lucky enough to do in my life is flit around the globe like a wandering gnat, parking myself in Costa Rica or Amsterdam for long enough to learn that I probably shouldn’t drive anywhere south of San Diego. When people ask how I do that, I reply, “Because my laptop is my office.”

Living in the digital age is sweet – and if you like to write and don’t mind hustling, you can make a pretty good living from anywhere with internet access. (I love writing, I love traveling, I hate hustling. Two out of three isn’t bad.)

But when Chris Guillebeau asked if I’d be interested in creating something on freelance writing for his series of unconventional guides, I said, “YES, PLEASE, ABSOLUTELY” – while feeling like a complete and utter fraud. Every single reason why I shouldn’t be the one to write this guide filtered through my brain. Do I know every step of the process for living this life? Yes. Do I know how to talk to other people who have deeper insight into each piece of that process? Yes. Do I still have a brain that is ready and willing to give me a complete and seemingly accurate list of why I shouldn’t be the one to do this? Yup.

Any time you push your boundaries, there will be growing pains. The key is to dig deep, understand what you bring to the table – and effing bring it. If you have the desire to be a freelance writer, you can do it. You aren’t given the desire without also being given the aptitude. So if this is something you’ve ever wanted to try, I encourage you to start. Start today. Whether you use this guide we just spent six months creating or by pulling up the google search bar and getting lucky – just begin. Anywhere. Because if you want to do it, you can do it. Sure, you may feel like a bit of a fraud, especially at the beginning. We all feel like frauds sometimes. Even those of us who’ve been doing it for years. You just have to keep pushing.

If you ever have questions, feel free to email me. I may have an answer for you, I may not. But if writing is something you want to do with your life, I will share anything I’ve got with you. Writing can be a lonely road sometimes – and we should stick together. Because it’s when you find your people that the road starts to get fun.

freelance-topright

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I like sex. Who doesn’t? We’re programmed to like sex so that the human race doesn’t die out. On some level, sex is a matter of life and death and our bodies and emotions respond accordingly.

To any of you who have ever felt crazy or been called crazy for something you said or did after sleeping with someone: it’s hard to swim against the stream of thousands upon thousands of years of biology.

My ex and I had some pretty serious problems with sex. It just didn’t work, to the point where I spent years thinking there was something wrong with me, years seeing doctors who had no idea what the problem was, and finally years in physical therapy.

Yes, Virginia, your vagina can go to therapy.

After we broke up, I spent the next five years trying to prove to every guy I liked that sex would work, assuming that, once it did, we could happily go about the business of building a life together. Because five years of conditioning led me to believe sex was the only obstacle to a good relationship and if I proved the sex is great as soon as possible, we were poised for happily-ever-after.

Wow. Yeah, you can go ahead and say it with me: WOW.

I was acting out a belief buried so deeply in my subconscious that I didn’t even know it was there. Unfortunately for me, you know what doesn’t work? Sleeping with people too soon. It sets the space for sex, rather than a relationship. It leaves women vulnerable because most of us attach during sex in a way men don’t. It left me feeling emotionally unsafe with most of the people I was dating.

Every dating book in the world will tell you this, not that I read any of them. Now, I don’t believe that’s always the case. I think you can sleep with someone on a first date and go on to have an amazing relationship because you found your person. But it’s the exception, not the rule.

I haven’t found my exception yet. So it’s time to play by the rules.

But it’s also time to remember that I’m always safe. Safe in my work, safe with my friends, safe with my family, safe with myself. No man can give me safety, but I get to choose the man who wants to help me find it for myself.

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Sometimes the green-eyed monster I like to pretend I don’t have explodes out of my chest cavity and takes hostages. Sometimes it forms a kick line, prancing behind me like unfortunately complected Rockettes in sparkling green tutus and high-kicking tap shoes that batter my head until I get the point.

Note to self: The point is never that everyone else has what I want and WHAT’S SO GREAT ABOUT THEM AND SO TERRIBLE ABOUT ME THAT THEY GET WHAT THEY WANT AND I DON’T and boohoo for me, cue sad little pity party for one.

Nope. Never is that the point. No matter how much it feels like the point when I click to Facebook and see the professionally photographed stream of life events that I would like but that currently feel less attainable than a throne on the surface of Mars, with a crown of moon rock and AMBER: GLORIOUS QUEEN OF THE MARTIANS carved into the surface of the planet.

(I have not yet been made the Queen of the Martians. But you bet your ass I’ll be updating Facebook when it happens.)

Jealousy can leach away your power, if you let it. Because jealousy means you’re focused so intently on how someone else’s path looks that you forget to pay attention to your own. Maybe it’s easier to glance at the apparent ease of someone else’s journey and make yours wrong because it feels harder than theirs looks. But your reaction is packed with useful information. Jealousy is a guidebook your intuition is thrusting into your hands. You just have to learn to read it.

(Unfortunately, you rarely remember this when the alligators of jealousy are sharpening their teeth on your femur.)

In my quest to be vulnerable – no, but really this time – I’m admitting to a few days last week when I was stewing in the jealousy. I was jealous of friends with husbands, friends with babies, friends with jobs that looked kinda fun, friends that had published books, friends that have more money now than I may ever have in my life, friends with an adorably perfect Christmas tree when mine was only half decorated because half done is plenty for today, thanks. Even the alligators wouldn’t approach me because my nostrils were flaring so violently. Let’s just say that my inner toddler had a lot of opinions about how very unfair the world was and how deeply deficient I must be to not have exactly what I want exactly now.

But after burning through my jealous and self-pity via two bouts of sobbing on the carpet (yes this embarrassing and yes it helps), seven rant-ridden emails, three pep talks of the it’s-okay-to-have-these-feelings-even-though-it-doesn’t-feel-okay genre, and one run in the freezing wind, I couldn’t even remember what made me jealous in the first place. Because cycling through all that emotion gave me enough space to realize that I wasn’t happy – not because other people have things I think I want – but because I wasn’t living the way I really wanted to be living.

The object of jealousy can often be the cure. If I hadn’t spent several days getting so upset about what it looked like other people had and I didn’t, I wouldn’t have realized how badly I needed to shift my own life – and that would have deprived me of all the relief when I did.

Jealousy is just a nudge that tells you when something in your life is out of alignment. When you click that piece into place, jealousy disintegrates. And the green eyed monster disappears behind the couch for a little interspecies canoodling with the alligator.

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Starting Again

December 9, 2013

I’ve perfected the art of being partially vulnerable. Giving away just enough so that I look vulnerable, but not so much that I actually feel vulnerable.

How delightfully manipulative. Way to be crafty, protection mechanisms.

Life is a process of continually cracking yourself open. When my dad died last year, all the roiling dread and pain distilled down into a nail that tapped into my skull and split my brittle self right down the middle. All my defenses shattered and my insides felt splayed out for the world. And the world stepped up. I never felt so loved as I did in that time when I was wrenched open.

The cracks are indeed what lets the light in. Way to be pertinent, cliche.

Since then, I haven’t been able to rebuild myself into what I was before. I’ve tried patchwork, I’ve tried denial, I’ve tried being mean to myself as a motivational exercise. But the cracks of my father’s death reached into my foundation, weakening it until my carefully stacked ego began to wobble. In its wobbling, my ego finally revealed its scaly underbelly.

My self-esteem is deeply invested in this facade I’ve crafted for myself, the one of an adventurous woman who writes for a living and travels and has complete freedom. I’ve honed it and perfected it and crucially self-identified with it. I’m only now realizing my desperate need to control how the world perceives me – and that I’ve clung to that facade at the expense of the life I actually want to live.

It’s not entirely false. It was true. For awhile. But then it became not so true and I continued to grasp at it. Rather desperately, truth be told. Until I realized that it wasn’t what I actually wanted.

Yes, I do want a lot of freedom. I do want to travel. I do want to write for a living.

But my ego’s attachment to Being That Person was keeping me from actually being that person. Because I was putting so much of my self-worth into being that person that I was boxing myself into a space where I felt deeply uncomfortable. I was trying to do a lot of things that didn’t feel right for me because it felt like I had to. I was focusing more on client work than creation, more on trying to wrench business sense into myself than on nurturing what I feel my real contribution is. The need to bolster the facade kept me from doing what I really want to do.

I want to write books. I want to write screenplays. I want to write blog posts that feel true and urgent and don’t need any purpose beyond that.

But if I want to do it that way, I need to separate my money from my writing – at least for now. I need to go deeply into creation mode so that I can write the book about my experience with my father’s death and the Pixar-esque screenplay that I’ve been seeing behind my eyes for years.

But this is a very specific choice. It means buying the time to write. The price may be working retail again. It may mean learning how to operate one of those truly intimidating silver espresso monsters and appearing at a job at 6 a.m. It may mean letting the credit card debt I don’t want anyone to know I have continue to sit there. It means letting go of this carefully constructed view of myself so that I can grow into the writer I really want to be. The self I really want to be.

The thought of getting a non-writing job always terrified me. I always thought that meant I had failed. And if I failed at writing, I failed at life. No one wants to fail at life.

But the truth is, you can’t fail at life. No matter what choice you make. And I am lucky that I can make this choice. I have no responsibilities to a partner, to a child, to a pet. I don’t even have a flowering hibiscus to resent my decision to live differently so that I can create what I want to create.

I will do anything to buy myself this creative time. I will sweep floors, I will learn how to use a cash register (the last time I worked retail we used the abacus of the credit card reader – contraptions that used carbon paper and thunked back and forth). I will do anything that doesn’t drain me emotionally or creatively and leaves me enough time in the week to write toward serious forward progress.

It means no travel, for now. It means no real healing of my sad finances, for now. Or maybe it doesn’t mean that. I don’t need to make this mean anything but that I’m willing to do whatever it takes to finish two projects that have been my last priority now that I’m realizing they should be my first.

There are so many people who can write novels and work a full time job or who can take on multiple clients and still find the time and energy to do their own projects. I have so much respect for those people. I thought for years that I had to be one of them. But I’m simply not. At least not right now. Accepting this and choosing to live smaller so that I can give my work the room and the support it needs feels right.

Building invisible walls between yourself and the world of other people’s opinions doesn’t protect you. Because what you feel like you’re protecting yourself from doesn’t actually exist. Are any of my friends not going to be my friends if I’m folding sweaters at the Gap or making coffee for internet millionaires born the year I started middle school? Of course not. Is anyone who reads this going to think less of me for making this choice? Doubtful.

All my carefully-constructed plexiglass shields did were barricade me from truly connecting. Because no one else can know me when I don’t truly know myself. Telling you that I am not always who I wanted the world to think I was feels honest. And there is peace to be found in truth.

When you recognize the truth about where you are, people can meet you there. And you can start again.

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