I like to write. Obviously. I like to craft and edit and be decidedly perfectionist about sentence structure and word choice. But writing is an amazing tool for diving into the depths of your tender underbelly, the black and light of your soul. (Soul sounds so melodramatic, doesn’t it? But we’ve all got one. We’ve all got something driving us, whether it’s simple biological chemistry or the piece of ourselves that comes from somewhere higher and greater than our human meat suit.)
When I allow myself to just…write – not for anyone else to read, not to create anything – it becomes a method of discovery. It allows me to dig beneath the layers of my ego and find something more real, something more true. It gives me a way to determine what I need – what I need to do, what I need to allow myself to feel, what I need to ask for – in way that often eludes me when I’m just going about my day. Writing in this way – journaling, I believe it’s called – is a tragically forgotten method of exploration in these days of online publishing and publicly personal broadcast.
WRITING LIKE IT’S 1899, YO.
Or even 1999.
Before Twitter, at any rate.
You don’t have to identify as any kind of writer to make this useful. All you need to know how to do is hold a pen and make words with it.
Here’s my (one of my many) formula for keeping the crazy at bay:
Morning: 3 pages written on actual paper with an actual pen every morning when I wake up. Once my pen hits the paper, it has to keep writing until 3 pages are covered.
Whenever: If I have an emotion that hits me in the solar plexus and makes me pause, I take five minutes to open up a word document and write out whatever I’m feeling at the moment. Give the feeling a voice and it will leave you in peace.
You promise yourself that you’re going to blog every day in November and you do really well for a week, even when you don’t want to, even when you’re tired, and then all of a sudden life gets so busy that you decide to give yourself a break, just for a day, and all of a sudden it’s December. Whoops.
Jerry Seinfeld is unimpressed.*
It’s tempting to loop this failure back to every other real or perceived failure in my life, adding this new link to my long chain of misdeeds – because if you don’t do what you tell yourself you’ll do, how will you ever amount to anything? – dragging it behind me like Marley’s ghost.**
But I’ve been chided several times in the past week about thinking too much. Maybe the fact that I didn’t keep a promise to myself doesn’t mean anything. Maybe my goal is not to do everything perfectly. Maybe my goal is to observe myself doing things imperfectly. Observe myself doing the thing, observe myself not doing the thing, observe myself forgetting to do the thing a week later when I remember that I was doing the thing at all.
And start doing the thing again.
* Jerry Seinfeld purportedly swears by the “don’t break the chain” method, where you choose one thing that will make your life better and do it daily. Each day you do the thing, you get to draw a big x on a calendar. The more x’s you mark, the more you want to keep the chain unbroken. The idea has merit. I’m going to try it. Maybe by lifting the ban on calendars, placed because my mother has a weird habit of buying me anywhere from two to four calendars every year, which is usually two to four more calendars than I ever use.
** It’s officially the Christmas season, which means I get to reference A Christmas Carol as often as I possibly can, which is in the running for my favorite book ever because I am an alarming sap.
Here’s the thing about triggers: We all have them. And when one gets pulled, things explode.
You know how it goes. We all have that gun that’s pointed toward overspending the budget or being stood up or anything that might make us feel unwanted, unloved, or otherwise vulnerable. One trigger gets pulled by your friend on Tuesday. You’re fine. The same trigger gets pulled by a coworker on Wednesday. You hold strong. The same trigger gets pulled again by a bank teller on Thursday. Smugly calm. Very same trigger gets pulled by the person you’re dating on Saturday and your head explodes all over the living room wall. Whoops.
I’ve been working on dismantling my triggers – around money, around relationships, around my distaste for authority. (See: parking tickets and court summons and other things that go bump in the night and then blame you for the broken glass and slap you with a fine.) The second I think I’ve done my job and that thing no longer bothers me and I feel all smug in my personal growth, the trigger gets pulled again and I lose it to the tune of tears and ranting.
Really, I just need to give in to the inevitable tears and ranting the first time a trigger gets pulled and save everyone some time. The universe seems to like tears a lot more than it likes smug. Or maybe it just feels sorry for tears and wants to take smug down a peg or two. Hard to say.
Either way, I’ve been trying to let myself feel whatever I want to feel as soon as it comes up. Because if the trigger gets pulled by the wrong person, I can make a real mess.
After so many years of dating and all the weird and complicated that entails, all the sunk hearts and baffling situations, I’m learning not to look for the happily-ever-after. Instead, I’m starting to collect small, perfect moments.
Imitating Benny and Joon in a diner after midnight. Touching someone’s hand for the first time. Digging past the layer everyone sees to meet the tender person beneath. That indefinable swell of feeling in your chest because someone is exactly who they are. Saying the perfect thing at the perfect time so laughter makes tears. Eating a chocolate sundae in bed because he went out in the rain on his skateboard to fetch you something to make you feel better. Arms around waists, not forever but for now.
There’s never any guarantee beyond the time and space you’re in. So I’m taking my happily-ever-after moment by moment.
1. Pet giraffe, with a selection of tasteful bow ties.
3. The ability to say precisely the right thing to 1) friends who have just had a baby 2) friends who are having a hard time 3) people who annoy me.
3 a. A three story tall fire-breathing dragon to toast people who annoy me. Bonus: Picking up my car in its talons to fly me through traffic jams.
4. Baby hedgehog
5. Cashmere knit hat
6. Mini pig
7. Tiny red sneakers for the mini pig
8. Jars for my brain. One for next to my computer – the lid will muffle judgment while I’m working. And one for next to my bed – so I can sleep free of its relentless anxiety production. Perhaps such jars are available on Etsy.
9. Tiny house on the Venice Canal. (What? This has got to be at least as possible as the pet giraffe.)
9 a. Backyard treehouse, accessible only by rope ladder and rhyming couplet password. Equipped with hot chocolate and firecrackers.
10. Baller editor for everything I ever write.
12. The ability to choose a thing and make it happen, rather than spinning endlessly on the world’s possibilities.
13. A bacon breakfast sandwich.
Yes, I know it’s not even Thanksgiving yet. FINE, CHRISTMAS. YOU WIN.
Instant gratification is the god of my idolatry. Because I am a human person and we human people enjoy getting things right now. The problem with wanting everything now is that life rarely works that way. So when you insist upon right now sometimes you don’t get anything at all.
Since worthwhile accomplishments often take time, sometimes a great deal of time, time in which you’re not sure if your work is paying off, time spent in plateaus where you wonder if the thing you’re doing is really the thing you should be doing, the best thing you could be doing until you’re tempted to wander off and find something better and now years have passed and nothing is complete.
Often I get so focused on the what that I forget about the why. Sure, the things we do are important or intriguing – we wouldn’t be doing them otherwise – but the things themselves aren’t that important. What’s important is how you feel while you do them. Because if you hate the habit of something, you either won’t achieve the end goal or you’ll hate your life as you do. For me, my projects are now officially less important than my emotional landscape as I’m doing them. Because I’m beginning to realize that a lot of what I do gets hung up on my feelings. Not because I have them, but because I don’t value them. I want to get rid of them, I want to stuff them into a tidy cubby-hole where they won’t distract me from my oh-so-important adult work. But I’m beginning to realize that my emotions are actually the key to being an adult, the key to doing the things I want to do in life.
In a rather obnoxious twist, I think that ignoring the goal and focusing on the feelings around it will help me actually reach that goal. I mean, it’s just a theory, but productivity books don’t seem to help me and maybe it’s because I was focusing at the wrong problem.
When I ignore or berate my feelings, I ignore and berate myself. I am not my feelings, but my feelings are there for a reason. They want to be heard. I get that. I want to be heard too. We all want to be heard, we all want to be loved, and I think our feelings are a good indicator of how well you’re loving or hearing yourself. You don’t convince a donkey to haul you and your heavy cart over mountain ranges by whipping it with a tree branch. You dangle a carrot from that tree branch and hold it in front of the donkey’s nose. And you damn well better be forthcoming with that carrot at the end of the day.
My emotions get a lot of whippings and not a lot of carrots. No wonder they’re not terribly inclined to help me out.
When I stifle feelings because I don’t have time for them or I’m on a deadline or I just don’t want to deal, it has a real impact on me. An impact I’m only now beginning to appreciate. Life starts to get foggy. I lose my momentum, I lose drive, I lose focus, and I’m not sure why I’m doing any of the things I’m doing. Sometimes I stop all together and crawl into bed. And that’s when shit gets bad. Humans are built to do. We get cranky if we go too long without making something, even if it’s just making the bed. When it gets to that point, you push even one of my buttons and I go nuclear. Like a toddler denied her afternoon nap and cheese crackers.
But the beauty of the meltdown is that after I’ve sobbed on the carpet for three hours and taken the rest of the day off, the following day is the best day. I’ve released everything that’s been stuck in my system and I feel light, clear, happy, motivated. I’m ready to do my workouts, eat my vegetables, attack my spreadsheets, and eat the frogs.
Where I’ve fallen down on the adventure project is in getting so focused on the what that I forget the why. The why was to notice my feelings around these things, rather than the results. Because I am deeply susceptible to measurable results (like my bank account) and deeply disturbed by feelings, I began ignoring the very thing I meant to track – and that’s when it all started going off the rails.
But the beauty of free will is that you can always make a new choice. Look at where you are and, if it’s not where you want to be, re-direct your carrot. And figure out how to track and release the emotional pressure before it blows sky-high. Or if it blows, despite your best efforts, remember that today’s tears make tomorrow the best day.
Yep, still doing these. In case you have any desire to watch my face talk about stuff.
Running isn’t fun. But running makes my life better. It burns off anxiety and exhausts the brain hamsters so the self-criticism hammering my skull is replaced by soft snores. I sleep through the night and vegetables suddenly sound like a good idea. My brain is calmer, my day goes better.
But knowing all this still isn’t enough to blast through my inertia. I need goals, I need training plans, I need the threat of a looming race in order to lace on my running shoes in the morning. I won’t roll out of bed on a Sunday morning to run nine miles because “it will make me feel good” but I will roll out of bed because trying to run a marathon without training might kill me.
A few months ago, I ran my first half marathon. My mom and brother met me at the finish line and, in a terrifying example of role reversal, my brother waved a mug of coffee from a lawn chair on a grassy knoll while my mom ran to meet me at the finish line. To be clear, my brother is a strapping 32-year-old former firefighter who runs marathons of his own and my mother is a 67-year-old woman with a habit of landing in the hospital after jogging to answer the phone. They did not divvy up the running/coffee drinking duties appropriately.
Mom’s ill-advised hustle to meet me at the finish line happened because I ran a faster race than I anticipated. Because I am militant about adhering to training schedules. If I was this militant in every area of my life, I would be kicking unbelievable amounts of ass.
When things don’t go well in other areas of my life, I am highly prone to giving up. But when my runs don’t go well, I keep trudging. During my long run this weekend, my headphones kept popping out of my ears, my water bottle was misbehaving, my clothes kept shifting, and I had to stop and walk every mile and a half. But I finished. And I know that as long as I keep finishing, no matter how poorly the run in question has gone, I will be able to run a marathon in March.
My goal is do everything the way I do running. To not give up just because it gets hard. To not give up just because I have feelings about something. To realize that even if I’m not enjoying something in the moment, my life will be better because I finish. No more switching goals every two weeks, no more abruptly changing course. No more deciding it’s not worth it and boarding a bus instead. Or sitting on the sidewalk for two hours poking at piles of dirt with a stick until I forget why I was outside in the first place.
One foot in front of the other on the path you set for yourself will take you where you want to go. Always.
I wish I could hand you the secret to life on a platter so you could go forth and be a perfect human. A perfect, enlightened human who never suffers through worry or doubt or fear or pain because the allure of enlightenment is the end of suffering.
But we’re all supposed to get lost in the maze, I think. You get lost in the maze so that you can find your way out. So that maybe the next time you get lost, it won’t be so hard or so terrifying. Maybe you’ll find your way out quicker. Maybe you’ll be able to guide someone else through its twists and turns. Maybe you’ll relearn that lesson that you’ve already had to learn 307 times because life lessons rarely stick.
Maybe that maze is life and maybe expecting life to be a wide, well-lit lane through a carefully-tended garden is to do life – and yourself – a disservice. Maybe there are no answers. So all you can do is find this answer in this moment and enjoy it for what it is. Maybe we should stop trying to peer our way through to next year or the next decade or death. Maybe it’s just right now, because right now is all you ever get.
Right now is where all the good stuff is. Where the sky is blue and someone loves you and you have a cup of hot coffee next to your elbow.
Nothing makes me happier than sticking my earphones in my head and my ipod in my pocket and dancing around the house like a muppet on a pogo stick.
After wondering what exactly my solo dance parties might look like to errant boyfriends or roommates who wander in on me, I harnessed the miracle of technology to find out. Because that’s what technology is for. So here’s a wildly amateur capture of a thing that makes me the happiest.
Everyone has something they need to do every day. Some people need to run, some people need to pray, some people need to plot, some people need to sit in a tree. We all have daily needs beyond the obvious food, water, and sleep. My mother’s cat needs to yowl beseechingly at the closed door until someone gets up to open it. My box of tea with the festive holiday lemur needs to fall from its perch every time I look at it.
I need to write.
Fine, I don’t need to write. I won’t die if I don’t write each and every day and 2012 and 2013 prove that most conclusively. But you won’t die without water for a few days either. You’ll just get really, really uncomfortable. If I don’t write, I get itchy and anxious and can never quite understand what’s wrong with me until I sit down at my laptop and learn for the 9,472nd time in my life that my brain calms down when I start putting words together.
That’s why I started blogging in 2005, back when the internet was fresh and shiny and full of primary colors. It was a reason to write every day and Twitter hadn’t been invented yet. But in the days of people as brands and monetization and micro-blogging, I feel like crawling back to my blogging roots. They’re warm and comforting and I need some comforting that doesn’t come from the bottom of a bag of potato chips. I started blogging to write daily. I kept blogging because of the stories and connection.
Sometimes I fall into the trap of feeling a grave need to go all Useful or Here’s How You Can Do This Thing. But that rarely feels right to me. Who am I to tell you what you need or how to live your life? It doesn’t necessarily make sense, as I tend to love those posts from other people (TELL ME HOW TO DO THINGS, PEOPLE) and I know that if something doesn’t make sense or feel real, you can always make hasty use of that handy x at the top of your browser. Nevertheless, the only authority I feel I have is to share my story, my struggle, my joys and if you can parse something useful out of it, that’s a bonus for everyone.
But I haven’t written much here the past few years. Stuff happens. Fathers die, hurricanes blow, you move out of one apartment, you move out of the one after that. My life got fractured. But that splintering was a blessing, because it’s given me a chance to look at what parts of myself I don’t need any more. I’m in the process of re-learning who I am, without all the bullshit I’ve carried around my entire life.
I write for the same reason other people sit in trees or pray – I write to find out who I am today.
Blogging daily until the end of November. Let’s see how long I can go before resorting to pictures of cats.