Finding My Alleluia

Finding My Alleluia

The other day, my daughter wouldn’t let me play the song Good to be Alive by Andy Grammer because it had "the A word" in it. To this I said, “Dude, it does NOT say a-hole in that song..."

"MOM! I mean ‘Alleluia!” We aren't supposed to say that during Lent!!"

Jeeze louise.

We Catholics begin Lent with the ashes on the forehead to remind us of our impermanence, and from there we launch into 40 days of giving up something. The next thing you know, Easter shoots up at us like a wind-up jack-in-a-box. It can feel a little jarring.

But the truth is, I love Lent.

Check Ignition, and May God’s Love Be with You.

Mondays are never easy, but this Monday will be remembered by my kids as the Monday When Mommy Was Crying in Carpool.  

My husband texted me at 7:10am with these words:

 

“Just heard that David Bowie passed. :(”

 

As my 4 year old struggled to get the toothpaste onto his Spiderman toothbrush, I struggled out of my sports bra with one hand, and searched “Heroes” on my iPhone with the other hand. The soaring melody took flight, and I started to cry. I cried through my shower, and I cried the entire drive to school, forcing the carpool to listen to “Under Pressure.” The kids were absolutely silent, the poor things.

 

My oldest asked finally, “Mom, I’m really sorry that he died, but like, you’ve never even mentioned this guy’s name to us, and now you’re, like, really really crying…??”

 

She makes an excellent point. My David Bowie appreciation years predated the birth of my kids. It's been a long time since I binged on him. So why am I so emotional? Judging by my Facebook feed, it seems I'm not alone.

I think that Bowie’s death isn’t just his death. It isn’t just the shocking realization that someone as otherworldly as the Man Who Fell to Earth is just as mortal as we are. And it isn’t just that a creative genius‑ who gave literally zero fucks‑ is no more. And for the record, that's plenty to mourn. Plenty.

 

Bowie’s death hits hard because it feels like an ending closer to home. Listening to Heroes this morning reminded me of a golden time in my 20s when my friend Ted and I had a standing Thursday night gig at a bar called Ireland’s 32, on Geary Boulevard in San Francisco- Ted on guitar, me on vocals. Heroes was the song we couldn’t wait to do. It was when everyone in the bar would really watch us, feel us and listen to us. Even when "everyone" consisted of just 5 people.

Hearing that song in the context of 2016 and Bowie’s death is bringing me face to face with that young woman’s earnest expression at the microphone, taking the whole thing so very seriously. The woman who was trying so hard to figure out who she was, and what she might want to be in the world. It reminded me of an era when the biggest responsibility I had was making sure I could pay my rent and still have money left over for gallivanting. I feel a surge of affection for her, and the small world she inhabited. She has no idea what lies ahead. She has no idea how much this next break-up will hurt. She can’t fathom that her Gran will die suddenly and without warning. She can’t imagine how frightened she will be when she is told she could lose her baby and that she must lie down for 3 months. She has no clue how lucky she will get, because she will marry the greatest guy ever, and have three precious children.

All of this rushes into my mind as Bowie sings, “…and we kissed, as though nothing could fall....”

 

It's more than just David Bowie we mourn today. It’s also the people we used to be when we listened to his music. It’s the pin prick that explodes our belief that we have all the time in the world.

 

May David Bowie, and the sweet younger self we used to inhabit, rest in heavenly peace.

 

Best Reads of 2015

I have been meticulously keeping a list of my favorite books since January. This list was lovingly nurtured in the notes app of my iPhone. A few months ago, this iPhone had to be wiped clean. And AWAY went my precious list. As a result, I had to go to Hicklebee’s, our local independent children's book store—which also happens to have the most fantastic selection of books for grown ups—to reconstruct my list. After about 5 minutes of grumbling to myself for not backing up my iPhone, I began to enjoy reconnecting with the paper “friends” I had made over the course of the year.

I also realized that bookstores heal all that ails me. In fact, when I die, can you decorate the church like a bookstore and read quotes from Professor Dumbledore and anything written by Elizabeth Gilbert? Thanks.

I’m glad we got that cleared up.

And now, here are my favorite reads of 2015.

Fiction

Ruby This book reminded me of Song of Solomon in the best possible way: it pulled me in with language, a sense of place, and blended reality with a heavy dose of magic that would have given Gabriel Garcia Marquez a run for his money. It is the telling of an unthinkable fate for a little girl. But the telling of Ruby's story is so beautiful, so full of love and hope, and the characters so vivid, it makes you want to be strong for Ruby. Or as Ephraim says to her:

“If you brave enough to live it, least I can do is listen.”

Ruby made me remember that even the greatest traumas can begin their healing in small acts of love and noticing.

ConstellationIf I'm being honest here... had I read the book’s description, I never would have picked it up. A novel about war torn Chechnya circa mid 90s? Nope. Luckily, I fell in love with the title and the little blue suitcase on the cover and off I went. Not only was I amazed by the history of this part of the world, it gave me fresh perspective on the plight of refugees fleeing Syria. There are too many parallels to count, but never again will I ask the stupid question “Why do these refugees keep coming even though they know they’ll probably die in the effort?” Like Ruby, Constellation of Vital Phenomena is a story of love, connection and hope, even in the darkest of circumstances. And the writing? Lord have mercy, Anthony Marra can write.

lightYou have probably read this book already, given that it’s on the top of every list in the universe, not to mention that it won the Pulitzer Prize. This book is worth the hype. Even my husband liked it, and we were able to discuss it. This has not happened since he finally got around to reading Lord of the Rings back in 2001. No joke.

 

ReadyI hereby nominate Ready Player One as the “Feel Good Dystopian Sci-Fi Novel of the Year.” When this was chosen in my book club, many of the gals had misgivings. It’s about virtual reality, post-pubescent boys and is filled with vintage video game trivia, for heaven’s sake! But almost every single one of us raved about it when we met to discuss it. The 80s references will have you cheering out loud in public places. RED DAWN! FERRIS BEULER! He even quotes Howard Jones!

Ready Player One is a really good time. Trust.

 

handI am embarrassed to admit this, but until this year, I had never read a single Margaret Atwood book. And to think I call myself a feminist...

The premise of this book is so chilling, and so completely plausible that it will make the hair on the back of your neck stand on end. I listened to it on my Audible app, with Claire Daines as the reader and it BLEW MY MIND. BLEW IT. It was creepy and every bit as relevant in 2015 as it was in 1986. Maybe more so! Which is incredibly depressing. But I couldn’t turn it off. It’s one of those sit-in-your-car-long-after-you’ve-arrived books.

 

Non Fiction

YesOh my GOD you have to download this immediately. It must be listened to for several reasons: a) Amy Poehler’s voice is so effing funny and generous as she reads, I feel like Amy and I are now super tight friends. (Amy, call me. Seriously). Anyway, the guest appearances on the Audible are too many to count, but my favorite without a doubt is the non sequitur casting of Kathleen Turner. And the stories?? Are you kidding me?!? My favorite was when she tells of being in first class on a flight with Tina Fay and the ensuing confrontation with another passenger. The end of this scene made me laugh so hard I almost lost control of my car. I was driving 70 mph. It could have been really bad. Totally worth it, though.

magicOh Liz!!! May I call you that, Liz? This is a magical book you have written, Liz. Truly. I will read it over and over again. It’s like you crawled into my head, examined all of the darkest corners, shined your fairy dust flashlight on them, and gently lead me into the light of day, dusting off my cobwebs as you went. Thank you for writing this book. I will treasure it always.

P.S. Is there anything you can’t do? Just last year Signature of All Things was at the top of my list, and now this? I can’t even…

 

girlI REALLY loved this memoir from Kim Gordon, bass player, guitar player, vocalist and general badass from the band Sonic Youth. Kim Gordon’s writing style is exactly what you would hope for: low key, evocative and razor sharp. For any of us kids coming of age in the era of Sonic Youth, Kim Gordon represented the ultimate cool band woman. She was stoic, brave and could totally hang with the most dour and serious dudes of the grunge scene. In fact, I think she probably intimidated them most of the time.

Discovering that Kim Gordon's trademark stoicism was a coping mechanism for growing up with a schizophrenic brother reminded me that even the coolest among us are carrying grief and agony. It reminded me that nothing is ever what it seems—not even in sunny Southern California. Maybe especially not in sunny Southern California.

Gordon captures the vibe of the place, and the laissez faire parenting style so many of us grew up with. You could almost see the quality of afternoon light in the scenes she describes. But best of all were the little vignettes... the moments when we get to drop in on a house party as she watches Henry Rollins and Black Flag tear through a set in somebody’s kitchen. Or the part when she calls Billy Corgan a “cry baby” and describes the hideous dance of narcissism between he and Courtney Love during their alleged affair.  This did sting a little, because I was a huge Hole and Smashing Pumpkins fan. I cried right alongside Billy Corgan on pretty much every album he ever made with the Smashing Pumpkins. Whatever. This book was a joy to read.

That's my list, friends.

I thank all of the authors on this list who slaved away in a lonely state of creativity, and pushed through the self doubt and procrastination, and produced these beautiful books. An extra shout out to Anthony Marra, author of Constellation of Vital Phenomena, for actually responding to my breathless fan mail.

 

 

My Podcasts, My Self : Top Five Must Hears

My Podcasts, My Self : Top Five Must Hears

My name is Bronwyn, and I am a stimulation junkie. I am that person at the long stoplight who is engaged in a full blown white-knuckles-gripping-the-steering-wheel battle with temptation over whether or not to grab the phone and check email while I wait for the light to change. I know, I know. It’s not great.

Rather than fight the fact that I’m a stimulation junkie, I've decided to embrace it. In fact, I've decided that Obsessive Facebook and Constant Email Checking are truly lame stimulants compared with a FAR more interesting drug of choice …

Podcasts.

Take a Walk on the Wild Side

I saw a quote the other day that kind of rocked my world: “There is no competition among wild women. They are too damn wild to be caught in a tiny space of envy. Instead, they dance together and allow the good to flow abundantly to them.”

- the Crone’s Grove

Contrast this with the story of the lobsters I heard a while back:

A chef and her sous-chef are boiling lobsters to serve to their customers that night, and the sous-chef says, “Don’t we need a lid on that pot? The lobsters will crawl out if it’s open like that.”

 The chef replies, “Nah, if one tries to escape, the others drag it back down. No lid required.”

If you look at these two stories side by side, they both feel very familiar. Both whisper some important questions…

How do I want to live?

How do I become less lobster, more wild woman?

When you frame it like that, going the path of the wild woman seems pretty compelling. But why do wild women seem so rare? Why are they always just a small segment of our friend populations? And what does it really mean to be wild?

When I say “wild” I don’t necessarily mean the kind of wildness that leads to bad choices and severe hangovers. That’s the cheap knock-off version of wildness. (Although, who among us hasn’t been there?) I’m talking about real wildness that allows a perfectly average woman in her middle years to strike out and do something brand new in her life. I’m talking about boldness, creativity, and a balls-out strategy to follow her own music—whatever that music is.

Wild Women Everywhere

I began to really think about who in my life reveals that kind of wildness, not by virtue of her ability to swear like a truck driver (guilty), but because of her ability to do the unexpected, the unsafe.

I thought of my friend Erica, who after many years in corporate America started her own personal training/nutrition business. She’s such a wild woman she actually named her business Green Goddess Studios. So badass.

I thought of my friend Ellen, who decided to give stage acting a try. She and a group of friends (also wild women and men!) decided to write and stage a performance of Alice in La La Land, loosely based on Alice in Wonderland. Ellen said she was scared out of her mind, but had the time of her life. Seeing her in full stage makeup in photos on Facebook filled me with such joy, it almost felt like I was the one performing.

Or how about my posse of friends who competed in our School’s Amazing Race, and dressed up in crazy costumes and performed various feats of strength and insanity over the course of an afternoon just because. I watched my friend Stacey balance a bucket of water on her head while traversing a patch of grass in swimming fins, looking like a complete nut job, and having the time of her life, while my other friend Laurie did laps in a giant kayak inside of a backyard swimming pool. There was no booze involved that I could see. This was just wild women doing their thang.

My own inner wildness gets let out every morning when I take 30 minutes on the porch in the early dawn hours to write. Or when I make it to my Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu class and grapple with a bunch of dudes and a few totally badass dudettes. It’s not like I’m any good at it—I barely make it past the 5 second mark. But it’s thrilling, and I leave feeling alive and electric.

Wild women have something in common—wild women are working on that set of emotional/spiritual/psychological muscles that allow them to burn less and less energy seeking approval from the outside world. Wild women are constantly learning new ways to tune out the “shoulds” and tune in to the “what ifs?” Wild women know how to balance the groundedness required to be good mothers, partners, friends, and professionals with the untethered energy required to follow their curiosity and their bliss.

Wild women get butterflies more often than the rest of us. If Rob Bell is right when he says: “…getting butterflies is just your body’s way of telling you you’re still in the game,” then these queens are most definitely still in the game.

I think our culture wants us to believe that wild woman = dangerous, irresponsible woman. But I think what’s actually true is that wild woman = whole, integrated woman.

So, as we live in the practical, the here and now… as we face the bone-crunching process of re-entry into a new school year… as we go to the grocery store, figure out carpool schedules and pack lunches, let’s also schedule time to honor that wild woman inside of each of us. That inner Stevie Nicks who so badly wants to prance around in flowy scarves and grab that microphone. As Stevie says, “Lightnin’ strikes, maybe once, maybe twice… it all comes down to you.”

So do it now. This second. Open your calendar. Schedule time for wildness. Even if it means doodling or sketching something crazy in a notebook for 10 minutes while you’re waiting for your next meeting. It could involve cranking up the music and getting your grind on for a few minutes before picking the kids up at school. It might just require you to do a cartwheel on your front lawn before going into the house. Your will leave your children, neighbors, or spouse speechless. And you will find you have a great big grin on your beautiful face.

'Tis Better to Receive

I have a really hard time accepting compliments. It’s not that I brush them off, or discourage them. My problem is that I get so excited about receiving a compliment, I sort of disassociate. I’m not really there to receive the kind words. I get this fleeting hit of goodness, but I can’t quite remember what was said, or by whom. It makes me wonder if the problem isn’t the compliment, but the act of receiving that is my problem. Receiving is tricky business for women. We are implicitly taught that our greatest good is always in giving. Give until it hurts. Give to show everyone that you are a good wife, mother, citizen of the world. Give without expectation. Give. Be agreeable. Say “yes.”

And while this all sounds very nice and holy and selfless, I’m now 41 years into this “give” mentality, and I gotta tell you, it’s exhausting. At this point, I have a hard time distinguishing between what I am joyfully interested in giving, and what I’m giving out of guilt or a desire to be liked. I’m too tired or busy executing the giving to really notice how I feel about the giving.

Just the word makes me feel uncomfortable. Receive? Gross. If I receive, then that means I’ll owe someone something. That means I’ll get trapped into even more GIVING. Receiving is so passive. It’s kinda wimpy.

But I also wondered, what kind of vibes am I sending if I’m closed to really receiving? It can't be good. What kind of life perks am I missing out on? Rather than just wonder about it, I decided to do an experiment. I decided to expect to receive good things from life, and to stay present and open when these good things show up. I was curious to see if it made any real difference.

Here’s what I learned:

My Brain the Unicorn Finder Within the first few days, I was bombarded by moments of receiving, both large and small. Just tuning my brain to seek out moments of receiving created the perception of an increase of blessings being showered upon me. It seems that there is evidence to suggest that this is a real phenomenon, but seeing it first hand was a shocker. On one hectic day, I had a client cancel, and realized it was the perfect pocket of time to take a walk and listen to Serial (my all time favorite thing). Then there was the batch of loquats (best fruit ever) that showed up via my in-laws. My dear friend Christina gave me a book on the secret history of Wonder Woman. Another friend (this time Kristina with a “k”) brought me a specially made batch of essential oils all the way from Seattle. BAM! BAM! BAM! One good thing after another. And those are only a few! There were many more. It was like an aperture in my brain opened up to perceive the receiving opportunities, and a fire hose worth of little, delicious blessings poured in.

I Was Asking for It I also found that articulating my need out loud was like waving a magic wand. I am ashamed to admit that I rely heavily on other people’s ability to read my mind. Especially my poor husband. If you're getting serious about receiving, there has to be an asking aspect right? All that "ask and ye shall receive" business? So for Mother’s Day this year, I decided to state clearly what my wishes were for my day. I wanted to feel loved and celebrated by my family, and then I wanted time in silence, in nature, and then some time to go shopping. My wish was Sal’s command. He and the kids each shared what they loved about me as we drove to Mass, and I forced myself to be present and take in what they were saying, and found myself crying some very happy tears. After Mass, I spent my morning wandering in the trees on a beautiful hike in Saratoga, and then quickly scurried through the sale rack at Calypso, snapping up an awesome dress for an upcoming trip. I came home to a husband wearing a man apron, making a whole mess of ribs for dinner. There is nothing sexier than a man making ribs for his woman. Lemme tell you.

Make the Request, But Lose the Attachment By far the most unexpected moment of receiving had to be what I consider the “U2 Debacle of 2015.” There are only two performers that I will see in a large stadium environment: Bruce Springsteen and U2. I just can’t take being in a closed environment with so many people. It drains me and makes me want to curl up in a fetal position. But U2 and the Boss are like going to church. There’s unity, love, and joy in that space. It feels nourishing rather than depleting. So of course when I heard U2 was coming to town, I was all in. Except that I never got my act together to buy tickets. I was so angry at myself, so full of self loathing over this. But once my experiment in receiving was underway, I decided to just turn it over to the Universe. If I’m meant to go, I’ll go. If not, I’ll do something else and all will be well.  A few days later, Sal forwarded an email from a friend inviting us to the show. I laughed out loud when I saw it… Of course! I received that gift with open arms, and Sal and I rocked out and got lost in a Bono-induced nostalgia fest. Here's a snapshot.

bono

Intuition as a Portkey Do you remember in the Harry Potter story how simply touching a portkey would transport any wizard to wherever he or she needed to go? This experiment taught me over and over again that intuition is like a portkey to receiving blessings. When that voice of intuition comes a callin’, get ready to take action, because good stuff lives on the other side. I was sitting in a client session with a very well known author. In fact, he authored one of my all time favorite works of fiction, and I could hardly believe he was asking me for on-stage storytelling support for a talk he would be giving. We had two fantastic sessions, and at the end of the second session, my intuition whispered in my ear… ask him what he’s working on…  I decided to go for it. “So, if you don't mind my asking—are you working on anything new?” Not only did he tell me all about his newest novel and the agony and strife of writing it, he actually showed me a time lapse video of himself, white boarding some of the larger plot points and character elements. As a wanna-be writer myself, I have always dreamed of asking an author I admire to tell me how the process goes in inventing a world, a story, a character. I sat in awe and gratitude at the humble and generous way he shared the details of his own writing process. It left me speechless. And he sent me away with signed copies of two of his books, something I will treasure for the rest of my life.

As I sit here in this cafe, writing this, I’m noticing bubbles floating through the air, probably from a nearby toy shop. I’m reflecting that I’ve been noticing bubbles a lot lately in various places. A quick Google search revealed that many believe bubbles are a sign of everyday moments of magic. That’s what this experiment has taught me: life is practically throwing itself at us, begging to be noticed. It’s hoping we notice the colors on the hummingbird’s neck as it zooms past. It’s praying we allow our hearts to feel the magnitude of a child’s whisper of “I lub you, mommy.” As Walt Whitman said, “..the sidewalks are littered with postcards from God.”

If nothing else, my receiving experiment has taught me this: The blessings have been there all along, it’s been my opportunity to notice them. I now know that yes, it is wonderful to give, but it is absolutely sublime to receive.

 

Magic Mike, Margaritas and the Art of Free Fall

A few days ago, a group of us treated ourselves to cocktails, dinner and Magic Mike XL. I’m not usually a male stripper kind of person, but after seeing Mr. Tatum’s performance in Magic Mike #1, there was a zero percent chance of missing a redux. As we sat drinking our margaritas, each of us shared the high and low points of our summers thus far. It was remarkable how fundamentally similar our situations were. We truly are in the “sandwich” phase : we are the meat of an aging parent + raising young children sando.

Our parents really didn’t experience this the same way. They had kids at a younger age, so by the time their parents were at the critical point, the kiddos were all growds up, and likely out of the house.

But us? Today? Not so much. We got married later, we likely had kids later, and as a result… it’s happening all at once. Young kids and aging parents, yes, but also let’s not forget trying to keep our careers on point, and our marriages humming and satisfying. It’s no wonder so many of us numb ourselves with wine and TV every night. We are exhausted and anxious. And guilty. GOD the guilt!

This is bigger than just a “balancing act." This phase of life forcibly dismantles old beliefs. Magical thinking. Avoidance behavior. It’s all out the window. The sandwich being served is big fat reality sandwich.

For example, I’m quite fond of this long held belief. Perhaps you are familiar with it as well:

“If I work hard, keep my little patch of life high and tight and organized, nothing bad will ever happen!!!”

In other words, if I exercise and eat right, no cancer!! If I’m financially conservative, no unpleasant and unexpected money issues will come my way!! If I read all the right parenting books, I won’t screw up my kids!!!

But this phase of life seems to be ripping out that old belief and replacing it with a new one:

There are no guarantees, and we are all doing the best we can.

In other words, there’s no magical force field protecting your house from the proverbial wrecking ball of a rapidly deteriorating situation with an aging parent, or loved one. Or a marriage.

This belief also robs you of that smug satisfaction of judging someone else’s poor choices that lead to a bankruptcy, or a teenager hooked on drugs, or the IRS garnishing wages due to lack of payment. Because no matter how hard any of us try, or how “mindfully” we live, shit happens in ways we are completely blindsided by.

There are no guarantees and we are all doing the best we can.

This belief is painful and disorienting. In fact, it feels like free fall. And I’m not a huge fan of that sensation. It makes me feel like my heart will beat out of my chest, and land on this here keyboard. But it also makes me think of Alice down the rabbit hole.  After she had been falling for a while, she started to notice her surroundings. She had time to muse, and wonder, and even grabbed a book off of a passing bookshelf as she fell. She reached this moment of “Ok, this is happening to me. Now what?”

This thought gives me some measure of comfort. I’m beginning to see that the “sandwich” phase is perhaps misnamed. This phase of life has far more in common with falling down the rabbit hole - where the people who were once infallible and indestructible become vulnerable. Delicate. Dependent. It’s a place where time seems to pass in alarming bursts and then slows to a sickening, nightmarish crawl. It’s a place where the person you thought you were transmutes into something less clear cut, but potentially more interesting. It’s a place where logic and fairness barely enter into it, but surrender and acceptance become immediate lifelines, while empathy and patience your only means of long term survival.

It makes you realize that you have always been falling. You were just too busy making choices to notice.

That night out with my girlfriends was the perfect way to spend an evening in the Rabbit Hole. If Alice had been lucky enough to have some pals with her as she fell, they probably would have linked up like skydivers and made a groovy formation in mid air.

Doing the best we can sometimes means linking arms, telling our stories, drinking margs, laughing and strutting into a dark theater to watch Channing Tatum (noun) Channing Tatum (verb). It turned out the theater was filled with other women, linked in groovy formations.

Sometimes, when you find yourself in the Rabbit Hole, the best thing to do is to find your people, link up and fall together.

(Dedicated to my GTP - getcher hands up!)

Midlife Crisis or Stroke of Genius? My Adventures in Brazilian Jiu Jitsu.

BJJ A few months ago, during one of our “fun” weekends away together, my two best friends forced me to watch an episode of that BBC series The Fall. In case you've never seen it, It stars Jamie Dornan and Gillian Anderson. Jamie is a serial killer of women (I felt extremely confused watching certain scenes in 50 Shades of Grey because of this), and Gillian is his brilliant detective foil. The episode we watched ended with Dornan working very hard to choke a woman who is tied to a bed. She watches in horror and terror as he tries and tries to squeeze her windpipe until she stops breathing. His hand strength isn’t quite up to the task, this being his first victim and all, so it takes a long, long time. He later works on his hand muscles so the next victim is easier.

When the show was over, I couldn't sleep. I was anxious and felt incredibly vulnerable. And not in that awesome Brene Brown kind of way. It seemed so easy for this character to break into women’s homes. By the time his victim would register that a window was broken, it was game over. The victim’s ability to defend herself physically was pretty pathetic. Jamie Dornan is ripped. It’s hard to out-muscle a dude, even if you are a woman in top physical condition. Talking to my husband about all of this, he said, “That’s why I want our daughters to do Brazilian Jiu Jitsu. If a woman is attacked, she isn’t able to stand around and spar. She needs to learn how to fight from the floor.”

That did it for me. Because here's what I know for sure: I REFUSE to go down easily if some sociopath ever tries to jump me in the street, or in my home for that matter. But here's what else I know for sure: I have ZERO tools for dealing with a real attack.

Holding those two competing truths in mind, I decided to give Brazilian Jiu Jitsu a try. I mean, how hard could it be? I've survived Lisa's Boot Camp. I've given birth three times. I mean, I can do this right?

Here's what happened.

Getcher Gi On

It’s a Wednesday night, and I am in the changing area of the studio, taking stock of my reflection in the mirror, wearing the heavy cotton Gi that is the official BJJ uniform. It’s not a good look for me. In fact, I laugh out loud at myself, but quickly stop when I realize the vibe of class is more like being in church than in a gym. My classmates are dead serious, and I am beginning to piss them off.

Class begins with everyone standing in a long line, shoulder to shoulder. I shuffle into what I’m guessing is the “beta” section in a room full of “alphas,” but seconds later, I feel giant man hands on my shoulders and a fellow student says, "We're really glad you're here and everything? But you're in the black belt section." I am escorted firmly but kindly to the very end of the line. I feel sure my face will melt off.

Time to Woman Up

The Wednesday evening Fundamentals class is taught by an alarmingly young instructor named Vitor Paschoal. It turns out that Vitor already has a black belt, having achieved this feat at the age of 22. Vitor begins class by teaching a series of moves that cause me to wonder what the hell I have gotten myself into. He begins in a standing position, facing his opponent, his hands clutching different places on the opponent’s Gi. Then he somehow uses his foot placed at the top of his opponent’s thigh, then hops up, wrapping both legs around his opponent’s back, slides his back down the opponent’s legs, and ends up shoulders on the ground. From this position, he once again uses leverage to somehow wrap his body around the opponent, causing the opponent to fall dramatically backwards on the mat with a loud SLAP.

Vitor looks at everyone and says, “Everybody got this? Any questions?”

No one has any questions.

“Great," says Vitor, "Go find your partner." And I am left standing there. In my giant diaper. I mean Gi.

It is at this moment that I give serious thought to slinking out the door.

Brazilian Jiu Jitsu is terrifying to me not just because of the physicality and, frankly, the physical intimacy of it, but because I’m afraid I'm so pathetic that no one will want to be my partner. I haven’t felt that way since high school. And that is entirely by design. I mean why would any sane person put themselves in a position of guaranteed humiliation? By choice! I guess I could have partnered with the only other woman in the class, but she seems so confident and intimidating it doesn’t even cross my mind to partner with her. She's just too amazing.

After a few seconds that stretch out like geologic time, another instructor—Marco— materializes beside me. Like a baby bird, I imprint on Marco, who becomes my savior for the next 60 minutes.

I Am Leverage, Not Muscle

While the other groups of two practice the sequence, Marco explains that Jiu Jitsu is not about who is strongest. It is about figuring out what leverage you have, and exploiting that leverage using the moves you learn each time you come to class. “After a while,” he says, “you build kind of a library in your mind of different moves to match different situations.”

For a second I fantasize about Jamie Dornan trying to jump me in a parking lot stairwell. I imagine his surprise as I tackle him, I see his eyes bulging as I choke him. I am just about to kill this imaginary Jamie when I realize Marco is waiting for me to stand up and practice the move I’ve just learned.

I cannot believe how winded I am after each sequence. And while the movements are pre-set and have awesome names like “the Ezekiel,” and “the Guillotine,” the entire experience of sparring in Brazilian Jiu Jitsu is all improvisation, but based on very specific choreography. I'm not particularly athletic, and God knows I'm not a sporty kind of gal, but choreography? That I can do. I think to myself, maybe I can actually do this.

As a class, we learn 3 other sequences, and before I know it, an hour has passed. The class ends the same way it began—we line up (this time I know my place in the pack). We slap our palms on our thighs as we bow, then shake hands and thank the instructors, and our classmates individually as we file past one another, the line snaking in on itself. More than one sweaty, burly, more advanced classmate smiles at me and says, "good job today." I am so elated, so proud of myself and so overcome by the kindness and camaraderie shown to me after just one class that I ignore the fact that I am standing—in my bare feet, mind you—in a puddle of someone else’s sweat.

Upon leaving the mats, I return to Saint Marco (as I now think of him) and thank him, and ask if I should partner with him again next time, given how remedial I am compared to everyone else. He smiles, and gently suggests that I find a woman to work with, if possible.

"You might feel more comfortable. Me? I am Brazilian. I don't care. But some people feel strange about wrapping their legs around someone they don't know if it’s a man."

I turn purple once again, as it now dawns on me that I have just spent the better part of the hour doing exactly this with Saint Marco. I later reflected in a distant sort of way how attractive all the instructors are, but honestly, I am too busy surviving class without soiling myself to really notice. In fact, rarely do I notice this. There is such an air of intense respect in this studio that people’s appearances don’t even register. It’s like this crazy little bubble of sweat, silence and focus. It’s unlike anything I’ve ever experienced before.

The Gi Goes On

By the next class, I am able to take Marco's advice and pair up with another woman. The first woman I roll with is a purple belt. She is kind, feminine and gorgeous. Somehow her Gi looks elegant and correct (Mine still looks like a giant wool diaper). I am overwhelmed with relief to have found my partner, but half way through, she bails. She moves to the other end of the studio to train for a major Jiujitsu competition. It occurrs to me that she will face another woman on the mat, will wrestle with everything she’s got, and one of them will emerge victorious. I feel as though I have slipped into the rabbit hole, and all of the rules of femininity and beauty no longer apply. It makes me wish I could have slipped into this rabbit hole a long time ago.

It’s now been 10 or so classes, and every time I pull up to the studio, I fight the urge to go to Starbucks instead, drink a latte, and check Facebook.

My ego hates Brazilian Jiu Jitsu, and wants nothing to do with it. After all, BJJ is easily the most humbling part of my week. At work I feel sure of my capabilities and I know I'm good at what I do. At home, I'm loved unconditionally and feel completely safe. But on the mat? I'm the lowest of the low. I am most likely the cause of snickering and even pity. And I don’t even get to wear a cute outfit. As if that isn't bad enough, I am by far the oldest person out there most days, and often the only woman, and believe me, none of the guys are particularly phased or impressed by my presence.

But my soul -- my soul loves BJJ. It gets my mind into the present moment. I surrender any need to liked, any need to show off, any need to be anything other than what I am: a humble beginner. After an hour, I feel like my mind has gotten a delicious rest from its own crazy loops. I feel rested. Electric. And ready to kick ass. More than once have I gleefully demonstrated the Guillotine choke hold or scissor sweep on my poor unsuspecting husband. I think he secretly likes it.

I recently overheard the owner of the studio, Caio Terra, coaching his students before a competition (as an aside, little did we know that Caio is a 9 time black belt world champion and famous in the world of BJJ). In his wonderful Brazilian accent Caio said,

"Whatever emotions you feel as you compete… embrace them. Fear? Nerves? Excitement? Welcome them all in. Why? Because this is being alive. Feel the emotions, and get on with it."

Maybe that's why I’m still showing up to Jiu Jitsu. When I leave the mat, every fiber of my being: every cell, every vein and artery, they all hum with aliveness. At age 41, I guess I'm finally up for that kind of living.

OSS!!!!!

My Favorite Books of 2014

I love books so much I want to marry them. I love books more than gin & tonics, Pringles, Bruce Springsteen concerts, karaoke, yoga, and modern art museums. And that’s saying something, because those things are pretty much sacred to me. For me, heaven will be a book store with comfy chairs, a soft lighting concept, and brilliant reading lamps atop end tables just big enough for my cup of Whatever. I am incapable of watching TV because I am too devoted to my silent reading time. I’m still not finished with Season 1 of Orange is the New Black, and I’m still trying to finish up Season 2 of Mad Men. That’s how bad my book addiction is. Because those shows are GOOD.  

Of the books I read in 2014, there are 9 that I absolutely loved. I tried to think of a 10th, just to be cute about it, but only 9 made it to the top. You won't find any real plot descriptions with these reccos. I find that by putting the plot into words cheapens it, and makes every great book sound like a lot of blah blah blah. In fact, I ignored Signature of All Things for too long because of the plot description. So instead, I’m just going to share why each book resonated with me.

 

(And shout outs to my beloved book club The Interestings of St Chris… getting to know you ladies at the book level feels like we are blood sisters now.)

 

Fiction

Signature of All Things, Elizabeth Gilbert. Everything about this book was lush and unexpected. I have a giant girl crush on Liz Gilbert, and this was icing on the cake. Her rendering of the life and misadventures of Alma Whittaker will make you decide once and for all that you will never write a novel as good as this. In fact, it may make you feel under qualified even to write a short blurb about it. At least that’s what happened to me.

 

What Alice Forgot, Liane Moriarty. Every few years or so, a book comes along that feels like it was written just for you. I felt that way about Cheryl Strayed’s brilliant book Wild, and I feel that way about this one. If you are a middle class, suburban woman with children, this book will take you right into the heart of the mystery of your own seemingly ordinary life. No matter that it’s written from Sydney, Australia. It turns out, those Aussie gals roll pretty much the same way we do here in the US of A. For better or worse.

 

Power of One, Bryce Courtenay. No, this is not a self help book. This was actually my second time reading it, because it’s just that good. It is a novel about a boy in South Africa, but it almost feels like a collection of amazing stories vs. a full story arc. I cannot recommend it highly enough. Try this little gem from Doc, the wise German mentor to the main character PeeKay…

 

“. . . God is too busy making the sun come up and go down and watching so the moon floats just right in the sky to be concerned with color . . . only man wants always God should be there to condemn this one and save that one. Always it is man who wants to make heaven and hell. God is too busy training the bees to make honey and every morning opening up all the new flowers for business.”

 

This book will make you glad to be alive.

 

The Goldfinch, Donna Tartt. I’m pretty sure I began 2014 with this book, and it damn near tore my heart out of my chest. The writing is magnificent and the story is like nothing I’ve ever read before. It ponders so many questions, but the one I carry with me is this: What if the heart wants what it wants? The more broken the heart, the more tragic the desires. And there’s not a lot to be done about it. And yet despite how heartbreaking it is, the final 20 pages are the most sublime I’ve ever read. Tartt’s Pulitzer for The Goldfinch was well deserved.

 

Where’d You Go Bernadette? Maria Semple This book scared me a little.  The slightly off kilter Bernadette was someone I identified with a little too deeply. She is the woman I would be if I didn’t need to be liked so damn much. And I’m not talking about her artistic prowess in the novel, I’m talking about her inability to function in civil society. My fears were calmed a bit when I realized during our book club gathering that nearly half of the people who read it thought she was funny and endearing. So far, I am functioning in civil society at the moment, which means I can be friends with the other half of my book club too. Which is nice.

 

Sci Fi/Fantasy

 

Dune, Frank Herbert. I have no idea what possessed me to tackle this now. Nor can I explain why, despite my love of sci-fi and fantasy, I had never read what most Fantasy/Sci Fi nerds consider to be the bible of the genre. Dune did not disappoint. I’m just now realizing that it might have been the Bene Gesserit training storyline that lead me to the meditation classes I’m now taking. Ha!

 

The Pines Trilogy, Blake Crouch. Holy shit, the Pines. This trilogy may be the most gripping, shocking tale I’ve ever heard. The plot is so insane, I cannot imagine how he came up with it, but I’m sure glad he did. I can’t tell you more than that because it’ll spoil the fun. Think Twin Peaks. And get ready to have your mind blown to smithereens. Do not read if you are currently on high blood pressure medication.

 

Self Help

 

Sacred Contracts, Carolyn Myss. If you’ve ever wanted to explore Jungian archetypes, man, this book is good. I learned so much about myself, my tendencies and why I do the things I do, I can’t even tell you. It’s definitely New Age woo-woo stuff, but I love me some New Age woo-woo stuff.

 

Outrageous Openness, Tosha Silver I absolutely LOVED LOVED LOVED this collection of insights on surrendering to all that life serves up to us. In fact, this book is sitting on my desk at all times, reminding me that All Is Well. If you believe in some form of the Divine, you will love this little book.

 

With that, I wish you a beautiful holiday and may your books be gripping and wondrous in 2015!

 

Xoxoox B

 

We Need a Little Christmas

My mom is a trip. She is fierce, irreverent, and has a deliciously dark sense of humor. But there's also this wonderful innocence about her. She sees the world as inherently magic.  

Margaret sees miracles all around her, all the time. And for her, the Miracle Olympics happen during the Holidays. In fact, since I was a child, she would say, “Now keep your eyes peeled! You might see a Christmas miracle!” At which point I would roll my eyes at her, and keep moving.

 

But there I was, at Target at 8:15am Monday morning, and in a fairly grizzly mood. I hate shopping where large groups of people are gathered. Blessedly, I was treated to a near empty parking lot given the early hour. I finished my shopping in record time, threw it all into the car, and shoved my cart into the empty parking space beside me, where there was another abandoned cart. I mentally girded my loins, knowing that Costco was up next. Costco is where my normally positive outlook goes to die.

 

As I’m starting my car to leave the near empty Target lot, an elderly woman with very organized, short grey hair raps on my window with her bony knuckles and says,

 

“Did you do this? Did you leave your cart in this space?”

 

Damn.

 

“Yes, I did.” I opened the door and dragged myself out to move the cart.

 

“Because you know you’re blocking this spot, and people need this spot,” she said, as if I wasn’t already keenly aware of why it is problematic to leave your cart in an open space.

 

“You are absolutely right,” I said without smiling.

 

I was annoyed with her for interrupting my internal dialogue about how much I hate going to Costco, but I also felt ashamed for violating such an important rule of shopping— don’t block a prime parking spot. I mean, we hate people that pull that crap right? I was pulling that crap. And this little old lady was calling me out on it.

 

So off she goes, huffy in her pastel nylon sweatsuit and her shopping list clutched in her left hand, and me, all judgy and cross in my (notgunna)workout clothes with my iPhone glued to my right hand.

 

Just as I’m about to pull out of my space, I look down and notice a check on the ground right about where our little exchange took place. I looked closer and could see the tremulous writing style that I associate with grandparents. The check was written out to an apartment complex nearby and was beginning to get a little damp on the wet asphalt.

 

I turned off the car, grabbed the check off the ground, and ran into Target to chase down my parking lot BFF.

 

She was at the front desk returning something, and as soon as she saw me, her face looked confused and a little frightened. I showed her the check, and before I could finish my sentence, she threw her arms around me and hugged me so tightly, you would think I'd just come back from a tour of duty in Kabul. I said in her ear, mid-embrace, “I guess we were meant to find each other today!”

 

She was teary with gratitude. And frankly, so was I. She got her rent check, and I got to feel like a Nice Person after feeling like an asshole who blocks a prime parking spot with my empty cart.

 

But it was more than that. Mid-hug I felt such a deep sense of joy, a sense of real honest connection— soul to soul— in the middle of Target. It made me feel human, in the best sense of the word. It made me feel useful, and of service. Such an outpouring of gratitude even from such a small act filled me with happiness. That woman's hug will power me through my darkest suburban holiday hours of Christmas wrapping and dealing with that *&^% Elf on the Shelf.

 

So of course, I immediately called my mom and told her the story of my First Christmas Miracle of 2014. She said, “You see? In this crazy old world of heartache and cruelty, you have to notice these moments of love and kindness. I’m sure these miracles play out all year round, but they seem to be more abundant this time of year. It is what keeps us from completely giving into the despair of the evening news.” (Yes, she actually talks like that in casual conversation. No joke.)

 

So my friends, let’s all keep our eyes peeled. Let’s celebrate our tiny moments of connection and kindness. Maybe Marg is right: miracles just might be everywhere.

24 Hours with Oprah

24 hours with Oprah If you’ve spent more than 5 minutes with me, you probably already know what I’m about to tell you: I am an unabashed fan of Oprah Winfrey. And I don’t mean the Favorite Things or YOU WIN A NEW CAR! Oprah. I mean the trippy New Age side of her— that deep resonant voice gently asking “Who did you come here to be? What is your purpose? What will you do with your energy?” That’s the woman I love.

Several friends have asked me what it was like, what I learned, etc, and the questions made me want to run away and write everything down once and for all.

So here goes, before all of my Oprah glitter fades:

DAY ONE

The Vibe. It’s like a religious revival. People are so friendly, you feel like you are somehow related. Because you are. You are those dorks that pay lots of money to see Oprah and her crew in a giant 13,000 person stadium. There was something in the air, and it might have been joy, it was definitely unity … who can say, but that shit was palpable, and the soundtrack didn’t hurt either. My co-hort Jen Reidy and I danced like it was our job as we waited for the program to begin. Here’s evidence from our brief moments of glory on the Jumbotron (special thanks to Marielle for capturing this moment of pure flow— that’s Jen on the left, me on the right).

FEELIN' it.

Oprah’s Story

On the first night, Mama O told us her story, which of course begins in Mississippi— the least likely point of origin for the world’s wealthiest woman who also happens to be black. Because I’m a super fan, I knew 80% of these stories, but it was glorious hearing them from 12 rows off the floor, just to her right. Here are the two stories I hadn’t heard that resonated like CRAZY for me at this stage in my life:

The Disease to Please. Turns out Oprah had a very strong need to be liked, or as she put it “I needed people to think I was nice.” One day Stedman says, “You’re NOT nice. Gail is nice. Why are you pretending?” Which made her get clear about what things she wanted to do, vs. didn’t want to do, but did with resentment. As fate would have it, after she had gotten clear about this, Stevie Wonder (!!!) called her up and wanted her to support a children’s charity. Oprah had to find the courage to say “no” to Stevie WONDER (she’s got her own children’s charity). Which she did, and he simply said, “OK.” And that was that. Lesson? If she can say NO to Stevie Wonder, I can say no to the next volunteer opportunity that isn’t in alignment with my commitment to spending more quality time with my husband and kids. And so can you.

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Energy Boomerang. I have heard Oprah talk about the whole “what you put out comes back to you” thing, but for some reason it hit me HARD this time. When I sign up to do things that I’m not really interested in doing, it projects a nasty energy that not only affects other people, it comes looking for me. I am SO DONE with resenting anything or anyone, if for no other reason that I don’t want that energy coming back to me, full throttle. Think about someone you know who has a lot of resentment and bitterness… seems like life keeps serving up reasons for them to be bitter, doesn’t it?

Pay Attention. I’ve heard this before, but in case you haven’t, it’s a doozy:

“Pay attention to your life, it is always speaking to you. “ First, life will tell you something is wrong in a whisper. Then the whisper becomes a pebble thrown at your proverbial window. If you miss that, then it becomes a brick that smashes through to get your attention in the form of a full blown crisis. If you miss that, you can pretty much kiss the walls and foundation of your house goodbye. This is one of my most favorite Oprah lessons of all time and space. I have saved myself so much heartache by listening for the whispers and waking up with the pebbles. What’s whispering at you right now? There were more than a few whispers I was politely ignoring prior to this weekend, I can tell you.

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Then she closed for the night, and Jen and I took a rickshaw back to our hotel, and this pretty much sums up Day One of Oprah’s Best Life Tour:

Ain't no party like a rickshaw party.

Day Two

We were out the door by 7:30am and ready to have our hearts explode and our minds stretched, and were served coffee by a barista so attractive, I’m pretty sure he was a vampire. Caffe Frascati, in case you are wondering. And what’s more: he’s a kind, sweet soul on top of being attractive. And old enough to be my son. Just so we’re clear.

From there we headed to…

O Town… Yes, there was a mini pavilion of sorts that was so lame, I can’t even tell you. How this one slipped past quality control, I’ll never know. But whatevs, you can’t be perfect all the time.

Back in our seats, the lights went down after more dance party runtimes, and our electronic bracelets lit up the crows like 13,000 stars… and out came Mama O, this time super casual compared to her fabulous gown from the night before. She said some other awesome stuff, and then handed the mic over to Deepak Chopra.

Meditating with Deepak

I won’t recap a lot about what he said, because The Diva Inc captured all of my favorite's, but I have to say, I will NEVER forget the sound of 13,000 people sitting in silence, working on inhabiting the moment. In those collective breaths, anything seemed possible: world peace, gender equality, healing the environment… I can’t even explain why. Maybe this quote from Rumi that Deepak mentioned explains it:

“Silence is God’s language. All else is a poor translation.”

-Rumi

How funny that during a two day conference, I felt God most acutely in the near perfect silence of Deepak's meditation. In a venue that usually hosts hockey games. Classic.

Liz Gilbert is a National Treasure

Love her.

And then Liz Gilbert got up and gave the best speech I have ever heard in my entire life. And I am a speech coach. All I think about is good speech giving. Her talk focused on the stories we tell about our lives. And anything I do to try and recap will be a pathetic x-ray version of what she said, so I’m just going to say, I learned 2 big things from Liz Gilbert:

1) Never ask “What should I do?” ask “What am I here to do?” The first one is based on society/culture’s expectations of me and the second one is based on what I know to be MY quest in this lifetime. And there is a direct relationship between the length of time it takes me to ask the second question, and my level of misery. She summed it up in this beautiful quote:

“It is better to live your own destiny imperfectly than to live an imitation of somebody else's life with perfection.” – Bhagavad Gita

2) Do Mini Quests. Sometimes before you can set out on THE quest of your life, you might need mini-quests, “snack sized quests” to bring a bit of fun and meaning to our daily grind. On a particularly soul-crushing day after divorce court (pre-Eat, Pray, Love fame) she gave herself the following quest: Liz: you cannot go home and cry until you have found something that is heart-stoppingly beautiful. Within about 2 minutes, marching down 8th avenue in New York was a troop of elephants, with glittering signs that said “I LOVE NY!!!” The circus was in town, it was sheer luck (as if!) that they were passing at that moment, but it was exactly what she needed to remember how miraculous even the worst day of living really is. (If you’re not already following Liz Gilbert on Facebook, drop everything and do it now.) So what is your mini quest for this week?

Rob Bell. Brother from another mother.

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Pastors of mega-churches always make me a little skeptical. But then I have to smack myself upside the head and remember that there is a REASON for thousands of people gathering to hear them each Sunday. They. Can. PREACH. And that was the deal with Pastor Rob Bell. The two big things I took from the preacher man were:

  • Don’t Rush Suffering. The skills and realizations we acquire during the darkest hours actually become the rocket fuel of our lives if we have the intestinal fortitude to face suffering, accept it and grow from it. I don’t know about you, but I’m a big fan of rushing through suffering. And I’m going to do my best to stay present instead of pouring that glass of wine or stealing that 500th piece of Halloween candy from my sleeping children. I intend to “enter the mystery” of my own anxieties, fears, and moments of excruciating resentments, and figure out what all the fuss is about.
  • Having the life you want, means loving the life you have. This was a big one for me. Really big. When I came through the doors of my house post-Oprah high, instead of seeing chaos and to-do lists, I saw three of the most glorious little people and a damn fine looking husband. And a big yellow dog who thinks I am BETTER than Oprah! I mean Jesus H Christ, how do I forget this!?

Iyanla. Oh my GAWD Iyanla.

No more humping puppies.

First and foremost, I learned a new word:

“Piss-ocity”

: noun

Definition: rage in a mink coat.

Amazing right? Fancy, dressed-up rage is called “pissocity,” and I laughed long and hard at that one.

My other favorite take-away from her talk, without a doubt, is the concept of …

Humping puppies.

There she was... in all of her glory, dressed in diamonds and the most KILLER dress of all time, and she was gyrating like your dog when it’s hot for teacher.

She says, “What does your puppy do when you have some nice guests at your house? He starts humping their leg.”

Humping puppies are what Iyanla calls the thoughts that sound like:

“You’re not enough.”

“You can’t do this”

“Who do you think you are??”

“When your puppy starts humping someone, you get a magazine, you roll it up and you bump their behinds to make ‘em stop!”

Apparently, half the secret of living a big life is recognizing the Humping Puppy in the act, and putting a stop to it. No more believing the thought that I'm not enough.  I'll just see it for what it is: a humping puppy.

And then she said, “And another thing! Don’t take counsel from people whose brains are filled with humping puppies! They don’t have anything good for you!”

I MEAN.

That is one to grow on, my brothers and sisters. Never treat a "humping puppy" thought like it's the truth. And I can think of a few people in my world who are walking humping puppy factories, and I am constantly letting them get into my head. NO MAS!

The Close. Oprah brought it all together with a beautiful exercise about changing the way we speak to ourselves, and replacing our current language with the language of possibility, and I could go on for pages about what it was like to watch the speakers thank Oprah (it was their last night on stage together after a long tour), but really how could I describe it?

So instead I’ll tell you this:

it’s now Monday, and so far I have reworked my personal/business mission and vision statements, talked with a dear friend, I’ve written for probably 4 hours so far (half work, half fun) and I’ve danced around my office to a 1984 club remix of Sheila E’s Glamorous Life, immediately followed by Off the Wall by MJ himself.

That, my peeps, is called living my best life. May you find your bliss, and trust me when I say, when the Oprah Circus comes back to town.. do yourself a favor: BUY A TICKET.

**Bonus track: That picture you see at the masthead of my blog? That is me in my happy place— on stage singing or speaking. And after this weekend, I’ve never been clearer about my goals for how I want to spend my time. This is my prayer: that someday I’ll be crossing stages as big as Oprah’s, making people feel as alive and joyful as she made us feel this weekend. What’s it going to be for you? What are you here to do?

Attack of the Alpha Mom

*Note: this originally ran in DotComsForMoms.com about three years ago, but someone asked me to forward it, and it's no longer available... so here it is! :) Attack of the Alpha Mom! Dealing with Mean Girls – The Adult Version

Just because we’re all growds up, doesn’t mean we are free and clear of the dreaded “mean girl.” Or, as I like to call them, “Alpha Moms.” In case you’re unsure of how to properly identify an Alpha Mom, I define them as any woman who makes you feel bad about your choices.   I don’t mean the kind of choices that lead to prison time, I’m talking about the everyday stuff that ultimately amounts to how we live our lives. They are the gals who dish out judgmental “digs” just when you are least prepared. Need an example?

  • “You’re feeding her THAT? Do you have any idea how much sugar is in that?”
  • “You leave your kids with a nanny? I could never do that…”
  • “You go away with your girlfriends twice a year? Wow. (and not in a nice way)”

Personally, I am very susceptible to attacks because I need to be liked. Alpha Moms see me and they lick their chops. But the older I get, the less energy I have to worry about who likes me and who doesn’t. I have to imagine that there are quite a lot of us out there that feel the same way, and there are some killer reads on this topic that I wanted to share. Here’s what I’ve gathered:

The Happiest Mom posted this article, which reminds me that although my daughter will be spending the next 8 years of her life at this school (and therefore me with these parents), I should not expect to get all of my social/emotional needs met there. Given what an amazing community our school has, it’s easy to fall into the trap of expecting it to be all things to me. That’s asking too much of any situation, and really isn’t fair to the other moms I’m putting my needs on. It’s a big wide world, and I need to remember that.

Babble posted this FANTASTIC article written by the author of Free Range Kids: Giving Our Children the Freedom We Had Without Going Nuts with Worry. In it, Lenore Skenazy suggests that we go public with some of our shame-bound parenting decisions. Why? Alpha moms “…thrive on shame. Take away their power.” By owning the choices we make without being defensive or arrogant, we free others to speak their mind, and we disarm the Alpha mom’s secret weapon.

In this article, “Dealing with Judgmental Mommies,” I loved the whole idea of killin ‘em with kindness. Behavior specialist Cindy Brown, Psy.D suggests honoring the Alpha’s input in a way that is compassionate. For example, “I know you know a lot about this, what worked well for your family?” It’s great because it comes from a place of empathy and curiosity, and deflects the attention from you and onto her.

When my mom was visiting last week, I heard echoes of Alpha-ness come out of my own mouth. Like, “Grandma believes that it’s ok for kids to watch a lot of TV. Mommy does not share that belief.” Sarcastic, passive aggressive and totally not constructive.  Turns out, if I’m looking for practice dealing with Alpha Moms, sometimes I need look no further than the mirror.

Survey Says?? We Haven't Got A Clue

Yesterday, someone sent me a link to an article suggesting that according to a study done by eHarmony, people tend to say opposites attract, but based on how they fill out their online dating preferences questionnaire, people actually want something closer to home. And by “closer” I mean “almost identical” to themselves. When I was dating back in the stone age, if I had filled out a screening form of preferences, it would have looked like this:

  • Must love books.
  • Has to have the same sense of humor as me (except back in those days I would have said, “Has to have a sophisticated sense of humor.” I now see how judgmental and shitty that is. Because really I’m just putting down anyone who doesn’t laugh at my jokes. Which I think are fancy apparently.)
  • Must have really good taste in music. This is nonnegotiable.
  • Must be curious about international news and happenings. I am an NPR junkie, after all. This point is also nonnegotiable.
  • Kind, compassionate, attractive, blah blah blah, oh and Catholic. I had never dated a practicing Catholic. Might be worth a try, since I’m a practicing Catholic.

And then came Sal, who is now my husband. He was:

  • A self-proclaimed “non-reader.” (uh oh)
  • A very literal mind, not looking for someone with a dark/weird sense of humor (crap.)
  • Had an aversion to NPR, because it’s “depressing as hell.” (yikes)
  • Had more than one Hootie and the Blowfish song in his CD collection (oh the HUMANITY).
  • Took me to Sunday Mass and then dinner for our first date (wait, WHAT?!)

According to eHarmony’s stats, this is a first date that should never have happened. Certainly it would have ended after the first date given our preferences. Our interest in each other shouldn’t have survived me traipsing around Europe for 6 weeks with my friends, flush from a dot-com implosion severance package. And by, God, Hootie alone should have dashed any hope of actually making it past the first year or two.

To be fair, I’m sure he was probably hoping for someone who didn’t walk over piles of dirty clothes on the floor repeatedly. He’s Sicilian, he values good food. He probably would have opted for a woman who could actually cook. As a mostly left-brain dominant person, he probably was hoping for someone less… emotionnnnalll than I am.

But here we are, celebrating ten years of marriage TODAY, August 7th, and thirteen years of togetherness, and I can tell you, I’m as into him now as I was on our first date, only at a totally different level. The kind of love that gets you down the aisle is one thing, but the kind of love that is hard won through high risk pregnancies, career changes, financial worries, aging parent issues, the death of people we love… that kind of love isn’t glamorous, but as my mother always says, “that’s REAL romance. Not that Hollywood crap.”

What We Think We Want vs… ?

What we think we want occupies this weird space in our psyche where we put all of our limited, small beliefs about ourselves and other people. Based on my experience, when the Universe gives me something great, it blows my tiny mind, and I think “This is so much more awesome than anything I could have come up with.” I think about my wedding day, the birth of each of each of our babies… I think about my two best friends Aaron and Naomi and they get me at a level I never thought possible, and I them... all of these things are so far beyond anything my pathetic imagination could have cooked up, it’s laughable.

The same goes for partners. I couldn’t really have known what I wanted until Sal showed up on my doorstep for our blind date. I couldn’t have made the mental calculations that would have predicted me falling madly in love with someone who rarely read for pleasure, and who cranked “HOLD… MY… HAND…” in the car.

But after a few dates with this guy, I couldn’t stop thinking about him and his earnest interest in being good to the world… In eventually becoming a great father… In how nonjudgmental and accepting he was of people in general. I couldn’t have predicted how attracted I would be to his whole being – not just his foxy Al-Pacinio-Circa-Godfather-1 looks. I couldn’t have known how wonderful it would be to share my religious beliefs and upbringing with my partner and best friend.

It was truly a revelation.

It still is. 10 years into our marriage, and we have created three new humans who are hilarious and precious and wise, and who have become our greatest teachers. We have acquired and raised a giant dog who quietly keeps us all in orbit with that style of unconditional love that only a Golden Retriever is able to give. We’ve developed a friendship and romance that is stronger than steel, but that we guard as if it’s as delicate as a spider web (on good days).

And to think … if I were on a dating site that would have filtered out Sal… What a different life I would have had! Probably a lesser kind of life, but maybe not. But I wouldn’t trade this life with him for anything.

So if you are in the hunt for The One, ignore the filters. Don’t put limits on what fate can serve up.   Fate/the Universe/God has much better taste than we do most of the time. I don't know what that means for online dating, but consider being more liberal with your tastes.

These days, Sal’s music selections have now way surpassed mine. He is now the one that introduces cool music to the house – not me. Not only that, he reads almost as much as I do now (and that’s saying something. I have a book addiction that is… expensive). Though he still refuses NPR.

For my part, I still walk over the piles of clothes, but I am getting a little better at cooking. I should probably find out what was on his nonnegotiable list. It may help with the next 10 years.

To my beloved Sal, happy anniversary Babe. You are still the best decision I ever made. I can't wait for our date in the City on Saturday.  Let's try and hit Mass Sunday morning on our way out of town.

And lastly, BIG shout outs to my brother-in-law Phil who introduced us. Without Phil, I'd be married to some other dude, and probably thinking about having an affair with this mysterious Sicilian American named Sal....

Coming Out: Self Care and Slowing Down

A few months ago I picked up a little book that caught my fancy: Daily Rituals: How Artists Work. Daily Rituals

Aside from just being a fun, voyeuristic look at the practical schedules of brilliant artists from Toulouse Lautrec to Franz Kafka, Agatha Christie to George Balanchine, this book points to a single truth:

The most productive artists scheduled an astonishing amount of down time. Sure, Lautrec and others filled that down-time with all types of debauchery, but most of them scheduled that time for activities that were quietly and rather wholesomely self-indulgent: Two-hour walks. Midday naps. Reading . . . lots of reading. Silence. Passive music listening. It made me wonder if they were onto something.

For most mothers, when we hear the term “self-care” we smirk. (As if I had the time! As if I had the money! As if that were even allowed!) And more often than not, we feel a blend of shame and guilt when we finally do something nice for ourselves. The simple act of lying down with a book and a cup of tea in the middle of the day can feel like an act of treason, punishable by death.

And yet… when I’ve taken what I now call my micro-vacations, I come back from that 20 minutes with renewed energy and a much better sense of perspective. I began to wonder, privately, I might add – how I might begin to take better care of myself. Weekly spa appointments weren’t possible, and checking myself into Miraval a few times a year wasn’t feasible either.

Subversive Self-Care

In researching what smart gals out there were saying about self-care, here’s what I learned:

  • Circle of Peeps. Recently, someone was really hurting me with casually placed cruel remarks, and as I was venting to a friend, she said, “Why are you giving your power away to this woman? Is she even in the inner circle?” How often I replay and worry over slights or comments that come from people who are NOT on the short list of people I love (and who love me) most. So I got off the phone, and drew my circles. Me at the center, then my husband, then my kids, then my parents, then my best friends, then my close friends/coworkers, then the women who I feel a wonderful connection with but don’t know very well yet, and then “everyone else.” It turned out that the people who cause me the MOST grief weren’t even close to the inner circles. That realization alone gave me a whole new way of evaluating how I spend my time.
  • Physical Self Care. I have always put exercise—even just slowly walking my dog — in the “nice to have” category. These are the first things to fall off my to-do list. But when I looked through this lens of self-care I saw that a good 45-minute walk to the park with Ellis meant I couldn’t be on Facebook – there simply wasn’t enough time for both. I realized I had been settling for social media instead of really living life: feeling the sun on my skin, hearing my dog’s grateful steady panting as we walked in the direction of his dreams (he’s got a low bar--our local park is his Miraval). This small act, for reasons unknown to me, is incredibly grounding and peaceful. When my mind is grounded and at peace, I think more clearly. I’m not as reactive to every inbound email. I make better choices. Now, I begin every day by doing something physical, not just because I know I should, but because it makes me so much more productive later on. Who knew a slow walk, with a hot cup of coffee and a 90lb golden retriever could improve your financial bottom line? Turns out, it REALLY does.
  • Drive-By Indulgence. I stole this one right from an interview with Dr. Christiane Northrup on her radio show. In response to a caller who was feeling guilty over her love of chocolate, Dr. Northrup said, listen, if you need chocolate to be happy, make it an indulgence ritual. Really taste it. Live inside of your taste buds for those few minutes. Breathe. Smell it. What does it feel like on your tongue? What are the layers of flavors? You’ll feel like you’ve been to Maui by the time that chocolate is done. The same goes for a glass of wine. If you pour it, really let yourself enjoy it. I found this advice so utterly wonderful that now on my daily to-do list I have a special section called “Indulgence.” Today, this is what is on my list: 1) Meditate; 2) Walk the dog; 3) Listen to a book on the way to San Francisco; My full to-do list probably has 12 things on it. But those three are at the top, and at most they eat up 45 minutes of the work day. I easily lose that much time in mindlessly cruising the Interwebs. By allowing myself these drive-by indulgences, I’m less likely to rebel against and bail on the other items on the to-do list.

So, now that I’m out of the closet and publicly owning my Self-Care routine, I can say, it’s the best I’ve felt in years. I’m better focused, I’m kinder to my kids and my husband, and I feel a strong sense of actually living my life, instead of constantly feeling like I’ve been shot out of a cannon.

Kurt Vonnegut famously said, “We are on earth to fart around. Don’t let anybody tell you any different.”

Ladies, I think he was onto something.

Coming Out: Self Care, Shame and Motherhood

A few months ago I picked up a little book that caught my fancy: Daily Rituals: How Artists Work. unknown.jpg

Aside from just being a fun, voyeuristic look at the practical schedules of brilliant artists from Toulouse Lautrec to Franz Kafka, Agatha Christie to George Balanchine, this book points to a single truth: The most productive artists scheduled an astonishing amount of down time. Sure, Lautrec and others filled that down-time with all types of debauchery, but most of them scheduled that time for activities that were quietly and rather wholesomely self-indulgent:

Two-hour walks. Midday naps. Reading . . . lots of reading. Silence. Passive music listening.

It made me wonder if they were onto something.

For most mothers, when we hear the term “self-care” we smirk. (As if I had the time! As if I had the money! As if that were even allowed!) And more often than not, we feel a blend of shame and guilt when we finally do something nice for ourselves. The simple act of lying down with a book and a cup of tea in the middle of the day can feel like an act of treason, punishable by death.

And yet… when I’ve taken what I now call my micro-vacations, I come back from that 20 minutes with renewed energy and a much better sense of perspective.

I began to wonder, privately, I might add – how I might begin to take better care of myself. Weekly spa appointments weren’t possible, and checking myself into Miraval a few times a year wasn’t feasible either.

Subversive Self-Care

In researching what smart gals out there were saying about self-care, here’s what I learned:

 

  • Circle of Peeps. Recently, someone was really hurting me with casually placed cruel remarks, and as I was venting to a friend, she said, “Why are you giving your power away to this woman? Is she even in the inner circle?” Wow. How often I replay and worry over slights or comments that come from people who are NOT on the short list of people I love (and who love me) most. So I got off the phone, and drew my circles. Me at the center, then my husband, then my kids, then my parents, then my best friends, then my close friends/coworkers, then the women who I feel a wonderful connection with but don’t know very well yet, and then “everyone else.” It turned out that the people who cause me the MOST grief weren’t even close to the inner circles. That realization alone gave me a whole new way of evaluating how I spend my time.
  • Physical Self Care. I have always put exercise—even just slowly walking my dog (who has to check his pee-mail every five feet) — in the “nice to have” category. These are the first things to fall off my to-do list. But when I looked through this lens of self-care I saw that a good 45-minute walk to the park with Ellis meant I couldn’t be on Facebook – there simply wasn’t enough time for both. I realized I had been settling for social media instead of really living life: feeling the sun on my skin, hearing my dog’s grateful steady panting as we walked in the direction of his dreams (he’s got a low bar--our local park is his Miraval). This small act, for reasons unknown to me, is incredibly grounding and peaceful. When my mind is grounded and at peace, I think more clearly. I’m not as reactive to every inbound email. I make better choices. Now, I begin every day by doing something physical, not just because I know I should, but because it makes me so much more productive later on. Who knew a slow walk, with a hot cup of coffee and a 90lb golden retriever could improve your financial bottom line? Turns out, it REALLY does.
  • Drive-By Indulgence. I stole this one right from an interview with Dr. Christiane Northrup on her radio show. In response to a caller who was feeling guilty over her love of chocolate, Dr. Northrup said, listen, if you need chocolate to be happy, make it an indulgence ritual. Really taste it. Live inside of your taste buds for those few minutes. Breathe. Smell it. What does it feel like on your tongue? What are the layers of flavors? You’ll feel like you’ve been to Maui by the time that chocolate is done. The same goes for a glass of wine. If you pour it, really let yourself enjoy it. I found this advice so utterly wonderful that now on my daily to-do list I have a special section called “Indulgence.” Today, this is what is on my list: 1) Meditate; 2) Walk the dog; 3) Listen to a book on the way to San Francisco; 4) Meet best friend for yoga/dinner. My full to-do list probably has 12 things on it. But those three are at the top, and at most they eat up 45 minutes to an hour of the work day. I easily lose that much time in mindlessly cruising the Interwebs. By allowing myself these drive-by indulgences, I’m less likely to rebel against and bail on the other items on the to-do list.

So, now that I’m out of the closet and publicly owning my Self-Care routine, I can say, it’s the best I’ve felt in years. I’m better focused, I’m kinder to my kids and my husband, and I feel a strong sense of actually living my life, instead of constantly feeling like I’ve been shot out of a cannon.

Kurt Vonnegut famously said, “We are on earth to fart around. Don’t let anybody tell you any different.” Ladies, I think he was onto something.

Rothko and Me, Sittin' in a Tree

Rothko-Orange_and_Red+ I’ve always loved modern art museums.

The minute I walk in and feel the cool openness of the halls, the minimalism, the quiet, it makes me feel like I’ve come to church – in the best possible way.

(In fact, for me it was the SF MOMA and walking the sculpture garden at Yerba Buena that was the final straw that made the camel move North over 20 years ago)

There’s something about the modern art vibe that feels like home.  The crazy, the uncertainty of it all.  The fact that the artists use titles that don’t tell you anything about their paintings except the general color.

These guys and gals have no interest in notions of right and wrong, their only interest is to show what their minds are perceiving through the lens of their hearts, fears and often their wounds.  In fact, the folks that came after Surrealists (Materialists?) took exception with the fact that the Surrealist artists represented their work as in a “dream” state.  The Materialists were like, “No. This is real. It’s form.  It’s no dream.”  It’s way out there and I just love it.

When I look at great modern art that speaks to me, it’s because of the feelings it stirs up.  Most of the time I can’t even identify the feeling.  I just know it’s there.

But today, when I walked into the Phillips Collection in Washington, D.C., for the first time in my life, I actually burst into tears at the sight of a painting.

Let me provide some context.  I’ve been away from my children and husband for 4 nights and five days, which is about a day or two longer than I normally allow for business travel.  During those 4 nights and 5 days, I’ve had one exhilarating meeting after another, and very little sleep in between (hotel sleep is never ideal).  So, I guess I would describe my state as satisfied, but worn and a little fragile.

So I had 2 hours open to grab something to eat and whatever else I could squeeze in.  I googled “Modern Art Museum DC” and got the Phillips Collection.  I was in huge luck: Duncan Phillips and his wife/artist Marjorie Acker were responsible for supporting and encouraging some of the most important modern artists in history.  Many of these artists were living in real poverty, and might have been lost to us were it not for the patronage of the Phillips family.  So I was inclined to feel some instant love of this place, this family, these American artists… the special exhibit was called Made In America.

All was going swimmingly as I sauntered alone through the gallery high on espresso, fresh off of an exciting workshop I gave to a women’s group, taking in the Grandma Moses, Georgia O’Keeffe, the lovely Calder pieces, and lots of names I knew I should know but don’t. I was happy as a clam at high tide.

But when I got to a sneaky little gem in that gallery called “The Rothko Room,” I fell apart.  Only 6 people are allowed at a time in the little room, and it has 4 walls, each with a painting. Big Rothkos, not the smaller ones.  I got to the very first one, Orange and Red On Red, and Mark Rothko sunk his meat hooks into my chest, and next thing I know, I’m crying quietly while the nice people of Washington D.C. tried to give me my space.

I’ve always liked Rothko’s work because it’s always a little jarring, but in this particular state of sleepless exhaustion and emotional weariness, I finally understood the great risk it took for Mark Rothko to paint this kind of thing, this Orange and Red on Red.

Imagine how early on, many of the less modern-friendly art establishment just saw blocks of color, no clear edges to them.  Even today, so many of us might just see this effort as a pretentious unwillingness to say something specific.  But I swear in that moment I could feel that painting as a kind of vulnerability, and a specificity of a mental state. A moment in time.  I mean it made me weep for Chrissakes. And I marveled at the derision and ridicule he must have experienced as he started out in the world with his rectangles and color blocks.

So why the tears?   The nearest I can figure is this:  Isn’t this our story too? The greatest risk we ever take is to show up and reveal ourselves, our ambition, our perception of how things are, and our pain and history?  But every now and then, we accept the risk of self-revelation because the experience and the expression itself is totally worth the ridicule.  Whether that risk is opening our mouths to sing, or speaking up even when emotion makes our voices shake.

This Rothko room to me was a safe haven for any of us willing to simply put “it” out there in a world full of commentary, judgment and cleverness.  And to do so without apology or any sign of backing down.

So what does one do after a good cry in public in front of a fairly familiar looking Rothko painting?  One marches down to the gift shop and purchases a cheesy replica of  Orange and Red on Red, one orders a nice bowl of soup and small cesar salad, and puts on sunglasses to hide the embarrassing signs of an emotional reaction, that’s what.  But that cheesy replica (which I will guard like a she-wolf as people try and cover it with suitcases in the overhead bins on the flight home) will remind me that risk taking and honest self expression, while it may seem shocking and new to me as I experience it in each manifestation and each moment… it is hardly new.  My boy Mark will remind me of that every time I glance at it in my office, where it will take its rightful place next to my print of Marilyn Monroe lifting barbells.

(Sorry, Mark, wherever you are.  Sometimes your artistic risk leads you into the proliferation of cheap copies that live in a museum gift shop, and then move into suburban America.  Such is the nature of risk I guess.)

But I will be forever grateful for these risk takers, and grateful for the moment of emotional rawness that lead me to shed a tear for a piece of art far away from home.  If that wasn’t on my bucket list, it should have been.

All Souls

Last night I had a moment of surrender. I finally had to use the reading glasses I swore I'd never use.  I have been avoiding this for some time now, thanks to my Kindle. I have it set to HUGE FONT so it makes reading really easy on my eyes.  But I bought a real book at a real book store, and was appalled by the small type.  

It’s amazing how in one moment you’re a teenager, weeping over the total lack of control you have over your life, and then the next moment, you’re leaning into 40, looking at your sleeping children, and realizing that the reading glasses you swore you’d never wear allow your eyes focus on that wonderful book for a bit longer.

When I really stop and think about it, it’s such a privilege to experience such a mind blowing range of emotions, situations, of highs and lows in this lifetime.

I visited my Aunt Susan two days ago with my mom.  Susan is in hospice care, in the final stages of surrender to cancer after a very long, very brave battle.  I went into it thinking I would handle it just fine… after all, when I volunteered at the hospital, I loved visiting with people who were just about to be ushered out of this life and into the next.  Things are so real with these people. There’s no small talk. There is only presence.  I figured, “I’ve got this.” I will admit to some smug feelings of superiority over my mom as we pulled up to the house.  I’ve got this.

I didn’t have it.

It was exactly as my former mentor at O’Connor Hospital, Fr Basil, once told me: “Remember, you are not the holy one administering to the sick. They are the holy ones administering to you, teaching you something very profound about the nature of suffering, surrender and facing the ultimate fear.  Remove your sandals. You are on holy ground.”

When it was a stranger I was administering to, it was so much easier to be in full possession of my spiritual tools of being a quiet, peaceful presence in the room.  At the hospital, I always seemed to know what to say, how to say it, and when to not say anything at all.

But Susan is someone I know and love.  Someone who is part of our family, mother to my two precious cousins. Wife to my Uncle Dennis, who has been a part of my life in a big way for 40 years.  I was speechless. Dumb struck.  Unable to do anything but let my mom and Uncle guide us through the visit.

Coming into contact with Susan means stepping into an empathy that required me to imagine what it must feel like to know you only have a few weeks left. That you have to say goodbye to your children. Your husband.  This beautiful, broken world.

Just typing those words makes my heart swell and ache at how precious it all really is, and how I bumble through it half high on caffeine, totally disconnected from its unfolding gifts.  So absorbed with finding the right radio station I miss the scattering of pink clouds stretched out across a sky that goes on forever.

Such a visit should make me silent, listening… waiting and welcoming life in any form it takes – the sound of those squirrels twittering outside to each other… the moments when my children put on their Halloween costumes, giggling and wild.

Such a visit should bring me to a place of such gratitude for the life I’m still living. Visiting Susan should bring me to my knees in sorrow for the life she’s leaving behind.

But I was in possession of none of that, just a vague knowing that I had little to offer except my being physically there and that I came bearing raviolis from La Villa Deli and a very decent bottle of Pinot.

My mom on the other hand…  She was gentle, quiet, allowed Susan to dictate the rules of engagement.  She told Susan stories only when Susan expressed an interest in hearing them.  And when Susan was tired, my mom picked up on that too, and shuffled us out of the room.

As I get older, there are so many sneak attack feelings of superiority over my parents.  I don’t intend to have them, but they just show up with their air of sophistication and I fall for them every time.  Age brings with it experience, and sometimes I mistake 40 years of acquired experiences for wisdom.  My mom’s grace was a revelation to me.  Susan’s total peaceful surrender to her situation, and presence of mind and ability to connect with me one-on-one to say goodbye… to tell me how proud she is of who I’ve become… My Uncle’s ability to keep his sense of humor through the small, grim, real acts of tending to the mother of his children who is dying… these are behaviors I can’t even begin to approach in my current state.  These behaviors remind me of how far I have to go to get beyond an embryonic state of humanness.

I am only capable of witnessing it all play out in front of me.  I am only capable of hoping that when the time comes, I’ll be in possession of such grace.   Today, I’m only capable of getting my kids dressed for Halloween without making it a problem.

Today I’m only capable of being fully awake to the fun of walking around the neighborhood behind these little people, clutching my glass of wine, chirping at my best friend Naomi who always comes with her family on this night every year, knowing that my husband is watching all of us with his wonderful diligence and carefulness.

Wherever you are, dear reader, may you and I do these small things with great love and great attention.   May we be brought to our knees in appreciation for this incredible gift of October 31st, 2013.

This sweet moment, my enemy.

Image By far, the sweetest part of my day happens around 7:15am.  I come home from exercising, I pickup the sippy cup full of warm milk at the top of the stairs that my husband has prepared for our sleeping son, Luca, and I walk into his bedroom.  He’s usually standing in the crib gripping the sides, waiting to be scooped up, hopping from one leg to the other.  After a quick diaper change (during which I struggle not to eat every single one of his toes) I take him into our big bed and snuggle him while he drinks his milk.  I can hear the water running in the shower as my husband gets ready for work.

The feeling of comfort, love and peace of this ritual is almost more than I can take.

In fact, I noticed this morning how difficult it is to “be” with these moments of total joy and satisfaction.   Of course it's difficult to hang with the negative emotions, but it wasn’t until this morning that I realize it’s also hard to stay present to the positive ones.

Initially I feel the oozing of joy, and within a few seconds, I'm already thinking, “soon he’ll want to wrestle and throw pillows around, and this perfect, quiet moment will be over.” And just like that, I've missed the moment.

Yesterday was another perfect example. We were at our community garden, reaping an unreal bounty of veggies, and I was weeding happily.  I could hear the girls playing and giggling in a mud patch, and Luca ran up to me and threw his arms around me, and said, “I lub you mama.”  I was swept up in such a powerful moment of melancholy… how could this perfect joy possibly last?  Don’t all children grow up and move on?  Aren’t we always left behind?  Isn’t that what success looks like for a parent?

Only I would ruin such a perfectly sweet moment with the dual-side airbag of sadness and nostalgia for stuff that is barely happening now, let alone 11 years from now when my oldest daughter leaves for college.

How on earth do we stay present to this moment – even in our joy? I’m afraid to allow my heart to swell… because on the other side of swelling is diminishing.  The opposite of expansion is contraction.  I tell myself the lie that if I don’t swell too much, the deflation will be less painful.

How do we find the courage to allow our hearts to be blown to smithereens by the experience of this life?  From the moments of aching joy, to the moments of appalling suffering?

To admit to the highs and lows is to admit to how fleeting this whole Earth School thing is.  And if I’m being really honest with myself, I love this life so much, I never want it to end, and end it absolutely will.

This must be what Dr. Brene Brown means when she calls us to live with courage – not with an absence of fear, but engaging in this life with our whole hearts, knowing that it does come to an end.  And experiencing every moment anyway.

Hopefully I can be brave enough to savor tomorrow’s ritual, and not be tempted to mourn the loss of the gift I’m still enjoying.

HelloFlo: Am I the only one not laughing?

Screen Shot 2013-08-07 at 3.25.46 PM Judging by my Facebook feed, I may be the only woman I know who isn't laughing at the new ad for HelloFlo.  HelloFlo is a "period starter kit" that provides young gals with all of the equipment they need to get through their first period or three.  Not a bad concept, really.

Don't get me wrong.  Normally I'm a huge fan of irreverence, sass and calling a spade a spade.  But something really bothers me about this ad.  (Warning: Man friends, you may hear more about this subject than you want to if you keep reading. But you are more than welcome to read on.)

I have two daughters (7 and 5) and because there is very little privacy in my house, they are all too aware of my "cycles."  Back when they were first able to converse about this I make a conscious decision to re-message what periods could mean to this new generation of girls, two of whom are living with me.

Instead of making it all about the hassle, the embarrassment of "accidents" and the aches, I figured I would focus instead on two things: 1) the meaning behind the bleeding and 2) the opportunity to care for ourselves a bit more carefully during this time of the month.

Meaning Behind the Bleeding?

It is certainly true that I don't love that time of the month.  But it is also true that fertility is a power so essential, we would be extinct without it.  A woman's ability to grow a new human is still considered an astonishing miracle - even in the age of Google Glass and self-driving vehicles.  Women the world over who possess the gift of fertility out-perform Michelangelo...  The Sistine Chapel is nothing compared to the sweet perfection of a newborn child.  So, yeah, once a month we women have to clean house and get ready for the next cycle of possibility.  Seems like a small price to pay.

And if that "possibility" isn't one we are open to, we make choices that align with that, and when it is something we are open to, we make a different set of choices.  This kind of thinking honors what we are as women, and encourages the kind of thoughts that promote healthy self-esteem in young girls bombarded with hyper-sexualized images starting at age 0.

Slowing Down: A New Badge of Courage?

Unfortunately, given how much I model the celebration of busy-ness in my house (mostly unconsciously), I am grateful that I can also use my cycle as an opportunity to model slowing down.  Get some extra sleep. Say "no" to that invitation I would normally push myself to accept. Not from a place of "poor me!" but from a place of "I choose me today over busy-ness."

So when I saw the ad and the sassy "Camp Gyno" bent over another little girl in fetal position who is mourning the pain of tampon insertion, and listening to Gyno girl say, "This is your life now..." I cringed.  That message might as well have said, "Welcome to hell. Suck it up, little girl..."  As if periods are just another way life is screwing us over.  What a welcome to womanhood, right?

Instead, can we celebrate the seasonality of what IS?  Can we be honest that, yes, it's inconvenient, but it also has meaning and purpose, and here's how you take care of yourself during this time?  To me it seems like insanity to hate something that is such a part of who we are, and then drive ourselves crazy with grief once we are too old to experience it.  Am I alone on this?

So to the folks at HelloFlo - I am thrilled to see us talking about menstruation in a way that is out of the shadows, but did you have to make it seem so hideous?