Did You Have Fun?

Opportunities vs. Obligations

I strive to give myself the gift of peace and spaciousness. I seek to complete only those tasks that are truly necessary. Freeing myself from the responsibility to do things simply because other people expect them. I am making space for the connections that fuel and fill my heart. I am focusing on reciprocity.

Perhaps you do this too? Where you work so hard to please others or to be “kind,” that you sometimes find yourself overstepping your boundaries. You realize suddenly you’re giving more than your fair share to projects, work, to social engagements. Involvement in clubs, groups, or events snowballs quickly. We are taken out of the moment, distracted with planning, orchestrating, and completing tasks. These obligations can keep us from being fully present. 

Not every dinner or occasion deserves to be treated like a diplomatic engagement. Not every event requires choreographed time tables, speeches, and appropriate attire, decor, and entertainment. These are all unnecessary extras that keep us busy rather than give us the freedom to engage. We get caught up in minutia. “Is it time for cake?” “Does everyone have a plate?” “Are we out of ice?” that we completely miss the milestone events that we were hoping to celebrate in the first place.

I have lost countless birthday parties and luncheons in the ethos of control and making it so nice for everyone else that I forget to enjoy myself. One question that stops me in my tracks, “Did you have fun?” The question is so simple but if I truly reflect on the event – the decor and seating arrangements were lovely, the setting and scenery were beautiful, all of it was an exercise in elegance and loveliness. But did I have fun? Or was I sitting on pins and needles because I wanted to impress other people? By asking this question I am making the distinction between is this event an opportunity for fun or is it an obligation?

I have a new practice to conside first, if I am enjoying myself or if I am simply performing kindness because I wish to be perceived as kind. I no longer wish to engage in situations wherein I am not having fun. If I am not treated well or find the people who will be in attendance anything less than delightful, kind, or welcoming – I’ll simply stay home or find an alternative. It is sad to miss events where some of the people I like and admire will be present but I would much rather be true to myself and honest about what I’m feeling than put a mask on and pretend when truly I am uncomfortable and on edge. 

Being excited to be somewhere and having a good time are two different things. I am grateful that I am learning the difference as I age. This way I am able to build and craft the life that I want. I have learned to put myself first and stop placing myself in uncomfortable or undesirable situations simply because it will make someone else happy. I have no interest in putting others first at a cost to myself. It is a new day and I am making time for me and mine, everything else is icing. 

Pacing Yourself vs. Urgency

Living with a sense of urgency can be a great motivator. The trick is to be sure that the urgency you feel is yours and not imposed upon you. Today there were a lot of situations in my day that created haste and while many came from outside influences, some came from within myself. Many of us thrive in a frenzied state of urgent action. And while that frenetic energy serves to make us more productive, it is important to consider if it best serves you before acting on it. Personally, I do my best work at a slower pace. I am my most authentic self when I take a minute to breathe and be me first.

Urgency while necessary, and important to meet deadlines, in some cases does not serve me well – it leads to sloppy mistakes and extra stress. Knowing myself and paying attention to how I feel I’ve noticed that for me slow and steady wins the race. Whether you prefer the fast pace or the slow build it is important to remember that we are not in competition with anyone else. We are not required to prove ourselves or our worth. Each of us has unique and beautiful worth already. We do not require permission or attention for this to be true. Each of us is moving forward on our own path. Remember we do not require guidance or support from those that would have us run ragged for their benefit. In fact, let’s hope our work misses them completely. I hope to draw to myself only those people that nurture and enhance my wellbeing.

I read an interesting quote this week, “If you are the smartest person in the room, you are in the wrong room.” The wisdom here is to be attentive to how we feel in a space and discern if it is meant for us. We can always choose to leave. We do not exit out of self-doubt or insecurity but with a deep understanding of self and the realization that there is somewhere more fitting for us and our work. Don’t stay in the wrong room out of obligation, indebtedness, or for anyone else. Find the best room for you, it is where you will thrive.

If you do find yourself in the wrong room or find the pace of life a little too urgent, I hope you’ll give yourself the gift of recovery and reflection. Sometimes the fastest way forward is standing still and paying attention. We can charge full speed ahead and waste a lot of time walking down the wrong paths or into the wrong rooms. Take your time and follow your heart, it somehow already knows where you want to go.*

*That last line is from Steve Jobs’ Commencement Speech for Stanford graduates in 2005.

The Dawning of a New Day

Today is the first day of President Biden and Vice President Harris’s administration and I can feel myself cracking open. It is as finding an oasis in the desert. The tender shoots of spring are finally peeking out from under a blanket of snow. The last four years have been heavy, a burden on our minds, hearts, and heads. There will be those that seek and destroy the evils that have been unleashed in our nation but much like Pandora’s box, hope remains. And today I am feeling hope melt into the spaces that fear, disappointment, and lies had occupied during the previous administration.

The words I wish to share: freedom, confidence, trust, resilience, and hope. Hope that we are exactly where we are intended to be in the world, that our leaders will carry the torch of justice and equity into their daily works and that these United States will be re-anointed with the support of our allies and friends in the world. We have driven back the darkness for one more day. 

Once again we have been reminded of the fragility of democracy. More clearly than ever we see the necessary exercise of investing time and attention into whom we elect and why. The arrival of Biden an Harris is not an end to political discord or challenge, for we must continue to fight for those things we believe in and want most from our government and elected leaders. However, it is an end of our federal executive’s support for hate and fear mongering. We are not what we fear, we are not what we hate. This nation is made up of what we love, what we hope, and what we dream. Our most powerful dreams and the idea that we are free, nee obligated, to pursue them is a concept that is uniquely American.

We are selfish and spoiled, self-focused and obsessed. But we are not evil, we are not consumed by hatred. We are still a young nation and every youth rebels and rejects what is known in an attempt to find what fits. We have learned from this rebellion, this white supremacist attack on our collective beliefs and our Capitol building, that we are not what we hate. Those rioters sought to destroy, threaten, and steal that which belongs to the people, to all of us. They did not succeed. 

Sadly, lives were lost and harm was done – looting, violence, the damage to our collective consciousness. However yesterday a new dawn broke through, a new President and Vice President were sworn in, a Youth National Poet Laureate shook us to our roots, and voices raised in song celebrated our Nation’s new victory over threats to our democracy.

I was particularly struck the the words of the oath of office, “against threats both foreign and domestic.” Not even a sentence, often a blip we skim over to get to the seriousness of business. This week those words felt necessary, the gravity of their intention clear, the duty of our elected officials is to serve the people and to do their best to serve the best interests of our nation. 

Today as my heart is cracking open, as I feel the need to wash the last four years out of my hair. I remember only the lessons, the all too important and easily forgotten message, we are in this together. Today is a new and shining day. There is hope. We have each other and we will move forward stronger and more certain in our roles as citizens, public servants, and as one Nation Under God, Indivisible, with Liberty and Justice for All.

Farewell 2020

It’s the dawn of a New Year and I am grateful. I think we’re all grateful to have made it through 2020 and to be able to move on to a new year. As Anne of Green Gables would say, a day “with no mistakes in it yet.” Where usually New Years feels like a bittersweet holiday, bathed in fond memories and champagne soaked hopes for what is to come. This year feels like the end of a gauntlet. Those of us able to celebrate are a fortunate few and even smaller is the circle of those of us given the opportunity to carry our health and happiness into a new year.

This year rather than focusing on where we are going so many of us are thinking of what we have endured and overcome to get here. In conversations with friends I have noticed the temptation to hedge toward negativity as each of us is touched by disease and loss. Or as we measure our words to be sure we are not offending or doing harm to those who are suffering or impacted more severely by the disease in our midst. And really, this is a gift. Where before our bluster and busy made no room for kindness or consideration now all of our emails include, “I hope this finds you well,” or “I hope you and yours are healthy and safe.” Phrases that hit a lot like empty “Thoughts and Prayers,” if they are not backed by sincerity. And really, that is a gift that COVID has given each of us, sincerity. We mean what we say. We care that our coworkers, friends, and neighbors and their loved ones are healthy and happy.

And maybe there are those of us who valued and appreciated the health and wellbeing of others all along, I only hope they welcome those of us who have not always been so considerate into their ranks. 

I deliberately make gratitude a daily practice in my life and this year has been no exception. My hopes for the year to come have not been tempered by tragedy or limited by circumstance. If anything, my expectations are higher, my dreams larger, and my vision flooded with goals and opportunities. This year as we press forward, carrying our wounded and battered hearts, I am grateful for sincere good wishes and that we have one more year to make an effort to be more whole, helpful, and engaged with those we love in our lives. May you and yours be happy, healthy, and safe. Love you. Mean it.

Auld Lange Syne playing on a loop.

The Gifts of 2020

None of us has gone untouched by the challenges of 2020, the daily winnowing away of routines, habits, and traditions seems to have only prepared us for greater losses. The beginning felt like a reprieve as all who could delighted in new work-from-home schedules and mandated vacations from the regular routines we had all grown weary of performing. All of our rituals were altered and perhaps at first, at least for me, it felt like a generous unburdening. A relief from birthday parties, practices, and meetings. Having a reason not to attend was a gift.

Of course the balance to this was the new sensation of impending doom and fear that began to encroach on the periphery of my reality. But these things felt minor, so far away from the material shifts happening in my daily life that they stayed on the edges of my awareness. Yet, as I recreated normalcy and cobbled a routine into the new life that COVID pressed upon us all that fear edged its way ever closer to my camp fire, ever nearer to the heart of my home, family, and personal life. But even as this specter stalked us in our waking nightmares it brought with it gifts and new opportunities that before its arrival none of us could imagine. 

This sounds a bit like a fairy tale, a little scary but etched with hope and golden strands of magic woven into each image. And in a way it is, for me at least. Recently I have taken time to consider what gifts 2020 has brought to me and found my list quite long. And therefore, I have decided to break up these unexpected gifts into several posts. I cannot forge into 2021 without the tools that 2020 gave me, it would be foolish to leave behind the skills we have in order to search for those we desire. And therefore as we enter 2021 it will be with strength and endurance forged in the fire of 2020 – there is no hotter kiln and there are no weak warriors. And just as I am grateful for the education and experience that brought me to where I am in life, I am grateful for all I have learned and gained in 2020. There is much I did not know that I needed but now realize it leaves me prepared to forge ahead into the unknown with confidence and courage.

What gifts of 2020 do you most value? What sacrifices have impacted you most?

Finding Reasons to Get Up in the Morning

I took a couple weeks over the holidays off from work, my initial goal was to get bored. But on day two I found myself uninspired to get out of bed. Which in my personal opinion is not a sign that I am doing what is healthy for myself. My revised goal is at some point during the day to write down five items I hope to accomplish in the following day. Nothing aggressive, like world peace, but five small things I can do to give myself purpose and a reason to get up.

My strategy is as follows: 

  1. One item that requires I get dressed and showered. Ideally, one outing where I see a friend for a socially distant outdoor visit. Even if it is a brief delivery in the garage, anything that requires I leave my home and dress appropriately gives me something to look forward to and prepare for by getting ready.
  2. A shared activity for my family. It may be baking cookies, a zoom date with the grandparents, or building a snowman but some project that includes all of us.
  3. Something productive – writing this blog for instance or posting something to social media. Returning an email or organizing a drawer. Any item that feels amazing once it is complete.
  4. A meal I am excited to prepare, possibly an old recipe or a new one I have yet to try. (Cocktail recipes count!) This is also helpful as it produces left-overs and saves me the trouble of figuring out lunch the following day… maybe not the cocktails, we never seem to have any leftovers of those. Do you?
  5. One activity that is all about me and caring for myself. This includes reading a book, watching whatever show I am currently into (Downton Abbey – no spoilers!), or adding a mask to my usual skincare routine. 

These aren’t large steps but I’m seeing now that I want to include something done for another person, doing something alone with my partner, and yet, this means the list is working because by adding those ideas I am already finding additional goals and purpose. I am finding my reasons to wake up – both literally and figuratively to my priorities.

What are you doing to stay motivated? What’s getting you up and out of bed each morning? These days can be Groundhog Days and if we’re not careful we fall into a slump and as Dr. Seuss reminds us, “Unslumping yourself is not easily done.”

Every Voice but My Own

Sheltering in place has me scrolling social media, curating Pinterest boards for homes I do not own, shopping for items I will not buy, and reading articles on topics I am not particularly interested in – anyone care to discuss the parasitic symbiosis of a fish and a creature that eats and then becomes its tongue, feeding on the fish’s blood supply until death, neither creature seemingly harmed by the relationship?

This information while relevant to those studying marine biology or fascinated by fish and wildlife, which I suppose now includes me, may have use for this data. I on the other hand, do not. Yet, I start investigating what this means for my future in underwater discovery and research. I just wanted a distraction, not a new life’s purpose, but this is where I am in life. Any opportunity that reeks of change, purpose, excitement beyond these four walls is calling to me. I am desperate for adventure and any piper with a tune I am following.

I’m reading books on flight, Africa, and adventure. The inspiration is mounting but there is little room for expression. This summer I took a painting class and was delighted with the results. Now that we’re spiking I am cozy at home but desperate for an opportunity to put my creative mind to work.

So what am I doing? What meaning can I make of this research that seems to have no purpose but distraction? I am going to choose to look at this as an opportunity. I will consider this time my hibernation period. “Nothing blooms all year,” and the whole idea that we must rest in order to recover. And we are recovering from consumerism, peer pressure, and the endless news cycle. I have a neighbor whose television is on the entire time he is awake, he is constantly distracted and perhaps he believes himself to be informed. I know this because gazing out the window is another fruitless activity I have taken up in the absence of personal obligations and to-do items. 

But here’s this, I don’t have to wallow, and I don’t have to christen or anoint myself in the wave of other people’s thoughts. I do not have to scroll or be bombarded by the information that though available brings no value into my life. I have begun my process for 2021 resolutions. It has included curating my Pinterest goals and eliminating every fleeting suggestion – chakras, townhouses in DC, etc. – is being ruthlessly and intentionally cut out. 

Because here’s the deal, social media and mindless entertainment are a lot like that parasitic creature. They devour our tongues and replace them with their own. Our ideas are translated into meme’s that someone else created and while they do not match exactly our interpretations of the world, they are close enough that we allow them to suffice. And without opportunity to deliberately reflect on our own experiences, our imaginings and thoughts are overwhelmed by the screaming voice of the media we consume. Some days the ideas of others comfort and console us, other times as now when I feel compelled to scroll multiple times a day there is no new information only wallowing. The symbiotic relationship is not working for this fish.

Therefore I am embracing the inspiration – travel to Africa and Alaska remain, but the various other topics and ideas that do not spark joy or interest when I revisit their links will be cut. I am making space for my own voice, for the song my heart is singing, for the ideas still percolating in my mind. It is informative to learn about new topics but I am releasing myself from the obligation to scroll for news articles, or the approval of other voices to bolster my still fledgling opinions or ideas. Today I will paint and I will create. I will use my time to write this piece rather than reading someone else’s. And I will listen to the silence, my own still small voice and hope in the quiet it will finally have the courage to sing.

Out in the Cold

I just stood outside in the cold for an hour – and it was glorious. I ran into an acquaintance while out and stopped to chat under a sporadic and flickering street light reminiscent of a horror film. Having not seen her in nearly a year and living in the midst of covid there was much to say. But more than what was said there was an incredible feeling of being seen, making connection, and communing with another human being. At any other point in life I would have rushed through the greeting, dancing on the fine line between polite pleasantries, a comedic back and forth, and end scene. Now, these commonplace moments are not so common and I cling to them desperately. 

As Kurt Vonnegut said, “I tell you, we are here on Earth to fart around, and don’t let anybody tell you any different.” And he’s absolutely right, I’m just sorry it took a pandemic for me to learn it, although in fairness, don’t we all learn this lesson post-retirement anyway? This fact has been right in front of us all along and I for one, have been completely annoyed and ignorant of the beauty until covid struck, and took all of my other, “more important,” things away. 

The beauty of farting around is something my Dad has known all my life, as I have been told on several occasions, on the bus, in line at the grocery store, “It must be so cool to have him for your Dad.” And I agree, because I love my dad, and I’m not a monster, who disagrees with someone in line to buy produce? Isn’t that one of the unspoken societal laws we all agree to in civilized society? We make small talk about weather, compliment each other’s nails or hair, and ask where did you find the oranges? As if they were not located in the same precarious pile they have always been in for eons in every grocery store since the beginning of time. And would be impolite to deny such simple pleasures and conversation. But the beauty of seeing a kids jersey and asking about the game, noticing a harried parent and offering a word of comfort, or seeing a cake and offering a “happy birthday,” that’s the connection piece my dad has known all along.

I learned this basic truth standing in long lines at the post office with my grandfather. At 19 I was bored and annoyed to inch up a foot just to get closer to the surly clerk in order to ask a question that easily could have been answered with a Google search. My grandfather looked forward to these trips – To The Post Office – as if he were visiting an old friend. He always left with extra stamps, many that would never be used, extra bins and priority shipping containers that he would delight in bringing back with precious cargo the following week for customers who purchased items from his small business. The man loved to chat and would ache for the opportunity to talk someone’s ear off. Now that’s an exaggeration because the person in conversation with him was fascinated and engaged… his children and grandchildren were dying slowly on the nearest bench, willing the time to pass, this moment to end so they could get to whatever we thought was only slightly more important or interesting. We didn’t listen to the stories, we’d heard them so many times, and yet, now that he’s gone, I wonder what his opinion was and what he said to get a reaction or make a friend, or a sale.

Because I now take unspeakable joy from the interactions I share with friends and strangers alike. I value the moments, cherish the time, and I stand in the elements in a darkened parking lot as my toes freeze one by one in the 32 degrees with pleasure. Sitting in my car now, as each one prickles with anger at my behavior and comes back to life I feel grateful and truly alive. The strange realization creeps in, like a dog on hardwoods, we were always supposed to enjoy these interactions. We were always supposed to take the time to chat. There is nowhere more important than here and there is no-one more important than the one we are with right now. This is what it means to be alive and engaged with life. Standing in a church parking lot, talking to an old friend for so long it hurts, farting around and feeling enraptured with joy at the opportunity to do it. 

Thanksgiving with Alice

Lately I’ve been feeling behind, like I’m chasing something just out of my grasp. A lot of it is COVID and the strange twilight we are all living in that isn’t just time change, political change, or fall – not of the patriarchy this time, autumn. Life is missing the creature comforts of connection, a good friend’s laugh, the simple pleasure of sending your children out into the yard to play and trusting they will be safe, are all riddled with guilt and implications. Our lives are also lacking something to look forward to, the promise of a new and better day.

And that is what is out of my grasp; groundedness, faith, trust, and balance. I’m not rushing to be anywhere and yet feel the ticking of time. Have we quarantined for 14 days? When was our last trip to the store?

This space is intended to create room and reserve attention for peace, hopefulness, and growth. It is designed to be light and optimistic but sitting by the window looking out at naked trees and a grey rainy day I am reminded that dark days and rest are a necessary part of life. For spring to come and flowers to bloom, there must be time to nourish and be at rest. There must be time for rain and cold and stillness. And that is the meaning I’ve been seeking.

This Thanksgiving will be a holiday unlike any I have spent before. From childhood it has been a day of long drives and the refrain, “You can get anything you want, excepting Alice, at Alice’s Restaurant,” inexplicably playing on the car radio annually despite my never hearing this song any other time of year or in any other place. It is a time for crowded tables, family gossip, and dinner twice in one day – usually.

Tomorrow will begin a new tradition something quieter, a day of stillness instead of movement. A day of familiar songs, maybe Pandora will find Alice’s Restaurant magically tomorrow too, I’ll put on a Thanksgiving playlist and see what happens. Instead of chasing after anything or anyone just beyond my grasp, I will be holding dear the people in my family unit and truly listen to their words, the pillars of my home and my life celebrated exactly where I always find them, surrounding our dinner table.

Happy New Year, Diwali Squirrels

On Saturday mornings I go to the woods… well actually it’s a cemetery, but there are woods surrounding it. This counts, in my book. Today the woods are quiet, the past few weeks the wind and trees were raining leaves and sounds through the world. Today only a few hardy leaves drift down to the tree floor carpeted in natural debris. Tree trunks rise up like skeletons, bones deprived of beauty and ornamentation… one cemetery reference and this is where the imagery takes you!

The sun is shining and today I am just overwhelmed with sticky gratitude. Joy for the seasons change, the thrill of sighting of wild animal in their habitat.

Last week I watched a squirrel skitter up the side of a tree and dive down into a pile of leaves repeatedly. Each time recklessly flinging itself into the rustling leaves then flashing to the tree bark to make sure I had not used its distraction as an opportunity to close the distance between us. The exercise was repeated for several minutes until it determined I was not a bloodthirsty predator hungry for squirrels and felt bold enough to cuss me out. I got the point and walked on leaving it to enjoy the fall without having to keep looking over its shoulder.

Today is Diwali and after last night’s celebrations, fireworks, chai, samosas, and good friends, it truly feels like New Year’s Day. I’m sleepy, reflective, and hungover but in a satisfying way that is the essence of mid-30’s life. In this new year I hope to live more wildly and wholeheartedly. To follow the example of a foul mouthed squirrel and dare to have fun, even in the face of unknown danger. I want to live for the moment and if a negative force looms tell it to move on in no uncertain terms. There is fun to be had here and I am going to live it!

Isn’t that what visiting cemeteries is all about anyway?