Thursday, March 31, 2011


Our words carry power. I often forget this, throwing around my words in a cavalier and reckless manner, failing to realize that I have the power to encourage or devastate with the words I choose to say. I try to be so careful in certain situations not to be offensive or to hurt people, and then I end up neglecting to monitor what is coming out of my mouth.

Words can serve as many things: a bridge to reach another person, a knife to cut a hole in another's heart, or a balm to soothe and encourage someone who is defeated. I know I would prefer not to wound others by what I say, but so many times I'm simply unaware of the power of my own words, and I need to be more careful.

I can see in my children's faces when my words have hurt them. I vowed to never be that parent who doesn't listen when my kids are talking, but the reality of parenting is that we all do this. We nod, raise our eyebrows slightly and say "mmm...." when our kids are telling us something, because we are checking e-mail or talking on the phone or measuring flour into cookies or thinking about anything other than what is urgent for our children at that exact moment.

The other day I responded absently to William, who turned my face to him with his chubby little hand, and said, "Mom, you aren't listening to what I'm saying." It was as if the fog cleared and I heard what he said and gave him a decent answer, not a throwaway one. It's simply not possible to listen to every word out of our children's mouths, but I want to be more alert in this area. I want them to know that what they say is important to me, and be more aware of the power of my words in their young and impressionable memories.

With my husband, I often forget that a kind word, or a grateful one, goes a long way to building and maintaining trust and companionship in our relationship. It's easy to criticize and complain, and much harder to build up and encourage, but the way we speak to each other determines the emotional temperature in our home. If I sow kindness and love into my words when I speak to Jason, I reap the same thing in return. If I treat him badly, and take out my frustrations on our relationship, it breeds distrust and hostility, and I don't want to live with that on a daily basis.

With my friends and extended family, I also want to step up when it comes to what I say. Tone can easily be misconstrued in the electronic age we are living in, and it's important to choose our words with care, and possibly follow up in person or on the phone to ensure that we are understanding each other and not mistaking honesty for sarcasm, or vice versa.

We all say stupid things from time to time and have to apologize for them. It's part of the human condition. But once words are said, they can never be unsaid, and holes can be torn in relationships which must be mended. I'm learning to be more careful with what I say, and to err on the side of kindness instead of meanness wherever possible. Our words have the power to raise up or to tear down at any given moment, and I plan to be more aware of this fact in the days and weeks to come.

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Winter to Spring

Every day brings new possibilities. Even when one day stinks, every fresh sunrise provides a new opportunity. The weather is improving and I would like to think my outlook is brightening with it, but that doesn't seem to be the case. I feel melancholy for no discernible reason. And maybe I don't need to put my finger on the why. Part of what I'm learning to do in this season is simply feel emotions which have been forcibly buried for too long.

Part of embracing who I am is accepting that my feelings come and go with a viciousness that terrifies me. I would prefer to have control over how I feel, good or bad, and I tried to manufacture that for most of my life to this point. Now I am working to reconcile who I am with how I feel at any given time, and it can change so quickly that I lose all sense of gravity and balance.

Staying frozen in my feelings was one way I exerted control over myself, but that deep freeze also translated to the good things. I know that the depth of joy I can feel is directly proportionate to the range of sadness I allow myself to experience. I anesthetized myself in many different ways before, and that kept some of the pain at bay, but it also forced me to stay at arm's length from the kind of happiness which bubbles up and provides a lightness in our soul.

I have decided that I want to feel more, but that includes being baffled sometimes by the strength of the emotion. There is an element of slowing down and embracing the present moment, without stressing over the past or rushing headlong into the future, which offers a unique window into how you feel at any given time. I'm feeling my way through this new experience, hands outstretched in front of me, the way you feel in a hallway with no windows when the power goes out. It's dark, and unfamiliar, and I'm afraid, but the stakes are too high to quit.

I have to reacquaint myself with my own feelings, and recognize that they may be overwhelming, but eventually the bad stuff passes, and you are left with the good. I'm waiting for that, and I hope to recognize it in a new way, like I have felt the hurt in a much keener sense because I am not running from it anymore. There are worse things than experiencing your own emotions.

I would love to sit on a beach in silence, with a fruity drink, and nothing but my own thoughts so I can work through this stage. The day-to-day push and pull of my life does not allow for this kind of freedom, but I can be patient and gentle with myself, and allow for this work to be completed in its own time. It's not on my time, and I can't rush it through and then check it off my list. It is internal, and important, and not neat in any measurable sense. It is the dead of winter when you are longing for spring, and just when you can't stand being cold another moment, the robins appear and you know that you have made it through once again.

Literally and metaphorically, this is the time period I am in. Winter to spring. Hibernation and hurt to new growth and stirring beauty. We don't get the wonder of spring without the harsh realities of winter. One hinges on the next, and so the seasons turn, in life and in our lives. One set of feelings trades itself for another. Nothing lasts forever, either good or bad, and the only way I know I can survive is to keep walking. Keep hoping. Get from winter to spring.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Risk & Reward

I used to be deeply afraid to risk. The fear of failure loomed so large that it stopped me before I even began. I didn't want to fail, so I didn't try. Not surprisingly, I had a huge gap between my dreams and the reality of what I actually accomplished. I firmly believed in the adages about stepping away from the shore, and nothing ventured, nothing gained, but believing is not the same as doing.

Getting past my fear of failing was the single best thing I've done to progress down the road from dreams to reality. Perfectionism is like a pair of handcuffs, immobilizing you and keeping you stuck. Once in a while, I would get sick of not moving anywhere, and inch my way forward, only to hear that horribly mean voice in my head say, "You can't do this, idiot. Better stay where you are instead of making a fool out of yourself."

Silencing that inner critic freed me up to see that risk and reward are closely related. You don't get one without the other. Successful people aren't actually lucky, they are perseverant, and push through their fear to make it to the other side. For years I fed myself lies about why certain people "made it" and I didn't, but I see now that I was too afraid of risk to reap any of its rewards.

Staying safe might hurt less in the short term, but long term, it's much worse for you. Others move forward and you stay in the same place. I eventually wanted to go somewhere, anywhere, instead of watching everyone else progress while I stayed stuck in the mud. Being perfect is not possible. It's the illusion of water in the desert; a mirage and nothing more. We are all imperfect. It's part of being human.

Shoring up confidence so that we can manage the stress of failure is the best way I know to get ahead in this life. For every success we achieve, there are often a string of failures which preceded it. I've accepted this now and it doesn't upset me like it used to. I don't expect other people to be perfect, so why did I put this on myself for so many years? Making mistakes is incredibly liberating now. I apologize, I learn something, I dust myself off and carry on. And then eventually I see something good come from it.

Taking risks and seeing rewards has changed the fabric of my entire life. It has left no stone unturned. I am completely different now as a result of this long-overdue revelation that perfectionism was killing my dreams in the same way that a deadly disease would attack the body. I know now that failure is not my enemy. That honour belonged to perfectionism, my near-constant companion for most of my life.

Failure is a teacher, and it hurts badly to endure the instruction, but the lessons learned will last a lifetime. Risk is not an option if you want to turn your dreams into a reality. It is a requirement. And when you begin to risk, you will see the reward, provided you don't give up when you fail. And failure is as certain in the process as reward, and will occur often, but it's a sign that you are on your way to reward, as long as you don't quit.

Monday, March 28, 2011

Owned and Had

Henry Ward Beecher said, "What the heart has once owned and had, it shall never lose." I love this statement for its poetry and beauty, but also for its profound truth. When I was younger, I chased tirelessly after material things, believing that if I owned more that I could hold in my hand, I would be happier. Now I know that the opposite is true. The less I own but the more I experience, the more satisfaction I have.

What we own eventually controls us through worry, obligation and stress, among other things. But our feelings and experiences we own for our lifetime, and no one can steal or tarnish or destroy them. They belong to us, and they don't cost anything to maintain, and they bring comfort in the hard times.

It is only recently that I have understood the value of being as present as possible in my life so that I soak up what is going on around me, committing the experience to memory so I do have it forever. I don't want to lose what I have done up to this point, and with a little luck, I will have my memory long into old age to be able to sift through and enjoy its contents again and again. As I get older, I realize how important these memories are, and have chosen to notice more of what is happening at any given time. We can't remember it all, and we don't need to, but we remember specific moments provided we were paying attention.

Lately I have experienced some panic about aging, and I'm trying to counteract my fear with these types of ruminations. We can't stop the process of getting older, it's happening to every one of us, every single day, but we can control what we think about it. If I trust God to take care of me and those I love each day, I have to extend that trust to the process of physically aging. I hope to relax into this better in the future than I am able to right now.

I think I struggle with this because I'm so satisfied with my life at this moment, and would like to freeze it. The fact that I am not able to stay in this stage with my kids and myself is frustrating to me, but I must learn to accept what I cannot change, and commit these days to memory so they are not lost forever when the seasons change and we change with them. Life is an onward march, and it stops for no one, and I must come to terms with this fact.

Lately I've been thinking a lot about my twenties, and how I rushed through them, working hard to get to the next thing all of the time. I wasn't nearly as relaxed or as confident in myself as I am now. I didn't pause much to enjoy what I was doing, and soak up how I felt, and I'm trying to remedy that now. It's never too late to change, and improve what we are doing. We have the chance to own and experience our own lives each day, and never lose them if we are aware of what is happening around us.

Sunday, March 27, 2011


I'm speaking at church this morning about value, and how I've moved recently from an understanding of God which was performance-based, to one of being acceptable for who I am. This has been a profound shift in my thinking and behaviour, for I used to work so hard to be considered acceptable to God, and I see now that all of that time and effort was driven by me, and not required by him, or in fact by most anyone who genuinely loves me.

I saw my value as intrinsically enmeshed with my performance. I could not separate one from the other. They were braids in a rope, hopelessly tangled and for all intents and purposes, one thing. I now see that they are actually quite separate. I can be loved and accepted for who I am, even if I never do anything to deserve it, and this is a concept I had no real interaction with before the last month or so.

My inability to slow down and relax was tied up in this fear, because I thought if I stopped frantically producing something, my value would be lost. Many of the arguments Jason and I have fought over the years have been related in some way to my damaged sense of self-worth, and the endless "rat on a wheel" race to keep up with others and in fact, myself. It was a losing battle, especially when it came to God, because if he is perfect and I am imperfect, what chance did I have to be accepted and loved by him?

There is such immense freedom in separating out who I am from what I do. They are two different things, and God loves me for me, not for what I can do. Generally speaking, most of my family and friends fall into this category too, provided I let them love me. It was hard for me to be loved by the closest people in my life. I was always working to earn it, even when that wasn't a requirement on the relationship. I simply had no other grid for relationship, but I do now, and it's like a sunrise all day every day.

It's such a relief to simply be myself without all of the other trappings, and come to God with the timid understanding that I can be loved without any of my usual defenses. I feel like a child again, unencumbered by all of the shields and walls that we end up building to survive in the harsh realities of our world. It's strange to be so vulnerable and open, but it also feels like my wounds are being sewn up, gently and with a numbing anaesthetic for the pain. Love does that for you in a way nothing else can imitate.

I'm looking forward to walking out this sense of value. I don't want to work so hard to prove myself anymore, but instead relax into who I am and what I can offer to those in my life. I am only responsible for myself, and what I do flows out of who I am, so I would rather put time and energy into my personality instead of my accomplishments. I want to enjoy what I do and not be punished by the demands of my ambition, and I'm beginning to understand that the joy comes from knowing who I am and feeling secure and loved instead of working furiously for anyone's affection.

I hope it goes well today. I would normally over-prepare for something like this, obsessing over every word and detail and then reading a sheaf of papers instead of speaking from my heart. I've been living this change, on a precipice balancing over the rocks below, and I think it will carry more impact if I can talk without any notes at all. It is a risk for me, but I'm learning that risk equals reward, so here I go to do something new, and explore the idea that we all carry value for who we are before we work for it in what we do.

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Second Write-In

Today is the day of the second Write-In. It was full a month ago, about a week after the first one. No additional promotion was required, because virtually everyone from the first event signed up for the second, or invited a friend to replace those who wanted to come but had a date conflict. The enthusiasm demonstrated by the writers who came was heartwarming for me.

I created the Write-In because I was short on time to write and wanted to make it a priority and actually get out of my house in order to focus on it. Turns out I'm not alone in this desire. I would have happily run the day with just a handful of people, but thanks to some free publicity in the form of a local newspaper article, there were twelve writers registered long before the first date in mid-February.

It was a great day; an experiment that went well right out of the gate. I got some positive feedback on the surveys at the end of the day, tinkered with a few small components of the event, and offered another date in March, which filled up immediately. I was contacted by a writer in Milwaukee who read the article online and wanted to organize a similar event for her local writer's group. We talked by phone and e-mail, and her Write-In was well attended and the participants were as happy with the work they accomplished as the local writers at our Write-In.

Writers are an interesting group of people. We love to help each other succeed and get better at our craft. For this Write-In, I added some business tips for writing which I will share over lunch, and I also asked each writer to e-mail me two of their writing tips for a sheet that I compiled and will hand out to everyone.

I've created a kit entitled "How to Host a Write-In" and it contains everything a writer needs to organize a local Write-In and bring writers together to work on their own projects. I'm putting the finishing touches on the kit and will make it available for purchase on my blog site for $15 and through Facebook and Twitter. It contains a detailed information sheet, a spreadsheet, information e-mails to writers, a poster, and anything else you may need to create your own Write-In without re-inventing the wheel.

I'm so looking forward to this day, for moving forward with several of my writing projects, and also for the chance to share what I've learned in planning these Write-Ins. I would love to see them take off, not just in Canada, but all over the world. Where there is one writer, there are many writers, and there is power in networking with each other and sharing what we've learned about craft, publishing, business, book promotion and more. We are all at different stages of this journey, and there is so much to learn from each other, and a Write-In is a great place to meet, and work, and make connections which could last a lifetime.

Please watch for my Paypal button to appear in the near future for the Write-In kit. If you have any questions in the meantime about the Write-In, please contact me and I'd be happy to chat with you. I'm hoping to launch my Facebook writer page at the same time as the Write-In kit. It's all coming soon!

Thanks again to you, my wonderful blog readers, for your support. It means so much to me and I'm grateful for each and every one of you. As soon as my printed blog book arrives in the mail, I'll be giving one away among my followers, so if you read regularly and haven't created a Google account to follow, please do so and be included in the draw!

Friday, March 25, 2011

Know Who You Are

I listened to an ancient Amy Grant album this week and these lyrics jumped out at me from the song We Believe in God: "Don't be afraid to know who you are, and don't be afraid to show it." This really sums up the long process I've been working through since my late twenties. I was so other-focused for far too long, tailoring my personality to fit each situation I was in, instead of being genuinely myself at all times and letting the chips fall where they may.

We all create these personas to one extent or another, but in my case it was fairly extreme. None of this was a conscious decision, but over time, when I gained maturity in other areas, I began to notice how fractured my personality actually was. I was trying to be all things to all people, and essentially ended up as nothing to myself.

Who I was came very low on my own priority list. When I slowly realized this, I began putting together who I thought I was. This was a hard process, fraught with self-doubt and panic. I feared being accepted by others if I was not what I thought they wanted me to be. In time, I began to separate the wheat from the chaff, and understand who would accept me and who wouldn't, and learn to not be devastated by rejection.

Writing helped here, because rejection is part of the writing life. I began to separate my writing from who I am, as one is my product and the other is my personality. When my product was rejected, I knew I could fix it. When I am rejected personally, I have to choose whether to fix what the person didn't like, or leave it as it is and walk away from the relationship. It's all part of knowing who I am, and working through my fear of showing it.

My goal was to be myself in all situations. I used to work overtime keeping track of who I was in which setting so I would be consistent. I was an actor playing a role, and mistakenly believing that my self-worth was tied into how well I met the other person's expectations. Of course, those expectations were never stated clearly to me, so I had to fill in the blanks of what I thought they wanted, and who knows how close I actually got.

What a ridiculous way to live. That seems so clear to me now, but until I knew I was doing this, I couldn't see it or alter it. Every day, I lived this way, not realizing there was an alternative. Now that I know who I am and I'm not afraid to show it, it's the difference between the light and the shadows. It's colour versus black and white; 3D instead of 2D. It's everything where nothing was my previous option.

I love my life now. I know I'm not everyone's cup of tea, and I'm learning to be okay with that. I am me, with all of my strengths and glorious imperfections, and I'm not hiding either of them anymore. I want to go forward from here and not back, and I believe that authenticity is the map that will get me where I've always longed to go. I won't pretend anymore in order to be loved, not when I can be myself and experience love that feels so true and deep and meaningful compared to what I ever felt before this.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Tender Hearts

My kids have such tender hearts, and I know from personal experience how great it is to feel so deeply, but also how much it can hurt. It's one thing to feel pain yourself, and another to stand by and watch your children in pain, and not be able to take it away from them. Hugging them, and offering encouraging words helps a little, but it doesn't remove it, and I find this aspect of parenting very hard indeed.

Ava has had a difficult week. She was concerned about her field trip, and then cried in the van for ten minutes at the door of the school yesterday morning. I held her hand, and waited with her until the storm had passed, and wanted desperately to drive her home where she felt safe and secure and not send her out into the big, bad world when she was feeling so fragile and vulnerable.

I knew she had to go to school. It was like being between a rock and a hard place, knowing that the overall lesson was more important than the momentary relief of her discomfort, but I felt mean doing what I thought was the right thing. I walked her into the school, a sacrifice in itself because I was wearing my pajamas, and hugged her, then watched her walk down the hall away from me, tears still in her eyes. There wasn't a single thing I could do to take away her sadness.

I called her teacher, and also the wonderful child development advisor at her school, and told them that she was having a hard time. It's been an emotional and busy week for her, with her Nana visiting, her birthday, her field trip and a slow recovery from a tough illness. I felt a little better when I hung up the phone, but still powerless to help her navigate the difficult maze of her own emotions in the school environment. I didn't want anyone to laugh at her or hurt her in any way, but I also know that for the rest of her life she will need to develop skills to help her through these peaks and valleys, and today was a good chance to practice.

I worried about her on and off during the day, and prayed for her, and was relieved to see her smiling face after school. When one of her classmates told me at the door, "Ava cried again today," I responded with, "Don't you ever feel sad sometimes? It happens to everyone." The girl was surprised by the strength of my response, but I want Ava to know it is okay to not always be okay, and that those who matter don't mind, and those who mind don't matter.

We picked her up and went to meet Jason at a restaurant for a last meal with Nana before her flight. It had been such a fun visit, relaxed and thoroughly enjoyable, and I knew it was going to be hard all around to say goodbye. I love where we live, but hate that these wonderful grandparents for our kids are now a province away. Life is filled with love and with loss, choices which bring wonderful outcomes but also tremendous heartache. Everywhere you turn there is a choice, and you never get every single thing you want.

We hugged goodbye at the gate, and watched until she was gone from sight, swallowed up into the maze of security. When we began to walk away, I looked at both of the faces of my sweet young children, and saw what I'm sure my face looked like when I said goodbye to my Granny as a kid or my mom as an adult when I lived in BC and she lived here. Crestfallen, lost, bereft. I said, "Are you sad to say goodbye?" and they both nodded, keeping the stiff upper lip, until finally William couldn't take it anymore, and his face crumpled.

I pulled him to the wall, away from people, and held him while his whole body shook with sobs. Jason hugged Ava while she cried, and we looked at each other over the heads of these precious little people whom we love so much, and let their tender hearts have their free rein. So much can hurt us when we love deeply, but I'm happy to model that for my kids. I cried with them, appreciating the kind of Nana they have been blessed with, and recognizing myself as a child when I looked at them and saw their sensitivity.

There is no hiding a tender heart. You can protect it the best you can, but when the chips are down, you will show how vulnerable you really are, and if all goes well and you are understood and loved, you have the chance to make a deep impact on this world.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Rewrite the Story

Ava went to the Titanic exhibit with her Grade Two class yesterday, and at bedtime the night before I could tell something was wrong. Her eyes were too bright, her lips in a hard line, and her protests too fierce that everything was okay. She had been talking about this field trip for weeks, but suddenly it was here, and she was upset, but pretending she wasn't.

Her teacher had tipped me off to the problem earlier in the day, when I was in her classroom and heard that Ava began crying quietly at her desk right out of the blue. This kind of thing is highly unusual for her. Her teacher asked what was wrong, and she said, "I miss my mom", also out of the norm for her (but well within the normal range for William). We strategized for a few minutes, wondering if she was still sick, or if it was because her Nana was visiting from BC and she wanted to be home with us instead of at school.

We got talking about the field trip. We filled out the volunteer form and asked if Nana could attend with Ava, but too many parents wanted to go, so there was a draw for the available spots, and no one from our house would be attending with Ava. I thought it might be Ava's safety concerns rising to the surface again if she didn't have a parent or grandparent with her on the field trip. We came up with some ideas for how to help her feel more secure and less anxious, and I came home hoping it was all going to be fine.

Then it was bedtime. I could see clearly that she was upset, but she repeatedly told me that she was not. Suddenly it was like looking into a mirror of myself at the same age: carrying too much responsibility and pretending I was fine like it was a full-time job. I didn't want my daughter to do that at the age of eight. I wanted her to be honest about her fear, and acknowledge it openly, and not pretend to feel a confidence that wasn't there. I recognized her smoke and mirrors, and knew that underneath of it beat a heart full of fear and uncertainty.

I pushed a little harder, and the wall eventually crumbled, washed away by tears and choking sobs. She wasn't actually afraid of the field trip, but rather the bus ride to get there. This made no initial sense to me, but I kept at it, asking her to define what her worst fear was about the bus, and suddenly it dawned on me.

One thing is always connected to another in this life. No one incident stands alone in our subconscious; they become strands, floating from one to another, creating associations either positive or negative in our memories. I saw Ava in my mind as a small five year old, getting on the bus at the end of a week of day camp, and heading to Calaway Park with her counselor (a family friend who was also our babysitter) and all of the slightly older kids registered in the same summer program. She waved to me, a big smile on her face, and offered no hint of fear.

That day seemed long for me, waiting for her to come home and tell me all of the fun things she did, but when the bus pulled up and she disembarked she had pulled away from me somehow, seeming older over the course of the day. She said she had a good time, but the next year when day camp registration rolled around, she was adamant that she did not want to go, and in fact has not been back since then.

I asked her, very gently, if she thought her fear of buses was related to this day camp experience. I could see that the hammer was striking the nail when we made this association. This is most of the work that counselors do, and it's extremely effective, connecting the dots of our past experiences to our present emotions. There is always a link, and finding it is the difference between being mired in our own pain and breaking free of it to move forward in our lives. The powerful stuff of life dwells in these associations, if we will do the work to source and connect our own personal dots.

When her tears had ceased, I suggested that her eight year old self talk to her five year old self when she was about to board the bus, and explain that she is different now, and with her friends, and her teacher, and that she is more confident and sure of herself than she was at five. I told her it was okay to be afraid, that bravery is not the absence of fear, but the act of persevering through it to the other side. When she went to sleep she was calmer, and in the morning expressed only a hint of nervousness about the bus, instead of a full-blown panic attack.

Awareness is the key to conquering our fears. We all fear something, but if we can identify why the fear or the behaviour developed in the first place, we can go back to the place before it was in our lives, and try to rewrite the story. We all have the ability to talk to our younger selves with the wisdom and maturity we have gained since we were that age, and comfort ourselves. I'm slowly learning how to do this, and I love that I was able to give my daughter some skills in this area that helped her ride the bus with less fear, and make good memories with her class field trip to last her a lifetime.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Content with Yourself

I have a little kitchen calendar that I bought at a used book sale last year, and I flip the page every day and enjoy a little homespun wisdom while I wash and dry my dishes. One of the entries this month was by Seymour, and it said, "You have to count on living every single day in a way you believe will make you feel good about your life - so that if it were over tomorrow, you'd be content with yourself."

Reading this filled me with peace, and a sense of recognition that I wouldn't have understood before a few years ago, when I began writing regularly again every day. I wanted to leave something behind when I left this earth, and I know I would be leaving my kids and my husband and my family and friends, which if I've invested in them the right way, would be enough of a mark to have made my life worthwhile, but I wanted to spread the net a little wider yet.

For me, that net was writing. It was communicating what I feel and believe and understand, hopefully in such a way that other people could access it and relate to it, and possibly be changed by it. I can see now that even though I dreamed of writing in this way for most of my life, I couldn't have done it with the same level of meaning before now, and I hope that in a decade or two the meaning will be richer and deeper than it is today, provided I continue to grow and change, and I don't plan on stopping.

When I go to bed at night these days, I feel contentment in an entirely new way. I feel as though I have accomplished something worthwhile. I still see how far I have to go to reach my dreams, but I also see that I have made incremental progress, and most days, that is enough for me. My ambitions don't have that massive overwhelming feel to them anymore, like an angry thundercloud threatening to soak me, but instead they prod and motivate without attacking my confidence.

It's a breath of fresh air to be content with who I am and where I'm going. I don't walk along with a cat of nine tails to whip my back every few steps any more. Now I encourage myself as I go, gently and with a bit more love than I've ever shown myself before. I want to feel good as I accomplish my dreams and not like I'm racing to keep up with my own insane expectations.

Goals are wonderful things, provided you don't beat yourself over the head with them. Love and mercy are the keys that will eventually unlock your dreams for you, and make everything you've ever wanted seem closer than ever before. It's not a magic formula. There were many times I wished for this in my teens and twenties, but I wasn't ready for it then. We are ready when we are ready, and there is no sense beating ourselves up before that time.

It's step by step, and change by change, and each block builds upon the last one to get you somewhere. If you haven't found what it is that makes you feel good about yourself, I encourage you to be intentional about looking for it until you locate it. It might take you a long time, but it will be worth it in the end. When you find it, you'll know what it is, your life will never be the same, and contentment will be your reward.

Monday, March 21, 2011

Eight Years Old

Today my daughter Ava turns eight. With every birthday for each of my children, I think about the day they were born and I feel grateful for their existence. Turning into a mother fulfilled a long-held dream for me, as it does for many people, and I'm also aware of how many women long to be mothers but struggle due to infertility, miscarriage, or other issues which prevent them from having children.

My heart aches for those friends, and even those strangers who hurt in this exquisitely painful way. To conceive, carry a child to term, and deliver that baby is a uniquely female experience, and I would prefer that all women had an equal chance at it. I'm not in charge of who gets to carry babies and who doesn't, but it's yet another of those areas where I have more questions for God than answers provided by him.

I approached pregnancy as most of my friends did when I was trying to get pregnant: with a can-do attitude. I decided when I wanted to have a baby, worked backward from there, and attempted to create one. For many of my friends, it was a one-shot deal. They decided, tried, and succeeded. I had no reason to believe that it wouldn't be the same for me.

It wasn't. Month after month went by, and I didn't succeed. I saw it as pass or fail, and I was failing. It took nine months to get pregnant with Ava, which is nothing but a drop in the bucket compared to what other people have to endure, but at the time I thought it was horrible. I was an absolute perfectionist, and wanted to control everything I touched, and of course that is not how this process works.

Looking back, it's easy to forget how hard it was to wait for what I wanted, because I have two incredible children now. I have been blessed in this way that many others have not, and I have no answers for why that is. I know I don't deserve it any more than anyone else. And I don't know why it's so easy for some and so impossible for others to achieve the dream of pregnancy and childbirth.

I'm learning to accept that there are mysteries which I cannot solve. I find it hard to offer comfort to my beautiful friends who suffer from the agony of infertility when I am holding two small hands in mine to cross the street. I am a mother, and I love being one, and therefore my heart squeezes in pain when I consider any other alternative to loving and caring for my two children.

I am grateful for my daughter today. She is healthy, and happy, and at peace within herself, and eight years ago when she was born we became a family of three instead of a couple of two. I love watching her grow into the woman she will one day become, and I am proud of who she is and the choices she is making. Today, while I celebrate her life, I will continue to pray for the strong women who long to experience this kind of celebration, and ask God for a different outcome in the journey they are currently walking.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

New Eyes

When we change, everything around us changes too. I'm noticing that I have new eyes to see the same old experiences in a different light when I apply some changes to how I do things. What was old now appears new. I feel more positive and less negative. It's as if I've set down that rock-filled backpack again and walked a few paces without it, and I like how much lighter I feel as a result.

Staying the same is an enemy for us. We are not meant to stagnate and be too comfortable. Life is filled with change, and if we change with it, we become flexible enough to adapt and grow. I like the experience of seeing people with new eyes now, for if I am different, my relationships become new too. Where I thought an experience was negative before, now that I have made changes inside of myself, I can look at it again and experience something better.

I like this transformation. The more confident I feel about myself, the more relaxed I am, and I see others relaxing around me. The personal stakes are not as high as they used to be. I don't feel so worried, or pressured to make things a certain way for my family and friends, but instead I can relax and enjoy myself. A curious thing happens as a result; everyone else is relaxed too. How much of what I used to think was uncomfortable subtext in the relationship was really me projecting my inner conflict into the situation?

I couldn't see this before, as I now realize that I have a crater-sized blind spot in my vision while I'm working on re-building my personal foundation. Just because I couldn't see it doesn't mean it wasn't there, but now I'm aware that I have had a huge part to play in many of the relationship dysfunctions that I have identified. I see now that I can be a more active participant in the positive changes which are happening. This realization brings peace and a sense of purpose in moving forward. I am different, and therefore I see everything differently, and experience my closest relationships in an easier way.

I'm enjoying these new eyes. They are connected to the new person that I am becoming, and the whole world looks different. Finally I am changing and instead of it hurting all of the time, I'm seeing some of the positive benefits of the shift that has been occurring. I can see beauty, nestled in among the ashes, and the seeds of growth which I've been waiting and watching for. New eyes for a new season. It's all lighter around the horizon.

Saturday, March 19, 2011


There is something powerful about identifying with another person. It's that spark of recognition that your story parallels aspects of their story, and provides an instant rapport which cannot be forged but is immediately recognizable for both people involved. I love those serendipitous moments in life; the ones you can't plan for but take you by surprise and fill you with joy.

When you are sludging your way through a hard time, it's hard to see the forest for the trees. You don't have the long-range view, only a few feet in front of you at mud and dirt and difficulty, but every so often the sun breaks through the rain, and you get a glimpse of something beautiful. Your hope begins to rise. You know that life is as lovely as it is painful, and it gives you the courage to carry on.

We are all banged up. We have all been disappointed by those we love. But we have also been given so much, not necessarily in monetary terms, but in all of the lovely things which last forever and imbed into our character like trust, mercy, affection and encouragement. When we give to each other, we receive for ourselves. And when we offer a kind word to someone who needs it, we feed something inside of our own soul.

Identifying with each other makes us feel less alone. We know that our struggles and triumphs are not as unique as we thought they were, but this knowledge brings peace for me, as I know my soul can touch someone else's when we share our similar experiences. There is a raw power when two or more people are willing to lay bare their hearts to one another, particular when you aren't expecting that when you sit down to talk with someone.

I'd like to find more of these connections, or at least be open to the possibility of them occurring. We are all traveling a similar journey, at the same spot on this time continuum, and it's so much better to lighten the load for one another if we can. To stretch out a hand to help where we see it's needed, and to be real instead of hiding who we really are.

Being truly yourself with others, strangers or friends, is counter-culture. It means stepping out of the shell we hide under, with all of our protective devices, and exposing our soft underbelly to wounds. There have been many times in the last year that I have longed for my old coping mechanisms and safety measures so I wouldn't be hurt so often or so fiercely, or so I would stop inadvertently hurting others by embracing my real self. But I don't want to lose the vulnerability that I have gained by this personal evolution. I think it is part of who I am, and when I can relate to someone else by expressing my vulnerability, I believe that feeling emotions this deeply is worth it.

Friday, March 18, 2011

Changing Plans

I like consistency. This is a carry-over from my childhood, where I felt disappointed when plans were made and didn't happen. I want to make plans and carry them out, to have my kids know that they can safely anticipate the event and not wonder if it will actually happen. But sometimes things occur that are beyond what we can plan for. Sickness happens. Plans change. I'm slowly getting better at reacting and not feeling stressed when I have to be flexible.

Ava's birthday party was set for this afternoon, and has been planned for months. We've talked about it and looked forward to it, but she got the flu on Saturday and has been on the couch with a fever, cough, sore throat and low appetite for the last week. I sent her back to school yesterday for St. Patrick's Day, because her class had a variety of events planned and she was fever free for more than 24 hours.

The school called after lunch and said she wasn't feeling well and I needed to come get her. My heart sank for my girl, because I knew that she was eagerly anticipating her birthday party, but I know that it's no fun to have a birthday party when you aren't feeling up to it. She had a nap yesterday afternoon, and then perked up before we went to the city for a few errands and to pick up Nana from the airport.

She complained of a stomachache while we were out, and ended up puking when we got home. The uncertain nature of deciding what to do about the party has been hard for me, but not as hard as its been in the past. As I get a little stronger and more sure of myself, I feel less afraid of what comes at me. We have to roll with the punches and not fight them. Part of my frustration in my twenties and early thirties was this sense of fighting what I couldn't control. Now I know that's a useless exercise. Sometimes things happen for a reason, and sometimes for no discernible reason, but we still have to choose how we will act depending on what curve balls are tossed our way.

I'm not flexible by nature, but I can learn to adapt and not feel stressed. I can recognize that I'm not responsible for all aspects of an event, or the happiness of those involved. I can help my kids walk through their disappointment and give my kids skills to manage it, skills that will last them throughout their lifetime. We all develop coping mechanisms either against or toward certain things, but it's freeing to recognize that we can work on it, one area at a time, until we have healthier ways of managing our lives.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Relentless Drive

When I was younger, I found my relentless drive to succeed like a prison. I felt trapped in it, stifled, and unable to break free of my own ambition. Now that who I am has finally caught up to what I want to do, it seems that the landscape is more balanced, and I don't have to work so hard to catch up with myself.

Some of this must be simple maturity, the sum total of years rolling past and posting higher numbers with each birthday. But there is an element of understanding who I am, why I am valuable, and what I'm meant to do with my life that has nothing to do with age. I think I could have grasped it years ago if I hadn't been so unsure of myself, and so afraid to risk. There is a time for everything, and a season for everything under the sun, and this is my time and season to uncover who I really am, and in that process I'm seeing what I'm capable of accomplishing.

I no longer want to rush the way I did as a teen and in my twenties. I was always in such a hurry, to beat everyone out and be the best. Now I want to do what I can do, but it's not a competition. There is room for everyone to play. I'm hoping I will be able to internalize this truth in time, because I believe it in my mind, but I think I've spent too long setting up competitions between myself and others to really encourage those in my life to reach their full potential.

I hope that as I get stronger within myself, I will be able to build others up without worrying that I am taking something from who I am. We aren't meant to be so fragile. I've tried to intentionally encourage others and be more positive in the last year, because I noticed how easy it was to be negative and see the worst in myself and everyone else. Being positive really is a better way to live. It's the difference between the sun and the rain; the heat and the cold. I love the benefits of being positive, but I must deal with my endless fears of losing out in a competition in order to truly celebrate the accomplishments of others.

It seems as if I'm growing into my own ambition, like a pair of shoes that were always too big, but when I tried them on again, found that they fit me. I know that my drive to succeed does not have to conflict with someone else's, even when they are trying for similar goals or we are in the same field. If I feel good enough about myself, I won't worry so much about what others are doing. Or so I hope. All I can do is be more aware of my own insecurities, and try to grow into my dreams and goals without taking away from anyone else's.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Every Road

Every road we walk leads us to the person we become. There are no detours or shortcuts, and even the crappiest experiences make us who we are. I often wish for things to be easier, but when I am put in a stressful situation, and I see how clearly I have changed, I can summon a certain gratitude for the experience, no matter how awful it was at the time.

Last year I went through a "street fight" as I referred to it in my blog. At the time I laid awake for many nights, staring at the ceiling, trying to unravel what went wrong and how it had gone from an innocuous situation to something heart-wrenchingly painful. I understand now that this horrendous experience was really the beginning of me understanding how deep my people-pleasing tendencies really ran. I hated the idea that anyone would be upset with me for any reason. That, combined with the fact that I had made a mistake, and done something stupid which I had to apologize for, and I felt punished above and beyond what I deserved from that point forward.

I get now that it brought up all of my fears that my value is connected to what I do, and that if I screw up, I don't deserve love, or friendship or any other kind of decent relationship, and as a result my confidence was torn to shreds. This past year, from March to March, has been about rebuilding this sense of self from the ground floor up.

I can now turn around on this road and see where I've come from, and be amazed at the quivering idiot I used to be, terrified of mistakes and worried about what people thought of me. I was so controlled by the projections I put onto others, and lived in fear of letting anyone down. I now see how unproductive and difficult it is to live life in this fashion. Why give away all of your decision-making process to outside sources? Really owning my life and my choices, and standing behind them, has been a transformative journey.

There is no sense wishing you weren't on a road that you find yourself on. Sometimes the roads are smooth and clear, with great visibility and sunshine on your face. Other times they are white-out blizzards, with fear in your throat and your tires unable to form any kind of grip with the road. On those roads you simply pray to survive, and suck it up until you make it home to a place of safety.

Each road is different, and unpredictable, but if you are kind to others, and learn as much as you can about yourself no matter where you are traveling, you have the chance to be stronger when that road intersects with a new one. You can't change the condition of the roads, but you can change your reaction to them, and that is what really matters anyway.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Good Marriages

I talked with a friend recently who is divorced and said she doesn't know if she wants to be married again, as she knows very few people with good marriages. This statement struck me as sad, but also quite true, when I began thinking about the examples set for us by friends and family. With the exception of a few stellar marriages that I have been privileged to observe over the course of my life, most involve fighting and nitpicking and power plays which leave a lot to be desired.

Why is it so challenging to build strong marriages? When we see a marriage relationship which is supportive, and encouraging, and where the two people inside of it still love and respect each other after many years together, we can't help but be inspired. What have those people done to build up to such a healthy partnership? It certainly doesn't come without a high price, I know that for sure.

A pastor we had years ago used to say, "The first twenty years of marriage are the hardest. After that it gets a bit easier." Jason and I were engaged at the time, and thought that statement was ridiculous, but now that we are twelve years in I can see where he was going with this idea. It's no easy thing to merge two lifestyles and personalities into one functioning unit. It's critical to stay who you are as individuals, but also be granted the freedom and flexibility to change, and to sacrifice routinely for the other person without getting walked on.

When I type it out like that, it does look difficult indeed. I'm writing my novel about a good marriage because it's a topic that endlessly fascinates me and I wanted to explore it in more depth. I think I've learned more from watching a handful of good marriages than all of the hum-drum or horrible ones combined. Patterning after something is much easier than avoiding behaviours you don't want to replicate. One is made of a real substance, something you can point to and touch, and the other is an idea or emotion which is ethereal and not anchored in anything solid. It's the same for parenting - I've modeled a lot of what I do on what I've seen that works, not the opposite of what I don't want to happen.

Since I was a little girl, I've dreamed of having a stable and happy marriage. I believe with my whole heart that the best thing you can do for your children is to love your spouse and demonstrate that love on a regular basis. Jason and I both want the same thing in this regard, and in spite of our many low points, and stressful arguments, and a tightrope act concerning levels of neatness, ideas about money and status and other things I'll keep private, we have never doubted that we are building a marriage that will last.

I remember talking to a girl when I was first married, and she stated with a certain gleeful euphoria that she and her husband had never had a fight, and I said, "Well, someone is always getting screwed, and isn't saying anything." She was offended by this comment, but I still stand by it today. Learning how to fight respectfully is an important learning curve in marriage, and I know we haven't mastered it yet, but are significantly better at arguing now than we were at the beginning of our relationship. It's a skill, and must be honed, and being terrified of conflict is not a good way to get better at negotiating what you want and need in your marriage.

I wanted to tell my friend that there are still good marriages out there, and that it is possible to be supported and encouraged and loved inside of your partnership. I am learning how to be truly loved by Jason this year, and it's like falling in love with him all over again. Our kids can feel and see the difference in us now, and it's because we've both made some changes personally, and brought the results of those alterations to our relationship. I'm calmer and happier and less afraid all of the time, and he's more relaxed and confident and genuine with me as a result. It's good. And we are both committed to making it better, for good is the enemy of great, and I want to have a great marriage.

Monday, March 14, 2011

Waking Up

This weekend, I began to feel that I was waking up from a period of hibernation, and it was interesting that this metamorphosis coincided with the spring forward time change, meaning it was lighter out later into the evening, giving my heart a hopeful lift toward a new season. Spring to me is all about new growth, and birds singing, and an optimistic sense that something fresh is happening all around me. I hope that this metaphor rings true in my life in the coming weeks.

I began to worry recently that I was becoming agoraphobic, because I preferred to be safely tucked up in my house instead of out in the world. I think this feeling is part of the hibernation process, but the good thing about hibernating is that it is only for a season. It's not forever. I don't want to hide away from people because by nature I am a social creature. But not this winter. I wanted to bury myself in a gopher hole, stay warm and alone, and hope to survive until spring.

Like a flower pushing its way stubbornly through the snow-covered grass, I feel that my heart is turning to the sun again. I'm not where I used to be, but that's okay because I am different now. When you are different, it's not reasonable to expect to go back to the way you were before. I have new coping skills, better ones, and I will have to practice using them in the world instead of simply in my house. I hope I'll be smarter in my relationships now, and a little more aware of what I'm doing and why.

This winter I went from pretending as my main mode of being to living as real and authentically as I could. It was one of the more painful things I've ever done, but also one of the most rewarding. Now I know for sure that I could never go back. I made a lot of my unconscious drives conscious, so I can see and understand what they are, and practice responding differently to situations. I have made many mistakes, but in just as many situations I have been like a caterpillar breaking out of my cocoon and flying for the first time, and once you've flown you are not interested in going back to crawling through the mud, inch by inch, after you learn you were made to soar.

Change is brutally hard, but nothing good is gained without pain and effort, and I want to keep growing for as long as I am alive. I spent a lot of years being afraid, and therefore stagnant, and now I want to move forward. Changing myself has meant everyone around me had to change too, whether they wanted to or not, and the fall-out from this process will continue to make itself known. I do know that I cannot go back. Real is the only way for me from this point on, and I love that I can be gentler and kinder to myself now than I have ever been before. Waking up to this new person is going to be a beautiful experience, and I'm eager for the spring.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

This is the Body

I was at a meeting this week where a friend read from a devotional book called Out of the Spin Cycle by Jen Hatmaker. She read about body image, and one statement that jumped out at me was something to this effect: "This is the body you will have forty years from now. These hands will hold your grandchildren one day." I'm certain it was put more eloquently within its context, but it was a new thought for me.

Like most new thoughts, this one was less profound than obvious, but I don't tend to think in terms of what I want years down the line, and I should put those ideas on my radar. The decisions I make today regarding what I eat and how/if I exercise will affect me decades down the line, and this thought brought a new gravity to the situation.

I chafe at the idea of exercise and dieting because I don't want to conform to society's lie that our body is who we are. Our body is part of us, but only one part, the way our mind, soul and spirit are the other equally important components. I want to feel good about myself no matter how many extra pounds I carry, or how my stomach looks post-pregnancy and childbirth, or how many new lines appear around my eyes and mouth as I age. I don't want to bow my knee to the idea that I must look a certain way to be acceptable to myself or others.

But thinking of it as a long-term investment in my health so that I am as fit as possible for my adult children and grandchildren is a new way of looking at it. Generally my natural laziness combines with my rebellion at our culture's fixation on low body fat ratios and I opt out of healthier eating and exercise as a result. The only one that's paying the price in that scenario is me, and so I'm grateful for a chance to look at it differently, with exercise as a goal toward the body I will dwell in forty years from now, and not as a way to be skinny and conform to societal pressure.

Possibly the key lies in developing all parts of our personality at the same time. I've been working on my mind and my spirit and my soul, but neglecting my body. Making it a priority for long-term gain is equally important, and I'll feel better if I'm investing time and energy into this body that will house my mind, soul and spirit for as long as I am alive. I need to embrace what I have been given, and treat it with respect, and understand that I need to open up a dialogue with my body which is healthier than the one I've had to this point. I want to be friends with this body, and treat it well, and recognize that I need to look after it better from this day forward.

Saturday, March 12, 2011


Why is it that some people seem wired to give to others, and some seem selfish to their core? Is it simply a perspective thing, in that each person feels they are giving but I perceive that they are not? And if it is perception, I wonder what others perceive of me. I think we all want to be giving instead of selfish, but some personality types dig deep and give, even when it is hard to do so, and some do not.

I'm looking at this because it goes hand in hand with the newly-defined boundaries I have constructed for myself. I think most of us give because we get something from it (a feeling of helping, a sense of validation that we are a good person, or even a superiority complex) and not solely because we love unconditionally and are that selfless. We are all selfish in certain ways, and give because we hope to get something in return, or have a twisted up idea of ourselves which is reinforced when we act unselfishly toward others.

There is a silent giving, and a proclaimed-from-the-rooftop variety where we call attention to our good deeds so that people will tell us how wonderful we are. I've done both, and always feel initially better about the first one, but then in time become resentful that no one knows how great I really am, and end up subtly shifting to the second type. I hate that it's part of human nature to act like this, and with the advent of social media like Facebook and Twitter, it is easier than ever to blow our own horn in a global way, to make sure everyone knows how wonderful and giving we really are.

I don't mean to sound cynical here, because I'm as guilty as the next person. We all do this. I have no idea where the line is between promoting yourself with integrity and being a blowhard who irritates everyone. I think I can find this line with others, but do I have any level of ability to identify when I am personally over the line? We can all tell ourselves what we want to hear, or find family or friends to assure us that we are not selfish, but when I look into my own heart I often recoil from what I see there.

It is becoming harder and harder in this age of digital noise to give anonymously and generously without expecting kudos or regards. None of us wants to toil in obscurity when the chance to shine a light on our deeds is readily available. I find it hard to know what to model for my kids in this situation, because I am promoting my own writing on the internet, and trying to get my name out there so when I'm ready to publish my books I have a built-in audience of readers, but I don't want to annoy people, and assume that everyone loves me, because I know for a fact that many do not.

Maybe I need to look at my own motives once in a while, and try my best to be honest about what I see. Why am I doing what I am doing? Am I looking to advance my own interests and not giving anything back? In trying to answer this question, I recently began posting daily writing business tips under the hashtag #writingbiztips on Twitter in an effort to provide something to the writing world instead of always taking.

I want to utilize both sides of give and take, and find a workable balance in that. I would hate to be known as someone who always wanted people to part with their money when I came calling. I want to be in real relationship with people, and have that mean more than what I am trying to get from a person. And sometimes it's a good exercise to give in secret, and not announce it for praise and validation from others. Mixing it up from time to time and resisting the urge to trumpet our good deeds from our keyboard or phone is a good thing. I think I have a better chance of developing my character quietly than I do by drawing attention to it all of the time.

Friday, March 11, 2011

Left Neglected

I just finished reading Lisa Genova's fabulous second novel, Left Neglected. I literally could not put down her debut, Still Alice, which she self-published and sold initially through Alzheimer's groups until the book became a runaway hit and publishers came calling. I'm completely inspired by her career path as a novelist and hope to follow in her footsteps one day when I'm ready. She's an amazing writer with a flow that begins on page one and doesn't end until you turn the final page, and she brings you to tears because you don't want to say goodbye to these intricately drawn and beautiful characters.

Left Neglected is about a woman I could really identify with: a 37 year old type A workaholic with a supportive husband and three young children who fights to be the best at everything and simply never stops. That is, until she is in a brutal car accident and suffers a brain injury which causes her to neglect her left side (hence, the clever title). The story is about how she claws her way back, only to realize that for a long time her priorities needed to be adjusted.

I loved so many things about the book, but particularly the idea that as women we are often left neglected. We don't take care of ourselves as if we matter, and we don't want to wait until it's too late to realize how hard we were driving our lives. There are limits to everything, and re-defining my own boundaries to myself has brought new definition and peace to my life, and released me from many of my own demons which were relentless in pursuing me.

I can't make everyone happy. Sometimes people aren't going to like me, or my decisions, or my opinions. That's no longer such a big deal to me. I cannot neglect myself, or my kids, or my husband, or my closest friends and family. I have a certain number of responsibilities and obligations, and I can't spread myself too thin. The word "no" is not a bad word or a cruel word. It's a protecting word.

Sometimes we have to stop short and look at what we are doing and why we are driving ourselves. I want to be healthy and live a long life, but the way to do that is not to increase stress and decrease personal joy and satisfaction. And certainly not to take on endlessly more tasks to please an outside source and not myself. I want to listen to my own intuition, and to that still, small voice that never steers me wrong, but I also want to value myself and my own peace of mind and physical health higher on the priority list. I can no longer tolerate neglecting myself, and when I don't tolerate it, no one else will do it either, or if they try, I will no longer allow it and therefore it won't affect me.

I highly recommend this book of Lisa Genova's. It's beautiful, and stirring, and will cause you to re-evaluate where you put your energy and time. I'm so glad she wrote it, and it came at a perfect time in my life, when these shifts were already occurring for me personally, but also in many of my significant relationships. It's never easy to change, but always worth it when the rewards of your own personal growth are so sweet and beautiful, and when you've tasted personal freedom, you won't ever consider going back to the way you used to live.

Thursday, March 10, 2011


Resentment is like punching yourself in the stomach when you are really angry with someone else. In other words, useless. It's better to take the time to figure out what is driving the resentment, for there is always something bigger going on, and get to the root of why the other person's behaviour drives you up the wall. I'm finally understanding that I can't fix what other people do. I can only manage my reaction to it.

If I want to be kind and loving, I must choose actions which support that. It's not easy to choose these things; the simpler path is to be angry and hurt. After a time period of feeling those emotions, it's good to move past them to a more solid place, where you can understand that the other person hurts the same as you do, and hopefully extend grace instead of judgement to them.

I don't think it's possible to be forgiving when you are angry. I got hung up here for many years because I was afraid to let my anger out. The intensity of those feelings can be overwhelming and scary, but I'm learning that when the anger blows through, peace comes in a way that I was inadvertently preventing before. Anger is about externalizing your feelings, where sadness is an internal process. I almost always turned my anger into sadness before, but they are not the same emotions and should be treated as different.

I sought out counseling in order to manage my rage, because I kept stuffing it down and not letting it out. I found permission from my psychologist to be angry, and she helped me see that I wouldn't have to stay in that uncomfortable place. It was true. When the anger bubbled up, it accomplished its own purpose and then went away, leaving me exhausted and tired but strangely exhilarated. I didn't turn into a miserable and mean old hag because I felt anger. And when the storm had passed, I could look more honestly at the resentment that provided the long-burning kindling for the anger, and examine why I resented certain people.

Looking at it without having to mask my fury was an interesting process. I felt calmer, and a little more giving, and was able to recognize that I am not responsible for the choices that these people have made. I am only responsible for my own. Others can choose any path or emotions or actions that they wish, and they must live with the fall-out, so why should I get my knickers in a knot over their decisions and relationships?

In examining it with a cool head, I could find the distance I had been needing but was unable to manufacture before. It was like taking a pair of sharp scissors and cutting a cord that had previously run between me and the person I was resenting. I freed myself from them with one simple snip, and it felt great. Now I can go about my life without being emotionally activated when my path crosses with theirs, and they can go about their life as they please without their choices affecting me. I wish I had done this years ago.

Wishing I could change the past is about as useless as punching myself in the stomach, and I want to move forward on this path of renewed boundaries expressing themselves through love and grace, and not waste time on all of the many things I can't control. I can control myself, and my reaction to others, and I can enforce my boundaries and not waste time and energy on guilt that doesn't serve any purpose except for churning me up inside. I can spend the time I used to waste resenting others on learning how to be authentically myself, and being kind instead of mean, and forgiving instead of holding grudges and punishing others.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Relationship Boundaries

I had another counseling appointment yesterday, and one of the things I am working on right now is defining and holding my relationship boundaries. These have been too permeable for too long, as I will often contort in ways that are hideously uncomfortable to spare anyone else discomfort. I realized, in one of those beautiful flashes of insight you get while in therapy, that my personal value and ability to be loved in a relationship is tied into what I give to others.

I've been working hard to separate out my writing from who I am, and have traveled enough distance down that road to see how ludicrous it was to ever assume that I am the same as what I produce, but this giving conundrum hit me like a bullet between the eyes. That's why the stakes are so high for me when I'm asked to do something and I choose to say no. I feel anxiety, and experience the physical symptoms of a panic attack. I thought I was slowly going insane, but I realize now that my world view told me I was a "bad person" if I said no, and I feared that I might lose the relationship.

Seeing this clearly was a life changer for me. I wrote up ten points which define my new relationship boundaries, discussed them with my counselor, and came home to make minor changes and post them up by my computer. I will have to look at them every single day, possibly a hundred times in a day, in order to internalize them, taking them from an intellectual insight to the way I live my life from this point forward.

I could easily write about each and every point on the list, but the one that helped the most yesterday was number six: "Giving to others does not make me a good person. Who I am is separate from what I do and what I give. I do not have to work and give in order to be loved. Relationships should not hinge on these conditions, and if they do, I can choose not to be in those relationships." It is one thing to hold this idealogical belief, and another to make it part of the fabric of our soul and live it out on a day by day basis.

I couldn't see this before. I knew that I felt hooked by requests to help; they drew me in and cranked up the guilt until I felt I couldn't possibly say no for any reason, real or imagined, and then after I said yes I would feel resentful. This is not a reasonable way to exist with your friends and family. I doubt the person making the request had any idea of what went on for me after the request was made, and it is important for me to recognize that it is in fact my problem.

People treat us according to how we treat ourselves. If we draw boundary lines and hold them, they won't be crossed by others, because we won't allow them to be violated. I like to help people and want to continue to do so, but patterns are formed when we drop everything and assist others on a regular basis, and we need to reserve the right to say no, and not be punished for that fact. Or more accurately, not accept punishment, because we can't control how others will treat us at any given time.

I'm tired of worrying so much, and thinking ten steps ahead in many of my relationships. Life is simply too short for all of that anxiety. I am responsible for myself, and not for anyone else. I can feel my own pain, and joy, and sorrow, and fear, and no one else's. I have to stop volunteering for extra rocks in my backpack which do not belong to me. If I can internalize the boundaries I wrote out yesterday, and put them into practice each and every day in the most loving way I can, my life will radically change for the better, and I'll be modeling a more successful path for my kids to follow.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011


In times of stress, my perfectionism, which I've beat down and tried to murder many times in the past, tends to stand up and beg to be noticed like an overeager puppy (not that I would ever murder a puppy and I apologize for the crossed metaphors). Being a perfectionist is similar to walking around in a straitjacket every day. You want to break out and experience the freedom of swinging your arms, but you are terrified to make a mistake, and so you stay bound up in your own mess and then wonder why you aren't getting anywhere.

I know that I became a perfectionist early in life as a way to control chaos. I thought if I was really good at everything, I could minimize the strain of what felt scary and unpredictable in the world. I was right in some ways, and my hyper-attention to detail and fear of failure did help me sharpen my skills in certain areas, but these things also paralyzed me from trying anything new in case I didn't succeed.

I'm now thirty-eight years old, and I'm only beginning to understand how long it takes to become truly expert at anything, and pretending to be great at something is not the same as actually being good at it from the inside out. This perfectionistic streak stopped me from improving my writing much earlier in life, because I intended to be the best at what I was doing, and I certainly wasn't planning to work toward that. I wanted to jot down a few words and have them be genius, blowing people away and winning me accolades without once breaking a sweat.

Life doesn't work this way. I get it now, and wish I had understood this before, but my successes and failures were tied so closely to who I was that I simply could not separate the two. Now I get that they are different. I am me, intrinsically valuable for who I am, and what I do starts out as crap, and eventually gets better. It's about learning a skill, and recognizing that while I'm doing the learning, failing teaches me as much, if not more, than succeeding does.

It's hard to change these long-held ideas and beliefs, even if they are completely ludicrous and hindering us from moving forward. It should be easy, but it's not, for you have to take apart your faulty ideology, brick by brick, and re-build with something healthier and more beneficial in the long run. I continue to come up against my perfectionism where I least expect to find it, and have to confront my fears all over again, and either defeat them or be defeated by them.

Rewriting my screenplay with a couple of contest deadlines looming has brought these tendencies to the forefront yet again, and forced me to confront them. I am not the best screenplay writer who has ever walked this planet. I am learning this craft, and must be allowed to make mistakes and find places to grow and improve without that critical voice telling me that I'm no good and I'll never get anywhere with this. It's easy to be intimidated, but I'm sick of shooting myself in the foot. I don't even wait for negative feedback from outside sources since I'm happy to provide it myself.

Perfectionism is deadly, and must be confronted. Like any bully, it blusters by on menacing bravado which is actually masking hideous insecurity, and if you stand up to it, you'll discover there is no actual substance there. I am stronger than my perfectionism, and I no longer need it to get by each day in my life. I have better skills now, and I can fail as I learn something new without failing as a person. Who I am is not the same as what I learn, and if I make mistakes, it means I'm getting better all of time, and improving means I'm inching closer to my goals.

Monday, March 7, 2011

The White Flag

I wish I wasn't so sensitive. It's hard not to read into what others say and do, and get hurt at the slightest comment or action or look. I've tried to develop a thicker skin, and overall I think I have, but there are still many times when I allow myself to be wounded by the smallest, most insignificant thing, and I realize that there is still a lot of work to be done in these areas.

Difficult times make us more sensitive to things, because our radar is finely tuned and actively seeking out perceived insults or slights where they may or may not exist. I need to work on this, to dial it down for myself, and recognize when I am spoiling for a fight and simply withdraw when I need to. It's challenging because our kids don't understand all of the complicated subtext happening for us at any given time (and let's face it, most men don't get a lot of what churns inside of a woman) and don't take kindly to being asked to back off and give us space.

I need to get better at losing my mom guilt and taking time for myself where I need it. I worry that I'm going to crack sometimes under the pressure I build up within my body and soul when I don't find the release valve in time to let out some of the steam. I'm very focused on my screenplay rewrite because I have a contest deadline looming, and it also happens to be leading up to my daughter's birthday, and in the middle of many of her Kiwanis performances and dentist appointments and swimming lessons for both kids and the rest of regular life and commitments, and I feel behind.

I hate to be struggling to keep up with my own life and to-do list. It's a much better feeling to be ahead of the game than mired in your own inability to master all of the many moving pieces. But sometimes the pieces are going in too many directions to actually keep up, and you must wave the white flag. I loathe the damn white flag. Surrender never comes easily to me, but we all have limits, and saying yes to one thing must mean saying no to another, and I wish I could maintain this balance easier in an ongoing way, instead of finding that I'm up to my neck in mud and must make changes before I can't breathe at all.

Living in our fast-paced culture is hard. I thought I was learning how to relax, but when push comes to shove I'd rather work like crazy than rest and unwind. It's my fault if I blame others when I can't slow down. I have to make these decisions myself; to call it a day at a certain point and pick up my book or sit down to watch TV before going from my computer to my bed. It's important to have energy leftover for my kids, and not break down in tears because I'm so frustrated. They aren't the problem. I am.

Taking responsibility is the first step. If I've created a problem I must fix it. My kids shouldn't pay the price of my overcommitments. That's not fair to them. I have to be reasonable about what I can and can't accomplish in any given time frame. Stress is always bad, and should be avoided at all costs. Some low grade stress will always exist, and can motivate us, but too much of anything causes strain and anxiety, and I'm trying to limit the quantities of those things. More peace, less worry, and I need to keep reminding myself of this so the priorities don't get out of whack.

Sunday, March 6, 2011

Proud of Me

My almost eight year old daughter is proud of me for the writing I'm doing, and that feels wonderful, in a way no other praise can come close to imitating. I love how excited she is when something great happens for me. Her eyes shine, and she doesn't hold back in her praise. Kids haven't figured out yet how competitive the world is, and how many fears we develop as adults, so their enthusiasm has a purity that most grown-ups can't replicate.

I loved being a "just a mom" for the first few years of my kids' lives, but I must admit that I love being a "writer mom" now even more. Ava used to ask me at bedtime why daddy worked and I didn't, and I would explain that I worked just as hard but at home, and for no pay, but we were both supporting our family in different ways. I still believe that one hundred percent, but now I've added in a component of following my own personal dreams while still giving to my kids on a daily basis, and I like that they are watching me pursue what I want in life.

Yesterday I jumped on a three hour call with Screenwriting U on rewriting your script. It was a free call, and there were more than one hundred screenwriters listening to a twenty-one step process packed with helpful hints and ideas. During the call, my thoughts began to move again where they had once been stuck, and I could spot problems that I sensed were there but that I simply couldn't see before.

Even more important than the inspiration I found, was the identification I experienced. It was a similar feeling to the one that rolled over me in one of my earliest Film 201 classes at U of C's Weekend University in the fall of 2009. As I watched a Martin Scorcese documentary, I realized, very slowly, that filmmaking was a real job, with actual people earning a living doing it. In that moment, many of my fears about how only a select few could make their way into this industry melted and disappeared. I felt free to pursue this dream, and not be ashamed of myself or the goal I had long held to be a living, breathing screenwriter.

In this call, much like in that class, there were many others pursuing the same dream. It's not easy to write a screenplay that will attract not only agents, but producers and A-list actors. You would think that more people trying to do the same thing would be intimidating, but it had the opposite effect for me. More people legitimized it somehow, and meant I was not on a crazy path at all, but a perfectly reasonable one for me. It gave me a boost of confidence where I was beginning to doubt myself again.

When I came out of the call, filled with inspiration and hope and my head swimming in new ideas, Ava asked me how it went, and I told her. She grinned and said, "Good for you" and my heart soared to an entirely new level. I saw the pride in her eyes, and no matter how long it takes, and how many disappointments I encounter on this road to my writing dreams, it's worth pursuing, for myself and for that look on my daughter's face last night.

Saturday, March 5, 2011

Shaped, Not Defined

"Life is the journey between who you were, and who you are meant to be." A friend posted this as her Facebook status, from status shuffle, and it got me thinking about how our childhood shapes us, but doesn't have to define us. We are all products of the homes we grew up in, for better or for worse, and we learned things that settled deep into our personalities. Most of these things were never stated to us in words, but we understood them nonetheless, and lived by them until we discovered better ways of functioning.

I grew up with an alcoholic father, and the rest of the family accommodated this behaviour by creating a fiction that things were fine at home when they really were not. It has taken me a long time to work through this disconnect between what I saw and felt free to communicate. Robert McKee says in his book Story, "What happens is fact, not truth. Truth is what we think about what happens." There is what happens to us, and then our interpretation of what happens, and the two did not line up for me in childhood.

Realizing this has shaken me to my core, but given me a whole new edge in which to grow and change. I don't want to be disconnected from my feelings and my experiences. They influence each other, and I want to be genuine and as honest as possible about how they are related. I can see my kids learning this in a way that was not accessible by me as a child, and I'm grateful. When they are angry, they can define it as such, and not pretend that things are fine when they don't feel happy. This to me is progress, and even though it is slow and painful for me, they can end up further along on this road to honesty and congruency.

I don't want to be afraid of living authentically from this point forward, but I must accept that not everyone feels the same way. I can't force people to my way of thinking any more than I can be forced to do something against my will. I am only responsible for myself, and I believe honesty to be better than covering up or pretending. I can pretend all I want in my storytelling, but still like to base my imagination on something anchored in reality, so that it becomes recognizable and beneficial to others.

Life is a journey, taken in incremental steps, with many detours and setbacks on our way from who we once were to who we are becoming. I believe in finding mentors who can inspire us with their lives, and listening to that still, small voice which can direct us better than we can. There are examples to follow, if we will be brave enough to confront the areas where we need to change. It's not an easy process, but the benefits are unmeasurable, and I want to go ever deeper in my soul, instead of living on the surface. There is more to learn and to discover, but we must keep searching and not accept less than the best of who we can become.

Friday, March 4, 2011

The Tortoise Instead of the Hare

Yesterday was a great day, the kind that built up my confidence that I am on the right path for me, and encouraged me to stop looking to my left and to my right and comparing myself to others. The day began with our local mom's group, and I knew that an author who had written a book about managing money as a mom was coming to share. In typical fashion, I was instantly jealous, and told myself that she probably had kids that were older than mine, and therefore had more time to write and secure a publishing deal.

Wrong. Her kids are younger than mine, and this caused a mild panic attack. Why am I so slow? Look at how other people are accomplishing things and I'm being left behind! Jealousy is an insidious animal which can wreak havoc with our goals and confidence, if we will allow it to. I listened to her speak, and saw her book, and realized that we are on totally different roads, and I can't panic when someone else is ahead of me on the publishing journey.

I have plans, and steps outlined to accomplish those goals, and the very nature of slowly walking this road has many sweet rewards. It's not a fluke, or luck, but it's hard work, and the journey is long but filled with moments of pure joy and delight, and I'm trying to celebrate each milestone as it happens, on the way to my longest-held dreams coming true.

I left our mom's group and dropped by the studio of a local photographer who I respect and admire for his artistic abilities as well as his business acumen. He is a visionary in his field, and his willingness to take risks inspires me. We had a fun social media photo session, and when I went to pick up William from preschool my head was whirling with new business ideas. I love having more ideas than time to accomplish them because I will have more time in my future, and I'm slowly understanding that doing things later is okay too. It's not an urgent rush.

In the afternoon, I figured out the Paypal "Buy Now" buttons for my blog site, and being somewhat lame when it comes to html codes, I was impressed that I figured this out without any help. When the buttons were up, I sat back and realized the joy that having a book to sell brings. It is step one of the very long journey of building a career as a writer. I don't want to think book by book, or script by script, or story by story. I'm thinking about a career, and building that brick by brick is slow but satisfying, and each step is important.

I took the kids to swimming lessons right before dinner, and loved watching them bloom in the water like flowers, coming into their confidence in a way that was inspiring to watch. I felt settled and happy as I observed them in the water, recognizing that the elusive balance was at play on this day, and these moments, for I was giving my kids the best of me, and also pursuing my career dreams at the same time. That is the goal, and I often miss it by feeling resentful and knowing that I'm missing the mark, but when the gears are turning smoothly, and everyone is happy, it's certainly something to celebrate.

In the evening, I attended a meeting at our high school designed to solicit feedback from community members on how our schools can better integrate into the community, and vice versa. I get so much from these kinds of meetings. The ideas were flowing, and there was a lot of positive energy in the room. I love being part of a community which keeps the needs of our children at the forefront in planning for the future. When the meeting was over, I spoke to the principal about coming in and talking to the English classes about writing and trying to inspire kids that a career in the arts is possible. I'm looking forward to giving something back and investing in the future of our children.

I came home from the meeting, feeling inspired and happy, and received an e-mail saying that my first e-book of blog posts had been purchased. I will never forget how I felt at that moment. It was like standing on solid ground, and knowing that it's all going to work out the way it is meant to, and there are no rigid timelines that I must adhere to. I've spent so much time rushing around, trying to be first, that I missed the beauty of being the tortoise instead of the hare. I'm not competing with anyone, not even myself, and I will enjoy the sensation of walking this road, and enjoying the scenery, and not worrying about what everyone else is doing.

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Stronger Now

I feel as thought I'm rebuilding my life, one brick at a time, and putting extra care and time into making a strong foundation. Before this I was adding layers to my life, but those extras were built on a house of cards which could (and did) blow over at any time. This time around I'm building with a long term goal in mind, and this kind of construction involves looking at behaviours which were learned in childhood. Now that I know better ways of functioning, I'm trying to replace the old with the new.

It's hard most of the time, but I saw the same counselor this week who helped me so much in my relationship with William early this fall, and I realized again in the session how powerful counseling is. I've spent a fair number of hours over my lifetime working through the obvious struggles I experienced with a mentally ill and substance-dependent father, but this time around I needed to work in some areas which are subtle and difficult to define and identify. I told her that I was stuck in a few places on this journey, and needed to slide some puzzle pieces around until they clicked into place so I could stand back and see a more complete picture.

Talking over some of these things with a trained professional is a beautiful experience. She held no judgement, or preconceived ideas, or isn't on anyone's side. She simply listened, and encouraged me by nodding and "hmm-ing", and offered a few insights which were right on the mark. The most profound change comes from the simplest observation, but when we are emotionally wrapped up in the problem, it can be very hard to see the solution. A psychologist doesn't have that problem. She has heard this kind of thing before, and nothing shocks her, so what feels huge to me can be quite ordinary to her. That sense of "it's no big deal" helped to move me forward where I was mired in my own confusion.

I feel stronger now. More sure of what I'm actually doing, and why I'm doing it. I'm still sorry for hurting anyone inadvertently while I re-build my foundation, but I can't let the fear of making someone else uncomfortable get in my way. Real feels so much better than pretend to me, and I only want to deal in the currency of the genuine from this point forward. I love that my kids have learned this lesson much better than I have, and they are not yet eight and not yet five. They will breathe the air of who they are and be accepted for that in a way that I couldn't conceive of at those ages. That alone is worth every moment of indecision and fear I've experienced as I work through these personal issues.

Any of us can change at any moment we are alive. We can go from broken to healed, and insecure to confident, or angry to forgiving. We are all passing through stages, thousands of them, on our way from birth to death, and I am grateful to be looking at my shaky foundation now instead of later or possibly never. I have time to appreciate this new person I am becoming, who is really the person I've always been but couldn't recognize before this point. I am learning to see her, and to love her for who she is, with no strings attached or rewards for good behaviour. Just love, and acceptance, and the belief that one day, if she truly believes in herself, she will be able to do anything she wants with nothing to stop her.

Wednesday, March 2, 2011


I am not known for my compassion. Typically when Jason is sick, I mercilessly mock him when he complains or dramatizes his illness with gasping, sighing or other obvious flags that he is not feeling well. I have a strict "Suck It Up" policy when it comes to sickness, which my kids and my husband have come to grudgingly accept.

Last winter, Jason had a bad cold which took a sharp south turn in a twenty-four hour period, with him spending the night upright on the couch because he couldn't breathe laying down (and kindly vacated the bedroom so I could sleep without him coughing and wheezing all night). In the morning when I came to find him, he was pale and couldn't draw a full breath. I realized with a shock that he was actually very sick, and regretted my business-as-usual approach to his cold.

It was a Sunday morning, and I overrode his protests and drove him to the clinic, and when he came out with a prescription for antibiotics and codeine cough syrup, he was actually relieved to tell me it was pneumonia and he wasn't just being wimpy. This past weekend, when his cold and cough got significantly worse after our date and he began running a fever, I'm delighted to say that I reacted in a more compassionate way. I got him aspirin and water like any good wife, and encouraged him to rest instead of working at his computer and walking on the treadmill.

For the first time, I didn't feel like it took anything away from me to express genuine compassion to my husband. I had always felt diminished personally before when I would show love and care to him when he was sick. It was as though I was keeping score, and felt in the negative before the scoreboard even had any numbers on it. Learning to feel loved in a more complete way has eased this sense of competition between us. I feel more secure and happy within myself, and can give to him without feeling like I am losing any ground in our relationship.

This bit of clarity around Jason's illness has provided me with fresh inspiration. It felt good to be softer and kinder, and have it be a real change, coming from a place deep inside of me. I didn't have to pretend, and he could see that I was different. He was genuinely sick, and I don't like that he felt afraid to show it because I wasn't very nice to him in the past when he wasn't feeling well. I think this will help me in the future when my kids are sick as well.

It's okay to dote on the ones you love and pamper them when they need it, and maybe the next time I'm sick I'll be able to accept that compassion and love as well. I'm glad I've made this change, and it's like every change in that we have no idea we need to alter our behaviour until we realize what is really going on under the surface, and build up the strength to give of ourselves without losing anything in return.