The Joy Thief Club

There have been a few “motivational” quotes rolling around in my head lately. I call them that for lack of a better word, but they’re certainly quotes that – fairly succinctly – serve as reminders of the way I like to live life (when I remember).

The first, I’ve written about before: “How we spend our days is, in fact, how we spend our lives.” by Annie Dillard. It reminds me to choose wisely in how I spend my moments, and to evaluate how I’m engaging with the world. When I look back on my life, I don’t ever want to feel as though I wasted precious time.

The second, also one I’ve written about but that keeps cropping up: “Comparison is the thief of joy.” This is attributed to Theodore Roosevelt, but after some googling, it appears there is some disagreement about that. Whatever the case and whatever the source… it couldn’t be more pertinent for me right now.

We think about it a lot in the negative sense… you know, comparing yourself to others and falling short? I compare myself against my siblings sometimes, and can feel like a failure because of it. I don’t make nearly as much money as they do. I haven’t found/chosen a lifelong career and don’t even know that I’ve got much in the way of direction. They’re more mature and… I don’t know, polished? They’re all healthier/thinner than I am (which, that whole “thinner” thing is a crock; your worth has no connection to your size – more to come on that ongoing revelation)… you get the idea. And then there’s the rest of the world. Anywhere you look, it’s possible to compare yourself against others and fall short.

Then there’s the comparison against self piece… like, I get why comparing yourself today against the person you were a month ago might be beneficial if you’re trying to measure progress in something, like health & wellness, fitness, or even educational pursuits. But even that can take a negative turn, if you focus too long on comparing yourself to a previous you, maybe one where you were more successful, in better shape, younger, actually able to conceive/bare children. Or even comparing yourself against a non-existent you, the version of you that you envisioned for yourself, the one that never came to fruition… instead of just being present with (and loving) yourself today, as you are.

And then, there’s the opposite side of the comparison against others coin: being BETTER than. You know, feeling like you’re better than someone else, for whatever reason. You’re smarter, you’re better looking, you’re funnier, you’re more successful, you’re more willing to be part of a team, better at learning things, you work harder than others to open your mind and be a better person…

The funny part is, as I sit here and write this, there’s a voice in the back of my head saying, “Well yeah, but…” and it feels like “not all white people!” when what I should really be doing is listening and learning. Yeah, some people ARE terrible, sure. I could say I’m better than a child abuser because I don’t abuse children, and I think pretty much everyone would agree.  But anytime my brain tries to argue with me and gets defensive, I know I’m striking a chord worth digging into.

My recent struggle with this “better than” comparison is feeling like I’m a better person than someone who, say, supported Donald Trump for president. And what “better” looks like is anything from kinder, to more empathetic, to better educated, to more capable of critical thought, to a better grasp on reality…

It sounds pretty terrible when I say that out loud. But how can we ever change if we aren’t willing to get honest about it? Kind of like white privilege and supremacy; if I’m not willing and able to accept hard truths and own stuff, unpack and inspect my own crap, I’m sure as hell never going to be able or willing to hear anything else, much less effect some change. It’s why I follow a lot of POC on Twitter; so I can learn, and do the work to hear, see, and understand as best I can.

But yeah. As soon as I start thinking I’m better than someone else – for any reason – it puts us on an uneven playing field in my own mind, rendering the possibility for civil discourse highly unlikely. And chances are, that person is going to pick up on the judgement I’ve already conjured, especially since I’m not very good at hiding how I feel (like, I’m REAL terrible with it). That judgement is going to come off as condescension, and I don’t know about you, but if there’s one thing that will shut me down to someone else, it’s them being condescending. (Passive-aggressive is a very close second.)

If there’s someone out there I love who supports Trump and happens to think his being in office is good for the country and everyone in it, me deciding I’m obviously a better human and a more evolved a thinker than they are is not going to solve or change anything. Right?  I don’t pretend to believe for one second that I could change anyone’s mind or force them to believe anything other than whatever conclusions and life views at which they’ve already arrived. But that doesn’t mean I can’t support and participate in the work being done towards what I believe to be right, and just, and true.Or, you know, just work to combat the damage that I believe is being done, without judging the people who are actively supporting it.

So why make that comparison in the first place? Why put yourself up against someone else at all, whether to be better or worse? Why not try to take the judgement and comparison out of all of this, on the off chance it opens up some space for dialogue?

Like, if I remove the self-inflicted comparisons between myself and my siblings, suddenly I have a lot more joy in being who I am, as well as celebrating who they are – their successes, their drive, their lives.

And if I stop comparing myself against who I thought I’d be at this age, or who I was 10, 20, or 30 years ago, or even who I was a month ago, then there’s a lot of room not only for joy, but for acceptance, and growth – inside and out. You limit yourself when you’ve already defined and confined yourself with comparisons.

While I struggle with comparisons of self, and negative comparisons against others, I think it’s the “better than” comparisons I am working to be most wary of. Otherwise it’s a surefire way to thieve the joy right out of life.

More on (moron?) triggers.

I’ve been thinking a lot about triggers lately. Like, there are seemingly random, generally innocuous things that will send me into outer orbit, either angry or anxious or panicky or whatever, but basically my fight/flight/freeze response kicks in, and with it comes tunnel vision and a complete inability to process the situation like a “normal” person.

An example: I live in a duplex. My 2-BR apartment only has one entrance, the front door, that opens out onto the front porch of the house, with steps that lead down to the driveway and two parking spots in front of the house. My neighbor’s 1-BR has a front door and a back door; the back door leads to the back yard, as well as 2+ parking spots, because the driveway goes all the way to the back. In the 3 years I’ve lived there, the front spots have always been for my apartment, the back spots for the other apartment, since they’re the only one with direct access to it. For some reason, though, my new neighbor sometimes feels the need to park in the front, either in one of my two spots (which, you know, whatever; unless C is coming over, my car only needs one spot, and I get that), or they’ll just park in the driveway blocking my car in, because they want to use the walkway to the front porch and their front door.

I should mention that when she moved in, we talked at length about the parking and she was totally fine with parking in the back, so it’s not like I’m expecting this without expressing the expectation.

Anyway. Every single time this happens – which I should mention isn’t THAT often – I am overcome with anxiety and being PISSED. Like I’m going to have to fight for my life over this stupid parking situation. You know, instead of just knocking on their door and asking them to move the car. I SHOULDN’T HAVE TO DO THAT AND WHY ARE YOU SO RUDE AND DISRESPECTFUL AND FFS YOU’VE GOT PLENTY OF ROOM IN THE BACK AND YOUR OWN DAMN ENTRANCE WHY YOU GOTTA TAKE MINE TOO.

Like that.

There are other things, too. One time I had the wrong appointment date/time with Noelle, and I sat in the waiting area as the minutes ticked by, getting more and more worked up, thinking either she’d disrespected me by not writing our appointment down, or that I obviously wasn’t worthy and she didn’t want to meet with me, or something equally NOT TRUE, but man. I had to talk myself off the ledge and do a lot of deep breathing, just so I could respond to it like a sane person. Which meant leaving instead of sitting there stewing, and then sending her an email asking if I’d written down the day/time wrong, which it turned out I HAD.

Sigh.

So, she and I talked about this a little bit during our last visit. She said something that struck a chord, and I believe there’s a whole lot of truth to it for me.

When you grow up feeling like you’re not enough and don’t really deserve space in the world, like you and your autonomy don’t really matter in the grand scheme, and then when you’re modeled that behavior and are never encouraged to be your own best self, to speak up and out, to have opinions and to value who you are and to be your own person, then you end up feeling like a victim of everyone else. At their mercy. Unable to stand up for yourself because you don’t really think you’re worth defending.

And that lends itself to finding yourself in relationships where you’re taken for granted and taken advantage of, where you allow yourself to be treated poorly because you don’t really trust that you deserve any better. You’re easily manipulated, easily abused, easily led astray, and then all the bad things you’re told and shown feed into the narrative you’re already telling yourself.

In The Four Agreements, Don Miguel Ruiz talks about the poison that people feed each other. And that we only accept as much poison from others that we feel we deserve. But once we reach the point where we no longer feel like we deserve the levels of poison being injected into the interaction… that’s when we raise up, and we no longer accept what a person is trying to feed us. “Don’t take anything personally. Don’t make any assumptions. Be impeccable with your word. Always do your best.”

I described it all to Noelle like I’ve had a lifetime of trying to make myself small enough to fit within the parameters of what other people thought and expected. Small enough to fit in THEIR existence, instead of exacting my own, and demanding my own space in the world. Backing myself further and further into a corner, until one day I no longer fit, and I finally stood the hell up and started pushing my way back out.

“And the day came when the risk to remain tight in a bud was more painful than the risk it took to blossom.” – Anaïs Nin

Last year, I think I just took on the last vestiges of toxicity and poison that I could handle before the cognitive dissonance of my own beliefs of my worth (and all the choices I made in keeping with that – relationships, jobs, friendships, etc.) came into direct opposition with what the world has been trying to show me all along: that I’m smart, competent, capable, and worthy of what’s good in the world.

I think starting school was the first big step in the right direction. I think severing ties with toxicity (people and work environments and social situations and that relationship) was the next huge multi-faceted step. Instead, I now have a great (albeit stressful) job where I am obviously valued and appreciated and we’re doing great work with the intention of helping MORE, as much as we can; I’m kicking ass in grad school and learning all about the things that matter most (and showing myself just how capable and smart I actually am); and I am dating a man who is honest, loving, kind, supportive, and good for me in every possible way.

Talk about blossoming.

Anyway. Back to the trigger thing… Noelle seemed to think that when I have this reaction, it’s because I am feeling threatened in some way, like my place in the world is being devalued, and my gut reaction is to raise up and defend what little I have. Which, of course, is that fight or flight mode going into overdrive, and I think THAT is likely due at least in part to genetic programming, because that apple doesn’t fall far from the tree at all. It was modeled, certainly, but I also think there’s some epigenetic switch flipping going on there, too. And the only way I’ve learned to manage it is to 1) take a whole lot of deep breaths until the overreaction passes, 2) determine root causes and conditions, and then 3) stand up for myself in a reasonable way. That’s how I can learn to trust that I’ve got my own best interests at heart, and that I can, and should, and totally know how to defend myself if I need to.

It seems silly to get so worked up about such little, insignificant things, feeling like I have to fight for myself and what’s mine. But when it’s tied into the bigger picture, it all makes sense. All the little things add up. I’m just grateful I’ve got some insight, and that it usually doesn’t leave me – at least not completely – while I’m in the throes of a visceral response. So whether it’s about the parking, or missed appointments, or passive-aggressive comments and behaviors from people who don’t ultimately matter, or perceived slights or threats to my safety and security and livelihood and happiness… I don’t have to hop on that trigger and let it take me to a place I’d rather not be.

It’s no horse, and I’m no Roy Rogers.

From Natural Disasters to the Warmth of the Sun

I’ve had it in my head for a while that I wanted to write a piece here equating the various types of terrible relationships/dates/partners to natural disasters.

You know, like how someone who lies can be like an earthquake: you never quite trust that you’re standing on solid ground because you can’t trust what’s coming out of their mouths. And the aftershocks continue in much the same way the effects of lies are long felt after the original lie is told. Some lies, when discovered, shake you to your very core, and the recovery from that can take months, if not years.

How someone who manipulates and gaslights, making you think you’re crazy or wrong when they’re the ones wreaking havoc, can be like a tornado: tearing through your life like it’s a charming old town, leveling structures you thought would always be standing, leaving you in the wreckage of their behavior wondering what the hell just happened and whether it was somehow, maybe, your fault for being so naive.

How the person who cheats might be like a never-ending blizzard: freezing you out but holding you captive with the hope that things might change or get better, or maybe it’s just a little snowstorm that isn’t nearly as bad as it seems or was predicted or looks on the weather maps because what do they know anyway.

Or how a person who withholds affection is like a famine. Or someone who tries to take over your life is like a flood.

You get the idea.

But after a few months of sitting with those analogies, I just never felt compelled to suss them out any further. I’d like to think that’s because I’ve opted to spend my days and time with more positive mental and emotional pursuits, and that’s probably most of it. I’m much more inclined to celebrate the good in life: the good friends, good relationships, good opportunities, good lessons, and good times.

Which leads me to my current relationship and all of its stability, trust, honesty, happiness, and love. If I am to keep with the prior analogies, it is the calm after every storm. It’s when the sun comes up, the air is clear, and birds begin their bright and clever songs. It’s the happy and the peace you find in quiet moments.

Aside from two notable, long-ago exceptions, nearly everyone I’ve dated has been some kind of natural disaster. I’m not inclined to get into the hows and the whys of it, except to say, a lot of things lent themselves to me following that path. It’s taken a lot of hard work, insight, processing, and willingness to finally get to the point where I no longer have any interest – at all – in chasing a storm.

But in having been conditioned to brace against the elements, whatever they may be, I find myself looking around, not quite yet fully trusting that quiet, that sunshine, that love. I am in the company of someone with whom I feel fully comfortable to speak up, to tell the truth and ask questions and be vulnerable. Someone who finds me attractive in all the ways that matter, and who has no reservations in telling and showing me that, at any and every turn. Someone who is self-aware, and willing to dig deep and talk about things and maybe even change his mind, when it’s warranted. Someone who is simply present, with no games or agendas; just a heart as big and tender as my own, with an infinite capacity for joy and love. I’m learning to breathe and trust it (and him), and am fortunate to have met someone who can be patient and understanding around that.

It’s like, after years of having blindly set up camp in the path of one destructive force after another, I’ve packed my shit, moved out, and followed my internal compass in the right direction.

Here’s to that, y’all. Here’s to letting yourself exhale and be loved.

Sunday Randoms.

I’ve had a few light bulb moments lately that seem to be pointing in a pretty positive direction, all things considered. It’s kind of funny to be 43 and still have these realizations, and to still be so impacted by them, but I suppose that’s just what life looks like when you’re paying attention. Always learning and growing, if you’re into that sort of thing.

Anyway. The first came as a result of my new job and managing people for the first time. There was a part of me that felt like I needed to be a certain way, look, talk and act a certain way, and basically be someone I’m not, in order to be a supervisor. But in the last few weeks, after taking the bigger picture of my entire life experience into account, I realized I’ve had bosses of all shapes and sizes, and none of them ever felt the need to pretend to be someone they weren’t, just for the sake of managing someone else; at least, I never got that impression. Instead, they could absolutely be themselves, and what made them good managers was a willingness to engage, listen, ask questions, and actually lead. I’ve had my share of really BAD managers, too, but I won’t get into that. The bottom line was the realization, for me, that I can continue to be my quirky self and still be an effective manager; I don’t have to pretend to be anyone or anything else.

Another thing was having gone on two good dates with someone I met through an online dating site, with tentative plans to get together again after the holidays, only to have him fade and disappear, with no explanation. Like, I sent him a message to which he never responded, and I haven’t heard from him since. Ghosting, I think they call that.

It was a little surprising and a little confusing, but I pretty much immediately came to the conclusion that whatever caused it – he met someone else, he got busy, he lost interest, etc. – meant that ultimately he was doing me a favor by dropping off. It may go without saying, but I’m not a fan of the ghosting method unless the other person is dangerous or toxic in some way and it’s just better to cease all contact for sanity’s sake; that, I 100% endorse. Otherwise, it seems the least you can do, whether in friendships or dating or whatever, to say SOMETHING before making your exit.

But in this case, the disappearing act wound up offering insight into some things – like character. And also, the fact that I didn’t just assume I must have done or said something wrong. It’s possible I did or said something that struck him the wrong way – I (obviously) have no way of knowing. But the realization that I’m not in the mindset to immediately assume there’s something wrong with ME like I would have in years past… that’s pretty nice. I’m more than happy to just move on and wish him well.

So with the disappearance of the one person of any interest or promise from that particular site, I decided to shut down OkCupid. I was getting too many messages from guys I had no interest in. Even if the original message wasn’t offensive, if I opted not to respond then I’d often get a second message going off on me for not responding to the first one. And that’s one of the big issues I have with online dating sites – the sense of entitlement, but also the sense of responsibility. I feel bad every single time there’s a message I don’t respond to, but it would be a full time job to respond to every one I get, even accounting for removing the gross/ugly ones no one in her right mind would respond to. I’m not sure there’s a good answer to that.

When I deleted my Facebook profile, it took Tinder with it. I’m okay with that. Although that app has actually done me some pretty huge solids over the last year and a half, oddly enough, so I would have kept it, had the connection between it and FB not been necessary.

I’ve had a few people suggest I reopen a FB account just for the sake of having access to Tinder. I’ve also had people suggest I reopen a FB account and add back all the “good” people in my life so I can stay in touch. I have a whole lot of thoughts about Facebook, though, and why there’s no way in hell I have any intention of getting back on there again, even as the rest of the world seems geared toward requiring it in some way. That’ll be a different post.

So school starts back this week, and I think the dating thing is just going to take a backseat for a while. I’m totally good with that, too. Especially since I’ve been working towards living life in person rather than online, and am hoping to meet people that way instead. Which leads me to…

The final realization I recently had was that I no longer want to sit around and wait for someone to come along who will want to do things with me, like going out to nice/new restaurants, exploring, the symphony, opera, events, etc. Most of my friends are happily coupled up and spend most of their time with their partners, which I understand. I am not a priority to most people, and while that may sting sometimes – if I let it – what that means is it’s entirely up to me to get out and do all the things I want to do, whether I’ve got company or not. Actually living life, instead of waiting for it to happen.

So that’s what I’m gonna do.

Contemplation of the “whats.”

There are a few things I’ve been pondering lately. What do people do to take care of themselves? And what are the [nouns] that make folks happy? And then the question that occurred to me the other morning… what do you like most/best about yourself? Like, when you think about who you are and how you engage with the world, what do you like best about who you are?

I feel compelled to mention my awareness of the privilege inherent in even contemplating such things; not everyone has that, because life is more about pure survival for so many, and the concepts of self-care and happiness are, or can be, pretty extraneous. Anyway. Here, in no particular order, are the things I do to take care of me, the “whats” I’ve found that make me happy, and what I like best about me (because sometimes it’s easy to forget the good, or at the very least, not even bother to think about whether I actually LIKE me or not). There’s a fair amount of overlap, which probably makes sense.

Self-Care

  • Pedicures
  • Massage
  • Therapy
  • Journaling (every morning)
  • Cooking nourishing food
  • Going to the gym
  • Exploring
  • Time spent with loved ones
  • Gratitude practice

Happy-Makers

  • Little kids – especially in costume (thank you, Halloween!)
  • “Run to the Hills” by Iron Maiden when I’m at the gym and pretending to chase people on the other treadmills
  • “Superstition” by Stevie Wonder, especially that video from Sesame Street with the kid dancing on the fire escape
  • Joey and Kermit
  • My family – especially my nieces and nephews
  • Delicious foods and fancy cocktails
  • “Last Week Tonight” with John Oliver
  • Anything and everything Jason Isbell & Amanda Shires
  • My new cozy, comfortable bed
  • Making people laugh
  • Learning things and getting to talk to other people about it
  • Hand-holding
  • Traveling
  • Imagining, when stopped in traffic or at a railroad crossing, getting out of the car to dance (terribly) and sing (loudly) and just wiggle til it’s time to get back in the car. Cracks me up every time.
  • I like the way I drive. I know it sounds weird, but only driving a manual transmission, and driving my little turbo-charged car like it’s meant to be driven, makes me feel good.

What I Like About Me

  • I sing when I feel like it
  • I do my best in most things
  • I get afraid, but will try things anyway
  • I share in an effort to encourage connection with others
  • I’ve got a pretty big (and tender) heart
  • I like to learn and have a pretty open mind
  • I’m always trying to be a better person than I was the day before
  • I always try to find my part in things
  • I’m finally settling into who I’ve always been meant to be

These are just partial lists, but they’re things I think about on the regular, and I think that’s important. If there are things I can be doing to take care of myself, so that I’ll be better suited to take care of others, I want to be aware of that. If something makes me happy, I want to remember that. And there’s never a bad time to remember and acknowledge the good parts of yourself; makes it a whole lot easier to then navigate the parts that could use a little work.

Sunday Randoms

It’s been a wonderful weekend so far.

Yesterday was all about self-care stuff… gym, car wash, massage, stocking up on healthy food, pedicure, stocking up on delicious wines, ordering out for dinner, and wrapping it all up with a little bit of coloring. (Yes, coloring.)

This morning, I met up with a friend for yoga and then coffee/breakfast afterward (which was fantastic). The yoga class was right up my alley, too; a perfect mix of instruction, work/challenge, and laughter. I think that may be how I spend my Sunday mornings from now on. The instructor also encouraged us to join her for figure/ice skating, which has totally piqued my interest, so I’m going to look into that. Despite having so little free time these days, I am rediscovering just how crucial it is to maintain a balance.

Anyway. After coffee and food, I got to see another friend I haven’t seen in what feels like a really long time, for a multitude of reasons. I gotta say, the healing power of hugs, coupled with some much-needed affirmation, did my spirit a world of much-needed good. I’ve  been cooking all afternoon, and have a huge assortment of healthy food to eat for the week. Between that and going to the gym every day, I can tell I’m getting stronger; that feels pretty great.

And, finally… Marshawn Lynch is back in the game, baby. So, you know. ❤

I realized I am simply continuing to take steps, whether small or large, in a really solid direction. It reminds me of that Thoreau quote, “Go confidently in the direction of your dreams! Live the life you’ve imagined.” Yep! Totally doing that.

Today also starts the countdown to Jason Isbell & Amanda Shires at the Ryman on Friday. I sold my Sunday night show tickets to someone who is near, dear, and SUPER excited to be going; I’d hoped to have a “special someone” with whom to attend that show, but life has a funny way of working out. It’s okay, though. I find that I am much happier to be attending all by myself on Friday. It’s a lot less awkward to sniffle your way through an entire concert when you’re on your own.

(Or maybe it’s not, but whatever. I CAN’T WAIT.)

Thursday Thought(s)

Don’t look for or expect people to treat you well simply because you’re a good person. Instead, look for people who treat you well because THEY are good people.

That way, if someone doesn’t treat you well, it has nothing to do with who you are, and everything to do with who they are. The responsibility lies with them, and you should never question your own worth just because someone else is an asshole.