Blessing

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A blessing in disguise

is the very best kind.

When everything seems all wrong,

and your heart is wrung with sadness-

the proverbial ‘dark night of the soul’,

the breaking dawn reveals

a deeper understanding,

a deeper gratitude.

Pain is the price of wisdom.

What I’m reading

What I’m reading:

So I set a new reading goal for 2022. I’d like to read 24 books this year, two books a month. I’m thrilled to say that I’m already ahead of the game for January, as there have been many events this month that have given me cause to escape. It’s been a hard month. But anyway, January’s books were Untamed by Glennon Doyle and The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho. Before beginning any reviews, I’d like to thank whatever divine providence brought these two books to me at this time in my life. The timing was uncanny, and these two books, though very different, have very similar themes. And here we go.

Untamed

Author: Glennon Doyle

Why I read it: This book was recommended by a friend several months ago, and apparently I downloaded the audio book when I had some free audible credits and I forgot that I owned it until I finished another book on my kindle and found myself with nothing to read.

Synopsis: Untamed is all about finding your way to your most true and beautiful life by unlearning and unbecoming all of the things the world has expected of you as a human (particularly a female human but not exclusively, the patriarchy hurts men too).

Reaction: I LOVED THIS BOOK SO MUCH. This book spoke to me on so many levels, as a woman of a certain age living in the world, as a mother raising kids in the digital age, and just as a human trying to navigate my humanness. This book is like the wisdom of the ancients, but rather than some pointy headed man pontificating at you, it’s like having coffee with your girlfriend while the two of you untangle life’s challenges together. There were so many times I found myself thinking “YES!! THIS!!” These are the words for so many things I have been feeling but could not say. And I was thrilled when we got to the part about raising sons. And the way she tackles challenging scenarios with wisdom, humor, and wit. So relatable, so easy to love. Highly recommend this book.

Favorite Quotes:

  • “This life is mine alone. So I have stopped asking people for directions to places they’ve never been.”
  • “I can feel everything and survive. What I thought would kill me, didn’t. Every time I said to myself: I can’t take this anymore — I was wrong. The truth was that I could and did take it all — and I kept surviving. Surviving again and again made me less afraid of myself, of other people, of life. I learned that I’d never be free from pain but I could be free from the fear of pain, and that was enough.”
  • “In my thirties, I learned that there is a type of pain in life that I want to feel. It’s the inevitable, excruciating, necessary pain of losing beautiful things: trust, dreams, health, animals, relationships, people. This kind of pain is the price of love, the cost of living a brave, openhearted life — and I’ll pay it. There is another kind of pain that comes not from losing beautiful things but from never even trying for them.”

Book 2

The Alchemist

Author: Paulo Coelho

Why I read it: I bought this book several years ago and it’s been in my TBR pile. I bought it because it seemed like the kind of thing I should read, I liked the cover, and it was recommended for anyone with wanderlust. I finally read it because my work colleague texted me and said “YOU HAVE TO READ THIS BOOK SO WE CAN TALK ABOUT IT!”

Synopsis: The Alchemist is the story of a shepherd boy’s journey to himself. He visits a gypsy woman to have a recurring dream interpreted, and she tells him his treasure lies in the pyramids of Egypt. (This part reminded me of Pee Wee’s Big Adventure… “Your bicycle is in the ALAMO! In the BASEMENT!”) Along the way he meets a cast of characters, each of whom teaches him something important and guides him along the path to his treasure. Throughout his journey he follows omens, he learns to listen to his heart, and ultimately he learns that his treasure has been inside him all along. But he did get to see the pyramids and isn’t that neat?

Reaction: This book reminded me of one of my favorite books of all time, The Little Prince by Antoine de Saint-Exupery. It takes you on a beautiful journey and teaches timeless life lessons along the way.

Favorite Quotes:

  • “And when you want something, all the universe conspires in helping you achieve it.”
  • “The simple things are also the most extraordinary things, and only the wise can see them.”
  • “Remember that wherever your heart is, there you will find your treasure.”
  • “Intuition is really a sudden immersion of the soul into the universal current of life.”

The reason I wanted to thank divine providence for bringing these books to me is because these books, as different as they are, share a common theme. Listen to your heart. Trust your knowing. Your intuition is a gift. At a time when I’ve been looking outwardly for affirmation, for guidance, for help, these books reminded me that everything I need to achieve my ‘personal legend’ is already in me. I’m grateful for the reminder.

Growing

I happened upon this tree while I was walking my dog and I was so struck by it. The tree has grown up through the fence, and now the fence is a part of the tree. I thought, well, it’s kind of like life, isn’t it? We don’t get to choose the circumstances into which we are born, or the obstacles and challenges we will face. But we were meant to grow through them. Our challenges make us who we are. They grow us into who we are meant to be.

That, and it also looks like the tree ate the fence.

om nom nom…

Entertain

“Entertaining a notion, like entertaining a baby cousin or entertaining a pack of hyenas, is a dangerous thing to refuse to do. If you refuse to entertain a baby cousin, the baby cousin may get bored and entertain itself by wandering off and falling down a well. If you refuse to entertain a pack of hyenas, they may become restless and entertain themselves by devouring you. But if you refuse to entertain a notion – which is just a fancy way of saying that you refuse to think about a certain idea – you have to be much braver than someone who is merely facing some blood-thirsty animals, or some parents who are upset to find their little darling at the bottom of a well, because nobody knows what an idea will do when it goes off to entertain itself.” – Lemony Snicket

I’m all out of ideas. I haven’t had a really good idea in a long time. Maybe it’s because I refused to entertain so many of them. They just didn’t seem right at the time, or I was afraid, or I decided someone else would be a better candidate, or whatever. There was always a reason. I can’t do that, I have to take care of my babies. I can’t do that, I have to work. I can’t do that, I don’t have any money. I can’t do that, I don’t have time. I can’t do that, I’m not qualified. There was always a reason.

So the ideas stopped coming. They dried up like mother’s milk. If you don’t use it, you lose it. The brilliant ideas that were meant for me moved on to someone who would entertain them, all because I was too busy spinning my cocoon of comfort and stability.

And now I’m 41 and I’m sooooooooo bored. Work, laundry, dinner, ball practice. Wash, rinse, repeat. And the only thoughts I have beyond scheduling and budgeting and caring for my family is “How can I possibly make more money?”

I’m bored and I’m boring. Trying to envision a big, bold life, but it’s just this nebulous idea I can’t grasp. Maybe I need a vision board. But a vision board implies that you have a vision to begin with. Maybe I need to meditate. I can do that while I fold the laundry or wash the dishes. Maybe I need to journal.

Whatever it takes to attract the muses back. I promise to entertain them this time.

 

 

via Daily Prompt: Entertain

Doubt

A seed

in a wayward wind it blew,

it lit on me

took root, and grew.

The soil was rich,

and fertile, too.

And from that seed

a vine did sprout-

a pesky weed,

a creeping doubt-

came winding in

and winding out.

It grew so fast

and so complete,

it bound my hands

and bound my feet-

I can’t advance,

I can’t retreat.

This pestilential plant I’ve found

has got me rooted to the ground,

but I can’t make a single sound.

I just let it take me down.

Doubt is such a tricky thing. Even the spelling is tricky. Pretty sneaky, silent b! Doubt is an uncertainty, a mistrusting. It isn’t necessarily a bad thing, I mean, I believe it’s important to face life with a healthy skepticism. You know, take everything with a grain of salt. What I have, and what this poem is referencing, is a crippling self-doubt. A doubt in my abilities, a doubt in my intelligence, a doubt in my worthiness. And this feeling persists regardless of any evidence to contrary. No amount of success has been able to erase it.

Apparently this feeling has a name- impostor syndrome. It’s the feeling that any achievement or success a person may experience is based on luck, or charm, or any other factor rather than actual knowledge, experience, competence, etc. I cannot believe or accept that I’ve earned or deserved any award or accomplishment I’ve received in my whole life ever. All my degrees and certificates are shoved in a box in the back of a closet somewhere because they aren’t real, they are meaningless, and I don’t deserve them. I always feel like I’m in over my head, but at the same time I have to keep pushing myself to do more and be more because I crave validation. Gold stars, pats on the back, affirmations, whatever. I’m a big black hole of need. So I work too much, I take on extra responsibilities, I over-prepare and yet the cycle continues. Nothing is ever enough, nothing satisfies. The voice in my head tells me, “You don’t deserve this.” “Don’t get a big head- nobody likes a know-it-all.” and the one that makes me the most sad, “Who are you to want this, to dream this?”

So in a weird way, impostor syndrome pushes me and holds me back at the same time. I feel like I excel at being mediocre. I’m afraid to try new things because I don’t think I’ll be successful, but even if I was successful it wouldn’t be good enough. I think even if I won a Nobel Prize, the voice in my head would say, “So what? Anybody could do that.”

OK, so you have a problem. But what to do about it? I did some reading and research (because of course I did…) and I found this article from The Muse to be helpful. I need to be more mindful of the way I think and speak about myself and my accomplishments. Stop seeking external validation, and learn to cultivate internal validation. Take risks, try new things, and focus more on the process, not the product. Screw up and be OK with it. And finally, make friends with that inner voice. If I can’t shut her up, at least I don’t have to listen to her.

To this end, I’ve decided every month to try something new, something that pushes me out of my comfort zone. Something I might even (gasp!) NOT BE GOOD AT. Something at which I might even (gulp!) FAIL. I have no idea what this will look like or how it will unfold, because I’m so deeply entrenched in my comfort zone that I can’t even see beyond it. So in the coming days and weeks I’ll be doing some soul searching and reflecting. What is something I’ve always wanted to try? What would I love to do if I wasn’t afraid? Amazingly, these questions draw complete blanks. I have no idea. So I guess this month’s adventure is compiling a list. Which on the surface seems boring and stupid, but hey, you have to start somewhere.

And I’ll learn to embrace my inner impostor along the way.

Looking for the Silver Lining (or, is there such a thing as Viagra for my self-confidence)

Like many children of the 1980’s, my brother and I were latch-key kids. Every day after school we would let ourselves in the house, dutifully call our parents and let them know we made it home, then feed and entertain ourselves for a couple of hours until our parents made it home from work. We didn’t have cable, and back in those days we only had about four channels to choose from. And even though PBS had quality children’s programming, for some reason we watched a lot of divorce court.

I don’t know why this particular memory decided to surface today, but I remember so vividly this episode, this divorce. The wife had said the husband was impotent. I didn’t know what the word impotent meant, but I understood from the context that it was a bad thing. I remember so well Judge Keene’s scathing rebuke of the husband as he handed down his decision. “Not only are you physically impotent, but you are morally impotent…”

“Boy, I wouldn’t want to be that guy,” thought my nine year old self. I still didn’t know what that word meant, but from the emotion surrounding the entire episode I figured that being impotent must be about the worst thing a person could be. I held fast to this new knowledge and waited until the time was right…

We were visiting my grandmother’s house. My brother and I were arguing and fighting, as we always did when we were together, and I decided to use my new weapon. I can still feel the sneer on my face as I growled through clenched teeth. “You’re IMPOTENT!!”

I couldn’t wait to see how my insult had wounded him. Instead I heard a sharp intake of air from my grandmother, and then shrieking. “WHAT DID YOU SAY??? WHERE DID YOU LEARN THAT WORD??”

Wow. Judging from my grandmother’s reaction, this word must be more powerful than F. But it remained shrouded in mystery, no one would explain the meaning to me.

I eventually learned what it means to be impotent, and I think I understand why this memory came to me today. It’s because that’s the name of this feeling I’m experiencing.

I’m feeling impotent. Powerless.

I found some baby birds and I tried to save them but they died. Natural selection is a bitch.

My husband has been out of work for a couple of months and I can’t provide for my family on my salary. Music lessons? Sports camps? No, no, no. Why does everything have to cost so much money?

My sweet children are being corrupted by their peers and I can do nothing. There are some words I just don’t want to hear come out of my child’s mouth. I know these things happen, and I remember being this age and being fascinated by the world of adult language. I’m just not ready for this.

Every now and then we all feel overwhelmed by life, don’t we? My initial response is just to lie there flaccid and let the chaos consume me because who the hell thought it was a good idea to put me in charge of anything anyway. When I think of all the things I have to do, everything I am responsible for, and all the myriad ways I could screw it all up I get that sick feeling in my stomach like when you’re walking and you miss a step and for a half second or so you’re just free falling into the abyss.

Powerless. When it seems that everything is out of control it helps to remember that nothing is ever really under control anyway. Put the blinders on and focus on what you CAN do instead of what you CAN’T do. Your power lies in your response to what life throws at you.

I couldn’t save the baby birds, and while it was sad, it did introduce my children to the fact that death is a part of life. This is something they need to know, and I’m grateful they learned it from these birds first, before a beloved pet or close family member. Baby steps, you know.

My husband will find work again, and in the meantime we will just have to learn to live on less, another important lesson for our children. I’m grateful that even during this time of hardship, my children have never been hungry. All they know is that we can’t go to McDonald’s right now. Even at our lowest we have it so much better than so many. And the biggest blessing of this hardship is that it has made us more resourceful and forced us to lean on our friends and each other.  We truly are each other’s keepers and therefore we take care of each other.

As for my children being corrupted, well, it’s just time to step up and prepare my children for the path. And for all the punks and assholes they will likely meet on that path. This is perhaps my hardest task, because everything I want for them runs counter to what the world seems to expect from men. Having empathy and compassion for others, not wanting to take stupid risks, these things do not make you a pussy no matter what that kid down the street says. Don’t play with him. He is not your friend.

I suppose I’m fortunate in that my impotence is largely imagined. All I needed was some gentle coaxing and a few positive strokes, something we all need from time to time. We may be powerless to control life’s ups and downs, but we do have a choice as to how we handle the situations that we face, and how we handle each other in the face of those situations.

We are only impotent if we choose to be.

Dog Days

“Get a dog,” they said. “It’ll be fun,” they said.

Actually no one ever said that to me.

We got a dog because my children were growing up and becoming more independent and for about 5 minutes one day nobody needed anything from me and it created a great void in my heart that I decided I had to fill with a dog. That, and I thought a dog would be great for the kids. You know, she would be their best good friend and they would learn responsibility, compassion, and empathy through the care and keeping of a pet. Looking back, I think that’s a pretty tall order for an animal. Also I sort of left myself out of the equation.

Molly came to live with us back in March of this year. We adopted her from a local pet rescue. She had been found wandering the streets, living off scraps and garbage. The lady from the pet rescue said we could keep her for two weeks on a “trial basis”, but we knew as soon as she was in our house she was ours. The kids wouldn’t let us give her back. So we welcomed Molly as a new family member, and thus began my journey to becoming a ‘dog person’.

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My first lesson was about dog food. I had researched and decided that I was going to feed my dog grain free dog food because it was supposed to be the best for them. In nature dogs don’t eat grains. However, I wasn’t prepared for how expensive grain free dog food actually was. The lady from the pet rescue said that Molly had been eating Fromm dog food, so I picked some up from the feed store. At the time I didn’t think $35 a bag was going to be a big deal. It was a big bag and it would last a while. But soon I noticed all the other things my dog would rather eat than her dog food. I couldn’t keep her out of the garbage or the cat’s litter box. She eats anything she can find, leaving her dog food untouched. We have pretty well solved the garbage problem, but the litter box is another story. I thought about a baby gate, but I don’t believe my fat, old cats would be able to make the leap every time they had to go. I also think it would be one more thing they would resent about the dog. They started crapping on the bathroom floor in protest as soon as she arrived. Ah, pet life. Never a dull moment.

My next lesson was what to do with her poop. We live in a zero lot neighborhood, so my tiny yard fills up with poop pretty quickly. I bought a scooper for the back yard, but the idea of scooping up biodegradable dog poop and putting it in a plastic bag in the dumpster just doesn’t sit well with me. If I leave the poop where it is, time and weather will work their magic and the poop will become part of the soil. If I put it in a plastic bag, it will sit in a landfill indefinitely. It makes no sense to me. I did some research and I learned that biodegradable poop bags are a thing, but that just irritated me. I understand at the dog park poop can become a problem. I mean, no one wants to step in it, and I sure don’t want my dog to roll in it, so I thought a nice compromise would be to bring a garden trowel and throw the poop over the fence. If I’m taking my dog for a walk and she poops on your nicely manicured lawn, I will pick up the poop, but understand that you and I can’t be friends, because our values are just too different.

The dog park has been another learning experience. I’m OK with dogs, it’s people I don’t like. When I take my dog to the park I like to let her run and sniff and play with other dogs while I read or catch up on school work, but occasionally I feel obligated to interact with the other people there. They do weird things like voice-over the dogs’ playing with one another. “Look! Barkley’s saying, ‘Let’s play!’, but Chopper’s like, ‘No! This human has treats!’ Ha ha ha!” I just stand there baffled, feeling like an outsider. My dog is better at communicating with people than I am. Dogs are so loving and accepting, which brings me to my last point. No one in the world loves me as much as my dog does.

From the moment Molly entered our lives, I felt that she wasn’t just looking at me, but through me. She can see into my soul. I had always heard about the friendship and loyalty of dogs, but the way this dog loves me is more than I deserve. I have a lot to learn about being a dog owner, and I may never be a full fledged ‘dog person’, but knowing that I have my dog’s unconditional love and acceptance makes the journey worthwhile. Now if I could only break her from eating cat turds…

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To the Fly in My Coffee

The cup, abandoned in haste

and left on the counter

for whatever reason

looked inviting to you.

I’m not sure when you decided

to take the plunge into the

abyss of my forgotten beverage,

but in the evening I found you,

floating face-down in a swirl of

sugar free vanilla creamer.

I can’t help but wonder

about your final moments.

Did you slip away quietly

as your breathing organs

(I’m unfamiliar with

house fly anatomy)

filled with cold, bitter liquid?

Or did your brain explode

inside your head and your extremities

begin flailing?

Because that’s what happens to me

when I drink my coffee

because I like it strong.

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