Birthday Thoughts: 43 and Rollin’ With It

I’m turning 43 today. I don’t really care so much about that, but my birthday might be making me a little more introspective than usual. (That’s saying something. Somebody here might be a narcissist. If you have a personal blog, there’s a pretty high chance of narcissism. Just sayin’. But it’s okay to be a narcissist on your birthday, right?)

There is a very positive development on the horizon for me, and I can’t talk about it because it’s not official yet. But the possibility—the likelihood, even– is so exciting, it’s spilling over into the rest of my life and suddenly everything seems all rosy and full of possibility. I feel happy and beautiful and abundant. I’m actually walking around smiling, buzzing. It’s pretty wonderful.

And, at 43, I finally recognize this for what it is. Basically, this is a mood swing. Nothing in my life is any different than usual. More money may be coming into it, and that’s fantastic and it will feel great. A younger me would be thinking, man, if this happens, everything will be perfect. I will have arrived.

But I’ve learned that that’s not the case, regardless of what new development occurs. Doesn’t matter if I meet a wonderful guy or get a great job or reach my goal weight or whatever. (I have a little shame that these issues are still the yardsticks, but they are. I can’t deny it.) I can be broke no matter how much money I make. I can feel lonely no matter who I’m with. I can feel fat no matter what I weigh, and I can feel sad even when I’m aware of how good I have it. The reverse is also true: I can feel rich when I have nothing. I can feel sexy on my frumpiest of days. I can feel perfectly content and loved when I’m alone.

The absolute crux of my whole existence seems to be mood–not my reality but how I relate to my reality. And when you’re me, with my moods, the one constant is flux. My mood will go up and it will go down. Two days per month it will go waaaaay down. And when stuff goes right, like right now, it will go way up.

Obviously, volumes have been written about this. Not sure what I, small-time blogger, can say that all the greats haven’t already covered. But just like I’m enjoying my UP mood right now, I’m enjoying my grown-up lady perspective that says, “Just roll with it. Don’t grab at it. Just enjoy it while it lasts and see it for what it is.”

This quote from Anne Morrow Lindbergh is lingering with me lately, though the context is slightly off from my own. She’s talking about the ebb and flow of love within the context of a relationship, but I receive it in the context of ebb and flow between me and the Universe, or me and my reality—however you care to phrase it—this is true in the broader perspective, and it helps me to think like this.

We have so little faith in the ebb and flow of life, of love, of relationships. We leap at the flow of the tide and resist in terror its ebb. We are afraid it will never return. We insist on permanency, on duration, on continuity; when the only continuity possible, in life as in love, is in growth, in fluidity – in freedom, in the sense that the dancers are free, barely touching as they pass, but partners in the same pattern.

The only real security is not in owning or possessing, not in demanding or expecting, not in hoping, even. Security in a relationship lies neither in looking back to what was in nostalgia, nor forward to what it might be in dread or anticipation, but living in the present relationship and accepting it as it is now. Relationships must be like islands, one must accept them for what they are here and now, within their limits – islands, surrounded and interrupted by the sea, and continually visited and abandoned by the tides.

Note that she’s not saying there’s no pleasure in owning or expecting or hoping. There’s comfort in continuity; there’s fun in nostalgia. But in the end, there’s no security in it. You can’t bank on it. You are the bank. I am the bank. Kookookachoo.

Speaking of nostalgia, this quote brings back memories of trying to bodysurf as a kid. I grew up in Orange County and have many memories of charging fearlessly into the surf, deep enough so that the swell would lift me off my feet. If you stood in the right place at the right time, the right wave would deliver you smoothly back to the beach. If you timed it poorly, the wave would knock you under and tumble you around until you weren’t sure which way was up, and you’d wind up sputtering and gasping in the sand. I wasn’t great at this, so I did more than my share of tumbling and sputtering. But either way, I’d catch my breath and run right back into the water, over and over again. I’d spend hours in the water, then go home sunburned and exhausted, salty hair plastered to my head and sand stuck in my ears, nose and all the other nooks and crannies of my person. My favorite part was laying in my bed at night, still feeling the ebb and flow of the sea. I could close my eyes and be right back in it, and feel the solidity of my own form against the push and pull of the waves, feel the swell of the water against my legs and the rush of the sand from under my feet.

So at 43, I’ve learned that being a grown-up is about leaning into that ebb and flow. It’s not even knowing which way to lean, or avoiding the tumble and sputter. It’s knowing that there will be smooth rides; there will even be glorious, amazing, can’t-believe-I-caught-that-wave rides. And there will be also times when you hit bottom so hard, you’re still finding sand in your crack a week later.

Whatever happens, good or bad, more waves are coming.

Meg Birthday 43

Head For the Hills

crow-456996_1280

I haven’t written a poem in at least 25 years. But, because it’s National Poetry Month, and because the world seems to be falling apart and writing a normal post seems preposterous anyway–what the heck. Here’s a poem.

A Sunday night crisis after a beery afternoon
soaking up sunshine and friendship
dipping my toes in drunken escapism
then fading back down the jagged path toward home,
that giant pit of need.
The impendence of Monday
slams up in my throat
with the dreadful certainty of morning sickness:
Oh God, not again.
And then a revolt—no really, not again
commandeers me back to my car.
Auto-pilot through miles of tears and stoplights and strip malls
Until concrete gives way at last to earth,
to gentle, grassy slopes,
the calming rhythm of winding roads
and cool, deep canyons where the sunset darts in and out of view.

In the gravel lot of a roadside café I stop to breathe and recognize
and breathe again.

A sleek crow hop-hobbles towards me through the half-light,
waits, watches, cocks his head sympathetically,
but I know better.
You don’t fool me, Crow.
I would give all the shiny things I own
to trade places with you:
my hands for your wings.
And your greedy corvid heart would take the deal, wouldn’t it?
What treasure you could amass with these strong hands,
these opposable thumbs–
Bigger and better. More and more and more.
You’d gloat on your stockpile
til the day you realized
that for a lifetime of grabbing,
of hoarding sparkly trinkets,
you bartered away your birthright:
Flight.

 crow

Sometimes I Even Write Things: Observations from Press Publish

“Meg, you should be a writer.”

This is simultaneously one of my favorite and least-favorite things to hear.

Of course I’m flattered when people say that. It means they think I’m good enough to get paid to write.

The downside is that I’ve known that I should be a writer since I was about 13. I always figured I’d grow up and be a writer. I just didn’t. Instead I became a mom and a breadwinner and a marketing communications professional. I never really got to the writer part. Sometimes I feel like it’s too late.

Which is ridiculous, of course. It’s not too late. I’m 43, for god’s sake, not dead.

I started this blog three years ago, when I turned 40. In the beginning, my head swam with ideas. Every thought spun itself into a potential post. I blogged about nothing and everything. Thinking like that made me more observant…you know, like a writer. I blogged with steady excitement until I found myself in a serious romantic relationship (the advent of which I blogged about extensively) and then suddenly my observations weren’t so entertaining anymore. The really meaty stuff felt too personal to share (not for me—I have, shall we say, very flexible boundaries—but for my former partner). I was so consumed with the relationship that playful, everyday observations just stopped happening. My writing became more labored and my posts felt forced or canned.

I miss it. I miss the days when writing—blogging—was an intrinsic part of my daily discovery process, instead of some kind of calculated response to it.

So this weekend, I did something writerly: attended Press Publish, a conference hosted by Automattic, the people who create WordPress (which is the platform on which this blog is built).

At the conference, there were maybe 150 bloggers like me in attendance. By “like me,” I mean other humans with blogs. Some were younger; some were older. Some were men; some were women. Some sounded like blogging experts, and some, to my great relief, sounded less informed than I am. There were folks who blog about food, crafts, women’s issues, religion, health, aging, photography, business, fashion, and on and on.

The conference included technical workshops, writing clinics, how-tos on topics like SEO and self-promotion. For me, the most exciting part was listening to bloggers—regular schmucks like me—who’ve experienced various measures of success via their blogs.

My blog hero, Katherine Fritz, was the first speaker. I am not making this up: her talk made me cry. (I was slightly mortified, but no one saw me.) Katherine writes a personal blog like mine, which she started on a whim. Now she occasionally has to pinch herself because her blog landed her on big media outlets like Yahoo, MTV and The New York Times. THE NEW YORK FREAKING TIMES. A literary agent sought her out and persuaded her to work on a book. That’s right: the agent came to her.

Katherine (and several other wonderful speakers) talked about the strong sense of connectedness that blogging allows us, how gratifying it is to put a piece of yourself out there and have total strangers identify with you and respond with their own stories. She talked about taking risks and being authentic. She talked about how her blog made her happy.

So why the crying? Because I see myself in her. Yeah, she’s younger and hipper than me but whatever; she’s still a regular person. I met her. She’s real. Just a regular person who started a blog, like me. When she talks about the opportunities that have resulted from her blog, I feel a swell of possibility. Somehow, her success validates my aspirations.

She said that since she started blogging, she sees herself as a writer.

What a coincidence. I’m a writer, too.

Probably the greatest benefit of attending Press Publish was the opportunity to be surrounded by writers. I listened to writers and thought like a writer and talked to writers about writing stuff. And sure enough, my heart filled up and crowded my brain with ideas until I could hardly follow the scrawl in my notebook.

Man, I needed that. I have a lot of writing to do.

Ruthless Self-Scrutiny: The Girl Who Put Herself Down

On a number of recent occasions, a well-meaning friend has pointed out that I often put myself down. Apparently that bothers her. It bothers me, too, because I try pretty hard to be positive. People who constantly put themselves down are annoying. I don’t want to be that girl.

The thing is, I don’t really think that I am that girl. But I also want to be open to criticism, especially from a well-intentioned friend. Time for RUTHLESS SELF-SCRUTINY.

Do I put myself down too much? I don’t think so, but it’s possible.

Could I be doing it without realizing it? Highly unlikely.

I pride myself on being self-aware. My four older siblings made sure of that. They found comedy in my every move, whether I intended to be funny or not. And they reminded me of my unintentionally hilarious behavior for years afterwards, especially on those rare occasions when I had a boy around.

My mother also contributed to my exceptional level of self-awareness by promptly squelching what she perceived as attention-seeking behavior. Any time I put myself down, I was “fishing for compliments.” Any time I said something positive about myself, I was being conceited. Any big outbursts would get me labelled “Sarah Heartburn” and were regarded as disingenuous or manipulative. There really was no safe way to express feelings about myself.

I learned to watch every word I said. I still tend to think very hard about everything I say about myself, anticipate how it might be perceived. For instance, if I’m feeling fat and ugly, I’m sure as hell not going to say, “I feel fat and ugly,” because STOP FISHING FOR COMPLIMENTS. I will just feel fat and ugly quietly to myself. Never mind that everyone feels fat and ugly sometimes. DON’T SAY THAT OUT LOUD.

So, I’m going to rule out the possibility that I put myself down without realizing it. If I do it, I’m definitely aware that I’m doing it. But if I know it’s annoying, why would I do it?

Here are some situations in which I, knowingly, might say something negative about myself:

  1. For comedy. Self-deprecating humor, in small doses, is funny because it’s highly relatable. You’ve got to laugh at yourself sometimes. People get it and they laugh with you. Read the Mattress Adventures post about how I have no idea how to pick up a man. It’s true. And it’s kind of funny, don’t you think?
  2. For relatability in general. Admitting a weakness, like a lack of self-confidence in a particular area, helps people trust you. They see your vulnerability and feel safe to expose their own. Revealing vulnerability could be perceived as putting myself down, but I’m not going to stop doing it because I want other people to trust that they can be vulnerable with me, too.
  3. Because I actually need to talk about it. (This one only applies when I’m with my very closest friends. I don’t unload this stuff on strangers.) There are things I don’t like about myself. There are things I wish I could change. When I’m with my very close friends, I want to be able to talk about everything. I don’t want to pretend that everything is fine and I feel invincible. Sometimes I feel like a fucked-up mess. Sometimes I want to talk about that. Sometimes I want to hear that I am not a fucked-up mess, but usually I just want to hear someone else say, “Yeah, I feel like that sometimes, too.”

Those all sound like good reasons to me. I’m a big believer in transparency. When we hide the things we don’t like about ourselves and we pretend everything is great, we do ourselves and others a disservice. Insecurity feeds on shame and isolation. We’re so afraid people will find out what’s wrong with us…talking about insecurities discharges that fear and helps us feel connected.

But there’s another reason I talk about insecurities. Take this conversation I had with a guy on Tinder, for example.

During our very first exchange, we played The Question Game. He asked, “What are you most insecure about, specifically?”

I said, “My body.”

He said, “That’s too vague. Be specific.”

I said, “Man, you’re ruthless! Fine…I’m insecure about my weight and my skin.”

He said, “Great. Aren’t you glad we got that out of the way?”

And I was glad. I was relieved. When I eventually met this guy, I felt like I’d already pointed out the ugliest parts of myself, and since he hadn’t objected to them, he wouldn’t reject me based on those factors.

Telling this story now, I realize that I do that even when I’m not directly asked: I point out my shortcomings, the things I’m insecure about, before anyone can judge me for them. It’s like a preemptive strike– a self-inflicted preemptive strike. Under the guise of transparency or humor, I’ll tell you what’s wrong with me before you can point it out. You can’t hurt me; I’ll do it first.

Yikes. When I start to write about touchy-feely stuff like this, I figure things out. Obviously I have to knock that preemptive shit off.

But I’m not giving up my transparency or my ability to laugh at myself.

Owning your flaws for the sake of connection is fine. Pointing them out in a twisted self-defense maneuver is not.

In general, I feel pretty good about who I am. I don’t always feel beautiful or confident or like I have my act together. (Sometimes I do! Sometimes all three at once!) But I’m smart and funny and loving, traits that are way more important and permanent anyway. I don’t think I put myself down too often; I think I’m a vulnerable, open, self-aware human who is honest about her shortcomings and occasionally needs reassurance.

But just in case, I’ll pay attention to how often I speak negatively about myself. And more importantly, why.

Seven Reasons to Love Moving

moving photo

I’m not moving again. Not yet, anyway.

The condo that I’m renting is being sold this week—which means another move may be on the horizon. Fortunately, I’m on a lease through the summer, but there is a great big pile of unknowns waiting for me when that lease expires.

I hate unknowns. Especially these:

  • Are the new owners slumlords or decent humans? Will they fix the broken stuff or let the place fall apart?
  • How high will they raise my rent? Will I be able to afford to stay?
  • Will they renew my lease?
  • If they don’t renew my lease, will I be able to find a new place that will accept my dogs?

As a chronic worrier, I find that sometimes, the most helpful way to deal with worrying is to work through the worst-case scenario. In this instance, the worst case is that I won’t be able to afford the new rent or they will not renew my lease. In either case, I will have to move. Again.

My fourth move in five years. Here come the voices in my head:

Cheerful Meg to Worrywart Meg: C’mon! It won’t be so bad! Moving is kind of cool!

Worrywart Meg: Moving SUCKS, you idiot.

But you know what? The secret truth is that Cheerful Meg, though obnoxious, is not entirely full of crap. I do kind of like moving. At least, there are a few things I like about it. And since I may not have a choice, I may as well focus on the good parts.

What good parts, you ask?

Allow me to itemize them for you:

  1. Purging. I love to get rid of shit. I feel righteous, self-controlled—rich, even—when I get rid of things. Before a move, I go on an epic purge of my belongings. Pare down to only the essential six or eight sets of cloth napkins for all my imaginary future dinner parties. Whittle away all but my truly indispensible twelve tubs of holiday decorations. Ruthlessly eliminate extraneous craft supplies until only the most critical shades of glitter remain. I am no hoarder! I am organized! A lean, mean domestic machine!
  2. Anticipation of decorating. Decorating is even better than purging. Decorating is one of my very favorite things, and moving to a new place means I get to decorate EVERY ROOM. Before I move, I measure each room in my new space and actually draw out a floor plan to scale, and then I cut out little paper furniture and rearrange everything a bazillion times. I cannot overemphasize the amount of satisfaction this gives me. It’s downright freakish. I pick paint colors (most of which are never used) and draw sketches and pour over the Craigslist used furniture section in a sort of feverish HGTV hallucination. It’s glorious.
  3. Moving day love. To all my friends and family who have helped me move so many times, I apologize for this part. I know everyone hates to help people move. But you know what? It’s pretty touching that they love me enough to do it. And they’re even pleasant about it and show up with food and useful gifts and make hilarious jokes all day so it becomes kind of fun. If I could spare them the opportunity to love me like that, I would…but if I can’t, well, I’m going to just enjoy the love. Right?
  4. Excuse to eat lots of pizza. As a thank you for the moving help, I buy pizza and beer. And I consume a ton of it. Since I’ve burned 348,964 calories lugging boxes and furniture around, I can eat that pizza with no guilt. Guilt-free gratitude pizza, anyone? Come help me move!
  5. Harnessing of Superpower. Have you ever noticed what an insane amount of work you accomplish on moving day, and the days just before and after? Apparently I have a secret reserve of energy that is only tapped in the event of a move, and it allows me to tirelessly plow through purging, packing, moving, cleaning, unpacking, and more cleaning at a speed that is quite staggering. Sometimes when I can’t muster the energy to wash the dishes or dust the bookcase, I try to channel that Moving Day Superpower. Never works. That power is only accessible on Moving Day. So you have to enjoy it while you can.
  6. Excuse to be messy. Thanks to a lifetime of conditioning by my mother, I have deep and abiding shame when someone comes over and my house is messy… unless I’m about to move or have just moved. In that case, free pass! Come on in! Just pull up a box to this grimy table piled with junk and have some of this leftover gratitude pizza!
  7. And of course, a fresh start. When there are boxes piled in every corner, but at last the beds are made and you can finally lay your aching body down in your new bedroom, you think about all you’ve accomplished and all those who helped and how much there is to do tomorrow. Laying in that new darkness, feeling the unfamiliar energy of the house settling around you, hearing those strange nighttime sounds that you haven’t gotten used to yet…you know the worst of it is over and you can finally turn the page and start a new chapter. And the last feeling you feel—just a quick glimmer before you fall into delicious, dead-tired sleep—is the rush of possibility.

January

This is a perfectly ordinary and wonderfully extraordinary Saturday.

This morning, I saw January sunlight slanting across a weathered wooden potting bench. I taught something. I learned something. I got soil under my fingernails.

I spoke with a woman I admire. She reassured me and challenged me at the same time, and I left feeling full of possibility.

And then home: the exuberance of a canine welcome. The soft fur behind their ears, the boundless excitement as I leashed them up for a walk in 75-degree sunshine and under huge shade trees where the cool, early-morning air still lingered.

I tidied up after last night’s festivities, enjoying my home, which really is perfect for me. It’s everything I need and filled with things I love. Things my kids made. Things I made. Books I’ve treasured, photos of loved ones, crazy bargains that still make me feel lucky and shrewd.

The clinking of empty wine bottles as I bagged them up brought my girlfriends to mind and I remembered two of them at the stove the night before. I thought about how good it is to have friends who know their way around your kitchen.

Last night my teenage daughter sat with us for hours, listening and talking, not even cringing while we moms talked as we always do on Girls’ Night: all the stories we can’t wait to tell each other, no detail too personal. One dear friend shared a part of her life we hadn’t heard before, and we cried with her, though her pain is over 20 years old. But mostly we laughed, because that’s what we do. I realized that my daughter is nearly grown enough to be part of my adult circle, and that I’m surprisingly comfortable to have her there.

Tonight there will be more laughter, and kisses from a man who, though still little more than a friend, has the most compelling dimple just left of his lips. And the glory of being forty-two is that I can enjoy the company of this man without worrying about where it will go, what it will mean, or what anyone else might think.

I’m recalling a bit of wisdom I heard this week, the crux of which was, “You do not lack. You don’t need fixing. Everything you need is already within you. You’re not some imperfect version of your future self; you’re a perfect version of yourself at this moment.”

My throat gets thick with gratitude when I realize how true that is.

Knock-kneed Herons of the Apocalypse

I am happy to report that I have been painting. I promised to show you the fruits of my creative efforts, even the bad stuff, so here it comes.

For months, I wanted to paint something to fill the big blank space above my mantel. I’ve been stalling because big canvasses are expensive, and if I invest in one, I need a plan so I don’t screw it up.

However, plans and pressure suck all the joy out of painting. I like to paint because it’s meditative and freeing for me—but only if I’m not trying to achieve a perfect outcome.

While cleaning the garage, I found a possible solution: two plywood crate lids that my ex had left behind. They were each 3’ x 2’, so I figured I could make a diptych (two-part work of art). Free “canvasses” mean I don’t have to worry about screwing them up!

So, one Sunday, I sat in the garage and painted for hours. I set the two lids next to each other, top-to-bottom, and painted them like one big canvas. Freely, meditatively, I layered on base colors and then stretched big swaths of contrasting colors over them. I played with different brushes, different strokes, and different amounts of water. I got some good stuff.

I made a spirally sun and I liked it.

Then, like a dork, I got out a t-square and painstakingly laid out a compass rose in one corner. (If you’re trying to be free and meditative, don’t get out a t-square. Duh.) I painted it with metallic gold paint. Since I’m going for a travel/adventure vibe in my living room, I thought it would be perfect, but it looked really stupid. It pretty much wrecked one of the lids—I’d have to paint over it and then it wouldn’t match the bottom piece anymore– so I figured I’d just paint them separately and ditch the diptych idea. Diptych is such a ridiculous word anyway. Who even wants a diptych? I painted over the stupid compass rose.

On the other board, now a solo project, I thought I’d try to paint the silhouette of a heron. For some reason, I kind of want a heron in my living room, too. I don’t know where any of this comes from.

The heron started out awesome, but ended up looking like it was doing a pee-pee dance.

Hmmm. What do you do with a knock-kneed heron? You don’t hang it in the living room, that’s for sure.

I wasn’t thrilled that I’d jacked up both my free canvasses. In fact, I was more than a little disappointed. I set the boards aside and began to clean up my work area.

A little while later, I turned around and there they were, leaning next to each other, not top-to-bottom as I’d originally planned, but side-by-side—a different perspective all together.

knockneed heron

And they looked kind of cool.

I called Maddy, my 19-year-old, whom I can trust for an honest opinion. She said, “Well, it looks like a spaceship is going to abduct the heron. And it kind of looks like the apocalypse.”

Okay. I can see that. All valid.

But I was still excited. Not because I want to hang it in my living room, but because it helps me know what works and what doesn’t. Yes, I do want a big heron in my living room. No, I don’t want a compass rose. I like the rough texture and not the smooth, I know which colors work, and I have to watch out for the apocalypse effect.

See? Progress! I actually feel like I could drop $50 on a real canvas now and paint something living-room worthy.

That’s the beauty of letting go of ideal outcomes—you can engage in the process without fear of failure, and find value in whatever results.

I so often hear, “I want to try that, but I’m afraid it’ll turn out terrible!” People who have great stories are afraid to write them. People are afraid to try painting, crafting, whatever—because it might turn out shitty.

So what? Make something shitty! Get it out of your system. Use it as a practice run. Use it to determine what you DON’T want. Not only is it acceptable to write shitty dialog or paint ugly birds, it is often necessary. And sometimes, you make something and feel lousy about it, until you step away from it and give it a little distance…and then you find something redeemable in it. Maybe even something awesome.

Gotta save up for the big canvas. When I make my masterpiece, I’ll let you know.