All aboard! I’m on the 19 for 2019 Train!

In the past, I have been a New Years Resolutions Maker. My resolutions tend to be some version of the same thing year after year: Lose weight. Save money. Write.

Since I have rarely been a a New Years Resolutions Keeper, this process is a little frustrating and disheartening. After decades of failed resolutions, I finally decided to give them up. I do see the value in the idea of a January reboot, though. In fact, today is the last day of my third-or-fourth annual January Whole30–woo! Resolutions or not, I still want to capture that rush of clean-slate motivation that comes with the new year.

Thanks to Gretchen Rubin and her Happier podcast, I’ve got a new way to take advantage of my January good intentions: the 19 for 2019 list.

Gretchen Rubin first talked about this exercise in 2018, based on a listener suggestion. Instead of goals for the year, you make a list of things to do that will (hopefully) make you happier. Rubin and her sister/co host, Elizabeth Craft, shared their 18 for 2018 lists and listeners all over the world chimed in with their own lists. Follow the hashtag #19for2019 on any social media platform and you’ll see some inspiring and fun ideas.

So, I’ve made my list. It was hard to narrow it down to 19 things, but I did. Then I made a pretty print of it and hung it on my bulletin board over my desk. It feels weird and personal to share it, but without further ado, here are my BIG NINETEEN:

19for2019

Why these particular things? Who knows, really. Plenty of things I want to do are not on this list, and some of the things on this list are things I would have done regardless. Some things, like #15, are easy-peasy and I can cross them off in a day for an instant feeling of accomplishment. Some things are challenging in a fun way (#10), some things are challenging in a not-so-fun way but they’ll be worth it for the payoff of completing them (#4 and #17.) Some sound suspiciously like my old resolutions (#7 and #8), but they’re on this super fun list now so I’m hoping that my stubborn brain won’t notice the trick. Some are things I’ve been meaning to do forever (#1, #9, and #12), but now they’re on the list, so this is the year!

Looking at it today, this list seems pretty manageable, like I may have set the bar a little low. But I know myself. If I look back in December and half of these are checked off, I’ll feel like at least I was intentional and accomplished some things that are important to me.

In fact, already this list has influenced my actions–I committed to an online writing class yesterday that will help me accomplish #12 and #13. I was fretting about the expense and struggling with insecurity about my writing ability, and I almost declined…but then I remembered my list. Gotta check those suckers off! Sign me up!

Since #8 requires me to blog monthly, I’ll update my progress here from time to time.

Have you done a 19 for 2019 list? What’s on it?

 

Autumn Healing

If it hurts to touch it,
Stop touching it.
Ignore it,
And let your inattention be
The space into which it dissipates.

But if it swells up hard and livid,
Gut it like a pumpkin.
Plunge your hands in flesh and seeds.
Reach into the hollow and scrape.
Light it up from the inside, ghoulish—
Put it on the porch for the neighbors to see:
Look at this grinning thing I made.

Now bare your teeth. Grin back.
This lurid reflection scares no one, save you.

Let the days march, coming and leaving.
Let the weight of an Indian summer
Dispel your longing and loss
Like motes in slanting sunlight.

Sit with it while the nights turn chill.
Watch it cave in, shrivel up and stink.
The day you no longer recognize it,
Throw the whole mess into the bin
And get on with your Thanksgiving.

Baby, You’ve Got Class!

  • Seventeen Magazine 1987

    Seventeen’s Back-to-School 1987 issue

The back-to-school issue of Seventeen magazine: was there anything dreamier in all of Teenagedom? I can still conjure the smell of it, that combination of glossy pages and perfume samples. Three times as thick as a regular issue, the back-to-school edition was unfailingly packed with girls in bright tartan plaids and chunky sweaters, posing in front of lockers or ivy-covered facades. I pored over it, page by glorious page, lying on the floor of my bedroom and listening to a cassette tape of Madonna. It was the Eighties.

In Southern California, back-to-school weather is crackling hot, which worked for me since I could only afford to shop the clearance rack, and any new clothes of mine would be summer remnants anyway. The one first-day-of-school outfit I can remember consisted of a black-and-white-striped, sleeveless, crew neck sweater; white, high-waisted suspender shorts either handed down or stolen from my sister; huge silver hoop earrings that were wide enough to see your reflection in, and a scrunchie. I was proud of that outfit. I planned it weeks before school started. I can’t remember the shoes, though. I may have blocked them from my memory; I could never get the shoes right. I am still shoe-challenged.

Today I saw a Target back-to-school ad and was hit with a wave of nostalgia so intense it was almost painful. My adolescent self would punch me in the face if she heard me say this, but I am jealous of the kids going back to school right now.

I miss that new-leaf feeling: the discovery of new teachers and new books, new gossip and new crushes. New music in choir—how I miss choir!—and a new round of auditions in drama. I miss the slant of the light between the buildings as the rushing current of students carried me from class to class.

For a moment, I thought I even missed the digital sound of the class bells, but no. What I miss is the schedule and the structure, decisions made for me and enforced by someone else, so I could simply do as I was told, then blame the powers that be for the stupidity of it all. If I was unsuccessful it was only because I was too good for such mundanity.

Of course many back-to-school memories are not pleasant. Every math textbook ever issued to me, without fail, had a penis drawn in it. WHY? Maybe we’d have more women in STEM careers if we weren’t haunted by crudely drawn penises whenever we opened a math book. Just saying.

No,  I haven’t forgotten how I hated school—I was miserable in junior high and high school. I remember the bitterness of it, the relentless self-loathing and shame, comparing myself to girls who were skinnier and prettier and more confident than me. Oh wait, I still do that—the difference is that then, those feelings were soothed by the conviction that someday, I would magically be better. After graduation, I would metamorphose into something spectacular, and that would show them!

I was destined for greatness. It was a vague sort of greatness, but I knew it would involve fame: an author, an actress, a singer. It had to be something very high-profile so that every boy who failed to notice my [utterly unexpressed] longing for him would wish he had.

You often hear people lamenting their lost innocence. I lament my lost ignorance. I want to un-know these things:

  • Success is built on mundanity. No one is above the grind.
  • Boys do not notice you longing for them unless you tell them that you are longing for them, which is an extremely uncomfortable conversation that rarely achieves the outcome you desire.
  • If you want to be a famous author, you must actually write things, sometimes years and years of things, before anyone will take notice.
  • You can spend all your time and money on being prettier and skinnier but that won’t make you more confident, and being confident takes a level of self-trust that money cannot buy.

Oh, to believe in Seventeen magazine again! I want a new outfit to make everyone notice me! I want a “Can’t-Miss Haircut” and “260 New Ideas for Fall”!  I want a Trapper Keeper full of fresh paper and pens, like magic feathers to keep me organized and productive. I want to know, with the conviction of my 15-year-old self, that I am going to do something great someday.

That is nostalgia: bitter with loss, sweet with perspective. I had so much and so little then. I have so much and so little now. Things change, but they stay the same. I still want to be noticed. I still want to do great things. I just need more somedays!

My 46-year-old self clings to this wisdom:  today is someday, simple things can be great things, and I am the only one who needs to notice.

 

 

 

New Year Optimism: Happy 2018!

I love New Year’s Day. I wish that I could boil this feeling down into concentrated drops and place one under my tongue every morning, so that each day starts with this page-turning feeling full of possibility and hope and freshness. There’s no reason it shouldn’t. My intention for 2018 is to make that a practice.

2017 was a very difficult year for me, as it was for many people. Beyond the state of the nation and the daily onslaught of horrible news, I went through some personal crap that really hurt me. I became obsessed with those events and the feelings they triggered, my brain repeating and magnifying the pain on a non-stop loop that would literally wake me up at night. That negativity became a sort of involuntary, wordless mantra that crept into all aspects of my life.

The good news is that I’m old enough and self-aware enough to realize that this is not okay and furthermore, this is not ME. I have learned, after years of managing depression, to separate the part of my brain that beats me up from the part that is worth protecting, and I can intervene. (Worth noting: if you cannot see that separation or you can’t muster the will to intervene, that’s when you need professional help.) So I fought it, but it’s been a tough battle that I’ve been fighting for the better part of a year.

Apparently, as every podcast, self-help book and spiritual tradition in the world will tell you, the solution to this swamp of negativity is gratitude. Over the last month, I’ve received that message in a hundred different ways: notice the good. Be grateful. Celebrate what’s right, what’s working, what you have. Direct your focus to the positive things.

So, that’s the plan for 2018: to be more deliberate about noticing the good, being grateful and celebrating. This applies to everything: my job, my home, and especially myself. I want to keep a gratitude journal but I also want to pause several times a day to quickly inventory what’s good in the moment. I want to develop a new pattern in my brain.

In that spirit, I sat down this morning and made a list of good things that happened in the generally craptastic year of 2017.

GOOD THINGS THAT HAPPENED IN 2017

The Women’s March: I walked in the Women’s March in Orange County last January and it was incredibly uplifting. Throughout all the ugly political news of the year, I could close my eyes and remember what 20,000 people marching in solidarity looks like, and know they are just tiny sliver of people in this world who will stand up for good.

Murphy’s Surgery:  In 2016 I found and fell in love with an injured stray dog who needed an expensive knee surgery. In February 2017 I was able to get him that surgery, thanks to donations from friends and a charitable grant. A couple weeks ago, we watched this little guy running on the beach in blissful abandon: four solid knees and one huge pit bull smile.

Our garden:  My daughter and I removed some ugly old shrubs in our tiny back yard and replaced them with a bed of interesting plants and a raised vegetable garden. Some of our plants were more successful than others, but the process was a pleasure, and we ate food that we grew ourselves, so we’ll call that a win.

Reconnecting with an old friend: This was a twofer. My dear friend from high school, Christina, is also a writing coach and all-around wise woman. We went for years without talking, then years when we’d talk once or twice. In 2017 we began regularly scheduled calls where we’d have a long talk, then do a writing prompt together. From those calls, I got writing practice, some desperately needed human connection and a reminder of who I am from someone who knows me better than almost anyone. (A threefer, I guess.)

New Job: I started a new job in 2017 that pays much better than my old one and offers better opportunity for professional growth. It also brought new friends, a new area of SoCal to explore and an hour-long commute, which seemed like a minus until I started thinking of it like this: each day, my commute affords me a couple hours of solitude in which to listen to audiobooks, music and podcasts…which brings me to…

Podcasts: I found some podcasts that I love. Thank Oprah for Super Soul Conversations which has featured some of my heroes including Elizabeth Gilbert, Cheryl Strayed, and my new guy, Shawn Achor, whose book The Happiness Advantage is first on my reading list for 2018.

The Story Intensive: Christina recommended an online writing course called The Story Intensive that I completed in the fall. It was difficult and uncomfortable, and I learned a lot about my writing and myself. I also wound up with new writing friends around the world, a draft of a short story of which I’m fairly proud, and a renewed relationship with writing.

Morro Bay Girls: Out of the blue, I got an invitation to spend the weekend at a beach house in Morro Bay (on the Central California coast) with three cool women, none of whom I knew well (outside of Facebook) before that weekend. Just hanging around those girls in that sleepy, beautiful place was a balm to my heart. We’re having a replay this weekend and I can’t wait.

Last night, I was ranting about what a terrible year it was; how glad I was to see it go…and this morning, after making this list, I realized that there was a lot to be grateful for. I want to notice the good things in real time and not let the pain of life cancel out all the joy. So, more lists, I say! Lists every day! Notice the good things, document them, celebrate them. Train my brain to be constantly on the lookout for what’s positive.

Happy New Year—regardless of what kind of year it turns out to be—let’s be happy in 2018.

The Sentimental Crockpot

File Jun 18, 12 26 38 PM

This is my crockpot, circa 1998. Most of my kitchen is stocked with items from 1994, the year I got married. This one is from the year I got divorced. It’s not the most modern slow cooker, and fellow party-goers make jokes about it, despite the exceptionally tasty meatballs I’m usually toting in it. I could get a newer one that would probably work better and be less “retro-chic,” but this one has sentimental value. My dad gave it to me. He’s been gone eleven and a half years now, and few things call him to mind as quickly as this old-school crockpot.

My dad and I didn’t have the warmest relationship. He wanted four kids; I am Kid #5. I have no idea how old I was when my mom told me that, or why she told me, but my revisionist memory makes it seem as if I have always known this.

What I remember most about my dad was him watching TV by himself in the family room. Sometimes he’d shout clear from one end of the house to summon me from my room on the other end, only to ask me to change the channel. He could be gruff, even taciturn. But when he was in a good mood, he was hilarious, telling us funny stories, sometimes pranking us or our mom. He teased a lot, and you couldn’t tell when he was joking. I was the sensitive one who’d get hurt feelings and run crying from the room, which would piss him off. No wonder our relationship was a little strained.

Most of my childhood memories are hazy at best, and few of my dad remain at all. This one, circa 1977ish, sticks: I was sick in bed, in my yellow bedroom where the daisies from the wallpaper marched straight across the curtains. I don’t remember feeling sick, so there’s a high likelihood that I was faking it and my mom put me to bed to call my bluff, but I can’t be certain.

My dad came home and appeared in my doorway. “You’re sick?” he asked. I nodded. He vanished for a few minutes, then returned with a bowl of peanut M&Ms. From the doorway, he flung his hefty frame onto the bed next to me, causing me to bounce on the mattress and the M&Ms to jump from the bowl onto my pillow. “Would some M&Ms make you feel better?”

My dad loved me, and I knew that. But like many fathers of his day, my dad’s chief role in the family was provider. The nurturing, daily kid management, and responsibility for creating happy memories was my mom’s arena, so she got most of the credit and most of the affection.

Take Christmas morning, for example. In our family of six kids, Christmas morning involved a spectacular pile of wrapped gifts under the tree. We’d open our clothes, books, art sets, toys…each receiving a haul of gifts that my mom had shopped for, selected and wrapped. And we’d say, “Thanks, Mom!”

She’d correct us, of course. “Thanks Mom and DAD,” she’d insist. Year after year, she’d have to remind us that the gifts were from both parents. She did the shopping, but his paycheck funded the bounty.

Having lived most of my adult life as a single parent, I now recognize the financial feat required to raise six kids in Southern California.  I remember money being a touchy topic, and I know sometimes my mom had to work miracles with the budget, but we always had what we needed and then some. I think now of all the years my dad went to work each day and came home to a house full of kids who needed shoes, orthodontic treatments, football uniforms, piano lessons, and of course, mountains of groceries. I know he didn’t get to enjoy much of his paychecks. I know how that sacrifice feels, and I appreciate him now in a way that I couldn’t when I was a kid.

I know that sacrifice was an expression of love from a father that didn’t easily express love. The crockpot was another one.

My marriage was rocky from the start. We were twenty-one-year-olds with a one-year-old son, trying to do the right thing by getting married. That struggle is a different story, but suffice it to say that of our four-year marriage, we spent two years in marriage counseling until, on the brink of a nervous breakdown, I finally gave up.

File Jun 18, 12 12 35 PM.jpeg

He gave me away when I got married. Fortunately, he also took me back when I got divorced.

The second-hardest part was telling my parents. Seems like all the bad news I ever delivered to my parents was sitting on that same brown sofa, my dad in his Dad Chair facing the TV. I was crying before I could get the words out. “I’m getting divorced,” I said. “He’s moving out next week.”

“Why isn’t he already out?” he barked. Then, with his usual sensitivity, “Why are you crying?”

I stayed for dinner. My mom served pepper steak. As I piled my plate with steak and peppers and potatoes and salad, I said, “I wish I had time to cook like this.”

“You just put it in the crockpot,” said my Dad, who seldom cooked at all.

“I don’t have a crockpot.” I replied.

The next time I went to my parents’ house was for my birthday dinner. My dad was unusually excited to give me my birthday present: this very crockpot.

My mom told me that it was his idea to buy it for me. Other than the gifts he gave her, and even those he often had help shopping for, this is the only gift I can ever recall that he thought of himself, shopped for himself, and wrapped by himself. And he did that for ME. Kid #5.

I knew he was worried about me, and what my life would be like as a single mom. I knew he was trying to make things easier for me with that thoughtful gift.

My dad softened up as he got older. He and my mom went through some rocky times themselves, and in the process of healing his own marriage, my dad seemed to crack open. He learned to say, “I love you” to us, though it would choke him up to speak the words. He spent less time isolated in front of the TV and became more engaged with friends, church, all of us and his grandkids. I know that my kids remember this happier version of my dad, and I’m so grateful for that.

When he was in his early sixties, a stroke took his balance. Later, a second stroke took his mind and mobility. Two years after that, in 2006, we said goodbye to him, all six of us with my mom together in his hospital room. That memory has not faded at all, but so many others are slipping away.

It’s good to have so many siblings, because they keep different memories. Soon we’ll be old folks who tell the same stories over and over to help us remember. This crockpot story will be one of mine.

 

 

 

 

 

Notes from the Flip Side: Meg Gets Loopy

When I wrote my last post about misadventures in internet dating, I got commiserating responses from fellow internet daters, and a note of fear from one dear friend who is “just dipping his toe” into the online dating pool. “You’re scaring me,” he said.

Of course, I graciously reassured everyone that there are plenty of nice people in the internet dating pool—heck, I’m in it, right? Mostly it’s decent human beings out there, and everyone is looking for the right match. Sure, I sniffed, I haven’t found mine yet, but I still believe he’s out there.  Then I poured another cocktail and tried to laugh it off.

Well, everything changed, the very day I published that post.

Today I can hardly write because I can’t see out of my heart-shaped cartoon pupils. No kidding. I’m pretty sure there are birds and maybe even squirrels singing happy little tunes right outside in the parking lot of my office building.

I met someone. I mean SOMEONE.

Normally, I meet nice guys on internet dates— guys who are pleasant and reasonably attractive and have jobs and all their teeth and I think, “Okay, Meg…this could be viable. There is nothing wrong with this guy. You should give this one a shot. ” And I try to send some moderately enthusiastic text messages to indicate interest, and I try to pencil him into my schedule within a reasonable time frame, and I walk this weird line of trying to keep him interested while I try to talk myself into being interested. Try, try, try. So much work!

You can imagine how attractive I am while I’m doing this ambivalent crazy-dance. Invariably, the guy senses that I’m not actually interested and it fizzles, or I sense that I’m not actually interested and it fizzles, and back to the drawing board I go. Yes, I’m a head case. I keep thinking that maybe if I just give one of these guys enough time, some kind of spark will ignite.

Apparently, sparks don’t require much time to ignite. I met this new Someone one time, and BAM! Two weeks later, I have become a 16-year-old girl. I haven’t been this attentive to my phone since EVER, because maybe he sent a text! Maybe I should send him a text!! Maybe I should write our initials in a heart on a Pee-Chee folder!! With lots and lots of exclamation points!!!!

That “maybe you should try” voice is drowned out by the “WHOOOOEEEEE!” voice and now there is a new one chanting, “Slow down slow down slow down.”

Look, Voices– I am a grown-ass woman and I can handle this.

It is hard to be 40 and 16 at the same time. I’m flip-flopping between giddiness and eye-rolling at my own insipid state. There’s no way to erase all the lessons I’ve learned about rushing into things, or people not being who they appear to be at first. An overthinker/worrywart, I tend to play it close to the chest.  So now, I have this constant argument in my head between the infatuated teenager and the cautious adult.  And you thought I was crazy already. Ugh.

The good news is that the Someone is also loopy. He’ll send a message saying, “I’ve been wanting to text all morning, but I’m trying to maintain composure.”  Or he’ll follow some sweet sentiment with, “Am I being pathetic?”

So we discussed it, this delightful Someone and I—we had an adult conversation about whether we are being reckless. Should we be mature about this and take a step back, perhaps?  Do we need time to cool off?  After thoughtful consideration, we decided HECK NO! THIS IS TOO FUN! Who cares about tomorrow because TODAY ROCKS!

In a week or two or six, if I post again about how internet dating sucks, please forgive this brief, moony-eyed lapse into smarminess. I’m not in my right mind. And I really, really hope I get to stay this way.

Cupcakes and Competition: Lessons from a High School Bake-off

Hot Fudge Sundae Cupcakes with Cookie Dough Centers. Yeah baby.

“Mom,” my daughter said. “I have to bake cupcakes for Huffman’s class. It’s for a bake-off and I get 25 points for entering.”

“Great,” I answered. “How many points do we get when we win?”

Oh, we won. We don’t mess around. We made Hot Fudge Sundae Cupcakes (a la Joy the Baker) with a cookie dough center, complete with whipped cream and cherries. Some of the other kids—kids who brought inferior baked goods–criticized Maddy for trying too hard.

Trying too hard?? It’s a competition! Do you criticize your basketball team for trying too hard? Do you tell your track runners to slow down? No. You tell them to WIN.

My daughter and I are both highly competitive. Our competitiveness is exceeded only by our lack of athletic ability. So while we can’t run faster or jump higher or hit harder than you, we will KICK YOUR ASS in a bake-off. Our cupcakes will mop the floor with your lousy cookies and then stuff them down your throat, LOSER.

Only we won’t say that out loud, because we’re ladylike.

Maddy and I were cracking ourselves up, talking about our aggressive baking and how our thwarted competitive natures spill over into non-competitive arenas because we have no other outlets. Maddy said something like, “Yeah, I’m good at all the lame stuff—baking, board games, logic puzzles…”

Then, because I am a mom, I jumped in with a little lesson that I wish I’d learned earlier in my life.

“Baking isn’t lame. Logic puzzles aren’t lame. You think it’s the lame stuff because it’s what you’re good at,” I told her. “Other people wish they were good at the things you’re good at—it’s not lame stuff. You just don’t value your talents because they come easily to you. But they don’t come easily to everyone. ”

When I was younger, I felt like I was only good at easy things. My strong suits are words, pictures and people.  To me, those are all easy, fun, fluffy talents. Even my strongest skill, which has always been writing, seemed inadequate to me. Because I have a simple, straightforward style, I felt like my writing was unsophisticated and childish. I always believed that the real value was in the numbers skills–the logical, left-brain sort of talents. Yeah, I can make things look nice and I can get along with people but who cares? Who’s going to pay me for that?

As I entered corporate America, I was subjected to personality and aptitude tests that reinforced that belief. No matter which test they administered, I was cast straight into the bimbo category: you’re a Sanguine! A High I! An ENFP! They all seemed to indicate that I talk too much and I can’t keep my act together. I think my elementary school teachers were in on those tests.

I wished I could be more like the analytical types, or the bold, Type-A types. I wished my skill sets were more practical. Basically, I just wanted to be what I wasn’t. Don’t we all?

One perk of getting older is that as we gain perspective through experience, we are able to see ourselves more clearly and understand how we fit into the big picture. I have now read enough bad writing to realize what a gift it is to be succinct and articulate. I have now worked for enough terrible bosses that I see the value in people skills. I have seen enough ugliness to appreciate my own ability to make things beautiful.

I’ve also figured out that not everyone thinks that what I do is easy. Even smart people with great ideas can’t always put them in writing. They think it’s some crazy superpower, just the way I feel about people who can do math in their heads.  More than one employer has capitalized on my people skills—turns out that people skills, or “soft skills,” as they are referred to in corporate-speak, are very hard to teach.

I’m not sure if this is universal or just women who do this, but it took me a long time to understand that the “easy stuff” only seemed easy to me because I am good at it.

This phenomenon of downgrading our own talents seems to be an extension of the grass-is-always-greener mindset.  We always think someone else’s talents are more valuable than our own.  Someone said, “If the grass seems greener on the other side of the fence, try watering your own lawn.”  Genius.

In this case, we need to recognize that just because it comes naturally to us, doesn’t mean it’s cheap or lame—someone wishes it came naturally to her, too.  Someone wishes he could write a better sentence, or bake a better cupcake.  My abilities are unique and valuable, even though it took me several decades to realize it. They are worth cultivating.

Another perk of being middle aged: I still have time to implement all this wisdom I’m trying to impart to my daughter. It’s not like I’m croaking out advice on my deathbed. It’s not too late to capitalize on those talents—not too late to water my own lawn.