Moderation, redux.

Temperance. From Phantomwise tarot deck by Erin Morgenstern, author of The Night Circus

Temperance. From the Phantomwise tarot deck by Erin Morgenstern

I knew before I started writing this blog post last night that I had already written about moderation at least once, some time ago. I was thinking about it again because it only took a week for me to decide that writing about a word a day is too much.

You know those savings plans where you put away a penny on January 1, then 2¢ on January 2, etc., so that when on December 31 when you add $3.65 you’ve saved ONE MIIIIIIILLION DOLLARS? So it’s great cumulatively, but the whole point is that it’s just a tiny bit a day, so you don’t really notice it. Similarly, writing about a word a day is more like a daily reflection: interesting to think about, and maybe it’ll shape an interaction I have today, or impact how I see something today, but it just doesn’t have the teeth for long-term impact. The same way that ONE MIIIIIIILLION DOLLARS is really only $668: nice to have, but not going to buy me that new car.

So I’ll work toward my emotional/spiritual “new car” here, whatever that looks like, by setting an intention, but not a goal. There’s no end to my evolution, as long as I stay where things work.

Feelings day.

Things I have Feelings about tonight, and something like a briefing on what those feelings are:

David Bowie: I feel (1) less-than, that I don’t have profound David Bowie experiences in my past that make his passing painful for me. (2) angry, that I wasn’t exposed (heh) to David Bowie until, really, last year when Sarah Holmes found out that I’d never seen Labyrinth (and probably reconsidered our entire friendship but thankfully has not disowned me), and corrected this problem. (3) alienated, as is often the case when Big Important Things happen that rock large sections of my social circle because they belong to a larger pop culture community.

Shadow of the Hegemon: I know maybe one person who has read this book, and if he has, our opinions and experiences are vastly different. Also, his philosophical muscle is developed to the point where his thoughts about my reactions would certainly feel over my head. Despite that, I would absolutely bring him my feelings about the religious and moral condemnation that occurs between Bean and Theresa if he weren’t taking care of his ailing father right now. Hell, maybe I should – maybe it would help, be a distraction. But I’m not going to take a chance at that not being the case.

Love: too many perspectives, objectives, opinions, to relate what it all comes down to really. But people, places, and things, all have their say. And sometimes I feel like there is no space left for my words, my thoughts, my feelings, my questions, even if I’m directly involved in the conversation. But that’s my own stuff to work on.

Yes.

This secret from Brian Andreas (creator of StoryPeople) is exactly what I was thinking when I came to write this post. He has another story called “Say Yes,” but this one is better for me personally.

I feel like maybe 2015 pushed the winter away a bit so I would have long enough to prepare to say Yes to more this year. I am saying yes to adding activities to my days, saying yes to new experiences, saying yes to spending time with new people, saying yes to getting out of the damned house even when it’s cold out there. I’m sleeping well for the first time in probably my entire life, and I know that’s contributing to my energy level and my overall mental health as well as the obvious physical benefits. Whatever combination of factors is making it true, I’m finding that I want to say yes more than I have in a while. It’s a nice feeling.

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Patience.

It may be a virtue, but it’s not one of mine. At least, not tonight when I’m waiting for my first ever yeast dough to rise. I’ve received verbal hand-slaps telling me to walk away from it, but it’s soooo hard!

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Listen.

Several years ago, I was presented with the notion that in conversation, people tend not to listen, but rather to wait for their opportunity to speak. It didn’t take me long to see that that was exactly what I did more often than not, and I’ve made a conscious effort to change that over time. There are other ways that the word “listen” informs my days as well, especially recently.

More than ever, even than when I worked for a magazine focused on audiobooks, I’ve been listening to at least as many books as I’ve been reading. This requires that I actually hear every word, rather than skimming or taking in whole sentences with my eyes for the gist rather than truly reading it as it was written. As much as I enjoy reading, I often get so caught up in the story that I don’t want it to be “interrupted” by lengthy descriptions of the surroundings, or of family histories, or other “non-essential” bits. But, when I am forced to listen to them rather than having the option to skip to the next part I think is important, it becomes a much more fulfilling experience.

Finally, I’m listening to myself. My true self, my authentic self, the self that loves me and believes in me and knows what is best for me. This self lets me know when I need more sleep, or that my body wants fuel, or that’s it’s okay to say no. This self doesn’t berate me for my choices, doesn’t allow me to feel like I’m participating in willful inaction rather than purposefully engaging in my life. When I wake from an extra-long night of sleep and feel refreshed (yes, that’s why I’m writing this morning instead of yesterday), this is my reward for listening rather than pushing through to some arbitrary number of hours of activity. When I feel satisfied and strong after a meal, it’s  a reminder that my body knows better than my brain what it needs to carry me through my days. Every action, or decision not to act, can be driven by either a positive or a negative thought. By choosing to listen to my kind and loving self rather than the unkind voice that shames me for my choices, I experience happier, healthier days. And nights, because sleep is so, so good, y’all.

So, I’m trying to listen. To other people, to the words my eyes might otherwise miss, to my best self. It isn’t always easy, but it’s always for the best.

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Leap.

I am surprised not at all to find that, even just three days in, the common theme of “words” has shown itself in 2016. When I met with my FlyLady mentor last night, she asked me if I had picked my word for the year yet. I didn’t know this was A Thing, but I had written here on Friday and “authenticity” had been knocking on my brain-door, so there was that. Then later last night, Jennifer Lawson, aka The Bloggess, referenced #oneword2016.

The first time I chose a word to take with me throughout a year was, I think, in 2009, when I chose the word, “Affirmation.” I imagine that one will pop up sometime this year as well, but as I’ve just now decided that I will do a word a DAY, who knows when that’ll be!

So, a word a day for 2016. Some days, it may be all I can do to pick a word and post just that word here. Sometimes that word may be “Nope.” I don’t guarantee that there will be 365 — oh wait, Leap Year, 366 unique words. But, I’ll try.

Today’s word came to me as I was writing this. “Leap.” The word itself was in my head because of the realization about Leap Year, of course, but then I thought about my adventure today out on Spring Point Ledge. Now, I realized last year when I started adult ballet, that adults don’t really have much call to bring both feet off the ground at the same time. Unless your gym routine includes box jumps or jumprope or other jumpy type things, we typically have one foot on solid ground most of the time.Taking ballet for the first time in nearly 20 years, I was jumping – leaping – for the first time in likely nearly as long. Sissonne, assemblé, changement, as both feet came off the ground in the 3rd floor studio, I could only think about landing lightly, not about the actual movement I was attempting to execute.

Today was a little different. I was out on a breakwater of granite slabs, in running shoes, mismatched legwarmers, capris, a hoodie, and a wool hat. I left home on a mission, pretending I didn’t remember that the last time I thought about walking out to this lighthouse, in summer no less, I turned back right at the stairs leading down to the first stones. Today, I took the leap. Only barely, and only a few times, and I may have stopped at one point and sent a message to a friend that said, “I don’t intend to die out here today, but in case you don’t hear from me for a while, I’m out on Spring Point Ledge.” But, a few times today, both of my feet were off the ground. As I think about this, I wonder if maybe I’m shifting into a place where I would sooner place my trust in my eyes, my feet, my physical senses in general, than in my emotional senses. Because, while I may not feel this as vehemently, I love this line from High Fidelity:

Rob: “Should I bolt every time I get that feeling in my gut when I meet someone new? Well, I’ve been listening to my gut since I was 14 years old, and frankly speaking, I’ve come to the conclusion that my guts have shit for brains.”

My guts could very easily have had me curled up in the fetal position out on that breakwater today. There was a point where I felt like I was too far from the goal to go on, and too far from the start to turn back. It wasn’t that moving in any direction was terribly difficult, but that it required a bit of a leap. Both feet had to come up. I had to trust that, if I momentarily lost contact with what grounded me, what felt solid and safe to me, I would yet find purchase, and be supported by where I landed.

So, today’s word is “Leap.” I want to remember that I can leap and land safely. Just little leaps – I don’t need to try and traverse grand chasms. But it’s okay to get a little air. To leave the ground entirely, trusting it to meet me again when I’m ready to come back down.

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Intention.

I’ve been trialing DailyBurn for an in-home workout program and really like it – there are a number of different trainers with different styles and different specialties, but there are a few common themes, which include a call to set your intention for the session during the warm-up. After today’s workout, I was thinking about what it would look like if I set my intention for each task I perform throughout my days. Could “tasks” be turned into, I dunno, “activities,” if I made the decision to set a joyful intention for each one? This ties into the fact that a lot of what I’ve been doing lately to better myself has been in the mindset of doing it to myself, rather than for myself. Punitive energy has never motivated me; I don’t know how or why I expect it to be sustainable now.

I’m going to try to pay attention to how I feel about various tasks – household chores, meeting financial responsibilities, joyful movement – and inspect my reasons for dragging my feet. I’m optimistic and positive in most areas of thought, I don’t see any reason I can’t shift my thinking on these activities that add to my daily life. I’ll start tonight by setting my intention for my nighttime routine. It takes no time, and it’s setting myself up for a successful morning.

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Welcome, 2016

I don’t know what’s compelling me to get back to writing here today, but I’m going to go with it.

A friend shared this post by Paulo Coelho on Facebook last week, and it resonated so strongly for me, despite the fact that I practically didn’t even read it – it was as though there was a perception filter that wouldn’t allow me to really go word by word, rather I took it in as a whole idea. Now as I sit here listening to the soundtrack to Hamilton, looking at my dozy cats, appreciating the dying sun of the day, and preparing to spend another evening with chosen family, I feel like the time is right for me to sit with it in earnest.

This year is about self-care, of all parts of my self. As Coelho says, “One always has to know when a stage comes to an end,” and I think the stage I’m ending is one of indifference toward myself. A few years ago I was going through the motions but my heart wasn’t really in it, and over the last year or so, even the motions ground to a halt. I’m ready to start participating in my life again, deeper than the surface. The word “authenticity” strikes a chord in me today; I crave it in others and feel a spark of joy knowing that I am presenting my own authentic self. I don’t feel as though I have been anything less than genuine with the people in my life, rather that I have not taken or made opportunities to expose the deeper “me” to new people. I have shied away from experiences that would make me vulnerable, perhaps because I felt fragile already? or maybe I was simply tired from a time of radical realness without replenishing the energies I expelled. In any case, I think I’m in a better place to find balance, and to embrace the actions and choices that will both challenge and support my own well-being, in all ways.

Here goes everything.

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“Start where you are. Use what you have. Do what you can.” Arthur Ashe

 

Random Baby Talk

So, even as I have witnessed lil wee bits come into the world as my siblings, chosen family nieces/nephews, and other close-enough-to-see-them-grow relationships, I haven’t felt the parental urge, biological clock, whatever else so many people recognize as their body/mind/heart telling them, “This. We want this.”

But I have experienced the awe of witnessing the first time a connection is made in that ever-expanding mind – you can see it in their eyes: the first time they make sense of the fact that the two parts of their body that are touching are both theirs, and touching. “Those [fingers] are mine, and they’re touching my [toes] WHUUUUUT!” their eyes seem to say. The first time they make a very specific sort of noise, something resembling a word, and you respond with the sort of noise they have heard next, when listening to the world around them. Language is coming into focus. It is all SO COOL.

Sometimes my own development is not unlike that of these wee bits I watch with such interest. Sometimes Therapy Thursday has Rich mocking me – in the gentlest, kindest of ways – asking, “Who is that who’s talking right now, and how old is she?” Because even though I truly feel like I am kicking this winter’s ass – I mean, shit, we’ve gotten 72 feet of snow and had maybe 13 hours of sun over the last two months and I have still managed to go to work every day, do laundry, and provide food for all four living creatures for whom I am responsible – I want to be belligerent and defiant about some stupid little thing he’s asking me to do. Why? Who knows. Maybe just because I feel like getting through winter is enough, and that I shouldn’t be expected to learn or grow until the snow has melted. But, that’s not how it works.

I’m learning and growing and putting things together now, in the same way that Lil G, and Birdie, and all the other wee ones are. They are different lessons, to be sure, but my goal is to grant myself permission to be as awed by them as these little ones are of their discoveries. I want to acknowledge the people and circumstances that have allowed me to stay present enough to grow rather than to stagnate or regress. To be thankful for the opportunities I have that allow me to choose between paths. And to acknowledge the gifts I’ve been given, that permit me to put all of these pieces together and be happy with the result.

Not too terribly long ago, I was that wee bit, learning the building blocks of being a person in this world.  Today is not so different.

You don’t know their story.

I have discussed this topic with people I love, and people whose names I don’t know; people who love me, and people who would vilify me; people who have supported me, and people I have supported. I share my story not to designate a right or wrong. I share my story to offer additional knowledge to those who trust me, but do not know this about me.

In July, 2010, I moved from San Francisco, CA, where I worked as an admin assistant in a prominent healthcare facility, made 53k a year, and lived with roommates (they paid 2/3, I paid 1/3, of the already stupid low rent for the Richmond), back to Portland, ME, where I would be making about 28k a year, and where the cost of both my rent and utilities would increase.

Between October, 2010, and Jan 15, 2011, a few things happened:

I was laid off from my full-time job, and had only a freelance position for income, and had to apply for unemployment.

My youngest brother, a teenager who pretty much did two things: eat, and use electricity — spent many weekends with me, because our mother was unwell and needed inpatient care.

I received a job offer for a temp position (which became a permanent position within two weeks thereafter).

On January 24, 2011, he went to his first day of school in my district after moving in with me, and I went to my first day of the new job.

On February 23, 2011, I became the sole legal guardian of one teenage brother. No child support, no any support from either of his parents. His social security income was still going to our mother as his rep payee, and was not forwarded to me. I wasn’t making much above minimum wage, and it was winter, so utilities were pretty steep in my apartment in the building that still had its original windows from 1864 when it was built. A few months later I learned that I would have MaineCare because I was legal guardian to a disabled child. That was really helpful as secondary insurance, as I still bought my insurance through work because I wanted to do all I could to take good care of myself and of Joshua, and if I had the option of insurance through my employer, I knew I was really privileged and would take advantage of that opportunity.

We received SNAP benefits for a while. It made all the difference, because I was determined that J would not eat all processed crap, microwaveable meals intended to fill a belly but not nurture a body — it was all he knew, so getting him to eat better foods was a struggle, but we’ve made some progress over the years. Then, we lost all of the benefits a couple of years ago when Maine realized that a glitch in the DHHS computer system had cost them a shit-ton of money, because a lot of folks were getting benefits they shouldn’t. I didn’t contest it because I had found work, had (finally) gotten my brother’s social security benefits switched from our mother to me, and, you know, we were doing okay. But let me tell you, when it was summer, and I didn’t make him take his Focalin, and he was home every day – his food consumption went from $500 a month to twice that, and I ended up taking out a loan at my credit union to help me get back on track with some Peters I had robbed to pay Paul.
Did I have an iPhone? Yep. Had I had that same phone since I lived in San Francisco and made 53k/year and didn’t have to feed a teenager? Yep. I didn’t want to lose the grandfathered unlimited data, because with a net-head like this boy, I figured it would come in handy someday, plus I had a 25% discount with work, which put me right about where most cell phone bills were.

Did my nails look professionally manicured? Yep. You know who did them, and still does? Me. I spent $80 once on a kit, a splurge with my tax return. The kit paid for itself in three months – not that I would have gone for professional manicures during those three months.

Did I look like a million bucks when I went out on the town? Hell yes. I bought my corsets at cost, having worked at Stormy Leather – That piece that’s $450 off the rack? $110 for me, and again, back when I had that money to blow. If you could get a two-tone leather underbust corset with steel boning for $65, you’d do it, too. My shoes had been purchased years before, and were well-maintained. My stockings are meticulously cared for so as not to require frequent replacement. My makeup skills have been honed over many years and I get paid to do this for other people now, so yes, it looks like I paid someone to do mine, but I did not. My hair – that is my one concession, and one I didn’t allow myself until just a few months ago. I don’t spend money on myself, but I wanted this, and I spend less on my fire engine red and violent violet locks than I did on the cigarettes I gave up on February 4 of this year.

Bottom line is, you don’t know where my dollars go. If you ask me, I’ll tell you. Do I make some poor decisions about what to spend money on? Of course I do! I was never taught differently, so every GOOD decision I make is a fucking triumph. But I do not say, “Ha ha, look at me getting away with this, look at me tricking all of these people, look at me taking advantage of all of these suckers paying into these programs.” If anything, I say, “Please, please let me be able to buy J’s yearbook, and to help him CosPlay Space Dandy for PortCon, and to afford college applications to the places he’s interested in.” I guarantee I criticize myself and my decisions more than you ever will – so maybe, you could offer some of your knowledge. Ask me, “Do you know about this great consignment shop that specializes in weird shit like he might want for cons?” Say, “I know of a cobbler who could probably fix that busted shoe buckle in a hot minute.” Give me a fucking hug and whisper, “I have the most amazing crock pot recipe and I swear J won’t even know there are green veggies in it.”

I am just one human being, doing my best. I have done a whole lot of fucking up. I have done a whole lot of less-than-the-best-possible. I have done a whole lot of just-shy-of-awesome.

But I have fucking DONE IT. I’m not just sitting back and letting other people do. I am doing. And if someone wants to say that they can do better than I am, please, let them. But you know what? Nobody’s gonna do what I do. Nobody else is going to be to J what I am – our mother couldn’t; our sister didn’t need to be and I didn’t want her to be; our brother wasn’t able; his father… fuck, may as well stop there. I chose this gig, and I am the best person for it. That goes for other positions I hold, in my family, among my friends, and in my community. I don’t do a damned one of them perfectly, but is it better than not at all? I’d like to think so.

I have been judged and criticized and everything else – I’m here to say that I want the folks who would judge me, to see all of what they need to know in order to do so. If they still find me guilty, I’d like to talk to them and find out why. Find out what I need to do to earn their respect. And then decide whether I would still respect myself if I did it.