Creative Inspiration

Journal Day 30: Breathe

“Keep a green tree in your heart and perhaps a singing bird will come.” 

- Chinese proverb

My heart is asking me to...breathe. 

The last day. 30 days. I did it. But now to make it not for naught.

To take the lessons. The nuggets. Make them come to life. To influence.

Look up. Have faith. Believe.

Relax (a little). Look up. Look out. Less in.

To feel. To notice. Move on. Breathe.

Suck in. Suck up. Eyes open.

Stop hitting. Yourself. So much. Enough.

Stop looking from the outside. And at the outside. Stop comparing.

Let go. Let life unfold. Make good choices and move forward. Stop trying to predict so much.

Look at what's here. Right now. So lucky. It's okay. It's going to be okay.

And if it's not okay, that will be okay too. Try harder to believe this one.

The singing birds are here. Green trees too.





Journal Day 29: Caterpillars

There is nothing in a caterpillar that tells you it's going to be a butterfly. 

-R. Buckminster Fuller

Photo (6)The transformation I’d like to trust more is…the unfolding of life. Meaning, I'd like to stop trying to predict the future, including planning for every worst case scenario that I can think of. I'd like to get more comfortable with not knowing what's going to happen, and ending sentences with a preposition. I spend a lot of time preparing, planning, making sure no stone is left unturned, no scenario is left unpredicted. The problem is that I think there is some value in this. Little things like bringing water because someone might get thirsty make sense. I can't even think of some of the predicting I do that doesn't make sense (to me) right now but I'm sure someone close to me can.

Of late, I've had a few minor medical issues that I've predicted to be medical disasters before a doctor's examination. I plan out how it will go, what it will mean, how devastating it will be, how I will handle it with the kids, etc. Aside from a feeling that I need to prepare for the worst, I've also known way too many friends and family where disasterous situations and diagnoses have come true. And, I think, why not me? I'm next. I hate this thinking for two reasons - in some ways it feels like it trivializes what friends and family have and are experiencing, and it's also ridiculously self-centered. And wasteful. I feel like my mind is wasting time thinking terrible things when I should be living. While I think that I know why I do it - fear of death, need to control, among others, sometimes I can't seem to flip the switch off.

The fear of death thing is 99% about leaving my kids without a mother and much, much less about me worrying about what will happen to me. And leaving them without a mother is all tied together with wanting to be the one to give them the perfect childhood filled with love, just the right amount of adversity and challenges, and comfort, and love, to make them strong, well-developed, balanced, loving people. Because I'm self-centered enough to think that as great as B is, he can't do it without me - that I'm the only one who can do it. In my perfect way.

It's ridiculous really. Maybe the more I write about it (perhaps no longer ad nauseum in such a public forum) I will really start to believe that my children - and my life - will turn into a butterfly whether or not I'm in charge, or even here. And while I desperately want to be here until the end of time (which I'm also pretty sure is happening in our lifetime), maybe realizing it's okay if I'm not.

That things are going to work out, or they're not, regardless of how I feel or think or obsess or plan for them. The thing that still stops me is the fear of missing the signs that will help me make the choices I do have to influence the working out or not part. This is the part of the struggle that I can't shake.

Journal Day 28: Legos are Life

“Have no fear of perfection…you’ll never reach it.” - Salvador Dali

I feel like I've spent a fair amount of space on fear and perfection in my #30DayJournal already so I'm not sure I want to write too much more about either topic, but Dali's phrasing is interesting. Fear of perfection. Maybe that's actually what I need. If I feared it, I wouldn't aim for it.

As I've thought about "letting go" and what I'm willing to let go of - for my own sake - I've been thinking about what it would look like to let go of aiming for perfection. What it would look like to let go of fear. What concrete steps I can take, things that I would notice to spur me on further in the process of letting go. I'm still thinking...

I just turned to my six-year-old for some help. Slightly exploitative and a tiny bit developmentally inappropriate, but helpful, perhaps...(slightly edited/condensed due to imperfect memory):

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Me: What do you think about the word perfect?

6-year-old: ...

Me: Do you think it's good to try to be perfect?

6-year-old: Yes.

Me: Why?

6-year-old: Because...

Me: Do you ever try to be perfect?

6-year-old: Yes.

Me: When?

6-year-old: [Thinks for a minute.] In my shows. My dance show every year at school.

Me: Any other times? When you play soccer?

6-year-old: ...

Me: School work?

6-year-old: At school or homework?

Me: Either.

6-year-old: Well, I try not to mess up what I write, because then I have to fix it, and that interrupts school.

Me: What about with your legos?

6-year-old: No.

Me: Why?

6-year-old: Because I can build whatever I want.

Me: Are you done talking about this topic?

6-year-old: Yes, but I'll talk to you about something else.

Me: Okay, what?

6-year-old: Baseball. Who won the Mariners game last night? [he was quizzing me.] Did the Yankees win their game last night? Who did they play?

I went 3 for 3. Not that it matters.

But that last bit, "because I can build whatever I want." Maybe I can use that to reframe some of my own perfection issues. My issues with right and wrong and black and white.

New mantra: Life is legos. Legos are life.

Photo 1 (2)

Full disclosure:

While I was writing this, the 6-year-old came in to tell me that if I was going to finish cleaning up the crayon bin that I had purposefully spilled over to get stuck crayons out that he had started to clean up for me, that I had to do it by color, and to keep all like colors together in the same sections.

Nature or nurture? Regardless, it warms my heart.

Clearly, I have a long way to go.

Journal Day 27: Good Sense

“The chief enemy of creativity is good sense.” ― Pablo Picasso

Is it though? I've got lots of good sense. I've sort of won awards for it. Me=good sense. Me=voice of reason. I don't consider myself creative. Really - that's not begging for internet love. I promise.

I have long debated Picasso's premise (mostly with myself). Especially in the moments when I'm feeling particularly "creative" in not-so-productive ways. Or when I'm thinking I need to give the therapist a call, or in the rare moments when I have wondered whether medication for my worry and anxiety might not be a bad idea. And, then I think (in a somewhat cliche, expected manner) if I get medicated, then I won't be me, I won't be "creative."

I think I've got creativity inside of me. Like, it wouldn't be in the top five adjectives I use to describe myself, at least professionally speaking. But I actually do think I've got creativity inside and it comes out sometimes. It's clearly been used up this month with this #90day I mean #30dayjournal, but I come up with good solutions that I would classify as creative. I'm not "a" creative like I consider B to be, but throw a problem at me and I can solve it - creatively. Does that count?

Also, this whole writing thing, okay maybe that's not super creative - or at least this version isn't. 

Fine. What's wrong with good sense anyway?

Journal Day 26: Keeping My Soul Aloft

The principal thing in this world is to keep one's soul aloft. - Gustave Flaubert

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Representation of the things that weigh me down that I'm going to try to let go of...

As the #30dayjournal project winds down, and I tire of my own self-reflection, ramblings, nonsense, and despair over none of my enlightened musings going viral, tonight I'll stick to the prompts provided and play it straight. And short. Here we go!

What brings me most alive is…love. No, seriously. Love of my husband, my children, when I get to do good and meaningful work; friends, colleagues, strangers, moments, chocolate, Yankees, music, travel to new and old places, New York, soccer, life. Love of people, experiences, and yes, some things. 

I am open to experiencing more… chocolate. Okay, this one is difficult. Discomfort? Uncertainty? Yes, uncertainty. That would be good for me. More uncertainty. Really. I'm going to be open to that. Patience is part of this, yes? I'm in. 

The things that weigh me down are…anxiety, fear, control issues, much of what I've written about this month, not eating, sleeping properly or for optimal health, worry. Prediction of future potential catastrophe. Repeated attempts at perfection.

I am willing to consider letting go of…doing laundry? Folding it? Dishes? Okay, fine. I'm going to try to let go of obsessing about...(I keep writing and deleting ideas)...Why is letting go so hard?!?!? Okay, trying to be perect, make the perfect decision every time. Trying to be conscious of when I'm doing that and letting it go. As much as I can.

My soul soars whenever…I let it (you know, when all those other things and life fall into place).


Journal Day 25: Terrified

I've been absolutely terrified every moment of my life and I've never let it keep me from doing a single thing that I wanted to do. — Georgia O'Keeffe

Pretty much this. This may be the closest thing to true for me so far. I mean, not every minute, but a lot of them. But I push and I pull and I take a deep breath and I jump. Some of the things seem small afterward, or even during, like "what on earth was I so scared of?" Other things seem big until the very end and even in retrospect...and just as scary. But I know enough to know that if I didn't do things that scared me - and now, if I didn't let the kids do things that scare me, or even B, not that I'm really allowed to "let" him do stuff, but you know, that whole death thing - anyways, if I didn't do that stuff, I'd probably be dead in a whole other way. A terrible kind of alive dead way.

Now, I'm not as strong as Ms. O'Keefe (or perhaps as dramatic), because I've definitely let fear get in the way sometimes. But I hope not when it mattered too much. And quite frankly, my ego tells me that I actually surrendered to the fear and the knowledge that sometimes my fear is too much and I can't make it go away or control it and I make choices to not do things because they are inconsequential enough to let go of and save myself (and those around me) some anxiety.

Most timely example: B and I have never flown together, without the children, since having children. I know the odds, the rational stats, the whole "safer than a car" argument, etc. But here's the thing. I can't wrap my head around it quite yet - almost, but not yet. And really, what are we missing? On the once in a blue moon times we are alone, together, without the children, I'm good with wherever. Why stress out to chill out with my dude? Nah. Maybe later. I know #firstworldproblem. #notreallyaproblem.

Old examples: Trying out for stuff. A lot. Taking a trip with school to Europe (after saving up the money so my mom's fear couldn't stop me). Studying abroad. Traveling abroad. Alone. NYC. AmeriCorps. Moving. Flying. Working for a Presidential campaign. For a former President. Harvard. Marriage. Kids. NYC. While all of these things were unbelievable - seriously, unbelievable - opportunities, they all took their turns scaring the sh&* out of me in big and small ways. Like, really scared. Every last one of them. But I guess that's what they mean when they talk about the difference between "good fear" and "bad fear" and trusting your gut. And, luck has a lot to do with it I believe. And being in the right place at the right time - which means you have to move around a bit.

But sometimes fear makes your gut go away. And for a while it stopped me. Growing up, the death fear - specifically of my mom, dad, and sister dying, and the fear of someone breaking into our home when we were home could be debilitating at times. I had ridiculous nightmares throughout my childhood from a very young age and was scared whenever any member of my family left that they were not coming back. To the point, that as a teen, I remember being left home alone for one of the very first times and swearing I heard noises and crawling under my bed with my (corded) phone and debating for several minutes that felt like an hour whether I should call 9-1-1 because even though I was pretty sure my mind was playing tricks on me, I wasn't really sure...yeah, that kind of stuff.

While my fear doesn't look like this anymore, and it hasn't stopped me from living, I'm still the girl who's scared in the country or the burbs or the low-level apartment to not shut and lock all the windows at night (duh on the door). I'm sure there's at least one metaphor here that I'm too tired to notice.

My fears have both lessened and increased with motherhood. Less fears for me. More fears for them. The great effect this has had is to make my fears of old about all sorts of things matter SO much less to me now. Social anxiety, getting worked up about "little things," fewer anxieties in professional situations. I care less. I care, but less. Sometimes people call this, "putting it in perspective" but really, we're all putting things in perspective - doesn't mean one perspective is write or wrong or less or more. It's just that I've got mine and you've got yours. I get that they don't have to match. You don't have to get angry about the things I get angry about (though you should) and you don't have to be thrilled about the things that thrill me (though you could).

Basically, what I'm saying is, I'm totally Zen now. Fear? Terrified? Who titled this post anyway?

#30DayJournal #Day25 #LosingMyMind

Journal Day 24: Surrender

If we surrendered to earth's intelligence we could rise up rooted, like trees. - Rainer Maria Rilke


I should be surrendering right now. To sleep. I should have surrendered an hour ago. To words in a document that weren't quite right but I couldn't let go. I'm not good. At. Surrendering. The "should" has a fair amount to do with that. What I should and shouldn't be doing. Also that perfectionist problem. The illusion of control. I want to surrender. I do. But a lot of times I can't let go or surrender until I'm physically unable to go on. Which happened today, yesterday in fact. Back. Out. Working from a horizontal position.

While I don't think I did anything I could have prevented to make the back thing happen (this time) I had no choice but to surrender to it today. It required some choices I didn't like to make about work and timing and appointments and logistics that made me itch a little.

In my old, wise age, I'm trying to realize that small surrenders now can help prevent the need for big surrenders later. But not always. Because as hard as I try, you can't always tie things up in a bow. Sometimes you have to keep surrendering over and over again. And that's supposed to be meaningful and good, but sometimes it doesn't feel that way. And, sometimes, it feels like you may never have to surrender again. You're so strong! Hmmm...wonder why I switched from first to second person there....

Faith. Surrendering. Higher purpose, power. Exhaustion with surrender. Exhaustion without surrender. And Dazzle. So much to be dazzled by. Life. Is. So. Full. Lucky. So damn lucky.

Tired. Surrendering now. 

I could have written such an amazing post about surrendering, but I'm so tired, and trying to prove I can surrender to "good enough" so as much as it physically and emotionally pains me, I'm publishing this half-a!$ piece instead.

Journal Day 23: Dazzled

"You must habit yourself to the dazzle of the light and every moment of your life." — Walt Whitman

Today's prompts were well-timed for me.

Today, I am dazzled husband.

I want to pay attention more to…my husband and our relationship.

Thanks to a good, old friend of mine (and now ours) B got to play in a baseball tournament up in Cooperstown (home to the Baseball Hall of Fame and the famed Doubleday Field where the tournament was held) this weekend. For those of you who don't know, B is a HUGE, like GINORMOUS - like there are fans, superfans, and then there's B - baseball fan. It's been a lifetime, but he's a former player too. We decided to make it a family affair since the kids and I had never been. 

While I've discussed pre-kids and post-kids life in terms of me and mostly me - I mean, it's a journal right?!?- what I haven't talked as much about is pre- and post-kids life in terms of B and how little he does that just about him or for him. He works a lot, he supports us a lot, he's here a lot, he does domestic stuff a lot, he does dad stuff a lot, son, brother, son-in-law stuff...not a lot of B stuff. Aside from sports watching, paying attention to, writing, and talking, which he manages to squeeze in between all that other stuff.

So. This. Was. Special. And. Rare. 

The first part of the dazzle (don't tell him because I gave him a really hard time for it) was watching the "gear" arrive over several weeks. The new pants he needed ("you need special pants?"), the jerseys ("don't you already have a jersey?"), the cleats, 2 pairs ("really?" - to be fair, one was returned), the new glove ("you have a glove"), and on, and on, and on. He was excited in a way I don't get to see so often and sometimes probably I don't notice. But, this time I noticed. The twinkle in his eye. He was getting dazzled and I was dazzled by it.

I debated whether or not the kids and I should join, mostly because I didn't want us to ruin his moment. We have needs, issues, logistical constraints. I wanted to be there and knew the kids would get so much from seeing their dad on the field, but I didn't want us to mess it up for him - take away any of his dazzle, that he so much deserved. We risked it.

Right before we left, he asked me, "are you excited at all about this trip?" I was tired, anxious (as I often am before we leave), didn't feel awesome, and said, "no." It wasn't true, but in that moment it was about 96.5% true. I felt badly as soon as I said it. We packed.

There was a long drive. A mediocre motel, rain. Game cancellation. Not much immediately apparent to do with soaking wet kids. But, then, then there was baseball. And well, maybe it was a little bit the uniform, but I was dazzled. It's not often my job to watch my husband do something. To perform. To do something he loves. I've seen him speak a couple of times for work and had a similar feeling, but this was different. Cooler. More dazzling. He played well. He held his own. We cheered. We watched. We listened. We were proud. I was proud.

Maybe I was fulfilling some silly "player's wife" fantasy, but I think it was just kind of awesome to have this time to bear witness to my husband fulfilling a dream, and to really focus on him, and just him, for a whole weekend (minus all the day-to-day family stuff we/he squeezed in seamlessly between the baseball playing). And, well, the uniform(s) didn't hurt either.

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Photo Credit: James Pugner

Journal Day 22: Solitude

"Solitude is the cure for loneliness. Like cures like." — Caroline Casey

Photo (3)It's been a long time since I've had a good bit of solitude. I do feel lonely every now and then but not too often. I spend a lot of time connecting, reaching out, making contact with others, but I also have moments that are quieter. I'm not often alone but I get glimpses. Since motherhood, I also have problems not being with my family. And by problems I mean that I have a hard time not being with them. Not all the time. But when there are activities in which we can ALL be together I usually choose that option over splitting up. Some of this has to do with fear of people dying. Yes, that's right. Fear. Of. People. Not-just-any-people-but-my-people. Dying.

I'm pretty sure I was born with this fear and have always operated under zero assumption that anyone is coming back when they leave. I have no rational explanation for this, but I remember it from the beginning of my memories. Nightmares. Intense separation anxiety as a child. I think it dissapated somewhere around middle or high school [self-obsessed] and returning when I fell in love with B. He traveled a lot and over time I actually made some incremental progress with this particular anxiety. And, then, kids.

Since then, I've been in "on" mode pretty much 24/7. There are several gradations of the anxiety, but it's never really gone. Smart/cell phones have enabled me to feed my fear when I'm not with them. It can be very unpretty. And I make no apologies. I'm almost embarrassed to write about this one because I feel like many people don't know it about me, but the more moms I talk to and become friends with and share my dirty little secret with, the more I find who have the same problem. Which has two effects: (1) I'm not alone (2) I'm not crazy...and I'm not sure this is healthy reinforcement but there you have it. "Like cures like."

When I think of a time in my life that I've had "solitude" I think about the times I traveled alone in Europe during college. In particular, 2 days in to a 15 or so day journey, I remember having a bit of a breakdown in Rome. This was at the end of 6 months studying abroad and a week or so of travel with a good friend. I was tired. I was lonely. I was scared. I was alone. More foreign languages, more cultural customs, more figuring out to do. I'm not sure this matters but this was pre-cell phone world. I mean, they existed, but no one had one. I didn't. I was done and afraid the amazing trip I had planned for myself would just be too much. So I did what any girl in my situation would do: I found a McDonald's, ordered a Happy Meal, and went up to this park overlooking the city and cried and ate and wrote about it all. It was (and became), of course, the best trip and experience of my life.

Solitude. Is. Underrated. And sometimes I wonder if I will ever be able to feel true solitude again. I'm lucky enough that I've had occasional time away with friends, with B, from the busy-ness and noise and depth of motherhood life, and while I think some of these moments have been resorative, even meaningful, mostly they've been good distractions, reminders, breath-givers. All good, wonderful, and necessary things - or optimal at least. 

I think I'm ready. For. Some. Solitude. Even if it scares me.

Journal Day 21: Remembering Who I Am

Today's 30 Day Journal prompt is about remembering who you are, to not limit how you define yourself. I have written a fair amount over the years about pre- and post-mom self-definitions and talk to women who are afraid of losing themselves, women who feel like they've lost themselves because being a mom is just so big and consuming, even in the moments when it feels like it's not, or it shouldn't be. In the early days of being a mother I remember it being all consuming in every way, especially physically. There was so much, all the time, that it just felt right and I gave myself permission to be consumed by it, by the moments - the glorious ones and the horrific ones.

At a certain point, for me it was around 6 months, other things started to creep in - like time for thoughts that were not about caring for an infant. I started to think about what else I could and should be doing. I started to miss the other parts of me. With both children, I was lucky to have social circles from the beginning so isolation wasn't much of an issue but I wanted more/different than always mom. I wasn't sure what more or different meant but I know by the way I was acting and feeling impatient and cranky and writing about being angry I needed to make some shifts.

The issue of identity has reared itself strongly since motherhood. I remember a tiny bit of this in adolescence as well but I've always had a fairly strong sense of self. Part of this is also due to perceived and real emotions that so many of us have around working in and outside the home, paid, not paid, and all the terminology in between. When meeting new people, I often employ a don't ask, don't tell policy unless the other person brings it up first. Seems silly when I write it but not in the moment. I love when others introduce themselves with all of it up front so I don't have to wonder. The flip side is I feel like it shouldn't matter, I shouldn't put so much weight on it, but these things, these facts about ourselves, are part of the entree into making connections with one another. A way in, a way to become not "other" with new friends. I consider it part of the process of finding commonalities, even in our differences.

In the last year or so, I've started playing soccer again for the first time since college. Aside from the exercise and social fun, I love bringing this part of my identity back to the present. The feeling I get when I play, the adrenaline rush, this thing that is just about me. And, I (sometimes) love bringing my family to the game. Look, it's mommy, doing something cool that has nothing to do with being a mommy. I can do that a little with work too, but at their age, work = computer or office. They only sort of get the kind of work that I do and it's not quite that interesting (yet). I need to do more PR for myself.

When I get asked to introduce myself these days I often fumble because I'm not sure which me they want me to introduce and they don't all feel quite like the same person. And, people judge. I plan for that. Which I shouldn't. I also think a LOT about context and that's apparently not always the best idea either. At least not when you're trying to think of something (or someone) as whole. This happened yesterday at an event/meeting where I had to introduce myself and I went with a version that included nothing about my professional work (which actually would have been applicable to the audience) and rushed through it and immediately regretted leaving it out. End of the world? No. But made me think.

Writing and thinking about my identity and motherhood and the shifts and insecurities makes me feel not too evolved in this arena. Part of what is coming out of this journal is that writing is a part of what I've been missing. Not just since becoming a mother, but for a long time before that. Not that I didn't write at all, but it hasn't been a regular part of my life since meeting B, which was another big time of identity shift. Not just being me, but being part of a relationship, something bigger. I also had spent a lot of time writing about boy angst and I didn't really have much boy angst after meeting B. I was also maturing beyond the self-obsessed version of myself that delayed adolescence had given me. Though, clearly that part of me is easy to rekindle.

What's become clear is that I want to start thinking and talking about myself more as a whole and less of as a whole bunch of parts.