Saturday, November 1, 2014

And God commanded: Sit Still Already!

There are a hundred reasons why people don't pursue the things that they love and only one sure way to ensure that they do.

Read on and I will reveal all. The reason I know this is because I've spent the last several months reading books on how to set and achieve goals, how to live your dreams, how to write like a mofo, how to clear your energy blocks, etc, etc, ad naseum. I love reading books like this. Why? Because as long as I'm reading about doing something, I don't actually have to do it. It's one of the most hallowed and advanced forms of procrastination. 

However, if you were to condense the advice in all of the books above, it would come down to this: if you want to do something just sit down and do it. Since my goals are mostly centered around writing, for me this translates into: just write.

But wait, there's more. When you take action toward your dreams, life steps up to meet you halfway. The Fates breathe stardust on your work and magic happens.

When I sit down to write, it activates my procrastibrain. I type out a paragraph and then feel an overwhelming need to organize the kids' closets or advance the laundry or indulge my sudden and uncontrollable desire for coffee and a cinnamon muffin. When I finally manage to complete a piece of writing it's incredibly cathartic. I want to cheer and hang a Mission Accomplished banner across my back porch.

If you are doing all these things then, like me, you don't really see yourself as a writer. 

When I go into work, I work full stop for a good 8-10 hours. In a given day, I may interview a job candidate, negotiate a contract, create a salary spreadsheet, give a presentation and answer about fifty emails. I don't expect kudos for doing this. There are no celebrations, my boss doesn't high-five me and fireworks don't erupt into the air and light the ceiling tiles in my office on fire. It's just another day at work. I do it because it's my job. 

The trick, for a writer, is to view writing as a job. Or so they tell me.

Okay, okay, okay, said I, with a sigh. I will just do it. I signed up to participate in NaNoWriMo this year, which, if you don't know about it, means committing to write 50k words in the month of November. The last time I did this, it worked like a charm. I produced a 52,000 word draft of my memoir (which, incidentally, still sits in draft form). I knew it would be more challenging this year because I am working full-time. But I made the commitment to do it. And then something extraordinary happened.

I was walking out of a campus building on Wednesday after attending a social media training and missed a step. I did a dramatic, ankle-crunching triple lutz onto the pavement which earned me an audience of concerned citizens and an ambulance ride to the hospital. They diagnosed me with a shattered left fibula and sprained right ankle and sent me home with a splint, a bottle of Percocet and instructions to lie flat in bed for a really long time. 

So here I lie. Ambulation is near impossible. Even maneuvering from my bed to the bathroom requires fifteen minutes, a rolling chair, incredible tricep strength and the loss of my dignity.

Thus it was I woke up on the morning of November 1st, opened up my computer and wrote 3,000 words out of the chute. I could not stop to advance the laundry, cleaning was a pipe dream and even preparing a cup of coffee was beyond my capabilities (god dammit). I quite literally was robbed of nine-tenths of my go-to procrastination tricks.

One thing I learned from my ordeal of the last few years is that we get to choose our own life narratives. While we can't control the actions of others, we get to define the meaning behind any experiences we have. That is why I have chosen to see my accident not as an unfortunate mishap or evidence of spectacular klutzery, but rather the Universe hearing my wishes and creating for me the time and space to write. 

It also means that the next time I find myself procrastinating towards taking action in the direction of my goals, I probably should just go ahead and do it. Because it would be even more fun to be writing full bore with coffee and two working legs.

Lesson learned.

 When Scarlett Johansson fell down, she got an awesome meme

Sunday, September 21, 2014


Of all the gifts that trauma brought me, the greatest is the ability to be present.

When my children were younger I was rarely present. They would chatter on to me and my mind would be a million miles away. I would realize, mid-conversation, that I had no idea what they had just told me. My body was there, but my mind was projected into some imagined future, far away from the mundane, discordant and often painful reality of the present moment.

Today, when my children talk to me, I stop what I am doing and focus on them. If I’m in the middle of something that requires my attention, I ask them to hold on for a moment until I’m done and able to be present with them. I don’t want to miss anything.

The shift was not a sudden one, but happened gradually over the past couple of years. The more I healed from the shock and injury of my ordeal, the easier it became to relax into the present moment.

My son is at a beautiful age where he is gaining his independence, but still loves to spend time talking to me. Sometimes he will accompany me to the grocery store and we will walk down the aisles and chat about everything and nothing. He drinks in my company like a thirsty traveler and I drink in his.

My daughter is now in the tween years and is often lost in her own world. I crave conversation with her where she isn’t distracted by a book or video. I find myself planning what I might say to her that will capture her attention for a while. I wonder if that’s how she felt all those years when I was never fully available.

Sometimes, I am struck by their beauty. A gentle smile, a unique idea, a witticism, the curve of a cheekbone, a spray of freckles over the nose. And in that moment I am overwhelmed with emotion.

Every day I wake up and I am grateful for their presence in my life. I write these words with hesitancy, as I know how they sound. Parenting is hard. It can be relentless, exhausting, thankless. But I also know that for a period of several years, I worried daily that they might be taken from me or, more likely, I from them. It was the stark reality I lived with.

Today, I can’t be in their presence without feeling a keen sense of gratitude. It is an honor to make their meals, battle with them over homework and awaken to comfort them in the middle of the night.

If I was granted one wish, it would be to reel back time so that I could be present, really and truly present, with my kids when they were younger. I would give anything to sit again with my four-year old daughter and play mind-numbing board games, or simply sit in the silence of an afternoon and hold my sleeping son, feeling his breath rise and fall against my chest. I did these things with my kids, of course, but my mind was far away. So focused on a distant world that I missed the bounty before me.

I realize that this was my way of coping. To be fully present, I would have had to experience all that was untenable in my marriage. I would have had to listen to the persistent voice of my intuition, telling me all was not right. I would have had to acknowledge, and then act on, the discomfort and fear. I wasn’t yet ready to do that.

Now, the present moment is not such a scary place. It is calm and unexpectedly beautiful. It is sometimes sad, sometimes lonely, often joyful, but never untenable.

It is a place that feels like home and one I don’t want to ever leave again.

Sunday, September 14, 2014

Hope in a 30-second sound bite

I have an app which serves up posts I wrote on Facebook on the same date in previous years (Timehop). It can be amusing and at times cringe-worthy to see what I wrote in years past. Yesterday, it showed me a post I had written four years ago, Sept 13th, 2010: “Wondering if there’s ever going to be an end to this, truly. I want my life back.”

I shook my head when I saw this. This was one month after the assault and just two weeks into the criminal investigation. Two weeks! I’m so grateful that 2010 me didn’t know that it would be another three and a half years before all was said and done. I would have crumbled into a heap and cried uncle.

What got me through that year, and the next, and the next, was an unwavering and perhaps unrealistic optimism. I always believed that it would all end soon. I held onto a vision of what my life would be like in the after, and I believed this new life was just around the corner.

I’ve done a lot of reading on the psychology of trauma in the past couple of years and one thing I know is this. Of all the things that promote resilience and healing, perhaps the most important is hope. It can help heal mind, body and soul.

Today I came across something called Project Hope Exchange. It’s an interesting project that allows people to either leave or listen to a 30-second message of hope. Curious, I clicked through to the website to learn more.

Once you are on the website, you can choose to either Get Help or Give Help. If you are experiencing a life challenge, you can scroll through their directory and find audio links to a number of short messages of hope left by others who have gone through something similar. Categories include depression, cancer, OCD, domestic violence, addiction, grief & loss, and many others.

If you want to give help, you can call their toll-free number and leave a short message of hope for someone else.

I decided to call in and leave a message myself. I was nervous about the 30-second limit, so I wrote out my message and practiced it several times, editing it to keep within the allotted time. When I called in, it took me three tries before I had a message that I was happy with. In the end, it probably took me half an hour to leave a 30-second message, but it felt good to have done so.

I’m sharing the site here because I know so many of you have gone through difficulties and have wisdom to offer someone else. I also know that some of you may need an infusion of hope yourself.

If you’d like to leave your own message of hope, or listen to someone else’s, you can find their website here. If you do leave a message, let me know. I'd love to go listen to it once it's up on the site.

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Do you want to know why? Here is why

Love, guilt, religion, children, shame, hopelessness, embarrassment, loyalty, exhaustion, denial, institutional bias, compassion fatigue and family pressure.

Lack. Lack of money, lack of friends, lack of family support, lack of confidence, lack of energy, lack of transportation, lack of concern shown by law enforcement and/or the justice system, lack of belief in one’s ability to go it alone, lack of a healthy perspective.

Depression and anxiety resulting from years of psychological abuse. Depression and anxiety caused by living day in and day out with a partner who relentlessly blames, minimizes, denies, makes excuses, lies, condescends, withholds and threatens.

Fear. Fear of being alone, of hurting the kids, of not being able to provide, of losing face, of losing everything. Fear of being hurt, ridiculed, litigated, stalked or killed.

Everyone is asking why Janay Palmer didn’t leave Ray Rice. Why did she marry him and why is she still defending him.

Here are some additional questions I think we need to ask about situations like this.

Why is he hitting her? Why does he not show compassion, restraint or remorse? Why are we focusing so much attention on her response, as opposed to his behavior? Why does our society not throw more resources at a major health epidemic that affects 25% of all women? Why is our government not outraged by this threat that results in 2 million injuries and 1,300 deaths in the U.S. each year?

I’ve written before about this very topic. I was a victim of DV. I left immediately after being assaulted. Bully for me. But every woman faces different choices, and often those choices feel impossible.

Right now Janay Palmer is fighting two battles. Once is the fear and abuse she is subjected to in her marriage. The other is the relentless attention, judgment and abuse she is receiving from media and the public. She has to decide where to put her energy and I imagine right now, it’s going towards the latter. Maybe we should all just lay off and give her some space to heal.

#WhyIStayed and #WhyILeft are two important hashtags trending right now. Read them. Tell your friends to read them. They are giving victims a voice.


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