Embracing My Mess

I’m trying to get myself organized. Today’s post was brought to you by the article in the NY Times Making a Marriage Magically Tidy. I read the post, and then I posted it to my personal Facebook page.

My sister responded, and I quote, “…did you write that article under a pseudonym? That part about the panty liner was hilarious!! Well, we do the best we can, right!”

We do the best we can. That’s what I tell myself on Saturdays when I’m binge watching Netflix but should really be cleaning. Let me tell you, my floors will never be fit to eat off of. There will probably always be a layer of dust on by bookshelves. There will be crumbs on my table. My kids’ toys will be littering the floor until the sad day they ship off to college.

I read that book mentioned in the article, The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up by Marie Kondo. I rolled up my clothes and put them in drawers. I felt whether clothes sparked joy in me or not, and the ones that didn’t were given away. I threw away A TON of stuff, donated things, and basically went on a mad-cleaning spree for about a month. In Kondo’s book, she said something like (and this is paraphrasing because I read it over a year ago) “no one who has gone through my program has ever relapsed.” Well she never met me.

Several things I learned from Kondo’s book:

  1. She probably has severe OCD
  2. Her siblings most likely hated her growing up – she organized and threw away their things
  3. I’m inherently missing something that makes me want to keep things neat and tidy
  4. When I start to clean I always end up finding a box of nostalgia and falling into a state of schaudenfreude. I find that inherently not worth it. But also could probably fix this problem but just tossing my old memorabilia yet there’s no way I can actually let go of that stuff. Catch 22.

The thing about me is I am at both extremes. When things are neat and tidy, I freak out if people so much as put one thing out of place. It’s a problem. It’s easier for me to have organized unorganized chaos than to deal with the crazy that comes out in me when things are neat. Maybe this comes from being a perfectionist. Or maybe there’s just something wrong with my brain.

Plus, I’ve read the news: kids growing up on farms with dirt have better immune systems and less allergies than other kids. I’m just giving my kids a leg up. They have zero food allergies–that’s something, right?

Seriously though, sometimes I think I need an intervention. I’ve been trying to tidy up my room for 12-18 months. Something always gets in the way. Over that period of time, we culled the toys in the kids’ rooms and helped them clean theirs. But I have a mental block for cleaning out my own shit. I’d like to talk to Helen Ellis about how she got through that mental block. Did podcasts do it? Because I get obsessed with those for like a week, and then move on. Perhaps I have adult ADHD. That would explain why I can’t freaking finish anything to save my life, including my novel, and why I jump from one thing to another. And why I’m such a major underachiever even though I have idealistic dreams of being MORE!

I guess I’ll start this weekend by going through my closet. Then again, I’ve been telling anyone and everyone that I’ve intended to do that for the last eighteen months. Some things never change…

Messy Room

What end of the spectrum do you fall on? Are you tidy or messy? Have you been both? How did you change your ways?

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Intentional

I’ve been working on being more intentional in my life. It’s a thing, you know. I’ve felt, lately, like my life is passing me by. I have a lot of goals, but I haven’t done much to achieve those goals. A friend of mine told me to just write the book (he may have inserted a curse word in between). Friends tell me this often. They don’t realize it’s a process, but they have the best intentions.

I’ve been thinking a lot about how I might have done some things differently years ago. That’s called depression. Or hindsight. To quote George, from Life As A House, “Hindsight. It’s like foresight without a future.” I try to tell myself that often. Because nothing good comes from the what-ifs.

When I graduated from college back in the dark ages, I didn’t know what I wanted to do. This big adventurous part of me wanted to go to Bangladesh and get involved in microfinance. But this homebody, security-seeking part of me, wanted to do what was safe and get a job in the United States settle down, get married, have a kid or three, and just be settled. Back then, I chose safety over risk. And, you know, it worked out for me. I have a wonderful husband who cares about me, three great kids, and we’ve built a very comfortable life where we can travel when we want to, provide for our kids, and are generally pretty happy.

Except. There’s always a “but,” right. Except, there’s this part of me that wants to take a risk. There’s a part of me that wants to make a change. Write the book. Change my life. Feel more fulfilled. And for about a month or two, maybe three, I was letting it get me down. I felt lost. And when I feel lost I tend to push people away and watch Netflix and actually chill (not chilling the way the kids teens/young adults mean).

I think this time it got to me because I was having a creative loll. Everything I wrote felt exactly like everything else I’ve ever written. I wrote about unrequited love. Blah blah. Same old, same old, dealing with issues from the dark ages that will never be dealt with. Let it go already, Lauren. Adultery. Divorce. The South. I was just writing without feeling the creative bug whispering in my ear. I was just writing to try to make myself feel better. So I kept getting bogged down in the middle. I wasn’t giving it my all. I wasn’t being intentional. In fact, for awhile now I guess I hadn’t been living intentionally.

The thing is, sometimes things seem dark, and it can make aspirations feel so far away. And sometimes life can feel so overwhelming that we sort of fold into ourselves. About two weeks ago, I decided to make a habit change. I started cleaning out the kids’ rooms. I started helping more around the house. I started putting down my phone at night, not getting on the computer, and sitting down and doing something productive or fun or just meaningful with my kids. And it didn’t help me feel better at first, but it did make me think about them and how I need to give to them. It made me think about how I have this wonderful family, and how we can support and love one another. And I know it made a difference in how they think about me. And I know that it helped drag me to the surface from just-below—that’s something how taking an action can change an outcome instead of just sitting still and watching it all fly by. And slowly, I started taking that intentionality into my writing again. Very slowly. Still slowly.

I’m writing about 500 words a day plus occasional blogs now. But the next thing I need to do is make a plan for how I’m going to get where I want to with my writing. I can’t do that without taking a risk, even if that risk means failure. I don’t want to look back on my life ten years from now and have regret or hindsight about how I didn’t go for it. And it’s hard and it’s scary to put yourself out there. And I’ve never been great at that. I’ve never been great at expressing no or “I want” or taking the ears by the horn cow by the horns – whatever the eff that metaphor is– and going for it. I mean, some people in my life would say that Lauren’s “I wants” rule the roost, but not in the important ways. I haven’t been assertive in a way that is meaningful to me. I haven’t been able to get from Point A-B. I always seem to get hung up somewhere in the middle, scared or paralyzed, unable to move forward. This might be called perfectionism. But I’m ready to let go of that fear and do something intentional with my life. Happiness comes from the doing.

The thing is, I don’t want to die wondering why I never went for it. I don’t want to keep wondering why I’m not living my life in the way I should be. I just want to live it instead of watching it pass by. And I have to do that by dropping the woe-is-mes and living more intentionally.

intentional

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5 Second Rule

I’m not one to read self help books. But every now and then I see something motivational, and I feel like it applies to me. Like, remember a long time ago, when everyone was reading The Purpose Driven Life. Then it was The Secret. And I’m sure about a billion others. I never read them. I do have respect for the people who wrote them and who make millions of dollars selling words about how to better live your life. Because that’s what everyone wants to do, right? Live their life better.

Yesterday, I was mindlessly scrolling through Facebook, and I came across Mel Robbins. She wrote The 5 Second Rule. It’s the latest in self help books to take off. She makes a great point in this extremely long interview:

From the time you decide to do something, you have 5 seconds to launch it. I believe this is true. She is truly funny when she talks about how she goes from staying in bed to being successful. The interview is worth listening to even if you don’t believe in self-help garbage (I don’t really, but I do think there are some tricks and tidbits that people like Mel Robbins can teach us). Plus, for some reason I love writing about self help, even though I probably need it the most!

If your brain is like my brain, it’s brimming with ideas. You want to start something, but you lose motivation. You want to write a book, but you are risk adverse. Let me tell you something: being afraid of failure and success are probably my biggest weaknesses. The most successful people in this world aren’t afraid to fail. They know it takes failure to get things right. We are flawed humans, and we learn from our mistakes. Living by Mel Robbins’ 5 second rule helps with the initiation process. So say you’re thinking: I want to write a great novel, 5-4-3-2-1, pull the computer up. Don’t come up with all the reasons why you can’t write the novel, why nobody will ever read you, why you’ll never get published. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: DO IT! Sometimes, I need to take my own advice.

I’ve been trying to make little changes to my life to be a better person. I’m super messy, and honestly probably was never diagnosed with ADHD as a child. My lack of executive function skills is appalling. This weekend, I’m going to use the 5 second rule to stop procrastinating and to clean up. I’m going to use it to work on my novel that I keep putting on the back-burner. I’m going to use it to set goals of being more present with my kids. Basically, I’m going to trust my first instinct and let all the anxiety, risk-adverse thoughts, and bad behaviors fall by the wayside. I’m going to take the risk to live my dreams.

What changes do you want to make in your life? What goals do you have? How could you apply the 5 second rule to live a better life?

Initiate. Dream. Live. Risk.

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Thinking Errors

Blame Game

Every once in a while I start to question my ability as a writer. When this happens, I usually take a break from writing. Or I procrastinate. I put my writing on the backburner as if this will solve the confidence problem I have when it comes to my writing instead of just making my confidence plummet more.

This week, my husband went out of town. He works from home. As such, he also does the majority of making dinner and cleaning the house, and he picks up the kids from camp, etc. He is basically Mr. Mom. I’m not sure what I would do without him, because he LOVES doing that sort of stuff and I don’t. I was lucky, because my niece and nephew were in town so we went over to my parent’s house most nights. Taking care of the kids and making dinner became a collaborative effort. Single parents: I have the utmost respect for you. I could not do it.

But my tween seemed to be having a hard time this week. And he was blaming everyone else besides himself. This is common among kids, tweens, and teens. I was upset by my tween’s behavior. I went to the internet to search why he always deflected blame, and why when I addressed it the whole thing blew up into a huge fight between us, ultimately ending with me feeling guilty. And then I read this great article and realized: It’s a classic thinking error. I found out from reading this article, how to challenge thinking errors when dealing with my tween. His classic thinking error is in thinking the whole world is against him. He has painted himself as the victim, instead of the aggressor. He has done this over and over again, because he has limited problem solving skills, probably because his parents (aka me and his dad) have not modeled correct problem solving skills when faced with certain issues, or we’ve been inconsistent in addressing issues when he’s in the wrong. In his way of thinking, when he hits a kid or gets into a fight it’s the other kid’s fault because that kid was “bothering” him. I challenged him yesterday. And I think it hit home. I’m trying to change the dialogue between us so he can start growing up and realizing that making himself the victim is a thinking error and won’t help him in the long run.

And in thinking about this, I started thinking about my own thinking errors. I have no time to write. I’m not a good writer. If only, I didn’t have a full time job, three kids, and 5,000 activities. I’m laying the blame for my failure to write everywhere else besides in myself.  I’m not taking responsibility for the fact that I’m ceasing to create. I’m making excuses. I’m procrastinating, when in reality I have the ability to change the dialogue. I have the ability to tell myself I can write. And I know this, because I’ve done it before even when I was busy. I made the time. I stopped making excuses.

Overcoming thinking errors is hard, because thinking errors aren’t just mistakes. Thinking errors occur over and over again, because we’ve learned to use them as coping mechanism so we don’t have to face the reality of our actions or the intensity of our emotions. People use thinking errors to try to protect themselves from getting hurt. Thinking errors are justification to ourselves when we’re doing something wrong. They serve a purpose of trying to keep our self esteem intact when our self esteem is plummeting. When we don’t take the blame, we perceive an injustice to us that’s not there. When we procrastinate, we tell ourselves that everything else is more important than what we’re meant to be working on. These are all ways to protect our ego and to protect our identity as we see it. But the problem with thinking errors is that they’re destructive. Do we really want to go through life feeling like we’re a victim of our circumstances? Do we want to make excuses or procrastinate until the opportunity doesn’t exist or we feel so hopeless about our own destiny that we throw up our hands and we cease to create, cease to strive for better? I don’t want to be that person.

I’m rewiring my thinking error about writing today. I’m telling myself that I do have time to write. I have time to blog, even if it is 5 words a day. I’m going to stop using procrastination as an excuse not to face my fears where writing is concerned. I’m going to do what I’m called to do even if I suck at it (which I don’t think I do). When we overcome thinking errors, we become more emotionally aware. We also become more capable of being happy, self-confident, and achieving success.

Do you have a thinking error that’s holding you back from achieving success, establishing friendships, or facing your own demons?

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Live Life to the Fullest

My car has been covered in pollen for the last week. I’m happy my doctor put me on Singular last week, because I haven’t had one headache. I’m feeling a little down today, because over the last few weeks several people I’ve known have died. People who died who shouldn’t have. Or people who died suddenly.

I love the spring time, because it’s a time of rebirth. And when I’m feeling the impermanence of life it makes me feel better when I see trees sprouting green leaves, flowers blooming, and even the pollen on my car. Spring, to me, always seems like the world is opening up to possibilities, giving birth to a new cycle of life.

Every day we have a choice in how we live our life. We can live our life in the past, hemming and hawing over things we cannot change. Or we can have anxiety about the future. But living in the present, being fully there for every moment is what we should strive for, even though it can be so hard to do. When we live in the present, we feel the most alive. When we find awe in everyday occurrences, look for the best in others our lives take on an intangible quality of happiness, pureness, excitement, but mostly contentedness.

The other day, I brought a magazine of bathing suits home to show my daughter. She’s five. She has enormous blue eyes and a smile that can light up any room. I fret over how she’s growing older, because I loved the baby days. I know she will grow up and become an intelligent, beautiful young woman, and she will no longer climb into my bed in the middle of the night, no longer cling to my neck with her dirty five-year-old hands, or look for my lap first thing in the morning. I try to be there for her, but as everyone know parenting is not easy in the busy world we live in.

But this particular day, I opened the magazine, and her eyes glinted with excitement. She pointed and said, with genuine excitement, “Oh my gosh. I love that bathing suit. It’s beautiful!” Her voice wavered at the excitement. And I thought, wow, she has such a lust and love for life. She’s only had five years of experience, and she makes the most of every moment because things to her are so vivid and new in her limited scope of experience. And that’s the kind of awe I’m talking about. A zest for life. The expression on her face that says she’s truly living in the moment, truly eating up what she’s experiencing. Wouldn’t it be great if most adults could do this too, instead of just going through the motions?

Children have a way of seeing the world that adults don’t. They see a sunrise and exclaim, “It’s so beautiful.” “That’s amazing.” They are in awe of the world. Awe-inspiring events happen every day. Don’t lose your awe. Look at the sunrise, think and reflect on the beauty, and live in the present for a happy, fulfilling life.

DSCN0296

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Forgiveness

Maybe I’m just sappy and sentimental, but I’ve been thinking a lot about my life this past week or two and how much I’ve grown this year as a person. My life has not always been easy, and I’m sure those of you who know me personally know how much I’ve struggled in the past few years. I’ve struggled to find myself. I’ve struggled in my marriage. I’ve struggled in my relationships. I’ve struggled with the ugly “D” word: depression.

Today as I drove to work I felt happy and fulfilled as I reflected back on my year. And I realized the reason I felt happy was because I intentionally chose happiness.  As I lay in bed last night, talking to my husband, I said, “I love myself so much. And if you can’t love yourself then you can can’t love anyone else, right?” “Right,” he said. He’s not much of a talker. But I’m sure his mind was thinking something like, here she goes “self-philosophizing Lauren again.” But it’s true. It takes self-love in order to make yourself happy and in order to be able to give back to others.

A couple of days ago I posted on a few boards I’m a member of asking people to state the theme of their year. The answers were insightful, interesting, painful, sad, tragic, funny, happy—all rolled into one. And it made me think about how all of those adjectives describe life and are what make it worth living.

My theme of the year was forgiveness. First I forgave myself.  Then I forgave my husband, my parents, my siblings, my friends, and anyone who I have ever perceived as doing me wrong. But it started with ME. I forgave myself for all my faults. I forgave myself for feelings of love I can’t control. I forgave myself for living in the past too often. I forgave myself for yelling at the kids, having a short fuse, not saying no enough, being too busy, not reaching my goals when I wrote, and for failing to clean my bathroom often enough. I forgave myself all those little strings of self-hate that build up inside of us and make us unhappy with ourselves. And it was hard. Self-doubt crept in. Guilt crept in. Sadness lay sickly sweet right below the surface of my skin.  It was a process—much like grieving and moving on. I back slid. I fell into depression, but I realized where the depression came from, worked through it, and didn’t let it trap me.

I wrote with a vengeance for the first time in years. I soaked up everything I’ve learned in my meager 36 years and put it on paper. I made new friends. I lost a few friends. I missed old friends. I reconnected with old friends. I grieved relationships whose seasons had expired but found happiness in the temporariness of those relationships as well.  And through it all, I realized forgiveness is key. Letting go of the need to control. Losing expectations of others while maintaining expectations of yourself. Making yourself happy and choosing to live in a way that’s giving to other people without feeling the need for reciprocation. Telling myself that I’m doing the best I can and loving myself for it. That was my lesson for 2015.

What is forgiveness you may ask?

Forgiveness is the intentional and voluntary process by which a victim undergoes a change in feelings and attitude regarding an offense, lets go of negative emotions such as vengefulness, with an increased ability to wish the offender well.

I don’t want to be a victim of myself anymore. I don’t want to blame others for the mistakes I’ve made. I don’t want to not pursue my dreams because pursuing them is hard. I want to be able to let go of the negativity and stop living in a permanent state of self-hatred. I want to love myself for who I am and realize that flaws are what make us beautiful as humans. I want to love other people, all of their flaws and scars and human-stuff and realize the only person I can control is myself and be okay with that.

This year, I decided to stop feeling guilty for my own feelings. Instead of embracing guilt, hate, and anger this year I chose to embrace love and it changed my whole perspective on life.

If you can’t forgive yourself then you can’t forgive others. We all have baggage. We have all been hurt by the people we’re closest to. We can use hate, guilt, and ugliness to drive stakes into our own hearts, our marriages, the lives of our children, or we can turn it around and be compassionate, loving, and we can give to others even when it’s so hard to do. This is forgiveness.

Live your life with love and you’ll be rewarded with love. Live your life with hate and all you’ll get back is hate.


 

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Comfort Zone

Every day, instead of getting dressed and showered, I’d be content to sit around in my snowman pajama bottoms. I’ve written about these P.J.s before, over on my personal blog (which has sadly gone by the wayside). You know how some clothes just make you feel good? Well my snowman P.J.s make me feel comfy. They’re like walking around in a blanket all day long. It’s like having someone’s arms wrapped around you without all the extra weight. It’s like biting into your mom’s homemade casserole after you’ve been away at college for three months. I can’t say enough times that I LOVE my snowman P.J.s. They’re part of my tangible comfort zone.

Do you have a comfort zone? I have always been a person who has had firm routines, firm traditions, and, yes, even clothes that make me feel comfortable, happy, and most like myself. When I first started writing, my comfort zone included not letting anyone seem my work. If they did then GASP, they might not like it! They might ask me difficult questions about the meaning behind my work. They might draw conclusions I didn’t come up with. They might tell me that I’m a horrid writer and not to ever bother picking up a pen.

Good thing, most people don’t tell this to an inspiring writer (except maybe agents, but I haven’t gotten that far yet, and I’d hope they’d have more couth). They do, don’t they? As a writer, I’ve had to step out of my comfort zone more often than not.

One of the things that most scares me as a newbie writer is public speaking. I hate public speaking. In 9th grade, World Cultures I had to do a book review on The Black Death, which I hadn’t even read (sorry Mr. Roberts—I skimmed it). I had to stand in front of a whole group of fourteen years old, and I was an awkward fourteen year old myself who felt like everyone in the class was noticing my bald spots or seeing me naked—I couldn’t figure out which one was worse at that age. And I said “um” exactly 52 times. How do I know it was 52 times? Because Mr. Roberts told me when he asked me to stay after class. He said he’d give me one more chance the next day. He gave me some tips, and I pulled it off the next day pretending like I was having a personal conversation with my friend Allie the whole time.

Mr. Roberts didn’t eliminate my fear of public speaking, but he did give me ground rules for how to deal with a situation that made me uncomfortable. That’s the first step when we’re out of our comfort zone, right? Find something to make you comfortable–a point of relation with your audience, a realization that the person who is reading you work is a human like you–heck, they may even be a writer like you, and the ability to problem solve and find a way to calm your nerves in a new situation.

Stepping out of your comfort zone helps you grow as a person (and as a writer, if you are one). If I’d never let anyone see my writing, I’d still be unpublished. If I’d never done a fake book review on the bubonic plague then I’d be even more afraid of public speaking than I currently am.

Take off your snowman pajamas, try on something new, and see how much you can achieve!

What have you done to step out of your comfort zone?

Snowman PJS


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