On My Mind

I realize I haven’t been posting as frequently. I’ve been working on my novel. It’s slow going. I have 5,000 words, but I’m also doing in depth character sketches. I have an idea of where the book is going, but after juggling several characters I felt spending time on research and character sketches was the way to go.

I’ve had a lot on my mind lately, and I guess this makes me a better writer. But a lot of what’s been on my mind can’t be shared with you all–not at this point. Most importantly, I’m trying to get myself organized in my writing and in my life. I’ve had some issues with my kids, but I try not to write about them in the public sphere unless it’s something positive. I don’t want them reading something later on and saying, “Mom, why’d you write that about me or say that about me?” I find that wholly unfair to them. Especially now that I have an almost teenager. Lord knows my very existence is embarrassing enough to him.

Most days, I still feel like I’m pretending. I feel like I’m pretending to be a writer. I feel like I’m pretending to be a good parent. I feel like I’m pretending to be a friend. I guess writers think too much, which can be debilitating. Maybe I haven’t taken enough risks in my life. I’m timid in a lot of ways (Hubby would say I’m a bulldog, but not where it matters). I always think, “I could have done this or I could have done that, but I didn’t follow through.” Follow through is important. Taking calculated risks are important. I seem to always play it safe. I’m tired of safe.

The other day, Middle Son said, “Maybe when you’re a rich and famous author we can go to London.”

And I said, “It’s hard to become a famous author.”

And he said, “But you will, Mom.” No question in his heart that his mommy would be famous one day. I wish I had the faith my child has in me. I’m endlessly hard on myself. And I fear I’m endlessly hard on my kids too. I’m hard on my friends. I hold grudges for no reason, or because someone said something to me that hurt my feelings. I probably don’t listen enough. Life, success, friendships–they’re all so hard to navigate.

Last week, I decided I would count my calories again and exercise. I ran 4 times last week. I plugged my food into MyFitnessPal–when it was convenient. Again with the half-assedness. I keep asking myself why I’m not losing weight as I stuff another chocolate bar in my mouth! Okay, not really, but at 140 calories for 1 1/4 cup, eating a whole bag of Chicago Mix surely adds up.

I’m not where I want to be with my life, writing, friendships, weight because of ME. I tell my kids that they are responsible for their grades and their schoolwork. I tell them they will do well if they try hard. I tell them the only person they have to blame if they fail is themselves. Yet I can’t seem to figure this out or apply it to my own life.

On the whole, I’m happy, but I still feel like there is something missing. My sister said the other day, “You’re like me, you get bored. You have to be driven.” And that’s true, but my drive waxes and wanes like my moods. Perhaps I have ADHD, never diagnosed. A not-so-wonderful Kindergarten teacher told my mother that I’d never go to college. Perhaps she could see my desire to give up. It seems innate in me. When the going gets tough–give up. When there’s too much work–sit and watch Netflix for an hour. When the kids are driving me batty–run away to a hot bath. But isn’t even saying it’s because this or that a form of blame–a form of not looking in the mirror and seeing my flaws and my positive character traits–seeing myself for who I am: me. I need to face things head on. I need to make the hard decisions and take the risks necessary to make my life meaningful and to feel fulfilled.

But why is that so hard for me to do?

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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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To Be

Shakespeare__Cobbe_portrait

There’s a famous author named Shakespeare (ever heard of him?) who wrote the words, “To be, or not to be; that is the question?” And maybe Shakespeare, in his famous play  Hamlet had it right when it came to happiness and emotions all those years ago.

This week, I read an article that Harvard psychologists think the more one tries to be happy the less satisfied or happy they are. This seems counter-intuitive, because in life we are told the harder we try the more successful we are. We see these results over and over again. If we study, we do well on a test. If we work hard and bring in business, we get a promotion. If we set a goal and work hard to achieve it we’ll succeed. Following the same formula, it would make sense to think, if we try to be happy then we will be happy.

Instead of trying to be happy, the psychologists argue that “showing up” to your emotions and allowing yourself to feel produces a happier and more fulfilled person overall. When we allow ourselves to feel our emotions without judging them, even our negative emotions, we receive important information about why we’re feeling that way. This information can help us make necessary changes for a happier life. It can help us become more assertive. It can help us get rid of negative people in our life. It can serve as a signal that something in our life needs to be changed. When we sweep our emotions under the rug, they come back to haunt us, so to speak.

One of the parts of the article that really resonated with me was the part about stopping judgment. The author states, we should stop labeling whether our emotions and thoughts are good or bad. When we have thoughts they are just thoughts, and we should let the thoughts come and go. When we have emotions, they are just emotions, and we should let those emotions come and go. The article ended with the following quote, “Ultimately, the goal is to be — rather than to be happy, which is somewhat freeing.”

The thought is freeing. Instead of struggling to find elusive happiness, just be. Feel emotions: sadness, happiness, joy, cowardice, anger. Allow your brain to receive the information that your body is trying to give you so you can make changes that will lead to a more fulfilled life. As someone who suffers from depression, I’ve struggled with my down times. I’ve told myself to snap out of it before. I’ve swept feelings under the rug. I’ve done everything. But through the years, I’ve learned that my down times come in a cycle. And they usually are there to remind me of what my up times feel life. Without sadness, we would never know what joy feels like, right? This analogy was described perfectly in the movie Inside Out. If you have not seen it, rent it. I’ve started to let myself experience those down times without further negating myself and without trying to artificially drag myself out of the deep dark ditches of depression before my body and mind are ready. And since I started realizing my feelings and thoughts are valid and not good or bad, my depressive periods have lessened. Plus, on the upside after I go through a depressive period I generally have a great period of creativity. The darkness leads to the light.

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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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Let’s Have a Ball

Meet season is finally over. We sprung forward this weekend, and on Sunday we enjoyed a 70 degree day with the sun staying up until almost 7. We played a game of baseball in the front yard, in which my 11 year old decided it would be fun to peg us with the ball as we ran to the (very far away) first base. This resulted in a lot of screaming and crying from the 7 and 5 year old, a few meltdowns, stern talks, and even a threat of no-dessert. Aww—the joys of parenting.

In case you noticed, I’ve been trying to make a concerted effort of blogging and scheduling my blogs. I generally try to write on Mondays, but I was a little late this week. Monday is my top day, because I post it to a discussion on a writers’ group I belong to. I enjoy reading others blogs, especially budding authors and people who I wouldn’t know or even have heard of without the group.

I’m trying to be more deliberate in my life. As you know, because I’ve blogged about it before, I have a problem with procrastination. I tend to be of the camp that if it’s due tomorrow start it at midnight the day before. I sometimes feel overwhelmed because of this, and I’m trying to stop this behavior or at least adjust it a little bit. It’s hard, and I’m not sure I’ll ever achieve this goal in my life. I’m stuck in my ways and have been stubborn for far too long.

This weekend, my son had to attend a Spring Ball. He was not happy about it. In fact, I was ruining his life. But I spoke to him, again, in the fashion of life lessons, of having to do things you don’t want to do. For a parent this is an everyday lesson, but it also led me to reflect on my own life.

You see, Caden, gets a lot of his tenacity from me. I’ve always been a mule when it comes to doing something I don’t want to do: school work, cleaning, cooking. I have a knack for passing these things on to other people. I simply refuse to do these tasks if I don’t feel like doing them. To.this.day! But I often feel guilt associated with that refusal to do tasks that are expected to me (I wouldn’t be a true Southerner without the guilt, right?) And I’m sure Caden has learned his behavior from me. On the way to the Junior Cotillion Spring Ball yesterday, he said, “Why don’t I have a choice? Why are you making me do something against my will?” Oh, lovely tween years. I can’t wait for the full blown TEEN years. But in that moment, when he asked that, I felt bad. I felt bad I signed him up and didn’t ask him. I felt bad, because he’s asserting his independence. I felt bad, because I remembered how I felt when I was forced to do things I did not want to as a child. Powerless. And no one likes to feel powerless.

Dance 1

But it was just one day. Just one dance. And I knew he’d survive. I knew, from the experience of the last dance, that he’d even enjoy it. It’s a good lesson to learn. Sometimes, quite a lot of times actually, as adults we are forced to do things we’d rather not do. And somehow we learn to stop complaining and just get it done, and sometimes we find some fun in it. Even my son learned how to do that at the Ball I made him go to. Smile just a little bit. Have a good time, and realize the sun will still be up when you get home and they’ll be plenty of time to play outside, at least for this brief moment of his life where he still wants to.

Dance 2

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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