#52. Letting it be

I was so close to postponing this entry. I spent most of the past week stressing about which change I should be making for the LAST WEEK OF THE BLOG, LIKE, EVER. I obsessed over the ones that fell through the cracks, the ones I was too lazy to attack – so much so that I found myself mid-week without really having committed to much of a change.

Thus, I thought I’d just push it back another week. Postpone the inevitable. Give myself some more time to…uh, delay.

Then I had this thought, powerful and fully-formed: I don’t want to. I want to be finished with this blog. I’m done.

So I decided that this would be my change. Letting go of the anxiety and worry and the regrets and fears that I didn’t do a good enough job, and just letting this week and this entry be whatever they were going to be. If that sounds lame or disappointing, or if it seems like I’m phoning it in…well, I don’t have much of a defense. It is what it is. See? That’s the change. It’s so meta it’s killing me.

Weak? Maybe. But letting things be what they are felt more right than any of the changes I debated doing. After all, I’ve built this thing up so much in my head over the past 52-plus weeks that I thought I had to cap it off with something truly phenomenal. (You might have expected that, too. If so, my apologies. You can thank me later for that life lesson in expectations and disappointment.)

Nothing I debated doing – a week without TV, going gluten-free, being a tourist in my own town – really spoke to me. I’m tired. It’s cold. I love TV too much. The only thing that did speak to me was the realization that I was mentally finished with this project.

Naturally, upon realizing I wasn’t going to commit some sort of heroic life-alteration this week, there emerged some of the old, habitual feelings of failure, the usual negative self-talk about not seeing things through. But I was surprised at how quickly those fell away.

Turns out I’m perfectly okay with the imperfection of this project.

That wouldn’t have happened without the preceding year of trying changes, failing sometimes, succeeding others and all along being willing and open – to varying degrees, yes, but always just enough.

So was the past year of blogging everything I thought it would be at the outset? Not at all. I thought that my entries would alternate between bravery and hilarity, always punctuated by searing, original insight into the human condition. Of course, it would be so earth-shattering that it would go viral, blowing up the interwebs. Publishers would be knocking each other down to put out the book version of what would surely be an international best-seller.

It didn’t quite happen that way. Why? What I didn’t account for? My fantasies didn’t exactly account for me. My own human condition, replete with illness, ennui, laziness, exhaustion, fear and all the other things that proved stumbling blocks to one giant change after another.

That’s not to say this hasn’t been triumphant for me in its own little way. I’m actually kind of proud of seeing it through, even if it doesn’t look exactly as I thought it would. (See? That’s me just letting it be!) I could go back through my entries and expound on which changes stuck and which didn’t, but I no longer think that’s the real importance here. That said, I should mention that I’m still a daily bed maker.

Well, a mostly daily bed maker.

What I am, however, is more comfortable with the idea of changing and the idea of not changing, if that makes any sense. I’m more confident, in leaps and bounds, about what matters to me and what I want my life to look like. And, more importantly, what I don’t need my life to be about.

I know myself better. I feel more…distilled. As I’ve noted what feels like a thousand times here over the past year, these changes taught me so much about the distance between the person I thought I wanted to be and the truth.

I’m pretty thankful for that.

Most of all, I’m thankful for you, my small but ferociously loyal band of readers. Without your encouraging words and your sweet eagerness for each week’s entry, I would have thrown in the towel around, say, week five. I’m glad I didn’t. Thank you for making the time in your schedule to read what I wrote and for providing me with a safe place to get brave and write about even the most difficult and personal changes. Thanks for hangin’ with me this year.

I don’t know what I’m going to do next, blog-wise or project-wise, but I have a couple of ideas kicking around. I know what I’m not going to do: worry about changing this or that. Because, irony of ironies, this past year taught me more than anything else just how much I like about my life the way it is. It taught me that I’m open to change, but I don’t need to force it. It landed me in a place where I feel I can genuinely say I’m content just to let it be.

Let it be.

Wait. That’s good stuff. Jot that down. Someone should write a song about that.

#51. Psychotherapy-ing my sensorimotor(s)(???)

Sometimes, I realize, it must seem like I’m just making stuff up in order to have a blog entry for the week. Sometimes, I confess, it feels a bit like that. Lately, I’ve been so concerned about making my last two entries Important Changes that I’ve run completely out of time and had to look at what changes the nice universe seemed to be putting in my path instead. This one’s kind of a doozy. As I may have mentioned in a previous entry, I recently made a foray back to therapy, which is good for me. I assert: I think therapy’s good for everyone. That is, I think everyone should be in therapy. Yes, that includes you. Don’t look at me like that. It’s not an insult. It’s just that I think everyone can benefit greatly from an unbiased third-party perspective on their lives. And I think self-knowledge is the most powerful tool we have.

But enough about you and your crazy mental problems. This is about me and my crazy mental problems. Having been in and out of therapy for years now, I’m pretty comfortable with the process and very open to trying new things, particularly if they will help relieve me of the albatrosses I’ve been carrying around for years (food issues, fear and anxiety, etc.)

When my therapist suggested I try EMDR a couple of years ago, a large part of me thought it sounded hinky. But another part of me was in enough pain from some past issues that I was willing to give it a shot. And I’ll just say this: I don’t understand for a moment how it works, but it worked for me. It rendered some of my most difficult, raw and painful memories into benign recollections. That, for lack of a more scientific term, kicks ass.

So when I went back to her recently to discuss how my underlying fear and anxiety has been manifesting of late – with eating issues and an increased fear of flying – my lovely therapist mentioned she’d been training in a new modality. A little something called sensorimotor psychotherapy, should I want to give it a shot.

“Sure,” I like to think I said. “Only…what the hell is it?” My therapist explained the basics. (And, yes, I realize I may be losing you here, to which I can only say: I understand. You’re dismissed.) Sensorimotor psychotherapy. According to the Sensorimotor Psychotherapy Institute, this is “a body-oriented talking therapy that integrates verbal techniques with body-centered interventions in the treatment of trauma, attachment, and developmental issues.”

Got it? Okay, let me see if I can explain, bearing in mind that I have little to no idea what I’m talking about. So…regular therapy deals with the conscious part of the brain and tries to resolve issues or trauma through its processing ability. Conversely, sensorimotor psychotherapy focuses on how the body responds to stress or trauma and attempts to change physical responses first, in the belief that they will, in turn, change responses in the brain.

Wow. That does sound weird.

Here’s what I know, though: my fear and anxiety feel like a very real physical presence. In fact, I generally feel fear first in my limbs, a wiry, electric feeling building up so that I get restless and agitated and my mind follows suit. Thus, I can get on board with the idea that if we address some of my physical manifestations of fear, it could help the ol’ grey matter chill out.

Which finally brings us to this week’s change – practicing sensorimotor exercises to try and learn some techniques for dealing with my anxiety. The first order of business in this whole dealio is to try to recreate the sensations of fear and anxiety in your body so that you can then learn and practice methods for coping with it, physically. In other words, instead of starting with your mind and trying to tell yourself to calm down, you start with your body and find ways to physically stem the anxiety.

In case you were wondering – and I know you were – purposely manifesting fear is really uncomfortable. It involves thinking of a time when I felt overwhelmed by fear – for me, that was the last time I flew – and trying to recreate those sensations in your body. It says something that I have absolutely no problem accessing that part of my physical being – but I hate it. I hate the feeling like my arms and legs are humming with an energy that’s whispering to me, “Something’s wrong. Something’s wrong.” I hate that my heart responds in kind, flipping and leaping, that my head gets light and I feel like I’m gonna burst out of my own skin.

So what happens then? Well, we’ve been trying figure out which physical changes help calm me down – and which don’t. At first, I tried getting up and walking about because, especially when I’m on a plane, when the fear sets in I start to feel kind of trapped. Turns out, pacing doesn’t help me. It just increases all the sensations and if I tune into what my body wants me to do, it says: stop. It wants to steady all the humming, quiet the motion.

Next, I tried sitting down using my own pressure – hands on the insides of my knees pushing out and knees pushing in – to try and exhaust the frenetic energy I felt. Turns out that’s more effective than pacing. Not terrifically effective, but the idea is that the more I practice, the more effective it becomes.

Did I mention I’m also supposed to be breathing deeply while all this is going on? Sure, it sounds easy. But it’s a bit like patting your head and rubbing your tummy. What? You can do that? Of course you can.

Throughout the week, I challenged myself to practice these methods, as challenging as it was. In addition, I learned to employ another resource – imagining a time when I felt safe, visualizing it (while still breathing!) and trying to recreate those sensations in my body. I will tell you right now: some of this stuff is flat-out embarrassing to do in front of another human being. You have to move your body into the position in the memory, even if that means curling up in a fetal position on your therapist’s couch. I didn’t! But I could have…

Interestingly, at least to me, I found that it was much harder to tap into and hold onto the sensations of being okay than it was to feel fearful. As I tried to tap into those feelings throughout the week, it felt like hard work. At times, it was so exhausting I got frustrated and just gave up. Other times, I felt it…a bit.

As if that weren’t enough to work on in one week, my therapist added another calming visualization to the mix: picturing light to calm me, inhaling it and exhaling my agitation. I swear, sometimes when I’m attempting to do what sounds relatively simple, I start to worry that I’m just broken. No matter how hard I try, I can’t picture the light at all, let alone inhale anything. It’s daunting. There is so much to do at once, so much to feel and pay attention to, so much new stuff that makes me uncomfortable and self-conscious.

On balance, however, it doesn’t make me nearly as uncomfortable as my go-to fear response does, so I’m willing to stick it out beyond my initial, “I’ll try this for one week” approach. It’s ridiculous, I realize, to expect to see lasting results in just that short period of time. I am driven once again by what I don’t want to be: a person riddled with fear that holds her back from living her life to the fullest.

I find myself questioning, then, the value of even trying this for a week then writing about it, when it’s far too early in the process to deliver any pearls of wisdom regarding whether this sensorimotor psychotherapy approach works for me. Once again, though, I recognize that this blog is often more about willingness to try than about change accomplished.

Having an entry to write gave me the kick in the pants I needed to give it a shot for a short period of time, to commit to beginning something. For me, that’s interesting food for thought, especially as I realize next week is entry #52 – the ending of something.

#50. Being late

I am nothing if not a living example of irony. To wit: I am a terrible procrastinator who cannot bear to be late. It isn’t just that it bothers me to be tardy – it’s as though I physically cannot be late. My body, my mind and/or the universe all conspire to make sure that I am an early arriver. As is my habit, I shall present some back story and completely made up theoretical psychobabble to explain how I’ve come to be this way. I believe it stems from a) coming from a long line of genetically impatient people with impeccable manners, for whom being late was simply unacceptable and b) being a painfully shy youngster who couldn’t stand to garner extra attention.

When I was a kid, I hated, hated, hated when all eyes were on me, so there was nothing worse than arriving at school or to a group activity late and inviting scrutiny. I learned early (ha!) on that the best way to avoid drawing attention to yourself was to arrive early and inconspicuously and, preferably, find a seat in the back..

Now, those who employed me during my drinking days will claim – quite fairly, too – that I seemed to have no problem whatsoever being late to work. Habitually. And while I want to claim extenuating circumstances, I also want to note that just because I was late didn’t mean it didn’t cause me a wave of nausea and panic every time. In other words, I was late, but I still hated it.

As an adult, not being late has its benefits. I usually get a good seat at concerts or movies. And now I can’t think of any more. So I suppose it has its benefit.

It also has its drawbacks. It’s hard work being the first at every party, and more than a little awkward to show up while the hostess is still in curlers. In addition, it’s tough on the ego to weather the pitying glances of wait staff who presume, after ten minutes or so, that your “friend” is a figment of your imagination.

But those are not the real issues that spurred me to make this change. I actually quite like being prompt. I remain convinced that being late is, more often than not, simply disrespectful of other people’s time. In case you hadn’t noticed, I like to feel really, really superior about how considerate and thoughtful I am.

The part I can’t stand is the panic and anxiety I get when I think I’m going to be late for something. Clearly, my brain is convinced this is life-threatening stuff and if I’m not on time – if not early – the world will grind to a screeching halt.

Ideally, I would prefer to be someone who could just chill the hell out. A person who is generally on time but not so fearful of being late that she’s painfully early. A person who, if she is late, doesn’t feel like it’s the end be all, an act of unforgivable discourteousness.

Thus, I decided to dedicate a week to trying to be late and at the risk of delivering spoilers, I will say this: it was much harder than I expected. In fact, one could say, I pretty much can’t do it. But back to the blow-by-blow coverage. Fortunately, this past week, I had a minefield of opportunities ahead of me. I had lunch appointments scheduled for three days in a row. I vowed to be the second to arrive at each one.

On the first day, I put my plan in action. Bear in mind I live in a small town. My first lunch destination was a mere five minutes away from my house by car. Normally I’d leave about 15 minutes beforehand, worrying myself silly about finding parking, etc. Now I was living recklessly – I left with only ten minutes to spare!  There was no way I would find street parking during lunch hour, so I’d have to walk several blocks or park in a garage. There was no way I’d be on time, let alone early.

Except…the universe hates me. Or loves me. Whichever way you wanna look at it. Because just as I was growing tense, feeling a little fearful as the clock crawled towards noon, there it was, the nearly-unheard of phenomenon in downtown Ann Arbor during lunchtime: princess parking. A prime spot directly in front of the door to the restaurant. On my first pass. Didn’t even have to turn around.

I was parked and inside the restaurant a full five minutes early. Seriously! Why, oh, why! I shook my fists at the sky. My life is so difficult sometimes.

Now, that evening I had a meeting to go to. This was a large meeting of the recovery variety, which I attend regularly. These meetings are often the playground for my pet peeves. People are chronically late to them, shuffling in loudly whenever they so please, disrupting the person trying to open the meeting, horning in at corners of already-full tables, forcing everyone to scoot around.

Me? I get to meetings unbelievably early to ensure I’ll have a seat and that I won’t upset anyone else with my behavior. In fact, I’ve been known in the past to skip a meeting entirely if circumstances made me late. Yes, I’d rather risk my sobriety than bother someone by coming late. I have excellent priorities.

I would like to say that I really challenged myself by giving being late a shot. I did want to teach myself that sometimes people can’t help being late to meetings – because of work or transportation issues. That it isn’t just a lack of respect or consideration. I wanted to teach myself that it was a forgivable sin, hoping to gain more compassion for others by understanding that lateness sometimes happens. People aren’t being late at other people and certainly not at me. They’re just late.

But I couldn’t do it. Why? Because it turns out I do believe it’s disrespectful to show up late if you can avoid it, and this would have been manufactured tardiness just for the sake of a blog entry. It didn’t seem worth it to me.

The next day, I tried again, leaving for my lunch date later still … but somehow not early enough. I was beginning to suspect that there was a strange rip in the time-space continuum somewhere between my house and my car. How could I arrive somewhere around the same time I thought I left? Was the universe just gas-lighting me? So I began circling the block, passing up primo parking spots in order to kill time.

I wasn’t panicked or anxious. I was frustrated. I felt like an idiot. How was stalling and burning gas really preferable to the “shame” of being early? I gave up. Went inside. I was one minute late and, of course, the first to arrive. Frankly, this trying to be late thing was exhausting.

The next day was my final lunch date of the week. This time I left with only five minutes to spare. THAT IS INSANE, PEOPLE! And, sure enough, there was no parking to be found. Even the parking structures were full. I was already two minutes late and still driving around aimlessly. My stomach was doing flips, I tell you, anxiety building. I was being CRAZY. It didn’t feel good, but it felt WILD. Wild, I tell you! There was NO WAY I could possibly be the first to arrive.

Except, as I was circling, I got a text from the friend I was supposed to be meeting. I assumed she was wondering where I was. But, no. She was running a few minutes late and was now circling looking for parking. Dammit! I slowed down my search for a spot, finally pulling into a garage and snaking my way to the top. My heart was pounding and I had to fight the feeling that I was going to be in really big trouble. Finally, I found a spot and took my sweet time strolling the two blocks to the restaurant.

And when I arrived, I was a full ten minutes late…and my friend was nowhere in sight. She arrived a few minutes later, apologizing like crazy, explaining her own struggle for parking. Crap. Fail. I mean, yeah, I was late, but she was later.

Sparing you the details, so went the rest of the week. I tried to be late for stuff and felt like a dolt. It was seriously as though I wasn’t able to figure out how to do it. I’m smart enough to lace my own sneakers, but I can’t figure this out?

I think, in conclusion – and I’m quite certain my more scientific friends would wholeheartedly agree – that this was a really poorly designed experiment. The parameters were unclear. I know plenty of people who are habitually late and I didn’t consult a single one of them for pointers. And halfway through it all, I couldn’t remember why on earth I thought this was a change for the better.

After all, I don’t hate being punctual. I hate the panicky feeling I get when I think I’m going to be late. I hate being a person who feels like she has to be punctual. And nothing I did this week really addressed those feelings or attempted to change them in any way. I never wound up having the earth-shattering opportunity that taught me that I could be late and the world would soldier on, friends would laugh and forgive me and somewhere in an alternate universe, a shy eight-year-old would not turn beet red and crumble with shame when the eyes of her classmates fell on her.

In other words, on the whole, I think this week was a failure in that I didn’t really end up changing much of anything. I’m counting it as a pseudo-win thought, because it turns out I don’t actually mind that much.

#49. Um...keeping everything, so to speak

This is hard. I’m about to write about something I’ve never written about before. Something I’ve only ever spoken about to a handful of people. Very private, very safe people. (How’s that for a suspenseful build up?) In short, here it is: sometimes I make myself throw up. For the past seven days, I haven’t.

It terrifies me to write about this. I’m so afraid of people’s reactions, so addled by fear about what you’ll think of me, how you’ll judge me. Whether you’ll ever be able to look at me again without picturing my head in the toilet. How I wish, wish, wish that there were some other far more frivolous, far less personal change to write about this week. But sometimes these things are born of necessity, and this is one of those times.

Perhaps I should backtrack a little. I have, as you have probably garnered from reading this blog, always had a difficult relationship with food. I’ve always been an emotional eater, always struggled with my weight. I carry with me an inherent sense that I’m simply not okay much of the time and I’ve historically turned to food – if not to make me feel better (because it never really does, not in the long run), then at least to numb and distract me from whatever I’m feeling.

At some point in my binge-eating history, the shame of what I had put in my body, paired with the physical discomfort of having over-eating so heinously delivered me to a place I never thought I’d be: making myself vomit. I know. It’s horrible to even write the words, but I don’t know a more delicate way to put it.

It’s hard to explain if you’re unfamiliar with this particular brand of desperation, but at some point, the absurd becomes completely rational. It becomes a totally logical line of reasoning to choose to get rid of that which is causing you pain. It becomes a rational, sensible solution. You eat too much, you lose it. When your relationship with food, eating and your body is already screwy, it’s really that simple.

My worst struggle with this was more than 10 years ago, a time when things were changing rapidly in my life. I was filled with stress and anxiety and it seemed to be one thing I could control – or at least, one thing I could do to mitigate eating behavior that was out of control. Once you start, it becomes really, really difficult to put an end to it. Every time I’ve relapsed with this behavior – which you might notice I’m going to great pains to avoid labeling as “bulimia,” lest we make it real – has required the help of a therapist or shrink to help me stop.

For the past couple of years, I’ve been working with a therapist who specializes in eating disorders, and with her help, I’ve been really good at remaining healthy on this front. Then I took a break from therapy, exhausted by the constant effort of introspection and navel-gazing. And I was doing fine…until a few weeks ago, when out of nowhere, I had what I suppose I can’t avoid calling anything other than a relapse.

The things I understand about this are as follows: anxiety, fear and stress are my triggers for seeking comfort in food. If that builds up long enough, untreated, old habits kick in. A voice inside of me reminds me how hard my life is, how deprived I am. It convinces me that junk food and copious amounts of edible comfort are the best solution. So I eat. And eat and eat and eat.

Within a few days, I’m filled with shame, coupled with the physical discomfort of overeating. Which is when the thoughts creep in: you know how to deal with this. You know the solution.

I don’t know if it was the fact that I had an awful Christmas, with my mother-in-law collapsing, spending Christmas Eve with her in the ER, waking up Christmas morning with stomach flu and spending the day alone in a hotel room, throwing up. (Yeah, I know. Irony.) Maybe it was the stress of heading to New York shortly thereafter, when I wasn’t really well enough to do so. Plus the fact that my fear of flying was insufferable, a good indicator of my overall mental health and anxiety level – which I ignored. Perhaps it was the cold, awful weather in NYC or the fact that I injured my knee and could barely walk, leaving my spirits dampened about missing out on all the city had to offer. Maybe it was the horrible cold virus I brought back with me, and the fact that it meant I felt ill in one way or another for nearly a month.

Probably, it was all of those things. I was depressed, stressed and frustrated. So I ate. Then I ate some more, and before I knew it, I was making myself throw up again. It is humbling – if not downright humiliating – to find yourself at an emotional bottom with behavior you’re so, so sick and tired of and recognize your surroundings so well. It is dispiriting and painful to look around and think, “How the hell did I get here again?”

But I did get there. I was there and, at least, I knew I didn’t want to stay there. I reached out and told a friend what was going on. I picked up the phone and called my therapist and got myself back on her schedule. I knew, that in the meantime, I was going to have to do one simple thing: stop making myself throw up.

I realize this sounds either a) obvious or b) easy to those of you who’ve never dabbled in an addictive, destructive behavior. For the rest of us, it’s a big nightmare. It becomes so hard to let go of those old, familiar habits, no matter how harmful they are. The devil you know, etc., etc.

It did occur to me that if this blog has given me anything – and I actually think it’s given me lots – it’s the basic stepping stones of how to effect just about any change. Even scary, difficult change. All I have to do is aim for seven days in a row. That’s it: not throw up for seven days in a row.

And that’s exactly what I did. I won’t pretend the first couple of days weren’t difficult, but mostly it was because I had to live with the consequences of what I put in my body. You eat that burger and fries with the ice cream chaser, you keep that burger and fries with the ice cream chaser. Even if you’re mad at yourself. Even if your stomach hurts.

After a day or so of painful white-knuckling and sheer will, I found I no longer wanted to accept the consequences of eating that crap. I couldn’t ignore the fact that my body doesn’t feel good when I eat that way. I gave myself a rather grown-up talking to, about choosing food that I won’t struggle to keep, food that has food it in it, things that will fuel me.

It took a couple more days to get back on the horse with positive eating, for the resentment to eek away. (If that’s not proof of how sick I am about food stuff, what is? I resent eating in a way that is not self-destructive. At least, initially.)

Then, before you know it, a week had passed. I’d been in to see my therapist. I had a plan in place. I was practicing mindfulness where food is concerned and, suddenly, the idea of throwing up was as absurd as it had been sane just a handful of days ago.

I don’t know how that all works. There are too many moving parts for me to stop and analyze them, especially when I’m, if you’ll pardon the expression, dancing as fast as I can just to keep my head out of the toilet.

So I guess that means I did it. Success! Which feels good, although it’s dampened by, as I said, the fear of talking about this publicly, of showing you yet another skeleton in my already-cramped closet. But what else can I do? This is, after all, the change I made this week. The only change I made this past week. Seven days without throwing up. Now I’m working on the next seven.

#48. Finding art

I blame Patti Smith. Not for her music, because I have to confess I’ve never been the biggest fan. No, I blame her for her book, “Just Kids,” in which she writes about her enduring friendship with Robert Mapplethorpe, leading up to his death from AIDS in 1989. Though the prose is often a bit flowery and dramatic for my taste, there remains at the book’s center this passion, this certainty that life is to be lived for art.

Maybe it’s a largely youthful exuberance, the luxury of a certain age, but as I read the book I found myself wistfully remembering my own late teens and early twenties, when it did seem like art was everything. Or, if not everything, then something large and looming and ever-present, something to be discussed and worshipped and debated.

I’ve wanted to be a writer since I was 13, but there was a time – shortly before I went to college – when I also wanted to be an art historian. I loved, loved, loved museums. I loved paintings and sculptures. I wanted to surround myself with art for the rest of my life, tell its stories, help other people understand context and what the artists were trying to achieve.

Some of my earliest memories are of spending rainy days lying on the floor in my parents’ living room in Glasgow, leafing through enormous art tomes, poring over glossy color plates, tracing the figures with my fingers. More often than not, I had no idea what the pictures were all about – but I knew they were magically able to make me feel something – sometimes contentment, occasionally fear and confusion. I understood early on that art was important and it was powerful.

My parents surrounded us with art in a number of forms. We took frequent trips to museums, both in our own town and while on holiday. My father worked in the world of opera and our house was frequently filled with singers, musicians, conductors, directors, loud and rowdy, celebrating music and theater. We understood the performing arts to be like other art forms – essential, fragile and threatened by a world increasingly unwilling to keep funding their pursuit.

As I grew older I was drawn, in particular, to the work of the Impressionists, which I feel a bit sheepish admitting. Because while today it’s probably the safest form of art imaginable – the stuff of waiting rooms and souvenir mugs and posters for children’s bedrooms – what actually drew me to the movement initially was the fact that it began as a complete and total rebellion. The soft focus and irreverent lines – which today seem soft and benign – were considered at the time a terrible insult to the previous generations’ insistence on realism in perspective, lighting and form.

The Impressionists basically said, “Screw that” and instead sought to capture an instant of light. A glimpse. An impression of a single moment in all its fuzzy glory. And something about that, believe it or not, felt so…rock ‘n roll to me. Even if you scoff at the Impressionists today, it’s impossible to ignore that their rebellion was as crucial to the evolution of all art to follow – from Picasso to Warhol to Koons to, yes, even to Mapplethorpe – as any other movement has been.

But I digress. I mean, I really digress. (Thank you for indulging me.) My point is that thinking about all of this made me really nostalgic for a time in my life when art was a really central passion, when I surrounded myself with it and talked about it and thought about it. It was like suddenly realizing I’d left some part of myself at the airport, years ago. I wanted to get it back, if only to some degree and if only for a short time.

Seven days, to be precise.

So that was the goal as I, coincidentally, headed to New York for a handful of days: to find art every day. To experience it and think about it. And where else would be better to do so than in the Big Apple, surrounded by some of the world’s greatest museums, not to mention the galleries and public art? Talk about a breeze!

As we know, however, these things are never as easy as I imagine. I feel like every week I sit down to write my blog entry and wind up making some excuse about how this ailment or that ailment prevented me from fully pursuing this week’s change. (I’m actually beginning to think I might be jinxed, in which case I blame my husband, who has rampant disregard for the power of jinx.) Well, this week was no different. At some point upon arriving in New York – somewhere between the airport and our hotel – I wrenched the hell out of my left knee.

It was, as the kids say, a game-changer. Walking easily was a key element of my master plan. While I’d taken it for granted that I could head out of our hotel in Midtown and hoof it up Central Park East to the Met – or even just a few short blocks to MOMA – walking was excruciating. Stairs were out of the question. Even if I got to a museum, the idea of wandering around for hours just sounded like punishment.

But just maybe, I thought, this could be better in a way. Perhaps the big museums were a cop out. Perhaps my injury would force me to find and consider art within even tighter constraints. Like, on the first day, within my hotel. Yes, that’s right. I started off considering hotel art, which is, to many, an oxymoron.

We were, fortunately, at a nicer hotel, so it wasn’t like I was staring at a basket of fruit purchased for $20 at an airport hotel art sale. There was an abstract painting of some sort hanging above our bed, big slashes of red and grey and brown – possibly representative of how my knee felt. There were twin black-and-white photographs of the building of the Eiffel Tower and the Chrysler Building. In the elevators were murals of the Arc de Triomphe and the Empire State Building. (Our hotel is French-owned, in case you hadn’t guessed.) The lobby was even attached to a gallery featuring the work of a single artist who seemed terribly fond of red-clad dancing ladies.

All of it earned the same reaction from me, by and large: huh.

So maybe what I needed was public art. Art for the people, yo! Nothing like the idea of bringing the goods to the prole to really stir up a little passion! So on day two, I set my sights on a very tight perimeter around our hotel, hobbling around looking to be dazzled. Sure enough , it’s hard to go a block in Midtown without running into some kind of sculpture.

In fact, it seems to be practically a requirement for every office building to try to offset their worship of commerce with a really big, really expensive sculpture. There were strange shapes, busts, headless torsos. None of them, unfortunately, really did anything for me. Nor for the people dashing past them, apparently. At that point, this wasn’t art so much as it was an extension of the building.

The only sculpture I saw people stop and take notice of was Robert Indiana’s LOVE sculpture at the corner of 6th Avenue and West 55th. Yet I somehow doubted that those cute couples were posing in front of it because they knew it was an iconic piece of pop art from the seventies. Perhaps I’m just being cynical. My own reaction to seeing it – and I should confess, I’ve seen it before – was that I kind of like it better on a stamp. Seriously. That was my reaction.

I started to wonder if maybe I was art-broken.

Back in the hotel that night, finishing “Just Kids,” I got it in my head that if I went to the source where artists dwelled, then I’d magically be infused with passion – and surely stumble upon art at its core. Taking a cue from my book, which had started all this nonsense in the first place, the next day I hobbled my way down West 23rd street to the gigantic, domineering Hotel Chelsea.

I’d never actually been to the hotel before, although I knew well its connection to some of the great works of literature and art – countless of big names passed through the doors and wandered its halls in pursuit of their own passions. In “Just Kids,” the hotel itself is an artistic force and the tiny room Patti Smith and Robert Mapplethorpe share is central to their commitment to a life pursuing art. I figured creativity would be vibrating from its red brick façade.

Alas, no. It was cold and grey and my leg was throbbing. There was no way this giant structure could live up to my fantasies. I glimpsed into the brightly-lit lobby, walls covered with, well, you guessed it – art – but somehow couldn’t bring myself to step inside. There was too much expectation. I was too tired. Maybe there was something to the theory that this was a young person’s game.

Defeated, I crossed the road to try to get a better picture of the hotel, something that would capture its sheer size and found myself in front of an art supply store. In the corner of the display window, I saw this:

And it made me laugh. Absurd, nonsensical and totally hilarious. Hands down, the biggest reaction I’d had to any “art” the entire trip. Maybe because I wasn’t expecting anything, maybe because it caught me unawares or maybe because I’ve become an idiot who laughs at cat drawings. Either way, it was what it was.

I won’t bore you with the moment-by-moment details of every attempt I made to seek out art in the following days, but I will tell you it wasn’t as easy as I thought, nor was it as meaningful as I had hoped. Yes, I found art in a lot of places. I looked at it and I tried really hard to feel something, but mostly I just felt like I was checking some box on a To Do list.

That said, my biggest A-HA moment came when I was back home, uploading and editing the pictures from my trip. Browsing through the images I’d chosen to take, it started to dawn on me that I’d been seeing and responding to art the entire trip. It’s just that the kind of art that I find myself drawn to today, naturally and without effort, isn’t the same as it was twenty years ago.

Today, I’m stopped in my tracks by stunning skyscrapers or old buildings with ornate touches. I love decades-old tile work in the subway or glittering patterns on the ceiling of an Art Deco hall in Brooklyn. I’m moved by the sweetness of a pile of vintage valentines for sale at a flea market or hand-crafted fabric pine cones in a store window display. A quick flash of the Theater District lights as we fly by in a taxi or the perfect espresso in a beautiful glass cup. A photo of tacos, with the depth-of-field just right or a musician playing across the platform in the underground.

I realize I like art – and that’s art with a small “a” – when I’m participating in it somehow, trying to take the perfect shot or looking up to notice something unusual I might have otherwise passed by entirely. I’m not so much a “museum and painting” gal these days as I am a “pretty things in my real life” gal. Those are the things that bring me, if not a sense of passion and stirring, then a deep sense of contentment and happiness.

I still have and experience art in my everyday life, although the college-aged me would probably scoff at my definitions, dismissing them as middle-aged ennui and a surrender to the bourgeoisie. Strangely, I’m okay with that. It’s possible she was right. It’s also possible she was kind of a pain in the ass.

#47. Heal thyself!

Some people are just exceptionally lucky. Maybe you’re fortunate enough to have one outstanding Cathi/Kathi in your life who spells their name with an “i.” Me? I have two. And although they’ve never met, and although each is from a very different part of my life – one I’ve known two decades, the other just a handful of years – I have a strong connection to both. Why am I bragging about my Cathi/Kathi wealth? It’s relevant, I swear. Because another thing they have in common, although to different degrees, is the openness to alternative ways of thinking about how our mind and spirits and energy interact with our bodies. And they’ve both influenced me to be less skeptical and more open and to try things I mightn’t have otherwise.

Like trying to heal myself of fibromyalgia.

See, when you have a condition like mine – there’s no clear cause, no unilaterally effective treatment and certainly no sure cure – people develop all sorts of ideas about how to treat it. People, I should note very clearly, who mean very well. They suggest to you this one thing they heard on the radio that they’re certain will make me better. It’s both really lovely and really annoying. Because my general, pragmatic sense is that if someone had found a way to make people better from fibromyalgia, we’d all kind of know about it.

Thus, in general, when people offer me their groundbreaking methods to heal myself – biofeedback, reiki, etc. – I thank them as kindly as I can and stick to my largely Western medicine approach, even as I admit it isn’t entirely successful.

For my 40th birthday, my Cathi sent me a box of tricks, so to speak, that she hoped would help ease my pain, if not cure me of fibromyalgia entirely. Knowing me as well as she does, she asked that I try to have an open mind about the things she was sending me. Her package included sage with which to cleanse myself and my environment, a beautiful green tourmaline necklace meant to help heal me, a book of physical ailments and the corresponding mantras to ease them and a CD with a meditation for self-healing.

I was so struck by the love with which her gifts were selected and the obvious strength of her own beliefs, that I decided to give it a try. All of it, piece by piece. I decided to spend one week opening myself up completely to these – and other – approaches. After all, what’s the worst outcome? I actually get better and have to swallow my pride?

The first thing I had to deal with was my skepticism, but it wasn’t as big an obstacle as I would have imagined. It seems over the past decade I’ve become increasingly open to different ideas. In some areas of my life I’ve had great success setting aside my prejudices and instead believing what other people believed would work for me – as kooky as it may have all sounded. Why, then, not try it with this?

Day one, I decided to start with the big guns – smudging myself with sage to clear my energy. The booklet that accompanied the sage said it was possible to smudge oneself, but I didn’t have an ounce of confidence in my ability to do so. That’s where the other Kathi came in. There are few people I trust enough to ask to smudge me – and probably even fewer in my life who’d be game – but I knew Kathi would.

And smudge me she did. I stood still while she waved the sage along the lines of my body, following the directions in the booklet to the letter. She was open to smudging someone for the first time, I was open to being smudged. I am certain of little more than I am certain of the limits of my knowledge. So if some burning herbs can help clear my energy, who am I to argue?

Kathi pronounced my energy clear after the first go-round, which surprised me. I assumed I’d be a two- or three-timer. But no. And I can’t say I felt much different, but I did feel a strange kind of excitement, I think just at having had the openness to try it.

Day two, I put the tourmaline necklace into action. I had to smudge it first to clean any residual energy off it, which I did by lighting the sage again and passing the necklace a few times through the smoke. Then I put the necklace on with, I am sheepish to admit, the hope that maybe I’d feel better instantly. Like maybe it was a magic necklace. Then I remembered I don’t live in a Harry Potter book.

Day three, I started tapping. No, not tap-dancing, self-tapping as an “emotional freedom technique,” designed to help rid you of negative thought and energy. It wasn’t part of Cathi’s gift box, but it was a suggestion made by Kathi. She showed me how to do it, selecting a phrase to repeat as I tapped myself repeatedly in various areas of my head, face and upper body – energy points – to resolve the feelings. For me, I focused on relief from the pain and fatigue I felt.

On the one hand, the tapping was weird. It just seems so random. On the other hand, the fact that I found myself giving it a shot – I mean, really trying it – was indicative of how seriously I was taking this whole effort.

As for progress, I was nearly halfway through the week and, physically, I wasn’t feeling any better. But I wasn’t sure I was supposed to yet. It’s not like these alternative healing methods come with a timeframe for success. What I did notice, though, was that I was feeling more calm and more centered, maybe a little more positive – and on that front, it was hard to make a case for giving up. That was a definite improvement.

Day four I started with the meditation CD. The fact that I procrastinated on the meditation should tell you something. I’ll be frank here: there is no question that regular mediation makes me feel better, if not physically, then spiritually and emotionally. So why don’t I do it every day? Because I’m a moron.

By day five, there was nothing new to add, really. Just a few more days of trying to think positive, wear the green tourmaline necklace next to my skin, tap away and meditate. Think positive thoughts. Breathe. All that good stuff.

But I also battled my own nature – the impatience at not feeling any better, the frustration on the days when I actually felt worse than I had the day before, the self-pity that creeps in at having a condition that seems so hopeless at times.

I’m not sure what conclusion to draw from the past seven days of trying to heal myself. The skeptic in me says: I didn’t. But there are voices in my head that, even as I type those words, know that seven days isn’t enough time to resolve that expectation. Do I believe, then, that these things I tried could ultimately cure me? I think I’m too much of a pragmatist to say yes.

However, I think they helped me, in a number of ways, even though none of them was (thus far) easing my physical pain. They helped me be more open-minded. They helped me slow down and focus on my thought patterns and my mindset. They helped keep me calm and focused and helped keep my innate negative thinking at bay. There’s a lot to be said for anything that makes you feel like you’re doing something, rather than sitting by idly, feeling powerless about a situation. Maybe taking action is the healing part.

Maybe that’s what this was all about. Maybe I’ll keep at it with some of this stuff, if not every day, then from time to time. Maybe one day I’ll wake up, completely cured – free of pain and with energy to spare. I think what I’ll do is more forward, slowly, trying to have hope but not expectation.

#46. Being just like Jesus

It’s no secret that I’m not a religious person. I was raised heathen – not officially, of course, but my parents were lapsed Protestants who hadn’t much use for organized religion or, as far as I could tell, God. Still, when Christmas time rolls around I find it’s hard to ignore, as the billboards so delicately put it, the “reason for the season.” Holidays are tough. There’s stress, travel, anxiety, craziness, family. Each year, I try to come up with some sort of coping mechanism for all of it and each year I basically fail. This year, I found myself – for reasons I cannot explain and do not care to explore too deeply – wondering if there wasn’t some aspect of the religious celebration that I could incorporate into my own life. At least for, like, seven days.

And that’s how I settled on a genius new approach to a stress-free, peaceful and calm Christmas week: I would endeavor to be more like Jesus.

It sounded like a good idea when I first came up with it, although it presented a rather large problem: I don’t actually know much about Jesus. Mostly anecdotal stuff, whatever I see on TV, read on billboards. When I was a kid, there was a minister who would come to our school every once in a while and tell us stories of Jesus, but who was listening to that?

Settling the question of what it means to be like Jesus quickly and neatly is a bit like trying to scale Everest in an hour. It’s simply not going to happen. People on all sides of every issue have been asking this question for centuries and then twisting the answers to fit their agendas. (Although, it occurs to me as I write this, I was also creating an answer that would fit my agenda.)

I knew I didn’t want the Jesus of the Tea Party. Or of bigots and homophobes. (I’m pretty sure their Jesus isn’t the real one – whatever that means.) So which Jesus did I want? Thankfully, there’s the Internet. I Googled “how to be like Jesus” and figured there’d be step-by-step eHow article. One of the things that popped up was this article about a pastor in Grand Rapids who tried to live like Jesus for a year. There’s always someone out there trying to one-up you, you know?

I loved, loved, loved that there was a Yahoo! answer for my question. The winning response was: “Be very caring and love everyone just for being themselves. It really pisses off your enemies...” And it was written by a guy with a beard, which seemed incredibly Jesus-like to me. Done and done!

I realized that it was a losing proposition to try to figure out what other people thought it meant to try to be like Jesus. I was going to have to stick with what little I knew, or thought I knew. I was going to have to rely on my own limited concept of what Jesus was probably like.

There’d be none of the eating or living restrictions. No robes or sandals for me. I was trying to be very, very, very mildly Christ-like. Emphasis, in case it has been missed, on very. This is how I would try to be like Jesus for seven days: by trying to be kind, by helping others, by being patient and loving.

As simple as it all sounded – compared to how this challenge could have been defined by a more devout, less lazy and blasphemous soul than I – it was still a tall order.

The first couple of days of this week’s change involved making the road trip to my sister’s house in Indianapolis for Christmas. I found myself wondering: how would Jesus behave on a road trip? Would he ask if we were almost there yet? Would he whine about being bored? No, he’d probably sit quietly, try to be calm and patient, and distract himself with his knitting. Figuratively speaking. So that’s what I aimed for and I think I succeeded. But you’d probably want to ask my husband for sure.

The next couple of days were those leading up to Christmas Eve and I spent them just hanging out with my sister’s family and enjoying the company of my nieces and nephew. We played games, sang songs (seriously – there was Christmas karaoke on the TV), ate and made stuff. It was a pretty peaceful time and I couldn’t help thinking Jesus would be pretty proud of me – before smacking me for my hubris.

But then, just as Jesus was tried, so was I. On Christmas Eve, my mother-in-law collapsed in a very frightening – but ultimately not serious – episode. There was no calmness initially, just much heart-racing and panic on my part. We had to call an ambulance and then Chris and I spent four hours with her in the ER of a small but splendid hospital in the suburbs of Indianapolis.

Yes, I was bored at times, but I also was feeling tremendous gratitude for the paramedics, nurses and doctors who gave up Christmas Eve with their families to take care of ours. Even as I realized that as midnight delivered us into the first hours of Christmas day in a dingy hospital suite, I felt surprisingly at peace. I just had a sense that this was the right thing to do, the right place to be.

Is that what Jesus felt when he was just hangin’ out being all like himself? A sense of peace and calm? Knowing that this is where you’re supposed to be? Instead of feeling sorry for yourself at the prospect of ringing in Christmas at a hospital, just feeling calm?

And did Jesus also feel indescribably tired? And maybe a tad queasy?

We left the ER around one in the morning and the next test befell me around 2:30 AM, when I awoke with what would turn out to be perhaps the worst stomach flu I’ve ever had. No, now that I’m not being Jesus like, and back to my usual hyperbolic self, I’ll say the worst stomach flu anyone’s ever had. In all time. Ever.

By the time dawn rolled around, I hadn’t slept at all and when I finally drifted away, I awoke to the smells of Christmas morning breakfast wafting upstairs. That was not going to work. Even Jesus couldn’t hack the waves of nausea. So Chris took me to a hotel and that was where I spent Christmas day, with my head in a hotel toilet, tears streaming down my face, while everyone else celebrated the season at my sister’s house.

I am, as you likely know, a person prone to self-pity, and this should have been the end-all, be-all. But, for some strange reason, it wasn’t. Sure there were moments when I was dry-heaving and writhing in stomach pain and the thought circled somewhere around the outer recesses of my mind: what would Jesus do? Oh, if only there were a bracelet or a bumper sticker to help me with my inquiry!

But I’m guessing Jesus’ suffering probably made my bout with the stomach flu seem like a walk in the park. So, somehow, despite being so incredibly not okay, I was okay being not okay. Does that make sense?

Even the next day when the stomach cramps had subsided enough to leave plenty of room for self-pity, I instead felt grateful to recuperate on my sister’s couch and at least get in some QT with my nieces and nephew. Sure, everyone talks about Jesus performing miracles, but this was a true Christmas miracle. I had perspective and gratitude.

I carried it with me like brave little soldier even after Chris left to escort his mother home to Iowa and I had to drive myself back to Ann Arbor, still not feeling much improved. I dreaded the drive, but immersed myself in podcasts, somehow staving off boredom…and still no self pity. What the what? When I arrived home, I even found myself thinking, “Well, I made good time. Didn’t have to stop once on the way home. Guess there is a bright side to being severely dehydrated.”

And I carried it with me right into the last day of my challenge, when I finally broke. And when I break, I break big. I won’t go into too much detail, but one of my Christmas gifts from Chris was having a cleaning service come in and do the baseboards and floors and other stuff that’s just too painful for me to take care of. The owner of this service was – is there even a Jesus-like way of putting this? – a wench. She was rude and bullying and I was tired and depleted. It just undid me, sending me into a fit of rage, accompanied by embarrassing onslaught of tears that I couldn’t stem even as the day progressed.

Thus, I thought that while I’d given it a good run, I’d ultimately failed on the Jesus front. But when I said so to my friend Kathi yesterday, she said, “It’s like when Jesus freaked out at the money changers at the temple. You know that story?” I shook my head and tried to explain that I only really knew one Jesus story and it involved a big cross.

So she told me, albeit briefly, of how Jesus found merchants selling stuff at the temple and was all, “Yo, don’t dis my house of workship by turning it into a Wal-Mart.” Or something like that. Dude got crazy mad and knocked over tables, driving the bad guys out. He was super-pissed. Wicked.

This surprised me because, as I told her, I didn’t think Jesus was allowed to be upset or get angry. She gave me that look people do when you’ve been raised heathen and are kind of missing out on a lot of information. “Well, that’s the point,” she said. “Even Jesus got angry.”

Huh. As soon as she said that, I thought, Damn! I could have been pissed off this whole time? I could have been mad about being ripped off about my Christmas and I could have felt totally sorry for myself? But I knew that wasn’t really what Kathi was telling me. It’s also how I knew that the seven days were up and that I was, slowly but surely, going back to just being me.

#45. Making lists, checking twice, three times, four...

I promise you I am not making this up. As you know, I used the holidays as an excuse not to post a blog entry last week, pledging to write two pieces this week. Yet, as I sat down to write about what is now the change from the week before last, I drew a complete and total blank. I seriously could not remember what the hell I had done. Not even an inkling. Nothing. Like my brain had just been vacuumed out. How on earth, I wondered, could a person make a change for seven days in a row and then, within two weeks, have absolutely no recollection of it? Many weeks, I jot down notes on my changes as the days go by, but not this time. I was drawing a complete and total blank which, as an aside, is a terrifying thing, proof positive to one as anxiety prone as I that I am finally losing my mind.

It was bound to happen. I just thought I might make it to 41.

Then, about ten minutes ago I was in the bathroom, brushing my teeth, berating myself in the mirror for forgetting, thinking about how I was going to have to write a sheepish mea culpa promising the “lost” entry whenever (if ever) my memory returned. I thought to myself, I swear to God I am going to start keeping a list.

Oh. My. God. That was it. Seriously. I’d spent the week making lists. Apparently, nothing will jog my memory like completely forgetting.

It started out like this: as Christmas crept closer, all my bragging about being ahead of the game came to bite me on the ass. There were a million things that still needed done and I was feeling completely overwhelmed. I had to come up with a coping measure or else hide in closet until New Year’s.

Now, I understand that this concept of making lists in order to manage one’s chores is hardly revolutionary. People have been making lists since the beginning of time, Ogg scratching his To Dos on the side of his cave. My husband is an inveterate list-maker. Or so he says. Frankly, I can’t read his writing. He could just be scratching doodles on index cards and claiming to be organized.

I, for some reason, am not and have never been a list-maker. It’s always got me in trouble, especially considering I have the memory of a sieve. Even as a child in school, I would get scolded for not writing things down, forgetting deadlines, failing to bring in this or that.

I always have good intentions to be a list-maker and I have certainly tried. I figure I must have made some lists in college, since I managed to graduate. And I know that in my professional life, I had to keep lists or else I wouldn’t have kept jobs. (Although, truth be told, things always fell through the cracks).

I like the idea of being organized and the sense of accomplishment I imagine comes with crossing accomplishments off a list. To that end, I’ll download apps to my phone or programs on my computer. I’ll keep scratch pads on every surface and I even bought a mouse pad that doubles as a notepad so I’d have somewhere to jot down all my items. But I’ve never found any one system that works for me. I’m always crazy motivated for about half a day and then start telling myself that I’ll “just remember” to do this or that instead. Needless to say, more often than not, I don’t.

So when I say I decided to be a list-maker for seven days, I mean I decided to go whole hog. I was going to make lists for everything. It was going to be INSANE list-making around here. My goal: not a gift would go unpurchased, a dish unmade, an item unpacked for our Christmas trip to Indy. If I played my cards – or my lists – right, this could be the elusive key to the perfect holiday season.

I started out by making a master list of everything I had to do for the week. Within said master list were subdivisions – things to buy, things to make, things to wrap, things to pack. No item was too small. I was not going to find myself knee deep in would-be cookie dough only to discover I’d no vanilla. Nor was I going to have everyone gathered together for the perfect Christmas photo only to discover I’d forgotten my camera battery charger and there wasn’t enough juice left to pull it off. No one was going to feel left out on Christmas morning because I’d once again failed to notice a small package sitting under our tree at home.

In addition to the master list, I made small hand-scribbled lists every day of household things I had to do. Pay bills. Write checks for the house-sitters. Pick up extra litter. Send this email or that. It was all written down and it was…completely overwhelming.

That said, I must also admit that it was kind of exhilarating too. I felt like a machine. Santa may make his list and check it twice, but my master list became my obsession. I was constantly checking it, adding an item here or there, specifying, creating new categories, dying to cross things off, making sure that nothing had been left off the list. I needed my list to be perfect. BECAUSE WHAT GOOD IS A LIST IF IT’S FLAWED?!?

On paper at least, I was together, man. I was the Empress of Holiday Organizing. I did it. Every last thing. Every present made it to Indianapolis with us. No one was forgotten. Everything was in place that needed to be while we were gone. I had every item of clothing I needed, every power charger, every camera lens.

Also, I was kind of nuts. And completely exhausted. Part of why I’m not a list-maker in the first place, it seems, is because I operate at a very high level of denial about how much stuff I actually need to take care of. I don’t like to think about it. Sure, the price for this denial is that a lot of crap doesn’t get taken care of, plans fall apart, dinners don’t get made and people get angry with me.

But the benefit is that I worry less, and I can guiltlessly sit on my rear and watch a Top Chef marathon without a pages-longTo Do list nagging at me. And if that isn’t worth letting your life slowly fall apart, then I don’t know what is.

Happy Christmas Eve!

I was gonna steal some time away from my family to put together a post on this past week's change, but I think maybe that's not the best priority choice in a year of change. So I'm going to get today's blog posting up after the weekend, when the holiday dust has settled a bit. I know, you'll somehow manage. Merry Christmas to those who celebrate and happy happiness to those who don't!

#44. Making the most of it

First, before we get to this week’s change, I just have to say: how are we possibly only on #44? It feels more like 74. Is there room for negotiation? Could we call it 50, at least? No?

Good Lord, you people are unrelenting. Always trying to hold me to my word.

Anyway, back to business.  Friends, a funny thing happened to me this past week. I had in mind a change to make but the universe, as it sometimes does, had other plans. A different approach emerged. And what struck me as most interesting about this change is that I think it was the direct result of my last two changes – advocating for myself and getting ahead of the game. Like, change begetting change. Yeah. Take a moment to let that sink in. Dag!

As a result of advocating for the right medical treatment and proper adjustments from both my physician and my orthodontist, I experienced a rather sudden and significant reduction in pain. I mean, less pain than I remember being in well over a year. It was weird, frankly. In accordance, I also experienced a sudden uptick in both energy and enthusiasm, a lifting of the mild physical and emotional “depression” – for lack of a better word – that I’m used to having as my baseline.

As a result of the other change – getting ahead of the game – I had so much of my Christmas stuff done, I wasn’t bogged down with To Do lists, nor was I freakin’ out or stressin’ about obligations. Instead, I found myself with the rare combination of a lot of time on my hands plus the energy – and the desire – to do things. To get stuff done. To participate more fully in my life. And while it may be the most boring change of mine you read about to date, the combination inspired me to spend seven days – assuming the relief would last that long – simply making the most of it.

So I did. Boy, did I. I found myself ready and willing to do all the things I wish I felt like doing the rest of the time. However, I got off to a bit of a slow start. Like so many who are granted superpowers, I didn’t know how to use mine in the beginning. I was over-eager, clumsy and unfocused. I rushed into getting organized, making something, getting things done. I proceeded with hubris.

The first thing I decided to get done was building myself a fire, just the sort of thing I wouldn't bother doing under normal circumstances -- not worth the energy. This required bringing in firewood, a task I'd normally leave to my husband. Except he was out of town. So what? I felt strong and capable! Confident! I could do it myself! Except...I tried to bring in too much wood at one time with one arm, while also trying to close the door with the other hand. I promptly dropped four logs on my foot, all of it somehow landing on the same toe.

My toe swelled up like a small plum and was excruciating to walk on. I assumed it was broken. I felt like I was losing a day, but damn if I didn’t feel good while I was lazing around. In fact, I was impatient, itching to do things. So when Day Two rolled around and my toe had returned to somewhat normal size and appeared not to be broken, I was able to get a pair of shoes on and get to work. A little more carefully, this time.

And then, you know what I did? Things! I did things. I made things. I hung out with people without wishing I were home with an ice pack on my neck. I entertained. I sewed. I knitted. Here, for your edification, are some of the things I did. (Warning: your sense of wonder and amazement over these items is not guaranteed. In fact, it’s not really likely.)

  • Met friends for dinner and donuts, in that order.
  • Shopped for cookie-making ingredients and supplies at Meijer on a busy Saturday afternoon, without wanting to kill anyone at the stores. No, really!
  • Made a homemade melty, rich dark chocolate sauce. Took said chocolate sauce to a friend’s house for dinner. That’s two nights in a row of socializing.
  • Planned a dinner party for some special ladies in my life and drove all over creation picking up this ‘n that, that ‘n this in preparation.
  • Spent an entire day making and decorating Christmas cookies with friends. Mixing, stirring, rollin’ out some dough. Decorating. Talking. Laughing. (I never make Christmas cookies! Also, while we’re counting, that’s three days in a row of hanging out with other people.)
  • Worked out without even whining too much about it.
  • Learned how to make peppermint stick ice cream for the aforementioned dinner party and loved every minute of it.
  • Decorated my house for Christmas. Usually this involves the bare minimum – dragging my little silver Charlie Brown tree from the basement and hanging a few ornaments on it. This time, I did my mantle, took more care with the tree, put together a centerpiece for my table.
  • Cleaned the heck out of the house for said party. (Okay, fine, Chris did the bathroom, but he’s better at it than me!)
  • Wrapped, packed and shipped off Christmas presents to relatives in Scotland – to arrive in time for Christmas.
  • Decided that what the dinner party really needed was a festive table runner. Dusted off the sewing machine for the first time in more than a year, dug up a few scraps of holiday fabric and in an hour or so whipped up a passable version! Who. Am. I?
  • Enjoyed said party! Laughed my ass off for hours with women who mean the world to me and to whom I owe a tremendous debt of gratitude. To have the energy to give back, even in a small way like that, was the high point of my week.
  • Sat down in front of a roaring fire with a big mug of tea and got all my Christmas cards written and mailed.
  • Saw some more friends and was so energetic and upbeat, I think I actually annoyed them with what I would be like if I didn’t have pain. They had no idea what to do with me! Awesome.
  • Made jam. Lots and lots of cherry jam. Screwed up some batches. Didn’t flip out about it. Kept going. Triumphed.
  • Bought stuff to make more jam, because I am a jam-makin’ fool.

Then…another funny thing happened. After precisely seven days, I awoke in pain, feeling hit by a truck once again, exhausted and drained. It probably shouldn’t have been surprising, considering everything I’d done the past week. In addition, I’d been to the orthodontist and had some new equipment installed that was messing with my sleep and triggering more pain.

Still, I felt a bit like Cinderella the day after the ball. I mean, I knew this crazy burst of what I imagine is normalcy for some people – but felt like fantasy to me – wasn’t going to last. After all, wasn’t that the whole impetus for trying to make the most of it – the understanding that feeling this way was temporary?

I couldn’t help feeling a bit disappointed, because some part of me had secretly hoped that it might last longer. Maybe even, like, forever longer.

I suppose I could cry like a baby over the loss of Energetic Me. Instead, building on this week’s change, I’m trying to make the most of having had that week. I’m trying to be hopeful that perhaps there’ll come a time when I live like that, a person out in the world, fog cleared, no weight dragging me down.

Maybe even just a few days, every once in a while.

I think even my friends could handle that.

#43. Getting ahead of the (holiday) game

I realize that I wrote – precisely 35 entries ago – about what I charmingly labeled at the time “un-procrastinating.” For a fleeting moment or two, I was a worried that this week’s change was going to be too similar. Then I decided it wasn’t. Mostly because I’m running out of ideas here.

You may have heard of a little something called “the holidays” and how they’re coming up. I love me some holidays. I could say it’s not about the gifts, although I enjoy that part very much. Very, very much. However, I also have some Christmas-y chip in me that goes a little googly at the trees on Main Street lit up with fairy lights. Or the glow of Christmas trees or Hanukah candles in stranger’s windows as I drive around at night. I love browsing craft sites for hours to see what people are making and baking. Everything feels possible and hopeful to me this time of year.

I won’t go so far as to say it makes me feel a little magical, but let’s consider it unsaid. (ßirony!)

What does all this rambling have to do with this week’s change? Well, I shall tell you, to reward you for your infinite patience. This year, I have determined not to have a stressful holiday season. And nothing stresses me out more than all the last-minute planning and scrambling. Nothing is less Christmas-y than yelling at my husband because it’s clearly HIS fault I forgot something.

Thus, this year I determined to get ahead of the game. Was it possible that I could get it all done – the meal planning, the gift shopping, the errand-running – during the first week of December? You, my treasured reader, will be delighted to know that I did it! I won! I won!

First up, the gifts. I thank the baby Jesus for inventing online shopping. I don’t mind at all checking items off my list if I don’t have to leave the house and deal with people and packed, stinky malls. I decided at some point that it’s worth paying any shipping price in the world to stay sane. Imagine if it were that easy to stay sane in the other areas of my life: just pay shipping!

Organization – which is not in my natural wheelhouse – was the key here. To that end, I made a spreadsheet. Yeah, you heard that right. Because nothing is more Christmas-y than a spreadsheet. I made a list of all the people I wanted to buy for. I tracked each person, gift ideas, budget, whether or not I’d purchased the items and the budget. I even made a little field at the bottom that would calculate my total expenditures as I went. Then I erased that little field because, damn, that was a lot of money.

I should mention here that while some people find the gift-giving excruciating and feel it takes away from the true meaning of Christmas, I love, love, love buying or making presents for other people. Maybe it’s because I’m a people-pleaser, and I’ll be sure to see what my therapist thinks about that. But for the month of December, I like to pretend it’s because I’m thoughtful and generous.  I get a great thrill feeling like I know someone well enough to come up with something perfect that they’ll love. And if that fails, thank God for the Amazon gift list and gift cards. (Huge progress in recent years has allowed me to let go and buy perfunctory gifts for those who are hard-to-buy for and not feel guilty about it.)

By December 6, I had every gift person accounted for and orders on the way. Go, me!

I can’t take all the credit for this, though. It helps – in terms of logistics and moral support –  to have a partner in crime. Someone who is there for me, who will discuss strategy for hours on end, brainstorm endlessly. Someone who has my back, who likes to plan ahead of time and get things sorted, as the Brits say. Wait. What? My husband? HA HA HA HA HA. No, silly goose. My sister.

I have the distinct advantage of having a sister who worked in retail for something like 100 years. Since the holiday season was non-stop craziness for her and back-to-back shifts, she had no choice but to knock most of her holiday shopping and planning out before the holidays kicked in. She has this down to a science, so while every single male in our family is going, “We have until Christmas Eve to do our shopping,” Jane and I were on the phone before December blinked its bright eyes, plotting and planning.

We planned Christmas eve lunch and I drove out to lovely Ackroyd’s Scottish bakery in Redford to procure the traditional Scottish pies, then bung ‘em in the freezer. Done! We discussed my sister’s annual Christmas eve party for friends and neighbors and what I could contribute, deciding (wisely) on leek and potato soup given that I have about 80 pounds of potatoes from our fall harvest farm share. Done! The biggest discussion was left for Christmas dinner, but we knocked that out in about twenty minutes and I have a list of exactly what I’m responsible for and what I need to buy to make it. Done! I’m also responsible for the traditional British Christmas crackers we have every year. Done!

Oh, people, you should see the lists I have! A person has never been so organized for the holidays. Oddly, instead of feeling weighed down by it all, I felt exhilarated. Maybe it’s because sometimes I feel there’s very little in my life that I can control, and all of this was completely manageable. But I also enjoy feeling like a person who is organized, efficient, a veritable machine of responsibility and forethought. It’s like playing dress-up. I wouldn’t want to do it all the time, but it sure as hell felt good for a week.

Yes, there are a few things left on my Holiday To Do list, but the terrific part is that they’re the things I truly enjoy: writing Christmas cards, which I may or may not make myself (I know, I’m crazy like that – but when I sit down to write them, with a cup of tea and a roaring fire, it reminds me of all the good people in my life, near and far). Wrapping presents (which, again, like a crazy person, I love, love, love to do). Christmas baking and cookie-decorating. Maybe even a little crafting now that I feel I have the time.

That’s the payoff, friends. This business of being ahead of the game leaves me feel free to do the stuff I love to do – to feel as though putting up my dinky disco tree is a treat and not a chore. It gives me the room to clear my mind and focus on that feeling in my tummy – the warm, wiggly feeling of entering a season that can (and should) be about slowing down, enjoying the pretty bits and spending time celebrating friends and family.

#42. Ready, set, advocate!

I realize this will shock some people, and send others into peals of mocking laughter, but in some areas of my life I have trouble advocating for myself. Clearly, in other situations, I do not have this problem. I have the opposite problem, where I can’t stop advocating for myself. And I certainly don’t have trouble standing up and being a loud mouth when it comes to defending others.  It has been suggested, in fact, that I might take this Mama Lion behavior a bit too far at times when it comes to people I love.

Well, I’m just crazy like that.

At present, I’ve noticed I have a tendency to stick up for myself mostly in situations when the stakes aren’t very high – like if there are beets on my salad when I asked for none. I understand that, for many folk, that’s just what one does. It’s not a big deal to send back a dish that’s not hot or speak up when you’ve been overcharged by a few dollars. For many years, though, I couldn’t find a voice to stick up for myself in any capacity. I was, in the sexual parlance of certain communities, a bottom.

I was too shy and self-conscious to speak up when someone cut in front of me in line, when I asked for red and they sent me blue, when they asked me if I minded and I really did, but I just wanted everyone else to be happy. I was too afraid to upset people.

Later on, when I started to find my voice, I did what many people do when they get a new gadget: I abused it terribly. I overused it. I couldn’t stop myself from speaking up. “Hey! I was next in line!” “I said no mustard!!” “YOU HAVE ELEVEN ITEMS IN YOUR CART!!!”

The good news is that there is balance, people, and I’m proud to say that in many areas of my life I’m working on finding it. Okay, maybe not many. A few. A few areas.

One area, however, in which I continue to have terrible trouble advocating for myself is when it comes to people I perceive to be in authority. Then, I’m just a shy and terrified five year old who doesn’t wanna get in trouble and may be in serious danger of peeing herself. Not that that ever happened. Nope. No, siree.

At the top of the list of these quote-unquote authority figures are medical professionals. Whenever I step inside a doctor’s office, my spine seems to disintegrate and I almost maniacally start downplaying and dismissing the reasons I came in the first place.

Now, part of it is due to the very long and boring journey of having several concurring conditions about which doctors have varying frustrating opinions – ranging from “You’re making it up” to “You’re not making it up, but I can’t really help you, so go away.”

Thus, for the past few months, when the jaw pain caused by my braces has been setting off the worst and longest-lasting fibromyalgia flare-ups in years, I’ve done…precisely nothing. I like to tell people that this is because  I have crappy health insurance and I can’t afford to go running around to this doctor and that only to be told there’s nothing they can do, often with the rather strong implication that it’s all in my head. (Crazy women with their hysteria!)

But the real reason is I’m afraid. I’m afraid I’ll get in there and I’ll be hyper aware of How Important Doctors Are and how little time they have and I don’t want to bother them with the reality of my condition. So I will downplay it, employ the ol’ tried-and-true self-deprecation to talk me (and them) out of thinking there’s anything to be done. Accordingly, they shrug their shoulders and I leave, disappointed and with a hefty out-of-pocket charge for the visit. It cost me about $150 every time I chicken out. It’s an expensive habit to have.

I’ve probably written before on this blog – because, let’s face it, it seems like I’ve written everything before– that I am not a person easily motivated to make change. (I know, seems a tad ironic.) I usually have to be in deep discomfort of some sort, physically or emotionally, before I’ll let go of any self-destructive or self-defeating habit.

People, this is one of those times. After nearly eight weeks with a headache and jaw, neck and shoulder pain so bad I cried daily, I decided it was time to make a change: I would Advocate for Myself with the big, scary medical professionals.

The week kicked off with The Big One: admitting to my doctor – clearly and without apology or downplaying my symptoms – just how bad the pain was and telling her that I needed more help than I’d been getting. In doing this, I noted that my fear of Authority Figures isn’t my only stumbling block –  it’s also my ridiculous ego. I feel like not being able to handle constant pain is some sort of personal shortcoming. Who do I think I am? She-Ra?

Not only did I express clearly how much pain I was in, but I did something I haven’t in over a decade of chronic pain: I asked for strong painkillers and some muscle relaxants. This issue’s a tad rife with anxiety for me, as I am a person in recovery.

Now, I’ve never abused pills, but early in my adventures with chronic pain, doctors would shove me out their door clutching prescriptions for hydrocodone and vicodin. (I have come to realize that dealing with patients with chronic pain must be very frustrating for doctors, who are invested in finding solutions to heal their patients. Admitting they’re unable to do so must be hard for them, but they can write about that on their own damn blogs.)

Anyhoo, I never took many of the drugs prescribed. Partly because I was extremely paranoid and sure that it’d be one vicodin, then me face down in the gutter with a dirty smack needle hanging out of my arm. The reality was simpler: I just don’t like the way those drugs make me feel.

So I’ve made it a perverse point of pride that I have – perhaps somewhat stupidly – tried to “manage” my pain with ibuprofen and ice packs for the better part of 15 years now. Asking for something stronger was a big, difficult step for me, surrounded by so much anxiety.

I almost had myself convinced that I was making it all up – a sort of 15-year running gag leading up this moment when I could get a my paws on a diazepam. I was sure my doctor would know I was just an untrustworthy, drug-seeking addict. Worse, I knew she’d be right!

Instead, my doc was really helpful. We talked at length about my options and she prescribed me a couple of stronger but relatively safe medications to try out. And while they’ve helped a little (although I’ve been perhaps overly cautious in my consumption of them) ,what felt best about the exchange was the fact that I had been honest about how bad I felt. That part felt like the real triumph.

Enough so that, after several visits with a terrific massage therapist who tortures me with intra-oral massage to relax my jaw muscles from the inside, I finally conceded that my braces are the central problem in this nightmare. I mean, I pretty much knew that already. But bolstered by my conversation with my doctor days before, I decided it was time to advocate for myself with my orthodontist.

I made an appointment to have a consultation with my ortho which, embarrassingly enough, goes on the books as a “parent conference,” since most of his patients are a third my age. I was nervous about going in and saying, “Look, I’m in excruciating pain and this isn’t working for me. I don’t think I can do this anymore.” Part of it is because my orthodontist has a very…strong, excitable personality. I was afraid that I’d try to express myself honestly to him and end up walking out with a second set of braces on top of the ones I have, convinced he knows better than I do what I need.

As nervous as it made me to say it, though, I was able to tell him that this simply wasn’t working for me. He suggested I hang in there for eight more weeks – as opposed to the scheduled four or five months – so we could get things just perfect. Now, there was a time not so long ago – maybe last week, even – when I would have capitulated. He’s the boss, after all. He’s the expert. He has degrees. What do I have? Teeth?

Instead, I told him that was out of the question for me. I told him I understood he wanted me to have a perfect smile, but that I was less interested in perfection and only interested in pain reduction. He asked if I thought I could hang in there until Christmas. I was doubtful. I acquiesced, but not before making sure if I couldn’t take it, we could just end the whole thing at my discretion. “You’re the quarterback,” he said, which was apparently some sort of sports analogy that I took to mean “yes.”

I felt pretty good about that. A little puffed up, even. It was weird. Who knew that standing up for yourself and not just rolling over could yield results? Well, probably everybody else. Still, the results of this change seeped over into other, less significant areas of my life this week.

You’ll probably think it’s dumb, but I have a tendency not to return things I’ve bought that I don’t like. Small things. Part of it is that I’m too lazy and part of it is that I’m sheepish about the whole thing, like the fact that I don’t like something I’ve purchased is some sort of failing on my part. (I just used the word “part” three times in that sentence and have no intention of correcting it. Lazy!) Or I don’t want to, I dunno, bother the nice people at the store.

Yesterday, however, bolstered by my medical triumphs, I gathered up some items that had been sitting around not returning themselves and headed out. On the way to Ulta to return a heated eyelash curler I’d bought on a whim (don’t judge! It’s not like I have standards!), I mapped out my conversation with the clerk in my head. If she asked why I was returning it, I’d say it was broken. No! I’d say it was a gift for someone and they didn’t want it! Much better.

Seriously. Why on earth do I think about this stuff? Am I worried that the clerk is going to judge me? Didn’t I try to change that recently?  Clearly it didn’t take.


Because…when I returned it and the cute, young hipster girl at the register asked me if there was anything wrong with it, I said…“Yes. I didn’t think it worked well.” In other words…I told the TRUTH. AGAIN!

Next, I went to another store where I had bought some items just the day before – only to get home and discover a significant coupon that would have saved me a bundle. Oh, how I wrestled with the ethics of this. After talking to my sister – a retail vet who pays full price for nothing – I decided I’d go back and claim my discount! You should hear the stories my sister tells of people and their shady doings, trying to return stuff to stores under the worst and most dubious of circumstances. Not me. I was on the up and up. People ask for price adjustments all the time. It’s my right as a consumer!

Except,  I had a whole cloak-and-dagger scheme worked out. The plan was this: I’d wander in and innocently return the items. They would ask why. I would say they were the wrong color. Then I would wander around the store for a few minutes, posing as a regular shopper. Then I’d repurchase the items I had bought the day before, using my massive coupon, making sure to go to a different cash register so that the person who processed my returns wouldn’t catch me in the act and know what a terrible person I was.

Side bar: do you have any idea how embarrassing it is admitting all this stuff to you?

Instead, I had a change of heart when I walked in the store. I was, after all, on a week-long roll of just showing up and telling the truth and asking for help. It seemed to be working, so it was worth a shot. I stood in line to get to the cashier. When it was my turn, I said, “I bought these yesterday and then I got home and discovered I have this coupon…” I didn’t even get to finish my sentence when she smiled and said, “Why don’t I just return them, then re-ring them up for you with the discount?”

Yes. It was that easy. I didn’t melt. She didn’t give me dagger eyes – in fact, she was super nice and helpful about it. I’m not new to the planet, so I know that people won’t always be this gracious in these situations, but I have the sense that even if she’d been judgy about it, it wouldn’t have bothered me that much. People return stuff all the time – why do I have to be the sort of person who makes a federal case out of it?

Because, I suppose, if I wasn’t, then there wouldn’t be this blog. And you’d actually have to be doing something productive right now. So aren’t you at least a little bit glad I’m this crazy?

#41. Writing. Sort of.

First, a note: this week’s blog entry is a day late. I would like to have some sort of lofty or admirable reason for this. I would like to blame someone, perhaps the government or the terrorists. Really, I just totally and completely forgot that yesterday was Friday. I forgot to write my blog – which is ironic, given the title of this week’s change.

I realize that this may seem like a strange “change” for someone who’s supposed to be a writer. The truth is, though, with all my various and sundry health problems – not to mention my attitude problems – I haven’t been doing a lot of writing lately. And I miss it. Or, I suppose, I miss having written. Mostly, I feel guilty. I miss feeling like I’m being a productive person, someone with a skill set to offer up. It’s given my self-worth quite a ding.

My freelance landscape is barren, at least through the holidays, and I seem to have conveniently forgotten about that novel I’m supposed to be revising. (Maybe if I forget about it, it’ll go away?) Part of the reason I continue with this blog – even though it seriously interferes with my TV-watching and general faffing about – is because sometimes it’s the only time during the week that I actually sit down and write. It’s the very least amount of discipline I can muster up. You’re welcome.

In fact, it’s this notion of “discipline” that keeps haunting me. Virtually everything you read about how successful writers go about writing revolves around this elusive trait. All of us who have aspirations to accomplish something literary – even a tiny something –have the daunting habits of our triumphant predecessors hanging over us.

There’s Hemingway and his 500 words a day rule (or 600, depending who you ask.) Stephen King says he writes 2,000 words a day when he’s working on a book. Some authors rise at 4 am and write for  six hours straight each day. Others take to their desks at 10 pm and peck away well into the wee hours.

It’s a lot of friggin’ discipline. And, as I’ve mentioned, I don’t really have any.

Wait. That’s not true. At some point I will have to try to change my proclivity for making hyperbolic self-deprecation statements about myself. I clearly have some discipline. I generally get this blog written on time (except for weeks like, say, this one). I’ve completed two drafts of a screen play, countless articles and short stories. I’ve hammered out the first draft of a novel and I’m never, ever late with freelance assignments.

So I guess the truth is that I feel as though I don’t have nearly enough discipline. I’m rarely a daily writer, unless on a major deadline – and that feels like a massive failure to me. I’ve got all these ideas of what kind of writer I’m supposed to be and what that looks like, but the disconnect between my thoughts and actions is tremendous.

Thus, I decided to take one week to try to be disciplined at writing. I should note that I hated this idea from the outcome. I resented it. But, to be frank, I’m simply running out of ideas here. If I didn’t tackle this, I was just gonna have to think of another one. And that seemed like a fate worse than, well, writing.

To try to ease the process, I kept the rules pretty generous: I aimed for a mere half hour of writing each day and didn’t define exactly what kind of writing I would work on. The result? SPOILER ALERT: pretty sad.

I would like to make a case for leniency, good people of the jury, as I once again felt like doody much of the week. It’s becoming very tedious and difficult to undertake these changes when I have the energy of a…a…I dunno…something with very little energy.

I keep trying to bear in mind the fact that I’m comparing myself and my writing output to people who aren’t faced with the same obstacles. Maybe it isn’t fair or realistic to expect someone with chronic pain to produce at the same level as “normal” folk. But then there’s friggin’ Laura Hillenbrand, who didn’t let her debilitating chronic fatigue syndrome stop her from researching and writing the best-selling Seabiscuit. From her bed. Damn, there’s always one over-achiever in any crowd, making the rest of us look bad.

My week started off slowly. I didn’t even make close to half an hour the first couple of days. In fact, what I did couldn’t even be billed as writing. It was more like jotting – a couple of ideas, here and there, my half-assed way of doing something that barely fit the bill.

Then I started really stretching the definition. On day three, I sat down and spent a solid hour writing…thank you notes for my birthday gifts. What? If that doesn’t require both creativity and discipline, I don’t know what does.

Day five? Emails. You read that right. I plonked myself down at the computer and pounded out a few long, newsy missives to people I owed correspondence.

Day six? Nothing! I was exhausted from all those friggin’ emails. I wrote…a grocery list. It was highly creative, plot-driven, with fully realized characters.

Which brought me to Day Seven and this. This blog. This ol’ thing. This weekly commitment that keeps me writing. And I sat for a couple of hours, hammering this out. I felt some pleasure at the ease with which some sentences flowed, and frustration at those that refused to piece themselves together properly.

Week #41 finito!

My negative self-talk is eager to dismiss this week’s progress (or lack thereof) as further proof of my laziness, but when I put on my Hat of Fair and Just Assessment, I think it’s really just me doing what I can right now – and, to be perfectly honest, what I want to. I don’t want to sit down and write for four hours a day right now. More than that, I couldn’t. I couldn’t physically pull it off.

In other words, it is what it is. So rather than judging it as being wrong or a failure or yet another thing that requires change, I think right now I just need to accept it. Stop judging myself for it. Stop comparing myself to what other people are doing. Now if I could pull that off, it’d be some real change to write about.

This means, of course, I have to accept everything that goes with being a wildly unproductive writer: diminished odds of being a best-selling author of international acclaim. At least, not anytime soon. There was a time when that realization would have completely devastated me, when I was so focused on outcome and producing that it would have been completely unacceptable.

However, something’s happened over the last few years – and during this project in particular – where I’ve become increasingly comfortable with my life just as it is. Not just comfortable, but content. If I don’t make the New York Times Book Review in this lifetime, I’ll be okay. I’ll still write something, somehow, even if I don’t currently know what that will look like.

It doesn’t have to mean that I’m not an ambitious person. I still have my eyes on the prize. It’s just that, right now, the prize is trying to stay sane, finding a way to live with and manage my pain, and keeping my relationships alive and my marriage healthy. If that isn’t the mark of a productive, goal-oriented person, I don’t know what is.

#40. Trying not to give a rat's ass what other people think about me

To which I say: HA HA HA HA HA HA. And, also: yeah, right. Remember when Sally Field won that Oscar for something or other and said, in her now-legendary acceptance speech, “You like me! You really like me!” And then everyone excoriated her for it for decades? Because how embarrassing is that? To reveal that it matters whether or not people like you? To publicly announce your relief and joy to discover that people like you?


Except…I think the real reason everyone made fun of the Flying Nun for her outburst that night wasn’t because what she said was alien to them. I think it was actually because it hit too close to home. Here was a person saying out loud what we all feel inside at times and it’s horrible to see those uncomfortable parts of yourself flappin’ in the breeze like that.

So…sorry, Sally. You’re going to take the bullet for all of us. We’re going to mock you relentlessly until we’ve established a giant and safe distance between you and the rest of us normal folk.

Obviously, though, given the title of this week’s entry, I’m copping to being one of those people who worry more than she likes about what other people think of her. My problem is that I want everyone to like me. I even want people I don’t like to like me. This is cumbersome, to say the least. In fact, sometimes my obsession is so giant it’s like a handicap. I become catatonic with worry. I either can’t string a sentence together or I babble stupidly like a woman in, well, any romantic comedy movie.

Now, I realize this revelation may seem somewhat at odds with the way I behave at other times, the way I shoot off at the mouth like someone who, well, doesn’t give a rat’s ass. This is what’s known in some circles as false bravado. In others, idiocy.

After decades of beating myself up about this particular obsession and admiring people – to a certain degree – who don’t seem to care about what other people think of them, I’ve come to suspect that this is mostly artifice. I imagine that even the people who seem completely self-confident in public are riddled with some degree of self doubt in private. And if they aren’t, well, there’s a word for that: sociopathic.

I don’t worry about this all the time. In fact, part of the annoying thing about this problem is that it pops up willy-nilly, often completely unexpectedly. I’ll suddenly find myself in the midst of a group of people among whom I always feel safe and at home and suddenly I’m worried they all hate me. No, I’m certain of it.

As I get older, I’ve grown increasingly tired of this particular defect of character. I don’t think I’ll ever be completely free of worrying about this – it’s just my nature. To some extent, I think it’s just part of the human condition. But I’ve just turned 40, for God’s sake. I practically have one foot in the grave. Time feels precious. Do I really want to spend it worrying about this sort of thing?

So I decided to take on this very amorphous change: trying, to the best of my ability, not to let other people’s opinions of me dictate my mood or, worse, my own opinion of myself. For one week.

First, the good news: once again, I discovered that this is one of those traits of mine that has quietly improved over the years but I’ve failed to notice. It’s not gone by any stretch of the imagination, but it’s not nearly as prominent as it was in those adolescent – or even early adulthood – days when it was my albatross. I was addled with worry about what other people thought of me, certain everyone thought I was a loser and a dud. And you don’t need to be Dr. Phil (thank God) to know that really what was happening was that I thought I was a loser and a dud. What a breakthrough moment! Hugs!

Bearing all that in mind, I was actually a tad falsely confident the first couple days of this week, strutting around a bit, feeling like a confident woman who doesn’t give a rat’s ass about what other people think of me.

But the universe, as it often does, had other plans for me.

You see, it was my birthday weekend which is, at least in my family, traditionally a time for score-keeping. Who remembered? Who didn’t? Who sent a card? Who didn’t call? Who failed to appropriately recognize this enormous milestone of a day? At the root of all this tallying there could be no other driving concern than: what am I worth to the people in my life? In short, what do other people think of me?

I don’t say this proudly. If you’re a regular reader, you probably get that most of what I write about here, I ain’t proud of.

Yikes. People, it was not pretty.

There might have been some crying. There may have been some self-pity. I’ll never say for certain.

Now, in the midst of all this frantic assessment – you go in the column of “likes me a little,” you go in “loves me an appropriate amount,” you’re going straight to “hates me” – a group of very dear friends, helmed by my husband, threw me a lovely little party for my birthday.

I should mention that this is the first birthday party I’ve had in 15 years. I say that not in self-pity – although you’d be forgiven for rushing to that conclusion, given the evidence I’ve readily provided – but to illustrate that I’m a person who’s not that comfortable being celebrated in that way. I don’t like being the focus of all those eyes. I feel self-conscious and want to disappear. Yeah, me. The shrinking violet. I know: surprise!

But kind souls wanted to throw me a party, so throw they did. And the sentiment meant the world to me. In the midst of all that worrying about whether or not I mattered enough to merit a birthday card, here was tangible proof that people not only like me, they love me.

Thus, one would think the party would have been an oasis in a week of worry. Sadly, it wasn’t. Why? Because I brought all my character defects with me to the party, and spent a large part of it worrying what people thought about my reactions: was I being grateful enough? Did I seem too awkward? Was I spending enough time with everyone?


It is exhausting being in my brain, I tell you. Ridiculous and exhausting. And humbling, because here I thought I had this one in the bag and it turns out that, no, I am still an emotional middle-schooler.

Wait, though. Because it is now days later and I have that tiny bit of perspective the comes with the passage of time. And the truth is this: I am still an emotional middle-schooler at times. Yes, this was going to be one of those weeks of change where the real value comes from recognizing the progress I’ve made, acknowledging that I’m not quite as bad as I used to be.

Yes, it’s still in me and it rears its ugly head from time to time, but it’s not how I generally live my life. That’s important to recognize, but it doesn’t actually make me feel less sheepish about the week behind me. The best I could do was a little forensic digging, taking a look at why, exactly, my people-pleasing was on Red Alert this past week.

I think, without boring you to tears, a lot of it had to do with the fact that I was feeling vulnerable and sad and terribly down on myself about turning 40. More specifically, on turning 40 and not having achieved every single goal a person could have achieved in life. Birthdays are a natural time of self-assessment and this one was a whammy for me.

So, once again, the answer lay in the fact that, underneath it all, I wasn’t feeling great about me. And when that happens, as embarrassing as it is to admit, I become hyper-dependent on other peoples’ opinions of me to validate me and bolster my self-worth. Healthy? I dunno, but it is what it is.

It’s also important for me to recognize that even when I’m in the midst of this self-centered angst, I can still find and hang on to a tiny corner of perspective. I still know, somewhere underneath all my hand-wringing, that other people are busy and have lives and aren’t thinking about me obsessively. I still know that, in reality, none of that means they don’t like me.

I can even go so far as to acknowledge and accept that there are going to be people in life – many, many people, probably – who don’t like me. And that’s their prerogative.

However, when I’m bathing in self-pity, it feels like a full time job and I tend to shove that perspective to the side and ignore it.

Take this minute, for example. Confessing all of this in a public forum is making my stomach churn. It’s embarrassing. It fills me with shame. It makes me worry that this is the blog entry that’s going to be so revealing nobody likes me anymore.


But…writing that previous paragraph brings to light something pretty big – and pretty obvious. Perhaps nothing has helped me let go of what other people think about me more than the scary business of writing this blog. Week after week, I confess the deepest and ugliest parts of my psyche and hope that people can relate to it. If I was truly still addled by other peoples’ opinions of me, I wouldn’t be writing this now. In fact, I can’t imagine the 25-year-old me having enough self-confidence to confess any of this. She’d be mortified. (She’d also be drunk, but that’s not necessarily cause-and-effect.)

With every entry I’ve written, it has become easier for me to feel braver and to be more honest and to let go of what other people think – largely out of necessity. It wouldn’t be much of a blog if I didn’t examine the weeks of change with a warts-and-all candor. It’s both incredibly freeing and incredibly terrifying.

I guess if we’re grading my success on a literal scale this week – meaning, how much I managed to let go of what other people think of me – I’d probably earn a big fat D.

However, if we wanted to give me a slight bump for introspection and recognition of very gradual growth, what say we bump me up to a C? I know you want to give me the benefit of the doubt. Because you like me. You do. Not that it matters. It doesn’t.

But you do.


#39. Not freaking out about turning 40

“Change your thoughts and you change your world.” – Norman Vincent Peale

Did you notice that I didn’t write a blog entry last week? I didn’t even write about not writing a blog entry. I just…didn’t do it. Couldn’t be bothered.

I don’t even have an interesting excuse. It’s not like I was trapped under something heavy or in a sudden coma. It’s just that, to be perfectly frank, I’ve been feeling like hell the past month. My fibromyalgia’s the worst it’s been in years and while I can usually soldier on through the pain, it’s the exhaustion that has been my undoing. I can’t seem to get anything done. I couldn’t make a change, let alone write a blog entry about it. Just didn’t have the energy. And worst of all? I didn’t care that much. Didn’t have the energy for that either.

Sigh. So there you have it. The experience of feeling too defeated to write last week was an interesting one. Really humbling, in a super uncomfortable sort of way. My perfectionism took a big ding when I had to come to terms with the fact that this project wasn’t going to go without flaws, that there was going to be a big gaping hole on the calendar one week.

In fact, it was staring at my blog archive calendar and seeing that gap on the graphic that bothered me most – not the fact that there was no actual blog entry. So what does that say? That my perfectionism is more about the appearance of perfectionism and consistency rather than having any actual substance. Probably. Double sigh.

However, if I must mine for diamonds in this particular experience, I did at least discover that I’m not comfortable with the idea of abandoning this project permanently. I’m a Scorpio, for God’s sake, with a stubborn streak a mile wide. I realized that I have to see this through, which for me means a full 52 weeks of change – even if it bothers the hell out of me that they’re not in a row. It’ll have to do. If I can muster up enough acceptance for that, then we’ll have a REAL change on our hands, ladies and germs.

Anyway, all that rambling brings me to this week’s change. I don’t have much more energy or much less pain than in the past few weeks, but plug away I must. I should mention that it’s not helping my overall malaise that my 40th birthday is looming on the horizon, mere days away and I – who didn’t bat an eyelash at turning 30 – have become an embarrassing cliché of self pity and weepiness at the prospect of entering my forties.

I’ve been pretty consumed with taking the usual self-immolating inventory of regrets, comparing what I thought my life would look like to what it actually looks like, mourning some paths not taken, freaking out at the prospect of my life being HALF OVER.

Then, last week, within a couple of days of each other, two friends posted on Facebook the Norman Vincent Peale quote I put at the top of this entry. Now, I should make a confession, at the risk of offending some people I adore (and, you know, others I don’t): posting pseudo-inspirational quotes in one’s Facebook status update is a big ol’ pet peeve of mine. Ditto song lyrics. I won’t pretend to know why, but it generally makes me roll my eyes. It’s the modern-day equivalent of using John Lennon lyrics as your quote in your senior yearbook.

Only…this time there was a clear indication that they were speaking to me. I’m feeling pretty miserable lately, obsessing about the negative ramifications of turning 40. I needed to change my thinking, focus on the positive.

But, realistically, how?  When you have pain and limited energy, it’s really, really difficult to remain positive. It wasn’t going to be enough to just try to be positive for seven days. Also, that sounds annoying. This required a more focused approach, a concrete device to help me “reframe” my thinking, in some small way.

One of the things that makes me inexplicably happy is photography – taking pictures and looking at them. I don’t pretend to be good at it, but I take tremendous pleasure in photos that capture the small, quiet moments of life. And even though I haven’t been taking a lot of pictures lately, it doesn’t actually require all that much energy.

So for a week, I determined to take one photo each day that represented something positive, that shifted my thinking away from self-pity and self-recrimination and onto the good in my life. Seven days. Seven photos. Don’t worry, I’m not going to force the issue and write long-winded accompaniments about why these things shift my thinking. Suffice it to say that they do. Here they are…

1. view from the couch

2. wood pile, late afternoon

3. salted caramel, in service of ice cream of said flavor

4. flowers from Birgit

5. happy kitty

6. tealight

7. driveway bricks

Enough with the photographic navel-gazing, you say! What the crowds really want to know is: did it work? Did the simple act of seeking out moments to photograph, then taking the time to consider and snap them actually change the way I thought? The answer might surprise you. It surprised me.

It did. It completely turned my week around. It kind of operated on two levels. First, it lifted me out of the morass of feeling sick and unproductive and reminded me that there are things I love to do and can do even when unwell. No one likes to feel like a lump on a log all the time.

Second, it was impossible to ignore the impact of the subject matter. I have a good life. I mean, a Really Good Life. And complaining about turning 40 is just complaining about getting to enjoy it longer. Which makes absolutely no sense.

A skeptic might say that really it was just the fact that I had another week to get comfortable with the idea of aging, but that seems unlikely – even to a skeptic like me. There was something at play here. Something big. That Norman Vincent Peale knew what he was on about. Okay, maybe it didn’t change my world, but I can totally get behind, “Change your thoughts and you change your week.”

P.S. Reader! It occurred to me that slacking off this past week and the couple I took off before then adds me in a numerologically happy position: next week will be my 40th change. During the week I turn 40. SHAZAAM!

#38. Releasing resentment

I don’t know about you, but I can hold a grudge. I mean, I can hold the hell out of a grudge. I have a death-grip on resentments, some big, some small. Some weighing on me far more than others. And some, frankly, that I’ve just gotten entirely sick of packing up and carting around with me wherever I go. It’s enough to make a person wish there were some simple way to just rid herself of them. Like, if it were just as easy as making the decision to let them go. Just…got over them. Instantly, by sheer will. That’d be awesome, right? And such a time-saver! Talk about a change for the better! Are you with me? I said, ARE YOU WITH ME? That’s more like it!

Now, readers, I’m not naïve enough to think that these matters don’t require a certain amount of introspection and fancy footwork to overcome. It’s just that I’ve already done a lot of that stuff over the years, including looking closely and thoroughly at my own part in each of these relationships or situations. Yet there seem to be certain resentments that aren’t magically dissipating as a result of this legwork. Almost as though a person were refusing to let them go. Almost as though it were sheer will and stubbornness that stands in the way of freedom.

So consider this an experiment, if you will. Not of the usual variety. Seven days. Seven hand-picked resentments I’m sick and tired of having. And a conscious effort to let go of them, one by one.

Wait. What? What does it take to let go of these resentments, you ask? What is my process? That’s a damn good question. And the answer is: I have no idea. My approach varied depending on the resentment, but mostly it required a fair deal of thinking. Setting aside a good solid portion of time to walk through the resentment, almost like a farewell stroll. Then taking quiet time to breathe deeply and will myself to just let it go. Be done with it. It looked a lot like meditation, if a person were prone to that sort of thing.

Here’s a run down of what I tackled this week, along with a self-assessed score from 1-10, based on how well the resentment “felt” gone in the days that follow.

Day 1, Resentment 1: Anonymous Former Employer #1

I think I am being both completely fair and completely professional when I say that this guy was a douche. Now, yes, I was a terrible employee. It was, to put it mildly, not a good match. Still, the douche was so condescending to me, particularly about my writing skills and so narrow-minded in his focus that I felt about an inch tall by the time I crawled out of that place.

Douchey boss, I release you. I’m done with you. Your opinion matters not and I will not carry it with me anymore when I feel like I can’t write.

Score: 9. He had a really bad mustache. And who wants someone with a really bad mustache in your head? No one, that’s who.

Day 2, Resentment 2: Anonymous Former Employer #2

Hmmm. I might be starting to see a pattern here… But I swear, this boss was a banshee from hell. The kind of woman who gives all women bosses a bad name. A bad, four-letter name. She was controlling, manipulative, eviscerating with her criticism, completely untrusting of her entire staff. She bred an environment of fear and self-doubt. If I’d left the last job feeling incompetent, I had stumbled into a bigger quagmire. Two years I dealt with her vitriol, believing—as she implied regularly—that I was lucky to have any job at all.

Lady Bitch, I am grateful to you for one thing and one thing only: you taught me everything about how I don’t want to be in the workplace, how I don’t want to treat other people. I release you and all the memories that still make my tummy churn. I’m not that person anymore and, even if you are, I don’t need to hang on to it.

Score: 7. She still kinda makes my blood boil. But mostly I’m mad at myself for being a sucker and putting up with it for so long.

Day 3, Resentment 3: Crazy client #1

People said she was nuts. I didn’t listen, because I was new to freelancing and hungry, in particular, for more editing projects. When a she-bully tells you she knows what an editor is supposed to do and you don’t, it’s enough to make you question your own sanity. I did. A lot. I let her insane rants get under my skin. Needless to say, it ended badly. Badly, as in, she refused to pay me the agreed-upon sum and threatened to kick my ass. And, reader, she could have. She so could have.

I realize now that I did know exactly what I was talking about, and I hate that I was young enough and naïve enough to let the sheer force of someone else’s boorishness make me question myself. But there was certainly precedent for it. Blech. I don’t want to think about you and your craziness anymore. There’s no point in revisiting this situation. OUT!

Score: 9. Undeniable insanity apparently makes this easier to release…

Day 4, Resentment 4: Crazy client #2

I delivered apples, they saw oranges. They knew what they wanted, but as with a lot of clients, had no ability to explain what it was. They hated what I delivered them, which I understand happens sometimes to freelancers. But they refused to pay me. Since I’m a huge fan of Judge Judy, I sued ‘em in small claims court. They eventually sent payment—along with a scathing letter taking me to task for my lack of talent and lack of professionalism. Again with the tap-dancing on my self-doubt!

The longer I carry this around, the longer it continues to feed into that dark, moody voice that arises only in my deepest despair: Maybe they’re right. You do suck! Enough. I found the client tedious then and it has only multiplied over time. I don’t really have a lot of trouble seeing the reality of this situation clearly, so why on earth do I unpack it and look at it from time to time. No more.

Score: 7. But I can’t blame them entirely for my self-doubt. Much as I’d like to.

Day 5, Resentment 5: My mother

Ooooo, touchy subject. And vague! Does anyone ever finish the hard work of resenting the hell out of their parents? Here, I’m cutting off a small sliver. I’m talking, specifically, about my mother’s constant criticism of my body, my eating habits and my weight. I took those negative perspectives as gospel truth and I cannot tell you what I’ve shelled out in therapy bills just to make a dent in this one.

Unlike the resentments I’d tackled on previous days, I already knew this one would be the toughest to let go. But a girl’s gotta try, right? She’s gotta try, because she’s a grown up and she understands—begrudgingly—that her mother was just trying to help, but didn’t know how to do it constructively. She’s gotta try because her mother’s gone now and she doesn’t want to carry around any more anger and resentment towards her because it doesn’t change anything. It just stands in the way of seeing that good. And that’s what I want to carry forward: the good.

Score: 5. Progress made, but it’s still there. Man, is it still there.

Day 6, Resentment 6: The tenants from hell

I swear to God, just thinking about these people makes my blood boil. I can feel it, under my skin, steaming away. You could make tea with it. Gross tea, to be sure, but you get my point. Let me set the stage on this one: we were long-distance landlords, spoiled by a terrific first tenant. Then came the Frenchies. Entitled, awful people who treated our property like crap, who lied to the neighbors about our evicting them, who littered the lawn with cigarette butts and empty wine bottles, who stole from us when they moved out. Blech.

It’s been nearly two years since they moved out of our house. Now it’s time for them to move out of my head.

Score: 9.5. Turns out it’s far easier to let go of resentments when I can say, with a clear conscience, that I did not contribute to their terrible behavior or the circumstances that brought it about.

Day 7, Resentment 7: Me and my resentments

I did not see this one coming. I was digging around for a seventh resentment to round out the week with, something truly spectacular. And I was coming up dry. I was feeling somehow lighter, relieved. Except for a nagging sense of annoyance after looking at all of these circumstances. Annoyance with…something or someone I couldn’t quite put my finger on.

Then it occurred to me. It was…me. I was embarrassed by and angry at myself for letting things get to me, for being vulnerable (read: human), for having reactions and for being the kind of person who lets these ridiculous things take up space in my head for so long. I realized that working on letting go of all these resentments had earned me a brand, spankin’ new one.

I tried to let it go. Tried to let myself off the hook. Breathed in, breathed out. Felt sheepish and insane. Breathed some more. Laughed at myself a little. Hit my head against the wall for an hour or two. Then, as quickly as it came, it went. I was too tired and bored by this level of self-indulgence. Done, new resentment. You’re fired.

Score: ? Let’s face it. This one’s new, and history suggests it could pop up again any time like a bad rash.

Too bad I’m not handing out points for trying.

#37. Telling it like it is

How am I? Me? I’m fine. By which I mean: I’m sad. And I’m scared. I’m sore—so much pain it feels sometimes it might drive me crazy. I’m exhausted. I’m overwhelmed. I’m anxious and nervous. I’m feeling lonely and inadequate and doomed to failure. I’m fed up with other people. I feel undervalued. I feel overrated. I’m hungry. I’m bored.


I’m also: happy. Grateful. Giddy. Blessed. Excited. Thankful for so many great friends. Elated that it’s fall, my favorite season. Madly in love with my husband, even after all these years. (More so after all these years!) Enthusiastic.  Content. Comfy. Did I mention I’m happy?

In any given week – sometimes in any given day – that is what I mean when people ask me how I’m doing and I respond, “I’m fine.” All of it. Often in fleeting moments. But because it’s easier and less risky and doesn’t fill me with fear and anxiety, instead of telling people how I really am, I just say those two magic words: “I’m fine.”

I don’t think this is a particularly uncommon affliction, responding to inquiries about our state of being with some sort of pat response. And there can be a number of reasons for that. I suspect some people say it just to get that part of the conversation over with. Some say it in order not to make themselves vulnerable. Some say it because they’re afraid of how people will react if they knew the truth. And some say it because, let’s face it, not everyone who asks how you’re doing really gives a rat’s ass. They’re just being polite.

I do it for all those reasons and then some. It’s difficult, in fact, for me to parse sometimes why exactly I go about telling people I’m fine when I’m not at all at that particular moment. I used to think it was because I’m so selfless and generous that I simply make room for other people’s feelings to take center stage. There’s no question I feel far more at ease comforting, rather than being comforted.

But let’s not pretend that makes me the next Mother Theresa. Because it’s not selflessness; it’s self-preservation. I’m far more comfortable with other people making themselves vulnerable without doing the same in return. Sure, they can emote and cry and tell it how it is, but not me. My ego can’t take that sort of exposure.

Or could it? What if I spent an entire week honestly answering the question, “How are you?” Or, even more bravely, what if I didn’t necessarily wait for the question before telling people what’s really going on with me.

Oh. My. People, let me tell you. I have given up meat for a week and it was a piece of cake. I have tried to give up caffeine and cursing, both of which were struggles and – ultimately – huge failures. I have stepped outside my comfort zone and met a new person every day. But none of the changes I’ve attempted thus far were nearly as torturous as this one.

I started the week off with a bang. As many readers know, I participate in a 12 step program, and that means showing up at meetings on a regular basis, surrounded by people, most of whom I know. It’s a fascinating social experiment in which, sometimes, people in horrible pain and at a crossroads in their lives show up and bare their souls. I mean, bare their souls.

They cry. They wail. They are sorrow and pain, held together only by skin. They are afraid and they are angry and they are lost. It is a singular experience, to be present for someone else’s moment of truth and, as trite as it sounds, I can’t possible express the power of it to those who haven’t had the privilege to experience it. I marvel at these people.

And it’s not just the newly sober, either. Over the years, I’ve been witness to friends and strangers with years and decades of sobriety walk through life’s most horrible experiences and show up at these tables and dissolve. These are, without question, the bravest people I know. I said it in the previous paragraph, but it bears repeating here: it is a privilege to be present when someone is so open.

Then there’s me. I am perfectly comfortable showing up at the tables – and in life – and sharing a bit of my experience, strength and hope, as the saying goes. I’m perfectly fine talking academically and intellectually about What I’ve Learned and What I Know. But what I seem to be missing, what seems to have gotten harder to reach the longer I’ve been sober, the older I get, is the ability to show up and admit when I’m not okay.

I resolved, on the first day of this week of change, actually to tell people how I was faring, good and (gulp) bad, starting with the people at my tables. The people who do that same thing every day. It was – depending on your perspective – either lousy or perfect timing for this undertaking. I was already feeling a little denial-y, because I’d just walked through the anniversary of my mother’s death, whistling and staying busy and pretending all was fine, pushing my sadness aside to hear other people’s problems.

And because the universe is mean and cruel and out to get me, that first morning I learned of the sudden death of a friend of mine in St. Louis. We were not the closest friends by any stretch of the imagination and we had been out of touch for a few years. But for a while there, he and his partner were frequent dinner companions for my husband and me. He was a good and kind soul, a really nice man. And he died two days after the anniversary of my mother’s death, in the exact same sudden and unexpected way she did, entirely too young, just like her.

Reader, it slayed me. All this fear and sadness bubbled up to the surface in a way that seemed entirely too fitting for this experiment. I found that I couldn’t possibly go to my regular meeting, sit at the table and open my mouth without admitting to all of it. It was just too big and too present. And so I did. I went. I sat at the table. I waited my turn, with a hollow ache in the pit of my stomach, knowing I was about to say how I was really doing and stunned by how many feelings and fears I had about it.

At the risk of reducing a moment of great personal growth to something crass and inelegant, I will say: it blew. I was squirming on the inside as I let other people see me cry. (Well, almost cry. There was welling.) I endured their kind glances and their loving hugs and words of encouragement afterwards. And I tell you, it nearly killed me.

I’m becoming aware as I write this that it’s ironic that someone who will so freely blather about her personal life in print balks at honest human connection, but maybe that’s why I write. Because, it turns out, it’s not the actual confession part that is toughest for me (although it’s plenty tough) – it’s the discomfort of people’s reactions. If I write this stuff and put it out in the universe, I don’t have to experience people’s immediate reactions. I don’t have to endure their glances. I don’t have to worry that those kind looks are actually pity. It turns out, that’s a big part of what I hide my feelings: I don’t want people feeling sorry for me.

Which is – sigh, of course, of course – ego. Again with the ego. It will be the death of me.

This level of emotional withholding is also, of course, about control. Controlling my vulnerability, not letting myself be exposed or risk being hurt. What’s at the root of it? Fear of rejection? Hell if I know. I’m sure there are many professionals who’ll be more than happy to help me figure out the specifics for $150 an hour.

I should note that it’s not as though I don’t tell anyone how I’m really doing. It’s just that I keep that circle really small. Sometimes, it’s a circle of one, which may be mathematically impossible. I wasn’t good at geometry. But there are a few other people I trust enough to tell how I’m really doing, a couple of coveted friends who demand honesty from me and who can tell when I’m not doing well. And I’m truly grateful for that – for being known. For being understood.

As is my style, I want the payoff of being known without the vulnerability of letting people get to know me. I want people to know how I’m really doing without my having to tell them. I want them to have compassion for me and appreciate how difficult my struggles are without it – God forbid! – turn into pity. I want to manage the whole thing exactly to my specifications.

Well, I told you it was a control issue! Stop judging!

Oh. There’s the other thing – my fear that I’ll tell people how I’m doing and they’ll judge me. “She’s such a whiner,” they’ll say. My physical pain – a one-two combo of fibromyalgia and muscle damage from two car accidents – is something I hide from almost everyone. I’ll say it here: I am always in pain. It’s just a matter of how much. But how boring would that be? How am I? I’m in pain. Yes, still. Yes, again. “She’s always complaining about her pain,” they’ll say. “God, she’s tiresome and annoying.”

Then everyone will hate me and I’ll have no friends and I’ll be sad and alone forever. The end.

So this week I told people, despite worrying I’d be alone when the seven days were up. I told them my pain was increased. I told them I wasn’t sleeping well, that I was tired and cranky. I told them my jaw pain was giving me headaches and making me crazy. I did it. I told the truth – and no one dropped out of my life. At least not yet.

Honestly, I’m not sure what I’ll do with this change going forward. It was deeply uncomfortable for me and the timeframe for change was so limited that all it did was serve to expose my fears, make me hyper-aware of them. I certainly didn’t end the week feeling like anything was resolved, any inhibitions calmed.

But it did give me the chance to do some pretty relentless and exhausting self-assessment throughout the week. After all, if you’re going to be honest with others about how you feel, you sort of have to know the answer. And I was pleasantly surprised to discover that when I got full-on honest with myself about the difficult feelings I was having, I also became more aware of their positive counterparts.

I realized that my feelings don’t exist in a vacuum and they’re not static. Nor are they one-dimensional. By that I mean, I don’t think we feel one single thing at a time. It’s all far more complex than that. But if I’m working hard to deny the negative stuff, the positive stuff becomes collateral damage. I can be in terrible pain and be stupid grateful for the life I’ve been given. I can be sad about loss and be happy for the fall colors. Nothing is as black-and-white as I tend to make it.

Not sure how I feel about that.

#36. Reading the Classics

I have a confession to make, although it probably won’t surprise you: I’m bored with this whole project. I’m completely over the idea of pursuing change, partly – and ironically – because of one of the major revelations I’ve experienced thus far. That is: I think this notion of our having to change constantly is pretty bogus. Not the most enchanting way of putting it, but there you have it. What I mean is that I’m spending so much time worrying about what to change and how to change it and whether or not it lends itself to Big Lessons and Moderately Interesting Blog Entries that it doesn’t leave much time to notice that there’s so much about my life that I don’t want to change. Not feelin’ free to be me and me, and all that.

I realize that the notion that—in Dr. Phil speak—I’m okay exactly as I am is a huge gift. Sadly, I am singularly focused on the fact that it’s a gift that leaves me with 16 more weeks of change before I’ve put in a full year on this blog.


So I’m soldiering on, even if that means I am doing so in a half-assed, uncommitted sort of way. This is what happens when you’re stubborn, yet have exceptionally low standards.

Having gotten that all off my proverbial chest, on to this week’s change for the better. As always, a little background… I’m embarrassed to admit that, for someone raised in a household with a heavy emphasis on classic literature, I am woefully unread in this area. As a result, I have a bad case of what the experts (me) call LIC – Literary Inferiority Complex. As a writer, this is a particularly bad affliction to have.

Therefore, I decided to rectify the problem and improve myself exponentially by reading all the major classic works of literature and poetry in one week.

Okay. Not really.

But I did decide to try and make a dent in my towering mental stack of unread works, tackling at least one classic poem or short story a day for seven days in a row. By the end of it all, I’d be much, much smarter. Much, much worldlier. At the very least, I’d have a slightly better chance of answering some questions on Jeopardy.

Where to begin, though, with such a ridiculous undertaking? One begins, as with all things, on the internet, Googling “classic poems” and “classic short stories.” And one is quickly overwhelmed with list after list, opinion after (dubious) opinion about what constitutes the “best” or “most important” when it comes to literature and poetry. And one walks away from the computer screen with a throbbing headache, a growing sense of doom and regret and instead locates on her bookshelf a torn and dusty copy of that stalwart of high school literature: the Norton anthology.

Flipping open to the table of contents, I was pleased to discover that I had actually read the majority of the short stories deemed required reading for any student of literature. A number of them I’d read repeatedly. By choice! But there were still others whose names were entirely familiar but which I had never read. I started alphabetically, with Ambrose Bierce’s “Incident at Owl Creek Bridge.” I was off to the races!

Man, did I feel instantly smarter. I could feel my brain growing, my mind expanding! Look at me! One short story down. I was on a tear. Nothing could stop me. The days that followed were a blur of classics. For the first time in my life, I read “The Rime of the Ancient Mariner” and finally understood the whole albatross thing. Genius! I read Keats, Byron, Browning. I dabbled in Shakespeare’s sonnets. I read Chekov and Twain and Conrad.

I’m not ashamed to say – by which I mean I’m totally ashamed to say – that it took me forever to get through this stuff. I found myself glazing over again and again, having to read and re-read the same paragraph multiple times until enough of it sunk in to move on to the next. Half the time I had absolutely no idea what I was reading and had to look it up, line by line, just to see if it made any sense.

In truth, something far bigger than confusion haunted me as my reading week wore on. Something far more sinister, far more dangerous. It was…boredom.

I know. Not very literarily sophisticated of me.

I am a person who loves to read. Loves, loves, loves to read. And yet…I wasn’t enjoying much of what I was devouring. Thus, I found myself towards the end of the week wondering, as I have with so many other changes, “Why the hell am I doing this, again?”

It was an extremely valid question. The sort of question born of a vastly expanded intellect. I was clearly checking off items on some sort of To Do list. But whose list – and why on earth did it even matter?

Enter Uncomfortable Realization #8,271: this was all about ego. Again. Sigh. I was reading to feel “equal” to everyone who’d read that stuff. That’s it. That superficial little nugget is really all it was about.

I can’t imagine that having those notches on my classics belt is gonna change the way I read or write. It was just literary keeping up with the Joneses—and I hate that part of me feels the need to do that. I don’t want to be a person who measures herself by what other people think of what I’ve read. I don’t want to worry about it and I certainly don’t want to engage in intellectual snobbery, no matter how strong my genetic propensity for it may be.

Sigh. Again, the lesson didn’t come from the change itself this week—it came from my feelings about the change. And the conclusions I come to, which often feel very repetitive to me, seem to be moving me concretely towards whatever my authentic self is. Feel free to shoot me in the head for just using the phrase “authentic self.” Who am I? Oprah?

A lot of times, I’m discovering a discrepancy between some old idea of who I thought I was who I thought I wanted to be and who I actually am. It takes this crazy experiment for me to understand that in many ways I’ve already changed, even if my thinking hasn’t quite caught up.  The old me wanted to feel literarily on par with other people. The current me?  Doesn’t actually care.

It’s worth repeating this week’s Big Realization, if only so I might remember it: I don’t want to be someone who worries about how other people judge me – for my reading list or anything else. I suspect this is part of the grace that comes with age and maturity.

And I may be closer to being that than I realize most of the time, so caught up in old ideas about myself am I. I’ve spent so much of my life keeping score and worrying about how I compare to others and it certainly hasn’t brought me a moment’s peace. Unlike reading what I love, what I want to read, when I want to read it. Now, that has brought me countless moments of peace. That is how I want to live my life.

#35. Goin' it alone

There was a time in my life when I couldn’t stand to be alone. In my young, drunken adulthood, being by myself led to the hyperbolic extrapolation that I was solo because I had to be, because I had no friends, because everyone hated me. It didn’t help that I wasn’t that fond of me, either, so having to spend time alone felt like the worst kind of punishment.

Somewhere along the line, however, that changed for me. Not magically, and not overnight, but I slowly became fond of my own company and turned into someone who quite likes to be alone. I’ve written before, in fact, about how sometimes my preference to be alone can verge on the unhealthy – and if there’s any one Big Lesson I’m getting from this change project, it’s less about transformation and more about seeking balance.

To that end, I decided to aim for a week where I spent at least an hour of Quality Alone Time each day. Just me, all by myself. (I admit, editing an anthology of non-fiction entitled “Goin’ It Alone,” might have helped set the wheels a-turnin’.) Now, at home that might not seem such a difficult undertaking, even though I determined  that watching TV or surfing the net did not qualify. But I specifically chose this week for this change because I knew I’d spend five days of it traveling and the difficulty level would be increased.

My husband and I took my mother-in-law to Santa Fe for five days as a belated celebration of her 80th birthday. Now, I love my husband and I love his mother, but I also know that I reach limits with companionship, especially when the stress of travel is added in and we’re staying in relatively close quarters. At home, I spend the vast majority of my day alone in my office, so to sally forth and be a good team player would be a challenge. And it would make the seeking of this Quality Alone Time (QAT) even more crucial.

The first day of this week's change was a travel day, which complicated matters greatly. When you travel through major airports, holy shit are you not alone. You are whatever the polar opposite of alone is. We had a long day ahead of us, with stupid routing from Detroit through Minneapolis to Albuquerque, then an hour’s drive to Santa Fe. From the minute I left the house, I was decidedly Not Alone.

It posed an interesting question, though: can you find solitude in the midst of a crowd? Not the sad, distancing “I don’t belong” type of solitude most of us have felt at some point, but a meaningful, restorative type of solitude.

The answer is not nearly as interesting as the question. It appears to be: sort of.

The key, it turns out, is headphones. I’m easily distracted, so I figured the only way to have QAT in a crowded space was to my attention inward with the help of a handy dandy meditation app. Believe me, I am hyper-aware of the cheesiness of being the sort of person who needs an app to help her clear her mind. I know it’s probably not what Buddha or Ghandi had in mind, but they didn’t have iPhones, so what did they know?

I was making some rules on the fly: mere distraction didn’t count as QAT. In other words, flipping through tabloid mags on the plane while rockin’ out wasn’t going to make the cut. The idea was quality -- whatever the hell that meant. And so I played my cheesy meditation app. Three times in a row. And while I didn’t find it completely relaxing – considering I don’t fly so well and I was half-focused on thoughts of fiery death – I did my time. My quality time.

Day two was a piece of cake, because we live in a consumer society and sometimes if you want Quality Alone Time, you just have to pay for it. It’s the American way. So I did. Five hours of it at one of my most favorite places in the world, Ten Thousand Waves Japanese-style spa in Santa Fe. Even if you discount the time I spent having treatments, since I was technically in the company of people who were talking to me from time to time, I still had at least two hours of good, solid alone time.

I sat by the koi pond, soaking my feet in a warm tub of mineral water and just watched the fishies swim around. I had 45 minutes to myself in a private outdoor soaking tub, and I’ll confess – after about 20 of just sitting still, enjoying the water, I wasn’t sure what to do with myself. The alone time was piling up and I was getting squirrely. But I stuck in there. I passed on my urge to get a magazine or something else for mental distraction, and the second half of my time there flew by.

I think a really good experiment would be for me to go there by myself for three days and see if I can hack it. In the name of science. Subsidized by a kind benefactor. (Are you reading this, honey?)

The third day of our trip was some full-on touristing, so I had a harder time eking out moments alone. To be honest, the constant companionship was catching up with me. I love everyone I was with, all two of them, but I missed the silence, the contained-ness of being alone.

Since I didn’t have a full free hour during the day, I decided to see if breaking up my QAT over the course of the day was as effective as, say, five hours at a spa. Oddly enough, it is not.

But it still helped. I stole 20 minutes for meditation during the day, then took a long, luxurious bath in the evening. And it was awesome. I am an avid bath-taker at home, which I’ve always thought I liked for the relaxation and pain-relieving value. But while we were on vacation, I realized that the bath time is also some of my best quality alone time. Lovely smells. Warm water. No distractions. Good stuff.

On the fourth day, we headed out of Santa Fe to Bandolier National Monument, an amazing state park, and this is where I had one of the most meaningful alone experiences I’ve ever had. (Although, having said that, you should probably lower your expectations. I don’t have very many meaningful alone experiences to compare this to.) At the park, there’s a main loop trail that takes you on a relatively easy hike up around some Pueblo ruins and peering into cliff dwellings.

My mother-in-law hung in there for half the hike, until the steep stone stairs leading up to the cave dwellings became too much for her. We were ready to turn back as a group, when I asked Chris if he would mind if I went on to finish the trail without him. And so I did, feeling strange and brave and overwhelmed by the world around me.

Sure, there were other people on the trail, but for the most part, I was acutely aware of Doing Something By Myself. Just me ‘n nature, hanging out like old buddies. I took my time ambling along the last part of the trail, noticing when my mind wandered and trying hard to bring it back to my surroundings. I stopped and sat for a few minutes on a bench by a little creek, when suddenly a large bus group walked past, yammering loudly.

I made eye contact with a couple of the women as they strolled past, usually the one closest to me in a group walking three or four abreast. And they smiled. Maybe I was reading something in to it, but they didn’t seem like superficial smiles. They seemed like slightly envious smiles. Like they say me, all alone, and were telling me with their eyes how much they’d like to trade places. How much they envied my solitude.

Oh, I felt beatific. I felt Zen. I felt calm. Right up until I came across a sign naming native animals to the area and noticed the pencil drawing of the black bear in the upper right corner. Huh. Sometimes the benefit of being in a group is that it significantly reduced your odds of being the one eaten. I picked up my pace. Being alone is nice. Being a pile of bones alone on a path is not.

Our fifth day was our last full day in Santa Fe, and so we spent it wandering around galleries, looking in shops, eating stuff we shouldn’t – all as a group. I knew I had the bath to look forward to that evening, but I noticed that waiting until night for my solitude didn’t have as positive an impact on my interactions with others as stealing time in the day did.

Again, I was faced with the question of how to steal time alone in the presence of others. The answer this time? A museum. We headed into the New Mexico History Museum, which happened to be free that day, with just an hour to spend before it closed. It’s a beautifully done museum and it reminded me that one of the best things about museums is the personal experience they provide. The quiet discourages conversation and everyone seems to find their own rhythm, moving through the place at their own pace. I even stole into a room showing a video about the Southwest and enjoyed sitting alone in the back, watching gorgeous photograph after photograph scroll across a giant screen.

Of course I still took a long-ass bath later that night.

And day six, we headed home. Same as travel out, only in reverse. Solitude through headphones, then a bath when we finally got to our own house.

That just left day seven, when I was back in my regular routine, wondering if there would be any change as a result of the previous six days. I had hours to myself at my desk and then, later, on the couch as Chris caught up on work in his office. But I was now increasingly aware of the weight of that time, the value of it. I now had the urge to spend it in the best possible way, not just distracting myself with bright screens and electronic voices.

I pulled the headphones out again. I took a cross-legged position on my chair and I did my meditation, feeling deeply grateful for the luxury of the time to spend by myself. Feeling profoundly happy that I no longer find my own company loathsome. Feeling happy at the prospect of following it up with a long, hot bubble bath. All by myself. Just me. And my tabloids.

It can’t all be quality time, right?

#34. Accessorizing

Note: I completely forgot it was Friday until right this minute. I’m in Santa Fe, the sun is shining on the mountains, everything is terra cotta and glowy and I’m gearing up to go and eat at Pasquale’s, one of my favorite breakfast spots in the world. So sitting down to dash out a blog entry in a half-panicked, half-starved state is not, I realize, ideal. I suppose this is my way of saying that if this week’s entry reads like it’s hurried and half-assed, that’s because it is. My apologies. Sometimes I get completely burned out on selecting a change to make every seven days. Unfortunately, I’ve already played my “not doin’ it” card – twice, actually, if you count the week I was sick. Fortunately, I have friends who occasionally make a suggestion. And, for some reason, when it comes out of someone else’s mouth, the ideas always sound so much easier. Like the time a friend suggested I meet someone new every day. That turned out to be a blast.

But this week I adopted a change my friend G. suggested a few weeks ago: accessorizing. Yeah, you read that right: accessorizing. I know. I was a little sheepish about it at first. To start with, I wasn’t sure that accessorizing would really change me in any meaningful way. Plus, I wasn’t entirely certain what the hell it entailed. That’s how backwards I am when it comes to these things.

I was, however, convinced of one thing and it turned out to be the deciding factor: accessorizing sounded easy.

Now, I should mention first and foremost that my friend G. is miles more stylish than I am. I suspect she understands fashion, a claim no one who knows me would ever make about yours truly. She strikes me as one of those gals who just knows how to throw a thing or two together and make it work. I am not one of those people. I know how to put my underwear on right side out. Other than that, most style baffles me.

One thing G. and I have in common, however, is that we’ve both left the formal workplace and labor away at our own endeavors at home. And there is no question that the life of the person who works from home becomes decidedly more casual. So casual, it could at times be mistaken for complete and total neglect of all things good and proper.

I’ve been there. I may, in fact, live there.

Mine is an uber-casual lifestyle. I usually start the day in my gym clothes, thinking that if good intentions hold out I may make it there. Even if I don’t, unless I have the rare meeting outside my home, there’s little reason to suit up. Sweats are comfy! No one sees me! And if I can’t get myself into a pair of pants with actual buttons, what are the odds I’m accessorizing at all? Zero. That’s the odds.

I also live in a really casual town, so even heading out for the evening doesn't really require much dressing up. Unless you're comfortable being the most over-dressed person in the room. I'm generally not.

That said, for someone who doesn’t accessorize, I happen to own a lot of accessories. Some are leftover from the days where I had a Real Job that required dressing up on a daily basis. Some are just pretty things I’ve gathered over the years. Most go unused. I’m a creature of habit and I tend to have just a handful of go-to pieces I wear time and time again. (I believe, in fashion terms, this is what’s known as a “rut.”)

As I’m continuing the 30 Days, 30 Items Challenge I wrote about last week, I was ripe for reflecting on the purpose of having all these things and never using them. So maybe this accessorizing was a natural extension of the previous week’s challenge: to see if I could put these items into play. And, if not, maybe they needed to go on the Goodwill pile.

It so happened that the first day of my accessorizing week I had a busy schedule out of the house. I had an appointment, then met a friend for coffee, then had a meeting later on. It was the perfect kick off. I wore pants that buttoned. I wore an actual shirt. And I topped it all off with a pair of earrings and a necklace my husband had bought me a few weeks before, now making its inaugural trip outside the house.

When I had emailed G. to ask her what accessorizing changed for her, especially for someone who works from home, she responded:

I'm not sure the going anywhere really matters, although it's nice when the Starbucks people say they like your earrings. I found it to be -- unexpectedly -- a real internal transformation, even if I am putting on a scarf or a necklace to sit and work at the computer. I've had to back off bangles in the library, though. Too noisy.

I had to confess that just putting care into selecting these items made me feel far more “put together” than I do on the average day. It made me feel like…a grown up. And for someone hurtling towards 40, that’s probably long overdue. I did feel a bit more like a professional, a glimpse back to the old days when I got dressed up for work every day and chose shoes and jewelry to match my outfits, feeling professional and polished.

The real test, I initially thought, would be how other people reacted to the new, accessorized me. I was sure those who were used to seeing me barely out of pajamas would be bowled over by the new me. As I sat for coffee with my friend, I tucked my hair behind my ears to show off my dangly earrings. At my meeting, I played with my chunky beaded necklace pointedly as I spoke.

And no one said a goddamn thing.

In fact, as the week went on, I followed through and accessorized. I accessorized at home, at one point sitting at my desk in sweats, fancy earrings and a silk scarf, just to say I’d met the criteria. When we went out to dinner, I wore a scarf jauntily tied around my neck in what I guessed was Euro fashion. I wore a bracelet on my wrist for the first time in I don’t know how long.

And no one said a thing.

But I guess that wasn’t the point G. was making, was it? (Although, she did say the Starbucks folks complimented her, no? Maybe it’s that she has better accessories? Or maybe it’s because I don’t go to Starbucks?) It’s about the inner transformation. In my case, at least, I think transformation is too strong a word. There was a change that took place, a change that had something to do with making a bit of effort and taking a little more pride in my appearance.

That may be a good thing, but one of the bigger observations I made about myself this week is that doing this stuff isn’t really in my wheelhouse. I tend to feel self-conscious when I’m all “done” up. Like I’m pretending to be someone I’m not. I’m confused to the point where I don’t even know if I like it or not.

But then G. sent me this article from the New York Times, with a note saying, “Even your bike is accessorizing!” And that sort of broke things wide open for me. You see, I’ve been accessorizing this whole time. In fact, I love to accessorize – my house, my life. Just not necessarily my person, and not when I’m just hanging around at home.

That said, I can’t ignore the fact that I did enjoy putting a little more thought into my accessories when going out. I do like the fact that feeling put together on the outside can make me feel more pulled together, confident and competent on the inside. I think I just need to worry less about what magazines and websites recommends for accessorizing and just do what I’m comfortable with.

I can pretty much guarantee, though, that I won’t be wearing earrings with my yoga pants when I work at home.  Of course, a wise person might recommend that I try wearing something a little more presentable, a little more professional, even in my home office.

That wise person, however, isn’t me.