Round and round it goes. Where it stops, nobody knows…

30 years ago in high school, when we were filling out the paperwork for our year book, we had to write a little blurb about ourselves and include a phrase we were “known” for.  I wrote for mine, “I’m so confused” which is odd, because back then I felt so sure of everything, yet I said this so often, as if it were some sort of mantra that would give me time to kill and ponder until I was definitely certain, about anything.  I liked my hair and I loved my clothes and I had good friends and lots of fun and had a job that I enjoyed and participated in school activities and clubs and also took dance and was certain, as in -not at all confused-  that I was going to get the hell out of south Jersey and go live in a city and be a writer…I dreamed, it seems, of being “Carrie Bradshaw” before Carrie Bradshaw was even invented.

I was certain, as in -not at all confused- that I was going to write countless fabulous words, and write a novel, or maybe work in advertising or do free-lance work for magazines or perhaps for a newspaper, and I was going to eat at a different restaurant every night of the week if I wanted to, and try new things every day of my life if I so desired, and wear great clothes and magnificent shoes no matter where I was going or what the occasion…these things felt as sure to me as any other things in my life, at 17, or so it seemed…and three decades later, full disclosure, I am in fact living in south Jersey, just miles from where I grew up and never made even one cent from one word I ever wrote, never lived in a city in a fabulous apartment and never ended up with a color coordinated closet filled with ridiculously high heels, and there are few interesting dining options in my town.  The “R” in RStar could very well stand for *regret* if I let it…but I don’t.  I choose instead to let it stand for re-invent, re-try, re-start, re-rise, re-imagine, re-examine, re-create…

I realize that the dealer in the game of life throws us so many tricky hands…nobody gets a Royal Flush every time.  Some of the cards we really can work with, and some of them are so F**king shitty that we just shake our heads in disgust and dismay, “what am I going to do with these cards?!” we might think, or “I’m so confused!” but we have to play the cards we are dealt, folding is not an option so just must do our best to make the winningest combination possible, round after round.  While it may not always seem clear, I truly believe we get better with each deal, taking the skills we learned and applying them each and every time and we try again and again.  It’s okay to be confused and it’s okay to wonder what might happen, but it’s not okay to stop, and folding every hand because you are scared is not an option.  May I introduce you to STEP 13…

step13

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That’ll Do

I don’t try to think less of myself, I try to think of myself, less…and that is also why these steps have been shared and expressed in a way that is not too personal, not I-I-I or me-me-me, but us really…how can we do better for ourselves and for each other?   Nobody is perfect.  I have however met people who live like they believe they are, and what they think is “right,” and how they think is the “only” way TO think, and while people like this often cloak their judgments and criticisms in the disguise as being “helpful” all it really is, is them talking about what they think and why it’s right…STEP 12  seems to me to be about evolving, and I believe that if you never try to do anything new, or do it in a new way, or never try to think outside of the framework you live in, then you don’t evolve.  I also firmly believe that it is far better to try to do something new, or think in a new way and then decide “it’s not for me,” than to continue on the path of same-old-same-old.  But this is my opinion, only, it’s my personal narrative, yours might be on the opposite pole and I think that’s just fine, for you.

I believe that trying and failing is better than not trying at all.  I don’t like to fail and I suspect that nobody does,  BUT…I have lived long enough now to understand that it is okay to fail because every failure is a lesson and every lesson is part of our evolution, and more importantly, we know when we can do better than we are doing, and we get there in our own way on our own time, because the “knowing” is the voice that guides us…it is the ache in our belly, it is the insomnia keeping us up at night, it is the personal narrative of our existance…we know when our ride on this planet is going well and we know when it is clunking and chugging along.  The words in our heads that seemingly never stop stating the obvious, the jibber-jabber blabber that goes on all of our waking hours is nothing but the inner voice stating what we already know and are already experiencing…”it’s cold out” might say the voice in your head, upon walking out your door, but “duh?” you are the one feeling the cold you are the observer and experiencer of your life, that inner voice is just chatter most of the time…BUT when it is talking to you and you are not listening to it, when you feel “off” that’s when that inner voice can change your life.

‘Just Do Your Best’ is one of those statements uttered by teachers, coaches, parents, mentors, or instructors when we are young, and it just becomes meaningless strung-together words, over an entire lifetime, if we don’t actually try to do our best.  STEP 12 made me think of the movie BABE, a movie I have seen countless times.  It is a story about wondering who you are, what is your place, what is your role, and finding out that you can create a role for yourself in this life that is, to most, inconceivable, but you do it anyway.  BABE follows the age old adage, ‘if at first you don’t succeed, try try again.’  When I first read this quote that is our STEP 12 I thought of farmer Hoggett, and how he lets BABE try and fail and says “that’ll do”  when BABE gets where he needs and wants to be.

step12

I think we know, deep in our souls, when we can do better, and I also think that most of us get there without being berated for the efforts or attempts to find our way.  If things in our life are not going so well, we don’t need Captain Obvious to tell us so…”um, Hello? I know my life is in the toilet, thanks a lot for the update” is a default statement many of us on the path might need once in a while.  We don’t have to have cheerleaders or overly blaring coaches on our sidelines, or parents who are forever blathering on about how we can do it…WE humans KNOW what we are capable of, and we feel it, when we understand we are capable of more.  We know when we should speak up and we know when we should shut-up.  Our inner voice can guide us in so many ways if we let it.  More importantly that voice can drown out all the critics distracting us, and turn up the volume for those who guide us rightly, who build us up, who see the light in us when maybe we are having a hard time seeing it for ourselves… Maybe we can learn to quiet that inner voice when it is beating us down, and maybe when we do our best, we can train it to simply tell us, That’ll Do.

Breathe In. Breathe Out. Repeat.

I know people who worry and dread over so much so often that they seldom, if ever, are just “here and now,” and with every breath they are thinking about some other time, some other event, some other issue, some other possibility, but not THIS time.  I’ve read a lot of books about this and it seems to be an epidemic.   I also know people, although the number is significantly fewer, who never consider fretting over tomorrow because *it’s in the future* and the future is unknown, and therefore pretty much meaningless, because all that matters is now.   *Is-ness.*

…so I woke up this morning to the gentle sound of my Woodstock Percussion chimes and my Soleri Bells, which was lovely after last night’s roaring pounding winds which made me wonder if my roof might blow off, or that I might find my 300 pound cement Buddha sculpture off its 100 pound concrete base by morning…neither of which happened, thankfully.  I got out of bed and my back did not hurt too much, for the first time since Sunday, when I twisted it, moving a bench of all things, AND not even a heavy bench!   I am looking at my new 23 inch computer monitor which makes my poor eyesight seem far more tolerable than it is,  and typing with my ten fingers, one of which is becoming totally bent and sore at the tip, and I am sure I’m  ‘catching’ my mother’s arthritis, and I choose not to think at all about what my fingers might look like in ten or twenty years, since the only image that comes to mind is gnarly tree roots.  To my left is a very hot and very big mug, filled with the dark soothing comfort of strong coffee which I sip and savor throughout the morning before I head off to work.  Both of my feet are cozy in my Ugg flip-flops which are so fuzzy, like slippers, but fabulous because they are in fact flip-flops and make me feel happy and reminded that it won’t be winter forever…Now, this ridiculously run on sentence filled paragraph might seem pointless, but what I am pointing out is STEP 11, and why it matters to give it a go if you are in need of finding some way to ground yourself from the dwelling, or the nerves, or the anxiety that often plagues you…

step11You see, many of us, myself included, have a lot on our minds about a lot of things…there are worries about health, money, relationships, job stability, weight, friendships, family…pick one, any one…I suspect that most people have at some time or another had worries about any number of things, and sadly for some, all at once, and STEP 11 sort of asks the question, Why?  Be glad for the fact that you have the strength to get out of bed, that you have feet and legs and arms and fingers, and that you are alive, and have a roof over your head, there is food in your house to eat, that there are people who would miss you if you were gone…things that you and I likely take for granted.

What good does it do to think about whether March’s mortgage payment is going to be late, or if on April 15th you’ll have enough money to pay your quarterly income tax estimate as well as what you owe from 2014, or if you will hit your goal weight by Memorial Day, or if you will finally get a romantic weekend away with your husband before school is out in June and you have to worry about childcare, or if your position in your company will still be there in July and will your wife be able to pick up more hours at her job if it isn’t, or if your grandmother’s lease that ends in August will be renewed at the same rate, or if you must have a family meeting about this with your brother and mother again come September you feel already like your head is going to explode…WHAT good does ANY of this do you, right now?  This minute.  ZERO, Nada, zilch, nil, ZIP.

STEP 11 implies that you should just breathe in and just breathe out and then do it again.  You will get where you want to be if you take one step at a time.  Just be here, now, and in an hour you can be there now, and at bedtime you’ll be…well, you get it.  If this seems difficult, then an exercise that I have found works wonders for me is that when I find myself starting to think too far ahead, and I feel my heart rate rise, and I sense that the worrisome thoughts are going to start rushing like a dam that has broken, I literally take the biggest breath I can, and fill my belly and my lungs to capacity and then blow it out hard through my mouth and stop all thoughts except on this one breath, then the next…After a few of these deep meditative calming breaths, I open my eyes and really look, and find something positive to think about what I am seeing.  This might seem silly to some of you but it is an exercise that has worked wonders for me during this experience with the 21 STEPS.   We all want to get where we want to be in whatever way we can, but we also all have to be here, now, this second.  Inhale and exhale, repeat.  That’s it.   If you have a goal or a dream or a plan, terrific.  Enjoy those thoughts…but nothing that is in the future is really anything to worry about, today is today and tomorrow is tomorrow, and whatever is going to happen is pretty much going to happen whether you think about it or fret over it, or get an upset stomach with worry contemplating all the possibilities about it, whatever IT is.

Mind Wide Open

 

step10

STEP 10 is not so much a task to be performed, as it is an awareness.  If the quality of your life is diminished by an unfortunate circumstance to be surrounded by small thinkers, bloviating know-it-alls, or  narrow-minded-judgmental souls, and this understandably exhausts you, I implore you to spend some time with little kids, preferably ones who are not your own, those are costly and require way to much of your undivided attention, perhaps the kids who live next door, and preferably ones who are smart, funny, witty, and have wide open minds.

It is stimulating to be around people who think big; who are open to all the prospects of all situations, who want to explore a variety of options, who want to experience new things, and it’s just ironic that in my world, the bigger thinkers are the smaller humans.  The older I grow the more I realize that many adults have lost their spark, and it is little kids who relish in the possibility of all things, they are in love with the wonder of wondering. 

If you have been in want of less toxicity in your life and you are now in the Round-Up phase, weeding out what does not make your life better, it might be that you really just need some new people, who think in a different way, ways that are more in tune with you.  Some of us need the company of people with big ideas, and finding companionship with humans who make you feel “connected” is a big deal. 

I need to be around people with spark, and a continuous want to open wider, and that is why my friendships are so valuable to me.  That I now have two little grandchildren who also have a spark is like the icing on the cupcake of my life.  If you are thinking of STEP 10 and how it might be part of your life just know that you have to participate; it requires intent and will, you might not realize that you have to make an effort to get these relationships and then cultivate them, they don’t just show up at your door (unless like me, you live next door to your amazing granddaughters.)

I am far more excited by words, thoughts, or ideas than might be considered “normal” but what is essential, as we know, with deep gratitude to Antoine de Saint-Exupery, is invisible to the eye, what is on the outside matters so much less when you understand STEP 10.  If you are feeling like your life needs a jolt, a kick, or a jump over the fence to where the grass appears to be greener, you might just be in need of some time spent with thinkers, the kind who think until their thinkers are sore…the kind with whom conversation is energizing.  This is one of the things about STEP 10 that makes me feel really good, that it’s wonderful to wonder, to be curiouser and curiouser…and for those of you who are stuck in jobs, families, or neighborhoods where you CAN’T get away from the little minds and the narrow thinkers, I urge you to use any chance you can get to wrap yourself up with people who think bigger thoughts, and if you don’t have the good fortune to have adorable brilliant grandchildren next door to you as I do, then get some books.  They don’t have to be big books, they just have to be ones that will expand your thoughts, wide…like at the dentist, Open Wide.


creators creating

step 9I’m blessed to know some people who have trained their brains to never let an anxious or worried thought linger for long in their heads…they are very aware humans, embracing the present moment (as self-help books are wont to espouse) who know that the world is going to keep spinning, and things are going to happen, or not, and people will behave in a suspected way, or not, no matter what…so they give up neither their precious time nor priceless energy, thinking about things that would cause or invite feelings of unease.  They do not create disquiet in an otherwise harmonious life…

Some people I know are like skittish kittens and doomsday preppers, and are anxious or worried almost all the time about almost anything that their brain can grasp hold of…ridiculously running with preposterous ideas…in what seems like a constant jumpy or unsettled state, and even in moments of calm, take any opportunity to let one tiny idea fester, and create an all-consuming awful disturbance in what could otherwise be a most tranquil life…

STEP 9 is a proposal to use your imagination in a positive way.  Some of you do it over and over…you know you do; you make something out of nothing…you think of the worst possible thing that can happen, based on nothing but your imagination running wild with a negative thought.  WHAT good does this do?  WHAT is the point of this?  Use your imagination instead to make something out of nothing in a GOOD way.  I know people who already know and live STEP 9 and they are splendid souls, and most of us would be better off if we tried to mimic the behavior.

…Make a song out of a word you read in a fairy tale.  Make a painting out of the dream you had last night where you had iridescent gossamer wings.  Make a love out of an unexpected smile shared across a room.  Make a skirt out of a tablecloth you found at the thrift shop.  Make doll slippers out of zebra duct tape with cotton balls as the adornment.  Make a wind chime out of old mismatched stainless spoons you saw in a box on the side of the road.  Make a poem out of a nonsense word your granddaughter uttered at the bus stop.  Make a friend out of the stranger you see walk by your house every day when you get your mail.  Make a delicious dinner out of the last four pieces of produce in your refrigerator.  Make a long fabulous necklace out of the three short strands of beads you never wear.  Make an organized masterpiece, in all the folded glory you can achieve, out of your messy linen cupboard.  Make yard art out of an old truck spring and the rusty forks of a rake.  Make the best use of your idle mind today, any way that you can, and I think you will be glad you did…

mine, all mine…

step8I propose that ownership of your shit, or ownership of your glory, is an integral part of becoming a better version of yourself, and if it is yours, you may use it.  If it is something you know of, or heard about, or read, or that happened to somebody, it does not count.  Period.  This is how I can best summarize STEP 8 of our journey, which may be unclear to some of you.  I was married for a short time to a man who had an anger problem, an alcohol problem, a cocaine problem, a money problem, and a job problem, and during the time that I was his wife, those problems were mine.  It could also be stated that at that time my parents had a daughter problem, or that my infant had a momma problem.  You see, we each own our part of the experience, however, I only “own” my portion…what happened to me, what I saw with my own eyes, what I felt with my own heart, what I heard with my own ears, the wounds that are my own are the only ones that I can own.  If I choose to default to role of victim over every single thing that goes wrong in my life, because I went through ___, whatever _____it might be, that is my choice, that is your choice too, if however, I choose to let those experiences shuffle on back to the dark dusty closets of my thoughts, that’s my choice too.  You see we all make the choice to default to the shit or not.

I know people who have had bad things happen to them.  I know people who have done bad things to other people.  I have a neighbor who has not spoken to her daughter in 30 years and know a woman who has not spoken to her mother in 20.  I know people who have been raped, I know people who have had to bury a child, I know people who had their parents die when they were young, I know people who had such awful parents they likely would’ve been better off had their parents died…EVERY person owns that story which is their own and I know some who default to THE story, THE event as the reason for everything…every failure, every upset somehow goes back to THE thing, yet I also know people who never let those stories have any power at all over anything, people who confidently go through life with all sorts of experiences where they have actually been victimized but give those experiences no power and never play the victim card.  The ones for whom life has been rosy, always, and nothing bad ever happened, well, good for them! and I mean that!!  but for the rest of us…STEP 8 encourages you to own it, and get on with it.  Have you ever read a memoir, or some sort of non-fiction work, and thought to yourself, ‘wow, I bet her mom wishes she were not such a horrible parent!’ or ‘I bet his ex-wife wishes she had been less greedy and more loving’ …my list of possible scenarios could go on for paragraphs, but the fact is, we, the participant in our own life, the first person narrator, the “I” and the “mine,” owns each and every detail of everything…whatever happened to us, whatever we did, ANYthing that we experience is our own.  If we heard about it or read about it, that is not ownership, that is gossip and rag-mag propaganda, but if we participated in it, or were a recipient of it,  it is ours to do with as we see fit.

A girlfriend of mine wrote me one day this winter, “don’t disappoint a writer” and I thought, she’s so right!!!  …but I also thought, don’t disappoint anybody, if you can help it, because how we behaved to THAT person, becomes their story…either dwell on it for your whole life and let it be the event that defines you or the reason you are ____blank, or just be done with it and send it off into the stratosphere.  I think that there are some people who default to what has happened in their life, it becomes what defines them whether they intended this or not, and that story is re-run over and over and over in their minds over time.  It becomes their reason or their excuse for anything that they don’t want to take responsibility for.  Much like Big Bang, Seinfeld, or Friends reruns, we KNOW exactly what this episode is, and we know exactly what is going to happen, and nothing is new to us at all, and we know exactly what word comes next, “Bazinga!”  “These pretzels are making me thirsty!”  “Pivot!”  yet we don’t turn the channel.  People who let those bad experiences define them or become their default are like people who watch the same shows over and over or don’t ever want to read anything new.  For STEP 8 I think what I want to share, what I am trying to express, although not articulating particularly well today, is that if you are in need of a healing of some sort, or a joyful noise of some sort, just do it.  Either tell the awful f**king story one last time, and get it out of your mind and do not give it any power for any more days of your life, or tell an amazing f**king story, something wonderful, and  vow to make more amazing stories, and not living off the bones of the only one you’ve got!  Here is the deed, here is the title…go

7 seconds

It takes just 7 seconds to turn anything around.  You might think I need to have my head examined, but imagine…You have seen the same stunning red-head at the same elevator you use in the lobby at work, almost every single day for a month.  Her hair is shimmery and her smile is wide and she looks like the kind of woman you really think would suit you, and there are, it’s true, some nights that you fall asleep thinking about what a beautiful sight she would be to your eyes waking up beside her one day…and so you finally ask her for her name, and then a few days later with frequent chit-chat, ask her to dinner that weekend.  You meet at a restaurant you have heard from your coworkers is very good, and you find out that you and she only live around the block from each other!… and your conversation flows as easily as the wine, and there are no awkward moments of silence where you are grasping for something to say…Then the server comes to the table and this radiant red-head with mesmerizing green eyes is terribly rude to her, and you are aghast!…and you know, from every GQ article you ever read, that the way a date treats the server, is an excellent indicator of a person’s character…and so you feel conflicted, so pretty vs. such an asshole, and you begin to feel the slight nausea of deflation set in…and then the soup arrives, and the slurping sloppy sound she makes with every spoonful is worse than any *nails on a chalkboard* could ever be, and you realize in that moment that you will one, never date her again, and two, now have to take a completely different route to work and use another entrance, so your timing and elevator needs are modified so you can avoid her, at least until the uncomfortableness you feel about the situation has subsided…”She seemed like she would’ve be perfect for me???  PLOT TWIST!”

All you ever wanted was a Beagle, from the time you were a little girl you said someday when you grew up and had a house with a big yard you would have a beagle and would name her Belle…and you finally have your own home, and a yard! with a fence!…and you bring your little puppy home and the first night all she does is cry… so you take her out of her training crate and she seems to sleep nicely next to your bed on a blanket,  but when you walk into your kitchen to make coffee the next morning, you discover she has chewed during the night, completely, on all four legs of every one of your dining room chairs.  When you get out of the shower the next day, you find she has eaten the decorative throw pillows from your couch.  EACH one.  The following weekend you come in from getting your mail and see she has peed on your brand new white wool rug that Crate&Barrel only sent you on Tuesday.  You spend hundreds of dollars on obedience training, and hours of your Sundays over many weeks with these puppy lessons, and get the idea that your vision and dream of this happy dog named Belle, that wears a yellow bandana around her neck, greeting you every day at your door after work, is instead going to likely be laying in a crate all day, every day, because if she is not, everything in your house  will be ruined in your absence…”She’s all I ever wanted???  PLOT TWIST!”

You sell your sports car, your “baby,” your “after Sunday pancakes, take a drive to clear your head” car that you saved for years to buy,  so that you can present a stunning diamond engagement ring to your girlfriend, now fiance, and she loves it so much and you feel so happy and proud to see her casually use her left hand for so many more tasks.  You empty your savings account months later to pay for the flowers for her dream wedding and to pay for the tuxedos she says the groomsmen have to wear.  You sell all of your guitars on Ebay to help pay for the honeymoon that she says she has always wanted, and So-and-So got to go to this place, and she does not want to be outdone by So-and-So…and before you know what has happened, you have sold your house that you loved, with the cherry wide plank floors (although small, it was yours) and you loved the trees on your street, to move to what she calls  a “better” area, with nicer schools.  Three years go by and you discover that your wife has been fooling around with the swimming instructor of the pool where your son takes lessons.  A year later you are living in an apartment in a town you don’t even like, with hideous emerald-green shag carpeting, with vapor clouded windows, paying child support to your ex-wife, and the swimming instructor now gets to flip your son’s Sunday morning pancakes on the eight burner Wolf range in the kitchen with the Carrara marble countertops that used to be yours…”I thought we had the same vision for our life, together???  PLOT TWIST!”

You work so hard to afford to pay for school and do extraordinarily well in college, better than most of your classmates who don’t even have jobs and many who don’t even maintain as full a course load as you do, and your professors proclaim you will go ‘so far’ and you will be able to achieve any success you put your mind to, and you apply to the most prestigious firm in the city you always dreamed to live in, whose offices are in the “it” building, run by the lawyers who get the “it” cases, and you do well, very well…you have bigger paychecks than you ever dreamed of, but you work 68 hours a week, you have not had a boyfriend in 6 years and have not been on a date in two; the last time anybody kissed you was your Dad, at Thanksgiving, as you headed out the door right after dinner so that you could catch your plane to be back at work Friday morning, and you worried and worked all weekend to make up for that missed day, you don’t even like turkey anyway… you have not had a quiet Tuesday night to sip wine and read a novel, or talk on the phone to a girlfriend in nearly a decade, and  you have not made any friends at work because every single person you meet also wants the ONE job that will be available next October when so-and-so moves to Michigan, and you wonder, “what am I doing?!” …”This is living my big dream???  PLOT TWIST!”

step7

AND here is the magic…It takes about 7 seconds to “DO” STEP 7.  Accept that this is absolutely NOT AT ALL what you were thinking your life, or a specific situation or scenario was going to be, ACCEPT that there is absolutely nothing that you can do about what has already happened.  Well, ok.  “OK!” that’s it, that is all you can say or think or believe.  I imagine yelling it out, as STEP 7 suggests, is the way to go.  You certainly could bemoan your situation.  You certainly could ‘woe is me‘ until the cows come home, but why?  Why suffer one more second?  Why let that voice in your head, that annoying non-stop-narrative spend one more moment “telling” you what you already know?   In just 7 seconds you can be done with every one of the negative thoughts, and reiteration of dashed dreams!  You see my friends, you are not alone.  You are not the first person to find that your plan did not become your present. It is not the end of the world.  NO!!  It is simply this…a change in the story line, yours, and yours alone, the story of you…