Monday, May 31, 2010

Buck Up Lil Camper

Goddamn, I'm sick of feeling sorry for myself! When did I become such a victim?

Here's a few things I know are true:

1. Everything that has happened to me, I have had a direct hand in creating.
2. I am weaker than I wish I was, but I am as strong as I need to be.
3. I underestimate myself daily.
4. Love is always stronger (and better for you) than fear and anger.
5. I still have "it". Maybe more actually. Grin.
6. Just 'cuz something hurts, doesn't mean it's bad.
7. Brownies don't solve anything, but that doesn't make them bad either.
8. I choose. I decide. This is how it has been all along.
9. What other people do or say: NOT about me. Frankly, prolly not even my business at all.
10.If I'm confused it is because I have forgotten to remember all the truths above.

Friday, May 28, 2010

She's Come Undone

I feel like I am slowing falling to pieces. Little bits of me that I think I need keep coming off. As each piece rips off it hurts, more and more.

The buddists say to lean into the pain, edge into and confront your fear, don't run away, don't try to hide. So, I'm just standing here. Feeling like an idiot. Feeling exposed. Feeling bereft and alone and raw and hurty. I'm shivering and burning up and shaking to pieces. Waiting for it to stop. Waiting to hit rock bottom. Hoping to stop feeling for the bottom and to start to fly.

How far does a person have to break down, fall down, before they can start to climb again?

I can stand in the doorway of an airplane and throw myself out, because I know I will fly. I know the joy of life, of being alive, is right in front of me. I know my fear and angst is temporary. I know it will end just as soon as I jump.

But with this, I can't find the door to jump through. Where is the door, where is the portal to stop the painful moment after moment of rejection and aloneness and undoing? Find me the fucking door and I will jump through it. I'm alone in the unknown and doing my best to be brave and strong and the pieces just keep coming off.

I don't expect there to be some magical happy ending in which I never feel pain again. If I didn't regularly feel pain after all I've lost (and thrown away), then I would not be the human I am. I know there is no door to a magic land of joy and peace. But this ride has gone on and on more intensely than I bargained for. Let me off!

Monday, March 29, 2010

After the Storm

I went skydiving again this weekend. It was my third jump.

I just reread the previous entry. Even with all the major turns my life has taken since the previous post, that entry is still a powerful and poignant reminder of exactly how liberating that first jump was.

And here's the cool thing: subsequent jumps have been even better.

It is not about how great it is to jump out of a plane. Skydiving is great for me, but that's not the point. The point is, I'm awake now. Jumping out of a plane reminds me how to be awake.

In the past four months I have cried more tears than I ever did as an adolescent drama queen. I have felt more painful and powerful truths and aches than I knew I could bear. But here's the thing: I HAVE bore them, every aching moment of them. And I'm okay. In fact, I am better than okay. I'm finally awake.

No one ever forced me to numb myself. I did it to myself. I did it in tiny steps and never even noticed. I was busy. I was a mommy and a boss and a worker and a million other things to a hundred different people. I wasn't unhappy. I was busy. I was numb.

Last weekend I ran a half marathon. I planned and trained for 12 weeks to prep for the event and I was very confident I would complete on target pace. The part that surprised me was my emotions at the start. As I jogged past the starting line, just beginning the first few steps of 13.1 miles, I welled up with deep and unrecognized emotions and burst into tears. I still couldn't tell you what exactly I was crying about. All I know for sure is that I am awake. I am inhabiting myself.

I've learned that I can have a great day, even after I start the morning in abject tears over the blows to my ego and personal idea of how my life was 'supposed to be'. I've learned that I have no idea what my life is supposed to be. I've learned that the faster I let go of 'supposed to' and embrace the now, the more awake I become. I've learned that its not really about me usually. I've learned that I can live with myself and love myself, even after all the horrible mistakes and misdeeds of my life. I've learned to forgive and to be forgiven.

Forgiveness is a powerful truth. Forgiveness can move through you like a windstorm, shaking everything and breaking down old and well-used barricades. Forgiveness (and forgiving) will scare you and disrupt you and force you down to the cellar if you cannot face it.

And after the storm, if you are me, you clean up the rubble and jump out of another airplane. Because I LOVE being awake.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

All Right

When it comes to skydiving, I believe there are three kinds of people.

The first kind hears the word “skydiving” and thinks: “The Best. Idea. Ever!” These are people who enjoy rock climbing and rappelling upside-down, snowboarding, bungee-jumping, and eating strange foods for fun. For these people, life is a relentless Mountain Dew commercial, with all their experiences flickering by in jump cuts as they endlessly quest for the next big rush. Or so I imagine.

The second kind of person thinks skydiving sounds stupid and horrifying. This person is likely to say something like, “Why on earth would you jump out of perfectly good airplane?” The idea of skydiving is entirely alien and goes against all instincts to this person.

The third kind of person has an instinctual fear of skydiving but also knows deep down that if they could find a way to break through that fear, they would really enjoy it. Hopefully. That is, if they are alive at the end.

I am the third kind of person. I have never been deeply afraid of heights, but I’ve never been real keen on heights either. When I’m pushed to an uncomfortably high place my body begins to war with my mind. My mind says “Hey, it’s alright…this is perfectly safe,” while my body enlists my stomach to climb up my throat in a futile attempt to throttle my senseless brain. The net result: nausea, vertigo, racing pulse, flop sweat…a clear message from my body that death is indeed immanent, so pretty please, with sugar on top, return to safer ground, NOW!

My skydiving experience had been paid for over a year and somehow I never “had the time” to schedule my jump. It probably had something to do with the way I would grow pale whenever the topic came up. “Yes,” I’d say, “I really think it will be great!” but meanwhile I’d be wiping copious sweat off my palms and think to myself, “I’m gonna do it next year.”

I can’t say what caused me to finally schedule my jump, but it had something to do with the fact that every month that went by in which I “just couldn’t find the time” to jump, I lost a little faith in myself. When my friend Sandy, whose husband owns the skydiving company, prompted me with “Hey Mar, fall is the best time to jump because the colors are so beautiful,” I surprised myself by responding, “Alright, let’s schedule it.”

And so, one month later, I found myself donning some warm clothes, packing snacks for the kids, and driving with Brian to Skydive the Farm in Rockmart, Georgia. After signing our names to about 100 tiny boxes (affirming that we were aware it is sincerely possible to die doing this) and watching a brief “you-really-could-die-you-know” video, it was finally time to…wait. So we waited, while the kids played in the hanger with Sandy’s kids, driving an electric car, riding bikes in circles, dodging chutes waiting to be repacked, and generally having the time of their lives. Here’s what happened: we began to relax. Waiting around, just watching people for three hours forces you to chill -- in a way no safety class can chill you. All around you the atmosphere is saying: “What’s the big deal? We do this everyday. No worries, mate!”

The crew at the farm consists primarily of a number of “Mountain Dew” guys (and gals) in their 20s and 30s, with excessive piercing and interesting facial hair. They work to jump, and spend every spare minute hanging around The Farm hoping for another opportunity to crank up the adrenalin. They banter, play with the wandering kids and dogs, scavenge for food, and generally act like it’s just another day at summer camp on Adrenalin Mountain. They chill any lingering freakiness I am harboring. I like people like this. I can hang.

“I’m putting you with Big Steve” Sandy informs me. “He’s the best!” Brian jokes about favoritism as I size up Big Steve. He is not one of the Mountain Dew crowd. Big Steve is in his 40s, 6’5” and well -- a big guy. He has a calm demeanor, slightly graying hair and most importantly, kind eyes. I quickly understand why Big Steve is the “best”. He knows when to crack a joke and when to look into your eyes and connect. He has this uncanny ability to hold your fluttering gaze and reassure you. Big Steve is like the Mountain Dew crowd’s dad. I know I should be getting more nervous now, as I suit up, but I’m with Big Steve and my camera guy is flitting around interviewing me, and I am totally zen.

We load into the bus for the short drive to the airfield. The Mountain Dew boys continue to joke and jostle like puppies. Their banter has a practiced air that makes it clear to me that these jokes, these activities, are all part of a reassuring ritual. Brian and I goggle at each other, “We’re really doing it!” written all over our faces. I expect there will be a moment, sometime on the plane when I will feel that panic, when my stomach tries to eat my head. But for now, I am simply bemused and amused. Everything is so new and interesting. I’m just trying to take it all in.

We board the plane, which has a sliding door (that gives me pause!) and scoot backward, straddling a long bench, our backs pressed against our tandem instructors’ chests. Big Steve shows me the altimeter as we climb and points out landmarks on the ground. As we near our jump altitude, 14,000 feet, the jokes become more fevered and everyone around us begin giving everyone else sliding high fives and fist bumps followed by a peace sign. Another ritual.

Someone opens the sliding door. I fly often for my job on commercial airlines, and I must say -- an open door on a flying airplane feels wrong. Really wrong. I decide that I’ll save my panic for my turn in the doorway and busy myself putting on my goggles and triple checking my harness.

Then Big Steve is walking me (on our knees) to the door, reminding me of the proper position for our leap, and reminding me to keep my eyes open and breathe through my nose. I am looking out over the universe, poised to take the greatest leap of my life, and all I am thinking is “Wow!” And we jump.

Big Steve executes a perfect somersault as we exit the plane, affording me an amazing view of the sky, the planet -- the underside of the plane. There is no lurch. No panic. It is not peaceful. It is not zen. It’s amazing!

I breath through my nose, stretch out my arms and I am flying. The air rushes past me at 120 miles per hour and all I see are blue skies, the haze of our planet and my camera guy, still joking, flapping his arms like a demented bird. I grin like a loon myself and mug for the camera. I’m skydiving! I do not have an ounce of fear left in me. I’m totally There. Time is suspended. The NOW is immense.

The camera guy waves “bye-bye,” Big Steve reaches back and pulls the chute and we whoosh upward, the most jolting moment in the trip so far. “Good chute!” Big Steve yells in my ear. “Alright,” I respond moronically. But, what else is there to say? I don’t want to leave the moment. Right now I am sailing above western Georgia. I am happy. I am free. I am not stuck! “ALLLRIGHHHT!” I scream again. And this time I am saying it to the sky, to the world, to the universe. Because in this moment, everything is perfectly alright. I am all right.

They say, how you do anything is how you do everything. As I deconstruct my jump, I can see my familiar patterns emerge. It took me over a year to schedule this jump. “My life is so busy” I kept telling myself. “I’ll do it soon.” I let the excuses and the anxiety dictate my actions. But I finally became so uncomfortable knowing that I was avoiding something -- avoiding a part of myself -- that I took action. My need for a breakthrough finally superseded all the other excuses.

It was more stressful packing up the kids and the snacks and getting directions to the Farm than jumping out of an airplane. I was more afraid of that moment when I thought I would be afraid than the actual moment of truth ever was. I was afraid of the unknown. I was afraid of looking stupid and scared. I was afraid of my own panic.

I was like Dorothy and her ruby slippers; I had the power with me all the time. My panic didn’t win. It never even really showed up. And if it had, that would have been okay too. I had trust on my side. I trusted the equipment. I trusted Big Steve. I trusted the rituals. I trusted the process. I jumped and I flew.

If you are the first kind of person, the adrenalin junkie, you probably can barely even read this because you are currently hurtling down a mountain somewhere or hanging by your toes from a cliff. You know what I’m talking about and you’ll say “right on!” and then you’ll slam a Mountain Dew.

If you are the second kind of person, the kind who REALLY has no interest in extreme experiences, don’t worry. There are lots of ways and places to find your path to flight. Just don’t stop seeking for that path. That is your challenge.

For the rest of you, afraid to jump but secretly aware you want to do it: Stop listening to the excuses. Release yourself.

Jump. And fly.

Wednesday, October 01, 2008

Wake Up Call

"Mama!" my daughter cries from the other room.

"Mama, Mama!" she wails, clearly more asleep than awake.

It is the middle of the night and I am groggy and trying to gage the situation. Will she simply roll over and fall back asleep or do I really need to intercede? I'm so tired and out of it. I fight down a pang of irritation. I am not at my best during minor child dramas in the wee hours. I excel in an emergency, like injury or vomit. But I struggle to rouse myself for simple weeping. I am really hoping she'll just cry herself out quickly and go back to sleep.

"Mama!" The cries continue from the other room. Hubby nudges me, "You're being paged. It's your turn."

He is right. It is most definitely MY turn. I have been travelling, practically gone more often than I am home in the past few months. My guilt urges me awake. My baby is crying out for her mother in a subconscious state because she is uncertain if I am home or not - uncertain when she will see me. I am wide awake with this realization. I am a jerk. I jump out of bed, cross the hall, and ease myself into her toddler bed, barking my shins on the guard rail.

Ribh immediately nestles into my arms, burrowing her nose in my neck, sighing contentedly. Voila! Crisis averted. I snuggle into the tiny cocoon of her minuscule bed, my nose filled with the sweet scent of my child, her sticky finger curving around my neck. I sigh, wishing I could hold her even closer.

In this still moment, filled to the brim with the love of my baby, I realize that my need for her was as deep as her need for me. I need to be with her and she needs to be with me. We are family. We are part of each other. I have been missing her and longing for her and yet busying myself with all the stuff I need to do. I have been defining my role to my family as the person they need to do things. I pride myself by how I am "needed" in action terms. I am needed to do the laundry. I am needed to clean the house. I am needed to organize life.

As I hold her, I think about my family and their needs. I define family on broader terms than most. My family is comprised of not just those to whom I am related by blood. (In fact, sadly, I have blood relatives to whom I feel little in the way of authentic connection.) I define family by connection. It is the little things that inextricable link us. Those tiny moments of deep connection are how we truly know one another and recognize the soul of another. Family is not about need, duty or guilt.

I hold my daughter, cheek to cheek, bathed in her sweet breath - soul to soul. She sleeps deeply once again. I am awash in gratitude. I am thankful for all of my family. My family reminds me that often the most important thing I can do is be present. It doesn't mean I should beat myself up for the time I am away from them. It means I must take the time to connect in all the small ways, whether here or afar. And there is always enough time for that.

"Mama" Ribh sighs as she settles into sleep. I am no longer needed, just loved.

Friday, May 02, 2008

A Few Conversations

These kids crack me up.

Gabe: Hey! Who is that artist? You know the one who painted that stuff in his garden?

Brian: Hmmm. I'm not sure.

Gabe: Have you heard of Monet?

Brian: Yes.

Gabe: He was one of those artist in that group, you know the...the...the...

Brian: Impressionists?

Gabe: Yeah!!! The Impressionists. That was a great band.

Brian: (playing along) Yeah, the Impressionists were a great band. Of artists. Who painted.

Gabe: (irritated) I know! The band. Of artists. That's a band!

Brian: Okay. If you say so. It's too bad they broke up.


Ribh has been quite rambunctious as well. She has this thing where she is very demanding (she's 3, duh!) and she'll constantly want stuff and then I'll prompt her with "What is the Magic Word" so she'll remember to say please. And she'll be stumped. Like she's on a Pee-Wees playhouse and no one has given her the magic word today, so like, how is she to know?

Ribh Wallis: I want something to drink. I'm soo thirsty. Get me something to drink, Mama!

Me: Ribh, what is the Magic Word?

Ribh Wallis: Hmmm...Is it juice?

Me: Nope. Try again.

Ribh Wallis: Ice cream?

Me: No. (emphasizing) The Magic Word.

Ribh Wallis: Cereal?

Me: Ribh! The Magic Word is PLEASE.

Ribh Wallis: Drink, please.

Ten minutes later...

Ribh Wallis: Hey Mom! I'm hungry! I want popcorn!

Me: Okay. What's the Magic Word?

Ribh Wallis: I don't know. Yellow?

Me: Seriously. You don't know the Magic Word?

Ribh Wallis: Is it puppy?

Me: "Please"! The Magic Word is "Please"!!!! It is not a variable! It is a constant! The Magic Word is ALWAYS "please". Got it?

Ribh Wallis: Okay! Popcorn, "please".

Fifteen minutes later...

Ribh Wallis: Hey! I want to go outside. Mom! Come push me on the swing!

Me: (hopeful) What's the Magic Word?

Ribh Wallis: "Purple?"

Me: Arrggghh. (And now I have officially turned into Jon from the cartoon, Garfield)

And Quin recently informed me that when she grows up she will live next door to me and she will walk to my house every night so that I can make her dinner. I asked if she and Gabe would take care of me someday when I am old and need help and Gabe said he'd be willing to help but would probably be in China becoming a Samurai, ( a Samurai Chiropractor, in fact) so, I'd have to travel. Quin said I could visit her next door whenever I wanted to, but I'd have to bring my own food.

So I've got that going for me. Which is nice.

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

R U Happy?

This past year has presented a number of opportunities for me to examine my life: my choices, my attitudes, my passions, my frustrations, my foibles, my idiosyncrasies, and ultimately, my outcomes.

Outcomes. We talk about this a lot at work. In the work world, there is no point (or at least minimal pointed-ness) in activities which cannot be measured and have value extracted via the rubric of bureaucracy and achievement; outcomes, results, data and so on. And frankly, I ascribe to this notion as a work tactic.

The question that has been dogging me lately is this: Does this rubric also apply to my life? Is my life measured in outcomes? Is my happiness, contentment, joie de vivre, measured by results? What is an acceptable outcome? Is the outcome we are all shooting for happiness? Have we been conditioned to live life with the fundamental goal of happiness? And if so, is this really a great idea?

I read an article recently in the Chronicle of Higher Education titled In Praise of Melancholy by Eric G. Wilson. The article explored the notion that we are blindly led to always search for the next big thing, the next job, the next relationship, the next vacation, the next thing that will lead to our next (oftentimes fleeting) experience of happiness. In the process we not only fail to live in the now, we also fail to celebrate the experience of being less than happy. Hell, what about the experience of sorrow, longing, frustration, yearning, and even full on melancholy? One could argue (and Eric G. Wilson did) that these unhappy things can result in a zen-like state which produces amazing results, the least of which are the development of great character and great possibility and even (dare I say it) results!

Does this mean there is something more in this quest for meaning and results than just the blind quest to be happy?

There has been some sorrow and brushes with danger/death in my life lately. The sweet and silly puppy our family was growing to love so well was killed by a car on Christmas Eve. Brian was in two (minor) car accidents in the month of December. A close friend miraculously escaped certain grave injury in a major collision with an 18 wheeler last week. Gabe was struck in the head with a rock over the weekend, cutting his scalp badly. It's been a wild winter.

Yet, none of these events singularly has shaken me. I'm a pretty happy go lucky kind of chick. But with all the durm and strang of life the question keeps popping up: What are your goals and outcomes? Are you happy? Is that even the right question?

I would like to propose some alternate questions:

How are your results? What is the outcome of your life (to date)?

Do you even really know what results you are going for?

Are you driving your life's vehicle?

Do you know where you are going?

Are you celebrating the journey, detours, flat tires and all? (Holy over-baked metaphor there! Sorry!)

Are you living life with regret? Resentment?

The answers I am coming up with are something like this: I am not going to live life in the pursuit of happiness. That will never be enough.

How about the pursuit of Fearlessness?

I'm thinking...