Archive for November, 2014

Thankfulness with a Spin

November 27, 2014

Thanksgiving, of course, is all about being thankful for the blessings in our lives. One would hope that we might spend more than one day per year acknowledging what is going right for us, but that’s beside the point. Usually, such expressions of gratitude focus on things we have (good health, a roof over our heads, etc.) or things that others have brought into our lives—all of which is important, but in this post, I wish to re-direct your focus to being grateful for something we did–whether for ourselves or for others–something that gratifies us, that we KNOW is good!

 

Re-booting is not for the faint of heart. In order to acquire a better life—one closer to the life we wish to lead—much is demanded from us in terms of courage, discipline, patience, and goodwill. We may have to extend ourselves to someone who hasn’t been kind in the past. We may need to summon an extra dose of patience and compassion to see beyond the irritating shortcomings of those around us. We may need to set boundaries with individuals who will not receive such actions well. And each time we take such actions—however imperfect the result may be—we move one step closer to our true path.

 

What have you accomplished over the course of this year that you are proud of? That you know was the right thing to do. What debris did you clear from your path? What pro-active step did you take towards that elusive thing you need to become a better, stronger person of integrity?

 

In so many ways, there is little I can point to in my life these days that makes me feel as if I have made any progress, but I also know I have. I have withstood tremendous instability and a sense of losing ground in my immediate circumstances. Summoning the fortitude to withstand the not-knowing is a fundamental component of the re-booting process. Things I have done include writing this blog. I recently wrote a funny story about reinvention that I hope to publish. But, it’s not just about me doing things for me. I know that I have served as a genial companion and care provider for my father. I threw him a wonderful 75th birthday party earlier this year (which he loved) but several months later has no memory of, whatsoever. I listen good humoredly as he marvels day after day at the discovery of this wondrous new food stuff called hummus. I am grateful to myself for having done these things because they didn’t always come easily, but they’re part of the person I want to be.

 

Who do you want to be? How are you making an effort to get there?

 

So, before you OD on tryptophan and football, take a few minutes to go outside and enjoy the fresh air, reflecting on all the good things in your life—including those choices and decisions that have brought you closer to your truest self. I know you’ve done something you’re proud of. It’s time to give yourself some much needed credit.

 

Happy Thanksgiving one and all!

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Self-Confidence: Trusting Ourselves Enough to Try

November 25, 2014

Over the course of my college reunion, my classmates and I swapped a variety of stories about our ongoing challenges, setbacks, and successes and what lessons we drew from these experiences. One conclusion all agreed upon was that having self-confidence is the primary, determinant factor in how our lives proceed. Believing in oneself makes all the difference in the choices we make and how we go about fulfilling the roles we play.

 

As I see it, the existence of a deeply held conviction that 1) our life is of value (even if we sometimes have trouble seeing what that value is), 2) that we have worthwhile contributions to make, and 3) that we merit success, serves as the energetic core of our instinct to find meaning and gratification in our lives. Do you realize how many people spend their days without ever thinking about, let alone pursuing such goals? Do you know people who have preferred to shut down rather than acknowledge and grapple with such intimidating ideas? It’s heartbreaking to witness. Let’s face it, re-booting is an existential struggle. A fight this big and this hard would not be assumed if we didn’t believe we were worth it. Otherwise, why bother burdening ourselves with inconvenient, deeply uncomfortable questions such as Am I doing what fulfills me? Is there are constructive purpose to my suffering? How might I take these lessons and become a better person? You don’t ask these questions without a foundation of self-belief.

 

So, back to confidence…

 

Who is someone whose faith in him or herself you admire? How do they think about themselves that differs from you? Is there a way you might copy them to bolster your own sense of self-assurance?

 

I pose these enquiries somewhat timidly because, on one hand, so much of my current, awkward circumstances makes me question my understanding of myself and my worth and yet, it is my fierce self-confidence and determination to overcome such trials that enables me to move forward. I refuse to concede defeat. So, here I am, stumbling around in the fog, chasing patches of sunshine wherever they appear.

 

As we all know, confidence has both internal and external components. On occasion, people comment on my confident disposition (which generally takes me by surprise, but I know what they’re responding to). When you think about it, isn’t confidence the first thing that catches your attention and draws you to someone? It is for me. I’m always attracted to those who radiate a calm self-possession; I find it reassuring. Having confidence about themselves invites me in.

 

I know it can feel hard to believe in yourself when you feel overwhelmed by events, seriously doubting if the choices you made were good ones. Such doubts can torment us, made worse by our wavering belief as to whether we can even manage to get through the day, let alone thrive in a future we cannot envision. But what I am here to suggest is that these struggles make you stronger; they won’t break you—you won’t let them. The motivation that propels you to get up in the morning, to put one foot in front of the other, to do what you need to do, the courage of the every day. These are not small things. All of these undertakings are acts of will, and acts of will spring out from a baseline faith in yourself. (Otherwise, you wouldn’t bother.) Faith means hope. You have hope.

 

So, you. Yeah, you there, you the re-booter. You have hope! You are kicking with all your strength to make your way to the Promised Land. You have the courage and the confidence to try. My friends would be impressed.

One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest: Dealing with the Turkeys Who are Our Relatives

November 24, 2014

Due to impassioned pleas from desperate followers, I am sending out a short, emergency post for re-booters who are dreading spending time with their families. Do you feel like you’re hanging on by your fingernails, the last shreds of your sanity having packed up and vamoosed a few days ago? I bet. That’s why I’ve decided to bliss out with a “family free” Thanksgiving. Ha! Jealous??? Alas, such tranquility is not for you. Instead, you find yourself marching towards the gallows. To quote Bill Clinton, “I feel your pain.”

 

The holidays should come with a warning label: Danger! 100% Likelihood of Exacerbating Unresolved Family Conflicts. If it makes you feel any better, from coast to coast, I have friends confiding how tired they are of pretending to like their relatives. No Norman Rockwell scenarios here, I assure you.

 

So over the next 2-3 days, you get to steel yourself for the garden variety of familial sniping, posturing, eye rolling, or good old fashioned exhaustion. We’re all fed up with the bullshit, whether it’s from our whiny kids, our demanding parents, our unhelpful spouses, or disapproving siblings. We seek refuge in too many glasses of wine and then heartily regret our actions. So, here are a couple of things you might want to try to retain your calm and maybe even entertain yourself.

 

Strategy One: It’s great to watch comedies like Caddyshack, Chevy Chase’s Christmas Vacation, Planes, Trains & Automobiles, A Fish Called Wanda—the more ridiculous the better. Everybody can laugh and it’s humor that makes otherwise difficult times bearable.

 

Strategy Two: Before you pour yourself that third drink, try this instead–look around at all these characters you’re marooned with for the day and imagine how Saturday Night Live would spoof what’s going on. Take whatever inane thing you observe—whether it’s an argument over how to prepare the sweet potatoes to snipes about supporting the wrong political party or football team and imagine how it might be portrayed on tv. How would Steve Martin exaggerate what’s going on? He’d make it funny, not mean. That’s what you need to do, too.

 

Strategy Three: pretend you have an extra thick, woolen coat on when you interact with the people who grate on you. Whatever their barbs are, you’ve got that coat on, so they can’t penetrate. Ignore them. Don’t take the bait. It’s not worth it.

 

Ok, so I hope this helps in terms of desperate times with relatives. For those of you who just LOVE everyone in your family, well, you’re a rare bird, indeed…We’ll return to our regularly scheduled programming of re-booting tomorrow.

 

Ritualized Sanity Strategies for the Holidaze

November 20, 2014

As we steam along towards Thanksgiving, I’ve been thinking a lot about rituals. While the holiday season can sometimes feel much like a six week long endurance test of needless materialism and hysterical joviality, it’s constructive to cultivate low key rituals that provide a relief valve when the rest of life feels “too much.” A re-booter appreciates that while there’s no escaping the holidaze, there are ways to manage them so we don’t go berserk.

 

What are your private practices? The ones that provide solace in the midst of a frenzied day.

 

It goes without saying that all of us need to carve out some time alone to collect our thoughts and decompress. As much as we love our involvement with those close to us, they can’t help but impact our energy stores. I hope that you’ve found a strategy to refill those private coffers, whether it’s walking the dog, taking a few extra minutes in the shower, exercising, or some other activity where you can be fully alone or at least fully relaxed.

 

When was the last time you had a moment to unwind?

 

There’s a local pub around the corner from where I live that I nicknamed the Cheap ‘n Cheerful. I make a point of going there for Martini Mondays—that’s my ritual. It’s not a great restaurant, but what I like best about it is it has absolutely no attitude. I can be there alone or with friends and nobody will bother me. It’s an entirely straightforward actual and emotional transaction—a far cry from most watering holes in Washington or Santa Barbara where everything is about posturing and ‘tude. Now, I can enjoy a cool vibe, too, but I simply can’t sustain it over the long haul; maybe that’s why I’m having such a hard time finding work in this town. I lack the chops to maintain the supreme self aggrandizement required. I really need to market myself better.

 

How do those narcissists find the wherewithal?

 

But back to sanity rituals. The reason Martini Mondays are so great is that for those couple of hours away, I leave my worries behind. I can sit and sip, half watching some game on tv and get back in touch with that part of me that remains buoyant no matter how distressed I am about everything else. When was the last time you were in touch with that cheerful part of you? How do you tap into it?

 

Re-booters have learned how necessary it is to keep ourselves in balance, and one of the most fundamental aspects of this is to plug into our own relaxed joy. There have been times in my life when that joy was nowhere to be found. Years ago, back in Santa Barbara, I was so lost in my anger and unhappiness that I actually felt livid when I spied a family eating ice cream cones. The indignant rage coursing through me seeing these people enjoy themselves was a seminal event in my life because, as it was happening, I realized how crazy it was, how poisoned my world view had become. I call it my “ice cream moment.” Don’t let this happen to you. In fact, this episode became the harbinger for my re-booting. I didn’t realize it at the time, but this was the alarm bell that set everything in motion.

 

When we are striving to fulfill our responsibilities, care for loved ones, pay bills, satisfy ambitions, etc one of the first sacrifices we make are those little indulgences that make us happy. But pleasure is as necessary as sleep. It reminds us of why life is good. It encourages us to feel grateful that we are living the life we lead. It enables us to feel HOPE.

 

As your to-do list becomes longer between now and the end of the year, I ask you to hold fast to whatever simple indulgences bring you joy. You’ll lose a whole lot more than a few hours if you don’t make the time.

 

The Lasting Influence of Fleeting Friends

November 18, 2014

I firmly believe that relationships are a lot like the tide: they come in, they go out, but usually they come back in—at some point and in some manner, but they’re never fully gone. Even if things end “badly” or we never lay eyes upon them again, those ties are never fully cut. They can’t be, because we lived them. You know?

 

As a re-booter, I have grown to see that not all friendships are meant to endure the test of time. More often than not, they are contextual, arising out of a certain set of circumstances and mutual need, and when that context has ebbed away, so too will many of these attachments. Does that mean these people have only limited allure or that we’re fair weather friends? Yes and no. And I say this as someone who considers herself supremely loyal.

 

Relationships are forged because somebody appeals to us and we to them. Each of us brings to the table certain qualities that the other lacks or could use more of. Let’s face it: we’re not going to bother being friends with someone we don’t admire or whom we consider repulsive. Nobody does that—not in the long run, at any rate. Friendships like these usually fill different needs in our lives depending on what stage we’re in. How often we forge such bonds depends on how social or introverted we are, but, setting all this lead up aside, I believe that no matter how busy or quiet our social lives may be, each of us has had what I term at least one “transformational” friend.

 

What I mean by this is some person who has said something to us or impacted us in some way that midwifed a crucial change within us or helped us make sense of a difficult period. This person needn’t be a romantic partner. They need not be someone you’ve known forever, and they may show up in the most unlikely of guises, but they somehow facilitated a significant shift in how we live our lives or how we think about ourselves.

 

Who has been a “transformational” friend for you?

 

I’ll give you an example to get you thinking. Back in Santa Barbara, I met someone who was intended to be my rival. Both cast in a play not of our making, it was hoped that we’d grow to loathe each other and work hard to tear the other down. The person who hatched such a plan is beyond disgusting in my book, but their purposes were pretty clear from the beginning. There were many reasons why things might have worked this nefarious way—but such enmity was not meant to be. In fact, as it turns out, we became terrific friends and stalwart supports of one another, sympathetic to the struggles each was confronting.

 

Having such surprising and compassionate support from a most unlikely source was a great comfort as I waded my way through some very rough terrain. And just because the immediate crisis fell away, the same remains true to this day. We remain friends, as shocking as that would be to certain people.

 

I’ve written this before, but one of the things I like best about life is its capacity to surprise us with marvelous, unexpected gifts that we could never dream up and arriving in packages we’d never give a second glance. I’ve been blessed to have more than one such surprise come down the pike, and it reminds me that even when I feel ground down and progress appears to be nonexistent, every now and then, a bolt from the blue fills my sky and shifts my perspective.

 

Who has been one of life’s most wonderful surprises for you? How has knowing this person changed the way you think?

 

The briefest of interactions count, so there’s no criteria to consider for this question other than whoever first springs to mind–remember, I’m focusing on positive impacts. This is a feel good post. What fellow journeyman has helped you cross that bridge to a better self?

 

Because there is one.

 Cloudy bridge

 

Reuniting with Old Friends

November 13, 2014

A few weeks ago, the Wall Street Journal published a recipe for a drink called Act of Contrition. Having just returned from my college reunion, I figure I need a bottomless glass in pursuit of the absolution I seek. Reunions are funny things, aren’t they? Filled with loads of laughs and happy memories, they also serve as a reminder of how fast time flies and how much lives have changed. I felt nervous, yes, but was excited to see old friends—plus, I looked pretty good so that made everything better.

 

At the reunion dinner, I noticed that just about everyone was “thicker” than they were when we graduated. The aging process has been kinder to some more than others. But, what amazed me was that, despite all these years apart, how quickly everyone fell into the same dynamics we shared before. The laughs and the chemistry were pretty much the same between us, but softened by the kindness that accompanies suffering through some of life’s disappointments.

 

Still, for all that was the same, much has changed. Life choices (and misunderstandings) have resulted in wildly unexpected outcomes with participants unconsciously communicating contentment, relief, resignation, or an exaggerated ambition to the point of becoming a caricature. Add in a dollop of confusion or regret, and I think we’ve covered the bases.

 

I think I’ll throw in a little pop culture reference to tie some of these musings together. For those of you who don’t know, The Affair is a marvelous drama on Showtime. In one exchange, the exasperated male lead says to the female, “Whatever darkness you think you’re hiding is written all over your fucking face. And you know what? I kinda like it.” I love that line. Applying it to reunions (or just about anything else), we can take much from it: 1) we can’t hide as much as we think we can and 2) much of the time that “thing” we feel so bad about in our lives isn’t sufficient to scare off the people who truly love us.

 

Editorial aside: Poor men, they’re so often exasperated by us. We really can drive them to distraction—and then they do stupid, stupid things.

 

Appearances are just appearances, yes, but they also reveal way more than we necessarily want. We can’t help it. It’s laughable to believe we’re successfully hiding something about ourselves, whatever “it” is. However, as a friend gently reminded me, the good news is to understand that what others believe is important about us may be worlds apart from what we think is important—for good or for ill. For instance, the things I am struggling with in my life these days, those things I consider paramount to proving that I’m worthwhile are of practically zero interest to my friends, who don’t care whether I have a job or not or am married or not or have life figured out. Apparently, what draws them to me has nothing to do with how I perform according to conventional standards. It’s hard to believe that I am enough as I am, as flawed and stupidly drunk as I sometimes can get, but apparently it is.

 

The same is true for you.

 

I write all this not because my reunion is so inherently interesting, but because it serves as a magnifying glass for how much we can see about one another, whether we mean for them to see us or not. Try as we might to posture or pretend, or even blithely float along utterly unaware just how much we are giving away by the way we dress or behave or hold back, the writing’s on the wall.

 

I hate feeling that seen, don’t you?

 

There’s no grand, re-booting conclusion to this post, just a lot of observations swirling about as I pull away from the mists of memory…

 

 

For those of you who feel a similar need to seek absolution for whatever it is that bothers you, I offer the following:

 

Act of Contrition

This swizzle, adapted from Nashville’s Pinewood Social, combines rum with herbal digestif Fernet Branca.

 

Make Demerara simple syrup: In a saucepan, simmer 1 cup water with 1 cup Demerara sugar until sugar dissolves. Let cool to room temperature.

 

In a Collins or large rocks glass half filled with crushed ice, combine 2 ounces Scarlet Ibis gold rum, ½ ounce Fernet Branca, ¼ ounce falernum, ¾ ounce orgeat, ¾ ounce fresh lime juice and ¼ ounce Demerara simple syrup. Swizzle until well blended, add crushed ice to fill and continue swizzling until glass frosts. Top with a dash of Angostura bitters and a mint sprig.

 

Lost on Calypso’s Island

November 11, 2014

The Odyssey remains one of the greatest and most archetypal stories of man’s journey away from and return to his most essential self. If you haven’t read it, you should and if you can’t remember much of anything about it, it’s definitely worth a refresher (with explanatory materials in hand). Homer’s poem is far too dense to make it feasible to provide much of a summary, but in this post I wish to focus on Odysseus’ seven years on an island, seduced and held captive by the sea nymph, Calypso. This segment of the story represents the great “stuck place” of the hero’s life. Spoiler alert: in order to find his way back home, he must build his own boat, tap into his inner wisdom, and reconcile who he has been with what his deeper nature requires. The archetypal changed man.

 

I resonate a lot with this portion of the Odyssey because I feel pretty stuck myself, only I’m probably playing both roles: that of Calypso and the hero, reluctantly complicit in my own captivity. I may rail against portions of it, stridently proclaiming my wish to flee but unwilling to cut ties. It’s sorta fun to say you’re a hostage—doing so eliminates all the responsibility for rescuing yourself, doesn’t it? I’m unhappy but there’s nothing I can do,” we whine, reveling in our self-pity. “It’s too late to change direction,” cowering behind our own laziness or fear.

 

Where are you stuck? What or Who is your Calypso’s Island—a refuge from dealing with nagging wants or desires you consider so threatening or highly inconvenient?

 

Now, I realize that I’m employing a lot of heavy allegory and high falutin’ literature to ask some intense questions about your life, but that’s the risk you run with my blog. It’s also, probably, why you read it. You want to think about these things; you simply need someone to help focus your thoughts. These are no small matters we’re addressing, so it’s understandable that, sometimes, you’d just as soon…not. I get it. As soon as I wish to avoid something, I start feeling tired or sleepy. I can’t maintain my focus; distractions develop into friends. Avoid, avoid, avoid.

 

Sound familiar?

 

Wilderness periods are tough. Transitions demand much from us. We don’t know what we’re doing or where we’re going, stumbling around from pillar to post. Some of us rely on mundane routine to shield us from the inconvenient truths we know lurk beneath the surface.

 

But to round out our story, Calypso loved him, wanting to make Odysseus immortal and stay with her forever. He yearned to return home. Eventually, they became lovers and she bore him two children over the course of the seven years they shared a home. He found succor in her arms up until the time he built a boat and sailed away. Was he really her unwilling captive? Are you?

Calypso2

 

Relinquishing Our Slipstream Position

November 6, 2014

Life isn’t meant to be a long, hard slog. It’s just not. Sure, we have periods of our lives where the burdens pressing down upon us are heavier than at others, but ultimately, life is meant to be joyful.

 

Whenever a conversation gets too heavy, I nearly always switch topics and ask the person what it is they’re looking forward to in the near future. “Nothing,” replied someone who sounded more exhausted than I have ever heard. “I don’t have the energy I used to; I’m scrambling to keep my head above water. A lot of people depend on me.” They sighed before continuing, “and the others are simply waiting for me to go.” Days later, I remain struck by the bleakness of their tone. It would be awful to find yourself feeling responsible for the future of others but cognizant of the fact that your time in a place has run its course.

 

What do you do when a responsibility feels unrelenting?

 

Now, I’m all for fulfilling our duties, etc. even when there is little joy to be found in doing so, but I’ve also approached my life from the perspective that I never wish to be indispensible. Because I’m not. There’s always someone else to step up—even when we can’t identify who that person is. They may be an imperfect successor—or maybe they’ll far outshine us—but the world won’t stop when we step off. Please note that I said “when” not “if”.

 

As I listened to my friend’s reply, I could hear their desolation. We’ve all felt overwhelmed at times. Our lives can feel alone, no matter how many people or how much activity is swirling about us. And it’s true that sometimes the best we can do is to show up day after day doing what we can, however futile or meager it may feel. There’s a constructive purpose to such dedication. But, there comes a time when we must confront the fact that even if there are people depending on us and who will be upset and impacted by our decisions, even if our responsibilities have provided us with a sense of identity and objective, perhaps arriving at this difficult point is the leverage we need to set out on a different path, to relinquish those focus-giving responsibilities, thus facilitating others who depend on us to struggle on their way, no longer drafting on our slipstream.

 

It’s a big step, I know.

 

My friend didn’t ask for any advice and I didn’t offer. I don’t know what they should do. What I do know is that life is not meant to be unmitigated torment (speaking as someone for whom much of the past five years has been excruciating) with so little reprieve that there is nothing to look forward to. Of course they feel depressed, wouldn’t you? Our burdens are not easily laid down. But, sometimes, despite all the real world consequences, you’ve just gotta…let go. Let someone else figure it out—let them assume responsibility for the paceline.

Paceline

 

 

 

 

Re-booting Our Election: What Will You Do?

November 4, 2014

So, today is Election Day—midterm elections, to be exact. Fortunately, here in DC, we haven’t been subject to a non-stop barrage of campaign ads this time ‘round, but if you have–my sympathies. However, this post is not about casting ballots (although it’s your DUTY as a member of a democracy to do so! Too may people fought too hard to get you to a place where you can, so get busy–even if the candidates are lousy). This post is about what you elect to do…with your life.

 

How winning a candidate are you? What’s your slogan for life?

 

Right about now, you’re probably shaking your head and muttering something along the lines of “Who knows?” or “What the hell is she talking about this time?” I get it. Only, when you really start thinking about this, I bet you can gin up an answer. To make it easier, let’s approach this from a different angle. How have you elected to view your life? What’s been your mantra? What I mean is, have you dedicated yourself to establishing some preponderant theme about who you are in the world? Examples of which include, “I’m the best at everything!” to “I’ll show you who’s boss” to “Poor me, I never get what I want” to “I hate them and I’m gonna make sure everybody knows how bad they are.” You have an imagination; you can dream up others…

 

We all have different campaign themes at different stages of our lives, but there’s likely to be an overriding campaign slogan which encapsulates who you believe yourself to be—this is what you’ve elected as your primary slogan!

 

So, what is it?

 

When I reflect on my life, there’s at least one theme that evidences itself, repeatedly. It’s worked to my benefit and detriment—but its always there. I have an inexplicably fierce streak of independence running through me that has often resulted in situations where I’ve walked away from a “sure thing” because I refused to trade my independence for security. I refuse to make the necessary trade offs to guarantee stability in my life. I know that there’s never a “sure” thing, but that doesn’t stop me from wanting it. So, I’m at cross purposes with myself. I’m seeking something that I absolutely, positively veer away from anytime I get close to achieving it.

 

How’s that for fucked up?

 

I tell myself that at least I am aware of what it is I’m doing. At least then I can work on calming those fears of getting trapped, thus allowing me to make progress in achieving my goal of learning how to stay put and make long term commitments without worrying that doing so will extinguish my ability to be me.

 

You do this, too. You may not see clearly what it is that makes you chase your own tail, but it’s there. What is it that you’re trying to work out in your life? Do you use your career as a way to sort out your relationship to the world? Do you consider your background or manners as proof positive that you “belong” and are “good enough” to associate with whomever you’ve identified as desirable? Maybe you’re so busy trying to establish that you’re busier, smarter, and far more important than anyone else that you, literally, elbow your way to the front of the line. Acknowledging what it is you’re doing enables you to reconsider if you still need to think like this, to see the world from this perspective, to move forward.

 

Whatever “it” is, you’ve elected it the theme of your life.

Perhaps it’s time for a re-count.

 Hanging Chads


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