What I’m Not

 

 

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We just took a trip to a resort in Punta Cana, in the Dominican Republic. It was beautiful. The weather was warm and clear, and everyone was friendly. I wanted to enjoy this vacation. Last year was hard and I was looking forward to some R&R.   But the food, though plentiful, went from bland to awful.   The amenities promised were elusive or not as advertised.   The other travelers seemed to be content, but I couldn’t help notice the missing details, the absence of my desired holiday away. I would go for a run on the beach, grateful for the easy breeze, and the laps of the ocean. Yet, I kept thinking of all the things I didn’t like about being there. I was angry at myself for booking and paying hard-earned money for this trip. I kept playing back other vacations I should have taken. I was blaming myself for not being able to let it go. Why couldn’t I simply enjoy what I had. Why was I so upset? Why couldn’t I be a more spiritual being? There are so many who are scared for their families and loved ones. There are those dealing with death, health challenges, immigration issues. And, I am feeling sorry for myself for not enjoying the beautiful resort I was in. What kind of person am I? And, the self-criticism was relentless. I am not grateful. I am not selfless. I am not worthy.

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This is not a new theme for me. I have a long history of being hard on myself. I understand that it’s not productive, yet I don’t seem to stop. In fact with the time and space on vacation, I seemed to swim a little in the outdoor pool and swam constantly in a state of condemnation. As the week continued, I’d have moments of peace, thinking that this will be a really funny story with some distance. And there were other times when the inner monologue chattered on.

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I am not a published book author, I’m not a size 8. I’m not a home owner. I’m not a multi-millionaire. I’m not a doctor. I’m not organized. I’m not young. I’m not coordinated.” The list could easily continue. I am clearly aware of what I’m not. In fact, sometimes my mind is so crowded with what I’m not, there’s no room for what I am.

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What I am is a mother and a wife. I’m happy with my work. I have a private practice and work with amazing individuals. I’m a friend. I’m a sister and a daughter. I am a theater and arts lover. I’m a subscriber to theater companies and a member to a number of varied museums. I’m a walker. I love walking the city. I’m a Manhattanite. I’m funny at times, and critical at other times, I’m a foodie. Life is good. But it won’t always be good. Sometimes a vacation turns out to be a vacation from what I love. And being away gives me greater appreciation of what I have.

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So I’m thinking this vacation was about taking vacations every day from self-criticism. It taught me to spend less mind-space on what I’m not, and celebrate more on who I am. Maybe this bad vacation can have a good outcome.

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If nothing else, I’m blogging again. So, yeah, I’m a blogger, too.

Back to the Basics

 

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I learned to iron from my mom, but not before I scorched a shirt or two. Cotton and Polyester were the fabrics of my childhood. And, although I liked my Danskin striped shirts and ribbed pleated pants, cotton was the classier choice for anything other than playing in our Haddontown neighborhood. When inside I had chores, one of which was the ironing.

 

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I would set up the creaky ironing board in the kitchen close to the counter with the electrical outlet. And then I’d carefully plug in the Sunbeam, aqua iron until it was hot enough to smooth away the folds. I would iron my father’s shirts for work, my sister’s and my blouses, leaving the trickier ironing of dresses to my mother.

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In my twenties I volunteered at a new age retreat. One of my jobs was to iron the leader’s white oxford shirts. Perhaps I was chosen because Virgos are known for our attention to detail. They never told me. What they did say was, “Janet, it’s imperative that you bring integrity to your work. There must be no lines in his shirt. Anything that takes his attention away from leading the group compromises the quality of the retreat.” I took them seriously, and performed my ironing with fear and seriousness. At the end of the week I was commended for my work, but at great cost to my happiness.

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Today I ironed my dresses, two green, two blue, one orange and one black. It’s been a while since I’ve ironed. I tend put on no-iron clothes or slightly creased shirts. I take out a steamer from time to time, but sometimes it just doesn’t do the job of old fashion ironing.

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There is something meditative about ironing. I can tell immediately if I’m doing it right. And I know this because the wrinkles disappear. I find this ever so satisfying. It’s clear what task is at hand, and it’s clear when it’s complete. Few jobs are that straightforward in life. Unlike my fear of failure at the retreat, I’m happy to do my ironing with music on in a state of ease. My dresses are done and I’m grateful to my mom for introducing me to the finer points of ironing.

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Blog Break

 

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I wasn’t planning on taking a break from my blog, but that’s what happened. I’m glad I took this break. I’ve needed a breather in general for a while, and the blog was just a part of what I needed to put aside. I enjoy writing, but I noticed something as the weeks went by without penning a word. I noticed that I felt relieved at times, and frustrated at other times. Same circumstances, different responses.

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As the weeks went by I started criticizing myself. I was hard on myself for not writing even as other obligations loomed large. I’d think,  “If I don’t write on a regular basis it’s predictive of not publishing later.” I questioned myself. “Could my attention on family and professional training simply be an excuse?” Of course it can. Or, more likely, it’s the choice I’m making at this time.

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We all make choices. And each choice excludes another. To spend more time with family I give up writing. To choose a concert this summer I give up going out this weekend. To work more I give up a cleaner home. To write this I give up some sleep. We make choices large and small every day.   Tonight I chose to write this short piece. And tomorrow? We’ll I guess I’ll see what choices I make and how they translate.

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One imperative option is to take a break from self-criticism. Whether I have a blog post or I skip it, I am doing the best I can, as we all are.

 

 

 

 

Taking a Break

 

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I took an unintended break from my blog. Every weekend I thought of writing something but I felt distracted, uninspired. This weekend is no different except I’m going to post this. Breaks are important. We could all use a vacation from time to time. But discipline is important, too. Sometimes I’m not quite sure what’s most important at any given time.  It’s like when I need to rest, and I also know it will feel good to workout. What do I choose?

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In the past few weeks I defaulted to taking it easy. Or, more accurately I took it easy on writing while celebrating the holidays and catching up on daytime tasks. I just didn’t feel like writing. In life there seems to be so much I don’t want to do that has to get done like paperwork or washing dishes. So when I set a task for myself because I think I should, I can rebel then criticize myself for not doing whatever it is I think I should be doing. Not a great set-up, but one that’s oh so familiar.

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How many times throughout my life have I had a bad case of the shoulds? There was a time I had been even harder on myself. Ironically being hard on myself didn’t necessarily make me more productive. Often it prevented me from doing what I needed to get done. My inner meanness shut me down to a mentally warring state.

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In general I’m more motivated now. And, yet there are times, like this past month when I hit a wall. For now I’m going to respect that wall. Maybe it stopped me for some unknown reason. If I take it easy I may just find out why I needed to slow down to a halt.

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Perhaps what’s next in 2016 will be revealed. I’m counting on peace and kindness being in the mix.   I’m happy to break for that.

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18 years and counting — A Grounded-Spirituality Post

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Last week was our 18th wedding anniversary. We met online on an early AOL singles site. This was well before Match.com or JDate. This was 1996 when articles and news programs were warning us to beware of cyber dating. We did not heed their advice, and it worked out for us.

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There’s so much I’ve learned in these years. Lesson one is that dreams do come true. Lesson two, there is no happily ever after. Relationships are messy work. I was not prepared for that. I naively came to marriage thinking that it solved problems. Even though I came late to the game, I felt loved, and isn’t that all I ever really wanted? Don’t get me wrong feeling loved is amazing. And it acts as a foundation when the shit hits the fan. I think at the beginning we thought that each of us would complete the other. Instead we found that interacting with one another brought us closer with unresolved issues that we had to address within ourselves.

For instance, I found that Larry was easy to anger. And, I didn’t want that. So, he worked long and hard on his anger issues and found ways to manage it. Low and behold, it turns out I was angry all along, but as long as I focused on his anger, I didn’t have to own my dark feelings. I didn’t like being angry, but there it was for me to feel all too often. So now I had to start working on my anger issues, the issues I wasn’t conscious I harbored. Yet, it was Larry’s freedom to express his anger that made room for me to get angry. Once we could both be angry, it wasn’t so scary to deal with his ire. And, I am learning to further explore what I always thought was a dangerous emotion.

Tonight Larry is watching The Grateful Dead while I finish this blog post in the other room. When we met we knew we were musically incompatible. I love show music and cabaret, while he loves classic rock, and was a Dead head for all of his adolescents and much of his adulthood. He taught me to enjoy more rock. And, now I appreciate the Grateful Dead for their improvisational work and their interpretive artistry. It won’t be my go-to music, but I smile seeing him happy. Conversely, I have dragged Larry to many a Broadway and off-Broadway musical. I’m let down when he gets antsy, ready to go after the first song. But I soar when I see how much he enjoys certain shows we’ve seen together.

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I’ve learned that marriage is hard work. Sometimes it’s a matter of just getting through. When I don’t feel heard or understood, I can feel let down. Larry gets upset when he feels I’m too critical and he can’t do anything right. We both can get defensive. And if we both feel defensive at the same time, there’s bound to be a disagreement. It takes a while to untangle our positions of being right towards collaborating and accepting each other and ourselves within this marriage.

Relationships are a study in contradictions. For instance, while we both enjoy dining out, we also enjoy very different foods. I like my salads and fish, he likes his meat and potatoes. I usually like a more active lifestyle. Larry is happy to sit at home and enjoy television together. I want Larry to do more with me, but I get restless when I watch TV with him, looking around seeing small tasks to complete while at home. Conversely, I’ve learned to be more at ease relaxing and Larry has a more participates more in outside activities.

I wish there was a formula to make marriage easier. I continue to work on not taking myself so seriously, laughing more, worrying less. Larry has done a great job at listening more to what I need, engaging in uncomfortable conversations. So, as we move towards our 19th year, I am exhausted at what it takes to keep our marriage afloat, yet hopeful that the qualities that have moved our marriage to 18 years will continue to move it forward.   With growing love and mutual respect we march on.

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