Thank You, Thank You, Thank You!

By Thursday, November 27, 2014 8 5

Today is Thanksgiving; the day dedicated to saying “thank you” by eating so much you have to go lie down.  Every year your mom makes you read the Ann Landers “Thankful” poem.  You feel like a 5th grader wearing a paper Pilgrim hat (more on that later).  Then, everyone is forced to go around the table and awkwardly say what they’re thankful for.  You get irrationally nervous and cannot think of a single thing that’s appropriate for Aunt Maybelle to hear.  But there really is a lot to be thankful for and we rarely stop to appreciate it together, so this day is significant.

Things They Forgot to Mention, blog, photo, Thanksgiving, table, grateful, gratitude, thankful

This year I discovered what gratitude really means, what it means to really give thanks.  I’m sure most of us, when asked if we’re grateful, would say “Sure, yeah, totally, of course.”  But, I bet all the candied yams in the world that’s not really true.  I can admit that I wasn’t truly grateful until this year.  I didn’t know what it really meant.  It took challenging myself for 30 days to consciously work on it to finally feel gratitude.  What I felt was overwhelming.

I learned that being grateful is not an action, it’s a feeling.  I picture it — and actually feel it — like water ripples that I send out.  I imagine the ripples reaching people around me and washing over them, letting them in on the secret.

It takes practice to really feel grateful, but I can attest that once you feel it, you will know what I’m talking about.  It’s the most beautiful feeling, the fullest vibration, the most spiritual experience I’ve ever had.  Feeling gratitude for me is like becoming a kid again where I experience moments of pure happiness, awe, and excitement.  I always wished that as an adult I could experience what my birthday felt like as a child where my face pretty much exploded with how special and rad it all was.  Gratitude lets me feel that radness again.

So today, when you’re sitting around a table with friends or family or whatever you choose to do, I encourage you to pause a moment.  Take stock of your life, your health, your past, your air, your water, your everything.  Try to feel it, how much you have.  Do this alone so your mom doesn’t ask you to share all your thankfuls with Aunt Maybelle.  Put aside the Ann Landers cheesiness of giving thanks and really give thanks.  There is so much to be thankful for, so give yourself that moment and really look around.

I will end today with this gem:

Things They Forgot to Mention, blog, photo, Thanksgiving, pilgrim, grateful, gratitude, thankful That’s me being a festive little prairie girl on the left.  Sugar and spice and everything nice, for sure.  I believe that’s my turkey chandelier hanging above us too (dope!).  Special shout-out to my siblings: tssk tssk to my brother wearing a hoodie (not a feather in sight), and to my sister clearly not into pilgrim fashion at all…

Things They Forgot to Mention:

Today is more than the feast, the tryptophan, or the football.  There is so much to be grateful for, so share that today.  Because giving thanks is something you give — to yourself, to those around you, and to the world.

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When Volcanoes Erupt

By Thursday, November 20, 2014 0 6

When the plastic margarita cup hit the floor on purpose, we knew we had probably gone too far.  My husband and I were in Cabo for a wedding when travel stress led to not enough fajitas which led to margarita brain which then led to my husband jumping in the pool with my camera.  All of this led to the biggest and most beautiful fight we’ve ever had.

The specifics of the fight aren’t important because there really was no need for this fight.  Neither of us were that angry about the camera faux pas, and it could have been resolved with one sentence from both of us.  But neither of us said that sentence, we let it escalate and that is important.  What happened the next morning is what is really important.

I got up at sunrise, my spinning head making sleep impossible, and went for a walk on the beach.  I was spinning because I couldn’t understand why the fight happened at all.  As a chronic self-explorer, I wondered what I did to make it escalate and I wondered what we could do to not fight like that again (for more on my self-exploratory ways in marriage, see Mirror, Mirror On the Wall).

I sat on the shore as the sun rose and took this picture.  It reminded me of our fight: a crash against an unexpected obstacle.

Fight Club, Things They Forgot to Mention, photo, blog, Cabo, Mexico

I went back to our hotel room to talk to my husband, to hear what he thought about the whole ordeal.  He was waiting for me with the same confused eyes I had.  What happened last night? How did we go there? Why is the floor so sticky?

I almost started laughing, the fight was that unnecessary, but I didn’t.  Every fight deserves respect and is something to learn from, not only about your partner but more importantly about yourself.  Fights are like sudden eruptions of really honest communication; all the deep, dormant, masked emotions slowly build under pressure and spew out for attention.  When the volcano explodes, it’s important to sift through the rubble.

For those in relationships — particularly the ultra-committed, in it for the long haul ones like marriages — you know fights come with the territory.  They happen and they always will, no matter how compatible and in love you are.  I think it would be weirder if you didn’t fight.  I would wonder who’s holding what in and when is it going to end with a margarita crashing on the floor.

My mom, a very wise woman, taught me long ago that it is important to be good at fighting.  What she meant was that it isn’t important to win fights, but it is important to fight well, to fight with respect, with an open mind.  That is what my husband and I are learning to do.  It’s immensely challenging because fighting well requires you to put your ego aside at the very moment your ego gets called out.  Nothing gets resolved when your ego is in charge because the ego just wants to win.  You have to demand that your ego backs down and the ego doesn’t like to do that.  But that’s when you tell your ego who’s boss…

That morning, we walked on the beach for an hour and scrutinized last night’s Eyjafjallajökull — Iceland’s famous volcano that messed up plans for days, causing the need to reroute millions of passengers.  This is exactly what happened to us — we erupted and had to reroute ourselves.

We identified what made it progress from an argument to a fight.  There is a big difference in vocabulary and it matters.  A “fight” typically means physical aggression and use of weaponry while “argument” means differing points and verbal disagreements.  While the only thing that was physically hurt was a plastic cup, it was still a fight.  It was a fight because we threw words at each other and the sole purpose of those words was to hurt the other.  Those were our weapons.  So we declared that morning that we want to argue, we don’t want to fight.

We established ground rules to help prevent our arguments from escalating to fights.  Things like: no yelling, no cussing, no slamming of margarita cups.  These are our triggers.  We agreed to moments of silence and found we should do more moments of silence when arguing.  You can hear a lot in a little silence.  Silences are like pressing the pause button; you can rewind and see things from a different angle.  Silence helps you cool your magma chamber, think about what s/he said, and determine what you really have to say.

That’s as far as we got that day in Cabo, but it was revolutionary.  We still argue from time to time (’cause he’s a boy and I’m a girl) and I’m still learning how to not drop the F-bomb (’cause he’s an Aries and I’m an Aries).  But since the margarita fight, each argument is calmer.  They end easier, without escalation, and always give rise to eye-opening discussions.  We want to prevent hotspots from forming and use what we’ve learned to not throw molten rock at each other.  Because in the end, it’s our choice whether we fight or whether we argue.

Things They Forgot to Mention:

Nobody likes when Eyjafjallajökull spews liquid hot mmmagma.  But it happens and the key is to reroute, find calmer air, and keep the margarita in the cup.

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Eating Cereal Isn’t Hard

By Thursday, October 16, 2014 28 5

I heard a report on NPR that said cereal consumption is on a decline and has been since 1996.  The reason was particularly special: we are eating less cereal because it takes too much time.  Instead we opt for alternatives like fast-food breakfast sandwiches or Go-Gurt® (for when you’re on the go with yogurt, Go-Gurt®!).  Here is a quote from the report I found regrettably true:

This exhausting ritual — pouring cereal into the bowl, pouring milk into the bowl, eating it — takes too much time.

The report goes on to say that since cereal requires using a bowl and a spoon that you have to clean, it has become too much work.  In other words: cereal is too time consuming and we don’t have that time to consume it.  I would guess that eating cereal, including the dish washing, is a five minute task so this means we don’t have those five minutes anymore.  Why not? Where did those five minutes go?

I am guilty of this.  I admit now in front of the world wide web that for years I ate my cereal while driving to work since I did not “have the time” to eat at home.  Yes, I ate cereal while driving a vehicle…on a freeway.  Don’t worry, I drove with my knee so I could eat my cereal while gazing out the window at the Pacific Ocean.  It was a win-win, minus the whole danger thing.

I have been thinking about being busy for a while.  No matter what I’m doing, I’m busy and have been for years.  We all have been.  The default answer to the question: “How are you?” is always: “Well, I’ve been busy…”  That’s what we all say.  Listen for it and you’ll hear it everywhere, you’ll hear it coming from you.  The conversation will go from there, both parties secretly comparing levels of busy.

We are all always busy, but the question I ask is: why are we so busy? Why is that our preferred mode? Why do we work so hard to keep it that way? Why do we think running from place to place without time to eat cereal means that we’ve made it?

In U.S. culture, being busy is something to be proud of, a symbol of success.  If you aren’t busy you aren’t accomplishing.  So we rush through our lives and abbreviate everything, even our experiences, into soundbites.  We don’t linger anymore, we don’t savor.  Our lives become as peripheral as a status post, outlines of real experience.  But we can point to it, check it off of a list, and therefore we think it counts.

I watched a TED Talk by Carl Honoré discussing the glorification of busy and he struck a chord by saying:

Slow is a dirty word.  It’s a word for lazy, slacker, for being somebody who gives up.

He’s right.  If someone, when asked “how are you?”, actually said they hadn’t been up to much, had free time, and sat on grassy knolls a lot, that wouldn’t go over well.  That person would be seen as wasting their time and ultimately their life.  Multi-tasking, resume building, a full calendar; that makes a well-lived life.

Honoré thinks our obsession with busy lies in how our culture defines time as “a finite resource…always draining away, you either use it or lose it.”  If we have that outlook on time, it makes sense that we race against something that is disappearing on us.  Every minute is one and done, so we cram in as much as we can and call it carpe diem.

I argue we stop carpe-ing that diem, at least in the way we carpe today.  I argue we do things that can’t be summed up because the entirety of sitting on a grassy knoll can’t be a soundbite.  Unless you manage to phrase it how they did in this hilarious/super deep moment from the movie, I ♥ Huckabees:

Doing nothing can mean doing everything.  How very New Age of me.

I think if we daydream, if we do nothing, if we do whatever makes our minds quiet, then we can really live our lives.  In a study on the resting brain, neuroscientists found “when we are resting, the brain is anything but idle and…downtime is essential to mental processes that affirm our identities, develop our understanding of human behavior and instill a code of ethics.”  Take that to your boss when you request a vacation.

Obviously there is a line between being slow and being lazy, but I’m not talking about lazy.  I’m talking about the opposite of lazy.  I think wasting time can be described as going through your day without being fully aware of what is happening around and in you.  Your time is wasted by focusing only on to-do lists and juggling acts, forgetting that it’s a beautiful day and it’s beautiful you’re even alive.  The fact is if we don’t have time for something, it means we value other things more than it.  I think about that in my life, the things I choose to not do and what I replace them with.  I wonder if the tradeoff is worth it…

I’m thinking about giving up being busy.  I could find a different answer to the question: “How are you?”  I want to describe my life with more detail.  I also want to live with more detail.  I want to highlight things other than how busy I am because that doesn’t describe me.  I’m going to sit on a grassy knoll, eat a bowl of cereal, and tell you all about it.

Things They Forgot to Mention, blog, photo, grassy knoll

 

Things They Forgot to Mention:

Being busy doesn’t necessarily mean I’ve carpe-d my diem.  Something as simple as having time for cereal can carpe much better.

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A Sweetie’s Guide to Managing Jim

By Thursday, September 25, 2014 6 5

I recently had to deal with a very strong personality.  When I say “deal with,” I mean I had to confront an aggressive man with a peacock complex and questionable respect for women and get him to do something he did not want to do.

This man, Jim, was doing work on our backyard and he was large in every way: height, presence, voice volume.  He filled your space, stole your authority, and everything went his way.  His words were fast and forceful, leaving you with nothing to say except: “Sounds good, Jim.”  We found ourselves agreeing to contract changes that we should not agree to and then we found ourselves with a problem.

I have to mention what irked me most about Jim was that he called me “sweetie.”  I hated him calling me that, it was condescending and it filled me with a useless rage.  Not to mention, Jim calling me sweetie made me feel like a sweetie, like a silly little girl who did not need to be taken seriously.  It was his way of subtly putting me in my place and it was annoyingly effective.

I knew our confrontation was coming for 24 hours, so I marinated WAY too long in the anticipation.  I practiced what I was going to say, I bounced ideas off my husband, I imagined push-back scenarios.  The only thing this marinating accomplished was that I became more and more nervous, which made me more and more insecure.  I let it saturate me and I came out all soggy dog.  What a lousy foundation from which to confront Jim.  I felt like such a sweetie.

Then on my drive home to meet Jim something interesting happened.  I started thinking about energy and how because his energy was more overt, mine was diluted.  I realized this only happened because I allowed him to dilute me, I allowed him be stronger than me, I gave him my permission.  A simple sentence came into my head and shifted everything.  The sentence was: “You are not stronger than me, Jim.”  It was utterly true.  He wasn’t more powerful, he just acted like it.  I wasn’t a sweetie, I just acted like it.

For the rest of my drive, each time I said that sentence, I believed it more completely.  I became calm and certain, and now looked forward to our confrontation.

This time when Jim walked in the door I felt taller than him.  This time when he called me sweetie it did not dilute me.  This time I was the bigger presence.  Using advanced ESP, I sent him my sentence: “You are not stronger than me, Jim.”  I let him and his voice volume talk at me for a bit, filling the space with blah blah blah.  I smiled as he talked, I was cooler than a stoned Snoop Dogg, y’all.  When he was satisfied with the blah blah blah, I said: “Jim, let’s go take a walk.”  I saw him visibly taken aback, he stumbled over some words and followed me outside.

We walked through the backyard and I pointed out the issues we had with his work.  I presented him with two options to fix them, and instantly he agreed to one.  I was not bitchy, I was not pushy, but I was not a sweetie.  I was stronger than Jim and he knew it.  It was that simple to confront him.

Jim left agreeing to a lower bill and doing more work for free, and we were not enemies.  But, he did not call me sweetie as he left, he used my name.

I found there was difference between Jim’s strength and mine.  His was aggressive, contrived, and turbulent.  Mine was serene, steady, and gentle.  I didn’t have to resort to aggression to tame his aggression, I just had to be a strong me.

I wonder now about all the times in my life that I played small, that I played the sweetie because that’s where I thought I belonged.  How many Jims have overtalked me and dictated what happens to me? I always thought that since I wasn’t a combative person, that equated to me being weaker.  But that’s not true at all.  Strength is a personal choice and you choose its form, so choose one that fits.  Sometimes strength is a calm, kind approach.  And sometimes sweeties are the strongest.

Things They Forgot to Mention:

When Jim comes to your door, channel Snoop D-O-double-G and know that he is only stronger when you allow him to be.

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Javalina Girl

By Thursday, September 4, 2014 3 5

When I was 23, I spent a year at the Biosphere 2 Center outside Tucson, Arizona getting my masters.  The Biosphere is a huge greenhouse meant to simulate the Earth, think Pauly Shore in 1996‘s Biodome.  For cliff notes of our year there, just watch the first 25 seconds of this excerpt from the film.  I advise you to not watch more than that though, as it may cause brain damage:

Yup, it was pretty much exactly like that.  Life at the Biosphere deserves a story all its own, but that’s for another day.  Today I would like to discuss one particular person from that year.  Her name, as it came to be, was Javalina Girl.

Throughout the summer, groups of high school students stayed at the Biosphere for a month to do science things.  In one of these groups was a pretty, petite, loner girl with pigtails and a stuffed animal backpack.  She carried a notebook in which she scribbled aggressively.  By this time, us grad school students had already morphed into weird desert people, so we were intrigued by this girl.  We heard rumors about her and we sought them out.  We heard she had uncivilized breakdowns.  We heard she threw herself out of a moving van.  We heard she stole her housemate’s ice cream.  We were very intrigued indeed.

This girl would wander off alone into the remote desert surrounding the Biosphere.  She would carry her notebook and be gone for hours, oblivious to the panic her wandering caused the program counselors.  It was on one of these walks that she came across the javalina.

For those that don’t know, javalinas are boar-like animals found in Arizona.  They can be vicious with inch-long canines, and roam in territorial packs at night.  Here are some photos I stole from the internet:

Things They Forgot to Mention, blog, personal, javalina, Arizona, Biosphere 2

We had all come across javalinas at some point and quickly learned to show them respect.

Lucky for her, the girl came across a recently dead one and this is how she became Javalina Girl.  No one knows what thoughts went through her wild mind, but something convinced her to drag that sizable javalina over a mile back to her group house.  Once at the house, she proceeded to construct an outdoor cage for the carcass.  (This is where it gets a little graphic, so ladies, cover your eyes.)  Javalina Girl then took a small knife from her communal kitchen, carefully removed all of the javalina’s skin, and returned the knife to the utensil drawer.

Naturally, one of her housemates was a little freaked out by this, so the counselors were called to intervene.  They found Javalina Girl with the javalina, which was now fully skinned and enclosed in the chicken-wire chamber.  She was wearing her usual pigtails and stuffed animal backpack.  They asked her what she was doing and she explained she was conducting an experiment to see how long it took for a corpse to decompose, and the chicken-wire was to protect it from large scavengers.  She was going to record the observations in her notebook.

The counselors were stumped by this one.  Technically, Javalina Girl had done nothing wrong.  All she had done was take the initiative to create something her fellow students could learn from and “enjoy.”  As scientists themselves, the counselors felt maybe they should encourage independent scientific experiments.  But then again, there was bloody carcass in the front yard and they just could not let her get away with this behavior.  Just like that, Javalina Girl was sent home.

One thing the counselors were particularly confused by was where the javalina’s skin went.  Javalina Girl reported she threw it out, but they never found a trace.  A week or so later, us grad students began to notice the sweet smell of death in our classroom — you can see where this is going.  The odor started as faint, almost pleasant whiffs, but it matured into the overwhelming perfume of rot.  Maintenance came to find the source, and they found — drum roll, please — the javalina’s skin.  The skin, along with a few bones, was sealed in a cardboard box hidden in our classroom closet.  Javalina Girl’s name was handwritten on the box.

Needless to say, we were obsessed and dissected all we knew of Javalina Girl.  We constructed a cage around her made of assumptions and talked about her like she belonged in an institution.  We all agreed she had many screws loose.  The skin and bones, however, we could not come to consensus on.  It could be explained by multiple theories: (1) a mean gift because she hated our guts, (2) a nice gift because we were kindred explorers, or (3) left temporarily to get later for further analysis.

We never found out and we never heard of Javalina Girl again.  We talked about her all the time though, and I even dressed up as her for Halloween.  To this day, she remains one of my favorite stories to tell.  Something about Javalina Girl shook me up.

I’ll let you in on a secret: I don’t think Javalina Girl belonged in an institution at all.  I think she belonged in the desert.  I like to believe she was a brilliant, artistic mind.  I believe she was just curious about what happens in life…and in death.  She was a thinker, a pioneer, a lone wolf who wandered the desert.  She was also possibly batshit crazy but that isn’t always a bad thing.  Many of the biggest minds in history could have been called batshit crazy too and I think Javalina Girl walked among giants.

I hope I find her one day, to see who she turned into.  I hope her spark hasn’t been snuffed out by how she’s supposed to go about life.  I hope she still wanders and carries a notebook.  I will tell her that she changed my perception of batshit crazy and she taught me that being divergent can be preferred.  I know now that we all have some Javalina Girl in us and we should let it glow through.  Maybe not through a bloody carcass, but you know what I mean.

Things They Forgot to Mention:

Not all who are crazy belong in an institution, because many times crazy is an asset and possibly a compliment.

Things They Forgot to Mention, blog, personal, desert, Arizona, Biosphere 2

(To the Biospherians, if you know of corrections/missing facts from this story, let me know in the comments below)

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Mirror, Mirror on the Wall

By Thursday, August 28, 2014 3 7

Before my wedding, I asked many couples if anything changes by getting married.  The general consensus was no.  My husband and I, however, respectfully disagree.  We have been married for, like, eleven months so we know pretty much everything about marriage.  Feel free to ask us for any pointers.

I am moderately serious when I say that.  Something about our particular combination creates a superstorm of self-exploration that we cannot avoid.  I think it’s because we are both extrapolators, meaning we see small things and expand wildly from there, seeing that small thing through to its full, possibly exaggerated potential.  Because of this mutual trait, we went through years in the first three months we were married.

Here’s what happens when you get married: you suddenly realize that marriage is mostly about who you are, not who your partner is.  Your partner is obviously important, but we all know that; why else would we subject ourselves to first date cringing, red lipstick, or getting our hearts trampled? We take our search for our partner seriously, but once that search is over, it moves internal and you start searching for you.

You will find your partner serves as a brutally clear mirror that reflects back exactly who you are.  It’s like one of those magnification mirrors your mom used to have (and probably still does) with the fluorescent lighting specifically designed to show every pore and wrinkle.  Through this mirror, you get to see all your beauty; why your spouse loves you, how you are such a special bird.  But all your peculiarities show up too, all the creepy-crawlies you said you’d get to one day.  They all come front and center and ready for orders.

Some people may have seen this all-knowing mirror in other situations, and some people might not see it until years later, but I first saw it the minute we came back all lovey dovey from our honeymoon.  Then *bam! slap! whappo!* …hoooolyyyyyyyy sh*t.  I immediately felt the weight of what marriage truly is and I quickly went inside to hide.

I went through the shock privately, stunned by the news flash that marriage is kind of a big deal.  Over the next three months, the realization grew and transformed and haunted me like twin ghost girls in a hallway.  I panicked about being a wife and distanced myself from this amazing man I married.  All I could see was everything I had to combat in myself in order to be the wife my husband deserves (aw…).

I failed to discuss any of this with my husband until one night when we simultaneously collapsed.  Little did I know, he had been going through exactly the same shock and, per our similar personalities, we were ready to talk at exactly the same time.

So we talked.  The moment we started talking about the fear, it drifted away.  What replaced the fear was an intense motivation to stop holding back from everything, to be everything I said I would be.  I also had the delayed revelation of what a husband is, and more importantly for me, what it means to be a wife.  A marriage is a fascinating human relationship, the most intimate one you will ever have.  It is the scariest, hardest, most complicated bond you will ever have.  It is also the most self-aware, internal, beautiful place for massive growth.

What I know beyond a doubt is in order to have a good marriage, you have to be a good you.  Harder than it sounds, and such a gift if you think about it.  Marriage gives you an unbelievable opportunity to make each other better people, but it requires habit breaking (yuck), painful exposing (lame), and awkward vulnerability (no thanks).   The bottom line is: if you want a happy, “all in” marriage, you can’t hide from yourself anymore. You have to pick up each creepy-crawly you saw in that mirror, dissect it, research its origins and then figure out how to outfox it.

And now if someone asks me if anything changes by getting married, I will say: “Yes.  Everything.  It’s all a choice.  And you have to choose to fight for it.”

Things They Forgot to Mention:

Getting married means you marry two people: your spouse and, surprisingly, shockingly, yourself.

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