Monday, January 19, 2015

My year: Extraordinary. World altering. Big.

I'm working on my life's makeover version 10.0....or maybe it's version 45.  I swear I've more than my share of life makeovers, struggling to find my place in the world, and sometimes making dramatic changes to make that life happen.  

My family of origin doesn't understand my life most of the time.  When I wanted to buy a Eurorail pass and travel Europe when I was in college, they told me it was a "stupid, wasteful" idea, and that I wouldn't be safe, and that a woman shouldn't do such things.  When I got a job in corporate America, my family moaned that I was an old maid and said, "Why aren't you married?"  (I am not making up the old maid thing.  I was married near my 30th birthday, and my parents repeatedly told me that I was an old maid.  When I got married, they told Bryan "Thank you for preventing her from being an old maid," without a hint of irony or humor.)  They do not understand where I choose to live (within the city limits of a large city, in a neighborhood with -gasp!- people of color and GBLT folks, where houses are not all painted nearly identical shades of taupe), or my politics, or the fact that I have stepped away from my childhood's faith.  They can hardly imagine how I have become a forty-something divorced single working mother with lefty-liberal politics, working in non-profit.

They have learned to accept me for some of these things.  It is impossible to dismiss the happiness that some of my choices have brought me, and if you listened to my mother talk about the trip to Europe twenty-some years ago, it sounds like a) she was in full support the whole time, and that b) she lives vicariously through that trip.  Revisionist history, perhaps, but I am also aware that it's her way of trying to connect with me.

Cancer was one hell of a life makeover.  Not only did it alter my body permanently, it also altered the rest of me.  It showed me parts of myself that had only been hinted at previously, and gave me a glimpse of what I was capable of.  I put that glimpse into full working mode with my divorce, facing the idea that maybe, just maybe, I could transition from stay-at-home-mom-cancer-patient to a working single mother without collapsing and dying in the process.  But was even more than that, as big as that was: it was the idea that outside of my marriage was something deeper and bigger than I'd allowed myself to dream of, and that I wanted something more than the life I was living.  To life my life fully, I needed divorce, and the life makeover that came with that. 

So far, so good.  I've gone from fighting for my life, scrambling for the basics, to exhaling.  I have a happy life.

Isn't that wonderful?  What a sentence, "I have a happy life."  I do not take that short little sentence lightly, I do not forget that it is extraordinary and not at all a given.  I have health, a strong relationship with my daughter, a warm and comfortable home.  I am surrounded by dear friends, books, safety, interests.  There is always food in my refrigerator, and happy little stashes of light bulbs and batteries and toilet paper and toothpaste in the drawers and cupboards.  Music plays.  There are pretty mugs to drink coffee in, a yard with a swingset.  When it's cold, I wear a down coat or a wool one, depending upon the event; when it's hot, I can choose which pair of sandals to wear.  There are invitations to join friends, school events, people gathered around my table.

None of that is taken for granted, not even for one second.

And now I am ready for something more.

2014 brought about some amazing things in my life.  I went from a job back to a career - a hard fought battle, and I won!  I do work that is meaningful in the world, and that makes me want to do a happy little dance.  But that's not all!  Buying a new car - not a "it's not much more than functional, but it will do" car, but a shiny new car with a few bells and whistles that makes me feel happy to get into it.  It's so symbolic: I committed to this big expense with the belief that I could handle it....and that I was worth it.  Believing that I am worth it, that I need not feel guilt over having nice things, well, that's new.  And extraordinary.  

And there's more: Skiing!  Skiing is a rich people's sport, and don't let anyone tell you otherwise.  A pair of decent gloves costs $50+ dollars, and gloves are the least of it.  But I have wanted to turn my daughter into a skier since before she was born, and at last, I'm doing it.  It's not practical...but it's important to me.  It's living fully.  It's a chance to do physical activity (and let's not forget, our great ideas are nothing if we are not alive to think them), to be out in nature, to bond with my daughter over a mutual activity.  It's a chance to be social with like minded people.  It's a chance to get out of Seattle rain in the winter.  And it's a chance to feel the joyful "whoosh!" of speed, the laughter of landing in a snowbank, the thrill of the quick turn executed successfully.  It's a chance to stretch ourselves and learn something new, to test our bodies.  And it's also cocoa in a thermos waiting in the car, and coming home to watch a movie, tired but happy.

And I made it happen.  In borrowed ski pants for me, and hand me down ski coat for Tessa; with neck warmers purchased in about 1990, and ski goggles that are equally ancient; with rental equipment in the shiny new rack on top of my shiny new car, we did it.  

And it's time for more.  Much, much more.

I am ready for the next step in my career, and I have my eyes set upon something beautiful.  I had a meeting last week with a local cancer agency, and I feel that the possibility is strong that I will work for them (likely in late spring, if my gut is correct).  It would come with a big raise - not to be taken lightly, as it would be life altering financially - but that isn't the half of it.  It would also come with the chance to make an even bigger difference in the world.  It would test my new professional skills, and also give me more tools professionally.  It would allow me to work with "the best."  

I am not thinking small.  I am thinking BIG.  And I am on my way.

And writing: I'm onto something, and I feel it, and there has been a shift in the wind, and I'm about to do something more than I've ever done before.  I have my Big Idea and it's unfolding every day, and I'm going to make it happen.

I am absolutely finished with living small.  Done.  Do you hear me?  I mean this.  I am so absolutely tired of thinking small: of fighting to pay the mortgage with enough left over for classroom field trip fees.  I'm tired of a boss who borders on the ridiculous, thinking small while puffing himself up in an order to appear large (and in the process, looking, well, puffy); I'm ready for a boss who is a mentor and who brings out the best in me.  I'm tired of staying so close to home, and I want to travel.  I'm tired of telling myself that I'm nobody special and my writing will never amount to anything more than journaling.  I have something to say, and this year I AM GOING TO SAY IT.  I am going to ski (that's big!) and make my career take off and hike to beautiful places and travel (not sure about that one yet, only that I'm working on it) and I'm going to do all of this with my beautiful daughter at my side and enjoy all the tiny moments and revel in the giant leaps.

And love.  I will not forget romantic love.  I have some things left to learn, and I am going to work hard at learning them.  I do not have a plan, but I do have a new openness that was missing before; an openness to recognizing where I have room to grow.  Stay tuned on that, it's new, but I am working on it.

2015 is going to be my year.  I'm going to work hard at making it happen, and I am going to work on it being BIG.

This is my year of "Yes."  Bring it on!


Where have you been living small?  What is your "big" and what are you doing to reach it?  What is your "YES"?  I'd love to hear your story, too.  We're in this together, so let's do it!

Saturday, January 10, 2015

I'd rather be a crazy cat lady.

I almost went on another date.  (I've long since lost count of how many dates I've been on since my divorce, but too many.)  I haven't been on a date since...hmmm, summer?... and I wasn't really looking, but a person from real life (not online) contacted me through LinkedIN.  At first I thought it was just another professional connection  - he's in a similar industry - but we exchanged a couple of emails and he made it clear that he was interested in me personally.  He pointed out the things we have in common, asked me to meet him.

I know his ex-wife, although not well, so I hesitated.  My radar was up: something seemed a bit off, so I was going to say no.  But then I thought, "Okay, missy, what are you doing here?  He's tall and attractive, lives close by, shares interests, is an active dad, we have some friends in common, and he's interested in you.  No wonder you're alone if you won't even give him time to have coffee!" so I deleted my "no thank you" response before I sent it, and sent something warmer.

But that radar was still up, so I asked him where he was living since his separation.

His answer?  With his wife.  They no longer have a sexual relationship, but they are "mindful" and things are so much better now; they consider themselves separated, but still live together. (There is no ex-wife, then.  There is only a wife.)  Their lives are "emmeshed" but they are exploring different things, and he has started dating.  And he hoped that this didn't send me running, because he and I have "so much in common" and he's "really excited" to connect with me.

I hope that my response was polite.  I did tell him that I wished him, and his wife, every happiness on their new path.  I also made it super clear that I wanted no part of it, and that I would not meet for coffee or anything else.


I know that I'm not a little girl any more, and that the Cinderella fairy tale with Prince Charming isn't going to happen.  First of all, I'm not exactly sitting in the ashes of the fire wishing someone would rescue me - I've got things pretty together and I don't want a rescuer to change my whole life, I want a partner to build our lives together.  I want synergy, not rescue.  Secondly, though I expect my prince to come with his own history (I am not virginal, nor a blank slate, and nor do I expect him to be) I'd like to think that I could be the only woman he shares his bed with, and that at the end of the day he wouldn't have another partner at home with whom he shares his evening glass of wine.  Call me crazy, but I am keeping the fantasy that I will find a partner who doesn't already have a wife, whether it's in name only or not.

Jane Eyre has long been a favorite book of mine.  I love that Jane stuck to her values and left her beloved, not because of an archaic idea of marriage (Mr. Rochester needed a divorce!) but because if a man lies about his past, or keeps a wife in his attic, he is not marriage material.  He is not boyfriend material.  He is not relationship material. I love that Jane had the strength of character to walk away from him when he was an ass to her. I like that they worked it out in the end - it made for a good story!- but I don't think that Bronte was being that subtle when she maimed him by fire before there could be a happily ever after.  Perhaps the reason that I'm not a world-famous author and part of the literary canon is that if I wrote that story, in the end, Jane wouldn't have come back.  (Hmm.  Maybe there are reasons that I'm alone!)

Every day, I settle more and more into my single life.  I am good at being single, good at occupying myself so that loneliness is not the center of my life.

I do feel loneliness.  This world is made for twos, not ones.  Sometimes I feel it when something good happens, and I want to share it.  Sometimes I feel it when I climb into my bed alone.  Sometimes I feel it when - like today - a weekend opens before me and Katherine is with her dad.  Sometimes I feel it around holidays.  It's there most of the time, but I am adept at pushing it to the edges.  It's like I've put myself in mosquito netting so that the insects can't bite me, but still, here I am inside netting, with buzzing in my ears, seeing the mosquitoes land only inches from me, just looking for a break in the netting where they can come in and gorge themselves upon me.  It is not easy walking around the world covered in netting, attempting to blend in.

Still, I would rather be a crazy cat lady, surrounded by art and books and friends, than date someone else's husband, no matter how mindfully that husband conducts his separated marriage.

Call me conventional, but I want a conventional relationship.  One where there are only the two of us romantically entangled, with nobody else sharing our hearts or beds.  One where we can shape some new kind of family.  One where, at the end of our days of work and kids and friends and chores, we only need one another.

But if I can't have that, I guess I should look into cat adoptions.

Sunday, January 4, 2015

Early morning stillness

Good morning, readers.

Well, it's morning as I write this, anyway.  I awoke with a start at 4am today, certain that someone had banged loudly on the wall of my bedroom, and my heart was in my throat and I was prepared to call 911 before I was even fully awake.  Before I reached for the phone, though, I heard another sound: the dog's rhythmic deep sleep breathing, and I realized that if there had been a real problem, he'd be on his feet, all 80 pounds of him tense and alert, not softly snoring from his dog bed.  The noise was only a part of my dream (already forgotten), but the little adrenaline surge was real enough, and I've been awake since then, unable to fall back asleep.

I love the wee hours of the morning, though, so all is well.  Last night, as always, I set the coffee pot, so all that I had to do was fill my cup to start enjoying it.  Today, being Sunday, I returned to bed with it, a luxurious day stretching out before me to do as I please.  Today I will have a longer than usual Sunday, a longer than usual stretch of time, all because of that imaginary banging.  Perhaps that banging was a gift, and not a nightmare.

In the stillness, while it is still dark outside, I can think.

So often, my brain is taken up with useless things that prevent me from thinking.  I worry about money, about work, about whether I ran the dishwasher, about the gutters that are at least a year overdue for cleaning.  I worry that I will never find a romantic partner, that I have put on weight (I have), that I don't know where to send Katherine for high school because I don't like the local school and I can't afford private school.  Worry and fear are not the same thing.  I spend a great deal of time doing things (like cooking, working, cleaning, and fun things like roller skating or hiking, too) but that's not thinking, either.

For me, thinking involves vast quantities of silence, of stillness.  Perhaps a paper and pen, perhaps a keyboard and a screen.  It involves uninterrupted time.

Ah, blissful time.  And today I get a little extra, before Katherine awakes, in order to ponder my life.

I've been pondering for about four hours now.

I've been thinking about the difference between perfect and flawed.  Perhaps perfection is an imaginary state, and it is the seeking of perfection that is most flawed of all.  I wonder if my imperfect, flawed life is actually the height of bliss, and that in declaring it imperfect I am throwing away the beautiful gift that it is.  Do I see only the tiny bank balance, the full gutters, the ten (or more?!) pounds of winter weight gain?  Do I see only several feet of scars criss-crossing my torso, mutilated breasts?  Do I see only the lack of a partner, the lack of travel?  I think about how Katherine needs the next phase of orthodonture, and I haven't been to the dentist in far too long because I don't want the bill, and I shudder.

I see those things.  Boy, do I see them.  They churn in my stomach and they press behind my eyes and the combination makes me nauseous and sometimes they make me want to crawl into a dark quiet place and curl up in a ball.  I am not immune to fear, sadness, anxiety.

And yet...

And yet I am committed to seeing the beauty and richness of my life.  Dare I say it: I dare to see its perfections.

I am reminded of Mary Oliver's poem The Ponds.

It is true that I am "blighted, slumped".  And yet, that's only in the perspective.  I am also "rife and wild".

I want to believe that the imperfections are nothing –
that the light is everything — that it is more than the sum
of each flawed blossom rising and fading. And I do.

I live in a comfortable home that is often filled with friends and family.  My daughter is made of light and love, and brings me the kind of pride that makes my eyes prickle with feeling.  My body takes me through the woods, or around a roller skating rink (yesterday's adventure: I hadn't roller skated in YEARS and I was terrible but it was more fun than I imagined).  My job is so imperfect, but it's important work that I believe in.

I believe.


I am proud of my strength, my bravery, but again and again I am tested.  Today I will face my resume head on, preparing it for distribution to future employers, preparing to change my life once again.  This small sentence fills me with fear, doubt, uncertainty.  Looking at myself from outside of myself, I want to say, "Oh, come on.  What's the big deal?  You have a job, you have people knocking on your door to talk about work...certainly you have what it takes, and if they reject you, so what?"  Well, rejection is a rotten beast, and I fear it.  I fear that my bravery is what is false, and the fear is what is real.

I fear that I am not actually good enough to get what I want.  I fear that I will be put off, dismissed, that they will see through me and know that I shouldn't get what I want.  I fear that I do not know how to run my life, that my dreams are foolish.  I fear my imperfections.

I fear, too, that I have been alone too long, and that I am no longer partner material because I have grown too set in my ways about how I wish to live, and too fearful about letting someone in.

I fear that I am not beautiful enough, smart enough, or interesting enough.

I fear that I am not creative enough to pursue my deepest dreams.

I fear that I am inconsequential, and that I waste my life.

That is a lot of fear, and when I write it down like that I fear that it is far bigger than I am, and that it will overwhelm me, and I wonder if I should go back to bed.  Perhaps I WILL go back to bed, or to Netflix, or to busy work that is meaningless but makes me look productive.

“Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous? Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God. Your playing small does not serve the world. There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won't feel insecure around you. We are all meant to shine, as children do. We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us. It's not just in some of us; it's in everyone. And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.”
----from A Return to Love, by Marianne Williamson

Or maybe I will hit "publish" on this, and open up my resume document, and start adding information about my last job, and take a risk that I can do it, and that if I fail, I will survive my failure.


I will hit publish on this, and open up my resume document, and start adding information about my last job, and take a risk that I can do it, and have faith that I can make this thing happen, and that my future life awaits, and that the right job will come to me.  I will choose to believe that I am exactly what my dream job needs, that I am ready for the next step on the path, that my life has meaning, and that the joy is mine for the taking.



We all struggle.  I struggle.  I suspect that you struggle, too.  But what if we let go of the fear, because the fear was all that was preventing us from being magnificent, and from attaining our dreams?  What if all we have to do to succeed is to keep putting one foot in front of the other, with the faith that we'll get there eventually?

Today I'm going to take a step or two or three.  I hope that you do, too.  Let me know how it goes!