New Year Wishes and Other Lamb Tales

sheep-1822137_1920As the year draws to a close, I find myself not thinking about the usual things: resolutions, themes, goals, expectations, things I’ll do or change, things I’ll give up, lose or find. I am thinking instead about acceptance.

While I’ve focused a lot on letting go in previous years – letting go of a marriage, a job, behaviors, things and people that no longer work for me – I’ve found that this year, I’ve had to learn to accept a lot, too.

This hit home for me recently as I sat on the couch across from Yoda (code name for my trusty therapist). I was lamenting why I couldn’t be tougher in a particular situation, as tough as the others in it seemed to be. Yoda resorts to his lamb/wolf analysis – that some people are lambs, more gentle and sensitive in nature, hating to let others down or see them upset, while others are wolves, more driven, aggressive, direct, challenging, not caring as much about others as the lambs, etc.

The conversation went something like this:

YODA: Remember our analogy – you’re a lamb. In this situation, you’re with a pack of wolves. You have to recognize that this is not going to be easy for you.

ME: But I want it to be easier!! I want to be a wolf. (frowning, lip quivering)

YODA: But you’re not. And thank God you’re not (smiling). You’re a lamb and –

ME: Fuck that!! I don’t WANNA be the lamb!! The lamb gets shit on!! The lamb lays awake at night worrying about everything and everyone while the wolves sleep like babies!! I’m SICK of being the fucking LAMB. I want to be the wolf!!! (sounding like a petulant five-year-old whining to have ice cream for breakfast)

YODA: But you’re not a wolf. You’re a lamb. Stop fighting it – this is who you are. Accept it and show yourself compassion because this situation is not going to be easy for you, but you can manage it. Being a lamb is not meant as a criticism, you know. (gentle smile punctuated with a soft chuckle)

ME: Whatever. (smiling a little but still MF’ing my lamb status)

Oh but how much easier my life would be if only I weren’t so damn sensitive!! If I didn’t think so much or feel so much or care so much!! All my life, I’ve been mocked for it, told to turn it down a notch, stop wearing my heart on my sleeve, toughen up. So I tried to hide my sensitivity, be “tough.” It was exhausting and always felt like I was wearing two left shoes. But I didn’t know any other way. I didn’t even know there was any other way. All I knew was that the way I was wired was wrong and I had to hide/fight it at all costs.

I left that session feeling drained but lighter. I didn’t need to read more self-help books, turn myself inside out, toughen up, make resolutions. There was nothing to resolve. I simply needed to accept that I’m a sensitive person. It’s part of what makes me me and that is a beautiful thing. It’s a gift that helps make me a good mom, daughter, sister, aunt, friend, writer. I also need to accept (and remember) that some situations will be more challenging for me than others, but I can have compassion for myself and respond from an authentic place.

Revolutionary concept, huh? Accept yourself. Easier said than done, but a lesson that I keep learning on a deeper level each time around.

I travel for work and have been reading voraciously this year, the way I used to do when I was a kid. By far my favorite at the moment is Tiny Beautiful Things by Cheryl Strayed. I return again and again to read the words that resonated long after I put the book down.

This passage comes to mind now:

“Most things will be okay eventually, but not everything will be. Sometimes you’ll put up a good fight and lose. Sometimes you’ll hold on really hard and realize there is no choice but to let go. Acceptance is a small, quiet room.”

My wishes for me and for you in this new year:

May you accept one tiny, beautiful thing. May you have compassion for the tender spots. May you find yourself in that small, quiet room until the ache fades and you can smile again. Then let’s decorate the crap out of that place and have ourselves the best dance party ever. 🙂

Finding Your Fire: How One Little Thing Can Change Everything

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Tonight I lit my first fire in my second rental house since my divorce four years ago (looks good, yes?). Not a big thing on the surface. But it’s my first house with a fireplace in 11 years. I was married then. I grew up with a fireplace. In both homes, either my dad or my then husband always lit the fire. My dad did it because, well, I was a kid. My ex did it because…that’s the way it was. (Yeah, yeah, I know – that’s for another blog post.)

I’ve been ready to light this fire since I moved in last June. One of the first things I did was get the fireplace inspected. Safety first! When fall came, I went to Home Depot and got the fireplace tools, a screen, built the tool rack with that stupid little gadget thing they always give you in DIY kits. I picked up a bundle of wood. I was READY. And then…

Christmas came and went. No fire. 

I kept telling my kids, “Hey! Maybe we should light a fire tonight!” But I couldn’t bring myself to do it. I told myself it was because I was afraid of looking like an idiot in front of them if I couldn’t get it going (our first campfire fiascos and my ineptitude with cooking over a fire are still fresh in my memory – suffice to say the hamburgers melted through the tripod grill thingy and we ended up eating potatoes for dinner.)

Except there is a YouTube video for everything these days, as I realized when my radiator went out on the road last summer, and duh, DuraFlame. So…why am I waiting to light my first fire on Easter? April Fool’s Day, no less? But it is 32 degrees in Chicago tonight…and then it hit me:

This is another first. 

I thought I was done with those, but I am coming to learn that those never end. They just Continue reading “Finding Your Fire: How One Little Thing Can Change Everything”

What Another (gulp) Birthday Taught Me

Writers often use life events in their stories because they are the perfect settings for drama, the stuff all good stories are made of. Weddings, funerals, birthdays, retirement parties…it’s all fair game. Characters come alive. Conflicts ensue. Add alcohol, loaded expectations, cheesy music, and voila! The perfect scene for chaos story is born. Or, in my case, reflections.

It was my birthday recently. 🙂

This is us. Me and my musketeers.

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We went to dinner at a nice place, which we don’t normally do on our budget. For once, we ordered everything – appetizers, salads, steaks, even desserts. We tried everything. Twice. One of us had to unbutton our jeans. Not telling who. 🙂

So I always tell my kids – no gifts, please – just a handwritten note is all I want. But they are teenagers now, with jobs and bank accounts and minds of their own.

My daughter made me open her gift first as soon as we sat down. It was a sparkly gold Continue reading “What Another (gulp) Birthday Taught Me”

Finding Your Voice in a World of #MeToo

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me and my girl one fall day

The other day, my *almost* sixteen-year-old daughter read to me out loud her response to one of the questions on an assignment in her advanced English class. The question was:

“Who or what has had the biggest impact on the development of your voice?”

Me [best attempt at no expression]: “Ooh!!!  Good question.”

Me [inside]: ME!! PLEASE SAY ME!! But it might not be me. Shit, I don’t have a poker face, Christy, get it together here!! If it’s not you, you don’t want to make her feel bad. Whatever she says is fine, whoever it is. OH PLEASE LET IT BE ME!!

Spoiler alert: It was me. 🙂 !!!

I want to share this with you because as a writer, a mom and a human being trying to do Continue reading “Finding Your Voice in a World of #MeToo”

Moving: Settling into a New Home, New Life, New Way of Thinking

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my new writing space: my backyard

Awhile back, I wrote a poem where a willow tree played a prominent visual role. I don’t know why or where it came from. It just…appeared. Followed by the words. As I write – as often happens – ideas, images and lines come to me. Creative gifts.

I’ve learned not to question.

Shortly after I wrote that poem, I decided it was time to move. On a Thursday night, I reached out to Rich, a real estate agent/friend who has helped me buy two marital homes and rent my post-divorce home. (Yep, I rent. At this stage of my life, I travel light.) I’d been looking for the past two years on and off, but nothing felt right. Not the house, not the location, not the time, not anything. By Friday morning, he had a listing – very rare, met all my criteria: closer to school; extra bedroom for my office; and two bathrooms – a must after three years with three people/one bathroom, all in a town where rental house inventory is scarce. I toured the house on Friday afternoon. Took the kids on Saturday afternoon. By Monday morning, I was negotiating. By Tuesday, it was mine. Two weeks later, my kids and I moved out and in. (Special shout out to my sister for helping!) Four days later, I packed up and flew to California for work. Flew back.

And finally, my first Saturday evening free in my new home, I sat writing in my new backyard. And I saw it.

A willow tree.

I used to believe in so many things.
I love my magical beliefs. 🙂 Everything will turn out alright in the end! You will getthrough “fill in the blank!” The universe or God or someone is looking out for you and protecting you! Everything happens for a reason!  Your soul mate is out there! Everyone means well, you just have to lower your expectations! No, lower! Okay, wait, lower. No – lower.

All of it. I was all in. It’s embarrassing to admit now, but – you know what? Fuck it. That stuff helped me survive. I’m still here and those “silly” beliefs carried me through some of my darkest, loneliest hours. The truth is, I still believe in that stuff…with caveats. Continue reading “Moving: Settling into a New Home, New Life, New Way of Thinking”

Coming Out of the Closet: Making Space for Your Dream

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my writing desk. reminding me to show up.

This post is for anyone who has ever had a dream. The passionate ones. Creative ones. Visionaries. Artists. Storytellers. Meaning makers. Lost ones looking for the way back to something they feel but can’t see.

You.

I was cleaning out my closet this past weekend and it got me thinking about dreams.  Those big, hairy, audacious ideas for something you love to do but don’t. It’s scary to put your dream out there, let alone go for it. A dream is a tiny flicker of a flame and there are dream crushers everywhere. One wrong look or word and poof!

It’s gone.

But the dream keeps tugging at your sleeve: Listen! Pay attention to this! This is good stuff! Let’s see what we can make happen here!

It’s soooo easy to defer your dream.
If you follow me, you know my story. I’ve known I wanted to be a writer since I was five years old. Two degrees, a professional writing career and 43 years later, I’m just now getting back to making space for my dream of being an author. There. I said it.

< insert terrified look here >

It’s one thing to say you want to do or be something. It’s quite another to make the commitment despite the doubts, insecurity and gigantic hairball of fear that tells you oh no, you can’t do THAT. That’s not going to put food on the table, pay for goalie gloves and new brakes for the truck. You’re not good enough. Who do you think you are, thinking you can do THAT??? And then there’s life. That thing that happens when you’re busy making other plans.

But then there is that little tug on your sleeve.

Continue reading “Coming Out of the Closet: Making Space for Your Dream”

Plan Be: What It Really Means to Be Strong

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Ever since my divorce in 2014, I’ve thought about getting another tattoo. But I couldn’t think of anything that really “nailed” what I wanted to convey permanently in art on my skin. Something I could look at every day and say – Yes. That.

Maybe I’m over thinking it. One of my strengths is that I’m good at thinking things through, but the flip side is I think too much. 🙂 But as I approach another birthday, I find myself pensive, as usual. Taking stock, looking back, peeking forward.

And then my friend Joe posed a link to this article/love letter/online dating profile for her husband by Amy Krouse Rosenthal, a writer and fellow Chicagoan I adore: You Might Want to Marry My Husband. (Special thanks to my friend Susan for recommending her to me years ago.) I remember reading her witty books when my kids were babies and was heartbroken to learn of her illness. I am in awe of her grace, humility, prose, and beauty. Her strength, even in the midst of a dark time, is touching beyond any words I could muster.

This got me thinking about strength and what it really means to be “strong.” I used to want to be “strong” so badly. Continue reading “Plan Be: What It Really Means to Be Strong”