There was before, and after…

Ten years ago, I was changed.

There was the Before Me, and the After Me.

I am not the person I was in December 2001. There are elements of who I was that are a part of me now, and as time goes on, I reclaim more and more of the pieces of me from before that time that I want to claim. But there is still a huge chasm between Before and After.

He was tiny, born still at 22 weeks.

January 17, 2002. Forever changed.

I discovered strength that I had no idea was there. I discovered a drive to live and to feel joy again. I embraced parenting my living children, then 2 and 12, as best I could, while battling deep grief. I discovered what grieving looks like and feels like, and how important it is to be there for those who are hurting. I discovered how the internet can link us to others who are experiencing what we are, and in doing so, discovered an amazing group of mothers who were also grieving and we survived and thrived together.

I went on to have another healthy baby, 2 1/2 years later. That was and continues to be very healing. I discovered a lot about fertility and pregnancy loss (I also went through several first trimester miscarriages) and about how grateful we all should be for every healthy baby and child in our lives. It’s not as simple as it sometimes seems. I learned a lot about how to be sensitive to people around me who may be hurting quietly as they long for children of their own, or who may be grieving the loss of much-wanted pregnancies.

We just never know what someone else’s path has been…

What are some of the Before and After moments that have forever changed you?

True, Necessary, Kind, and the Internet

I had most of this post on my desktop for a couple of weeks. I guess I couldn’t decide whether it was necessary.

I sometimes lament that an outsider to our family—or a child in our family—would surmise that the character traits we value most are being smart and being funny. You know, as opposed to being nice, helpful, considerate, generous—all the qualities you’d want smart, funny people to have down solid, lest they become unbearable know-it-all jackasses.

Smart, funny people need to know when to can it, to leave the one-liner that is freakin’ brilliant unsaid, to let a meaningless—if glaring‐error go uncorrected.

In our house one way we sum this up is the phrase “True, necessary, kind.” This phrase has been credited to Socrates, though I am most familiar with it from Buddhist readings. Discerning “right speech,” in the Buddhist sense, requires asking three questions about the things you say: “Is it true? Is it necessary? Is it kind?”

When my very smart near-teenager makes a joke that might be funny among friends, but is hurtful to a little sister, possibly none of these criteria are met. When she corrects that little sister, likely in a condescending way, she knows that just being right is not enough to make her words OK. “Hey,” I can ask her, “was that true, necessary, and kind?” She’ll know exactly what I mean.

So much activity online violates this precept, or at least stretches the definition of all three words. Was it necessary for me to post a photo of a Captain Crunch box on my Facebook wall today? Is linking to a blog post that expresses an idea you agree with, albeit with harsh words for people who don’t agree, kind? At what point does the online persona we each have cross the line from “selective sharing” to simply self-aggrandizing or otherwise misleading?

As both the holidays and the election season start gearing up, I’m questioning whether the various types of online media many of us engage with—Facebook, Google+, blogs, e-mail lists— are supporting “right speech” or making us as tone deaf as too-smart-for-their-own-good adolescents.

I can’t tell yet. Sure, Facebook is a time-waster, but it’s also become an important medium of connection between friends and family who wouldn’t be sharing the basic stuff of life otherwise. Isn’t that necessary? And kind? Isn’t networking necessary? Aren’t blogs a way that some people get to share what’s true?

The conventional wisdom of social media is that frequent posts that keep you in the eye of your readers are necessary—but necessary for what?

This December I’m aiming for a few more Silent Nights. Most things worth saying will keep.

How do you love yourself?

Last night I was feeling kind of insecure about mistakes I’d made earlier in the day, about times when I was not my best. My mind went to the old familiar place of shame and fear that I am not good enough. Then I went to the next habitual place of “what can I do to be better?”

I think I set a lot of challenges for myself, like Nanowrimo, or this month’s, “exercise everyday for 60 min”, for not totally healthy reasons. I think I am often trying to better myself as opposed to loving myself. And maybe, probably, those two things don’t have to be opposed. But for me, loving myself hardly ever enters into my mind, or my life. I am not sure I even know how to love who I am, without the constant striving. I have a really hard time forgiving myself for not being better.

But that is not how I treat people that I love. I love my husband, my daughter, my friends, for every little part of them. They don’t have to be perfect, or better than they are. I love the whole package.

So, how do I turn even a fraction of that love towards myself? Last night, in my quasi-dream state I thought I might make it into a challenge (of course I did), something like “Try loving myself for 30 days.” Heh.

I am really not sure how to do that. I have some vague ideas about being attentive to what I am feeling when I am eating, drinking, walking, reading, etc, to see if I like how I am feeling, as well as notice my self-talk and try to develop a more loving “inner voice.”

I don’t know. I feel like I have come a long way in the last few years. Therapy and avoiding situations that reenforced a negative self-concept have really really helped. But there are so many layers to this onion. I need to keep working at it.

So, how do you love yourself? Do you have any insight? Practical, spiritual, psychological? Cause I would like to feel better about not being better.

[cross posted from my blog]

You Are What You’re Thankful For

If what I’m grateful for helps define who I am, who am I?

Clearly I am someone who loves sleep and food, first off. Not exactly the first thing I’d put on my resume. Let’s try that a different way: I am also someone who has learned to revel in the most basic aspects of being human. Much nicer.

If I love technology and social media, maybe I am not merely a yuppie asshat but also an introverted yet curious person who likes to learn.

So AM is (among other things, of course) a person who loves beauty and tries to push herself a little outside of her comfort zone, knowing that she has the resources to take care of herself. Tabby is a person who values loyalty and thoughtfulness, and she puts a high priority on her relationships.

I like this question: I’m going to be looking at those November Facebook posts, and all the other November gratitude announcements, differently now.

So, what are you thankful for?

Gratitude x 3

You’ve heard from Tabby and Mina on Gratitude this week, both the high-mined and the peachy. I have a little bit to say about gratitude, and a lot to say about joy.

Swiss theologian, Karl Barth, said “Joy is the simplest form of gratitude.”

For me, autumn is just full of joy. I feel it just watching a leaf slowly float down from the tree. Does that sound sappy(pun not intended) well, too bad. That really is how I feel.

I think we need to widen our definitions of joy. So, when we seek it, we will find it. Can we find joy in the brilliantly colored leaf on the sidewalk? In crisp, cool wind that gives us an excuse to wear our favorite scarves? In a beautiful crafted sentence found in a new book? In the creativity and cleverness of others? In a hot cup of dark coffee? In our kids who constantly challenge and amaze us? In the warmth of our partner’s hand on a cold walk?

To be joyful is to have your eyes open for the little details that give meaning to the moment. Gratitude is recognizing that moment in your heart.

Monday Mind Hack: Some Grudging Gratitude

I was slow finishing this post, so now my co-blogger has not only beat me to the punch but also come off as far more high-minded than I. Well, that’s only fair, as she is far more high-minded than I am.

Gratitude can be a great mood-altering substance: change your perspective and feel thankful for what you do have instead of dwelling on what you don’t. When you develop the habit, it’s easy to feel suddenly grateful for everyday things like a game of cards with your kids, a pizza, or a perfect peach. (OK, perfect peach is not an everyday thing, but you see what I mean.) You can go all “Double Rainbow, All the Way!” without the acid and the resultant letdown.

I don’t really have trouble feeling grateful. I often go to sleep at night feeling grateful for my bed, knowing that many people don’t cuddle under fluffy blankets on flannel sheets and a soft but supportive mattress. The good fortune involved in such a happy circumstance does not escape me, even after something like 15,000 nights of doing the same over the course of my life (I subtracted a few hundred nights for summers at Girl Scout Camp and the last year of my futon.)

I just don’t like being told to be grateful. Consider: it always happens when you are in conflict, or when someone is telling you to STFU.

“Mom, my shoes are too small and I’m starting to lose circulation from my mid-calf on down.” “Just be grateful you have shoes!”

“Cleaning coffeeshop toilets feels like such a waste of my Master’s degree.” “Just be grateful you have a job.”

If you’re on Facebook, you know that November is the month when your friends begin listing the things they are grateful for in their status updates, kind of like February is the month when NPR starts featuring blues musicians. (Kidding! I love NPR—some of my best one-sided friendships are with NPR hosts.)

I would by no means suspend any pleasure of theirs, and I enjoy the little peek into the thoughts and feelings of my friends. (I admit, I am one who does not mind reading what people had for breakfast as their status updates; I am weirdly voyeuristic curious that way.)

Reading them every day for two weeks now has me edgy, in that pouty “don’t tell me what to do” way triggered by the “just be grateful you aren’t a shoeless hobo” superego in my head. But I know it’s good for me, so here goes, and now I’ll be all caught up.

1. Online friends: I talked to one of my first online friends to go “IRL” with me on the phone yesterday. She reminded me how accessible joy can be when you’re receptive and curious, which made it a lot easier to make the rest of this list.

2. My gas stove, which merrily spits fire if I get too wild in the kitchen, making me feel temporarily like a real restaurant chef.

3. Chocolate cookies from Rustica, which are truly better than you can imagine. You may think you have had a cookie just like this, but if you haven’t been to Rustica, you have not.

4. Peaches: obvious. Best. Food. Ever.

5. The musicians in my family, because letting my music education go was one of the hardest things I ever did, and now it’s all right back in my house again.

6. My southern roots, which I embrace by making grits dressing and banana cream pie and creamed greens and sweet tea and biscuits and gravy. And peaches, obviously.

7. Grad school, where I met my people. I don’t see many of my people anymore, but grad school was the first place where it seemed I might actually have a people. Had a best friend who just Got Me. And got a husband too.

8. Coffee. My other best friend.

9. Learning to knit, which makes me feel competent in a way that a PhD and 500+ published encyclopedia entries do not. Turning a heel on a sock makes me feel like a magician. Also, knitting means always having an excuse to fall out of a conversation.

10. Cocktails: my favorite part of having cocktails is when someone else makes it and hands it to me. We like to drink something we call Tuccis, after Stanley Tucci, and they bear a strong resemblance to the Parisian Cocktail.

11. MPR, my constant kitchen and car companion.

12. Computers, without which I could not have my job, could not stay home in my little hidey hole office, could not have those Facebook friends.

13. My light box, which keeps me marginally sane.

14. My bed, where in the encroaching cold of November I burrow down under several blankets and still try to steal body heat from my beloved, who is—thankfully—only mildly grumpy about that.

I’m in it for the everyday stuff

At the risk of sounding supremely grinchy, I’m not a huge fan of the daily thankfulness posts that circulate on Facebook and elsewhere during the month of November. I’m pretty sure I participated a couple of years ago and I *do* get the point, I just like the idea of implementing that kind of thankfulness throughout the year, not just in November. And I think it’s tempting to really go all out every day in November and then feel “done” for the other 11 months.

It’s a little bit like my parenting philosophy, or even my friendship philosophy. I don’t like overdoing it on holidays or other special events as a way of making up for lackluster participation throughout the rest of the days. Ideally, I think we should be thankful on a regular basis, and we should be eagerly and actively involved in parenting, in partnership (if applicable) and in friendship and other important relationships all of the time, not just on birthdays and anniversaries, Thanksgiving and Christmas/Chanukah/Yule/Whatever December holiday(s) you choose to mark.

I certainly fall short of that on a regular basis, but it is what I strive for.

I know for myself, I would rather have my partner kiss me sincerely and show that he cares about what I have to say whenever we are together than to neglect me for other interests until it’s a holiday or some other jewelry-buying occasion and then make a big deal of it. Luckily, I have someone in my life now who does both (the everyday stuff and the holiday stuff) but if I had to choose, I’d take the everyday good stuff over the holiday make good every time.

Similarly, I know it means more to my kids to have me there helping with homework, giving hugs and offering encouragement every day in their lives than if I were less available but bought them really expensive gifts to make up for it.

I do think that marking holidays and having traditions is a worthwhile part of family life (and human life!) so I don’t mean to sound down on holidays. It’s just that I think a little bit goes a long way. And I really don’t think there should be Christmas music and decorating going on the day after Halloween. It’s more special if those things happen after Thanksgiving (thank you, Nordstrom).

And I think that thankfulness is a very healthy practice. We all have so many things for which to be thankful. I just prefer to make that an everyday practice instead of a November-only practice.

Beer is good.

My co-bloggers are talking about beer this week. I just thought I’d add my 2 cents. Beer is good. That is all.

Why I drink

I can’t remember the last time I had a lengthy span of time with nothing to do. Maybe last year, before I was diagnosed with cancer. Or maybe it was farther back, some time in my childhood, when Sundays would stretch before me, so oppressively boring that I couldn’t see the potential.

Going back, month after month, it’s one busy day after another. I have stacks of things: writing, blog posts, catching up on Facebook, calling my friends, exercising, classes, appointments, etc, all good things but they fill up all my time, like shapes in the Tetris game, filling up the screen.

My mind too, is always working. If I have a free moment I have several books I am trying to read. I also have stacks of non-fiction that I read as research for my novel and, literally, hundreds of websites.

It is all a balancing act, a Tetris game that has gotten to a harder level, and it is taking all my attention to make the pieces fit, the pieces of this awesome life I am creating. A life filled with friends, and creativity, and learning.

Maybe I need to slow down, but, instead I’ll have a beer. Just one, but it is strong. And all the shoulds and oughts, responsibilities and wishes are washed away and I can just Be. I lounge on the couch and watch a show with my husband and laugh and enjoy myself. The Tetris game is off, and forgotten.

Is this the miracle of hops and barley? Is this the meaning we all recognize in the words often misquoted to Benjamin Franklin, “Beer is proof that God loves us and wants us to be happy.”?

I don’t want anyone to worry. This isn’t a cry for help. This is just something I am pondering about my life, a development that I am considering, which has been exacerbated by trying to do NaNoWriMo. Why do I make myself so busy? Are idle hands the devil’s play things? And, is it okay to use beer for it’s “medicinal” qualities?

Monday Muppet Hack — Gonzo Love

I have multiple posts in the pipeline, but also deadlines, deadlines, deadlines. Nothing is getting finished that isn’t followed up by a paycheck. (Well, except beers. There were a lot of beer bottles on the kitchen counter Sunday night. So far no one is paying me to drink beer.)

But this is good stuff, from the people at Wired, who are always full of good stuff:

Take on a new challenge and the excitement of tackling it will rub off on your relationship. “That exhilarating feeling may come from another source, but it’s still associated with your partner,” says Aron, who theorizes this happens because of brain chemistry. “When people fall in love, they get activation in the dopamine system,” he says. Novel or exciting pursuits also stimulate the brain to pump out more dopamine. Aron theorizes that even playing videogames together may draw a couple closer.

I love this advice, which I think is good advice for falling in love with your partner again as well as falling in love with your work or your life. As a workaholic I too easily fall into ruts, but I also love novelty and miss it greatly. I am the person who will order the pasta with peaches and salami, or the cardamom and black pepper ice cream (admit it, that sounds delicious). I love cover songs with weirdly inappropriate singers and shoes and purses that don’t match anything.

The other thing that makes this advice awesome is that it is offered alongside a picture of Gonzo and one of his chickens rockclimbing. I am not sure what species Gonzo is so we’re going to assume that when he’s rekindling the excitement in his avian relationship it is fully and consensually reciprocated. (Who am I to judge, apparently I love everything that isn’t supposed to go together.)

The whole article is Muppetized advice: If you don’t feel like rekindling your relationship, Hippie Janice is a cautionary example for tips on untangling your earbuds, and Sam the Eagle demonstrates eating spaghetti.

And if you don’t like Muppets, well, the grumpy old guys are there complaining too.

Thanks to the revived Camp Creek Blog (a homeschooling blog) for pointing this out.

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