Category Archives: love
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]
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.
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.
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.
My friend Kelly, who blogs about fashion, feminism, and other quasi-girly stuff at How I Learned to Wear a Dress, asked this question on her blog’s Facebook wall:
Oh the memories.
I was, at one time, a devoted shoe hound. For one thing, no matter how hippy or busty you are, shoes fit fairly reliably compared to pants or a dress. If you’re a size 9, you buy a size 9, with few exceptions. There is no plus size section of the shoe department, and few women have shoes in multiple sizes waiting in their closets until they can get into them.
Shoes are also less of a commitment. Feeling a little puckish today? Lace up your combat boots—no need to go the whole nine yards and get the pegged jeans and shredded Clash t-shirt out of storage from your parents’ basement.
Besides, function is a relative term. When I was young all my shoes were functional — I went drunk rock climbing in the dark wearing crazy pointy-toed white ostrich-skin pumps without any trouble. My youthful feet could make any heel, any toe, any platform work.
It’s kind of like how no clothes are ugly or ill fitting when you’re 19 because you are just bursting with sexy, “Corinna’s going a-maying” nubile hotness regardless. (How else could American Apparel be so successful?) When I go to Ragstock or another shop staffed by young urban hipsters, the cashiers are flaunting it: “Look at me! I’m wearing an ironic Cosby sweater and corduroy pants the color of moldy mustard and I still look sexier than you could with a $1000 and a personal stylist!” At some unconscious level, they’re playing a game of fashion chicken that they can’t lose: see how many ways can I violate traditional aesthetics and still look freakin’ awesome?
And so I loved shoes from about ages 12 to 30, and then there was a dramatic decline, for familiar reasons:
1) My feet grew after pregnancy and most of my collection had to go.
2) I never wore anything or went anywhere that required cool shoes.
3) Years of going barefoot (and pregnancy) meant that my feet could no longer squeeze pointy-toed shoes even if I bought them new.
I am not too sad about this, just as I am not really missing 19. But I can still relish the memories, from the 4-inch wooden stilettos I wore to tour Niagara Falls with my parents and grandparents when I was 12 to the tall black cowboy boots I wore with tights and short jean cutoffs for much of grad school. Those were good—if, in the case of the stilettos, somewhat messed up—times.
Besides, shoe trends these days perplex me. Setting the functionality of high heels aside, is there a more boring shoe than the high-heeled pump? Putting a 5-inch heel, or toe platform, or shiny patent leather on it is like tacking up pictures of your cat and George Clooney in your office cubicle. Sure, it’s a little more interesting than the bare fabric walls, but you’re still in a cube. Zzzzzzzzzzz.
These are the shoes I have my eye on now: they’re like my old LL Bean lined duck boots (circa 1987) meets Converse high tops (circa 1985) meets my cowboy boots meets Sorel. Like all of those old shoes, they go with anything, but especially they’ll go with the snow.
I try hard not to fall back on the old cliché “It could be worse” when trying to console someone or boost morale. “It could be worse” is almost always true, and yet it is so far from comforting it almost feels like scolding.
“Quit yer bitchin'” more like. Not helpful. “There’s a first-world problem,” someone says when you’ve lost one too many rounds with the technology in your life. Great: now I can feel frustrated, overwhelmed and ashamed of what a yuppie douchebag I’ve turned out to be. Thanks for that.
So when someone posted an article on Facebook with the one-word comment “perspective” I was hesitant to read it. Plus it’s called “Notes from a Dragon Mom,” which made me think that it was related to that whole “Tiger Mom” thing, and I’m sure we can agree no one needs to go there again.
But I didn’t want to leave my desk chair and go face the onerous task of grinding the morning coffee beans (“There’s a first-world problem”), so I read it anyway.
Wow. Perspective. Read It. Really.
The author, Emily Rapp, writes movingly about parenting a terminally ill child:
Ronan won’t prosper or succeed in the way we have come to understand this term in our culture; he will never walk or say “Mama,” and I will never be a tiger mom. The mothers and fathers of terminally ill children are something else entirely. Our goals are simple and terrible: to help our children live with minimal discomfort and maximum dignity. We will not launch our children into a bright and promising future, but see them into early graves. We will prepare to lose them and then, impossibly, to live on after that gutting loss. This requires a new ferocity, a new way of thinking, a new animal. We are dragon parents: fierce and loyal and loving as hell. Our experiences have taught us how to parent for the here and now, for the sake of parenting, for the humanity implicit in the act itself, though this runs counter to traditional wisdom and advice.
Her point isn’t that those of us with healthy children should feel guilty for that unearned grace or foolish for having dreams for the future, but that parenting—living—is ultimately a “here and now” experience.
The truth is that healthy children and healthy parents die unexpectedly, as our family learned personally and painfully this summer when we lost 3 friends in a car accident. And there are less dramatic changes and surprises: a career ends abruptly, lifelong friends move away, a mental illness appears out of nowhere and settles in to stay. It now takes me two hands to count up the number of friends—mostly mothers 40 and under—diagnosed with breast cancer in the last two years. What Rapp writes about parenting is true for all the plans we make: “none of it is forever.”
Gratitude for not having any of those problems is great, but it’s still a short-term perspective. The long view, ironically, reveals that regardless of whether we’re healthy or sick, successful or at sea, today is really all there is. The only way we can be sure that we’ll achieve the desired consequences of our actions is to do them “for the humanity implicit in the act itself.”
If I set that as the standard for what I put on my agenda today, what stays? What goes? And what do I need to add to make this day worth doing, just for the sake of doing it? If I set that as the standard for how I perform the day’s necessary but ordinary tasks, would I do them differently?
So, there is more that I want to say about Unconditional Love, not that I am an expert, far from it.
First of all, I am not even sure what it means to love unconditionally. How does it work, in a practical sense? What does a relationship of unconditional love look like? Is unconditional love detached? Dispassionate? Would you ever want to love your spouse or lover “unconditionally”? Should you give unconditional love to your abuser?
I don’t know if I will ever find satisfactory answers to those questions. I just keep living and trying to love people the best I can. Sometimes I do a pretty poor job, especially when it comes to loving myself unconditionally. It is a good trick to try to imagine that you are your own good friend. How would you treat yourself? How would you talk to yourself? How would you change the way you support and care for yourself? Could you possibly smile with happiness at seeing your good friend when you see your own reflection in the mirror?
Sometimes I wonder if anyone is able to love themselves so unconditionally. Then I wonder if maybe lots of people do and it is just me that doesn’t get it. Maybe the phrase Unconditional Love is too lofty. Maybe I could start to do it, with baby steps, if I just said I am loving myself where I am at.
Some people call it unconditional love, others describe it as loving people where they are at. It seems hard, almost impossible, but once you commit to doing it your relationship becomes much easier.
When you require other people to change into someone that would make the same decisions and choices that you would make, or at least ones that you would understand, you are often going to find yourself in conflicts.
Misunderstandings are inevitable. We have not yet invented a translator that allows us to speak with perfect understanding to one another. We can’t really say we understand the needs, fears, and desires that motivate our own behaviors, much less those of others. The beautiful reality is that humans are complex creatures. But unconditional love is simple.
Unconditional love is wanting others to be happy. Even if you don’t understand them. Even if you disagree with them. Even if you dislike them. And, most importantly, even if they dislike you.
One way to start practicing unconditional love is by doing a daily Metta Meditation. You can find various versions online by searching “Metta Meditation.” One example is “May I live in safety. May I be happy. May I be healthy. May I live with ease.”
You always start by focusing your love towards yourself, chanting this three times. Then say the Metta three times focusing on someone you love. Then for someone you are neutral towards. Fourth, towards someone you have difficultly with, or someone hostile towards you. Fifth, wish for happiness, health, ease, and safety for the entire world. Lastly, come back to yourself and chant three more times.
Sometimes the hardest one can be feeling loving-kindess towards a person that is hostile towards you. But it can also feel the best, especially when your heart releases the resentment and pain you have been holding onto.
There is much more to the Metta Meditation than I am relating here. And there is much more I would like to say about unconditional love. But doing the Metta Meditation is an easy way to start practicing loving-kindness every day. I think, over time, you start to see the wisdom in loving humanity because they are complex rather than in spite of it.
Links – The Practice of Metta Meditation
Do you remember August 1991?
Twenty years ago I was going to the very first Lollapalooza concert in Chicago. I was working at the Minnesota Daily, and the two other night editors and I decided to go together.
Vocabulary digression: the night editors were the last of the editorial team to see the paper before one of us drove it—drove it!—over to the printer in the middle of the night. A large part of our job was to maintain the integrity of the actual text of the paper once it had gone “Prod Side” (out of the editorial office and into the production office, housed in a completely separate building) and was in the hands of the art directors, advertising people, and other folks who were more concerned with visual appeal than the accuracy of the 4th largest newspaper in Minnesota.
Everyone working on the paper was probably 25 or younger, which explains why it didn’t occur to anyone that if all the night editors left town for the weekend (when the paper didn’t run) and for some reason couldn’t come back by Sunday night, the paper would be in a bit of a pickle.
Luckily, although all of us were brilliant editors and students, none of us were especially wise, and off we three drove in my tiny bright blue Honda Civic hatchback, which had been dubbed The Indigo Chariot by my roommate.
My memories of the trip are hazy, but I have to laugh at the things I remember:
—Ice-T as a young rapper instead of old actor
—Perry Farrell of Jane’s Addiction: For most of their set there were 2 girls with no pants dancing lethargically next to Mr. Farrell, as if grinding with a rock star would be the most boring thing they would do all day. I think they did some things that were supposed to suggest they were Maybe Bisexual (ooooh! Edgy!). I remember looking at Perry Farrell and thinking that he looked just like a super-nerdy former high school loser (trust me, I know) who now had the fame and fortune to force models to gyrate next to him in public. It was kind of sad. I’m curious whether they’ve maintained that part of their act 20 years later.
—Living Colour, which I was really into at the time for some reason
—The cute nerdy editor who drove my car a lot of the way. He was a little younger than me, highly geeky, and scrawny in that way that made me feel—at 5’9”, with the hottest, perkiest body I would ever have—more like an older sister than a potential love interest. Still, had I not moved away, who knows? “Geek Chic” was not yet something any sane marketer had considered, but I was totally charmed by this pale, glasses-wearing boy who confessed at the age of 20 that he still liked dinosaurs. (Bitchy young me: “Really? I liked dinosaurs too. When I was FIVE.”) Last I saw he was a city editor for the Onion, so you can see my instincts on the whole “So Nerdy He’s Hot” thing were right on.
—Henry Rollins scolding the crowd for not clapping enough for the Butthole Surfers, who totally sucked.
—The repeated failure of my car to start.
See, you knew where this was headed. In the morning, as we left our hotel bright and early so we responsible young editors could be back in Minneapolis with hours to spare, my car would not start. My beautiful First Car Ever, for many years the only car used among my groups of friends, was dying.
We got it to a service station, and their brilliant advice was to drive drive drive drive without stopping, because once I stopped it would not start again without a jump from a kind stranger. So we did just that. We headed out of Chicago and into the prairie until it seemed we would absolutely have to stop for gas. We stopped for gas, made panicked calls to whatever Daily staffers we could find (cell phones? this was 1991, people, there were no cell phones for college students), got a jump, and rolled into Minneapolis just in time for the three of us to do our jobs for the Monday morning paper.
Because we were the very last editorial staff to see the paper, that issue has more than a few inside jokes tucked away referring to our predicament, including a little line art representing my poor hatchback, which needed a fair amount of work before I could drive it off to graduate school a couple weeks later.
Somewhere after midnight we all walked to one of the editor’s apartments and tried to crash there, but we were so wired we stayed up talking all night. I think the other female editor and I flirted aimlessly with Cute Editor Boy, all of us knowing full well that we were the kind of people who went to alt rock concerts and danced like fools, then went home alone to read classic novels and recover from too much smoke and crowd noise and write about it all later.
Sometime before sunrise we walked Editor Boy to his apartment, then went for pancakes. I probably only saw the two of them a handful of times before leaving Minneapolis; there was no point in further developing relationships that were about to end.
The Indigo Chariot was fixed and I drove it, along with my mother, and my step-father and grandfather following in a station wagon, to Ann Arbor. I cried as we drove away: I loved the city of Minneapolis, I loved the music and the theater and the lakes, and I was just starting to figure out, at the age of 21, that there were boys there who actually kind of liked tall nerd girls. On the way to Michigan, I stopped at the last exit of the Upper Peninsula to call my housemates in my new digs. I lay on my back on the floor of my hotel room and laughed with surprise when a boy answered the phone and identified himself as Eggmaster.
I hadn’t told anyone when I would arrive, so I told Eggmaster that getting him on the phone was the biggest relief of my life, still laughing from exhaustion and now from nerves. “I’m so glad I could be part of the biggest release of your life,” he said, and I don’t know whether he misheard me or decided to mess with me.
I met him a the next day: horn-rimmed glasses, a thin white t-shirt, black motorcycle jacket, black combat boots, long and heavy black bangs covering one of his eyes. I soon saw that his bookcase was full of Poe, Hemingway, Fitzgerald; I learned that he was a drummer and he loved Rush. Geek Chic indeed, except he was in no way scrawny, and he was —hurray!—a full four inches taller than me. I did not learn his position on dinosaurs. Despite our breathless, giggly phone conversation, we hardly spoke to each other for three weeks, so intense was our shyness and introversion.
Nevertheless, Reader, I married him.
When I read online that today Lollapalooza was marking its 20th anniversary, the incredible sweetness of August 1991, which seems so long ago, came rushing back. Though I am right now listening to my twelve-year-old daughter practice her Bach inventions, I remember another bright young woman who was just waking up to the surprising possibilities life has to offer, amazed that she, too, might have a chance at love, joy, and just a little reckless abandon.
I’ve been thinking a lot about intimacy this week. No, not just *that* kind.
What is true emotional intimacy? How do we establish it? How do we nurture it? How much of it do we need in our daily lives in order to feel connected to other people and not just like an island adrift? How do we decide who our intimates should be? How does intimacy change naturally over the lifetime of a relationship (whether it’s with a friend, family member or romantic partner)? And how do we know what needs to be done in order to reestablish it if it fades or whether we even should? And if it dies in an important relationship…how should we grieve and then move on?