Huckleberry Friend

We're after the same…

christmas-card-lady

I’m so grateful for the loyalty and support of YOU, dear readers. More than I can say, I look forward to continuing to journal in this space and to grow and nurture Huckleberry Friend. Writing is how I play.

But I’m burying the lead:

Blogosphere, beware: Introducing a lovely new website by yours truly and my friend and writing partner, the talented Lanier Ivester (and her remarkably clever husband, Philip Ivester).

Here’s an excerpt, written by Lanier,

….We’ve got a lot of shared Christmases under our belts, don’t we, Laura-est of Lauras? But there’s a theme running through them all: Let’s do this thing up as fine and beautifully and sacrificially as we know how, because He came. But let’s keep one another on the straight-and-narrow of the Good Stuff: real peace, genuine love, and incarnational joy.

Golden Hours is a quiet corner of the web that celebrates and inspires all things Christmas, from two wildly old-fashioned romantics with a pinch of OCD. Please stop and stay a while…

 

 

telephone

D-day is the worst.

Getting The Call—or sitting down with a somber-faced doctor—has to be one of the most sucker punch in the gut, knock-you-over experiences rating down there with—well, pretty much nothing.

My husband and I were fed in bits and pieces the answers to our daughter’s mysterious delayed baby milestones. Sadie didn’t make eye contact, she stared at ceiling fans, she didn’t babble or coo or sit up. We were three kids in, but we didn’t notice—love is blind—and having an infant in the house is exhausting. Then the pediatrician recommended we see a specialist toot sweet. There were tests followed by a summer-long series of results, delivered like a slow drip from a leaky faucet. Finally, we got The Call that the medical puzzle was complete, and could we please come in and meet with a geneticist? She would explain everything. In the meantime, we were warned: Avoid the Internet.

So we went in cold. The morning of our genetics appointment, I was ready with pen and pad to take copious notes. Instead, I sat and shook while a reasonably polite healthcare professional defined our daughter’s “abnormality,” an inverted duplicate of chromosome 15 in the q12 region.

Say, huh?

I caught certain words: “autism,” “IQ of 50,” “facial dysmorphia,” and “high risk of seizures.” I remember clinging to one phrase in particular: “Not that I have a crystal ball…”

I certainly hoped not.

She sent us away with a stack of research about kids with duplicated 15. The accounts, cold and clinical, read like horror stories.

Before we left the hospital, we were directed to make a pit stop at the lab to draw blood from me and the spouse—something about who was the carrier of The Badness. An intuitive nurse saw my pale face and brought me a cup of apple juice. (Mind you, this was before they stuck a needle in my arm.)

We’d been through a d-day or two before, most notably the news that my husband’s father had bone cancer. I remembered how, in those first hours, the element of the unknown terrified us. The revelation wasn’t by any means his illness’ rock bottom (he survived, but it was rough going), but somehow it felt like it.

D-day feels like a sentencing. You’re whisked away to another world while a few onlookers gasp, and then you’re calmly given an orange jumpsuit, a number, a cot.

In the wake of Sadie’s d-day, I coped like the control freak who just got her I’m-in-charge license revoked, with research, endless phone calls, appointments all over town, epic insurance battles, and the search for the perfect therapists for broken babies. And shouldn’t we get a second opinion? And perhaps visit the chiropractor—or at least the health food store?

After the children were settled the evening of d-day, I remember sitting on our bed, feeling beat up and bruised. Words failed, but I managed to tell my husband: I’m so sad. That night, another word threaded itself through my troubled dreams: retarded… a schoolyard insult—now our lot in life.

Well-meaning folks said this was GOD’S PERFECT PLAN. One woman—with a straight face—suggested a Sadie exorcism. Countless others shared the Italy-Holland story. You know the one.

But things got better, or at least they felt better. We did what was necessary, placing one foot in front of the other, one day at a time. What else can you do? The shock wore off, especially after explaining the situation to inquiring minds—over and over again.

There are still moments of fresh grief: a baby dedication performed en masse at a large church, featuring a video of a kid going from crib to bounding onto a school bus to graduating high school to wedding day—emotionally manipulative for the parents of typical children, devastating for us. Then there was the Christmas Eve spent in the emergency room (age six) and Sadie’s first seizure (age seven). Because of Sadie’s biting habit, she was kicked out of extra super Saturday respite mornings and special needs summer camps (every single one). Just last fall, we weren’t able to include Sadie in an extended family trip. To Disney World. Leading up to departure, I ugly-cried while I got an oil change, while I folded clothes for my suitcase, while I wrote out instructions for the sitter.

But no matter what new terrible thing happens, we’re not starting from ground zero—la-la land, that magical place where everything always works out and awful only happens to other people.

It’s funny, how we’ve toughened but become more tender at the same time. Nothing surprises us, except the little things that surprise us every day. Sadie giving an unsolicited hug; Sadie saying “I love you;” Sadie singing Christmas carols starting in September.

We continue to check in with the same pediatrician who encouraged us 13 years ago to look into Sadie’s delays. She told me during one visit: “Focus on what Sadie can do, not what she can’t.”

Now that I wrote down.

And so sound advice and lots of help and the softening effects of time—and more moments of great beauty than I can count—have lessened the sting.

The anniversary of Sadie’s d-day, August 13, comes and goes. Some years I remember; some years I blessedly forget.

sadie-pigtails

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florence-nightingale

November is National Family Caregivers Month. If you’re a caregiver, chances are you’re tired and underappreciated. But muster some enthusiasm to celebrate your amazing self—all year round. You’re literally a life-saver. Here’s to you!

  1. Stop fighting. From the physician with the world’s worst bedside manner to the store clerk who glares, sometimes others can exhibit less than ideal reactions to your situation. Offer some grace to the insensitive folks in your life. It’s unlikely they’re out to get you—practicing patience with them can go a long way. So can kicking passiveness to the curb—speak kindly but speak up about what you want. Anger takes so much energy. And energy’s your most precious commodity.
  1. Self-care on steroids. Hospitals provide little rooms for doctors to catch some z’s when they’re not working.You are the primary practitioner of your world. Send yourself to your room. Sleep, soak in a bath, practice belly breathing, take a walk, grab dinner with a friend, read a good book—or all of the above. In one day. When so much seems out of your control, it’s tempting to want to seize control wherever you can, cramming “down time” with chores, errands, or catching up on bills. Don’t make to-do’s the default mode. Make rest and play and whatever’s good for your soul the default instead.
  1. Outsource. Research. Respite. Repeat. Forego cable TV if you must and make respite a priority—from a qualified sitter to someone who can drive to therapy sessions. Vet closely, but not with impossible standards. It doesn’t have to be Florence Nightingale fillng in for you every time.
  1. Lean on friends and family members. Really. They want to help. Let them. Have honest conversations about what folks are and are not comfortable with. Your people may not be okay with changing a special needs teenager’s diaper, but they might be delighted to tote your younger kiddo to soccer practice or pick up the dry cleaning while they’re out. You have life-lines—grab hold.
  1. Laugh your face off. Find the funny—it’s there somewhere. Laughter’s contagious. Laugh because it’s medicine. Laugh to lighten your load. Laugh so you don’t cry.

Note: I do a pretty awesome job of caring for 14-year-old Sadie. Yep, she wears diapers. When Sadie’s at school or asleep, I write—one of my ways of pursuing radical self-care. 

Sadie and me

Sadie and me.

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blow-dryer

This is not me. (Also, this look cannot be achieved with a blow dryer.)

Wells Fargo opened three phony accounts in my name, my Samsung exploded, and, to top it off, my salon’s now charging extra to blow dry my hair. Seriously, when I balked at the upcharge, my stylist handed me a Super Solano and told me to get to it.

 

These are First World problems.

 

But they’re still—problems, little (or big) things that irritate. And I’m here to say I’m sick of apologizing for so-called First World problems.

 

I know an overheated android is not the same as a house burnt down. I didn’t deliver a sad sonnet about it, I just mentioned it over lunch, and—bam!—you First World problem-ed me into shamed silence. The essence of what you’re saying is okay—practicing perspective is good. But casually issued, sarcastic scoldings—not so good. Last time I checked, perspective’s an individual thing, something to work on, like posture or forgiveness.

 

No one likes to be nagged to sit up straight.

 

I also don’t enjoy feeling compelled to confess that my issues are First World, adding disqualifiers for comments about lousy weather or bad customer service. Must I prove, over and over, my empathy for humankind’s struggles by belittling my small talk?

 

It’s small talk.

 

First World problem guilt, I suspect, is symptomatic of our shame-on-you society. Finger pointing’s a strange phenomenon in a culture where, it seems, almost anything goes. But here we are, with Everyman playing hall monitor.

 

For reals: I heard Guy A calling Guy B an a—hole for failing to hold open the door at Chipotle for a stream of folks coming in. It looked to me hapless Guy B was simply trying to duck out of the way with his take-out burrito intact, navigating both the confusion of an oncoming mob and the crazy long line blocking the doorway. The poor sap, probably a habitual door-holder, looked shocked, then horrified, like he wanted to sink into the sidewalk.

 

Who’s the real a—hole here, alpha Guy A or tail-between-his-legs Guy B?

 

Hey, that’s a First World problem is like so many other things in our culture: subtly divisive. It’s You vs. Me keeping score in a twisted contest—a battle for the Most Meaningful Misery trophy. Clever grownups, we’ve dreamed up so many faddish, witty ways to say what we were expressly taught not to say in the sandbox days: So what? Here’s a quarter—call someone who cares. My daddy is stronger than your daddy.

 

Lately, I’ve noticed how First World guilt has reached new heights, or depths. Follow me down this non-hypothetical trail: I have a 14-year-old autistic daughter. The day-in, day-out of caregiving can be taxing. (Can you say poop-smearing?) But I’ve got (First World) resources galore: great schools, decent health insurance, Clorox wipes. It’s not like we’re doing autism in rural Kenya, for heaven’s sake. Therefore, I shouldn’t a) confide sadness or angst or fear about the situation; b) continue to seek solutions c) feel anything at all, really. At times I trick myself into believing a, b and c—and d-z. It’s true, autism in America is—in many ways, I’m certain—easier than autism in Africa. But that doesn’t mean the hardship’s all in my head.

 

And what if it is? (It isn’t.) It’s my head. I was born into a certain family in a certain birth order in a specific culture learning to talk and think in a language I didn’t choose. I have certain peculiarities and sensitivities, likes and aversions, shortcomings and strengths. Pretty much, I’m doing the best I can with what I’ve got.

 

I’ll bet you are, too.

 

Which is not say I’m above an eye-roll at the friend moaning about how grueling it is to pick backsplash tile for the kitchen she’s choosing to remodel, especially when I’ve just come from, say, the pediatric neurologist’s office. In these cases, I try to remember how little things can get under my skin, too—especially when little things are piled on top of big things or scary things or things I can’t control.

 

Who hasn’t fixated over backsplash tile, in one form or another? Wait, I know: people living in tents or huts or under bridges. And yet: Do not we all bleed when we get a paper cut? I ask you, does not a stubbed toe sting—at least momentarily—whether or not you’ve been through cancer or labor or hot waxing?

I’m vulnerable when I’m bleeding or burdened or broken. Still, cry me a river, you say, with your First World problems. So let me get this straight: You are not wasting your compassion on me but instead are saving it for folks somewhere whom you’ll never meet or maybe give a thought to—except to use their Second or Third World issues to mock mine?

 

You big baby, like you’ve never howled over a stubbed toe or cried when your financial institution screwed you over.

Note: A version of this article also appeared in the Huffington Post on November 2.

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“Any day you had gym class was a weird school day. It started off normal. You had English, social studies, geometry, then suddenly you’re in Lord of the Flies for 40 minutes. You’re hanging from a rope, you have hardly any clothes on, teachers are yelling at you, kids are throwing dodge balls at you and snapping towels—you’re trying to survive. And then it’s science, language, and history. Now that is a weird day.” ~ Jerry Seinfeld

“Beware of all enterprises that require new clothes.” ~ Henry David Thoreau

audrey-with-pastry

I have sneakers, I know I do. I have scores of shoes, but my sneakers are likely shoved in the dusty back corner of the closet—with the pointy elfish-green flats and the deep purple suede pumps. This is where bad shoes go to die.

Poor, neglected tennis shoes—it’s not them, it’s me. I hate exercise. I hate getting sweaty and having to take another shower. I hate workout clothes (calling them clothes is a stretch, pardon the pun). Most of all, I hate the boredom—as well as the interruption to an otherwise perfectly nice month.

But there’s plenty to like about exercise, or about having done it. So I’ve started a regimen that doesn’t derail a good hair day. I go on what I call walks of interest.

For about twelve days a year—six in the fall and another half-dozen or so in spring—Atlanta’s weather is pretty, and by pretty I mean not scorching hot. Right now, autumn’s ripe, so a motivation factor of, out of ten, a two to about a seven or eight begs me to get up from my desk and move muscles.

I know I have muscles.

Leaving my yoga pants in the drawer (with the store tag still on), I head out in my street clothes, a skirt and blouse or a dress with a cardigan, tights and comfy lace-up ankle boots. This is my uniform, the clothes that make me feel like I’m having an actual day, like an office worker or, say, a lawyer or prosthodontist (someone with steady employment). Only I guess I present more like a nerdy barista or a librarian. Or maybe a museum docent. Anyways, my duds and I drive to a spot that has stuff to, you know, look at. And then we walk.

Sometimes I choose a rural route, strolling by cow pastures and horse farms. I don’t have to go far for this—less than five minutes or so, and I can bring the dog along. With a hound at my side and a rust-colored sweater around my shoulders, I pretend I’m British. (Do you think C.S. Lewis, a great walker, wore Under Armour as he traipsed the English countryside?) Never mind the distinctly Southern smells coming from rows of chicken houses or the litter in the ditches—boxed wine and Coors Light cans and KFC bags.

Today was agreeable, a mere seventy degrees and sunny, so I wanted the afternoon’s walk of interest to be especially delicious. I was in the area, so I hit Canton Street and some of its tributaries, an older section of Roswell with restaurants and boutiques and sweet little houses turned beauty salon or pet biscuit bakery. During my 45-minute jaunt I saw a man with a bulldog on a leash and a baguette tucked under his arm—probably to go with his supper—perhaps a lovely stew. He’ll sop up the juices with the crusty bread, I imagined. I also noticed: a fellow, wearing a tweed sports jacket and wool cap, smoking and having an espresso at a sidewalk table; a foursome of beautiful women who looked delighted to have gathered, sipping wine and speaking and laughing in a tongue I’m pretty sure was Hindi; and an unruly perennial garden, tucked behind the pie shop. (A whole shop for pie—coconut cream and chocolate pecan and a spiced apple pie so epic it’s a foot high if it’s an inch.)

It is good, once in a while, to be a tourist in one’s own town, don’t you think?

As I amble along, appreciating my corner of the planet, my mind wanders. Today, I made like I lived in a city like New York, where women stay thin by simply leaving their house in the morning. Walking with a purpose—to work or to pick up milk or meet a friend— must be one of the great pleasures of life in Manhattan. You might discover a hole in the wall that serves gorgeous Italian pasta—or a darling coffeehouse. From a cab, you can’t experience the city’s nooks and crannies—roasted chestnut vendors and iron-laced brownstone steps and the violinist playing for pocket change. Thus entertained, women in New York get to log miles effortlessly while looking terrifically chic.

Not that I’m nearly that glamorous, or that the pet biscuit bakery window is as magical as the window display at Stuart Weitzman.

Now that I think about it, walks of interest are mainly what the spouse and I do on vacations. After a leisurely breakfast we get all dandy-fied and walk—the busy market streets of Seattle or the quiet roads of a small town in Maine—until lunch (if second breakfast doesn’t come first). Then there’s more walking, a nap, and a walk to dinner. I’d argue we get a decent sense of a place via aimless exploration. Besides, how else but on foot are you going to uncover the best restaurants?

hike

Today, after my Canton Street walk of interest, I was parched. I had exercised! I went to the café, the one with the tweed jacket guy, and ordered hot, black tea. And—there might have been an almond croissant.

man-with-baguette

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fridge

“… I could only warn him to look to his zest, see to his gusto.” ~ Ray Bradbury in Zen in the Art of Writing

Lately, we’ve been talking about boredom and its funky bedfellow, the blahs.

If you’re in a rut, finding your days are too much but not enough, let’s look at a potential overdose of the word should.

I should go for drinks after work…

I should go to my neighbor’s essential oil/fondue pot/jewelry party—with my checkbook…

I should volunteer to head up the bake sale…

Maybe you should; maybe you shouldn’t.

We don’t always look before we leap. More is better, right? More networking leads to more success. More activities for our kids equals more chances for them to shine. More acquaintances, more toys, more choices…

We don’t measure the cost.

Maybe once in a while, (because somewhere we heard we should,) we say no—half-heartedly. What if we tried making no the default, not the exception? What if we valued relationships over experiences, for ourselves, our kids, our families? What would that look like?

What if we asked: Why should I?

It may seem counterintuitive, battling boredom with less. But less is the empty space that has to come before more—more fascination, more connection, more purpose.

The empty space sounds scary—it is scary—but it may end up being your lifeline. Before I grabbed on, I thrashed around in the water. Guess what? The earth still spins on its axis when I:

Procrastinate. More often than not, what presents like an emergency today doesn’t feel like one the next day. The crisis passes, kind of like the fleeting urge to try leggings or bangs.

Rethink. I try to remind myself to revamp, re-evaluate, rearrange. Sometimes what worked doesn’t anymore. When my twin daughters were in the sixth grade, they complained about what I packed in their lunches. The sun-dried tomato-spiked hummus that was all the rage one week was disgusting the next. Congratulations, kids: You get to prepare your own lunches. We (well, I) never looked back.

Outsource. I’m a fan. Just think, Aunt Ethel might like the nice Uber man who drives her to her weekly hairdo. Or maybe making your own laundry soap had a good run, but a honkin’ orange box of Tide is looking mighty fine these days.

Sleep. Have lunch with a long-lost friend—for two hours. Turn my ringer off. A dirty little secret: Self-care with a novel mid-afternoon on a Tuesday feels like even more of a treat than the two paragraphs I try to read at 10 p.m. before I doze off. There are a thousand gorgeous ways to play hooky, buck the system, commit victimless little crimes.

Not so long ago, I filled my days to the rim with have-tos. I was all ends, no means. I never gave a thought to what would happen if I simply didn’t. As I assigned myself task after task, I rarely considered whether I possessed the energy or the time or the proper inclination.

I do not feel inclined to vacuum behind the refrigerator.

But you could eat off the floor behind my fridge back when I was a mean, micro-managing boss. I abused my favorite employee, asking her to come in early and stay late and be on-call at all hours—and she never said a word.

Until she up and quit.

Late on Sunday afternoons, I sit at the kitchen table with my planner and sketch out the week. There are a few carefully considered commitments, hard and fast. These I honor unless I get pneumonia or break a limb. There’s the stuff I have to hold my nose and get through, like shopping for new sneaker shoelaces or phoning the insurance company. Best to squeeze these items in the cracks. If they aren’t time sensitive, they might get carried over to the following week. Or the one after that. In the meantime, I can tie my shoes with twine.

Shoelace shopping aside, I—loosely—plan the days with Big Picture—and balance—in mind. What am I supposed to be doing? How can I live a good story? What sparks my interest? How can I love? How will I recharge?

Except for appointments and meetings and lattes with ladies, I use a pencil. You never know what might come up, how my mind might change, who might need.

But in mean boss mode, I mapped out the schedule with a bold black pen—and without a modicum of prayer or searching or grace. One weekend, an old friend of the spouse’s from our college days came to visit. The kids look great, he said. The house looks great. You look great. Then, in the middle of our kitchen, he looked me in the eyes and said: Are you happy?

Who, me? Sure! I’m pretty happy. As much as can be expected. I mean, what is happy, anyway—nothing but selfishness in disguise. But, yes, of course. Happy. Utterly. Subtext: SOS! I’m dying inside. Get me out of here!

I wasn’t writing. Who had time for that? The hectic pace, I see now, provided convenient cover for other satisfaction-stealing culprits: fear, self-doubt, wanting to fit in. How could I address those sneaky bastards if I was so busy dotting every i and crossing every t?

Then life, as it does, knocked me around a bit and chiseled away at the perfectionism, forcing me to figure out what I’m about—and what I’m not.

Plus, I got super tired.

I doubt if, during the bold black pen days, I would have listened to my now 46-year-old self. As it was, my hasty and ill-advised marriage to controlling every detail was a love affair that probably had to play itself out.

We’re separated—but not divorced. I still struggle with certain labels and likely always will: OCD, high maintenance, picky, neat-freak, or, as my kids say: diva. Letting go doesn’t come easily, but I’m learning the price for just so is too steep. Saving the best for last meant, for me, that last never came. Last got swallowed up in next.

Have you ever tried to potty train a toddler? They don’t want to stop for a bathroom break—they’re too immersed in whatever interesting moment they’re in. I want to take a cue from the girl with the towering stack of blocks, her knees crossed. She’ll go pee when she really, really has to. If she piddles on the floor, well, that’s why God made paper towels.

I want to make messes—creative and crazy and, if I make a mistake, relatively easy to clean.

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just-married

So you may have noticed a new little something at the bottom of each post. It’s a link to Bloglovin, which I’m kind of addicted to. (I have a fashion blog, er, problem.) If you haven’t discovered this neat and tidy way to organize and view all your favorite blogs without switching sites all over the place, check it out.

This week Huckleberry Friend and Bloglovin hooked up, and I’m hoping it’s going to be a match made in heaven. You can help increase traffic to Huck Friend by following my blog on Bloglovin. What are you waiting for, darlings?

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Ennui: a lack of spirit, enthusiasm or interest.

Are you suffering from a case of ennui-enza?

  1. Do you feel resentful of others’ adventures and successes?
  2. Do you seriously (we’re talking dread) lack motivation to do one more errand, one more carpool run?
  3. Are the outdoors merely something to rush through from car to door? In other words, do you forget to go outside for the sake of: just because? (It’s nice out, the season’s changing, etc.)
  4. Has your attention span noticeably shortened? (Does a 22-minute episode of Modern Family feel too long? Does the idea of reading a book make you laugh?)
  5. Do you neglect to practice self-care, doing things you enjoy—maybe even in the middle of a weekday?
  6. Do you feel guilty if you take an hour to go for a walk, without the dog?
  7. Do you cringe when people ask, “So, what do you do?”
  8. Are you irritated with family members?
  9. Are you irritated with friends?
  10. Are you irritated with everybody?
  11. Have things you normally enjoy (spiced lattes, chocolate, Modern Family) lost their flavor?
  12. Do you wonder what’s the point, or rather, what’s my purpose?
  13. Do you hit snooze over and over again?
  14. Do you feel like you’ve “ceilinged out” in your career?
  15. Do you feel trapped by your routine?
  16. Do you live for the weekend?
  17. Do you have a mile-long, non-negotiable to-do list that MUST get done by bedtime?
  18. Is the event you’re most looking forward to the next season of The Bachelor/Bachelorette?
  19. Do you find yourself living in the past or the future, anywhere but the present?
  20. When asked your hobby, do you say laundry?
  21. Are you placing extra stock in your child’s success at school and in sports or activities? (Does it ruin your whole afternoon when your kid’s Little League team loses?)
  22. Do you automatically pick up your phone when you have a minute of down-time?
  23. Have you stopped daydreaming?
  24. Do you have nothing you’re particularly looking forward to?
  25. Are you spending inordinate amounts of time on social media?
  26. Do you walk through the grocery in a daze and not notice who rings up your items?
  27. Have you stopped making a point of looking people in the eye?
  28. Have you stopped playing music (loud) you’re crazy about?
  29. Have you stopped trying new things?
  30. Do you feel like meeting new people is a waste of time?
  31. Does 4 o’clock in the afternoon have you counting the hours until bedtime?
  32. Do you overindulge on caffeine just to make it through the day?
  33. Do you take zero time to self-reflect?
  34. Do you fill quiet with noise—with the TV or radio always on?
  35. Do you fall asleep with the TV on?
  36. Do you find yourself looking desperately for something highly stimulating that’s outside of you, like seeing a movie in the theater—preferably in 3D—to wake you up, make you feel?
  37. Do you grab a magazine at the store or scroll through Pinterest, thinking: good luck sparking a modicum of inspiration. I dare you.
  38. Do you exclusively wear pants with an elastic waist?
  39. Do you listen to younger folks talking plans and dreams and want to slap some cynicism into them?
  40. Do you wish something, anything, would happen?

We all experience some of the above at one time or another. But if you answered “yes” to, let’s say, ten of these (25 percent), you’re probably pretty thoroughly bored right now. Listless. Blah.

So I have an assignment for you, two baby steps to start clearing the network of cobwebs growing between your ears and removing the lead someone snuck into the soles of your shoes while you slept:

  1. Make a list of five things that make you you. These can be anything, from family to a hobby to a trait, like empathy. Now. Pick the item on that list that means the most when it comes to how you define yourself. Write about this for ten solid minutes. (You can do it, I promise.) Go for twenty minutes if you’re on a roll. Don’t worry about grammar or spelling—no one will see. Explore the last time you felt grounded in this thing—and inspired by it. Write about the time you expressed it to the utmost and how that made you feel. This exercise will have the effect of emphasizing your purpose to yourself. A cheerful note: I didn’t make this up. It’s real, with Amy Cuddy street cred. So get to it, either with a pen and paper or a keyboard.
  2. Look at the sky. That’s it. Simply look past the traffic and the dumpsters at the corner of the Chik-fil-A parking lot and the cell phone tower poorly disguised as a tree and notice the sky at different times of day, in different kinds of weather. There may not be much natural beauty in your daily grind, but the sky is always there, and it can conjure up thoughts of vastness, purpose, God. Plus, it’s purty. So look up.

More here in a day or two… in the meantime, send me your thoughts. How did you do on the writing exercise? What’s the sky looking like today?

fake-tree

Do they even try to make these cell towers look realistic? Or are they stylized, like anime or a Baz Luhrmann movie?

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acorns

C-rack! the falling acorns strike the rooftop like bullets, one every minute or so. When it’s windy, semi-automatic nut-fire makes my HSD (Highly Sensitive Dog) duck under the nearest chair.

The oak’s offerings inform me to make like a squirrel and get busy.

It’s a call to arms: Write harder, truer, bigger.

Autumn makes me want to do things, like ride a city train, filthy with grime and smelling faintly of urine–good associations from family New York jaunts as a kid in Connecticut. The swaying, the rhythm of wheels bumping on tracks–there’s nothing finer to shout at the muse: I’m available! I spent a good portion of a study-abroad semester standing on London’s Tube, commuting to school during rush hour, surfing on well-practiced train-legs. Most of the passengers looked tired, ready to be anywhere else, gray, but I people-watched and made up stories and tried to pass as stoic.

You know what they say about when you’re tired of London…

But. Today, there’s no train in my life–I sit in my crossover SUV, which rides smooth and is hermetically sealed to block road noise. Consolation prize: As I drive, I can belt out some Broadway, with no one to hear. I’ll bet you’re crooning, too. I see you at that stoplight, about to rupture a lung. Your windows aren’t that tinted.

And yet, unless we’re in our cars, where we pretend we’re invisible, we wear the London Tube mask that tells the world: I’m sophisticated, unflappable, over it. Take note: I am not a tourist.

Yawn.

Pet theory: We become what we portray. Boring is as boring does.

So, especially in the suburbs–where, Lord have mercy, people are watching; and we’re busy jonesing for whatever the Joneses have; and the stakes are our reputation, our good standing with the PTA, and our collection of Facebook friends–we sentence ourselves to a chronic condition that won’t kill us but will darn near try. Let’s call this epidemic ennui-enza.

Ennui–it’s a fancy little word that sounds sort of French. (‘Tis, actually.) Says Merriam-Webster,

Ennui: a lack of spirit, enthusiasm, or interest.

In other words, ho-hum.

Admittedly, ho-hum’s a First World problem, along with affluenza and the struggle to self-actualize within our careers and eat organic. But that doesn’t mean ennui-enza’s phony. And make no mistake, it can be nasty.

It’s insidious, the way it infects when we’re over-stressed and over-scheduled. We try to pull back, but we hardly know how. Besides, our toddler needs to be on the travel team. Soccer’s her calling, don’t you know?

Our days are too much–but not enough.

Ennui-enza can lead to dysthymia (this one’s on the books), which presents as subtle depression. Dysthymia’s tricky because it moves in and stays, fooling you into thinking it’s not it, it’s you. It feels like a character flaw. (Until the 70s, dysthymia was called having a “depressive personality.”) The prognosis? A purgatory of numbness. Rarely do folks seek help for numbness.

Which is a pity, because numb is no way to live.

Psychiatric disorders aside–for me and you and the hope that we’ll connect, here’s the rub: When I’m ennui-afflicted, I’m not the me-est of mes. If I’ve got a bad case, I don’t even know who me is, much less who you are. And how can I empathize with you–and come alongside you–if I don’t get me?

Most days, all I know is I have an overflowing inbox and a long Costco list and more than is homo sapiens-ly possible to get done by bedtime. There isn’t enough coffee in the carafe to get through. And tomorrow’s the same.

Last week, I was running (I’m usually running, aren’t you?) into Old Navy, and, outside the store, I passed a pile of maple leaves, blown and waiting to be collected. Of course, jumping in it crossed my mind, but I would never…

But a six-year-old would. Inside the store, in the kid’s section near the vintage-washed jeans and graphic tees, I bumped into my sister-in-law and my nephew. We walked outside together, and there was the pile. Despite his mother’s warning, you know what happened next.

 

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Maybe one day you see a kid pouncing on a leaf-pile, and you wonder where that dawn-till-dusk joy springs from. Or you come home and are greeted by your dog, who’s about to pee herself, she’s so happy to see you. The child and the dog, they haven’t forgotten their creaturely-ness, and they’re worshiping with all their being the fact that they’re here.

And then there’s you, with the 5-Hour Energy tabs and the four-inch glass screen you’re betrothed to and the sense that something’s off.

Ennui-enza has to do with not being here, not really. It’s also all wrapped up with shame and following the rules (even the dumb ones) and people-pleasing and perfectionism and, most of all, forgetting who we were when we were six and didn’t necessarily listen to our mamas.

Here is the battle cry: Get real or perish. In some form or fashion, honor the firefighter or ballet dancer you always said you wanted to be. At least find your firefighting or ballet dancing essence. And don’t be afraid of a big fat fail.

We’ll love you all the more for it.

So I’m listening to that little girl who, though she could barely read, thought life would be grand if only she had a typewriter. Nothing about writing feels workaday, even when the well’s running dry. I get to do this, even if I have to squeeze it in the cracks. Even if only one person reads my stuff. (Hi, Mom!) Worst case scenario? I get better at writing.

I have no idea what will happen, which means I’m on shaky ground. I feel like a tourist, with an orange jacket and clunky white sneakers. This is a good thing.

My assignment is to rut-bust, and I’m attacking it like I would a serious work project, though I’m focusing on process rather than final presentation. On tap this week: a public transportation day, just me and my journal.

See you on the train…

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writer-at-typewriter

You may think I’m fancy, me with my Huff Post articles and all. But I promise you, Arianna has no idea who I am.

I have not arrived. But I’d like to, preferably before my carpal tunnel gets worse or too many potential readers leave the country, as they’ve threatened to if they don’t like Election Day’s results.

So here goes.

Dear Craigslist, ebay, jobs.com, and Jesus:

Please run the following classified ad as a public service to yours truly through the end of time, or until I get published:

WANTED: WCWSC (Writing Coach With Street Cred), a following, and flawless prose style. Must be highly skilled at craft as well as marketing to guide frustrated novelist/blogger/freelance writer, pulling her career out of publishing purgatory and at least to the pearly gates of, say, The New York Times Best Sellers List. Oxford comma affinity a must. I am for real; you must be as well. Should adore long walks, E.B. White, and Madeleine L’Engle but display proper disdain for living popular authors, especially “overnight” successes (you know who you are, Glennon Doyle Melton). Must also exhibit contempt for the word “platform” while nonetheless demonstrating how to achieve it. No filters: Be ruthless—show me where to kill my darlings. (Lavish praise, however, is acceptable.) Magic wand a plus; Yoda-speak preferred but not required. Must be a fan of or at least understand me, my work, and my message—after you tell me what my message is. Non-smoking unless you want to teach me how to smoke. No unions, no games, no silly writing exercises. Qualified geniuses, fairy godmothers, and Elizabeth Gilbert only. Writing conference speakers and anyone who works on Scandal need not apply.

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