Posted on

Unsolicited Advice

A man interrupted me while I was playing racquetball this week, and proceeded to gift me with his supreme knowledge of the sport. Its effect was similar to when you get one of those slightly insulting gifts from a relative; Oh, honey, I got you this sweater, but I doubt it’ll fit you now. Um, thank you?

My “gift” was from a stranger, who didn’t politely introduce himself or ask me to join him in a game. I stopped the ball when he knocked on glass door of the court. As he held the door ajar, he jumped right into letting me know I should always hit the front wall, not the back wall. Well, duh (it’s pretty much the basic object of the game).
I raised sweaty eyebrows over my foggy goggles, and smiled politely. Reluctantly, I spent a large amount of brain power trying to figure out how to respond (I’m working on my tact, people). I ended up saying “I know” quite a few times, as I continued to smile and he continued to carry on. He proceeded to give me tips on how to hit the back wall if I must, and then shut glass the door and walked away. I fumed for about ten minutes at his temerity, taking my anger out on the blameless, bouncy blue ball. 
Dr. Peter Gray, Ph.D questions unsolicited advice in his article in Psychology Today: Unsolicited Advice: I Hate it, You Hate It; So Do Your Kids:

Why do we react this way to unsolicited advice? Why don’t we just accept it for what it often is–the other person’s genuine concern and desire to help? Others who have written on this question have suggested a number of reasonable answers. They suggest that the advice, justifiably or not, comes across to us as one-upmanship, or assertion of dominance, or criticism, or distrust, or failure to consider our own unique goals and priorities… I agree with all that, but I would add that the main, underlying answer has to do with our desire to protect our own freedom.
For good evolutionary reasons… we human beings naturally crave freedom. We resist control from other people. We do this regardless of our age and regardless of whom it is who wants to control us. Married people resist control from their spouses; old people resist control from their middle-aged children; children of all ages resist control from their parents. And, of course, students resist control from their teachers, which is one reason why schools as we generally know them produce such poor results…By complying, we may be signaling our future willingness to subordinate ourselves to the other person’s will.

In my wrath and unwillingness to accept this man’s “genuine concern and desire to help”, I supposed he came to this conclusion: a female with a racquet and ball, rockin’ all the obvious racquetball gear, and standing in a racquetball court… must be lost! It was so kind of him to decide, entirely on his own, that stepping in to “help” me was definitely the best idea for both of us. Perhaps his best – most perfect and most innocent – intention was to help me. 
Fine. So, how would he feel if I did same? Say I watched him mow his lawn, and waved him over to stop. He politely breaks his concentration and stops, because what if what I have to say is exciting, or god-forbid, there’s been an emergency? And I say: “You know, you really want to be mowing the grass, not the pavement. And if you lower the blade, you’ll get a closer cut that will stretch your time between mowings. But really, you want to make sure you’re mowing the grass.” I just want to help. 

A writer named Sezin Koehler decided to stop giving unsolicited advice and found his life improved. In his article Why I Stopped Giving Unsolicited Advice for the Huffington Post, he says:

“The road to hell is paved with good intentions, and unsolicited advice is the mortar.” I made a decision to stop giving advice unless specifically asked for it. I quit, cold turkey… Stopping giving advice changed everything. 

I found myself incredibly present in my conversations and interactions with others in a way I’d never been before. I was liberated from my self-imposed responsibility to help people who aren’t asking for assistance. I could just sit back, listen, empathize, and be there. Instead of the “You should do this…” or “You need to do that…” reflex I’d say, “I’m here for you, with whatever you need,” and, “How I can help?”

Had the stranger at the gym asked me if I wanted his advice, or even taken a more personable approach, I might have taken his advice with at least a grain of salt. He might have found out that I was just doing drills; I haven’t played in quite a while and need to get comfortable again with the back wall (it’s all glass, and quite a bit more distracting to me than the other three, solid walls). Perhaps he would’ve offered to play a game, in genuine attempt to address my concern and ease my comfort. In my imagination’s best case scenario: through a polite conversation, he would’ve told me that he was the World’s #1 Racquetball Player (which is Paola Longoria, and obviously, I wasn’t speaking to her), and in that case I might have gratefully listened to the advice.
Dr. Peter Gray brings up a good point in the same article mentioned earlier, making the case for when unsolicited advice might be acceptable:

Sometimes, of course, unsolicited advice is welcome. If I’m stepping into the ocean and someone, anyone, comes over and advises me not to swim there because sharks were spotted there a few minutes age, I’m grateful. I hear this not so much as advice as useful, potentially life-saving information, which I didn’t know before. I’d feel even more grateful, though, without even the slightest tinge of annoyance, if the Good Samaritan had entirely omitted the advice part of the message (to not swim there) and just given me the information part (about the sharks). Then I’d feel that a decision to stay out of the water was entirely my own, based on my own capacity to think rationally, and was not in any way coerced. I wouldn’t, then, have even the slightest temptation to continue into the water just to prove that “I’ll do whatever I blankety blank well choose to do, thank you!

It’s a slippery slope. Are you an expert? An authority? Do you actually know better or have more experience? What gives you the right? Is your desire to help truly genuine?
There a ton of different reasons people feel the need to give unsolicited advice, and we could speculate all day. (This article calls out 10 of them!) We can’t make other people stop handing advice out like parking lot flyers, but we can stop doing it ourselves, and choose our reaction when it’s “gifted” to us. 

Recently, I read a quote that I think sums up my thoughts about unsolicited advice: 

“Don’t have an opinion about something you’re not responsible for.”

Wishing for you this year that all those around you will give the gift of love and acceptance, and keep their unwelcomed thoughts on your appearance, activities, career, spouse, and kids to themselves. Hope you have a fantastic Holiday!

Posted on

Gettin’ Whiplash

My husband and I watched the movie “Whiplash” the other night and I haven’t stopped thinking about it. 

“At the heart of Whiplash is a story about a very messed up codependent relationship. Dubbed “Full Metal Julliard” at its Sundance premiere, the movie finds Miles Teller trying to rise through the ranks at a prestigious music school under the tutelage of a sadistic teacher played by current Oscar front runner J.K. Simmons. Writer and director Damien Chazelle drew heavily from his own experience as a drummer in making the movie, right down to the dominating teacher. Whiplash is one of those movies where it sounds like it’s going to be boring, but it turns out to be electrifying. You can’t look away. And you can’t help but put yourself into the movie, wishing you could make decisions for this kids who lets his whole life be dominated by this one maniac. It was the kind of movie that left a lot for us to think about…” – JJ Duncan (6 Deep Thoughts About Whiplash)

The movie stuck a chord with me. I had a choir director who reminded me a bit of Professor Fletcher in high school. My choir director was a 6-foot-something German man, who exhibited the same range of style and emotions that Professor Fletcher did in the movie, albeit turned down quite a few notches for my Christian boarding school. He yelled, he berated, and he made kids cry. He threw things. He shouted. He embarrassingly stopped songs mid-performance. If you were one second late to rehearsal one time, he’d pull you into his office and seriously question your commitment. 
He showed us his soft side, too. He cried and freely shared his feelings and emotions when his family was going through some difficulties. Once, on our tour bus back to school one night, he called our attention and spent an hour encouraging or saying something nice to each of us individually. He treated, talked to, and loved us like we were his family. And we loved him, too. 
Yet once or twice a week, we all stood in the choir room, fearfully motionless (we generally weren’t allowed to move, like to even itch or scratch our noses) as we watched this behemoth of a man give us his best. So that we could be our best. 
A.O. Scott wrote this of “Whiplash” in his NY Times movie review article, Drill Sergeant in the Music Room:

“The world worships excellence and runs on mediocrity. Most of us are fated to dwell in the fat middle of the bell curve, admiring and envying those who stake out territory in the higher realms of achievement. There is a wide gulf between doing your best at something and being the best at it, a discrepancy in expended effort and anticipated reward that is the subject of “Whiplash,” Damien Chazelle’s thrilling second feature.” 

Personally, I respond well to that kind of leadership. I’d rather be the best than do my best. In my choir, I cared about the music, and I cared about my choir director’s approval. If my choir director was mediocre, I would be mediocre. If he demanded less, I would’ve probably given less, and cared less. Why should I bring more, give my best, and try my hardest, for a leader who didn’t do the same (if not more)? 
Similarly, a few years ago I had a racquetball coach who was equally tough. He wasn’t a professional player, but he was a New Jersey motorcycle cop for longer than I’d been alive. He had also played racquetball for many of those years. When he taught me the sport, he drilled, he yelled, he chastised, he berated, and he gloated. When I accidentally whacked him in the back of the neck (with a return shot on a long ball – a big no-no), I never heard the end of it. But I learned. In the 9 months that I was coached by him, he complimented me only once. However, he always talked polite chit chat after a game and asked about my kids. He gave me a hug whenever he saw me, along with a twinkle in his eye and a genuine grin. And I loved him for it. I loved him for being tough, so that I could learn to be tough and hang when I played with the opposite sex. I loved the game, I loved the challenge, and I loved the approval in the end. I did my best, but I also wanted to be the best – the best female at that gym, at least – and I managed to achieve my goals.
I know overly tough, controversial methods don’t work for everyone, and aren’t necessary for someone to be their best. If the person leading me has laid down clear expectations and holds high standards, and if they are painfully honest, tough, and demanding… then I’m in. For me, meeting that challenge is fun. I’d rather be part of that kind of passion – the fiery kind – rather than the average, lukewarm kind. 
I think there’s a difference between doing something because you simply enjoy it, want to let loose, and have fun, versus being a part of something to improve, learn, grow and stretch yourself. Sometimes the latter isn’t fun. But for me, the tough part is worth it, because the reward is sweeter, and for me, that’s definitely the fun part. 

Posted on

Running from Tidal Waves

Let’s talk emotions and feels and junk.
I don’t like them. I don’t know what to do with them. It’s worse when other people become emotional, too. I would rather avoid emotions completely. Even writing this and sharing it is awkward enough. If I had a choice between feeling uncomfortable and swimming with sharks, I think I’d take my chances with my shark friends. 
Disney released a movie a bit ago called Inside Out. It personifies 5 main emotions and makes them lovable cartoon characters that live and work inside a little girl’s mind. Whichever emotion the little girl is experiencing, say she’s feeling angry, you see the Angry character take over the command center and become the lead of all the little girl’s actions and reactions. Spoiler Alert: The Happy character is most often the main lead or manager of the 5 Emotions, and she tries hard to keep the Sadness character away from the command center. Eventually, Sadness runs away, and Happy discovers that the little girl needs Sadness in her life; the little girl can’t just “happy” away all the things that she’s experiencing, especially when she’s upset and needs some support. Without Sadness, the little girl appears to have no affect; she’s numb, and jumps to other emotions – like anger or disgust – when she can’t tap into Sadness (which was what she was actually feeling about moving away from her home and friends). 
It made me think about how a lot of us avoid our emotions, especially when it comes to confronting others about them. Despite confrontation being a necessary part of life, most of us avoid it like eye contact with homeless people who ask for money. I think it’s why TV shows like Jerry Springer got so popular. It’s like a release to see someone else confront what you normally wouldn’t. And to do it in front of an audience! It’s the ultimate humiliation (and yet so entertaining). Todd Vanderworff says this about the Jerry Springer show: 

“Above all, though, it was about the freaks. It unleashed an uneasy tension in viewers. It still does…
And talk shows themselves always had a lascivious streak to them, a willingness to drag otherwise normal people on the air and find the one thing about them that was different, the better to reinforce the audience’s superiority…
It’s an awful tension. We want to feel superior, but we cannot. Maybe it was a mercy, then, that The Jerry Springer Show didn’t follow its guests home. Maybe it was the ultimate perversion that many reality shows that followed in its wake would. The stage of this talk show was a safe space, a place to work these issues out, and when the lights dimmed, they were gone, but for the imagination.”

When I imagine an upcoming confrontation, I envision a tidal wave. This giant, overwhelming wave crushes me, and tosses my powerless self around like a lobster in a boiling pot of water. Once the confrontation is over, I eventually make it to the surface and gasp for air. But it’s affect lingers; for days I struggle with PTSD. I roll my eyes and think, never again. But confrontation is inevitable, isn’t it? Drama at work, family holidays and gatherings, living with loved ones, issues with friends or even strangers… it’s unavoidable
The more I think about how much I dislike confrontation, the more I realize that needs to change. Because no, Dr. Phil, it isn’t working for me. I bottle up my emotions and experience them in a painfully physical way, rather than releasing them and being my honest and authentic self. 
What would it look like if I loved confrontation? What if I believed it would bring me joy? What would it feel like if I was totally okay with it and viewed it as a necessary and normal part of my life? Would being willingly open and confrontational ever get easier? 
I’m learning that it will get easier… it is getting easier. The evidence is every where in my life; the more I’ve done something, the easier it gets. The more I post to my blog, the easier it gets. The more I exercise, the easier it gets. The more I train my children in the way they should grow… the easier they get. (Heh, see what I did there?) 

Kathy Caprino says this about confrontation:

“I’ve found that many of us (particularly women) dread confrontation, or certainly go to extreme lengths to avoid it.  We do so for numerous reasons, including: 

– We don’t want to be confronted for fear of being “found out” (that we’re doing something wrong or have disappointed others)  

– We second-guess, question and doubt ourselves regarding our grounds and motives for confrontation  

– We don’t want to be seen as “mean” or challenging 

– We’d rather it just “work out” magically [<– my particular favorite] 

– We have painful memories of past confrontations gone awry 

– It’s difficult to assert ourselves in heavily power-laden or political environments (like many of our workplaces)

– We find it hard to master our emotions effectively when we’re talking about something challenging or fear-inducing

Regardless of our reluctance to confront tough issues or challenging people, we need to.  We can’t advance, succeed, or grow without confrontation.  Engaging in productive confrontation paves the way for diversity of thought, developing healthy boundaries, arriving at new, innovative approaches, better decision-making, and challenging the status quo, all of which are essential if we want to thrive in our lives and work”. 

(Definitely read her whole article if you want some solid steps on how to confront others successfully).
Just being forthright (in a non-confrontational way) is a struggle for me, too. First, because my honesty is sometimes like a megaphone held to the ears; I was given the gift of honesty, but not of tact (I’ve been lovingly asked once, where’s your tact, girl?). And secondly, telling people how I feel about something, whether they are involved or not, seems unnecessary. Like a waste of quiet space. (With two toddlers, this introverted Momma seriously needs her some quiet time.) Sometimes people don’t respond in the way I like or in a way I expect them to. So why bother?

It was drilled long ago into my kid brain that if you don’t have anything nice to say… don’t say anything. It’s definitely easier in the short term to keep my mouth shut. But in the long term, as I’ve experienced, keeping a tight lip can sometimes hurt more. It’s hard to know how and when to be a gentle soothsayer, but I’m trying.
I decided that instead of anticipating paralyzing fear when caught up in the Emotional Tidal Waves of Confrontation, I’d prepare for them by choosing some positive imagery: the experience I had while learning to surf in Hawaii (see my post about it here).
Here’s what I mean:
1. I was excited about surfing. I love and respect the ocean; I grew up in it. (Yep, I’m a mermaid. It runs in the family.) I was excited for the waves. I felt strong as I paddled out and battled smaller waves to get to the big ones. This is the part in a confrontation when I voice my concerns, feelings, and desires. I can feel strong and confident in what I know, want, and feel. 
2. Once out to the bigger waves, I turn around to face the shore, and sit. I patiently wait for the best wave to come, and excitedly look back every so often to anticipate it’s arrival and begin paddling. This is the anticipation part, where I try to judge (based on facial expressions, verbal reactions, or body language) and brace myself for the wave of emotion. Will it be gigantic and overwhelmingly too much for me to ride? Or will it be tiny? Do I ride it or ride over it? Do I take it or leave it?
3. The wave comes. I paddle, stand up quickly on my board,  then balance. And I ride the wave of emotion to the shore, and try not to fall in. I listen respectfully to their response. I realize I might have had more time to think about this issue than they have. My words might come as a shock to them, and they get hurt, angry, and lash out, causing an enormous wave in response. Sometimes the waves are small, or not there at all. Sometimes people need time to think about their reaction, and either delay or will ask for more time. Or the emotional wave may never come. You might just get a polite acknowledgement or a thank you for sharing. It might not be what you expected. Riding someone’s emotional wave connects you to them, but keeps you from being submerged in it or taking it on as your own. Despite never really knowing what kind of wave you get, you ride it like an experienced pro, all the way to the shore.
Surfing (i.e. emotional wave riding) is exhausting and exhilarating. But I can get better with practice. And, I can’t wait to go back and do it again… With a few of you. Muahhahahahhaahahhaha! 

Posted on

10 Books and 10 Words

When I was little, I wrote my first book: The Pencil Man. It was about a pencil, because that was the only thing I could draw. On the page of a spiral bound, lined notebook, I wrote a short story with my drawing of a pencil with arms and legs. Then I figured, why not make it a book? So the next page was Chapter 2, where Pencil Man makes a friend. And in Chapter Three they hid from the rain together. I remember feeling elated that my story was technically in a book, so I concluded I actually wrote and made a book by myself! Who knew it was that easy?
I say my first book, because I’m at the very early, fetal beginnings of writing a book, maybe even a series. I’ve recently had inspiration for the plot while waiting at a car dealership (see my previous post). And it’s incredibly intimidating. (By the way, as I write this, my husband is writing the final acknowledgments on a book he just completed and will be out next year… how amazing is that?!!) 
It’s seemingly so hard to put ideas and thoughts into words, and on paper, which is what I love about books. I’m so thankful for authors that have tried and been successful! Of late, I have been pouring over books from the Fantasy genre (mostly with female protagonists – yeah girl power!), and thus, my book will probably be in that field. Some popular fantasy books you may have heard of: Lord of the Rings, The Hobbit, Game of Thrones, Harry Potter, and The Lion The Witch and The Wardrobe
I grew up listening to my mom read The Hobbit to me and my siblings over meals and at bedtime; I stayed awake hours into the night devouring The Harry Potter series. In high school, a friend let me borrow his Game of Throne books to quell the boredom (I went to a strict – no TV, no music – boarding school in the country). I love getting lost in another world and the epic adventures that people dream up. It’s my way of quelling in my inner wanderlust-y adventurer. 
I eagerly consume about a trilogy per week. Did I mention I love reading? Here are 10 books I’ve read recently (in chronological order):
  1. Finder (First Ordinance Series) by Conne Suttle (currently reading)
  2. In the Skin of a Nunqua by R.J. Pouritt (pretty good; lots of action)
  3. Light & Shadow Series by Moira Katson (interesting; heavy strategy and characters)
  4. The Hero and The Crown by Robin McKinley (good, fun, not a trilogy) 
  5. Girl of Fire and Thorns Series by Rae Carson (pretty good)
  6. The Healers of Meligna Series by K.J. Colt (good)
  7. The Magicians by Lev Grossman (I didn’t like it) 
  8. Daughter of Smoke and Bone Series by Laini Taylor (really liked this series) 
  9. Throne of Glass Series by Sarah J. Moss (one of my favorite series!) 
  10. The Path of the Calm (The Saga of the Wolf Series) by Kris Hiatt (really good; male protagonist)
I feel so geeky when I tell my husband about the plot in the book I’m reading. While blushing, I tell him about: a cursed and hidden troll kingdom, an assassin girl who’s out for vengeance and might be a fairy, a famous alchemist who found a potion to make you live forever, or a girl who was mute but has a gift of understanding anyone’s true purpose, oh and she can also magically heal people and speak to animals – as he politely listens and smirks. <sigh> It’s okay with me if you don’t invite me to your book club. 🙂 
I especially love reading on my Kindle App I use on my Apple devices. I know, I know… it’s not the same as reading a real book, but the advantages of being able to quickly buy the next book in the series without having to race to a bookstore, easily read in the dark, enlarging the text size when exercising on a treadmill, fitting in my purse or pocket, being able to look up definitions to words I’m unsure of are fantastic
Despite reading books about warlocks, wizards, and fairies, here are 10 words I’ve learned and/or been reintroduced to: 
1. Faugh – a dated exclamation expressing disgust, contempt, or abhorrence
2. Untenable – adj. ( esp a position or view) not able to be maintained or defended against stack or objection 
3. Fop(pish) – adj. a man who is concerned with his clothes and appearance in an affected and excessive way; a dandy 
4. Sinecure – n. a job or position requiring little or no work but giving the holder status or financial benefit 
5. Oriflamme – n. a symbol or standard that inspires confidence, devotion or courage 
6. Eunoia – n. (rhetoric) Goodwill towards an audience, either perceived or real; the perception that the speaker has the audience’s interest at heart. (The shortest English word containing all five main vowel graphemes. It comes from the Greek word εὔνοια, meaning “well mind” or “beautiful thinking.”)
7. Sibilant -. adj. (of a speech sound) sounded with a hissing effect, for example s, sh.
8. Moue – n. a pouting expression used to convey annoyance or distaste.
9. Coquet – v. behave flirtatiously; flirt.
10. Egress – n. the action of going out of or leaving a place.
I’m sure I’ve said this before, but I love recommendations of books you’ve read and loved. Any genre! I’m sure I’ll tire of the Fantasy genre soon, and am looking forward to the next, whatever it may be. Happy reading! 

Posted on

The Best Flat Tire Day Ever

The morning started out great. I had the girls dressed and buckled in car seats 30 minutes earlier than most mornings. I hop in the driver seat and notice my dashboard sloping so hard you could ski down it. I jump out and confirm my thoughts with my eyeballs: a flat tire.
Normally, my mind jumps right into work mode. What can I do to fix this? What is top priority right now? Get the girls to school? How? Fix the flat? How? But my mind wasn’t going there. I froze. Literally and figuratively. All I could focus on (while the 4 year old cried in the backseat) was the fact that my kids might not make it to school that day, and thus, my much anticipated day alone would be shattered. I called the husband, who is usually home at this time but had to work in the city, about an hour away. He (thankfully already in work mode) formed an action plan which helped me figure out my next steps. And really, what could’ve turned out to be a ruined day, turned into a fantastic one. And here’s why:
I’ve been reading a book called “The Mind Connection” by Joyce Meyer. She lays out how the thoughts you choose affect your mood, behavior, and decisions. I’ve been studying it like a textbook, complete with a neon highlighter handy, notebook adjacent, and notecards hanging from a keyring. Nerd-style. (I’ve yet to choose the right color pocket protector). While I’m on the Board of the School of Thought (yes, on the Board) that words are powerful, I am also beginning to see how equally powerful your thoughts are… and that you have control of them. Novel idea, right? I get to actually choose what I think? I’m not a product of my environment, or society, or education, or family, or personality? I get to choose? Despite my circumstances? What??!?!!!!
Anyways, back to the greatest day ever. 
So, my tire is flat:
  1. Me and the girls get to see Grandma this morning as she comes to the rescue and we bring them to school. I’m so grateful and thankful to have family nearby and willing to help at a moments notice. They rock.
  2. My car insurance provides free roadside assistance. Awesome!
  3. This is the first flat I’ve had on this car since we bought it almost 4 years ago. How fortunate! The super kind guy who came to change my flat tire had an apprentice with him, thus, I got a full demonstration on how to change a flat on my car. I generally know how to change a flat (thanks Dad), but it’s different on every car. For instance, my car requires a tire key (it prevents theft) and I had no idea what or where it was. Also, the spare tire is located under the middle of the car, behind the front passenger seat. Who knew? I thought spare tires were always in the trunk, and I even moved the stroller to the middle of the car in attempt to speed things up. So wrong. I’m glad I now know these things I took for granted.
  4. I get new tires for the winter. I’m so thankful I was home with the girls when the flat happened, rather than stranded on a highway in the middle of a snowy winter with two toddlers, worried about not getting to some important event or appointment. I am relieved to know that this winter will be easier and safer with new tires. I’m also incredibly thankful we have the money right now to handle this situation. 
  5. I have the luxury of a flexible schedule today. I am crazy lucky and blessed. I get to hang out at the dealership for couple of hours while my car is worked on. It is warm, has comfy chairs and tables, has bathrooms, TVs, free wifi, and a cafe with yummy food (the bread pudding calls my name). Nice. 
  6. I’ve found the perfect place to write. Yes, at a car dealership. While forced to sit and wait, I came up with an idea for the plot of a book I’ve wanted to write. Everything I may need is close-at-hand, with the added benefit of no responsibilities or things around to distract me. I don’t even mind, (seriously, I sweetly smile) when they accidentally spray my car with some substance, and ask me to come back again another day for a full detail at their expense. 
I am not the luckiest girl in the world. You won’t see a picture of my face, complete with a duck lipped smile, plastered over a Time Magazine cover with the headline “Luckiest Girl in the World.” I have struggles, difficulties, and problems that I may or may not share with everyone. I get hit with the 1st world misfortunes, setbacks, hardships, and bad luck stick all the time. And sometimes it’s the 3rd world tragedy stick. But what makes me different than everyone else, what makes my life my own, is what I choose to do about those problems and what I choose to think about them. 

I’d be better suited for the cover (with a shy smile this time – no duck lips, thank you) of Time Magazine with this headline: “Girl Who THINKS She’s the Luckiest Girl in the World.” I choose to focus on my privileges, advantages, strengths, blessings, and sheer luck and use them in a way that benefits me and others. I choose to have a great day. I choose to turn a storm into something other than a storm. I (we) have the gift of choice over my (our) thoughts, thus, the gift of making the most of whatever comes my (our) way. That makes me feel – I choose to feel – rich, lucky, happy and grateful, no matter the circumstances. And I definitely intend to pay it back and pass it on. 
Posted on

6 Things Moving Has Taught Me

Growing up, my family moved around quite a bit. My family wasn’t in the army… it was in it’s own sort of army, um, of the religious kind. My dad was a pastor of the Seventh-Day Adventist religion (which you may have only heard mentioned in the media quite a bit lately, thanks to the presidential candidate, Ben Carson). His job meant that we usually got moved around every 3 – 4 years. I was born in Michigan, then a few years later moved to Pennsylvania, then Massachusetts, and then Bermuda. 

After Bermuda, we moved back to the US to Pennsylvania, and we planted. My parents confessed they wanted something more permanent for me and my siblings as we became teenagers and desired more stability. After I got married later in life, my husband and I moved to Brooklyn, NY only to come back to Pennsylvania once we had kids. 
Moving around has taught me a few things:
  1. You can call anywhere home.
  2. You can find and make friends anywhere.
  3. Moving causes you to grow as a person. It forces you out of your comfort zone and forces you to be flexible.
  4. Your perspective, awareness, and empathy increases. 
  5. You gain world experiences you can’t get in school.
  6. You learn real time adaptation and problem solving skills. 
I am grateful to have experienced growing up outside of the US for a time, and I’d like to be able to give my daughters that kind of experience, too. The husband and I have decided to make that possible for our family by living abroad in the summers during school breaks, as often as we can (and can afford). Next year, thanks to a speaking invite (um, and my dreams) we are going to be starting our “summers abroad” program in Bologna, Italy. The next places on our list to live so far are: Ireland, London, Sweden, and Japan. 
I’m excited about doing this with my kids, especially while they are little. I read recently about how living abroad leads to a longer life… sort of. There’s evidence that it alters your perception about the length of your life.

“David Eagleman, an assistant neuroscientist at Baylor College of Medicine, has been fascinated by the brain’s perception of time ever since he fell off a roof and experienced a slow-motion effect. He postulates that:
 “…the more detailed a memory, the longer the moment seems to last. The reason it feels like time is speeding up as we age is that the world becomes more familiar. The more familiar the world becomes, the less information your brains writes down, and the more quickly time seems to pass.”
This means that when you move abroad, the world will be entirely unfamiliar. This is especially true if you are going from any Western country to an Eastern country, or vice versa. The food, smells, language and even popular colors are entirely different. Your brain will be on overdrive recording every new vivid detail.
As you continue to have new experiences in your new country, your own perspective of your life will lengthen. Your new memories will add up to a longer perception of your own life than if you monotonously repeated the same daily routine in your home country.
According to Michael over at Vsauce, time seems to pass slower when you have new experiences. When you are recording new memories, you perceive time to be passing slower than repeating the same experiences.”- Robert Krulwich (on his article “Why Does Time Fly By As You Get Older“)

Personally, I’m reading this as: “If I live abroad with my kids, I will perceive them as little kids longer than if we continued the same day to day routine with them at home.” And to be quite honest, I am just actively trying not to let them “grow up too fast, ” as the ol’ sentiment goes. This quote mirrors my thoughts exactly:

“Life constantly changes us, whether we like it or not. A … child will learn that new things are probably good and exciting, and that a challenge is not something that should be avoided. Changes for them are actually positive and desirable. Children living abroad often develop positive approaches to unpredicted changes in life.” – Advantages For Children Living Abroad 

I think it will just be crazy fun, we’ll learn tons of stuff, and become closer as a family. Wish us luck, and please feel free to send suggestions of places (and people) to visit, especially if it’s where you call home!

Posted on

Why I Choose the Exit Row

I would love to say that the reason I choose an airplane Exit Seat (over better seats or even First Class) is because I am a crazy, expert assassin ninja who is always in need of a quick escape. And that I’m so badass that at any moment, I might need to jump backwards out of the plane and Inspector Gadget my purse into a parachute. 
Every flight I that score the Exit Seat, I take my role seriously. I size up my exit row compatriots, make direct eye contact with them, then offer a teeny “we got this” nod of camaraderie. I give the steward/ess an enthusiastic YES! when asked if I am willing and able to help in the event of a crisis. Then, I read the operations manual, specially reserved for Exit Row Guests Only, and formulate a plan. The Exit Row couple across the aisle on my left seem able to coordinate their efforts of opening their door, handling the people on their side of the plane, and manning the bouncy castle slide. Me and my husband, and the random, averaged-sized dude next to us, will organize who on our side of the plane will slip down the slide and when, based on size and capability. I apologize in advance to the old ladies and babies who might get trampled. I just want everyone to deplane in a safe and secure manner on their way to watery, bouncy castle heaven.  
This ultimately leads me to a round of silly giggles, after the incredulous look my husband gives me when I dead seriously tell him the plan. He responds by pursing his lips and squinting his eyes at me, then putting on his sunglasses and falling directly asleep, no less than one minute later. 
I really don’t enjoy being trapped in a smallish space with a bunch of strangers for hours. Does anyone? It’s like serving Jury Duty time, while floating precariously thousands of miles above solid ground. 
When I was little, I got trapped all the time. I can count the number of times on one hand that I’ve gotten stuck in a bathroom, due to my kid self not being able to figure out the handle, or having enough weight to push a stuck door. And this was before cell phones, so much to my chagrin, I had to yell and bang as loud as I could and admit a rather embarrassing defeat: The bathroom door had bested me. 
I also used to get ensnared at church all the time, too. Wildly running through a lobby filled with two dozen men in suits meant that inevitably, my tangly, static prone, little kid hair would get wound around someone’s lapel buttons. It hurt. And it was dually awkward. No man wants a kid snared to his suit jacket. 
Now, despite being older and stronger (and wearing my hair in a ponytail), I still find myself getting trapped, but thankfully, in more inconspicuous ways. I find it happens most often during wedding season, and here’s why:
I see a nice, blue dress I like. I try to find the right size, based on the tag and my eyeball’s summation. Once in the dressing room, I optimistically slip the dress over my head. I tug it down, but the zipper barely goes up. I curse the makers and whatever kind of tricky, pseudo elastic fabric they made the dress with. I pinch and squeeze, hop and jump. I silently pray that no one can see my fancy footwork or hole-y, mismatched socks from under the dressing room door. Then, I take a deep breath, idiotically hoping that when I look up into the 3-way fun house mirror, the dress will look like it was made for me. 

Not surprisingly, I peek out of an arm hole into the mirror, and see what appears to be a halloween costume of a blue, Play-Doh snowman. I adjust the dress some more, look at my reflection again, and I see a human-sized, blue finger with a string tied around it. Exasperated, I take a final look and decide I should submit an entry to the People of Walmart site.
I can’t help but stifle a chuckle at the sheer silliness of the situation. I try to unzip and start to panic, as I can’t lift the stupid mound of acrylic, polyester, ferret-hair blend over my hips. I start making a mental list of people whom I could call to come to my rescue with a pair of scissors, a nonjudgemental smile, and the ability to reign in their amusement: The Pope, Bernie Sanders, a feminist, Sam (the American eagle in the Muppet Show), Professor Snape (Harry Potter), Data or Spock (from Star Trek), Batman, or Attila the Hun. 
Thankfully, there are smaller instances of being trapped that happen often, and don’t require a “phone-a-friend” card:
  • Getting your belt loop, purse handle, or sleeve stuck on a door knob. 
  • Putting your hoodie on backwards. 
  • Sitting in the front row of an important presentation meeting and having to leave.  
  • Sitting in the middle of the row at the movies and having to use the bathroom. 
  • An obligatory (company or family) holiday party. 
  • Going through the grocery line and bagging your food only to realize you forgot your wallet.
  • Being put on the spot. 
  • Being stuck at the airport, on an elevator, subway, train, in traffic, etc. 
To me, all these instances of being trapped are manageable, as long as I know that there is a way out, or that there is at least an end game.
And that, my friends, is why I choose the Exit Row. 
Posted on

Once Upon A Beautiful Life

Once upon a time, there was girl named Emily, who loved her life. It was beautiful. All around her, vivid fall colors burst like rainbow fire on the trees, the crisp Autumn breeze kissed her neck, while bees flirted with her cheeks. The birds overhead chirped mercilessly like feathered gossips, and flittered from branch to branch without a care in the world. 
As she continued to live the way she always live – the way she was taught – she began to become anxious about things she would normally be excited about. She worried about death from her planes crashing as she traveled to places she dreamed about living. She worried that not being perfect, or not having the right credentials, would cause the earth to shatter and the tides to change and cause tidal waves. She thought that not being or acting in a way she was supposed to, not looking the right way, or saying the right thing, would cause the moon to fall out of the sky, and the sun to drip molten blobs onto the citizens of Earth. 
She found herself avoiding feelings of uncomfortableness rather than acknowledging and dealing with them. She created caves she could dive into whenever she felt awkward. She constructed barriers like helmets and suits of armor that kept her from sharing too much. She made sacrifices – she took more than one for the team – that hurt her more than the people she was attempting to protect. Rather than being honest about how she felt, she kept her thoughts and feelings tucked away, only to have them emerge at inappropriate times and places. And that, often times, felt worse. 
She continued to find faults and weaknesses in others, rather than appreciating the things to love about them. She lost the ability to trust people around her, and care for herself when disappointed. She saw the same insecurities, the same pain, the same hurts, the same masks, the same defenses in others that she had, too. And, rather than forgive them and help… she decided she’d just deal with her junk on her own. She wanted to be an island. Quiet, desolate, and alone, depending solely on herself for love and belonging.
Emily wanted to escape these changes she was noticing and hide. She hoped that by running away to a private island, she would experience no feelings of being misunderstood, no worrying about what other people thought of her, no uncomfortableness, no anxiety. She thought she’d find peace. But that’s rarely what she found. 

She’d run away by sometimes crawling into a good book and forgetting about what really bothered her, hoping it would go away like a tiny mouse finding food and hurrying back to its hiding spot. She’d run away by zoning out and watching tv or playing with her phone like a purposeless zombie. She wanted to filibuster her way through social gatherings in order to not actually talk about what concerned her the most. She wanted to run from her feelings by making light of them, and brushing them off, as if they were a piece of dandelion that happened to land on her shoulder. She wanted to pretend, and act like her feelings weren’t important in comparison to others’ needs and feelings. After all, that’s how she was taught; she knew no different. 
Except, that this all made her physically uncomfortable. 
Emily finally realized, after years of disbelief and doubt, that she had a choice. She started to understand the power of the words and beliefs floating around in her mind, that were masterfully planting themselves, and becoming facts. Some words  – these non-truths, beliefs and statements – were her own, some were not. Some were taught. “If I don’t act like ____, if I am not perfect, then I am not worthy of belonging.” Or, “If I show vulnerability or emotion, then I am weak and not worthy of love.”  Without her realizing it, beliefs like these had planted themselves, and they were growing and twisting themselves like suffocating vines around her mind. She was using them to paint this image of how she should be and what her life should look like.
So she decided to change it; to uproot these beliefs and plant new ones. “I am imperfect; I am a hot mess, but I am happy being uniquely me. I am most definitely worthy of belonging.” And also added: “Being honest, real, authentic, and vulnerable are traits of those who are strong, and while uncomfortable for a time (for some), they build more strength. I am strong, and I am worthy of love.” 
As Emily worked at the gardening of her mind, she struggled. She fought weeds that were difficult to uproot, and ached over the holes that seemed too deep to dig. Despite the hard work, she continued to maintain her garden, watering the saplings she planted, and marveled at the beauty that was and continues to be her life. 
Posted on

True Selveseses.

Ever hear that (author unknown) quote, “Character is who you are when no one is watching”?
The minute my pre-teen self was home alone, I’d throw on some bright red lipstick, find my sparkly, glow-in-the-dark hairbrush, and grab my Disney soundtrack cassette tapes. While kids my age listened to their older sibling’s “cool” music like NKOTB, I’d push the play button on my portable tape player, and passionately belt “A Whole New World” with Aladdin and Jasmine at the top of my lungs. Later on, my as my taste matured, I sang along with Jean Valjean, Inspector Javert, and Fantine from the Les Miserable soundtrack, and Erik and Christine from the Phantom of the Opera soundtrack. 
Despite being alone in front of a full-length mirror, there were no killer dance moves. My adolescent self didn’t even pretend to be rhythmically gifted. I suppose it didn’t help that my religion wasn’t keen on dancing. No Senior Proms in my history, although, considering my white girl dancing skills, that was probably a blessing from God. Even now, I can barely hang with the Inflatable Tube Man at car dealerships.
“Identity is gradual, cumulative; because there is no need for it to manifest itself, it shows itself intermittently, the way a star hints at the pulse of its being by means of its flickering light. But at what moment in this oscillation is our true self manifested? In the darkness or the twinkle?” 
― Sergio Chejfec, The Planets
So, instead of making up sweet Janet Jackson dance routines, I chose to make sure my voice sounded exactly how the singer sang. I took note (thanks to my radically red lips emphasizing the shape my mouth made) when my tones matched the singer’s tones. I sang the songs over and over until the cassette tape would wear or get stuck like a kitten with a ball of yarn. So, I decided to painstakingly figure out how to sight read music so I could accompany myself. Once the family was out for the afternoon, I’d hop on the piano and make as much noise to my heart’s content.
Later, I went off to a boarding school where it was almost impossible to be alone and enjoy my private pastime. I took piano lessons, joined the choirs, and sang where ever and when ever I could.
But, I gotta say, it’s one thing to enjoy your favorite pastime in the comforts and privacy of your own home (cooking for yourself, making your own model cars from scratch, knitting or quilting, etc.) but trying doing those things for a crowd, in front of strangers, with other people… it becomes a whole new bag of beans. Now it’s an out in the open thing, vulnerable to scrutiny, opinions, dislikes, and judgement. Ugh. <cringe>
“We can’t turn our true selves off and on situationally and expect them to carry and sustain us. Rationing creativity results in bipolarism of the spirit. Our creativity is also our life force. When we turn it off and on like a spigot, we start to become less and less able to control the valve.” 
― S. Kelley Harrell
“Do your fears warn of external dangers? Or, are they the kind that keep you from becoming more of your true self?” 
― Gina Greenlee, Postcards and Pearls: Life Lessons from Solo Moments on the Road
My fears when sharing my passion for singing (and writing!) have always been challenging, and yes, I am now realizing it has kept me from being my true self. Being so openly real and visible to others has always made me uncomfortable. However, I’m more uncomfortable when I’m not doing what I was created to do. I’m finding I’d rather pick the lesser of two evils. 
“The figure calling to me all those years was, I believe, what Thomas Merton calls “true self.” This is not the ego self that wants to inflate us (or deflate us, another from of self-distortion), not the intellectual self that wants to hover above the mess of life in clear but ungrounded ideas, not the ethical self that wants to live by some abstract moral code. It is the self-planted in us by the God who made us in God’s own image– the self that wants nothing more, or less, than for us to be who we were created to be.  – ― Parker J. Palmer, Let Your Life Speak: Listening for the Voice of Vocation
“Showing your true self sometimes don’t give you any benefit, but at least you do honest to your self and God.” ― Olivia Sinaga
I got so lost in being a mom that I forgot what it was like to be me. I sometimes get lost in being a wife, or friend, or daughter, or sister that I forget about all these other parts collectively that need to talk to each other. (Apparently, it’s all about balance.)
So I’m on the journey of rediscovering what I lost… starting with this blog (that I’m having fun writing for), and hopefully I’ll be doing some more singing soon! I’m going to be doing some choir directing at my church (with a talented mentor) which I’m super silly excited about. 
“Your true self is never so lost that you can’t find it again.” 
― Elaina Marie, Happiness is Overrated – Live the Inspired Life Instead

So, what do you do when no one is watching? 🙂
Posted on

Bring it.

“Look ahead. Look ahead!” 

That is a phrase that is forever tattooed on my brain by my harp teacher. When I was 13, I would go to Ms. Tepper’s house once a week for harp lessons. (She was the lady who played at my wedding ceremony 7 years ago.)  She had more folk lore and guinea pigs in one room than China in a China shop. Every week, the first ten minutes of the lesson would be drills. With clammy hands, I’d run scales and arpeggios up and down the harp in time with the ticking of a metronome. Then we’d try some sight reading on songs I had never played before. “Look ahead,” meant to figure out where my fingers would go next on the strings. That meant, to not only read the next notes I was to play, but to somehow take in the ones after them, too. It was challenging, frustrating, and felt impossible.  
Now, almost 20 years later, as I dust off and sit at my harp… “look ahead” is all I hear. I go over and over arpeggios, and I feel Ms. Tepper’s eyes watching me as I remember to “look ahead” to place my fingers immediately where they should go next. 
I realized two things: 
1. Our brains are incredible. 
2. The past never really goes away. 
I didn’t try to forget how to play the harp, I just easily avoided it (it was hiding at my mom’s house) or just didn’t think about it. And yet, after not touching it for 20 years, it all came back to me (um, though obviously, not as practiced) within 30 minutes. 
You can try to forget or block certain memories, knowledge, experiences, etc. You can stuff them into tiny little boxes in your brain, you can bury them and hope that by becoming busy they won’t have room to resurface, you can oversimplify them and declare them “dealt with,” but it isn’t that easy. Unfortunately for Elsa (from Disney’s movie Frozen), the past isn’t always in the past. In some way or another, it will always be there and influence who you are today.
The pain you feel from the loss of a loved one, the pride you feel from winning a contest or from buying your first home, the joy you feel landing your dream job, the vulnerable-ness you feel your first night living alone or going to college, the embarrassment you feel when you make a mistake… let’s face it, that stuff – those feelings, emotions, experiences – aren’t going to magically dissolve like snowflakes (yeah, Elsa, geez.). 
Sometimes the past will creep up on you like a spider in the summer. For instance:
 – Any time I talk about science-y stuff, I am forced to recall from my 4th grade class: “Mass is anything that has matter and takes up space.” 

– Whenever the smell of honeysuckles wafts up my nostrils, I’m immediately transported to a blissful July 4th weekend on Block Island when I was 5 years old. 

– Turquoise jewelry reminds me of the time my late Auntie Gabe promised to let me live with her when I was 18 so I could get my ears pierced. 

– Whenever I smell hot rubber, I remember how much fun it was to be picked up from elementary school in Bermuda with our bathing suits and huge, black rubber inner tubes in the back of the car, ready to go to the beach. 

– When I see a wooden ruler, I remember what it felt like to get in trouble at school and get my palm smacked with one by a teacher. 

– Occasionally, I have dreams about people who are no longer in my life, and I wake up remembering what it was like to hurt people and be hurt by them. 

– Songs I listen to bring up memories of the pain and sadness I felt when close friends and loved ones passed away. 

– Visiting with friends and family members often reminds me of the joy I felt as they got married and grew their families.
Not all of these are things I would like to experience again. Often, I find myself fighting against reviving the past. I want to never talk about it again so that it disappears or seems like it never happened. Or avoid it by squishing all the feelings into a glass jar and then throwing it over a bridge where it smashes against the rocks below. How satisfying. 
I fear that by thinking about the past, I’ll be forced to experience it again in all it’s glory (even if in a less amplified way). And guys, I’ll just say from experience, fighting it is not healthy for the body. (Oh hello, stomach pain, there you are.) The body is not meant to handle all that anguish on it’s own. 
What seems to make these experiences either less burdensome or more joyful, is to share them. I’m not saying to keep dredging things up and dwelling on the past, and I’m also not saying to keep trying or pretending to “let it go.” If that works for you, fine. However, my suggestion is to learn from it, and share it. To me, sharing with others seems to take the energy and power of the experience and disperse it. Funeral services, memorial services, and wakes help people with the pain of their loss by sharing it with each other. If you win a race, how much less fun is that victory if no one is there to celebrate with you or gets to see your trophy? Laughing with your friends about your most embarrassing moment makes it seem less embarrassing. 
So, brace yourselves, as I continue to “look ahead” and share with you my past, present, and future. For the record, I love when people share with me as well! 
Bring it.

(Remember folks, sharing is caring.)