Life’s too short to finish crappy novels

crappy novels

I pick it up. I feel through the pages for the dog-eared one and begin again. I read two pages and have only a shy comprehension of  the words I just read. It should be interesting–it’s a beautiful picture of a lonely man in a foreign country caught in love with someone who loves for a living. I’m uninterested. I press on. I’m half way through the book.

And now here I am, forcing something just to finish. I’m wound tight in the idea that if I hold out a little longer, read one more chapter, I’ll get it, feel it. But I know better. Life is strange and scintillating and above all, finite. There are some things to press through, to see to the end. Shitty novels are not one of them. 

 

Do the work. Trust yourself. Say thank you.

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Gathered from scraps of paper, sticky notes, the backs of bills, a cocktail napkin, words spoken to Siri, some never posted blog drafts and a recent hallway conversation, these are things I’m learning to live by.

 

  • Be intentional. Wake up each morning and decide you’re going to make a difference in someone’s life.

 

  • Take criticism with grace. If it’s true, find a way to make the change. If it’s not true, let it go.

 

  • When someone gives you a compliment, say thank you.

 

  • Laugh when you can, apologize when you should and let go of things you cannot change.

 

  • Make decisions. When you take to long, you waste a lot of time “thinking” and slow your momentum. Still, when you make a decision, stick to it for as long as it makes sense and allow yourself to change your mind when needed.

 

  • Trust your gut. Especially when you don’t want to.

 

  • Begin. Start now. Don’t wait for permission. “If you want to live the life you haven’t lived, you have to you’ve to do things you’ve never done.” -Jen Sincero

 

  • It’s never too late to start over. If yesterday sucked, begin again. If you weren’t happy with the results of your efforts last week, try something new. The point is, move forward. Don’t stay stuck. Evolve.

 

  • Love hard. 

 

  • Don’t insulate yourself from pain and discomfort. You’ll grow more if you let it in then if you waste your energy building a wall.

 

  • Don’t be afraid of failure; it’s part of the creative process. The point is (see #7) you’ve got to dive in head first, with passion and determination. Acknowledge when things aren’t working and change, quickly. Caveat: Know the difference between the work is hard and this is the uncomfortable part and this isn’t working, it’s time to switch gears.

A Beautiful Mess

ambiguity

Fallen petals on the table.

Tangled sheets.

Scribble on a cocktail napkin.

A little nest made by the mice in the shed accompanied by the empty shells of nibbled birdseed.

Dandelions.

The ambiguity of grey.

Sleeping until 10am and feeling sheepishly guilty.

Waking at 4am and understanding that I’m in on a beautiful, crazy secret.

The 500 blog posts I’ve stopped and started.

My dogs’ toys scattered everywhere.

The Williamsburg-blue edge of a now black door that I missed when I was painting…it’s been eight months and I can’t bring myself to finish it.

The tiny handprint on the glass door that Grace left while she was chasing her sister around the house.

My parking.

The contents of a box of photos scattered on the ground, memories recklessly relived.

A pile of silver foils from an afternoon of Hershey’s Kisses.

The way my dog snuggles up to my shoulder in bed when there’s thunder.

Branches strewn on the lawn after a storm.

Stickers on the back of my best friend’s sweater, because her girls put them everywhere.

Stickers on the bottom of my shoe.

Watching my mother ice skate.

Bonfire remnants.

A neglected art project that might never be done.

The burnt things I bake.

Piles of blankets.

Dirty feet from walking barefoot in the lawn.

Empty wine glasses and cards left on the table.

Abandoned houses.

Smeared mascara, a result of crying during a movie.

A stomach ache from too many s’mores.

The way my father eats M&M’s, one handful at a time.

Mary Margret’s sweet 16 portrait from the 1940’s that hangs in my living room. I found it in an antique shop. She’s still alive. She lives in Churchville.

Stick figure drawings on my fridge.

The 4  jokes I know (ask me).

Left over pizza with a bite taken from it.

The way I feel when I make a difference.

Dirty paw prints on the white quilt.

Stripped clothing laying crumbled on the floor.

Forgiveness.

 

The Great Big Lessons I Learned in 2015

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“Embracing the vulnerability it takes to rise up from a fall and grow stronger makes us a little dangerous. People who don’t stay down after they fall or are tripped are often troublemakers. Hard to control. Which is the best kind of dangerous possible. They are the artists, innovators, and change-makers.” –Brene Brown, Rising Strong

It’s been a year of change. It’s been a year of happiness, discomfort, pain and excitement. It’s been a year of hard lessons and a year where sometimes one step forward meant a tumble backwards immediately after. There were things that I rocked and things that I screwed up, things that happened that were out of my control and things I will never understand. It’s been a year of consideration with a fierce need for courage.

As I look forward, I’m reflecting on the things I’ve learned–that we are all doing the best we can; that everything, every thing, is unpredictable; that shitty things happen at good times and really good things can happen when it seems like nothing ever will; that there is always another side to the story;  that I am smart, resourceful, strong and resilient (thank you, Katie); that it’s best to be relentlessly kind to others; that patience is a virtue although, it’s never been one of mine; and that I can’t control everything, that letting go is a powerful decision to make.

“The longer I love, the more I realize the impact of attitude on life. Attitude, to me, is more important than facts. It is more important than the past, than education, than money, than circumstances, than failures, than successes, than what other people think or say or do. It is more important than appearance, giftedness or skill. It will make or break a company…a church….a home. The remarkable thing is we have a choice every day regarding the attitude we will embrace for that day. We cannot change our past…we cannot change the fact that people will act in a certain way. We cannot change the inevitable. The only thing we can do is play on the one string we have, and that is our attitude…I am convinced that life is 10% what happens to me and 90% how I react to it. And so it is with you…we are in charge of our attitudes.” Charles Swindoll

And here it is, the end of another chapter. I leave 2015 behind with this in mind: who do I want to be at the end of the day? 

My mentor once told me a story about change (for the record, the following is the story, to the best of my recollection). He said that he was once an aggressive driver. He said he was that guy who shouted from behind the wheel, even with the windows up, who got frustrated at others’ driving behaviors. And he always said, “that’s just who I am–I’m an aggressive driver.”  I understand this rational completely. I’ve said it many times about some of my weaker qualities or habits–that’s just who I am. Then Gary told me that one day someone said to him, “you are whoever you are at the moment, so if you want to change something about yourself, change it and then that’s who you’ll be instead.”  He said that one day he got in the car and he decided he was not going to be an aggressive driver anymore. He practiced holding in his frustrations and refrain from calling out the other drivers while he was behind the wheel. It was tough, it didn’t happen quickly and there were relapses. But after a while he became more at ease while he was driving. And after a while his urge to shout lessened and the stress dissipated. And then, one day, he wasn’t an aggressive driver anymore. And that’s just who he was. It’s a simple story, but it reminds me that even though we can’t change the past or predict the future, we can control who we are by how we react to life, that our reactions are one of the few things we can control and change.

I’m looking forward to 2016, to the not knowing, to the challenges and the lessons and all the good things that come with the tough stuff like vulnerability (I’m working on it). In 2016, we will not be afraid to ask ourselves, who do I want to be at the end of the day? And then, maybe more important than asking the question, we will not be afraid of going after the answer.

How to be Mindful During the Holidays

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Goodbye November. I’ve got a month of mindfulness ahead of me and I’m ready to begin. The holidays are a wonderful time but they can also be filled with excess and expectation. We come together as friends and families but with that comes the pressure to provide meals, gifts and even our time–which seems like the easiest thing to give, but when you have dozens of people to touch in a short period, this can be a challenge. And then there’s the excess. It’s part our culture to celebrate with food but with so many celebrations in such a short time, the calorie counts soar, causing every gym and health club to brace for (and revel in) the crowd of people who hit the door January 2nd, still reeling from 6 weeks of over-indulgence.

But does it always have to be this way? It seems like everywhere I turn there are angry people voicing their concern that the local holiday parade is called just that in order to accommodate people of all faiths and beliefs. There are family members at odds because they can’t agree on plans. There are people running themselves ragged, giving up their personal time to exercise or reflect, just to do more of the required holiday stuff.

This time of year is not likely to change but it doesn’t mean we can’t change the way we react to it ourselves. As we turn the corner of the holiday season and say goodbye to Thanksgiving until next year, there are things we can do to strengthen our souls and spirits in the next month, instead of overwhelming or ignoring them.

 1. Don’t put all of your personal routines on hold. 

With vacation days, school breaks, travel and no shortage of things to get done, it’s tempting to disregard the routines that serve us personally, like taking a moment to meditate or write, hit the gym or read a book. This is a time where we want to give so much of ourselves to others–and the best way to do that is by first, making sure

2. Be grateful. 

There are more people, experiences and things in your life to be grateful for than you can count. So try. Create a list of all of the things to be grateful for and reflect on them throughout the month.

3. See more.

Experience the food, the lights, the music and the space around you with new eyes. These things are here and then they are gone. Appreciate their splendor.

4. Forgive. 

Give yourself a gift this season. Forgiveness is one a powerful way to rejuvenate the spirit. Forgiveness does not mean whatever happened will be forgotten but it does mean that you are releasing the negative feelings surrounding it and deciding to not let it control you any longer. When you do this, you make room for new and wonderful experiences in your life.

5. Practice empathy. 

When you encounter someone who steps in front of you in line, snaps at you at work, cuts you off on the road, remember that they have their own stresses. You do not know their story. You do not know their struggles. Put yourself in their shoes and treat them the way you would want to be treated.

6. Drink water. Sleep.

This seems simple, but so many people underestimate how much water they actually consume and the quality of sleep they actually get (let alone the length). It’s proven that we function better when properly hydrated and rested so just make this a must!

7. Trade judgement for kindness. 

The holidays seem to bring out the best in some and the worst in others. Use this time to feel warmth and kindness towards others instead of casting judgment.

8. Let go of expectations. 

This is a time of year that is fraught with expectations that just can’t reasonably be fulfilled. Instead of committing to the way you think things should be, stay present and ground and roll with the punches (this is by far my hardest rule to abide by).

9. Love yourself.

Stop looking at your flaws and missteps and appreciate everything that makes you you.

10. “Smile, breathe and go slowly.” -Thich Nhat Hanh, Zen Buddhist monk

Sometimes You Win, Sometimes You Learn

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The past five months have been some of the strangest in my life. When I stop and reflect on them, I see that I was living in a way that I have always admired in other people without even knowing. Because circumstances were beyond my control and the stress could have easily eaten me alive, I had to make a decision to look forward, live with the risks and just handle whatever was coming at me in the moment. At the time, it just felt like survival.

It’s been awhile since I’ve written and of course, the longer you wait to do something, the easier it is to build that something up in your head, until it seems enormous and out of reach, looming above your head. I tend to look at the things I am not accomplishing more closely than the things that I am experiencing at that very moment. When I look back at my notepad, I realize that I have been writing all along these last two months, just not in my usual format. Here are a few sentiments I wrote down that have stayed with me on the journey.

Fear can only hurt us if we let it.

Trust yourself.

Sometimes, the best way to solve a problem is to stop participating in it.

Well, why the hell not?

The best people possess a a feeling for beauty, the courage to take risks, the discipline to tell the truth, the capacity for sacrifice. Ironically, their virtues make them vulnerable, they are often wounded, sometimes destroyed. -Ernest Hemingway

There is no path to happiness; happiness is the path.

Take courage.

Choose to see beauty.

Let go.

If we did all the things we are capable of doing, we would literally astound ourselves. -Thomas Edison

The best way to find out if you can trust somebody is to trust them. -Ernest Hemingway

The bad news is, people are crueller and meaner and more evil than you’ve ever imagined. The good news is people are kinder, gentler and more loving that you’ve ever dreamed.

Always be kinder than you feel.

Be quick and curious and playful and strong.

Don’t stumble over something behind you.

Trust the vibes you get from other people. Energy doesn’t lie.

Do the best you can until you know better. Then, when you know better, do better. -Maya Angelou

The trouble is, you think you have time. -Buddha

You don’t need a reason to follow your heart.

Don’t settle: don’t finish crappy books. If you don’t like the menu, leave the restaurant. If you’re not on the right path, get off it. -Chris Brogan

Wake up each day and say ‘Thank you.’

Silence is so accurate. -Mark Rothko

Kindness has a beautiful way of reaching down in to the weary heart and making it shine like the rising sun.

Be happy for no reason.

If running is difficult, run more. This lesson applies to many things.

Fall in love often.

Doubt is your only disability. -Chris Mott

You don’t have a soul. You are a soul. You have a body. -C.S. Lewis

Be filled with wonder. Be touched by peace.

Keep some room in your heart for the unimaginable. -Mary Oliver

 

 
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