Friday, October 30, 2015

Get Ready For Gratitude

Tomorrow is the last day of October. That means a few things: Halloween, candy, Daylight Savings Time ends, and then it's November. 

Your Facebook news feed will first be flooded with photos of your friends and their children (and dogs) in Halloween costumes, and then with a month's worth of status updates about what people are thankful for. 

I enjoy participating each November, posting each day about what I'm grateful for. I've written about this before. More than once. 

Over the summer, I was in a class with a woman who announced that gratitude is over rated. It took every ounce of energy I had to stay seated and not climb up on my soap box to tell that woman about everything she's missing out on!

Fortunately for me, this blog is my personal soap box! Instituting a gratitude practice changed my life. I can't emphasize that enough. Life is difficult. Some days have me in tears. If at the end of these days, I'm not grateful for a glass of wine, my hot tub and a spouse who is present, then what are these things for?

I've heard complaints about people who post negative updates all year long but are suddenly thankful every day in November. So what? Good for them! The beauty of Facebook is that it's optional. You don't have to log-on or read someone's status updates or engage with anyone. The "Unfollow" option is the greatest feature ever added, use it! And while we're on the subject, I'd like to remind you: these people are supposedly your friends. If you're not glad to see what your friend is grateful for, then maybe that person isn't truly your friend. (I'm a big advocate of frequent re-evaluation of one's friend list.)

Even if those people annoy you, even if you think it's hokey, even if you think gratitude is over rated, I challenge you to do it anyway. You don't have to post to Facebook. Just sit down once each day in November and write down three things you are thankful for that day. If you can't find three, start with one. 

If you need some more convincing, try this book: The Joy of Appreciative Living, it's one of my favorites. The facts are impossible to ignore: people who list things they are thankful for each day are genuinely happier. 

Make this November about you and your gratitude! Then please tell me about it!

Wednesday, October 7, 2015

Calling All Weirdos

Last winter when I was doing some traveling, I spent some time with a guy I was getting to know. At one point he said "You're so tough. You play roller derby, you have all these tattoos, you're on this adventure and you do scary things. You're so strong. But you cry when you're hungry or tired or cold. I don't get it. What's that about?" I can still recall the sensation of my heart sinking, slow and heavy, like a smooth polished stone, as I realized that this person simply did not get me. 

In this guy's defense, I'll say not everybody gets me. In fact, there are just a few sacred souls who I believe truly do. And while I don't know that anyone gets every thing about me (hell, even I don't) the people who love me sure do try. 

I have a powerful emotional world and I'm not afraid to hide anything. People aren't used to that and sometimes they don't know how to respond. With me, what you see is what you get: tattoos, tears and all. 

Years ago, I had a boss who told me "You're a sensitive one...You're an emotional one...I'm going to teach you to be like me..." For three long soul crushing years, I tried. Eventually, I realized I didn't want to be like my boss. I wanted to by myself. When I finally got up the guts it say so, it didn't go over well. I was told I made other employees uncomfortable, they didn't feel they could talk to me, I was unapproachable. At the time, I was upset. I didn't understand. Years later, I can see quite clearly that I probably was awkward as hell because I was trying to hide my true self inside those office walls. 

When an ex-boyfriend once called me a weirdo, I was taken aback. "Gonzo is a weirdo," he eagerly explained, appealing to my deep rooted adoration of all things Muppet. Yes, he was correct and yes he has an appreciation for the work of Jim Henson, points for him. The boyfriend meant "weirdo" in an endearing way, and I get that. I've filled that role for a guy more than once. What I mean is he loved the idea of me more than he loved the reality of me. I get it. I've been guilty of that as well (the tortured artist, the hardworking cowboy, the sexy fireman. Need I go on?) The truth is the reality of any relationship is different than our idea of what it "should" look like. 
So how do we find a middle ground? The goal is to find someone who appreciates us as a whole. Someone who deals with our quirks and maybe even appreciates them. And someone for whom we feel the same. That can be a lot to ask.

I'd forgotten the Gonzo comment until I was watching the new Muppet show last week. Gonzo appeared on screen in a loud patterned shirt and I was struck with a vivid memory of that conversation with my ex. I got to think about it and you know what? Gonzo is pretty f-ing brave. He's always doing crazy stunts and chasing after that chicken he's in love with. He works hard, he's loyal to his friends. He likes cracking a joke. Sure, the others laugh at him and sometimes he's awkward, but that's what happens when you put yourself out there! I'm not ashamed to be in the same category as Gonzo!
Photo from Wikipedia

Someone else's idea of me isn't real. My idea of me isn't real. The truth lies in my actions, in the energy I put into The Universe. I get grumpy when I'm hungry and cry when I'm over tired. Someone who loves me knows when to say "You need to eat something," and it all works out.

That's what we all desire and deserve, to be received and understood. To be wanted, not simply tolerated. That doesn't mean everyone always likes us or agrees with us. It means they know our truth. It means they understand our intentions. I'm not only talking about romantic endeavors, but any relationship.

We can't expect a romantic partner to be our everything. It's important to find our own tribe, that collection of like minded souls who make us feel less alone in the world. The more you embrace your true self and eliminate people who don't support that, the more room you create for people who do. 

Thursday, October 1, 2015

Put It On The List

This year, my birthday gift to myself was to get my hair cut short and colored in shades of blacks and reds. It's something I've been wanting to do for a long time. The next day, while I was squinting at myself in the bathroom mirror trying to decide if I liked my hair or not, I thought Boy, I just do whatever I want anymore. This could get dangerous. I meant dangerous in a good way (Is that a thing?) I've had one adventure after another this year and I like it!

In August, I ran a 180 mile relay race with 11 other people through the Teton Mountains. It's not the type of thing I ever imagined doing and while I don't think I'll ever do another relay, it changed my parameters when it comes to running and what I'm capable of. Prior to that race, I'd never run more than six miles at a time. Now I'm looking at saying "A half marathon through Zion National Park? Sure, let's do it!"

My husband running in the Grand Teton Relay

These new realizations of my capabilities (with my hair and my running) have led me to re-evaluate my Bucket List.

I've had a Bucket List for years. I started it after watching The Secret and becoming enamored with The Law of Attraction and gratitude. I figured if there were things I wanted to do, I should write them down so I could focus on them. Occasionally I'll encounter someone else who has a Bucket List, but I've never met anyone else who keeps a physical list with them. I write my list at the back of whichever notebook I'm currently using for writing, which goes with me everywhere. That means every couple of months I have to transcribe it into a new book. It helps me remember what's on there and why, and it prompts me to think about how I can make some of those things happen for me.

Playing roller derby was on my Bucket List. I made that happen. As I've discussed before, derby was a powerful force in my life that showed me I can literally do anything I want to. That was the first thing I ever crossed off my Bucket List and let me tell you, that's an awesome feeling! This January I crossed another item off my list-a visit to Mount Rushmore.

A few weeks ago, my husband told me he's going to make his own list. I responded first with raised eyebrows, because of course I have been trying to get him to do this for years, but I quickly threw in words of encouragement! He explained, however that he doesn't want to call it a Bucket List. First of all because it implies he's going to kick the bucket and he doesn't like to acknowledge his own mortality (okay...) but mostly because Adventure List feels like a more fitting title for him. I like that idea.

Of course, my hubby's attitude caused me to re-think the title of my own list. I do kinda internally cringe at the thought that what I'm saying is "Hey, here's a list of things I want to do before I die," even though I know that's exactly what it is. But then again, isn't that what all of life is, really? I don't know that I want to change the title of my list so much as re-purpose it to Bucket List as in I want to fill up my bucket of life, instead of kicking over an empty bucket when the time comes.

Me running in the Grand Teton Relay
It has taken me a lot of time, tears, therapy and trial and error to find this "dangerous" adventurous part of myself and welcome her. It's certainly not something that can be perfected. Some days are happier and easier than others. During that relay race, which went for 36 hours, I didn't get any sleep and I pushed my body past its limits. Near the end, my feelings were hurt by something a teammate said. I cried and said "I'm done." I let someone else run my last leg. I was done and I couldn't push myself any more. It was not my best moment. Some of the other people on the team asked my husband "Isn't she going to be disappointed? Won't she feel bad about herself for not running the last leg?" and knowing me as well as he does, he reassured them that I was going to be just fine.

Am I disappointed I didn't finish my final leg? Yes and no. I ran as hard and as fast as I could for my first two, one of which was at 4am. I'm proud of that. I was more reactive than I like to be by getting upset, but that was real. That was me as raw as I could be, in front of a bunch of strangers. It wasn't pretty, but it was me and I don't feel bad about that.

Running a relay wasn't on my Bucket List but I kinda want to put it on there just so I can cross it off! That was a huge accomplishment and a hell of a life experience!

Now whenever I think of something I want to do or have or a place I want to visit, I turn to my list. I want to own a tank of sea horses, drive a race car and have a beer with Dave Matthews. What do you want to do? Just put it on your list!

Saturday, September 5, 2015

Reasons To Read Everyday

Often, when I tell people I read 60+ books in a year, I get a response somewhere along the lines of  "I wish I had time to read that much," in a tone that implies I'm wasting my precious time with all these silly books.

Making time to read every day is a choice I make and yet it's no longer a choice. Reading has become a part of my daily routine, like eating or brushing my teeth. Any time I leave the house, I grab my wallet, sunglasses, keys and a book. It's become habit. Over the years, I've learned little ways to sneak more reading time into my life. Along the way I've discovered how reading enriches my life and leads to more reading!

I take a book everywhere I go!
Here are a few of the reasons I love to read every day and how I make time for it.

1) Reading increases my vocabulary. The dictionary in my Kindle is one of my best friends! Reading classic literature in particular has exposed me to a completely different use of the English language that I didn't even realize had existed.

2) Reading motivates me to write. Reading a book that I find incredibly well written or exceptionally moving inspires me to tell my stories and hone my craft. Reading a book I find poorly written or disappointing makes me say "I can do better than that!" Either way, I'm motivated.

3) Reading helps me prepare for sleep. I try to climb into bed with a book at least an hour before I want to go to sleep. This forces me to put down my phone and spend some time in a restful state before expecting my body to go to sleep. The story I'm reading distracts my brain from all the things I forgot to do today or need to do tomorrow. The only side effect is that I often dream about the characters in the book I'm reading!

4) Audio books make travel time productive. I've been working in a flower shop for six months and spend a portion of each day alone in our delivery van. After a while, I thought my brain was turning to mush from all the Top 40 Radio I was listening to so I decided to try audio books. Now, I complete one or two books each week in this format. Listening to books is a completely different experience from reading them on my own. Some more difficult material (Can you say Hemingway?) is much more manageable with an audible narrator. I find it easier to follow dialogue this way too. My favorite type of audio book is memoir read by the author. It's like having a friend along telling his/her story while I drive.

5) Reading is something my husband and I can do together yet separately. In our house, we frequently have what we call Quiet Time, where we sit together in the same room and read our own books. Romantic, right? My husband and I are both self proclaimed Book Nerds. Together, we search garage sales and book stores for new additions to our home library. Reading is a hobby we can share and enjoy in our individual ways. We even hold a friendly competition  each year to see which of us reads the most books!

Book mail from one of my besties
6) My book club friends are some of my favorite people. I belong to two different book clubs. Both read one or two books per month and both frequently push me outside of my regular reading comfort zone. This broadens my horizons and exposes me to books, cultures, ideas and opinions that I otherwise wouldn't become familiar with. When we get togethr and discussly our monthly selections, even if it's fiction it leads to discussions of rea life issues and allows us to share our own stories in a small, safe setting. I have one particular friend who I've known for years and yet 95% of our conversations are about books! This has bonded us in a way that is different from any of my other friendships. The subjects in teh books we read bring up topics in conversation that may never have been braoched otherwise.

I know what you're probably thinking and no, I don't have kids. However I have a friend with two kids who reads more books than I do each year and some friends with no kids who read zero books per year. If you want to read, you can make time for it. Try using some of my tricks to squeeze more reading time into your days.

Tell me what you do to make reading fit into your life and why? What benefits have you noticed?

My favorite reading buddy

Monday, August 24, 2015

Life After Derby

A pin given to me in a birthday card last year.

This month marks one year since I retired from roller derby after suffering a head injury during a game. At this time last summer, I was still in the early stage of my recovery, wondering if I'd ever feel like myself again.

The answer to that question still isn't clear. Are any of us ever really "the same" after anything as we were before?

At my birthday party last August, I couldn't drink more than one beer and was devastated to discover I had to turn off the background music because all the sounds hurt my head too much.

As I prepare to celebrate my next birthday this week, I've been doing a bit of reflecting on my 36th year. (I'm a pretty reflective gal, if you haven't figured that out yet!)

I've realized that the past year has been about recovery and discovery for me. Recovering from my injury and all that entailed, physically as well as emotionally. And discovering who I am and what I want and need in life. I've tried a lot of new things and learned more about myself in the past few months than I ever imagined possible.

It's been a year since I played derby and I still miss it a great deal. When I got injured, I wondered who I'd be once I wasn't a "derby girl" any more. I've realized that a part of me will always be one. Even though I don't play anymore, I know that I'm capable of it and that's a powerful feeling.

Roller derby eliminated the shell I wore that separated the real me from the me I showed to the world. When you get knocked on your ass in front of a thousand people while wearing hot pants and fishnets, it's kinda hard to hide anything!

Roller derby allowed me to embrace who I am and who I strive to be. I formed strong bonds with like minded women (and a few men) who didn't judge me by my tattoos or the fact that I'm childless, and who helped me form a bad ass persona for myself based on the fact that I love candy.

Derby filled a void in me that I didn't even know I had. I had never played a team sport before. I miss the bond that I formed with my teammates. Now as I live a life without it, I wonder what will be next for me and where I might find that camaraderie. It's exciting to think there's something waiting for me that I haven't discovered yet.

If I had to sum up what I learned from roller derby in one phrase, it would be this: I can literally do anything I want to. I joined the team at age 33 and had never roller skated in my life.  Last weekend, I ran a relay race in the Grand Teton Mountains. It was tough. I sweat, I struggled, I cried. I turned into a monster from not getting sleep. But as I was pushing myself through seven miles with a 1,100 foot elevation gain, when I started to struggle I reminded myself  Hey, at least no one is chasing me or trying to hit me or stop me!

I've continued to support my derby team by going to bouts and fundraisers. My personal experience has allowed me to play a unique role for two of my former teammates who have retired in the past few months.

As I recovered from my head injury, I began to focus my energy on running, reading and writing. I've done some traveling and have tried my hand at floral design for the past few months.I am more comfortable in my own skin than I ever have been before. I have the confidence to wear whatever I want and braid my own pigtails!

Sure I'm a different person than I was before my head injury but I'm also a different person than the one who signed up for that 180 mile relay race!

It's fun to look back every so often and see the changes in myself. I've had experiences this year that I never would have anticipated at this point last summer. That's the beauty of change.

Teaching my niece to roller skate this summer.

Saturday, July 18, 2015

I Really Don't Know What Time It Is

Two years ago, I stopped wearing a watch and replaced it with a bracelet that reads "Be Here Now.”

One of my personal resolutions over the past couple of years has been to work on being present and aware in my daily life. Far too often I found myself in the middle of a task I wasn't focused on, instead my mind was running through a ticker tape of all the stuff I need to do next. I realized I was missing out on the joy in experiences because I simply couldn't sit still and enjoy them.

On a recent evening, as my other half was considering some pre-dinner preparations, he asked me "Do we have time for this? About an hour and a half?" I looked up from what I was reading to reply "Sure. We've got all the time in the world. We're not on a schedule." With one eyebrow raised, he asked "Who is this new Ramona?"

He's justified in being surprised at my laxidazical attitude toward time. A year or two ago, I would have been stressed about the fact that it was "dinner time." For the majority of my life, I've clung to beliefs that certain things need to be done at certain times. That's how I was raised. Thanks to having a mom who always had me arrive an embarrassing thirty minutes early for any school or social function, I'd come to believe that promptness was a life or death issue. If you're going to be late, you might as well not show up at all.

As I grew up, I saw that not everyone held that belief as firmly as my mother and I did. Sure, it's understood that one should try to be on time for a commitment but that's generally about as far as it goes. I had professors who were always late, then worked for bosses who couldn’t show up on time. There was a time when I thought less of those people; You expect me to be on time but you can't be? I begrudgingly thought to myself. I started to realize that actually no, those people didn't put any expectations on me, I was putting them on myself. Sure, you can't be chronically late to work or there are consequences (usually) but occasionally, it happens. The alarm doesn't go off (or-gasp-you fall asleep without setting it), you get stuck in traffic or the roads are icy or any number of  hinderances that lurk between Point A and Point B. Still, I held tightly to my belief that had to be on time and if the people around me cared about me and my selves, they would be on time too.

Then I moved to Montana.

On multiple occasions, I've gotten behind a car with a bumper sticker that asks "Did you move here to be in a hurry?" Well...I guess the answer is no...

Montana slowed me down. A lot. Maybe it's the open space and the long distances between towns. Maybe it's the mountains, the fresh air, and/or the outdoorsy lifestyles but people who live in Montana have a different energy than people in the rest of the country. 

I moved to Bozeman eight years ago, after living in the Raleigh-Durham area of North Carolina for close to a decade. I liked it there but headed West after my divroce, in search of a fresh start closer to my personal support system. After only a couple of weeks in my new home, it occurred to me just now welcome my lifestyle change was; No more daily commutes on the belt line in rush hour traffic, no hour long waits at the grocery store check out, and I felt safe walking my dog alone in the evenings.

My “Be Here Now” bracelet was custom made for me by a roller derby teammate who is a metal smith. The one I wear now is actually the second version because I wore the first one so much that it broke in half! My sweet friend made my second bracelet out of a stronger metal after taking measurements and other efforts to make sure this one would last me a long time. 

I glance at my bracelet when I need reassurance. When I’m feeling anxious, or rushed or uncomfortable, I look at the blocky letters to remind me to take a deep breath (I’m considering getting a second bracelet that reads “Just Breathe”) and stay with whatever situation and emotion I’m facing. 

Even after two years, I still occasionally look at my wrist when I want to know what time it is. It’s still a reflex after decades of wearing a watch, I suppose. And while there are certainly times when I genuinely do need to know what time it is, I’ve realized most of the time it doesn’t actually matter. And when it does matter, like for work, there's a clock I can look at, or I can always check my phone.

The result of my lacking a time piece constantly attached to my body is that I now “run behind” more than I ever have in my life. *GASP* And I’m still alive, still cruising along just fine. 

Sure, it’s stressful to me at times. I still believe that being on time proves your dedication to the task at hand and I don’t want to be late. But sometimes it happens. It doesn’t make me a bad person. It doesn’t mean I’m giving the finger to the person I’m supposed to meet. Sometimes I just don’t get there exactly when I said I would. 

I’ve come to realize I was a slave to time for the majority of my life. Now, I’m likely to text a friend to say I’m running behind or ask to push dinner back by 30 minutes so I’m not rushing around like a maniac. 

I’ve learned that my time is valuable and precious. I’ve only got so much of it each day. I want to enjoy what I’m doing when I’m doing it and spend less time in the future or the past. 

How do you feel about time? Do you wear a watch? If so why or why not. I’d love to know!

Thursday, July 9, 2015

Don't Be Normal

I've decided that I would like to eliminate the word normal from my vocabulary.

According to Roget's Thesaurus, "Normal implies conformity with the established norm or standard for its kind." Synonyms listed include ordinary, usual, regular, typical, natural, average, common, run of the mill.

So if you don't conform to the establish norm, you're not normal? Who established that norm and did they ever tell us what it is?

I don't think normal has any synonyms that carry the same weight as it does. Common and average, I like to use. Those are tangible concepts, you can measure them. But what's normal? One can ask "What's the average age for a woman to get married?" then do research and come up with a number. When you ask "What's the normal age for a woman to get married?" that puts a different spin on things.

Part of my motivation to discard the word normal has come from my work in the flower shop. Each week we receive shipments of fresh cut flowers. I can have a bucket of 36 red roses and while they all look the same at first glance, each one is a tiny bit different. Instead of holding up a flower with misshapen petals and asking "Is this normal?" I've learned to ask "Is this one okay to use?"  because there is a wide range of traits that are considered acceptable. This should apply to all living things!

On the 4th, my Boston Terrier sat on my lap in our front yard while our family lit off fireworks in the driveway. His head would follow each hiss and woosh from the ground to the sky and he never flinched at the boom. My other dog laid at my feet as relaxed as if we were inside watching a movie. Someone said "Those dogs are not normal!" and I will agree this is certainly not the common reaction most dogs have to fireworks, but it's certainly preferable to them being frightened or needing to be sedated.

My thesaurus states that abnormal means strange, irregular, unnatural, unusual. Every time we say "That's not normal," what we're actually saying is "That's strange and unnatural," but I don't think that's what we usually mean.

As a writer, my thesaurus is my favorite tool and helps me hone my craft. When I write a first draft, I write by hand, putting down everything that comes to me. I type it, print it, read it through once, then start editing. One of the first things I do is circle words that need to be removed or replaced, such as very or huge or happy.  I want to use as few words as possible to say what I mean and I have an entire shelf of reference books to help me with that.

One thing I've learned from those books, besides an abundance of synonyms, is that sometimes we use words when we don't know exactly what they mean. I once wrote an entire essay about a trifecta and when I was done thought I better look that up to make sure I'm using it right, and it turns out I wasn't! I used it anyway and included a preface to explain why but the point is, I could have looked quite foolish if I'd not caught that. It's like how not all the examples Alanis uses in Ironic are actually irony. It's still a catchy song but I can't take it seriously.

Perhaps it's because I'm a writer and have a strong appreciation for words, but I believe we should be careful with the words we use. Technology has made it so that our lives are crammed full with people's opinions, with their words. Getting the opportunity to have someone listen to what you're saying is a gift that shouldn't be squandered. When someone chooses to read my blog or magazine article, I'm flattered because there is an endless list of other things for them to read and they chose my words. If someone uses their precious time to read my writing, I want it to be worth their while. I want to make them laugh or smile or give my piece thoughtful consideration.

Likewise, when I speak to someone I want to add to their day. We all have people in our lives with whom conversation is difficult or draining. It's not necessarily their fault. I think they simply haven't become aware of the power their words hold.

I'd like to challenge you. Over the next couple of days, keep your ears open for the word normal. And pay attention to the words you use often or that others use with you. I'd love to know what you hear and think about it!