Perseverance Is The New Sexy

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My husband and I sat huddled around the computer with our houseguest, watching the video of his interview with a South American beauty queen. She asked him about his recent book release, and after she asked in Spanish and he answered in English, my husband said, “I didn’t know you speak Spanish.” “I don’t!” he replied. “We talked about it in advance and faked it for the cameras.”

“Watch this part,” he said, when the beauty queen switched to impeccable English. “She gets personal, and there’s a bit of a frisson between us.” We smiled as we watched this otherworldly beauty, with a talent for languages and for hiking up her bosom with an industrial strength push-up bra, ask our friend, who was slightly hungover and wearing a toothpaste stained t-shirt, how he enjoyed his time in her country. They bantered a bit, and he used his British accent to great effect, and she laughed, and we, on the other side of the screen, laughed with her.

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This month, my husband and I celebrated twenty years of marriage. I’ve been married for nearly half of my life, waking up to the same man on the other side of the bed for as long as I can remember. The early days of nervous laughter and sweaty palms and  sensations of excitement, frissons if you will, have matured into something deeper, something solid, something daily.

This is the strength of a long marriage–discovering passion is built upon the cornerstones of like-minded purpose, and encouraging your spouse to become who they’re meant to be. Over the years you find a “frisson” looks less like a camera-worthy flirtation, and more like your spouse unexpectedly washing the dirty dishes. Strength isn’t built on a rush of sudden emotion, but on choosing each other day after day after day.

Those of us who’ve made Ebenezers of these milestones in marriage, know this is what it takes. It’s not what the world considers sexy–there are no reality shows called “Housewives of Suburbia: Committed to Making It Work.” Reality roots itself not in the show, but in the quotidian rhythms of life.

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I know this about marriage, and I know this about mothering, but I am still learning this about the pursuit of art and higher education. I want it to feel a little sexy. I want the frisson of the blank page, of sitting down to write and discovering I have strung words together like stars across a midnight blue sky. I want it to feel like magic exists in the craft and in the pursuit. I want the fizz of fireworks when I create, and that flash-pop rarely exists. Pursuing our dreams often roots itself in the quotidian rhythms of life, just as it does in marriage.

I wish I had known it meant choosing my art daily, even when I don’t want to look it full in the face because we’re barely speaking. Or repeating the same tasks over and over to build up the muscle memory of love for my work. I wish I had learned sooner that the strength of creating a large body of quality work is built on the foundation of small, daily decisions not built on my feelings.

I know I am not alone in this pursuit. You have a family, a career, a goal, a dream. And you wake up to the reality of how much hard work it requires everyday. You wake up to look it full in the face, and you wonder if the choices you make today create a difference in tomorrow’s story.

Growth comes when we place one foot in front of the other, string one star across the sky, and live by the daily rhythms rather than fight them. A glance back at how far you’ve traveled from your starting point becomes the source of true pleasure. Forget the flirtations. Perseverance is the new sexy.

Faking it since 1975

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My oldest daughter is guiding me through a reading of Charles Dickens’ A Tale of Two Cities. She read and analyzed the novel for English class in the spring, and initially, I promised to read alongside her to keep her company among the pages. Life intervened, and three months and a rather large library fine later, I’m finally sitting down to read the book long after she finished it. Saturday night, I texted her while she was on a date: “What is the significance of …. Is that just a weird detail or is it meaningful?” She replied that it was important, and it is a “known thing”. Known to whom, I’m not sure. Certainly not to her mother with the questionable education in English Literature.

My child is sixteen and far more educated than me in many ways. This causes no end of internal conflicts for me as the “authority” figure around this joint. In conversations with her about her school work, I find myself standing in the kitchen holding a greasy spatula or an over-flowing laundry basket wondering what I have to offer her. I often feel as if I’m missing the “known thing”, and I’m winging it on the general knowledge of spot removal, one thousand ways to cook chicken, and how not to tend a garden.

I told a friend recently, “I’m not above faking it,” and I realized this has unexpectedly become my rallying cry.  So far, my faking it has kept most of my former patients out of the morgue, three kids thriving across three countries, my marriage and home (mostly) intact, and my relationships breathing oxygenated air. Inexplicably, faking it has also landed me in a master of fine arts program for creative writing. Apparently, they are unaware I spent the better part of the ’90’s reading questionable novels with a healthy side of People magazine.

I find myself faking it a lot on this journey to discovering the “known thing”. As a kid, I naively believed that once I became an adult I would know everything–I would draw closer to flawless wisdom with age. And the more I age, the more I realize how far from flawless, how far from wise, how far from knowledgeable I truly am. The answers I once held fast, unravel with a swift tug. The facts and figures once memorized, drift away on a constant stream of new information. The dreams and plans I made, continue to shape-shift like shadows at sunset.

My hope is that faking it will eventually lead to doing it. And doing it will eventually lead to mastering it–mastering the mystery of the known thing. It takes humility to let my children lead me into the knowing, but I believe I’m better for it. And certainly more well read.

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Are you learning anything in unexpected places?

Practical Tips for Coming Back to Center

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Earlier this week, I wrote about returning to center when life feels as if it’s spiraling out of control. I am a work in progress when it comes to keeping the main thing the main thing, but I have a few touch points I use throughout my day to help me remember I am a human being, not a human doing.

I’ve discovered a few key things that I find life-giving, and I try to layer them into my day. My things may not be the same as your things, but I thought I’d share as a jumping off point for you to think about your own desires and what touch points you might incorporate into the labyrinth of your busy life.

Spirit

Connecting:

Prayer, scripture, and stillness are a must for my day to stay centered. We all know this to be true, but finding the time can be a struggle in our busy days. Rather than finding the time, I create it in the mornings. I often find it difficult to turn off the incessant turning over of minutiae in my brain and focus on connecting to my spirit. Through trial and error, I discovered one of the best ways to quiet my thoughts and enter into the realm of the spirit, is to begin by reading a Psalm. Is there a particular book of the Bible, or passage of scripture that speaks to you? Begin there. Is there an ancient prayer you might repeat? The words of a hymn? A song of worship you might play? We all have our own path to prayer and scripture reading. Find yours and begin to incorporate it. Your day will thank you for it.

Body

Moving:

To stay centered, I need to move my body. No one loves to lounge on a sofa more than I do, but my backside loves it a little too much. My motivation to begin moving was, to be honest, based on the state of the aforementioned backside. However, I discovered one of the by-products of putting my body through the difficult motions of running, pilates, or yoga has the opposite effect on my mind. While my body moves, my brain receives a much longed for break. The motion centers my mind from its endless circling. On busy days, I keep it as simple as a walk around the block, and I might spend my time praying then too. Walking gives me the chance to focus on them all: Brain, Spirit, Butt. Every day, move a little.

Soul

As in most things, soul care looks different for each of us. For me to feel fully centered, my day would ideally include:

Reading: I need to read. I need it like water, and my soul feels dry and brittle when I don’t read a little everyday. Some days, all I can muster is a poem. Others, I might manage a chapter. I haven’t found anything else that brings me back to the core of who I am, apart from reading a good book. It was the first thing I turned to as a child, and as an adult it often feels like the last thing I allow myself to do. It feels indulgent. The truth is, it’s necessary to my soul’s health.

Creating/Writing: I know this won’t scratch where most of you itch, but I need to write a little every day. I don’t hold myself to a particular number of words, and journaling my inner crazy counts. I need a place to spill everything building on the inside. When I don’t write for a while, the words build like castles, taking up all of my soul space. Once I release them on a page, they can talk amongst themselves. Writing may not be your thing, but we all have the ability to create. Soul care involves creating. What is one small thing, one baby step you can take each day, to add creating into the rhythms of your life?

Listening: When my children were young, I passed through a season where I couldn’t add any more noise to my daily life. I rarely listened to music, and never would have listened to a podcast (had there been such a thing). Music was soul static, but my life was poorer for it. I wish I’d explored music more, and found something to soothe my soul rather than irritate it. I’m making up for it now, and I find I need to listen to either music or an interesting podcast at some point during my day to feel whole. Someday, I’d like to learn how to make music of my own. Does listening help you center too?

Chasing Beauty: One of the smallest ways I stop circling and come back to center, involves chasing beauty. It took me decades to discover that finding beauty in my everyday life is one of my core values. For me, beauty often has its genesis in nature or art and always leads me to a deeper truth about myself or God. Sometimes I find beauty in the connection points I offer above–on a walk in the woods, reading a poem, listening to classic jazz. Other times, I have to chase it down by recognizing it in the curve of my daughter’s cheek, a certain slant of light, the scent of fresh cut lemons, or in a friend’s laughter. Beauty is everywhere, and it is essential to slowing the soul spiral. Often, I like to capture it in words or in photos to help my soul remember. Where do you find beauty? Are your eyes and ears open to it daily?

You might be wondering how to fit all of this into your already full day. You work, you raise littles, you hold the weight of the world on your shoulders, like Atlas. Often times, making one centering choice, allows the others to tag along. If you fit in the time for a walk, say a prayer along the way. Look at the way the sun shines through the dappled oak leaves and chase that beauty. Listen to your favorite song on the walk home. Create by humming a tune of your own. Layer these connection points within your everyday.

It doesn’t have to be complicated, but we make it so. Keep it simple. Connect, move, create, chase. You can do this, I promise.

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What would you add to my list? What would you take away? What is your best tip for staying centered?

Coming Back to Our Center

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In the early stages of my journey into writing, I signed up for an online class on writing memoir. The class was filled with writers all along the spectrum of mastery, from novice to English professor with a PhD. To say that I fell into the novice camp is an epic understatement. At the request of our mentor, we dove into critiquing each other’s work immediately. And I, with little background on the other students and their skill set, offered the English Professor my best advice, which fell somewhere along the lines of a grammar lesson and a suggestion that he use less “passive voice”. I’m fairly certain I had to google the term prior to using it.

He graciously ignored everything I wrote in the margins, and continued to develop his piece to his own liking. After a few weeks of reading other student’s comments, I realized I had focused on the minutiae of each piece, while ignoring the big ideas exploding with the whizz and bang of a firecracker in my face. I began to catch on, and in my last comment to the Professor, I told him I appreciated the structure of his piece. It presented itself like a series of concentric circles. He responded by uploading a photograph of his notes for the essay–written in the shape of a spiral.

Over the last month, I’ve read a lot about teaching theory which is to say I’ve been flummoxed by books with names like “Pedagogy of the Oppressed.” You won’t find that title on your latest beach read list. It’s been a heavy slog through lots of theories I can’t explain, but one specific thought has stuck with me. When editing papers, all the books recommend that a professor focuses on the main ideas of the piece and on the student’s process for arriving there. Leave the grammar and word choice for finish work, and instead help the student keep the main thing, the main thing.

In other words, stop looking at their work as if it’s a straight line to The End. We don’t work in straight lines. We work from the inside out, making our way from the center, round and round, until our thoughts and ideas circle their way into something bigger. I’ve thought about this a lot, not so much as a professor with a student, but as a human who gets so caught up with wanting to fix the minute details on the outer rings, that I forget to begin in the center.

In yoga, we always begin class with a centering exercise, where we center on the moment, and push everything else to the outer rings. We eventually make our way to feel around the circle’s edges, but first, we center. We are fully present in that moment. I rarely take this practice off my yoga mat, but I see how easy it is to drift from my core, my soul center. I’ve come to realize that I need a few daily practices to help me keep the main thing the main thing. To help me focus on what I really want to say with my life, as I move from the inner to the outer rings.

Life is a series of concentric circles. The calendar year, the seasons, the raising of children, learning, laughter, personal growth and especially love. Everything starts at the epicenter and works it’s way out, growing larger and fuller and more complex as it grows. We have the ability to return to the main thing, to edit our way back to our core when the circles grow too far and too unwieldy to manage. This is true in writing. This is true in life.

In my next post, I’ll talk about a few practical ways I return to center when life feels as if it’s spiraling out of control. In the meantime, I’d love to know if you see things in a linear fashion or in a series of circles? How do you keep the main thing the main thing?

 

Craving Balance

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“His ears were made of real rabbit fur, and beneath the fur, there were strong, bendable wires, which allowed the ears to be arranged into poses that reflected the rabbit’s mood — jaunty, tired, full of ennui.” Kate DiCamillo in The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane

I hunch over the steering wheel, or the sink, or the weedy garden. I bend into a pose that would indicate I carry the weight of the world, when I carry only the concerns of my household and my little family. Why does the small feel so very heavy? I am tired of tasks. I am tired of lists occupying my creative spaces. I am tired of feeling like creating is a luxury, rather than a necessity. When I sat down to write this morning, I found nothing but a heap of single letters scrambled up, lying in corners. One word escaped, and I bent into the curve of it. Ennui.

ennui:a feeling of utter weariness and discontent resulting from satiety or lack of interest; boredom

Have you ever felt it? For such an enchanting word, it has the potential to be deadly. It kills Charisma. Joy. Imagination. Originality. Ennui tells us nothing matters. It says, we are the check list. We are the tasks. We are the dead end job or difficult marriage or boredom magnet. Ennui comes from an imbalance, from having too much of one thing and not enough of another.

Sometimes ennui masquerades as laziness. It tells us we must vacate our everyday lives and fill the daily-ness of it, with a lounge chair on the beach and empty spaces on the calendar. Sometimes this is necessary, but often times, it’s not vacating we need. It is adding depth and richness back into lives that have been stripped down for the sake of productivity.

When ennui creeps into my days, I feel the urge to stop everything, when really all it calls for is a shift in my priorities. In my life, this looks like too much routine and not enough rhythm. Too many duties and not enough pleasure. I’m especially susceptible to ennui when I deny myself the enjoyment of art or when I refuse to take a Sabbath.

We are not the tasks. We are the heart and soul flaming behind them. What makes the world come alive in you and through you? My guess is, it’s not finishing a list of tasks or reaching the bottom of your laundry basket. It’s probably finishing a chapter of a good book, or taking a hike, or listening to music, or engaging in a life-giving conversation. My guess is the antidote to ennui is a combination of hope and velvet and sweet tea and laughter.

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Are you feeling an imbalance in your life right now? If so, what is one step you could take to correct it?