Voices in our Head

At the end of last school year, back in June, I was reading Savvy to the kids. We never finished it so yesterday I picked it up again so we could continue. This morning, I read this passage from the book:

I thought about those two gals and their constant griping and bellyaching, and my head swam with questions. If I could tell what Lester was thinking or feeling by listening to those voices in my head, why did they always talk about him like he wasn’t even there? They were always cutting him down to the quick. It seemed like those two ladies had had such an effect on him that now it was only their voices he heard loud, loud, loud. Was it their nasty chit-chat that told Lester who he was? No wonder the man had a stutter and a twitch.

Maybe it’s like that for everyone, I thought. Maybe we all have other people’s voices running higgledy-piggledy through our heads all the time. I thought how often my poppa and momma were there inside my head with me, telling me right from wrong. Or how the voices of Ashley Bing and Emma Flint sometimes got stuck under my skin, taunting me and making me feel low, even when they weren’t around. I began to realize how hard it was to separate out all the voices to hear the single, strong one that came just from me.

If you haven’t read the book, the two gals she mentions are Lester’s tattoos (she can hear people’s thoughts if they have any writing/tattoos on their skin).

After we read the chapter, I talked to David about this passage for a while. I told him how we all have that in our heads. How he should stop an pay attention to the voices in his own head and see whose they are. Like when he says he’s not good at something, is that really him or is he hearing a not-so-nice classmate who might have made a snide comment that stuck with him? I told him to make sure it’s his voice and to not let others’ voices take charge of his thoughts. (Not even his mom and dad’s.)

I explained that by the time we get to be my age, our heads are so filled with these that it gets harder and harder to differentiate whose voice originally put these thoughts in our head. We’ve carried them for so long that they feel like our own voice. But they are not. Some other person put them there. And if you pay attention from the beginning, maybe you can be better at weeding them out. Making sure your own voice is the strongest.

Because, I honestly think that we get all muddled up while we’re young and we spend the rest of our lives trying to sort through the noise in our heads. Yet another area where awareness would be a big gift.

I also told him that the other side of the coin is important, too. That other people will hear his voice in their head. And that he should make sure they hear him saying kind and encouraging things. And that it can really empower people to have a kind voice in their head. I told him how his little brother will get affected by his words so much and that’s why I make a point to ensure he’s as kind as can be. I told him that his words do matter. People do hear him and will remember. He should think of how it feels to have a discouraging, disparaging voice in his own head and see if he would ever want to be that for someone else.

The same goes for me, of course. I am trying to comb through the voices in my head. Find what’s mine. Kick the others out. And I want to be the kind, encouraging voice in others’ heads. The empowering voice. For every single person around me. I want to be that.

The story continues to say:

Climbing back up into the big pink Heartland Bible Supply bus, the morning warm and bright, I tried to listen past Carlene and Rhonda; I tried to hear if there was any of Lester’s own voice left in Lester. The more I watched and listened, the more it became clear as clear that whenever Lill smiled Lester’s way, or whenever she spoke to him as we traveled down the highway, Carlene and Rhonda seemed to lose their sway. Lill shone on Lester like the sun. And on his arms, his sleeves rolled up, the women’s scowling, animated faces dissolved back into the thin black lines of lifeless tattoos.

Maybe Lill was an angel, I thought to myself; maybe she was Lester’s angel, sent down from heaven to clear the voices from his head.

Today’s my husband’s birthday. Above all, this is the gift Jake’s given me. He has helped me clear the voices in my head. Sure he has his flaws and put some voices of his own. But he’s been there to remind me through and through that my own voice is the strongest and most worthy. I am deeply grateful for him.

Happy Birthday, my love. I love you with all my heart.

Clearing the Air

David came home today and he was sad. He had a rough day at school and had some negative thoughts about some of his friendships. I had a talk with him so I could understand what happened and so he could share his sadness. We decided on a possible next step and then he started his afternoon schedule (chores, play, dinner, etc.)

While he was gone, I called one of the parents of one of his friends and asked if she could maybe talk to her son to see if he felt the way David thought he might and if he didn’t mind, would he maybe call David to let him know things were ok. I insisted that she not force him to call if he didn’t feel up to it.

I didn’t tell David in case his friend didn’t want to call. And, after I hung up, I worried maybe that I did the wrong thing. Maybe I shouldn’t have interfered. Maybe this kid will dislike David cause his mom will force him to call. I wasn’t sure.

But what I did know is that if David’s anything like me, he’s going to chew on it all night. He’s going to blow things out of proportion in his head. He’s going to feel sad and alone and worried until it’s resolved. I went back and forth on it.

Maybe he won’t: He is just seven, after all.

But maybe he will: He has a lot of my genes after all.

So I wasn’t sure.

What I did know is that if I could stop him from agonizing all night, I wanted the chance to do it. I have been there before. I am really, exceptionally good at creating worst-case scenarios. When I don’t resolve issues, I can make them huge in my head and heart. I can have them swallow me whole and deeply upset me. In my life when there’s an unresolved issue, I make an effort to reach out immediately now. I apologize. I listen. I talk. Whatever it is. I just try not to put it off. This is not about “cooling time.” I do believe for some people giving them time to cool off is helpful. Or maybe even necessary. But this is more about not clearing the air. I find that the longer I put off clearing the air, the more muddled things get. And the more upset and carried away I get.

So I just try to do it. I try to remember what matters and let go of the noise. Which is the same thing I was trying to let David do. I asked him what mattered most. And he thought about it and told me. So we decided to let go of the rest and share with his friends what matters most.

I am grateful that his friend did indeed call and they talked and it seemed to have gone well. David went to sleep feeling lighter and happier.

Here’s to hoping tomorrow is that way, too.

Moving away from Judgement

Last week, in one of my book clubs, we were talking about compassion. One of the women in my group was saying how she’s working actively on trying to become more compassionate towards everyone. How’s she’s been working on this for a long time and still struggles with it occasionally but she is not giving up.

As always, it made me think a lot about my relationship with compassion. If you read here with any regularity, you know that compassion towards myself is something I struggle with consistently. But, in this case, I was thinking about compassion towards others. Towards my kids, my husband, friends, strangers. Was I doing a good job? How could I do better? I try to be open-minded and be kind to most people I encounter, but was that enough?

The thing is, anyone who judges herself, clearly judges others too. But, yet, judgement requires knowledge. For me, judging someone comes down to two things:

1. Thinking you know them well enough to know exactly why they’re behaving the way they do
2. Thinking you know what the “right” way to behave is

But the fact is, you don’t know either. If there’s anything I’ve learned over the years, it’s that we don’t know those around us nearly as well as we think we do. We have no idea what they’re going through. Even the people we’re close to don’t always share their situation. As we grow older and have lives intertwined with husbands, significant others, children, etc. there is more and more that’s private to a certain relationship. Your friend might share her personal issues with you but she might not be able to share issues she’s facing with her kids or husband. So, at any moment in time, you know a lot less about someone else’s situation than you think you do. Which means you have no idea why they are making the choices they make or behaving the way they do.

The second one is more obvious to me. You clearly don’t know what the right thing to do is. You barely know what might be right for you. Sometimes it’s hard to tell the right thing in a marriage, to ensure both parties are getting what they need. And this is the person who’s theoretically closest to you and shares your days and nights. When it comes to friendships, it’s really hard to tell what the right thing for that person, for that situation might be. And who are you to know exactly what’s right in every situation? Or for every person in that situation?

Nobody, that’s who.

I was reminded again last week that there’s so much I don’t know about the people in my life. So many assumptions I make. So much filling in the “blanks.” And the way I fill in the blanks is often wrong. The assumptions I make are incorrect. Even with my husband, whom I’ve been with for almost twenty years, I have a hard time guessing exactly what he’s thinking and why he’s behaving a certain way. He is another human being. He has his own fears, worries, shortcomings, etc. Not to mention his own set of assumptions for situations and people in his own life. When you think about it more and more, you can clearly see how complicated this is. How little we really know. How many assumptions we make about others.

After the reminder last week, I am trying to keep this at the front of my mind. When I look at others (even my kids) I remind myself that I don’t know the full story. I don’t know what he’s reacting to. I don’t know what else she might be suffering from. I don’t know about the worries and fears he’s carrying with him.

And I will stop thinking that I know. Instead, I will be open. So I can listen. So he can share if he wants to. And if she doesn’t, I can just be there. To lean on, to forget, to hold his hand. I know it’s hard but I am hoping that if I raise my awareness and practice as often as I can, this will allow me to move from judgement to compassion.

And, maybe, just maybe, I can slowly find some compassion for myself, too.

Connecting Deeply

Recently, I was thinking about my college days. One of the most magical things about being in college is that you’re surrounded by people who’re exactly your age and in the same stage of their life as you are. And you’re independent and making your own decisions. You get to stay up all night or ditch class or take extra classes or go dancing all night. The decisions are yours. It’s an extreme example of finding yourself and being given all the room to do so while others around you are doing exactly the same thing.

It’s intense.

You might not be surprised to find out that I worked pretty hard through college. In the four years I was there, I got both my undergraduate degree and my graduate one, and I had a minor in Art. I also couldn’t believe I could take any class I wanted so I took a lot of random courses. So college wasn’t all fun and games for me. But I still remember having so much time. Making so many friends.

Like anything else there, friendships in college were intense too. You meet someone, you talk for hours. And then the next day you talk all day again. About nothing. About everything. I remember meeting people and then just spending hours talking to them. Maybe this is why the friends you make there tend to stick with you.

I recently had coffee with someone I really liked. I’d never really talked to this person one on one before and during the coffee, it became really apparent to me that we could talk for a long long time before we ran out of things to share.

But, alas. She has kids, and so do I. Husbands. Job. Life. The chance that we will get to spend hours and hours to chat is pretty close to slim. This is why I thought about college. That period when I could really dive deep into my friendships with people. When it comes to connecting, I am not a breadth person. I might have a bunch of acquaintances but I really prefer to have few, deep friends. So having a large quantity of quality time together is essential.

And I am not sure exactly how to accomplish that in my current stage of life.

When I am chatting with someone and I can tell that if only we spent more time together, dove deeper, were less worried about being cordial, could get right to the authenticity, we could really connect. Then I feel this urge to do something about it. I wish I could just pause the clock and sit there with that person and chat. Like I used to in college. Where all the urgencies of everything else falls away. Where time feels infinite. (Even though it never is.)

But, instead, I give her a hug and tell her I hope we can have coffee again soon. (knowing full well it might be months before “soon” comes.)

I know it’s just a stage of life. There will be other periods when my kids are out of the house or when I am retired where I have more time to connect. And I know I am lucky to have a husband who is my best friend. But I still wish I could find a way to connect more deeply now.

I miss the intensity of college. But I don’t seem to have any ideas on how to make it happen. I just know I want it.

Every Last Drop

A few weeks ago a friend was telling me how she doesn’t dance and sing with her kids because her parents never did that with her and it’s just not the way she is. But the way she said it gave me pause. It didn’t sound like she didn’t want to do it. It sounded like she secretly wanted to do it but justified it to herself by saying how she didn’t have it as a kid and so it was ok not to give it to her kids. (Or, you know, maybe I’m putting words in her mouth, but it doesn’t matter because this post isn’t about her. I mention it cause this conversation and the vibe I got triggered this post.)

And then this past weekend I was journaling the hundreds of questions last week’s Body Restoration class came with and one of them was “What do I wish I had never done?” And I thought about all the possible answers I could give. But then I realized that I couldn’t write anything down. The thing is, I only know this version of my life. And everything that happened before this is the sequence of events that took me here. How can I be sure that changing anything wouldn’t lead me somewhere else? The thing is, I love my life right now. I am deeply grateful for it. And regretting something in the past or wishing it had never occurred opens up the possibility of other paths. Other ways my life could have unfolded. And maybe I wouldn’t end up where I am now. There’s nothing that would make me wish that. Everything I did, good and bad, is what led me here. I regret nothing.

So when I thought of my friend’s situation and my thoughts on regret, and I decided that what I want is to never live a life unfulfilled. I don’t want to make excuses to not do the things I want to do. I want to live the best life I can. Not get hung up on regrets, past worries, other people’s mean words or expectations.

Many years ago, I took a big life-changing class and I took a trip back home Turkey soon after. I remember sitting at dinner with my family and telling them about my class. My grandmother said that she wished she’d taken it. She had so many regrets about the way she’d lived her life. I was quite surprised cause my grandmother had never, ever mentioned such thoughts before. But it also made me think a lot. I want to be able to look back and feel like I lived my life to the fullest extent possible. Explored all my options. Lived true to my own dreams, goals, joys, and ideals. That I pleased myself and the ones I love over the people who don’t matter.

Just to top off all these thoughts, today, my grafting happiness class started and today’s post had the following quote: “The fear that something is wrong with you is your greatest block to joy. In truth, there is no other block.”

I don’t want to feel like there’s anything wrong with me. I don’t want to worry about what I am not doing, or who’s not approving of me, or who talks behind my back. If I want to sing and dance with my kids, I don’t want to worry that my mom didn’t do it with me so I shouldn’t do it. Or that I don’t know how. Or that it looks silly. I don’t want to wish away any of my past. It is the foundation upon which I rest: good or bad. It’s also gone. It’s completely over with. I don’t want to worry about regrets. I don’t want to be afraid. I don’t want to worry about people and things that don’t truly matter. And, most importantly, I don’t want to live a life unfulfilled.

I want to fill my cup of joy all the way up. And drink it all and then fill it up again. I want to live my day as if I am completely free to be and do anything I choose. There’s no rope tying me to the past and holding me down. There’s no shoulds, musts. Just a list of things that fulfill me and the people I love.

So that, at any moment in time, and know that I am making the very best of what I have.

Drinking every last drop of joy.

Passage of Time

In honor of my older son turning seven today, I decided I wanted to write a bit about Time. I’m very conscious of the passage of time. Not in that, wow-i-am-getting-old-wish-i-was-young way. I’ve never (so far) worried about getting old. I actually like getting older. I feel like my body/age is finally catching up with what my soul always felt. But, that aside, I am very aware that time is a very limited resource and if we don’t use it wisely, we lose it.

The fact is we lose it no matter what.

Time passes. When just yesterday he was born, now my son is seven years old. I can’t stop him from growing. I can’t stop time from passing. The only thing I can do is make the most of it while it’s here. The thing with life is that day-to-day moments can be overwhelming. Filled with lots of small activities. Like cleaning, commuting, taking kids to activities, packing lunches, getting homework done, etc. Most of these can be annoying and time-consuming and are repetitive. So they wear us down. They make us notice the big things less.

Things like your little boy becoming seven.

One of my big goals for this year is to pay attention more. To pay attention to things in between all the daily churn. To slow down and notice the beauty and amazingness of our ordinary days. To stop and be grateful. Deeply grateful. For my very ordinary life. I think the best way to use time wisely is to pay attention. To notice what truly makes your heart happy. To notice what makes the people in your life happy. And to do more of those. Even if a little more. To infuse your days with a few more things that make you joyful.

Just a few minutes makes a big difference.

Making better use of your time, like all things, is about the little steps. You cannot change your life overnight. And those chores are pieces of life and will not go away. This doesn’t mean you can’t make changes. I’ve been making a huge effort to stop and pay attention. To smile at the little things my kids do when they don’t know I am watching. To give an extra hug to my husband. Send a sweet email to a friend. (In fact, my friend Jess sent me a book in the mail today. She said she loved it and wanted me to read it, too. Something relatively not time-consuming on her part, but completely made my day.) Paying attention allows you to make changes. Paying attention changes the way you look at what’s there. It’s sort of a magical way to slow time down.

With my photos, I capture my little magical moments in the day. When I process them later that day, I get to relive those moments. When I print them out later in the week, I relive them once more. And when I scrap them for my Savor Project, I get to relive them once again. That allows me to extend the one small/magical moment by reliving it four times. That’s pretty awesome magic if you ask me!

I am learning more and more that everything starts with paying attention. If you know what’s really happening, then you get the opportunity to make change. Without that, you’re operating blind. Taking everything granted. And not exercising the choices you have in life.

So this is a reminder for me to honor my word, pay attention, and try to savor the moments of my day.

And happy birthday my sweet son, David. I love you more than life itself. I am so grateful for you.

The Chance to Give

After reading the comments on yesterday’s post, two things came up for me. One was about being an advocate for yourself which I will save for another post. But the second one was about giving others the chance to do things for you.

There were a few comments about not asking because you didn’t think you deserved it or being worried to bother others. (I don’t want to put words in your mouth so just know that this is me rephrasing and not any particular person’s comment.) This made me think of how frustrating it is to have a friend/spouse/family member who won’t ask. Because here’s the thing: I really love being able to do things for people. Given the chance, I’d much rather do something I know they will love instead of doing something I might think they will like.

When someone cares about you, they love to see you happy. I think we all have this. It’s the joy that comes from giving presents to people and seeing their face light up. If I knew for a fact that I could do something that would make my husband, my son, my friend smile each time, I would make a huge effort to try to do that often.

There’s so much joy in being able to do something for someone you love.

And when you don’t ask, I think you’re denying that person the pleasure of being able to make you happy. This is one of the best things about little kids. They are quite vocal about what they like and they squeal with joy when they get it. And seeing them happy makes us happy too. It’s a huge boost.

Put yourself in the other person’s shoes. What if you lived with someone and they wanted something but never asked you. Wouldn’t it be frustrating to know that there’s potentially something you can do to make them happier but you will never know because they are not asking?

In my personal relationships I find this terribly frustrating. As long as it’s asking and taking what you get (and not throwing a fit if you don’t get it) I feel like asking is giving the other person the opportunity to do something that will bring joy into your life. And if this person cares about you, they will try their best to do it. Won’t they?

And if they don’t care about you….well maybe it’s time to reconsider that relationship.

But, again, if you don’t ask, you won’t know. And if you don’t ask, you can’t expect them to read your mind. It’s not fair. By not asking, not only are you unhappy but you’re also denying them the chance to do something for you. If I found out that someone close to me was doing that, I’d be so sad. I’d feel terrible that they are not giving me the benefit of the doubt. They’re assuming I wouldn’t care.

But I do.

And I bet the people in your life do, too. If you don’t ask, you’ll never know. And, even worse, you’ll be denying them the chance to get to do something for you. To give you. To show you their love.

And that’s a shame.

Asking for What you Want

David has this habit where instead of asking for something, he’ll just say “you won’t say yes anyway.” I will admit, this always gets me annoyed. I feel like saying no just out of spite. But, that aside, I am a big fan of asking for what you want. I’ve noticed that people tend to make a lot of assumptions about what they can and cannot have.

I’m not sure what it is that stops people from asking for things. I’ve found that when you ask for something straight up without being conniving and passive aggressive or annoying, you’re more likely to get what you want than not get it. I’ve asked for things in so many different areas of my life. In school, at work, in my personal life. My husband jokes that I am good at getting my way, but I find that, more often than not, I ask when others don’t. And people have a hard time saying no to your face. Especially when they have no reason to do so.

When I was in college, I did this often with the random class limits. I used to walk up to my advisor and ask him to let me take more classes than the limit. I figured if I kept my grades high and fulfilled my requirements, why shouldn’t I just be able to take whatever class I wanted. If the rules seemed arbitrary to me, I always questioned them. That’s how I ended up getting my Masters at the same time as my Bachelors Degree. It’s also how I ended up working three days a week on Wall Street and still getting promoted. It’s how I got to work at home now. There was no big trick to getting what I wanted.

I just asked.

This is not to say sometimes the answer is not “no” but you will never know the answer if you don’t ask. Trust me. Even when you think you know the answer, you often will be surprised. I find that if you do your part and are a reliable student, employee, spouse, friend, you often find the other party is happy to help accomodate you when they can.

The other side of asking for what you want is accepting what you get. Once you ask, you need to be ok with getting yes or no as answer. But here’s what I think about that: if you don’t ask, you’re guaranteed a “no” so if you ask and get a “no” you’re no worse off than if you hadn’t asked. But if you get a “yes,” you’re much better off. So, by asking, you can only end up same or better off. So why not ask?

That’s what I told David yesterday when he, once again, made some passive aggressive comment instead of just asking for what he wanted. I said that if he didn’t ask, he would never know what the answer is. And if he did this trick where he said “oh you will never say yes anyway,” he would end up being right because I would never say yes to that. So his best option was to ask straight out and take what he got as an answer with dignity. Sometimes I might say yes and other times he’s right that the answer might be no.

But he will only know if he asks.


When we went to David’s parent-teacher conference last week, one of the things the teacher mentioned was that David reported a lot of thumbs-downs post-lunch. His class has a routine where they sit in a circle when lunch is over and each of the kids get to say thumbs-up, sideways, or down for how their lunch period felt.

And David was often choosing thumbs-down.

This lined up with what I’ve been seeing lately, too. David seems to often choose to look at things from a negative perspective. And also he doesn’t always realize something is not enjoyable until quite a bit of time has been invested into it. For example, sometimes he gets to spend special time with Daddy at night before bed. Occasionally, at the end of this time, he’ll come down to say good night to me and tell me that it wasn’t fun and he didn’t like what Daddy and he spent their time on. When I ask him if he told Daddy this, he invariably says no. So I tell him that he needs to make sure to communicate when things aren’t going the way he’d like them to go.

But until this week, I didn’t realize something else might be at play, too. Maybe be he doesn’t realize that he’s not enjoying an activity while it’s still happening. It’s only at the end that he evaluates and feels regret. So I told him to try out a new strategy at lunch. I said, “About halfway through lunch, stop and think: Would I give my lunch a thumbs-up if I had to go back in right now? Pay attention to your answer. If it’s not a yes, you still have time to change things so that lunch is more enjoyable for you. You get to control how lunch goes for you. So if you go back in and it’s a thumbs-down, remember that you had the opportunity to fix it and you didn’t take it.” Of course there are times something happens to him and he doesn’t have control over it and it’s a genuine thumbs-down. But most of the time, it’s really because he’s not taking control of his lunch period as much as he could. He’s not stopping to pay attention to how things are going. He’s evaluating too late when there’s no way of going back to change.

That’s how regret thrives.

I notice that we do that often in our lives. We get into relationships that seemed right at the time but don’t take the time to regularly evaluate (or re-evaluate) if it’s still a good relationship. Same goes with long-term projects. Or anything where there’s a long or no defined end-point. I believe that one of the most powerful rights we have as humans is the right to choose. We have choice. This is no small thing. If we don’t exercise our right to evaluate and actively choose things over and over again, we’re no different from people who have no choice. This is a huge deal. It’s one of the major keys to happiness: realizing you have choice and exercising it often.

I believe it’s crucial to take the time to evaluate and re-evaluate all the things in your life. I make a point to choose my husband each morning. I don’t want to be married to him just cause it’s the status quo. I want to choose to be with him on that very day. I want to remember why I made the choice in the first place and see if I still feel that way. Or see if I still want to be with him even if it’s for different reasons than I had when I first met him. Even though the alternatives aren’t as wide, I make a point to choose my kids, too. I remember why I wanted kids. I remember the joys they bring into my life. I make the choice. Same with my relationships. It’s better to not have any relationships than to have one that feels destructive. It’s important to reevaluate because people change constantly. You change and the other person changes, too. Sometimes it’s not in the same direction. Sometimes conflicts that weren’t there show up and it’s no longer a positive friendship. It’s ok to put it on hold for a while. And it’s ok to let it go, too.

Same goes for work. You need to make the choice so you don’t feel trapped. Maybe it’s not the work itself but the fact that the income allows you the freedom to buy things you want. Either way, you need to evaluate and actively make a choice. I do that for my art even. If I don’t feel like scrapping or art journaling many days in a row, I step back and evaluate. While I work hard to honor my commitments to myself, I also take the time to evaluate my choices again and again so I can modify as needed. So I can feel like I am savoring my life fully and not feeling trapped in it.

Some choices come with harder consequences than others. Some even feel like non-choices. I understand this. And, trust me, I feel it too. But I still think it’s important to take the reins when it comes to your life. And you can only do that if you take the time to evaluate regularly.

And make the choice to live a thumbs-up life.

Clearing the Noise

I watch a lot of TV. A lot. And I’ll be honest, each time I read about how to increase your productivity you need to turn off the TV, I scoff a little. I’ve been watching a lot of TV since I was about 15 and I often can’t do work without it on. Well, in the name of 100% honesty, I will say that most of the time I am not actually watching the TV since I really use it for the noise. I am often processing photos, doing art, or some other recurring task at the same time. When I was in high school and college, I couldn’t do my homework unless the TV was on. And I dare someone to tell me that I am not productive. TV is not the problem. At least not for me.

Alas, this is not a post about TV and whether it will kill your productivity or not.

While I am not very selective about my subject matter and watch just about anything that’s on the air between 8-11, I do make one exception: reality TV. I don’t watch any reality TV. None at all.

When this genre first came to be popular, I watched a few of the shows but it didn’t take me long to realize that they were more focused on humiliation and drama than just about anything else. And I just couldn’t take it. I couldn’t watch people’s worst sides being exposed again and again. Seeing them cry, be made fun of, or just outright humiliated was too much for me. I decided early on to give the whole genre up and have never looked back. (disclaimer: I am sure there are some truly good ones so please don’t take this as a judgement if you do indeed watch them, it’s just my personal opinion.)

After I wrote yesterday’s message, Ann commented: And as another of my friends says when other people’s chaos seems so urgent, “don’t just do something, sit there!” It’s amazing how often crazy-making people will move on to the next person on their emergency list if they don’t get an immediate drama-gratification from me. Of course, that means I don’t get to be their hero; instead I have to be my own hero. That’s substantially harder.

I’m not one of those people who slows down to watch when I see an accident on the road (unless they need help of course). I don’t try to get involved in other people’s drama. While I do also get curious sometimes, I try to stay out of gossip and negative talk. I’ve always tried to be good about this. Sometimes I failed and other times I was more successful.

But for 2012, I decided to make a more drastic change.

I’ve basically wiped out as much of the sarcasm, drama, and gossip out of my life as possible. I just decided that reading sites with negativity or sarcasm was adding to my overall discontented feeling. I’ve stopped reading super-depressing books. I’d already stopped watching the news a long time ago. I just feel like these were taking away from my life and not enhancing it in anyway. Maybe it’s because when I get into it, I am really involved, I deeply care and it ends up becoming a big part of my life. I’ve even been known to care and worry more than the original person.

So now I give it up.

This doesn’t mean a friend cannot come to me with a genuine grief or worry. Of course I am here for that. I am here to support everyone I love and care about. But I am no longer getting involved with the needless drama or gossip. In my life or online. I am trying to move away from people who favor drama and sarcasm. I am trying to focus more on positive and on the real people. I made a point to go through my RSS reader and cleared out a lot of blogs. I took my reading list and eliminated several titles.

I don’t know what it is about the spiral of drama that sucks people in but I just know it puts me in a bad place where I don’t like to be and it takes me away from being the best version of myself. So I’ve chosen to clear the noise around me.

And Ann’s right, of course, it’s hard being my own hero. But it also is so much more satisfying. And so much more worthwhile.

Star Treatment

One of the things I’ve learned this year is to take time for myself each day. Whether it be to make art or to exercise or to just sit quietly and journal. It doesn’t much matter which activity I chose, what matters is that I am choosing to respect myself enough to show myself that I deserve some of my time, too.

As a mom, it’s often hard to choose yourself over the others in your life. As a working mom, I pretty much have a full plate of people to answer to all day long. My sweet husband, my precious children, my kind boss, and my amazingly talented workmates. All of these people are in my life every single day (ok so the work people tend to be more so on the weekdays, but still…) And they are all truly people that I like having in my life. People I chose. People I admire, love, and cherish.

But they are all demanding in their own way. Some out of need, others out of their love for me, and some for our combined goals. And I want to give my time to all of them. Not to mention friends, other family and loved ones, etc. When it comes to these people, I think we often feel an obligation to put them first. We often feel like we can give them all of our “good” energy and then we can make do with what’s left.

The thing is: there isn’t much left on most days.

You come to the end of the day and the work is over (at least for that day), the kids are in bed, and your husband is sitting next to you quietly working. Now is the perfect time to sit and work on your personal projects. Everyone’s taken care of and quietly content. Now you can focus on you.

Except you’re spent. You’re so tired that you cannot focus on anything and even the idea of putting clothes on to exercise is enough to make you shudder. You can’t even be convinced to do something you love like scrapping or doing art. You simply feel exhausted so you veg out in front of the TV or internet and crawl into bed when you’re tired enough.

And there goes “your” time.

You tell yourself, tomorrow will be different.

But it isn’t.

You work yourself to the bone every day. That’s what we do. We give to the people we love. We give to the people we feel obligated to give to. We put ourselves last because it seems like we can do that “later.” But I say it’s time to change that. I am not talking about a drastic “everyone can go to you-know-where” kind of change. I am talking about two 15-minute slots in your day. I’m saying for 15 minutes tomorrow morning you do something for yourself.

Maybe you take a walk or you make a sketch or you go out and take some pictures. Journal. Start a layout. Whatever your heart desires. Just for fifteen minutes. But it has to be early in the day. Way before you’re tired. Don’t worry about the todo lists or all the other people waiting. 15 minutes is not a long time for them. They love you.They trust you. They will wait.

And after those 15 minutes you will feel so good. You will feel like you took a little bit of time to take care of yourself. Luxurious time. Time you don’t usually allow yourself to take. And this will make you so much kinder and more generous towards those other people who love you and depend on you.

You deserve to take a little bit of time each day to treat yourself like a star. Give yourself some of that love and care you give to others, to the house, to your family. I feel like taking care of myself is a gift I give to my kids, too. They see that I value myself and spending time doing things I love. It shows them it’s ok to take the time to do something that gives you joy. It’s ok to take time to take care of your health. It’s ok to put yourself first a little bit each day. It makes me more joyful. And when I am happy, they are happy, too.

Because they love me.

So my wish for you is that tomorrow you take 15 minutes for yourself, give yourself some of that star treatment, and focus it on whatever it is you love to do.

Exposing Your Roots

Each time I read one of those funny, witty blogs, I think to myself “I will never be funny or witty like that.”

I will never write stuff that makes people’s drinks come out of their noses. I will never use sarcasm cleverly and have everyone marvel at my ability to make self-deprecation funny. I will never be able to be cutesy, either. I am not clever (at least not with words.) I am not ironic.

There are many times where I’ve beaten myself up for not being like that. When I wished I could just be funnier so I could be better liked. But here’s what I learned: trying to be something you’re not is like dyeing your hair. You can fake it for a while, but your roots always grow out.

And it’s a lot of work to keep dyeing them, especially if you want them to never show.

Acting differently than what’s authentic to you is possible. I can be more outgoing, funnier, sillier, cuter, more sophisticated and more sarcastic when I want to be. If the desire is strong enough, I can fake it.

But only for a while.

It’s like walking in those new high, high heels you bought. It’s possible but deeply uncomfortable. And when you get home, the first thing you do is take them off, push them aside, and put on some super-comfy socks. (Or, in my case, go barefoot.)

One of the reasons I moved to the United States 18 years ago was to stop having to be something different than I actually am. There’s so much work, shame, and frustration involved with having to be someone else and having to hide who you are.

It’s all about not feeling enough.

While there will always be situations where I have to act slightly different than what might be fully authentic, there’s no reason I need to do this regularly.

I’ve noticed that the biggest reason I feel the need to be something different is to gain the affection and acceptance of others. Whether it be family, friends, acquaintances, or workmates. Or even blog readers and students I’ve never met. If only I were funnier more people would comment. If only I were more fun, I might have more friends. If only I were….

You get my point.

The problem is that this kind of thinking never works out for me. Even if I can be that thing for a while and gather those kinds of friends, I quickly grow to resent them for not liking me just the way I am. I get tired of acting like someone else constantly and either get really mad or start to pull back. Neither of which is a great step forward in a friendship.

Which leaves me with the only (and scariest) option of being me. I’ve often thought that I am too weird to have friends. I’ve never met anyone exactly like me. I can go on and on. But what I’ve learned is that the only relationships that last are the ones built on me being myself. Those heels I coveted often give me blisters and are thrown aside permanently within weeks. The comfy socks…I keep forever.

If nothing else, it’s just so much easier to be me. So much less work. And instead of focusing on what I am not, I can make a bigger effort to see all that I do naturally have to offer. Kindness, thoughtfulness, strength, wisdom, consistency and reflection. I am not saying these are more valuable than the other characteristics. They are just ones that come naturally to me and maybe if I spent some time focusing more on these and less on beating myself up, I might make friends who prefer me just as I am.

And that would be something.