Life-changing or a waste of time

I asked Jimmy a few weeks ago if he wanted to join me in one of the PSPLife workshops (that I didn’t end up attending).

“I don’t know,” he said.  “Is it going to be life-changing?”

“Is that your calculus?”  I asked.  “It’s either life-changing, or it’s a waste of time?”

He paused for a moment.  “Yes,” he said.  “I think that may be a good way to go through life.”

“But, isn’t it a choice, whether something is life-changing or a waste of time?”  I asked.  “Can’t I decide if a moment is ordinary or meaningful?”

“That’s true,” he said.  “So maybe that’s the wrong question.”

Then, what’s the right one?

My commute = many podcasts.

I listened to “Serial” and nearly exploded at the end, incredulous that the series was suggesting that a man who was clearly guilty — like, we’re talking 100% guilty AF — of brutally murdering his former high school girlfriend might have been wrongly convicted (i.e., innocent, which at first I thought was harmless, it’s just some podcast, but then it turned out it was the most popular podcast of all time and has somehow resulted in this sick f*ck getting a new trial, which I find pretty alarming).

Over time, though, I forgave “Serial” (it WAS entertaining, I won’t deny that), and listened to “S-Town” (or “Shittown”), another podcast from the makers of “Serial.”  I was relieved to discover that it was not another reopening of a solved case where the murderer had already been appropriately convicted and sentenced by a jury of his peers (that system we set up a long time ago, that yes has its flaws, but very often does exactly what it is supposed to do… okay, so maybe I’m not totally over my anger about “Serial”).

Anyway, “Shittown” was pretty thought-provoking, on many topics, and one of the main ones is time.  I won’t give any spoilers (it’s better to go into it having very little idea of what it’s about), but at the end, it raises the question of what it means to live a meaningful life, through the main character’s manifesto (the one who thinks he lives in “Shittown”) in which he precisely calculates how many hours there are in an average life to infuse with meaning (he concludes that these hours constitute only 25% of one’s life, if you’re lucky).

I’m not sure how you calculate something like that; I know he deleted things like sleeping, for example, and working, and commuting to work, but that decision is not an objective one.  In other words, to me it’s not a foregone conclusion that you would necessarily subtract those things as being lost hours that cannot be meaningful.

So I think the better question is, what would I personally subtract, if I were calculating how many hours I have to live a meaningful life?

At one point, five or six years ago, I’d probably have subtracted a lot.  Sleeping would’ve taken up substantial time, and it would not have been productive sleep.  The periods when I was hungover were not meaningful either — it was more about just “getting through the day.”  The times when I was drinking were not meaningless, but I wouldn’t call them meaningful.  There were entertaining things that happened, I have my share of drinking stories, but none of them advanced my life.  And the relationships I had then didn’t last.

That leads me to another question — what does “meaningful” mean?  Don’t you have to decide that first, before you can determine what to subtract to arrive at how many hours you’ve got to create a meaningful life?

These questions may sound abstract, and conceptual, but, I think they’re sort of important.  I think one’s philosophy of life directly shapes what you do with your hours.  For example, when I was drinking, my philosophy of life was, “fuck it.”  Considering that, you can imagine why I might be so reckless and loose with how I was spending my time; in my mind, it didn’t matter what I did.  That mindset was appealing because it felt free, but really, underneath “fuck it,” was “avoid pain.”  I thus wasn’t living “free”; I was living under the shadow of an oppressive past that, while dead and gone, continued to control my actions from the grave.

I had a dream last night.  I was with a crowd of people I did not recognize (though in the dream, they were my friends, but not close friends — loose acquaintances).  We were at an outdoor spa at a hotel.  I was watching intently to see if my friends would order drinks.  When they did, I got excited, because I was feeling especially carefree and wanted to order one too (white wine, I wasn’t going to go crazy).  I had no obligations at that moment, and I was with people who wouldn’t blink an eye if I drank.  I wanted to seize the opportunity.  Much of the dream then consisted of me watching my friends order various drinks, and hungrily watching the bartender pour them, waiting for my turn (which never came).

This may sound sort of narcissistic, but my own decision to stop drinking, which happened on a day that I didn’t really plan to make that kind of decision, fascinates me.  It’s a somewhat big decision, and it especially was for me — drinking was a significant part of most of my social activities over the prior five years (hanging with friends, going to concerts, even going to plays or movies, it always involved ordering beer or wine and sometimes liquor — that was part of the experience for me, and an increasingly important part, unfortunately).

Jimmy asked me the other day if I thought I was an alcoholic, though he did it in a very roundabout way (he is too well-trained to simply come out and ask something like that).  He asked if, having attended many AA meetings with him, I thought I could benefit from joining AA.  I asked him in what way, and he said in any way at all.  Of course, I told him, I enjoy those meetings very much.  They’re interesting, they’re different, they feel “real.”  But, to respond to his specific question — which was not if I could benefit from AA meetings, but if I could benefit from becoming PART of AA — I said I thought I could benefit, in one way in particular (that is not small).  I said I think it would give me something I’ve been chasing a long time, that I feel I lack — a true, genuine sense of humility.  The kind of humility that prevents me from so easily judging others and indulging in my superiority complex.  That’s because AA would require me to acknowledge that I am not “above it all,” or someone who “has it together.”  Who I am is someone with a “problem.”

A member of AA is a flawed person, right?  I mean in terms of how people perceive members of AA.  It’s called “AA” for a reason — it’s something you wouldn’t want to share with others (even as folks like Jimmy don’t really care, AA, and an alcoholic in recovery, are part and parcel of who he is, and not a source of shame).

Currently, I don’t think I’m willing to be that.  I think it would be a crippling experience, walking to the front of one of those meetings, and saying:  “I am an alcoholic.”  It would probably also be pretty transformative.

Am I an alcoholic?  I don’t know, but, why would I quit drinking?  People who have no issues with alcohol don’t up and quit one day, 100%, for good.

My best explanation at this point — and to return to the topic of this post (yes, there was a topic) — is that my philosophy of life fundamentally changed when I quit drinking.  I went from “fuck it” to “I want a meaningful life.”  My time spent drinking was not meaningful, and for me, it was often harmful.  I suppose that means the answer to if I have a problem with alcohol is probably yes, I do.  It’s hard to know if it’s an “addiction” per se, but if you ever go to an AA meeting, you’ll see their definition of “alcoholic” is far more expansive than you may think.  To paraphrase, it’s anyone who uses alcohol on a regular basis, in whatever quantity, in an unproductive manner (“regular” does not mean every day; some “alcoholics” at these meetings would abuse alcohol just once a month, or even only twice a year — and not every “alcoholic” gets fall-down drunk when they drink).

Jimmy brought it back to simplicity.  He said AA is for people who want to stop drinking; that’s all.  He said it seemed I fall into that category.  I can’t deny that; I do.  But if that’s truly the main criteria, the world “alcoholic” doesn’t fit to me.  Couldn’t I just say that “I’m sober, and I intend to stay that way for the rest of my days?”  This way I can avoid having a “problem” (and the humility, which is what I said would be the main value to me of joining AA).

Anyway that’s probably an issue for another post, or book, or series of therapy sessions.  The point is, because my philosophy of life changed — from “fuck it,” or “avoid pain,” to pursuing a meaningful life — I realized I could no longer drink.  It went against my philosophy, my new identity (who I had become and who I wanted to be).

But, again, what exactly does it mean, to have a meaningful life?

“Meaningful” to me means growing as a person, being in contribution, creating, building and enhancing my relationships, and experiencing joy (not alcohol or drug-induced, nor instant gratification, but actual, real joy).

So, if I were to dice up my day currently, how many hours go toward a “meaningful” life, as I have defined it?

I think, for the first time in a long time, I would count my hours at work as meaningful.  Maybe not all of them, but, over 60% of them (it could be better).  I am now consciously building relationships with my co-workers and boss, I am actively engaging with my cases, I am building my future.

I have also successfully made my hours in the car, on my commute, meaningful.  I listen to podcasts that inspire me, make me think (even if they get me angry), and they’re beginning to awaken a strong desire in me to create (write and tell stories) again.  I otherwise practice singing in the car, which is building toward performing in public and growing as a singer and performer, something that brings me joy.

My analysis therefore diverges from that of the main character in “S-Town.”  He subtracted hours working and commuting.  I think my hours spent doing those things are meaningful.

In the mornings before I go to work and when I get home, I care for the boys.  I wake up to their smiles — and yes, sometimes their cries and whines — and at night I feed them their dinner and get them safely to sleep.  Sometimes Jimmy and I have a couple of hours together of quiet time, just for us.  I wish we had more, it’s a work in progress.  But those hours too are meaningful.

On the weekends, the boys are my primary focus, but sometimes we get a dinner out (with or without the boys), and often we have plans of some kind (family parties, community events, etc.).

Are there any hours that are lost, falling through the cracks?  I mean, there are hours spent doing human things — like peeing, pooping, sleeping.   There are some hours (honestly not many) watching TV (but I kind of find those hours necessary, even if not particularly meaningful, just to relax a little).  But if we’re talking about waking hours that are lost, currently, I don’t see many.

Except…

When I get into a certain mindset, suddenly my “meaningful hours” turn into dead time.  I would mainly characterize this mindset as being one of overwhelm; I feel pressured, I feel heavy, I feel like nothing is working and everything is going wrong.  I get very self-involved, and not in a good way (i.e., not in a self-care way, it’s more in a very victim-like, ‘poor me,’ way).  I get whiney, about how I don’t like living on Long Island, or that we’re still in NY.  I get impatient.

Generally, in this mindset, my routine feels overbearing, like it’s controlling my life.

But, by “routine,” I mean the same routine I described above:  caring for the boys in the morning and in the evening, commuting two hours to work and two hours back, and then just being at work.

Didn’t I just finish describing all of those pieces of the day as meaningful?

I think this is the trouble with “arriving.”  Part of me blames popular culture, and even religion.  There’s this idea that once you arrive, everything stops.  Like how fairy tales end once you get to the “happily ever after,” without telling you what happens next (it’s as if the existence of the characters in the story ends, or becomes fixed in time).  Or the concept of “heaven” — toil away here on earth so you can then live in bliss for all of eternity, with no problems or pain or discomfort of any kind.  Isn’t that what “arriving” is supposed to be?

Well, actual arrival is quite different.  Nothing stops.  You’ve got to maintain what you have, for one thing — it doesn’t maintain itself — and you also have to strive for the next thing (because we can’t be static and happy, it’s not in our nature).

We had a session with our marriage counselor yesterday.  Because of traffic, I got there very late, and very stressed.  We had only twenty minutes.  I had been struggling with feelings of overwhelm, and a loss of identity.  In the history of my life, Manhattan is the only place that ever made me feel like I belonged — now, very suddenly, I was living a drastically different life and my brain was having trouble keeping up.  We were at our marriage counselor’s because I had lashed out at Jimmy when I was feeling this way, and we had gotten into a fight; I blamed him, in that moment, for how I was feeling, and for everything I felt was going wrong, even though it didn’t make sense.

Jimmy wasn’t at all compassionate toward me after this fight; he was irate.  Just the week before, I had laid into him, about gratitude.  I gave him harsh feedback, because he was acting beaten down, and depressed, and completely disconnected from the beautiful life we had.  He heard me, big time.  It wasn’t comfortable, he reacted strongly at first, but then he let it land — and he changed.

Now, he was watching me be a hypocrite, indulging in depressive feelings and devoid of gratitude for our life.

Knowing I’ve been having a hard time with this lately — and that Jimmy was right, as hard as that was to admit to myself — just before our appointment with our marriage counselor, I took steps to hire my own therapist, something I’ve never really considered before.  It screams “I need help” to me, and I am not someone who needs help (that’s my ego talking).

But, I told our marriage counselor that I realized that a lot of the reason for our fight — perhaps the entire reason — was my own sense of unhappiness, as a result of feeling crushed by my routine.  I said since it is an individual issue of mine, and actually doesn’t have much to do with Jimmy (aside from him being an undeserving victim), I decided to hire my own counselor, separate from here, though both Jimmy and I agreed we would continue to do work here together.

She said this in response (verbatim):  “Oh, good.  Yes, I think you need help, you’ve got some issues.”

Now, she said it in a tone that made clear she didn’t mean it how it might sound on paper (and how I wanted to take it).  She meant to say that she was happy I was taking that step, that she felt it would support me, etc.  The way she phrased it, though, was in this way that made me (the ego-driven non-transformed part of me) want to deck her in the face.  I didn’t, though (this is a growth moment).  I just nodded along, and agreed.  Yes, I need help.  Yes, I have issues.

I mean, I do — and, I do.  Let’s call a spade a spade.  I’ll never get anywhere until I can just admit to this, and not be so worried about how I will be perceived as a result.

She also pointed something out to me, that is like, painfully obvious — but apparently not, because if it were, then I would have been doing things differently.  It also is not at all new (it never is).

She said, do you really think you would feel crushed by your routine, and have these moments were you feel dissatisfied with everything, if you were happy?

I said, well, no, obviously not.

She said, don’t you think that, if you were happy, you would do things that would mold everything to be however you want it to be?  Isn’t that something that you’re capable of?

I said well, yes, I’m capable of doing that, I’ve done it many times.  And yes, if I were happy, I would definitely feel motivated to do things to create what I want.

She said you would initiate more moments of intimacy with Jimmy, you would seek out projects and events you want to participate in, etc. (i.e., you would be responsible, though she didn’t use that word)?

I said yes, of course.  I realize that in a negative mindset I am powerless to do any of those things.

She said, then being happy is a key thing for you, isn’t it?

I said yes, it seems so.  But I’m not happy.

She let it hang there.

I realized later she had given me a basic lesson in “be, do, have.”

I have many things at this point.  I have my sobriety, I have my husband, I have my babies, I have our “home” (not the house or the town, but just the “home” we have created together), I have a job I actually want that offers a future worth striving for, I have my parents, my sister, and if I were less antisocial, I would realize I have a lot of friends, and potential friends, too.

But, with a shit mindset, it all gets reduced to nothing (I’m living in “Shittown”).

Now, I don’t always have a shit mindset — but too frequently, I do, and when I do, it lasts, unfortunately, a week or more.  Maybe even a month.

My calculation of the hours I have to lead a meaningful life would thus have to subtract “times when Kyla is in Shittown.” Currently, that would reduce my available meaningful hours by at least 35%, if not more.  That figure is probably too generous (it’s probably higher, I just feel too ashamed to admit to myself how high it is), but even if it were accurate, 35% is substantial.

By the way, one of the recurring themes in Shittown is how the main character could simply move —  but doesn’t.  He stays there his whole life.

The solution, then, is simple.  I need to be happy.  And I need help sometimes, finding my way to that state of being — and staying there as often as I can.

 

 

 

Life is beautiful

I tried watching ‘Breaking Bad,’ twice. I feel uneasy about missing out on a cultural phenomenon, you know? I didn’t want to watch it when it was released because it seemed too unrealistically dark, and I’ve already spent a lot of my life being unrealistically dark. But since they were showing it on AMC–and I expected they probably had toned down some of the violence–I gave it a shot, especially since there was nothing else on.

I have a bit of a moral philosophy when it comes to works of art. My view is, in order to serve the world, works of art need to lift you up (or at least leave you higher than where they found you). That doesn’t mean worthwhile art cannot involve tragedy — one of the most uplifting movies of all time in my opinion is “Life is Beautiful,” the Italian film, and in that film (spoiler ahead) the lovable main character is executed. “Braveheart” is another uplifting movie that involves its share of violence and death and tragedy.  But, if a work of art’s main purpose is to disturb you by showing you the ugly underbelly of humanity in granular detail, it doesn’t seem to serve anyone, except those making the art (because people are drawn to it the way they’re drawn to a horrific car wreck).

But maybe it’s better to say that I know that that type of art doesn’t serve me in particular.  I could see how these dark, twisted shows might purge something out for others that they cannot express or otherwise dispose of in any other way. I’ll admit I don’t really buy that, but in an attempt to be objective about it, I’ll at least acknowledge that that may be the case. And yes, at a base level, they’re entertaining, and maybe that’s my problem. I get emotionally invested in all works of art; they are never just entertainment to me. They convey a message about people, and the world, and I take it to heart (and honestly, consciously or subconsciously, I think most people do).

Anyway, my first attempt at watching ‘Breaking Bad,’ there was a woman dead in her bed, seemingly from an overdose, and a man crumpled in the corner in distress. Some guy comes in and instructs the distressed man on how to cover up the woman’s death, in this very calloused way. None of it made me feel good, or more enlightened. But, I was engaged, and it was memorable. So, I’ll give it that. I kept watching a while longer, but found the rest of the episode sort of boring and devoid of meaning (it did not make the opening scene seem worthwhile).

The same is true of my second attempt. Walter White (that’s his name, right?) is standing in a hospital with a group of people staring into a patient’s room through the glass. The patient is a man, Mexican-looking (the way the media portrays Mexicans, which is pretty much always stereotypically), who has had both his legs amputated. His legs are bandaged up, he’s hooked up to many wires, and he appears to be passed out. Walter White and the group watch him intently, commenting on how much they despise him, and then suddenly he wakes up — and looks straight at Walter White, with this incredibly venomous anger. The group then watches in shock as the man pulls all the wires out of himself, then lunges at the glass, crawling toward Walter White as his legs bleed out.

I changed the channel.

Compelling? Yes. It was an unusually barbaric scene, and it did grab me, it was hard to look away. But it wasn’t compelling in a good way.

I mean look, maybe all of these horrific scenes add up to a meaningful whole, but, I think I can do without having them in my life. It’s kind of like “The Revenant.” I don’t deny it was well-done, and that Leo was great as always, but I could’ve happily gone my whole life without seeing it.

So I haven’t seen “The Sopranos” or “Game of Thrones,” etc. And when I see snippets, or hear plot summaries, I cringe. I’m confused by why the general public regards these shows as phenomenal, and I don’t feel like watching them to find out. I imagine it’s because of rich character development, and plot twists, and the superb acting and directing, and just the shear shock value of many scenes. But, in terms of character development, what kind of character development are we talking about here? Don’t these shows consistently suggest that the world is a dark place, that people are relentlessly self-interested and vulnerable to corruption, and that we almost always give into our character flaws and our darker urges and desires? Is that really fascinating, and compelling, or does it simply affirm the viewing public’s ultra pessimistic worldview, and that’s what they find so appealing?

I kind of got on a tangent though — what I intended to write about was how I need to protect my thoughts with more rigor. I still wake up and read the news, even knowing how distortedly negative it is. It’s one thing if you think putting this stuff in your head is harmless, but I don’t. I think the things you focus on color everything else, and under the law of attraction, prevent good things from coming your way. In other words, I don’t think it’s a small issue at all — I think it’s a life-changing issue.

Like, I put on a string of silly Disney shows for the boys the other day. Yes, the boys are too young to understand them, but those shows use bright colors, vibrant sounds, etc., that catch their attention. I noticed that all of those shows created and entirely different worldview than most of the adult shows on TV. People are trustworthy. Friends are always there for you. Problems can be talked through, and solved. Dreams are possible. Failure is okay, because you bounce back and everyone is there to help you up. Is this worldview unrealistically positive? Probably. I imagine the “truth” is likely somewhere in the middle.

But then, as I say that, I immediately thought of “Life is Beautiful,” and of the trainings. Both instruct that the “truth” is a flexible thing. Two people can see the same facts in an entirely different way–again, what matters is which facts you focus on, and how you color them. In “Life is Beautiful,” the main character does the impossible: he turns the horror of the holocaust into a “game” in order to shield his young son from what’s happening. In so doing, for a while, he sweeps not only his son into his fiction, but himself and other prisoners as well. Even if for only a few moments, they find some escape from the horror. As for his son, he emerges from the ordeal completely unscarred. It’s true his father’s efforts did not make the holocaust go away – it still happened, and for the father, who all the while was desperately trying to find a way out, it was very real indeed. But the father nonetheless turned the holocaust into something else, for both himself and his son. Instead of being the horrific event that killed him, it is the greatest gift he ever could’ve given his son.

The trainings teach us that we can choose the lens through which we see the world. If your lens isn’t working — and you can easily tell, because it probably means you’re upset and miserable and think everything is shit — you can just change it. And it’s a moment-to-moment choice, it’s not as if I can declare to put on rosy glasses now and it will be that way for all time. It’s also not about denying the ugly parts of life — it’s just about not focusing on them. Not holding them up as evidence of what the world is like, or of who people are.

When I think about what I want to teach my children, one main thing is to not live in fear. Not because the world is not dangerous, but because it’s an unpleasant, and unnecessary, way to live. I want them to understand that the facts will be the same either way; the only difference is how you receive them.

Unreasonably Difficult

I had to go get a new contact lens prescription, at the local Target.  To my NYC friends, I know, that must sound very suburban — and it is.
The eye doctor was a nice man in his 40s, and we instantaneously connected upon realizing we both were parents of young children.  This is very much a thing, which is something I don’t think I expected.  I mean, upon having children, I expected to have more to talk about with people who were parents, for obvious reasons — now we share a common experience.  But, it’s more than that.  It’s like you instantly “get” each other, and you immediately begin operating in an entirely different mode.  I don’t know how to describe it exactly — I guess it’s instantaneous empathy, and trust, and understanding.  The appointment was very short, and yet in that short time, in between the eye tests, we talked about very substantive things — the struggles we were facing as parents, the financial challenges in New York, our plans for the future.  We said what we could to help the other, to be supportive and optimistic, while also listening and assuring the other that we totally understood what they were going through.
It sort of felt like encountering a war buddy, if I had gone to war, and if the eye doctor and I had ever met before — which I haven’t, and we hadn’t, so maybe that’s a bad analogy.  Maybe it’s like there’s a war going on, now, but only some of us are fighting it — those of us who are parents — and so when we see a fellow silent warrior there’s an instant camaraderie.
Maybe the best way to put it is this (and I think I’ve tried to express this before, but it’s never really come across right):  if you are a parent — and not super rich, or famous — you are living an unreasonable life.
Your life becomes unreasonable, in the way LP uses the word “unreasonable.”  It’s not that it’s impossible, but it is definitely unreasonable.  When you’re living that kind of life, you are extending yourself beyond most people, especially if you’re striving for a good life — meaning you’re actually trying to juggle a successful career, a good relationship with your spouse, and being an effective and loving parent, while keeping your children safe, and happy, and cared for.  You also know that most people do not at all understand this, unless they’re also experiencing it.  And I guess that’s the “recognition” that happens when someone realizes I’m a fellow parent — or I realize that they are.  At that point, it doesn’t matter what our prior judgments of each other were upon first meeting; they go out the window.  We understand, in that moment, that we are the same.
It is slowly causing me to go through life a little differently.  I don’t seek out other parents, but when I encounter them, I am instantly open to them, as they are to me.  I also find myself going through my day to day interactions with far less trepidation — as if I know there’s a silent tribe of people out there, fighting my same fight, rooting for me as I root for them.
But then — this weekend, the unreasonableness of our life came bearing down on me, as it does from time to time.  From sun up to sun down, my days are jam-packed, and there is never any rest.  My mind wants to quit, my body wants to quit, but I can’t quit, it’s not an option.  These moments pass, but when they hit, they can be hard to break out of.  My first inclination is still to lash out rather than reach out, because often I don’t know who to reach out to.  Jimmy is in my same boat.  We do our best to support each other, but, if the boat you’re both in is sinking, that can only go so far.
So, here’s the tension:  my imagined community of fellow parents vs. my refusal to seek support when the challenges of parenthood become too much.
My resistance to seeking support takes the following form:  I don’t connect with other “moms.”  My attempts to join moms’ groups have not gone well.  I experience them as overly judgmental and nails-across-the-chalk-board irritating, including the twin moms’ groups.  I’ve also forced myself to talk to other moms I meet, but I find that I can’t stay engaged.  I feel like we’re not speaking the same language.
So, in these moments, what happened to the insta-parent connection?  Why does it disappear when I attempt to make a mom-friend?  Is it because it needs to be another working mom, and thus far I’ve only found myself connecting with working dads?  I can’t tell, but I don’t think so — I’ve had the same reaction to working moms.
Two recent experiences caused me to question this further, and specifically the degree to which I am full of it when I say that “I don’t connect with other moms.”
As I’ve written about before, during pregnancy, I got cholestasis of the liver.  It’s an unpleasant, and dangerous, condition that the doctors don’t know much about and that causes an increased risk of stillbirth.  Because it was so frightening, when I was pregnant, I joined a Facebook group of pregnant women who also had the condition for support.  I got a lot of great information from that group, and I promised myself that I’d post about my experience once I was through it to offer information and comfort to other women trying to grapple with the condition.  I kept my promise, outlining in my post everything from when I first found out I had the condition, and how, and what conversations I had with my doctors and the decisions we made — to sharing what I felt and how I got through some of the fears I experienced.
My high school friend Shira — my best friend senior year — is currently pregnant with her third child.  She lives in Israel.  She became an orthodox Jew during high school, I watched her slowly transform (i.e., become increasingly religious).  When she told me she was moving to Israel, I was upset.  I thought she’d never speak to me again, because I’m not Jewish, and we’d had several extended conversations in high school about what that meant through the eyes of orthodox Judaism (that I did not find comforting).  After she moved to Israel, I never heard from her again (as I expected), until we both joined Facebook.  I friended her and sent her a long message, and she responded.  Her response was polite, but not exactly friendly, and when I suggested we talk on the phone she never answered.  The next time she messaged me was years later, when I was pregnant.  At the time I didn’t know what to make of it, but now I think maybe my pregnancy made her feel like we might have something in common again.  At the time I first messaged her, we had almost nothing in common.  I was single, living loose and wild in Manhattan.  She was married, in Israel, and starting a family.
She messaged me again recently.  In her third pregnancy, she had gotten cholestasis, and she had joined that same Facebook support group — and she had seen my post, sharing my experience.  She told me that, in Israel, they take the condition very seriously.  She had been hospitalized for days now, and they were monitoring the baby every three hours, even though so far both she and the baby were doing fine.  With her there bored in the hospital, we got to talking about many things, including motherhood.  Since it’s Shira, I didn’t worry about what I said or how I said it — even though it’s been a long time, she knows me, well, and I knew she wouldn’t take it wrong.  Because I shared what I shared, we connected on a deeper level, and it started to feel like it did back when we were best friends.  She told me she’s visiting New York next April, to spend Passover with her sister’s family.  She suggested our two families get together.  So much for orthodox Judaism being an issue.
Then there’s my sister.  She is a mother, who wouldn’t touch a moms’ group with a ten-foot pole.  At first, I wasn’t sure she shared any of the challenges I’ve experienced.  She seems so efficient about motherhood, so matter-of-fact. But when I forced myself to drop my guard and be honest with her about certain things that happened, or thoughts or feelings that I’d had, she sighed (the sort of sigh where it seemed like she was shrugging off something heavy) and said:  “me too.”
So, I guess it isn’t the moms’ groups, I guess it’s still me, fighting the power of a shared experience, even as I feel so grateful for the camaraderie, for the silent tribe of fellow parents that I imagine exists.  Isn’t that odd?  Why can’t I just relax, and allow the connections to happen?  I don’t really know.  Maybe I’m committed to things being not only unreasonable, which I could live with, but unreasonably difficult, which is a lot harder to live with.
A good question is:  why?  What are my payoffs, for having a difficult life?  What are my payoffs, for staving off connection, and not living in gratitude?
I think I’ve been living in this stubborn state of scarcity, as if everything has to be a struggle.  Meanwhile, there’s an abundance of everything I need all around me.  It’s like dying of thirst while standing in a pool of fresh, clean water.
It’s stupid.  I’m being stupid.  Can I stop?

Kiss Me

I had another laugh attack, and this time it was pretty embarrassing.
So, I don’t believe in having a “type,” but at the same time, I guess I sort of do have one.  I like men who are traditionally masculine, even as I cannot stand a lot of traditionally masculine traits.  Jimmy is a great “compromise.”  He’s very emotionally developed, he has no qualms about crying in public and is very sweet and romantic, etc., but then he also loves watching and playing sports, he’s a guy’s guy, he has the capacity to get physically violent (he doesn’t, but he has the capacity to), and to be generally aggressive if the situation calls for it.
He also sometimes gets a little bit jealous.
I find all of these things arousing (and sometimes annoying, but at proper levels, mostly arousing).
With regard to the jealousy, it’s not anything out of hand, it’s just enough — just a hint.
For example, when I did the rock band program, it was me and four guys Jimmy didn’t know.  For the first rehearsal, he insisted on coming along, so he could assess the guys.  I still don’t fully understand what he hoped to accomplish — showing them he existed?  Intimidating them?  If the latter, his bright white sneakers, which made him look extra cuddly, were probably ill-advised.  And as far as I could tell, all he did was say “hi” and shake their hands.  I don’t know if some special “man code” thing occurred that conveyed to them something like:  “Touch her and I will f*cking end you.”  If it did, I couldn’t tell, it all seemed very polite to me.
There have been other times when I’ve met up alone with (male) friends of my sister’s who were in NYC for a day on business. He didn’t insist on coming along those times, but asked that I text him before and after, and grumbled a little that he didn’t love the idea of me going out to dinner with some random dude.
These are rare occurrences, and they’re pretty mild when they happen —  but when they do happen, I sort of enjoy them.  I guess it makes me feel desirable, or desired by him, or something, and it’s a little bit of a rush.
By and large, though, Jimmy rarely has any reason to have these feelings be awakened in him — because of how I am.  Introverted, standoffish, not inclined to humor anyone (especially men), and generally closed to most people, and definitely most men.  But, if I am in a situation where the situation itself calls for me to be open — like practicing music together in a band — and that situation involves connecting with men Jimmy doesn’t know — he sometimes gets a little bit jealous.
Side note:  it’s sort of interesting when he doesn’t get jealous.  For example, at work, I am surrounded by men all day long, and I have never experienced him as even the least bit concerned about that.  I think because they’re all lawyers, and not at all my “type,” and he knows too that they aren’t especially attractive (either physically or in terms of personality)?  Or maybe because he knows how am at work, and how there’s almost zero chance I would ever be flirty in that environment?
But I’m getting off track.  The point is, in certain circumstances, Jimmy gets a little bit jealous.
So when Jerry and I started arranging our music rehearsals, just the two of us, he got a little bit jealous.  He knew Jerry vaguely from having met him in connection with the rock band program, but he didn’t really KNOW him.  I told him Jerry has a wife and daughter, whom Jimmy had met at one of our performances.  Jerry is also a very smiley, positive guy — not at all my “type,” even as I appreciate those qualities in Jerry.   I guess of all people, I would not expect Jerry to awaken feelings of jealousy in Jimmy (I don’t know if that sounds insulting to Jerry, I don’t mean it to be).  But he did, and so I tried to comfort Jimmy by explaining that Jerry was just a nice, normal guy who had a family and a day job and wanted to play around with music just like me.  There was nothing to be concerned about.  I also told him that although we would be practicing at Jerry’s house, we wouldn’t be there alone — his wife and daughter would be there too.
So, after our first rehearsal, Jimmy grilled me when I got home:  were the wife and daughter there?  Because he was being kind of ridiculous (even as I sort of liked it), I played with him a little.  I said, you know, I expected them to be, and he said they would be, but they weren’t — and you know, the lighting in the house was sort of dim, too, which was weird — and then he mentioned he had some music documentary he thought we should watch on the couch together…
I kept going on like that until Jimmy realized I was messing with him.  From that point on, Jimmy lightened up about it (i.e., he realized he was being silly and got over it), and then it turned into a running joke — but an inside joke, between the two of us.
This is a long set-up, I know, but I’m finally getting to the punch line.
So, Saturday, I go to rehearsal at Jerry’s house, which is 40 minutes north of us.  It’s a nice house, pretty big.  Usually Jerry and I rehearse in the living room while his wife and daughter are cooking in the kitchen, or upstairs working on homework, etc.  They periodically will check in on what we’re doing, or sit and listen to a song.  During this rehearsal, about half-way through, they left to go grocery shopping.
So, for the first time, Jerry and I were alone together in the house.
There was no significance to this whatsoever, and it’s not something I normally would have noticed — but Jimmy’s jealousy, which had turned into our running inside joke, caused me to notice.  And I chuckled to myself a little (inwardly, not out loud).
So far, so good, right?  Nothing to write home about.
Well, Jerry and I have a set list of 5 songs — a lot of them are pop songs from the ’90s.  One of them is “Kiss Me” by Six Pence None the Richer (maybe you are beginning to get an inkling of where this is going).
So Jerry and I are moving through the set list, starting off with “Dreams” (Fleetwood Mac, which is our strongest song presently), and then “Big Black Horse and the Cherry Tree” (KT Tunstall, a suggestion from Hadar to me from months ago that suddenly came back to me when we were choosing our songs) — and then we start looking at the other three, struggling over which one to work on in our last half hour or so.  “Kiss Me” was almost there, we just needed to work on it a little more — the other two, we needed to work on a lot more.  So we go back and forth about which one to spend our last half hour on, until finally I tell Jerry to just pick one.
So he pauses for a moment, then says (with confidence and conviction):  “Kiss me.”
JUST before he says that, his wife and daughter walk through the front door, back from grocery shopping.
And I fucking lost it.  Laugh attack, big time.  I started laughing so hard I couldn’t breathe, tears were flowing down my cheeks, and I could not stop.  Finally, I gained some (shaky) composure, trying to explain to Jerry that I had just gotten a random case of the giggles but we could go ahead and practice the song — only we couldn’t.  I couldn’t get through the first verse (despite several tries) without breaking into the same over-the-top-can’t-breathe-tears-streaming-down laughter.  Jerry was completely bewildered.  He started frantically messing with the air conditioner, worried it must have gotten too hot inside the house and I was clearly descending into madness.  I told him no, no, I just have the giggles, and for whatever reason that particular song is triggering me — we just need to move on to another song.
So we did, and I managed to keep it together.  As soon as I got in my car to drive home, though, it started up again.
As I’ve said, I never used to laugh like that, and certainly not in public — it’s a direct result of the work.
My mom saw one of my laugh attacks too during her visit, and she was so confused.  My sister had texted us a picture of a random old man in Santa Monica who is the spitting image of my father — down to the way he was sitting.  We were out at brunch together when we got my sister’s text, and I lost it as we were walking to our table, crying laughing in front of everyone.  My mom does not know me to ever lose composure like that in public, and certainly not because of laughing — she couldn’t stop mentioning to me afterwards how odd she found it.
Isn’t that crazy?  That’s how powerful this work is.  Yes, some changes are changes you have to be conscious of, and work on daily, through active choices, active reflection, active dialogue, more workshops, etc.  But, at least for me, some changes are at this much deeper level — it’s like literally being rewired at your core.  When I think about those changes, I really am in awe of the work, and what it can accomplish.  There’s nothing like it, and as great as PSPLife is, it will never be that.
I don’t have any conclusion or moral to draw from all of this, it’s just something that happened that was sort of funny, and also a reminder of the power of the trainings we did.

Mommy Issues.

My mother visited recently, and any time a parent visits me, a MILLION things come up (for obvious reasons, and especially in my new state of heightened self-awareness after having done the work).

Much of the visit was positive; we had no arguments, and only a moment or two when I had to stop myself from rolling my eyes.  She otherwise enjoyed the boys very much, and they enjoyed her; they eagerly ate up all of the attention she and my step-dad gave them, and then hungered for more.  It is actually a bit daunting, how much attention the boys want.

I had though a major reaction on a couple of occasions, and I don’t think I’ve really noticed before that this one thing bothers me quite a bit.

I think I’ve written about my mother on here before, but she is very extraverted.  She walks into a room and searches for someone to make eye contact with.  She speaks very animatedly, she touches people when she talks, she makes exaggerated facial expressions.  This has caused several friends, and boyfriends, over the years to comment on how I am very unlike my mother (and could I maybe try and be more like her..?).

I never wanted to be like my mother, though.  I didn’t see her extravertedness as a positive thing, i.e., a desirable trait.  I often thought of extraverted people as being proud of being extraverted though, and my mother was.  She would brag about strangers who came up to her and launched into telling her their life stories.  She would engage in conversation with a waiter or a salesperson when we were kids, and we’d be sitting there for literally hours while they talked, and talked, and talked.

But to me, my mother’s pride in this trait of hers seemed misplaced.  I didn’t see extraverted people as confident, or attractive, or interesting — I saw them as insecure, in desperate need for outside validation, which they would seek compulsively.  I also saw them as completely inauthentic, which my mother epitomized.  She bragged to us about her conversations with strangers, their hopes and dreams, reciting back every moment of her conversation with them in detail.  She never engaged in those kinds of conversations with us, though.  She never listened to us.  For most of my childhood, my mother had no idea who I was.

So, I wasn’t impressed by her ability to connect to “new friends” she’d never see again.  Anyone could do that.  What she couldn’t do was be in a real, substantive relationship with someone — she was too afraid of it.

If this sounds bitingly critical, it’s because I am STILL reacting from two tiny incidents that happened during her visit (that are very small, and dwarfed by the rest of the visit, which was overwhelmingly positive).  These are, I know, disproportionate reactions, and for that reason I feel compelled to take a look at them.

So, during her visit, my mom and step-dad never really ate a meal with us, unless we initiated it.  They would go off to get lunch or dinner by themselves, excited by some restaurant they’d heard about because they saw some flyer at their hotel.  I didn’t take that part too personally; it seemed to be their way of enjoying the trip, and having some time for themselves in addition to visiting us.  But my mother would invariably come back from these outings and go on and on about some “new friend” she had made.  In one of these stories, she recited back this woman’s life story in granular detail, as if she had hung on every word.

In the next breath, she told me she had forgotten why she needed to watch the boys for us that afternoon.  It was because I was going to a music rehearsal, with Jerry, for our little two-person band.  I have told her about this for weeks, because we talk every day online.  I felt a pang of anger.  She’ll listen to a stranger, attentively, for hours — but she still doesn’t listen to her daughter.

The next incident was at a store.  The sales woman saw the twins through the window at came out to the sidewalk to talk to us.  My mom enjoyed this greatly, the twins created multiple conversations with strangers and she ate it up.  This woman immediately began launching into stories about her life, and my mom (being herself) showed tons of interest, eventually being coaxed into the store while we all waited for her outside for over twenty minutes in the unrelenting summer heat.

I told Jimmy — while this was happening — about a story from my childhood (I couldn’t help it).

My mom NEVER did things with just me when we were kids (she did things with just my sister a lot).  It was either all three of us, or her and my sister only, hardly ever just her and me.  One day, she said she wanted to take me on a day-trip to New Mexico (which was forty miles away), to an old timey town with lots of cool shops and restaurants that we’d go to as a family from time to time.  I couldn’t believe it; she never wanted to do anything with just me, and this was a whole day together.  When we got to the town, the first stop was a dress shop, that sold dresses, for her.

That ended up being the only stop.

I sat there in the corner while she talked up the sales person for hours and tried on dress, after dress, after dress.  It took the whole day, and she hardly spoke two words to me.  We did not see or do anything else in the town, and when I finally broke down crying (I think I was young, but not super young, maybe 11), she yelled at me, telling me I was being ridiculous, and ungrateful.  I fucking hated her that day.

Crazy, right?  I still feel the force of that memory, as if it happened yesterday, and it came rushing back just because she was chatting up some sales person for twenty minutes.  I felt pretty ridiculous.  Aren’t I, like, 34 now, with two babies of my own?  Am I really still hanging onto this?  Why?

It also caused me to think about myself, and how I am in relationships, and who I strive to be.  I don’t give two shits about strangers, and very little about acquaintances or people I don’t know very well.  Instead, I give all of myself to the people closest to me, and I do it all consciously, because I think that’s what’s right — that’s who I want to be.  I don’t want to be my mother.

I know that my assessment of my mother is not fair.  I know, too, that I have described these same qualities of hers in a very positive light, in awe of how people so positively receive her.  And I think that IS true for me, I do have that view — but this other stuff is true for me, too.  Something to explore.

 

So Close (and yet…)

 

My sister, who just moved across the country to Los Angeles seven months pregnant with her second child to take a job with Hulu, sent me a text saying she’d met a woman who knows Jimmy.  It’s one of her new co-workers at Hulu.  At almost the same moment, the woman texted Jimmy a selfie of herself with my sister, saying: “Guess who I work with?”

My sister and my mom were very baffled by this, by the “small world” factor I suppose. I wasn’t phased though, for reasons that don’t totally make sense, and that even contradict one another.

One is that Jimmy knows a shocking amount of people. And like, not like the way most people “know” other people–he has deep, substantive connections with a shocking amount of people. So is it weird that my sister would encounter one in a different state and city? Not really.

Another is that, like a great many of the people he knows, this woman went through the program (about a decade ago). This made it especially not-that-surprising.

Why? Well, I intend for my sister to do the program. So, of course she would find herself magnetically pulled toward people who have done it, because lord knows she’ll never listen to ME about it (but someone she barely knows, now that’s a different story – that person may actually have credibility with her, and at the suggestion of someone like that is the only way she’ll ever do it). Because I believe I am a powerful person, it’s not that surprising the planets would align in this manner. In fact, maybe this chance encounter was the entire reason for her taking the job with Hulu and moving across the country.

But, I also believe the Universe likes to taunt me (it comes from my inflated sense of self-importance).  So, it’s almost like this connection happened for the sole purpose of the Universe being able to say to me: “See how close you’re getting to this thing you want very, very badly? Now watch how it doesn’t happen.”

My sister, by the way, doesn’t think much of Jimmy, and it doesn’t seem like that opinion will ever change. So how, you might ask, did she and her coworker even discover this connection? Why would Jimmy, a person she would like to forget exists in her life, ever come up in conversation with a new acquaintance?

Well, she had shown the woman a picture of the boys, as Baby Batman and Baby Superman. The woman instantly recognized them. “I know those babies,” the woman said, and then was incredulous when my sister said they were her nephews and that she and I were sisters.

Facebook is weird, right? This woman has never met our babies, she knows them only from Facebook. She had met me before, though, while I was pregnant with the boys, which she told my sister. She said she had met me at a going away party, for someone who had also moved to Los Angeles. I told my sister I didn’t at all remember meeting this woman (pre-baby memories are really fuzzy, sleep-deprivation is a powerful thing), but I remembered the going away party — it was for Stephen, one of Jimmy’s groomsmen at the wedding.

My sister perked up at the mention of Stephen’s name. “Nate loved Stephen,” she said. Nate is her husband. “They were like, best friends at your wedding. Why didn’t you tell us he had moved to southern California? We are trying to make new friends here. Give us his number!”

I said well, I didn’t know you had connected with him, but yes, you should get in touch – he has a daughter that is exactly your daughter’s age.

So she excitedly got his contact information — from Jimmy, because I didn’t have it, and I presume they’ll make arrangements to hang out together soon. And I want to feel good about this, and encouraged, and even excited,
because both Stephen and his wife are program veterans and program believers, but, I can’t.

I can’t shake the feeling that it’s just the Universe, taunting me again. “See how close you are to your sister finally accepting, and even liking, your husband? See how close she is to becoming open to the program? Now watch how it STILL doesn’t happen.”

I don’t care anyway though, so, whatever (you think if I play it cool, things just might end up working out…?).

The Teeny Tiny Lasagna

I was working form home one Friday and I made myself a microwave Lean Cuisine lasagna for lunch.  It was very tiny.  One might say:  teeny tiny.

Upon looking at this teeny tiny lasagna, an image (or daydream sequence?) suddenly came to mind.

What if I were to tell Jimmy’s family that I was going to make a homemade lasagna for the first time ever for an upcoming family function?  They make fun of me for not knowing how to work an oven, so this would be big news, and it would be this whole production.  I’d start a rumor about how my amateur lasagna was even better than his sister’s, how we were going to invite everyone to come stand around the oven for the big reveal, how it turns out I’m a spectacular cook, I just hadn’t really tried yet.  We’d tell them about how I started preparing to make this lasagna weeks in advance, studying recipes, gathering the best ingredients, doing trial runs only to start all over and do them again.  Then, the day would arrive.  We’d have the entire family standing in the kitchen, gathered around the oven.  I’d put on my brand new oversized pink oven mitts.  I’d waltz over to the oven with a prideful smile beaming across my face.  I’d open it slowly to build suspense, reach in, and carefully pull out:  a teeny tiny Lean Cuisine lasagna.

So, again, this was a super random, and completely unprovoked, daydream-type sequence that came to me as I was eating a Lean Cuisine lasagna.  Jimmy came into the kitchen to find me laughing hysterically.  I could not stop.  I literally had cracked myself up, to the point where I was having trouble breathing and tears were streaming down my face.

I’m not really sure why the teeny tiny lasagna was SO amusing, but, this is actually one of the results I’ve gotten from the work.  I cry a lot easier in front of other people (often in public) — but I laugh a lot easier, too.  Something takes hold and laughter just bubbles out involuntarily.  That may sound like a really small thing (or like something that is or should be normal), but for me it’s kind of huge.  I think sometimes when we talk about “vulnerability,” we think of people sharing things that are really difficult for them.  But sharing and showing joy is pretty vulnerable, too — at least it feels that way to me, in large part because of the household I grew up in (laughing and showing joy or excitement was seen as being or looking silly in my family, and being or looking silly was a very bad thing).

So, I share this story here both to just share the thought that it brought to mind, and also to memorialize it for myself.  I want more moments like this — of joy, silliness, and easy laughter — and less moments of stress and overwhelm.  I declare creating that for myself this summer.