My trusty old suitcase finally gave out at the end of 2022 and I like the symbolism of that. It represents a former life and all of the places I went before. I am grateful for that life and those experiences and also ready to close that chapter and move on to do new things. 2022 was about leaving my old career, healing and finding a new path forward for myself. Now 2023 is all about going for it!
To this end, I’ve got 3 big projects going down this year:
I am publishing my book baby, Falling Out of Love with My Career!
Writing this book has been a growth experience like none I’ve had before. I learned so much about myself and life transitions and I can’t wait to share it. Even though sharing with a wider audience also makes me incredibly nervous! I am a private introvert who has somehow managed to write a book that lays myself completely bare. Scary to put it out there, but doing it anyway.
I am starting a publishing business!
That’s right, I’m gonna be a publisher. Bonfire Books Press is in the works because I believe writers deserve a better deal than what most traditional publishers offer these days. More creative control, more money, better marketing. I will test the waters with my own book and then open it up to other writers with unique voices who are looking for a publishing home.
I am writing my next book: Desperately Dating!
I had a blast doing the Desperately Dating Podcast with my dream of a stepson, Zac Shomler, so now I’m going to turn that content into a book. Some of the questions I will explore in a fun, approachable way are: What is true love and how do you find it? Is it possible to enjoy dating without losing your mind and becoming totally discouraged? How do you maintain a soul-satisfying relationship?
I am really excited for this year! These three projects will be incredibly fun, but I am also looking forward to enjoying more of my daily joys that keep me grounded and happy as well. Like reading good books or swimming (only reason to have a gym membership in my book) and cooking for those I love. Or discovering and sharing quirky new kitchen gadgets to delight and amaze. Spending quality time with my man visiting dive bars, drinking martinis at home or enjoying restful Sundays on the couch with good shows and popcorn. I will also continue to advocate for my mom as she navigates our challenging American healthcare system – at least there is still a good use for all my training and experience working in the medical field. The big stuff matters, but the little stuff also gives my life a lot of richness and texture.
Symbolically, I have replaced my old faithful case with this snazzy new number, in Caribbean Blue (of course). We are ready for new (ad)ventures! Here I come 2023, it’s gonna be a great year.
I feel like menopause thus far has been something of a mystery. And not the good kind of mystery. Not the I-wonder-what-this-beautifully-wrapped-gift-is type of mystery, but more of the why-is-my-toilet-making-that-weird-noise kind of mystery. Not just a mystery to me either.
I honestly think part of the reason why my first husband and I divorced when we did was because he didn’t want to have to go through this stage of life with me. And he’s a doctor! Funny coincidence that his new wife is significantly younger… unintentional or not, it amounts to further postponement of that shared experience.
The irony of my ignorance about menopause is, I am a woman, a healthcare provider myself and I have two older sisters, a mom and friends who have all gone through this stage of life. So why do I feel so ignorant about it??
Well, that’s not entirely true. I did learn, many years ago in school, about the technical changes that occur in the body including which hormones shift at menopause. But who gives a fuck about that? That doesn’t help me understand what this life transition feels like.
And since my own healthcare providers had similar scanty training on the subject and are usually younger than I am these days so devoid of first-hand experience on the matter, none of them have been much help either. They just hand me various pills, tell me to give up gluten or send me off for consultation about having my uterus taken out and be done with it.
The body ills like heavy unpredictable bleeding, disabling pain and sheet-soaking night sweats have been no picnic, but honestly, most of the time I don’t know if I need a doctor, a psychiatrist or a priest! These symptoms are wildly varied and go far beyond the physical plane. For instance, I don’t think there are meds I can take to fix my profound existential angst and I doubt a hysterectomy is going to cut it (every pun intended) when I feel like my metaphorical cheese is sliding off of my cracker.
Neither of my sisters has been much help in shedding light on the subject. One of them says she barely noticed going through the change (I wonder if her immediate family would corroborate this) and the other just takes on a haunted look when the subject arises. My mom was the most up close and personal look I had at the process and it was not pretty. The messages I got from her were that this is a horrible, no-good, awful change to be fought tooth and nail and one must take synthetic hormones to stave off the inevitable for as long as possible. She did not go willingly into that goodnight. Not exactly encouraging.
Well, I don’t want my daughters and sons to be in the dark like I was. I want them to have some idea about what is coming and how to be good to themselves and to their partners during this totally normal, but admittedly challenging stage of life. So here goes, what I have learned about menopause (so far):
Perimenopause is the name for the time period leading up to menopause which is defined as the date one year after the last menstrual period. Colloquially, people call it menopause when they’re really talking about perimenopause (when all of the wacky shit happens). I did it myself at the beginning of this letter, it’s just easier to say.
It can sneak up on you. In retrospect, I’ve probably been in this perimenopausal period for around 10 years! It started very subtly with heavier bleeding, more pain and fewer fucks to give. Incidentally, this transition can last 7–14 years on average, so I gotta be reaching the end soon!
Pain can and should be managed. This may require assertiveness, but it is possible. Don’t accept less. I allowed my pain to be under-treated for far too long until it was impacting my work and general wellbeing. I didn’t realize how bad it was until I finally demanded and received adequate relief. I shouldn’t have suffered that long, physically or emotionally. It wasn’t heroic, I was just hurting myself and further hobbling my ability to roll with the menopause waves. Go ahead and be that squeaky wheel if you have pain that you can’t fix on your own. You matter.
The mood swings are epic. They come on fast and can take me from the highest feelings of joy and confidence to the lowest depths of despair. I have had more suicidal thoughts in the past 3 years than in my whole life. Never with a plan or anything close to completion, but still. It feels highly shameful to admit these dark feelings, but they are real. And thankfully transient.
It is disorienting to lose that predictable menstrual cycle. Imagine having all access to clocks and calendars removed from your life. You don’t know what to expect (physically or emotionally) or when, it is all constant reaction. For planners like me, that sucks! And it is exhausting all by itself.
Plus, all of the other various and sundry body woes: Bloating to an extent I did not think possible. Like, do I have a tumor level. Hugely swollen tits. Ridiculously easy weight gain. Changing shape with a bigger belly. Clothes fit way different. Headaches. Joint pains. Very weird sleep patterns, insomnia, nighttime restlessness, odd dreams. And while some women reportedly lose their hair during this time of life, I find I am sprouting more than I need. On my face and chin in particular. Thank god for tweezers and good lighting.
But…it is not all bad. And here are a few of the good things I want you to know about too:
I am loving my mind. It feels like a race car these days! With benefit of all those years of living, learning and experiencing life I am at the top of my game in the brain department. I can see patterns, reason and intuit things like never before. I may not have the memory power that I used to, but cognitive function is solid.
Orgasms are way more intense. Seriously.
My tolerance for bullshit is way down. I am feeling increasingly comfortable with being direct and saying no without guilt.
I am more focused on me, my wants and needs. Not to the exclusion of others’, but in addition to them. I feel like I matter too and I am pursuing my dreams, not just helping others reach theirs.
I am braver and way better at facing my fears and doing it anyway.
My hair looks great. Silver suits me.
I am healing deep hurts and setting new boundaries as a result. Painful, old shit is welling up, but it feels necessary and healthy to purge it and process it. This is the means through which I am growing into myself and really reaching my potential as a healthy and happy human.
And soon, the biggest boon on the horizon still to come — freewheelin’, birth control free, no kids at home sex! That must be the best gift of menopause; hot sex with the privacy of an empty nest and and no more periods. I can’t wait!
So for my daughters: Be kind to yourselves when your body and mind start to change. Your experience may be different than mine in timing and variety of symptoms, but your family history says you’ll probably be looking at your early 40s for all of this fun to begin!
Call me if you want to talk about it and lean on your friends or find a community to support you. It can be disorienting and weird, but don’t forget to advocate for yourselves and look for the good parts as well.
Journaling has been an indispensable tool for me to process this process. Caring for my physical body with daily yoga, swimming, dog walks and increasing the nutritional value of my diet while cutting back on alcohol and caffeine have also helped. Being nice to myself about my changing body size and shape has been difficult but necessary growth.
Even though a big part of me still has the impulse to make drastic changes to my diet and exercise in an effort to force my way back to my 20-year-old body, I am increasingly aware that this is futile and not good for my mental health. Bodies are meant to change and this is the body I have now for this stage of life.
So I make a big effort to care for it, talk nicely to it (or at least not negatively), feed it well, buy cute and comfortable clothes that fit and be grateful that I am healthy. Instead of focusing on what I don’t like, I spend more time looking for the good (like my hair ;).
For my sons: Be kind with your partner as she goes through this change. It may start around 40 or even earlier (best guess is whenever her mom went through it). She is not going to feel like herself and that is because she is busy morphing into her new, equally amazing self.
Her experience may be much different than mine, for better or worse, but she is going to need you. This is your time to give to her your love, support and understanding. Be patient, give her room and look for the good stuff in the process too. Tell her that she is wonderful and beautiful and that you like her and love her. Acknowledge how hard this must be on her and admire her strength.
You can call Steven to talk about it. He has been a phenomenal partner to me through this. He never once made me feel ashamed of myself or guilty for how the process of my body changing affects him. I liked how he took the attitude of “this is important to you, so it is important to me.” That’s teamwork right there. He has remained unfailingly curious and supportive, which, come to think of it, is a great example for all of us about how to treat ourselves and each other.
I’ve been mocked by many over the years for my philosophy degree. Here’s a sample of the gems that these wise critics have imparted to me:
“Philosophy is just mental masturbation.”
“A philosophy degree won’t get you a job.”
“What are you going to do with THAT?”
“She has a philosophy degree? HAHAHAHAHA!”
The level of derision my degree provokes just blows me away, because I use my philosophy background every single day.
It may not have taught me a lot of useful (or even useless) facts, per se, but studying philosophy did teach me how to operate my brain better, which has wide applicability (that goes far beyond being able to dissect people and figure out what the hell they’re up to, but that’s a definite perk, too). I can read deep, dense writing effectively and find meaning in it. I can evaluate the validity of an argument and use logic to craft my own. I can contemplate the meaning of life in a meaningful way. I can understand and appreciate multiple points of view and potential courses of action. I can write, clearly and persuasively. I can consider the moral implications of my actions and the actions of others.
I am where I am today precisely because of my foundation in philosophy, and I am so very grateful for having that tool under my proverbial belt. It’s pushed me to seek a better life. I’ve weathered my share of losses and abuses and changes, but I’ve emerged stronger and better as a result of knowing how to apply the hidden lessons beneath those things.
My degree hangs proudly in my laundry room. Why the laundry room? Well, partly because I think it is a funny play on what many believe is the quality of work my philosophy degree has prepared me for. But at the same time, it’s a reminder to myself that even while I’m doing the most mundane of chores, my mind is still working on bigger, badder stuff.
It is a tantalizing title, isn’t it? Many of us would love to escape the bondage of the 9-5 life, but does this book deliver us from that evil? Maybe or maybe not, but it is an interesting read nonetheless.
I love how the big ideas in this book really got me thinking and dreaming of a life better structured around my actual priorities rather than those of some rando employer who could care less about my personal well-being.
I am a non-conformist at heart and this book speaks to my subversive side. The working norm in this country is just that – the norm. Doesn’t mean it’s the only way to go about it. Tim convincingly presents examples from his own experience of how it really is possible to redesign your life to maximize enjoyment while making a living. Really.
He goes into a lot of detail about certain ways to go about this kind of approach to work with an emphasis on building a business that can be automated to free up your time to enjoy life. It makes sense, but he kind of lost me in these parts since I do not have an interest in building such a business. However, there were still a ton of tips to streamline work and increase effective use of time that were insightful and apply to anyone.
4 Good quotes from the book:
“Most people aren’t lucky enough to be fired and die a slow spiritual death over 30-40 years of tolerating the mediocre.”
“Don’t only evaluate the downside of action. It is equally important to measure the atrocious cost of inaction.”
“Don’t save it all for the end. There is every reason not to.”
“Let’s define ‘laziness’ anew – to endure a non-ideal existence to let circumstances or others decide life for you, or to amass a fortune while passing through life like a spectator from an office window.”
Life wisdom obtained:
He points out how dumb it is that we all play along with this deferred gratification model of saving for a retirement that may never come. Or when it does, we might be too old or infirm to enjoy it. He is so right.
He really got me thinking about money in a new way. I’m paraphrasing Tim, but he convincingly shows us that the goal really isn’t gathering lots of money. It’s about the lifestyle we want and that is where we need to put our attention. Many of us think and dream about having an abstract pile of big bucks in the bank, but why? Why do we want that money? To live a great life filled with experiences that make us feel alive, fulfilled, happy, whole. Those are the things that actually make you rich and are often surprisingly affordable. Even right here, right now in this very point in your life, so go get ‘em, don’t wait.
4 Must read chapters:
Rules That Change the Rules
Will I keep it on my bookshelf or donate it? I will keep it and refer back to it when I am feeling weak about taking a socially unsanctioned approach to work.
Steven Pressfield’s books are tiny, but mighty inspirational for creative types like me. I personally adore how he eliminates much of the preamble, discussion and repetition that other writers deem necessary and which tend to bury the all-important point. He delivers a short, no bullshit form of wisdom that prevents me from hiding from myself or getting wrapped up in looking for faulty logic in what I’m reading. Pressfield just says what I need to hear without all of the nuts and fruitcake around it. Brevity like this that retains meaning is deceptively simple, but in fact requires great depth of knowledge and immense skill. I thank him for it.
4 Good quotes from the book:
“Any time I tried to take the intelligent course, i.e., get a real job, I became so depressed I couldn’t stand it.”
“At some point the practice of our vocation moves from being a challenge that we must will ourselves into accepting and enacting to become simply…our life.”
“This is the job. There is no other job. This is the job.”
“When you’re tired, stop.”
Life wisdom obtained:
It is possible to be 100% committed 10% of the time.
The ability to self-reinforce is more important than talent.
Things are not as bad as you are imagining them.
Show up in a predictable fashion so the muse knows where and when to find you.
Must read chapters:
Will I keep it on my bookshelf or donate it? Definitely a keeper for when I need a kick in the ass to keep going.
I work in the American healthcare (AHC) system. I see patients. I dispense health related advice. I order screening tests. I prescribe medicines and treatments.
And I partake of none of these things for myself on a regular basis. In fact, I avoid the AHC system for my own needs as much as possible. I even abstained from care when I broke my ankle a couple of years ago while in-between jobs and temporarily without health insurance (long story). Rather than invite all sorts of high charges and possibly unnecessary tests and over-treatment (like surgery), I treated it at home myself, successfully. I’m not advising anyone else to take this route, and I would absolutely seek more care if I had any health conditions that demanded it, but gratefully, I do not. This is just me sharing my own story and the extremes to which I am personally willing to go!
Why this deep aversion? Simple: Lack of trust. I do not believe AHC as a system has our best interests as patients at heart. Many of the providers working within this system do care, but their hands are largely tied by AHC. As an industry, AHC doesn’t really work to make us healthier or allow providers to do the best job they can for us. Like it or not, and they do not advertise this, but AHC is in it for the money. And the money is in fixing us when we are “broken” (or perceived to be). Similarly, insurance companies don’t care about us or our wellbeing. They care about their profits, which rarely translates into approving more care. There are sooo many examples where insurance companies could have done the right thing with sick, desperate people and did not. For money. Drug companies are no better and scam us with shoddy research then convince us through tv ads and such that we need expensive drugs to be ok. Then they jack up the prices once we are hooked. I know I sound like a cynical crackpot, but this is just so hard to witness! I think people go into healthcare for altruistic reasons for the most part, and consumers have faith that they will receive good care, but the system stymies all of us.
Let us remember that living, aging and even dying are not pathological. Bodies change, parts wear out and sometimes break. The best way to be healthy is to take care of ourselves and prevent/reverse illnesses that require ongoing care whenever possible. How do you keep your car running well? Don’t drive like a maniac, get regular maintenance, use proper fuel. Same with bodies. The AHC system is like the oily mechanic who price gouges when you are broken down or sells you all sorts of parts and questionable services by preying on your ignorance and your fears. This is not ethical. This is not healthcare. Our best defense here is a good offense: take care of ourselves better! This won’t always work, but there are things we can do to fix ourselves and keep AHC out of our lives and pockets! Maybe I’m not a hypocrite, maybe I am a crackpot…
Sometimes I feel guilty for wanting something different when I already have so much. I hear voices in my head (not literally) telling me I’m asking for too much, I’m selfish, I’m never satisfied.
But am I?
No. Because I don’t necessarily want more, I want different.
By many standards, my life is a good life. And I do enjoy it. I have a steady, well-paying job with lots of flexibility. I have a great husband, happy and healthy kids and an adorable house with a cute dog, upgraded kitchen and lots of books. I also long to live an independent, more personally fulfilling life where I am creative and living on my own terms. I want to be my own boss. This is the different life I want. Not more, not less, just different. I’m not trying to cheat the system, I am willing to work hard, I appreciate what I have and I harbor no disdain for others that are content with the status quo – it just doesn’t fit me. I am trying to find some peace and acceptance within myself for that.
I’ve cracked open a big, scary door and I can’t see what is ahead, but I’m ready to take a chance and go through anyway.
I remember when my husband pointed out to me that people don’t write for fun like I do. It had never really occurred to me that something I love so much is often painful and best avoided for others.
I just love words; their shapes their sounds, stringing them together in creative ways to artfully convey meaning – heaven. I also love reading them and writers are the absolute rockstars of my world. To get to play with words all day and be paid for it? I can think of no better dream job.
But writers are rockstars and I am …not.
Or am I?
Opening the big scary door is about finding out the answer to that question. Stay tuned.
Follow my journey writing my first book Falling Out of Love With My Career here and over on Instagram @fallingoutoflovewithmycareer
This memoir from music journalist Lisa Robinson is like catnip for me. Not just a glimpse, but a long, deep, satisfying look behind the scenes of the music world from someone who got up close and personal. It is a bit misleading to constrict the title to “rock and roll” because it covers way more than that genre. Sure, most of the usual suspects are there – The Rolling Stones, Led Zeppelin, John Lennon, U2 and more, but she also takes substantial forays into punk rock, blues, rap, hip hop. As well as other artists who sort of stubbornly defy categorization – where do you put David Bowie, Lou Reed or Lady Gaga? Even with everyone who is in here, you get the sense that it has been carefully curated and there is tons of other dirt that didn’t make the cut. I reckon you could ask Lisa Robinson about nearly anybody in the music biz over the past 40-ish years and she would probably have a story to tell. I enjoyed it tremendously and her writing and style are inspirational. She was there, with all those amazing people, yet her writing is clear-eyed, crisp and never feels name drop-y.
After finishing this book, I had to ask myself, “Why do I like reading about rockstars (sounds better than “musicstars”, though less inclusive)?” Hmmm. First off, I am a music fan. From a young age I can remember feeling moved in an almost indescribable way by the loud 70s rock music my brother subjected the whole family to at ear-splitting decibels. There was no escaping a basic, though forced musical education in my house. I found my own way into appreciation for punk and new wave (which my brother heartily derided), “discovered” Bowie, sang along to the oldies through my crappy first car’s AM radio, lived through grunge (so depressing), got the blues, educated my kids about all of this, “discovered” Lady Gaga and now am experiencing a second, forced musical education courtesy of my kids who like all kinds of “new” music. Whatever that means. And I love it all! Good music inspires me, makes me feel things, feeds my creativity, makes me want to be a better me. God, that sounds so incredibly cheesy! But it is the truth. Music isn’t just in the background of my life, it feeds who I am and who I want to become.
Part of why I find musicians so inspiring is the absolute fearlessness that is required to make a go of it in that business. There is no school for rockstars. No formal internships or competitive training programs. No surefire path or playbook to greatness. They are born, not made (the good ones, at least). The concept that someone can feel so moved internally by their own creativity that they have no choice but to make music is both intriguing and inspiring to me. What confidence they must have. And tolerance for risk. Singlemindedness, dedication, direction and purpose. Not to mention talent. All traits I admire and, sheepishly, envy.
Its not just rockstars either, though they are arguable the most fascinating of the bunch. Writers, especially but not always travel writers, often fall into this category for me. Peter Mayle, Frances Mayes, Anthony Bourdain, Ernest Hemingway, Roxane Gay. Other inspiring folk are found in a multitude of settings but share similar appealing traits: Albert Einstein, Tara Stiles, Richard Branson, Julia Child, Lousie Hay and Wayne Dyer. So many more, but they all go (or went) their own way on their own terms and proceeded to make a life that is creative and uniquely, honestly, true to themselves. I may very well be seeing everything through rose tinted glasses, sure, but this is what these people’s lives and work represents to me. And I want that.
Ok, I must confess an enduring love of bad tv. Particularly and embarrassingly, reality tv. I’ve kept up with the Kardashians, said yes to many dresses and no to my fair shar of 90 day fiancées. I know it is spectacularly stupid, pathetic content, but that is part of the draw I guess.
I find it especially magnetic when I am trying to work through other stuff in my head. The opportunity to space out to other people’s misery is oddly helpful to processing of my own internal world.
So I had a lot on my mind and that’s how I found myself glued to the couch through 2 seasons of 1000 pound sisters. For those unfamiliar with this tv gem, it is about 2 sisters who are obese with a combined total weight of, you guessed it, 1000 pounds. Over the course of the show, one sister manages to drop some weight and get bariatric surgery while the other one…doesn’t. There is much mutual enabling.
A couple of relationship things stood out to me as interesting in this show. One is how both sisters tend to focus on how the other is doing instead of on themselves. They say they are worried about the other sister and how badly they are fucking up, but never turn that lens inward, toward their own situation. An appalling lack of insight and personal responsibility but cloaked in a veneer of concern for their sister. Weird. The other notable thing was the apparent lack of any significant focus on the psychological aspects of the eating disorder. This is clearly an eating disorder; you don’t get to be that large for any other reason than you are eating way too much. And working pretty hard to do so. But nobody ever seems to dig in there – to try to figure out why they are eating such astoundingly huge amounts of food. Seems pretty clear to me there is some hurt and pain driving that, so why wasn’t here an effort to give them some psychological support to address those aspects? Instead, the focus was on continued shaming for not losing the weight. But if these women are eating to manage pain and the underlying cause of the pain is never addressed and they are never taught better coping skills, how are they expected to succeed? Bariatric surgery (if they can get it) will just be a big ol’ temporary band-aid. Like much of American style healthcare. Sadly. I am not naïve, I understand that these shows are often edited to provide more titillation and may not reflect actual reality. But then what does that say about us as a viewing audience (or at least the producers’ perception of us) that we would prefer to watch people struggle and fail rather than see someone take charge of their mental health, do the hard work and succeed? Guess that doesn’t make for good tv.
I have been singing Kaiser’s praises as a HMO for the past nearly 2 years that I have been a member. It is delightful and refreshing how easy it is to get care there, in a variety of ways. I have had video visits, phone visits, email interactions and a flu shot in a walk-in clinic. The pharmacy was amazing; I’d request a refill on my app and my drugs would be in the mail to my house the next day, free shipping. This was also one of the first encounters with a provider in a long time (and few and far between throughout my life, truth be told) where I felt honestly cared for and listened to as a real, individual person. . Everything so organized and helpfully connected. I was kind of reveling in feeling so good about my health care provider for once, that I was shocked when it all abruptly went to shit.
See I have a minor medical condition that wreaks havoc on my body and mind on a monthly basis. To add more fun to the situation, I am approaching menopause with all of the wacky symptoms that entails. I’ve been offered medications and treatments, even a hysterectomy to treat these things. Some of those things I have tried with variable success and some I have declined (cutting out my womb for anything less than raging cancer seems extreme to me, no thanks). I was thrilled to see that my beloved Kaiser offers yearly visits with a contracted naturopath. Hooray! How progressive! And much more in line with my own personal belief system about wellness. I immediately requested a referral from my primary care doctor and my request went to the review board for a blessing.
It was denied.
The reason? I am allowed care from the naturopath only after I have failed all traditional, “accepted” treatment. Since my employment has changed and this is America, my health insurance (and therefore, my healthcare providers) has also changed. Frequently. Don’t get me started on how messed up that whole scene is. However, as a result, records do not always follow in an orderly or timely fashion (I love our HC system), so the Kaiser reviewer was unable to see what I have already been through. For a hot minute I was all fired up and ready to collect all of my records to prove to them that I deserve these visits with a naturopath, I have earned them. But then it dawned on me how utterly fucked up and ass backwards this is. Why is this type of care reserved for “failed” cases? What if I want to reserve traditional care for the scenario where naturopathy has failed? Why am I not allowed to choose the primary modality that suits my needs and values? Kaiser: you have let me down; the honeymoon is over and now I can see you are just like all the rest.
Healthcare (HC) is the perfect profession for enabling perfectionists. Ask me, I know! Where else is perfectionism not just desirable, but actually deemed essential? That’s like crack for perfectionists. In this context, we are expected to be perfect not just for our own internal satisfaction, but for matters of life and death. HC is a comfortable spot for perfectionists because it fosters this illusion that perfection is a desirable and attainable goal. As perfectionists, we are comfortable with feeling like everything we do or say or produce is up for judgment. Fear of being or appearing imperfect is real and feels untenable, like we won’t survive if we aren’t perfect. HC just feeds our belief that perfection is not only possible, but necessary. Because the real-world stakes are too high if we mess up, or even just appear to mess up – people may be hurt or die or sue us. We could lose everything – money, profession, reputation.
There’s the rub though – perfectionists may strive for perfection = an absence of errors, but we won’t make it. In HC or anywhere else. Why? We are human. Understandably, patients have bought into this illusion that perfection is possible in HC. Their expectation is that medicine can cure all and providers won’t make any mistakes. And they are not shy about taking legal action or threatening to, if things don’t turn out the way they think they should. No matter how unrealistic. This has led to a dilemma in HC where even if you don’t know something or you make a mistake, it may be tempting to keep quiet and at least continue to appear perfect in order to avoid retribution for being human. HC and patients demand the maintenance of this illusion. I guess a similar situation might be with airline pilots. I know intellectually that they are human and thus will make mistakes sometimes. But I don’t want to think about that possibility too much or have it happen when I am on their plane!
What makes it all the worse is that the culture of HC does not allow us to talk to each other about this. I suspect all HC providers feel the onus of perfection to some extent, but we cover it up with bravado. We talk “shop”, many of us enjoy the sound of our own voices and like nothing more than to ask questions that will stump the presenter and showcase our own superior intelligence on whatever matter is being discussed. But can we make ourselves vulnerable and talk to each other about our mistakes, the times we didn’t get it right or our fears about shouldering this ridiculous amount of responsibility everyday? I’ve been in 23 years and I have yet to have a real, open, honest, meaningful conversation with a colleague about this stuff. We just don’t go there. Is it the type of deal where we don’t want to speak about even the possibility of failure for fear it will be invited into our lives? All I know is it is pretty fucking lonely.
I picked the greyest area of HC in which to practice on purpose because I find rigid, garden variety black and white decision-making kinda boring. I like variety and challenge and using my brain, but even here in hospice I struggle with my own perfectionist tendencies. As a HC provider, I make oodles of decisions on a daily basis. Some big, some little, but all involve the care and well-being of humans. That’s some pretty heavy shit. I can’t afford to have bad days, I’ve got to be on at all times collecting, analyzing, synthesizing what information I have and putting together a plan to hopefully help and not hurt someone who is counting on me to care for them. There are days where I wear that responsibility lightly; I’m in the flow and enjoying my work as a combination of pleasant puzzle/problem solving, education and advocacy. And then there are the other days. The days when I am second guessing every decision I make, where I feel at a loss about what is the best thing to do, when I over research and overanalyze in an attempt to bring myself some measure of peace about what I’ve done or am about to do. That sucks. And then sometimes, I continue this pattern in my sleep and either dream about it or wake up at 3 am thinking about it, going over everything again, did I do the right thing? Is that patient going to be ok? Do I look like a complete idiotic buffoon to my peers? How would a lawyer demonstrate my culpability in this situation if things go wrong? It can be exhausting. And I’m not going to tie it all up with a neat bow and tell you that is it hard work but worth it because I get to help people. None of that martyr-y bullshit. I am altruistic at my core and I do enjoy helping people, but sometimes it does not feel worth it. At least not to me. Sometimes it feels like a much too heavy burden to have all of those people (including myself) counting on me and expecting me to be able to make 10,000 decisions without a single error. The recovering perfectionist in me is tired out and ready to hand it all over to somebody else.
I’m not sure why I’m feeling such angst this morning – a feeling of emotional and physical restlessness. Like I should and want to be doing something, but I’m not sure what. It is uncomfortable because I am an old hand at self-reflection and looking deep inside myself is typically a comfortable excursion. I know I’ve got that down to a science. I know where to look for answers in my psyche and history and deep corners of my mind and heart. I know myself. But this, this feeling is just puzzling.
Maybe I’m trying to find meaning where there isn’t any. Maybe this feeling is in response to a global pandemic and 10+ months of avoiding people and places like the plague, literally. Or maybe it is the anti-climax of the holiday season to cap off such a shitty year. Could it be that it is year-end reflection time and I’m unsatisfied with where I am in my progress toward living a full-time creative life? Do I need more exercise? Or is it just that this is a dreary, rainy, cold Sunday in December, my kids are complaining about being bored and I have to be on-call for a job that pays the bills but doesn’t light my fire?
And why do I always have to have a reason for feeling bad? Why do I need to justify my feelings to myself? Can’t I just accept that sometimes emotions blow through that are unpleasant but blessedly temporary? I tell other people that and give them permission to wallow and allow it to wash over and through them, but can’t seem to take my own advice. Why is my love, compassion and understanding greater for others than for myself?
Ooooh! That right there is a dark, unexplored corner of myself that needs some illumination. Not a bad endeavor for an angsty day…
‘The cup is already broken’. Ever hear that saying? In my mind, it is a mental nudge away from getting too attached to stuff, because at some point the stuff will break or otherwise be lost. There is an impermanence in the world that it is best to make peace with sooner than later.
This saying flashed in neon in my brain this morning when I dropped my brother’s coffee cup that he got on our trip to the Big Island when my teenager was just a baby boy. It is one of the few personal things of his I still have since he died unexpectedly in 2013. It has served as a cherished though melancholy reminder of him and our fantastic trips to Hawaii together and I had just broken the handle clean off. Damn.
I guess I could have just kept the cup on a shelf over the years, safe and protected from potential harm, but I didn’t. The risk of it breaking was acceptable for me to keep using it and enjoying it in my daily life. Every time I made my tea in it or saw it sitting in the cupboard, it was an opportunity to remember Mike.
I thought I might freak out when it eventually broke, because I knew it couldn’t last forever. My brother didn’t. Nothing does. But I didn’t freak out and I didn’t whip out the super glue and desperately try to fix it either. I was surprisingly calm. Briefly wistful maybe, but totally ok. Those memories are still there and those will never break. Even though it is no longer suitable for daily use, I’m still going to keep this cup because I like all of the things it symbolizes: Mike, Hawaii, impermanence, treasuring memories and people over stuff. Like many things, it is still beautiful even broken.
What’s the difference between being in a funk which prevents creativity and experiencing the phenomenon of failing to engage with your medium that is sometimes called resistance, obstruction or perhaps disconnect, maybe simply failing to TCB (Take Care of Business, to quote the King)?
I think being in a funk, at least for me, is when I’m feeling kind of down and emotionally drained. The cause could be a whole variety of things (work or family stress, world events, raging hormones, too much peopling and going) but the thought of opening my computer to write at these times feels like a mountain too high to climb. Plus, my creative energy feels all stopped up and trying to “work through it” leads to lots of frustration, no flow and ultimately, more funk. Or maybe a deeper or longer funk. And then I start to feel bad about that! I’m not writing, my creative energy has left me for good, I have no talent or good ideas, I’m never going to make it as a writer…horrible thought spiral. Thankfully, these episodes do seem to pass with time, sort of like a storm blowing through.
The more difficult situation for me is when I have ideas and I want to write, but I just…don’t. Not for any good reason either. On most days I wake up at the crack of dawn before the rest of the family, so time and a quiet place to write really aren’t issues. I replaced my clunky old laptop with a sleek, beautiful machine with the apropos model name of “yoga” to keep me fit and flexible as a writer. I’ve got notebooks full of ideas ready to be fleshed out on paper. So why don’t I just sit down and do it? Inherent laziness? Fear of failure/success? Depression? A time-consuming habit/pseudoaddiction to pimple popping videos and endless hours of scrolling social media to see what the drones I went to high school with are doing?
Though the situations are different, the outcome (not writing) is the same. And I also think the cure is very likely the same. I suspect, even though I’d prefer to remain ignorant on this score, that at least part of the reason I am having both these frequent funks and periods of creative inertia is because I’m not taking care of myself as well as I could. As a living, breathing organism. I don’t mean this in a self-shaming, should-ing kind of way, but more in a practical, handle your shit kind of way. I think these uncomfortable situations may have increased in frequency lately because I need more real, nourishing food and fewer Cheez-its and martinis. More walks, more books and less phone, maybe a rest, maybe some journaling and yoga. Yep, that’s right, I’ve got my new age-y side (so sue me)! And though I’m far from perfect at recognizing and dealing with my funks and faults when they show up, I am more aware of them and moving in the right direction to be kind to myself when they do occur. I am nurturing self-compassion and committing to investing more in myself and my own well-being. Even if these measures don’t cure all of my writer’s woes, it is not a bad place to start. There’s no downside. Except to Cheez-it sales.
My sweet brother John sent me some fantastic wine in the mail and what do I do when it arrives? I burst into tears.
Not happy tears either. Deep, soul-level sad tears.
Not an expected reaction to a nice gift, you say? Well, let me tell you a little about grief:
It is sneaky. My older brother Mike died over 7 years ago, but the arrival of this particular wine that we had shared many times over the years to celebrate a variety of special times brought a big wave of grief crashing back on me. It caught me unawares, such a visceral reaction so long after losing him. But that’s another thing about grief – it eases up over time, but never completely goes away. And another weird thing about grief? Even though it is an uncomfortable feeling, I also sort of welcome it when it shows up because it reminds me of some important things: I was lucky to have such a great brother in my life and that we took time to make some really great memories together. I am grateful for the great brother I still have and that we can continue to make great memories, and share old ones. It also reminds me that life is pretty unpredictable so remember to focus on the things that really matter and bring you joy on a daily basis. I’m so grateful for all of it.
Why do I leave my house in the early morning to get to my workplace long before it opens? Why do I then sit in my car outside my office typing on my computer in the dark? Because to me, this simple act symbolizes that my personal work, the work of writing and creating, comes first. So on my way to my paying job, I make time for this concrete reminder of who I am and what is important to me.
Its important and that’s why I leave my house an hour earlier than I need to in order to get to work on time. Just like I make time to cook and feed myself and my family real food. Its all about priorities. What do your priorities say about you?
What I am trying to say with mine is: my creative life is more important than my money-making job and I will always strive to put it first. My brain also works best in the morning (sometimes VERY early mornings) so this arrangement works well for me. My creative work gets my best brain power. This makes me feel good, or at least better, about spending time at my job that pays the bills because I’ve already taken time to feed my soul and further my creative dreams.
It’s a tangible way I can express my priorities in life while still taking care of business (earning a living). It’s a Jedi mind trick, that prevents me from feeling like I’m selling out my dreams to make a buck.
I feel bad that I kind of lost it with a friend the other day. He is one who enjoys politics as sport; loves to dissect the minutiae and talk about how idiotic it all is. In the best of times, I merely tolerate politics. I generally find it discouraging and frustrating to follow. But I do so grudgingly, enough to remain reasonably and respectably informed anyway. But currently, this fucking mess refuses to be ignored or kept at any kind of a safe distance to preserve my sanity. It is everywhere! It’s like passing the scene of a horrific accident and being unable to look away. And I am exhausted by it! The worst parts of ourselves and our country are continually on display. All of our country’s dirty laundry is just hanging out there for the world to see. Every. Ugly. Part.
I’m not saying this is necessarily a bad thing. But it is painful and discouraging when these truths come to light. Growth often is painful and discouraging.
My frustration with my friend was about his insistence in repeating “my vote doesn’t matter”. I finally had to ask him to stop saying that (maybe a little firmer than I wanted to), at least around me. I get what he is trying to say – his one vote won’t affect the electoral outcome of our historically blue state, so why bother? The way I see it though, is that the exercise of voting has intrinsic value all by itself. It matters! Not just as a means to an end (impacting the outcome), but as an exercise of a right we enjoy that many around the world do not. Therefore, we need to take it seriously and use it or lose it. Once we allow others to make these important decisions on our behalf, we have ceased to be active engaged members of our society. Then we’ve really lost everything.
I’m not saying that any one of the candidates for president, or for any other office for that matter, will get us exactly where we need to go. But we can at least vote for those that are heading in the right direction, whichever way it is that we think is best. We have an opportunity and a duty to make our voices heard, and that always counts.
I’m not a meal planner or prepper. I know a lot of people find these strategies useful for planning purposes, eliminating food waste and preserving the brain power and energy involved with getting food to the table on a regular basis, but they just feel way too restrictive for me. What if I have chili planned for Tuesday but then when Tuesday rolls around what I really want is chicken piccata? I’m no good at following rules, recipes or scheduled menus.
That being said, I am a champion pantry stocker, larder liner and food repurposer. I detest food waste and these strategies allow me to keep good food moving through my kitchen and into the bellies that I love without winding up moldering in my fridge or relegated to the compost heap. I also have an uncanny ability to keep an accurate mental inventory of my food supplies and when they might be approaching expiration. I have a pretty good idea of what we have on hand at any one point in time, unlike others in my household who shall remain nameless, but are responsible for multiple open containers and redundant buys that clutter our fridge and cupboards. Ahem. Moving on…
I think part of the secret here is keeping a consistent stock of staples. These are the majority of my shopping (probably 80%) and are highly versatile so that I can make most of the stuff we like to eat on a regular basis. For instance, we always have carrots, onions and celery in the fridge because we make a lot of soups and other dishes that have these as a starting point. We always stock broth in a jar, noodles, rice, potatoes, olive oil, garlic and tons of spices. I’m not going to go through my whole larder, but you get the idea. I also make a point of keeping spares of frequently used items and immediately replace the spare as soon as I put it into action. For example, when I open my reserve jar of stock from my pantry, it goes right on the next shopping list so I never run out at an inconvenient time. Its smart to make most of your stock stuff that use regularly, then you always know mostly what you have. Only about 20% of the stuff I buy varies, usually seasonally but some times opportunistically. Like berries in the summer or when we are given some fish or meat or hazelnuts or we get a wild craving for something not typically on the menu. The 20% is harder to keep track of in my mental inventory and these items are at highest risk of being overlooked and rotting. The 80% comprises most of our meals and allows me to make use of the 20%. Is that too math-y?
Repurposing is another favorite strategy and has become something of a game for me. Much to my family’s amusement. Or maybe whatever the opposite of that is. But they indulge me. Leftover rice, meat, omelet, cooked, frozen or fresh veggies are fair game for fried rice. Bones and veggie tops are gathered in a Ziploc bag in my freezer for making stock. Aging, wrinkly tomatoes get roasted in the oven with olive oil and salt then blended up into sauce. Wilty greens get a second life sauteed and added to soups, frittatas or pastas. Leftover mashed potatoes become tasty “glue” for breakfast quesadillas; I made my husband one the other day that incorporated mashed potatoes, a couple of straggler spaetzles, sliced chicken schnitzel and red cabbage; it was a teutonic feast! Leftovers and scraps are culinary creativity just waiting to happen.
This book is tiny, but mighty. Written by an obvious introvert, so she basically had me right there.
It’s a little dated, but still relevant. There is an assumption that the majority of women do not work outside the home, but remember this book was written in a totally different generation when that was true. When you look past that, there are all sorts of gems found here.
Beautiful words and imagery couch some incredibly deep analysis of changes women (primarily, but also men) go through, particularly at middle life. Her writing speaks to me on a deep, heart level. She has eloquently put into words the internal and external struggles I have been feeling over the past few years. Who am I, where am I going, what is my purpose, why am I not satisfied with what I have?
I feel understood and validated that this is a less well-defined but nonetheless predictable developmental stage in life and it is ok, even expected and natural that I am feeling this way. Most developmental theory seems to kinda gloss over these middle-aged years (especially for women). Lots of emphasis on your body beginning to break down, your mind starting to slip and how you just soldier on with raising kids, working and making money with nothing particularly interesting happening. Oh, except maybe you are also lucky enough to be caring for your aging parents as well (right here) or perhaps having a middle life crisis. But this is a crock! Not the part about helping parents (that’s a privilege, at least for me it is), but the part about this stage of life being a yawn-fest that sometimes culminates in an epic, tragic, negative struggle.
It sounds a little cheesy, but I prefer to think of this transitional time in life less as a “crisis” and more as a huge opportunity to start a new and fun chapter. It is not without any struggle to be sure, but overall, I feel like my life has gotten richer and deeper. I enjoy using my brain which feels powerful – like a muscle car amped up on experience, creativity and wisdom. It is fucking fun to drive this thing around! I feel like I am breaking new ground, letting go of shit that no longer serves me and I am excited to see where this new creative phase of life leads me. This book is a great reminder that getting older doesn’t have to be a downer, but rather, offers its own charms and opportunities to those of us who choose to see it this way.
I just spent the last 5-10 minutes at my kitchen sink washing chicken shit off of 3 dozen eggs. Why, you ask? Because fresh eggs are totally worth it! And we eat A LOT of eggs.
Whenever we run out, instead of toddling on down to the Safeway to collect some sad, sad commercially raised chicken eggs, I instead head a little farther east and pick up some fresh eggs from a neighbor that raises backyard chickens.
They are affordable ($3/dozen), but require a little more effort (less convenient than the grocery and require aforementioned washing). They aren’t uniform and come in all colors, shapes (yes, even shapes) and sizes. If you’ve only ever used commercial eggs, you are in for a surprise! To my eyes, the variability makes them even more appealing. I feel like I’m eating something real.
And the taste? Absolutely delicious. They have brighter, more vibrant yolks, richer flavor and commercial eggs literally pale in comparison. The process of washing and drying the eggs is also rather meditative, not entirely unpleasant. Go ahead, find a neighbor or local farm and just try it.
I’m taking a lot of liberties here, but the main messages I took away from reading this succinct little book of wisdom include:
Our creative or artist side (whatever our medium of choice) exists on kind of a parallel plane to normal everyday life.
It is up to us to find our way and tap into this other reality and let our creativity flow out of us.
Problem is, we let stupid shit get in the way of this = resistance.
The best way to access our internal wisdom and creativity is to regularly sit down and just fucking do it. For example, if your medium is writing, you’ve got to create habits that get you in front of that keyboard on a regular basis.
I also appreciated how this author’s voice careens back and forth between classical literature to pop references, brass tacks tough love to woo-woo wacky existential stuff all the while merrily ignoring the accepted “rules” of how to write a traditional book. This delights me to no end! It’s a wild ride of a trip through one artist’s stream of consciousness about how to unleash your own brand of creativity but does not suffer for this format. It is at once entertaining and incredibly inspiring, but thankfully, avoids the pitfall of shaming readers for not just doing it already.
I feel like my creative analogies are becoming hopelessly mixed up with each other! Or, perhaps more optimistically – intertwined.
I talk and write about dating and relationships, I write about cooking as a metaphor for carefree, creative living and both of these are currently informing how I think about my job prospects! What a world of wonder. Anyhoo, as mentioned before, I have been on a journey away from the rat race and toward a more fulfilling professional life. I left a perfectly good, full-time corporate healthcare job on principle and for a while anyway, frantically sought to replace it with another just like it. I was trying to follow the recipe for what grown-ups my age are supposed to do; Have a steady job and provide for their families. This desperation slowly morphed into a new attitude toward work; a more mercenary approach to work as a transaction, a way to simply make money to fund other more personally important creative projects. Oh, and keep my family afloat. And less tangled up with my identity. I could work, but not have it define or consume me.
And it has been good. Mostly. Emotionally and creatively it has been fantastic. I don’t have to choose between my family and work. I am rested enough and not burned out so my creative energy for writing and podcasting has been amazing. I’m cranking out content like nobody’s business! The not so great side of it all? I have to think about money more, like where and how to get it. So far, knock on wood, I have managed to cobble together enough freelance work to survive. Comfortably, if not lavishly. My work-related stress is at an all-time low since I am not a regular employee anywhere; just a pinch-hitter, so to speak. Another bonus – all of the politics and other shit that comes with regular employment does not affect me. I have to buy my own health insurance which hurts the wallet, but otherwise, this is all working out.
To use a dating analogy, I’m dating casually right now but not jumping into any long-term commitments. I’m biding my time and waiting for Mr Right (my independent, creative “job” that I don’t know if it exists anywhere or ever will, but I’m still going for it). Here’s the wrench though – I’m kind of tired out with dating (working freelance). I might be ready for a break, but I still haven’t found Mr Right and I’m not going to settle for less. Enter Mr Rightnow. One of my freelance jobs wants to hire me as a regular employee. Do I take it and relax in the warm embrace of a steady paycheck, crappy but covered health insurance and an office to hang my degrees? Not for long term, but just for now? Is it worth it or am I going backwards? How will I feel having a set schedule again? Will my kids be ok with this? What (if anything) will this do to my creative energy?? So many questions, not enough answers. I think I will at least allow the offer process to play out. And, seeing as how I am now clear about approaching work with the goal of money and not identity or long-term commitment, it may feel like less of a noose and more of pleasant boat ride where I can put my feet up and cruise to the next stop on my journey. I’ll still do a good job of course because that’s who I am, but I just won’t let it become my whole life. We will have to see how good the offer is…stay tuned.
You know, I’ve never loved my name. It didn’t ever feel like it suited me. I always dreamed about being a Julie when I was a kid (Why this particular name, I have no idea. Possibly the cruise director from The Love Boat?!). In high school my close friends started calling me by my initials, KC. That became a treasured nickname. So I guess even my friends didn’t see me as a Karen. For a while I entertained the idea of having a nom de plume or pen name. The name I came up with? “Serendipity Chance”. Ha! Sounds so cheesy now, but it might have been ok if I was going to write erotica. Not that there is anything wrong with that. Later, a friend and I decided we would each have alter-ego names to suit the non-mom side of our personas. She was Coco and I was Veronica. Sounds more daring and a hint glamorous. We had some good adventures. I still kind of like the idea of Veronica.
There was a story about my name this morning in the New York Times. The goddamned New York Fucking Times! All about how “Karen” has degenerated into shorthand for a middle aged, white racist asshole of a woman. Jesus! My name has morphed from an ill-fitting suit of clothes to something akin to a Nazi swastika. Before, I just sort of tolerated my name but didn’t ever really identify with it and now…well now I don’t even know what to do with it.
Changing it seems cowardly and perhaps somehow like I am admitting guilt. I get it that sensible people probably won’t assume that just because I have the name and I am middle aged and white that I embody everything about this particular meme. However, I also know that people are often lazy thinkers. So, there will be plenty of people that will make these assumptions about me based on my name. Nothing I can do about that I guess, but it still irks me. My name has been hijacked.
The goddamned shoulds are everywhere and they are out to get you! In fact, they came for me just this morning while I was on the most pleasant walk with my dog. Luckily, this time at least, I was able to tell them to GTFO. I’m not always this successful. The shoulds are wily, insidious and come in all different shapes and sizes.
Little shoulds: I should be weeding my yard. I should read that pile of magazines that is gathering dust on my coffee table. I should update my kids’ memory books. Big shoulds: I should learn a foreign language. I should work out more and lose weight. I should paint the house and fix the front steps. Super-sized shoulds: I should be making more money. I should have a full-time job like everybody else. I should be saving more for retirement and my kids’ college educations.
Shoulds are tyrannical because they prevent you from enjoying your present moments. They guilt and shame you for not doing what you think you oughta be doing instead of whatever it is you are doing. And consequentially, they suck the pleasure out of your activity/day/life. They prevent you from really inhabiting yourself. They leave you torn between what is not happening now but you think is a “better” use of your time and what IS happening now. That’s a total mindfuck and useless to boot!
So, do just that – boot those shoulds out of your head and own your decision to really do whatever it is you are doing right now and ENJOY it. Try to be just there and there alone. Wherever “there” is. I’m not perfect at this, but I keep trying. When a should lands on me, I throw it back. Starting with the small stuff to build up my anti-should muscles and working my way up to the bigger ones. Definitely a work in progress.