Let's Be Honest About Fear and Success

For three years I have been working on a play called, “Love and Disaster.” The opening scene popped into my head, whole cloth one day, and then, during a writing workshop, the rest of it began to come into focus.

I had completed the first act, had a scene performed in a showcase, and was feeling pretty good about it. And then I got sick. Like really sick. Hospitalized four times in less than a year sick. After selling my beloved home, and six moves in under two years, my body rebelled. I was diagnosed with acute ulcerative colitis, and until they found a medication that worked, I kept getting sick. And I wasn’t feeling very funny.

Months went by where I could barely shower, never mind come up with witty dialogue and plot lines. I was scared, depressed and wondered if I’d ever come back to being me again.

And then, about two months after my last hospitalization, I felt like reading what I’d written. And I laughed and laughed some more. My brain had begun to function again and I began to write. Five months later the second act was done. One hundred and twenty-two pages and three years after it had burst into my head, it was done.

I handed over a copy to my teacher/mentor/friend, and a few weeks later, I got back a bloody corpse of a manuscript with more notes written in red ink than I knew what to do with. But I tackled it one note, one page at a time and rewrote it. And then rewrote it some more.

Three weeks ago I got word that the theater where I’ve been studying for almost four years was going to do a stage reading of it. We’d discussed the possibility, but this was way sooner than I could have imagined. I was excited, terrified and terrified some more.

A cast was chosen, and we had one week to prepare.

For those new to theater, a stage reading is a cast, sitting in chairs with music stands and scripts reading, but still acting like gifted actors do.

The job of getting the scripts copied and put in notebooks was up to me. That ended up being a complicated wreck of a situation where it wasn’t downloading, and I was freaking out. There I was at the Staples copy desk, laptop in my arms and no one could help me. Blood sugar and patience plummeting I went home to get lunch and gather myself. I was panicking. With a history of panic attacks, this wasn’t unfamiliar, but it was really unwanted. So I ate something, talked to my brother on the phone, and gradually calmed myself down. And then I called a friend who’s a tech wizard. He very calmly told me to go back to Staples, download it to a thumb drive as a PDF, and bingo, it would work. It did. $170 in copying fees, a new thumb drive and eight notebooks later, I was in business.

The next morning as I prepped for a radio show I host, I stopped to run to the store for some bananas for breakfast. As I drove to the store I was talking to myself about why I was still feeling anxious and on edge. My live-in boyfriend was away for the week taking a class so he wasn’t there, but it’s not like I haven’t been on my own before. Then all of a sudden, it came tumbling out - oh my god, I’m so scared! What if no one laughs? What if no one comes? What if everyone who does come happens to need to leave at intermission? In the three minutes it took me to get to the store I wrote a mental list of about 247 reasons why this was a bad idea and cried like a baby. I pulled it together,  bought my bananas, recorded my show and re-read an email from a wise friend that said, “Do the thing, and then let the thing do its thing.” Meaning, let go and see what happens.

Miraculously, after I acknowledged the fear, had a good cry and remembered my friend’s wise words, the angst subsided. I began to get excited. Still nervous, but also excited.

The night of the reading I was scared, but happy scared. About 40 friends, associates and fans of theater came. They laughed in all the right places, were on edge in others, and ate the cupcakes I had baked at intermission. At the end we got a standing ovation. It was a moment unlike anything I’ve ever experienced. We did a talk back - me, the director and cast, and it was surreal. And something I will never forget.

The reason I wanted to write this and share it, is because I want everyone to know that no matter how it might look from the outside, when you’re taking a leap forward, it’s scary. I described the feeling to a friend, saying, it’s like taking all your clothes off, standing on a stage and asking people, “What do you think?” Vulnerability makes us squirmy. But we don’t always see the vulnerability in others and think we’re the only ones who get scared. Take it from me, you’re not.

Whether it’s a presentation at work, singing in front of a crowd or asking someone out, it’s a risk, and it’s scary. Please know that. Putting yourself out there is always scary. But it’s also the only way to grow, to move forward. As my brother said to me, “How lucky are you that you have something to be this nervous about?!” He was right. If you’re never nervous, you’re not growing.

I don’t know yet what the future of this work is, and I’d be lying if I said I’m cool with that. I’m not, I’m worried, and I want it to move forward. But while I wait I am doing the only thing I know how to do - I’m working on my next play. Because you know, I need something to look forward to being nervous about.

Change Your Thoughts, Change Your Mood

Raise your hand if you’ve ever had one of those days where inexplicably you wake up in a bad mood? Apropos of absolutely nothing you're a grump? Yeah, me neither. Honestly, who wants to admit to that? Fine, I will. Yes, periodically for no good reason I just wake up and feel like something is wrong, that I’m wrong, and that life is bleak.

When that happens I do a quick inventory to see if there's something I’m not dealing with, some issue lurking below the surface like a shark trolling for a seal to snack on. If there is I allow myself the time to just be in it. To feel what I feel and work through it. Not too long, but long enough to acknowledge it.  Sometimes that involves a good cry, the utterance of a few choice expletives, railing against the universe, and then, like a thunderstorm it passes.

Then there are days, like the one I woke up to today, where there's no good reason at all for being unhappy, and probably not a lot of fun to be around.

The thing is we have some control over our moods. We're not victims to them. We have the power to change them and rescue our day from the clutches of grumpdom. Of course I am not talking about depression, a bad mood doesn’t affect your life in a big way, well, unless you’re a habitual grump, a bad mood will pass, and the good news is you can do some things to help it scurry along. And unlike some unhealthy behaviors, like binge eating, drinking or lashing out at others, these are things that are good for you.

When I’m besieged by irritability, there are a handful of strategies I pull out of my tool box, and whether one is more effective than another depends on you. I think it’s a combination of many things. Like building a sandwich, pick the ingredients that appeal to you. Great, now I want a sandwich.

In a bad mood? Try all, or some of these:

Exercise. We all know how exercise releases endorphins, those are feel good hormones. Whether it’s hitting the gym, a yoga class, going for a walk or whatever activity pleases you, getting your blood pumping changes your brain chemistry and is often all that’s needed to feel better.

Help someone: When I was feeling crabby I went to the grocery store. As I was walking into the store I saw an elderly woman with a cart full of bags, also tucked into the cart was a cane. I offered to help her put them in her car, learned she’d been a ballerina, had family coming for the weekend, and had grandchildren who loved cereal. She was so grateful for the help, and I smiled as I wheeled her cart back to the store. Hold doors open, pay for someone’s coffee, let someone in the endless line of traffic. Doing good makes you feel good.

Gratitude: You can't be sulky and grateful at the same time. Sit for a few minutes and think of three things you’re grateful for. Really feel it. Think of people you love, who love you, your cat or dog, a lovely meal you had the night before, anything that sparks some joy and heartfelt gratitude in you.

Breathe: Yes, you’re breathing all the time. But being consciously aware of your breath is something else. There are many types of breathing exercises, but a simple one I use is to making my exhales twice as long as my inhales. It calms my nervous system and changes the jagged feeling I get when I’m aggravated and my breathing is shallow. Take a deep breath. Yes, right now. Take a deep breath and let it out slowly. Don’t you feel better?

Meditate:Slowing down and letting thoughts drift by as you focus on breath calms you and gets you out of the cycle you’re in. Take ten, fifteen or twenty minutes to just be.

Music: Ah, good music is some of the best medicine there is. For some it might be classical, for someone else headbanging rock, or maybe you feel good when you listen to music that makes you want to dance! Find your own jam and turn it on.

Podcasts or books: Stay away from anything political or upsetting. There’s lots and lots of positive messages out there. Find one that resonates with you. I listen to spiritual podcasts, humorous ones and helpful non-fiction books. Escaping into another world is a good way to get out of your negative space.

Take the time to try one or all of these ideas. The good thing about a bad mood is it doesn’t last. For me, just knowing I don’t have to let my mood take control, and that I have the power makes an enormous difference.

So later, after going to the gym and helping the lovely woman at the grocery store, and after meditating, thinking about how grateful I am for so many things in my life, I noticed I was no longer grumbling. I was actually happy. And everyone I encountered after that was I’m sure grateful as well because just like a bad cold, grumpiness is very contagious.

 

Year of Yes - Again

Three years ago I sold my home. I thought it would be my forever home when my former husband and I built it, but it wasn’t to be.

I was bereft at first. I felt adrift, no longer able to depend on my (way too expensive for me) beloved homebase, I was lost. Then I discovered a book. As often happens to us, the right book shows up at the right time to teach us what we can’t learn alone. Such a book was “Year of Yes: How to Dance it Out, Stand in the Sun, and Be Your Own Person,” by the amazing Ms. Shonda Rhimes. Shonda Rhimes of “Grey’s Anatomy,” “Private Practice,” “Scandal,” and “The Catch” fame. I decided I would be a fool to not follow her advice.

Under the tutelage of Shonda (since I am entering my second go-round with her I think she’d be okay with me calling her Shonda) I said yes to lots of things I never would have, left to my own devices.  I did a stage reading of a play when a (real) actor couldn’t appear, I took a playwriting workshop, I submitted a play to a festival, it was accepted and performed. I said yes to parties, opportunities to teach and lots and lots more. It was wonderful!

And then I got sick. I was on a roll doing so much, and totally unrelated to it all, was diagnosed with ulcerative colitis. It took me away from saying yes in any kind of big way, but I will say I said yes to all that was asked of me by doctors, nurses, nutritionists and therapists. I can’t say it was as fun as hiking in Montana, but saying yes was better than fighting what was happening.

So here I am, two years out from my first Year of Yes, and I find myself in need of a tune-up. Being sick and frankly, scared, I did retreat a bit into my safe little shell, but now, feeling healthy and whole again it’s time to begin saying yes to the world outside my own four walls.

What you realize when you read a book like this by a successful and accomplished woman is that everyone, absolutely everyone is scared. They might not be scared of the same things you are, and vice versa, but we’re all white-knuckling it through something. I guarantee it.

Right now for me, it’s having my play accepted to do a stage reading at a theater. I only finished the third rewrite two weeks ago, and when the offer came, I panicked (of course) and then I took a deep breath and said, you guessed it, yes.

Yes is scary because it’s thrusting us into the unknown and uncharted waters. We are creatures of habit, most of us, and we like things how we like them. Saying yes messes with our routines and where we feel safe.

But saying yes has a lot going for it. It brings excitement, opportunity and color to our lives. It makes life more interesting, and in turn, makes us more interesting. It shows us what we can do, even if we’re kicking and screaming as we go.

I might not always like the angst that comes with saying yes. Actually I sometimes hate it. But I’m going to keep saying yes even when it scares me. And now that I’ve said it out loud, or, well, in print. I know you’re all going to hold me to it.

And I’ll do the same for you.

So tell me, what are you going to say yes to?

Love, Hope and Doing the Best We Can

Yesterday I hosted a very small sort of bridal shower for a younger friend. She’s actually within the range of age of my own kids. We met at our UU church and became friends. She dubbed me her “church mom” which I found very flattering. She and her fiance are actually eloping, and she’s not into all the traditional bride-y things. So I planned a very small gathering with just a few close friends, and kept it very casual.

As I sat, clearly the elder amongst these thirtysomethings in my living room sipping lemonade and Pellegrino, we discussed worst and best dates, and more seriously, why do so many marriages don’t work out. Being a child of divorce herself, she was concerned about how to bulletproof her relationship.

As the designated elder, and only one who had been married and divorced, I found myself wishing that I had some concrete answer at my fingertips to tell this soon-to-be-bride. Just do this and it will never happen to you. But there is no concrete, pat answer, because as humans intimately involved with other humans it is extremely complex.

For instance. I am writing, well currently REwriting a play. The main characters have a problem - he cheated, she’s hurt. Do they reconcile or don’t they? For many people this is a very black and white issue. Infidelity is a complete and total deal breaker to those folks. Others can find forgiveness and move past it.

More often than not, I told my friend, it’s a slow wearing away of a connection and the love that once kept you bound to one another. I liken it to water dripping and slowing wearing down a stone over time. There’s not one inciting incident. Children, jobs, aging parents, and the stress of the day to day can quietly and slowly erode what once felt like a strong foundation.

My own marriage didn’t end overnight. There were issues, which are private, that over time created distance and disconnection. Add to that having married very young, both of us children of failed marriages, and it was a recipe for not really knowing what we were doing, and being ill-equipped to handle some very challenging crises that came our way.  Devastated at first, I eventually found my footing, and while I have not followed a traditional or linear path, I have created a life that is rich, challenging, creative and fits me. I am happy. I don’t have regrets, other than the sadness I have felt for our children having at their family reconfigured. Having experienced that myself I’d hoped to spare them that.  And for that I will always be sorry.

The best advice I could give my friend is to not fall asleep at the wheel in her relationship. To stay awake and aware. Notice your partner and don’t take them for granted. Don’t take your life together for granted.

Over the many years since my divorce I dated and had a few relationships. I actually didn’t date for quite a while. Having married at such a young age, and having three children to raise, I focused on that. And while raising them, I also raised me. I’d never been on my own having gone from my mom’s house to college, to living with the boyfriend who eventually became my husband. I needed to build my own foundation for myself before jumping into something else with shaky roots. When I did finally meet someone with whom I now live, I was a whole person, as was he. We’d each done our work and no one needed to be fixed.

The Internet is full of lists of how to have a happy relationship. I won’t bore you with a long protracted one of my own, but I will leave you with a few tips.

Be honest. Except when you shouldn’t. Sometimes there are things - not the big things, that it’s best to just shut up about. There’s lots of things that aren’t worth nagging someone about.

Know yourself well enough to not live through a partner. Have a true sense of who your are - interests, friends and a life that sustains you apart from your partner. No one person can all of another’s needs. We all need a team.

Have a sense of humor about yourself, life and your partner. Especially about yourself. Taking yourself too seriously is just the worst.

Needing to be right at the expense of being kind is never good.

Be kind. Really, it’s that easy. Just be kind.

And lastly, I leave you with this. Marriage advice from Kenny and Selma. Married 72 years and clearly relationship experts.

How Learning to Not Give a F**K Changed My Life

 

I’m going to warn you upfront, that there will be a few expletives in here. If that offends you I understand and you have every right to not read. Hopefully, I’ll see you next time!

A few weeks ago I listened to a book, a bit of a parody, but also quite serious, called “The Life-Changing Magic of Not Giving a Fuck.” Yes, this book is tweaking that best-seller, “The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up,” a book too crazy for even neat-nick me. Seriously, Marie Kondo needs to chill the heck out. This is the video that opened my eyes to the concept of not giving a f**k. Watch and be transformed.

Saying “no” has always been hard for me. I’m a pleaser. I have a hard time speaking up and asking for what I want. It’s really, really hard for me. But, I have been getting better at it. Especially now that I have the words ringing in my head, “Is this something I give a f**k about?” If the answer is no, I don’t do it. Easy peasy. Well...not necessarily. But It’s getting easier with each no.

Between you and me, it’s just us here, right?  I know I can be pretty driven, and somewhat compulsive. About work, about exercise, about trying to always look and be my best.

My life is a big, messy, eclectic assortment of jobs, volunteering, my own writing, (a big priority) exercise and yoga. And of course, time with loved ones.

One of the many things I do is twice a month is I host a radio show called “Arts Week” on a public radio station at the far end of the Cape, WOMR. I said yes to this close to two years ago because I love talking with creative people, and wanted to learn a new skill. I was further enticed when the producer said we could record at my home, saving me the 45 minute drive each way to Provincetown. That works out perfectly...except for my super-neat ways.

Most weeks I clean my home the day before the guests are coming, leaving me time to go to yoga class, do some last minute straightening up and showering before they come. Yesterday I didn’t have that time due to slovenly heat-induced behavior the day before. I knew it was going to be a stretch to do everything I felt I needed to do, so I did something unheard of for me. I skipped yoga. And you know what? The world didn’t end.

In actuality, instead of being harried and stressed, I sat down (after having a lovely breakfast and meditating) to start writing this very post. What a concept! Take something off that overflowing plate and voila! Life gets easier.

I tend to get on this treadmill (literally and figuratively) and it’s hard to get off. Then I find I’m grouchy, anxious and just absolutely no fun to be around. Trust me. It’s not fun at all. Even for me - patient zero of the bad mood.

What we need to remember is that when we say no to that thing we don’t give a f**k about, we’re not only saying yes to ourselves, but we’re creating a ripple effect of happiness and good mood. When I am not stressed or feeling put upon I am an absolute dream! Okay, maybe that’s stretching it, but I am much more pleasant to be around.

And yes, I know there are things we all HAVE to do, and that’s exactly why saying no to the things that we don’t is so vital. We need to feel we are masters of our own time and destiny. By learning to say no to what doesn’t matter so much to you, you get to say yes to what does.

Now pardon me as I go spend time with my beau, because that, dear people, I do give a f**k about.

 

 

Let's Take Off Our Busyness Badges

 

Earlier today I was talking to a friend about our national obsession with busyness. We wear it like a badge of honor thinking the busier we are the more successful and popular we seem. It’s everywhere.

When I was sick over this past year it was bad enough that I didn’t feel well physically, I also felt great guilt and even shame that I wasn’t working, I was barely able to even do something as simple as scooping cat litter. Rather than allowing myself the time I needed to heal, I was constantly worried that I was falling behind in progressing in my work, wasn’t keeping my home as clean as I was used to, and more than once referred to myself as a “burden.” None of this went over well with my boyfriend/housemate who hated me calling myself as a burden.

Now that I’m feeling well, (knock on wood) I have been feeling the pressure both financially and psychologically to get back up to speed, and it’s been hard. I am a writer. Not exactly a sure bet of an occupation, and one that requires one is constantly pitching, emailing, blogging, networking. When you’re not working you’re not earning. And feeling guilty if you’re not doing at least one, if not all of those things seven days a week.

Whether you’re self-employed or work for a company or business of some sort, the pressure is still there. When we run into people while doing errands or at an event we feel important when we can say, “On boy, I’m just SO busy!” It implies you’re doing it right. If you’re not flat-out busy you’re a slacker, lazy...you might even think it means you’re failing. But you’re not. We aren’t thinking if I’m not busy I’m not doing enough, I suspect what’s really at play is I am not enough. I know that’s what goes through my head.

As a writer I need time. Time to think, plot and let ideas bubble to the surface. I might look like I’m not doing anything, but I’m thinking, which is something we all need time and space to do.

Being busy doesn’t necessarily mean you’re being more productive. As a matter of fact it’s often the opposite as you stressfully glide back and forth, not giving any one task your full attention.

I’ve decided to really work at feeling guilty if I’m not working 12 hours a day seven days a week. If I learned anything from my big sick it’s that what you earn or what you produce isn’t what’s most important. We all want to be successful and well thought of, but more and more I’m seeing that success isn’t just about output, it’s about input as well.

Five things you can start doing to get off the busyness treadmill:

  1. Make time every day to just be. No phone, no computer, no TV.  Start slow, it might be a shock to your system to not be distracted. Have a cup of tea, maybe your morning coffee, and just listen to your surroundings. Deep breaths, you’ll be okay. Try for at least 15 minutes.

  2. Let something go. A party you really don’t want to go to, the book club you’re just not loving... let something, or more than one thing go.

  3. Engage others to join you and give each other permission to not be busy.

  4. Shut that annoying voice in your head off. Stop being the worst boss to yourself ever. It won’t happen overnight, but with practice you can learn to stop being so critical of yourself.

  5. Have some fun! What do you love to do but never make time for? Do that! And do it more often!

I truly believe we are here to be happy. We all want to do well, be respected and care for those we love. You can do that, and you should care about those thing, but you can still accomplish what you need to along with some much-needed time outs as well.

 *Truth be told I got sleepy while writing this and took a ten-minute nap. Take that busyness guilt!

 

Aging with Passion

The other night my partner/boyfriend/beau (I can’t come up with a proper name for what to call someone I live with and we’re not 17) and I watched a documentary on HBO about aging, and it wasn’t at all depressing. Actually, it was quite the opposite. At the end, he and I shook hands and vowed to keep each other engaged and being creative well into our later years.

 As I watched Carl Reiner speak with his contemporaries in show business I was amazed at how vital, active and engaged they all were. Both Betty White and Reiner were working on new books - both being in their mid-nineties. Norman Lear is developing new TV shows, and Mel Brooks is still working too. Staying interested and active seems to be the answer. 

That, along with of course the blessing of good health, seems to be key in staying physically and mentally agile. Staying excited and passionate about life is what makes all the difference in your world.

 Two years ago I read the book, “The Blue Zones” by Dan Buettner. A National Geographic Fellow, he traveled the world studying the lifestyles of people around the world who were living healthfully and happily well into their 90s and beyond. What he discovered is what the people Carl Reiner interviewed are doing instinctively - they aren’t stopping, they are staying involved, they are continually learning, and have deep social connections. They also eat whole foods and exercise.

 Around the time I read “The Blue Zones,” I also read “Year of Yes,” by Shonda Rhimes - Miss Everything at ABC. After reading that I said yes to many things I would never have had I not had her voice in the back of my head cheering me on. Even as I was approaching 60, I was determined to not let a number define me.

 What have I said yes to? I, a non-actor appeared on stage in a reading of a play, I, along with my fake sister have appeared numerous times on stage as our alter egos, the Fix-it Sisters, givers of questionable advice, I said yes to hosting a radio show with no prior experience, and I began writing plays. I’ve also learned to say no (that will be my next post!) and am trying my damndest to live a life that if fulfilling, happy and thoroughly engaged.

 Of course, things don’t always go as planned, and I got knocked down for a little bit when I was sick, but I’m now back at it, rewriting my first full-length play, and starting the next one. I am back to doing life coaching because it brings me such joy to help others find their purpose and passion, and I have put health and fitness at the top of my list. Yoga and meditation are a priority, not a maybe.

 What works for me might not work for you, but I’m going to leave you with a little homework. Okay? Look at the things I’ve listed and write down your answers. Or at the very list think about them. Feel free to email me through my contact page and let me know how it goes. Chances are we’re not all going to live into our 90s, but I sure as hell am going to try, and I hope you do too!

 Until next time, see where you get with this:

 How is your health? Do you: a. Exercise ? b..Eat healthy, whole foods? c. Follow your doctor’s advice? d.Keep your weight in check? e.Avoid excess alcohol/stay away from drugs? f.Don’t smoke? g.Do you have sex? Sex is very good for you and helps keep you young.

  1. Do you have a sustaining, nurturing relationships? You may be married, you may not, but having people who love and care about you and vice versa is vital. Make an effort to see people, and do things together that you enjoy. Community and belonging are invaluable in a happy and healthy life. Church and other organizations can be very sustaining.

  2. Are you passionate about something? What sparks you with joy that you can do for hours and not even notice the time? And I’m not talking about watching TV or sleeping! For me it’s writing, time just whizzes by as I write. Well, most of the time! Maybe there is something you’ve always wanted to do - paint, sculpt, learn an instrument (or pick one back up you put down long ago) If you don’t know, that’s okay. Keep your eyes open, something is going to present itself It’s good for your brain and your psyche..

  3. Read, ask questions, go to lectures, museums and book clubs. Ask people questions about their work, their life, be interested and you’ll be interesting.

  4. Say no to things you are doing but don’t enjoy. More on this next time, but there are times that saying no is just as vital as saying yes.

 Please check out some of the links I put here. Choose something to read or listen to. I promise you will be glad you did! And let me know how it goes!

My Body, My Self-Esteem

The other night I put on my pajamas to get comfy to binge watch the last three episodes of “Master of None,” because, well, I’m a fitness nut and nothing spells getting in shape like sitting on your couch watching TV.

I actually do work out a fair amount - yoga, cardio, weights and the dreaded planks. Oh how I do not enjoy them. I’ve tried everything to make those interminable 1-2 minutes fly by - movies on my phone, podcasts, YouTube...you may laugh, but truly that minute and a half can feel like three hours. I’d worked my way up to a little over two minutes, but inexplicably I fell back to a minute and 40 seconds and can’t get back to the two. My daughter on the other hand can do a ten minute plank. If I didn’t love her so much I’d be very resentful.

So back to the pajamas. I was brushing my teeth and lifted up my tank top to survey my abdomen and I swear, in that particular light, I saw it -  muscle definition. I think it was a two-pack, or at least one. I was stunned. I stood there for a while, turning, twisting and wondering if it was a shadow or perfect lighting that I will never fall into again, but finally I accepted what I was seeing as real. Wholly moly, I have abs! A mom of three thirtysomething kids, and I, for the moment have abs. I fully expected them to be gone by morning.

It’s not right or good that for many of us our day (or evening) is very much affected by weight, hair, skin...you name it., I’ve felt bad about it. I know I’m not alone. Of course there is the occasional rare bird who doesn’t worry a bit, runs out of the house sans makeup or angst and is very happy. I’m very envious of that woman. Wherever she lives. She probably has a lot more time for looking for cures for diseases and creating world peace than me - the one studying her abs in the mirror.

My body has gone through many transformations over the past year. Due to illness and medications, like prednisone, my weight has fluctuated by up to thirty pounds, leaving me at times skinnier than I’ve even been, and not in a good way. That said, once I was past being severely ill and not emaciated, I kind of liked being very thin. It was sort of seductive., like many things that are not good for you. There’s a certain emotional reward for being thin.

We live in a culture where we’re not supposed to wrinkle, gain weight, or heaven forbid - age. Quelle horreur! I cannot begin to imagine what it’s like to be an actress. At least where I live there’s not a whole lot of pressure to have plastic surgery, actually I imagine if one did go under the knife in my small New England town, they would be the talk of the local coffee shop.

While I toil away at my work, and at what I hope will eventually become my work, playwriting, I think a lot about what a blessed waste of time it is to obsess about my body. Of course we all want to make sure to eat well, get a reasonable amount of exercise and sleep, those are givens and good. What’s not good is the judging of yourself and others based on what the scale says that day. I am so much more than this vessel I walk around in. I am pretty smart, kind of funny, a good friend, mom and partner, and kind to most everyone I meet. I am worthy, no matter if I have cellulite on my thighs, or a c-section scar.

Basing how we feel solely on how we look misses the point of why we’re here. Yes, we all (well, probably most of us) want to be considered attractive, but whether or not my plays are produced and people enjoy them has nothing to do with whether I’m a size 8, 10 or 12.

At this point in my life I do not anticipate becoming one of those rare birds who doesn’t focus on looks, but I am hoping that it matters to me just a little bit less. I know I’ve come a long way from my teen years, throwing myself on my bed when I thought I looked fat. I haven’t done that in at least two weeks. No, that hasn’t happened in years, thank god.

My goal is not to not care about how I look - I know that’s never going to happen, and frankly, I don’t want it to, but that who I am and what I do will always be more important that my dress size. If I’ve learned anything over this last year, it’s that nothing is prettier or more fashionable than good health.

And if you get nothing else from this, make sure to watch “Master of None” on Netflix. It’s fantastic.

 

 

Five Ways to Be Happy, Yes, Just Five

 

It’s been raining where I live for what feels like 100 days. Of course it really hasn’t been 100 days, but the perpetual gray has become a way of life. Combined with the road construction that’s been going on in front of my home it feels like it’s all a big conspiracy to make my life a bit less than blissful. But despite all this, I’ve been feeling pretty good.

Part of it after months of being ill I am feeling well and strong. It’s true that we all tend to take good health for granted when we have it. I no longer do that. Who knew that going to the bathroom like a normal person could be so exciting?!

We’re living in such divisive and stressful times takes a toll on our well-being. Both mental and physical. I have found it’s soooo easy to fall into a pit of despair and get incredibly discouraged. Many of us are! These are scary times. Will I lose my beloved healthcare? Will people I love be deported? Will we descend even more deeply into being a culture of racism, anti-science and hate-filled rhetoric? These are the things that worry me. But, as we know, worry does nothing to help us. Or the world. My solution? I do my part - I am part of an Indivisible group, I contact my elected officials regularly to voice my concerns, and I keep informed. And then I do my best to distract, decompress and disconnect. We cannot marinate in the woes of the world 24/7. We just can’t. It’s too much, and if we burn ourselves out we’re of no use to anyone, especially ourselves.

 Below are a few things, five to be exact that I’ve been doing to help myself feel better. Remember though, it’s also okay to not feel happy. No one is chipper and blissful ALL THE TIME. No one. But, we can do things to keep us from perpetually feeling miserable and hopeless. If though you have big life issues happening, do seek professional guidance. I don’t know where I’d be without the support I’ve had, and continue to get. It’s just good mental hygiene!

 So here are a few things I have found extremely useful. Try one, or try a few.

 1. Breathe! Yes, of course, you breathe, but do you BREATHE???? For three years I’ve been practicing yoga three times a week, and never did I realize how much breathing impacts the way I feel. There are lots of breathing practices, but what I find most simple and very effective is making my exhales twice as long as my inhales. By slowing it waaayyy down you release the relaxations response. Here is a great little video on relaxation. I also use Headspace on a daily basis as well. You can try it for free initially. I’m betting you will find Andy as calming as I do.

 2. Spend time with people you love. Hug them. Tight. Research shows that getting at least eight hugs a day is very beneficial to your well-being.

 Another great part of spending time with people you love, or just like a whole lot, is connection. We all need to feel connected to others. As a bit of an introvert I need a fair amount of time alone, but I also need others. I need to share, to laugh and be in the company of others. Make sure you take the time to do that. In this gig economy, lots of us work alone which is great but don’t forget the importance of reaching out.

 Do fun things! Laugh and be silly. Silliness is a great antidote to feeling sad.

 3. Exercise. It’s been proven over and over how the release of endorphins makes you feel better. It truly does. Find something you really like to do, if you make yourself do something you hate you won’t keep up with it. The key is to be consistent. Working out twice a month won’t do much for body, spirit or mind. For me it’s been finding yoga classes I love, along with three days where I also do cardio, weights and other exercises like planks to strengthen my core. Music and podcasts keep me inspired and distracted! Songs like this, which I listen to every time I’m on the treadmill help. It happens to be a song my son co-wrote and produced, which makes me very happy!

 4.  Pursue things you love. Maybe your job isn’t what you love, but it pays the bills. That’s the reality for many, but make sure you have something else of some sort whether it’s writing, music, reading, gardening, volunteering… whatever it is that fills you with joy. A joyless life is not a happy one. Find something you get lost in. And I don’t mean just watching TV, I’m not talking passive. I;m talking active engagement. We all have something we love. Discover it and do it regularly!

 5. Be Aware - Notice the people and things around you. Take the time to go to the woods and enjoy nature, go walk a beach and look around you. Too many of us are asleep. We need to wake up and ben engaged in life. In our lives. I turned 60 last November and it’s shocking to me how fast 10 years goes by. Go, do and be engaged! Don’t sleepwalk through your life always thinking, “Yeah, I’ll do that tomorrow.”

 Carpe diem, folks! Seriously, stop procrastinating and live your life. Be alive and be awake!

 Okay, so your challenge is to do at least one of these things and report back to see if it helped.

 If all else fails there’s always this.

 

 

A Simple Prescription for Happiness

When my oldest son was newly in recovery he told me one thing he did as part of his daily practice was every time he went to the grocery store he’d bring at least one cart from the parking lot in with him. It was a small gesture of doing something for others, and helped him get out of his own head.

That stuck with me and I have tried to do the same. I also happen to live in a place that has many retirees, some out shopping with canes, limps, and other physical ailments that make it challenging to put groceries in the car. About three times a week as I am either coming or going from the store I stop to help people, primarily elderly ladies, unload their groceries into their cars and bring their cart back to the store. It’s no global peace treaty, but it’s something.

I’m not sharing this to sound somehow holier than thou, believe me I am far from perfect. No, I share this because what I have found is being kind not only helps others, it helps you.

Today as I was having an NPR moment in my car before heading into the local Stop and Shop, an older woman set off her alarm in her car. As she struggled to find her keys I got out and came over to help. She stopped the alarm from blaring on her own, and then I noticed a cane in her cart. I offered to help put the groceries in her car, handed her cane to her, and chatted as I put her bags on the backseat. I learned her son comes frequently from upstate New York to help her, and how grateful she is. We compared incidents of hitting the alarm button on our car key fobs and how embarrassing that is. Then I wished her a happy rest of the day and wheeled her cart back into the store. And I felt good. I felt happy.

Like many people I am on a continual quest for success, financial security and sense of purpose in my life. And in a world that at times feels out of control small gestures add up.

It can be quite overwhelming to balance it all and not let the seeking overtake contentment. There are days when I admit I lose sight of what I already have and how lucky I am as I strive to achieve more. But what I have found is that clarity, balance and happiness can be found in the most simple of acts. Like helping someone in need with their groceries.