Give your gremlins a hug today.

I’ve  been struggling this past week. It’s to be expected. The gremlins of shame, anxiety and sadness are back. I am scrambling to make them go away. I know how to do this, right? If I just white knuckle it, work hard to dig out from this rut, pull myself up by my bootstraps and be strong everything will be fine. The feelings will pass and I can move on.

But this is what I always do in these times. I am an expert at pulling myself up from a heap. I always focus on ways to get stronger and tougher. But does that work? Once I power through, I can keep the gremlins at bay, sometimes for extended periods of time. But I know they are still living in my soul, ready to pounce at the first given opportunity. If I have anything to gain from this time in my life, I have to break my pattern and old habits. As of today, I have little experience with really trying to feel the feelings, to sink into them and let them be alive. I always try to fight back.

I was reminded to listen to Dr. Brene Brown today, I had listened to her TEDXHouston Talk about vulnerability a few years ago and her words resonated so well. Recently she gave the closing talk at Ted 2012 called “Listening to Shame” and I was struck by her main message:

Vulnerability is not weakness, that myth is profoundly dangerous. To let ourselves be seen and be honest is courageous. Vulnerability is the birthplace of innovation, creativity and change. To create is to make something that has never existed before.

The journey I have set before me is scary and some of my ideas seem really far flung and out of reach. But in my core, I know there is more to my life than how I was living. I know that I have to listen more closely to the faint voices squashed in my soul. So far, I have had many failures in my life and I am starting to listen and use their lessons. I am not ashamed to admit I have failed. But the biggest mistake I make each time is to recreate the same scenario over and over again. I have spent very little time trying to understand the message. Even worse, I give into the old cycles thinking that’s what is best. I just push through the noise, fight off the gremlins and pretend to be tough. But I never give anything new a chance to grow. I tell myself not to be creative, or write or make something of my own because I am not worthy. So this time around I know it’s my turn to really sit with my vulnerable self and let her know I am listening and trying to learn. Then maybe I can start to create.

Dear Sheryl Sandberg.

Dear Sheryl,

I hear you have a book coming out soon, something about us women needing to hit the accelerator and “lean in” even more than we are now. Apparently, you feel that we still have way more work to do and are offering advice. Your “movement” is getting a lot of praise and you have caught my attention. But before I read your book or commit more of my valuable time to your Lean In Circles, I am just dying to know a few things.

1. Do you have a full-time nanny, housekeeper and cook?

2. When you go home for dinner with your family, what time do you jump back on your computer to answer emails and do more work? How many hours a day do you work and is it more than 40?

3. Do your “handlers” help you through your day? Do you get help or even a little help from a personal assistant, executive assistant, stylist or personal shopper?

4. Do you really think its possible for all women to “lean in?”  What if a woman or has no help, is a single mother, has an un-supportive husband or suffers from a chronic illness?

5. Have you ever been worried about money and making ends meet, or lived paycheck to paycheck?

6. Don’t you think you are simply propelling the paradigm that power can only come from the top and women need to change the world in the same way as men?

7. Have you ever broke-down, hit bottom, felt over-worked and exhausted from all the leaning in and acceleration?

8. Have you ever cried at work? Have you ever hid in the bathroom and cried at home? Have you ever cried in public? Have you ever cried to your friends?

9. Do you think its possible that women can still “run the world” without being CEO’s of big companies?

10. Do you really believe you can lead a social movement, even though you point to our lack of confidence and self-sabotaging ways, which just makes us feel more shame and reminds us that we aren’t keeping up and have more “failures” to add to our ever growing list?

I am just wondering, so I thought I would ask is all. Maybe your book is not meant for me, as I am just a mother of one, with an average-income career, 2/3’s of a college degree, who struggles to keep up with the rush of The Bay Area and can openly admit that all the striving for a high level job that breaks the glass ceiling is not so alluring.

Well anyhow, good luck with your book launch and lean in circles, I can see you are passionate that is always nice to see.

Sincerely,
A Mother Trying to Do the Opposite of Leaning In

Lessons from the tortoise and clumps of wax.

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I was just remarking how slowly February has passed.  Each day has felt like a full 24 hours. When I look at my calendar I think, oh cool there is still a week left of this month. I promise, I am not trying to make you envious. I have lived this month in stark contrast to the years past. Years that went whizzing by, leaving me dizzy and slightly spun. So what’s the big deal? I am not working, of course time has slowed down. I have more time to spare.  In the past, this extra time would caused that itchy, anxious feeling. I would have not  known what to do. Feeling bored, I would have squandered the time (and money) away sitting on a bar stool.  In the past, I would run away from the slow tide of time, rushing to find more to do.

Today, in the present moment, especially this month I relish each day, I am lathering in its minutes and doused in its seconds.  Someone else may have pulled the brakes, but I am happy to get off the speeding rocket and stretch my legs. Take a little stroll, see the sights and take in the air.

At first, I thought I was enjoying the slower pace because it was helping me feel less anxious and over-wrought. This may be true. But it occurred to me that there is something more to this feeling. The whizzing time was making me feel so sad. I felt like I was mourning each day, because each day did not felt lived in, each day felt compressed.  It made me sad to see my daughter grow before my eyes.  I began to feel the rest of my life would be nothing more than a big boulder rolling down a hill picking up speed as it reached the bottom.  It occurred to me it was not my age that made me uncomfortable,  it was the rushing speed of each day. And I now notice this for the first time in my life. I wasn’t sad about turning 40, it is just an age, I was sad to miss life. It felt impending doom. Life was going to whiz by me and it wasn’t going to slow down.

I’ve been learning to listen to the subtle signs, the quiet moments and slower days, as the great poet Ranier Maria Rilke says:

“It seems to me that almost all our sadnesses are moments of tension, which we feel as paralysis because we no longer hear our astonished emotions living. Because we are alone with the unfamiliar presence that has entered us; because everything we trust and are used to is for a moment taken away from us; because we stand in the midst of a transition where we cannot remain standing. That is why the sadness passes: the new presence inside us, the presence that has been added, has entered our heart, has gone into its innermost chamber and is no longer even there, – is already in our bloodstream. And we don’t know what it was. We could easily be made to believe that nothing happened, and yet we have changed, as a house that a guest has entered changes. We can’t say who has come, perhaps we will never know, but many signs indicate that the future enters us in this way in order to be transformed in us, long before it happens. And that is why it is so important to be solitary and attentive when one is sad: because the seemingly uneventful and motionless moment when our future steps into us is so much closer to life than that other loud and accidental point of time when it happens to us as if from outside. The quieter we are, the more patient and open we are in our sadnesses, the more deeply and serenely the new presence can enter us, and the more we can make it our own, the more it becomes our fate.”

I am just beginning to realize that I need and want to slow down. To live a life that is not full of multi-tasking, errands, obligations, time sucking moments and manic ideas that simply pass the days. I want to relax into each day, keep to MY routine, have time for myself so I can be open to the people I love. Realize that solitude is not lonely, being alone will bring me more comfort from those that love me.  For the first time, I see the trickery of a fast-paced life. I am not fulfilled by packing more into my life, by running around doing everything at once.  Waiting till the last minute for the surge of adrenaline may not produce the best results.  Burning the candle at both ends has just left me with a stump of wax. I don’t want a stump of wax. I would like to see some light.  Some warm flickering candlelight, slowly burning and illuminating the way.

Let everything happen to you
Beauty and terror
Just keep going
No feeling is final

-Ranier Maria Rilke

Emeryville, I’m Listening.

Coffee Gal: So how was your birthday?

Rude Dude: Oh…yeah well Girl tried to kill herself last night. (Snicker Snicker)

Coffee Gal: What?

Rude Dude: Well, yeah it was a cry for help or something. ANYWAY, she took a bunch of penicillin.

Coffee Gal: (Laughs) Ohh god! Whatever!

Rude Dude: (Laughing) Right? I’ve been telling this story all day and I sound like such a jerk. But listen to this, soo Girl and Boy started fighting AGAIN and I was like hell no…I gotta get out of here, I have my dinner to go to. When I try to leave, I find Girl slumped over on the stairwell between my room and the front door. I’m thinking great, now I have to actually engage. So I said…Uh Girl what’s wrong, you okay? She says, yeah I’m sick. I took pills.

Coffee Gal: Oh god how drama can you get!

Rude Dude:  Yeah she like pointed to the shelf in the bathroom and I saw that Boy had some sleeping pills but I don’t think he had that many left, maybe three or something?  But I guess she took a whole bunch of penicillin too. I was just like trying to pat her back and walk over her so I could get out of the house you know? (mimics patting and stepping over a body).

Coffee Gal:  Seriously! (Rolls eyes) Like…there there now go watch some cartoons and feel better (in a fake motherly mocking tone).

Rude Dude: Ahaha. Yeah I know, I was patting and stepping over her at the same time and pretty much out the door, just saying you’re gonna be fine, it’s all okay (in a hurried  tone).

Coffee Gal: But you didn’t just leave her there?

Rude Dude: No no, I called Friend and was like “Umm you might wanna come over, Girl might not be feeling well and nobody is home.”

Coffee Gal: Oh yeah good. So like what is her deal? She needs to find someone that doesn’t make her feel this way or something. Like what a mess.

Rude Dude:  Yeah, I know. Boy doesn’t know what to do, if they break-up she won’t have a place to stay and I guess he feels bad. But the other day Girl tells me she doesn’t know how she feels about him. Later when they were fighting I heard her say “You know I love you.”  Ugh that is when I was like, I HAVE to get out of here!

Coffee Gal:  I guess she should find another “bloke” to use since that is what she is good at doing, right? 

(They both laugh)

Rude Dude: Yeah…ahaha right!  Anyhow, I heard that they called poison control and she is in the hospital on psych watch…or something, I dunno. Like oh god just  get me out of the house, right? I can’t miss my dinner party.

Coffee Gal: Yeah I know it was your birthday, totally you couldn’t be late. Oh my gawd. So crazy…

Rude Dude: Ahah yeah I seriously sound like such a jerk huh, but you know like take care of your shit.

Storm on the Horizon

Storm on the Horizon

One of my favorite things in the world is noticing the shifting moods of the San Francisco Bay. I can always appreciate something that changes with the wind. Sometimes the bay is serene and inviting and at other times it feels the wind and oncoming mist are can push a person aside. No matter what her mood, my affection stays strong. She is always forgiven.

Taken on 2.18.13. Camera: iPhone View from Emeryville Marina.

I’m Listening, to the signs.

I recently lost my job. It’s been a few weeks and I’ve been silent up to now, but I am strong enough to admit it out loud. This post has been aggravating my writer’s block so I have to get this out.  I am pushing myself to ignore the unhelpful voice inside that has stifled my writing for so long so each post is a baby step in a new direction. I am using this time to work on my writing and find a new path in life. If you know me, I always love a good challenge, the difference is this time I am going to try put my energy into my own projects.

Okay so, job loss. Here is the deal. I was simply told I was not a good fit. It wasn’t personal and I have good skills. But I was not what they were looking for at this time. I think that working for a start-up is not for me, so I agree with assessment even if it still stings. Working at highly competitive and high growth environment requires employees to give everything and anything to their work and to be honest this is not something I am able to give. I was doomed to crash and burn at some point.  I had way way way too much on my plate that I felt like I couldn’t even think straight.  I wasn’t “hungry” enough for the company. I wasn’t ruthless according to management. These attributes are not within me and I knew it when they said it and I was always worried. But I still tried and I still pushed and pushed myself against the racing pulse, sleepless nights, bitten fingernails and churning stomach.

But the hard work, pushing myself to the edge just propelled me into a dead-end. I felt frozen at times.  I couldn’t deliver at the drop of the hat. What I did deliver failed to meet my standards and never hit the mark.  It wasn’t long that I started to feel like a pathetic mess that had lost my way. I had lost all my confidence.  When I started my new job, I had confidence and drive. I know this came through in the interview. I was committed to marketing and helping the company grow. I said I was creative and managed projects that had good outcomes. I felt sure of myself. But that all vanished when the flood of stress and anxiety drowned my ambitions.

I also need to admit to myself (and others) that I can’t work 40-50+ hours a week. And go to school full time. And raise my daughter. And have fun with my husband. And have a tiny tiny bit of a social life. Yeah I felt overwhelmed and I felt like I was drowning, because I was. But I didn’t want to admit it.

I knew this wasn’t sustainable, yet I felt powerless to change the dynamic. I did not fail at my job because I lacked the skills. I was not able to contribute because I was too locked up in stress.  I’ve been ignoring the signs for a long time and so for the first time I am really listening. So here is what I’ve learned. I am not weak for listening to my mind and body. Having a few weeks to get into a routine that allows for long walks, healthy meals, naps and most importantly a re-connection with family and friends has been the best gift. My new commitment is to find a line of work, job or career that will allow me to bring these new gifts along with me.

I know this will be a journey and it will take some patience and time.  I know I am creative, energetic, friendly, smart, strategic and ambitious and I would like to use my talents on something that is my own. I hope I am onto something good. At least I am starting to listen, really listen.

Short Fiction #1: The Last Weekend.

1996

The quickest decisions always have the best results. This had been proven to Shelia many times in her life. Deciding to take a trip to Washington DC didn’t take long. Shelia couldn’t recall the last time she made a decision this fast. The impetus for the trip was fueled by the momentary excitement of Obama’s re-election and a chance to spend time with Molly, her dearest friend.  Shelia’s husband urged her to make the trip on her own and she hit “book it” before he even hung up.  Her mini-break was in the works. Shelia felt elated. She needed to get away, she could feel it in her bones. The timing felt right too. After the madness of the holidays, the new year felt like a clean slate and a cold weekend in January fit her mood. Even if there was pomp and circumstance in the air, it was not the glittery materialistic laden pressure cooker of the weeks between Thanksgiving and Christmas.  Besides, she had never been to a true blue Inauguration in The Nation’s Capital. Political theater was as thrilling to her as the Superbowl for football fans. Really she loved the idea of something new and unfamiliar. Spending time with Molly, a companion for all time, Shelia felt sure the weekend was going to be momentous. She was ready for a change.

Her vacation was crammed into her very busy life.  She only took Just 2.5 days off to make a nice long weekend.  It was still enough to make the few days at work a hectic game of downloading, organizing and checking in. Just 2.5 days, she thought. What is the issue, why all the stress? But she assured everyone she would be checking email on the road, even though there wasn’t anything urgent to check. She made sure to keep it cool at work. It was not the time to act frantic.  At first her plan was to work from home, then catch her flight out of SFO at 1Pm.  But her boss really wanted to review the marketing plan for a client launch. She stayed up the night before, finished her PowerPoint with a very detailed strategy and tactical plan. Crammed in some housework. Cuddled with her daughter. And packed her small bag with the efficiency of a flight attendant. Shelia woke up an hour early to make it to work at 830. Met with her boss to review the marketing plan.  Answered emails, checked in with colleagues. Set her out of office reply. And walked downstairs to catch BART.

On the train she made an appointment with her therapist updated her Facebook status and officially tuned off of her role as mommy, employee, student and wife.  Shelia knew the time was short and she was an expert at making the most out of a few days. She wasn’t going to worry about a thing.

All the flights were on time. Bags were not lost. Molly was waiting full of hugs and excitement. Driving in Washington DC never made much sense to Shelia, it always felt like looping circles and criss-crosses. But they found a great place to eat dinner. They chatted and had cocktails and at 1AM realized bed was probably a good idea if they wanted to get up in time to drive to New York City.

Yeah, a quick trip to New York City. That’s what two good friends conjure up at the last minute. A 26 hour jaunt, to see a play on Broadway, unsure of lodgings and playing it by ear. Only people who knew each other well and can travel with ease can pull off spontaneity. They managed to wake up on time.  And hit the road.  Along 1-95 Shelia clapped as she crossed each State-line.

“Yay”, Shelia screamed, “my first time in Delaware!”

“I’m on the New Jersey Turnpike. Sing it!”

The trees were bare and the conversation was deep. Five hours to catch up with a good friend can go by quickly. Shelia lamented about her new job, how she was trying to make it work.  And how the balancing act of motherhood and career was getting to her.  Molly talked about her wedding and first months as a newlywed. Her worries centered on future plans and new in-laws. They compared notes, gave each advice, admitted their fears and shared their dreams. They consoled and even strategized how to show off their talents. Then at the drop of the hat, the two friends sang along to “Like a Prayer” on the radio, trying to harmonize parts and evoke Madonna. The perfect road trip.

New York City started with a mad dash from a friend’s apartment in Jersey City. From the PATH they bolted up the stairs at the 13th street station, running blocks down Broadway lamenting the lack of lunch and a curtain call in 15 minutes. They made it to 48th street, with just a minute to spare before the curtain call. A magnificent performance about an heiress set in the late 1800’s. It brought up rousing conversation about fathers and daughters and the expectations of family and true love. The two friends waited at the stage door, more sheepish than most of the enthusiastic crowd. Out came the stars and they both pushed their way to front.

Later the plan was to meet a friend in the East Village. After a quick subway ride and a slow walk down St. Mark’s Street, they met at Ukrainian National for stuffed cabbage, periogies and copious amounts of Vodka. Of course. They walked into The Sly Fox for another drink where all three women concocted another last minute plan to dance at a gypsy festival in a vintage ballroom in Brooklyn. Why not? That was the attitude of the night.

The gypsy festival proved to be a hit, full of food and circle dances. Shelia felt connected to something new, clasping hands with strangers, trying to get the footwork correct.  She was filled with a gracious feeling from sharing happiness with others, something that was missing in the fast paced world of start-ups in downtown San Francisco. Finally, both friends were ushered into a car service well past 3 AM and they were grateful their side trip turned out better than expected.

The morning began with a mediocre breakfast at a Cuban Restaurant with a nice drive back to Washington DC. Inaugural Ball revelries were in the plan and neither of them was sure how they would make it to anything, but they persevered. Their presence was expected, after all. Shelia finally got a hold of her family and her daughter was upset to hear that mommy was in New York City. She had just seen the ball drop on New Year’s Eve and saw people throwing confetti on TV. Surely that is what her mother had been doing the whole time.

But through it all, she really felt alive and relaxed. Thinking little of work or other responsibilities. Even when she talked with her friend, it was cushioned with a sense of relief to let things out and to express anxieties. Their friendship had always been based on sharing their innermost thoughts. In year’s past, they had spent weeks upon weeks together, almost inseparably. When they met now, it felt like no time had passed and that something missing had been returned. It felt familiar and the new at the same time.

After another long night of parties, full of art and fire dancing, exhaustion finally set in and everyone slept well. There was still The Inauguration to attend. The morning was clear and cold and their minds were foggy. The smallest joke sent them into hysterics, like the Metro driver with the drawl of James Brown announcing each station. They expected him to scream “Get down now…yah” at any moment. They arrived on time, another uncanny moment as it had seemed that everything had fell right into place all weekend. They sat with the crowds, unable to see President Obama but his message still resounded and the energy from the crowds was palpable.

Admittedly, the day was long. Sitting on cold bleachers, waiting for a peek at The President or really anyone famous had its moments. The crowds were friendly and amicable. They heard that Eva Longoria was in the cavalcade or maybe Beyonce would walk around and say hello, the friends waited patiently. Both of them agreed that star-gazing was a kind of silly waiting game, with a short burst of giddiness ending with a sort of nothingness. But they still waited and waited. Finally, the moment arrived. The President and The First Lady were en route, the crowds were on their feet, cheering loudly! In a quick second, both friends leaned forward to get a passing glimpse of Michelle Obama waving cheerfully from behind her bullet proof glass. It didn’t matter, the moment was electric.

Tuesday morning arrived, Shelia had a flight to catch in the afternoon. Molly had to go back to work and barely made it on time. The weekend was over and Shelia had that sad feeling inside, but was also eager to see her family at the same time. She thought, like being thirsty and having to pee. The warmer weather of the weekend finally came to an end and the cold air came back. Shelia was glad to get out of dodge, minus seven degrees did not suit her well.

During the flight, Shelia had a lot on her mind. Mainly how real the weekend felt. She got to enjoy each moment and opened up and said what she wanted. She was not guarded. Shelia remembered who she really was again. She wondered how she could keep this feeling with her when she got back to San Francisco. It wasn’t her marriage or motherhood that brought her down, she loved those roles, they saved her. What bothered her was the career path that “chose her” and how it pulled her further away from her dreams. Yet she had no choice, she had to work and she had a great career. It just wasn’t her own. It felt empty to her. Her whole life she dreamed of starting a business, something that could help people. It sounded thrilling and scary and out of reach. She dozed off, trying to ward off the thoughts, the ideas that came alive when they were not repressed. Now they were buzzing around again.

It was time to step back into her daily routine and Wednesday morning started right back where the week had ended before her trip. It was such a great idea, the short trip was just what she needed. Shelia woke up appreciating everything just a bit more, especially her family. She even felt more connected to her job, it allowed her a good lifestyle and was fun at times. The break put a little pep in her step, she felt a bit more inspired, surely a good thing to get the creative juices flowing.

Shelia came back to the office, her coworkers with noses glued to their computers, nobody said good morning. Typical though, her office wasn’t so big on greetings or noticing the existence of another humans. First things first, catching up on emails and getting back to her marketing plan. She wrote to her boss, asking about feedback on her project. Pretty quickly her boss came over to her desk and asked if she could speak with her. They walked together, to the big conference room and Shelia felt her stomach give out, something was not right. As they entered the room, Shelia knew this was it. The human resources director sat there with stacks of folders and paperwork, maybe other people were getting let go or promoted, who knew?

Her boss said one sentence.

“So, we are sorry, but it’s not working out and we have decided to let you go.” No eye contact, nothing more, she got up abruptly and left the room.

Shelia felt frozen. Numbness spread over her whole body. Shelia remained all business and asked for specific feedback. But she just received the same robotic answers, so she gave up.

She did not cry in that conference room. Shelia had nothing more to say, signed papers and packed her desk in front of coworkers who didn’t even say goodbye. She called her husband and he immediately came to pick her up. Shelia texted Molly next. Molly was so sorry, felt so bad for her and told Shelia it was going to be okay, it was going to work out for the best.

Shelia had still not cried. She could only think about how much the last weekend really meant to her now.

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