Be Fearless

IMG_1542All is well in the land of Normal. Day off work. Day away from the classroom. Day with a mere two hours of grading vs. 4.5. A day to have a third cup of coffee. A day with a schedule that looks like this:

  1. Read a book 8:30-9:30 a.m.
  2. Work on Plan B business venture — 9:45-11:45 a.m.
  3. Lunch/shower/tidy up — noon-12:30
  4. Grading (also, darn, pick up grade sheet from classroom-where I forgot it) — 1-3 p.m.
  5. Prepare Tuesday lesson — done by 3:30
  6. Art Journal/Blog — dabble throughout the day through 5:30 p.m.
  7. Play with grandson
  8. Bed by 9 p.m.
  9. Alarm: 5:45 a.m.

Nothing about this list is Fearless, the title of this blog post. True. Upon first glance. But the Plan B and the This–the journaling, the chiropractic spinal alignment of my soul–is taking a plunge, taking a step, dreaming, putting myself out there, turning inside out the sweater of my soul, risking judgment, being vulnerable and stepping away from The List, IZ me betting on me. At this age, at this juncture, blogging like youngins do, considering new streams of income, wanting to get involved, make a difference, taking a step toward fulfilling my life’s purpose IZ Fearless.

I’m not sure I’ve mentioned this yet, but two summers ago my youngest daughter and I got bee tattoos. Sweet little web-thin buzzing botanical beasts adorn our forearms. Getting a tattoo is something I NEVER thought I’d do. But I did so because of the symbolism behind the bee–a permanent reminder to take a chance, enjoy the sweetness  of life, and to value the importance, the grace, the gift, of being a member of a community. In the past, I’ve always exclusively thought of family as community. But recently, as in the day I opened myself up and started this blog, I realize that community can include like-hearted strangers, folks who are trying, in their own ways–big and small–to make the world better. We need each other. On those crappy days. On those outstanding, snap, crackle, pop everything’s going our way days.

We can do this! Right community? We can make our moments, our days, our lives–our world–better! That’s what this correspondence is about, yes? Gotta step off the train for a minute, put down The List, read a minute and remind ourselves who we are and what we need to do with this precious invention called a day. All the shoulds. All the To-Dos will still be there. Case in point: My best-case scenario List is already behind schedule. Cool. Perfect, given the fact that I am, afterall, the The Master of The List?

I digress: I sidebar. I’m off-task. I tangent to ask: “Of everything on my To-Do List, what exactly IZ my priority today and every day?”

Me Time shouldn’t be Squeeze-it-in-At-the-End-of-the-Day Time. I need to:

  1. Write.
  2. Create. Center myself, through through art, music and cooking.
  3. Listen to the whispers, the invitation, God’s beckoning. Do not fear, for I am with you. 
  4. Breathe.

I gaze out my 100-year-old kitchen window and am overwhelmed with a sense of gratitude that California’s drought is at bay for now. It’s raining. Today, tomorrow and next week.

A whipped cream layer of fog blankets the front garden and it comes to me: 25 years ago, when we took a chance and purchased this paint-chipped bungalow, later named Angel Cove Cottage By the Sea, I imagined myself sitting right here, at this very scalloped-edged kitchen table–writing: The Great American Novel. Perhaps. Letters to friends, addressed to Dearheart, most likely.

But busy kids. Divorce. Writing jobs for hire, pursuit of higher education got in my way. The List. Always The List. Once again: Mom died in her 60s. So did Auntie Marji, Carol, Auntie Madge. At some point, hopefully decades from now, my name will be added to The List.

But not today.

It’s my pen, my page, my story. The good part of the novel I never wrote.

  1. Leap.

The Gap

IMG_0095And no, I don’t mean the store.

It happened. I gave up on me and gave into giving to others. All the time. My students. My family. Like a tsunami, their voices, their needs, their attention, grabbed my minutes, my hours, my weeks–my months!

I’m not blaming them. It’s my fault. My own doing. I decided to give unto others. But now I’m here, back with you, with me, with my thoughts, with my hopes, dreams, with my potential.

A new year. A new start.

Ahhh, to be healthy of mind, body and soul. Not a NY’s resolution. It has to be my grove, my mantra, a fact of life.

Writing reminds me. So does the sun. So does a cool glass of bubbly on a Sunday afternoon.

So here I begin, again, announcing, to the blogosphere: I’m ready for my life to begin. I think that means I have to retire. But economically it would mean selling my house, buying an RV of some sort, and hitting the road. I fantasize about it all the time; I obsessively hunt online for the perfect Class B RV. I watch full-time RVers’ YouTube channels. It sounds so fun; no worries; new places; new people; an open road ready to explore. But then I think about missing my family–my grandchildren–my city. I think about giving up all of my possessions that I’ve worked so hard to acquire and know that I might miss being surrounded by them. Then I think how great it would be to be free of possessions, to live simply, with meaning and purpose. To be selective. To be mindful. To be surrounded by trees or camp alongside California’s Central Coast while everyone else is working.

Yeh, I have to experience this. I have been fantasizing about it for the last four years.

I don’t want to wait until I’m too old, too sick, to cranky and feeble. I’m at my prime, 62. I have tons of energy, creativity. Now is the time. I think.

So how’d it go this week?

I’d give myself a B-. I walked three days this week, said, “No” to something I really didn’t want to do, journaled three times, said “Yes” to going to a play at UCLA with a beloved former colleague, and “No” to my ridiculously ambitious expectation of 12 hours of grading over the weekend. Instead, I spent a mere 5 hours assessing and inputting digits into an online grading program. And now, instead of the millions of other things I could/should be doing, I’m here, with you, seizing control of my day.

Last night, I had a rather deep discussion with my best friend, Jeannie. It was about her being that person who provides a safe landing for me and everyone else. Even when you are wrong or are about to make a bad decision, she has the ability to comfort and accept you. She is unwilling—maybe even unable—to take on the role of “the bad guy” and tell you when you are about to head off the tracks.

I have known Jeannie my entire life; she’s always been this way: kind, supportive, an angel. She gets it from her mom, whom I also adored. Recently, her unconditional acceptance of my daughter’s 101st bad decision caused me to question, “Why?” Jeannie’s like this and “Where her compelling desire to be liked originates?”

In my family, we were stubborn, offered unsolicited opinions and pretty much always felt we were “right”. We fought hard, held our ground, but somehow found a way to love and admire each other. It made us gritty and resilient.

In Jeannie’s family, she was always the preferred child, the daughter who played nice. Blond and beautiful, she was a welcome contrast to her vivacious sister who had a habit of stirring the pot and causing her parents decades of grief.  It was always clear to me and others, Jeannie was “the good one” and her sister was Trouble.

We are who we are, shaped by family dynamics, birth order, genes, parenting style and personal choices.

But in my quest to be forthright and zero-in on all the stuff cluttering up my Official Life Closet of Junk, last night, following a healthy, 5-star dinner, I shared an observation with Jeannie:

“When you provide a soft landing for my daughter, when you agree with her bad decisions, when you are ‘the good guy,’  in the mind of my daughter, by default, that makes me ‘the bad guy’ and sabotages our relationship.”

I can handle that.

“What concerns me,” I continued, “is that by being less than candid and frank with her when it comes to seriously ill-informed decisions, it perpetuates her inability to be self-reflective and make better choices. In other words, when you agree with her, she thinks she’s right and keeps doing the same dumb things.”

Ouch, I know.

OK, it wasn’t PC. It was direct. Blame the wine. But I was being sincere about an issue I have been thinking about a long time. Nevertheless, I don’t think Jeannie heard me. Most likely, she’ll continue her role of being the favored one and I’ll continue being the heartless jerk of a mother.

I am not, to be clear, that person who contacts my daughter and tells her I think she’s wrong. I keep my thoughts to myself. I seriously don’t interfere. However, if she asks for my opinion, I will share my thoughts, and, if I think she’s headed for the wall, I will tell her straight up.

Now in the scheme of life, none of this matters. It’s all trivial. I should be picking up trash on the beach to stop Climate Change. (Note to self: Next time I walk along The Beach I’ll pack a compostable trash bag and do my part.) But in my Act III to become a better version of myself by getting to The Source and figuring out My Life Stuff, last night’s discussion helped me inch forward: Being honest about feelings is a good thing. Having  difficult, honest conversations and being self-aware are essential to growth. So is being kind and loving as you share Your Truth.

For sure, I will follow up last night’s conversation with Jeannie: It’s OK to be perceived as “the bad guy” if it means your wisdom might possibly lead to the other person making a healthier, more positive choice. To be overly PC-sensitive, thwarts growth.

I don’t mean we have to ram our opinions down the other person’s throat. No, no, definitely not. But out of mutual respect, shouldn’t we all be open to listening to, and benefiting from, those with different perspectives?

Sunday night’s conversation between me and my best friend was real. Probably more real than we’ve had in a long time. We weren’t talking politics. We weren’t complaining about national issues out of our control. We got to the nitty gritty of Life and our approach to relationships and communication. Both in our 60s. Both with histories of triumphs and failures. Both interested in becoming better human beings.

We are who we are. She’s never gonna be the Kellyanne Conway or Roseanne Barr of the family, just as I’m never going to come close to being my sainted Auntie Mary, the woman who made me feel as if I could do no wrong. In retrospect, I wish she had told me, “Dumb idea, Izzy.” I would have respected her and most likely made a right turn instead of a left.

Which is what I’m doing now, at this juncture in life. Coming clean. Moving forward.

In the center, the core, is Love. 20786AF1-E96A-4C70-AC8B-1C8C1DDC5000

The challenge of change

Change is hard. That’s got to be the understatement of the century, right? I’d much rather tool along and not rock the boat, stay in my robe, look at online “news” outlets, become obsessed with the latest consuming topic, and drink a third cup of coffee than do the thing I really need to do, and that is soulful, deep tissue change. I can rearrange my bedroom, change my hair color, experiment with healthy muffin recipes, window shop Amazon, rather than really sink in and get to what needs a’getting to and that is bonafide growth.

Here’s where you come in, my status: This blog is my confidante, my therapist, my life coach prompting me to become, once again, a risk-taker, an agent of change. I’m more likely to press forward if I make a public proclamation: “I am an adolescent: Change is my middle name.”

So what exactly do I need to change?

My attitude.

My actions.

My heart.

The truth is I’ve been in that old fogey fear funk for far too long. I’ve given in to giving up.

But inside, behind my squinty eyes, is an impish elf of a woman. Playful. Not serious. Daring, not dreadful. Knowing and wise, for you see, I know what I want. I can visualize the life I imagine: No debt. Money in the bank. Healthy choices. Time for family. Time for career. Time for me.

Time for me, my decades old challenge. Setting aside time every day to exercise, meditate, create—rejuvenate. Time to discover, remind and reflect.

Take today, for example. I did all the cleaning, organizing, grading student work, before I sat down to write. It’s an old, old habit; others before self. I watched my mother throughout her entire life give to others before pleasing herself. The only “treat” she afforded herself were cigarettes, which she enjoyed secretly. Ultimately, her sad, bad habit led to her horrific and early death from emphysema. While I’m far less self-sacrificing than she was, like her I typically take the back seat when it comes to others’ needs. Not a bad quality as long as it doesn’t negatively impact my bank account and health, which it has.

Knowledge is power. So here’s what I need to do: Learn to say “Yes,” when it’s healthy and “No” when it’s not. Simple, right? Yes, actually it is, if I take a breath—breathe Izzy, breathe—and think about the consequences of my actions. Obviously, this is the key to balance and all forms of health. Lots of people have figured this out. Why not me?

But I’m on the journey. My challenge this week is to practice making healthy choices. Here’s my plan:

  1. Journal and/or blog several times this week
  2. Set daily goals that extend beyond career and household duties
  3. Walk five times this week
  4. Eat more veggies
  5. Get out my paints and canvas and create
  6. Listen to more music
  7. Say “Yes” to something new
  8. Say “No” to something harmful

These positive choices will help me achieve future goals: My retirement plan is to work three more years, save $$$, shed pounds, debt, be on the hunt for a reliable, fuel efficient Class B RV and travel the United States. Downsize. Share.  Learn new things. Be kind to self and others.

I don’t want to leave our great Planet Earth without figuring this out, without enjoying the benefits of conscious choice.

Life IZ too good not to seize the day and make decisions that will help me live the life of my dreams. I’m a strong person. I can make this happen.

Change is hard. But look at the consequences if I don’t seize the day. Life will take me where I need to be if I don’t get a clue and grab the driver’s seat while I can.

I am grateful to be aware. I know what I need to do. Now, as the Nike commercial says, just do it.

Let’s get on with the show!

My smiling, determined, cousin, Carol, said, “Let’s get on with the show!” or words to that effect, on her deathbed. Dying just wasn’t her thang. A constant re-inventor, designer and seize-the-dayer, the notion of being dependent upon others as she wasted away in her plush, pillowy bed, was not on this fighter’s radar. Carol, the hurricane inspiration for this blog, was 68 when she died of pancreatic cancer.

To be forthcoming, Carol and I did not always get along. A decade older than me, she was the sister of my best friend in the world.  Jealousy and judgment caused a seismic rift between us, but in the end our mutual stubborn streaks gave way to love and forgiveness.

When it comes down to it, much of what keeps me up at night, turns my hair grey, and prompts me to stuff my face full of unhealthy crap, is utter nonsense. If I tallied up all the days and nights I’ve worried about things and people I can’t control it would easily amount to five years or 1,825 days or 43,800 hours of  wasted time.

At 68, Carolyn was too young to die. She had so much to live for. But I suppose everyone feels like that, including my 92-year-old dad who felt certain he’d visit dear old England one last time, but died in the hospital following a nasty infection.

Those loved ones, who ran out of time, fuel me with the passion to change. Starting today with the birth of this blog, I’m going to rededicate my life and focus on the good, not the bad.  I need a shift. A Cataclysmic Act III Shift. Because I don’t have six decades to figure this out any more. I’m in the home stretch. Not the end, I hope–and pray. I’m at that place in a race where the thought of giving up crosses your mind, because you are exhausted, but don’t because you’ve worked too damn hard to get to this point..

I see myself with a mile to go. Hopefully I’ll live as long as my dad. But if I don’t, I want to have the best possible quality of Life I can conjure.

Yes, I wish I had more money. And it would be great to be 50 pounds lighter. I wish the marriage thing worked out. Yeah, there’s a lot that could be better. But I’m sitting in my backyard typing on a new laptop (my 8-year-old Mac finally went kaput), enjoying the warm temps and the peace. No grandkiddos. No cooking or cleaning. Just me and my thoughts. Like Anne Morrow Lindbergh in “A Gift From the Sea”. I get to breathe. And rest. And be thankful: For my busy life as a mom, Gma, sister, cousin, teacher, friend and neighbor: To live in a rustic house in California: To have my dear blue heeler, Monet: To be friends with my ex-husband: To be able to vote for the candidate of my choice: To have interesting and deep discussions with my homies: To have health, a job, a home, food on the table, the desire to reflect, and change.

My heart is open. And I hope yours is too. For this will be a corner of the universe where we can have a cup of tea together, a few laughs and, no doubt, tears, as we share the journey. I am convinced, no matter how bad it may seem, Life IZ Good. The Best is Yet to Be. Proclaim it! Shout it from the balcony.  I don’t care if you are in your 20s or, like me, been on the planet for six decades. Birthdays don’t define us. Nor do looks. Wrinkles, double chins, pot bellies, are a reflection of life and, in my case, poor choices, physical qualities I don’t intend to face lift away. Because for me to see the goodness in others, I have to see goodness in myself–flaws and all.

So it begins.


The Journey Begins

Thanks for joining me! I’ve never done anything like this before. Being so incredibly vulnerable is scary. Figuring out internal stuff and sharing it with strangers is way, way  outside my box. But I’ve decided to take the plunge because I’m hoping to stumble upon some ideas and thoughts that may connect with others.

I’m 62. Not retired. Not even close to financially secure. I have a sizable mortgage, live close to the beach and have a clear vision of the life I wish to live; traveling in some sort of mini RV and meeting people I can grow and learn from. I always wished to be a pioneer woman and this would be my shot, minus the covered wagon.

I am in the process of shifting the way I think: I wish I was Mary Poppins, but I’m not. Life has kind of scratched up my rosy-colored glasses: I am a realist , but I also believe that The Best IZ Yet to Be.  Or, as another one of my Disney’s idols—Pollyanna Whitaker—once said, “If you look for the good you will surely find it.”

That’s what this journey is about: Retraining my greying mind and softening my heart. Returning, in a way, to that little pigtailed girl who lived on Spreckles Lane and knew, just knew, that things were going to go her way.

All those mean, nasty-spirited people who leave cruel comments, who shout down others’ ideas on TV and through social media, be gone! This is a soft-lit den, an oasis where we can re-group, re-think and challenge ourselves to dwell on the positive and possible.

Good company in a journey makes the way seem shorter. — Izaak Walton