Tuesday, March 31, 2009

What Do You Do?

Whenever someone asks me what I do, I'm always shocked what comes out.

The usual thing I say is "I am a writer." This always provokes a million different questions about what I like to write, am I published, what am I working on now. This conversation leaves me feeling a bit hollow as it's a constant reminder that I haven't finished my next book. Next flow in the constant guilty voices of "you're not good enough or smart enough to finish it" or the loaded voice of "you don't have the guts, babe."

Man. All of that from one simple question.

If I'm feeling more "corporate-ish" the what I do answer is "I'm a public relations consultant." This is true, as my background is lots of years in corporate PR, ad agencies and the like. I do get the intermittent project to write a website, review some copy, develop a plan. When I say this, I feel like I'm not being true to my calling, my passion, what I was meant to do here on earth. So again, here come the deranged voices saying "is that really true missy?"

When I'm feeling whipped by life and low about my writing career, I give some sort of whishy washy answer of all my volunteerism to help prop up my ego. This sounds something like "Oh! I do many things like helping in my son's school each week, helping build a women's ministry at our church and launching a family foundation." I figure that sounds like a real altruistic, contributing sort of person in hopes that it helps me feel better about life, especially my own.

I can recall being at a business cocktail party surrounding with the high flyer set. My husband left me to retrieve a refreshment, when immediately an ambitious gentleman came up to chat. We made the usual small talk and then he asked the question, "what do you do?"

I fumbled at my words and was even more shocked to hear myself say "nothing." I literally said that I do nothing. I could not believe I couldn't come up with something better than that. What I meant to say was I wasn't really here for the business agenda or that I wasn't part of the program. I was just decoration, sort of. The poor guy felt sorry for me and politely found an opportunity to make conversation in another, more opportune area of the room. I felt like an idiot.

Where did my confidence go? I have done some awesome stuff with my life. I have written and published my own book. I have written many articles for women's magazines, an award winning monthly column and have been chosen for writing awards. I am even a featured blogger for Carolina Parent. I have a beautiful son, a fabulous husband, some truly amazing step children, I am launching an awesome family foundation and I get to spend time with my son each week at his school. He even treasures having me in his classroom. I'm blessed beyond belief and have so many good things cooking in the pot.

So why all the weirdness?

I can't help but think of all the things I haven't done yet. Sure I've done some cool stuff, but I want to do so much more. I guess I feel like maybe I'm squandering my talents or I'm not taking big enough risks. When people ask what I do, they don't want all that. They just want to make conversation, to figure out what bucket I fit in, what I'm like as a person.

So I need to stop and realize it's only a question that requires a simple answer. Not an explanation, not a laundry list of what I should be doing with my life, not a Texas-sized guilt trip.

It requires a smile and nod with me saying "I'm a writer, and you?"

Thursday, March 26, 2009

One Weekend to Live

My dog Java went on permanent dog vacation Monday.

I think that sounds nicer than saying he was euthanized or put down. Java had oral melanoma cancer for almost two years. A huge baseball sized tumor in his top and lower mouth, making it almost impossible to eat or drink.

Doctors didn’t think he would last more than a couple months, but he chugged along on magic time despite the odds. These past few months, the stoic black Labrador had begun to fade away bit by bit. Sleeping more, wanting to engage less, not wanting to go outside at all. It was not fair to him to keep prolonging his life because I needed my constant companion. So, we set the date for the "vacation."

The whole weekend, I couldn’t help but contemplate my own life. If I were a dog, what would I want to do on my last days here on earth? Eat, eat and eat. So all weekend, we ate only the best things that I knew any person or dog would love: hot dogs, steaks, biscuits with gobs of strawberry jam and bacon by the pound.

It’s funny how my dog’s last days were ironically how I would like to spend my own. Sitting in the sunshine, listening to great music, having my family by my side, enjoying the laughter of my friends. Sunday morning, I took him for a walk and let him off the leash to be free to smell, track and wander as much as he pleased.

I have to say taking him to "check out" was one of the hardest things I've done. I kept sitting in the parking lot, feeling grief stricken and guilty about what I was about to do. I kept hoping hoping to muster up some sort of enlightened grounded feeling, knowing his moments were ticking down. But it never came and I wept uncontrollably like a small child. Part of me was embarrassed at how upset I was over this dog. After all, it's a dog, not a person. The huge crashing wave of grief surprised me. I loved this dog in ridiculous ways and now I had to let him go.

We always called Java our “angel dog” sent here on earth as a gift to watch over us. And for 12, almost 13 years, he has watched over our family. He has always been with me when I was feeling alone or blue or just needed something to snuggle. He was there in our very first home, he was there to welcome my son, he was always there. He welcomed me home every day -- ready with a wag, a smooch and a happy hello.

Now I come home and I can't help but feel a bit empty. I keep expecting him to round the corner, shake and stretch from behind the couch after an afternoon nap. Each day is a slow remembering that he is not here. In little ways it seeps into my heart how significant he was to our lives. He was a great dog. Perhaps the best dog. I keep saying to myself every day "the great circle of life continues." It gets a bit easier to know this too is part of loving.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

We Got Trouble

I love the Rogers and Hammerstein play "The Music Man."

It reminds me of being a kid when my sister and all three brothers were in the local community version of this play. I was the left out donkey, the baby, the youngest and forced to sit on the sidelines and watch. I was so jealous of their cool costumes, getting to memorize lines, hanging out with the other kids in the production.

One of my favorite songs was "We Got Trouble" where all of the kids in the background got to sing "trouble, trouble, trouble" over and over during the whole song. I thought that was the coolest trick to be singing something completely annoying in the background while the grownups were trying to make sense of a song over the top of it. It sort of reminds me of the strange days we are living in right now. "We got trouble" is an understatement.

Lately it's been overwhelming. All the bad news, all the depressing, horribly deranged politics involved. I don't know what to believe anymore. Add that into 6 straight days of rain this week and it makes me want to reach for some Tequila.

Desperate times call for desperate measures. Since we are smack dab in the Easter season, I have been spending more time in my Bible than ever. In church we have been reading about the life and times of Christ and were invited to read John 14 for our study of the week.

I read the first line of John 14 and it said "Do not let your hearts be troubled. Trust in God and also in me."


Isn't it funny how God gives us exactly what we need to hear when we need to hear it? I've been pondering that scripture all week and thinking how "today" those words are despite having been written centuries before. If God made a point to share this, it's up to me not to let my heart be troubled. I don't need to lug around all this freaky-ness of world. The Big Guy is still driving the ship and He's still in control.

I don't need to carry it. What a relief to let go of the trouble. And to realize we are not alone in this thing called life.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Hanging Loose

Spring makes me want to change all over.

Not just my home or my outside, but on the inside too. Holding things loosely is the change idea of the moment. Not really such a deep thought, but more about being lighter about life and my desire to direct everything. When something's important to me, I start squeezing the ever-living joy out by trying to control it. My writing, my son, belly flab, my marriage. I guess I forget that life isn't a video game where we can maneuver our joystick to drive all things we love.

What's at the bottom of all this is that lately I've been struggling with my writing. Nothing good was coming out, I kept getting lots of rejections, it didn't hold it's usual satisfaction and pleasure. I was meeting with a group of other writers and one friend talked about her writing in a state of "holding it loosely." She went on to explain that by holding it loosely, you allow room for other wonderful things to be a part of the process. Your writing becomes less about you and more about sharing something that is an extension of who you are.

What a wonderful vision for the way to approach our gifts, whether it's writing, our children, our families, our friends. To hold them loosely with a lightness that allows for room to maneuver. When we hold things tightly, it becomes about our ego, our unmet needs, our junk in our personal trunk. Keeping a light touch welcomes more to the process and invites our Creator and other wonderful resources to join in the fun. Everything becomes more vibrant as a result.

I didn't recognize by holding things so tightly, I was sending out the message that "only I can do this, it's all up to me, no one else could possibly know it better than I do." No wonder I was getting so many rejections from other people, I had already rejected them first.

When I think of "hanging loose" I think of it like having a surfer mindset. Relaxing in the water, waiting to see what life sends your way. Not splashing around making more waves or positioning your swimsuit for optimal wave-riding conditions. Hanging loose is about being happy in whatever weather you have and ready when the big wave comes.

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Artful Nothing

Yesterday was a complete goof off day.

I watched two movies, ate a bowl of popcorn for lunch, took a nap and ate at least 12 Girl Scout cookies. I can't even describe how ridiculously great it was. By late afternoon, I managed to accomplish four loads of laundry so at least I could pretend that I did something valuable. More so when my husband walked in the door and said "what did you do today?" I could let out a deep and exhaustive sigh and say "you wouldn't believe the laundry!"

Goofing off on a Monday is completely foreign territory for me. Usually by 7:30 in the morning I have already been up for two hours and ticked off six items on my to-do list. My days and weekends have been so packed with commitments, volunteer work, regular work, church work, kid's school stuff and home repairs that the productivity police would be pleased. But who wants that?

It's a beautiful thing to simply stop for awhile. As most of the South was covered by several inches of snow, it was lovely to look out the window to a snowy dreamland. Everything was blanketed in breathtaking wonder. I followed suit by seeking to create my own wonderland inside by doing whatever I wanted to do.

As moms and heads of the household there is a lot of stuff we "gotta" do. Kids have to get to school, lunches have to be packed, laundry has to be done and dinner has to be made. Let's not forget about work, career and bringing home the bacon. This doesn't leave much room for our "fun" o-meters to be filled.

My older and wiser sister's code word for this kind of day is "fake sick" day. She and her high school age daughter will call a "fake sick" day on each other. This means total permission to lay in bed, watch movies, eat toast or whatever might make you feel good. She shares her guilty pleasure of fake sick days like discussing a secret lover. Inside, I'm jealous that she is so free to claim that serenity for herself.

I decided to try out her fake sick day idea. I must say that today I feel completely energized and whole again. I think when we take a day to do nothing, we become better people. It's sort of like giving that little girl inside of you the Barbie doll you have always wanted. It's a treat, a joy, a chance to reclaim that bit of magic we all still have.

Give yourself an amazing gift and schedule a day of nothing this month. You'll love how much the richness of "nothing" brings to your life.