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Letter from My 48th Year (April 6)

Back when it was still March, I had planned to write about how I spent roughly 20 minutes standing in the autograph/selfie section of Awesome Con staring at middle-aged Tom Welling who’s a fine looking silver fox now that he’s given up his tights.

Instead, I got the usual spring cold/sinus infection thingie that’s had me stuck on the couch and swilling Mucinex and sacrificing all the toilet paper I can find to my overflowing nostrils since Monday afternoon. (Editors Note: Yes, I do have boxes of tissue but they’re alllll the way at the other side of the apartment. Sigh.)

Before April turns into May or some such foolishness, I did want to share with you a couple of things I figured out about myself, or perhaps it’s more accurate to say things that I finally articulated about myself, while at Awesome Con.

One was that I have to stop lying to myself about not knowing how to talk to people. This was absolutely true at one point. I am definitely an introvert with very little small talk game BUT I’m also someone who’s worked in Public Relations for more than a decade now and spends a great deal of my professional life interviewing people. So I shouldn’t have been surprised when I walked into a reception hosted by Smithsonian Magazine and X (Google’s “moonshot” division) and found myself happily chatting away with mechanical engineers and such about creativity and creating an environment where it’s safe to fail blah blah blah.

I know how to ask questions and get people talking, and while I can’t talk about specific principles around mechanical engineering, I certainly have thoughts on whether delivery drones are a good idea and about how to foster innovation in general. And I knew how to advise the newbie Slate writer I walked in with on how to find a story at a party at which you knew no one.

Yet, as I debated whether or not I should even go to the reception, the picture I had in my head was of the tongue-tied wallflower ill at ease in the corner wondering why she was in this place where she clearly didn’t belong. Turns out that picture is beyond outdated. And yes, sometimes I still stand by myself for a while at gatherings before I find someone to talk to, but I’m no longer uncomfortable with that solitude. It no longer saps my self-confidence. Now to work on updating my internal files so I always start from a place of remembering who I am, not who I used to be.

That being said, back at Awesome Con, I stood in line in the autograph are to try and talk to Cress Williams about getting an interview for my agency’s blog. My heart was pounding so hard that I thought it was going to fall out of my chest. And his gatekeeper dismissed me even as I handed him my card and explained that I didn’t want to pay for an autograph but I did want to ask for an interview for my outlet. Later that night I found myself wondering how I could have been so confident at the Google party, and yet so undone trying to talk to Cress Williams (who, by the way, is even more gorgeous than he appears onscreen. Yowza!)

I realized that my lack of confidence was because I didn’t know the rules. If one has a press pass at Awesome Con, you’re cautioned to the nth degree about not trying to use that pass to cut others in line or gain any special favor. There are also rules for every Con-goer about what you can do when you’re in the special autograph/selfie area (no cell phone pics you haven’t paid for, etc.) I was terrified that by trying to ask for an interview in person I was somehow going to violate the rules and get thrown out, with violating the rules—particularly if I don’t know them—still being one of the worst things I can do in terms of my childhood triggers. So that’s an area to work on. I don’t want to become an out and out rulebreaker, but I do want to not feel so triggered when I don’t definitively know the particular rules of a situation that I’m inhibited to my detriment.

 

 

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Letter From My 48th Year (Feb 14)

Happy Valentine’s Day y’all. Like every singleton in the free world, I used to slump deep in a funk each Valentine’s Day bemoaning my perpetual free agency. I did have a boyfriend one year for the big day—the one year I actually had a boyfriend—but he was not gifted in the gifting department and it just felt a bit perfunctory. (Given that in that relationship I was, if I’m honest, more interested in performing love than actually open to falling in love,  that was probably par for the course.) But then one year, maybe a decade or more ago now, I decided to send Valentine’s Day cards to all the people I loved. Which broke the woe is me spell.

These days I think it’s sweet when people wish me a happy valentine’s day, and February 14 no longer sets off a spell of pining in me. I realize it’s a completely manufactured holiday, but hey, if we’re going to make shit up, I’m down with making up a sweet (albeit completely consumerist) holiday.

Speaking of love, at dinner with L. the other night we started talking about that idea that you have to love yourself before you can love someone else. Which is not bullshit exactly, but it’s not entirely accurate either. The idea behind that sentiment always seems to be that everything will be magically wonderful if you just commit to celebrating your own awesomeness. Which is always a good idea, but will only get you so far. And will probably make you try to measure up to impossible standards like having your shit together all the time and all at the same time. Which, let’s face it, is not a thing that can actually happen. For anyone.

Love, real love, isn’t only about the good bits; that’s the kind of love that comes with conditions. (We actually need some other word for that.) What we’re hopefully striving for in a long-term love relationship is unconditional love, and that’s where we need to start with ourselves if we want to end up having that with other people in our lives, whether or not they are people we want to make out with. We need to get comfortable at looking at all of who we are in this given moment. Without judgement. Without guilt or shame. With compassion. With empathy.

This doesn’t mean we have to like everything we find. And we probably won’t. But we do have to be able to say, At this moment, this is who I am and I’m going to embrace myself without judgement. Which is both excruciatingly hard, and excruciatingly necessary, even if we’re quite happy being our own valentines for the rest of our lives.

Let me leave you with this, which is so much more a true thing than that “You complete me” nonsense…

Open Letter to Marc Maron, Day 28 (on why I like lying to myself)

…And in that home, as she paces its many rooms, filling them with this and that, rearranging the furniture willy nilly, throwing the occasional dance party, losing the vacuum and forgetting to do laundry on a regular basis, investigating what she’s lost under piles of dust and junk left behind by others, she will somehow stumble into the hiding place of that one need even greater than a home of her own—a voice of her own.

Over the weekend I came up with the perfect plan for getting some exercise into my life. Three days/week I’m up at 5-5:30 so I can pray and journal before I head to my standing breakfast meetings. So I figured it would be easy peasy to get up at the same time on the days I don’t have meetings and use the extra time to exercise. The alarm went off at 5:30 and I promptly turned it off and set the timer on my phone so I could have 30 minutes more sleep. At 6:00 I set the timer for another 30 minutes. There’s a possibility that there was yet another 30-minute reset but I can’t quite remember. What do know is that when I finally got out of bed I had left myself no time to exercise and barely enough time to journal before I had to shower and get ready for my day.

As I was thinking about how I could get myself out of bed to go write poetry with a friend two days but couldn’t get up to exercise, I thought, “It’s because you’re lazy.” Which I’m not. And I realized as I started to think more about it that “It’s because you’re lazy” was my short-cut, easy answer. Tagging myself with a this-explains-everything adjective was an elegant way of short-circuiting any deep thinking about my resistance to exercise.

I’m absolutely positively not a morning person. And the fact that I can get out of bed to pray for at least 30 minutes and then journal for at least 30 minutes before getting in the shower is a major miracle. So I think trying to add another 30-60 minutes to that prep time was overburdening the self-talk system I have in place to get me out of bed so I could do the first two.

And while that partially explains my reluctance to answer, if I make myself push deeper, there’s actually something else at play. I’ve been there, done that. I’ve successfully lost weight by watching my food intake and exercising so many times and ended right back in the same overweight place so many times that I’ve run out of ways to make myself believe this time will turn out any differently. There is the possibility I will finally figure out how to maintain a healthier weight and exercise regimen this time, but when it comes probability—to borrow from a popular movie franchise—the odds are so not in my favor. It’s not just a physical effort to get myself out of bed in the morning to exercise, it’s an emotional one of the Sisyphean variety.

But is not actually the moral of this particular story. I’m actually more interested in the names I call myself—lazy, spoiled, selfish—so I can get out of drilling down to the scary subterranean parts of myself where my motivation for doing or not doing X, Y, or Z actually lurks. It’s easier and vastly more comfortable to fall back on even the most unflattering characterizations of myself rather than have to deep dive into the ish that’s really going on. It’s easier to believe and reinforce the stories I’ve always told myself at the point of failure than it is to try and understand the reasons for that failure cause one reason begets another reason which begets another reason until I’m excavating a whole effing cavern of neurosis or grief or fear or whatever that I’ve never explore before. I know you’re expecting a rah rah ending, but come on, that ish gets old. This would probably be a good point to remember that practice what you preach is not a bad goal to work toward. Sigh.

Speaking of being overweight (I knew we’d get back here eventually…)

To be continued…

Open Letter to Marc Maron Day 22 (on figuring out why it’s important to understand “my way’)

…We need others to affirm our voices, our right to speak out loud for a good long while before we can finally begin to do that for ourselves. And even then, I for one, still need a refresher course more than every once in a while.

So I go to a Christian church. I’m not quite sure how to describe it as fundamentalist/born-again Christian have become so pejorative (thanks to so-called Christians who haven’t seemingly actually read the New Testament) and I don’t think anyone who hasn’t been churched for a bit really knows what full-gospel means. So perhaps I’ll just say I believe in God, I believe Jesus is the son of God who died to repair our relationship with God, and I’ve given my life to the Lord by which I mean I’m actively working at (and sometimes failing miserably at) having an active and close relationship with God.

That’s all background so you’ll understand when I say that witnessing—sharing one’s story of coming into or being in relationship with God—is an important principle in our church. Jesus did it, the original disciples did it, and so we should do it. That being said, guess who’s not raising her hand when they ask for people to gather on a Saturday evening to share the gospel with people in our community?

My friends and many of my colleagues know that I’m a Christian and that I attend church on a fairly regular basis but it rarely goes further than that. I do occasionally go through a long stretch of using “How can I pray for you” as my Facebook status update, and I will talk about my faith with people in my various communities who are also believers but I’m not big on witnessing to the unbeliever.

mom became a practicing Christian when I was around 13 and all of a sudden I couldn’t listen to secular music or go to the movies, and I went from attending an hour-long Catholic mass to a service that seemed to last all day and that scared the heck out of me. (Not a lot of fire-and-brimstone preaching and talk about demons and such in a Catholic church, at least not at St. Clare’s Roman Catholic Church in Rosedale, NYC.) My mom became a zealot overnight and wouldn’t and couldn’t tolerate anyone who didn’t follow her views.

I eventually left church and it took me nearly 20 years to find my way back. And though I know I’m wired quite differently than my mom is, I fight constantly against the fact that I’m going to turn into an intolerant zealot. I have this fear despite the fact that, while my mom is as obsessive about ministry as ever, I would no longer describe her as a zealot. (No woman who flirts that much can stay a zealot!) I don’t want to be that weird Jesus freak woman. If you ask, I’ll tell you in a heart beat about what God has done for me; I’m just not going to tell you unprompted.

Today while talking to a friend (she was raised Christian but doesn’t practice) about my father’s funeral (which was Christian even though he wasn’t) and her grandfather’s funeral (her grandfather was a pastor) I shared with her that one of the things I learned from my current pastor, and that I take to heart, is that when it comes to talking about Jesus and God that you really have to meet people where they are. As Pastor Clark expressed in our recent annual meeting, the temple at Jerusalem was comprised of multiple types of gathering places that you had to walk through to get to the holy of holies. And not everyone wanted to go to the holy of holies. With that in mind, we’ve reconfigured our service to offer multiple entry points for people so whether you’re a newbie, a seeker, or a long time churchgoer, there is a way for you to meet with God during the service. It wasn’t until my friend and I were finished with the conversation and she said, “That’s quite a witness,” that I realized that I had indeed witnessed to her. I had shared some of my beliefs about faith and about my relationship with God.

I’d stayed away from witnessing because I thought it was only about handing out tracts on the corner to strangers or somehow telling a stirring rendition of my personal story of coming to know God that would crescendo at the moment when the person decided to accept Christ as their savior and we, with joyous tears, recited the sinner’s prayer together. While that’s all admirable and necessary it just seemed too hard and scary to me.

But it turns out witnessing isn’t actually hard for me at all. I had just decided, based on what I’d seen other people do, that I couldn’t do it. What I should’ve focused on instead was how to do it—as Frank Sinatra said—my way. I get excited about stuff all the time and it just bubbles up into the conversation. I don’t make a plan (usually) to tell people about the new podcast I’m into or the book I’ve just read that changed my world. I just let myself be excited and that excitement finds its way out. And, as my conversation today proved, when I’m excited about the things of God, that bubbles out in conversation too. So I just need to let myself be excited and not worry so much about how I’m going to work it into the conversation.

So I guess what I’m wondering now is what other hard things do I not do because I keep looking at how other people tackle them? Why am I looking outward and comparing myself to others instead of looking to the ways that I already do whatever that hard thing is because, chances are, in some small way, I’ve probably already done it.

To be continued…

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