Life continues to surprise me in happy ways since I’ve returned from my solo winter in Florida. One of the things that I particularly notice that makes my life easier is my approach to dinner. Before Florida, once a week I spent an hour going through my collection of cookbooks, making out a weekly menu of meals. At the same time, I wrote down any items I needed for each dinner on a page-long shopping list.
This made me feel like a good wife, even though half the time, Al would not be home in time for dinner. He might unexpectedly work late. Or the gym had been very crowded. Perhaps Hall Road was a parking lot due to construction work. Even if Al was home, he’d rarely come to the table when the meal was ready. He was “just finishing” something on the computer or in the garage. Often, I’d be done with my meal before he even sat down. It irritated me. After all, I put work into making a nice dinner. Why was it so difficult for him to sit down to eat with me?
All that changed in Florida. I didn’t consult cookbooks, I didn’t formulate a weekly menu, and sometimes I didn’t even have a list. I just went into the grocery store and bought what was fresh and appealed to me in the moment. I ate when I was hungry and sometimes had Cherrios for dinner. Or I’d add lots of fresh fruit to yogurt and sprinkle nuts on top. I’d have salad with chopped chicken and tomatoes. My tastes, when they’re just about me, are pretty simple.
When I came home to Michigan, I kept meaning to pick up where I’d left off with the menu planning and the overflowing grocery cart, but it didn’t happen. These days I jot quick lists for 2-3 dinners and continue to eat the Florida way when I feel like it. I make the two or three meals a week, but if Al is late or I’m not hungry, cooked food goes into the fridge. Now that he has learned to serve himself while I was in Florida, he’s more than happy to put a plate together and pop it in the microwave. This is embarrassing but, before Florida, I used to make a plate and heat it up for him when he came home late. I’d even bring it to the table and set it before him. It was part of that wacky good wife thing.
Since I’m not eating those dinners every night, there are more leftovers and no need for the chore of daily cooking. Because he had to shop and cook on his own while I was away, not to mention clean house and do laundry, Al has no problem eating my leftovers. What has stayed with me from Florida aside from a more relaxed attitude toward menus and shopping is that my idea of what it means to be a good wife has undergone some serious revision. And that makes me pretty happy.
Yesterday, Time magazine had a little item tucked into its pages saying Stephen Hawking believes we have about 100 years to find a new planet to call home before global warming makes Earth uninhabitable. Such a little piece, such a big story. Well, unless you don’t believe in global warming. (I do.) Or you don’t believe in science. (I do.) Or you don’t think Stephen Hawking is all that smart. (He’s a genius, one of a handful of the most brilliant minds in the world.)
This little fact about global warming chills me. 100 years isn’t that long. And our new president doesn’t believe in global warming or spending money or resources on trying to stop rapid climate change. He’s already overturned, or is in the process of overturning, just about all the safeguards Obama put in place to clean up Earth and reverse climate change.
100 years. I have a new grand baby coming next month. She’ll be my third, the first girl in our family in generations. My mom was the only girl, I was her only girl, and I had two sons, no girls. Then my sons (or rather their wives!) each had babies, both boys. So we’ve been waiting awhile for this little lady. In her lifetime, with all the health and medical advances, she may expect to live to age 100 and beyond. But will she be able to afford the ticket to Mars or wherever humanity will go once our own planet is uninhabitable? I’m thinking of my grandsons, too. They’re still toddlers. Will they be the last generation of children born on Earth?
This world can be a terrible place to live. Famine, genocide, war. But it is also beautiful: meadows, sea, sky. Skyscrapers, medical miracles, love. You. Me. Everybody else. And obviously it’s the only planet we’ve got. For about a hundred years, if Hawking got the science right. I have great faith in science and scientific genius, so I feel that the chances are good when Hawking says 100 years, he’s not kidding.
I’m disturbed and upset, but part of me wonders if his warning will change anything. Is there hope for us if we start to clean up our act right now? Because as far as I know, nobody’s really looking seriously at moving the entire population of this planet to Mars. And I’m betting if we do find somewhere to go, the price of a ticket will be beyond the means of most people. I see the rich people packing their diamonds and furs, but what about everybody else?
The day my first baby was born, my mother visited us in the hospital. She brought cigarettes. I had stopped smoking for nine months, and I hadn’t intended to start again. But Mom was being thoughtful by bringing me cigarettes, so in order not to hurt her feelings, I lit up.
Sounds crazy. I risked my health and the health of my children so as not to say no to my mother. Her approval meant a lot and I knew how easily she could take it away. I had to be very careful to never displease her, even if it meant doing something that my brain told me was a bad idea.
I didn’t quite trust my own mind back then. There was suspicion buried deep in my heart that I wasn’t very smart. Or good. The only way anybody was ever going to love stupid bad me was if I did everything I could to make them happy. And also, if I did everything I could to make others happy, I would at least be good, if not smart.
Then time went on and I realized I was pretty smart in some ways. Didn’t that cum laude on the college diploma say so? Didn’t the second degree, earned at night while teaching all day, reinforce I was good at something? Still…giving myself a break was always a challenge, because I believed that pleasing others was the way to be good. If you thought about yourself first, well, that was selfish.
This crazy-ass philosophy of life stopped making sense to me at some point. Or so I thought. Then I took an inventory a few months ago that to my surprise revealed I was still had a tendency to say yes when I yearned to say no. I still had some assumptions about self-care that needed tending. Like the one that goes “I will honor my commitments.”
I have a very hard time letting other people down. I’d rather suck it up and do the job I signed up for, even if the circumstances around it had changed and doing the job would cause me serious grief. Maybe because in some way following through on every commitment, even those that had run out of gas and just weren’t good for me anymore, still made me feel better about myself. If I quit, people would boo me. If I stayed, people would admire me and say “Isn’t she fabulous? How could we ever do it without her?”
Except. Wanting admiration from others more than tending to self-care is like smoking a cigarette you don’t want just to impress somebody else.
Yesterday I took part in an election in an organization I’ve belonged to for nine years. I knew there was a person in power who is an admitted homophobe; she actually wanted us to put a note on the new membership page saying we would read no gay or lesbian material. The board voted that down. One of her more ridiculous comments was “all gay writing is porn.”
So we, the other members of the board, had to do some educating–about what gay literature is and is not, about civil liberties, and about how she was kinda asking us to break the law because she thinks it’s a sin to be gay.
This morning, after a night of reflection and reading, I resigned from that organization because this person remains on the board and with the election shaking out the way it did, I had little hope she would be ousted any time soon.
The irony is I worked in harmony with this woman for eight years before she began making racist and homophobic statements to not just the board, but to me privately. Be careful who you befriend, my friends. Sometimes they are hiding a darker side. I’m not sure why her darkness has started seeping out now, but I am sure that I want no truck with it.
So I’m done with that volunteer position on which I spent so much time and energy and moving on to better things. Hate has no place in my heart or my life.
My great-grandmother read the tarot to feed her large family during the Great Depression. It is thought that she had carried this knowledge with her from the old country. Some family stories whisper that she was born a gypsy. Thus, reading Tarot comes naturally to me. While my mother used regular playing cards to read my fortune when I was a girl, I started on my own with a dedicated tarot deck bought from the bookstore.
The first thing I noticed is that there are 22 cards in a tarot deck that are not in your normal deck of modern cards. These major arcana are such a big deal in reading tarot that I’m unsure how my mother ever produced a reading without them. Mom gave up reading the cards long ago, and apart from saying she forgets, she’s been quiet on the subject.
In fact, Sallie Nichols, author of Jung and Tarot: An Archetypal Journey, only explores the 22 major arcana. She explains that these cards, with their overt symbology, are projections of our unconscious. She also says, as the title of her almost 400 page book suggests, that the cards follow a journey or life path. They are really all we need to point us in the direction we need to go whenever we seek guidance.
I hadn’t thought about Tarot for awhile when I came across this cool post by my friend Autumn. She suggests one card, or just a few cards, can be enough of a spread to enlighten a particular area of difficulty. So this morning I unearthed a set of cards and went about trying to figure how to make a card “fall” from the deck as Autumn suggests.
This happened in its own unique way as I first separated out the major arcana, somehow between writing this post, shuffling the cards, and reading Nichols, Star Woman appeared at the top of my deck. The problem I’ve been dealing with has to do with the humbling of my public image. Where I thought I was doing good work on behalf of an organization I volunteer for, I heard elsewhere that I wasn’t pleasing everyone. At least one person was spreading unkind rumors about me. If you notice Star Woman is naked, well, this is how it feels to be exposed in such a way. It’s humiliatng. Yet Star Woman appears humble. The little bird sings her praises as she becomes one with the elements of earth and sky and water. There is no fire of indignation about her. She has dropped her stance of feeling hurt, feeling betrayed, and stands naked in the starlight. She has nothing to hide, she is at peace, as the elements of the conscious mind and the unconscious knowing come together to create a more aware and integrated woman.
A few days ago my Facebook account got hacked. This is not the first stupid problem I’ve been losing sleep over this week. I keep wondering if I’m trying too hard to please others. Amy Morin certainly thinks I have that tendency, and she’s shown me ways to correct that weakness of character. I’m going to be better about screening my Facebook friends. And so it goes with writing friends. I am in a few wonderful writing groups, but one local organization has been in turmoil lately. Along with many other good people, I have been dragged into it.
Sometimes, no matter how I try to be helpful, no matter how good my intention, people still direct their disapproval and even anger toward me. In my head, that’s okay. Can’t please everyone, right? Not everyone is going to love me or see my good intentions no matter how much time and effort I expend on their behalf. But wow in my heart it hurts, particularly when someone I once trusted backstabs and betrays me.
This is where I have to weigh it out. There are over a hundred people in this organization, and as far as I know only three or four are deliberately maligning me and my friends. I still have a role to play there. If I just quit, I will be betraying one of my key values, which is behaving ethically in all situations. Many good people are counting on me to finish out my commitments. It goes against my values to simply walk away because it’s the easy thing to do.
Amy Morin says people pleasers feel responsible for how other people feel. Check. People pleasers self-worth often depends on how others perceive them. Check. People pleasers thrive on praise and reassurances from others. Check. We would rather do things we dislike than risk conflict. Check.
As I transition out of “people pleaser” mode, I have learned to refer to my list of core values and assess from there. Sometimes that means being willing to tolerate uncomfortable emotions. Morin says being very clear on your values helps figure out if you are in people pleaser mode or if you are staying true to yourself. Do you know your values and their priority in your life? If not, make a list. Here’s mine.
Physical and mental health
Always behaving ethically
Feeling connected to family and friends
Sense of purpose (writing)
Looking at my list with my core values in mind, I can clearly see my connection to friends and family through FB. I’ve formed strong connections and friendships in my writing groups, too. These connections also foster the sense of purpose writing gives my life. It’s worth it to me to hang in there, despite the discomfort, at least for now. And there are things I can do starting now to stand up for my values with the few troublesome folks in my writing community. There are ways I can say NO to them without saying NO to the organization.
Morin says self-confidence increases once you begin making all decisions with your core values in mind. She also includes other perks like having more time to devote to the things that really matter to you, cultivating healthier relationships, and increasing will power. In my case this translates into having time to work on physical and mental health by doing things like walking, yoga, dancing and developing positive habits of mind, not to mention more time for writing. It means the friendships I make going forward will be stronger and less likely to come back and bite me, and, I hope it also means I will be sleeping soundly instead of spending the wee hours ruminating on a silly social media issue or a truly awful and unfair real life situation.
Home in Michigan now. The biggest unexpected thing I learned, something I never thought about, was that I have too much stuff. When we went down to Florida, we had a set of dishes, a television and a little desk. My dad had left us a sofa and a kitchen set. Also a bottle of wine and two coffee cups. That was all we had.
We knew we needed stuff, so we hit Costco for silverware and lamps. Then we bought a bedroom set and were dismayed to learn it wouldn’t come for two weeks. We had also brought down an inflatable mattress, which wasn’t too bad for a week, but by week two, we were ready for a real mattress. And pillows.
I got the basic kitchen stuff and added to it as needed. I’d clipped an article about “the only cleaning apparatus you’ll ever need” and I bought those. (Microfiber cloths, steamer mop for ceramic tiles, and vacuum for carpets). We painted the important rooms. Got cable. I bought a book cabinet and then books to fill it:) Except for art and picture frames, we were done.
And for three months, I was fine. I had everything I needed. Then I came home and was overwhelmed when I opened a cabinet or closet. So much food! Bowls! Glassware! Clothing! The basement could be another little house for someone; it’s full of stuff we do not need and will never use. I am going to be paring down significantly, but there’s a problem named Al.
Al had a slight tendency to hoard things. To “sell” someday. Or to “fix” or because it’s “cool” and a “classic.” The basement and his loft office here are Al’s territory. I cannot get rid of anything in those rooms. But I can go through my kitchen and my closet. And I know now living with less is somehow more.
7 weeks and 5 days. That’s how long we’d been apart. I don’t know what I was expecting when Al arrived, except to feel relief and happiness. That’s how I felt, but all too fleetingly. He came in at night, and we had our first argument a few hours later. It had to do with me wanting to stay in Florida longer next year. He said something rude and I snapped back and we went to bed without saying sorry. First night!
It happened again the next night and the night after that I picked a silly fight over nothing. I vented for about five or six pages in my journal and started to notice I was going over all the ways he’d let me down over the years. I stopped and went to bed, third night in a row with no kiss goodnight. We always kiss goodnight. What the hell was happening with us?
The next morning I remembered a book I’d been reading by Amy Morin…one of the things mentally strong people do not do is dwell on the past. There’s a check list with every chapter and I’d come out as needing to work on that. (Out of the 13 Things, I need to work on 6 of them!) So I reread the chapter and noticed that dwelling on the past means there are unsolved issues that need to be cleared up.
I realized that I was angry with Al not because of the past but because next year we were supposed to be here for four or five months together. He was supposed to retire at the end of 2017. When he told me he’d decided to work a few more years, I immediately buried the hurt and rejection I felt because I wanted to be supportive of him in his career as he had always been of me with both writing and teaching. I didn’t even realize I’d bottled it up.
Instead I waited until he got here and picked on him about stupid shit. Finally that 4th morning, I told him how hurt and upset I was about him not being with me next winter. He started to remind me that we always supported the others’ work decisions. I said “I know and agree, but that’s in my head. In my heart, it hurts.”
Al did not say “that’s it, I’m retiring tomorrow.” He’s still got his plan, which is fuzzy and depends on when his auto plant actually closes down. I hate having the future be so unclear, but I do know I can’t abide another Michigan winter. It has been more lovely here than I ever could have imagined. I did just fine on my own, something I would never have suspected. I’m dreading going back to Michigan in a few days. That’s probably not very mentally strong of me, because mentally strong people do not fear change, but at least I am admitting the problem. And I’m working on it.
Sometimes I get in trouble. I never mean to, because I dislike conflict. So I try to get along with people, but I am a liberal, so if someone tells a racist joke or utters a homophobic remark, I might say something. Sometimes I just walk away, other times I’ll say, “you might not know you’re telling a racist joke” or “I support the LTBGQ community.” I don’t hide my ethics or values, and I very much dislike when bullies gang up on good people.
I am the program director for Detroit Working Writers, an organization I’ve served since 2008 in many different capacities. I’m currently program director: I find seasoned, well-published people within the organization (or they find me) who want to give workshops to the membership. I’ve been doing this since being appointed by President Carl Anthony in late 2015. Naturally now that I live in Florida part of the year, I’ve had to resign.
Meanwhile, I’m trying to finish out the workshops and other events I’ve scheduled. I also have had lots of interest in others who want to give workshops. Really talented people who have won awards for their writing, been nominated for Pushcarts, and just really good folks who want to help our members reach their dreams. But I’m not planning any workshops for 2018.
So. Dilemma. Then I met with our president and said “Can we utilize this talent with a conference?” DWW has had an annual conference for several years, but the board had not been enthusiast. Nobody wanted to chair an event that takes a lot of work to pull off. So President Carl and I decided we’d do the work required and Carl got two other members who are not on the board to help. We have a conference committee. This 2017 conference will be the last event I’ll participate in for DWW. Because I love Florida so much I’m going to be here even longer next year.
But also because our board has become divided, which is normal. Despite my once held belief that all writers are liberal, that’s not actually true. You have your liberals and conservations in writing circles too. So the board is currently at odds which is awkward for me. I’m in Florida, away from the fray for the moment. I wish I could stay here forever.
Despite the fact that periodically I had to stoop to their level when my weight got out of control and my doctor started talking about diabetes, I used to think people who continuously made the care and feeding and exercising of their bodies top priority were missing something. I pitied them because I had an idea of their sad motives: vanity and fear of death.
This was not my first stupid idea, but it’s been the most persistent.
It’s not a secret: I love to write. Writing is a reliable friend, words knit me together, there is safety in sentences. Everything else is black and white, writing is color. I used to say I’d write until I died, and I still believe that, but in the past few months I’ve gotten way more laid back about the whole writing thing. I recently stopped writing morning pages. I just didn’t want to do them anymore. Maybe the urge to take pen in hand before the first cup of tea is done brewing will come back, maybe it won’t. Either way, I’m cool with it.
Contentment, I’ve learned, comes in more ways than one. The gym rats knew a few things all along that I never guessed. Like how much mood improves with exercise. Yes, I “knew” this, just thought it didn’t particularly apply to me. I had the creative person exemption.
Turns out, sunshine helps color my world, too, way more than I ever dreamed during the frozen Michigan winters. I think I might have had S.A.D. my whole life, but it felt normal, so I didn’t know any different. The Florida sun has lit me up in new ways. Ways that have me thinking that maybe writing doesn’t fix everything wrong in a life. Maybe all of it can be in color. With palm trees and pink flamingos.
Thousands of self-help books later, the truth dawned because I did a geographic. My good life comes not just from exercising creative muscles but by balancing body and mind. By walking out there in the world with my own two legs. Working on my physical self for my mental health might not be the ultimate vanity project. It might in fact be the next right thing to do until I die.