Keep That Hunger


Eleven years ago today, I got off of Route 40 in Flagstaff, took I17 south, and headed home to a place I had never lived.

One night, a few weeks later, while sitting alone in my apartment, I said to myself, “I can’t visualize my life, going forward; but also- I can’t imagine going back.”

A few days later, I met Craig.

~

A year ago, I walked out on a profession I had spent 15 years building. 

With no plan.

I sat with the uncertainty. I faced all the fears. I melted into the sadness. And then one night, I said, “I’m a writer.”

I called a grant writer I happened to know and I said- I need you to help me get to where you are.

This led to a second opportunity. This time I busted through the door for the interview, placed my hand on my heart, and said, “Writing is my art.” 

A week later she called me and said- Come back here and help us do this thing.

Late Wednesday afternoon, a VP I didn’t know looked at me during the middle of a meeting, and said, “So. I’ve heard you’re a writer.”

I swallowed the excess saliva that had overcome my mouth, sat up in my chair, and said, “Yes. What do you need done.” 

Don’t give up on your journey just because you keep falling off the train and your shoelaces are caught on the track.

Follow the trail of bread crumbs home.

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The Momentum of Being Lost

  
I’ve been lost. Okay. Many, many times. I’ve been lost in my personal life and my professional life, and in both cases I’ve found a few fundamentals to be true. 

1). Being lost is the single most mojo-threatening yet hopeful state of existence. It promises nothing, hopes everything, and swings back and forth on the hinges of faith.

2). Settling isn’t ever the answer. Settling has a powerful draw. Arguably a logical one. But the basic tenet of fit-ness remains ; if it’s not right, you’re just killing time. And your spirit.

3). Every time I’ve thought I had it figured out, I ran the risk of being very, very wrong. Take a look at the many parallels between finding a relationship that “fits” as well as an employment opportunity that “fits.” Years ago, I sat with a couple of then colleagues (who then became some of my closest friends) and we tore open this hypothesis we’d come to that the relationship you have with your work is much the same as the relationship you have with your significant other. Is this a good fit? Do the pros outweigh the cons? Can we laugh together? Are our hearts in sync? Do we share the same vision? Can we grow old together? Or will we crash and burn, scraping ourselves off the pavement with a pervasive confusion and partly inevitable binge ice cream eating after all is said and done. 

4). I have been professionally lost. For…. well a really long year now. I’ve tried some things, always well intended; only to find that they were not my soulmate. I mean a job is a job. Right? No one likes their work. Right? Well. After a year of this mess, I’m not sure it’s that simple. 

5). This month I tried three new things, simultaneously. One crashed and burned immediately. It didn’t only just scrape away at my layers of defensiveness. It didn’t promise to teach me any sound lessons. Instead it immediately shouted THIS IS NOT FOR YOU, my dear love. Walk away. And walking away is not a class act feeling. It burns through every layer of my sense of self. But as soon as I noticed my flesh was literally ON FIRE, I grabbed a hose, cooled down my skin, and threw the papers across the room. Don’t do the thing that sets your skin on fire. You’re going for soul on fire. Not skin.

6. So, exhausted, I brushed the burning embers into the fireplace and I reached my heart out. Again. Only this time I reached out to the one opportunity that has been feeling the BEST of all of them. All along. And I said, “what more can I take off your plate this week.” And that was it.

7. And then, magic. I got a reply so full of passion, so full of love. A reply of appreciation, of trust, of gratitude. And so I put the rest of my pile down. And I turned to face this reply. And I picked it up, and I held it. And I looked at it. And I felt it. 

8. And I decided- this is the one. This one is my baby, my partner, my selection. This is the one that gets me. The one that wants to hear what I think, what I believe in, and wants to read what I write. 

9. So, to my other my friends who are lost, I tell you this. Just like not settling in finding a partner; don’t settle in finding your career. Or your next career. It’s as much about fit as anything has ever been. Life keeps rolling no matter what, but you owe it to yourself to fall in love. With your work. 

Lost is the best place to begin. Don’t be afraid. Float.

Raising Memories

  
I grew up on along the Jersey shore. Not literally, but close enough. So many summer memories from childhood right up through college and beyond involve those hot, sticky sand days and boardwalk nights. They are memories that define me, candle scents I search for and harshly critique, and rolling ocean sounds that I can still hear in my head.

I didn’t expect to grow up and move 2,000 miles away. And more than that, I didn’t expect those memories to represent home to me for the rest of my life in the way that they do.

That said, I’m raising my daughter in the desert. Not literally, but close enough. And sometimes I feel palpably saddened for her to think that she isn’t growing up… well, the exact same way I did. 

Which is of course, ridiculous. Because they don’t. Not completely anyway. Times change, things ebb and flow. She’s growing up in an entirely different world. Faster paced, sure. But that’s not quite what I’m getting at. She’s growing up in the world of Spring Training up the street, fire pits and marshmallow roasting during the winter, and “driving to the snow.” 

She can look in through the gates at Sloan Park and see the next Cubs pitcher warming up on the practice mound; like it’s Little League practice. She can look off into the distance in literally any direction and see mountains just a few miles away. And on a lucky winter’s day, some of them white-capped. 

She can ride “up north” to visit any season at all, and see fall trees and sledding, skiing and mittens. She can pop out back any evening from October through May and ask if we can “do a fire tonight.” 

Maybe the grass here in the desert isn’t always green, and when it is; maybe it shouldn’t be. Maybe our front yard is gravel and our summer heat scathes the paint off her backyard toys. Maybe she’ll never wake up to a snow day. Maybe she won’t grow up with cool summer nights.

But she’ll have high energy Spring Training crowds up the street and all over town. And beautiful winters and campfire marshmallows out back. She’ll grow up understanding only certain shady summer trees can grow in the desert, and that they’re special and rare. Maybe it’s not about giving her my memories, but making space for her to make her own.

  

Let the Light in

  
Don’t marry someone just because dating them has been super exciting; it’s not always going to be. Sometimes you’ll be holding a bowl in front of them, waiting for vomit, and wondering how long until your own will come up.

Don’t search for a partner based on the life he or she can provide you with, it could all be gone in an instant. You know that.

It’s not about the ring (though mine brutally kicks ass), the baby count, or the square footage. It’s not the clock ticking, the race to the finish line, or the prepping to take the world’s most beautiful photograph.  

It’s about finding the one person who is willing to show you who they are, when the chips are down. 

It’s about them knowing you’re going to tell them the truth when they need to hear it most. And it’s okay because it’s why they asked you to begin with. 

You don’t have to always be up together and you don’t need to be always down together, and I’ll be damned if one more person says the best way to do this hard part of life thing is to just “take turns.”

Do it because of love. Do it because you laugh at the same stupid stuff and because you can freely admit you hate how the other one chews or breathes or folds their shirts. 

Do it because when the world suddenly goes dark and you find yourself furiously slapping the wall trying to find the light, you’ll know that’s the moment when nothing else matters.

And do it for the moment when the light suddenly switches back on, and then watch the scene in omnipresent distance; as you both tip your heads back in laughter. And relief.

Do it for the light.

  

The Story of Who I Am (now).

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The words. All the words. And the sentences they belong in. I need to find the matches.

But they’re all over the floor.

They’re piling up against the wall, falling over on top of me even while I sleep. I don’t have the time to sort through them so I keep shoving them and stacking them back up; desperately holding out a disciplinary hand and asking them to “just stop! Stop!” moving. They glance at me quickly, with the sass of an undisciplined child that I know too well, and hop on their word-tushes and slide down the stack at an angle just precise enough to smack me right in the face.

The words, they have a story to tell. And I’m sorry to say, the story isn’t for you.

It’s for me. 

And before I share it, let me just also say; I don’t know what the story is yet. I want to be clear about this because it’s a little secret I’ve known my whole life but only just discovered; I don’t know what I’m going to say until I read it. And I’m pretty sure that’s true for you too, maybe you just haven’t realized it yet either. And this is important, because writing is as much about the reader going on the adventure as it is the writer leading the way.

So I’ve got the words in my bag (I had to grab a trash bag because they wouldn’t all fit into a purse with any kind of dignity). Here we go.

I asked my eighty-year old self if it had anything to say to me this afternoon. Okay no, this is what really happened. The kiddos were napping and I was reading/writing, while keeping close tabs on their restless but settling little legs banging against their cots, their need to feel a hand on the small of their back just one more time before drifting off to sleep, and surveying the scene to see if anyone needed to be stared at uselessly by me while they coughed. So once they settled, this is what I wrote-

Dear Lisa, from 80 year old you.

(Pause. Hesitation. Brain freeze. Uncertainty about everything I’ve ever done and said in my life… and then finally-)

“You were afraid, weren’t you; that I wasn’t here. That the truth would come out that it actually all made no sense in the end. Because that’s the real threat, isn’t it. That it all wouldn’t just be a series of twists and turns in a life of purpose, but rather; a straight up loss. Straight up mistakes, straight up failure, and straight up shame. You were afraid I wasn’t here watching, but I am.”

And, that was it. Like a visit from a long-lost loved one in a dream, she was gone. Just like that.

But something weird happened right after this. I turned to a blank page in the back of the book I was reading, and I added this-

I have always been a compilation of who I’ve been. Nothing changes that. The story belongs to me.

I have something to learn, wherever I am today. And if I don’t see it, it’s because I’m afraid to.

I used to think the hardest thing was to take a step back. To bow out for a while from the story you’ve been telling yourself about who you are. But here’s the secret that hides beneath that; every time I step back I have a choice to make. Do I fight against this, with all my might. Do I yell and kick and scream that this doesn’t fit The Story of Who I’ve Always Been. Or do I sit my ass down, take a look around, and listen. The hardest part isn’t when you disappoint yourself. The hardest part is when you realize you have been the one building the walls that surround you.

Why is this brick here?! Who’s been mixing cement?! Who’s in charge here? Hello? Can I speak to the owner of this establishment please? There are bricks all around me! And they keep getting higher. Yes. I know. It’s perplexing to me too. Would you look at that, now there’s cement on my hands, I demand to know what’s going on at once! There is a wall growing higher around me, I’ve got cement all over my hands, on my clothes, in my hair, and all I was doing was standing here. Telling everyone about how smart I was. And how seasoned. And experienced. And accomplished. Someone needs to remove this wall immediately. This is unacceptable!

I look around.

I’m alone.

Everyone has gone home for the night. I’m the one standing in hardening cement, by myself, throwing an ego-laced tantrum.

When you’ve got the chance to let yourself down, do it. Then wipe the crap off your hands, the egg off your face, and clear the page for a new chapter; The Story of Who I Am Now.

 

 

 

Writer’s Un-Block

  
Something short of the precise opposite of writer’s block is happening to me. I was originally going at a manageable pace that I could bang out one of these pieces between one to three times a week, but now I’m just inundated with mental word piles. It’s a little like racing home when you’ve really got to go to the potty. 

Yeah. I just wrote that. 

So now, while I try and figure out which the heck gasket is leaking in my brain, I’ve been just making notes in my phone instead. I don’t want to lose a thought, but these are not quite ready yet. They still need to sit in a bowl in the fridge with a towel over them.

I have about fifteen towel covered bowls in my brain fridge right now. 

I didn’t even know I had a brain fridge. 

This morning I did my daughter’s hair for the first time since Christmas morning.

Alright calm down. I bathe her. Ok. Her hair gets brushed. I just leave before dawn and my hubby has learned to do the low pony tail and I don’t get to really do it anymore. 

And I missed it. And I miss her. I now work the longest day I’ve ever worked since she was born. I had it really, really easy there for a good long while. 

But now we smell each other when I get home. I’m sure this is fine. It’s biology. It’s motherhood. Or something. But we do. I drop my keys and sit down on the floor in basically the garage, and we just hug.

And then she takes off across the house to the kitchen, and loudly submits her application for something in the fridge that daddy has already repeatedly told her “no” about. 

The (brain?) fridge is like an endless list of options but with vaguely defined rules. 

Some kind of dough is rising in there. 

But for now I’m just gonna turn out the light and go to bed.

Above All Do No Harm

I was ten years old, standing on my cousin’s bed in New Jersey. For the record we were only standing so that we could see our slouch socks in her mirror, carefully layering them to make sure they were perfectly fluffed. The pink on top and yellow on the bottom on the right foot, and then the yellow on bottom and pink one on top on the left. We wobbled a bit, balancing on the twin sized bed. The sun was setting behind us in the window, casting a shadow across the bedroom that forced her to turn on the light. There was still time. 

We looked up. Ran a quick check on our bangs, and we were good.  “I’m going to be a doctor or a scientist or a mathematician,” she said to me with confidence, “What do you want to be when we grow up.”

I plopped back down onto her bed, “I’m going to be a psychologist,” I told her. I imagined myself brooding over textbooks and autobiographies of famous psychologists. She leaned back on the pillow and probably envisioned drawing complex math problems on a university wall.

We looked at one another and nodded in agreement. It was a plan. 

Before I go forward; the funny thing, the funniest thing of all- is that it turned out we were exactly right. 

I dragged my dad to old bookstores and begged him to buy me books on psychology. He showed me names I had never heard of, who created theories I would soon rattle off of my tongue for the rest of my life. I read as we walked out of the store. I read on the car ride home. I read with the rain pouring down the window in my own room, and I felt the stirrings of something good. Something real. Important. Admirable. Brilliant. Dusty worn out pages do that to a young kid. It had been decided. I was going to spend my life thinking about thinking. But really- thinking about people. And my heart soared.

I could spend pages talking about heartbreak. But I don’t need pages. I only need one.

Psychology was my first love. And it broke my heart. What began as a beautiful thing got so quickly watered down. Now, ok, hang on. Everyone who has ever wanted to help others knows that their heart is true. It’s why you’re there to begin with. But as the years rolled by and the pages turned and my coursework piled up, it didn’t become stronger, it became looser. By the time I got to college my love had strayed so far from its original roots. And my heart ached for the loss. Do I think Freud had it right at go? Ha. No. Not even. He just took a stance and helped us get the ball rolling. I wrote papers upon papers agreeing and disagreeing with every God given theory I had ever come across. That was the journey, it was the process. It was to make inroads in my mind until I found the place where it all made sense for me. And it was beautiful.

But we shredded it. We watered it down. We supplied no money for the field to grow to accommodate the changing times the way we needed it to. And now, I’m not proud of it anymore. Now I hear myself saying condescending things, I hear myself echoing vacant comments when loved ones are going through the worst times of their lives. I find myself using the verbiage and the theory to shield myself from the real time pain others are feeling. 

A grief counselor told my husband last week, “Now just remember…!!! You need to be modeling how to grieve, for your daughter!!!” 

In medicine they say, “Above all, do no harm.” 

Now that statement up there two sentences ago, no matter how well-intentioned; did harm. 

We talk about taking care of our bodies, but our minds deserve to be taken care of with equally careful measure. 

I stepped away from this work because it had been my first love, and it had broken my heart. I didn’t grow the way my clients deserved. I didn’t feel that I was doing justice to this work in the paperwork high, insurancely motivated world we live in now. And I stepped away. 

But we know the truth- our hearts and our minds ACHE. And our hearts and our minds impact our bodies. We know this. And we have got to do better. Because this work isn’t just for the early traumatized child anymore, it’s for every damn one of us.