A Happier 2017 – Be Yourself

One of Rubin’s resounding messages in her book and blog is to “Be Gretchen” – meaning, of course, to be who YOU are at the core. Yesterday’s Page A Day calendar spelled it out with a bit more verbosity: “It is essential to happiness that our way of living should spring from our own deep impulses and not from the accidental tastes and desires of those who happen to be our neighbors, or even our relations.” (Bertrand Russell)

In our oversharing society it can be all to easy to mistake another’s goals, dreams, and visions for your own. Seeing a photo or reading a story about an amazing trip, location, or adventure can absolutely inspire us to want to recreate it – and that’s great! It’s good to learn more about the world around us. However, it’s important to focus on doing what you TRULY want to do. If all your friends are going to Cuba because it’s hip now, but you don’t speak Spanish and you’ve been dying to hike through Japan…then go to Japan, Instagram hashtags be damned.

And on a smaller scale, don’t waste your time reading books you don’t like.

Most of the time – I would say probably 92% of the time – I finish absolutely every book or movie I pick up. I strongly dislike leaving anything unfinished, regardless of whether I like the characters or storyline. I feel even if I disagree with an author or director, I’ll have something to discuss with others after the fact. However, I occasionally come across some I can’t get into, no matter how hard I try – this is coming from the woman who spent a considerable amount of time one year reading books on string theory and quantum physics just to attempt to grasp the theories.

Last night I was pumped to begin reading a book about the history of vegetarianism in America, especially since I’d just posted about my personal history of vegetarianism. I got comfy, opened the page, and dug in. The introduction alone put me off – an awful lot of references to religion and religious leaders. The author’s bio at the end of the intro confirmed a position as a professor of theology. Okay – it’s not my jam, but I can learn something from most people. I pressed on to Chapter 1.

It was the shortest chapter in the book and I couldn’t book it down fast enough. I made myself finish the chapter but I could do no more. The book touched on Pythagoras and a handful of other non-religion-based historical vegetarians, but the vast majority were Christian vegetarians. I have no problem with vegetarians of any faith (nor lack thereof), but I was expecting to read about how vegetarianism took shape with early settlers due to growing conditions and crops, not how early settlers came to America to escape religiously-based vegetarianism persecution. No thanks. I’d recently read Square Meal: A Culinary History of the Great Depression and was expecting something of similar quality and scope. Not so with the book on vegetarianism.

I put it down at the end of the chapter and returned it to the library this morning. I could have read it, but I gave myself permission to stop because it wasn’t enriching my life. I have other books on hand to dive into (John Muir, anyone?) and if I’m going to devote a few hours of my life to learning something, I’d like to enjoy the subject at hand.

Be yourself. Give yourself permission not to do what everyone else is doing. Give yourself permission to change your mind on something if you find it’s not to your liking – that’s the only way we can grow.

How many days until…

Each year I set some personal goals for myself. I wouldn’t consider them “resolutions” so much as achievements. I started with my 30 Before 30 list. Although I try to keep my annual list more manageable (and smaller) these days, my goals are meant to better my life, help narrow my focus and drown out the noise, and to hold myself accountable for what I truly want in life.

Can you guess where this is going? As we close in on the end of 2016, I’ve accomplished many of my goals. Some I’ve modified along the way – which I did even with my 30 Before 30 list. I think it’s important to be flexible as information and circumstances change. But it’s also important not to change a goal because I couldn’t be bothered to put any effort into it. For example, it doesn’t look like I’ll get to use my passport this year, but I will be taking the longest trip (both in flight time and vacation time) I’ve ever taken when we head to Hawaii next week. So, goal modified.

But what have I been slacking on?

I wanted to create at least one new blog post per week. This would come to 52 posts by the end of the year. I have a considerable amount of work to do in this department. I’m going to need to get creative and harness my time. I have plenty of ideas – I even separated my photos into “photos to print” and “photos for blog posts” last week – but I haven’t been putting in the effort.

I’m typing this on my phone while it’s slow at work. I can use this time to write – even a little – instead of googling which dinosaurs used to live in North America or reading another biased news article. These mobile posts won’t be my most eloquent but they’ll get the job done – and most importantly, they’ll get me writing more often. I’ll get better at writing when I even have a few spare minutes.

Sometimes I’m bad at starting because I’m not ready or the project isn’t perfect. I hesitate to show any vulnerability. But I’m human, and my life isn’t perfect, and these goals are for me.

So here we go, you last little bit of 2016. I have to write 29 more posts (excluding this one) in 47 days. Totally feasible. I’m now publicly holding myself accountable.

How do you keep yourself on track when the going gets tough or you’re not sure you can continue because it’s not perfect?

Memoirs of a Slacker

Last spring I signed up for a memoir class at the local college that started in June. I’ve been working on my book since I was living it but haven’t done much in the way of formatting, editing, or adding to it since I finished the Arizona sections upon completion of the list. I know I need to do it. The book isn’t going to write itself, and although many things have happened in the years since I turned 30, this story is a memoir of one specific year in my life. I’ve struggled with figuring out how to weave the items on the list together in a cohesive manner and how to make my reader care enough about me and my goals to keep turning the page. I’ve also struggled with whether I really learned enough to make it a true and compelling memoir. I haven’t traveled internationally in over a year now, and I’m not a diplomat (we’ll discuss the current state of American politics another time), and I’m not working to make the world a better place, and I’m barely making music. What happened to those big dreams? What happened to what I learned that year?

The memoir class was awesome, and just the kick in the pants I needed to get back to writing the book. In class I wrote a rough draft of a section of the book I’d been afraid to write this whole time. “What if my grandma reads it?” I’d wonder. Well, there was a delightful 82-year-old woman in class who told me she wants a copy of the book after I read that section aloud. There’s my answer. “What if writing about how I crossed 30 things off a to-do list isn’t very exciting?” Well, the professor actually inhaled an “Oh, that’s good!”when we went around and discussed our topics. After we took turns sharing in class and giving feedback, I remembered not only do I have a story to tell, but I’m telling it to connect with others. At my core, that’s what I am: a communicator. I communicate words, music, ideas, stories, solutions. I try to connect with others. Maybe that stems from often feeling like a loner or like I was just on the fringes, never really part of the action (until I made the action happen when I was 29).

my poor handwriting from a non-list-related piece I wrote in class
my poor handwriting from a non-list-related piece I wrote in class

I also had to face up to the fact that I was the only thing holding me back. I’ve been choosing to browse around online instead of writing my own story. Both acts involve staring at the screen, but one is active and the other is very passive. (I’ve also been taking a class online about music/arts and social action – maybe that’s helping motivate me too. Writing is an art…) I’d like to lead an active life. I don’t want life to just happen to me. If I want to write a book, I need to write the damn book. If I want to book a ticket to somewhere new to me, I need to put up the credit card. I know that wherever I have ended up in life has always been because of myself and my choices, and I need to get back on track to make better choices.

I’m the type of person who thrives on having goals and checklists – probably why my 30 Before 30 list worked out so well. When things are up in the air it can be really challenging for me to focus my energy on any one area and I tend to feel stagnant even when going in a million directions. Right now we’re trying to figure out our next move, but since a lightning bolt has yet to appear with a flashing sign saying “you two are supposed to move to New Zealand and own a winery” or something similar, we’re weighing our goals and dreams with our options. But just because I don’t know where we’re headed I can’t stop writing about what I’ve already done. I lived it. I turned 30. I had those experiences, and I’m not really honoring the person I became through that year by letting the writing take up space on my hard drive.

So here we are, after I’ve barely posted for the month I was taking the memoir class, and I’m publicly renewing my goal to make at least one blog post per week (as an average, by the end of the year…clearly I’ll have some catching up to do). I’m not telling myself how long they have to be or what they have to cover, but I need to write. My professor suggested even 20 minutes a day will get the cobwebs out of our brains and help us focus on what we actually, really, truly want to say. I can most definitely find 20 minutes most days that I’d otherwise squander on clickbait and recipe-planning. But I like goals and to-do lists, so it’s my concrete goal:

Average 1 blog post per week for the year of 2016. That means 52 posts by the end of December.

Good luck to me.

Mini mobile posting

I have a spare 20 minutes before I need to head to my piano student but I’ve already left the office for the day. Not enough time to go home, I can’t go get a snack with my Invisalign in, the weather is threatening another thunderstorm, so what’s a woman to do? I’m reclined in my car, typing this post on my phone to try to make good use of my time.

My good friend Ashley made a solid point in a comment last week and it got me thinking. We’ve both spent years alone, having adventures, and breaking ourselves out of our comfort zones. We’ve tried new things and gone to new places by ourselves. I started to think about the evolution of travel, my aversion to the idea of “authentic travel”, and the allure of excitement our generation seems to seek.

Travel has changed so much in the last century. Airplanes? A man on the moon? A car in nearly every household? The technological advances in the world of travel have happened at an astounding pace. There are few completely remote destinations left to explore. I may be alone in this thought, but I believe that also leaves us with fewer completely genuine travel experiences. The Internet both connects the world – which is amazing – but also homogenizes us. I can hop on a plane to a third-world country and meet someone who may live in conditions you’d never see in the US who also owns an iPhone. Yes, on one hand, that’s the genuine reality of the world today, but on the other hand…how many new experiences are we truly getting by jet-setting to a new time zone only to see what we left at home?

As the world grows smaller, finding unique and extraordinary experiences becomes more challenging. We can find guidebooks on how to navigate nearly any remote area or hire professionals to take us to the top of Everest (if we can afford it). The people we meet often speak at least one language we can speak and they’re just as familiar with technology and pop culture. The food we find can often be found in the States.

Is our desire to travel really based in the hope of exploring the unknown or experiencing something unique? Or is it driven more by how much we hope to see now that we have the means? Traveling is way more attractive than a desk job, for sure, but WHY? Our grandparents would have been thrilled to find high-paying work with a pension and would never have considered quitting to find themselves on an adventure. Most people around my age can’t imagine working behind a desk for 30 years and not setting foot on another continent. Have the attitudes toward what makes a life successful changed so much? Does traveling make us more successful?

I don’t yet have the answers. I wish I did. I wish I knew why “somewhere, anywhere” pulls so strongly to my core. I wish I knew what I hoped to find out there. But, as Paul Coelho eloquently told us in “the Alchemist,” the treasure was waiting right at home throughout the entire journey.

How Dating is Like Buying Jeans

How Dating after Being Single is like Buying Jeans after Going to the Gym

  1. You’re not the person you were last time you went shopping…for a relationship or for a new pair of jeans. You’ve taken some major steps to improve yourself – and these steps had to be taken by you alone.
  2. You may not know exactly what you’re looking for. You’ve changed, and sometimes that means letting go of what you thought you wanted in order to focus on what’s really important to you.
  3. You’ll most likely need to try some on for size before making a decision. Sure, one pair of jeans may make your backside look fabulous, but the waist isn’t cut quite right. Another pair may seem perfect on the rack, but a terrible match once you’re alone in the fitting room. Still more and more pairs may hang next to you as you try them on, one by one, knowing that none of them are quite “it.”
  4. Even if you have an idea what you’re looking for when you get to the store, you probably won’t find it the first time you look. You’ll find indigo wash jeans with a flare – but the wrong rise. There will be black skinnies but the ankles are too loose. Your dream jeans seem just out of reach – these would be perfect “except…”
  5. You may get to the point you feel you’ll be wearing yoga pants forever. They hug you in all the right places and you know exactly how they fit. But are they really work-appropriate? Are they truly durable? Can you actually dress them up?
  6. You now know what patience feels like, and you have enough of it to wait for the perfect pair of jeans, rather than grabbing the first pair you see.
  7. You’re dedicated – to improving yourself as a person, to reaching your goals, to getting what you need, and to following through with your choices.
  8. You’ll be doing a lot of self-reflection – both in the mirror and by thinking about what you truly want.
  9. You know better than to settle for what looks good on paper. If you’re just not feeling it in person, they’ll go back on the rack – no matter what your friends say, your family thinks, or online algorithms have to say.
  10. When you find the right match, you’ll know when you put them on – there won’t be any second-guessing or wishing some detail was different. They’ll fit you, as you are now, and you’ll feel great in them.

This post is a little more personal than adventurous – but dating is also an adventure, and a place I’ve been, so here we go!

Dating after a long period of being single is a lot like trying to find the perfect pair of jeans after spending some serious time in the gym. In both instances you’ve spent months – maybe years – improving yourself, learning from your experiences, and hopefully making positive choices. You’ve made a change from the person you were before, and though the changes may be subtle, you can’t ignore them.

The choice to take care of this one physical body you have is a positive one, but the benefits only come with hard work. One of my favorite quotes is from Physique57 creator Tanya Becker: “You can’t think yourself to a better body.” It takes some time to see results, and you may see them sooner than others – carrying groceries in the house is easier, or you’re not winded running to visit a colleague upstairs. Eventually, your clothes start to fit better…and then they don’t fit at all when your body shape visibly changes. Then it’s time to find a new pair of jeans that fits and flatters this new body you’ve worked so hard to achieve.

If you’ve had a serious relationship or two (or a handful) and have taken some time to be single afterward, you’re working on the mental and emotional side of that one physical body you have. You’re letting yourself feel and thus heal the pain from losing relationships that meant so much to you. You may feel a swell of emotions at first that will fade into the past as your emotional and mental strength emerge. Much like going to the gym, flexing your emotional muscles makes you healthier and changes you in subtle ways you alone may see at first. It might start small: being able to sit at a bar by yourself and not feel horribly self-conscious for being alone in public. Or it might be huge: buying a one-way plane ticket to a country you’ve always wanted to visit.

Being realistic is part of these changes. We all have a dream list of qualities and physical characteristics we’d like – both physically and emotionally, in ourselves and in a partner – but those qualities may not truly be attainable. It’s not settling to be realistic – being realistic actually opens your eyes to more possibilities and brings you more peace with what is. Try on a style you never thought would flatter – but your new healthy shape may surprise you. Maybe go on a date with a cat-lover or a blond for a change, and see what happens…you never know! Change takes courage: courage to break out of your comfort zone, courage to know when something feels right – and when it doesn’t, courage to take a risk when the benefits far outweigh the what-ifs.

I once went on a date with this Gap-model gorgeous, dog-loving, SAT-tutoring runner and world-traveler. Sounds perfect for me on paper, right? Too bad he had the personality of a dishtowel, no sense of humor, couldn’t stop going on about his ex, and had the audacity to tell me it was good I was taking half of my sandwich home because I didn’t “need to eat that much.” I’m glad I had the courage to walk away from that date, knowing that although he seemed to fit the qualities I thought I wanted, it was definitely not a match. Back on the rack.

Today, the man I didn’t think existed found me while we were both hiking on the Appalachian Trail – and he has blue eyes instead of the brown I usually go for. If I’d written him off just because something about his physical appearance was slightly different than my usual “type,” I’d be missing out on the best relationship I’ve ever had. I’d been single – lots of dating, but no serious relationships – for close to four years prior to meeting him. That gave me plenty of time to reflect, grow stronger, consider what I want in a partner and what I have to offer, and be open to the possibility of a healthy, loving relationship.

I started lifting weights last winter after being a runner for over a decade, but I still haven’t found the right pair of jeans for my newfound muscles. I hope it doesn’t take me four years to find new jeans.


Fear of the Unknown

During our initial night hike into Harriman State Park, Obie and I were walking an unfamiliar trail lit only by my headlamp on a mostly moonless night. I’ve done night hikes before, but not usually with those conditions.  As stated in earlier posts, we came across some unusual sights – lightning bugs, pale bats, reflective eyes staring back at us in the darkness.

I’m currently sitting in the airport awaiting a plane to Las Vegas – my first time out there. I’m not much of a gambler nor a club-goer, and I’d rather do as my new friend Baby Bird did, and go rock-climbing in the Nevada desert, but it’s a business trip that will be capped off with a bachelorette party. These are all new experiences for me, and pushing me outside my comfort zone, which brings us to fear of the unknown.

That Friday night in the woods my headlamp found two eyes staring back at me, maybe 30 yards away and to my left. They didn’t move, didn’t blink, didn’t flinch. I whistled and no change. Obie didn’t bark. I couldn’t tell whether he couldn’t see them or just didn’t care.

I weighed my options. I could stop walking and pitch the tent a few feet from the trail, hoping I’d find a flat spot. That was technically illegal and also would be difficult to find in the dark, but it was an option. It also meant whatever was staring at us would know exactly where we were and be able to find us easily. If it was indeed something dangerous, setting up camp in its line of sight wasn’t the smartest idea.

I could turn around and go back to the Jeep and spend the night in the vehicle with Obie. My seats lay flat and we had enough gear in terms of sleeping bag and pad to be comfortable, but I knew I’d feel like I was missing out if I turned around. I’d planned 3 nights in the woods. I wanted 3 nights in the woods, not in my car.

I could keep moving forward – on a trail that would lead either toward or away from the glowing eyes – and face my fear head-on. It wasn’t so much fear of what was looking at us, but what it wanted to do with us. The unknown.

We walked forward, approaching the eyes with caution. I kept glancing around us to make sure no other eyes were closing in and to keep an eye on where the trail was headed. The closer we got, the tighter went my grip on Obie’s leash with one hand and my knife with the other. I tried to keep my breathing steady in case Obie realized we weren’t alone and got nervous too.

As we ascended a small hill and slowly came toward level with the eyes, the creature owning them came into view.

The doe snorted in our direction, eyes fixated on my lamp, and – finally – put her head back down to graze.

I had been hesitant with fear due to a grazing doe – a sight which, during the day, wouldn’t faze me in the slightest. But in the dark, not knowing what I was looking at, she seemed much more intimidating.

In life, as in the woods in the dark, fear of the unknown can be paralyzing. Fear of the unknown is also nearly always more scary than whatever it is you may actually be facing. Sure, it could have been a bear or a mountain lion, or any other number of potentially harm-inducing animals. But if I’d turned around and let fear take over, I wouldn’t have accomplished anything. I would have left being nervous about returning. Instead, by facing the fear, I found I had nothing to worry about. Remember that quote about “the only thing to fear is fear itself”? My fleeting fear could have robbed me of a night in the woods at a most peaceful site atop a ridge with a beautiful view of the moonrise.

It’s those moments that remind me why I travel often, and often alone – why I want to try new things and push myself beyond my comfort zone. As my friend Sean often says, “When is the last time you did something for the first time?” Fear of the unknown can prevent those first-time experiences that require you to rely on yourself, make a choice, live with the consequences, and come out the better for it.

Today, let’s all try to remember to put on our Nikes, and just do it.