The Stories That Make Our Lives

"Story is the vehicle we use to make sense of our lives in a world that often defies logic." - Jim Trelease
Jim Trelease’s website (original quote source material unknown)

Hello, my dear Internet friends,

I hope your summer is in full swing in the best way. And if you happen to be tuning in from the southern hemisphere, I’m sending you winter well-wishes!

In March, I wrote about challenging my expectations for myself (and life itself), “practicing my flexibility muscle, [and] balancing what I want in a given day with the reality of what’s presented.” In May, I reflected on the resistance I feel in the face of unexpected challenges and how “I have learned—am still learning—that instead of resisting, I need to embrace what is so I can decide what I want to do about it.” This month’s post feels like a natural progression from those two. Some chapters of life are apt for learning certain lessons or exploring particular themes—if we’re open to reading them that way.

This month, I’ve been reflecting on how crucial storytelling is to the way we experience the world and understand our lives. Our personal memories are often stored in narrative form. Our friendships are built on shared experiences, from the humorous tales we recount with glee to episodes of support in hard times, which stay written on our hearts even if we never speak them aloud. And when we go through something unexpected, we try to make sense of it through story.

Expectations can exist in our minds as stories. Scripts—or at the very least, loose outlines—for how we anticipate certain events or facets of our lives will go. I often don’t realize how attached I was to an imagined version of the future until life goes off-plot.

That upending of expectations can feel like loss. Loss of what we hoped for. Loss of control. We are the authors of our own stories, but we’re not the authors of the world (or other people). Story collision is bound to happen. Sometimes in a spectacularly serendipitous way. Sometimes in a painful one.

When that happens, where does it leave us? With a new story. Already lived through, but not yet shaped for memory. It may feel hard to hold at first. But once it’s in your hands, it’s yours. Yours to craft as only you can. What may have felt in the moment like a story of disappointment or self-doubt can become one of resilience and growth. Of love and connection. Or maybe you’ll write a story bighearted enough to hold all of it. Every shade of the experience coming together to form a mosaic. One that looks a lot like life as it really is. As Kathryn Schulz writes in her beautiful memoir Lost & Found, “We can’t get away from this constant amalgamation of feeling, can’t strain out the ostensible impurities in pursuit of some imaginary essence, and we shouldn’t want to if we could. The world in all its complexity calls on us to respond in kind, so that to be conflicted is not to be adulterated; it is to be complete.”

From one storyteller to another, I am simply encouraging you—as I’m encouraging myself—to be mindful of the narratives you “write” about your experiences, even if they never leave your own mind. Expand your story’s frame to capture the bigger picture. Treat each “character” with compassion (including yourself). Highlight the scenes of connection, meaningful details, and lessons learned that you want to carry with you.

Because one by one, your stories make your life. And you deserve one that’s been written with care.

xoxo

Marie

What is a “Real” Writer?

Photo by Kelly Sikkema on Unsplash

Hello my April showers,

How is this month almost over already? It seems like just yesterday I was eating a coffee-shop Pop-Tart on my half-birthday (also known as April Fool’s Day), and now it’s nearly May Day. My days have been full, and the weeks have gone fast.

One way I’ve been spending my time this month is editing chapters of my book. I’m currently working on a chapter called “Labeled,” which was inspired by my senior year yearbook of the same title.  The chapter is broken into sections by different “labels” I identified with, sought out, or avoided. The chapter starts with an aspirational label of my middle and high school years: “popular.” It ends with one that has remained prominent in my adult life: “writer.”

As I was reading through a draft of the chapter, two words in that last section jumped out at me. “Real” writer. I had noted one way in which I believed I wasn’t like other “real” writers. After reading those words, I thought about how funny they sound. I mean, I really exist, don’t I? I’m not a figment of our collective imagination, so far as I know.

Of course, when I wrote those words, I wasn’t questioning my material existence. I was expressing the doubt I had felt about calling myself a writer. I’m clearly not the only one who has pondered their proximity to the “real writer” label. When I Googled “real writer” and “not a real writer,” a lot of relevant articles came up. Many of their titles were questions, asking what a real writer is and if or when you can call yourself one.

As I read through the articles and reflected on my own experiences, I compiled a list of possible barriers to entry for calling oneself a real writer. Unsurprisingly, this included external accomplishments like getting paid for your work or publishing a book. Some of the list items were qualitative, internal metrics, like diligence or passion. It was easy to find many ways people could qualify what it means a real writer… and in the process, disqualify themselves.

We could spend time fiddling with the “real writer” label, trying to define it in a way that feels more comfortable and less exclusive. Mercifully, most of the writers whose articles I read landed on a simple conclusion: if you write, then you’re a real writer. I agree. But what I’ve been turning over in my mind is not what being a real writer means, but why the term even exists in the minds of so many of us. What is the point of measuring the gap between ourselves and so-called “real writers”?

Maybe we’re trying to locate the point at which we can exhale. Where we can kick up our feet and say, Okay, I’ve made it. Writing can feel like an obstacle course of unknown length that we traverse mostly alone. So, it makes sense that we scan the horizon for a safe landing spot. A point of validation. A way to know for sure that it matters. Our hard work matters. We matter.

The craving to feel the value of your work is so understandable—and not just if you write, but if you build or teach or parent or anything else.

So, I understand why the term “real writer” exists in our minds. Still, it leaves a bad taste in my mouth for the way I have at times used it to invalidate where I’m at on my journey. At times, the way I’ve used it could be interchangeable with saying I’m not “good enough.” Not having something published yet, not perfectly adhering to a consistent routine… both signs I wasn’t a real writer (good enough).

Don’t get me wrong; having goals is wonderful. Trying to grow is great. Striving is awesome, but I’d hate for us to miss the becoming. The messy middle, when we’re putting in the work, however imperfectly. In so many ways, I think this is the main event. Not whatever we consider the finish line.

I know it would take the fun out of things, but sometimes I wish we could look at the present through the lens of hindsight. It would be so much easier to see the bigger picture and ourselves within it. The bright spots in the most challenging chapters. And how cool it really is to be on the way. Towards people we’ve yet to meet, goals we’ve yet to achieve, roles we’ve yet to grow into. Viewed from the other side, the stumbling path we traveled seems so much sweeter.

I was thinking back to a moment from the summer I was 17, when I had just started to pursue writing. I had big dreams for what I wanted to accomplish, and I really believed I could make them all come true.

I worked at Panera, and one night, the café was pretty quiet. I caught a glance of my reflection in the window. Me in my apron and baseball cap. I don’t know what struck me, but for a moment in time, I had one foot planted in the present and one in the future. I felt how cool it was to be the keeper of my dreams. The one to hold them close until I could release them to reality. Then I thought of my future self. Someday, when I was far down the road in my life as a writer, I would look back on this moment with fondness. I’d step back into the fizzy excitement of the journey beginning.

Neither version of me felt more valid. More real. Both seemed incredibly precious to me.

xoxo

Marie

A Few Blossoms of Light in March

Hello my spring blossoms,

Whew. What a month. I don’t know about yours, but my March somehow managed to both exceed expectations in the best way and present challenges I never could have anticipated. Such is life, huh?

For this month’s blog post, I wanted to share a few pieces of creative work that have resonated with me lately. After listening to the podcast episode below, I realized a theme was emerging. The things that have stood out to me most this month have asked me to challenge (or at least question) my expectations—of myself, of my time, of how life “should” go. They have asked me to slow my pace. To work with the present moment as it truly is, so as not to miss life as it happens.

For me, that has involved practicing my flexibility muscle, balancing what I want in a given day with the reality of what’s presented. Little hassles. Major stressors. Human limitations. I had a day where I was trying to get things done, but I was only half-awake. I didn’t sleep well the night before (some of the stress of recent challenges was catching up to me). Normally, I would try to coffee up and push through, but I questioned if a different approach might be better. I had room in my day to be flexible. Might I get more out of my time later if I took a break now?

So I did the unthinkable. I laid back on the couch, pulled my fuzzy pink blanket over me, and fell asleep. My fluffy gray cat was purring on me as my alarm went off. I still had plenty of time. I grabbed a coffee, put music on, and got back into things, more refreshed than I’d felt all day—or maybe longer.

If that isn’t nice, I don’t know what is.

I hope one of the pieces below gives you something helpful to carry into the next month. If anything (a song, an article, a podcast episode) has made your March, please feel free to share in the comments!

An article: “I trained myself to be less busy — and it dramatically improved my life” by David Sbarra, PhD for Vox

I came across this essay while searching for articles on an entirely unrelated subject, and I have read it multiple times since. I don’t think being busy is inherently a bad thing. I also understand that there are times in life when we may not be able to take anything off our (very full) plates. What Dr. Sbarra is really challenging is mindless busyness. Being busy for busy’s sake, and barreling through an overstuffed calendar because we think that’s what we’re supposed to do. I think that even without removing anything from our schedules, we can check our pacing—and our expectations. Are we rushing through life, or are we living in it? Are we being reasonable in what we expect ourselves to get done?

A podcast episode: “Are Your Expectations Too High?” from The Science of Happiness

The Science of Happiness is hosted by psychologist Dacher Keltner, PhD and co-produced by PRX and UC Berkeley’s Greater Good Science Center.

In the first part of this episode, Dr. Keltner talks to Julie Santos, who was born in Costa Rica and spent summers there growing up. When she visited just after graduating college, she observed how expectations—and an ability to celebrate anything that exceeds them—seem to be linked to happiness in the country’s culture. Her reflections have made me think, what if we all stopped to show gratitude when things rise above our expectations, even just a little? Could boring or stressful tasks feel less burdensome if we don’t expect to hurry through them?

A quote by Kurt Vonnegut

A while ago I watched a video of a lecutre by the late author Kurt Vonnegut. He shared an anecdote about his Uncle Alex, which he said he’d included in every lecture he’d ever given. He also shared it in one of his nonfiction books, A Man Without a Country:

. . . his principal complaint about other human beings was that they so seldom noticed it when they were happy. So when we were drinking lemonade under an apple tree in the summer, say, and talking lazily about this and that, almost buzzing like honeybees, Uncle Alex would suddenly interrupt the agreeable blather to exclaim, “If this isn’t nice, I don’t know what is.”

So I do the same now, and so do my kids and grandkids. And I urge you to please notice when you are happy, and exclaim or murmur or think at some point, “If this isn’t nice, I don’t know what is.”

Kurt Vonnegut, A Man Without a Country

I have been following his advice. It’s a simple strategy—reminiscent of what Julie Santos observed people in Costa Rica doing—but so powerful as a happiness checkpoint, ensuring that we don’t miss the ordinary (and sometimes extraordinary) joy that surrounds us.

xoxo

Marie

The Power of Self-Compassion

Photo by Sharon McCutcheon on Unsplash

Hello my sweet valentines,

I hope this month of love has been kind to you. I hope you’ve been able to spend time with people you care about and enjoy delicious treats (chocolate or not). I also hope you’ve given yourself love and kindness.

We all deserve to give ourselves the same support, care, and understanding that we show others. However, that can be easier said than done. We can so easily fall into the role of our own worst critic. One challenge we have is that we can easily observe our behaviors, which we can then judge through the harsh lens of hindsight. But our self-talk is harder to be aware of—let alone change—because so much of it is automatic.

Last month, I talked about using gratitude as a way to stay anchored in the present. One thing that distracts me from the now is negative self-talk. I can be very hard on myself. The heart of it often seems to be my desire to do right by others. Which is a lovely thing, of course! But values are meant to be guideposts for making choices in the present. They aren’t meant to be punitive. For me, self-doubt creeps in when I get stuck questioning my decisions over and over. Doing so becomes a painful cycle. The voice of self-doubt tells me that I can’t move on from the past and makes me distrust my ability to move forward.

I say “voice of self-doubt” because I am trying to . . . Well, I am trying to undermine its authority. I am trying to put a little more distance between that voice and me. I do not view or speak to others harshly, and I don’t believe that I deserve to be treated that way, either. That’s why I am working hard to give myself more self-compassion.

Dr. Kristin Neff is a pioneering researcher and author on the subject. She describes self-compassion as being there for ourselves with kindness, care, and understanding when we are struggling, just as we would be for someone else. Specifically, she breaks down self-compassion into three components:

  • Self-Kindness: Being gentle and understanding with ourselves, as opposed to self-critical and punishing.  
  • Common Humanity: Recognizing that we aren’t alone in our struggles, as opposed to feeling uniquely inadequate.
  • Mindfulness: Being aware of and open to our thoughts and feelings, as opposed to ignoring them or getting consumed by them.

You can read more about self-compassion on Dr. Neff’s website here.

Lately, whenever I am feeling down, I stop to recognize what is bothering me and name what I’m feeling (sad, frustrated, anxious, etc.). Once I’ve done that, I try to see if there is any self-talk underneath the emotion that’s adding to the pain of it. Often, there is. Maybe I’m imagining an unrealistic negative outcome to a situation, making it feel more and more believable the more time I spend on it. Or maybe I’m making a negative assessment of myself or my abilities based on a challenge I’m facing. Whatever the thought, it typically falls into the category of self-doubt/self-criticism. Recognizing that opens the door for me to meet it with self-compassion.

What that looks like varies a bit on the situation. I can say something kind to myself, acknowledging the impact that a feeling or thought is having on me, even if I can’t change it right away. I can dismantle a judgment I’m making by recognizing that I’m holding myself to a standard I don’t really believe in (and wouldn’t expect anyone else to live up to). The most compassionate response can also be an action. Engaging in self-care, asking for help, or breaking a task down into more manageable chunks (with more reasonable expectations).

I’m not always able to move past a negative thought or feeling in the way I’d like to. Sometimes, I can’t really make sense of what’s going on in my mind.  And I can still be too hard on myself. But even so, finding ways to show myself compassion has felt like discovering a superpower. Being in the cycle of self-doubt feels like listening to a soundtrack that can’t be turned off. Learning how to not only turn it off but transform it into something else entirely has been really, really cool.

I am proud of myself.

Whatever it is you need today, I hope you can give it to yourself. I know you deserve it, and I hope you can see that, too.

xoxo

Marie

Starting the Year with Appreciation

Photo by FLY:D on Unsplash

Happy 2022, my sweet Internet friends!

I love New Year’s. One of my traditions is to create a vision board, with visual reminders of what I would like to experience, accomplish, or feel during the year. I value the opportunity to approach the new year with a sense of intention. And in my mind, your “vision” for the year can be a work in progress. I haven’t finished my 2022 board yet!

Looking at my board, I can see how much I have to look forward to this year. At the heart of it all, though, I have one goal: to be present in each moment, as much as possible. To appreciate the big, exciting, moments, but also the ones that feel small or “skippable.”

My mind tends to wander off in all different directions: past, future, unlikely hypothetical scenarios. It’s not always a bad thing, but sometimes I don’t feel like I’m steering the ship. So I’ve been experimenting with different ways to help myself stay grounded in the now. I’ve been trying meditation. And about two weeks ago, I decided to start a gratitude practice. Or, as I’m calling it, my appreciation journal.

Merriam-Webster describes appreciation as “an ability to understand the worth, quality, or importance of something.” I think that’s just so perfect. I want to make a more conscious effort to acknowledge what is valuable in each day. So, before I go to bed, I’ve been filling out the following prompts in my journal:

  • I am grateful for . . .
  • I am proud of myself for . . .
  • I am looking forward to . . .

I’ve only completed nine entries so far—I don’t pressure myself to write if I’m not up for it!—but it’s already been a learning experience. Admittedly, the most challenging of the three is deciding what I’m proud of. I have a tendency to focus on what I could have done better, but I’m working on that.

Reflecting on the other two prompts, I’ve recognized that it’s easy to look forward to major events or feel grateful for out-of-the-ordinary acts of kindness. You don’t really need a journal to remind you. But on average days, there are so many things I look forward to without even noticing. My morning coffee. A phone call with a loved one. And the things I feel grateful for, as I’m wrapping up the day, could also be easily overlooked. A relaxing evening playing Animal Crossing. Someone showing me patience when I was feeling stressed.

This has made me realize how easy it is to generate more moments of joy on a day-to-day basis. Also, taking note of what you appreciate in your life breaks the cycle of overlooking the everyday good. In his essay entitled “Why Gratitude Is Good,” Dr. Robert Emmons, a leader in the scientific study on gratitude, explains, “I think gratitude allows us to participate more in life. We notice the positives more, and that magnifies the pleasures you get from life. Instead of adapting to goodness, we celebrate goodness.”

I know not everyone likes to write, but I think there are all kinds of way to make appreciation or gratitude a habit. You could make a goal to take a photo each day of something that brings you joy. Or, once a month, you could do something special for someone who brings value to your life. As a bonus, I would recommend checking out these resources on gratitude from Greater Good Magazine, where the above article from Dr. Emmons was published. They have interesting information on gratitude’s benefits and suggestions for how to practice your gratefulness.

Wishing you a moment of joy where you are right now. I am grateful for you.

xoxo

Marie

Ending the Year with Purpose

Photo by Andy Holmes on Unsplash

Hello my winter wonder-pals,

I don’t know about you, but the last couple months of this year have been flying by. 2021 has been a roller coaster of a year, and I don’t feel like I’m gently coasting back to the station just yet.

Don’t get me wrong, I love this time of year. I love the cold weather (when we have it), I love all the extra opportunities to gather with family and friends, and I love the ever-expanding universe of the Netflix Christmas movies. But recently I realized that my excitement about all of the above (and more!) was starting to twist into overwhelm. So much to do, so much I want to do, but seemingly so little time!

As I was reflecting on how I was feeling, I remembered a podcast episode I listened to earlier this year. Priya Parker was a guest on Brené Brown’s podcast called Unlocking Us. Priya is the author of the book The Art of Gathering: How We Meet and Why It Matters. During the episode, Brené shared a quote from the book that has stuck with me: “a category is not a purpose for a gathering.” For example, a birthday party is a category. The purpose is something only you can define. Maybe your purpose is to close out a difficult year in your life on a positive note, or to celebrate the year’s victories with the people who supported you along the way.

I thought that was such a smart way of looking at things. Even though I’m not hosting a gathering this year, I realized I could use the same strategy to approach the varied opportunities of the season. What am I hoping to express to someone by giving them a gift? What do I hope to feel, or who would I like to connect with, at the next holiday party? Maybe those things seem obvious, but as someone who loves calendars and to-do lists, I find it so valuable to stop and reconnect with my “why” for any given task or event, as opposed to just continuing to go go go.

In a moment of synchronicity, yesterday I came across a mediation on Headspace entitled “Re-defining Holidays.” The purpose of the exercise was to set an intention for the season. I came up with two: presence and peace of mind. By presence I mean, I don’t want to speed through the season. I want to be here for it. My mind can often spin off in a variety of directions, but if I’ve learned anything over the past couple of years, it’s that our best opportunity to do good always exists in the present moment. And at the very least, I would like to do some good before the year ends by being truly present with the people I care about.

My reason for choosing peace of mind as my other intention is pretty straightforward. Ending this roller-coaster year with a sense of calm sounds pretty darn good.

In everything this month brings your way, I hope you are able to center yourself and what you need. My wish is that you are able to end the year with contentment in the present moment and hope for what’s yet to come.

See you in 2022!

xoxo

Marie

Getting Too Hot? Some End-of-Summer Thoughts

Photo by Tincho Franco on Unsplash

Hello my sunset sweethearts,

Doesn’t it feel like summer just disappeared in the blink of an eye? I know it’s not fully fall yet, but still. It feels like just a minute ago that I was with friends on the 4th, and now Halloween decorations are appearing on end caps. I’d say “too soon,” but I’ve already consumed a few mugs of pumpkin spice coffee myself. Anyways. Next month I am going to be sharing the next pick in My Dream Library series, but for this last post of summer I wanted to share a little life strategy that’s been helping me as of late.

A couple of weeks ago, I got stuck. I was starting to obsess over a situation where I wasn’t sure if I “should” have done something differently. (The Shoulds are dangerous woods to wander!) I kept going over and over it, way past the point of helpful reflection. The obvious thing to do, of course, was to talk it over with someone, to get unstuck. But I was embarrassed. I am fully aware that I often notice, think about, and worry over things that aren’t on anyone else’s radar. So I sometimes feel the double-edged sting of being acutely aware of my worries, but also completely cognizant of how overblown they probably are. I know saying them out loud to someone I trust always helps, but sometimes wish I didn’t have to.

As I was gearing up to ask for help, a thought popped into my mind: Your conscientiousness is such a lovely thing about you.

I’ve often thought that our greatest strengths can also be our greatest weaknesses. That’s easy enough to see, embrace, and love in others. Someone who has the biggest of hearts might have trouble protecting the boundaries they deserve. Someone who can get lost in the zone of their passions might also lose track of time when it matters. It’s all just shades on the same beautiful spectrum. Imperfect but radiant.

In that moment, I realized I’d been telling myself that I was an annoyingly, embarrassingly anxious person. But I could also see myself as a careful, thoughtful person. It’s heartbreakingly sweet how much I want to do things right. And that’s lovely. I just need to catch myself before I fall in the deep end of overthinking now and then.

Ever since then, when I feel my brain starting to take off, I imagine a thermometer. (There’s probably a better metaphor/visual out there, but this one’s working for me.) I ask myself, am I getting “too hot”? Am I moving towards the end of the spectrum where I imagine highly unrealistic, bad outcomes or get stuck on something from long ago? Or is this a situation where my attention to detail is a gift? Because it is. My so-called overthinking brain is also reflective, attentive, thoughtful, and creative. Sometimes it just needs to be steered in the right direction.

So, if you’re feeling frustrated with yourself, maybe ask: Is this thing that’s plaguing me, also what makes me great?

xoxo

Marie

“Every Version of You is on Your Side”: Words of Wisdom from Ashley C. Ford

Happy Sunday, my sweet summer sparklers,

Instagram is my social media platform of choice. Of course it has its flaws, but I love seeing snapshots of the lives of people I know (or would like to know, or once knew). And maybe this is strange for a photo-heavy app, but I love the words I come across. Every once in a while I’ll scroll onto a colorful background with a few lines of text, read them, and think, Whew, I needed to hear that. So on this cloudy July day (perfect for cozy reflection), I wanted to share one of my recent finds with you:

Ashley C. Ford is a writer who recently published her first book, Somebody’s Daughter, to rave reviews. The memoir is “A story of reckoning with your past to take hold of your future—of finding love for those you have yet to forgive.” Specifically, it delves into Ashley’s experience growing up in Indiana while her father was incarcerated. This quote is from an episode of the podcast Hear to Slay, hosted by Roxane Gay and Dr. Tressie McMillan Cottom, in which Ashley discussed the challenges involved with writing about (and making peace with) her past.

No matter what kind or size of challenges you have faced, I think the idea of letting your past selves exist as who they were, without trying to change them or hide them, is so powerful. One thing I’ve been working on in the past year or so has been learning to not be so hard on myself. I know beating myself up doesn’t make me a better person; if anything, it makes it harder to stay in the present where I’m needed. Sometimes I get stuck in a loop of reevaluating past choices. Or, not reevaluating, but just looking back with a deep groan like, Ugh, why did I do that? Reflecting on Ashley’s words, I thought, what if I let every younger version of me just exist, as is? Not only as a character in a different chapter, but one in a whole different story. Someone who was wholly imperfect, but perfectly suited for the journey she was on at the time. I don’t need to go back and stretch 13-year-old me, or 18-year-old me, or 23-year-old me into my 30-year-old frame of how things should be. It’s unfair to all of us.

If you ever get stuck in the past, I hope this quote gives you a little lift out like it did for me. Links to the podcast episode and Ashley’s work will be listed below. I highly encourage you to check out her writing; her spirit shines a light of grace that I think we could all use more of.

xoxo

Marie

“Let’s Just Be Honest” – Hear to Slay

Ashley C. Ford’s website

Ashley C. Ford on Twitter

Ashley C. Ford on Instagram

Somebody’s Daughter on Amazon

Somebody’s Daughter on IndieBound

“Getting What You Deserve” . . . 12 ½ Years Later

Photo by Jamie Street on Unsplash

Hello New Year’s babes,

The other day on my drive to work, I had another time-travel moment. This time, a happy one. I remembered the first time I had a piece of my writing published. It was a guest blog for the website of Jess Weiner, one of my favorite creators and biggest inspirations. I was brace-faced and 17, and the post went up one week before my high school graduation. It’s no longer online anywhere I can find, but thankfully my dad had the foresight to screenshot it years ago:

I love reading things my Younger Self wrote; I always find a gem or two of wisdom from her to me. This time, it was the line “It seems to me that the root of all unkindness is a lack of respect, and the most basic kind is the kind we have for ourselves.”

The reason I was thinking about the blog post, though, is that I was thinking about the concept of deserving. I realized that when my brain is scanning in the background for mistakes I’ve made, what it’s doing is looking for reasons I don’t deserve to feel happy. Since you did X, you should feel Y. Decision Z could have caused A, B, C, D, etc. If so-and-so knew about E, what would they think? And on through the alphabet and back again. Logically, I know that the worst-case interpretations presented by my mind are literally never accurate. But emotionally, sometimes they feel terribly real.

When I was 17, being kind to myself meant believing I deserved everything I dreamed of and acting accordingly. Ultimately, that’s what I would want for anyone I love . . . and everyone I don’t know, too. But I think for me, right now, the idea of “deserving” feels a bit loaded. The math of life rarely adds up in a way that makes sense to me, anyway. I’ve been both blessed beyond measure and experienced pain I didn’t “earn.” I don’t have to look far beyond myself to see plenty of examples of things not working out for people as they “should.” Besides, one of the most important things I’ve learned this year is that mental self-punishment does not make me a better person. It doesn’t solve the past or give anything to those around me. In fact, it often makes me so internally focused that I miss what’s going on for people I care about.

So while I believe that we all deserve the absolute best in every way, heading into this new year, I’ve decided to stop thinking about what I deserve (which lately has devolved into negative, past-focused thoughts) and think more about the life I want to create. I don’t have to understand the past or future or fairness or even the oddities of my own mind to make today a reasonably good day, headed in the direction I’d like to go. I’ve already found, in recent weeks, that being just a smidge more intentional with my days—finding small opportunities to connect with others or make progress on my goals—matters. The flicker of hope is there.

Life has these beautiful moments of synchronicity now and then. Jess Weiner, who so graciously shared my words about creating your dream life many years ago, is starting an endeavor to help others build The Good Life, on their own terms. (You better believe I already signed up for the first workshop!) Heading into the new year, I wish you the space, support, and resources you need to build your own Good Life. One day at a time.

xoxo

Marie

The Time Traveler’s Life: Finding Gratitude in the Now

Photo by Gabrielle Henderson on Unsplash

Hello cyber friends,

Guess what? I’m a time traveler. No, really. It’s actually quite impressive. I just go about my day—working on a project, making dinner—and all of a sudden, I’m transported back to a moment I had completely forgotten about.

Sometimes, I end up in a memory from a few months ago. Sometimes it’s years back. I don’t actually run the time machine myself, so I have no control over where I end up. It can be any one of the Greatest Hits of my so-called “mistakes” (or simply things I could have done differently). No matter where I’m sent, the trip is so quick I don’t even notice it. I’m just there. Reliving the moment. Rewinding it and playing it back. Sometimes playing it forward to imagine all potential (negative) outcomes. It’s really fun, really great.

Okay, not so much. But such is life in my mind some days.

The other day I had the thought, why can’t my brain randomly send me good memories? Why can’t I suddenly be sent back to walking the canals in Amsterdam? Or have my senses overwhelmed at the thought of a really good meal I’ve had? If I have to obsess, why can’t I play through all the potential positive outcomes of every good choice I’ve made?

Of course, I understand why. We’re all a little bit caveman on the inside. Our ancestors survived by successfully monitoring for, assessing, and responding to threats. So we’re wired to do the same. Unfortunately for some of us, those threat detection systems can be a bit overzealous.

I cannot change my default settings, unfortunately. (Although I have learned that basic self-care tasks, like sleep and exercise, really do help.) That being said, if my brain is a machine, I have a choice in how to use it. Sure, maybe it doesn’t automatically focus on what I want. But I can redirect it. At least some of the time.

With the holidays upon us, I have been thinking a lot about gratitude. I realized that I think of myself as a grateful person, but maybe it’s better to think of gratitude as an action rather than a state of being. Before Thursday’s dinner, my dad said that his friend had shared the following via text: Remember that Thanksgiving is a verb. Put another way, in this quote by Larissa Gomez: “Being thankful is not always experienced as a natural state of existence, we must work at it, akin to a type of strength training of the heart.” We can practice and get better at it. We can hijack the machine, and time travel to our favorite memories.

Or stay present. I have gotten into the habit lately of periodically wiggling my toes. Doing so has been a helpful reminder that I am physically here, right now. Not in unknown goods or bads of the past or future. Now when I do, I try to also notice the moment. I see through the window to my left that it’s sunny outside today. I like to think a lot of my neighbors are putting up their Christmas lights. To my right, I see one of my cats snoozing on the couch. He is covered in Christmas tree sheddings, which makes me think he was laying under the tree again this morning. He looks so peaceful right now. He is here. I am here. We are okay. We are more than okay.

This year has been brutal. I know the holidays can bring mixed feelings as well, especially in 2020. But we are here. My primary goal, as we wrap up the calendar, is to continue practicing gratitude (and by extension, joy). So many things are out of my control. I cannot rewrite the past, no matter how many times I live through it. The future is great and all, but I can’t live there, either. Besides, it’s all ultimately made up of an infinite string of Nows. And I no longer wish to miss any of them.

xoxo  

Marie