Tuesday, January 19, 2016

Woman and Wild

I titled this blog Woman and Wild because, like most things in nature, I am bumpy, asymmetrical, imperfect, scarred, and yet living. And living is beautiful.

It occurred to me, as I read over it, that a lot (like, years—possibly decades) of thinking, learning, and growing came before this blog. I don’t want to sound like a bossy friend with “easy” answers for everything. ‘What I know for sure’ is still bumpy and imperfect, as was the learning process. Maybe that calls for an explanatory blog or two. But these words came from my keyboard today.

My adventure in the backyard helped me a lot and for a very specific reason: I destroyed stuff. Those toxic, invasive plants took over my yard and I Took. Them. Out.I physically grabbed them, cut them, bagged them, and bid them farewell.

At the same time, I worked on a gentler, parallel task. I challenged myself (with my husband’s full support) to be honest about my feelings…even when they weren’t “nice.” And by “nice” I mean the good-girl, pleasing, always-putting-others-first kind of “nice” I used to think I had to be to be liked, let alone loved.

During that time I said radical things to my husband. If he suggested going to out dinner when I didn’t want to, I’d get crazy and say, “I don’t really feel like going out tonight. Can we make something instead?”

Here’s the kicker: the world did not end.

My husband, who has been my enthusiastic coach through this project, has even been delighted by my ideas on occasion. And he’s even been grateful when I mention things like, “Hey! Why did you say that? That was kind of a rude comment.” He’s a pretty awesome guy.

Invariably, he just wasn’t choosing his words carefully (words are my thing, not so much his) and didn’t mean what I heard. And suddenly there was understanding in place of misunderstanding. It’s amazing how that works!

So what does this all mean? It’s great for the practical aspects of my daily life. I need to be a whole person, not just “nice.” Sometimes I have such profound anger and frustration that I need to tear stuff down, to make a mark on the world. (Invasive weeds are an AWESOME target.) I’m grateful for those practical lessons, but I am also a big-picture thinker. What does it mean?

I’m reading a great book on body positivity, which boils down to the idea that we should all love all of our bodies, all of the time. That’s a really profound and true statement. If you’d like to explore it, the book I’m reading can be found here.

Here’s the big-picture I’m reaching for, though: I think we should all love all of ourselves, all of the time.

I am in no way saying we can’t make bad choices or we shouldn’t bear responsibility for them—if I’d decided to punch people due to my frustration this fall, I’d be rightfully found guilty of assault. That’s a bad choice with consequences. I’m not loving that. I’m loving myself despite “undesirable” emotions, just like this quote I found only today--

"Unfortunately, we live in a culture where we believe painful feelings are a sign of weakness, or failure, or pathology. But if you can acknowledge that painful feelings have utility (sadness means you've lost something you care about; anxiety means "prepare," anger means you've been mistreated, etc.), you can listen to them and act based on them in a way that'll make you happy, and you won't have to feel like you've given up a part of yourself just to avoid an "undesirable" emotion." (Read the full article here.)

I’ll give you a light, fun example to get us warmed up. I am a terrible hostess in some ways. I have always kicked myself for that. When friends come over, I frequently forget to offer food or drinks or seconds or whatever. Why? Because I am so happy to have these beloved people with me that I focus completely on them—what they’re saying, what I’m feeling, what we’re doing. Lately, I’ve tried to love that about myself. I’ve invited people over—knowing full well that I’ll probably miss an obvious opportunity to “hostess”—and enjoyed their company greatly.

I love that about me!

Now I’ll give you a deeper example. I often, especially when I’m tired or stressed, lapse into hypervigilance. There are darn good reasons why that happens; I earned the “scar” of hypervigilance doing something I believe in, something that I’d do over again a million times. But I’ve always hated that it affects my children. I’ve hated that sometimes they tell their friends to keep their voices down in the car, because they know I need a certain level of calm to drive safely.

But you know what? I love that about myself now. I did something I believe in. It changed me. I’ve presented it to my kids as “something about Mom that isn’t like other people—and isn’t related to you or anything happening now.” And sometimes I’ve said, “Just humor me.” That’s awesome! I’m proud of all of it. I love that part of me.

None of that could have happened, though, if I’d kept trying to be the “nice” me. When I tried to ONLY acknowledge my gratitude, appreciation, hope, humor, optimism, etc, I created a monster of hidden anger, frustration, grief, and sadness lurking in the basement of my theater, Phantom of the Opera-style.

But I followed this awesome advice from Julia Spencer-Fleming's book, One Was a Soldier. “We’re all so in love with the idea of moving on and growing through loss and making lemonade when life hands us lemons that we don’t take time to mourn. Before you can move on, you have to stand still and account for what’s been lost. Sometimes, you have to throw the damn lemon against the wall and yell, I wanted chocolate chip cookies, not this bitter fruit.

Right now, I love being an editor and blogger, but I keep dreaming of a huge, meaningful career someday. I’m not really sure what I mean by that, but today I’m dreaming of helping people bring their not “nice” feelings to light. (I guess that’s a therapist, but I’m thinking of something a little different from traditional therapy.) I want to say to people, “Go ahead and look at that stuff. I guarantee I’ve seen worse. It’s all okay. You can look at those not ‘nice’ feelings and be a radically awesome person. It’s all good.”

I might want to be a professional Lemon Pitching Coach.

I want to throw lemons with people—and then go do something fun. Because when we love all of ourselves, even the lemon-throwing parts, we can move on. We can skip, dance, and run, feeling lighter, freer, and ultimately happier.

Friday, January 15, 2016

Woman v Wild: For the Win

Well, I finished what I set out to do. I’ve cleared everything I can reach along the tree line, invasive weeds on the ground and trees overhead. The larger invasive trees, now visible, will be much easier to clear. We’re planning to take care of them a little at time, so they don’t take over again.

It’s been great for the whole family. Big A. raves about how he never thought we could do so much without professional help, how we have a backyard now, and how our property value has gone up.

We’ve been able to have friends over to play in the yard. We even made an Eeyore house!

Eeyore house with friends!
The kids love the new swing they got for Christmas. In the expanded yard, S. can satisfy a little of her itch to climb and her itch to create with natural materials. Little A. has GLORIED in it—riding his bike down the hill, sledding downhill on a skateboard, whacking sticks on trees, pulling down rotten branches, and generally roaming.

I love all that, but I did it for me.

Learning that—and owning that—is one of the best gifts I’ve received from my time in the woods. Now I know that I don’t always have to assist others. I don’t have to take care of the kids while Big A. does fun stuff. I can do the fun stuff myself. I can dream big and do it. I can be the diva!

I foresee some fun times in the future. I have some fantastic ideas to make real. Look out world!
Looking left.

Looking right.

A little perspective--the bush on the right side of the picture was totally buried in invasive weeds; the pepper branches reached out that far.

All it took to make it happen--a few tools, time, and me!

Wednesday, January 13, 2016

The Greatest Fun on Earth

You know, Big A. and I sometimes talk about how we don't take exotic vacations or even have "fun" weekends like other people seem to. And, yes, we're working on that. But honestly, why do we need all that? Look what we do have!

We have the funnest, funniest, most surprising form of entertainment known to humankind--children.

Like the one time that Little A. took his obsession with magnets up to eleven. Our first preview? S. came out of the kids' bathroom, proclaiming, "Really, A.? REALLY?" We shrugged it off at the time, but when I used the bathroom later that day, I shut the door and found magnets on all the hinges. Possibly that's what offended the sixth grader's sense of decorum.

Later that day, I found one of Little A.'s pictures had fallen down--and the nail missing from the hole. Guess where the nail was? Somewhere in the pile of magnets and magnetic items that he'd assembled on his floor...

Hinges are magnetic!
"Ummm...where's the nail?"
The nail's in here, clearly.

So another ongoing form of fun--the "learn your alphabet" letters still hanging out in the bathroom. Both kids get in on this one, taking turns arranging them and displaying their personalities. Little A. tends to organize more; S. tends to illustrate more. The other day, she demonstrated how to solve for X with the letters and I actually had to say, "You two! Stop doing algebra and take your showers!"

Ducks on a pond with aquatic life below.
I believe this one's a boat.
 A sense of humor has become one of S.'s defining characteristics. Her dad and I alternate between enjoying the heck out of it and making sure it stays in bounds. (Like most young ones, she can sometimes think she knows everything and be a little harsh on the rest of us.)

Her latest came in the form of Star Wars jokes. What do you call soldiers for the Empire while they're in college? (Dorm troopers.) What's a really bad Rebel search engine? (X-Bing.)

And she's confident working with jokes for previous generations. Witness the hours she spent snapping a screenshot of this one:

Every Friday, she makes and wears a new science hat--Precipitation (shown here) was an early one; she wore a Tectonic Plate last week. They're becoming a fun ritual with her teachers.

When S. was little, we started putting pictures of our extended family on the fridge to help her remember who was who. The tradition continues today. I honestly don't remember which of them did it, but one of hte kids arranged the pictures in the shape of...a family tree. Yep.

I think it's safe to say that our family tree provides just about all the fun Big A. and I can handle these days. We are pretty darn lucky!