Coming in for a landing

It’s been almost a year since I bought this URL without much idea of what to do with it and eleven months since I sat in a cafe in Leiden and told the first person that I wouldn’t be traveling overseas for at least a year. It’s been almost three months since my first visitor arrived, one since the second flew back home, and a day since I hugged the third and final one goodbye. I’m a little numb at the moment, unsure about how to process what became of the first 10 months so far of 2019. There have been successes and failures, many we-did-our-best’s and could-have-done-better’s.

Like every year, but very much so this year.

 

 

Five Why’s

As a follow up to yesterday’s post, the biggest help I had in building my list was asking myself 5 Why’s. For example, one of my personal goals is to learn the basics of Italian.

Why do I want to learn the basics of Italian?
So I can speak, read, and understand the language.

Why do I want to speak, read & understand the language?
I want to be a more considerate and safer traveler, of course, but also be better able to get off the tourist routes on my next visit to Italy.

Why do I want to get off the tourist routes?
I want a more authentic view of Italians, the Italian countryside and small towns, and their day-to-day lives.

Why do I want a more authentic view?
I want to get past the stereotypes perpetuated in tourist areas, get away from the crowds,  and interact with people in a more meaningful way.

Why do I want to get past the stereotypes, avoid crowds, and interact with people in a more meaningful way?
Because I hate crowds and don’t want to just confirm my biases, grab my souvenir tea towel, and go home. I want to come away feeling like I better understand Italians across the peninsula, the ways they see the world and their place in it. I also want to help dispell the stereotypes that people in other lands have about Americans by letting them get to know me a little.

With a deeper understanding of WHY I value the goal of learning the basics of Italian, I can ensure that it’s not an externally based goal (people-pleasing or societal norms-focused), and I think I’ll be more inclined to put the work in and set the distractions aside to reach it.

When I couldn’t get past two or three thoughtful why’s (and for some things I couldn’t), it quickly became clear that the stated goal wasn’t really something I was going to feel driven to maintain when motivation flagged or that didn’t add much to how I wanted to live my life.

Ten weeks

I don’t want to alarm anyone, but it’s only 10 weeks until the next year begins.

In general, I’m not someone that cares much about the shift from one calendar year to the next. I can’t remember ever making a personal New Year’s resolution, for example. If I think I ought to change something, I tend to go about considering, planning, and changing it. I’m not always successful at it, of course, but I do what I can to make the start vs giving myself time to ignore it or talk myself out of it.

But the realization today did make me stop to think about the direction my life is going, the things I’m happy about, the important things I’ve fallen away from, new (or renewed) things I’d like to turn towards, and the things that it might be best for me to turn away from–or handle in a different way.

So I drew up a simple list and drafted 3 priorities for each of the four categories I deemed most important to a well-lived life–personal, professional, social, and slippery slopes (aka wellness, financial, household). Then I thought about what I do on a day-to-day basis and what I get in return for each of them. It was humbling and even a bit embarrassing to really consider where I spend so much of my finite resources (time, attention, cash, effort, and energy). To admit how often I spend those resources on things that don’t enrich, support, or grow me in return. To see how one-sided things are in several categories. Frankly, it made me a bit ashamed. I know better, and I deserve better.

Then I thought about what I don’t do, what I put off, what I give lip-service to but always seem to find an excuse for not actually following through on, engaging in, or just half-assing. It’s an equally (un)impressive list. Again: frankly, it made me a bit ashamed. I know better, and I deserve better–and so do some of the things in my life.

So I’ve decided to take the bulk of my upcoming free time the next few weeks to think deeply about all of the above and to implement some much-needed changes.

(Yes, read things to include people. No, I don’t need a lecture on people vs things. I do, indeed, recognize the difference.)

Triathlon weekend!

Without wetsuits, goggles and body slick, tri-suits and road snacks, bikes and helmets, sneakers and bandannas.

You’ll find the two of us, a little broken but relaxed and well-rested, on the sidelines. I know I, for one, won’t be crying over the loss of that cold, cold swim or the 3:30am alarm to get the gear back to the transition area on time. 😉

An incomplete list

So I’ve been putting this off for a while because I didn’t really know what to include, what to keep out, where to go with it, so here it is in all its rocky road in a waffle cone stream of consciousness glory. It’s a mess, but a tasty one. Grab a few napkins for the drive home.

I gave up trying to be happy about two years ago, which has made me a lot happier. Striving for the sake of striving just meant I wasn’t stopping to notice what I already had. It kept me stuck in dissatisfaction, unable to see my progress, a prisoner to the illusion of perfection just around the bend. I’ve given myself permission to be okay or even not very good at things, so long as I enjoy them. I don’t need to be the best to love something. Miss Middle of the Road is having a mighty fine time lately as a result. I’ve given myself permission to give up on things that I’ve gotten pretty good at, simply because I don’t really enjoy them or because when I stopped to think about it, I realized that they make me miserable in the long-term. Some societal gold sticker wasn’t worth the pain. I don’t need kudos or approval from anyone else about what I do with my time or how I spend my days, where I go, who I go with or how much time I spend there.

I stopped wondering if I was putting too much, too little, the right/wrong kind of effort into friendships and just started doing what I felt like doing and for whom. Treating them well, with honesty and respect, but letting go of the quantity markers.

Similarly, I stopped wondering why certain people seemed to have lost interest in my friendship or what I could do about it. I acknowledged that out of sight sometimes means out of mind – and that I was sometimes just as guilty of it. I didn’t need to work so hard at friendships. Some are daily, some are weekly, some are monthly and some are when I see you, that’s cool. And when I don’t, that’s cool too. And if things fade, things fade. And we’re both still good folks.

I once got an unintentional punch-to-the-gut ‘compliment’ that was actually a fairly damning self-respect wake up call, and it was one of the best things that’s ever happened to me. It reminded me that I deserved better and that I damn well better start expecting better. After a few years of an emotional descent, it was the ice pick that helped me climb up the crevasse I’d slid down, back up to myself.

I have my slip ups, but mostly I’ve stopped caring about what others think of me. Don’t like my style of photo? cool  Think I’m a lazy fuck for not having a regularly scheduled job? no prob  My tweets make you roll your eyes at my simpleness or bring out the online troll in your soul? don’t let the virtual door hit you on the way out  Think my husband is nuts for not blowing a gasket every time I travel without him, even those times I travel with another man? good that i’m not married to you  Think my hobbies are stupid, time-consuming, and self-indulgent? alrighty o  Feel like mocking me or giving me a mini lecture every time I crash my bike, break a bone, toss my cookies post-run on a hot day, or — even better — reeling off the number of people who die swimming in open water every year? please know I’m singing the lalala song in my head the whole time

I don’t care what other people have as possessions, careers, pet projects, pet peeves, vacations or physical appearance. I know what I value and I’m comfortable with what I don’t have. You love the shit out of your perfectly decorated home? I think that’s great. I’m happy just keeping mine clean. You get hard posting your latest training stats on Strava or hitting that next PR? Dim the lights, pour that protein shake into your fanciest glass and get your funk on. Send me the link and I’ll send you a virtual high five (after you’ve washed your hands). Your new job is going to have you drowning in the $’s? Cash money, baby. Next round’s on you.

I’ve gotten real comfy with not being comfortable. I’ve gotten pretty cozy with the whole truth and speaking the truth even when it would be much nicer to ignore, downplay or flip-flop to ensure someone else’s comfort. Jeff and I have had a few not so comfortable conversations the last 18 months, about things we should have brought up decades ago, and the sky hasn’t fallen. Indeed, things are really good, although not always pleasant while we’re in the middle of it.

Nowadays I apologize as needed, full-on apologize, no excuses and without qualification apologize. Hold my mistakes and my misunderstandings outstretched in my own two hands and change my behavior apologize. Huge difference. I’ve always been a little stingy in the genuine apology department. Not proud of that, but it’s true. And when I don’t have anything to apologize for, I don’t.

Likewise, I’ve learned to spot when my Victims-Are-Us frequent-shopper punchcard is itching to come out and when someone else is waving theirs. Sorry, that discount has expired. (Please insert the What are Boundaries and Why are They Important? article of your choice here.)

I’ve gotten to the point (again) where I’m ready to walk from relationships, if and when necessary, by removing from my life those that routinely (or infrequently but significantly) have a negative impact on my life. Life’s too short for shitty friends and selfish lovers. I hope you’re nodding along here, because you know it’s true. By being prepared to walk away, I find that I’m always in the active state of choosing which relationships to sustain, feeding the ones which have a positive impact on both our lives. Some of those relationships aren’t always canyons deep and oceans wide. But if they’re positive, I value them. Sometimes we change people for the better by walking away and shutting the door. I received proof of that this week. I’m going to leave it at that.

No matter how diligently I pursue the things I want, if I do things right I’m still going to die (fingers crossed a good half-century from now) with a long list of things I wish I’d done, things I wish I’d learned, books I wish I’d read, things I wish I’d seen, people I wish I’d gotten to know better. At least I hope I will. I can only do so much; but I’ll do what I can. Unfulfilled dreams don’t need to equal dissatisfaction. I hope I’m trying new things, meeting new people, going new places and holding the people I love and cherish close until my last gasp. Sometimes I’ll fail, sometimes I’ll succeed. That’s how it goes. Will I have anything that could be called a legacy? Pff, hell if I know. If my son, husband, friends and family feel they’ve been loved unconditionally. That’s good enough for me. If I’ve set some good examples and given them a thing or two to emulate or think about along the way, even better.

Time to get some sleep. A new week and all its many tasks will soon be upon me.

 

Simple joys

Driving into south-western Michigan along I-94 is beautiful. Woods, water, cloud dappled blue skies. Man, I’ve missed that landscape. Michigan is also an allergen landmine. My arms started getting small hives on Friday night – welcome, Jamie! – and they’re still present (but no longer red) today one day back in Iowa. They don’t mention that in the Pure Michigan! ad campaign. Regardless, I love seeing that Welcome to Michigan sign stretching across the highway. I feel lucky having grown up in such a beautiful, naturally diverse state.

Ian and my brother, two peas in a pod, love sharing a house and making music together. I’ve never seen either of them laugh or smile so often. What else could a mom/sister ask for? Other than seeing my mom walk up with giant bowls of just picked sweet cherries and blueberries to snack on and a gallon of ice-cold Hudsonville’s Traverse City cherry fudge ice cream on a nearly 100F day, that is? Those came pretty close, too.

I hope your weekend was a good one, as well.

Jamie’s Soapbox

I’d like to take a few minutes during this holiday trip to talk about two things that are near and dear to my heart.

#1 is trust. Trust is big with me. Trust is key. Trust is the cornerstone of all my relationships. I extend it. I expect it.

Sooooooo, if you see my journal, don’t read it. That’s my safe and sacred space. It’s where I figure myself and others out, it’s where I make sense of the world. It’s often ugly and messy and sometimes downright mean, because it’s better that I process those feelings and emotions there than (unfiltered and unconsidered) anywhere else. And if you leave yours out, I will leave it be too. Pinky promise.

There’s been only a handful of times that I’ve either stumbled across someone’s journal unknowingly or knocked against someone else’s and had to return it to roughly the same spot. Even after admitting it (asap), handling them at all has made me feel guilty and sleazy, like I’d committed a serious relationship violation.

If you want to know what someone thinks about XYZ, ask. Maybe they’ll tell you. Maybe not. They get to decide. Just don’t breach that trust, especially when someone is your guest. Your curiosity isn’t justification enough.

#2 is respect. I don’t need to agree with you about certain issues, especially if I don’t live with you. You don’t need to agree with me. We can be respectful to each other without a ton of shared opinions. Maybe the bulk of our (personal, political, religious) values aren’t even in agreement. We can still find some common ground on some things, if we try. Kicking puppies is bad. Cat videos are funny. Littering is unacceptable, so let’s each fill a bag before we leave the beach. Gently washing the dirt off a toddler’s wound is something we can both get behind. Focus on those.

I’m not you. You’re not me. We’re not them. I’ll do me, you do you. They’ll live their own lives thankyouverymuch. Bad mouthing someone’s spouse, job, kid, neighborhood, lifestyle, or housekeeping is uncalled for. Unsolicited advice is unappreciated. Pretty much always. You’re allowed to have your own opinion. You’re also allowed to keep your mouth shut. In fact, nine times out of ten, it’s highly recommended.

Doing, buying, changing, repairing things against someone’s wishes — and bleating the martyr’s “I was just trying to be nice” when the shit hits the fan afterwards —  is just plain not something to do.

Respect the No.

If you ruin something, yes, it’s reasonable to insist on paying for the repair (especially if it would cause a true financial burden for the other).

But — if you just don’t like the color of someone’s door and window trim, it’s not okay to paint them a color you think is better while they’re at work. It’s extra not okay to get pissy when they don’t appreciate your “efforts” upon returning home.

So there you go, my two cents. Enjoy the weekend.

What messes we make of the inner worlds we trod upon

Having read The Ambassadors back during undergrad — that is to say powered through it fast enough to write a synapses, have a flaccid discussion with equally unimpressed students, and pass a test on it before shoving it even more quickly out of my mind — I finished Henry James’ tale of expectations, deception, relationships and authenticity again today. I didn’t remember even the barest of outlines re-reading it, and for that I’m grateful.

I feel stingy giving it only three stars on Goodreads because it deserves more, but the superfluous nature of every line that is quintessentially James’ style is such a chore to push through for 512 pages that I also can’t in good conscience give it any more. 

There is, however, no way around the fact that this story has snaked its way through my thoughts the entire evening, and that’s saying something.