Nov 14, 2009

Good clean fun.

Sometimes, there's just nothing left to do but torture the dog. She's usually game, and happy enough with the attention to show me her good side.

This may be the last photo of Brady in the old (new) house. Her fur, however, will remain forever.

Perspective, with a side of humility.

You know those emails that beg you to appreciate life by depicting starving children and war-torn countries? Usually, I find them patronizing and heavy-handed, and delete them without much thought. (Which is out of character for me, because I have made an art form of finding people worse off than I.) But I received one the other day that crawled under my skin, the images making their way to my heart and refusing to go away. Perhaps because my last post was so poor-me, or maybe because Grace has been crankier than usual, or possibly because I was still feeling sick and tired. For whatever reason, the message hit its target and resonated with me, and forced me to realized that my glass is WAY more than half full. (I know — who am I and what have I done with Laurel's body?)

My next post was going to be a rant about those who complain: about having to spend hundreds of dollars on unnecessary crap for their kids because Grandma and Grandpa won't pony up the cash, about having a fender bender in their gas-guzzling SUV and having to shell out $$$ for a deductible AND a rental, about being strapped by the mortgage on their vacation home, about not being able to find exactly the right pair of shoes for a party. (I have done several of the above.) But my heart isn't in it, because I realize it's all a matter of perspective. We all struggle; who decides what is a legitimate gripe and what is not?

One of the things I love about Portland is its lack of snobbery. When I lived in Chicago, almost all of my friends were college graduates who worked in advertising (yawn). When I moved to Portland, I realized that people here do what they need to do to make a living and spend the rest of their time pursuing passions: wind-surfing, mountain climbing, horseback riding, bicycling, animals and yes, writing. What a relief it was to just be myself and have a diverse group of friends who didn't judge one another based on their income. (Don't get me wrong, there is a faction in Portland that lives to go out at night and be fabulous; they are easy to avoid by not going to the Pearl District at night, particularly on weekends or the first Thursday of every month.)

The friend tree has had a few prunings over the years, most recently those who are social climbers and are unable to empathize with someone downwardly mobile (that would be me). And by social climber, I don't mean someone with money. One of my favorite people in the world has more money than all of my friends put together, but keeps it real. In fact, she says, "I love you" more than anyone I know, and means it. But friends who are more interested in the right neighborhoods and schools and social circles disappoint me, and bore me. I was a rung on the ladder, and am therefore no longer needed. (I'm not losing sleep over this.)

I have a home. I have a strange and wonderful nuclear family. I have friends who know what it means to struggle, and who have been so supportive over the last year, I don't know how I will ever repay them. I have enough savings to pay rent and fill my fridge with food (organic or not). And I have a passion, one so strong it makes me sorry for those who don't. It's time to get back to writing, to leave behind the inconsequential speed bumps that have slowed my progress, and keep my eye on the final destination.

Ultimately, it's time to focus on helping others again, something I used to do without a second thought but have failed to do even as others were helping me. If you have a moment, please visit this website, and if you are fortunate enough that you can help, please do so. Lisa has been my inspiration for months now (which would surely make her barf if the chemo hasn't already), and I can't imagine remaining so positively... positive in her situation. Also, when she's healthy, I plan to impose on her with a visit and a horseback ride, so the sooner, the better.

Oh — and for the record, I love you. All of you.

Nov 7, 2009

Intelligent design?

Human design is seriously flawed when a four-year-old is able to throw up in bed and hit the WALL six feet away. Poor Gigi can't seem to stay healthy. First the flu, then pneumonia, now the barfs. She's always a trooper, but we're running out of movies. And I'm rethinking preschool. It seems to be the place kids go to get sick so that they have to stay home, thereby causing their parents to become sick. It's a vicious, expensive cycle.

Nov 4, 2009

Frame of mind.

I've been thinking a lot lately about stress vs. anxiety, unhappiness vs. depression, goals vs. dreams, abundance vs. wealth and, of course, Tylenol vs. Motrin. I've also been shuffling around the house in my underwear quite a bit, so I don't claim to be thinking clearly, but I can't help but wonder what determines my state of mind — whether it has to do with how I'm hardwired or with what's actually going on in my life.

When a friend gave me a pep talk the other day about my attitude, I took it to heart and tried to look past my chronic anxiety and assess what's going on around me and in my head. Being analytical, I decided the best way to illustrate how I spend my time and emotional energy (lately) was with a pie chart. My conclusion is that it's not pretty, but it could be worse. I do have real stressors in my life demanding attention and draining my body and mind. I've tried to be proactive rather than reactive, but it's not really my nature to take things in stride and keep emotions in check. For example, I could label one slice "finances" and allow that to include my eleven-month stretch of unemployment and the seven-month delay in the house sale, realizing that when one or both of the aforementioned are resolved, the financial strain will lighten a bit. But my brain doesn't work that way. I compartmentalize, possibly so that I can direct my frustration towards specifics: the idiot neighbor, the person who didn't hire me , even the H1N1 virus that has made daily life so difficult for two weeks now.

Fortunately, this allows me to see that, while I may have been down lately, it's because I'm overwhelmed by life's complications, not because I'm depressed or weak. And while I'm wound tightly on my best days, there are valid reasons that stress has been taking its toll on me, physically and emotionally. On the other hand, I look at that tiny little slice of things that bring me joy, and I realize that I have been waiting for the problems to disappear before I get back to living my life. That's not a great recipe for happiness, particularly if I want to make progress toward realistic goals and strive to enjoy a sense of abundance rather than deprivation.

The joblessness sucks; it's been almost a year. I've never before had to stand in the grocery store and decide whether or not I can afford healthy food instead of cheap crap. This is one sacrifice I'm not willing to make, at least when it comes to Grace, so I make concessions elsewhere. I've learned to live with less, and I'm grateful for that. Slowly, it's becoming easier to focus on what we have rather than what we don't; to realize it's possible to have more fun doing things that don't cost money; to enjoy visiting friends in their homes or ours instead of going out to dinner. Why is it so complicated to learn to live simply?

Sometime soon, I hope to have a pie chart that looks more like this. This seems like a nice, normal life. I should probably leave a little "misc." slice for the unexpected, since I suspect raising a daughter will provide plenty of of unforeseen challenges opportunities. Also, I could get ambitious and include travel, volunteer work, book tours and that Pulitzer Prize, of course. But for now, four slices of pie is more than enough, as long as I have the right people with whom to share it.