Live THIS Life

“You could leave life right now. Let that determine what you do and say and think.”

— Marcus Aurelius. Meditations 2.11

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I’ve struggled with this quote from Marcus Aurelius in the context of the stoic philosophy of making the best of every situation, good or bad, and not letting things become larger or worse in your mind than they are in reality. At face value, this line reads like a Carpe Diem commission: Seize the Day! Don’t waste a second! Don’t miss out!

If you know me at all, you’re probably pretty well aware that FOMO (Fear Of Missing Out, for all of you acronymally challenged folks and/or baby boomers out there reading this) has historically been a driving value in my life, since my earliest homeschooling days when I realized All The Fun I was missing in public school where boys made dirty jokes and girls changed best friends more often than their underwear.

My FOMO has faded since I have experienced… well, a lot of things, including dirty jokes and unchanged underwear, and I’ve discovered the bliss of a couch full of dogs and a Person of Interest - but even as that anxiety takes a back seat, I am keenly aware of the shortness and frailty of life, the unguaranteedness of all of it, and how necessary it is to do the important things while we can.

The Stoics weren’t much into that FOMO business, so what did ol’ MA mean when he said this? It certainly wasn’t some hedonistic missive to tear it up and get you Clubbin’ on, just in case it was your last chance. Based on the context and his other writings, it wasn’t even some entrepreneurial command to “make hay while the sun shines.”

I’ve wrestled with what Memento Mori - the state of constant awareness of the frailty of life - means in the middle of the doldrums of a cubicle-bound Monday. Nothing feels like more of a waste of time than the constant refresh of email inboxes, social media feeds and planning to plan meetings about meetings about planning documents to plan agendas for planning events for some grand plan that might ultimately never come to fruition anyway, or be shot down by lack of funding, or even worse, lack of vision in a community. How can I sit here and do this knowing that any moment could be my last? How?

Marcus Aurelius had his own cubicle-bound Monday doldrums, there’s no doubt about it. This dude served as Emperor of one of the greatest civilizations that the world has known, only after decades of intensive study and grooming. There had to be a thousand moments that little Marky was staring off into the dancing poplar trees, daydreaming of Dryads and Nymphs, wondering what all the greek and latin gibberish was worth anyhow. What he discovered in those scrolls and daydreams wasn’t a way to escape to a new and exciting way to waste his time - he learned to maximize the thing in front of him. He learned to suck as much life out of that marble cubicle and those rolls of parchment as he possibly could. There was no avoiding the responsibility that his birth and education allocated to him, and so he decided to master every lesson delivered to him, and let it shape not only him, but the nation he would one day rule.

Maybe Marcus wasn’t talking about how frail life was, but how changeable. Maybe it’s not life in general that you could leave right now, but life specifically. Maybe the cubicle life is about to end and there’s something in that plan to plan that you’re gonna need outside of those closing-in-on-you Monday walls.

I am striving to own the place where I am, the life I am in, in this moment, and get the most out of it - and on beautiful summer days, staring at two monitors and a lot of foreign information that does little to stir my soul, it’s a workout. I need to complain less and seek more growth, because the hard stuff is usually the stuff I need the most, and maybe sitting still is the toughest thing I’ll say I’ve ever done in my life.

My two-monitor days won’t last forever, but it’s imperative that I get out of them what I need for the life beyond. So that’s the standard by which I should be measuring what I do and say and think. I need to see what I am missing out on right in front of me, because it won’t last.

Poohology: How A. A. Milne told a lot more than children's stories

In answer to a flagrantly libelous article that went viral on Ranker, wherein the author made some wild extrapolations in regards to the characters of A. A. Milne's Winnie the Pooh books, I have this response: You are wrong. Cheryl Adams Richkoff, although your list-format blog post was based on the research of neurologists and pediatricians, namely Sarah E. Shea, Kevin Gordon, Ann Hawkins, Janet Kawchuk, and Donna Smith in a study in 2000, I have to question whether any of y'all have ever read even one of Milne's classic books. The assumptions about the psychological disorders that the playmates of the 100 Acre Wood suffer from over-analyze, overreach and overlook the most important theme of Milne's characters: childhood innocence and imagination. From my extensive research into the material, I believe Milne actually stumbled upon childlike versions of what are actually full fledged personality types in the psychological realm. So, Mr/Ms. Richkoff, Shea, Gordon, Hawkins, Kawchuck and Smith, try some Poohology on for size. I'm betting you're a bunch of Owls. 

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Poohology: a rough breakdown

Christopher Robin: The Reluctant Leader

"Christopher Robin came down from the Forest to the bridge, feeling all sunny and careless, and just as if twice nineteen didn't matter a bit, as it didn't on such a happy afternoon, and he thought that if he stood on the bottom rail of the bridge, and leant over, and watched the river slipping slowly away beneath him, then he would suddenly know everything that there was to be known, and he would be able to tell Pooh, who wasn't quite sure about some of it."

Christopher Robin is a young boy with very little life experience, yet in the eyes of his friends in the 100 Acre Wood, Christopher Robin is an unstoppable force of brilliance and a magnetic director of events. Christopher Robin is unintentionally the guiding voice to people all around him, in all walks of life, old or young, he is a natural, however accidental, leader. People look to him for advice and direction, and unwittingly draw insight from every casual remark. Christopher Robin does not seek followers, nor consider himself much of a leader. He is charismatic but matter of fact. He is pragmatic and black-and-white about issues. He is logical and develops solutions without really trying. Christopher Robin’s weakness is a certain ambivalence to his ignorance. He is the master of fake-it-til-you-make it, and can lead the blind blindly into chaos and mayhem. A wiser and more mature Christopher Robin begins to operate in awareness of his followers and make choices based on the outcome for all. He is confident (externally), curious and occasionally prideful. He can be defensive, or humble, depending on maturity and context. Christopher Robin is a loyal friend unless his aptitude is questioned. He can easily walk away from a person that threatens his self-confidence and perceived position in life. He usually has many casual friends and one or two close confidences. Even with those he is deliberate and guarded in communication. Vulnerability is a rare trait for Christopher Robin, but demonstrates health and maturity. He works well with all of the other characters, but has a special fondness for Pooh (the abstract intellectual) and Piglet (the selfless loyalist). He is a problem solver and an instigator. He is relied upon heavily by all of the other characters. He thrives on taking care of the others and being dependable and trusted. He is a hard worker but can be easily misled or distracted sometimes, this also depends on maturity and humility.

“Always remember... Yo are braver than you believe. Stronger than you seem and smarter than you think.”

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Winnie The Pooh: The Abstract Intellectual

"When you are a Bear of Very Little Brain, and you Think of Things, you find sometimes that a Thing which seemed very Thingish inside you is quite different when it gets out into the open and has other people looking at it."

Nobody quite knows where Pooh comes up with his brilliant ideas, but somehow, they always make sense. Getting from point A to point B is usually a profoundly complex route through Pooh’s stuffed-with-fluff head, but he gets there, and usually right on time. Pooh is predictable, dependable, logical in his own strange way, and a steady emotional anchor. A mature and healthy Pooh provides an atmosphere of safety and reliability to all of the characters, all though they lose patience with his round-about reasoning. He is not usually very industrious, but will pitch in when asked, and promptly get distracted. He is usually not a multitasker. Winnie the Pooh is somewhat of a mystery to many of the other characters. He is usually well liked, but often held at arms length. He works best with Piglet, who serves as his interpreter to concrete thinkers like Rabbit and Tigger and Kanga. Pooh is quite intelligent, but not always in a practical way. His solutions are not always implementable, but his thought processes provoke some fascinating insights. Characters like Piglet and Roo, and occasionally Tigger, are drawn to his rambling intelligence and can be followers. Pooh is usually somewhat unaware of the other characters and their needs. He can be somewhat introspective and be blissfully unaware of crises around him. When these problems are pointed out to them, he is eager to help, and sometimes happens to land on a stroke of appropriate genius. He is a giver, but he is also mildly greedy. He cares deeply for people but an immature Pooh does not communicate this very well. He can come across as self-focused and uncaring. Pooh likes everyone but does not feel the need to seek out or pursue relationships, other than with Christopher Robin. Most friendships come find him, and if they go away, he won’t necessarily notice.

Piglet: The Selfless Loyalist

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”And then Piglet did a Noble Thing... 'Yes, it's just the house for Owl,' he said grandly. 'And I hope he'll be very happy in it.' And then he gulped twice, because he had been very happy in it himself."

Piglet is an odd little man. He is fiercely loyal, to the death, of his friends and perhaps even total 
strangers – when it comes to the protection of someone else, he is fearless and proactive. His self image is usually frail enough that he can’t see the same course of action in his own defense and is often taken advantage of by characters who prey on his loyalty. Piglet is intelligent and very logical. He is successful in most endeavors and unfortunately, much of his success is usurped either intentionally by unhealthy individuals or unintentionally by unaware characters like Pooh and Owl. Piglet will be the last one to state his own needs, but he is a homebody and is very particular about his own lifestyle. He is expressive in his own comfort zone, but does not feel the need to broadcast his individuality. He would very much rather not ever be the center of attention, and when he springs to someone else’s defense, his only holdback is the realization that he is drawing attention to himself. Usually a price he is willing to pay. Piglet can ultimately develop hard feelings and become cynical, but he compartmentalizes these feelings and tries to pare out bad relationships. He is a one-friend kind of guy usually. He gets along with most characters but will only invest heavily in one or two characters at a time. He likes Pooh because Pooh needs an advocate, and Piglet is just the man. He and Rabbit identify in certain areas, as well as Kanga, but Tigger overwhelms and annoys Piglet usually, unless Pooh is there to run interference. Piglet avoids conflict and is a peacemaker, usually at his own expense. He is also a little bit prideful, and easily embarrassed (refer to center of attention discussion before). He doesn’t handle attention very well, negative or positive, and would rather just not be noticed.

"Piglet lay there, wondering what had happened. At first he thought that the whole world had blown up; and then he thought that perhaps only the forest part of it had; and then he thought that perhaps only he had, and he was now alone in the moon or somewhere, and he would never see Christopher Robin or Pooh or Eeyore again. And then he thought, 'Well, even if I'm in the moon, I needn't be face downwards all the time,' so he got cautiously up and looked about him."


Eeyore: The Emotional Realist

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”We can’t all and some of us don’t. That’s all there is to it.”

Thanks to Walt Disney, everybody has got Eeyore pegged all wrong. Eeyore is a realist. He sees things the way they are, in black and white. He has good days and bad days and expresses them very openly and emotionally. While everyone else can make the most of a bad situation Eeyore will patiently face the negative and hope for better luck next time. Eeyore is intelligent and thoughtful, aware of others and their needs to a fault. Eeyore can be depressive or exuberantly joyful. He is creative whether he is talented and artistic or not. He is a plodder. He keeps going, a slow and steady pace, regardless of the situation. He is a great friend for those that can tolerate the emotions he wears on his sleeve. He’s somewhat competitive and enjoys a good friendly debate. He doesn’t like conflict but he does enjoy negotiation. He has utmost respect for Christopher Robin for his creativity, but can see CR’s haphazard underqualifications. Eeyore acknowledges Rabbit as the leader he is but loses patience with Rabbit’s disconnected emotions. Eeyore and Tigger have a love hate relationship because they are the most emotionally expressive characters, and often find themselves in direct opposition, i.e. the thing that makes Tigger exuberant is often Eeyore’s bain, and vise-versa. He is good friends with Piglet and one of the only characters intuitive enough to not abuse Piglets’s selflessness. He is one of Piglet’s only defenders. Eeyore has little use for rambling philosophies or bloviating. Pooh and Owl often annoy him, as he can be somewhat selfish and doesn’t like to waste time or energy on things that seem vain or useless to him. He does not like to be mothered or bossed around but he can establish a good rapport with Kanga and Rabbit. Surprisingly, Eeyore gets along well with Roo, and can tolerate immature characters better than most, perhaps because they also wear their emotions honestly and unabashedly.
“'Oh, Eeyore, you are wet!' said Piglet, feeling him. Eeyore shook himself, and asked somebody to explain to Piglet what happened when you had been inside a river for quite a long time.” 

Tigger: The Well Intentioned Blunderer

”Tigger, where are your manners?”
“I don’t know, but I bet they’re having more fun than I am.”'

Tigger is a whirlwind of emotion and energy and spastic motivation. He is intelligent but so often distracted that his thoughts don’t ever connect. Tigger likes almost every one immensely, but his chief concern is being known for who he really is,“the only one”. Tigger is compelled to feel unique. He becomes intolerable when his uniqueness is threatened or the attention is not fully on him. Tigger is highly opinionated but lacks the pride that causes conflict in this area. He is overwhelmingly curious and opposing opinions trigger more questions in his mind, which he will pursue until he gets distracted. Tigger rarely follows something through to absolute completion. He is full of big ideas and great beginning energy, but finds it hard to stay on target until the end. Most of the other characters enjoy the entertainment that Tigger provides, and calculate the loss that Tigger’s unintentional clumsiness may cost as well worth the friendship. Tigger is the character that will make everyone else late for an event, or invite too many people, or commit social faux paus without even knowing there are lines to be crossed. He creates a headache for Rabbit who truly admires his wanton joy, but feels compelled to complain about it. They are a surprisingly strong relationship, though both will protest. Tigger can also become depressed, and his saddest moments make Eeyore look like a clown. He gets along with Pooh and Owl but is easily bored with their rambling. He and Piglet often end up toe to toe because Tigger has carelessly offended another character, a wrong which Piglet feels compelled to right. Tigger is brave and will try anything. He responds to dares and bets and sometimes he talks bigger than he can follow through on, which again results in conflict between characters. Tigger loves to take care of others, but can’t usually think outside of his own tastes and preferences, and has difficulty providing needs that aren’t similar to his. His energy is infectious and for all of the damage he inflicts accidentally, he is usually a welcome part of anything going on in the woods. Tigger can also be a work-horse, and is far from lazy. He can be a good multitasker when he is healthy and mature.
“Just because an animal is large, it doesn't mean he doesn't want kindness; however big Tigger seems to be, remember that he wants as much kindness as Roo.” 

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Rabbit: The Effective Perfectionist

"'Rabbit's clever,' said Pooh thoughtfully.
'Yes,' said Piglet, 'Rabbit's clever.'
'And he has Brain.'
'Yes,' said Piglet, 'Rabbit has Brain.'
There was a long silence.
'I suppose,' said Pooh, 'that that's why he never understands anything.'"


While it’s true that Rabbit is somewhat of a worrier, no other character in the hundred acre wood is as productive and logical. Rabbit is one of the only characters that makes things happen. Rabbit is also one of the few characters that can save the others from the brink of disaster and recover from most catastrophes. Rabbit thinks ahead. He sees logical solutions very clearly, and operates mostly in black and white. He is usually extroverted, an excellent multi-tasker, and gets along well with most characters. Tigger tries his patience to no end, but also give him a perpetual project. An unhealthy Rabbit can become very manipulative, and with his keen tongue and intellect, can easily accomplish his goals at the expense of others. A healthy Rabbit reaches these goals by using cynergistic and cooperative methods. Rabbit is the only character that can really pull the whole crew together to make an absolute success. He is detail oriented and very observant. He cares for others and will bend over backwards to provide for them according to very formulaic and logical needs. He can be very good at controlling his emotions, but he feels things very strongly and is good at expressing himself. He is vociferous and very much a take-charge type. While he doesn’t care about being the center of attention, he is very much concerned with being effective and productive, and will dominate the group to make things happen. He can be smart almost to the point of manipulation in getting the ear of Christopher Robin to coordinate plans. Rabbit has a very tender side that is nurturing and selfless. But for Rabbit, everything must be done in the right way, the correct order, and meet all of the rigid standards he has set for himself and everyone else. Rabbit goes through occasional burn out, but always bounces back to keep the group functioning. Kanga is one of his biggest supports, but they often disagree on implementation tactics. 
"'Ah!' said Rabbit, who never let things come to him, but always went and fetched them."



Owl: The Meandering Reasoner

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“Owl explained about the Necessary Dorsal Muscles. He had explained this to Pooh and Christopher Robin once before and had been waiting for a chance to do it again, because it is a thing you can easily explain twice before anybody knows what you are talking about.”

Owl’s strength is his knowledge retention and perpetual quest for information. While he may lack self and others awareness, he can usually make up for it by providing necessary information to the people in his life. Often detached from the bigger picture, Owl gets somewhat preoccupied with his own interests and forgets that everyone around him doesn’t share this preoccupation. Many Owls become specialists in a specific field because they are keenly interested in something, although some become general knowledge hounds and might be drawn to teaching or other information-based work. Whole Owl is very intelligent, common sense and basic things like spelling sometimes escape him. He is more brilliant than practical, in many cases.
  Owl’s concern for others is manifest in helpful ideas and suggestions usually rather than actions. He often provides direction (which may or may not be practical and useful) and instruction for the doers around him. He can be an effective leader, but won’t generally be a great follower or employee. Owl has a sensitive ego that needs to be stroked, but is also fairly good at self-generated confidence, based on his objective knowledge of his own skill level or useful contribution. Owl is not highly emotional or easily swayed but misfortune of his own or that of others. He’s fairly pragmatic and practical, if he’s not too much in his own head. 

“‘Well,’ said Owl, “the customary procedure in such cases is as follows.’”
“Owl, wise though he was in many ways, able to read and write and spell his own name WOL, yet somehow went all to pieces over delicate words like MEASLES and BUTTERED TOAST”

Kanga: the Intuitive Caretaker 

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'I don't know if you are interested in Poetry at all?'" 'Hardly at all,' said Kanga" 
Kanga is everybody’s mother. Always in tune with the needs of the people around her, she can also project forward and anticipate future needs. She’s meticulous and thorough in her administration, but organizationally she operates according to a very personalized system. Kanga is a planner and does not like to stray from the designated pathway. She is reticent to relinquish control or follow blindly without explicit understanding. Kanga is usually a homebody - not adverse to socializing, but not seeking it out. She cares deeply for the ones closest to her. More in tune to the needs of those around her, whether they agree or not, Kanga is more empathetic than Rabbit, with whom she has quite a bit in common. Fastidious and something of a worrier at times, she is happiest in a world that she feels in control of. Extremely focused and not easily distracted, it takes quite a bit to get Kanga to engage in frivolous behaviour except very occasionally. 

"She knew at once that, however big Tigger seemed to be, he wanted as much kindness as Roo." 

“Now it happened that Kanga felt rather motherly that morning, and Wanting to Count Things—like Roo's vests, and how many pieces of soap there were left.”


Authors note: The Roo personality is a questionable standalone. Originally, I considered Roo the representation of childhood, a follower-type persona (see Stage One of Mark Manson’s four life stages) that we all eventually grow out of. That being said, I am re-examining the Roo character and am including him in the lineup for the time being.


Roo: the Effervescent Follower

Roo is the one you want on your team. Perpetually enthusiastic and courageous, his curiosity about life is contagious. What he lacks in organizational skills he makes up for in zeal and willing participation. Arguably the universal embodiment of childlikeness, some Roos never grow up. He might make a great employee, but is dangerous in a leadership position a he is usually not in tune with the bigger picture or very good and thinking or planning ahead. 

Philosophy

Yesterday, Someone Close to me asked if I had been writing lately. I answered truthfully that I have not. I told him I’ve been adrift at sea - lost, in a way, not sure of what to say. He asked if that wasn’t the best time to write, but it seems like I’ve been too busy trying just to stay afloat and alive, but I felt like the words would come in, gale force, once I reached my desert island. I think land is in sight…

This last few months has been a whirlwind of things. Good things. Activity, travel, work, people, stimulation, challenges… but this week I have had the first opportunity in a very long time to do some reading, and I finished Mark Manson’s second book, Everything is F*cked - A Book About Hope. The book was about hope, but certainly not in the way that I had imagined. As with his first book, Manson makes me feel like a mindless fangirl and I had to watch several videos of him lecturing in order to find some points I disagreed with in order to feel less like a cultish follower. The book is spot on, and if you’re a seeker, you should read it. If you are happy and content in your life most of the time and can’t understand what the problem is with people like me, then it would probably just upset you. I don’t know very many people like that, which is probably subconsciously intentional.

I also read an essay by Ryan Holiday, who, if you don’t know, is the guy behing the Daily Stoic, among other life-changers, and he wrote this list of 32 Thoughts of a 32 Year Old which had some big stand-outs for me, the biggest of which, in addition to the reinforced idea of less social media, was this line:

“You need a philosophy and you need to write it down. And re-write it and go over it regularly. Life is too hard (and too complicated) to try to wing it and expect to do the right thing.”

So I took a break from watching Mark Manson videos (which included a rabbit hole into one of his ex-girlfriend’s blogs wherein she correlated him with the biblical anti-christ through a series of unintentionally hilarious extrapolations) and wrote down my philosophy. At first, I was like “Oh my gosh, this is a big, overwhelming task on which I will need to meditate for three days before composing a first draft!” But before that thought had finished processing, I had the first line of my philosophy, because if a philosophy isn’t right from the gut and the heart, it’s probably not yours.

Love more.

Love isn’t all we need, but we need to love more. And while that can sound all intangible and ambiguous, it looks like this:

“Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Love never fails.” (I Cor. 13:4-8) I couldn’t have said it better myself, so I won’t, except to sum it up in one word: UNCONDITIONAL.

Judge less.

Yes, this is the lens through which I view the world around me, but more importantly, it’s the lens through which I view myself. I am more successful in extending grace to anybody but me.

Work hard.

Mark Manson argues that the one constant in human life is pain, and that our only real control has much less to do with hope, happiness or success, (because as we all know, shit well beyond our control happens ALL THE DAMN TIME) but more the power we have over HOW we suffer. We can choose our own pain. We can suffer physically from mistreating our bodies and allowing them to deteriorate or we can suffer WITH GAINZ! by working hard to be strong and physically resilient and healthy. We can agonize over things that happen to us and wallow in our victimization or we can take control of the space between our own ears and choose to look at each circumstance as something necessary for our growth - our mental, emotional and psychological resilience. Choose your pain. Do the work.

Always Learn.

This world is a classroom. There is SO MUCH to absorb. Never quit looking.

Give back.

This is all about gratitude. It’s when we’re giving to others that we’re so much more aware of our own abundance. Even when you don’t feel like you’ve got it to give - give, and you’ll discover that you have so much more than you thought.

Play now.

It might be your last chance. Never turn down an opportunity to play, to chase joy, to laugh. If there is a glimpse of childlike wonder in front of you, grab it now. Don’t bypass a beer with a friend, coffee with your mom, a Really Tall Slide or couch time with your best friend. Stop and smell the flowers. Take the damn selfie with your homies. These are the moments you will take with you when you go, I promise.

So there it is. My philosophy in 12 words or less. LOVE MORE. JUDGE LESS. WORK HARD. ALWAYS LEARN. GIVE BACK. PLAY NOW. Not three days of soul-searching. Not shipwrecked and alone. Right off the top of my brain and the depths of my heart. It’s the golden standard to measure every action by. If what I am doing right now doesn’t fit into one of those slots, I need to evaluate whether my effort and energy is being wasted, cause ain’t nobody got time for that! What is your philosophy?

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That One Time a Movie Star Copied Me

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Back when I was a tiny young mother and still gleaning a sense of fashion, which by now is as well rounded as my seamstressing skills (see below), I bought very few items of clothing in which I would be caught dead today. This is partially due to the fact that I couldn't squeeze one calf into a size two now, and also because they are just not that cool. Maybe for 1997, if you lived in a rural community, cut off from civilization they were ok, but.... I did buy one thing, back in the olden days, that I still have. One of the reasons I have kept it is because my little sister has hounded me for years to give it to her, which equals cool status regardless of current trends. This stand alone item is also still cool because Robin Wright wore it in Unbreakable with Bruce Willis, and as we all know, there is nothing in an M Knight Shyamalan movie, or that the Princess Bride would wear, that goes out of style. Ever. Anyway, this specific article of clothing is a tan leather jacket from the Gap, which I felt cool for owning over all these years, until I received this picture from my sister, of the identical jacket that she bought off of eBay. 

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And I was flattered. Slightly deflated since I no longer have the One Thing that she wants, as I already gave her the smaller size (loathe) of my favorite belt, and she adopted her own collection of (also smaller, also loathe) Liv Jeans and we even have the same Frye boots (ok, these I copied from her, but I still feel like I should get credit for her over all sense of style). We could be twins on pretty much any given day, as these items are pretty much the only things we both wear constantly, except I would be the ginormous twin and she would be the little cute one that makes all my favorite clothes look good (super loathe). How did I turn the ONE flattering thing into a non-flattery. The heck.

My sister tried to get the jacket from me, but I was unwilling to relinquish it, encouraged in part by someone advising me, "Don't give that jacket to your sister. It will fit you again eventually." In my defense, the jacket still DOES fit me, and I can even squeeze a hoodie under it if I don't want to bend my arms at all. Which I frequently don't. Just because I can't button it doesn't mean it doesn't fit. It's a jacket after all. Meant to be left open all carelessly with a scarf and sleeveless shirt that allows at least some arm movement. Also I would like credit for the 13 pounds that I have lost this year. Collectively of course, over the last 12 months or so. And I may or may not have gained more than that back, but that doesn't take away the loosing part. Really.

Another unflattering thing is sewing. At least for me. I can work with words. I kind of like to mess with them and bend them around to say something that at least somewhat resembles the abstract mess that is my head. But fabric? Especially dollar-a-yard, laugh-in-your-face, deny-your-dreams fabric. That's the thing about dollar-a-yard fabric. It's sole purpose in existing is to make an utter fool out of you when you try to translate some totally awesome thing in your head into a totally awesome thing out of your head. I was mocked repeatedly by some pretty vintagey fabric that worked well as table cloths for an event we had, largely because my sister was the one handling it. But when I put one finger to the stuff, it's like it wanted to punish me for thinking I could sew. So this one time, since some bean soup I had made turned out ok and I was still feeling domesticish, I tackled this vision of a bed skirt that had been swirling around in my head for the last several nights as I was lying awake, missing my Tylenol PM. It only took me 6 hours to find out that I have not the slightest idea how to make a bed skirt, but by then I had resorted to using safety pins to FORCE the stupid cloth, in assorted pieces, to do what I wanted. Eventually I put it on the bed and pretended I liked it, but during my last move it disappeared with all the other things in my life that don’t spark joy. Like the elliptical, and anything resembling workout gear or clothes that my sister looks cuter in. I recently saw that “bedskirt” I made in a bin of scraps at a thrift store… no surprise it found its way there. But the leather jacket is still in my closet, waiting for the day I don’t want to bend my arms.

Ode to St. Valentine...

St. Valentine was a hopeless romantic…

St. Valentine was a hopeless romantic…

Before you write off Valentine’s Day as another invention of American corporations in the quest for perpetual revenue from mass produced greeting cards and several thousand tons of seasonal candy, take a moment to consider the long, if not convoluted, history behind the holiday. Long before it was chocolates and diamonds and fancy dinner dates, Saint Valentine’s Day became a celebration of enduring love.

Valentine of Rome was a Christian saint in the 5th century who was martyred in 496 AD for his faith. He was buried on February 14th, and the anniversary of his death was observed by the Catholic Church after he was canonized.

According to legend, Saint Valentine wore an amethyst ring embedded with the image of cupid. He officiated at the illegal Christian weddings of Roman Soldiers, who were forbidden to marry, as the Emperor Claudius II believed that married men did not make for good soldier material. It was said soldiers would recognize him by his cupid ring and request the performance of his secret nuptials. The amethyst later became the birthstone for the month of February, and is said to bring love. St. Valentine is said to have cut hearts out of parchment and given them to the soldiers to which he ministered, beginning the tradition of heart shaped cards.

Eventually Valentine was imprisoned for his Christian ministry, and while in jail, he is said to have healed his jailer’s daughter, Julia, from blindness. A letter sent from his jail cell to the girl was signed “from your Valentine”, perhaps the first Valentine ever sent. After his death, Julia planted an almond tree with pink blossoms near his grave. The almond tree is still symbolic of undying love and friendship.

The Catholic Church removed St. Valentine’s day from the General Roman Calendar in 1969, but the holiday was well rooted in tradition across the globe by that time. Speculation has tied the holiday to the ancient Roman feast of Lupercalia, a three day celebration of fertility in mid February, but there has been no traceable connection to this observance and the later resurgence of the romantic theme appointed to February 14th by poets and lovers who were far removed from Rome’s pagan roots.

“ Tomorrow is Saint Valentine’s day ,  All in the morning betime ,  And I a maid at your window ,  To be your Valentine .” - Ophelia (Hamlet)

Tomorrow is Saint Valentine’s day, All in the morning betime, And I a maid at your window, To be your Valentine.” - Ophelia (Hamlet)

The first romantic association with the church holiday of St. Valentine’s Day wasn’t until nearly a thousand years later, when Geoffrey Chaucer, the English poet, penned the verse: “For this was on seynt Volantynys day, Whan euery bryd comyth there to chese his make.” ["For this was on St. Valentine's Day, when every bird cometh there to choose his mate."] Later, scholars would argue that the Valentine to which he referred was not Valentine of Rome, but the feast of St. Valentine of Genoa, who died nearly 100 years before Valentine of Rome, which was observed in early May, a time more likely for the mating of birds in Britain.

Whatever the reference really meant, Valentine’s Day was securely established as a celebration of love on February 14th by the beginning of the 15th century. Following Chaucer’s lead, French and English poets latched on to the theme and over the next 200 years, references to Valentine’s day, featuring birds and romantic love surfaced across Europe. The oldest surviving Valentine came from Charles, Duke of Orleans, referring to his wife as his  “very sweet Valentine” while he was imprisoned in the Tower of London in the 1400s: “Je suis desja d'amour tanné, Ma tres doulce Valentinée.” Even Shakespeare gave a nod to the holiday in Hamlet in the early 1600s.

Mass productions of romantic poetry, cards and love notes was well underway in England by the end of the 18th century, and in 1847, the first commercially produced Valentines were available in the United States. It wasn’t until the late 1900s that the traditional note giving escalated to chocolates and jewelry. This became a trend in the United States when the candy and diamond industries saw potential for growth. It is estimated that over 190 million Valentines were sent in the United States in 2015, not including homemade exchanges between school age children. The average amount spent on a Valentine’s day gift in the US last year was $131.

However you choose to observe (or not) the festival of love that is Valentine’s Day, the story of St. Valentine, perhaps embellished over the years, is a good excuse to let the ones we love know that we are thinking of them. It’s also a good chance to break out the scissors and glue stick and show our love with a little bit of creativity and personal attention. Maybe we don’t need diamonds and puppies to tell our Valentine’s how much they mean to us, but since the middle ages, we’ve been using poetry to get our point across. The cliche “Roses are Red” rhyme began in 1590, with Edmund Spenser's epic poem The Faerie Queene, but was adapted into a nursery rhyme in 1784 from Gammar Gurton’s Garland:

The rose is red, the violet's blue,

The honey's sweet, and so are you.

Thou are my love and I am thine;

I drew thee to my Valentine:

The lot was cast and then I drew,

And Fortune said it shou'd be you.

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Amor Fati: Why It's All Alright

“A blazing fire makes flame and brightness out of everything that is thrown into it.” - Marcus Aurelius

If you could go back in time, what would you change about your life?

When you look at the most difficult, pain-filled moments in your past, what wells up inside of you? Is it a deep-rooted loathing? Denial? Hate? Bitterness? Terror? Gratitude?

I have a handful of regrets in my life, some things I wish that I could do-over, like the floral turtlenecks and corduroy jumpers of my high school years, or that perm in 1993… But when it comes to the Really Big and Terrible things that have happened in my life, I wouldn’t undo it. Not because I found any pleasure in those moments or because I am some sort of a masochist, but because it was in those moments, days, years, that I found myself. The person I am today, any growth or success that I have experienced, was made possible by the obstacles that were placed in my path. The unavoidable suffering. The things I didn’t ask for. The things that weren’t my fault.

This is what amor fati means: love of fate. The deep, resonant acknowledgement that everything happens for a reason. Not every day is a good day, but even the bad ones are necessary. On the surface, it’s easy enough to say that pain and misery give us a deeper appreciation for the joy and comfort we find later, but more than that, trials and tribulations give us the complexity, the problem-solving skills, the resilience to navigate the rough water as we move ahead in life. For every broken heart, I am grateful. For every ache in my soul, I give thanks. They have made me who I am.

The hardships I have suffered in my life pale in comparison to the ordeals that many have faced over the centuries. Studying great minds from history has taught me that my misery is the equivalent of a holiday for people who have survived so much worse. The horrors of the Holocaust taught us the power of the human spirit and the responsibility of all mankind for his brother, and it gave birth to powerful voices like Elie Wiesel, a Nobel Laureate, who survived Auschwitz and Buchenwald concentration camps to later write “If the only prayer you say throughout your life is ‘Thank You,’ then that will be enough.” Wiesel witnessed atrocities that we cannot even fathom, and yet his message to the world is one of gratitude.

Life is a force that is, for the most part, out of our control. We buy the illusion of control with our meticulously cultivated plans and strategies, but all it takes is one breath of fate to blow us off our well-charted course into an oblivion, where it is up to us to buck and thrash against what has happened, grasping to regain our delusional sense of destiny, or roll with the wave and bob to the surface upright, looking for the new course and destination - maybe even with gratitude and excitement.

As a young girl, I fell hook-line-and-sinker for the line in the bible that promised me the desires of my heart, if I did what the lord asked of me. I did it, and more, and got shit-in-a-basket in return… far from what I thought the desire of my heart was, a fairy tale love and story book life. Come to find out, that’s not really what I wanted anyway. This restless soul wasn’t ever cut out for a happily-ever-after, turns out I am more of a choose-your-own-ending kinda girl, and it was the darkest moments of my life that have made that possible - I wouldn’t change it for the world.

So amor fati. Love fate. Bring it on. I’ve got my life jacket, which sometimes comes in the form of a bottle of wine, a beer with a friend, a road trip to reset, or sometimes it’s just really loud music on the stereo . We’re all on this ride together and I am grateful that my switchbacks have led me here, to you, and this place where we can ride out the storm together and see what’s on the other side.

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Being a Girl is Hard

All I want is boots that are both warm AND cute. I want panties that don’t show OR ride up. I want hair that looks beautiful but doesn’t suffocate me. I want a bra that does what bra should do without making me feel like I’m in a straight jacket.

I don’t get to dress up very often. I bought this dress from an Australian designer last year with Big Plans about wearing it out on “date night” but after three rescheduled “date nights,” four multitasking outings to the Big City that did quadruple-duty as date/Costco/Home Depot/AllTheThings days that were not cute-dress appropriate, and a handful of skipped/postponed/rainchecked holidays like anniversaries and Valentine’s Day that coincided with Very Important Work Things and/or a Bad Attitude, the dress has remained in its pristine, $359 Price tag still attached, condition. Until today.

Because what could be a better opportunity than a trip to the Big City for a superstar concert? In sub-freezing temperatures. With a few stops for business errands on the way. And a home inspection. And a few groceries. And a meeting or two. And waiting in the car for awhile.

It’s given me ample opportunity to realize that however adorable, this dress is hella short. Also these were the absolute wrong panties to wear with a too-short dress, even though they do match the cute bra that is riding up my back. And falling down my shoulders. And pinching me in places other than where I liked to be pinched, which happens to be nowhere in sub-freezing weather.

I’m envious that Someone Else rolled straight from work in comfortable AND stylish jeans, with a laid back AND sexy flannel shirt and boots that are both warm AND hip, and looks just as good as me without any bra pinches, hair stranglehold or numb toes. It’s just not fair.

I know in a cocktail or two I’ll feel great and won’t care so much if Pamela down the bar from me can see my ill-fitting underwear under my too short skirt on a bar stool. If she complains, I’ll flash her a glimpse of my matching bra with complimentary boob bruises so she can at least appreciate the effort.

Tell me I’m not alone. Other girls look pretty. They look all cute and done up and ALSO comfortable. How am I doing it wrong? And how can ALL OF THE MAKEUP I put on three hours ago be gone already??? I used Aquanet on my face forgodssake. I curled my hair TWICE, and used Aquanet on it too, but you could never tell.

He’s so smug in his sexy pearl snap flannel, while my goose bumps are accelerating leg hair growth to Mach 3 speed. My mother would suggest tights. Which I would scoff at, but be warmer in. But then all night, struggling to hoist the perpetually sagging crotch line back to its assigned position… lord help me.

Just tell me I’m not alone in the struggle. Tell me it’s worth the fight and Mr. hasn’t-even-gotten-a-haircut-in-six-months’ effortless, sexy vibe is at least contagious. Or just buy me another low calorie gin and soda and join me in my misery.

Here’s to us, ladies. The quietly enduring champions of beauty, bearing our pain in (mostly) silence and smiling for the selfie that had better damn not make us look fat, for the love of peter.

Why the Dismal Nitch?

I’ve been predictability for a long time. I was Bendability for awhile. I’ve been many things over the years, but the only thing that is always the same in my life, the one consistent thing, which earned me my predictability nickname, is that I am always looking ahead, to the next place, the next thing, the next iteration of me. Never settle. Predictably changeable. Predictably inconsistent. Predictably seeking. Hey man, cut me some slack. I’m a gemini.

When I was a kid, and later, a young woman, my mom lectured me on learning contentment. I’ve gotten the “bloom where I am planted” speeches from various sources throughout my life, and the dozen or so different therapists I’ve had a session or two with were interested in talking about my restlessness, but I have come to love it as a part of what makes me, me. Even my mom has come to terms with it, I think. Or at least she doesn’t chide me any more about being discontent.

My itch to know what’s out there, what comes next has been built into me since I was a small child and I was tunneling through the blackberry jungles of our property in Oregon. It was there when I threw my whole teenage heart and soul into a religion that led me to a dead end and stripped me of much of my faith. It was there when I set out with four unruly girls in tow to see what else there was to do in the world, and it’s the reason those girls are so wildly perfect.

When I read about Lewis and Clark’s Dismal Nitch, it spoke straight to my soul. For three days, the explorers and their party of smelly guides and trappers and tag-a-longs (not the Girl Scout kind) hunkered down on a tiny beach with barely enough shelter and barely enough food to get by, with their ultimate destination after an unthinkably hard but world-changing journey, almost in sight. For three days they waited out howling storms, relentless rain and freezing cold, knowing their goal was THISCLOSE. They were almost there. They had nearly arrived. But the Dismal Nitch was the place that kept them alive. It wasn’t THERE. It wasn’t where they wanted to be, but it was necessary. That’s where I am in my life at any given time. Taking shelter from the storm, financially, emotionally, whatever weird weather comes my way, dug into a little beach with not quite enough of whatever it seems like would make life perfect, and not quite to the destination that might be my ultimate spot.

But let’s be honest. Did Lewis and Clark quit seeking after they left the Dismal Nitch and ran into the Pacific Ocean? After an arduous return journey, the two adventurers tried their hand at a few other occupations, politics, diplomacy, businesses… Neither one settled into a longterm profession to live out their old age, and both stories continue on with turmoil and intrigue and drama that made the Dismal Nitch seem like a distant, peaceful memory.

Even though I like life to move a little more slowly now, and I can appreciate couch time with the best of them, I don’t know that I will ever be able to tell a longterm tale of one occupation or have the secure knowledge that I have “arrived” and I am finally ok with that.

I am learning, unlike poor Meriwether Lewis, to be more careful on some counts, and with the help of Certain Individuals, I am reluctantly embracing the need to plan my financial security and my physical health around my restless quest for what’s next, and I am learning to love the Dismal Nitch.

Some days, I love it more than others, but I every year I get better about riding out the storms and enjoying the ride along the way.

So that’s why the Dismal Nitch. While I am here, I am gonna bring all the things that I love about it, about where I am Right Now, together and share them. I’m gonna funnel all the things about the Nitch that make it great into one place so that even I can go back and remember why the little beach is better than the big, angry river, no matter how close I am to where I think I want to go.

As it turns out, most of the time where I want to go wasn’t nearly as good as where I was, so it’s ok to just hang here in the Nitch, with all of you, ‘cause we’re all in this together.

dei plena sunt omnia

The Good Ones


The morning of my daughter’s 14th birthday, as I hugged her goodbye when she went to school, I was in the middle of writing a story about the Route 91 shooting in Las Vegas. How many parents hugged their kids goodbye that day - how many husbands kissed their wives... how many friends texted TTYL for the last time that day? More than 59, at least. Each person who stood in front of that stage represented the lives of so many more. Each life lost was an echo of their parents, friends, children... everyone they loved and everyone that loved them. None of them knew it was the last time. None of them had anything in mind except a good time. None of them went to downtown Las Vegas knowing they would die, or knowing they would be asked to act heroically in the face of unimaginable danger.

My Facebook feed is fraught with adamant proponents of gun control and staunch defenders of the second amendment right now, and on both sides of the fence, they are right. It IS time to talk about the issues that are plaguing us as a nation. It is ALWAYS the right time to tackle these things. Take my damn guns away from me if you must, if you think it will solve All Of The Problems, but then can we please, please focus on the hearts and minds of our families and communities? Can we look at how we have moved away from taking care of our own and knowing when something is not right with the person next to us?

We are so interconnected on a global scale that we have forgotten how to connect with the human next to us on a bus, on the playground, at the store, at a concert. We are so good at killing things virtually, and we enjoy the rush so thoroughly, that killing them in real life has lost its meaning for us. Remove all of the weapons and see how much change we experience. Cain killed Abel with a rock. Men murder their wives with bare hands every day. The tools of our violence are not the problem. The violence of our hearts is the problem. I will hand my guns right over if you will then stop and look at what we have accepted as a culture is "normal."

Murder and mayhem have become our entertainment. We delight in the gruesome and binge on horror as if these things have no effect on us, and even worse, the young minds absorbing everything around them. We are too consumed with the drama of people who have no bearing on real life that we miss the real life drama unfolding next door. Reality TV has replaced reality. We have become content to be observers instead of actors. This is our life. That shooter was our brother, our neighbor. Maybe he went to our church. The victims are all of us.

People have been killing each other since the dawn of time. Until we figured out how to trot from one side of the globe to the other, all of our mass killings took place in tribal genocide. Then we got bigger and better at war and found more intricate ways to justify our violence. Now we don't have the tribes to protect us because we're all so well off that we don't need each other.

Then suddenly we don't know where the shots are coming from, and we don't know who and we don't know why. In that moment, everyone around me becomes either my tribe or my enemy. I will protect, I will defend, I will sacrifice or I will claw my way to the top of the pile in self-preservation. But it's a faceless, causeless war that we fight here in the United States. It is a storm of terrorism with no predictable landfall. It is unmitigated anger, pain and hopelessness. We face the ever-morphing enemies of mental illness, racism, and religious extremism. The ones who take the brunt of this onslaught, we fault for their flawed reactions. We attack our officers and authorities for overreacting while we turn a blind eye to the neighbor or family member who began crying for help long ago. We protest violently against people doing their job who had no part in making the laws that we do or do not want. We're fighting each other - it's the perfect set up.

Half of my friends say removing guns will help. Half of my friends say defending our rights is the only solution. I cannot abide the offering up of more innocent Americans as the divided baby that is King Solomon's solution to an impasse. If giving up my rights creates a pathway to a productive conversation, I would gladly do so, but do we have ears to hear the truth, or more importantly, humility to admit that our shallow entitlement has led us here? Do we have the courage to tackle it one step at a time in our communities and homes and neighborhoods? Are we brave enough to teach our children that actions have consequences and that we are ALL responsible, or will the baby be split in half in spite of my sacrifice?

I do not have answers. I do not have the specific directions that tell us each as individuals which steps to take toward healing. But I do have hope. I have hope in the good people that are there, covering other bodies with their own in a hail of gunfire. People who run into the fray as others are running out. People who value the whole over self. People who do not see in sweeping generalizations. We are not a country of haters. We are a country with a few hateful people. But we are a country rich with good people who have looked away for too long. Good People who have turned to their televisions for answers and only found division. Good People who are growing weary of the endless blur that they are fed. Quit sheltering. Quit Avoiding. Quit denying and protesting vainly and taking your issues out on the only people who are out there holding the lines of order and morality and responsibility. Be the Good People. I believe in the Good People. I hope to God I am one of them.

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I Work Out... Sort of.

Going to the gym is really, really hard for me.

Not because of the workout, although that part is sucky too. In fact, just squeezing into yoga pants and tying my shoes feels like a workout most days, but lifting weights and numbing my brain on cardio equipment isn't the worst part.

I don't mind the gym when it's empty, which is why 2 AM workouts might be ideal for me, especially on nights I can't sleep anyway, but we've been going lately in the mid-afternoon, and I don't know if it's the furloughed federal employees, millennials that crawled out of their mom's basements, or a running start class at the community college, but there are always so many youngish people at the gym in the middle of the day. And I hate it.

I am digging deep into my twisted psyche to understand why I hate it, because it's ridiculous. I've been closing my eyes, and doing that mental exercise where you take the thing that is bothering you and don't try to ignore it, or kill it, but you examine it lovingly to find out why it's bothering you, but I just find myself swirling farther into anxiety and gym-loathing.

It's a weird mixture of "all those people are looking at me, judging me" and "all those people take themselves so seriously and actually look ridiculous," which is me judging them and probably the reason that I assume they are judging me. I can't touch a weight or pedal a bike without this sense of panic that the people who seem to be hovering around me like a cloud of condescension are evaluating my leg positioning and grip style, ready with a thousand helpful "pointers" about how I am doing it wrong. I have no idea what right looks like, so I know I am not judging them on how they're doing their shit, I just can't figure out why nobody is laughing at themselves when they try not to fart on the incline sit-up board.

They're all so busy making huffing sounds and looking in mirrors and it makes me feel so... something really awful that I can't even identify, as though I had endured some gym-centric trauma in my past that I can't seem to recall.

Every cell in my body wants to retreat to a corner where there are no mirrors and face away from everyone, but then I am worried they will be judging my butt in yoga pants, even with my shirt pulled down to my knees.

It's a real-live anxiety thing for me. I should be getting cardio credits for my elevated heart rate the minute I walk into a crowded (in Colville that's 5 people) gym. I want to die. WHAT IS MY PROBLEM?

The crazy part is I have yet to run into a single person at the gym that I know or care about impressing, but I am completely self-conscious about being watched or noticed at all. I try to turn my headphones up loud and drown out all of the panting, grunting people around me but it doesn't seem to help. All the girls are hotter than me and all the guys are watching the hotter girls and I feel like the whole thing is a like a flock of peacocks strutting around making obnoxious mating sounds and I am like an out-of-place prairie dog feeling like I came to the wrong party. 

It has been pointed out to me that I had a similar mental resistance to financial issues but have more or less pushed through and (pretend) to feel more comfortable with the decisions I am making about my money. It has been suggested that I will have a similar break through at the gym, and I hope to God so because it's getting worse.

I know I am frustrated that in the almost two months of fairly regular short workouts and yoga, mixed with a lot of walking on my trip and some time on the ski hill falling down since we got home, I have only gotten progressively more sore and tired and yes, even gained weight. I am trusting that I will have a break through there as well, but I'll admit my faith is shaky right now.

I also know I have a long history with narcissistic males "teaching" me how I needed to workout, telling me what I was doing wrong and going into great detail about their extensive knowledge of physical fitness and how clear it was that I had no idea what I was doing, which might have been true, but didn't feel great coming from the same men who lamented not knowing me back when I was "really hot" and thin, but were committed to helping me get there again, for the sake of our relationship and with the hope they could be more attracted to me (PSA: Don't marry guys like that. You're welcome). So sweet.

So I have some beef with the gym. And very limited knowledge and exposure, save some quick-and-dirty lessons that I was given in order to teach weight class for P.E. as a highschool substitute. I know I have SO much to learn, but I also know I am super resistant to most benevolent teachers.

I want to go to the gym with somebody who can also make fun of themselves in the mirror and laugh when they get really bad vertigo getting off the treadmill. I want to go with somebody who doesn't take it so seriously and knows they're as ridiculous as I am. I want to get healthy and strong but I don't want to have panic attacks doing it. I want to figure out how to enjoy it.

I am open to suggestions here, or psychological evaluations, hypnosis, lobotomy...  sign me up. I want to get into it like normal people. Maybe a personal trainer? I tried a few cross-fit type classes and it wasn't much better - even more personal attention and forced interactions. But maybe I should try it again.

Right now, I am forcing myself to go out of sheer discipline and commitment, and some times when it's emptier aren't so bad. But sometimes are really bad. Tonight I am going to a Zumba class with some friends and I am looking forward to being able to be ridiculous with them. Because there's no other way to do Zumba - it's impossible to take yourself seriously at Zumba unless you're Beyonce.


me in the gym.