Things That Are The Worst

There's this self-help guru out there on the inter webs named Tim Ferris, and other than having a stellar six pack and rocking a bald head almost as well as Bruce Willis, I am not sure what he exactly does that makes him so amazing, other than writing some pretty decentish things, which is something that I aspire to (along with a stellar six pack). But whatever it is that he is famous for, he's so good he only needs a website with his first name : - also something I should aspire to, except has a WAY cooler vibe than his. Anyway, Ferris - Tim, that is, has this thing he talks about called fearsetting. It's like goalsetting, except the un-side of it. Like, what you DON'T want to happen. When I stumbled across Tim's fearsetting TED talk, it occurred to me that I had actually been fearsetting in my own life for several years.

The first time that I remember consciously doing it was when I was in Uganda , trying to sleep in the searing heat under a mosquito net with tarantula sized holes in it. I was having a full-fledged panic attack. I couldn't breathe enough to gasp out the sobs that my soul was working up, and it wasn't the mosquitos or the tarantulas, since I am pretty sure there aren't any tarantulas in Uganda. It was as if I had suddenly realized, laying down to sleep, that I was, at a bare minimum, two days of travel away from my four little girls, without the resources or ability to get to them if something went wrong. I was a single mom, beyond poor, halfway around the world from my kids. The fear and doubt and guilt that raced through my mind that night was crippling. I couldn't escape it, so I faced it. Starting with the Worst Thing I Could Imagine, I looked each fear in the eye and asked myself what I would do. If one of my girls was hurt -  how would I deal? I made a plan, who I could call, how I could get there. Then I faced the next fear, until I worked my way down the Worst Case Scenario List, making plans, until I had taken away all of the reasons to not go on with my trip and sleep soundly that night.

That, in an nutshell, is fearsetting. It's looking the most Terrible Thing You can Imagine in the face and asking yourself what you would do. Once you find an answer, the fear subsides. And there is always an answer.

On a daily basis we deal with anxiety about relationships and money and decisions, when the reality is that the thing that we are freaking out about is something we have probably already faced (which makes them rational fears, but fears nonetheless). When I panic about the risk of a being dumped or rejected or abandoned, I remember when I was, and I think about how I survived it, and how I would survive it better now. When I fear financial destitution, I reflect back on the moments of absolute poverty-stricken impossibility and how I got back on my feet by digging all of the quarters out of the couch cushions to buy gas to get to work. I wish I could say I was exaggerating.

I have never faced the loss of a child, or even a very close loved one, but I can imagine the disabling grief and when I am overwhelmed with the knowledge that their protection, especially as they launch into their own lives as adults, is out of my hands, I have to find peace in knowing I have the people around me to keep me together if something like that happened. And if I don't, I'd better get busy finding them.

Fears are really the things that keeps us from our goals. Fear of failure, fear of loss, fear of wasted time, energy, passion - those are my big things. I have never really had money to fear losing, and failure is such a ritual procedure for me that it doesn't scare me that much, but wasting one more day of this infinitely short life (yes, that's an oxymoron), scares the shit out of me. It's like FOMO (fear of missing out, for all you old people) on speed, because instead of missing out on like, the best Halloween party EVER, you're missing out on years of your life - or you gave them away like an idiot to some jerkface who didn't appreciate them.

So I face that fear, the fear of wasting time, and I look at all of the things that I have brought with me from the "wasted" years. Four AMAZING kids. Skillz. Mad skillz. Insight. Compassion. Empathy. Humility. A complete Battlestar Gallactica DVD set. So how wasted were those years? Look where they brought me! To a place I would never be otherwise, with people I might never have known. The fear subsides and I look forward to the next adventure. I pray that it is one that will last, but if it isn't, I know I will have gained even more.

So that's where I am at. Eating fear for breakfast along with pain and failure and stomping off all of the negative vibes. Or at least most days I am. Why we, as humans, and especially me, are so intent on finding the things to worry about when we have such good things to be doing, cookies to eat and dogs to pet and just, LIFE! But we, me especially, have to bog the good things down with the what ifs. And what if things were just fine? What if we had nothing to fear because we always have a way out? I say these things to remind myself that even the Worst Things can, and will be survived, so I might as well enjoy all of the Best Things that surround me every day.

Lost Munu

Things About Gratefulness

November is traditionally the month for gratitude. I suppose that’s because of Thanksgiving and the fact that us people forget that we have All The Stuff to be grateful for year-round. All of my friends are on these gratitude campaigns on social media, which I love, and is a continuous reminder of how rich we are, every last one of us.

I’ve been working through some things this year. Some good things and hard things and fun things and difficult things. Big changes in my life and my perspective and my priorities have led to big waves of mental struggle. Fear and insecurity and worry - all the things that we like to call “anxiety” these days. I am a champ. It keeps me awake some nights, telling me stories about all the things that can and might go wrong, all the things that could happen to my kids or Him or me or my money… whispering lies all. night. long. You feel me?

“We Suffer more in imagination than in reality,” - Seneca

So I started this exercise a few months ago, one that I am good at sometimes, and that I forget to do or ignore completely when I get to a Particularly Dark Place, because even I, with all of my strength and splendor, find myself overwhelmed by fear from time to time. Before I talk about my survival trick, I have to talk about how Everyone agrees with me.  

I tend to be all fatalistic about the influences on my life. For instance, I like to put my entire iTunes library on shuffle when I am driving and let The Universe, or Fate, or if you will, God, talk to me through the random selections of music that come on. If it happens to be Tenacious D, I feel like God and I probably have some stuff to work through. If it’s Christmas music, well, then it’s not my fault for breaking the After Thanksgiving Only Rule. The Lord has spoken.

I have the same approach to books. I currently have a stack of books next to my bed taller than two Dagnies that I need to read. I usually pick them by “feel” (which is also how I get dressed in the morning, much to the chagrin of my grown-up friends) and let the Guiding Hand of Providence  open to me the world of understanding that the moment is asking for. Usually it’s The Frozen Chosin (talk about a lesson in gratitude!), or a similar military history book, but last night, it was Outwitting The Devil, which I bought quite serendipitously because it was super cheap after I bought a different Napoleon Hill book recommended to me by Someone I Like Very Much, and which I clearly needed, Think And Grow Rich.

“The impediment to action advances action.
What stands in the way becomes the way.”
-Marcus Aurelius

I don’t mean to prattle on here, but I have become firmly convinced that there are no coincidences. I’ve been studying stoicism lately, the philosophy that everything happens for a reason and every obstacle is an opportunity, which falls right in stride with the mindset that I have adopted over the years in order to survive and have tattooed in Latin on my back: Dei Plena Sunt Omnia (all things are full of God/ God is in everything).

The author of Outwitting the Devil, Napoleon Hill, is certainly a stoic. In the book, he interviews the Devil - like, literally, sits down with the Prince of Darkness and gets the down low on how he rolls. Here’s the thing. The universe will keep telling you(me) the same thing over and over again until we figure out how to listen, right? Whether it’s Marcus Aurelius, Napoleon Hill, A Very Dashing City Planner, a Navy Seal or the mouth of an Ass, the message will continue to be delivered until it’s received, because God Is In Everything, right?

Anyway, Hill, Marcus, CP and All of the Asses have been reminding me, in their own delicate words this year, that the enemy of stoicism (which is to say graceful acceptance of all circumstances of life) is fear. In his interview, Hill uncovers the greatest tool of the Devil’s trade: his ability to keep us from independent thought, confident movement and the installation of a  paralytic lack of motivation through FEAR. And here’s the biggest deal of all: FEAR is the opposite of GRATITUDE. Because fear is the focus on everything that you might lose, instead of everything you HAVE - which, as it happens, is exactly everything you need to get you where you need to go.

I could go on for hours and days and pages with evidence to prove my point, refuting every argument which I, myself, have perfected. I can tell you how I am not good at certain things and should therefore be exempt from them, but I know that I have the tools within me to become good at them. I can tell you that I don’t have the financial means to get to the lofty goals I have in my imagination, but I know that I have the power within me Think and Grow Rich in order to reach those goals. In Hill’s interview, the Devil describes the biggest threat to him as the one who:

“Has a mind of his own and uses it for all purposes... never offers an alibi for his shortcomings”

Fear creates excuses. Excuses create failure. We find a false safety hiding behind the “reasons” we cannot do things. We also find stagnation and death. Gratitude creates ability. Ability creates innovation. Innovation creates success. The most beautiful part of all of this: each failure is another chance to learn and grow. So be grateful for the failures too. Lord knows I am.

“...the humility to admit and own mistakes and develop a plan to overcome them is essential to success.”

Anyway, that rabbit trail leads me back to the ritual I created months before I read Napoleon Hill or Jocko Willink, but one I came up with to overcome the fear that was robbing my sleep and holding me back.

One night, lying anxiously awake, “suffering more in imagination” like a pro, I felt desperate to overcome the “irrational fears” that were running through my mind. Another important piece of this mental puzzle is something that a realio, trulio psychologist said to me - “fears aren’t really irrational if they’re things that have actually happened to you.” So maybe the fears of abandonment, of financial ruin, of Being Old, Alone and Done For, weren’t 1000% irrational, but they were rendering me ineffective, which is almost worse.

Anyway, as my darkest fears spiraled into anger and resentment for circumstances in my life which felt out of my control, I reached out in my mind and started to list off the things I was grateful for. The things I COULD control, and the things I KNEW WERE REAL. The health of my family. The love of My One. The warm home, the food on my shelves. The gainful employment. The Endless Possibilities. In that dark night, I began sending texts of gratitude to the Ones That Mattered. I started with the one where the fear was focused. Fear of abandonment, rejection, betrayal  - rational fears based in real life experience - but I sent Him a text - the one who has never perpetrated any of these transgressions, and I thanked him for being Different.

In that moment the cycle of fear was broken. The next night, I sent texts to my kids, each specific things, the first things that popped into my head when I imagined their beautiful faces as I lay in my sleeping bag in fire camp. Thankful for their brightness, for their humor, for their brilliance, for their perseverance… I made it a ritual for several nights, until I fell asleep peacefully thinking about how Very Rich I was. I still do this, when I remember to, and some nights, when it’s very late, I just whisper my thankfulness to the dark night and all of the fears shrink back. It really works.

There are side perks to this practice. That old adage of never letting the sun go down on your anger? I don’t often find myself going to bed angry, but whispering my gratitude to Him makes it impossible to dwell on any negativity between us. It kills the bad vibes right dead. Try it. It works. He whispers back to me and All Is Right in Our World. And my kids, after they accused me of being drunk in fire camp, or got over their paranoia that I was making some deathbed solvency, responded to my gratitude with gratitude of their own, or with a new level of faith in my love, even if I was miles and weeks away.

So take it from me, or Marcus Aurelius, or Jacko Willink or Napoleon Hill or Seneca or the City Planner. See your fear, rational or otherwise. Face it with gratefulness. Give your shortcomings no alibi. Use your own mind to make a plan. Be the change in your own life and the lives of others.

Things About The Good Ones

Even though I am an EMT, I haven't been around death all that much. I like to think I am one of the lucky ones, a "white cloud," narrowly missing the gruesome calls that are so hard for responders to shake off. Not that I haven't been on some horrible scenes, and not that I haven't seen death, and grieving, but in both my personal and professional life, my exposure has been less than that of many people I know, and I am grateful for that.

In the last few weeks, two people that I know have passed away unexpectedly. Two people who were too young. Two who were, in my memory and experience, good people. One was an exchange student who graduated with MacKenzie's class and then went back to Brazil. He killed himself two weeks ago. There couldn't have been a more unlikely kid.

The first day I met Felipe, I was the subbing for the high school science teacher, during the very first week of school in 2014. When I got to my classroom there was a tall man standing in the back of the room with the other students. He was over 6 feet with a beard and a tattoo on his bicep. I asked him if he was a TA. He looked confused and told me, with a suave Portuguese accent, that he was Felipe. Turns out Felipe was almost 18. He was a senior in high school, a model and on top of all of that, a genuinely kind, good guy. Felipe went snowboarding with us that winter, the one thing that he had been most excited to do in Washington during the winter. He loved it. He was a good friend to MacKenzie, when most high school boys used her adolescent insecurities to their advantage, he encouraged her and praised her without using her or capitalizing on her great beauty and soft heart. He played Kristoff in the World's Worst Production of Frozen, and while the other high school boys rolled their eyes, wrestled back stage and broke props, Felipe diligently memorized his lines and played his part faithfully without complaint in what was ultimately a great lesson in humility for all involved parties. He was one of the good ones. He was back home in Brazil, he had just turned 21, and was going to college when he took his own life. I will never understand how such a permanent, irreversible choice seemed like the only one to a boy who had everything going for him.

The other day I heard that another friend passed away. He was one of the first professional wildland firefighters that I met when I was pregnant with Aspen in 2003, going through Guard School with the Forest Service. Lynn was a gentle giant. He was a jolly soul with a sandy blonde beard and some sort of beach-boy laid back confidence. He reminded me of my Uncle Leonard, which was funny to me since Uncle Leonards' wife is Aunt Lynn. But Lynn the firefighter talked to me about fire, about fire boots, about hot shots and fire stories as I ran into him over the years. I considered him one of my mentors in the fire world. One night in Kettle Falls, back when I was learning all about who I was, I had too many drinks and Lynn drove me to a friend's house to keep me from driving. He was always kind, funny, helpful, encouraging. Lynn died last week. He was only 55. Just last fire season I was teasing him about getting me signed off on a new qualification. He seemed ok. But I think that the good ones usually do.

Lynn Bornitz
Neither of these guys were close, intimate friends of mine. They were more acquaintances, but both of them touched my life enough to make me know that there were many, many other lives they touched even more profoundly. I am sure the people closest to them could fill in the blanks about their flaws and weaknesses, and maybe the signs leading up to their disappearance from this world. I cannot. I knew only good, kind men. Ones that I would, and did call, when I needed help. Ones that would come. I was talking to a friend who knew Lynn, and I told him that sometimes the ones that seem the strongest and give the most aren't the best at taking care of themselves. I wish that I had known them well enough to be around when they needed help. Because I would have come. It breaks my heart that they are gone now. Too soon and too young. But they gave the world something, and they gave me something, and for that I am grateful.

Losses like this give death a whole new significance for me. It's such a heartbreaking reminder of the permanence. It's such a stark wake-up to the brevity of life and the realization of how much we impact one another, even the distant circles. I have struggled in the Dark Places at different seasons in my life. I have fought to find reason to go on. Sudden loss is a great reminder of how precious each day we are given truly is. It gives me a new and deeper gratitude for the second, third, tenth chances I am given. I makes me profoundly thankful that I have not made permanent choices that would forever change the ones I love. And it makes me more determined than ever to see the hurting ones,  especially the ones without voices for their pain. The strong ones who need help without knowing it.

The world, and my life, was brighter for having held these two souls and it was dimmed just at little at their loss. If I could have one wish in the whole world it would be to rewind time and to ask them how I could have helped. To hear what their heart cry was. To be there for them and with them in the Dark Places. But that was not my place, or my time. My place and time is here, with others who have their own Dark Places. So I will be here, and now, listening and asking.

Things That Get You

I feel like I am caught up in this cruel joke. Once it was distant and unrelatable, like starving children in China who wanted my leftover Goulash. Then it became a more Clear and Present Danger as the joke grew ominously closer. Suddenly, without warning, in my early 30s, I realized the joke was fully upon me. My metabolism came to a screeching halt one day and I began fantasizing about things like Naps. And Reasonable Bedtimes. Now I am 40 and getting old isn't funny any more. It's hip surgeries and stool softeners and waking up at 3:50 AM for No Good Reason.

What happened to me, and how? I feel like yesterday it was nothing to stay up until 2AM talking and laughing and solving all the world's problems with my friends. Now the thought of bedtime that breeches the sanctity of 10PM is enough to move me to tears. The scariest part is that I am actually getting used to the early mornings. Mornings so early that my stomach hasn't woken up and it's trying to convince me that I have the flu so I should go back to bed, but my brain is all ramming-speed into a list that I won't get halfway through before I need a mid-afternoon nap.

Old age is a rip off. Everything aches and hurts and I can't decide if I need ice or heat or both and whiskey, or which over-the-counter drug will do the least long term damage taken at maximum doses over extended periods of time. Last night I tried to scare Aspen into staying in shape her Whole Life long by whimpering a lot and making her get me a heating pad for my stupid arthritic shoulder. I hope it works. I wish I had tried harder when I was young. I wish I understood what I had to lose. I just thought that OLD didn't really apply to me, like it would never come, and yet, here I am, with the healing rate of a slug in January.

The worst part is that in my head, I am still 17 1/2, ready to go play soccer barefoot in the snow or pull an all-nighter with a best friend and a Box of Chicken-n-Biscuits just to see the sunrise and then sleep til 10 AM. In my heart I can feel the energy to do the things that my body just won't agree with. It's like that dream where you're running but you aren't going anyplace, or you're screaming but nobody hears you. That's what getting old is like. I am finally smart enough to do some awesome things, but I am way too tired and it's way too hard. Seems like the harder I try to push through, the more I just hurt myself for reals.

I have a 1/2 cup full of horse sized vitamins I take every day, for muscles and joints and brain and heart and good digestion and better sleep and more energy and higher metabolism... and while my stomach thinks it's been at a rave all night after taking them, the rest of me isn't feeling much benefit. When do they release the vitamin that sends me back in time to when I could be strong and young and not hurting and not taking it for granted?

Ugh. Don't get old. It's a cruel trick. You think it's all about Lucky Charms whenever you want and sleeping til noon, but it's really about mortgages and arthritis and paying bills at 3:30 AM, and retirement plans that you couldn't ever imagine actually needing.

I guess now that I've been up for two hours I can go take a nap. It's what old people do, I think.

Things That Stretch

He bought a shelf. That probably seems like no big deal, but for Somebody who has a System, buying a shelf that alters the System is a big deal. The shelf is so I can have some stuff in his bathroom instead of spilling in my duffel bag, which is where it has lived for the last 11 months, pretty happily, except when that menthol infused arnica oil spilled into all my clothes for the week and left big oil spots that smelled like a sore shoulder. But now my spilly things can live on a shelf, and his System will be changed. This is a big deal because it's about stretching, and growing, and doing the things that aren't as comfortable as sitting on your couch under a woobie and pretending nothing ever changes.

Stretching is painful. Like skinny jeans when you first put them on out of the dryer and haven't done any squats in them yet. It's hard. You're not always certain you'll get up out of that first squat or if the skinny jeans will throw you down on your ass and laugh at you for forgetting to not dry them. Stretching is awkward and embarrassing and uncomfortable.

So he's stretching with shelves and I'm stretching with words like "mortgage" and "budget" and "amortization" and the worst of all: "spreadsheet." It's not comfortable. I want to crawl head first under the woobie and die a thousand deaths before I go meet a realtor today and make an offer on a house. But I will keep stretching. If he can get a shelf, I can spreadsheet. I even asked my mom how to quit making all of the cells say the same thing. It wasn't as hard as I thought it was, when I stopped doing it wrong. That's the other thing about stretching, it's way more painful when you're not doing it the right way. Or if you're doing it too much, which I have done and why I need hip surgery. Well, too much stretching and also too much couch/woobie time.

Wrong stretching is things like biting off more than you can chew or more than you can pay for, or more than you can live with, and instead of a shelf, trying to get a whole new life. Wrong stretching is not just skinny jeans out of the dryer, it's high waisted skinny jeans out of the dryer that are too small and push all of your love handles into your lungspace and make you want to pass out.

My whole life seems like stretching right now. All the people I know are stretching. My kids are stretching as they put up with my stretching and not being there for some of the Big Things, like the last day of volleyball districts or Fall Sports Awards, which are important, but happen to fall on a day that I have been scheduled for a project for work weeks ahead of time. So they'll stretch, and I'll stretch, and there will be more awards banquets, like the ones that I have been to in the past.

My kids have pretty much been stretching with me their whole lives, as I rush from job to job and thing to thing and keep seeking for the Right Place at the Right Time with the Right People, trying to Pay the Bills and Do the Things and not make anybody mad, missing the boat pretty often but always with the best intention of catching it along the way somewhere.

But all the stretching makes us stronger, better and more interesting people. I can wear the sweatpants all day long, but if I want to make my mark outside of WalMart, I gotta keep working on the skinny jeans. The stretching makes us able to bend without breaking when the waves of bad things happen, and also the good things. Because I am learning lately even too many good things is a lot of stress and it's had me bent pretty hard. Good things like All the Jobs, Money to Budget, Smart Kids to Help, Him, Skinny Jeans, and growing, learning, stretching.

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