The Ones Not In The Room

Solo porque quiero

Most of us are haters, though we hate to admit it.

We are so quick to hate someone outside the room.

We’re particularly good at this when the person outside the room has wronged a person inside the room.

And we’re bonafide pros at hating when the person inside the room is a friend.

Case in point:

He fired me!
Really? What an asshole.

I think we put a lot of hate in the world this way.

Ironically, we’re doing it as a means of sending love to our friends. It’s a pact.

I will hate the person who cut you off on the way to work if you will hate the person who cut my kid from the team.

Hatred in solidarity. It feels good in the moment like gifting each other with warm fuzzy slippers, but, without realizing it, we’re tossing shards of glass on the ground at the same time…

which, by simple logic, limits where we can go,

who we can love,

and what we can hope for.

Breathing Is Your Superpower

Man wearing black cap with eyes closed under cloudy sky

I have a teenage daughter who loves everything about the human body so I get to relearn all the facts I forgot in high school.

Everyone knows that breathing helps you calm down but I think we forget what’s actually happening on the inside to make the outside more bearable. It’s really quite amazing.

Ready to go back to high school? (I’ll try to do this in one breath.)

We breathe in air, which goes into our lungs, through a set of tubes, and into tiny air sacs. The oxygen in the air then pushes through teeny tiny little blood vessels in the air sac walls to go into the bloodstream where it attaches to hemoglobin, and floats down a network of blood vessels like Huck Finn rafting the Mississippi. At the cellular level, the oxygen oxygenates the sugars from our food and produces carbon dioxide. Whammo! ENERGY is created.

All that, in a single breath.

So, when the tide shifts and life hits you harder than a hurricane, remember, YOU ARE the wounded superhero who needs to regain her power. You must top fighting, so go curl up somewhere safe and give yourself time to regenerate, before going back to saving the world.

It’s good news, actually. You don’t have to summon the God of Ra, you needn’t recite an ancient proverb in your ancestors’ native tongue. You don’t even have to hold your glowing hand over the parts that hurt.

All you have to do is breathe.

Levitating for Hazel

I do this trick where I make it look like I’m levitating. I found it in a magic book as a teenager. Took me years to perfect it.

My daughter loves it, tells her friends, begs me to do it.

But I don’t do it that much.

I save it.

And when she’s with one or two of her friends out on the playground, and I know I have the perfect angle to do it good, I’ll tell her to watch and start to get in my stance.

She bounces, giggles, tugs at her friends’ arms.

“He’s gonna do it! Watch watch watch!”

I ham it up, like it takes a lot of concentration, like it takes the life out of me. And I only do it for a second or two, just long enough to break their minds but not long enough to let them ponder the science.

They inevitably ask me to do it again, call over friends, plead with me to tell them how I did it.

But I never break the code.

I want Hazel to think — no, really believe — that her daddy is magical.

My dad did that for me.

He used to take off his thumb and put it back on. He’d ham it up too, like it hurt a little bit. My brother and I would gather around, excited to be amazed.

It really put magic in the air, like when he came home early from work and played basketball with all the neighborhood kids until it was too dark to see the ball. Or when put me on his back to go sledding.

Anything was possible. I half-believed we’d sled all the way around the world, skip off the curb and jump to the moon — me holding on, and him pulling up over the mountains, waving to the people in the little white planes.

We’d pop up to the moon, walk the edge of the craters, and dance in slow motion. Just for the afternoon. Then he’d fly us home so we could get back to regular sledding.

I know it sounds crazy, but my dad could do it. I swear he can.

If he wanted to.

Who Created Valentine’s Day, Anyway?

White envelope with red paper heart

When I was in first grade, I spent hours making Valentine’s for the class — big red hearts, topped with square black top hats and a clever message running across the brim in glitter glue.

In college, I baked cookies and passed them around campus.

Then someone told me that Valentine’s Day was created by Hallmark.

Yikes.

That sort of ruined it for me.

But it’s hard not to notice, people everywhere in the world buying flowers, eating dinner, thinking about nice things to do for one another, remembering great moments with one another, letting out joy and pain, depending on where we are in the cycle.

All of us, together, heralding love as a hero, if only for a day.

That can’t be a bad thing.

So… I’ve changed my mind.

Sometimes the juice is more important than the squeeze (or the squeezer). Being inspired is the thing that really matters, moreso than the source of the inspiration. Don’t overthink it, like I did. Dance to whatever song makes you dance. Spend five bucks on a card.

I forgive you, Hallmark. There’s nothing wrong with profiting from love.

We all aspire to do exactly that, in one way or another.

—–

Happy Valentine’s Day to you all! In lieu of fresh-baked cookies and hearts with top hats, I’m sending my love via post!

(P.S. Our esteemed holiday was actually not created by a card company but has been celebrated for centuries, if that sort of thing matters to you.)

Saying It Out Loud

Little child offering flowers to his mom

The people that you love, they know you love them.

But for some reason, no matter how well you know them or how long you’ve lived with them, saying those words out loud is like a lightning bolt to the heart.

I’m not talking about the “I love you” at the end of a phone call or the “I love you” from the car window (These are good ones, too, but they serve a different purpose.)

I’m talking about the one where you make eye contact, speak from a place deep inside that you don’t fully understand, and then stay in the room afterward.

Yeah. That one.

That one is like a firey sword piercing the earth, like photon missiles going into the Death Star. It’s like the last verse to your favorite song.

It’s always beautiful. It’s always hard. And it always works — as powerful as 5 years of therapy, as transformative as a hurricane, as comforting as a soft, warm blanket.

Three words in the right order at the right time will change the lives in the room. Permanently.

And to think, we all have that kind of power.

The Best Person For the Job

People silhouette during sunset

We’d be a lot better off if the people impacted were the ones making the decisions.

Just as it goes with work, love, and war, Lived Experience is more valuable than Academic Training and Self-Researched Theory when you’re in the trenches.

But for some reason…

People who don’t have to work at all make decisions for people who do.

Residents of big cities make up the rules for people in rural areas.

Wealthy people decide why poor people are poor and middle class are middle class.

Men define what it means to be a woman.

People of privilege explain what it is to be oppressed.

These are the formulas that ensure the majority of us will never be happy on our own terms, will never self-actualize, will never know our potential.

As I’ve learned from years as a coach…

A good leader creates policies that benefit her employees.

A great leader invites her employees to build the policies and commits to learning something new.

Communities always know what’s best for them because they have the biggest stake in the outcome, which means they’re going to work hardest to figure out a solution that benefits the most people in the best way possible.

One person, however smart, confident, well-trained, well-intentioned, and carefully appointed, cannot possibly do a better job.



Poodles & Passersby

A poodle hopping in the grass

To me, from a car window:

Hey, is that a poodle?

I had just got back from the lake. It was 6pm, dark, I had on my mask and my headphones, listening to a podcast of my favorite French marriage counselor.

Like most people on walks during a pandemic, I was deep into my internal world. And I had my dog.

It took me a minute to disconnect from the inside and plug into the outside.

Yeah. I replied.

He was hunched over the steering wheel doing that thing where you crouch down to see out the passenger side window.

We just got one, four days ago. Brand new pup.

Right on.

The cars were stacking up, no honks yet. He kept on.

I see you two around the lake a bunch.

It wasn’t creepy. It felt good to be spotted.

Poodles are awesome dogs, I added, lifting the leash and looking down at Ziggy who was sitting there patiently, as if on cue.

This little guy was the head of his class in doggie school. Smart, kind, gentle…

I found myself trying to give this guy everything I could before our little moment had to end. All my dog knowledge. All the love.

You got some good days ahead. Trust me on that.

He glanced in his rearview.

Thanks. I’ll see you around, I guess.

Yeah. Congratulations. Enjoy!

He sped off. I plugged back in, got a text from Molly about picking up a pizza. I finished my walk and my podcast and got the pizza. When I got home, I told Molly all about the guy and his poodle.

I hope he did the same.

Searching For Something

Person in blue denim jeans sitting on boat

It’s counterintuitive.

The more intensely you search, the more you underscore that achy feeling that something is missing.

It’s like when you misplace your keys…

It can ruin your morning.

You would have been much better off not knowing they were gone.

Or at least not dedicating all of your time and energy to finding them.

It’s okay to yearn, but never let the yearning outweigh your gratitude for the things you already have.

Or else…

You’ll be out of balance.

And you’ll miss your morning.

It Ain’t The Constraints

green grass field

Our instinct is to resent constraints.

All of us struggle with telling our life’s story on a single page. And all of us wish we had more hours in the day…

Under such constraints, we often give up and then blame these limitations for our failure.

But if you can put all that aside and go back to the task, you’ll come upon the rim of creativity.

It’s like discovering a clearing in the woods. If you’re honest about the circumference, there’s usually enough room to do a cartwheel. Or a pirouette.

Constraints always appear as the enemy at first, an evil plot against us, but the edges — the hard fast lines that won’t move — they force a new routine. They squeeze something beautiful out of us.

Innovation is in utero.

Give yourself a twirl.

The Big Idea

Starry sky

It was our mom’s idea:

to lug the sofa-bed mattress out of the living room, through the kitchen, and out onto the back porch.

The porch was small (before the renovation), so the edges of the mattress curled up against the railing and house, rolling me and my brother to the center like the filling of a burrito.

It was the end of Winter and the beginning of Spring on the East Coast, still cold enough to instigate a protest from 2 little boys.

Mom!

But she dropped the electric blanket down on us, heavy like the lead vest at the dentist. We immediately cooed, rubbing our legs and feet up and down the mattress and burrowing into our pillows.

Everything felt new, like it was the first time it ever happened. Al (who would soon become Alex with the obnoxious cameo of puberty), didn’t even give me a noogie or a rope burn. Not a single pinch.

Mom sat on the mattress and told tales of Norwegian folklore as the sky turned black, blacker than any room we’d ever been in.

Mom!

The world going away scared us, but by the end of her second fairy tale, the electric blanket was doing its thing.

We lay on our backs, growing less afraid of the dark and instead focusing on drawing imaginary lines across the 3 constellations we knew – the ones every kid knows by the end of first grade — The Big and Little Dippers (were they brothers too?) and Orion’s belt.

We listened to the crickets and the frogs and then the not-so-obvious things: the wind through the prickers, and, perhaps more holy than that, the neighbors talking underneath the static of running water and clanging silverware. The sounds became ours, the entire universe open and watching, excited to have a couple of rookies peering in.

We alternated between putting our forearms above the covers and below, enjoying the rhythm of the cool air and the warm blanket, seeing who could keep their’s out the longest.

It was somewhere within this frequency of hot and cold that we fell asleep – arms either above or below (I’m not sure which), each of us facing inward, our legs tangled and locked, like roots — Al’s big idea, to thwart any attempt at extraction by mom or dad.

I really really didn’t want to fall asleep. (We vowed we never would!) But the universe requires a heap of energy to create such a perfect moment.

We gave it our best.

I’m not sure who fell asleep first.

I can only hope my last thoughts were about something great, something important, and not filled with the miniature wishes of a boy about to dream.

If nothing else, our curled, prone bodies mimicked the constellations we hadn’t learned about yet. Our contribution, both great and small.

And the stars, pleased with their work, winked goodnight one by one.

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Wishing you warmth and renewal in the new year!