Space in Love

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But let there be spaces in your togetherness and let the winds of the heavens dance between you. Love one another but make not a bond of love: let it rather be a moving sea between the shores of your souls.

 That’s the famous Khalil Gibran quote and you’ve probably heard it incorporated into LOTS of wedding ceremonies.

And as we get ready to celebrate Valentine’s Day, I have to wonder…what does that mean? What are spaces in your togetherness, and when is it too much space?

My mom and dad were married straight out of high school. They were married for more than 50 years and hardly ever spent a day apart. There was a brief time when dad did some sales calls on the road when I was really young, but by the time I was in college, they had started a business together and it was rare to find them apart. Weekly phone calls to the parents, it was just understood: one parent on each phone extension and nothing was ever a secret from the other one. It was always momanddad like it was one word, never mom…and…dad.

I kept trying to get them to do some things on their own, especially after I first heard that Khalil Gibran quote.

But my mom would just say, “There’s nobody I enjoy as much as I enjoy spending time with your dad, so why would I?”

When I married my husband, I married someone with very different interests. He likes photography, discipline, solitude. I like dancing, horseback riding, being pampered, and making dinner for friends. I do love spending time with him, but I would never ask him to go to a spa vacation with me. It would be excruciating for him, and worrying about him would ruin my own state of zen.

So, most years, I go without him.

The first year we did separate vacations, my mom was really worried. This was my second marriage and she was convinced I was going to screw this one up too…I mean…separate vacations?! People only do that when their marriage is in trouble! And then they have vacation flings that hammer the final nails into the marriage.

Well, no.

In fact, I would find that I came back from those vacations with a renewed appreciation for my husband. I missed him, but I would never have had the chance to miss him if he was with me every minute!

I mentioned earlier that my husband and I are very different. I can try and pretend that I care about the angle and light of endless photos of the same animal, but why? My husband is much happier without me, geeking out over camera equipment with his photographer friends. No need for me to be there.

And, dancing? Well, my husband has taken a few lessons with me, just because he’s that nice a guy. But when we go to the dance floor, he dances a few beats of a song and then gets bored. And, since songs are usually only an average of 2.5 minutes, that tells you just how much he hates dancing. But should I never dance again because my spousal dance partner won’t?

Now, my mom would have said, yes, I should never dance again. That we should develop hobbies that we both enjoy so that we can do them together. Behind that advice would be the secret fear my dance partner would somehow become more attractive to me than my own husband is.

Could happen, I suppose.

But that feeling that you need your partner to be your other half in everything? It’s not going to stop you from having an affair, if that’s what you’re set on doing.

Honoring the spaces in your togetherness depends on your maturity and your being complete all by yourself. Because that “you complete me” stuff you see in movies? It’s bullshit. Go get some space in your togetherness.

woman binding his man with a chain on white background

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Everybody Lies

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Everybody lies.

That’s not me talking, that’s science.

I read an article by data scientist Seth Stephens-Davidowitz about data he tracked on google searches. Now, you can lie to your friends and you can lie to a survey-taker – and people do, all the time. But you can’t lie to google. By your searches, ye shall know them.

So, way back in 1950, researchers asked people in Denver whether they voted, whether they gave to charity, and whether they had a library card. The researchers already had this data, so they knew the truth already. But guess what happened when they asked Denver folks about this stuff? You guessed it. They lied. They were WAY more smart, generous and involved in their survey answers than they were in real life.

And guess what. They’re still lying. Everyone is.

They lie about sex. Ask any researcher and they will tell you that the number of times people have sex is WAY less frequent than they boast about in surveys.

But even more chilling, they lie about things like prejudice. Seth looked at data from Google searches and aggregated them into some interesting conclusions about people.

Google reveals that people search for things like, “Why are black people rude?” and “Why are Jews – or Muslims – or lots of other races – evil?”

The researcher also says that Google tells us a bit about our attitudes on gender. Like the searches about boys had to do with whether someone’s kid was smart or not. The searches about young girls? They had to do with her appearance, like “Is my daughter overweight.”

Kind of depressing.

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Rituals

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So, how have you been doing on those New Year Resolutions?

Have you lost weight/exercised more/become a better person? Yeah, me neither. The difference is that I don’t do resolutions anymore. I just can’t seem to stick to them, even when I try. I know that you have to do something new for a certain amount of time and then it becomes a habit and, before you know it, you’re a new, improved version of yourself. I just can’t seem to get the old, unimproved version of myself on board.

I’m not alone. According to a psychologist in US News & World Report, 80% of resolutions fail by February.

So, I don’t do resolutions anymore.

Instead, I do rituals that mark the changing of the year. Resolutions don’t make me feel like I’m getting a fresh start, but rituals do.

For me, that means a frenzy of organizing. I’m a list person even in the worst of times, but the new year brings lists of lists. Back before electronic calendars, I used to transfer every birthday and anniversary from one year to the next, adding a year so I would know how old people were or how many years they’d been married. People thought I was incredibly thoughtful but I just had a good calendar system. Nowadays, with repeat functions on calendars and Facebook reminders, it’s almost impossible to forget a birthday. So that ritual went by the wayside, but I have others.

And my rituals?

I guess I’m as superstitious and ambitious as everyone else.

I cook the traditional meal – greens for money, black-eyed peas for luck —  but I also shred old files, do an inventory and clean-out of what’s in my pantry and freezer (huh…just how many ginger roots did I think I’d need?!), and I update my death book. You know, the book that has where my will is, where the passwords are, who to call when I die, and the self-deprecating obituary I wrote for myself.

The only thing I don’t touch is the blank date of death on the obituary. I’m superstitious and ambitious, not crazy!

 

 

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DON’T Follow Your Passion!

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I always thought you were supposed to follow your passion…follow your bliss. But what if that’s wrong?

I was reading an article the other day that says that people who follow their passion are too passive. The article cites a study done by Stanford University and a collaboration between Yale and the University of Singapore. The study looks at whether your interests – in other words, your passions – are inside of you, just waiting for you to follow them, or whether you need to really work and develop those passions. Turns out, they say, that the people who are waiting for their passion to magically unveil itself… aren’t working hard enough to develop those passions, and they are less curious and motivated overall. And, I’ve done enough reading to know that people who lose their curiosity and motivation are pretty flat and, a lot of times, pretty depressed.

One of the things the scientists did was they asked college kids whether they identified as science/tech types or more artistic. About a month later, they showed them articles related to the stuff from the type they were not. The ones who had more of a growth perspective were more likely to find the articles interesting. In other words, the ones who thought they were what they were and that was that? Eh, why bother to look at an article about something they were not.

As a lifelong learner, I can tell you that it’s when I’m reading the articles about stuff that has zero relevance to what I do, that I get that little shiver of ah-ha…you know, that zing of finding a connection between things that you never knew was there?

The psychologists behind the study say you should look at your interests like seeds that take a bit of cultivation. Sure, you can just wait and hope for them to bloom, but maybe adding some water or fertilizer or something and you’ll certainly be more invested when something pops out of the ground. Maybe an even better metaphor is that you should water the ground all around your seed too because then something really cool could grow that you never even knew was lying dormant underground!

The flip side of that is that if you think your passion is just lying inside of you, waiting to be discovered, then you think that what you were born with is what you’ve got. Good and bad. So why try?

The psychologists said their study can even apply to love.

People who believe that there is one true love out there and that they just have to find it? They’re wrong.

Finding your person, like finding your passion, is something that takes work. And keeping that love alive takes work, too. Try and learn and make mistakes and maybe then you’ll have true love.

 

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Strong but Safe

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In May 2018, I was honored to be part of a performance of the Charleston performance of, “Listen to Your Mother,” a live performance of essays about motherhood. 

You can read my essay below, or scroll to the end and see a video of my performance. It was a helluva show and I made some wonderful friends. Enjoy! 

“Are you going to be okay?”

My mother was on her deathbed and she wasn’t letting go until she made sure that her only child would be all right. Her dark eyes were sharp despite the pain, and lasered into mine.

A good daughter would offer reassurance. Mom had struggled for months and she was tired. A stronger daughter would ease her mind so that death could ease her body.

At that moment, I didn’t want to be strong. All I wanted was to push aside the monitors still strapped to her, and nestle under her soft arm, wailing and moaning and being weak. Mama, please don’t leave me.

Who will I be if I don’t see myself reflected in your eyes? How will I stand strong when I no longer have you as my soft place to fall?

My mother, my closest friend and biggest cheerleader, was dying. No, I wasn’t going to be okay. I probably would never be okay.

But that wasn’t what she needed to hear, and this moment was about her and her death, not me.

So, when she asked, “Are you going to be okay?” I answered, “Yes, Mama, I’ll be okay. You raised a strong one.”

And, she did, although I didn’t feel strong at the moment. She raised a strong one almost despite herself.

My mom lived in terror that something would happen to me. It was so important to her that I stay safe.

Her fears ranged from the traditional “stranger danger” to the repetition of mistakes she made. My mom married my dad quite young because she was pregnant with me. Up until she fell in love with my dad, she was a good Catholic girl from an Italian immigrant family, going to a Catholic high school. Sex – let alone pregnancy – before marriage was a sin and my presence in my mom’s womb caused grief for everyone my mom knew.

It didn’t matter that she and my dad married and would stay happily married for 53 years until Mom died. My mom was determined that I would never make the mistakes she made.

Sometimes, it meant that she overreacted a bit.

My announcement in 7th Grade that I was “going steady” with a boy – which meant only that we would hold hands and sit together at lunch – was met with screaming… and tears…and threats… and dire warnings unless I returned the cheap silver ring he had given me. Sobbing, my mother explained that spending time alone with a boy so young would lead to “urges”… and then giving in to those urges… and then sex and pregnancy and disgrace and destroyed potential.

It seemed a bit extreme, but I gave the ring back.

In college, when I went camping –not my thing, but my boyfriend at the time sure loved it – she sent news clippings about a crazed killer who had murdered young people in their tents.

It was just one of many dire warnings as my mother let me know that I was truly wonderful – but likely to be struck down by fate or drunken drivers or serial killers at any moment.

And, as I got older, I promised myself I wouldn’t be bound by my mother’s irrational fears.

Living in the city? Yep. Waiting for a bus on dark street corners after covering a meeting for the local paper? Sure, I was tough. Sex? AIDS wasn’t really a thing yet and the Pill was, so BIG yes.

I was fearless. And I wasn’t going to let my mom’s obsession with my safety affect my life.

And, when I had my own daughter one day? She was going to be fearless too.

Except, right before I got pregnant with my fearless daughter, there was a case in which a young girl was taken, just as her mother looked down to pack up their things after a Christmas party at their apartment complex. She looked up and her daughter was gone. And she would stay gone until her body was found, years later.

So, yes, my daughter would be fearless, but I would keep a better eye on her so she would also be safe.

And because I had taken so many risks in my life on the road to being strong, I could share with her the obstacles that might trip her up.

I would raise my daughter strong but safe.

Well, that’s what I thought I was doing.

Isn’t it funny how your children can become a mirror to reflect back to you a version of yourself you just don’t see?

My daughter is an adult. She has a wonderful job, a rich life, and boundless enthusiasm for one thing after another.

Recently, she decided to raise chickens. She has her own house, so it’s not like she’s going to be raising them in an apartment.

But I immediately started trying to clear the obstacles. Had she checked zoning in her city? Informed the neighbors? There are woods nearby and her yard isn’t fenced – what about the danger of coyotes?

Hard to imagine, I know, but she didn’t react well.

And, confident in my rightness, I laid out a list of all her enthusiasms over the years and how few she’d stuck with, and why listening to me would have saved her time.

This was by text, by the way. That’s how we seem to conduct all our arguments these days.

And, my daughter, in the most loving way possible considering how angry she was, sent back a text with a list of her own. All the times I had responded with dire warnings very much like my own mother had done.

Lost that extra 10 pounds? Great, but don’t expect the rest of the weight to come off as quickly because the last five pounds always hang on. Buying a house? Great, but don’t spend too much on decorating, because things are going to break and you’ll need money for that. Make more money than your photographer boyfriend? Fine, but one day he may come to resent the disparity — and you may as well — so be prepared for that.

My daughter told me: “You will say that you’re proud of me but honestly it doesn’t mean much because you turn around and question every decision I make. Not in a constructive way, in a limiting way, a way that takes away my feeling of autonomy. I’m simultaneously the light of your life, but incapable of making informed decisions, impulsive and foolhardy. It gives me whiplash.”

I, who prided myself on being fearless and optimistic, had become the Greek chorus of doom in my daughter’s life.

Even in the midst of the text argument, I had told my daughter that I loved her. Her response?

“I love you right back but my perception of you is that you are far more negative than you think you are.”

It rocked me.

All I wanted was my daughter to be safe. Why couldn’t she listen to me?

And then it hit me.

My daughter was ignoring my dire warnings, much like I used to roll my eyes at my own mother’s doom and gloom. My daughter wasn’t stupid and she wasn’t reckless, but she had assigned my drumbeat of fear the role of just background noise.

And, by raising a daughter who ignored me, I too had raised a strong one.

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Hurricane Lessons

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I live in Charleston, SC and we have been so lucky that Hurricane Florence took a detour on her way down the coast. We watch with grief and empathy as our neighbors to the north deal with cresting waters days after the hurricane.

This isn’t my first hurricane. I grew up in New Orleans. I lived through Betsy and Camille and, I confess, I was too young to understand what all the fuss was about until we drove back home and my favorite toys – the ones I’d left on the floor because I was kind of a sloppy kid – were floating in water. And the house at the end of our street was sheared in half by a tornado.

Later, I watched from afar as Katrina destroyed a lot of what was familiar about New Orleans.

So, I take hurricanes seriously and I have learned a lot of things about getting ready for hurricanes. Boarding up the windows. Buying lots of water and toilet paper and canned food. Making lots of pre-emptive hotel reservations out of the storm path because you’re never quite sure where that path will be. Have your important papers ready to go.

Those are some of the big lessons.

And the biggest lesson of all is what you take with you when you have to decide what’s important enough to save.

Lots has been written about that, and I’m not going to get into anything that profound.

I’m here to talk about the little lessons they don’t teach you. The ones you won’t hear from The Weather Channel’s Jim Cantore.

Lesson One: You’re probably going to gain weight. Cat Five isn’t the hurricane level, it’s the number of pounds you can expect. If you evacuate, you’re eating bad food. And if you stay, there’s a moral obligation to empty your freezer in case the power goes out. Who knew your freezer had so much ice cream and pastry?

Lesson Two: Whatever chronic conditions you have will flare up during a hurricane. Bad back? Hefting all those hurricane supplies and suitcases and sitting for hours in a car is going to have you curved like an apostrophe. Migraines? Wait until the changes in barometric pressure get ahold of your sinuses! And let’s not forget depression and anxiety. Having an actual reason to be depressed and anxious is not as reassuring as you might think – so fill those prescriptions and keep them close.

Lesson Three: You’re going to find out what you’re made of. What I’m made of is apparently an addiction to email and social media and Shonda Rhimes dramas with a dash of Gilmore Girls thrown in. None of those are available when your power goes out. I love to read, but the guilt of using up flashlight batteries for something that isn’t going to save my life means I don’t read as much.

Lesson Four: You’ll find out what kind of a spouse you are and what kind of parent you are. Forget those Facebook quizzes about what color your aura is. It would be much more useful to find out if you’re the type to kill your husband after one day of hurricane stress, or whether you can wait until the second day to turn homicidal.

Lesson Five: You find out how dramatic and judgmental family and friends can be. Everyone had an opinion on evacuation and assumed that whether someone went or stayed had everything to do with choice and intellect and nothing to do with circumstances. I’ve been on both sides. I’ve had good reasons for both. But I’m amazed at how people feel free to judge me whichever I choose, and how they judge others. It’s the height of arrogance to think that you know what someone’s decision should be. Some people make the wrong decision, but few do it because they feel like they had a choice. I know enough now not to judge. Unless they’ve left their animals in a situation where the animal doesn’t stand a chance of surviving. Those people I judge.

Lesson Six is one that really stays with you: You learn how isolated you are, but you also learn how connected you are.

Isolation is how vulnerable you feel, whether you go or whether you stay. You aren’t in control. Nature is. Fate is. And sometimes, human nature is, because I read stories of looters breaking in to a couple of homes or cars left behind. Yeah, it’s just stuff. But if it’s YOUR stuff and you have no way of protecting it, it’s a pretty awful thing.

But, the connection is what helps with the isolation. It might be the most important lesson of all. You learn how really decent people can be. If you stayed, you stop and talk with the few other brave souls and you find yourself watching out for your neighbors in ways that you don’t in normal life. If you left, you find grace and mercy. A hotel clerk who slips you a couple of dog biscuits for your pets. First responders who come from surrounding areas to help your community before you can get back there.

So, next hurricane – because you know there’s going to be one – watch the hyped-up Weather Channel if you have to. But remember these lessons too.

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