Tuesday, November 5, 2019

What am I worth?


For the first time in my adult life I am in the position of not having a "real job." I am on a chosen hiatus from being fully defined by my job. I am incredibly lucky. I have savings and an infinitely supportive partner who will help financially shepherd me through this time of not generating much income.

What I find though, is that instead of luxuriating in this newfound spare time, I am, at times, filled with a sense of unworthiness. I was raised to believe that my value came from working hard, and a lot. In my family making a lot of money was never the big thing, but being busy, having something to do, gave us value and stature. Growing up in the United States I've learned that having money gives me power, authority and respect. So here I am with lots of free time and no cash flow. My default, patterned brain goes to the idea that I am a loser, but the part of my brain that I've been working over the last decade to strengthen, the here and now brain, says that feeling unworthy is a just a construct.

This feeling has inspired me to explore what worth means to me. I've read about it, written about it, meditated on it. What does worth mean to me? It means having a sense of place and purpose in the world. Does it relate to busy-ness? Not really. I'm beginning to understand that, for me, it relates more to a sense of connection with people and the universe around me. Does it relate to income? A little. I want to be able to carry my weight in my household. But more than income, it relates to a different kind of fullness- a fullness in my heart and mind. Are the things I do everyday bringing me joy? Are they bringing me, and maybe others, closer to a feeling of connection with the universe?

I don't have the answers to these questions. These unknowns are where my curiosity lies right now. I'm going to keep exploring and imagining. I do know that being in this place of "perceived emptiness" (e.g. no job) is hard. I am swimming upstream against a flood of beliefs that are deeply grooved into our society and my brain. Everyday is a new challenge and another step towards understanding what brings me joy, heals my heart, and deepens my sense of connection to the world around me.

Monday, November 4, 2019

Risk-taking


My daughter Lucia started high school this year. I think I understood in theory that things would change, but I don't think I fully understood the reality of how having a high schooler would look. It's all good for her, the risks she's taking. I commend her for trying new things. She got her nose pierced (with full permission). She's taking bus and light rail all over the city. She's going to parties and football games and staying after school to eat Ezell's Chicken with friends.

She's keeping up her grades and doing her extracurriculars as well, so what am I afraid of? Sometimes I find myself going down a rabbit hole of all the bad things that could happen to her-- at a party, a football game, on the bus--- but then she comes home and tells me about her day (sometimes a little, sometimes a lot), and I see that she's still there. She's still the same person, growing and changing within all of these new experiences she's living. She is living her life and the risks she's taking will help her learn the things she needs to learn as she travels her life path.

Where does this fear come from? As I've contemplated why I revert into that fear place with Lucia, I recognize that the human brain has a negativity bias so there is a tendency to go to the worst case scenario, but I also look at my own comfort with risk-taking. Right now I am in a place in my life, a transition not unlike Lucia's. I've sold my business and am taking time to explore my own future path. Lots of ideas come up-- different classes I want to teach, publications I wish to write for, retreats I'd like to both attend and lead. In trying new things, branching out and taking risks to do things that I haven't done before, I am deeply in touch with the fear.  In trying these new things, I am often ragingly uncomfortable, sometimes out of body.

Risk-taking is scary. And hard. It involves tapping into a part of the brain that, for me and many people, would rather stay hidden, behind the scenes. There is intense vulnerability in stepping out and trying something new, whether it is a new outfit, a new friend, a new social activity or a new job. It means walking through a sea of internal tumult and diving head-long into the unknown. Everyday I do this a little bit. I sit in the discomfort and work on new ideas or write something I hope will be publishable. This experience has given me a new perspective about the fortitude and perseverance risk-taking involves. And it's given me new respect and admiration for my brave, strong teenage daughter who is navigating this risk-taking in a different way. This one's for you Lucia. I'm so proud of you.

Sunday, November 3, 2019

Is Menopause Really the Final Frontier?


Last night I was having wine with a friend who was launched into menopause very suddenly because she went through radiation. She didn't have the slow (oftentimes years-long slow) decrease in the frequency of her period. It was one month there, and then gone. She was surprised by her experience of not menstruating any more. "I thought when I stopped getting my period it would be so amazing" she said, "I thought I would be so happy to be done with thinking about it." But the reality, she shared, was that having no period has been no big deal, that she can barely remember what it was like to have her period and the inconvenience of it. Our other friend shared that it's been 220 days since her last period. We spent a LOT of time talking about our periods. The topic comes up every time I hang out with women my age.

I've always believed that getting my period is a powerful and magical thing. I've conveyed this belief to my daughter and tried to make her proud and vocal about her period and all of the inconveniences that come with it. I never wanted her to feel any shame or secrecy about this natural body function. The existence of the physiological function of menstruation enables us to become pregnant which is both a good thing, and sometimes not such a good thing. But nevertheless, there is power in the period.

We're taught as women that once we reach menopause (aka no longer menstruating) that we're moving into the final frontier. I always envisioned this final frontier as a kind of death, in part because the menstruating super power ceases to exist. But now that I'm there, it doesn't feel like the final frontier at all. I'm considering a third career. I'm fully engaged in becoming a better, more present, loving, involved partner and parent, and my creative juices are flowing like never before (even though my period is flowing very irregularly).

It's got me thinking-- what are we missing by putting so much focus on the period. Yes, we need to claim it-- to advocate for health insurance to pay for the tampons and pads that we have to pay for every month, to appeal to the FDA to support medications that really help with PMS, to educate our young girls about this superpower-- but when it's gone, we get new superpowers right?

I want to focus on that. What are the new superpowers that come with the final frontier? The end of the period? This is an invitation to all of you women out there who are in the final frontier. Please write me back and share with me what your new superpowers are. I'll compile them and share. Let's all walk boldly into this final frontier........


Tuesday, October 22, 2019

Mrs. Putnam

My mom, still of the newspaper age, just sent me a clipping from the Hyde Park Herald, the weekly from the neighborhood where I grew up in Chicago. The clipping was an obituary for Maryann Putnam, my high school geometry teacher.  Mrs. Putnam had a thick New York accent. She wore denim every day--- denim vest and skirt set, denim jumper, denim slacks and jacket. Mrs. Putnam had dyed black hair, wore large framed classes and was always covered in chalk. Even though my friends and I teased her, she thought we were funny and I knew she loved us.

During our senior year when my girlfriends and I needed to create a service project to graduate, we formed a group called the Pink Ladies. It was 1986 and we were playing off the girl gang from the movie Grease. Mrs. Putnam readily agreed to be our club sponsor and we'd meet with her regularly to talk about what we were up to. In reality, we didn't do anything except talk about what we might do if we actually could get our act together-- tutoring, food bank collection, school clean up. Our biggest accomplishment that year was singing back up for a Rockabilly band that played in the school cafeteria during dances.

Mrs. Putnam's obituary said that she was 95 when she died. That means that she was in her early sixties when she was my teacher, just ten years older than I am now. It's been so long since I've thought about Mrs. Putnam but as I read her obituary, the image of her in her denim skirt and vest, standing outside her classroom door came into my mind as clearly as if it was yesterday. I can see her face--- pale next to her dyed black hair, partially hidden behind her big glasses--- smiling out at me with a hint of irritation as I walk by her, gabbing with my friends to get to our desks in class.

We were so annoying in high school-- especially to Mrs. Putnam. We made fun of her chalk covered clothes and her white roots growing under her black hair, of her big glasses and sensible shoes. But we loved her too because we knew that she loved us. Despite the Pink Ladies' profound lack of organization and productivity, she believed in us. She accepted the fact that, as seniors, not kids but not yet adults, we were doing the best we could to get our shit together. When I look back at it now I think she felt like our envisioning was enough for that moment in our lives. The process of thinking about what we were going to do, of talking about it, dreaming about it, was important, even if we didn't bring our ideas to fruition.

Those times with Mrs. Putnam, sitting in her chalk covered classroom during lunch, were incubator moments. Mrs. Putnam listened to us. She humored us and gave us her time and attention. As the mother of a teenage girl myself, I know how scatterbrained that species can be. I know how disorganized and chaotic their lives are. Being a teenager is wholly about transitioning- from child to adult.  I was surprised how affected I was to hear of Mrs. Putnam's death and I was so glad to know that she lived many happy years beyond her tenure as my math teacher. She deserved it. What Mrs. Putnam gave us, gave me those thirty-three years ago, was a quiet place to land for a moment or two during the maelstrom of my senior year in high school. Thank you Mrs. Putnam. I hope you knew that, despite my attitude and the fact that I was too self-absorbed during those years to tell you, I was (and am) grateful for your presence in my life.

Thursday, October 17, 2019

Black Tank Suit


About fifteen years ago I was at a hotel in Palm Springs at a yoga teacher training. There were dozens of tight little bodies, yoga bodies swarming around the vast patio which was home to several pools and hot tubs. I was sitting on a beach chair reading when a woman, somewhere between 50-60, walked by me. On her average, healthy body, she wore a very simple black tank suit. At the time, as a body-conscious, never good enough, 35-year-old yoga teacher, I thought to myself, “I want to look like that when I’m 50.”  But her body wasn’t amazing. She wasn’t that different from me now. It wasn’t that I wanted to look like her when I’m 50, it was that I wanted to be like her. The woman in the simple black tank suit exuded confidence and she was unapologetic about her age, her body, and her place at the pool.

Now I am fifty. It’s been many years since I’ve felt like I was young. I recognize that I will never again be viewed as young. I am getting older, grayer, more wrinkly. I am in a stage of life where I should be grateful and happy for my wellness. I have lost one parent and have friends who have also lost parents, spouses, even children.  But still some days I lament my changing body and skin. I waste precious time trying to stay young instead of leaning into the next phase of life.


A few months ago, right after I turned 50, my partner Nancy and I took a vacation to Mexico. We were on a beautiful, very remote island and I was up early. There were only a few people on the beach and it was the perfect moment for a walk. Normally when I walk on the beach I put on a blouse or some shorts but I hadn’t brought anything with me from the hotel room. I was wearing a really simple black tank suit, just like the woman in Palm Springs. I was a strong, able-bodied, fifty- year-old woman. I decided to walk the beach in just my simple black tank suit.


As I meandered, unencumbered by any extra clothes or hat or even sunglasses, I was reminded of my grandmother. Every year we’d go to Florida with my grandparents and my Nana would spend hours each morning trolling the beach for shells. She always wore a simple black tank suit. My Nana was a great companion to me and a fierce ally. I thought Nana was the most beautiful, glamorous woman in the world---whether she was fully dressed in a black turtleneck and white slacks in her fourteenth floor apartment on the Northside of Chicago or in a tank suit on the beach in Sarasota, Florida. As my sisters and I splashed in the ocean waves in front of the condo every morning, like clockwork, we’d see Nana walking towards us, her silhouette with the sun behind her, eyes down towards the sand, bending down periodically to pick up a shell. She’d stroll with her head down until she heard splashing and our voices yelling her name to look at us in the water. Only then would she look up from the beach with her beautiful sun-kissed skin and cat eye sunglasses and smile.


Nana owned that simple black tank suit. Her sixty-year-old body and leathered skin were so beautiful and perfect to me. Like the woman by the pool, it was her presence that embodied the beauty. As a fifty-year-old woman, I now understand that that presence, the ability to embody whatever body we inhabit, is the product of a life lived and the wisdom that comes from all of life’s lessons.


Wisdom comes with age. For me it has come from many struggles and the heartbreaks in my life, the unexpected changes in my body and the painstaking decisions I had to make in my forties that brought me to this new frontier. Somewhere along the way things shifted and I became wiser. I stepped into this wisdom  It happens to all of us. My simple black tank suit tells a story of the wise women before me who inspired me to recognize and embody this wisdom when my turn came. 


Sunday, October 13, 2019

Seeking Stress

I recently sold my business, a yoga studio in Capitol Hill, Seattle’s busiest neighborhood. I’ve had that business for eighteen years. It  went from three employees to twenty. From one location to two locations. And back down to one location with two spaces. 


It took me a couple of years to finally decide that selling the business was what I actually wanted to do. With the influence during the last few years of things like social media, yoga for dogs, goats, babies, thousands of new teachers flooding the market every year, I decided that I didn’t want to play the game anymore. I’d lost my competitive mojo. 


I loved running that business, but during those eighteen years, I was on all the time! Even when I went on vacation I brought my laptop. I checked my emails, stayed in contact. I was always the one who got called at 5:45am when the 6am teacher forgot their keys or overslept or had a migraine. When the studio had a break in, I was the one called. When a student complained about a teacher or a teacher complained about a student, I was the mediator. I worried every month about the bottom line-- rent, payroll, taxes, inventory, supplies. I had a method to managing the madness and I had support from my staff, but I was stressed and busy all the time. I didn’t realize how utterly hijacked by stress I was until I sold the business and surrendered all of that responsibility. 


It’s been two weeks since I officially stepped down from being the owner of my business--- now someone else’s business and here’s what I notice:


  • I keep waiting for something to happen.
  • I’m still worried I’m forgetting to do something.
  • I feel like I have somewhere I need to be.
  • I still set my alarm for 6am every morning.


Here’s the thing-- I don’t have another job. I’m taking a sabbatical to write and explore and figure out what I want to do next. What I realized this morning when I was writing was that, though I've let go of the responsibilities associated with stress, my body still seems to be seeking it out. My body is searching for it, like my phone searches for wifi service at the airport, roaming around until there is a connection.


The reality is that I don’t have somewhere to be. I’m not forgetting to do something. I’m doing what I want to be doing and no one is waiting for me to do something else. But my body is still programmed for stress. It’s still searching for that connection to the familiar buzz that I get when I’m stressed. It’s weird. I notice it clearly every time it happens. I feel a little surge of adrenaline and I start to worry or check my phone. And then, almost as quickly, I realize that I’m okay. I don’t need to make that stress connection because there is no stress. It’s intense and a little disorienting. I wonder how long it will take to reprogram my body and mind, to feel fully that I have let go of that stress, that those patterned brain surges are just old habits.


Whenever I do get the call to stress and I recognize that it is not real, I feel free, elated, like I’ve won Powerball. I have a moment of celebration that I don’t have to follow that stress. Instead I can walk the dog or bake a cake or clean my desk. I didn’t realize how truly stressed I was until I became not stressed. I don’t know how long this detox will take, but I’m not worried because every time I get that after-feeling it’s like a gift, a moment to truly appreciate how grateful I am to be here now.

Monday, September 23, 2019

Hello Turtle.

My friend Kate told me that one of the ways you can identify your spirit animal is if it appears to you frequently. For years my spirit animal has been the Great Blue Heron. Everyday when I walk on Lake Washington near my house I  make it a point to see a Great Blue Heron. Usually one just appears like she's been waiting for me, but in the last few months I've not seen herons as frequently. Last month I was feeling particularly stressed and I took a walk. I got it in my head that I would feel better if I just saw a heron. But there were no herons in the usual places. In a desperate effort to find one, I walked seven miles (3 miles more than I usually walk). I finally found a heron but my stress level did not diminish. I'd simply traded in the stress that I started with for a new stress to find a heron!

Lately on my walks I've been seeing lots of turtles. Turtles are prolific in Seward Park and I often see them but I don't usually stop and look at them. They frequently dot the rocks between my house and the park, but I usually just notice and continue walking. Today it seemed that every rock, and submerged tree I looked at had a turtle or two sitting in wait for me to notice them.

That's when it dawned on me that maybe my spirit animal has changed. When I got home from my walk I looked up the symbolism of a turtle spirit animal and learned that when a turtle spirit animal appears to you it is time to slow down. The turtle totem offers an invitation to stay focused on one's goals, but to take it slow and steady. For me, one who does most things at warp speed, this is a new approach, and a welcome invitation.

Having looked up my Turtle spirit animal definition, I needed to look up the symbolism of the Great Blue Heron to remind myself of what I might be leaving behind. The Great Blue Heron symbolizes self-determination and self-reliance. The indication for those who carry this totem is to follow their unique wisdom and path.

All day I've been thinking about the significance of this shift. For years I have been working hard to connect with my intuition, to make my own voice the strongest in forging my true path. And for most of this time the Great Blue Heron has been appearing to me.  I love the Great Blue Heron and I felt kind of sad that, for whatever reason, the Turtle now seemed to be replacing the Heron. But the truth is that at this time in my life I do feel more connected to my intuition and my path feels grounded in my own truth. Though I'm sad to leave the Heron, it makes sense that I am being visited by the Turtle-- invited to slow down, quiet down, and stop racing.

Not everyone in my life believes in the symbolism of spirit animals. I get it. It's not based in biology or psychology or physics. It's possible that spirit animals act as a kind of placebo-- offering meaning and context to a situation one is already experiencing. That works for me. The Heron and the Turtle and all the other spirit animals that visit us help connect us to the big picture, they offer explanation outside of our own heads. They remind us that there is wisdom everywhere if we look for it.

What am I worth?

For the first time in my adult life I am in the position of not having a "real job." I am on a chosen hiatus from being fully d...