Lessons learned: a reminder

I am a pessimist by nature. Left to my own devises, I will wallow away in a seething swamp of negativity. Of all my personality flaws – and there are many – this is the one that plagues me most. I like to think that it goes hand in hand with my introversion and tendency to turn inward. Of course, that could just be a total bullshit lie that I tell myself in order to roll out of bed every morning. I choose not to peer too deep into the abyss, just in case.

We all have an internal monologue. Well, if we are to be honest, it’s more akin to conversation than soliloquy. At least for me. My head is filled with warring voices that do their best to dictate my narrative. I refer to them as my rebellious-self, my realistic-self, my narcissistic-self, my prideful-self, my fearful-self, my obsessive-self, my naive-self, my are-you-kidding-me-with-this-shit-right-now-self. They’re like squabbling siblings – always at odds and constantly vying for my attention. It takes a great deal of effort to find an enduring balance and avoid being swallowed whole by all their noise. Sometimes I succeed; sometimes I don’t. And sometimes I think I’ve won the battle only to find out I couldn’t be more wrong.

I wrote in a previous post about my struggle to let go and move on from my booster board position. It took a long time to come to terms with the fact that I was no longer a relevant party. Again, I am well aware of how that sounds and I make no apology for it. For my own sanity, and in an effort to hinder my proclivity for obsession over things which I have no control, I distanced myself from the entire program. I choose the “ignorance is bliss” route and proceeded to stick my head in the sand.

Seems like a solid plan, right? Totally rational. Completely reasonable. The only problem – I failed to take into consideration my evolving resentment. The end of my tenure was fraught with conflict. I felt marginalized and discounted. It’s never easy to sit on the sidelines and watch everything you worked so hard to achieve burn to the ground on the whim of others. I was pretty pissed off about it.

The negative voice in my head is like that bully on the playground – big-mouthed and obnoxious. A real dick. I try not to feed into his rhetoric, but in moments of weakness it’s easy to fall prey. And that’s exactly what happened here. I gave rise to my anger and resentment, and in doing so, allowed that negativity to define my experience.

A couple of weeks ago, I was standing in line at a local burrito shop when a a little voice said, “Hi, Mrs. Isaacs.” I looked up and on the other side of the counter was the sweet face of one my band kids. I was surprised to see her; thrilled to see her. We chatted for a few minutes, catching up a bit before she took my order: burrito bowl, brown rice, extra veggies, no beans with steak. I watched her meticulously go through the motions. When we got to the steak, she portion out the allotted amount, paused, then looked up at me with a shy smile. She said, “because I love you, Mrs. Isaacs,” and scooped out a little bit extra.

A simple gesture, but one that afforded me a flash of profound clarity. It brought tears to my eyes and a rush of warmth to my heart. In that moment, I realized that my negativity was a product of a damaged ego and wounded pride; and, by no means, representative of my true feelings. I gave four years of my life to the band program and I have a lot to show for it – great friends, beautiful memories, a new appreciation for “team building” and drinking establishments that stay open late.

But most of all, I have a full heart. I was blessed with the privilege of serving a fantastic group of kids for four years. The impact they have had on my life is beyond measure and something that I will always treasure. In my need to nurse my wounded pride, I forgot why I said yes in the first place; and why I kept saying yes – year after year.

I have been reminded.

2019: Goals

I have always disliked the notion of the New Year’s resolution. I understand the concept and the intent, but feel it’s a failed sentiment. For me, it is a matter of scale. By design, New Year’s resolutions tend to be broad and undefined with no clear path to fulfillment. While I do consider myself a big picture thinker in many ways, to succeed at anything, I find I must break a challenge down into digestible bits. Then move through the elements step by step, in an orderly fashion from A to Z. It’s a very linear method and it’s how I approach most aspects of my life – personal and work alike. As such, this way of thinking is generally not conducive to seeing broad based resolutions to fruition. I can’t just say “I’m going to lose weight in 2019” then boom, lose weight in 2019. I have to plan it out, do a little research, set small achievable goals for myself – A leads to B leads to C leads to D…and so on.

I was diagnosed with cancer in January 2017. Anyone who has been dealt this hand will tell you what follows is a roller coaster ride over which you have zero control. None. Zilch. Nada. It dominates your life and you spend an enormous amount of time barreling from one thing to the next – tests, surgeries, treatment. It seems endless. Given my inability to work farther ahead than what is right in front of me, the whole experience left me in a weird stagnant state.

I had my last surgery in November and have spent the couple of months since feeling lighter, liberated from the burden of my disease. If ever there was a year to make resolutions, it is this one. Of course, I am who I am and thus, in lieu of resolutions, I have made a series goals.

Here are a few:

Run a 5k. Okay. On it’s face, this does appears to be a broad resolution. I’ll give you that.  But I have a reason – and a plan. I shared in my last post a few words of wisdom from my tennis coach: “One does not get in shape playing tennis, one must get in shape to play tennis.” In order to do that, he wants me to run. I hate to run so that poses a challenge. I am finding that merely telling me to run for the sake of tennis is no real motivator. I need to be able to break it down, reason it out and formulate a plan of action.

The solution to my problem – the Couch to 5k (C25K) app. This provides the goal and workable plan to get from point A to point B. The app breaks it down into weekly workouts (walking/running combos) that builds from easy to hard as your stamina improves. It charts your progress and provides a bit of verbal motivation as you run. I picked the drill sergeant to cue me when it’s time to change up the pace. I find it fitting.

So the goal is to train myself to run a 5k in 9 weeks. In doing so, I will have improved my overall fitness which, in turn, will improve my tennis game. Just in time for the spring season. Two birds. One stone. A to B to C.

Nurture the good, eliminate the bad. This is a goal that follows me year to year. There are those in my life who will tell you I am not prone to sugarcoating things. I call it how I see it. I suffer no fools and take no bullshit. Generally speaking, that’s a pretty accurate assessment. But I find that when it comes to certain interpersonal relationships, I struggle to make good on this goal. It’s a constant work in progress for me.

I do feel I have made improvements. A cancer diagnosis has a clarifying effect. For me, it put a lot of things into perspective and forced me to take stock. In 2017, I cleaned house and eliminated a lot of negativity from my life. I took to heart the notion that people treat you how you allow them to treat you. Once I accepted that, what followed was easy.

Of course, when you take a scorched earth approach, the result is an altered landscape. It can be stark and isolating at first, but what sprouts up out of the ashes is something much hardier and meaningful. However, it is important to remember that what grows must be tended and nurtured if it is to survive. Relationships are nothing more than flowers in a garden to be watered and fed. Right now, I have a garden full of beautiful flowers and it’s my goal for 2019 to continue down this positive path, weeding out the negativity as I go.

Write. Write. Write. No post on goals would be complete without addressing the elephant in the room. Writing. I have not written much the last few years. I have a combination of reasons and I could waste your time ticking them off one by one, but I won’t. In truth, the biggest reason I haven’t written is because I have lacked desire.

Part of me wants to blame this drought on an absence of words – I didn’t write because I had nothing to say. That’s a lie. I have plenty to say. And plenty of words. Lots and lots of words. They tumble around in my head, a constant buzz in my ears pulling me inward, competing for my attention, keeping me up at night. I just couldn’t bring myself to put forth the effort to write them down, to put them out there for all to see.

I think fear plays a role. Probably more than I would care to admit. It’s never easy putting pen to paper and giving life to the things you’ve never said aloud. When something scares us, our first instinct is to run away. I have let my fear get the better of me for far too long. It’s past time for me to face this challenge head-on and that is what I plan to do in 2019.

This blog was a first step in that direction. I have plans to begin a collaborative work with a dear friend – a creative non-fiction piece that is thirty years in the making. I have also started working on a project that I have toyed with for a while, but never really committed much effort to fleshing out. I feel inspired by it. I have also been invited to rejoin a writing critique group. With strangers. I am still working this one out in my head. The introvert in me is screaming in protest, but writing groups are always great source of motivation.

I feel good about 2019. Of course, I felt good about 2017, too. It only took about two weeks for it all to go to shit. The universe has a funny way of reminding us of who’s really in charge. Even still, I am looking forward to what the new year will bring, and have faith that it will be as wonderful as I hope.

Happy New Year!

Lessons learned: 2018

The holidays have never been my favorite time of the year. I could go on and on about the decorations, the expectations, the obligations, the assholes at the mall…but I won’t.

Oddly, I don’t feel quite so scrooge-like this year. Maybe it’s all the wine. I’ve consumed more than my fair share over the past week. Pretty sure my liver is completely pickled at this point. I have switched to lemon water in an effort to flush the system and reset. I even hefted my ass to the gym on Christmas Day. Never hurts to get a jump start on those pesky new year’s resolutions.

I won’t go so far as to say that I am feeling festive. That’s a stretch even in the most optimistic of times, but as I sit here in my pjs staring at the rapidly disintegrating evergreen wreath over my mantel, I am reflective.

While 2017 was a year straight out of Dante’s Inferno, 2018 wasn’t too bad. Here are a few things I learned this year:

Doctors inevitably insist that it takes six weeks to recovery from surgery. Any surgery. Big or small. Doesn’t matter. I’ve mentioned before that I had a bout with a little cancer. Breast cancer. Lost a boob. Had a little radiation. Got a new boob. Five surgeries in all. Every time – six weeks. No more. No less. Of course, I am who I am, and therefore the proverbial thorn in my doctor’s side. I do believe my medical chart comes with a black box warning indicating my penchant for noncompliance. I’m not programmed to sit around doing nothing when I could be doing something. During the last visit with my doctor, two weeks after my final surgery, I asked when I could return to the tennis court. He crossed his legs, leaned back in his chair and gave his nurse a bit of side eye. He knew what was coming.

“Four more weeks,” he said.

“No,” I said giving him my best resting bitch face. “Too long.”

My doctor is a kind man; intelligent; a respected leader in his specialty field. I’ve been his patient for two years. In that moment, he looked resigned, beaten down. He let out a long breath.

“When are you thinking?”

“Today.”

“Today?”

“Yes. This afternoon.”

He scrubbed a hand over his face and began to go through a long list of reasons why I should limit my activity for the remaining four weeks of my six week recovery. It’s a list I can recite from memory.

“Are you telling me no?” I asked, cutting him off mid-sentence. I can be blunt to the point of rudeness. It’s part of my charm.

“No, I would never tell you no, but…”

“Good. When’s my next follow up?”

“Three months.”

“Very good.”

By sundown, I was on the tennis court drilling with my team and I haven’t looked back. Fuck your six week rule.

“One does not get in shape playing tennis; one must get in shape to play tennis.” These words of wisdom were bestowed upon me just last week by my tennis coach. I love my coach. He’s an older gentleman, north of seventy with the patience of a saint and a brutal honesty that never lets me get too full of myself. As I’ve said, I have had five surgeries over the last 2 years and it goes without saying that it has taken a toll on my overall fitness. For every week off the court, I feel that I take two steps backwards in my progress towards becoming a better player.

I’ve never been a marathon runner….or a 5k runner…or a runner at all. In fact, I really hate running. Seriously. Hate it. A glaring contradiction for a tennis player who is looking to improve and win matches. My coach knows and understands this about me. He’s also not afraid to tell me I need to get my shit together. Last week, as he sat next to me on a bench while I tried to catch my breath, he gave me an assignment. He told me to run. Not just run. Run fast. Sprint. As fast as I can for a quarter length of track. Then rest. Then run as fast as I can again – repeating this pattern over and over and over.

I started on Christmas Day. I hated it and thought bad things about my coach the whole time. But he’s right. He’s always right. I want to win matches. I want to win and so I must run. I don’t have to like it, I just have to do it.

It’s okay to be selfish with my time. I think this is a plight shared by mothers and wives alike. We give so much of ourselves to those in our charge that we forget to save time for ourselves. And should we be blessed with a bit of alone time, we are plagued by guilt. Always – the guilt.  My daughter graduated six months ago and my life as a band mom came to an abrupt end.  I suddenly found myself in possession of a rare commodity – time.  Precious time.  Me time.  Time to do what I wanted, when I wanted and with whomever I wanted.  

At first, it’s a little overwhelming.  You aren’t quite sure what do with it, this golden egg that has dropped into your lap, seemingly out of thin air.  You look around to see if anyone sees what you see; to see if anyone steps into reclaim it.  When no one comes, you take it in your hand, wrap your fingers around it and hold it close to your breast.  

“Mine.”

The word lingers on your lips, a mere whisper at first, as soft and sweet as a baby’s breath.  

“Mine,” you say again.  

The word comes louder this time, with gusto.  Your confidence builds.  You scramble to your feet, still clutching the golden egg tight against your chest.  With the sound of your heart pounding in your ears, you take one last look around, just to be sure no one is watching.   Then slither off into the shadows, to the place where your secrets are kept. With a gentle hand, born out of the fear that the egg will dissolve into dust right before your very eyes, you tuck it away.  Nestling it safely among all the things you treasure most in life.  All the while, repeating a single word. 

“Mine…mine…mine…”     


On lessons learned: an epiphany

They say to have a successful blog, you need to have a theme, continuity, some sort of consistent content.  My rebellious-self thinks such a rule is complete bullshit.   Who says I have to follow a formula?  It’s my blog.  Not yours.  Mine.  My realistic-self knows and understands there is some merit to this.  If only to give clarity and the illusion, however fleeting, of forward momentum.  In an effort to keep things moving, I’m going to fall back on a founding principle.  I started this site as a means of discovery.  Every experience in life, be it profound or trivial, is an opportunity to learn.   To learn is to grow; to grow is to live.  

And with that, here we go:

As I mentioned in my last post, my daughter recently graduated high school.  In this day and age, most kids are involved in extracurricular activities that dominate not only their own time, but also that of their parents.  Her activity of choice – marching band. 

I never used to be a joiner.  Even now, I have to really want to do something to get involved.  I’m not sure how it happened, or exactly when it happened, but somehow I found myself sucked down what I like to call the “booster club rabbit hole.”  In the blink of an eye, I went from casual volunteer to all in – up to my eyeballs in booster business.   I lived and breathed band for four years.  It was one of the most rewarding experiences of my life.

It was also one of the most exhausting – both physically and mentally.  In the run up to graduation and the end of my tenure, I was conflicted.  I was tired and more than ready to turn over the keys to the castle to the next generation of band moms; but at my core, I am a control freak.   Change is hard.  Letting go is harder.   In the final days, I cried.  A lot.  I just couldn’t imagine my life without band.   I also couldn’t fathom how band would survive without me.  

Yes.  I know.  The arrogance of that statement is not lost on me.  It’s just that at some point, I let the role I played as “band mom” solely identify my existence.  I was a band mom.  Nothing more; nothing less.  I wouldn’t allow myself to accept the idea of life after band.   For them or me.

I’m not much for spontaneity.  I don’t make quick, unfettered decisions.  I mull things over, weigh my options, consider the repercussions of every action I take, and plan accordingly.  As such, I had an exit plan in place for leaving my booster position.  I knew exactly what needed to be done, how it should be done and when.  The only problem – everyone else.  I fought it for a while, agonized over it, wrote a few blistering emails, cried a lot of tears.  Then one bright sunny Saturday morning in June, I had an epiphany.  I’d had enough.  I was done.  Totally over the whole fucking thing.  By the afternoon, the handover to my successor was complete.  The baton officially passed.

I was free.

One week later, I was sitting on a sandy beach in the Caribbean with my family and my old friend Bacardi, doing absolutely nothing.  It was wonderful.  In the six months since, I’ve read a lot of books, binged a lot of television, and played a lot of tennis.   I have moved on from band; and band has moved on from me.  

Life goes on.

  

On a return to writing

I started this blog several years ago, during a period of personal transition.  I dubbed it my “journey of self-discovery.”  It was a means of navigating the shit life threw at me without actually having a nervous breakdown.  We all go through such times – pivotal points of change where what was is no longer, but what comes next is unclear.  The uncharted path forward littered with the debris of uncertainty and self-doubt.

I have always found writing cathartic and have long been fascinated by the first-person, introspective essay.  Especially when written in the vein of  philosopher Michel de Montaigne.  He dared to pose the indelible question, “Who am I?”, and then spent a lifetime seeking to find the answer through the art of composition.  As an introvert prone to spending a great deal of time stomping around inside the cluttered recesses of my own head, I find the prospect of introspection both enlightening and liberating.

So what changed? 

Life. 

My last blog post was nearly 3 years ago.   A lot has transpired in the intervening time period.  I changed jobs, sold my soul to my daughter’s band booster club,  started playing tennis, came down with a bit of cancer, saw my daughter graduate high school then stood on the sidelines as she navigated her way through her first successful semester of college.  To say it’s been a roller coaster ride would be an obvious understatement.  The highs were invigorating; the lows gut wrenching, at best.  

Now, all these years later, I find myself once more standing on the precipice, Grendel’s mother at my back – the ever present reminder of challenges faced; before me, the uncharted path forward, littered with the debris of uncertainty and self-doubt.   

I have come full circle.   

      

Promise of a new year

“Hope
Smiles from the threshold of the year to come,
Whispering ‘it will be happier’…”

― Alfred Lord Tennyson

Christmas is not my thing.  I make no bones about it, and offer up no apology.  If I had my way, I would spend the entire month of December on a beach in the Caribbean – book in one hand, frozen concoction in the other, the grit of sand between my toes, the roar of surf in my ears.   No traffic, no clutter of decorations, no batshit crazy holiday-goers with blood in their eyes.

Of course, it’s not all about me.  Ever the humble conformist, I bow to social convention.  I put up a tree, battle the mall, send out Christmas cards. All the while, with an eye to the horizon.  The new year shining in the distance, a whispered promise drifting in on the wind.

Change is in the air.

As I write this, I am well aware that the new year has come and gone.  My January was a fantastic whirlwind.  But that is a blog for another day.  I’m only just beginning to collect my thoughts:  reflecting, evaluating, forging the plan ahead.  I’m not one to make resolutions. To me, they amount to nothing more than simplistic commitments bearing unrealistic expectations.  Having said that:  I do look upon the new year as a period of renewal. Redemptive, in a way.  A chance to build upon what works; adjust what doesn’t.

Last year was a period of transition for me.  The hip injury I suffered a few years ago progressed into something too significant to ignore.  I was forced to address it once and for all.  It was a frustrating process – slow and tedious with more setbacks, more pain, more tears than I care to remember.  It took almost a year, but I have finally put the “yoga class from hell” to bed.  It’s quite liberating to be out from beneath that beast.  Physically, I am in great shape – the best in five years.  I’ve slimmed down and toned up.  I feel fantastic.

With a look ahead to 2016 and in an effort to exploit this new found freedom, I began to explore an idea that has rolled around in my head for a while now – tennis.  I wanted to play tennis again.  I played when I was young, but haven’t in over twenty-five years. There are a lot of reasons for this – lack of opportunity, physical challenges, my social introversion.  Joining is difficult for me.  But if there is one thing I have learned over the last few years, it is that one cannot truly live within the construct of self-imposed isolation.  ‘I can’t’, ‘I don’t’, ‘I won’t’ are phrases born out of fear.  And fear is detrimental to our natural evolution and quest for a satisfying and fulfilling life.

Bearing that in mind, I signed up for tennis lessons last week.

I think 2016 is going to be a fantastic year.

Let’s see where it will take us.

 

 

NaNoWriMo – Week 1 update

Total words written since last Saturday = 15,850.

I started out slow but have gained a lot of momentum in the last few days.  It’s amazing what an outline and few zippy action scenes can do for you.

Wish me luck for week two.

Write on.