February 24, 2013

Learning how to "do what you love."

When I was little I was obsessed with swimming, and every opportunity I got I wanted to be in the water.  Because of this, every body of water that I saw – be it a stream, pond, lake, or someone else’s pool – I did whatever I could to find a way to swim in it.  One time, when I was barely six years old, my parents rented a cabin on a lake, and I swam as far out as I could and almost drowned.  Despite this, I still wanted to swim every chance I got.  Swimming was the thing that I loved to do as a kid, no matter how inconvenient it was, or no matter how yucky it made my hair.

As an adult, as I’m sure you can probably agree, the things I SHOULD do often overshadows the things I LOVE to do.  This is in part because there is often guilt associated with partaking in what's indulgently pleasurable because “time is money” and there is always money to be made.  And the reality is that at the end of a long day we are often too tired to devote to the things, these pursuits, that we love. 
But why do we save our most cherished hobbies and pursuits – those things that give us the ultimate enjoyment and happiness – as something that can be partaken only AFTER we’ve accomplished everything that needs to be done, when we are often so depleted that we no longer have the energy to truly enjoy them?  Why do we always feel we need to earn it, to “save the best for last”? 

Instead, we seek instant gratification by distracting ourselves from what we should be doing, by scanning through our Facebook newsfeeds, clicking for inspiration in Google Reader, getting excited for 10 a.m. because that means we can have a snack!   It is not to say that these distractions are bad.  In some ways these little distractions force us to find the simple pleasures in a day consumed with obligations, complex business matters, serious adult stuff.  It’s our way of seeking mini escapes through it all, even if the escapes we’re seeking wind up not being that gratifying, because what we’d rather be doing, or looking forward to doing, are the things we truly love – the grown-up version of finding a swimming hole to jump into.  And the sad thing is that so often do we forget to realize that the things we truly love are actually GOOD for us in the end.

This past week I spontaneously booked a massage, something I so enjoy but do so infrequently (like once or twice a year infrequently).  It felt indulgent and special and oddly naughty to be getting something that I hadn’t planned out in advance, but the payoff was great – I felt more relaxed than I had felt in months and the almost daily headaches I had been getting for the previous few weeks suddenly disappeared. 
We’re always telling ourselves that life is short, because it is, no doubt, and therefore understandably consumed with necessary obligations to achieve the life we want, but why don’t we adjust to life’s brevity by placing equal importance on carving out time to do what we love as we do with those practical obligations?  I can't say I have the answer to that, but I do know I'm going to work on learning to include more of what I love in my daily life.

February 18, 2013

Secret Single Behavior

When I first heard the term Secret Single Behavior (SSB) on Sex and the City, it made me feel a little more normal in relishing in the habits that I enjoy participating in when I’m all by myself.

While my SSB changes from time to time, recent SSBs for me include coming home after work to an empty house, keeping my winter jacket on until it’s the last thing I have to take off before I slip into my PJs; going to the store for deodorant and shaving cream, then realizing how famished I am, and buying (just to be precise) five pieces of popcorn chicken and two potato wedges at the deli counter and eating them with a spork in the dark parking lot; and listening to embarrassing songs that I love on repeat, such as Level 42’s “Something About You” and Atlantic Starr's "Masterpiece." And, of course there are others that I’ll just keep to myself.

Generally, I love the pockets of time when I have the house to myself to partake in my SSB – to blast music without disrupting my husband, to make weird food concoctions for dinner, or to workout with no pants on (this last one I might actually be guilty of doing even when my husband’s around, but he doesn't seem to mind.)

But however fun and freeing it may be to have time to participate in a little SSB, there is, as with everything in life, a balance. For example, too much SSB time is actually possible I’ve learned, such as when you’re a tax-season widow. For the most part, I live tax-season (the span from January through April 15 when my husband works 65-70-hour weeks) to the fullest: I plan fun weekends with friends, I spend time working on my hobbies, I relish in “me time.” In essence, I have lots of single-girl fun during this time span, and that's not a bad thing.

But last week, to my surprise, I was caught in an unexpected I-don’t-know-what-to-do-with-myself feeling, when the excitement of a dark and empty house suddenly no longer felt very exciting and when the possibilities of so many wide-open single-girl weekends began to feel a little meh. While the good of this is that loneliness makes the heart grow fonder, the bad of it is that there’s no quick fix, since April 15 is but months away.

But, as with everything, it’s awareness and acknowledgement of feelings (whether they are loneliness or sadness or mere discontent) that’s the key to addressing them, even if it means that the feeling doesn't immediately go away. And really, so what if my pie is currently a little overwhelmed by the opportunity for SSB? I think I’ll manage . . . as soon as I find my bucket list.

February 14, 2013

Susan Sontag on love.

Today is Valentine's Day, and however overrated and commercial that it may be, it's still nice that there's an entire day devoted to love -- romantic or otherwise.  Besides, what other day can you munch on Conversation Hearts to your heart's content? 

The other day Brain Pickings featured Susan Sontag's beautiful reflections on love as illustrated by Wendy MacNaughton, which I thought would be apropos to share today.
Happy Valentine's Day, friends!

February 9, 2013

How I got over my fear of dying.

I’ve had a fear of death and disease since the age of seven when I was convinced I had breast cancer.  Tucked under the covers at night I would give myself breast exams, and with adamant certainty I detected lumps in my pancake-flat chest.  Too worried that admitting the findings to my mom would make the cancer even more real, I kept the fear deep inside.  At 14, when I suffered from daily headaches due to impacted wisdom teeth I was certain at that point that I had a brain tumor.  When I was 21, and experienced mild eye twitching, I was sure I had MS.  To date – knock on wood – I’m thankfully and gratefully currently disease-free, and though I’m a bit of a mild hypochondriac the good of this is that I very seldom take life for granted. 

Ironically, though, I’ve always had a bit of an adventurous streak, even if my daily life doesn’t always indicate as such.  Though I like to push the envelope on occasion, mostly my adventurousness is buried inside my head and in my thoughts, which is probably a good thing since if it's there I stay out of trouble.  Likewise, because I'm an inherently curious person, I have a strong innate desire for new experiences, and that includes traveling, even if financial circumstances (that in-state tuition was more expensive than one would think!) has precluded me from doing as much as I would like, but thankfully that is slowly changing.
Two years ago, I planned a trip to San Francisco -- my first big trip since graduating from college.  While I had made a trans-Atlantic trip to eastern Europe when I was a teenager, this was my first trans-America trip to California.  Though I was predominantly excited about taking my first trip to the west coast, I was blindsided with an unexpected fear of flying, even though I had done it multiple times before.   

But when the flight took off en route to California it occurred to me that being in such a state of vulnerability and fear – and, more importantly, embracing being in such a state – is not a bad thing, because pulling away from all that's safe and secure and comfy is the best ingredient for growing, evolving, and becoming.

When I returned to Maine in one complete piece, I unsurprisingly felt that I was a slightly evolved Sarah, even if only from having been to a place I had never gone to before.  And while I have always valued life because of my fear of death, perhaps for the first time I had fully experienced the lightness of life in its fleeting state, that which makes it more enjoyable to exist in the world, because in a blink of an eye, life not only ends but it continually moves forward, even if from one day to the next.

Now whenever I fly somewhere I fully embrace it, especially the takeoff and landing, so much so that I even find it exhilarating, thrilling, sexy, and empowering, to the point where if I were to die at that moment it would be a great way to go – dramatic, dangerous, and tragic -- and amidst a state of living life to the fullest.  (In case you want to know, Atlantic Starr's "Masterpiece" happens to be my current favorite in-flight song.) 

More importantly, though, flying always makes me self-assess at that point: Am I living enough, exploring enough, loving enough, being true enough, if I were to die right now?  If I’m able to answer yes to each of these questions, I’m doing okay; if not, it’s time to reevaluate. 
Whatever the case, it's flying that got me over my fear of dying. 

February 3, 2013

Who inspires you?

This Chelsea Fagan chick writes so well I could eat her brain. 

I very recently stumbled upon this blog featuring posts by a suite of different bloggers, and every post that catches my eye just so happens to be written by her.  Not only is she the kind of writer that turns me into a melting pot of envy and admiration, but her subject matter always strikes a chord in me, leaving me with chills and goose bumps and just plain old-fashioned awe. 

Though I'm a bit of a hack compared to someone like her, I hope, as with reading the work of any great writer, that reading her posts makes me a better writer too.  Regardless, though, I know that being subjected to her voice gives me the opportunity to think in a completely new and fresh way about the very same topics that I often think about and grapple with too. 

While I always feel a little envy when discovering someone who is so much better than I am at something, I love how inspired it makes me feel, and how effing lucky, to have discovered some piece of art that enlightens me in such a manner, and more importantly how it makes me a better person on however minute a level. 

How lucky are we to know that we are capable of personal growth at every corner we stumble upon, not only through life's unpredictable challenges but also through the basic appreciation of someone else’s creative work?