My 3 words for 2018

My friend Ember is encouraging friends to ditch the normal intention setting in favor of deciding three words to set the tone for the year. She was inspired by an article by entrepreneur Chris Brogan and the exercise has generated some good conversation between our friends and even my husband Joel is getting in on the action. It feels like a nice approach, focusing on three words to guide the strategic vision for the year.PicsArt_01-03-12.10.36

  1. Ease
    For as long as I can remember, life has just seemed hard ya’ll. I tend to get overwhelmed by the minutia and suffer seriously from a case of everyone-but-me-has-got-it-all-figured-out-itis. Sometimes my life feels like a series of Infomercial Struggles (seriously, those infomercial people have my number. It is sad.)A big focus for 2018 will be to find ease in my home, in my work, in my relationships, in my marriage and in my role as a Mom.I think a lot of the struggle comes down to basic (dis)organization. So I plan to start the new year off by getting organized, creating new SOPs for my life, and in general just simplifying everything.
  2. Invest

2017 was a big year of buying things – a new house, a new car, and a new Instant Pot. After a big year of spending, my financial picture is in major need of recalibrating to address short, medium and long term goals. While I can’t commit to a spending-free year, I have signed up for the Uber Free Month Challenge to cut out unnecessary spending.

Invest is about more than just what is showing up in my Mint.com dashboard or my Betterment account. It starts with taking stock of all of the amazing resources have in my life and making a commitment to taking actions that have a clear ROI to the future. From projects around the house, to reading books to my baby at bedtime, to carving out time with my husband, to driving new initiatives at my 9-5 – I want to focus my energy in 2018 on activities that improve my current holdings and the quality of my life.

  1. Vitality

I turn the dreaded 4-0 in 2018 and I’m feeling the call to celebrate with the healthiest, strongest, best Katie Surprise! that there has ever been. I like the word vitality because it goes beyond the number on the scale or even a fitness goal. It is truly about feeling good and enjoying life! So yes, this means limiting alcohol, eating a nutritious diet, and making time for exercise. But, YES, it also means dancing under the stars, enjoying the waves on a warm beach and laughing until my cheeks hurt with my silly husband and friends.

I am your gal to hit up for random hikes (have baby carrier will travel) and for seeing the occasional sunrise for an early morning rave. When the weather warms up, I also want to dust off my unloved bike and try the commute from our new house to work. The shortest route is 9.5 miles, so it should be doable and the route will take me over the Wilson Bridge, which affords beautiful views of the Potomac, the Ferris Wheel, and Alexandria. Very life affirming!

Ember instructs that if an opportunity or activity doesn’t meet at least 2 of the 3 words, then that opportunity should be declined in 2018. It will be interesting to see if being conscious of these three words changes how I spend my time.

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Why do I write?

I’ve never been a consistent journal keeper. I tend to write when I am going through periods of transitions or processing something. Years ago I found myself lost and at a very low point. I had lost my job and I couldn’t see my next step. I had been working through the 12-week program “The Artist Way” by Julia Cameron. And she recommends starting every day with morning pages, just write three pages every day by hand. Try not self-edit or control the content too much, just let the words flow in a stream of consciousness. I wrote these morning pages for months and slowly the path for the next phase of my life became more clear.  And slowly I emerged from the darkness to a new place in my life. These pages were just for me. I found them recently when I was moving and cringed a little at how harsh I could be with myself, but perhaps that harshness is what was needed at that time to move forward.

morning-pages

Sometimes I struggle with writer’s block. I have trouble getting started, even constructing a basic work email can be a challenge. The technique of writing morning pages had been working fairly well for me to get unstuck and get out of my stagnation. I find just starting to put the words on paper, even when I don’t have an idea of how it is going will often help start to shift the cement in my brain,  so that eventually, albeit sometimes clumsily and awkwardly the ideas will start to appear and the words will start to flow. Sometimes once the words start to flow, it is hard to stop them.

Writing helps me to get my thoughts together, helps me to make sense out of what is going on in the world and my place in it.

When I am struggling to start writing, a voice in my head hisses that it is pointless to write. I don’t have a unique perspective. Other people will say it more clearly, cleverly or more humorously.

I love to read. And I love to read other people’s perspectives on a topic. I never read someone’s perspective and think, “Who are they to have that perspective? What gives them the right to share their thoughts? Someone else has already said it better.” I never think that about other people’s writing so why would I think that about my own?

And so I write in fits and starts. And sometimes more than a year elapses before I moved to put words together. But when I do manage to string some thoughts together, the most satisfying thing is when someone reads the words I wrote and responds. Isn’t that what sharing any creative expression about? It is a seeking of connection with the world around us. A hope to be seen and heard.

Thank you for reading.

Is there laughter in heaven?

“The secret source of humor itself is not joy but sorrow. There is no humor in heaven” – Mark Twain

After the sixth woman on my Facebook feed this morning posted about #Sheetcaking, I knew I better watch the video. I plugged in my headphones and slunk a little lower in my cubicle and proceeded to watch Tina Fey rage eat a sheet-cake adorned with an American flag.

It’s always awkward when I cry at my desk. And I sat at my desk alternating between trying to silently stifle my laughter and tears so as not to disturb my co-workers.

“When you see a bunch of white boys in polo shirts screaming about taking our country back and want to scream that ‘it’s not our country, we stole it … from the Native Americans and when they have a peaceful protest at Standing Rock, we shoot at them with rubber bullets, but we let you chinless turds march through the streets with semi-automatic weapons’, when you want to yell that … don’t yell it at the Klan, Colin, yell it into the cake,” Tina Fey.

At least 2 other women in my network shared the video with the caveat that they cried while watching it.

“she literally had me crying laughing while simultaneously actually crying of sadness and rage.” – Comment shared by my Facebook friend.

I could really peel the onion about why this skit was funny and made me cry at the same time. I could discuss how ever since November 8, 2016, the hope I have always felt for the outlook of my country, the hope for the future of my daughter, and my hope of the basic decency and goodness of people who share the national identity of “American” has been shattered and that every time I think it couldn’t get worse, it gets even worse. Like the KKK marching down the street of a town 100 miles from my house not even wearing hoods worse. We could analyze the jokes and talk about the “Let them eat cake” reference and which way it cut in this particular skit. We could talk about the #WhiteLadyPrivilege `inherent in Tina Fey’s perspective or even my own in finding it funny.  Or even how we could be talking about more important things like how 20 million people in East Africa are starving because of a famine, or how there were two terrorist attacks in Spain in the last 24 hours killing 13 people and wounding 120 more, or how Global Warming is causing the permafrost in the Alps to melt causing avalanches and flooding.

But since today’s prompt on the 7-day blog challenge asked us for a “Seinfieldian Unusual Observation, I will keep it light and instead ask (in strongest impression of Jerry )

“So what’s the deal with laughter?”

I am reminded by a passage in Heinlein’s Stranger in a Strange Land when Mike the alien finally groks people. He realizes that there is always a “wrongness” in laughter. And that human’s ability to laugh at the wrongness is what makes them uniquely human.

“I had thought-I had been told-that a ‘funny’ thing is a thing of a goodness. It isn’t. Not ever is it funny to the person it happens to. Like that sheriff without his pants. The goodness is in the laughing itself. I grok it is a bravery . . . and a sharing . . . against pain and sorrow and defeat.” Robert A. Heinlein, a Stranger in a Strange Land. (You can read the full passage here)

Think about it. Can you think of one thing that is truly funny, laugh out loud funny, that doesn’t come at someone’s expense? That isn’t a little mean? That isn’t at least a little unfortunate?

And perhaps that’s what makes #sheetcaking so funny, its total wrongness. But god knows we need something to laugh about right now so that we can keep on being human.

And I just may eat an entire sheetcake tomorrow. I’m willing to share.

cry laugh

Parallel Universes

On October 1, 2007 I boarded a plane with my cat Azreal headed towards a new life in Washington D.C. A reorganization at my company had eliminated my position, but a new position in DC had opened up at the same time and my company was paying for my relocation to take it. I was nervous. My job focus was different and I didn’t feel confident in my skills, I had very little professional or even personal network in D.C., and after living in San Francisco for 10-years, quite honestly, I just thought DC was going to be a bore.

But my 28 year-old self had a certain amount of gumption and hubris, and I had felt for quite a while that my life in San Francisco had become something of a hamster wheel, and I needed a big change to help propel me in a new direction. So I made the leap. I got on the plane with the most significant man in my life and set out to become a corporate lobbyist in DC.

Fast forward about a year. 2008 was coming to a close and based on the date alone you can probably guess what happened. After a merger, my company was reducing its workforce by half and my job was on the chopping block. This time there was no other position in another city to save me. I was out.

I remember the day I got the news. I was supposed to go to a small gathering of women at a good friend’s house. I was so distraught that I got a blinding headache as I drove across the city. I literally had to pull over to the side of the road and barely got the window down before I threw up all over my car. I was panicked to be losing my job and felt stranded out in DC.

Looking at back on the trajectory of my life, it is easy to see how some might embrace a theory of parallel universes. Is there a Katie in another universe who never left San Francisco? Maybe there is a Katie who became DC’s most powerful corporate lobbyist. Maybe there is a Katie in another dimension, who facing the layoff, packed up her cat and moved back in with her mother in California. In another dimension we certainly have a well-qualified and highly intelligent woman president in the White House instead of an inarticulate buffoon. #notmypresident

But the Katie in this dimension stayed in DC and spent the next three years traveling and exploring personal passion projects.

In this dimension Katie fell in love with a talented artist and a beautiful community of friends.

wedding friends

In this dimension, the woman who always swore she would not have children, has a beautiful baby girl.

family

In this dimension, the city girl lives in a yellow house in the ‘burbs.

house

It is impossible to know what will come next in this twisty turny life. Only certainty is that life will zag right when you thought it would certainly zig left. I know that there are situations in my life, beautiful situations that I desperately want to work, maybe even the ones pictured above, that won’t turn out how I hoped they would. And instead some other stuff will happen that I wasn’t expecting. And some of it will be awesome. And some of it won’t. And that is just kind of how life works.

My favorite part of my day

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When I opened my eyes this morning I knew I had overslept.

It’s not surprising because I slept fitfully with my asthmatic husband snoring, wheezing and thrashing beside me, and when he finally decided to go sleep in another room, my ten-month old baby who has been getting better at sleeping through the night, woke up at 3 a.m. and then again at 4 a.m. I rocked her gently in the rapidly dwindling darkness until just after 4:30 a.m. and then crawled back into my bed for a couple of hours of precious uninterrupted sleep (FINALLY!) before getting up and getting ready to head to the office.

So when I grabbed my phone and saw that it was already after 7 a.m. I panicked a little and then scrolled over to the babycam expecting to see baby sitting or as been her recent practice standing up in her crib wondering about her breakfast. But instead, I found her snoozing away, apparently also needing to sleep in a little after her late night shenanigans.

Some people preach against the dangers of cell phone use first thing in the morning. Countless blogs and articles recommend making a rule against it first thing in the morning, but I confess I love it.

In my early twenties (before the smart phone) I was asked in a job interview about my morning routine. Knowing acutely how non-morning people are stigmatized in our society, I had a feeling that they didn’t want to hear about how I hit the snooze on my alarm 7 times before I finally dragged my hungover ass out of bed with promises to myself that I would be back in my pajamas as soon as I walked backed in the door, took the worlds shortest shower, grabbed clothes that hopefully didn’t look too dirty or wrinkled, and hightailed it to my office hoping no one would notice that I was about 30 minutes late, again, for like the every day in a row.  Instead I said, “Oh, wow. Thanks for asking. I find the early morning so relaxing. I love getting up and having a quick workout – a jog around the block or yoga practice – and then I make coffee, have a bowl of oatmeal and sit down and read the paper so I walk into work already knowing what is going on in the world.”

I truly do wish that I was describing my morning routine. That sounds amazing. But what I have settled for in my morning routine is to wake up just a few minutes before the baby, grab my phone and check the news and my various email and social media. I love get a jump start on what’s happening in the world right from the coziness of my bed.

The baby is pushing my morning routine earlier and earlier. Somehow, I almost always manage to wake up a few minutes before her. And I watch her on the monitor until she sits up. When I heard that the blog assignment on the 7-day Blog Challenge was to describe our favorite part of the day, I immediately knew what I would describe.

I would describe heading into my baby’s room after we have both slept through the night, to find her smiling face eager to be held by me as I enter her room. I ask her if I can pick her up and she holds up her tiny little arms and I scoop her up and nestle into the rocker where we quietly nurse for a few minutes. Once she’s had her fill, I place her on her play mat and she crawls around and initiates a game of peek-a-boo. I let her play until it is almost certain that I am going to be like 30 minutes late to work (again, for like the every day in a row). And then I pick her up and head into our bedroom to wake up my crusty eyed husband still in the throws of sleep and unaware that we have been up for an hour having a bit of girl time. And I hand over the baby so I can shower and throw on some hopefully not dirty or wrinkled clothes and head into the office.

But this morning, having already overslept, I realized that if I hustled I might actually shower and get ready for work before she wakes up. And so I did. And as the warm water ran over me, I realized that this precious alone time just might be my favorite time of day.

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When I got this assignment, I imagined posting a picture like this one I took a few weeks ago of a happy morning baby greeting me for the day.

 

Playing House

peace flagYesterday my neighbor Barbara came to our door to let us know that another neighbor had recently passed away and she was collecting signatures for a card for her family. We just moved into our new house in May and have been touched by the warm reception by the neighbors in our predominantly African American community.

Barbara asked me how we were adjusting and I found myself confessing to this woman who just lost her friend and neighbor of 40 years that my husband and I were totally in over our heads. “We lived in a studio apartment before, but it was just getting too small with the baby starting to crawl. But we have no idea what we are doing. We don’t even know what are weeds and what are plants in this yard. And now the roses bushes look like they are dying and we have three bathrooms to clean. But on the plus side, I’ve cut my commute down to half.”

And Barbara laughed as she side-eyed our overgrown and dried out yard, she said, “Yeah. Scott and Jose, the previous owners, really did love their flowers.”

As I shut the door, I couldn’t help but wondering if I had put my foot in my mouth. Why did I have to launch into my anxiety ridden diatribe about the steep learning curve of new home ownership and the general feeling of being not enough with this nearly stranger who just lost her old friend?

But perhaps that is the best way to make connections with new friends and neighbors. When you go beyond the pleasantries and authentically share a piece of yourself you have a chance of building a real relationship.

P.S. This post is part of a 7 Day Blog Challenge I am doing with Amy Brooks of Voice Pen Purpose. The assignment was to introduce ourselves by telling a quick story with an anecdote. I wasn’t feeling the typical, “Hi, my name is Katie. . .” so I just put the needle down on the record so to speak.

P.P.S. This blog is so sad, last updated in April 2016!! Hoping this blog challenge will reinvigorate my interest in writing again. How funny that last posts were about being cheap and not buying alcohol, which is something I am doing again. Apparently when I go through that type of mood it also reinvigorates my interest in my blog.  

Yes. It’s true. We’re having a baby.

national enquirerPerhaps the most tired April Fools joke is the one where your most unlikely friend announces to the world that she is pregnant. You know that friend – she is hard partying, long-ago declared that the world was over-populated already and that she would never breed, it would cramp her lifestyle, and besides she really doesn’t seem to have her shit together? That friend? So its April 1 and she posts that sonogram picture or that positive pregnancy test and you kind of roll your eyes. But you also don’t want to be a dick. So you congratulate her. And scroll the post for real clues. Are her best friends surprised? Does her Mom weigh in?

Yeah, we’ve all seen that  one before right? It is so stale.

And that is why it seemed fitting that Joel and I would announce our real news to the world in this way. A reverse April Fools Joke. The prank is that we are telling the truth.

Here’s the truth. 

Neither of us ever wanted kids. We weren’t trying. Honestly, at our advanced ages we kind of thought that ship had sailed. Heck at 37, the official medical diagnosis according to my charts is “elderly primigravida.”

It all started at the end of January. We were getting ready to fly down to Miami for a raucous weekend at the regional Florida Love Burn. The only drag was that I was expecting my period right before. What terrible timing for a weekend where I planned to don bikinis, skimpy outfits and live in a tent. But it never came, which I found kind of odd, but mostly convenient. I spent the weekend burning brightly. I broke my “Janupause” with glee posting a picture of a mojito at the airport, and the rest of the long weekend consuming cocktails and other magic, eating sushi and capping it all off in a rooftop jacuzzi. (Apparently all contraindicated for a pregnant woman).

When I returned to D.C. the hot news causing a firestorm on Facebook was the CDC recommendation that women of child bearing age who were not using birth control avoid alcohol. I shared my derision and annoyance with this antiquated message with the rest of my feminist friends, but I also started feeling a flicker of self-awareness.

I still hadn’t gotten my period. On my way home from work one day, I picked up a pregnancy test just to quell my “silly” worries. And when I took it, I was so surprised at the positive result I forced Joel to go to the drug store and buy another just to be sure. (He bought 2, they were both positive).

And then we started freaking out. As a life-long champion of a woman’s right to choose, I really thought I would know exactly what to do. But after making a Pro and Con list, I was finding that I was still struggling with the answer.

The CON list is LONG and REAL. Things like:

  • We love our free lifestyle.
  • We barely make ends meet now.
  • We live in a studio apartment with 3 cats. (Apparently also contraindicated for pregnant women, my Doctor reacted more strongly to this than my admission I drank alcohol before I knew I was pregnant.)
  • We are barely responsible enough to take care of ourselves.
  • We want to travel (aspiring travel plans to Thailand and the Grand Canyon this year!!!!)
  • Sometimes we aren’t totally sure about our relationship or that we share the same goals and aspirations.
  • And on and on and on

The PRO list was much shorter and was based more on a feeling. A feeling that life is one big improv game and that it is usually more fun to say, “YES, AND” than “NO.” A growing feeling that there has to be more to life than the hamster wheel that we are on. A feeling that something is needed to propel us into the next evolution  of our lives. A suspicion that we won’t even be able to comprehend the ways that creating a family could enrich our lives.

The analytic, rational side of me calls bullshit on this. It argues that I also can’t even begin to comprehend the profound ways that this will be a pain in the ass. But philosopher L.A. Paul has studied this problem, and she says that it is not possible to make a “rational decision” about having a child but rather the decision is made as a “transformative experience.”

The trouble is that, notoriously, there is no way to really know what having a child is like until you actually have one. You might get hints from watching other people’s children. But that overwhelming feeling of love for this one particular baby just isn’t something you can understand beforehand. You may not even like other kids much and yet discover that you love your own child more than anything. Of course, you also can’t really understand the crushing responsibility beforehand, either. So, Prof. Paul says, you just can’t make the decision rationally.

And so Joel and I agonized for nearly two months about what to do. We revisited our long lists about why it was a terrible idea. We consulted our family and friends. We scheduled medical appointments to get more information. And the time slipped away and became a decision in itself.

And then we started plotting our grand April Fools Hoax. Because really, we are the fools. We are still finding it difficult to know how to respond when someone wishes us “Congratulations” and so it was easier to turn the whole thing into a joke. At least we got quite a few laughs out of our friends confusion. Maybe this makes us jerks?

But yeah, now we’ve got to figure out how to transform our lives in less than 6 months. To quote Little Red Riding Hood in Into the Woods, “We are excited. Well, excited and scared.”