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What To Do With Struggle

30 Mar

WRITEOUS CHICKS NEWSLETTER – March 2010 

“If we had no winter, the spring would not be so pleasant; if we did not sometimes taste of adversity, prosperity would not be so welcome.” -Anne Bradstreet

Recently I was reading something by someone who repeatedly repeated that she essentially had it all together in every area of her life and had never really struggled, and I went from feeling mildly irritated to totally enraged.  All the areas in which she had it all together, I struggle with, often daily.  And I got really pissed off and wondered if some people are just tapped on the head at birth with this struggle-free magic wand, and glide through life with everything going their way and birds singing on their shoulders as they throw open their curtains in the morning, while for others, life can sometimes feel like such a struggle every step of the way.  And why the heck did I get stuck with the struggle version of Life?  Where were MY birds perching on my shoulder and singing me off into another easy breezy day where everything goes my way?

This is one way that I deal with struggle – HATE IT!  Just feel like it’s unfair and I don’t want it and throw a little (or big) temper tantrum in my mind (or in reality).  WAH!  But as Carl Jung said, “What you resist persists,” and anything you put so much energy into fighting, has a good chance of sticking around for a long, long time.

This is the other way I deal with struggle – LOVE IT!  Just grow attached to it and define myself by it and think of myself as this person who things are always hard for, who just struggles all the time.  SIGH.  But anything you become so tied to has a good chance of sticking around for a long, long time.

There’s got to be another option!

Two things happened as I continued to read about this perfect person’s perfect life:  1)  I want to barf and 2)  I started to feel proud of my struggles.  Not in a I-define-myself-solely-by-this-and-want-cling-onto-it-forever kind of way, but in a compassionate and accepting way where I didn’t want to deny them and push them away from me anymore, and I stopped wishing for some made-up idealized barf-inducing version of Life where everything is always easy.  There are things in my life that have been hard, but this has given me so much – for one, my desire to write and teach.  I don’t think I would be so compelled to grapple with the things I do in my writing and teaching and life if everything was always easy breezy for me, and I just lay around all day hanging out with the singing birds, popping grapes and sipping Pina Coladas. 

In books, I like to read about characters who have obstacles and overcome them.  Or at least strive to overcome them.  Not characters who have no obstacles, and not characters who have obstacles and sit around all day complaining about them but not doing anything about it.  And in life, I like to be around people – imperfect, flawed, messy, real, human people – who have obstacles and are working to overcome them.  And I have grown and am growing to appreciate and like being this kind of person, too.  I’m learning through trial and error what to do with struggle in my life – not always attaching myself to and loving it, not always resisting and hating it – but sometimes, finding and being in that perfect balance where I can appreciate what struggle gives me – the layers and texture and bitterness and sweetness that it adds to my life to make it so rich.  And imperfect.  And messy.  And REAL.

I went to an Amos Lee concert a week and a half ago and he said, “Some people just have dirt under their nails, and in their souls.”  I love the idea of getting dirty in your life and having some grit in your soul.  Of just rolling up your sleeves and digging your nails in and workin’ stuff out.  And how, when something doesn’t come easy for you, when you finally do get it, after days or maybe months or maybe years of struggle, your success will taste all that much sweeter to you because of what you have overcome.  And why, after a long, cold, snowy winter, followed by days upon days of chilly windy rain, those first rays of spring sunshine feel so damn good beaming down on your face.

What do you do with struggle? 

Happy Spring!  When the sun comes out, take some time to bask in those rays!

Lots of love!

Jen xoxo

Copyright © 2010 by Jennifer Garam

“There is a crack in everything, that’s how the light gets in.”

21 Nov

WRITEOUS CHICKS NEWSLETTER – November 2009 

“There is a crack in everything, that’s how the light gets in.” -Leonard Cohen

I recently saw an advertisement for a talk about “having it all” given by a very together-looking woman who, well, looked like she had it all, and it made me upset/angry.  More specifically, the idea that it’s possible to have it all, and that this is an ideal to which we should aspire, made me upset/angry.  Who are these people who “have it all” and how do they do it?  Having it all, and what this implies – having it all together, and being all together – is a sheer impossibility, and to set this up as a standard worth striving for just perpetuates feelings of inadequacy and never measuring up.  And it leaves those of us who don’t feel like we have it/are all together, feeling somehow imperfect, flawed, cracked and falling apart, and meanwhile, exhausting ourselves trying to piece it all together.

We are conditioned to hide our struggles and the parts of ourselves that we think are flawed.  We then all do this, and very rarely do people share what is broken and cracked in ourselves.  Then we look at everybody else’s so together outsides, and compare it to our hidden falling apart insides, and feel isolated and alone, like we are the only one who feels these things, who struggles, who has these cracked and jagged places, where everyone else looks so smoothed over and polished.

But.  No one has it all.  Even people who have it all, don’t really have it all. 

This past Wednesday, I watched Robin Roberts’ interview with Janet Jackson on ABC, which I loved for many reasons.  Robin was an outstanding interviewer, and was compassionate, respectful, and thoughtful, and not at all invasive in her questions.  And Janet Jackson is inspiring in many ways, including her talent, singing, dancing, and creativity and creative process.  But the thing that inspired me the most was how open and honest she was about her imperfections and struggles, and how much courage it takes to do this in a world that does not at all encourage openness, vulnerability, and anything less than perfect.

Some things Janet Jackson said that resonated with me as being so deeply human and relatable were:

– “And you have to forgive me…I have this thing where I tend to smile when things kinda get a little painful.  I guess that’s just my protective shield.”

I totally do this.  Sometimes I can be so upset or hurt or angry or disappointed, and I will just smile and say, “Fine, I’m fine, everything’s fine, it’s all FINE!” 🙂  We can be conditioned to just not feel right about feeling the way we feel, to the point that if any difficult or uncomfortable or painful feelings come up, we make them wrong and bad, stuff them down, and smile a little wider.  And we can want to take care of other people’s feelings, and not make them feel bad by laying our heavy sh*t on them, so we just keep it all inside.  And smile wider still.

– “…not that long ago I started to like my smile, I didn’t used to like my smile.”

WHAT?!  Janet Jackson is known for her gorgeous trademark smile.  The idea that she doesn’t completely love it, that she ever didn’t even like it, is incomprehensible.  But we can all be so hard on ourselves and not appreciate, and so often not even see, our most radiant qualities and our own inner and outer beauty.  And these things can be so obvious to everyone else, and yet, we remain completely oblivious to them, or worse, dislike, or even hate them.

– “I had some depression in me going on, jumping off there pretty seriously.  Just things that I suppressed, suddenly they weren’t going away when I pushed them away like they did in the past.”

I have had many bouts of severe depression.  And in our society, this is still something that is really taboo to talk about.  But depression is isolating enough as it is, and people not talking about it makes it even more isolating, and intensifies the feeling, the belief, that you are the only one going through this.  So every time someone openly talks about having depression or going through a depression, from Janet Jackson on TV to Elizabeth Gilbert in “Eat Pray Love” to your best friend or cousin or neighbor in conversation, it contributes to lifting some of the aloneness that people who struggle with depression feel, and it lets some light in through the cracks, and illuminates the darkness.

In the interview, songwriter and producer Jimmy Jam said about Janet, “She had everything:  success, financial wealth, hit records, but you know, it was that thought that what if you have everything, and basically feel like nothing?”

When people who appear to have it all admit that they don’t, it helps to shatter the myth that having it all is at all possible, and that we should spend our valuable time and energy striving for this unrealistic, impossible ideal, even if it comes at tremendous cost, detriment, and often exhaustion to ourselves.  So instead, perhaps we can release at least some of the striving, and reallocate at least some of the time and energy we spend chasing after outer symbols of achievement, signs of “having it all,” to cultivating nurturing qualities within ourselves, like happiness, compassion, connection, peacefulness, serenity, calm.  And contentedness.  With exactly where and who we are, and what we have, in this moment now.  Cracks and all.  There is nothing inherently wrong or bad with accomplishment, it just becomes painful, and an exhausting, unfulfilling, and never-ending pursuit when you try to use your achievements to bring you lasting happiness or peace, or to prove your worthiness, to others, and to yourself.

And, as in Janet Jackson’s courageous example, having it all on the outside, doesn’t guarantee anything about how you feel on the inside.  As human beings, we all struggle, at some time, in some way.  We can use these struggles to isolate ourselves even further, or, through openly sharing and talking and writing about them in environments and ways that feel safe to do so, we can use them to connect with each other even more.

And here’s the irony.  We feel like people will accept us more, and like us better, if we appear to be all together and perfect on the outside, and that people will dislike us and reject us if we share our flaws and struggles with them.  But it makes me like people more, and feel closer to them, when they share their flaws and struggles with me.  I feel distant from, and uncomfortable around, and sometimes flat out just don’t like, people who always seem so together and perfect.  First of all, I can’t relate to being perfect and completely together (because, in part, I have my own flaws and struggles, and also, because being perfect doesn’t exist, and having everything all together all the time is impossible).  And secondly, when someone presents themselves this way, I don’t feel safe to share my struggles, or comfortable to really be myself, fearing on some level that this person would look down on me for being less-than-perfect.

But.  When someone opens up and admits to and shares their flaws and struggles, I feel a connection and an understanding, and safe to do the same.  I feel an internal sigh of relief-ness – this person is like me, and human, and flawed.  I can let down my guard and be myself with them.  And true closeness and intimacy with others grows from sharing all of ourselves – the good and the bad, the light and the dark, our strengths and our weaknesses.  And also ironically, sharing our weaknesses takes so much courage, and strength.

So instead of exhausting yourself trying to tape over and patch up and Krazy Glue your cracks, just let them be, and let them show, to yourself, to each other, and to the world.  When you do, you let the light shine in through all the places where you are broken, flawed, imperfect, and cracked.  And when you do, you also let your own light shine out through those very same cracks, and the warmth of this light gives others permission to shine the perfect-just-as-it-is light of their imperfections, too.

Shine on!

Lots of love,

Jen xoxoxo

Copyright © 2009 by Jennifer Garam

The More You Love Yourself, The Better Your Life Gets, Or Why I HEART My Self-Help Water Bottle

2 Oct

 Lululemonwaterbottle

WRITEOUS CHICKS  NEWSLETTER – October 2009 

“Your outlook on life is a direct reflection of how much you like yourself.” – Lululemon water bottle

My friend Karen got me the Lululemon water bottle with lots of inspiring quotes on it for my birthday last month.  I love my Lululemon water bottle.  I call it my self-help water bottle.  I love self-help.  I am a self-help junkie.  If I could mainline self-help, I would.  I like, and possibly need, to have constant inspiration and uplifting messages coming at me, because, my mind does not necessarily default this positive place.  Some places my mind likes to default to are feelings of hopelessness and victimhood and depression.  So I have to help it out as much as possible.

I carry my Lululemon water bottle around with me almost everywhere – to yoga, meetings, and prop it up on my desk during the day.  Since I got this water bottle, I feel so good that I am saving so much money now that I am not buying bottled water, am helping out the environment, am drinking so much more water now than I used to pre-bottle, and also, I am face-to-bottle with positive quotes all day long.  I like to pick up my water bottle at random times and discover a new quote.  This week, for the first time I saw this one:  “Your outlook on life is a direct reflection of how much you like yourself.”  This is my new favorite quote.  It struck me as so simple and yet so amazingly true.  And if this is true, then if you want a better life, you just have to like yourself more, and why not really go for it, really go for the full, awesome, big, bold juicy life of your dreams and desires, by LOVING yourself.  Like, a lot.  Like, more than anything else in the whole-wide-world.  Just totally, completely, absolutely, cherish, nurture, and adore yourself, and see what happens…

Let me just say that I have had moments, long moments, of being pretty self-loathing.  And when I am in that state, it is really hard for me to handle anything; even the smallest disappointments like just missing a subway can feel like the most painful affront to my soul.  What I am learning is that self-love is at the core of building a super-strong foundation for yourself so that you can handle the ups and downs of life, without feeling like you are at the mercy of the world, being tossed around by some crazy topsy-turvy and mean roller coaster ride. 

What I have seen, through teaching my classes and talking to friends, is that we are all so unmercifully hard on ourselves, we can all love ourselves more, and there is always more love, and compassion, and forgiveness that we can bestow on ourselves.  And loving yourself means being on your own side, even when you make mistakes, even when you are a flawed imperfect human being, even when you feel like you are filled with darkness when you wish you were always bright and cheery, even when you are at your worst, and lowest, and feel like a fucked up mess and are scared that you always will be.  Loving yourself means that you can expand your heart enough to hold all of yourself in it – the light and the dark, the joy and the pain, the beautiful and the ugly.  Knowing that no matter what, no matter what the roller coaster of the world, and circumstances that can be shitty, and other people, throw at you, you will never ever betray yourself or turn against yourself.  You will remain centered and secure, safe and strong in your own self-love.

I have worked hard at loving myself and have come a long way.  I still have moments of disliking myself and all that comes with, but they are fewer and farther between.  Recently I had some disappointments that a few years ago, and possibly even six months ago, would have taken me out, would have left me curled up under my covers crying for days, and exercising my right to take mental health days off from work.  But I love myself so much more now than I did then, that I don’t get wiped out so easily anymore.  I can feel the sadness and disappointment and pain and still love myself, and know that I can take it and I will be OK.  I can hold it all in my heart and not let sadness and disappointment and pain convince me that I am unlovable, or not deserving of love, from others and most importantly, from myself.

And here’s the thing:  when you love yourself, you can handle everything more, the bad and the good.  When you dislike or disapprove of yourself in any way, it is extremely difficult to be resilient and rebound from life’s challenges.  But also, when you dislike and disapprove of yourself, it is extremely difficult to allow great things and people and circumstances into your life.  Because you feel on some level that you don’t deserve it, so you sabotage yourself or push it away or terrorize yourself with thoughts of worry and unworthiness so much, that even if whatever that great thing is does squeak through your self-hatred and into your life, you don’t let yourself enjoy it for one second.

So practice loving yourself.  Love yourself a little more today than you did yesterday, a little more in this moment than you did a moment ago.  Be ever generous with the love you give yourself.  Be kind to yourself where before you would have snapped at yourself, be soft and gentle where you used to be hard and harsh, forgive yourself where you used to be unforgiving.  Practice and grow your love for yourself stronger and stronger all the time.  This love will waiver, and harshness and hate will try to sneak back in and still, love yourself then, and through that.  Go back go back go back go back to it always.  And watch yourself become strong and stable where you used to feel weak and insecure, and at the mercy of others and life.  And watch yourself being able to handle the sadness, disappointments, and pain better, and being able to handle more wonderful things in your life, and allow them in, and enjoy them, knowing deeply that you are worthy of it all.  And watch…with anticipation, excitement, and joy…as your life just keeps getting better…and better…and better….

Wishing you a magnificent October, and so much love for yourself!

Lots of love!

Jen xoxo

Copyright © 2009 by Jennifer Garam

Lessons Learned from Julie & Julia

7 Sep

JuliaChild

WRITEOUS CHICKS NEWSLETTER – September 2009

Yesterday I saw the movie “Julie & Julia.”  Everything I had heard/read about it said that the Julia part was great and inspiring because she was driven by her passion and her desire to help people, but the Julie part was lacking because she was only driven by her desire for recognition and fame.  However, I didn’t feel this way about the movie, and I enjoyed and was inspired by both women’s stories unfolding.  I thought that Julie was definitely driven by more than just the ambition to catch-up with her established fancy Cobb-salad-eating corporately vice presidential friends and be famous for something, and she seemed to be fueled by a desire to add meaning to her life that was suffering from listless, passionless, ambivalent fatigue.  And as I watched the movie, I learned from both women, and found myself cataloging their lessons in my mind as the movie played on.

1)  Live In Gratitude

Julia Child’s character was bubbling over with gratitude throughout the movie.  Everything she experienced was THE MOST AMAZING THING EVER!  When she tasted food, she savored every bite.  When she prepared food, she delighted in every step of creation.  When she moved into her Parisian home, she ran around it throwing open windows and exclaiming, “It’s Versailles!”  Her husband Paul said that Parisians were known to be unfriendly, but Julia brought out the best in everyone so they were the opposite of that to her.  She was so grateful for every interaction with the Parisian shopkeepers that they couldn’t help but return her energy of kindness and generosity.

It’s easy to get jaded.  The fast pace of life contributes to this – running around, feeling overwhelmed, being overscheduled.  It’s easy to focus on the negative and what’s going wrong.  But running around in a busy tailspin and making ongoing mental notes of everything that’s going wrong blocks from our vision what’s going right, and all there is to be grateful for.  You truly have to slow waaaaaaaaaaaaaayyyyyyyy down to see, smell, taste, touch, feel, appreciate, and delight in all of the simple pleasures in life.  But when you do slow down, the payoff is tremendous – there are boundless simple pleasures to enjoy and be grateful for. 

Julia Child had a child-like appreciation for things in life, and noticed these simple pleasures in the way that we did as children, before we got busy, and jaded.  And you don’t have to live in Paris or be a famous chef to follow her lead, to savor every bite of a meal, to enjoy a conversation with the person who made your coffee instead of grunting a half-hearted thanks, grabbing it without making eye contact, and racing out the door to catch a subway, to deeply connect with the people, places, and things in your environment every single day.  That kind of gratitude adds excitement and adventure to everything it touches, and will deepen and enrich your life immensely as a result.

2)  You Don’t Have To Have It All Figured Out Already – Experiment!

I have often felt like the clock is racing ahead and I fell behind long ago on some invisible timeline and I can never catch up.  It can seem like “everyone else has it all figured out,” and you are the only one who is struggling to find purpose, direction, and a meaningful path in your life.  And comparing yourself to others who are “ahead of you” on the invisible timeline always leaves you finding yourself lacking. 

However, first of all, everyone else doesn’t already have everything all figured out, and we are all searching on our own time and in our own way.  And Julia Child is a great example of someone who discovered her life’s passion on her own timeline.  She didn’t graduate from college with a degree in culinary arts and several impressive cooking internships already under her belt to immediately begin her rise up a culinary org chart at age 21.  She came to cooking in her late 30’s, and the movie showed her process of experimentation and discovery to get to this place.  Earlier in her career, she had worked as an advertising copywriter and in the government.  Where the movie picks up in France, Julia is continuing on her career exploration.  She liked hats, so she took a hat-making class.  It wasn’t for her, but she didn’t berate herself that she was falling behind on a timeline, and that her established friends were racing ahead of her.  Instead, she tried something else – playing cards, which also turned out to be not her thing, but no worries.  She moved onto cooking and at last it was a love connection!

Again, we can learn to employ Julia’s child-like sense of play, joy, wonder and experimentation as we search for our own true path in life.  There is no need to berate yourself for “wasting time” if what you are doing at the moment isn’t your true life’s passion, or if maybe you haven’t found it yet.  No worries, just keep trying, playing, experimenting, and learning what you do and don’t like.  Step off the Universal Timeline that compares you to everyone else, and instead make the choice to boldly accept that your pace and process of discovery, growth, achievement, and living, is absolutely perfect for you.

3)  If Someone Thinks You Can’t Do Something, Prove Them Wrong

When Julia attends Le Cordon Bleu, Madame Brassart, the school’s proprietress, seems to have it out for her and does not think she will succeed in a cooking course for “professionals.”  On the first day of class, all the students are masterfully and speedily chopping onions while Julia tentatively slices a few slivers.  She goes home and practices her speed-dicing skills until her table is piled high in a mountain of expertly diced onions and her husband can’t even walk in the kitchen door without crying.  When Julia fails the final exam she asks to take it again and then passes it.  Throughout her time at the school, Madame Brassart’s lack of belief in Julia only serves to fuel her own belief in herself even more.

When confronted with harsh criticism and/or someone who believes you will fail, you can do one of two things:  prove them right or prove them wrong.  People believing in you feels great and can motivate you to new heights of achievement.  People not believing in you feels terrible and can motivate you to curl up in a ball under your covers and give up.  Don’t give anyone that kind of power over your life.  Let all feedback – positive and negative – push you on to realize your dreams.  And, if you let it ignite you rather than stop you,  it is the negative criticism that can powerfully fire you up more than anything else to reach your goals.

4)  Never Give Up, Even In The Face Of Seemingly Insurmountable Obstacles

It took Julia over 7 years to write “Mastering the Art of French Cooking” and many times it looked like her dream would not become a reality, but she stuck with it.  When she first got involved in this project, Simone Beck and Louisette Bertholle had already written an early draft of the cookbook that had been rejected because it was not American enough for Americans.  They could have thrown in the towel at this point, but instead, they asked Julia to collaborate on a rewrite with them.  Julia then slogged through a painstakingly slow process of testing recipes and writing the book over years and years.  Though there was no instant gratification in sight, she continued to have a positive attitude and maintain her connection to her enthusiasm for her project, even when she was doing the “grunt work” parts.  At one point when she had to type up a section, she didn’t bemoan this fact but rather, she cheerily exclaimed, “It will give me something to do in Oslo!”

When the first publishers who expressed interest in her book later rejected it, she didn’t let that stop her from believing in her vision, and she went on to find another publisher, get an even bigger advance, and see her book become published.  The final scene of the movie shows her unwrapping a package, seeing her book in print for the first time, and her and her husband Paul exploding in joyous laughter.  The movie ends with a freeze frame on this moment, her vision realized.

Achieving a dream can take a long time, and along the way, you can lose the connection to your enthusiasm and your intention and let obstacles stop you.  However, if you can step back and see the larger perspective and look at your whole life, the obstacles you confront today appear to be only little blips on the way to the tremendous joy of living in pursuit and realization of your dreams.  And if the road is long, arduous, and fraught with obstacles that make you want to give up but you don’t, then savoring your success will be all the sweeter!

5)  Writing Has The Power To Transform You & Your Life

I’m not talking about external transformation, like how Julie lived in a crappy apartment over a pizza place and worked at a miserable job trapped in a cubicle, and then she started to blog and got a book deal and then a movie deal and presumably a much nicer apartment, although that can happen.  I’m talking about inner transformation.  About how Julie was unhappy, lost, and felt like she was drowning, and then she started writing, and writing gave her life meaning, purpose, and direction, and saved her.  She felt alone, and then sharing her writing with others brought her connection.  Through her writing she confronts things about herself that she doesn’t like, like her meltdowns and her taking her husband for granted, and then once she sees these things, she can change them.

This world can be isolating.  It can leave us feeling separate from others and even from ourselves.  How many times have you felt like you don’t have a voice, even in your own life?  Like you have so many thoughts and opinions and wishes and hopes and dreams that just wither and die in your mind?  How many times have you felt dissatisfied with something or someone, but you muffle the voice inside that wants to say how you really feel and you remain mute, the nice, good person, doing the nice, good, right thing?

Writing is so powerful because through it you can reclaim your voice and therefore, one word at a time, you can reclaim your life.  You can build a bridge of words back to your true self, you can speak up and say this is what I’ve experienced and this is what I think and this is what I feel and it matters and I matter.  You can take up your rightful space in the world, and in doing so, you can reach out and connect to others, and then, as a result, we are all a little more powerful and a little less isolated.

A million things can happen in the course of a day to leave you feeling tossed about by the world and powerless in your own life.  Picking up a pen or turning on your computer is a simple way to take back your power, raise your voice, and claim your life as your own.  Every time you return to your writing, your writing returns you to yourself, and in this way, it will transform you and your life, from the inside out.

Have a delightful September and savor every sip of this crisp, delicious fall air – bon appétit!

Lots of love!

Jen xoxo

Copyright © 2009 by Jennifer Garam

Mission: Summer of Fun

30 Jun

WRITEOUS CHICKS NEWSLETTER – June 2009

 Summer summer summertime

Time to sit back and unwind

– Will Smith when he was still The Fresh Prince, “Summertime” lyrics

After my sophomore year of college I came home to Westchester and spent lots of time in the Greenburgh Public Library pouring over the O’Dwyers PR Guide, making lists of places to apply for a responsible summer internship.  I got an interview at a PR firm and I wore my new suit that I had bought at Ann Taylor or Lord & Taylor.  It was beige, and the top was cream, and I had matching beige pumps.  Sitting in the Manhattan office, my interviewer said, “Garden supplies.  You will spend your summer focused on garden supplies.”

I felt panicked and claustrophobic.  I could not see myself sitting in an office in my beige suit and matching heels doing garden supply PR, whatever that meant, day after day after day after day…

And then…my college roommate invited me to live in Cape Cod that summer with her and a few other girls, rent-free.  I did not spend time weighing my options or listing pros and cons.  I just said “No” to garden supplies and “YES!” to the Cape.

Soon after, I got in my Dad’s maroon 1972 BMW 2002, rolled down the windows (it didn’t have AC), turned up the radio (I spent my life savings at age 16 on a brand new car radio that even had a tape deck!) and DROVE! 

My college roommate’s family owned real estate in Cape Cod, so the first month we stayed at a gorgeous house on the Cape Cod Canal.  There were four of us and we each had our own room, and there was a porch out back and when you stepped off the porch you touched down to sand.  The second month we moved into a three story townhouse in a housing complex in the same town, and two more girls moved in and we paid close to nothing at a couple hundred dollars each in rent.  I drove around for the first few days I was there looking for a waitressing job and filling out applications and then I got TWO – one at a cafe where the owner didn’t have what you would call a business sense or a profit motive.  He was taking a break from his other career as a Deadhead to dabble in restaurant owning.  On one of my first shifts, he took the staff, which was comprised mostly of me and my roommates, to get restaurant supplies at The Christmas Tree Shops, where he proceeded to steal many salt & pepper shakers.  On another shift, we all went to a waiter’s house to hang out at his pool.  My other job was more stable, at an established waterfront restaurant that also catered weddings.

I worked hard, often double shifts and for large chunks of time without a day off, but I also PLAYED.  I remember driving around and exploring, running along the canal or through the streets at sunset, picking up fudge swirl ice cream on the way home from work for a late-night treat, buying a basketball and shooting hoops just because our housing complex had a basketball court, eating Burger King Italian Chicken Sandwiches dipped in ketchup and fries dipped in barbecue sauce multiple times a week, lying on the carpeted floor watching videos for TLC’s “Waterfalls” and Boyz II Men’s “Water Runs Dry,” having crushes on boys with Boston accents, eating lots of clam chowdah, going dancing at Landfall in Woods Hole, taking road trips to Boston and Winchester and Marblehead, walking around Cambridge in the rain, seeing a movie at the Brattle Theatre, eating burgers at The Tasty and burritos at Border Cafe in Harvard Square, trying to use my fake id – sometimes it worked, sometimes it didn’t, kissing a cute boy in the parking lot of a bar, renting mopeds on Martha’s Vineyard, thinking I looked hot in my bikini, and feeling that way, too, taking late-night trips to IHOP, reading The Alienist, going to a beach party and an outdoor concert, blasting The Dave Matthews Band cds, leaving at midnight to drive from Cape Cod to New York, sitting on the back porch smoking Marlboro Lights with my feet up on the rail.  I learned how to open a bottle of wine.  I crashed my car at Logan Airport and the police officer that arrived on the scene looked like Mel Gibson.  I had my heart broken and cried on the couch and thought the heart-hurt would never stop.

In the summer of 1995, I did all the quintessential summer things and I had FUN. 

Fun used to be a lot easier to come by and I didn’t really have to think about it, it just happened.  Now my default mode is to work really hard with no room for fun.  When I get busy (which is most of the time), I feel something click.  I get really super-focused, and go into nose-to-the-grindstone mode.  There are things that need to be done.  Goals to reach.  Life changes to make.  Finances to worry about.  Chores to take care of.  The laundry has to get done, the bathroom needs to be cleaned, and I have to realize my life purpose.

I was face-to-grindstone a few weeks ago working hard at home alone on a Saturday afternoon when I heard a voice in my head say (whine), “I’M NOT HAVING ANY FUN!”  I went out that night which improved the situation, but it was a temporarily fix, like slapping a band-aid on my fun deprivation, when I needed a full-out fun-transfusion.

Being an adult with responsibilities, stresses, obligations, worries, and a bathtub that will not get cleaned if I don’t clean it, it is too easy to lose track of fun.  To de-prioritize it until I forget about it.  And fun doesn’t just fall into my lap like it used to.  No one is calling me these days offering me months of rent-free/low-cost housing in a summer vacation town.  Spontaneity no longer feels comfortable.  My immediate response to a fun invitation is, “I can’t afford that,” and then, “I don’t have time.”

And what was fun for me at 19 is not the same thing that will be fun for me now.  I wouldn’t find it enjoyable today to say, crash my car, fall in love with a jerk, and then smoke a pack of Marlboro Lights.  (It really wasn’t ever fun for me to crash my car, and it definitely wasn’t fun paying for the damages, but the Mel Gibson lookalike thing made it slightly less traumatizing.  And looking back, the jerk/bad boy/heartbreak thing is overrated, and smoking is bad for your health, I don’t do it anymore, and I definitely would NOT advocate it.  I just always seem to feel so nostalgic about my cigarette-smoking memories…).  But that makes it a project, and a fun one at that, to explore what is FUN for me today, what I would LOVE doing, what would light me up and make me giddy with excitement and anticipation just thinking about it.

Because fun doesn’t come so easily anymore, I have to be vigilant to make sure I get my required daily dose.  People are busier now than when I was 19, and their schedules are more packed, so fun takes a little advance planning.  And when I receive spontaneous or semi-spontaneous invitations, I can practice overriding Ican’taffordthatIdon’thavetime with a resounding YES!  I still feel the same buzz of excitement and adventure shooting through me when I say Yes to something wonderful at 33 as I did at 19.  Last summer I squeezed a little fun in but still felt deficient in that area and wished that I had had so much more, so this summer I am on a mission to have a Summer of Fun and I am proactively seeking it out. 

 

Is your summer set-up for fun maximization?  Take your fun pulse – scan your life to see if you are infusing enough fun into it.  Have you orchestrated moments in your days, weeks, and months purely dedicated to doing things you love and spending time with people you love in places you love?  Update your fun list – what would be purely, blissfully fun for you right now?  Then take a few things off your to do list and get to work checking things off on your fun list.  Summer is a time for slowing down and feeling good so let the season inspire you to do the same.  Even if fun takes a little more effort now than it used to, the payoff is exponential and well worth it.  And, in the words of Will Smith back in the day when he was still The Fresh Prince and fun was waiting around every corner, take the next few months stretching out before you to just sit back and unwind…

Wishing you a fun-filled summer!

Lots of love!

Jen xoxo

P.S.  I was planning to write this newsletter last Friday but I said YES to the beach!

Copyright © 2009 by Jennifer Garam

Lessons On How To Dance To The Music Of Life From A 4 1/2-Year-Old

29 May

WRITEOUS CHICKS NEWSLETTER – May 2009

For the last few weeks, I was excitedly counting down to the season premiere of “So You Think You Can Dance” last Thursday, and planned to watch it with my friend who loves SYTYCD as much as I do.  We’ve watched the past two seasons together, play back our favorite dances repeatedly, and critique the dances as they are happening and see if what we have to say is in line with what the expert judges will say.  Cat Dealy and the judges have become like old friends I only get to see from May to August, and I was eagerly anticipating the two-hour television event.

My SYTYCD friend’s 3 and 4 1/2-year-old nieces were visiting from California and staying with her on Thursday, so she made the television event into a WYOT (Wear Your Own Tutu) Dance Party, and she said that every time she spoke to her nieces on the phone leading up to their visit and mentioned the Dance Party, they were so excited they would start screaming, and then the phone would drop to the ground.

So while “So You Think You Can Dance” was on mute most of the time and we missed many of dances last week, watching the season premiere dance party-style with a 3 and 4 1/2-year-old was way more fun and inspiring, in addition to requiring much more active participation.  And I quickly picked up some pointers on how to live more fully and dance to the music of life from Evelyn, my friend’s 4 1/2-year-old niece.

1)  Love Something With All of Your Heart

Later on in the dance party after Evelyn had performed several numbers as well as taught us some complicated choreography, we took a break from dancing and sat down to watch part of the show.  This episode’s auditions were taped at BAM, and during one performance, Evelyn sat at the edge of a chair, mesmerized and completely captivated by the dancer on screen.  “I want to beeeeee there,” she exclaimed, “their stage is so BIG!”  And later she elaborated, “I want to be a dancer in New York!”

She didn’t find reasons why this couldn’t happen or try to talk herself out of her dream or worry about what the critical response would be to her dancing, like so many of us do in adulthood.  As adults, rarely do we allow ourselves to have that kind of pure love for anything we do, whether it be because of practicality, self-doubt, or fear that if we pour our whole selves into something, we will be met with disappointment or rejection.  But Evelyn did not let any of these things taint or complicate her passion for dancing – she just purely loved it, and with all of her heart was certain that she wanted to dance across a big stage just for the joy of it. 

2)  Know Exactly What You Want and Ask for It

When we were kicking off the dance party portion of the evening, I asked Evelyn what kind of music she wanted to dance to and she immediately responded without any hesitation whatsoever, “Music for a Princess!  Do you have The Little Mermaid?”

As grown-ups, when someone asks us what we want, we often don’t even know because we haven’t allowed ourselves to explore our own preferences, wishes, and desires.  Or, we know, but we want to be low-maintenance so we say something like, “It doesn’t matter,” or “Whatever you want.”  Or we doubt ourselves or feel guilty for wanting something and spiral into indecision, unable to make a clear choice.  Evelyn had no doubt and was so completely in touch with her preferences that she could express them in a milli-second if asked.  Music?  Princess!

3)  If Exactly What You Want Is Not Available, Go With the Flow and Embrace What Is

As it turned out, my friend who is in her 30’s did not happen to have a copy of The Little Mermaid Soundtrack lying around.  The closest thing I could think of to “Princess Music” were the ballads on 106.7 Lite FM, which is what I selected for the dance party tunes.  Evelyn did not express any disappointment and instantly embraced the ballads as “Princess Music” worthy of her dance moves. 

In adulthood, this is another place we tend to get stuck.  If things are not going as we want them to, we have a very difficult time embracing what is, and spend much time and energy resisting and wishing things could be different; energy that could be better spent, perhaps, on a dance party.  Especially if we went to the trouble of expressing a preference, wish, or desire, and it is not met, we can take it as a rejection, and proof that we shouldn’t even bother expressing our needs in the future because they won’t get met anyway.  But this 4 1/2-year-old knew that when you don’t get real princess music, you make princess music out of what you have.

4)  Have Complete Confidence In Yourself

Several times throughout the dance party, Evelyn declared, “I’m a really good dancer!”  At one point she taught a dance lesson and warned me that “this part is really hard,” maybe so I wouldn’t feel bad if I just didn’t get it.  And she was a great dancer.  From watching reality dance shows I’ve learned that judges often comment on contestants’ musicality, and Evelyn had incredible musicality and a natural sense of rhythm.  My friend said that when they are driving and another car drives by playing music, she will start to move to the beat.  She was totally immersed in her dances, completely focused, and filled with emotion.  This is something she loved to do with all of her heart, and she did not doubt her ability in the least, nor did she expect unrealistic levels of perfection or expertise from herself. 

This is something that is really difficult to do after childhood.  As we grow up, we receive criticism from a wide range of sources, from teachers to peers to families to society, and it becomes close to impossible to maintain such a strong sense of self that outside forces never make our belief in ourselves waver.  As we are socialized we also get quite skilled in criticizing ourselves, and frequently place unrealistic expectations of perfection upon ourselves, mercilessly chastising ourselves when we don’t meet them.  Furthermore, displaying confidence in yourself and your abilities comes to be seen as arrogant, so we learn to downplay our abilities, fake modesty, and even diminish and put ourselves down so we don’t seem boastful.  But when you have confidence in yourself and aren’t bogged down by criticism or doubts, either from others or from yourself, you again free up energy to PLAY, enjoy yourself, and thrive.

5)  Sometimes Someone Will Bump Into You On Stage But You Gotta Keep Dancing

As Evelyn was twirling around on the “stage” between the TV, chair, and bed in my friend’s studio apartment, her 3-year-old sister Audrey was also twirling in sometimes competing pathways, and ricocheted off of her repeatedly.  Without missing a beat Evelyn said, “You have to be careful, sometimes someone will bump into you on stage,” as she continued to twirl. 

In life, people are always bumping into us, and it can stop us in our tracks.  At work, in our relationships, and even on the subway, someone bumping into you physically or emotionally can ruin your whole day, if not more.  We can get so upset by something someone else does or says that we completely veer off course and forget about our own goals and plans, and in our anger or our sadness or our whatever, we let this person or circumstance stop us from dancing.  Other people are not just an extension of ourselves, so we are not always going to like everything they do and say.  People will bump into us all the time, and we will have to set boundaries or let it go, but we don’t have to let it stop us from dancing to our own beat.

 

The day after the dance party, I ran into a neighbor on the subway who is studying Decision Making for his PhD.  I described the previous night’s events and asked him why we lose our faith and confidence in ourselves when we grow up, and why it is so easy to make decisions as children, and as adults even the simplest decisions can become something to agonize over as we weigh countless outside influences.  He said that as we get older, we gain several skills, such as the abilities for long-term, big picture thinking and weighing consequences, and in doing so, lose our childhood impulsiveness.  “Can’t we keep what works from our childhood decision-making processes, such as our trust in ourselves and what we want, and still incorporate what benefits us in adulthood such as big picture thinking and the ability to weigh consequences?” I inquired.  But he seemed to think that the two are mutually exclusive and that the gaining of these adult skills by definition requires the loss of the unwavering certainty in ourselves of childhood.

Obviously we can’t completely maintain our childhood innocence as adults, and we gain many benefits that help us effectively function in life as we mature.  But having a dance party with a 3 and 4 1/2-year-old reminded me of the wisdom, energy, inspiration, and excitement for life inherent in all of us in youth, and that we sacrifice too much of that spark as we acquire responsible adult skills.  So while we maintain the best parts of being adults, there is definitely room to break out that tutu, crank up the Lite FM, and DANCE.  There is a well-known quote that says “Dance like no one is watching,” but, as inspired by a 4 1/2-year-old, I’d like to modify it:  Dance like you are centerstage at BAM, you are the greatest dancer in the whole-wide-world, and EVERYONE is watching!

 

Wishing you pure child-like joy as you incorporate more of what makes you DANCE into your life!

Lots of love!

Jen xoxo

Copyright © 2009 by Jennifer Garam

It’s Good To Be Bad

12 Apr

WRITEOUS CHICKS NEWSLETTER – April 2009

 

“Would you rather be whole or good?”  -Carl Jung

 

I’m bossy and controlling.  Not many people know this about me because, well, those are not considered to be good or nice qualities to have, so I learned to hide them.  And then, over time, the hiding becomes so second nature that it is no longer a decision, and in this way, you could easily forget and lose huge chunks of yourself.

 

However.  My family knows the truth because they were there from the beginning, when evidence of my bossy and controlling tendencies was more easily apparent. 

 

When I was 5-years-old, I went on vacation with my extended family to La Jolla, California.  At 5-years-old, I was at the height of my sassiness, my self-confidence, my belief in myself, I hadn’t yet learned to doubt or criticize myself, and it never would have occurred to me to hide a feeling or thought.  This was back when I wanted to be a Solid Gold Dancer, and I spent many hours on said vacation in our hotel room practicing for my future career, alternately launching myself into leaps through the air and dramatically throwing myself on the floor in a heap, while belting out the Solid Gold theme song, “Solid Gold – Filling up my life with music, Solid Gold – Putting rhythm in my soul!”, imagining myself in a skin-tight gold lamé bodysuit accented perhaps, by just the right leg warmers.  (I can now see where my current love of dance TV shows like So You Think You Can Dance took root.)

 

One day on vacation, my family was all going out together, and we stood in the hotel hallway waiting for the elevator.  When the elevator arrived we all piled in – me, my Mom, Dad, my 2-year-old sister, grandfather, and grandmother.  And then.  My sister pressed the elevator button.  And I wanted to press the elevator button, didn’t everybody know this?!  “OK, everybody out,” I demanded, “I want to press the button!”  So I made everyone get out of the elevator, and then get back in, so that I could press the button.  Everybody actually complied, although, in all fairness, I had my 5-year-old-little-kid-adorable factor going for me then, and I don’t think I could get away with that if I tried it, say, today.  And it was probably easier to comply with my wishes than deal with what would happen if they didn’t, which would be, I would get upset, and also, mad.

 

But then I learned, through life, that I was supposed to be a good girl, and that playing nice with everyone else in the sandbox was more important than expressing my own feelings and thoughts.  That there were certain qualities and feelings I had that were wrong or bad, and therefore, I had to hide, deny, repress, suppress, and hate those qualities, thoughts, and feelings, and cover them up with an impenetrable layer of niceness.  (Incidentally, I didn’t used to play nice in the sandbox – I took over the sandbox.  I was the boss of the sandbox.) 

 

This developed into a tendency to go to the opposite extreme and people-please at the expense of my own needs, feelings, and wishes.  And it is easy to see how battering my bossy and controlling tendencies into submission by behaving in the complete opposite way has caused a lot of pain.  Because the greatest betrayal of all is the one against yourself.

 

Society allows us to show such a teeny tiny sliver of who we really and truly are, and we learn to suppress the rest of ourselves, the parts that don’t fit neatly into that sliver.  Here is a random sampling of things that society (and many of its individual members) deem unacceptable:

 

– Anger

– Sadness

– Jealousy

– Anxiety

– Depression

– Bossiness/Controlling-ness

– Prolonged any-of-the-above.  If you have to feel it, could you just get it over with and move on already?!?!

 

Now raise your hand if you’ve ever felt any of the above.  It is so crazy that we’re not supposed to, and when we do, we feel like we are all alone and no one else feels this way, when, at some point or another, we all do!  What’s unacceptable is that we don’t feel right in expressing all of who we are, no matter how messy or uncomfortable or not nice it may be!

 

Suppressing things that we think are unacceptable about ourselves does not work, and only leads to painfully diminishing ourselves.  When you identify these parts of yourself that you’ve felt the need to suppress in the past, instead of hating them you can accept, embrace, and integrate them.  They often provide a gift that will contribute to making you healed and whole.  For instance, instead of being ashamed of my bossiness, I can use it on my own behalf in situations where I need to stand up for myself.  My controlling-ness contributes to my ability to efficiently organize and carry out plans.  And anger, which is a big issue for so many people who fear it and avoid confrontation at all costs, is a tremendous gift. When I feel angry, it is a huge flashing light that something is wrong or some boundary is being violated, and it shows me where I need to express myself, speak up, and/or make a change. 

 

I don’t have to be The Boss of the World or The Nicest Person in the Universe; I can work towards accepting all parts of myself, embracing the gifts that each and every piece brings, and integrating them in a balanced way.  This process is totally messy and uncomfortable, and is filled with mistakes and missteps, swinging way too far in one direction only to over-compensate by going to the opposite extreme.  The important thing is to take it on with compassion for yourself every step of the way, and trust that practice, even when taken in baby steps, will make it easier over time, and bring progress and healing.  It is a worthwhile endeavor to embark on, because being whole feels a whole lot better, and is infinitely more rewarding and fulfilling, than being good.

 

Examine the parts of yourself that you’ve been conditioned to believe are bad.  The parts you don’t like, don’t want to look at, and really don’t want anyone else to see.  Know that they are not bad, and you no longer have to believe that they are.  Practice shedding a little love on those vulnerable bits and pieces as you coax them out into the light.  And grow the sliver of yourself that you allow yourself to show to the world fuller and deeper, so that you have room to stretch and breathe, move around, dance and play, take leaps and falls, and be.  Fully.  Truly.  Wholly.  You.

 

OK, now everybody get out of the elevator.  I want to press the button!

 

 

“But what does it mean, anyway, if what it takes to be loved is the denial of one’s own story?  And what is a bad girl, really, but a girl who doesn’t always do the things other people tell her she’s supposed to do?  Sometimes, it’s true, a bad girl may be someone who cheats or steals or hurts people or lies.  And sometimes a bad girl is just someone who tells the truth.” 

     – “A Good Girl Goes Bad” by Joyce Maynard, from “Bad Girls:  26 Writers Misbehave” edited by Ellen Sussman

 

 

Wishing you lots of love & compassion on your journey!

 

Jen xoxo

  

Copyright © 2009 by Jennifer Garam