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In 1982, I left college.

I hadn’t graduated yet, but I was running around in circles. I was caught in a web of seemingly conflicting interests and I was wary of committing myself to any one of them lest I  make the wrong choice. That’s a fancy way of saying I didn’t know what I wanted to do.

But I kind of knew what I wanted to do. I was officially pre-law. And I knew that I wanted to make a living helping people get help. But I wasn’t clear what the intersection of law and helping was.

So I left college with the goal of figuring out what I wanted to do with my life.

I left college and returned to my hometown of Baltimore. I lived in my parents’ basement for a bit, resolving every hour of every day to get the hell out of their house.

My parents were good parents, but they were my parents and constant proximity wasn’t conducive to healthy respect.

I remember wondering what I might do to help people get help. I thought about psychology and social work and any profession where you help figure out and resolve other peoples’ crises.  My mother helped me brainstorm where I might spend time getting experience in such things and we came up with Sheppard and Enoch Pratt Hospital, usually just referred to as Sheppard Pratt.

Sheppard Pratt was a short drive from my parents house. It’s where Zelda Fitzgerald was diagnosed with schizophrenia in 1930. And where she wrote the semi-autobiographical novel, Save Me the Waltz, published in 1932. At that time, Sheppard Pratt was called a sanatorium. Originally, it had been named an asylum.

I remember hoping to run across the ghost of Zelda there. The grounds were magnificent, beautiful and inspiring in a serious, poetic way.

Initially, I volunteered at Sheppard Pratt. I offered myself to one of the hospital’s long term psychiatric units five days a week and eight hours a day in exchange for the promise that I would be given as much responsibility as was legally allowed. I had volunteered in hospitals when I was younger and knew how easy it was to spend an entire shift filling and refilling water pitchers.

For the record, filling and refilling water pitchers is, quite possibly, the most boring thing I have ever done in my life.

I was put to work immediately, shuffling patients to therapy, cafeteria and time spent outdoors. I was encouraged to talk to them and get to know them and be part of their day. I was trusted with information about them and informed by the staff about their conditions and treatment.

It was fascinating.

And at night, I hung up coats in a dance club.

Stop laughing.

I made more money in one night of hanging up coats than you can imagine, which is good since there was only dancing Thursday through Sunday. Sure, all the money I made was in quarters, but back then everybody still wore winter coats in winter so a night full of quarters added up quickly.

After a few weeks of volunteering, the nice folks at Sheppard Pratt offered me a full-time job, a full-time paycheck, and health insurance, all of which I accepted before they were finished offering.

I had probably moved out of my parents’ basement before the end of that day, if not sooner. Luckily, my parents have never interpreted my need to get the hell out as anything having to do with them personally.

It turned out that I loved working at Sheppard Pratt.

I really did.

I was trained to work on an inpatient unit focused on addiction treatment. Most of the patients had a dual diagnosis, meaning they had alcoholism or drug addiction along with another disorder. The patients attended individual therapy, group therapy and a never ending schedule of Alcoholics Anonymous meetings alternating with Narcotics Anonymous.

Not shockingly, I spent the next several years dating recovering alcoholics. I would have dated recovering drug addicts, but I couldn’t handle the habits of drug addicted men.

I ended up spending years working in the treatment environment, eventually going back to college and then entering law school. By the time I finished my college credits, I knew that I loved helping people but that I wanted to be in a profession where I would have access to a broader range of resources. I felt that as a lawyer I could do that.

I transitioned directly into disability advocacy after law school, dealing with the problems I knew well but playing a different role in the lives of the clients.

I didn’t date lawyers, but I dated a never ending stream of law school applicants.

That’s probably because I was supporting my beginner’s law practice by teaching LSAT at night and on the weekends.

To this day, my years at Sheppard Pratt are among my favorite years of all time.

At Sheppard Pratt, everyone was a mental health care consumer, even if they had the cleanest mental health bill in the world.  Everyone there, from the doctors and nurses and therapists to the lady in the gift shop, was focused on overcoming life’s challenges or helping others overcome life’s challenges. Everyone there had been through something, whether it was their personal experience or that of a family member.

Everyone there was working on making today better than yesterday.

And I loved that environment.

I remember I looked forward to work everyday, where I could count on everyone I saw to give me a real hug and ask me what I was working on.

WHAT?

Yes, it was the common greeting.

Hi! How are you doing? What are you working on?”

I was among the youngest of the staff but every member of the staff was working on something. It was the norm in that environment.

Nobody was finished. Nobody had arrived. Nobody was in a place where they expected to stay for long.

Everyone was equally en route, working on something that would make them or their life better or help them to better help others.

And I loved it. I really loved it.

Then I transitioned to the world of lawyers and politics in Washington DC where people ask “what’s new” and ‘where are you now,” meaning “what have you accomplished since the last time we talked?”

And it’s awful.

Lawyering isn’t awful.  I like lawyering.

And Washington, DC isn’t awful. It’s pretty and filled with lots of interesting history.

But the environment of constantly being asked what’s new and what you’re doing suggests that new things should be happening in your life. And that, perhaps, BIG NEW THINGS should be happening in your life.

Maybe that’s not what everyone hears when they’re asked ‘what’s new‘ but that’s what at least seven people I know hear.

It’s a lot to ask that someone continue to have new things happening in their life. Even if that’s not what you mean when you ask them what’s new. Not everyone has something new happening.

There isn’t much new in my life but, then again, it’s all kind of new since I juggle a lot of activities and work hard to make every today better than yesterday.

Sure, some days are ‘hang in there‘ days…and some days are ‘just get it over with‘ days.

But mostly, my life is filled with days I hope will be as good as or better than yesterday.

So, you might ask, what’s the takeaway?

Well, I think I’ll try to do something tiny and new each week so that I have a good answer when asked what’s new.

The alternative is to yell at the person who asked me what’s new and berate them for expecting too much from me.

Also, answering “nothing” in response to “what’s new” sounds like nothing’s going on, when really lots of life is going on in and around me.

What’s new so far today is that I finally learned how to thinly slice an onion without thinly slicing my finger.

Yes, it’s been an issue in the past.

And this week, I hope to learn the basics of basting a stitch.

I’m not sure what that means, but learning to baste a stitch has been recommended to me as the next critical item on my “learn to sew” list. Hopefully, basting is something I’ll be expert in by the new year.

Just an FYI –

If thinly slicing an onion and learning to baste a stitch are the last interesting things I do for a while, those will be my answer every day until something new comes along.

xoxo, d

“The Accidental Cartoonist”

Reprinted from THE GOCOMICS BLOG! December 20, 2014

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I always knew I would spend my life being a writer, but I never ever considered being a cartoonist. I was the kid who was writing or reading every minute I was awake. I was the kid who finished my assignments and exams early in school so that I could get back to whatever I was reading or writing. I was the kid who found almost everything besides reading and writing to be boring and ridiculous and a waste of time.

I was that kid.

Unfortunately, I was that kid before the Internet arrived in our lives, so my access to really creative people was severely limited. I was not surrounded by creative people. I was surrounded by people with stressful day jobs and extra-income evening jobs who urged me to do whatever I wanted to do as long as it included getting an education and a job that paid a living salary.

So I got an education and a job. Usually I had many jobs at once, making money however I could make money. I became a lawyer because I figured being a lawyer would enable me to combine the two things I loved the most: writing and good deeds. Except that I called good deeds ‘advocacy.’ Good deeds are what you do when you’re a good person. Advocacy is what you do when you need to put your good deeds on your resume so you can get a better job.

For years and years, I worked as a lawyer, helping people to make their lives easier, better or more fair. I worked in the areas of disability and employment, making a difference I could actually see and a difference I cared about a little too much. At night I taught classes and tutored wannabe lawyers. In Washington DC, tutoring can easily support a fledgling law practice.

And I kept writing. I wrote essays and really bad books and blogs and anything I could get anyone to read. The Internet had come along by this point and now I had a platform. I built a crude website named after my cat Boo and I drove unsuspecting friends and family there to get feedback for my writing. Little by little, people I didn’t know began reading my writing, opening me up to the idea that you can find an audience outside of your known world. I started the process of learning what people enjoy reading. And I began writing for an audience that might someday buy a book filled with my words.

In 2006, I was working and writing and working and writing and working and writing. I was reaching a point of exhaustion – exhaustion borne of the idea that perhaps it would always just be me, working and writing around the clock without ever having an actual book for people to buy. In a fit of frustration, I decided to take an official break from writing and do some sort of creative cross-training. I signed up for an improv class at the local comedy club and quickly transitioned into stand-up.

So it turns out that stand-up is really just a variation on writing. You spend every waking moment of your life writing material. And laughing. To yourself. You write a ton of material and laugh to yourself and wonder if anyone else would laugh at what you just wrote. I loved stand-up. Unfortunately, almost all stand-up occurs late at night in places where people are drunk. I wasn’t very good at being part of that scene. I knew that stand-up couldn’t last long but I also knew that I loved writing humor for the sake of the punch line.

One day, in early 2007, it snowed on a Saturday. I was in the suburbs of Maryland, just outside of Washington DC. One Saturday a month, I did a workshop for people transitioning from crisis back to functioning. I helped them with legal issues and some of the other challenges that accompany hard times.

In Washington DC and the surrounding areas, even the mention of snow shuts everything down. And it was actually snowing pretty hard. So nobody showed up. It was just me, the social worker on duty, and a few others who tended to hang out at the center where we provided workshops.

The social worker pulled out art supplies and snacks while we hunkered down to wait out the snow. We drew flowers and houses and little stick-figure families. We weren’t artists, but we had snacks and crayons, so we were happy adult children.

I drew a stick-figure girl who I thought looked like me. She had a lot of hair and a really big purse. Then, in a moment of accidental creativity, I gave her a punch line. And I laughed because I always laugh at my own jokes.

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The next day, I scanned the girl with the punch line and emailed the image to my small but loyal following of readers. They liked her and asked for more. So I kept drawing her. And I gave her more funny things to say. I drew her every day. And I created  friends and family for her, mostly similar to my real life family and friends.

I created many, many cartoons for several years. I didn’t know how to draw, but little by little, I was learning. And I loved it. I loved my characters and my words and I loved the process. I posted cartoons wherever I could, paying attention to what people laughed at easily and what made them uncomfortable or angry.

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And then, one day, an acquaintance who worked at the Washington Post asked me if I’d like to talk to the cartoon editor. I said YES, of course. The cartoon editor turned out to be Amy Lago.

By the time I met with Amy Lago, I had read every word she had ever written about editing and listened to every podcast for which she had ever been interviewed. I knew as much about Amy Lago as I possibly could know, which really wasn’t much. Mostly, I just knew that she seemed really smart, really cool, really open to finding new laughs, and really down to earth.

I brought a collection of cartoons to Amy Lago at the Washington Post. She never looked at them while we talked. I have no idea what we talked about, but I remember thinking she was the most amazing person I had ever met and that she had the coolest job in the world, working at the Washington Post alongside such talented writers and creative, smart minds.

Amy and I met in April of 2008. She told me that May was her busiest month and that I may not hear from her for a while. I was excited because she had suggested I might hear from her in the future. I was also dejected because I thought she was lying about May being her busiest month.

I walked straight from her office at the Washington Post to a coffee shop on the corner and turned on my computer. I researched the month of May to see why in the world May would be a cartoon editor’s busiest month. I pretty quickly found references to cartooning award ceremonies and events and realized that May is the Oscars Month for cartoonists. I called my mother to report that Amy Lago had not lied to me and that we might have another date in our future.

I heard from Amy Lago after the cartooning Oscars (otherwise known as the Reubens). She liked my humor. She believed I would learn how to draw eventually. She thought that words were important and that my poor drawing didn’t stand in the way of my words, necessarily. She loved my characters. She asked if I could put together a package of cartoons that was more cohesive, with characters whose relationships were more easily identifiable and, for lack of a better word, “followable”… .

I spent the next month obsessing about getting a package of 40 cartoons to be as perfect as possible. I delivered them to her and she invited me to keep sending her cartoons by email. I sent her a cartoon every day for months. She told me what was good and what to change. I edited and revised every single cartoon. She helped to develop my ideas into a comic strip that made sense.

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On August 12, 2010, I was at work when I heard that Cathy Guisewite had announced her retirement. I immediately called Amy Lago who had heard the news only a few moments before I had. By that point, I had hundreds of cartoons ready to go. I was ready to go and a female cartoonist was preparing to leave a void in the world of female cartooning. I wanted to help fill that void.

I was signed on to the Washington Post Syndicate in October of 2010 and my cartoon began running in February of 2011, on Amy Lago’s birthday.

I will never be able to describe how much work it took to develop a comic strip. I worked day and night. In addition to my day job, I worked on the cartoon compulsively. I said no to everything, including family and friends. I lived for the cartoon, thinking about material every minute of the night and day. I thought of so much material that a second cartoon was born, a “lite” version of the strip. That version became syndicated in February of 2012.

I still lawyer by day, although I have very recently transitioned to a less-stressful lawyering role that I perform mainly at home. Basically, I review legal files and write legal documents all day long.

At night and on weekends, I write and draw my strip. And I practice drawing every single day. I’m happy to report that I’m getting better at drawing. Maybe one day I’ll take a drawing class, but I’m not in a rush to get formal art education.

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Here are a couple of fun facts that really aren’t all that fun:

(1) I don’t read comic strips or cartoons because I don’t want to muddy my brain with other influences. A long time ago, I read Doonesbury and The Far Side to the point that I had memorized pretty much everything available from those creators.

(2) I write every single day, whether or not I want to. I write every single day because I have to or I feel all weird and crazy.

(3) I draw every single day, because I really enjoy drawing.

(4) I would continue writing and drawing cartoons even if I wasn’t syndicated. I love the vehicle of humor for communicating with other people.

(5) I’m still the biggest introvert in the world and I couldn’t get cabin fever if I tried.

(6) I’ve heard from haters who think I suck and should die. I learned how to ignore them since they don’t contribute in any way to my inspiration or motivation. And they’re rarely fun or funny.

(7) I love my followers and wish I could thank each one in person.

(8) I love Amy Lago in a way she should be seriously scared of.

(9) My top priority still is – and always will be – health insurance.

(10) I still have no studio. I live in Washington DC, where space is very expensive. I have a collection of folding tables I set up and take down every day, as needed. A tour of my studio would not be inspiring or impressive.

I hope anyone who reads my accidental cartoonist story takes away three things.

First, you cannot only do whatever you want to do, but you should be open to doing things you never planned or expected to do. It’s really cool to see where life takes you when you let it take you.

Second, anything worth pursuing is a total effing ton of work. There are no shortcuts and no such thing as overnight success.

Third, having a day job really helps to keep the lights on.

My first book should be out in February 2015.  I’m really happy to have a book I can give to my mother. I’m still not sure she gets what I do with my time.

– d

For Those Who Need a Nap Before Bed.

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A few years ago, a journalist asked me if I wanted to be interviewed for a website about women. The topic was second careers and all that kind of stuff.

I said sure.

So we began talking.

I explained how I had always wanted to be a writer and how I had, in fact, been writing every day of my life. I explained how, in 2006, I hit a wall of writer frustration and decided to take a formal and official creative break from writing. I regaled the journalist with anecdotes about my attempts at improv and stand up and how a love for writing punch lines ultimately led to my accidentally creating a comic strip.

The journalist was excited by the details of the years from 2006 until 2010 when I got a syndication deal. She listened to the numbers – six four-panel strips a week plus an eight-panel strip for Sunday. Fifty two weeks a year. No break. Those were the first year numbers.

By the second year of syndication, I had enough material for a second property, a single-panel cartoon. And I usually created two of those a day since I was trying pretty hard to build a loyal and interested following of readers.

The second year numbers were six four-panel strips a week, one eight-panel Sunday, and fourteen single panels.

She said “wow” and I remember feeling quite proud of my numbers.

I told her about my loyal followers and how they sent me really engaging emails and notes on the internet. I told her I was really pleased to have found a following of many women and some men who appreciated my observations about life. I told her I was working on a book. And licensing opportunities.

The journalist was impressed.

Then she asked about my day job. I explained that I was a lawyer and that I was pretty passionate about my work and that I had thus far managed to continue working full-time as a lawyer. I explained that I needed my lawyer job for a variety of reasons, including the salary, the health insurance, the routine, the social aspect, the perspective, the balance, the challenge, and, of course, the material.

I could hear the whistle of the happy air leaving the journalist’s happy balloon.

Oh, she said, I was really looking to interview women who gave up something to do something new.

I said, well, that’s great, but it’s hard for normal people to give up their life to do something new. I think I’m a really good role model for someone who wants to maintain their financial independence and still pursue their dreams. Financial independence is a really big deal, especially for women.

I may have been a bit aggressive when I added the part about financial independence being especially important for women.

She wasn’t buying it.

She didn’t like it.

It wasn’t sexy or inspiring, in her view.

I was shocked, to be honest. I was particularly shocked since the founder of the website the journalist was writing for had been one of my earliest and most important role models. I wondered if my role model felt the same – that pursuing your passion is only sexy and inspiring if you give up everything to live in a car or travel to India to live with monkettes.

The journalist told me to call her when I quit my lawyering job.

I politely said thank you.

Then I hung up and said a lot of things that don’t sound even remotely like thank you.

I then called my mother, a woman who has bravely suffered through the pain of having a daughter who constantly wants more in life.

“Mom,” I said, “the journalist for XYZ website said I haven’t given up enough for my writing and the comic strip.”

My mother wanted to call the journalist or email the journalist or otherwise set the record straight.  I didn’t give her the journalist’s information. We’re still recovering from the time my mother called the local paper to complain that she’d have to move to another city if she wanted to read her daughter’s comic strip in print. It’s a sore subject for her.

My mother proceeded to list everything I had given up for my passion. It was depressing hearing my life summed up by my mother.

If you’re a writer, an artist or a person who has relentlessly pursued a passion, your list probably looks similar to mine.

Let’s just say it’s a long effing list.

As much as I’d love to eat, love and pray my way to happiness, I’m a real person with a real life. I have real bills and real medical issues. I have real family and real friends and real neighbors. I can’t just give up everything. And I can’t just pick up and leave my responsibilities. And I need my health insurance.

But I still pursued – and continue to pursue – my passion.

I hope somebody taught that journalist what sexy and inspiring looks like. I think she got it wrong.

xoxo, d

Be Happy, Damn It.

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I am happy to report that I am a normal human being when it comes to sex and sexuality.

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I know, you were worried, right?

No, really. I’m normal.

When I hear people talking about sex or when I hear jokes about sex, I get it.

When I see sex in the movies, I get it.

I don’t get every kind of sex, but I mostly get sex.

I would say that when it comes to down to it, sex – and the topic of sex – just isn’t an issue in my life.

Again, I know you’re relieved to know this.

Being normal about sex is the reason I know I’m not normal about happiness.

It’s not that I can’t be happy, I can.

I can be happy. And I have been happy. And I’m often happy.

I know what happiness feels like.

But the thing is that happiness isn’t a normal and natural part of me. It’s not my default status.

I never really would have thought about happiness, to tell you the truth. I’ve been pretty busy in my life being other things and thinking about other things.

But happiness is in my face pretty regularly.

There’s always a study about happiness or an article about happiness or a catchy song about being happy, happy, happy.

I never really would have thought about happiness, but it feels to me like happiness is something people really like to think about.

I end up thinking about happiness a lot because I wonder if other people just take happiness for granted. Mostly I think about happiness when I’m feeling really happy.

When I’m feeling really happy, I notice how happy I am. And I wonder if this is what other people feel like on such a regular basis that they don’t even really notice it. Kind of the way I don’t notice I feel sexual.

And the truth is, I don’t know the answer.

It’s not that I’m an unhappy person. It’s just that I’m a person with faulty wiring. I was born with chemistry that doesn’t make sense a lot of time. And my chemistry doesn’t appear to be related to life’s circumstance.

I could win the lottery on a day when my chemistry is off. And I would know that I was technically happy about winning the lottery but that I might have to wait a few days to actually feel the happiness.

Bad wiring.

This week I read something that made me feel significantly better about happiness.

Vanity Fair interviewed David Byrne, asking him about happiness.

Luckily for me, David Byrne – who is one of my creative gods – didn’t say that happiness is all you need. I really would have been screwed if that were true.

David Byrne said the following, which I “love, love, love” to quote Teresa Guidice.

Happiness, as I’ve experienced it and observed it in others, seems to be random—some of us are happy fairly regularly (I am, mostly), and some of us not as much—but there seems to be no clear explanation as to why. It comes and goes at unexpected moments, too. The graph of happiness doesn’t even seem to match what is going on in our lives. Or maybe it does and we don’t know it. Money—is there a connection between money and happiness? It takes away a world of worries and anxieties, but are rich folks all happy? Are you kidding? Donald Trump is ALWAYS scowling. That said, it’s hard to be happy if you don’t know where you’ll sleep or where your next meal is coming from. The pursuit of happiness? Where are we supposed to look? Are there clues hidden somewhere? The very act of searching and striving for it can lead to frustration and unhappiness. I suspect that happiness finds you—I’m not sure you can find a road that leads to it.

So today I need to send a thank you note – or perhaps some thank you art – to David Byrne.

Because my understanding of happiness can’t come from my own messed up head.

So I need really smart, creative, talented, amazing people like him to tell me what a normal approach to happiness is. And what he told me makes me very happy.

xoxo, d

Time Out

The holidays are a tough time,

Even if you love the holidays, they’re a tough time.

People get a little wired at the holidays. Wired full of all different things – all at once.

In my little piece of the world alone, we have all of these things going on at once:

Feeling on top of the world.
Feeling like the world is on top of us.
Not really being sure where we stand in relation to the world.

Starting something new.
Ending something old.
Reigniting something old instead of finding something new.

Feeling like an expert. Feeling like a novice. Feeling competent. Feeling inept.

Starting a diet. Ending a diet. Breaking a diet. Obsessing about a diet.

Writing. Not writing. Writing about not being able to write.

Loving a job. Hating a job. Accepting that a job is just a job. Looking for a new job.

Being in love. Not being in love. Looking for love. Questioning Love.

Ready to be quiet. Ready to make noise. Ready to listen to the quiet. Or hear noise.

And THAT’S just a snippet of my tiny little irrelevant piece of the world!

I’m telling you, the people I know are all over the place. Never in the same place at the same time. Never on the same page. Some have expectations that are too high. Some have no expectations or low expectations. Some just have conflicting expectations. Or conflicting ideas about what their expectations should be.

And that makes the holidays tough for me.

Not tough in a bad way, mind you. Just tough in a tiring, mildly draining way. Over the course of just a few days, I feel like I’ve watched the equivalent of thirty movies (my estimated guess).

I’ve experienced the build up, the tension, the wondering, the stress of not knowing, the denouement, the resolution, the laughter, the crying, the character development and the words, words, words.

And I’ve experienced a lot of it. From lots of different people. In a short period of time.

Holidays are easy for me these days, but even I get wired. I get confused but i know that it’s probably not confusion.

It’s probably just me being slightly overwhelmed with so much going on.

Yesterday I sat down at a table in a restaurant waiting for the others to arrive. The very sweet, very young waitress named Jasmine asked me how my holiday was. I said I was glad it was over.

And then I felt bad. Because I don’t mean it in a bad way. Just a ‘ready for it to be over’ way.

I felt like telling Jasmine to ignore me and to love her holidays, to embrace her youth, to seize the moment.

Then I remembered that Jasmine is a waitress. Jasmine experiences the holidays every single time she works. Jasmine knows what the deal is.

Personally, I want life to go back to normal. I want to deal with only one or two or three people and not the tens of billions it feels like I just encountered over the span of a few days. I want to catch up with one or two people a week, not one or two people per hour.

Mostly, I want to forget that everyone I know is right smack in the middle of a detailed and complicated journey.  I love their journeys and I want their journeys to be good. But I want to forget what I know about their journeys and just write and draw and get the cardio going. I want to just drink coffee and enjoy the weather and eat something not-too-unhealthy. I want to be a better person for knowing so much but forget the nitty gritty of everything I know.

I just want to be.

I just want to be so that when I run into someone I love, I have the bandwidth to give them my all, at least for a minute or two.

I gave Jasmine an extra tip on top of the extra tip.

Then, later, I thought maybe I should have given her more.

xoxo, d

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Be Angry. But Not Too Angry.

My relationship with anger is very messed up.

Luckily, I know it, so I don’t trust anything about anger except for the fact that I feel angry sometimes.

I remember feeling angry when I was a child, but mostly I think I just felt overwhelming frustration that I confused with anger. I would say that my middle name was frustration, but frustration was probably actually my first name. And my last name.

I was frustrated for sure.

I grew up being everything that didn’t yet have a name to identify it. I was a nerdy but cool kid – long before the two types could form a socially acceptable and recognized hybrid. I was an introvert with excellent social skills so I was constantly mistaken for an extrovert. But instead of being congratulated for being out of my shell when I was out of it, I was questioned about why I was in my shell when I was inside of it.

“Are you okay?”

I heard that a lot.

“Uh yeah. I’m READING.”….I said often. In my head.

And I had depression despite also having a sometimes sunny but almost always enthusiastic disposition.

Yeah. I had depression but I didn’t act depressed. Instead, because I got the genes, I acted engaged, interested, curious, aware, inspired, driven and excited.

So who could have thought it was possible for me to have a depression monster inside of me too?

But I did.

I had a depression monster living inside of me and directing my every move. The depression monster was in charge of everything all the time.

I was just the depression monster’s bitch.

Being a slave to a depression monster is exhausting. You spend so much time negotiating with the depression monster to do the basic things that you then compromise your ability to negotiate the rest of life’s issues. And, it turns out that having depression doesn’t exempt you from experiencing the rest of life’s issues.

So I’m sure I experienced anger when I was younger. I just think I had no idea what it was or what to do with it.

And I’m positive that I never learned what to do with it.

Because to me, everything that happened in my life ended up becoming part of the negotiations with the depression monster.

But now I’m an adult with lots of skills and lots of experience and far less patience for the monster. I think of the depression monster as being inside of me but asleep. Or dormant. Or just not up to getting all in my face.

I work hard on a daily basis to keep the monster quiet. It turns out that life is much easier with a monster who’s asleep.

But sometimes I get angry. Or anxious. Or sad. Or frustrated.

Sometimes, because I’m human and because I’m living the life of a human, I feel the things that everyone feels.

And then I get confused because my experience with “everything else” is fairly limited.

I don’t like anxiety, I have learned that.

I’m not typically an anxious person, but when I do experience it, I know immediately that I really don’t like it.  And in a way, I feel lucky because I think mild depression is probably easier to manage than any level of anxiety. That is NOT an informed or educated opinion. It’s just a guess based on never having lived the anxiety-ridden life.

I definitely don’t like sadness or frustration either, but I have come to realize that both will happen on occasion. I’ve learned to think of both states as “normal” in a reasonably normal life.

That just leaves anger and I’ve found anger to be completely confusing.

On the one hand, I hate anger because it’s an overwhelming feeling for me and I don’t particularly enjoy overwhelming feelings of anything. On the other hand, now that I understand that a certain amount of anger is “normal” and “acceptable,” I kind of enjoy going with the anger flow for a little bit.

I like saying a lot of dramatic, exaggerated versions of ‘F___ THAT!’ in my head.

I fantasize about telling people off. And then knowing that I told them.

I like feeling like I could get really loud if I ever actually allowed myself to get really loud.

And then, of course, I worry that maybe I’m enjoying anger too much. Like maybe I’m an officially angry person.

So tonight, after thoroughly enjoying a short but highly poignant period of anger, I looked up anger online. I was hoping to find a test that would tell me whether I’m a normal person who experiences anger sometimes or whether I’m the opposite – a maniac who keeps my anger under control but is always on the edge of totally losing it.

I found a test called the Anger Test at a site called angermanagementresource.com.

Unfortunately, despite countless efforts, I could not get the ‘Start Test’ link to start the test.

So I got angry. And frustrated. And sad.

And then I wondered if the broken link was the actual test of how angry one gets.

And then I was pleased that I hadn’t kicked in my computer screen just because a link didn’t work.

Here is a list of the questions on the anger test. I don’t know for sure what the good or bad answers are supposed to be but I can guess.

  1. Are you someone who “never gets angry?”
  2. Do other people think you’re angry?
  3. Are you critical of other people in your mind and thoughts?
  4. Do you criticize and/or use insults when you speak to others?
  5. Do you frequently lose patience with people or situations?
  6. Do you have a hard time putting yourself in another person’s shoes during a disagreement?
  7. Do you sometimes yell or raise your voice to get your point across?
  8. Do you find yourself frequently in arguments?
  9. Do you think about acts of aggression or violence?
  10. Have you ever been physically aggressive or violent with another person?
  11. Have you ever been arrested or had the police called because of your actions?
  12. Have you ever been reported for domestic violence?
  13. Do you take out your frustrations while driving?
  14. Do you find yourself unable to let go of grievances and resentments?
  15. Do you replay negative experiences over and over in your mind?
  16. Do you often think that other people are a bunch of idiots?
  17. Does it seem to you like other people “just don’t get it?”
  18. Do you think about getting revenge on others?
  19. Do you sometimes forget what you said or did while you’re angry?
  20. Do you find yourself getting angry in any kind of regular, predictable or cyclical pattern?

I’ll have to ask other people about Number 2….whether they think I’m angry. I’m kind of scared to know what they think. If it turns out that everyone thinks I’m just angry, I may have to rethink my life plans.

And then I’ll have to call a psychiatrist and ask whether Number 18 is a critical question because I do Number 18 every time I get angry.

I LOVE doing Number 18.

But don’t worry. I always include going to prison voluntarily in my revenge fantasies.

Because however angry I might be, I am far more into accountability. I would never take revenge and then even try to get the sentence mitigated.

I’m SO not that person. I would serve a sentence without requesting any leniency despite my exemplary behavior.

I also have a feeling I could help some of my cellmates be less angry. Because I think I can help people with that sometimes. Especially if I understand why they’re angry.

Okay, I need to get that )(*&^% link to work. Before it really pisses me off.

xoxo, d

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Oops, I Did It Again.

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I listened to moody music today.

Not a lot of it, mind you. But enough to take me straight into funky town of the brain.  Looking back, I can remember exactly how it happened and why I didn’t stop it from happening.

I was on my way to my local coffee shop (Politics & Prose).

It was a pretty day. A very pretty day.

And I was thinking about a street near my local coffee shop that I would really like to live on.

It’s DC, mind you, so the chances are very good that living on a street I want to live on is not possible from a financial standpoint.

But it was a pretty day and I was working on business matters and I remember thinking that maybe today I would work on something that brought in the big check that would enable me to buy a house on the street I love.

Yeah, that’s how my mind works.

So I went into my local coffee shop, which is also a bookstore, and headed down to the  downstairs cafe where they keep the coffee.

I set up my laptop and strategically organized my tabletop accessories as only a true obsessive can and proceeded to draw a comic strip.

A song came into my earphones that I knew I shouldn’t listen to because it was one of my favorite workout songs. And I didn’t want to accidentally go into workout mode. I wanted to stay in comic strip drawing mode. So I clicked on Playlists.

And then I accidentally clicked on a Playlist I haven’t listened to in ages.

I knew immediately that I shouldn’t do it.

But it was a pretty day and I had coffee. And people seemed happy and there was a chance that I would work on something that would get me the big check I need to buy a house on the street I love.

And the music was good.

The music was familiar and had a good beat. The music was sexy and inspiring and, well, it was moody.

And yes, I am not allowed to listen to moody music.

But I did.

I listened to about seven moody songs before a friend arrived.

As it turns out, seven moody songs is more than enough to take my impressionable brain to funky town.

I’m sorry, Spandau Ballet. I’m sorry Sting from 1982. I’m sorry, Talk Talk and Talking Heads.

I’m sorry that your songs make me blue.

It’s me, not you.

Tonight I’ll turn it around. I’ll watch an episode of Will and Grace or Friends. Those shows always make me laugh in a simple, idiotic, oblivious way that brings my mood up.

And I’ll do some dancing in place to Love Canon while I walk the dog. That works too.

I’ll take a bath, draw a strip, send a few emails, read a few emails. I’ll drink a Coke One in the big green plastic glass with the big green plastic straw.

And I’ll try to remember that no amount of self awareness or personal insight will ever change the fact that listening to certain moody 80’s music makes me moody.

That’s it.

No more certain moody 80’s music for me.

Well, maybe I’ll listen to it again. But this time I’ll follow it up with MANDATORY ABBA.

ABBA always works.

xoxo, d

Do It Anyway.

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I can write a lot of things, but I can’t write music. And I wish I could. Because music saves people. Music saves moments and days and years and times when nothing else is helpful in softening the harsh edges.

The list of music that has helped me in the past and that helps me now is long. I name my playlists after the effect they have on me. I have playlists that help me get up when I need to get up. I have playlists that help soothe me when I need to be soothed.

I have a lot of playlists for moving – as in exercising. Those playlists generally include songs based on my perfect beats-per-minute pace for doing whatever I’m doing. Let It Whip is one of the most perfect cardio songs ever. Let It Whip, By Your Side by Tenth Avenue North, Burn for You by tobyMac and almost anything by Love Canon.

Do It Anyway is on my Feel Better playlist.  There have been days when I’ve listened to Martina McBride sing Do It Anyway on a loop…over and over and over again. Do It Anyway is a good mantra for me since I live with a reliably unreliable mood. Some days I want to do this or that. Some days I don’t want to do anything, including this and that.

I think of my mood as having a life of its own. And I try my best to do what I’m supposed to do and what I think I would want to do if I didn’t have an unreliable mood.

Yesterday I didn’t want to do what I was supposed to do. There were activities on the schedule that I generally love to do, but yesterday I just didn’t want to do them. Luckily, these days I can actually make myself do things anyway. I can come and go and show up and enjoy whatever it is for whatever it’s worth. Luckily, these days I can force myself to do what’s on the schedule – something I didn’t used to be able to do.

It’s a helpful skill.

So yesterday I did what I was supposed to do. I hope nobody noticed that I was phoning in my performance, but I can’t spend too much time thinking about that.

Then, on the way home from doing what I was supposed to do, I began my good old habitual behavior of lamenting the fact that sometimes I don’t want to do things even though I wish I wanted to. I began talking the talk of ‘why am I like this’ and ‘what a total pain this is.’

And then I told myself to shut up.

I was nicer than that to myself because I’m generally nice to myself. I don’t like the chemistry in my brain, but I like myself. I wouldn’t be mean to me.

But I did tell myself to shut up. Nicely.

And I didn’t preach anything hopeful or positive or uplifting to myself. Because that sort of preachy positive stuff really just pisses me off.

Positive sayings are easy to say when you’re feeling positive. Positive sayings when you don’t want to do what you’re doing or feel what you’re feeling are really just annoying.

Then, before calling it a day, I did a few little things I know I like. Even though I didn’t feel like it.

And I did a few little things I knew I should do. Even though I didn’t feel like it.

And that was yesterday.

Today, for whatever reason, I want to do things. I want to do things even though my desire to do things has nothing to do with any efforts I’ve made or haven’t made.  It’s just the luck of the day.  The random flow of the chemistry in my brain that makes me feel a way that has very little to do with how I would otherwise direct – or want – myself to feel.

Such a pain.

So yesterday, I listened to Martina McBride’s Do It Anyway.

I looked up the lyrics and wondered where she was when she wrote that song. I wondered where she was in life and where she was in her head. I wondered what she was trying to overcome at the time or whether she was just really smart about life and knew that everyone has to overcome something at sometime or another.

And then, thanks to the internet, which I really wished I had had when I was younger and less skilled, I found Mother Teresa’s nod to Do It Anyway, apparently based on Keith Kent’s original “The Paradoxical Commandments.”  I looked up Keith Kent and he  turned out to be a good man. A man who wears many hats, including leader and lawyer. I like that guy. I’ll send him some art.

I ordered a few of Keith Kent’s book and I’m looking forward to reading them. Of course I’ll only be able to read them on a day when I feel like it, but that day will happen. It always does. At least so far.

I always have days when I want to. It’s a pretty reliable schedule even though I never promise myself that I’ll want to soon. I never know whether I’ll want to eventually, never, sooner or later. Even though I’ve historically always eventually wanted to again, who knows if that will happen next time.

Mother Teresa’s Do It Anyway verses were reportedly written on the wall of her home for children in Calcutta, India.

People are often unreasonable, irrational, and self-centered.  Forgive them anyway.

If you are kind, people may accuse you of selfish, ulterior motives.  Be kind anyway.

If you are successful, you will win some unfaithful friends and some genuine enemies.  Succeed anyway.

                        If you are honest and sincere people may deceive you.
Be honest and sincere anyway.

                        What you spend years creating, others could destroy overnight.
Create anyway.

                        If you find serenity and happiness, some may be jealous.
Be happy anyway.

                        The good you do today, will often be forgotten.
Do good anyway.

                        Give the best you have, and it will never be enough.
Give your best anyway.

                        In the final analysis, it is between you and God.
It was never between you and them anyway.

This is the version attributed to Mother Teresa

And here are The Paradoxical Commandments by Dr. Kent M. Keith.

  1. People are illogical, unreasonable, and self-centered.
    Love them anyway.
  2. If you do good, people will accuse you of selfish ulterior motives.
    Do good anyway.
  3. If you are successful, you win false friends and true enemies.
    Succeed anyway.
  4. The good you do today will be forgotten tomorrow.
    Do good anyway.
  5. Honesty and frankness make you vulnerable.
    Be honest and frank anyway.
  6. The biggest men and women with the biggest ideas can be shot down by the smallest men and women with the smallest minds.
    Think big anyway.
  7. People favor underdogs but follow only top dogs.
    Fight for a few underdogs anyway.
  8. What you spend years building may be destroyed overnight.
    Build anyway.
  9. People really need help but may attack you if you do help them.
    Help people anyway.
  10. Give the world the best you have and you’ll get kicked in the teeth.
    Give the world the best you have anyway.

The Paradoxical Commandments” were written by Kent M. Keith in 1968 as part of a booklet for student leaders, which is so cool.

I think I’ll work on a set of commandments for those with unreliable brain chemistry.

I’ll give you a sneak peak at how it goes.

You won’t want to ________________ (fill in the blank).
Do it anyway.

Do it anyway. Because it’s more helpful to do it than to not do it just because you’ve got some bad chemistry in your brain.

And, once in a while, hopefully you actually want to do what you’re doing.

xoxo, d

The Problem with Quiet

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If Quiet comes to you easily, this isn’t the blog for you.

If the idea of actual Quiet doesn’t scare you on even some micro and impossibly invisible level, then you’re in the wrong place.

But if Quiet is a struggle for you, in even the tiniest way, keep reading.

First, we should probably define what Quiet means, which, of course, we can’t.

Because Quiet is different for every person. And Quiet, for even one person, is different at different times.

Which is the problem with Quiet.

Quiet is like Success, Happiness, Joy, Relaxation, Accomplishment and any other words that sweep too broadly to be defined without further information.

Try it. Gather more than one person in a room and ask them their definitions of Success, Happiness, Joy, Relaxation, Accomplishment or anything else you can think of. Sure, there might be some overlap in themes, but mostly there won’t be overlap. Because people are different. And even if there’s overlap, it generally becomes narrower once defined.

For instance, you and I gather in a room, virtual or otherwise.  And we answer this question:

“What do you want most of all?”

And, just for the sake of this essay being shorter than Anna Karenina, let’s say we both say happiness.

Let’s just say we both say happiness, even though I would never say that.

But let’s just say.

Okay. We both want happiness most of all.

But what does happiness mean? For me, it would probably be good health and/or the closest thing possible to the absence of stress. But I wouldn’t call that happiness since I have issues with the word happiness.

But I digress. For you, happiness might be something more exciting like true love and world peace. Who knows?

Or maybe your happiness would be roller derby and flea markets. Who knows?

Because even if you knew what your happiness would be, you’d have to think about what your happiness would be for now. And for later. And for after later.

It’s not that you would need to know exactly what your happiness would be, but it would be helpful – and insightful – to understand that your current happiness might not do if for you as much later. It would be helpful to allow yourself to allow your definition of happiness to change.

Because wants, needs, resources, unavoidable conditions and general ideas about life will change your perspective on happiness over time.

Which brings us to Quiet. And I’ll assume you can see where I’m headed. Because you’re smart.

Your definition of Quiet is very personal to you. And it’s a ‘for now‘ definition that is susceptible to change over time.

And so, the problem with Quiet is that it’s a useless word without further information.

So it pissed me off today when I heard Oprah say something about getting quiet so that you could find your true self.

I know Oprah shouldn’t piss me off. I like Oprah. I do.

I respect her journey. And her discoveries. And her contributions. I do.

But I worry that so many people are listening to Oprah and thinking that getting quiet works for everyone. Or that it’s easy. Or that it’s automatically better than being unquiet.

And I know Oprah doesn’t mean for any of those interpretations to be interpreted, but Oprah has experienced a lot more than the average person has experienced. Oprah knows what all different sorts of quiet sound like and feel like. When Oprah talks about Quiet, she is talking from a place of knowing all about Quiet.

But most people don’t know about Quiet. Because their life isn’t Quiet.

Or because the lives of those around them aren’t Quiet.

Or because, for them, Quiet has been a hurtful experience and eventually Quiet becomes a thing they avoid.

I’m sure that Oprah would agree with that, but she doesn’t need to think about it. Because she has many, many, many resources that enable her to achieve the exact kind of Quiet she needs to achieve in order to be with her inner true self.

I don’t mean to end on a noisy or disturbing note. I just mean to say that when you hear the word Quiet, don’t think it has to be the kind of Quiet you see in the magazines in line at Whole Foods or in the Oprah magazine article that tells you to take walk in the woods.

Quiet is your Quiet. It’s how you define Quiet to be for you and for you for now.

And, just for the record, I prefer my Quiet to be not so quiet.

xoxo, d

For Now.

Some things are forever.

Family is forever.

Whether you like it or not.

Your height is forever, give or take an inch or a few as you age.

Love is forever. Sometimes.

And that’s it. That’s all I can come up with on the forever scale.

So why did I grow up so hooked on forever? I assumed that every sentence ended with “forever” or “forever and ever and ever and ever and ever.”

What do you want to be when you grow up?”

I assumed that meant forever.

But obviously it doesn’t since you can be many things and be them for as lot or as little as you want.

I wanted to be a lawyer. I’m still a lawyer. And I work as a lawyer. Sometimes a lot. Sometimes less than a lot.

But maybe tomorrow I’ll say I’m tired of being a lawyer and I want to be something else.

Who knows.

All I know is that life is a lot easier for me when I add “for now” to my sentences.

I’ll eat Halloween candy for now.

I won’t eat it forever. I probably won’t eat it after Friday or so. But for now, it’s easier to eat Halloween candy than to think about whether or not to eat Halloween candy. It’s easier to just eat it than to figure out my Halloween candy plan, approach, strategy or rules.

It’s just Halloween candy.

I’ll keep my hair this length for now.

Maybe I’ll grow it out soon. Or cut it again. Or whatever. But for now, this is the length it is.

Luckily for me, hair grows pretty fast. Because I change my mind a lot regarding hair length.

I’ll love myself for now.

Because why not.

I’ll do everything I do today for now. Because for now, the things I do today are working.

I’ll eat mostly healthy today. I’ll move my body today. I’ll watch less news today. I’ll laugh more today. I’ll tell a few people I love them today. I’ll keep quiet at times today. I’ll finish my deadlines today. I’ll clean a bit today. I’ll get good sleep today.

And all of it is just for now. Because maybe tomorrow it will make better sense to do things differently.

A few days ago I felt less than good.

I don’t like to say I felt bad because bad is relative and I’m grateful that my personal type of bad isn’t all that bad, relatively speaking.

But, nonetheless, I didn’t feel as good as I prefer to feel.

I felt worried. And anxious. And a little off balance.

Luckily, at that time, I was able to remember that all of those feelings are just for now.

And now, that particular phase of for now is in the past. It’s over. And the scars are barely visible.

For now is the best.

Try it. For now.

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How to Do Whatever You Want

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My mother used to say “do whatever you want” in two very different ways.

One “do whatever you want” was delivered in that horrible mom voice that we all hate.  You know the one. Where you know your mother is right and it really just pains you to admit it to yourself or to her?

Child: “Mom, I’m going out to play in the freezing rain even though I have a cold and my once-in-a-lifetime recital is tonight.”

Mom: “Fine. Do whatever you want.”

You know the voice.

My mother’s other “do whatever you want” was more hopeful, inspiring, encouraging and positive. No matter what I said I might have an interest in, my mother would say “Try it! See if you like it! You can do whatever you want!

Then my mother would gather a list of every opportunity in our town for pursuing that interest while I moved on to a completely different possible interest.

I am positive there is a special place in Heaven for the moms (and dads) who work harder than their kids to make their kids’ passing dreams come true.

The good news is that I eventually grew into an adult who is very good at trying anything and everything.

The bad news is that I really wanted to try anything and everything but trying things is limited by 24 hours in a day and 7 days in a week.

Plus, I have no trust fund. I have to work ten jobs to make a living in Washington, DC, recently voted the stupidest place to live since it’s so ridiculously expensive. So trying anything and everything really isn’t a viable option.

A large part of my mental and emotional liberation as an adult has been the realization that there are lots and lots of things I can’t do – because I don’t have the necessary talent or passion – and that there are even more things that I just don’t want to do.

And focusing on what I don’t want to do has made it much easier to focus on what I do want to do.

I don’t want to see new movies in the movie theater. I don’t want a day job that requires lots of interaction with people or attendance at meetings. I don’t want to go out to lunch. I don’t want to be a leader. I don’t want to wear suits.

And that’s just a measly five things I don’t want to do. My actual list of things I don’t want to do stretches into the high billions. There are SO MANY things that I really just don’t want to do.

My older brother and his oldest daughter have caught on to my outlook on life.  My brother will ask me with a smirk whether I’d like to go to a rehearsal of a musical production of Equis. And I will tell him that I can’t imagine anything worse, so no thank you. And he’ll feign shock.

That’s our thing.

My niece will tell me that she’s going to tell me what activity she’s doing but only if I swear not to laugh and say “that sounds awful.” Then I’ll tell her that “I can’t swear I won’t say that sounds awful.” And then she’ll tell me what she’s doing anyway and admit that it even sounds kind of awful to her.

Our thing.

Needless to say, many things sound awful to me. Not because I’m negative or closed-minded, but because I’m a human. Not everything turns me on. And that’s okay.

It’s a little harder when I think something popular sounds awful – because lots of people like really popular things. But that’s okay too.

I say no a lot of the time.

But saying no helps me to say yes to the things I really, really want to do. And saying no is necessary for me to do the things I have to do. Like write and draw and paint badly painted paintings. And sleep.

I have to do those things. They are, in the words of a writer I talked to last night, my therapy.

You might not be able to figure out what you want now or for the next few days or months or years.  But you already know what you don’t want. Making the list helps you to rule things out. It’s an especially helpful task when it comes to job or lover hunting. Eliminate the jobs and partners you don’t want so you can focus on pursuing the ones you do want.

And finally, the caveat that goes along with every suggestion:

BE HONEST WITH YOURSELF. BRUTALLY HONEST.

You might assume you’re being honest with yourself because you’re an honest person. And because you’re not a dishonest person.

But are you really being as honest as you need to be? It’s hard to admit that you don’t want to work with people when you’ve been told all your life that you’re a people person.

It’s hard to admit that you want to work with people when you’ve been told all your life that you’re shy.

So forget everything you were told. Because you were told those things by people who don’t have to walk in your shoes.

Eliminate the things you don’t want. It makes more room and more time for things you do want. And need.

In other words, just do it. Or just don’t do it.

…’til next time, my pretties.

xoxo, d

Add the Now.

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Words are really helpful, in case you hadn’t noticed.

Sometimes it helps to add a word or two. And sometimes it helps to take one or two words away.

For instance, the trash will probably get taken out more better if you say “Can you please take out trash” instead of “Can you please take out the trash sometime in this century?”

And saying “Thank you” is a lot more effective when you leave out the “NOT!” at the end.

And some words are better off being replaced.

For example, compare these two sentences:

I should put the clothes in the dryer.

I will put the clothes in the dryer at the commercial.”

It’s easy to see why the word “should” doesn’t work. “Should” isn’t part of a plan or strategy. It’s really just part of a campaign to make yourself feel like you’re failing.

I shouldn’t use the word failing, now should I?

Heh heh heh. Get it?

I try not to use the word should. I try to stick with saying whether I will or I won’t.  It’s more honest. And then I don’t get stuck with negative baggage.  It’s really negatory to think through the analysis of “I WOULD if I were just stronger, better, faster and more disciplined.”

That’s not a helpful analysis.

As for adding words, there is no better word to add to your sentences than “now” – or it’s cousin phrase “at this time.”

Consider these sentences:

“I can’t do math.”

“I can’t do math at this time.”

People who say “I can’t do math” are basically admitting that they checked out of math in the third grade and haven’t considered trying it again since then.  If you’re that person, trying saying to yourself “I can’t math at this time.”

Now seriously, doesn’t that sound ridiculous?

What in the world could possibly keep you from doing math at this time? You’re an adult. You can figure it out.

It’s not rocket science, unless it’s rocket science math.

But if it’s regular math, like figuring out a tip or doubling a recipe, you can do it!

Let’s try another one:

“I can’t help myself.”

That’s a good one.

“I must eat an entire family size box of chocolates. I cannot help myself.”

Really? At this time? You can’t help yourself at this time?

I doubt that’s true.

I bet you really could help yourself if you wanted to help yourself.

Maybe you just don’t want to help yourself. In which case, say the following:

I cannot help myself because I do not want to help myself.”

Dang.

That’s prejudicial.

But it is what is.

At this time.

xoxo, d

The Problem with Depression. Part Two.

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There are so many problems with depression that there will probably be twelve billion parts to this collection of essays.

The first problem with depression, if you read The Problem with Depression. Part One, was that depression is depressing.

Brilliant and simple. And obvious.

And yet, not always obvious.

Part Two of “The Problem with Depression” focuses on the fact that the condition of depression makes it really difficult to ‘keep your chin up’ or ‘lighten up’ or otherwise keep your head high.  Although it feels good to talk about getting through tough times after the fact, it’s not as easy to be positive about the future – or even the next day – when you’re in the actual throes of the tough time. With depression, it’s pretty much impossible.

So again, that seems pretty obvious, right?

But it’s not so obvious.

Because a lot of folks make it through a REALLY TOUGH TIME only to then find themselves struggling mightily to manage the tiny ups and downs of a normal, routine day.  But because they made it through the REALLY TOUGH TIME, those same folks think everything should now be fine. And easier.

But REALLY TOUGH TIMES aren’t always followed by easier, finer times. For some people, the tiny ups and downs of the day don’t feel tiny. Sometimes even tiny things feel big. Sometimes they feel difficult. And sometimes, they feel too big and difficult to manage, even though they are relatively tiny compared to REALLY TOUGH TIMES.

I used to wonder how all of the people in my neighborhood, at school, and at work were managing to do so much and enjoy life when every day was so exhausting. Eventually I realized that not everybody’s day-to-day life is exhausting. Not everybody has to work so hard to get the simple things done.  Not everybody has to ponder every detail of the day until thinking about the day overshadows living the day.

Many, many people are able to get dressed, get out, be out and do things without having to think and rethink the who/what/why/when/how.  I even know people who show up for every event or activity they say they’ll show up for, regardless of whether they’re energized, tired or recovering from a bad day.

A long time ago, I was jealous of people who lived life more easily than I was capable of living it.

But something changed. I began to view other people’s ability to live easily as a sign that an easier life was possible, regardless of the wiring I was born with in my brain.

So, what does it look like to force oneself to live easier?

Here are five of my learned habits for living easier:

Habits for Living Life Easier:

[1] Acknowledge the bad days.

By bad day, I don’t mean a day that’s bad. Although it could be a day that’s bad. Something yucky happens at work or at home. Sure, it could be a bad day.

But it could also just be you having a bad day.

If that’s the case, acknowledge it.

[2] Isolate the badness.

Try to distinguish the bad from the not bad. This is an especially helpful tool for those who are quick to catastrophize.

If a part of your life is giving you grief, remember to acknowledge the parts that are okay and not bothering you. It will help you to keep perspective.

Draw a pie chart and see how big the bad part is compared to the not bad part. Pie is always helpful.

[3] Get the basics done.

Do your homework. Go to work. Carry out your obligations. Show up for important things.

You don’t have to be winning or charming or the life of any party, but make sure to get the basics done so you don’t have the weighty baggage of being behind when life gets easier.

[4] Think about illness.

I know, I know. That sounds weird.

But it helps to think about how you handle a cold or a flu. Do you question it? Doubt it? Fight it?

Do you feel bad about yourself for having caught a cold or flu? Do you blame yourself and swear it will NEVER happen again?

Of course not.

If you’re even somewhat normal, you eventually have to concede that the cold or flu is (1) bigger than you, (2) stronger than you; (3) not going away as quickly as you would like, and (4) totally annoyingly disruptive.

Then you realize you have an excuse to lay around and watch junk on television, so you do.

If something yucky has happened or you’re feeling yucky, let it ride. Don’t keep checking to see if it’s gone or over. Don’t promise yourself that it will be over soon.

Accept it. Nurture it a bit.

And be comforted in the knowledge (yes, the knowledge) that yuckiness usually passes within a few days.

FYI: My yuckiness usually takes a solid five days to work itself out. And it helps me to know that. I can plan better when I feel the yuck descending without my permission.

[5] Stop feeling bad about feeling bad.

It’s lousy enough to feel bad. It’s even more lousy to feel bad about the way you feel.

If you feel bad, you feel bad.

Get some exercise, get some sleep, get some extra sleep and some extra exercise.

Eat some soul-filling food.

Call a friend – or isolate – whichever works for you.

But don’t feel bad about the fact that your wonky mind is being wonky. Then, refer back to (4).

Okay, everybody. Back to life!

Go live it. And live it easily whenever you can.

See you back here soon for Part Three.

xoxo, d

Remember to Breathe.

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Sometimes it’s hard to remember to breathe.

Especially when things happen that take your breath away or disrupt your breath.

Or cause you to forget that you know how to breathe.

So remember to breathe.

At the very least, try to remember to breathe.

And, when all else fails and you forget to breathe, breathe as much as you can as soon as you realize you forgot to breathe.

xoxo, d

7 Habits of Highly Affected People

Girl (Yoga) 1sm

I really should have called this blog “Find the Habit” instead of “Find the Quiet” because every other post is about habits.

But I really do think that almost everything comes down to habit. Yes, the habit may have been the result of something you couldn’t control – be it depression, anxiety, or some other condition. The habit may have had some useful purpose once upon a time – kind of the way summer vacation was originally so that the kids could help with the harvest. 

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