There’s a lot of discontent bubbling in the air. Discontent and finger-pointing and a rising cacophony that frankly is getting on my nerves. I have actively practiced not saying much about the politics of the day. Today I will say this much: No person or group of people choose how I behave, react, or live my life. Yesterday I was a person who believed in peace, in doing ‘what you can, where you are, every day,’ and treating my fellow beings with love and dignity. Today, I choose peace, love and caring for the people and critters that cross my path. I do this consciously. I do this with the firm conviction that when I look at the sea of humanity, there is not one person who is a Them. There is just Us. Some of us look different from me, think differently than me. To be honest, there are some of us I don’t like much at all. Even so, they are still part of Us. Warts and all. The glorious challenge is practicing contentment in the midst of it. I am content in the knowlede of one thing: The only person among us who chooses my thoughts, my actions and reactions, my peace and mercy, is not them or us. Just.Me.
18 Days Into This – It is unlikely anyone would ever mistake me for Pollyanna. It’s true that if you tell me you have a stockpile of lemons I will remind you of the joy of lemon pie piled high with meringue, the excellent properties of lemon as a cleaning agent, and a Brazilian folk song about the prettiness of a lemon tree. However, I think I’m a little more Louisa Mae Alcott. I know you’re thinking of the syrupy Little Women books but did you know she absolutely hated them? She was pretty much the sole breadwinner for her parents and sisters. When she was between books she hired out as a housekeeper. She wrote what sold to her little girl fans but took great pleasure in the books she wrote under pseudonyms—dark murder mysteries and steamy romance novels. I think she had her joys and satisfactions– just not when anyone was looking.
I was sick last night and most of today. I spent a lot of time petting the dogs and daydreaming about things to accomplish once I am feeling better. I realized that I was okay being present with my bodily aches alone in my home. I wasn’t lonely. I read. I let the warmth of my dogs pressed against my back and feet lull me to sleep and woke up feeling better. It was quiet and I was just present with the silence. It made the conversation I shared with my BFF this evening more valuable–even though we didn’t talk about anything too remarkable. I was content to be present with what was supposed to be a lemon of a day. Did you ever notice how even a bitter lemon has a rind the color of sunshine?
“The greater part of our happiness or misery depends upon our dispositions, and not upon our circumstances.” – Martha Washington
Day 17 – A very long time ago a trusted person told me that the biggest challenge of my life would be to just be and let go. I think that the order of it is important. Let go and just be makes more sense to me. And it makes sense that someday I will need to just go and let it be.
Honestly, some of these concepts are things I’ve been working at and/or kind of good at for years. I am great at letting go of stuff. If you walk into my house and really like that lamp, chances are you can leave with it. Picking through cast offs to furnish my life is an inherited trait. My parents did it when it was something to be ashamed about. And my 4-bedroom Brady Bunch-era house is furnished about 89% with second-hand items. That’s furniture, clothes, and dogs. Anything else was purchased on sale. I am not ashamed about this. Or am I? My home is about peace and practicality, function and female energy. And when I am in my own space I feel safe; the place is a treasure to me. Long ago and far away, I hosted parties in a third floor, walk up aerie. Everything there was scavenged and my parties were attended by doctors and nurses, artists and entertainers, and some amazing friends. They laughed and danced in the kitchen where seating was a pair of church pews I had painted red. They chatted sitting on the sofa that was a remodeled iron baby crib. A co-worker and his girlfriend thumbed through my collection of books housed in milk crates and he proposed to her as she sat on my bed covered in threadbare chenille. I was not embarrassed or afraid. I had a graffiti wall where friends could write a favorite quote or ask a question. My crowd always looked forward to my parties.
And I was not embarrassed or afraid.
These many years later, in a home I own, I can’t recall the date of the last party I hosted. It’s been a long while. I do host a monthly book group comprised of women who are my good friends, women I admire–social worker, 3 entrepreneurs, an author, a computer whiz. Amazing women all. We have been together for about 6 years and lunch in restaurants and sometimes in one of their lovely homes. I have never had them to my house for lunch. Somewhere along the way I let go of that breezy, joyful, I-don’t-give-a-damn-turn-up-the-music attitude about my home. I let go of the wrong thing. This year at some point I am going to just be enough. I’m going to let go of this fear. And I’m going to have my friends over for lunch.
I have been successfully avoiding an easy starter task because somehow it didn’t seem all that easy to me–cleaning out my clothes closet. Clothing says a lot about us. I have a dear friend who used to just buy clean clothes rather than face the dreaded washer and dryer. I have walked into a room in a house that had a temperature-controlled space for the furs and every exquisite piece of clothing ever owned by a woman from 1920 to 1965. Her closets held fascinators, beaded couture, embroidered satin gloves, dresses fit for the theatre, a garden party, tea with the Queen. She had beautiful jewelry, watches, and handbags. And an alarmingly large stash of vodka. At 12, I envied her and pitied her. No matter how beautiful the stuff–it was not her friend, or a lover, or a life.
I have hung on to clothes for a variety of reasons: 1. It’s not easy to find stylish clothes in plus sizes. (This is a lie, I can direct you to 30 great places to buy plus clothes–even second hand plus clothes.) 2. I might need it or fit into it or fall back in love with it at some point. (Who am I kidding?) 3. It’s too overwhelming. (Bullsh-t. I’m procrastinating too much.)
I have heard that we are supposed to look at things we have and ask ourselves
- Is useful and functional and do I actually use it
- Does it have a great sentimental value that makes me just want to keep it because
- If it’s not something I use and not something I love, why am I hanging on to it.
- If it’s on the way out is it reusable (off to the thrift store), recyclable (something I will make into something else) or trash.
I went through my dresser and my closet. I will admit it was not a tiptoe down memory lane except that I pulled up Aretha and Mary Chapin Carpenter on my Spotify list from which to draw strength. I tossed out lingerie that hasn’t seen daylight in years. Gone are the pinching push-here and suspend-there bras. I have old breasts. They like being comfortable. Deal with it. All of the nightgowns that I wore in the hospital when I had cancer? Not even saving them to cut up for doggie tug toys. I moved on to the clothing proper. All things pastel are gone. I detest fence-sitting pastels. I wear Colors. All of the items waiting for a miracle cure for that stain are history. As are my depression clothes. That’s right–you know what I mean. The faded tee shirt with paint and pizza stains that you put on when you feel funky. Mine are gone. What I have left are my drinking pajamas. If you don’t know what they are or want some, this is what you need: Any roomy tee or sweatshirt and a pair of pajama pants that are both baggy and speckled with some hideous print. My three pairs include green with cardinals, black with lipsticks and martini glasses, and blue with snowflakes the size of dessert plates.
In the end, I had a stack of hangers about 3 feet tall, 3 bags of clothes for the thrift store and two bags for the trash. It came down to one purple plush zip jacket. It was my mom’s. She wore it with pockets stuffed with Kleenex and butterscotch candies when she ran errands. In the autumn before she died, she sent my little girl home wrapped in it because the weather had turned cold. My daughter wore it through high school and consigned it to the discard pile when she left for grad school. I tucked it into my closet. The cuffs still smell like my mother’s cologne. The neck smells like my daughter’s shampoo. I will never wear it. It will not bring my mother back. What I possess is the strength and love she gave me and the daughter I named after her. The thrift store only got the jacket.
I want someone to walk up to me and say, ‘That self-confidence looks fabulous on you.’ So that I can tell them ‘It’s one-size-fits-all.’ – Alyse
I started this with the grand idea of posting every day starting around January 1-2 and have totally failed at it because I spent time worrying what people reading this would thing, spent time designing the writing space, and spent time redesigning the writing space because I haven’t mastered that ‘no overthinking’ thing yet.
I do this exercise of choosing a word/concept to apply to my life every year. It seems more achievable than making a resolution. Doesn’t that always feel like you’re just setting yourself up to fail? You know why they run all the Weight Watchers ads in January? Because the same people resolve at the start of every new year to lose weight. Somebody said that repeating the same actions and getting the same results each time is a bit of lunacy and I agree.
I am determined to spend less and appreciate what I have more. With this in mind I cleaned up my 10 year-old Chrysler Pacifica and took it for it’s emissions test on 12.30.16. The engine light has been on since the day I bought it–faulty sensors, no car malfunction. It has always passed inspections but this year the emissions minions have added that all senors must be working. I limped away with my failed sticker to an Auto Zone. One free test later, I am aware that the Starship (name of the Pacifica) has 4 malfunctioning sensors. Next a mechanic announced that sensor repairs and fixing a pesky oil leak would cost approximately enough to build a replica of the Millennium Falcon. I hate this equation. I think about how much I hate car payments. I rationalize to myself that it’s not 2017 yet and, honestly, that even though it doesn’t quite fit into all of this, it’s the smart thing to do. Eight hours later I try to celebrate the positives here–no anxiety at credit check, no pressure from sales guy, not a payment that frightens me. No engine light on at purchase–this is certainly a step forward. Hello Sapphire, my new-to-me Chevy Eclipse.
Part of last year’s quest for comfort culminated in me getting some older-person-with-lower-income funding from my county that resulted in some major safety, green, happifying upgrades to my house. They finished in December and I applied for a refinance on the mortgage because it would take the mortgage down to 3%. Yahoo! The folks at the county assured me on multiple occasions this funding is never considered in mortgage refinance. This was SO not true. And from 12.31.16 through 1.13.17 I found myself wrestling in the muck between the county (‘your bank is just too fussy–you should use a different bank’) and the bank where I have happily re-fied before (‘these guys aren’t following Fannie Mae guidelines’). On Friday the 13th (cue gloomy music), the woman from the county program yelled at me. YELLED at me. People don’t yell at me. I don’t yell at people. I knew it was time to reassess based on contentment protocol. The new refi will sever any obligation to the county but it also requires me rethinking how I wanted that to look in the future. I’m okay with that. I also realized that I had allowed myself to be pulled in to something that doesn’t belong to me. The county rep owned up to making a mistake on my transaction and said they won’t make the same error on someone else’s account. And that’s a good thing. Not everyone asks questions and stands up for themselves. I feel like I regained my equilibrium and will admit that I smirk a little because I know that my banker is still taking these county folks to task. I’m just not in the middle of it.
The state of life is most happy where ‘extras’ are not necessities and ‘necessities’ are not wanting. – Lao Tsu
It’s important to know what I’m going after and so I always look up the definitions and think about how these concepts apply to what I’m doing.
Contentment is identified as a state of satisfaction, personal fulfillment, personal well-being, equanimity, calm, composure and confidence. Antonyms for contentment are dissatisfied, agitated, disappointed, vexed, experiencing difficulty.
Let’s face it, there’s also a kind of meh feeling about contentment. It’s like contentment has a bad reputation and suddenly there’s an unwritten definition that means settling for less or unmotivated. What I see is an opportunity to pair actions with an idea. Less can be more. Less can be enough. What is can be the perfect amount. Letting go of that constant feeling of need, want, deprivation can’t be a bad idea.
The actions and goals: Even though I do an annual clean out of stuff in my life, I have managed to try and fill space in my house and life with bits of this and that in my first year with the nest being all mine. I’m no longer a daughter or wife. While I will always be Mom, people who are 27 and 26 years-old don’t need a daily mommy. So, it is about finding enough for both my exterior life and my interior life. Contentment.
Figuring out where to start is making me nuts, so I’m diving in. I had planned to be able to do this on a day-to-day basis from January 1 and as you can see I am off to a stellar start because it’s the 16th and I’m finally done being finicky about what the web page looks like and I’m just writing about this.
My goal is to be actively aware of how I’m dealing with my thoughts and actions each day and how they do or don’t bring me to a place of contentment. On the flip side, I am actively creating a life environment that is enough.
- I have everything I need. Can I use, reuse, rearrange and/or finally use or discard stuff that I already have? How do I get past feeling deprived or unrewarded? I have pushed myself to do stuff in the past with the idea that I will give myself some reward if I do X. And there are things I want to accomplish this year but they require spending (like giving several spaces a fresh coat of paint). How am I going to manage that?
- Face up to the desire to shop versus the need to shop and/or the desire to maintain my sense of self-confidence and composure versus my persistent desire to see people fit into what I am sure is a better place for them.
- Declutter my environment and try to stop overthinking everything. I know I can declutter. I’m not even suggesting I actually think I can stop overthinking stuff. Right now, it’s a way of life.
- Where is my community?
- Show/Demonstrate some gratitude for what I already have.
- Channel energy into my passions. What precisely am I passionate about here in the empty nest.
- Is prioritizing important or do I just dig in?
What I’m Thinking
- This is not about just being happy or satisfied. Happiness comes and goes on the tide. Contentment is the steel pier.
- Avoidance is a choice. Laziness is a choice. Making up excuses? That’s a choice, too.
- Owning less is better than organizing more.
- To just be and let go I need to let go of who I think I should be and who I think I am. Let go of overthinking. Letting go of stuff feels pretty marvelous. It feels powerful to see how little I need to live well. Stripping down to just those things I need, hanging on to only what I can’t do without–this is not about how to survive but how to thrive.
- Thoughts are harmless unless you believe them. It’s not the thoughts that are powerful but our attachment to them that creates change or challenges. Attaching to a thought is a decision to validate it as a truth.