Hurry Up and Slow Down (aka: The Fast-Paced Life)

Speed is my superpower.

Speed is my superpower

I run fast. I read fast. Learn fast. Drive fast. Sometimes, it seems that I have lived all my life at a faster-than-normal pace. I rushed through school — graduated at sixteen, then had a bachelor’s degree by age twenty. Then zoom! I got married a year later. And zoom! Bought a home by age 23 and had a baby before the year the over. Swish!

Sometimes, fast can be good. I get my work done quickly, then have plenty of time to fill with things from my ginormous list of hobbies and things to do. I get taxes done the day I receive my W2 in the mail each January. I’m often among the first in line to snag the best camping spot reservations months in advance. When one of my kids tells me at the last second (as usual) that he needs to costume for his big speech tomorrow at school, or she needs a few dozen baked goodies for a bake sale the next morning, I can often whip something together in no time, right in between arriving home from the work and heading out to the gym for my daily workout. Zip! Zoom! Swish!

Fast train

But as useful as speed can be, it is not always a good thing. Sometimes, slower is better.

I run quickly, but also quickly run out of steam. So I’m learning to set a slower pace, and run for greater distances.

I read fast. But when I slow down, I find that I can truly savor a book, and suck the marrow out of every paragraph. The best stories stick with you longer that way.

I learn fast. But I’m more likely to retain that which I’ve studied slower, more in depth.

I drive fast. But driving slowly means enjoying the journey more, taking in the scenery, singing along with the radio. Also, driving fast once earned me a very expensive traffic ticket. Oopsie.

fast driving audi

Marrying fast led to a divorce 17 years later. Working fast sometimes leads to careless mistakes. Zipping though list after list of Way Too Many Things to Do leads to stress, fatigue, burnout. Like a bright meteor, shining bright as it flashes across the sky, but disintegrating in the atmosphere.

Living fast isn’t all bad. It can help us to stay on top of things, to keep our responsibilities from piling up, and to fill our short lives with as much life as possible. But we must also remember that, to live our best lives, we require balance. And balance means to learn when it’s better to ease up on the reins, sit back in our seats, and enjoy the moment. We only get this moment once. Why rush it?

Tortoise vs Hare

 

 

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Plant (a Sort-of Short Story)

For Alan (because I promised him a short story for his birthday. Sorry it doesn’t have a shiny happy ending.)

houseplant1

Plant

 

I’m in a hospital. The word flared across his mind, then quickly faded. No, that couldn’t be right. A hospital had nurses that checked your pulse every ten minutes, and noisy machines that blipped and beeped like video games. This place was calm and white. Blazing white lights. White, sterile walls stretching up toward a high ceiling. White tile floors that felt cool and hard under his bare feet as he dangled his legs over the side of his cot. A long mirror ran across the wall opposite him, reflecting the sparse room, and him – a middle age man with a paunch and hair that resembled a dried-out lawn in need of mowing.

Is that me? He frowned. Were his eyes always ringed by such dark shadows? How had he ended up in this room? What was his name? He clenched the edge of his mattress, straining to recall any details about himself. But there was only emptiness.

He stood, approached the mirror. It reminded him of something he’d once seen. An observation window. Somewhere behind the glass, someone was watching him, maybe taking notes.

“Hello!” He rapped his fingers against the glass. “Is anyone there?”

No response.

He wandered around the room, searching for a hidden door. But the walls were smooth, blank. No way out. But if he got in here, then there must also be a way for him to get out, right?

In one corner of the room, a low privacy wall separated a toilet and sink from the rest of the room. Resting on the sink, a metal cup. He pressed a small button to activate the sink, cupping his hands beneath the thing stream of water and splashing it on his face. Then he explored the rest of the room, which didn’t take long. There was his cot in the center of the room, metal legs bolted to the floor. A few feet away sat a narrow desk with an attached swing-out stool, also bolted to the floor. On the white laminate surface sat a white book and pencil.

He perched on the stool and opened it, hungry for words of instruction, or a written explanation as to why he was confined to this strange place. But there was nothing. Every single page in the book was blank. He looked at the pencil. Were they expecting him to keep a journal? To write a confession for some crime he didn’t commit and couldn’t remember?

He twisted around, facing the mirror again. “Hey!” He waved his arms, certain that they could see him. “Is this some kind of joke? What is this?” He picked up the pencil, threw it across the room. Then he hurled the book at the mirror. It glanced off and landed against the floor. Thwack! “I want out of here! Do you hear me? Let me out of here!”

Still, no response.

The next day (Or was it a day? He couldn’t be sure), his throat was parched from yelling at no one, his hands red and sore from pounding on the glass, on the walls, on the floor. As he sat up in bed, his stomach let out a low, angry growl. When had he last eaten? He couldn’t remember.

“Are you going to feed me, or what?” His voice came out in a croak. Didn’t matter. No one responded from behind the glass. Maybe he’d been mistaken to think that someone was observing him from the opposite side. Maybe there was no one. Maybe they, whoever they were, had locked him in here and left him alone. The idea lodged in his throat, too big to swallow.

It wasn’t until after he’d used the toilet and gulped down two cups of water from the sink that it occurred to him. Something in the room had changed. The white notebook and pencil once again sat on the little desk. And in one corner of the room, where before had been nothing, sat a potted plant. It was knee height, with glossy, arching green leaves that reminded him of something. Tree. He closed his eyes, savoring the brief flash of memory. Outside. Trees. Gardens. He’d had a garden at his house! His heart accelerated. A garden with plants like this, sprouting from the ground. Flowers, too. And a tree that burst with orange, sweet fruit. His stomach rumbled again.

Could he eat the plant? He ripped off an experimental piece of leaf and chewed it. Then he spat it out, retching from the bitter taste. The plant was useless.

He stood and began to pace the room, until hunger made him so weary, he at last sat at the table. With nothing else to do, he opened the notebook and lifted the pencil. He intended to write his name, but it still eluded him. Instead, he sketched the plant. It wasn’t a great sketch – maybe he’d never learned how to draw well. But the moment he finished and set the pencil aside, there was a small whoosh sound as a small panel opened in the wall across from him. As he watched, openmouthed, a tray loaded with food slid toward him. Shaking with relief, he pounced on the tray and ate every morsel.

The next day was the same. Only this time, the food didn’t appear until after he’d drawn several pictures of the plant and given it a drink of water from the metal cup. On the fourth day, he filled the entire notebook with sketches and words – rambling, almost childlike writings about the plant. His plant. His living, growing, leafed companion. He was rewarded with more food than he could eat, so he saved the scraps on the edge of the sink.

The day after that, the scraps had mysteriously vanished. And like before, there was a fresh, empty notebook and new pencil. But though he filled the notebook as he had before, no food appeared.

“How do you like that?” he said to the plant, fists balled in frustration. “Now what do I have to do?” No sooner had he spoken than the wall panel opened, whoosh. “Talk? All I had to do was talk to you?” he said to the plant.

He spent the next few days engaged in one-way conversation with his plant. As faded memories returned, he told it all about his life. His lucrative, though unfulfilling job at the bank. His black and white cat, Panda, who curled in his lap as he sat reading in his favorite chair. The strong black coffee he ordered every morning from Java Hut. His routine had been so simple, comfortable, dull. But he ached to return to its familiarity. He longed to sleep in his cozy bed, lulled into drowsiness by Panda’s purr. As he spoke, Plant listened, but of course, never responded. He sometimes offered it water, even reached out to stroke its smooth, rubbery leaves.

One day when he woke, a large pair of scissors sat gleaming on the desktop. He stared at the, puzzled. Were the rules about the change again? “What do they expect me to do now?” he asked plant. When food didn’t come, he turned the scissors around in his hand, feeling the cool, heavy blade. When at last his stomach began to grumble, he lifted the scissors, opened them, and snapped the blades together. A hunk of graying brown hair floated, featherlike, to the floor.

Still no reward.

At last he collapsed on his cot from exhaustion, mad with hunger, the cold floor littered with tufts of hair, white scraps of notebook paper.

He rose with a sick feeling, knowing what they expected him to do. Before he could think, before he could allow himself to feel, he grabbed the scissors and raised them to his plant. Snap! One shiny green leaf dropped to the floor. Snap! Another. Then another. When at last his plant was stripped bare, doomed to die of starvation, the wall panel slid open. He ate, hating himself for his own desperate hunger, tears seasoning each bite. Then he buried a handful of leaves along the scissors, beneath his thin mattress, and slept.

He awoke with a lead heaviness in his chest, not wanting to open his eyes to see the lifeless plant in the corner. But he opened them anyway and yelped with surprise.

Someone else was in his room.

Several feet away, a second bed was now bolted to the floor. In it, a bearded, gray-haired man was sleeping.

“Hey,” he said aloud. Beard stirred. “Hey!” Louder this time. Beard startled awake, confused brown eyes meeting his. In seconds, he was on his feet, backing away, looking around the room with a wild expression on his face.

Guy held up his hands, like he would to calm an agitated animal. “It’s okay,” he said. “No one’s going to hurt you.”

Beard shook his head and spouted panicked words some another language. Russian? Slovakian? Guy had no idea. He watched from his cot as Beard went through the same desperate gestures, feeling the walls for a hidden exit, pounding on the observation mirror, yelling what sounded like a stream of foreign obscenities, complete with hand gestures.

“They won’t answer,” he said. Beard ignored him.

Hours later, when Beard was rocking on his bed, holding his stomach, Guy tried to draw pictures in the white notebook to show Beard where the food came from. But he had no idea how to explain the unpredictable things he’d had to do to earn it. Nor did he know what they were expected to do now.

The next day, Beard turned his back to him, and to the mirror. Guy tried to talk to him. Then he tried singing songs. Were the Food Givers fond of eighties pop tunes? Folk songs? Dancing? He tried everything he could think of, until he was weak with hunger. He even drew lame pictures of Beard in the notebook, and then on the walls. But there was no food. That is, until Beard hurled the notebook at his head, then kicked the pencil across the floor.

The panel slid open.

The next day, Beard destroyed the notebook and cracked the pencil. When he was not rewarded, he took out his frustrations of Guy, pinning him against the desk and twisting his arm behind his back. The resulting tray was piled high with food. Beard left him little.

Guy’s anxiety rose like a swarm of insects, stinging his insides. Whoever was watching was obviously thirsty for blood. Sadistic, the word came to his mind. He couldn’t remember, but he somehow knew that outside these walls, he was not a violent person. He was patient, cool-headed, even under pressure. But this went far beyond pressure.

Beard barely waited for Guy to awaken each morning before the beatings began. Afterward, Guy would collapse on his cot, weakened and bruised, listening to the munching noises as his stronger opponent ate all of the food.

One day, Beard struck him with a blow to the temple that made his ears ring and his vision fade to black. When he awoke, he was lying on his cot. Beard was straddled on top of him, face screwed into a frightening leer. As Guy held his breath, waiting for the next blow to come, Beard lifted a pillow and held it above Guy’s face. Then he brought it down.

Lewis! Fight back! A voice said in his mind. Guy kicked and struggled, trying to shake the pillow from his face. But Beard was too strong. Guy was suffocating, he knew, tiny white points sparking in his vision. He was going to die, just like Plant.

Plant!

                Somehow, Guy managed to slip his hand beneath the edge of his mattress, where it closed around a hard metal object. They hadn’t taken the scissors away. With his last ounce of strength, he thrust the point upward, felt them penetrate the pillow.

No, not the pillow. Beard’s body jerked, then went slack on top of Guy’s. The pillow slipped to the floor, and fresh air filled Guy’s lungs. Still gripping the handle of the scissors, Guy pushed upward, until Beard’s body rolled off of his, landing on the floor with a thud.

Blood, so much blood. Warm and sticky on his hands, on his clothes, on the floor. Still gushing from Beard’s abdomen, where the scissors were still planted. Bile burned the back of Guy’s throat. What had he done?

He clambered off the bed, crawled across the room, retching. What had he done?

“I couldn’t be a soldier. I could never kill someone,” his own voice had said once.

“Anyone could kill a person if your life depended on it, Lewis,” another voice had said.

“Not me.”

The observation mirror slid down like a car window, revealing a dozen watchers in lab coats, all applauding. At the same time, the impaled man on the floor vanished, as did the traces of blood. When the large panel door opened, and a medical team entered to retrieve Guy, he still sat in the corner of the room.

“Lewis,” he said, still clutching the lifeless plant. “Lewis. My name is Lewis.”

 

 

Cheers! (aka: A Beer-y Tasty Project)

Twitter is good at reminding me of things I may have missed out on, like rocket launches, or Trump’s latest blunders, or finales to TV shows I’ve never watched and don’t care about. It is especially good at reminding me about little-known holidays, most of which are probably made up by companies trying to sell their ice cream, or pancakes, or greeting cards.

Well apparently, a couple of days ago, I missed out on a big one. National Beer Day. Right? I mean, you’d have to be from Jupiter, or perhaps living in a cave to miss out on such an important occasion. Yesterday, I made up for it, though, by enjoying a nice cold bottle of Mexican beer from Trader José. Olé!

Brewski

Now here’s a confession. The very first time I tried beer was around 3-4 years ago. It’s true. I spent most of the first two decades of my adult life surrounded by very conservative, teetotalist Christian friends. When we used to get together, the strongest thing we ever drank was double shot espresso. Somehow I managed to start tasting and enjoying wine over the years, but not beer. A glass of pinot noir or chardonnay is a great companion for solitary moments with a good book and indie rock music. But there’s something about beer that screams of social outings, soccer matches, and fun. So I kept putting off that first drink until I was in an appropriate social situation for trying it out.

Toast beer diversity

My first beer was a Budweiser, and I liked it right away. Since then, I’ve begun keeping a spreadsheet of my beer explorations, and rating their flavors (Hey, I’m an INTJ, okay? This is what we do). I’ve learned that I really dislike IPAs and bitter beers. Bleah! But I really enjoy light beers and beers with a fruity twist. My absolute favorite type of beer? Pilsner. Yummm….I am tempted to end the experiment right here and only drink pilsner-style beers from now on. The very best pilsner I’ve had so far turned out to be the original pilsner beer — an import from Czech Republic called Pilsner Urquell.

Pilsner Urquell

Of course, there’s still a lot I don’t know about beers. I could probably do some Beer 101 reading to learn more about the different types, how they’re made, and what the heck is even in beer. I could probably also try visiting some of the many local breweries where I live. But that sounds a little intimidating to do alone, so maybe I’ll just stay home and sip another cold, frosty bottle of pilsner while watching a tennis match on TV. After all, beer doesn’t really require a Twitterized special occasion for us to celebrate it.

One last note — a few days ago, while I was at Trader Joe’s buying my single bottle of Trader José beer, the clerk studied my face, then asked to see my ID. When she saw that I am 42 years old, she laughed. “Seriously? Oh, come on!” So I guess that’s another good excuse to keep going with the beer tasting project. Getting carded by people around my own age makes me feel young. I’ll drink to that.

Cheers!

 

Eat for your Life! (aka: Our Flexitarian Family)

When I was a kid, food was all about three square meals per day. One food from each of the four crucial food groups: meat and eggs, bread & cereal, fruits & veggies, and, of course, milk, to do a body good. The food pyramid was pretty straight forward, too. Stuff yourself with bread and grains, add five servings of plants, then top it off with a little protein.

Vintage American meals

Back in those days, vegetarians were almost unheard of, too. Since I lived in the Bay Area, we always had one or two in each group, and the only choices they had for lunch were cheese sandwiches or PB&J. Everyone else ate pretty much the same thing — Oscar Mayer bologna sandwiches on Wonder bread, with a fruit roll-up on the side. The only thing that varied was the flavor of fruit roll-up, and the occasional novelty of Hostess treats or Capri Suns someone’s mom tossed into the lunchbox.

1980s kids lunch

My family’s diet was typically American, too. Spaghetti, chicken casseroles, sloppy joes. Meatloaf with a side of mashed potatoes. Plenty of salt, sugar, and simplex carbs for all. None of us dared to complain, or to request something healthier. After all, we were eating three square, all-American meals per day, provided by hard-working parents.

Fast forward several decades.

A few years ago, I lost a lot of weight. Around 60 pounds, total. Now I will admit that the final 20 pounds or so were likely due to an eating disorder. But the first 40 were due to a change in daily diet. I scrapped the nostalgic all-American diet, for the most part, and opened my mind to a global variety of healthy, whole foods. I cut way back on meat. I also began to exercise regularly, around 3-4 days per week.

Then came a startling health discovery. My doctor found that my blood sugar was slightly elevated; a somewhat common state known as prediabetes. Unchecked, this condition can spiral into full-blown Type 2 diabetes.

I was shocked. But my daily habits were so healthy! And my BMI was in the ideal range. How could this be? Answer: genetics. Sometimes, no matter what we do, our bodies are prone to develop unfortunate conditions, like diabetes, heart disease, and high blood pressure.

Luckily for me, I was able to make some more effective changes. I further reduced my intake of animal proteins. Switched out simplex carbs for complex carbs (aka whole grains). Cut out most sugar, except for the occasional treat. And I began to work out every single day, with few exceptions. And, yay! My blood sugar levels dropped back down to normal, healthy levels.

chickpea curry

With my own kids, I abolished the idea that everyone has to eat the exact same foods. After all, everyone is different. We have different tastes, different nutritional needs, different health challenges. My 13yo son can’t stand cooked vegetables. So he has permission to switch them out for fresh veggies or salad. My 16yo daughter has decided that she is now a pescatarian, and has begun a zero-sugar diet challenge with her friends. Luckily, I usually prepare a vegetarian option for family meals (not just PB&J, haha). Zero added sugar is a lot harder than it sounds, but I’ve been cheering her on, and being sensitive to her goals while grocery shopping. My 18yo? Well, he still hasn’t jumped into the health nut boat with the rest of us, so it’s still all-American junk food for him.

pescatarian meals fish

Our household of four has four different food pyramids. Some of us are more likely to nibble six small meals than three square meals per day. One of us prefers veggie dogs and veggie burgers to the meaty versions. Three of us are happy to munch on nuts, seeds, and roasted edamame for snacks. All four of us adore sweet, sugary treats more than we probably should — perhaps another genetic tendency. But we are learning and growing as we explore new yummy recipes and exercise together. Hopefully these healthy habits will stick with my kids as they head off into the world, and help them to live long lives, free of those killer diseases that plague so many us.

Healthy Choices

It’s not easy to change your diet for the better. It’s not easy to give up old favorites that remind us of childhood, like smoky grilled meats and big bowls of chocolate ice cream. It’s not easy to make yourself get up and move for 30 minutes every day. But the ability to enjoy a long, good life makes those changes worthwhile. Life is sweet. Live healthy.

Tenebrae (a poem)

Tenebrae

Tenebrae candles church

Tenebrae

at noontide, in an unfamiliar church

I sat in polished wooden pews, beneath smooth arches

tiny colored lights dancing through window pictures

amber glow of candles

beneath the cross.

I listened for God

as readers shared the holy scriptures

piece by piece, the stories to remind us of that Friday so long ago.

I listened for God

in the hymns we sang

still so familiar to my tongue

which once recited the words, caressed the Truth, tasted

His presence.

I have not heard God

since those golden days when we

were a thrown-together family in His name.

Remember how we gathered, holding hands, sharing spirits?

Remember how we preached

to each other

knew

the importance of

loving our neighbor as we loved ourselves

clothing the naked, feeding the hungry

shining lights, a beacon on a hill, the salt of the earth?

 

You knew.

You knew, all of you.

Yet you did nothing.

 

When I was always smiling

doors open for group socials and happy games

you were there (and so was God).

When I stood certain, a rock in my faith, inner light

glowing like a Good Friday candelabra, shining bright

you were there (and so was God).

I saw you all around me

and heard God

felt God

in the old hymns, in the new songs.

We clapped our hands

held each others’ babies as we prayed together

our own private city, Christian club

example to the world

of forgiveness

of love.

 

But when times

grew heavy, when I could

no longer carry my own load, back breaking

drowning in a salt water sea, I lifted my hands out

to you, to all of you.

Remember

my cries? Help me! I can’t…

Remember my long, gray silence

as my candles were snuffed out, one by one?

I curled there in that tomb, searching my way out of darkness

grasping like the blind at every flicker of light.

Where were you then, brothers

and sisters?

 

You were in your homes

raising your children, clocking in

walking dogs, sharing recipes, happy online photos.

I saw it all from a distance

like staring through

a locked window.

 

Where were you, brothers and sisters?

 

You,

the medicine for my pain,

stayed far away, like suffering was contagious

like my crumbling life was too much

for your pampered

sensibilities.

 

You,

fellow followers of Christ

were too busy on your knees, absorbed

in prayer, consumed with your own Quiet Times

wrapped in your hectic schedules of church, and small groups, and

planned events.

My life was messy, in those days.

I did not fit into

your lives.

 

But I was among the naked, in need of clothes.

and I was the hungry

and I was the sick

and the thirsty

and the cold.

The hurting person on the side of the road

as you traveled home to Samaria.

I was lost

I was in darkness

So

WHERE WERE YOU?

 

If I were Martin Luther

I would nail these angry words on your doors,

oh church

for your corrupt culture

your holy huddles, worshipping at the altars

of political outrage, of perfect families, of appearances

instead of following the most important

of all the commandments –

to love.

 

I did not hear God today

as the Tenebrae candles were snuffed

one by one.

Too filled with corked up emotions

released as I reflected on

what it’s all supposed

to mean

but does not.

My faith was a rock

chipped away by too many

years of solitude, apart from those

who once claimed to be

One.

 

I never cry out anymore.

Que No Pare la Fiesta! (aka: Zumba!)

If there is one thing you should know about me, it is that I am a constant ball of energy. Despite my exercise-induced allergic reactions, despite my chronic anemia, and despite my, ehrmgenerous bust size, I love to be active. I work out every single day, with few exceptions. I run, do workouts at the gym, swim, play tennis, and, until recently, soccer.  I also enjoy occasional group fitness classes, like yoga or step aerobics. But by far, the workout I find the most enjoyable is Zumba.

Zumba class fitness

What the heck is Zumba, you ask? Read on:

What is Zumba?

Zumba is a dance party! More specifically, it’s an aerobic dance fitness class featuring music styles such as salsa, reggaeton, cumbia, merengue, cha-cha, soca, hip-hop, flamenco, and rumba. But it is so much fun, that the official Zumba marketing slogan is, “Ditch the Workout — Join the Party!” 

Zumba logo

How did Zumba start?

Zumba started as a mistake in the 1990’s by Columbian dancer and choreographer, Beto Perez, who forgot to bring his aerobics mixtape to a class he was leading. He ended up playing a cassette tape of Latin dance music he had in his car, and the world’s greatest fitness dance party was born. No one could resist swaying their hips and moving their feet to the infectious Latin rhythms. The movement spread, and now, Zumba is practiced by millions of people in more than 100 countries worldwide.

 Who does Zumba?

Everyone! Zumba is not a dance instruction class. Whether you’ve had years of dance and fitness training, or whether you are a newbie with two left feet, you can jump into a Zumba class and have a great time getting in shape. Even though there is usually a big mirror at the front of the studio, people aren’t watching you to make sure you can swing your hips or shake your shoulders correctly. (Thank goodness, because I can’t twerk to save my life, hahaha!)

Zumba Class for All

Is Zumba an effective workout?

Yes! In a forty-minute Zumba class, an average person can burn 350-650 calories. With Zumba’s high energy style and interval-style intensity fluctuations, it has been shown to burn more calories than a number of other group exercise classes, including step aerobics, indoor cycling, hooping, and cardio kickboxing. And just as important — Zumba is fun! The most effective workout is one that you will keep doing on a regular basis. Still not sure? The best way to find out is to throw on your sneakers and head to your nearest Zumba class. Don’t worry about not knowing the steps, because no one is watching. Come join the party!

My Zumba Playlist Favorites

Firehouse — Daddy Yankee

Mi Gente — J Balvin, Willy William

Vem Dancar Kuduro (Oy Oy Oy) — Lucenzo ft. Big Ali

Chantaje — Shakira

Shaky Shaky (Terremoto) — Daddy Yankee

Baila Esta Cumbia — Selena

Don’t Stop the Party — Pitbull, TJR

Moviendo Caderas — Yandel ft. Daddy Yankee

 

 

 

Reverse (a poem)

I wish I could reverse the hands on the clock

erase the night when we danced

in your living room

fireworks blooming in flowers of sparks

shy smiles over glasses of wine

and fine art

no trace of what became Us

fingers interwoven

joined.

Two open bowls of berries and cream

something that could be broken,

spoiled.

I would make myself someone bland

a comfortable face in your office

trading humor in the break room

an easy friend

for barbecue parties

and group nights

an apple in your fruit bowl

shirt hanging in your closet.

Oh look, it’s 9am

and there she sits

open-faced, waiting

someone you turn to to share stories

revel in your travels

your triumphs

confess your frustrations

release pieces of your spirit

and not

someone you would

leave.