Out to Sea (aka: A Stranger’s Perspective)

I live in a suburb of Sacramento, in Northern California. And, as I mentioned in a previous post a year ago suburb snore  , I have really never liked living in the suburbs, where I have always felt like a rose trying to bloom in a concrete desert. I used to imagine my life in a secluded cabin somewhere in the mountains, or an artsy bungalow somewhere in the Bay Area, or a high-rise apartment in some grand city – anywhere but some dull suburb filled with boxy chain stores and look-alike houses. It is when I dwell on those old dreams that I feel the familiar tug of wanderlust. I don’t want to keep standing on the old wooden dock, watching the sailboats head out to sea. I want to be on the boat, sailing toward anywhere but here.

I recently met someone who is a seasoned world-traveler. And while I was hoping to live vicariously through his tales of adventures beyond my own dull suburb, he said something completely unexpected. Sacramento, he said, is freakin’ awesome.

Wait. What?

Okay, when I think of this place where I live, a dozen descriptions come to mind. And not one of those is freakin’ awesome. You don’t know what you have, said the stranger, along with a few other things that made me ponder. And ponder. And…you get the idea. What on earth does this little part of the world have that an outsider would see as something special? Like the INTJ that I am, I analyzed it and made a list:

Ways in Which My City Rocks

  1. Affordable housing. (Yes, well, there are some serious hole-in-the-wall places around the country with cheap housing, too. So maybe that isn’t so special).
  2. The river! (Because that means wildlife, and wild places for hiking and water activities)
  3. The Kings and the Sacramento Republic (NBA basketball and, well…MLS hopeful team)
  4. Some of the most beautiful autumn foliage out there (Seriously. You should see it).
  5. Everything is just a 2 hour drive away. Want snow? Two hours north. Sea? Two hours southwest. San Francisco? Two hours. Giant redwoods? Two hours. Mountains? Two hours.
Midtown Autumn

Fall foliage in midtown Sacramento

Okay, maybe that last one doesn’t exactly count, because it is not about being in Sacramento. But it is still a huge plus for a wanderer like me. In fact, just yesterday, my kids and I drove two hours away to Point Reyes – one of my favorite Northern California destinations for its wild, rugged coastline, wildlife, and beautiful scenery. We enjoyed a great hike through the wilderness and a perfect day on the beach. Then we reluctantly said goodbye to the fresh, salty air and headed toward home.

As we neared Sacramento, I had to rub my eyes a few times. Where our city began, the clear blue skies ended abruptly in a thick, brownish-grayish haze of smog. My kids and I stared in dismay. “Does our city always look like that?” asked my son.

I shook my head. “I don’t know. I hope not.” The smog was so incredibly thick that it obscured our view of the downtown skyscrapers and crept inside our car, burning our throats. Nope, I decided. Sacramento was not freakin’ awesome. In fact, I wanted to freakin’ turn the car around and drive back to the Bay Area.

“Oh look, there’s a fire over there!” my daughter pointed out the window, where, sure enough, a plume of smoke rose from an urban area wildfire, filling the skies with smoke. Aha. So the thick haze was not how Sacramento usually looks. That was a relief.

community summer gathering

There’s something to be said about those events where the community gathers together to celebrate and have fun together.

After returning home, we gathered our portable chairs and joined a few thousand neighbors in the park across the street from our home. My kids raced around to inflatables and puppet shows with friends from school and soccer teams, and then we sat back and enjoyed the big fireworks show. And as I sat there, content by my children’s side, I realized how good it felt, after a long day at sea, to have returned home again. To have a safe park and nice kids for my kids to play with, and warm summer nights to sit with the community, watching a fireworks show. That is freakin’ awesome – and one of those things that chips away at the concrete barriers, exposing the earth and letting the flowers bloom wherever they’re planted.

celebrate fireworks

Explore. Dream. Discover.

Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things you didn’t do than by the ones you did. So throw off the bowlines, Sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover. ~ Mark Twain (1835-1910)

Sail away from safe harbors

It was one of my favorite quotes from an author whose literature I greatly admire. Explore. Dream. Discover. And so I did. At least, to an extent. I rappelled down the face of a cliff. I stood at the feet of the Statue of Liberty and watched a real Broadway musical on Broadway. I tasted the salty breezes of two different oceans, watched the eruption of Old Faithful, and threw stones into the Grand Canyon (because, why not?). I explored. I dreamed. I discovered.

I used to live life in fast forward, arms spread wide, mouth open, waiting to taste whatever new adventures the universe had to offer. I sometimes think that is why I rushed through university so quickly and married so young. I wanted to know what it was like to be finished with school. I was eager to experience life as a married woman (and, of course, the great sex and intimacy that was supposed to come with it. Haha – funny joke, universe). I was eager to try new foods and hear new music and travel to interesting places. I was eager to experience every good thing life had to offer – to explore, to dream, to discover.

I lost that hunger. Somewhere in the midst of an unhappy, abusive marriage, and broken friendships, and lonely, gray years of emptiness, that vision slipped away. Explore? But the world, once as vibrant and inviting as the Land of Oz, now seemed cold and hostile. Dream? I lost the ability to dream beyond rewinding the clock and fixing broken things. Discover? What remained to be discovered? I had traveled to the end of the rainbow, but instead of gold, I had found stones. And that fire that once burned bright within my spirit had gone out.

And so, I shifted focus. After all, I am a mother of three terrific kids. And they do not yet know that there are only stones at the end of the rainbow. So I live my life for them. I get out of bed every day for them. I go to school and work for them, so that I can provide for their needs. I plan adventures for them, because they have not yet swum in both oceans, or visited New York City, or climbed actual mountains. I am happy to do these things for them, because it allows me to ignore the gnawing, lonely emptiness inside of me. But I know that it is not sufficient. I know that I will never be content until that fire burns inside of me once again, urging me to really live…to stop standing still like a zombie and start to explore. To dream. To discover.

I mentioned recently that I have been Cheering Sports Fans in a Bartrying new things. Because maybe that is what it takes to re-light a fire that went cold years ago. So far, I have had little success. And in fact, just today, because I had never been to a bar, and had never watched a soccer game with a big group of other soccer-loving fans, I forced myself out of the house and into a large bar downtown to watch the USA vs. Portugal World Cup soccer game. Unfortunately, that turned out to be a huge mistake. The bar was absolutely packed with adoring, cheering fans. I stood among the beer-guzzling crowd, feeling out-of-place and very awkward. Not to mention thirsty. How on earth are you supposed to get something to drink in a bar…shove your way up front and yell “Diet Pepsi please!” over the din? And do they even sell Diet Pepsi? Luckily, I found a (waitress?) to ask, and she very kindly brought me a Pepsi (not Diet, but who cares?) for free. So I quietly sipped my soda and watched the game in silence, while imagining myself with a group of soccer-loving friends, guzzling beers and yelling at the TV screen. Together. (Does that count as dreaming?)

I went home at halftime.

But still, I explored. And I discovered what a bar is like. Sort of. So I don’t have to do that ever again. One teeny-tiny, wobbly baby step into a world that feels so enormous and so scary. Watching a soccer game alone in a crowded bar sucked. Seriously. But now, twenty years from now, I don’t have to look back and be disappointed that I didn’t even try.

Why Don’t I Know How to Make Friends? (aka: Adult Friendships)

Shy adult can't make friends(Okay, a brief pause from poetry appreciation to address this confusing and overwhelming topic of friendship).

Why is it so hard to make friends as an adult? Okay, well, maybe it isn’t hard for most adults. Maybe many adults make acquaintances and friends easily, thanks to adept social skills, more outgoing personalities, etc. And certainly for many adults, it is less devastating when friendships end, because it is not so difficult to move on to the next friendship. I wish that I knew how to be that way.

But here I am, 38 years old and feeling once again like the misfit kid on the school playground, reading a book instead of playing tetherball – not because I don’t love to play tetherball, but because no one has invited me. Or because I asked to join the game and was told, no way, not you. So what do you do? You sit on the bench and read a book, and pretend that that is what you really wanted to do all along. You watch the other kids run and laugh and play together, and you study them, trying to absorb their happiness and companionship as your own. You listen to their conversations, trying to figure out the “right” way to talk and the “right” way to be, so that you will be accepted.

Because we all just want to be accepted.

So I decided to ask Google. “Google, how do adults make friends?” Well, Google had all kinds of ideas.

  1. Join a Club

Okay, great idea. After all, in the past, I made friends by being part of college Christian clubs and young married couple church clubs and new mommy clubs. And so I have been attending (almost) monthly Meetups for around a year for people learning Spanish. Unfortunately, the faces often change and many of the people are retired seniors. Recently, I joined a group for single parents. My kids and I attended one event. I had a lot of fun, thanks to my kids. But after the initial introductions, most of the other adults engaged in conversation while I hung back, observing and listening, not sure how to break into the other people’s conversations. (Blame it on extreme shyness. I hate being shy).

  1. Invite a co-worker out for lunch or drinks

This would be so great if I had that kind of job. The truth is, I work in isolation in a cubicle jungle, surrounded by empty cubicles. I get most of my job assignments via email and often go days without saying much more than hello and goodbye to my supervisor. Not conducive to one’s social life.

  1. Plan a party and invite all of your acquaintances

The last time I threw a party was four years ago, during the last World Cup. I invited more than a dozen people. Three came (not counting children). It is very hard to throw a party when you don’t know people well, and very disappointing when no one shows up.

  1. Ask your friends for recommendations

Hahaha! Good one.

  1. Seek out friends of friends

This makes so much sense, as friends of friends may also share your common interests. But practically speaking, this doesn’t work when you don’t already have friends.

  1. Take a class

As a college student, I take many classes. But most of these are online, and the others are mostly filled with teens and young adults.

  1. Join an adult recreational sports league

I have been playing recreational indoor soccer for a few years. I love it, and it is a great stress release. But my teammates and I never get past the acquaintance, small-talk stage. Maybe we just lack that certain vibe, who knows?

 

Some of the advice I’ve read online is simply ridiculous. For example, on the site http://www.adultsocialskills.com/howtomakefriends.htm, written for loners like me, the authors give the advice that other people prefer those whom they perceive to be social. Therefore, it is better to pretend as though you have other friends. It is also better to pretend that you are interested in those things which other people are interested in, to make yourself appear to be more like them. In other words, fake it. Is this really how other people build friendships, based on insincerity? No thanks.

The Help Guide had this suggestion:

Attachment and relationships

How you bonded with a parent or caretaker as an infant will determine how you relate to others as an adult. Those who experienced confusing emotional communications during infancy often grow into adults who have difficulty understanding their own emotions and the feelings of others. This limits your ability to build or maintain successful friendships. Read Attachment & Adult Relationships.

Of course, I followed the link and read all about attachment – a topic which I studied intensely my first time through university as a Child Development major. And yes, I recognize within myself my own insecure attachment issues, which probably continue to make it difficult to form meaningful attachments, or to detach from them once I have bonded with others. It also explains why I feel so mistrustful of other people, and fear a bandonment, and have trouble reading social cues, and blah, blah, blah. But knowing and knowing what to do about it are two separate issues.

So thanks, Google, but I am now back to square one, stuck in a constant loop of loneliness. And so I retreat to my cave, where I will bury my nose in a book, occasionally looking up to observe the rest of the world, and try to absorb the contentment they must feel from being so connected and accepted. And I will tell the world and tell myself (because it is less painful to convince myself), that this is all I really need.

 

how to make friends

 

Life as a Wannabe

wan·na·be

noun \ˈwä-nə-ˌbē\

1: a person who wants or aspires to be someone or something else or who tries to look or act like someone else

I think that I have been a Wannabe for most of my life. Even when I was a young girl, I changed my name and tried desperately to code switch so that other kids would like me. As a teenager and young adult, I cycled through a few Wannabe periods, from hard rocker to conservative Christian, trying to figure out who I was, where I belonged, and how to make friends. It is normal to experiment with social groups during the adolescent years, though we adults love to remind teens that the best thing is to “just be yourself.”

At the age of 37, I am still a Wannabe. But it is different than being an insecure teenager experimenting with fashions and slang words. I know who I am, and what I like. But I also have a very clear picture of the person I would like to become, and nearly every day, I hold myself up against that person and realize how far I fall short from being her. So who is she? What is it that I want to be? GoalsSign2

Wannabe Writer

I have been a writer for most of my life. I have had a short story published and won a publishing award for another. I have written poems, manuscripts, and, of course, numerous blog entries. But until I have had a novel published, or at least a few more stories and poems, I will always see myself as falling short of being a true writer.

What holds me back: Confidence. I have the skills to be a serious writer, but when it comes to sending out my work to be accepted or rejected, I choke.

Wannabe Great Homemaker

Even as a working mom of 3, I will always see myself as a homemaker. I adore making my home a beautiful and comfortable place for my children and me, from nice curtains and artwork to fresh flowers on the table. I enjoy cooking delicious foods from scratch. But where I still fall short is keeping our home consistently clean. It is not an out-of-control problem. Mostly our house is passably clean. But in my vision, the dishes hardly ever pile up overnight. The cat litter boxes are always scooped immediately. Beds are made every morning. The floors are cleaned more than twice a week. It is not an   impossible dream. I grew up in a spotless house.

What holds me back: Laziness. Lack of a consistent daily cleaning plan.

Wannabe Great Gardener

I have been a wannabe gardener for so many years. I have a vision of growing many beautiful flowers and having an abundant organic vegetable garden. Most years, I manage to grow a few spring flowers before I kill them all, and grow a few tomatoes and zucchini. To be fair, every year, I get a little better and produce a few more veggies and flowers. But I still have way more failures than successes.

What holds me back: A lack of sunlight. Lack of education about things like fertilizer, organic pest control, and timing.

Wannabe Friend

This has been a lifelong struggle, as I am naturally shy, introverted, and – well, weird. I would love to have a real life friend or two. Someone with whom to share common interests. Someone to grab a cup of coffee with every now and then. Someone with whom to exchange recipes and talk about kids and sports (okay, hard to find among women) and trade books and ideas and whatever. Someone to chat with on the phone once a week. Maybe even a small group of friends to go out with every now and then.

What holds me back: Avoiding people due to insecurity and fear. Went through an extraordinarily painful friendship breakup a couple of years ago and am fearful of that ever happening again. Torn between loneliness and extreme fear of making friends only to lose them. Who do I want to be

Wannabe Person Who Makes a Difference

I used to have a job in which I felt like I was able to help people. I would like to find another job like that. I also would like to be the type of person that makes a positive difference for others by helping wherever needed, encouraging others, and helping the very poor and homeless.

What holds me back: That same insecurity and fear of people that holds me back socially also keeps me from reaching out to help other people.

Wannabe Fluent Spanish-language Speaker

Another dream I have held since childhood. I am growing closer to this goal, and yet it still seems so far away.

What holds me back: There’s that fear of people and insecurity problem again. Without actually talking to people who speak Spanish, achieving language fluency is probably always going to be out of reach.

Wannabe Athlete

Now that I have the means to regularly prevent Cholinergic Urticaria, I have been trying to consistently stay active, running, dancing, bike riding, and playing soccer in order to stay healthy and fit. Exercise is also a great stress release and natural mood booster. But I am still inconsistent. Some weeks I exercise a lot, then the next few weeks, hardly at all. Who knows? Maybe that is normal for most active adults. But I would prefer to keep up the good habits.

What holds me back: Laziness. Sometimes I love to move my body. Other times, I hate exercising and can’t motivate myself to do it.

It is not that I want to be a perfect person. Perfection is out of the question. But I do not wish to live a mediocre life of complacency, without personal goals or dreams, sitting around and growing fat and unhealthy, accomplishing little and then hoping that my children will do better than I. I prefer to strive for excellence, to live the best life possible, and to show my children that with hard work, persistence, and dedication, you really can become the person that you wannabe. Even at the age of 37. woman-walking-alone

The Power of 3 (aka: Finding Balance for a Healthy Life)

I think that the number 3 is the key to a balanced life. I know, I know, it is an odd number, which makes it seem counterintuitive. However, I have found that my life is most fulfilling when I strike a balance of nurturing the three parts that make up my whole person: Mind, Body, and Spirit. Each part is equally essential for a balanced, healthy life. Here are some examples of ways to nurture your entire self:

Mind Body Spirit

MIND

  • Read Literature – This is different from merely reading for pleasure. Read the classics, the Great Books, the time-tested literature that will expand your mind and stretch your imagination. Don’t have time to read? Listen to an audiobook during your daily commute.
  • Learn a Foreign Language
  • Puzzles and Word Games – Crossword puzzles, Sudoku, jigsaw puzzles, or my personal favorite, Scrabble.
  • Learn about another culture – This world is such a huge and interesting place. Pick a country and learn all that you can about its history, its culture, and its people.
  • Take a college course – College classes are not only to advance one’s career. There are many online courses available, including free courses for anyone who is interested.  YogaBalance1

BODY

  • Commit to an exercise routine three days of each week (There’s that number 3 again).  — Stick to it.
  • Learn a new sport or physical activity. — Not a runner? Try yoga, or swimming, or an adult drop-in soccer or volleyball league.
  • Eat less meat. – You don’t have to become a vegan or vegetarian to enjoy meatless meals. There are huge health benefits to cutting out meat even on an occasional basis. Try making a goal of eating a meatless lunch or dinner three days per week. This doesn’t mean you have to eat like a rabbit. Explore the internet or your local library for healthy and delicious meal ideas.
  • Move your body as much as possible. – Avoid shortcuts. Park in the back of the parking lot and walk. Skip the elevator and take the stairs. Walk in place while watching television. Just keep moving.
  • Sex – (No advice here, but some would say that regular sex nurtures the body, mind, AND spirit) Nourishing relationships feeds the spirit

SPIRIT

  • Keep a journal – More than just a record of your daily activities, a journal is a way to express your personal thoughts and ideas as you travel down the path of life. Or you can do as I do – write a blog. Just be cautious — remember that the rest of the world can read your journal, too.
  • Read what makes you happy – This is a different type of reading. Whether you enjoy reading children’s novels, humor books, or just plain smut, read what makes you smile. A little book candy every now and then is good for the spirit.
  • Give back to your community – Get involved in a community service project, plant flowers along the roadways, pick up litter in the local park, or visit with the elderly in a neighborhood care home. You may be surprised at how altruism nurtures your own spirit while improving the lives of other people.
  • Become an encourager. Smile at strangers and wish them a good day. Give your neighbors a basket of homemade muffins. Write thank you notes and send get well cards to people. Make friendly comments to other people or Facebook or Twitter or Pinterest, or whichever online social community you prefer.
  • Surround yourself with beauty – Display beautiful artwork in your home or office. Take time to look at other people’s beautiful photography on Flickr. Go for hikes out in nature. Listen to beautiful music that feeds your spirit.
  • Find religion – Dedicate yourself to the belief system that brings you the greatest sense of peace and belonging to something greater than yourself.
  • Develop friendships – Get together regularly to talk, laugh, and enjoy life with other people. That way, you not only nurture your own spirit, but you will also nurture the spirits of other people in your life.

Balance and Happiness in Life

I am most certainly not an expert in achieving a balanced life. In truth, I often fail in several of these ideas – especially the ones which involve other people. But just because something is difficult to do, it does not mean it is not worth trying. Perhaps striving for balance is like climbing a mountain. In order to climb, you must have a sturdy anchor, a rope, and the strength or your own body. When you put these three together, you can keep climbing; keep advancing inch by inch toward the summit.

10 Wonderful Things That Make Me Say “Ahhh!”

It is so easy to come up with things to complain about in life. My house is too small. My hair refuses to grow past my shoulders. I don’t have enough friends. The weather is too hot/too cold/too windy/not rainy enough. Sometimes, I am so overwhelmed by these negative thoughts, it feels as though I am suffocating under all the weight. So how do I turn my thoughts in the opposite direction? Well, Oprah Winfrey was a big advocate of keeping a gratitude journal. It doesn’t have to be a big thing…just a few minutes per day of jotting down our appreciation for the people and things for whom we our grateful, those things which brighten our days and make life worth living.

“The single greatest thing you can do to change your life today would be to start being grateful for what you have right now.”~Oprah Winfrey

So I decided to try it. In fact, I gave myself a goal: can I come up with 10 things and people for whom I feel grateful? Can I think of 10 things that add value to my life and joy to my days? This is what I came up with:

1. My Three Kids  Totally cliché, I know, but I don’t care. My kids are healthy, smart, kind, thoughtful, resilient, talented, and creative, and I love the heck out of all three.

My Three Terrific Kids

2. My Small House — Small = cozy rooms and less cleaning to do. Plus, our little house is cute and homey, since I have spent the past 13 years painting walls, hanging pictures, sewing curtains, and doing everything I can to make it so.

3. Birds that wake me in the morning with their birdsong

4. Rainy Weather Unless I am camping. Then again, maybe even while camping.

5. Charles Dickens, J.K. Rowling, Harper Lee, Pablo Neruda, John Steinbeck, Anton Chekov, Robert Frost, William Shakespeare, Mario Benedetti, and Jane Austen.

6. Avocados, cilantro, tomatoes, red onions, and jalapeños. Especially when combined together.

7. My Job (teaching young children from low-income families)

8. My Muse

9. Perfect cups of tea, chai, and coffee

I just bought myself this gorgeous mug yesterday to cheer myself up. It totally worked, too, especially when I was able to enjoy a perfect cup of chai from it.

10. Twitter  I am fascinated by the glances into the lives and thoughts of millions of people around the world. I love sharing sports and news stories and television shows with total strangers. And whenever I need a quick laugh, I can usually count on some ridiculous and clever trending tweet, like #ReplaceMovieTitlesWithBacon, or #GhettoCrayonColors, to make me laugh and set my thoughts in a positive direction.

The more I focus on the things for which I feel grateful, the easier it becomes to recognize the blessings that life has to offer. Music! Gerbera Daisies! Fuji Apple Pear Sobe Lifewater! Sushi! Maybe next time, I will increase my list to 25. This gratitude journal thing is, so far, pretty positive.

Today Words Fail Me (Hoy Me Faltan Las Palabras)

Oh!
Today words fail me.
Where are the words to describe
this song
or the way it made
my heart skip
lighter than springtime
over fields of lily and gold?
Oh!
There is no name for
these colors
No words for the winds
of hot and cold
that have stirred the wings of
my spirit
and lifted me toward
the bluest sky

20120703-224442.jpg

¡Oh!
Hoy me faltan las palabras.
¿Donde están las palabras para describir
esta canción
o la forma en que hizo saltar mi corazon
mas ligera que la primavera
encima de campos de lirios y oro?
¡Oh!
No hay nombre para estos colores
No palabras para los vientos
cálidos y fríos
que han agitado las alas
de mi alma
y me levantó hacia
los cielos azulísimos

Living Room Dance

What do you do when no one else is watching? Do you eat the entire package of cookies? Pick your nose? Use a wooden spoon as a microphone and belt out Mariah Carey tunes? When no one else is around, we transform into our truest selves — uninhibited, relaxed, and free. Well, World, today I will offer you a sneak peek inside my living room during a time when I was blissfully, peacefully alone. Be warned: it may not be pretty.

The best parts about dancing alone in your own living room is that you don’t need any choreography, and you do not have to know how to dance, because no one is watching. No one will laugh at you. The only danger lies in tripping over furniture, or executing a grand jeté and landing barefoot on a pile of Lego bricks (Do NOT do this…you will experience considerable pain! Take my word for it). So go ahead…enjoy the moment when you have it. Close your curtains, turn up the music, and dance around your living room.