Home is Wherever I’m With Me

I was driving in the car yesterday when I heard the song “Home” by Edward Sharpe & The Magnetic Zeros.  Part of the song’s refrain is “home is wherever I’m with you.”

And I thought to myself, I don’t feel that way.  

I’m not trying to be a cynic – the lyrics simply don’t ring true for me.  What if the “you” he sings about dies, or leaves him?  What happens then?  Is he homeless?

Then I started thinking about other songs with a similar message, for example, Billy Joel’s “You’re My Home:”

When you touch my weary head
And you tell me everything will be all right
You say, “Use my body for your bed
And my love will keep you warm throughout the night”
Well I’ll never be a stranger and I’ll never be alone
Whenever we’re together, that’s my home

Soooo….basically what Billy is saying in this song is “Home is just another word for you….until I leave you for a supermodel and then it actually becomes another word for her.”

But the song that pisses me off the most is “All of Me” by John Legend: “All of me loves all of you.”  If I were to re-write that song, the lyrics would say something like: “Most of me loves a large percentage of you, but definitely not the part that leaves your wet towel on the bed, or drives my car and leaves the gas tank on empty, or the part that insists on wearing this hat.”

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But I guess that’s why I’m not a songwriter.

I know I sound a little…jaded.  I just take issue with the whole “you complete me” concept; that you need a romantic partner in order to feel at home.  Billy Joel sings, “I’ll never be alone, whenever we’re together, that’s my home.”  No wonder he’s been married so many times.

The way I see it, we are born into this world alone, and ultimately we die alone.  It’s a solo mission.  Solitude bookends our life experience.  You are the bread that holds your life sandwich together.  The people and experiences in your life are the meat and the cheese – that which gives it flavor and texture. But you are the bread.

I had my first glimpse of this reality when I had surgery to remove my colon.  It was a pretty big colon surgery – 5 or 6 hours in the OR – and I was scared.  But Phil was more scared.  When the nurse handing him the plastic bag of my belongings in the prep room, I saw it in is face, in his feverish-looking eyes:  Fear.

Phil walked with me as they rolled me down the hall to the OR, but once those double doors swung close, I was on my own. Alone.  Going into surgery and in the week that followed, I had to find a way to be a comfort to myself.  I had to breathe my way through the fear, pain and discomfort – count the ceiling tiles, watch the second hand on the clock, repeat the mantra “any minute now” as I waited for the nurse or for the pain meds to kick in, which most of the time, never did.  I could not run from the pain so instead had to enter it while my 80 year old roommate ate a cheesesteak with onions.  I closed my eyes and imagined the pain as a kaleidoscope of colors – red being the worst, yellow being the best. It was transformative.  I learned how to be at home in my own body.

But somewhere amidst moving from PA to MA and back, I lost that connection.  I lost sight of….me.

Home is within you, or home is nowhere at all.

-Herman Hesse

Last weekend, I returned (after a long absence) to the place I feel most at home: my yoga mat.  I spent Saturday and Sunday afternoon at a teacher training led by my favorite teacher Colleen at Seva Power Yoga in West Chester, PA.

Leading up to the weekend, I was filled with doubt and resistance.  I should be doing laundry, I should be cleaning bathrooms, I should be at soccer practice, I should I should I should.  I should be creating a home for others.  All these “shoulds” to mask some deeper fear about my own worth, or deservedness of very things I try to provide for others.

I am pretty sure I am not the only woman who does this.

Downward Facing Dog is the yoga pose that makes me feel most at home.

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When I first started practicing yoga a decade ago – in a freezing cold gym with Ace of Base pumping in the background – Downdog felt torturous.  My arms shook, my hamstrings screamed, and my sweaty palms were slick on my mat like a Slip ‘n Slide.

But eventually I learned how to ground down through my hands and feet.  Not claw the mat, but root down by pressing my palms away, which creates length in my arms, allows my shoulders to slide down my back. Suddenly there is space for my head and neck to be long and neutral.  My weight shifts back into my hips, and my heels sink a little deeper toward the earth.

Like life, there is a lot happening in Downdog.  Nothing is static – small, microscopic adjustments shape the pose.  One action is balanced by another. A gentle push and pull in opposite directions.  Creating length in your body creates space for expansion, for flexibility, for balance.  Equanimity.

Maybe I feel at home in Downdog because it helps open up the 1st Chakra, called Muladhara or the Root Chakra, located at the base of the spine.

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The Root Chakra is associated with security, home, nourishment, trust and boundaries.  It is associated with the color red, and with warm, earthy foods. When the Root Chakra is balanced, we feel safe and grounded.  It is the “I am” chakra.

I am here.

I am safe.

I am enough.

Home is wherever I’m with ME.

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*Photo by Danette Pascarella Photography

I Choose The Ducks

No exit

In the marriage book Getting The Love You Want, there is an exercise called “Closing Your Exits.”  An exit, according to author Harville Hendrix, is any way you avoid being fully present with your partner.

Oh, I don’t do that, I thought.  I don’t avoid Phil because then I would be drinking alone.

So, I amended the exercise from “How do you avoid being fully present with your partner,” to “How do you avoid being fully present?”  Because if you are avoiding the present moment, you are indirectly avoiding anyone who exists in the present moment, in addition to anything that is actually happening in the present moment.  More importantly, you are avoiding how you feel about what is happening in the present moment, which is most likely the reason you are escaping it in the first place.

This gave me much more material to work with.

The problem I encountered while compiling my list was that all my exits are pretty lame.  In the first year of our marriage, I was hospitalized with an eating disorder.  According to Hendrix, that’s a SERIOUS exit.  INSANITY.  That’s exactly how it appears in his book, in all caps: INSANITY IS A SERIOUS EXIT.  But now, my exits are just soft, garden-variety, small font exits.

And this is a problem…..why?

It is not a problem – it just makes the exits easier to rationalize and harder to eliminate. When your exits are not destroying your life or that of someone else, that little devil on your shoulder pops up and says, “Oh c’mon.  Is _________ really that bad? So what that you like to drink wine and cry to the Jackson Browne Pandora station?  Isn’t a girl allowed to relax around here?”  But the fact that you have to ask yourself that question is a little…suspect.

I’ll give you an example.

I am addicted to real estate websites: Trulia, Zillow, Realtor.com.  I know everything from the cost of a two-bedroom ranch in Austin, TX to an entire vineyard in the Napa Valley.  I know the Zestimate of your house, my house, and Ellen DeGeneres’s house.

Little Devil: “So what’s the big deal? You like houses – it’s just a hobby kind of like porn.”

Maybe that is true for some people.  And maybe that would be true for me if I was purely stalking celebrity real estate transactions.  But in quiet moments, usually at night when the kids are in bed, I look up my old house in Scituate.

The photos are still live – photos of the house I decorated for Christmas, of the wrap around porch with the hammock where we napped and cuddled and read books, of the electric fire place that warmed our dog’s tired bones in her final days.  And just like that, I am transported back to that house.  I can smell our neighbor’s wood burning fireplace.  I can see the salty sea air crystalized on my windshield in January.  I can hear the ocean buoy.  I am there.

But there is not here.

Here, where Phil is, where my girls are, where my life is now. And that is why it is, in fact, a big deal.

When I confessed all of this to Phil, he said: “This makes makes me feel terrible.  I want to fix it.  I think we need to sit down and strategize.  Hold on, let me just go get my white board…”

Strategizing-white-boarding-and-overall-fixing is in Phil’s Top Three Exits, right after beer and Peanut Butter Captain Crunch.  By brainstorming for the future -or as he calls it, Braunstroming – he gets to escape the painful moments happening in our life right now.

So…if I am escaping to the past and Phil is escaping into the future….who the hell is running this whole operation?  It’s a miracle the kids get bathed and fed.

We made a pact to close these exits and see what came of it: No rehashing the past, no Braunstorming for the future.  I deleted the Trulia App from my phone, and Phil shoved the whiteboard in the closet.

Then, we went for a run, together.

And we had absolutely nothing to talk about.

We ran the first mile in total silence.  I know this because when my running watch beeped at the 1 mile mark, I thought, Holy shit we have not talked for an entire mile.  I started to feel panicky – I wracked my brain for something to say that did not involve the past or future. Nothing.  I had nothing.

As we passed the duck pond at mile 2, Phil broke the silence:

“Interesting that the ducks and geese don’t intermingle,” he observed.

“Huh,” I replied.  “Weird.”

Then, back to running.

Around mile 3, an Olympic-type runner blew past us on the trail.

“Wow,” I said.  “He’s fast.”

“Yeah,” Phil replied. “Real fast.”

Back to running.

It wasn’t until the final mile that I stopped resisting the silence and just settled into it.  And just like that, the run went from awkward to pleasant.  Relaxing. My mind drifted.  I remembered a car ride with my cousin Megan and her husband David, when she turned to him, and said with such a sweet innocence that it squeezed my heart:

“Honey, do you think squirrels laugh?

To which he replied (lovingly), “Babe, you are so weird.”

Maybe this what well-adjusted couples talk about….the complex inner lives of squirrels, ducks and geese.  Maybe this is what you talk about when you aren’t busy lambasting yourselves for your last mistake or maniacally planning your next one.

If those are my choices, I choose the ducks.

I came home from the silent run feeling oddly recharged.  While it felt strange at first, in the end it was a relief to spend time with Phil minus any “big talks.”  It was refreshing to spend time together without our usual psychobabble: Am I projecting or are you projecting?  Are you being passive-aggressive because you are internalizing conflict?  Why don’t we draw a life map identifying all our mistakes and the upper limit problem that caused them?

Maybe labeling something as a mistake is the real mistake.

Maybe this whole thing is not as hard as we make it.

Maybe the seemingly innocent things we think help us relax, or connect, or feel in control do just the opposite.  Maybe the  escape – however harmless it may seem – causes more pain than that which we are escaping from.  Maybe that which we label as “pain in the present moment” is actually vulnerability and tenderness.  Maybe the present moment feels uncomfortable because we don’t stay there long enough to get comfortable.  Maybe, if we are patient, we might discover a whole world that exists beyond those first few miles of silence.

But we’ll never know unless we stay and find out.

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IMOK, You’re Ok

In last week’s post, I talked about my tendency to be hard on myself.

The thing is…Phil has the same problem.  And when you put two slightly self-punishing people together, things can get a little intense.  Not a good intense.  More like a Eugene O’Neill play kind of intense.

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Yesterday morning, Emma informed us that the 3rd grade was leading the school in prayer during their Community Gathering, with each student reading a sentence or two on stage. Phil and I scrambled to rearrange our morning plans so we both could be there.  Things typically never go well when we scramble which is almost all the time.

“What time does this thing start?” I asked Phil while making lunches and packing backpacks.

“8:30.  I’ll take them now and you can meet us there,” he suggested, as I had not showered in 2 days. 

Phil was waiting for me outside the gymnasium, finishing up a conference call.  As we walked through the doors at 8:25, the Community Gathering was in full swing.

Emma’s voice echoed in my ears: “I’m the 2nd person to read, so don’t be late!”

Shit.

We missed it.

I looked over at my friend Colleen, who’s sympathetic look confirmed what I already knew.

SHIT.

I looked over at Phil, who was staring straight ahead, his lips pursed, jaw clicking.

I gave him a look that said:  I thought you said 8:30??

Which he returned with a wordless: Well obviously I was WRONG!

For the rest of the service, we stood two feet apart like mannequins – not speaking, not touching, self loathing seeping out of our pores as our collective thoughts polluted the space between us:

We suck.  We are the worst.  I can’t believe we missed it.  WTF is wrong with us?

When it was over, we took the walk of shame over to Emma, prepared for her abandonment issues strong reaction and armed with an alibi about being in the far right corner of the room near the bleachers.  Turns out we didn’t need it.

“Hey, Em, you did great!”

“Whatever Mom.  I was totally congested and people were definitely laughing at me.”

“No way. I’m your mom and I didn’t notice you were congested because I was in the parking lot putting on my makeup.”

Phil and I walked to our cars in silence, our shoulders heavy with the weight of what felt like another parenting fail.  Phil is typically the one to let us off the hook, but this time, he didn’t.

As I drove home it occurred to me that I am also capable of letting us off the hook. So, I did:

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We need to lighten up; we are ok, I told myself as I pulled into the driveway.  My morning mantra of “Ok” brought back a distant memory that made me smile.

When I was a kid, there was a large bookcase in my bedroom that stood against the wall next to my bed.  The first three shelves were packed with the books of my youth – everything from hardcover Nancy Drews to Sweet Valley High to The Complete Stories of Flannery O’Connor.

But the bottom shelf had become a mishmash of random genres cast off by my parents – the Land For Misfit books they didn’t have the heart to toss, but didn’t necessarily want to display the coffee table: Improve Your Golf Game Through Hypnosis, Bridge for Dummies, Passion’s Promise by Danielle Steel.

There was one small paperback book sandwiched in the middle of the shelf. The tattered spine of the ’70′s yellowy-orange cover read, Imok, You’re Ok. 

I have never been one to fall asleep easily, and night after night, as my eyes rested on that book, I thought about Imok:  

Who the hell is Imok? Does he suffer from some type of affliction or handicap that would suggest he was something other than Ok?  And who is this other character, the one who has realized that Imok, was, in fact, Ok? Did Imok need to hear he was Ok, or was he actually secure in his Ok-ness all along, and was simply waiting patiently for the rest of the world to discover his dark horse charm?

I can’t tell you the exact moment that I looked at the book and said, “Ohhhhhhhhhhhhhhh…..it’s I’M OK, You’re Ok.”  It was a sad realization.  After all those nights of keeping me company, Imok was dead.

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This story still makes me laugh when I think of it.

Last night, after the prayer-service screw up, Phil looked like he could use some cheering up, so I shared the story with him.

It made him laugh the special laugh reserved specifically for my blonder moments – the laugh where he snorts and shakes his head, rubbing his eyes in mock exasperation even though I know he finds me adorable and endearing . 

Pema Chodron says:

Maybe the most important teaching is to lighten up and relax.  It’s such a huge help in working with our crazy mixed-up minds and to remember that what we are doing is unlocking a softness that is in us and letting it spread.

When we made the hard decision to move back to Philly from Scituate, my constant refrain to both Phil and the girls was, “All we need is each other – if we love and take care of each other, we will be Ok.”

With kids, this is easy – automatic, really.  Your role is clear: Make them feel safe and loved.

But with your spouse, the purity of this simple intention can get muddled and heavy; weighed down by the collective baggage you drag from one decision to the next.

It takes courage and vulnerability to say to each other, “Can we just surrender to our combined humanness….to my imperfections and yours?  Can we table any discussions of the past until we can look at it with curiosity instead of judgment? Can you sit with me quietly and calmly through the difficult moments, the way we do with the kids when they get stitches or a shot?”

Breathing in, Breathing out.

This is the quest - this job we must do alone, but together. It’s a tricky balance. We must encourage each other without taking responsibility for the other person’s happiness, or sense of peace, or capacity for compassion and forgiveness.

We can only try to be an example for each other – by choosing softness over rigidity, surrender over resistance.  We can choose to be light.  And when I forget that I chose to be light -which on average is about 246 times a day – I can just choose it again….

And again…

And again.

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Replace Judgement with Curiosity

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When I was a kid, I loved to lie in the grass and watch the planes fly overhead.

This activity filled me with curiosity: Who are the passengers?  Who is the man in 34C and where is he going?  Is it for business or pleasure?   A wedding or a funeral?  What about the woman in 26A?  Is she happy, or did tears stream down her cheeks at take-off; her face pressed against the window as the wheels of the plane curl up and disappear?  Who is flying to see a loved one, and who is leaving one behind?

I was just on a plane this week.  Phil and I spent a few days in San Francisco – he had some business meetings and I did a reading at Litcrawl from an anthology in which I was published. (That was me plugging myself – how did I do?  Smooth, right?)

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Then we headed up to the Russian River Valley for two nights in this awesome B&B surrounded by the California Redwoods.

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It was raining when we woke up.  We were grateful for the excuse to lay like lumps by the fire and read.

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But yet in the back of my mind, I was restless.  What are the kids doing?  Did Emma hand in her report on sea turtles? Did I tell my mom to pack Phoebe an extra snack in her lunchbox?  My eyes rested on my airplane carry-on bag, books spilling onto the floor. Should I be reading the book about marriage or the one about parenting?  Or writing?  Or spirituality?  I really need a Kindle.

When the rain let up, we borrowed some bikes and rode a few miles down the road to Armstrong Woods.

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At the base of the trail head, Phil -suddenly the size of a figurine amongst the towering Sequoias – straddled his bike and looked around.

“We’ve been here before,” he said.

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While the words “I think I’ve been here before” is the calling card of someone lost in the woods, I knew he was right.

Nine years ago, just after our first anniversary, we spent a week exploring California, from Santa Cruz to Mendocino.  We had no real plan at the time; just a map and rental car.  And here we were were, nine years later, standing under the canopy of these very same trees.  Phil was delighted by the serendipity of it all.  “What are the odds?” he said, shaking his head in disbelief as he locked the bikes.

But for some reason, this discovery made me overwhelmingly sad.

There are days when I can look back on our decade of marriage and see all that we have accomplished, but other days….I can only see the failures.  I become filled with harsh judgement, seeing only what is missing instead of what is there.

This was one of those moments.

Tears burned behind my eyes as I followed Phil up the trail.  I thought about him and I, accidentally finding ourselves in the same exact place nine years later…wandering around like wayward vagabonds, no itinerary, no well mapped out route. Are we perpetually lost? Is this a case of the blind leading the blind?

I can be tough on us.

But mostly, I am tough on myself.

That morning, while sampling my library of self-help, I read the following passage from Harville Hendrix’s Making Marriage Simple:

For years, it was believed that to become a strong individual you needed to focus on caring for yourself.  […] We disagree.  We believe that we discover who we are in relationship, not isolation.  We are wounded in relationship.  We are healed in relationship. We cannot know or become who we are except in relationships.  Essentially, we are our relationships.  And the most powerful relationship for self-discovery and transformation is our primary love relationship.

I respectfully disagree.

Is a primary love relationship a powerful thing?  Sure.  But so is your relationship with your dog. Or the man that gives you the thumbs up every morning as you pass each other on the running trail.  Or the waiter who just served you dinner.  And I can’t help but think that how you treat anyone – whether it be your spouse or the barista at Starbucks – is a direct reflection of how you treat yourself.

Hendrix says that negativity is toxic to a marriage; all negative communication with your spouse should be eliminated.

Fair enough – but who do you talk to more than anyone else?

Yourself.  Well, at least slightly crazy people I do.

I have always been a bit of a masochist – I chalked it up to genetics or some wonky wiring in my cranium.  Since taking on this Marriage Quest, however, I can’t ignore how the negative self-talk filters into my relationships.  If I am hard on myself, it is likely that I am hard on everyone.  Especially the person closest to me.

I agree with Harville that much healing can take place within the context of a marriage or relationship.  But it’s not Phil’s job to teach me to be kinder, softer, and more compassionate with myself.  Pumping me full of self worth was not in his job description.

He can’t love me into loving myself.  That’s on me, man.

On the plane ride home, we had an empty seat in our row. Phil took the aisle; I retreated to the window seat.  I watched the landscape change – mountain ranges morphing into farmland.  Other planes zipped by beneath me; I marveled at how we were moving so fast yet seemed to be suspended in time and space.

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The tears flowed for reasons I couldn’t name. But instead of judging myself for this, I decided to be curious instead. Not curious about the why, but the what:

What can I do for myself right now?  What would make me feel less alone?

I looked over at Phil: head down, headphones in, typing away on his computer with his signature “Phil Braun Look of Intensity.”  I hesitated for a moment….but then I tapped him on the arm.  He jumped, startled, and then saw my blotchy, boogery face.

He yanked out his ear buds: “Whhhattt? What’s wrong?? What…”

I took a deep breath and said: “I’m just feeling sad, and I don’t know why, and I don’t need you to help me figure it out or fix it or anything. I just wondered if you would sit next me in the middle seat so I could rest my head on your shoulder…while still being sad.  Is that ok?”

And without a word, he slid over, into the space between.

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The Space Between

The Marriage Quest Week #2: The Space Between

The Space Between. Yes, it’s a song by the Dave Matthews Band.

DaveMatthewsBut in Making Marriage Simple: 10 Relationship Saving Truths, Harville Hendrix and co-author (and spouse) Helen LaKelly Hunt describe the space between as “the energy field between you and your partner.”

I know what you are thinking…energy field? Oh, just let me go grab my bong crystals and essential oils. At least that’s what I thought until I read these lines:

We believe that if a relationship is in trouble, the couple needs to focus on healing the relationship. Not on themselves. The best way to heal a relationship is not to repair the two people, but the space between them.

Ok….but what exactly is this magical space we should be protecting?

By Sacred Space, we mean air that is absolutely holy. The Between may look like ordinary air, but don’t ever treat it in an ordinary way. Never violate the Space Between with anything that will hurt your relationship. 

In order to protect The Space, you must follow three rules:

  1. No Blame
  2. No Shame
  3. No Criticism

When I read the three rules, I got a little cocky:  I’m not a Blamer, Shame-er or Criticizer! Those are harsh words…words that make me think of scruffy men in wife beaters on various episodes of Law & Order: SVU.

But I thought about it for a while.  I busted out my thesaurus and word mapped blame, shame, and criticize because who doesn’t love a good word-mapping session.

According to…well, me, there are subtle ways you can blame, shame and criticize your partner that may not get you arrested for domestic violence, but still leave a mark over time.

I look at it as a kind of Marital Air Quality Index. The Space Between is the air between you and your partner. Your words and actions fill the space. A spontaneous hug or “thank for taking out the trash” text message is like infusing the space with oxygen; it brings your MAQI up to a “Good” rating.

Eye rolling, passive aggressive nagging, or not sharing your Ben and Jerry’s Chunky Monkey is like spraying the air with Aqua Net.  And inhaling large amounts of Aqua Net is not good for you. Trust me, I know. I am from New Jersey. Years of Aqua Net-fueled bang-teasing may be the reason I still can’t do long division.

Scan 20I spent the week really paying attention to how I pollute The Space Between, and I came face to face with my villainous marriage alter-ego:

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Meet Mumbles.

I noticed that in my daily interactions with Phil, I mumble. I mutter, grumble, and murmur under my breath; loud enough that you can hear me saying words but not enough to know what the hell I am talking about:

OMG this house is a mess. Why do our spatulas keep disappearing? Didn’t I just vacuum in here? Where the hell did I put that thing…that thing I was just holding? Did someone take that thing? I just had it, did someone move it? OMG this house is a mess.

It’s constant.

On my Sunday morning run, I vowed to create some sacred space that afternoon and watch the Eagles game with Phil and the girls. But somewhere in the first half Mumbles made an appearance:

We should really hang something on that wall. And Phil did you call the electrician? It’s so dark in here. We should get rid of those wall sconces, they are kind of Addams Family-esque. Does Lowe’s have wall sconces? I need to vacuum in here. OMG why are there candy wrappers in the fireplace?

Emma, The Cataloguer Of My Flaws, snapped me out of it: “MOM! Please! We are watching football, here!”

The next day, Phil’s inner villain showed up:

LipsMeet Lips Manlis.

The problem with Phil’s lips is that they NEVER. STOP. MOVING.  Even when he knows they should.  Even when he knows he should duct tape them shut.  It’s as if they have a mind of their own.

I will use our Monday night dinner conversation to illustrate my point.

After a busy day that included a less than pleasant visit with my GI doctor, I ran home to make pasta and turkey Bolognese.  I’m not a great cook nor am I organized with meal planning, so I was pretty surprised that I actually pulled this off.  And apparently, so was Lips Manlis Phil.  He said:

“This was really good.  You know, it’s nice to have someone cook for me for a change.”

“Uhhh, excuse me?”

“You know, get a home-cooked meal.”

“I cook every night Phil.  You know, at home.  So those would also be home-cooked meals.”

“I just mean….I was doing a lot of the cooking for a while and….”

“Actually, that was called grilling.”

“I just mean, for a while you really weren’t organized with meal-planning….and….and..”

Yeah. It went on for a while.  Finally Phil and Lips Manlis walked to Acme to get some Cascade.  This gave me a little space to think about The Space.

When I feel like Phil is calling me a lazy-Bon-Bon-eating-soap-opera-watching-diva  questioning my domestic skills, or when he feels that I am passive-aggressively nagging him, it is tough to feel compassion for each other.  In those moments, it is really challenging to move beyond your own hurt for the person who did the hurting.

But you can do it for The Space.  (It also helps when the person who did the hurting comes back with Cascade AND flowers).

You can choose to not spray Aqua Net into The Space.  Because that is the air that you breathe, your spouse breathes…it is the air that your kids breathe.

So don’t pollute The Space.

To keep ourselves on track with this, Phil and I compiled a Protect The Space list, which breaks down blame, shame and criticism into more concrete examples:

No Blame: Aka. No muttering, mumbling, finger-pointing, passing the buck, projecting, reigniting old arguments, or starting a sentence with “you should have….”

No Shame: Aka. No discrediting, shooting down, baiting, embarrassing, or back-handed compliments.

No Criticism: No fault-finding, censuring, kicking under the table, putting down, nit-picking, eye-rolling, fixing, or correcting.

In the words of Dave Matthews,

The space between what’s wrong and right, is where you’ll find me hiding waiting for you.

What is the Aqua Net in your Space Between?

 

 

 

 

The Marriage Quest

I’ve been thinking a lot about adventure.

Last week, after learning that running a marathon was not in the cards for me, I decided to sit with that disappointment for a while and try to get underneath it.  Why was it so important to me?  Why would anyone want to run 26.2 miles in the first place?

I used to think I was “goal oriented.”  But that’s not it – the word “goal” actually makes me grind my teeth a bit.  I ran a marathon in 2010, and it’s not the finish line I remember.  In fact,  three days later when I could put my own underwear on again, I remember feeling a little bit sad that it was over.

Why?

Because I loved the training.  Well, except for that one 18 mile run when I bonked, cried, and sat down on the trail; praying to be magically transported to WaWa . I didn’t love that.

But I loved the process of transformation; the metamorphosis of a 5K’er into a marathoner. I loved that I had to dig deep to make it happen – push through any artificial barriers I had erected regarding my abilities or capacity for the hard stuff. I loved the juice of feeling alive. I loved becoming a better version of myself.

I loved the adventure of pushing the envelope.

I loved the quest.

Last week, I stumbled upon this book…

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…and it was just the kick in the ass pants I needed.

This book is about bringing meaning to your life by undertaking a quest.  The author, Chris Guillebeau, recently completed his quest of visiting every country in the world before the age of thirty-five.  In The Happiness of Pursuit: Finding the Quest That Will Bring Purpose to Your Life, he draws on interviews with hundreds of other questers: A man who ran 250 marathons in a year, another who bicycled around the world, a 14 year-old girl who circumnavigated the world’s oceans on a 38 foot sailboat…alone.

Of course, these tales of adventure are fun to read, but what about the rest of us…with kids…and jobs…and mortgages?  Living in a tree in Tasmania in protest of illegal logging is not really an option when you have to be in carline by 2:45, or coach Little League on Saturday.

Ah, but Guillebeau is sympathetic to this perceived roadblock, and speaks to the plight of the tethered quester in the chapter entitled “Everyday Adventure:”

Relax.  Or don’t relax, because a quest is rarely about taking it easy.  It’s about challenging yourself however you can, learning new things and expanding your horizons…even if you never leave home.

So how do you create your own quest?  

You could take a passion or hobby to the next level, like becoming a black belt in karate. An external event -like the loss of a job, divorce, or the death of a loved one – might trigger the desire for travel.  Some questers choose to expand their horizons by learning a new skill or language.

But according to Guillebeau, for many a quest rises out of the ashes of discontent. Dissatisfaction.  Restlessness.  The need for something more:

Properly examined, feelings of unease can lead to a new sense of purpose.

Hmmm.

I spent a few days marinating on this.  I could feel my quest taking shape as I pondered these questions:

What fascinates me?

What frustrates me?

What area of my life needs to grow and evolve?

Where in my life am I being a chicken shit holding back?

What is crying out for more of ME: my time, my commitment, my passion and creativity?

There are many answers to these questions, each one leading me down a different road. But regardless of the direction I take, all potential quests share one common denominator.

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My traveling partner.

Yes, Phil and I have been experiencing some marital turbulence.  There have been times when it feels like wings are falling off the plane.  But underneath my discontent runs a strong current of belief that Phil and I are better together than we are apart.  Anything I attempt in this life – from parenting to writing to circumventing the globe – will be better because of him.  And this is not to say that I am incapable of doing these things on my own.

I don’t need him to be involved. I want him to be involved.

But before we start chartering sailboats or enrolling in trapeze camp, Phil and I have decided to fully commit to what we see as the foundation for all future quests: The Marriage Quest.

When you are training for marathon, you need to be vigilant about your training:  nutrition, hydration, and long runs are just the tip of the iceberg. To be successful, you need to go deeper than that.  You have to be patient and resilient.  You need to block out all other distractions. You must prepare and anticipate. You need to pay attention.  In a marathon, cockiness + complacency = failure.

I see marriage as an Ultimate Marathon.

In the past year, the marriages of some very close friends ended. Couples we thought would be together forever. And it scared us.  Rattled us to our core.  But we tried mask that fear by acting cocky: Oh that could never happen to us.  And then we bonked.  Hard. We were lying on the trail, screaming for a Wawa.

Actually…after a “date night” this summer, we were screaming at each other IN the Wawa.

Not our proudest moment.

It’s time to take this bitch sacred union to a new and improved level.  And we will do so by adhering to the Quest Guidelines outlined in The Happiness of Pursuit:

  1. Goal: To strengthen and deepen our marriage. To go from 5K’ers to Marital Marathoners.
  2. Measurable Progress: One weekly blog post chronicling challenges/successes/marital topics.
  3. Duration:  37 weeks, ending on our 11th wedding anniversary
  4. Mission:  To eradicate judgment, criticism, shame and blame from our relationship.  To take responsibility for ourselves, to listen honestly, and to grow and heal together.

But shouldn’t a quest be a solo activity?  Not according to Guillebeau:

Must a dream have only one owner?  Not if two minds see the world from the same perspective.

Besides, life in a Tasmanian tree house could get pretty boring without Phil.  How could I not be fascinated by a guy who shows up for your first date with a stuffed moon strapped in the back seat…

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…and dances with a chair at Every. Single. Wedding.

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How could I be anything but intrigued by a man girly secure enough to sport sunshine face paint…

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…and dress like Bob Cratchit?

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We will go after our Marriage Quest wholeheartedly, with the commitment of a man willing to strip himself down to ill fitting shorts and green body paint.

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Because we are Brauns.  Our family motto is: You Gotta Want It.

Our quest may be a bit ambiguous – 37 weeks from now, what will “victory” look like? I don’t know, and I don’t really care. Like I said, I am a lover of the process. For me, the important thing is commitment to moving forward – together – even when we can only see a few feet in front of us…

…and see where the road leads.

I hope you come along for the ride.

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Gratitude for Pessimists, Masochists and Chronic Over-Thinkers

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One day this summer, I was having a particularly good run. My legs felt strong, my endorphins were kicking, and inspiration struck:

I am going to sign up for the marathon.

And so I did.  26.2 miles on November 23. Let’s do this.

When I dropped this bomb on Phil, he was cautiously supportive: “Maybe we should talk to Dr. K. first.”

“Why? I’ve run a marathon before.”

“Uhh, yeah but you had all your organs then.”

Dr. K. is my hematologist. One unfortunate side effect of having my colon removed is that now my body refuses to absorb iron.  So, I need to have iron infused into my arm intravenously.  I figure this is the cost of doing business in the field of major organ removal, and for the most part, it seems to work. So well, in fact, that when I am feeling good and all juiced up on ferric carboxymaltose, I kind of forget about it.

But Phil had not forgotten, so off to Dr K’s we went.  Phil was pretty confident we would get the answer he was after (NO. WAY. IN HELL), but I knew something he didn’t: Dr. K runs marathons.  Two a year, in fact.  She would have my back on this.  She gets that the decision to run 26.2 is not rooted in common sense.

But soon my bravado would shrivel like a deflated balloon.

As Dr K flipped through my chart, I asked, “So what do you think about me running the marathon in November?”

And she started to laugh.

Then she saw my face.

“Ohhh,” she said, sitting down.  “Oh, you are serious.”

I nodded.  My eyes felt hot.

We discussed all the ways you lose iron through distance running: foot strike hemolysis, sweat, microscopic GI bleeds, etc.  I knew all these things already.  I had just chosen to stick my fingers in my ears and sing “LALALALALALALALA!!!”

On the car ride home, I stared out the window.  The rational side of my brain was doing its best to talk me off the ledge: It’s not a big deal, Dr. K is right, just move on.  

But my inner crackpot control freak was not giving up without a fight: Maybe I should get a hysterectomy, because then I wouldn’t get my period and that would save iron!  As if removing your reproductive organs was equivalent to say, getting your eyebrows waxed.  I turned to Phil to share this potential plan, but he was in a quiet space, deep in thought, his eyes glued to the road.  I thought better of it.  Even the most tolerant man reaches his capacity for crazy.

This battle in my head raged on throughout the weekend – a mental boxing match between “Sad” vs. “Stop Being Sad.”  I played the game “Stop Bitching and Be Grateful Because How Can You Cry Over a Marathon When People are Starving and Homeless or Don’t Even Have Legs.”

But bullying myself into gratitude did not prove to be an effective strategy.

I remembered a book I had read half-heartedly early in the summer called Make Miracles in Forty Days: Turning What You Have into What You Want.  I dug it out of my secret drawer of shame self-help and gave it another try.

The book is basically a backwards approach to gratitude.  Author Melody Beattie explains:

A monkey can count his blessings. We’re going to practice being grateful for everything we don’t like about ourselves and our lives.  That includes people, places, and things that happen now or happened before.  It also includes our feelings, especially those we judge as being bad or wrong.

I admit, this exercise felt ridiculous to me at first.  But I figured I had nothing to lose, so I just rolled with it.  My first list looked something like this:

I am grateful:

1. That I can’t run the marathon and I am filled with all this  sadness and disappointment that I can’t explain

2. Being out of the good chocolate because then I can’t eat my feelings. Although I wish I had some.

3. Wine.  So I can drink my feelings instead

So right now you are saying, “What the….?”  But just hear me out, because this nonsensical bitch list had unexpected results.  I plowed through my resistance each morning and made my list, and after a few days something began to shift. I felt lighter.  The mental boxing matches subsided.  Why?

Because I stopped fighting the thoughts and feelings we label as “bad.”  Beattie writes:

When we surrender to and accept that which we judge as negative, we move into the light.  The reality is that negative and positive are different sides of the same coin.

I found myself trying to over-complicate the exercise (shocking) by searching for the silver lining of each item on my list.  But Beattie encourages the reader to resist that temptation:

It’s crucial that you’re honest about who you are and how you really feel, not who you think you should be and should feel.

There are times when it is appropriate and effortless to turn lemons into lemonade.  But other times, someone steals your sugar and all you have is a shit pile of lemons.

And it’s ok to say: “I’m just going to write it down and leave it alone until I figure out what to do with all these fucking lemons.”

And yesterday, while sitting in carline, it dawned on me that my sadness is not about the marathon.  It’s about wanting to feel in control of my life.  It’s about wanting to feel like I have direction, I have a plan, I know where I am going.  Running is a blessing in my life; it gives me structure and discipline.

But there is a difference between running and running away.

Beattie says that “feelings tend to come in trios….they come in layers.”  Underneath the marathon disappointment is fear and insecurity.   And knowing this gives me permission to be a bit kinder to myself – a bit more patient and compassionate.  I am learning to love myself through it.  You know, instead of mentally screaming: “AT LEAST YOU HAVE LEGS!”

And for that, I am grateful.