Sixteen

Earlier this month, I turned 32.

I’m still kind of coping with the number. I don’t FEEL 32. Thirty-two year-olds are supposed to have a few things figured out, aren’t they?

Sixteen years ago, I turned 16 and the only thing I could eat, sleep, and breathe was taking my driver’s test. Since the age of nine, I counted down the years until I could drive. I just knew at that young an age that I was destined to love driving.

Obtaining my driver’s license was one of the biggest thrills of my entire existence, no exaggeration. Getting that little laminated card sent to me in the mail felt like a bucket of freedom pouring all over me. No more would I have to solely rely on anyone else to pick me up and take me places. I could just get there myself and derive every drop of pleasure from driving.

Some people hate driving. My best friend is one of them. She still can’t drive and until some life event forces her to have to get a license, she will remain a chauffeured passenger. While I may not understand it, I am fully supportive of her if that makes her happy. (And I think we’re all a little safer with those who can’t stand driving not being on the road.)

The sensation of driving is a therapeutic one for me with the road under my tires and the steering wheel in my hands. Driving also satisfies my intense need to control. I fully admit I am a control freak. I don’t like to think of it as negative but there are several people who have told me – Kevin included – that I am bossy. I don’t have an answer for that except for a shrug and a, “Yeah, so?” I’m also one of those people who thinks my ideas and the way I do them are ideal.

You might think I’d be a manager of some kind by now but I’m not. Not even close. Despite my being utterly confident in carrying things out a certain way (and usually being disappointed when others don’t hold themselves up to the same high standards of execution), I am extremely non-confrontational. Having a subordinate or a team of them would be an incredible challenge for me. Though, having had some less-than-terrific superiors in my work history, I can say I would sincerely strive to avoid doing the things that have really aggravated me or been my own undoing. It has never ceased to astound me who makes it to a managerial level–anywhere. It could be Pizza Hut. When I run into inefficiency or sheer incompetence, I think, how am I not at the top again? But I don’t make it my life’s mission to choose a different path that might get me there. I stay put. I ruminate. I dwell on the what-ifs.

That’s the bite of irony, there. I feel mostly out of control when it comes to my situation in life, so I clamp down to control what I can. I’m not in the career I thought I’d be in by the age of 32, I’m not yet married, I don’t own my own home, I don’t have children, and for the most part, I feel very in limbo. (I do have a steady rock of a partner for whom I am grateful every single day. So I appease my litany of complaints with that solace.)

The number one thing I struggle with is self-discipline.

Mostly, that applies to exercise and other self-care choices. When I was much younger, maybe 12 or so, I thought to myself, “When I’m older and on my own [say, 25], I’m really going to have it all figured out. I’m going to be successful and physically fit because I’ll be making ALL my own decisions and doing what I want when I want.”

If only! I think back to that long ago thought and wish I could hug my younger self. I so wish it were that easy.

I am an absolute perfectionist and if I can’t have exactly what I want, when and how I want it, I give up quite easily (or take no action). My modus operandi is that something just won’t happen if it can’t be done in a manner matching whatever idea of perfection I’ve dreamed up in my mind.

A perfect example of this is with our vacuum cleaner.

When Kevin and I began our cohabitation adventure, he brought to the household a vacuum cleaner – one he had thoroughly researched that would really clean up pet hair. While we were still living in New York City, I determined that I hated this vacuum. It smelled bad when you turned it on (which was half the reason I hated it) it clogged easily, and the pet attachment only feebly worked.

Due to our budget constraints, this thing had to stick with us for a while longer. Fast forward to 2012 when I received my tax refund. I made an impulse decision that this would be The Year of the Vacuum and I could fulfill a fantasy of mine and purchase a Dyson.

I know, what is this, the 1950s, where the little wife dreams of her shiny new appliance?

Nonetheless, with nothing short of pure jubilance, I took myself to a local store and purchased a Dyson Animal. Let me tell you, this thing has seriously changed how I view vacuuming. Whereas before I avoided vacuuming at all costs, I have pulled this thing out again and again and again because it works just as it should. I have never in my life enjoyed vacuuming but since I can see everything being lifted away with ease, it actually takes away the blood, sweat, and tears I previously associated with this chore. I triumphantly proved to myself that if I only had the perfect tool, the one thing I really wanted, then all would be well and I would be motivated to do something I had formerly hated. I don’t jump out of bed every day and want to vacuum, but considering I do it without having to have a pep talk AND it’s done much more regularly, I consider this an incredible achievement.

I sincerely wish this were the case with all things. I think that’s why infomercials which tout that this ONE piece of exercise equipment will change your life are so successful. It’s so easy to buy into that fantasy! I have fallen for it, as have millions of others. I have owned (and loved) a Gazelle, that non-treadmill piece of equipment that that Tony Little guy is advertising incessantly. It’s actually pretty fun but it is not a miracle machine. Then again, nothing is.

I continue to struggle with my perfectionism, trying to just relax and let things be. It is the hardest thing for me to do. Because I can’t control situations, how other people react, or even the results I get if I put effort into something (read: exercise/weight loss), I struggle every day to not become completely immobile. In one of the thousands of episodes of The Simpsons, Homer says to Lisa, “The lesson is….never try.” I can so relate, since I have gravitated towards taking the easier path more often than not.

At the same time that I have all this self-awareness about this issue, overcoming these innate urges takes the same force of will that a 500-pound man would need to climb Mount Everest with no experience. I don’t want to be the fat guy choking for air on the side of the mountain. I’d rather stay put on the ground, safe and sound, where I can complain in pure comfort.

And then the question I have to ask myself is, where does that get me? Answer: directly to where I don’t want to be.

Sixteen years ago I was a junior in high school. I hadn’t even thought about what a college career would look like or where I’d apply, much less seriously considered what I would do for a living. (I also thought I’d be married by the age of 25. Hahahahaha.)

I look back and wonder where the second set of sixteen years went. The difference is, I didn’t begin in infancy to get to where I am now. I was a young adult and now I am a fully-fledged adult who is still trying to figure out the same things. I suppose we all are, on some level.

Sixteen years from now I will be 48. Talk about scary. It’s not just a little different, it’s a completely new era of life I will be experiencing. While I am striving to enjoy the small moments, the seconds, the minutes, the hours, the days, the weeks, the months, each year as it comes….they will add up into another sixteen years, where I will look back and wonder how I got from here to there, whatever “there” looks like. I will find this post and instead of mourning the choices I did not make due to some paralyzing sense of perfection, I hope I will celebrate the risks I ended up taking instead.

Deep breath and……Ready. Set. Go.

Sendoff to 2011

If someone would have told me when I was 16 years old that time would eventually fly by so quickly I could barely catch my breath, I would not have believed that person.

Here I am, trying to get in one last blog post before 2011 expires and after being on Christmas vacation for over a week. I have no idea how it is December 31st – none.

As each year passes, the days, weeks, and months speed past me at an alarming rate. Scarier still is that while I have much to live for and much to look forward to, I believe I could be living more fully. Does that make sense? Essentially, instead of putting down specific resolutions which I want to “stick to” (and probably wouldn’t (see last year’s list)), I’m keeping it simple for this coming year and for all my years to come: be present. Live in the now.

It is so easy to get caught up in the details of life which are unpleasing. That’s what I have done in 2011 and at the year’s end, today, the first things that come to mind when I look back are the hardships. I dealt with some health issues–sometimes alarming ones–which have made me sit up and pay more attention to what’s REALLY important.

So what IS really important? Love. Family. Real friendships. Personal fulfillment. Being in the moment. Appreciating those times of joy and laughter and cherishing them for their immeasurable value.

Kevin and I spent the morning with some family members and had some belly laughs, swapped stories, and ate some delicious food. It’s such a blessing to have so much love in both our families. That’s how I enter 2012: with a full heart and more clarity on how I want to be spending my time.

The “bad stuff” is unpredictable and will always happen when we can least afford to endure it. What I am making an effort to do is to not freak the hell out when something happens now, and yes, to even try to laugh at it. This is a particular challenge for me because I have a flair for freaking out. I can really mull something over and over and over questioning, “WHY ME?” quite a bit.

For example, I’m still in the middle of unpacking from Christmas vacation and figuring out the rest of my weekend. I’m sitting here at my computer, minding my own business, and the shelf which sits above my computer monitor suddenly gives way. I had to clear off everything from the shelf and now I wait for Kevin to repair it for me. I really wanted to whine and complain about it for a little while but I took a few deep breaths, focused on the fact that it didn’t come crashing down on my monitor while I was gone for a week, and now I  simply look forward to it being repaired.

That’s some serious pivotal behavior for a freak-outter like me! (Can you tell I’m patting myself on the back about it?)

I love the freshness that a new year brings. I always wish I can hold onto it as the months pass by but it seems inevitable that by the fall, the year has become as comfortable as a well worn pair of shoes. December never feels like a full month but a couple of weekends and we’re at Christmas and New Year’s.

2011 has seen a continuing passion for blogging and an expansion into another art form, that of photography. I am so appreciative for the gift of writing and sharing with you all and am thoroughly excited for another year ahead. I’m focusing on this sensation of brimming with enthusiasm and of course I’ll be sharing more exploits. (I thought of another driving post I could do!)

May 2012 bring you a tidal wave of happy moments, new adventures, and fulfillment until you burst.

See you on the flip of the calendar!

Last of the blooms

A top favorite photo from 2011.

A hug from the soul

Make lists of positive aspects. Make lists of things you love—and never complain about anything. And as you use those things that shine bright and make you feel good as your excuse to give your attention and be who-you-are, you will tune to who-you-are, and the whole world will begin to transform before your eyes. It is not your job to transform the world for others—but it is your job to transform it for you. A state of appreciation is pure Connection to Source where there is no perception of lack.

– Abraham*

“They” always say that when you are at your lowest, it is when you need to feel gratitude the most.

I don’t know about you, but I have a really really tough time doing that. When I am severely down in the dumps and despair is the main feeling radiating throughout my mind and body, clinging to gratitude does not come naturally to me.

However, while I sit in my house this weekend thinking of those on the East Coast who are contending with Hurricane Irene, I remember to be grateful.

I sit comfortably at my computer in an air-conditioned home, with plenty of running water and food at my disposal, the weather is beautiful, the streets are quiet. I have a good job and work with really nice people. I get weekends off; I had time to relax and even nap today. My dog is sweet and healthy, my boyfriend and I are not suffering from any health issues at the moment, and we have celebratory brunch plans for Kevin’s birthday tomorrow.

We have a functioning car with working seat belts, air conditioning, heat, cruise control, airbags, cup holders, automatic windows, remote, and CD player. It’s five years old and is at a time in its mechanical life that it needs a little extra TLC and maintenance, but that is the way of life. I am grateful that it runs well and gets us where we need to go. When I complain about wanting a new car, I will try to remember to recite this to myself.

Despite the litany of things I worry and mutter about throughout the week, I am not lacking. I have more than enough. Relatively speaking to those in the world, I am a rich woman, and that is not easy for me to say. (I focus on feeling poor wayyy more than I do feeling abundant.)

But today, I am making a point of taking the time to reflect on all that I do have. Feeling gratitude and appreciation is like receiving a hug from my soul. It sounds corny but it’s really true. It’s in that feeling place that I can acknowledge that all is well. Again, not easy to remember in the day-to-day stuff we all get caught up in.

So even though I am not directly affected by Hurricane Irene this weekend, I know many people on the East Coast whom I care about and I am thinking of them.  And I remain grateful for the loved ones in my life and for my circumstances. Right now.

The Rainbow from Trey Ratcliff at http://www.stuckincustoms.com

 *Excerpted from the book “Money and the Law of Attraction: Learning to Attract Health, Wealth and Happiness” by Esther and Jerry Hicks, 2008

Can you keep a secret?

Shhh.

Photo courtesy of ~robot robot lover on Flickr

I had a fleeting thought the other day: are bloggers good secret keepers? Or are we in a special category because we have a public Internet presence? (I suppose saying “public Internet” is like saying PIN number–redundant and unnecessary.)

In my case, I can certainly keep things to myself that other people tell me in confidence. But I am a pretty open person and don’t mind talking about myself to most people, creepoids excluded. I also have a hard time buying gifts more than one week in advance for loved ones and not spilling the beans on what it is. I may have mentioned already that Christmas poses a huge problem for me because the anticipation just kills me. For weeks, I drop hints about how much my loved ones are going to love what I got them. Last year, I gave Kevin half of his presents early because I couldn’t stand to wait.

Now, I’m not saying I’m one of those people who has no tact or just blurts out what I’m thinking. I can actually be a pretty quiet person. I just mean to say that in my friendships with people, I have to compartmentalize friends into categories like Can Tell This Person Anything, Everything But Sex Stories or Fart Jokes, or Doesn’t Get My Humor. I suppose everyone has to do this to some degree but I keep detailed mental notes on what I can and cannot talk about with certain folks.

Having a blog allows me to write down many of the meandering thoughts that pass through my brain at any given moment. Sometimes it’s a miracle I even remember a topic for later if I don’t write it down right away. I find that a lot of my ideas or wonder-ments come to me while I’m driving (formerly it was on the subway when I lived in New York). But like dreams, they can be easily forgotten, gossamer wisps lost to the wind.

Naturally, not everything I think about or that has happened to me is written about on this blog. I have considered writing on more private topics but then I think that that goes against the grain of what this blog is about and would be better suited for a different medium – certainly a different kind of blog.

Still, I admire authors who have the ability to write short stories or memoirs of their lives where it gets rather down and dirty; we are reading about intimate moments that I don’t think I could fathom putting down on paper for any old stranger to read. Two examples come to my mind: Running With Scissors and Are You There, Vodka? It’s Me, Chelsea. One is by Augusten Burroughs and the other Chelsea Handler. Granted, the latter author’s books are written with a huge dose of tongue in cheek, but we’re still reading about all of her sexcapades in gritty detail. Hm, the word ‘sexcapades’ is officially on my blog now.

As for Running With Scissors, all of that dude’s family business is out there for anyone on the planet to know, albeit with a lot of humor and hindsight thrown in. I struggle with how much I want people to know about me and thoughts that I have which are deeper than complaints about salesmen and even what some of my childhood pasttimes were. I don’t know that I could keep a blog that is much more like a diary and one which I allow the world to see. I really possess such admiration for those who can regularly write out their innermost thoughts. Maybe it’s something a blogger or writer progresses towards, much like an actor who works on successfully drawing upon certain experiences in his or her lifetime to evoke a specific emotion for a scene.

But that begs the question again: does being a blogger/writer necessarily make a person naturally more open? Or can s/he remain an immensely private person regardless? Perhaps I should be directing this question to someone like J.D. Salinger, a notorious recluse, even after (and in spite of) the success of his books. (Side note: I do not think The Catcher in the Rye is one of the best stories ever written. Quite the contrary.)

Here’s my first attempt to put something out there I normally wouldn’t: bad as it sounds, I rather hope that if I get to the point where I feel comfortable publishing some seriously private ish, that I have a generous book advance in my bank account. That’s not to say that people are clamoring to read my life story, but it’s the private stuff that usually garners more attention and is more interesting to read.

How’s that for revealing? Eh, it’s a start.

And because this is Zoe Says and I usually leave you with something arbitrary or funny, the below picture is of a book I can actually highly recommend. Its title is apt. Some might call it “chick lit,” a term I’m not entirely comfortable with, but it’s a good story written by Miss Sophie Kinsella. If you don’t mind modern day romantic comedies with a British female protagonist, I can assure you that you’ll enjoy it. And with that, I’m off to my private life. I think it’s suppertime.

The Summer Blues

I don’t know if any of you out there have experienced what I have dubbed as The Summer Blues but it’s basically the three hottest months of the year just not turning out how you thought they would.

I have vivid memories of being a kid and having summers off, watching my mother go off to work and having absolutely no clue why she couldn’t take off the same amount of time. I remember thinking that it seemed so silly that everyone didn’t have summer vacation. It’s hot and icky out, who wants to go to work? Answer: no one. (I would probably be writing a different kind of post if I’d grown up in Europe, where traditionally many countries take off the entire month of August. Lucky ducks.)

The last time I was able to experience having three months off was in the summers between college years. Most students find jobs. I really did try. I applied for cashier positions at Bed Bath & Beyond and the like. Nada. Not one phone call. And I had retail experience and administrative experience. I was unemployable, apparently. Despite being flat broke and having nowhere to go, I made the best of it and enjoyed some lazy days off, looking forward by August for the school year to recommence. I didn’t know then how much I would later wish to have absolutely nothing to do or nowhere to be.

Despite not working from May to August, no two summers were ever the same. Some I spent at my mom’s house, visiting with my dad, some I spent staying with a then-boyfriend of mine. I don’t come from a family with a lot of money so luxurious vacations have never been a part of my life. When my brother and I were kids, we had the occasional road trip to see grandparents and my mom was able to give us a trip to Disney World once. I was around 17 and I got severely sunburned. It wasn’t pretty. Still, Disney means it when they say they provide you with some lifelong memories.

In the summer of 2003, I had a chance to do something totally different. I got to spend ten days or so in the south of France with a friend of mine from college and it was one of the best times I ever had. Lots of sun, beach, swimming, good food, laughs, French speaking, memories – no sunburns. I still have the unfinished scrapbook, waiting to be completed. I haven’t been abroad since I studied in Paris in the spring of 2004, either. I dream about traveling more, though. Visiting Seattle this year and going for almost a week was a Big Deal. I travel a lot in my mind and daydream constantly about places I’d like to visit.

In 2010, I moved out of New York City to where I am now in Illinois. Needless to say, that summer went by insanely fast because we were so busy with packing, moving, and getting settled in. This year, the summer is moving along at a brisk clip, as well, but less eventful since we’re all settled in. The things I look forward to most are having people come visit and enjoying two whole days off in a row (read: weekends) with Kevin, without one of us worrying about work/school/obligations. Once the school year starts up for him, the task of occupying myself falls to my feet once again.

This particular summer feels more “bluesy” to me because we’re in this odd transitional-yet-static place in life. We’re not planning a wedding, we’re not saving up to buy a house, we’re definitely not family planning (hell to the no).  It’s just insanely hot outside and I still have to go to work everyday. My best friend Helen always likes to say, “I survived childhood for this?” Haha. That’s a little dramatic but you get what I’m saying.

Oh, have I waded into the Pity Party for One at the end of the pool? I’m not trying to say life is bad or anything like that. For the most part, all is well. In this moment in time, there is stasis, and there is something to be said for that. But it will be short-lived and we’ll be moving towards the next goal, the next occurrence, the next thing, (the holidays? God…) really soon. I’m looking forward to autumn for many reasons – the weather, mostly – but also trying to slow down and enjoy each day for what it is without getting too impatient.

This is the first calendar year since 2001 that I haven’t moved. (I consider each move-in and move-out of college a move. Holy cow that was a lot of stuff.) And moving, as we all know, is a bitch. I moved so many times in New York City that I don’t think my brain has fully processed that in the year 2011, we’re not switching residences. Weird, but nice.

Just one more month left before it’s Labor Day, Back to School, football season, and the colors change. We’ll all be restocking on our cinnamon scented candles in no time. Well what do you know – I just cheered myself up.

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