Valentine’s Day: Four Steps to Make It Hurt Less

Valentine’s Day is coming, and if there’s one thing I know about this day of red and chocolate, it’s that it can be a big let-down. Whether you are single, in a relationship, married, or divorced, it can really just be a festive time for you to beat yourself up for one reason or another.

This post is here to address some of those reasons and to remove some of their power.

Some people are going to have a hard time on Valentine’s Day because they lost someone that they love. Some are going to have a hard time because they are single, others will have a hard time because even though they are with someone, the actual celebration of the Day is going to fall short of what they want.

When there is recent trauma involved, this advice may not apply, especially if the loss is recent. Speaking to a professional would be good if you are in that situation. In the cases where someone is being let down by this day because of anything other than physical loss, the pain of Valentine’s Day is going to come down to one thing: Our expectations.

Step One: Identify Why It Will Most Likely Suck

If you are single, then why does February 14th have to suck? If you are in a relationship, and you and your partner both have to work and won’t end up with a dozen photos to paste up on Facebook at 7:45pm, does that suck? Your expectations may say that it does, but it really doesn’t.

The trick is to identify why you think Valentine’s Day might suck, and tackle them. Figure out what it is in your thought process that tells you what this day should be. Then realize that it’s all false. Every last drop. This day is subject to your decisions and values, just like every other day.

Maybe you are supposed to get a beautiful bouquet of tulips or bacon roses. Maybe you are supposed to have a fancy dinner or breakfast, mimosas, a great adventure, a romantic meal out complete with glowy pictures to put on Instagram, really great sex with fancy lace underwear and no stretch marks. These things are not love, they are not human connection, and they are not a recipe for fulfillment. They are aiming at some values that we all share, but they miss the mark in more than a couple of ways.

Step Two: Figure Out What You Value

Remember that a value is not a goal that can be pass/fail (Like, I’m going to have a fancy dinner tonight) but more of a way that you see the world (I value appreciating the taste of my meal as I eat). The values that you have about Valentine’s Day can be explored to figure out how your expectations can be questioned and your values met.

What do you value about this day and the meaning of it? Is it the love, the connection, the feeling of being loved? Is it the togethernesss, the fancy items, the sex? Whatever it is, pin it down, put it on your table of mindfulness, and look at it with an open heart.

You can get any of those things on this day whether or not you are in a relationship, whether or not you and your partner can spend time together on that day, and whether or not you are even on the same side of the world as them.

For me, this day will be slightly painful because me and my partner cannot spend it together. We will both be working in different towns, and because of my new job I can’t simply decide to take the day off and make less money in order to spend time together. I’ll be alone in a place I barely know while he works till the late hours. It’s also our anniversary. So I know it’s going to fall short in some ways of my expectations. But I also know that I can find the values that I place on it, and nourish them in new ways.

Step Three: Get Creative on Nourishing Those Values

Use your imagination. How might you nourish the value of “being loved” if there is not a partner to love you? Maybe you can call someone that you feel close with. Tell them ahead of time that you would love to talk to them for at least an hour on Valentine’s Day. If you plan now, you can have a lot of people to talk to during the day to offer and receive love and support.

Take a few hours and do whatever you want without thinking about what the people on Facebook would think about it. In fact, vow not to even mention it on Facebook. For all they know, you are too busy to post a status update because you are busy getting a massage in a Hilton Suite with your new fling. Show yourself love as you would show someone else love. We all know we have to learn how to do this for ourselves before we do it for someone else.

Buy yourself some fancy underwear and wear it around the house. Make a mimosa for fun and sip it while you watch the clouds roll by. Do something for you. It’s easy to say and it sounds cheesy and ridiculous, but take a second to really think about spending an entire hour just letting yourself be. Draw, paint, cook, dance, sit, nap, eat, pet the dog, sing the songs you liked when you were 15, make silly faces at the TV, do push-ups and count out loud in funny voices, wear your hair differently, dye it even. Do whatever you want, and do it for you.

You’ll be having more fun than people on forced dates who pause every five seconds to get the perfect picture so that their acquaintances know how much fun they’re having.

Step Four: Realize You Are Not Alone

This is the most important step. No matter what, no matter how February 14th is going to suck for you or not live up to the meagerest of your expectations, you are not alone. There is another human in the world who shares your pain. Maybe you can send love and compassion to them, since you understand what they are going through.

I hope that you all are having a great week and that if Valentine’s is going to bring any pain, that at least some of it can be averted and transformed into your own fun day that happens just the way you want it to, on your own terms, nourishing your own values, and making you smile!

Are you looking forward to Valentine’s Day?

Do you know someone who may be suffering on that day, someone that you might want to reach out to?

Do you always have fun on February 14th no matter what?

New Year’s Resolutions: Are You On the Bus or Off the Bus?

Following the patterns of flowers, we can see that blooming happens during all times of year, depending on the surrounding circumstances.

Following the patterns of flowers, we can see that blooming happens during all times of year, depending on the surrounding circumstances.

A lot of us make New Years Resolutions. There’s something lovely about them. A fresh start with no real conflicting feelings.

Other holidays have a different charge.

Thanksgiving can make my stomach turn thinking about the grace of this continent before strip malls and highways, Easter just feels odd and lost, Christmas can be a slayer. But the eve of New Years is pretty neutral, even though the whole year thing has something to do with Jesus.

The holiday is at least not a direct celebration of that, for those who are of different faith. It’s fun for lots of people. A fresh beginning.

People want to lose weight, to quit smoking. They want to learn French, or to send more query letters out. They want to save more money, spend more time with family, get a new floor finally. Whatever it is, they want to do it, and the first of the year is a good start because last year is shed like an old skin easily and effortlessly with the drop of a glowing ball in New York City.

This, my friends, is some magic worth harnessing.

Feelings are like Touring Bands

When your favorite band goes on tour, you probably make an effort to see them. Maybe when you are at the show, you feel painful sadness ripping the insides of your ribcage as they play the songs that tore you apart when you were younger. Maybe you dance and have fun, or just film the whole performance with your i-thing. Whatever you do, you show up, and you let yourself feel things because you paid good money to be entertained and emotionally affected.

Normal everyday feelings are like that too, except they don’t sell tickets and they don’t really give you a choice. They show up and do what they want with your ribcage or your endorphins, and sometimes you film it with your i-thing. You’re along for the ride.

One thing I sometimes do with some feelings is memorize them. It’s generally so that I can better write about it later in a book where the main character happens to be feeling the same thing. How does the floor feel under my bare feet when I’m sad, how do the walls look? How is this different when I’m happy, or during that moment when sadness fades into objectivity? Can I find that moment if I pay attention to the sadness carefully enough to catch it?

It’s fun to do this for various reasons. For one thing, you might end up writing better characters if you like doing that. For another thing, you aren’t fused with the feeling quite as intensely. You are noticing how the feeling feels, which means you are bigger than it, and that’s great when it comes to trying to live your life with more awareness.

New Year’s Eve: The Power of Letting Go

Even though New Year’s Resolutions are mostly about new beginnings, built into that goal by default is the feeling of letting go. Letting go of patterns that we want to stop, letting go of addictions we want to drop. It’s as if there’s a magic bus that pulls away from our stop every December 31st at 11:59pm, and offers us the chance to succeed with ease this time if we just jump on.

But I’ve got news, folks. That bus is always running, every half hour on the dot right on your street corner. You just have to get on.  But you can’t do that if you can’t see it, can you?

Harnessing the New Year’s Passion of Letting Go & Seeing the Bus

I can’t tell you how many rejection letters I’ve gotten from fiction magazines. But the thing is, as soon as I started putting out queries to magazines about psychology and consumer issues, I got more of a response. That’s because I have far more experience with those things. Now I’m focusing on them a bit more and realizing that I was rather short-sighted while being obsessed with fiction.

Letting go of trying to become some fiction expert relieved me of a heavy burden. The rejection letters that come trickling in don’t affect me like they used to because I’m not letting them impact my self-esteem. They used to, though, to some extent. I let go of that. Which is a surprise, because I generally find it awful hard to let go of anything.

But letting go is great. Letting go is natural. Letting go gets us places because we get better gas mileage. Celebration

So that’s my New Year’s inspiration post for you guys. Remember the letting go, remember to harness the feeling of “New Years” and allow yourself to indulge in that magic bus ride to easy-change during the rest of the year as well, because just as a passion flower blooms during November in Austin and in the summer in Connecticut, year-long cycles are always beginning.

How about you?

Do you guys have any great New Year’s resolutions that you want to publicly declare in this space?

Do you think the whole business of resolutions is rather silly?

Am I wrong about this holiday being a neutral one, is there something that should really be pissing me off about New Years Eve? I’m ready for it!

And last but not least, happy New Year!

Will it Ever Feel Like Christmas Again?

This is the extent of our decorations..and it's still 80 degrees..

This is the extent of our decorations..and it’s still 80 degrees..

The older I get, there are more sad associations build up around holidays. Especially this year because it’s 80 degrees, my nuclear family is a few thousand miles away, and hearts are broken all over my home state of Connecticut. The holidays just don’t feel as good and innocent as they did when I was little.

I remember being young and asking about Santa. I asked if he could get us anything, and my parents nodded, knowing that the huge box of markers I had in mind was already a done deal. I asked if he came to everyone’s house, they said he did. I asked why people who need money don’t just ask for it then, instead of presents. They didn’t have a good answer. Maybe they said the elves couldn’t make money in the North Pole, I’m not sure. I just remember that it seemed awfully unfair, but I didn’t stop believing just yet.

That’s the thing. The unfairness was harder to handle than disbelief, in some ways. It was awful, and yet there was nothing I could do. The elves can’t make money and toys don’t pay bills, so suffering would happen and my fleeting notion that I had solved the world’s poverty problem was thrown out the window.

The Difficulty of Grasping “It’s Just Unfair”

When it came to learning Santa was fake, it was far more simple. Okay, there is no Santa. Not a huge deal, I sorta saw it coming anyway. Being a big fan of magic, I was just happy that they taught my brain to believe in magic at all (Yes, that’s the kind of stuff I’d think about as a kid). It was harder to feel and hold the sadness and anger that I could get presents, but not get money to give to everyone that needed it.

Let’s go to the Connecticut tragedy for a second, because that feeds into this too. In the midst of conspiracy theories and extreme religious people saying that God planned it or something like that, I can’t help but feel like these mentalities are held by those trying to run from that feeling of how horrible it is that someone could do such a thing without being brainwashed or part of God’s master plan. Murder of innocent people is happening in so many places, so much of the time, and yet we can’t always picture it or feel sorrow. For me, it’s easy to picture a suburban Connecticut town in December right before Christmas; that was where I came from. Maybe if it happened in the high plains it would seem farther. But having the ability to visualize it and relate with the situation makes it feel more powerful to me, and I’m not going to feel guilty for that. I can use the high impact of the tragedy in my consciousness to lead to more empathy when I hear of the many deaths of children around the world, but the ones that are “close to home” are going to hit harder, I would imagine.  It’s just how it is.

Back to the holidays, though.

Sure Doesn’t Feel Like Christmas Time

It doesn’t feel like Christmas and I don’t know if it ever will. Even if I was with my family on the East Coast, there is less of that feeling. Perhaps the holiday joy gets deeper and less sparkly as we age. Maybe it gets grainy and raw, a holiday feeling that has Sam Elliot’s voice and the grumble of a diesel engine. Maybe it isn’t light and fluffy like movie snow, but resistant and firm like a wrought iron crowbar from hundreds of years ago, being dug up from the dust.

Who knows.

But it’s okay. It’s fine. It doesn’t need to be any certain way, it just has never quite dawned on me that perhaps it isn’t just “this year” that feels off. Maybe the holiday spirit has taken on a permanent new form for me. The amount of friends I have who have lost parents or people close to them is growing, my heart goes to them as the holidays roll around, and there is sadness. It’s not just about trying to wish hard enough for new markers or crochet a dozen last-minute scarves. It’s about realizing that the holidays are as much a trigger for pain for some  people I love as a reason to celebrate for others.

The Roots of the Magic Becoming Transparent

Part of it is the decorations and consumer-based nature of this beast.

Cute plush stockings are our only decoration this year, but I know that the places where they were made would probably make me a bit sick. There are so many illusions, all trying to support the idea of love, but distracting from it, too. Cut down trees, buy gifts, buy insane amounts of decorations. I imagine being in some faraway factory, bracing for the time when Americans go nuts for cheap treasures.

What am I saying here? I’m not quite sure. I am having a hard time thinking normal thoughts since the Connecticut shooting, and anything else seems rather trite. I wonder if other people are feeling the difference in holidays as they get older, and if this holiday season will feel like other holiday seasons to anyone who felt a connection to Connecticut and the other recent tragedies.

Are you having a good holiday season, whatever holidays it is that you celebrate?

Are you finding the joy in these times, even with the pain happening?

Do you feel like the holiday spirit changes as we get older, or does it change as a product of the times, with technology and blow-up decorations taking the place of hand-made presents and simple ornaments?

Any thoughts you have related to the above are completely welcome.

I hope you are all well!

Corporations, Consistency, & Expectations: Lessons From Home-Made Stuffing

The dog doesn’t quite care where the stuffing comes from.

Thanksgiving happened, and for the first time in my life I ate home made stuffing. Usually my grandma makes it with the perfectly square packaged croutons, and she adds butter and things, but this time it was just me and my partner in Austin with no grandma. So he made it without any packages, and it was delicious.

But I have to admit, I was worried when we made the choice as a couple to make home made stuffing and not follow Grandma’s recipe.

It didn’t bother me that we had chicken instead of turkey, or that we didn’t have cranberry sauce or banana cream pie. None of these changes mattered. It was the stuffing.

And that got me to thinking about corporations and how they get so integrated into our family routines and our holidays because of the consistency they provide. It also got me thinking about expectations and how they can literally eat us alive. Let me explain.

We Are Suckers for Consistency

Think about how much we love consistency. There is a whiny outrage every time Facebook changes a single thing in its layout. The lack of Twinkies is upsetting people who haven’t had one in years. At least they were always there.

But what is so desirable about consistency? Why do we love it so much?

The Underlying Fear

My theory is that it has to do with grasping for something that is controllable, since our very foundation as humans is not. During puberty, we are overtaken by hormones that change everything we thought we knew about our existence. As we age, laugh lines start to stay and we blink twice before realizing that it’s not just dehydration this time; it’s for real.

We look around us and more people start to get sick. Our friends lose people, we lose people, the circle of friends and family that we had growing up is no longer indestructible. It gets torn apart by diseases of body and mind, and there’s nothing we can do to help most of it.

But at least Wonder Bread will always taste the same. At least Grandma’s stuffing can be made with things from the store that will always be there. At least we can walk by the Twinkies in the grocery store and think to ourselves “I’m better than that.”

In a world where things are so often not in our control, it’s nice to have some things to trust. Corporations, on some level with their consistency and refined products, provide substance to this illusion. They let us have an expectation that can be safely met.

Living in the Moment & Expectation

We’ve discussed this in other posts, but I can never come back to it enough because it’s always true. Maybe if we look at it through a thousand lenses it will be impossible for it to continue its expert shape-shifting:

The more expectations we have, and the more we are attached to them, the less we are living in the moment. This gets in our way of living a life that feels fulfilling.

For example, if I’ve been keeping up with my sitting practice and I make a plan and it falls through, I’m more likely to notice the air on my face, the breath in my body and to think of what to do in that moment when I find out the plan isn’t happening. I’m not as likely to be upset and thrown off and in a state of shock.

But if I’m attached to my expectations, then I can get quite upset about the plan falling through. That bad mood can easily take over, and a lot of time can pass before I remember to feel things genuinely again instead of deciding that each thing is going to suck because my mood is such.

This all comes back also to Brene Brown’s work on vulnerability, which has still been affecting my mental processes and willingness to see things in new ways.

What I’m thinking now is that by noticing expectations and how often they come into play with the little things, like stuffing, the easier it will be to notice it when it comes to big things, like my life.

Can Life Be Like A Farmer’s Market?

Going to a farmer’s market is different than going to the grocery store. You are naturally prevented from having strict culinary routines if you are shopping primarily at local farms because you can’t know too far in advance what will be available. The smallest drought could affect the taste of the strawberries, for example, or the types of greens that make it. You have to work with what is there, and be creative.

Think about your life, and how it’s turned out or how it is turning out each day. Is it what you expected? Is it different than you thought?

Maybe you feel bad that you aren’t doing what you thought you’d be doing at this age.

Maybe you’re happier than you expected to be.

But if you are upset, if you are measuring what is against what was supposed to have been, maybe these thoughts can get some loving attention from a higher place in your mind. A place that can extract the expectations and look around with vulnerable curiosity.

I, for one, am going to make more of an effort to see where the expectations that I have are causing negative judgment to arise, and then I’m going to try to replace it with curiosity and a fresh assessment. I want to spot the habitual ways I approach routines; not just the stuffing, but the way I brush my teeth, the way I put away dishes. Maybe there is room for more present-ness instead of just the pass/fail feeling of expectations.

Without a plan or expectations, the world is vivid and touching because you haven’t already thwarted the feeling of that touch with an expectation for how it “should” be.

How about you?

Do you think that it is easy to live outside of routine and expectation sometimes, or do rely on certain things to keep you focused and grounded?

Do you think you live life like a farmer’s market, with curiosity and adaptability?

Are there routines that you think could use more curiosity and less expectation or automatic reactions?




Stuff, Gifts, and Heartbreak: The Holiday-Mixed-With-Moving Blues

Pot Pie with the Most Important Phrase

Right now, the value of “stuff” and the torment it can bring is taking up the bulk of my attention. The thing is, it’s the holiday season. The time you are supposed to buy stuff for other people. The other thing is that I’m packing to move to Austin, Texas from Connecticut.

I’m moving out of the home I grew up in, which has steadily accumulated the things that I have cherished throughout  my life. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve left this terribly boring state many times. For the last ten years I have not been living here. However, each time I would get a new fantastic idea of where the wind was telling me to go, I would stop here and drop off everything that I wasn’t taking with me. So now there is a great pile of everything from My Little Ponies to little stones from India to stones I gathered while hitch hiking to letters my dad sent me from prison. All of these things are here, accumulated, and, for the most part, irritating.

On one hand, I love them. I cherish them. I want to keep them forever and ever so that I can remember the glorious moments of my childhood when I was playing. So that I can remember the thrill of catching perfect rides on the 80. So that I can remember sitting in random towns, with random people, feeling like the world was a big and exciting place. There’s even a love poem that some stranger wrote for me in Albuquerque while I was making jewelry at a coffee shop, and for the life of me I cannot throw it out.

On the other hand, I don’t want all this stuff. It takes up space. It takes up time. It causes me to remember the past and prevents me from living in the moment. I can live in the moment while remembering the past, but, well, that’s just not the same now, is it?

So what do you do with this stuff, how do you decide what to get rid of, and how do you decide what to get for people? They are just going to throw it away someday, heartbroken over the trash can, putting it in and taking it out, trying to not feel like they are insulting you by throwing it out. Or at least, that’s how I feel.

All of these gifts that have been bought for me over the years, they amount to guilt right now. The more expensive the gift, the more horrible I feel admitting that I have never used, worn, ate or burned it. If it’s something like a candle, I can do my best to burn it now, but there are only so many candles you can burn at once. And sometimes, you have to move to Austin. And sometimes, there is nowhere to leave all. that. stuff.

Some people suggest taking pictures of the things that we love. This is a great idea. But that quality of touching the things is so critical, at least for me, in truly remembering the times that they invoke. This is a magical process, and one that I am not easily willing to let go of. However, is it worth it? This is my big question. Is it worth it to have the memory? If I was stuck in a convalescent home with nothing left to live for, then yeah, maybe I would love to hold the things from my adventures and remember all the feelings involved. But there is no way that these things are going to make it THAT long. And there is also no way that I can predict whether or not I will end up paralyzed with nothing to do but rummage through my tangible memories. So what do I do?

Throw them away.

It all gets thrown away.

Every wonderful gift you ever made, bought or stolen for someone you love eventually gets thrown away. Maybe you get them something huge for their house that they cannot possibly fit in the trash. In that case, they are going to get sick of it and secretly resent you for making them feel guilty for even considering hiring someone to throw the damn thing away.

This is the problem.

Each year at this time, we are expected to get obscene amounts of gifts. Personally, I make my presents each year. Mostly because I’m consistently rather broke. However, the thought of someone feeling guilty and brokenhearted for throwing away or donating a thing I made for them is not a good feeling. Yet, I still want to give something to each person I love and am geographically close to. How do you win?

I don’t know. All I know is that dealing with stuff that has been accumulating for years is very stressful. So to all the people that have bought me heartfelt gifts over the past 28 years, I say, thank you. I love you. I love you independently of the things you have bought for me, and I hope that throwing them away does nothing to detriment our friendship and the quality of connection that we experience.

I also say that it is a great idea to think of things that add to someone’s life without ever taking up space in it. A gift certificate for a massage or to their favorite restaurant. Some hand-made bath salts. A candle. Some edible undies. It doesn’t matter. Anything that can be used without taking up extra space on this little planet.

Because the only time to live is now. And the only thing that memories offer you is the nourishment of the past. Sometimes, this nourishment is invigorating. Other times, it bogs you down. And there is no way to predict the future, to figure out whether or not this or that specific item is going to eventually  nourish you. Sometimes you have to take a chance. Sometimes you have to throw away what you are sure of, and walk into what you are uncertain about.

Your whole life is waiting. The memories will be there, they just might take more effort. And your friends do not need you to go broke spending money on more stuff for them. They are just going to throw it out. Make them something that will break, give them something they can use. Make a good impact on their future by not going out of your way to add heartbreak to it.

And perhaps in this there is a deeper lesson. A lesson about walking away from what you have been holding onto too tightly. A lesson about letting to and feeling free in the present moment as you walk into the unknown.  A lesson, even, on spending time with people without relying on your ability to find them gifts as a representation of your true feelings.  But personally, I don’t even have time to reflect on it, because I have to figure out which journals to burn and which Pez dispensers deserve a spot in my allotted boxes.