I usually try to write blogs based on what causes an emotional reaction in me.
So, you’d think that being at the warm, sunny beach in February would trigger a lot of emotions.
The problem is that the calming effects of the ocean lull me into a kind of beach bliss — such a subdued, satisfied, relaxed state of happy -that I can’t muster the mental energy to write a coherent blog.
If you’re a beach lover, you know that a physical change takes place in us when we’re near the wide expanse of the ocean.
Our breathing slows, and our overactive brains relax like a tired, soft baby on a mama’s shoulder.
There is a pleasant loll that gently overtakes the brain, giving us a break from incessant, urgent thoughts.
Our senses heighten, and our need to “do” gently subsides. A welcome tranquility settles into our bones.
So, rather than looking at my laptop and writing while I’m at the beach, I end up spending time captivated by the rhythmic ocean waves, the dolphins skimming the ocean’s surface, and the massive formations of birds hovering over the water looking for fish.
I stare at the changing clouds, and marvel over how one minute they look full of rain and the next, they are gone, and the sky is cloudless, a stretch of perfect blue.
I gaze at the different varieties of beach houses around me, all painted in bright happy colors like coral, green, sky blue, and yellow.
And, I watch workers busily getting houses ready for the vacation season — roofers precariously perched on top of sloped beach houses, painters on tall ladders, restaurant owners painting picnic tables and benches, and even a realtor flying a drone over a house to get good photos that highlight the features of a house going on the market.
I look at the breach where the ocean powered through the sand dunes and took out part of the boardwalk, and then I walk toward the fishing pier and wonder when the construction crew will finish this year’s repairs.
I walk on the beach, ride my bike, read a book, and binge watch The Crown on Netflix.
Yes, while Doug caulks, power washes, paints, seals, and putters, I laze and enjoy watching the flag flap in the wind and I savor a certain smugness that comes over me when my daughter and sister send photos of yet more snow in Utah.
I read about Blue Mind, “The Surprising Science That Shows How Being Near, On, or Under Water Can Make you Happier, Healthier, More Connected, and Better at What You Do. (How’s that for a title?)
Turns out, Blue Mind is a real thing. Science even proves it. “Water attracts and fascinates us, and we know instinctively that being near it reduces stress, increases creativity, and brings us peace.”
For a few more blissful days, I will savor the Outer Banks, knowing that soon I will be back in the clutches of a Utah winter.
But, for now, I will appreciate the beauties of Blue Mind Magic.
Have you ever done something you thought was brave and exciting, and then recoiled in regret because you felt like an exposed nerve?
Mel Brooks “High Anxiety” movie comes to mind.
I experienced this kind of high anxiety a couple of months ago when I sent query letters to literary agents.
I stepped into an unknown arena to try something new.
The minute I hit the send button, I seriously had a seismic panic attack.
Every flaw in the book suddenly flashed in my mind in glaring high-resolution.
Laurie, what were you thinking? The story arc wasn’t strong enough; it covers too much time; it’s too personal, and not nearly dramatic enough. Seriously woman, what were you thinking? Call every agent that expressed interest and tell them ‘never mind.’ Tell them to forget it. You hit ‘send’ too soon and you need to spend the next several days contacting agents and apologize for wasting their time.’
I yearned for a reset button that could erase the entire day and every last email.
Doug stared at me, baffled by my anxiety, especially because many agents expressed interest and wanted to see either parts of or the entire manuscript.
“Isn’t this what you’ve always wanted?” he asked, totally perplexed by my racing pulse.
Yes, and no, I thought.<;/em
I didn't realize how desperately vulnerable I would feel having so many agents reading and critiquing a manuscript I knew wasn't perfect. And, I couldn't control anything after I hit that "send" button.
They could hate the book, detest my writing, criticize my family, my religion, me, my life, my values, and everything from my sentence structure to my hair color.
Everything that matters to me was on the line. Talk about an epic fail!
Brené Brown, the author of Dare Greatly, calls these feelings of embarrassment and regret, "vulnerability hangovers."
When I stumbled upon her book and read that description, I immediately glommed on it.
The book title, “Daring Greatly,” comes from Theodore Roosevelt’s speech, “Citizens in a Republic,” given in 1910.
“It is not the critic that counts, not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming, but who does actually strive to do the deeds, who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions, who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the triumph of high achievement, fails, at least fails while daring greatly.”
Writing a book and taking the first step toward getting it published was my attempt to “dare greatly.
In the book, Brown asks, “How do we learn to embrace our vulnerabilities and imperfections so that we can engage in our lives from a place of authenticity and worthiness?
I wish I knew the answer to that question.
She wrote that, “vulnerability is not weakness, and the uncertainty, risk, and emotional exposure we face every day are not optional. Our only choice is a question of engagement. Our willingness to own and engage with our vulnerability determines the depth of our courage and the clarity of our own purpose; the level to which we protect ourselves from being vulnerable is a measure of our fear and disconnection.”
If we go through life trying to protect ourselves from feeling vulnerable, what do we get?
If we don’t take some chances, we end up with very little that really matters to us.
If we can’t love because we’re afraid of being hurt, won’t write because we might get rejected; or refuse to go for the job we really want, or not run the race because we might come in last, we are living in a place of fear.
We might believe we are choosing to feel safe, but we are really choosing to live a life void of passion, energy, and exhilaration.
After giving myself this little “be strong, have courage, try things” pep talk, my anxieties have mellowed. My vulnerability hangover has eased. My perspective is clearer. I still wish I had hired a professional editor to help me strengthen that story arc, but I’ve gathered my senses again.
I love Brown’s comment that, “Perfect and bulletproof are seductive, but they don’t exist in the human experience. We must walk out into the arena! We must dare to show up and let ourselves be seen. This is vulnerability. This is daring greatly.”
Thank you Brené Brown for helping me see that writing a book, sending it to agents, receiving rejections and suggestions for improvement do not add up to failure, but represent my effort to walk into the arena, show up, let myself be seen, and dare greatly. And, I know what I need to do better in case I ever try again.
I recently read Anna Quindlen’s new memoir, “Lots of Cake and Plenty of Candles.” I didn’t get past the first paragraph in the introduction titled “Life in the Fifties” before I stopped reading to think about one of the first things she wrote. “It’s odd when I think of the arc of my life, from child to woman to aging adult. First I was who I was. Then I didn’t know who I was. Then I invented someone and became her. Then I began to like what I’d invented. And finally I was what I was again. It turned out I wasn’t alone in that particular progression.”
I’ve spent a lot of time studying my life’s arc because I’ve written and rewritten a memoir about a million times. (Okay, not a million, but it feels that way.)
It’s not easy charting the arc and story line of your life. You can’t do it with any degree of integrity if you don’t take a thorough and honest look at the inner workings of your life, and sometimes that can be both too revealing, and a little painful.
For as long as I can remember, I’ve wanted to write a book about my life. But I’ve fought the inner critic that says it’s downright arrogant to think your life is worthy of a memoir. After all, who would be interested enough to buy it and read it? And could I handle the scrutiny of those readers if I ever really published it?
I talk back to that critic and say there are people in the world that are born to write just like there are people born to make music, paint, quilt, garden, cook, or be accountants and biologists.
While struggling to write my memoir, I spent a lot of time going over old journals to find out who I really was at different times of my life. In journal after journal, I started the first page by writing, “I love starting a new journal and having all these clean pages waiting to be filled.” Then at the end of a journal, I was always wistful about closing another chapter of my life. Sometimes I was happy to close a particularly painful time or excited about what was ahead.
So when I read Quindlen’s introductory paragraph to her book I wondered about the shape of my life and whether I’d made the complete circle that she described. “First, I was who I was.”
As a child, I was probably more authentic and less intentional because my family, friends, community and circumstances were shaping my personality and values. Then when I get a little older, my maturing mind starting wondering who I was and what I wanted in my life. I figured it out a bit at a time, and then set out to be that person. I think Quindlen is right that we all do this. Sometimes we like the person we create and sometimes we don’t. Then, we have to re-evaluate everything and make adjustments or start all over again.
The tragedy is when we don’t like the person we’ve created and we refuse to redo ourselves and become someone better, someone we actually like and respect more. I think this the hardest and longest part of our lives. (In fact, does it ever end?)
Learning who are and who we want to be is hard work because we worry about disappointing ourselves, not meeting our own expectations and goals, and not living up to what others expect of us, even God. I’ve spent my life trying to figure out who God really wants me to be because right when I think I’ve figured it out, He surprises me and puts something I never wanted or expected into my life, and I think, “Really God? Am I that woman? Do you really want me to be that woman?”
I hear my daughters and their friends often say, “I don’t want to be that girl or that person.”
But sometimes, probably more times than not, we get “those lives” – not because we want them, but because they are somehow good for us. They usually come with big, hairy life lessons that we wouldn’t learn without them. It would sure be nice sometimes to learn them without so much pain, wouldn’t it?
I’m generally happy with the woman I’ve created, but I’m still in the “development” stage because I don’t feel fully invented yet. I know there’s always something new just around the corner. I just have to be “that woman” that deals with it, responds well, and becomes better because of it.
The truth is I’m not happy with some of the things that “just are” in my life because I didn’t really get a say about whether they happened or not. (Cancer is always a good example.)
I know I get a say in how I respond but I’ve always wished that some things (like cancer) could have knocked a little more gently on my door and that I’d had a choice of whether to invite it in or slam the door. Of course, none of us get that kind the choice. Unwanted experiences often bully their way in whether we want them or not. Sometimes we can do everything in our power to make them feel unwelcome and go away, but they just lounge around like a bad houseguest that you can’t get rid of.
What I’m trying to figure out is how we live graceful, happy lives when we negatively think we are “that person” with “that life” we didn’t want. I know all about positive thinking, and I try to apply those positive psychology principles but I’m not there yet. I’m not fully “who I was again,” and I’m not sure I’ll ever be.
In many ways, I’m much better than who I was, but I think I’ll always be a work in progress, trying to accept things I can’t change and yearning to be like Anna Quindlen, the one who claims to be quietly, sublimely back to the innocent childhood state of just being comfortable with who she is without feeling any internal or external pressure to be more. I want to be that woman, but now I’m not.
I want to know: Where are you in this process? Are you happy with the person you’ve become? Are you learning from the bad house guest that barged his or her way into your life or are you sublimely happy in your own skin and your current place in life? I’d love to know.
My Grandma Snow used to subscribe to every magazine imaginable.
After she read them, she stacked them up and gave them away to her friends and visitors.
So often after I visited her I went home with a stack of magazines.
I usually thumbed through them and took the Reader’s Digest vocabulary tests and the personality quizzes in the women’s magazines.
The slick covers were always so enticing, but the stories inside rarely lived up to their headline hype.
So I’ve always been a little skeptical of magazines because few of them deliver what they advertise on their covers.
Still, every once in awhile, I can’t resist.
While shopping at Target I passed the magazine stand and saw the May issue of O Magazine all bright and colorful with a young-aged and current-aged photo shopped Oprah on the cover and a huge headline across the middle of the page that said “How To Get Better With Age.”
* Rev Up Your Metabolism
*Rejuvenate Your Skin
*Refresh Your Style
*Recharge Your Spirit
In addition to learning the secrets about aging well, Dr. Oz promised to teach me four easy ways to reverse the effects of time.
There was a serenity diet designed to help me calm down and slim down — two things I always need.
On top of that, Oprah had six steps to a more honest life.
I couldn’t resist.
A little time with O Magazine promised to transform my life.
I had to buy it.
When I got home I eagerly searched for how to become better as I age.
Boy, nice Target ads I thought.
That ad about Oprah’s “Lifeclass tour ” intrigued me.
And Julianna Margulies is quite the beauty.
There were five things Rahm Emanuel knows for sure, and Donna Brazile’s advice on starting over.
Emanuel might dabble in interior design if he ever leaves politics and Brazile says painting your house is a great way to start over.
This is all so fascinating but when I am going to learn how to revolutionize my life?
Oh, here it is… Martha Beck talking about interior motives.
Hmmm, maybe I missed something profound in her column but it didn’t really charge me up and help me cleanse my inner life like it promised by the headline.
I flipped to Dr. Oz for the good stuff — revving up my metabolism!
He suggests yoga, which I believe is a good thing. Then, cold water, white bean extract, forskolin (what?), tahini dip, peppers, coconut oil, green tea dill weed, chives, wine, coffee and sleep.
I somehow doubt these potions will get my metabolism so fired up that the weight will just fall off of me.
Maybe the style advice will lift me up and revive me.
I love the $310 dress, the $242 skirt and the four-inch heels. They will look smashing on me for my next run to Target.
Finally, I get to the good stuff — the secrets to rejuvenating my skin.
Get your pen and paper ready because you’ll definitely want to follow this regime:
Botox, microdermabrasion, chemical peels, skin-toning laser, light laser resurfacing facelift, eyelift, and more laser treatment for dark spots.
I am so grateful for these insightful, practical self-improvement hints.
Oprah has outdone herself this month.
Thank you Oprah for giving me exactly what I don’t need — photos of beautifully, touched-up women who truly know How To Get Better With Age by surgically enhancing themselves.
They are just the kind of role models I don’t need.
And in all that reading, not one quiz or vocabulary test.
It was a link to a story written by one of my favorite writers – Emma Lou Thayne.
I clicked on the link to the Huffington Post and discovered Emma Lou writes a religion blog.
“How did I not know this?” I said aloud, waking up Nikki who was sleeping peacefully by my feet.
“How did I not know she blogged? How am I not a follower?”
I clicked through her blogs and then googled (love that verb) her name and discovered that not only does she regularly blog, she also has a new book called “The Place of Knowing: A Spiritual Autobiography.” I immediately went to Amazon and purchased the book. I can’t wait for it to arrive.
By googling her name, I discovered she was in a terrible car accident that took away several years of her life. Her book is about what she experienced during those years.
Lois Collins, a reporter for The Deseret News wrote, “For a long time, people told poet and writer Emma Lou Thayne that the six-pound metal bar that flew through the windshield of the car she was riding in should have killed her. It smashed the glass and then her face above her right eye socket before lodging in the rear window. For her, it meant a number of surgeries and a sensory-numb recovery that seemed to lack color, joy and life.”
“You could have died,” friends said, exclaiming over the nearly three-foot L-shaped rod that lives now in a corner of the coat closet off her living room, a not-too-ready reminder. It was built to hold a mud flap on a semi.
She said she lost three friends or parts of herself in that accident – the wizard in her head who could “plan, create and figure,” the genie in her heart that “could fathom joys and woes,” and the tiger in her bones who “could muster, leap and frolic.”
Now 86 years old, she said she felt like she was in someone else’s skin, which is exactly how I felt during my fight with cancer.
I cherish Emma Lou’s deeply personal writings. An autographed copy of her book “As for Me and My House,” sits prominently in my bookshelf, and has been there since it was published in 1989.
Her “meditations on living and loving” as she subtitled the book, sank deep into the soft cavities of my bones all those years ago where I’ve tended and nurtured them ever since.
When I had my first daughter, almost 22 years ago, the world was a confusing place for women. I grew up listening to the loud, shrill voices of too many feminists who made motherhood and homemaking seem like the most fulfilling, demeaning jobs in the world. I used to joke about “housewifery” and how I could never be “just a housewife.” I couldn’t imagine myself staying home all day with children and not having a job outside the home. I felt claustrophobic just imagining the drudgery of such a limiting lot in life.
But after about two years of trying to work and take care of my family and home, I decided to quit. I couldn’t seem to hit the right balance between my work and home lives. Plenty of women can and do. I could not. It initially overwhelmed me. I couldn’t help looking at the clock and thinking of how much more productive and confident I felt in the office than at home.
Emma Lou elevated my perspective. “Nothing is more personal than the house, the home, the place that I live in. Nothing more reflects my sense of the world or my regard for what is important. Through it stream my passions, my people, my phases, and my philosophies. Into it I allow the programs the pages, the food, the habits that persuade my days and occupy my nights. It is my shelter, the husk of me. In it I am warm and cold, from happy to sad, thoughtful or automatic, active and passive, sometimes touched by the divine, always subject to being human…How I live in it counts, not only to me and mine but also to others who are beneficiaries…of the good will that derives [from it]. Every household, like every person, makes a difference.
On the days I wondered whether my staying home mattered, I thought of her essay “On Mattering.” She wrote “We all need to matter – to someone else, to a project, to a day, to ourselves, to God.” She logged the activities of her life and all the seemingly mundane tasks of her day and showed how she made them all matter, mostly by keeping perspective. At the end of the day she said, “The jobs are done and I can’t even remember doing them. Only that I liked it – a lot. It’s the people, not the jobs…I must remember I can endure enormous stress or enjoy generous contentment if I feel that what I am doing matters.”
I learned from her to give myself a night out for my own creative endeavors. She dedicated Wednesday nights for her personal writing time, and even set up an office where she could go every week just to concentrate on her writing. I followed that example and took one night class a week for several years to earn my master’s degree in writing, something I will never regret.
In another essay on “Learning by Being There,” Emma Lou wrote, “Things happen. They simply happen. In a home or away from home. Dealing with what happens is most crucial to being part of that home. To ask why? or why them? or why me? Can be the least productive of concentrations. Why not me? Why not any of us? would seem more reasonable. And more efficacious. The unpredictable life is often the best teacher, the saving grace of flexibility, the thing learned. And faith to pray not so much for “Please, with your omnipotence change all this,” as for “Please, with your strength help me to manage.”
I’ve learned that truth for myself over the years, starting with when my dad died unexpectedly in 1992. Asking “why” never led to a satisfying answer. I quickly learned to ask, “What can I learn from this?” When I was diagnosed with cancer, it was hard to ignore the begging “why?” questions, but I did the best I could, and focused on asking, “What can I learn from this? How can this make me a better person?” Those kinds of questions make all the difference between short-term pain and long-term misery.
A few years after becoming acquainted with Emma Lou’s writing, Utah State University, my alma mater, invited me to serve on the university’s alumni council. It delighted me to discover that Emma Lou’s husband, Mel, also served on the board. So at one of our council meetings on campus, I met Emma Lou. We sat next to each other on a bus when we toured one of the school’s new facilities.
I introduced myself, swooned over her book and all she had taught me through her writing. She asked how my writing was progressing, and since I had a toddler and a baby at the time, I told her writing in my journals was about the best I could do. She said, “Well, just keeping turning the corners of your life, you never know what you’ll find on the other side.”
What a lovely motto for life I thought.
“Just keep turning the corners of your life.”
It suggests a degree of grace in the journey.
I titled my graduate school thesis, “Turning the Corners” because it consisted of a compilation of writings that represented just that – the corners I’d turned during a transitional time in my life.
I subscribed to Emma Lou’s blog and I will devour her book, hoping to soak up any wisdom she might have for me now, after suffering through a terrible accident, and looking at life through her crystal clear 86-year old eyes.
It doesn’t matter that Emma Lou doesn’t even know me. What matters is that even without knowing me, she’s taught and inspired me.
We all need at least one Emma Lou. Who is yours? I’d love to have people share.
Who makes you think? Who makes you recognize what’s good in your life? Who brings you to your senses, and back to the true you when you lose perspective?
That person could be your Emma Lou.
The Emma Lous are the people who remind us that we matter, and that our lives, in all their messiness and constant change, are uniquely and wonderfully ours, and we should own them, be proud of them, and never stop trying to make them better.
I’ll leave you with one last gem, a piece of her poetry that at one time I memorized:
Each of us wants to be friends with time,
Comfortable waiting for toast to pop,
pleased to pull at the garden knowing
no season is going off with us.
The trick is to find out
whether a minute is worth more
crammed or empty.
And, either way, to get on with it.
Thank you, Emma Lou Thayne for reminding me by your poetry, your books, and your life“ To always get on with it.” I’m sure that when I read your book I’ll discover that’s exactly what you’ve been doing all these years — trying even harder during the dark times of recovery and healing — to get on with it.
I just know it.
I can’t wait to read all about it and to soak up every life lesson I know you’ll share.