Friday, January 29, 2016

Fear v. Hope: I Choose Hope

I know from fear.

I grew up an anxious, perfectionistic little kid, afraid of new things and new people and situations I couldn't control.

I spent the first years of my parenting life terrified that I was doing everything wrong, that my children would get terribly sick or my husband would leave us.

I know from fear. And my life began to turn around the day I decided I would no longer be ruled by it. It wasn't a sudden thing, just a gradual dawning that I had a choice to make, and once I recognized that I had been choosing scarcity and fear for most of my life (all the while wondering why happiness and contentment weren't showing up at the door), it was pretty profound.

I have been watching with amusement the growing concern over the Zika virus "outbreak" and, until yesterday, was mildly confused. Yesterday, NPR broke a story about the World Health Organization saying that this virus had "explosive, pandemic potential" and it was all over my Facebook page. Really? This virus that most people never even know they have because it causes mild cold-like symptoms is all of a sudden something we are cautioned to freak out about? Yes, I understand that it has major implications for women who are pregnant, although as of yet, there is no causative connection that has been established. And I get that, in many countries where there are no options to control whether or not you get pregnant, this is a conundrum.  Wow. Nothing like stirring up fear of something that is likely to not really cause any problems for the vast majority of us.

This morning, NPR had one of their correspondents in Iowa interview Republican voters regarding last night's GOP debate and I was struck again by how the front-runners have stoked the fears of people in order to gain votes. Over and over again, I heard people talk about terrorism, ISIS, and the fear that, if a Democrat were elected to the presidency, their guns would be taken away and they would be left altogether defenseless against "meth addicts in my front yard with guns." Huh? In Iowa? Is there some sort of terrorist cell network in Iowa that I don't know about? Are there lots of armed, methamphetamine-addicted folks running around at night burglarizing towns in Iowa?

A little later, on the Tavis Smiley show, there was a political analyst who was talking about the odd phenomenon that is Donald Trump and when Tavis asked him about the "best way to fight Trump," his answer was, "I'm curious why you're focusing on fighting Trump and not supporting Hillary."

Yes. Not that I'm a Hillary supporter. To be honest, I am pretty firmly in Sanders camp, but that's not something that we need to discuss here.

I was reminded of the knowledge that what we fight against grows in power, if only because we are giving it our energy. The key is to direct our energy toward the thing we desire, not against the thing we are afraid of. That is not to say that there aren't things to fear in life, but if we take a step back and really think about it, what are the odds that any one of us in this country is likely to be touched by terrorism, contract the Zika virus, or be shot by a meth-addicted robber? We are more likely to suffer slowly from income inequality, domestic violence, and pollution. And in the meantime, when we let our daily activities and choices be dictated by fear of things we won't likely ever encounter, we are wasting our energy. When we make the choice to rail against the things we are afraid of (most of which will never come to pass, and even if they did, we have almost no control over them, anyway) instead of creating space for the things we do want to see in our lives, everyone is hurt.

The main difference I see between focusing on hope and focusing on fear is that one of them is actually more frightening than the other one. When we focus on what we're afraid of and put our eggs in the Trump/Cruz/Rubio basket, we are actually less afraid because we think we're following people who can control or prevent what we're scared of. When we focus on hope, we are putting ourselves out there in a way that is vulnerable, with the knowledge that it will take some effort on our part to make it happen, and that responsibility is often much more frightening than sitting back and letting someone else do it. But ultimately, that is what this country was built on - groups of people who were committed to working for a better collective future for us all, and that is where I will continue to put my energy. Here's hoping there are lots more people out there that feel the same way.  Fear is a strong motivator, but it doesn't ultimately get a damn thing done that is good for all of us.

Monday, January 25, 2016

This Sh*t is Getting Real

It is really tempting to go back to "engineering smallness." There is a voice on my shoulder that says that nobody would blame me for giving up, moving on, throwing my hands in the air and telling the world that I tried with a wry shrug. That voice says that it is all just too hard to figure out, that the reward isn't guaranteed, and it might not turn out to be worth the work. In the rubric of our current culture, I need to cut my losses, stop the bleeding, and get moving.

Deep within, somewhere, is the longing to write, to get back to creating, to find the spark that sets the words free and lets them tumble out of me with abandon. It is a yearning for balance, a call to feed my own desires and tell the stories that are trapped inside of me. The voice on my shoulder calls that out as indulgent, selfish, more useless blather that won't be realized, just like the other two projects I've started and nearly finished.

What is it about the path that I've chosen that leads me to this place again and again? The quiet, self-propelled churning that makes something I want to share with the world and eventually brings me to a gate that must be opened by someone else. The book I write that never finds a publisher or agent. The work I do that must be taught by someone else. I know that there is some larger lesson here, that I can't keep piling up what I've worked on and believed in for so long without some outlet, some way to get it out into the world.

But maybe that's the lesson. That it is out there and that has to be enough. Even if it is out there in a small way, for only a handful of people to see, that is enough. Maybe it's my ego that tells me that I have to get paid for this work in order for it to be valuable. Maybe it's my ego that says that I have to have sold X number of copies for it to be successful. Maybe I'm wrong. Maybe the simple act of creating it is enough. Maybe having had the time to do it in the way I did it was the point.

There is this tension between creating and making a difference. I write because I have to, because it is who I am, because I can't NOT write. Not to make a difference in the world. But I have had a small taste of making a difference and it is intoxicating. I have heard those who say my words have touched them, and somewhere along the way I got the idea that that was my purpose, that I am meant to do this work in order to make a difference in the world. I have even gone so far as to believe that if I can't live out my purpose, my work is no good, it is meaningless, as is the time I took to do it. Sometimes it is hard to discern between desire and expectation. It is so hard to un-knot the act of creation from the product itself, from the question of what it will do or can do or should do.

And so I spend time soliciting people's attention and interest - looking for those who are interested in what I've created, and in the beginning it is wonderful. I like to talk about my passion, to share it with others, to connect with people who are passionate about the same things. But at some point when I become tied up in what the outcome will look like, I begin to feel defeated. When my fate rests on whether or not someone else likes my work enough to buy it and I get caught up in the minutia of how best to package it and whether I can replicate it or if it is good enough, I have lost my center. I wonder if I will ever find the sweet spot, or if there even is one.

I woke up this morning with a resolve to let go for a while, to let things un-knot themselves, to leave it up to the Universe and I'm trying. It's surprisingly hard work to "let go." It requires me to float in a state of limbo, to constantly redirect my thoughts away from imagining what could be and organizing toward that. It means that my usually long to-do list gets tucked away out of sight and I have to find other ways to occupy myself and be alone with my thoughts.  I have no doubt that it will all become clear at some point - it always has before. I know that just because I'm uncertain and a little bit scared, it doesn't mean that I will always feel this way. I trust that I will look back on this one day and shake my head and be grateful that it passed.  And I suspect that I will find myself here again in the future. Frankly, it is that which has me the most agitated - the notion that if I don't learn whatever lesson I'm supposed to be learning this time, I'm destined to do this again (and, if you hadn't gotten the message, it's not a comfortable place to be, so I don't relish the prospect of being here again). But if I've learned anything from life, it is that things only get harder when I fight them. And, if I'm determined to live my values and practice courage, I won't go back to being safe and engineering smallness, I will just sit quietly and wait and hold on to who I know I am at my core.

Friday, January 15, 2016

Go Big or Go Home

I am taking an online class taught by Brene Brown for the next two months, and if you're a faithful reader of this blog, you know already that she is one of my sheroes. I love her no-nonsense style of talking that cuts right to the meat of any issue, and I find her endlessly quotable.  

So prepare yourself, because I predict many blog posts will come from this experience as I have epiphanies big and small, thanks to her words.

This week's lesson was based on the first chapter of her book, Daring Greatly and it delved into the topic of courage. One of the things that she said struck me like a hammer to the thumb, reverberating into my consciousness and making me really think.  She told us that, for much of her life, she consciously "engineered smallness" into everything she did. While she may have had big dreams, she purposely did things in small, safe ways that would mitigate her level of risk because she didn't want to get hurt or look like a fool or fall flat on her face.  

It takes a lot of courage to step out of that mindset, and some people never do. I think it's akin to flying under the radar. You're still technically flying, but you are really looking to not get noticed because you don't want to get shot down. But the irony there is that you end up becoming resentful and unfulfilled.  I know, because I've done it that way for decades.

I, too, have engineered smallness into my life, dreaming large and taking baby steps, all within my comfort zone. Wishing that my work and my passion might "get discovered" one day, but without putting it out there for the world to see, what are the odds of that? It isn't often that I send my writing to big outlets because I am both worried that I will be ignored or rejected, but also because, if they do publish it, how will I feel when the trolls come out and say horrible, horrible things about me (because they will)? 

It sounds trite, but all of those old adages are true:

Nothing ventured, nothing gained.
No pain, no gain.
If you don't take the leap, you'll never know whether you can fly.

I was happy for a while, living a safe life. Until I wasn't. There was a time when safety was more important to me than courage, but I've changed. And while I am under no illusion that courage won't be painful from time to time, I am willing to suffer the blows that come with living my values, if only so that I can say I did. It doesn't make me feel very good about myself to live a life that doesn't align with my values, and even if I get hurt or laughed at, I'd rather say I tried. 

It occurred to me this morning that the people I most revere are people who live with courage and demonstrate it in important ways.  The people who engineer smallness, who live in fear and advocate shrinking down, who shy away from the real work because it's hard - those are not people I am interested in. It is the people who acknowledge that there are scary, challenging things out there and still forge ahead who have my respect. Those who choose the easy fights (ahem, every GOP presidential candidate) and criticize without ever really putting on the armor and risking something important? I'm not a fan. I'd rather align myself with folks who dig deeply, who feel strongly, who rise to the level of courage and risk personal disaster.  May I be one of them. Here's to engineering greatness in my own life. 

Tuesday, December 29, 2015

Free-Wheeling Thoughts to Finish the Year

It has been so long since I wrote here. In the past few weeks, I've had fleeting shots of brilliance, inspiration for new posts that I promptly forgot as I slipped back into the conversation and game-playing that comprises an O'Driscoll family holiday.

At one point, we renamed the girls Chaos and Mayhem because they got into the habit of staying up until 2:00AM giggling in their shared room at Grandma and Grandpa's house. I wondered whether it was the magic of the holidays or if they would have the same fun if they shared a room at home.

There was much cousin-love - piles of teenagers like puppies on the couch, sharing headphones and listening to each others' music, playing games on their phones in competition and cooperation, both. At other times, the littlest cousins joined in, playing Candyland - the never-ending game of Candyland - and building gingerbread houses and Dance, Dance, Freeze! There was more delicious food than anyone could have imagined with decadent chocolate mousse and macadamia nut pie for dessert. Oh, that pie!

There was a photographer who came to do family pictures that we will all forget about until the proofs are emailed two weeks from now and the warm memories of that week flood our brains and bodies. It was a glorious time with rest and games, squeals of delight (none louder than my own Eve's when she opened the bag she has had her eye on for months), and then a return home to a bit of discombobulated priorities. We have one more week outside of our routine to figure out how to spend our time and I am vacillating between thoughts of organizing and purging, finding a quiet space to work for hours, nesting and cooking healthy hot meals, and feeling so overwhelmed I just want to lie on the couch and nap.

And then there is the world outside, with its flooding and tornadoes, refugees still pouring out of their home countries desperate to find some safety and security, and Tamir Rice's family. There is some part of me that wishes January 1 was truly a reset button - a way to clear the mistakes of the past the same way the dog's tail swipes the contents of the coffee table with one clean motion. I often wish we could start from scratch; instead of patching policies with "additional training" and "stopgap measures," couldn't we just scrap the whole tax code, the immigration rules that exist now, the biases and built-up fears of police officers from the last several decades? If we had a way to design humane, equitable, compassionate systems of care for those who are ill, to deal with finances, paradigms of authority, I might feel as though it were possible to change things more quickly.

But then I remember that the only way out is through, and that the best way to make a positive change in the world is to start with myself. And so I will continue to work on being compassionate, open-minded, leading with my heart, and listening, listening, listening. And instead of making grand, sweeping proclamations that an entire year will be "the best ever," I will focus on each step I take, each day as it comes, and set the intention that today will be a good day.

May you find happiness in many moments of today and every day.

Friday, December 11, 2015

Free Speech and All That

Twice this week I've heard stories of hateful verbal attacks in public. I am quite certain that there have been dozens and dozens and that these are only two that I have encountered in the news, but it  makes me think about how we ever came to the place where we believed in our inalienable right to share every trivial opinion loudly and vehemently.

The first incident was a woman (I confess, I can't recall whether she is Muslim or not) traveling on a bus who endured much hollering from a white man, telling her to "go back home" and "get out of our country." Of course, as it turns out, she was born in the US but, apparently because she is half-Iranian, this man assumed she was both a foreigner and a terrorist, and none of the other passengers on the bus intervened on her behalf. It was only when she could take no more and decided to yell back at him and defend herself that the bus driver finally kicked him off the bus. The second involved a woman in Southern California who was driving her two small children somewhere during the day as she wore a hijab. A man in a large truck sped up next to her car, flipped her off and began spewing curse words at her, intimidating her by swerving his truck next to her car and honking before he finally turned a corner and drove away. She made it clear that the things he was hollering were in regards to her hijab and not her driving skills.

As I think about these stories and consider the number of times I've been spoken to in a rude or hateful way by a total stranger, I am left wondering who ever told us that it was okay to talk to other people like that? I am a supporter of free speech, but to me, free means that we are open to expressing our ideas and beliefs in a way that encourages discourse, understanding, and education. Free doesn't mean unfiltered, unnecessary blathering. I frankly don't care if you, man-on-the-sidewalk, like my outfit today, or the way my ass moves in my skirt. It isn't important to me whether you think someone's Spandex shorts are "gross!" or that guy's purple mohawk is "faggy." I'm pretty sure nobody else cares, either. Even if you're going for a laugh, it isn't funny. It's just obnoxious.

What makes us think that our opinions are so important that everyone needs to hear them all the time? Even if you are a person who is nervous around those who practice the Muslim faith, I don't think it's important to share that on a bus, especially not in a way that feels threatening to others. I even feel like it is your prerogative to share your off-the-cuff thoughts (and true beliefs) in your social media feed - fine, go ahead. But directing your snotty or disparaging opinions or, worse, propositions or hate speech, at one particular person or group of people does nothing but make you a bully and a narcissist. Maybe you like Donald Trump enough to emulate him in public, but it is really unnecessary. The world doesn't need more of that.

Perhaps two simple guidelines can help here.


  1. You don't need to say every single thing you think. Honestly. If it isn't going to make the world a better place, if you haven't been asked for your opinion, if it isn't kind or supportive, maybe it ought to just stay inside. 
  2. Your thoughts are not facts. I know, sometimes that's hard to wrap your head around, but just because you think something doesn't make it right. There are many, many things we can't know about other people's lives and circumstances, and if you're at all unsure of whether or not you know for certain that there even IS a "right" and "wrong" in this particular case, maybe it ought to just stay inside. 



Monday, December 07, 2015

The Birthday Celebration to End all Birthday Celebrations

I have just had the most extraordinary experience, and despite the fact that I'm sitting in an artificially-lit room with rain showering down from charcoal-grey skies outside, I am absolutely glowing. 

My oldest turned 16 yesterday and, to celebrate, she and I spent three days in New York City touring around and indulging in all of her fantasies. We poked around Barney's and Bloomingdales, stood with the hordes outside Rockefeller Center and snapped photo after photo of the tree and the ice skaters. We wandered across the campus of Columbia University, crossed the Brooklyn Bridge and stood underneath the Manhattan Bridge on a sunny, bright day. We perused the wares at holiday markets from Union Square to Bryant Park and walked through Times Square at night people-watching. Perhaps her favorite experience, though, was seeing Wayne Brady in a production of Kinky Boots. She was hardly able to sit still from excitement and when we stood outside the stage door afterward, shivering, she barely felt the chill in the air. The star himself came out to greet his fans and promptly wrapped her in his wool trench coat and offered her a warm "Happy Birthday!" as I took photos of them together. She floated back to the hotel and couldn't get to sleep, she was so thrilled. 

These moments together, whether they be tiny ones like sharing a delicious snack or huge ones like meeting Wayne Brady, lifted me up to a place I won't soon come down from. I know that I have only two more years before she is off to college and I see her much less often (especially if she chooses to go to school in New York, which she says she will), and while I feel as though I ought to be sad about that, I was really just very honored to be part of the joy that she had this last weekend. Watching her face light up in a grin as big as I've ever seen when she spied the window displays at Saks Fifth Avenue and hearing her exclamation of bliss at the first bite of New York cheesecake are some of the things I was so lucky to be witness to that I will never forget. 

There is a song in Kinky Boots called "Not My Father's Son" that reminded me of a piece I wrote a few years ago called The Fallacy of Belonging, where the two lead characters sing about feeling as though they disappointed their fathers because they couldn't "echo what he'd done." All of the singing was exquisite, but as I sat and listened to that particular song and turned to watch Eve, I knew in my heart that the best thing I can do for her is to let her travel her own path in life, wherever it leads her. No matter how many instances I can recall that point to our similarities, she is herself, and it is not my place to convince her of anything, to hold her back because I am afraid or don't understand. My gift to her is to lift her up, help her believe in herself and trust her own gut, and revel in the things that she enjoys and desires. I could no more imagine myself at 16 wanting to go to school in NYC than I could have imagined myself being abducted by aliens, but it doesn't matter. The simple fact that she and I can share these moments together, with her driving the agenda and feeling free to explore possibilities for her own life means more to me than anything. 

On the flight home, I sat next to a woman whose daughter is a senior at Columbia University. She was on her way home from a visit and she confided to me that she never could have prepared herself for how hard it was to have her daughter go away to college (they live in Anchorage, Alaska - almost as far apart as you can get and still be in the same country). She confessed to having gone through a deep depression when her daughter was gone, and said that even now, she visits her 2-3 times a semester just to reconnect. For a moment, I panicked and started to wonder what it might be like for me to have Eve so far away, but then I made a decision to stay in the glow of this weekend. It will probably be very hard for me if she goes across the country to college, but all I have to do is conjure up the memory of how happy she was to be feeling grown up in the big city, exploring all it had to offer, and striking out with a confidence I never had at that age, and I think I can find it in myself to be happy for her. She is not me, and I am so honored to be given the opportunity to see her for who she is without placing my own filters on her. That would only limit her and goodness knows I don't want to do that.  Happy birthday, sweet girl. Thank you for being in my world. 

Friday, November 20, 2015

It's Time to Get Out of the Water


There is a saying that has been rattling around in my head for the past several days - ever since the terrorist attacks in Lebanon and France last week, to be honest. You can put a frog into boiling water and he will jump out. But you can put a frog into tepid water and raise the temperature slowly and it will stay in there and allow itself to be boiled to death. 

I believe that this is what is happening in the world right now. The acts of terror that have been recently committed are ones that are reminiscent of a pot of boiling water, to be certain. But the rhetoric of Republicans in the House of Congress and GOP governors and GOP presidential candidates who want to deny refugees and propose tracking programs or selection based on religion are a sign that the water is being heated to boiling around us and it's time we noticed and got the hell out of this pot. 

Donald Trump and Ben Carson, Jeb Bush and John Kasich (and their cohorts Carly Fiorina and Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio) have been saturating the news with their ever-increasing intolerance of anyone who doesn’t look like them, think like them, talk like them. But if you look back at the things these individuals have said and done in the past, there is a recognizable trajectory of hatred and isolation. The problem is that because it has been ratcheted up over time, each individual statement doesn’t seem that much worse than the one before. But we are about to boil over.

Consciously or not, it is this phenomenon that leads many sexual predators to groom their victims. Many young children become convinced over time that someone in their life is safe because they don’t act in sudden, shocking ways toward them. Small incidents might seem a little odd, but often there is no real alarming behavior to point to – it is like climbing a staircase. Suddenly you’re at the top, and the perspective from up there is very different, but if you weren’t paying attention to how you got there, it is difficult to determine where you might have interrupted your path. Victims of sexual and physical abuse are often questioned as to why they didn’t say something or fight back or simply leave, but often the progression of events was subtle and continuous and it is confusing to think about when or why you might have noticed that something was wrong.

I believe that a great many people with good intentions end up following politicians like Trump and Carson because they simply didn’t understand how hot the water was getting. It is only when you’re on the outside looking in that you can see how shocking it has become. Many of the statements that have gone months before – from Carson saying that a Muslim shouldn’t be President of the United States to Trump demonizing immigrants – led up to a climate of “otherness” and intolerance that meant that Trump could stand up in public with his hands spread wide in a gesture of “isn’t it obvious?” and say that every Muslim person allowed into this country ought to be registered and monitored closely. He seemed shocked that anyone would disagree that this “management” idea was a breakthrough. Except that it was pretty much what Hitler did to Jewish citizens just before World War II.


It’s getting hot in here, folks, and if those of us who have voices don’t raise them up to point out what is going on and work to turn down the heat, we’re all in a fine kettle. We might think of all of this as the consequence of living in a country where we have freedom of speech, but when our elected officials and presidential candidates are actively talking about how they would plan to persecute people based on their religious background, it’s time to shut this shit down.
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