Motivation - and Happiness - Come in Unexpected Ways

I’ve been flying high this week – full of boundless energy – despite the never-ending string of holiday parties. Maybe it’s because I’m drinking less alcohol (and more water), sleeping better, and feeling the holiday cheer.

Or maybe it’s because I’m happy.

But where does that happy sensation – that lack of restlessness and steady gratitude – stem from? Here are a few guesses:

1) Honoring the Artist in You: When I’m writing, I feel balanced. It nourishes my soul and keeps me sane. I always need a project to chew on, or I’m restless and aimless, over-focused on mundane minutiae, which leads to overthinking and mood swings. Me without a writing project is akin to my dog without a chew toy – she starts tearing up toilet paper and downing pills.

Several months ago, I was struck with a bout of malaise and depression, as my memoir was out on submission and out of my control, and through a series of self-orchestrated and serendipitous events, I became inspired to write a TV pilot – a format and industry I had been averse to confronting for a decade. Upon its completion, when it was time to switch into producer mode and generate momentum for myself, I felt nervous and vulnerable. I needed to reach out to film industry folks: agents, producers and established writers with whom I hadn’t spoken to in ten years, when I left my ex-husband and left that world behind. Would they respond? Did they remember me, and remember me fondly? To my surprise, many of them responded with warmth and an eagerness to read my work and reconnect. Rekindling those relationships not only ignited my confidence in my work. It rekindled my belief in myself.Screen Shot 2015-12-20 at 2.32.20 PM

Bouyed by the momentum, I ached to write something new. A novel that had been dormant since 2011, who’s faded promise I had mourned, like a neglected dusty diamond in the drawer, bloomed back to life. Suddenly, after not being able to touch it, I was inspired to again. I dove back into it, the puzzle it poses keeping my mind and soul engaged, the challenge of tasting the finish line motivating me to complete it.

When I did, I eagerly called up my book agent, who has been representing me for my memoir and therefore didn’t yet know another book existed. When she told me this time of year is busy with reading manuscripts, I asked her, “Well do you have time to read another book?” Her surprise and excitement mirrored mind. I couldn’t believe I had another book too (kinda still don’t!). And the ensuing gratification (not to mention, hope) is the daily gift that keeps on giving.

2) Get That Blood Flowing: I began running in Riverside Park over the summer, but when an old knee injury surfaced, I stopped. For months. But last week, I began again – walking , that is, with an occasional jog spurt (wogging?). 12374916_10153824052664791_2819095347479621341_oGetting out in the fresh air with my cheesy dance mix blaring, my feet mushing into the soggy leaves and the wind blowing off the Hudson River changes my outlook and makes the usual daily hurdles (hangovers included) easier to tackle.

3) Being Open to Unexpected Friendships: I’ve always been grateful for my tight knit group of friends, my soul sisters and brothers, not to mention my sisters and parents. But curiously, only a few of them (who live in LA) are writers. I never realized how much I needed that until recently, when a woman I met through a Facebook Writers Group, Lynn Hall, with whom I bonded with on Facebook messenger when both our memoirs were on submission to publishers, began messaging each other daily. And when Lynn’s memoir sold, as she paced in her home in Boulder, bursting with excitement, I spoke to her for the first time. When I finished my novel, and needed a fellow author’s feedback, she volunteered. When she finished reading it (in one sitting!), I woke up to a message on a Saturday morning, “Wake up, you NY-er. I want to tell you how much I loved your book!” And in the following weeks, as I rewrote it, Lynn was there for me every step of the way, reviewing paragraphs and brainstorming ideas, as I was for her with an essay she was writing. Looking back, I don’t think I would have gotten to the finish line as quickly – or as happily – if I didn’t have her.

And next week, I will be meeting her – my pen pal – for the first time, as my husband and I stop in Boulder on our way back from Kansas where we will be celebrating Christmas with his family (read about my first Christmas here).

Lynn is also an avid marathon runner and hiker, the endorphins it provides alleviating her chronic migraines. I could tell from the change of pattern in her messages over the last few days that she’s been down, so the other morning, when she was struggling to get off the couch and go for a run, we discovered that despite the distance between us, we can also be one another’s exercise motivators too. She wrote a post about it that moved me to tears (and she is a fabulous writer with a triumphant story and memoir forthcoming from Beacon Press): “I have a migraine. I think I’ll go for a run,” said no one, ever. 

4) Family. Husband. Home: Last but certainly not least, I look around at my cozy home, my snoring aging dog, and my kind husband, as he completes his first semester of his Masters program (while having a full time job), where he’s applied himself with a tireless focus, diligence, and passion of which I have never seen. We’ve been married a little over two years, and I’m heartened by how we continue to discover new facets in one another, and in our relationship. thanksgivingtable.jpgWe also got to host our first Thanksgiving with his family and mine – gathered around a dining table that commingled flourishes from my former life and the love and growth of the new, emblematic of how far I’ve come. And, with the help of my dog walker, a fabulous gay man who is also a chef, I’ve learned to cook, and now I actually like it (I can make soup!). It’s motivated me to not only cook meals for my family, but contributes to my personal advancement towards maturity and motherhood.

As everything is fleeting, and the New Year will inevitably bring both joy and set backs, I may as well harness and celebrate the blessings offered in the present.

Wishing you all a happy and healthy holiday and New Year, full of gratitude.


Meditation or Physical Exercise...Which Type Are You?

I’ve never gravitated towards meditation or forced stillness (I know, I know, it would be really good for me). I’m not sure if my resistance to is a combination of stubbornness and fierce independence, or what I learned at home.

My parents, Israeli immigrants, had a treadmill in our basement, and my mother still drives to the JCC for vigorous workout classes. My father was a star athlete, the winner of the Israeli Olympics at Shot put at age 17. I’ve always had my father’s stamina (not his coordination), and as a tomboy growing up as the middle of three girls, I was the designated sporty type too, and very competitive. Running, biking, a mean game of Ping-Pong or tennis, and dancing the night away to techno or pop-80s were the kinds of physical activity I enjoyed.

I tried Yoga when I lived in LA, naturally, but preferred the spin classes (now prettified with a new title, “Soul Cycle”), high-speed stationary biking to the beat of a playlist. But still, the class thing didn’t appeal to me. I don’t like having to be somewhere at a designated time, or fight crowds, or talk and smile at people when the whole point is getting with myself; curling up inside my thoughts (or running away from them).

I hear this often: “Cougel, you would love Yoga!” and “You should try meditation!” and “Come to 8am Vinyasa!”

My response: “No thanks, not for me.”

They persist, “Okay, I know you don’t like to get up early. There’s a 6pm Kundalalalala class!”

“During happy hour?“ I say (no I don’t, but I think it).

And, “How about trying the bar class?

“I only frequent one kind of bar class.”

Yoga and meditation, Kabbalah and Buddhism, were often recommended to me when I was at the most lost and pivotal points in my life, like when I was in the throes of deciding whether to leave my ex-husband.

Psychics were suggested to me too. Astrologers. Tea leave and palm readers and phone conversations with anonymous women who could ease my burden by knowing my time of birth. Don’t get me wrong – I was tempted, and sometimes I still am. I do believe in the gift of sight, of intuition, and many friends of mine have been helped enormously via these types of spiritual advisors.

I would gather their information, and a few times, I even reached out, but when it came time to pull the trigger, I didn’t go through with it. Why? At first I thought it was because I was afraid of finding out something I didn’t want to know (Like the time when an Indian man at a midtown bar told me that he reads palms, looked at mine, then burst into tears of fear and sorrow.)

It’s because at the time I was still impressionable to others’ voices and expectations – and out of sync with my own. If I got a sneak peak into parts of my future, would it affect the choices I made now? Would I be reacting to that information, rather than just going with my gut?

And then – since I met my husband and reconnected with God, I realized that trust and faith in something bigger than myself is sufficient and steadfast guidance. Prayer is a form of meditation, and so is accepting that for me, getting answers or a quick fix from a gifted counselor doesn’t align with who I am. I had to, as my husband helped me realize, pray through it, practice, do the work, and trust that answers – often hidden – don’t immediately or plainly appear.

So maybe that’s the reason that guided meditation as a practice doesn’t appeal to me. Maybe it’s the reason it never did.

My friend recently recommended an App called “Headspace,” a digital platform for guided meditation and mindfulness. He swore that it would change my life – I could listen to it while I jogged in my new neighborhood, or on the subway to work. It would force me to bounce the noisy thoughts and clear my head, reconnect with myself, and relieve my stress. I enthusiastically downloaded the App on my phone and planned on trying it.

The next morning, when the hot sun streamed in through our curtainless windows and woke me up at 6:45am, my face and head baking from being shoved under a pillow all night, I decided to go for a jog in Riverside Park. My new backyard of miles and miles of green and water (without having to move to the suburbs). I had a long day of meetings and client outings ahead of me, and I knew that clearing my head would help arm me for it.

But I didn’t touch the mediation app. A calm, soothing voice can’t compete with Pat Benatar’s “Love is a Battlefield” or pissed off Linkin Park. I ran over three miles, the blue sky, the little boats, and people of all ages running or biking past me made me smile with joy, and by the time I got home, my headspace had been cleared.

Yes, I know that Yoga would be good for me, and I think there will come a time when I will turn that corner, try it, and realize that it’s the most amazing thing in the world – and write all about it. But right now, I’ve got a little block in the way. Could be timing, could be my aversion to following a pre-set instruction manual or teacher (which was never my bag), or resistance to learning something new. Or, it could just be me.

What type are you, and why? Are you the kind of person who relieves stress through mental and physical stillness, by slowing down, or does physical speed and exertion do it for you?