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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.

 

When Facebook Friendships Are Stronger Than 'Real' Ones

When I began writing my memoir, I realized that I was lacking a writing community. While writing my previous books, which were novels, I had unwittingly created a protective bubble around my self. My creative instincts at the time were undeveloped, my voice shaky. When I would hit writer’s block, friends would suggest I workshop my draft with a writers group so that I could get feedback, but I was hesitant. Rationally I knew it would be helpful, but I couldn’t do it. In my twenties and most of my thirties, I had shared the craft of storytelling with my ex-husband, and inevitably, my own voice had become muted. So when starting over on my own, honing my own instincts, I think I was wary of allowing other people’s suggestions to influence the unformed story I was attempting to manifest.

I wrote the first draft of my memoir the same way, but when it came time to get it out there, i was stumped. Was it ready? Was it in the right format? Should I be shopping a memoir proposal, a business plan for the book, rather than a manuscript? What was the best way to query agents, and what would the grueling submissions process be like when what you’re putting out there isn’t an imagined story with fictitious experiences (not that that isn’t painful!), but the inner workings of your heart and soul, laid bare?

And then I received an invitation on Facebook to join a large private group of women writers, which consisted of novelists, memoirists, essayists, teachers and bloggers. I somewhat impulsively posted a question about memoir submission in the memoirist group, and to my delight, received a cascade of useful advice I consequently put into effect.

And along the way, I made friends. I attended a writer’s conference for this group in NYC, where I didn’t know anyone but on my way out, ended up standing in the bathroom line between two women who I instantly clicked with. (And I’m glad I waited, rather than my usual maneuver of ducking into the no-line men’s room). We couldn’t stop talking for hours, and now we are friends, providing feedback on each other’s work, and meeting for dinners to talk about life, love, and writing. I’ve attended cocktail gatherings (go figure) and became inspired by strong and brilliant women who share my passion and who have come out on the other side – who’ve provided me with unsolicited support and comfort, and moments where I’ve been able to reciprocate in kind.

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But when I finally secured an agent who began sending my book out to editors, I felt alone again. I went about tending to the needs of my day, but anxiety sat in my pocket like a hard stone. I stared at my inbox, waiting for news from my agent, wondering if what would come would suddenly change the texture and trajectory of my life. There was no advice my close friends and family could give me, or that a community of writers could give me now, no to-do list to follow. All I had was feelings, and lots of impatience (although that’s nothing new), that were mine alone to sit through.

I was wrong. A writer in the group named Joan, who lives in Colorado, saw that my book was out on submission and reached out to me in private message. Joan was in the same situation I was (but with a vastly different life story). She too had a new agent who now had her baby in hand to send out into the world. What was it like? How did I feel? We began pinging one another when a rejection came in. Or when we were irrationally worried or bereft. And then, Lily, another memoirist on submission pinged me too, and we invited her into the group.

That was in March. Our virtual friendship continues to blossom in unexpected ways, unique to the norm of Facebook friendships. We check in with each other almost every day on memoir status, and sometimes also, about life. When I received some exciting news about my memoir’s potential, my hands shaking, that Facebook message box was the first thing I searched for. When I received bad news, fighting tears, I found myself doing the same. When two of us were receiving updates from our agents, but one hadn’t heard anything, we helped her brainstorm what to do. We listen. And sometimes we disagree with one another, implementing tough love, the kind usually reserved for my sisters and closest friends.

When a close work colleague of mine asked me how my book was going, I surprised myself by saying, “It’s going okay, thank you,” my typical urge to unburden myself eradicated. Because I had my support – the kind I needed, without knowing that I did.

While out to dinner with a client in Soho a few weeks ago, I saw our three-way chat box light up. I was unable to read it but the CAPS and “!!!!!!” relayed what we had all been waiting for. Joan had received an official offer on her memoir. She was freaking out. Her husband wasn’t home, and she was pacing her apartment alone. My heart soared for her. I couldn’t get out of my dinner fast enough. As soon as I left, I messaged her: “Can I call you?”

She picked up on the first ring. “Joan?” I said. “Yay!! I’m so happy for you! This is huge!” and other such congratulatory cheer. Her sweet voice – that I had never heard before – was pitched in excitement. She had spoken to her husband, her therapist, and… me. A woman she had never met before, on this most significant milestone.

When I received some disappointing news a few weeks later, and felt as if I was jumping out of my skin with worry, I wanted to go meet Joan and Lily for margaritas. But the three of us know, that that time will come, as we continue to hold one another’s virtual hands on this long beautiful journey.

The Selfish Scale: When is self-care considered selfish?

My best friend and roommate from college came to New York to visit me this weekend. She and I have stayed in touch, and been there for each other’s milestones for…uh…22 years.

I usually spend my weekends retreating from people besides my husband unless I have family visits and events. Saturdays flow out like so: wake up whenever dog (not children) decide we should, NYT and coffee on the couch, brunch, followed by what we’ve dubbed “writing time” even if it doesn’t always produce actual words. This time is really my self-nurturing allotment and includes reading, thinking, jotting down ideas, and only occassionally actually working on a book project. When I skip this time, like some people who haven’t gone to the gym or a toddler who missed his nap, I feel off, my nerves ever so slightly frayed. My weekdays are filled with external facing energy, like most people, but because my main job is in sales, that outward thrust is directed towards people – getting to know them, and many times, befriending them.

I love people. I crave connection, and like many writers, I tend to excavate to get to the bottom of what makes a person tick. “You get in there,” a friend who’d only known me for a short while once said. This is true, even though I’ve spent my whole life insisting that I am an introvert, because I’m creative and when I was younger, moody and insistent on alone time at the most random moments. But in the last decade, particularly in the last 4 years as a sales representative who arranges client dinners, parties, and bottles of alcoholic beverages, these new friends and clients would look at me in shock.

You? An introvert? No way.

They’d be right, except that recently, I’ve found myself trying to reclaim that introverted self – or at the very least, honor her needs. What this looks like on the outside is less of me on the outside. Fewer parties, less small talk and more deep talk and connection with what my therapist calls the four people in my inner circle (and you know who you are). Reciprocal conversation that flows naturally and nourishes the heart and soul, rather than a “catch up” conversation which to me is akin to reporting; digging into an old balloon of information that’s already been satisfyingly popped. But this comes with a price, a sense of being punched when those who are not in that inner circle say, “Where have you been?” or in one particular (and humorous) moment, “Where have you been, asshole?”

Whenever I experience such friction, or find myself taking inventory and analyzing my relationships too much (or if you’re Jewish, find yourself feeling guilty all the time), I get angry with myself for allowing it to distract me, but I also know that there must be some opportunity – a lesson – in this turmoil, or at the very least, it’s a growing pains’ groan.

Reconnecting with a friend who knew you when you were young and unfettered, when you were your true-you before adulthood and marriage and before the shackles of expectations appear is like jumping into a cold plunge pool of the soul. As my girlfriend and I huddled together in our pajamas to resume the conversation we began the night before, I was transported back to our dorm room 22 years ago (only difference was an air mattress in a NYC living room). We discussed and analyzed everything — our jobs, our marriages, and our friendships and how we serve them, and came to the realization that our type of friendship is rare. The last time I saw her was at my wedding 14 months ago, which means that I saw her and hugged her, but didn’t really talk to her. And we haven’t spoken on the phone for more than a few brief minutes almost six months ago. She told me her mother, upon hearing this, asked if everything between us was okay? She found this infrequent contact to be an indication of a waning bond, but my friend told her – and I agreed – that it is quite the opposite.

“We are there for each other for the important stuff, and we both know that. It doesn’t matter if one of us hasn’t called or forgot a birthday.” (Although Facebook has saved me from fumbling the latter).

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Not to mention the old adage that as we change, our friendships and their dynamics change. They have to, if there is growth to be had and priorities to be realigned. As a single divorcee, I was always available for any outing, craving like minded women friends with the same agenda as me, and the added motivation that perhaps I might meet someone at a bar (which is ironically how I met my husband). Looking back, there is no longer a spotlight on those friendships, but rather its searchlight has since cast over a different group, and then finally, has come to rest here, at home.

For the dudes that might be reading this, I know you’re scratching your heads (if not rolling your eyes), wondering how it’s possible that us women can spend so much time not only talking, but worrying about our friendships. To that I’d say, we can’t help it, because that’s how we are built — to crave the understanding and unconditional support that friendship provides, and like most fulfilling relationships, that comes with an emotional tax. (And besides, be grateful. It takes some of the pressure off you).

So, extrovert or introvert? Does extroversion equate to friendliness and inclusion of others, and introversion to its absence? And can’t we be both?

Another girlfriend who I confide in daily helped answer this question, as I struggled with this dichotomy and how my actions affect those I care about: “Self love and self care is difficult when we are taught that we must put others first, and requires a complete relearning to accept that it’s okay not to, and that in fact, we must.” (Yeah, this one’s in my inner circle for a reason, can’t you tell?).

She reminded me of the airplane analogy: “Put the oxygen mask on yourself before putting it on your child.” Because we can’t take care of anyone else when we ourselves are not thriving.

Finding that balance is difficult, and requires routine maintenance…

…and perhaps an occasional loving reminder from a friend.