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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.

 

From Badittude to Gratitude

One of my early blog posts in 2011, which asked, Can you be grateful for what you don’t have? focused on a difficult time in my life – when I was stuck in the aftermath of a divorce, and struggling to see the good in my life. I wanted to turn my frown upside down, zap it away with intention, but I couldn’t. I had a badittude I couldn’t shake, even though I said that I could.

I’ve come a long way since then, but in order to arrive at a place of authentic thankfulness and gratitude, I had to start with its opposite. I had to confront the pain and hardships. The reality of the situation, rather than whitewashing it or pretending that I was fine or happy and grateful. Had I pretended, I would have robbed myself of finding the real thing. I wouldn’t recognize the positive things in my life – that life has given me along the way – with any kind of real appreciation. Some studies have shown that “choosing gratitude can bring out the best in us and those around us.” But I don’t know if I believe that flipping a mental switch – that professing ones gratitude aloud can actually cultivate it on the inside. I think that gratitude – and its resulting easing of anxiety, release of stress, and sometimes, a true feeling of happiness – appears as a slow and cumulative result of tiny little experiences, revelations, and achievements in your life. The achievements – the physical results of gratitude, sometimes come first, as tangible manifestions of the interior growth and hard work you’ve done.gratitude

For example, a few of the things I am grateful for:

  1. My husband.  This gratitude was hard won. Meeting him and marrying him was an outgrowth of years of whining and wallowing and work and therapy and badittudeness and revelations.
  2. My home. My grownup Manhattan apartment, replete with a dining room (in Manhattan!) comes after being a wandering Jew and moving ten times in a decade, without knowing what was to come next.
  3. My family. My parents. My two sisters. While I’ve always appreciated them, only recently have I unearthed an unshakeable love and gratitude, which is evident when we talk. When we make an effort to visit each other.  When I surprise my mother for a random brunch and she screams like I’m a celebrity just stepped off a plane. When we share old photographs of our dorky adolescent selves in braces and bowl cuts and laugh over a private joke. When we are struggling with something that no one else can understand, and a phone call, followed by “Do you have five minutes?” always seems to bring about a resolution.
  4. Work. My job, which with time, investment, and loyalty only gets better.
  5. Writing.  For having finally found my calling in writing. For writing because it sooths my soul, regardless of the outcome or accolades. For craving it instead of wrestling with it.
  6. Gemma. Last but certainly not least, that old bag of sweet bones who has been my sidekick for eleven years is alive and well, and sometimes even puppyish enough to throw her kong in the air and knock over my wine glass.

[Health and peace and security… the deep thanks I have for those, and the awareness of how fleeting they are, would take up another blog post. And I’m a bit superstitious too].

It’s been ten years since I lost my gratitude, and perhaps it has taken ten years to get it back.

Or redefine it.

I can’t wait until Thursday, when my husband and I get to host our first Thanksgiving ever (in my…Dining Room!). For my parents, my sister and her husband and their three children, and for my in-laws (cue gratitude item #7. I have in-laws!). I can’t wait to set the table and make things pretty and attempt to cook the dishes I Googled (Mom’s bringing the kosher turkey though). I can’t wait for my in-laws to arrive tomorrow night and offer them an actual guest room.

I can’t wait until we go around the table and say thank you, and thank God for bringing us together. And reflect on what we are each grateful for, now, in this moment, because you never know what next year may bring.
Wishing you all a joyful Thanksgiving.