The Art of Goal Making

quote

I’ve been thinking a lot about goals. What they actually are. How we achieve them if they are dependent on outside forces. Where we draw the line in our pursuit and shift the goal so we can find success. I’ve been thinking a lot about it because, from the outside, it looks like I must have a lot of goals. But recently I realized, I don’t.

Before you roll your eyes and point to my Instagram, listen.

Eleven-years-ago, I was a receptionist at a title company in Texas. I vehemently despised this position. People irritated me. Having a boss irritated me. Making cookies for house closings, irritated me. I was irritated about getting up in the morning, and irritated about going to bed at night. The job was a means to an end. My husband was in school full-time, and we needed the income until he graduated.

What I really wanted was a baby. I didn’t actually know if I could ever want anything more.

It was an all-consuming desire that turned into an unachievable goal.

Every month I wasn’t pregnant, my mind whirled with fear. All the trying in the world (and believe me, we tried A LOT) wouldn’t make it happen. I did everything right. I ate well. I cut back on caffeine. I was active. I spiraled and spiraled. All around me, friends jubilantly announced pregnancies, sent photos of sonograms, cried happily into the phone. I wanted to be happy for them, obviously I did, but there was a tiny, barren place in my heart where true joy for them, and real hope for me, went to die.

And, oh yeah, I still really hated my job.

During that year, I began working on a screenplay I’d had in my head for years. And even though I still had the desire for that baby, and even though I still wanted to burn the cookies and tell off my boss, I began to want something else, too. I didn’t yet have the words for what it was or the courage to say it allowed, but I was changing. The goal still mattered, but it wasn’t the only goal.

Ten years ago, I was fired from my job as a receptionist. They were downsizing and looking for fat they could trim. I literally volunteered — I might as well have been Katniss. My husband was about to graduate, we had some savings, he’d get a job — whatever. We agreed it was the right time.

Free from my desk job nightmare, I threw myself in writing. I finished the screenplay. I began planning something new. And the week before I found out I was pregnant, I had a straight up gin martini and told my husband I was glad I hadn’t gotten pregnant when I wanted to.

I had found peace in the pursuit.

At no point in this journey did I consciously alter my goal. Never did I make a declaration— privately or otherwise — that I didn’t care anymore about being pregnant. I never stopped pursuing it, even though there were times I really believed giving up would at least lead to some inner peace. I continued to do my part, which, let’s face it, was super fun, and somewhere along the way I stopped holding so tight to the when.

It wasn’t until my son was two-years-old, that I genuinely started to imagine a life as a writer. I’ve talked about this before, but I made some serious missteps in my goal setting there. Because, I made the goal something totally outside my own ability to control, and I have spent years undoing that. I’m still undoing it.

The goal is the work — the creative life. Everything else is external, and in case you didn’t know, you have no control on the external. You cannot make an agent love your book. You cannot make a publisher buy it. You cannot make readers run to bookstores or download it on their Kindle.

You cannot make anyone give a shit about you. It is more important that you give a shit about yourself.

Love the hell out of your work. Write the book, the screenplay, the poem. Take your time. Do all the work. Learn all you can about the work. Love every minute even when that particular minute majorly sucks. Then, take a seat, have a gin martini straight up, and thank God you didn’t get it when you wanted because look at all you have learned along the way.

You never know when it’s going to change.

When the Moving Dust Settles

When moving to a new state or city, country or provence, the hardest part comes after all the dust settles, and all the fun exploration putters to an end. When then, in the light of a still warm sun, you have to commence real life.

This summer, my young family and I moved to LA from Texas. We left a comfortable home, a thriving social circle, and a lower cost of living, and drove across the American Southwest in our freshly hail-dented Jeep. At no point on the four day journey did I think this transition would be easy, yet never once did I question if it would be right.

When we arrived in LA, the wave of relief that washed over me was almost as powerful as the ocean pulsing only a few miles West. We had survived, and that horrible prick of pain in leaving was felt a little bit less.

Summer passed as it always does when you have school age children: too fast, in a haze of sunlight and swimming, adventure-finding and dreaming. And every one of those days I wondered, will today be the day we break down, realize how hard it really is to leave everything behind for a hope in a future we can barely just taste? Today, will we long for the people we were before we sold off our home and waved goodbye to our family and friends?

But we didn’t. We were having too much fun to notice the pain. Were too busy exploring the city to sense how hard that pain still clung to our heels. Too in love with the hills and the palm trees, too soothed by the smell of the sea, to feel the pieces we’d left behind that were now missing.

And then summer ended.

Fast as the lightning we haven’t seen since May, the last time we were in a storm in Texas, the realness of this move shot through us. School started, and with it came the realization that we were not playing at living here, we were really doing it.

It hit my son hardest of all. This wasn’t his school, with his friends, and his teachers he recognized. This wasn’t his routine with all it’s comforts and predictability. This wasn’t Texas. This wasn’t home.

And it wasn’t easy. Because as his anger settled over him, my guilt ballooned. I was the reason we’d moved, and now here I was forcing him to accept it all over again, and this time he didn’t want to. And for a solid day, I genuinely, earnestly just wanted to run away. Because here pain was now grabbing my ankles, climbing my shins, and here I was with nothing to bat it away.

In these moments, the very best advice I can give is this: feel it all. Allow every itchy, ugly, vulnerable thought to crash over you. Let the violence of loss growl in the depths of your throat. And then get up, make a cup of tea, and find some way to face the rest of your day.

For these past two weeks we have had to do that. Through long hot walks and brutal conversations. Through weeping and yelling and silent treatment. Through feeling embarrassed. Through dumplings and cocktails and ice cream. Through journaling and role playing and gaming. It has not been easy, living in this moment alongside the pain, but, today, it finally started to feel better.

The reality is, we all have to face our fear that the choices we make are not the right ones. If we don’t face it, we leave ourselves vulnerable to doubt, and worry, and the nagging sensation that we are just one wrong move away from utter destruction. Moving states, cities, countries is never easy. Leaving family and friends always sucks. But staying where we are when we know we shouldn’t is worse than the pain of saying goodbye.

Acceptance is a stage of grief. On the other side is Life waiting for you. New adventure. Scary and fun and weird moments you couldn’t have had while wallowing in what was lost. Today, as I watched my son resign himself to walk into his new school without panicking, I knew he was close to that, and moments away from whatever wonderful thing awaited him.

The most important part of moving, is moving on. Not looking over your shoulder for the chance to run back. Not longing for the way it once was. But being thankful, and being willing, and then just simply being right here.

 

 

Momness

DSC_2401

An Open letter to those looking for their Momness:

There is nothing safe about motherhood. If you choose it, you will never feel peaceful again.

You may not enjoy pregnancy. You will probably have back pain and knee pain and boob pain, and at some point you will stop being able to hold it to the end of the movie. You will not like the weight you gain regardless of how good it is for the baby. You will hate your face in pictures and your pregnancy glow will actually be a sheen of sweat. Take this opportunity to eat dessert everyday. Peruse the candy aisle. Have a plate of french fries. Kale is important, but enjoy the abandon of finishing the whole milkshake. Pregnancy is about you stretching out, giving up some control on your body, and learning to tell people to back off.

You will feel pain. There is pain in labor no matter how you go about it. There is no way, actually, to give birth to a baby without it. Embrace the pain. Then defy it. Whatever you do, be you in that hospital room. You is who the baby will need. If you lose your way in there, but sure to have someone that can help you back to it.

You will feel everything. When the baby is here you will be exposed. Your body, your soul, the shortcomings you were worried about, they will be on full display. If you let that train wreck happen, you also might just win the whole world. Your baby’s whole world anyway. It is terrifying to be everything to another human being. No matter how in love you are with your significant other, you have never actually been the sun he revolves around. For this brief interlude you are the entire world for your baby. You are perfection. Accept that. Let it give you strength.

DSC_3460

Later, when you are home, you will feel alone. It will not matter how much support is in place there will be these silent, still, shaking moments of aloneness. Of baby and only you-ness. When the sun starts to set and you realize you are going to have to face the nighttime again you will maybe freak the hell out. Do that for a few minutes because it is always better to acknowledge the fear than to ignore it. Then pull it together and go to bed as soon as you can for the night is long and full of feedings.

DSC_3813Reach out. You do not have to know what you are doing. Mom’s are not superheroes. If you find yourself in the dark, tell the truth. There might be people that judge you. Learn to tell those people where to stick their judgement.

Find a time to feel like yourself. Drink wine after a feeding while the baby sleeps. Watch trashy TV. Read read read. Nap like a cat. Take a walk. Listen to birds. Listen to yourself.

Write down how you feel. Write it out because later you will wish you had. You will think all kinds of crazy, hair-brained, brilliant and borderline insane things and the fog of two am feedings and diaper changes and trying to get the breast pump to work and I need a break and will my body ever stop looking like silly putty, is going to make you forget that you are powerful and cool and you have an idea. You will forget the love you feel later when you are fighting with them about what they’ll wear to school or eating broccoli at dinner. You will forget the bravery you showed by getting up again to swaddle and soothe when you just want to sleeeeeeep.

Write it down. All of it.

Yes, take pictures, but more importantly feel the moment with your body. Make memories and then make a photo. Be there first.DSC_4445

Hold on. Tight. Long. Forever.

Listen to your own instinct. You reserve the right to tell everyone to piss off. You get to scowl and scramble. You get to ignore every guidebook and piece of advice. This baby is yours. For a few lightning fast years, you are the moon and stars and ultimate authority. You are the chosen one. You are the beginning, the end. No single human being alive on this planet is better equipped than you to make your child’s life magical. You decide what that fairy tale looks like. It might not include Pinterest crafts or breastmilk, staying home with him, going back to work ever. You might not be the same kind of mom as yours, and that is okay.

You might try for years to have a baby, and it might never happen. It will tear you up inside. The grief will be unmatched. Your desire will feel unfulfilled. It is okay to be angry. It is okay to mute your friends with children. It is okay to let it go someday. To put that dream behind you and move on. To find peace in your journey.

You may get to an age where you know the chance to be a mom has passed you by. You may be too afraid to try. You may think you will fowl it up. You may look at the world around you and wonder why bother bringing a baby into something so completely messed up. You may feel the loss of miscarrying and everyone around you might not understand why, for you, Mother’s Day makes you want to hide.

Momness is a battle. It is waging war against the world for your child, but it also waging war against the fear inside you. Momness can mean loving a baby, but it can also mean advocating for a child that has no mom. It can mean stepping in when you see a need. It can mean listening and paying attention when you realize no one else is.

IMG_0781

You will find your momness in moments of extraordinary bravery. Because momness isn’t just in the having and raising of your own baby, it is in the daily battle for the future. The willingness to look at this frantic world and try to create moments of peace. To fight for someone smaller, less capable than you. To be around when you need to be. To prove that though they be small they can still be fierce.

With love,

A girl still finding her Momness

That sick feeling is normal.

This morning my son traipsed off in a taxi toward LaGuardia Airport with a handful of my family. He’ll be in Texas for a week, at which point my husband and I will follow to spend the holidays. I wasn’t hesitant in the least about allowing him to stay with family. It was his idea. Even with a cold this week he was still game for the journey. The night before he was supposed to fly arrived, and with it my own hidden anxiety surfaced. It began with him, very normally, saying he didn’t really want to go. Why?, my husband asked. Because I don’t want to be away from Mommy. 

Crack! The sound of my rapidly breaking shell of composure.

We talked for a bit about his feelings, my loving feelings toward him, and ultimately, the fact he wouldn’t feel that way once the opportunity had passed. I explained why I wasn’t going (I have engagements this week in the City). He understood, and then, just like that, he was over his reluctance with a kiss.

My composure lay in pieces on the ground he walked on with his cousin.

I spent the better part of Thursday evening pretending I was fine. We had dinner, started gathering his stuff, played, watched Spiderman. By the time I was laying him down for bed we were all tired. He passed out in my arms, and I proceeded to cry. I cried for about fifteen minutes. This morning when he happily left — still a little under the weather, but in good spirits — I cried again.

This is not my first time away from Sam. Before we moved, Nathan and I came to New York twice on our own. Once was for almost five days. I’ve spent nights away from him. I’ve had a few days in New York away from him. This is not our first major separation, but it is our first initiated by him. It’s first time he chose to go.

When I threw myself into drafting my manuscript last October, writing became a huge presence in my life. Sometimes an even bigger presence than Sam. I’m not apologizing for this, but want you to understand something from it. For anything to fill my mind more than Sam means that something has to be of incredible value to me. Sam has been the mark by which all things are judged since he was born. Should I do this? I think of Sam. Is this best? I think of Sam. He is the excuse and reason for a lot of my decisions.

Writing is important to me, sometimes so important it feels most important. But it’s not. I write this blog post now because my heart is being wrenched away and carried to Texas. I write in general because nothing will ever be as important as Sam, but there must be more to me than him. He just got on a plane to Texas without me at three years old. Someday, it may be a plane to another country, or to college away from home, or a spaceship to the moon. I savor him now, this time so short and sweet, but I follow my own path too.

As mothers, we find a lot of fault within ourselves for the pursuit our own desires. Or, for the pursuit of any desire that doesn’t directly benefit our children. I don’t think I’m alone in feeling this way and I don’t think it’s easy to admit. I think we all sense it within ourselves when we make a choice that looks selfish, or one for our career, or one to feed another part of us other than mom. It’s a tightening in our chests, or a sick spreading through our stomachs. It wells up like a geyser, or festers like a wound. It is essential to the art of motherhood, just as it is essential to every other art form. We must feel it all in order to produce anything of value.

I intend to produce a child and a novel (many!) I’m proud of.

There is no happiness when in pursuit of something worth pursuing, only the joy of the journey, the heartache of the pilgrimage, and the belief that it will be worth it. Even if we have to steel ourselves as our baby says goodbye with a smile. Even if we cry the moment we shut the door. Even if we enjoy the time apart a little too.

Rainy Day Sam

I love rainy days with my son. Not all rainy days. There are the inevitable rainy days when Samuel refuses to engage in imaginary play, or do a craft, or read for large chunks of the morning. Those rainy days fill me with dread. When you’ve been a mom for a little while, you learn to pick up on the cues in your child’s demeanor that warn you’ll have a long day. One filled with arguments, then weighted down by unreasonable requests, and ending in the bedtime battle. When those days also fall on a rainy day, being trapped with your child inside can lead a person to drink in the afternoon.

Today, as slushy rain falls from the sky above Brooklyn, is thankfully not one of those days. Today he woke with wide eyes and eagerness. He discussed the finer points of Spiderman’s origin story with me over a banana and pb & j. (I had oatmeal. If I’m to survive the holidays without a meltdown, dry oatmeal and raw veggies have to become my new best friends.) We read through a plethora of books and sang. We made a birthday card for our upstairs neighbor, Sophia. He dictated a message to me with enough inflection to warrant this — !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!— type of punctuation.

And for the first time in a while we just reveled in the pleasure of each others company. Sometimes I am not the best about this. I can be either too involved, or too distracted, too aloof, or too emotionally available. Striking a balance with my son is sometimes harder work that writing 3,000 words ever thought about being. So when it happens, it’s something to treasure.

However, capturing the moment on camera has mostly illuded me.