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Thursday, October 25, 2018

Beast Brain

I was texting with my BFF and she sent me a link about Monkey Brain.   Ironically a monk was explaining how to tame monkey brain. Which is basically just a million thoughts running through your head. So many thoughts that you can't complete one because you are already thinking of the next. Monkey brain is very similar to the conversations I have with my mom.  She will be talking about an obituary and somehow seamlessly transition to a discussion about sweet potato fries.

The Monkey brain texting thread arose from an email, text and a conversation where three people gave me extraordinary compliments.   They went out of their way, to tell me something that I did right. Or something that I said that made them feel loved, or even someone saying I was incredible.  
And I didn't believe any of them.  I do believe my mind races itself into knots,  but not with a cute little monkey.  Mine is a doubt beast and a really scary creature.  She doesn't scurry about, she stops and slams and makes herself known.

This beast is pretty intelligent too.  She took each of the compliments and created a pretty convincing case as to why they were false.   One: I did something right at work.  The beast's response is that it was just a fluke and I happened to do the right thing at the right time and somebody just happened to notice. Two: I made a friend feel special and loved.  Well, I was just being nice.  If they feel that way, maybe they are just having a bad day and my niceties came at a perfect moment.  And three,  I'm incredible. The beast reminded me that person may just be saying that because they don't see the real me, only what I write so they feel like they know me, but they really don't... Oh, and the other day someone called me beautiful, and the beast immediately thought they needed to get their eyes checked.

When Don and I were first married we had his parents visit our new grown-up house and I made strawberry shortcake.  Or I made what I thought was strawberry shortcake.   I was so proud of it, but they all giggled because it wasn't what they had thought was the right way to make strawberry shortcake.  Don said something like, his mom could teach me the right way to make it. The beast whispered in my ear that, I will never cook or bake like his mom. If I suck at strawberry fricking shortcake I could assume I suck at pretty much everything else, so what is the point of even trying.  I may also mention that this was about twenty years ago and I have never forgotten it.  And even more, I believed it as if it were carved in stone somewhere on a testament slab or something. That I,  Noelle cannot and will never be, able to cook or bake anything edible.  Anything that his parents may have said about how our house was decorated, or how happy they were to have me as a daughter-in-law was completely disregarded and not believed because the doubt beast is just so loud.

I wrote a great article that was shared more than anything I had ever written.  People loved it, I got emails from all over the world thanking me,  even today, I still get messages about it. Letters explaining how this article changed their life. In one case a woman told me it saved hers.  Which is amazing and I do believe it, however, that same article was posted on a well-known site and as I was riding this wave of self-achievement, a tiny little comment caught my eye.  It said " Good article, but she is a terrible writer."   This person must have been talking to my beast because they knew exactly what to say to drop a pin into my bubble and burst it into pieces. Now whenever I think about it this article, that is all I see.

So today, for whatever reason it occurred to me, that I have to tame this annoying beast. Because she is not only hurting me but now the people who love me.  And I may not protect myself, but if anyone threatens my family, well, game on.    When I compliment a loved one, I mean it. When they do same thing, I brush it off.

How I tame this beast of doubt seems impossible.   I have tried and tried over the course of my entire life. So I decided to try a new tactic.  What if I follow this beast. Follow it and find out where her home is. Find out where she nestles and originates her hunger to make me feel bad.  It might be a scary place.  I might discover something that makes me feel uncomfortable. But the truth is, I'm tired.  I'm tired of trying to tame this constant chatter of doubt.  It is not welcome anymore.
I want a truce, and I want to try and work things out.

I had my first opportunity when I was sitting in a meeting and I tried to say something and was talked over.  The beast whispered in my ear, "stop trying, you don't have anything interested to say."  But I do. So a little while later I tried again.  Granted, I had to raise my hand and practically wave it around, but I said what I needed to and by God, they heard me. I followed the beast's thought. You don't have anything interesting to say.  Ouch. I wouldn't say that to anyone that I love.  But I do recall a time that I felt that way and it was way back in elementary school. Not those words exactly, but a teacher told me I was wrong when I tried to explain why I wanted to have a polar bear as a pet.   The class laughed.  My seven-year-old heart broke.  (btw, my parent's got me a subscription to a world wildlife foundation magazine after that.) Which is rock start parenting in my opinion.
But even so, decades later that teacher is dead, but her words are very much alive in my head.
This doubt beast is persistent, but not unbeatable. It will be a work in process. I plan on writing out these doubts and find out where they originated because once I do, I can acknowledge them, face them and let them go.

I remember my mom saying "You are what you eat." and laughing that she was a Twinkie.   But I think the same thing could is true that  "You are what you think."   Be mindful of what you think about yourself, be kind.

Tuesday, October 9, 2018

A Love Letter to Yourself

A few weeks ago, I found myself in an apple orchard with a good friend and a new friend who happens to be an amazing photographer, who loves taking pictures of women.  She had two dresses I was wearing the white one and my friend chose the blue one.  Both dresses were the embodiment of femininity.   Not because it was tight, in fact, it was the opposite. It was long and flowing and had a deep V in the center.  The material was thin enough to let sunlight through but not sheer enough to show everything.
In other words, this was not a situation I find myself in often.
This tapped into my secret fantasy to live on an orchard in an undiscovered town in California and have chickens and the boys would only eat the food we grew and raise them all free-range style.  The boys... and the food.  I wouldn't wear makeup and walk around barefoot all day, read books, listen to music, paint, drink wine for lunch and wear long flowy dresses. 
My reality is quite different. This orchard was in Goshen, Indiana which is about 45 minutes away and the only reason I go to Goshen is to visit my grandparent's grave site.   Ironically, this orchard was a stone throw away from that.
The dress required some strategic undergarments because of its material. In my California fantasy, I'm not taping things to my nipples to cover them up, because, in California, nobody cares, but we were taking photos after all and thought it would be a good idea.
As I was walking through the orchard, picking apples, I felt a deep and unequivocal connection to my roots.  Whether it was because I was in nature or because I was near my grandparents, or just because I slowed down. Whatever the reason, I felt at peace.   And that is what comes through in these pictures.

I shared with my friend that I had done this and she asked me why.  She couldn't imagine getting photos taken of herself for the sole purpose to get pictures of herself.  

First, I told her about a photo I have of my mom.  It was taken when she was a new mother and it is by far, the most beautiful photo I have ever seen. And not just of my mom, but of anyone.  My heart actually throbs when I see this picture of a woman who was doing exactly what she wanted to do.  I treasure that photo.
Next, I told her that she is worth getting her picture taken.  So many women don't feel that way. Or they worry what other people will think, or that people will say they are vain, or even worse, that people won't like what they see.  There is nothing vain in celebrating yourself. 
When I was walking through the orchard I felt radiant.  Not because of my makeup or hair or dress, (which were all fantastic and not done by me) but because I was doing something for myself, and I was with girlfriends who were positive, fun and supportive.

 I'm not going to apologize for that.

When she sent me the photos, my first reaction was to find my flaws.  I was worried other people that would see them too.  I worried that if my sons saw the pictures they would be embarrassed.
That is when I had to make a hard stop and ask what in the hell my problem was.  This is who I am.  I am a woman who for the most part, is comfortable in my body.   There is beauty in that.    Think about the time when you felt the most beautiful.  For me, it was immediately after I gave birth to my first son.  In the photo, I'm laughing through tears and sweat, my hair is a mess and all over the place. I'm 40 lbs heavier and I'm natural, primal and gorgeous.   Of course, I can't recreate that every day. But if you feel most beautiful in sweats and a t-shirt, then you celebrate that.  If you feel most beautiful with amazing makeup and your hair done up, then celebrate that.

Because when you feel beautiful, you are beautiful. 

When you do things for someone else, (like when I cut my hair really short because my boyfriend liked it that way) then you are looking good for someone, but not feeling good. The point is not to chase beauty but be an example of it.  From the inside out.

In college, I learned that when you attach your worth to what other people say about you, then you are giving your power away.  So it only feels natural and good to write a love letter to yourself, or just do something that makes you feel really good. Maybe that is food, maybe that is a hike, maybe it is sex, maybe it is sleep. maybe its spending time with friends. Maybe it is all of those things combined.   Whatever that is for you, just do it. 

In my case, it was doing this. These photos embodied so much of what makes me feel beautiful, and  I don't think hiding my true self from my boys will make them better men, in fact, I think it would only perpetuate a stereotype of what a woman should or shouldn't be.   At the end of the day, I'm the only one who can give the boys an example of a happy mother who is squeezing the most out of life or at least tries too, on most days.

I won't display the photos above the mantle.  I'll keep them with the rest of our family's pictures. This entire day was more about celebrating myself and the pictures are just a result of that. Someday I hope my sons will stumble upon them and see me for more than just their mom. But as a woman who loved life even when things weren't easy.   A woman who could be a mom, wife, daughter, sister, friend,  but also own her sensuality,  have a desire to learn more, to excel in whatever she takes an interest in and to take care of the ones she loves, including herself.