Category “Thinking Big”

Life After Yes

Our lives are marked by Yeses. And Nos, of course. But the Yeses, they shine.

Or they don’t.

Proposals, pink lines, acceptance letters, job offers, greenlights, book deals. We spend our lives waiting for one Yes or yearning for another. Each time, we want the Yes so badly we can taste it. Each time, we tell ourselves that things will be different once we get it. Better.

We tell ourselves that we will be different. Better.

And then the yes comes.

And things change. We start wearing that diamond ring or those stretchy jeans with the elastic waistband or that I’m-supposed-to-be-happy smile. But while things look different on the outside, we aren’t different on the inside. We aren’t better. Or happier. Which means that life after yes feels a lot like life before yes. A life that’s Less Than or Not Enough.

But Yes is supposed to be a game changer. It’s supposed to be an us changer. It’s supposed to be the thing that magically transports us from where we are to where we’ve always wanted to go. Yes is supposed to matter.

So why doesn’t it?

Do we expect to much of Yes? Or does the problem lie with us, with our inability to step into Yes, our refusal to let Yes be enough?

I’ve never been very good at Yes. Getting into college and then law school. Landing my dream job. Passing the bar exam. These were big Yeses for me. Each one was a Yes I worked for. A Yes I waited for. Each one took me to a place I wanted to go. But each time, when I got there, there I was. The same person I was before. Not better. Not happier.

Why? Because the Yes wasn’t enough. Which meant than life after it wasn’t either.

This is not how it’s supposed to work.

I know this from experience. I know this because there is one Yes in my past that does shine. It sparkles and glitters and glistens. It’s a Yes that stands in middle of a Before and an After. A Yes that changed things. A Yes that changed me. A Yes that taught me that Life can be different after Yes. That it should be.

This Yes was both given and received. This Yes took the form of an “I Do,” but it was a Yes just the same.

Four and a half years ago, in a big yellow church in Atlanta, Georgia, I said yes to Husband and he said yes to me. And in that moment, I started living happier ever after. Not because I’d snagged the perfect husband or the perfect marriage (I hadn’t). But because in that moment, I was getting more than I deserved, and I knew it. Our relationship, with all its complexities and issues and challenges, was everything I wanted and, frankly, more than I thought I would ever get. And there we were, at that altar, saying Yes. For now. Forever.

That Yes was everything. That Yes was enough. It didn’t matter what happened next week or next year or ten years down the road. What was true in that moment wouldn’t stop being true when things got rocky or rough. Our marriage – a whopping five seconds old – was already a dream come true.

The awareness of that changed me. It made me different. Better. Happier. Which tells me something about Yes that I think we often overlook. It’s easy for us to see Yes as the beginning of something. An engagement. A marriage. A pregnancy. A career. And while it is that in a lot of ways, Yes is also the fulfillment of something. A dream. A wish. A prayer. A promise. Which means that Yes, in itself, IS enough. We have what we wanted – all that we wanted – the moment we get the Yes.

The secret, I think, is in the awareness. Recognizing that this – right here – is the dream-come-true. That pink line. That mortgage. That offer letter. That publishing contract. We didn’t count on a risk-free pregnancy or a problem-free house or a stress-free job. We didn’t expect a bestseller. Before the Yes, the Yes was enough.

The Yes IS enough.

As many of you probably know, the title of today’s post is also the title of my friend Aidan’s debut novel, which hits bookstores today. While I suspect LAY is going to skyrocket to the bestseller list (yes, I think it’s that good), I hope that today will sparkle and shine in Aidan’s mind even if it doesn’t. Because today is a Yes. A giant, neon YES.

And Yes is enough.

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I want to hear your Yes stories! Had life after yes been different? Better? Happier? How has Yes disappointed you?

Where Am I?

Memory has been on my mind a lot lately.

Watching a tiny baby grow into a less tiny baby makes you want to remember each day.  Maybe not every moment, but so many of them.

On top of being in a memory-making mode, I’m writing a novel that asks big questions about the nature of memory and its relationship to identity.  Do our memories define us?  Am I me because I remember all the things that have brought me to this moment?  Or am I somehow separate from my memories?  Of course, the answer depends on how we define “I.”  Then again, how we define “I” is the question itself.

In constructing a story about the nature of memory, I had to come up with my own answers to these questions.  Now, I want yours.  Your answers but also your questions.  About memory.  Identity.  Sense of self.  The mind.  The body.  The heart (the one that loves, not the one that beats).  The soul.

Which of these are inextricably entwined?  Which of these can we remove from a person without taking the person away?

If tonight, while you slept, you were to somehow get a brain download of all of my memories – every single one – would you wake up tomorrow in love my husband?  Would I, with no memories left, still love him?

Are memories something we have or something we are?

Unextraordinary Measures (Day #99)

I meant to write about Five for Ten on Friday, so that by the time today arrived, you would know all about the Momalom duo and their quest to foster connection and conversation.  I wanted to tell you how important I think these things are and how cool I think it is that that Jen and Sarah have made it so simple.  Give five minutes.  Get five minutes.  Connect.  Converse.  I wanted to do these things last week so that I could encourage some of you (all of you?) to participate.

Best laid plans.

So here I am today, forced to rely on the old “click HERE and HERE to find out what Five for Ten is all about.”  I could blame my book (it being Day #99 and all), but I won’t, because it’s not the reason I didn’t post on Friday.  I didn’t post on Friday because I didn’t write on Friday.  Not a word.  It was Day #96 and I took the day off.  And then I took the next day off.  And the next one, too.

Does that mean you’ve already finished the book? you ask excitedly.  Expectantly.

I just smile mysteriously.

On first glance, you might think this is the smile of a pleased, confident person.  A person who has finished ahead of schedule.  But if you look closer, you’ll notice that this smile of mine has an edge.

Because it’s forced.

I am wearing the tight, oh-crap-what-have-I-done smile of a person who lives in a world where time is limited and moments are fleeting.  A place where opportunities are easily missed.  A universe where once-in-a-lifetime means exactly that.

No, I did not finish ahead of schedule.  I wanted – needed! – days 96, 97 and 98.  But I wanted something else more.

I wanted to spend Friday morning having a talking-really-talking conversation with Husband.

I wanted to spend Friday afternoon on the couch with Mom and Lil Mil.

I wanted to spend Friday evening at happy hour with my family, drinking white wine and munching on sweet potato fries.

I wanted to spend Saturday (yes, all of it) cleaning out my closet with Mom, laughing at the bubblegum pink mini dress I wore on New Years’ Eve the year I met Husband and the scores of lingerie I got at my bachelorette party and have never worn.

I wanted to spend Saturday evening talking to Dad about the post-Day #100 future of this blog.

And I wanted to spend Sunday celebrating my daughter’s baptism, exactly one year after she came into my life.

I wanted to do these things.  I also wanted to spend the weekend finishing my book.  But I wanted to do these things more.

So here it is Monday morning, Day #99, the day before my big deadline, and I am forcing a smile.  Telling myself that I made the right choice, that those things I did mattered more than game plans and word counts.  Reminding myself that the smile I wore yesterday wasn’t forced at all.  Because it wasn’t.  And if I had it to do over again, I would choose to spend my weekend exactly the way I spent it.  Not pursuing my big dream.  Not chasing my passion.  But cleaning my closet.  Eating with my family.  Sitting on my couch.  Watching days 96, 97, and 98 pass by.

This is hard for me to admit.

Setting big goals, pursuing big dreams, taking big risks – we don’t hesitate to call those acts courageous.  They look courageous.  They feel courageous.  Deciding to spend a Saturday afternoon cleaning your closet, that doesn’t look or feel anything like courageous.  It looks and feels… sorta lame.  Very average.  Painfully ordinary.

And you know what?  It is.  Average.  Ordinary.  There is nothing extraordinary about the existence of messy closet or the desire to clean it.  Just like there is nothing extraordinary about a meal with family.  Or an afternoon on the couch.  There is, however, something quite extraordinary about finishing a novel.  And yet, I chose to do the ordinary things instead.

Because I wanted to.

Which makes me look and feel … sorta lame.  Very average.  Painfully ordinary.

Because I am.

Not always.  But sometimes.

I am ordinary.  An ordinary person who enjoys doing ordinary things.

These words, they scare me.  I don’t want to be ordinary.  And I certainly don’t want to be perceived as ordinary.  By you.  By Husband.  By Lil Mil.

It takes courage to be extraordinary.  But it takes courage to be ordinary, too.

It takes courage to be real.

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(Do you struggle with feeling ordinary?  To you make an effort to to be extraordinary?  Is it hard for you to acknowledge the parts of yourself that you think make you less desirable?  Do you agree that it takes courage to be real?  Are you participating in Five for Ten?  If not, you should!  Hop on over to Momalom and sign up!  For those of you who aren’t into clicking, here’s the deal:  if you will commit to spend five minutes at Embrace the Detour for ten days in a row (and leave a comment!), then I will do the same on your blog.  What if you don’t have a blog?  It doesn’t matter!  Leave me a comment and I will spend at least five minutes emailing you back.  The whole point is to make connections and start conversations.  We all need both!)

When Someone Can Say It Better (Day #82)

I had a post planned for today.  A short one, as promised.  I intended to write about what it means to be here, now instead of always projecting to there, then (a thought that continues to peck away at my brain as I endeavor to stay focused on today amidst the flashing and distracting lights of the ever-nearer Day #100).  But then I read this post by Lindsey of A Design So Vast and realized that she has said it better.

My Real Life Has Already Begun

By Lindsey Mead

The effort to be present in my life has been the single most important thing I’ve undertaken in the past couple of years. Maybe ever. It has transformed how I think about the world and myself, and the relationship between the two. When I say “being present” I mean, literally, being engaged in and awake to my life. This sounds so simple, right? Well, for me, it’s not. No way. Perhaps I had further to go than most people: I am certainly one of the most preoccupied and distractable people I know, and I take multi-tasking to an Olympic sport (and then past it, where I start doing so many things I’m doing them all poorly). I’m extremely rarely engaged in just one thing, or one person.

It’s hard to articulate just how pervasive this not-presence was. And doing so makes me feel ashamed. I would often check my voicemail, remember that there were five messages, and be unable to recall the content (or caller) of a single one. I’d turn the wrong way down familiar streets because I was not paying attention. I used to play Scrabble with my family (under duress, since I am not an avid game-player) and play solitaire on the side because it was too slow otherwise. I play tetris on conference calls and read google reader during movies.

Beyond just distracted, though, I was also, even more toxically, wishing my life away. Every night, I’d hurry my kids through bathtime so I could get back in front of the computer or my book. I’d will them to JUST GO TO SLEEP ALREADY so I could have my night alone. And now? I’d give a lot of things to have some of those nights back. I’d go to soccer practice and spend the 90 minutes worrying about all of the rest of the things I had to do that day. I’d leave events early in preemptive worry about being tired the next morning.

I was never really there. And sometime in the past couple of years, I realized I was missing my life. There are great swaths of Grace and Whit’s babyhoods that I simply don’t remember. I took a ton of pictures, so I can look back at those, but I truly don’t have memories beyond the photographs (and I wonder if I was taking pictures, somehow, to compensate for how utterly not-there I was).

I suspect this behavior was a defense mechanism, because opening up to the actual moments of my life meant exposing myself to the reality of their impermanence. I knew instinctively how painful this would be. At some point in my early thirties, however, the balance shifted and I wanted to be there more than I wanted to avoid that hurt. I didn’t want to miss anymore of Grace and Whit’s lives. If it meant I had to take on some pain, some acceptance of how ephemeral this life of ours was, I was willing to do that. It is certainly my childrens’ arrival that precipitated this shift in outlook for me: the stakes were higher once they were here, and it wasn’t just my days I was squandering anymore.

It sounds trite, in some ways, but it is also essentially true: this moment is all I have. This moment is my life. Somehow, gradually but irrevocably, this realization seeped into my consciousness over the past few years. I realized how much I had already wasted, and I didn’t want to do that anymore. I am already heading into the middle of my life, and I don’t want to miss anymore of it. All those days that I felt I was waiting for my real life to begin, what a loss they all were. Colin Hay’s voice sings in my head, along with Ram Dass’s iconic book (I treasure my copy), Be Here Now.

So I’m not saying that I believe we should every single moment be playing trains with our kids on the floor. That we should evade our responsibilities to engage constantly in a always-happy celebration of childhood. Impossible, both of those things. And unrealistic. I’m not saying that there aren’t heaps of laundry and piles of dishes and lunches to endlessly pack and unpack in my life. Of course there are. I just mean that I want to be there while I do those things.

I am also not saying that I enjoy every moment of my life. Of course I don’t! To pay attention to my life is to receive both the good and the bad, and believe me, there is plenty of bad that makes me sad and regretful. Yes, sometimes it feels like pressure, and I realize I am just starting out on what will be a long, difficult journey. I get snappish and annoyed and wishing things would just be over … daily. But I know now what it is like to be engaged in my life, to really pay attention, and the fullness of the moments where I am able to do that makes up for all the times I fail. It is the memory of that momentary richness that brings me back to begin again. And again.

It is not a surprise to me that I’ve been drawn to reading books that meditate on this theme: Dani Shapiro,Katrina Kenison, and Karen Maezen Miller have all become important teachers of mine, despite their not knowing or having asked for that title. Each of them tells, in her own lyrical and compelling way, of her journey home. Of her journey to right here. To right now. I have been deeply, deeply moved by each of their stories. And the questions are as insistent as they are difficult (just thinking about these sometimes makes me feel like crying): What would it take to really inhabit the hours of our days? And what do we lose, if we don’t start trying?

When I talk about being present, I mean it in the most literal sense possible. I mean being in my life. I want my mind to stay inside my head for a little bit. I want my heart to dwell here, in the rooms of my days.

More and Less (Day #74)

I think more since becoming a mom.

Also less.

I spend more time in thought, for sure, and more time noticing things to think about. I don’t know if this is how I process motherhood or how I come up with blog topics, but either way, I feel like my days are more thought-filled than before.

But my thoughts? They’re less varied than they used to be. I spend less time thinking about great books and great art and great films. In fact, I’ve spend virtually no time thinking about these things since becoming a mom, probably because I haven’t read/seen/watched any. I’ve been too busy booking and blogging and babying. And thinking about booking and blogging and babying.

This bothers me. A lot.

And yet. Am I willing to devote less time to book or blog or baby so that I might have the time to read and see and watch?

No.

And so I sit here, fingers poised over my keyboard, not sure where this post goes from here. Because I have no solution. I want to be a person who cares enough about Great Things to make time for them, but the truth is, I’m not. I used to be. I used to be a person who believed that the living of life occurred in the reading and the seeing and the watching.

Somewhere between then and now, that person became someone who only has time for Small Things. And not all small things – just a few, specific ones:

My tiny daughter. My tall man. My family. My friends. My unfinished novel. My deeply satisfying blog.

My world has shrunk.

It has also expanded.

[Ten minutes pass]

A thought: maybe the living of life does occur in the reading and the seeing and the watching. But maybe it doesn’t matter so much what we’re reading and seeing and watching. Maybe blog posts and baby grins and episodes of LOST are just as good as Tolstoy and Manet and Hitchcock.

Yeah. Nice Try.

[Ten more minutes pass]

I give up.

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(How much time do you spend thinking about Great Things? What was the last Great Book you read? Has your present detour caused your world to shrink or expand? Do you spend more or less time thinking than you used to? Are you satisfied with the depth/frequency/variety of your thoughts? What do you do to cultivate deep thinking? Is deep thinking overrated? Am I overthinking deep thinking?)

And so