Peace

Peace

One of my biggest challenges in life is navigating fickle moods and anxieties that feel more like sickness than emotion. Fear takes me like a fever and my reality distorts.

Speaking of reality distortion: It seems that peak stress (such as not sleeping much, working long days) and creative expression (jamming, writing, performing) take me interestingly close to a psychedelic state. Something about the lights; something about the way disparate ideas connect; things shift and swirl beneath my feet.

(Perhaps this is why my psychedelic adventures have been sparse and cautiously done, and that a small amount goes a very long way. I’m already very nearly there.)

If I were able to better harness this abstract mind of mine, and calm the anxiety that hides beneath the surface, I could experience much more peace and satisfaction. But isn’t that true of everyone? Isn’t peace just around the corner? Isn’t conflict constant? Once you solve a problem, another one is around the corner, waiting. And it’s probably a bigger one. A juicier one. And I love problems, don’t we all love problems? What else would life be? A code to crack, a push to grow, an accomplishment and deep satisfaction when the problem is confronted. No problems would be like no gravity. Our muscles would waste away and we’d be flimsy and shapeless.

So at the same time, I resent anything that takes me away from the immediacy of my life. “If only I were less anxious…”, “If only I were more peaceful…”, these are true statements, and I want to grow in that direction, but these thoughts come dangerously close to making me resent where I am in the moment. If only makes things seem much worse than they really are. Because right now, things are pretty good. Great, even. Ups and downs are all a part of it. Sure, I’m working on being less anxious. But I’ve come a long way from the panic attacks of fifteen years ago, and everything really is okay.

It reminds me of how quickly we tend to acclimate to our reality, and then we want more. When I was younger, I lived in a cricket-infested small apartment, but it was good. Rent was cheap, I didn’t have to work much, and I was able to live creatively. But then – but then – I wanted a house. So my friends and I rented a house. And that was good. So much space! How fun to be with friends! But then, but then – turf wars, hostility, passive-agressiveness. I wanted to be alone. And on and on the journey went.

Now I live in a townhouse in a nice, new neighborhood. The rental price is one I couldn’t have afforded even a few years ago, especially on my own. It’s small, but nicely spaced between three floors. I can escape to do work without disrupting anyone. I can sing loudly, because I only have one neighbor who works during the day, and the soundproofing is great. My landlord is awesome. I’ve been here nearly two years, and I’ve had moments of deep pride at being able to make living here work.

Still, still, still. I think, wouldn’t it be nice to have a house? Wouldn’t it be nice to have a real office? Wouldn’t it be nice for my daughter to have more space? A yard? Or maybe it would be nicer living in a condo in a larger city. Wouldn’t it be nice to live that life and have those experiences instead? Wouldn’t it be nice to be somewhere that isn’t here?

And that nice home that I might’ve only dreamed of years ago, it becomes less satisfying. Suddenly I want more. It’s not enough. What if, what if.

Things could always be better. But things are good. If I stop averting my gaze from what’s right in front of me – family, friends, space, freedom, meaningful work, this bustling Sunday afternoon coffee shop – if I stop drifting to supposedly better futures – then, THEN, it’s all okay, it was always okay.

Yes, that’s where peace lives. That’s where it has always been.

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On Journaling and Love.

My life goes by too quickly when I don’t journal. Just yesterday, it seems, I wrote down some happenings. The next day, I was too busy. Journaling didn’t seem so important. Then the next day, then the next. And suddenly it was ten days later, like hitting the snooze button too many times and realizing you only have ten minutes to get to work.

Ten days is better; before that, it was a month.

Journaling is a dear, treasured habit that I haven’t been keeping up. I’ve always journaled, and since 2015 I’ve been collecting my yearly writings in print-copy paperbacks, because why not? I love having a paperback journal, and it’s a wonderful incentive to actually write.

I love writing, and yet I resist it fiercely. Isn’t this how it goes? Why do we resist what we love?

Because love is hard. You experience love and it threatens to break apart your very being. It takes you to the edge of overwhelm. It’s so powerful that it can break your life down to pieces in a moment. All that you think you are, all that you’ve built, demolished. Love builds towers, and it tears them down, with equal ease.

There is a sentimental, tepid, head-based thing we call love, and it’s the thing we say without thinking, the thing written on Hallmark cards, the infatuation with someone new and exciting. That kind of love is easy. Because it doesn’t mean anything.

The love I’m talking about is a love most parents know – a love so overwhelming and primal that the thought of anything bad happening to your children leaves you heaving, your entire being wracked with pain, so filled with the idea that you would do anything for that kid. All you’ve built, you would tear it down in a second if you needed to. That love is more powerful than any built life.

So love is hard. It’s a hard thing to feel, a hard thing to embrace. I think we spend a lot of time recoiling from love, preferring the safety of weaker states, states that don’t have the power to completely topple us.

I dearly love writing, and I always have. But I resist it, too. It’s work.

I’ve been in partnered relationships in an almost-unbroken chain since I was seventeen years old. Being in a relationship is natural and enjoyable for me, and I’m happier that way. But loving another person is hard; to be generous when you’re annoyed, kind when you’re indignant, to really talk, and really listen, to stay physically connected, to keep the hearth warm.

I love my daughter more than anything in the world, but parenting is the hardest gig I’ve ever had.

And that’s nothing to say of music, music, music.

That’s why I came to my journal today. I don’t just want to do what’s easy, because there’s no love there. What would I do instead? Some work emails, watch TV, read a book. All fine things, all things I’ll keep doing, but I have to remember the love. Journaling helps me remember (and psychedelics, but that’s for later).

Love is hard, but it’s one of the only things that actually matters. That’s why it topples towers. The towers were just pretend, and love was the only real thing all along.

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It’s okay.

I’ve been thinking about acceptance. How, in difficult situations, my tendency is to fight the difficulty, to reject it. Like I’m saying to the experience, “this is not okay”.

But sometimes things are difficult. Why reject an inevitable part of life?

This isn’t the same thing as passivity, of sitting back and being punished. The attitude of, “things suck, so why try?”

Rejecting a part of life is like rejecting a part of yourself. This life, it’s full-spectrum.

It’s okay when things are difficult. It’s okay to be lost, to not know the next steps.

It’s okay to live in your heart. Feel it all. Let in the light with the dark. Let in the sun with the storm.

That’s where the love is.

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Good Taste.

Probably everyone thinks they have good taste. Most people would describe themselves as kind, generous, thoughtful and reasonably intelligent. These aren’t objective measurements.

But you might look at someone and think they have terrible taste. The food they eat, or the clothes they wear, or the music they listen to.

Part of this is a judgement based on your own subjective set of standards. I listen to Tool, so therefore if you listen to Taylor Swift, you must have bad taste.

Another part of this is based on societal ideas of what constitutes good taste. If you have nice shoes, or listen to an acclaimed album, or eat at a fine dining restaurant, then you have good taste.

But just because a bunch of people agree on something doesn’t make it true. We used to agree that parachute pants were cool. That adding a half cup of blueberries to a muffin recipe made them healthy. That white blonde women were the most beautiful.

If you’re at a party with 12 people, and 11 of them say you have ugly shoes, does that mean you have ugly shoes?‌‌ If that happened, you might want to get nicer friends.

Maybe you could say, objectively, that your shoes have a big hole in the toe and are caked in mud. Therefore, they’re ugly. That isn’t an issue of taste anymore, but an issue of quality.

Let’s pretend, then, that your shoes are clean and cared for. But 11 of your friends say they’re ugly. What criteria are they judging this on?‌‌ What they see on Reddit?‌ What other people are wearing?‌ Are the 9th, 10th and 11th people saying they’re ugly because the first 7 people did?

Is popular opinion worth more than your personal vote?

Ultimately it doesn’t matter if anyone else thinks you have good or bad taste, since it’s mostly a subjective measurement. What matters is if you think you have good taste.

How do you develop good taste?

Asked another way:‌ What tastes good to you?

We shovel food in our mouth without tasting it. We turn on Spotify without really hearing it. We wear clothes that are fast and convenient to put on.

If you flip these ideas, doesn’t that mean you’ll have to invest a lot of time and effort to develop good taste?

Cooking a nice meal takes time. Really listening to a song requires focus, not multi-tasking. Wearing clothes you love means taking time to let yourself be open and captivated at the store.

One thing I‌ find interesting in life:‌ Oftentimes, the more energy you put into something, the more you enjoy it. Cooking becomes much more enjoyable once you take the time to try recipes and build basic skills. It’s a serious drag when you don’t know what you’re doing, or if you feel unskillful.

Sure, developing good taste takes time. But invite the possibility that you’ll deeply enjoy that time.

Another aspect of developing good taste is allowing yourself to be curious. If you eat the same eight meals over and over again, allow yourself to be curious about something new. Maybe it’s a type of cuisine, or something you saw in a magazine. What would that taste like? This requires approaching the subject with an element of adventurousness.

Being adventurous takes more effort than falling into default patterns, but going outside your comfort zone is exactly what’s needed if you want to create interesting memories. We remember novelty with the most clarity. Perhaps that curry experiment ends up tasting awful. But I‌ guarantee you’ll remember it, and that means something.

A final component of building good taste?‌ Know the rules, and then gleefully break them. As a musician, I’m passionate about music theory because it helps me make sense of the chaos of sound. Learning the rules is only a first step, though. Music theory can be stifling. It can keep you in a box.

I might start a song idea within a box. But if I‌ hear something I like, if my taste is pulling in a different direction, I follow that. Knowing theory is like a light in the dark. It gives me a sense of where I’m going, and how far out of orbit I am.

It takes adventurousness and curiosity to follow an idea outside the box. It takes courage to go against the grain, against the 11 people telling you you’re wrong.

And once you’re there – the meal is made, the outfit’s on – it takes the desire for immersion, for an experience, for a memory, for love, to savor the taste.

-Allysia

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Happy 2020.

Have you made goals or resolutions? Ones that make your heart sing? Or ones that you think you “should” do, not out of any great love, but because of other people’s or society’s expectations?

2020 will be the final symmetrical year we’ll see in our lifetime. For yourself, make it count. Let’s make 2020 a year we’ll remember with clarity. A time we drew outside the lines, practiced bravery and self-acceptance, and pushed ourselves to go beyond limitations.

What’s holding you back? Is it insurmountable, or does it just seem that way?

What ignites the fire in your gut? Are you going to stoke the flames, fan them out, or allow them to slowly fade?

This life is so precious. Who will be there to high-five us on our deathbeds for sacrificing our deepest desires?

And maybe by sacrificing your deepest desires, you’re robbing the rest of us of your brilliant and beautiful light.

It’s a light I’d like to see.

-Allysia

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Time to Think

“I think that I cannot preserve my health and spirits, unless I spend four hours a day at least—and it is commonly more than that—sauntering through the woods and over the hills and fields, absolutely free from all worldly engagements.”
– Henry David Thoreau

I was thinking about thinking.

It wasn’t in an idle moment, staring out the window or at the wall. It was while I was practicing piano.

At first I rejected the experience. “You’re not supposed to think while you play piano,” I reasoned. “It’s like meditation. You’re supposed to just play, just be.”

But then I noticed it happen, again and again. Not active thinking (“What should I make for lunch today?”), but passive thinking (images of that one time I said that stupid thing).

My piano practice sessions, currently around 2 hours a day, are filled with passing images and impressions. While I play music and concentrate deeply (because I AM concentrating), these images come and go, a constant slideshow. I don’t pay much attention. My attention is on the music. But I started thinking about it afterward.

My mind is doing all of this vital processing while I’m practicing piano. Kind of like how your mind processes your life via sleep and dreams – my piano practice sessions are an extension of that.

Life is full of difficult, complex problems. The kind that can’t be solved in five minutes. Where should I live? Should I travel or settle down? Should I have another child? What would be the best living environment for my current child? Should I chase that crazy dream? How would it play out in reality? I’m swimming in these problems, just like everyone else.

These problems need time to stew and simmer and bubble. I think about them actively sometimes, but mostly I just let them run in the background. Like when I’m practicing piano. All my problems, major and minor, cycle in the background when I’m engaged in other, more physical, actions.

I thought about other times my thoughts simmer. When I’m doing yoga. I’m breathing, I’m in my body, I’m in the moment, and yet I’m aware of all these background processes in my mind’s system. Floating on by, barely noticeable unless I go looking for them.

Going for walks without audiobooks or podcasts. Sitting in a waiting room without a phone. Driving a car without listening to anything. Observing my daughter play. Taking a shower. The time it takes to fall asleep.

These are precious pockets.

This weekend I had an entire day to myself, since Michael took our daughter to the lake with his family. It was a rare treat. By the end of the day, my mind was feeling so loose and free. Unwound. The day was spent in simple pursuits – piano, a creative project, some songwriting, yoga, lots of reading – but those simple pursuits gave my mind some space. Some air. I was alive in the doing, full of ideas, and so completely relaxed from it.

I’ve been thinking about how we cram the seconds of our day with input. How output is important, like writing this post or tinkering with songwriting. But also how important the space between input and output is. How the simmering of your mental soup makes for a delicious life.

As the day wore on and I pleasantly unwound, I realized how I tend to pack my days with doing, with input. Podcasts on walks and drives and when I cook. I love podcasts, they connect me and light me up. But what about a little silence sometimes? I thought about my tendency to pull out my laptop at night and get in a little more work, instead of having a short yoga session. How hard it is to practice piano sometimes, but how it ends up being the best spice of all for my mind.

I thought about how I used to be. Teenager Allysia, early-20s Rock Band Allysia. I was open, I was unwound. I didn’t stuff my life with doing. I didn’t even get a smartphone until I was 24. I was art, art, art.

My life is better now, and I’m much happier in my 30s than I was in my 20s. My life is consistently getting more enjoyable. While I tend to don the rose-colored glasses for my past, I have to remind myself that, though I was art, I was also untethered.

But my fondness for the past isn’t for the drama and shenanigans of being young. It’s for the way I used to think. Open, free, with room to roam. Now, a decade later, I have to remind myself to let my mind out of its box once in a while. To come out to play.

I can’t blame smartphones for everything, and I can’t blame growing up. There’s no blame at all. It’s just change. If I could have the open mind of my old self, and the good sense of my new self, then that would really be something. I can paint a square. I can make the time.

-Allysia

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A Little Bit Blue.

It’s Friday afternoon and I’m wrapping up some work-related tasks for the week. The sun finally came out, though the air is cold for being the middle of summer.

After enjoying an Ethiopian buffet for lunch, I was waiting to pay. The owner had to go hunt down the debit machine, so while I waited, my eyes gravitated toward the television.

I’m not a news person. You might call me ignorant, and you might be right. But I’m a sensitive person and news has the tendency to quickly turn me cynical.

On the television, the news was detailing the most recent exploits of ICE. Pulling people from cars, separating parents from children. I almost broke down in tears right there. So easy to say from my point of privilege, as a Canadian woman. But how is it that these things are happening now, in this day and age? How has the fear of immigrants gone this far?

My problems are trivial, but they’re mine. I’m not at risk of deportation or separation from my family, which should be the end of that thought. But still, my own little concerns, little though they may be, feel heavy and weighty in my life.

We’ve been looking at houses in the city, closer to childcare, further from Michael’s work. Currently I drive 1.5 hours (one way) in order to have access to quality childcare. I’ve been doing this a couple times a week for over half a year, and the longer it goes on, the more rage I feel, rage against a broken system. Canada is better than the United States, but childcare is expensive and not readily available to all. It’s why so many moms decide to stay home while their children are young, permanently affecting their ability to advance their career in a meaningful way.

I want to be a mom AND have a meaningful career. It shouldn’t be so hard to have both.

Moving to the city means a daily commute of 1.5 hours for my husband, so it isn’t a fair trade-off. At the same time, it isn’t fair that I have to drive so far just to work, especially with a child who doesn’t always like the long drive. Few things are more stressful than inconsolable screaming during endless highway stretches.

If I could learn to be happy with what is. If I could embrace being a stay-at-home mom, and put work on the backburner. Even for a year. We could ride out Michael’s work contract and consider moving afterward. When I write it out, when I think about it, it seems like the obvious answer. Just deal with it, right?

Yet when I turn that over in my heart, I just feel blue. Heavy. Like the story of my next year will be defined by a resigned sigh.

Staying at home and being a good parent is challenging, but I don’t mind it. I spent the first year of Jane’s life scaling way back on work and focusing on being a stay-at-home mom. I made good friends centered around playdates. I cooked food and kept the house in order. It was fine. But now I’m in a phase where I want to focus on work. Especially because the possibility exists of becoming a parent to an infant again, which will reset the cycle.

The problem is the lack of choice. If I had the choice, I would work 3-4 days a week right now. It’s just too much driving, too much time away from home. A regular 8-hour day turns into a 12-hour day.

Still, there are real issues in the world and I’m stuck on this one. I’m complaining about a commute, but at least I have a family to commute to.

Many women would kill to be in my position. We can afford for me to stay at home with my daughter. Between my (small) income and my husband’s (slightly less small) income, we’ve been able to make it work in our little town. Many women work long hours with low pay and don’t have the option to stay home, even if they wanted to. Other women, like myself, feel somewhat forced into the situation, and a little resentful about it as a result.

Jane loves her current daycare. She’s excited to go there, and happily waves goodbye when I drop her off. Playing with the kids is a nice reprieve for her. The thought of pulling her out as the winter months approach, a real possibility, is a heartbreaking.

Where I live, winter driving can be unpredictable. Blowing snow, blizzards, fog, and ice are all reasonably common. In the peak of winter, we only have 8 daylight hours, and highway driving in the dark in these conditions only exacerbates them. Last winter I braved the highways once a week for daycare because I was desperate, but I don’t know that I’d do it again. It’s one thing if it’s just me in the car; it’s another entirely when my daughter’s in there with me.

So then Michael is supposed to drive in these conditions, and every day? Is that a fair trade-off?

We’ve been making serious plans to list our house in the fall and to start looking for a new place in the city. This should thrill me, but I’m left feeling guilty and a little bit blue. My husband is such a generous and kind person. Moving makes his life so much harder, but he wants to make my life easier.

Why can’t I do the same for him? Put it off for a year, or even half a year? Try to shove that resigned sigh back down and make the most of it?

So we’re floating in the ether of indecision, with no decision on either side being an easy one. I’m waiting for that alternative – that brilliant idea that is so perfect and I can’t believe why I didn’t think of it before.

Like maybe we just go travel. Do the opposite of settle down. Embrace the ether. But then I think about it, and it seems prohibitively difficult. Too difficult to be worth it.

What about getting a little condo in the city, so I can have a place to live during the work week, and then go home for the weekends? A temporary solution for the next school year? But that’s expensive and I don’t want to be away from my husband so much, and to have him be away from his daughter so much.

We’ve been having a wonderful summer so far. The pacing has been good and we’ve had lots of time together as a family. In some moments I’m blindingly happy. In some moments, it’s clouds over that sunny sky. It’s a little bit blue. Thanks for reading.

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Why the “Six months to live” lens isn’t always the right one

I like using the “six months to live” lens to get a grip on my priorities.

You know what I’m talking about, right?

This – “If I had six months left to live, what would I do with my life? Who would I spend time with?

I’ve always considered this lens to be the best litmus test of if what I’m doing is the best use of my time. With this lens I’ve easily determined that the most important aspects of my life are family, friends and meaningful work. Throw in some good food, fresh air and books and I’m golden.

But recently, I started thinking about it some more. And I had this realization: Why would I want to live my whole life like it’s the last chapter of my book?

Friends and family are important, but does it really make sense to factor them as the highest priority in all situations? Maybe, maybe not.

For example, if my husband, child and I wanted to do some extended traveling, say for a year, doing so doesn’t pass the friends and family litmus test. We’d be away for so long. That’s not what I’d want if my life was ending.

But my life isn’t ending (that I know of). And it’s virtually impossible to predict when it will. So does that mean I should never go on big adventures? Never do anything that takes me away from the anchor of home?

Of course not – that would be ridiculous. Going on big adventures is important for a whole whack of other reasons. It would be hard to be away from my family for so long, but there would be all kinds of benefits to extended travel. Not to mention my closest family – my husband and child – would be right there alongside me.

And that’s only one example. What about moving, or considering where we want to live for the next 5-10 years (or more)? Using the “6 months to live” lens, it makes the most sense to stay local to where most of our friends and family are. Even if there are many sacrifices to doing so.

Forgive this slight digression, but it’s been heavy in my thoughts: Our dream location wouldn’t be too expensive, would be near high-quality daycare, give us the opportunity for plenty of outdoor time, be a unique and beautiful house (my husband’s criteria), have a sizeable vegetarian community with access to great produce and restaurants, have plenty of sunlight, wouldn’t get too cold, and be walkable. I’d probably also want to live somewhere English-speaking. Milder temperatures would also mean not having to drive in extreme conditions like blowing snow, blizzards, and storms so frequently – a major upside for me. Not having hour-long commutes is a major bonus too.

Almost none of these criteria apply to where we currently live. Yet, it’s near friends and family. What to do?

There are other situations in which the “six months” lens falls apart. Say you’re working a job that doesn’t light your soul up. It wouldn’t make sense to quit you job and travel on a whim, or quit your job and write that album you always dreamed of writing – these things require thought and planning.

The “six month” lens is a great one in some ways. Have those meaningful conversations with loved ones, tell them how much they mean to you. Work on that album – make time for it if it’s important. Keep your priorities in mind when you and your child are getting sick of each other at 4:30pm.

But it’s not a great lens in all ways. I only pray that my life story is bursting with interesting chapters, and that my last one is far, far away. There will always be periods where I’m pulled to my family above and beyond any other consideration. But it’s okay to be pulled away from family sometimes as well.

I’m reminded of when I lived in Austin and Toronto between 2013-2015. Those were fond years – difficult, but dear to me. At the end of it, I was ready to be close to my family and enjoy all the familiar comforts of my home province. But I’m so grateful that I lived away. I wouldn’t trade it for anything.

Now, being home for five years, I’m starting to feel the tug of strings again. The tug of adventure.

I was bothered by it at first, swatting it away like an errant fly, I’ve since come around. It’s all good, it’s all okay, it’s exactly right.

Watch this space.

-Allysia

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Your Future is Here

With the approach and arrival of each new season, I start to get antsy. I complete goals I’ve been working on, and I start itching for a change. New ideas, new plans, new things to do.

It always starts with daydreaming. I would drive my daughter to daycare, hour-long commutes in the bright early morning of the Northern Hemisphere’s summer. I lost interest in my audiobooks and podcasts, normally so dear to me. Instead I opted for music. Sometimes I’d just let Spotify pick the tunes, and sometimes I’d listen to the same song 100 times in a row. But I chose music so I could think, and feel. Be inside my own mind instead of someone else’s.

With the daydreaming came reflection and forward-thinking. What would my 10-years-from-now self look like? What would she be doing? Where am I currently unsatisfied, and what can I do about it?

Hours and hours of these thoughts. What do I want my life to feel like? How do I be a better wife, a better mother, a better person?

These last few weeks have been so busy. I hosted an Online piano convention, and with the launch of that there were many little tasks, such that my mind couldn’t relax. I’d be at the dinner table with my family and be thinking about work. It would be 10pm and I’d feel guilty for reading my book instead of answering emails. I knew it was a small drop in the ocean of my life, that things wouldn’t be like this forever.

The convention is over now (and it WAS fun). Yesterday, the last day it ran, I took Jane to the paddling pool. I watched her pour water from the toy watering can, over and over. I watched her climb in and out of the pool, over and over. I watched her fill a bucket ever-so-slowly with small drops of water from little toys. And then I chased her around the pool when she ripped off her hat and refused to put it back on.

And in all this, I had one thought in my mind:

If I was given a death diagnosis – 6 months to live – this is exactly what I’d want to be doing. How lucky am I, to spend an hour of a hot summer afternoon watching my daughter play? What’s better?

And yet – and yet – until I actually started thinking about it, my mind was running thoughts like, Oh, I wonder if Logan took care of that task. Oh, I wonder if Michael remembered to rotate the laundry. Does Jane really want me to fill the watering can again, for the 100th time? Why is she just sitting on the edge of the pool – doesn’t she want to swim? Is she going to start freaking out if she remembers she’s wearing a hat and then tries to take her off? Am I going to have to haul her back to the car, kicking and screaming, if she takes off the hat and refuses to wear it?

(Sidenote: After chasing my hatless baby, and then scooping her up and committing to leaving the pool as punishment, she was chipper as a bird, waving and saying “bye” to everyone and anyone there.)

These thoughts run like rivers and are inevitable, I know. But when I caught myself, when I put on the 6-months-to-live lens, it took the 100 scattered pieces of my mind and drew them all back into one coherent whole. And the whole said, “what is more important than this, right now?

Not work, as much as I love giving and contribution and meaningful endeavors. With six months to live, I would certainly find a project or two to throw myself into, to leave my mark.

But I was so lucky to be there with my daughter, and I’m so lucky so often, and yet I grumble and forget and blink and my day is gone and without gratitude.

For the last few weeks in my daydreams, I’ve been flashing 10 years ahead. In that vision I have plenty of time for my friends and my husband and my family, and I also have the freedom to do meaningful work. But more than just a vision, my 10-year idea comes with a feeling. A feeling of flow, a feeling of wholeness. The 100 bits of my mind, unified.

And that feeling, it isn’t 10 years away. How depressing if it was! I can have that feeling – fulfillment? – right now, if only I look for it.

It’s not hard to find.

So often we think of the future as something to reach for, goals to check off. And that’s a fun thing to do, and to think about. But what we really want from our future is a feeling. Freedom, happiness, confidence, fulfillment. We might say we want money in our future, say, but what we really want is what the money will give us – freedom, happiness, confidence, fulfillment.

I don’t have the freedom to hop a plane tomorrow, it’s true. But I have the freedom to go on a random road trip if adventure is what I seek.

I don’t have the things that I imagine would bring me more happiness, such as a house in a city. But our house in a town is better than any house that I know. It’s got great ratty hardwood floors and color and spunk and personality and lots and lots of plants (thanks for that, Michael).

I don’t have some things I imagine would bring me more confidence, such as really nice clothes. I have okay clothes, some new, but lots of items that are many years old. I also don’t have the 125lb body I had pre-pregnancy. But I’m fit and hearty and healthy at 140lbs. And maybe not having all the nice things is its own little gift. If I only had a few main outfits, could I not be happy or confident? If I can’t be happy or confident without a variety of trendy outfits, what does that say about my life and my priorities?

And if the things I imagine will bring me fulfillment aren’t already present in my life, then that’s a significant problem. Fulfillment comes from meaningful work and healthy relationships. I’m lucky enough to have those right now if only I notice them and invest in them.

My 10-year future is here, right now. Less grand, but the feelings are all there for the taking, all the goodness of life before me like a buffet, if only I notice and take a bite.

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When You Don’t Like Reality

My reality is, objectively and subjectively, pretty great.

I have a loving family, I’m in excellent health, I get to do meaningful work. I have enough money in my bank account to enjoy a jackfruit bun for lunch while I tappity-tap on the keys of this mid-range laptop. I never go hungry, my bed is warm, and I have wonderful friends.

My list of gratitude would fill an entire notebook. My life is good.

Despite all this, sometimes I don’t like reality. Something happens (usually something trivial) that spins me into a chaos of misery. I turn into an embittered, teary-eyed grouch. I wish it didn’t happen, I wish I had more emotional fortitude to defend against these experiences, but I’m only human.

It’s not fair, I say.

I don’t deserve this.

Everything sucks.

I’m all alone.

I’m telling reality through gritted teeth, I don’t like you. You’re not my friend.

I’m telling reality, I want something different than what I’m getting right now. This pain, this illness, this loneliness, this is not what I want.

And that’s how I get stuck in the muck of misery.

I’m resisting the very thing that exists at this moment. I’m looking reality in the face and denying it.

If your house is burning down, it’s like standing there and saying, this sucks. I hate this. I don’t want the house to burn down.

All that is true, of course. Your house burning down would suck and I’m sure you would hate it.

But wouldn’t it be more productive to call the fire department, be sure any family members and pets are safe, and alert the neighbors?

Wouldn’t it be better to say, this is happening right now and I need to work fast to save the day?

“Don’t find fault, find remedy.”

-Henry Ford

So instead of Allysia-the-Grouch pouting about her poor fortune (finding fault), Allysia-the-Grouch needs to confront reality, accept it, and deal with the burning house (finding remedy).

Allysia-the-Grouch (or Allysia-the-Non-Grouch, for that matter) won’t always like reality. Neither will you. Reality can be hard. So, so hard. Even the most trivial thing can be hard under the right circumstances. Realizing you don’t have any rolled oats in the cupboard and all the stores are closed can be the tipping point. Not that I would know.

But what does sitting there and not liking reality accomplish? Shaking your fist at the TV but never getting up off the couch?

You have to accept the burning house. Then you have to save what you can. Then you have to rebuild.

-Allysia

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