embRace

[3-min read] On a cool day in late May, three months after Putin’s military had invaded Ukraine, I met Luda Anastazievsky. A Ukrainian American, Luda had arrived at a fundraising event for refugees as a guest speaker. She wore a puffy yellow jacket with the hood up and cinched tight around her face. Despite the chill, the rest of us were gathered on the large lawn of the German American Institute in Saint Paul, adhering to pandemic precautions. We sampled Ukrainian sausages, potato salad and coleslaw sides, and sweet treats, and sipped German beer—a culinary blend representing Ukrainians who would soon be arriving in Zell, Germany.

When Luda took the podium at the front of the lawn, the audience grew still in reverence to the message we suspected she would share. She began by expressing the daily devastation she felt, how her heart was broken and filled with sadness from the media images she was seeing of her homeland. Luda told us that she was originally from the port city of Mariupol, surely understanding how we would recall the images of destruction to which she referred. And that we would know of the Azovstal steel plant that housed thousands of Ukrainian soldiers who fought off Russian soldiers on-site while being shelled from outside, and while Mariupol civilians hunkered in Azovstal’s underground bunkers stocked with dwindling supplies.

“I recall a different Mariupol,” Luda said. She remembered its Sea of Azov coastline, its libraries and schools, restaurants, and cafes. She told us that Mariupol had been a modernized city with lovely trees and parks. Now, Luda shared, eighty percent of its structures were in ruins (the estimate has been updated to ninety percent) including its drama theater which, at the time of its destruction by airstrike, was sheltering hundreds of civilians. “I always break into tears,” Luda said of seeing media images of the invasion. In an April interview, she had shared that she worries she’s suffering from secondary PTSD. I struggled to imagine how surreal it might feel to witness all that I appreciate of my city—lakes, parks, coffee shops, museums, downtown—destroyed.

Luda told us that she has family members and friends still in Ukraine, including several cousins, only one of whom she’s heard from. She maintains hope that the others have survived, but she also knows of citizens who have been taken by Russian soldiers from Ukraine and relocated to remote Russian places. Soldiers relocate captives to the far east of Russia, Luda said. In my imagination, I pulled up a map and confirmed that “far east” is furthest from what was once home, qualifying the relocation as a historical tactic of cultural suppression.

Having once studied in Russia, Luda still has contacts there. She has worked tirelessly with those contacts to arrange for the escape of her loved ones. The financial toll of assisting is significant; the psychological pressure is immense. As she spoke, I sensed Luda’s exhaustion and yet how determined she was, and how heartbroken. She needs a hug, I whispered to myself.

Listening to Luda gave me the perception of living in a time of war. Putin’s is the sort of war I associate with the past, when an aggressor would invade another country’s cities using tanks and missiles and soldiers walking through open streets and inflicting mass and random inhumane violence on other human beings, spouting fear-based rationalizations. In the media today, I have seen the faces of Ukrainian citizens in peril. They are modernized versions of the faces I studied in history textbooks in high school in chapters about world wars. I wonder what has become of the defiant faces I saw on television during an initial Russian military raid, like the teenage girls hunkered in a subway station with a cat that one of them had coaxed into a carry box before fleeing her home and taking shelter with friends. On that day, one of the girls had looked into the TV camera and stated of Russia, “It’s just like North Korea,” thus exposing my fleeting naïveté (and that of Ukrainians who couldn’t believe the invasion would happen).

“There will likely be Ukrainian families coming to the Twin Cities. Please consider helping if you can,” Luda concluded before thanking her rapt audience. I exhaled slowly and wandered to find a bin for my paper plate. And then I was face-to-face with Luda. “Thank you for sharing your story,” I told her. “It’s important to hear it from a person rather than a television.” Luda nodded, and I reached out to touch her arm. In an instant, I was pulled into a hug—two heartbroken strangers in puffy jackets, embracing.

It was one of the most comforting hugs I’ve ever received.

sHAring

[4-min read] “How are the conditions for skiing?” I asked a woman paused on Lake of the Isles. She seemed to be composing herself in minor ways, maybe putting her gloves back on, definitely shoving her hat from her forehead. “They’re really good,” she answered, eagerly more so than enthusiastically. “It’s my first time doing this in a long time, but I’m doing pretty good. I’m enjoying it. I just fell because I was trying to get from that spot to here—that’s my husband up there. He probably hasn’t even looked back yet.” She twisted to point. “But the tracks are better here. That’s where I was.” My husband and I verbally concurred, nodding our heads that the tracks were indeed better where she was standing.

We hadn’t seen her fall. And I wasn’t expecting her free-flowing conversation style. “Do you ski here?” she continued. We nodded yes. “If you’re an expert this is probably easy. I think the conditions are good. You would enjoy yourself. I’m happy with how I’m doing. Especially since I just went on Medicare. It’s a bit of a shock,” she shared—all of it, sharing. My husband and I emitted a low, “Ohhh” accompanied by a sympathetic tilt of our heads when she mentioned Medicare. (Only a decade-ish away from it ourselves, we both felt a nudge from our own mortality.)

As she wished us a great day and we responded in kind, each with the added sincerity that comes with the New Year, we left her to process her thoughts. I was confident she would be assisted by her connection with the vast frozen and snow-covered lake. A minute later, I was less confident that I had “met the moment,” though. Sure—I listened. But this past year, I’ve been striving to do more. When someone says “I fell” and/or “It’s a bit of a shock,” I want to hear it, register it, and be brave enough to meet that moment with something like, “Are you okay?” or a pause to let her say more, rather than assume she is fine because she looks unbroken, assume I know how she feels because I know how I would feel, or because I’m not brave enough to find out whether she needs one more moment of another person being there so she doesn’t feel so alone.

The book Amazing MN was in the cabin my husband and I rented to kick off our winter holiday. Among intriguing features of the state was a statistic claiming that Minnesotans talk less than inhabitants of other states. They/we are number four on the list of least talkative. I suspected as much soon after moving here and I mentioned it to my chiropractor. I admitted to her that it renders a new resident unsure about social rules. I described how sometimes I’ll say something, but rather than responding, the other person will say, “Hmm,” and give me a look I’m unsure how to interpret. I’m left to wonder whether I’ve said something offensive, antiquated, or inappropriate. My chiropractor seemed to know exactly of what I described, and postulated that maybe people say less rather than risk saying the wrong thing.

Two occasions when I’ve given in to a pandemic-isolation-plus-new-city-loneliness urge to talk here have garnered unexpected results: During my first appointment with a massage therapist, I blabbed my head off. At the end of the appointment, they thanked me! “It’s been great talking with you. No one talks to me. Thank you.” I was so surprised, I did the Minnesota thing and squinted a little, allowed a long pause, and finally responded, “My pleasure” almost as if it was a question. Did they mean it?

The second time, my husband and I tried a new (to us and the city) restaurant and sat at the bar. We exchanged a few pleasantries with our initial bartender and after five minutes or so, another bartender approached to help us select wine. Without us knowing, he had checked what food we ordered and came up with a couple pairing suggestions of which he offered to give us tastes. His suggestions were different from our usual preferences and we told him so, sharing that my mom used to live in Napa, and we enjoy wine tasting. “I have something for you, then, but you have to tell me what you think.” We sipped and opined, and after dinner he stopped back by to ask us to choose a fruit flavor. When he reappeared, he said, “It’s on me” and set down a dessert bowl and spoons. “I’m just so happy to have people who will talk to me.”

Occasionally, I ponder what might have pulled me to Minneapolis (aside from thorough statistical research). It’s an existential nuance of “Why am I here?” I am indeed passionate about communications. Might it be to refine how I communicate? And with that, surely, to become adept at ascertaining when to be brief and when someone would love for me to be a person who naturally engages them when they’re feeling “so happy to talk.”

oVer-eFFOrTing

[3-min read] You’ve heard of this efforting business? I recently heard the term in an exercise class. “Be careful that you’re not over-efforting,” the instructor advised and maybe I was projecting since there were about twelve other students, but I swear there were lasers beaming from her eyes through the Zoom screen and onto me. “Keep your neck relaxed as you move your shoulders. There’s no need to involve your neck,” she added, shaming me into relaxing some. After class, I googled the term and found that efforting means putting in too much effort.

Efforting is my MO. Even a pandemic hasn’t changed that. And I happen to have chronic neck tension. There is a significant possibility that the two are related. Over-efforting sounds redundant and yet I understand the temptation to use it. It conjures up a memory of a bulbous callous I already had on the middle finger of my teeny right hand when I was in elementary school. I would grip my pencil and press so hard to write that a sizable bump manifested. Despite the discomfort, I ignored it until I got self-conscious about it in middle or high school. So I tried holding the pencil between my index and middle fingers rather than between the thumb and index finger. It didn’t give me enough control, though. I realized I would have to train myself to stop over-efforting—the “over” part seems appropriate here, doesn’t it?—while writing, but it was a challenge. I needed to catch myself pressing hard and pause, then allow myself to just glide. Gliding is not something I do naturally. I’m on the OCD spectrum so my life feels jerkier. Controlled stops and starts. Measured.

I measure the number of ounces of wine I drink (Ugh. So Elena from “Little Fires Everywhere”). I weigh the two halves of a pastry to ensure that my husband gets the larger half. I over-effort with friends and people I haven’t yet met. If I notice someone who seems lost or like they may need a recommendation, I snap into action. Out in public, I’m on high alert for anyone who might want a suggestion.

In contrast, I also over-effort to move out of the way. Last month I was mountain biking when I heard someone behind me. It was a steep patch with a diagonal tree root, and I wasn’t sure I would make it over, so I dismounted as fast as I could to be off the approaching rider’s line. I dismounted so quickly, I slipped and fell with my bike sprawled across the path. “Sorry!” I said, still scrambling. “Are you okay?” the person asked, clearly in no rush and concerned that I had possibly damaged myself. (Just a bruise.) That was the millionth time I’ve done something similar on a mountain biking trail.

Clearly, I could benefit from a different mode. I’m trying a mantra: I belong in my space. I’ve even experimented with taking up extra space in strategic places and not moving unless asked to (no one has yet, but this still makes me exceptionally uncomfortable). I’m also working to “mind my own business” at times, letting people discover and recognize their choices on their own—have their own adventure. So far, it’s going well. And I think I’m absorbing the benefits of dosing my effort. On that note, I’m off to chillax.

braVe

[3-min read] Summertime is here and that means playtime, family time, playing-with-the-family-kids time. I’m guessing that’s why references to safety are in the media. Craig Melvin and Al Roker joked on the 3rd Hour of Today show that when the mother is away and the father is left to look after the child, the credo is: You gotta keep the child alive. This, as Melvin shared a picture of his daughter at the very top of the playground climbing bars. I noticed a band-aid on her knee. “Don’t break the child!” I thought.

“Let’s go for a walk,” my five-year-old grandniece had suggested to me three days before. A walk sounded lovely. The two of us had missed out on a morning stroll with other family, opting instead for Trolls: A Cosmic Kids Yoga Adventure. (It was a blast, of course.) Now, everyone else relaxed indoors, so she and I went for a walk along the quiet country road. She wisely insisted that I hold her hand and walk on the outside so a car couldn’t harm her. We chatted and after a few minutes, she said, “Let’s walk to the stop sign.” I squinted and looked up ahead but saw no sign. “That may be too far,” I answered. “It’s not! It’s just up there!” she promised. Dubious about being away from the yard without anyone knowing, I thought, “What would a responsible adult do?” I texted her mom: We’re on a walk.

We summited the top of the hill; still no stop sign in sight. “We should turn around here,” I said. “No! It’s not far,” she said. “We can come back tomorrow,” I said. “How about we go back and get snacks and then come back?” she countered. “I don’t think I’m up for going all the way back and then back out again,” I said, adding, “But we can do it tomorrow, with snacks.” “Okay,” she agreed.

Life teaches us very early that being impulsive can end our joy in a snap. After we turned toward home she suddenly stated, “I’m going to run!” She dropped my hand and sprinted, carefree, her hair streaming behind her. Taking a picture with my phone, I looked up in time to see her (she later explained) lose her balance. “I caught myself with my hands at first,” she’d say. But then her knee met the road before her other knee and skin above the ankle scraped pavement as well.

No no no no,” I whispered, jogging up to her, focusing to see if . . . . She stood up, brushed her hands together, looked at her knees, and listed the damage while fighting back tears. She was in obvious pain. “Oh – let me see,” I said when I arrived at her side. “It’s not too bad,” I told her. “You’ll be okay.” “It hurts,” she said through tears now. “I want my mom.” I wanted her mom, too. “We’ll be home really soon. Hang in there,” I assured her. She hobbled a little, stopped, and said, “It’s getting worse!” “The blood is a good thing,” I tried. “It cleans the area so it can heal better and not get… infected.” Should I say infected? Does that sound too scary? 

It hadn’t occurred to me that she was wearing flip-flops and therefore running would be risky. I’ve never been a mom, plus I irresponsibly wear flip-flops for all sorts of activities. What could I do to make it better? “I’m so sorry,” I said. “Why are you sorry? You didn’t do anything. I was just running and lost my balance,” my grandniece explained, now consoling me.

I use humor to cope with uncertainty, so as we finally entered the front door, I waited a beat before telling her mom, “Okay, so, not really – but I want to say I broke your child.” Experienced and looking all business, she whisked my grandniece away to apply supermom skills to wounds.

A couple days and painful band-aid changes later, it wasn’t so bad for my grandniece. I, however, struggled to accept that parents regularly believe they might have broken their children so I’m probably not a negligent person. Life rewards us for bravery, and I should try again. So – anyone want me to watch their kid?

iNhAlE

[2-min read] I spent a lot of time holding my breath during the pandemic. After the study circulated of how we could contract COVID-19 from the respiratory droplets of a person jogging past, I started holding my breath when I passed a runner not wearing a mask. In Minneapolis, most residents didn’t embrace the idea of wearing masks in outdoor spaces; using one hand I could count the number of runners I saw wearing one. I’m not a runner, but I do ride a bike a lot and I didn’t wear a mask, either. I held my breath.

Luckily, the city did a great job of making space for all us outdoor enthusiasts, so only occasionally was I at risk of passing out due to low oxygen. The lakes in Minneapolis have separate paved paths for pedestrians and cyclists. The cycling paths are one-way. The city responded to the need for pandemic distancing by closing the roads around the lakes to vehicle traffic so that people had plenty space to ride their bikes one-way in the opposite direction. It was blissful. What a necessary indulgence during a chaotic time.

Later studies debated the chances of contracting the virus even with mask-wearing. I reasoned that since breathing in another person’s respiratory droplets was the most common transmission of COVID-19, that holding my breath behind my mask provided an additional measure of protection to me and/or the other person. For example, there were times when I crossed paths with a person who wore a mask, as did I, and though we had the best of distancing intentions we would cross less than six feet apart. So I held my breath in the enclosed common spaces of my condo building, like the mailroom and elevator; in narrow aisles of the grocery store; or when someone passed too closely walking out the IN door of a coffee shop.

Shallow breathing over time can manifest a sense of unease. It’s a relationship of mutual causality, so not breathing deeply can be a consequence of stress and anxiety. Common advice for feeling overwhelmed is to exhale long and even audibly when possible. And it’s effective, pandemic or no.

Inhaling deeply is an entirely different phenomenon. In moments when you are hesitant about moving forward, it takes bravery to consciously inhale. It’s a small act of accepting what comes next, trusting you’ll be okay in the moment that follows. Try it when you have a chance – did you sense the courage that arrives with it?

I’m vaccinated now (including the post-second-vax, two-week waiting period). At last, the time has arrived again for carefree breathing. But it doesn’t come naturally yet. It takes practice to remember to not hold my breath in certain situations. When I do remember, I inhale deeply this newer existence.

TrANsitionS

[2-min read] I’ve been editing my brains out lately and apparently, I neglect transitions. The professional editor to whom I paid a chunk of change to help with my memoir advises me again and again, “What about adding a sentence here to create a smoother transition?”

Hold on. I can’t skip from topic to topic and expect the reader to keep up? Have you never had a conversation with me? It’s my modus operandi to jump around. Give me a glass of wine and hold onto your hat; it’s a fast ride. And it’s so much more fun to write like I talk.

Enough about writing, though. (How’s that for a lame transition?) What about life? Don’t I get bonus points for how much transition I’ve endured in my life? I’ve transitioned from the high desert to the Midwest; from a single-family home to a condo; from driving everywhere to biking or walking. I transitioned from being a social butterfly to living in isolation. These are big deals. I’m worn out, people. And what about while I was growing up? Back then, I frequently transitioned from one apartment, school, or city to another as if I were a military kid. (I wasn’t.) Transition is my middle name. (It isn’t.) I want a prize.

It feels like the country is transitioning into the last phase or three of the pandemic – barring another setback. I’ve spent over a year transitioning into a homebody, but now I’m supposed to transition back into someone who is comfortable not crossing the street to pass people on the sidewalk; sitting in circumstances resembling a crowd; using public restrooms that don’t have windows; buying clothes from a store – perhaps even trying them on first; and seeing the dentist?

Fingers crossed I do better with those challenges than I’m managing with memoir transitions.

SPring eQuinOX

[2-min read] “Fight like a man! You’re being a little bitch! Fight like a man!” he yells, stepping forward. A few blocks over, that heavy metal crunch sound as two speeding SUVs meet. A single degree more and simmer becomes boil. The first day of spring.

“Fight like a man! You’re being a little bitch! Fight like a man!” he yells, stepping forward. I try to imagine something to say that would give him pause. Inspire him to reconsider. Encourage him to notice it’s a sunny warm breezy day, geese returning to the pond. A restorative space in which to exhale.

“Fight like a man! You’re being a little bitch! Fight like a man!” he yells, stepping forward. Not a model student of inclusion and diversity training, by commanding someone to fight “like a man,” he is boxing in the masculine gender, not allowing a spectrum of individuality but inciting a protection of ego, a shallow defense of heritage, perhaps. Labeling him the slur, he is accusing the other of being no better than female – as if male is better, on display that very moment. As if no woman fights fiercely. Deeming women merely pejoratives and not true keepers of family, society, planet. Piling on misogyny, he is modifying the feminine slur with “little.” Wishing to minimize a force. Has he never been loved by a woman?

I am at a loss for something effective to say. Instead, I imagine how he might be different on a summer day. “I’m angry!” he’ll announce, holding his ground. Not antiquated, constrictive, destructive language. It allows for vulnerability. Enables authentic self-expression. Instant relief. It also saves his face. And the day. That first day of spring.

GROundeD

[3-min read] Remind me not to move again during a pandemic. I’ve been entertaining myself by looking at my appointment book for this-time-last-year events. March 4, 2020, says “plants,” when a friend loaded all my green babies into her car because they wouldn’t have survived a cross-country drive followed by a two-month stint in a storage shed. It was tough to let them go. March 7 says “Popejoy,” where my husband and I sat with several hundred other people mesmerized by the dance performance of Pilobolus. We were nervous, but not stay-at-home nervous. We went to Target for supplies on March 8, but shelves were already devoid of TP. March 13 has “COVID Shutdown” but after calling to confirm, I kept my massage appointment. March 15 says “Lynn’s” because she was hosting our going-away party. We agreed to cancel it after hearing of 1,000+ Italians dying of COVID-19 in a single day. I decided to keep my haircut appointment on the 17th, and we closed on the sale of our house the next day.

White-out streaks across that month of March. Various appointments were all moved up and otherwise, we didn’t stay a few nights with friends before we didn’t fly to Phoenix for Spring Training baseball. I still marvel that as originally scheduled, we left New Mexico headed for Minneapolis on March 26. We didn’t get a box for the road from Whoo’s Donuts. We did accept a few rolls of toilet paper from the housekeeper employed by friends who briefly rented us their Santa Fe casita. He had a jump on compassion and empathy.

In contrast to March, with business scheduled nearly every day before we departed, April 2020 says “Beer!” on the 17th with an arrow indicating it was moved to the 18th. There is an asterisk by Earth Day on the 22nd. In May, we closed on the purchase of our condo and in August, we nervously booked a long weekend at a small lake resort up north because a neighbor told us we wouldn’t mentally survive our first Minnesota winter otherwise.

One of the greatest challenges of the move has been loneliness compounded by pandemic isolation. I haven’t been able to make new friends. At first everything else was novel, so it didn’t bother me. Now I recognize I am among the living and not in a ghost condo only when I hear neighbors walking above me, laughing next door, or leaving through the garage below me. In lieu of chatty co-workers, I have noisy baseboard heating. As I tap my keyboard wishing lines indicative of evolution of the soul would manifest, I am intermittently stunned by a lengthy and rolling, boisterous sound of… flatulence. Imagine it. (I have backed into a far corner covering the pinhole of my phone while on a call with an acquaintance, praying she won’t hear and attribute the offense to me.) A shoddy substitute for companionship, I think.

Optimistically, I bought a 2021 appointment calendar. I use it to mark when my credit card bill is due. (My new hobby is purchasing cool merch like Outdoor Afro hiking socks and a Refugee Designs hip pack to support inspiring movements and businesses.) I note the monthly Farmer’s Market and whatever I don’t want to miss on TV. On March 29, my one-year anniversary in Minneapolis, I’ve written “JURY DUTY.” I’ve been summoned.

I do not yearn for times when something was planned most days. But it’s strange to have lived here nearly a year and have only a vague sense of my new city. I accept I may never fully know Minneapolis as it was pre-pandemic. I do look forward to the day when I can start trying.

pOLar

[3-min read] “It’s not that bad,” a passerby shamed Today Show meteorologist Dylan Dreyer. Wearing multiple layers of winterwear, Dreyer was reporting from sunny Minneapolis. In her defense, a Polar Vortex had dipped the temperature to minus-something, minus 50 with the windchill factor. From my cozy couch in Albuquerque, I watched in wonder and thought, “Sunshine does make a difference.”

Fast forward a few years. I’m walking in sunny Minneapolis wearing all my winterwear. Despite mythical tales of frigid winters, I’ve chosen to move here. I love snow and since entering perimenopause (TMI? Suck it up), I can tolerate cold more comfortably. Another Polar Vortex has arrived, giving me my first taste of “the couple weeks in winter when you don’t go outside” that I’ve been warned of. In case you’re unsure, the Polar Vortex is the area of cold, low pressure air around the earth’s poles. In winter, when that area expands, bitter cold air dips down to places like Chicago and Minneapolis.

It’s minus 2 not including the windchill factor (minus 14, maybe?), so I’m bundled. Order matters: first sock liners, then thermal long underwear, heavy knee-high socks pulled over the therms, ski pants, a base layer shirt with built-in balaclava (google it if you need to), a lightweight mock turtleneck pullover, Sorel boots, spikes that strap to the soles of boots because it’s icy in patches, a Polartec balaclava, knee-length heavyweight jacket with faux-fur hood (not wearing it unless it’s windy), glove liners, and gloves. I’ve done this routine enough now to be efficient.

All summer, Minneapolis locals prepared my husband and me for the worst so we could be pleasantly surprised. “Better get out of town once before winter or you’ll go stir crazy,” one neighbor said. “It’s coming…” another neighbor teased on unseasonably cool fall days. Others were more encouraging when we explained that we loved to ski and snowshoe and played ice hockey in New Mexico. “Oh – you’ll be fine,” they assured us. But we couldn’t be certain.

On October 20, a record-breaking early snowstorm dumped about nine inches and truthfully, I panicked. It was beautiful and exciting, but I thought, “This is it. Five-plus months of freezing.” Thank goodness, that wasn’t it. The snow melted and we sat outdoors for drinks in November. Mid-December, we were sitting outside for lattes if we dressed warm and the sun was out. It wasn’t until December 23 that a blizzard brought enough snow and cold to keep the ground white and the lakes frozen solid for winter.

This 2020-21 season is the eighth-warmest winter on record for Minneapolis. I feel lucky it has been a merciful progression. January days when temperatures were unseasonably warm enough to melt snow that would refreeze into ice at night were disheartening. I don’t want climate change to rob me of opportunities to snowshoe, cross-country ski, ice skate, snow bike, and sled – all things I can do ON my neighborhood lake and some in the adjoining park only blocks away. Winter is playtime!

My definition of “cold” is a 180 from last winter in New Mexico. If there’s significant wind, all bets are off but otherwise, genuinely cold is anything below 7 degrees. Seriously. I’ve tested it three times and the difference between 7 and 2 or minus 1 or minus 4 is invigorating fresh air versus suffocation-by-layers, crystalized eyelashes, and a forehead that aches like an ice pack is pressing if exposed. Even in minus 4, at least my eyeballs don’t freeze.

Sunshine does make a difference. The Polar Vortex brought over a week of bright days after a long stretch of mostly clouds. I catch pastel sunsets at 5:30pm because daylight is already noticeably longer. But I know – spring is still a couple months away.

beTTer

[3-min read] I’m a little embarrassed about this. It’s not the sort of thing I would typically share. Up until the past couple years, I prided myself on my ability to function as if I had no problems. Nothing got to me – physically or emotionally. I could have a migraine, or someone could have unexpectedly betrayed me, or I could be spitting mad at myself for not handling a conversation like I wanted and you would never know. “I had no idea,” you would say when I told you. You wouldn’t believe the rage I’ve whistled my way through rather than exposing my feelings. Anyway, here it is: This evening I’m joining the Permission to Feel book club. Permission to Feel is the book. The only book. It’s a club about feeling. My imagined reaction of yours is a big reason Marc Brackett wrote the book. Ugh. Gross. You’ve turned into one of them.

Brackett knows I often view feelings as an inconvenience. Also, the last thing I want to seem is weak and definitely not vulnerable (bear with me, Brené Brown). It’s not like I haven’t felt anything lately. I’m feeling like I’ve felt way too much this past year, past four years, my life. In reality, I’ve spent more effort trying to shove aside anything but joy or positive enthusiasm, than I’ve allowed myself to feel something uncomfortable. It’s a family trait. I come by it honest. If I’m not feeling gratitude and optimism, I must be ungrateful and that, my friends, is shameful.

Can you imagine? Can you even imagine a life-long struggle with feeling guilt about not feeling only gratitude and optimism? About these past few years? About 2020? What a tragic waste of energy that guilt is. And it does take energy. It also leaves me susceptible to feeling what everyone else is feeling, which means not feeling what I’m feeling and letting the mood of the collective bring me down when I’m not. These days, what precious moments are those when I’m not feeling down.

I’m several chapters into the book and a great point it makes is that simply labeling our feelings legitimizes them. It gives us permission to feel them – hello, book title! The act of giving ourselves permission to feel our feelings can be a tremendous unburdening.

I think it’s already working. Sure, some global things feel like they’re slowly changing for the better. That and this feeling experiment are what I’m crediting for how I’ve recently, occasionally, spontaneously burst into song indoors and out. (Apologies to the neighbors. A singing voice is not my gift.) I’ve had a couple giggle fits. Allowing myself to feel authentically means feeling the bad and the good richly. So yeah, I’m doing this feely book club thing. Judge me if you must.