Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Slow Ride, Take It Easy

I have the pleasure of working for an organization that puts great value on its faith-based mission. So much, in fact, that they provide an inspirational, motivational, keep your head up, you can live a great life, hug-and-heart fest once a year for all employees. It's usually pretty good stuff. Unfortunately, it was scheduled for today and I just wasn't in the mood to give up four hours in my crazy, overloaded work day. But I went. Begrudgingly.

We started off talking about our character strengths. That was alright. I found out I'm curious about the world, humorous and playful, and full of gratitude. My co-workers also thought I was spiritual, full of love and genuine. While I tried really hard to be reflective and soak in these super kind words, I just wasn't engaged. I'll confess I checked my phone several times, drank three cups of coffee and took two "unofficial" breaks in the first hour alone. I was an animal circling a cage.

When the speaker got to his top 10 strategies for developing personal resilience, his words and great personal stories started to sink in. I closed my eyes, inhaled deep breaths, and let the sun shine on my face to cultivate more gratitude. I laughed out loud at a comedy skit on the evolution of dance to help us identify our plethora of options in the world. But it was the number six tip that hit home and went deep.

#6: Slow things down with some regularity. He quoted an author saying, "What if you missed your life like a person misses a train?" There was a whole room full of people, but it was like he was talking only to me. I mean look at how I had treated this day already, which is the same, sadly enough, as every other day. I am in a race to get things done. Instead of slowing down and focusing on one thing, my mind is racing toward the 46 things that need to be done by the end of the day. I like achieving, I do. I'm just starting to regret what I might be missing.

For example, my 6-year-old becomes a chatterbox when we get in the car. He talks my ear off. He also remembers every conversation and promise I've ever made. I often mumble back to him, half-listening and half-heartily, that it slipped my mind or I forgot about that story. "Well, of course, you forgot," he said to me one day. "You gave half your brain to me when I was born and then my brother got the other half. You have none left, so that's why you always forget stuff."

This is where the tears came in today. I'm not forgetful, my friends. I'm just not paying real close attention. I'm missing beautiful parts of my life because I don't slow down to enjoy it. That's hard to admit. It's even harder to change. The speaker gave a great suggestion when he said, before you enter a room, touch the door knob and say, "be here now." Be present. Be open. Be here now. I really love that.

I imagine that if I don't get everything done in day, no one will care all that much. People in my life might not even notice (because they're super busy, too), but a big transformation is taking place within me. I'm going to start slowing down and enjoy my life a little more. I don't have to juggle the whole wide world. This isn't the circus. It's my life. I'm thinking I better make it count.

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Lighting the Fire

For a few hours this afternoon, I had time to myself with no kids running around the house. Did I clean? No. Did I cook? Not even close. Did I do laundry? Kind of, as in I folded a very small basket of wrinkled clothes that had been sitting there for a week while watching the movie Julie & Julia.

I love this movie. First of all, you cannot say enough wonderful things about Meryl Streep playing Julia Child. She nailed it, absolutely nailed it. I'm just sad she didn't receive an Oscar for her stellar effort. As a writer (or an aspiring writer or someone who loves to write), I find myself inspired by this movie. Julie Powell, the writer, finds her niche, her love, and though she questions it every day, she plows ahead and doesn't look back. I admire that kind of bravado.

It also makes me want to write more. Sure, I blog once or twice a month, but that's only if all the stars align above my house on Oak Street. Julie Powell blogged every day for 365 days PLUS cooked over 500 French recipes. Did I also mention she worked another full-time job? Then, she got a book deal and that followed with a movie deal.

I want that for myself, friends. Not the cooking part, but the fire in my belly to do more of what I love. Write, write, write. Every day. Even, and maybe this is what stops me, when I feel like I have nothing to say that someone would like to read. If I'm honest with myself, being a mom, wife and full-time marketer doesn't stop my dreams. I do. It's because I'm afraid. I'm afraid I'll plow forward with all the bravado in me and fail. Miserably.

I'm sure Julia and Julie would say not chasing your dream is the biggest failure of all. It took Julia over a decade to get her cookbook published and Julie was in her 30's before she even starting blogging about cooking. I'm still relatively young, I guess, and fairly passionate. I just need to light the fire. Any suggestions on doing that?

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Iris Isaacson

Last Sunday, I participated in a poverty simulation at a local church. I had no idea what it was, of course, but a friend sent an invitation my way. This person has a heart for people suffering, including in our community and around the world, and I often wonder if I will feel the call (like she obviously does) to help people. I was curious, I guess. So I went.

From the moment I entered the gym, I was assigned an identity and role to play. I am Iris Isaacson, age 19, a high school dropout without a job or any job prospects. I have a one-year-old son and live with my boyfriend, who is 25 and, thankfully, employed. He is not my child's father but he does have a child of his own. We have one car that breaks down often. Our rent, utilities and food add up to more than we bring in each month.

Every 15 minutes is one week in our lives. We must circle around the gym and stand in long lines to get to work, the bank, the grocery store, the quick cash, social services, and the utility company. It takes one transportation ticket to get from place to place, including back home. It is a totally different world than I live in. Banks and quick cash places take money off the top to cash your checks. By the time you get to a place to pay your bill or get to the front of the line, it closes. Police offers take you to jail for loitering too long outside a place. You must choose between a week of food or taking your child to the doctor.

How did I do in four weeks as Iris Isaacson? Not very well, I'm afraid. I lost the rental trailer. I got our utilities turned back on finally, but I was still in the hole with the utility company. I did not make it to the required training to keep my unemployment benefits, so those will be taken away next month. I begged a transportation ticket from the neighbor family using a fake story about my sick kid. I also considered an offer to go home with a gentlemen in the bank line who would "treat me right" and got a monthly stipend from the government. I pawned my watch and all the furniture to make ends meet, which was small potatoes, because I was so desperate I probably would have sold my soul.

When I became Heather Feeler again, I had to report out how I felt about the whole exercise. I felt sad. I felt confused. I felt terribly unworthy to be living my carefree life where I whip in and out of restaurants and stores with my full tank of gas. My glass is always full. My stomach, too. For the first time, I felt how the cycle of poverty keeps spinning around and how hard it is to pull yourself out. I also found that my middle-class values, plus my quick judgments of right and wrong, don't always apply when it comes to survival. We do what we must to survive.

It's not easy to see the world differently, I'm discovering. It doesn't feel so good when you can't fix what's broken, or even see how you can do enough to matter. While I have no answers, just a discontented heart right now, I'm going to start by giving others my greatest respect, understanding and kindness. You never know their journey. It could be Iris, who is really me and then I am her. As it turns out, we are all the same.