Seeking My Best Self

trying to make sense of my life – and lose some weight

Thoughts on the Eve of a New Year


Another year has passed. Of course, seasons and years are artificial constructs – they don’t truly exist, except in our minds. Still, they provide a way for us to divide the expanse of time into digestible chunks. At the end of this chunk we call 2015, I find myself reflecting back on a year of heartbreak and breakthrough.

The breakthrough began when I finally went to counseling. Yes. Me. I know I’ve ranted (for decades) about the voodoo that is psychology and huffed self-importantly as I denigrated the soft social ‘sciences’ (usually including the air quotes.) Dubious or not, I finally tired of repeating certain life patterns and found a competent counselor.

07atiyeh 48webOn my first visit, I did my best not to roll my eyes when she wanted to start with my childhood. Hello. I’m almost 60. How relevant could my childhood be? I’m WAY past blaming Mommy for my choices. Then I found myself blubbering like a baby as we discovered that my deep-seated abandonment complex came not from my husband’s suicide in 2002, not from my mother’s remarriage in 1961 (she spent two whole days alone with my step-dad before fetching me to share the rest of their honeymoon) but from my bio-dad’s abrupt departure when I was a toddler. It turns out, understanding origins really can help.

cherie bio pic 2016I learned that there isn’t a bad Cherie and a good Cherie. That the good Cherie isn’t the ‘real’ Cherie, but that I come as an entire package and until I learn to embrace my whole self, I can’t be happy. So I let bad Cherie out of the dungeon. I felt sorry for those around me, because bad Cherie – ahem, because I – can be snippy and abrupt, quick to let others know when they’ve tread on my toes, and impatient with rudeness and incompetence.

Imagine my surprise when a friend told me I’m actually easier to be around. “You’re more light-hearted,” he said. “You seem calmer, even in the midst of small crises.” He’s right. I do feel calmer. I’m glad to know my outside matches my inside.

My self-improvement crusade included losing fifteen pounds (ten to go), having a regular yoga practice, daily prayer/meditation, and regularly indulging hobbies, including playing my piano, guitars, and ukulele. I haven’t opened my clarinet case yet, and I’m sure my neighbors are grateful. I’m clearer on my life and on my goals. And at the very end of the year, I met someone. More on that (I hope) in posts to come.

My heartbreak is for our nation. Police treatment of people of color in our country has been beyond shameful – it looks a lot like deliberate genocide. The response of our court system to the police murders is even more horrifying. It appears they’ve totally misinterpreted the statement, “Justice is blind.”

grandkidsI fear for my grandchildren, who could be shot dead on a playground for playing with toys that white children may use with impunity. I fear for my son-in-law – a teacher, a tri-athlete – who runs daily. My daughter said she worries every time he goes out. She should. Apparently, no judge would prosecute the police officer who killed him for the crime of jogging while black, which means it’s open season on people of color.

grandma and gidu scanThe Syrian refugee crisis hits just as close to home, because my grandparents emigrated from Syria in the early years of last century. The rhetoric of some in our country toward the refugees scares me. Their concerns have nothing to do with national security, it’s merely an excuse to hate and to attack anyone who looks different from the white ‘norm’. I am outraged at those who dare use the name Christian while spouting such ignorance and hatred. I am frustrated because I don’t know what to do about it.

I don’t know what to do about ANY of it. The injustice. The bigotry. The deliberate choice to hate. What I do know is that I cannot respond with hatred. In the midst of it all, I am called to love. To embrace those who are hurting. To embrace those who do the hurting. To embrace myself. All of myself – the hurting and the hurter, because I am both. Our country is both. Hating will not lead to healing. We can only love ourselves into wholeness.

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Super Sleep

DSCF7541Last time I visited my doctor, she asked me how many hours I slept each night.

“Between seven and eight hours,” I said.

“You need nine hours of sleep,” she informed me. “Latest research shows that people should sleep nine hours each night for optimal health.” She looked sternly over her glasses at me. “Nine hours.”

The thing is, I don’t set an alarm. I haven’t for years (no one wants to be photographed at 7 am.) Most nights, I’m asleep between 10-11 pm. And most mornings, I’m awake between 6-7 am. To sleep nine hours, it seems like I’d need sleeping pills, so I decided to do a little research.

We have at least two phases of sleep. The first, called deep sleep, is where our brain processes our short term memories into long term storage. We only have a twenty-four hour window to complete this process, so if we don’t get enough deep sleep, the memories are lost forever.

The second phase is REM sleep. During this phase, our bodies are paralysed, but our eyes can – and do – move. Hence the name: Rapid Eye Movement (REM) sleep. During REM sleep our brains process everything that happened the day before, and to keep us calm while it processes, a chemical called noradrenalin shuts off.

If we don’t get enough REM sleep, our brain doesn’t have time to deal with everything we experienced, our bodies don’t get enough non-noradrenalin time, and we become stressed and anxious.

Sleep studies have shown that humans are hard-wired for a minimum of seven hours sleep. Less sleep means higher inflammation (arthritis) and stress, impaired immune response, and greater activity in genes that are associated with cancer and diabetes.

What about those people who claim to need only four hours of sleep a night? They’ve been studied. They are not wired differently than the rest of us. They perform better and are healthier with more than seven hours of sleep. By shortening their sleep cycle, they’re setting themselves up for poor physical and emotional health, not to mention accelerated aging.

This is true for people who sleep only six-and-a-half hours, too. That extra hour or two is crucial. We can’t do an end-run around sleep, not without paying the price.

It’s time to end the myth that those who need less sleep are somehow more productive (and virtuous.) It’s a lie. It’s a product of the protestant work ethic gone awry.

Back to my doctor’s recommendation. Nine hours? I’ve experimented with laying in bed for that extra hour. About half the time, I fall back asleep. I feel GREAT when I awaken. I think I’ll stay with this experiment until it’s habit.

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Pelted with Lemons

lemonWhen life throws me lemons…

I get bruised. (Lemons are HARD little suckers!)

My fatal flaw is that I tend to isolate myself during difficult times, which escalates my abandonment fears, which then become a self-fulfilling prophecy. Which, if I’m not careful, can quickly place me in a powerful plummet – the world’s scariest E-ticket ride. (Yes. An old person’s reference. Because I am an oldish person.)

But if I can avoid the self-centered spiral, there is opportunity for tremendous growth. If I look carefully at myself and my circumstance, I might just learn something.

For example, over the past few days, I’ve become acutely aware of my own negativity in the face of this crisis.

Well, that’s natural. Right?

Except that if I fall into negative thought, speech and action, I don’t benefit myself. Or those around me. After all, this isn’t the worst of the worst of the worst. It’s just a thing.  And things pass.  It’s important to choose a positive outlook – even in the midst of painful things. Especially in the midst of painful things. I mean, it’s easy to smile when life is easy. But it’s the smile when life is difficult that shows maturity and wisdom – and joy.

And that’s what I want for my life. Joy. Deep joy. Joy that isn’t shaken by external circumstance. Joy that looks for good things even in the midst of bad things.

So here are five good things:

  1. I’ve lost three pounds in the past couple of weeks. Three MORE pounds, and my Wii will quit yiping at me. Hurray!
  2. Cherry trees are in full bloom, their precocious puffs proclaiming the imminent arrival of Spring.
  3. Daffodils are everywhere. Tulips will soon follow.
  4. Daphne. Oh, sweet daphne, whose siren scent floats in the air. Daphne alone is cause for joy.
  5. Caring people, who didn’t wait for me to ‘let them in.’ They’re already here.

You know what? Compared to famine, war, disease – the current crisis just isn’t that big a deal. A confluence of forces created a hurricane, but if I look at each separately – meh.

Squall, storm, typhoon – they’re all just wind and rain. After this current sequence has passed through, I’ll mop up the mess and rejoice that the sun has returned.

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Accidents Happen – and other political thoughts

exuberantA funny thing has happened since we moved. I’ve relaxed. Other than terroir, nothing has changed, really. Finances are still challenging. I’m still overweight. (Again. The Wii and I aren’t currently on speaking terms.) I’m working at settling my business in – to the third town in three years.

This does not seem like a recipe for relaxation. But in this place, in this time, I’ve been able to let loose worry and anxiety.

I think it’s because we live in community. When we lived in the city, we felt alone. In this rural setting, we find community all around us. A short walk. A short drive. A quick call. The change it’s made in my outlook is dramatic.

I believe humans are meant to live in community. I believe our American idolization of ‘rugged individualism’ is misplaced. We are better as individuals and as a society when we look to the corporate good, not merely personal prosperity.

That means that we are only as successful as our least successful member. Our current ‘every man for himself’ mentality is destructive. The Declaration of Independence says that life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness are inalienable rights for each person, yet 45,000 people die in America each year because they didn’t have access to health care. They were certainly denied life, and I doubt they felt very happy or liberated in their suffering.

It should be unthinkable that one person has access to health care and the next does not. It should be unthinkable that one person has a fully stocked pantry and the next an empty plate. It should be unthinkable that there are three empty houses in America for every homeless person. If that’s American Values at work, then it’s time for our values to change.

Ahem. <stepping carefully down from the soap box>

Being relaxed. There’s an unfortunate side-effect when I’m insouciant: the five-year-old in me ascends. That means explosive joy. Exuberant gestures. Spilled drinks and elbowed noses. Oops.

In a business meeting yesterday, I spilled my coffee. Twice. Two rounds of cleaning the furniture and the carpet. But I didn’t MEAN to, I said with hunched shoulders and a repentant expression.

Lucky for me, I’m part of a community that loves my energy and enthusiasm, and understands that…well, accidents happen. Especially around me.


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Travel Light, Travel Far

I’ve finished my first adulthood, and I’m ready for the second. You see, I think the years from our mid-twenties to our mid-fifties are just a practice round, where we learn the game, become familiar with the equipment and master the rules. After that we’re ready to play like pros, now that we have the maturity and experience necessary to really smack the ball.

Why, then, does society act as if later life are the years of decline rather than ascendancy? Why are we encouraged to become cautious RIGHT when we should be fearless? I really like what Anne Morrow Lindbergh has to say about mid-life. In her book, Gift from the Sea, she says,

“The signs that presage <second adulthood> are so similar, it seems to me, to those in early adolescence: discontent, restlessness, doubt, despair, longing. But now these are interpreted falsely as signs of decay.”

In other words, the exact same symptoms that we understand as signals of growth the first time around, we misinterpret as decline and impending death the next. Instead of looking forward to our second awakening, we run from it, choosing to become static displays rather than seeing how far we can fly.

My motto for this second era is: travel light, travel far. It’s the time to declutter, to empty my home (and my mind) of that which is useless or merely ornamental.  I don’t need possessions or arcane knowledge to prove my worth. Besides, at best they are the measure of a past self, not the person in the present mirror.

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The Appointment

The Appointment*

What if, on the first sunny day,
on your way to work, a colorful bird
sweeps in front of you down a 
street you’ve never heard of.

You might pause and smile,
a sweet beginning to your day.

Or you might step into that street
and realize there are many ways to work.

You might sense the bird knows some-
thing you don’t and wander after.

You might hesitate when the bird
turns down an alley. For now
there is tension: Is what the
bird knows worth being late?

You might go another block or two,
thinking you can have it both ways.
But soon you arrive at the edge
of all your plans.

The bird circles back for you
and you must decide which
appointment you were
born to keep.

— Mark Nepo  (from Seven Thousand Ways to Listen)

I’m surprised at  how many people think the life of a full-time artist is purely idyllic. In their minds, we do nothing but sit around all day, paintbrush, camera or keyboard in hand, allowing the sweet breeze of creative inspiration to carry us along as money pours in the door. (Though they do think, privately, that we charge a bit *too* much for our painting, print or poem.)

An acquaintance once said, “It’s like being retired, isn’t it? You only work when you want to.” Well, yes. As long as I want to work long hours. LONG hours. I’m a one-woman shop, the cash flow is variable, and it’s hard! I’ll admit, we artists sometimes spend sleepless nights worrying about the basics of life – housing, health insurance, food. Things my acquaintance, with her government job, doesn’t experience or understand.

The solution is obvious, right? Go get a *real* job. Practically speaking, no one should choose art as a profession. And that’s why most talented people do take other paths, consigning their artistic expressions to hobby status. I applaud them. I often envy them. In fact, I used to BE them.

For years, I worked in corporate America. Lucrative professional positions. Job security and great benefits. But then my husband died. I was torn from my comfortable world, torn from myself. When I finally found my way back and stuffed myself into the hole that was me, I must have crawled in backwards, because things looked very different. I tried to go back to what I’d been, but the path – and the person – was gone.

So here I am.

I’m an artist because I can’t not be. It’s the only song in my ears. I’ve kept the appointment I was meant to keep, and my life is filled with love and beauty.  

But it’s NOT like being retired.

* My thanks to  fellow artist, Cher Odum, for sharing the poem. It explains we few – we eccentric few – we eccentric, inspired weird few.

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