02 December 2015

find the should and ditch the guilt

Happy December! This can be one of the most joyous months of the year, but it can also be one of the most stressful. So, let's talk about freedom. Two imprisoning concepts for many people seem to be expectations and guilt (often related but not necessarily so).

Eric Barker has written a few different posts about expectations, and the takeaway exercise or game I really like is called "find the should." As Barker says, we don't get upset about events; we get upset about our beliefs.

Our lives don't change at the moment when someone passes away, but we may fall apart when someone tells us the news a few days later as if it just happened. Or we may find someone offensive and rude until we hear that their child is battling cancer, and then we become more forgiving, more patient.

Barker uses traffic as an example. We find it frustrating because the highways should be clear, or traffic should be elsewhere—but reality isn't always so agreeable. If we learn to expect traffic as part of a normal commuting experience, for example, we can accept it rather than let it ruin our day. Instead of spending an hour grumbling and stressed about being late, we can listen to an audiobook and leave earlier so as not to feel so rushed.

I know. It's all easy in theory; I'd also do yoga and work out every day in this hypothetical world. But in this case, I've found even working on this a little has yielded huge benefits, and with practice, it does make our lives more pleasant.

Long story short: We can avoid frustration regardless of what is happening. Nothing needs to change except our perception of a situation. We can choose our reality as we experience it, and that's powerful.

So, if you're feeling irritated, see if you can find the "should" that hasn't been fulfilled. He should know I'm allergic to cats/love brownies/hate zoos. She should remember I always order tuna but can't eat shellfish, and I'm going to the dentist at 2pm. S/he should take out the trash/cook dinner/clean the kitchen.

You get the idea. So, what's your "should"? Examine it. Is that expectation realistic? What if we get rid of the "should"?

This has become a good exercise my partner and I play whenever we get frustrated, and it usually dispels the irritation quickly. (It's also entertaining to make fun of each other's "shoulds" when we examine them in bright daylight. Like: My 3-year-old should know how to behave in a restaurant. Riiiiiight. Good one.)

The other burden people (especially parents) feel is guilt. Guilt for not spending enough quality time with the kids. Or guilt for not putting in enough time at work. Or both.

In Adele Faber and Elaine Mazlish's book, Liberated Parents, Liberated Children: Your Guide to a Happier Family, they discuss guilt as a poison that only creates hatred, and that's also pretty potent stuff. Their argument is that making children (or adults, for that matter) feel guilty makes them feel badly about themselves and eventually hate you for it. Yowsers. That'll make us think twice about making someone feel guilty, no?

And self-imposed guilt is just as toxic. I didn't blog at all during the month of November because I was frantically working on NaNoWriMo. I "won" and reached the 50,000-word milestone, but it means other things fell by the wayside. And that's a great analogy for life. We are the choices we make, and you don't need to feel guilty if you can't do every little thing perfectly.

We can only do the best we can from where we are with what we have, and that's as good as it'll get.

So, this got a little heavier than I planned, but it should be worth it. To recap:

find the should + ditch the guilt freedom.

Now, that's a good gift we can give ourselves. 

30 October 2015

don't apologize

Well, I should qualify that. Do apologize if you step on someone's foot or are an inadvertent jerk, but don't apologize if you're trying to create a masterpiece of some kind, and it falls short in your eyes.

There has been a lot of apologizing in my fiction writing course lately, and I say people, STOP apologizing for your work.

My partner and I always joke that it's too late to apologize.

Seriously, though. You are where you are, and that's just part of the process.

Ira Glass said it so well here.

As my acting teacher used to say:

You aren't the best; you aren't the worst.

So, let's put our egos aside and focus on the work.

Instead of saying, "I'm sorry," say:

"I'm awesome" 


Because at least you're trying, and that's more than many others can say.

Boo ya.

16 October 2015

just say no


I'm more focused on saying no to too many commitments, but I thought this image was funny
(and saying yes to tacos is always a good thing, right?). 
It's easy to want to say yes to everything, but I am feeling more and more that time is too sacred and scarce to share indiscriminately. It's not like I'm going to die tomorrow (well, I hope not), but I want to do so many things, and especially with two little children, the time to get things done is minimal.

We've learned that sleep deprivation makes you stupid and zaps your creativity, so my earlier tactic of simply not sleeping to get everything done isn't the way to go. And if we only have so many waking hours, what can we do?

We have to cull. The word, cull, comes from killing off weaker animals to strengthen the herd, which seems appropriate. You have to be ruthless if you really want to make progress. What is absolutely crucial? What are the things that truly makes our souls soar into the sky? We are what we spend time doing.

For me, I'm on a mission, and I'm starting to cut everything out. If it isn't time with my family or writing, it's pretty much getting cut out of my life. I want to finish these writing projects, and I want to spend time with my family. Everything else feels like a distraction right now. I know I'm being a bit intense, but you have to be, or else life will pass you by—and "eventually" will never come. At the writer's conference, one of the instructors said he scheduled his writing time and treated it like a real appointment, never to be missed.

So, if you want to develop a craft or fulfill a dream, you, too, will have to protect the time doing what is most precious to you, and say no to everything else (even if it's fun).

14 October 2015


You know that intoxicating, exhilarating feeling you get when you're falling in love with someone or something new? Where you feel like you've been crumpled up into a tight little ball all of your life and can finally spread your wings and be you and free and open and larger than life and part of the universe at large?

I found it.

For now.

I've fallen in love before, felt this high before, and then life gets in the way, and I lose it again. Well, I'm a little older and a little wiser now, and I'm hoping I'll get to enjoy this flight a little longer this time.

And where is this magical feeling? Funny enough, it has been inspired by my first MOOC (massive open online course) that I'm taking with the University of Iowa. Yes, they're considered the bastion of creative writing in the country, etc., etc., etc. And the fiction course has already been both illuminating and fun. But the real spark for me is the combination of actively writing while also being part of a writing community.

It's like being a frog in a duck pond for years and then discovering other frogs. I've finally found my tribe, and we are a wonderfully quirky bunch. We make jokes about Oxford commas, exalt in a beautiful phrase, and delight in making sentences richer or tighter or more compelling. We bang our heads, drawing the famous trio of body fluids (blood, sweat, and tears) as we struggle to translate the inklings in our heads that feel so magnificent into concrete words that will hopefully also make sense to other people. And maybe, just maybe, we'll be able to write something that someone else will recognize as the truth.

I've connected with one writer so far who I'm already calling my MOOC BFF, and she alone has made my experience as a student once again so much more entertaining and more inspiring than I expected or thought possible. Having someone along for the ride, even if I've never seen her face or heard her voice or know what race she is or anything else, has given the solitary writing career a warmth that I didn't realize was possible. We are connecting as writers first and foremost, and that is an amazing validating experience, too. Thanks, Heather. I've only "known" you online and only for a few weeks so far, but you've already made a positive impact in my life.

So, I tried one career after another, "dating" usually for about four years, and now, I think I've found the One. I'm hoping to finally settle down and commit to being a writer. 100%. No more excuses or distractions.

And from this dream cloud I'm floating in, filled with love and light and enthusiasm, I wish this feeling for everyone. I'm working on a screenplay and hoping to finish it this month. Then, I've signed up for NaNoWriMo and hope to write the novel version of the story in November. And then I have another previous story that I hope to craft into both a novel and screenplay. So, I've made my public commitment and now have to live up to it.

What makes you come alive? What would you do if time and money were no object? What can you do right now/today/this week to inch closer to your dream life? Let's make it happen!

I'm fired up! The sky can't hold me! Want to join me? Let's go!

20 September 2015

a love story in 52 seconds

I just attended the Central Coast Writer's Conference, and this was one of the highlights: a love story in fifty-two seconds. Enjoy.

16 September 2015

good news network


I love new beginnings: new years, birthdays, and the start of a new school year. My husband teaches, and my daughters are both going to "school" this fall, so there is a palpable excitement in our house about the new chapter beginning soon. (School starts on Monday.)

If you're in need of a pick-me-up, and the usual bad-news news is bringing you down, I've found the Good News Network to be a great source of good deeds and happy events.

Here's a rundown of some recent happenings:

Why 100 Black Men In Suits Were Cheering by a School Bus 
Mexico Asked Graffiti Artists To Paint An Entire Town – Joy Was the Result

He Hauls His Upright Piano to Beaches and Parks Just to Make Your Day

-  Quiet Time Program Brings Radical Improvement To Schools Worldwide

It's nice to be reminded that the world is a good place.

19 August 2015

48 days with téa

It's strange to think that my little girl has only been alive (in the outside world) for 48 days. She seems to be halfway between animal and human. One moment, she's all instinct and just wants to eat. The next, she'll look into my eyes like an intelligent being and break into the biggest smile. It melts my heart.

I'm finally coming to terms and making peace with not being a business owner anymore, and I feel lucky to be home with my baby and have grounded myself in my new life rather than wondering what my next job title will be. I have lots of ideas and projects rolling around in my mind, but my baby is growing so quickly (not to mention my 3-year-old!) that everything else can wait for now.

With my older daughter, I was working all the time from the moment she was born until not that long ago, and I don't want to make that mistake again with my second daughter. I know that this baby phase is over in a blink, and I don't want to miss it this time.

So, this is a super short post, but I have a little baby to go stare at and cuddle with... 

27 July 2015

24 days with téa

It's a girl! I can now admit I secretly hoped for a second girl and was thrilled to have gotten one. My partner and I are hoping our girls will grow up close and potentially interested in many of the same things... And if that doesn't happen, at the very least, we can use the same clothes for our second daughter, and that's great, too.

So, I've been the mother of two girls for twenty-four days now, and it's interesting how different my partner and I are with our second child.

The main lesson we've learned is that newborns aren't that fragile after all, and we're way more relaxed about everything. Nursing is a way better experience now that I know what I'm doing and what to expect. And while the novelty of a new baby isn't the same as it was the first time, my partner and I are both deeply, madly in love with our new little one in the same overwhelming way we were with our first.

22 June 2015

the next adventure

It seems four years is my shelf life for a job/career. First, it was political science/international relations in Washington, DC, for college. Then, it was acting in L.A. Then, it was education for my Master's degree and teaching in a correctional facility in Boston. My students told me if I really wanted to make a difference in their lives, I should give them jobs. With a criminal record, they couldn't even get jobs bagging groceries; therefore, "selling drugs was their only option." Right.

So, I opened a coffee shop/bakery and because coffee is such a democratic industry, I ended up hiring plenty of formerly incarcerated and often very creative artist types to be baristas and bakers. Because I started the business with more of a nonprofit mentality, I never cut corners and have always given my team as much as I possibly could. I'm proud of what the shop serves, its customer service, and what it stands for, and I believe all businesses should have such integrity. Starting a business was the hardest thing I had done (until I became a parent).

Now, my little coffee shop is almost four years old, and with my (business) partner, we've also started a coffee roasting company. But, the clock is ticking, and it seems my time with both the coffee shop and the coffee roasting company is also coming to an end. My partner wanted more control, and I didn't want anything other than 50/50, so I am stepping down and leaving the business altogether. It's strange to think that once all of the loose ends are tied up, I will no longer be a business owner. It's a huge mental shift, since I thought I would own this business for the rest of my life, and it never occurred to me that I could leave my "babies" to do anything else. But, it also feels right.

I'm due to have my second (human) baby in four days, my (life) partner and I are hoping to go to Europe for his sabbatical year, and I just won't be that useful to the business as we move forward. So, tick tock, life keeps going, and we just have to adapt.

Now, I just have to figure out how I can be most useful as a human being. I just read Simplicity Parenting, and one lesson that really resonated with me (i.e., that I really needed) was the reminder to use words wisely. The filter the author describes is to make sure before you speak that what you say is true, kind, and necessary.

True? Bye bye, gossip, exaggeration and opinion posing as truth.

Kind? Everything can be communicated in at least twenty different ways. It takes a great person to be able to effectively and kindly communicate things that may not be as pleasant to hear, and the home is a great place to set an example of kindness as the default setting.

Necessary? In our clutter-filled world, will what we say be an improvement upon much needed silence? As a non-filterer, this one may be my greatest challenge, but I wholeheartedly embrace it and will try my best.

So, as I venture forward, starting over professionally yet again (still hoping for the One, rather than a four-year fling), I'll at least try to do so using words more carefully.

Kind. True. Necessary.

Let's go.

09 June 2015

10 things you should do every day to improve your life

Erik Barker has great life reminders, and this one is exactly the kind of post I'm referring to. Simple, to-the-point, and research-based tips for a better life. May we all foster better habits to enjoy better lives.

What 10 Things Should You Do Every Day To Improve Your Life?

10 things that scientific research shows can help improve your life.

1) Get out in nature
You probably seriously underestimate how important this is. (Actually, there’s research that says you do.) Being in nature reduces stress, makes you more creative, improves your memory and may even make you a better person.

28 May 2015

pregnant and crying? this'll make you feel better...

I've been much more emotional with this second pregnancy, and I found this to be both hilarious and comforting. If you or someone you know is pregnant and weepy, here's a list of things that have made other pregnant women cry that might make you/them feel better.


05 May 2015

siddhartha by herman hesse

Life has a way of continuing to surprise me every day—just when I think I've seen it all, another curveball comes my way. So, it seemed a good time to revisit these two grounding chapters from Herman Hesse's Siddhartha. Enjoy. :-)


As Siddhartha left the grove in which the Buddha, the Perfect One, remained, in which Govinda remained, he felt that he had also left his former life behind him in the grove. As he slowly went on his way, his head was full of this thought. He reflected deeply, until this feeling completely overwhelmed him and he reached a point where he recognized causes; for to recognize causes, it seemed to him, is to think, and through thought alone feelings become knowledge and are not lost, but become real and begin to mature.

Siddhartha reflected deeply as he went on his way. He realized that he was no longer a youth; he was now a man. He realized that something had left him, like the old skin a snake sheds. Something was no longer in him, something that had accompanied him right through his youth and was part of him: this was the desire to have teachers and to listen to their teachings. He had left the last teacher he had met, even he, the greatest and wisest teacher, the holiest, the Buddha. He had to leave him; he could not accept his teachings.

06 April 2015

the secret to never being frustrated again

This piece is so well-timed in my life, and I hope it'll give you some helpful reminders, too. From Erik Barker's well-loved blog... enjoy!

The Secret To Never Being Frustrated Again

Click here to read the post on the blog.

We all get frustrated.

The guy in front of you is driving like an idiot. Your boss is being a jerk. Your partner isn't listening.

And sometimes these all happen to you on the same day.

What's the fix for this? One guy came up with a solution that deals with all of these problems -- and more.

Albert Ellis was quite a character. He was controversial. Outspoken. A bit of a rebel. In fact, the book he's most famous for was titled: How To Stubbornly Refuse To Make Yourself Miserable About Anything-yes, Anything.

Clever but a bit unprofessional, right? Here's the thing: according to asurvey of psychologists he was the 2nd most influential psychotherapist ever. Sigmund Freud came in third.

Here's what Wikipedia says about his system:

In general REBT is arguably one of the most investigated theories in the field of psychotherapy and a large amount of clinical experience and a substantial body of modern psychological research have validated and substantiated many of REBTs theoretical assumptions on personality and psychotherapy.

His stuff works. And it's as simple as ABCD -- quite literally, as you'll see below.

So how can you never be frustrated again? Let's break it down.

The Tyranny Of "Should"

Let's cut to the chase, shall we? Here's what you need to take away from Ellis' work:

You don't get frustrated because of events. You get frustrated because of your beliefs.

22 March 2015

entre amigos in san pancho, mexico

Greetings from Mexico! We have been traveling a ton, so I'm sorry for being MIA for so long. I will post pictures from our trip to India next, but for this post, I had to share a beautiful nonprofit I discovered today called Entre Amigos (Between Friends), based in San Pancho (San Francisco), Mexico.

The founder, Nicole Swedlow, started in 2006 teaching arts and crafts to children with a little art cart on the street, and now, it's a 16,000 square foot space that beautifully combines education, community, art, recycling, a free library, language classes, and a cafe in a wonderfully welcoming atmosphere that you can learn more about here.

If I could create something like this in my lifetime, I would die a happy woman.

As a bonus, Swedlow, described as extremely humble, was honored by the Dalai Lama last spring as an "unsung hero of compassion," as you can read about here.

28 January 2015

check email less often to be happier and more productive

I check my email ridiculously often just to keep up with the inflow, but it turns out that's both less efficient and causes more stress.

A study of email habits in a recent NYT article serves as a great reminder of this. Check your email two to three times (max!) a day to be more productive and less stressed.

Check this out:
In other words, cutting back on email might reduce stress as much as picturing yourself swimming in the warm waters of a tropical island several times a day.
What?! Done. Even better? Schedule it, so it's a habit and requires no thinking or planning.

The research says it's better NOT to check email first thing in the morning (so you can use that start-the-day burst of energy to do something more important or that requires more mental focus), and I find this pretty challenging, too. I'll usually at least take a peek to see if there is anything urgent, but the truth is, replying to emails within 24 hours is totally reasonable for almost anything and everything, so perhaps the best scenario is to check email once a day at, say, 2pm, after lunch, when our energy is low. And that's it. Or maybe just one super quick peek in the morning to make sure there are no fires to put out. But just a quick peek.

Tim Ferris recommends checking email only once a week, with an auto-reply suggesting that people call him if it's more urgent than that. And the truth is that people will call if they don't get an email back from you in time. I prefer to do certain things via email (so efficient for simple information transfer!) and really don't enjoy talking on the phone, so we can all figure out what works best for each of our personalities.

But the bottom line and moral of the story is—don't check email too often, as it zaps both energy and productivity. And I like picturing myself basking in warm, tropical waters...

11 January 2015

create the life you seek

"The problem, often not discovered until late in life, is that when you look for things in life like love, meaning, motivation, it implies they are sitting behind a tree or under a rock. The most successful people in life recognize, that in life they create their own love, they manufacture their own meaning, they generate their own motivation. For me, I am driven by two main philosophies, know more today about the world than I knew yesterday. And lessen the suffering of others. You'd be surprised how far that gets you." 

- Neil DeGrasse Tyson 

08 January 2015

how to stick to your goals

Happy 2015! Here's a happify infographic on what works when it comes to realizing your goals. Enjoy! May your goals for 2015 all come true!