A Little Inspiration Found.

Sometimes the hardest time to write is when the most stuff is happening.  Right now, stuff is happening.  It’s good stuff and bad stuff, and the dust isn’t near settling yet.  But I’m hopeful. 

I was looking for a little inspiration tonight, and I found it in two places.

First, it occurred to me to revisit the very commandments I wrote for myself just over a month ago.  Here they are:

  1. Be you according to you.
  2. Forgive, even yourself.
  3. Have the hard conversations.
  4. Accumulate fewer things and more experiences.
  5. Seek simplicity.
  6. Slow down.
  7. Ask for what you need, and offer what you can.
  8. Trust your gut.
  9. Act only when certain.
  10. Expect better.
  11. Look forward and up.
  12. Choose love.

It amazes me that each one of these commandments applies to the things I’m dealing with right now.  Dare I believe that my Happiness Project was, at least in part, preparation for my life as it is today?

Second, I spent part of my evening watching The Voice, as I’ve done a bit of these last few months.  For those poor souls who don’t know, The Voice is a reality show/singing contest.  It started with the celebrity judges (Adam Levine, Cee Lo Green, Christina Aguilera, and Blake Shelton) picking performers to be members of their teams based on voices without being able to see the performers.  Then it moved to the judges pitting their team members against one another.  Then it moved to the winners of the “battle rounds” performing against members of other teams.  And tonight, we are in the final round of selecting the winner of The Voice.

My personal favorite of the competitors, Vicci Martinez, is a finalist.  I adore her.  I adore her voice and her manner and her spirit.  And tonight, Blake Shelton said something about her that inspired me.  He said, “You insist on being a big deal.  Every time you get on stage, you will not take no for an answer.”

I’m not one to insist on being a big deal.  I usually walk in quietly, do the best I can, and hope that I get the recognition I deserve.  Maybe it’s time to do some insisting. 

Be true to my commandments.  And do some insisting.  That’s what I’m going to do.

Smarter Than Bread and Butter?

These are my children. 

That’s Bread up front and Butter behind him. I adore them, but they are testing me. 

Until recently, we had a routine of twice-a-day feedings, once in the morning and once in the evening.  But Bread and Butter months ago started to nag at me at five, then four, then three in the morning to get up and feed them.  By “nag,” I mean they would meow excessively, walk all over me, and poke and prod me until I had no choice but to get up and feed them something.  Butter, in particular, nags by sitting on my chest and poking at my face and lip with a single nail in her right claw.  She never punctures my skin. She just pokes. I have half a mind to throw her across the room when she does it, but of course I could never do that. 

So how do I make the early morning nagging stop?  I’ve considered locking them out of the bedroom at night, but then they can’t cuddle with me or access their litter boxes, which are in my spare bedroom closet.  I’ve tried ignoring them but they are loud and persistent and relentless.  I’ve tried feeding them later in the evening so maybe they’ll wait until later in the morning to bug me, but even after a midnight feeding, they want more at three or four in the morning.  So lately, I’ve been getting up and giving in by putting a little something in each of their bowls at ridiculous hours of the morning.

They’re winning.  It’s like they are smarter than I am.  Surely that can’t be right.  Can it?

Three Years Ago.

Three years ago today, Jeanie, Erin, Malinda, Robin and I were all in Coeur d’Alene, Idaho.  We were all racing our first Ironman and having an experience that I think we all agree felt blessed from its inception.  By this time of night, the girls were all done, but I still had a little time left on that course.  I was running the streets of Coeur d’Alene, amazed by the crowds and the endless music blaring from boom boxes in the hands of spectators, and I was beginning to realize that my Ironman dream was going to be a reality.

All day, I watched the clock, my greatest challenge.  Even if my body could go the distance, I wasn’t sure that it could go the distance in the allotted time of 17 hours.  I knew I could do a fast swim and buy myself some extra time on the bike.  I needed every minute I could get.  I thought that if I could get off the bike by the 5:30 p.m. cutoff, then I had a great chance of finishing, but the bike was tough for me, and I didn’t know how it would go.

Throughout Ironman training, I struggled with the bike.  Biking feels foreign to me.  It took me a long time to learn basic skills.  For example, it took me a year to get into my aerobars.  I installed the aerobars in July of 2006 on the way home from the Marble Falls Triathlon, and I got into the aerobars for the first time on July 22, 2007.  I wrote about it on the precursor to this site. Most people do it in minutes or, at worst, days.  It took me a full year of trying.  Don’t ask how long it took me to learn to drink water while biking.  To this day, I struggle with reaching for my water bottle while pedalling.

For me, being on the bike requires tremedous focus.  I feel out of sorts and insecure when I am on it, and I took all of that awkwardness and insecurity with me to Coeur d’Alene.  I could see the bike being where my day fell apart. Would I get a flat and lose precious minutes?  Would I crash and lose precious confidence? My spirit could not handle getting back to transition and being told that I would not be able to start the run.  I had to get off the bike in time start the run.

Somehow I got through the 112-mile ride without incident, and I made my way out onto the run course to test my legs.  And they worked.  I ran the first 10 miles checking my pace each mile and chuckling to myself about how good I felt out there.  It was hard, but my body was ready, and I was having fun.  That was half the dream.  The other half was finishing.

As day turned to night, I wondered if the goodness I felt would hold up.  I wondered if I would hit a point at which I could go no farther.  I wondered if all the work of the last year would pay off.  It did. 

I finished in 16 hours and 33 minutes, less than half an hour under the 17-hour cutoff.  I just barely made it, but I made it proudly and happily and feeling great. 

This is me with Mom and Jeanie just moments after my finish.

This picture is the three of us the next day, heading to the closing banquet.

I don’t have words to describe how I felt of completing my first Ironman.  Satisfied?  Proud?  Relieved? Hopeful?  Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes.  All of that. Ironman was all of that and more.

I love thinking back to that time and recalling the confidence I felt as a result of that experience.  Three years ago today, I felt the most confident I have ever been.  I look at these pictures, and I can see that confidence. 

I want that feeling back.  What will it take to reach that confidence level again?

"I Failed!"

At my improv class on Saturday, I was taught, when I flubbed anything, to take a bow while announcing as loudly and proudly as I could, “I failed!” That physical and verbal exercise was meant to release the tension of an error.  When my mind went blank, I’d bow and say, “I failed!”  When I couldn’t resist the urge to pre-plan my next move, I’d bow and say, “I failed!”  When I couldn’t think of one thing after another that I love about myself, I’d bow and say, “I love EVERYTHING about myself!”  On that particular exercise, that statement was the substitute for “I failed!” 

Failure is tough for me.  Even when they lightened it up and made it okay, it was tough for me.  I didn’t like it.  I didn’t like hearing those words from my mouth at all.

During class, the instructor kept relating what we were learning to real life.  Learning to go with the flow is good for real life.  Learning to be willing to take risks is good for real life.  Learning to deal with and continue on from failure is good for real life.

I can think of a few places where a grand “I failed!” might be helpful – at Toastmasters when I flub a table topic, at a speed workout when I don’t quite hit my splits, or at a book club meeting where I don’t quite finish the whole book before the meeting.  (Yes, that does happen at times even though I am the leader of one of my book clubs.)  But in the bigger picture – races, relationships, work – I hate those two words.  When I feel like I’m on the verge of failure with those things, nothing can release the tension. Nothing.

Right now I’m feeling a lot of tension. 

The number one thing I learned at this improv class was the importance of being able to acknowledge failure and move on, but I’m a little leery of writing about the importance of being able to acknowledge failure and move on.  It’s that same uneasy feeling I experienced when I joined the production team for a bike ride designed to raise money for organizations that help families facing breast cancer.  In my little mind, becoming an advocate against breast cancer somehow upped the chances that I would face a breast cancer diagnosis. I actually feared that and sometimes still do.  And yes, I know it’s ridiculous.  But that’s how my mind works sometimes.  So given that admittedly twisted manner of thinking, if I say that I learned something about acknowledging failure, am I going to have to acknowledge failure in some grand way in the near future? 

To be safe, how about I just say that I had a whole lot of fun during the two-hour sample class and would love to take a real class sometime.  Yeah, let’s just leave it at that.

A Verse, A Book, A Speech, and A New Attitude.

I went to a thing at St. David’s tonight, and one of the guys who spoke in our discussion mentioned a verse I had not heard in a while.  Psalm 19:14.  “May the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be pleasing in your sight, O Lord, my Rock and my Redeemer.”

Man alive, kick me in the teeth, and burn my house down. My words and thoughts have been anything but pleasing to anyone.  I’ve been untrusting and skeptical and critical and judgmental in many ways.  I think things have happened to warrant some mistrust and skepticism on my part, but I’m realizing tonight that the mistrust and skepticism have taken over my being.  I’m not just cautious.  I’m closed off.  And good cannot come of that.

I’m reminded of this book I’ve slowly been reading – The Art of Possibility.  My friend Lina recommended it to me a while back, and I’ve been working through it in bursts with lots of down time in between.  It talks about the impact of an attitude change.  The last thing I marked in it was this statement: “Gracing yourself with responsibility for everything that happens leaves your spirit whole, and leave you free to choose again.”  I read and underlined that statement months ago.  But it, like the verse, is something I needed to read tonight.

I’ve been wandering around feeling like my life is out of my control.  I’ve been reacting rather than acting.  I’ve been worrying rather than doing.  I’ve been having this internal dialogue about stress and difficulties and things that make me unhappy, but all I’ve accomplished is to grow the stress and difficulty and my dissatisfaction with things as they are. 

I wrote my speech tonight for the Toastmaster’s demo meeting I’m doing tomorrow.  It’s fun, as I’d hoped, but it also opened my eyes to want I want for myself.  After describing my encounter with a naked bicyclist who held a clothed baby and a sweet couple from the high desert, I concluded, “It’s easy for me to look at other people and judge their actions, their appearances, their nudity.  But if I’m really looking hard at my own heart, I know that I want what they have.  I want the ability to stand nude in the street and not care what people think.  I want the ability to laugh even when I’m a walking contradiction.  I want to be with someone I love who knows me like we’ve been together for 50 years.  I want to be a little more carefree – no, a LOT more carefree – than I currently feel like I can or should be.”  And I don’t want these things in the way I want to see a movie or do nothing for an evening.  I desperately want these things for myself, and I’ve been weighed down by feeling…weighed down.

I’m setting down the stress and difficulty and dissatisfaction and opening myself up to the possibility of different and better things in my life.  This whole month of cleansing has taken a new path.  First things first.  I’m starting from the inside.  “May the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be pleasing in your sight, O Lord, my Rock and my Redeemer.”

A Birthday, A Race, Hot Texas Weather, and A Speech.

I’ve been out of writing commission for the last week.  I’m fresh off a weekend of travel and feeling a little scattered.  Let’s do some catching up.
My oldest sister, Caroline, had a birthday last week.  We got together Friday night to celebrate her, which was fun.  It had been a while since the entire family spent time together.  We ate tons of great food, which should surprise no one who knows my mom.   We also enjoyed the newest member of my sister’s family, Abby, pictured here with Caroline. 
Abby is a rescue pup whose circumstances in her prior life were less than ideal. My sister, Marline, had everything to do with choosing Abby, so we’re confident she’ll be a good pet.  (As we know from Marline’s history with Skylar and Bread, she picks good animals.)  Happy birthday, Caroline.  I hope the year brings you the kind of luck Abby had landing in your hands.
That was Friday.  Then Saturday morning, I flew to Portland to spend a weekend with Erin, who moved there from Austin about a year ago.  She’s doing a little thing called Ironman training.  This weekend, she did a little tune up race of the olympic distance, and she smoked it. It was a treat to be in the crowd cheering her on and watching her make it look effortless, despite having ridden 50 miles, including hill repeats, the day before.  Here she is looking fresh and happy after the race.
Erin took up triathlon a mere year ago.  I’m amazed at how well she’s doing, not just with racing, but with training.  Erin, I hope your Ironman experience, beginning to end, brings you the kind of joy you bring to those around you. 
After a wonderful weekend in the mild temperatures of the Pacific Northwest, I arrived back to Texas and faced this. 
Seriously? 106 in the middle of June? What does this mean for the rest of our summer? I’ll tell you what it means. It means 5 a.m. workouts and outrageous air conditioning bills. I think I’ll be spending the rest of the summer indoors, like I did tonight. At least that bodes well for my writing. 
Tonight, I’ve been working on a speech for a Toastmasters demo meeting on Thursday.  The title is, “A Bicyclist, A Baby, and the Young Couple From the High Desert.”  The subject matter stems from my weekend in Portland. I haven’t delivered a speech in a while.  I’m hopeful this one will be fun. 
Happy birthday.  Happy training.  Not so happy heat.  Hopefully happy speech.  That’s all for now.
Make it a good week.  I plan to. 

Critter Coaching.

A couple of weeks ago, I went to a Toastmasters meeting in which a member of my club did a table topic (a short impromptu speech) on our obsessiveness with telephones.  When she said something about people going so far as to take the telephone to the bathroom with them, I laughed so loud that my friend Brendan, who was sitting next to me, leaned over and said something like, “Careful, Taline.Your laughter is telling.”  And he was so right. 

Today, I had a similar experience, except that the speaker was delivering a prepared speech called “Critter Coaching.”

The speaker, a fabulous career coach, gave a speech using hand puppets.  For seven minutes, an elephant coached a lion out of his shame of not wanting to be King of the Jungle and helped him take small steps towards pursuing his life’s passion of being a Cowboy Poet. At first, the lion all but collapsed to the floor when talking about his predicament of being forced to succeed his father as King of the Jungle. He is a lion. He is expected to be strong and brave and get blood on his paws and veins in his teeth.  But for years, he has written poetry secretly, letting no one know about or read anything he has written. In the short coaching session, the elephant steered the lion out of his shame about being a “failure” and challenged him to chase his dreams, beginning with attending a Cowboy Camp, where he can experience actually being a cowboy, something he had read about but hasn’t known firsthand. Though wilted just moments earlier, the lion bounded with energy and enthusiasm at the prospect of actually being a Cowboy Poet.

I laughed hard through the entire “session.”  I laughed at the lion’s overdramatic despair and insistence that his life was out of his control.  I laughed at the lion’s physical inability to hold himself upright throughout the difficult conversation. I laughed at the lion’s giddiness upon learning about a Cowboy Camp. I laughed at his fear of just being…himself. 

Brendan wasn’t sitting next to me today.  But if he had been, I’m confident he would have leaned over and whispered, “Careful, Taline. Your laughter is telling.”

Doing A Little Improv…

This weekend, my friend Erin invited me to an improv marathon at the Hideout Theater in Austin.  They did forty-two straight hours of improv to raise money for improv classes for kids.  Can you imagine doing forty-two straight hours of anything?  I can’t.

Erin has been taking improv classes at the Hideout.  She’s invited me to join her, but I’ve been a ninny about it. I do Toastmasters because I need to be comfortable talking in front of a roomful of people.  But it took me years of being invited to Toastmasters before I ever visited and months of visiting before I ever joined and months of being a member before I signed up to give my first speech.  Talking in front of people does not come naturally to me, but I can do it with lots of planning and preparation.  Improv though, is something altogether different.  Improv goes against every fiber of my methodical, controlled, and planned being.  Every last fiber. 

But Erin, who I respect and adore, has been talking about improv as rather life-changing.  So, curious, I went with her to the marathon.  I spent only one hour there on Saturday night and watched a Star Trek/Party of Five inspired hour, and it was awesome.  I would have stayed longer except that I had plans with a girlfriend who is hopping a plane to Spain today, so I left after only an hour.  But I left amazed at what I had seen.

I want to be that good on my feet.  I want to be able to laugh at myself and make mistakes.  I want to be creative and make up stories on the fly.  Thanks to Erin, doing improv is on my bucket list.  So this morning, still on a high from Saturday night, I popped on to the Hideout’s website and signed up for a free sample class on June 18. 

Yep, I’m gonna do a little improv. 

Twenty Years? Really?

In my effort to clean out magazines, I read through the Spring 2011 issue of The Exeter Bulletin, my alumni magazine.  In doing so, I was confronted headfirst with…well…my age.

A big chunk of the magazine consists of class notes.  Class correspondents write little blurbs about what people are doing with their lives.  I distinctly recall graduating and, to read the notes for my class, flipping to the very last page of the class notes section.  Tonight, I had to flip twelve pages in from the last page to find the class notes for the Class of ’92.  Twelve pages.

I try to tell myself that the twelve pages shouldn’t surprise me because I’ve had on my radar that my twenty-year reunion is next year. Nineteen classes have graduated since I did.  Of course, it makes sense that there would be twelve pages worth of material about those nineteen classes.  But then I face the same issue in a different form: I can’t possibly be old enough to attend a twenty-year reunion.  Can I?

Hmph.  Apparently, I am.