Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Being Different is Terrifying

I have no idea where I’m going to be in a year. I’m not even 100% sure I know where I’ll be in six months. Yes, most of this is a life choice, but the larger part of the reason is that I have to accept that there is a large part of me that WANTS this.
It’s hard to explain, but the unknown is something my body craves like a woman on PMS craves chocolate dipped in chocolate. I can tell you what my life plan is for the next five years, but I cannot tell you WHERE, because WHERE is something that has to change or I begin to wilt.
I like to think that I’m not a flake. I like to think that my friends love me despite the fact that as we grow older their lives become more stable as mine becomes less so. Even when I think about my future and what I would like to accomplish and what stable would mean for me, I still think of it in terms of dividing my time between a couple different countries during the year.
Contrary to popular belief, I do not enjoy being different. I am almost ashamed when I tell people where I’m going next, and I wince when people ask, “Where are you living now?” because the context is different when you’re asking me. In fact, it causes a lot of anxiety in my life.
I have no idea if I will be able to pay the rent in two months. I need a couple oral surgeries, but have no idea how long I will need to postpone them to save up the money for them, because at this point I can’t actually save ANY money. My car is literally rusting out, and all I can do is hope that it continues well past the 250,000 miles it’s about to turn over.
All of this is because I wanted to be different: I wanted to make money doing what I loved on my own terms. Here I am: living the life I wanted, on my terms, and having no idea of those terms will support me. I am justifiably, secretly, UTTERLY afraid.
They say that you have to give a business three years to become profitable. I am not even officially out of my first year of having a business. I have a product that will come out before Christmas that should ease the tension, especially if it does as well as I think it will, and also because I will do many things different this time than I did with the first book. I tell myself these things all the time; I have all sorts of logical reasons that I have absolutely no need to be afraid. First of all, I can get a job if I need it. Second, even if I never sold another cookbook in my life, I still would reap a year’s worth of experience in publishing, writing, wine-pairing, recipe testing, networking, marketing, accounting, website design, project management and the importance of work-life balance. Logically, I tell myself that it’s okay that I’m different, that I wanted to take this risk, that it all will be worth it, whatever the outcome is, because all experiences are learning experiences. Emotionally, none of that makes any sense to my poor overworked brain that wants to know what was so wrong with a corporate job with benefits. This part of me doesn’t listen when I tell it that I wouldn’t actually be any happier there, financial security or not.
The world is full of stories of people who made it through this point, and they are all told from the other side of it, when they are swimming in personal glory. They all say how hard it was, but we get to the point where we nod and accept what that means without actually knowing what it means to be there, with your deteriorating bank account, only so many hours in the day, and the need to turn down social engagements because you just can’t afford a nice meal out. It is rare that you hear this side of it: the gritty, what-the-f*ck-am-I-doing side of it that sounds romantic once it’s over but just seems overwhelmingly impossible in the moment.
If you had asked me a couple years ago what experience had shaped me most as a person, I would have unhesitatingly replied that it was my year in Spain, when I painfully learned Spanish in a dialect similar to backwoods Mississippi English. Even more recently I would have said the year+ I spent at Zango, where I decided that I couldn’t live like everyone else after all, in work, lifestyle or love. From the middle of this, I have a feeling it’s going to be my most important formative experience yet – the question is simply what my form will be when I’m through it.

Love and formative kisses

Monday, August 8, 2011

What Would You Tell a Younger You?

Last night I was at a barbecue and a 40-year-old man was speaking about what he would say to his naïve 28-year-old self.
My first thought was, of course, “naïve?” I am not much older than 28 – I’m just over a month from 30 – and I wondered at what he had learned in those 12 years that made him think he was naïve at 28.
When I thought about it more, though, I realized that this is a pretty natural occurrence: you look back on your life from a place of greater experience and more lessons learned, and you wonder at the actions you took and the thoughts that prompted them.
I don’t think you can look back and judge a younger you for something you didn’t know – even when groaning over something that you’d prefer not to remember, you have to think, “How would you have known better without that experience?” Nevertheless, if I was going to sit down with a younger version of me – and I was convinced this younger self would listen – there is definitely some wisdom I would like to impart. Some of it is information that I should still try to remember. If life teaches us anything, however, it’s that we’re never done learning and changing. That, in my opinion, is one of the best things about it.

So, without further ado, a letter to me. Feel free to share what you would tell a younger you in the comments.

Dear Morgan,

Happy Almost Birthday! You’re almost 28, and even though you don’t know it, your life is about to change forever. You’re only months away from starting your first cookbook, and less than a year away from spending a summer in Mexico, and that time is going to make everything different.
I read some of the things you wrote recently, and I get it – I understand exactly where you are and what you’re going through; I’ve been there. I know you don’t believe me, but you should: you are not the only one who has felt this pain.
You’re going to be just fine. I know it’s scary, and you don’t know what’s coming. I know that you love surprises, and that underneath the logical side of you that gets caught up in the details – where will the money come from, how will you survive, etc. – you revel in the idea of your life as a series of gifts that you get to open, and be surprised at what you find.
I know you aren’t really into listening to advice right now, but I’m going to give you some. I know you’ll pretend that you don’t need it, but I hope that sometimes, in the dead of night, when your fears start to get the best of you, you will pull out this letter and read it, and remember that there are wiser people than you who told you it would all work out just fine. Here are a couple things I wish someone had told me when I was your age:

Let yourself feel, regardless of the emotion. You have just as much a right to react emotionally as anyone else. If you’re angry at someone, let them know; it will ultimately make the anger dissipate faster, and you’ll grow closer to the person as a result.
Trust yourself. Learn to know when you’re making a decision to please others, versus one that will help you become a better, happier you.
Stop comparing yourself to others. They have their own paths, and they’re very different from yours. Stop wondering why you can’t follow someone else’s destiny because it seems more clear-cut.
Regardless of how much it hurts, realize that all experiences – good and bad – lead to becoming a better you. They are necessary, and should be welcomed.
Let yourself love more, and more deeply. In the end, you’re only hurting yourself by not letting anyone in.
Believe others when they compliment you, and sincerely thank them for their words. It will ultimately lead you to love yourself more, which is not a bad thing.
Remember that both compliments and criticism are just someone else’s opinion, and they only have as much power over you as you let them.
Stop being your biggest critic and become your biggest fan.
Let yourself have an opinion, whether you think it’s a good one or not. By allowing yourself less than what you allow others, you are showing them that you believe they’re better than you.
Remember that people love you, whether they’re with you or not. Remember that we are all only human and we can’t always express our love perfectly, but that doesn’t mean it’s imperfect love.
Crying is healing; stop holding it in.
Laughing is contagious; let yourself laugh more.
Yelling is cathartic; do it when you need to and you’ll feel better.
Admit it when you’re wrong. People will love you for it.
Play more, work less.
And finally, forgive yourself for the mistakes you’ve made in your past. You’re the only one who hasn’t already done so.

I know you’ll have a great birthday, Morgan. I wish you nothing but the best, and I know that’s what you’ll get. Have faith in yourself and the rest will come to you. I love you.

Love and knowing kisses

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Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Procrastination vs. Priorities

I know this statement is going to incite hate mail, but here goes anyway: I can’t procrastinate.

In college, I turned in my honors thesis a month early, while many of my friends stayed up the entire night before the deadline to get theirs done. I also got all my homework done before it was due, and never crammed for tests – I studied during the semester instead and got the normal eight hours of sleep the nights before finals. When I did an internship at a newspaper in Guadalajara, I didn’t know the meaning of “on deadline;” all my stuff was turned in hours if not days in advance.

Despite what you think, I am not saying this to brag. I am in fact somewhat envious of people who can procrastinate, or at least people whose heads are not torn apart thinking about what they have to do before it actually needs to be done.

You see, the down side of the anti-procrastination gene is that you are constantly trying to get EVERYTHING done: you make a list and think, “There’s no reason why I can’t get all 35 of these things done today.”

It’s easy to forget what little things might get in the way of finishing off your checklist in one fell swoop: eating, sleeping, exercise, personal time, and oh yeah, the time it actually takes to complete a task. When I think about completing a task that will take a fair amount of time, I resent it, and I start it, even if it doesn’t need to be started yet. Suddenly I am up to my eyeballs in things I’ve started that I can’t finish, because I couldn’t prioritize them – I was too busy worrying about procrastinating on them. (If you start it, you haven’t procrastinated on it…right?)

I may be unable to procrastinate, but I am also unable to prioritize. Often, I get sidetracked working on a project that is not as pressing as others on my list, or does not need to be done at all. I get worked into a flurry thinking about all the things on my list, without actually going through the list and moving the things that can wait to the bottom. I set incredibly ambitious goals for myself, and I am inevitably let down when I can’t meet them.

Thankfully, there is something I can do about this: I can learn the difference between procrastination and prioritization. This means writing it on my list, but picking 2-3 things off the list to do a day, and letting the rest shuffle up the list until I can get to them. I can remember that it’s ok to only do so many things a day, a week, a month, a year, or a lifetime, and that if I do it this way, I will be healthier, happier, and most likely, a lot more productive.

I am learning that nothing is a failure if you learn something from it. Therefore my über-busy, burned out past does not mean that I couldn’t hack it; it simply means that I couldn’t prioritize it. When I think about it, I can’t say that I know what the hurry is with many of my tasks – what would happen if I didn’t get my list done in a day, a week, a month? Oh yes: it would mean I was human, and doing the best I could while continuing to enjoy the process of living.

Love and procrastinated kisses

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Moving advice? Stop storing your memories in boxes.

I am an expert mover. I have not lived longer than a year in any single house since I went to college, including IN college. If there were anyone who could give you tips on moving, it would be me. After moving yesterday for the umpteenth time in my life, the only advice I want to give you is that memories store a lot more easily – and cheaply – in your head.
I didn’t always feel this way. I love to travel, and I used to gather things when I traveled that would remind me of where I’d been. I used to get a kick out of imagining all my worldly possessions in a new place: they were from all over the world, and now here they were, with me, in a new city, state or apartment.
This move was a little different for me. It’s the first lease I’ve signed since I left Bellevue and my job there two and a half years ago, and it’s also the first time I will be utilizing most of my furniture and other possessions that have very neatly organized (and repeatedly reorganized) in my storage unit until yesterday. (Another moving tip? Get boxes with lids or that at least close, and LABEL THEM.) Since Bellevue, I’ve been living in other peoples’ houses and using their furniture and utensils while using the bare minimum of my own stuff: not everyone has a box labeled “Kitchen Bare Essentials,” but I do.
It doesn’t help that I haven’t been feeling well, but the truth of the matter is that when I started opening up all my boxes and going through them, I was amazed at the stuff I’ve been spending good money storing.
I love to cook, but even I do not need 10 mixing bowls. My parents claimed nostalgia over my first pair of skis (Dad) and the first baby dishes (Mom) but didn’t want to haul them around themselves, so they gave them to me. Same goes for some very beautiful but unwieldy painted platters from Mexico that they didn’t want. Come to think of it, that’s why I have a fern the size of a trash can, too.
I can’t blame all of it (or even most of it) on my parents, though. Despite the fact that I purge with every move, I am apparently part pack rat. In the back and bottom of my storage unit is a monstrous trunk, about 100 pounds with no handles, chock FULL of high school memorabilia. I NEVER look in it. The last time I cracked the lid, I threw out a bunch of stuff, wondering why exactly I had kept it. I think I have the idea -- like most people -- that eventually someone else will be interested in the things I have hoarded my whole life, but the truth of the matter is that no one else knows their significance but me. For example, I have been holding onto a really nice expensive coffee maker given to me by an ex-boyfriend, who sadly never understood why I was attached to making coffee with my Melita. Surely I’m not nostalgically holding onto a coffeemaker…am I? Who else but me would even know where it came from, and why I'm packing it around if I never use it?
Don’t get me wrong: I am just as nostalgic as the next person. What I’m realizing, however, after two plus years of living without my prized possessions, is that perhaps they aren’t so prized and necessary after all. Seeing them does not evoke anymore nostalgia than thinking about them did, and I don’t have to pay to store the memories. The only thing that I’m really glad I kept are my old journals, and those are much smaller and easier to carry. They also pack a lot more memories per square inch than the monstrous Mexican rug I have no room for.
Obviously at some point in my life I thought it was worth packing these things into boxes to keep them from breaking and holding onto them until I had a place to put them again. Now that I have a place, however, I’m wondering what exactly that supposed worth was.

Love and moving kisses,

Monday, July 11, 2011

The Shame of Pain

I’ve written about something similar before, but it’s coming up again because, well, I’m in pain again. My friend Molly Steere wrote a blog about this not too long ago, asking people to give people with chronic pain a break, and when I read it, I thought “Yeah, give us a break!”
Molly and I are very similar people, and in this case I totally empathize and agree with one huge hurdle in both our lives: we are held back from what we want to do and accomplish by chronic and often agonizing pain.
Molly has it much worse than I do when it comes to the extent and depth of pain she endures, but I have the luck of having much more varied pain sources: if it’s not one thing, it’s another. My problem is that I am somehow ashamed of my pain and will rarely admit to it because it shows that I am not the super human I want people to think I am.
Take this very moment. Before I left Mexico I got some sort of stomach ailment, which is not the normal Mexican stomach ailment: it is an overall inflammation and tenderness in my abdomen, made worse by eating pretty much anything, but it is always there to some degree. Considering that preparing and eating food is one of the reasons I get up in the morning, both to make money and to enjoy my day, this is psychologically one of the worst things I could be asked to endure.
When I tell people about it, as with every other illness I’ve ever had, I try to end the sentence on a positive note: “Yes, I feel like crap, and I can’t eat and nothing sounds good, but they should be able to get my lab results back soon and I’ll feel better then.” In fact, the other night I was telling someone that I was actually feeling worse, and ended the sentence with, “but that’s okay.”
“No, it’s NOT okay,” said my dad, who was in the room, and obviously as frustrated as I was that I wasn’t getting better.
And he’s right. It’s not okay, but that’s what I always say. When I think about why I actually say this when I don’t mean it, I have to think about why exactly I do so. One of the reasons is that I am ashamed to admit that I am any less than okay: 100% normal like everyone else. I am ashamed to admit that, despite the fact that I take very good care of myself, I am constantly sick. I am ashamed to admit that something in my life is out of my control, and I try to take control of it again by sounding upbeat so that others won’t feel sorry for me.
This is stupid.
This is stupid because you cannot actually expect people to give you a break if you don’t ask for one. You cannot get angry at someone for expecting a normal response from you if you don’t feel normal but you don’t tell them. You can’t expect someone to understand why you aren’t as happy or upbeat as usual if you don’t tell them why, and no one will offer to help you if they don’t know you need help.
I tend to work myself too hard anyway. I am constantly expecting more from myself than other expect of me, and apparently part of that is expecting perfect health despite this internal pressure. Sometimes, before I can catch myself, I find myself thinking, “No one else seems to suffer from all this stuff, so I shouldn’t either.” Well, not everyone else is me. Regardless of how I want to feel, I need to act like how I actually feel, if for no better reason than to allow myself to rest when I need to. The world will not fall down if I’m not there to shore it up, so why do I keep trying to take all the weight on my shoulders?

Love and painful kisses

Monday, July 4, 2011

Goodbye, Rueben. I'll Miss You

Dear Rueben,

You’re more than just a dog to me.

Even though I know this blog post doesn’t really matter to you – seeing as you can’t read and all – I have to tell you that you have changed my life.

If it weren’t for you, it is very likely your parents wouldn’t have asked me to come to Mexico last summer, or return this summer. Without you, I wouldn’t have gotten to know them as well as I have, and reaped such amazing benefits from that friendship.

Without you, Rueben, I wouldn’t have had such a great reason to walk on the beach in Mexico twice a day, and I probably wouldn’t have walked as far if I hadn’t known we were looking for birds for you to chase. Without you, I never would have been reminded on a daily basis how important it is for me to enjoy being outside, in nature, and notice the beauty all around me.

Without you, I wouldn’t have found solace here – I maybe wouldn’t have found “here” at all. I certainly wouldn’t have met the nice veterinarian, or all the nice people on the beach who already knew you, and I probably wouldn’t have noticed all the lizards skittering through the yard if you weren’t chasing them. I wouldn’t have seen as many monstrous frogs, because they wouldn’t have been hanging out in your food and water dish.

I also wouldn’t have known how many crabs on the beach are probably permanently handicapped because you accidentally maimed them with your huge feet while you were trying to play. I wouldn’t have laughed as often or as much, especially of you sticking your head in the holes you dug in the sand trying to get your terrified crab friends to come out.

I wouldn’t have doubled over laughing watching you run into the flooded lagoon and being utterly surprised – but undeterred – when the bottom dropped out from under you and all of a sudden you had to swim to get to the birds you were chasing, now perched and watching you on the other side.

I wouldn’t have marveled at how fast you run chasing birds down the beach. I wouldn’t have been awoken in the middle of the night by trespassing dogs, people and horses half a mile off. I wouldn’t have had anyone to press their face into my legs so I could scratch behind their ears. I wouldn’t have been able to teach you how to high five.

In many ways you saved my life, Rueben, simply by being here. Getting to share your home with you gave me the time and resources to discover my passion again, what my life should truly be about, and what I need to do to get it.

So thank you, Rueben. I wish there was some way I could show you how much it all meant to me, but I know that the best I can do is take you on a few more walks and let you into the house sometimes, even though you stink from swimming in the lagoon. I wish you the best of bird chasing and crab discovery, and years of walks along the beach with new and old friends that love you.

Love and grateful kisses

Monday, June 27, 2011

Letting Myself Be Human

Dear Readers,

This will be the second week I won't be posting. Sometimes you have to admit that you're only human and that you need a break, and this is one of those times. I just got back from an incredible trip to the Yucatan Peninsula, and when I do write again I will have a lot of amazing things to talk about and pictures to show, but for now I need to rest.

Thanks for understanding.

Love and human kisses

Monday, June 13, 2011

What Would Confidence Do For You?

I used to work with a man whose last name was Murphy, so everyone called him “Murph.” He was in his fifties, and while we worked at the same company he had his 30th wedding anniversary. When I asked him the secret to his marriage, he said it was two words: “Yes, dear.” He told me that to him it meant that sometimes it wasn’t worth the battle, and agreeing with his wife instead of starting a fight was worth more than the opinion would have been. This was one of the great life lessons I learned from Murph, but not the most important one.
It turned out I knew the guy his daughter was dating – we had both gone to WSU and had a mutual friend. I told him that I really liked the guy, and that his daughter had good taste.
“I know,” he said. “When she was growing up, I made sure the most important thing I instilled in her was confidence in herself. I knew if I gave her that, I would never again have to worry about her decisions.”
It has taken me years and a lot of heartache to get to the place where Murph’s daughter already was. This is not something I think I lacked because my parents didn’t give it to me – they always told me I could do whatever I wanted – but somewhere in the middle of society and culture, the idea of instilling confidence in our children has gotten lost, and I was no exception.
I think a lot about what our lives – women’s lives especially – would be like if we grew up having more confidence in ourselves. How many fewer destructive relationships would we have? How much more money would we make? How much more would we stick up for what we believed in if we had confidence, not necessarily that we were right, but that we had a right to our opinion and our feelings? How much less would we worry about our bodies if we were confident that we were loveable regardless of what we looked like? How much less would we agonize over where we were going in life if we had the confidence to believe we could do anything?
I’m getting there, but I’m not there yet. If I had had half the faith in myself as others have had in me, I would have been able to take a lot of shortcuts to get to where I am today. Although I know that we can’t grow into the people we are without some growing pains, I think developing confidence early would help us recognize the value of the other lessons sooner. Now that I know that, I can forge ahead, confident I’m heading in the right direction, and that the lessons will be worth the growing pains.

Love and confident kisses

Monday, June 6, 2011

The Crowd On The Empty Beach

I have a blessed existence. One of the most important parts of my day is taking an exuberant dog for a walk on a mostly deserted beach. Since there are usually few people on the beach and Reuben has walked on it nearly every day of his life, I don’t even need to take him on a leash, which is good, because when he sees a bird, this German Shepard runs after it at pretty close to the speed of light.
Meanwhile, I plod along behind him, leaving my footprints in the sand on my way up to the next lagoon and back. I usually do this twice a day, and usually it’s sunny and hot, with the wind coming off the water and the waves crashing next to me. I started off wearing my iPod, but soon realized it was distracting me from the sounds of the beach around me, and I don’t bring it anymore. Instead, I am much more distracted by the crowd I’ve been inadvertently bringing with me on my solitary walks.

The walk on the beach is one of the most important things I do, but not because it’s all I have to do: almost every day I work on my cookbook, at least during the hottest hours of the day when you start to sweat the minute you step out into the sun. My walk on the beach is the most important part of my day because it’s when I get to remind myself of how lucky I am to be alive.
On the days that I’m really reveling in my luck, I’m the only one on the beach with the dog. He runs up and down the beach, shaking coconut shells until their leathery husks peel off, or accidentally stomping crabs that are trying to escape him as he playfully tries to stop their desperate sideways dash to the water. I walk along, staring first at the mountains, then at the ocean, then at the treasures washed up by the waves: dead blowfish, unidentifiable animal parts, huge drowned flying ants, and the occasional refrigerator. I smile at the empty sand stretched out before me, and I let the sun suffuse my skin with Vitamin D and salty spray. I think of nothing, except for how lucky I am.
Those are the good days. On the bad days, I struggle to get down the beach because of all the people in my way: people I owe emails to; people who have implied I will never succeed; people who I had arguments with years ago that I somehow still can’t let go of. It’s kind of like the Verizon Wireless ad with the network of people following you around. When you think about it, what’s good about a crowd of people following you? Wouldn’t you be much less likely to spontaneously skip on your walk, or belt out the few lines of a song, if 100 people were watching your every move?
I don’t remember where I heard it, but there’s a story of two young monks walking along a road when they come to a river. There is a woman standing on the same bank as they are, trying to figure out how to get across. Although it’s against their teachings, (I don't remember why) one of the monks picks the woman up and carries her across the river. The other monk is very bothered by this – doesn’t he know the rules? What makes him think he’s above the teachings? Finally, when they have almost arrived at their destination, the monk blurts out, “Why did you help that woman when you know you aren’t supposed to?” The other monk looked at him and replied, “I put that woman down hours ago. Why are you still carrying her?”
So why am I still carrying these people and these situations? What good does it do me to haul them down the beach with me, especially when it’s so hard for me to walk in sand in the first place? How does it help me to keep these people with me when all I want is a walk by myself?
Well, it doesn’t help me. It is of absolutely no use to me to continue to walk in a crowd. In fact, it probably explains a lot about why I always feel like I need to be alone: because even when I am alone, I am still conversing with other people, whether they know it or not.
So I’m working on uninviting the crowd with me to the beach. It’s hard, and it seems impolite, but the truth is that I’m tripping over them and they’re getting in my way. If I make a point to leave them behind, and only invite them to the conversation if and when we’re actually supposed to talk, I find that my walks are much more enjoyable. Besides, the waves have a much more soothing sound than they do.

Love and uncrowded kisses

Monday, May 30, 2011

What I Learned from Eat, Pray, Love

I have just picked up Eat, Pray, Love for the second time. I have to admit to having a platonic crush on Elizabeth Gilbert – I think if I met her in person we would get along smashingly. When I first read her book about three years ago, it was because someone pressed it into my hands and told me I should read it. Funnily enough, I can’t remember why they said I should read it, because at that point they had no idea that I liked to write or perhaps even that I liked to travel. Anyway, this person gave me her book, and I devoured it as if I had been given food for the first time in weeks. At that point, I was deep into a job that was supposed to make me happy because it was a career and was making me money, but I was miserable without really being able to put my finger on why. Reading Eat, Pray, Love reminded me of the things I had tried to tuck away and forget about because they weren’t considered particularly mature or grown up by the people around me. At that time, my friends were starting to buy houses and settle into long-term jobs, and I was trying to convince myself that this was what I really wanted, too, despite the fact that nothing on earth made me happier than stepping off a plane in a foreign country and knowing I had more than the typically allotted two-week vacation time to spend there.
I had tried to forget this very essential part of myself, but reading Gilbert’s book made my feet itch and my backpack call to me from deep within my closet. When I finished the book, I went back to the woman who had given it to me and said, rather pompously, “I could have written this.”
Well, that’s a lie.
I could not have written Eat, Pray, Love for one simple reason: I had given up on my dream. At that point in my life, I couldn’t imagine life without a corporate insurance benefit package, or without a steady income. Most importantly, at that point in my life, I couldn’t have said, as she did, “Well, I’ve just emerged from a crippling divorce and badly terminated love affair, and I am undoubtedly deeply depressed. I’ve written books about others and made money doing it, but right now, despite the fact that my life is in shambles around me, I am going to walk up to my publisher and tell them that they should give me an advance to write a book about my travels through three different countries that have nothing in common except that I want to go to all of them. Not only that, but I’m known as writing about men’s issues, and this one is just going to be about me, and what I am experiencing – it probably won’t have anything to do with anyone else at all, and no one would take it with them traveling to help them decide where to stay or eat.”
Reading her book again, I am immediately struck by the courage and audacity of what Gilbert decided to do, not because she wanted to do it, but because she convinced someone to pay her to do it. I think three years ago I probably just thought that some people got all the luck, but now I see something much deeper and more admirable in what she did: she went for it, without any idea of how well it would work.
Perhaps because now I’m in a similar situation, I can appreciate what she did more than I could then. At that point, I arrogantly thought that I could do what she did, if only I had the resources she had. Now, however, I know what stepping off that ledge feels like, and I admire her all the more for having stepped so boldly into the thin air.
If you think it would be easy, think about all the things you would have to change to make it happen: getting out of a mortgage, quitting your job, selling your car, paying your health insurance out of pocket, living on next to nothing out of a suitcase with no idea what you would do or where you would live when you got home a year later. Think about all the things you do every day that you would have to give up – dinners and drinks with friends, buying clothes – and all the ideas you would have to rearrange. Think of the terror of promising a book to a publisher without being sure you could write one, or that anyone would want to read it. Think of the idea of deciding before you even left that you would have to bare your soul to the world in exchange for the money you got, and hoping you had enough of a soul to bare.
Now I know that I never could have written Gilbert’s book, -- it was hers and her life experience, after all -- but I am incredibly glad that she did. Reading Eat, Pray, Love was one of first small steps that it took to start to change my ideas about my existence. It made me think that perhaps, if I believed in myself enough and refused to give up, I could create the life of my dreams, instead of trying to squash someone else’s idea of happiness into my life box. I am grateful for what I’ve learned from her, and what I am still realizing: nothing is impossible if you get out of the way and let it happen.

Love and not-so-impossible kisses,

Monday, May 23, 2011

A Dangerous Four-Letter Word: Fear

Last week I did something I have been meaning to do for quite awhile. It’s nothing major, and probably not life-changing, but for some reason it was something I could never bring myself to get around to doing: I created a food blog. It’s called Savoring Life, and it’s related to my book Savoring Chelan and the book I’m currently compiling, Savoring Leavenworth (I’m savoring things, get it?)
For anyone who has never set up a blog, there really isn’t much to it: you find a blog host (Blogger, WordPress, etc.), fiddle around with the design until it looks how you want it to, and write something on it. Seems easy, right? For a writer like me, who writes a lot and already has a weekly blog, it really shouldn’t have been that big of a deal, but it was.
Part of the reason that I dragged my feet on this is because it’s a commitment. If you’re going to have a blog and get any sort of regular audience, you have to post on a regular basis. Not only that, but you have to be able to blog about interesting things to keep your audience. (This is where I would like to give a shout out to my friend Molly Steere, who just celebrated her blog’s first birthday and just passed 10,000 hits – way to go Molly!)
The truth is, there’s something about committing to do something regularly that has made me want to drag my feet. What is that something? It’s fear, plain and simple.
It’s such a small word, fear. It doesn’t leap off the page at most people, and it rarely incites the kind of response that other words do: massacre, genocide, food poisoning, Rapture. Fear isn’t even a normal four-letter word that you should teach your kids never to use. Some words, though, are sneaky like that. You think about the word fear and it doesn’t motivate or scare you the way “plague” or “empty cookie jar” might, but it is still an incredibly dangerous word.
How many things have I failed to do because of fear? Countless things. There’s no way to keep track of how many times I didn’t do something without even being able to admit that fear was the reason I didn’t do it. I like to think I’m not the only one that rationalizes my way out of facing my fears. Mountain biking? I could break a leg, or fly over my handlebars. Going to Mexico? There are drug cartels there. Talking to that cute guy at the bar? He probably has a girlfriend already. Asking for help? It’s easier just to do it myself than to be shut down.
The worst part about fear is not what you actually fear, however. It’s the totally unstudied and illogical idea you have of what will happen if your fears come true. What’s the worst possible thing that could happen to me regarding my food blog? That someone finds it highly offensive – “Fried plantains? You HARLOT!” – and tells everyone to shun me forever. See? When you admit your worst fears out in the open, they seem silly and illogical. The trick, then, is to admit what your worst fears are, maybe just to yourself to start with, then deciding that the realization of that fear is not worth hanging back for.
I was scared to start a food blog because of what it could mean: yet another thing I would be required to write on a regular basis. But wait a minute, I’m a writer…what I WANT in life is something more to write about, something I care a lot about and want to share with others. What do I care about, think about and do nearly every day? I care about, think about, and write about food. Why shouldn’t I share that with you, invisible audience? If I leave out the fear factor, there’s no good reason left.

Love and fearless kisses

Monday, May 16, 2011

A Shameless Plug for Natural Healthcare

I was lying on a massage therapy bed about ten years ago and was surprised when the therapist pushed in the middle of my back and I felt it all the way down my leg. When I told him, he said, with no small amount of sarcasm, “You mean…like it’s all connected or something?”
Well duh, Morgan, I hear you say. Of course it’s all connected – of course the pain and tightness in one part of your body can either be caused or lead to pain or tightness in other parts of your body. This was a small thing for me to remember at that point. The bigger thing I’ve learned recently, however, is that the physical pain in your body is also inexorably linked to the pain in your mind.
Uh-oh. I think I just lost half of you. That’s ridiculous, you say, that can’t be true. You can treat physical pain with physical pills and they go away; emotional pain is intangible and can’t be treated the same way.
If that’s the case, then why do we try to treat it the same way? How many of us are sloshing down sugar, carbs, alcohol, pain killers, ANYTHING to try and get our minds to shut up? A lot of us, myself included. But that’s not the half of it.
About three years ago, I had a cough that wouldn’t die, despite all the antibiotics in the world that had been thrown at it, plus some steroids, good food, rest and exercise. Pretty soon it was followed by some alarming weight gain, despite everything I tried to do to the contrary. All of a sudden, despite all the things I had always done right, it wouldn’t go away.
Then I broke up with my boyfriend. The day after, I called my friend who worked at a Natural Health Clinic – one that I had been stubbornly refusing to go to for quite awhile– and Dr. Laura Walton agreed to see me on her lunch break. It was a breaking point for me: I had never felt so defeated, exhausted, depressed and unable to understand what was going on. Dr. Laura helped me, but not in any way I had ever been helped before. We figured out I had been on TEN antibiotics in the last year, that they had probably nuked my immune system, and then she did something my other doctors had never done: she asked how I was doing emotionally.
Excuse me? How am I feeling?
I felt like shit, and I felt like shit for a long time. But for the first time, I felt like someone was looking me straight in the eye, seeing a person instead of a list of symptoms, and that person wanted not only for me to feel better, but for me to be in optimum health. That’s what naturopaths want, you see: optimum health for their patients, not just a freedom from the symptoms of illness.
I didn’t get better right away, but I left with a boatload of supplements after a steam shower meant to help me clear the gunk out of my lungs that had been stuck there for months.
I wasn’t immediately sold, however, and soon went back to my regular doctor for my yearly checkup. I asked her why it was I couldn’t stop putting on weight, which had continued to be a problem that persisted even as my cough improved due to increased doses of vitamin D.
“[Regular] Dr.,” I said, “I can’t seem to stop gaining weight. Do you have any ideas what I can do?”
“Well,” she said, “Maybe you should stop eating sugar.”
“I don’t really eat sugar.”
“Then maybe you should give up pop.”
“I don’t drink pop…I don’t drink much except for water.”
“Well maybe you just need some more exercise.”
“I exercise regularly, even though it exhausts me.”
“Hmmm…well then I’m not really sure.”

When I eventually went back to Dr. Laura and told her I was getting really frustrated with not being able to lose the weight, she left the room to go ask her colleagues what the answer might be, but not before telling me something that made too much sense.
“Morgan, I think your body has been putting this weight on as a way to protect you from something or someone that it thinks you need protecting from – do you think that could be the case? Do you think maybe you need to remove something from your life before the weight will go away?”
It was the same boyfriend. After that first breakup that had gotten me into the clinic, I had gone back to him – twice. It was him. My body knew what my mind wouldn’t admit: that he wasn’t right for me. Refusing to listen to the physical signs to my emotional problem was keeping me sick.

I’m not currently in optimum health. Poor Dr. Laura is constantly kept on her toes by my body’s ability to turn emotional stress into physical symptoms, but at least now when I go to her I can consider the possibility that all my problems aren’t related to the flu bug going around…and that sometimes that’s all they are. Not only that, but I’m much less likely to get that flu bug based on all the things I’ve learned – and continue to learn – from her. It’s amazing to me how much more in touch with my body I’ve become as a result of her care, and how much more I’ve been able to treat the root of the cause instead of just the symptoms.

Love and naturally healthy kisses

Sunday, May 8, 2011

To My Mother on Mother’s Day

I was reading the Huffington Post this morning, and they had a picture entitled, “Things We Always Wanted to Tell Mom.” The picture was a woman holding a sign that said, “I broke that mirror in the living room in 1995.” So Mom, here are some things that I’ve always wanted to tell you:

That time I told you that my friends and I only sneaked out to the golf course to see what sneaking out was like? That was a lie. We went to a party.

I did know they were drinking in the garage the night that the cops showed up while you were in Canada and the entire softball team was inside the house.

I still wish you would have let me get a letterman's jacket.

I know you did a lot of chain smoking and pacing on account of me and my stupid decisions. I'm sorry.

I can’t believe that you didn’t wring my neck when I was a teenager; I would have.

I would never admit it to you, but I always thought that you were the coolest mom around, and I always bragged about you to my friends.

I got my love of adventure, my ability to swear colorfully and to make a fantastic meal out of what I find in the fridge from you.

I always have to wipe down the counter before I consider the kitchen completely clean, just like you taught me.

You have no idea how much it meant to me that you went in and demanded to know why I didn’t get into Honor Society, despite having some of the best grades in my class. Even though people hated the fact that the next year there was a huge application process to join, I was glad you did it.

I like the fact that you ride a Harley and swear like a truck driver. It makes you unique.

I'm always a little jealous at how many people talk about how much they enjoy your part of the Fraser Family Christmas letter.

Thank you for always being excited for me when I wanted to go live across the world, and for never asking me when I’m going to settle down. It just shows that you know me better than most people ever will.

We take our moms – and our dads – for granted most of our lives; before we can even lift our heads up they are giving up their nights to feed and change us; their financial resources to clothe us; their independence to be there for us. In return, we scream at them, slam doors in their faces, tell them we hate them then hold out our hands for money from them. They chauffeur us, buy us expensive prom clothes, and patiently bear the brunt of our nasty moods when our hormones are raging like the Seven Seas. I’m not quite sure why most saints are people who have never had children, because I think having children requires a saintliness that should not be underestimated.
So thanks, Mom, for being there, even when I told you that I didn’t need you. I could never have made it this far without you.

Love and fantastically mothered kisses,

Monday, May 2, 2011

There's No "Super" in "Human"

I’m guilty of taking on too many tasks all at once and burning myself out. It’s something I’ve always done, and I used to think it was a good thing. It may have been that I felt a pressure to be this way, but it’s more likely I created my own pressure to do too much for too many people.
For a long time, I was hoping someone would notice and tell me to slow down, but ironically any time it actually happened I only used it as a reason to push harder: if they think I’m working hard now, how impressed would they be if I worked even harder? Unfortunately it’s easy to confuse any attention with positive attention.
But no longer. I am determined that my time in Mexico will not be overloaded. Yes, I will be working down there, but not all the time. Working inside while it’s beautiful and sunny on the beach outside is not something to aspire to. Instead, I want to find a work-life balance that I can carry with me when I come back.
In Mexico they work hard, but when the work’s over they let it go. I have wished before that the U.S. were more like this, but there’s really nothing I can do about that. Instead, all I can do is decide that my life should be more like the Mexican life: that life should be about living through every day, not about going through the motions and hoping eventually you’ve accrued enough of whatever you’re supposed to accrue to be happy.
So here’s to soul searching, naps in the hammock, long walks, short stints of work, and living life as a human.

Love and human kisses

Monday, April 25, 2011

I'll Miss You, Chelan

Dear Chelan,

I’m a week away from leaving for Mexico. When I come back, I don’t plan to come back to you. It’s a good thing for me, but sometimes you make it hard to walk away.
You and I haven’t always been the best of friends. I used to avoid going to the grocery store because I didn’t want to see all the people I knew. It’s tough living in the town where you grew up; sometimes it’s tough running into your old teachers and classmates, but living in your hometown means you do it constantly if you’ve been away as often as I have. It’s hard to try and explain how you’ve changed, and harder still because you see the changes in your hometown and you resent them. It’s a catch 22: you want people to recognize that you’ve grown up and become different while begrudging the changes that took place in your absence.
There are fewer orchards. There are more people. Many of the faces have changed, but many have stayed the same, or perhaps just become a little more lived in. Those changes one can get used to, Chelan. It’s the way the world works. What is harder to get used to – at least for me – is leaving the absolute beauty of your lake.
You’re so beautiful in the moonlight. You’re like the sea when the wind tears across you, and no one should underestimate your power in those instances. More than that, however, you are the trusted friend that cooled my skin in the summer heat and gave me something to smile at when the cold winter clouds hovered over you.
It doesn’t matter where I am in the world or whom I’m talking to, I’m bragging about you. I tell people that you’re deep, clear and cold, 55 miles long, with a hidden treasure at the other end that includes a bakery and a minute town that is only reachable by float plane, boat, or a long hard hike. I tell people about how I was spoiled growing up next to you; how I hate swimming in warm water after having gotten used to your glacial temperature; how I swam across you once, and cutting through the reflection of the mountains on your surface was pure bliss. I love you all of the time, but most of all in May, when I’m one of the crazy ones that can’t stay out of your near-hypothermic water. The apple blossoms are out and the hills are a light green, the lilacs are in bloom and there you are, not yet overrun by boats, placid and deep like a wise teacher. Now, on the cusp of spring, the trees are covered in tiny green buds that promise my favorite time of year.
And I won’t be here to enjoy it.
There’s no need to pity me. I’m heading to another paradise, different from you but beautiful in its own right. Despite the fact that I’m leaving, however, I just had to make sure you knew that I always think of you, wherever I am, whether I’m with you or not.

Love and pure water kisses

Monday, April 18, 2011

Taking Home Wherever I Go

I recently read a book by Molly Wizenberg called A Homemade Life. Aside from writing phenomenally about her life and the food that is part of it, Molly talks about not being sure if she’s found home, but having taken comfort in having Paris as her second home. For Molly, it’s France. For me, it’s Mexico: its food, scenery, culture and people. What is more important to me, however, is finding a way to incorporate home into my life wherever I am; to be able to make any place on earth my home, regardless of how humble or impermanent it may be. It’s a survival tactic: I can’t continue the pattern I’ve had for so long of leaving my life completely and coming back to nothing and starting over. I need to be able to sense some continuity in my life and plans, and at this point I need to find a way to do so that does not include buying that piece of comfort.

So, you ask, what is that home for me?

Home is someplace safe, where the pressure falls off and there is nothing left to keep you from sleeping deeply and peacefully. Home is a dream I had once, where I closed the door behind me and I was surrounded by nothing but what brought me joy and no pain. It is the place where my mind finally rests.
Home is a tangible place, but not always the same place. It is the answer to where I want to be and what I am inside, in the part of me I can’t always tap into, that knows who I am without any of the doubts and pressures that I otherwise cannot fully dismiss.
Home is a person. Home is the people who smile at my joys and remind me where I am going, and that I will make it there.
Home is somewhere that I have worked toward and made it to. It is the way that I fall into bed, exhausted, after a long day doing exactly what I want.
What is home to me? Home is where I eat the fruits of my own labors and cry over my disappointments without fear that they will seek to haunt me; home is where the stars shine just for me and the air is always crystal clear.
Home is where I always have wanted to find. It is somewhere that I dream of, without knowing what exactly I am looking for. When I say I am homeless, I do not mean it in the sense of walls and a roof; rather I consider it a state of mind I have been trying to reach that is still outside my grasp. It is the last place I want my head to lie; I want to wake up bed at home and be able to simply lie there without wondering what it is I am searching for or how to find it.
My home has windows that show a vast ocean of possibility outside, a skylight that shows the stars of opportunity shining brightly, and the shelter I need to remind myself that I will be okay.
I am nothing without home, but home is still an unfound refuge. It is nothing without my dreams, my hopes, my aspirations, but its structure is solid even without them. My home is without need of shoring, for it has been there all along.
Home is something I ache to find, yet will never be able to survive without; I already have it.

Home is a place I've been looking for for quite awhile, but I tend to find it only fleetingly. Although I imagine it as a tangible place -- and I even have a picture of what it looks like in my head -- when I really think about it I don't think it's a place at all, more a mental refuge that I need to find and not lose track of again. I feel closest to home at the moment that I strike out on a new adventure, when my path has yet to be carved out and my thoughts are on nothing more than the day ahead of me and how I will spend it. In my home, I have been able to accept who I am without wondering what other people think of my path, have been able to let go of some of the worries that do me no good and waste brain space and power, and this place is one in which everything I do is an accomplishment, but doesn't have to mean anything at all.
If this home were a place, however, it would have a river running through it, and no rules against bathing nude in the sunshine, or the moonlight.

Love and homey kisses

Monday, April 11, 2011

Me, on Cooking

I love food, but my love affair goes far beyond the simple act of scraping it onto a fork and putting it into my mouth. I love the process that goes into preparing any ingredient I can find in the refrigerator that I think sounds good: peeling the outer layers off the garlic and onions, heating the olive oil and feeling the tickle in my nose as the black pepper starts to cook, watching the garlic chunks turn crunchy and brown, wilting the lettuce, plumping the raisins, stirring in the coconut milk until it encompasses the rest of the contents of the pan. And yes, all of those ingredients usually go into one catch-all dish.

There’s a reason people gather in kitchens at parties. You can rarely find a better smell in a house than what’s coming out of the kitchen; unless it’s prepared ahead of time, you can rarely talk to the cook unless you’re perched on a stool near him or her. If I’m the cook, I’m probably going to give you a knife and a cutting board and ask you to chop something. Regardless of what your task is in the kitchen, there’s a reason to be there: there’s sustenance, both in the food you’re making and the in conversation that surrounds it; there are ideas about how to change it, perfect it, or tailor it, and after all the time you’ve spent surrounded by it, you get to pick it up off a plate, let its flavors meld in your mouth, and taste the time that went into it. If there’s anything not to like about that, I’m not sure what it is.

I consider myself a concoctionist. No, it is not a real word, and no, I’m probably not the one that made it up. I can cook with a recipe, but most of the time I don’t want to because the recipe leaves out the peppers that I couldn’t resist buying at the store because they were a perfect sunny yellow; it doesn’t make room for the leftover chili in the fridge that I’ve already eaten for four nights in a row. The recipe doesn’t tell me to throw in a spice that sounds like it might make or break the whole thing; a recipe didn’t lead me to create sweet potato hash browns with nutmeg, ginger, garlic and red chili flakes or chipotle butternut squash soup.

Lately I’ve been reading culinary fiction and other books on food, and it has made me mindful of what I pour into my pot. I’ve been sick lately and my soups reflect it: they’re hearty, chock full of vitamins, rich and deep in taste and color with a little bit of spice because it’s sometimes all I can detect with a stuffy nose. I’m stressed so I’m making pastas with pesto – rice pasta since wheat and I don’t always get along – because there’s nothing more comforting to me than a warm nutty basil sauce slathered over carbs. I have too much food in my cupboard and not enough time to eat it, so I’m chucking extra ingredients in wherever possible to use them up before they go bad: asparagus in soups, peanut flour in stews, Mexican herbal remedies thrown in for good luck and good juju. I’m hungry for rest and peace, and any good therapist would be able to see it in my food.

As mundane as following a recipe could sound to a concoctionist, any hesitancy I have in the matter is wiped away by getting to share my experience with others. I’m deep into my next recipe book, another compilation of recipes and wine pairings for another region, and I am trying recipes from my contributors at breakneck pace. It’s one of the only times I will follow a recipe, and it’s because I want to be sure the recipe works the way it’s supposed to. Any gathering is an excuse to make something with someone. If I made all the recipes myself it would simply mean that they worked for me, by including my friends I get perspective and discussion about the dishes, not to mention someone to enjoy them with.

I recently met a woman who told me she wished there was a food pill she could take instead of eating; that food was just something she had to eat to survive. I looked her straight in the eye and said, “I really don’t understand people like you.” In hindsight, it might have been a little rude. Then again, it might have been rude for her to tell someone like me that food should be contained in a pill.

Love and deep cooking kisses

Monday, April 4, 2011

Making It

This weekend someone asked me what I did for a living. I cannot even tell you how satisfactory it was to say, “I’m a writer.”
I’ve written about this phenomenon before, but at that point being a writer wasn’t something that brought me even a little bit of money. While I have to admit that I am still not fully able to support myself on my writing, it is now without a doubt the number one thing that I pour my energy into in exchange for money.
This may be confusing to some – after all, I quit my job in Bellevue more than three years ago, and since then I’ve mainly been working on my writing – right? Yes, but until this point I was always either living off my savings or working other jobs to supplement my writing and support this crazy idea I had to write for a living. As of this month, however, I have had to put away or quit all those other attempts to supplement my income because I am getting so busy that I simply don’t have the time to mess around working for someone else to make my money. That’s right: I’m at a terrifying point in my life where I have to invest all my time in making money without having any solid proof that I will make it.
Yes, of course this is petrifying. No, I haven’t been sleeping like a baby at the thought. Yes, this means that my life is perhaps more unsteady than it’s ever been before. At the same time, however, it’s also the only step I can take that is in the right direction – if I don’t give myself the room to succeed, there’s no way I will.
This has lead me to wish sometimes that there was some magic genie that would tell me that I will make it, but then I think, “What exactly is making it anyway?”
Maybe making it is when you decide that you make enough money to not have to worry anymore, but then again, most people I know worry about money regardless of how much they have. Perhaps making it is when you get to do whatever it is you want, regardless of the income, but if that’s the case, then I’ve made it already, even if I’m not quite financially solvent yet.
When I graduated from high school, my parents gave me a card with a poem on it called “Success,” attributed (perhaps incorrectly) to Ralph Waldo Emerson. (You can read the poem if you click on the name of the poem; most people have heard it at some point in their lives.) Based on this and my continuing effort in trying to define “making it” for me, I have reached a conclusion: I have made it. Despite the fact that I don’t yet make enough money doing it, and that I have no idea if I will ever make enough money doing it, I have decided that I have made it for many reasons. I get to spend every day working toward my own success: if there’s a step back it’s mine, but all the step forwards are mine too.
I get to cook delicious meals again and again to perfect them for my cookbook. It’s an important part of my job, and one I truly enjoy. I make money because I do this. How awesome is that?
And the best reason, in case you forgot? I get to call myself a writer and know that it’s true.
Having decided that I’ve already made it, I’m now letting myself off the hook. There is no failure if the experiences come with life-changing lessons. My life has changed and I can let go of the idea of making it because I already have. This doesn’t mean I’m going to stop trying, but I am going to stop worrying about reaching a goal that I haven’t even really defined. Even if the world blew up tomorrow and I never sold another book with my name on it, I still get to apply these experiences and their rewards to the rest of my life. If that’s not “making it,” I don’t know what is.

Love and made it kisses

Monday, March 28, 2011

Ruining My Coping Strategies

Ruining my coping strategies

I made a resolution awhile ago that I was going to work on facing things instead of coping with them. This may seem like minute point, but basically I decided that for me, facing things meant living with them while coping meant dealing with them.
Still confused? Let me see if I can explain. There are many things in my life that I simply deal with, or better yet, I ignore them and hope they will go away or at least the feelings surrounding them will ease. These aren’t even all necessarily bad things: I have recently discovered that I am as freaked out by incredibly good feelings as I am by bad feelings. The point here, however, is not the feelings themselves or the situations that bring them on, but what I do with them.
I would prefer not to deal with feelings. They make me, well, feel. A feeling is something I can’t control, so it scares me. When something scares me, I don’t face it, I cope with it.
My coping strategies? Gossip. Self-justification. Self-validation. Eating when I’m not hungry. Drinking without regard for the taste. Watching movies or TV I’m not interested in in the hopes of drowning out my thoughts (there’s a reason you burn more calories simply sitting still than you do while watching TV).
It’s not that impressive of a list, but there’s a problem: now that I’ve identified my coping strategies, they aren’t working as well for me anymore. When I open the fridge in search of some self-validating sweet comfort food, I know why I’m doing it, and it ruins the comforting effect. When I sit down to watch a movie to shut off my brain, it insists on chugging along, wanting me to face my fear instead of simply coping with it.
What does facing a fear look like? It looks like calling up someone who has hurt you and talking about it. It looks like sitting with the pain and feeling it instead of putting it in a drawer. It looks like opening the wine bottle because I want something tasty to drink, not to drown my sorrows. It looks like regularly checking in with myself to see if I how I’m feeling and taking care of my physical and emotional state on a regular basis instead of waiting until I’ve made myself sick.
It looks like a lot of work, but work I need to face.

Love and facing kisses

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Monday, March 21, 2011

Emotional Clutter

Every time I finish a bottle of supplements or pills, I have to fight the urge to keep the bottle. I can think of a million uses for each one: other pills, vitamins or supplements, seeds, spices, paper clips, thumb tacks, etc. My contacts come in adorable little glass bottles with screw-on lids, and I always have to force myself to throw them away after I’ve harvested the contacts out of them. The reason for this is very simple: no matter how many ways I imagine I can use these little containers, the truth is that I won’t use them at all and they will just end up adding to my clutter.

It seems to me that the universe has been trying to send me a message lately: every blog I follow, many people I talk to and a lot of the books I read have mentioned the cathartic effect of reducing clutter. Initially I thought that these messages were meant for someone else; like there was someone that I should pass the message on to. The truth is, however, that the message was for me: the more I looked around my house and my life with clutter in mind, the more clutter I saw.

The reason I didn’t see it the first 100 times I looked was because my clutter is invisible to the naked eye: my clutter is mental. Inside my head are rooms full of stacked junk that needs to be sifted through or simply thrown out. As much as I purge myself of empty pill bottles and contact containers, I stuff the drawers of my memory with useless information that does me no good and actually hurts me when I find it. I’ve been holding onto to memories and their emotional attachments for so long that they’ve become a part of me, as if I were wearing a vest that I have tied these tidbits to as they happened, until I am so weighted down by them that I can hardly walk upright.

With the realization of my emotional clutter came another one: I am so caught up with the clutter in my mind that at some point I began procrastinating on what was physically in front of me. I don’t consider myself a dirty person, but I hate doing dishes so I put them off. My clean laundry pile overwhelms me, so it lives on my chair until half the clothes are dirty and I am unsure of what I’ve washed and what I’ve worn.

Don’t get me wrong: I am not condemning the untidy person. I am simply saying that in my case, my clutter started to physically pile up because my emotional clutter inbox was full. I started viewing simple chores as just another drain of my energy and attention, when the truth is that my attention and energy had already been drained by what was going on inside my head.

I didn’t realize how much more difficult I was making my life until a friend of mine told me about an article she had read about reducing clutter. The article suggested that you set a timer for 10 minutes, and work on reducing clutter – or doing your dishes or folding your laundry, etc. – in 10-minute increments. I discovered – much to my chagrin – that things I put off doing for days because of the time it would take were easily completed within a 10-minute block of time. This is a little disturbing, especially considering that I am notorious for thinking, “Oh that will take FOREVER. I’ll just hop on Facebook for a little while first,” and an hour later I would be strangely frustrated and the dishes would still be dirty in the sink.

Realizing that I could reduce physical clutter so quickly lead to another realization: instead of stuffing my problems into the drawers of my mind, what would happen if I actually dealt with them? I tried it, and you would probably not be surprised to learn, invisible audience, that dealing with my problems makes them disappear: when I open up that drawer now, there’s nothing in it. That’s right: there’s room for today because I’m not constantly confronted with the yesterday.
I am now one drawer down, thousands to go. As overwhelming as that sounds, it’s invigorating to know that I don’t have to open a door and slam it shut again for fear that the contents are going to fall out on top of me, crushing me under their weight. Instead, I can open the door, snatch out a box, rummage through it, and throw it out, knowing that I don’t need what was in it anymore. It will take awhile, but the clutter is already diminishing; there’s now room for sunlight to stream in through the windows.

Love and uncluttered kisses

NOTE: If you are trying to post a comment and can't, it could be because you don't have third party cookies enabled in your web browser. You can change this by going to "preferences." You can also email me at morganfraser@hotmail.com if you prefer; I welcome your feedback!

Monday, March 14, 2011

Me vs. My Body: Giving Up the War

I was telling someone recently about my exercise induced heart arrhythmia – basically, my heart speeds up to far beyond normal levels during and after exercise – and he said, “Wow, it must be hard to feel like your body is fighting against you.”
This struck me as a strange thing to say, and it’s taken me a long time to figure out why. The reason that I find it strange, I’ve discovered, is because I have always felt that my body was working against me.

I am not the only one who thinks this: ask most American women, and few of them will admit to being best buddies with their bodies. We’re constantly wishing they were different than they are: thinner, smaller, taller, shorter, more petite, less cumbersome, more graceful, more able to fit into cute shoes, skinny jeans and single digit sizes. We wage war against our bodies every day because of this frustration that we have with what nature gave us or our love of potato chips has granted us: hours of exercise, anti-wrinkle creams, diets, diets and more diets, and pushing our bodies to do things that we want it to be able to do, or that someone else’s can do.

I know, I know: there’s a difference between a heart arrhythmia and a diet. But trying to ignore my heart arrhythmia isn’t the only place that I have tried to force my body to do something because someone else's can: I have starved, dieted, poked body fat, studied wrinkles, shaved, waxed and wailed at the body that I got, that always seems to give out on me when I want it to do just one little thing for me: be perfect and do what everyone else’s does.

I started waging my war against my body when I was about 13; the war and all its battles have been going on for more than 15 years. Not all of the battles were out in the open, and some of them looked like peace talks, but in the end I always undermined the trust that my body put in me and tried to push too hard. And damn it if the bitch didn’t fight back: despite the fact that every muscle and tendon in my body was screaming at me not to, I ran a half marathon, and pinched a nerve in my neck in the process that caused me excruciating pain for six months. I had a cough for 9 months as a result of depression and unhappiness, and my body entrenched for long warfare on that one with 40 extra pounds because I wouldn’t just stop and take some time to figure out what I wanted and, more importantly, what I needed.

You wouldn’t know that I shouldn’t eat wheat or dairy because I’ve never told you, because I don’t want to be different than everyone else like my body wants me to be, but guess what? My gall bladder gets pissed and starts to hurt whenever I eat either, and especially if I’m stubborn enough to try to eat them together.

Yes, there are a ton of things wrong with me, but I’ve come to realize that the biggest thing is that I am trying to force my body into something it can’t be: someone else. As much as I have moved away from starving myself, my body still has needs that I have been ignoring, and it’s like a screaming child whose pitch keeps getting louder the longer it is ignored. It’s not like I get another one once I’ve broken this one beyond repair: this one is mine, and I should treat it like the unique being that it is. My body should be free to tell me what it wants and have me listen. This doesn’t mean simply not dieting or lying on the couch all day, either: listening means knowing that my body needs exercise and rest, healthy food and plenty of sleep, regardless of whether it fits into my social schedule. It means perhaps asking for the meal without cheese even if I know it will taste better smothered in melted smoked Gouda. It means not doing whatever causes me pain instead of taking a pill to help me ignore the pain. It means listening and acting on my body’s behalf instead of against its wishes.

Perhaps, if I listen at the peace talks this time, the war will wane and we can start to rebuild. Perhaps, if I raise the white flag and really surrender, my body will stop holding me prisoner and we can start fighting on the same side again. Perhaps, if I become a better listener, someday I won’t be fighting wars at all.

Love and surrendered kisses

Monday, March 7, 2011

I Used To Be Funny

NOTE: This blog was first posted on Haley Whitehall's website on March 3 when I was her guest blogger. I am reposting instead of writing something new because I have an awful cold and can think of nothing to say that does not involve whining and moaning.

Long ago, when I first went abroad, I would write hilarious emails home. Even before that, I wrote fairly funny top ten lists over whatever it was that came to mind. It seemed like no matter what I was doing, there was a comical way to look at it and I couldn’t wait to get to a computer to type out my long (overblown) email about Montezuma’s Revenge, children skidding sideways down long ski slopes into lines of people waiting for the chairlift, sheep-turd-tasting cheese or smelly persons.
In fact, I have a whole book of these stories. It’s called Confessions of a Travel Addict. It’s nearly 200 pages of funny stories about traveling abroad, and although I recognize the work as my own, I have come to the realization lately that I probably couldn’t write it again because I don’t write funny things anymore.
If it’s going to be funny now, it’s a one-line status update that has about 15 people chortling, versus emails to 50+ persons that I’d like to believe read and enjoyed them.
So, what’s changed, you ask? Well, me, obviously.
When I first revealed to one of my friends that I had written a book about my traveling, she asked, “So does it have stuff about, you know, how you felt, your emotions, the things you were going through and how you grew as a person?”
I don’t think I laughed at her, but I thought at the time that it was a stupid thing to say. Who on earth would be interested in how I felt about things? Merrily I tripped along, continuing to write funny stories with no meat to them, no context, no person behind this shadow that traipsed all over the place having mishap after mishap.
Now, I realize that there is a time and place for everything. I realize that I may be hard on myself here, but the truth was that nearly everyone who has read my book has said, “Well, there’s not really much about you, you know? Since I know you I feel like I’m taking a trip with you, but if I didn’t know you I would feel like I was missing a very essential piece of the story.”
They’re right. The book lacks substance. And suddenly, that substance is all I can come up with to blog about. Suddenly, even my funny posts don’t seem as funny. All of a sudden, I want to talk about myself in serious terms.
It may seem small to someone on the outside, but this shift seems like a monstrous chasm that has opened up in front of me. I don’t see myself as some sort of bubbly, exuberant bouncy ball ricocheting off walls and screaming “WEEEE!” until everyone wants to shoot me, but neither do I see myself as a depressive lump of coal sitting in the corner, sucking the light out of anything that comes near like a black hole. I feel both these things often – if I’m lucky, I feel these and a whole range of emotions every day – but what I feel more is the change that has come over me in regards of what I want to share. I’m no longer as interested in simply giving the funny story of what happened to the stupid gringa while skimming over how I cried when it happened. A part of me is more than a little alarmed by this. It’s no longer a game to see how loud a person will laugh; now I’m tapping something deeper and sharing because I feel like a have to, and this is what bubbles to the surface, needing to be shared.
I think one of the strangest things about this shift is that I don’t feel afraid or excited about it – I simply recognize that something has changed. I look at it objectively, like a thing that I’ve just found in my house, and I study it, knowing it has a use but not yet knowing what it is. I’d like to think that this means that I’m finally maturing to the point where I don’t feel like I have to mask my emotions and can say how I really feel, but somehow that seems very, um, mature of me, and I can’t quite believe it. So for now, I’m just going to roll with it, and hope that maybe one day I’ll get to the point where I can be funny again and meaningful, too.

Love and not so funny kisses

Monday, February 28, 2011

Communication Gives Me Zits

Communication gives me zits.

Okay, maybe it doesn’t. Maybe I just pick at my face when I’m stressed out, and communicating in a mature way stresses me out, which makes me pick at my face, which makes it look like I have zits. It’s an evil, evil cycle.
Off and on, I have wondered what exactly made me different from other people, because I certainly have never felt as if I truly belonged. Over the years the things that made me self-consciously different have changed: I’m tall, I’m red-headed, I read too much, and at one point I wanted to teach cats to write with pens taped to their paws.
Today, I am probably most self-conscious about my total lack of ability when it comes to good, healthy communication.

Sometimes, it is incredibly obvious to me and others that I am failing at that whole “communication” thing: my face gets red and I mumble something incoherent, then back out of a room as fast as possible. This is usually what happens when I am put on the spot and I want to say no to whatever is being asked of me, but I can’t bring myself to do it. This is especially true when there are other people watching the scene.

Other times, I will think that I have communicated quite well, but it turns out I am less capable of using the English language than I thought, because whoever I said whatever I said it to acts as if I never said anything. This is very similar to the scene in My Big Fat Greek Wedding when Toula’s mom asks her fiancé Ian if he’s hungry.

Mom: Would you like something to eat?
Ian: No thank you, I just ate.
Mom: Okay, I make you something.

My third communication predicament is definitely the one I am most guilty of. This is the case of the “You Should Know.” I realize it is incredibly ridiculous, but I suffer from a terrible disease where I am surprised – angry even – when someone doesn’t know something I haven’t told them. Basically, I am somehow thinking that I telepathically told someone something, (I can’t communicate out loud, but I am definitely good at communicating in my head; are my brain waves not loud enough to hear?) so I am surprised when they ask me to do something or assume something about me that is WAY off the mark of what my actual goals are, what I want out of life, or what I want for breakfast. I mean, I know what I want, shouldn’t they know what I want if they hang out with me, even on a semi-regular basis?
To escalate the problem of the “You Should Know,” I have to admit that even when confronted with a misconception about me, I rarely just out-and-out correct the person. Instead, I seethe and blame them for not knowing what I haven’t told them instead of spitting out two simple sentences to remedy the situation, something like, “No, you are wrong. I do not actually know all the words to Thriller.”

It’s amazing I have any friends at all.

Basically, I’m not sure I could communicate myself out of a paper bag. What makes this worse is that now I recognize these little “anti-communication strategies,” even as they’re happening, but I’m still not quite at a point where I can change them yet. It comes one small piece at a time. Right now the piece is “recognition;” I haven’t quite moved on to “corrective action.”

So bear with me, invisible audience. I’m working on it – communication, that is. I’d say that I’ll let you know how it goes, but who knows if I’ll be able to tell you?

Love and You Should Know Kisses,


Monday, February 21, 2011

Sleeping on the Floor

When I can’t sleep for an extended amount of time, I get out of bed with my pillow and a blanket and lay down on the floor. It almost always works: regardless of how long I’ve been tossing and turning, moving to a different surface does the trick and I immediately fall asleep. After a couple hours – when my arm has gone numb or my back screams at me to wake up – I can haul myself up off the floor, get back into the bed and fall asleep with no problem at all.
Strange, I know. I don’t think that this trick has anything to do with my body craving hard surfaces. I think it has a lot more to do with removing myself from the space I was in and putting myself in a new space. Somehow the shift off the mattress works as a switch on my brain, and whatever it was that was keeping me awake – because obviously it wasn’t the bed – clicks off with the change of location.
You would think that knowing this would have changed how I handled other problems too, but that is not the case. You would think that I would be able to draw some parallels between being able to sleep on the floor and moving out of any other space that made me restless. You would think…and you would be wrong.
It has only recently occurred to me that the things that make me angry or hurt have everything to do with how I handle a situation and very little to do with who hurt me or made me angry. Basically, instead of shooing these people out the door, I could change the way I react to them, or * GASP * tell them how I feel and ask them to stop.
If this seems like a simple concept, you’re way ahead of me in the game of life. I have only just identified my ego as my biggest enemy, and for the first time in my life I actually get it when my dad tells me that you can’t change people, you can only change how you react to people.
But just because I get it doesn’t mean I can follow through with it, or I would be sleeping on my proverbial floor more often. If I got it completely, I would be able to demand more for myself, and stop trying to sell myself short. I would be able to ask for what I need instead of hoping others will recognize what I am worth and treat me accordingly. That approach hasn’t worked so far, so I think it’s time I try a different approach. So I’m getting out of the bed and choosing the hard uncomfortable floor to help flip the switch in my brain, the switch that says I’m not worth something unless someone else has noticed it and said so.
So, instead of waiting for someone else to notice how much I’m worth, I’m going to just tell him or her myself. Perhaps by doing this I can also convince myself that it’s true. Maybe, eventually, I will be able to start sleeping the bed again, because I will have moved it to a new, better, more restful, space.

Love and floored kisses

Monday, February 14, 2011

Progress Report 2011

On February 18, 2009, I wrote a blogpost. It was the beginning of the year off I had taken to write a book or six, and it was called A Recipe for Disaster. When I read that post, I almost don’t recognize the down-trodden, aching soul who wrote it.
Two years ago, I had just quit a job at a company that I no longer believed in and ended a relationship with a man that couldn’t make me happy. In the midst of a lot of personal disappointment and waning self-confidence, I am at least proud of the fact that I recognized that I was the only one who could correct my situation: that it was going to take a major shift in my thinking to start putting myself first instead of hoping other people would do it for me.
Two years ago, I had little more than an idea that I could take a year off to write and recover emotionally and physically. Two years ago, it took everything I had to get out of bed and do something for me. Two years ago, I was plodding toward my own happiness, knowing it was out there and taking the small steps I needed to take to find it, but having no idea whether I could reach it or whether in the long run it would be worth it. Two years ago, I could only think a year ahead, and a year seemed like a really long time.
It’s hard to measure how much you have changed in any amount of time unless you can go back and find evidence of the person you were before. I haven’t read that blogpost from two years ago since last year when I wrote my progress report of my first year of writing. I don’t remember being as surprised then as I am now of how much different I have become.
Let’s start with the obvious first: I have published a book! Savoring Chelan is doing better than I anticipated; I am about to reorder for the third time, and I expect a lot of sales over the summer. Every single horrific, middle-of-the-night worry I had about publishing Savoring Chelan has not transpired: no one has told me that it is an ugly, stupid book or that the recipes suck – at least to my face anyway. In fact, I just recently found out that I was the second bestseller for the local bookstore for 2010, right behind Girl with the Dragon Tattoo – and my book came out in the end of October. Of course not everything came out exactly as I envisioned, but a lot of it came out better; the point is that I was still my own worst enemy but it ultimately didn’t matter.
I am still working on numerous fiction and non-fiction projects, but I have given them less priority as I start working on a second cookbook for the Leavenworth area. This isn’t to say they’re less important: I have simply decided that it is to my advantage to build up a name for myself first and then use that name to publish the works that are closer to my heart.
The most important piece of progress, however, is the improvement of my emotional state. At the risk of sounding like a self-aggrandizing asshole, I’m so proud of how far I’ve come! Perhaps the shift was subtle to the outside world, but my state of mind has done a 180 in the past two years. This doesn’t mean that I don’t still subscribe to some very limiting behaviors and ideas, but for the first time in my life I am able to catch myself before my own fears overtake me. I’ve been able to focus on being healthy, both physically and emotionally, and I actually want to be instead of just complaining about how bad I feel and feeding off the attention others give me for feeling that way. It’s not always easy, but I’m starting to learn to trust others like I never could before (without even realizing it), and I’m able to finally act on what I know will make me feel good instead of going along with what will make me feel bad. To me, at least, this is no small feat.
So, now that I’ve gotten all that off my chest, let’s go through the list I made on my progress report a year ago:

1) Confessions of a Travel Addict – done. Needs to be sent to more publishers/agents. UPDATE: on hold. May self-publish later.
2) Started a serious novel that I got the idea for while traveling through Australia. Have now written 48,000 words – roughly 162 pages. UPDATE: Finished. Needs to be edited.
3) Started a funny novel about dating in your twenties. Have written about 19,000 words. UPDATE: Still in progress.
4) Wrote a short story called Jim’s Wedding, about 22,000 words.
5) Started a project to create a recipe book that pairs local wines from the Chelan Valley with recipes from the area. UPDATE: DONE! New one started!
6) Joined a writers group. UPDATE: Still in it; love it, can’t wait to go every month!
7) Trained for 2 half marathons. UPDATE: no more half marathons…but still running (much shorter distances) on a regular basis.
8) Ran 1 half marathon. (see above)
9) Took a week-long road trip to see Jasper and Banff.
10) Went to Oaxaca (Mexico) with my parents and managed to get myself a 3-month house sitting gig there for this coming summer. UPDATE: Best 3 months of my life! Going back in May!
11) Have already skied more this winter than I have in all other winters put together, minus the winter I was a ski instructor. UPDATE: Must. Ski. More.
12) Realized that a year is not enough time to finish all these projects that I’ve started. UPDATE: And neither is two years, apparently. Moving in the direction of making it a lifetime project.

Love and progressive kisses

Monday, February 7, 2011

Me, Myself and My Ego

Me: "Nnnnnn….nnnnn….nnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnn"
My ego: "YES!"
Me: "Nnnnnnnnnnn….nnnnnnn….." {stop, pause for breath, mopping of brow, starting over} "NNNNNNNNNNNNNNOOOOOOOOOOOO!"
My ego: "Yeah, we’ll see how long THAT lasts."

I have a problem. I can’t say no. People ask things of me, and my first response is to do whatever it is they need me to do because it will obviously make their lives easier.
I have become convinced that this is because of my ego. My body and my mind are a united front on this one, but unfortunately they are not quite as strong as my ego. This is how it usually goes:

Other person: “Morgan, I need you to drop everything you’re doing or think is important and take on this all-consuming task for me. It will pay little, take up a lot of your time, and it’s way below and/or far away from what you want to be doing, but I really don’t see you having problems juggling all the other things you’re doing, so I don’t think this will be that big of a deal. Whaddya say?”

Morgan’s body: “Ummmm….I don’t think this is a good idea…”
Morgan’s mind: “Yeah, I’m thinking that I’m already mentally exhausted, and Body isn’t doing all that great…”
Morgan’s ego: “OF COURSE we’re going to do it! Did you hear what that a$$hole said? He thinks we can’t do it! Of course we can do it! We can do anything! You can sleep when you’re dead, Body! You’ve got a long way to go before you show people that you’re worth anything, Mind! This is the answer! Stop being namby-pambies and BUCK UP!”
Morgan’s body: {checks reserves} “Well, I guess for a little while…”
Morgan’s mind: “Gee, Ego, you’re right. People will respect me more if I…”
Morgan’s ego: “SHUT UP AND GET TO WORK!”
{Enter montage of Morgan running in circles like a chicken with head cut off, ended with short video of Morgan lying in the fetal position}

Morgan’s body: “Can’t. Go. On.”
Morgan’s ego: “Yes you can! Get up! GET UP GET UP GETUPYOULAZYIDIOT!”
Morgan’s mind: {gathers last reserves of strength} “Nnnnnnnnnnn….nnnooooooooo!”
{Ego momentarily silenced}

It’s a cycle. I get a control on what it is I want to do, start feeling good about it and energized about what I will be doing, then someone asks something of me and I’m convinced by my ego to say yes. Suddenly all my energy is going into my new project that isn’t even mine, my body gives out, I burst into tears at the thought of all I have to do, and my ego only shuts up when there’s nothing else I can give and I have to go back to all the people I’ve promised things to and tell them I am wholly incapable of doing them.
I then get my time back, start doing things that make me feel better (take time for runs and yoga, eat better, drink less, sleep more), get a handle on things, start getting things done, and someone else comes in with a request and my ego perks up and takes over.

I’ve noticed recently, however, that my ego never serves me well at all. Not only does it push me to do things that aren’t on my priority list, it also won’t let me admit when I’ve done something right, or accept a genuine compliment when it’s given to me. Even when I am complimented on whatever it is my ego talked me into doing, it is unimpressed.

Other person: “You’re doing a great job on this project that you didn’t have time for but managed to fit into your schedule anyway. In fact, you’ve put far more effort into it than we expected. I can’t believe how much you can get done.”

Morgan’s body: {tremulous smile before collapsing}
Morgan’s mind: “Well that’s nice that he noticed, but he’s right, maybe we could spend more time on…”
Morgan’s ego: “You are SO ANNOYING! Don’t you see, if we gave even more we would get even more praise? This is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to all the things we could get from this guy. Besides, we all know that we could have worked a lot harder. If he’s impressed now, just wait until he sees what we can really do!”
{Morgan’s mind is stopped from slapping Morgan’s ego in the face by the need to hold on to Morgan’s body to keep her from using the last of her strength to run far, far away}

Morgan’s mind and body: “NO! NEVER AGAIN!”
{long pause}
Morgan’s mind and body: “Er…well, at least not for right now. Right now we’re too tired. Maybe later.”
Morgan’s ego: {evil smile…wiped out by full-on punch in the face by Morgan’s body}