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