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You. Look. MAH-VELOUS.

 

Happy Holidays everyone!

We’re on year 19 of this crew’s festive holiday lunch and for the first time ever, the subject of physical ailments came up.* Melissa begged us not to indulge in this taboo topic that would announce we had arrived over the hill with a thud. We are all hovering around the age of 50. Teresa, the baby of the bunch, is not far behind. We all know the well-worn trope that only old people talk about what hurts when they get together. Not us though. We are still young and hot. (I mean…right?)

Only I did want to talk about what’s going on for us physically…at this age. I had received an arthritis diagnosis I disagreed with and had an ortho appointment for a sprained hip. (Okay, fine. I do sound ancient.) But I have always been healthy and active and isn’t it a tad early for the wheels to fall off the bus? I wanted to know if anyone else had this stuff going on and what they were doing about it.

In my opinion, treating the topic as taboo bows to the ageist nonsense that everyone over 25 should feel decrepit and awful about ourselves. To limit our conversations accordingly would be to ignore one of the great things about being the other side of fifty—not giving a crap what anyone thinks (mostly). That said, I know there are limits to sharing this stuff. I’ve certainly been on the receiving end of a list of someone’s aches and pains so exhaustive I wanted to scoop my eyes out. Complaining for sport is a whole other thing. But avoiding certain topics only makes us feel more alone and dare I say…old. And we aren’t. In some ways, we are just getting started.

A growing body of research suggests that people over fifty can experience an exciting burst of intellectual and emotional growth. Great news for those of us who have noticed that our memory for minutiae has slipped. New studies show that our capacity for perseverance and determination (grit) rises through middle age and peaks in our seventies. I know some folks in their 70’s who are vibrant as hell—I’m sure you do too. The psychologist who discovered “flow” is still publishing at 86!

The one thing that separates people who continue to grow from those who stagnate is choice: seeking work we find compelling, maintaining physical fitness, and keeping accountable. Bottom line, it’s up to us. We can continue to expand our consciousness until the last day of our lives if we so desire.

As for our physical ability as we age, that’s a good deal up to us too. My friend and running partner Melanie was the first to introduce me to the concept that once you hit your fifties, there’s no more messing around.

Each week, we meet for semi-relaxed long runs which keep us trained up for a half-marathon. We decided to jump start our speed by signing up for some short races. For our first 5K, Melanie had just turned 50 but I was still 49. Unlike our Saturday pace, we gave it all we had. Melanie, who works out with a killer trainer, beat me pretty bad. Inexplicably, I placed and got a medal in my age group while Melanie did not. Why? Because the women in the 50 and over were BEASTS. You should have seen them. My age group looked like me, frayed running gear, messy pony tail, just out there to have fun. The 50+ women were jacked, fitness-fashion fabulous and ran like pros. I was intimidated. And excited for the future.

So, we popped some corks and discussed osteoporosis and arthritis. We concluded that some general practitioners can be alarmists but the specialists who actually know what they are talking about treat and medicate conservatively. I got a recommendation for collagen peptides for joint pain. As we spoke, I recalled that for me, mysterious ailments are often solved by acupuncture, so I texted my guy for an appointment. He told me it’s not arthritis but overuse. My writer’s left hand has taken a beating over Covid. After one acupuncture treatment, the throbbing stopped. Seems like he’ll probably fix it.

After confessing to my friends that I was worried the ortho might tell me I couldn’t run anymore, I felt a little better. That news would be tough to take—I process a lot on my runs. But with all the sports injuries I have had, I’ve been guided by one thing: pain. If it hurts, I back off. I mean, I do now. There was a time that I ran through illness and injury but I have wised up over my half century. Even though the MRI said I had small tears around my hips, it doesn’t hurt, so I have continued to run. The ortho said it all looks completely normal for an active person my age. He said I should run if I want to run. And if it hurts, come on back.

Frankly, I just feel lucky to be out there running, doing yoga, dancing, and roller skating. This age has brought so much beauty into my life. The only thing I am sure of is that being grateful for my healthy body, dear friends and family, and having all I need makes me happy. There will be change no matter what, but it’s all going to be okay.

Love,

Elizabeth

Writing Prompt: Are there taboo subjects you don’t like to talk about? What would happen if you did?

*This year we had our lunch at night, outside, socially distanced and the photo came out blurry. This is 2019.

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How Do We Get Our Lives Back in Balance?

My life is out of balance. Given what’s going on in the world, this is a lucky gripe to have–but the pandemic only exacerbated it’s lopsidedness. My go-to cautionary tale for this involves a certain criminal lawyer who lost it after working fifteen years straight without a vacation. At the time, he represented a city commissioner who’d been thrown in jail on corruption charges. Before being spotted mid-smooch with his client’s beautiful wife, the lawyer had enjoyed an impeccable reputation and storied career. You had to feel for the guy who really was a good person and a great lawyer. He hadn’t allowed himself to cut loose in over a decade and it finally caught up with him. https://www.nytimes.com/1998/10/23/us/miami-journal-hints-of-love-triangle-put-new-twist-on-a-case.html. (Not that I’m looking for a scandalous make-out partner or anything.)

What causes us to ignore all other needs in favor of the one that feeds our self-worth? It’s that feeling of never being enough. Workaholics and snowplow parents know what I’m talking about. Why do so many of us feel this way? A therapist like mine would tell you that early experiences within our families left us feeling like no matter what we did, we just didn’t measure up. Times we felt anxious or afraid and the child’s not yet rational mind concluded there was something wrong with us. Now as adults, we try to fill that bottomless pit with external achievements. It works for a little while but then we are back on the hamster wheel. https://psychcentral.com/blog/the-feeling-that-you-are-not-enough/

Assuming the problem lies with ourselves also spares us from exploring hard feelings about the ones who were supposed to mirror our emotional state. There may be a false narrative that everyone in the family is expected to buy into (it was totally fine, right?) which only adds layers of harm. As adults, however, we don’t have to contribute to our own suffering. Without judging our feelings about people who may have hurt us as right or wrong, we can simply acknowledge that we have them.

But the only way to feel whole is to face those buried emotions and process them–to finally take care of that injured kid inside. I tried this a few times in therapy by reflecting on a time when I first experienced the feeling that there was something wrong with me. From the outside, the incident looked innocuous enough that we joked about it. Of course, kids don’t experience things in the same was as adults. One day, I came home from elementary school, pissed at pretty much everyone. As I paced in front of mom’s bedroom window, I rattled off all the people who’d done me wrong that day. My teacher, the kids up the street, the friend who walked me home from school. Not a single sympathetic character in the bunch, according to me.

Mom watched my rant, a bemused expression on her face. At first, I thought she had enjoyed the show—I’d worked myself into a full froth, calling people names and mocking their annoying voices. When I finished, she said something like, “people are really lucky when you are in their corner. But, boy, if anyone ever crosses you, woe betides.” I wasn’t really sure what that meant but the message came through: it’s not okay to have negative emotions about people. I felt like a bad person for being upset and it stuck. It never occurred to me that maybe it was her—maybe she was the one with the problem empathizing with me.

When we learn to deny our feelings, they get stuffed down deep. Emotions are physical sensations. When we feel emotional pain, the same part of the brain lights up as when we feel physical pain. If we take the time to locate the feelings in our bodies, we can begin to identify our needs and take care of ourselves. Movement and breath can help break up the emotional energy and work it out. A dear friend who has been an athlete her whole life believes she processed her pain through movement and became both physically and mentally fit as a result.

Another way we can help heal from these feelings is self-validation. It’s never too late to do this for ourselves. It may sound silly, but I am a big believer in the self-high five. Covid Times even has me branching out into the self-hug when I meet with friends and miss a hug hello. We have also done the New York Times hug which is a little risky but still safer. https://www.nytimes.com/2020/06/04/well/family/coronavirus-pandemic-hug-mask.html

An attorney friend does the power pose whenever she needs a confidence boost. It works—boosts your testosterone and lowers your cortisol. Why not try it just for kicks: https://www.ted.com/talks/amy_cuddy_your_body_language_may_shape_who_you_are/up-next?language=en Whatever gives you confidence, you can build it all by yourself. You don’t need to wait around for someone to tell you that you are worth a new tea cup,  http://etsy.com can be your friend.

And as for figuring out a balance, that takes some honesty about what we really want and what we are willing to do to get it. We can start by taking a personal inventory; we can’t go anywhere if we don’t know where we are. The Wheel of Life has been used in self-development for centuries. Buddha taught his students lessons of enlightenment using the wheel. If you google it, you will find all sorts of iterations. By no means is this the sine qua non to solve all our problems, but it can be used to identify where we’d like to focus our growth. Maybe we’ve been neglectful of our physical or emotional health or given too much of ourselves to our families. Whatever the imbalance, this wheel can be used to pinpoint it and from there we can change it.  https://www.mindtools.com/pages/article/newHTE_93.htm

As for me, I devote time to my spiritual and personal growth, my family and work. Everything else has received crumbs and I feel it. What to do? I want to have more fun, I want to pursue my mission by completing the tasks I’ve already mapped out but haven’t followed through on. I need balance. I know the way to achieve that is proper time management— just freaking stick my schedule. I fall off the pickle wagon when I spend way more time writing and not enough on the planning and organizing part of the gig, i.e. the boring part that doesn’t feed my self-worth.

My problem isn’t skill, it’s motivation. I need to focus on my why–the clear and compelling reason that drives me. I already know what to do, I just have to get off my rear and do it. My preferred motivational tool is speed work at the end of my morning run, visualizing my favorite author introducing me and my book—up close, in vivid color, fully animated. The video clip in my head goes like this: it’s a chilly day in New York but we are cozy inside a little bookstore in the Village called Three Lives & Company. The room is packed and crackling with excitement. My family is seated in the front row and I am smiling ear to ear. Mary Karr is up front, holding a copy of Scrappy with a red cover and bold white writing. After her impossibly generous remarks, everyone rushes to grab their copy. The crowd breaks into a flash mob dancing to Don’t Stop Believin.’ A spirited conga line winds through the stacks. How fun is that going to be?!

So. To recap. We are enough. We can find balance if we manage our time in ways that better serve us. We can and will self-motivate. We will get exactly what we are willing to work hard for and it’s all going to be okay.

Love,

Elizabeth

Writing Prompt: What is your why? What helps you get inspired and motivated to achieve your goals?

P.S. If writing isn’t your thing but you have thoughts about this piece, I’d love to hear from you. Just respond directly to this email. Thank you for reading!

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Where Do We Go For All The Answers?

While in grad school in my early twenties, I applied for a job at Kirkland Air Force Base. The security clearance required a list of every place I’d ever lived: twenty-six different homes and apartments including 3 months in a borrowed tent on the beach in Costa Rica. During the interview, the officer asked why I’d moved so much. I killed a guy was on the tip of my tongue. His straight line of a mouth and stiff uniform suggested he might not find that funny. I didn’t want to end up in some Private Benjamin-style misunderstanding, so for once, I kept my mouth shut. I was rewarded with a job, an annoying pager and a big orange badge.

But the question stayed with me. Why’d you move so much? The number of different homes was higher than the number of years I’d been alive. After all this time, I’ve realized that it was not what I was running from, but rather, what I was running to. With every move, I had the hope that the next place would feel like home.

Until I got married, “home” meant the little white stucco ranch house with peeling red trim at 1833 Quiet Lane in Albuquerque. It’s the only address I remember besides my current one in Miami. After my folks’ divorce, there was nowhere to go back to and that remains true today. Even at this late stage of their lives, both my parents are still on the move, alone, maybe searching for similar reasons. I’ve finally found where I belong and I think I know why.

In all the moves, I had been looking for people to belong to and a place that felt like I was supposed to be there. Where I would be loved no matter what. Somewhere I could go for support if anything went wrong. A replacement family, of sorts. Nowhere I went after leaving my childhood home ever quite felt like that.

I had a hint of what it might take to feel connected to other people in that way back in high school. I ran away from home with the one friend who knew what was happening in my life. It’s probably why she is still a dear friend today–I trusted her. At the time, sharing the truth was an act of desperation. But I knew Lauren was a safe person because she had shared her true self with me too.

After that, I launched myself out into the world in a mad search, not realizing that what I was looking for was nothing external. It only had to do with me. I had been tailoring myself to fit others, hiding who I really was for fear of being judged for my unstable family. In every new place, I’d feel stifled and have to leave—over and over again. Each time I’d think they don’t get me, or I just don’t like it here. I’d leave because I didn’t trust anyone enough to be open with them nor did I accept myself. I was play acting at relationships. I didn’t expect the real me to be accepted so I didn’t make a genuine effort. Only now do I realize that there is no way to connect with another human being unless you show up as your authentic self. No one can love you for you if you don’t tell them who you are.

Over these last few months as I wrote my book, it slowly dawned on me. The times when I had shared my true self, I was able to establish real connections. Looking back, those three months on the beach in Costa Rica with a campsite full of artists felt like home. I was myself with those guys. They looked after me and accepted me—an American girl inexplicably camping alone on the beach for months on end. They didn’t question it, just invited me to come hang out around their campfire as they strung necklaces and sang Spanish folk songs.

On that beach, something happened inside me too. I found the way home to myself. During the year I spent out of the country, the roles I played for other people had been stripped away. I wasn’t anyone’s daugther, sister, girlfriend or student. Home became where I allowed myself just to be. I had spent so long worrying about what everyone thought of me and trying to fix what was wrong that I had completely disconnected from myself. I had had such a hard time making decisions because I didn’t know how to look inside for the answers. I finally began to do that. I have had lots more practice over the years and I am much better at it now.

For all you pleasers out there, the series I am starting is for us. I will be talking to people who are in touch with their deeper truth, who value their own voice and follow their intuition.

The new series is called Tell Me All About it. We’ll have an Instagram Live conversation once a month on Fridays with inspiring people who are doing meaningful, connection-building, community-enriching work. These folks have a lot to teach the world about discovering our personal mission and trusting ourselves to make choices that align with our purpose. Their decisions come from the heart, they choose faith over fear and keep their vibrations high. I can’t wait.

Our first guest is Shayne Cohen of Anahata Eco Yoga Retreats. I have never cried tears of joy in my eighteen years of practicing yoga until I attended Shayne’s retreat a few months ago. I now drive almost twenty miles to attend her classes. During the final relaxation, she reminds us, “this is who you truly are. If you lose yourself somewhere today, come back to this place.” After the class is long over, her words return to me.

Shayne arrived at her career in wellness after a long and successful run as an owner of the luxury fashion boutique, “Oxygene.” She followed her thirty year yoga practice into a new way to serve her community. Her love of beauty has expanded to include the inner self, teaching yoga and creating experiences that build awareness through movement, connection with nature and higher consciousness using sound and mantra. The events she creates with her talented co-Founder Adriana Vergara are true expressions of love and beauty. I have been to a number of yoga retreats and this experience is something else entirely. They are magical.

So. Please join us TODAY, Friday December 11 at 11:00 a.m. EST to hear all about Shayne’s journey and where she is headed, including a retreat in the Dominican Republic on March 3 which you can read all about on anahataecoyhogaretreats.com and @anahataecoyogaretreats on Instagram. If you follow me beforehand on Instagram @elizabethheise1, the LIVE notice will pop up at the top at 11:00 a.m. If you can’t make it, the conversation will be recorded and saved on my page and on Events at elizabethheise.com.

And as for revealing your true self, if I can do it, you can too. It’s all going to be okay.

Love,

Elizabeth

Writing Prompt: What’s holding you back from sharing your true self with others? If you don’t hide yourself, what is it about your character that saved you?

P.S. If writing prompts are not your thing but you still have thoughts you’d like to share, I invite you to hit reply. I’d love to hear from you.

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‘Tis The Season For Family Dysfunction

Fa la la la la, la la la UGH.

A therapist friend told me recently, “family dysfunction is the gift that keeps on giving.” In the past, my family of origin has given generously. We were the failed magic trick when the tablecloth gets pulled out from under the dishes. As a kid, I naturally blamed myself to preserve the relationships with my parents. I never thought, ‘they are going through some stuff.’ Instead I tried to fix what was wrong with me so everything could be ok again. Was I too demanding, too conservative, too needy, too headstrong? Whatever my problem was, I intended to solve the puzzle of my parents’ disapproval and inattention. The not-quite-rightness turned me into a chameleon for other people. What do I need to say to win your approval was my silent question during every conversation. It took a long time to undo that conditioning. I’m not totally rid of the people-pleasing. There are triggers. When I am criticized, I take it hard. That soul-crushing need to be someone better flares up and I have to set boundaries to take care of myself.

Now that we are all grown, the drama has died down—it’s no longer mandatory. Just recently, however, it returned with a vengeance, the pain from childhood flooding back to tell me I am not good enough. Three thousand miles isn’t far enough to escape the torment I have tried so hard to leave behind. There are measures I take for self-preservation. By now I can tell the difference between my issues and someone else’s, so I don’t feel the need to mutate. I know I am worthy of love just as I am. When the fire hose of judgment and whatever the DSM 5 calls this particular ire came for me this week, it was a pop quiz to see how far I’ve come. I was really bummed but not devastated. The following reminders helped. If you have joy killers in your life, I hope these will help you too.

IT’S NOT ABOUT YOU 

For some, it’s easier to dump unexamined, painful emotions onto others than to take responsibility for resolving them. The bile spewing person has a negative story they tell themselves, the narrative of which casts you as the cackling, mustachioed villain. Say it with me, not my problem. But holy cheese and crackers this is a tough one to get. It’s tough to resist the urge to make it about me and how hurt and angry I am. Their stuff is their stuff. Decades of expensive therapy has only made this about one millimeter easier. It sucks to be unloaded on, but sometimes it happens. Knowing this intellectually doesn’t necessarily translate to letting it go, however. The only thing that worked was yoga and taking a deep breath every time it popped back into my head. Breath and movement are the antidotes to suffering. It’s almost gone now.

DON’T INDULGE THE DEVIL ON YOUR SHOULDER 

As awesome as it feels to vent your spleen, it’s just not worth it. I was unable to hold back on a text chain that caught me by surprise. Now that I’ve had fair warning, I am trying to follow my own good advice for what’s next. I didn’t realize what was happening until I was knee deep in the La Brea Tar Pit of family dysfunction. People who want to tell themselves negative stories about you will do so with or without your help, so there’s no point in engaging. As my daughter advised the other night while we decorated the tree, me with a sad face on because I was busy making other people’s stuff my stuff, “don’t hand over the power to anyone.” Thanks Jane, you are a smart kid.

LOOK FOR THE GOOD 

After the hang ups and the don’t talk to me anymore’s of the night before, I decided to go look for beauty. My favorite view of the canal is gorgeous at sunrise so instead of working out, I walked a few streets over and took it in. There is so much good out there if we make it our business to find it. No matter what is going on, you can always look for the good. I’ll take a blue sky over a tar pit anytime.

CHOOSE WISELY

When we are kids, we don’t have a choice of who we surround ourselves with but as adults, troublesome characters can often be edited out. We don’t have to keep people around who masquerade as our friends. And we can take breaks from family too. The friends who support us can become like family. For those of you with the good fortune to grow up with loving families, you are doubly blessed to have them as well. For me, I’ve chosen to invest my time and energy in people I don’t have to “make myself small” for, in the words of the great Lindy West. I’ve had my fill of accommodating folks who, to put it bluntly, wouldn’t pee on me if I was on fire. I no longer have space for anyone who’s intent on bringing me down. High vibrations or take a hike.

SOME LOVE JUST FOR YOU

Take care of yourself. If the wrath of others has seeped in despite your best efforts, stop for some flowers or a treat with the promise of more beautiful things to come. Send the message that you have a life worth living and you are loved and accepted just as you are. Treating yourself well teaches others how to treat you. By setting strong boundaries, we tell the world that we are not a dumping ground for other people’s garbage.

WE ALL NEED SOMEBODY TO LEAN ON

Don’t be afraid to let people in. In the past I’ve been no fan of showing weakness. Before I started sharing my stories, most people knew little about me. On the morning after the family brawl, I was feeling so low. Then I received another message critical of my creative work. There was no undercurrent of love and respect which is the only criticism worth receiving. I wanted to cry. At the exact second I was about to launch into a mean text fight, my kind, sweet friend Lisa called and saved me. She listened intently to the awful story and responded with compassion. In the old days, the call would have gone to voice mail while I stewed and plotted. Glennon Doyle talks about the AA model of sharing in which the other person is simply there, holding space for our pain, not offering empty platitudes, advice or comparisons with someone else’s struggle. THAT IS NOT LISTENING. She says being seen and heard is almost the same as being healed. Good friends know how to do this. Bad friends don’t. Goodbye, bad friends.

IT WON’T LAST

This pain is not permanent and doesn’t pervade our whole lives. An issue with one or two people does not take over unless we let it. We don’t need to turn someone else’s problem into are own suffering. So, dear reader, we cannot avoid pain, but suffering is optional. We experience pain in a moment, but our own thoughts about that moment can heap on the suffering if we let it. Whatever meaning we assign to the momentary pain is our choice. I say choose you. Choose beauty. Choose joy. It’s all going to be ok.

Love, Elizabeth

P.S. Writing Prompt: What family/friend drama are you navigating through? How can you take care of yourself?

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Welcome to the 2020 Sexual Revolution*

A total disruption in our usual routine has presented us with a golden opportunity. Assuming we are not in crisis, we’ve had the chance to re-evaluate the ways in which we show up in the world and ask ourselves: do our choices truly serve us?

Central to this question is how we balance work and home life now that they often occupy the same physical space and share the same hours. For those of us with kids at home, it’s been a unique challenge and for the first time, the effects are being studied. Data on the disparate impact of coronavirus on women, especially women of color is clear. While men are more likely to die of Covid, women are four times more likely to drop out of the labor force. Research has shown that primary caregiver status matters more than any other factor. The “second shift” is still a thing. Mothers are spending twenty more hours a week on housework and childcare right now than fathers. All our inequities have been magnified. Gender and race related biases mean that Black women are dealing with all of these challenges plus the emotional toll of the pandemic on the Black community. It. Is. All. So. Much.

To fix it, there are calls for policy makers to act so that systems change and corporations develop flexibility to allow women more time for child care and domestic work. Hmm. The unpaid work of caregivers has fallen more heavily on women due to both social norms and practicalities. Who makes less? Who is more flexible? In heterosexual relationships, the answer is typically the woman. Single parents are facing impossible choices right now. In our home, we have a writer and a lawyer. You can use your imagination to figure out who’s work has been prioritized.

With three kids suddenly home, the early days of distance learning brought me back to how I left the practice of law in the first place. Seventeen years ago, without any discussion, Mark and I assumed my schedule would be the one to absorb the disruption of starting a family. As a woman in this culture I can already hear the criticism for even framing the issue that way. So why start a family if you are so concerned about your precious schedule? That’s not the problem. It was that we’d both been conditioned to think that the male, who was also the higher wage earner, should not be expected to make room in his professional life for children and any time suck inherent therein.

As a mother-to-be, I felt the full weight of responsibility, quite literally, and crammed for the final exam. I gathered intel on “work/life balance” and read whatever I could find. At the time I didn’t notice that the messaging came from women and was directed only to women. My husband, as excited as he was, didn’t feel the need to study any of it. When I wasn’t preparing for trial, I researched attachment parenting, co-sleeping, health and nutrition and began handmaking 125 trifold birth announcements with die cut hearts and tiny white bows. My need to be the perfect mother is a whole other insane subject. I would get an A+ as a mother or die trying.

For as much as I had read, the actual impact of a new baby on my demanding career still seemed pretty fuzzy. I didn’t understand how I would take 100% responsibility for my job and 100% responsibility for our child when there were only twenty-four hours in a day. I had a deposition coming up in Germany that I had looked forward to for a while. Shortly before the trip, my midwife recommended I stop flying so I gave away the billable hours and the international travel to another lawyer. My colleague was more than happy to leave work, his three kids and stay-at-home wife for a depo that I had already fully prepped.

As the due date loomed, I picked the brains of other professional women. A lawyer mom in the real estate department at my firm had brought in a playpen after maternity leave so she could continue nursing instead of leaving her baby in daycare to pump milk in the bathroom at work. When I knocked on her office door to inquire, she happily confirmed that the playpen had worked great. By the time her baby nursed less and wanted to play, she was ready for childcare. She gestured to a photo on the credenza of two smiling girls in matching flowered dresses, both now in grade school. Their mom returned to doing closings full time like the old days.

Back upstairs to litigation I went, my enormous belly arriving at the office manager’s door first. I asked about the arrangement. She paused.

“Oh..that’s only for partners.”

Playpens are only for partners? Breastfeeding is only for partners? What did that mean?

All of a sudden, I felt like I had overstepped a boundary by asking for support as a new mother. My face flushed and I backed out of her office feeling for the doorknob behind me. I felt deep shame for being dismissed so casually about something so important. I had no fight in me for this and just needed to be taken care of by HUMAN RESOURCES. Wasn’t that what they were here for? It made me want to cry.

I took a couple of deep breaths in the empty hallway and collected myself. Back down the stairs to real estate I went.

“Hey, sorry to bug you again. I’m told the playpen deal is just for partners?”

A look of panic crossed her face which she quickly masked with keen interest in her computer screen.

“That’s too bad,” she said, avoiding eye contact, and reaching for a file. I stood there stunned. No advice, no “I’ll talk to the partners for you.” I supposed I shouldn’t be surprised. She was one of the few women partners at the firm and I didn’t work in her department. She would not waste precious political capital on a random litigator like me.

I went home and spoke to Mark. He suggested I interview full time help. With two lawyer salaries, we could easily outsource another parent for our daughter. Because I had been left with a replacement parent who had done a spectacularly poor job, the thought of it freaked me out, but I scheduled an interview anyway. I had worked like a dog to become an attorney, making plans for my child shouldn’t be this hard. Mark did not come to the interview and I didn’t ask him to. The unspoken deal seemed to be that I would co-parent with the nanny. A privileged position to be sure, but not at all what I wanted.

When I answered the door for Stephanie, she seemed perfect. A tidy appearance, easy smile and lots of experience. She said all the right things.

“As a newborn, she won’t be awake much. What will you do with her all day?” I asked.

“I would basically just be her mom.”

Interview over.

I was the mom. There was no way I could leave my new baby with this person.

Because of my own parents’ issues around who earned the money, I told Mark that I would stay home with our child only if he continued to treat me as an equal partner. We were lucky to have enough for a comfortable life on one income. And I am a notorious penny pincher so Mark wasn’t worried that quitting my job would lead to retail therapy.

Pulling out of the paid work force however, has negatively impacted gender equality in our family. When women like me leave, the gendered impacts continue because we take on all the responsibility at home. Gone was any expectation for Mark to attend conferences to get to know teachers, meet the kids’ friends, coaches, doctors, fellow parents, etc. Well-meaning and committed a Dad as he was, he showed up at the end of the day, ready to be served dinner. Don’t get me wrong, he has always done plenty around the house, coached football, attended their games and performances and has been an awesome parent by any measure. We switched off breakfast prep and I shopped for and planned every meal. I knew the kids’ every respiration to the point where if I had to leave for even a day, I left a ten page treatise because he had no idea what anyone did, where they went or what time they needed to be picked up. I carried 100% of the emotional labor of our family. He paid for everything and advanced in his legal career undeterred. This was the deal we had made.

As time went on, the optics of this bothered me and I resented making all the decisions about our kids on my own; medical, educational, sports, social, you name it. Mark trusted my decisions because I did my homework, but I needed a partner for this. When I heard attitudes in my own children that my time was theirs for the taking and daddy’s was precious and billable, it concerned me. My daughter complained about being the only one to stick around to clean up after dinner when the boys ran off. After all I had sacrificed, I felt like an irresponsible parent. They had never seen me kick anyone’s ass in court and it was their loss. But we were so entrenched. What to do?

Enter the pandemic. All patterns everywhere were broken on March 13, 2020. We were lucky enough to be home and healthy and now we had the opportunity to reevaluate. I dropped commitments left and right. Leadership roles that no longer served me and maybe never had. I set the goal to hunker down and finish writing the book I had shoe-horned in to the mountain of other kid and community obligations.

Then my weekly writing schedule morphed into an unending distance learning groundhog day where I attempted to set up a routine in hopes that it would become self-directed. Things did not look good for finishing my manuscript.

All signs pointed to renegotiation of our division of labor at home. Mark and I both had work we felt passionate about. Only one person’s work kept the lights on, however. And Mark had just opened a new law firm a month before the pandemic hit, i.e. start up crunch time. Holy hell.

But the idea that my work could be sacrificed because we don’t count on it to eat is the circular reasoning that keeps women from ever having the chance to be the top earners. Our time is not the priority so we take on all unpaid domestic labor and have less and less time for our own work.

Lucky gal that I am, Mark agrees that my work is also important.** Of course we’ve had some loud disagreements about who’s turn it is to be interrupted for the umpteenth time. Trying to bill hours while chasing a kid down the hall to get him to log on is not ideal. We came up with a routine so we could both have uninterrupted days. And Mark brilliantly observed that we now live a twenty-four hour day so business hours can be any of those twenty-four. We made a dinner schedule that divided the week thusly: I made dinner twice, he made dinner twice, we ordered out twice and prepared dinner together on Sunday. Just recently we divvied up grocery shopping so each of us only does it twice a month. Once in-person school became an option for one of the three kids, Mark made breakfast and I did the driving. (We didn’t even negotiate that one, we just did it–how about that?) Lunch prep for the older kids ended and my short order restaurant closed for business until the dinner hour.

To understand the need for this shift, Mark has done some reading of his own, starting with bell hooks’ The Will To Change: Men, Masculinity and Love. He has become aware of the ways in which the patriarchy*** has harmed men as well, conditioning them to shoulder burdens alone, ignoring their own emotional needs. He understands the need to become an instrument for our collective liberation. We grew and changed and it was good.

But the best part about our renegotiation is the impression on our daughter. One day as she watched me grumble while cleaning up yet another mess after Cocoa pooped in the house, she said she didn’t want to get married or have children because getting stuck doing the grunt work sucked. I don’t blame her. Observing the changes in her dad, her recent birthday card to him said it all, I am so proud of the growth you have accomplished recently. You’re setting a great example for the boys that it’s never too late to change your ways and assist in taking care of the kids.

Even though Jane never got to see me argue a big motion in court or win an epic trial, this is satisfying in its own way too.

Out in the world, the debate about how to solve the disparate impact of a crisis on women in the workplace rages on. Demands have been made on policy makers and corporations to solve the problem. To my mind, we don’t have the political will for that yet. Policies won’t change until men demand flexible work because they are willing to adjust their hours when family circumstances change. No one willingly gives up a position of privilege. It takes a revolution. What are we waiting for?

Remember, the young ones are watching. It’s time to foster gender equality in our homes so it can become the norm in our culture. Time to renegotiate. I promise, it’s going to be okay.

Love, Elizabeth

Writing Prompt: How are you fostering gender equality in your home?

*This title isn’t quite right but Mark thought of it. Because he so generously allowed me to put him on blast for this piece, I threw him a bone.

**It’s absurd that I should have to get buy-in that my work is important, but this is where we are.

***This is actually shorthand for the “imperialist white-supremacist capitalist patriarchy.” Mark goes around saying it all the time now. It’s pretty sexy.

Copyright © *2020, Elizabeth Heise, LLC., All rights reserved.

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How do we live with uncertainty?

In a few days, these avocados will be ripe enough to mash. I’ll add a little sea salt, onion powder, a dash of cayenne and a squirt of fresh lemon. Plop it on some toasted multigrain and voila, breakfast is served. Delicious avocado toast is certain. So much else is not.

I don’t know about you, but I feel like I’ve trained hard for Covid Times. When I was little, a friend of my Dad’s once coined the phrase, “The Leffert Uncertainty Factor,” to explain why no one ever knew what to expect from my family. While all the adults laughed I remember thinking, that’s not funny. All these years later, my youngest child is similarly unsettled by my refrain about when the pandemic will end. “We just don’t know,” I’ve said, over and over. That’s not funny either. We count on our routines to feel safe, rites of passage to mark how far we’ve come and celebrations to enjoy our accomplishments. They’ve all been swiped off the calendar and it’s unsettling, to say the least. And then there’s the news. For many, the pandemic has wreaked havoc. If you’re not accustomed to having your life turned upside down on a semi regular basis, I can see why these times might throw you.

If we think about it, the uncertainty has been here the whole time, we’ve just assumed our plans and supports will hold. In Florida, we know we can’t always count on each day going as planned, especially during hurricane season. Any amount of certainty is an illusion, even “hurricane season” itself. We’ve had a hurricane in Florida every month of the year, it’s just more likely to blow into town during specific months.

No matter where you live, we’ve all dealt with some level of unpredictability before this. But the pandemic has been a master class in the concept. So, how do we deal with not knowing? There are no experts on this in my house, but we have been able to ride the wave without completely falling off the board, most of the time. Here are the go-tos we regularly incorporate into the march through the bog of coronatimes.

LAUGHTER

Everybody knows this one. When we find something to laugh about together, worries evaporate. My family is always looking for a laugh. Over the last months, we’ve binge watched Key & Peele, The Office, Parks & Recreation, The Chappelle Show, New Girl, and Bob’s Burgers. Thank God Netflix is a closer family member than many of our own blood relatives. A good laugh releases the pressure.

VALIDATION

Mark and I are pretty bad at this, but when disappointment is at it’s most crushing, we all need validation. One of our kids has accused us of something called toxic positivity which is pretty horrible—I googled it. When the one special trip to Europe with Grandma got canceled, our kid didn’t want to hear how lucky we all were to be healthy with a roof over our heads. When things we’ve been working towards evaporate, it sucks. I watched Glennon Doyle’s video on how to listen repeatedly and I am finally starting to get it. Commit it to memory so your loved ones don’t call you names. http://bit.ly/2WkmbFq

SERVING OTHERS

When we are wallowing in all that we’ve lost, serving our community helps us realize we are all in this together. That sense of a shared burden lightens the load a little. It’s like when everyone cleans up after dinner and it’s not left to just one resentful person, as a totally random example. And our family could do a lot more of it. Especially helping others who don’t have it as good as we do. One of our favorite helpers is Educate Tomorrow, an organization that supports young adults aging out of the foster care system to pursue higher education (and so much more).https://www.educatetomorrow.org/who-we-are/who-we-are/ We love the SEED school too—the only public boarding school in town and one of only three in the country. https://miami.seedschool.org/about-us During the pandemic we stocked the new dorms with college gear to create an inspiring home for the students. Because of the hurdles I faced as a kid, I am drawn to organizations focused on helping children. Involving my own kids in programs for children who’s parents have been unable or unwilling to care for them has been a challenge, however. I felt so ashamed when my needs were not being met that it’s triggering for me but I do as much as I can and applaud the efforts of my dear friends who champion this incredible work.

ONLY USE YOUR IMAGINATION FOR THINGS YOU WANT

The anxiety of not knowing when we will ever get to leave our homes safely only goes away when we break the habit to worry. That may sound nuts, but hear me out. Years ago, in the Before Times, I used to worry so much it was debilitating. Some awful things actually did happen so I felt justified. After working on my mindset, I now understand that worrying is a choice. Now when I stumble over my worry trip wire, I think of surfer Eddie* who says, “don’t worry because that shit ain’t happenin’ right now.” I look around and notice that none of my worries are in the room with me. Most of them aren’t real. There’s loads of research that shows when we spin nightmare scenarios, our body feels as if it’s actually happening—we unwittingly put ourselves through tremendous stress. We can get out of our heads and back into our bodies, to the present moment where for most of us, everything is fine. I am no expert on mindset training but I have learned from some of the best: Eckhart Tolle, Byron Katie, Deepak Chopra, Wayne Dyer, Tony Robbins and Maria Forleo to name a few. Luckily, now that we are in full blown crazy town, my mind has been trained not to worry. If the problem is something I can solve, I make an action plan. If not, I let it go and only use my mind for things I actually want. Choose another thought. If you study how to do this, you can be a reformed worrier too.

ACCEPTANCE

The other thing that helps is accepting that this is harder for some of us than others. We all have had moments of hitting the wall during coronatimes. And that just has to be ok. We can’t expect everyone to handle this the same way because it affects each of us differently. And we came to this moment in varying degrees of readiness. Relaxing expectations has been an absolute must around here. The more love and acceptance we can show each other right now, the better we will get through this, and the more connected we will be on the other side.

MAKING PLANS WITH STUBBORN OPTIMISM

Lastly, as evolving humans we freaking need something to look forward to, especially kids. When our present feels tedious and frustrating, future plans energize us. They help us with discipline and motivation. If we are going nowhere and doing nothing, it can lead to despair. Regardless of whether it’s going to happen, our family will be making plans to get the heck out of dodge on go to the mountains. https://www.theemotionmachine.com/power-anticipation-need-something-look-forward/

So. Take it easy on yourself (and everyone around you) and trust that it’s all going to be ok.

Love,

Elizabeth

Writing Prompt: what are you looking forward to?

*Mentioned on The Robcast. Rob Bell is one of Elizabeth Gilbert’s buddies who I tune into from time to time.

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What do you really want?

The kids and I binge watched “Zumbo’s Just Desserts” over the interminable summer of the pandemic. One of the contestants who lost straightaway stuck in my head. He was an older guy, who had loved to bake his whole life. When he was younger and choosing a career, he didn’t consider pursuing pastry even though it had brought him so much joy. It wasn’t practical. So he went into sales. All the years into that decision were etched on his face—eyes at half mast, a sickly pallor to his skin and a demeanor plagued by timidity. Having chosen a life he never wanted had cost him. He was so nervous during the competition that he screwed everything up and was eliminated. A lifetime ago, he knew in his bones what he really wanted and he ignored it. What if he’d been such an extraordinary pastry chef that he’d become a household name and made a fortune? He never gave himself the chance.

We spend gobs of time pondering what we “should” do, imagining what people will think, projecting the judgment of others back onto ourselves. We go from one accomplishment to the next, assuming we will be well-regarded and fulfilled once we have ticked off our list of approved goals. This hamster wheel has no end in sight until we spend some time with the truth of who we are, underneath all the false measures of our worth. When we know ourselves, we know what we want and we can make a plan to get it.

None of us comes to this earth to gain our worth, we bring it with us.

So how do we get back to the truth of who we really are? We get to know ourselves again by engaging the subconscious—it’s all in there. And it’s way more accessible than we think. One way to do that is to keep a daily journal. Writing without judgment, just putting it all down on the page, one little bit at a time. The benefits of adopting this practice are many. Let’s break it down so you know what you’ll get if I can convince you to take pen to paper and let your mind do it’s thing.


We write to let the sun in, to banish the darkness,
to shed burdens and lighten ourselves. We write to be free.

1.   Through writing we get clarity.

When we let our subconscious choose what to write about, our priorities become clear. Underneath all the noise lie our hopes and dreams. When we articulate them, the next step is to make a plan and execute on it.

When I first started writing, I was so intimidated by the blank page, I froze. Beginning with writing prompts was the perfect way in. It’s a simple tool to get you going and might even take you in a totally different direction. But it’s not like art class where you are supposed to sketch the flower in a vase or you get an F. The prompt is a mere suggestion. Where you go with it is your call. When I write in the morning, forgotten intentions come out. I write notes to myself in the margin so I remember to follow up on an idea, chase down a contact, etc. Writing brings my focus back to what’s important to me.

When we tell the truth, we create the possibility for more truth around us.

2.  Finding your truth.

Many of us have family and relationship drama that occupies valuable space in our heads. And it’s not just the time and energy it consumes, it also messes with our sense of self. Family narratives around incidents may conflict with what was actually true for each of us. Even siblings experience the same parents in conflicting ways. The important bit to extract is our own truth, regardless of someone else’s version. When we write down what is true for us, not only do we benefit, but we also bring healing to the world.

I write entirely to find out what I’m thinking, what I’m looking at, what I see and what it means. What I want and what I fear. Joan Didion

3. Getting in touch with our true feelings.

When we use writing to explore our subconscious mind, we increase our capacity for insight into ourselves and understand our reactions to current triggers more fully. For a long time, I was in survival mode, just hoping to get through the difficulty and avoid my emotions. Going back and fully exploring what happened and how it made me feel, put me back in touch with feelings I had buried. In large measure, putting those feelings on the page liberated me from them. I have more sensitivity and insight into my own life than ever before. Having a place for unexpressed emotions has served as a stress-reliever. There is a lightness I never thought possible. I cannot recommend this highly enough.

4. Building our own intuition.

The more time we take to listen to our own voice, the better we know ourselves. We gain wisdom and insight into our own motivations. We trust ourselves more. Our instincts sharpen. Our self-awareness grows. What could be better?

Accept what is. Let go of what was. Believe in what will be.

5. We can consciously choose an empowered meaning to our personal stories. We are the ones who decide what to focus on as we write. We get to say why something happened the way it did and the significance. I’m not suggesting we should make up a bunch of hooey to be the hero of our story—that serves no one. What we can do is reflect on what we gained and extract an empowered meaning from the hard times. That makes all the difference.

Being on the other side of this concept is a beautiful thing. After I wrote my book, I got to see that the hardship I experienced brought me to where I need to be. I used my writing not just to replay events but to understand them. I now appreciate my own resourcefulness. I realize that everything I am comes from all I have been through and I honor both the good and the bad.

6. When we get negative emotions out, assign an empowered meaning to our lives and integrate our own personal stories into who we are today, we feel better. Mountains of research shows the benefits of expressive writing to increase self-esteem and to heal physically and emotionally. There are clear connections between expressing emotions and enjoying good health.

7.    We write to recognize our limiting beliefs.

We have all had experiences that end up placing limits on us in one way or another. The end result is that we believe we cannot do certain things before we even try. For me, I concluded early that I couldn’t have close friendships because people would judge me if they really knew me. My hippie family did everything differently so I kept friends at arm’s length to avoid their scrutiny. Unless we take the opportunity to examine these beliefs, we don’t ever question whether or not they are actually true. Lucky for me, I questioned this belief somewhere along the way in my writing. The real truth is that the more I share of myself, the deeper the connections between me and my friends and family. I invite you to think about all the things you believe you can’t do and ask yourself why you’ve reached that conclusion. You may be surprised.

Protect the time and space in which you write. Keep everybody away from it, even the people who are most important to you. Zadie Smith

So here’s how to get started. You have a lot of options but the optimal time to journal is when you have quiet moment and a comfortable place to write. I do it right after meditation in the morning before anyone’s up. You can even light a candle and make the space comfy. I prefer to fill three full pages but even if you only do a few minutes a day, say fifteen, three or four days a week, it’s effective. The key is not to edit as you go. This exercise allows you access to your true feelings and if you censor yourself, you will undo that valuable work. No editing, no judgment for grammar or spelling errors. Rereading should be left for later and never before the next session.

So. Take a risk and get to know yourself on the page. I promise, it’s going to be okay.

Love,

Elizabeth

Writing Prompt: Explore a memory. What lingers with you the most? How has this experience changed you? How are you seeing your resilience through this experience? Who do you wish you could share it with? (It’s okay if its just for you.)

 

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Six Tips to Save Your Sanity

I used to wake up with a sense of dread so familiar I didn’t notice it until it was gone. Maybe some of you have felt that way too, this week especially. Today I want to share 6 Sanity Rituals I have been practicing, some for about a decade. Initially, my goal was to maximize my own happiness and peace of mind. Little did I know I was training for the mother of all tests of mental fitness: Covid Times and the mayhem that’s come with it. I am not the authority on any of these—I’ve just curated different techniques for my own personal benefit. So if you want to control anxiety, clear your mind, and get your energy ready for what’s been going down, keep reading.

Sanity Ritual #1: meditation. Friends have recommended it to you, but who has time? You do. It’s a few minutes. If you haven’t yet, do yourself a favor and look into it. I’ve practiced for nine years and it may be why I don’t drink coffee and enjoy a burst of afternoon energy that gets me through the evening feeling good. It’s trendy now, but it’s been around for thousands of years. If the thought of trying it out makes you antsy, check out tm.org. All kinds of influential people credit meditation with their greatest accomplishments. And, best of all, this method is meditation for dummies. I had never been able to do any form of it—and believe me I tried—until I learned this one. I’d trained myself to worry and nothing could compete with that lifelong habit. This technique undid my worry trigger. And sometimes during a meditation, inspiration shows up and I get to keep that gold nugget as a bonus. Win win win win.

Sanity Ritual #2: morning pages. If you are not a morning person, there are plenty of folks who choose another quiet time during the day to do this exercise. For me, the only guarantee I have to write uninterrupted is when my family is unconscious. After an early meditation, I creep out of bed before the dog wakes up to fill three pages without thinking. This serves as a data dump for whatever is rattling around in there. Plans I am making in the back of my head, regrets for how I handled something, but also awesome ideas that were buried underneath all the garbage.

Sanity Ritual #3: get out in nature and MOVE. This is a two-fer. My family is still asleep when I take off, but when I’m done, everyone is up so there is no time to dillydally. Today, I am exhausted so I went for a quick walk to watch the sun burst through the clouds and streak the sky yellow to pink to blue. There is nothing that brings me to the present moment quicker than taking in a sunrise. Moving my body outside in nature grounds me. Walking, running, roller skating, who cares, just as long as I am outside and moving.

Sanity Ritual #4: breath work. Stay with me here. You non-yogi types are probably going to try to clock out. Maybe it seems weird to us here in the US but it is widely practiced in other cultures across the globe. Ancient breathing techniques used in Eastern traditions direct your prana, a sanskrit word meaning life force energy. The technique clears your head and wakes up the energy centers (chakras). The technique I use is four quick inhalations, then four exhalations, all while tapping each of my fingers to the thumb, from the index to pinkie. I do it for a dozen times or so. Your neighbors may look at you funny as you huff past their house but if this is the only behavior they find odd, clearly they don’t live next to me. If you are interested in learning more about breath work, take a look: https://www.calmwithyoga.com/pranayama-yogic-breathing-ujjayi-techniques/.

Sanity Ritual #5: energy cleanse. This list may sound time-consuming but the breathing is a couple of minutes and if you can do just one or two of these, it still helps. I find this one so critically important that if I don’t do it, I feel like I haven’t showered, to borrow a friend’s analogy. We deal with some sort of lockdown-related disappointment, fear or heartbreak daily. If the whole world did it, there would be peace on earth.

So this is how. As I walk along, I visualize the bright light of the universe shoot down through the clouds, in through the top of my head down through my body all the way to the earth’s core, then back up the same path through my feet, up and out my head and into space. I repeat until my energy feels sparkly clean. The number of times I do it depends on how I feel—usually three or four times. Then, in the same fashion, I bring the energy in, hold it in my heart, turn it pink (the color of love) and send it out to my family and friends. I have an attorney friend who sends good energy to her judge before every hearing. If you are her opponent, watch out. This is her secret weapon.

I finish up by sending healing white or blue light to people who are ill or otherwise having trouble. I end with drawing the energy in, expanding pink energy in my heart and disbursing it throughout my own body. Every time, without exception, a spontaneous smile spreads across my lips. I saw Master Stephen Co at a seminar demonstrate this powerful technique and I have done it regularly ever since. If you follow him on Facebook, you’ll get lots of intel on these techniques.

But wait, there’s more!

Sanity Ritual #6: gratitude. This really shouldn’t be last but this is how I wrap up—it’s the cherry on top. When I am nearly home, I take the time to thank the trees for oxygen, the sky for the beautiful clouds, and God (you can thank whomever you credit for all that we have, doesn’t have to be God) for giving me and my family everything that we need. I name each family member and express thanks for their unique gifts and thank God for things I don’t yet have (Dr. Edith Eger style, if anyone is familiar with her beautiful book The Choice). This is the part I look forward to the most. Someone smart once said, “express gratitude as if you only get the things tomorrow that you were grateful for today.”

And this brings me to my one and only “don’t.” Do not consume news in the morning. Apparently a full 80% of people who consume bad news first thing, report having had a bad day. Don’t do that to yourself. Maybe at a low energy point during the early afternoon, read what you need to stay informed and then move your body so it doesn’t get stuck in there. I like a 4:00 p.m. dance break myself.

 

By the time I walk into my house, I am refreshed and ready for the day. When it’s raining or I work out indoors, I sometimes miss the energy and gratitude work. It shows. When I’m doing all this regularly, I glow with a sense of wellbeing others around me can feel. These rituals have healed me and my little corner of the world.

With this practice, I feel a deep certainty that everything is going to be ok.

Love, Elizabeth

Writing Prompt: What are you grateful for today?

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Stories

It’s what we had feared all along.

Despite the masks, the relentless sanitizing, and social distancing, we received news that a member of our household had been exposed to the virus.

Before breakfast the next morning, we masked up, piled into the car, and headed to the enormous testing facility at the fairgrounds. Hundreds of spooky, lime green traffic cones separated long, empty lanes of traffic. It’s like they’d color-coordinated with the green splat emoji we had all been using as shorthand for coronavirus. If it hadn’t been a rainy Sunday in Miami, the lanes would have been full, according the national guardsman we met at a check point. Miami drivers can’t do rain—traffic comes to a standstill.

The sweet scent of banana bread filtered through my mask from the thermal bag on the passenger seat. I’d packed it up in case we’d had a long wait. We wound our way through the Covid themed race track as I fiddled with the container using my free hand.

“You guys want to eat?”

No one was hungry.

We pulled into the metal shelter and a PPE-draped nurse tossed a few clear bags labeled “BIOHAZARD” into the car window. She delivered some clipped instructions and stepped back. I turned around in the driver’s seat to show everyone how to cough hard into theirs masks, then swab the insides of cheeks, and along the gums and tongue. When the last kid finished, his collection kit nearly went flying. It seemed weird that a child should be in charge of his own sample, but I wasn’t there to question protocol. I handed back the kits and asked when we’d received results.

“You should hear back within twenty-four hours,” she said and waved me on, beckoning the car behind us with her mummied-up limbs. I pulled the car forward to snap a photo of the gigantic semi trucks marked Miami Dade Fire Rescue. This was history in the making after all.

“Mom, you better take off, here come the cops,” said my older son. A police cruiser loomed in my rear view mirror so I stepped on the gas. Was it illegal to take photos at a government testing facility? I didn’t wait around to find out.

When we arrived home, I did the only thing I could do: wait nervously. Sitting at my kitchen table, I self-medicated with a half wedge of brie and onion matzah. I felt lightheaded and panicked that it might be a symptom. I released the thought and reflected on the last eight months.

At the beginning of quarantine in mid-March, I was aggressively fine with all of it. I reasoned that the kids could use some downtime from the grind. I’d felt relief when suddenly I got back all those hours I regularly spent in my car. No more schlepping children and stuff hither and yon. Volunteer obligations vanished and suddenly I had time to write my book. We all needed a break.

As March became April, then May, there was much talk about family bonding opportunities. I unloaded board games from the hall closet, forming neat stacks on the dining room table. The kids didn’t feel up to it, but I left them out, figuring we’d play eventually. I put together lists of festive meals like pizzeria night, taco bar and nacho making to varying levels of enthusiasm. Closets were cleaned and items donated to programs for communities in need. I chose a family charity project and the kids selected college-themed supplies for the new dorms at a public boarding school. Every chance I got, I repeated how fortunate we were. But the kids needed to mourn their lives a little and weren’t totally sold on my covid-tastic-ness. But in those early months, I was doing battle with corona and winning.

I was raised to thrive in chaos—my training started early. An unexpected divorce, the surprise departure of a parent, a move across country that none of us kids saw coming. And that was just the beginning. Every few months, our house of cards blew down in one way or the other. By the time I left home and controlled my own life, I was conditioned to worry reflexively. I attended law school with a full 75% of my brain devoted to spinning nightmare scenarios while the remainder worked two jobs and did schoolwork. Before every exam, I cried, long and hard, then got to work. It was exhausting.

So I started therapy. I credit those twenty years with a mostly healthy relationship and the ability to care for my family. But even after those endless hours on that burgundy leather sofa, I still woke up, grinding my teeth. Until, finally, I learned to direct my thoughts to what I could control instead of fretting about a future I couldn’t. I learned that energy is matter and I need to be conscious of what I focus on because that is what I create.

I was doing great with corona for months, building mental fitness and practicing gratitude. Until the unrelenting cancellations began to take a toll on my kids. Rights of passage missed that wouldn’t be back. The dance party to end elementary school, a Disney trip at the completion of middle school, a European adventure with Grandma the last summer before entering college. Yes, we had our health, a roof over our heads and food on the table. Nonetheless. There was no fine then. I could take any amount of pain, just don’t hurt my babies.

Because of the turbulent years I spent as a kid, I vowed to do it differently. When they were born, I made every decision as though their lives depended on it. Overpriced, organic produce, stainless steel lunch containers to avoid phthalates, silver copper ionization for the pool instead of chlorine. I have chilled out a little, but the thing that remains is that I take my job of protecting them seriously.

The next morning the test results came in. One child had tested positive.

I have broken down a handful of times on the coronacoaster, and that day was one of them. It was one child’s birthday, the other was sick in bed and the third was miserable for having to miss a tiny Halloween party—the one and only festive ocassion in eight months.

Friends offered to bring food. I am not comfortable accepting help. Guilt consumes me when people go out of their way. Call it a trigger from childhood when I felt like a burden. But I accepted it on that day. Two bags of groceries from a dear, sweet friend. Homemade chicken soup from the warm kitchen of another. I get by with a little help from my friends. And, of course, our pediatrician who told me not to worry, it would be a mild case. My kid said everything hurt, but the lungs are clear.

Now that I’ve had my cathartic cry, I know there is only one way to deal with all of this. Get back up, take a deep breath and do what I need to do. I will “stand guard at the gate of my mind,” focus on the things I can control and be grateful for all I have.

I say this to myself and to all of you. It’s going to be okay.

Elizabeth

Writing Prompt: When the pandemic knocks you down, how do you get yourself back on track?

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Stories

Want more JOY in your life? Yes, please.


If you are one of those folks who never lost that childlike curiosity and willingness to take risks—this piece is not for you. It’s for those of us who consider spontaneous fun just a bit too irresponsible. I became that person at age ten.

My fifth grade teacher had just transferred from the high school. He assigned a comically heavy load of homework. Each afternoon, I fanned the books and papers out at the foot of my bed and began to fret, wondering how I would get it all done. One afternoon, I spotted my bright blue roller skates sitting in the corner. They hadn’t been touched since I opened the box at Hanukkah and took them out for a spin. Without a thought, I grabbed them and marched out to the front porch. Up and down Quiet Lane I raced until the sky streaked orange, yellow, and pink. I slowed my pace and rolled up the driveway, lungs burning in the high desert air. As I pulled off each skate, I promised myself, I’d do this everyday.

I never did it again.

The next afternoon, a voice in my head scolded me: you are not a frivolous person who puts fun before work. No skating.

Cut to forty years later—I asked for a pair of roller skates for my birthday, just this month. Up until recently, I was still the type who wouldn’t waste time on such a silly hobby, nor would I risk injury that might bench me from yoga or running. What caused the change, you ask?

In short, it was Julia Cameron’s book, The Artist’s Way. I’m here to tell you, it’s not just for artists, it’s for anyone who straight up wants more joy in their life. My sister Dinah recommended it when I called her a while back, upset after receiving some hurtful feedback on a piece of writing from someone who’s work I respected. Dinah had some pointed advice.

“She’s your wet blanket. You can’t show her your work,” she said, matter-of-factly.

“What do you mean?” I asked.

She talked about those people who, when you have something exciting going on, will plant doubt in your mind, claiming it’s “for your own good,” their comments serving only to stomp on your enthusiasm. A “wet blanket” is the polar opposite of a “creative champion,” someone who can be counted on to offer encouragement and constructive criticism– a generous and self aware friend or colleague. I ordered the book immediately.

“The Artist’s Way shows you how to keep your own counsel. It helps you tune in to yourself and figure out which people you need to keep around. If you follow the program, you will let go of what’s holding you back and gain a crazy kind of momentum.”

I just completed week twelve and have been officially reacquainted with fun. And my creativity is gangbusters.

The exercises are based on the concept that we should do the work to maximize our creative power because, “there is nothing that makes people so generous, joyful, lively, bold and compassionate, so indifferent to fighting and the accumulation of objects and money,” according to Cameron. In other words, want to live your best life? Get yourself a copy of The Artist’s Way. And don’t be put off by all the spiritual talk, if that’s what throws you. She’s a twelve-stepper, just so you know.

So how do you go from being an overly cautious pre-worrier who is super intimidated to share her creative work and stresses out about everything? I’ll tell you because that was me. Each chapter of The Artist’s Way includes exercises that are mostly just play that you will love doing. For example, one night after dinner, I sat on the couch and cut out photos from magazines of beautiful places I want to go and things I want to achieve. I pasted them into a collage like I had for friends back in high school. It now hangs in the bathroom where I see it every day. And some of it’s already happening. I was invited to a magical yoga retreat–when the world had been canceled for months–spent a day on a boat having deep, satisfying conversations with new and old friends, I’ve been swimming in the ocean, and now we’re talking about staying in the mountains while the kids attend school remotely.

And before you think to yourself, that sounds like a goofy vision board—no gracias. Expressing your desires in a tangible way programs your brain to seek those things out. It’s simple science—like deciding to buy a Mini Cooper and suddenly they are swarming around you in the streets. If you don’t believe me, ask Elizabeth Gilbert, Martin Scorsese, and Anne Lamott who are all over the book jacket. My pal Liz has done the program three times. After the first, she decided to 1) travel to Italy and learn Italian, 2) go to an ashram in India, and 3) return to Indonesia to study with an old medicine man. This decision resulted in, you guessed it, Eat, Pray, Love.

I suggested the book to a dear friend who is searching for her next thing. She said, “I really don’t want to blow up my life, so I better not.” No one is forcing you to change anything. This is all information that is stored up inside you already. Self-knowledge is the greatest power you can harness.

This book deploys techniques to evade your inner censor. You know, the one that shuts down opportunities before you even explore them. The Artist’s Way has you speed write a Wish List.* You go so fast that the answers come straight from your subconscious. Your mean little critic can’t catch up to say, that wish is stupid. Cameron explains, “because wishes are just wishes, they are allowed to be frivolous (and frequently should be taken very seriously).” How great is this? And just so you don’t get the impression that it’s an exercise in daydreaming on your apple pie in the sky, here’s the deeper work: it explores the limitations placed on us by receiving wrongheaded messages from parents and society. It interrogates our fears and investigates why we may have lost faith that life will work out in our favor if we go after what we really want.

And don’t even get me started on the signature exercise of The Artist’s Way: the morning pages. Writing for three pages in a dedicated journal, longhand—without planning or stopping to think—turbo boosts your intuition and has you answering all of your own questions.

Here is the end result. I say YES to spontaneous fun. I am sharing my creative work not just once a week, but every day— little mini stories on Instagram (@elizabethheise1) and a longer piece like this once a week. I didn’t even have Instagram until now. After reading The Artist’s Way, I will go to the beach on the weekend, instead of being the foot soldier of my To Do list. I jump in the surf in a bikini. I used to dress in a sun protective swimming costume that would have worked great on the Jersey Shore in the 1930’s—modern day Miami Beach, not so much. I am more carefree than I have ever been in my life. I am not trying to be any certain way. I just am.

So order the book already. It’s going to be okay.

Elizabeth

*Writing Prompt: As quick as you can, finish the following phrase. Repeat FIFTEEN TIMES:

I wish _____________.

Finish with this last one:

I most especially wish _____________.