Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Eliminating "I Can't"

To the outside world, my husband and I probably look like crazy idiots.

On paper, we don’t exactly look like geniuses. At the end of 2008, I quit my full-time job to focus my attention entirely on my writing. He works a full-time job that barely covers our basic necessities while going to college in the evening to pursue a degree in Environmental Science. We also have a huge mortgage, student loan debt, and will probably add a child to the mix before the degree is finished and the novel is published.
We know we’re crazy. But, around the same time, he and I both experienced some revelations. We figured out exactly what we wanted and we knew we wouldn’t be happy unless we tried our best to get there. We know we’re taking huge risks and we’re well aware of what could happen if either of us- or both of us- fails.
The thing is, both of us are well aware that, even if everything comes crashing down around us, we’ll still have each other. That’s all either of us really needs. We love our nice house, but we’d still be happy if we had to share a studio apartment. The things we are pursuing we’d enjoy doing regardless of the income. That’s how we know they are, undoubtedly, what we’re meant to do.
The biggest change came when both of us decided to eliminate one phrase from our vocabulary: “I can’t.”
Each of us grows up hearing that there are things we simply can’t do. We were born into poverty, so we can’t be rich. Our parents didn’t go to college, so we won’t be able to afford it. We have kids, so we can’t take any risks. We have health problems, so we can’t lose weight. We’ve had failed relationships, so we’ll never find love. Whatever the situation, there are a million reasons why we can’t be our best selves.
The world is full of “I can’t” people. But it’s also full of people who have overcome great adversity to become extremely successful people. If each of them discouraged themselves by saying “I can’t,” we wouldn’t have the scientific, medical, and technological breakthroughs we have today. We’d have a world of mediocrity.
I’m not saying everyone should quit their dead-end jobs today or go to the gym and not leave until they’ve lost 30 pounds. Change doesn’t happen overnight. While my husband and I are still young, it took us years of saying “I can’t” before we said, “Why not?” It took us even longer to figure out the best course of action for pursuing our dreams without losing everything. Still, every day, we both learn more. It’s a process. Nothing is guaranteed, but we would both rather give it our all and fail than spend our lives working unsatisfying jobs, wondering what might have been. While we’re well aware of the worst case scenarios, we are choosing not to dwell on them and instead focusing on making sure everything we’re working for happens.

I was the last person I ever expected to eliminate “I can’t” from my vocabulary. It used to be my favorite expression! But I believe that we’re products of our environments, and in recent years I’ve filled my life with some pretty successful friends. I’ve seen my friend Sydney earn two degrees while working full-time, produce an entire fashion show with very little help and become a successful freelance fashion writer almost the instant she tried. To the outsider, it looks like everything she touches turns to gold, but I see how hard she words to make sure her dreams come true. I’ve watched my friend Marie, who comes from a very broken home and could easily have gone down the same path, earn a graduate degree and have a loving, successful marriage. I’ve seen my friend Melanie successfully pursue every single endeavor she tries with a smile on her face.
These ladies (not to mention the MANY people I know who I’m not even mentioning right now) have something in common. They don’t use the phrase “I can’t.” Instead, they ask themselves, “How can I make this happen?” And then, negativity be damned, they do it. For years, these friends would tell me that I was capable of anything and finally, I was ready to listen. With so many positive, successful people in my life, it was bound to rub off on me eventually.
Here are some of my favorite tips from eliminating “I can’t” from your vocabulary:

1) Instead of saying “I can’t,” ask yourself, “How can I?” One of the first things I learned about the Law of Attraction was never to say “I can’t afford it.” I know there are things I am unable to run out and buy right now. I also know that, if I give myself time and look for money-making and money-saving opportunities, I’ll have a much better shot of being able to buy it eventually. The same is true with other things in life. Don’t say “I can’t lose weight.” Tell yourself you can, one step at a time. Start by cutting back on junk food and then make time for exercise. Whatever your goal is, make a plan and try to stick to it.

2) Surround yourself with positive people. I cannot stress this enough. I have cut out the negative friends from my life and surrounded myself with people who encourage me, support me, and want happiness both for themselves and for others. It has made all the difference in the world. People who like being unhappy have no place in my life, and I’ve never been happier.

3) Focus on what you want, not what you don’t. I struggle with this. It’s human nature to think, “What if?” But have you ever repeatedly thought, “I hope this doesn’t happen…” and then it does? Instead of saying, “I can’t get sick” tell yourself you’ll stay healthy and take care of yourself so that you will. Instead of thinking that you hope you don’t screw up a job interview, focus on how well you’re going to do. I used to think this advice was crap. Then I tried it. It works. This is me, admitting to the internet that I was wrong.

4) Be your own biggest cheerleader. This was, by the far, the hardest thing for me to overcome. But if you speak poorly about yourself long enough, not only do you believe it, others will start to believe it too. Besides, celebrating the small victories is so much fun. It can be something as simple as a bubble bath when you’ve reached your writing goal of the day or, my favorite, a deep tissue massage after a week of not missing a workout.

5) Be a cheerleader for others, too. When you see someone struggling, try and lift them up with an encouraging compliment. Not only will you make their day, you’ll be reminded of the impact encouragement has on your own attitude.

Crazy idiots that we are, my husband and I both know that, at the end of our lives, we’ll get some satisfaction in knowing that we at least tried. Sometimes I wonder what the world would be like if everyone eliminated “I can’t” from their vocabularies and focused their attention on what they can do. The older I get, the more I realize that each of us is capable of accomplishing great things if we really try. Nobody is perfect, and we all have days where we let negativity and setbacks get us down. Fortunately, for most of us, the sun will rise again and we’ll have another chance to prove to ourselves that we can. There may be a million reasons why you think you can’t do something, but don’t we all deserve to make the most of this crazy beautiful life?

Friday, September 25, 2009

My Greatest Gift Turns 31

On Christmas night in 1977, a young married couple found themselves to be “in the mood.”
The problem? They were at the wife’s mother’s house for the holidays, and because they didn’t expect to be “in the mood” there, they hadn’t brought adequate protection.
“Come on,” urged the husband. “We’re careful every single time. Surely just one time without a condom won’t hurt.”
The wife agreed. After all, what were the odds? They gave in to their urges.

Exactly nine months later, Mr. W came into the world. Twenty two years after that, he came into my life and changed my world for the better. Today he turns 31. While this is an easier birthday to handle than 30, I’m sure a part of him is still freaking out. As he works today, he is probably thinking about his life and wondering what he has accomplished.

I have seen Mr. W transform from a stubborn boy into a wonderful (though still stubborn) man. I am so grateful he’s allowed me to be a part of that transformation. I see him work 40 to 50 hours a week, take college classes, and work every day to better himself. It’s no secret that he hates his job, so I try to make his home life as pleasant as possible. He comes home to a wife and a dog who shower him with kisses. He’s on one of the most important journeys of his life and, while it will end with him finally working in a field he is passionate about, the journey itself is rough. But he never complains.

Mr. W would just as soon hang out in the background in social situations. I’m a social butterfly, running from person to person, talking, and dancing as soon as my 2nd drink hits my bloodstream. Mr. W is perfectly happy with me in the spotlight. But on his birthday, it’s all about him. Every year since I’ve known him, I try to do something special for him on his birthday.

Last year he turned 30. I knew I wanted to pursue writing full time and that my income would diminish, so even though we had just been a few months before, I took him to Mexico. We both love the Riviera Maya area and can never get enough. As a birthday gift, the manager of the resort set up free horseback riding on the beach for us.

As we rode the horses across the sand and into the jungle, I thought of how fitting it was that Mr. W had started and ended his twenties with horses. When I met him, he was a cowboy from Montana who loved rodeos and country music. Now, you’d be more likely to find him in Silver jeans than Wranglers and listening to Nickelback and David Cook rather than Garth Brooks. But even though he is a completely different person, the part of him I fell in love with… the fiery passion, the good heart, the great love he has for his family and friends…that is still, and always will be, a part of who he is.

As we rode through the little stretch of jungle that day, we heard a sound. We looked up and saw a lemur just a few feet away from us. Neither of us said anything. We just stared at the little guy, in awe, while he stared back before scampering away. I thought, how amazing… when I met this crazy cowboy at a Shari’s in Yakima, Washington when I was 19, I had no idea we’d one day be riding through the Mexican jungle looking at lemurs.

Of course, there will be no horses, no lemurs, no white sandy beaches or mojitos for us tonight. We’re having dinner at our favorite gourmet Italian restaurant and hanging out with some friends. But I know Mr. W will be just as happy with this birthday as he was the last one. He’s another year wiser and another year closer to reaching the goals he’s set for himself. And that’s one gift that is priceless.

Happy birthday my best friend, my partner in crime, and the great love of my life.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

The Top Ten People That Suck at the Grocery Store

I’ve been doing my own grocery shopping for over seven years now. Overall, I love it. There’s something therapeutic about strolling through the produce department listening to cheesy elevator music looking for the best deals. I also love to pretend that, just maybe, this will be the week where I eat only healthy foods and magically lose those last ten pounds. It never is that week. But it’s nice to hope.

I’ve learned a lot of lessons about grocery shopping in seven years. Never go when you’re hungry. Avoid early mornings if you don’t like cranky old people. Avoid weekends if you don’t like crowds. Avoid Mondays unless you want to look for your favorite items among bare shelves from the weekends. Steer clear of the middle aisles as much as possible.

But no matter how many lessons I learn and no matter how many different grocery stores in how many different cities I live in, I always run into the same ten kinds of people. They are always present and seem to exist solely to annoy other shoppers. They are:

1)The “hog the whole aisle” lady. You turn your cart down the cereal aisle, and there she is. Her cart, piled high with fatty and sugary goodness, sits in the middle of the aisle so that no person (or cart) can navigate around it. She is at the opposite end of the aisle contemplating the sale on Cocoa Puffs. She is, of course, in the middle of the aisle herself. To add insult to injury, she weighs approximately 400 pounds and is blocking even the smallest of people from passing her. Not only do you have to move her cart, you have to ask her to move, too.
The best, though, is when “hog the whole aisle lady” is elderly and doesn’t hear you to the first three times you ask her to move. Excellent!

2)The sick guy. This guy is coughing and sneezing all over the damn place… except into his sleeve, where he’s supposed to do those things. He sneezes into his hand, wipes his snot onto his shirt, and the proceeds to touch every piece of produce you’ve had your eye on. Fuck that guy.
I will say this. Since this whole swine flu epidemic began, I’ve notice a lot more people being polite about their various illnesses and taking measures not to spread them. But there is always at least one rude sick guy.

3)The guy who gets into your groove. Wherever you go, you’ll find this guy. It appears you want the exact same items from the grocery store at the exact same time. Even if you attempt a new route to throw him off, you turn the corner and…there he is, in front of the tortillas you need. Neither of you are doing anything wrong, but it’s useless to try and escape each other. Just follow each other around and help each other spot the best deals on the things you both want.

4)The lady with too many kids. For whatever reason, Daddy can’t watch the seven little monsters hanging from the red car-shaped grocery cart this lady has commissioned. So there she is, with bags under her eyes, twins on her hips, and a cell phone (always a cell phone!) dangling from her ear. She half-asses an attempt to calm the kids down every few minutes, but the fact is, there are simply too many children for one person to control. So she gives up, and you must suffer.

When I was younger, sometimes I’d go to the store with my two best friends during sleepovers. Sometimes another friend or my brother would be with us. Now I understand why, when someone asked my friend’s mother if they were all hers, she’d scream “NO!” in horror. We were little angels, though.

5)The overly friendly butcher. Other than seafood and extremely rare occasions, like holidays, I do not eat meat. My list of reasons is as long as a novel. I just don’t eat mammals for the most part. My husband does. So when I get groceries, I usually go to the meat department to get him a steak or two.

Nine times out of ten, the butcher hurries over and goes into great detail about the specials of the day and how great it is to buy in bulk. Bless his heart. He isn’t doing anything wrong. But between the blood on his apron, his stained hands, and the way he says “pork loin” or “rump roast” (both of which I’d rather get a pap smear with a rake than eat), I always end up throwing up in my mouth a little bit. I’d never go all PETA on him (I hate PETA anyway), so I just smile and nod. I hope my husband appreciates his steaks for the torture I endure to obtain them.

6)The old friends who run into each other and gossip for an hour. Don’t get me wrong, I love it when I see an old friend. There’s nothing better. But wouldn’t it be easier to either grab a drink later or do your catching up somewhere other than in the middle of a crowded aisle where people are shopping? I’ve learned more about other people’s lives this way (while maneuvering around them) than I care to admit. If the grocery store ever becomes my social outing, it will be then that I will wish to die.

7)The asshole with the squeaky cart. I have been this asshole. You have been this asshole. When you select the cart, it’s silent and deceiving. Then you add some weight. By the time you’re almost done shopping, the thing sounds like a small animal is being murdered. It’s not your fault, and we all know that. But it doesn’t make the sound any less annoying. Sorry. Your best bet is to do what I do, shoot apologetic glances like crazy and hurry up.

8)The check writer. Seriously, who writes checks anymore? Not anyone born after 1955. But if you do have to be that asshole, at least have enough manners to fill out everything but the total before you get up to the checkout stand. And for the love of God, balance your checkbook at home. The total is on the receipt, for crying out loud. If you’re honestly worried about forgetting to balance the checkbook or losing the receipt, you shouldn’t be breathing, much less shopping. Yeah, I really loathe check writers.

9)The “haggle over everything” guy. Occasionally, the store employees make a mistake. I understand that. But for the most part, the price they ring up is the price they have to pay. Not every store is effing Wal Mart (thank God). Your competitors’ coupons are no good at classy stores like Safeway. Get over it. The longer you argue and the more times you make the cashier check, the more I dream of sterilizing you so you never breed. Just pay the extra 25 cents and get on with your crappy life.

10)The cashier who comments on every single item you place in front of her. Recent episodes of Saturday Night Live have parodied this lady because she exists... everywhere. She’s known for saying things like, “I’ve never seen these! Where did you get them?” “This is SO good! My favorite flavor is strawberry!” “You sure do like this organic junk.” And my personal favorite, “Somebody is having a party!” No, bitch, that case of wine is all mine because it’s going to take me that much to drown you out when I get home. Every cashier is allowed one comment. After that, it’s repetitive, annoying, and unprofessional.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Thoughts on Marriage

It is the scariest adventure you may or may not ever attempt. It comes with no real guarantees. You put your heart and soul into it, and still it can leave you broke, alone, bitter and broken-hearted.

I’m talking, of course, about marriage.

The technical definition of marriage has remained the same throughout the ages, but the structure has changed drastically. It’s no longer (thank God) about a woman becoming a man’s property in exchange for some cows. It’s no longer solely for the purpose of breeding or family politics. In most cultures, it’s no longer arranged. And in my lifetime, I may even get to see the day where it’s no longer limited to a man and a woman. These days, it’s mostly about companionship.

In general, society seems to have a rather negative view of marriage, or at least it seems that way with the younger generation. In an age where infidelity and divorce happen constantly, it’s easy to see why some young people have decided it’s not for them. Everyone wants a wedding, but few really want a marriage.

Yet, millions of couples do continue to get married. They know their odds aren’t good, but they do it anyway. And while some think getting divorced will be just as easy as filling out a marriage license (clearly those people have never met anyone who has survived divorce), most know exactly what it is that they’re getting into… and they do it anyway. They must see past the scary statistics and truly believe that their relationship has the ability to go the distance.

Even as a married woman, I can’t say for sure what it is that makes these couples believe they have what it takes. In reality, you never know for sure if your marriage will last forever. Even if your love is strong, even if you’re best friends, even if you’ve been together for years and years…. People change. They become different people, and sometimes that means no longer being compatible as a couple. They change their minds and decide they don’t want to be married anymore. They give in to temptation and cheat. They get lazy and stop trying to do nice things for their spouses. And sometimes the passion fades and people realize there isn’t much else under the surface holding them together.

I was 23 when I got married. I realize now, even just four years later, just how young that really is. My husband was 26, so in “male years” we were about the same age. We had been dating for four years and had definitely made it through our share of tough times. We knew we loved each other deeply and we both believed we could make it. We had fairly realistic expectations both of each other and of what marriage would be like. We both felt emotionally ready to make the commitment.

Four years later, our marriage keeps getting better. Of course, it’s not perfect, but on most days it feels pretty damn close. This is mostly due to the fact that we always encourage each other to be our true selves. He encourages me to pursue my dreams and I encourage him to pursue his. We have a deep friendship that, when you remove the physical intimacy part of marriage (although believe me, that part’s still going strong) is still there and bonds us to each other. We both do nice things for each other so the other feels appreciated. Where one of us is weak, the other picks up the slack. We’re a great team.

But I admit, part of the reason we work so well has to do with luck. We have both changed tremendously since we met and we both continue to do so. A person changes like crazy in their twenties and thirties while they figure out who they are, who they want to be, what they want to do and what their beliefs and values are. My husband and I are lucky in the sense that we changed together. Some couples grow apart, but we’ve grown together into an awesome super couple.

The reason I think we have done this is that neither of us held the other back. We don’t have to agree on everything and we respect each other’s beliefs. I think some young married couples are so set on keeping their spouses the way they are, they prevent them from growing into the people they’re meant to be. That’s no way to live and it’s no way to encourage anyone else to live, either. If my husband and I had grown apart, I’d like to believe we could’ve let each other go in a mature fashion. At the same time, I’m so glad we didn’t, because at this point I honestly can’t imagine my life without him, nor would I want to. He doesn’t “tie me down,” he encourages me to fly.

I try not to judge others’ marriages. Every single marriage is different, and what works for one couple may not work for another. My husband and I have habits that would be “deal breakers” to some, while other couples engage in behavior that we never would. To each their own. At the same time, I admit that I do get offended when I hear people saying that things like gay marriages are a threat to their own traditional marriage. I can’t help but wonder how weak their own marriages must be if something like two people coming together in love, as they supposedly did, is somehow a threat to them just because they happen to be the same gender. People slow to adapt to changes are the weakest links in our society, especially when those changes have no negative effects whatsoever. I am glad my own marriage is stronger than that. Our marriage only has two people in it. Nobody else’s decisions matter.

I can’t even imagine what it must be like to be married to the wrong person. There’s not a doubt in my mind that I married the right person for me. Even if we ever did part ways, I would never regret marrying him because of everything he has taught me and all the amazing times we’ve had. But even though he’s the love of my life and the best husband anyone could ask for, sharing every part of your life with another person is quite an adjustment. Sacrifices must be made and compromises must be reached. If you’re with the right person, this is no big deal and it’s so rewarding that it’s absolutely worth it. If you’re not, I imagine it must be emotionally draining and make for one miserable life. No wonder so many people are angry and full of hate!

No one thinks about these things when they look into each other’s eyes and take their vows. Sometimes all they’re thinking about is the party and the fun that goes into planning a wedding. Sometimes they’re only thinking about how in love they are at that moment. What they should be thinking about, in my opinion, are the words they are saying. Promises do get broken. People are human and they make mistakes. But the vows of marriage are meant to last a lifetime, and I firmly believe that if people are just willing to make the effort, it’s possible that they will.
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