Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Just Do It

Did you do something fun today?

Even if you risked looking like an idiot?

Sunday, September 27, 2009

In the Dog House

Have you seen or read Marley & Me? If not, let me catch you up:

Couple gets married

Couple buys dog

Dog becomes their "baby"

Couple has real baby

Couple hates dog

Now, there is much more to the story than this, including redemption of dog and the couple finding that he has been a very special and important part of their life. There were many ways that I related to this story, and judging from what my friends have told me, other people can relate as well.

My husband and I bought our beagles, Captain & Admiral, shortly after we got married. Like so many other childless couples, they became our "children." Captain was the smart and tortured one, as evidenced by his aggressive but intelligent nature. Admiral was the lovable doofus. I always equated him to the stupid football jock. Beautiful, but dumb as a rock.

We took our dogs everywhere with us for the first couple of years. We had puppy playdates and got a lot of mileage out of their travel carriers. Then I got pregnant. I thought about buying a cd of baby noises to get the dogs used to the sound. I read that you should rub a blanket all over your newborn and then have your husband take it home while you were still in the hospital so that the dogs could get used to the scent. As my due date got closer and closer, I stopped searching out ways to prepare the dogs and became more focused on preparing myself.

The day I came home from the hospital with my son, F, I remember stepping into the house and thinking one thing: Get these disgusting slobbering vermin away from me and my child! I put up baby gates so that they couldn't enter the nursery to shed even one disgusting dog hair on my son's floor. The needs of two dogs and one baby was too much for me.

Over the next few months, my husband no doubt enjoyed many frantic phones calls from me, crying and ranting about the horrors of cleaning up dog feces while trying to warm up a bottle. Around the time F was 6 months it was clear: one dog needed to go.

Now don't judge me too harshly. On Captain's bad days he would rip into Admiral for just walking in his breathing space. I knew it was a matter of time before F became a victim. We found him a new home, became a one-dog family, and the hating continued. Admiral had a new nemisis now: Me.

Of course, I am sure he didn't see it that way. He probably just wondered why his mommy was suddenly yelling at him so much and when's dinnertime? I'm ashamed to admit to the way that I've treated my dog in the last 3 years, but that's the way it goes for weak-willed, easily overwhelmed people like me.

On the flip side, Admiral has done his fair share of food-stealing and carpet-ruining. He's barked at completely non-exsistent noises and woken up babies more times than I can count. If you even look him in the eye he takes that as an invitation to splay himself across your lap and fart. But he is by no means a "bad dog" even if I do treat him as such. So when now 3-year-old F started asking me in his childlike innocence "Is he a bad dog?" a couple of months ago the realization of what I was doing hit me like a truck. Like so many things, I began taking small steps to change the way I speak and treat my incredibly sweet-natured pup. It seems that the added stress of having kids was what drove me to treat my dog like a mooching vagrant (still no excuse of course), but it was also what was going to make me clean up my act.

Baby steps. Not calling him an imbecile for barking outside. Not batting him away when he claws up my leg for a treat. But the big breakthrough came last week. Ready for it? Here it is:

I don't hate my dog. I just hate the added responsibility.

Profound stuff, right? Seriously, this revelation has made it so much easier to be nice. Once again, it's the things I can't control (like when Admiral swipes my dinner) that are making me crazy. And when I realize I can't control it, I put it in the "Don't Sweat It" box of my brain (also filed there: the weather and my son's inability to eat a vegetable).

I know I'm turning around because when I woke up to discover a puke present next to Admiral's bed the other morning (the result of one too many swiped dinners), I didn't yell at the dog for being an idiotic glutton. I didn't even stick him in the backyard for the day so that any further puke presents would be lunch for the flies. I just grabbed the bottle of cleaner, picked up a towel, and told F, "Poor Addy. He's sick today."

To all the stupid mangy mongrels out there: Thank you for being so forgiving.

Friday, September 25, 2009

News Flash

Gretchen Rubin just wrote me an email!!!! And not one of those "check out my new blog post" emails either. A 100% authentic, original email. To ME! She asked people to tell her whether or not they would come visit her on a book tour. I told her I not only would attend, but I would tie up all my friends and relatives and drag them along in a flat-bed truck! She replied!

Ok, I am breathing normally again. The only other experience I've ever had with a writer is when Dave Barry sent me a "thanks for your input" postcard after I wrote to him about a column he wrote on Red and Blue States. Not all that exciting, but when I licked it the ink ran, so I know he actually touched the card to sign his name. (I'm pretty sure if I was ever in Hollywood I would have a panic attack before I could even take a picture of any celebrity).

In all seriousness, Gretchin is doing exactly what I want to do: making a living writing and talking about how to find happiness in simple ways. In fact, the only editing I try to do on this blog is to make sure it isn't too much like hers (that, and my use of exclamation points). But I encourage everyone to check it out. She is great at giving daily doses of simple wisdom. That is something I am definitely on board with.

From the Inside Out

(Once again, another post that was written for my other blog. This is actually the one that got me wanting to make a new blog, thus "Collective Reasoning" was born).

This has definitely been one of those weeks where I completely question what I am doing with my life. I'm consumed with envy just watching the teens on Gossip Girl as they barhop, sleep around and get ready for college (three things I don't really want to be doing anyway--OK, barhopping doesn't sound so bad on the days my kids treat my house like a toilet). The point is, I am jealous of fiction. "There has to be something more!" I keep telling myself. This never leads to anything good. It's only a short downward spiral into me breaking something just to make sure that I can still influence anything in my life.

I haven't done that in many months though. It's gotten better. And it will continue to get better, I know this. Tonight, after shedding a few tears at my inability to get my one-year-old to eat even a noodle of macaroni, I remembered that I do have the power to change something (and I didn't have to break anything to prove it). I can change the way I was thinking. Why is this so difficult? It's a completely inside job. I rely on no one but myself to change my attitude. Also, why has it taken my 27 years to figure this out? I can't even count all the "Attitude is Everything" signs on my grade-school walls. Why is my ego working so hard against me?

I used to think that there were just certain things that couldn't be done. For example:

  • I can't just not count every single minute of television time that my children get and agonize over every single one (BTW Finn is watching Wubbzy as I write this)

  • I can't get less than eight exact hours of sleep and still be in a good and energetic mood the next day

  • I can't not tell myself what a horrible imperfect slob I am everytime I want to sit and watch FRIENDS at 5:30 in the afternoon

And so on. But you know what? I decided a couple of months ago that maybe these things weren't set in stone. I thought, maybe, just MAYBE, I could try to NOT freak about these things for one month, (hell, even just one week!) and I could wait and see if the world fell apart or the sun went spiraling out into space. And, as I'm sure you know, it hasn't. In fact, life has been a lot better when I don't agonize about all the little things that I SHOULDN'T be doing. And I thought of it all by myself (although Robert Holden has been a huge influence)! Is it possible that I could LET myself just be happy?! Amazing!

So, tonight, after eating all the leftover macaroni straight from the pot (with big spoon and all), I reminded myself just how great I am. I have a master's degree dammit!! I worked hard for it! And I do things! I go to the zoo on rainy days just to get out. And I enter writing contests! I work at things! And, most importantly at the moment although it REALLY doesn't feel spectacular, I am there for my kids. When I am daydreaming about running away to an ashram in India, I remind myself that right now, THIS is where I need to be. I decided to bring them into the world and they need me. This thought usually keeps me from climbing the walls. Let's see them make an episode of Gossip Girl where Blair trails two toddlers all day (without Dorota's help!). Her Manolo's would be stubs by lunchtime.

Now if you will excuse me, I have to go pry Finn away from Noggin...

Faking It

(Once again, this is a post previously made in my other blog. I want it to be here where it belongs)

Not to toot my own horn, but when I meet up with people that I used to go to high school with they always seem to remember me as "the smart one." I admit that I derive a secret pleasure from this since I do try to represent myself as educated (have I mentioned I have a master's degree?), but often it's not much more than that--a representation. I'm not even sure how good I am at this anymore since a work friend of mine told me yesterday that in high school I was probably "the bully." Guess I am picking up a few new tricks.

I think this is a very interesting exploration however. We all have roles that we use to define ourselves--mother, spouse, employee, butt-wiper, etc. But what sort of attributes (real or wishful) do we cling to about ourselves? And once you take inventory of this, how many of these are actually positive? In a brief personal assessment, "educated" (although I'm not really sure how accurate this is--I'll admit the only thing I know about the health care debate is that it sounds REALLY expensive) and "children-oriented" are the first two positive attributes that come to mind that I try to throw out there about myself. Whether I am these things or not, it doesn't really matter as long as I reinforce them in my words and actions.

I represent myself negatively too. I come off a lot less confident than I should a lot of time, usually when it comes to child-care. If I say "I just don't know how to handle this situation!" then most of the time I DON'T have to handle the situation. Get it? Calling yourself a doofus outloud lets you off the hook a bit.

One thing that I have never identified myself with is a profession. Not even "geographer" although I have two degrees in the field (have you heard?). Now, in my life I have wanted to be many things--including a vegetarian veterinarian, but that is neither here nor there--but one thing I continually come back to is "writer." It's arguable that I actually already am one. I have written a couple of things, including a blog and an 80-page thesis (for that master's degree that you may not know about). I'm curious, just because you say you are something, does it make it true? Am I a writer? Am I educated? Am I a moron? (I believe you can be all three of these things at the same time. My evidence: college professors) Is what we are what we reinforce?

My answer is split and I'm afraid it's also going to get a bit touchy-feely (all you cynics out there watch out). I think everyone has a bit of a war raging within them between their brain and their soul. Now I know that the "soul" has gotten a lot of press for being the victor of all that is good and right; the direct connection with whatever force created the universe and all that. But I don't think it should always be in command. The brain, for all it's bullying and control issues (see which one is winning in my head!) has it's place. For if we didn't let the brain make up roles for ourselves and push us to be what we want, where would we be? And if our soul wasn't there to tell us to quiet down and just chill, I think some of us would never break our insomnia.

Ultimately, I DO think that we are what we act like. But it is never set in stone. The great thing about having a brain and a soul is that they are always pushing the other to evolve. It's like having a built-in personal trainer for your thoughts. They always try to even each other, if you can just shut your brain up long enough to let them work it out. And when I finally do, they both tell me that I am none of these things that I make up. I am Elizabeth. And I can be whatever I want today.

What Was the Question Again?

(This is a post previously seen on my other blog. I apologize to my friends who have already read it, but I wanted to be here where it belongs)

Let me invite you into my brain. Somewhere between 10-50 times a day I ask myself this (about many various and random things):

"Am I the problem or the solution?"
Why do I do this? Because I am a crazy Virgo that feels I must perfect every action of my being from tooth-brushing to fish-feeding (Note that I say action. If you have seen my house you know that I don't care too much about perfecting my possessions). I never have an answer; it's just a little bit of self-torture that I love to cram into my already over-processed brain.

But I'll tell you what I do know. Change takes a long time. You take little baby steps until one day you forget why you even started. At which point I usually find something new to carp on.
I want to say that each time I torture myself that I will instead remind myself that "Change takes time!" I want to say that I will be vigilant in my inspirational statement until I forget all about that annoying question that I so frequently worry about. But, for some reason I don't want to let go of this one. Perhaps there is some way to marry my perfectionism with a degree of moderation? With some sort of sympathy for myself and my lowly imperfect state? I've been trying to become a happier person (another quest for perfection!), but does that mean I have to turn my back on crazy Virgo tendencies?

Once again, way to many questions with no answers.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Know Thyself

I think one of the major reasons for misery and depression come from not knowing yourself well enough. It's your body's way of telling you to stop doing something it doesn't like, but the problem (for me at least) is that I don't always know what that is. I think that happiness is something that you can tap into anytime anyplace. It's a part of your natural state of being. But I think it's much easier to tap into it if you aren't standing in your own way. Therefore, knowing who you are is a major stepping stone on the way to a happier lifestyle.

This isn't something I have mastered. In fact, it's something I have just figured out. The real irony of it is, people change all the time. Keeping tabs on yourself has to be a regular exercise, a practice that you take part in everyday. Like I don't have enough to do!
Most of the time when I'm caught in a depressive state, I search desperately for THE KEY. The magic thing I have to do to snap out of it. I've tried screaming, exercising, eating, and just putting on a smile. It mostly never works. Forcing the issue just doesn't seem to bring about what I want. Dr. Robert Holden says that when a new emotion arrives you must treat it like a house guest. Tend to its needs and try not to wonder why the hell it's staying so long. Just learn what you can and go on with your daily routine. This analogy just doesn't work well for me because I like action. I like to take bold steps that make things happen faster, sooner, and hopefully easier. But I'm trying to take what I can from it.
The best action I've found to take is to just listen to myself. If something is continually popping up in my head, it's usually just looking for a way out. Perhaps I am unintentionally imprisoning my house guests. Maybe that's why I feel the need to start a blog about my thoughts. The only way they can break free is if I put them on display.
Realizations like this put a smile on my face. That's how I know they are true--because they make me happy.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009


This isn't a project. This isn't a journey. It's not even really a journal. It's just a place for me to collect my thoughts. Somewhere where I can take a break and think about all the things that bounce around my head all day. Once in middle school I had to list three words that describe myself. The first word I thought of was "thoughtful." Not because I frequently thought about the needs of others, but because my head was just always full of thoughts (the other descriptions probably had something to do with not being very good with vocabulary). The only problem was that I have never been really good at sorting out all the things that keep buzzing around my brain. Now that I have two small children, the background noise has only gotten louder. I want this be a place where I can take a break, collect my thoughts and reason them out.

I like to write. I'm not really into fiction or op-ed. Blogging is more my style. I've been caught in the late-twenties-what-am-I-doing-with-my-life snare and the only conclusion I've come to is that I would like to work on my writing. It's a hobby. It's therapy. It's a break from the day.