Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Posts Tagged ‘Amy Sundberg’

Around my birthday, I received a request to write on the blog about my thoughts on aging. It’s a fabulous topic but oh so loaded, so I’ve spent the last few weeks thinking about what to say.

I could spend the next five hundred words dancing around the topic, and we all might be a little more comfortable if that’s what I did (I certainly would), but here’s the truth. My views on aging are inescapably tied to my own present experience, and my own present experience is as a woman of a certain age, and a single woman, no less. And what society and the media tells me about women like me is not palatable. I have to expend a certain amount of energy rejecting the negative messages I’m receiving, and even so, I sometimes internalize them by accident.

This is not pretty, but it is reality.

Like it or not, we live in a society that places a very high value on youth and on physical appearance. Women in particular receive constant messages from a very young age that their primary value comes from their appearances, appearances that will inevitably, because of our cultural beauty standard, fade with age. Aging, then, forces us to redefine our own value and place in the world. Women are also more likely to be defined in media by their relationships to others. By a certain age, if they’re in the movies at all, they’re most often somebody’s mother or somebody’s wife, and beyond these roles, they aren’t very fleshed out. (Television seems to do a bit better, which is why I adore Gilmore Girls, for example, in which the main character Lorelai, in spite of being a mother, consistently defines herself.)

So there are some obvious problems here, and earlier this year, I began to feel a new uneasiness about my age. I heard a comment about how it’s all downhill for a woman after 30, and I was unable to deflect. So instead I felt anxious and self-conscious about my age, and then I hit a mini-crisis point. A new acquaintance asked me point-blank how old I was, and my knee jerk response was to refuse to answer. That had never been who I was–I’ve never had any problem telling someone how old I am–but in that moment, I saw that it could become who I was, that I had begun to buy into the absurdity of belittling myself because of my age.

I had reached a crossroads, and after some reflection, I realized that no, this was not okay. We have to embrace who we are–ALL of who we are–and our ages are a part of that. There is nothing to be ashamed of there, whatever society may tell us, and if the question is framed in such a way as to create that shame, that’s on the other person. If my answer causes disappointment or judgment, well, that’s not a person who is going to enrich my life in any case.

And I told the acquaintance my age without apology.

When I contemplated which candles to buy for my “Come as You Aren’t” party, I decided to buy 5 and 0 because if I was coming as I wasn’t, I wanted to come older than I am. I wanted to say, my life would be just as awesome the way it is if I were 50. My age does not matter. My life is defined by myself and by the priorities I have carefully chosen. Not by my appearance. Not by my relationships to others. By me.

You know what I'm not thinking here? "Do I look old?" Nah, I'm thinking, lightsabers and tiaras and this is the first time I've worn a tie, oh my!

You know what I’m not thinking here? “Do I look old?” Nah, I’m thinking, lightsabers and tiaras and this is the first time I’ve worn a tie, oh my!

And I like being who I am. I feel more attractive than I did ten years ago, and I feel more comfortable in my own skin. I have such a greater understanding of who I am. When I look in the mirror, I don’t think, “Wow, I look old.” I think, “Hey, I look happy today” or “I’m tired, I need to start going to bed earlier” or “I need to open my mouth more vertically for that belted note” or even “I like the way I look.” Heaven forbid.

We think so much about age as a physical thing, and in particular how it affects the way we look. But part of age is very much an internal thing. Sometimes I feel vastly old, and sometimes I feel bright and new. (This feeling may or may not be correlated to how much sleep I’ve been getting.) Sometimes I have the enthusiasm of a five-year-old, and other times I have the world-weariness of a sixty-five-year-old. I can be as naive as a ten-year-old and as wise as a seventy-year-old. All on the same day!

Much more important to keep in mind, then, is a commitment to openness, to change, to flexibility and resilience. Much more important to cultivate is a sense of humor. Much more important to remember is to see the beautiful parts of the world as well as the painful parts in order to keep some lightness of spirit.

Because in the end what matters is not our age but who we have chosen to be in whatever time we’ve had.

Read Full Post »

I’ve been meaning to write about my birthday party, which happened a few weeks ago at this point. The theme was “Come as you aren’t,” a brilliant idea that was originally suggested by my friend Mike on this blog. It took me almost a year and a half to implement the idea, but it was completely worth the wait.

I dressed up as a hipster Jedi princess:

With my shiny lightsaber that makes cool noises!

With my shiny lightsaber that makes cool noises!

We also had some unusually smartly dressed people, a belly dancer, another Jedi complete with Hawaiian shirt (yes!), and a whole host of other oddments of apparel. It was a fun spice to add to an evening of celebration.

And here's me with Petyr Baelish for good measure.

And here’s me with Petyr Baelish for good measure.

I have a confession to make: the obligatory singing after the cake candles have been lit usually makes me somewhat uncomfortable. I always do it anyway at my birthday parties because I tend to get attached to traditions, even ones that cause me slight awkwardness. But it’s hard to be the center of attention when I’m not DOING anything. I don’t usually know where to look or what to do with myself. I kind of wish I could sing along.

But this year, the moment of singing was the most memorable and the most touching. I didn’t feel awkward. Instead I felt surrounded by the love and support of my friends who had gathered in my overly hot apartment to celebrate the fact that I exist and that we get to know each other. I felt caught up in a strangely physical experience made of singing and proximity and affection, like I was receiving a hug from all my friends, even those who couldn’t make it.

I’ve written about creating a chosen family of friends before, and this has been my most tangible experience of this. I used to be so afraid that having such a family was impossible, that the only way of receiving this support was through blood relatives and significant others. I’d comb the internet looking for people talking about chosen families, and I’d come up relatively empty-handed. Why was nobody talking about this? I didn’t know, but I held close the few examples I knew about. I needed the hope.

So when I say that I have never felt as loved and as safe as I did at my recent birthday party, I say it both to thank those of you who have touched my life so significantly and to pass that hope along to those of you who need it right now. Creating a chosen family of friends IS possible. Whatever your situation–if you don’t have much or any family in your life right now, if you are single, if you’ve moved to a new place, if you’ve been through a lot–none of this consigns you to a life of being alone and unconnected.

And of course it’s not just the birthday party. Regular readers of the blog may have noticed I’ve been having a tough time this last month and a half. But one of the things that has made it much easier than it otherwise would have been is the friends who have been reaching out to me. This time has been an inadvertent pressure test, and it has left me with the strong realization that yes, my life really is different now. I am different, and the relationships I have in my life are different, and these changes are a source of strength and solace.

And when it comes down to it, good friends will take you as you are, even when you come as someone different than you used to be.

Read Full Post »

Isn’t there a saying that everything in this life worth having requires a certain amount of risk?

If there isn’t, there should be.

Life doesn’t come with a guarantee.

#

The trick, then, is figuring out what you’re willing to risk and what you’re not willing to risk. Or if you’re me, figuring out which risks are healthy and which risks are dysfunctional.

Fear, unfortunately, does not tend to be the most reliable indicator. Fear can exist for both positive risks and harmful risks. Sometimes we are more afraid of risks that will be good for us than risks that will be actively detrimental.

Sometimes we want to choose a risk that would be bad for us because those old unhealthy patterns are so very comfortable.

Sometimes what we want has nothing at all to do with the wise course of action.

#

Photo Credit: Martin Gommel via Compfight cc

Photo Credit: Martin Gommel via Compfight cc

#

Here’s what happens when you aren’t willing to risk at all:

Nothing happens!

Unless life forces itself on you, which it has a habit of doing. So maybe a few things will happen. Eventually. Randomly. And inevitably. The days will pass, and you will get older, and the world will slowly change around you.

You can embrace stagnancy. Which, when you think about it, is actually a pretty big risk to take too. It just takes less effort.

#

Here’s what happens when you are willing to take some risks:

Maybe you will fail, and you will be completely and absolutely devastated.

Maybe you will fail, and you will learn something.

Maybe you will fail, and you will realize it wasn’t very important to you after all. Or that it is SUPER important, and you are determined to keep trying.

Maybe you will fail, and you will see that you are strong. Maybe stronger than you think.

Maybe you will succeed!

Maybe you will kind of succeed, and end up taking some strange tangent, and it turns out to be the best thing that could have ever happened.

Maybe you will realize that risks are okay, and pain is okay, and disappointment is okay, and All the Emotions are okay.

Maybe you will succeed, and then you’ll realize you have to take ANOTHER risk. Darn it.

#

The past few years, I’ve taken some big risks. Big enough that beforehand, I feel sick to my stomach, and I have to take deep breaths and make strange Amy hand gestures to convince myself to go forward.

(You think I’m kidding about the hand gestures?)

I’ve laid myself bare on the page. I’ve asked for what I needed, even when I was pretty sure I wouldn’t be getting it. I’ve said no, and I’ve said yes. I’ve taken a close look at things I don’t want to look at, and I’ve shared things I’ve been afraid to share. I’ve committed myself to change, and I’ve committed myself to holding boundaries that force me to acknowledge the painful behavior of others.

I have taken a few long shots, because the unlikely payoff would be so freaking beautiful, it makes the risk completely worth it.

I would take them again.

And I have failed

And I have lost.

And I have found things that are infinitely precious to me.

I have cried myself to sleep, and I have been blissfully happy.

And my life is so much richer for it all.

#

Everything worthwhile in this life requires a certain amount of risk.

The choice is yours.

Read Full Post »

Even when the blackness of night envelops us, we look for specks of light in the sky. We call them stars.

#

Most of us live so very much in our own heads. We impose our internal reality on external reality. Thus it becomes of critical importance to be able to differentiate what comes from ourselves from what comes from others.

#

All beings suffer. Comparing this suffering is a fool’s game. We do it anyway.

#

With true self respect comes an unwillingness to play a supporting role in someone else’s story. Especially a supporting role that makes us smaller than we actually are.

#

We are all awash in stories. When we believe in a story hard enough, it becomes true to us, even when this is a story that doesn’t need to be true and will act to hold us back.

#

It is easier to dwell on differences, but we are also all the same.

#

We cannot fix another person. Most often we can merely be present, and then only if we are allowed, with grace, to do so.

#

Remember the stars. Hope matters.

Read Full Post »

Yes, I have now had the equivalent of a college education in blogging. I am taking a moment to bask in my sense of accomplishment.

….

Basking achieved!

#

I’ve been spending more time than usual over the past few months thinking about the future of this blog. Should I continue to post like clockwork two days a week? Should I experiment with length? With topics? With styles? What about Tumblr? Should I even continue to write the blog at all?

#

My very first post on this blog was “Originality: Having Something to Say.” I spent some time last week muttering to myself: “What do I have to say? WHAT DO I HAVE TO SAY?” (Okay, that last wasn’t so much a mutter as an emphatic question.)

I think it’s important to periodically reflect on that question, as a blogger and also as an artist. Even if the answer is sometimes, “I have no idea.”

#

I have heard the observation that blogging is inherently narcissistic, I suppose because it requires the belief that what you have to say matters. I’d argue that if you don’t value what you yourself have to say, it is perhaps not about narcissism as much as it is about a lack of self-esteem or self-confidence.

That is not to say blogging is for everyone. It really isn’t. Perhaps you don’t have a lot to say, and that’s fine. Perhaps you don’t want to post what you have to say publicly, and that’s fine. Perhaps you’d rather say what you have to say through fiction, or through visual art, or through film-making, or through Toastmasters, or through running for local office. Perhaps you want to keep your thoughts for yourself and yourself alone.

All fine, and none of it is automatically narcissistic. Since when did having something to say become equated with narcissism? Are we all just supposed to sit around in a state of complete apathy?

No, thanks.

#

In a recent post, Penelope Trunk wrote: “Because he’s a good blogger, Noa blogs as he learns….” And a lightbulb lit up for me.

Because this is what I strive to do. I blog as I learn. That’s why I never run out of things to say: because I am always learning, and I’m always thinking about what I’m learning. Sometimes you, my readers, help me along the way with your insights and experiences. And then I get to learn even more.

Thank you for taking this journey with me, dear readers. I don’t know exactly what form this blog will take in the future, but I can’t wait to find out what we’re going to learn in year 5.

10450637_10152508595100731_3988031246581205350_n

Read Full Post »

I’m in the middle of birthday week. I really like birthday week. Even this year.

#

I had this epiphany on Sunday night. I think it might come across as cheesy, or maybe simply incoherent. But I’m going to tell you about it anyway because it’s birthday week. That’s the great thing about birthday week. I feel completely comfortable asking everyone to humor me this week, and in general, people do. Even though most people don’t celebrate a birthday week themselves, it seems to be a concept that is easy for people to understand and get behind. Of course, that doesn’t give me license to be cruel or insensitive. But it means I can tell you stories that might lack a certain punch, and you’re more likely to bear with me.

Which is awesome. And is one reason why I am so fond of birthday week.

Here's another reason I love birthday week: Fun Times!

Here’s another reason I love birthday week: Fun Times!

#

So, back to my epiphany. It was Sunday night, and even though birthday week had started on Saturday (or Thursday, depending on who you ask), the last couple of days had not been completely smooth sailing. I hadn’t let this spoil my fun, but I was definitely feeling tired. So I was thinking back on the rocky bits of the weekend, and suddenly my brain went ka-chink, and I had my epiphany. (Is that the way epiphanies work for other people? Like suddenly everything just clicks together and makes a lot more sense than it did five minutes ago?) The events of the weekend, I realized, had had no effect on the core of myself.

#

Let me explain. (You’re bearing with me, right? Because birthday week?)

I wasn’t plagued by doubts: wondering if I’d done the right thing, or if I should have behaved differently, or did I do anything wrong, or how I could have avoided all unpleasantness.

I wasn’t trying to fix anything: the situation, any other person, or myself. I was perfectly content hanging out with Nala that evening, and if I hadn’t been, it felt as though I would have been perfectly all right not being completely content, too.

I didn’t think any less of myself. I didn’t think any differently about myself at all, really. Some stuff had happened. I hadn’t wanted it to happen, I had feelings about the fact it had happened, but I had responded to it to the best of my abilities. I knew there might be consequences in the future, but the future wasn’t right now.

My life, my circumstances, and my emotions were rippling in response, but the deepest parts of me were unmoved.

#

I’ve always hated that saying about how people only have the power to hurt you if you give that power to them. Because I mean, really, if someone is determined to hurt you, it’s not a cakewalk to keep them from succeeding. If you’re being battered repeatedly by life, there is such a thing as getting really freaking tired.

But for the first time, I understood where whoever said that was coming from. I felt like I had a choice.

#

I don’t know if this epiphany will stick. But if it does, I think it’s probably the best birthday present ever.

Read Full Post »

I want to write about acceptance, but it’s tricky. I don’t know if I have any insight to offer. Maybe you have insight to offer me.

#

There are some open questions about the stages of grief: how valid it is as a model, whether there are five stages or seven stages. But the stages, along with some religious thought, emphasize the culmination of grief and healing from grief as acceptance.

What is acceptance? At first glance, it seems to be agreeing with basic reality: This person is now gone. This person isn’t in my life anymore. This terrible thing did actually happen. (And of course, this can be true in situations that have nothing to do with death and still everything to do with grief.)

Or maybe acceptance can be thought of as letting go. Letting go of what used to be, or what you wanted to be, or what you thought was except it really wasn’t ever. Letting go of controlling what you cannot control.

#

But I think acceptance encompasses something more than this.

Acceptance is also about understanding the reality of how life has changed because of what happened. Not just, this person died, but how is my life now different because of this death? Not just, this relationship ended, but what does mean for me to be single? Not just, my body doesn’t work the way it used to, but how do I have to live my life differently now that I don’t have certain physical capacities?

Acceptance involves integrating these changes, which can sometimes feel like consequences, into your life and into your concept of who you are.

Who am I now that I can no longer walk? Who am I now that I am no longer a spouse/sibling/parent/friend to this person? Who am I now that I have survived this terrible ordeal?

Who am I?

#

Acceptance, I am beginning to believe, requires a generous amount of compassion for the self. Because as you sort out who you are in this new landscape, you are bound to find wounds and doubts and weaknesses and regrets. You probably won’t like everything you see.

But until you can love this new self, including any perceived drawbacks, including the tender and misshapen bits, I wonder if the process of acceptance can be completed.

I suspect it can’t.

#

So then. When you are grieving, know this. It might be hard to remember, even impossible in this moment, but. You are still a beautiful and worthwhile individual.

You still shine with the light of a thousand stars.

Photo Credit: Skiwalker79 via Compfight cc

Photo Credit: Skiwalker79 via Compfight cc

Read Full Post »

I’m writing this on Monday, the 16th. Today is the five-year anniversary of bringing Nala home from the shelter.

Here are the two of us on that happy day:

I look so thrilled.

I look so thrilled.

Anyone who has seen the two of us together knows how devoted we are to each other. And Nala is great at bringing out my inherent silliness. My quirky relationship with her has inspired much gentle teasing over the years…and then it began to rub off. I am no longer the only person who tells Nala she is only six. (I remind her of her age because I feel her grasp of numbers and time isn’t the strongest. And because it entertains me every single time.)

20140611_200058

Sometimes I call Nala my Wisdom Dog. Her life is relatively simple, and it’s all about love. She is sad when I leave, and she is beside herself with joy when I come home. She is enthusiastic about making new human friends. She gets so much happiness from rolling around on the carpet and chasing her cow around the room and licking her already completely clean Kong. She takes pride in her fierce barking that protects our apartment from strange noises. She is a happy little dog, and watching her be happy reminds me of all the things I have to be happy about too.

20140610_143510

Nala is my best friend. I don’t mean that in a sad, isolated kind of way; I have so many lovely people in my life, and they are each special to me. But I spend the most time with Nala; she is here all day while I work, she is here at night when I go to bed. She is here when I write, here when I’m bouncing up and down with excitement, here when I cry. She is a dog, which means there are so many parts of me she can never really understand. But she knows some essential part of me better than anyone else.

20140520_185538

I have often said that adopting Nala is one of the best decisions I’ve made. Every decision in life has its tradeoffs, and this is no exception. But when it comes down to having an easier time finding a place to live versus having Nala in my life, I don’t hesitate. She enriches my life beyond calculation with her presence.

20140527_100720

Nala teaches me how to love every day, and that is a beautiful thing.

Best friends.

Best friends.

Read Full Post »

It has been a grim few weeks.

This morning I painted my nails purple and sparkly to commemorate a little girl who died of cancer on her sixth birthday and to support my close friend who is grieving her loss.

20140611_154412

When I first thought of painting my nails, I almost decided not to do it. I thought, do I really want to think of something so sad whenever I look down at my hands? As if the last week and a half hasn’t been hard enough?

And then I thought, of course I want to do it. This is what it is to love, and this is what it is to be human.

#

I first met Jay Lake when he’d already been fighting cancer for some time. I’d heard tons of stories about him, and I’d passed him in convention hallways. I put off reading his blog because I knew it was all about cancer, and my mom died of cancer, so I thought it might be too much for me.

But then I finally got the chance to spend some real time with him at my first ConFusion. And I began reading his blog. And we became friends. And at the time I thought, do I really want to open myself up to becoming friends with someone who is this sick? Do I really want to allow the possibility of the pain of losing someone I’ve come to care about?

And then I thought, of course I want to do it. It is worth it to me to have the chance to know this incredible person.

#

I’ve been falling down a lot lately. Part of that is because I’m still learning, and part of it is because I’m practicing and practicing requires a fair amount of failure. Part of it is simple fatigue.

And part of it is because this is what happens when I don’t wall myself off from the rest of the world. This is part of what it means to care. So I fall down, and then I get up, and then I fall down, and I get up again. And then I fall down, and I fall down again before I’ve had a chance to get up in between, which is a special brand of awful.

And then I get up.

#

There is a part of me that thinks the best thing ever would be if everything about my life was just easier. That this should be my supreme goal for my life. That if everything were easier, then I’d be very happy and I could stop trying all that hard and enjoy a nice coast through the next decade or two.

I think I want everything to be easy.

But when I look at the choices I make, it is obvious that this isn’t actually what I want at all. I don’t pick the easy choices. I’ve never made a habit of picking the easy choices. I majored in music, I moved to another country, I started my own business, I started writing seriously, I’ve changed huge swathes of my life.

I became friends with Jay Lake. And I painted my fingernails purple for a little girl I never got to meet.

#

This is what it is to create meaning. This is what it is to be human.

This is what it is to love.

Read Full Post »

I hung up pictures in my apartment this weekend, the last step of turning it into a home.

#

A friend told me that what made my place into a home was not merely the items it contains, but the deliberation with which the items have been placed.

The items, of course, are important as well, but I’m the only one who knows the complete story they tell.

#

The tapestry from Thailand hangs over the couch. I bargained for it in the Night Market in Chiang Mai, deeply uncomfortable with the idea of having to haggle. But I wanted this tapestry for my apartment, and I was alone, and I launched into the fray, emerging with this beautiful piece of art.

#

Part of home.

Part of home.

#

The hand-woven red rug from Egypt lies untidily on the carpet in front of the TV.  Egypt, my first and so far only foray into Africa. I wrote much of The Academy of Forgetting on this rug.

#

The dragons pose on either side of the TV. I brought one home from Cornwall when I was in college, a symbol of my new-found resolve and courage.

#

A stuffed elephant holding a big heart, having improbably survived a host of purges, has made a new home for itself among my travel books. I thought it was cheesy when I received it years and years ago as a Valentine’s Day present, and I still think it’s ridiculous, and yet there it sits.

#

A framed photo of Nala. Books and more books and sheet music. A warm soft blanket in a welcoming heap on the couch. A painting from my childhood hung over the console: if you look closely, you can see where the artist painted in my dog Muffin, waiting under the tree for the picture me to get out of the picture schoolhouse. Sparkly coasters from last summer in France scattered across two tables. The board game bookshelf, almost completely filled. Aprons in an untidy heap on top of the refrigerator, along with the cookbook filled with cookie recipes and an empty cookie tin from Christmastime, red and green and yellow.

#

I could walk you around my house, and I could touch each item, and I could tell you what it means to me. Souvenir means to remember. It’s not the items that matter; it’s the memories they allow me to keep. It’s the stories they whisper almost inaudibly about who I am and where I’ve come from.

Read Full Post »

Older Posts »

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 1,761 other followers