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Posts Tagged ‘Amy Sundberg’

I am interested in depth.

I was talking to a friend who was sad because she had wanted to spend all day with a close friend of hers, and then that friend booked herself so they’d only have a few hours instead. My friend was sad because this would mean they wouldn’t have a chance to go deep. “We’ll only just have gotten warmed up, and then she’ll have to go,” she said.

I had this conversation as I was planning my LA trip, and as a result I didn’t make as many social plans as I might otherwise have done. I wanted to allow time to relax, get comfortable, and potentially go deep. What I found bore this strategy out: the longer I spent with someone, the deeper we were able to go.

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One reason I like Rainforest is because it encourages depth.

Perhaps this is particularly true of people who you don’t get to see in person all the time, but I found the first couple of hours was usually spent with general catching up, some small talk, and just kind of remembering what it was like to be together. Then the conversation would gradually deepen, circle around, come back again, deepen some more, repeat a few times. The longer the amount of time, the deeper we could go.

What do I mean by deep here? Just by seeing each other in the first place, my friends and I were strengthening our connection to each other. But depth is when you move beyond small talk, beyond what you’d say to more or less anybody. Depth is when there are no more pat answers. Depth is where surprises happen, and reveals. Depth is when we say things that are scary. Depth is when we really learn who the other person is, beyond their basic preferences and interests and obvious personality traits.

Depth is the experience of sharing what it is to be human, and what it is to be this specific human right now.

Just as depth takes a bunch of time to foster in any given interaction, it also takes time to develop in any given friendship. Perhaps if you meet someone in a particularly intense circumstance (Clarion, anybody?), you can move into depth more quickly than normal. But more often you’re acting on a mere feeling that depth might be possible here if you invest enough of yourself. Sometimes that feeling pays off, and sometimes it never does. To find out, you have to take time.

The people with whom I am closest all have this quality of depth. I never grow tired of hearing about their lives and what they’re thinking and feeling. When I’m in their presence, I feel something inside of me relax. Thank goodness we can be real together, I’m thinking. Thank goodness I don’t have to put on an act to make them comfortable.

Thank goodness we can love each other for who we are.

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“Live the questions now. Perhaps you will then gradually, without noticing it, live along some distant day into the answer.” – Rainer Maria Rilke

I have been re-reading bits of Letters to a Young Poet and then I found this cool site called zenpencils.com that illustrates quotations and poems in a comic-like style, and they recently did this Rilke quotation, and it seemed timely. So here we are. (The latest one they did is a Lang Leav one, which I also highly recommend, especially because I love Lang Leav’s poetry.)

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It’s nice to think about living into an answer, but I think we are always living our questions. And the answers simply lead to more questions. Sometimes life seems to me to be one giant experiment. You can follow blueprints left by other people, some of which are more detailed than others. Or you can strike off on your own and see what happens. But it’s all about questions, starting with the simple “What will happen next?”

I ran into a friend at a party some time ago, and he said he reads the blog from time to time, and he told me how idyllic it seemed, that I got to sit around and ponder the big questions. And I do. That’s exactly what I do. I spend a lot of time sitting around and thinking. So here’s another question for you: Why? Why do I sit around and ponder the big questions? And why do I get to do this? And does it have any outward effect whatsoever?

I’m reading a book about playwriting, and I have learned that the “action” of the play is what the characters want. This idea will be familiar to anyone who has studied any kind of storytelling for more than a few months. (Weeks? I don’t remember, I just remember it is foundational.) So then some of the other questions we live are “What do we want?” and “Are we going to get it?” and “Are we going to keep it?” and “Is it going to change?”

I spent several hours on the phone this past weekend with a friend who is going through a break-up after spending more than twenty years not being single. “Friends aren’t the same,” this person told me. “I feel so alone.” And I felt a jolt of surprise that this was a revelation, even though after twenty years, of course it was. Yes, being single means being alone in a different way. How do we become okay with this? How did I come to this almost benign acceptance of yes, that is really how it is? And then another question: who am I when I’m alone? Who am I when I’m not fulfilling a role that is at least partially defined by my relationship to someone else?

These are questions that have been occupying my spare moments lately. Who am I when I strip everything away? When I put aside relationships to friends, family, a lover? When I subtract job and career and calling? When I suspend my hobbies, my interests? When I forget about my past? When I am no longer concerned with status, power, wealth, influence, and ego? Who am I then?

Who am I then? I am living that question. Maybe nothing, maybe everything. I am present. I am living into answers that will give me more questions, and my curiosity will be my fuel.

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I’ve had some people giving me a hard time for taking my recent vacation in LOS ANGELES, of all places. This is kind of like kicking a puppy dog when she’s really excited to see you, but besides that, they are also wrong.

Los Angeles is a really fun place to take a vacation, you all. Even if you DON’T go to Disneyland with its happiest place on earth tagline, which is closer to the truth than makes me comfortable given that it’s a cheesy corporate slogan. I know that Northern Californians in particular love to hate on Los Angeles, and I certainly haven’t been exempt from this over the years.

But, surprise, surprise, Los Angeles is a big diverse city, and there is a lot of fun stuff to do there. Sure, if you don’t like urban vacations, it won’t be your thing, but since I’m assuming you all already know how I feel about going to London whenever remotely possible, obviously this isn’t an issue for me personally. And yes, the air quality isn’t good, although it didn’t send me into a full-on, I-need-to-stay-in-the-hotel-as-much-as-possible asthma attack like Tel Aviv did, so it’s all about degree. The traffic is also not good, but the traffic in the Bay Area is abysmal as well, so it didn’t feel very different.

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The Getty Museum

Meanwhile, Los Angeles has world-class museums, constant theater and music, lots of amusement parks, and the beach and good weather and all activities those things entail. I thought, maybe I’d like to go to a garden, and so I looked on the internet and there are a whole bunch of amazing gardens (I didn’t end up going to any of them, alas). There is hiking. My friend told me it’s pretty easy to go and see a show being taped (I didn’t do this either). You can see pretty much any movie you want. There is the best French toast I have ever had, and I DO NOT TAKE THIS LIGHTLY.

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I tragically have no photos of the French toast, but I do have a photo of these amazing bazookies.

Of course, I spent a lot of my time with local friends, which made my vacation even better.

The friends I saw in LA can be loosely categorized into two groups. There were my writer friends, and there were my college friends who have known me for a really, really long time. (I also didn’t get to see everyone I would have liked to have seen. Not enough time, but a good reason to go back.)

First the writer friends. There is something so invigorating about being around, I was going to call them creatives, but people get so finicky about the word creative, have you noticed? So instead perhaps I will say storytellers. By storyteller, I mean not only writers of novels and short stories, but also people involved with movies and TV, with dance and theater, with music and the visual arts. I suppose we could also just call them artists and be done with it.

Anyway, I love artists. Most of the artists I have known are so passionate about what they are doing. And writers in particular (although perhaps not as an exception) tend to be introspective, and as introspective individuals they’ve learned how to listen. (Also some of them have learned how to ask really interesting questions, which is so very enjoyable.) And because they listen, one gets the feeling they might actually understand something about you, and there is something so relaxing about being in the presence of someone who sees you. Even if it’s just a part of you. Also they don’t expect you to perform miracles like find a new agent in two weeks or have no feelings whatsoever about your current work-in-progress or make ten million dollars on self-published ebooks. And if you sound like an idiot talking about your work-in-progress, they tend to not hold it against you since they’ve had the same thing happen to them. 

I was a little more nervous about seeing my college friends. Because, well, it had been a while, and I’ve changed. Which led me to suspect they might also have changed. And what if we changed in different directions?

But my nerves were completely unnecessary because seeing my college friends was great too. As it turned out, there’s a reason we’ve kept in touch all these years, and that reason is that we like each other. Yup, not rocket science, I know. And sure, we’ve all changed, and our lives are different than they once were, but what hadn’t changed is how much I care about these people. Honestly, I felt like perhaps I appreciate them now even more than I did in the past.

They reminded me of where I’ve come from, and they showed me how I’ve stayed the same. Yes, I know I’m talking about change all the time and how important it is, in spite of how difficult it is. But not everything has to change, and there is something very sweet about stopping to notice what hasn’t.

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In conclusion, LA is a great place to take a vacation. Hate on it all you like, but I had a wonderful time.

PS: The Wizarding World of Harry Potter is also in LA. Just saying.

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I am tired. Am I allowed to write a blog post about how I’m tired?

Haha, it’s my blog, so of course I am!

Here is a photo of me at 4am on Wednesday morning. I couldn’t sleep because I was too tired and my head was too full. It’s strange how after you’ve spent the last two and a half hours waiting to fall asleep, taking a selfie with your dog seems like a perfectly reasonable thing to be doing.

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Anyway, luckily for me I’m about to go on vacation. I want to be on vacation SO BADLY, and it is about to happen, and this all seems extremely fortuitous.

Now, there are a lot of different kinds of vacation. There is, for example, the relaxing chill out vacation, which is basically me lounging on a chair somewhere beautiful and reading a lot of books. On this type of vacation I also tend to eat a lot and take slow, meandering walks and maybe go swimming.

This is not the type of vacation I’m about to go on. I did think about it, but then everywhere I wanted to go had a Zika warning, and I haven’t had enough time to read enough about Zika to know how worried about it I actually am, so I scratched those destinations off the list. Plus I’ve been working so hard the last two months that I’m not entirely certain what would happen to me if I suddenly came to an abrupt halt and did nothing much. It might be a real shock to the system. It might be like my insomnia, where in the sudden stillness I’d be unable to make my brain shut up. So that’s not what I’m doing.

Instead I’m going to see a bunch of people and I’m going to do a bunch of things, and hopefully I can see and do in a relatively leisurely manner. And I will refuse to go through stuff, lift boxes, or make any decisions about what to keep versus what to throw away. I won’t have to look at my ever-growing array of lists, and I won’t have to write unless I feel like it, and I won’t have to juggle complicated logistics, and if I don’t feel like dealing with feeding myself, there is an IHOP right across from my motel so I can basically live on breakfast food for the next week.

It is going to be the best vacation ever.

I haven’t always taken this type of social vacation, but they tend to be very satisfying. It’s like going to a con except you’re not working the entire time, and you get to see people one-on-one and maybe even in a place that doesn’t require you to shout to be heard, and splitting the check is a lot easier. Basically I get to spend time with people I like a lot and rarely get to see. Nowadays the internet is very helpful for keeping in touch, but nothing beats the occasional face-to-face interaction for maintaining connections, if you can manage it.

I sound so practical about this, but really I am very excited. I’ve been looking forward to this so much! Anyway, next week there will be no blog posts, just me being excited and enjoying my vacation.

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Today is April 26th and the traditional time for me to write about my mom, on the anniversary of her death.

Last year my grief over my mom’s loss was weighing heavily on me. In retrospect, that was probably caused at least in part by the fact I was writing a book at the time that was all about grief and a teenager’s loss of her mother. In writing it, I was also remembering what it had been like when the grief was fresher.

This year, in contrast, my grief has been quiet. The book I’m writing right now has very little to do with grief, or mothers, or death. It is about other things.

But I have been thinking about the past because of my massive clean-out of stuff that is currently in progress. (Yes, it is still in progress. I just brought another packed carload to Goodwill yesterday, after spending another good portion of the weekend cleaning things out.  At this point I think I am fairly close to calling it good and stopping, but we shall see.)

I have always had a fraught relationship with my mom’s remaining stuff. It feels like a limited resource because she will never have any more stuff, and it also feels like all I have left of her.

I’m pretty sure this is false. It is just stuff. The reason I care about this stuff is because of the memories I’ve attached to it. But it is the memories that are what I actually have left. Memories and genetics, I suppose. The stuff is valuable in that it prompts memories I might otherwise lose. And that is why it is this stuff, stuff that belonged to my mom or that is generally from my childhood, to which I am ultimately most attached.

I don’t actually care that much if I remain attached to these objects. It would be great to be able to get rid of more of them, I suppose. But the really important thing to leave behind is not so tangible.

There is a sense of doom that pervades life after a troubled childhood. There is a fear that perhaps some things cannot be transcended, that there is an inevitability to the patterns played out by your parents, and their parents before them, and their parents before them, and back back back beyond living memory. Perhaps some people do not notice these dynamics playing out, but for those of us who want more from life than what we’ve seen in our families, this awareness is inescapable.

So then, it is this doom I wish to toss into the dumpster. Because we can make our own choices, we can educate ourselves, and we can reach higher. We can do better. It is not easy, this daring to strive for more, but it is possible.

If there is one thing this last few months have taught me, it’s that I can lay this idea of doom to rest. I can bury it in a field under an apple tree, a cautionary tale I won’t want to visit very often. Because the doom is heavy and clammy and it tries to pull you back down into the undertow. To believe in the doom is to give it power.

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Photo Credit: naismithd via Compfight cc

But it is not true. I have reached this anniversary of my mom’s death knowing that I do not have to become her. I do not have to live her life. I have made some of the same mistakes she made, yes, and who I am has been informed by who she was, for good and for bad. But I drive my own story and it’s already clear I won’t have the same ending.

I don’t know what my ending will look like, but I do know it will be all my own.

The relief of disowning the doom is profound.

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A friend of mine said something wise on Facebook the other day. Basically he observed how any attempt to make a change in our lives gives us a rush, and then we think maybe we don’t actually need to make the change after all because everything is pretty okay.

THIS IS SO TRUE. The resistance to change is real, and it is insidious, like the Dark Side. Way more insidious, actually, because it’s hard to believe any Dark Side practitioners aren’t somewhat aware that it’s evil. The symbology around it is simply too strong, almost as if it were expressly created to be a really stark good versus evil kind of thing. Hmm. Whereas not changing often seems perfectly innocuous. 

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Photo Credit: R. Lex-M via Compfight cc

In any case, I digress. Change is generally a pain in the butt. It tends to take a lot of effort and energy and time, plus the patience and grace to deal with the inevitable screw-ups along the way. Also it’s scary because you are moving from something you do know, however unpleasant it might (or might not) be, to something you do not know.

I have been tempted so many times to stop at the beginning of a change. Not only tempted, but also flat-out done it. I’ve stopped. I’ve thought, it’s not so bad, and simply carried on. Occasionally this line of thinking works out pretty well, usually when the change wasn’t very well thought-out to begin with. Often I regret it later, at which point I’ve really only succeeded at postponing the change and increasing my suffering in the meantime.

This is perhaps one reason why, while I can take a painfully long time to make a big decision, once I’ve made it, I usually want to implement it as quickly as possible. Yes, I hate waiting, but also I find the longer I have to wait, the more time I have to change my mind or second-guess myself, and then third-guess myself, and then fourth-guess myself….and then think, well, things are going okay, actually, so is this even really necessary?

Of course, part of the reason things are going okay might be because I’ve made the decision, but that can be hard to see when I’m right in the thick of things.

I find that making a change takes a fair amount of dedication. Sometimes that dedication comes easily. For example, I went dancing one time, and I said this is love, and I am going to go dancing every week now, and so I did. Even though taking up dancing caused me a fair amount of physical pain (I remember a morning when I was uncertain I could get out of bed) and some social discomfort (getting strangers to practice with you when you know you suck isn’t the easiest thing ever), I went every week, and that was that. Even now I have my favorite dance in red on my calendar. (Red means don’t mess with this, it is particularly important for your well-being.)

Other times that dedication can be difficult to find or maintain. This tends to be particularly true if you feel that by making the change, you are losing something. The pain of that loss mingles with the difficulty of changing, and it’s so easy to instead think, well, maybe it’s not so bad. Well, maybe I can do this later instead (while secretly hoping that later never comes). Well, maybe something will magically change without me doing anything (hahaha sigh).

Incidentally, this is one reason why it’s never a good idea to try to change other people. It’s hard enough to find this dedication if it’s something you think you want, let alone if it’s something someone else wants but you’re not entirely on board with. The desire for change generally has to come from the person changing in order for it to stick.

While the resistance to change can be a powerful force, I do think it loses some of that power once we’re aware of it. Then instead of letting the rush of change convince us to stop moving forward, we can use it to fuel our dedication and hold the course.

In other words, the Dark Side isn’t inevitable. It is merely very shiny (Force lightning!) and tempting.

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In fact, at times they have been fairly noteworthy for their badness. People have been quick to offer silver linings, which, thanks, I’ve got that covered. But sometimes you’ve just got to accept that some bad stuff is happening, and that in the present moment, things are difficult.

And I felt a lot of doubt. What, I thought, was the point of putting so much effort into all this personal development if it was still possible for me to be taking this many serious emotional hits within a short period of time? I was fighting disillusionment and asking A LOT of questions.

Here is what I learned:

I learned that you can’t control how other people behave, how other people treat you, or a whole host of potential crap that life can throw at you. You can only control how you choose to respond to these situations.

I learned that sometimes people deeply disappoint you, and that sucks, and there’s nothing you can do about it except take care of you.

I learned what it feels like to say a more effortless no. I’ve been saying so much no lately. No, this is not acceptable. No, we can’t just ignore this. No, you can’t erase my reality. No, I can’t do that thing. No, I can’t deal with complicated logistics right now. No, I don’t have the emotional bandwidth for that. No, I can’t make yet another decision right now. No, I’m not going to show up when you’re not. No no no no no.

It turns out it’s a lot easier to say no when your plate is full to capacity. Because then some of the requests (and demands) take on a slightly absurd quality or are just obviously impossible, and those are the ones to which I say no. Almost always without guilt, I might add. Which is fucking fantastic.

I learned that how someone else chooses to treat me does not have to affect how I feel about myself.

I learned that some mistakes are correctable.

I learned that some people surprise you in a great way.

I learned the power of being done.

I learned that even when you’re having trouble feeling grateful, the reasons for you to be grateful are still right there.

I let go of a lot of things I’d been holding onto for a loooong time. And I stopped trying so hard to make everyone except me comfortable. And guess what! It turns out I like being comfortable too. Who knew.

I learned that there are lots of reasons to get your life in order, even though that doesn’t mean you’ll be immune to trouble. Because whatever is happening on the outside, you’ve still got whatever you’ve built on the inside. And even through these last few hard months, there have been so many bright spots. There’s this year’s book, and I know I’m not supposed to say this, but I love this book so hard, and its imperfections and difficulties only make me love it more. There’s Nala, who decided on her own to morph into a lap dog in order to better support me. There’s some of my best friends, both local and not, both new and old, who have shown up in all kinds of ways. There are concerts and books and musicals and plays and albums and T.V. shows and museum exhibits. And dancing. I  had one of the best dancing nights of my life last weekend.

And there’s planning for a future I am incredibly excited about.

At one point back in March, one of my close friends said something like, “Amy, I know things are hard right now, but I think you’re going through a big period of change, and it’s going to be amazing for you in the end.” As soon as he said that, I felt a lot better. Change was all around me, and it seemed so dark, and I was so tired. But being reminded that the light was there, that maybe it wasn’t even that far away anymore, I tightened my jaw and I kept going.

And now here I am. There is sun on my face. And more clearly than ever before, I know who I am and what I want. No wishy-washiness, no compromises, no vision clouded by fear and misplaced empathy.

All right then. Let’s do this thing.

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