How to meet neighbors

Or make them avoid you. Could go either way.

“Feel, he told himself, feel, feel, feel. Even if what you feel is pain, only let yourself feel.”

—P.D. James

In the name of personal responsibility, I have often diminished my pain. (Yes I realize that doesn’t make actual sense but it seemed to make sense at the time.)

I have ignored my own hurts, dismissed my own needs to the point of neglect, and, very often, not allowed myself to feel offense, anger, sadness, and grief.

I'm also a big fan of using humor to deflect attention that might pull my defenses down, and to distract myself and others from the idea that I have any pain at all.

What happens?

Does it work?

Does the pain diminish?


Heal itself?

Go away?

Ha, haha, no. No, it does not.

The pain remains, I think, until it gets acknowledged. I don't know all the psychology of it, but repressed emotions don't disappear, and the soul is not satisfied unless it can experience and express what’s going on in there. All of it.

Maybe the one thing the soul cannot abide is insincerity.

Or maybe it’s undercooked potatoes.

Anyway, what happens when I don't care for my own pain is that I wait on other people to do it for me.

I pass along the burden of recognizing my own hurts, and healing them, to someone else.

I wait for someone else to acknowledge what I'm going through, so it can be seen, can be validated, can be expressed and felt.

I seek recognition of my pain from outside of myself, but the truth is…

…that never quite does the trick.

One of the most healing things I've learned to do lately is talk to myself.

In moments of overwhelming emotion, I sit still a moment and have a little conversation.

I try to do it quietly.

"Hey," I tell myself, "this is tough, huh? You're really hurting."

"Yeah," I answer back.

"Wow, I see that," I say. "There's a lot of pain in there. You're trying so hard. You feel so sad right now. It's really heavy. This is sad, this moment, and it hurts."

"Yeah," I sniffle back at myself. And I take a deep breath. And strangely enough, I feel better.

Then I glance up and wave awkwardly at the neighbor one balcony over, who's looking at me kinda weird. If you're going to adopt this practice, I recommend holding your phone to your ear while doing so.

🎂 In a non-music suggestion for audio to put into your ears, here’s a recent podcast episode I LOVED and I think I have never said that about any podcast ever because usually I kind of hate them. Anyway it’s Tim Ferris interviewing Anne Lamott and it’s full of goodness.

A unique flavor of happiness

What is Tolstoy even talking about

I like learning about how people do life.

Their daily routines, work habits, where they eat, who they hang out with, when they go to sleep.

The mundane, the details, the dull, gear-driven processes that hold up the shiny moments.

I love that shit.

There are similarities, of course: everybody eats, and sleeps, and does some sort of work. The work might be a job, or school, or a hobby, or unpaid work, or a creative expression, or a form of care taking, or—this one comes up often—the work of avoiding work. Everybody has insecurities and coping mechanisms and secrets and blind spots and inefficiencies and hopes and fears.

The similarities reveal how very much alike we all are.

There are big differences, too. And I love the big differences because they reveal that there are a lot of ways to be okay.

Leo Tolstoy said that, “Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.”

And I think he was completely wrong.

I think he was wrong because there are only a handful of things that matter. They have a consistent, important effect on the quality of life. If you get at least some of those things working for you, you’re going to be okay. Even in times of great unhappiness, situations beyond your control, tragedy, illness, worldwide pandemic, etc., you’ll be okay. The hum of happiness might get drowned out by the terrible/sad/scary things, but it won’t disappear. You’ll find pockets where you can hear it again. And you will adjust, and heal, and keep going, and the hum will grow louder again.

If you get some of those things that matter working for you, they’ll carry you into a life with happiness and it can look a lot of different ways. Because there are infinite things that don’t matter, and if you get things that do matter in place, you can play and adjust and experiment and take some things out and add some other things in and change the ratios and create your very own flavor of happiness.

Unhappiness, I think, is different. It’s not a color but an absence of color. It’s not a flavor but a blandness. It’s not a force; it’s an emptiness, a lack. And no matter what coating you paint over your unhappiness, the core of it—the flavor, the essence—is the same.

Unhappiness is like a sponge that absorbs everything it touches, turning it all into the same murky, sour goo.

Happiness is like a canvas that can be painted with new colors and shapes.

🥤 Have a soft drink. Also I’m not sure exactly what’s in the handful of things that matter but one of them is definitely a dog.

I really like mornings

Maybe it's the coffee

“She said to go ahead and feel the feelings. I did. They felt like shit.”

―Anne Lamott

In the morning, all the things I worried about last night seem silly and ridiculous. I'm outside. There's sunshine, kids' voices, trees, birds, traffic. Everything seems doable. I’m walking, moving forward literally and metaphorically.

But tonight may bring back the feeling—as it often does so—that everything is wrong and I am wrong and the ways I am wrong that I can’t quite see are the ways that will fuck everything up the most, and it could happen anytime, and it will, and it will come without warning.

There’s another feeling which is like, I don’t know, existential dread bathed in loneliness and then given a shiny shellac coating of guilt.

I try to remember that the feelings come and the feelings go.

Purpose is a context. It’s the difference between chaos and growth.

Change without stability or clarity or direction, change without purpose is chaos. I've had enough of that.

Change with purpose, even when it dips and loops and shuffles and circles, goes up and down, one step forward one step back, may feel like nothing but it is something. Something significant. It’s going forward, maybe slowly slowly slowly, but still: forward. Out of one thing and into another thing. Growth.

The thing is to not try to look ahead. Not too much. I'm going somewhere. I've hung my hat on it — on being okay, by myself. On getting out and staying out of the mud. On not being stuck. On walking my path. On going forward.

I teeter between hope and grief, between looking for positive signs and trying to prepare myself for the worst. But I think, no matter what, I've already been through the worst in many ways. Not that the pain is over (life is pain, princess) but I know I'll be okay even through the pain, whatever pain, and that makes a huge difference.

Part of me grieves and shudders and wails. Part of me says, practically, Well, okay then. Let's put that narrative to rest and see what better thing we can write.

🥪 The kids are back in school next week and I may or may not be counting down the hours. Yesterday we went to a New Family Welcome for Lily’s school and I remembered how much I don’t enjoy those sort of events. Here’s a remix of a great song.

Solid life advice

Shamelessly stealing and using, thanks

I asked for your best life lessons and now it’s only fair that I share them. Here are some of my favorites, along with a few other life advice tidbits I’ve stumbled over in the last few weeks.

And as for the several hundreds of you who didn’t send me any advice, it’s not too late. Hit reply. 💌

from Elizabeth:

Love Alone, Is Life.

And Life most Sweet, As Heart To Heart, Speaks Kindly, When We Meet And Part.


from Chris Guillebeau:

“Adventure is for everyone. All you have to do is put one foot in front of the other.

When misadventure strikes, you can panic or you can figure it out. One of these solutions is better than the other.”

from David:

“One thing I learnt recently was to keep a travel coffee maker [or tea if that's your vibe] with me at all times. This is because one of my mentors taught me that regardless of the situation; if you're in a rush or a bit bombarded by life and when you see a good view, stop yourself and take it in. The chances are that whatever has got you wound up isn't going to be solved by you worrying. So stop for a bit.”

from Alice Boyes:

“Say it, rather than assume it doesn’t need saying.”

from BillyG:

“Respect goes a long way - toward trust, understanding, attitude, positive interactions, and maybe even toward creating some patience. Respect goes a long way.”

from some post I saved on Instagram and wrote down and then deleted so I don’t remember who said it but it’s good:

“Cutting ties with people who consistently hurt you isn’t enough; you must also cut ties with the version of yourself that accepted that behavior in the first place.”

I think it was either Dr. Annie Kaszina or Dr. Nicole LePera

from Pete:

“As far as life lessons go I have far too many to count, many of which I still need to work on myself.  Having said that, here’s one of my big ones:

Don’t waste your life pursuing the approval of others, when the only one you really need is your own.”

from Patrick:

“Saying “no” is far better than saying “yes” to something you know you should have said “no” to."

I get a lot of great life advice from Patrick.

from Daniel:

“This period of time I am in, this phase, that I let go all the things which don't work and don't serve my true self or to put it differently; I let go all those things that are keeping me caged and immobilised, in the same unhealthy loop. At the same time, I stay with myself, accept, love, and honour life around me. What a journey. 

Anyway, I guess one thing of what I have learned so far is that life is simply, torturously, interestingly wonderful.”

🌸 Torturously interestingly wonderful! I love Daniel’s last line there, and it makes me thing of this song which I think I have shared before but anyway listen to it in case you missed it the first time, it’s great. “You can find the joy in every agonizing moment of existence on this planet.”

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