Monday, September 19, 2016

How we connect when we serve

Last night, my daughter asked me a question, kind of a simple question. She said, "Did you like being a hotel manager?" Immediately, I said "No."
Then, I gave it a little more thought.
The real answer is sometimes I liked it. Most of the time I was bored out of my skull and there were times, I outright hated it but I got to thinking about the parts I liked and the parts that made a difference and spilled over into other parts of my life.
The parts I liked were these. I like learning new things, I like feeling competent at my job. I take pride in doing things really well and the thing about being a hotel manager or a restaurant manager, a server, a bartender, all the things in the hospitality business was that I did those things really well. I excelled at those jobs and I liked doing things that I do very well. People didn't want me to quit. I was almost always offered obscene raises (relatively speaking) to stay in those jobs and keep doing them. But I couldn't stay happy. It got old, it got stale, it became the same. The challenge was mostly gone and once it wasn't a new thing I was learning, I realized I was just miserable again because I had only been distracted from the thing I was supposed to do.
But back to the parts I liked. I loved working with people. I loved meeting new people. One of my favorite things to do was to do something that made someone really, really happy. So, whether it was getting them to a hotel bed in a beautiful room where they were comfortable or serving them a warm and delicious meal or giving them a perfectly created drink that that person had been craving all day. I loved that. If someone was unhappy, I would work extra hard to find that magical thing that would create satisfaction somehow. I would move them to another room that was awesome. I would bring them a luscious piece of dessert. Sometimes, all I would do was just care enough to listen to the problem and make a safe space to communicate it.
In my job, I would create a connection and create a happiness that had not existed before. I would be a conduit to serve something greater in this world. Sure, a lot of times our interactions were brief and seemed meaningless but I knew that a smile to a weary traveler, it meant something, if even just for a moment and understanding the value of that was one of the reasons I was good at my job.
It would wear me down, though. It's really hard being that empathetic in a job like that. People will just take and take all I gave and I would be left swimming in pain sometimes.
I got the residue of their anger, their frustration, their snappish rude behavior. And often I took it home with me.
And when I would reach the point where I was numb or desensitized to everything at the job, I would often leave, both as an act of self protection or because I was no good to the public doing a half ass job.
So, why couldn't I keep it up? Well, it's exhausting and it isn't my true calling after all. I have always known this, but when my daughter asked me that question the other day, I thought about it in a way I had never really realized before.
When I make movies, direct or act in plays, write a story...I'm doing the same thing. I'm connecting to the world in a way that makes people happy. I'm using all of me and what I am good at to create good feelings in others. I am directly connecting with people in a way that makes them smile or cry or think or feel.
We used to have regulars in the restaurant and business regulars at the hotel. In the hotel, they were away from home and I was often fascinated with the way people would behave when they were far from their home life. Sometimes, the railroad guys would come and sit in the lobby and tell me their stories. I loved that.
When certain businessmen would checkout, they would ask me to take off the $50 in dirty movie charges off their bill so they could pay cash. No one needs their boss to see that on the bill, and I would do so with a poker face, all the while thinking, he didn't look the type or he looks exactly like he would be totally into that. And I would scroll past the titles, "Barely Legal" or "Hot Nurses" because you never know what someone is hiding anonymously far away from home.
And I would think to myself about how many stories there were to tell that lived inside these people, how many people were just lonely or meeting up or finally coming together after a long separation. Valentine's Day was an adventure, so many high hopes of a perfect night and there I was the quiet witness to what goes wrong and what goes right.
I realized that in many ways hospitality is another art that connects us. I still love to cook for people, to create food that makes them warm and satisfied, to serve a cold drink or a warm hot chocolate. I want to create something superior that will connect me to the world in more ways. This is how I serve humanity. I have been called to a higher calling, but in the simple ways I was taught to do this. This is why serving is worthwhile. It has taught me tolerance, patience and to manage lots of personalities. I have been taught to quietly listen to the troubles of others and try to find a way to fix a problem, and if that cannot be done, just to listen and comfort. There are times when all you have to do is just understand.
It also has shown me that people who are operating from the ego and not from the place of connection, these people are missing out on that real joy. If you're in it for the applause, the attention, the superficial- that won't last. To create and share, that is when I realized I was on track. Even the solitary writer puts pen to paper to push her thoughts out into the world. I do this to serve and to connect.
In a way, every thing I have ever done has been to serve and connect to the world, to share in a higher consciousness, to understand humanity better and when I make people happy in some way, I find extra joy. There are lots of stories out there waiting to be told, I may not have time for all of them but I am grateful to have witnessed them all.

Tuesday, September 6, 2016

How the Silence changed Everything

In 2002, I finally got to do my study abroad trip that I had wanted to do for a long time. I was so excited, three whole months in London, all the theater I could handle in a big city. No car. No phone. No kids. No television. I was beyond thrilled to be doing this. My mom had just the month before purchased a flat in Central London since she worked over there so much and she was letting me stay there for the duration of my time in London. This was great. I didn't have to stay in the dorms and I didn't have to have a roommate. Part of the reason I was doing this was to experience what I had missed out on.
When you get pregnant at 17, there isn't any time to transition into adulthood. You just do it fast and you get it while crying in a corner and feeling overwhelmed in between taking care of a newborn and dealing with your parents and the rest of the world telling you that you better grow up now. Which I did. Without really even thinking about it. And I started college before my son was even a year old because I knew I had to get my shit together or just be one of those single mom statistics. One day I looked up and noticed everyone else was having a very different college experience than I was. Parties. Late night conversations of the soulful figuring things out variety. Self discovery. Epic mistakes that didn't involve you messing up your kid's life while trying to figure out your own.
I had gone from a turbulent and traumatic household with my parents to a turbulent and traumatic year of living with my drug addicted, verbally and physically abusive boyfriend and several certifiably insane roommates to getting pregnant and moving back in with my parents when I was about six months along. I brought two cats and a bunch more emotional trauma than I had left with. From one loud household to another and then back again, this was my life.
I had dropped out of college twice and after a long break, a terrible job, and many painful changes, I was back. My life now included four children of my own and a loving and stable relationship. I no longer lived with my parents and suddenly I was desperate to finish my degree. This was my third and final attempt to finish college. I would successfully end up with a degree, graduating on the Dean's List with a solid GPA to be proud of. But it was a rocky road to there.
My college experience was not like the others. I could never start my homework before ten pm, after the last child had given up the last gasp of "One more drink of water." and me yelling "Get back in that bed right now!" Luckily, I was a night owl naturally and I loved being in college. I loved my teachers, I loved my classes, I loved learning and reading and writing everything. And I was old enough to appreciate my teachers as peers and not some mature people who intimidated me.
When I got on the plane to London, right after we hit cruising altitude, I started to cry. Part joy. Part terror. Part guilt. I would miss my kids, though I knew they were in very good hands. Between my long time babysitter, my parents and my boyfriend, and the rest of the village, those kids were going to be more than fine.
This is one of those things men do all the time. They go out of town for business or school or any number of reasons and no one blinks. It's different for moms. Probably always will be. I hope not but the fact is people just look down on you. It happens. I don't care. I've never been a PTA mom or a traditional mom and I wasn't about to start caring what anyone thought of me. It's too exhausting. I had already been a teen mom, a statistic, a person to be judged one way or another. I was beyond giving a damn. My life was what it was. I could only live it the way I thought was best. Trying to please anyone is beside the point.
I waited a long time to do this study abroad. Until I thought things were reasonably stable. I chose the summer program because it was the shortest and would require the least time away from the kids. But, I knew I wasn't going to get points for that! I was still leaving.
Part of the reason I did this was to do this cool theater program in London but I admit, the large part of this was to go back and find that transition path to adulthood that I had missed out on. I was going to be a grown up, with a small apartment, in college, taking care of just me. I was going to live by myself for the very first time in my entire adult life. It was always something that I had felt was missing in my life. And I had given up getting it back. I thought, maybe this is something I will experience when all my kids have moved out and I am on my own. Maybe then it will happen. But more and more desperately I wanted to stop resenting everyone and everything that interfered with my solitude. I wanted some quiet to finish a thought, to write a play, to just leave the house without a multitude of planning babysitters and feeling as if I was stealing time to myself that was limited. I wanted to be able to sleep in the next day or say I feel like going to see a movie without second guessing my ability to for sure get a babysitter or feeling closed in and frustrated because there was never enough time.
I'm sure to some of you, that sounds incredibly selfish. I chose to have kids. I chose to be a single mom. (Let us not even deal with the fact that there was no single father sharing that burden) I didn't opt out of it, I wasn't as careful as I should have been. YES, I get it. I have been suitably punished for having underage, unprotected sex. I do not need anyone to remind me of the consequences of my actions because I lived with those beautiful children every single day. I was responsible and diligent and I made the sacrifices. So- please, spare me the lecture some of you are forming in your brain.
But I am very self aware of needing what I needed no matter what anyone else thought I deserved or should have in my life. And what I needed was a stretched out length of time that was not a vacation. I needed to take care of just myself. I needed to find myself without the noise. I needed to figure out me inside of just me, with no one tugging at me or needing me get the picture.
So, I arrived in London on a Sunday. It was my birthday and for the first time in my life, I spent my birthday alone. I followed the directions my mother gave me about getting from the airport to the flat and dragged all my luggage up the the fifth floor. I put the key in the lock and opened the door to my life for the next three months. I think I did a joyful lap when I first got in the flat. Gone were the tears-- but what was there instead was silence.
The first thing I wanted to do was turn on the television. But there was no television. I was sure there must be a radio but I couldn't find it. Eventually, I did but the batteries were dead. Now I was surrounded by this eerie quiet and I had no idea what to do. London is a huge city. Busy. Populated. But the flat was silent as could be. I could hear no traffic. No chatter. No noisy neighbor. No friendly meow. No ear piercing, crawl up your spine, escalating, vibrating, pound into your brain stem screaming child. Just this dead quiet. You would think I would welcome this. Instead it was causing me stress and anxiety. I needed noise. Where were batteries? What did I have to do to make this radio work? What the hell was this??
I ran around the flat in my exhaustion for twenty minutes thinking there must be batteries. There were not. I finally fell into a fitful nap of frustration with no television to lull me to sleep. I was too exhausted to search the streets for some place that sold batteries. England is not like here. You can't just go to Target for your every need. There is no Target. It took me two solid weeks to find a can opener. I finally discovered one at a hardware store around the corner... but I digress.
This silence, this thing I hated, this thing I was afraid of, this thing I did not understand, it grew on me. Yes, I did find music and noise and a way to live. I learned to cook for one person. I took much pleasure in being able to do my homework any time I wanted but the biggest and most unexpected thing that happened was that I learned to embrace the silence. And in the silence, I found my own thoughts, my own voice, my own needs and desires and quiet yearnings of my soul. I found the answers to the interrupted questions I had been asking myself. I found twenty seven books to read. Sometimes, I just turned off the radio so I could hear the thinking going on in my busy brain. It turns out that silence does not really drown out the world as I feared, but opens your senses wide.
When I returned from London, I was a different woman. I was more confident, more physically strong from all the walking, more thoughtful and more sure. The resentments I had were gone because I had been granted enough time. I'm so glad I had no television to distract me. I'm so glad I didn't really make any friends. I went out to eat by myself. I read the Evening Standard. I went to the theater and movies by myself. Sure, I did a few things with people but mostly I just reveled in how cool it was to just be with me. I felt as if I had finally grown up. Crossed that invisible passage to adulthood. I wasn't hanging on to anything any more. I wasn't just thinking, how long will it be until I can get out by myself again (this is part of what postpartum depression does to you, something I would discover much later), I was spending time enjoying my kids in a way that was a revelation.
Sometimes, when I am on road trips, I deliberately turn off the radio to feel the silence around me. I think through plot points and engage my imagination. I plan out the next day. I access the thing that has me stuck and work it out while I chew it over. The silence changed me. The alone stitched me together. The silence seeped into the cracks in my soul and filled me up. Maybe I would have found another way without that, but I feel strongly that I knew what I was yearning for and what I needed in many ways. But I never suspected my greatest need would be silence.

Friday, September 2, 2016

The Range of Normal

This morning I got on the scale and smiled. The number on the scale, determined by the powers that be, was a number telling me that I am no longer considered overweight. I am now a normal weight for my height. After struggling with my weight for the last ten years when I developed a thyroid problem, this is fantastic. Finally, real progress. From my highest weight, I have lost 41 pounds. This was not easy. It came with ups and downs, some plateaus and a bit of bouncing around but this time, all the way, it has been steady progress. No backsliding. No quitting.
As a person who has spent the majority of her life underweight, having a weight problem is weird for me.
In grade school, I was mocked and teased all the time for being too skinny. I was constantly told to eat (believe me, I ate, I was neither anorexic nor bulimic) Turn sideways and you'll be invisible. A strong wind will blow you away. Have a sandwich. You're a stick. Are you anorexic or what?
I guess I was OR WHAT.
But that was who I was. I was comfortable with her. In spite of was people said about me or how rude they were. I was totally fine with people making fun of me. I understood they were rude and stupid. And it was nothing my real friends would do, so I didn't care. I liked me and I liked who I was. Occasionally, I would kind of wish I was more of a normal weight but for the most part, it was cool, I was good with who I was and what I looked like. I accepted it.
I was the thin girl, the skinny girl. The girl who could have multiple babies and snap back into shape in no time at all. I had a terrible diet. I ate junk food and sweets and probably had an overactive thyroid. I was tired all the time. No energy. The only time I really took care of myself was when I was pregnant or nursing.
In my early thirties I finally gained some weight. Even though I was still considered a normal weight, I was unhappy to not be in the lower range. I guess years of soda drinking had finally caught up to me. Still, it wasn't that bad, I just wasn't comfortable. So I changed my diet and gave up soda and fast food and without too much difficulty I lost about twenty pounds and felt great. I had lots of energy and was eating healthy and feeling great. It changed everything. I became less depressed and was pretty comfortable with who I was. Then, I got pregnant with number five. It was different from all the rest of the pregnancies and I gained a lot of weight. My starting weight was also higher than it was with the rest. So, it was no surprise that after I had the baby, I was pretty big. I wasn't that worried at first. It's the kind of thing that nursing and time and getting more active usually takes care of. And I had already learned how to eat well and keep my body working for me. But nothing worked. So, I joined a gym. I exercised every day averaging two hours a day. I started waitressing again. I lost some weight, things looked good. But I was anxious, tired, frustrated and I couldn't keep the weight off. It kept creeping back. I had to be excessively vigilant and somehow when I had quit smoking, came a vicious sweet tooth that I couldn't keep off me. I felt out of control. I tried all the regular diets. Dr. Oz. South Beach. 17 day diet. I tried trainer and nutritionist recommended diets. I asked my doctor what to do. He tested my thyroid and put me on medication and I thought-- that will be the answer. It will be the end of it. It wasn't.
In all this time, I never overate. My portions were reasonable, though I did have a sweet tooth. That usually consisted of one dessert or one small piece of chocolate. I never binged on anything. This was the way I ate for my whole life and it was never a problem. Sometimes I would get sad and eat more. But never a whole pint of ice cream or an entire pizza or anything crazy like that. Just maybe an extra piece of pie or a second dish of ice cream.
I had no idea what happened to me.
In desperation, I gave up all sweets for two months. I had moderate weight loss. Nothing crazy or great. When my mom got sick, I just gave up trying everything. She needed me and I couldn't focus on myself and I was too sad to even deal with it. But I covered most of this in a different blog.
That is how I got to the place I was.
Here is the thing about this diet. I'm so happy with the lifestyle change that came with it. I just don't much care about being sugar free. It's actually really fine.
I'm happy for having the fat back in my diet and feeling like I am eating really great food.
The thing is, I almost gave up this diet after three weeks. I decided not to weigh myself for five days. I could feel the progress, knew my pants were looser and right out of the gate had lost weight. But after five days I had gained back two pounds. I was really upset. I hadn't done a single thing wrong. No cheating. No varying. I had done all the right things and I had gained weight, anyway. I was ready to just quit. I had been through so many disappointments that I just decided the diet wasn't working and I was failing at it. This was going to be just like all the rest of the diets. Terrible. I started to get depressed. I called my best friend who had been doing this diet for longer and was really getting thin.
She said the best thing. "Push through. It's working. You need to start drinking more water and you'll get rid of that weight. Sometimes your body just takes a minute to reorganize, then you'll start to drop again."
I added about four more glasses of water a day and she was right.
To think I almost gave up. 41 pounds lighter and I almost gave up because of a small setback.
In the last month, I plateaued a little bit. Bounced back and gained some back. I added more activity and drank more water. I pushed through. The scale isn't everything. My clothes continue to get looser. When I exercise, the day after I might weigh a bit more because of inflammation. My body reorganizes and then I have a drop. So, sometimes I go up a little. I push through. I stay the course. I stick to the plan.
I do this because this diet makes me happy and this lifestyle makes me happy. After ten years, I feel that I have a way to finally get rid of the weight that doesn't make me miserable. And I am starting to like the way I look in the mirror. I started this diet nine months ago. It was my new years resolution. The first year I have been able to really keep it when it came to weight loss.
PUSH THROUGH. Don't lose hope. Keep trying. Find your solution. I just don't know if this is right for everyone but it sure is right for me. I'm still quite a few pounds from my ultimate goal but this is my first goal today. To find normal. To know that TODAY I am a normal weight. I am no longer overweight. I am not there any more. That is behind me. Finally. And hopefully, because you never know what the future holds. I learned a lot by going through this. It is humbling. I never made assumptions about people I knew that were overweight but now I really feel that I understand in a whole different light.
I don't know that I am grateful for this experience yet. Perhaps someday I will be. Perhaps not. Life gives you experience whether you want them or not. I just push through.