the recovering lawyer.

rantings, ravings & reflections

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like the plague

If it’s true that “[t]he thing all writers do best is find ways to avoid writing.” (Alan Dean Foster), then consider me a top-notch writer these last few months.

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Can we just say I’ve been waiting?

There’s this term, writer’s block.  I don’t believe in it.  I don’t like to even hear the term.  I mean, you can’t be writing constantly because you’d be… insane.  So, there must be periods of non-writing.  And then it’s just a matter of, how do you view them?  And I just view them as, ‘I am waiting.’  I’m waiting for something to come along.  And I think that’s kind of a healthy way rather than thinking, ‘I’m not writing, that means I’ll never write.’ -Billy Collins, Poet (more from him here.)

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needing a fix

I’m a fixer.  I always have been.  It’s a blessing and a curse, and it has taken me years to learn active listening skills and get out of the mindset of wanting (NEEDING) to fix things and solve problems when friends come to me to talk about challenges.  And I wouldn’t say I’m cured of fixer-syndrome, I just try really hard to manage it.

I do not, however, treat myself with the same respect.  Whatever is wrong for me, must be fixed, and it must be fixed RIGHT. NOW.  

My particular challenges of the moment, however, cannot be fixed simply, and in most instances, we’re at the mercy of time.  They’re the sorts of things that will pretty much have to “work themselves out.”  That doesn’t really work for a control freak like me, so instead, I start fixing non-broken things to feeling like I’m DOING something about all of this uncertainty around me.

Now before all y’all begin to panic (Mom…), my future husband and I are golden.  In fact, I can’t imagine facing all of the uncertainty and the pouring rain without him.

So, unnecessary fixes.  Case in point: Last week, in the midst of meeting, I decided with certainty that I was going to perm my hair.  This would save me not only 15 minutes of “hairdo time” every morning, but also save me the agony of daily indecision: Curly or straight?  Straight or curly?

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There’s a reason they say you’re not supposed to make more than two significant life changes, good or bad, at the same time.  They say this because people have imploded from the stress of managing more than two significant life changes.  Yes, imploded.  There one day, and poof, gone the next.  Uncertainty-induced implosion.

We’re juggling at least four significant life changes over here… and we (dogs included) have spent the last few weeks just trying not to implode.

On top of the big life stuff, little things keep getting thrown in there… like a serious gas leak in our “new” (but really very old), temporary apartment, resulting in no hot water or stove for days (hopefully not weeks).  Or the naughty little puppy finally getting to the point of needing the in-home dog whisperer intervention.  Or, finding out that after two months, they screwed up my health insurance, and I have exactly 4 days to get it figured out or risk losing coverage.  Or FINALLY getting the meeting I’ve been working toward for eight months, only to come down with food poisoning* and spend the entire night before huddled around the toilet.  

So, I fully recognize that I’m fixing the things I actually have control over in an effort to make myself feel better about the things I cannot change**.  Fortunately, I have a hairdresser who interrogates me about the other life goings-on before she agrees to execute on any hair-brained ideas.  

Perm averted.  Implosion pending.

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*Notably, I misdiagnosed myself with carbon monoxide poisoning, given the gas leak problems, and convinced myself that we may be living in our tent in the backyard if these things kept up.

** Yes, I recognize the resemblance to the Serenity Prayer.

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the best way

It is a great day when you wake up next to your favorite person in the world, with eight days of well-earned vacation ahead.

It is the best day when that person asks you to spend the rest of your life with him.

I knew exactly 17 days into my relationship with JP that I unequivocally wanted to marry him.  I remember it like it was yesterday… Aside from the time spent at work, we had been together every second since we met that first fateful evening at a dive bar a few blocks from my house, during Monday Night Football for the home team (a team that neither of us cared anything about).

I had never shown my hand that quickly, and the part of me that was terrified at being the more vulnerable person in the relationship was quickly hushed by the part that had never felt this way before. 

I arrived at work that morning, 17 days into whatever it was we were, not nearly as groggy as four hours of sleep would suggest.  I opened my email to find that he had written me something that morning: “Chapter One.” It was the first chapter of the book that told our story. 

I shook violently as I read it, tears streaming down my face.  My reaction was visceral, as I realized that he knew me; he actually knew me.  I stumbled out of my office and dialed my best friend.  I sobbed into the phone the details of that morning and sat on the curb trying to collect myself. 

As I continue to learn, life doesn’t happen according to my timing.  Not because God insists on omniscience, but because sometimes we have more to learn before we can have it the way we want it.  Nothing could be truer in this case.

I would have hopped a plane with JP on day 18 and committed the rest of my life to him, had he asked.  But he didn’t ask, and there are no take-backs for the hand you already played.

We carried on the practice of writing each other chapters of our story as our relationship unfolded.  The chapters documented the giddy times, the agonizing times, and the love that was building along the way.

But it didn’t take long for us to analyze our way out of our relationship, exactly as my best friend had predicted the first night she met him.  She had told me she thought we were perfect for each other, less one, potentially (and ultimately true, but temporary) fatal flaw.

Those who have followed The Recovering Lawyer likely recall some dark times.  And I wouldn’t trade those dark times to have had it go my way, according to my timing and my plan, because I know that my timing isn’t always the best, no matter how badly I want something.

A couple of months into that dark time, as I was beginning to pull my head from the fog, a friend encouraged me to sit down and write two pieces.  Both of them would be the last chapter of our story together. One piece was to be the way I wanted the story to go and the other piece would be the opposite.  

Neither piece took me very long, and each was equally, yet differently, cathartic.  This exercise was the tipping point, the moment at which my grief started to turn to acceptance.  And the time that came after the completion of those chapters was like nothing I could have predicted.

…This time, when he presented me with a story of our life together, it was part of the question that I had already answered so many months before. 

And that was the way the story was supposed to go.

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It’s personal

The last few weeks have been roadblock after roadblock, and no one seems to care about my project like I care about my project.  And part of my job is to make people care.  This fatigue and self-doubt feels like a break-up for me; my heart is heavy and I could cry at the drop of a hat. 

I thrive on praise and success (who doesn’t?), and I haven’t received or achieved much of either recently.  It’s a tough row to hoe, always trying to keep your head up and encourage everyone else to stick with it and continue to work hard because soon it will pay off.  And some days, it’s just too much.  I get emotional.  Because I AM emotional.  I do everything with emotion, including my job. 

It’s personal.  My profession is personal to me, and it’s impossible for me to perform without emotion.

It’s funny, when my emotion is positive and results in success or project execution, I am praised as “passionate” and considered as one of the company’s most valuable assets.  When I am fatigued or frustrated, however, I am met with an eye roll, a disapproving “tsk” or a down-turned nose and told to “stop being so emotional about it.”

A majority of the time, I am amped and energized.  But there are days when I am deflated and sad.  I would never be told “stop being so passionate and excited about your job”… So why is it ok to be told, “You’re just too emotional.  Get over it.” 

I strongly (passionately?) believe that you can’t have it both ways. My emotion is there whether I’m soaring through an energizing, on-schedule project or handling roadblock after roadblock on the way to complete failure. Either I go through the motions of my job with lackluster enthusiasm, ruffled by nothing and generally indifferent to successes and failures… or you get me, full of passion with an occasional touch of angst.  It is unrealistic to expect me (or anyone else, for that matter) to be passionate when things are going well and indifferent or numb when they take a turn for the worst.  It just doesn’t work that way. 

On my worst days, I just wish I could not care.  But on my best days, I am so grateful that I do.    

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form vs. substance

I needed to read this post about truth-telling in writing.  It strikes me as the ultimate writer’s dilemma, honest writing vs. wordsmithed art.  I want what I say to be eloquent (with a touch of wit) but sometimes, it should be more important to tell just the truth, regardless of how it comes out.

It’s funny how the truth can get lost in the obsession with saying something just right.  If I’m really honest, my priorities are probably:

1. Say something worth reading

2. Say it well

3. Tell the truth

This is not to say that I blog lies, but, some days, I care more about how I’ve said something than what I actually said.  I don’t have an answer here; it’s just interesting food for thought because sometimes I get away with it.  Both personally and professionally, I think I often slide by unquestioned, simply because I’ve said something well.  

Question what you read.  Be curious.  Just because it’s articulate, doesn’t mean it’s right.

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curlylocks - finding your “just right”

My hair has an identity crisis.  For my entire life, it’s been in between curly and straight, but calling it “wavy” gives it more class than it deserves.  It’s really a frizz disaster that, until a couple of weeks ago, required a straightening iron or a ponytail. 

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Thanks to the help of a friend much girlier than I, my hair can now actually be curly, which it has been every day since I learned how to tame the beast.  I have received a number of compliments, in many different forms, on my new look.  A couple of people at work have remarked, “Wow, I didn’t even recognize you.  I really like your hair” …which makes me wonder if “I didn’t recognize you” should actually be used as a compliment… but, whatever.

JP, who typically does a wonderful job avoiding any negative remarks about my appearance (and opts instead for genuine and sweet comments about how beautiful I am… even on those days when I am anything but), may have said he felt “a little bit sad” when I came home with straight hair (thanks to a color and blowout that afternoon) after having left the house that morning with curls.  I think there’s a curly-hair compliment in there somewhere.

The same friend who taught me how to use the curling iron (yes, it is possible to be a 30-year-old woman and be totally intimidated by a curling iron), told me how much the curly hair “softened my look.”  Don’t worry, I didn’t take that to mean that for 30 years I’ve been rocking a “hardened” look.  I’m sure that’s not what she meant.

Anyway, the point here is that the people (my people) like the curls.  And all it takes to pull it off, is a couple of legitimate curls with a curling iron to make my whole head look like it’s put together. *Mind blown*  

Really, six strands of artificially, well-behaved curls atop a rat’s nest looks polished.  There’s a metaphor in here that is taking me awhile to get to…

I used to spend triple the time it takes to be curly to painstakingly straighten multiple layers of hair, to apparently create a look that’s… ahem… not my best.  With minimal effort, and concentration on a few key pieces, the whole thing is not only passable, it’s preferable.  It’s what the people want.

Here’s the metaphor: Embrace what comes naturally and stop trying to do ALL OF THE THINGS flawlessly.  Concentrate on a couple of areas, perfect those, and let the rest do what it does.  The strands of well-placed, well-hairsprayed curls will give the appearance that you’ve got the whole thing figured out.

And it’s all about appearances, after all.

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cling to less

The universe is always at work.  More often than not, it’s behind the scenes, and things only make sense long after they’re done.  There are other times, like now, when the universe is at work right in front of my face.

Last week, amidst of a pretty big decision, someone told me (and a room full of others) to cling to less, in order to receive more.

I’m high on that prospect, surging with the need to clean out my closets, sell all of the thingsand focus on what actually matters.  Talking about it and actually doing it, though, are two very different things.  The closer we get to doing it, the safer it feels to cling.  The more real the decision becomes, the scarier it is to imagine a life with “nothing,” no things.  We find ourselves talking about how once we’re done clinging to less, we can just come back to the clinging.  ”Let’s put all of the things in storage, and that way we can have them back some day… *sigh of relief*”

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What we completely ignore in this safety-net approach, however, is that the whole purpose of intentionally clinging to less is to break the habits of NEEDING things, measuring our success by what we own and promising ourselves fulfillment by believing that “when we just have ___________, we’ll be content.”  That promise is a perpetual carrot, and run as we may, we’ll never catch it, because once we do, something else immediately takes its place.

I’ll feel content when we own a home.

[Enter home-ownership achievement] …Hmmm, a house is great, but I think I’ll really be happy when I have a new car.

[Cruising in my Audi Q5] … So, I don’t think I’ll be able to actually relax until I’ve paid off my student loans.

*** 20 (miserable) years later ***

[Loans paid] … What I really want is a job that allows me to help people.  Then, I’ll feel fulfilled.

[New job helping people] … It’s really exhausting caring so much about the job that I love.  I think I’ll finally be able to relax if we could just travel more.

… and on and on it goes.

If I haven’t made my point, I could certainly go on, indefinitely, actually.

But the point is, if we come back from the “less is more” expedition and jump back into the “they with the most stuff win” mentality, then we’ve failed.  If we want everything to be exactly the same a year or two from now, then there is no point in making a change; there’s no point in clinging to less if we intend to “need” more later on.  

"Cling to less." And let the universe do its work.

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eyes ahead

The pain was excruciating.  Worse actually… whatever “worse than excruciating” would be.  They say your corneas have more nerve endings than anywhere else in your body, and something unexplained was chipping away at mine.  It was awful.

We went from doctor to doctor, to no avail.  My eyes were purple and swollen shut, which was actually a relief, for to open them, even the tiniest amount, would expose my nerve endings to the elements and send me through the roof with pain.  The only reprieve came from eye drops at the emergency room and the opthamologist’s office.  Naturally, however, these drops caused damage with prolonged use, so I was limited to two drops each eye, each appointment.  Those were the only minutes of normalcy we had that week.  These relief drops are kept locked away in a cabinet (for now very obvious reasons); I would have paid a nurse just about anything to get my hands on just one little bottle.  I was desperate.

The terror and the pain were like nothing I had experienced before, and tears stung my corneas that much worse.  I vacillated between my deals with God, one minute promising to be ok with complete blindness if the pain would just subside, and the other offering to tolerate the pain for a few more days if it meant I could keep my sight.

Thanks to a tremendous favor from the father-in-law of one of my dearest friends, who happens to be a very reputable opthamologist, I was finally on the path to recovery… with a strict warning to manage my stress levels, lest this condition creep back up and wreak its havoc.  

Now, over a month later, I’m still not completely recovered.  While the doctors found some certainty about what it was not, they aren’t certain what it actually was or, more importantly, if it will come back.  While the conciliatory comments about how “at least I look good in glasses” are reassuring, this really changes things for me.  It has prompted me (and us) to take a step back mentally and rethink what the coming years of my (and our) life should look like.

It’s a new and totally foreign outlook.  I suppose it took a very real attack on my eyes to actually shift my focus and change my perspective.