the fear of falling

Three college friends and I recently went to Colorado on vacation. What a glorious four-day adventure it was. It seems we’re forming a pattern of vacationing together every five years; although I’d love to go more often, every five years seems like a realistic plan.
 It’s tough to pick a favorite part of the trip—laughing until I peed my pants (twice!) ranks up there—but I think I liked the camaraderie of physical exertion best. I met these friends on my college rowing team (Go Dawgs!), so our initial bonding had been over sweat, blisters, and bookoo spandex. Nearly two decades after first befriending these gals, it was a blast to experience together the discomfort of sun-burned lips, labored thin-air breathing, the excitement and trepidation of free-climbing down rocky ledges, and even the indignity of peeing in one’s pants.

Hiking gave us time to tell stories. A highlight among them was my friend Sherry’s story within a story: a few months ago her StoryCorps story  about her parents attending a regatta aired on Atlanta NPR. [And remember that time my family was in a Cheerios commercial? I guess I didn’t talk much about it because none of them knew.]

Fear is a curious thing. Facing our fears on the trip got us discussing fight v. flight. I told the story about the time I jumped off 27 waterfalls when I was in the Dominican Republic a few years ago. That story begins, as my stories so often do, with my blissful ignorance about what was to come. Indeed, I count that drive to the falls and walk up the falls to be the single best part of the trip. What came next, however, was not. After being handed a helmet and then hiking two hours up a steep slope, you’d think I would have fully taken in what was coming next, but it took standing at the first precipice to acknowledge and then panic about my impending demise. Oh yes, we were jumping DOWN TWENTY-SEVEN WATERFALLS.

Everyone in our travel party (except Nate, who knew my secret because I kept begging him to save me through pursed lips) thought I had the best time. And how did I achieve this facade? I’ll tell you it is not because I’m the best fibber ever. Rather, it is because I kept sprinting ahead of the group—knocking people over if necessary—so I could jump first. After I stood at the first edge, I realized going first was the only way in the world I could get the gumption to jump!

I never did really enjoy the thrill of falling and getting water up my nose, but despite my protestations, I did survive. I can’t quite explain what came next, but ever since that trip, I’ve taken any opportunity I can to jump off of or climb down the edge of high places. It’s like I’ve unleashed some deeply hidden badass who steps up and takes over my body when presented an opportunity to experience heights.

[I hope I am expressing the extent to which my acrophobia had ruled me prior to this point in my life. When I was a kid, my dad would take me to houses he was building, and if there was a second floor landing, I would skim across the wall opposite it like one of those fish suckers on an aquarium. Even as an adult, if I climb to the top of a large escalator, I make a weird shiver sound and motion at the thought of falling down the escalator. Not that I ever have, mind you, but what iffffffff?!???]

Here’s where it gets really weird. Over time, these exposures to heights have put an end to my fear. I’d heard of exposure therapy, but before my personal experience, I never quite bought it. Fear of heights, like any phobia, seemed like such a visceral reaction that I couldn’t imagine ever getting past the shaking, sweating, and racing pulse. And yet.

Let’s be clear: I’m not going sky diving any time soon. But I’m still happy about how far I’ve come. Next stop, public speaking? I’ve been telling people for nearly a year that I want to conquer my fear of speaking to a large group, but I have yet to pull the trigger. Yes, I tried out for Listen to Your Mother, but I also had other chances to step up on other stages and didn’t. But now that I’ve seen that I actually can nearly annihilate a fear, what’s stopping me from tackling another?

“Courage starts with showing up and letting ourselves be seen.”

That lovely quote is by Brené Brown, of vulnerability research fame (aka The Best Ted Talk Ever). I pulled my head out from under a rock to learn about her via an interview with Liz Gilbert on the Big Magic podcast, which I just looked up again and is actually called “Magic Lessons.” So that’s what I plan to do: I will put myself out there and {gulp} let myself be seen, even though just typing that sentence scares me. For me, figurative falling is even more frightening than the literal kind. Unless I’m wearing bright pink knee-high socks, then I’m good.

a good woman is easy to find

I forgot what day it was again today, not once but about seventeen times. Selling your house is like that period of time when you’ve just arrived home with your newborn. Stuff is happening all around you, and you’re still getting just as many loving calls and emails as usual, if not more, but suddenly you can’t remember when and how you used to interact with the outside world—or fold laundry or take a shower, for that matter. Oh, and also, a lot of shit is involved.

Last night I took a long bath, and it was the best decision of my life. Really, I think a long bath will solve most of my problems, if only because I realize in the taking of the bath that I have none. Not any REAL problems, anyway. I lay there in the scalding water until my fingers were way past prunes, and I poked at my scars and softening belly, and eventually I sort of forgot that I am a human with worries and relished in the luxury of the present.

This time, I even cut my toenails in the tub—now you know it all! as my family says—and then went rummaging in my pedicure bag and discovered an unopened sample of Burt’s Bees foot cream with coconut oil. I squirted half the tube onto my palm and slathered that goo all over my feet, then stuffed them into cotton socks. Afterward, I announced to Nate that I will take a bath each night this entire week. “Like an old lady,” he quipped. Damn straight.

But truly, there are some things women over 50 have figured out, and baths are probably on the list. Let’s add foot cream while we’re at it. I am friends with several older women, and I have benefitted from their wisdom countless times, particularly in moments like these when the contents of all my drawers are literally and figuratively being dumped out on the floor.

One of my friends is a professional home stager whom I befriended when she led our church’s auction and I was a volunteer. She was the first person I called when we decided to sell our house, and next to that bath last night, it was my best decision in a long while. She introduced us to our realtor, a gem of a gal, and now these two ladies are doing the heavy lifting of helping us prepare our house for sale. They know all about things I shy away from, like buying things and painting things and moving things from one room to another. You just would not believe the work that can be done with two extra women around. I have WIVES, y’all!

And if that weren’t enough, I got four phone calls and two emails today from friends and family offering support and encouragement to get through what lies ahead. So what I came here to tell you is that just as a good rug really ties a room together, a couple of good women tie your life together. I used to be one of those girls who claimed to find it easier to be friends with men; now that I’m in my mid-thirties, many of those fun but shallow male relationships have faded away to reveal an ocean of female love and support. Women friends are where it’s at. I wish you all the riches their endearment offers. Amen and happy Mother’s Day. xoxo

a good woman is easy to find - heirloom mothering
I love this picture of my grandmother with her eighth baby. Eight children and yet she still managed a fur collar and lipstick and lovely hair. At almost 90, she is still a class act who is full of fantastic advice.

let’s hang out in 2015

Follow my blog with Bloglovin

My local friend and blogging guru Christine Koh posted a list of ways to keep in touch with her in 2015. Since my resolution this year is to have more deep connections (both on the interwebs and in person), I loved her post and decided to emulate it, as I often do with her creations. I am especially fond of the group of writers I’ve been conversing with lately, so I hope I continue to build relationships online this year.

Here are some ways we can interact:

Bloglovin: I’m new to this way of managing blogs. I used my old blogroll previously, but I like the idea of organizing and adding blogs in a more user-friendly way. So far I love it.

Instagram: I love photography. To me, Instagram is the best of Facebook. But I think you still need a smartphone or iPad to use it; I hope they’ll change that this year. I keep my account private because of a recent string of following attempts that seemed less than credible, but if you’re not a robot, you’re in!

Twitter: Like I said in my last post, I think great conversations and connections are possible there.

Pinterest: I love it for many reasons, like organizing writing-related inspiration and recipes.

Coffee?: If you’re local, maybe we can get together in person. Drop me a line so we can swap emails.

in praise of friendship

ode to a best friend - heirloom mothering

My friend AnnaLysa (middle beauty in the photo above) just had a baby girl. It is so hard not to be in the same city to witness the cooing and bonding. I’ve been flipping through old journals, snuggling up to memories of good times past since I can’t be with her to celebrate the present. Here’s a snippet I found from an old journal I kept around the time that picture above was taken (2001?), when she and I were co-directing 20+ counselors and 80 kids at summer camp:

She writes songs that capture the essence of camp and sings them to everyone. I stress about how camp might fail then go home and quietly write in my journal. I am in awe of the lack of fear she has about sharing herself, her art, with the outside world. I don’t tell her enough how lovely she really is. I am so glad she’s my friend. I love her!

Over thirty years into our friendship, I am still so glad to call her my friend. Lindsey Mead—a writer whose blog I found, then lost, then happily found again recently—has been writing about friendship this month, and I can relate to her feelings on the subject. She wrote, “A person’s closest friends can tell you an awful lot about them and that who we truly love shows us a lot about who we are” (gosh, I hope that’s true). And, “Friendship is made of attention.” I agree especially with the part about attention, which is why I took Annie’s latest phone call from the bathroom. I didn’t want to miss any wonderful baby details, and it’s the only place I can guarantee my full attention these days.

Here’s my own honest truth about friendship. I think probably the only thing that keeps me ever being a good friend—and there are plenty of times I’m not a good one— is that when I think to myself, Why aren’t my friends paying attention to me?, I’ve trained myself to respond to that feeling by paying attention to them. Works every time.

Here’s hoping you have folks who pay you some attention. You deserve it.