What Keeps Me Up at Night

Yeah, I’ve done that mind-grind thing where I keep worrying about something and try in vain to come up with a solution. I have done my fair share of stressing out over finances, jobs, relationships, and conversations that I’m dreading. I’ve even stayed up to care for sick people and pets.

But you know what really keeps me up at night? Excitement. I spend a lot of time tossing and turning and smiling at the possibilities. I can rarely sleep just before a trip to someplace I’ve never been, for example. I can just imagine what it will be like. I also thrill to new experiences, new connections, and the opportunity to learn.

Many is the night I’ve spent staring at the ceiling, knowing that I’m about to receive the gift of newness. That’s my favorite gift of all. It doesn’t take up space in your tool shed. You don’t have to dust it. It’s usually not tangible. But you’ll be able to revel in its memory for the rest of your life.

There is nothing quite like the first time you do something, see something or realize something. Beginnings are awesome. Change is wonderful just as often as it is dreadful. The anticipation of something can be every bit as amazing as the thing itself.

Anticipation is what robs me of my sleep!

Excitement (July 2011)

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Taking the Good with the Bad

Note: I wrote this post long before I wrote One Very Close Shave, long before I had finally decided to listen to my little voice and not take this house! There is a happy ending– stay tuned! But I decided to post this anyway, because it is so revealing about my internal struggle.

Many years ago, I got a phone call from my doctor. “We need you to come in for some tests right away, as there’s a possibility you may have cancer.”

I made the arrangements, hung up and sat on the edge of my bed, lost in thought. This was the same kind of cancer that killed my mother in a slow, torturous way. The same kind of cancer would later kill my sister. My life was never going to be the same. I was staring mortality in the face. The luxury of pretending was over.

While I sat there in shock, the phone rang again. “We’re thrilled to tell you that you got the job! When can you start?” “Whoa. Um… yeah. Wow! Um… after two weeks’ notice?”

So there you go. I should have been dancing for joy all around the house. But… okay, how do I process these two things at the same time? How do I even wrap my head around these two things at the same time? What does all of this even mean?

What if it really is cancer? Should I be switching jobs at a time like this? (Fortunately, this was to be a transfer within the State of Florida system, so my insurance wouldn’t lapse.) But what if I turned down the job and it turned out I didn’t have cancer? I’d be kicking myself for not going for it. So I went for it.

Long story short, it turned out I didn’t have cancer, and I wound up with a much better paying job. Whew. Landed on my feet that time.

I hadn’t thought of that day for a long time, until something similar happened recently. I had bid on two houses simultaneously. The market is so cutthroat around here that I couldn’t afford to wait.

One house was my dream house. Even just driving into the neighborhood felt like an embrace. And I loved everything about the house itself, from the fireplace to the hardwood floors to the amazing yard and the detached workshop. I could see myself living there for the rest of my life. I wouldn’t even have to paint. The previous owners had excellent taste and their color sense was spot on. I could imagine spending hours on the back deck, just thanking the universe for my good fortune. It was a house that I’d look forward to coming home to every single day. This house was meant to be mine. I felt it in my bones.

The second house was nice, too. But there were some things I’d need to change. And there were other causes of concern, too, that I won’t get into here. I could live there. My dog would love playing in the back yard. But it was most definitely my second choice.

A moot point. I didn’t get my dream house. After my realtor broke the news, I said, “Okay, I’ll be incommunicado for a while. I’m going to go take a bath and have a good cry.” Because that’s what I do when I receive bad news and I live alone. There’s no one to talk to. So I take a bath and I have a good cry.

I felt like I was in mourning. I had envisioned an amazing future, and it all just popped like a soap bubble. It’s all so unbelievably fragile.

So I prepared my bath. I felt a lump forming in my throat. I added lavender Epsom salts to the water. I was pretty sure I’d need them.

Then the phone rang again. I got the second house. Well… yay! I mean…

No time for that good cry. I wasn’t sure it was even appropriate under the circumstances. But those toxins took a while to ebb. And that meant that my well-deserved excitement took a while to flow.

At the time of this writing, I am looking forward to the inspection process, which is the last major hurdle to this home becoming mine. All mine. (Little did I know!)

But a little tiny part of me is always going to feel like I settled on marrying the less attractive, less stable, less reliable brother. And every once in a while, as I’m doing my best to transform this home into my castle, I’ll wonder what might have been. But the good news is that this house comes with a tub. (So relieved I didn’t take this house when all was said and done! I’m getting an even better one! More on that soon!)



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On Being Busy

Ever since StoryCorps contacted me and told me they wanted to include my 2009 interview in their anthology Callings, and oh, by the way, NPR wants to feature you in Morning Edition, and Parade Magazine wants to do a piece on you as well, and O Magazine would like to speak with you, and wouldn’t you like to start publishing anthologies of your own? And would you be my first podcast interview for Shaping Sapiens? And can I link to your blog? And maybe you should create a Facebook Group for your blog. Ever since all these things have happened, I’ve been busy.

And when I say “busy”, I mean it feels like someone has taped a rocket to my behind and I have absolutely no control over the steering. I’m not used to this. Not at all.

For over 14 years I’ve been locked away on my little drawbridge, enjoying relative peace and quiet, with very few ducks to put into very short rows. And I’ve liked it that way. Now, there are deadlines and decisions and attention and… I can’t believe this is all happening.

Is it exciting? God, yes! But it feels as if time is moving so fast that I might not be able to keep up. It makes me nervous.

My writing has been all about stopping and looking closely at things. It’s been about watching and commenting from the background. A friend calls me a professional meditator, a grand observer. I worry that I’m losing some of that in all this kerfuffle.

But I intend to ride the crest of this wave for as long as it lasts and savor every minute of it! Of course it isn’t going to last forever. Yes, I’ll miss it when it’s gone. But I think I’ll also be kind of relieved when everything slows back down and settles into a nice little routine once more.

I’ve been told it takes a special kind of person to sit still for 40 hours a week and not go crazy. I guess I’m that person. I thrive on it. But it is rather thrilling to go out and salsa in this world every now and then!

riding a rocket
Okay, so maybe a trifle too phallic, but you get the idea.

For the Last Time

I read something the other day that really freaked me out. “How many things are you seeing for the last time?” This strikes quite a chord in me at this particular point in life, because I’m about to leave a place where I’ve lived for 30 years to drive 3100 miles across the country to start over in a place where I’ve never been.

All month long I’ve been visiting my favorite places one last time, and having dinner with various friends one last time, and as I walk away from these experiences, I never fail to get emotional. And to say that what I’m feeling is sadness is too simplistic. It’s hard to describe the complexity of it. It’s also overwhelming gratitude that these phenomenal people and places have been part of my life. It’s regret that I didn’t always appreciate them as much as I should have. It’s fear that I may lose something indefinable once I’ve suffered their absence. It’s hope that the trail I am blazing will be every bit as amazing as the well-worn path I’m leaving behind me.

I sort of feel like a snake that is shedding its skin. But that skin has served me well, so I’ll miss it. I feel like a fiddler crab that’s moving into a new shell. The old shell is still viable, but it no longer fits me. Change is part of the natural order of things.

Transitions are also scary. And exciting. As I leave so much behind I’m also heading toward many, many things that I’ll be seeing for the very first time. Another thing I read recently: “When was the last time you did something for the first time?” That greatly applies to my situation as well. I’ll be going places where I’ve never been before. What an adventure!

Although I’m not a Christian, all of this reminds me of my favorite passage in the Bible:

Ecclesiastes 3

To every thing there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven:

A time to be born, and a time to die; a time to plant, and a time to pluck up that which is planted;

A time to kill, and a time to heal; a time to break down, and a time to build up;

A time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn, and a time to dance;

A time to cast away stones, and a time to gather stones together; a time to embrace, and a time to refrain from embracing;

A time to get, and a time to lose; a time to keep, and a time to cast away;

A time to rend, and a time to sew; a time to keep silence, and a time to speak;

A time to love, and a time to hate; a time of war, and a time of peace.


May your journey through life be full of bittersweet endings and bittersweet beginnings. They’re what give life their flavor.

Darkness Revealed

When I drive to work at night it’s a completely different experience than when I work a day shift. Even the nuclear power plant, normally a blight upon the landscape, looks beautiful. It is all lit up and floating in a sea of blackness like a nighttime cruise heading for the Bahamas.

The traffic flow is different as well. There’s less of it, and although it seems like a more lawless group of drivers, and definitely a more alcohol-soaked one, it feels safer. This is a dangerous illusion that requires one to be on the alert.

Criminals rule the night, or at least that is what Hollywood would have us believe. So there’s also this underlying sense of excitement and danger. Most people who are out at night are there either because they have no choice or they like the thrill and the atmosphere or they don’t have the sense to be vigilant. Or they are predators who are up to no good. And since these people can’t be told apart, you have to assume the worst.

What I like about the dark hours is the sense of isolation. Even though there are still the same number of humans on the planet, somehow at night you can often feel as if you have it all to yourself. What a luxury. I look up at the sky and revel in the quiet and imagine that all those stars are a part of me. We are star stuff, after all. I seem to breathe easier at night. I feel embraced by it. I’m where I’m supposed to be.

It takes a certain amount of faith to feel safe at night. You are, after all, being deprived of one of your senses. Anything could be in the darkness. Anything at all. You can’t really be sure. There’s so much out there that you can’t see. Everything is hidden from you, and there’s quite a lot of it.

Indeed, that feeling of abundance can overtake our senses. At night we become more. More romantic, more fearful, more uninhibited, more exuberant, or more lonely and depressed. People hate to be alone on a Friday night. You never hear them complain about being alone on a Friday afternoon.

The nighttime feels like an grand entity that the daytime can never even hope to become. It takes a special effort to overcome that prehistoric desire to hide, to hibernate, to wait out the darkness. But if you make the effort, you often reap rare and sensual rewards.