Tag Archives: Joy

This Mortal Coil

“Whether ’tis Nobler in the mind to suffer
The Slings and Arrows of Outrageous Fortune
Or take Arms against a sea of troubles
And by opposing end them: to die, to sleep,
To sleep, perchance to Dream; Ay, there is the rub,
For in that sleep of death, what dreams may come
When we have shuffled off this mortal coil,
Must give us pause.”

Shakespeare, Hamlet

Today was a day of wonder, a break from the monotony of taking care of my two great lights, a day of rough housing in the pool, a Mexican meal that sat for hours in my stomach, a day of running on Alpine trails, a day of reading. And of joy. Such immense great joy.

For a while life was a giddy ride of near perfection, then came the crash, the bottom, the arrows of misfortune which caused me to pause and reflect and weep for two lost pregnancies and changed my worldview to one of an ancient Greek, pausing for the next thunderbolt of good or ill. I crept, I stayed out of view, I blogged. If you are reading me, you did not know the confident creature I once was, full of adventure and glamor, living in Notting Hill, holidaying in Fitzgerald’s former home on Eden Roc, racing in a jeep to catch sight of a cheetah family in Tanzania or fly-fishing in Montana. It was over-the-top, it was life at its fullest.

A week ago I wearily rolled out my trash cans, my energy always depleted, my hair missing in patches I no longer try to hide, wearing sweatpants and Darcy’s shirts and my glasses: I look sad, or invisible in the worst sort of way: that old sad housewife. Life’s slings and arrows have dragged me down. Infertility and loss had nearly destroyed me.

It may not seem like it, but I have a choice, to listen to the sad reminders of what I have lost and acknowledge the pain and stress I went through. But there’s also the choice to embrace the joys. My husband who brings great happiness to me. My precocious beautiful children. Our beautiful garden and comfortable home. Our extended family. My friends, who both understand and don’t understand. Both groups are valuable.

What I don’t have, I don’t have. I have an exquisite wedding quilt, I have French gold-rimmed China, I have two pieces of my grandmother’s cocktail jewelry, I have a flower compressed by a dictionary that my daughter gave me. I have my mother’s chapbook of poetry and my dad’s novels. I have a passed-down piano which desperately needs to be tuned.
I won’t have a large family.

I will have a life, full of pain and joy. While I can’t ignore the pain, I shall notice the good, the beautiful, the important work to be done as a wife, a mother, a friend.

This mortal coil shall claim us all, even the fortunate, the sad, the unlucky, the brilliant, the popular.

The best we can do is embrace the goodness in ourselves, in our family, in our children and try to enjoy the good fortune. Not expect it, but recognize it when it comes our way.

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The Year of Living Joyfully: What Did I Learn?

I proclaimed 2011 the year that I would live joyfully. I even said I would try to write every day about joy.

Eh, I mostly complained.

I found that trying to live joyfully was not really practical. As my dad said a few weeks ago:

“Maybe joy just happens and you enjoy those few moments. But you don’t try to plan your day around it.”

I think that’s maybe the definitive word on the subject.

I did make five unexpected discoveries through the process of writing this blog which directly led to more happiness in my life.

1. Friends. I was really lonely in my SAHM life, and until this year didn’t have any real friends who understood the sort of strange hold infertility still had on me. They couldn’t comprehend how anxious I was to keep my twins safe and secure. They didn’t get why I was so devastated by my miscarriage, since I already had two kids. I pasted a fake smile on my face everywhere I went and acted the way I thought someone should. It felt like a charade.

But this blog opened the door to a whole secret society of women who wrote about similar feelings. About survival guilt, the need to always be grateful. These women were funny, bitter, real, optimistic and helpful. You all made my life so much better, richer, thoughtful and more fun. I really can’t thank you all enough.

2. The importance of making occasions special

I tended to slog through life as if everything was a chore to be gotten through. That is a natural tendency of mine. It’s probably some sort of genetic thing, plus a legacy of the pain and tragedy endured in my 30s. But this year we did a few things that were SPECIAL. We went to Disneyland, we saw my parents for Thanksgiving, my daughter and I saw The Nutcracker for the first time, I went to a concert with Esperanza and Bodega on my birthday, Darcy got a hotel suite for our anniversary. Those moments when I was able to break free from routine and enjoy either the wonder of others or be silly or live glamorously: those were joyful moments and I think I did a pretty good job of inhabiting them fully. It’s those moments that I remember as I look back on 2011.

3. The lessons of “Status Anxiety”

I tried to embrace different philosophies in my attempt to seek joy. Most of them didn’t help me, and a comment Lut Cass made stuck with me for the most part:

“I find that philosophy was invented by men who had too few household chores.”

Isn’t that awesome?

One book, though, I did enjoy: “Status Anxiety”, a prescient slim tome written almost a decade ago. Botton encourages people to not keep up with the Joneses, but to live a simpler, slower life devoted to more bohemian ideals. He also taught me that spending time with my peers in my area, who only really talk about working out, how perfect their kids are, remodeling and starving themselves is not good for me. Each time I would return from speaking to people like this, a little bit of my soul would die. That’s why the blogosphere is so necessary to me. Y’all are real and down-to-earth.

4. I love writing

Blogging, which some people consider writing and others don’t, is something that makes me tremendously happy. Everyone in my family is a published writer (my brother was nominated for a Pushcart this year, my dad is a well-known Bay Area journalist and novelist, my mother has won several major poetry contests) so I was the rebel who worked for the “man” and turned my back on my heritage. I so didn’t want to be a writer, mostly because I would never measure up to my lineage. Now I know that while I am by far the lesser writer of the Carrolls, I don’t really care anymore. I just love what I’m doing.

5. Laughing is really important

Whether it was:

– Texting with Esperanza about what cars are the douchiest. (Her: Audis. Me: Range Rovers.) And our bottom fives. (1. War 2. The Babble Top 100 Mom Blogs List 3. Social inequity 4. The Kardashians 5. Disease)
– Hilarious Tweets from The Bloggess

– Laughing at Darcy’s stories
– Listening to the epic tale of the time well-known, sincere, urbane Brooklyn musicians Matt and Kim played at a last-minute concert promoted and organized by my brother. The concert featured a buddy’s first (and last) performance as “Mr Hand”: he played samples of obscure dialogue like “I smell a rat” over loud, techno beats – and Caged Match to the Death. Talk about a mismatch of audience. “Kim looked really scared.”
Cake Wrecks

SO that’s what I learned. In short, laugh, have friends, enjoy the fun times and don’t hang out with douchebags.

What did 2011 teach you? What’s your current Bottom 5?

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Day 44: Evany, Fametracker and Mr. Rogers

Back a million years ago, when I was young and fearless, I entered a world completely out of my league. That world was a community board (I’m sure they called it something more clever than that, but early senility is kicking in) called “Fametracker”. It was run by the same people who created “Television Without Pity” and it was an absolutely ruthless place where grammar and spelling were prized, arcane rules were strictly enforced (you were not allowed to comment on any topic unless you had read the ENTIRE thread of comments, sometimes hundreds of pages long) and some of the greatest wits of the Internet would come and give their sharply critical digs on some celebrities (Jennifer Garner was especially hated) and gushing praise of others. (Like Michael Vartan, which, random, and who I think at the time was dating Jennifer Garner. Which maybe explained the hate for JG?) Off the top of my head, some of the seriously funny commenters of the day were the Fug Girls, Sars from Tomato Nation, Pamie and Evany. I think they were all recapers for TWOP, too. Obviously in the company of such modern-day Dorothy Parkers, I was the equivalent of pond scum. My greatest coup on the board was starting a topic about Tawny Kitean. Which, yeah.

I follow/stalk the Fug Girls still (they are better than ever, BTW) but I hadn’t read Evany’s blog in a while. Back in the day, I loved her, but I guess she hasn’t written in a year. Which is a great shame. I came across her link at Smitten Kitchen, and went back and read her again, and found a wonderful Mister Rogers story.

I am a huge fan of Mister Rogers. There is no smack talking of him allowed in my presence. My dad interviewed him when he came out with a book, and he inscribed it: “Jjiraffe, you are special and I like you.” It made me smile for a week, and that was during my surly teen years. Mister Rogers rules.

Here’s Mister Roger’s story:

Have you heard my favorite story that came from the Seattle Special Olympics? Well, for the 100-yard dash there were nine contestants, all of them so-called physically or mentally disabled. All nine of them assembled at the starting line and at the sound of the gun, they took off. But not long afterward one little boy stumbled and fell and hurt his knee and began to cry. The other eight children heard him crying; they slowed down, turned around and ran back to him. Every one of them ran back to him. One little girl with Down Syndrome bent down and kissed the boy and said, “This’ll make it better.” And the little boy got up and he and the rest of the runners linked their arms together and joyfully walked to the finish line. They all finished the race at the same time. And when they did, everyone in that stadium stood up and clapped and whistled and cheered for a long, long, time. People who were there are still telling the story with great delight. And you know why. Because deep down, we know that what matters in this life is more than winning for ourselves. What really matters is helping others win too. Even if it means slowing down and changing our course now and then.

That is awesome beyond all measure. Thanks to Evany, and also, to the late, great Mister Rogers.

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Day 42: Pregnancy Goes Viral, Philosophy Goes Sour

I’d noticed something strange during the drop-offs and pick-ups at pre-school lately. The moms are usually dressed in their finest Lulumon gear. They are on their way, presumably, to the gym or to yoga class. With a few exceptions, all of the moms are fit and trim and spend a lot of time maintaining their figures. (I assume, because of the gym clothes). But lately a few women seemed to be relaxing a bit, wearing baggy clothes, not looking that slender. Cool, I thought. Maybe people are loosening up a bit and not being so focused on staying thin.

Nope.

Turns out FOUR moms in our class (of twelve) are pregnant. All of them are pregnant with their third or fourth child. I learned this today and it hit me like a physical blow to the diaphragm.

I think at this point that we are done pursuing ART, which is the only way I could get pregnant again (and even then, absolutely NO guarantees, and most likely much more heartbreak). But letting go of the dream is rough.

I’ve been trying to stay positive, focus on what we have, use philosophy to try to get me to a more joyful place. Lut C. said something in the comments section a few days ago which made me laugh, but also made me think:

I decided years ago that philosophy was invented by men with too few household chores.

I don’t want to give up on philosophy yet, but I think I do need to say adieu to the Stoics. This particular way of thinking seems to be dishonest, a way to lie to yourself to make you feel better. Unfortunately, my mind sees the way the world IS, which is not necessarily a good thing, but it is unable to fib to me, to see things through rose colored glasses, as it were. I also don’t believe in my heart that bad things happen to those who aren’t thinking positively, don’t want something enough and thus DESERVE misfortune. No. Just, no.

What’s next? I don’t know. Do you have any favorite philosophers who help you? I’m open to suggestions!

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Day 40: The Stoics Can Stuff It

Right now, I’m not feeling the stoics. I’m wondering if there’s maybe something in the male DNA that responds more to a philosophy which espouses this:

“Our lack of confidence doesn’t come from difficulty; the difficulty comes from our lack of confidence.”

Seneca

Um, REALLY? This sounds a lot like a crappy book which got a lot of play a few years ago. I am NOT going to give it any credit other than to say that it was spotlighted on a popular TV show, and I believe that it has caused immeasurable damage. I don’t think that unhappiness befalls people because they are not confident and don’t want happiness enough.

Instead, I believe that honesty might be the key to releasing unhappiness. What’s up with the bravest writers being Australian? First Lori at RRSAHM, and now The Miss Ruby. She’s one of my favorite bloggers, because she reveals tremendous honesty and truth in each post. She is unblinking and tough and strong, because she is so vulnerable. That sounds like a paradox, but I think that those who reveal their greatest fears about themselves are the people who understand life the most. They know their souls, they are self-aware, and they humble me.

The Miss Ruby could use a little love right now, so please feel free to go over and give her some virtual hugs.

So, in sum, shove it, stoics.

Xoxo

Jjiraffe

I AM feeling this song right now, BTW. LOVE!!

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Day 33: The Ingalls, American Stoics?

A Little Pregnant wrote an absolutely brilliant post about Laura Ingalls Wilder’s classic children’s book The Long Winter. She debates whether the book is too grisly and scary for her five-year-old son and comes to the conclusion that Ma Ingalls is a pill. Graphic language about “dropseat lovin’ ” is involved, so consider yourself forewarned.

First of all, I believe it’s time for me to re-read the Little House series, which I adored as a child, because it seems there is a lot of crazy crap in there that I don’t remember. Racism, minstrel shows, pig bladders, Scarlet Fever and an inappropriate purchase of an organ (the musical kind, not the animal kind) in the midst of family destitution? REALLY? There are also some who believe that Pa Ingalls was bi-polar, always gambling on ill-advised financial schemes and moving his family around when debt was threatened. And finally, this fascinating New Yorker article about Laura’s daughter, Rose Wilder Lane, posited that ROSE might have been the main writer of the books, not her mother. Rose was an accomplished journalist and a best-selling author BEFORE the Little House books came out. Also, apparently, she and her mother would be Tea Party enthusiasts today.

What I mainly remember about the Little House books was the palpable sense of deprivation, hardship, hunger and danger the Ingalls family faced, day-in, day-out. Yet, there was also a sense of hope and adventure the family was able to maintain, even after the eldest daughter went blind and even with the daily threat of starving to death. I believe I need to read The Long Winter again to ascertain if the Ingalls had a magical formula for surviving scary situations. Stoicism is, according to Tom Morris, “about managing your deepest inner resources and learning to find your way through any circumstances, no matter how challenging they may be.” Or were the Ingalls just insane optimists?

What do you think? Is Julie right: was Ma a pill? Was Pa bi-polar? Were the pioneers stoics, or insane?

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Day 32: Daddy’s Girl Turned Stoic?

Do you have your barf bag ready? Excellent. This is the post where I admit I am a huge, unrepentant Daddy’s Girl.

For most of my early adult life, my dad had a pretty easy time being my dad. (Although he did have to pay for my college tuition.) I was on a ladder of achievement, which I climbed with no real difficulty. Not the super achievement ladder, mind you. But I graduated from an acceptable college, didn’t get in trouble, pursued a career track, received some promotions, met my husband, lived abroad, traveled and got married. It was an average American story, I suppose. Dad understood the narrative and I stayed with the plot.

Then the narrative stalled and moved into unfamiliar territory. I got pretty sick and went on disability for a few months. After recovering from that, Darcy and I tried to build a family. That storyline, complete with many sobbing phone calls to dad, visits from him to try to teach me how to adapt to this new adversity, fertility treatments, a miscarriage, 3 IVF attempts and a very high-risk scary pregnancy, did end happily. But I don’t think I would have maintained my sanity through it without the consistent, wise, unwavering advice of my father.

Through his job, my dad met presidents, royalty, famous authors, billionaires, heroes, villains and even Barbra Streisand. (She kept him waiting for 14 hours. He’s still pissed.) He narrowly escaped death or injury a few times. He won awards. He was there when the occupation of Alcatraz was planned. My dad is COOL.

But he’s also down-to-earth and not easily impressed. His focus has always been his family, so much so that he turned down a job at one of the most prestigious employers in the world. Why? Because we would have had to move to NYC and it would have interrupted my school mid-term. He always wanted stability for me, because stability was not something he knew as a child.

He still wishes me stability, so he has been urging me to follow the Stoics. I am about as far away from a Stoic as is possible. I somewhat resemble Chicken Little. Once there was a tsunami warning for lower coastal areas and I packed up the car and headed for the hills, only to realize that I lived on the BAY, not the ocean and the tsunami wasn’t coming for me. Now that I am a mother, those Chicken Little urges are even stronger. What’s that mark, what’s that cough, etc. I am FEARFUL.

The Stoics want me to embrace fear. Seneca, the key Stoic, actually said: “There is no reason to believe that anything should be feared.” Come again? That is impossible for me to believe. But something else he wrote makes sense:

“There are more things in this world…likely to frighten us than to crush us. We suffer more in imagination than in reality.”

Or, as my dad puts it, “Don’t borrow trouble.”

More to come…all quotes come from The Stoic Art of Living, Inner Resilience and Outer Results, by Tom Morris.

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