Top Ten Ways to Have a Happy Life

This popped up in my Facebook memories today. A couple years ago, someone asked me to write my top ten rules for a happy life. It still rings just as true today as it did then.

 

1. Follow your dreams. At least one, at least once, even if it screws up all of the rest of your plans.
2. Love. Love hard. Love even and especially after your heart breaks.
3. Cultivate radical honesty. Some people won’t love the real you, but the ones that do will be the ones you want in your life.
4. Do something really difficult that you thought you couldn’t do. Me: Quit smoking. Got my degree after the age of 40. Walked a slackline. Threw tomahawks. Once you’ve done something you thought you couldn’t do, you have confidence you can do it again and again.
5. Take care of a someone or something that can’t give you the same level of care back. A dog or a child or a cat or a fish.
6. Love your family. Grow your own if you can’t do that with your biological one.
7. Learn to stop talking shit about yourself! And don’t let others do it to you, either.
8. Develop loving friendships with women.
9. Base your happiness on your own life, not on how it compares to others.
10. Recognize your own worth every day in some way. Value you.

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Jennifer

Many years before The Love Sucks Club was even on my radar, before I had even entertained the idea of writing any novels at all, I wrote a short story called “Dreams.” It started in high school, with a short story about a woman who told her dreams to her partner every morning when she woke up. The main character was Jennifer and my teacher found it fascinating – as did I – it stayed in my head for almost twenty years until I wrote the following story.

A few years after writing this story, a conversation with my best friend Aj led to the idea of The Love Sucks Club and Jennifer popped into my mind again. Something about her appealed to me and though I didn’t see her having her own book, I wasn’t quite ready to put her in the bottom of the dead ideas pile. I pulled it out, polished it off, and opened a novel with it. Jennifer from this story became Esmé in The Love Sucks Club and the narrator became Dana.

I found this story again tonight while going through the old “fragments and short stories never published” folder and decided to bring it out to show how sometimes the writing process really can take over twenty years from start to finish.

 

Dreams

       It all comes down to this. Her body under mine is slim, yet soft. Her wet bikini leaves smears of water on my clothes. I push salty strands of hair out of her face and as I press my mouth against hers, I think, “This is the moment in which my entire life changes forever.”

Jennifer looked a bit like a teenage boy. She was slim and long. Her legs seemed to bend at strange angles when she sat and somehow, she always seemed in danger of knocking something over with her elbows. Jennifer’s deep brown hair, longish over the face, short everywhere else, stuck up in impossible pieces all over her head. Yet, there was something so female about her, something in the curve of her jaw, or the length of her neck, or the perfect shape of her ears.

I saw Jennifer for the first time at a beach bar on Strand St. I was sitting alone with my notebook, nursing a beer. I heard the men in the bar muttering to themselves, but I didn’t pay much attention. On an island as small as this, any new girl is a reason for a press release. I continued to scribble dream worlds in my notebook. I fancy myself a writer, some cross between Robert A. Heinlein without the nipple fixation and Robert B. Parker without the testosterone.

I didn’t look up again until a few droplets of water across my page interrupted my thoughts. I blinked against the glare which was outlining the most striking woman I had ever seen. I don’t think I thought she was beautiful, or even hot, not then, but she left me stunned. Her mouth was full and smiling, and her face completely open. Her eyes, hazel, with flecks of gold were full of amusement and vitality. I just looked at her, my face impassive.

“Hi, I’m Jennifer.”

I nod. Look pointedly down at my notebook and back up at her.

“The guys at the bar told me not to talk to you.”

“They were probably right,” I answered, looking back down at my notes.

“They said you believe that your dreams tell the future.”

I ignored her and  sat, trying to write, trying to think of anything that could take my attention, while she stood there for several moments. I could feel her eyes on the top of my head and I fought against every impulse in my body that was telling me to look up. Finally, I heard her leaving. I waited a few minutes, then got up and left. They know me here, I spend enough time at this table, drinking their booze and eating their overpriced fried food to warrant a tab that I pay on a monthly basis. There are advantages to being the local celebrity.

Three days later, I took my morning coffee onto the deck and Jennifer was sitting on a lounge chair. I glared at her.

“You’re on private property.”

“I asked the bartender where you live. She said I couldn’t miss it. She was right. It’s beautiful up here, do you live alone?”

“I live alone because I prefer to be alone, “ I snapped. “What do you want?”

“I read Annabelle’s Lies,” she said quietly. “I had a dream that we met and fell in love.”

I sat down, and passed a hand over my eyes. Annabelle’s Lies. I didn’t want to be reminded of Annabelle or her lies. I glanced at Jennifer, resisting the urge to straighten the hair that was blowing across her face.

Several hours later, Jennifer was still occupying my space, drinking my booze and rummaging in my refrigerator. She moved constantly, opening and closing books, looking at my artwork, touching the glass frames. Her hands were always in motion, she had a frenetic energy that kept me in a constant state of anticipation. Everything she said, everything she did seemed like a prelude to something else. My head was spinning.

Five days later, she hadn’t left. I took her back to her hotel to get her clothes. I took her to K-mart, the island’s only store to stock up on bathroom supplies and makeup and postcards. She cleaned my kitchen and cooked for me. I didn’t eat fried bar food for five whole days.

During the day, we went to secluded beaches and snorkeled and swam. On shore, she fed me fruit and wine from her picnic basket, while I rubbed her pale skin with suntan lotion. She jet-skied while I watched.  She went diving. She jumped off of a cliff. She learned how to kite surf and parasail and skydive, and I paced obsessively on the shore, sure she was never coming back. At night, I made love to her on the porch, under the stars and let her gently mock my awkward fumbling.

“It’s been three years,” I muttered. “And there was no one before Annabelle.”

“I know,” she whispered back. “I know.”

Every morning, she made me tell her my dreams, sure that there was meaning in every one. She quoted to me from my novel, in which I wrote about my dream of the Old Man and the Sea. I was a young boy, and I sat in a boat, and the old man wanted to tell me something, but I could never understand what it was. After Annabelle died, I finally figured it out, but it was too late. I talked about the old man, but I wouldn’t talk about Annabelle. I wouldn’t talk about those dreams. I talked about all of the others, though. Jennifer loved to hear about my dreams, and I elaborated on them, weaving her into my tales of lucid dreaming, precognition, and fairy tale worlds.

Five days.  This morning, I refused to tell Jennifer about my dream. I didn’t want her to leave the house today, but she insisted we go out and be among people. Jennifer didn’t want me to be a hermit, she didn’t want the others to hate me, to tell the tourists not to talk to me. She wanted to go snorkeling, she wanted to be in the water. Jennifer insisted. It is important to remember that Jennifer insisted.

It all comes down to this. Her body under mine is slim, yet soft. Her wet bikini leaves smears of water on my clothes. I push salty strands of hair out of her face and as I press my mouth against hers, I think, “this is the moment in which my entire life changes forever.” I breathe hard into her mouth, then switch my hands to her sternum. I fall into the rhythm of the CPR. Push, push, push, breathe, repeat. The familiarity weighs on my shoulder. I breathe into her mouth over and over, until the ambulance shows up and the EMTs take over. This is it, this is the pattern of my life.

I don’t think I will dream tonight.

Michfest and Me. Grieving a Loss, Celebrating a Life.

In February of 2012, I was broken. I had left a toxic long term relationship in which I had spent ten years tiptoeing around in the hopes of not provoking an angry, alcoholic outburst. I didn’t realized how much I had changed myself to keep the peace until I finally broke free and started trying to figure out who I really was.

I was broken. I was unsafe and I was broken. I came back home to Ohio from the Virgin Islands and I put one foot in front of the other to get through every day. I didn’t miss her, but I didn’t know what to do. I didn’t know who I was, or where to go, or what to do to make a living. I didn’t know where I wanted to live. I didn’t have many friends and the ones that I had were far scattered. Living that long with someone who had a tendency to piss off everyone I knew left me without a circle of friends. I felt wholly alone.

I was unsure in my skin. I hated my body. I didn’t like being naked. I was sure I was a terrible lover. I felt insecure and nervous. I had anxiety. I was afraid.

I had heard of the Michigan Womyn’s Music Festival many years before and it sounded incredible. I brought it up with my ex a few times and she wouldn’t even consider it. She used to say she hated lesbians. I didn’t hate lesbians and I didn’t hate women, but I think a small part of me must have hated myself because I let her keep me from going. The thought of me going by myself wasn’t even an option.

Being single meant adjusting to a lot of things I hadn’t had to consider in many long years, but it also meant that for the first time, I was free to make my own decisions. And one of the first decisions I made was to go to the Michigan Womyn’s Music Festival.

I posted an announcement on Facebook and my BFF of all time immediately responded that she was going to fly to Cleveland and come with me. There was no backing out after that. I went to fest that year. It changed my life.

I’ve written before about my first fest, and my second fest, and my third. This year, I will write about my fourth and last. Lisa Vogel, the amazing Amazon who started this life changing space, has announced that fest is ending after the 40th anniversary.

I’ve gone through various stages of grief. The sadness comes in waves as I remember moments from fest or I think about things that I haven’t yet done. I feel sorrow for those who will never attend, for the girls who won’t scamper safely through the woods, unafraid and confident in a way I never was. I’ve shed tears over involuntary thoughts about the future. The community of women have gathered on Facebook and through phone calls and in person and through text to grieve together something that we all share whether we’ve been going for forty years or we’ve only been once. The understanding that there is nothing else like this in the world. The knowledge that Lisa and all of the other women who have worked to build this community year after year have created something that is so much more than a music festival. So much more than a camping trip. So much more than a week in the woods. They (we) created a tribe. We created safety. We created, we continue to create, a community of women who bolster and love each other. We’ve created a space where women can see, for perhaps the first time in their lives, that women are powerful, that women will rise up, that women can create any fucking thing that they want. That’s what fest is… it isn’t a week in the woods. It’s a revelation. It’s a revolution. It’s belief. It’s love.

Fest has brought so much to me. Every lover I’ve had in the past three years has been a fest woman. I have friends who see me and hear me and just get me and love me down to my toes. I met my current partner at fest. I learned about radical honesty from fest women. I first heard the term self-love at fest. I bought my first dildo there. I tanned topless in the sun there. I danced. I sang. I kissed. I laughed. I walked and walked and walked through the woods in the light and the dark and I wasn’t afraid for my safety. Not once. Not ever.

When I got the news, all I wanted was my tribe. I wanted my love and my family all gathered around so we could all hold each other and share memories and laugh and cry together. It felt like a death or an impending death of someone we couldn’t bear to live without. I needed my arms around my loves, so we could grieve and be grateful that whatever amount of time we have had at fest, we had that time.

Laying in bed last night, thinking about my chosen family and fest, and all of the things that it means to me, I realized that I am myself. I’ve *become*. That somewhere between that first fest when I timidly crept into the shy shower after dark and could barely convince myself to even say hi to strangers to my last fest where I gave a workshop on self love, basked in the glow of my tribe, and walked around the land like I OWNED it, I have become myself. I have found my own power. I’ve cast off the years of oppression and I’ve forgiven myself for letting it happen. I’ve not only marveled in the idea that women can create anything, I’ve come to realize that I myself can create anything. I took the lessons that the generations of women at fest have given to me and I’ve used them to build a fortress of self love around my soul. I’m me. I’m Beth Burnett. I am an Amazon. I’m a lover. I’m a mother earth goddess sexy brilliant warrior of love. I *am* Michfest.

Why I Love my Fat Body – And Why You Should, Too.

Whenever I see pictures of fat women (almost exclusively women) posted online, I inevitably see a bunch of comments about how sickening it is to glorify fat because it is so unhealthy. Bodies come in all degrees of health. There are skinny unhealthy people and fat healthy people and everything in between. If you are using the illogical fallacy of fat being unhealthy to fuel your hatred, you might as well go onto a page of people with heart disease and spout off about how ugly their chest scars are. At any rate, if you’re the kind of person who goes to the comments on posts like that just so you can talk about how unhealthy fat people are, please stop reading this post. You are too stupid to grasp any of what I have to say after this.

I’ve spent a lot of years overcoming the sad effects of a society that punishes people for being fat. There are those who think they mean well such as the “you have such a beautiful face” crowd and the well-meaning mother who struggles with her own self-esteem and pushed new diets on me from the age of twelve. There was the time my sister, also a victim of the bias against fat women, told me that I better lose weight before high school because if I wanted to be in the marching band, I was going to have to get changed in front of everyone else in the band. In fourth grade, we had class weigh ins right in front of the whole class and everyone tried to see what mine said. Throughout middle school and high school, other kids oinked or mooed at me on a regular basis. Once, when jogging, a man actually slowed down his pickup truck to yell, “Don’t break the pavement, fatty” as I ran by. I walked home and didn’t run again for many long years. I absorbed every comment, every snide remark, every well-meaning, but still cutting aside.

As an adult, I set about trying to comes to terms with my fat body, even while putting it through the hell of every diet I could find. I ate nothing but grapefruit. I did the cabbage soup diet. Once, I lost sixty pounds and bought clothes in the “normal” stores and still thought I was ridiculously fat. And ugly. I equated fat with ugly back then. I joined a group of women who purported to be about size acceptance but really consisted of a lot of sad women sitting around talking about how much it sucked to be fat.

I had relationships in my twenties, but I attributed that to people who just fell in love with my personality and put up with the fact that I was fat. In essence, I didn’t love myself, so it didn’t occur to me that someone else could love me just as I was. Of course, because of that, I drew people who didn’t love and embrace me the way that I was. It was a self-fulfilling prophecy.

Fast forward to the age of 38 when I, though a positive and loving woman, was not doing well. I was in a long term relationship with someone who did not celebrate me. I was a two pack a day smoker. I was a daydreamer, but not a doer. I had moved to a beautiful Caribbean island and I loved a lot of things about my life there, but I wasn’t treating myself with respect and care.

One day, I decided that had to change. I was tired of hating my body. I was tired of being afraid of what people had to say about me. I was tired about not going to Zumba classes or refusing to go for a swim because of the way certain people looked at me.

It was a slow process. I started by quitting drinking. Then I quit smoking. I started hiking with my soul friend, Aj. We took huge hikes up the sides of gigantic hills that I thought might kill me. I knew it was the best way to keep from going back to smoking. I started meditating. I became a vegetarian. Eventually, I left that dead end relationship and moved back to the states.

And something amazing happened. I grew to love myself. I didn’t just love myself in spite of my fat body. I loved myself AND my fat body. I went to the Michigan Womyn’s Music Festival where I saw women of every shape and size and age and color and ability laughing and loving and dancing and celebrating themselves and me. I fell in love with my own breasts, the weight of them, the way they felt when I lifted them in my hands. I grew to love touching the soft skin of my stomach. I admired the strong and fat curves of my butt. I expressed gratitude for my big thighs that have carried me this far in my wonderful journey. I made love with womyn with the lights on. I refused to be with someone who didn’t love my body the way it was. I set my boundaries and my boundaries involved only being involved with womyn who celebrated and cherished me. And since I’m not a hypocrite, I applied that same rule to myself. I celebrated and cherished myself.

Then something even more amazing happened. I realized I wasn’t just talking about it. I was living it. I celebrated women of all shapes and sizes. I didn’t feel defensive around women with thin bodies or athletic bodies. I didn’t equate skinny with beautiful and I didn’t equate fat with ugly. I started to see through the patriarchal bullshit that insists women be in competition with each other. I started to call out instances of fat shaming, or any kind of shaming of women for their bodies. I stopped watching anything to do with celebrities and I refused to look at fashion magazines and I realized that I have gotten out of the Matrix. That all of those people who think that they have the right to tell women what they should do with their bodies are poisoned in their minds. They’re sick. They are the unhealthy ones. The people who yell “fatty” at a jogger or sneer at a fat person in an exercise class or peer into someone’s cart at the grocery store to see what kind of food they’re buying or purposely go to a page about fat acceptance to leave idiotic comments about fat being gross and unhealthy or lift their eyebrows when they see a woman with hairy legs or write off older women as useless or refuse to see any woman who falls outside of the standard societal expectation of pretty as just that. They are the sick ones. They’re what’s wrong with this society. Those people who feel they somehow have a right to hate someone based on the way they look.They’re hurting our society and they need help.

My journey continued until I was not only loving myself the way I am, but teaching other women how to do the same. Women who have felt too old, too skinny, too muscled, too fat, too wrinkled, too scarred. Women who, like me, have been told that they are not enough the way they are. Women who wore the negative opinions of this sick society.

I learned that I’m beautiful. More importantly, I learned that I am worthy of love and happiness and respect and desire. I learned that I am a woman in every true sense of the word and anyone who can’t understand that isn’t worth my time.

Finally, today was the culmination of all of my self love work. I’ve been telling women of every size and shape that they are beautiful for years. Today when I opened a link to look at the pictures of Leonard Nimoy’s fat nudes and I realized that I thought every single one of them was incredibly fucking beautiful. I felt it down to my very soul. These women were divine and miraculous and beautiful and worthy.I’m not sick anymore. I’m not warped by this sick society. I’ve won. I’m healed. You can be, too.

Self-Love is the Root of All Happiness.

I am one of the world’s biggest proponents of self-love. No, not masturbation… Though, I am a proponent of that, too. I’m talking about pure, unconditional, oh-my-goddess-I-am-a-miracle-of-creation self love. The kind of love that allows you to wake up smiling every day because you are so happy to be alive with yourself. The kind of love that gives you a full body shield against people who are mean to you. The kind of love that bolsters you so completely that you are your own best friend.

I’ve spent a lot of years working on my own self-love, with an incredible leap forward in the past two. I have done tons of research on the subject. I’ve read books and scoured the internet and talked to shamans and meditation coaches and an acupuncturist and even my old MD. I’ve even taught workshops and online classes on self-love. I’m (joyfully) serious about this subject.

Some of the time, I didn’t even realize I was working on self-love. I have done a lot of working at being less judgmental of myself and others. I have worked very hard to rid myself of jealousy, which is a toxic feeling. I have gone through an incredible journey from regular panic attacks and sometimes crippling anxiety to being a (mostly) in control power woman in charge of her own life from top to bottom. That is to say, I make my own decisions and I own them, right or wrong.

Thinking about it recently made me realize that every single one of the qualities that makes my life joyful and blessed comes from self-love. Being able to absorb the sometimes harsh realities of life is easier because I love myself so much. When a woman told me recently, scathingly, that she wouldn’t date me because she could tell by looking at me that I was unhealthy and had self-esteem issues, I was able to completely brush it off because while I may not be as healthy as I want yet, I am pretty damn healthy. And I have GREAT self-esteem.

So all of the things that lead to joy come from self-love.

I had a date recently that turned out to be pretty spectacular. There was no thought to whether or not I was “in her league” as I might have once thought, years ago. Simply, we’re both single and I find her attractive. I think I got that date with an amazing, gorgeous, and hysterically funny woman because it never occurred to me that I wouldn’t. That’s self-love. It isn’t just that I know that I am a person of value, that she would really enjoy being around, but that I also recognize that if she didn’t want to go out with me, it would NOT CHANGE MY VALUE. Not at all! That ease and relaxation makes flirting so much easier. I can express interest in a woman and if she responds, it is lovely. And if she doesn’t, it’s perfectly okay. It just means that right now, we don’t want the same things. Self-love makes dating low-pressure because I enjoy my own company so much, I don’t need someone to swoop in and make my life a better place. It’s already a fine place as it is.

It makes for a very relaxed life. I’ve revamped my entire outlook on life. Loving myself doesn’t mean thinking I’m perfect. But it does mean reevaluating what I have long thought of as flaws because of societal convention or other people’s opinions. It doesn’t mean completely ignoring ethical and moral values… it simply means digging deep into my heart to figure out what mine are and trying the best I can to live under that standard. I’m not perfect. I’m still working on myself. Sometimes I get judgy. Sometimes I get hyper angry and swear. I have moments of self-doubt. (Is this story really good enough to send to someone?) I’m just continually working to become exactly who *I* want myself to be.

I’ve been able to cultivate radical honesty into all of my relationships. That comes from valuing myself enough to have trust that if I speak my truth, the people I’ve drawn into my life will respond with love and compassion. And if someone decides they want to be out of my life because I’ve been open and honest with them, isn’t that better than having someone in my life under a false pretense?

Loving myself so deeply allows me to attract other loving people into my life. Living an authentic life means I only draw in those people who love the true, deep down Beth. The ones who really see me and get me and love me all the way down. Loving myself means I can offer them that same kind of love in return.

Loving myself means being less reactive. It means offering my loved ones a safe space where they can tell me anything and know within their hearts that whatever they told me will not lose them my love. It doesn’t mean I never feel hurt or disappointed or slighted… it simply means I am always trying to remind myself that I am very blessed to have these people in my life and I am not surrounded with the kind of people who would hurt me on purpose. Because of that, there is a great deal of communication. None of this, “Hey, Beth, what’s wrong?” and me replying, “Oh nothing.”

Self-love means exposing myself (Stop it!). If someone wants to get to know me, they’ll find out that here, at this point in my journey, I am a funny, passionate, creative, often impatient, non-monogamous, fiercely loyal bad banjo player who cries at pictures of abused animals, finds the idea of being trapped in one place to be suffocating, and who still takes her clothes to Mama to have a button sewn on.  Also, I sometimes listen to the Bee Gees. I’m good and bad and I’m a work in progress and I own that. It’s allowing yourself to be vulnerable. It’s saying, out loud, hey, this is me, and I might not feel one hundred percent comfortable sharing this, but if one other person sees who I am and decides to use it to bolster her own self-love and value, it’s worth it.

Self-love means getting to know yourself pretty deeply. And I’m still learning. I change. I once believed there was one soul mate for me out there. Now I know that I have several soul mates. I once believed that being in a toxic relationship was better than being alone. Now I believe that being single is actually a blessing. I used to be so sure of all of my rigid rules and opinions. Now I can sit down with one of my friends and say, “I have this theory about life” and we can talk it out for hours and I am open to changing my mind after we discuss and dissect it.

In essence, in my opinion, self-love leads to deep and abiding relationships with people who are also loving and accepting of themselves. It’s a self feeding cycle and it feels fantastic. Loving my soul friends with acceptance and compassion allows them even greater acceptance and love of themselves…. and vice versa.

So, if self-love is such an amazing cure-all, why don’t we all practice it on a daily basis? I think, we are not really encouraged to be vocally and ridiculously self-promoting. I’ve been accused of being conceited or arrogant for being so outspoken. Even someone who is really blown away by self-confidence recently told me that something I said sounded really arrogant. I was trying to explain that in my opinion, an arrogant person, a conceited person, thinks they are so great, they are above everyone else. I don’t think I’m above anyone… not at all. I think we all walk our own paths and we make our way through the world the best we can and sometimes, we can get really lucky to get a wake up call that allows us to start digging deep into ourselves and becoming the best selves we can be. I don’t think that’s arrogance. I think that’s just love.

If self-love is so important, how do you get it? First, I highly recommend making a list of 50 things you love about yourself. If you can’t come up with fifty, write as many as you can and refer to it often. Ask your friends for help if you need to do so… tell them it is an assignment. You might be amazed at what they come up with. As you start to absorb those compliments, you’ll discover more awesome things about you. When you have fifty, work on adding more.

Every morning, when you open your eyes, say, “I’m awesome!” (Or amazing. Wonderful. Beautiful. Miraculous. Whatever works for you.) Say it out loud, though. It has two benefits. One, you hear it and believe it. Two, it’s kind of hilarious to wake up and say something like that out loud, so you start laughing. At least I do… every morning. The added bonus for me is that when I start laughing, Brutus gets excited and runs over to try to lick my face, which makes me laugh even more. This will work even if you have a partner/spouse/someone else sleeping in your bed. Just get them to do it, too.

Practice self-care in whatever form that takes for you. My hardest form of self-care is regular exercise. A friend told me to “make it fun.” So, every afternoon, I tag a few of my friends, make a video playlist, and have a dance party. We all post to each other at the end talking about our dances. We all give suggestions on what songs to play tomorrow. We move, we breathe, we have fun. It’s self-care. It’s finding joy in moving my body. Listen to music. Sing. Laugh. Eat as well as you can, but enjoy a nice treat every once in a while. Relish whatever you eat. Sit down and enjoy the sensation of eating. Buy exotic, juicy fruits if you can. Meditate. (I sound like a broken record with that one… it’s important!) Just practice self-care however that looks to you. I know I tout this all of the time, but self-care leads to self-love.

Remind yourself of your value. Remind yourself that you are an amazing person. If you don’t get that job interview or that date, it isn’t because you aren’t valuable. It’s simply because it wasn’t the right fit. And if someone is mean to you, it is all on them, not you. That woman who was scathing to me? That had nothing to do with my character, because I wouldn’t do something like that, even if I wasn’t interested.

And lastly, try to be naked as often as you can. Come to terms with your body if that is something that is difficult for you. Get naked. Or at least, go braless. Run around in a tank top and panties. Be barefoot. Enjoy the feeling of your own skin. Sleep naked. Dance in your underwear. Shake that booty. Touch yourself. (No, again, we’re not going there.) I mean, massage your own feet. Rub your shoulders. Touch your arms or your belly. Scratch your head. It feels good. Grin while you’re doing it and it feels even better. Cherish how it feels to be sweet to yourself. Become comfortable with the way your body looks and moves and feels.

Self-love, self-confidence, being comfortable with you… it’s a process and it can be an on-going process. Sometimes it’s hard. When it isn’t working, fake it. Smile, act with confidence, get yourself out there. Be fabulous. Love who you are, because who you are is pretty damn amazing.

 

Taking a Leap

inner peaceI logged on to write a blog today and was notified that it is my two year anniversary with Word Press. This has been a roller coaster of a two years for me. In February of 2012, I moved back to the states from the Virgin Islands and ended an almost ten year long relationship that had become quite toxic toward the end. I published my first novel. I started a journey toward becoming the best me I could be and, concurrently, loving myself exactly as I am. I published two more novels. I had two short term, but quite healing and lovely in many ways, love relationships. I went to the Michigan Womyn’s Music Festival twice. (See my blog on that if you are interested in learning about this amazing festival for women.) This one.

I wrote a blog about Christians and gays that pretty much went viral and was read in church by at least three preachers of varying sorts. (Edited for language, I believe. I’m pretty sure I used the word “asshole” too many times for most parishioners to be comfortable.) I lived off of my royalties. I lived in a camper in the woods. I lived in a lake house. I lived in a farm town in Iowa. I moved wherever and whenever I wanted. I traveled to Memphis and Phoenix and Palm Springs and Dallas. I went to literary conferences. I met a few soul mate friends. I set up learning about this Beth person without artifice. I made a pact to live an authentic life. I danced, I flirted, I made love, I fought, I got angry. I tried to take every chance I had at learning more about myself, why I react the way I do, and how to react differently if necessary. I put a “Namaste” sticker on the back of my car and then laughed at the irony of flipping someone off through the sunroof because they were tailing me on the freeway. I became a vegetarian. I stopped being a vegetarian. I became a vegetarian again. I went on a spiritual retreat. I grew confident.. I laughed at myself. I laughed at life. I laughed with joy. I laughed until tears ran down my face and I couldn’t breathe. I learned to love me.Truly love me.

The end result of this is that I am now the kind of person who believes that if something is calling to my soul, I should make every effort to do it.

The other day, a friend of mine suggested making a grocery list of things that call to my soul and see how that panned out as far as making a living. Well, really, what I want to do is write, talk to readers, meet other authors, do book readings, and go to literary conferences. Oh, and I want to just spread joy and love and happiness to everyone I can. I mean, why *can’t*  make a living spreading joy and happiness and love to people? To that end, I am leaving my day job and focusing on marketing my books, writing more, teaching classes on writing, and giving workshops that help women come to the same self-love that I now possess. I want them to learn to value themselves.

It’s authentic. It’s what calls to my soul. It brings me joy. I may not be able to make a living at it yet, but I don’t care. I don’t belong in  a cubicle wearing business casual, punching someone else’s time clock. I belong out in the world, spreading love and happiness. That’s why my books are happy… and it’s why I’m happy. Now, I am going to work at bringing that happiness and peace to others.

It’s a leap, but then, I like to live on the edge. I’d rather fail at something a million times than to not have tried it because I was afraid.

In the meantime, you can help by buying my awesome new book, “The Love Sucks Club” which isn’t really about love sucking after all.

In Fact, I’m Terrified

I have a confession to make. I’m not perfect. I know, most of you will find that difficult to believe. I mean, between my incredible good looks, my charm, my wit, and my awe-inspiring humility, I get mistaken for perfect a lot.

But there’s something pretty important about me that most people don’t know and I’d like to open a dialogue about it. I get panic attacks. I am actually in the midst of one right now. I’ve had panic attacks for probably fifteen years. Sometimes, they come for no known reason. Sometimes, I can point to too little water or too much caffeine combined with not enough sleep and a racing heart that leads to paranoia that I might be having a heart attack. Sometimes, I can reason myself into thinking I know what caused it and promise myself to take steps to rid myself of them forever. Panic attacks are the main reason that I quit smoking cigarettes in 09. I read somewhere that smoking makes them worse. I don’t know if that is true or not. I know that when I smoked, I was having more like a panic attack at least once a month, and now they’re more like 3-4 times a year, but that could have a lot to do with other things going on in my life at that time, as well.

Physically, this is how I feel: My lungs feel too tight, like something heavy is sitting on them. I can’t get a full breath, not one. When I concentrate on trying to get a full breath, my lungs feel like they’re going to explode. My head is pounding in a not-quite painful sort of way. It feels as if there is a hand on my brain, squeezing it, causing me to get dizzy in waves. Sometimes, the dizziness goes away for long enough that I almost think it’s over until it slams back into me causing a fresh wave of tears and heart palpitations. Of course, all of the crying clogs up my nose, making it even harder to breathe. My mind can’t stay on any one thing. I can usually throw out a blog post in about twenty minutes. This one has taken forty-five minutes so far because I have to stop every few minutes to sit up and take stock of my physical condition and spend several seconds trying to convince myself that there is nothing physically wrong with me, that I’m not dying, that I don’t need to be rushed to the emergency room.

Emotionally, it’s worse. I’ve made a practice in the past few years of living my life in joy and gratitude. Even when I have the occasional grouchy flare up, I’m usually able to cajole myself out of it by counting my blessings and reminded myself of how lucky I am to have all that I do. During a panic attack, counting my blessings doesn’t help. I feel scared and sad and on the edge and I waiver between full blown tears to abject terror that I am in the midst of a stroke or a heart attack to long, self-doubt filled bouts of anxiety that my daily Beth knows are logically unreasonable, but that my shadow self can’t put way.

My every day attitude is happy and positive. During a panic attack, I can’t get it back. I can’t bring myself back to the positive. I’m convinced that I’ll never finish my third novel, that I’ll be broke forever, that people will find out the terrible truth about me and stop loving me, that I’m about to die, that everything sucks right now and it will never be okay again.

In my real life, I think I am amazing. In a panic attack, I berate myself for *failing* in my self-growth. I think that I should be able to meditate myself back to normal. I think I should be able to get back into a good mood – that I should be able to bring myself back to the joy that I promote so heavily. I feel so dark and so down that I think that anyone who had to be around me right now would consider me a fake and a phony for putting off such a positive and happy vibe. All of that happy feels like a lie in the middle of a panic attack… it’s like, while I am in the midst of that, I can’t even remember that I was happy before this happened. I know I was. I was looking at pictures of myself with some of my good friends in Palm Springs last week and there is genuine joy on my face in every single picture. There’s a picture of myself and my friend from just yesterday, smiling and joyous.  I mean, in my brain, I remember walking into the house, throwing my arms around her, and laughingly telling her how much I enjoyed our twelve hours in the car. I meant it. I feel joy. I felt joy. And from past experience, my logical mind knows that when I get past this attack, I’ll feel that way again. But in the middle of an attack, it feels like I’ve lost it forever and that was it – I got my share of joy and now it’s over.

i was trying to explain it to my friend and the best I could come up with is this: It’s like there’s a battle going on inside of my brain between light and dark – and for the majority of my life, the light and glowing and happy fairy dust side of me is on top with its boot firmly planted in the dark side’s throat. Sometimes, though, the dark side gets out and the two of them battle violently. A panic attack, for me at least, isn’t a solid, unwavering thing. The physical and emotional symptoms kind of come and go over the time that I am having the attack…. so much so that sometimes, it is so long between bouts that I feel sure the attack is over and just as I start to see the light, the dark jabs back in and makes me feel worse because I thought I was so close.

It’s been an hour and a half since this attack started. I am mostly getting a full breath every time now. My heart started to skip a few beats about five minutes ago and I started to get anxiety that something was wrong with my heart, but I was able to talk myself down before I went back into full blown panic again. The sky is mostly blue with a few scattered clouds, but it isn’t a storm anymore. This ending can be credited to my friend who, when I described the battle between dark and light said,” I thought all authors have that. Isn’t that why they write?”

Oh. Duh. So I wrote. This is a panic attack. I couldn’t make myself publish this ten minutes ago – I thought I was posting a deep, dark, and shameful secret that would change everyone’s opinion of me. But, as I’ve come further out of the attack, the real Beth is coming through… and the real Beth thinks that there are others out there who get panic attacks and might want to read about this. This is a panic attack. I get them. If you get them too, write to me. I’d love to hear other people’s stories. Maybe together we can stomp out the darkness. Or at least make the patches of light bigger.

The Art of Not Taking it Personally

Don Miguel Ruiz, in one of his Four Agreements, wrote, “Don’t take it personally.”  This is a variation on a standard theme within spirituality circles and frankly, I’ve had quite a problem with it. When you get into a situation where someone is abusing you, or calling you names, or bullying a child, how do you not take it personally?

Or, to bring it closer to home, when your partner is being an ass, how do you not take it personally? If you have a hubby who decides he would rather watch baseball than go to dinner with you? What about a sister who tells you that you look fat in that outfit? Your best friend doesn’t return your phone call for a week? Your boss is just plain being a dick?

This is where I have been struggling. It’s all very well and good to say to not take things personally, but how do you reconcile trying to live that without letting someone treat you like a doormat?

And then today, while walking the dog (and I really do seem to always get these periods of illumination during the dog’s elimination), it became clear to me why I can’t take it personally.

See, I have spent a great deal of time over the past couple of years moving into a place on non-judgment. I think it is a process, and it takes practice. For example, when someone comes into the room wearing a strange outfit, and the people I am with make fun of it, I do not. I don’t think anything about it. In fact, I understand that the judgment speaks way more about the person making fun than it does about the person wearing the original outfit. And I have been pretty fond of trying to help others come to a place of non-judgment. For example, in a friend’s recent Facebook thread, there was a heated discussion about people being bothered by seeing adults out in public in pajama pants. Well, I countered that we could never know the whole story as to why they are wearing pajama pants, so we can’t judge. Maybe they have a deathly ill child and had to run to the pharmacy for medicine. Maybe they’ve recently had surgery and can’t wear regular pants. *MAYBE* it’s none of our damn business why they are wearing pajama pants and we should be better people and not judge them. (But see what I am doing there? I’m judging the people who judge.) As I said, it is an on-going process and I think only completely evolved religious masters can ever get to a place of complete non-judgment… after all, as long as there are still rapists and child abusers and people who torment animals, I will still have judgment in my heart.

-But- I think I have come a long way in my non-judgment and I think it has helped me to be a better friend. I don’t care what my friends wear or what they do for a living or how much money they make or whether or not their houses are clean.

So how does this on-going practice relate to not taking things personally? Well, it finally hit me today. It really isn’t about me. If someone tells me I look ugly in my outfit, that says absolutely nothing about me. I haven’t changed one bit from the moment before they said it to the moment after. *THEY* are the ones who have changed, by speaking in unnecessary cruelty. And I don’t know why they are like that… perhaps they’ve had a bad day. Perhaps they feel as if they look terrible today. Perhaps they are just nasty. The point is, I don’t know. I can’t know. None of us can ever truly know the entire depth of another person’s mind and heart. Heck, some days, I don’t know why *I* do everything I do… let alone anyone else. So, in the spirit of non-judgment, I must also put myself into the mind frame of not judging someone when their behavior goes against my own comfort.

Now, does that mean that you should just put up with someone who acts like an asshole to you? No, definitely not. Just because you are trying to be non-judgmental doesn’t mean you have to live with someone who treats you like crap or remain friends with someone who is always trying to drag you down. You make a choice. Are the good parts of the friendship worth the bad parts? I have gotten rid of friends who seem to do nothing but complain. I’m not going to judge them… perhaps they have valid reason for always being unhappy. But I prefer to choose my happiness and being around negative people makes it more difficult.

You can make your own decisions based on other people’s actions, but you can’t control their actions. I was just having this conversation with my bestie the other day. I do not like to talk on the phone, so unless it is an emergency, I am probably not going to call you back, maybe not for weeks. Text me, Facebook me, email me, whatever. I just really don’t like to spend much time on the phone. You can take it personally, or you can practice non-judgment and understand that that is just the way that I am. You can then choose to accept it and stay in my life in a NON telephoney kind of way, or choose NOT to accept it and cut me out of your life. Either way, we are each being responsible for our own decisions and we are not taking it personally! Just understand that no matter what, you cannot fully understand the reasons for a persons actions.

You can carry this over into your job, too. If a customer is being irritable, remind yourself not to take it personally. Practice the art of non-judgment. Remove yourself from the situation and remind yourself, in a non-judging sort of way, that their behavior has really nothing to do with you, and everything to do with them.

You really do get out of life what you put into it. But you must be doing it for yourself. You cannot change someone else’s life, you can only change your own.

Non-judgment, personal responsibility, and not allowing others to dictate your life all fall in the same space. Removing your ego from the equation allows for better life decisions. Of course, I’ve read all of this stuff and I have tried to absorb it. But I don’t think it really means anything until it sinks in all of a sudden while walking the dog…. BAM! Lightning strike. I don’t know why it took me so long to figure it out.