Joy ride

I almost got stuck in a worry this morning.

I was in my car, driving to an appointment for a medical test.

I started imagining doom and gloom.

But about five seconds into the worry, I shook my head. Literally shook it.

And forced myself to get stuck in something else.

Something joyful.

I quickly looked around for a prompt.

Once, not too long ago, the winding hills of the Galilee would have been enough to move me. The goats and shepherd along the road. The fields lined with greens ready to be picked.

But not today. The scenery didn’t do it for me.

Like a Freudian free association exercise, I quickly reminded myself how happy I was only three weeks ago to be driving at all.

Feel it! I told myself. Feel the gratitude just to be driving with a real, certified driver’s license.

Nope. Didn’t feel it.

Next, taking a page out of my friend Andra’s “First Times” series of blog posts, I tried to turn my attention to more than two decades ago when I first got my American driver’s license and when I finally had a car of my own. Tried to imagine myself 17, alone, on the open road, without a grownup.

Surely memories of my youth would move something inside of me, I thought.

And, indeed, something started to stir.

The worry moved aside for a minute. But the “something” wasn’t quite strong enough to overpower the worry.

Then in an instant, in the mysterious way memory works, I remembered a “first time” that would move me from worry to joy.

I was 23.

I had just moved to New York City from Washington, D.C. where I had studied.

I was living, at the time, with a bunch of girls in a dorm room at NYU to take part in the university’s Summer Publishing Institute.

That day — the one my memory drifted to this morning– was a typical stifling hot summer day in NYC in 1997. Extra stifling in the subway system.

There’s a long underground hallway at Times Square/Port Authority that takes you from what was then the 1-2-3 line to the A-C-E. The walls were peppered with advertisements, of course. But hanging from the ceiling was a series of signs…an art installation geared towards the walking commuters. It apparently still hangs today.

The series starts with one word:

OVERSLEPT

And continues:

SO TIRED

IF LATE

GET FIRED.

One in a series of subway signs at Times Square. Photo by Daniel Goodman / Business Insider

I remember being 23 and noticing those signs and having an out of body experience a la Steve Martin in LA Story.

“Are those signs talking to me?” I wondered.

I paused and considered what the signs were saying. Who they were speaking to.

And in my head, to the imaginary voice or to myself, I answered.

Not me.

“I’m not tired at, all. In fact, I feel more alive than ever!” I thought.

Those signs were clearly speaking to some very sad and sorry grownups — not me! — who were already tired from life.

I laughed out loud.

Grownups.

It suddenly occurred to me that I was a grownup!

“I can’t believe I am a grown up,” I thought. “This is IT. I am officially a grownup.”

My self-talk continued:

“Here I am.  In this subway station. Underground. Alone. On my own. Nobody here knows me. I can do or be anything I want. No one can tell me who to be or what to do anymore. I am an adult.”

I remember this as the exact moment I felt adult.

I remember a combination of terror and joy.

But mostly joy.

I wanted to dance around the room.

I was free!

Free to live my life!

Instead dancing, I just smiled.

I smiled at the strangers. The tired ones. The ones wondering, “Why bother?”

I felt sorry for their malaise, but I walked underground between 7th and 8th Avenues with a lighter step and a huge smile on my face.

“I am a grownup!” My smile said. “Just try and tell me what to do!”

The fragments of that smile remain today, sitting in the back of my throat, waiting for worry.

And I accessed that smile today and the emotions behind it.

Alone (!)

On my own (!)

I can do or be anything I want!!!

I laughed at myself, then

and at life.

At how funny life is.

At how funny humans are.

Fragments of a smile became a true smile of joy as I realized I was free.

I’m happy and I know it … clap your hands

I giggle.

I work hard to make others giggle.

I dream…and enjoy analyzing my dreams.

I engage on social media.

I innovate (at work)

I create (at home)

I write.

I share my writing with others.

I bake cookies.

I surprise the people I love with small treats or notes.

I want to be around people.

I want to know them.

I want to learn more about them.

I want to discover what we have in common and how we can help each other.

I sing.

I kiss my husband.

I take beautiful pictures.

Or silly ones.

Mr. Sunglasses Face

This isn’t a list of the things that make me happy.

It’s a list of ways I know that I am happy.

That life is working for me.

These are ways I know I am doing what is required to care for myself so that my life is one I enjoy … or, at least, feel reasonably satisfied by.

Often times, we think  — if we think at all — about the things that make us happy.

Ice cream.

Sex.

Vacation.

Money.

Baseball.

Air conditioning.

We make mental or actual lists of all the things we need in our life in order to be happy. Or we delineate end goals or possessions we are convinced will make us happier if only we reach them or one day have them.

Better job.

Better wife.

A baby.

Older kids.

A degree.

More sleep.

More quiet.

Less stress.

And while some of us are good at being grateful for what we have– and even acknowledging the good in our life — I don’t often hear from my inner voice listing off the ways I know I am happy now.

Right now.

Or what happy looked like back when it colored my life.

What does happy look like?

Who are you when you’re happy?

If we don’t know what happy looks like, how will we ever get there?

I’ve noticed over the past few weeks that my happy evidence is somewhat missing from the scene.

This was a red alert for me to DO SOMETHING.

So I started thinking about my list.

The list of things that act as evidence that I am happy.

And I started doing those things.

Even though I wasn’t yet happy.

And today, I’m happier.

(I didn’t say HAPPY.)

But

I’m writing.

I’m baking.

I’m spending time with real live human beings.

And engaging a little with the imaginary real live human beings on my screen.

What does happy look like for you?

How will you …

How do you…

recognize it?

Practice hard what you preach; then practice some more

There is what I preach and there is what I practice and there is sometimes overlap.

All of my preaching is prepared and shared with good intentions.

Yet there is intention and there is action and in between there is emotion.

Emotion gets in the way, sometimes.

A lot of times.

Meaning, no matter how good my intentions, and no matter how loud my preachin’, my emotions trump.

My emotions are

Royal

Straight

Flush.

Which brings me back to practice.

Knowing that my emotions trump my intentions, I may be (and must be) mindful in situations in which emotions run high.

The only way I know how to get better at acting with intention is to notice when I’m not…

and turn it around.

traffic

I love my emotions.

Okay, I value them.

But there are times when I wish what I know to be true would run through and through

all the way to my heart

As opposed to the doubt, the anger, the hurt, the fear

That runs through instead.

And all I can do in those moments

when the through and through is

doubt, anger, hurt, fear

is practice.

= = =

P.S.: For those seeking the conclusion to my driving test saga, sigh, I didn’t pass.