Saturday, January 31, 2009


Something terrible happens in the mind of every little child when the lights go off at night. Evil creatures lurk behind every curtain, monsters crouch under the bed, villains lie in wait inside closets, and shadows flutter to reveal endless opportunities for fear to creep into the imagination.

Once that moment has come-- once the tree outside t
urns into a monster with long, spindly fingers, or the creaking noise in the hallway becomes a softly approaching ghost-- there is nothing that can be done to undo that transformation. Nothing, of course, except for someone to turn on the lights and reveal the phantoms for what they really are.

Fear is a funny thing. We can know something to be true-- absolutely true-- but once fear has snuck in, it is almost im
possible to believe anything else, without the help of some outside force. I confess (and this is embarrassing) that every time Chris is late coming home from a bike ride-- even though I know he is fine-- I start imagining scenarios of phone calls from hospitals, funeral services, and life without him. Nothing-- no amount of reasoning or laughing at myself-- except seeing him walk through the door can erase my crazy thoughts & fears.

I have been dealing with my own fears-- my "monsters under the bed" for some time now. Despite a loving husband, friends & family, despite years of counseling & hours of Dr. Phil (just kidding-- I've never actually watched Dr. Phil... but maybe I should?), I just can't seem to convince myself that there's nothing lying in wait out there.

And here, dear friends, is what I am afraid of: I am afraid of failing, afraid of being alone; afraid that something will go horribly wrong, and I will discover that I am unworthy of love.

A big confession, I know-- but isn't that really what we're all afraid of in the end? Doesn't everyone live with the fear, to some extent, that they don't measure up, that they won't be accepted, that they will fail & be left alone with no one to love them? I'm sure that the healthy, well adjusted, mature adults among us aren't as plagued by that fear in the same way as a 12 year old at a school dance-- and maybe that's all maturity really is?-- but I am sure that at one time or another, we all wrestle with those fears.

Mine come in wav
es, and are often related to my job & fears of failure. I am in the unusual position of working with my husband and being a professional Christian-- so if I fail at work, I let down not only spiritually budding students & interns, but also my spouse and God. Sheesh! If only I could work at Starbucks and have my failures be limited to cappuccinos and lattes. But I digress.

Over the last several weeks, I could feel those fears mounting up, silently growing under the surface and breeding doubt & insecurities. I would see myself in other people's eyes-- God's, students', co-workers'-- and imagine that they saw failure in me. It wasn't an overwhelming sense of fear or shame, but rather a faint shadow that tainted my vision in a barely perceptible way.

And then one day, something changed. It was as though someone walked into the room and turned on the lights, revealing the monsters & demons for what they really were. I decided that I was tired of listening to lies, tired of living under that cloud. I decided to walk away, and stop believing them.

There have been moments of clarity in my life where Truth is so very True that it illuminates everything around it until it feels as though you could never doubt again. This was one of those moments. Suddenly, all the things I had been believing about myself
felt so small and empty, and everything felt free & light, now that I was out from under the weight of all those phantoms.

Oh, the freedom to just be me-- to be able to live out my relationships & responsibilities in the open spaces of myself, without the constraints that my fears & insecurities unknowingly brought. It just felt right.

As I write this now, it has been almost 2 weeks since that moment, and I am sad to admit that the fears & the shadows are slowly creeping back-- as I knew they inevitably would.

I am reminded of my little nephew who cried & cried one night because of the ghosts in his room.
When the lights were turned on, they revealed cobwebs blowing in the draft of the window, and once he knew the truth, he was able to go right to sleep, even with the lights turned off. If only all of our fears worked that way.

I know that my fears & insecurities are simply cobwebs & shadows-- I have seen them in the light, and I know that they have no substance. And yet, when it gets dark, they still can hold a certain power over me. Can any of us ever truly escape those dark fears? I think the most that we can do is fight off the shadows & wait in hope for the moment when Someone turns the lights on. Because, really, I think it takes that outside force to chase our fears away-- bringing the illumination & clarity that somehow allows us to push through our fears.

And so, I keep pushing, remembering that moment of Truth, when I just knew that, if nothing else, I am wholly accepted. In the end, that's all I need to know.

Sunday, January 25, 2009

A Simple Plan; Thwarted

There is a precious commodity that every San Franciscan covets. Just as the value of, say, a banana increases exponentially in the Arctic, verses in a tropical jungle, so the simple laws of economy-- supply & demand-- are present in my fine City.

I am talking about Space: whether it be a parking spot, or simply the elbow room to stand in any given part of your home without being able to reach out & touch every article of furniture you own, Space is a valuable item here.

There is a never ending Tetris game th
at exists in San Francisco, where everyone I know battles with their square footage-- re-arranging furniture, scouring Craigslist, BARTing to Ikea, and jealously eying each other to see how the Jone's are keeping up.

I imagine that New York is even worse--
that if you could find a way to bottle up a square foot at a time and sell it on the streets, you might even start a riot eclipsing the Tickle-me-Elmo craze, while City Dwellers scratched & clawed at one another to add just a little more Space to their lives.

I confess that I am not immune to the fantasies of what life could be like with just a little more Space. I admit that I have secret, wishful dreams about what I would do with a second bedroom (oh, imagine the utter extravagance! Like winning the Lottery!), or even what it would be like to have two people in the kitchen at the same time. I decided just the other day that in order to make room for my boots to line up in our closet, I need to get rid of a stock pot in our kitchen (I'm not joking! Our ice cream maker has no where else to sleep but on our closet floor, and if we got rid of a stock pot, we could put the ice cream maker in the kitchen, and I could line up my boots in the bedroom closet, rather than cramming them in awkward piles.).

Every now and then-- especially when we have been out of town for a while and come home with fresh eyes to really see our apartment-- I find new energy & creativity to re-invent our living space, making it more efficient & roomy.

It all started with a Simple Plan: if we got rid of our TV, we could eliminate the clunky stand it sits on, and... [you can feel the seductive siren call, the very thought welling up like fireworks]... create more *Space*. We would replace our obtrusive TV with our flat panel computer monitor for watching movies, eliminating the temptation to waste time in front of the tube, while freeing up some precious Space.

That's when it all fell apart. What would we do with that Space? We can't just leave it there-- that would be wasteful! And what about when we use the computer and watch a movie at the same time? What began as a simple plan turned into a complete overhaul. In a matter of days, we had every material belonging in our Living Room stacked, re-arranged, thrown out, or in limbo somewhere in between (mostly the latter). I spent hours-- probably days-- searching through Craigslist, visiting thrift shops, measuring each inch of floor space & moving ev
ery piece of furniture.

And then, like a miracle, it all came together. I found Chris' ultimate fantasy: a big, over sized leather arm chair to grow old on. It matched our couch perfectly, and it was only $50. Hooray for Craigslist! Suddenly everything came into focus. We raced out, hastily handed over our $50 and marched our prize down to the car.

The only problem was that Chris' beautiful new/used armed chair was about 2 inches too tall to fit in our non-SUV. No matter how much we pushed, or how many angles we tried, it just wouldn't go in that little car. However, when the very bottom of one side of the chair was squeezed in through the hatchback, the bottom of the other side rested comfortably on the bike rack/trailer hitch. Hmmm, why not? We said to ourselves

With only about 5% of the arm chair actually inside the car, we drove off with the rest of it precariously balanced on the bike rack (with the aid of some ratchet straps)... and did what any rational San Franciscan would do: we went to the beach. (Well, we were only a few blocks away, and our poor dog hadn't been outside at all that day!). When we finally made it home, cleaned up our treasure (and found a few dollars in change under the cushions-- meaning that the chair only cost about $48!), we laughed at the thought of fitting this ginormous armchair into our apartment. But I would not be defeated. I believed in my plan.

The chair sat out in the foyer for a few days while we did mental Rubic's Cube with the furniture inside. After much turmoil, we finally landed on our solution: a flat panel TV and a tiny cart to put in on (I'll save you the gory details of our Salvation Army searches, our TV research, the painting & re-wiring & re-arranging that took place for that minor miracle to occur).

In all, we ended up with a gorgeous leather arm chair, a flat panel TV, a rolling wooden cart, and
a new sense of space & openness for only $248 (more than we intended to spend, but it was our Christmas present to each other). Not bad, when you consider how jealous our friends will be, now that we have room for a couch, a dining table and an arm chair in our living room. Of course, we still can't find a place for our plants & our stereo, we have to re-arrange our furniture every time we want to watch TV, and my feng Shui is all messed up from an off-centered picture that we still haven't re-hung after the room's re-configuration.

But, as I sit on that fabulous leather arm chair and survey our new & improved room, I have an air of satisfaction, knowing that I succeeded at squeezing out every last drop of Space that this apartment had to offer (once I get rid of my stock pot, of course).

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Hello, Old Friend

There is something delicious and comfortable about old friendships-- the kind that feel like a conversation left off in mid-air and resumed again, even if its months or years later.

are the kind of interactions that don't require explanations, background stories, or wading through the niceties of small talk, and can skip directly to the heart of the matter. History, knowledge & shared experiences wash away self-consciousness in those moments, and we are free to simply enjoy each other.

It's a shame, really, that the rest of life can't operate in the same way. Some aspects of life are just like riding a bike, and some require that awkward breaking-in phase all over again, no matter how many times you've done it.

Incidentally, my brother hates the expres
sion "Just like riding a bike", because all though he was a champ on two wheels as a kid, he somehow digressed, and would most likely need training wheels again, if he were forced to resume his cycling carer. Which is my point, exactly.

I don't think its fair that just because one hasn't exercised in a few weeks, one's body acts as th
ough physical exertion is something completely foreign and alien, some new entity that it has never encountered (I am speaking hypothetically, of course). I don't think it's fair that, come Monday morning, it's as though no alarm clock has ever dared to wake you up before dawn-- just because two little weekend mornings have snuck in and [gloriously] interfered with your routine.

Why is it that all renewal in life can't be more like an Old Friend? When we return to the gym after Christmas, why can't we say to the elliptical, "Hello, Old Friend", or greet the alarm clock with the same easy comfort & closeness?

This last week has been a push to welcome back the rhythms and routines of life, and one Friend in particular has been especially hard to start a conversation with. Recently, I have found Writing to be such an easy friend-- a natural outlet I gravitated towards & felt at home with; a place where I found & liked myself. But over these last several weeks, it seemed as though our conversations had dried up and become tired & forced-- more like an old, worn out marriage than a warm, fuzzy friendship.

Let the records state that I am horrible when it comes to discipline & longevity. From more recent relationships-- like knitting & embroidery-- to ancient ones-- like playing the viola & horse-back riding--I tend to be more of a sprinter than a marathon runner.

Yes, it seems as though the Thrill is gone-- that the well of creativity is dry, and I am left wondering What Went Wrong?
I have decided, though, that Writing is worth sticking with, despite the hard work & awkward silences. Even though I feel that I have nothing to say, even though those first conversations feel forced & artificial, I know that if we keep talking, we'll find our way back. So then, I will continue forcing my hand (literally), trusting that it will get better.