Why I Pierced My Ears at 40

The older I get, the more I do things I’ve always said I’ll never do. Last week I got my ears pierced.

I never did it as a kid or a teen, and after that it seemed too late. But after years of scouring thrift stores for agonizing clip-on earrings, I bit the bullet.

Three of my girlfriends–Kaitlyn, Nancy, and Zohal–joined me on my adventure. We headed over to Ancient Arts in Boston, MA.

anya-and-ladiesFrom left: Nancy, Zohal, Anya, Kaitlyn. All photos courtesy of Fance Nance.

I’d spent a long time a few weeks back talking with the owner, Matt, about what to expect. Deep down, I wasn’t so much scared of the pain, but that getting pierced would make me into a different person.

But we’re all becoming different people, every day. The trick is to transform in a healthy, playful way.

And for me, getting pierced seemed like a warrior goddess tradition. Why not get in on that action? And increase the bling factor in my life?

Here’s me before, flaunting my lobe:

before-2My last few moments as an unpierced lady.

And here’s me after:

newly-piercedMy shiny, sterilized earlobe, post-needle.

The pain wasn’t bad. It felt like a small, vindictive animal sinking one sharp tooth into my earlobe.

I went with purple labret studs for the starter earrings. Zohal said that the sparkle on my ears made my eyes look brighter too.

anya-and-mattMe and the piercing pro: Matt from Ancient Arts.

Thanks to Matt and my girlfriends for making this body art ritual fun and memorable!

Letting Myself Be Sick

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Follicular bronchitis/bronchiolitis, by Pulmonary Pathology (Yale Rosen) on Flickr.

I’ve always pitied my friends who get sick a lot. They must be doing something wrong, I reckoned. Like not eating healthy enough. Not washing their hands well. Or having small children who bring germs home from daycare.

But over the last six months, I’ve been ill quite a bit myself. Nothing serious–some vicious head colds, the occasional fever, and now a new low: bronchitis.

Being sick sucks. It makes me vulnerable, which is not my preferred state. It also makes me feel guilty. My boyfriend caught my recent cold and had to carry it on a plane to Europe with him the next day.

But I’m trying to learn how to give up some control over my life. Control is a great illusion anyway, and being sick is a visceral reminder of that.

I’ve lost close friends to cancer, and a dear coworker is battling it as we speak. Other friends and family have overcome that disease and other terrible physical afflictions I can only imagine. Mine are lightweight troubles in comparison.

Right now I’m reading Joe Abercrombie’s wonderful fantasy series The First Law, much of which involves brutal battle and torture scenes. The way characters respond to pain and hardship defines them.

One of my favorite is Logen, a battle-scarred bandit who winds up nursing a pampered young nobleman grievously wounded in a skirmish. In one scene, Logen tries to reassure the paralyzed, suffering dandy:

“Easy, now, and listen to me. It hurts, yes. Seems like more than you can take, but it isn’t…All you got to do is lie there, and it gets better. You understand? You got the light duty, you lucky bastard.”

Remaining still, so I can heal. Not so easy. But maybe a good lesson.

What’s More Relaxing–Going Away or Staying Home?

ptown-buddhaPhoto by Anya Weber.

My friend Kavita listens to heavy metal music when she’s getting a massage, because it helps her relax. This taught me something: serenity is subjective.

This extends to how we take vacation. My friends divide into two camps. Some have a strong preference for going away somewhere, and others prefer to stay home.

The first group might be called the Away Gamers. For them, leaving home makes the stress of everyday life melt away. There are no bills to pay, no visual reminders of their job or household tasks. They just get to play and have fun.

For Away Gamers, having a “stay-cation” (a few days to spend time at home) is stressful. They wind up cleaning the house and doing errands, and when it’s time to go back to work they don’t feel rested at all.

The second group is the one I belong to. Call us the Homers. For us, being at home is relaxing in itself. We love having an open schedule and being in control of our surroundings, knowing that we’ll be comfortable.

It’s not that Homers don’t like to explore. But travel is not a restful experience. While it may be thrilling, it entails a loss of control and requires a high level of planning.

Although I’m a Homer, I also know that pushing myself to travel feels wonderful. It stretches me in a way that staying at home just doesn’t. I turned 40 recently, and traveled to Provincetown, MA, where I took the Buddha photo at the top of this post.

Now I’m wrapping up two serene and lovely days of stay-cation at home. Ahhh.

What about you? Are you a Homer or an Away Gamer? Why?

I Forgot to Eat a Doughnut

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Photo by The Searcher via Creative Commons on Flickr.

Lara Swanson wrote a great post about her process for creating a compelling presentation. Along with asking people for feedback and practicing her talk multiple times, she included a step at the end of the process: eating a doughnut.

Swanson writes:

After the presentation’s done, I’ve checked the data, answered questions, and thanked people, I’ll go find a donut. I’m not really kidding. Eating a donut is an integral part of my career celebration process. Years ago, I found that whenever something awesome happened in my career […] I wouldn’t take the time to celebrate the achievement. I’m an achiever by nature, the kind who feels like every day starts at zero. Not deliberately marking these moments left me feeling like I wasn’t actually accomplishing anything.

This resonated with me big-time. I’m also an achiever. But I tend to gloss over my successes, not so much in a self-deprecating way, but in the interest of surging (or blundering) on to what’s next.

Case in point: I recently completed a first draft of my first feature-length screenplay. This is huge!

But I haven’t told that many people about it, let alone symbolized the milestone with a delicious snack.

It’s impossible for me to think about my screenplay as an achievement, because I immediately see all the upcoming steps in the process: the revising. The re-revising. The ego-at-the-door-checking.

There’s a Great Wall-length road between where I am now, and having this thing production-ready. (Not to mention what filming itself would entail.)

But. I completed a first draft. It’s done. And it would have been easy to walk away in the middle–but I held true to Chuck Wendig’s oath:

I am the commander of these words.

I am the king of this story.

I am the god of this place.

I am a writer, and I will finish the shit that I started.

Amen.

Since I read those words I’ve made a commitment to at least complete Draft One of every writing project. Meaning that every scene is (mostly) in place, the plot (kinda) makes sense, my characters (overall) know who they are and what they want.

So how many more drafts are to come?

Unknown. I could drop this hot potato right now.

But instead of bailing, I will pause.

And savor the doughnut–or, in my case, the vegan chocolate-butterscotch pudding–of victory.

Do you have an equivalent of “eating the doughnut” when you hit a milestone?

Seen and Heard in Vegas

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Image credit: Girls Guide to the World.

Elevators rushing up 34 floors

like killer whales about to breach

Britney Spears in red sequins on my room key card,

on the elevator doors–

When the doors open they split her body in two–

I step inside

Fountains dancing, whirling dervishes of water

Turning to spray, to air

or going splat

A twilight sky painted on the mall ceiling

the perfect shade of periwinkle

Nothing real but the unreality

A Setback and a Triumph

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Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

Over the last few months, I completed a short screenplay that I started writing over two years ago. It’s a horror movie, an adaptation of a story I read years back that I couldn’t get out of my head.

I wrote a draft in fall 2011 and gave myself nightmares. The tale is dark. It tapped into some of my most secret fears. I wasn’t comfortable diving deeper into them.

Last October I reread it and liked it more than I expected to. My writing group read my draft and, instead of deciding that I was a creepy weirdo for having written such a thing, gave enthusiastic feedback.

I started revising, and investigating how to get permission for my adaptation. This would be necessary if I were to try to produce the film, or enter it in a contest–put it out into the world in any way.

After running a gauntlet of reps, lawyers, publishers, and other gatekeepers, today I got my official answer:

No.

The author, who is well known, has a policy of only taking permissions requests from well-established agents or screenwriters with whom he is familiar. I understand that he needs to protect himself from a million screaming fanboys. But I am truly bummed. This is the first script I’ve written that is strong enough to produce. And I can’t.

On the other hand…This is the first script I’ve written that is strong enough to produce. After two years sitting in a drawer because it scared me so much, and another four months of revisions, it is solid. I’m so proud that I wrote it.

I think adapting from existing sources suits me well, since plot is the hardest element for me about screenwriting. Next time, I’ll get permission first before I really throw myself into it.

In the meantime, I’m working on an original, feature-length screenplay. Permissions not an issue. Plot? That’s another story…

New Year’s Notions: Set an Intention, Not an Agenda

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Image via Tribal Harmonix.

As we drift closer to 2014, I’ve been thinking about things I’ve learned over the last year that have helped me enjoy life more. Here’s one I’ve taken to heart recently: set an intention, not an agenda.

What’s the difference?

If you have an intention, you’re adjusting your energy and focus in a particular direction. This is under your control. For example, “I’m going to bring my enthusiastic spirit to this party. And I’m going to compliment at least one guy on his tie.”

If you have an agenda, you’re directing your energy and focus away from yourself, toward a particular outcome. This is not under your control. For instance, “At this party, I’m going to talk to a cute guy, and get his number. Or get him to ask me for my number. I’d like to leave with a couple of good prospects.”

Why is intention better than agenda? Because agenda is stressful. You can’t control how other people will react to you. All you can control is yourself, your own mood, and the vibe you bring to the party (or any other setting).

Having an agenda is what makes a stranger come across as slightly creepy. They want something from you, but you’re not sure what it is. Intention isn’t creepy–it’s healthy. (As long as the intention is positive, that is.)

So as we head into the New Year, set a cheerful and healthy intention for yourself. And leave the agendas back in 2013, where they belong, with the rest of our discarded baggage.

Creativity and Rust

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That’s the guitar my mom gave me in 1999, when I got back from two years in China.

She’s a Fender. Her name is Van, after Townes Van Zandt and Camper Van Beethoven.

When I got back to the States, I took some guitar lessons and played about 45 minutes a day. I learned a bunch of chords and some very simple fingerpicking. I got comfortable enough that, when my dad gave a talk for the high school where he’s a teacher, I played a song before and after.

But when I moved to Boston in 2000, even though Van came with me, I just didn’t play her much. There was too much else going on: finding a job, stage-managing a crazy huge theatre production, and entering my first serious relationship.

Also, you need tough fingertips to play guitar, and mine quickly became uncallused. So it always seemed like too much of a commitment to get back into it.

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But over the last couple weeks, I’ve busted out my guitar again. Maybe it’s the energy of fall, or maybe I’m jealous of the fun I see musicians having when I go to live shows.

My goal is to take some singing lessons, using the guitar to back myself up. And then maybe some guitar lessons. And then maybe a songwriting class. And then, the Holy Grail: Open Mic Night somewhere.

Last night I wrote most of a song. It showed me the universe of what I don’t know about composition, music theory, and lyric writing. It doesn’t even have a bridge yet. Does every folk song need a bridge?

The funny thing is, when I picked up Van again, I realized that I’d gotten kinda good at playing, back 14 years ago. I didn’t recognize that at the time, but as I look up the chords for songs I used to play, it’s obvious that my 45 minutes a day created some ability. How could it not?

This happens a lot. If you work out every day, then take a long break, then try to get back into it, your body will feel old and stiff. Same with speaking a long-abandoned language. You can feel how rusty the gears are. Sometimes it doesn’t seem worth the effort to clean them off, lube them up, and get the bike on the road again.

But the things we practice become our identity.

It seems like my mission in life lately is to prove that I’m a creative person, with the guitar and the screenwriting and the enormous collage I’m making. I go through periods where I doubt my own creativity. And that’s a deep, painful doubt–like doubting that I’m a good person, or doubting that I’m loved.

Hopefully as I keep practicing these creative things, some rust will come off the gears and there will be as much pleasure as effort.

I wonder if part of my urge to be creative is because I’m not planning to have a kid. Do humans have a finite amount of creativity, which they can pour into parenting, writing, running a business, whatever?

Or is creativity a quality some people have, and some people lack?

Stretching the Comfort Zone

I’ve been trying to live outside my comfort zone lately. Re-learning to drive, supervising a new employee, introducing myself to strangers at social events–none of these come naturally. But they all feel good once I make myself do them.

Eleanor Roosevelt said, “Do one thing every day that scares you.” Ali Binazir, author of the wonderful Tao of Dating, puts it this way:

“Remember that in life, everything that you want is outside of your comfort zone. Because if something is inside your comfort zone, it’s either something you already have or something so trivial as to be undesirable: you don’t want something you already have. So in order to get what you want but don’t yet have, you have no choice but to venture outside of your comfort zone.”

To me it feels more like stretching my comfort zone, the same way I stretch my muscles on my yoga mat. Maybe with these “comfort zone stretches,” I’m expanding my soul’s capacity and strength, giving it its own version of a workout.