Date Archives January 2011

Here comes trouble: Some wisdom from my future self

I’ve made an important life decision: I want to be very, very much trouble until the day I die.

I think I can pull it off, too. In fact, I don’t even think it’ll take a lot of effort. All I need to do is NOT try to NOT be trouble and there I am.

Easy enough.

I pulled a book off my shelf the other day because I wanted to lend it to a friend. It’s called Talk and it’s by the NPR correspondent Susan Stamberg (published in ’93 — I picked it up at a used book store years ago). In it, Stamberg provides excerpts of some of her favorites interviews over the years. And since Stamberg is a big old art-head, it’s full of her talks with artists, musicians, writers and other creative types (in addition to various politicos and other people who were important in the news during her career).

So I wanted to reread the interviews I was telling my friend about and then I got sucked in — so much so that the book that I was already reading (and am in love with) has been sidelined for a bit. Several of the interviews crystallized this whole trouble thought for me — which was a thought I’ve always had but never totally labeled until just now.

The book contains several interviews with older women — no, let’s not call them “older.” They were flat-out old when Stamburg spoke with them. Examples: Francoise Gilot (Picasso’s lover and the mother of two of his children), Mary Hemingway (Ernest’s fourth and last wife), Brenda Ueland (92-years old at the time of interview — she was a writer and may be the most passionate and honest person I’ve ever come across).

Yes, some of them were most famous for their associations with their famous husbands or lovers. But more often than not, these ladies were also artists in their rights. And they lived big. And when they were old they were full of the proverbial piss and vinegar. They still had a light in their eyes. They were quick to laugh and often laughed at their own jokes (hey! I do that!). They were confident, unapologetic, didn’t waste a lot of time with pretense and they were full to the brim with experience and the wisdom from really living. I definitely got the feeling that these women were probably often considered trouble by the people around them — that is, they weren’t too concerned with what they were supposed to be doing, instead, they did what they wanted.

There’s a thread that runs through most of these women’s lives that I really relate to. Life changes. Sometimes you have to reinvent. I think most of us think that the way life is is the way it’s always going to be. There are a lot of people trying to set some baseline for “normal” and when that’s set, there’s the mindset that you can just cruise from there and live out your day-to-day.

But we’re all kidding ourselves if we think that our lives are going to hit a certain level and stay that way. Time marches on. Things change. People around you affect you.

So you have to be resilient. And what I love about these ladies is that they looked at opportunities that arose and considered them — really considered them and not in an “if only …. ” sort of way. Because life is much more malleable than many of us believe. There’s a lot more room for growth, for adventure and for change than many of us allow ourselves.

Howz about a little Trish weirdness for you? Why not?

As I’ve mentioned a couple times here on the bloggity, I took some meditation classes last spring and I had a few kind of freaky (non-drug induced, I assure you) experiences. In one of them this quiet old lady just showed up in my head. She was sitting on some rocks with her legs bent and her arms wrapped around her knees. She had long hair — gray with some streaks of leftover dirty blonde. She was skinny, but not in a frail way — she looked like she could get up and go hiking if she felt like it. She had an angular face and deep-set eyes (similar to my paternal grandmother) and she looked somewhat familiar. I looked at her face more closely and realized that I knew her — because she was me. (Yep, once again I realize I sound like a kook. I’ll plow on despite that.) It was a very, very odd, uncomfortable , almost scary but amazing thing to realize that I was looking at me. Anyway, it was clear that this lady knew a lot, even though she was quiet. She was almost imposing, exuding an air of wisdom and amusement (as if she understood that her presence was freaking me out a little) and … fulfillment. Like she knew everything I would ever want to know and had done everything I’d ever imagined — and more — and was completely content just sitting there on those rocks in that moment. (More Trish weirdness: This wasn’t the only time Old Lady Trish has shown up. She made a surprise reappearance in another meditation later on. That’s a story for another time.)

I’ve thought about Old Lady Trish a lot since then. Sometimes when I think about certain situations I imagine what advice Old Lady Trish would give me. I don’t want to disappoint her — because while I get the feeling she knows some laugh-out-loud stories, she also seems pretty no-nonsense. Like she’s saying to me, “Now is the time. You know who you are. You know what you need. Choose carefully. Be precise. Live your life well. No more detours.”

So I’ve got big shoes to fill. And I’m up for it. Here’s are some things I think Future Trish would tell me to do:

1. Live in the moment. Savor every minute, every experience. Give each minute your total attention.

2. Surround yourself with great people. Learn from them — everyone has something to teach.

3. Love passionately and fearlessly.

4. Look your children in the eye when they speak to you. Don’t be limited by what you “can’t do” because you’re a parent. Instead, recognize your children as learning partners in this life. Expose them to everything you can. Teach them and learn from them.

5. Extend a hand when someone needs it, even if that person is a stranger. Be the person your friends can call in the middle of the night if their worlds are falling apart.

6. Turn off the TV. Don’t spend so much time on facebook. (Really, Future Trish? Did you see my massive facebook binge last night? That didn’t please you, did it?)

7. Read everything — highbrow, lowbrow, whatever. Dig in.  But don’t waste your time on a book that bores you — there are too many other good books out there waiting for your attention.

8. Say yes more than no.

9. Don’t be derailed by inconvenience or by fear of failure.

10. Travel everywhere.

11. Spend time outside.

12. Try new foods.

13. Laugh a lot. See the humor in everything.

14. Never stop learning new things.

15. Never stop making new friends — always be on the lookout for that next person you can fold into your life and vice versa.

16. Meditate.

17. Relax.

18. Make your own rules. There’s no way that you “have to” do anything.

19. Know yourself but don’t define yourself so precisely that you have a list that begins with, “I never …” Give yourself room to surprise yourself.

20. Don’t give a hoot about what other people think about you. (This one gets easier every year.)

21. Don’t fight aging. Look for its abundant gifts.

Damn, Future Trish. You are so wise. I want to put all of your wisdom on a coffee mug.

All for now, blogmuffins. Go forth. Ask your Future Self for a little guidance. Live. Hugs from me.

Can’t we all just get along? 10 guidelines for a peaceful divorce

I wish there was a river I could skate away on …

Yep, that old Joni Mitchell song was the very first Christmas tune that I heard this holiday season and I can’t tell you how many times that line ran through my head over the following weeks.

My goal for the holiday season this year was to be like a stone skipping across the water. I wanted to be aerodynamic — get as far as I could before I hit the water. And after I hit, I wanted to pop right back up and cover as much distance as possible before I hit again. So I stayed really, really busy. I did hit the water a bunch of times — mostly around Thanksgiving — but after that first bump it got a little easier.

So now that the holidays are safely over and tucked into my “2010” file folder, I can write about them. And I learned a lot about divorce and co-parenting (what a tidy little term for all of this) and I want to share some of it. We’re only a few days in to 2011 and I’m already starting to hear about new divorces, from the people who decided to wait until after the holidays to share the news (and let me say “Wow” to you folks because I can’t imagine carrying that around through the holiday season).

I could sit here and list the sad moments for you but what’s the point of trotting all of that out? Instead, I’d like to paint another picture: Christmas morning. The single-momma townhouse. Kids playing happily with their new toys. Me shuffling around picking up papers with a coffee cup in my hand. Tom at my stove making eggs for us. I go over, give him a high-five and say, “Look at us. We’re doing it.”

So Tom stayed over on Christmas Eve night — on the couch — and we all did the Christmas morning thing together. Was it all warm and Hallmark-ish? No. It was a little awkward at some points. Will we do this again next year and every year after that? Who knows. But for this year, six or so months out from The Split, I think it was pretty good.

And let me paint another picture: Tom came over at the last minute the other day to watch the kids so I could go to the doctor. As I was grabbing my stuff to walk out the door, he was telling me about a wedding he was working at a few days earlier: It was the second marriage for the bride. Her ex-husband was one of the groomsmen and even gave a speech at the reception. “Isn’t that great?” he said.

So here’s the thing: Divorce doesn’t have to be a war. I think we’re all programmed to believe that it has to be ugly and that you have to get all you can before your crappy ex-spouse screws you to the wall. But you can have a different outcome, too.

Here I have to say that I understand that some of you out there have ex-spouses who are CRAZY. As in, certifiably nuts. Let me just say that if that’s the case, you’re dealing with a whole different animal and the things I’m about to say probably aren’t going to work for you. I’ve had a front-row seat to a similar scenario for the last few years and all I can say is that I wish you luck.

When I was going through the decision process about splitting up my marriage, I worked with a life coach (who became a great friend) named Patricia Omoqui. (Check out her Web site at patriciaomoqui.com. I can’t say enough good things about her.) Tom also met with her several times and she even came to our house and acted as a mediator while we were figuring out the terms of our trial separation. Patricia’s take was this: Even though you’re getting divorced, you don’t have to make it the biggest tragedy of your life. You can set each other free in a peaceful way, wishing each other the best. You can be cooperative co-parents and still give your kids a peaceful, stable life.

From reading this blog, you may sometimes get the impression that Tom and I one day decided we’d had enough of being married, so we shook hands and called it a day. I don’t know. Maybe you don’t get that impression. But we went through some really ugly things, like probably every on-the-edge couple does. Those things are between us, but suffice it to say that each of us probably had days where we were sure the other person was an absolutely irrational beast from hell.

So how did we get where we are now? Let me see if I can break this down a bit (here come the bullet points):

1. Get a vision for your divorce. What’s your long-term goal? Is it to endlessly battle over stupid shit like “You were a half an hour late!” or is it to have a cooperative parenting partner to work in tandem to raise happy kids? Pick one. Then base absolutely every interaction with your (ex) spouse on that vision.

2. Talk about it. You know how when you’ve been with someone a very long time and you have that couple’s shorthand to get inside someone’s head? That’s going to go away. It’s probably already on its way out. But if you’re in the early stages, you can probably still get there. Sit down with him or her, look the person in the eye. Say, “I know we’re both hurt and mad right now. But I don’t want to fight with you forever. I want both of us to be happy and I want us to work together to make a great life for our kids. Maybe we can’t be married, but that doesn’t mean that we can’t be great co-parents.”

3. Let it go. It’s easier to be angry than sad. It’s easier to vilify and lash out and blame. But after The Final Decision has been made, put away all that stuff that you’ve been fighting about. Yes, all that stuff is still going to make you mad for a while — bitch about it to other people. Just stop fighting about it. If you’re really getting divorced, it means that you probably can’t resolve it anyway. Then look at your partner and say, “I’m sorry it had to come to this and I’m sad about it. But this is where we are. There are many things to figure out so let’s stop fighting and start working together to figure out how we’re going to move forward.”

4. Be the grownup. Take it upon yourself to set the tone. Don’t indulge any bullshit. Refuse to rehash. If an old argument creeps back up, say, “I’m not interested in rehashing anything. The only thing I’m interested in is finding ways to be cooperative co-parents. Going over old business is only going to chip away at our ability to do that. Let’s look forward.”

5. Stuff is just stuff. You’ll get more. Don’t be a dick about who gets what.

6. Put away the contract. Back when I used to work for the circus, we always had contracts between the show and the venue. They were pretty specific, as in how many phone lines the arena was going to provide and who was going to secure permits for stuff, etc. But the thing was, over the years relationships developed and sometimes the venue would throw in extra stuff but there was also, invariably, a few minor things that they stopped doing over time. One promoter I worked with had a great philosophy about all of this. She said, “If you have to pull the contract out, you lose.” Because the fact is, there were probably things that the show let slide, too. That’s how I look at divorce and custody. I try to be human. So does Tom. If I can throw him a bone here and there, I do, with the knowledge that I’m building goodwill and that he will provide the same consideration for me. Life doesn’t conform to contracts. Schedules change. Circumstances changes. Things come up. As long as it’s not constant and completely disruptive to your children, roll with the occasional blips.

7. Money isn’t just money. It’s also security and peace of mind — and that is all stuff that bleeds over into how you parent your children. If you’re up at night, worrying about whether you can pay the bills or whether or not you’re going to get evicted, you’re going to be distracted and probably pretty irritable with your little munchins (at best). If you’re the one paying, do it. It might burn your ass a bit, but it’s part of divorce and you can’t change it. If you don’t do it, keep in mind that you’re torturing your children’s other parent, which in turn is going to affect them and their quality of life if that other parent is just scraping by all the time. (Not talking about Tom here, BTW. But I’ve seen other people lay down on the job with stuff like this. “I’m unemployed so I can’t pay …” Oh, then why are you driving a new car?) 

8. Say goodbye to the gravy train. Unless you have a lot of money already, expect to feel a financial pinch. Are you going to be able to continue to live in the manner you’re accustomed to? Probably not. It costs more to run two households than it does to run one. Budget carefully. Get some real numbers to work with so you know what you need before you sit down to talk turkey with the ex.

9. Shut up. Tom and I have a strict rule that we don’t talk about our financial agreement with anyone else. Why? Because people will inevitably start saying that one of you should be asking for more and one of you should be paying less. If you have something that you feel is pretty fair, don’t monkey with it. But understand, once again, that circumstances change. Unexpected things come up. Be human about this. Be fair.

10. Tune out the peanut gallery. Another circus analogy: There was a horrific tiger attack (that I didn’t witness) while I worked for the circus. One of the tiger handlers later told me that when the first tiger took out the trainer, several others lunged too as soon as the guy was down. This happens in divorce, too. In the past seven months, there have a been a couple of instances where people around us have smelled blood and tried to jump in and get a piece of the gory action — not family or friends, thank God, but people on the periphery of our lives who have tried to start trouble. I don’t know what the impulse was to make these people do this. It shocked me every time. And you know what? These instances could’ve made things pretty ugly if we let them. The first time this happened, much to Tom’s credit, he talked to me about the situation and we sent the (effing crazy) person who apparently stalks this blog a note saying that we didn’t wish to have any contact with her and we signed it “Trish and Tom Johnston.” There will be people who will view your divorce as a spectator sport. They’ll want to stir things up. Don’t indulge them. Remember that vision from point #1? Pull that out and think about that. Even if someone says something that really ticks you off, let it go.

So that’s where I sit right now. In the grand scheme of things, this is still pretty new but I think we’re off to a good start. It’s not always easy. It’s been a conscious choice on both of our parts to do all of this, but I’m really, really proud of us. I hope I can always say that.

Best of luck to all my newly-single readers. It’s a tough road but you’ll be OK. Hugs from me.