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Thoughts on happiness & reviewing “the one i want”… July 12, 2010

Filed under: Uncategorized — Kate @ 3:27 pm

“Happiness is what you choose, what you follow, not what follows you. These are the things I have seen, these are the things that I now know, these are the things I will carry with me as I go.”
Tilly, the main character in the one that i want

FYI: My blog seems to be becoming a mix of books reviews, personal reflection and life lessons learned – that makes me happy! I seem to be finding my groove….

I just finished reading “the one that i want” by Allison Winn Scotch — pretty fantastic! The story centers on Tilly Farmer, a woman in her early 30’s whose entire life is connected to the place she grew up and the roles she plays as a result – dutiful daughter, oldest sister, wife, school guidance counselor, friend. She believes she is truly happy until she is given the gift of “clarity” by an old friend in a fortune-telling tent at the town carnival. This “clarity” allows her to see the things she has been ignoring about the people in her life. Initially reluctant to embrace what she is now witnessing, the story focuses on the way her life changes as she is forced to accept the things she sees and the way she eventually redefines and accepts happiness.

In the book Tilly has always lived in the same town, she has the same friends and she is married to her high school sweetheart. She has assigned the people in her life a very specific role – dad is a recovering alcoholic, her sisters are a screw up and the mediator respectfully and her husband is the hero of his high school team without much to show for it since. Her determination to always play a defined role also makes her unable to see the parts of her friends and family members that don’t fit into her predetermined roles – or the ways in which they have changed over the years. Her journey to discover who they are and who she is as roles change is very relatable. More importantly, the gift of “clarity” she is given reminds readers that we are sometimes forced to see and accept things we don’t like or can’t imagine in order to also accept change.

“Do not go where the path may lead, go instead where there is no path and leave a trail.”
~ Ralph Waldo Emerson 

This book reminded me of Emerson’s quote. I chose it when writing my college applications and, at the time, I was all about change and blazing new trails and meeting new people. I spent all of college exploring my options and finding my passions. However, as soon as college as over and I returned home to the “real world”, I also quickly returned to the same people and places. My friends were the same people from elementary school and junior high, I married a boy I had been friends with since high school. I fell into the same routine – working in the same town, shopping at the same stores, hanging out at the same bars, sharing the same stories. I was content I suppose but I wasn’t happy.

Four months after my wedding I told my husband I was leaving him. The fallout was truly unbelievable at times. When you have always been the same person, with the same guy, in the same group of friends change is very hard to swallow. I had always played the same role – I organized game nights, birthday parties, girls nights out. I was the one who sent flowers, bought group gifts, kept everyone together. People didn’t know how to react to the “me” that wasn’t the “me” they needed or the “me” they relied on. They didn’t know how to function as a group when my role changed. They didn’t know how to accept me when I became “different” from their routine and expectations.

I wish I could say that one morning I simply woke up realizing the need to make changes. I wish I could say that this clarity also came with understanding and a plan for dealing with the fallout. Unfortunately, it didn’t happen that way. There was an ongoing build to my decision. There was a long period of second guessing myself and ignoring my gut and eventually one day I couldn’t stand myself for being so disingenuous and I felt like a coward for not being about to step up and admit that I had made a mistake. Once I was ready to take responsibility, I must admit that it probably seemed rash but it wasn’t – I had been thinking about it for a very long time. I didnt’ expect it to be easy. I did understand that people were going to be hurt and that relationships were going to change. However, I did expect to be accepted for who I was and I hoped for understanding and support as I made the changes I felt were necessary to be truly happy. It wasn’t easy – I lost friends, our group didn’t remain intact, I hurt people. My ex-husband was a great guy – he just wasn’t great for me. We weren’t great for each other. I deserved better but so did he.

In many ways this book was reflective of my experiences. When I left my husband and, as a result, my “safety net” and group of friends, I had moments of sheer panic and intense loneliness but I had more moments of excitement and breathless anticipation of what was to come. The reality that I could be or do anything I wanted was an incredible change for me – I went to grad school, I made new friends, I tried new things, I changed jobs and I met (and have since married) an incredible man. In a very real sense I was transformed. My soul didn’t change, the things that mattered to me didn’t change but my willingness to think bigger, be more, love more deeply did. I didn’t feel trapped by history or geography. I didn’t feel like I was suffocating under the weight of prescribed roles or expectations. I felt free to be myself and to find happiness. I made a choice, like Tilly does in this book, to be happy.

This book was like looking at my own history, my own experiences through a new lens. It was a chance to let go and embrace who I have become and the incredible possibilities ahead. It reminded me of the endless possibilities I imagined when I used Emerson’s quote 14 years ago and the excitement I feel as I continue to grow now. It also reminded me of how incredibly important it is to choose happiness and to be grateful for all life has to offer.

PS. Do you have a book you think I should read and “review”? If so, please share your thought and recommendations!


Questions to consider…another review of sorts July 2, 2010

Filed under: Uncategorized — Kate @ 12:02 pm

As an obsessive reader, one of the best parts about summer for me is finding time to sit outside and read. I am see-through pale so the beach is often more a lesson in the constant reapplication of sunscreen and replacement of my beach chair to avoid direct sunlight than it is a way to relax and enjoy the weather. However, sitting in the slightly shady areas on a beautiful day with a cold beverage and a good book is just about paradise for me.

That being said, I’ve been doing even more reading than usual over the past few weeks. Recently, a friend recommended Patti Callahan Henry’s “Between the Tides”. I picked it up at the library – one of my favorite places ever and thankfully across the street from my house! The book was pretty good – it kept my attention and I found myself caring about the characters and the storyline. I was even about to overcome my occasional frustration with the main character, Catherine, and her inability to see what was right in front of her and cheer her on as the book came to an end. The premise is intriguing – Catherine’s father has recently passed away and she has been asked to return to her childhood home to scatter his ashes. The problem: tragedy struck in the same place while she was a child and she hasn’t been back since or gotten past what happened. There is significantly more to the story but basically I was most interested in the idea that we are our experiences; we are the collection of our past joys and disappointments as much as we are a collection of our hopes and dreams for the future.

In the story, 3 questions guide the story as Catherine struggles to redefine herself as she learns more about her father and more about what truly happened during her childhood. The questions are:

1. What do you want to be doing when you die?
2. If you die today, what will you regret not doing?
3. What would you want your tombstone to say?

Slightly morbid questions but thought-provoking nevertheless, particularly question #2. Personally, I would probably add another question to the conversation as a whole: (4) How do you want to be remembered?

The reason this conversation appeals to me is because it is so easy to get lost in the routine of every day that we forget to take time to be extraordinary. We neglect the opportunity to define ourselves because we are too busy trying to find ourselves. We spend so much time worrying about what comes next that we forget to appreciate the now.

When I was little I remember saying to my mom things like “I can’t wait until Christmas” even though it was only April or “I can’t wait to be 16” when I was only 12. Without fail her response would be “if you spend all your time wishing away the present you’ll miss out on the things that make every day special”. I don’t think I realized how right she was until I was much older but now I completely agree with her.

I don’t know how I would answer those four questions but I do know that I want to think about the answers. I don’t want to spend so much time thinking about what comes next that someday my big regret is that I neglected the people who matter the most and I certainly don’t want to be remembered as a hard worker instead of being remembered as a good friend.

I was at a training once several years ago and we were given two assignments. The first was to write a letter to our 17-year-old self with advice, tips and love. The second was to write our own obituary or the eulogy we would want someone to read when we passed. The first was much easier for me than the second but both provided valuable lessons and food for thought.

So, I challenge you to take a few minutes every day to appreciate the now and think about the lasting impressions you hope to make both for yourself and others.