I Am Not My Body

Women are trained to see their bodies with a critical eye. They see their friends and their mothers and their friends' mothers and even their grandmothers do it. They see it in the magazine headlines that promise "quick fixes" and a "better bootie" and "flatter abs" and "toned thighs." They see it in the reality television shows that push people to exercise until they vomit or the beauty pageants that parade women around in a bikini for a prize. In these instances, the body ceases to be a vehicle for living and experiencing and loving, but rather something that requires a full-time job to maintain. I have succumbed to the pressures. I have weighed and dieted and binged and ran and pinched and obsessed and hated my body. I have shed tears over stubborn flesh. Finally, I have come to realize that these nonsensical beauty standards do not serve me. The less I focus on my body's appearance, the more I love it.

In my twenties, I slowly learned how to take good care of my body. I was not always kind to it, but for the most part, I exercised in healthy amounts and I ate fresh vegetables and fruits and I allowed my body time to repair. I rooted into the earth in a profound way as I experienced the miracle of feeling a child grow inside of me. I released residual guilt for consuming animal products. Instead, I gave gratitude to the animals for their lives and their sacrifice so that I may be nourished with adequate levels of protein and iron, both of which I was deficient in while avoiding animal products.

And of course, I finally eschewed my old friend, the scale.

Now, at age 30, I have reached a new frontier with my body. Recently I saw a photo of myself, and my ego self, who would have once criticized the beautiful curve of my hip, fell into the shadow of my true self who saw a happy healthy woman, well-fed and strong, using her body to hike with her family and carry her children and commune with the California redwoods.

When I saw the picture and I heard the angel and the devil juxtaposed on my shoulders, I received a third distinct message: you are not your body. It was not a passing experimental thought, but a truth I knew in the center of my belly. Peace overcame me. For a brief moment, my own image became unfamiliar. If I am not my body, then what am I?

I am a being of light. I am vibrating matter. I am an expression of source. I am that which beats my heart and opens my eyes, but I am not my heart nor my eyes. I am not my body. I am the spirit that encompasses my body.

I will not attach my worth to its shape. I will not feel entitled to disparage it. I will not deprive it from what it wants. I will not stuff it nor poison it nor neglect it.

I am not my body, but my body is me. My body is here for me to live in and because I love to live, I love my body. So I will treat my body like I treat anything I love. With care, devotion and gratitude.

This is day 8 of 30 consecutive days of blogging. I’m glad you’re along for the ride. If you liked this post, please share using the buttons below. If you have something to add, feel free to comment openly or anonymously.

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There's A Lesson In This

There's a lesson in this. This mantra is how I'm learning to approach struggle everyday, the inevitable hiccups that wrench my insides, literally and metaphysically and metaphorically. This is how I open to the purpose of struggle, bringing clarity, and eventually, freedom.

It's what I think when I lose patience with my little children and I say or do something I regret.

It's what I think when I spend money on something that makes my body contract instead of expand.

It's what I think when words slip easily from my mouth and I find myself wishing I could repossess entire conversations.

It's what I think when I drink liquor and I wake up in the middle of the night to vomit the food I could not digest.

It's what I think when I share something on social media only to delete it later.

It's what I think when I stay up late and I have to survive the next day.

It's what I think when I hear myself spewing venom to someone I love dearly, whether it's my husband or my child or my sister or my mom.

It's what I think when my two older children fight and I don't know how to make them stop.

It's what I think when I stay home for too many hours or days and I forget to enjoy the landscape of this tiny yet massive planet.

It's what I think when I compulsively check social media or get caught up in the world wide web in all of its sticky splendor.

It's what I think when I stop writing every day.

It's what I think when I feel in the pit of my stomach that something isn't right.

Sometimes, the lesson is simply a reminder: this is not for you.

I can drink wine in moderation because my body processes it, but I must stay away from the liquor.

I can buy anything I really need, but I should never go shopping for entertainment or therapy.

I can stay up late, but for the love of God, I must put down the book by midnight.

Sometimes the lesson is to think (and breathe!) before I speak, to make a schedule and stick with it, to not speak at all, to keep calm and carry on, to get out of the house, to fill my cup before I run dry.

Sometimes the lesson is that something needs to change. That I have beliefs to release and edges to find.

The same challenges show up in our lives until we learn from them.

So, the next time the struggle has you in it's clutches, why not ask yourself: what is the lesson in this? You might be surprised at what comes up.

This is day 4 of 30 consecutive days of blogging. I’m glad you’re along for the ride. If you liked this post, please share using the buttons below. If you have something to add, feel free to comment openly or anonymously.

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Dear Beautiful Women

I randomly came across this short essay in my digital journal about beauty. It was written nearly 4 years ago, yet it still makes sense to me today. I'm sure I meant to post it at some point, but like so many of my words, I kept it to myself. Today I choose to share it in hopes that it reaches you when you need it most.  Dear Beautiful Women,

I've felt self-conscious lately. Vacillating between extremes. Both aware and oblivious of my own beauty, the kind that shines from the inside out.

When I'm listening to the voice in my head, the voice of knowledge, the voice that was born from all of the lies I've accumulated over the past 26 years, I feel ugly. I feel judged. I feel that I will never be good enough.

When I'm listening to the voice of my true self, my highest self, I find a deep knowing that I was born perfect and will always be perfect. My so-called flaws are not flaws, it is only my perception that is flawed.

Once upon a time, my aunt wanted a nose job. She is gorgeous, my aunt. As a child, innocent and pure, I was unaware of the societal consensus that a nose must be inconspicuous and perfectly curved, not too straight or too bent, to be beautiful. I could not understand what was wrong with her nose.

Can we agree that all noses are miraculous? As babies, we use our noses to seek out our mother's breast. As we grow into children, scents have the unparalleled power to invoke emotions and memories. As adults, our noses lead us to pleasure as we inhale the scent of our lover, to relaxation as we relish in the soothing properties of a lavender sachet, and to love as we bury our noses against the head of a newborn baby.

Now in her early fifties, my aunt says, "you spend the first half of your life wishing things were different, and the second half of your life wishing everything would stay the same." She never did get a nose job.

I want to know: what does the size of our nose matter? Or the straightness of our teeth? Or the perkiness of our breasts? If we can smell the sweetness of a rose and chew the fruit of the earth and nurse the children of our womb, why are we complaining? Why are we wasting energy when we could be celebrating the miracle of life?

The voice of knowledge, the snake in the Garden of Eden, the fallen angel -- they are around every corner. In magazines, on TV, on the internet, in movies, on billboards, in windows, in parents, in friends, in spouses, in children. Everywhere. The web of lies is thick, and it's growing every day, with so many people busy at work, adding their own intricate layer of false convictions and lies of imperfection.

The truth, however, will always set us free. No matter how detailed the lies have become, the truth is always underneath. If you stop believing in the lies, they will fall away like dead rose petals because they've lost the life force behind them: you.

My Dear Beautiful Women, I've heard your cries. You believe you aren't good enough. You have wrinkles. Your nose is too big. Your teeth are too crooked. Your hair is too curly. Your skin is too pale. Your thighs are too big. Your breasts are too small. Your waist is too thick. Your arms are too chubby. I won't even get started with the deeper insecurities, except for to say that you are never doing enough for your career or your children or your partner or your self.

What if we knew these were lies? What if we believed ourselves to be perfect right now as is? Your highest self knows the truth, can you hear her? Her voice is smaller than a whisper at first, but she gets louder when you learn how to tune out the other voices, the ones spouting lies.

Let the truth set you free. Let your beauty shine from the inside out. Next time you look in the mirror, allow yourself to see perfection.

I will, too.

All my love,

Lucy

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We're all messed up

When this life feels like a hierarchy, I don't like it. But what else can we be? How can we exist here and now in this heavily populated existence? We don't live on farms, miles apart. We don't grow our own food and ferment our own grapes. Generally we are entertained by popular musical artists and prime time television and mass-produced fiction words than our own pianos and imaginations. We drive one another around and serve one another dinner, hedging for more, curating our prettiest moments to share on a universal bulletin board. We are tangled and torn. Our soft spots snagging on one another's sharp edges. Scrambling up, falling down. Looking for a place to settle. Believing and disbelieving that our place in society says nothing about our worth as human beings. Learning, and breaking, and growing strong where we were once weak.

I love wearing red lipstick because it makes me brighter and louder even when I am feeling quiet and shadowy. I don't have to look how I feel. I can be anything anyone anywhere I want to be. So long as I respect reasonable limits.

The truth is that I don't always like myself. Sometimes I distinctly dislike myself. I'm sick of talking about myself. But my life and my thoughts are fodder for my art. Perhaps, if you can relate, this isn't a bunch of narcissistic bullshit but rather a mirror that reveals something far more important than a flat image trapped beneath the looking glass.

Friends are like mirrors, too. My best friends know me so well. From my vices to my dreams to my privileges. When I sit across from them I am turned inside out and even though my insides are messy and scarred they show hints of something promising. I see my friends, too. Their talents as they discover and hone them and use them. We feel conscious of our imperfect selves and jealous of one another's creativity but mostly just admiring. We see one another for what we are and we are beautiful. And hopeful.

I'm listening to the audiobook of Lena Dunham's memoir. She's brilliant and I love her. She exposes so much of herself, I don't know how she does it. I also love her show, Girls. I love how she portrays modern youth, calling us out for our somewhat crazy spoiled reckless behavior, breaking hearts (our own and others) like a man with a loaded gun on a rampage. As a dear friend (not the one pictured below, however) recently said to me, "we're all messed up, we're all crazy. But we're also beautiful and creative and amazing." An ironic statement seeing that it came from a seemingly perfect mormon mother, the homecoming queen of my high school, an athlete and a cheerleader. Someone I've always admired, even in the moment she beat me out for senior class secretary.

Could it be our flaws that make us our most beautiful and cherished and powerful selves?

Hegarty says that fearlessness produces creativity.

So that's why I'm wearing red lipstick and telling you about my insecurities. After all, I have no reason not to like myself, but sometimes I just don't.

Maybe you understand.

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To read more of my thoughts on motherhood, mindfulness and the creative life, please follow my blog or subscribe via feedburner.

An Already-Done List

I like to make lists. So I'm trying a new variation on an old favorite: an already-done list rather than a to-do list. A way to expand on that feeling of accomplishment and self-efficacy, which helps us feel good about ourselves, according to this article. It doubles as a gratitude list, apropos for this Thanksgiving week. Because I am so thankful for these privileges. Even the school tours because I have the time and space to do them. Even the unpacking because it means a fresh start, empty spaces and the opportunity to be organized for a little while, or a long while.

Without further ado, here are some things I've done during my first six weeks in San Francisco:

Attended several playground-based playgroups.

Taken Giovanna to gymnastics and yoga. I love seeing the joy she finds in movement.

Walked the city with and without the littles. My big girl is learning how to get her city legs.

Attended a style soiree, won a facial, gotten my hair cut and blown out, let a Benefit make-up artist do up my eyebrows, and tried on designer dresses for rent. Just because it's fun to be a girl.

Taken barre classes at three different studios.

Secured a part-time spot in an amazing non-traditional preschool.

Hired a babysitter.

Gone to dinner with friends.

Hosted brunch for extended family.

Played on the beach.

Written a short story.

Unpacked the majority of my boxes.

Visited my cousin and her children 100 miles away.

Went on a movie date.

Listened to live music at a jazz club on Fillmore.

Taken the bus.

Bought a new wardrobe for Skyla at the Tea Collection sample sale.

Shopped at the farmer's market.

Signed up for a CSA home delivery.

Joined the San Francisco Public Library.

Attended multiple elementary school tours for next year.

Hiked in the Presidio.

Joined the California Academy of Sciences.

And on the horizon:

Cook Thanksgiving dinner.

Take family pictures with the phenomenal photographer who captured our wedding and now lives in SF.

Attend a new book club.

See the Nutcracker performed by the SF Youth Ballet and the Velveteen Rabbit by ODC/Dance.

Redeem said facial.

To read more of my thoughts on motherhood, mindfulness and the creative life, please follow my blog or subscribe via feedburner.

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Depleted & Alive, Uprooted & At Home

I knew that moving to another city and state would be a lot of work... But. This. This is intense. And long. It's been weeks of anticipating the change (packing, purging, house hunting, house showing, interstate commuting for James and solo parenting for me), weeks of change (signing a new lease, living out of boxes, living without any boxes, saying good bye and hello), and now weeks probably months of processing the change (unpacking, organizing, living around boxes, building a new infrastructure [think--school, gym, insurance, doctor, bank, car mechanic, internet, babysitter, ballet, gymnastics, library, friends ET CETERA]). Please, friends, do not take your infrastructure for granted. Creating a new one from scratch has given me so much appreciation for everything I left behind. It's like chipping away at a block of ice with a toothpick. Except I want it all to be done with as soon as possible, set up and settled in. (Just typing this makes me click over to research something or call someone...)

But it took years and many recommendations and serendipitous connections to build the old infrastructure in an area where I'd lived for pretty much my whole life. These things take time. Time and patience. And since patience is part of my struggle in this body in this life, I've become somewhat consumed by setting up my new life. Getting it over with and moving along.

Unfortunately, shortcuts aren't always better and "breaks" aren't always healthy. I still don't know if it's normal and acceptable to neglect parts of me when life overwhelms, or if it's a sign that my priorities are mixed up and turned around, that I'm lazy or undedicated or taking unimportant things too seriously at the expense of important things. Earlier this month I wrote a bucket list for savoring October. Now when I see it, especially #10, I scoff at my former self. It seems I do a lot of this on my blog. I write from my stream of consciousness, I publish, and then things change. But this outdated snapshot of my thoughts remains on the internet for anyone to see and know and judge. I avoid going through the archives, but when I do, I usually cringe with contempt for my former self. I am self-conscious and self-critical but somehow recognizing my flaws makes them easier to bear.

I've felt incredibly depleted by the past couple of weeks and by everything still undone. The boxes still in the hall, the pictures still in the boxes, the walls still unpainted, the dishes still in the sink, the laundry still in the basket. The classes I have yet to find, the doctor I have yet to meet, the strangers I have yet to befriend.

This afternoon marks the first time in weeks I've sat down at my computer to write, sitting with the discomfort of being unsettled rather than seeking to sweep it away. I stumbled through the preceding paragraphs, seeking to make sense of this current upheaval and the resulting breed of writer's block. There's just so much to do and not enough time to do it and two little girls who grow up a little more every time I turn around.

But I am also alive and enlivened and excited to start every day. I love exploring and getting to know San Francisco which I find warm and welcoming and winsome. I realize more and more that I am a true city girl. I feel at home in my new home, in my element amongst such activity and energy. Even without an established social network, I feel part of something. I am part of something simply by existing here. Perhaps the potential that I sense in San Francisco, the myriad of opportunities and experiences available, is the reason I am overly eager to get the logistics out of the way so I can focus on making friends and art and a life in the context of these sharp hills and valleys.

Onward.

Are you patient? Any tips on building a new infrastructure or recommendations specific to San Francisco? Tell me in the comments or email me lucymiller7 [at] gmail.com. I'd love to hear from you!

To read more of my musings on motherhood, mindfulness and the creative life, please follow my blog or subscribe via feedburner.

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A beautiful mess

Sometimes lately I feel scattered, unfocused, spread thin. Life spilling over and making my edges more noticeable as they crumble, bits and pieces of me falling away. My house.

My community.

My business.

My belongings.

Everything seems a mess, my hair consigned to the bedhead style. I need a haircut but I thought I just cut it. I have hardly looked in the mirror for a week. I keep forgetting deodorant. I haven't done any formal exercise for most of the month. I haven't been cooking much either. My 4 year-old wants to eat only bread. Our car broke down then got broken into. We're moving and we don't know when.

I am in the process of changing and simplifying. But I have to dig out of the rubble before I can take a deep breath. It's like everything has to get a little bit worse before it can get a whole lot better.

And so, after a weekend of madly cleaning my house for a showing, and then sorting through the piles of stuff I'd thrown into the garage to get it OUT of the house, I am here. Thinking about the messes I've cleared away, the messes still waiting for the magic wand. My "trash" that will hopefully become someone else's treasure. Wondering why my desk drawers and kitchen counters aren't always this empty because it feels so good. Why do we love stuff so much and why do we want it all around us? For a distraction or a band-aid or a disguise or a preservative?

This purging of stuff has brought me a buzz. Strangely enough, it's not so different a buzz from finding the thing I really wanted. The materialistic circle of life.

In clearing away the detritus--not just papers and clothing and toys but other things I won't get into now--I feel like I'm seeing myself anew, yet again. Though I may (occasionally) look put together, I am (often) a mess. When we married my husband wrote in his vows that I was "a beautiful mess" on the morning before the evening we fell in love. But I was a mess that day because I'd been riding my bicycle in the rain on city streets.

So maybe, if the messy part comes from adventure and risk and fun, maybe it's okay. Maybe I can learn to love my messes simply because I had the privilege to make them.

Is there something about yourself that you're learning to love rather than shame? Tell me about it in the comments or email me lucymiller7 [at] gmail.com.

To read more of my musings on motherhood, mindfulness and the creative life, please follow my blog or subscribe via feedburner.

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Lessons from my children: it's okay to be real

My girls need me. They need me to pay attention, soothe, be steadfast. But I am erratic. My attention is scattered in piles like fallen leaves in the autumn. Cayenne crimson, turmeric orange, ginger yellow. The colors of my temper, spicy like the evil twin who lives somewhere in my head not my heart (I wrote about her on Mamalode). The earth spins and circles the sun and the leaves die and emotions gallop into uncharted territories like wild horses and no one can control any of it.

I see it in my daughter. Four years-old with feelings loud as a train wreck. She opens up her heart when its bursting and spills her frustrations all over the universe. Like fallen leaves in the autumn. Though I may grow angry in response, I prefer to be calm. In my center I am glad that she expresses herself with the freedom of a person who is safe.

Wild horses do not do well in cages or suppressed by crowds, but in wide open spaces where emotions have room to dance and turn, an ever-shifting kaleidoscope, its beauty a product of all the colors.

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Funny how I can celebrate my daughter's colorful feelings and yet feel shamed by my own. What if we extended the same love and sympathy we show our children to ourselves? What if the chubby pieces of our belly are actually endearing, indicative of pleasure and humanity, and not something we need to hide beneath big shirts or use as a catalyst for deprivation or guilt? What if our stupid mistakes are not stupid but natural and productive?

Maybe I'm not a failure for raising my voice or losing patience. This isn't Pleasantville, this is Earth in all its grit and glory. Maybe I don't have to pretend to be calm when I'm not. There's no shame in being real. Right?

At a birthday party recently where GiGi knew no one but her big brother, she covered her eyes when the party coordinator asked her a question in front of a small crowd of (older) kids. She didn't try to pretend to be bold, she didn't speak simply because someone asked her to. She let herself be shy and she opened up to the others when she felt comfortable. And ready. She stayed true to her emotions.

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It all comes to holding these emotions inside vs. feeling them and letting them go. There's a fine balance between keeping your cool and causing a fuss, not only for parents but adults everywhere. I'm not suggesting we go around town honking haphazardly at other cars, arguing with hostesses or dragging our children by the ears, but rather that we feel okay about it when we do lose our cool. We aren't bad parents or road ragers or terrible people, we are people. Terribly fallible, terribly sweet people.

To read more of my musings on motherhood, mindfulness and the creative life, please follow my blog or subscribe via feedburner.

Unintentional Love Notes

It's all bittersweet. Time marches along and our babies get bigger and eventually they will leave us. Strangely enough, we want for them to leave us. We want them to be somewhat like us, adults with purpose and intent and independence.

Leo Babauta wrote a post on his lovely blog Zen Habits about the messes his (six) kids leave around the house and how he, as a neat freak, stays sane by viewing the legos on the floor and the cookie crumbs on the counter as unintentional love notes.

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Some love notes from my sweet GiGi.

I adopted this mentality for laundry a couple years ago and it has helped immensely. My little family makes a helluva lotta laundry. Giovanna changes (and dirties) her clothes multiple times per day. Skyla poops on her clothes multiple times per day. James washes his clothes after every use. Add Emile, as mothers of little boys everywhere know, produces the dirtiest, stinkiest laundry.

But when Emile isn't home, when he's at his other home, my laundry pile decreases. And believe it or not, this makes me nostalgic. When James is traveling as he often does, the pile is even smaller. And while I appreciate the reprieve, I'd take the laundry over the absence of laundry any day.

I don't like chores. I don't like cleaning. I don't like doing dishes. But I enjoy the end result. The clear surfaces, the sparkly counters, the zen vibrations from a clean home, the calm before the storm. A clean home tricks me into thinking I've got everything together in life, that I'm the kind of person who does her taxes early instead of late, who regularly edits her wardrobe instead of hanging onto clothes for sentimental reasons, and who never makes impulse purchases.

This is not me.

I'm working on letting go of these idealisms. These pictures in my head of the woman I want to be. Serene and polished. A woman who conquers life (and life's messes) and looks good while doing it. A woman who moves her body daily and showers daily and eats local. A woman who writes without succumbing to distractions or inhibitions. A woman who loves without fear.

Though I believe in the value of these aspirations, I do not believe that achieving this ideal picture is the purpose of life.

Picasso said: "The meaning of life is to find your gift. The purpose of life is to give it away."

Alas, it must be more important that I sit down to do my work rather than clean my kitchen or put the toys away or wash my hair.

Maybe it's not important that I have everything together. Is that possible?

Maybe my drawers are disorganized and that's okay.

Maybe my eyebrows are overgrown but I'm still beautiful.

Maybe my bed is rarely made but I am not a slob.

Maybe my computer memory is stuffed to its limit but my own memory is not.

Maybe I haven't practiced yoga for a few days but my body is happy anyways.

Maybe I haven't lost all the baby weight but I am healthy anyways.

Maybe I wasted too much time on Instagram/Facebook this week but I made some meaningful connections.

Maybe Giovanna and Emile make messes everywhere all the time but they're actually leaving me unintentional love notes.

Someday those love notes will slow and stop and I will miss the messes. Like I said, it's all bittersweet, another all-encompassing paradoxical truth to embrace.

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I Am Enough

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"He's always thinking about how to change things. He's never satisfied with the way they are." Samuel smiled at him. "They say man lived in trees one time. Somebody had to get dissatisfied with a high limb or your feet would not be touching flat ground now."

- John Steinbeck's East of Eden

I'm reading "East of Eden" because I saw it on someone's Facebook list of 10 books that changed their life. I don't remember who. Thank you whomever you are.

When I first read this passage, I thought Yeah! This is how we make the world a better place! By never being satisfied. And we can and we do. Like a certain preschool teacher mentioned on our march for Martin Luther King Jr last week, he made the world a better place for us. She said to the children, Someday your face will be up on a sign. Because you're going to make the world better, too.

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 When I saw a little girl kiss the head of her walking partner (a much smaller girl in the younger class) like a doting mother, I knew this teacher was right. These kids have hearts big enough to cradle the universe. The sky's the limit for them. For all of us.

But the more I considered this sentiment, the more it troubled me. If we are never satisfied, how can we enjoy our lives? There is no destination to reach but death. All we have is now, the journey. We are alive. Can we feel gratitude for what we have while still wanting more?

I think the answer lies in seeking balance, recognizing how far we've come while acknowledging how far we still have to go.

For example, in the context of Martin Luther King Jr's cause, schools are no longer segregated legally but they are anyways because of economic and racial privileges.

Personally, as a writer, I am more likely to start a new project rather than work on the third drafts and query letters of the novels I've already written. If I am "never" satisfied with my work then how can I share it? I believe in my stories, but do I believe in my ability to tell them?

As a wife and mother, my patience has grown though I still speak sharply and my presence has improved though I still get lost in my to do list and my iPhone and my thoughts. I am trying to be better while also celebrating my progress.

I believe I will always be a work in progress, which is both daunting and exciting. For better and for worse I expect a lot from myself and from others and from this human experience. But it's tiring, this dissatisfaction. I seek the balance of knowing that despite my yearnings to evolve, I am good enough just as I am. Not at some point in the future. But today.

I write enough, I work enough, I blog enough, I exercise enough, I smile enough, I laugh enough, I have enough, I do enough, I am enough.