Tag Archives: John Mayer

On Wearables, Lightness and Being

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On Mother’s Day, my family presented me with a FitBit. It wasn’t by mistake or without some semblance of open communication.

I bought one for my husband, the HR Charge, on Good Friday (it just happened to work out that way; it’s also the only way I remember how long he’s had it). He had been angling for one, wasn’t sure which one he wanted, was starting to feel concerned about his health (due to colleagues suffering heart attacks or strokes within the previous six months) and I think he was ambivalent about spending the money to get one, seeing as how they’re pricey. To me, health is priceless, so I bought him one, put it on hold at a nearby retailer and he offered to swing by and get it on the way home from work.

He loved it almost instantly. The biofeedback was amazing data to him.

I loved that it had an alarm. That it would wake him subtly in the morning by vibrating on his wrist.

I do not wake well. I do not like to wake up. I am a night owl. Either I was born that way or I was conditioned to live that way. My mother was a night owl, and I spent a better part of my nascent life wondering and being concerned about her health and meanderings, the clanging of pots and pans, the shuffling of furniture and papers, the seeking of things, I guess habits can develop. But the thing is, I LOVE SLEEP.

So I was really drawn to that aspect, that a device one can wear will vibrate and wake us.

So I unwrapped the rectangular box, with a bit of intel as to what was inside, and stared at it.

You are the enemy. I thought to myself.

You are going to make me change. I thought to myself.

My husband, who is such a sweetheart, really, knows I’m apprehensive about these things.

I live a busy life, I thought to myself, my face contorting, like an ape at the box. I wanted to stomp on it like that chimpanzee from the American Tourister ads of the 70s:

Reluctantly, I put it on.

On Monday, the next day, I found myself resisting it. I didn’t like that I was being “tracked.” I felt it was an invasion of my privacy.

You don’t have to wear it, I thought to myself.

I found all sorts of reasons to NOT LIKE the aspect of this device on my wrist. That said, I bought an app to have it synch up with my iPhone because I like things all in one place. (Yes, I get that I said I don’t like being tracked and owning an iPhone…)

Mindfulness and personal responsibility — the data is there; it’s really an “in your face” or “on your wrist” accountability device.

By Thursday, I started to settle in. I used it to track my sleep (I suggest not setting it to “sensitive” because the non-sleep data will depress you) and I found it to be informative.

I started to want to win against the device. Get in my 10,000 steps (which is a lot of freaking walking, my friends) earlier each day. I wanted to WAKE with 10,000 steps. Be done with it. Eat THAT, FitBit!

By Saturday (six days in), I decided I would set the alarm to wake me. It being a late soccer match day and no demands which I could royally screw up by not waking on time, made the most sense.

I set it for 8:15 (okay… 8:45) Saturday morning with a snooze option for 5 minutes.

“mmm mmm mmm mmm mmmmmm … … … mmm mmm mmm ….” and repeat a two more times on the thinnest of skin.

Oh. That is nice.

The snooze happens as a default. Five minutes later.

“mmm mmm mmm mmm mmmmmm … … … mmm mmm mmm ….” two more times.

Half waiting to see if it would do it again, because to me “snooze” means y’know, bugging me, I laid there, wondering and fully awake.

No.

It didn’t go on again. It abandoned me.

I felt (honestly) as though I’d let it down. As though it were a cat that needed to be fed. Or a dog, which needed a walk. All that’s missing, to me, I thought, was the sound of pee accumulating in a puddle outside my bed, and then I’d be the hell up and out of bed in the freakin’ heartbeat. 

So I have it do its little Salome dance at 7am on weekdays, as a nice gesture of “I see you, FitBit” and what I’ve done now, is have it set at 9:30 nightly, to remind me that it’s getting late and that the process of going to bed, if I want to wake up better, should begin.

It does make me mindful, this little device, of how I’m choosing to spend my day and how I’m choosing to affect my health. I don’t enter all the data about water and food and when I’m beginning an “exercise” moment. I figure that’s stupid — it can tell when I’m at a fast pace or just moseying (which is an ambition, frankly, to mosey).

Now if there were an exterior monitor for telling me “You’re yelling a lot today” (other than my dogs hiding) or “maybe you turn on some music and chill out” (other than my kids retreating) or “I see that laundry piling up too, let’s get on it…” then we might be on to something.

That monitor is me, and it always has been. That’s the hard part.

However, it’s a nice tool. I’d be a lying liar who lies if I told you: the FitBit is not spilling into other aspects of my consciousness. I wonder if that’s a positive outcome of the device or simply a logical construct of who I am — I’m open minded and am seeking mindfulness and enlightenment and accountability.

What I would LIKE, is a better looking bracelet. It’s totally ugly. It reminds me of a house arrest device. I would like someone out there who works with metal to create a band with crystals and other cool rocks to make this more into jewelry and less Orwellian looking.

So I’m walking the dogs a lot more than I used to to hit my goal. I used to walk them the distance I have always taken them (2.7 miles) a few times a week. Now the poor bastards are going every day. I’m spending less time writing (clearly). I’m spending more time meditating on those walks, listening to Tara Brach’s Radical Acceptance on my iPhone which tracks me a hell of a lot more than my Orwellian band. I’ll tell you this — 12,000 steps a day is typical for me.

I’m absolutely more present. I don’t know if that’s a combination of the FitBit and Tara or just a nice after-effect of the long walks, but I am seeing everyone in their many dimensions, which has helped me accept my flaws; conversely, seeing greatness in others helps me appreciate my growth.

This introspection has flooded my relationship with my children and my social circles. It makes me even more of a truth-seeker and a person of accountability. When the data is staring you in the face, it’s hard to refute. You can ignore it, you can deny it, you can suspect it inaccurate. We know what we know and we repress what we repress.

One of my sons is behind in his math class by several assignments. The assignments were sent home and he has a deadline. He wants to do some things this coming week which are what we consider “carrots” to hang over his head to get him to comply with his academic requirements. He thinks we are being unreasonable.

I said to him this morning, with only sincerity: “When we do what we’ve always done, we will get what we’ve always gotten.”

It’s like a FitBit.

I am not here to force him. We, as his parents are here to remind him of his responsibility to his teachers; this is NOT about me and my parenting. This is NOT about my husband and his presence. If two of the three kids are on time academically and one isn’t, it’s likely not a systemic situation. There have been moments when all three of the boys are struggling academically and it has absolutely been a busy and distracted time in the household; these things generally don’t just happen. So we’ve addressed them and try to keep things level-headed. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t.

In this particular case, he wants what he wants, and we want him to adhere to his relationship and his responsibility to his teachers. Or he doesn’t get the carrot. I know people who fret about how these things look “on the family”; that perhaps signs of academic struggle reveal inner turmoil in the household (and that has certainly been a reliable indicator), so I wonder: is it really for the kid’s success or does the demand for academic triumph serve more as a façade of domestic bliss? That even despite the turbulence inside the walls and under the roof, that scholastic achievement is high, so Mom and Dad don’t have to sweat the shit they’re creating or stirring up or ignoring? “He’s not on heroin, so everything’s fine!”

For this particular situation, it’s definitely not a case of us ignoring my son or denying some domestic issue. This particular child, who is a lot like yours truly, simply hates math. Because he and I are alike, I get it. However, he isn’t growing up in the shitstorm I did, so I have less patience for it. My position is this: just get it done. It doesn’t have to be perfect, but not handing in classwork is an insult to your teacher.

So when a kid is floundering, discounting the specter of domestic trouble serves no one. Trust me on that.

I actually said the other day, “I’m done thinking about Mom.”

It’s so funny. That proposition, and so utterly feckless. If we are going to be so rigid, we must remember what we are finished thinking about.

As usual, in my way, I am trying to be finished thinking about the harshness, or the “turbulence of recent years” as an “in-law uncle” wrote when she died. But we all know what forcing does.

forcing does this. that tree is still growing, wind. she doesn't care what you say.

forcing does this. those tree are still growing, wind. they don’t care what you say. (c) (Clement Philippe/Arterra Picture Library/Alamy)

But he was right, when he wrote “In ways unimagined, [her loss] it will leave a hole in your world.  …  It inflicts an unfortunate dose of adulthood to lose a parent.” It’s true… we can’t blame them for our crap anymore.

On Being

During these Orwellian FitBit-mandated walks with the dogs and while listening to Brach, she quoted psychologist Carl Rogers what wrote On Becoming a Person, as saying,

“The curious paradox is that when I accept myself just as I am, then I can change.”

That quote sliced through me. It reminded me of myself, of my mother, of social acquaintances, and the tremendously difficult work of truly accepting ourselves AS we are, and really, being OK with it. Not saying “I wish I were taller” or even the Stuart Smalley version of “I am ___ and ___ and ___ and darn it, and people like me…” Rogers isn’t talking about settling for who we are… or forcing our freaking benevolence and weirdness on others. He’s talking about accepting how and what we exhibit and manifest (jealous, nervous, angry, addicted, biased, afraid, insecure, deflective, repellant, arrogant, busy, reactive, meddlesome, demanding, impatient, critical, comparative, selfish, needy, thoughtless, unkind, self-absorbed, et al.) and getting down to the insanely difficult business of changing it. It requires mindfulness.

Sorry.

Ninety-five percent of our behaviors are subconscious in motivation or simple iteration. We have to pay attention to those moments, those motivations and drill the hell down and change it, because WE KNOW it’s not right.

I took a Facebook quiz this week about the Kiersey temperament (not personality) type quiz. Turns out I’m a “rational” temperament. It was heartening to me. It explained so much to me which is helpful in learning to accept myself. At times I find myself to be unreasonable about things, and it’s not that learning why I am is a good thing, it’s that it’s not out of nowhere. So now, knowing the basis for it, helps me learn to be more aware of it and possibly change it.

So while doing my subtle work of changing parts of myself in ways to make life easier, I see this summer as one of rest. My oldest is about to enter his senior year of high school. I can not express more truth than clichés do in telling you how fast the time has flown. I am reduced to a heaping pile of sobs when I look back on the life of these magnificent children I’ve been utterly blessed to have ushered into this abundant and vexing world. Being a mother, without a doubt, is the most demanding, unheralded and humbling “title” I’ve ever been blessed to wear. I try not to compare, but sometimes it is impossible: the choices my mother made in absolutely experiencing the treasure and terror of motherhood versus the choices I have made in experiencing it. I do not want them to look upon these days with me as ones of sadness and regret and shame of performance toward my survival. That said, I can not construct false meaning for the boys either.

Egos are absolutely at play. Fear has no place in motherhood, other than to keep you on track and to help you be more present.

As John Mayer wrote, “Fear is a friend who’s misunderstood / I know the heart of life is good.”

Thank you.

Grief: Body Memory, E-mail as Archivist

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The body knows. It knows the angle of the sun, the fullness of the trees, the scent of the air, the sharpness of the light, and the grace of the wind. Even if the events are different, if a person is missing and another is on the way, the body knows. And when the body senses these things, again, it knows what to do even if your mind and your heart fight savagely, like a feral dog, to stay in the present, to stay busy, to stay distracted, to do anything but go back into that cave of grief and face the reality of your absent loved one.

I wasn’t sure, but I suspected it; I knew it was either the first weekend or the second weekend in February last year. I knew it was coming in a sensuous way, but I had no clue, absolutely as though a fact, intellectually. I just had that sense of awareness, of knowing and the unrelenting waves of nostalgia, heaviness and “cling” (it’s the best word I can muster) that came and went at me like echoes in a canyon.

Last year, February 2 and 3, 2013, was the last time my entire family of origin and their families gathered in my house. I remember it as if it happened last night. I remember waking that morning, eager for the arrival of my brothers, their wives and their children. I remember making sure the sheets were on the beds, the towels in the rooms and that we had enough mac and cheese and strawberries for the kids.

Each year, our families do different things on actual Christmas, so we’ve made a tradition, over the last couple decades to celebrate “second Christmas” which I now recognize as my third favorite holiday ever. It’s usually in late January or February. We like to push it out a little later into the year because we all see each other for Thanksgiving.

I’d like to think it’s the big holidays that would do me in regarding my mother’s absence. Thanksgiving, Easter, Bastille Day. That was sort of a joke, Bastille Day. I threw it in there for comic relief, but then I realized after I typed it that it was actually the last time I saw her alive last year. We got together that day last year to celebrate my nephew’s and brother’s birthday at my house even though they were still in NY. It was the dinner that I planned the Wednesday before with an odd sense of urgency and deliberation. I never “had” to have my parents over for dinner like I had to that night. Then scant six weeks later, after my yoga retreat and a final summer vacation, she was gone.

We left our outdoor lights on the bushes out front because it was still Christmas to us. It snowed that night. I couldn’t believe it.

from my Facebook page last year.

from my Facebook page last year.

Second Christmas of 2013 was special to me, I didn’t know why, but I did my best at one moment to announce to the family — despite my brothers’ imminent mockery and my own self-consciousness at the sappiness of it all — that I couldn’t have imagined my heart fuller than at that moment: all my loved ones were, as John Mayer sings in “Stop this Train”, “safe and sound”:

Oh well now once in a while,

When it’s good and it feels like it should

And they’re all still around

And you’re still safe and sound

And you don’t miss a thing

And so you cry when you’re driving away in the dark,

Singing, ‘stop this train, I want to get off and go back home again…

Which is a song I hadn’t ever heard, despite my affection for John Mayer, until Second Christmas this year at my brother’s house and of course when I heard it, I pretty much fell to my knees emotionally. So naturally, to help me usher and attend to all these feelings I’m feeling these days, I listen to it, nod my head, sniffle and it soothes me.

It began last week, the nostalgia. I wrote to my son on his 13th birthday, again citing the Mayer song. I thought writing to him would soothe this beast, ease my pain, but it didn’t.

So then I wrote to an eFriend I met last fall after her mother died, telling her about how I was doing and closed that note, “Good thoughts are headed toward you from me.” That didn’t do it. Then I heard from a beloved cousin with whom I’ve grown amazingly and naturally close since summer, she’s like a combo sister auntie mom to me. I told her what I’d been up to: the new puppy, that I’m teaching yoga to the high school rowers now and working on my certification and all that and she asked me, in the most simple, clear and loving way, “how are you doing with your bereavement?” and I realized (even though I knew it all along) that she’s no dummy: I’m throwing all these things in my path to distract me from my pain.

But the thing is: this stuff comes at you, as your body knows, out of nowhere and if you’re not ready for it (and who is ready for an emotional sucker punch, you tell me) you fall to your soft places, curl up and cry unfettered sobs wishing that things weren’t the way they are. That they were somehow different — all along different in fact — but that your Now is unreconcilable; it’s as unreconcilable as the Then you wish were different, kinder, gentler.

Then you realize with a full heart, heavy lungs and wet eyes, that if your past were different then your now would be too. You can’t have it all: a functional mother and attendant father and a path of self-destruction which led you to the life you’ve attained now… that your children would not be here because your mate wouldn’t have stepped into your life when he did because you would’ve gone to a different college entirely if your life were somehow different, kinder, gentler, more orderly and rational.

Dovetailing. It’s all this fate stuff that happens to us when we allow ourselves to see it all with the glorious acumen and vision of a Monday morning quarterback.

Doesn’t matter. Would you trade it all? Would you trade it for just maybe one less crisis in your youth? Maybe one less heartache? One less battle with your parent that would’ve gotten you into the shower earlier? Are these the George Bailey (“It’s a Wonderful Life”) moments of our lives: that the one moment earlier in the shower before leaving for English 348 affected what parking spot we got at college, which determined the length of the walk to the car which had affected who’d we see in passing through the doorway at work who’d invited us to a party where we met our mate? I look back now and say, “No. I guess I wouldn’t trade it all.”

. . . . .

The amount of flotsam in my email inbox was absurd last week. I had close to 3,500 messages in it; something like 850 of them unread. Most of the missives are subscriptions and retailer content. Just before I went on the yoga retreat in July, I emptied it to somewhere in the neighborhood of 30 messages.

I culled the inbox on Friday, to a manageable level, 1100 messages. I know that’s still high, it was an all-day affair requiring numerous bathroom and stretch breaks. I have now the same emails in the box that I had a hard time reconciling in July: notes from my family about my mother’s health and the conversations we had with my father a year ago today about his goals and ideas for the next 18 months, 12 of which have slipped through our hands like flaming kerosene, and the conversations going forward about how to best attend to her and his goals. I don’t know what to do with those notes.

The Chinese use the same symbol for “crisis” as they do for “opportunity.”

That email traffic created a new crisis (on one hand) and opportunity (in the other hand) for me. It was at that point that my father stopped speaking with me because I had drawn a line: After I gave him all the same information he’d requested three years prior and did nothing with, I told him to perform just one task and then I would help. This pattern of his, looking like he was doing Task A while really doing Task K was a long-held tactic of his — who can blame him? It’s human nature to completely avoid what you don’t want to do. The short version is this: it took a while.

The opportunity was that my mother and I started speaking more, as we used to, conspiratorially about my father and how curmudgeonly and obstinate he would be. He would be almost petulant like a child at times. If he’s reading this, he can close his laptop. I have suppressed a lot of this for at least one year and it’s just going to spill out of me somewhere even though I’m tempering a lot of it, so …

Then I began EMDR therapy to deal with the jolts and aftershocks of heavy emotional baggage, torpedoing through the abyss as though finally freed from the cargo holds of the Titanic.

While feeling all the feelings last week, I said to my husband, “The last time I remember feeling any sense of peace and purpose and composure in this house was immediately after my return from the yoga retreat. I did some sadhana, and then I went into the hot tub all by myself and chanted for half an hour. That was the last time I felt stable. Since then, it’s as though my life has literally turned upside down.”

This upside-downedness is ok; it’s how life is away from the Tibetan mountain top.

This next year, all the way through until the anniversary of my mother’s death on Labor Day, is going to be extremely tender for me; I can feel it already. My body knows; it is preparing me, and I best listen, to undergo and re-experience the final six months of my mother’s life and how I managed it; to honor it as it affected me while also reinventing it for myself without her. It’s right there: a pool of real, a puddle of authenticity that I am afraid to drown in.

If one thing’s super clear to me now: it’s the necessity to write about it. I haven’t touched my grief, actively, in months.

Stop this train.

Thank you.