Tag Archives: Steven Pressfield

Just When You … #mommywars


I wrote a couple weeks ago about returning to the paid working world. The compulsion thrust itself at me on the heels of believing we would go penniless due to the impending college bills for our three sons. I was anything but a yoga teacher. I was anything but a leader. I panicked. 

I started a search for jobs on LinkedIn and an app named “indeed” and started to ask friends and former coworkers for their impressions and ideas. 

After a few days, I realized this wasn’t about just college. I began to feel my mortality. 

I believe that if you’re a normal, balanced and participating member of a progressive and valuable society, there’s an inner need inside you to add to that progress and that value. It’s not just a matter of “giving back” but also a matter of an exchange of a higher energetic vibration: that when you do something which you value and you are recognized for it (free or not) then that also raises the energetic vibration of the world around you. 

It’s very simple: when you are valued, and told so, you feel a sense of reward. That sense of reward goes with you to your car on your way to the grocery store / park / day care / carpool / walk with the dog / answer of the phone. That raises the energy you possess and which you share with the world (corporeal and spiritual) around you. 

This is easy for me to say, right? Last week, I was completely unhinged after a soccer game due to a self-proclaimed ignorant center ref’s increasingly faulty calls. I behaved like an ass. I regret that and I am happy to say that our coaches accepted my authentic apology and that I had repaired back to my normal cheerful self in the stands yesterday. I thought I could take a vow of silence, but … no. My son’s matches are such a pleasure to watch.  

Right after the half, one of our players erroneously made an own-goal and and gave the other team a point. Because I was visually accustomed to hoping for a shot into that particular net for 45 minutes, I cheered when that shot was scored. We were still ahead, but our coach smiled at me and said, “NO! Not ‘Yay!’ …” Whoops. I sucked it up and said, “That’s my karma for last weekend…” and those who were in the know knew exactly what I meant and they laughed. My point is that after I verbally charged that ref last week, I lowered my own energetic vibration. I put myself in a bubble of discontent, which I deserved. And to prove the point, I felt as though my karmic debt was settled with my own public display of ineptitude exactly one week later at the scene of my outburst.  

We are all learning something all the time. We are all teaching something all the time. The lessons will continue to be taught and learned until we are finished learning and teaching them. Then a new one. And another. And another. 

I feel that my outburst was directly related to my sense of needing to be “of” or to add value “to” the world. That sense of ‘place’ was suspended (I believe) until I learned my place *in* the world. Again. The week following my urges to find work, my oldest son needed me to drop off something to him at school –immediately– in order for him to complete a test in this math class he’s taking, which has problems that looks like this: 

for a math problem, this sure has a lot of letters in it…

The next weekday, which was a day off from school due to a teacher workday, my youngest son fell off his bike and hurt his knee. Then two days later, my middle son needed me to take him to the doctor’s for a strep test (negative). These things occurred in the middle of what most people would consider a 9-5 workday.  

doesn’t this happen at your house?

What I failed to realize, in the midst of all my urges and needs, was that I was right where I was supposed to be. My place in the world was clear to everyone but myself. I was not holding a space for myself. I was holding a space for everyone but myself.

I have a friend who wanted to become a therapist. She had successfully ended her graduate work, although as a mother, that had its challenges. As a form of her internship, she was engaged part-time in the services of a group home for runaway teens and was enjoying it. Just as a full-time opportunity arose, one of her children became very ill. When she was ready to return, the part-time work was still there (because it seems there will always, sadly, be kids facing troubles), and in the midst of the full-swing and coming opportunity to join full-time, another one of her children needed her long-term advocacy. Her place in the world for that season in her life was to be not far from home. 

We sighed and shook our fists at the fates, at the belief that women, specifically mothers, have to either fit someone else’s definition of success by doing and having it all (career, family, marriage, hobby, Bravo-TV), or redefine their lives for their children’s wellbeing. We sighed at our consternation of feeling “trapped” by motherhood, yet knowing deeply inside that we could never change a thing about how life has played itself out.   

She and I are the type of people who could go either way: be stay-at-home mothers (because all mothers are full-timers) or have a career. Careers change and come and go; motherhood is a one-time gig, no matter how many kids one has, and while the world might be changing, motherhood will never change: our children’s needs are constant, unpredictable, demanding and wholly irreducible. 

Despite this, some women know about themselves that they are not cut out for the doilies and teddy bear tea parties under the dining room table and other at-times mind-numbing activities. They know those moments will send them to the padded rooms. They need adult stimulation and interaction, they need not to be constantly answering “why ____” when chances are their child really isn’t tracking (and neither are they), and I applaud them. I  support those women. For some of them, that choice was a clear as tap water. For others, that choice was rife with ambivalence and guilt. I want all of them to know this: that I’m helping to take care of their child when I volunteer at school. I am honoring them by honoring their child and I know they would do the same were the roles reversed. 

The bottom line is that these mothers all fiercely love their children and to them, no matter what they decide, they know that being a contented and purposeful person means they will be a contented mother and being a contented mother means they can raise content, secure, and resilient children. 

I wasn’t there. I was nodding numbly at the imginary motivational speaker in my head, but I wasn’t there. I still felt I brought no value. Without knowing it, I was still ceding to an extrinsic value system. Then I finished Steven Pressfield’s War of Art, and it became clearer to me: my value system was what he termed “heirarchical” — I placed my value in the opinions of others. The outside world was where I had based my worth. What I needed to do was switch my perspective to what Pressfield calls “territorial,” to wit: that when you are doing what you do for the sheer SAKE of doing it, not just (or at all) for praise, you are in your “zone” / territory and that judgments of the outside world fade away (because they don’t matter and never will, nor should they) and that you fall in [love] with your calling. 

Some of us are at work at jobs we don’t like. Or those which drain our last bits of enthusiasm. I am hopeful that there is something in that daily existence which we can find that brings us satisfaction or contentment: the smile of a customer, the reliability of the work, the appreciation of a co-worker, the paycheck… that “thanks, Mom,” from a child. It’s no surprise to me that I was wanting daytime work outside the home as a possibility of escape and validation as well. Just when we think we have one situation sewn up, another one pops a seam. 

Raising teenagers can be DEPLETING — they are like zombies: dirty haired and ripped clothes; grunters, their circadian rhythms are all out of whack, clumsy, music seems to be the only thing which quells them, they turn toward the scent of food, they offer only monosyllabic replies, and roar when surprised or disturbed. 

What I liked about working is that the jobs were often finite and certainly NOT defiant; that I had support from peers; and that I wasn’t always the boss who denied and disciplined. With teenagers, everything is a negotiation. Those maternal ghosts from toddlerhood, “Do you want to move your body, or do you want ME to move your body?” are like a fantasy, an ice cream sundae, of discipline. 

I sort of miss those days. My back doesn’t.  

Once I have taken stock of my place in where I am, where things are in my life and how my family needs me, I can step back and figure out how to get into what I [want to] do in a “territorial” way which sustains my spirit and fuels me for the inevitable moments when heirarchical demands raise their heads. And maybe even then, I can find a way to become territorial about those situations, because let’s face it: unless what we do is rewarding, there is little drive to keep doing it. It shouldn’t always be about the money. It needs to serve the spirit — that sense of accomplishment, that we did it all by our BIG PEOPLE selves — as well.  

Thank you.           


Soccer Mom — dispatches from the sidelines


Soccer season starts today for my kids. Saturday mornings are now filled with purpose and I’m thrilled about it. We endured  a punishing winter. No. I endured a punishing winter of snow days and crazy children climbing the walls, and fights against screen time and pleas to go outside but knowing it was too cold. 

I feel for the people who live near the schools that host these games, which go on all day. It’s more of an onslaught than the predictable daytime student commutes. This is an all-day seige of upstream and downriver harried mom minivans, rusty and muddy or sparkling SUVs, divorced dad Mustangs and laconic, shimmering grandparent Cadillacs and Mercedeses. Yellow “SLOW DOWN! WE LIVE HERE!” signs pepper the front yards of the vigilant residents. 

A row of drugstore spectator chairs, circa 1999 and 1970s classic backyard porch chairs populate the perimeter of the field; often too close to the sidelines. This ref seems half awake though, so I’m fairly certain he won’t say anything. I hang back in my daisy-patterned butterfly chair (I find anything else uncomfortable; there’s something about the sling-like suspension of the butterfly chair which is preferable to me), more of a people watcher than anything else at this point of the morning.   


The coaches are volunteers, mostly men (at least for the boys’ teams, and as for the girls, I’ve no clue). They are passionate, not in the vicarious DO THIS BECAUSE I BLEW IT mentality, but in the “I love this game and by God you will too!” way. 


Being that we live 15 minutes from the Pentagon, most of these coaches are active-duty military officers, retirees pulling their pensions while working a consultancy job or perhaps members of the private sector, as in the case of my husband who loves the game, and still plays in an old-man league (as I call it). He stopped coaching last year. He’d put in his time: 10 years coaching all our sons from U5 to U13 and handing them over to other coaches more skilled in adolescent assholicry (this is when the military training –which my husband lacks– comes in especially valuable). 

He also stopped coaching because the parents seemed to expect him to glean a modicum of respect, focus and amibtion from their petulent pubescents. Sometimes the parents are harder to deal with than the kids. Some of these kids were openly and brazenly defiant and awful. At the age of 12! One set of parents had twins on the team. One of the kids was completely engaged in the game while the other was designing computer applications in his mind. So when it came time to select the players for the post-season all-star game, he ended up not choosing the dreamer (for the good of the team). The brothers didn’t care, but one of the parents lost its mind while the other parent privately thanked him. He’s not a marriage counselor (although he could be). So he effectively decided that no amount of well-intentioned $50 Dick’s Sporting Goods gift cards was compensation for the after-game phone calls, plaintive emails, and inevitable sideways glances and murmurs from the “adults” planted along the field. 

These coaches, as is my husband, are dedicated. Pregame they bark tips, skills, drills, tactics and advice. For this game I’m about to watch, it all flies in such abundance and rapidity that I’m not suprised to learn this coach is a loving father who is also an active duty navy captain. At this stage, the coaches are trying to dispel the notion of slide tackles as an acceptable tactic and intead teach the kids the nuances and trickery of the “off sides” call — one that baffles me constantly. I swear I’d play this game as an ailing female human for fun, save for my absolute incomprehension of that call.  One of my most frequent calls / cheers is “DEEEEFENNNNNSE!!” For we all know that the best offense is a good defense… is that the way it goes? 

Soccer is the game of passion in my home. And I must contend that I really enjoy it. My oldest’s team is quite good and super competitive. They are not at the travel level (as many of these kids come from limited means) so they play without fear. His game is later today and I’m psyched to see it. 

One of my son’s teams hasn’t decided its name. So now I shout “Go Blue!” I am one of those parents. Not the bitching and correcting kind, for I praise even when the other team plays well, but I am vocal, excited, engaged. I bring my tablet and a thermos of coffee. Today, I sit facing the pitch, with the sun to my right, just clearing the treetops, in a turtleneck and yoga pants and a pair of (then-pristine) suede and shearling Cole Haan boots I scored off eBay for $25. You can’t pay me to wear the UGGs everyone else does. Regardless of their ubiquity, I find them to be God-awful hideous. All this garb despite the sunshine. It’s still 57˚here and breezy. Soon enough I will be slathered in sunscreen, hiding beneath a reflective SPF-100 “parasol” and sipping iced passion tea… I’m in no rush for that.  

I bring my tablet because I woke up empowered yet dizzy from a crazy dream and because I’ve been reading Steven Pressfield’s The War of Art and it’s absolutely inspring. I have determined (TODAY at least!) to write at any cost, about anything, as often as possible for my own enjoyment and not sweat the future or its appeal or my talent or promise because I need to get back to basics: that writing is MY gig and who cares if I don’t outsell the Bible. This is quite a monumental shift in my consciousness and for me, a rather bold grasping of the brass ring. So for today, I’m writing. 

But I must go now for the whistle has blown.  

Go Soccer Teeeeeam! DEEEEFENNNNSE! 

Thank you.  

Update: we lost. But that won’t stop the post game Slurpee tradition. 

When We Run Out of Bandwidth We Can Always Reboot


I’m sitting outside on our brick walk-up on the first truly nice day of spring. The sun is out, still a little weak, as it’s only April, but the air is a gorgeous 75˚ and perfect humidity, if there is any at all. On either side of me are three boxwoods and they’re making this strange fizzing sound, as if they could foam and the thin suds popped almost as soon as they were formed. I remember this phenomenon from last spring, and I went to search it online. The guessed causes ranged from insect infestation (of which I could find no evidence) to the warming of the sap in the wee branches exchanging moisture from the roots with nourishment from the warming sunlight, now eight minutes old. Always eight minutes old.

While the air temperature is warm, the breezes waft through the bushes and over the mulched garden beds, ushering along with it much tiny pouches of cooler air reminding me that we are still very early into the season. Sparrows, starlings, cardinals and finches are serenading, well, alarming their peers of the presence of my nine-year-old yet still-frisky gray cat, Gandalf. He’s still an impressive hunter, if not part-time resident of our home. He cheats on us with the pet-less, empty-nesters across the way. His reclusive and more loyal sister, Beezer, is black. She has come out of her hibernation. She’s never had kittens, but she has this strange sack-like stomach which sways from side to side as she saunters from house to house, rolling in the dust created from pulverized stones which were applied to the street during the recent ice storms. I always say she needs liposuction.

Ours is a quiet street. We live on what’s called a “pipestem,” or private street along which anywhere from three to fourteen houses are nestled in my 32-year-old bucolic neighborhood of more than 6,000 families. It was originally supposed to be the home of Dulles Airport. Congress put the kibosh on that. Instead of the airport, now we’re in the flight path. Sometimes they are so close, I can see the logo of those massive intercontinental jets as they circle above my end of the county.

I’m sitting outside, not just for my own enjoyment, but to serve as sentry as my youngest son rides his bike up and down our private street. He is eleven now. He rides in his Batman shirt and khaki cargo pants without a care in the world, without looking both ways. Without watching out for parked cars and cats and swooping birds. He speeds up hidden driveways closest to the main street and whips his nimble hand-me-down blue and silver bike around in a tight 180˚ preparing to vaunt himself, yet carelessly again, back into the main feed of the driveway.

The neighbors do not mind, but they are not home. They are at work.


I have considered, with more weight than the previous time, my return to it. To don a suit (do women still wear suits to the office? Are there still offices?), wear sensible heels, have sensible hair and attend sensible meetings — all with the noble intent to help conjure funds to pay for the next stage of my parental life: college tuition for our oldest son. And then our middle son. And then our third son.

I read an article in the New York Times this morning about why college costs so much. My outcome was not relief, a sense of “gotcha! now you colleges will tone down your lack of federal funding rhetoric and tuitions will recede!” but rather great discouragement; there is no way to shut down that business machine. And that’s what it is … a business. I don’t know who said the original sentiment, but the watered-down version of it at MCI where I used to work in corporate communications was this: “Create the need and then sell the answer.” I’m not pooping on college. I definitely see its value and its importance for a life well lived; so much of what you learn in college doth not come from books.

We attended a college financial aid night at the high school about three months ago in the dead of winter. We braved 12˚ plus winds for 300 yards from our car to the building to listen to a knowledgeable man from Georgetown University’s financial aid office talk about things that make no sense to me: that if we paid the tuition for my son to attend my alma mater at $23,000, we could conceivably get financial aid for him to attend Georgetown for basically the same amount thanks, to the benefits. My school is no slouch, but it’s not Georgetown. Couple that with the fact that our of-age son did well enough blindly on his SATs to get into several very good schools. But SATs and GPAs and ACTs aren’t enough for a white, American, middle-class, highly intelligent, book-smart, socially affable, male to be admitted (not “get into”) a good school anymore. He has to be regal, and somehow disadvantaged.

Back to creating the need: I read in the comments of the NYT article that the nation needs college educated kids to survive in the future. But the college costs are insane. That “low skill” labor jobs aren’t what’s going to carry this nation. That no one wants those jobs. Yet they, too, are absolutely needed for the future (who’s going to pave the roads?! who is going to catch the fish? who’s going to fix the cars? the planes? so many good jobs are out there!). There was also the sad acknowledgement that a college degree also doesn’t guarantee a competitive edge in the workforce. But it’s non-negoatiable; a college education is non-negotiable, it’s a must-have. Yet the tuition is insane. But the schools don’t need the money. But it’s become a business. But kids have to have a college education… But it’s super expensive… Am I repeating myself?!

Heck yeah I am.


I started to run out of bandwidth. And to prove it, to prove that I had literally run out of mental space to be a sane and nonreactive person, I picked on the only person in my life who is nice enough to come back for more, because that’s the kid of guy he is: my husband. I created chaos. It wasn’t just him that I went after. I went after myself, in a really yucky and sad way. I said and thought things about myself that I would never say to or about another human being (well, maybe Hitler). It’s a very thin line, I learned –again– between picking on yourself and kicking yourself in the ass. After two days I figured out that I was creating a shitstorm for myself and that my anger vented at my husband was really about me. But why? Why did I pick him? Well, to deflect, and keep the heat off progress of course. If I create a shitstorm, I have to clean that up and feel sorry for myself some more. If I simply act and do the appropriate thing, where’s the fun in that? It’s about growing up, dammit.

Then there’s my own shit in my head to deal with. I’ve written about it here: the panic about my personal future and following and not crapping on my own dreams: to write.

To bring this idea closer to my own soul, to allow the kindnesses and compliments of readers and friends to actually sink in and not simply run off my skin only to drip into little puddles beneath my fingertips and pool around my feet or soak the linings of  my shoes I have begun to read the eminently readable War of Art by Steven Pressfield. I learned about that book after listening to Steven Pressfield’s podcast on The Accidental Creative. His book is a breezy little tome, broken up into very brief segments or chapters or utterances (sometimes just a paragraph long) about Resistance.

Seth Godin refers to Resistance as The Troll Inside Your Head. Pressfield says that Resistance is that thing inside us which stops us all from being healthier, ending a sick relationship, allowing creativity and living better. In its early pages I learned that Pressfield not only has a ritual (I’ve heard SO MUCH ABOUT THAT NEED FOR A RITUAL… OK…I get it…) but he also has a zone, an altar, if you will, dedicated to his writing or his creativity. He is disciplined. I used to be very disciplined. Then I had kids. That threw that bathtub right out the window. But my kids are older now. Creating a ritual and an altar does not seem quite so rife with failure anymore. He talks about not setting a word limit or a time limit on his writing and that when he starts to lose his thought, then he knows he’s done for the day. He’s very reasonable.

Pressfield makes a very compelling case about Resistance and why it wins so often. Pressfield makes us dig very deeply to uncover why we let Resistance in.

We let Resistance in because we find it easier to be afraid than to be courageous. He draws comparisons between Resistance and self-sabotage. He wrote something about how it’s even a form of sabotage against our peers, about how the worst act of treason against them we can commit is to better ourselves or get this: we subconsciously halt the betterment of others because we don’t want to be stuck with ourselves. He used an oft-cited story of the fate which befalls the crab who dares to leave the stock pot and how the others will dismember it to prevent its liberation.

You have to own your stuff when you read this book. In order to grow from it, you MUST be willing to stare yourself in the mirror and admit when you were a crab who tried to pull the fleeing one back in: are you the friend of someone who is striving for weight loss who offers him cake or makes little jabs at her progress? Or are you the one who puts out a spread of fruit and vegetables and offers water instead of soda or wine?

That made me think back to a time in my life with my mother when as much as I wanted her to be healthy and sober and available to me, I was also (this is a big confession) weak and terrified that her recovery would require me to be softer and kinder and vulnerable to her. That I would lose my enemy. That I would lose my edge. Part of it was teenage girlhood. I better understand my role in my sins against her and with that, not so much a sense of guilt, but an awareness of my fears and my false power.

I am so grateful that my go-to response was NOT guilt for the first time in my life.

It’s not like I spiked her cokes or swapped her tylenol with valium. Guilt has no place in that dynamic because ultimately, I had no power over her. What I was guilty of, if anything, was thinking I had any role in hoping for as well as fearing any sense of recovery for her. It’s hard for me to convey to you without sounding like a shrew how truly difficult it was between us, when things were difficult. To do so brings to mind that poem about the little girl with the curl in the middle of her forehead: that when she was bad, she was really really awful. So I really try to avoid talking about it all. But doing that solves nothing either, other than makes me feel like I have to shut up and that makes me mad. I have found that when I simply accept things as they were that I don’t feel compelled to be pissed off about it all. I have to remember that.

Reading Pressfield allowed me to see my baser, more unkind and craven self from those days. Surprisingly, it has bolstered me. I see how far I’ve come! I also see myself less as a victim of hers or of circumstances and more as a participant, albeit a reluctant and confused one. I was not a young child when I had those fears of my mother’s success; I was running out of bandwidth then. I was an adolescent, on the verge of bursting from my pent-up rage against circumstances I had yet to fully understand but only sensed their state of frustration.

My middle son is now that age when I first began to understand what was going on — what was really going on — in my family. We were about to move to Virginia, uprooting my mother. My older brother had mentally left for college, I was poised to repeat 8th grade (due to low attendance and a few dozen tardies) and it was utter emotional and logistical chaos. I see my middle son now and as much as he hates school (boy!) he goes. Every day. He is more intellectually present now and his grades are improving. He understands that all of this is his responsibility (we provide the stable home life and he does the work). It has required a lot of attention on my husband’s and my behalf to keep him remotely on track, but nowhere along the line do I find myself sabotaging his efforts and secretly wanting him to slide.

My oldest son is the age when I started to become emotionally unglued; that when I actively hated my mother and defiantly rose against and mocked any belief in her proposals of recovery. It was likely my disbelief and emotional garrisoning was all I could muster as she was a virulent strain of artist, alcoholic and depressive narcissist. In retrospect, I think it was a survival skill. I was out of bandwidth.

Pressfield goes on to talk about how to overcome Resistance. How we need to be ready for it and to learn from it. There are pages awaiting me which prescribe a future without Resistance and I can’t wait to get to them. I’m in the section now where he could not shake the sense of a need to write nonfiction. That he simply couldn’t bear to write fiction yet and that he felt like a fraud for thinking himself worthy of giving perspective and advice to anyone who dared to read his words.

Man, can I relate to that. And yet he did it anyway. And I’m so grateful. Should I ever go in that direction in a cohesive sense with an all-out book, you won’t catch me daring to say I’ve accumulated the requisite letters after my name to make me worthy of dispensing advice. I can’t shake the feeling though that there’s no way to write fiction, ever, for me until I bang out something which is entirely nonfiction.

I can feel myself on the precipice. This is unlike any other sense of thrust or self-trust or self-belief I’ve ever felt.

I have considered writing when the kids are at school. But I busy myself with other things which I would categorize as Resistance. But not today. Today, I am aware. It’s like being on a financial budget: don’t needlessly spend the money if you want to have it later. Be smart about how you spend your time. Try to not run out of bandwidth. But if you do, be OK with it. Reboot. We can always reboot.

So I’ve come semi-circle about the returning to work thing. Watching my son ride his bike up and down our street mandates that I be home when he is. I have seven more years of this. I don’t think of that with regret though, as if I am trapped here. That is the mistake lots of us make. We are not trapped here. It’s a matter of perspective. Even a castle in the Alps can feel like a prison.

Ideally, I’d like part-time writing and editing work. Nothing too fancy. Just something to help the blow in a couple years. Pay for a vacation. To a place which requires an airplane ride, a rental car and abuts turquoise water. Wouldn’t that be nice? College will happen. We will figure it out. We will have to. Everyone manages to figure it out. By the time our youngest is finished I will be dead. hahahahaaaaaa.aa….aaaaaahhhh ….mmmm.

No. I will be 56. NINE YEARS, BABY! And it will ALL BE OVER! That’s almost dead. I joke. Fifty-six is the beginning of the salad days, my friends.

But for now, I sit here still. My shadow extends a good twenty feet to my right as the sun, still eight minutes old, is setting to my left. The boys have gone inside. The boxwoods are still fizzing. The birds are beginning their night songs and my cats have retreated to nap in preparation for their nocturnal missions. The liberated cherry blossom petals are rolling and tumbling along the ground, propelled by the breezes of alternating pockets of cool and warm air. They dance and twirl as if they are children on a playground, chasing a soccer ball. It’s truly magical. The issue at hand for me is to turn this love of observation into something I can share with the world, not just on this blog, but bigger.

The wind has picked up and now pollen is bombing my keyboard and screen, and my laptop battery is at 9% remaining. This is good. What a glorious day. … and there goes the ice cream truck on the main street its warped-78rpm version of “Dixie” and “Camptown Races” blaring out the yogurt-cup-sized tweeter.

Thank you.