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“Sound, music!” ~William Shakespeare (A Midsummer Night’s Dream, IV, i)

Today I’m going to write about something that might not appeal to some people, but it certainly makes me UNunhappy so we’re going to go with it.  Many of us have movies from our childhood that we remember and that make us feel nostalgic: a few blockbusters that stick out for me were ‘The Black Stallion’ (I was a typical horse-crazy little girl), ‘Star Wars’ (my brother and I had every single action figure), ‘E.T.’ (which I want to believe started me on the track to future X-Files super-fandom), and of course ‘Grease’ (I wanted to be Olivia Newton-John).

Other lesser-known film gems that I saw as a kid also bring back fond memories, like:

  • ‘The Cat from Outer Space’
  • ‘Escape from Witch Mountain’
  • ‘The Shaggy D.A.’
  • ‘The Rescuers’
  • Any of the ‘Benji’ or ‘Herbie the Love Bug’ movies
  • (I’d include Wizard of Oz but I firmly blame it for my phobia of tornadoes, sorry Lisa.)

But there’s one movie above all the rest that made a life-long impression upon me, and I wasn’t even born yet when it was released in 1965.  The first time I remember seeing it, I was 8 years old and in the third grade, when our teacher Mrs. Martin asked us to watch it at home because we were going to be putting on a play in class using goat puppets made out of milk cartons and popsicle sticks.  She also taught us how to yodel for our singing parts in the play, which we all thought was great fun.  Yes, the movie is of course ‘The Sound of Music.’

You may think it’s sappy or cheesy, with all those singing nuns and curtain-clad kids running around Salzburg.  I just think it’s pure happiness.  It’s one of those movies that if I see it while flipping the channels, I’m stuck for the next few hours singing every word to every song – which I, along with millions of others, know by heart since I’ve seen the movie an estimated 42 times now.  (Other movies I’m obligated to watch if I catch them while channel surfing:  ‘Sense and Sensibility,’ ‘Love Actually,’ ‘The Holiday,’ ‘A Christmas Story,’ ‘About a Boy,’ and yes, I admit it, ‘Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone.’)

I really have Mrs. Martin to thank for my love of the movie and its songs, as a good portion of that third grade year was spent rehearsing “The Lonely Goatherd,” which is definitely the funnest song in the entire movie.  But it’s not my favorite song of the film – that honor goes to “I Have Confidence.”  I relate to the words in that song – I’ve been known to sing it as I’m sitting in my car about to go into a big job interview, or to boost my morale before major meetings or speeches or projects.  Just listen, how can you not love this, especially when sung by the indelible Julie Andrews?

I also love her outfit in that scene and I wish I could pull off Maria’s simple but chic hairstyle that was unmussed by that fantastic hat.  She was confident, despite being faced with an overwhelming and uncertain challenge.  Everyone in this movie is facing challenges of one kind or another, which is the main draw of its appeal for many fans (and that all of those challenges get resolved in neat packages by the end, tied up with string) – that, and the fact that it’s based on a true story of course.  Though the screenwriters took a few liberties with the storyline, the basic tenets are all there, and I’ve read in-depth accounts of the actual Von Trapp family (it’s an extremely interesting history).  This past fall my father and stepmom visited the Trapp Family Lodge in Stowe, Vermont and brought me back a family anthology book signed by one of the actual grandchildren of the real Maria Von Trapp.  It’s a treasure and I enjoyed reading every word of it, and hope to eventually visit the Lodge myself sometime.

I also have thought of visiting Austria one day to go on a Sound of Music tour, and yes of course those really exist.  A few years ago, right before I moved to Austin, I bought tickets to the now-famous yearly Sound of Music Sing-a-Long at the Hollywood Bowl outdoor amphitheatre in Los Angeles.  (By the way, the best ‘Will & Grace’ episode ever was “Von Trapped,” where all the characters get stuck at a Sound of Music Sing-a-Long, it’s hilarious & well worth a watch!)  But, I couldn’t find anyone who wanted to go with me, and I didn’t want to travel there by myself, so I ended up selling the tickets; maybe I’ll try again this year, the 50th Anniversary year of the movie’s release, what better year to go?  Everyone dresses up for the Sing-a-Long in their favorite SOM-inspired costume and it’s hosted by actress and comedienne Melissa Peterman – what it must sound like for 18,000 fans to be singing all the songs together at the same time!  It seems to me that must be what pure joy sounds like.  (I wish they would also do one for ‘Mary Poppins,’ another one of my favorites; Julie Andrews can do no wrong.)

I have many favorite scenes in the movie: when Maria and the Captain are dancing on the patio outside the ball; when she comes back (after leaving) to face her feelings and is reunited with the children, only to find out the Captain is engaged; the scene at the end of Do Re Mi when Julie Andrews hits the highest note in the history of the world; and of course the wedding scene – that train!  As a young girl watching both The Sound of Music and Princess Diana’s wedding, it’s what I wanted my future wedding to be like: in a grand cathedral with a wedding gown train the length of the aisle and a handsomely-uniformed man at the end of the aisle (some dreams are meant to remain dreams I guess).

MariaDress

SOMwedding

I read a Vanity Fair interview last week with Dame Julie Andrews and Christopher Plummer – she’s 79 now and he’s 85, it’s hard to believe.  They have very different memories and opinions of the movie these 50 years later, but it’s still a thrill to see them together in photos and tributes after all this time.  It’s truly heartbreaking that she can no longer sing due to throat surgery gone wrong many years ago; I told my mom as we were watching the Oscars last week that I would have given anything in the world to see Julie Andrews walk out on that stage and sing those songs herself (during a tribute to the movie during the show).  They must both know by now the love that fans the world over have for the film and for them – watching ‘The Sound of Music’ takes me right back to third grade and the goatherd milk carton puppet I made for our class play, and reminds me of happy times.

And I can still do a pretty mean yodel.

À la prochaine!

Ant Kristi

 

LLTMN#4: It’s OK If You’re Not Perfect

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“But no perfection is so absolute, that some impurity doth not pollute.” ~William Shakespeare

[This post is the fourth installment in the series I call “Life Letters to My Nephews,” or LLTMN.]

My first and oldest nephew Hudson turned 10 last week – Happy Birthday Hudson!  Already.  Unbelievably.  I literally can’t fathom that an entire decade passed in the blink of an eye since I anxiously waited by the phone for news that you’d made your way into the world.  I didn’t get to see you until you in person until you were three months old, at which point you had this spiky charcoal hair and the cutest little furrowed-brow face when you would concentrate on something – you still do that, and it’s one of my favorite things about you.

babyH3 months cropped

I didn’t move to Austin until you were five and half years old, so I regrettably missed out on so much time during your “younger” years.  But since I have been here, I’ve really enjoyed going to all of your sports matches, spending holidays with you, watching movies with you during sleepovers at my house, and taking you on our yearly Ant Kristi/Hudson birthday shopping trips!  (I really look forward to all of my aunt/nephew birthday shopping trips each year, time with just me and that nephew on a special outing.)

blue butterfly bike

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about what it was like for me to be 10 years old.  And now that you’re into the double digits Hudson, I wanted to share a little life lesson with you that started way back when I was the same age you are now.  You see, it was around age 10 when I decided that I was going to be PERFECT.  Perfect at everything I did, all the time, no matter what it was:  getting perfect grades in school, being the perfect daughter, performing perfectly in dance class, even having perfect friends.  You name it, and my self-proclaimed job as a kid (and later as an adult) was to be as perfect at it as possible.

Which of course is ridiculous, because no one is perfect at anything much less everything, but you couldn’t have told me that at the time.  I wasn’t super-smart, but I knocked myself out for the next 15 years to strive for that 4.0 level of perfection in school; it took me a while, and I didn’t quite get there in middle or high school, but by the end of my academic pursuits, I was valedictorian of my Masters degree class, with the 4.0 to go along with it.  I’d finally made it to the top.  Which, by the way, did exactly nothing for my professional or personal life whatsoever (I can now say) in any realm: career, happiness, income, satisfaction.  That “top” was just a temporary stop on my never-ending pursuit of perfection.  And you know what happens after you reach the top don’t you…you can’t stay there forever, and eventually you start rolling downhill.

Don’t get me wrong, school is extremely important and you should do the best you can – but not at the sacrifice of all the other good things life has to offer along the way, and not to the point where you beat yourself up about it.  I remember being so mad at myself for getting a few “B’s” in high school, and the one and only “C” I got in college shocked and dismayed me.  It was in Genetics by the way, one of the most difficult classes taught by the reputed toughest professor at my university – I should have been thrilled that I passed the class when many didn’t, but instead, I felt sub par, below average – when technically a “C” means average, ok, satisfactory.  But I’d convinced myself that average – in any arena – was the same thing as failure, which of course isn’t true.  And average sure wasn’t perfect (in my eyes), and if I wasn’t achieving perfection, then I was failing.  It’s a dangerous roundabout, the pursuit of perfection, and very difficult to get out of once you’re in it…

I’m ashamed to admit I even quit being friends with some people because they weren’t perfect enough or they did things that I thought would affect my perfect life.  That’s sad.  I caused myself a LOT of stress over the years trying to make everything perfect around me, even if I didn’t have any control over a lot of it – sounds crazy right?  Things that I tried so hard to make perfect – weddings, marriages, jobs, friendships, my health – all ended up in shambles (and made me feel even more crazy).  Mostly because I couldn’t just let go and accept imperfection as a reality.

mmimperfectquote

You see, trying to be perfect all the time is a kind of self-torture, and I don’t want you (or any of my nephews) to have to go through that!  When you try to be perfect at something and you’re not, you start to feel bad because you didn’t reach the impossibly high standards you’ve set for yourself (or that others have set for you).  You begin to be unhappy and frown more than you smile, because you’re always thinking about how you’ve let yourself and others down by not being perfect.  But once you can realize that it’s ok to NOT be perfect all the time – or even ANY of the time – then you can start to really just be YOU!  Imperfect, quirky, beautiful you – good at some things, not so good at other things, but loved and cherished by so many people no matter what.

I hope you can learn from my mistakes better than I’ve been able to.  It’s still a struggle for me to not want to be perfect or to expect perfection in every aspect of my life, but I do know that I’m definitely more UNunhappy and more fulfilled when I just let those expectations go – and I want you to be happy and fulfilled too, no matter what you end up doing with your life. 

Four years ago when I moved to Austin and started cycling, I bought myself a Road ID bracelet that I know you’ve seen me wear every day.  The last sentence on the ID tag is reserved for a “personal motto” expression – and when I ordered mine, of course I picked the phrase I’d said over and over in my head my entire life:  PRACTICE MAKES PERFECT.

RoadIDPMP

I think it’s finally time to get a new tag, with a new personal motto…maybe “Pobody’s Nerfect?” I really like that one.

And just remember:imperfectAlways!

Love,

Ant Kristi

ant-with-flower

 

 

 

Hulk Headaches & Health Anxiety

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“So sick I am not, yet I am not well…” ~William Shakespeare (Cymbeline, IV, ii)

I haven’t been feeling too great lately.  Nothing life-threatening or too deeply dire, just lots of mostly minor maladies here and there that add up to an overall sense of suckiness.  Headaches, weird muscle aches, earaches, toothaches, overall body aches…it’s getting pretty tiring, both physically and mentally.  I seem to have a few good days where everything seems in pretty good working order, but it’s inevitably then followed by about a week of bad days where I feel crappy…and then the cycle repeats itself.

I know no one likes to be sick or feel bad, and I realize there are many people out there that are dealing with a LOT worse than me, but the fact remains that when I don’t feel good, I seem to just…shut down.  Being sick or hurt for me presents a mental roadblock that is pretty tough for me to push aside.  You see, I have a history of some pretty impressive health anxiety.  It used to be a lot worse than it is now, and I’ve brought it under manageable control with the help of a life-saving therapist – but I continue to grapple with it and have come to accept that it will probably always be a part of who I am and something I have to work to overcome.

For someone with health anxiety, the whys and whens and hows and what-ifs threaten to overwhelm a person when they get sick or hurt, or have any “unusual” symptoms: Why is this happening to me, what’s the exact, specific, pinpointed cause?  (Because if I know the cause, I can then hopefully prevent it from happening again.)  How and when did I catch this cold, or get this headache, or become short of breath?  What if this headache is really the beginning of meningitis?  What if this weird muscle spasm in my armpit is a sign that I have clogged heart arteries?  What if those recurring cramps in my legs are because of life-threatening blood clots?  When we can’t get answers to these questions (which is most of the time), it just makes our anxiety worse, which then leads to more stress, which then causes even more health problems.

Stopping that fatalistic self-talk as it begins and trying to not immediately imagine the worst possible scenario is part of what I learned and practiced through therapy, back when the anxiety was at its worst.  I was also not allowed to look up any of my symptoms on the internet, so as to not induce even more panic and feed the medical monster.  I was banned from taking my pulse more than once/day or at times other than during exercise.  Ultimately, I decided I had to quit my job as a health counselor where I talked about horrible health problems all day every day (the worst possible environment for me) and take myself out of that personal mine field. 

(Source: criticalscience.com)

(Source: criticalscience.com)

For the most part, I still am able to enlist those calming strategies and avoid the full-blown panic attacks and vicious worry cycles that I used to incur on a pretty frequent basis.  I remember my therapist’s teachings: to tell myself what the most likely and unlikely scenarios are, and then to logically handle the symptom and situation from there.  To realize that everyone – especially as we get older – has aches and pains as the normal part of life.  To also realize that life doesn’t always come with an explanation pamphlet for every scenario we encounter, and to learn to live with not always knowing why (as crazy as it may drive me).  I’m happy to say that I’m no longer a frequent flier at the doctor’s office, but I also still believe in timely visits for those issues that truly do warrant it and not ignoring what could be serious (like the stabbing/piercing ear pain I had this past week).

But – I am kind of a worrier by nature anyway, something else that was in the genes and I just have to accept and deal with.  Which means, that even when I am able to not panic out loud about an illness or strange symptom, I still quietly and subtly worry about it (for both me and for things happening to those closest to me).  Health anxiety quietly hovers in the corner of the dark room that you usually try to keep closed off, but then sneaks out every once in a while when you least expect or want it.  People tease you about it, or avoid talking to you about any health topic whatsoever, in fear that you’ll just have some kind of fit-like meltdown.  (This just makes us feel worse by the way, when we’re working so hard to improve.)

And I admit that even that subdued level of worry is still enough to cause me to focus on the issue more than I should.  I find myself making more mental room for it and sacrificing attention to other things on my to-do list that get waylaid by the worry.  Every once in a while, I allow myself to guiltily look up a new symptom online, and then usually regret it as soon as I see all the uninformed prattle on the chat boards.  I lose my appetite when I worry too much about what’s going on with my physical failings, but maybe that’s normal?  Being “normal” and feeling “good” are what I wish for every day, so I guess I feel let down and anxious when the opposite happens.

As mentioned above, I also know that worrying about my health – or anything really – actually contributes to a negative circle of physiological health effects in and of itself.  Ten days ago I had a spectacular tension headache across the back of my head that lasted for a tight and burning 48 hours; nothing would make it go away but time, but what was most frustrating for me (in terms of figuring out why it was happening) was that I’d been feeling what I thought was relatively tension-free lately!  I have a job that I really enjoy, and my overt stress levels compared to a year ago are practically nil.  But no one can ever be totally stress or worry-free, that’s unrealistic.  Even minor stress levels over things like money, or the future, or family issues, can apparently cause your cranium to feel like it’s being clobbered by the Hulk. 

So, it’s a work in progress, this tempering of my teetering.  I feel alone in my anxiety journey most of the time, and I don’t usually like to talk about it, but I wanted to shed a little light on it today in case someone else out there is also struggling to get a handle on it too.  It can get better, so hang in there.  Get help if you need it.  Figure out the source and root cause of where this anxiety is coming from, as that’s how you’ll be able to start dealing with it.  I’ve been lucky to have a few friends and family and therapists help me through it in the past, but it’s a constant effort that I have to work at mostly just by myself.  Like Pam from ‘The Office’ said, “Pobody’s Nerfect.”  Definitely not me…and I don’t want to be perfect anymore anyway (or nerfect). 

Bonne santé et à la prochaine!

Ant Kristi

Hate your job? QUIT ALREADY!!! I did.

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“Screw your courage to the sticking-place, and we’ll not fail.” ~William Shakespeare (Macbeth)

I’m an über fan of the show “The Office”  (both versions – British and American).  I’ve seen every episode multiple times, and I was sad to see it end when the series finale aired on May 16th.  Whenever I’m feeling down, watching an episode or two never fails to make me laugh out loud.  (And, I have a major crush on John Krasinski and his perfect hair.)

JKpic

(Thanks Jenna Fischer for tweeting this perfect John pic!)

One of my all-time favorite scenes from The Office was the one where Michael Scott quit his job at Dunder Mifflin Paper Company:

Oh Michael, I love you and your resolute, childlike narcissism.

Like most of you I imagine, I’ve spent most of my working life in an office; only a few of my working years have NOT been in an office setting (Peace Corps & Home Depot spring to mind).  I’ve dealt with my fair share of office politics, drama queen co-workers, bipolar bosses, pervasive PowerPoints, and mind-numbing boredom.  I’ve stared into enough filthy food-splattered office microwaves to last me a lifetime.  At one office – not exaggerating – I endured a musical-chairs-rotation of 8 different bosses in the 7 years I worked there (and none of them were Michael Scott, unfortunately). 

Looking back on all my office work experiences together, it resembles a schizophrenic reality-show combination of Survivor, Punk’d, and The Joe Schmo Show all rolled into one (“What is going ooooonnnnnn??!!!” = Best reveal moment ever by the way on Joe Schmo).  The cumulative effect of all these experiences was disturbing yet manageable, or so it felt that way at the time. 

It was almost like a badge of honor to outwit, outplay and outlast other coworkers that would fall by the wayside – but at an expense I couldn’t yet recognize.

So what happened that prompted my current journey?  Almost a year ago, I found out I was being transferred into a new position by my employer; funding for our prior positions had run out, and they scrambled to plop a few of us into ill-fitting new jobs at a different office where we were underutilized and undervalued.  I had no choice in the matter, and I knew within a nanosecond of the announcement that it would be a job that I was going to hate.  Not dislike.  Hate

But did I listen to the voice in my head that was screaming “GET OUT NOW!”  Of course not; being the responsible workforce professional that I was, I trudged ahead in sensible pay-the-bills fashion.

That daily trudging left much of my sanity and health lying battered and bleeding on the side of Austin’s congested roadways that I wrestled each day on my 50-mile round-trip commute.  It was a hell of a ride (TWSS).

I lasted nine months.  And then I finally made the decision to give my bundle of frayed nerves up for adoption.

About a month ago, I finally took back my life and JUST QUIT.  I wanted so badly to boldly march into my boss’s office and quote Michael Scott from the video above as I turned in my notice, inspiring shock and awe in the process. 

Turns out I’m not quite the brave thespian I’d envisioned…and the boring reality is that I walked (normal-style) into HR and turned in my notice in a perfectly-civilized non-histrionic meeting.   I never could have delivered the line as good as Michael did anyway…it should remain his.

michaelscott-truffled-650x365

I was taught growing up that you never give up, never quit, so this was a hard decision for me.  But there are times when we just don’t win the battles we choose (or are thrown into) and simply must walk away.  Sometimes knowing when to make that decision and following through can be a victory in itself.

I read a quote by Confucius the other day that said “Life is really simple, but we insist on making it complicated.”  Staying in such a soul-sucking job for as long as I did was me making my own life complicated; quitting it was me getting back to basics.  I’m ready for simplicity again!

And before you ask: no, I didn’t have another job lined up at the time that I quit, despite my father’s voice on a repeat loop in my head saying “Don’t quit a job before you have a job.  Don’t quit a job before you have a job.”  I feel a little like Baby in Dirty Dancing, rebelling with the bad boy despite what others think she “should” do – only my Johnny is joblessness, and way less sexy.

Yes, I’m terrified. But I’m FREE!  But definitely terrified. My last day on the payroll was two weeks ago, and I don’t have another job yet.  Those real-life bills aren’t going to pay themselves.  But I do have a vision that I’m working toward – one that started when I was only 16 years old actually (stay tuned for future posts to learn all about it).  

The line from The Office series finale that struck me the most – and validated 100% my decision to try my hand at life decisions that would hopefully lead to a state of UNunhappy – was this one by Pam:

“Be strong.  Trust yourself.  Conquer your fears.  Just go after what you want, & act fast, because life just isn’t that long.”

It doesn’t really get much clearer than that. 

John Wayne once said “Courage is being scared to death, and saddling up anyway.”  So I guess this is me saddling up (yippee-ki-yay blog readers)!  Let’s see where this trail ride leads.

So to sum up:  You have no idea how high I can fly…on an uncomplicated horse…that dances dirty….  Or something like that.

À la prochaine!

Ant Kristi

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