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I was looking at my To Do list last Sunday and feeling my anxiety rise. I’d already crossed off a few things – like ‘Make bread and yogurt’ – deciding I’d buy them instead. ‘Clean house’ was stabbed through with a jagged black line.

Sadly, this is how most of my weekends start off. Hell, this is pretty much my everyday life — lists of Too Much To Do. I’m not enjoying things that should be fun because I feel anxious about all the things I’m not getting done while doing whatever I’m doing.

That is no way to live. I know this. But how to stop it when there is so much to do and I always feel like I’m behind. And I don’t mean behind in things that can wait, I mean behind on things like paying bills, doing my taxes, trying to find whatever is causing the putrid odor in the refrigerator, etc.

But even more frustrating is that if I just try to knock off the things that NEED to be done, I don’t have time for the really important stuff, that which makes me Maery and happy — activities like writing, horseback riding, spending time with friends…

I wish I had a great answer to this dilemma. I could then be the next person out there who has sold a million books and is invited to do a TED talk. But I don’t have an answer. All I have is my experiments that I carry out to see if I can get closer to a less anxious, more fun life.

I’ve been thinking a great deal about the idea of “fun” because I’ve noticed the lack of it in my life, even with the things I supposedly “love” and can’t live without — like writing. But I’m going to talk more about writing another day. For now, I want to talk about how I experimented with fun over the weekend, which basically meant paying attention and noticing when things were fun and when they weren’t, especially when I was doing something I supposedly “love.”

Sunday morning, I drove out to the stable to see Luke. Since my friend who owned the boarding facility and who was my trail riding and bike riding and skiing and consignment store shopping buddy moved away, my going to the barn has become harder and harder. There’s less to look forward to and I end up feeling lonely and depressed when I go there. So why would I want to go?

I thought about this and decided my happiness was being screwed with because I was focusing on how things had been in the past and seeing those conditions as the only ones that would make me happy. Things change all the time so that’s not a good mind set. I knew I needed to look for what was good about how things are now. Yes, I still miss my friend a lot, but that doesn’t mean I can’t enjoy my horsey time.

There is a certain meditative rhythm to grooming a horse and running a series of progressively finer curries and brushes over a horse’s body from the tips of his ears to the long feathery hairs above his hoofs. It’s also very satisfying in the Spring  to see a sleek coat appearing as you run the shedder over the horse and pull off the globs of hair clinging to its teeth.

My favorite part of grooming is when I remove Luke’s halter and work out the hay he has managed to toss into his mane and forelock.  I take my time, carefully cleaning around his soft, dark eyes and getting the fuzz and hay away from his nose before he sneezes all over me. I worked a rubber grooming mitt inside the thick winter fur of his ears. Luke leaned into my hand, and I imagined how good this scratching must feel.

Luke is the gentlest, most patient horse I have ever partnered up with. He softens my snarls every time I spend time with him. He deserves to have an unrushed, pleasant partner.

When I began to wish I had gotten to the barn a half hour earlier, I drew myself back to being glad I was there now. When I began to think that things were taking too long and I would never have enough time to fit in a bike ride and a walk with the dogs, I stopped myself and focused on how great it was to be riding outside listening to the glopck, glopck sound Luke made as we splashed through the puddles, followed by the shllsh, shllsh, shllsh sound as he high stepped through the snow.

At one point, I started to think about how much I want to trail ride this year and how that means I’ll have to trailer my horse by myself, which means I’ll have to overcome an extreme level of fear (imagine going sky diving for the first time). I felt this terror last summer and wasn’t able to get past it and go trail riding even once. How could I make this year be any different?

But wait. Now I was thinking about the “future” and having that screw with my present time. I drew myself back, deciding I will deal with my trailer terror (which is actually fear of backing into a parking spot that is only about two feet wider than my trailer) later.

As I’ve played around with this idea of drawing my focus back to why I enjoy doing something and being there to enjoy it, this is what I noticed and will keep in mind as I keep doing my little experiments:

  • The moments I am most unhappy and frustrated are the moments when I am rushing to get to the next thing.
  • Comparing the present to a past that is romanticized by memory or a future romanticized by dreams is ruining my enjoyment of all the great things about “now.”
  • Thinking about what could go wrong in the future by doing what I’m doing, not doing what I should be doing, or because the future holds all kinds of scary, claustrophobic, shadowy spaces filled with who-knows-what? causes a crazy, somewhat insane amount of fear. Just the way I wrote that sentence scares the hell out of me.
  • When I do stick with noticing all the sights, smells, sensations and people or animals I am with at the moment, I am a much more pleasant person to be around. Or at least I enjoy my company more, and I enjoy what I’m doing because all of me is actually there doing it!

I know this is really long and rambling — blame all the noticing and thinking I’ve been doing. But I must conclude with this touching bit of beauty found amongst the music Terri Windling posts on Mondays on her Myth & Moor blog.

The song is called “Horses” and is sung by Dala (Sheila Carabine and Amanda Walther). It expresses the spirit of why animals have always held a special place in my heart.

“I saw horses from my window. They were watching all the cars go by. They don’t care that I am broken, close my eyes and run beside them.”

Creating my birthday collage last week meant going through about six big boxes of photos, greeting cards, and other memorabilia that I hadn’t opened since I moved to my house three years ago, The boxes contained both my things and the memory boxes I had taken from my mom’s house.

My mom saved EVERYTHING! All of my brother’s and my report cards, samples of the first papers I wrote in cursive, and cards that I made for my mom and dad. There were a few cool postcards sent from two of my uncles during the Korean war and a not so cool box of funeral notices.

There was a box dedicated to my brother, who died at age 39. It held the baby blue cigar box my dad had purchased to hand out smokes to commemorate the day my brother was adopted. I found the tie my brother wore for his first communion and another tie worn for confirmation. There was a collection of photos, including those from my brother’s wedding, and later photos of his daughter. And there was a copy of the service that was held for my brother’s funeral.

It was hard flipping through that expanse of time. Seeing a life begin and then end too quickly.

I found myself sitting cross-legged on the floor, immersed in a time capsule of remembering, regretting, and wishing things had been different. All of my issues with aging seemed to be amplified as image after image flipped from beginning to end. Less is possible now than when I was younger, not just because of changing physical abilities but because there’s less time left to accomplish all the things I want to do.

Lately my focus has been on retirement, the next big life event, and trying to make sure I have my finances in order. Will my money last until the end? Which has me asking new questions. Like how little can I get by on? Do I work until I have a nest egg that I think will allow me to travel and have some fun? Or do I simplify what I think it takes to enjoy life and retire earlier?

What truly makes life enjoyable? And how do I learn to find those cheap thrills and start incorporating more of them into my life right now?

What do you think? Do you have a clear picture of how you want to live? It seems like that should be such an easy question to answer, and yet…

When someone opens the box (symbolically or physically) that holds the photos and memorabilia of your life, what will be inside?

They say it’s your birthday. [da dun, da dun] 
We’re gonna have a good time. [da dun, da dun]

Fifty-seven years old is kind of a boring birthday – no kind of milestone attached to it. It’s not even a catchy number like fifty-five.

I have no big plans. Nothing up my sleeve. No inspiring thoughts or big changes. I’ve been trying to come up with something wise to say for two weeks now. Nothing…

I do have a mantra though.

“Doing something is better than doing nothing.”

And I’ll go ahead and steal someone else’s wisdom that I ran across last week:

“Giving up on your goal because of one setback is like slashing your other three tires because you got a flat.” ~ Louise Hay

I had to laugh because moments before, I’d been jotting down my thoughts on a scrap of paper and had written this:

“I’ve hit a huge pothole and flattened my tire. Where the hell is the jack to hold my car up?”

(Not quite as catchy but I think the use of the word “hell” gives it some flavor)

Most of my free time lately has been spent working on organizational issues for my book. I have the problem of having fourteen years of writing to dig through and pluck out the pieces that fit and will make the best story.

To narrow things down, I hold everything I’ve written up and ask whether it answers one of these two key questions:

“What are the consequences of hiding and being silent?”
“What are the consequences of speaking your truth and not being heard or believed?”

As I write, I think there might be a third question that I’m answering. 

“What are the consequences of putting all that behind you
and deciding you don’t care how people react.
You are going to tell the story.”

– Today’s post is cross-posted on Vision and Verb