Tag Archives: youth

How Do You Move Forward When You’re Grinding All Your Gears?

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As humans, we’re constantly in motion. But motion and movement are two very different things. Just because you’re in motion doesn’t mean you’re necessarily going anywhere.

Trust me on this, I know.

If I could catch a ride with Richard Branson on his uber-expensive Virgin Galactic Gateway to Space, I’d easily be able to assess the difference between the two. But first I’d hit him up for drink. Specifically? A glass of 1907 Heidsieck. At $275,000 a bottle, it would help defray my ticket price while momentarily absolving me of the guilt associated with blowing the kids’ college tuition just to prove a point. BOGO at its highest and best use.

Space cowboy Richard Branson. Image via cognitivelibertyuk.wordpress.com

Space cowboy Richard Branson. Image via cognitivelibertyuk.wordpress.com

The second thing I’d do is settle in to check out the real estate, because isn’t leveraging my children’s future to see the world from a different point of view all about perspective? I imagine myself staring out the window at an earth below that looks less and less like the picture we all try to paint on a daily basis. Not so much a three-dimensional place anymore, but from way up above? A ginormous chessboard marked with clearly defined grids, gateways, and boundaries, as tiny balls of energy collide, advance, deflect, promote, dodge, gather, seek and recede in an endless effort to check the king.

Image via portwallpaper.com

Image via portwallpaper.com

Fascinated with the sparkly surface patterns of intricate motion that everyone on earth longs to be, and all happy-tingly-woozy from my six-figure, speed of sound buzz, I’d almost miss what I didn’t know I flew so high to see. Something small and seemingly insignificant situated inside the massive advance of energy that everyone else on board paid a lifetime of 401K savings to witness.

I’m talking about inert matter. Those pinpricks of light that mimic motion, but whose movement is an optical illusion: running in circles, dancing in place, and bumping up against imaginary walls. As everyone else on board focuses on the obvious, I’d be able to drill down a little deeper. But only because I’ve been there. Stuck. In motion, but not really going anywhere.

Image via trojantimes.org

Image via trojantimes.org

Looking back at my adult life, it’s easy to categorize it into a series of phases.

Phase 1/1980s: The Sussana Hoffs era of Big Hair and Big Dreams.

Big hair is hot. Image via houston.culturemap.com

Big hair is hot. Image via houston.culturemap.com

Phase 2/1990s: The Yves Saint Laurent era of Big Black Suit and Big Career.

Don't look at my body. Look at my soul. Image via www.girlsguidetoparis.com

Don’t look at my body. Look at my soul. Image via http://www.girlsguidetoparis.com

Phase 3/2000s: The Barbara Billingsley era of Big Belly and Big Bills.

That’s not me. OK it is. On the verge of birthing an alien.

I’ve always considered myself fairly stealth, able to move seamlessly in and out of various roles at-will to the beat of a metronome perfectly synchronized to my tune. But about three years ago, on the cusp of my 40th birthday, everything changed. For someone who’s always been confident enough to chart her own course, I suddenly found myself drifting. I was lost and knee-deep in the weeds without a compass, while a storm of my own design grew larger than it appeared in my peripheral view.

Somewhere between my career and the kids, buried in a pile of laundry or possibly lurking inside a box in the basement that I hadn’t opened for years, I lost my perspective and appreciation for the life I’d so carefully built. I don’t know how it happened, but it felt like I simply woke up one day yearning to be anywhere and anyone but who I was. Confused, I couldn’t seem to recognize the woman looking back at me in the mirror when I washed my face every night.

No matter how enlightened I become, I will always hate matching socks.

It’s easy to get lost in a pile of socks.

I was that person who, although constantly in motion, wasn’t actually moving. Busy with my responsibilities as a parent and a wife, I had somehow forgotten about the inner workings that support the common denominator between the two, and then the kids went off to school, and could tie their own shoes, and make sound decisions without being told how, and I realized that I had unintentionally parked myself on an island and hadn’t taken the time to learn to swim. Even in the middle of paradise, isolation is lonely, and days on end of the most beautiful sunset somehow lose their color. Things that shine on the surface, like the tiny balls of energy you might see from outer space, sometimes look entirely different from the inside out.

Telluride, CO August 2011

When you’re stuck, you’re forced to stop. You don’t have a choice. And then when you’re ready to move forward, you have to look around and figure out where you want to go next rather than simply allowing the tide to sweep you along. That initial inertia and subsequent plotting of a new path has great value, even though in the moment it feels miserable, like treading water in quicksand.

One of the side effects of getting lost is the unexpected places you get to visit on your way to a new destination. Like for me? Writing. This blog is a direct result of a yearlong, step-by-step, rocky hike on a circuitous path. And I’m still going. I’m a constant work in progress, but I’m now comfortable with my ever-changing state of being because I’m doing the work to figure out where I want to end up. Plus I reserve the right to change my mind, which is a great back-up plan when all else fails.

I believe that in life, we all get stuck at some point. Whether it’s due to things like divorce, disease, death, or distraction, almost everyone loses their way. Sometimes we have to move backwards to go forward, or hit a bottom so hard that the force of impact acts like a catapult up to the top, but the a-ha realization at the end, when lessons are learned and intersecting lines actually connect, is priceless. It isn’t easy, but almost everything worth accomplishing in life is born from some type of hardship or loss. So what about you? Are you simply in motion or are you actually moving? It’s a question worth asking, even if the answer isn’t what you want to hear.

Taking the road less traveled and finding my way.

Coming of Age in a Jeep Wagoneer

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During a Christmas break sophomore year in college so lame it seared a slow burn straight through the shelf, my mother released me from the death-grip of boredom and into the open arms of memories being made. The call to adventure went something like this:

Susie, college friend from not-so-sunny Cleveland: “Hey Stacie, wanna go to Florida?

Me, stuck in sucky Louisville: “Totally. When?”

Susie: “Tomorrow. We’ll pick you up at 9:00 a.m.”

Me: “Awesome!”

I had no idea who Susie was with, where we were headed, or how long we’d be gone. And I didn’t care. All I knew was that Florida, surrounded on three sides by the ocean, was a hell of a lot warmer than Kentucky, and there was a hot pink, strapless bikini with the tags still attached suffocating under a pile of long underwear in my drawer.

Susie and Rob picking me up in Kentucky where everything was...cold.

The only barrier between the freedom I’d come to take for granted while away at college and the freedom I desperately missed from…being away at college?

My Mom.

In high school, I didn’t call her Big Bad Brenda because she was particularly mean. She earned this nickname because she appeared, in 3-D technicolor megapixels, right in the middle of every lie, plan to lie, or daydream of lying that crossed my mind.

Here’s a parenting tip for anyone lucky enough to have spawned a teenage daughter. When she tells you she’s going to the youth group lock-in at church but is really planning to sneak over to Jenny Clark’s house because her parents are out of town? Don’t believe her. In fact, follow her not-so-subtle scent straight to Long Run Park, post-football game, where she’s hanging out on the hood of Will Anson’s red Camaro with the sole purpose of getting a ride to school on Monday because the bus is for losers.

Watch where you walk. The air is so thick with humidity, heat, and hormones that you can hardly elbow your way through the haze. But please. Persevere. Move to the dead center of the crowd and pull out a bullhorn. That’s right. A bullhorn. Something to amplify your voice above the fully synchronized, eight-speaker, subwoofered surround sound stereos blaring Lynyrd Skynyrd, because by now your daughter has been alerted to your arrival, and she is hauling it toward the woods in her Dr. Scholls. Which is fun to watch if you happen to see her stop, drop, and roll into the dense underbrush for cover. Put the bullhorn to your lips, and with the best mom stare you can pull out from under your sensible shoes, scream the following,

“If anyone has seen Stacie Whitten tonight, please tell her that her mother is looking for her.”

And then leave.

The utter humiliation your daughter will feel as she frog-hops fallen trees in an attempt to escape her now not-so-cool life is more effective than any corporal punishment you could inflict.

I know. I was there.

With that small incident (and it wasn’t the only one), burned into the folds of my impressionable brain, I couldn’t quite figure out why Mom said yes when I casually asked the next morning, after getting up early to clean the house, fry her some bologna for breakfast, and hum Kumbaya under my breath whenever she passed by, if I could go to the beach with my friend. But she did, so before her pre-caffeinated mind had the chance to catch up with her mouth, I was out the door, and into this:

Image via my cool friend Matt, who posted this on Facebook.

There is nothing that screams road trip like the faux wood-paneled siding of a Jeep Wagoneer, so as Susie, her big brother Rob, and his friend waved to Mom from the curb, I slid into the plush, pleather middle row, took in the Waxman-like scent with a deep breath, and settled in for the ride.

Still pasty, but happy.

Still pasty, but happy.

These are the things I remember about that trip:

  1. Rob drives really fast, but in a safe kind of way.
  2. Rob has a lot of spendy friends. We couch-hopped for over a week in some of the most expensive real estate on the planet.
  3. Drinks taste better by the ocean.
  4. Susie doesn’t just sing karaoke. She sings karaoke to win.
  5. Susie’s favorite thing to win, while singing karaoke, is free drinks.
  6. Free drinks also taste better by the ocean.
  7. If you’re not by the ocean, it’s perfectly acceptable to down your free drinks while playing pool.
  8. I look older in Florida than I do in Kentucky, which is a bonus when you’re 19.
  9. If Susie just won another karaoke contest and everyone’s downing free drinks by a pool table instead of the ocean? It’s fun to share them with some random dude named Enis who looks like he could use a free drink.
  10. Getting a free ride, free drinks, a free place to stay, and a free tan in December is awesome.
Me, Susie, and Enis.

Me, Susie, and Enis.

For me, there was a time when “road trip” simply meant getting in my car and going…with a Big Gulp, mix tape, and limitless possibility staring back at me through the rearview mirror. But now I map directions and time my ride, living a life so synchronized to the tune of obligation that an open lane has become nothing more than a means to an end.

When did taking the road less traveled morph into plotting the easiest path?

I was thinking about this as I touched down in Atlanta last week and made my way to the rental car counter to pick up the Ford Focus I planned to drive to my Dad’s farm. But the rental agent, who is now officially my new best friend, gave me the keys to a brand new, black-on-black BMW 528i instead. I am not lying. Go ask my mom.

As I slid into my practically self-propelled, fully loaded, freaking awesome ride with a Big Gulp and my mix tape (O.K., iPod), I realized that if life is really all about the journey? It looks a lot sweeter from behind the wheel of a $60,000 car.

I can't drive 55 in a brand new BMW 528i

I can't drive 55 in a brand new BMW 528i

You Gotta Pay to Play

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I just got blown off the court.

English: An explosion Deutsch: Eine Explosion

My implosion Image via Wikipedia

Again.

And I’m not happy about it.

Taking every day of my four decades on this earth into consideration, (O.K., four decades and some very spare change), my win-loss stats are backlit in a much more flattering hue than the numbers I’ve posted as of late.  Think megapixel versus rabbit ears.

But now, instead of living out a Technicolor tennis dream, I’m that quasi-rodent looking sheepishly over its shoulder as I limp off the screen, er, court.

For a large portion of what I consider to be a fairly short life (wishful thinking is an important component of aging gracefully), I was a good tennis player.  O.K., a really good tennis player.  I competed in USTA-sanctioned tournaments from the day I could lug a Hello Kitty backpack to school, held a respectable state ranking year-after-year, and then, at the apex of my junior career, quit.

While my high school teammates went on to play for their respective colleges, I took another path, joined a sorority, and played Russian roulette with a fake I.D.

Not only did I walk away from a sport that I excelled in, I did so with absolutely no appreciation for the skills I possessed or the work that went into getting there (not to mention the money that could have gone toward buying my father the cardinal-red sports car of his dreams that was instead dumped into lessons, clinics, and camps.  Sorry Dad).

Prince first visit to ireland

Prince Image via Wikipedia

I was so ambivalent toward tennis that I completely upchucked the third set of the state semi-finals my junior year just to get to a Prince concert on time.  I’m surprised my partner, Susan, who was playing her heart out in a match that we were supposed to lose but could have won if I hadn’t been so intent on partying like it was 1999, didn’t kill me on the spot.

George Bernard Shaw told us that youth is wasted on the young.  But he never said why.

Fast forward to last year, and I found myself itching to get back on the court.  This sudden desire might have been tied to the fact that I was turning 40, the kids were finally in school all day, and I had way too much time on my hands.  I also could have been suffering from some type of nostalgic identity crisis fueled by my decision to join Facebook.  Either way, I was ready to announce my comeback tour, complete with pyrotechnics and huge bangs.

Jeff Hardy and Triple H posing for the crowd a...

Image via Wikipedia

So after a twenty-two year hiatus, I dusted off my Red Head racquet, strapped on my favorite lucky visor, and hit the courts.

Game On.

Expect for one problem.

Mine wasn’t.

Everything I took for granted as a result of clocking countless hours of court time as a child was gone, and no matter how strong my desire, my strokes simply weren’t there.

Soutar and Williams, tennis (LOC)

Image by The Library of Congress via Flickr

Over the two-plus decades I carelessly chose to sit out, tennis moved on without me.  Shots I assumed to be ingrained in my muscle memory were nowhere to be found, and I wanted them back.  Immediately.  (Patience is the most overrated virtue on the planet, because while you wait, inert and immobile, for one thing to happen, something completely unanticipated occurs.  Like back pain.)

My yearning to regain what I had so thoughtlessly abandoned years before was real, and life responded in the only appropriate way.  She said no.  I was looking back in an effort to move forward, a path that can be circuitous at best, misleading, and full of dead ends.

As I sat courtside icing my hip, lamenting my fate, and wondering what the artist formerly known as a symbol was up to, I remembered a theory first introduced by Anders Ericsson and later made popular by Malcolm Gladwell in Outliers.  The concept, at its most basic level, states that it takes 10,000 hours of practice to master a skill.  Do you want to sell a painting?  Put in your 10,000 hours.  Write a book?  Ditto.  Start winning tournaments instead of losing them?  Same answer.

Even though I had invested my 10,000 hours two times over and more, that era was gone.  I needed to forget the past, start over, and renew the process of logging my time on the court.  Again.

So I went to work.

English: The tennis player Li Na at the 2007 M...

That's not me Image via Wikipedia

I spent the first couple of months learning how to change a sea level stroke that was at one time hard, fast, and predictable to a high altitude game that was sort of passable on a good day, not quite as quick, and semi-erratic.  I allocated the spring toward focusing on the net because my formerly solid groundstrokes were as unstable as avalanche territory on a sunny day.  I re-engineered my serve.

I bought a new racquet, shoes, and clothes, threw my racquet at the fence in frustration, picked it up and threw it at my car, switched racquets, changed my shoes, loosened my grip, bought more clothes, restrung the second racquet, gave the first one away, and bought even more clothes.  I was determined to at least look like a competitor even if I wasn’t playing like one.

And I kept clocking my hours, one horrendous forehand at a time.

Today, although I’m not where I want to be (and still, at times, get wiped completely off the court), I’m making progress, and I’m not looking in the rearview mirror to get ahead.  The fundamentals of the game I used to know are still there, and I’m building on them to construct something new.  What’s gone is gone, but the future’s ahead: bright, shiny, and staring me in the face.  And I’m willing to work.  Hard.  I’m playing at a respectable level, and even though I lose more than I’d like, I win matches too.  More importantly, I appreciate those wins, much more than the confident yet naïve little girl who walked off the court so many years ago without a second thought.

I wish I could have talked to her back then.  If I had, I would have told her to pick a different night to go to a concert.