word of the year: 2019 Edition


Has anyone else noticed how identifying a “word of the year” has been trending lately? It’s a new year and all, but I don’t recall so much focus on it in previous years. While I keep reading post after post on social media where someone is proclaiming their word for 2019 and what it means to them, I thought I’d invented this concept eight years ago. Apparently, I wasn’t cornering any markets on it even then. It only serves to remind me that there are really no new ideas because ideas are already just floating around in the ether and occasionally a random brain picks up that wavelength and turns it into an epiphany.

I arrived at my first “word of the year” in 2012 very organically and in a way that made me think I was on to something that I came up with all by myself. Intriguing as it was and pleased with my perceived originality, I was eager to see what that word, DRIVEN, would lead to in the next 365 days following one of the roughest years of my life. Being driven led me back to graduate school, and I finally completed my master’s degree within a year, a tight deadline I’d set for myself.

The next year my word was READY, and I even commissioned an Etsy artist to make a necklace for me, another craze that now appears to have taken the world by storm in bracelet form, and a trend I could have profited from six years ago if I’d just been more opportunistic. But to me, my word has always been personal because I happen upon it innocently by listening to my inner Heather about what that word might be. I remember explaining my necklace to my boss during a one-on-one. She stared blankly at me before moving on to her agenda. That’s ok, I thought. A lot of people don’t get me anyway.

The next few years would include words like GO, BELIEVE, ACTION, NEW and last year’s BIG. Like all the Decembers before, I felt that word deep down in my gut around the holiday season of 2017. The word caught me by surprise, kind of like finding a tumor on your back that you hadn’t noticed before. I wondered silently, “Oh, I hope this doesn’t mean I’ll literally be the biggest, fattest version of me this year.” Then I tried to suppress that thought and whispered internally, “Be careful what you wish for, Heather.” But that didn’t work because the thought was already out there, and now I weigh more than I ever have before. #fatandsassy Just part of the journey, I guess. Just part of the ride. But I had big love, took big risks and learned some big lessons last year, too. It’s the love part that really matters. That was my favorite part. (LOVE happened to be the runner up word last year, btw.)

I could write pages about each of the words I’ve decreed over the years and what events could be tied to those words or what people impacted my life who could be a manifestation of those words. But as it is with reading a horoscope, isn’t it part of the human condition to find additional meaning and attachment to words? People use words to manifest something, like abundance, grace, patience or money. That’s ok, too. On my bathroom mirror I have written: “What you focus on grows.” It’s so true. When we focus on what we don’t have, we keep not having it. But when we focus on what we want or at least on positive thoughts, lives change.

I’m ready for 2019 because my word is ACHIEVE. I’ve already started running again, something I used to do regularly before the hip injuries added up and I got burned out on running in pain all the time. Maybe I have a third marathon in me, maybe not. Maybe I’ll drop the BIG pounds from 2018. But if my word ACHIEVE will come through for me in 2019, then who knows how far I’ll go.

 

 

 

 

 on meditation


I fancied the idea of having an out-of-body experience when I was about 16 years old because I was going to use that opportunity to drift into homes and spy on all the boys I liked. What I thought I would gain by spying on teenage boys (doing who knows what in their bedrooms), I have no idea.

At the time, I was living in Upavon, Wiltshire, England, and I came across an advert in the back of a magazine to buy a booklet about astral projection. I’d heard that by applying this method, I could journey out of my body, a feat I thought would give me an edge among the other girls in high school.

So I mailed off my £8 to Heather’s Magick in London, and in a few short weeks, I had the book in my bare hands!

Needless to say, I was never successful at astrally projecting myself, and to this day, what boys do in privacy remains a mystery to me.

It was around that time that I became fascinated with the concept of enlightenment. It most likely manifested through my incessant romanticization of Beatles lyrics (in the best way a teenager with limited knowledge of the world could), but the concept stuck anyhow.

In college, I bought a book about Buddhism and learned more about meditation. I’ve tried different meditation techniques off and on for years, and I even took a class at the local Buddhist temple, but a quiet mind continued to elude me.

Until I visited Sedona.

About two hours north of Phoenix, you’ll find a magical place where visitors take in beautiful red rock scenery and immerse themselves in the energy of the vortexes. My mother and I once met up in Sedona to pump new energy into our relationship since she lives a state away. We hiked, ate great food, luxuriated at a spa, visited wineries, day-tripped to the old copper mine town of Jerome and visited psychics (because “when in Rome…”). One psychic told me, “Don’t put meditation on your to-do list,” which I thought was uncanny, since I literally had a to-do list buried in my purse (that the psychic did not see) that had the word “meditate” on it between “pick up dry cleaning” and “oil change Saturday.” My mother and I bought crystals and a few books about chakra cleansing, and we discussed meditation. As I sat in my pedicure chair, the nail techs talked about how Mercury was in retrograde (I had to Google what that meant), and the woman getting a pedicure in the chair next to me was friends with Marianne Williamson. It seems everyone in Sedona can’t stop talking about spiritual connections to the material world.

We hiked Cathedral Rock, located within one of the four vortexes in the area. We were both eager to check it out and see if we could actually feel the inner peace come over us, imagining some kind of magnetic jolt that could be felt singeing its way up our spines with each step up the rock. We kept saying to one another, “Do you feel anything yet? Are we in the vortex yet?” The altitude hit us both early in the hike, so mom stopped to take a breather while I continued on. I didn’t make it much further up myself because I tend to be adversely affected by altitude, so I took a seat a on a rock a few meters off the trail. I could see mom wandering around below me, pausing periodically and looking up, feeling her own brand of newfound enlightenment.

On another platform of the rock, there was a small group of women practicing yoga in silence, finally ending supine in shavasana pose. The foreign couple that snapped this photo of us stood quietly holding hands and gazing at the big Cathedral Rock behind me. Vortexes are supposed to be quiet, meditative places, but some hikers just couldn’t shut the hell up. As I sat in my personal meditative silence and tried to quiet my mind, I could hear a woman’s voice echoing and getting louder and louder behind me, not saying anything interesting at all.

When she got near me, she said, “So are you the gatekeeper?”

I wasn’t in her path. Isn’t there some kind of etiquette for vortexes and meditation?

I glared at her from behind my sunglasses and facetious smile. She moved on, continuing her conversation about nothing. And the two people with her, albeit more soft spoken, weren’t any more courteous. They rattled on all the way down the rock until their voices finally faded away and became someone else’s problem. In that new peaceful moment, I sat quietly and tried to think of nothing. I pressed my palms into the red rock to try to absorb whatever energy the vortex was emitting, convinced I was doing it all wrong.

Since returning to Austin and starting my meditation practice, I realize that is definitely a good word for it. Practice. Sure, I practice using my fancy “meditation” chair, but sometimes I lay on the floor, or I sit in bed or on the couch or in the backyard, or I take a walk on a quiet trail. Sometimes my eyes are open and sometimes closed. Some days are better than others, but most days the meditation is a game-changer. My outlook changes. My mental disposition improves. Things go well that day. I often hear people talking about meditation, but are they really doing it? Is one person’s meditation just another person’s prayer?

Back in Sedona when I settled in on my meditation spot on Cathedral Rock, I watched my mom wander around, stopping occasionally to stand in silence. I knew this was a big moment for her to which I was a witness. Seeing my mother “awaken” was for me the most valuable treasure of the trip. I’ve spent the last 20-something years seeking enlightenment and being open to transforming awakenings in my own life, and while she is just starting, it’s a new journey we can share and discuss along the way. I may not be 100% at peace with anything at any given time save for a few precious seconds during a 20-minute mediation session, but I am enjoying the journey.

 

 

 

 

 

on working for nasa


Someone asked me the other day what I learned from working for NASA.

“Well, if my memory recalls,” I remember saying, like I’m some kind of throwback old fart from the last century. Oh right, it was like that. Because it was 2001, the turn of the century, and this little gal from Arkansas was working for the United States space program. Oh, precious insight that may still be tucked away in my mind’s SQL database, don’t fail me now.

Things were different back then….

I’d been laid off at the beginning of that summer. Married to a man I met on a blind date in college, we lived on a street called Poop Deck Lane. I had a yellow Sony Walkman that played cassettes. Around 9am every day, I’d crack open a beer, sit on the back deck overlooking a canal that offered a direct connection to the Gulf of Mexico and press play to hear “Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone” come alive before my very ears. This was my life.

And this was Houston — George W. Bush country — and all of my then-husband’s friends suggested I get a job at Enron.

“What’s Enron?” I asked.

“They just do stuff. I don’t know. But their stock is doing great, and they’re making a lot of money.” Literally. This was the answer. I was still downloading music for free on Napster, so what business did I really have to know the “truth” about Enron?

Houston was the fourth largest city in the country, so there was bound to be something there for me. The city had restaurants and shopping and theater and sports and concerts and night life. It had a Container Store! And it had NASA. I’d applied for a position as a technical writer/editor for an engineering firm, and it wasn’t until the interview that I learned the firm handled work for a NASA subcontractor, United Space Alliance. The hiring decision arrived quickly, and I celebrated the offer with my first karaoke experience. In my memory, there’s me, singing “Love Shack” in some bar in Lake Jackson, Texas, feeling like her world was about to change.

Day 1 on the job: Monday, September 10, 2001. Blah, blah, blah…

Day 2: Tuesday, September 11, 2001.

I arrived at the office around 7:45am. My commute from Poop Deck Lane was an hour each way, so I listened to a lot of radio. Pulling into the parking lot on Gemini Avenue in my red Ford Explorer was when I heard a plane had struck the World Trade Center. I rushed into the office and asked my colleagues if they’d heard that news. No, not yet. Over the next two hours, we all stood in awe with opinionated whispers in a conference room witnessing events that would reshape the world.

All astronauts on the Johnson Space Center campus were dismissed to go home, and my colleagues and I eventually went home early that afternoon. All I could think about on my long ride home was the ripping, raw anguish I knew so many families were feeling. A year later I’d be in Rome, walking into a TGI Friday’s during that first yearly “moment of silence” to get out of the heat. Later that afternoon, I bought a birra from a street vendor and lay on the grass in front of the Roman Colosseum and watched the sun set. But that’s another story.

After 9/11, my real work began with NASA. Within a couple of months, I was selected to work with a special team – the Payload Operations Support Tools (POST) Team – which was developing a suite of seven software applications that allowed for a payload customer (public or private) to develop their own payload with the assistance of NASA engineers. I eventually created a 900+ page interactive online help module that would be used as the training manual for these payload customers. In doing so, I got to learn all about space shuttle flight software, payloads, astronaut training and other space travel operations. I decided to resign from my position in July 2002 to embark on a life-long dream of mine to backpack through Europe.

When the space shuttle Columbia exploded across Texas in February 2003, I was interviewed to be on a special team of writers/investigators during the recovery process, but that eventually did not pan out for me because I didn’t have a strong engineering background.

When I query my mind with WHERE memory LIKE ‘NASA%’…I recall the little details that made that time in my life special.

—People are very nice at NASA! You know, it’s really a crap shoot when you accept an offer of employment because you have no idea how the people you are going to be working with are going to treat you and treat others. I was truly blessed to work with such genuinely nice (and of course brilliant) people.

—The contractor where I was assigned to work for the POST team had a cafeteria that showcased huge posters of each astronaut who has ever been assigned to a flight manifest. They were hung all around the walls near the ceiling – from the 1960s to the present. All of their official astronaut photos hung there while I grazed over the salad bar.

—That old “box” style TV that we all used to have… that’s called a Cathode Ray Tube, or CRT. For some reason, this was an interesting fact to me. There are several inside the space shuttle flight deck.

—My brief time in flight school (20 whole hours) during my senior year of college quite possibly afforded me the ability to land the space shuttle simulator in the motion base. It came down to me and the intern. The intern crashed the shuttle. I landed it safely, albeit on the grass just to the left of the runway.

—The space shuttle flight deck is tiny (see pic of me in the motion base space shuttle simulator) and deploying a payload into space involves a joystick. The joystick in the photo is actually part of steering the “flying brick” when it is in air. There is also a fixed based space shuttle simulator, which has a joystick that lets you operate items in the cargo bay and practice deploying them into space, like a claw machine.

—The day I visited the fixed base simulator (the one with the cargo bay joystick), a Johnson Space Center tour group was coming through. They all stopped and watched me through an upper gallery as I climbed down the ladder from the simulator, holding my notebook and folder. I thought, “Hey, they think I’m an astronaut.” I just smiled and waved like the pretend-astronaut that I am.

—Everything is carefully weighted on a space shuttle flight. Astronauts are limited on what they can bring, and the weight limit is strict. But my firm had something called the Silver Snoopy. It was this miniature Snoopy figurine that would join an astronaut on the mission. An employee was chosen for each space flight to view the launch in Cape Canaveral. Upon its return, the astronaut who carried the Silver Snoopy would just show up at the office and present the Silver Snoopy that had just been orbiting in space.

—Cookie time was daily at 3pm. “Cooooo-kie tiiiiiime,” she’d call out over the cubicles, pushing that cart of warm cookies up and down the aisles.

My time with NASA ultimately collided with the beginning of a new chapter for me – one of self discovery, new friends and an adjustment to single life. After all, I was sitting at my desk at 9:15am on a Tuesday in late February, when my then-husband called my old Nokia cell phone to tell me, “Well, we’re divorced now. It’s official.” There wasn’t much said beyond those basics. And just like that, I continued on with my day. Strange when I think about it now and the woman I was back then, driving my black 2002 Mustang “divorce edition” convertible and listening to Nelly Furtado and Third Eye Blind. I don’t even know that girl anymore.

 

 

 

 

on authenticity and kierkegaard


I was once told by a mentor: Do what you like to do and see who shows up.

At first, I thought he meant that if I like wine, then I should check out some wine tasting events and see if I meet a friend there. I found myself trying to fit into something and having no idea what the hell I was doing. Nothing fit because it wasn’t who I really was. I didn’t know it yet, but I was trying to fit into me.

Being authentic, but more importantly accepting one’s authenticity, originally manifests as an existential dilemma. We all (don’t we?) silently whisper under tears in the shower, “What am I doing with my life?” and “Who am I?” Identifying the truth, especially when it’s bad, can be a journey fraught with pain. We are animals and our natural instinct is to run from pain, if not hide. Emotional pain is no different. Facing fears and doing that which you are afraid to do can set you free.

Facing my truth to find myself is one of the most difficult things I’ve ever done, but it has been, by far, the most rewarding.

I read Sophie’s World years ago in graduate school and embraced my reintroduction to philosophy, since I only went to my undergrad Philosophy 101 class because I had a crush on the professor, thus diluting whatever knowledge I had about philosophers at the time. When I read about Soren Kierkegaard, I knew I found my man.

“A man who as a physical being is always turned toward the outside, thinking that his happiness lies outside him, finally turns inward and discovers that the source is within him.” –Soren Kierkegaard

“Face the facts of being what you are, for that is what changes what you are.” –Soren Kierkegaard

“Personality is only ripe when a man has made the truth his own.” –Soren Kierkegaard

There are some people in my life with whom I go back and forth over whether they are showing me their authentic self. But then, if I have to ask and I have my doubts, they are most likely hiding. Everyone has their mask, but with some people I wonder when do they ever take theirs off. Doesn’t it just get exhausting to not be the real you?

I stared down my existential dilemmas over and over again. I figured out what I liked and what fit for me. Then one day it clicked: I was the one who showed up for myself.

 

 

 

 

On commitment


I don’t have any tattoos due to my severe aversion to pain, but a few months ago it struck me that I must get one. It wasn’t so much that I was compelled to get tatted up; my reasoning went far deeper than mere flesh decoration. It dawned on me that anything worth doing takes commitment, and that is what I want to be reminded of everyday.

My Google searches for the Chinese symbol for “commitment” gave me some inspiration, since, after all, I’ve completed a semester of Mandarin Chinese and am just slightly confident that “Ni Hao” will get me just about anywhere in China. But when I decided I wanted that tiny symbol inked on me forever, I couldn’t make up my mind where to put it. Ideally, I’d want it on my hand next to the curve of my thumb or under my wrist, but then everyone would see it no matter how discreet I made it. I began to imagine myself living out the rest of my life explaining what this tattoo meant, eventually growing to loathe it because that kind of small talk bores me and then saving the money for the six sessions of laser tattoo removal I would need to make all this small talk about a very personal decision end. Not to mention the irony in having a tattoo that represents “commitment” eternally removed.

I started thinking about what commitment means to me and how it’s linked to my priorities. If I come close to having a panic attack over a permanent tattoo that has not even been etched, then am I able to commit to anything? I’d like to think my priorities are Fitness! Success! Being well-read! Good hair! But if you had a hidden camera in my home, you’d probably assume my real commitment is to drinking wine and eating Saltines and Nutella over the kitchen sink while watching a rerun of “Entourage.”

My dad raised me to believe this: anything worth doing is worth doing well. But the key word in there is the DOING part of it. Commitment isn’t just a state of mind. It’s a showing up kind of verb.

One time, I was havin’ some good old-fashioned pillow talk, and the man next to me was telling me about something he’d heard once at a conference he’d been forced to attend. Basically it was that James Brown had all the answers to getting things done:

1. Get up. (You know, get moving and show up.)
2. Do it. (Get things done. You have a task, so do it.)
3. Uggghhhhh! (This is the part when you get to enjoy the fruits of your labor.)

The simplicity of this makes me realize I probably shouldn’t overthink the tattoo.

 

 

 

 

on the feelings


I’ve always been a runner and can tell you without wearing a heart monitor how many calories I burn on a run based on my pace. I grew up swimming and playing team sports and laying in tanning beds and hosting parties. But cycling? Not so much. Well, the only thing I liked about cycling when I was a wee blondie was my orange “Desert Rose” with the banana seat that my dad made me save $99 to buy. When I outgrew it, I had to give it away. I can only hope that somewhere some young hipster found it in the back of a garage and is now riding it ironically.

Cycling goes beyond the calorie burn for me because I’m really FEELING things now. I’m feeling air come into my lungs and wind sting my eyes. I feel bugs hit the back of my throat. It’s different from running because a lot of the time on a distance run, I get distracted with my pace or how bad my foot/leg/ankle/hip/toe/quadricep/hamstring/calf/back hurts. When I’m running, I’m constantly fiddling with my iPod to find just the right song that can accompany said pain to transport me back into fantasy land where I imagine “this is the song they’ll play at my party when I win my Pulitzer Prize” or “this is the song they’ll be playing when I run into [insert ex-boyfriend] and I look super hot and he’s wearing old man jeans.” Yeah, I’ve got my dreams.

For a while there, I wasn’t really feeling anything at all. I stopped running. I stopped blogging. I stopped caring, really. I was living in a funk, a rut, a meth den without all that dang meth. You see, I’d lost my purpose. I pondered why I was here if not to pay my mortgage so that I don’t foreclose and ruin my credit and have to live on the streets, but what kind of a purpose is that? That kind of reason is one of the rare occasions where something can be noble and pathetic at the same time. I adopted a dog so when I come home to this cold, dark and empty house, there would be at least someone there to acknowledge my existence.

But things changed when I recognized the freedom I have now. Feeling the air on my “freedom rides” is real and purposeful. I’m here because I just am. I run because I can. Despite the pain, I just love it. I have the good fortune to get up every day and put shoes on my feet and run, and I will run as long as I am blessed to do so. But now, I will ride.

 

 

 

 

new year, new word: driven


 

 

If you’re like me, then you’re already setting your goals for 2012. Your laptop overfloweth with spreadsheets and to do lists and you even keep notes on your smart phone. Bear in mind that I did preface this blog post with “if you’re like me.” We are Type A creatures of habit, aren’t we? Always looking to improve; always subscribing to the Scarlett O’Hara outlook on life. After all, tomorrow is another day.

Thank goodness 2011 is over. Good riddance! I recently tallied up that about every 9-10 years I have a rotten one, and 2011 was the rough patch I was due, I suppose. I feel like I was living my own bizarro version of John Lennon’s “lost weekend” over the course of the last 18 months but without May Pang. In the words of Facebook: Unlike.

Toward the end of the year, I already felt change coming. I bought P90X, cleaned out some closets in my life and started to get excited about auspicating the new year with peace and calmness instead of mayhem and debauchery. I was already dreaming of symbols of change and literally seeing the word DRIVEN in my dreams. I felt a connection with that word when I meditated. That’s my word for 2012. What’s your word?

I’ve got some goodies planned this year for sure. Adventures that cost major money but will bring me infinite fulfillment in my ROI, and I’ve already got my spreadsheet open to calculate how I will pay for it all. 

I started out on a marathon training run a year ago listening to an audiobook I’d checked out from the library and downloaded on my iPod about Augusten Burroughs’ struggle with sobriety, and here I am a year later and more than 365 workouts later. Is it OK to workout everyday? Yes, it is. And you should! If I can do it, you can do it. This blog is proof of that.

Today’s workout of running was actually a little anti-climactic, I have to confess. It’s not that this wasn’t a great workout or a great goal to have achieved, but it’s again another day and another workout, and I really pushed it at the end. My boyfriend and I ran three miles around Town Lake, and it wasn’t until we got back to the car that what I’d just completed sank in.

Yet, while running, I was aware of what I was doing. And every once in a while during the run, I could feel my cheeks tighten with a grin. The first song on my iPod was Bush’s “Comedown” (aka “This Cloud”) and while it’s a song about the ups and downs of a relationship, it’s hard to understand Gavin Rossdale’s British accent sometimes. However, at the beginning of the run, I really did feel like his understandable chorus of “I don’t want to come back down from this cloud/It’s taken me all this time to find out what I need, yeah.” And that’s true. It’s taken me a year to get to this point, and I don’t want to look back.

After our run, I enjoyed a beer and a steak and spinach salad then rewarded myself with a pedicure. My nail girl, Helen, asked me if I workout everyday. It was then that realized that I must come in to get my nails done wearing workout clothes all the time. I answered her question with yes and told her what today was, but it was lost on her and the translation. She told me that she wished she could work out more but when she gets home she’s so tired. I said I’ve had days like that, but I work out anyway.

Tonight, I opened a bottle of Spanish wine that my personal trainer gave me for Christmas. I felt it was the right time to open that bottle given the fact that she can definitely share in this goal (albeit, through the gift of wine), and low and behold, I found a block of untouched Spanish Manchego cheese in my fridge. That paired perfectly with my wine. This is a good victory dinner, I decided. And I’m a grown-up so I can have wine and cheese for dinner if I wanna. I enjoyed this “me” time with my wine and cheese, followed by a long hot Aveeno bath and a documentary.

After sharing my accomplishment on Facebook and Twitter, my friends were like, “What are you going to do now?” Keep going, that’s what. I don’t want to come off this cloud. It’s taken me a year — no, all my life — to get to this point and to find out what I need, and I don’t want to look back. I do feel like this is something I need every day. Just get up and move your ass each day. One day at a time.

(NOTE: This blog post originally appeared on www.aworkoutaday.com, an archived blog I maintained for more than two years to chronicle consecutive daily workouts during that time.)