Trading Comfort for Community

Sitting around last night with my husband in our friends’  living room and listening to them talk about the kind of apartment they might want to move to, reminded me about why we chose the place we did when we moved to LA. I’m telling you this because I think our checklist for our apartment was a little different than most people’s and the result of that has been life changing for us.

What was the number one thing we were looking for in our new apartment?

No, it wasn’t famous neighbors or living by the beach like you might think (though we did get lucky and get both of those anyways). It was community. You see, at our last apartment, building community was actually our official job (yes, that’s a thing). So while we did have enough community to make us recognize the value of it, there were a lot of aspects lacking from it that eventually led to our transformation into 85 year old shut-ins. Only we were the kind of 85 year old shut ins who didn’t sit around collecting cat feces or filling out mail in surveys, or whatever it is that normal 85 year old shuts ins do, but we instead filled our time with working 90 hours a week. I know, it was ridiculous. What’s the good of spending all your time sitting around your apartment if you don’t memorize every word to every episode of I Love Lucy?!

So when it came time to choose a place to live in California, our search was immediately narrowed down to an area where we would have enticing reasons to leave the house and people all around us to leave the house with. We chose the crazy world of Venice Beach. Venice is the kind of place that has led many of our Orange Country friends to shudder as they ask us if we actually moved to Venice on purpose or if it was just some sort of crazy mix up at the property management office like you would see happen on a TGIF show or something.

Yes, we moved to Venice Beach on purpose.

It’s where majority of our friends live (and yes, they’re normal and they chose Venice on purpose as well). Venice is the kind of place where you actually see your friends out and about because people walk and ride their bikes everywhere. It’s also the kind of place where all your friends from other parts of town will willingly come to visit you on a beautiful Saturday afternoon for a game of volleyball on the beach, to finish it off with a BBQ in your front yard. Most of all, it’s the kind of place where there are boundless amounts of people around our own age with whom we longed to share life with.

I know, I know, it also has drugged out young girls who ask for your underwear on occasion (I do have a soul so I gave her an extra pair), as well as homeless people who use your outdoor shower when you’re asleep or hide their stolen bike collection behind the bushes in your back yard, and then there’s the skateboarders who knock you down while they fly past you yelling, “I don’t stop for tourists!”.  Plus, I know some people just wouldn’t be cool with their neighbors sole source of income to be riding around on roller blades while playing an electric guitar and wearing a turban. But all of that is just the charm of Venice and we take the good with the bad. Sure, I’m worried about who’s urine I’m sitting in when I’m chilling on the grass or a bench, or even leaning on the rail at the beach skate park, but I’m wondering the same thing when I’m in those child herpes pits in Burger King playgrounds or swimming in public (cess) pools in fancy neighborhoods!

The point is, we traded in our 2 bedroom/2 bath apartment with a washer/dryer inside our place, a dishwasher, easy parking, 3 pools and 3 hot tubs, and a fitness center… that all cost only a third of what we’re paying now, for a 1 bed/1 bath place with none of those things and the added bonus of drunken passerbyers peeing on our bushes every Saturday night.

But we in no way regret it for a second. Why? Not just because of all the cool stuff I find on walks (see photos below of all the things I’ve found on walks).

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But the real reason I never regret my decision is because all the fancy apartments, personal space, and amenities in the world aren’t worth trading in for the incredibly community we get in our current building, where there are neighbors who are forced to get to know one another because of our shared everything, and people who support one another like family because we’re in such close proximity to one another that we can’t help but be involved in each other’s lives.

The trade was beyond worth it.

When our nose is to the grindstone and we’re working at 9pm at night, but our neighbor interrupts us to bring us leftover matzah dessert from his seder dinner and then his roommate gets home from her date so she stops by to fill us all in on it and we end up laughing until midnight instead of working like we would’ve otherwise done, we know it was worth trading in EVEN OUR HOT TUB in Phoenix for this… and that’s saying a lot! And when it’s annoying that we have to ask our neighbors to help us move cars around in order to have a space for a visiting friend to park, we remember how awesome it is that because we interrupted our neighbor, they will most likely contribute a dish to our potluck dinner and end up hanging out with us late into the night around our fire pit. During which time we may find out that she’s having surgery next week and will need some help around the house or she’ll find out that our family is coming to town next week and we may need to borrow some pillows… or Xanax.

What I’m trying to say is that I think we made the right decision and that so many things that felt like sacrifices initially are the same things that have actually turned into blessings. I’m not kidding when I say that one of the major reasons we’ve been able to stay in LA is because of our neighbors. It’s been their support, as well as their hard work to help us find clients out here, that has given us the hope and the ability to stay in this place we love.

Relationships are the choice that wins.

I know everyone has different priorities and trade offs they’re willing to make, which is important because everyone’s definition of an extraordinary life is different and requires different things. However, there is still a principle here that is universal that I want to remind us all of. Just because we’re all used to things being a certain way, having a certain level of ease or comfort, doesn’t mean it’s right or that we’re not insulating ourselves with so much protection that we’re actually preventing ourselves from experiencing something truly beautiful and wonderful rather than just comfortable. Choosing comfort over relationships is a waste of life that will always leave us wanting.

The following are pictures of the things we gave up and sacrifices we made to live here….

(This is a picture of our shredded, detestable, laminate tile in Scottie’s office, otherwise known as our kitchen, otherwise known as our dining room. You can see our full dining room table stacked neatly in the corner).

905a25def6e10f6a303092eb7f53315a (This is a picture of our giant bed that I have to jump to get into.  When we lived in an apartment that was twice the size of our place now, it was just a regular bed. But after the move every square inch had to become an uber space saver. Now it’s our bed, our guest bed (extra mattress stacked on top of our mattress), AND our storage space (via IKEA bookshelves below) all in one).

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The following are pictures of the reasons we gave things up and made the sacrifices we did to live here…
(This is a picture of all our neighbors having dinner in the Sukah we built together in our driveway for the Jewish Holiday of Sukkot).

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(And this is a picture of us hanging out in our front yard on the pavers that we purchased and laid with the money we achieved through some very fun and unorthodox methods that our property management was not a fan of and shall therefore go unnamed).

b660b43d9741d5bc973b4a4fa7af4b40 (The photo on the left is our neighbor trying to break into her own apartment with the assistance of an untrustworthy ladder and several men who have had too much to drink, after locking the keys inside during Scottie’s birthday party. The photo on the right is my husband and our neighbor who together built a Jewish Christmas tree for our front yard during the holiday season).

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(Spontaneous Fantasy Football draft party in our living room).

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(This is just after we cleaned out our shared garage for a reality show episode being filmed about our neighbor).

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(This is a picture of what happens on the weekends when our friends from all over LA come to visit us in Venice).

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So yeah, there are some things I wish I still had and some additions that would make our lives more comfortable, but as you can see, it’s been a well worth it trade for us.

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When do we call it quits on the sacrificial stage?

The unfortunate thing about pursuing something extraordinary in our lives is that every time we try to do something to help us break free from this real world mess, it only adds more onto our plate. Thus I found when I started our photography business and began working so much that I’d forget to shower, eat, and even sometimes I’d forget to pee… NEVER forget to pee, it only ends badly.

It just seems so impossible and so insurmountable sometimes to rise above any of the things that continually suck us back down into the dirt. The muddy, fertilizy, rocky dirt. Well I’m not going to pretend I know the answers and I’m not going to lie to you and tell you this is easy because if I do my husband will call me out and remind me that just last week I was inhaling tums and wailing about how it is NOT cool at all to have pain in my heart from stress.  Having your heart in physical, actual, real pain is NOT a good sign and it will most definitely make you question what you’re doing with your life… especially when you go to shower that night and find the red welts rising up on your skin wherever a piece of clothing was touching you.  My body is literally trying to find ways to expel stress… out my pores if it has to… its revolting, it’s fighting.  It hates me and it has good reason to. But what am I supposed to do? Give up?

How long can you stay in this sacrificial growth period that is supposed to ultimately lead to better things? Because I’m pretty sure I’m nearing the end of my little trip to sacrifice land.  So when is it enough? I really don’t have the answers here so I’m just leaving you with a question to ponder. How do we know when a difficult sacrificial stage for extraordinary living has become too much and needs to end?

 

Is Extraordinary Living Selfish?

Since my initial concept of this blog began to form, there is one major challenge I have wrestled with constantly.  Am I putting myself first too much in my attempt to live a Rare Existence?  The fact that you are currently reading this blog means that I have decided the answer is no. But still, it is a question that requires some thought, so I’m putting my musings out there.

There are 3 main reasons I do not believe extraordinary living is selfish.

1. Your role in the world matters.

Yes, I do believe that loving the world around you and giving of yourself to humanity as a whole are key elements to a well lived life.
I do not see living an extraordinary life as being in opposition to that life model, in fact I think they go hand in hand quite well. I believe that people’s talents, experiences, weaknesses, strengths, genetic predispositions, etc. all make up one whole unique person.  And it is my belief that each one whole unique person exists to fill certain holes in the world in a way that only that specific person with that specific makeup can fill. That said, I believe that if you are doing something that you are not fit to do or living as if every person were meant to do the same things, then you are going to be unsatisfied and potentially inhibit the world around you from living up to it’s full potential.
The main reason I think everyone should be living the destiny they are made for, is because I believe it is the main thing that will make their life beneficial to those around them.  I definitely agree that living your life for the good of others is the number one priority…  I just happen to think that living the life you are meant to live is one of the best ways to do that.

 2. Sacrificial love isn’t always what it seems.

Yes, life and love require sacrifices. It’s not all sunshine and roses and it’s not all about pursuing things that make you happy.  Sometimes you do things you don’t like for the sake of others.
The problem arises when people define themselves by these sacrifices.
It is so much easier to play the victim.  So much simpler to not push yourself in life because you simply assume your position holds you stationary.  No, life doesn’t always go as planned, no life is not all about our happiness, and yes sometimes love does require more sacrifice than we want to make.  But within all that we still have choices, and no one choice has to define us for the rest of our life because we still have choices after that.  Many people let the sacrifice phase run their entire life so that it no longer can be called a phase, but rather…well, it’s just called their life at that point. Spending your entire life sacrificing what you are meant to be doing with your life for the sake of others has consequences to not only you but to those you believe you are sacrificing for.
The good intentions behind our sacrifices can quickly turn into excuses to avoid our fears.
When this happens, we begin basing our life decisions on fear disguised as love and this is of benefit to no one, no matter how much we want to believe it is.  We are telling ourselves that we are living the way we are for the sake of another person, when really that person/situation can go on just fine without us.  But we are incapable of acknowledging that because that is going to require more self-examination and change than we are ready for.  When we get to this point, we are in the danger zone because there is a good chance that we are doing more harm than good by what we are still calling a “loving sacrifice.”  It’s important to constantly ask yourself “are my past sacrifices still necessary or am I just stuck in a bad routine that I have been afraid of questioning?”  Knowing when to make sacrifices for others is just as important as knowing when to move forward with your life within that sacrifice, or when to let go of the sacrifice entirely.
 I fully believe that you can commit to truly loving others in life and still pursue an extraordinary life.
Sacrificing for others doesn’t have to mean giving up your dreams and loving people doesn’t have to mean you don’t get to be happy yourself.  In fact, for many people, living an extraordinary life is all about giving up their comforts to enable them to love others better (as in the story of Kelli that I featured awhile back).  I also believe that love, happiness, filling the role you are destined for, and selflessness all fit together very well and often create a circle where each aspect feeds and strengthens the others.

3. Your loved ones will thank you.

Anyone who is drained of passion, hope, and joy is not going to be of much use to people around them.
If you are a mom who has become a complete martyr for your children and do not have a single ounce of self-esteem or personal identity left in you… what are teaching your kids about life?  If you are a husband who uses every ounce of energy you have to just survive every single workday long enough to be able to make it home and zone out in front of the TV… what kind of love are you able to give to your wife and what kind of example are you being to your kids about how to love people?
Sick people can’t make others healthy because disease spreads.  Push aside your fears and be willing to constantly ask yourself what needs to be done for the greater good of others… you might be surprised that it requires that you be healthy and happy so you can love others well.  Make the choice to be a healthy person who can lead others to health by example.

The bottom line is that though extraordinary living is focusing on yourself and your own life while pursuing changes that might result in your own personal happiness, that doesn’t make it selfish; because it is those very changes that will most likely result in positive changes in the lives of those around you. If doing what you are meant to be doing with your life makes you happier (and it’s likely that it will) that does not automatically make you selfish. Happiness does not have to equal selfishness. If you are pursuing your own happiness IN SPITE of what’s best for those around you, well then that’s another story. But extraordinary living is not about finding what you WANT to do with your life but what you are MEANT to do with your life and I don’t believe what you are truly meant to do with your life is something that will be detrimental to your loved ones, but in fact beneficial to them… as well as to yourself. As long as your happiness comes from things that are good and true then it is a gift from God and can be one of the greatest sources of the love that you extend to others.

Is Los Angeles the place where my dreams will come true or where my children will get stabbed?

Lately I’ve been finding myself in all sorts of mental conflicts.

Work or sleep? Re-read “Hunger Games” or jump right into “Intro to Being a Better Human Being and Fixing Everything in Your Life Through Painstaking Work and Exhausting Effort”? Go out and make new friends or decide to sit at home feeling fat instead?

You see, life is a pickle! Decisions, decisions, decisions!

I think I have decision-block.

I’ve had writer’s block lately and I think that it has to do with the fact that the very thing I write about is the very thing I’m blocked about. I’m re-thinking my decisions, which for me means questioning whether I’d rather spend my days relaxing on the porch with an extra large glass of sweet tea and my 3 legged old dog while we watch the fireflies land and count our days by how high the tulips grow in the front yard? Or by laying on my horn in traffic as I rush late to my next meeting, while trying to cram a meatless, gluten free, double fiber stick of something or other down my throat and yelling into my speaker phone about the ice cream cake I’m picking up for that thing tonight, while trying to learn Mandarin on my iPod and squeezing my glutes for added toning at the same time. (Think Michelle Pfeiffer’s lawyer character in “I Am Sam” who survives on handfuls of jellybeans and non-fat lattes).

Why is the answer to that question even a question? Oh right, because I’ve actually chosen the awful sounding second one.

Yes, I have moved to Los Angeles, California. It’s the land of concrete and smog where the green grass only grows up between the sidewalk cracks and where when you hear someone say the word crack you think about either Charlie Sheen’s tiger blood or Brittany Spears’ coin slot before you think about the sidewalk.

Here I must compete, always. I must make more money to stay afloat, always. I must know how to enter a restaurant with no visible sign or apparent, always. I must hurry, always. I must know all about Ryan Murphy, Ryan Gosling, and all the future famous Ryans who aren’t even born yet, always. I must look good, but try not to look like I’m trying to look good, always. I must know not only what they are, but also 10 different ways to prepare and ingest kombucha, kale, or kimchi, always. I must avoid walking alone at night, always. I must carry quarters on me for parking, laundry, and bums, always. I must work out 3 hours a day, 10 days a week (yes, 10), always. And people will continue to ask me what I was thinking when I decided to move here, always.

But I know why I moved here.

I moved here for the ocean, the community, the culture,The Chelsea Lately Show, the art, the potential, the bike rides, the entertainment, the celebrity neighbors, the abundance of french bulldogs, the old Hollywood history, the diversity, the great weather, the walkability ratings, the chance to see my front yard on my favorite TV show, the inspiration, the excitement, the creative collaborations, and- let’s just admit it- the white truffle aioli sauce with candied bacon, creamy burrrata, and lemon zest had a little something to do with it as well.

I know why I’m here right now, but the new question I’m asking myself is- do I want to be here forever?

Do I know that I want to raise my kids here? Do I know how I will juggle my freeway captivity and Botex injections with my kids’ Pilates and french cooking classes? Maybe having my kids skateboard to school while I Feng Shui up the house isn’t the lifestyle I want for my family. Maybe I’d rather have my kids walk home from school with their friends while I await them with a plate of fresh baked cookies and a Bible story to tell them that I heard in my knitting club. Having time to play, garden, relax, sleep, talk, and go number two isn’t such a bad thing is it? Maybe moving to small town USA where I’d just go to a regular old job and my kids would come home from school to a regular old mom in mom jeans, and going to regular old church potlucks on Sundays and listening to old Uncle Joe tell that same story about the cat with angina for the hundredth time isn’t such a bad thing? Why do I feel the need to fight it and do the opposite?

I found out why when I was visiting my dad’s small, mid-western hometown.

As I watched people have time to enjoy life and found myself longing for some of the small pleasures of the simple life that they had (mostly the lard), I met a young girl who had a different kind of spark in her thick black eyelinered eyes. Even though she didn’t say it out loud, everything about her and about the things she DID say out loud, just screamed to me that she was going to leave this place one day, this place with 4 generations of her family all living within 5 miles from each other. It’s not that she hated it, it’s not that it was bad. It just wasn’t HER and it wasn’t what she was meant for. And I saw myself in her in more ways that I could count.

It was at that moment that I realized, this thing about destiny is so much bigger than my own finicky desires.

It doesn’t matter where I want to live or what I want to do because I know that what I want more than anything is to do what I’m meant to do with my life and I’ll live wherever I need to in order to accomplish that. So even though a small town sounds kinds of nice right about now, it’s just not where I’m meant to be… just like I can tell that young girl is meant to leave one day. Maybe I’m meant to end up in the middle of a corn field one day… but for now I KNOW I am right where I need to be. Right in the middle of the action, the opportunity, the thrill, and the challenges that come with LA.

I don’t know if my kids will be the ones with thick black eyelinered eyes who are meant for LA…

…or the ones with an affinity for growing crops and wearing Carhart overalls who are meant for a small potato farming community in Idaho (or in Ireland if I’m lucky, because then I can visit them in Ireland instead of Idaho). It all goes back to extraordinary living and how by definition of it, we all have different sorts of lives we are meant to live. I don’t know if LA will be best for my family. Some of you just choked on your corn chip when heard that I’d even consider that LA might be best for my family! I DO think there actually are benefits to raising your kids in the big city- like how they can always find a hotdog stand when they are hungry! Of course I know there are many downsides as well- like how they can’t sit on benches because the homeless people pee on them. I kind of like the drive and desires that a fast pace competitive city can put in you… those are the kinds of things that can lead a child to grow up and change the world. I also like the down time and support system that a slow paced small town can provide you with… those are the kinds of things that will allow a child to grow up investing into things that are extremely meaningful like relationships and helping other people.

There are pluses and minuses to both sides.

You just have to decide which you believe is best for you, your child, your family, your partner, your dentist, your therapist, your dog walker, and all the other people who stand to be affected by your decision. And even if you make yourself crazy trying to decide (as I do every night at 1am when I go frantically re-reading and continually re-commenting with my non-nonsensical night time thoughts on Teresa Strasser’s blog post related to this), you’re still pretty likely to be wrong in the end anyways! So my final say on the matter is that I am where I need to be now in order to live my extraordinary life, but when I have kids, I will re-consider, weigh my options wisely, and then make a decision that I will stick to- until my husband tells me I’m wrong, or until my kid ends up in college or prison, at which point I will find out whether or not I made the right choice.

My Big Demon

So today we’re getting personal. Don’t worry, we’re not talking about bra sizes or that weird toe thing you have – or anything like that, there’s just a little (actually giant) confession I’ve got to make here.

It’s no secret that my extraordinary word is FREEDOM. If you know that, then you are not only an excellent reader, but you also know that I usually follow that declaration with a list of fairly generic things that I want to find or maintain freedom from. Well today I’m going to surprise even myself and get really specific up in here. I’m going to tell you what I want freedom from more than anything in the world. It’s an obsession even stronger than the one most girls have with Ryan Gosling’s seemingly photoshopped abs. So what is this obsession that takes precedence even over Mr. “Hey Girl” himself? The correct answer here is FOOD. I want freedom from food. Not from nourishment, not from cooking, and definitely not from the bliss of chocolate truffle cheesecake. I’m fine with all of that really.

What I want is freedom from my addiction to food.

I know that it’s totally normal for most people to daydream about food and spend lots of time looking forward to their next amazing meal. Being in the extreme foodie culture of Los Angeles has taught me that much. What I’m talking about is different than that. I’m talking about when you go out to eat with a friend and you literally can’t even hear a word they’re saying because all you can think about is the dry loaf of bread on the table that is causing you to use every ounce of energy to be socially acceptable enough not to chow both your portion and theirs in one swallow. I’m talking about when you are so full your stomach hurts because you’ve eaten everything tasty in the fridge, and yet you still start looking in the back to find your year old frozen pie crust or baker’s chocolate because even though it’s disgusting… it’s all that’s left.  I’m talking about not wanting to go to parties because you know you won’t be able to stop eating after one…two…three… make that four cookies, and people will notice and even though you’ll be mortified, you’ll reach for another and another after that.  I’m talking about when you spend 30 minutes weeping in shame over how much you just ate, only to eat that same amount 30 min. later when you’re stomach has stretched… which of course leads to another 30 minutes straight of crying. I’m talking about waking up in the morning, almost wishing you didn’t because you know you won’t be able to stop eating today any better than you did yesterday. I’m talking about just about every waking second of your life being devoted to food in some way… scratch that, every second in general because you dream about binging too.

Overeating isn’t the captain of the eating disorders football team or anything. It doesn’t really get the attention that the homecoming queen and king (anorexia and bulimia) get, but it can still bully any of us average Joe’s just as much as the popular kids can.

So now you know why I want freedom.

I can’t imagine how beautiful life could be if I could only find a way to never again eat to the point of almost being sick, or eat even though the food is disgusting and I’m not at all hungry, or leave a social scene because I want to go gorge myself away from my skinny friends, or give up the fight because it just feels pointless. If I could only find a way to escape living under the cloud. I live in a place that is covered in a grey fog, and no matter how much I squint or try to see above it, I just can’t get a clear vision of anything anymore. Either the thoughts of food or the thoughts related to the consequences of my constant thoughts of food, are with me through about 95% of my life. I am at all times hyper aware of where the closest Oreo is or isn’t, how long it will be until I will get to eat my next 98% sugar meal, how tight my jeans feel, how much lesser of a person I feel, how much I hate myself, and how I am just going to go eat more because I hate myself. This is the cycle of shame, addiction, and consequences…. and for me, it all revolves around what goes into my belly (and now my thighs and my butt too).

All the things I described above have been true throughout most of my life.

When I was a cute little, baby fat ridden 6 year old, I began the first page of my diary by describing how I couldn’t wait until I was “16, pretty, skinny, and hanging out at the mall with my boyfriend”. Turns out, I was not skinny when I was 16. I did not get asked to hang out at the mall (but this was partly because AOL browsers had brought the beginnings of online shopping to the world) and boys didn’t ask me to dances, football games, or anything else that Saved By the Bell promised me. When I was 18, I began the painstaking work of finding freedom from food thanks to a great class I took that I’ve since found out has evolved into a cult… hail broccoli, right? By the time I was 19 I was pretty far along the path to Skinnyland and almost wearing a size 6 (I bought a lot of Gap clothes back then because what they called a 6 fit a little more like a 7 and a half). But when I was 20, I broke up with my boyfriend (who, by the way, had fulfilled some of my girlhood fantasies by taking me to the mall sometimes)… and the layers of both fat, and muffin top disguising clothes, came piling back on. Since then, I’ve just gotten worse and worse and felt more and more trapped and controlled by food.

Now the same issue is back to haunt me in a different way.

As I now head down the path towards my extraordinary life, I find myself sort of hoping that many of my nearby dreams will actually wait a couple of years to come true. Wait, what?! Yep, it’s true. The thing is that some of these dreams involve me being in the public eye, so of course I want to wait that extra year since I will FOR SURE have lost 45 lbs by then!  I once heard that when Oprah was nominated for another Emmy in 1992 she actually prayed she wouldn’t win because she was the heaviest she’d ever been and was too embarrassed by her weight to go on stage and accept the award. Her dreams were coming true and her weight was slowing her down (probably both literally and figuratively). And now I’m beginning to feel the same way. The consequences of my obsessive addiction have found a whole new way to tear me down… they are getting in the way of my extraordinary life. In some ways they’ve always put a ceiling on the things I was capable of. But I’m beginning to realize that the chance of me achieving my goals are being significantly diminished, not only because fat people aren’t necessarily a favorite in American culture (despite many of us being huge), but also because my insecurities and wasted energy spent on this will hold me back from even doing something worthy of public attention in the first place. I can really only go so far in obtaining the life I am meant to live if I allow this weakness to control me.

But now, I’m moving on.

Now I’m in sunny southern California, the land of tofu, tummy tucks, and Tina Turner (what? sorry, I couldn’t think of a good T name). And I live right on the beach, which is of course the land of skin, skin, and more skin.  And no matter how many boob enhancing, waist minimizing swimsuits I order online from Victoria Secret, when beach day comes around for my friends, I still feel like a 13 year old girl on her period during Swim Party Saturday who suddenly comes down with small pox or some other previously eradicated disease to avoid attending. I am now surrounded by people who spend their lives eating only organic fruits and vegetables before and after their daily “surfing-yoga-kick boxing-spinning-Pilates-px90-hip hop dance-jogging” combination class. So far being here has still refused to magically turn me into a fit Californian, but I still have high hopes that the Jessica Biel Body Bug will come bite me one day. Not really, I actually am trying to do something about all this. So while I’m spilling all the beans here, I will tell you another secret, I’m in therapy for this now. There is obviously some degree of emotional eating here (notice the boyfriend break up trigger) and I just can’t seem to wrap my little head around the problems of my big body. I’ve also stumbled upon a great group of friends who happen to be in the fitness industry so there’s been lots of bartering going on between photography needs and fitness needs so hopefully giving a few photos will equal losing a few pounds. And really there is something to say for living around healthy people. It’s not as fun to eat a greasy Big Mac while everyone around you looks like they’d be less grossed out if they were watching the cow being slaughtered that made your Big Mac. I’ve also been getting great recipes and tips from some of my Jack Lalanne-esque friends. Those are all a few of the small things I’m doing to get started, and there’s plenty more where that came from. So here’s to California rubbing off on me a bit.

I’ve lived long enough to know by now, though it’s still hard to believe most of the time, that everyone has their thing.

Everyone has something that if they let take control, will threaten to hold them down until they lose their breathe and the life is sucked out of them. I always used to think it was just me, but it’s not. So what is it? What is it that is really holding you back? This is important because if this thing is still controlling you, not only is it stopping you from living a truly extraordinary life, but it’s actually forcing you to live an even less than ordinary life. You’re surviving in the negatives here, my friend. What is it? And what are you doing about it? It’s time for this to stop. It’s time for us to take control of this once and for all. If we’re living with constant and unnecessary fears, insecurities, shame, sadness, hurt, etc, etc, then we’ve done nothing more than waste our lives, regardless of how many of our dreams we’ve accomplished throughout it. Even if it is possible for us to have success while being torn apart by our weaknesses, I don’t believe any amount of it will make us happy anyways if we’re still being eaten away on the inside by something.

So there you have it folks, my soul, laid out bare on the operating table.

Now that you know I’m a real person with cellulite and all, I’m hoping you’ll love me in the same way you love Emma Stone- it’s that special place where you can truly appreciate her talent and really relate to her because her pasty white skin and ginger hair make her less threatening and more adorable to you.  I am very VERY scared to put this out there for all of you to read, but also very VERY excited because I believe it will be a major part in me finding support and eventual healing. Secrecy breeds shame, and shame isolates us from people. And as it so happens, the last thing we want is what we most need because people and healthy relationships are a major part of the treatment for breaking the shame cycle of addiction. So find some support, tell your secrets, make a plan, and join me as we overcome. Join me as we find freedom. Join me as we find a power we never knew we had that strengthens us to push through the seemingly impossible challenges. Join me so that when we find the life we are meant to be living, we can say that not only is it an extraordinary life, but that it is truly the best kind of life possible, full of more freedom and joy than we ever imagined possible. Join me.

(If you want to hear more awkwardly honest stories like this one, or just more about how to find and live an extraordinary life, follow Rare Existence on Facebook!)

Our first choice between the ordinary and the extraordinary

The first choice between the ordinary and the extraordinary (i.e. between freedom and security) came for us before we were even engaged. I have already mentioned how one of my greatest fears was to end up with a passive man.  It seems to me that passivity in men rears it’s ugly head the most when they are exhausted; and nothing exhausts an American man more than a tiresome job.  If a man’s using all his energy to maintain a career, he has very little left for his family, or anything else in the rest of his life.  The career IS his life…. whether he likes it or not.

When I met Scottie, he was working about 75- 80 hours a week doing very difficult, physical labor.  When your boyfriend falls asleep in the middle of 1 out of every 3 dates… you have to wonder how awake he’d be throughout a marriage.  I knew I wanted a husband who would try to meet my emotional and intellectual needs as much as he tried to meet my financial needs.  If one of those areas is unbalanced, you can’t expect the others to thrive.  So I agreed to marry Scottie, provided that he quit his job because I was getting married so I could have a HUSBAND, not a nice house.  Scottie was happy to finally have something push him to quit since he didn’t like the monotony he saw in his future any more than I did, so he did it and we found ourselves a few months out from our wedding hoping that we’d be able to figure out how to make the free coffee I got from my part time job at Starbucks, in the cardboard box house we were going to have to live in.

Well guess what, we survived being poor.  I know, money is a huge cause of conflict between couples, but I really do think it’s a different story when make the CHOICE to be poor.   We had our stress from it, and we still believe in being wise with money so we’re definitely not preaching recklessness as the moral to this story.  The point is that we chose freedom and relationships over money and we continued to make that choice time and time again over the next few years as we struggled to make ends meet… but had lots of time to have fun together in the process.  Riding your bikes through the sprinklers at midnight is WAY better than a date at the fanciest restaurant that has to be over by 7pm so you can go to bed early and get up for the job you hate the next day.  We’d discovered the beauty of choosing freedom over security (which is what living an extraordinary life means for us)… and we were never going back.

So we had survived our first choice between ordinary and extraordinary… and in a move that has been repeated many times since, we chose extraordinary.

(Thanks to Terence Young for drawing this as a visual depiction for this post. My favorite part is actually what he said about why he drew this. He said, “The thing that entered my head as I read your post is that you’ve found a relationship that sets you two apart from the rest of the world, in some way you’re on your own little planet that you’ve created.” So sweet isn’t it?!  I loved this picture even more after reading that!)

Unfortunately you don’t get to ride off one good decision for the rest of your life… you have to make new decisions every day.  We still battle the pull of comfort and security on a regular basis (just so you know we live in a small apartment in a low income neighborhood… and almost everyday I think about how much I want a house).  We still battle all our fears (the first few days in Mexico we hid in our safe condo and didn’t meet anyone or experience much of anything), and we still cringe when we know we’re about to take a risk no matter how small it is.

The bottom line is that we’re still weak, cowardly, flawed human beings who are seeking to be extraordinary.

The Ordinary Word

The yin and the yang. The black and the white. The light and the dark. Perez Hilton and Vin Diesel. Our world seems to keep it’s balance through opposites. And it’s no different when it comes to extraordinary words.

For every extraordinary word there is an anti-word… an “ordinary word”.

The ordinary word is the one that sits on your other shoulder, taunting you and your goody two-shoes extraordinary word with his pitchfork, evil sneer, and sarcastic tone. I hate to tell you this, but if we’re going to pursue our extraordinary word, we have to forsake our ordinary word.
So what’s the opposite of my extraordinary word, freedom?  Are you sure you want to know…. it really sucks to hear.

The opposite of freedom is security.

Ew I know! Why does it have to be like this?  Why can’t they just be causal friends who only see each other on Christmas and Easter? At the very least they should be Facebook friends! Really guys, you should try to work something out here for those of us who don’t want to take sides. We want to hang out with BOTH of you, it isn’t fair that we have to choose!
But alas, it’s the truth. The more freedom you have, the less security you have, and vice versa.  As much as I want to stick my fingers in my ears and pretend I never heard that,  it’s true.

This is my great struggle in my pursuit of an extraordinary life.

If you’ve been following my blog from the beginning, you know that my Achilles heel is fear.  And in an attempt to fight the things I’m afraid of, control is my weapon of choice.  Fear and Control are definitely blood relatives of Security. On Christmas and Easter they all get together in Security’s giant house and eat the feast that their buddy Paycheck brought them. Freedom isn’t invited because he’s off sun-bathing in Tahiti with his friends, and besides they’d rather gossip about how foolish and irresponsible he is than actually talk to him anyways. Meanwhile, I’m just sitting at home praying for peace on earth so that we can all go enjoy Paycheck’s meal together!

This is the reason that every time I come to a crossroads in my life, a major battle ensues.  On the one hand… Freedom, waving his late bedtimes and quality relationships to tempt me.  And on the other road, Security is taking me on a tour of a beautiful new house that could be mine and reenacting for me the fictional story (that I once believed strongly) about how I can have complete control over my life.
Don’t be surprised if my head explodes from all of this one day.  And when that happens, I’m sure Freedom will just shake his head in disappointed sorrow that all of this could’ve been avoided if only I’d chosen right from the beginning.  And Security will just come and apathetically sweep up the messy remains that were once my life… which is the exact same thing he’d planned to do as soon as I joined his side anyways.

(Thanks to my brother, Paul McDaniel, who drew me this picture as a visual representation of this post!)

One of the reasons I’ve started this blog is to show people that we’re not magical, we’re not special, and we don’t have it all figured out.

I say that because people are always telling me how jealous they are of our freedom.  I do know why and I am very grateful for the benefits my job brings… because I know there are a lot of them. But it’s important that you know that we don’t have special powers. I promise, we don’t even have Spidy senses; and we definitely don’t have sticky, disgusting spider webs that shoot out of our fingertips (poor spider man got all the stupid powers).

We have the life we do because we’ve chosen it… and you can choose it too. But you WILL have to sacrifice things you may not be willing to give up. You’re going to have to leave behind your ordinary word. Maybe not right away of course,  it’s OK if you’re not ready for that.  But you’ll probably be asked to do it at some point, so steal one last kiss and start saying your goodbyes now because this train is leaving, Baby.

Ordinary people live by ordinary words. 

They can’t see past their deep-rooted fears long enough to reach for that intangible future. So they don’t.  They hold on tight to their ordinary word, often completely unaware that it is exactly what’s keeping them from clinging to their extraordinary word and the extraordinary life they’ve always wanted that comes with it. There’s a reason this existence is rare. The sacrifices are great, but the blessings from it are limitless.

Choose your words wisely.

Post #4: John Mayer is a Liar and Peter Pan is a Hero

No one wants to be “that guy”.

The guy you rolled your eyes at in your early 20’s while spewing explosive promises about how you would NEVER let yourself become like that.  You were convinced you were different, that you saw the truth and that would keep you from ever allowing a house, a job, a budget, a boss, the laundry, a schedule, or anything else you considered to be completely devoid of heart to suck all the passion out of your life.

So stop and take a look now… are you as different from that as you thought you’d be?

I’ll think I’m in pretty good shape and holding up well to my youthful ideals until I one day find myself clutching my steering wheel until my knuckles are white while yelling back at my radio whenever John Mayer tries to give me hope… “SCREW YOU JOHN MAYER!! There is, there is, there IS too such a thing as the real world!  I’m TRYING to rise above and it’s just not possible!  I hope one of your non-real world celebrity girlfriends pops a fake boob and you get silicone in your eye!!!”

This moment is always a red flag.  

But you know you’re in very real trouble when you proceed to spend the rest of the day crying on the couch, clutching your childhood Teddy Bear, Fuzzy, while trying to think happy thoughts in hopes that you’re feet will slowly begin to lift on the ground and you will fly away to Never Never Land to join Tink and the Lost Boys.  If you start chasing your shadow around the living room trying to catch it, call the hospital.

Time to start asking the important questions (actually it’s way past time at that point because I hear it’s hard to journal while wearing a straight jacket).

Like I said, no one wants to be “that guy”. The” old, fat, grandpa man” that Robin Williams played in Hook who actually friggin FORGOT he was Peter Pan!! That guy who has lost all his identity to the “real world”, who has nothing of REAL value left inside himself that he is able to extend to others. When you are sucked dry of all the emotions that make you a “real boy” rather than just a wooden puppet (stress doesn’t count by the way… and yes, I switched stories on you for a second there), who are you helping?  You may feel like you’re sacrificing, but what are you sacrificing and who are you doing it for are two very important questions to ask yourself on a regular basis so that you don’t wake up one day and realize that you began sacrificing for someone and after awhile it either turned into merely a mindless habit that is no longer necessary or even worse, something that is actually damaging the person you started out trying to help (and they adopt captain Hook as their father).  The point is there is only so much you can sacrifice of yourself before you start to sacrifice the good that you are actually intending to do.

Just please, please don’t settle for something that will suck you dry and spit you out dead, before you even ask if there’s another way.  Don’t permanently sacrifice everything that makes you who you are… everything that you were made to be and all the ways you were made to live… all in the name of sacrificing for others.  If you yourself are drowning, how can you teach your kid to swim so he’ll make it to the shore?

You are not much good to anyone if you are dying on the inside.  

Please, wake yourself up and look at the world around you.  Opportunities, adventures, and chances for you to benefit the world in ways that only you can, are ALL passing you by as you wallow in self-pity or pretend like you don’t notice that there’s an entire world going on outside of your normal day to day habits that consume and overwhelm you all by themselves.

Wake up.  Do something.  Don’t settle in for some sort of penance.  Don’t play the martyr.  I know you have a family, you have things or people to sacrifice for.  But what are your sacrifices getting them?  What do they really need?  These are the questions you need to be asking.

I’m guessing what your family needs most is a passionate person who can extend to them love, energy, and life lessons about the world…

… while most of the other adults around you are spending their time either in a numb haze or a stress induced stupor.  Be discontent with mediocre, with a hum drum life, with a robot existence…. ask questions, challenge norms, take risks… do SOMETHING!

Be discontent for the sake of the people you love.

Join us all in this quest for The Rare Existence… you need this because they need you.