A wee bit of frisson…

Something clicked today…a wee bit of frisson. Not the hair rising on the back of my neck kind, but the crackling of neurons making a brief spark of connection—the spark I’ve been missing lately. The click came while reading Leo Babauta’s blog, Zen Habits. He created a new word, Joyfear, to describe “a mixture of intense joy and intense fear into one ball of powerful emotions that both lift me up and make me see things clearly when I hadn’t before.”

He writes that every single defining moment of his life has been filled with Joyfear. And then, this is what really hit me in the gut…he writes: “Having only joy is great. Having only fear sucks. But having both … that’s life-defining.” Ok, I’m posting that one above my desk. Leo, you really need to make bumper stickers, frig magnets, the works with that line…I LOVE IT! He goes on to finish with this: “Do not shy away from Joyfear. Seek it out. Recognize it when you happen upon it. Joyfear will change your life, and you’ll never forget the moment you find it.”

The round-about way I found Leo’s post today (from chookooloonks) reminded me of the little circle of connection I found last year after reading a small article in the local paper that referred to Chris Guillebeau’s book, The Art of Nonconformity. I looked it up, found his blog and somehow from there found Karen Walrond’s chookooloonks blog (writer, photographer extraordinaire and the author of Beauty of Different.) Through her I found Susannah Conway’s site and blog. Susannah was participating in Reverb 10 and I checked that out. Reverb is an online project that provides prompts for writers—exactly the boost I needed. So I took the plunge to start a blog as a way to share my posts with other writers following Reverb 10. See what a little searching on the internet will get you?!

Starting this blog was a major moment of Joyfear…but it has been so rewarding. I may not have many readers yet, but I’ve made life-affirming connections with a small handful of people…the kind of connections that make me feel less alone when I am struggling to make sense of where I should be and what I should be doing in this world. I don’t know that Karen, Susannah, Leo or Chris will ever read this, but THANK YOU.

You’ve encouraged me to try new things, to examine my life with renewed vision and to share that journey with others. And maybe someone has stumbled across this post looking for direction, for that ah-hah moment of connection, for the courage to step beyond a comfort zone into a Joyfear moment.

Definitely felt a frisson while shooting in a storm at Mono Lake a few years back!

I first heard the word frisson at the Book Passage Travel Writer’s Conference in 2007 and it has stuck with me every since. From the Old French fricon: a brief moment of excitement; a shudder of emotion, thrill. When I’ve been at a loss for words before finding this one, I’ve simply expressed those moments as: “I feel so alive!” I can’t expect to feel this intensity all the time. (And yet I want to—the term adrenaline junkie comes to mind.) When was the last time you experienced Joyfear or frisson?


Everything is okay…

Everything’s OK. What was the best moment that could serve as proof that everything is going to be alright? And how will you incorporate that discovery into the year ahead? (prompt author: Kate Inglis)

Everything is going to be okay, and if it’s not ok, it’s not everything…

I’m realizing that OK doesn’t mean life’s messy edges get trimmed nice and neat, that I stop feeling pangs in my heart that bring instant tears, that I always wear a smile on my face and skip through every waking hour. OK means accepting those dark moments of lying curled in a ball sobbing and never wanting to face daylight again, taking the hand offered by a friend and letting their compassion soothe my soul like salve on a raw wound. OK means sorrow co-exists with happiness. Every day brings a small moment, the honking of geese flying over to the pond, a raindrop suspended from a brilliant red leaf, two owls flying overhead while taking a walk with my son, sunrise creating a glow on mountain peaks. We are alive…and everything is okay.


Excuse me, have we met?

Dec. 23—Reverb10—New name. Let’s meet again, for the first time. If you could introduce yourself to strangers by another name for just one day, what would it be and why? (Prompt author: Becca Wilcott)

I went by Jo for a while in jr. high—the first two letters of my middle name, Joyce, and one of my favorite characters in Little Women. Not that most people in my jr. high would have been familiar with that character or what she symbolized, but it did give me more of a tomboy name. My body conspired against me at 12 and 13, sprouting things on my chest that I couldn’t always hide with books. With hips and an ass, I couldn’t hide the fact that I was female and yet I wanted to remain a kid–to simply hang out with the boys (got along with them a lot better than girls), play football, have pizza eating contests and goof around in band. But they started wanting other things—just a peek, a glimpse of the places that confused me. I’m not sure why I tried to go by Jo for awhile. An attempt to forestall the inevitable journey into womanhood?

There are still days that I don’t want people to recognize me first as a woman. There are preconceptions that we all have on first meeting a man or a woman as much as we try not for them to exist. I enjoy being a woman, but frankly there are still times when I feel that I am treated differently because of my sex. If I were to choose a different name to introduce myself in person, it would be TJ (my first and middle initials) and that’s what I use online. There’s a bit of ambiguous sexuality unless what I am writing makes it really clear that I’m female. I reclaim a bit of my tomboy self and besides, a lot of authors use that two initial style—maybe some of that writing mojo will rub off on me by continuing a tradition. But there’s only person who really calls me TJ in my daily life and when he does, it’s the most beautiful name in the world.

You can’t get the same trip in the air

Dec. 22—Reverb 10—Travel. How did you travel in 2010? How and/or where would you like to travel next year? (prompt author: Tara Hunt)

No air travel for me this year, which seems a little odd. But as my blog title suggests, I guess I prefer being on the road anyway! Smelling sage in the Eastern Sierra after a thunderstorm, the pines in Yosemite, dust from a dirt road north of Bishop—I miss those olfactory sensations at 20,000 feet.

Wind blowing my hair from the open sunroof, Stevie Ray Vaughn belting it out through the speakers and bugs splatting on the windshield. Impromptu stops at roadside hamburger stands for a milkshake, photo ops along Highway 395, watching clouds gather and spill over the mountains.

My feet took me a good distance this year as well—running over the Golden Gate, up the golden hills outside of Vacaville, through the Haight in San Francisco, along farm roads outside of town, down a single track dirt path next to Putah Creek, up to the summit of Mt. Whitney.

In a few days, I’ll be driving north along Hwy 1, visiting the Oceano dunes, Big Sur and Point Lobos. Lots of time for walking, smelling, feeling my way along surf, sand, rocks and sky.

For 2011, more road trips, running, hiking and biking. To where? You’ll just have to stay tuned!

Letter from my future self

Dec. 21—Reverb10—Future self. Imagine yourself five years from now. What advice would you give your current self for the year ahead? Bonus: Write a note to yourself 10 years ago. What would you tell your younger self? (prompt author: Jenny Blake)

Dear TJ,

You are finally starting to listen to yourself—it’s about time! Keep listening to your heart and to your gut; they are always right. If you have trouble hearing them, find a quiet place for yourself for a day or two and open up that communication within again. Stop living your life trying to please everyone. You can’t and you won’t. Spend that energy on more productive things.

There are so many projects you talk about—photo books, a memoir, travels to give voice to writing about your grandmother’s story and your own. If you don’t take action now, you’ll lose momentum and motivation and wake up in five years wondering what you’ve been doing with your time. So stick with creating that life list. Also have one for yearly goals/projects. Look at it frequently to see what you’ve done and add more exciting things and places. Share those dreams and goals with others who will ask you about your progress and keep you accountable.

Make plans, don’t expect serendipity to guide your life in positive directions. Be purposeful, live with intent and honesty. Seek time with those who bring a smile to your face and lift your spirits. Let go of past hurts; dwelling in the past will not help you move forward into this wonderful life.

Eat your vegetables and keep running! You’re not getting any younger, but you can keep your body and mind young by taking care of them. You’ll have a few more laugh lines in five years, sure, but treasure those.

Tell those you love how much they mean to you every day, even when you’re not particularly happy with them. You’ve regretted not doing that before–learn from your mistakes.

Don’t bite off more than you can chew and remain a sane, happy person. Well, at least try not to. I know, you’re kind of stubborn, so sometimes you don’t listen very well.

I look forward to seeing how far you’ve come in five years. Enjoy the ride!

Your future self


I am good enough

Dec. 17—Reverb 10—Lesson learned. What was the best thing you learned about yourself this past year? And how will you apply that lesson going forward? (prompt author: Tara Weaver)

I am good enough now…not when I lose those last 10 (or 15!) tenacious pounds, not when I’ve published in a major national magazine or top literary journal, not when my child finally learns to behave perfectly (keep dreaming!), not when I finish my memoir, not when I snag that photography fellowship, not when I master cooking, not when I get the perfect haircut, not when I can let go completely of negative emotions, not when I finish everything on my to-do list (’cause it just grows and changes anyway), not when I finally learn how to play the guitar.

How will I apply that lesson? It’s a perpetual learning curve–this self-love and acceptance. Some days I get an A; other days an F. By constantly reminding myself, either with visuals on my fridge or writing in my journal, of what my body allows me to do and how I contribute positively to this world I live in, I am filled with a sense of satisfaction and peace with who I am in the here and now.

Let go and accept

Dec. 16—Reverb 10—Friendship. How has a friend changed you or your perspective on the world this year? Was this change gradual, or a sudden burst? (prompt author: Martha Mihalick)

I’ve always tried to please people, avoid rocking the boat. In the process over the years I swallowed all the anger and frustration that caused me and stuffed them into the furthest reaches of my being. There comes a point where there is no room left to stuff and the emotions spill out the edges like an oozing burrito.

Learning that I can’t make or keep everyone in my life happy is a slow process—painful even at times. But my friend T is helping me to see that living more authentically is more important than brushing aside how I really feel. And that certain people may not ever be able to see my perspective and that’s okay; I can’t expect them to. That truth is still seeping into my consciousness…that I have to let go of the expectation and the hope that at some point in the future everything that I am currently struggling with will be hunky dory and everyone will be happy. It may not.

I still find myself sweeping hurt feelings and frustrations into closets, hoping that nobody opens them. But I am also learning to let them be; to not place a “bad” or “unwanted” label on certain emotions. They simply are and that’s okay. We can’t always be in a state of euphoric happiness, always striving to only feel the “good” emotions. I can choose my reactions to those feelings, but trying not to experience them doesn’t make them evaporate.