Breaking: You CAN Learn From TV

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“Commercial again?!” I shouted at my television. “What did she do!?” I nearly flung my bowl of soup on the ceiling I was so excited. My fiancé, surprised at my out-of-character reaction, laughed and sat aback widening his eyes so as to say, “Daaaaamn girl!” I collected myself, my soup and what was left of my sanity, and returned to my Monday night post-work couch lounging.

What can I say, I love The Biggest Loser. I was pretty late to the game, which is great because now I have season after season of ready to watch reality just waiting for me to hit play on my Hulu Plus. Yes, there are plenty of ways that we can pick it apart, in that weight loss doesn’t happen for normal people in a vacuum like that, perhaps let them call their kids once in a while, whatever. Overall I like the mega-show.

What I like about it is learning about a very serious condition and seeing real results of progress. How these individuals became morbidly obese range from abuse, depression, and eating disorders, but are often combinations of those and more. I like seeing them get better and work through their issues.

I also like how they know what their goal is and work their asses off to get to it. They certainly would love to win the “quarterrrr of a miiiiiillion dollars” as Allison Sweeny says so Days-of-Our-Lives dramatically. But the real goal is to get better and lose weight. To get healthy. Many of them have serious life threatening conditions, or one is right around the corner, and in this show Jello, Jenny-O Turkey, and the other pretty crappy sponsors are actually putting their money into a decent cause.

For the contestants, it’s plain and obvious they need help. They need to make a change with regard to their physical wellbeing in order to live healthier lives and avoid a premature death.

What about the rest of us? Shifting from physical wellbeing to psychological or emotional, how can we measure how well we are doing? Almost fortunately, when your body is sick and overweight, you can see it and so can everyone else. It’s clear what you need to do.

But when it comes to our inside-our-brain lives, when do we know that we need help? That we need to make a change to get back on track to live healthier, happier lives? Where is the stress-o-meter that clearly conveys to you and the world, “Woah there, Skip. It’s time to take a vacation and calm the fuck down for a week.”

Unfortunately we are left to our own abilities of discernment. What sucks about that is we are likely the worst judges at figuring out when enough is enough and we need to take a little break and work on ourselves. While I certainly mean this in a professional sense, I mean it in just about every other emotional & psychological sense as well.

It’s very challenging in our current American environment to listen to what your psyche is telling you it needs. It’s a busy world out there. Messages about work hard, play hard swirl around us; put in your 40+ hour week, then you deserve to party your weekend away because you deserve to have fun!  Or, I think my favorite one I read recently is, “Don’t listen to your heart, listen to God.” Really? Don’t listen to the inner cries of your soul? There’s no possible way THAT could be listening to God?

All around us there are reasons, easy escapes, even religious commands to silence your inner voice and run to the distractions that circle us. And it is those very distractions that could perhaps be strangling the passions and loves that we left long ago when we let our dreams die and went to college instead.

I was listening to a radio show yesterday as I was, albeit begrudgingly, driving to work on an early Monday morning. It was all about self-employment, my favorite topic, and the host quoted Jon Acuff. It went something like, “Finding your dream job is less about discovering what you love, but about recovering a love you forgot.”

How nice that it rhymes. But he’s right! In the daily grind, the struggle we all have to toil the earth, it is less about the quest of finding that brand new talent that you never imagined you were great at. Rather, it’s that little thing that you loved to do as a kid, ran to in order to survive high school, or did in your free time when the baby was asleep. And when we ignore those things that truly make us happy in the name of being normal, a working professional, or a social butterfly, we can be hurting ourselves and not even know it.

We don’t really know when our psyche is sick, but we know when we are sick and tired. We don’t know which day we will crack, but we see it on the news all the time as we read stories of people who finally do. Every single day is critical in my opinion, every breath we take is precious. Why do we allow ourselves to ignore our inner selves and the real desires we have to fully live?

I tell you, the people who lose 200+ pounds really seem to understand the value of a full life. They can SEE how their lives have been transformed once they start making decisions to be their best selves. I think we need to have the same urgency to get and stay healthy. Our goal may not be a fat stack of cash sponsored by Extra Sugar Free gum, but living the life you were meant to live seems seems like as good a prize as any.

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Mission Accomplished: Challenge Accepted

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About a week and a half ago, my world turned upside down. Actually, it turned right side up. It was Sunday morning and I woke up at 3:30am, excited, nervous and energized. I had all my clothes laid out the night before and semi-quickly threw them all on. I popped my sprouted wheat bagel in the toaster and a minute later slathered it with peanut butter. By 4:15am I was out the door and headed to the train that would take me to downtown San Diego.

Sitting on the train, I munched away at the peanut buttery pastry and gabbed with fellow passengers about the event of the day. “I see you’re doing the full,” stated the woman who sat in the seat facing mine, “how many have you done?”

“This is my first,” I replied with nervous yet confident energy.

“Wow! What time are you going for?” asked the friend who sat next to her.

“Honestly, I’m just hoping that I don’t die.”

We laughed. That joke was my standing reply to just about any question regarding the marathon I was about to take on that day. Along the train ride to the event, I was comforted by waves of strength, allowing my muscles to assure me, “We are ready.” Conversely, I was assaulted by waves of concern, as I recalled images of marathoners collapsing from years before.

But alas, I arrived at Balboa Park, where behind the starting line 30,000 participants in the ½ and full Rock and Roll marathon were collected. Music was blasting and the buzz in the air was exhilarating. Everyone was friendly, from the medics dressed as Elvis-es, to the lady wearing a garbage bag to keep herself warm in the porta-potty line.

I eventually found my boyfriend, who 6 months earlier had agreed to follow me in training for the event. We made way to our corral, 4, and met our two other friends who we had done our training with. All of us had the same look on our faces – unbelievably excited but also realizing 26.2 miles is crazy…so a bit mad-hatter.

At 6:15am, the gun went off and we finally hit the pavement. .2 miles into it, a man dressed as a court jester was dancing in the middle of our path. He was dancing and cheering, holding a huge sign that said. “.2 down, only 26 to go!” My friends and I all looked at each other and laughed.

About another mile in, we hit Hillcrest, and in the center divider 8 or 9 men were dressed as female cheerleaders, donning short skirts and having stuffed their shirts with huge boob-like balloons. They danced and flailed their pom-poms, cheering louder than probably any of the many, many groups of cheerleaders along the way.

Just after mile 7 we were headed out of Little Italy, and into a tunnel under the 5 freeway. A DJ was blasting just outside the front of the tunnel, and as I descended into the cave, her beats cascaded through the hollowed concrete like enveloping sound waves. The air was pulsating all around me as I ran through the normally dark tunnel. The darkness was no longer, as instead lines of LED lights flashed everywhere, whose coordinated movement made that Sunday morning feel like the late night hours of San Diego’s hottest club.

I was feeling great. The streets were lined with supporters, and around every mile there was a band or DJ blasting music. The bib pinned to the front of my shirt had my name on it, and supporters often took the time to read my name and cheer, “GO JONI!!!!” The support from complete strangers was honestly one of the driving forces that kept my legs moving.

And that was very needed by around mile 16. Up until then I had no trouble flying up and down hills, but somewhere around Clairemont I was starting to feel my legs. That’s when the real mental games began playing, as I came to realize there’s another 10 miles to go and I was really nowhere near finishing.

But that particular wave of fatigue passed, and I made it to Friars road. Friars is a long stretch of garbage nothing in Mission Valley, so that’s when I realized I had better put in my headphones. After a few songs in, the My Chemical Romance song Welcome to the Black Parade came on. I promise my taste in music is normally more sophisticated than that, but I do love that poppy-ass song. It very anthem-like and epic, so I let myself get into the lyrics and forget that I was still running:

We’ll carry on,

We’ll carry on

And though you’re dead and gone believe me

Your memory will carry on

We’ll carry on

And in my heart I can’t contain it

The anthem won’t explain it.

It took some effort to stop tears from falling down my cheeks, as I looked up and knew my Dad was somewhere in the clouds watching me run the greatest physical challenge of my life, cheering me on as he had all the years before. What can I say, I was on mile 19, anything was going to make me emotional. I instead channeled that energy and put it into my legs, stepping it up to hasten my pace a little quicker. I am confident he gave me that extra boost, with his hand on my back urging me to press forward.

At last I made it to the end of Friars but knew what was next…mile 20 and the 163. For months I had been dreading the 163, the portion of the race that covered the steep freeway, and the biggest hill of the marathon. This was certainly my monster to be reckoned with, as I really, really ridiculously am terrible at running hills. My hips lock up, my knees really start bitching, my breath quickens to the pace of gasping and my heart threatens to explode.

But dammit I made it and found myself in the last stretches of the race. Around mile 23 people started cheering that I was “Almost there!” I was ready to stop and slap each and every one of them, as I knew damn well there were 3.2 miles to go. But they handed me water and Gatorade so I let them yell their nonsense.

At last, I saw the jester from mile .2…but this time he was at mile 26. He was cheering and dancing with just as much energy as he had 26 miles ago, but this time I was happy to see that instead his sign said, “26 down, only .2 to go!” I smiled and laughed, and am pretty sure I have ever been so happy to see anyone again.

I looked up and in a small crane directly above me, cameras were flashing. I spread my arms wide and made peace signs with a giant grin. One of the cameramen gave me a thumbs up in approval, who I saw got the shot.

The crowd was now densely thick with people, as I learned later that 90,000 supporters turned out to line the streets with colorful signs and good will. Music was pumping, the commentator was screaming, and I could finally see the finish line. I reached deep into my now heavy wooden legs and with fury and exhilaration I stepped it up to a sprint. Complete strangers cheered me on those final steps as at last I crossed the finish line.

“I FUCKING DID IT!!!” I gasped to myself. One volunteer heard me and laughed as she handed me a water. I allowed another volunteer to place the coveted medal around my neck, and somehow I mustered out a “Thank you.” The area was absolutely packed with volunteers, supporters and runners. Everywhere I turned someone was trying to hand me something to hydrate or feed me, from Powerbars to chocolate milk to more glorious Gatorade. Camera people were frigging everywhere asking to take my photo. I realize they worked for the race and would try to sell me the shots later, but I decided to pretend I was a famed athlete and they were ESPN trying to get a good shot from my race. I posed and enjoyed the attention.

I decided I should try and find my friends. I knew from a Facebook invite my boyfriend had created weeks ago that many were going to turn out to support us. When I arrived at the family reunion section for letter S, I spotted a couple of my friends – one who did the marathon and one who did the half. “We did it!” I shouted as I approached. They turned around as quickly as they could, which wasn’t quick at all, and were both beaming smiles of pride. I learned the one who did the marathon had PR’ed (runner speak for Personal Record) and the other who did the half was handed beers that he accepted for the last few miles of his race. I was equally proud of both.

As the minutes passed, more and more of my friends appeared, congratulating me on my run. I was often asked my time, which I proudly could say was 04:18. Not too shabby for a first marathon in which you were hoping not to die. I chatted and bantered, but was anxiously looking for my boyfriend. He was nowhere.

“Where’s Scott?” I kept asking. I learned he was at the finish line and had wanted to see me cross. It was nice to realize that I ran faster than other people’s expectations.

“He’s on his way over here,” one of my girlfriends assured me confidently. So I chugged some more Gatorade and considered if I would ever bother doing another marathon again. While I was arguing with my exhausted muscles who pleaded with me never to put them through that again, I saw my tall, sweaty boyfriend approaching. “Finally!” I thought.

He was making his way through our now large group of friends and I couldn’t help myself but squeal, “WE DID IT!” I had my hands up in the air and gave him an awkward high five that somehow morphed into a hug.

He nodded, “Yeah” to my comment, but then didn’t seem to really want to talk about the race when I asked him about his time.

“Joni, there’s another reason why all our friends are here.” He said somewhat loudly and clearly nervously. All our friends heard and backed into a very neat circle around us. “Joni, we have been through everything together, highs and lows, we have now even run a marathon together.”

This is when I realized what was happening. My eyes widened and my already fatigued heart completely stopped. Out of the corner of my eye I saw my friends reacting similarly, holding up their phones to take pictures and slapping their hands over their mouths. A man with a giant camera was also filming, and I decided not to let my mind wander into what and who the hell that was.

Scott said some more words I honestly can barely recall, and then got down on one knee. All around me men were cheering and whistling while women were cooing, as I stood there with my jaw dropped and my legs about to collapse. Scott opened a box, exposing a gorgeous diamond solitaire, simultaneously saying the iconic words, “Will you marry me?”

I swear that I searched and searched for my voice, but it must have run off to the bathroom or something. Giving up I nodded as quickly as possible a “yes,” smiling and determined to make sure he knew how excited I was. Now for every other girl in my situation that’s not very difficult to muster, but I had just run a marathon and I was just trying to see straight.

My now classic head nod was accepted and he placed the ring on my finger. My eyes were still locked on his as he somehow was able to stand up and we hugged the greatest embrace I have ever felt. I forgot that there were other people in that general area, and when I came to, I realized that a crowd had formed about us. I started waving and stammering, unsure what to say but wanting to say it all.

Turns out the guy with the giant camera was a newsman from NBC, and I was happy to learn that the little snoop had caught the whole thing. Trying to hold back Anchorman jokes, I accepted when he promptly requested an interview. I am confident that I sounded like a complete moron, but I was thrilled that my emotions and moronic-ey were captured to always remember.

I am fairly decent at being able to articulate myself, but I will never be able to describe the cocktail of emotions I felt that day. After the newsman had left, my friends and I went to celebrate downtown. Somehow later I was at a rooftop pool, surrounded with amazing people, a diamond on my finger and a medal around my neck. In the same day I had met my greatest physical challenge and accepted the greatest love of my life as my lifelong partner. I don’t know how I have become so lucky, but all I can say is…YES.

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Tying the Knot…then Sometimes Untying It

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The Internet is a pretty incredible thing. You can easily get the traffic, clicks, and hits to your blog and other social media sites with simple reporting tools like WordPress stats or Google Analytics. As a budding writer, I’m quickly and neurotically learning the ropes to find and use this important data.  It helps me understand what topics people like to hear about, and what only me in my nerd queendom seem to care about.

Most of the time it’s fairly predictable. People like topics about life, sex and surviving work. But to my surprise I discovered the other day that the top search that included my name was “joni erdmann divorce.”

Yikes.

Y’alls just loves the sticky stuff, don’t ya? That’s ok. I don’t hide it and it’s not a secret. I’ve just never been one of those people who fancied bringing it up. I mean how fun is it, you’re out having a good time, and then after someone playfully makes fun of the divorced horse in the room about a totally unrelated topic they quip, “Yeah I do that, haha, that’s probably why I’m divorced!” All laughter stops.

And they never miss an opportunity to bring up the ex-husband or ex-wife, “Oh yeah, I’d come to happy hour but I need to meet with my ex-husband to pick up my mail.” I dunno, I just don’t care to label my ex that way. I call him my friend because I think that’s the most appropriate label for him now.  I get that it’s rare, but we are friends, and that’s where our relationship is right now. So shit, I’m going to opt for a kinder term that doesn’t bear harsh connotation and questioning.

Divorcees bring up their D-word because often times they think they have to. They assume people are wondering and choose to bring it up to show that they are OK with it. I’m more than ok, but I don’t think I have to walk around with a label on my status, no matter how much society wants me to. I personally avoid labels for everything, but especially on this subject.

I always check the “Single” box instead of “Divorced.” It is so hilarious that the form gods have created this useless box just to make fun us. No, there aren’t tax breaks for divorce, we treat you just like a single person…but we want to know about it and make you check our arbitrary box.  Dicks.

I never straight up lie about it, but I’m not going out of my way to bum others out by bringing up that little detail about me. And besides, if it all happened in your early to mid-20’s I don’t think it counts.  Ok it absolutely counts, but I’m 29 now and most of my friends are just now getting married, so I think it’s almost inappropriate for me to bring it up. “Yeah I’m divorced and am living proof that sometimes marriages end…but good luck with yours, here’s a gravy boat!”

If you were in my shoes, which you very well might be, you[‘d] understand.  It’s not a badge of honor like a degree or a track medal.  It’s a title akin to a scarlet letter, begging to shame you, like you did something wrong. Which is weird because we loooove marriage so much and there’s a lot of pressure to do it. Every time Americans hear about a couple getting married, we rejoice, “Congratulations!!” followed by a plea for every detail thus far. I’m totally one of those people, partially because I know the game pretty well and mostly because I absolutely believe in love and commitment.

And because we are so in love with marriage, we don’t rejoice when people announce their divorce. Which I’m not suggesting.  But when we hear the news of departure, we always respond sadly and slap our hands to our faces, “Ooooh, wow, they have been together for [insert years of adhesive glue], that’s really sad.”

A couple years ago, however, a friend of mine was telling me that she and her aunts were throwing her Mom a party.  I naturally asked what kind of party it was.  “A ‘Happy Divorce’ party!” she squealed.  My brain couldn’t process that information, and my silence requested that she go on. “Well, my mom was with this total loser for the last 7 years, and nobody liked him.  But we never could say anything to her as she just changed to conform to his lazy son-of-a-slut ass. Finally she is leaving him and we couldn’t be happier!”

She’s absolutely right. Comedian Louis CK also puts it well:

“Divorce is always good news. I know that sounds weird, but it’s true because no good marriage has ever ended in divorce … That would be sad. If two people were married and they were really happy and they just had a great thing and then they got divorced, that would be really sad. But that has happened zero times.” [Louis C.K.: Hilarious, 2011]

Right?? So why the hell are we automatically crazy sad for people when they announce their divorce?  Maybe it’s not so sad. They made a, yes very difficult and thought out, decision to move on with their lives without the other person. Good for them?

Now I must insert the mandatory caveat. Some divorces are very heavy, very tragic, and absolutely terrible.  Sometimes it is someone who was perfectly happy, they come home, and their spouse announces they are getting divorced. That’s sad. I don’t really want to play the blame game in hypothetical situations, but I have a very hard time believing someone could be entirely oblivious in a marriage where the other person was totally unhappy.  I might suggest that the person living in the lie of bliss may not be tending to the needs of the unhappy partner…and the unhappy partner needs to get a backbone and fucking say they are considering packing their Pruis before it’s too late.

There are certainly those situations, but we decide to apply them to every case of divorce.  We automatically assume it’s the most absolute tragic scenario and with heavy hearts we mourn.  We do the same thing with marriages, assume that it’s the most romantic fairy tale of a union, and that rainbows are going to shoot out of their eyeballs for the rest of their lives.

These assumptions are stupid and we need to knock it off. You can keep the happy rainbow assumption about marriage, but when people get divorced, it’s not always a terrible thing.  Sometimes it really is a fantastic decision for everyone, and life is going to be a lot better for the two after they stop killing each other trying to make it work.

I know that there are the religious people out there who completely disagree with me. I know that all too well because they are the ones who begged me to stay in my marriage for so long. I knew the marriage was over fairly early on, but because I made the commitment to God, I stayed. I made a lot of mistakes during that time – getting caught up in a legalistic church, drinking the Kool-Aid, marrying the first guy that asked, and waking up one morning married to someone I hadn’t even known for a full year.

Whoops. I don’t mean to sum up the seriousness of those 4 years and pretend it didn’t matter to me, because it did, but I don’t think I have to feel bad about it for the rest of my life. I spent 3 out of those 4 years in and out of counseling, Bible studies, reading relationship books, studying healthy marriages, doing everything I could to make it work. But I was still unhappy. It wasn’t my time to be married yet, and that’s completely my fault. Then I invested everything I had into trying to make something work that never had a chance in the first place.

That’s a little bit of my story.  I realize it’s less tragic than some, but it does give me some authority to speak on the subject of marriage and divorce.  I will never write a book on how to have a perfect marriage, just like I will never write a book about how-to-not-fear-spiders. But what I can say is how important it is to love who you are with, and that includes yourself.  When I was in that silly church that loved to call me a horrible sinner for even considering divorce, I told them I was miserable and unhappy. They replied, “Marriage is about holiness, not happiness.”

My best friend at the time said this, and I didn’t believe it then but I’ll say it now. “That’s a bunch of BULL SHIT.”

Marriage is about a lot of things, and I don’t think you can sum it up in a trite little phrase like that. I don’t want to go into the depths of my misery, but what I can say is that one of the best decisions in my life was my divorce.  And I know I’m not alone on that one. There are a lot of very difficult decisions to make in life, and divorce is one of them…but sometimes it’s the right one.

And while society thinks that they can label us who believed enough in marriage to try it, sometimes hastily, we absolutely do not have to bear the damning titles they want to give us.  I’m single, not divorced. I’m a woman, not a divorcee. Once we can shed these sad and miserable titles, we are free to dream again.  Sure, we need some time to lick our wounds and put ourselves back together again so that we can be a whole, single person. But once we do, there is hope again.

Just because you may have been in a bad marriage, doesn’t mean all marriages are bad. Just because you may have been divorced, doesn’t mean you fail at life. If you fall in love again, you shouldn’t have to be afraid of wearing a yellow dress because you aren’t pure enough for a white one. Fuck that.

Life is too short to get caught up in meaningless labels and shaming each other.  I for one am excited about my future in love. And maybe marriage.  I believe deeply in commitment, and love the institution of marriage. I also believe everyone should get a fresh shot at marriage, even if you’ve tried before. Marriage is a celebration of love. I think of all things to focus on, I think it should be love, not labels.

Now go on, you can change your search to “joni erdmann blissfully happy.” 😉