The Lovelight Project

Shining the Light on Happy, Healthy Living

Modern-Day Face Dysmorphia

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When Michael Jackson was looking at the Man in the Mirror, I’m not sure he was talking about face dysmorphia — but he could have been. After all, he’s one of the original influencers who showed people how dramatically one could change their face.

Looking back at the young pop star compared to the face of the man who died, the American psychodrama of Michael Jackson is shocking.

I'm pretty sure this "before" photo is more like a "middle." Vogue isn't exactly the source for natural beauty anyway.

The women I pass on the street everyday must agree, because their eyebrows are suspended with painted disbelief.

Thick, dark brows throw shade on ridiculously extended eyelashes. Two older women next to me at the gym yesterday were smearing on eye crayons to give their eye skin color. And then there are modern lips.

I can’t imagine paying someone to inject me in the lip numerous times with chemicals to create a plumpness that doesn’t exist in nature. Yet, I see society’s expectations of feminine beauty. It seems lips have to be a certain shape to attract a man. Yes, men must be very particular about what lips they want to have on their body parts. Right.

I even have a client who sells artificial intelligence skin scanners. Medical spas sit a client down for a consultation, takes a picture of their face, and then proceeds to show them all the things wrong with it. It sounds like a gruesome sorority initiation to me. No thanks!

So, how exactly is my face supposed to look? I guess it depends on your culture, heritage, ethnicity, society, norms, expectations, age, race, gender, preferences, and an endless number of other things. I know one universal truth these days: You better be ready for your closeup at all times.

Everyone is a supermodel, right? I can only presume this because everyone is taking selfies. Really, everyone. Please comment if you do not take selfies, and I’m going to guess that you have righteous stance against it … only underscoring how common this phenomenon is.

Twenty years ago, we didn’t all have cameras in our pockets. Today, of course, every person over the age of 8 not only has a camera in their pocket but likely in their hand, which is held up to their face. I have stopped counting the number of people I pass in zombie walks, staring at their phones and totally unaware of anyone else on the sidewalk.

I also have a camera in my pocket. I like taking pictures too — although I tend to save my camera for pretty sunsets.

I remember when selfies were first a thing. I was one of those people who would stop people taking selfies and ask if they would like to have me take their picture. Of course, any picture composed and shot by a third person who knows even the slightest about photography is better than the up-the-nose shot. Still, it didn’t take long for enough people to decline my offer before I realized that people like that angle.

Even more so, I see full-scale photo shoots taking place. I live in a picturesque beach town, so it’s cool. I get the importance of vacation photos, and quick snaps with friends is a great way to capture life. That’s not really what I’m talking about here. I see friends taking numerous shots as their buddy strikes pose after pose, looking dejected and gaunt just like super-models.

People don’t even need cameras. On my way to and from the gym, there are apartments with reflective glass. Everyone who passes checks themselves out. Everyone is a modern-day Narcissus. We’re all wannabe supermodels.

Is this a real woman or is it AI?

You’re either a celebrity or you’re nobody.

Of course, body dysmorphia has long been a common phenomenon. All these impossibly skinny women certainly impress me — or at least the Meta avatar of me seems to think. Soon after joining a group focused on the health benefits of fasting, I started to notice the suggested Reels on Facebook all encouraging me to lose weight, eat high-protein snacks, and feel confident in certain outfits. Lots of people have FIVE (outstretched palm to camera) THINGS I HAD TO KNOW.

Few are talking to me about face dysmorphia, however. It is in the DSM-5? it should be. As I described in my travel memoir One-Way Ticket (why yes, the audiobook is out, thanks so much for asking!), I often witnessed Koreans stroking their cheeks in the metro as they surely considered a new plastic surgery. The skincare game there was on a whole other level.

So, I know I’m not the only one who looks in the mirror and wonders, really? Is this what a face is supposed to be shaped like? I mean, human faces are kind of weird, really. The nose, the skin, pores — you know thateyes are simply extensions of the brain that stick out of your skull, right? It’s so romantic!

Add in trends with eyebrows, eyelashes, lips, and even holes in your face that you put their yourself, and I just don’t know what to think about myself. When I was a teenager, I discovered black liquid eyeliner. It looks great on me. I wore it every day in an arthouse kind of way. One day, as I was removing my makeup at the mirror, I thought, “I don’t really look right without eye liner.” Thankfully, I was self-aware enough even at that young age to recognize how mentally unhealthy that thought was.

And yet, the idea that unnatural is “better” is an easy conclusion when we see all the supermodels everywhere, all the time, posing and looking fabulous. Are some people really that perfect-looking? I guess so. But most of us look kind of strange, really.

Look, it's a "pretty" woman. Insert uncomfortable silence here.

I value nature, so I embrace a very natural look. I rarely wear makeup, and I try to use healthy foods and clean water to improve the health. Healthy is the most beautiful, right? That … or Kim Kardashian. Because today with the endless photos and societal pressures for perfection, fake may win over natural beauty.

You Can’t Rush Toenails — or Healing

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You read it here first: Your trauma heals as fast as your toenails grow. We all want to know how long it takes to move on from a bad experience, and that’s the answer. At least, that’s my theory.

If you’ve had a heartbreak or something traumatic happen — which is everyone, by the way, every single person in this existence — you’ve probably wondered when the pain would end. I certainly have. Wouldn’t it be wonderful to have a sticker or something that proclaims definitively that you’ve healed whatever wounds you are carrying around?

Your toenail could be that proof. Years ago, a full bottle of wine slipped out of my shopping bag and fell on my big toe. My toe stopped the bottle from shattering all over my kitchen, for which I had gratitude, but it hurt like hell. I was alone in my house, and it didn’t do any good to scream. Instead, I got a frozen orange out of my freezer and put it on the toe. It was soon black and blue.

It took months to grow out. I had gotten a cover-up pedicure as it was reaching critical mass, and the nail tech promised me it would not break off in a creepy way that snags on socks. She was wrong. But eventually, the toe was back to normal. There’s a natural, clear timeline with nails growing out. You can’t rush it.

You can’t rush your healing, either.

I’ve just started The Body Keeps Score, but I know all about storing trauma in the body. As dedicated readers know, I completed the 10-day silent Vipassana course last August, seven months ago. Since then, I’ve undergone a significant process of internal

Positive reinforcement for growth is hard to come by, especially for Generation X. I'd like you to know that you are doing a great job healing yourself!

energy releases.

These releases feel uncomfortable: mostly shots of pain down the side of my leg and bubbles of gas internally moving, somehow, spontaneously. I went to acupuncture appointments, lots of yoga classes, and dance classes. I’ve done more meditation, squats, massage, and lots of adjusting my spine. I can crack my back better than most.

Lately, I’ve noticed my hip is feeling a little better. I’m still moving it a lot. But now the muscle of my left hip, which always felt like the root of the worst of the pain, has stopped searing. Instead, it’s been fluttering painlessly. I can feel it sometimes when I put my open palm curiously on the spot. It feels like a softening.

“You should just decide it’s a healing sensation,” my friend Danny said to me, echoing the same advice on manifesting positive outcomes with thoughts that I’ve said to him a thousand times. I needed the reminder.

But then, I could just look at my toenails. I don’t think there’s really any science to support this theory, but I suspect a correlation.

Healthline, the omnipotent online medical resource, reports that toenails grow more slowly than fingernails. Human toenails grow an average of 1.62 millimeters a month, a length I understand because I live in Europe. Americans will need to do some math.

Let me help: At the average rate, it takes a little over six months for a toenail to grow a centimeter, or a little more than a third of an inch.

The theory got interesting for me because, around the same time as I completed the Vipassana course, I also had a short relationship with a man who treated me to a pedicure before attempting to steal my passport and play all kinds of crazy-making head games. I wrote about it in the preface of One-Way Ticket. He was looney tunes, but, like, in a clinical way.

I knew I had some psychological scars when I arrived in Spain on October 1, but I focused on finishing the book that I had been working on for the last two years. I was in the final editing stage when I fielded calls from the London Metropolitan Police Department to ask me about the man.

Because I love you, I'm not including a picture of gross toes.

But I had other scars, too. My toenails developed leukonychia. This is a condition when white spots appear on the nail bed due, often, to aggressive nail filing at that pedicure about six months ago. So, in essence, my toenails were traumatized at the same time as my psychodrama with a crazy dude in London.

By the way, have you been in a psychodrama? My friend reached out to me recently with one: Some guy came to her yoga class and was a total creep-a-zoid, staring at her and basically freaking her out for no discernable reason.

Eeek! Eeek! Eeek! We all know that Psycho shower scene, and it's, um, totally traumatic!

“He didn’t actually do anything,” she explained. “It was his energy. Is this even making sense?”

Psychodramas are designed to make you doubt your own sanity. I wish there could be a 1-800 lawyer popping into this blog and telling you that you may be entitled to compensation if you know what I’m talking about. If only suffering really worked like that.

As Buddha teaches with the Four Noble Truths, suffering is inevitable, but the good news is that we can choose to end our suffering. That sounds good! I would like to end my suffering. Wouldn’t you? I mean, duh.

But, um, hey Buddha? How long will it take? Can we let go of our trauma in just a snap? Is war over because we want it? The answer is clearly yes. I love hearing spiritual teachings about the possibility of entering bliss eternal, whatever that looks like in your head, instantly. I love the idea of hopping in the afterlife express lane out of this life of suffering.

Unfortunately, most people have to do the work to condition themselves enough to be on their feet when they cross the finish line, so they can know where to run when the express lane prevents itself. If you’re like me, we really ought to start stretching more. Maybe it’s instant, but I think it’s a good idea to prepare just in case it’s not.

And so, for the last months, I went to therapy, worked creatively, exercised until I was sweaty, and ate healthy, whole foods. I’m also weaning myself off an unhealthy dependence on dark chocolate. I’ve been meditating regularly and practicing yoga, and I’m just two weeks away from celebrating my third year of being sober from alcohol.

I also have been watching the white spots on my toenails grow out. I’ve been keeping them short, as it feels good to see the healthy nail bed grow back. It’s getting there. It’s not all gone yet. But it will be. Change is constant — and we have the power to heal our bodies, hearts, minds, and, yes, toenails.

Dance in the Streets!

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It’s not too much of a stretch of someone who wrote a book entitled “Operation Big Fun” to write a blog about the wild, crazy, and super-funny street party that is Carnaval. It finally wrapped up here in the Canary Islands of Spain, and it ended with a bang of confetti all over my head.

However, I must admit I had been basically hiding from Carnaval for the last month, as I’d instead been working on creative projects and trying to get healthy by moving my body at the gym. I’ve been so focused, in fact, that my friend Tricia repeatedly recommended I have more fun.

The 2024 Carnaval theme was "Carnavales del Mundo." This included an out-of-place American who didn't know she was supposed to wear a costume like Halloween.

But I never felt like I was really missing out. I checked out the schedule of events, and there were no headliner musicians I couldn’t miss. Nor was I particularly interested in buying a ticket to one of the galas. I don’t drink alcohol at all and can’t handle that much crowd energy anymore without a good reason.

I passed the epicenter of the Carnaval grounds many times on my way to my weekly group meditation. It resembled a small fair in the United States with its rides and booths. “El Barco” was the Viking Ship and just as terrifying, I’m sure, given the likelihood of a person who works at the carnival forgetting to check all the screws before starting up the old contraption.

I didn’t attend any Carnaval parties, in part because I was also still exhausted from the long string of fiestas that take place during the entirety of November, December, and January. Of course, Christmas — which is celebrated here on Christmas Eve and Christmas itself — is a big deal for this Catholic nation. New Year’s Eve is a huge party anywhere. Here, the Epiphany on January 6th is an even bigger deal with a parade with the Three Kings. Carnaval started before that and lasted all the way until yesterday.

Although this morning, as I was lifting the kettlebell and enjoying a view of the passersby on the paseo, I saw a couple walking in elaborate costumes. So maybe nothing’s over. You just don’t turn it off. A little research showed me there was a drone show today and a concert by a Marc Anthony tribute band. I missed it.

I actually wasn’t even sure I was going to get out the door to go to the parade yesterday. When you’re in a creative project, if you’re

Unlike in the U.S. Virgin Islands, this Carnaval celebration features drag queens. Even the 10-year-old boy next to me watching the parade was, I think, Marilyn Monroe.

anything like me, you’re drawn inward in a way that’s almost magnetic. As I said, my level of artmaking has been verging on serious. That’s no good!

So, I was reminded about how ridiculous and hilarious everyday life is by just wandering out on the streets yesterday for La Gran Cabalgata. This is the final, massive street parade that ends with yet another all-night celebration. I knew I’d skip out on the all-nighter since I had already scheduled a yoga class this morning. But I do love a good parade.

I was curious to see if this Carnaval parade would be different than the one I enjoyed in St. Thomas and St. John of the U.S. Virgin Islands. There, the adult parade was filled with groups in matching, revealing outfits. There were plenty of sexy men and women, the latter of which highlighted for me how very different beauty standards are for different cultures. The soft, fleshy bodies that were shaking down the streets of Charlotte Amalie weren’t how I’d want my body to ever look, and yet they were beautiful, full stop!

The last parade I attended was in New Orleans two Halloweens ago. That city really knows how to celebrate! The parade was filled with marching bands, dancers, and even guys dressed as dead Elvises riding motorbikes. My bag was filled with all kinds of freebies float riders threw to me. In fact, I befriended the people around me so we could work together to manage our pile of goodies.

Indeed, the Canary Islands do it differently. The first thing I noticed on my way to the parade route was that nearly everyone in attendance was dressed in really fun and creative costumes. Both children and adults wore costumes, and many families created themes in which everyone participated. Some were elaborate, but most were simply fun.

This was a creative and almost free costume -- he put some forethought into where those dark pixels were!

There were lots of Mario Brothers, Carmen Mirandas, Minnie Mouses, M&Ms, pirates, hippies, steampunks, old folks, superheroes, King Tuts, and Barbies. Gym bunnies, soldiers, cats, and more than one La Calavera Catrina in an interesting crossover from the Day of the Dead. Yes, of course that’s also celebrated here along with Halloween.

Marching in between the big floats, I saw Trump waving a big American flag, Fidel Castro chomping a cigar, the Pope in a car with a squad of Secret Service protectors. I also spotted a few male London Buckingham guards (who were wearing miniskirts and stilettos), a few bums who offered to share some uncooked bacon with me, and a guy in a trench coat who, when he flashed the crowd, displayed a pixelated board that thankfully edited out what we didn’t want to see. I also liked the guy who had a mohawk and a ghetto blaster radio who was a punk rocker, as well as the crew of friends who dressed up like a yellow Guagua, which is the local bus.

The parade kicked off with the Reina of Carnaval 2024, a beautiful woman on a very fancy and sparkling float. Next, we were treated to the top three runners up to the crown. Then was the little girl version, the Princesa I guess, before what was very different: Drag queens. There’s a major drag queen show, in which one is crowned the belle of the ball. We got to see this year’s queen as well as the runners up, too.

Then it was float after float. Unlike in New

The Pope had his own security detail, but I noticed they were drinking on the job.

Orleans where they throw out everything from packets of coffee to moon pies to cups to Cracker Jacks, no one three anything except confetti. Only then, it was just one float with bags of the stuff. Instead, the floats were clearly ticketed parties with revelers drinking excessively — and obviously. I watched more than one parade participant kinda sway and do that telltale, slow-motion half-blink. But everyone seemed to be having a blast.

Since there wasn’t much built-in reason to interact with the people on the floats, I found myself enjoying the rest of the community who joined in to walk behind and dance to the pulsing pop music blasting from the speakers of the moving parties. I knew some of these songs — it’s the same remixed crap I have been dancing to at the gym almost daily for the last two months. However, everyone else seemed to not only know the songs but know every word and were willing to sing along unabashedly.

We were all laughing and dancing in the streets, which reminded me of how joyous and fun life can be. I have a group of friends who organize “playshops” instead of workshops, and that inspires me. As I continue to be my best self and focus my energy on completing meaningful projects, I have to remember how lucky I am to have the opportunity to do the good work.

You may have heard that children laugh 300 times a day while adults only laugh 17.  Well, I definitely laughed more than that yesterday

Isn't she the most beautiful Queen of Hearts you've ever seen? Spoiler: That's a dude, an old dude.

— and I didn’t need a drink of alcohol to do it, either, by the way.

Everything started around 4:30 p.m., and the parade was only a few blocks away. I enjoyed about three hours before I decided to return to the comforts of my quiet apartment. After all, what’s more fun than rest?

Suzanne’s 5 BEST Health Products from Around the World

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You won’t BELIEVE what number four is! Well, maybe you will. It’s not that crazy. I’ve been dragging my feet about this blog idea because it’s so click-bait-y.

HEY YOU! Have you already scrolled down to the list? Do you know any of them already? Companies that produce these click-bait numbered lists are just trying capture your attention for a few minutes. They feed on your own egos in the name of the algorithm.

I’m a sucker for it! I always click on those “10 Best Places for Young Professionals to Live in 2024” lists. Part of me hopes that I’ve lived in all of them. I barely give a think to how the random editors compiled the list. I just start clicking.

I’m part of the attention economy just like the rest of us. It’s hard to encourage people to invest in reading. That’s why there are so many marketing best practices like bulleted lists, all-caps, and other easy-to-scan, broken-up sections of “content.” Attention spans have dropped 47 seconds since measured in the early 2000s, when they were 2.5 minutes.

In the Galapagos: Me and Chucky D, which surprisingly is what Charles Darwin said he liked to be called. How well are we adapting to the changes of the natural world around us?

I usually skip the story in food blogs when I’m looking for a recipe. I scrolled past writing just last night when I needed the red lentil to water ratio for cooking a quick dal (it’s two cups water to one cup red lentils). I’ve worked as a professional writer for almost 30 years! You’d think I’d give it a quick read.

So, I get the joy of QUICK TIPS. I’ve even curated a list of searchable travel tips on The Lovelight Project’s travel and explore page.

But counting the clicks isn’t what this blog is about. I’m not trying desperately to keep your attention. Affiliate marketing is not how I make money. It’s okay. This isn’t a money-based experience we’re having. Maybe now’s a good time to take a breath.

Still with me? Long-form writing has become a disruptor concept to the attention economy.

Art is in the written word.


Top Reasons Art is So Cool

!!! Not too many exclamation marks. AI will find out. You can’t write AI without it tracking you. It’s tracking you. *She shifts the gaze back and forth*

Not everyone has time for art. You may not have that kind of time. You have to scroll past the blah-blah-blah. Go straight to what you can buy. Maybe that will relax the nervous system. That’s another secret about the attention economy: the constant consumerism will keep you in a state of anxiety. It’s an addiction, and addictions make it hard to focus on anything else.

Check out Edgar Degas within the collection of the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Especially something that doesn’t really have anything to sell you. French impressionist Edgar Degas famously said, “Art is not what you see, but what you make others see.”

So, click-bait is the opposite of what I normally go for. If you’ve ever read any of my writing, you know that I are more interested in ideas that get me, at least, thinking and feeling. If you are willing to feel — not everyone is, that’s the thing about the world today and always — you have to give a little time. Give the idea time to marinate within you. Consider the energy.

When you invest time like this, it may be a risk. What if you don’t learn anything? What if you already know the five products that I love and that’s that? Everything requires a cost-benefit analysis these days, especially with what kind of content you are intentionally consuming these days.

Busyness is a modern social psychological condition. And yet, you have time to scroll away on social media. Or whatever your drug of choice is. Maybe you’re into, I dunno, dance classes at the gym. If you’re anything like me, you’ve got all kinds of things to do. How are you doing on that new year’s resolution with those new habits, anyway?

Rest, by the way, is an excellent habit to adopt. It’s free. I plan to make daily rest part of my next 60-DAY CHALLENGE TO CHANGE initiative. I hold an accountability group every 60 days. The name sounds kind of click-bait-y, so I wrote it in all-caps. I hope I don’t stress myself out by holding myself accountable for calming my nervous system and balancing my hormones.

Rest, by the way, isn’t lying back and scrolling social media. Rest relieves you from the pressures of the world. Art is a great way to escape the norm. When you read a story or check out any kind of art, you’re allowing yourself an opportunity to feel the ideas and energy. I hope you know the difference.

Don’t fool yourself by thinking that a small breadcrumb of knowledge is a worthy exchange for your precious time. Let yourself experience life fully!

That’s exactly what I was doing yesterday I was when I found myself with a small cut. I pulled out the powder I bought in Argentina that works really well healing the skin. I tried to remember what it was called. I made a mental note to research it (Mental notes are written in disappearing ink!). Since weekly blogs have been part of my current 60-DAY CHALLENGE TO CHANGE, I thought maybe readers would be interested in a list of these products I love.

And that’s why I’m giving you:


This list is in no particular order and consists of products that work great, are relatively inexpensive, common in the country and less-so elsewhere.

Top 5 International Products I’d Buy Again

1. Polvo Cicatrizante Proser

When I rode a horse over the countryside of Argentina, I held on the strap so tightly that I ripped the palm of my hand up. I went to the pharmacy and showed them the wound, and they sold me this product. At 250 grams for under $14, it will last you a lifetime. I see from the description that it’s “specifically formulated for horses,” which is hilarious because I use this on my face sometimes.

2. Tiger Balm

You’ve likely already seen Tiger Balm, but (like dragonfruit) there are two types: red and white. White Tiger Balm is more common in the West because it is milder. It can serve as a Vicks VapoRub when dabbed in the nose or even lips. The red version is stronger and is a great for aches and pains. Both are great to stop itching from bug bites. It’s also a bug repellent, and I once saw it for sale as a spray at the Ego Pharmacy. An often-overlooked benefit is relief from flatulence, which I can’t even.

3. Thai Crystal Deodorant

There’s plenty of debate on this topic, and I welcome all your naysaying in the comments. But don’t knock this Thai Crystal Deodorant without trying it. I bought a stick for a couple of dollars in Thailand and used it daily to stop myself from being stinky. Then, when I visited my parents during the start of coronavirus (they were really stressed out), I cleaned out my childhood bathroom closet and found a stick I purchased when I was in 8thgrade from the local natural food store. Score! Talk about doing my future self a favor!

4. Boroleum ointment

Speaking of my hometown, I need to give a shoutout to the New England version of Tiger Balm, kinda, called Boroleum. While Tiger Balm is a more versatile ointment, this stuff always pulled me through the dry, cold, crappy fall into winter into spring weather of Lancaster, Pennsylvania. I wish I had a tube now as I’m living in Las Palmas in the Canary Islands of Spain. We’re experiencing the calima, which is dust that comes off the African Sahara desert. My nasal passages are a little congested.

5. Jamu

You can make this ginger and turmeric drink I discovered in Bali, Indonesia at home. But warning: It’s a little bit of a process to make, however. I found it online here. It is the answer to gastrointestinal distress, as it is a traditional medicine from the home of the cutely name but super-gross phenomenon of Bali Belly. But you have to give thanks for everything, including Bali Belly.

Honorable Mentions: Japanese bathroom anything, palo santo, and white sage.

Were you worried that I wouldn’t actually give you a real list after you clicked? Well, I did. And now’s where I continue to engage you by asking for what I missed in the comments. But I’m serious. What would you add to this list? Let’s share and connect, for art’s sake.

A Fond Farewell to the Green Tupperware 

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Divesting to the point where everything you basically need for yourself can fit inside a 65L backpack and a carry-on requires forethought — a lot of forethought. What goes in your kit all has to be perfect, or as close to perfect as you can get.

My divestment journey led me from a three-bedroom home with a shed and patio that I had rented for eight years down to a 32-foot sailboat, and then down to the pack. Then, I went from the pack to a 23-foot RV for three years. And then back down to a pack again.

Here I am before 6 a.m. waiting for a bus leaving Germany in 2023. On my back is everything I own ... including, sniff, a certain green Tupperware container in there somewhere.

You can probably imagine there are certain things that I can’t imagine living without. For example, as a menstruating female, I need my Diva cup and reusable pantyliners. With these small items in my pack, I never have to worry about how the women in Bali or Ecuador or Istanbul handle their times of the month. Wherever I am, I’m sorted.

Really, when you get a pack dialed in, everything in it is required and exactly what you want. That is, the goal is to own everything you need and nothing you don’t — and be able to carry it all.

I find the hardest part of living out of a backpack is maintaining a great capsule wardrobe of clothing while also wearing said clothing. It is easier when always living in relatively warm climates. But … climate change is real.I want to be comfortable and look nice all the time. I’m just a nomadic writer; I’m not trying to be an influencer. Unless I can influence you to care for the environment!

The good thing about only owning the most practical things is that it’s easier to be an environmentalist. I buy few items and try to repair as much as I can. I was smart to buy the cork glue and sealer from the official Birkenstock shop in London earlier this year, but the repair only lasted so long. My sneakers (also called trainers and tennis shoes) are wearing out with all these hot dance moves, too.

Now that I’m renting an apartment for some time, I’ve allowed myself to purchase some new clothes from the secondhand shop located literally downstairs from my apartment building. I pass it every day, so I often pop in to see what they’ve got. I was on the lookout for a new pair of pants — and I scored big this week! Modern cut with a frayed edge and a perfect fit, they cost 2 euros, or $2.16.

Most things you can replace, which is important to remember.

Unfortunately, my green Tupperware that I carried in my pack, the sailboat, the RV, and even in that rental house is almost impossible to replace. First, sit back kids: I’m going to tell you a story that takes place in 2009, which is hard to believe is 15 years ago. I was working at the Boys & Girls Clubs as a communication director.

This is a simple ode to a wonder-inducing Tupperware product, the "Mini Max."

That afternoon, my boss came into my little cubicle located in a hallway that led from the administration offices to the club itself, where I often went to play four square to take a break from writing grants. It was before my boss hired this dude from Newark, New Jersey who wore gold chains around his furry neck and made me cry. It was before all that, when my boss said, “Gosh, Suzanne, I can’t think of anything to encourage you to work on” at my review.

It was a fun job for a while.

“So, Suzanne. I’m hoping you can help. I have to go to a Tupperware party, where the ladies are donating a percentage to the Boys & Girls Clubs,” she said. “Will you come with me to represent the club?”

I went, and at one point I found myself sitting at the back of the room. I was totally zoning out, as of course I had no interest in plastic food storage containers sold in a multi-level marketing scheme. I was so in another world that my mouth was agape.

“I KNOW! It really IS amazing!” the woman at the front of the room said, holding a piece of Tupperware. She was talking to me.

She continued to engage me about this Tupperware, which came in a set of three for $30. These pieces were all green with circular, watertight lids that snapped on. Each piece could be folded three times, making totally different sizes as well as provide for flat storage.

Everyone, including my boss, turned to look at me. I was self-aware enough to realize that I looked like I was so impressed by Tupperware that my mouth was literally hanging open with wonder and awe. Embarrassed, I bought a set.

But here’s the thing: That Tupperware was actually awesome. I used it all the time. When I lived in Chiang Mai, Thailand, I would bring the green Tupperware to the pad Thai restaurant just down the road from my apartment for them to fill up with takeaway homemade delicacies for the equivalent of $1. I saved so much plastic with that plastic reusable thing.

Because it folded flat, I could shove it in my carry-on bag. If I wanted to buy something to eat on the plane, no problem. It helped me to be waste-free, or as close to it as I could get.

So, it was a sad day, not long after the end of the holiday season, when I reached for it under the counter in my apartment to discover that the lid had mysteriously disappeared. My roommate and I searched every cabinet in the kitchen. We had had a few parties with plenty of leftovers.

I splurged for the fried egg on top of that homemade pad Thai for $2. Note the container, shown here in 2018 back when it still had a lid.

“You’re just going to have to accept that it’s gone,” my roommate said. “I can only presume it somehow ended up in the trash.”

Again, I was too embarrassed to display my deep sense of loss and grief. But it’s there. I may be able to buy a new one, but shipping to this island isn’t as easy as you may think.

That’s why I need to dedicate this blog to the green Tupperware container that traveled from Florida and through the Caribbean, then around South America, Oceania, Asia, back throughout North America, and then over to Europe. You never got to see Africa, little buddy, and it’s so close.

Where is the lid, you may still be wondering? Because, if you’re like me, you don’t believe that someone would throw away a clearly matching green lid. I suspect that it ran away, Tom Robbins-style, with the less-special but still handy plastic camping fork that also somehow had been lost in my shuffle.

They probably are off together on an adventure to find the black puffer jacket that stuffed in its own pouch. That jacket was lost on a Deutsche Bahn train somewhere in Germany. That’s a long way away, guys. I wish them luck … and plenty of pad Thai again someday.

My New Career: Music Video Backup Dancer 

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I have an announcement, and many of you have already seen it coming. I am adding a new skill to my resume. I will now open my schedule to offers for my appearance dancing in the background of professional or amateur music videos.

My skills, honed over the last three weeks in group dance classes at GoFit gym in Las Palmas, Gran Canaria, are specific to a lot of Seal Paul, salsa, and some B-girl sassy flare. You can talk to my agent after this blog.

OMG it me! Please imagine I look just like this woman during GoFit's exercise dance classes, because I sure do (imagine such).

I know my competition for a spot is strong. Some of the men and ladies in these classes not only learn the entire sequence, but they have an impressive of physical fitness and joie de vivre. That’s what I’m going for. We all work up a sweat while pretending we’re in the background of a music video. Or is this just me?

I go three or four times a week, and these group dance classes are giving me life. I pair the dance class with stretching or lifting weights, and always a 15-minute sauna afterward. That’s called “habit stacking,” and it’s a proven hack to get you in a routine. I’ve taken some boxing classes, which are pretty kick-ass. I’m not sure I’m in touch with my warrior spirit.

But if you know me, you know I’m a dancer. I love moving my body to live music; I think of it like a physical expression of what I hear. Dancing helps me pay better attention to the music! You know what Bob Marley sings about music: When it hits, you feel no pain.

Not that I’m dancing to Bob Marley, unfortunately. There is a Sean Paul medley that brings me back to my years of living in the Caribbean. But the rest is a bunch of reggaeton, salsa, bachata, and some surprisingly hardcore B-girl jamz that remind me of my preteen years dancing in front of my mirror.

Now, I’m at a genetic disadvantage, as a gringa, dancing to the salsa and bachata, and a lot of the reggaeton, too, if I’m honest now about my new resume skill. Many of the old ladies would be picked before me for the next salsa music video background dancers.

But, when requested to by the unnecessarily loud music, I can “drop it low, pop it up, abajo ….” I’m also pretty good at the 90s-era “Rock Your Body” Backstreet Boys move, which is a little like the Thriller choreography I once learned during a stay in New Orleans.

I also feel at the front of the pack as an American at the end of one song with gym choreography of finger “guns in the air” partnered with the lyrics “I bring the pain like rat-tat-tat-tat!” I feel my heritage of rich gun culture makes me especially equipped for this move, or at least the attitude necessary to properly execute it.

If I were to be really honest here, I’d say on my best day, I’d be picked tenth in my class to back up a star in a music video. But then, that also presumes a talent scout for Beyoncé or Justin Timberlake would saunter into GoFit sala dos to look for amazing dancers. Did I mention I’m definitely in the lower quadrant of age? Most of my classmates are over 60 years old.

OMG it me! No, no ... I'm not so foolish to think I'm Taylor Swift! I'm gonna be one of the backup dancers -- as soon as the talent agent discovers me in gym class.

Still, there we all are, shaking it. Not everyone has imaginary professional aspirations like I do, but then — not everyone thinks big. You have to reach for the stars. Well, I’m doing it. Literally, too, with the choreography: We reach and step, reach and step, then the other way, reach and step, reach and step.

The gym instructors, of course, make it worth the loud, objectively bad music. I go so regularly that it’s not only a music video playing in my head. There’s an entire Netflix series soap opera called GoFit in there, too.

There are characters like Ana Sara, the spunky dance instructor who makes encouraging, extra-wide eyes when it’s time to change the step. She twirls her finger in the air when it’s time to spin our bodies and holds up a two when we “double” the right step. Then there’s Carlos, the young, mustachioed stud who forgets to lead us in both sides in yoga class but all the ladies forgive him. I don't know the name of Señorita Drawn-On Eyebrows who works the front desk, but I've never seen her smile and I think about what could be upsetting her.

I may be taking the daily classes, but I’m certainly not chatting any of these characters up. Everyone speed-mumbles in a language I comprehend so slowly that it’s frustrating. I’m not making much progress in Spanish, but I’m keeping at the lessons and listening. It hurts my head a little.

At least, you’d presume, I’m super-fit! I mean: Wow! She’s doing awesome with going to the gym every day! She’s lifting weights about three times a week, taking cardio classes, and even hitting the sauna with all the old hairy guys every single day! She hasn’t visited a bakery in a few months, and she’s only had a few “ice cream incidents” over the past month. Hydration, meditation, even intermittent fasting!

I was feeling good when I stepped on the InBody scale this week to get some validating metrics for all my sweaty effort in dance class. Ana Sara, who helped me analyze the results at the help desk at the gym, used her big eyes to look at me sympathetically: It seems, in the last month of squeezing sweat out of my pores and focusing on my health, that I’ve lost an entire one pound and somehow, according to the scale, gained 0.1% of body fat. I lost 0.1% of muscle.

No wonder the background dancer talent scout for the hottest music videos hasn’t been calling. Ugh! I’m regressing!

I also feel like I’m moving backward with recording the audiobook of One-Way Ticket, as I needed to first get familiar with Final Cut Pro. I'm learning how to edit both audio and video, and it’s more than I’m currently required to know. But it’s good to get an education before starting on a big task.

I’m not really regressing, of course, regardless of what a stupid hunk of computerized plastic tells me. I may not be moving forward toward my goals as fast as I’d like, but such is the way of self-improvement. The rate of improvement isn’t linear. The graph starts a slow accent and may even seem to dip down for a moment before it shoot upward toward mastery. I feel that slump, though.

Here's a graphical depiction of why it's so hard to stick to the work necessary to reach a goal. There's a point where you are moving backward before surging ahead. Source:

Sometimes, I see that slump in the dance class mirror. Like today, I can’t lie: I did not have any coffee before I left. I was not completely impressed with myself as I was dancing Alingo. To be really honest, I was tired. And so, when I got home, I rested. Put that on the resume.

Back To School, Fool!

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Here’s the thing about new beginnings: There is always a lot to learn.

There’s a reason that the word school rhymes with fool. The Fool is the first card in the tarot deck. It’s all about the new start to the journey. It makes sense for me lately, as I’ve been in a major learning era of my life.

The Fool, the first card in the Major Arcana of the Tarot

My daily habits feel as familiar and annoyingly structured as a school curriculum: First period is studying Spanish by listening to Pimsleur classes and living in the Canary Islands. Sometimes I take a field trip to the fruit market and try to have a little conversation or at least pay attention to the television news they play there. Then it’s second period, studying Final Cut Pro with Ripple Training so I can record and edit the audiobook of One-Way Ticket. Next, I go to gym class at GoFit. I may have music or meditation club after that, or perhaps my book club.

And just like when I was in high school, I also have to, oh yeah, work for money!

I haven’t yet mentioned my hardest class: Self-Mastery.

The most recent lesson in this never-ending class is on boundaries. How are you with boundaries? OK, that’s a trick question: Really, I’m just asking if you’ve ever been to therapy, because otherwise you’d likely have no idea what I’m talking about.

I am challenged by boundaries. This week, a client — who I let repeatedly dump her personal problems on me during the work process of the eBook she hired me for — had an emotional meltdown and verbally abused me. She had just received the final draft of the work. She’s now threatening not to pay me for the work I completed that she previously approved. Great.

The last guy I dated? Yeah, I let him treat me pretty poorly too. Same goes for the previous guy. And the guy before that.

I’m really good at pulling up the anchor and fleeing once I realize I’m being abused — but I seem to need a big, neon flashing sign before I figure it out.

What happened to Mr. T? Was he on your Trapper Keeper in elementary school? I need him to deal with some jerks in my life.

I approach most people with an open heart and a positive attitude, ready for a win-win relationship that helps us both. It works well with my large, supportive group of friends. But bad actors have a field day with my tender heart.

I know the answer isn’t to build a wall around that flowering field of my heart, either. I’ve certainly beaten myself against some brick walls, and it hurts! I am stuck between being wide open and being locked in a box.

How do you build healthy boundaries? I’ve got some homework to do.

But first: let me pass you a note that’s folded like origami. Did you see there was a man who dressed as a wall and Trump invited on stage at a political rally in Iowa? That’s one kind of boundary I don’t need, I know that much!

Personal boundaries, of course, are different from political boundaries, which are crossed all the time. That’s what many wars are all about. Russia denied Ukraine’s boundary, for example.

Cue "Fantasy is Reality" by Parliament Funkadelic.

I don’t know how to defend boundaries very well, either political or personal. It doesn’t seem like most countries can, either. Can you?

Boundaries seem usually one of two ways: It’s all or nothing. Rigid or porous, as they say in therapy. Either you walk right over the line, or you can’t even find the line. File under: Can’t win for losing.

I do have many friends with whom I practice boundaries. One of my best friends calls me when she can — I know she’s busy with a big family, and I am secure in our friendship. I don’t overstep with her. Another dear friend calls me almost every day, and sometimes I have to tell him directly to not vent so angrily with me. I get upset with too much venting. It’s actually not healthy!

There are a few things — the operative word being few — I’ve come to understand about boundaries.

You Have to Communicate

Communication is a two-way street, which is a radical concept in today’s one-way splatter-gun content creation. Not everyone can handle a direct and effective communication style that requires the patience that listening requires. Some people view honest communication as confrontation, so I try to be as soft and compassionate as I can while talking to someone.

But if you’re not clear about what you want and what you don’t want, you simply can’t give the other party a clear definition of what you find acceptable and not. You can’t make presumptions that everyone is on the same level as you. Sometimes, the only way to find out is to ask and really listen to the answer.

I’m slowly discovering that many people have no idea about this. Like the client, I made a presumption that she would share my ethics because I knew her casually and had mutual friends. But I was wrong. I actually had to tell this person that it’s not okay to take a final product of work and not pay me.

Look for Red Flags

An ounce of prevention is worth a pound in cure, as I’ve confirmed as I work on staying clear of people who are less likely to respect my boundaries.

Here’s content from a Facebook post I made last spring about the early warning signs of abusive men, which I learned from reading the highly recommended “Why Does He Do That?” by Lundy Bandcroft. They include:

😬 Speaking very negatively about former partners

🔪Saying she “falsely” accused him of abuse or that, in fact, she abused him (may show photos as “proof”)

💕 Says you’re different (phrases like “I didn’t think people like you existed!”)

😒 OR glorifies former partner (you’ll never stand up to her)

🤦🏻‍♀️ Takes no responsibility for end of his last relationship

🙅🏻‍♀️ Is disrespectful to you (interrupts you, talks over you, yells at you “because you’re not listening” or to prove he wasn’t yelling previously)

🏮 OR puts you on a pedestal (very uncomfortable)

💐 Creates a sense of indebtedness early on (does favors you do not ask for, often publicly to create an image of being such a good guy)

🐲 Is controlling (makes comments about your body or clothes or friends, or dictates how you should text a friend, etc)

🦮 Is possessive (calls you “his,” needs you around all the time)

🧸 Nothing is his fault

🙎🏻‍♂️ Makes excuses, plays the victim — cannot apologize

🕺🏻Self-centered, always brings conversation back to him

🍻 Heavy drug and alcohol use, pressures you to do more than you want, too

🍆 Pressures you for sex

👩‍❤️‍👨 Gets serious too quickly (posts photos on social media after first or second date)

‼️ Shows intimidation when angry: too close, finger in face, blocks way, shouts you down, drives recklessly, throws things

🎭 Double standards for himself and you

🤹🏼‍♀️ Has a negative attitude toward women (such as saying women always win in courts, women cannot care for themselves)

🥊 Treats you differently when around others

🧚‍♂️ Is attracted to (perceived) vulnerability

Clients “love-bomb,” too. Before that client told me to “go f**k myself,” she said that she wished I were nearby so that she could hug me because she was so pleased with my work.

Listen to Your Instinct

Yes, I had that nagging little voice in my head telling me that the client was no good and the guys were no good. In fact, all my past bad relationships — the ones that made me doubt my abilities to stand up for myself and uphold my boundaries — all started with me ignoring myself.

I think this is the biggest lesson of all. If you don’t quiet your mind enough to hear what your instincts tell you, you’ll be in for a rude awakening! I practice meditation every day, but I’ve still got a beginner’s mind! And so it’s back to school I go ….

Every Breath Is a New Beginning

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I caught 11:11 on 1-11, and what else do I need to tell you about my feeling of a fresh start? Well, it’s the new moon. I got my period today. Literally, talk about being in the flow!

11:11 is a powerful number because, as someone once told me, when you look at it sideways it is a staircase to God.

I’m also two fresh weeks into a triumphant return to the gym — I write it like this not because of my performance in the gym’s boxing classes but because it was difficult for me to sign up for a membership. You’d think it would be just me walking up with a credit card, a form of official ID, and a smile, but alas this was not the case here in Spain.

Many normal life activities require registration numbers known as a NIE, or the foreigner identity number. It’s the way they keep track of economic, professional, or social activities of expats like me. I don’t have one, mostly because I haven’t had time for the paperwork and the bureaucratic headaches.

I also do not have another important number, known as an IBAN. Every reader who isn’t from North America likely has an IBAN, as it is a number that allows you to transfer funds from one bank account to another. This was my sticky wicket with the gym, but I finally got it sorted thanks to a great friend here on Gran Canaria.

That’s not all on which I’ve recently embarked. I’ll soon be teaching yoga online by donation (more on that soon!), thanks to a friend I met in the Bahamas who is starting a digital studio that is giving the vast proceeds to charity. I asked for 22% of the donations, which gives me the option of giving back an extra 11% and still receiving 11%. You know, with the portal and everything.

I’m also launching into the next phase of the project of producing One-Way Ticket, the creative non-fiction book that I foreshadowed back in 2020 when I was driving the Shanti Shack through Wyoming. Now that the paperback and eBook is released and selling, I’m now getting ready to begin recording the audiobook. It’s 522 pages, so I know this will take a while to produce. I’m learning new software and buying new hardware, and I’m enjoying the new medium.

It's like that new car smell — except without all the chemical off-gassing. In fact, I’ve been living a very healthy life: Being off the sugars and staying away from all bread has also been new for me. It’s still hard to walk past all the bakeries here and not get pulled in for a straight-from-the-oven little bit of love. I have to remember, of course, that bread is not a good substitute for love.

Here is a picture of my friend's new puppy Banjo, because he's just so cute!

And so, with the help of my new acupuncturist and my new online therapist, I am moving forward through this powerful portal. I am releasing the old stories of the past (literally — I honestly do not recommend crafting a memoir from recent past that requires a detached perspective! It was such extreme self-analysis!). I am instead forward-focused on my vision of the future.

What exactly is that, you may ask? Well, there’s the $64,000 question, except first you must convert that number into euros, thanks. Everyone I know, including my parents, always want to know where I’ll be living in the next month. That’s not new: I’m staying in the warmest part of Europe as long as there is snow on the ground anywhere south of London.

The newness here isn’t geographic, which is a first in a while, but rather an identity shift. As you know, our thoughts and feelings influence our behavior. Our consistent behavior becomes our habits, and our habits become our lives. Change starts with thoughts.

I speak clear and relaxed Spanish! I am fit and flexible! I have completed the audiobook, and it’s been accepted by the Audible platform! I choose to feel good and happy every day!

It’s hard to imagine your future self. But the reality is that we are always, in fact, our future self. Think about how every breath is a new beginning. The truth is that we are constantly changing, and we are constantly becoming who we are going to be in the very next moment.

Whenever I see 11:11, I imagine it is a wink from the Universe telling me that I am supported, am on the right track, and setting up my future self for success!

It’s easier to remember — and presume you’re not going to change — than it is to imagine something we don’t know yet.

So, OK. Change is indeed inevitable. How do you want to change? We’re responsible for our lives, based on the flow of how our thoughts eventually turn into our lives. I’ve got a lot, including a 60-Day Challenge to Change I’m running with a couple of friends. It’s hard, but I’ve been pretty good with daily exercise, studying Spanish every day, and writing the new weekly blogs. Now that I’m at the beginning of my menstrual cycle, I can restart my fasting regime. My last 60 days messed up my hormones, but now I’m in the know thanks to reading Fast Like a Girl.

After all, the goal here is to create a life where I feel filled with bliss all the time. As I grow into the highest expression of myself, I’ll feel fulfilled with my work and creative projects. I’ll rest in the feeling of abundance and joy. I’ll feel gratitude for the hard moments and inspired by what I accomplish. I’ll be excited when I wake up. As my friend Monika says, I’ll follow the feel good.

Connection is perhaps the best feeling, and the 1-11 portal reminds us that we are all one, too. How many ones do you need to see to get this message? The more connected you are with yourself and your plan for the future, the more you will be supported by the energy of unity. With that, you can create anything and beyond that which you can even imagine!

It Takes a Long Time To Grow an Old Friend

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I have never struggled to make friends at any age — provided, of course, I can speak their language. A simple, “Hi, that’s a neat t-shirt” is usually enough of an opener to see if a person is interesting, kind, and fun enough to spend time with.

I like to exchange names early in the process of getting to know someone, too. I ask repeatedly if they have a unique name that’s tricky to remember. I often ask for a spelling. I want to get it right because I like it when people know my name is Suzanne and not Susan. It shows they care, if only a little.

Of course, I misjudge people all the time. New friends can disappoint me, and I’m forced to start over socially wherever I am. It’s good to balance new and old friends. Keeping a healthy group of friends and developing long-term relationships that are positive and supportive are part of the next-level work.

It’s easy to find a bunch of drinking buddies. Just show up at the bar. But making friends who help you get to the next phase of your growth? That’s something else. It isn’t easy to find people who understand that you will be different next time they see you, and that your growth doesn’t discount their growth (or lack thereof). When friends can’t handle your growth, you’ve outgrown them. Thus, the need for new friends.

Remember the 1980s TV show "Bosom Buddies"? Two guys can't find an apartment so they dress in drag to live in a women's only building. Talk about going all-in for a friend. And isn't it funny how outrageous that show would be today?

For many people, making new friends is a challenging task. Currently, I am one of those people because I live in a country where I barely speak the language. I can have a nice transaction when buying persimmons from the man with glasses and puffy, gray hair at the fruit market, and I can chat a little with the people in my weekly meditation group. But when it comes to making jokes on the bus, I instead tend to look uncomfortably out the window.

I won’t lie: On the bus, I’m likely listening to a podcast or an audiobook (in English, no less) in my earphones. I’m not even open to someone who speaks my language and could say something I’d appreciate. When earphones aren’t an option — like in the sauna, for example — I close off my body language to avoid conversation. I reply in mumbles. I’m too insecure in my Spanish for friendly small talk.

Insecurity, it seems, is at the heart of many missed friendships. When you allow yourself to be open to a stranger, you are by definition vulnerable. They may reject you. They may laugh at you. And in my case, they may talk so darn fast that I stare blankly at them and muster up what little sense of humor I can find to laugh at myself in the situation.

You may think that you make a poor first impression and that many people don’t really like you enough to want to form a friendship. This is known as the Liking Gap, and it’s scientifically proven false. People like you just fine. People like you more than you think they like you.

As a way to sweep that insecurity under the rug, you may think that making new friends is kid stuff. After all, remember how easy it was to make friends in school? Lindsay happened to have the same permed, brown hair and glasses as I did. I had to decide in that seventh-grade moment whether this pseudo-doppelgänger would be my best friend or my arch enemy. I’m glad I choose the former.

Are you more likely to be friends with someone who looks like you? I suspect so, but I also think it's a shame that we miss out on horizon-expanding connections. Source:

Maybe you think you have enough friends. Me, I never do. I would love to run into someone (besides the man at the fruit market) who smiles when they see me every day. I love it when my friends call me or send me a note. I love to support people through their hard times, paying it forward for the inevitable time when things turn upside-down in my life. We’re all in this together, right?

I’ve recently learned about Dunbar’s Number, which states that due to the size of the human brain we can only maintain 150 meaningful contacts — or, in other words, real friendships.

This concept is based on research by Robin Dunbar, who breaks down the theory into concentric circles of different levels of friendship maximums. We tend to only have five of our closest loved ones, 15 good friends, 50 actual friends, 150 meaningful contacts, 500 acquaintances, and 1,500 people you can recognize on the street and offer a passing hello.

Yes, people who consider themselves extroverted may have a larger network of meaningful contacts, for example. But then introverts may have a larger number of very close friends. Women tend to have more close friends than men, according to the research.

How this research fares in the face of social media is an interesting debate. If you’re like me, you are already thinking about the number of people who are your Facebook friends. I currently have 1,842 Facebook friends, and I have shaken the hand of 95%.

The few whom I haven’t met in person, I’ve likely connected with through a group and have embarked on an accountability challenge together. For example, it’s fun to stay in touch with Agnes, the woman from Kenya with whom I shared an extended fasting experience when I lived in Uruguay. People who are different than you may, indeed, have a lot in common.

A few years ago, I culled my Facebook list down by about 500 contacts. Did those people even notice that I wasn’t in their news feed anymore? Unlikely, according to Dunbar’s Number. Those people were those who never felt like they wanted me to win. They were “frienemies,” and we can all do with fewer of those in our lives.

What about those people who have assistants who send flowers on birthdays and reply to invitations? Of course, they have more people in their lives because they’re paying someone to do the emotional work of friendship. After all, friendship can be work.

Currently, I have a number of friends going through hardship. More than one is breaking up with her lackluster boyfriend. Another is quitting drinking alcohol. Another is trying to get a new job. Another is struggling with losing weight. Another is having trouble with family. I talk with all of these friends regularly on the phone. I want them to succeed. I spend time listening.

After all, I think that listening is the true key to friendship. How good of a listener are you? We all move so fast in today’s world, scrolling with limited and disrupted focus. Even my father, during the annual holiday video call, was staring out the window as we talked. He’s so used to Twitter and TV that I’ve grown boring. Friendship requires patience as we develop a slow-moving, in-depth understanding of another person.

It’s part of why I wrote a long, creative non-fiction book in the first-person. It’s a disruptive experiment to see if people would sit down and get to know the main character, who happens to be me. There’s no scrolling mindlessly through a 500-page book. I love long-form prose because it requires a little investment on behalf of the reader. I sure hope it’s worth it — for my old friends, new friends, and people I’ll never meet.

It takes a long time to grow an old friend. And friendship won’t grow unless you first plant the seed.

Hey, Adults: Let’s Have a Little Talk About Emotional Regulation

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What does it mean to be an adult?

It’s a fun question about in the (inevitable?) messy family aftermath of Christmas. Come on, admit it. You totally know what Ram Dass was talking about when he said, “If you think you’re enlightened, go spend a week with your family.”

I live on the other side of the world from my family — and not without reason. Many of my friends refuse to see certain people in their family over the holidays, creating boundaries and heartache as they learn to carve out safe emotional spaces in their lives. It takes a lot of self-awareness and inner growth to break free from unhealthy family dynamics. And I don’t even have Trumpers in the family, thank God. We all agree politically, at least there’s that.

The holidays can be a really hard time for adults. You have to deal with your family and go into debt at the same time buying everyone the perfect expression of your love for them. Add in excessive sugar, baked goods, and alcohol, and it’s exhausting physically, emotionally, and mentally. I’ve become sensitive to the disruption of Circadian rhythms, and of course my clients want to wrap up big projects by the end of the year.

I have been living in Stressville. (Can I keep plugging my book by saying that I hope it’s not a one-way ticket? Yes, I think I can.)

Not everyone I know has a challenging relationship with the end-of-the-year holiday season. I also have friends with amazingly loving and fun families who make each other smile and provide support whenever someone is in need. But those families can get messy, too.

Life is messy. The older we get, often the messier it gets. Trauma has a way of coming into every life in an endless variety of ways.

So, the question is then, OK, adults: How do you handle things when life gets messy?

Remember when Marie Kondo admitted that she could no longer be tidy while raising three kids? Perfectionism is the ultimate emotional constipation. Humans are imperfect by design.

When you are overcome with emotions that are complex and difficult to process, what do you do to get yourself back to a calm center? This is called emotional regulation, and I suspect it’s at the heart of what it means to be an adult. I wrote about adulting when I turned forty, but I was just starting to feel the feels then.

Now, I live in a Spanish city where I hear a lot of this: “MIRA! MIRA! MIRA!” which, often from the mouth of babes, translates loosely as, “Please turn your eyeballs toward me, because I am so insecure as to whether or not you even love me and if you give me some positive attention, all is right in my world.” If the plea is ignored, it’s usually shortly followed by screaming or sobs.

Who witnessed a Christmas meltdown? Raise your hand.

I feel this. I sometimes regress to a plea for attention, but in a mature, type-A go-getter way. I win awards, publish books, travel around the world, and live a big life filled with love. I’ve done a lot of work to relax from within (to stop the MIRA!) and regulate my emotions (to have as little crying and acting out as possible).

I’m not always successful. We all “fall off the wagon,” right? We commit to a healthy way of living, and then we veer off course for whatever reason. I participate in a few accountability groups, and I often see and hear excuses from others. I read recently to call them “reasons” instead of “excuses.” But if you’re arguing with yourself over something you “want” to do, well, you’re arguing against success on your own terms.

I’m not always perfect with my daily healthy habits, but I’m better than if I didn’t try to do them at all. I know that I only do what I want to do. So, if I don’t do something, it’s because I just don’t prioritize it.

My friend Michael, may he rest in peace, told me once about how he wanted to date a woman who hated cigarette smoke. So, he quit the next day. I’ll never forget that. Nicotine is one of the most addictive substances! Yet, his story shows that controlling your behavior — just like regulating your emotions — is mind over matter. (He returned to smoking once they broke up.)

And wow, do those habits come in handy when life starts handing you lemons. You’ll go one of two paths when the cookie crumbles: You cry like a baby, or you deal with it like an adult. I currently employ a mix of both.

Perhaps babies cry because they know how hard life is and parents say "no no everything is fine" because they've forgotten. The baby's right: There's a lot to cry about. Emotional regulation is hard.

Your ability to regulate your emotions and relax back into the feeling determines where you fall on the spectrum of adulthood. As you get older, you have to learn how to the “feel the feels” and be OK with it all —or else you suffer.

Sorry to break it to you, but I’m surely not the only one: You simply can’t drink, eat, shop, sex, scroll, drug, or video-game the bad feelings away. Well, you can, but it’s only temporary. When you stuff down your emotions, you end up with what I call emotional constipation. It feels worse. Then you have to medicate for that along with whatever was the problem in the first place.

The older you are, the more likely your emotional constipation, or so it seems. There’s just more to stuff down. So many older people can’t take a joke. If I hear one more person complain about how grammar rules are more important than people’s feelings over what pronoun they want to identify with, I’m going semicolon. And those young whippersnappers also are so soft that they can’t get poked without crying. It’s time for everyone to regulate.

Not every senior is a grump, of course. I loved the TED Radio Hour interview with Dan Buettner, the National Geographic researcher of the Blue Zones, where people live the longest. He said longest-living humans are full of joy and fun to be around. It’s not just about staying alive a long time — you also want to live a happy life along the way. You want to be emotionally fit along while also being able to avoid slip-and-falls. One way to do this is through the concept of Ikigai.

The idea is that people stay alive when they have a good reason to do so. For many people in Blue Zones, researchers discovered that even a simple garden can qualify as a raison d’être. Having something to do with yourself is part of emotional regulation.

This reminds me of the dog in my apartment complex. It barks for hours. It took me a while to realize that it was the same as shouting “MIRA! MIRA! MIRA!” That same universal cry for attention and love. Unfortunately, the dog can’t very well tend a garden. But adults can.

I have an abundance of things to do in my day. I’m never bored. Years ago, I learned about bullet journaling. That’s a system that uses pen and paper notebooks to create simple, personalized daily planners. I carried one for years (I used one like this), and my favorite section each month was a habit tracker. I drew an X-Y access with the day numbers of the month on the X and my habits on the Y. When I completed a task, I made a bullet point on my chart. I’ve been tracking habits for years, although I got rid of the paper journal this year.

Now that I’m a full-fledged adult without children, real estate, or possessions beyond what I can stuff into my trusty 65-liter backpack, I use a digital app called Habit Tracker. This list of things I want to do with myself every day encourages me to stay off social media, away from the ice cream, and other not-great activities. It’s rare that I check everything in a day because I have a big list.

When I don’t know what else to do because I’m overwhelmed with emotions, I can act on autopilot with these healthy activities. I’m more likely to lace up my shoes and take a walk along the paseo if I do that every day. I know somehow that I should call a beloved friend to talk if I make a habit of connecting every day. I will pick up my ukulele and sing a song, even if I feel bad, if that’s something I do daily.

Beyond being able to regulate my emotions, these habits help me create the life I want to live. If you think, gosh that’s a lot, then you’ve already started making excuses for why you shouldn’t be the main character in your life story. Your list can look however you want it to look. My daily habit goals include:

  • Daily intermittent fasting
  • Daily exercise
  • Estudio español
  • Meditation
  • No scrolling
  • No junk food
  • No alcohol
  • Good sleep
  • Play ukulele
  • Journal
  • Drink water and take vitamins
  • Connect with friends
  • Rest (usually a nap)
  • Seva (selfless service)
  • Be in nature
  • Make money
  • Write weekly blog post (check!)

If I do all those things every day, I don’t have time for the unhealthy stuff. I won’t have time for unhealthy thoughts. I won’t do unhealthy things. I’ll feel better. I’ll be better prepared for when the inevitable chaotic storm approaches. Because it’s coming, fellow adults: The next family holiday will be here before you know it. Will you be ready?