Open vs closed

One of my very dear friends and I were having a conversation about random encounters with strangers. Specifically, how many people I had talked to in the airport on a particular trip. The number was high. He was shocked.

It all started because I was telling a story about this woman who gave me her phone number in the baggage claim area just in case I was ever in Virginia. I had just met her, but she had pretty much caught me up on her life until that point as we sat watching the carousel spin without any hope of ever seeing our bags. I was fairly certain that the hatch of the plane opened and all of our luggage flew out and management was still working up the nerve to tell us what happened.

My friend asked, "How often does that happen to you. Conversations with total strangers."

"All the freaking time," I replied.

"That's just weird. It rarely happens to me."

Well, the difference between us is I am very open where he is very closed.

I walk around most of the time with my head up, eyes open, and with a curiousity that seeps out of my pores. I'm nosey, I eavesdrop, and I generally want to know what is going on a majority of the time.

He tends to not make as much eye contact, keeps his attention very focused on his own business, and generally has a phone, book, or something else to show the world that he had rather not be bothered.

My persona tends to be open invitational and his is more invite only.

Fantastic guy, but you may need to wait a little while for your invite.

That is fine. We are just different.

But I use this to illustrate the point when it comes to opportunities. I try my best to be open to those as well. Open to the universe. Leaning in to eavesdrop on what she is trying to tell me, or hell, even tell other people. Nosey, remember? I got FOMO (fear of missing out), and so I don't want to miss anything. Not saying I don't, but I try not to. I look for the signs and coincidences. I try to hear the whispers and clues she leaves for us.

Like I mentioned yesterday, the universe loves to see us succeed. Think of a kind and gentle mentor that isn't overbearing, listens to your requests, and tries to get you to your happy place–if it thinks it's right for you. It will point you in a different direction if you just have it all wrong.

But it's not just listening to the universe, it's saying I hear you. Saying thank you. Showing gratitude for its gifts.

I recommend this. It's a beautiful concept.

Some people ignore the whispers of the universe, or remain so closed off that they are not approachable. If you are closed off to the universe, then it is not going to bother trying to talk to you. Not unless you are standing on its foot. Which, it might just give you a shove–cause you have already proven that you don't listen anyway.

So, if you aren't doing it already, give it a try. Open your eyes wide. Eavesdrop. Show your curiosity. And when she speaks to you, remember to say thank you.

P.S. I did get my bags at the airport. I'm also a bit impatient.

Inspiration, Creation, and Magic

The universe is a magical place full of mystery, connections, and energy. It’s also a clever beast that wants to see its people succeed and grow. It will drop off a special little something in our path, but leave it entirely up to us to find the message buried inside. Sometimes that something it drops is a chance encounter with an individual.

Several months ago, I met a special person with whom I had a very brief but yet deep connection. This person had traveled a similar path as me, but they were much further up the trail. They had crossed the toughest parts of the terrain and could now show me a map of what was to come. My journey would be my own, of course, but it was nice to know there was a clearing up ahead in which I would be able to sit and relax.

In one of our conversations, we spoke about beliefs and inspiration. He highly recommended a book to me that I am about to highly recommend to you. Pay it forward, if you will. And not just a single book, an entire person.

Elizabeth Gilbert

Yes, the Eat, Pray, Love lady.

She has a book that she released back in 2015, called Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear. This beautiful creation is the closest thing I’ve seen to my own personal feelings about inspiration and the creative process, but followed by actual advice on how to harness it without losing your damn mind.

Now, at the time the book was recommended to me, I was not ready. I was not ready to create. I was still very much battling my own personal demons with swords and daggers. (We can talk about those later. Or not. We’ll see.)

However, months later I was beginning a deep dive into Ted Talks on Youtube, and I stumbled across this.

I was amazed. This was the most magical, yet healthy way I had ever heard the creative process explained.  I had tried to describe this feeling in the past, but it wasn’t this lovely conduit. It was more like being possessed. The “YES, MASTER” kind of slave to the idea.

I then remembered the podcast by Liz Gilbert my friend had also suggested in the same conversation, titled Magic Lessons, which was a follow up to her book. I downloaded it and began listening as Liz took a person in each episode, scooped them up, pumped them full of inspiration and advice, and gingerly placed them back on their creative journey. Then followed that with interviews with other amazing and inspirational creators. The podcast is so full of such inspiration, hope, and good advice that I felt guilty listening to it. I wasn’t creating. I still wasn’t ready. An idea was forming, but it wasn’t ready for the world yet. Hell, I wasn’t ready for the world yet.

Fast forward a few more months. After internally screaming, I need to write. I need to create!, I decided to block off a few hours just for me. I sat down, and I meditated, trying to find and nurture whatever this thing was inside of me. This idea. This mumbling, incomprehensible idea. This grew from a meditation session to a full blown séance, with candles and the whole 9 yards. I am here. I am listening. But I wasn’t trying to commune with the dead, I wanted to commune with this idea.

About the time I was ready to give up, my eyes shot open, my fingertips tingled, and my body filled with energy. In my mind’s eye, I not only saw the idea, but where this idea could go. The idea in the future. The path my life could take if I was to hold the hand of this little idea and follow it through infancy, childhood, adolescence, and adulthood. I could grow old with this idea. If I promised to love, honor, and cherish it.

The next day I began writing down the steps I needed to take in order to make this idea a reality. I loved this idea so much and I was afraid of losing it, losing our connection. I have loved ideas before, and then lost that loving feeling. So, this isn’t an unfounded fear.

Then, I remembered Liz. The next morning on my way to work, I decided to listen to her podcast. I had one downloaded in my queue from before that I hadn’t listened to yet. So, I hit play.

Magic Lessons: Episode 209 w/ Glennon Doyle Melton

There could not have been a more perfect thing for me to hear in that moment. It was so perfect that I cried. The beautiful tear-streaked face of a person who had been reunited with her passion after returning from battle.

I, then, began building. Putting up the framework of a blog and platform to put this thing in motion. I wrote the first few posts, and then immediately began reading Big Magic. I wanted Liz whispering to me every day as I began this journey. She is the best person to walk alongside of me. For I’ve seen the magic she speaks of, and I need her guidance on how to be as open a conduit as I can be.

Taking Inventory: The importance of a life assessment

A heavy sigh comes from the kitchen.

"Why didn't you buy more milk at the store?", the boy asks.

"I didn't realize we were out," I mutter, defensively.

I had just went to the store earlier in the day. I jotted down what I knew we needed and darted off to knock this task off my large and ever increasing to-do list. However, I didn't really stop and do a full inventory. So, guess what I get to do now. Yup. Go back to the store.

When we are deciding we want to make a change in our life, it's a good idea to take a full inventory. What are we doing well? What habits have we outgrown? What do we need to work into our life? We need to open up the pantry,  peer into the fridge, and see what's still hanging out in the freezer. Fully evaluate and be honest with yourself about how things are going. Once you know exactly the areas of your life that need some TLC, then you can build a plan of how to do just that.

Just like building a grocery list, there are templates available to help you get started on assessing your life and your self care. Here are some resources I found.

Lovable You: A Best Self Inventory by Positive Living Now

Self Care Wheel by Olga Phoenix

Self Care Assessment Source: Transforming the Pain: A Workbook on Vicarious Traumatization. Saakvitne, Pearlman & Staff of TSI/CAAP (Norton, 1996)

For me, I have 10 areas that I want to primarily focus on.

  1. Journal – It's important to keep track of your thoughts and progress. It's a great way to plan, continue to access how things are going, and to continue to take inventory of your life. It helps to stay accountable, present, and aware. This blog will be part of that process, but I won't be publishing every mundane thought I have here. You're welcome.
  2. Exercise – I did a wonderful job in my past life of losing a lot of weight through both diet and regular exercise. However, I have put a decent chunk of that back on after my divorce. Part of it, I can toss the blame over to a shoulder surgery back in November, but the rest is time, excuses, and placing my energy in other things. I have to move this up the on my priority list. I feel slower and heavier, and my energy level is in the toilet. Exercise is this weird thing where it takes a bunch of energy to do it, but then your body and mind turns around and thanks you by giving you twice the energy later. Not to mention all the mood-enhancing benefits.
  3. Nutrition – My eating habits have become atrocious. I am fully aware of how wonderful I feel when I am filling my plate with leafy green vegetables, lean meats, and healthy fats. However, I have been spending a few months feeding my emotions, and my emotions love tacos, beer, and nachos. It's fine and dandy if I chow down on these things in moderation, but let's be real –  I got lots of emotions.
  4. Finances – I need to do a better job of respecting my money, think a little bit more before spending, and pay attention to what is going out of my bank account.
  5. Housework – I did a lot of work on organizing my home, and I plan to share that with you. But, I do want to do a better job of the routine items, by building a plan to stay on top of things. I feel like there are little elves running around making messes, and then giggling as I stare at the new clutter wondering where in the hell it came from. (Hint: those aren't elves, but more likely #6 and #7 of my list.)
  6. Kids - A new school year just started, so I want to do my best to help them succeed. I have two kids, 10 and 15. The thing about being a parent is that just about the time you think you have it all figured out, they go and throw new things your way. It's like you set the rules, but then the game keeps changing. Chore lists, adhd research, online safety, college prep, nutrition – there is much to do here. I know I could do better in this area. Who couldn't, really? The "perfect parent" is just as rare as the unicorn.
  7. Dog Training – On New Year's Day, I took my kids to the humane society, and we got a puppy. Now, that was not the plan when I left the house. The logical, non-emotional plan was to go look at full grown dogs, and begin the search for the best dog that would fit into our family. A full grown dog. Well, I took one look into Cosmo's eyes and I was done for. Helpless! (for the Hamilfans). We brought this 8 week old pup home with us with nothing but a bag of puppy food and a leash. We had no clue what we were getting into. Now, it is 7 months later, the children have claimed amnesia on the promises to help, and I'm still relatively clueless. He is a bundle of love and joy, but he is also probably the greatest source of stress. Nothing quite like chasing a dog around the room because he has just stolen your son's glasses, while you cringe at hearing the sound of plastic being crunched between his teeth. This is after 6 weeks of puppy classes! Sigh. Love him, but lord help me.
  8. Appearance/Physical Care – Sometimes this gets neglected. When it comes to how I spend my time, my appearance and physical care ends up somewhere on the bottom of the list. My makeup routine takes 7 minutes. My hair – well, I wash and brush it. I shower and smell nice, so don't go imagining Pig-Pen from the Peanuts. However, an elaborate facial regimen to keep my face as smooth and wrinkle free as a teenager – newp. I'm not saying that I want to go sign up for botox (no offense to anyone), but I do recognize that this is the only body I get – so I should take better care of it.
  9. Writingand Creating– I have missed writing soooooo much. I don't know how I went from writing pages and pages every single day to disappearing from the written universe. Art is key to a person's survival, no matter your form of creativity. Expressing yourself creatively keeps you sane. I think part of the problem is that I stopped reading.  I listen to podcasts, and occasionally, I download an audiobook. However, there is nothing like sitting and reading a book. Words on the page feed your creativity like no other fuel source. (a top contender is nature, but i digress.)
  10. Spirituality – This is different for everyone, but putting time into appreciating the universe is important. Connecting to your calling, a higher power, and the world around you keeps you grounded. For me, this is done in meditation, in reflective thought, practicing gratitude, and exploration. I'm not a religious person, but I am deeply spiritual. When I ignore that side of my personality, I tend to feel disconnected and lost. It was in meditation that I felt called to do this–to type these words–to start this blog–to try to connect with you.

Over the next few months, I will be posting about what I'm doing and what resources I have found to improve my life in these areas. Let me know what you need help with. What areas are you wanting to focus on? If it's not on my list already, then I will see what resources I can find. Don't get me wrong–there are other areas I need some help with, but top 10 lists work much better than top 28. 🙂

Together we can become better versions of ourselves.

Identity: A Fresh Start

There are a lot of struggles when you go through a divorce, but a major blow is to your identity. You are no longer a spouse, and if you are female, there is a high chance that you will have to decide what to do about your name.

At first, I planned to keep mine–the married one. I, mean, my identity was very much wrapped up in it. I was a mom, a writer, and an employee. I had grown under that name. I blossomed. Most of my adult life existed under that label. But, after much consideration and about six months after the divorce, I decided to go back to my maiden name. I needed to embrace the truth that everything was different and therefore I was different.

It was so bizarre the first time someone called me Ms. Rhodes. I clearly remember thinking that familiar line, "Ms. Rhodes is my mom." But with this new name came a clean slate. A fresh start.

When you start fresh, you get to decide what your identity will become, because our identities are fluid. They are based on who we are now, and who we are aspiring to be. They are influenced by our past, but they are not our past. We do not have to remain the same individuals that previously existed. What we have lived through teaches us, and we have the opportunity to take those experiences and convert them into something fresh. Or, meh, we can remain the same. But, it up to us, because we are the ones to decide when to take action.

Everyone of us has the opportunity to start fresh in any given moment. We can stop the thing we are addicted to, we can start doing the thing we put off, we can learn about the thing we want to know, and we can decide to make a difference in the lives of others. It starts with deciding to do it. Then, with a little planning, much soul-searching, , and a ton of stick-to-it-ness, we can do the thing.

That is what I decided to do with my blog. I decided to start fresh. I posted for years (2008-2013) as AJ Frey. I did quite well. Not famous level, but I was part of a community. There were people who were very intrigued by my book, Iron Thirst.  After a while though, I found it too hard to keep showing up. I sat it down, and I put my focus and determination towards other things. (Capoeira, actually.) We can do this. Sometimes we realize there is another area of our lives that needs our focus, and our priorities shift. This happens for both positive and negative reasons. Maybe, we just need a fresh start.

When I decided to embark on this adventure, I felt that this journey needed its own blog under a new name since this whole thing is about building my new identity. (However, as you can tell, I'll share a few posts from the old blog from time to time.)

Next post, I will talk about my top 10 areas that need a bit of improvement. In the meantime, keep the conversation going below.

What are you missing in your life? What do you want to do better?

What bad habit are you ready to replace with a better one?

Who do you want to be?

Hi, my name is AJ Rhodes…

helloAllow me to introduce myself.  I’m a barely domesticated mom of two, holding down a full-time job, and a life that is a bit disjointed at the moment. I’m an addict of self-help books and am full of great ideas on how to improve other people’s lives, but struggle with my own.

Now, I haven’t always been a total mess. At various times in my life, I have had my shit together: checkbook balanced, dedicated exercise routine, time for friends and passions, a rockstar at work, a healthy eater, clean house, well-adjusted kids – all of it. I wrote blogs and books. I showed up to writing conferences. I practiced capoeria. I was the queen of How Does She Do It.

Then, about two years ago, my husband and I split up. We split up the belongings, the bills, the time with the kids — everything. Damn near 50/50. It was the right decision, but often times, right doesn’t mean easy. It is a unique experience to go from doing half the stuff 100% of the time to doing 100% of the stuff 100% of the time. There were things that I had to learn, and things I am STILL learning. Despite not being properly prepared to deal with it, things would pop  up and scream, “Um, well you have to deal with it— so suck it up!”

It was like learning how to juggle all over again. I quickly realized that I had to put a few things down and just start with the basics. Kids, Work, and Home – those were the three things I needed to focus on. I had to put down writing, capoeira, exercise breaks, time with friends, etc. I was in survival mode.

Once I had my arms wrapped around that a bit more, then I needed to work on healing. I did this is a very private space. Alone.

I am now ready to move to the next chapter. To create a life that I love. One that includes the things that are important to me. I would love for you to join me. Maybe it will help you get to that next level, too. My goal is to share my struggles, my accomplishments, my writing, and my soul in the hopes of touching others who struggle with similar issues. In future posts, I plan to share books, music, articles, recipes, life hacks, inspiration, humorous stories, and most importantly, my truth.

Welcome to  A LIFE CREATED…