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The Absence and The Presence

Let’s bring a prevalent-but-often-unspoken portion of our collective pandemic pain into the light and examine it because, as Mister Rogers taught me, anything mentionable is manageable.

The goal here is simply to name the pain you might be feeling and to let you know you’re not alone. Not to judge or scold you. Not to induce guilt or shame. Simply to mention what’s happening so that you/I/we can manage it going forward.

Psst! This is an episode of my podcast, That’s What She Said! View all 250+ episodes here. Keep reading or listen in for the extended version. 👇🏼

Story #1:

We arrive around 2:30 in the afternoon and put our bags down and go running out the back doors: mud.

Where the Airbnb photos promised us a shimmering and scenic body of water, there is only mud.

Smelly, foul-looking, deep deep mud.

“WELP, that’s climate change,” I mutter, and then the three of us sit quietly on the dock.

“I mean, it’s not like we can complain because they can’t control the water.”

“At least we have shade when we sit out here…?”

We sit with the disappointment, breathing into this girls’ weekend’s VERY ABSENT piece de resistance: shimmering, soothing, nature-y water.

A few minutes later, Dawn perks up: “Is there more water than there used to be?”

Where there was a teeny tiny steam of water moving through the mud, there’s now more water…a flowing stream.

The wading birds arrive and catch the tiniest fish glinting in the incoming bay water.

“IT’S LIKE A NATURE SHOW!” I exclaim. We watch the tide coming in like toddlers, amazed by every last detail.

More birds arrive: herons and gulls and little swooping birds I can’t name. We watch more bird fishing go down, sometimes by wading and sometimes by dive bombing from above.

Within two hours, the dock is once again perched over water. Amazing, soothing, nature-y water.

If you’re laughing because we didn’t realize tides could mean there’s NO water and then LOTS of water — YUP. I’ve only ever seen the ocean, which never just disappears from the beaches I’ve visited, so this was a shocker.

It’s also a metaphor for the whole thing: The Absence and The Presence.

There was an absence, which we felt (and smelled), and then there was a presence, which we appreciated all the more because minutes before we had resigned ourselves to ‘enjoying’ the view of the smelly mud.

At some level this is how all of life works, starting with breathing itself. There’s the absence of breath — the exhale — followed by the presence of breath — the inhale. One follows the other for as long as we live. The tides roll in and out; we work, we rest; the sun rises, the sun sets. Presence, absence, presence, absence.

Story #2:

The aforementioned girls’ weekend was strictly unplugged. We used GPS to get to the property and to navigate to the next major town, but that was it. No games, music, apps, news, email, texts, phone calls, or notifications. We were gloriously free of our devices and could fully sink into presence.

We watched nature and went exploring and cooked dinner and talked and laughed and cried and slept and read books and connected deeply. The Absence of phones allowed for The Presence of our full selves.

On Tuesday, when I sat down to work, my interiors were experiencing FLAMING HOT RAGING CONVULSIONS OF FREAK-OUT. Inner tantrum levels were similar to those of a Kindergartener who refuses to get dressed and go to school while the bus is pulling up to her stop. There was crying and flailing. There was an outright refusal to get to work even though the clock said it was time to begin.

‘What’s going on,’ I asked myself…and the answer was SCREENS.

What’s this about? Why am I FREAKING THE FUCK OUT when I’ve just had so much rest and connection?

Unless the connection IS the problem.

The Presence of other humans in deep time contrasted so sharply with firing up my laptop and getting to my online work that my whole being threw a righteous fit.

I am starved for deep human Presence and connection.

And I’ll bet you are, too.

The modern world is dominated by Absence.

You’re talking to someone and they pick up their phone to pay attention to a notification: ABSENCE.

You’re in the middle of a story when a call or text arrives and the other person leaps to their device: ABSENCE.

You don’t know what to do with the afternoon so you fire up a streaming service and grab some chips: ABSENCE.

You’re bored af so you spend the next few minutes/hours/days scrolling on social media: ABSENCE.

Devices all but guarantee that Absence rules the room.

Further! We’re *promised* Presence by social media — LOOK HOW MANY INFLUENCERS ARE INFLUENCING RIGHT NOW — but rarely experience it.

We’re given infinite numbing tools — ABSENCE — and wonder why we don’t feel more connected to ourselves. Or each other. (Some days navigating the internet feels like eating three pounds of fake bacon and hoping that if I eat enough of it, I’ll forget how actual, real, not-fake bacon tastes.)

We’re respectful of public safety as the Delta variant continues to circulate — ABSENCE — and don’t see/touch/hug/interact with as many humans in any two weeks of 2021 as we had access to on any given *day* in The Before.

I am starved for human connection, and giving me a taste of Presence for a few days only made The Absence in the other days more obvious.

I WANT MORE PRESENCE.

The Absence of screens allows for The Presence of deep and rich human connection.

The Presence of screens causes unhappiness, full stop.

“The results could not be clearer: teens who spend more time on screen activities are more likely to be unhappy, and those who spend more time than average on nonscreen activities are more likely to be happy.

There’s not a single exception.

All screen activities are linked to less happiness and all nonscreen activities are linked to more happiness.” — From The Atlantic’s article, ‘Has the Smartphone Destroyed a Generation‘ by Jean M. Twenge, Sept 2017

These ‘screens mean unhappiness’ findings were evident BEFORE pandemic. BEFORE we had less human connection than ever before due to Covid.

The longer pandemic goes on, the more acutely I feel The Absence. There’s a hollowed out version of my heart that remembers walking up to babies in Target and making them giggle for no good reason. It also remembers life before smartphones and before Zoom and even before the internet itself. When we had nowhere to be but right here…and even if ‘right here’ was objectively terrible…at least we were here TOGETHER.

That’s gone now. Absence.

What’s Present is infinite scrolling. More (and more AND MORE AND MORE!) posts, reels, likes, clicks, streams, and feeds. The Absence of meaning.

Ongoing stress so enormous that 100% of my clients report remembering fewer details and needing to write more stuff down so they’ll be able to do their work. The Absence of memory.

Memes stacked up in my text messages like endless mind-Doritos. (Sure, Doritos are fun. But if you only eat Doritos for a few days, we both know you’re gonna feel like garbage.) The Absence of nourishment.

Distract-ability so high that I’ve gotten off of FaceTime calls and cried because I didn’t get what I needed. Sure, I just saw my best friends, but there was so much else going on — cats! doorbells! interruptions! — that we couldn’t possibly connect deeply. The Absence of depth.

At one level, I’m being a big cry baby and whining about having to use screens to do my work, which I’m privileged enough to do from home. I acknowledge this fully and am grateful for my ability to shelter in place for the duration of pandemic.

And at another level, I’m crying about the biggest crises of our shared humanity at the soul level: The Absence of meaning, The Absence of depth, The Absence of nourishment.

“We have the same problem in our culture as we do in our bodies: we take in too much that’s nonnutritive, whether it’s junk food or junk information, and we attempt to be fed by it. We pour in so much information, so much food, and our bodies and minds and emotions get constipated, clogged, overloaded…Of the information we take in, how much of it can we actually live on and how much is crap? There’s nothing wrong with crap, but it’s an end product.” — Ana T. Forrest, Fierce Medicine

We’re collectively starving at the soul level and chiding ourselves for being unable to ‘deal with it’ or ‘walk it off’ or ‘suck it up.’

We cannot expect to live fully engaged, gorgeous lives without meaning, depth, and nourishment.

We’re so overcome by practicalities and ever-shifting logistics that we can’t see how hungry, tired, lost, and/or numb we are at this phase of pandemic.

Nature’s rhythms have absence and presence built right into their foundations: high tide, low tide. Inhale, exhale.

Screens offer Absence without a naturally occurring rhythm of Presence.

We have to consciously MAKE presence happen. We have to choose to put the phone down, place the Apple watch in the drawer, banish the iPad to the other room, turn off the TV, and move the laptop into the office.

Otherwise, The Absence eats us right up. The Absence is made of the monetization of attention, endless comparison, fear of missing out, hyper-stimulation, and scrolling. It eats away at our ability to be present with other humans until (eventually) we PREFER the presence of screens to any living, breathing being.

AND.

We can choose Presence.

We can put our goddamn phones down.

We can cultivate The Absence of screens so that we can live more engaged, three-dimensional lives.

We can ask for what we need and try again if what we asked for didn’t quite hit the mark.

We can forego memes and scrolling for Do Not Disturb mode, even for 20 minutes at a time.

We can forego social media’s greatest hits of the day for one true conversation with a human being.

We can cultivate awareness of our interiors. (Here’s a place to begin.)

We can actually feel our feelings instead of shoving them down and pretending they don’t exist. (Here’s another place to begin.)

We can share our most vulnerable thoughts and tales. (My Hall of Vulnerabilities covers cannabis, sex, depression, and that time I lost $43k on a business event.)

We can tell on ourselves in order to outsmart asshole brain.

We can admit that this shit is hard and let others know when we’re drowning.

And we can do all of this…together, if you’d like.

I’m committed to giving you deep, gorgeous, stunningly beautiful human connection this November, and it’s at an event called The Imaginarium. If you’re free from November 14-16 and can make it to Philadelphia, this is for you!

Every portion of this container is geared toward providing soul-level sustenance for the months ahead. Because YES we’re doing another winter with Covid and NO we don’t have to hate every minute of it. While you’re at the event, we’ll suss out one habit you’d like to develop for the months afterward — and then you’ll be held accountable for DOING THE THING YOU SAY YOU’RE GOING TO DO.

Also, there will be huge amounts of truth speaking:

“Truth speaking — speaking from a place of deep honesty and compassion — propels us into a very rich field of feeling. Every time we speak the truth, it shudders through the cobwebs and dimness in our lives, tapping back in to the Beauty in our world, in ourselves, and in each other. How incredibly sweet it is to be able to talk about what’s really important, stepping out from behind our facades and the stupid little conversations that we’re taught are a necessary social lubricant.” — Ana T. Forrest, Fierce Medicine

5 of the 9 spots are sold, so you can be one of the lucky 4 who get to come!

The only way to get details about The Imaginarium is to TALK TO ME about it, so please BOOK A CALL: bit.ly/coachcasso

Even if you can’t be there — can you begin to notice the Presence and The Absence, starting with your own? It names so much of what hurts about life today.

If we’re all here, present, together — there’s nothing we can’t face. But if we’re all here, distracted, absent, and unable to connect, but we’re technically in the same room? That’s a buffet of Doritos. SO EXCITING AND SHINY, but in no way nourishing.

Where can you commit to Presence? How can you double down on human connection? Who or what will help you deal with the temptation to fall into Absence and stay there? Where and when do you need to cultivate the Absence of devices in your life — in order to be more present?

These are the questions that will heal your soul.

As always, I’m committed to providing deep nourishment for every phase of your journey. From here, book a call to talk with me about 1-on-1 and/or in-person work.

If you need help cutting screen time by 2 hours or more *per day* — thus increasing your happiness, says scienceSpace will help. You’re 21 days away from More Presence, starting right here.

P.S. Don’t let the Adultopus win.

Don’t You Dare Settle for Fine

We were promised an end to the pandemic with the arrival of vaccinations, and that’s clearly not even close to happening.

What do we do now?

Don’t You Dare Settle for Fine is my answer.

Lemme help you identify both your pandemic feelings and needs in a space that’s full of laughter and the ridiculousness of being a human today.

This LIVE recording of That’s What She Said was made in the company of other humans who risked connection, emotions, and being seen — and it’s FUCKING GLORIOUS.

You can leave ‘fine’ behind with tiny, annoying progress, and you can start doing that shit TODAY.

Once you’ve listened, let me know what you discover!

🔥Book a call to talk with me about whatever you learn.

Questions, comments, ideas, epiphanies to share? Book a call!

P.S. When it comes to pandemic… Put it down.

I’m fine. It’s fine. Everything is fine.

We both know that anyone who says they’re ‘fine’ is absolutely anything BUT fine.

That’s why I want to address the places you’re ‘fine’ and help you kick ’em to the curb.

This is an episode of That’s What She Said!  Listen in for the extended version, or keep reading if you’re pressed for time.

Here are 5 spots where ‘fine’ could be tripping you up.

Which of these sound like you?

1 – “I’ll take care of everyone else, it’s fine.”

You might have succumbed to martyrdom, which those born female are trained for since birth. In my life, this looked like showing up as a perfect angel of productivity (and vacumming and cleaning and cooking!) while resenting everyone for not noticing how much I was struggling and how little energy I had to spend.

Nevermind that I never or rarely VERBALIZED my needs or desires or stunning exhaustion: it’s everyone else’s fault! They don’t understand! REAL HOUSEWIVES ARE THE ANSWER, I KNOW IT!

My martyrdom pushed me further into numbing out and trying to recover from life by…avoiding life altogether. I shoved pesky things like needs and feelings as far down as possible, piling reality TV on top of more reality TV.

👉🏻When people asked if I needed a break or would like some help, I’d say “No.” Because I was FINE.

Season 8 Whatever GIF

2 – “I’ll work even harder, it’s fine.”

If not martyrdom, you might be taking workaholism for a spin!

That looks like…

Resting: no.

Time off: nope!

Taking a break from thinking about work: never.

Fun: DEFINITELY NOT! WE HAVE WORK TO DO.

Work will help you numb out in the name of capitalism, which makes it harder for those around you to address directly. Society says you should be working! And you are! Nonstop! What could be better?

Except…you burst into tears at seemingly random times. You can’t figure out exactly why, so you figure it’s ‘for no reason.’ You beat yourself up for having bursts of emotion and then keep working.

In my life, workaholism showed up when I was MANY YEARS into a marriage I first got the impulse to end at the 6-week mark. Did I face that reality with grace and aplomb? Heeeeeeeell no.

I did what any self-respecting, overachieving woman does: I worked even harder.

I sat at my computer faithfully for 8 to 12 hours a day, 5 days a week and sometimes on weekends. I posted, I tweeted, I blogged, I emailed, I coached, I wrote…ANYTHING to avoid the fact that I didn’t actually like my husband or want to be near him. My work was as much an escape from myself as a way to make money and help others grow.

In 2021, workaholism means you’re stressed from making an extra 3,000 pandemic-based decisions a day. From making and canceling plans. From rescheduling and trying to navigate all things WTF IS EVEN HAPPENING in an unstable global year. From navigating the rapidly changing economic/social/educational/political landscape. From being ‘on’ at all times. From Zoom school. From mask mandates or the lack thereof. From waking up and finding the courage to face another day.

AND from doing all the work you normally do.

You’re overwhelmed, exhausted, and holding on by a thread.

👉🏻…but when people ask how you are? You’re FINE.

Real Housewives Cry GIF by Slice

3 – “Just keep swimming. The status quo is fine.”

If you haven’t turned to workaholism, you might feel…unmoored. Adrift. Distant from your being and your work. You find yourself asking existential questions like, what is it all for? What does it all mean? Why does this work matter? What difference does it make?

Asshole brain is quick to assure you that none of this matters. It pipes up that there’s no way [that idea you just had] will work, so you just keep swimming. All of your efforts are tilted toward surviving today, which means maintaining the status quo.

One day, then the next. No need to dream or plan or strategize. And those longings you feel for something different, wild, expansive, or imaginative? You shove those into a tiny box and banish it to the back of your brain.

👉🏻You’re stagnant but surviving. You’re FINE.

love actually GIF

4 – “Everything I want can happen…later. I’m fine.”

It might look like you’re functioning normally on the outside, but on the INSIDE. Your insides feel condensed and sometimes you don’t feel like you can breathe. You catch yourself holding your breath when you’re stressed.

You’re curled into a metaphorical ball and hoping this shit ends soon.

You’ll make up something new or get back to your business or career or art-making or idea-gathering…later. When pandemic ends. When your kids go to kindergarten/high school/college. When you lose 10 pounds. When you can hire way more childcare/an assistant/a manager/an accountant/a fully-staffed yacht.

👉🏻Your enthusiasm for life and for the future have experienced massive shrinkage — and that’s 100% OKAY BECAUSE YOU. ARE. FINE.

5 – “I can do it all by myself. I’m fine.”

Finally, and because we’ve faced social isolation like never before in the past few years, you might have slipped into I Can Do It All By Myself Syndrome. You don’t need child care or help taking care of your home or someone to help you process orders or send mail or respond to customers or build systems. You don’t need a sounding board or someone to support you as you take your next steps in business.

Your whole being is contracting in such a way that more and more responsibilities land on you — because you’re the only person you really trust to get the job done.

👉🏻You’re doing it all by yourself because YOU! ARE FINE.

Finding your ‘Fine’ life points will help you find spots where you’re lying to yourself, totally overwhelmed, or unable to handle facing some portion of your life directly.

We can’t talk solutions to these feelings without first identifying where ‘fine’ shows up in your life.

So…which sounds like you at the moment?

1 – I’ll keep taking care of everyone else, it’s fine.

2 – I’ll work even harder, it’s fine.

3 – Just keep swimming. The status quo is fine.

4 – Everything I want can happen…later. I’m fine.

5 – I can do it all by myself. I’m fine.

6 – All of these.

Let me know what you’re up against by shooting an email to k@kristenkalp.com with the corresponding number! I’d love to know how ‘fine’ is showing up for you.

I’ll use every response I receive anonymously to help make my next free live event even better. (Translation: talking to me helps everyone who listens to the podcast or reads these emails! Go, you!)

Once you’ve shot me an email, sign up for this magic 👇🏼

⚽️FREE LIVE PODCAST EVENT OF AMAZINGNESS: DON’T YOU DARE SETTLE FOR FINE

You’re invited to Don’t You Dare Settle for Fine, the next live podcast recording! (Why YES it IS inspired by Roy Kent’s famous lines from Ted Lasso, thanks for asking!)

Drink Drinking GIF by Apple TV

Don’t You Dare Settle for Fine goes down on September 15th at 11am ET.

⚽️If you’d like to talk about your version of ‘fine’ and get coached in real time, YES! Let’s do it! Talk to me and we’ll find a next step to start moving you out of ‘fine’ mode.

⚽️If you’d like to hear more about how to kick ‘fine’ to the curb and live a goddamn spectacular life in the midst of pandemic, yes! I’ll be talking about that! And you can play with me and ask questions in real time! (SPOILER ALERT: I WILL BE TALKING ABOUT SEEING BRUCE SPRINGSTEEN ON BROADWAY AND WHY WHAT I LEARNED FROM THE BOSS MATTERS TO YOU.)

⚽️If you’d like dibs on my live event in Philly this November, GET STOKED! I’ll give you details and a promo code at that time!

Pop your name in the magical form so I can send you details! 👇🏼

Hugs,

K

P.S. When you’re feeling ‘fine,’ you need simple and helpful ways to defeat asshole brain.

Build invisible alliances.

Have you ever learned a thing and then YOU JUST NEED TO SHARE IT WITH EVERYONE?  (Right after you remember that you wrote it, ’cause you discovered it on your laptop?) That’s this. Listen in to this episode of That’s What She Said below, or keep reading for a transcript-ish version.

A diary entry from March 2020, as Covid was descending upon the world:

“When I was going to Grandma’s funeral on Sunday, which was just walking to the closest cemetery to sit while her services were taking place thousands of miles away, Bruce sang me right to the gates with a song I had queued up the day before, like, “Next time you turn on Spotify, you’ll need this.” ‘A Long Time Coming’ felt just right for saying goodbye to someone who lost ten years of her life to Alzheimer’s.

When I arrived, a murder of crows greeted me — I’ve never had so many talk to me at once — and shook me down for peanuts. And I do mean shook me down.

Then I gave the ‘all clear’ energetic signal and they flew off. I was wondering where to sit or what to do for Grandma — beating myself up about how I wasn’t prepared because all I had was my body and these two rocks I’d picked up somewhere in New Jersey and carried to Oregon for ??? purpose — when a single fox squirrel appeared. They were sitting at the base of an enormous tree with magical, Disney-like light on them. So I sat down. And I cried.

An old Russian woman’s headstone was facing the spot where I was sitting, complete with a photo on her grave marker. And damn if she didn’t look enough like grandma for me to feel seen. So I sat under that giant pine and made an offering of what the earth provided: offerings to the four directions with gathered moss and pine needles, tiny branches and the discarded shells of nuts the squirrels had finished. No photos. Nothing to record. Just an offering of everything I had in that moment.

My friend Josh sent a song he was working on, and I listened to it with my heart wide open, weeping there under a tree while the crows chatted and the squirrels chased each other and the sun split the mandala exactly in half, dividing light from shadow.

The energy shifted in about an hour, which is about how long the service lasted, and I was released. I decided to buy something full of sugar and garbage calories for Grandma at the nearest restaurant, because food was grandma’s love language, but of course the nearest restaurant had a sign out front that said ‘Healthy organic shit’ on the sandwich board. Verbatim. I had the best oatmeal of my life, and some coffee, and one of the baristas sang along to Regina Spektor quite well as I ate.

I headed back to the cemetery for one last visit to the grandma spot when I remembered that I had a nut snack pack from Trader Joe’s in my pocket. When a fox squirrel stopped me on the sidewalk to beg, they got human-grade nuts in assorted varieties.

I left a few choice nuts on the mandala to ensure that the squirrels would find it useful and treat it as part of their home, not some weird human thing they had to avoid, then left the cemetery.”

Build. Invisible. Alliances.

Crows. Squirrels. An old Russian woman’s headstone. (The grave is written in Russian, so I can’t even acknowledge her name.) Canteen. Bruce. Regina Spektor.

We have every right to these invisible alliances, particularly when we’re down and out and stressed and the world is mired in fear. So, future self, cultivate them and use them and make them even stronger.  (Note that this phrase — build invisible alliances — was taught to me by David Elliott.)

Your alliances don’t have to be obvious to be meaningful.

You can be mentored by people who are long passed from the earth, or people who are still on the earth but so enormous energetically that it’s no small thing for them to teach you about life on the side.

You can be mentored by your dreams.
By songs. By albums.
By every single part of nature that you admire.
By books and words. By poetry.
By your dog or cat or chinchilla.
By past you. By future you.
By your friends. By your partners.
By ascended masters in other realms.
By your own breath.

Acting as if the only alliances that matter are the ones we can see, like corporate sponsorships for our souls, is detrimental to our wellbeing at all levels. Individually, collectively, all-the-ways-y.

Books have always been some of my closest friends, since they never judge and are always available. Your local library can and will get you access to most any book, on demand, for zero dollars, which is nothing short of a miracle.

The blueberry bush on pap’s property taught me that a perfectly ordinary thing can suddenly, as if by magic, produce the most spectacular fruit of the season.

Some musical albums live deep in my bones because I have played their songs on repeat until those who lived with me no doubt wanted to murder me. I spent secret, shameful hours of my Freshman year of high school slow dancing to ‘Secret Garden’ on repeat in my bedroom, turning in tiny circles and dreaming of a time when I would fully understand that song, because I had never ever felt the way Bruce Springsteen made me feel for the space of those four and a half minutes.

You can build constellations of invisible support. It’s your right as a living being.

Ask the winds and the rain and the trees and the waters and the songs and the words and the love of everyone you know and a few of those you don’t to support you, tangibly, without having to sign a contract or Venmo anybody anything.

Let yourself be influenced deeply. And then influence others in the same way.

P.S. Speaking of invisible…here are 29 ways to stop hiding in your business. 😉

Marie Phillips talks creating your own midlife crisis.

Ever interviewed the author of a choose-your-own-adventure book? Turns out, IT’S REALLY FUN.

Marie Phillips is a writer whose latest book is called Create Your Own Midlife Crisis: The Best Way to Make the Worst Decisions.

You might take her book for a spin and end up texting photos of your boobs to Hot Russell (like I did), or you could end up buying a motorcycle before running away to Brazil. (If those don’t suit, maybe having a baby with your estranged husband will save the marriage?)

By turns funny, depressing, ridiculous, and truthful — Create Your Own Midlife Crisis takes an unprecedented approach to middle age.

In this interview, we talk about ALL THE THINGS. The joys of midlife, the pain of having made exactly the wrong decisions many years ago, the downside of meteoric success (having your first novel turned into a feature-length film starring Sharon Stone, anyone?), the upside of going through a midlife crisis early (and in Dutch!), and the ridiculous shit we encounter every step of the way. (Marie hates slugs, and she’ll tell you more in her spiffy, hilarious newsletter.)

Midlife is about “coming to terms with the fact that you cannot make your life perfect.” – Marie Phillips

Listen in, then take Create Your Own Midlife Crisis for a spin and see where you end up!  Buy Create Your Own Midlife Crisis here.

P.S. Want to hear another interview with a rad author you’ll love?  Beth Pickens talks Time, Fear, and Asking for artists.