This was not what I expected when I got in the jacuzzi.
Last December in Florida, Melissa and I worked out a tag team system with Uncle Rob at the pool so that we could grab 10 minute soaks in the resorty hot tub.
A cover of “Last Christmas” piped through palm-concealed speakers, and I tingled with spa-ticipation as I cranked the timer to get the whirlpool whirling.
I dipped my toesies in and slid my back in front of the perfect jet. Sigh.
My expectations for soothing Zen blurble blurbles burst, though, when I noticed some other kinds of gurgles in my guts — and it was’t Uncle Rob’s famous Buffalo chicken dip.
No one warned me that the jacuzzi in Fort Myers, Florida, was actually the famed Hot Tub Time Machine.
It slurped me through a wormhole like a reverse waterslide, and I splashed down somewhere around 2011.
I was doing a show at Laguna Playhouse, and the actor housing was swank; by swank I mean in-unit laundry AND a pool.
I was burning myself out teaching seven days a week and fighting the 5 Freeway to get to rehearsals and call times.
My spouse at the time was living and working in New York, and we’d been doing three-times-zones long distance for a while.
One morning, I took a rare and brazen break and decided to relax in the complex’s hot tub.
She’d landed at Burbank Airport that day, and I assumed that top of the to-do list would be to toodle on down to Laguna’s sunny shores.
When I clickety clacked my BlackBerry asking when I should expect her, I learned she’d be remaining in LA for a few days.
I’d honed a deft practice of constructing an impenetrable excuse edifice for any questionable/shitty thing my partner did at that time.
In a mere four minutes of mental gymnastics, I’d perform an intricate uneven bars routine with a wobbly-yet-committed dismount that announced, “See? This red flag is in fact a party decoration!”
But my brain was an exhausted Mary Lou Retton that day.
My lil thumbs clicked off another query: why would one fly across the North American continent and not prioritize a visit with one’s spouse?
I don’t remember the answer, but I do recall leaning out of that hot tub in Laguna Beach staring at my phone feeling like Steve Martin’s Dentist from Little Shop was drilling inside my stomach.
Back in the today times — there I sat in the disappointing Fort Myers hot tub, and my gut cells decided to let some more of this memory on out.
My brain went to busy bee mode: 🤓🐝 analyze the situation, construct a reframe to mitigate all intense/unpleasant sensations. (There was no cereal on hand.)
But somehow in this moment I knew that I just needed to let it burble—boil boil toil and trouble up just like the chlorinated jacooze swirl.
My body got vacuumed into this movie where the person I wanted to put me somewhere near the top of the list just didn’t.
And then the truth emerged from the Floridian Hot Tub Time Machine like alligator side-eyes I was finally ready to see.
Back then, I was nowhere near the top of my own to-be-taken-care-of list.
Before I count the ways for you, lemme ask you a question–
❓You got times in your life when you look back with your more integrated eyeballs❓
You check the rear view, and you know exactly what you shoulda said and how you shoulda acted in that scenario.
But then, you review that scene and understand that expecting that version of you to advocate or hold a boundary would be the same as demanding a crash victim in a body cast to crank out ten push-ups.
That’s where I was.
It wasn’t until a year later when I went to therapy — by myself — to figure out how to save the marriage that I started to report what was happening to another human being.
As I said things out loud, I gained some distance from the hornets’ nest that I’d been poking.
I started to understand that I was the one. I was treating me like shit.
The hot tub scenario is one of the reasons that we half-ass our singing too.
If we take the 30 seconds to ask what this lyric means to us, it’ll pull up things that our genius psyches buried years ago.
To be an alive human singing, you have to open yourself to what might bubble up.
But instead, we plan and plot and stick to the script.
This is like avoiding a tricky conversation because you can’t control what the other person is going to say.
The captivating and scary thing about life is that we don’t know what’s going to happen next.
We don’t know what our dear friend who misunderstood us is going to say.
We don’t know what the motorist in front of us is going to do.
And we don’t know what treats our subconscious is gonna serve up.
Could be Pop Tarts. Could be EPCOT. Could be that time you haven’t worked through the shame of it all and swore to never think about again.
But your courage to be surprised makes all the difference in the world when you sing —
— all the difference between an open, alive heart serving truth treats and a shielded, cold ego calculating each note with a self conscious grip on a control delusion.
You know the difference. You’ve seen it.
You’ve thought, “Hmmmm, their voice is nice, but I just can’t make myself care.”
“They’re doing all the right things, and I forgot what just happened.”
These is what makes us leave the theater upset that we parted with the price of a ticket and pissed that we didn’t just go get a cheeseburger at intermission.
But, when someone opens their heart and says yep to whatever may come up in front of theatre-full of folks fighting to keep a cast iron lid on their stuff, you leave satisfied and changed. You may even want to slide the lid off your own Le Creuset just a little.
The hot tub experience made me all wiggle waggle, and it hurt.
And I decided I would sit there, breathe, and let it bubble on through.
The great thing about feelings is that most of the time they start and then they stop. Most of the time, if you remember that sensations come and go, you can ride it out.
It’s also found that opening to these gut surprises makes life vibrant.
If you’re game to feel the brave feels, you’ll roll out the carpet for joy, gratitude, and other forms of effervescence.
Your welcome mat’s out for connection; and it’s a robust, risky, pink-cheeked way to live.
And it makes your singing deep and satisfying.
You can craft a song, understand where it fires in your body, and season every vowel with your own secret soul sauce — that’s a hearty stew to serve.
And someone in the audience will relish that.
You’ve felt that.
Who are the artists who’ve helped you feel alive and filled from the most delicious meal?
They’ve prepped the ingredients, said yes to burns, knife nicks, and boiled-over pots, and they’ve served up a perfectly imperfect meal with crusty bread and love.
So, what if you found something you can say to yourself that spurs you to open up and play?
Something like, “I can fire the hearth and get chopping, or I can microwave this Amy’s burrito. Let’s get cooking, see what happens.” 🔥 (no shade to Amy’s)
And like your kitchen garden where the carrots and arugula grow, you need sunshine and water.
When I let my tears fall, they’re great soil waterers. And there’s always a surprise seed or three some birdy dropped there that turns into a flower or a fruit tree.
Even the weeds can be great — you ever had dandelion greens?
Most of all, remember there’s only one hot tub soaking, garden pottering, love cooker you, and folks need to hear the stories that can only bubble, boil, braise and simmer from your heart(h) where you sing while you stir.
Love much and chew slow,
ps I love Anne Lamott. Here’s a terrific interview with her and Tim Ferris that filled me with grace this week.