Happiness via Banana

I received a personalized rejection the same day I submitted a story for publication.

In my limited experience, the time lapse from submission to rejection is about two months.  Same day refusal is unheard of.  I could have possibly written it off if I got some sort of automatic response but, no, this was detailed.  The editor advised that it was a well written story, but that it just “didn’t fit even my broad desires.”  In short- you’re an okay writer, but even I, with all of my varied tastes, could not fathom your POS story.

Most of us are brought up with this “It’s not whether you fall down.  Its how you pick yourself back up” mentality.  I wanted to have one of those I’ll-show-him moments.  But unfortunately, the default setting on my ego is not “buck up”.  I retreated to my bedroom, folded laundry, and cried a little.

I just finished this book titled Popular: The Power of Likability in a Status-Obsessed World by Mitch Prinstein.  I read a lot of books about the brain and its ability to adapt to particular conditions.  The book describes the physiology behind our need for social acceptance.

I wish I had taken more care to note items I found interesting.  I am now in a time crunch to write this before I need to pick up my kids.  So forgive me for the summation rather than quotation.

Prinstein described an experiment where subjects were asked to play a computer game that simulated throwing and catching a ball.  The subjects thought they were playing the game with other peers, but in fact, the other participants were a computer simulation.  At first, the game is designed so that three participants (one human, two simulated) are throwing and catching the ball equally.  But after a few minutes, the simulated participants begin to throw and catch the ball exclusively, excluding the actual human subject.  The human subject was monitored to see which areas of his brain responded when met with being socially excluded.  The same parts of the brain that light up to signal physical pain were triggered when met with social rejection.  Our bodies are designed to physiologically protect us not only from bodily injuries but also from emotional ones.

It goes all the way back to herd mentality.  When your body detects social rejection, it actually pumps more anti-inflammatories into your blood stream.  You no longer have the protection of the herd, so if you were to injure yourself, your body needs to have a quicker response.  At the same time, your body begins to divert resources away from your immune system and into other areas because you are no longer have the threat of catching a communicable disease.

A few instances of exclusion are probably not going to affect the body so much.  But when continually met with rejection, changes occur within our physical makeup.  As we enter into adolescence, the more rejection we face, the more those particular neural pathways strengthen.  I find comfort in this knowledge.  It makes me feel as if I’m not a silly person to feel the sting of rejection deeply.  My background and physiology have made this part of my body’s makeup.  It’s not me- It’s science!!!

Ok, it’s a little me.  Prinstein does not issue a free pass when it comes to rejection.  Unfortunately, it really is about how you pick yourself up.

I’ve been on a bit of a quest to bring more happiness into my life.  This, of course, means making changes.

The first thing I did was examine my relationships.  I wanted to interject more quality interactions within my life.  For me, that meant getting off of social media.  God, Facebook makes it sooo easy to feel like you really know what is happening in people’s lives without ever actually talking to them. I don’t think those things can exist in the same space.

If you’ve ever tried to get off of social media, you know its not as easy as you might assume.  I deactivated my Facebook account.  I posted a final message giving information on how to contact me.  A few weeks later, one of my brothers complained about not being able to see photos of my sons.  Another brother was confused when he couldn’t tag me in a photo after we spent the day together.  A friend asked me to resend a party invitation I had created via FB- it got lost when I deactivated.  I began to see the place for social media, but I still felt the need for more real, human interaction.

I mentioned to my husband that sometimes I missed the quick pick me up when I posted a photo online and people reacted favorably to it.  I told him I had taken a selfie the day before out of habit, and then realized I had nowhere to post it.

“Send it to me.  I’d love to get it,” he said.

He didn’t know it at the time, but his response had a big impact on me.  My husband is the last person who needs an ego boost via social media.  I felt pretty ridiculous when I told him about the selfie.  But he didn’t think I was silly or self absorbed.  He thought it might be fun to get a cute photo of his wife some random day.  By posting my photos via Facebook, I was missing out on developing something real and substantial with someone who cares about me not just for the duration of looking at a photo, but on a daily basis.

My interactions became less, but the quality was better.  A friend I hadn’t seen in a long time invited me to go for coffee.  Another began to send me text of art projects she thought I’d enjoy.  My father-in-law sent me a really nice card that made my day.  A girlfriend left flowers on my doorstep.  Another bought me a book she knew I would love. Those things matter.  Think they don’t?  Next time you want to tag someone via social media, send them a card or give them a phone call.  You’ll see a difference.  You’re circle will grown smaller, but it will feel fuller.

I took a class this week for my work where we learned how to collect and chart behaviors in children.  (God, I’m really all over the place.  This is what happens when you don’t write or post online.  You get a chance to talk and it all becomes vomit).  I work for a preschool where some of the students have special needs.  We use charting to develop strategies to assist them.  In one of the examples, the trainers noticed a pattern where a student began to have behavioral issues in the hour before lunch.  The student was hungry and expressed this by acting out.

Last night, I awoke in the middle of the night with this information rolling around in my mind.  A few weeks ago, I had a depression that I attributed to my birthday since it happens at the same time each year.  But what if I had charted other factors in my life?  My birthday falls within the first two months of the school year- a time when I return to work and my son’s schedules take on more activity.  My in-laws are snowbirds- they spend six months out of the year near us, and when they are here, my life is markedly easier.  They help with the kids, make dinner at least one night a week, offer to babysit when we need it.  My birthday falls at about month five and a half of the time they live in another state.

I’m looking at this information and making changes.  I check social media every few days, but I log out when I am finished so it is not so easy to check back in.  I try to communicate more with friends, even if its just to send a text to let them know I’m thinking of them.  Armed with more information about my stress levels in September, maybe next year I’ll hire a babysitter a few more times instead of trying to make it until my in-laws get here, give myself a few more breaks. God, I love problem solving.

I’m also taking more chances on people.  After my “selfie talk” with my husband, I decided I need to trust that people care about me.  I was talking with a friend, and mentioned the “Popular” book I was reading.  She asked why I was reading it.  At that exact moment, we were interrupted by our kids.  It was not a time for a heartfelt discussion.  I could have just let it go.  But later, I sent her a message.  I told her about my lingering depression and my quest to put more happiness into my life.  I worried about burdening her.  Like most of us, she works and has kids and a life and too much to do.  I also imagined her judging me.  Jesus, who is this weirdo sharing all of her feelings?  Doesn’t she know we’re not that type of friends?  But we ended up having a great conversation and I felt closer to her than I ever have.  I’m sure some people do this sort of thing all the time, but it’s not always something I turn to.  I’m more of a wait for a big overwhelming meltdown kind of gal rather than a talk it out with friends sort.

As strange as it is, one of my biggest discoveries came in the form of dressing like a banana.

Prinstein discussed an experiment he does with his students where the entire class is asked to wear matching t-shirts for a day.  The t-shirts are brightly colored, with a slogan that encourages people to talk to you.  The experiment is designed to force people to change the way they interact with others, even for a day.

I was reminded of how I used to dress, before kids, when I was a free spirited weirdo. I used every day as a chance to put on a new costume, an outlandish outfit people could not help but comment on.  I looked like a cartoon.  My goal was to wear every color at once.  I regularly sported leopard print platform shoes, men’s leisure jumpsuits, and boots with ladybug heads.  Some people thought I looked absurd, but I sure did get a lot of smiles.

Then I became a mom.  Putting together outrageous outfits became pretty low on the to-do list, as did showering every day.  After awhile, my attitude changed.  Now, I’d feel ridiculous in those get ups (although I do have this one super sweet green jumpsuit I just can’t part with.)

My girlfriend’s son was having a costume party for his birthday.  I happened upon a banana costume at Goodwill.  I’ve always wanted to be a banana.  It was kismet.  I put on that banana and I felt fun!  I was instantly having a good time.  Once again, I made a lot of people smile.

P1080410

The next day, I went to a movie with my husband.  I put on a dress I really liked.  Instead of putting on some plain brown sandals, I put on some socks with hearts on them, and some glittery snickers.  Ok, it wasn’t exactly a mega crazy outfit, but a bit out of my usual repertoire.  I looked in the mirror and thought you look like an aging Valentine.  This made me happy.  I hadn’t put on clothes; I had put on a costume- “Valentine Past its’ Prime.”

P1080472 (2)

I got that rejection the same day.  After crying into my clean laundry, I went to pick up some photos.  As I paid for my purchase, the clerk remarked that she loved my shoes.

“If I had those shoes, I’d be kicking up my heels all day long.”

And in that moment, the rejection stung a little less.  My appearance doesn’t matter.  That’s surface level bullshit.  But my interactions do.  Just like that terrible song, people need people, People!

I’m on this quest for more happiness, more connection and I’m finding it!  But right now, I need to find my way to my car keys- time to get my kids! Bye!

 

 

 

 

Advertisements
Posted in bright ideas, crazy on you, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The Truth About Saggy Knees

I was playing Twister with my kids this morning. Bent over in some inhuman configuration, my face came inches away from my saggy knees.  As a forty three year old person, I am familiar with laugh lines and stretch marks, but saggy knees?  This is a new one for me.  You know the trajectory of the journey has switched into downhill mode when you discover your body aging in ways you can not even find fathomable.

20170930_121335

It was one of those well-timed moments where I received a physical manifestation for the thoughts that have been going on in my head.

If you read my blog, or know me as a person, you might recall that around this time last weekend, I was in some fairly dramatic, self-absorbed, “pay attention to me” territory.  While I intellectually understood that they were emotions that occur every year around my birthday, comprehending that information did not stop my from taking a full spectacular dive into that pity pool.  I knew come Monday or Tuesday I’d be swimming for the stairs, ready to get out of the pool and relax in a lounge chair.  But the during is, well, the during.

Aftermath is a real asshole- the kind that can’t resist an “I told you so.”  As a blogger and a person who regularly broadcasts every emotion I have, I had written proof of these “what about me” episodes.  I really wanted to delete those posts, to pretend I wasn’t that shallow, horrible person.  But, let’s face it.  Sometimes I am.

I have a lot of very kind friends who see me through these episodes.  I was texting with one such person who reminded me to accept kindness at face value.  She told me not to question when people are trying to help me or to see some ulterior motive or to feel like a nuisance but to simply accept people loving me and wanting me to feel better.  It’s good advice.

After that, we moved on to talking about her life (imagine that!).  Within our conversation, she divulged that a member of her family is facing a health problem that will change his life, and that of his loved ones, forever.  I won’t divulge more than that because she deserves privacy.  But I was reminded of the gift of a healthy body, a strong mind.  No matter what stupid things I say, write or do, I’m still healthy enough to get up the next day and start all over again.  It’s one of those things that can sound cliche, but when you really experience one of those moments, you can’t help but think how fortunate you are just to be living, breathing, moving, alive.

Within our conversation she discussed how impressed she is with the person faced with this problem.  His attitude is “This is happening, but it isn’t happening today.  So let’s just have today.”

I’m taking those words and running with them.

Today, I literally ran with them.  I went for a run and this idea was sort of bouncing around in my head.  I wore a shirt I like that has a picture of an anatomical heart on it.

20170930_121018

My oldest son remarked

“You got your heart shirt on.”

“Yup.  The anatomical heart is a beautiful thing.”

“What does anatomical mean?”

“Anatomical means this picture looks the same as your heart looks inside your body.  Its not a heart shape like a valentine.”

I made a heart with my hands to illustrate my point.  My mind batted those two hearts around, thinking about how love, represented through the shape of the heart would want beyond hope to outlive the boundaries of the anatomical one.  How impossible that is, and I shouldn’t waste a single moment with the flesh and blood version not trying to expand on love.

It is strange how our physical bodies work in conjunction with our emotional ones.  For weeks leading up to my recent meltdown, my neck was killing me.  I injured it years ago, and every once in awhile, that pain flares up.  This was the worst episode in a long time.  I would guess four to five weeks of constant pain, not horrible, but never ending.  I did all the things I normally do to ease the discomfort- ibuprofen, ice, yoga, chiropractor.  But nothing helped.  A few days after the meltdown, and my neck is almost back to normal.  Was it my body tensing in an attempt to fight off doom, or physical pain causing a change in my mood?  I’m not sure.  But I know my body was trying to tell me something.

I hate these depressive episodes.  No matter how short or infrequent, I come out of them feeling weak and embarrassed and like they aren’t a good indicator of who I am.  But they are a part of me- like saggy knees, and aching hips, and blond hair and bad tattoos.  I can be at odds with them and feel sheepish for things I’ve written and for letting people see me at my most shallow and demanding.

Or I can relegate that to yesterday.  That happened, but it didn’t happen today.  So let’s just have today.

Today, I am happy.  I am thankful for this life and for the people I get to share it with.  I am happy with this body and its saggy knees and aching hips.  I am fortunate to have an anatomical heart still pumping and an emotional one that grew three sizes since last weekend.

Be gentle with others and with yourself.  Be kind.  Spend time in love.  Let that be your today.

 

 

 

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Good Hustle

I’m in a creative slump.  The only reason I am writing today is because it is my go-to method for feeling productive.

I have not written much in the past few months.  I’ve produced a handful of blog posts, but find the burning need to express myself with words to be less.  As my circle widens, I want to keep parts of myself private.  I know some of you are thinking there are things she keeps private?  I’m pretty sure she’d show me her urethra if I asked politely.  Yes, hard as it is to believe, I do have some boundaries, and I’m finding those lines of demarcation increasing with time.

I note patterns within my writing.  Ups, downs, moments of epiphany that get me through a storm only to be forgotten once the clouds clear.  If I’m to keep writing, shouldn’t I be moving forward?

I think that is part of the slump.  When I draw, I find repetition in my work.  This didn’t use to bother me- I saw it as evidence of my “style.”  Gosh, to think I have a style.  But now I feel the need to expand, to push beyond what I know I can do and tread into that territory of failure.  With failure, comes growth, and growth is good- right?

Growth can also be painful.

After yesterday’s post, I thought more about the connection to food.  Why do my feelings manifest in my relationship to what I eat?

I completed my second Whole 30 a month or so ago.  Most people ask “What’s a Whole 30?”  For 30 days, I committed to no dairy, grains, alcohol, soy, processed sugar, and probably a few other things I am forgetting.  Basically I ate fruits, veggies, meat, eggs and nuts.

One benefit I hadn’t fully appreciated until recently is how that lifestyle forced me to develop other coping mechanisms.  When I felt bored or stressed or out of sorts, I drew.  i also read books, and ran, and rode my bike, but my main form of decompressing was drawing.  I felt really satisfied with what I produced.  Not perfect.  I could point out multitudes of areas for improvement.  But still, I felt proud for channeling stress into something productive.

The slump finds me reaching for old habits- in particular, food.  If I eat this cupcake, I will feel better.  I can be happy.  If I eat two cupcakes, I will be twice as happy.

But the problem is eating cupcakes does not bring the same satisfaction as making something beautiful.  It leaves me feeling hollow.  And weak. Like I’m failing.

I had a conversation on-line with a friend a couple of weeks ago about the slump.  I wrote:

“But I’m in a creative slump, and really have always felt like a hack in those arenas. I sometimes feel like a terrible person masquerading as a nice person and waiting for everyone to find out the truth.”

I read those words, and I see an even larger pattern, a glaring problem.  It is not just that when I’m not creating, I’m not being productive.  It’s that I am still trying to figure out my value as a human being.

I am not a person whose sense of worth comes naturally.  In most aspects of my life, I’m what you’d call a “good hustle” person- the kid on the team who makes up for their lack of talent with pluck and hard work.  I’m not the person who moves through life with grace and confidence, but I am the type that keeps on trying.

This past week, a friend was having a medical procedure.  I offered to bring her dinner to make her recovery a little easier.  Which is something a “good” person would do.  Except I didn’t remember to bring the dinner until 10pm that night- long after her three year old would have eaten dinner.

In a few weeks, I’m taking a trip to see my family.  I reached out to a friend to see if she wanted to do something special during my visit.  She responded “Let’s just play it by ear.”  It hurt my feelings.  I would have rather she said “I can’t. I’m busy.”

I was reintroduced to a woman I have met on several occasions.  I recall meeting her, she seemingly does not remember meeting me.  On the first occasion, I gave her my number and inquired as to what hers was.  She said “I’ll just call you.”  Which of course she never did. This last time being introduced, she was eager to exchange information, offering her number to me this time.  I wondered what changed.  Why was I now worthy of consideration?

I’ve mulled over all of these instances obsessively for days.  They all left me feeling terrible and at fault.  I needed that artistic outlet, that method for returning to being “good,” or at least passable, at something.

This morning, I wanted to interact with my boys and I was Legoed out.  I asked if they wanted to draw. We sat down and began doodling together.  We listened to records and inked out pictures.  My drawing looked similar to all of my other drawings, but my fingers felt happy just to be moving.  There was peace in the moment.  It is so easy being with them.  I know they love me, just as I am, precisely because of who I am.  Sometimes I wish I could see through their eyes.  I am not good or bad or worthy or not.  I am just Mom.  I am the person that feels like home.

I don’t have it figured out, and most likely never will.  But I’ll keep trying.  I may not be good, but I do have good hustle.

 

 

Posted in crazy on you, rants, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Another Trip Around the Sun

I hate my birthday.

Yup, I said it.  As a kid, every once in awhile, I would hear adults complain about their birthdays.  I would silently swear to never grow into some boring, joyless curmudgeon who sucks the fun out of the only holiday designed to celebrate the uniqueness of being.  Those people are the worst!

But after my pre-birthday meltdown on Thursday, I think I’ve pretty well solidified my placement in that sourpuss category.  A couple more birthdays, and I might even be elected chair person of the “Get Off my Lawn” committee.  I have to get a cane first.

I thought this year might be different.  Last week, I recall thinking how I am happier than I’ve ever been.  How fortunate I am that each year has been better than the last.  Then my husband asked what I wanted to do for my birthday.  What I wanted to eat.  What gift I might enjoy.  How dare he try to make my day special!!

Simple questions, should be easy to come up with some answers.  All of a sudden, I’m crying into a cocktail telling my girlfriend how I just want it to be over, like I’m battling some sort of incurable plague or trying to make it through one of those Lord of the Rings movies.

Get a grip, girl.  It’s a birthday.

I exchanged a few texts with a girlfriend about it.  Her message said “You’re not getting older, you’re getting better.”  She knew I needed a snarky cliche to cheer me up, and it did.  But I wondered if there was some truth to it.  Was I upset with getting older?  I contemplated it, but that wasn’t the case.  In the past, I’ve experienced doom over the passing of time, but this year, age was not on my list of probable causes of birthday blues.

I wondered if it was somehow related to Chris’s death.  I have always associated his birthday with my own.  He died so young.  His birthday is before mine.  Do I attach some bit of mourning to his birthday that lingers through my own celebration?

This is one of the instances where being a self absorbed blogger works in my favor.  I went back to entries from birthdays past, and sure enough, every year there is a sort of talking off the ledge post.  I had documented occurrences of birthday depression years before Chris’s death, so this one was all on me.

You might think this would bother me, but I actually found comfort in it.  I could have criticized myself for getting depressed for no reason, in particular around a time where I should be happy to simply have had another trip around the sun.  But I didn’t beat myself up.  I get depressed around my birthday.  So what?

Giving over to that depression allowed me to see what a productive year it has been.  Yes, I got the birthday blues, but I also managed to not be depressed for the rest of the year.  For a person diagnosed with chronic depression, that is no small task.  I haven’t been on antidepressants for more than nine months, and don’t plan to go back on them any time soon.  I’d say a couple of days of gloom is alright in that context.

It hasn’t been easy.  I’ve had to make changes this year that the gluttonous party girl version of myself does not enjoy.  Eating healthier, drinking less, exercising more.  When I hear people preach those things, I want to punch them in the stomach and ram a cupcake in their grill.

I think birthdays force me to contrast the person that I was, the person that I am, and the person I want to be.  On any given day, that conversation can go in a different direction.

This year, I lost about 25 lbs.

front

side

Losing weight probably sounds great to a lot of people.  I know it is currency within our culture.  But I did not start eating healthier to lose weight.  I simply wanted to feel better.

So what’s the problem?  The weight loss should be a bonus, right? This bitch is complaining about losing weight?  I have a complex dysfunction with my relationship to my weight.  When I was heavier, I had given over to loving my body as it was.  I didn’t love it all the time, but for the most part, I felt comfortable.  I was ok with my body.

Now, I find myself falling into those old traps.  Obsessing.  Worrying about regaining.  What does it mean if I regain?  How can I possibly avoid it?  The birthday gives me the prime opportunity to obsess over food.  It’s my birthday, I can eat whatever I want.  But what if I overindulge?  What if I cant stop?  When my husband asks me what he can cook for me for my birthday meal, I think about all the foods to choose from- and then feel like a complete pig for the spending so much time thinking about food.  I counteract that emotion by feeling like an asshole for thinking I’m a pig simply because I enjoy foods that are delicious.  I’m a feminist and a strong supporter of the body positive community.  I shouldn’t be thinking this way.

It is stupid and shallow and disgusting.  And I can’t help but do it.  Trust me.  I know it sounds dumb.  I want to scream at myself “Just eat what you want for your birthday and shut the hell up!”

As I reread my birthday posts from the past, I came across one of those passages of talking myself down from the ledge.  I quoted a line from Slaughterhouse Five by Kurt Vonnegut.  In this passage. an alien species, the Tralfamadorians, are describing the difference between books written by humans, and those written by Tralfamadorians.

“There is no beginning, no middle, no end…..What we love in our books are the depths of many marvelous moments seen all at the same time.” (p. 88).

In this line, I found peace.  Its not about this point in time.  I am bigger than this silly instance of wanting to indulge and feeling guilty for that desire.  When I look over the year as a whole- the moments blended together with no beginning, middle or end- this was a great year.  I want to live in that blended experience, not get bogged down in the minutiae of fleeting obsessions.  When I see the whole, I forget the guilt, the food, the numbers, and focus on the blessing of living this life.

I canoed with my family on the Colorado River.

18922082_10213097148085538_2391485908919529845_n

I drew things in my doodles that I had no idea could come out of my fingers.

19260698_10213229286268910_8246229696181131840_n

I celebrated twelve years of marriage with a person who makes my life a little happier every day.

I have a job that makes me feel like I am doing something worthwhile every time I clock in.

18199376_10212792472188831_2902538846238851830_n

When I clock out from that job, I race over to pick up my sons because I missed them and can’t wait to hear about their days.  They are creative and funny and just the best boys to be around.  I get to be their mom!!

I finished so many creative projects and science experiments, I can’t even keep track of them all.  I did them because I like to make things that are beautiful and put a little wonder into my days. I get to do that!!

My boys and I fell in love with Harry Potter.

4V3A5258

I read sooooo many good books.  Books, books, books.  God, I love books.

I wrote a piece of fiction that I really love, and took steps to try to get it published.  It hasn’t happened yet, but I’m proud of myself for putting it out there.

I went caving!

18698428_10212999152595712_9023483087038703138_n

I coached a baseball team.  I became a den leader.  I’m stepping outside of my comfort zone on this motherhood thing.

I was part of the Women’s March.  It made me more active in my community.  I feel proud for having been a part of it.

16113137_10211761675659562_4378985644355740753_o

Despite my recent battles with my relationship to my body and food, I feel like I made progress in that area.  I made changes this year because I wanted to be healthier, not because I wanted to be thinner.  And by saying healthier, I mean just that.  I know when I eat more fruits and vegetables, drinking less, my body feels better- mine, no one elses.  I get better sleep.  I’m not as sluggish.  My mood is better.  It has nothing to do with size, because health comes in many sizes and is defined in multitudes of ways.

I took trips by myself, with my kids, with friends, and with family.

I have friendships that matter to me and I’m getting better at nurturing them.

I got to live out my childhood dream of being Princess Leia by throwing a Star Wars Oscar party.  I am the Dolly Madison of Arizona.

16832304_10212073726820646_7977511610470492810_n

I beat my triathlon time by four minutes.

16996485_10212099476584374_4273447482348997819_n

Up until a couple of days ago, I felt happier than I’ve ever felt.  And I understand that those couple of days mean nothing. They are just something to ride out so I can get back to the good stuff.  My intuition is getting better.  I can negotiate this situations with more grace.

Finally, I really stepped it up with collection  of World’s Best T-shirts, thanks in large part to t-shirt makers who adore Jim Henson as much as I do.

I know what you are thinking. This chick is really in love with herself.  Get on with it you egotistical hag.

Yes.  This post is a complete bore for anyone else to read.  Its a self absorbed diatribe meant to boost no one but its’ author.

Indulge me.  Its my birthday- or it will be tomorrow.  I’ll need this post next year when I fall into a pit of despair because my husband inquires as to cake or pie for my birthday dessert.

Life is good.  Live as a Tralfamadorian.

Enjoy that trip around the sun!

Posted in crazy on you, rants, Uncategorized | Tagged , , | 1 Comment

Magical Thinking, Magical Being

I am not a person that remembers dates.  My mother- she is a record keeper. If you look on her calendar, she has noted the birth dates of every relative- living and dead, anniversaries for the most distant of cousins, and even the birthdays of family saints like John Elway, Elvis Presley, and Willie Nelson.

I recently celebrated my twelfth wedding anniversary and had to go back to my wedding album to verify the exact date of our nuptials.  I would have forgotten the anniversary completely if my sister hadn’t sent me a card.

But there is one date burned in my mind.  September first- Chris’s birthday.

My birthday also falls in September.  Chris and I are a year apart.  His birthday always seemed like a road sign that I was about to turn a year older.

Chris passed away almost two years ago.  Every year on his birthday, he would throw a huge party called Sizzlefest.  It could last multiple days.  It included bands and booze and events that would turn into crazy stories that had to be topped the following year.  All the things that he liked best.

This year, some of his closest friends have organized a huge concert in his honor, the first annual Sizzlefest memorial concert.  Over ten bands playing.  The local radio station is sponsoring it.  It got me wondering, what exactly was it about Chris?  Why do so many people feel this connection with him?

http://kilo943.com/event/1st-annual-sizzlefest/

I will not be at the show.  I live out of state.  I thought about flying out for the event because I know it will be just the kind of party he would have loved.  I am so thankful to all the people organizing it, ensuring his memory lives on.  Apart from the logistics of being away from home and work, I just couldn’t do it.  I haven’t figured out how to occupy that space without Chris being there.

I went and saw Dead Cross a few weeks ago.  I am totally living in old lady territory, and never go to concerts anymore.  They just start so late.  I want to drink a La Croix, watch 30 Rock reruns, and be in bed before 10pm.  But I made the exception for Dead Cross because Mike Patton is in the band.  Patton is a favorite of mine and was an idol to Chris.  It just seemed wrong that I’ve never seen him live. So I bought tickets, set up a sleepover for my kids, and headed out with my husband.

The opening bands were awful.  The local was just normal awful, but the touring opener was something on a whole other level.  To paraphrase the online description, it was a “one man industrial doom band, highlighting the eroticism between man and machine.”  Yeeeeah.  You can imagine what that was like.

Listening to a terrible opening band when you are in your twenties, getting your drink on, hanging out with your friends is one thing.  It lends itself to a story of something that is so bad its good.  But when you are in your forties, sober, on a date night with your husband- it’s so bad, its just painfully bad.

Before the Dead Cross set, I noticed a guy looking suspiciously like Mike Patton performing the sound check on a guitar.  This person looked at some people in the front row, and put his finger to his lips, urging them to be quiet.  Moments like that, I feel an overwhelming urge to text Chris.  I know it would evolve into a flurry of texts, a conversation, where he tells me stories of times he saw Patton, or other great or terrible bands he saw and played with.  No one talks music like Chris.  No one.

This past week, I pondered what I would do to commemorate Chris’s birthday.  After his passing, I painted hundreds of rocks.  Hundreds.  I just couldn’t seem to focus on much else.  I needed something to do with my hands.  I would paint the rocks and then release them back into the wild for people to find.

I haven’t painted rocks in a long time, but I broke out my brushes.  The rocks I painted this week pale in comparison to the ones I made two years ago.

P1080208

Arguably, I am out of practice, but it felt like something more than that.  Two years ago, Chris was close to me.  The grief was fresh and I couldn’t make a move, take a breath without feeling him connected to it.  When I painted, or did anything, I felt his memory.  I painted in a desperate manner, to focus and forget, but also to keep him present.  Those rocks were so beautiful, a small but very real tribute to the person he was.  I once again found myself wondering, what was it about Chris that made him so special?

He was talented.  But many people are talented.  He was funny.  Beyond funny.  He made me laugh harder than any person I have ever known.  After trips to visit my family, my face would hurt from smiling so much.  But, I know funny people.  He was more than funny.

The thing with Chris was, he was one of those magical people that makes you better just by being in proximity of him.  It wasn’t just that Chris was funny.  It was that became funny by being around him, as if absorbed his wit by simply breathing the same air.  He was a great musician, but he made me believe I could live that dream for myself.  He said things that were raw and real and made me more honest in that moment.  Being in his presence was intoxicating not only because of who he was, but because of the person he helped me to be.  I never felt cooler, more entertaining, or beloved than when I was around him.  And that’s the hard.  It’s not only that I mourn the loss of Chris.  On a selfish note, I mourn the loss of the person I was when I was around him.  A person that no longer exists.

I think that’s why the rocks look different.  Those first ones, the ones from two years ago, he was still flowing through me.  Of course they look magical because he was integral to every one.

He is farther away now, and the rocks reflect that and on some level, I am glad.  Not because I don’t want to feel him close, but because a person can not live that grief forever.  There has to be a point of healing.  I had to return to life and stop painting rocks.  Otherwise, what is the point.  Life has to be lived.

Yet, as I type this, I find myself sobbing for the first time in a long time.  Those magical people- you don’t get crowds of them.  You are lucky to name a few.  When one of them goes, there is a permanent mark.  When I peer into my mind’s eye, I imagine a physical hole in my chest, visible for all to see.  The hole has shrunk, its edges healed over.  But it is a hole all the same.  I used to imagine that one day, the hole would scar completely over.  I now understand that with the really special ones, the hole is the price for having known them.

On Friday, I will release my rocks.  I will think of Chris and what a wonder it was to have known him.  I will hope against hope to see him again someday, even if I don’t fully believe in all of that.  Who am I to say?  When you deal with magical beings, anything can happen.

I love you brother.  Rest in peace.  To all attending Sizzlefest, have the best time!  Eat, drink, be merry.  Come away with stories to top next year.  Chris would want nothing less.

chris

?

 

Posted in crazy on you, rants, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Dear Diary

Liam is obsessed with “Diary of a Wimpy Kid.”  For a parent who has tried everything in my power to encourage this reluctant reader, there is no greater joy than catching him sneaking off to read just a few more pages.  I pass by his room and hear him laughing out loud as he reads well past his bed time.

A few days ago, he asked if he could have his own diary.  A kid requesting to read AND write?  Yes!  We hopped on Amazon and ordered a diary straight away.  His little brother, wanting in on this action (or probably just wanting to buy something new) also requested a diary.  A panda lover since day one, Kellen selected this journal, which is perhaps the most adorable diary in existence.P1070179

Liam asked if I ever kept a diary, and I told him I’ve been keeping diaries, in one form or another, since I was a kid.  He said he’d like to see them, so I broke into the way back archive and found a couple of my first diaries.  My husband came home and saw them on the counter.  He teasingly asked me if I had any of those “Dear Diary: I like so-and-so, but he doesn’t even know I exist” entries.   The book contained at least one:

P1070167

I hoped that the diary would be filled with cute little notes like that.  But the other entries did not leave those warm fuzzy feelings in my heart.  I was reminded of how honest, mean, and unintentionally cruel kids can be.

P1070168

If memory serves, Kelly did not stay at our school very long.  As an adult, I wondered if she ever found a school where kids made her feel comfortable as she walked the halls.  In an entry dated a few weeks later, I noted that “Kelly is not so bad.  She’s just careful.”  Having no memory of what this entry referred to, I can only debate what an eleven year old would have to be “careful” about.

I was always a sensitive kid.  Probably why my mom bought me a diary in the first place.  I had a lot of emotions, and didn’t quite know what to do with them.  As I got older, most of those feelings manifested in the forms of lack of confidence and self loathing.

P1070175

P1070171

P1070172

Entry after entry of angst, sadness, anger and self pity.  My heart breaks when I read them.  I want to hug my younger self, then grab her by the shoulders, look her in the eye and say “Be gentle.  Be kind.  You’ll get there.”  I look at my sweet boys, eager to write in their diaries so they can emulate a book character, I wonder what I can do to ease them through these tumultuous upcoming years.  Can they be spared those moments of blistering self doubt?  Can I guide them through the adolescent confusion with grace and support?  What did I need that I didn’t get?  Or, is this something we all just have to muddle through?

I recently watched a documentary called “Salinger.”  As you might surmise, it is about the notoriously reclusive author, J.D. Salinger, famous for “The Catcher in the Rye.”  I thought back to reading “Catcher.”  I can’t remember if I read it as part of an assignment in high school, or if I read it on my own, but I know I was in my late teens when I read it for the first time.

I recall not getting the hype around the book.  It was just a story about a dopey kid like me.  I kept waiting for a big moment, a plot twist.  But it was just a screwed up teenager doing the stuff teenagers do.  Big whoop.

After watching the documentary, I decided to read the book again, curious what my take would be on it as an adult. It is sort of strange the way little things can whisk you back in time.  I ordered a used copy of the book on Amazon (are there any other places to buy things?)  and the copy that arrived looked exactly like the one I read in high school.  I looked on the side, and noted the names scrawled in blue ink.  I was transported back to the halls with muted silver lockers and bells signaling two minutes before the start of the next period.

P1070176

As I read the book, I talked with family and friends to see what they remembered from reading “Catcher.”  Many, like me, read it in high school, and also came away thinking what’s the big deal? My mother-in-law wondered what I would think reading it now, for fun, rather than as a student searching for the main character and use of foreshadowing.  I found it kind of funny, when I came across a note in the margin, noting that “the main character’s name is Holden.”

P1070178

Looking back through my journals, I was struck by the accuracy of Salinger’s writing, how he captures exactly what it feels like to be a teenager through his words.  Throughout the book, when Holden wants to add extra emphasis to an idea, he often says “I really do.”  Of course, we all remember Salinger’s use of the word phony- he uses it 35 times.  Looking back at my own journals, I found those same patterns in my writing.

P1070180

P1070181

I was talking with a girlfriend last week who was having a bought of the “it was so much simpler then” nostalgia.  We are parents and employees now.  Our lives are schedules, and packing lunches, and purchases online to avoid time consuming trips to the store.  There is, I’m going to say it, a ZERO percent chance of spontaneity. We might as well remove the word from our vocabulary.  During this conversation, she summed it up well- “Being up until sunrise and not paying for it for days.  The basics of life.  A coffee pot, a blanket, and a friend.  That was it really.”

We all have those moments where we wish we could go back.  Not for long.  But maybe just a day.  An evening to see where the night could take you, without thought of having to get up with the kids or what item was on the morning schedule.  Last month, in a fit of nostalgia, I bought concert tickets.  I used to be a person who went to concerts.  Now, I find myself wondering what was I thinking?  I have to find a sitter.  I’m going to have to deal with parking.  I can’t enjoy a beer at the show because I’m doing a Whole 30 because adults have to consider BMI’s and blood pressure and getting more vegetables into your diet.  So now, I’m going to be old, tired AND sober at a concert.  This does not sound fun.  Drawing while listening to an NPR podcast and going to bed at 9:30pm- now that’s awesome.

I enjoyed “Catcher” so much more this time.  I could appreciate it’s incisiveness.  I bowed down to Salinger as a master of capturing the despair of being a teen- and was so happy to have already lived through it and came out the other side.

Always on a quest for self improvement, I found a couple entries from my junior year of high school- an attempt to map out what I want from life.

P1070169

I was struck by the idea that I would “give up everything to be a mother.”  While the idea of parenting a child is a very mature task, it seems purely adolescent to think you have to give up everything to do it.  The best parents, in my humble opinion, are the ones who teach their children about the richness of life’s experiences.  They are people outside of being mommies and daddies, with hobbies and interests and ambitions of their own.

P1070170

I will say, I nailed it in regards to picking a spouse.  Ben happens to have all the qualities I listed, including the ever popular sense of humor.  He’s even “modern” although I have no idea what I meant by that at the time.  Perhaps that we take equal turns cooking dinner and mopping the floor?  Whatever I meant, I’m sure he fits the bill.

I guess if I could go back, I would tell myself I achieved all those goals I set.  I did in fact become a mother.  I even became an author and teacher of sorts.  That’s the thing though- as a teenager, you have finite goals.  As an adult, you understand the nuances.  I didn’t finish my teaching degree.  I became an instructional assistant.  My teenage mind would most likely see that as a failure.  I didn’t achieve the thing I said I would.  As an adult, I understand I made that decision with careful consideration, and am lucky to have found a job that meets the needs of myself and my family, and still allows me to work with students.  I may not have completed that novel I dreamed of in high school, but through on-going writing I’ve found maybe I’m not a novelist.  I still write and feel satisfied with what I have produced.  Did I lower my expectations?  Or has experience given me insight into what goals would truly make me happy?

I was driving to work yesterday, and I had an overwhelming feeling of peace, as if I had found my place in the world.  I thought back to this entry when I was begging God or anyone who would listen for a moment of relief.

P1070173

Hopefully, I have a few years before my sons start to experience real angst.  But as they embark on that confusing, sometimes heart-wrenching voyage, maybe this moment of reflection will offer some guidance to my parenting.  Listen to them.  Hug them a lot.  Tell them I love them.  Remind them that life is not about finite decisions- there is fluidity.  As long as we have breath, we can make change.  Experience brings insight- don’t ignore new information.  Be kind.  Be gentle.  It’s ok to still be figuring it out.

Also, keep journals.  They will offer you a nice opportunity to say “thank God that’s over with” in the future.

 

 

Posted in crazy on you, rants, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Bug Listening Juju

I’m cheating on my short story.

I made a promise to not write any more blog posts until I finished this story I’ve been working on.  Well, not quite a promise- more like an agreement with some fine print.  As I struggled with writing the story (I’ve never been great at fiction), I found my mind wandering to blog post ideas.  Things I had already written about- body positivity, feminist politics, motherhood.  I decided since I had already spent a lot of time covering those topics, I would not write another post- unless it was a REALLY good idea.

I know that raises the bar of expectation of this entry.  I’m sorry, but this won’t be earth shattering stuff.  Sometimes avoidance wins out.

If you have young children, you’ve probably found yourself reading a few books from the “Magic Treehouse” series.  Last night, I finished reading “The Dragon of the Red Dawn” to the boys.  In the story, Jack and Annie travel to Japan during the 1600s, with a mission to discover one of the four secrets of happiness.

Spoiler Alert!

Jack determines “A secret of happiness is paying really close attention to the small things in nature.”

The boys and I have been talking about how if they are ever feeling sad or anxious or angry, they can calm down by taking a few deep breaths- just a simple tool to give them time to think and make a choice instead of acting out of reflex.  I remarked how paying close attention to the small things in nature sounded like a similar tool- being quiet and listening to sounds, noticing something small and intricate in a chaotic surrounding.

This morning, I went for a ride on my mountain bike.  I’ve been in a bit of a biking rut lately.  I’ve been taking the same trail because I know I can knock out a good workout in a short amount of time.  I put my headphones on, relying on the music for sonic motivation.

Today, I decided that the focus of the bike ride would not be about the physical exertion.  I would challenge myself to ride a new path.  I would leave my headphones off and listen to my surroundings.  I didn’t have the best ride of my life.  In fact, I hopped off my bike more than once because I was too scared to try particularly sloped hills.  But I also rode some things I didn’t think I could.  I was reminded how the clear sky in Arizona seems more blue than anywhere else I’ve been.  I closed my eyes and listened to insects, thinking how the sound perfectly illustrates the word fast.

I guess it really is a secret to happiness, because I found myself feeling joyous.  I felt proud for challenging myself with new paths in the forms of bike riding and fiction writing.  I was a bit astounded to think and realize I have been off of antidepressants for four months and seem to be doing just fine.  I reflected on the choices that made this change possible- a healthier diet and less alcohol consumption.  I marveled at how I actually seem to enjoy that lifestyle now.

This sounds like a series of gold stars and pats on the back, but I was reminded how just last week, I was beating myself up for drinking too much, overeating, and being in a bad mood.  What had changed?  Was it merely the magic of listening to bugs during time spent on the trail, or was there more to the story?

After the kids went to bed last night, I read some of Mark Vonnegut’s book “The Eden Express: A Memoir of Insanity.”  It chronicles his psychotic breakdown and eventual diagnosis of paranoid schizophrenia.  As you might have guessed Mark Vonnegut is the son of Kurt Vonnegut, who wrote the foreward to the book.  I was reminded of a post I wrote long ago after reading a biography of Kurt Vonnegut.

https://yourmamasallwrite.wordpress.com/2012/09/03/vonnegut-tantrums-and-my-quest-to-shut-the-bathroom-door/

I hadn’t thought about that post probably since I wrote it.  I couldn’t remember much about it other than talking about how Kurt Vonnegut, my favorite writer and a bit of an idol, was not a very good father and husband.  He cheated on his wife, was distant from his children.  But in his shortcomings as a parent and partner, he was a great teacher and mentor.  He doted on his writing students, providing meaningful feedback and encouragement.  At the time I wrote the post, I thought about how no single person can be all things to all people.  Today, upon rereading it, I reflected on Newton’s third law of nature- everything has an equal and opposite reaction.

I had a stressful and exhausting week last week.  It made me grumpy and irritable.  It caused me to seek behaviors to cope with the stress- overeating, over drinking, being an asshole.  But within that week, I recognized what was happening, and gave myself permission to ride it out.  In the past, I might have damned myself for being weak, for lacking motivation to do better, for being a jerk to the people I loved.  And I did some of that.  But I also told myself to do what I needed to do that week.  To pay attention to my body, and when it said it needed something else to listen.  And sure enough, the day came where my body said it needed vegetables not ice cream, water not beer.  I listened and obliged, and now the tide has turned.  Sometimes we need the ice cream, sometimes we need the beer.  Some people would say “everything in moderation” but I really hate that phrase.

The equal and opposite reaction thing is interesting to me because I tend to be a brightsider.  It’s no coincidence that my nicknames have always been things like Strawberry Shortcake, Starburst, Lil’ Ray.  But equal and opposite denotes a lot of negative force out there.  My lack of drinking and use of antidepressants gives me a much shorter fuse.  I’ve never been one who is great at masking emotions, but its become a lost cause.  I can recall a recent example of sitting through a meeting.  I get very annoyed when people get off topic and cause a meeting to run late, which is precisely what was happening.  I thought I was doing a pretty good job hiding my frustration until the leader of the meeting remarked “Don’t worry, Kat.  I know we’re running late, but we’ll get back on track.” D’oh!

I feel bad because I know my  patience for friends is not always what it should be.  Even when trying my hardest my face often reads “You are annoying the fuck out of me.”

Just this morning, I found myself thinking how I need to not sweat the small stuff with my kids.  I worry that my constant advisement is not seen as helpful; it is seen as a judgment.  I vowed to do better.  But then one of my kids got syrup all over his hands.  And then he didn’t wash them before going to pick out his school clothes.  And I remembered how his school clothes had tooth paste on them yesterday because he got dressed before brushing his teeth.  And I couldn’t help myself from saying, very calmly, very helpfully “Can you wash your hands before getting your clothes?  They are really sticky with syrup.”  I reminded myself that I was not the one who would be walking around with sticky hands and clothes all day.  But I couldn’t help it just the same.  I spent ten minutes contemplating if that was critical or helpful.  Would my son develop a complex or form into a good human being?  Clearly, it all hinged on this syrup episode.

Which brings me back to the point of writing this instead of working on the short story.  I’ve already offered proof that this post is nothing that I haven’t written before.

But it can’t hurt. Each blog post is this permanent entry, no matter how fleeting from my mind- a reminder of concepts I want to keep present despite the challenges.  It can be so easy to get caught up in sticky hands and stressful weeks and stories waiting to be written.  Sometimes I need that equal and opposite reaction of taking a small moment to breathe, to close my eyes and listen to bugs being fast.

Ok.  Enough with the distraction.  I only have 30 minutes before picking up the kids, and this story is not going to write itself.  Can’t squander all of my morning bug-listening juju on yet another blog post.  Gotta waste some of it on a story that will remain securely hidden in my documents folder.  Happy Wednesday!

Posted in crazy on you, rants, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment