Wonka Vision

I think I may be the Tom Cruise of my circle of friends.

Two points of clarification:

  1.  This is not a good thing.
  2.   I despise Tom Cruise.

A few months back, I read Leah Remini’s book Troublemaker.  I know, it doesn’t do anything to bolster your opinion of me by reading mindless celebrity drivel.  But I’ll admit it- I wanted an inside peek at the world of Scientology, including the antics of high profile and perhaps insane celebrities.  Ever since the jumping on Oprah’s couch, accusing Matt Lauer of being “glib,” and asking Katie Holmes to endure childbirth in complete silence, I have been curious as to what Scientology did to turn America’s golden boy into a complete lunatic.

It has been awhile since I read the book, so forgive me for paraphrasing.  Remini describes arriving at Cruise’s house and being asked to play hide and seek, despite wearing four inch heels.  There was a 3am request to come back to a party and make pizzas and bake cookies.  Remini did not find these antics funny or charming.  In short, Cruise came across as a giant child, and everyone went along with his games because of who he was. To her, he was tiresome, demanding and inappropriate.

I felt a bit of self reflective horror when I realized my friends could probably say the same about me.  I may not be an A list celebrity, but I am childish and demanding.  Despite the Academy Awards being months away, I am already planning a “Willy Wonka” themed Oscar party.  I just invited (aka bullied) my friends into dressing in full Star Wars regalia to go see the latest movie in December.  Of course, this shouldn’t be too big of an imposition because they already had the costumes, courtesy of last year’s “Star Wars” Oscar party.  As I reflect on these occasions, I wonder am I adding whimsy to people’s lives or putting a burden of expectation on our friendship?

If you asked my husband this question, he would reply with a resounding “BURDEN!”  We went to Ikea last week to purchase some beds for a family we adopted for the holidays.  As he began loading up our cart with the “Svarta” model, I was rushing over to the service counter to inquire as to if I could have the cardboard pallets separating the boxes.  As I loaded up a second cart with nothing but random cardboard my husband asked what I was doing.

“I can use this card board for making decorations for the ‘Wonka’ party.  And I noticed you threw some pipes out yesterday, after I asked you to save things like that for making lollipops.  I grabbed them out of the garbage, but I’d appreciate if you kept them for me.  Also, I put some styrofoam boards in the garage. Don’t throw them out. Are we going to be able to get all of this cardboard home?”

His face strained against the frustration brewing beneath his skin.  Each piece of cardboard I loaded onto the cart manifested into one new vein popping out on his forehead.

I remarked to his sister “Ben does not think my grand ideas are so grand.”

“Oh, I bet he likes them more than you think,” she replied with a knowing smile.

Nope.  I’m pretty sure on this one.  As I remarked on his lack of enthusiasm for my cardboard collection, he mustered the zeal to comment through gritted teeth.

“I’m sure it will be fun.  I can’t wait to see what you do with it.”

You might read that and think See.  He does like her big ideas.  He just said so.  Let me just say, no.  There was no hint of actual approval in his face or deameanor.  But he is a good husband and knows better than to scream “Would you quit behaving like a hoarder and put that fucking cardboard back on the shelf?!”

If my husband dislikes my schemes, does everyone else feel the same way?

I like to think I am bringing a bit of magic into people’s lives, and who doesn’t love magic?  I know most people aren’t going to take the time to build Wonka’s factory in their home.  But that doesn’t mean they wouldn’t enjoy it if they were able to encounter it.  Right?

My brother, Chris, was a pretty legendary drinker, to the point that sometimes it annoyed and scared me.  I never understood why he didn’t stop when he got a little buzzed, why he always needed to be the last person to leave the party.  I asked him once and he said something along the lines of not wanting to miss anything.  He always needed to take things to the next level, even if sometimes that backfired on him.

Maybe it’s something in our genetics.  I too feel that need and sometimes it does indeed backfire.  I coordinated a huge Halloween party this year that nearly ended in disaster after another group reserved the same park and took over most of the venue.  After a half hour of panic and frustration, a friend problem solved and got things on track.  Everyone seemed to have a good time, but I spent most of the night feeling like a lonely failure.  I am great at socializing with friends, but terrible at mingling with acquaintances.  The festivities of the party were supposed to be my crutch.  But when things got stressful, I didn’t make it work.  I freaked out.  I already knew I was bad at the social aspect.  But I was also bad at the party aspect- the thing that was supposed to be my strong suit.

A friend invited me to a “get to know your candidate” gathering for a person running for local office.  I like this friend a lot.  I wanted to say yes to the invitation.  But I just kept imagining having to pick an outfit that I thought would look right for the occasion.  And having to make small talk with strangers.  And having to come up with appropriate answers to their questions.  I knew I would obsess over it for weeks leading up to it.  So I declined the invitation by saying “that’s not my jam.”  Because that’s what people say when they are discussing the possibility of meeting future senators.

My friend was very understanding about it, and we had a discussion on social situations.  She remarked how it was fine because she invited a friend who would enjoy that kind of interaction.  We talked about how sometimes we attempt to cross over our friends- say inviting a work friend to hang out with a childhood friend.  Often the crossover doesn’t work out because we act differently with one group of friends than we do with another and that is ok.  Different people activate different parts of our personalities.  I admire those chameleon-like folks who can adapt to fit into the situation.

I don’t have that.  Or at least not much.  I have it enough to show up at a job interview in appropriate attire, but not enough to stop me from wearing a Jim Henson “Master of Puppets” (written in the style of the Metallica logo) t-shirt to work.  I have it enough to not swear at my in-laws dinner table, but not enough to not write the word “fuck” in this blog that I know they will be reading.

Sure.  Those examples are pretty minor.  But there was also the time I told a friend I needed to downgrade our friendship because I was too stressed.  The time I completely lost it on a friend for enjoying a party at a million dollar home because I feel so acutely sensitive to class structure. I could have just said “that sounds fun.”  But instead I read her the riot act about rich people having too much when there are poor people in need.  There is lack of professionalism because I wear stupid t-shirts.  And then there is lack of sensitivity because I can’t hold my opinions.  I know you are just thinking “so just keep your mouth shut.”  I try.  It eats at me and eats at me and causes me to lose sleep.  That shut off valve- mine just does not work. I’m working on my valve.  I swear I am.  But somehow, it feels like it will always be a bit leaky.

I’m a grown up.  I understand the need for different expectations for differing situations.  There are work clothes and home clothes.  There are things you tell coworkers and things you save for friends.  I can see it.  I just have a hard time doing it.  I don’t know how people manage these different personalities because I have only the one and it is exhausting.  It can be very limiting. I often remark that I only have four friends- mostly because I only have four people that can deal with me on an ongoing basis.  I’m sure it is difficult to put up with someone who has a hard time curtailing her bullshit, who expects you to accept every part of her personality.  Because it is an unreasonable expectation- no one is going to love everything about you.  My husband loves me a lot, but I know he sincerely wishes I didn’t hoard cardboard in the garage.

So if I’m so bad at socializing, why do I create these elaborate social occasions?  I want a life of whimsy.  I believe in magic and am fascinated by the surreal.  Magic is its’ most magical when you can share it.  I would feel kind of silly creating a Wonka factory for just one person.  Oh, and I have an overwhelming need to be liked.  There is that.

I have a weird relationship with the sharing aspect of this scenario.  I want you to see the thing I create.  I want you to acknowledge it.  It makes me happy to know I have brought pleasure to someone, to know they are enjoying something I’ve made.  It also makes me incredibly uncomfortable.  The second you say “Wow! This is so cool!”  I will immediately shut off and try to flee the situation.  But I want the compliment none the less.  I need the validation.  Does that make any sense?  Of course not.  But little about my personality does.  My friend once told me I am the most sociable introvert she’s every met.  That about sums it up.

It is a tough lot to be needy and detached.  To have boundaries but no idea where they are.  You would think at 43 years old, I would have some of this figured out by now.  It often feels like I will spend life as a giant teenager, wanting to feel accepted by having no idea what would bring about that feeling.  Maybe that’s why I hoard the cardboard and retrieve pipes from the garbage- there is always the possibility that the next thing I make will be THE thing, the one that fills the gap.

The next thing I make will be my best one yet.  And then everyone will love me.  Just like Tom Cruise.  Oh, except I hate Tom Cruise.

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To Bounce or Not to Bounce

Its an experience every parent with a young child has had.

I take my kid to the park, and upon arrival see a colorful rising in the distance- a bouncy house.

“Can I go in there?” my child asks with eyes at their widest, pleading for permission.

“No” I reply.  “That house is for somebody else’s party.  It’s not for us.”

My child spends the remainder of the time sullenly going down the slide, eyes locked on the bouncy house, as if gazing at heaven through the locked pearly gates.

I had a very strange and troubling experience yesterday.  I considered not writing about it, because it is a topic that makes me feel very uncomfortable.  But it is a topic that needs discussion, so here goes.

I’ve spent the better part of the last month planning a large Halloween carnival for friends and family.  I got the necessary park permits and organized people to provide games, food and a bouncy house.  The day of the event comes, and I show up at the park a half hour before scheduled party time to set up.

Upon arrival, I can not help but notice there is already an event going on.  A pretty large event.  I’m not great at estimating people, but I’m guessing somewhere between 100-150 people are in attendance.  Which is a lot for a neighborhood park.  I scan the area looking for a place to set up our party and begin to panic when I see that much of the park, in particular most of the tables, are occupied.

The parking lot is full, so I park illegally with a plan to unload my items and move my car.  In the midst of carrying armloads of party items, I lose my keys.  I drop the game I was supposed to bring, and all the prizes I glued inside fall out.  I have about five things go wrong in a two minute period

I had gone to the park earlier in the day and put signs on the tables reserving them for our party time.  But I didn’t have enough signs, so I put two on the tables, and two on the posts for the pavilion.

A man is grilling near the pavilion.  I tell him “We reserved these tables for this time.”  It is a lie.  Park equipment is first come first serve.  I put the signs on the table knowing this, trying to beat the system.

“Yeah, we’re not using your tables.  We’re using this one,” he replies.

“Yes, but I put signs on the posts, indicating we were using the whole pavilion.”

“Ok. Let me see what’s up.”  He makes no motion to leave and I head off to grab more items from my car.  I begin to make a pile of food, prizes, and paper plates, and wonder what I am going to do.  I do not say anything further to the man, but I feel like he sees my panic and it is coming across as rudeness.  I do not mean to be rude, and I know he has a right to be there.  He got there first.  I am mostly just stressing out because I have about 60 people scheduled to arrive in twenty minutes, and no idea what to do.  I can’t possibly get sixty people to fit at three tables.

My friend arrives, sees my panic, and says “I’m going to the church to get tables.”  I thank my lucky stars for a friend with a plan and access to a church.  As we move our items away from the pavilion, I feel strange because there is now a clear delineation between the parties.  One is on one side of the park.  The other party is on the other side.

Which might not sound so weird.  Why would two parties mix together?  They wouldn’t.  Except if you were an outside viewer of this park, you would see all the black people on one side of the park, and all the white people on the other.  And that visual racial divide looks very weird.

We assemble our tables, set up our games, and line up our food.  The party is finally under way and I begin to relax a little.  Some children from the other party come over and ask if they can jump in our bouncy house.

“No.  I’m sorry.  But we are expecting a lot of kids and there are a lot of kids at your party, and it will get too full.”

I felt like a jerk.  No one wants to tell a child no.  But I really was thinking along the lines of numbers, and that if I tell one child yes, I have to tell them all yes.  I have never liked that reasoning, and felt annoyed for having to use it.

But the kids returned again, and one of them went into the house.  I noticed a couple of other parents talking to a parent from the other party, explaining the situation.  In that moment, I wondered what this would look like to an outside observer, or to the people from the other party.  Was the perception that these white people did not want black children jumping in their bouncy house?

Am I reading too much into it?  Perhaps.  But there was a certain vibe, an elephant in the room.

The other party was playing music very loudly.  Too loud in my estimation.  A lot of the music had language I would not play in front of my own children.  It felt inappropriate and intrusive.  But I would never think of going and asking them to turn it down.

Many guests at our party commented on the music, but no one felt comfortable asking them to turn it down.  I wondered about this.  Was it being polite?  Was it avoiding confrontation?  Was there a racial component?  When I thought about it, I knew I am simply not a person to want to have an awkward conversation.  I didn’t want to be a party pooper.  But the fact that I had to consider if there was a racial component at all gave me pause.  Even if my reasoning had zero to do with race, the fact that I had to think about it is still troubling.

I looked at the makeup of our parties and began to wonder why they looked they way they did.  I initially took comfort in knowing most everyone at my party was there because their children became friends with my children, and then our families took a liking to each other.  It was out of my hands.  But then I thought a little deeper.  Why had my children gravitated to their children?  Was it something innocuous and out of their control- they were sat by each other at school and became friends?  Was it common interests shared?  Or was there some unspoken level of comfort there- this person resembles me so we can be friends.  I don’t know.

At one point, I had to walk back through the pavilion where we had initially tried to set up.  The man who had been working there was gone, replaced by a couple.  I felt bad for my rudeness upon arrival and tried to apologize.  I approached the couple.

“Hi there.  I hope you guys are having a good party.  Could you pass on an apology for me?  When I arrived, I was super stressed- I broke my game, I lost my keys- I was just really panicking.  I was rude to the person that was here and I feel really bad.  Can you tell him I’m sorry?”

The couple gave me the up and down, annoyed I had interrupted their conversation.  We made awkward small talk for a couple of minutes and then I retreated.  I questioned why I felt the need to apologize.

A friend of mine arrived later in the evening, and asked how the party had gone.  I told her about being stressed upon arrival and seeing another party already going on.  I mentioned the loud hip hop music and that some of it had offensive lyrics.

“Were they black?” she asked.

Yes, I replied, though I was taken aback by the question.  I mean if we are making judgment based on the music, I have a good portion of those songs in my own catalog, even if I don’t play them for my kids.

“Where do they come from?”

I had no idea what to do with that question or the insinuation it enveloped.  It made me so sad, as if the worst I had been questioning through out the party had been confirmed.

Today, I was talking things over with a friend.  I said I should have just let the kids jump in the bouncy house and at least I would have felt better.  I should have let them jump and dealt with the aftermath.  If I had to monitor the number of kids going in, do it.  If I had to limit kids at a later point, so be it.

She reminded me that the problem was not that the other party was comprised of black people.  It was that particular party being rude.  They played offensive music in a public space.  They did not curtail their kids going into a bouncy house that was not theirs.  When I tried to apologize, they brushed me off.  They were not indicative of all black people.  There was more than enough space for two parties.  We could have both had events and been comfortable.

We talked about the true danger of perception, in particular with our children.  What did our kids walk away thinking?  Did the kids I turned away from the bouncy house accept my reasoning?  Did they feel something else, lesser?  What did my kids perceive?  Did they chalk it up to not jumping in other people’s bouncy houses, or did they feel some sort of segregation?

We have so much information now.  I have all these words floating around in my head- cultural sensitivity, white privilege, etc.  It makes us stiff.  I am unsure how to act because I don’t want to offend.  I want to be an ally.  I want to raise children who are sensitive and supporting and accepting.  But how exactly do I do that, especially if I can’t negotiate the rules of bouncy houses with grace?

I don’t know all the answers.  I think it means talking.  Really talking.  Not with big phrases and cautious awareness.  But by having normal conversations.

My hope is that by the time my kids have kids, conversations like this will be a thing of the past.  But writing this now, I realize what a long, long way we have to go.

 

 

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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.

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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.”

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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!

 

 

 

 

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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.

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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.

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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.

 

 

 

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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.

 

 

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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.

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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.

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

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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.

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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.

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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!

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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.

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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.

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I beat my triathlon time by four minutes.

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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!

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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?

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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.

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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

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