Saturday, December 20, 2014
I have a friend who may be dying. No one can know for sure. She has cancer. Everywhere. She speaks in ifs. IF I make it six months. IF I see the new year. She has come to terms with the fact that her life is seeing its end, that this may be her last Christmas, her last turn of the calendar. She has pursued every avenue of medical intervention but is quick to share that she just can’t shake this cancer. She is spunky, funny, and often deliciously inappropriate. My friend is my age.
Needless to say, I am reflecting.
My friend is struggling with her purpose in life. Why is she here? What has she done with her time? Don’t we ALL struggle with this?
As I look back on just this past year, I am too quick to see the many places I fell short. I have a job I love, yes, but am only in the classroom part-time. I have never managed that full-time, tenured status. I fritter. I fritter away my time on Facebook, on horoscope reading, on small talk, on dancing through my kitchen with spatulas and wooden spoons belting out Jingle Bell Rock when I should be doing serious things with a serious face. I have made dozens of lists and managed to cross off only a handful of items. I quit my doctoral program simply because it wasn’t singing to my heart. I never found an agent.
I had a psychic reading once.
Okay. I’ve had many.
In this particular reading, the woman tells me that I struggle with my purpose in life, that I am too focused on purpose as career. She tells me that purpose is not a nine to five concept but a way of being, that purpose is NOT what I DO but rather who I AM. She says that I am able to touch a soul just by my smile, just by a word, a hug, a have a great day.
And, so, I try again to reflect on my year. I make a concerted effort to focus on the positive, on what I DID do, on what HAPPENED instead of what did not. I remember to focus on purpose as a way of being. I remember my friend and her ifs and think how I would feel if I were the one speaking in ifs.
And so I come to this.
My year has been indeed truly blessed. I furthered my education, recommitted to my writing. I have a job that allows me the opportunity to positively impact the lives of others. I have spaces in my life, spaces that I can spend on things that make me laugh and think and smile, spaces that I fill with time on Facebook, reconnecting with old friends, making new friends, and staying in touch with those who were already friends. I have spaces in my life in which I can sing and dance and throw smiles into the hearts of those around me, spaces in which I can be silly, in which I can spend chatting up baristas, sales clerks, and random instructors in the faculty mailroom. I have made dozens of lists this year in the hopes of building myself emotionally, physically, and spiritually. I have managed to cross off a good number of items on those lists. I posted another book to Amazon and began a project that has managed to feed hundreds of hungry individuals. I have my health, my family, and my home. I have good friends, plenty to eat, and money to travel. As I look back, I can say that, yes, I have truly been blessed.
No one can know when his or her time will end. But it WILL end. It will end for EACH of us. I refuse any longer to look back on my time in regret, to waste it by wishing it away, to curse it by spitting in the face of what I HAVE done to the glory of what I have NOT. I have endured pain, yes, but have conquered it, have endured struggle but have persevered. I have continued every day to move forward in my journey, have shined a light into the lives of those I have touched. I have laughed, have loved, and have lived. In the end, that is what matters most. I have loved. And I have lived.
Tuesday, November 25, 2014
This will be the last in the series of unedited thoughts I completed as part of a beginning of year writing challenge. Now back to our regular programming.
I have heard it said that, on a spiritual level, a heart attack is the sign of a literal broken heart. Something in one’s life is not working. Something is not right.
I do, then, what I always do when I need to process my world. I write about the dream.
We are certain that if there is such a thing as past lifetimes, we have traveled many of them together.
It is said we never know the value of a thing until it is gone.
In this particular case, these words would ring truer than they had ever rung.
I wonder how much our differences would matter if we were the last two people on earth. I wonder if you would come to me, if you would share, if you would allow me into your world and if I, in turn, would allow you into mine. Would it matter anymore the issues you have with the things I have done? Would it matter the color of skin, the political bent, the religious thought? When it is the two of us and nothing more, what is so important that divides your heart and mine?
Seems I am always waiting. Waiting for summer. Waiting to finish this darned degree. Waiting until the kids are out of the house. Waiting until I find an agent. Waiting for the stars to align and the Universe to decide it is ready for me to do what I came here to do. Waiting for other things I cannot share. With so much time spent waiting, what about now?
What am I doing with my “Now?”
(this would be the one day I actually forgot to pen my words)
I penned a novel at the age of seven. I would share it now except that my mother is more of a minimalist than I. May The Adventures of the Pickle Family rest in peace. I have written in one form or another since. My words have graced diaries, journals, articles that were never published, books I would toss in the trash, blog entries, and a good number of online and in print magazines. And, yet, to this point, my words have pretty much remained my own.
Have I suddenly turned psychotic? Do I need help? I have no one to whom to turn.
The inside of my brain is much like my kitchen fridge. It has magnets from all my favorite places holding photos, quotes, and memories from the most important characters in my life. It holds the photo of that time in San Francisco when all four of my children stood at water’s edge while my husband and I watched with pride from afar the family we had raised. It holds the boys skipping stones at Bar Harbor, the girls walking the beach at Nag’s Head. This brain of mine has so many memories clipped to it that it overflows with joy and smiles and family times. It also, however, has quotes and clippings and sayings from many of my family and friends, words that will never come down until I decide they do.
You may have said a word to me in passing, shared a confidence, or offered advice. You have no idea the thoughts that are stored in this head of mine. Words that you have long ago forgotten, I hold dear. To the one of you who told me to look in the mirror and to love and protect the little girl I saw there, thank you for that. I think of this little girl often. I think of how I talk to her and how I show her love. I ask myself if I am protecting her in the way I would protect a daughter of my own. To the one of you who said, “For the record, keep writing.” Those words move me every time I swear to throw away the pen. I hear them when I am at my lowest in my writing. I hear your words to quit my whining and get back to the page. They keep me at the keyboard. They keep me believing that someone wants to hear what it is I have to say and that, maybe, I am a writer.
I feel so ready to move to a different place in my life. I told you once I wanted to do something big. I think it’s time.
Monday, November 24, 2014
Unedited clips, random thoughts, a good effort at a beginning of year writing challenge.......
There is a comfort in a friendship that requires no pretense. One is free to be just as she is without fear of judgment or ridicule. One is free to say or do or question. One is free to be transparently honest and bare.
I felt this.
“It’s the difference between creating an enduring piece of art meant to move versus throwing together an entertaining piece of fluff meant to distract.” This is the thing about working with writer friends. They can never let you just play. All of conversation is a critique. Maybe I want to dance around the page batting my lashes, blowing seductive kisses, and flinging my feather boa around your neck. Maybe I don’t feel today like putting on my big girl panties and moving seemingly immovable mountains. Let Gandhi and Mother Teresa take care of that business. I want to make you smile, make you laugh, make you spit your coffee through your teeth. Besides, how is that NOT helping humanity?
We get so darned serious.
I am only halfway through my day and, already, I have complained of the snow, my homework, the dishes, the dogs, my back. I have flung a little negativity in the direction of my family, my friends, strangers, myself. And this, my friends, is a GOOD day.
I got in my car and blasted the heat, turned up the music and headed for the highway.
My soul lay dying on the ground. I breathed into it the gift of life. I breathed into it the gift of life with nothing more than a few good tunes, some beautiful food, and the slightest hint of sexy black lace.
If any one person has contributed to my growth, it is this friend. He has helped to reach deeper within myself than any other I have met in my life. He has brought a joy to my life that I did not realize I was missing. He has made me laugh and smile and think.
He tells me his news just days before I am to lock myself in a car with my family and travel across the country.
Fighting has always bothered me. I have never liked it. We have the power to bring each other such joy and love, and yet we choose to tear each other apart. It is not merely the fist to face fighting that disturbs me. I am saddened, too, by shunning, neglect, grudge-holding. When I say saddened I mean physically and emotionally moved to the point of being sick.
As a little girl, I was always a victim. I was pushed, teased, made fun of for nothing more than being who I was. I loved people. I wanted to make them smile and laugh and love themselves and each other. I never wanted to push or tease or fight back. I wanted everybody to get along, to play nicely. I never understood why this was such a difficult concept and why it was ridiculed by so many.
Even as an adult, I find it interesting that we crave love and yet are so afraid to share it.
We hold grudges for years, ignoring those who have the power to feed our souls, letting feelings rot and fester inside until we no longer feel joy. We throw ugly words, slander, shame. Why do we do this? It takes just as much energy to offer a kind thought, an encouraging word. In the process of destroying others, we destroy ourselves.
Maybe someone has wronged you in some way. How does it serve you to throw hatred back at them? How does it serve you to hold anger inside of you? Could you not find something they have given you that makes you the beautiful person you are? Maybe you will not go to them and share that love, but perhaps you can thank them in your heart, thank them for the lessons you have learned, the strength you have gained, the compassion you have grown.
Sunday, November 23, 2014
You know the drill by now. Unedited clips from my beginning of year writing challenge. Enjoy.
What if your last words to me were your last words to me? What if my last words to you were my last? Have you opened your heart, shared your mind? Have I honored our friendship, left you with a smile? Or have we worked at tearing each other apart, creating a divide that sends us drifting?
(Nothing about what I wrote this day will be seen in print.)
Eyes meet eyes, heart goes pitter pat, words are spoken with merely a glance. Soul recognizes soul.
It is not up to anyone else to make you happy. That comes from YOU. You want flowers? They make you smile? Buy yourself flowers. You would love a candlelit dinner with a little Bach in the background? Put on some pasta and queue up the Pandora. I know your argument here. It is not the flowers or the candles or the glass of Pinot gris. It is the idea of having someone who cares, someone to lavish on you beautiful words and beautiful gifts, a loving touch. Let me ask this. Do you not love yourself? Do you not love yourself enough to do these things? Partnered or not, love yourself enough to shower on you words of praise, thoughtful gifts, and romantic dinners. Treat yourself to a beautiful day. Do all those things that make your heart smile.
A note. Naïve or not.
As you go about your day today, ask yourself, “Does this make me smile? Does it make another smile? Will it, at some point, make someone smile?” I look at it like this. There is enough hatred and ugly in the world. I do not need to put that purposely in front of my face. No, I will never be the sole reason for world peace, love, compassion, but could I be a contributing force? Others make fun. Others say I have my head in the clouds, that I am naïve, sheltered, unrealistic. I am not. I do know that there is evil in the world. I do know that there are those who are just mean. I don’t care about that. I care about the small difference that I can make from the place where I stand.
What does that difference look like? It looks like a kind word to a lonely soul, a hand in a lonely hand. It looks like a laugh on a saddened face, a smile in the dark. It looks like a balloon given to a child, a cupcake for no reason at all. It looks like flowers, wine, a beautiful dish for one who has seen a few heartbreaks. It looks like hot stew on a cold night, running in fresh cut grass with tiny people who think you are their world. It looks like a phone call to a shut-in, a letter to a dear old friend. It looks like lattes and laughs and warm, enveloping hugs.
I am beginning to look forward to his letters. Each one reveals a new piece of me in him. I am giddy like a schoolgirl with her first crush.
I have found a kindred spirit. When one chooses to live her heart through the pen, she is drawn to others who do the same. It is a difficult life to express emotion in word, to bleed onto page, to reveal that which no normal person would touch. I do not feel, I write. I do not filter, I pen. I seek, always, acceptance, approval, to be desired by those who take a peek at my skill in crafting a phrase.
I am the equivalent of a common flasher. How do ya like THESE essays, baby?
It is not so easy in the beginning. A writer must find her voice. She is like the impressionist, trying out voices of others. She writes like her favorite author, like her high school English teacher, like her Uncle Joe, like her friend’s floozy aunt. At first she writes safe and shallow, thinking to herself that her family, friends, and colleagues will see her words. Then she gets brave and loose, thinking to herself, “Oh, my GOD, my children and my MOTHER are going to SEE this!” In the beginning the writer is the emotionally constipated executive, penning her words all suit and tie.
If she is lucky she persists until she is free, until she is the seventh grade art teacher with the flowing skirt and the bangly earrings she made herself out of beads and clay and feathers and stone. She persists until she runs barefoot through her pages with flowers in her hair, blowing kisses, singing Kumbaya, and tossing little love notes to the crowd. She persists until she gets far too comfortable exposing herself in print, until she lives for it, needs it, loosening those top buttons to expose a bit of cleavage, mussing her hair until it’s bedroom sexy, leaving her readers drooling, wanting more. This. THIS is her true voice.
He was searching when I found him, searching for a voice of his own. We helped each other with our craft. I honed my skill as he developed his.
I am not much a fan of labels. As much as I love a word and the power it has to lift, motivate, encourage, inspire, I do realize the impact a few letters penned together can have on tearing a person down, on negatively impacting a life, on pitting human being against human being. With just a syllable or two, I can either embrace you, wrapping you in a warm loving energy, or I can spit in your face, drag your soul through mud and dirt and hang you to dry for all to see when I finish.
I can throw word on word out at you to describe who I am and that for which I stand, but would you love me less if I did? If I tell you that I believe in God but am not a fan of religion, that I could never personally have an abortion but support a woman’s decision to do so, that I believe we should be free to marry, love, and have sex with whomever we please, and that guns in the hands of angry, arrogant people never seems a good idea to me, would you stand ready, stand ready for attack, stand ready to defend?
It is easy to love those like us. It is no effort at all to embrace one who agrees, who mirrors, who nods. Where the challenge lies is in opening one’s heart to those who are different. I do not mean here “love the sinner, hate the sin.” I mean love. Period. The challenge lies in accepting that the person in front of you is doing his best, has struggles and desires, and wants to live a happy life just as do you. The challenge lies in seeing not a label but heart and flesh. The challenge lies in appreciating the differences, celebrating the differences, acknowledging the similarity.
The challenge lies in seeing the person not the word.
Talking to this friend is like looking at myself in opposite form. I do not understand what is happening. I have never met anyone with whom I share so many likenesses. Why have we come together? Why have our paths crossed? What does this mean?
Saturday, November 22, 2014
Random thoughts from a beginning of year writing challenge, unedited and free, just as they came from my head.
I stood at the edge of the water, bare feet immersed in its coolness. I could see the pebbles on the bottom through the ripples of the lake. I could see the green of the trees on the surrounding hills. I breathed in the clean, crisp air. I was at peace, calm, right with the world. I stood with my teacher, the two of us alone in this beautiful wilderness. I stood with him as he taught me to return, to return to the water and to nature for healing. I stood as he said that you will go out, and you will help others, but you must always remember to return to the water.
I am stretching my brain in a way I am not certain it cares to stretch. I have always been about people. I have always sought to figuratively get inside another soul, to understand, to interpret, to comfort and guide. At this point in my education, however, I am applying these concepts to things. I am working at getting inside computer issues, software, and the like. I am not a fan.
I am stressed and tired and frustrated and angry. I have much about which to complain. I have much about which to gripe. Instead, I will turn that frown upside down and will focus on the good that came about in my day, the light that shined on all that dark.
The mistake I made was falling in love.
What does this mean, this word “acceptance?” I accept that I will always be short. I accept that I can never change the parents who birthed me and brought me into this world. I accept that my eyes are the color they are, that my hair is graying, my vision fading, my feet oddly sized for my frame. Is it a giving up or a welcoming embrace? I accept that my years as a mother of babies is over and my time as a mother of young adults is in bloom. I accept that I no longer write for nonfiction sources, spewing recipes, tips, bullet points and facts onto page. I embrace the time I had with those words and welcome the time I spend now penning phrases of boas, pearls, and purple hats. If I “accept” do I resign or do I invite?
What if you knew this were your last day? What if you knew that at midnight tonight this would be the end?
I need your words right now. I need your voice, your guidance. I need your assurance and your comfort. I need to feel the weight of your encouragement around my shoulder.
You come to me a former addict, victim of abuse, high school drop out, or homeless man. You turn your eyes away, look at the ground, apologize, explain. You feel yourself inferior, unworthy. You play the game of catch up in life, catching up to others, creating a life that is clean, respectable, the game you feel you can never win. You feel you will never be the same as those who have no story. You feel privileged to be among those who have never needed that drink or drug on waking, who have never slept in their cars because they had no bed, and who have never heard their fathers creep into their rooms at night and do things to them that should never be done to a child. You feel yourself broken, less than, and never capable of being more.
Let’s be clear.
When I look at you, I do not see your broken body. I do not see the smile that is never there. I do not see the memories of your mother holding your hand to the burner on the stove or locking you in the closet with the vacuum and the disinfectants for the entire afternoon because you refused to take a nap. I do not see the needles or the bags or the bottles. I do not see a fourteen-year-old mother or a man who was told by those who were supposed to love him most that he was stupid and worthless and would never do anything with his life. I do not see this.
When I look at you, I see your heart. I see that it beats the same as mine, the same as every other heart I have ever met. When I look at you, I see flesh and blood and a soul that has endured more than any soul should be asked to endure and yet here it stands before my eyes, whole and hopeful and worthy of my love.
So I go about my days in a pretend sort of world. I do things because I am alive and it is what one does if one is waking and breathing. I prepare beautiful foods and travel to my job. I sing, and I dance, and I smile and laugh with my children. I join a friend for lunch or a latte. I offer words of kindness and hope and a bit of good cheer. I tell corny jokes, entertain the crowd, and show others what they are here to be. I do all of this, and it makes me whole.
Whole, but not complete.
I had a beautiful green smoothie for breakfast. A banana, an apple, almond butter and pineapple with flax and spinach and almond milk. Why do people eat meals? How did that come about? Why not just eat whenever wherever? Why do we sit down at a table with others at specified points in the day?
I bought balloons for my children. And chocolate bars. For a Valentine’s day surprise. Why do we treat others to special gifts only on certain days? Why don’t we treat them whenever the mood strikes? I think it would be a wonderful thing to just walk up to someone at a random moment and say, “Here, I got you this, just because you exist.” I think it would be wonderful if we didn’t have to be reminded to do sweet things for others, if we just did it for no reason at all.
I had lunch with a dear friend. I am not much one to use that term, “dear friend,” but she is, in every sense of the word. I had tofu and a spinach salad. It was delicious and beautiful. We both had cups of steamy earl gray and some sassy conversation. We shared words that no others could ever hear. They might like to, they were that juicy, but they will never hear them.
I went to class. Or, rather, I stood in front of others and made them laugh and smile. People pay me to do that. Honestly, I would do it for free. It fills my heart and makes ME smile. I get paid in money and smiles.
I almost ran over a turkey, but I didn’t. I don’t know that that will ever happen again in my life, but it happened today. I thought I should note it.
Thursday, November 20, 2014
More unedited snippets from my 365 Days Of Writing challenge:
I have not journaled in forever. Seems I always feel the need to pretty up my words and parade them in front of people, dress them in their Sunday best and show them off to Grandma. I am always eager for that nod of approval that, yes, I am doing a wonderful job and have raised them well. Well, like the pimply teen at that first school dance, I am enticed now by the thought of stepping out onto the dance floor and giving it what I’ve got, moving, feeling, exploring with no expectation, with just the freedom of letting loose. So, patience please while I kick off these shoes, change into my favorite old tee and worn out jeans, and throw my hair up in a ponytail. Let’s give this journaling a try.
How many times do we take the stage as someone else? We put on our best smiles, throw the material up on the screen, and out comes the voice of another.
What does that mean exactly, life is short? Sometimes life is long. Sometimes it is hardly much at all. Either way it is whatever length it is. We will live it until we die. We live it poorly, or we live it well. Either way, we live it. We live it every day we wake up breathing. That does not make life short. It just makes it life.
I look to the side and there I see a little girl with mud on her face, rocks in her hands, creating pastries out of sticks and dirt. “Come play,” she says. I turn my head and pretend that I don’t see. I look again to check that she is gone. She stands now in her tutu and tights, flinging smiles, dancing for the crowd. “Come play,” she says. “Not today,” I tell her. “Not today.” It is always not today. It is never time for play. My life is business. My life is carpools and schedules and babies and chores. It is not finger paints on clean white walls, sandcastles in the sun. It is not hair loose and free, flying in the wind, spinning circles with arms stretched wide. It is not. And yet the little girl inside of me begs, begs to play, to dance, to laugh and create. She begs, and still I turn her away.
Day twenty-five and I am still at this. My first concern when presented with this writing challenge was, How will I remember? How will I make the time? How will I make certain that I never miss a day? I have said before, and I will say again that writing and I have an on-again, off-again relationship. Sometimes we are that couple in the restaurant, that couple canoodling in the corner booth, that couple that pays the bill before the food has arrived, that couple you WISH you and your partner could be. Other times, we date each other’s best friends. The thought of pledging my days to painting pictures with my words, pledging my days to never leaving them for another, for work or family or time-frittering of any sort was more than slightly overwhelming. Suffocating. Anxiety-producing. That chase scene in your dream where, no matter where you hide, you can never escape. I love you only IF you fit into my schedule, fit into my plan, only IF there is a thought inside my head, thought inside my heart, thought anywhere within ten feet. I love you only IF I choose it is convenient for ME. And, yet, my words are always there. They never leave me. They are patient and giving and far more faithful than I have ever been.
Somebody asked me the other day, “What is the secret to staying married?” I replied, “There is no secret. You wake up every day and remember that you are married. You wake up every day and decide to STAY married. You never forget that you are part of a team. It is NOT all about you.” As I sit at computer, fingers to keys, I remind myself that writing is much like a strong marriage. There IS no secret to being a writer. You wake up every morning and remind yourself that you are a writer. You wake up every morning and decide that you would like to STAY a writer. You never forget that you are married to the page, that you and your words are a team. That it is NOT all about YOU.
I’d like to imagine a world with no hearts, with no feelings, with no pain.
What is it about a challenge that invigorates me? I am and always have been that girl who, when presented with a “Bet you can’t,” stares down the speaker and replies simply, “Just you watch me.”
I am stressed, exhausted, overwhelmed, and lost. I did not want to put words to page. I wanted to sleep, eat, gripe and complain.
How is it that I am fifty and still do not know what I want to be when I grow up?
I have always loved a good poem. I do not understand poetry, nor do I know the difference between this style or that. I do, however, enjoy watching words dance on a page. I get a kick out of the sound of well-penned lines floating around my head. The content is irrelevant. It is the art on the page that thrills me most. I once read a collection of haiku on diapers and leaky boobs and baby poo. It was delightful. One of my favorite poets writes for children. At least that’s what he says. I think he is sneaky in that his message plays to adults. He writes of sidewalks, attics, giraffes, and magic carpets. Whether you believe in yourself or don’t, he does. He absolutely does. He will stand behind you whispering into your ear words of encouragement and inspiration. Poems do not have to be fancy to be beautiful.
Having said that, I have nothing against a fancy poem. I swoon, I do, over a set of sharp-dressed words with a sexy smile. Put a beautiful meal in front of me with lights low and candles lit. Pour me a glass of wine and add a little soft music. Now read to me a poem of love and romance. Bonus points if you wrote it yourself. Did you bring me flowers? I’m yours.
Maybe I am going about this in the wrong way. Maybe I am defining “What I Want to Be” in terms that are not appropriate to what I am looking to find. Do I want to be a teacher, a writer, a motivational speaker? Do I want to work full-time at only this or part-time at this AND that? Do I want to work in academia or independently as an author? What am I here to do? What is my purpose? Where is my passion? What JOB am I to have?
Maybe “What I Want to Be” is not a title or a position. Maybe it is not a company nametag for which I am searching at all but, instead, a way of carrying out my life. Whether I teach or I write or I speak in front of crowds, I want always to help, to move, to empower. I want to entertain. I want to bring smiles and laughter and loads of good cheer. I want to make people think. I want to help people love themselves and love others. I want to reflect back the beauty I see when I look at you. THAT is what I want to be when I grow up! I want to be a mirror.
Tuesday, November 18, 2014
This is the second in a series of collections of writing practice I completed earlier in the year. The challenge was to write 300 words a day every day for 365 days. I failed the challenge, but I enjoyed the pursuit. Here, then, are some unedited thoughts straight from that journal.
I thought once about ending my life. Once. You should know that I have never shared this. With anyone. It was a lonely time for me, a dark time. Life was hard. I was not certain that the effort was worth the exhaustion, worth the frustration, worth the tears. I was twenty-two.
I imagined how I might do it. I plotted the how, the why, the when. I got specific in my head. I pictured what the life I left behind would look like. Then from someplace I am uncertain there came a point when I realized that I was not living for myself, I was living for others, for the others I would impact along my journey. I was not going to school, earning that degree, breaking a cycle, struggling to keep my head above the proverbial water for myself, but for my future children, future students, friends, for the future me who would someday walk into my life. I was not living to accomplish, to achieve, but to impact, empower, to move others forward in THEIR lives. The struggle, the journey, was NOT for ME. How, then, could I consider ending a life that was not my own. How could I take MY life when it meant taking OTHERS?
I met a guy.
He came to me dressed as a regular person. He came to me in guise of a friend. We introduced ourselves as friends do, got to know each other, shared stories, offered support, encouragement, advice. We bickered, shared a few words, then got right back to the business of being friends. It was an easy friendship. There was no forcing or pretending. It just happened. As we spoke, the mask fell away, his and mine. We became real, more real to each other than simply friend. I began to see that which others could not. I began to read and understand the words and meaning behind the mask, behind the face he shared with others. I began to prefer it. I began, if I am to be honest, to fall in love.
This is the point at which I lied to myself.
I have led others to believe that I am stronger than I am. If one is to move, motivate, encourage, inspire, is it also possible to be vulnerable, weak, real? Does the inspirer not also need inspiring? Does SHE not need uplifting, encouraging? It is easy to look to a light and assume that the light is always there, that it always burns, but what is the source of that light?
I am not certain one ever stops to think, “Am I having fun here?” We tend to go about our days in a kind of mind-numbing trance in which we carry about our routines without benefit of deep philosophical reasoning as to whether we are, indeed, living the life we are here to live, throwing the best of what we have to offer out to the world, or smiling more than we are not. I am also not certain many of us believe these factors to be critical to existence, nor do we consider in great detail the finite reality of that existence. We live for graduation, for the day we are married, the day we get that big promotion, for retirement. If I am to be real here, we are not guaranteed this afternoon, or dinner with our families, or that we will wake in the morning. Why, then, not ask ourselves if we are having fun NOW?
It is an unspoken rule among women that we take care of business. I have never understood the popular portrayal of women as being the weaker sex. The dramatic, whining, floundering female image often found in the media has just never impressed me as the way we women play out our lives. No. Instead, we meet challenges from which any rational human being would run, challenges that frequently compromise our own health and well-being. We give. And we do not complain. We do. And we do not expect. We manage, settle, diffuse, handle, arrange. And when the proverbial shit hits the fan, it is we who are standing present with rag and disinfectant.
At what point does one go from dreaming of Happily Ever After to settling for It’ll Do? When a woman’s first experience with love is all Prince Charming and glass slippers, how does the day appear when she looks at a lover not as one who completes her but rather as a warm body on a cold night, as a good father to her children, as a partner in toilet unclogging and home repair? In the normal progression of a relationship, at what point does one give up on the flowers, the poetry, the candlelit dinners in favor of steady, reliable, helps with the dishes? After years of listening to each other pass gas of one sort or another, slurp soup, and nag about chores, do the prince and princess turn into toads? Does the fairytale end? Did it ever really exist?
I have known people who have held grudges for years. I have known others to hold pain for a lifetime. I am not much a fan of either. Life is short, as the saying goes. I think both are a fat waste of good breathing space. Both do horrible things to the body. Both take away opportunities for joy. Both taint our perspectives toward other parts of our lives until we no longer can see clearly, no longer can let go and truly live.
This, then, is a letter of forgiveness. It is a long time in the coming.
If your life were a book, how would it read? Who are the villains? Who are the heroes? Who are those interesting, quirky characters that every good book has? What about plot? What are the obstacles you have had to overcome? The small joys you have encountered along the way? How about the title? How would that read? How would the chapters be arranged? If the book were made into a movie, at what point could we get up and go for popcorn without missing any exciting parts?
What are the scenes you remember? Which pop to the front when you look back at your life? Which do you replay over and over? Is that because they were absolutely great? Or because they totally sucked? Of all the scenes, which one is your favorite? Which characters do you like? Which do you not? If you could choose an alternate ending, would you? Why?
Saturday, November 15, 2014
I began this year with the challenge to write every day. I did not, in fact, write every day. In true Tammie fashion, I filled the pages of my 365 Days Of Writing journal heavily in those first few months. And then I quit.
Still. I stuck to my 300 words a day challenge for enough time to gather some interesting thoughts. I have decided to share those thoughts with YOU. Understand that these are bits and pieces of other works. They are beginnings and middles and ends. Some have seen print on this blog before and some have never seen the light of day. Some may be too private, but I will do my best to be brave and share what I can. None of them have been edited. Every one of them is straight from my head.
My goal is to post ten days or so worth of writing whenever I get the urge. At least that is the goal. We will see how that goes.
I’m ringing in the New Year in some hotel in the middle of Texas. My big New Year’s Eve celebration consisted of doing a week’s worth of road trip laundry for a family of six and playing board games from a sleeper sofa while enjoying my two complimentary drinks from the Manager’s Reception and polishing off the bottle of bubbly we picked up from the Target around the corner. We do this every year, my family and I. We have for about the past sixteen years. We lock ourselves together in the car with nothing more than a couple bags each, a loose idea of where we may be headed, and a stack of AAA road maps. I sit writing this with my laptop perched on a vanity counter, charger strung across the sink. My daughter’s toothbrush, my pretty pink gift with purchase cosmetic bag, and my big fat movie star make-up brush provide the backdrop for the essay developing in my head. My New Year’s resolution is to write, dammit, regardless the obstacles in my way. If this means pounding away at the keyboard while my family packs their bags and readies themselves for the next leg of the trip, then so be it.
There’s a strange feeling about waking up in a bed that’s not your own. You look around, wondering where you are, making out the features of the room as if they are some sort of brain challenge, pieces of a puzzle, the answer to that puzzle centering you, bringing a sense of comfort, acknowledgement that things are going to be okay, that YOU are going to be okay.
My dad got this idea in his head that he could make a dollar picking cherries in some place called Michigan. I had never heard of Michigan and had no idea what it was. For a five-year-old who had never much been out of Jackson, it was the farthest thing from Tennessee I could imagine.
You know how sometimes you take a photograph of yourself and a friend at the park and there is that one random person in the background sitting on a bench eating a hot dog and reading the last chapter of some trashy romance? Writing is sort of like that.
Despite what I said about being okay with who I am, with loving myself unconditionally, with going easy on this tired old soul, I am feeling the need for some turn-of-the-year resolutions. Typically, this list would include gym memberships, diet plans, and an ungodly number of bags set aside for Goodwill, the neighbor girl, the animal shelter down the road. This year, I won’t be doing any of that. I won’t be committing to that which is more for others than myself. I have never been a gym person. The thought of walking on a treadmill for an hour while staring at a wall, a window, a screen is enough to make me want to keel over on the spot. I prefer the woods, the birds, grasshoppers and turkey vultures. I prefer a nice breeze and the warm sun on my bare shoulders. Indeed, I won’t be committing to whittling inches from my waist. This year, my resolutions are for my soul.
A friend once asked, “What are the glitter and butterflies in your life?” I was having a down time. I had lost my happy. I had forgotten the joy that is usually me. It was a draining time full of obstacles and misfortune. The Universe had sat on me, twisted my arm, and was not letting me up until I called, “Uncle.” My friend asked simply, “What are the glitter and butterflies in your life? You need to do more of that.” Before I could answer, she had spoken for me, “They are laughter, romance, flowers, art, food, music and words.” She knew me well. She knows me still. This year, these are my resolutions. I am going to do my darnedest to bring more of these things into my life, to laugh, to write, to read and sing and play, to eat beautiful food in beautiful places, to fill my life with things are pretty to the eyes, pretty to the ears, and absolutely gorgeous to the soul.
I am going to add yoga. Unlike other exercise, yoga calms me, centers me, soothes my soul. I have never understood the frantic, fast-paced, feel the burn sort of workout that is so loved by some. I seem to be able to manage that sort of pace on my own. I have always been a nervous sort. I have always operated on high speed, jumping from here to there in the blink of an eye, doing eighty things at once, mind turning a thought, turning many thoughts, too many thoughts over and over and over. I am like an Energizer Bunny that has no need of batteries to maintain her manic state. What I DO need is someone or someTHING to come to me, look at me, take me by the shoulders, and tell me, 'Tammie, you are becoming a freaking lunatic. Take a breath.' What I need is yoga.
How to Get a Man
First, a disclaimer:
This essay has nothing to do with painted on eyes, low cut blouses, or perfection of your wiggle or stare. It has nothing to do with boob jobs, highlights, or crazy diets that edge on the verge of eating disorder. Neither, however, is it a take-me-or-leave-me dictate addressed to anyone born with excess facial hair, a penchant for peeing while standing, and male parts. 'If you can’t handle me with my rude remarks, low self-esteem, and excess ass, baby, then there’s the door.' No. This essay seeks neither to compromise your morals and values nor to spit in the face of men.
It also does not assume that you necessarily WANT a man.
I cannot do it. I have told myself to put you out of my head. I have told myself to get over it, forget it, move on, and yet I am consumed with the thought of you. You deceived me. You entered my life dressed as a regular person, a potential friend. I invited you in, sat you down, offered you tea. THAT is when you stepped out to make the change.
Understand that when I write of tutus and pixie dust and rainbows and butterflies it is only because there are deep, private thoughts running through my head from which I am trying to distract you, thoughts that would be painful in the confessing, that are unknown to any who know me, that are secret and serious and somewhat shy, hoping never to be standing in front of a crowd, center stage for all to judge. Understand that when you read me as I flit about the page flinging hearts and hugs, smiling and winning over the audience with an irresistible charm, that there are feelings inside of me bordering on dark. It is easier to be the princess, waving to the crowd in her tiara, inspiring her charge. It is easier to distract with glitter and a batting of the lashes. It is easier to hide the deep, the secret, behind the feathers and fluff. It is easier, yes. But it is not better.
It is not better because the dark cries for space. It cries for release from the confines of the heart that is its prison. It cries. It cries.
If I were to open this heart and show you the dark, would you love me still? Or would you judge? If I were to open this heart and confess that which I cannot confess, would you turn me out? Would you lecture, reprimand, show me the way? Would you turn the me who stands before you out until I am the me you wish me to be? Would you judge? Or would you love me still?
I am tempted now to pen again a joke, a witty remark, a distraction from the heavy. I am tempted to make you laugh, to avert attention with a smile. Instead, my words stand before you undressing themselves as we speak, my pen no longer of my hand.
This is an easy two-step plan. Step one: Love yourself. Step two: Love others.
By love yourself, I mean crepey décolletage and all. Look at yourself in front of the mirror. LOOK at yourself. Get a bit sexy, sassy, slutty if you like. Get a little naked. Again, LOOK at yourself. Embrace those stretch marks, ass cheek dimples, chicken wing arms. Embrace the curves. No negative self-talk allowed here. Get comfortable with your bad self. Fling out a compliment or two. Seduce yourself. Shoot yourself a look. Even if you feel silly here, give it a try. It’s a great feeling to fall in love with yourself. It’s a great feeling to like who you are.
Monday, November 10, 2014
My mama always taught me to end a special request with the words “pretty please with sugar on top.” I spent my early formative years in the south and learned quickly the concept that you catch more flies with honey. A batting of the lashes, coy smile, and a “Bless your heart” goes a long way to getting shit done. I am not much one for wasting time or for taking “No” for an answer. I want what I want when I want it. If being nice helps me to get that, then so be it.
I am a long way now from the south. I am also a long way from wanting dessert for dinner, an extension on my bedtime, or a free pass to skip my chores. My wants, at this point in my life, reflect my humanitarian values and are less about me. It is not a second helping, new toy, or time away from my little sister that I am looking for. I want, instead, an end to childhood hunger, kindness as a global daily practice, viable solutions to homelessness, and love and compassion visible at every societal level. I want this. I want it very much. Pretty please, Universe, with sugar on top.
Some people say I am naïve. They say that humans are evil, lazy, and out for themselves. They say that we are a sick, fat, selfish culture and that very likely we will remain as such.
Not to poo poo on anyone’s gloom and doom parade, but I just can’t buy that fatalistic picture of my country.
This is where my Pop comes in. My cousins called him Granddaddy. Other people called him Doc. He was not an actual doctor, the kind that bandaged wounds and listened to your heart. He built guns and picked locks for a living. He was respected in the community and always had an answer for any ailment. Teething baby? Kid with a toothache? Rub a little whiskey on those gums. Blackberry wine was a general elixir used to cure many ails. The one cure I remember the best, though, is blackstrap molasses. If I ever was “feeling puny,” a term which may have been an early indicator of a later anemia diagnosis, Pop would pour me a steaming mug of hot tea with a nice big glob of blackstrap molasses stirred right in. It built the blood, he would say. Got one back on one’s feet.
Well, ladies and gentlemen, I believe our country is not the soon-to-be corpse that others feel it to be but is simply “feeling puny.” It is time, I think, for a nice big dose of that blackstrap molasses.
How do we build up, then, a supposedly lazy, selfish, sick society? How do we heal ourselves? How do we find our collective health?
We do it with love.
We have pretended long enough that we are strong, capable, and mighty alone. We are not. We are human beings. Human beings are social creatures. We crave the human touch. We crave and thrive on physical closeness to other human beings. Why, then, have we separated ourselves from each other? Why do we attack each other verbally, tear others apart? Why do we chastise those who never move away from their families? Why do we tell mothers to put down their babies and make them sleep in separate rooms? WHY do we have such an ISSUE with physical touch and comfort and love and togetherness? Why are we so afraid to say that we need each other?
This is what I would like everyone reading this essay to do. Tomorrow when you wake, go out into the world with love-colored glasses. Be kind. Make eye contact and smile. Offer a compliment or two. Hug those close to you. Tell them how much you love them. Call a friend or relative. Let them know how glad you are that they are in your life. Help someone who is struggling. Volunteer. In whatever way you can find, throw yourself out to others in a way that says, “You matter. You are important. You are loved.” And, then, when you settle in at the end of the day, look in the mirror and throw some of that love out to the face you see looking back at you. One day. Love-colored glasses. Pretty please. With sugar on top.
Sunday, October 26, 2014
She put her finger to her lips, spread her arms out to the crowd to further silence the room, plopped onto the overstuffed sofa, and loudly declared, “Everybody watch THIS!!” “Everybody,” that particular evening, included Granddaddy, Grammy, little sis, and me. What we were watching was the precocious four-year-old’s favorite scene in an otherwise continuous loop of animated entertainment.
I confess that I have had my own Everybody Watch THIS moments in my life, moments of appreciation and awe.
The entire family was up at the cottage one fourth of July. Sitting our backsides on the shore of Lake Huron, we had toasted the marshmallows, sung the campfire songs, and ooohed and ahhhed over the fireworks displays that ran the length of the beach. The night was dark, smelled of dying fire, and most everyone was heading back up to the house. Everyone was heading back in, that is, except for my husband and myself. We sat for a bit, alone, listening to the night. We didn’t speak. We sat simply breathing in the emerging silence, taking comfort in being in each other’s space at the end of a lovely evening. At one point, I looked up. The sky was massive in its darkness but was saturated almost completely with stars. I felt miniscule. My heart could not begin to take in all of what I saw. There is no word to describe what I felt. Everybody watch THIS!!
One afternoon, I had driven to a different beach, a quick fifty minutes from my house. It had been a tough week. I was in need of a little me time. I took a picnic lunch, found a table in the sand, kicked off my shoes and ate my veggie sub while watching the boats come in. It was end of season so the town was empty save for a few locals who know the pleasure in enjoying the lake without the trappings of tourists. I finished a couple chapters in a book I was working on, took pictures of the gulls, and watched the water glimmer in the sunshine. I shot a selfie or two at the lighthouse on the pier. I finished my day with a long barefoot walk on the beach. I was alone except for the two women who were also apparently enjoying a little me time, one with her trashy romance, the other with her bag of knitting. I walked far, past the ice cream shop that is packed with children in the summer months, past the condos, the summer homes, the cottage rentals. I walked past everything until I came to nothing, nothing but sand grass, dunes, water, and herons. I spent a quiet moment just listening to the waves hit the shore, breathing in the smell of fish and that other indescribable scent of fresh lake air. I stood in awe and again felt that my heart was not nearly big enough to absorb it all. Everybody watch THIS!!
Not every Everybody Watch THIS moment is compliments of nature. Sometimes it is the people in my life who impress me with their beauty.
A young woman sat in my office one day. She confessed to me that she was living in her car. She shared personal stories that left me in tears. That is all that I will say on this. This particular part of her story is not mine to tell. What I can tell you is that this student of mine, despite having no home, no money, no supportive family from the time she was sixteen had managed to pull herself up, go back to school, and learn to budget, take control of her finances, and begin the process of making a better life for herself. She learned that her beginnings were not her fault, that just because someone births us does not mean they know how to parent us, that she matters and that she has much to offer this world, that she is worthy of love and compassion and kindness from those around her and that she is worthy of the same from herself. She is climbing, slowly but certainly, out of the darkness from which she entered this world. Everybody watch THIS!!
I am moved by this young woman’s story because, and you know this by now, I did not have the easiest of beginnings to my own life. What others took for granted—food, clothing, shelter—did not come easily in my home. College. College was hard. And by all rights should not have happened as it did. I thank a dogged determination, bullheaded personality, God, serendipity, and cosmic intervention for that. I am where I am today because of a will to fight and because of those in my life who stepped in when stepping in was what was needed. I have struggled lately, to be honest, with my path, with my purpose. I have had my eyes fixed on what is before me. I have been focused, it seems, in the wrong direction. I have much in this life for which to be thankful. It is MY turn, I know now, to be the one doing the stepping in. It is MY turn to take my eyes off my OWN path, turn around, and offer a hand. It is MY turn to love and to lift and to give. Everybody watch THIS!
Sunday, September 7, 2014
An essay from my book, Freeing My Inner Blonde, available on Kindle.
I have a friend who just turned fifty. In nine short months, I will hit that mark myself. How do I feel about that? I told my husband I would like to be sitting on a beach in Hawaii come June. Then I thought of the reality of the poor guy sunning in the sand with a fifty-year-old. Not exactly every man’s dream. Hot or not, fifty is fifty. I think that’s what bothers me the most. I can do my best to take care of myself, to look great, to present a positive attitude, but no matter how hard I try, I will never be thirty. I won’t even be forty. Hard as I try to “look great,” those words will always be qualified by “for a fifty-year-old.”
My eyes are shit. I can never find my glasses. They are on my head. They are off my head. They are on top of the bookshelf, by the coffee pot, on the back deck, on the passenger’s seat in my car. I have to ask people to read fine print. Mostly I just avoid fine print.
I have a crepey décolletage. I used to sell products for that. At the time, I didn’t even know what crepey meant. It sounded gross and old. I felt sorry for the customer who had a crepey décolletage, like she had a disease or skin reaction. Now I AM that woman. I have wrinkly skin peeking down into my cleavage. That’s some kind of sexy. I caught part of a television program the other day. The goal was to give the trying-to-look-young fifty-year-old a more age-appropriate look. Among other things, she was told to never show cleavage again. I died a little inside. Where’s the fun in that? The host suggested wearing a pendant that dips suggestively into the area, offering a hint but never revealing. I want that product I used to sell.
My hair isn’t real. I know it’s gray. I don’t know how gray. I don’t color, but I do highlight all to heck. I am not sure exactly what color one would call it, but the goal is brownish with not very noticeable globs of red and striking hot pops of blond. It’s long. How old am I allowed to be before I have to cut it short? There are rules about these things. Gray hair is coarse and wiry and has a mind of its own. At least it has grown into its owner’s personality.
Honestly, though, despite the eyes, the hair, and the crepey cleavage, I feel better now than I have at any other point in my life. I eat beautiful, nutritious foods. I take long walks in nature. I get plenty of beauty sleep. I joke, and I play, and I latte, lunch, and laugh with friends. I love my life. I love my job. I love my family.
I have more energy now than I have had in forever.
I am having fun exploring my sensuality. It has been there all along. It has just been hidden behind frumpy clothes and a ponytail and an attitude that it is inappropriate for a married, mother of four to flirt, to throw out a seductive glance, to turn a head. I am enjoying writing on topics I once considered taboo. On the page, I can get sexy, provocative, alluring. I am finding it delightful, pushing fifty or not, to put forth my best Marilyn, both on and off the page. There is no greater joy in the world than catching a man’s attention. There is no greater joy than knowing I can turn a head.
How do I feel about turning fifty? If I drew a line down the middle of a big blank sheet of paper and titled one side, “YES!!!” and the other, “Oh, good Lord,” I would have to say that the joy of the “YES!!!” would far outweigh the agony of the “Blech.” Sure, I’ll never be thirty or forty again. But at thirty, I had three small children, no time to myself, was sick, exhausted, and forty pounds overweight. At forty, I had four children, popped anti-anxiety meds, and struggled to find the ME in the mom, the wife, the Sunday school teacher, the Girl Scout leader, the elementary school volunteer. At forty-nine, I dress in clothes that are free of spit up, of potty accidents, of too-much-birthday-party projectile puke. I eat my dinner warm and from MY plate. I shave both legs in the shower. I shower. I spend long afternoons at lunch and the movies with good friends. I spend entire weekends reading on the back deck. I pee alone. My body is not growing a baby, recuperating from growing a baby, or nourishing that baby. My body is my own now. My body is my own, and mostly, my time is my own.
How do I feel about turning fifty? I no longer feel the need to prove myself. I no longer feel the need for permission. I no longer care what others think of how I live my life. I am a big girl, and if I am good with my thoughts and my actions, if they harm no one and bring me joy, then that is all that I need. Yes, my eyes may be crap and my hair unruly, but I am strong in who I am and not afraid to show it. Despite that well-dressed television team and their advice against it, I am coming at this world, I am coming at this world with spunk and sass and all the crepey cleavage I damn well please.
Wednesday, August 13, 2014
I picked up a few coins someone had dropped in the sand, bought a peace sign from Barbara on the beach who confessed an obsession with her torch, purchased a new toe ring, orange with hand painted hearts and flowers, from a little shop called Namaste. Santa Barbara filled my heart and sang to my soul. I sat for a minute on the pier watching the boats come in. Something about sailing has always spoken to me. Although I confess I wouldn’t have the balls to hit the water as man in charge. I would likely end up the poor guy who sailed the rental onto shore. It occurred to me as I walked past, flip flops dangling from my right hand, husband’s hand in my left, that nothing about a sailboat belonged where children sat with plastic pails and shovels, where prepubescent men chased soccer balls and frisbees. As I sat listening to the seals, I saw the line attached to the two boats and heard the rescue crew yell at the kayakers to GET OUT OF THE WAY! Further out, daddy and daughters enjoyed a little paddle board bonding time. I sat there, smile on my face, breathing deeply the mix of fish, salt, and sunshine, thinking that if I imagined any harder I could not create a more perfect day.
I picked up a new dress, tie dyed and full of funk, from one of the shops in town, browsed the bookstore for a few new reads. The sidewalks smelled of coffee shops, pastries, and the pee and unwashed bodies of the homeless that littered the streets. I ordered the best pasta I have had in my life, a capellini pomodoro heavy on the garlic. A couple glasses of a local wine. For lunch the next day I calorie splurged on tiny tacos on a fancy plate, chips, and a salsa that had me begging for a refill on my sweet iced tea. Then it was time to check out of the hotel, the hotel with the creaking floors, confusing gated elevator, and fire escape outside my bedroom window. The hotel with the view of the crowd on the street below, the homeless man with the dog and the sign that read “Smiles for Free or for Cheap,” the really hot girl and the guy she was with making a show of giving her movie star kisses and grabbing her ass, the woman on the bench crafting flowers from fabric scraps and pipe cleaner stems. This is what I love about road trips.
This, and eavesdropping. Like with the conversation in the lobby of the hotel as I enjoyed my morning bagel and mug of Earl Grey. The grandparents sitting behind me offering new parenting advice to their twenty-something son. Mom had left the baby with the three to take a little stroll. The two couples were obviously at odds on both feeding and sleep. I wanted to turn and offer up a word to dear old Gram. I wanted to tell her that if she had never personally breastfed a baby she had no business undermining the confidence of her son who had apparently bravely made a decision that went against everything his own family supported. I wanted to show the son that I had his back, that I believed in him. I wanted to give him a BRAVO for supporting his wife and doing a great thing for his kid. Instead, I picked the last few of my grapes from their stems, pushed my chair in, and left the room.
We went from there to Vegas.
Vegas, to me, has always represented everything that is dark about humanity. Illicit sex. Uncontrolled drinking. Sad efforts at striking it rich. Cocktail? Smoke? Throw another twenty at the machine. Concrete. Big lights. Loud cars and loose women. I sat over breakfast, sautéed zucchini and the house potatoes, admiring the older woman in the glitzy blouse, sequins sparkling as she took another bite of her eggs Florentine. I especially enjoyed the red, white, and blue shimmering top hat that completed the look. I know there are some who save and schedule and count the days until they fly out with friends to get wild with their morals and their money. That’s just not the scene for me.
There I was in the middle of all those lights and people and all I could think of was the way the sun hung over the water back at the beach. The gulls flying over sails in the harbor. The couple making out on the double wide towel. The homeless guy and the mermaid he had sculpted from the sand. The breeze. All of it cool and soul filling and perfect.
Some might be okay with concrete, flashy billboards, high rise hotels. On my part, I’ll take a gorgeous sunset, ropes tied neatly to the dock, and a barefoot walk along a salty shore.
Monday, July 28, 2014
I have never been a fan of estate sales. The idea of complete strangers riffling through my bra and skivvy drawers, pricing my ratty old towels, and messing with my mother-in-law’s dishes both irritates me and frightens me to no end. I cannot imagine uncaring hands touching precious artwork crafted with love by little hearts. The clay polar bear and her cubs; the ceramic fish, blue and yellow, with eraser-less pencil top imprints; the wooden mallet that I have used over the years to crush walnuts for my much asked for banana bread; the red pot; the pastel flowers; the gumball machine crafted by an eleven year old contemporary artist wannabe. I want to haunt the strangers pilfering through these things. I want to haunt them and tell them that no price is big enough for the look of pride in a child’s face as he presents his mother with such a gift.
I spoke, once, to a woman whose job it was to organize and place value on the belongings of dead people. I spoke to her, of course, as I was rummaging through the living room of the recently deceased in search of the perfect stained glass lamp to go above my basement pool table.
I did find the lamp, but I couldn’t help imagining what my own estate sale might look like, what oddities one might find while wandering through my house. Would one find value, for example, in the dozen or so lids that once went to bins meant for storing baby clothes, holding homemade Christmas tree ornaments, and moving teenagers into and out of dorms? I have no idea what has happened to the bins themselves, but for the life of me cannot bring myself to throw out the lids. Although, in in my head, I know that a lid is pretty much useless without its counterpart. Then there’s all that godforsaken yarn in the basement. Anyone with children knows what I’m talking about here. If you have a child, you automatically have huge supplies of things nobody else understands—scraps of yarn, beads and buttons, margarine tubs, toilet paper rolls, pencil stubs. I have an entire box of unopened school supplies despite the fact that I no longer have anyone in my house who is in need of such. Spiral notebooks. If you need one, I’ve got it. Of course, it will be half written in, but there are still many good pages.
There are those things, too, that are valuable to me but not so much to anyone else. The cookie jar that belonged to my grandmother from which I snatched many a treat as a little girl. Black, ugly, in the shape of a potbelly stove. It was a gift from my parents to my grandmother on their first Christmas together.
What price a life?
I have a high school "Rules of the Track" sign, two dozen bungee cords, a bucket full of sidewalk chalk, and a slightly neurotic thirteen-year-old cat. How much?
Wednesday, June 25, 2014
I knew a young woman. Her parents had separated but never divorced. They were committed to the children but not at all to each other. They lived in two homes in neighborhoods far apart, wife over here, husband over there, never visiting the other, never vacationing as one, never proudly showing off the partner at company functions of any type. Neither did they cheat. The marriage was a commitment that both held true and dear. They were the best of business partners, this mom and this dad, ensuring shared custody of the children, a family unit, a place (or two) for their young ones to call home. It was not a union typical of the twin beds of the fifties, but of houses in different towns.
I have a friend. She has decided to stay home with the children while her spouse goes off to work. They have two girls, both of whom are cute as heck. The in-laws love my friend, brag about her, cherish the girls. Her spouse is warm and genuine, quick with a smile, a compliment or two. Theirs is the sort of relationship newlyweds dream they will someday have. I was taking a walk the other day, ran into this friend, the girls, and the spouse. They were out for a stroll, taking in the summer air. The two-year-olds were collecting sticks, showing off their bounty, inviting me to join the cause. The energy of the family was such that I was lifted simply standing in their space. My friend is blessed. She spends all day with her little cherubs, contributing to the team. Her wife, her wife does her part by bringing home the cash. They are committed. They are loyal. They are supportive and caring and kind.
You could place many labels on my head. I am a liberal, a Christian, and a wife. I am not here, however, to spew Bible verses or debate political view. I am not here to prove that marriage between partners who share physical parts is right or that it is wrong, is God-like or not. Neither am I here to spout my typical peace, love, and compassion interconnectedness sort of crap. I am not here to judge those who are judging or to say, “Who are YOU to think YOU are right and anyone else is wrong?” I am also, however, not here to judge those who are judging the ones who are judging. We humans can be a pretty bitchy bunch. My bet is that if any two of us, ANY two, were the last beings on earth, we would very quickly figure out how to be best of friends. I have heard the argument as well that MY God is a loving God, MY God nurtures ALL. I am not terribly versed in the Bible, but the last time I checked, there was ONE God, just one. That is, of course, unless you sport a toga and wear circles of leaves on top of your head. As I said, though, I am not here to debate the wrath or the love of Christ. I am not here as one who votes to the left or who signs her letters with namaste. No. I am here as another. Of all the labels one could place upon my head, the one I treasure most is that of Mom. I am here, then, as Mother. I am blessed in this lifetime to find myself mother to four. As a mother, if I were given a choice for my child between door number one—beaten and abused, door number two—neglected and alone, or door number three—treasured and loved, I would choose the third. I would choose it. I would choose it every time.
Sunday, June 15, 2014
Talking to a friend once I came to the realization that my life is very much a living fairytale. The beginnings are nothing any child would choose. One does not say, “I think I would like to be born into a family that struggles to put food on the table, one that sleeps in homes that are cold or should be condemned.” One does not wish on oneself humiliation, degradation, struggle, despair. One does not. But one also does not give up on her life, does not fold her hands and say, “Well, then. This is my lot, and I will take it as it is.” No. She keeps a song in her heart and a smile on her face.
Then one day her fairy Godmother enters the scene. Now is when the magic begins.
In fairytales we call this magic synchronicity, lucky breaks, coincidence, chance. In real life, we call it the reward of sweat, work, toil, goals. Sometimes we call it God, the Universe, Source. I believe it to be a little of all of this. I have reached this point in my story. I have reached the point where good things happen, where the Universe gives back.
Lately, without a good degree of effort on my part, opportunities seem to land in front of my face. I ask, and it is given. Sometimes I ask things for others. And, again, it is given. I recently had the opportunity to feed those who have no food. I asked in a tiny way. It was given in size extra-large. Along with many others who stepped into my path to help make this happen, the little girl who had no food was able to feed others who have no food. You cannot imagine the degree to which this makes me feel.
You should realize the significance of that last statement. I am not much one to feel. Feelings have not served me in my life. I have had to harden my heart to get to where I am. I have had to detach, to strategize, to persevere. I have had to settle, to buck up and deal. This welling of feeling, of joy, inside of me is new. It is new. And welcomed.
And so I count my blessings. I give thanks. I give many thanks.
Each day, I wake to a family that loves me, a family that loves each other, and that loves those with whom they share the earth. I go each day to a job I am meant to do. Leading, motivating, entertaining, teaching, I believe, is why I am here and how I am to spend my days. I realize this may sound arrogant. It is nothing of the sort. We each were put here with gifts and blessings, gifts and blessings that we are to share with those who cross our paths. I have found my gifts and blessings. I am lucky like that. I have the opportunity, too, to write. Or, as I call it, teaching on a page. Entertaining. Motivating. I have the opportunity to write, to make people smile, to lift the vibration of those around me. I am surrounded, in turn, by those who lift me up, by those who brighten my days, those who cheer me on my way.
I realize, I do, that at some point the clock will strike. At some point the dance will end. Still, I have love in my heart and hope in my song. I know that regardless what happens from here, the dance itself is lovely. It is beautiful and exquisite and grand. It is a glorious mix of sparkles and smiles and glitter and gold. That little girl who wanted so badly to be a princess is taking her turn twirling about the floor.
Sunday, June 1, 2014
It has been far too long since I have put this pen to page. I could, if I were so inclined, use any of a number of potential excuse. I have, for example, found myself inundated with homework assignments the likes of which make a bout of the stomach flu seem a pleasant way to spend an afternoon. I have begun a charitable project that seems charitable to everyone but myself. The intent is good. The return on time investment not so much. I have found myself living once again with all four “children” under one roof. This is temporary and delightful, I know, but taxing nonetheless. I have found myself occupied with emptying my mind, feet in the sand, ear to the shore. One is not, is she, supposed to work at a time such as this. The reality is, I could use any of these excuses and each would be accurate, but not a one of them would be true.
The reason I have not written, if you must know, is because I have tired of baring my soul. It is the writer’s job, is it not, to take that which no one wants to share and to paste it on the page. No reader wants the ordinary, the everyday. I could write that I saw a much needed movie last night with a friend, that afterwards we went for coffee, conversation, and a laugh. Would you care? Let me mention, however, the nature of that conversation or the way the two of us leaned in to better hear, glancing around to make certain others were focused on conversations of their own, the way we spoke in whispers with pauses that were long and heavy, uncertain in duration or intent, and then, then I know, I have your sole attention, undivided and intense.
I have to undress myself for you to look at me? Frankly, that gets a bit old.
I had a lovely day today. The sun was out, the birds were singing, the breeze was exactly the right shade of cool. I spent the majority of my time with a great book, a bottle of tea, and bare feet resting in a chair. I had nothing to do and nowhere to be. I felt zero pangs of guilt over allowing the day to shower me with its joy, gifting me with love, expecting nothing in return.
There is not much excitement to words like that. They are pretty, yes, but so mundane.
As much as it seems I did nothing more than sit on my ever-widening backend, though, I was, in fact, working rather hard. I was working hard on allowing, on feeling, on fully experiencing my life. I was working on this because I have not done much of the sort in the past. I have pushed, pursued, controlled, manipulated, but I have not allowed. I have been driven, determined, persevering, and mad, but I have not been joyous. For the beginning half of my life, I have worked to make things happen. I have plowed my way through my days in an effort to overcome. I have been serious, single-minded, and obstinate to anyone in my path. I am trying now, trying, to find that little girl inside of me and to give her space to run barefoot through fresh cut grass, to lie on her back looking at the clouds, to watch the leaves as they dance on the trees. I am working hard at allowing. I realize, I do, the irony in that. I am working hard on allowing because I have a goal toward which I work. I cannot let go. Even with allowing I can never lose control. The story you want to hear is not the story of my beautiful day. The story you want to hear is the story I will not share. It is the story behind that goal, behind that working hard on letting go. It is a story that requires baring my soul.
And this, this is why I cannot write. In essay after essay after godforsaken essay I have turned myself inside out for you. I have shown you that which I have never shown anyone, have rarely shown myself. At what point is my life MY life? At what point do you touch my arm, look at me with love, and say, “Enough already. End the story. Keep your words. Guard your heart.”? At what point do you allow me to walk away with even a shred of dignity and respect?
I cannot say that I will never write, that I will never share, that I will never again put this pen to page. To say that is to say that I will never breathe. What I will say, however, is that I feel a deep desire, an intense longing for an arm placed gently around my soul, an arm that comforts me, soothes me, and tells me that all is well and that, share or not, I am worthy, I am loved.
Monday, May 19, 2014
I have spent my entire life seeking. Seeking fame. Seeking fortune. Seeking beauty. Seeking love, acceptance, acknowledgement. I was a scrawny girl, a stick of a thing, with mousy brown hair and a soft apologetic voice. I lived to please, to entertain, to make my parents proud, to keep my ass out of trouble. School was my happy place, books my refuge. I learned that good grades brought smiles. A’s were love. It was easy enough to make those happen, and so I did. Often. I learned, too, that stories were road maps, blueprints, guidelines to better ways of living. I didn’t think myself unreasonable at the time. It was simple as far as I was concerned. I wanted nothing more from life than to be pretty, to have plenty of food, and to make people smile. I wanted to matter. I wasn’t sure exactly what that meant yet, but I knew that I wanted it. Most importantly, I wanted peace. My childhood was filled with yelling and hitting and hiding, with biting nails and feeling sick to my stomach. I wanted to live in a place where everybody liked everybody and was always nice to each other. And so, at an early age, I packed my figurative bags and set out in search of this fairytale life.
As it happens, I am a good way finder.
I won’t say the path was easy, but it was mine for the taking. Much as one would follow a breadcrumb trail, I gathered clues along my journey that led me on my way. Good grades meant scholarships. Scholarships meant college. College meant letters after my name. Those letters meant status and respect and food on the table night after night after night. Those letters put a roof over my head and clothes on my back and bought vacations and freedom and warmth and choice. At some point along that breadcrumb trail I married into other letters. Security. Those degrees bought security, a security I had never known. The degrees bought highlights, highlights and pedicures and funky earrings crafted by local artists. They bought much. But they did not buy love.
I found my voice on that breadcrumb trail. I found that.
I learned to speak my mind. I learned that I had a mind. For too many years I tried really hard to be what I felt others felt I should be. I lived my life according to those family sitcoms I had grown up watching. I worked hard to create the loving family of the Brady Bunch, kids all around, mother smiling, doting, oblivious to any mischief or wrongdoing. I was Shirley Partridge, strong, sure, nearly single mother with a husband who was on the road more than he was not. I led my crew with head held high and a smile on my face. I tried really hard to be those wives of the fifties sitcoms, those wives who had dinner on the table, slippers and paper by the easy chair, and shirts pressed and waiting. I tried but I failed miserably as it is not in my nature to play subservient to a master. Fortunately for me, I married one who could exist on Cheerios alone for the rest of his life. I forgot something, however, in creating this television life. I forgot that television mothers and wives have nonexistent hearts. Nonexistent hearts and commercial breaks.
I forgot to laugh, to feel, to cry.
I have achieved much in my life. I have accomplished that which others thought I could not. I have created a life in which I have pretty things, plenty of food, and opportunity to make a difference, to matter, to make people smile. What I have forgotten is that A’s are nothing more than letters, books nothing more than words, and leading ladies, at the end of the show, go home to their normal, broken families. I have forgotten that money buys comfort, but it does not buy love, that real life is not a passage or a script to be memorized, and that, in the end, it is only myself and my God that I need to please. I have come far on this journey, but I have lived it from my head.
I am ready now to pack that bag and to go off in search of feeling, to go off in search of love and joy and life.
Sunday, May 4, 2014
Can you tell I'm excited? Once again, thank you all for your support of my words and for the encouragement you send me on and off the page. My second collection of essays is posted to Kindle and ready for purchase.
Freeing my Inner Blonde
"A collection of essays in which the author attempts to make friends with her inner child, in which she learns to once again don that tutu and tights, flit about the stage flinging kisses and smiles, and speak her mind with all the flippant sass of a fearless five-year-old."
Saturday, April 5, 2014
There is a comfort in a friendship that requires no pretense. One is free to be just as she is without fear of judgment or ridicule. One is free to say or do or question. One is free to be transparently honest and bare.
There is a dance in the beginning of getting to know someone, a testing of the friendship waters. “Let’s have coffee.” “Sounds great.” You throw out bits of yourself over lattes and scones. You throw out bits meant to appease and attract. Your job, your hobbies, your children, your spouse. After a time, though, you get brave. You get brave, and you toss out an opinion or two. You take a stance. You shed the mask and show a swatch of whom you truly are.
And then it happens.
Just as simply as it started and without any extra effort on your part, you are judged.
Perhaps you see a smile, a nod, a silent response. Very likely it is something entirely undetected by your hopeful eyes. You have been judged and not in the good way. You have been mentally checked off the “friend potential” list. You will never have coffee with this person again. You will never share intimacies, text, phone, or chat online. You will never take dinner after a surgery or loss, vow to be there for a three a.m. call, offer a shoulder or a tissue during a really good cry. You will never watch as her children grow up, as she struggles through a difficult divorce, or as she finally grows into who she always has been.
Perhaps, though, your words work themselves through the ears and wind themselves through the heart of this newly made companion of yours. Perhaps they fill a void where a void was wanting to be filled. Perhaps they resonate as words that might have come from your friend herself, cementing a connection that was in no further need of cementing. Not only do you finish your coffee, but you have many coffees for years to come. You meld yourselves into each other’s lives. Days pass, months. It is year on year that the two of you continue to lean on the other. For encouragement, support, consolation, and love. At some point in all of this, and when that happens I am not for sure, the two of you become one. Joy becomes more expansive when shared with this friend. Sorrow, less heavy. You want to run, first, to the other on hearing good news. You want to run, first, to the other on hearing the bad.
With most you erect a wall. You explain, describe, dismiss, and define. You decide for others what you will allow. They will not be privy to your innards, your soul. They will not be able, nor allowed, to read in the margins, off your draft, or between the spaces of your prettied up lines. They will believe the smile, the mask, the beautiful words. They will believe it because you have led to them to think that it is just so.
With this true friend, however, there are no walls. Neither is there explaining or dismissing. You may try if you like, but your friend will know. Your friend will know who you are and what you think and why you do the things you do. Your friend will know, sometimes, even, before you will know yourself.
It is a good feeling to allow oneself to be true and real, to shed the mask and lay open and bare. It is a good feeling to not have to try or pretend or excuse, to be just exactly who you are and to know that another knows you in this way no matter how much you might try to hide.
This is the most vulnerable place one can be.
I should end this essay on a positive note, I know. For the life of me, I cannot do it. Exposing oneself, sharing with another what is so deeply inside leaves one at unspeakable risk. Yes, it brings a feeling of joy and pleasure and love. But it leaves one, too, vulnerable to separation, anger, and death, vulnerable to forces that darken the heart, that pierce the soul.
It is easy. It is easy to wear the mask, to erect the wall. It is easy, but it is not good. The soul needs to breathe. The heart needs to speak. If, with that joy and love, there comes sorrow and pain, if with that exposure there comes risk, then so be it. A life lived without sincerity or feeling, a life lived without sharing of oneself, a life lived without baring one’s soul, is, in the end, no life that was ever really lived.