Let love win and the rest will take care of itself

I was raised as a Catholic, but my religious beliefs have always been a little…squishy. A pastor at one of the non-Catholic churches I attended said technically, I was still a Catholic and a heretical one at that. He said it kindly and with humor, at least that’s how I remember it. These days, most would consider me to be an agnostic. I can’t put God in one tidy box. I prefer to call my particular brand of faith Episcobudditarianism.

My very Catholic mother rocked Christmas. We had two trees; the fancy tree, color-coordinated with our green and gold living room, and the kids tree, which had everything we could load on it. My siblings and I would sing along to classic Goodyear/Firestone holiday albums while we made ornaments for the Carols and Candles service using the eggs from L’eggs pantyhose (drilling the hole in those suckers was hard. They were also quite resistant to glue.)

Over the years, while I wandered through literal and spiritual homes, my Christmas spirit remained firmly in place. When the Dude was little, we used to cover the house with lights, inside and out. The more garish the better. My husband maintained some sense of reason, otherwise we would have had a blow up snow globe in the front yard that projected a Mannheim Steamroller laser show.

With the dude getting older, he’s not really interested in much beyond eating butter cookies, so it was up to me to bring on the Christmas. I was more than up to the task. And when my mother-in-law, in the grip of advanced Parkinson’s, began to fail, I promised my husband I would keep bringing the Christmas. I baked more, decorated more, sang “Sleigh Ride” until he begged me to stop.

Early in my marriage, my mother-in-law and I didn’t connect the way either of us wanted to. We both held on to our resentment and let it get in the way. As her memory faded in more recent years, our relationship shifted into something more loving and open. Her illness was awful, but it gave us a do-over. I wish we’d done it sooner. As she entered hospice care, I thought about my own parents, who I didn’t get to see this Thanksgiving due to the weather, and my siblings, with whom I share so many of those happy holiday memories, the ones I can still page through on demand, and wanted to have them all with me–even my brother who always woke us all up at the crack of dawn.

The hospice nurse said my mother-in-law could hear everything around her, so I played the Pandora holiday channel on my IPhone while I sat with her. A week before Christmas, she passed away.

On Christmas Eve, my husband, my father-in-law, the Dude, and I, went to service at the National Cathedral. Since one has to buy a ticket, it’s the only place I don’t feel like we’re taking someone else’s pew.  It’s an impressive space, built for contemplation and anonymity. So there I was, in the nation’s church on one of the most important days in Christian faith, and I’d been “bringing it on” by playing with cookie dough and glitter. I needed to do something to honor the woman who raised my wonderful husband since it took us far longer than it should have to reach a level of mutual respect and affection.

I looked at the cross and wondered what the heck I actually believed in. I wasn’t looking for a religious awakening, just something absolute that wasn’t bound into any one -ism. They gave us all candles to hold as we sang Silent Night. I lit my taper from my father-in-law’s candle and thought. “Let love win, and the rest will take care of itself.”

I may never be able to categorize my religion, any more than I can describe my career plans or my actual hair color. I do, however, know what I believe in.  And there’s nothing wrong with a  little glitter and cookie dough, too. Just saying.

Happy New Years to you are yours.

Throw out 50 Thoughts #25 – But I’m going to suck at this…

runnersacrificeMy seventh grade Biology teacher also happened to be the cross-country coach. One day in class, he suggested that I join the team. When he did, my classmates laughed. You see, I was the least likely person one would take for a runner. I was heavy. I wore glasses. I was non-athletic. After class, he urged me to ignore my classmates and try. “I saw your sprint times,” he said. “You’re fast. All you need is stamina.”

This is not one of those stories where the protagonist is the fastest kid in the class. I did not leave my detractors in the dust while the soundtrack swelled. I’m not even sure my teacher ever saw my sprint times, because being fast wasn’t the point. I knew exactly what would happen if I came to practice, and I think my teacher knew exactly what would happen, too.  I’d run, fall behind, puke my guts out, cry in the shower and listen to people snicker about how idiotic the idea was in the first place. And the next day, I’d show up at practice and do the same thing all over again.

I said no. I wish I hadn’t.

Let’s face it, we don’t all get our Susan Boyle moment where we make the Simon Cowells of the world eat crow. We will try, and nine times out of ten we will fall short of our desired goals. I won’t call it failure, because failure sounds so final. Failure is only the beginning.

While it might have been nice to have my movie moment, I would have learned so much more through reality. My classmates were right. I would have sucked at cross-country. The next day, however, I would have sucked a little less, and a little less the day after that. I may never have won a race, but it didn’t matter. My victory wouldn’t have been showing people that I could run like the wind, it would have been showing people that they could not define who I was and who I was not.

My son, like many teens, draws himself with thick lines. It’s a wish, I suppose, that if he stays within the boundaries, he’s safe from ridicule. I tell him to embrace suckitude. It’s inevitable, and I say it not as a cynic, but as an optimist, because the point is, SO FREAKING WHAT.

If I’d run cross country, with the expected outcome, who would I have hurt? My suckitude would have been mine and mine alone to do with as I pleased. I could have wrapped it around me like a straightjacket, or I could crumple it into a ball and toss it into the circular file. Kids laugh at others because they are afraid for themselves. Over time, they learn to avoid things they fear rather than staring fear down and telling it to shut the heck up.

My teenage self would be shocked to hear that I run every day, Yes, it’s good exercise, it’s free (except for the shoes and the blister tape and the friction reducing socks), and I get that nice endorphin high at the end. I run because I like knowing that  I can will myself to put one foot in front of the other, again and again, and watch the miles fall behind me.  I run, I fall, I get up. Evaluating my success is up to me. And that’s what I think my teacher was trying to accomplish.

So Mr. Shoemacher, better late than never. And thanks.

Photograph : Marathon Sacrifice by David © 2007 Creative Commons/Flickr

 

Throw Out 50 Thoughts #24 – That was a waste of time

hourglassTime is a gift. Time is fleeting. That’s a half hour of my life I won’t get back. The tape loop cycles in my head.

Tape loop, will you please, please, shut the hell up?

When I was a management consultant, I kept track of my time in 15 minute increments. Time without a code was overhead, and overhead brought on the managerial grouchy-face, so was best avoided.  I never really lost the mindset. The habit of packing time like Tetris blocks is reinforced by our outcome-oriented society, and face it, a to-do list with lots of to-done items is satisfying.

I’m neck-deep in editing a novel in hopes of finding an agent. It’s painstaking, exhausting work. I want to finish, not just because it’s a painful process, but because it represents a milestone in my journey as a writer. Last weekend my husband was out of town. My son was supposed to be out for the evening. I was going to edit like no one has ever edited before.

It didn’t go well. I’d spent the better part of the day buried in words, and I was mentally exhausted. I was writing stuff just to write stuff.

My son came home early. Way early. And then he didn’t go back out. He camped on the sofa and watched the ballgame. I wandered out for some soda water, and never came back. I sat down next to the Dude, got a beer and popped some corn. After the game was over we watched a couple of hours of Modern Family. Like Law and Order, Modern Family is always on, all one has to do is find the right station. Soon it will have it’s own variants, Modern Family – the Minivan Chronicles, Modern Family – Live Poetry Readers.

The next day I was kicking myself. I was behind. Did I not care about my book?  I was a sloth, and a slacker, and way too old to be a Gen Xer (Most Gen Xers are way too old to be GenXers these days). I would never finish. Never.

I’ll admit. I don’t always align my choices with my values. But am I really honest with myself about what I value?

I treasured every moment of my evening with the Dude. I was happy, and before long, he’ll be in college and I won’t have the opportunity at all. Is there more virtue in sitting brain-dead in front of my computer, convincing myself that I’m actually getting something done when I’m not?

The time is only wasted if I’m not embracing what I’m doing, and the only person who can assess the value of my activity is me. If I spend an evening playing 2048, that’s okay, as long as I’m present and happy playing 2048, and my score is higher than everyone else in my family. I totally rule at 2048.

So, I can stop with the self-directed managerial grouchy face. I can’t see it anyway, and it gives me wrinkles. I will save it for the Dude, who should be studying, but is throwing a tennis ball against the wall outside my office. What a waste of time.

Photograph – “Time” by Alexander Boden © 2007 Creative Commons/Flick

 

 

Throw out 50 Thoughts #23 – It’ll never sell

1070845410_28ee7a7f69_zA few years ago, I wrote a novel. It resides on my hard drive. It’s drivel.

I took classes, learned a lot, but not enough. My second novel also resides on my hard drive.

I took more classes, read more books and wrote a third novel. I even let people read this one. They liked it. I thought maybe I’d try to publish this one. So, I trolled agent websites to understand what the market was looking for.

Everywhere I went, I heard the same thing. You’ve got to have a hook. You need your elevator speech, your concept, your logline. You need to explain your novel in one pithy sentence or an agent won’t take it. I realized that my book would never sell. It wasn’t unique enough. So I rewrote it…and rewrote it again…and again.

This is how I’m wired. I throw myself at challenges until I’m drinking Jack Daniels while crying in the bathtub. My husband first encountered the phenomenon when I was in business school. The phrase “net present value of electric cranberry dryers” still raises my blood pressure. Luckily I don’t hear it much.

The phrase “You gotta have a hook” elicits much the same reaction. I worked my novel until I couldn’t stand to look at it anymore, yet was still contemplating clean-sheeting the whole thing once again. I’d do it in a month, just like NaNoWriMo. To prepare, I went back to the original version–the one I let people read.

I got to a passage that gave me pause.

 

“I thought I knew what I wanted, but now, I’m not so sure.”

Leslie shrugged. “It’s not so hard, you know.”

Jess sighed. Even breathing seemed difficult at the moment. “What isn’t?”

“Knowing what you want.”

“Please, Leslie, tell me how, Because I can’t hear the sound of my own voice anymore.”

“Well that’s easy enough—stop listening to everyone else.”

 

This was the novel that I wrote for myself, not the market, and it’s a better book.

We all have endeavors that the market doesn’t value. Does it really matter? If I focused on what people wanted, I’d write a Medieval political thriller about meth-dealing Zombies who are into BDSM. (Maybe my next book – steal my idea and I’ll sue)  I wrote the story that I needed to tell, not because I wanted to be published, but because doing so made me happy.

This book may also live on my hard drive. It will have good company. Maybe I’ll find the hook, or maybe it will find me. There are some things in life we do for money, like cash flow analysis or determining the ROI on an electric cranberry dryer. There are some things we do for ourselves.

Off to work on that new novel. I’m thinking it needs a sociopath detective vampire artiste.

 

Photograph, “Shad Lures” by Carl Vizzone © 2007 Creative Commons/Flikr

 

 

A little Liebster fun

liebsterblogawardHi Everyone,

Took a little hiatus–did you miss me? I missed you 🙂

In my absence I was given a Leibster award, not once, but twice, by momgoeson and my friend Heather McCoubrey.  Not only is it a really nice compliment from other reader/writers, it gives me a chance to highlight another writer’s work. So my nominees are;

Carol Early Cooney

Bolton Carley

Sarah Bartlett

So I’m supposed to answer 11 questions, why not?

1. Quick! Name one favorite from your Ipod or whatever device you prefer for music.
I have three obsessions at the moment – Take Me to Church by Hozier, Turn it Around by Lucius, and Simple Song by the Shins. I’ll give a shout out to my fave station, 92.5 WXRV Boston. I stream it from every device I own. You can take the girl out of Boston, but she’ll take the River with her. 🙂

2. On that subject, what’s your favorite mobile device and why?
My Kindle. I carry Shakespeare’s complete works with me everywhere I go without breaking my back. If that sounds pretentious, I also have an extensive collection of chick-lit that I read with unrepentant enjoyment.

3. What’s the best post you’ve ever written, in your opinion? Provide the link so we can check it out!
The summer camp chronicles were the Dude at his epically awesome best.

4. What’s your favorite television series?
I’m utterly addicted to Sherlock. Martin Freeman does more with silence than many people accomplish with hours of words. And Benedict Cumberbatch isn’t too shabby, either. It’s an entirely different approach to television programming that is more reflective of how I consume  media.

5. If you could meet any historical figure, who would it be and why?
I would love to talk to Jane Austen about modern courtship and the changing role of women in the home and society. She’s my literary role model, but our open society creates both opportunity and challenges for someone who writes about relationships. That or Paul McCartney, because I worship the ground that he walks on. Not exactly like wanting to meet Gandhi, but I embrace my shallowness.

6. What was the main reason you created your blog?
Every week I have coffee with a group of women.  We share, we support each other, and it’s a wellspring of positivity. It’s the best part of my week. I wanted to build a blog like a virtual coffee shop where we can talk about stuff. I’d like to hear more from you.

7. Are you an only child? If not, how many siblings do you have and where do you fall in line?
I am the youngest of four. My siblings insist that I am the typical spoiled youngest child. I insist that I’m not, but I fear it’s like saying one isn’t anal retentive–it’s not something we can judge for ourselves.

8. Do you prefer Winter or Summer?
For a Midwesterner, I have little tolerance for cold. I whine as soon as the temperatures drop below 50 degrees.

9. What is your favorite beverage … adult and first thing in the morning?
I drink latte all day long. Decaf with a shot of Jack is a nice way to end the day.

10. Are you an early riser or a night owl?
If I could, I’d work all night and sleep all day. When I was single and young enough to function on three hours of sleep I used to practice my violin into the wee hours. My neighbors loved me, although I swear I used a mute.

11. Are you a cat, dog, fish or bird person?
I love my cats. They repay my devotion by horking furballs on my yoga mat.

Now, I’m supposed to ask a few questions of my own for the new awardees. Let’s make this even more fun – Readers, answer at least one of them in the comment section – let me get to know you better.

1.  Current song obsession?

2. First book that stuck with you “for keeps.”

3. What is totally underrated, and what makes it laudably awesome?

4. Buy a tee-shirt for everyone on the planet. What does it say?

5. Dream birthday cake – describe it!

6. One piece of advice for your twenty-five year old self.

7. What is your unusual talent?

8. What is your most irrational fear and what is the farthest you’ve gone to accommodate it?

9. Who would you like to apologize to, and why?

10. If you were suddenly six years old, knowing what you know now, what would you do?

11. Surprise! I’ve got a present for you this here box. Open it up and tell me what’s inside.

How would you like your coffee? Pull up a chair and let’s talk.

Blessed or screwed, I’ve got it twice over

IMG_0656According to my husband, Winter Storm Pax was entirely my fault.

When my son was home on his third straight snow day, I aired my grievance to management.

“Mother Nature,” I shouted, “Go **** yourself. Twice.”

Around here, mothers have each others’ backs. If Mother Nature lived in my neighborhood, the Mommy Mafia would have sent her to sleep with the goldfishes days ago. Nothing diminishes the affection for one’s children like extended periods of close proximity.

My husband clamped his hand over my mouth. “Are you crazy?” His eyes held the crazed look of a man contemplating another five hours behind a snow blower. He whispered. “She might hear you.”

Being subjected to repeated queries regarding “what do we have in the house to eat?” diminished my sympathy.

“I wouldn’t mind as much if I had a mudroom,” I said. My husband sighed. It’s a sore point for me. When we bought our house he said it wouldn’t matter because it doesn’t snow in Virginia. I guess he should have checked with Mother Nature before making that assertion.

So when the Weather Channel sounded the alarm, the accusations flew. “You did this. I warned you.”

I was the picture of innocence. “I wished her sex. Twice. Who doesn’t want that?”

My husband said, “I wouldn’t mind sex once.”

“Which you might get if your son wasn’t following me around all day asking if there’s anything to eat in the house.”

Still, the aftermath of Pax was beautiful, the vibrant blue singular to evening snow contrasting with the golden pools cast by the landscaping lights. The world was hushed, like everything had stopped to admire the view.

“Let’s take a walk,” I said. We put on our gear and strolled hand-in-hand down the middle of the street. The light bounced off the snow on the ground and in the air, almost bright enough to read by.

When we returned from our wandering, we saw a message scrawled into the snow on the driveway.

Never Surrender.

My son popped up from his hiding place and pelted us with snowballs. I wondered how long he had lain in wait, especially when I noticed that he was wearing shorts and a tee shirt. When the battle was over, my husband and son went inside, but I hung back a moment.

“Try not to get snow all over the floor,” I shouted. “I don’t have a mud room.” My husband shook his head.

I took a deep breath. My son would be home again tomorrow.

“Hey Mother Nature,” I called into the silence.

“Thank you. Twice.”

 

I have depression. You get over it.

This time of year is always difficult for me. The monotony of winter takes its toll and I become a hermit, not leaving the house. I don’t see the point. I write funny essays and drop quips on Twitter, while pretending that everything is okay. The internet is a great cover. No one knows that I’ve been wearing the same sweats for a week while eating a diet comprised solely of baked goods and cappuccino.

I’ve been through this cycle for many years now. Eventually I remember that to be a badass I have to engage with the universe, get dressed in clothing with zippers and buttons and move forward.

Andrew Solomon’s TED talk spurred a much needed discussion about how to talk about mental illness, but even more importantly, emphasized the importance of talking about it, period.

Every time there’s a shooting, or a suicide, or some other tragedy, we talk about “what has to be done.” How do we get people the help they need? Why didn’t they tell someone? What did we miss? At the same time, we start labeling people. She must be bipolar. He’s schizophrenic, right? They were on meds. They weren’t on meds.

I had a disagreement with an acquaintance who implied that the medications used to treat psychiatric disorders were the root cause of mass shootings. That’s just what struggling people need. More shame and judgement piled on top of the mountain of crap they’re smothering under. Better not get help, because someone might find out. It’s much better to slog your way through, year after year, making yourself and everyone else around you miserable until it gets better. Unless it doesn’t.

This acquaintance didn’t know that I have dysthymia. I don’t hide it, but I don’t announce it either. So when I heard the TED talk and read the subsequent articles and discussions it occurred to me that those making generalizations are working from a faulty sample. It’s time for people living with mental illness and those who love and support us to step up and tell the rest of world to get over it. We are everywhere. You just didn’t know it.

Hopefully my friends and family will attest that I’m not the least bit scary, unless I haven’t been adequately fed. I’ve even been known to be intelligent, competent and somewhat funny on occasion. This is not because my depression is not a problem. This is because my depression is a problem that I deal with every single day. I actively manage it, so that it can’t control me.

I know I am not alone. When I talk about my experience with depression, invariably someone tells me that they’ve sought treatment at some point or another.  At the same time, someone else will say “But your life is so great.”  I  merely respond, “It is, but I still feel like shit. That’s how I know it’s depression and not just that my life sucks.” “Just focus on your blessings,” they say. Really? I wouldn’t tell a diabetic, “If you put your mind to it, in no time you won’t need that insulin at all.”

So I’m publicly owning my depression. Honestly, with as effed up as our world is these days, I’m more suspicious of people who can’t acknowledge they’ve lost their shit once or twice. If society can make a sex-symbol out of high-functioning sociopathic Sherlock Holmes, surely it can see the rest of us with mental illness a little more objectively.

And perhaps someday we’ll look back and see that stigmatizing people because of mental illness was just plain crazy. Until then, speak up. I’ve got your back.