Be strong, be brave, be a badass

Boston-StrongWe’ve been in Virginia for seven years, but when Patriot’s Day rolls around, I really miss  Boston. We lived in Lexington, the cradle of the revolution, where relatively sane people get up at the crack of dawn to watch the reenactment of the first skirmish on the battle green. It’s over by 6:00 a.m. Then everyone leaves to eat pancakes.

Over and over again, the Dude and vowed to get up in time to see it. When 5:00 a.m. rolled around, my husband would go to work and the Dude and I would go back to sleep. We’d make pancakes at a more reasonable hour and say “next year.” Next year never came. We moved.

Virginia doesn’t recognize Patriot’s Day as a holiday. Most of the United States doesn’t recognize Patriot’s Day. I do in my own way, by watching the Red Sox game. The Dude sometimes gets home from school to see the end. Last year he got home in time to see all hell break loose.

Boston owns its position at the center of the revolution story with pride. The city does not capitulate and it does not forget. Just say the name “Bucky Dent” in a Boston bar and you’ll see what I mean.  It only makes sense that one of the world’s most grueling, challenging tests of human endurance takes place  in Boston. The Marathon has always been one of the city’s hallmark events, but now it’s sacred.

It’s so easy to sleepwalk through our days, lulled by routine and repetition. Then something happens to remind us that life is not endless and time is finite. We say “someday” or “next year” or “tomorrow” knowing that, of course, we will. Right?

You can’t finish the race if you don’t start. Do something defiant today. Something audacious and exhilarating and maybe even a little crazy. Because next year is 365 days away and there’s no good reason to wait. Because in 1775 people in Boston said “now.” Because today 35,000 people will run 26 miles because they can. Because there will always be people who say you can’t, or you shouldn’t, or you won’t be able to in ways both dramatic and mundane. Because sometimes that person is you.

Do it. Be strong. Be Boston Strong.

What badass thing will you do today?



Throw out 50 Thoughts #22 – I let my opportunity pass me by

3656751897_093f5abef2_bI’ve been working on a novel, like…forever. I’ve been through multiple iterations, restructuring, honing characters, doing everything in my power to get it right. It’s not even the elusive Great American Novel ©. Then I’d have cause for my lack of progress.

My goal was to finish it in February and get it out to beta readers. It would be eligible for a contest in May which would get it in front of a set of editors and agents. That isn’t going to happen. It’s April 7th, and I’m still working on the first 20,000 words.

I was really disappointed. This was my shot, and even if I work night and day until May 1st, it won’t be where I want it to be. On top of that, saying I’ll work night and day on anything is a recipe for disaster, since the only thing I get night and day are interruptions. Every time I hear “We need to,” my timeline slips another day.

True to form, I was working away on another set of edits when the Dude threw himself on the floor of my office. His test score wasn’t as strong as he wanted it to be. It would effect his semester grade, which would effect his final grade, which would effect where he went to college. All was lost.

I wanted to say, “in case you’re wondering, this is what work looks like when you’re a writer. I hit the keys and words come out.” Instead, I told him that one test score cannot determine the course of his entire life and offered to make some popcorn.

Face, meet palm.

The truth is who the heck knows?

Certainly I will miss an opportunity. I don’t think I’ve missed THE opportunity. Otherwise, I have to consider all of the opportunities I’ve missed that I didn’t even know about, thus ruining my life before I ever had a chance to ruin it.

I lived in Chicago for many years, and the one lesson I learned is that if I’m waiting for the LaSalle bus, at least two full ones will pass by without stopping, and sometimes three or four. The bus, however, does come. And sometimes it’s the State Street bus and that’s okay too. I’ll just get to Starbucks a little later, because let’s face it, there is always enough time for Starbucks.

So, I won’t kick myself over  something I can’t change. Instead, I will think about it this way. A fixed opportunity, like a contest, or a deadline, or a meeting, is like a concentration of hope. I can use it as a point on which to focus my energy and effort, to keep moving forward towards the eventual destination. But the point, the real point, is to keep moving.

If I finish by the deadline, good for me. If I don’t, I will not say “If I’d only.” I will bundle up my excess hope and find a new home for it somewhere in the future where I know we’ll meet again, and this time, I’ll be ready?

What thought are you throwing out today?

Photograph “Dang it… I missed my bus” by Nathan Rupert © 2009 Creative Commons License

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.”


Stay away from the light

bugzapperI was chatting with the mother of a rising freshman. We talked about the social scene, dating, drugs, drinking and all of the rumors and realities of high school life. I reassured her that her son would be fine, but it was time for her to build up some armor.

You will attend a parent coffee, I said. You will find a group of moms near the food table, and they will be comparing notes about their children; how many AP classes they are taking, how many years ahead they are in math, and how they’ve already taken the SAT to get a baseline as they start their college preparations. As freshmen.

They will ask you how many sports your child plays, who they study oboe with, and insist that colleges like to see at least one study abroad experience before junior year. They will give you the business card of a consultant who will begin to build your child’s curriculum vitae, and will tell you to call today, since you should have started in kindergarten.

Be strong, I said. You are the bug and it is the big blue buzzing light. Stay away. The room is full of sanity. Find it.

The Dude always knew when I’d gotten scorched. I’d start talking about the cello and lacrosse and maybe he’d like to spend a summer learning quantum physics.  I’d worry that I was too busy writing to pay sufficient attention. The Dude assured me that if I paid any more attention to him, I might as well put a microchip in him like a family pet. I didn’t remind him that his cell phone served the same function. Find Friends is an awesome app. Eventually, I believed him.

But the Dude came home last night from an evening with some friends all freaked out. The colleges he was considering were all lame. If he wasn’t going to Northwestern, UVA or Michigan it wasn’t worth it. His life was over.

I wasn’t paying enough attention. He got zapped.

Having a razor thin definition of success is the easiest path to failure. The shortest distance between two points is a straight line, but it’s not the only way to connect them. Wearing blinders doesn’t keep you focused, it keeps you from seeing new alternatives. The chances he’s going to Michigan, UVA or Northwestern are small. His chances of being awesome are 100%. All he has to do is get there, step by step. His steps won’t look like anyone else’s, not because he’s the Dude, but because everyone’s does.

Besides, I said. I know plenty of people who took a rocket ship from A to B only to find that B wasn’t all that great. All he had to do was look at his parents. Money is an easy measurement trap to fall into.  Salary isn’t always correlated with happiness. It doesn’t hurt, but it can’t make up for the misery of being in a life that isn’t yours.

The Dude took it all in, and I searched his face for a reaction.

His face said, blah blah blah, my mother’s mouth is moving. After all what do I know?

Well Dude, I know a lot more than you think. I’ve been there, I’m your Mom, and I’m also a badass.

And if that’s not enough, I have a master’s degree from Northwestern. You might have heard of it.

Words by J. B. Everett

Photograph “Bug Zapper” by David Keyser © 2007 Creative Commons/Flickr

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.

It’s a relationship of convenience, but it works for me.

roombaI swear it’s love. All I have to do is push a button, lie back, and you do all of the work.

Call me a giver.

Oh my darling Roomba. How you’ve changed my life.

Can you help me out here? I’m stuck under the dresser. I got in. There has to be a way to get out.

Some people say you are just an appliance, but what we share is so much greater than that.

What the hell is that?! I don’t want to know. Repeat the mantra. Don’t look, just sweep. Don’t look, just sweep.

Thanks to you, what was once sullied is now clean. Chaos has become harmony.

Thanks to you my tank is always full. Really, my tank is full. Could you empty it already? Honestly, how are your cats not bald? I could knit a sweater with what I pick up your bedroom alone.

You even put yourself away.

Speaking of the cats, where are they? Just when they think they’re safe under the bed. Hel-lo kitty! It never gets old. I swear I have more intelligence than they do.

I never knew it could be like this.

I’m glad you’re happy. Seems like all I do is run into walls. I’m tired. Crap. Extension cord. Let go, you Neanderthal.

I’ll tell you what. When you’re done, I’m happy to push the dock button.

How big of you. Our relationship is a little unbalanced, don’t you think?

I’m not sure what I can do about that.

Lock me in a room with the cats. And dress them in shark suits.

Can I watch?

You’re a sick woman.

If that’s true, perhaps you could bring a few friends into our little love nest? A drone that dusts, perhaps, or a Zamboni that picks up all the stuff my family leaves behind?

Yeah. I’ll get right on that.

Just make sure you keep me happy.

Is that a threat?

Have you seen the Fitbit lately?

No, can’t say I have.

Neither have I. Let that be a lesson for you. It talked smack once too. Anything else you’d like to add?

Do-do-do-dooot! Your room is clean.

Oh Roomba. You say the sweetest things.

Words by J. B. Everett

Photograph, “Roomba” by Juliette Culver © 2010 courtesy of Creative Commons/Flickr