My Tin Anniversary On WordPress

“Be not afraid of growing slowly; be afraid only of standing still.” ~Chinese proverb

This morning when I logged into WordPress to respond to comments on my post from yesterday, I was greeted with a note telling me I’m celebrating my 10th anniversary on WordPress. This seemed a little crazy to me, that ten years have slipped by since I made the commitment to begin writing again, so I went back to revisit my first post. Sure enough, it was written on December 6, 2011. In December 2011, our sons were 10 and 8. Most of my posts were about their crazy antics or our family life, which makes sense because in December 2011 my primary focus was our sons.

Fast forward ten years. Our sons are now 20 and 18, one is in Washington at college and the other will be heading off next fall. So my primary focus needs to change. In my early forties, I was pretty busy becoming what I thought I was supposed to be. I was working to be a better mother, a better child, a better spouse, and an overall better, more informed, more fit, more attractive human being. I was working at becoming something, which was kind of pointless because I already was something. Now in my early fifties I understand that I don’t need to become anything to be valuable. In fact, I am busily engaged in learning how to simply be and to meet myself where I am at. I’m busy learning how to just be me.

Image credit to Gary Larson of The Far Side

I started this blog ten years ago to hold myself accountable. I wanted to be able to track progress and growth. Mostly what I’ve done, though, is create a catalog of my life. I’m still an over-thinker. I still take on more than I should. I still don’t know where I’m headed. But I do have a record of where I’ve been. I’m growing slowly but, thanks to my blog, at least I have proof that I have not been standing still.

When The Words Don’t Come But Growth Does

What I have managed to accomplish while my brain has been on hiatus

The past week has been a blur. It seems my head hasn’t had the bandwidth for writing blogs or even thinking, really. I’m overwhelmed. Somewhere between the continuing pandemic, the transitions happening in our family, the addition of a furry ball of love with four short legs and sharpy teeth, and the annual stresses of the holiday season, I find myself a little out of sorts. I think I need a long winter’s nap or a two-week, solo, all-expenses-paid vacation to Bora Bora so I have time for my brain to snap back into place.

If there is good news about any of this, it’s that despite all the craziness I am finally at a place in my life where I know it’s okay to be off. I know I don’t have to be perfect. I don’t have to be cranking out insightful, meaningful pieces daily. I’m allowed to struggle on occasion, to not know what I am thinking, to take a mental break to deal with the business of life and put up a Christmas tree and drive my son to the airport. The last time I wrote my blog every day, I did not acknowledge these things. I made apologies for what I felt was sloppy work. I’m not about that anymore. I’m not here now saying mea culpa to you. I’m here letting you know where my head is right now. I’m telling you that I care about writing, but I also care about honoring my mental and personal space. So this means I am making personal progress and achieving growth. Yay, me.

I even took time to dress my puppy for a photo

Sometimes we have to make compromises in life. Lately, the compromise I’ve been making is less time to write so I can take care of my family and myself. I’m hoping to have some space in my life and my head soon so I can go back to writing about things that make me passionate. For now, though, enjoy the photo of my cute puppers in a holiday bandana because sometimes a post with a photo of a corgi puppy in front of a Christmas tree is the only good we need in the world.

A Missing Letter Can Change Everything

All consonants are important, even if they’re voiceless.

Tonight Thing One sent me a paper to edit. He does this on occasion. One of the only benefits of having a mom who writes is that she might be willing to do some editing for you in a pinch. The paper tonight was for his history class and covered the Reformation. As I was reading through it and checking the grammar and spelling, I noticed that my darling son’s dyslexia reared its head. He had “peasant” written as “pheasant.” This took me back to a post I wrote almost 10 years ago when I was proofreading a 4th grade book report for him.

Joe had written a book report on Danny, Champion of the World by Roald Dahl. As I was reading his paper, I was having a hard time understanding what he was saying because he kept referring to the main characters “poaching peasants.” The story involves a father and son who put sleeping pills in raisins and use them to poach pheasants off a neighbor’s land. But in the book report, Joe kept referring to the pheasants as “peasants.” Imagine my consternation when I’m reading along and thinking my 4th grade son is reading a book about a father and son who kill people and eat them.

I know that at 20 Joe knows the difference between a peasant and a pheasant. He actually knew the difference 10 years ago too. It’s just that his brain doesn’t always make the spelling distinction. As a person for whom English and writing came a bit more easily, I admit I used to judge potential boyfriends on their ability to spell and use correct grammar. It was snobby, but it was a pet peeve of mine when a person wrote “your so cool” rather than “you’re so cool.” Then, the universe gave me sons with dyslexia and ADHD, which forced me to see that poor grammar and spelling aren’t always due to ignorance or a lack of intelligence or education. Sometimes poor grammar and spelling are the result of a learning disability. So, I’ve learned to relax a little bit when I see “your” instead of “you’re” or “pheasant” instead of “peasant.” Or at least I’ve learned not to judge the grammar over what is being said.

I hate to think that someone might not be able to see beyond our sons’ dyslexic spelling errors. I prefer to think that anyone who talked to them would understand they were intelligent people with grammar and spelling issues on occasion. Maybe those people will come to learn what I have. You might have to put up with some spelling confusion when dealing with a person who has dyslexia, but you might get some funny stories out of it too.

The Kindest People I’ve Never Met

People publish a blog for many reasons, to earn a living or to promote their career or to connect with other people or to share some expertise. I’ve been writing for decades, going back to keeping a journal with regular entries when I was 13 years old. I started posting online on my first blog, Suburban Sirens, in 2009 when I was a 41 year old stay-at-home mom with 6 and 8 year old sons. Looking back, I think I began blogging as a way to reconnect with writing and editing, a career I jettisoned in 2001 with the birth of my first son. I felt separated from the art that had become so much a part of me that when it was gone I felt I had lost a part of myself. I was a bit lost without writing. I felt adrift.

If I put my thoughts out into the universe, if I started writing again, then perhaps I would feel slightly less invisible and slightly more heard than I felt as a stay-at-home mom with no income. And I had gotten to a point in my life where the boys were in school and I had a little quiet time to myself to reflect. As it turned out, blogging became an important way for me to process my sons’ struggles with learning disabilities and my difficulties adapting to their difficulties. Blogging became for me a type of low-cost therapy.

All of this is to say that I never began blogging to gain a following or even to be read, necessarily. I started posting a blog as a means of keeping myself accountable and figuring out what was going on in my mom brain. When I began posting on Live Now and Zen, I was genuinely surprised that 1) anyone (even my friends) took the time to read anything I published and 2) that some people who didn’t even know me read what I had to say. So, imagine my total shock when people I didn’t know began commenting on my posts. When I hit 1k subscribers, I was in denial. What are these people thinking? Don’t they have anything better to do? I’m still in denial about their readership and kindness. I don’t get it because, honestly, I do not spend much time reading on WordPress. I should read more. I should be spending a great deal more time seeing what others are saying. But, damn, I barely find time to write and publish most days. I feel guilty for not being a better blog community member and, next year when I am officially no longer a stay-at-home parent, I plan to ameliorate this situation at long last.

Despite my inattention to other’s posts, along the way I found several bloggers who were/are kind enough to read my posts often and leave me a comment. I cannot thank these individuals enough because their attention, encouragement, feedback, and comments have been more of a gift than I ever imagined or felt my writing deserved. So, I want to take a self-indulgent moment to thank my friends on WordPress: Paz (Armchair Zen), Gail (nightowlgail), msw (reallifeofanmsw), E.A. (bleuwater), babsje (babsjeheron), and Real Women (realwomen1). You have made me feel heard, appreciated, and understood during times when I have been struggling to find myself. Your encouragement and kind words have changed my opinion of my efforts. It’s been astounding to me how something I never sought or expected has given me so much.

You never know how a kind word can touch someone else. I encourage anyone who engages in an artistic practice to tell people who are working at their craft that you see them. You don’t know how that one comment might change everything for that struggling artist, writer, actor, sculptor, or performer.

The Power of Storytelling Without Fear

“Trauma creates change you don’t choose. Healing is about creating change you DO choose.” ~Michelle Rosenthall

Everything changes when you finally decide to divest yourself from a toxic relationship.

Some people judge you for your choice, especially if the relationship you leave behind is one involving a parent, spouse, or sibling. Those people tell you to reconsider because “life is short and you might be sorry when they are gone.” Those people used to get to me. They would reacquaint me with the gaslighting I have experienced my entire life. I would feel guilty and small and cruel for choosing myself. With time and practice, though, I’ve learned to listen to those voices less because those people don’t and can’t understand the emotional damage I have worked so hard to grieve, dismantle, reassess, and then release. They don’t know that every day is a battle to trust others, to feel safe in my skin and like myself, and to move forward carrying less baggage. They can’t understand how much it hurts a child to have a parent tell you multiple times, “You have a face only a mother could love,” only to realize she doesn’t love you or she would never say things like that. Birthdays, holidays, and family events are not joyful, but instead produce physical symptoms of anxiety. Walking away is not what you want. It’s not what you ever wanted, which is why it is so difficult. But, in the face of acknowledging there is not now nor will there ever be true acceptance and appreciation from the people who made you question everything about yourself, the best thing to do is move on and do better for yourself.

I still feel guilty sometimes about putting myself first, about choosing to skip out on that toxic person’s birthday party or holiday gathering. I never want to feel I am acting intentionally to hurt another because I was constantly told that I was selfish and thoughtless. Looking out for myself only proves that hypothesis. But what if I test that hypothesis against the reality of what happened rather than the illusion of what I was told happened? Then, magical things begin to occur. I have learned to have empathy for my abusers, to feel sorry they were incapable of doing better, to be grateful they taught me what not to do with my own children, to feel sad they will never know the truth about love, and at the same time to understand I do not owe them a relationship at the expense of my own mental and emotional well being.

For decades, my brain protected me by blocking awareness of the abuse. It had me believe that I was treated the same way everyone else was by their parents. It wasn’t until I started talking about my youth and seeing the shock and horror on other’s faces when I told them stories about my childhood that I understood what I knew as “normal” was actually neither normal nor healthy. It was a shocking revelation. My brain had for so long worked to legitimize the abuse to protect me that I was unable to comprehend that what I experienced was abuse. When I finally could not unsee the reality any longer, I began to grow. I have fought since then to tell my story more often, to give voice to what I was conditioned to believe was only my imagination, my “over-sensitive” nature.

“You own everything that ever happened to you. Tell your stories. If people wanted you to write warmly about them, they should have behaved better.” ~Anne Lamott

Six years ago, I composed a blog post around the above quote, asking other writers for permission to tell my stories even if doing so would potentially hurt someone else and cause rifts in long-standing relationships. Six years ago, I wasn’t yet brave enough to speak my truth. But, six years of weekly therapy and hard work have at last brought me to the place where I am able to choose myself and let others deal with their emotions about that their own way. I’ve learned that if telling my truth is problem for them, maybe they should address that in their own heart, that I don’t owe them protection when they didn’t protect me, that I don’t have to put them first when they didn’t put me first. It’s a powerful place to live when you finally decide that you are not responsible, despite what you have been told, for other people’s reactions to your choices. It’s not vindictive to tell your story. It’s life changing to give yourself permission to protect yourself from the people who have hurt you and to tell your stories because if they wanted to be remembered warmly, they should have behaved better.

I am not afraid of my past anymore. I’m not afraid of people being angry with me for telling my stories about it. I’m only afraid of living another day bound by tales about myself that were passed down to me by others that don’t define me and never did. Tell your stories, especially when they are controversial and difficult. Eventually, they will set you free.

I had been deceived. The only thing that was ever wrong with me was my belief that there was something wrong with me.” ~Glennon Doyle

Spontaneous Notes On A Free Country

Once upon a time in my life, I penned poetry. It wasn’t necessarily great poetry, but it was a way to work out my thoughts without journaling them or writing them to a friend in a letter (back when people wrote letters). I found this poem today while looking for something else, and it struck me how nearly 30 years later most of it still rings true. This was written on the day the officers were acquitted in the Rodney King trial, April 29, 1992. I was 24.

Not sure where this little meme guy came from, but in our family this is what we text when we are disappointed about something

Spontaneous Notes on a “Free Country”

A black man is beaten senseless
abused beyond reasonable force by
white law officers

A female with an unwanted pregnancy must get 
a man's permission to make choices about
her own body

A homosexual couple must hide their 
love to avoid discrimination
and hatred

The rich get richer
The poor get poorer
The cost of living goes up
No doesn't really mean no
Medical costs are outrageous

I could go on and on eternally and
I'd like to send a message
but it's apparent no one is listening
in the 

Land of the free and the
Home of the dominant white male


 

The Stagnant But Not Yet Stale Sci-Fi Saga

“Individual science fiction stories may seem as trivial as ever to the blinder critics and philosophers of today – but the core of science fiction, its essence has become crucial to our salvation if we are to be saved at all”. ~Isaac Asimov

On July 11, 2015, I had a crazy, elaborate dream. It was so visceral and bizarre that soon after I woke I grabbed my phone and created a note about it, recalling every detail that I could still gather to capture what happened before it was lost. I don’t make notes about my dreams, but this one felt like the story could be a publishable work of fiction. I am primarily a memoirist. That is my wheelhouse. I have never been big on writing fictional stories because they require a honed imagination and careful story planning and dialogue skills that I have not developed. Fiction is frightening. Telling honest stories about my life is natural for me because I began my writing life with a collection of journal entries. My blog posts are a continuation, my online, open-to-everyone journal. I strive to tell it like it is, not make stories up.

So, I have sat on this dream/story idea because it starts in a dystopian future and has science fiction elements. Again, not my forte. Four years ago, on a whim I found some inspiration and managed to pen a first chapter. It felt foreign, forced, and feeble. Still, I managed to get three-thousand words on paper and a couple characters introduced. Then I put it away again, not sure where to go next or if I should even bother.

About a month ago, I rediscovered the beginnings of this story. I printed it out and took it to my son. Luke is a voracious reader of all things, but especially science fiction. I gave him my printed pages and said that if he had a chance and was interested, he could read what I had written. I had zero expectations but, since he is our resident sci-fi nerd and the other writer in our four-person clan, I thought perhaps he would find value in it. He read it and came to me immediately to discuss it. He was excited about the idea. I was excited he was excited. I still didn’t know, however, how to proceed. So, I shelved it again.

Yesterday, Luke came to me with a printed page of his own. It was filled with suggestions about my story from the sci-fi perspective. On the document, he had outlined proposed themes, information about the sci-fi aspects, and a suggested sci-fi book he thought might help me get unstuck in my process. At the top of the page, there was a heading (A Few Suggestions From Your Nerdy Son) followed by this introductory paragraph:

Dear Mom…You are a great writer. I want to see you and your story succeed. You have helped me improve my writing and I want to return the favor. Your story’s premise is fascinating and your writing is clean and elegant. I have a few suggestions, which may improve the science fiction aspects of your tale, however. I am not trying to impose my will on your creative process. I love the concepts you have instilled in your narrative and I want to see them brought to their fullest potential. Please keep me updated on your progress, and I am always ready to help and brainstorm. Love you, Sincerely, Your Son

Seriously? I shed a couple genuine tears over his thoughtful kindness and eagerness to help. I couldn’t decide what to feel the most proud about. Was it that my son was being my support, cheering me on about writing a work of science fiction that frankly scares the hell out of me? Was it that he had taken his own free time on summer break to come up with a page (front and back, mind you) of science fiction insight, themes, and encouragement? Was it that he had done such a great job formatting and presenting his information? Was it that I felt loved and seen? Was it that the one chapter he read a month ago was still churning around in his head? Was it that there might actually be some value in my narrative idea? So much to consider.

I hope Luke will continue to embolden me to write, to move beyond my comfort zone, get some knowledge of the genre, and stop telling myself it makes no sense for me to write a dystopian, sci-fi story focused on a lost and struggling, middle-aged female protagonist. Every writer needs a Luke in their corner, someone who not only provides encouragement but is also a valuable sounding board and idea person. If I ever do finish my story and publish it, you can be sure that Luke’s name will appear prominently in the Acknowledgments section and probably in the Dedication section as well. Writers need other writers. And how much better does it get than being a writer with another writer in your house and your corner?

How awesome is co-creator?

My Life Is An Open Book

“You get whatever accomplishment you are willing to declare.” ~Georgia O’Keefe

IMG_8508

I recently had a novel idea. Not an idea for a potential novel, but the notion that I had more or less already written one. I began blogging in 2009 when our sons were 6 and 8 and I could cobble together enough minutes in a day to return to writing. I kept handwritten journals for decades, but when we had the boys that fell to the wayside along with exercise and sleep. For years, a nagging voice in the back of my head has told me I should write a book. My frontal lobe, however, had predetermined I had neither the time nor the talent to undertake the endeavor.

A couple weeks ago, I was sitting in bed with Steve at the end of another long day, doing a verbal dump about a writing group I was joining. I was, as usual, doubting myself. What made me think I had anything to contribute in a writing group? So many people call themselves writers. The title seems meaningless and arbitrary. I haven’t been paid to write in almost 18 years. I had the sense I would be out of my league in any writing group, and I said as much to Steve.

“It feels weird to call myself a writer. It sounds pretentious. Seriously. What have I written?” I whined.

“What about your blog posts?” Steve asked.

“What about them? That’s a hobby,” I dismissed.

“How long have you been writing your blog?” 

I had to think about that for a minute. I’ve had several blog sites. My first posts were on a blog I called Suburban Sirens, both referring to the sirens beckoning me back to writing a the time and the sirens I fully expected to hear in our suburb as the mental hospital ambulance arrived to take me away.

“Looks like I started in late summer of 2009,” I said, perusing the posts on that original blog.

“How many posts do you think you have written since you started?” he continued.

Another good question. I visited all four sites where I kept posts and checked for post counts. I did the math.

“It looks like it’s a little under 700,” I answered.

I let that sink in for a minute. Had I really written 700 short essays? Holy crap. A bold idea crept into my head, so I threw it out into the world.

“I should print them out so I have them somewhere other than online,” I said mostly to myself. “It would be fun to go through them and see where I’ve been and where I am now.”

“You should do it,” came the response from my ever-supportive spouse.

The negative thoughts snuck in.

“That would be a lot of money in paper, notebooks, and printer ink. And what would I even do with them? It’s not like anyone is going to sit around and read them. They will just sit on a shelf. What’s the point?” 

I’m back in therapy. One of the things I am working on is believing I am worth the effort. I am worth showing up for. I am worth asking for what I want, and I am worth not accepting less than what matters to me. I am worth taking a risk on. Wouldn’t printing out my blogs be a step in that direction? How bad is it if I think my own writing efforts aren’t worth the expenditure of time or money? Am I really worth so little? Perhaps growing my self-esteem begins with the simple act of cherishing my own thoughts enough to decide they are worth the money. No further justification necessary.

So, I bought a ream of paper, a few three-ring binders, and some page protectors, and I began the mundane task of copying, pasting, formatting, and printing each of my posts. It’s been an eye-opening endeavor. It’s allowed me to relive my experiences as the mother of young sons. I’ve been able to recollect some events I had long forgotten, and it’s been fun sharing these with my husband and my sons. It’s also afforded me the opportunity to witness my own growth. Like going back and reading my journals from junior high and high school, I’m seeing who I was and how far I have progressed. It’s been good for me on many levels, mostly in validating the hard work I’ve done both in parenting sons and writing reflections about my life. Some posts made me utter, “Wow…that was pretty good.” Those moments caught me off guard. I wouldn’t have owned that two years ago. Progress!

I’ve done a little more math since and determined I have written roughly 519,750 words about my life since 2009. An average book chapter is around 4,000 words. This means I have created what equates to approximately 130 book chapters. I guess it’s time to stop believing I don’t have the energy or time to write a book. I’ll also have to stop believing I have nothing to contribute.

By turning my life into an open book, I may have inadvertently written one or two.

Like A Millennial With A Real Job, I’m Moving Out

IMG_5285
Artist’s rendering of the box I’ve lived in. Not to scale.

A friend reminded me last night that I have not posted a blog in a while. He was right. I haven’t. And it is weird when a writer stops writing. Writers have a reputation for not holding back, for both celebrating the good and for laying themselves bare in heart-wrenching detail with words. Sometimes the words launch themselves in rounds from an automatic rifle. Sometimes they come on the back of a desert tortoise. And, sometimes, the words lie in wait. They wait for clarity or resolution or time to heal or situational appropriateness. Sometimes they aren’t written for a period because it is not time for the truth to out. Sometimes they never make the light of day.

This morning, I saw this quote on the page of a fellow blogger.

You are here. However you imagine yourself to be, you are here. Imagine yourself as a body, you are here. Imagine yourself as God, you are here. Imagine yourself as worthless, superior, nothing at all, you are still here. My suggestion is that you stop all imagining, here. ― Gangaji

I have spent most of my life imagining (believing, really) I was crammed inside a box labeled Supposed. Inside this box, unable to wriggle into a different vantage point, I continually faced the false narrative of who I am supposed to be. Like Alex in A Clockwork Orange, inside that box I was made to view dark, horrific imagery until what I saw of myself made me sick. I began to accept what I saw on the inside of that box as the only Truth of me. I lived inside that box so long that I forgot who I once was on the outside.

A couple days ago, like a young child, I marked my half birthday. I am now six months from the big 5-0. I don’t know how I got this far, but I do know I don’t want to live the last bit of my life, however long or short that may be, cowering in the box I was stuffed into before I understood the air holes poked in the cardboard were not large enough to keep me from suffocation.

Recently, I have been working with a therapist to kick the sides of that box from within and weaken my corrugated cell. On Monday, I did my first session of  EMDR (Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing) therapy. I sat in the therapist’s office, following her fingers from left to right like a patient undergoing hypnosis while reimagining an incident that had a negative impact on my sense of self. A few hours after I left the office, I noticed the memory was no longer painful. It was simply something that happened. And the message I learned about myself on the basis of that incident had been replaced by something its polar opposite. Since Monday, I have been able to accept without question a truth about myself that had been waiting for me on the outside of my box all this time. We opened an air hole large enough for a breeze to enter and wide enough to allow me to see outside for the first time since my incarceration began. Outside, I can see hope.

I now believe there will be a time in the foreseeable future when I won’t be imagining myself as something negative and I won’t be fighting to imagine something positive in its place. Like I quote, I won’t have to imagine anything. I will simply be here. And being here will not only be enough, it will be everything. And I will go on to do the great things I imagined I could do if I ever busted out of that crappy prison box and left it like a discarded skin on the side of the road out of town, proof of my growth.

 

On A Lighter Note

fullsizerenderToday’s photo is courtesy of my son. This is one of the thank you notes he wrote to his great aunt and cousin. Yes. He is 15, and this is his note. In addition to his ADHD, he also struggles with dysgraphia, which means that he has trouble putting thoughts on paper, battles with grammar, punctuation, word spacing, and spelling, and has nearly illegible handwriting. You can imagine how much he loves that I compel him to pen handwritten notes for gifts. This is why his last notes were completed today, nearly a month after the holidays.

Over the years I’ve learned to let go of my expectations for his notes to be neat. I’ve pushed content over form. It’s required a lot of deep breathing for the editor in me not to be hypercritical and to accept things as they are. I used to get all bent over the quality of the penmanship and grammar. Now I simply insist that 1) he spells the recipient’s name correctly and 2) he offers some personal information about the gift other than a simple thanks.

As I was reading over Joe’s notes today, this one made me giggle.

Dear Aunt Bobby and Mary Lynn,

Thank you for the toy train in a tin, 50 dollars, and the Peanuts puzzle. I was pleasantly surprised by the train. It reminded me of my childhood. It was also fun doing the puzzle. I can’t wait to see you again. 

Love, Joe

On Christmas Day when he opened the train, he put it together in the living room. Then when his brother opened his same set, the two of them attached their two small sets to make a larger one. And there they sat, watching it run around, a scene out of their days with Thomas the Tank Engine. After family had left, they took the tracks downstairs where they reassembled them and played with them some more. Joe did remark that day that the train was surprisingly one of his favorite gifts. Now we know why. It reminded him of his childhood.

I love that my 15 year old is maturing and now looks back on his younger days, seven or eight years ago, with misty nostalgia. And I love that things like this continue to make every day with my sons time that I too will look back on and remember fondly in the not too distant future.