writing

The Exhortation Proclamation

FullSizeRender

The peacock that sits on my desk to remind me to display my feathers

Once upon a time, in the days before voicemail or texting or the Internet, I kept a box filled with handwritten letters from boyfriends. The box was inked red and white and once contained a small, boombox from Radio Shack that played my New Wave cassette tapes. The empty box became the depository for letters I received from boys, and it housed them safely until I needed a walk down memory lane or a reminder that I was worthy of love. Some of its contents were pages long, penned in perfect cursive and detailing elaborate stories as if letters written by a soldier during war time to his sweetheart back home. Some pages were filled with song lyrics or poems. Some were hastily scrawled notes on scrap paper recalling someone came by to see me. Some were actual store-bought cards with a sweet handwritten sentiment inside. And some were missives written from all the way across country that arrived weekly in the mail because writing was far less expensive than long distance phone calls and miraculously made the 1500 mile separation seem shorter. As a collection, those letters told a story of a young woman I didn’t recognize, a young woman who somehow garnered attention she didn’t understand.

When I became engaged to my husband and we were in the process of moving my things into his house, he asked me to get rid of the box. In his youthful insecurity, he felt there was no need for me to keep letters from old boyfriends; after all, he was my future. And in my youthful insecurity, I decided to acquiesce rather than risk a fight over a past that was long gone and could not be recovered. At 26, I had no idea tossing that box into the dumpster that sunny afternoon would be one of my only regrets and, at 47, my husband feels miserable for having asked me to do so. We live, we learn.

Even though that box and its beautiful expressions of youth were buried in a landfill in 1994, pieces of those penned creations had been read often enough they were indelibly etched into my memory. One sentence from one letter in particular struck a chord.

“If you came across a beautiful peacock with its feathers kept tightly closed, exposing their brilliant iridescence to no one, would you not exhort it to do so?” 

He had written it while sitting at the main desk in the University Memorial Center on the University of Colorado campus during the Odyssey of the Mind conference, noting with humor that the youth in the competition might be better termed the “oddities of the mind.” He had been trying to coax me out of my shell, and I had been railing against the notion that I even was in a shell. He was an incredibly bright, friendly, funny, and confident young man, and I thought he was the greatest thing since the invention of the Sony Walkman (look it up, kids). That he liked me enough to spend any time with me was an anomaly. Yet, he sat there, writing this note to try to convince me of my worth while I sat in complete denial and thought to myself with naive pride, “I know damn well what I am worth and there is nothing wrong with me the way I am so stop telling me how to be.”

As I continue to inch my way towards my fifty year milestone, I find myself drawn once again to that unforgettable sentence. It has taken me almost thirty years to understand that young man was attempting to hold a mirror up to me, to force me to look into it, to see how much I had going for me, and to help me understand what I was missing. Alas, I was not ready for that message then. Hell. Even though his sentence runs through my brain on a loop these days, I’m still not sure I’m ready to hear it. I spent so long being afraid of failure that I couldn’t even fathom reaching for success. It’s a sobering thought made worse by the current understanding that my inability to hear what he was saying cost me decades of ignorant struggle against myself. Some of us are slow learners, indeed.

Still…I’ve been thinking about the peacock I’ve been hiding and I’ve been working on relaxing those feathers a bit, fanning them out a little at a time before pulling them back in to keep them safe. Every time I sit down to practice my drums, they open. Every time I allow myself to entertain the notion that I could write a book, they unfold a bit more. When I think about going back to college and pursuing a new career, I feel them display a little more. And each time the sunlight hits them, I come to becoming the me I was destined to be before I learned to be fearful instead. With each flash of their brilliance, I get more encouragement from those around me and I warm to the notion maybe there is something to me worth appreciating.

So, if you ever come across a stubborn peacock who is acting like a chicken, please write them a letter and exhort them to embrace and display their beauty. You never know when those words might be just the thing needed to open their eyes to their own possibility — even if it takes them nearly thirty years to get there.

 

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.

 

 

The Beginning of Badassery

img_8905

I am standing in the Best Sellers section of Barnes and Noble and, directly below my reason for the visit, a bright yellow book with large black text screams to me. You Are A Badass. I ignore it (of course) and pick up the book I came in for. I begin reading its back cover. Again the book below beckons, this time it tries with a whispered “Pssst. Hey…I’m talking to you.” You Are A Badass. I look behind me. Who? Me? I pretend I heard nothing. I go back to reading. A third time it speaks up. You Are A Badass. Okay. Okay. Enough already. This book is a relentless, attention-seeking menace. So I set down The Girl on the Train and pick up the yellow book. I read the author’s first line in the Introduction, which begins directly under an inspirational quote.

I used to think quotes like this were a bunch of crap.

I decide I like this book. Because I’ve made a commitment to work on my self-esteem, and because I am intrigued and humbled by the way the Universe works and therefore it’s not lost on me that the book I came in for was placed directly above this book on an open shelf in a book store among tens of thousands of books, I buy the damn book. I have no choice.

Truth. I’m a great purchaser of self-help books. Their potential for crushing my issues in a relatively quick 200 pages suckers me every time. Second truth. I am not a great reader of self-help books. I rarely finish them because either they’re too mired in psychology and I get bored or they’re too weighed down by cutesy platitudes and I lose respect. When I get home, though, and start diving into this book, I realize this might be The One. I begin underlining ideas like a being possessed. Nearly everything the author writes is a line I can identify with or is something I desperately need to hear. It’s like one giant hug of You’re-Awesome-And-You’ve-Got-This. And at this point I feel could underline the whole book. I don’t, though, because that would just be silly.

Yesterday, I am reading (and underlining) and I run across this:

It’s not that the things and opportunities that we want in life don’t exist yet. It’s that we’re not yet aware of their existence (or the fact that we can really have them).

I get really stuck on the part in parentheses. Traditionally, I haven’t been brave enough to believe that I deserve my dreams. The voices in my head won’t allow it. What makes you so special that you deserve your dream? Don’t you appreciate how lucky you are already? Get over yourself, keep your head down, and realize that life is about living and not dreaming. Etc. Etc. Etc. Because of the voices, I’ve never allowed myself to have a dream.

So, I reflect for a few minutes about what the author is saying and try to imagine a world where I could really have a dream. What would that look like? And in my heart the answer raises its timid hand. My dream is one where I get to write every day and someone, somewhere, reads my words and finds a connection with them in their life and their experience, the way there is a connection for me with the writer of this book I am reading. As an added bonus, if I got paid for my work and never had to go back to a traditional workplace again, that would be perfection. Wait, though. Isn’t that what every writer wants? Who am I to….the negativity creeps back in, but I force it out. What if I could be a writer who made that happen? I imagine it. I let the thought in and then allow the possibility to wash over me. Mind. Blown.

A couple hours later, long after I’d stopped my reverie to let real life intervene, I stumble upon a friend’s link to a Washington Post article about a new book by Glennon Doyle Melton. Glennon (aren’t we on a first name basis?) is a blogger who has written several books, the latest of which was picked by The Oprah for her book club. My friend has written this long introduction to the article, talking about honesty and truth telling. And there, near the bottom of her post after she mentions Glennon and Elizabeth Gilbert of Eat, Pray, Love fame, I see this:

Oh, and Justine, my beautiful FB friend, your truth, your journey, fully resonates with me. Bless you for being willing to take so many risks – you are the real deal!

I read the post a second time. Then a third. Did she just mention me in the same post along with Glennon and Elizabeth? I let that sink in for a minute. Then I went into a full on cry. The good kind. The therapeutic kind where the emotion of the moment, filled with a mixed bag of joy, surprise, hope, gratitude, dreams and, yes, even self-love, swallows you whole. I let the thought occur to me. Maybe I could live my dream. For real. Kim generously reminded me that I am already on the path to doing what I previously didn’t dare dream I could do. I am writing and when my words strike the right set of eyes there is a ripple in the pond.

I went back to the Badass book to search for something I had underlined.

You don’t have to know exactly where it’s going to take you, you just need to start with one thing that feels right and keep following right-feeling things and see where they lead.

So that is my plan. I am simply going forward doing what I love to do, what feeds my soul. I am going to write with honesty and share my truth. I am going to stop second guessing things that feel right and I am going to stop thinking about who I might offend. I am going to see what kind of ripples I can create and revel in those small moments and learn from them and move on to the next one. Sooner or later, the collective ripples will become a wave, and I will sweep up my tribe and we will go be badass together.

 

 

My Midlife, Middle School Experience

Hello, stark, college dorm room!

Hello, stark, college dorm room!

This past weekend I traveled to Baltimore for the BlogU Conference I impulsively signed up for months ago. As I was packing on Thursday, loading my suitcase with business cards, business casual attire, and an awkward middle school costume for the Saturday night party, I was cautiously optimistic. From the exchanges I had with a few of the attendees on Facebook in the weeks leading up to the conference, I had every reason to believe that new friends were on the horizon. I was looking forward to learning, networking, and growing my blog. I knew that masquerading as a successful blogger would be tough. Some of the attendees have readerships in the hundreds of thousands. Last time I checked, I had 1,549 followers. And that number seems shockingly high and inaccurate to me. Still, I was up for an adventure, so I boarded my flight and practiced my “I can be an outgoing introvert” mindset over and over for 1,500 aeronautical miles.

Upon landing in Baltimore, I learned a couple other attendees had arrived late after delayed flights and had missed their rides. Because I had a rental car reserved for myself, I offered to be their shuttle, figuring it would be a chance to make some friends before even getting my official name badge and conference schedule. One of my biggest reservations about attending the conference alone was an image I had of myself wandering around lost and friendless in the cafeteria like a middle school outcast. Perhaps offering a ride would keep me from that fate. Alas, that was not the case. When the three of us arrived and checked in, we went our separate ways. It’s okay, I told myself. There are a couple hundred folks here. My tribe is here somewhere. I shall find them eventually. 

I went to dinner on Friday night alone. The cafeteria at Notre Dame of Maryland was packed when I got there midway through meal service, its large, round, communal tables filled with chattering ladies of all shapes and sizes. I grabbed a plate, threw together a Caesar salad, filled another plate with halfway overdone-halfway underdone roasted vegetables, and began the hunt for a place to sit. I was overwhelmed. It seemed every person at the conference was there and successfully friended. I began to feel the fingers on my right hand forming the L-shape I knew belonged on my forehead. Conspicuously unfriended, I hastened to a nearby table where three women were engaged in animated conversation while a fourth woman sat to the side. Here’s another lonely soul just waiting to be my tribe, I imagined. We introduced ourselves and struck up polite conversation. Because she had finished her meal, she carried the lion’s share of the exchange while I scarfed down my veggies. As mealtime began to wind down, I realized I hadn’t had much opportunity to share about my blog. I was out of time, though, so I excused myself to prepare for the evening session. I kept telling myself that the introductions would become easier and my next meal would be at a table filled with new friends. It was early. There was plenty of time.

Perhaps I am as unfriendly looking as this sawtooth shark?

Perhaps I am as unfriendly looking as this sawtooth shark?

That night the conference hosted a pep rally. Writers who had won the submissions contest got to read their poignant and emotional pieces. During the break, I had the opportunity to touch base with a couple more bloggers. It felt good to share mom and writing experiences with women who could relate. When the program ended, I headed back to the dorm for the Open Mic session where we would put our names into a bowl and take turns reading our work. By the time I got to the lounge where we were meeting, though, it was standing room only and women were already sharing. The bowl to add your name to was at the front of the room through a maze of women seated in chairs and on the floor, placed on the floor directly in front of the gal at the mic. I didn’t want to be remembered as the rude woman who interrupted the speaker by stepping over other people to drop my name in the bowl, so I stood at the back sandwiched between a wall and a table for a while, just listening, before finally accepting that I had missed the boat on this event. I went back to my dorm room, mentally exhausted and ready for some introvert, alone time.

After a restless and wretched night of sleep on a squishy dorm bed, I hauled myself into the bathroom I was sharing. The other gal had left her Sonicare, her empty coffee cups, and a gob of chocolate-tinted toothpaste spit in the sink for me. I chose to assume this was because she didn’t realize it was a Jack-and-Jill bathroom. I locked the door, donned my shower shoes, and washed the dorm room off of me before driving to Starbucks for the most highly caffeinated latte imaginable. As I sat through the first two lectures of the morning, I eyed my fellow classmates looking for a like-minded soul. I suppose that would have come in the form of a carefully hidden yawn or a surreptitious glance at an iPhone. I saw none of that. Everyone was engaged, taking notes, and asking questions. The classes offered useful tips and I hastily scribbled just-barely-legible notes into my notebook, but the feeling that I was way out of my league persisted. I began to wonder if perhaps this wasn’t the best conference for me.

I stumbled into lunch in a state somewhere between dread and resignation. I once again wandered around alone, looking for a friendly face to welcome me to a table. No such luck. After sauntering casually with my food for a minute that seemed to be ten, I found an empty table and settled in alone. I checked my flesh for signs of leprosy and found none. Still, I had to wonder. I sniffed my armpits. Yes. There was deodorant there. I finished lunch and went back to the dorm room to freshen up just in case. On my way back to the classrooms for afternoon sessions, I set off a fire alarm on a poorly marked emergency exit. As I sped up my pace, praying no one would realize I was the goof who caused the ruckus, I decided my transformation from middle age nobody to middle school loser was complete.

I finished the next two sessions in a daze. In the 24 hours I was there, I made zero new friends despite putting myself out there as much as my reserved self could. The thought of sleeping in the dorm bed and sharing the bathroom again depressed me. I pulled up Expedia on my smartphone and booked a hotel room 15 minutes away. I didn’t need a Middle School To The Max party to feel any more unpopular than I already felt. Some takeout, a bottle of wine, and a private bath were all I needed to remind myself I was a grown adult and not a middle school reject.

Sunset on the flight home…all is right with the world.

Sunset on the flight home…all is right with the world.

That night while I was relaxing at the hotel and finishing up a blog post, against all odds, another attendee (one whom I hadn’t even met yet) reached out to me on the conference Facebook page wondering where I was. I was shocked. You know that scene in Pretty in Pink where the cute girl at prom motions to Duckie and he turns around to see if she’s talking to him? That’s how I felt. I quickly responded, telling her only that I was “out of sorts” and offering to meet up at the closing session the next morning. That’s what we did. As the conference drew to a close, my new friend, Martha, another blogger about mindfulness and zen, and I decided to drive into Baltimore to visit the National Aquarium and consume a crab cake lunch. The conversation was effortless and affirming and exactly what I needed. I pulled the thumb and forefinger L away from my forehead. I had found my tribe. That it was a tribe of one seemed perfectly fitting for this introvert.

My experiences at the conference were, I’m sure, vastly different from most of the attendees. Most of them are successful and gifted writers, humorists, and mommy bloggers on a mission. The conference, while not quite my milieu, offered loads of helpful information I will be able to incorporate into my publishing experience going forward. My blog may never have hundreds of thousands of followers. I may never make a living from it. What I realize now, though, is that those things don’t matter to me and they never really have. My plan from the start was to use writing to learn more about myself, to share what I experience with others to prove our common connections, and to find greater peace and stillness in my present. In those ways, I’m already a successful blogger.

Good Writers Ruffle Feathers

“As far as I can tell, it’s just about letting the universe know what you want and working toward it while letting go of how it comes to pass.” ~Jim Carrey

Last week, I made a big decision. I decided it is time to start taking myself more seriously. Now I absolutely do not mean that in the way where I plan on losing my sense of humor about life on this planet. I am working toward levity and whimsy in my life. It’s part of my path toward zen. I want to be able to laugh at myself easily and get my panties out of a bunch with greater speed when something goes wrong. In fact, my goal is to avoid getting wadded up in the first place, but that is going to take a lot of personal growth. I am working on it. What I mean is that I want to start taking myself more seriously in terms of what I can do. I want to have greater faith in myself. I want to act bravely, to take risks, and to give myself room to achieve things I’ve always wanted but have been afraid to ask for.

So, with that singular goal in mind, I visited my therapist on Thursday. I told her what I want for myself and together we brainstormed ideas to help me move toward my goals with courage, conviction, and purpose. I am ready to promote myself and see what may develop for me when I admit, without hemming and hawing, that I am a writer. We discussed my self-defeating habit of apologizing for and belittling my own work. We discussed that there is room for all kinds of writers in the world. My work doesn’t have to be for everyone, and merely because it isn’t for everyone doesn’t mean that it is without merit. I left her office feeling buoyed by intention and clarity of mind.

And then yesterday, less than 24 hours after I had spoken my dreams aloud and vowed to move in the direction of my writing goals, the universe sent me my first test. No warning. No time to work on a mission statement. Land mine. Boom! You have to love how that works. To give a long, hairy story a crew cut, something I wrote profoundly upset someone and suddenly I was in a maelstrom of self-doubt. Although I hadn’t intentionally been hurtful, something I had written caused duress. For awhile I felt so badly that I thought about taking the post off my site. I spent the morning and part of the afternoon cycling through emotions, rolling between incredulity and chagrin, frustration and trepidation. I had really stepped in it now. I was making enemies with my mommy blog. How was that even possible?

I reached out to a couple reliable friends, hoping they could stop my tailspin and rein me back in. And in the midst of my mental turmoil, one of them made this simple statement. Good writers ruffle feathers. Just like that, things stopped spinning. She was right. While I can do my best to avoid damaging personal relationships by composing mindful articles, at the end of the day my primary responsibility as writer is to my audience and my craft. Words, whether spoken or written, can hurt. If I live within a paradigm where I own others’ reactions to what I say, I will never be able to write anything meaningful to me or anyone else. And that is not the writer I am nor the writer I wish to be.

So thanks, Universe, for the test. I get it now. While I am sorry that someone was hurt because that was not at all my intent, I stand by my article. It was part of my blog, and my blog is an honest account of my stories. Not everyone is going to appreciate them, and I’m okay with that. I don’t always appreciate their stories either. There is room for me in the grand posse of writers, and I am going to keep diligently working toward my goal and stop worrying about the path my journey takes. There will be stumbling blocks and paralyzingly moments of self-doubt, but I am finished letting others dictate what is appropriate for me. If you get me, great. If you don’t, that is fine too. Life is too damn short not to be true to myself, whoever I happen to be in this moment.

Boldness Is Another Word For Temporary Insanity

Taking the plunge…holding up my top with one hand and telling the world to shut it with the other.

Taking the plunge and holding up my top with one hand while telling the world to shut its big, fat, negative yap with the other.

Damn Facebook and their annoying, personalized, Minority-Report-level-of-creepy pop-up ads. It’s depressing when Facebook reminds you of who you are. It consistently vexes me when an ad pops up for the exact shirt I looked at online yesterday. I want to shout to the heavens…You don’t know me. Yes. Maybe I briefly toyed with the idea of that shirt yesterday. But I am a different person now. Maybe I changed my mind. Maybe I don’t like that shirt anymore. Back off! You don’t know my life! But, alas, they do.

And it is because of Facebook and the existence of profiles and cookies and other Internet hocus pocus that I do not yet fully comprehend that I today impetuously spent $400 and 50,000 frequent flyer miles I’d saved up for years on something that up until the very second it appeared on my screen I had no idea existed. Today I registered for BlogU, a weekend conference for women, moms, bloggers, and writers that will take place in Baltimore in June. I clicked on the ad, saw that the conference was being hosted by a few successful, female bloggers on sites I recognized (like Scary Mommy), checked out the seminar topics, noticed that there was an option for a “single room” that was rapidly selling out, jumped the gun, and bought myself a seat at the table. Just like that.

After I’d received my emailed confirmation, though, the panic set in. What the hell are you thinking? You are going to have to TALK to other women now. In real life. For three days. Women you have never met before. Women who are probably better writers than you will ever be. The doubt began to seep in. Suspecting the insidious negativity demon was planning an all-out mental assault, I quickly pulled up the site for United Airlines, logged into my account, and booked a round-trip flight to Baltimore for the first weekend in June. Boom! 

I sat back and stared at the confirmation on my screen, simultaneously dumbfounded and impressed, cycling between abject terror and confident detachment. My whole impulsive display of bravado boiled down to a quote by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe: “Boldness has genius, power, and magic in it.” It doesn’t get much bolder for a confidence-challenged, fledgling blogger than registering for a conference for writers. It first requires a belief that you deserve to be in that company of writers.

A couple of weeks ago, a friend asked me what career I would want if I could choose to begin it tomorrow. And, for the first time ever, my ideal job description was easy to articulate: I want to write what I want and make money doing it. Now, I don’t live under a rock. I know this is the dream of every poor and frustrated writer on the planet and probably some in outer space too if we are, as I suspect, not entirely alone. Still, I’ve wanted this ever since I was a girl and I stumbled upon a copy of Erma Bombeck’s The Grass is Always Greener over the Septic Tank. As I perused the pages of that book back in my grandmother’s bathroom in Buffalo, New York, I realized that there was a woman out there who was being paid to write her mind. I tucked that knowledge away in the deep crevasses in my brain. A couple of weeks ago it bubbled to the surface and skittered its way out of my mouth before I had the chance to swallow it with good sense again.

Truth is that I’m tired of the self-doubt. I’m tired of the second guessing, the pooh-poohing, the maybe-somedaying. I’m not the best writer on the planet, but I’m not the worst either. Yes. Anyone can write. And it seems that anyone and everyone does. We all have a forum these days. But, there is a time to make an investment in your dream and to have faith in yourself…or at least to be willing to research the possibility of it. I’ve reached that point. And I have a few months to work with my therapist on developing self-confidence or at least the bullshit skills to fake-it-until-you-make-it. I’m hoping that in four months’ time I’ll be able to converse in person with other writers. Maybe even without having to consume a half of a bottle of wine first.

These Weirdos Are My Tribe

These weirdos are your tribe.

Weirdos preparing for the polar plunge on a 4 degree day.

“When you find people who not only tolerate your quirks but celebrate them with glad cries of ‘Me too!’ be sure to cherish them because those weirdos are your tribe.” ~Anonymous

I am a writer. I am also socially inept. I’m not sure if the social ineptitude is a result of the writing or if I write because I want to appear less socially inept. Either way works, I guess. Let’s just go with the notion that I’m awkward. I’m not in tune with other people’s feelings. Blame it on my being INTJ. Blame it on my ill breeding. Blame it on the aliens who abducted me as a child and conducted sloppy experiments on my brain. All I know is it is what it is. In forty-six years, I haven’t been able to outgrow it.

Every August, our sons’ school holds their annual Back to School Night. They host a tastefully catered meal for parents to enjoy while they go over school policy minutiae before sending us off to our children’s classrooms to receive more information that we of course will promptly forget. I’m sure many people look forward to these type of social events, a chance to get together again with friends from last year and to meet new people. Frankly, I’d rather have my spleen removed by a 10-year-old surgeon wielding a teaspoon as a his primary implement. I have to drink two glasses of wine before I go simply so I will be somewhat comfortable making small talk. Small talk stresses me out. Small talk is never small talk. The amount of effort small talk takes makes it big talk.

This year, we arrived at the dinner and found out that it was not going to be out on the lawn because of the threat of rain. They had the dinner set up inside the gym. I prefer the outdoor setting because it’s easier to flake out when you are in open surroundings. Still, we went inside, like socially weird teenagers, praying we’d get in and get out without being guilted into signing up for any random committees we’d rather die than be on.

We weren’t in there long before a couple we remembered as the parents of one of Luke’s friends from the previous year approached us. We didn’t know them very well, but I sensed they wanted to be there about as much as we did. We exchanged some pleasantries and they asked us to come join them at their table. Having fairly successfully avoid social interaction at the school during the previous year, we had no one else to sit with so we dragged our paper plates to their table. I tried my best to be cordial, but holy cheeses that is hard for me. At some point, I notice how weird that thing I just uttered was and then I begin to spiral clockwise in a whirling toilet flush of social doom. One way or another we got through the dinner, and Steve went with them to Luke’s class while I ducked out to sit in Joe’s classroom in my girl-in-the-plastic-bubble-of-pitiful-but-comfortable-silence sort of way.

On the way home, Steve and I had our usual debriefing about the night’s events.

“I think Lynne is trying to make friends with you,” he said.

“No. I don’t think so. They just didn’t want to sit alone. You know you’re always looking for someone you sort of know so you don’t end up with the new crazies you don’t know at all. Lesser of two evils,” I retorted.

“She came right over to you,” he replied. “Maybe she likes you.” What is this? Third grade? I started wondering if he thought she was trying to pass me a note. I played it off.

“Only because she doesn’t know me,” I said. “There’s a reason I don’t make friends easily.”

“Yes. It’s because you don’t know when people are reaching out.”

It’s true. I’m obtuse. I have never been successful at discerning when people are being nice because they feel they have to be nice or when they are being nice because they truly want to. I’m simultaneously suspicious, pragmatic, and cautiously optimistic. I tend to assume the worst, expect the mediocre, but subconsciously hope for the best. I’m complicated. It’s no wonder I don’t make friends easily.

Over the past few months, Lynne made a concerted effort to set up a couple of opportunities for our boys to get together. Her initial efforts made it much easier for me to insinuate myself into her life like a fungus. And it turns out we have a lot in common, like introversion, yoga, a penchant for expletives, a taste for fine vodka and any kind of wine, a troubling addiction to internet memes, and a gift for dry sarcasm. In other words, we’re awesome, something she was intuitive enough to ascertain before I did.

In so many ways, I remain the dorky kid who walked to my first day at a new school in third grade in handmade clothes feeling like an anomaly in a sea of popular and normal. The friends I’ve made over the past few years have all reached out to me first, which is a good thing because otherwise I’d still be standing stiffly in the corner, gazing at my feet, wondering why no one likes me. Every day I cherish these friends who made the effort and who have been able to recognize that my crazy is simpatico with their crazy. These weirdos are my tribe.

 

It’s A Blog About Nothing

Image

My bedroom slippers tonight

I have this self-imposed goal of writing every weekday night. It’s Wednesday night at 9:30, which means I should be writing. Instead, I am sitting on my bed researching ski boots while half-watching reruns of Parks and Recreation and texting with a friend. My mind is swimming with Chipotle’s stubborn refusal to compromise on their pork, a tentative list of who might deserve some glitter mail, and the knowledge that the ski boots I’ve had for 14 years are at least a half-size too small for my feet. I’m hip deep in procrastination. Writing is the last thing I want to do right now. Sleeping is the first thing.

Sometimes writing is what keeps me strong by giving me a voice. Sometimes it’s a boulder hanging over my head, and I am slowly gnawing my way through the rope keeping it aloft. Sometimes it’s my confessional, my confidante, my savior. Sometimes it’s a catty seventh grade girl pointing at me while telling everyone what a loser I am. I never know what to expect from day-to-day. I never know how it will go.

Writing would be much easier if every blog could be like an episode of Seinfeld, the show about nothing. I’d never have to worry about making sense, creating flow, delivering something meaningful. I could go with the stream-of-consciousness method. I would write whatever came into my head, no judgment and no self-criticism, and no room for self-aggrandizement. The act of writing can be more important than what is said, right? In my blog about nothing, creative process trumps final outcome.

This is either the most brilliant, brave thing I’ve ever imagined or the best-conceived con job I’ve ever pulled over on myself as a justification for slop. It’s my blog. I’ll just write whatever I want. And as long as the last episode doesn’t find me wearing an orange jumpsuit and sitting in prison, I’ll be just fine. It worked for Jerry Seinfeld.

My Anne Lamott Dilemma

Image“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

I came upon this quote last year while reading Anne Lamott’s book about writing, Bird for Bird. It’s been traversing in and out of my head since then. It’s bold, brash, and unapologetic, like so many things Anne Lamott writes. Sadly, I am not Anne Lamott. And, as much as I love this statement, I’m paralyzed by it. It she actually suggesting that I write whatever I want without any concern about whom I might hurt in the process? To be honest, I’m not entirely sure if I’m that brazen yet. I’ve always been careful not to burn any bridges until I’m certain I don’t want to go back, and I don’t often find myself 100% certain about anything.

If my sister does something that irks me, is it honestly okay for me to blog about and then post to Facebook her transgression? I think I would hate it if tables were turned and my sister were the writer. I’d be scared to say or do anything around her for fear that I would end up as the next diatribe or anecdote in her blog. My sons already beg me not to write about things they’ve done. On a few occasions my husband, who is wholeheartedly supportive of my writing, requested I not share something he’s done. When does my right to tell my story outrank their right not to be lampooned on the World Wide Web?

Anne is right. These are my stories, and I should be able to tell them because as much as they belong to the others involved they also belong to me. I’ll be honest. I have a lot of kooky stories I could blog if I threw caution to the wind and ratted on the people in my life because my tribe is freaking crazy. I mean, of course they are. I am one of them. But just because they’re nutty doesn’t mean their privacy should be squandered.

So, I ask you. What is a writer to do? Am I honest and true to myself, my stories, my craft or am I fair and kind to my family and friends? If you’re a writer, how do you handle this? If you’re an unfortunate relative of a writer, how would you feel having your quirks and frailties littered across the internet?

I hope someday to be audacious enough to tell my stories. All of them. I guess between now and then I’ll have to figure out a way to do it without alienating people who matter. Or I’ll have to become such a skilled writer that I can craft a story so well that no one would dare dream of being offended by it.

The Puppy and The Bone I Threw Him

Our real puppy

Not the puppy in question

I recently wrote about how excited I was that my son found and began reading my blog posts. At the time, I felt like Queen of the World because this demonstrated to me, in some small way, that my son was interested in what I do and recognized that I am a person outside of simply being his mother. The other day, though, I discovered the rub with this new situation. My son reads my blog. This means that all the anecdotes I tell about him, ones I think are super cute and fun, are now open to his scrutiny. He could read what I write and feel embarrassed or, worse, feel I am making fun of him. It puts my responsibility to him as his mother above my responsibility to myself as writer. Dammit. To make matters worse, this discovery was precipitated by something cute I wanted to share about him that he was none too happy to have me share. It went something like this:

“So…I was thinking about writing about you and the whole puppy thing.”

“No,” he responded emphatically.

“But it’s so cute,” I countered with the growing realization that this might be an uphill battle.

“It’s embarrassing,” he replied. “What if someone I know reads it?”

“No one you know is going to read this,” I replied. “No one reads my blog.”

“Over a thousand people do,” he responded naively.

“I guarantee you that a thousand people are not reading my blog.”

“Doesn’t matter, Mom. Nothing dies on the Internet. If they don’t find it now, they will find it later. Stuff on the Internet never really goes away.”

This is true. We’ve discussed the benefits and pitfalls of the Internet ad nauseam. He knows that the Internet is not some ethereal netherworld. Things you put out there now could be there forever. To wit, here’s a link to a website I created in 1997 as a graduate student at Illinois State. Giggle heartily at my use of animated gifs, please. Just remember that it was 1997, I was using Adobe PageMaker software, and this dancing hamster was cutting edge. Also, it took five minutes to download a single photo and America Online was an actual thing. Did I mention it was 1997? Don’t judge.

For the past few days, I have been trying to wear my son down, still wanting to write about the puppy thing and hoping he would at last give me his blessing. I know this isn’t phenomenal-parent behavior on my part. I should respect my son’s wishes and just move on. But I really felt strongly about this puppy story, so I kept pursuing it. Yesterday, I finally got him to admit that perhaps something bigger than fear of embarrassment was troubling him. He acknowledged that since the puppy story involves another person perhaps that person might not appreciate it. I told him I would talk to that person personally at back-to-school night before writing anything. He looked at me with horror. Sensing that he was not going to win this battle and knowing I have the tenacity of a pit bull when so inclined to lock my jaws on something, he acquiesced…under one condition. I had to allow him to shoot me with his brother’s Nerf disc gun. It seemed like a small but fair price to pay for the rights to his puppy story. So, I stood still and let him assail me with several rounds of Nerf discs. You gotta be willing to sacrifice for your art.

Tonight, with bona fide permission to write the puppy blog I have been pestering him about for a week, I sat down with my MacBook Pro to fulfill my destiny. I got about this far and started to question whether I was making the right choice. I adore my son, and I would never want to do something in the short-term that would undermine our relationship for the long haul. I thought it only fair to give him one last chance to rescind his permission. He did. So, the story I’ve been working on all week will not come to fruition. I’m okay with it, even though it was a really cute story. Someday, when he is older and more comfortable in his own skin, he will roll over and let me tell his puppy story. In the meantime, I’ll just throw him this little bone.