“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.
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.
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.
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.
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 knowme 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.
“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?
If you’re part of a couple and you’ve been together for a while, you have formed couple habits. Some of these are beneficial. My husband, for example, has become my “coffee bitch” (we can’t remember who came up with that label), which means he makes my lattes on the weekends and brings them to me in bed. For my part, I have become his on-call detective, regularly locating items that have gone missing after he either puts them someplace “safe” or accidentally leaves them someplace rather unusual. These are perks of being in a relationship and being partners with someone. You give a little. You get a little. It’s symbiotic.
Because there is yin and yang in relationship, however, there are also scenarios that develop that become an annoyance, a skipping record that you can’t seem move to the next groove. These are the things about your partner that drive you batty. Steve, god bless him, has to deal with the fallout (sometimes literally) of my habit of not screwing the caps back onto things well, if at all. Like the time he pulled a Costco-sized bottle containing 500 Advil out of the cupboard only to have it slip from his hands, littering the floor with hundreds of tiny brown tablets that would have been safe and secure had someone replaced the cap correctly. Oops. That’s on me.
One thing that makes me mental is when my husband requires help putting his thoughts on paper. It might seem like a no-brainer that I would be a perfect person to help him with this being that I am a writer and all. And it’s true. But it drives me nuts. Here is why.
Yesterday we received some bad news about a friend’s parent being gravely ill. We wanted to send a card. So, I grabbed one from my stash, got his approval on its outer message, addressed the envelope, and asked him how he would like to proceed.
“The card is blank inside,” I called from my office. “I can fill it in for both of us and you can sign it or we each can write our own message. What do you want to do?”
“I would like to write my own note,” he decided.
Now I will tell you that I knew after almost twenty-five years of marriage to this man we were headed into familiarly exasperating territory, much like Charlie Brown experiences with Lucy and the football. Not wanting to land with a thud again like Charlie Brown, however, I tried to convince him I could handle it.
“Are you sure?” I called back. “It’s really no problem for me to write a note for both of us. Save you some time.”
“No. I’d like to say something myself,” came his reply.
Maybe this time would be different, I thought. Maybe this time he really wouldn’t need my help. I wrote out my portion of the card and left it on the table for him, letting him know he could add his thoughts at any time.
This morning he sat down to do just that while I addressed Christmas cards across the table from him. He picked up the pen, leaned over the card, read what I had written, and then had the audacity to say this.
“You wrote what I was going to say.”
“And THIS is why I said I would write it out for the both of us. I’m sure you can figure out something to add,” I said, hoping to encourage him to find his words. He’s a smart man who is well-educated. Certainly he could do this.
Nope. He stared at the card for a minute, then looked blankly at me.
“I need some suggestions,” he said.
And this was the point at which I decided he was incredibly lucky that the kitchen knives were not within arm’s reach. I wanted to stab him. Not hard enough to kill him or anything because then I would miss him and, let’s be honest, my weekend lattes in bed.
To avoid the assault charge, I rattled off a couple suggestions with what little patience I had left, the phrases escaping my mouth in a sigh like a punctured balloon losing air. He took the advice, put the card in the envelope, and sealed it. And we moved on. Well, other than the fact that I felt the need to write about it.
Someday, when my sons ask me how they will know when a partner is the right one for the long haul, I will ask them to consider one of the vexing situations that has repeated itself over the course of their relationship. Then I will ask him to think of something wonderful he gets from the relationship and to subtract the frustration of the first instance from the joy of the second. If the joy is greater, he’ll have found a suitable partner, someone who will enhance his life while only providing minimal headaches. Marriage comes down to both loving and being able to tolerate that special someone with all their quirks for the rest of your lives.
Don’t get me wrong. Some of the perpetually repeating scenarios in our marriage make us wonder if we will make it to thirty years of marriage without an assault charge. At the end of the day, though, you just have to ask yourself one question. Who will make your lattes or find your lost keys then?
“You get whatever accomplishment you are willing to declare.” ~Georgia O’Keefe
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.
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.
Today’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.
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.