Find the Good and Praise It: Notes from my Writing Space

I moved into an old, 1940s-ish, new-to-me house in early February and it is early April and two days ago I finally (almost) finished setting up my writing space. I must admit that this is the first time I have felt completely at home since the move. The clock is ticking, the ink is flowing, the tea is lukewarm at best. It is a work night and it is getting late. My mind just keeps buzzing and I feel all sorts of content and alive. Yes, I am finally home.

My writing room is, perhaps, the most beautiful room in the house. It is a many windowed sunroom with a ficus tree and a desk and a daybed and cheap, groovy curtains. There is my grandmother’s folkartish cat clock with the loud steady tick, the desk lamp with the square shade, the green antique-looking wooden chair, a hardwood floor, and a french-style door that can close the space off from the rest of the house when I really need to get serious.

I have never had a room solely dedicated to my creative work. I used to dream about having a tree house or a cabin or a glorified hut in a backyard in which I could escape to dabble in short story and poetry and memoir. Until I finished unpacking this room and began to furiously scribble and type, I didn’t even realize that a dream has come true for me. I have a space that I can call my own that far surpasses any expectations or fantasies to which I previously succumbed.

I could cry.

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A False Sense of Mojo and the Bicycle Ballet

Mojo: noun: a magic charm, talisman, or spell; magic power

This morning, I watched part of a video of a man doing impressive stunts on a bicycle. He crawled very Spider-man-like along a wall while still walking his bike beside him, he stood on the handles, he landed amazing jumps. He did all this while the bike never lost forward momentum. It reminded me of myself as a child. Not because I could do any of those things. I am not, in any way, an athlete. Not at all. It reminded me, though, of my afternoons spent wheeling down the bike paths performing bicycle ballet.

My brand of bicycle ballet, if there is any brand of bicycle ballet, consists of me gliding slowly along the tarmac, standing on the pedals, and then extending one leg out very gracefully and pointing my toe until I had to start pedaling again. I would repeat this motion over and over pretending I was in some sort of recital, listening to the music in my head. I believed at the time that passersby noted my grace and agility, that they could see my swanlike beauty, that perhaps they were impressed. I was, though shy and gangly and, as I said, not an athlete, some sort of bicycle beauty star. You should’ve seen me on ice skates!

Of course, extending one leg while on a bicycle is no impressive feat. Neither is skating in a small circle on the ice rink. Neither, probably, are any of the little show girl “stunts” I thought I was doing as a child. But, give me a break folks, I just wanted to be beautiful! I wanted to be noticed.

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The Christmas Chief on Writing and Momdom and Mortality and Magic

I was talking to a friend the other day about my writing. I had taken a writing class that was a bit of a drag, but affirmed for me that I both have stories to tell and raw, perhaps somewhat polished, talent. I didn’t need to shell out $300+ (some gifted to me by supportive friends) to be told those seeming truths. However, the class reiterated for me that I need to be writing. I need to be telling my stories. I need to continue to put one literary foot in front of the other. It is my greatest desire to use my gifts in some larger capacity.

When I expressed the frustration I felt about struggling to find the time to write, my friend suggested that perhaps I could hold off a bit, perhaps I could wait until my son was older, out of the house even. My first thought, and I erred on side of tact and didn’t vocalize it, was “Yeah, if I don’t die first.”

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96 Ways

“We are so limited. You have to use the same word for loving Rosaleen as you do for loving Coke with peanuts. Isn’t it a shame we don’t have many more ways to say it?” ~ Sue Monk Kidd, The Secret Life of Bees

I was a linguistics minor in college. Had I discovered my passion for formal language study earlier in my college career, I would have been a double major. Yet, I spent most of my time and effort on partying rather than studying and, though I graduated with a 3.6 GPA, I did not in any way apply myself nor did I leave the university with any semblance of a life plan. I wanted to write and that was it.

And, even my writing was scattered and undisciplined. I almost did not graduate because I nearly failed to turn in a portfolio for an advanced poetry workshop. I remember my professor emailing me after seeing me quite intoxicated the night before: “Party Girl, If you want to graduate, I need your portfolio today.” I was, fortunately, generally liked by my creative writing professors and this one was a kind enough to allow me to drop off a packet of forced villanelles and shoddy sonnets to his private home. Perhaps, in hindsight, I shouldn’t have graduated at all. At some point, I would have to face the consequences for my inappropriate and, even then, addictive behavior.

Still, despite the fact that I often borrowed pencils from other students in my classes and got by on my talent for writing papers on books that I never read, the study of linguistics opened my mind to the power of language and its impact on culture. I was amazed to discover, for instance, that not all languages included words that signified gender. I had a professor who was writing the first formal dictionary for a Quechua language spoken by an indigenous people in the Andes Mountains of Peru. In this particular dialect, there is no “she” or “he.” There is only “human,” “animal,” or “God.” In studying this language, I was struck by the equality inherent in this lack of gender qualification. I started to examine my own use of language ever more closely, noting that the English language, as a construct, emphasized male dominance and power. Uh, whoa!

I am currently reminded of my linguistic epiphanies, not because of feminism and patriarchy, but because I was struggling today to express in words the overwhelming gratitude I have for the love in my life.

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To Hell with that Slapping on Rouge Business

I just wanna be okay, be okay, be okay. I just wanna be okay today… Ingrid Michaelson

So, my last few posts have been a little dismal, a little desperate, a little depressing even. I felt very awkward putting them out into the digital universe when who knows who might read them. Of course, and this is the case when you open up to others, I was met by messages and texts and phone calls from people who know me personally. I appreciate the check-ins, the compassion, and I suppose the advice, yet the outpouring of concern also left me feeling embarrassed and possibly a little ashamed. Maybe I shouldn’t have been so honest after all. Still, the truth is that lately, at times, I have been in a somewhat of a dark place. Don’t we all have to travel over that painful speedbump from time to time?

Yet, it is valued in our society to put your best foot forward. To present a pretty face to the world.

This idea that we should slap on some rouge and fake it til we make it seems both like sound advice and unsettling bull shit. Yes, we shouldn’t wallow in our own emotional filth for too long. Getting out of bed and brushing our teeth and facing the world is important. Of course it is. Still, must we always keep our darkness buried deep inside us only to fester and gangrene?

I am, in pondering this question, reminded of a night 15 years ago around this time of year. I was down and out and in the thick of it. I was drinking and feeling hopeless and self-harming and I didn’t think I’d make it through the night. I was so beat up and desperate that I called a suicide hotline. I don’t remember the voice on the other end of the line. I have no idea what words of wisdom she or he imparted. Yet, I am still here. I am still alive. I must have more to give.

But, the fact that one night I thought I might actually kill myself and reached out for help is not my story. My story is this: I had a job interview the following morning. The interview was early, and I had been up late. I got myself out of bed, brushed my teeth, slapped on some mascara (I don’t actually wear rouge), put on a skirt and blouse, and walked out to my car to face the daylight. With cuts running all up and down my thighs and a sense that I no longer belonged on this earth, I went to the interview, put on a smile, answered questions with a straight back and a load of confidence, and landed a job.

Some people may question if I was, then, actually depressed. “You reached out so you weren’t really serious,” they might say. “People who are truly depressed don’t get out of bed,” they might add. I was, at least in my mind, deadly serious and truly depressed. Yet, this was my modus operandi: to be tiptoeing on the ledge and pretending that everything was just hunky dory.

I imagine that I operated this way out of the necessity to self-preserve. Like I said, we can’t wallow in our emotional filth for too long. That’s some really frightening territory. But, it is additionally frightening to admit that we are going crazy. Even if for a short time. There is the stigma, sure, but there is also the fear that if we admit we are going crazy that solidifies that we actually are going crazy and no one wants to go crazy. At least that is the way that it is for me.

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You’re Gonna Have to Face It…

Your lights are on, but you’re not home/Your mind is not your own/Your heart sweats, your body shakes/Another kiss is what is takes… from Robert Palmer’s “Addicted to Love”

Exactly two years ago to the day I wrote: But then there is this whole scary business of a partnership, of monogamy, or being swallowed up whole and losing myself. Why, when I think of commitment, do I suddenly think of being eaten alive and forfeiting my identity? I would say that obviously has something to do with my history, of course. And, because of the fact that I have seen—in my own life and in the lives of others—love go all sorts of awry. I’ve seen the flames of love start out so colorful, so beautiful, only to turn into a destructive wild fire. Ugh. How tremendously frightening!

Now, here I am, almost at the two year mark of my sobriety and at the year mark in a healthy romantic partnership. I have profoundly changed and my life has profoundly changed and I am filled with gratitude. I have been uber-joyful even in the face of the little “lessons” that the Universe has been sending me about boundary setting and relationships in general. Yet, lately, I have hit a wall. I have felt a little lost. Just last week I stated to my partner: “I don’t know. I feel like I am losing myself. I don’t know what I am asking for. I don’t know what I need.”

This truth that I am in a metaphorical hall of mirrors and that I don’t know which exit door will lead me back to my true self has nothing, absolutely nothing, to do with my partner. This wall that I am banging my head against is, perhaps, one of those distorted mirrors—the ones that make you look taller or fatter or completely discombobulated—and I have wondered repeatedly if I even have the capacity to be a good partner. “This can’t be who I really am,” I cry! “If it isn’t, then who am I?!? If it is, then God help me!”

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Perfectly Imperfect

Nothing in nature blooms all year. Be patient with yourself. ~ Anonymous (I think.)

Yesterday, I shared with a group of people that I struggled with being a perfectionist. That I was really damned hard on myself when I didn’t live up to my unreasonable expectations. That this second year of sobering up was so different from the first year—so less about white knuckling through cravings and so much more about the emotional muscle training needed to beef up coping skills that perhaps I never had in the first place. I shared that when someone tells me that “I am exactly where I need to be” I want to spit and cry. Dramatic as it may seem, I don’t want to die before becoming the person that I am meant to become.

Whoa, Nelly!

That is crazy thinking. If it is my time to go, today or many days from today, aren’t I already then the person that I am meant to become? Why this fear and loathing? Acceptance, young Jedi.

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Any Day Now…

It’s funny– not ha-ha funny– how fast inspiration can wane. How quickly the grind of life can sweep you up and pull you off track. How, perhaps, priorities shift from grand master plans to socializing and getting the laundry done. It seems that I get these colossal ideas, these moments or even days of what seems like clarity about the path I need to take, only to slip back into the mundane. The stuck even. But, I suppose that they say if you want to make God laugh, tell Him your plans. Still, we must have a vision, right?

So, several weeks ago, I was visiting some friends in DC and wrote the following:

For the past three days, I have been visiting some friends in DC that I haven’t seen in over ten years. For this couple, it has been a few moves, a few jobs, and four beautiful children later. For me, it has been a few moves, one job, one child, a divorce, and a difficult journey to sobering up. I am always amazed with those friendships that you can just pick right back up. Those people that have touched your life but you have fallen out of regular contact with, and after all those years and all of that silence, somehow still love you. And, you them.

I am also amazed at those people who seem to have lived a normal, fulfilling– perhaps sometimes challenging, perhaps sometimes stressful– healthy life. This couple has, for all intents and purposes, lived that very life. The bumps seem to have been those standard variety bumps, and the triumphs seem to have left the bumps in their dust. So, after an evening in which they asked questions about my last ten years (the last time they saw me was at my 2005 wedding), and I had tried to succinctly explain a decade’s worth of joys and hurdles in addition to my current dilemmas, I woke up the next morning with the sense that I am completely abnormal.

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Paths and Obstacles: A Journey Out of Inherent Misery

It wasn’t long ago, only a few years, not even, that I was a woman who bounced from crisis to crisis. I would come up against an obstacle or some sense of pain and instead of trying to come up with a solution or even manage my feelings, I would, in fact, create more pain. A poor choice would lead to another poor choice until my life basically consisted of an ugly, nauseating string of poor choices.

I remember, quite a few years ago when my marriage was falling apart, a friend telling my then husband that I was inherently miserable. When I confronted this friend, she didn’t deny saying it. In fact, she made it known that she believed that I was responsible for all of my misery. I was hurt. I was livid. She had no understanding whatsoever about what I was dealing with, who I was dealing with, what was being done to me! How dare she?!? The comments drastically changed the shape of our friendship, and I held a deep resentment for quite some time.

Until, of course, I realized that she was right.

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From Dunham to Kerouac to Love

I’ve been compared to Lena Dunham of the HBO show Girls fame on more than one occasion. “She’s cute,” they say. “She’s funny and clever,” they say. “She’s a writer.”

Yes, yes, keep it coming!

Yet, inevitably, the subject of her body must also be addressed. “She is so comfortable getting naked even though she doesn’t have a nice body.”

I imagine that Ms. Dunham gets as annoyed as I do at the repetitiveness of the commentary about her figure. Yes, it is, or at least has been, unusual for women with “imperfect” bodies to appear fully undressed on the screen, but why is it a constant focal point? And, why the need to point that out to me? I know that I have an imperfect body. I know that I am overweight. And, while that doesn’t exactly bother me, the comparison seems redundant.

And, I actually think that Lena Dunham has a great body. While by Hollywood standards she may be considered fat, she’s not, in my opinion, unhealthy looking and she is certainly not misshapen. Though maybe I am looking at her through a warped 21st Century American lens. Maybe I should be critical. Maybe it is as my son’s pediatrician stated “That’s what’s wrong with our society– overweight people look normal.”

As with so many patterns in my life, I can actually pinpoint a moment, or rather a brief personal era, that sent me in the direction of an insalubrious fall off of the healthy wagon that I was joyriding on. Twelve years ago—and I hate to admit that it was twelve—I was a vegetarian and an avid exerciser. I didn’t eat sugar save the occasional treat, and I baked all my own bread. Eating out was a rare luxury, and the mountains that I reside in served as my playground. Sure, I was drinking at least two bottles of wine a day, but who’s counting?

Yes, I was, if I dare say it, seventy pounds lighter. I like to think that I carry that extra fourteen bags of sugar with style, but I still feel the personal and physical repercussions of the fact that I gained the same amount of weight that my son has gained in his eight years of existence. Oddly though, and I have mentioned this before, I carry myself with more confidence at a size eighteen than I did at a size twelve.

So, and forgive my seeming excuse making, I, with all my energy and youthful ambition, decided to both go back to school (at one point taking nineteen credit hours) and to work two jobs. My boyfriend at the time co-owned an Italian restaurant and, though I originally criticized the abundance of fats in their menu selection, eggplant parmesan and garlic rolls slowly became my staple. I no longer had the time to bake my own bread, and the first thirty pounds settled on my thighs and hips rather quickly. Then, of course, came a child. (Though I did not gain my weight due to pregnancy, but due to a severe depression thereafter.) And, here I am, yet to slim down.

I believe that if I did it once, I could do it again. But, and here is a throwback to my last post, maybe it isn’t a priority at the moment. When I scarf down a tubful of carbs, I rarely have guilt, and if I do, I just remind myself that Lena Dunham is pretty darn hip and so, dare I say, am I!

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