Oh…FREAK OUT!

Once I simmered down a smidge, I began to think about what the Universe might be trying to show me. It’s hard for me to be still & listen lately. My mind whirs incessantly. So, looking for insight was a challenge–to say the least.

Yesterday, I had a pretty big mind-explosion moment that got me stuck in the super-helpful & ego-building WHAT THE HELL AM I DOING?? cycle.

I’d been working up to this freak-out for a good week or so. I could feel it. For days, I didn’t sleep well. I’d wake up to find myself sweaty and panicked. And, let me just tell you, there ain’t shit going on over here. I mean, no one is trying to take my kid away from me. I know where I am going to sleep tonight. I have enough food to eat. Everything I’m dealing with is completely middle class, privileged mid-life crisis type stuff. Unfortunately, recognizing where my plight lies in the spectrum of human suffering doesn’t make this particular point in time any less frustrating or agonizing.

So what put me in a tailspin?

Losing something I never actually had in the first place. 

Two weeks ago, a former client called with a project that would’ve spanned over the course of a year–and would’ve significantly added to our income. Significantly. The client & I discussed pricing and timeframe. They suggested some light reading (think more like reading the operating manual to a Boeing 747) to catch me up on the industry. I was just waiting for confirmation on due dates and the topic for the first written piece.

Then. The client backed out. At the last minute.

And I was crushed. 

I spent most of yesterday wondering why I ever thought I could be in business for myself–and what I was doing wrong, exactly–and simultaneously reminding myself that I never actually had the gig in the first place.

I had the promise of something. Not the thing itself.

It wasn’t like the client looked at a draft & was like “GOOD GOD, WOMAN, THIS IS THE EPITOME OF SUCKITUDE.” They just went in another direction on a staffing level.

Once I simmered down a smidge, I began to think about what the Universe might be trying to show me. It’s hard for me to be still & listen lately. My mind whirs incessantly. So, looking for insight was a challenge–to say the least. But what I finally got around to admitting was that this particular job (or I guess the promise of this job) didn’t light me up like some of my other work does. It was absolutely the right thing to take it when it was offered. But now that the offer was no longer on the table, I began to think about what this might free me up to do.

And there’s this project… oh, how I am ON FIRE with excitement about this project. I’d be supporting a friend in her own passion project–one that I believe in so wholeheartedly that it’s hard for me to contain my enthusiasm when I talk about it. But supporting her in a real and meaningful way involves researching and writing grants–which is a helluva lot of work. But it’s work that can literally change the world–and it’s work that is part of who I am as a person.

So maybe, I realized, this was why I got a no when I wanted a yes. Maybe it was so I could say yes to the work the Universe is calling me to.

Maybe. Either way, today feels less like a crisis and more like an opportunity. Which, I’m gonna just go ahead & call a win.

Higher… higher…

Jane & I went rock climbing a while back. She’s been obsessed since then. When I say obsessed, I mean more conceptually than practically–it took me months to get her back in the rock climbing gym after that first time. But surely not for lack of her asking. And asking. And asking.

Here’s the thing about rock climbing: it’s hard as shit.

I consider myself a pretty active, in-shape kind of person. I could not move my upper body for DAYS after the first time we went rock climbing. Days.

Here’s the OTHER thing about rock climbing: it involves, well, climbing. Up a wall. Far off the ground.

I am afraid of heights. Like, for real afraid.

I freeze. When I was a kid, I used to climb trees. Which was great. Until I wanted to get down. Then… stuck.

I figured rock climbing would be a GREAT way to overcome my fear of heights.

Ahem. I made it about 5 feet off the ground the first time. Jane made it about the same height. Then we bounced down to the ground on our auto-balays. The next climb I made it about 7 feet off the ground. Then I froze. I tried to climb back down, but Jane convinced me to just push myself off the wall and let go.

I did. And I did not die. That felt like a win.

When we went back this time (only our second time climbing), I thought I’d just be able to scamper right up the wall. Or at least up to the highest point I’d reached on my last excursion, no problem.

Nope.

I got 4 feet of the ground. 4 feet. And I was completely paralyzed with fear. My brain started freaking the hell out, saying a bunch of stuff which added up to: you can’t do this.

I said fuck it and did it anyway.

I didn’t climb all the way to the top. And I had to work at it, going just a little higher each time. But Jane & I made a game out of it: “Can you touch that pink rock that looks like a brain this time?” “What about the orange oven mitt up there? Can you just tap that one with your hand?”

It was… fun.

I didn’t make it all the way up to the top. But I did make it about three-quarters up the wall. I climbed until my hands were so sweaty that they slipped off the rocks, and my arms were so tired they literally couldn’t hold my weigh anymore. I fell of the wall 3 times before I gave up.

Know what Jane did? Everything I did.

She never gave up. She never got discouraged. She pushed past her fear. And she far exceed her own expectations.

It was a very, very good day.

 

Fire

Wind swept wildly against the windows, rattling the panes, sending embers shooting through the air–miniature meteors bright and angry.

 

Wind swept wildly against the windows, rattling the panes, sending embers shooting through the air–miniature meteors bright and angry. The low, smoky haze cast a gray pall. But even the blanket of smoke couldn’t obscure the mountains, blazing red against the darkening sky. I stood transfixed, watching fire devour the mountain I’d hiked… what was that? A week ago? Shaking off the fire’s spell, I grabbed my notebook and my laptop. My Irish Setter tugged at my shirt, whining. I flung the door open. Smoke rolled in, heavy and acrid. I darted toward the truck, praying it would start.

Photo by Matt Howard on Unsplash

Reckoning

All my life, I was taught to curry favor with men. That’s the honest to God truth.

All my life, I was taught to curry favor with men. That’s the honest to God truth.

What men thought of me, how they perceived me, needed to remain top of mind if I hoped to be happy (and happy always involved a man). Men were not to be offended. Or led on. They would expect things, if I behaved a certain way. So, I should be ever-mindful of signals I sent.

I got the message. Oh, I got it. And I internalized it (as one does).

But here’s what happens: the messages we internalize find a way of manifesting themselves in our daily lives. The be-ever-subservient-to-men message showed up as a giggle.

Yep. A giggle.

What the hell?

But it’s true: when faced with an uncomfortable situation involving a man (or boy, as it first began), I would simply giggle. Why? I’m not sure. Maybe I thought it seemed carefree. Or maybe I hoped it would be dismissive without being offensive. Who really knows? It wasn’t a conscious decision, the giggle. It was a coping mechanism.

You know what that giggle protected me against?

Not a damn thing.

I giggled in fifth grade when a boy told me he liked me but I didn’t like him back. What was wrong with him liking me? Nothing at all. What was wrong was my utter lack of understanding that it was okay to say “Thank you, but no,” even at 10 years old.

I giggled when, as I was standing outside my middle school sucking on a Blow Pop, some crude ass boy asked if I was “practicing.” I had no idea what he meant. But from the way his friends let loose peals of laughter, I immediately got that sexual innuendo was likely. Did I tell him to fuck off? That word was CERTAINLY in my vocabulary as a seventh grader (I had tried it out as all different parts of speech, in fact). Nope. I giggled. Because? I don’t know. Maybe I thought I should be glad he considered “cute” enough to make sex jokes with.

I liked a boy in eighth grade—a boy I believed had been having sex with his older, high school girlfriend. He and I engaged in a make-out session, during which he climbed on top of me. My thought? “Well, I guess this will be how I lose my virginity.” Casual. Detached. Like one considers the weather: “Well, I guess it is going to rain today.” I don’t remember giggling that time. Maybe I didn’t think I had the right to be dismissive. I’d let him climb on top of me, after all.

I hardly think my experience navigating interacting with boys qualifies as unique. What galls me now, as an adult—and as a mother—is the belief system that I whole-heartedly subscribed to as a child. A child with no sense of control over her own body. A child with no belief that she had the right to say no.

The past few days, the article about Aziz Ansari and the subsequent social media flurry of response made me a little spinny. Every time I tried to talk about why I wanted to push back against categorizing this truly common interaction between men and women as assault, I felt like I was grasping at air. And the I read this brilliant piece. And I found my footing again. It was this quote in particular that gave me a place to land my thoughts:

“People are quick to label sex crimes as deviant or aberrant, but the truth is that sexual violence is socialized into us. Men are socialized to fuck hard and often, and women are socialized to get fucked, look happy, and keep quiet about it. 

 Aziz Ansari has been socialized. And if we don’t like the way socialized men do sex, then we need to take a hard look at our society, friend.”

I don’t like the way socialized men do sex. But I don’t like way socialized women do sex, either. That giggling I was doing all the time as a kid? Yeah, by 10 I already knew about the looking happy and keeping quiet.

This isn’t about victim blaming. And it isn’t about silencing women. On the contrary, for me, this is about agency. A lot of really solid thought already exists about the way young girls are socialized—especially when it comes to beauty, sex, and power. But my reading of these pieces was disassociative at best. Oh, of course we don’t want girls growing up feeling powerless and  preyed upon—without ever admitting that I grew up feeling precisely that way. And it didn’t even occur to me that this worldview might be flawed. Wrong even.

I grew up accepting the basic tenet that I had to be pleasing to men in the world to have worth.

To have worth.

So, I didn’t stand up and say no. I didn’t tell Blow Pop boy to fuck off. I didn’t speak up for myself because I thought I wasn’t worth it. Because without the male gaze, what was I?

That’s a pretty painful truth to have to reckon with.

Saying Yes to Sloth Backpacks (& dreams)

On July 1, I embarked on my biggest writing adventure yet: a novel. I’ve wanted to write a novel since I was 8 or 9 years old. This obsession coincided with my newfound love of Nancy Drew. Nancy Drew was my hero: independent, smart, determined. I wanted to write something like that–something that would make a kid not want to put the book down until the very last page.

Then I made a mistake. I let an adult in on this dream of mine. And, as adults sometimes do when they think they’re just being pragmatic, this adult laughed and said, “But what are you going to do to earn money?” For some kids, this nay-saying would’ve only made them more determined. But I was a pleaser. And my self-esteem was shaky at best. So, what I heard is, “You may love writing. But you don’t have what it takes to make it. Go find something attainable. Something that doesn’t require any real talent.”

Even as I got older, when it was clear that I could write–that people enjoyed reading what I wrote–I stuck to academic writing. I can’t do creative writing at all, I’d say as if it were totally no big deal. And then I’d make some offhand quip about how I’d let other people write the stories, and I’d just critique them. Which, you know, denied my own dream, belittled an entire profession, and also managed to be self-deprecating. I was a piece of work.

But this dream wouldn’t let go of me. It was determined, even if I was not. I tried multiple career paths… communications (at least I got to write sometimes), writing instructor (maybe the dream would just shut it if I taught someone else to write. Hundreds of someones. Nope.), children’s ministry director (what the f…?!?). But, on a transAtlantic flight back from Paris, I got real with myself (I mean, hell, I had time… what else was I going to do for 7 hours?). I admitted that I would not be happy, could not be happy, unless I was writing. What that looked like could be negotiated. But the writing, that was non-negotiable.

A few of my friends took a chance on me and hired me to write for them: blog posts, technical papers, web content. I loved every minute of it. Because I was creating something. Something that wouldn’t exist without me pouring my heart & soul into it. I’m so grateful that I get to do client writing all the time now. And I’m so grateful to my friends for believing in me.

But that dream….writing a novel… it wouldn’t stop nagging at me. I found NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) a few years ago, through Facebook I think. And I intrepidly started a novel last November. Which I quit in the middle of. Because it was hard. Oh, and that’s right around the time my marriage was falling apart. So, you know, my creative focus was a bit out of whack.

But this July, I found Camp NaNoWriMo. I don’t know if it’s because it’s called “Camp” and that made it sound fun (read: non-intimidating). Or if it’s because I had characters living inside my brain that were dying to get out… But I started a novel. And I’m 6,999 words away from completion. And every minute I’ve spent writing it is like living a dream. A dream I’ve had since I was 8. And any time a voice has tried to tell me I can’t do it, or that it’ll suck, I’ve told it to SHUT THE HELL UP.

I’m doing it. And I’m madly in love with my characters. I even bought the very same backpack that my character, Rowan, has. Because I feel like she’s with me all the time. Might as well be backpack twinsies.  (And, besides, sloths are cool.)

I wish I hadn’t spent years believing a lie about myself. I deserve to live into this dream. At the very least, I deserve to give it a chance. A real chance.

I’m almost there. And it feels really, really good.

Back Together Again

Breaking up and getting back together—all within a 48-hour span—well, it’s not for the faint of heart.

When Simon & I woke up the next morning, it was like being on an incredibly awkward first date. In my pajamas. With someone I’d known for over a decade.

I had no idea what to do or say.

I made coffee, like usual. That seemed right. We probably still needed caffeine to function.

We sat down in the living room—which miraculously was still OUR living room—and I chattered on in a way that managed to be simultaneously overly-chipper and politely reserved. Which translated into rather happy, equally meaningless, small talk. (I despise small talk.)

Beneath my frantic efforts appear normal(ish), I felt completely unmoored. I was thrilled to have Simon back. But I was terrified if I did or said the wrong thing, he’d decide all over again that we were done. But for real this time.

The problem was that I both knew—and did not know—exactly what had gone wrong. When I could focus long enough to sort my thoughts, I knew that Simon had left only because he believed I didn’t want to be with him anymore. He thought he was doing me a favor. He thought he was fixing things. But the why was buried under my fear, which just kept shouting: He left you! He doesn’t love you! He left you!

I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: Fear is a bastard.

In yet another bizarre twist, on this awkward, small talk filled Saturday morning, we also needed to go rent a U-Haul to fetch the remainder of the furniture we’d stored at our best friends’ house. Moving furniture together is an admittedly odd reconciliation activity. (Note: I do not recommend). But we dropped the kid off with said friends and headed out for a day of furniture relocation.

Odd task aside, sitting in a U-Haul truck next to Simon (without the kid anywhere in earshot) allowed us to talk openly and honestly for the first time in probably over a year. The stark reality that Simon could leave (and would, if he didn’t feel like the relationship was serving both of us well) knocked the anger and resentment right out of me. And not in the way that fear robs people of their fight. I wasn’t angry or resentful anymore because I’d been presented with a real, viable exit strategy. For the first time since Simon told me he wanted to/needed to transition, I felt like I had a choice. And I made my choice. I chose to stay. Because that’s what I wanted.

It was amazing to look at Simon (probably for the first time ever) and feel completely awash in love. I mean I was smitten. I was all hand-holdy and lovey. And I was driving him batshit. Because these ways, they are not his ways. But he understood. And he held my hand. And told me he loved me, too (for the 400th time).

We talked about difficult things. We talked about how to start over. We acknowledged that we needed to bring our best selves to this reconciliation—whatever that looked like for each of us. I asked questions I was scared to ask. He trusted me enough to answer me honestly. It felt real. Like communication. Things felt possible again.

It was in the middle of this hard but good conversation that we pulled up to a red light at Memorial Drive. I didn’t see them at first, because I was looking at Simon. But his eyes got wide. He looked excited. Like, kid picking out a puppy excited. And he said, “Are those LLAMAS?!?” And sure as shit, I looked across Memorial, and there were 15 or so llamas being led around a small enclosure. Outside a bar. In intown Atlanta.

Some people find signs in rainbows or floating feathers. Ours came in llamas. Because the pure joy that those llamas brought Simon wouldn’t have even been possible a day or two before—not with all that baggage we’d been carrying around. But now, he could be as exuberant about those llamas as he needed to be. Unfettered. Because now we’d both made a choice we could live (happily) with.

 

 

 

 

Photo Credit: Viator.com (image has been altered)

But It’s Not Over Over. Right?

Callie & Arizona broke up. And this set into motion the epic meltdown of 2016.

SARA RAMIREZ, JESSICA CAPSHAW
Photo Cred: Ron Tom_ABC

But, I guess you’ll need a little more background than that: Simon & I watched Grey’s Anatomy voraciously last Fall. We’d dissect the characters’ (often baffling) life choices and analyze their relationship dilemmas. This gave us a safe way to talk about hypothetical relationship issues without really delving into our own.

This seemed like a good plan—until it almost ended us.

I guess I should pause to note that nothing really “seemed like a good plan.” We didn’t consciously decide to avoid our issues. If you’d asked me at the time, I probably would have said there wasn’t anything to talk about. And, as for Grey’s, who doesn’t love good catharsis? Which is what I was getting every night. But catharsis can’t alleviate the underlying problems. It’s just a temporary, feel-better fix. Hindsight, though. In that moment, Simon & I were just hanging out, loving Grey’s, as folks do.

But we’d reached a point in the ever-winding plot that proved problematic for us:

  • the focus was on Callie and Arizona’s relationship. And seeing two women together brought up all my feelings of loss and displacement… and anger.
  • Callie & Arizona were having some relationship struggles. And so, I’d pick a side and argue it passionately, with way more investment than necessary. Because what I wanted to do was argue with Simon. But I was too emotionally exhausted. So I argued with characters in a TV show.
  • Then they took a break. From each other. And this plot development turned out to be disastrous for us.

Simon & I had been negotiating a rather uneasy peace since we moved to Atlanta. I looked around every day and celebrated just being in the city, living a life that for so long felt like it would never be a reality. I immediately immersed myself in racial justice activism, in Jane’s elementary school, in work with new, fun clients. Simon—well, he liked Atlanta just fine. But he certainly wasn’t as intoxicated by just being here as I was. (It is fair to note that I am given to bouts of extreme enthusiasm.) The distance between he & I grew daily. I didn’t want to know what was wrong with him. I just wanted him to fucking fix it.

I was exhausted.

We’d been through a lot in our 13 years together: being batshit crazy drunks, getting married, getting sober, infertility, miscarriage, pregnancy, parenthood, getting married again, Simon’s transition. Any one of these events can end a relationship. We’d been through all of them. And, I guess, after Simon’s transition, I expected everything to be smooth sailing. But Simon will be the first to tell you that transitioning doesn’t fix everything. Simon still had some work to do. And I was completely ignoring everything I felt, saving just enough energy to make passive-aggressive jabs at Simon about what I thought he needed to fix.

At various points, I’d thought about leaving. Or asking for an open relationship. I just wanted to not feel so responsible for us. I wanted to think about me for a minute. There hadn’t been a lot of time for that in the past two years.

Then it happened. One night, after Grey’s Anatomy, Simon said, “I think we should do what Callie & Arizona did. Take a break.” I looked at him like he had sprouted a third eye. Because WHAT? I was the aggrieved party. I was the one who’d married someone who changed the terms of our relationship when he transitioned. How DARE he suggest a break? What the ever-loving hell was wrong with him? Which I asked him, in colorful language. He said he thought I’d be happier. I asked if this was a break or a break up. Everything about what he was saying sounded so final. He said he thought it should be permanent. And, just like that, we’d started the process of conscious uncoupling.

I called my best friend the next morning to fill her in my newly bizarre and topsy-turvy world. Actually, what I told her was that I thought Simon had broken up with me. Because I couldn’t fathom this whole turn of events. I mean, did relationships really end just out of the blue? I didn’t want my relationship to end. I wanted it fixed. It could be fixed, right?

Bless her, she had to deal with my anger (if he wanted to split up, why the hell didn’t he just stay in Tampa?), my fear (holy shit, I can’t pay for the house by myself… what am I going to do?), and my tears (but he didn’t even try to work it out. Doesn’t he love me? I always thought he loved me). And she was also managing her own shock. Because, if you weren’t living in our house and couldn’t feel the ever-present tension and complete disconnect between the two of us, this uncoupling seemed to come from nowhere at all.

But it did come from somewhere. It came from almost a year of drifting apart emotionally, of divesting from each other’s lives, of believing deep down we’d be better off apart. We were so emotionally estranged by this point that, in the preceding months, when I’d found a lump in my breast and been terrified it was breast cancer, I didn’t lean on him for support. And he didn’t offer much of it. We were totally broken. But, even if we were currently shattered, I didn’t want to give up yet. We had Jane to consider. And I knew that I loved Simon. Even if I couldn’t see how to get back to a healthy version of us.

I corralled him into a discussion about the unraveling of our relationship that afternoon before I picked Jane up from school. Could we work things out? No. Could we go to couple’s counseling? No. Could we just try one more time? No. No. No. He’d made up his mind, it seemed. He’d decided that Jane & I were better off without him. That he was only an albatross, weighing us down. It didn’t really matter what I wanted or what I said. He was convinced that our split was the best thing for me.

My head exploded. I yelled. I cussed. Then I yelled some more. I went over the edge completely. Who was he to make this decision for me? I’d stood by him through his transition, held his hand, worked so hard at being okay (at least I thought so at the time). How DARE he leave me now? But he was gone. We were, in fact, over.

(To be continued…)