The Disappointing Lingerie Delivery

So there’s this bag. It arrived, stuffed in my mailbox. Hm. I’m not expecting a package. 

Disappointing lingerie

Upon removing it from my mailbox I glimpsed at the sender.

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All I needed was a glimpse, and I knew I was opening that fucker. Matter of fact, it was the first thing I did right after setting my son up with his iPad.

I tried moderately hard NOT to look at who it was addressed to. That way, if I opened it, and it wasn’t for me, I could legitimately feign ignorance and upon returning it, could honestly claim that I thought it was mine. I carefully bypassed looking at the addressee by turning the bag away while opening it. But then, in my strain from ripping the thick, rubbery package, I got a glimpse of an address that was veerry close to mine, but maybe… not mine? I blurred my eyes and kept ripping.

I did the same thing a week ago after I SWORE I sent the last pleading, begging (ultimately unresponded to) text message to my first, emotion-based, post-divorce breakup. You see, in the previous 9 months, I hadn’t memorized his entire phone number. I called him up only by his first name in my contacts. I just barely knew the first 6 numbers. So I knew that if I could delete his number without ACTUALLY seeing the last 4 digits, then all temptation would be removed to further send my dignity into a downward spiral by continuing to text a dead horse.

My fingers dialed up the contact. I trembled a little. I knew that if I caught one half of a peak at those last 4 digits, they would be seared into my frontal cortex like a branding iron on a Japanese Wagyu beef’s ass, and I would immediately, irrevocably send my self-control on a one way cruise to the Antarctic. It was 1st world life or death, people.

I paused. Took a breath. Called up the contact. Quickly found the menu for delete. And… done. But not before I packed my parka because that evil little gnome inside my head, the one with his thumbs inside the straps of his overalls and one cocked eyebrow, that fucker MADE me look at that number. Can a girl catch a break? Sweet African American Baby Jesus. 

Then, like the insane, emotionally unstable, crazy woman I had morphed into over the last few weeks, I immediately started saying random numbers in my head trying to trick myself into NOT knowing what I already, CLEARLY, knew. Six! Nine! Four-Six, Four-SIX! NO! DAMN IT it’s four-eight. It was an exercise more futile than a toddler’s red-faced fit over the last broken cookie.

But I was strong, for a little while before I texted him again and went skeet shooting with my pride. Don’t judge. Pull!

So anyway, this bag came. And it said lingerie. And my curious, impulsive, devoid of self-control self, ripped it open to find a sad, poignant metaphor on my life.

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You’re kidding me right now, right? No split-crotch lacy thong? No dangly tassel pleather-studded bra? No polyester banana-hammock with elephant ears?

A hoodie? Really, life? That’s whatcha got?

And not even a nice hoodie – a cheap, ugly, scratchy man-hoodie. Or maaaybe teenage-boy-hoodie that matches his private school uniform requirements. Fuck.

So now I sit here, with this possible man (probably private-school-boy’s) hoodie and I have to give it back… to someone. After I already opened it. With LINGERIE beaming off it in neon. Which might actually be a federal offense.

So my next thought is: A. Do I drive the street over and hand-deliver this disappointment? Or do I simply wait the 1, 2, 3, 4 weeks before I casually catch the mailman outside my driveway and saunter over with a, “Oh, hey. This was delivered by mistake and I accidentally opened it.” Because I did, you know, accidentally.

And suddenly, I feel the real possibility that I created a problem where there wasn’t one. Shit. Another metaphor.

Oh, no. I do not regret opening that bag. I’m 99.9% certain I’d do it every.single.time a package showed up on my doorstep with the words LINGERIE emblazoned on it in hi-def. You could set your watch to that fact.

And really, if I’m honest, the problem I created… to me… is sorta funny. And stupid. And ironic. And inspired. And I wrote this. And I can’t pretend that I care what the mailman or the neighbor really thinks, anyway. I’ve fought too many wars to give a shit about that kerfluffle. And so I should just stop procrastinating. And creating unnecessary problems. And playing little mind games. And do what I know I need to do. And write this fucking book.

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Lessons on Loneliness, Translations and Bedtime Stories

Because of shared custody, full-day Kindergarten, and a busy schedule, my daughter and I usually, truly connect during the week on the nights I get to put her to bed; which is approximately 53% of the time. That’s what happens in divorce, you only get a percentage of your child’s life.

I lay with her before she falls asleep, and her inner thoughts and worries come bubbling to the surface like secrets. She tells me as much as she is able to understand, and I translate the feelings she does not have the words to say. Two nights ago she cried big, heaving tears about a recent birthday party where two girls, whom she’s been friends with for about three years, wouldn’t “follow her.”

These three girls spend a lot of time together because I’m also friends with their moms, and we like spending time together, too. These two friends of mine are two big reasons I was able to survive this last year of divorce. They supported me, included me, made me feel like I was not alone in this city where the only family I knew stopped speaking to me the day I filed for divorce.

But lately, I haven’t felt so included. For a variety of reasons I feel a rift between me and these two friends. They are both married. They have two children who are the same ages, and all their kids are friends. They aren’t limited in their plans by shared custody and “weekends off” and the ability to pass the kids off to a husband for an impromptu shopping trip on a Saturday afternoon. When we get together their husbands idle off to the side with their beers and talk about husbandy things. I watch. I listen. I see the updates on Facebook when they go on “date nights” and I have no plus one anymore.

I’ve been feeling this distance and the accompanying loneliness and it hurts pretty bad. So when my daughter cried to me two nights ago about not being “followed,” I cried with her, because I knew she was trying to say she felt alone, and left out. Usually, I’m not at a loss for wise words of motherly advice translated into 5-year-old speak, but I was this night. I just layed there and said, “I know, baby. Me too. Feeling lonely and left out is miserable and it’s okay to cry. I’ll cry with you. Okay? Because I’m feeling pretty left out too.”

Then I remembered this book I bought a couple of weeks ago at a spiritual bookstore. It is a book for kids called, On My Way To A Happy Life by Deepak Chopra. I love this book. I gush over this book. Because I gush, they groan when I try to read it at night, but I read it anyway. And by the end, they are always rapt with attention. It’s one of my favorite things right now.

Deepak Chopra On My Way to a Happy Life

As we lay there crying I asked her if she remembered what the book said about getting the things we want in life? I reminded her that it said she needed to give away the things she wants. If she wants her friends to “follow” her, she’s got to follow them, first. If she wants to be heard and seen and included, she’s got to hear, see and include others. And the best way to do these things, is with a giving spirit, and a happy heart. It was truly advice for us both.

I think I might be a professional loner. I move away from people, I alienate them, I build walls and hide behind them every single day. I choose people who are cold and distant so that I don’t have to thaw my icy exterior. Truthfully, this blog is my alter ego. My everyday self only understands so much, and the voice in my head that writes here is my wiser self that translates what I do not have the words to say outloud.

I justify these things easily. Because life has not been kind to me in the ways of love and so I have grown a heart of thorns. I have been told (more than once) that I am not easy to love. And I’m not. So scared am I of the pain that seems to always follow the fall. So terrified of the vulernability and weakness I’ve laid on the table the moment it all goes to shit. It seems a thousand times easier to stay walled up in my self-imposed cage. This is the part of my disintigrated marriage that I own. I am not easy to love.

But I know I’m not impossible. I did try really hard in my marriage. But sadly, that was a lost cause for many reasons. And I am all the more frightened from it. But I can’t give up, right? I have to keep trying. Somehow, I have to find the wisdom to keep turning toward the light. I know this now. This blog helps.

But it’s too late to change what has already happened. It is too late to go back and impart this wisdom on my 23 year old self, my 27 year old self and my 36 year old self. But it’s not too late today. Today I will choose to do the scary things, like trying to give away pieces of me without being frightened how they might be treated. And I will do this by taking the pieces that others give me, and caring for them like they were my own. I will give away what I so desperately need. To be seen.

We always hear that our children mirror our emotions. My daughter and I crying together over our shared loneliness of these same friends in our lives has never illuminated this more clearly for me, and thus, it has never been more clear what I must do.

There are only two people on this planet I have never held back from loving. They have had all of me from the moment they were conceived, and I hope they always will. These two are my greatest translators in this crazy world about the meaning of love, and if for no one else, (actually, I can’t think of better people) I will try for them. I will do the scariest things just to show them what happens when you’re brave enough to expose your heart.

And so, even though everytime I open this page I’m scared, I will continue to open it. Even though I am terrified of loving another again, I will try. Even though my unwisest self pulls me into the shadows behind my walls and thorns, I will continue to step out into the sunlight. Because they need to know a world with that kind of warmth. And we will be each other’s translators of that kind of love.

Practice Does Not Make Perfect

The kids’ toys have invaded every room of my house and it’s making me little crazy. Right now, there are three rooms in desperate need of painting, a brigade of dandelions invading my garden, and stacks of papers that have built up over a dreary, rainy season. I sigh heavily each time I look at them. For the last week I have been slightly obsessed with getting my home organized. Call it Spring cleaning, or whatever, but it has suddenly become of paramount importance that each these issues be rectified and a semblance of order restored to my living space before I can think of doing anything else.

In the last week I have been on a singular mission to create a playroom in a spare bedroom and reclaim my living room as “adult space.” I have made trips to IKEA, Target and Goodwill for donations. I have searched for more than an hour online for the just-so-perfect-paper-organizing-charging-station (which I have yet to find). If I’m being honest, I can think of hardly anything else until this project is complete. I know when I get so focused on one task that there is something larger, deeper at play, and this new zeal for cleaning and purging is no exception.

For four months I have been walking a razor’s edge. I’ve been balancing knives on a high wire and holding my breath 1000 feet under water. I’ve felt the heaviness of the unknown resting on my chest while dragging the past behind me strapped to my neck like a noose. It has been a long, hard winter for all the relationships in my life.

But today, like the tulips and daffodils that are pushing their yellow petals toward the sun from the previously frozen ground (a miracle each time) there has been a transition toward the light in my own life. Some friends have emerged as life preservers. Some family relations have been clarified, deconstructed, ready to build anew, perhaps in a healthier way. Most importantly, my marriage has shifted onto more solid ground and it too is rebuilding with a stronger foundation than ever before. At this moment everything feels like a miracle, from the flowers to my faith.

It’s been awhile since I’ve felt this assured about the future and my sole motivation to organize my home is my way of trying to hold onto that feeling; gain control of it, slap a fresh coat of paint on it and force it to stick around for a while. I believe this much is true.

I have learned a great deal about myself and relationships in the past four months by means of therapy, reading and introspection. In the midst of it, I have swung from one side of the sanity pendulum to the other, sometimes in the very same day. I know more about who I am, a knowledge that came at a high price. I have confronted my anger, my anxiety, my ideas about marriage and family, motherhood and faith. My convictions have never been stronger or more flexible and neither has my body as a direct result of deepening my yoga practice. All of these are good things that have helped me grow, and yet, my compulsions remain.

life is a practiceThis is the lesson standing out to me on this clear, crisp Spring day–that like my yoga practice, life is never mastered. Life is a continuing practice because there is no such thing as perfection. Perfection is an illusion we portray to keep the deeper, larger things at arm’s length; to avoid eye-contact with the ugliness and unexpectedness that lays on the periphery of every thing we hold close.

As deep as my tendencies for obsessions and compulsions run, somewhere else deep, lies the knowledge that there is no promise of ever getting it right, of having it all, of writing the perfect blog post, bending into the epitomous expression of downward dog or even another clear, crisp Spring day.

Even though I want to finish this post so that I can paint trim, I will remind myself in the midst of it that there is no such thing as the just-so-perfect-paper-organizing-charging-station (believed me, I’ve looked) or seemless, knick-free walls that do not hold with them the immediate threat of a toddler’s permanent marker adornments… or relationships without the promise of future disappointments.

My recent quest to organize my house is about me, once again, fighting this reality. In the light of this more hopeful, brighter place in my life, I am already starting to fear of the unknown, the chaotic, the foreboding season I just left, one that I know will come again because… such is life. My need to categorize my papers is me trying to hold onto something instead of slipping into the flow of life, of letting everything be “perfect” the way it is and trusting that everything is already as it should be… a miracle.

But the good news is that life is a practice, and part of that practice is reminding myself again and again that there is no such thing as the perfectly organized playroom and clutterless countertops. They do not exist.

If I have learned anything over the last four months, it is that life is unpredictable and precarious and the only thing we have is the present moment, whatever that beautiful mess might be, and miraculously that it is always enough. I know now that there is no such things as the perfect marriage, the perfect mother, the perfect life… that we are all just practicing at doing our best each day. Something we should learn to be more forgiving with, for, to, of.

I have changed the way I think about these things, and that new thought takes practice too. Instead of saying I am a writer, I say, I practice writing; same goes for yoga. I also practice being wife, a mother and a daughter. I practice patience and gratitude and staying present. Always practicing, never perfecting because I have also learned you can never master anything in life. (Much to my love-of-lists-and-checked-boxes dismay.)

But perhaps with diligence of effort, commitment to the cause, and a willingness to be vulnerable and take risks, I’ll get better at all of them? Maybe?

I don’t believe happiness, serenity and forgiveness comes naturally for anyone. Life is difficult and testing for even the most enlightened and faithful among us. But I believe the more we commit to practicing gratitude, being present, forgiving and loving thy neighbor, the less harsh the winters may seem.

My tendencies are for control and perfection and certainty, but today, on this rainy, shiny, Spring-filled day, with its Chartreuse leaves twisting in the wind and bright tulips unfurling to the sunshine, I know that practice does not make perfect, but I am CERTAIN it will make good enough.

Because there is no such thing as a garden without weeds, relationships without falter, children without messes… and would we ever want it any other way?

I Do Not Want To Be A Lie

As much as I would like to be the kind of person who hears lines of poetry narrating their day-to-day life… I am not. I like poetry, I do.  I even write a rhyming poem for my Christmas card every year (although I hardly think that counts as “serious” poetry). As much as the self-proclaimed “serious” writer in me crumples in shame, I must admit that there is a lot of poetry that I simply do not understand.

I heard a saying once that goes something like this: a failed poet is a short story writer, and a failed short story writer is a novelist. In other words, the sentiments and potentiality for beauty and Truth in the art form of the written word is most distilled, potent, and most difficult to achieve in its most succinct form… a poem. Poetry is difficult to do well because it requires a mastery of language, imagery, and a penetrating sense of the world. It is why the great poets are pure genius. Perhaps this is also the reason I do not understand most of it?

But there are some poems, that when I run across them, feel like I’m looking at someone else’s heart on a page. And although it’s someone else’s heart, they have shown me mine as well. It’s the same with a song. Whenever I am moved to tears by music, inevitably, I will think of an off-handed line spoken by Vince Vaughn’s character in Ron Howard’s comedy The Dilemma. I’ve seen that movie only once. I can’t even tell you the plot, but I have never forgotten the simple truth in this line. Vaughn, in a spurt of nervous banter says,

“People say music is the highest art form. It can go the furthest, the fastest, emotionally.”

What is great music but poetry with an accompaniment? Now I’m just musing on art form. Let’s reign this in. Everyone has recognized good art in their life. A moment of pure emotion brought on my the words, sights, sounds of another human being’s creative powers. Poetry, it all its precision and depth, is thought by many, to be at the top of these creative endeavors.

In middle school I memorized Edgar Allen Poe’s, The Raven, on my own and not as an assignment.  I was enamored by Poe and his dark, brooding rhythms. I loved the way that new word “Nevermore, Nevermore” came after me line after line in increasing terror just like the caw of that raven. After hearing Maya Angelou recite On The Pulse of Morning at Bill Clinton’s 1993 inauguration, I sought out a copy and kept it folded in a blue treasure box under lock and key. I don’t know why really, much of it flew right over my head, but I knew it was something beautiful that deserved to be kept somewhere safe. There are certain poems that speak to me in that way. I will not say that I understand them all, but they are beautiful and feel like tiny miracles. I ran across one such poem by Ranier Marie Rilke just this week:

RilkeI can’t make every minute holy.
I don’t want to stand before you
like a thing, shrewd, secretive.
I want my own will, and I want
simply to be with my will,
as it goes toward action.
And in the silent, sometimes hardly moving times,
when something is coming near,
I want to be with those who know
secret things or else alone.
I want to unfold.
I don’t want to be folded anywhere,
because where I am folded,
there I am a lie.

~Ranier Marie Rilke

This is what I felt inside as I took up a pen and started to write:

I can’t live every moment fully aware. I can’t take the high road in every conversation. I can’t be holy, benevolent, pious, contented and non-reactive in each minute of every day no matter how hard I try. I want to. I want patience to rival Gandhi and compassion to make Mother Theresa proud, but I just can’t. I can not. At least not now. But I don’t want to be ashamed of myself either for not possessing those things. I don’t want hang my head low and beat myself up because I am not perfect and happy and well-behaved in every minute of everyday. I do not. I want to know what I want from this life, and I want to seek out those experiences and the highest Truths with all I have and all that I am. At times when those Truths draws near, when I am pious and benevolent and can quiet my mind long enough to feel the pulse of my life and the holiness in my breath, I want to be  surrounded by wisdom, by goodness and Love. If I cannot have that, I want to be alone. I want to be open. I never want to shut a piece of myself off because it is in the dark places where fear lives. I know that much. And I know that when I am afraid, I am a lie.

I’ve certainly heard of Rilke. When I hear a poem that strikes me as certain and wise, often times, it is Rumi or Rilke who wrote it. I looked around for more on Rilke and found this gem from one of his most famous works, Letters to a Young Poet written in 1908:

I beg you, to have patience with everything unresolved in your heart and to try to love the questions themselves as if they were locked rooms or books written in a very foreign language. Don’t search for the answers, which could not be given to you now, because you would not be able to live them. And the point is to live everything. Live the questions now. Perhaps then, someday far in the future, you will gradually, without even noticing it, live your way into the answer. ~Ranier Marie Rilke, Letters to a Young Poet

And that right there is what this blog seems to be about. Letting go and living in Love and Truth because anything else would be a lie.

Hot Lava

I swipe a burp-clothe-gloved hand under each breast to wipe away the slick, soupy mess that has accumulated there. I have always had large breasts, but since my milk came in, they overwhelm me.  It’s the hottest summer on record in the Pacific Northwest and in the 25 1/2 days since my daughter was born we haven’t had a single drop of rain. Like most people here, we don’t have air conditioning because this type of weather isn’t typical.

Our thermostat has read 98 degrees in the upstairs of our home for several days. The kitchen and her nursery are up there. As much as possible, she and I have been holed up in the basement during the day with the lights out, shades drawn, fans blowing… alone. The sound of the fans help us sleep, what little we’re getting.

There is not one inch of me that is not swollen and prickly from heat, shifting fat and spiking hormones. I would go naked but I don’t like to see my stomach like this so I wear a cotton maternity nightgown and a milk-stained nursing bra. I would go bra-less but I need absorbent pads because I leak when she cries, which is a lot.

It started two weeks after we got home—the no sleeping and crying. It was just long enough for family to leave town and just short enough not to catch my breath. It’s been a struggle finding air ever since.

She is my first and she reduces me to my elements.

My hands feel more like claws, tight and harsh next to new skin and I fear breaking her little body because I think I already broke her spirit. I don’t know why she cries. I’m sure it’s something I am doing, or not doing, or worse, can’t do. I think she can sense through her raw nerves and involuntary reflexes that I’m no good at this. Maybe that’s why she cries? A desperate plea for rescue and comfort?

I think that’s why I cry.

I think I cry because I sense that I’m on the edge of something hot and deep like that time we flew over the mouth of a volcano on our honeymoon in Hawaii. Up until that moment I had never seen anything as awe-inspiring and soul-shifting as those guts of Mother Earth. Looking into her atomic glow made my cheeks burn and my eyes water. Just like now. Knowing I was relatively safe in the helicopter I was intrepid. I wanted to fly closer, as close as possible without risking anything. Unlike now.

Now I’m not intrepid; I’m terrified. I’m scared that instead of amazing and beautiful the guts of this mother are deadly. I don’t want to fly any closer. I want to go home.

Before I can even feel that feeling I snap back into the reality that I already am.

My sweaty, bloated body with its milk and its weight is lying in this darkened basement and although I might wish for it, I am not alone, nor will I ever be again. The heat of this life is inside me now, in my breasts and my bones that are shifting back into place and also, especially in this baby. She’s a piece of me broken off, tossed up and flung outward upon the world in a burst of molten lava.

She flows and rips back to the center of me with every breath, expanding my world one inhalation at a time and now I will never breathe the same again…nor do I want to.

The Fabric of Our Lives

There are two beliefs that flow like an undercurrent beneath all the stratified layers of anxiety in my life.

The details of our pasts make up the individual patches in the quilt of our lives and those patches are vital to the patterns we create in our future.

And…

The most important, impactful and formative patterns in this quilt happen between the ages of 2 and 18-ish.

These two beliefs radiate from the core of 90% of my decisions and thoughts; everything from choosing to stay home with my children and planning ridiculous, themed, birthday parties for 3-year-olds; to the sudden and painful pangs of regret I still feel over bad choices that have affected my present day– such as the unfortunate placement of an Angel Fish tattoo above my ass crack.

Why Shannon??? WHY!?!? I keep telling myself to let that one go because I was just a kid, and I think the literal translation of kid in Latin is “lacking adequate long-term consequence assessment.” But still, every time my daughter points to my back and says, “fishie,” I cringe.

I don’t think anyone will argue that our pasts are important. The first thing therapists want to talk about is your childhood because the early years are when the imprinting begins. It’s where the bad habits, emotional stunting, misguided belief systems and unfortunate neon fabric choices start to lay the foundation for your overall project.

If your childhood is not sewn with a deft hand, these fragile, threadbare patches multiply and start to look like something Jackson Pollock would have painted in the 80s. Don’t get me wrong, a few bad patches are okay, good even! The ugly patches allow you to fully appreciate the subtleties of beautiful ones. We all have bad years and in my case it was most of the 90s, but if you don’t improve your skill and tastes, the day-glo parts can stifle your ability to create an overall timeless piece. One that you’d be proud to hang over the back of your sofa in your golden years.

I say between the ages of 2 and 18-ish because it seems the earlier the bad shit and polyester starts to happen in your life, the harder it is to rid your quilt of these tendencies. If someone or something doesn’t intervene in these years, it’s likely these patterns will muck up the whole damn thing and you live your life always regretting the early patches.

You can fill a lifetime with repeating patterns and hating the result.

This is what happens to me from time to time and is exactly what I don’t want for my children.  I want them to have photographic proof of ridiculous, themed, 3rd-birthday parties and I stay home so they will have as many chances as possible to witness their mother go bat-shit crazy over nothing while in their formative years. Somewhere, in my least rationale places, I really believe this will safeguard them against the regret of rainbow-colored fish tramp stamps.

Every writer has central themes that permeate their work and those are mine; our pasts and the decisions they motivate us to make because of, and in spite of them.

Lately though, I have started to toy with a different idea–one that feels good, liberating and hopeful. One that I hope to incorporate somewhere in the lineage of my life’s work.

The idea that maybe we are not the sum of our patches. That maybe we are something else entirely; something smaller and at the same time ethereal and infinite. Maybe our lives are but one stitch of a master quilt that could enrobe the globe, no… envelop the universe. Maybe, instead of immersing in the patterns of the past and the effects those patterns are yet to have on the future–always lamenting and projecting–maybe the focus should be on the stitch in time that is this moment in time?

Maybe then, all the anxiety that winds its way through my life can just fray away, taking with it the burden of regret and weight of expectation… and every string that comes attached.

Author Stalker: The Cheryl Strayed Edition

I’m an Internet author stalker. Almost two years ago when I made the resolution to embark on a writing career I began studying a variety of things; publishing, plot structure, classic literature, principles of fiction– all through the highly reputable University of Google. Someday they will send me an MFA, I just know it. But of all the time I have spent on the Internet reading about writing, the one thing I can never get enough of is author biographies. The minute I come across a lauded book review, moving essay, accoladed author, or hell, even a great blogger, I want to know who they are and how they learned to write like that? It’s a bit of an obsession, really.

My latest crush is Cheryl Strayed. Her memoir, Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest, came out this week and the reviews are nothing short of arrestingly, blindingly glowing.

My fingers soon found themselves clicking away on her website to find out who this woman was and what else she had written. I got consumed. So far, I have yet to find an essay of hers that has not moved or inspired me, sometimes to tears. Cheryl’s (we’re on a first-name basis in my head) way with words has gotten me all hot and bothered and not in entirely good ways.

The downside to any obsession is that at some point it makes you feel like shit. It’s kind of a prerequisite for an obsession really, sky-rocketing highs followed by soul-crushing lows.

I was elated to have discovered another kindred writing spirit, a contemporary that spoke to me literally. Maybe we’ll be BFFs someday? I mean, she only lives three hours down the highway in Portland. It’s possible, right? Just as I was mentally planning our next meeting over coffee wherein we would brainstorm about plot structure, theme and the symbolism of geraniums, in came the soul-crushing low.

I discovered her educational, writerly background.

She has an MFA from Syracuse University. Hm? That might be a tad more respectable than my one from Google U. What else? She has always wanted to be a writer, has been writing for years and years and years and has oodles of well-respected writerly friends like Pam Houston, Elizabeth McCracken and Ursula HegiWild, is also her second, critically acclaimed book and among her awards is a Pushcart Prize. The more I read, the more the critically acclaiming, self-bashing, winner of no prizes, voice in my head starts prodding my weak places with a sharp, red, editing pencil.

 “What were you thinking telling the world that you wanted to be a writer? What’s wrong with you woman? You have a BA in Psychology and Communications from a shitty state school for God’s sake. Who do you think you are? If you think you can spin a story (let alone a sentence) as elegantly as Cheryl Strayed then you are a damned fool. Do you hear me?! A DAMNED FOOL! And now your damned fool mouth went and told the whole world you planned on becoming some kind of writer. Ha! Ha! HA! I bet you can’t wait until you see all those people on Facebook in real life? Won’t that be fun you big-mouthed fool!? Why don’t you just go back to slinging surgical devices? At least you were good at that? And while you’re at it, why don’t you stop talkin’ ’bout spirituality and God like you got somethin’ figured out, you self-righteous foo’.”

Incidently, my inner voice sounds a lot like Mammy from Gone With the Wind.

It’s always difficult to go back and place my pointer fingers on F and J and watch that little line blink at me incessantly when I’m in the throes of an author crush. Everything I write suddenly appears amateurish, immature-ish and overwrought with cliché. I am deflated.

It’s not that I’m trying to imitate Cheryl Strayed because I don’t want to be her. Really, I don’t. I like being me. I just want to know how to use my words to do to other people what her words so profoundly do to me.

Feel stuff.

As I type this, Cheryl Strayed has just finished signing her books at my favorite Indie Bookstore in Seattle, Elliott Bay Books. As she was probably starting her reading this evening in that low-hung ceiling basement to a crowd full of admirers in folding chairs, I was putting my infant son in the bath. As she was standing there in front of a backdrop of a packed bookshelf, wrapping up and answering questions, I was singing “You Are My Sunshine” to my toddler daughter. That’s my life and I love it. I love it so much that it makes me ache when I can’t render it with my words as beautifully as Cheryl Strayed does with hers.

Over the last two years I have found only one cure for the heartaches of my author crushes. It is to put one pointer finger on F and the other on J and precede that blinking line with one word at a time until I fill a line, then a page, and finally, hopefully, a book.

Brought to you by the University of Google.

Song of the Cicada

I am not a bug person. I get squeamish when I see spiders and I’d rather not touch slugs if I can help it. I know spiders and slugs aren’t technically bugs, but whatever, same difference. So, it strikes me as odd that I’m about to write another blog post about a bug. Go where the muse takes you, I guess?

I may not like bugs, but I have always liked the word Cicada. I like way it feels in my mouth all curvy and staccato. I like the way the ‘da’ lingers at the end like a breathy secret. I think it would be a good name for a pet.

Growing up in the Midwest, I liked hearing the songs of the Cicadas when they come out in the warming, late Spingtime. When you hear the Cicadas sing, you are somewhere outside, near trees enjoying something beautiful, hopefully with a cocktail. Cicadas are the serenaders of warm, early summer eves when the collective spirits are high.

Cicadas can be heard every year, but the famous (or infamous) swarms of them don’t arrive but once every 17 years. That is the length of the Magicicada’s life cycle. These swarms, or Broods as they’re called, live underground for 17 years before they emerge. During these 17 years they grow, and when they get too big for their exoskeletons, they molt. This happens several times over their underground lives. When they finally emerge on the 17th year they go through one last molting wherein their wings are fully formed and functional for the first time. From there, they take flight. Within a few weeks they will sing, mate, the females will lay eggs, and they will all die leaving behind trees caked in ghosts of discarded exoskeletons. The eggs that were laid in the trees will hatch and the nymphs, as they’re called, will fall to the ground, burrow in, and start the process all over again. It’s fascinating really.

The last Magicicada emergence of “The Kansan Brood” which is located around my hometown of Kansas City, Missouri was 1998. The next emergence will be in 2015. In 1998 I was my second year of college. I was 20 and in between my first and secondmolting.

Molting, is defined as, “…the manner in which an animal routinely casts off a part of its body (often but not always an outer layer or covering), either at specific times of year, or at specific points in its life cycle.”

In my life cycle I have had very specific times when I underwent profound and excruciating molts. As a teenager, I was painfully lonely. On the surface it looked like I had plenty of friends, but just under that exoskeleton was a raw, tender and scared body. I was afraid because I felt a little different and a maybe a bit crazy, and mostly unlovable in every way. I’m sure that’s a common enough theme in adolescence and it was mine. Through those rough years I molted layers and layers of pride. Underneath all that I found understanding and compassion for people who seem a little different, and maybe a bit crazy, and perhaps, who sometimes feel unloveable, too.

After college, somewhere around 24, I fell into a depression. I didn’t know what I was doing with my life and I longed for a purpose. I felt like I was floundering. During that disorienting time I sloughed off a lot of feelings of worthlessness. Growing underneath that heavy exterior of pain was someone who had talent and work ethic and a fire of an ambition born out of a hundred embers of small successes.

After I got married, when I was 28, I underwent another molt, a deeply personal one. I was selfish and still hanging onto some bitter pride. It took a good long while to outgrow that skin because it had been with me so long. Under those jaded and jagged outer layers I found that there was greater joy in giving, than receiving. I refocused my myopic view of the world to incorporate others into my vision for a good life. I gave up a lot of things I liked, but what I gained was what I needed to grow.

In 2010, there was a big, granddaddy molt. I found myself on the other side of a legal battle with a very large company which I dedicated many years of my life to, and all because I was a women who didn’t act like a woman should. I didn’t even know these layers existed. I was caught by surprise how painful stripping away these layers were because I did not know, and ultimately feared what I might find underneath.  I thought those layers were critical to my internal being. I clung to them like superglue mixed with cement spackled onto my bones as though losing them would kill me. But as nature intended, either I had to let go, or die, and so I molted which sometimes felt like dying. That year I chiseled away heavy coats of ego and self-righteousness and chunks and chunks of unimportant things that I no longer needed in my life.

That process exposed me like never before. I was raw and vulnerable, maybe for the first time in my life. But do you know what else I found? The beginnings of wings.

But wait! I was not done, oh no, not yet. I still had to burrow out and climb that tree and survive one last molt. This proved to be the most difficult phase of the last 17 years of my life. The climb up the tree involved leaving my marriage, which meant reconstructing and reorienting my entire world view which up this point, had been plunged in darkness underground. Never could I have made that climb on shaky legs, had I not gained strength all those years beneath the surface. I know that now. I was always meant to make that climb. And I was always meant to have wings.

And right now, as I write this, I’ve shed that my final layer. I’m standing on the edge of something more beautiful than my lifetime underground could possibly imagine. And I’m getting ready to fly…

… and just when the collective spirits are high and the time is right… I’m also going to sing.

Because after 17 years of growing and molting I know this much… if I am brave enough to let go of the things that no longer serve me, I will always find something more useful underneath. But letting go is the hardest part, and sometimes it feels like ripping off your own skin because it hurts so bad, but what’s waiting for you on the other side is always something better… maybe even wings.

(*You guys, Cicadas are hideously ugly bugs. I mean, really, really creepy in every way. If you don’t believe me, click here. But seriously, you can not UN-SEE that shit so please, click wisely. I picked the prettiest Cicada I could find on the Internet AND it isn’t even a real photo. This little guy is apparently from Thailand. Enjoy.)

Hush Little Baby Don’t Say a Word…

I didn’t want to publish this post. When I started writing it, it quickly turned into Bitchfest 2011 scheduled to perform in a venue for one. I didn’t want to publish it because I wanted to maintain a positive vibe here and write about all sorts of enlightening things, not the darkness of my personal hell. Then I decided, fuck it, it’s my blog so I’m going to publish it anyway. That’s pretty enlightened of me, right?

I’m finding that unless you are also currently the primary caregiver of multiple, small, non-sleeping children, 24 hours a day, that empathy is hard to come by. I mean, wasn’t I supposed to know this shit was hard? No one has a baby thinking it’s going to be all designer onesies and chubby ankles, right? And didn’t I consciously go and have a second one KNOWING exactly what I was in for?  Furthermore, haven’t mother’s been taking care of infants since, like the DAWN OF TIME and with far less gadgetry? So what the hell are you bitching about you spoiled, first-world, crazy woman?!

Unfortunately, knowing that my problems aren’t life-threatening or world-ending doesn’t make me any less frustrated. Similarly, knowing that it’s only temporary, helps to ease that frustration for about five minutes until the overwhelming, blurry-eyed weariness sets in again. So, if maybe I can break it down on a biological level, people can understand why I spend most of my days trying not to hit things.

First:

A mother, particularly a breastfeeding mother, is biologically, physically and chemically responsive to her baby’s cry. A nursing mom, (myself included in the early weeks), may express breast milk when they hear their baby cry. It makes sense that there is a strong symbiotic relationship between mother and child, you know, so we feed them and don’t leave them to marinate in their own fluids. In fact, I was told by my pediatrician that “colicky” infants (like the kind I make) might just be ahead of the evolutionary curve. Ever hear the saying, the squeaky wheel gets the grease? Well, the crying infant gets the boob.

As for my personal experience, I can feel every nerve ending in my body tingle when my son cries. It feels similar to grabbing a live electrical wire, which I’ve done while changing light fixtures. I am particularly sensitive when I’m lying prostrate, sound asleep at 3 o’clock in the morning. The moment he lets out his first whimper, a jolt of electric energy courses through my limbs that pops my eyes like the jump cut of every zombie movie ever made. If I have to listen to him cry for more than five minutes (which happens a couple of times a night) all that electric energy starts to make me nauseous. It actually sucks worse than I can make it sound because you have to factor in the emotional aspect of this equation which is just too sad to mention.

Second:

You can die from sleep deprivation people. Literally, like, die. There’s a reason they use it as a means of torture, because it’s effective. It’s actually most effective when you let someone fall asleep for just a little while and then keep waking them up, again and again which happens to be exactly what my son does. Personally, I’d rather be water-boarded. Studies have shown that a sleep deprived person is more impaired than someone over the legal limit of intoxication. Speaking of intoxication, chronic sleep deprivation feels similar to a really shitty hangover; a perpetual, all-I-want-to-do-is-eat-greasy-food-and-sleep, kind of hangover. Chronic sleep deprivation (I’m going on four months people) can make a relatively sane, rationale person, do insane, impulsive things like destroy Diaper Genies and hallucinate.

A month after my daughter was born, my husband and I went to Lowe’s. I stopped to read a magazine at the checkout counter and when I looked up, they were gone. I shit-you-not within ten minutes I had the store manager locking the front doors and calling a Code Adam. Turns out they were in the gardening section. THAT is what sleep deprivation will do to you.

I bet I can guess what you’re thinking? “So how are you able to spend so much time writing silly shit on the Internet if you’re SO sleep deprived? Shouldn’t you be sleeping RIGHT NOW if you’re so tired?”

You’re probably right, I should. But honestly, writing, yoga and caffeine are the only things GIVING me energy right now. Because what I know for sure is that when you’re doing what you love, what you were born to do, it fills you up with all the things you need to go on in the face of adversity. So I keep typing. I have to keep typing or I will probably get myself banned from every large box store in the Puget Sound region.

Well, well, will you lookey there? I actually did write something enlightening. Yeah me.

Now Playing at Bitchfest 2011: Hush Little Baby Don’t Say a Word…(so Mommy can type a few thousand of them and feel sane again.)