By: Elaina Portugal 12/14/19
Last week, my eighty-one year old mother-in-law hung her very first Christmas ornament ever. Being Jewish, she’d never had an opportunity, and perhaps never a desire, to hang an ornament before. She sat in her chair watching me unpack my memories from boxes and offered to help. She oohed and aahed over all of the Christmas decorations and ornaments I’ve collected over the years. Presents from students, co-workers, and even her, brought exclamations of delight as the tissue paper fell away to reveal each trinket inside.
I told a few stories about some of the items and pushed buttons on ornaments that sang songs or made noise. We talked briefly about my childhood and decorating for the holidays back then. As I continued to unpack, the dreidel and the menorah made their way to their yearly spot on the top of the grand piano, and the Hanukkah tree ornaments looked perfectly at home and right in their usual spaces. To read the rest…
Fair Isn’t Always Equal November 4th, 2019
This morning on CNN I heard commentary on some national polls about impeachment. The reporter broke down the information into real demographics and it’s not looking good for Democrats right now. Most swing states are still in favor of Trump. The other issue is the viability of the candidates up for the Democratic spot and some of their policies. Health care being the biggest issue.
Elizabeth Warren’s plan, the way it was presented, leaves much to be desired. The top 1% are in a frenzy, and big hitters are looking elsewhere to put their funding for a democratic candidate. read more here
I scurried through Dollar General looking for ant bait, scratching at every imagined itch. The pesky little buggers had formed a conga line from the base of my window sill to the dog’s dish and I, in my manic endeavor to wipe them from the face of my floor, had stretched out under the table to interrupt their dance. Of course, the little fuckers found their way onto my top and no matter how many times I took it off and shook it out on the deck, I could still imagine them crawling on me.
Finding what I needed in the seasonal aisle, I tried not to run to the front of the store to pay. I imagined the ants swarming over my kitchen floor, turning it an undulation of black, looking for some scrap of food to pounce upon. I scratched behind my ear, flicked something imagined off my top, when out of the corner of my eye, I saw the nemesis of my childhood. The ant bait I clutched went forgotten as the quicksand of memories sucked me in. Read more...
“Do the best you can until you know better. Then when you know better, do better.”
The sun beat down on our backs; sweat trickled along our hairlines making us scratch. Sweaty fingers pointed and the arguing continued.
“I’m always in the middle and even when I catch the ball, you never switch spots! You be in the middle this time!” Even though he held the ball, I yelled like I had power. I was the new girl and I wasn’t going to let him bully me. I’d had enough of that at my old school.
“You can’t throw! I catch the ball the first time you throw it, so you be the monkey!” I knew he spoke the truth, but I didn’t care. I didn’t want to be the monkey in the middle again.
“Recess is almost over. Let’s do eenie meenie miny mo,” I suggested. We all put our right foot into a circle and I started the process of elimination.
“Eenie meenie miny mo, catch a nigger by the toe,” I said, pointing at a new foot with each syllable.
“Elaina?” I heard my teacher call from a few feet away.
I looked up.
“We say ‘tiger’ here. Catch a TIGER by the toe.”
“Okay,” I said and continued on until the last person had a foot in. It wasn’t me. I was the monkey again, but at least it was fair and square.
My kitchen counters are covered in flour and the temperature in the kitchen must be ten degrees warmer than the rest of the house. Poluski, polish potato dumplings, are rolled on the counter and water boils on the stove awaiting the next batch. “Baby It’s Cold Outside” croons from my speakers; a favorite song until my son had me read the lyrics without music. Now I call it the Harvey Weinstein Christmas song. Still, it makes me think of my grandmother’s huge kitchen radiator and Christmas Day at her house. She always had fried poluski and sour cream, a family favorite. Read more….
November 29, 2016
I didn’t get invited to Thanksgiving Dinner. To be fair, since I moved to North Carolina four and a half years ago, Thanksgiving is typically not a holiday my family of origin spends together. Most years, I stay in North Carolina, my sister goes to her in-laws in Ohio, and my mom and other sister either go to my brother’s or they go out to dinner.
This year, I went back to Chicago to visit my daughter, who’s been in the hospital for the past eight weeks. She is pregnant with twins, and it is a high risk pregnancy. The doctors were pretty sure they were going to deliver on the 22nd, which is why I came up for the week, but alas, on the 21st they decided to wait until December 2nd. My husband and sons were supposed to come up and join me, but without the appearance of babies, driving 12 hours for Thanksgiving dinner seemed a bit silly, especially since my brother, who knew we were coming, never extended an invitation. Read more …
November 9th, 2016
Dear Mr. Trump
Congratulations on winning the most coveted job in the world. Today I had to go to work and face my students, students who were not in your camp. I thought I’d give a pep speech about how as Americans, we needed to come together and work through our differences. More importantly, I thought I would tell them we need to educate ourselves so we understand the process better. This way, when they’re old enough, they’ll have the knowledge to vote with confidence. Like most days in teaching, that’s what I “thought” I’d do.
Instead, I walked into a shit show. Read more...
August 10th, 2016
I have always believed that as a nation, we have come far in our attitudes and beliefs about race and inequality. The 13th, 15th, and 19th Amendments, Brown v. The Board of Education, Roe V. Wade, The Equal Pay Act, IDEA, Obergefell v Hodges, and many others all supported this belief. Growing up in the late 60s and early 70s, I heard relatives use the “n” word, and while there’s no way to say that word is not derogatory, at the time, many people used it out of ignorance and not overt prejudice. I never did because my mother promised to wash my mouth out with soap if I ever tried, so I grew up knowing that word wasn’t nice, even if at the time I didn’t understand why.
Once we moved from the south suburbs of Chicago to the Northwest Suburbs, I didn’t hear the “n” word again. I had very few black classmates, and those I did have didn’t seem to have any issues with race. I never saw anyone treat them with derision because of their color, nor exclude them from anything. I grew up without any personal experience or exposure to racial inequality. Well, not any that penetrated my ignorance born of white entitlement. Read more…
July 15, 2016
That’s all we get.
If we’re lucky.
Eighteen summers to mold them into caring, compassionate, strong human beings.
Eighteen summers to teach them how to be confident, independent, and self-assured. Read more …
June 18th, 2016
As many of you may know, I own a retail store. We sell open box returns and new items that have box damage that we get from Amazon. Yesterday, I had an elderly couple come into the store. They’ve been in before, and they like to joke around. He likes to give me a hard time and she likes that I give him one right back. They were looking for a paper shredder and while I didn’t have one in the store, I knew I had one sitting at the warehouse.
I called our office manager and had her work her magic so I could sell the paper shredder to this customer. We agreed they would pick it up in the morning at the other store we run on the weekends at the warehouse. I arranged for my office mananger to put the shredder on the counter in the store, and she assured me it would be there.
It wasn’t. Read more…
A Rape Survivor’s View of HB2 – Elaina Portugal
April 20th, 2016
Dear North Carolina,
There is so much wrong with your HB2. Aside from the whole transgender/public bathroom smoke screen, you’ve legislated a whole range of other discrimination. It is no longer possible for anyone in the state to file a discrimination suit based on race, nation of origin, gender, age, and LGBT status, not just transgender, within the state. Any act of discrimination by an employer based on these factors must now be taken to federal courts.
You’ve also jeopardized millions and millions of educational dollars that you can’t afford to lose by violating Title IX. The federal government has already said that schools cannot discriminate against transgender students, but yet you feel you have the authority to do so. You also declared that no jurisdiction can legally raise the minimum wage above what the state and federal government have defined ensuring the poverty in your state continues. As if those issues aren’t bad enough, you’ve just paved the way for perverts and predators. Read more…
April 13th, 2016
Have you ever been on a date with someone and called them the wrong name? And not like you slipped up and said Bob even though you knew his name was Bill. I mean, you thought his name was something else entirely. A few years before I met my husband, I met this really great guy. I don’t remember how we met, but I do know I went out with him twice and talked with him on the phone a few times before he told me I was calling him the wrong name. In my defense, I was teaching at the time and his name was an amalgamation of three of my students. I’m not sure how I confused it, but I called him Frank.
Brian was one of those really good guys. We went out to dinner for our first date and we talked the entire time. There was never a lull in the conversation, but even more important, while we joked and bantered, he never crossed the line into innuendo or anything suggestive. After our date, he walked me to my car and gave me a chaste kiss and told me he enjoyed our date. I left under the assumption he just wasn’t into me.
Read more …
April 7th, 2016
I’m going to be 50 this June. It’s not a birthday that’s caused me angst. Aside from wanting to lose a few more pounds and attaining my motorcycle license, I’ve accomplished most of what I’ve set out to do. More importantly, I’m the first person in my family to get to 50 without a cancer diagnosis. There is much to celebrate.
A year ago Christmas, my husband and my sister started tossing around ideas for a big 50th party blowout for me. Perhaps a cruise with a bunch of my friends, or maybe a condo at the beach were a couple of their ideas. I hadn’t thought much about what I wanted to do, so told them whatever they planned would be perfect.
Then last summer happened. Read more…
March 23, 2016
He strutted into my store walking like he’d just dismounted a horse. With a healthy snort filled with the sound of mucus and a quick clearing of his throat, he rubbed the back of his hand across his nose and then slid it down the side of his Levi’s. He tipped the brim of his ball cap in my direction and nodded. His eyes roamed down my body and then back up, and as if he just couldn’t help himself, his eyebrow quirked and the corner of his mouth, tainted with gray stubble, rose upward along with his eyebrow.
The smile on my face froze. I can’t be rude to the customers; it isn’t good for business. My lips smiled, but my eyes hardened. He wasn’t looking at my eyes. Read more…
February 14th, 2016
We go through life at breakneck speeds. Owning two companies, having four kids, going to school to keep my teaching licence current, running the boys to Boy Scouts, Robotics, Science Olympiad, Chivalry Club, music lessons, and the other hundred things we do in a week, I rarely get the chance to tell you, or show you, how amazing I think you are.
It’s the way you want to hold my hand when we’re walking. Even though your 6’4” frame dwarfs my 5’6” and our arms are at uncomfortable lengths to each other, you always want to hold my hand and tuck my arm under yours as if holding me closer is of the utmost importance. Read more…
February 5th, 2016
The picture popped up on my screen, swollen and busted up lips, and I jerked away as if it had been my face that had been punched. I stared at the picture wondering why it was there for anyone and everyone to see. Perhaps it was a cry for help…again. Maybe she needed to hear that she didn’t deserve that…again. Maybe she just needed the support of her friends. I don’t know why she posted that picture, but I responded with brutality. “Get out now!” I wanted to add “dumbass,” but refrained.
I’ve seen these posts before. People advertising their domestic violence. Crying out, “Look what he did!” or “What should I do?” Each time I shake my head and wonder why they can’t see the obvious choice. I know about the cycle of abuse. Read more …
January 29th, 2016
I typically stay out of the political arena when it comes to OYOL, but this Presidential campaign has me scratching my head wondering about where we are going as a nation. I posted to my Facebook timeline the article about Trump refusing to do the debate because Fox would not replace Megyn Kelly as moderator. A friend of a friend replied that he was voting for Trump because Trump has big balls. I needed a second to absorb that comment. He was going to vote for Trump because Trump has big balls. Now I understand he didn’t mean that literally, (insert Sarah Palin joke) but the phrasing of that comment alone was enough to tell me that there was a reason he was a friend of a friend, and not my friend.
As the conversation went on between others on the thread, it was pointed out that if Trump had such big balls, he wouldn’t run away from Megyn Kelly. Read more…
December 31, 2015
The brain is a wild and mysterious thing. Yesterday morning as I struggled to wake up, I lay in that quasi sleep state where you know you’re sleeping and dreaming, but you’re also aware of your surroundings. In my dream, I walked down the road and while looking at a set of old tires, I tripped in a pothole. I woke up with a start and immediately felt betrayed. My mind created a pothole without my knowledge…and then let me trip in it.
This irritated me more than it surprised me. My brain has long been great at keeping secrets from me. In its defense, it hid abuse, molestation, and a myriad of other things so I could survive and function, but the sense of betrayal when I remembered wasn’t lessened because of the kindness. The resurfacing of memories was like stumbling into a room where the keys I’d been missing sat on a table, in plain sight. As soon as they came into view, I knew I’d walked by them hundreds of times without registering what they were. Read more …
December 16, 2015
As the Christmas holiday approaches, my family asks what I want. Like many people, I have a laundry list of things, but that doesn’t feel like a present to me. When I sit in front of the tree Christmas morning, I don’t want to wonder what item from my list is wrapped. I don’t want to worry whether or not I’ll like their style choice or worse, have to return their gift. No, this year I’ve decided to put only two things on my list: memories and gifts they want to get me.
The first request is easy. I want to do things, have experiences as a family that we will all be able to look back on and share. A sweater I asked for may be warm and a thoughtful gift, but in a year’s time, will it still hold weight in the archives of my emotions? It may sound ungrateful, but probably not. A sweater wears out. We get bored with wearing the same clothing week after week and often look for ways to spruce up the wardrobe. I don’t want that. I want experiences, things shared, wonders sought, and emotions engaged. In 10 year’s time I want to remember and revel in our time spent together. Read more…
November 6, 2015
It happened one day, an unremarkable day. They’re all unremarkable, until they’re not. I woke up to the sun shining, not a cloud in the sky. A breeze twinkled my wind chime and a feeling of well-being sat languid in my chest. By 9:00 a.m. the trees were bent with the force of the wind. The skies turned black, and God opened his faucet full force, drowning everything underneath. Standing on my deck, I scoured the sky, trying to ascertain the direction of the storm. There had been no warning. The sky, dark as far as the eye could see, didn’t give away the storm’s origin or path.
The wind and rain buffeted me. I stood stalwart, sure it would pass and we would remain unscathed if not wet, but the rain and wind continued. The wind howled like a cat in heat as it blasted through the cavern behind my house. I clung to the post, watching in dismay as tree branches and detritus washed down the mountain. Read more …
October 15, 2015
It’s not until I leave the mountains that I realize how high above sea level I live. Last week I drove down to South Carolina to run a few errands and pick up a birthday present for my son. Driving back, there’s a bend in the road where the trees part and the majesty of the mountains blasts into view and usurps the otherwise placid landscape. The beauty makes me feel proud, as if somehow by living in them I had something to do with their creation. It’s an illogical thought, and one that makes me smile with a bit of self-deprecation, but every time I start the ascent home I’m filled with a sense of pride and awe.
On this particular trip, whether it was the angle of the sun, the changing color of the leaves, or a moment of awareness, it occurred to me that when I’m at home in the mountains, it feels like I live on flat land. There aren’t any points of reference that would indicate I’m 2500 feet above sea level. Read more…
If you ask anyone who owns a small business, they will tell you life is similar to one big roller coaster ride. The highs are highs, but when you tip over that edge, it’s hard not to lose your shit. Free-fall on a roller coaster is exhilarating in the face of controlled fear. You know where the bottom is, and you know you’re going to swoop back up, do a few more turns before coming to the end of the ride.
Free-fall in business is different. The sensation of having the rug pulled out from under you is the same as tipping over the edge. The sick feeling that makes you clench your abdominal muscles is the same, but in business, you have no assurance where the bottom of that fall is going to be. You also aren’t guaranteed an upward swoop. As a small business owner, once you tip over that edge, you hope to reach terminal velocity much sooner than later. Read more …
September 10th, 2015
I have a dog. His name is Bob. I have a parrot. Its name is Yonkel. We don’t know if Yonkel is male or female because we’ve never had it sexed and parrots don’t wear their jiggly bits on the outside. I’d like to say that I like my pets, but I don’t. I know, I know. I can hear the collective gasp of shock and horror from all of my pet loving readers, but I have to be honest. I can’t wait for the day I no longer have pets.
Yonkel came with my husband when we got married. Believe me, I had to think long and hard about saying “yes” knowing the bird was part of the package. Yonkel is a mean-spirited, blue-fronted Amazon my husband bought long before it was illegal to bring exotic birds into the states. He and a former girlfriend thought it would be cool to own a real Amazonian parrot. I wanted to know why she didn’t take the bird when they broke up. Read more…
September 3, 2015
Not too long after I gave birth to my youngest son, everyone on my husband’s side of the family commented on how alike my son and my husband’s oldest son looked. We pulled out old baby pictures of Jacob, my husband’s son from his first marriage, and compared them to our son. There were some kind of close “maybe if I hold the picture at this angle similarities,” but I was told the similarities were more in the expressions they made, the way they stretched, and the quizzical look they gave the adults holding them. Old videos were dusted off and put in the VHS so we could all marvel at how strong the genes were on the Portugal side of the family.
I cringed as the first tape started. The last thing I wanted to see one week post baby was videos of my husband and his ex after she had just given birth. I knew how precious our experience had been and I didn’t want to watch him have those special moments with someone else. But I sat and watched because it seemed so important to him. Luckily, the one video we watched was from her point of view. I only saw Jacob as a baby and David holding him. I watched him stretch, saw the quizzical look on his face, and indeed, my step-son and my son could have been twins. Read more …
August 20th, 2015
I needed to be talked off the ledge last night. I can’t remember the last time I felt such rage. To be fair, I’ve been on a slow burn for a few weeks, but last night sent me right to the edge. I took my oldest son to Boy Scouts and the group leader sat the boys down to tell him he was leaving as their Scout Master because, according to him, they’ve ruined the organization by allowing homosexuals to be leaders. He went on to say that as a good Christian man, he could not be part of an organization that allows these sinners to be part of the group. At this point, I began to gather my belongings, because I knew if he continued in this vein, I would take my son and leave. Well, he continued. I stood up in the middle of his tirade about these sinners who CHOOSE to sin 24/7, 365 days a year and told my son it was time to go. The Scout Master looked at me, and I glared at him. I was at Boy Scouts, not church, and I sure as hell wouldn’t be at his church. Read more…
August 13th, 2015
Happiness is a journey, not a destination, unless you’re headed to the streets of Asheville. On any given weekend, and most week nights in the summer, the downtown section of Asheville is teeming with entertainers busking for the crowd’s enjoyment. Nothing fills my soul quite like listening to music and watching performers on the streets. I’m not sure if I’m more impressed with the talent they possess or the courage it takes to stand on a street corner and perform, but either way these acts give me goosebumps when I watch.
This past Saturday we took to the streets of Asheville again. The Pack Square area and the blocks surrounding it have an act at every corner, and often mid-block as well. Mimes, singers, drummers, bands, and occasionally a magician, vie for space along the crowded sidewalks. We always look for the biggest crowd when we enter the area since they indicate a great performance. If you’ve never been to Asheville, the town has a laid back, hippy vibe. People are friendly, and everyone is made to feel welcome, but the best part is the street acts. Read more…
August 7th, 2015
I’m struggling with writing a love scene for my current work in progress. I need a word for the female anatomy that resides below the shoulders and above the belly button. While many words exist for these lovely orbs, all of them have connotations that are less than flattering.
The most common term used when speaking about these lovely beings seems to be boobs. However, that particular word lacks sophistication and doesn’t transfer well to the written love scene. “He caressed her boobs,” doesn’t lend itself to romantic imagery. I envision awkward high school moments in the backseat of mom and dad’s car when I hear that phrase. Not only that, but the word boob is also synonymous with fool, idiot, and imbecile. “He caressed her idiots.” Yeah, that’s not working for me. Read more…
August 6th, 2015
On a recent trip to New York, my family and I encountered women, clad only in g-strings, parading down the street in body paint. Most of them were painted in patriotic colors or were in the process of being painted by passers-by willing to pay for the privilege. Some of the women had headdresses on, but none of them held a sign or gave any indication why they paraded around so…patriotically. I snapped a few pictures. The tourist in me wanted a few keepsakes to show back home, but I didn’t think much of the situation until a couple of women wrapped their arms around my husband and son’s arms and asked for money to have their picture taken with them. Read more…
July 30, 2015
It is a well known fact that speaking with your mouth full is rude. No one wants to see partially masticated food or hear the slosh of saliva and smack of your tongue as you try to push words past the blob in your mouth. Because of this well-known rule, I kept a bag of cookies handy this weekend so I would not blurt out the words I desperately wanted to say.
Last week I endured a situation of not-knowing. As a mother, the feelings of helplessness are debilitating. I had been home for only two weeks after dropping my son off at his dad’s house for the summer, when my son called begging me to come pick him up early. I’m not the type of mother to jump in and rescue my child because he perceives a need. I’m the type who insists on problem-solving, digging until the real issues are uncovered, and empowering my child with their own ability to create change. While we went through this process, I ate cookies, tamping down the feelings of fear and helplessness, and stifling the ugly words I wanted to say about his father.
As we dug deeper into the problem, it became apparent I would need to retrieve him. Read more…
July 23, 2015
I chased a snake in my kayak today, something I never would have done a few short years ago. I’m not sure if it was a cottonmouth or only a banded water snake, but when it stuck its head out of the water like a periscope, I couldn’t resist following its wake. I pointed him out to the rest of my family and we tracked him across the lake. The glasslike surface in front of us reflected the forested mountain as my family and I paddled furiously to catch up to our mini Loch Nessie. The closer we drew, the more we could see the snake’s body ripple as it made its way toward shore. We cut him off before he hit his destination. We surrounded him and he reared his head back, Read more…
July 16th, 2015
Sometimes in life, something happens that rocks us to our core and challenges everything we thought we knew, forcing us to reassess our perspectives. When Caitlyn Jenner made her transformation, I thought “good for her.” I have no perspective from which to fully understand that need or that decision, but if someone is willing to go to such extremes to find peace within herself, then I figure it’s something she needed to do. I felt a bit sad she went through 60 years of life unhappily, but glad she found what she needed now. Aside from flipping through her transformative pictures and feeling jealous as hell at her gorgeous physique, I didn’t give it another thought.
At least I didn’t think I had. Read more…
July 14, 2015
I love those memes that talk about growing up before the internet. You know the ones that say things like: I grew up when lightning bugs were my curfew. I recorded songs from the radio on my cassette player. We didn’t have video games, we had outside. We rode bikes, played ball in the street, talked on phones in the kitchen while wrapping the cord around our fingers. The lists are usually comparative between then and now, with an overriding theme of simplicity and playing outdoors. That’s the world I wish my children had.
When we were young, summer meant leaving the house as soon as we finished breakfast and chores. We popped back in for lunch, came home in time to help with dinner, and then ran off one more time until the lightning bugs blinked. We knew to get home as soon as we saw those first flickers otherwise we’d be grounded the next day. On the weekends, we would beg for more time at night so we could play a game of ghost in the graveyard or kick the can. When 9:00 came, we’d pair up and run each other halfway home, then split at the halfway point to go to our respective houses, shouting conversations back and forth until we couldn’t heard our friend any longer. We’d sprint the rest of the way home, more afraid of the bogeyman than anything real. Read more…
July 2nd, 2015
I lay in bed the eve of my 49th birthday, waiting for the inevitable. In our house, birthdays and New Years are synonymous with sex. The concept started as a joke, but as the years have gone on, the joke has become an expectation. I lay there, trying to clear my mind of the myriad of thoughts racing around so I could “get in the mood,” and I grew contemplative. This didn’t bode well for my husband, but I couldn’t help reflecting back on younger days when sex was new, exhilarating, and the goal was to have sex as often and as creatively as possible. A time when hormones raged, emotions ran deep, insecurities ran high, and sex exploded like fireworks. Brilliant colors, fleeting sensations that faded as quickly as they erupted. We crescendoed higher, seeking fulfillment, swelling, until we combusted, and then instantly drifting back to earth, our embers burning out. Read more…
June 26, 2015
As social media blew up today as news of SCOTUS ruling in favor of same-sex marriage hit the airwaves, people from both sides of the issue came out in droves to voice their opinions. I sat back and read many of the comments, and I must be honest, I didn’t understand the haters. Most of them quoted the Bible, claiming the end of times is upon us, and those in favor of this ruling are abominations in the eyes of God. I like to think I’m a smart person, but after reading those comments, I felt obtuse. Perhaps I hadn’t read enough about the ruling to understand the implications and ramifications of how this would impact people to understand why the haters felt so strongly about this.
The more I read, the more I realized, this ruling has nothing to do with religion. Read more…
June 23, 2015
Dear Fellow Citizens-
Could we just stop for a second and take a breath? We’re throwing around words and phrases like “gun control” and “racism” as if THAT is the cause of this tragedy. We do not threaten to take away cars after a deadly police chase or multiple car pile-up. For once, as a nation, could we not turn a tragedy into a political platform and start looking at the systemic problem in our culture? Whether it was a gun, a bomb, fire, a knife, or poison, Dylann Roof would have committed an atrocity. For him it was racism, but it could just as easily been religion, gender, orientation, or anything else he perceived as “different.”
As Americans, we want to put bandages on wounds that require amputation. We find the quickest, most profitable means to make a problem go away. God forbid we should look faulty in the eyes of the world. No real interest exists in finding solutions to our problems. If there were, we’d be doing things differently. Politicians need the unrest, they need a fight, otherwise how could they fire up the citizens of this great nation and earn votes? Without angst, there is no need to pontificate about peace. Instead of tossing a label on these atrocities, we need to start asking why. Why is this occurring, and since it seems a prevalent American problem, what about our culture is creating these monsters? Read more…
June 11th, 2015
I woke to the early morning light filtering in through my tent’s window. Rolling out of my sleeping bag, I paused a moment as the wind rustled the sides of the tent, undulating the fabric, begging me to crawl outside and feel the morning air. All night long, the wind had shaken the branches of the trees and ruffled the long prairie grass. Perched in a valley of the Virginia mountains, the nocturnal blowing buffeted our tents, causing a momentary scare until I remembered we had no food in our tent. Wild animals would not scrounge for access, especially when the garbage dumpster sat at the bottom of the campground for easy pickings.
Stretching one last time, I clambered out of my bag and made my way outside. The silkiness of the breeze caressed my skin, and tendrils of hair tickled my face as they danced along the currents. A few more early risers sat around the camp kitchen, sipping cups of hot coffee, and in the distance the mist rose in wispy curls from the tops of the pine trees. The idyllic morning encapsulated the perfect weekend, a much needed respite after last week. Read more…
June 4th, 2015
It’s been a long time since you’ve written a letter to yourself, but events of the last day have dictated you turn your attention inward. Your entire life you’ve sought the elusive reassurance of stability and security. Your childhood, filled with trauma and loss, did nothing to establish a foundation of trust in the world. As life went on, you developed a persona that sought rebellion, frisson, and unrest. Even though at your core you wanted peace, and to know everything would be okay, you’d learned from day one life didn’t come with that guarantee. You took stupid risks, dated boys you shouldn’t have dated, experimented with things you shouldn’t have experimented with because on some level of awareness, you believed if you caused your own demise, the facade of control would be yours. Read more…
May 28, 2015
Life is hard. Sometimes bad things happen that require a substantial amount of personal strength to overcome. It could be a lost job, a divorce, an accident, a traumatic childhood incident, an illness, a death, or a myriad of other possible misfortunes that leave us knocked on our butts. We flounder, trying to find our footing, but these events change our lives. As time goes on and we assimilate these tragedies, we have two choices. The first one is to accept the situation, accommodate for the changes, and find a way to move forward. The second choice is the Blame Game. Read more…
May 26, 2015
Dear You- Yes YOU!
Writers walk a fine line. No matter what our letters are about, our work is often laced with universal truths. We long to touch our readers’ hearts and minds with our words. We want them to read our work and have their imaginations run away with them. More importantly, at least for me, I want them to feel my words. I want the truths and the themes to reach out and squeeze their hearts so when they are finished with the piece, it becomes a part of them. The reader might put the letter down, but the words and message are entrenched. It may be arrogance, but why else write if we don’t want our words to impact the reader? Read more…
May 21, 2015
When Hillary Clinton published her book It Takes a Village to Raise a Child, my classroom and the walls of the school were adorned with this African proverb. It helped to cement the idea that teachers, counselors, social workers, et al, were important in the lives of the children we encountered. Children are the world’s greatest asset. They are the future, and what we teach them will guide their way. Children learn to trust the world if their needs are met, their homes are safe, and they are loved. They develop strategies to cope with their environment when they witness the coping skills of others, especially the primary caregivers in their lives. Part of the purpose for putting the posters around the school was a reminder to all the adults in the building that everyone a child comes in contact with will impact his/her life. What we give them, what they witness, they will take into adulthood. It is with these beliefs that I wondered at a set of parents I had the displeasure to meet while attending my son’s graduation. Read more…
May 14, 2015
Two weeks ago I wrote a letter about empathy because of some upsetting threads I read on Facebook. You can read that letter here. Before and after I wrote the letter, arguments ensued on both sides of the pro-life, pro-choice debate. After my initial engagement in one discussion, I bowed out realizing I would not convince someone I should have the rights to my own body when he believed the government should have that right. Besides, my goal at that point was to encourage people to stop casting stones and start looking at the issues.
As others continued to discuss the topic, it became clear that many people- especially those in the pro-life camp, use the label pro-choice to mean pro-abortion. Nothing could be further from the truth. Read more…
May 7, 2014
On Mother’s Day, it is customary for children to bestow gifts upon their moms: handfuls of dandelions, a masterpiece of art made at school, thoughtful gifts purchased with Dad’s money, and then as they grow older, presents purchased with their own hard-earned cash. I relish in these thoughtful tokens of their admiration, but I wonder if they know how honored I feel to be their mother.
This Mother’s Day feels more poignant than years past. Read more …
April 30th, 2015
This week there have been three FB posts that have set my blood to boil. All of them are diverse in subject, but common in theme. One was a video of a social experiment where a “homeless” man tried to give others money. Another was a post about Baltimore and the author of the post seeking to understand perspective, and the last was a post about abortion, comparing the outrage of the execution of eight convicts in Indonesia to the lack of outrage over abortion, which in the poster’s eyes, equated to execution. While the subject material is diverse, the theme, “judgment of others”, is similar. As I read and re-read the threads, it occurred to me it didn’t matter which side of the argument one might gravitate toward. The underlying, systemic issues remain.
In the video, which you can view here, the viewer is treated to the responses this “homeless” man receives when he tries to offer up a positive message. He holds a sign with “No one has ever gone broke by giving” written on it and offers passers-by $10.00 with the explanation that it makes him feel rich to give. Read more …
April 23, 2015
She proclaims to the world, or at least to those who still listen, “I’m a bitch.” She further pontificates by asking if you’d rather be happy or if you’d rather be right, because obviously, you can’t be both if she’s part of it. She claims her shrink told her it’s the “change of life,” and it’s not her fault she feels this way. What do you mean you don’t want to hang out with her anymore? She has a medical excuse for her behavior. You have to accept it and her.
He proclaims to the world, or at least to those who still listen, “I’m an asshole.” Read more…
April 16th, 2015
A few days ago, the writers here at OYOL and a few other friends had a spirited discussion about love and marriage. Our youngest member asked a benign question about marriage and as per our usual mode of operation, the conversation spiraled into a deep philosophical discussion. Our beliefs about love and marriage differed and the romantics and the pragmatists soon found their separate corners. I am a pragmatist, and as such, drew the pity of the romantic in the crowd. He felt sorry for me because of my beliefs. I could have made the “choice” to be upset by the comment, but instead I “chose” to sit back and solidify my ideas. Read more…
Dear Fellow Writers-
Last week, Colleen, Amanda, and I went to The PubSense Summit, a writing conference geared to the business end of writing and not the craft itself. I’d never attended a writing conference before and I felt intimidated. I didn’t know what to expect and I think my ignorance served me well. I went in as a blank slate with the purpose of gathering as much information as I possibly could, and when I left, I had enough information to start making some sound choices about my writing life.
The most important piece of information I took from this conference is whether or not I self publish or am traditionally published by a small house, the ISBNs need to be listed with IngramSpark. Read more …
A funny thing happened last Friday on the way home from the airport. I picked up Colleen a little past midnight. She flew in from Chicago so we could drive to a writing conference together. We pulled onto I-85 heading north when the front end of my car started to shake. Within moments it had that thwump, thwump, thwump sound reminiscent of a flat tire. I pulled into the right lane and cut my speed to twenty five miles per hour. The next exit was over a mile away. I hoped to limp my way off the expressway to a safer spot. I hate changing my tire when cars whiz past at 70 miles an hour.
We made it off and thwumped our way to a well-lit gas station. At nearly 1:00 a.m. in an unfamiliar town, Read more…
Remember how fun slumber parties used to be as kids? We’d stay up into the wee hours of the morning telling stories, playing truth or dare, and pricking our fingers with pins to become blood sisters. There was something magical about sitting in the darkness pointing our flashlights up at the ceiling to create just the right ambiance. A feeling of safety shrouded such events and we shared our secrets, dreams, and plans for the future.
This past weekend I had the opportunity to do that all over again. Read more…
A few months ago, I watched a video put out by a French company that described their Inglorious Fruits and Vegetables movement. Intermarche, the company behind this movement, went to their growers and bought all of the produce they normally would have thrown away. Bumpy apples and potatoes, oranges disfigured at the apex or in the rind, curly peppers rather than straight, carrots with two legs instead of one, all perfectly good food for eating, just displeasing to the eye. They took this inglorious produce to their stores, gave them their own aisle, and sold it for 30% less than their beautiful counterparts. It was a huge success and within the first two days of this endeavor, they sold an average 1.2 tons per store. Ingenious!
After watching the video, my thoughts scattered in two very distinct directions. Read more…
This morning on the way to school, you and the boys heard a radio bit about a woman asking for advice. Apparently, her dentist is good looking and her husband overheard her and her sister talking about this. She described her husband as “getting all puffed up” and he demanded she change dentists. She thought it a ridiculous request, but wanted to get a consensus from the audience. Before the radio show host took any callers, you lowered the volume to talk to your boys about this and see what they thought. Your twelve year old thought the man was stupid and insecure and needed to get a life. Your fourteen year old said, “Guy’s got issues.” You did an internal self-congratulatory dance, knowing full well your boys have never been in love and have never felt the bite of the green-eyed monster. However, you felt a modicum of relief and pride knowing this was their initial response.
After you dropped them off, you turned the volume back up to hear others’ responses. The show had morphed into people calling in and talking about their experiences with unreasonable requests from partners. One gentleman called in and said his ex-girlfriend would not let him look at waitresses when he was ordering food. He could not make eye contact with female bartenders and had to either look at his menu or her, not the waitress/bartender. Another gentleman called in to tell the story of how he and his father went to a baseball game, his dad’s first in over twenty years, and his girlfriend called him constantly, demanding pictures to prove he was still at the game, to prove he was with his dad, and then kept calling and texting wanting to know if the game was over yet. There were a multitude of other stories, men checking their girlfriend’s phones every time they went out, women checking the history on their husband’s computers, and the list went on and on.
Having been on both ends of cheating, you just shook your head at the levels of insecurity and as harsh as it sounds, the stupidity. There are good looking people everywhere. If you don’t trust your partner not to cheat, no number of rules or limitations is going to fix that. As a matter of fact, depending on the personality of the partner, that might just push them over the edge. You can’t prove a negative. If one is constantly accused of cheating or having thoughts of cheating and then suffering consequences because of their partner’s insecurities, guess what? It might just become a self-fulfilling prophecy.
People cheat for a variety of reasons, most of them have little to do with their partner. During your research for your current work in progress, you spent a lot of time answering Craig’s List personal ads. You needed to know what made people tick, why they cheated, and what it is they were seeking. In every single instance, it had nothing to do with their spouse. One man was unhappy with the frequency at home, but upon further discussion, it became quite clear he did nothing to encourage those feelings within his wife. He expected her to want it because he did, even though she told him on multiple occasions what she needed. He didn’t want to put in the effort, so he looked elsewhere for something easy.
Another man you spoke with loved his wife. He made that abundantly clear, but what he loved more, was the chase. He loved the newness, the butterflies in the stomach, the anticipation, and his wife, for obvious reasons, could not give that to him. Talking with these men depressed the hell out of you. There is no cure for that level of selfishness, but you found relief knowing the site you used is notorious for attracting “that” crowd.
As you continued to listen to these people on the radio this morning, you just shook your head. Their insecurity said so much more about them than it did their partner. You wanted to call the radio station and tell these people to start doing things that made them feel good about themselves. Take a class, find a hobby, join a club, enrich their own lives until they got to a point they liked themselves enough not to worry about if someone would cheat on them.
We don’t have control over what someone else does, no matter how much we want to trick ourselves into believe we do. What we do have control over is what we do, how we feel, and how much self-esteem and confidence we can foster within ourself. You wanted to tell these people to start developing themselves into someone they’d never want to cheat on, because if someone did cheat on them, they would know it had nothing to do with who they are and everything to do with their partner.
Confidence is an aphrodisiac. Insecurity, not so much.
To read more of our letters, click on The Path!
Who would I be if no one judged me?
I’ve been tossing that question around in my mind this week after reading Colleen’s piece on Judgment and Amanda’s piece on Fear and Ambition. My immediate reaction is, I would be someone more. Nothing would have held me back and I would have accomplished so much more. I think back to my piece from two weeks ago, “Hello? My Eyes are Up Here,” and I know how it feels to be judged for my “assets” and how I always have to fight to disprove the stereotype. I think back to my childhood and hear my grandmother’s voice in my head telling me I’m fat. I hear my brother’s taunt, “She’s got a nice face, but the rest is out of place.” There are thousands of examples and I can feel the weight of stones accumulating in my heart with each one.
I spent an entire day mooning over this, thinking I’d missed out on doing so much because of others’ judgments. I wrote a list of all of my accomplishments in life and then I wrote a list of all the things I’ve wanted to do, but never have. As I went through this exercise, I began to see a pattern. I am a rebel. When someone judges me or tells me I can’t do something, my automatic response is “F*ck you. Watch me!” And then I prove them wrong. I know the response is crude and quite possibly immature, but I really began to think; who would I be if no one judged me?
I wouldn’t have been a teacher, that’s for sure. I had my daughter on a Wednesday and was back in class on Monday to finish out the semester even though my advisor advised against it. Then, when my daughter was only five-weeks-old, I started student teaching. The teacher with whom I worked immediately discounted my ability to succeed, saying I should be home with my daughter rather than finishing my degree. I finished and much to her dismay, my professor gave me an “A” because I earned it.
I wouldn’t have been a writer. Before moving from my home state to North Carolina, my mother told me I was foolish to give up my teaching career to start writing. But I did it. Had I listened to her or my first critics who told me I sucked, I would never have continued to write. Now I have this blog and am a co-author to two traditionally published books, Four Doors Open and Four Feet Down and I’m pitching to an agent in a couple of weeks. Nothing may come of it, but had I not been judged, I don’t think I would have come this far. I’m not sure I would have pushed myself so hard, just as I wonder if I would ever have finished my degree if I didn’t have the nay sayers.
Would I have taken so many extra classes or earned so many endorsements if I didn’t have to fight the blonde stereotype? Without the fear of not being smart enough, I don’t know if I would have had the ambition to research areas of interest, or try to understand politics, the environment, or how to teach children with special needs. I wonder if I would work out so often or if I would have run so many miles if I hadn’t been judged for my size. Would I have chosen a sedentary life and been content with being overweight? I’ll never know, because I WAS judged.
As I look at this list of my accomplishments, I am reminded of all of the people who told me I couldn’t, or shouldn’t. I remember the put downs, the dismissals, and in some cases, the jeering. It incited me to accomplish my goal, not only because I wanted it, but to shove my success in the faces of all who judged. I know, that’s crude and possibly immature. It could be said I developed my rebellious nature because of being judged, but I’m not sure that changes anything.
Perhaps it’s the yin and yang of life. The idea that we enjoy a sunny day more after a rainy day, the kiss of a lover after a period of absence, the taste of something sweet after eating something bitter, and succeeding when everyone told us we would fail. I don’t know if I would have achieved all of my successes if I hadn’t been judged. I don’t know what more I would have done if I hadn’t been. Intellectually, I’ve learned judgments are more about the people who make them than they are about those being judged, but emotionally? I still need to prove I can.
Who would I be if no one judged me? I’ll never have the answer to that question, but I do know I like who am.
To read more of our letters, click on The Path!
Last week while grocery shopping, I witnessed a brother and sister, probably no more than four and five years old, get into a scrap in the produce aisle. I’m not sure what precipitated the argument, but it ended when the little boy pulled his sister’s hair and shoved her to the ground. At least that’s the part his mother saw before she intervened. She missed the part where the little girl kicked her brother in the shins and punched him in the stomach.
The mother grabbed her son by the arm and yanked him away from his sister. The first thing out of her mouth made me cringe.
“What would Jesus say if He walked through those doors right now and saw you do that?” She enhanced every third word with another yank on her son’s arm.
That little boy huffed and puffed his indignation. “He wouldn’t a said nothing, Mama. He would have whooped her butt, too.”
To avoid laughing at the scene before me and applauding the little boy’s response, I found the apples very interesting and checked each one for bruises. I assumed the little boy told his mother what his sister had done because it wasn’t long before her arm was being yanked by mom, too.
Their interaction reminded me of another incident I witnessed years ago. I was in the toy aisle at Wal-Mart trying to find a suitable present for my daughter to take to a birthday party. The poster selection was located across the aisle and a young boy about ten years old flipped the hinged, framed selection back and forth like dominoes. He’d start at one end of the rack and push until the poster at the far end flipped and then the rest would follow. Once they all fell to the other side, he’d walk over and push the opposite way until the deck of posters flipped back. After a few turns of back and forth, he started flipping through each one individually. At first I didn’t think he looked at the posters. It seemed like he flipped it more for the sound effects of metal hitting metal, but apparently a poster caught his eye because he stopped his flipping and spread the rack open. The little boy stood mesmerized in front of an image of Britney Spears scantily clad and wrapped in a snake.
A few moments later, his mother came up the aisle and stood staring with him. The boy, taking notice of her said, “Mom, I’d like to get this poster for my room.”
The mother looked down at her son and I knew from the quirk of her lips and her raised eyebrow, he wasn’t getting the poster. “Son, if we hung that poster on your wall and Jesus came to visit, what do you think he’d say? Don’t you think he might feel embarrassed seeing a picture of an almost naked woman hanging on your wall?”
Without missing a beat, the little boy looked at his mom and said, “Embarrassed? Heck no! Jesus would say, ‘Wow! I do good work.’”
Out of the mouths of babes.
Both instances, while humorous, left me feeling uncomfortable. The mothers used an outside, judgmental force to try and guilt their children into compliance. Using Jesus as judgment rather than as the loving, benevolent God I grew up with rankled me, but that’s a topic for another letter. In these instances the mothers could have referenced the kids’ fathers or grandparents. It wouldn’t have mattered. By referencing an outside source, the mothers used guilt and shame to coerce the kids into behaving. They missed an opportunity to talk to their kids about what they felt and bring about an intrinsic awareness of wrong and right. They also missed an opportunity to talk about empathy. Guilt can incite rebellion, but empathy facilitates kindness.
I know as both a mother and teacher I’ve made many mistakes. Hindsight is 20/20. I hope in moving forward, I remember these lessons and can put my frustration with my kids aside and find moments to teach empathy, to provide opportunities for them to identify their feelings, and find healthy ways to express and deal with them.
What might the world be like if we could all put empathy and kindness before anger and guilt?
To read more of our letters, click on The Path!
Dear Catholic Guilt-
It sits on the countertop tempting my resolve. I swear it has eyes imploring me to come closer and taste its forbidden sweetness. I know it will be moist and decadent, everything I could ever want in a chocolate cake, but I know if I take one bite, I’ll want more. One taste is never enough.
I resist. I do dishes, fold laundry, remind the kids to brush their teeth to remove all the chocolate cake residue. I read, immersing myself in a tale, trying to forget chocolate cake even exists. On the counter. Calling my name. Pretending it’s not there is futile.
I move closer. Maybe if I imagine eating it, visualize my fork sinking into the cake’s velvety sides, and perceptualize the dense moistness on my tongue, I can fool myself and satisfy my craving. I take the cellophane wrapping off the cake. The aroma wafts up, assaulting my nose. My mouth waters and I swallow down the urge to break off a tender morsel and devour it. I close my eyes and envision myself going through each step. I savor every moment, even licking my imaginary fork, but who am I kidding?
I want chocolate cake.
I grab the box out of the recycling to see how many calories are in a slice. I calculate how long I’d have to work out to burn off the calories if I can’t resist. Okay, really, I calculate for two pieces because one piece is never enough, and then I add on the calories I need to burn in order to maintain my diet. Maybe I could switch out a few carbs for vegetables? I pull out pencil and paper and begin to calculate. All of this for a piece of cake. For a nanosecond I wonder if it’s worth it, but one look at that cake and I have answered my question.
I think back to the last time I made chocolate cake, and I can’t remember when that was. It’s not like I make it every week, or even every month. It’s a treat, a big treat, yet here I am perseverating on how many calories it is and how long I’ll have to workout to pay for my sin. Whatever happened to balance? My diet won’t be ruined if I have a piece of chocolate cake. It won’t be ruined if I have two. I’ll have to compensate, adjust, work out a bit longer, but perhaps knowing what I have to do before I make the decision is enough to make it.
Decision made, I take a knife and slice into the cake. The crispy outside gives way to the moist inside. Chunks of chocolate provide a bit of resistance, but soon yield to the pressure of the knife. If I’m going to cheat, I’m going big, and decadent, and luscious. Tomorrow will be enough time to find balance, work off this sinfully delicious cake, and get back to the straight and narrow; but today?
Today I’m eating chocolate cake.
The one who will go to confession…tomorrow
To read more of our letters, click on The Path!
Earlier this week at the gym, I noticed an older gentleman sitting on a weight machine bobbing his head up and down. At first I turned away thinking he listened to music or perhaps might have some Parkinson’s-like disorder. When I looked back a few moments later, I noticed his head kept going up and down to the same beat, but he didn’t wear earbuds. It didn’t take but a second to realize he was bobbing his head to the bounce of my breasts as I worked out on the elliptical. My knee-jerk reaction was to crouch down until his eyes met mine so I could glare. I wasn’t working out so hard so he could watch my boobs bounce.
Growing up, I could never sit at the back of the bus with my friends. The few times I’d tried, the boys felt it their right to grab my boobs and squeeze. If you’ve ever been a developing ten-year-old, you know how painful that can be. My other busty friend and I would sit someplace in the middle, even though as fifth graders, and the oldest kids in the school, we should have been sitting in the back. It wasn’t worth the humiliation or pain.
In middle school, every boy accused me of stuffing my bra. Even though we had to strip down and take naked showers every day after gym, no one ever came to my defense and stopped the rumors. I dreaded gym class. Not only did every girl and boy make fun of how my chest jiggled and bounced with whatever sport we played, having to strip down and parade through the locker room to the shower was my daily walk of shame. Even my friends could do nothing to stop the rude comments and the crude hand gestures of my fellow female classmates. By the middle of sixth grade, I walked with my shoulders rounded trying to hide my breasts.
By the time high school arrived, I’d far surpassed Raquel Welch’s bust measurement. People stopped accusing me of stuffing, but boys still tried to cop a feel if they thought they could get away with it. I spent much of my time during passing period with books plastered to my chest dodging wayward hands. I wore baggy shirts to hide beneath, but that only brought on more torment. Now people called me fat.
At home, I was a runner. I loved that runner’s high, that endorphin rush, but found I could only run at night if I didn’t want men to catcall. Once, while finishing my four-mile loop, a car screeched to a stop and then burned rubber to back up. I didn’t wait around to see who it was whooping out the window. I high-tailed it into the neighbor’s backyard and hurdled bushes to make it safely to my house. After that, I bought an ace bandage and wrapped it tightly around my chest. It minimized movement, but it made it harder to breathe. I continued this until I broke my back at 30 and had to give up running.
Toward the end of my high school freshman year, my best friend Pam and I decided the best thing to do would be to run the streets around school. We could report anyone who might bother us and we hoped being so close to the school, people would leave us alone. While we ran, some of the track and field guys would make comments, but when they realized we could outrun them, we were left alone. I grew bold and bought a T-shirt with “Dream On” across my chest. I felt strong. I felt liberated. I laughed every time I heard one of the other runners singing like Steven Tyler. It wasn’t until years later I realized the size of my breasts had still determined my self perception.
I hoped as boys grew into men and girls into women, my breasts would no longer be an issue. For many, maturity made a difference, but then I came up against another stereotype. Because of my looks, people assumed I was dumb. Blond hair, blue eyes, big boobs, yep, I had to be dumb. A fellow teacher once told me the only reason the principal hired me to fill the Science position was because the principal liked the way I looked. It had nothing to do with the fact I earned a degree or had the credentials to teach science. In his eyes, and it was evident in the way he treated me the entire school year, the only reason I had my position was because I was pretty and had big boobs. Too bad sexual harassment wasn’t a “thing” back then.
I pumped harder on the elliptical; my walk down memory lane served only to irritate me. People assume women with large breasts have the world at their feet. Men buy us drinks, we get out of traffic tickets, and we can “dumb” our way out of any awkward situation when needed. Yeah, we have it made, if our goal is to be objectified and stereotyped.
I watched the old guy’s head bob a few more times, and then I ignored him. I couldn’t stop him, anything I said wouldn’t change him, but that didn’t mean I had to give his behavior any control over how I felt about myself or my body. I smiled to myself and increased my tempo.
I was there for me.
To read more of our letters, click on The Path!
One of the best parts of being a writer is sitting in coffee shops, watching people, and listening to conversations. When I frequent a place long enough, I become a fixture, and people get to know my name. They invariably ask what I’m working on and that’s when the fun begins. People are intrigued by the topic of this blog and want to share their stories about their road to happiness. This week I met an interesting man who for the sake of privacy we will call Fred. Fred insisted not only had he found the road to happiness, but he’d found the expressway. Fred had an open marriage; he got to have his cake and eat it too.
My curiosity went into overdrive. Questions piled up and bumped into each other as I tried to organize my thoughts. The first thing I wanted to know was whose idea was it to have an open marriage and why did they want it. Fred confided his wife had little interest in sex. They have two young boys, the youngest only a few months old, and after the last one, they’d only had sex a handful of times. I am loathe to admit it, but even though he said she was disinterested in sex, I assumed he didn’t find her attractive anymore, and I nearly ended the discussion. It’s not my place to judge, yet I didn’t think I could listen to what he had to say with an open mind. Well, the next words out of his mouth made me feel like an idiot.
“She’s gorgeous. I love nothing more than to sit and watch her nurse our son while the older one snuggles next to her side and watches television. She doesn’t understand why I think that’s sexy, and it turns her off.” I didn’t expect that answer, so I reiterated my question: Whose idea was it to have an open marriage? Fred said it stemmed from a heated discussion they had about her lack of interest in sex and his desire to have more. They realized they had little in common when it came to what they wanted in the bedroom. Fred claims she changed after having kids, and having birthed three of my own, I could understand that. My entire idea of sexuality and sensuality changed with each child, but an open marriage? I asked him if they’d thought about counseling or divorce if they were so incompatible. Apparently, those were not options for Fred and his wife.
We grew quiet for a few moments as I pondered this idea and its implications. I wondered if they had established ground rules. How did they determine with whom it was okay to have sex? Did they go to bars and pick people up? Did they act alone or were they swingers? Did they set an amount of money aside every month from the family budget for these “dates?” Did they go out on the same night and get sitters, or did they trade off nights? What about diseases? Did they still have sex?
I rattled off these questions, not waiting for answers. I wanted to get my ideas out without forgetting anything, but as I threw out question after question, Fred’s Cheshire cat smile faltered. His shoulder slumped a bit, and his well defined chest, made apparent by his skin tight T-shirt, caved in as he slouched against the back of the couch. I stopped mid-question when I noticed the change in his demeanor. I mentally kicked myself for being so intense, but how often does one meet someone who readily offers up this information?
Fred looked like he might get sick and I almost reached out to touch his arm and reassure him everything would be okay. How arrogant of me to presume I knew that. Fred admitted the only ground rules they’d agreed to included the use of condoms and since they didn’t want to join any swinger’s clubs, new partners had to be single. They did not want any complications from jealous spouses.
Jealousy! That hadn’t even occurred to me. I asked him how they dealt with their feelings of jealousy. He looked taken aback. He repeated the word “jealousy” and ended it on a question. Again, he sat for a moment in thought. I observed him and wondered how these two people could have agreed to something so monumental with such little amount of thought. I realized I applied my own ideology to their situation. Perhaps agreeing to have an open marriage wasn’t a big deal to them, but if they’d thought about other people’s jealousy, how did they not think about their own?
Fred leaned forward, and I took that as my cue to lean in. “You know,” he said, “She’s been on a lot more dates than I have. I never ask her what she does. I just assume she’s had sex. And really, it’s a lot easier for a woman to get laid than it is for a guy. Men will f*ck anything, I should know.”
My ears perked up – what did that mean?
“There aren’t a lot of women who want to have sex with a married man knowing it’s just sex. My choice is women who can’t get a guy, women just divorced not ready for relationships and still a bit crazy and man hating, or cling-ons who would cause trouble if I were stupid enough to give out any personal information. No quality woman wants a guy like me, but the sex is phenomenal!”
“But is that enough?” Damn it! That question slipped out before I even thought it through. I nibbled at my lip, worried I went too far in my probing, but Fred sat back, Cheshire cat smile back in place, shoulders back, chest puffed up.
“It is for now,” he said nodding his head. “It is for now.” He leaned back again, this time with his hands behind his head, confidence radiating from him once again.
“But what about later?” I asked, again, cringing at my inability to keep my mouth shut.
“What about it?” he replied with a shrug. “I might get hit by a bus when I walk out of here. I could get cancer tomorrow. We don’t know what the future holds. We are only assured of this moment and in this moment, I get to screw whatever I want. Life is good.”
I thanked Fred for sharing his story and made sure he was okay with me writing about it. He assured me he hoped I would because he felt a lot of people might benefit from this idea of open marriage.
He said, “You’re on the road to happiness, but I’ve found the expressway,” and he stood up with a smug smile on his face. I smiled back and thanked him for his time, even though he’d already turned to walk away.
“Yeah, but the tortoise wins the race.” I thought to myself.
I don’t judge his choice. I’m sure there are many people happy in an open marriage, but in listening to him and watching his reactions to my questions, I couldn’t help feel I’d just listened to an infomercial on the latest get rich quick scheme or read the cover of the magazines that boast anyone can lose 11 pounds this week just by eating these certain foods. Should happiness work that way? He who gets there fastest wins?
I hope Fred and his wife find their happiness. I do, but I’m hanging with the tortoise, and that’s okay too.
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You stood in the checkout line of the grocery store listening to the conversation between bagger and cashier as they talked about the customer who had just left.
The bagger said, “I love customers like that,” and she snorted. “Who gives back extra change?”
The cashier replied, “I know, right? Like, it’s free money. Who gives back free money?”
You bit your tongue. You surmised the customer must have given back miscounted change. Perhaps the cashier felt foolish for making the mistake and maybe the bagger was trying to make her feel better.
But then the bagger opened her mouth again. “It’s like when you don’t know the price of something and you make it up and the customer corrects you even though the real price is more money.” She twisted her face and let her tongue hang out of her mouth. “Like, der, are they mental? Who wants to pay more when they don’t have to?”
You couldn’t help yourself. At that point, you had to say something. “I believe people call that honesty.”
The girls rolled their eyes at each other and snorted some more. You wanted to offer them a tissue to make the point they sounded ridiculous, but decided not to give them the satisfaction. As you left, you heard them burst out laughing and one of them say, “Duh, it’s honesty.”
You left with dire thoughts of the future of our country, but realized that was a broad generalization based on two check out girls at the grocery store. However, it did bring to mind an incident you had with your boys a few months ago.
Your sons participate in Boy Scouts. When you signed them up, the leader stood as an excellent role model, and your boys enjoyed participating. About six months after the leader’s youngest son earned Eagle Scout, it was time for a new leader. Well, this leader wasn’t anything like the old leader.
For the first few weeks, you hoped the differences only indicated the bumpy road of change. It soon became apparent the difference had nothing to do with change and everything to do with the new leader’s personality. He often exaggerated stories about the scouts which portrayed them in a poor light. During meetings, he would call out a boy and embarrass him in front of the troop for no apparent reason other than he thought it funny. A clique soon developed and if a boy wasn’t in the clique, the leader spoke to him derisively. This organization, designed to foster independence and leadership, was tearing the boys down. Worse, some of the boys were adopting the leader’s mannerisms and tactics, and the troop lost its sense of inclusion.
Your boys no longer looked forward to going to meetings. They didn’t feel comfortable with the new leader, nor were they willing to ask any questions since mocking was also part of the new leader’s manner of communication. Your youngest didn’t make his first rank because the leader didn’t have time to test him, three weeks in a row. When you finally pushed the issue, your son missed one of the twelve characteristics of the Boy Scout Law and the leader made a loud buzzer sound, told him better luck next time, and walked away after dropping your son’s scouting book on the table.
Many of the other parents were unhappy with the new guy. Many made comments and complained to the head offices. Many spoke to him personally. However, scout leadership is a volunteer position and no one else wanted to take on the responsibilities. While you and your husband understood that reality first hand, you were not comfortable sending your boys the message it’s okay to stay someplace where people are being treated unfairly. You also kept wondering when he would turn on them and how you would deal with that knowing you could have prevented it.
Your sons wanted to advance in rank, but they did not want to continue with the current leader. Your husband did some research, found another troop across town, and transferred your boys. You caught some guff for having the temerity to leave. Their attitude floored you. These parents could not stand the new leader’s condescension or the manner in which he dealt with their boys, but they were upset with you because you left.
You’ve had a few other incidents where you’ve spoken up because your personal integrity demanded you not take part in what was happening. Each time you did, you became the bad guy, the party pooper, the uncool one. Sometimes people would side with you and voice their thoughts, but most often you encountered people mocking you or justifying their behavior. It finally hit you. Each time you acted from a place of integrity, others viewed it as a judgment about their own morals and values.
Did you make a judgment about them because they didn’t act or feel the same way you did? You like to think you’re a live-and-let-live kind of person, but you do know as soon as you felt a reprisal for your actions, you judged. When deciding to leave the group, you understood that many of those boys had been together for years and many were close to earning the coveted rank. It would have made no sense for them to switch. Yet, when the moms avoided you in the grocery store afterward, you judged. Sometimes you wonder if you should have toughed it out, but you would have sent the message to your kids it’s okay to stay in an environment where people treat others poorly. You also know you didn’t have to say a word to the cashier and bagger, but then you would have felt duplicitous and condoned their message that honesty and integrity don’t matter.
The problem with integrity is it’s not a group sport. Integrity is personal and relies on past experiences as well as an inner confidence. It’s hard to stand up for what you believe, especially in the face of a crowd, but at the end of the day, you want to be able to look in the mirror and not cringe at your reflection. You want to know you lived your day true to yourself and your code of ethics, even if you walked alone. “What is right is not always popular and what is popular is not always right.” That is the problem with integrity. When one takes a stand, it implies everyone else is sitting.
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The Two of Me
Sometimes I feel like two people live inside me. The first person can change her own flat tire, paint her house, take apart her kitchen sink to fix the disposal, and chop up the tree that fell during the last storm. She likes getting dirty and likes being capable. Then there’s the girly girl inside me who likes getting her hair done. She insists on manicures and pedicures once a month and spends hours primping and preening in preparation for a night on the town. She likes to have the door opened for her and her coat held so she can slip her arms into it. She likes a hand at the small of her back, and while she’s capable of ordering and paying for her own drink, she likes it when someone wants to do it for her.
It’s silly, really. Sometimes these two women go to war deciding who should be the dominant one in a situation. Should I be capable and independent or should I let someone take care of it for me? I weigh out my options, decide which me is better suited for the situation and then I tie the other one down so she can’t ruin it. Most of the time the two of me live in peaceful harmony. Each one knows when it’s her time to shine and when it’s time to take a backseat.
There are other times when they get it wrong. A few years ago I had my gallbladder taken out, came home, made dinner, and did a few loads of laundry. My husband kept insisting I sit down and rest, but I kept pushing on. The biopsy was negative and I had to prove I wasn’t weak, I could handle my responsibilities, as if somehow being strong after surgery meant I earned my good diagnosis. It wasn’t until I saw the concern in my husband’s eyes that I realized he had wanted to take care of me. I had chosen the wrong me.
Other times, in an effort to avoid stepping on someone’s toes, I pretend to not have the knowledge or capability I do. People don’t like to be contradicted, and when someone feels they’re an expert in a certain subject, sometimes they want the limelight. Times like these I waffle between being the smart, capable girl or being the girly girl who wants to be taken care of and I end up looking like the stupid girl. Once I’ve established stupid, there’s no way to correct that and still come out ahead. Either I look like a bigger idiot for pretending to not know what I know,or I’m arrogant and couldn’t bother to discuss my knowledge with an expert, or I’m insecure and didn’t want to be shown up. They’re all losing propositions because I chose the wrong me.
Living with these two distinct sides of my nature can try my patience. I hate feeling off kilter and worrying whether the right me is putting her foot forward. I’ve struggled with this for years and whether it’s a product of my generation, societal expectations of women, or simply my own baggage, this insecurity of who I should be in any given situation bothers me. I want to be the woman who changes her own tire and grumbles about ruining her manicure. I want to be the woman in the classy suit, with a dab of perfume on her pressure points, wearing high heels, wowing the crowd with her knowledge and expertise. Why do I keep these two entities separate? Why do I feel I should?
Trying to find and be my authentic self is much harder than I thought it would be. There are layers of past detritus, societal expectations, and my own personal suppositions to weed through. Perhaps this is the dilemma of every person: the idea that we wear different hats in different places. You know, when in Rome…
Buddha said it best. “The mind is everything. What you think, you become.” I need to sift through these layers and dig down to my core because who I want to be is someone confident. Whether I’m the capable me, the girly girl me, or a combination of the two, I want to walk away from every situation confident that any me is the right me.
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You’ve been spiraling in your thoughts since Thursday, trying to make sense out of something senseless. You know your thoughts and views originate from your experience and your white, middle class, American culture, yet, arrogantly, you want them to be universal. You’re struggling with the attack in France and cannot fathom how anyone believes in a God who condones killing the creatures He’s made. You don’t believe, you can’t believe, these acts are based in religion. Religion seems an easy scapegoat and perhaps the issue is one of culture.
This reflection on culture has you stuck this week. Having taught many children of the Muslim faith, you know they are a peaceful, loving people. When you taught these children, both male and female participated in sports, academic bowls, band and orchestra; they were not held back in any way. Their parents were kind, loving, “everyday” people. Just writing that makes you feel uncomfortable. Of course they’re wonderful people. Just as you do not believe in what the KKK stands for, even though they profess to be a white, Christian organization, you believe Muslims feel the same way about these terrorist groups. They do not represent the ideology of the masses.
You wonder where the difference spawned between the loving, peaceful Muslims you know and these extremist groups. More importantly, you wonder about the mothers. Who raises these children to become terrorists and is that their purpose when raising them? You’ve thought of your influence on your children’s lives. You’ve raised them to look beyond color, race, gender, and sexual orientation and see a person for him/herself. You’ve raised them with compassion and tenderness, and for the most part, they have these qualities. Yet you know the outside world influences them.
You dismiss the notion these mothers want to raise their children to take the lives of other people while simultaneously taking their own. Nor as an American woman, can you accept they raise their children to revile women. You can’t grasp the concept that a mother would teach her children to view her in a disparaging light while being the one caring for their needs. How does that even work? “Here is your breakfast, and now you’re supposed to tell me I’m worth nothing?” I believe it’s the culture and not the women who send these messages.
From stories in the media like that of Malala Yousafzai and from different books you’ve read, you’ve come to understand women hold little value in a terrorist culture. Kristofer K. Robison* from Northern University Illinois theorizes countries that allow and provide for women to work outside the home, in significant numbers, have a much lower incidence of terrorist activity. If there is a lower incidence of terrorism in countries where women have rights, then is it safe to assume women in countries with a high rate of terrorism have few rights? Perhaps it’s merely association and not cause and effect, but cause and effect supports your thoughts.
It is more an issue of culture than it is of religion. This is what has you overwhelmed. How can you raise your children to love, respect, and honor people with whom they come in contact and also prepare them for hatred that exists in the world? You are reminded of the quote by Martin Luther King, Jr. “Darkness cannot drive out darkness, only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate, only love can do that.” Yet, how easy it is to let fear enter that equation. I want my children to be prepared for what the world metes out, but I don’t want to raise them to fear. Perhaps children of extremists are raised with these beliefs, because they live in a culture where fear dominates?
Your knowledge is limited and you realize terrorism has come about for many reasons. You’re also quite aware that Islamic extremists are not the only terrorists. We’ve had terrorists on our own soil. In your mind, the ideology is much like a person caught committing a crime. Rather than take responsibility for their actions, they barter and exchange, pitting one faction against another to lesson the idea of their own culpability by making others actions appear worse. In the wake of that exchange, there is a vacuum that needs filling and a lack of trust for the systems in place. The moment is ripe for fear and oppression. Is this how terrorism is born? Can any mother protect her children from these forces?
When you boil it all down, we’re all just people and your heart aches for these mothers. Perhaps it is arrogant, but you want to hug them. You cannot fathom a mother being happy her child chose to kill himself and innocent people for any reason. You want to extend your hand and reach out to soothe this fear and grief. You want to expand on the idea that it’s not a sin for a woman to have a voice or be heard, and she can protect her children. Terrorism doesn’t have to exist.
Yes, my philosophy is probably both as ignorant as it is arrogant. Yet as a woman and mother in a society that lets me have a voice, I cannot imagine raising my children in a culture where I can’t have one.
Just pray for all of those involved, Elaina. Love your children and teach them to love. What other choice do you really have?
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My Dear Friend-
You have the right to be unhappy. You have the right to hate. You have the right to wallow in your misery and wrap yourself in a cocoon of immobilization. Blame your job, your spouse, your parents, your past, and your circumstances for the way you feel and behave. Go ahead! Seek a path that continues to fuel your woe. Make bad choices and rage against the injustices life has meted out. Grieve, mourn, these are your rights. Don’t let anyone take them away from you.
However, rights come with responsibilities. There comes a point when you are responsible for your unhappiness. You are responsible for your hate. You are responsible for wallowing in your misery and for immobilizing yourself. You’re even responsible for the path you seek and for fueling your feelings of woe. Bad things may have happened, poor choices may have been made, and you are responsible for where you’re at now. That’s a hard message to hear.
Many will rage against this message and hate the implications. That is their right, but let’s be clear. I am not suggesting we are responsible for tragedy that befalls us, nor are we responsible for acts of violence committed against us. However, as much as I resisted this notion, we are responsible for how we move forward and we are culpable for things we might have done in response or retaliation.
If only he hadn’t…, if only she would…, if only we could reinvent the past and control everyone around us. I wish life worked that way. It doesn’t, and he did, and she won’t, so now what? Now, there’s a choice to make. We can continue to cling to our unhappiness, or we can flip the coin over and look at the other side.
You have the right to be happy. You have the right to love and be loved. You have the right to embrace positivity and move forward in life. Seek a path that fuels your passion. Make choices that bring about change and growth. It is your right, but I know it’s not as easy as it sounds.
Taking responsibility for your emotions, your perceptions, and reactions is no easy task, especially if you’ve been mired in unhappiness for a long time. Flipping the coin over means accepting what happened, accepting responsibility for how you feel, and accepting responsibility for the path you’ve continued down. Flipping the coin means you’re done grieving and ready to make a choice to let go of your anger and unhappiness.
Anger is a buffer, it keeps you safe. If you’re angry, you don’t have to accept your circumstances. You don’t have to go through the pain of healing or make the hard choices to reconstruct your life. It’s so easy to hold on to what we know and continue to be the victim. I wish it hadn’t happened. I wish it hadn’t affected me and I could pretend my life was still the same, but at some point, we have let go. Holding on to the anger and unhappiness does more damage than what originally caused it.
Yes, you have the right to be unhappy. You have the right to stay exactly where you are, but you also have the right to be happy and live a rewarding and joy filled life. Don’t let anyone take that away from you, not even yourself.
With all my love-
The Value of Love
December 29, 2014
Each of us took our turn ripping paper off presents. Scraps of colored happiness floated around the room while “oohs” and “aahs” rang out at each unveiling. Smiles lit up faces, some with excitement, others with relief. Joy permeated the room, and for the moment, appreciation and love abounded. We were blessed this Christmas. Fourteen hour work days, relentless schedules, and extended business trips had finally paid off. With each tear and ensuing squeal of delight, a bit of exhaustion rolled off our shoulders and contentment took its place. This year stood apart from the rest and I needed to soak up each moment because I understood how tenuous good fortune can be.
Christmases past rolled through my thoughts and the contrast between those years and this one begged examination. Were this year’s smiles bigger than last? I sifted through my memories trying to picture last year’s faces, recall emotions, and in my mind’s eye, I didn’t see anything different than what sat before me. Did they feel just as happy last year? Just as loved? Read more …
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I awoke this morning with dreams of visiting a tropical island paradise with sand under my feet and a cocktail in my hand. I snuggled deeper into the warmth of my blankets hoping to prolong the dream and avoid another monotonous day, but the squawk of my alarm clock shatter any illusions I had of paradise.
“Would you start the coffee,” came from the other side of the bed and a cold, wet nose and whimper greeted me from mine. I threw back the covers; the day had begun whether I was ready or not. I stumbled down the hall, turning on lights and opening bedroom doors. I called out a morning greeting to my slumbering boys hoping the light and my voice would begin to rouse them. Read more …
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It starts with a tingle, a tantalizing nibble at the ends of my thoughts, but I squash it down because I have so much to do and so many people who need me to do it. As much as I long to immerse myself in the sensation and let it consume me, now is not the time. I go back to the task at hand; writing, cleaning, cooking, working, but the tingle still nibbles and if I’m not careful, I find myself immersed in thoughts that pull me away from what I should be doing.
I write priority lists to keep me on task and attack each item one at a time. I take great pride in crossing items off once I’ve completed them. Each line is another delineation of strength and fortitude. I’ve ignored the tingle. I’ve overcome the pull and I’ve succeeded in staying on my chosen path. Years can go by, and while I can feel the hum coursing through my veins, I use it to energize me, to set goals and reach for them, and to overcome hurdles that would once have stood in my way. There’s a perverse pride in knowing I used this energy to succeed without ever giving in to the temptation. Read more …
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Their Christmas lists hang on the refrigerator door complete with web addresses, color selection, and required sizes. The tree stands in the corner, unadorned, unlit; schedules have made finding time to decorate a challenge. The house across the street shines colorful and bright with multi-colored strands of lights, while ours remains dark. Santa isn’t coming this year and his absence has stolen the magic and joy from Christmas.
Presents will be purchased, wrapped, tagged, and bowed, but this year there is no need to have neighbors fill out gift tags. The youngest of my sons knows the truth and we don’t need to have Santa’s name forged. I listen to Christmas music on repeat, from the classics to contemporary, the jubilation won’t attach and my insides resemble deflated lawn ornaments. Read more …
Analyzing one’s self in the hopes of gaining a semblance of self-awareness is not for the meek or delusional. Peeling off the layers of muck and mire we use to protect our psyche is akin to restoring the floors of an old home. We know the original hardwood floors exist under the layers of linoleum, but as we start to peel them off, we realize it’s more work than anticipated and wonder if we can’t cover it with a laminate and pretend it’s real.
Sometimes, as we peel the layers up, we remember why we covered it in the first place. The ugliness, the stench, the stains; the need to cover it and forget it sometimes outweighs our desire to see the shiny, original luster of wood. Other times the tools we need to remove it break and we need to employ new ones. When we dig down to our authentic selves, it is hard, agonizing work. We cannot get to our original self without scraping away the detritus that we piled on over a long period of time. Read more …
The runway lights sat in their rows, never changing, only witnessing. When she arrived, they offered safety and direction stretching out like open arms, welcoming her home. My arms had to wait while she collected her baggage, but then held her close as I inhaled her scent. My son pulled in 24 hours later and my two younger boys crowed with delight. After nearly two years of different schedules, all of my children were under one roof.
I cleaned and cooked, shopped and baked, preparing for Thanksgiving, while my children talked, laughed and reconnected. Amps, guitars both electric and acoustic, a saxophone and the piano created a cacophony of sound as they entertained each other with their talents. Occasionally a recognizable tune worked its way thru the noise, but I wouldn’t have cared if they took out the pots and pans and banged them. My children were home, together, and each strummed string, each plunked note, each toot of the horn filled the holes in my heart formed by their absence. Read more …
November 24th, 2014
If only I had realized a long time ago that I didn’t have to agree with people to be loved. I wish I could have had a different opinion without apologizing for my belief. Mostly, I wish I lived the life I’d wanted to live without changing my course or sacrificing a belief because of what someone else might say. The tragedy in living your life to satisfy other peoples’ standards is you forget what mattered to you in the first place. The greater tragedy is realizing you have no idea where to find your answers and you only have yourself to blame.
One of the reasons I started this project is because at 48, I’ve been so busy being a mother and a wife, I don’t know what I want out of life. I’ve done many of the things I’ve set out to do. I taught for 20 years and I loved it, but with Common Core and the lack of creativity allowed in the classroom, teaching is no longer my passion. I know enough about life to know if one is not passionate about their work, one shouldn’t do it. I’m still passionate about what teaching used to be, but I’m not passionate about what it’s become. Teaching is no longer teaching, it’s training.
I have four amazing children. After my first child I was told there could be no more. Life proved the doctors wrong, and raising these precious gifts has been my greatest source of pride and joy. Funny thing about kids though, they grow up and don’t need you like they used to, so I moved on to my next venture, writing. I accomplished my goal of being traditionally published, and I’m still working on more projects, but it’s not enough, or is it? I’ve been so busy measuring myself against other people’s yardsticks, I stopped identifying what I want. In making sure I’m doing “the right thing” and pursuing goals I thought I should be pursuing, I traded self-acceptance for other peoples’ measure of my worth.
I do not regret teaching or being a parent, far from it. Those two endeavors have brought me more riches than I can measure and I would do it all over again in a heartbeat. I can say that in hindsight, but when I started those endeavors, it wasn’t because of any burning desire. I did them because I thought I was supposed to do them. It was like I’d jumped on a cart attached to a track with the words, “how to be the woman other people will love” burned into it. There was never a thought about whether or not I wanted this path, I never had a plan. I jumped on because it was the life I thought I was supposed to lead.
Now I have choices, but I have no idea what they should be because I’ve spent my life developing other people, not myself. And so at 48, I find myself with the daunting task of figuring out what the hell I want to be when I grow up. It’s a good problem to have. I am aware of how blessed I am to have the opportunity to jump off life’s treadmill and seek happiness. I am blessed to be in good health and have these options, but like anything else in life, they come with responsibility. I have this gift and I don’t want to squander it.
Writing my manifesto, identifying my core beliefs and principles, has helped me to weed out the things I don’t want for my life, and it’s helped me identify things my life must include. It’s not the same as knowing what I want to do, but it’s a start. I’m going to take this time I’ve been granted to identify my strengths, leave myself open to the messages life brings, pray, and let the energy of the universe guide me. Perhaps I’m where I should be. I know I find my greatest happiness, feel the most positive, and find the most abundance when I serve others, but rather than going about life blindly, I want to choose.
I don’t know what I want to be when I grow up, but I do know whatever it is, I will do it on my terms. I will not worry what others might think, and I will find my worth from within myself. I may not have all of my answers, but I’m figuring out what matters and defining my path. Hindsight may be 20/20, but it’s time to find out what foresight might bring if I live my life on purpose.
“God and Quantum Mechanics”
This week I am changing the format of my letter and writing it to you, my reader. While it is important to have life affirming conversations with ourselves, and I will continue to do so in future letters, I’ve wondered if in writing to myself, I’m not leaving you, the reader, outside of the conversation.
Last week I began identifying parts of the belief system from which I operate. As per typical Elaina, I jumped right into the middle of things without addressing the core belief that drives the formation of my manifesto. I felt it important to back up and identify this thought process as it is a bit unusual. The overriding principles that guide my life are God…and Quantum Mechanics. I know, they seem diverse, opposite ends of the spectrum type ideas, but really, the more I learn, the more I believe God, the basis for everything, is energy, and Quantum Mechanics studies this energy.
Growing up Catholic, I remember sitting in the pews of St. Alphonsus Parish and listening to the priests talk about this omnipresent, omniscient, omnipowerful God. I would spend most of mass imagining God sitting there with me in Prospect Heights while simultaneously sitting with another child in China, or Poland, and being able to listen to us both. It brought me immense comfort to know he was with me and and yet still able to be with someone else who might need Him as well. At mass and in my catechism classes, God was presented as an entity I only had to think about and He would be there with me. After mass and throughout my week I would call upon Him and feel this energy course through me. It soothed me. Sometimes it reminded me something was out of balance and I needed to make amends, but He filled me. I only needed to call His name and I would be filled with this sense of peace and comfort.
Fast forward thirty-some years and the more I learn about Quantum Theory, the more I find the God I was introduced to as a child. In Quantum Theory, particles have this sense of NOT wanting to be tied down to one location or travel just one path. It’s as if the particles that make up the universe are in more than one place at the same time. This is the God of my youth. The omnipresent God who could be in more than one place at a time. We are all made of energy and as such, we are all made from God. God is not some entity to be looked for outside of our bodies. He is within us, connecting us, and when we call upon Him in our time of need, sometimes he shows up in the form of a friend. When we praise Him, we are sending positive energy back into the universe.
I was also taught that through God all things are possible. Well, according to Quantum Mechanics, the electron, the smallest charged particle, is a jumble of possibilities. One is not allowed to ask where the electron is right now, but one is allowed to ask if I look for it here, what is the likelihood it will be here? And in Quantum Mechanics, as soon as you look, it “forces’ the particle to choose its location. So, if I look for God here, in my life, guess where I’ll find him? In my life. He will be the wealth of positivity I feel when I call his name. He will be the surge of strength I feel when I call asking to lean on him. God, like Quantum Theory, helps us understand the possibilities of everything.
In Quantum Mechanics, there is also this idea of entanglement. When two particles are close enough together that their properties impact each other, they are “entangled”; the actions of one affects the actions of the other. This is like my idea of no coincidences that I wrote about last week. You can read that HERE. Even after my interactions with a person are done and they are no longer a part of my life, their impact is forever with me and has altered my course in some way. It might be as simple as the woman who educated me about GMO while standing in the grocery store or as complex as an intimate relationship. The energy those people shared with me altered my course.
How do I equate God to Quantum Mechanics and energy? I view God as the Supreme source of Energy. I believe He created the universe. I believe He created his son, Jesus Christ, to remind us of positive energy. Jesus came to spread positive energy and ultimately, to remove negative energy. God designed Jesus’ life to demonstrate and teach us how to be conductors of all things positive. Jesus is the way, the truth and the light. All of these can be thought of in terms of energy. More importantly, Jesus taught us how to call God’s name when we need positive energy to help us overcome the negative. He taught us how to rely on the ultimate power supply and he taught us to use it in ways to serve others (entanglement). “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you,” (Matt. 7:12) is His reminder we are all connected through this energy.
I even believe the 10 Commandments are ideas of energy and entanglement. “Thou shalt not have false Gods before Me.” Energy is either positive, negative, or neutral. Anything but God, positive energy, keeps us stuck or moving backward. “Thou shalt not kill.” If you disrupt the flow of energy in the universe, it will have an impact on you and everyone else that person, the source of energy, has entangled with, thus altering the flow. When I look at each commandment as a rule about energy and either the flow or the interruption of this energy, God, as energy, makes sense.
This is the core of my belief system. Everything is energy. Quantum Theory has proven this and as far as I’m concerned, God is the ultimate source of this energy. How we use it, positively, negatively, or neutrally, forms the path we walk on. As I move forward in identifying the rest of my manifesto, this idea is at my core and I strive to honor it and act in tandem with my beliefs. God is energy and it is my duty to be a conductor of that energy. As I walk my path, seeking fulfillment, this is at my core.
To paraphrase George Lucas, “May the Quantum Force of God be with you.”
November 10th, 2014
Every path has some form of delineation. Whether paved, bricked, or simply worn from continued use, by its very definition, a path is made by those who tread upon it. And much like the construction of that last sentence, you’ve passively created your path. Life happened and you reacted to it, and you were happy just to be able to keep your head above water and tread.
But something happened when you were treading. You looked around and saw there could be more. And not things, you’ve never been one to be motivated by “stuff.” More the idea that life doesn’t have to be a knee jerk. You could take a step back and plot a course. “Plod a course” would be a more apropos word because let’s face it, grace has never been your strong suit. And that’s okay. That’s another thing you noticed while treading. You don’t have to be perfect. You don’t even have to strive for perfection. As a matter of fact, you can revel in your imperfections, but that’s probably a topic for another letter.
Today’s letter is about delineating your path. You want your life to be based on a set of beliefs and principles that guide you. Rather than react to life, you want to absorb it and make decisions based upon these ideals. The most prominent idea resonating deeply these past few weeks is the idea that there are no coincidences. People come and go from your life for a reason. Things happen for a reason. You don’t believe in fate, but you believe people are all connected. Whether or not we are conscious of this connection, forces bring us together and there’s something to be learned from that merging.
When you first encountered this idea, you scoured every interaction in your life for meaning. You didn’t want to miss a single message, nuance, or arrow that might point you in a direction you would have otherwise missed. You made myself crazy wondering what good could come out of dealing with rude parents, difficult students, and obnoxious administrators. It wasn’t until your good friend and mentor posed the idea perhaps you were the one delivering the message. Your life hit the brakes with that thought. Like the path you’d been forging, you’d taken a passive role. Your friend’s comment shifted your perspective. It empowered you. Until that moment, you hadn’t realized you had any impact on anyone.
Caught up in the day to day tasks of life, you sometimes forget this concept. Dishes, laundry, drop-offs, pick-ups, you forget to be open to the universe, these encounters, the energy. You forget to take an active role in life, often treading water, but these letters are forcing your hand. True to this belief that there are no coincidences, the start of this project and the ensuing plans; none of this is accidental. You are meeting new people, learning new things, letting go of what’s not needed and making way for your future. A purpose filled future, a future that should be.
So this week Elaina, on your Manifesto of Life — Belief #1. There are no coincidences. Be open to possibilities and to receiving messages, and more importantly, be open to the possibility that you might be the bearer of the message. Be mindful in your interactions with people. Listen to your gut. Pay attention to your intuition. Learn from your mistakes and recalibrate.
Life works best when there’s balance and harmony.
Perhaps within this belief of no coincidences, the underlying message is we have something for each other. There’s a give and take and as we learn and grow, we move forward. The hard part of this belief is sometimes you have to let people go. There are no coincidences and sometimes their time in your life is over. Don’t cling. Don’t hang on. Let them walk the path they need to walk. It’s a cliche, but if they’re supposed to be in your life, they will find their way back. In the meantime, use what they taught you to move forward.
You’ve begun your path. You’ve laid the first brick. No coincidences. Live life with purpose.
Oh Elaina, sometimes I just shake my head at how clueless you are. When you started this letters project you had some practical goals. The first goal, like most writers, was to find a way to bring your work to a wider audience and get more eyes reading your words. The second goal was to find ways to optimize a website and learn how to market it to a wider audience. You have your own author website you don’t do much with because you only have one book published. Now that another will soon be out, you figured it was time to learn. While these are worthy goals, they are limiting.
It hit you last night as you were thinking of all you’ve learned in the past few weeks, the ultimate goal of this project is to develop a deeper understanding of self, of life, and of energy and spirituality. While the outward manifestation of this might be a well visited website, the real culmination is this idea of unity between people, lifting each other up, and supporting one another.
Last week while you were on vacation, you stood on the shore watching the waves come in. You met each wave by bracing yourself against its impact. You held yourself rigid, letting them crash into you, and struggled to maintain your stance as the receding water swept the sand out from under your feet. With each ensuing wave, you experimented with how to receive it: arms akimbo–daring it to knock you over, in an angled fighter’s stance, sitting down–accepting the impact, and finally, you went deeper into the water and moved with the waves, bobbing and greeting them with open arms, feet off the ground, allowing them to move you and bring you back to shore.
Playing in the waves exhausted you, but by the end, you understood how to use their energy to carry and lift you. Fighting against the energy brought nothing but instability and fear. Going with the flow brought you peace and ultimately brought you to shore and back on solid ground. You believe all of life is connected through energy and how one receives the energy determines the path one follows. We can fight against negative energy hoping to maintain our footing, or we can push past it and use the energy to lift us up and carry us to solid ground. By starting with those practical goals about writing, Elaina, you almost missed out on the opportunity to have more.
Meaningless coincidences do not exist, not for you. In every interaction there is a message or lesson, whether you are the receiver or the giver of that message is rarely known until after the interaction. Accept it or not, we are all connected. We can call it God, energy, spirituality, or some higher plane of existence, but you learned this week to allow the energy to carry and lift you, not knock you on your ass.
Having goals is a good thing, as long as they don’t limit you. Keep yourself open to the energy around you. Go with the flow of it, even if you’re not 100% sure where it’s taking you, trust that you will find yourself where you need to be. Even in times of tumult, like the waves, always, always, always, find a way to let life lift you up, carry you, and inspire you to greatness.
You are on your way to incredible happiness. Ride the waves, Elaina. Open your arms and sail.
October 27th, 2014
Today’s letter comes from the balcony of my hotel room as I overlook the Atlantic. Living in the mountains, we don’t really have sunrises. By the time the sun peeks over the mountains, it already put on its horizon color display for people on flat land. We get a few pink clouds and then, BAM! Full sun. Sitting on the beach, watching the colors change and the arc of light form in anticipation of the sun, set the tone for serious contemplation.
For the past four days, I’ve been lucky enough to look out over the ocean and observe its vastness and wonder about the secrets that lie beneath the surface. I also had the opportunity to go to The Kennedy Space Center and view Hubble 3D in the IMAX theater and marvel at images of space and the universe. The irony struck me that I view both the ocean and space with the same idea of quantity. Obviously, space is billions of times bigger, but my capacity to think of things that big needs a frame of reference, and the only frame I have is the vastness of the ocean.
The thought occurred to me that I may be limiting my ideas of my future in the same way. Why does my future have to be framed by concepts I already have? If all people thought within such limiting concepts, we wouldn’t have space travel. We wouldn’t have submarines, cell phones, fax machines, or a multitude of things that require thinking beyond now. Yet, I am framing what comes next in my life by what came before. There is comfort in staying within boundaries I already know, but I’m not sure if there’s happiness and fulfillment.
This project has begun to push me outside my comfort zone. Where once I might have ignored something I didn’t want to face, writing these letters has forced me to question my beliefs, my motivation and the origin of my responses. Thinking about my life’s journey has prompted me to dismantle preconceived notions and redefine what I want. I’m well into the second half of my life and rather than cruise on automatic and accept the status quo, I want more. I just don’t know what that more looks like…yet.
I’m in a very lucky position in life. I’ve had a fulfilling 20 year career as a middle school teacher. I’ve been an active parent (meaning minor children living at home) for 26 years with another seven to go. We have a moderate, yet comfortable lifestyle, and I’ve been afforded the opportunity to ponder what I want next, as well as the means to be able to go after it. With such blessings, I want to choose wisely. I want to choose something that helps other people, enriches my life, leaves something behind for the future, and ultimately is something I take pride in doing.
I need to pull back my limitations, open my eyes, my heart and myself to possibilities, and move forward. The past may offer lessons, the present may offer challenges, but the future holds promise.
Forge on, Elaina. Take long strides. Move forward and make a difference.
The future is bigger than you can imagine.
October 20th, 2014
What a rough week. You floundered big time. You watched over 20 hours of television this week, something you only do when your PTSD rears its debilitating head. It’s kicking your butt this time and it’s time to end this episode.
You forget how insidious PTSD can be. After a stressful trigger, you think you’re fine. You self-assess and believe you’re going to make it without any fallout, and the next thing you know, a week has gone by, you’ve only showered twice, and you’ve spent too many hours absorbed in made up hurts and betrayals so you don’t have to face your own.
Enough is enough. Let’s face it and get on with life. You had two triggers over the past few weeks. The first, the incident with your son which you can’t/won’t go into because it affects others. Suffice it to say, you protected him when he needed to be protected, but since it had a predatory feel, you flipped out a bit. The second trigger was your high school reunion. While you didn’t go, seeing the pictures brought back a lot of memories, memories that had little to do with high school and everything to do with how far removed you were from life back in those days.
Seeing the camaraderie still visible thirty years later gave you pause. Had you gone, you would have had a great time catching up with the women you were friends with in elementary school, but as far as your high school years, you don’t have many good memories. Freshman year your dad was dying and as the oldest girl, many of the household chores fell on your shoulders. Sophomore year, your only good year, you held a bit of notoriety because you were the sister of that boy who was in the motorcycle accident just weeks before his dad died. You were the sister of that boy whose best friend died flying over the motorcycle handlebars. You were that girl whose brother had to wear a hard hat to school because they cut out the part of his skull that hit the pavement. You were that girl, you know, that guy’s sister, who played keyboards in the swing choir.
Junior year, your last year, sucked. You were that girl who cheated on your friend with her boyfriend. You were that girl who dropped out of swing choir because the music director disliked and ridiculed you. You were that girl who one day had a plethora of friends and the next, you were that girl who had no one to sit with at lunch. As junior year progressed, you were that girl everyone forgot about.
Seeing those pictures brought it all back. In that vulnerable state between awake and asleep, images flipped across your blank canvas. Images of your dad too sick to get out of bed, images of your brother soaked in blood being wheeled into surgery, images of Perry in his coffin, and images of walking the halls during lunch, trying to look busy so no one would know you felt alone and lost.
If the memories and images stopped there, you might have been okay, but the incident with your son impacted you more than the pictures of your reunion. They were icing on your shit cake. The images that played across your mind the strongest were the ones of you, on the eve of your sixth birthday, lying broken and defiled on your camp cot.
The images flash and you slam that steel door hard on your memories and emotions. You view that little girl through a clinician’s eye. Tears run sideways down her face. Her left eye absorbs the flow of tears from her right eye as they make the journey over the bridge of her nose. Snot runs unheeded to the corner of her mouth and you remember the saltiness before you slam the steel door again. In your mind’s eye, you walk around the cot observing her. She’s curled into a fetal position, rocking. There’s blood and fluid on her thigh and you know the air from the fan is stinging her wound.
Pick her up, Elaina. She needs you to pick her up! Open the damn steel door and go to her. You couldn’t protect her when she was little, but you can protect her now. In fact, the ONLY way you can heal and protect her is to pick her up. Stop being a wimp! Suck it up. It already happened. It can’t happen again. She needs you to pick her up and hold her.
That’s it. Hold her in your arms and tell her you love her. Tell her she’s good and it wasn’t her fault. Rock her until she absorbs back into you, Elaina. Rock her and protect her. Keep her safe. Tell the PTSD it can go fuck itself. Smooth back her hair, wipe the snot from her face and tell her she’s perfect.
It’s been a rough week, Elaina, but it’s time to be done. It’s time to pick yourself up, dust yourself off, and be proud of yourself. You protected your son. You did what needed to be done so he wouldn’t get hurt and you need to show that little girl you’re strong enough. Show her you can keep her safe. Show her you’re stronger than the memories. Most of all, show her how much you love her by letting her feel your strength. Let her hold on to it and fill herself up with it. She wants to heal.
No one should ever suffer alone. If you, or someone you know needs help, please contact https://rainn.org/get-help
October 13, 2014
This isn’t the original letter you were going to share this week. That letter can wait, this cannot. You lost a friend this weekend. Well, she was more of an acquaintance than a friend, but, because of something she posted and the hate filled responses of some of her friends, you lashed out and then severed your ties. Why do you care so much about the plight of gay people? You’re not gay, and as far as you know no one in your family is gay, so why is this such a hot button for you?
You spent a lot of time thinking about that and the honest answer is it has more to do with your religious beliefs. Many things this person posts are about religion and how one is supposed to act, feel, worship, and love one another. In the next post, she posts about banning gay marriage. While her hypocrisy makes you mad, the issue runs much deeper. And, for point of clarification, the legalization of gay marriage is a political issue, not a religious one.
You believe that God made every one of us in His image, even gay people, so how can gay people be “wrong” or an “abomination”? God is all powerful, so would God create a person and then label them an abomination if they act on the way He made them? How can one of His creations be more powerful than Him and defy the nature He gave them? Some people believe homosexuality is a choice, but you don’t have time for that level of ignorance in this letter. If God has created all of us, then He created ALL OF US.
You also don’t believe God made a mistake. There are over 1500 species of mammals who exhibit homosexual tendencies for the sheer pleasure of the experience. Did God make a mistake over 1500 times? Not the God you believe in. The God you believe in has a plan, has a reason, and He made us all exactly the way He intended, whether we understand it or not.
In the post that ended your friendship, you were told you’d be judged and found lacking because you don’t believe homosexuality is a sin. That took you back. Really? According to them, God is going to send you to hell because you refuse to believe gay people are an abomination. They voiced their fall back cliche, “love the sinner, hate the sin,” but Elaina, you don’t believe homosexuality is a sin.
Imagine being that young man or that young woman sitting in church, feeling different from your peers, being told you were made by God and then being told you were an abomination because of the way He made you. Put yourself in their shoes for a second and feel the confusion, the worry, and the feeling of being forsaken. You’ve watched students go through this self-discovery and watched the cruelty they endured in the name of God. Their hypocrisy sickened you. “Love everyone. God makes no junk. Homosexuals are abominations.” You stood back and watched, powerless to help because of your position.
According to the Bible, sex before marriage is a sin. Yet gay people aren’t allowed to marry thus they either abstain forever or they sin. Okay, so then they are sinners like the rest of us who didn’t wait until we were married. They’re not an abomination because of their orientation, they sinned because they didn’t wait. Oh but wait, they’re not allowed to marry.
Elaina, the God you have always worshipped is a God who loves us all. He created us all in his likeness and sent us his only Son to teach us to love one another. You can’t imagine life without that God. This weekend took a toll on you. Your realized you would rather go to hell loving everyone, considering everyone equal, and not spreading words of hatred and intolerance, than believe God made a mistake when he made homosexuals. You’d rather go to hell than believe God is cruel, unjust, and unmerciful.
You let them shake you, Elaina. You allowed their hate and intolerance to worm its way into your heart, and for a few hours you considered renouncing your faith. They used the Bible to preach intolerance, and it nearly broke you. You did not want to be associated with their hate and bigotry.
In times of need and uncertain faith, you turn to your Bible. You read through the 10 Commandments again. Interestingly enough, none of them are about homosexuality. Most important to you is Matthew 22:37-40.
37 Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’[a] 38 This is the first and greatest commandment. 39 And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’[b] 40 All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.”
Well Elaina, those are the laws you try to live your life by and if refusing to believe any of God’s creations are an abomination will send you to hell, then get ready. The God you love with all of your heart created everyone. It’s not your job or anyone else’s to judge His creations.
It’s not about homosexuality. It is about God and His love.
This week, remember that. Don’t let the haters shake your faith.
October 6th, 2014
Sometimes you feel like a cold-hearted b*tch. The way you emotionally detach from stressful situations is disconcerting. You didn’t flinch last week when they stuck the IV in your son’s arm. You held his hand and comforted him, kissed him on the forehead, assured him the pain wouldn’t last, but inside you turned clinical. Your emotions crawled into their shell. You watched the needle sink into his vein, you squeezed his hand, but nothing touched your heart. When they said he might need surgery, you nodded, accepting the possibility. Your heart didn’t clench. Your gut didn’t drop and you listened as the doctor planned out your next 24 hours.
As the night progressed, you made a bed out of the hospital chair and watched television with him. You read your book while he played video games, you chatted about friends, and the only thing different from every other night was your location. Perhaps your reaction, or lack of reaction, stems from the fact he’s already had multiple surgeries. Perhaps your dispassionate views mirrored the mildness of the diagnosis. Whatever the reason, you wonder at your ability to detach and stay separate from the emotion.
Last month, one of your friends accused you of apathy when she and a mutual friend argued. You sat apart and watched the tennis match as they volleyed barbs, accusations, and insults. You knew neither would budge and the argument was pointless because they clung tight to opposing views. The louder they argued, the more you detached. They felt passionately about their stance, but you felt sad because your friends were at odds. You had no interest in what they argued about. In fact, when she accused you of apathy, you believed it. You didn’t understand how you could remain outside the argument and not care about the outcome. To you, the outcome represented degrees of insistence, degrees of chest pounding, without hope of a redeeming end.
What is wrong with you? You stay detached, clinical, separate while others are willing to go to great lengths over things they feel passionately about. The only thing you seem to feel passionate about is your lack of passion.
You’ve spent a lot of time thinking about this the past several days. For reasons you cannot place, this detachment seems connected to the void inside of you. Maybe this is a byproduct of PTSD and keeping yourself separate keeps you safe. Perhaps the distance between you and your emotions could be a coping mechanism. What if it’s just who you are? What if you’re broken? Does it matter?
Will this detachment keep you from your goals or will the ability to detach during stressful times going to help you achieve them? You spend a lot of time worrying about these things, and the worrying causes you more angst than the initial problem. At what point do you stop judging your perceived flaws, accept your qualities, and move on with life? How much further would you be, if you stopped worrying about why you are the way you are and just accepted you?
I see a theme in these letters. You’re holding yourself accountable to some arbitrary standard that has no basis in anything other than your perceptions. You judge yourself far worse than anyone else, ironic since you rarely care what others think, especially when they don’t know you. This week served as a great distraction from your plan of getting to know and to be comfortable with the void you feel exists inside you.
Maybe this detachment is a normal, healthy mechanism. Panicking when your son was sick would have served no purpose. He wouldn’t have gotten better any faster. Crying or reacting to his receiving an IV wouldn’t have prohibited his need for one. Seeing you in control helped him stay in control. You judged your detachment as bad, but perhaps it’s stoicism. What would have happened if you’d chosen a side when your friends argued? Their argument ended and they restored their friendship. Had you picked a side, you’d have one less friend, possibly two, over something that didn’t involve you in the first place. Maybe the only thing broken is your ability to love and accept yourself.
How about instead of imagining yourself a cold-hearted b*tch, you choose one goal and make a plan. Not a “what’s wrong with Elaina and how can I fix it” goal, but a real goal. What would your life be like this week if you didn’t judge how you responded, didn’t judge how you looked, how you did things, or whether or not you fall into some realm of normal?
Focus on a goal. Accomplish one thing on your list that needs completing before you can achieve your dream. Do that and stop allowing yourself to be distracted from your ultimate goal of finishing your novel. I’m on to you, Elaina. You’re very good at avoiding success by concentrating on failure.
Choose one goal and do it.
September 29th, 2014
You, my dear, are a hypocrite. You seethe and stew about your husband’s presumed ignorance of knowing what it is you want out of life, when you have no clue yourself. You are dissatisfied with your life. Maybe shutting off the internet and discontinuing your work at 9:00 wasn’t the smartest thing to do. Now, instead of interacting with your writing groups, you have eliminated all of your distractions and must interact with yourself.
You’ve spent every night this past week thinking about what you want from life. You want more, but more of what? You don’t want material things. That’s never been your goal. You want to quench this internal thirst, this deep yearning that gnaws at you. You’ve tried for years to fill this gaping chasm, but you’ve only managed to sidetrack yourself. The empty feeling still prevails. It’s time to face it, end the distractions, and figure out what you want to do with the rest of your life.
The problem is two-fold. The first is this need for more. You’re dissatisfied with where you’re at, what you’ve accomplished, and you want more. You don’t know what that looks like, but that sensation of wanting to reach up and stretch, arm extended, fingers reaching, is powerful. The second problem, which impacts everything, is this hole in your core. You need to address it once and for all because it’s holding you back. It’s hard to separate these two sensations. You feel unfulfilled and want more out of life, and you have this emptiness you keep trying to fill
You’ve been battling this black hole your entire life. It’s a dark energy force and you fear if you confront it or fight it, something else will crawl out of your memories’ archives and you’ll fall apart, again. What if you can’t accomplish your goals until you fill this emptiness? Worse, what if the answers are locked inside of you and until you’re strong enough to let them out, this ache, this emptiness, will always exist? The last two times your memory dumped, you had to crawl your way back to sanity, to functionality, to life. Could you survive another dump? Is it worth the risk? Is it even necessary?
Here’s another thought. What if you’re allowing these worries to hold you back? What if your fear of another PTSD episode limits your ability to see past the fear itself and you remain stuck in this void as a self-defense mechanism? What if this abyss holds the spot where your childhood feelings of safety, security and innocence lived. You can’t get those back. You can’t unsee. You can’t unknow, and you can’t be unraped. Maybe trying to fill the void is pointless. Maybe you have to accept the permanency of this rip and move on.
I can hear you castigating yourself for not thinking about this sooner. Remember, don’t judge. Don’t expect. Just be. Allow yourself sometime to sit in this thought. You might be wrong, but you’ve worked so hard to fill this hole, you’ve never allowed yourself to imagine another possibility.Climb down into the void. Look around. What do you see? Sit in it. Maybe it will be like watching a scary movie. The first time you watch it, it scares the crud out of you. The second time, you know what to expect and the impact lessens. The third time, you brace yourself, but the shock never comes.
And finally, you’re not a hypocrite. Not really. You might not know what you want from life, but I bet if you ask your husband, he might have more of an idea than you’ve given him credit for.
As Buddha has said, “All that we are is the result of what we’ve thought. The mind is everything. What we think, we become.”
Well, Elaina. Maybe it’s time to start thinking new thought.
And so it begins. Don’t even start with something trite, like “this is the year everything is going to change”. You’ve tried that, and while outwardly it seems like things have changed, inside they haven’t. Let’s begin by being honest. Cut through the crap, the excuses, and start digging in so you can forge something new. Start realistically. Change one thing at a time. This idea that everything will be different is setting yourself up for failure. You can’t do it all at once. Change one thing at a time. Master that change, and then add another.
Elaina, you often live as two entities, your heart and your mind, and it is this separation which causes your angst. Your head sits over your heart and judges; picking out every flaw, every mistake, and every weakness. You need to stop doing this and accept yourself for who you are, warts and all. Acknowledge what needs to be changed, start a list, but don’t judge it. You are a composite of all of your experiences. Many of the things you do have helped you make your way. Now some of these things are no longer helping, but hindering. It’s time to face them, face their origin, and find a way to carve a new path.
Last night you stood at the kitchen counter when you should have been in bed. Laptop open, you pored over your work wanting to add more, but exhaustion stole your ability to concentrate. Yet you stood there, expecting more from yourself, until your legs spasmed and your lower back muscles tightened. You felt coiled, like those cans of sardines you used to eat as a kid. You’d put the key into the latch and slowly crank it, pulling the lid back, exposing the insides.
Why does going to bed feel like admitting failure? Every day ends. Night always falls. People relax; it’s not a sin. You didn’t waste the day and I can guarantee, you accomplished enough. Your tanks need replenishing. Sleep is a basic need. You cannot expect to accomplish change and fulfill your dreams if you’re not taking care of yourself on the most basic level. Nothing good can happen from burning the candle at both ends.
This week, you’re going to start with a small change. Every night, at 9:00, stop working. Shut down your laptop and do something you enjoy. Read a book, find a show to watch, play cribbage with your husband. Whatever it is you choose to do, make sure it’s fun and relaxing. The laundry can wait, so can the dishes. Allow yourself some time to exist without expectation, without agenda, and most importantly, without judgment.
I hear your mind working overtime wondering how this will help you meet your goals. Maybe nothing; maybe everything, but we won’t know until we try. It’s time to shut off your mind and listen to me, your heart. You need a break. When was the last time you slept seven hours? When was the last time you woke up feeling rested? This week your goal is to shut off your laptop by 9:00 and be asleep by 10:30. Keep a log. What did you do? How did you feel? How did you feel in the morning? Remember, these are just observations. They aren’t good or bad, they just are. If you want to change, you need to have the energy and the mental clarity to do it.
I know you wanted to start this week and these letters with some great challenge or some amazing insight, but you’re exhausted. According to Maslow’s theory, self-actualization, reaching one’s potential, cannot be achieved if our basic needs are not met. Sleep is a basic need, so this week, Elaina, your goal is to start at the basics.
Don’t judge. Don’t expect. Just be.