New Things: The Final Edition

I have another post in mind, but I find I’m a bit stuck as I churn over the “hows” of what I want to post. I’ve poked it, prodded it, written it a dozen different ways in my head, and now I’m going to let it marinate a bit then maybe have another go at it before year’s end (gads, that’s only three days away). In order to get out a post in December, my only real story option is to catch you up on the new things I’ve done in November and December. Of course, because I’ve settled down and started typing, all of them have fled my head – at least the November version. You’ll just have to trust that I did in fact do new things in November, and I’m certain I enjoyed them.

Moving On

Let’s start with a big one: I got a new job that will start in January. I’m excited and anxious all at once. I could tell you all about the why’s and how’s, but well that would be breaking a promise I made to myself about writing about work on this blog. Those kind of stories can be a bit career-limiting. Plus, my former supervisor, and soon-to-be co-worker (who incidentally reads this blog and whom I can sass in a mere 9 days with, “You’re not the boss of me!!!”) doesn’t need his ego stroked more than usual. The fact we’re both leaving is its own statement, so I’ll leave that there.

I quit my swim class; I’ve never done that before! I mean, that probably doesn’t count as a new thing if we’re going to make new things only about happy/positive things. Ultimately, I wrestled with it, and decided my frustration over not progressing athletically was a decent reason. No one’s fault. Well, mine and my stupid brain and body for not cooperating in a manner and at a pace I’d prefer.

Quitting was quickly followed by: I advanced to the intro to lap class, and then announced that I was rejoining swimming. As you can see, I’ve lead quite the mercurial swim life. I’m currently learning how to do the butterfly stroke. Of course, that reminds me of a Trevor Noah bit making fun of swimming and the various strokes, which leads me to…

I saw Trevor Noah live, which I saw in November. (HAH! I knew I could remember at least one thing I’d done.) It was an absolutely fantastic show where he did a hilarious bit about swimming. Have I mentioned that? If you get a chance, I highly recommend reading his book, Born a Crime. I’m typically a fiction-only reader (and yeah, I get it – go ahead and get your “His book is fiction” cracks out of your system – go on), but this was fantastic. He talks about his family and growing-up in South Africa during Apartheid where he was quite literally born a crime. If you can, listen to it as an audio book where he narrates his own story. Also, as a favor to me, read a real review; mine isn’t doing the book any justice and you’re probably not as tempted to pick it up as you should be. I personally recommend the review from the NY Times. I think it might be good based on the preview I could see on Google. However, I couldn’t actually confirm it. Apparently, one of us (me) has read their three free NY Times online articles and now they want money. 😦 I will not surrender to you, NYT! Also, I’m kind of cheap!

I had brunch with my first boyfriend. It was a wonderful visit. He’s funny, smart, clever, and has been involved in some really incredible things (testifying before Congress among them) – gone on many a grand adventure/jaunt/wander – and to put it simply, he’s continued to be a neat person. I like to think of him as a true survivor of dramatic, demanding teen-girl me, which is truly medal-worthy. Sorry David, no medals have been minted yet, but I give a great “atta-boy” for surviving. ATTA BOY!

I went to the opening of a campaign office. In this case, I was there for Elizabeth Warren’s office opening here in town. A good friend of mine is a huge Warren supporter so I went as moral support (lots of supporting happening that day) and also, I suppose I went for the opportunity to punch him every time he pointed out that we were standing in Beto’s former offices.

I spent Christmas alone. This one probably isn’t making you think, “Yay!” Basically, I turned off my phone and avoided FB most of the day. You see, it’s also my birthday, and it was a choice I got to make as an adult. As we always say at work (former work): It is what it is. (I suppose other people say it, too but I’m giving my office all the credit since I heard it there first, and often – usually daily. Hrmm… a defeatest phrase the whole team took up at work, possibly another clue?) I’m pretty sure there was one wellness check in the form of my trainer who came by with her daughter that evening. I love her! Before day’s end, I brought everything back up online and returned greetings so my Mother would stop frowning down over my poor manners.

Seriously though, I sometimes don’t feel like being “Edie,” and that’s kind of who I feel I am right now. (Inside family thing. Just nod your head in understanding.) After having a brief chat with my suicide loss survivors gang (a group for those who have lost spouses/partners to suicide), we agreed that next year I should plan to take a trip away from here. I think I’m going to do that.

The day after Christmas, a friend scooped me up and we just finished spending the past few days around Aransas Bay as part of my 2019 Beth-venture. It was absolutely beautiful!

In sum, I’ve spent the year trying a lot of new things – some big, some small – things I wasn’t always sure I’d enjoy. I swam, I spent time in the mountains, I fed more stingrays, I met new/incredible people (the kind you’re immediately drawn to, because you recognize they’re your tribe). I’ve laughed, I’ve cried, and I’ve written a bit.

I look forward to 2020 and all of its adventures – its ups and downs – all the new things – all the times I get to be with you, laugh with you, cry with you, and be alive with you. I love you!

I leave you with this morning’s sunrise from my balcony where a dolphin was playing down below. May you all wake up to the simple wonder of gorgeous sunrises and playful dolphins.

Rockport, TX

The Way I Was Raised: Idea Fairies

Co-worker: Beth, did you plan a White Elephant Gift Exchange?

Beth: No, I didn’t. However, if you’d like to plan one feel free to do so!

Co-worker (actual quote from email): Couldn’t remember if we were doing it…maybe next year you can plan it 🙂

(The smiley face at the end is truly one of my favorite parts. It’s right behind “I couldn’t remember…” because, true story, we’ve actually never done one of these at our holiday parties. So, I’m confused. They couldn’t remember that we still aren’t doing it?) Moving on!

Let’s talk idea fairies. You know what I’m talking about. Those people (maybe you) who are life’s true visionaries. Their (your) imagination is boundless, and really the only thing holding them back from a standing ovation and a well-deserved write-up on Page 6 is you, you delightful little worker bee. They’ve done their job, they’ve dreamt up the most magical of plans – an idea that once realized will surely impress and delight everyone – friends, family, those uninvited and unclean urchins peering into the windows looking forlorn. But here’s the thing, love, you really need to hop on board and do the work. I mean, they’ve already covered the hard stuff – the thinking bits. You just need to pull it together with that little elven magic thing or that holiday voodoo (we don’t judge here – judge free zone – all religions welcome) that you do. It’s really quite a mystery to us, but we all have our strengths, and mine is thinking and yours is doing. Oh, please don’t bother us with the details, just… you know… do what you’re good at, my favorite little minion, love you, kisses – see, you’re super good at “realizing” my vision. DUH! Don’t doubt yourself, dear! I believe in you. Let me know when you’re done, and then you can send out the invitations.

I don’t know about you, but I can’t stand idea fairies. From the gal who thinks we’re going to have a White Elephant gift exchange that I should make happen (for the record, I genuinely loathe White Elephant gift exchanges, I don’t get the rules. Plus, I already have a lot of junk in my house. In fact, if you’re looking for unopened/unmolested oddities to bring to your next one, just swing by. I’ll hook you up with some whimsy! OH! unless the White Elephant exchange is actually a White Elephant board game/card game exchange then HOLY COW, sign me up! That sounds amazing. Whoops! I think I just Idea Fairied that and I also made it a verb – go me) to something as simple as the person who says, “let’s all get together, you just call up these people and let me know when it is.” Ummm… no. Not doing that either.

Now in truth, we’ve all done this at some point or another to some degree. We’ve had an idea, couldn’t quite figure out how to pull it off, and we started looking at our friends/family/co-workers for help. Take last year when I had my Reverse Quinceañera. I wasn’t sure what that would look like, so I threw that out to friends, then I held meetings (yep, meetings) and sent many, many annoying emails. I recruited a team. I had a ton of people who hopped on board to make that vision happen, and who even added onto it. In the end I had this incredible celebration that included a Bollywood instructor, and things like a party play list, dance speakers, a fairly full open bar with specialty birthday drinks, a photo booth, a professional photographer, people who volunteered to craft decorations, who put the food together. I had a set-up team, a tear-down team, and someone willing to join the VA so I could get a significant discount on a hall. It was massive, and it was a collaborative event. One that started with an idea. And while it did start as an idea, I always planned to be heavily involved not play party princess, wave my hand around and demand my minions hustle. (Although, during the party where I was a party prop, I did feel like a princess – it may have been the actual hair ornament or the fancy dresses or the fact that to visit with me, you literally had to queue up.)

I like to think that my friends were willing to build on this dream and take my birthday party to that next, more amazing level, because of their buy-in. That they saw I was always driving this locomotive, ready to work, ready to bring it together, instead of simply flopping on the ground before them and demanding, “I need a party, people!!! A phenomenal soirée! Now go forth and make it happen my floundering little lackeys! Of course, I can’t help. Don’t be ridiculous. Mama needs a spa day! All that dreaming and bossing you around takes a toll! Chop chop! Could someone massage my feet?”

And that’s what you sound like when you try to push your idea on someone else and insist they make it happen for you. You sound like an annoying, and a tad bit entitled and spoiled, little prince/princess.

Don’t do that.

As the holidays are upon us, and so many grand ideas are hopping around in your head, ideas you KNOW will be more than well-received if they could just see the light of day, I empower you to spread your own wings and soar! This is your opportunity to show the world how capable you are in addition to the brilliance you’ve always displayed. Show them you can plan a lunch, AND invite all the people you love, all by yourself. You can use that phone, that email, and send those messages. You can even select a restaurant. No haggling. No “you decide” “no, you!” “No, YOU!!” You just do it. Show them you can throw that White Elephant gift exchange, you exquisitely brilliant creature, you! Everyone will sit in a circle, there will be hot ciders (the good kind, where you’re just a tad naughty), and you’ll giggle madly with your friends over their outrageous choices, those friends whose contact information you were able to divine on your very own, as you navigated the whole contacting them thing, and you’ll do it at a place of your choosing. You’ll be fine! Imagine that feeling of serene accomplishment as you bask in the glow of the accolades you’ll receive. And you know what? Those little minions (call them “friends” – that’ll be a great first start), say the word, and they’ll even “help” you – not do it for you, but help, because they’re excited now, too.

You got this former idea fairy. Now go make a plan!!

PS Real life note to friends: If (big if) I plan a karaoke couple of hours at the High Ball on the 22nd, AND then we drifted over somewhere for say a White Elephant game exchange, who would have interest? FYI – with karaoke, think “group singalong” – you’re not expected to solo, but that option is always available. We sing until Dancing Queen plays.

The Way I Was Raised: Accepting “No”

It would be easy to dive into the importance of saying, “Thank You” to kick off the modern manners posts. I mean, Thanksgiving and Christmas are just around the corner, and it’s a great time to remind people to polish off their gratitude, but I hate easy. Instead, let’s talk about “no”.

Thanks to so many technological advances, we are more closely connected than we’ve ever been. I can begin any given day by wishing my friend Julie a cheerful “Good Morning, Pooh!” in New Zealand, and she can see that message immediately (and then, of course, curse me immediately while muttering something about respecting the time difference and how I’d better be texting I won the lottery. But really who’s at fault? Me or the person who had their notifications turned up loud enough that it would disturb their sleep? Oh, still me? Hmph.) The fact I can annoy someone at an inappropriate time, half-way around the globe is amazing. Thanks to satellites and submarine communication cables, we’ve become this well-connected world. We can set-aside those dusty atlases and decades-old volumes of the Encyclopedia Brittanica and experience new people, learn new things, and see our living planet in real-time – not through the lens of some stuffy entitled British explorer. (To my stuffy, entitled British readers. I’m American. That’s really my only excuse. I’d apologize, but you made us. Thanks.) It’s all incredibly cool when you take a step back and really think about it. Gone are the days where we’d have to bargain for more library time just to explore another culture – another person’s thoughts/perspectives. 

As a kid, I deeply envied my friends who had pen-pals who lived in foreign places. They received letters in these cool airmail envelopes with their exotic stamps from another kid who was living a wholly different life, having different experiences than our own. These lucky friends got to talk to them – got to hear their stories. Now I can simply send off an email to another country and have a near-real-time conversation (and let them know I’m a Princess in Texas who will give them millions, but first I need them to wire me several thousand dollars). It’s fantastic!

As we’ve grown closer, we’ve also become more comfortable sharing who we are – from our successes to our struggles – from our toes wiggling next to carefully placed fruity drinks on a beach to our emotional challenges. We’ve moved into a world where there are fewer strangers – we “see” each other more, and we tell ourselves we’re more enlightened, more accepting, and more understanding.

This post is for enlightened, accepting, understanding you as we head into the holidays. This is for the you who gets “it” – the hyper-empathetic you who feel all the feels – the “woke” you. This post is for the you who gives a thumbs-up and a heart every time a friend, near friend or that guy from your class expresses themselves. You who wish you had emoticon stickers so that when you’re forced to interact with an actual person, and they say something great, you could just reach over and slap a “Haha!” sticker on their shirt. (Note to self: sketch idea – who wants to help me write that?)

I’m writing to tell you, it’s ok for someone to tell you “no”.

You know their story, you’ve read their posts/status updates, you’ve talked to them in the halls or in a class. You feel comfortable with them because you feel a closeness – you “get” them, you enjoy them, and you invite them into your life. Then one day you extend an invitation to a gathering, to dinner, to any number of things because you want to include them more, and they just said, “no.” It can feel like a slap on the hand, and many of us have a bad habit of internalizing rejections. We make that “no” about us. How could they say “no” to this terrific idea? I’m including them. Don’t they appreciate me and this great opportunity?

We’re pretty fantastic and we definitely have the best ideas, so a “no” can be challenging to understand. Why wouldn’t someone want to be a part of this thing we invited them to do – to be part of us? Our spastic brain gerbils kick into overdrive, “They must not like me! That’s the only answer!” Then we take a moment to list all the ways that we’ve been terrific friends, “look at all the things I’ve done and I’m asking is just this small thing.”

Well my amazing friend, a “no” isn’t necessarily a rejection of you.

You’ve read their posts/status updates, you’ve talked to them in the halls or in a class. (You’ve read this sentence before.) You know their story. You also understand that people are fairly self-focused. At any given moment only a fraction of our thoughts are devoted to others – with obvious exceptions and to obvious degrees. A lot of what we do is based on our own needs. So, my point is this: When someone says “no” think of five reasons why they may have said “no” that has nothing to do with you. Think back to the time that person posted repeatedly, whether in their own words or in a meme, “I’m an introvert; it takes a lot of energy to be around big groups of people.” “I lost <friend/relative/beloved pet> and my heart is wounded.” “I’m struggling with a health/mental health issue that prevents me from doing things/being around people.” “I just got back from <someplace outside of their house>, and I am looking forward to some downtime.”

After Jay died, I told several people I didn’t feel like sending out Christmas cards. (Christmas cards used to be my thing.) One friend decided what I was saying was: 1) I didn’t want to receive Christmas cards, and 2) I didn’t like sending her Christmas cards. I know this may be surprising, but my Christmas card stance was never about anyone else other than me. I was saying “no” to certain aspects of Christmas, but not “no” to people.

Really listen to the person who is saying, “no.”

If it’s still important to you that you do something with them/for them, then I challenge you to try and find another option. If big crowds aren’t their thing, if they’re struggling with loss or depression, if they’re covered from head-to-toe in a body rash, or are having a huge acne flare-up, and the cheap hair dye turned their hair a dusky green, then maybe you visit with them one-on-one – maybe you send them a text or call them on the phone. You flex those empathy muscles and show them you heard them, you understand, and you’re still there for them – willing to compromise, but showing you still want to include them. Show that you “heard” them.

And share your own needs, too. If something is important to you, then express it. Their “no” could be that they didn’t realize you needed them – that what your’e asking is something that matters.

Let’s all agree to work on listening, communicating, and and not making assumptions when it comes to “no’s.” Let’s pull our egos out of the equation. Instead, think of “no” as an opportunity – an opportunity to grow in our understanding of each other.

A November Promise?

If you felt I was a bit pushy with my fundraising efforts for the Out of the Darkness walk here on The Big Blue Mess, well then we’re probably not friends on Facebook. This is not a bad thing. I hammered those guys – friends, family, former co-workers, improv classmates. If you once dared to send me a “friend” request, while thinking “now this is a fine idea!” then what followed was really on you. I showed little mercy. We had an important goal to meet! However, as a benevolent fundraising tyrant, I promised them that if they took me to goal, they’d get cat videos to make up for my pushiness. (Little did they know that I increased the goal a couple of times. Shhh! That’s just between you and me, ok?)

Discussing mental health in relation to suicide is important and absolutely necessary, but so is enjoying the little things, and the medium things, and the big things – the silly things – all the things. While there can be tremendous sadness in this world, there is also incredible joy. Joy that needs to be recognized, embraced fully, and celebrated. And what’s more joyous than kitties? (Ok, dogs, otters, baby pandas, sloths, floppy bunnies.. you get the idea unless you named hippos – hippos are kind of jerks. What’s wrong with you? Why would you name hippos? Hippos kill more people than sharks! Why aren’t we discussing the hippo menace? Why isn’t there a hippo week on Discovery? Who is behind this hippo cover-up?)

Well, Sunday rolled around and my friend Jonathan demanded his cat videos claiming it was November (he’s super good with a calendar) and that the walk was officially over (his wife may have been my cohort in the fundraising efforts, so he was aware we’d finish – the post walk luncheon with him and the kids was also a tip-off), so he was certain he was owed some promised cute cats! I pointed out, “the offer was Facebook only!” I then tagged him in the mid-October dancing cat .gif I’d posted there as proof that I’d fulfilled my promise while foolishly thinking this would be good enough. Oh nay, nay. “Month of November!” was the retort. His cohort Jerry then chimed in with the accusation that I was, “Zuckerberging.” Really? That’s not a thing! He followed-up with a hashtag: #bringbackmycats. Wow!

So, to silence them I present you with an oldie but goody – my all-time favorite cat video:

An update on the walk is coming soon. I’m getting a little help from a talented (and quite busy) honor student, so stay tuned.

The Way I Was Raised: An Idea!

There are three things I’m good at (only three): my handwriting, my smile, and my manners. At least these are the things I tend to receive the most compliments on. Although to be fair, I occasionally get a “Hey, your hair looked really great yesterday” or (true story) from last week, “You’re starting to look sexy.” Oh backhanded compliments, you’re so delightful! I also don’t sweat much for a fat girl. (Ok, that’s a total lie. I have sweaty knees. These are things you learn from going to a gym regularly or reading my blog. You’re very welcome for that shared moment.)

Basically, what I’m trying to impart is that I have a lot of great qualities that would serve me extremely well in the early 1800’s at the prairie school. Back it on up, Mrs. Wilder!

Well, it turns out I can’t really write a succession of blog posts about my handwriting. I mean, I could. It would be similar to watching the world’s dullest Sesame Street episode – one that was devoid of cute rhymes or catchy tunes. They would likely focus on a single letter, and there would be zero puppets to make you feel ok about your particular place in the world or your relationships with friends and family. And by the end of the post you’d find yourself in a rather awkward conversation, trying to explain yourself to friends and family, “No, I’m reading this lady’s blog and today we’re focusing on capital M’s… no, I don’t know why… The Office reruns weren’t cutting it? Guilt maybe? It’s like an alphabet train wreck I can’t seem to look away from! SPOILER ALERT: JIM AND PAM GET MARRIED! LEAVE ME ALONE! I need ice cream!”

I also can’t feature posts about my smile. Let’s face it, after one picture you’d either agree or disagree that I smiled well, then you’d start thinking, “Y’know, if I stare at it too long, it’s kind of creepy. Why is she smiling like that? Is the smile originating from inside my house? Halloween is bad enough, but now this? This smile? Like a red balloon hovering out of a gutter, beckoning me to approach, but more like an evil Cheshire cat. Where’s Alice?!?! I can’t escape!!!” By the way, when people say it’s one of the top three things I do well, that doesn’t mean as compared to other people – just a top three for me. “Beth, I dunno… I mean if you’re pressing me, I guess I’d say you’ve got good handwriting, and uhhhh… your… ummm… smile? Yeah, yeah, you’ve got a ‘nice’ smile? Hey, who likes Slurpees?? Slurpee run!” So, pump those breaks on that smile judgement!

Quick aside: Some of you may feel you now need to pay me some compliments. Nay nay. This is not a fishing trip, but thank you.

This leads me to manners – that third thing I get complimented on – that I’m apparently good at. Now if I’m honest, I think it’s likely a thing I get high marks on when you compare me to others. It’s not that my manners are flawless, or without fault. I mean, I still owe two thank-you cards from several years ago, I owe my closest friends a wedding gift from 19 years ago, and I’m being 100% honest when I say I still have some real guilt over that. I mean, clearly not guilty enough to see if I could unearth a two-decade-old wish list or send a card that read, “Remember that time you gave me… yeah, thank you for that!” But there’s guilt nonetheless. I may be on a personal mission to spoil their kids because I didn’t buy them a blender. Hey, I’m just saying blenders don’t hug or make me laugh like they do, so who really won out in the end? (Did I just make an argument on how being ill-mannered can pay off in the end? Oh dear. Ignore this part, ok?)

No, I really feel it’s that by comparison my manners just stick out. Also, I tend to sit up straight (yay orchestra years) and I usually manage not to hiss or make rude remarks at strangers. That should concern you if that’s all it takes for me to stand out among my peers, but you can clearly now see why I’m well-positioned to give practical advice on manners.

I ran the idea by my focus group (or Facebook followers, it’s practically the same; however, I feel “focus group” sounds so much more official – like I stuffed people into a room with overly-bright and flickering fluorescent lighting, loaded them up with Taster’s Choice and stale donuts, then projected a PowerPoint presentation called “The Way I Was Raised: An Inside Joke” against some wood paneling. Ok, I totally did that, but I offered up pillow mints instead of the donuts. Stale donuts are pricey! Then I collected the stubby pencils (why? why is there a market for overly short pencils that do not afford you the opportunity to erase if you need to? I have questions!), tallied the scorecards, and 23 people liked the idea. That’s right 23 people, who you don’t know, are subjecting you to this new “feature” on my blog. (Please feel free to leave your “thanks” in the comment section below.)

Then I ran the idea by a second focus group, my Aunt, and we now have a ladies agreement that I will not use this feature for evil. In other words, I will avoid skewering the family. It’s apparently not nice or the least bit fair no matter how well-deserved. I feel though that “family” really means “blood relations” despite what Merriam-Webster says, and that it’s open season for everyone else. (You really shouldn’t have been overtly rude to my cousin. Naughty, naughty.)

All of that said, here are a few of my thoughts: Gone are the days of Miss Manners, Emily Post or even Dear Abby. I’m sure a few of you are wondering who I’m even talking about. Let me pause a moment to address the youngest of our readers.

Dearest Millenials, we used to receive printed news that arrived at our house wrapped in cellophane and rubber bands. In fact, that’s where all household rubber bands came from – true story. In those “papers,” as we lovingly referred to them, were features from advice columnists who attempted to keep society from devolving into a chaotic, ill-mannered, anarchy. It was also a time when women who sought to be journalists were sidelined and their only hope of reaching a national audience was to help others with fork placement. They were beloved by a certain generation. Also, these women would probably quirk an eyebrow in my direction and politely pull me aside to let me know it’s rude to be patronizing. They are not wrong, so I do sincerely apologize.

Moving On

What I will try to do is post a monthly piece on modern manners that will be titled: “The Way I Was Raised,” which is a bit of an inside joke that will probably reveal itself over time, and I will switch up topics based on input/feedback I receive from you guys. I recognize you all have a wealth of ideas and stories from the humorous to the grrrs, and I’d love to incorporate them here.

So, what do you think? Are you up for some posts about manners from a person whose manners are probably questionable, but are at least in the top three things they personally offer this world?

We’re Nearly There: The Importance of Community

My grandfather died when I was 16 years old. I have no real memory of him – no endearing stories of “the time when Grandpa and I…” I’ve heard I once sat next to him on a piano bench, and that he was very sweet to me, his only grandchild at the time, while I listened to him play. I imagine toddler me probably helped with my chubby toddler fingers plunking away at the keys beside him while we shared our musical moment, creating a piece no one had heard before, nor will ever hear again. A perfect grandfather/granddaughter sonata as only a grandfather and grandchild can create.

By all accounts, my grandfather was quite an accomplished musician who played upwards of 17 instruments. I’ve only been able to play 5 proficiently. I still hope to add a couple more. While your bucket list may have “Tuscany,” mine has “cello.”

When he died, we weren’t informed. No one knew he had a family. There wasn’t an emergency contact the care facility had on file. In fact, we actually didn’t learn he’d passed until almost ten years after the event when my Mom started tracking him down.

My grandfather was laid to rest in a pauper’s grave in Henderson, Texas, where there is no headstone marking the site – only a number. His name was James, but maybe he went by Jim or Jimmy to his friends and family. I’ll never know because I only met him once.

My grandfather didn’t do anything to our family to deserve this end other than suffering from paranoia and schizophrenia. The reason I didn’t know him is that he spent the majority of his adult life in an institution. We didn’t visit. When I asked about him, asked what he was like, my Mom would say she didn’t want to talk about him. When I asked about his family, these great aunts and uncles I’d never met, his siblings, I was told they really didn’t want to have anything to do with him or us because of his mental illness. This seemed odd and a bit hurtful. We hadn’t done anything wrong that I was aware of other than be descended from their brother. How could someone judge me (or them) based on my grandfather’s illness? They didn’t know me. They had never spoken to me. Maybe they weren’t aware of the fact that my family tree isn’t a stick, and I actually have a lot of DNA from fairly diverse pools – not just his or his family’s. His descendants aren’t actual clones. I’m not his clone. Hey, the science of the time just wasn’t there. But apparently because he suffered from a mental illness, I’m not worthy of knowing. I’m not going to lie to you, I’m pretty delightful. I’m also exceptionally modest.

I’m aware of only one photo of him. I found it while on one of my extra-nosey Nancy Drew adventures looking for clues within my Grandmother’s framed photos. I would pop open the backs and look for hidden photos. And that’s how I found him – this young and serious face peeking back at me. A lost memory freed. I took the photo to my grandmother and tween-girl me demanded, “Who is he?” I expected to hear a story about an old friend. Maybe a cousin, or perhaps a boyfriend from college? “That’s your Grandfather.” I was stunned. I just stared at his photo – this stranger who is part of my story whom I don’t know anything about. My only real and tangible memory of him was discovering this one image. It’s now in my frame, displayed on my shelf – no longer hidden.

My Mom learned from his caseworker at the institution that my grandfather was well thought of – that he was a kind and gentle man, and that they had been saddened by his loss.

Over the years, I asked about his mother, my great-grandmother, and learned she’d also died in an institution. I always believed, and likely made-up, that she was institutionalized in North Carolina – that the family had left her behind when they moved to Texas. When I started digging for details, I discovered that not only was she a native Texan, but she was institutionalized in Austin – in a set of buildings that I had worked in. She died at 48 – in those same buildings – buildings whose halls I’ve walked through – buildings where I sat at a desk on a campus where she’d likely looked out upon from a window or even strolled through, as I have.

I taken aback, because I had no idea. We didn’t talk about her. Her illness was a mark on our family, like my grandfather’s.

I pulled up her father’s death certificate. He also died in an institution. The cause of death was from “exhaustion” after having a manic episode. It was near the three-year anniversary of the death of his daughter, my grandmother’s sister, whose death certificate indicates she had head trauma and then died… in an institution. I wanted to throw up. I had gone down this genealogical path in hopes of learning I was descended from Niall Nóigiallach or, you know, Sacagawea. I’m not picky. However, that’s not what I found. I found sadness, loneliness and abandonment in this branch.

I never knew these stories, their stories, because the stigma surrounding all of them, all of their struggles, was so awful that no one dared to openly talk about them. What would the neighbors think? What would the people at church think? What would our friends think? I have always believed my ancestors’ illnesses were a poor reflection on us – that their being ill said something terrible about me – that we would be judged by their suffering. In fact, I know that by sharing this information today, in our “enlightened” society, that some people will take what little they know about me, about things I’ve done (or will do), and they’ll now frame those actions in this particular context. “Oh, mental illness. Well, it runs deep in that family.” I even know that some people will take what they think they know about Jay and try to work my family’s personal history, something that had nothing to do with him or what happened to him, and they will try to weave it into his narrative.

Mental illness is isolating.

Most of us understand the importance of community. Just look at the word – “common” and “unity.” We thrive thanks to our community. It can give us a sense of belonging, of purpose, of identity. It bonds us together, it protects us and it provides us with support through our happiest and hardest times. Sure, there are also downsides. I’m certain the Hatfields felt a sense of community with Hatfields, and McCoys felt a sense of community with McCoys, and while the younger generations at times sought a new community, the elders weren’t having it. There’s us, and then there’s them. Go to any major sporting event, and you’ll find people, strangers, bonded together as they cheer on their team. Put those sides together at the end of the game, and riots can erupt. However, let one tragedy befall America, and we’ll cast aside political differences to come together, because we’re America. That’s also community. Incidentally, I will punch you out if you say something about Texas and you’re not from here.

There’s a reason being banished or exiled from a community is such a major punishment: the person becomes vulnerable – physically and mentally. They lose their support, they lose protection, and they lose their sense of identity/belonging – things almost all of us need to survive. At the extreme, it’s why prolonged periods of solitary confinement is so taxing on a person’s mental and emotional state. We are meant to be with a group.

We need each other to survive – to thrive.

Many times those suffering from a mental illness will not seek help – in large part, because of the stigma involved. They have a very real and valid fear that if others found out, they would be excluded from the group. Or they’d be treated to a series of denials in the form of, “You just need to buck up! Smile more! You’re not ‘really’ ill, you’re just not trying hard enough to be happy – to be well – to be sane.” So, people end up suffering and not seeking the critical medical care they need, which can lead to a series of cascading events as they attempt to address their issues on their own.

If I broke my arm, and I walked around with it hanging awkwardly at my side, wincing and grimacing with each jarring move I made, not only would family and friends try to intervene, strangers would likely stop me and say, “Honey, you need help – let me call someone.” No one would even think to suggest that if I just tried harder to have a straighter arm, it would all work out.

That’s another way we’re ignoring issues around mental illness, by telling people who suffer they’re not real.

Ignoring mental illness isn’t working.

Stigmatizing people for suffering, and stigmatizing their families, isn’t working. This failure in our society has resulted in 129 people dying each day by suicide in the US alone, and the numbers are increasing. 1 in 5 adults (20%) in America experience a mental illness. Nearly 1 in 25 (10 million) adults in America live with a serious mental illness. One-half of all chronic mental illness begins by the age of 14, three-quarters by the age of 24. We are failing them.

Since my last post about this issue on September 22nd, approximately 2,838 Americans have died. People who were alive as I wrote my words who are no longer here today. It hasn’t even been a month. Of that total, approximately 440 of those have been our veterans. The men and women who have fought for our freedom – who sacrificed their personal freedom, their families, and their bodies to allow us to enjoy the lives we have today.

Approximately 2,322 Americans who are alive today will be gone by October 31st. That’s too many.

Right now those 2,322 people are struggling. Right now you can make a difference by reaching out to them, while they’re still here – before their pain exceeds their ability to cope – before they’re a statistic, before their family is writing a blog asking for your help.

You can make a difference.

My team is now $230 away from reaching our team goal of $5,000 in support of the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention (AFSP). I’m now $400 from my personal goal. I am so grateful and in awe of the support we’ve received. I didn’t tell the team, but I honestly didn’t believe we’d make it this far. A huge thanks to everyone whose been able to make a donation.

We got this far, because as a community we have banded together to say:

  • Mental Health issues are important,
  • Finding ways to curb the ever increasing number of suicides through research is important,
  • Advocacy is important,
  • Helping survivors is important, and
  • Jay is important

People have occasionally come to me for advice on how to handle complex grief. I’m truly not an expert. I still grieve. I’m still deeply wounded. But I draw strength from my community – from my family, from my friends – they refuse to let me fall.

It will take a community coming together for one last push to reach our goal. It will take a community coming together to reduce the suicide rate in the US 20% by 2025.

If you’re able, please consider making a small donation to my team: The Jay Walkers for the Out of the Darkness Walk in Austin, which will be held on November 2nd. The money goes directly to AFSP.

We’re so close and we really need your help.

My grandfather lies in a pauper’s grave, because of the misfortune of suffering from a mental illness. A lifetime of grandfather/granddaughter concertos went unrealized, unheard, un-laughed about. A lifetime of grandfather/granddaughter moments of pouring over sheets of music, digging through scores, and having someone see music the way I see music were missed. A lifetime of grandfather/granddaughter hugs never happened. A lifetime of grandfather/granddaughter political debates weren’t enthusiastically debated.

A lifetime of being seen by his family, surrounded by their love was denied this man.

The only thing my grandfather did wrong was have a chemical imbalance in his brain. For that he was punished. For that he was exiled. For that he lies in an unmarked grave.

I walk to raise awareness about mental health issues. I walk to raise awareness about suicide. I walk because they can’t.

I need your help.

They need your help.

As always, if you see someone in crisis, assume you’re the only person who is reaching out and do so. Have a Real Conversation.

If you are in crisis, please call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255) or contact the Crisis Text Line by texting TALK to 741741.

September’s New Things

This month I’ve written a lot about Suicide Prevention and our team’s goal to raise $5,000 to help the American Foundation of Suicide Prevention (AFSP). Huge thanks to everyone who has donated so far. Because of your generosity, we’re now $1200 away from reaching our goal. We still have a ways to go, but I know we can do it!

But enough about that for now. You’ve earned a small reprieve, and by “small” I mean “a couple of days.” You didn’t think it was permanent, did you? Oh honey, did I mention that we still have $1200 to go? Anyway…

This month I had three adventures/three new things I’ve done and wanted to share.

Like all good adventures, my first adventure involved a hooky day. You know, the kind of hooky day where you give your boss a full week’s notice explaining that you’d really like to have a day off if the schedule permits. Then you beg for their approval. Let’s face it, you’ve reached a point in your life where you’re just too lazy to call-in and put the energy into pretending you’re suffering. The thought of trying to conjure up a scratchy throat as you hold the phone away from your mouth, and letting your head dangle off the side of the bed to achieve that nicely stressed sound to your vocal chords is really too much, Plus, you’d have to spin the ailment wheel and choose something you think sounds somewhat reasonable and that you could reasonably recover from within 24 hours – food poisoning? allergies? cold? flu? migraine? vision problem?

All of that is especially challenging for me, because as it turns out, I’m a terrible liar. If I try to lie, it just becomes super awkward for everyone involved. No, it’s just easier for everyone if I flat out ask for what I want. Plus, no one (aka me) wants to navigate your (my) co-worker’s concerned, “hey, how are you feeling?” questions the next day anyway. When I chipperly respond, “I’m fine! Turns out tequila and tacos was the cure I needed!” it always abruptly stops the polite inquiries. Of course, that’s mostly because the idea of me sitting around drinking tequila is ludicrous. I knew I should have said “Dr. Pepper.” See, proof I can’t lie.

The first adventure involved my friend April and me heading off to Longhorn Cavern in Burnet, Texas. As the crow flies (or I-45 if you take the toll), it’s about an hour from my house.

The day started with my prediction that we were probably going to find a new place to have lunch, gab a bit, and then I’d meander back to my house for my 2pm hooky nap. It seemed like a pleasant enough day. So, with that in mind I got up late, headed to the gym, and mid-pushing something around or hefting it up I received a text from April alerting me that she was heading over so we could choose what to do. I thought “ooh! carpooling to lunch it is!”

We began plotting as soon as April arrived. Of course, I lamented not having my act together and us missing the opportunity to tour of the Governor’s Mansion. (Apparently, they need a week to perform a background check before you can go, and I’d only given them four business days. Harumph.) Hey, it was a thing in Austin I’ve never done. Don’t judge! Then we worked through a “things that needed patting” wish list. The list went from baby otters (who are probably toddlers now) at Franklin’s Drive Thru Safari to patting the elephants at the Houston zoo. For the record, I still want to pat elephants. I’m not kidding. If anyone of you has time and a free Friday, can we please please please please please go? I mean that would be ok and all. NO! Forget that. I’m not playing coy, it’s ELEPHANTS!!!! I desperately want to pat one!!! My birthday is in less than three months. I’m just saying. No, I’m actually begging, no I’m pleading. What will work on you? ELEPHANTS!

But, as you know keen reader, we ended up at Longhorn Cavern, which is clearly the natural progression from Governor’s Mansion > Safari > Toddler Otters > OMG ELEPHANTS!!! > Cave. You see it, right? Of course you do!

The cave was cleared out by the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) in the 1930’s, and is surrounded by several legends – some credible, some not so much. For example, at one time they believed it was used as a Speak Easy during Prohibition and that it was a possible hideout for the Sam Bass gang. Unfortunately, the park rangers and local historians have backed off of both of those stories. Our tour guide stated there was no evidence to support either claim. Personally, I can conceive of some scenarios where both are plausible. What if everyone did an amazing job of keeping the Speak Easy hush-hush? Sure, now people can’t keep a secret, but back then secrets stayed with folks until they went to the grave. I feel there’s a 2-3% chance (or maybe .02-.03% – one of those) that happened. People swore never to discuss the speak easy, so I feel my explanation is totally feasible. As for Sam Bass’ gang, well, those outlaws could have been exceptionally tidy. Outlaws had outlaw mamas, too! In fact, Sam Bass’ gang were probably the first to say “take only pictures, leave only footprints” as each man spat in their palm and shook each other’s hands. As we all know, an outlaw’s oath is an outlaw’s bond. And of course, it only follows that they didn’t take those photos, because it would have been a colossal pain, and no one would have been allowed to smile for minutes on end. I ask you, how does one not grin from ear-to-ear when you’ve robbed the Union Pacific and made off with all that gold. It would have been too much to ask! (I don’t know why I didn’t go into archaeology or anthropology. Those fields clearly lack a brilliant mind like mine. Think of the contributions they missed.)

The other legends are true. The cave was used by the Comanches, munitions were stored there during the Civil War, and at one time there was actually a grand staircase, dance hall, and a stage for live performances.

The hour and a half tour was fantastic thanks to a great guide. Unfortunately, we got a strong “NO!” when it came to patting the guy hanging out below. There were also firm “no’s” when it came to patting anything else. So, I went from the possibility of patting otter tweens (they’re aging rapidly – even as I type) to OMG ELEPHANTS!!!! to “keep your hands at your side and stay where I can see you.” Hmph. Still, this guy was pretty darned cute.

Hey, little guy!

On a serious note, touching formations in caverns may cause irreparable damage, and in most states (like Texas) there are laws protecting them. Keep your hands to yourself. It’s the kind of rule that will save you from all kinds of trouble in life.

There was Pie

Afterwards, we headed to the Bluebonnet Cafe in Marble Falls. A place known for their meringue pies. These are beautiful looking pies where the meringue is at least 5″ high at their peak, and have that kind of oven kissed brown you always hope for, and you ultimately end up trying to convince your guests that scorched meringue is exactly the way your Gran always made it, and by golly you’re not straying from that path out of respect for her. God rest Gran’s meringue scorchin’ soul.

Dale a tu cuerpo alegría Meringue!
(Image from the Blue Bonnet Cafe’s website.)

It was in that cafe that I had an epiphany that I’ll share. It turns out that I like the idea of 5″+ of meringue, but not the reality of it. It’s a TON of meringue, and very little pie. I’m a more pie fan. Again, it was well made and gorgeous to look at AND also about 4″ too much of meringue for my taste. Still, a lovely restaurant and I’m glad to say I tried the pie.

The Final Adventure

Finally, I attended a Gidget Party celebrating vintage Tiki culture!! I’m calling this my Social Coup of 2019 (coups deserve to stand out in bold type, so there you go). It was the kind of coup that involved incredible, fun, new friends, new experiences, AND bonus – I got to wear Gidget pigtails along with my favorite tacky hot pink Hawaiian shirt! There was amazing food! (Figs in a blanket!! Follow-up epiphany: It turns out I love figs in a blanket!) There were amazing drinks. Plus, fantastic hosts! Everything a party could hope for and super fun. It was truly a honor to be invited. I left with a huge goofy smile on my face.

Oh Yeah

I nearly forgot that I also went to a Cheese 101 class last week through Antonelli’s Cheese Shop. There I learned a bit about cheese, and was introduced to some new favorites: Gisele, Chevre, and Dry Jack. SOOOO GOOD!

All-in-all it was another month filled with new experiences and new people. A month I greatly enjoyed.

How was your September?

Epilogue: An October Plan

First, can I have an epilogue for a blog post? That seems ridiculous, so I’m all in! Anyway, I have a few ideas for how to spend October, but what I really hope to say by the middle of it is this: OH MY GOODNESS!!! We successfully raised $5,000 for AFSP in memory of Jay. (And that’s how your reprieve came to an abrupt end. You’re welcome!)

I Won’t Be Silent

I returned to work a week after Jay died. I braced myself as I headed towards my desk; I needed to be prepared to cope with the cards and flowers that people likely left there. I needed to steel myself for the outpouring of sympathy, knowing it would be hard, but well-intentioned. It’s what we did as a group – we came together to support our teammates during their times of loss or need. Plus, for the most part, people generally like me (except that one woman who clearly has no taste). Why wouldn’t I expect a big show of support?

I wasn’t prepared for what I found as I rounded that corner. I found nothing. Absolutely nothing. No cards. No flowers. No little notes. In fact, people kept swinging by to ask me about my vacation, and I stared back at them dully, unable to speak. Others avoided me (for months). In fact, I asked one months later if they knew Jay had died. They did. They explained they didn’t know what to say, so they decided to say nothing. That friendship is dead to this day.

Let me clarify something real quick: I had an incredible core group of coworkers who rallied around me and supported me completely. They attended Jay’s memorial. They sent cards, texts, and called me on the phone. But when it came to telling the rest of the team, they found themselves in an extremely awkward situation. They worried about how to share my news and they had serious concerns about violating my privacy. Their silence on the subject was well-meaning. How do you tell everyone, “Beth’s husband died by suicide?” They decided it was better to err on the side of caution to avoid causing me additional pain. No one wanted to see me hurt more.

Unfortunately, the side effect was that I did not have the usual support that one would receive after losing a spouse. So, in the absence of a conga line of teary-eyed condolence hugs and cheer-up candy from my coworkers, I began to behave in ghastly ways. I was blunt. I was harsh. I was rude. I was unforgiving and unapologetic. When asked about my vacation, people staggered out of my office backwards while stammering out their apologies. When asked in meetings, “Is everything ok, Beth?” people suddenly wanted to end the meeting early while quickly excusing themselves. I was unpleasant on a good day, and intolerable on a bad day, and there were plenty of bad days.

I finally had to ask a team member to spread the word that Jay had died, because crushing people’s “welcome back from vacation” cheer was wearing me out.

What happened to me was not atypical.

There’s a stigma around suicide and around mental health issues. We, as a society, shy away from talking about it. If it happens in your family, you keep it in the family. I mean, what will the neighbors think? (Well, in my case, my neighbor threw Holy water over the fence into my yard.) What will your friends think? What will your co-workers think? What does it say about you, your lifestyle, your family…? And talking about it, except in hushed whispers, makes us uncomfortable.

Well, if suicide makes you uncomfortable, it should.  Here’s why – it’s the 10th leading cause of death in the United States, and it’s steadily increasing each year. In 2017, 47,173 Americans died by suicide. That same year, in the US, there were over 1.4 million attempts. There are approximately 129 suicides per day, 22 of those are veterans. Globally, over 800,000 die by suicide annually.

We need to talk about it. Hiding it isn’t working. Silence isn’t working.

People who are struggling need help, and we’re telling them to be silent. We’re telling them there’s shame in having a mental health issue – there’s shame in suffering. However, if they had a chronic condition like arthritis or asthma or even cystic fibrosis, we’d encourage them to seek treatment. If they had cancer, we’d make referrals to well-respected oncologists. We’d offer advice. Hell, we’d become WebMD authorities and merrily hop down every homeopathic trail in hopes of getting them relief.

What we wouldn’t do:

We would never ask a person with a chronic condition to suffer silently. We would never tell them they needed to smile more. We would never insinuate they were making a choice to be ill.

And if a co-worker lost a spouse to cancer, the team would rally around them because we understand cancer.  There is no shame in having a spouse die due to cancer.

Like many people who die by suicide, Jay suffered from depression. He’d suffered since he was a teen. Convincing him to see a medical professional was a battle. It took years of talking about medical intervention, and pointing out people he knew who, like him, suffered from depression but were having success with medication. I had to work on removing the stigma of seeking help just to get him to make an appointment. And once his medications started having an effect, he said something that broke my heart, “this is the first time I’ve ever felt happy.” Imagine going your whole life without knowing or remembering what “happy” felt like.

We must keep talking about suicide. We must keep talking about mental health. We must make mental health a priority.

When I first opened-up about Jay and the impact his death has had on me, I received feedback from a couple of people. They shared their personal struggles and said they didn’t fully realize how devastating suicide was to the people left behind; that my stories had made them think. Then last week another friend, also deeply was affected by Jay’s death, shared a similar story.

That’s why we keep talking about it. That’s why we cannot and should not be silenced or marginalized. Talk makes a difference. Talk saves lives.

Last year a co-worker attempted to admonish me by saying, “I don’t think you realize how much you talk about Jay.”

I will never stop.

The American Foundation for Suicide Prevention (AFSP) will also never stop. Their mission to fund important research into the best ways to prevent suicide, to advocate, educate, and provide support to those who have lost a loved one gives me hope that they will reach their goal to reduce suicide by 20% in 2025.

I believe in their mission.

That’s why on November 2nd I am walking in the Out of the Darkness Walk here in Austin, Texas. I’ve set a goal for our team of $5,000, and a personal goal of $3,000.

I believe it’s a challenging goal, but achievable with your support.

Please help by making a donation today.

We’d also be honored to have you walk with us! Just click the link! OR consider re-posting this blog post, and tell people your story.

But no matter what you decide to do, I ask one huge favor:

Never stop talking about mental health issues. Reach out to anyone you think may be struggling (assume you’re the only person who is reaching out).

Huge thanks to those who have already signed up to walk with me, and to those who have made a donation; it means a lot, it makes a huge difference, and I appreciate each of you!

If you or someone you know is in distress, please contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline:

24/7 Crisis Hotline: National Suicide Prevention Lifeline Network
http://www.suicidepreventionlifeline.org/
1-800-273-TALK (8255) (Veterans, press 1)

Crisis Text Line
Text TALK to 741-741 to text with a trained crisis counselor from the Crisis Text Line for free, 24/7

Veterans Crisis Line
Send a text to 838255

A Huge Favor

Well guys, we’ve reached the point in our relationship where I feel comfortable asking you for a huge favor. I know, I know, you think we aren’t quite there yet in our relationship. You feel that this is a bit soon. I mean we barely know each other, and here I am springing this on you. You haven’t had a chance to brush your hair, tuck in your shirt, or freshen up. Your parents haven’t had a chance to meet me, yet! Trust me, it will be ok. You’ll be fine! We’ll be fine together and your parents will come around and support you.

A Little Background

September 8th – 14th marks National Suicide Prevention Week, and as I mentioned previously, I’m devoting September’s posts to support that cause, and to support the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention (AFSP) who were recently named as one of the 50 Impactful Charities Serving Humanity, the Environment and Animals in Variety.

On Tuesday, September 10th the Central Texas Chapter of the AFSP are partnering with Phil’s Ice House and Amy’s Ice Cream. These businesses will be hosting an Out of the Darkness Party Time Event. Basically, they’ve agreed to give part of their proceeds from that day to AFSP. In order for AFSP to receive that donation, they need 50 people to go to one of those businesses and let them know they’re there to support AFSP’s Out of the Darkness Walk. Super easy!

Note: This only applies to the stores located at: 2901 S. Lamar Blvd. in Austin, Texas.

The Ask

This is extremely important to me, and I’m calling in that favor. I need you to not only go, but I also need you to help my team. Here’s what you need to do:

  • Walk, Run, Scooter, Bus, Uber, or Drive to the Amy’s Ice Cream or Phil’s Ice House located at: 2901 S. Lamar Blvd.
  • Place your order and say, “Hi! I’m here in support of AFSP’s Out of the Darkness Walk.” You can even add, “and I’d like fries with that.”
  • Take a selfie of you at Amy’s or Phil’s
  • Share your selfie on Social Media (FB, Instagram, Twitter, etc.)
  • Tag American Foundation for Suicide Prevention – Central Texas
  • Tag Phil’s or Amy’s
  • Tag The “Jay” Walkers

The team who has the most tagged selfies has a shot at having the money credited to their team’s fundraising effort.

That’s it! Super easy, right?

Now if you’d like to do a bit more and join my team to walk with us on Nov. 2nd, you can do so here. We’d love to have you! We’ll also be having a team meeting there that night at 6:30 pm where one of our team members, who recently went through AFSP’s training, will give a presentation on how “Talk Saves Lives”.

I’m serious when I ask (beg): Please do this one thing for me; it’s really important, and it’s a great cause. Help us prevent suicides. Help us remove the stigma surrounding seeking help for mental health issues. You can make a difference by doing something as small as eating a burger with friends, and maybe just maybe you’ll save a spouse, returning home from a trip, from living through the abject horror of discovering their partner has lost their battle with depression.

Now mark your calendar, head over there on Sept. 10th, grab a burger, some ice cream (eat it quickly; it’s super hot outside), join my team, and make a difference.

Thank you!