A New New Normal

At the beginning of March, the Governor of Texas (that little plot of land I live in) lifted the mask mandate and increased the capacity of all businesses in Texas to 100 percent. When I read that news, it sat there in the air like a bad Frito pie on a still day in August, and my brain did the thing it loves to do best when faced with potentially stressful information – it dumped a load of adrenaline into my system while screaming, “Throw up your hands, kids! It’s anxiety attack time!”

Quick housekeeping note: This isn’t a post about Governor Abbot’s decision. I believe we’re all reasonable people who have very passionate opinions, and I respect you enough that I’m not going to try to beat you over the head with mine. I mean, it’s pretty spot on, and definitely the right point of view, but I respect your right to be woefully misguided. See, don’t we all feel better?

Like I said, this post has nothing to do with where I stand on the mask/no-mask line, and more to do with the fact that in a year I’ve gone completely feral as social skills have devolved at an alarming rate.

 My thoughts over the year ran like this:

  • This is only going to last a couple of weeks – we’re doing our part! Our doors are marked. Break out the lentils and lamb!
  • Why has everyone gone weird about toilet paper?
  • Crap! I need to get on the hoarding bandwagon!
  • Do I really need a mask?
  • Ordering in is fun! I’m stimulating the economy one DQ Blizzard at a time! (Just kidding Jenn! Err… maybe not kidding)
  • Hrmm… ok, maybe this is over by Summer? I’ll plan a costume party!
  • Curbside margaritas? Yes, please!
  • I’d better tell the parents that the holidays are off.
  • If I mute my mic I can scream in meetings! Cathartic!
  • If I turn off my video feed, I can make faces in meetings, too!
  • Knocked out another series on Netflix!
  • Birthday trip to Big Bend cancelled; we’re killing everyone in West Texas.
  • No, I don’t want to talk to you on Christmas Day. Please, go away.

None of those thoughts are new or particularly unique to me. And actually the folks over at the blog The Dihedral did a much better/funnier job of summing up exactly how I feel and how things have changed in their recent and quite clever post Then and Now.

Like most, I went from hopeful for a quick return to normal, to feeling stabby everytime someone used the phrase “new normal.” It doesn’t matter how you brand it, it’s not normal. I’ve gone from sitting quietly and patiently in meetings, to standing up and pacing the room in big circles when they’re dragging or occur right after lunch. I started wearing flipflops and t-shirts regularly. Funny thing. It turns out I can still produce the same quality of work while wearing something that looks much dumber with matching dumb and uncomfortable shoes. Also, natural lighting and open windows are kind of nice.

How can Governor Abbot reasonably expect me to return? I can already picture that first day with that first post-lunch meeting as the presenter drones on and I’m expected to keep my seat with a placid look on my face. It’s going to be Hell. And considering that I have no facial control on a good day, pre-Covid and despite my very best efforts for a semblance of restraint, I know I’m still going to be rudely kicked under the conference table by my delightfully evil ginger midget colleague as she endeavors to get me back in line. Hrmm, I’m probably going to be expected to not refer to her in that way anymore either.  Something non-PC about referring to her as “evil” I suppose. No wonder I had that anxiety attack. The world is turning upside down again.

On a more serious note, this year I’ve been reminded of how important our community of friends and family is – how a simple hug can resonate through your soul and nearly drop you to your knees in tears – how real connection, that we had taken for granted for so long, is essential to our physical and emotional wellbeing.

I’ve adapted as needed. I have a gym in my living room. I moved out of my office to work where I can stare out of the front windows. (I’m now the Gladys Kravitz of the street – ask me about the rocket ship I’m certain the neighbors are building.) I’ve tried new things. I’ve gone back to old things. I’ve traveled. And while I arguably feel more comfortable than most, I declined two recent offers for larger gatherings. The idea of them makes me extremely anxious – even with vaccinations. (I’ve had my first.)

I’m nervous about returning to the world.

How will that look? How will it work?

That’s technically the end of this post. Stick around for a playlist.

During the summer, I was fairly distraught, so I asked friends for their best “f-you/I’ve got this” songs. I culled through the suggestions and put together a decent playlist. I’ve played it way too many times, so much so it’s become my Covid “woobie”. It’s also now one of my workout playlists. I also promised Jarod I’d share it, so really… this is for Jarod. I’m just a few (many) months late. 😊 Jarod, I’m putting asterisks by some of my favorites:

  • Rich, White, Straight Men – Kesha – (not recommended for RWSM)
  • F**k You – Lily Allen
  • Bye Bye – Jo-dee Messina
  • March March – The Chicks
  • Gone Gone Gone (Done Moved On) – Robert Plant & Alison Krauss
  • Angels of the Silences – Counting Crows
  • Work B**ch – Britney Spears
  • Go Your Own Way – The Cranberries
  • Oh Well – Pt. 1 – Fleetwood Mac
  • Sing a Song – Earth, Wind & Fire
  • All Night – Icona Pop
  • The Middle – Jimmy Eats World
  • Firework – Katy Perry
  • Basso Profundo** – DeVotchKa
  • Say What You Mean** – Lunachicks
  • Sheela-Na_Gig – PJ Harvey
  • F**k You** – Headstones
  • Stronger (What Doesn’t Kill You) – Kelly Clarkson
  • Blow Me (One Last Kiss)** – Pink
  • Come With Me Now – KONGOS
  • Nails, Hair, Hips, Heels – Todrick Hall
  • Boss Bitch** – Doja Cat
  • Love Bites (So Do I) – Halestorm
  • Make Me Wanna Die – The Pretty Reckless
  • U+Ur Hand – Pink
  • Blank Space** – I Prevail (a recent add after hearing their remake of Taylor Swift’s song)

The Story of a Texas Snowflake

You may have heard Texas had a little weather event over the last week. If you haven’t, due to cave dwelling, brace yourself. If you know a Texan, we’ve all got a story to share, and it’s kind of our birthright to tell a tale – spin a yarn – to tell that tale – just hold our beer (or margarita, or mojito – look, could you just hold it without questioning the content? Sheesh! So judgey!)

Ooh, so quick disclaimer: this is all what I think I know but am way too lazy to do a lot of fact checking or boning up on meteorological explanations. Basically, read at your own risk and enjoy a grain or two of salt with that.

Right – let’s get to the recap! Around February 11th, a cold front (arctic blast, polar vortex, Canadian Snow Circus) began making its way through our State. Everyone North of Texas giggled like their obnoxiously precocious younger (yet bigger – bigger than all y’all  (Alaska doesn’t count)) was finally getting a well-deserved weather reckoning. “Oh Texas, now you’ll know first hand what cold is really like.” I imagine everyone in the Panhandle gave a collective shrug, while the rest of us looked eagerly at our phones and thought “ooo, maybe more snow! Snow pics!!!”

Then we had a 133 car pile-up on a road in Ft. Worth which killed six. We reminded ourselves that: overpasses can be notoriously dangerous in icy conditions. We thought about the families and the first responders who had a heck of a time getting to many of those cars and we wished them all well.

Then the snow came. We ran outside and oo’ed. We saved the ahh’s once we retreated to the warmth of our homes after demonstrating our snow sculpting “skills”. Photos were uploaded into Facebook. Thumbs ups and “wow” faces were handed out by the hundreds and thousands in support.

News traveled around telling us we were taxing the electric system, unplug things or they’d have to start rolling blackouts. That turned into actual rolling blackouts. Unfortunately, the rolls became single flips – like a disinterested teen being told they must take out the trash. “Son, put down your game and go flip that very flat stone.” Those flips (plural) were really just a flip (singular), and everything stayed on “off”. The electric grid was too unstable to support “rolling”. In my cause, the water plant for my city lost electricity, so we also lost water. This is nearly everyone’s tale where I live. The only difference is really in the duration and outcome to pipes and water heaters. I had friends who were without power for a couple of days, while others who were without it for 3-5 days. 

It should be noted that there are a lot of places down here that only use electricity. They do not use gas (and we all know “fuel oil” in the South is like talking about unicorns and Chupacabra – not a real thing, especially here – except Chupacabra, they’re actually real – hide your goats). So, luxuries like turning on the oven to cook warm meals wasn’t a possibility for many, nor was leaving your residence if you didn’t leave earlier in the week.

The teasing from the North (all y’all) went from “it’s not that cold, you adorable little snowflakes” to “wait, what? How long have you been without heat and water? Your whole city?” Yeah. Whole cities.

Y’see, this was an abnormal weather event, and Texas doesn’t have the infrastructure for that. Though, I have heard our Governor is going to have a little chat with our energy provider soon.

That’s our collective story – the one you’re going to hear a lot from the folks around these parts.

But I want to add a bit here to talk about how fortunate I am. When the weather started turning, and I lost power, friends immediately started reaching out to give me updates on the situation in our neighborhood and to check on me. After I was without power for 24 hours, my friend John (one of the few people in my bubble) reassured me I wouldn’t be a burden, then drove to my house, picked me up, and hosted me at his place for three days. The first night, I was handed a heated blanket, and a cup of hot chocolate. A fluffy cat welcomed me by making sure I remained seated, and there was an unspoken, “you’re ok” in the air. I spent three days enjoying a warm house, hot showers, outstanding meals, good conversations, and a cooking lesson or three. I am so grateful for the hospitality that he and his son showed, and for getting to be counted as one of his civilian tank crew. (Which I have come to learn is both a compliment and maybe not so much, yet it still fits.)

It is sometimes easy for me to deep dive and tell myself a terrible narrative that sounds like “you will die alone – unloved and unremarked. That will be your story.” And while it has nothing to do with the reality of my life, and everything to do with continuing to mourn the loss of my husband, it sometimes feels absolutely real.

These past two weeks serve as a continued reminder that that is not my story – that I am surrounded by an amazing group of people, both family and friends, who love me very much and look after me.

Thank you all for checking on me and making sure I was safe. Huge thanks to John for accepting his Texas friend is a gigantic “snowflake” when it comes to cold (and might not fare well in a weather event alone) and providing safe harbor.

As for you, Punxsutawney Phil, well, you and I are going to have words. Groundhog to Texan.

Write

I begin each New Year with a tradition where I forego the blacked eyed peas, collard greens and cornbread and I make my way over to Neil Gaiman’s Journal to quietly enjoy his reflections and wishes for the New Year. While this simple action of ignoring the Southern tradition of bland peas, bitter greens and dry cornbread for the preferred words of Neil Gaiman likely brought on the pandemic, my taste buds and I stand firmly by my choice. My sincerest apologies, world! I should have taken one for the team. However, no one can express their thoughts or a New Year’s wish as eloquently as Neil Gaiman, in my opinion, and this year didn’t disappoint. (I’ll let you follow the link to discover for yourself.)

Reading his words and hearing them in the voice of Alan Rickman (for no explicable reason other than I quite like Alan Rickman’s voice), reminded me that I had intended to get a print of one of his New Year’s wishes. This caused a bit of a domino effect that ended with me typing the word “Write” on a blank post. It’s the first rule of Neil Gaiman’s “8 Rules of Writing” and it’s something I’ve avoided for a while. Thus, I find myself here with his first rule.

  1. Write

The word sat there alone in the ether for 16+ hours. A single word floating on an empty sea of white.

A simple yet bold word demanding more, and the words weren’t flowing. “Write.” I typed the word “Write” surely that was a solid start. Right? Though ostensibly simple, the task of writing seemed insurmountable. I stared blankly at the next steps. I was stuck. I am stuck.

  1. Put one word after another. Find the right word, put it down.
  2. Finish what you’re writing. Whatever you have to do to finish it, finish it.

So, here is my attempt to breach the gates and put something down. These are my words – my reflections on 2020. They are neither unique in their perspective nor particularly inspiring or enlightening. They simply represent one voice in a larger human choir.

Putting One Word After Another…

I saw a FB post this morning inviting people to “Share a picture from 2020 where you were completely happy and nothing else mattered in that moment.” I knew the photo I’d choose. It’s one taken from last February, I’m sitting across the table from my friend April at a restaurant called Sala & Betty. My chin is resting on my hand. I’m smiling. We’ve just had a good dinner and an even better conversation. It’s the photo I think of when I think, “here is the last time I felt happy.” It was taken nearly a year ago.

In that moment I’m vaguely aware of events happening around the globe, but truthfully I’m more interested in the fires that devastated Australia and completely fascinated by the prehistoric forest that was saved. I’m somewhat aware of Wuhan, thankful that my family and friends aren’t being called to work there in the moment (there had been several trips there the year before), but I don’t foresee what is coming (I can’t). I naively believe this is another H1N1 – something that people will be affected by but will ultimately become a footnote in the annals of virology, the WHO and the CDC.

I’m delightfully oblivious – just enjoying a normal night out. An event frozen in time.

Sala & Betty’s – February 2020

Several weeks later all the doors shut. I said goodbye to the gym, to swimming, to friends, to family, to game days crowded around my kitchen table, to costume party invitations, and to my first international overseas trip. I said goodbye to the things that brought me joy and a reluctant hello to solitude’s lonely embrace.

Over the past three plus years the strides I made towards accepting Jay’s death began to vanish. The pandemic rekindled my rage by the fourth anniversary. Jay should have been here.

Everyone in my immediate circle had a person to shelter with, I had no one. I only had everyone’s pity. I grieved loudly to no one as the house listened in silence – a Zoom call unable to replace the real need for human contact.

In a pandemic, pity does not make a great companion or confidante.

Everyone was (and still is) hurting in some way, and my suffering was no greater than anyone else’s; it was just different – unique to me. I hated to complain, but I still managed to find the time.

I stopped writing. Oh sure, you’ll find several posts. They’re mostly posts trying to remind people of the importance mental health issues and encourage support of the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention. But when it comes to the writing I enjoy doing – writing about the day-to-day humorous missteps of me (hey, I’m an adorkable goofball) – it wasn’t happening. My stories rely heavily on me interacting with this world – this same world we’ve been shut off from.

I lost my verve.

I lost that happy girl in the photo.

… or so I believed while in a knee-jerk moment trying to reflect on a time when I was truly happy.

But as I scrolled through my photos, searching for that photo, I discovered image after image of happy moments – reminders that while I started the pandemic alone, I never remained that way – a reminder that while the year has not been ideal, there has still been joy.

A Few Happy Moments in 2020

The Domino Effect

I started the year by reading Neil Gaiman’s words, which caused a cascade that lead me to purchase a print of my favorite quote – a wish for a better New Year, which lead to the purchase of his rules for writing that will hang near my computer as a reminder to “Write” this year – to put one word down followed by another.

Finish What You’re Writing

What began as a nearly empty page that simply said “Write” is now filled with words – one word following another. Were they the right words? Likely not, but I finished and that’s, oddly enough, a start.

In 2021 may you find and follow your dreams – live boldly and passionately as if there is no tomorrow, because if 2020 taught us anything it’s that there are no guarantees. Love with all your heart. Let people know how you feel.

And every now and again pause to rediscover those moments when you were “completely happy.”

In the end, the photo I chose was not the one of me in the restaurant, it was one where I’m standing on a mountain early in the morning – the air is crisp, the wind gently blowing across my face. I just received some great news – a smile plays across my face. I’m happy. It’s one of the many happy moments from 2020.

The Secret: A Treasure Hunt

In 1982, Byron Preiss buried 12 boxes around the US and Canada and published The Secret, a book containing clues in the form of illustrations and verses – puzzles to be solved. To date only three of the 12 treasure boxes have been recovered. The treasures were found in Cleveland, Chicago and Boston. Each box contains a key. Present the key and you receive a gemstone from Byron Preiss’ trust and join an elite circle of treasure hunters.

I wish I could tell you this was my story – that I heard about The Secret, poured over each verse, carefully studied every illustration scouring the images for clues, and hit all of the websites devoted to bringing closure to this ongoing mystery, but as a close friend always points out, “that ain’t me.” (Well, he actually says, “that ain’t you” meaning “me” – you get the idea.) I’m not that girl. Among my myriad shortcomings is a lack of patience. I want to deep dive into things for exactly one nanosecond and then immediately emerge with the answer. When we start ticking into the millisecond range, we’re now a millisecond closer to a coffee table being flipped. To put it another way, if my friends and I stood before a Sphinx and a riddle was thrown our way, we’d all be insta-murdered when I balled up my fists and bellowed back defiantly, “ain’t nobody got time for this…”

You can see where that attitude becomes challenging when you also happen to love a good puzzle. Anyway… when I first heard about this particular puzzle, or series of puzzles, thanks to Josh Gates’ (my TV show boyfriend – our love is real) series Expedition Unknown, I was intrigued. At the time only two puzzles had been solved, and me being me, I wanted to solve the rest. Unfortunately, as I mentioned before, this runs straight into the 100′ thick wall that is my impatience. I like things now, and if now isn’t good for you, we can compromise. How are you with now? Because now works for me. I’m good with now. (FYI, I once told Jay we could never be on a competitive show like The Amazing Race, because I would absolutely be the person America hated. There Jay would be showing infinite amounts of kindness and patience, offering words of encouragement and I’d be losing my mind over some perceived, likely easily overcome, obstacle. America would have felt terrible for him and in turn they’d want to light me on fire.)

Stupid, annoying character flaws!

But I know myself, and I knew if I wanted any of them solved, I had to lean on a strength – knowing my friends. There was one in particular who had (has!) all the right traits: brilliant mind, loves challenges, loves puzzles, loves adventures and has an infinite amount of patience. Also, they put up with me (big boon in a friend – give them props). I’m actually not all that easy. I can be a bit like Tigger when I get excited about someone or something. I’m oftentimes overwhelming (flaw?) and that’s precisely when I need someone who is calm for balance – someone who can put up with my early morning pounces that usually come in the form of a lot of words as I pitch my ideas. “Buddy! HI! I’m making words with my FACE!!!!! Now you do all the things!! Ok? Ok! Good talk! Off to get more caffeine! Make good choices! You’re the best!”

Hey, the friendship works. Yay!

Let’s Talk Treasure Hunts! Also, Good Morning! © Disney

I recruited this friend on this adventure. Hrmm “recruited” sounds like I joined in when in fact I really did a hand off. “Ok, you do the brilliant mind things, solve puzzles, keep me posted and I’m going to play cheer squad. GO YOU!!”

… and they did. They put in a lot of work – a lot. They put in a lot of analysis – a lot. They spent many an hour on this project, and now they’re releasing videos on their solves.

I know some of you are saying, “yeah, but everyone who has come up with a solution believes they’re right, and yet the puzzles haven’t been solved. How is this person any different?” My simple answers are these: 1) Those people aren’t this person, and 2) I believe in them with everything that I am. I don’t know how to quantify it or sell it to you other than to say: I just believe. Maybe that’s enough for you, and maybe it isn’t, but let me counter with my own question: What does it really hurt to believe?

Right now, with everything going on, we’re so cynical. Ok, who am I kidding? We’ve been cynical for awhile. It’s like we figured out the thing with Santa, and everything since has been a downhill garbage slide into a bottomless landfill.

We believe less.

We hope less.

We’re afraid to take chances. Hey, life might kick us in the gut, and we hate gut kicks.

That’s just sad.

So, I’m asking you to dare to believe – just for a moment.

Starting today my friend has posted their solves on YouTube (kind of slick looking, if I might say so). Take a peak. And if you’re in one of the areas, why not just go see if they’re right? What can it hurt? Because what if they’re right? How awesome would that be?

So, without further ado – their first and second solve.

To my beautiful friend Irina, this first one is in Montreal. Go grab a permit, a probe, a shovel, some friends and Buddy. Are you in?

Montreal Solve – Irina, go for it!!!
Wisconsin Solve

If you are successful, let us know. We want to hear about it. And even if you’re not, you had an adventure. You’re welcome!

Political Ideology & Tribalism

I don’t enjoy writing about politics. It’s one of those topics that I was taught not to discuss at the dinner table. Well, at least that’s what the Norman Rockwell families on TV and in the movies tried to teach me; however, my parents were always game. Yesterday, I wrote a post, and someone took exception to it, which is absolutely fine. Let’s talk openly about these things. I just wanted to share my response to their claim that this election is not about ideology, but is instead about decency and racism. It’s one of those rare moments that I’ll share my point of view on this matter.

Thank you for taking the time to drop by and leave a comment. I’m going to disagree with you; this is absolutely about ideologies especially when you demonize an entire group of people and paint them with such broad strokes. There’s a huge problem when you start looking at the other side (over 13 million people) and classifying them as “indecent” and “racist.” Are there indecent people on that side? Sure. Are there racists as well? Absolutely. But to think that there’s not any among the Democrats is woefully ignorant. So, if we can agree then that not everyone who votes Republican – not even a majority – is either indecent or a racist, then we can start looking at the reasons behind their votes. Why would a decent, non-racist person vote for a person who is distasteful? Most of my Republican friends do not like Trump personally. They’re very aware of who he is, and how he sounds, and they’re still not on the Antifa/QAnon party bus to crazy town. They can look past the cloud of ridiculous and outrageous tweets and point to the good they see in the direction of the country brought about by their party. Do I agree with them? It doesn’t matter, except it absolutely does if we want to understand where their frustration points are and how to address them – how to defeat them. There’s a myriad of reasons he received the nomination over Cruz, Rubio, and Kasich. We need to look at those reasons to understand the pulse of the nation, which pointed to some deep frustrations Republicans had then and currently have.

There’s a decent article from The Atlantic you might be interested in titled: Republicans Don’t Understand Democrats—And Democrats Don’t Understand Republicans

My point is this: We are not in an epic battle of Good vs. Evil and when we do start viewing the other side as “evil,” then we’re part of the larger problem – a problem where it becomes clear that we’re so entrenched in our own ideas and misconceptions that we are unwilling to see the other side beyond media soundbites.

Now, when we talk about friends and I’m assuming we’re talking about mine I will say this: My world is richer because I have people who think differently than I do. If my friends don’t agree with me on every issue or every belief I hold, that’s ok. It’s one of the great things about this world. I don’t need people to be in lockstep with my views in order to move through it. In fact, it’s better if we disagree on occasion so I can grow. Beyond that, I don’t need the garbage men to vote the way I do, I need them to remove waste from my streets. I don’t need the coffee barista to support my candidate, I need them to smile and hand me a great cup of coffee. And when it comes to my friends, I need them to laugh with me on my best days, support me on my worst, and listen to me when I say things like “Black Lives Matter”. I also need to listen to them when they express their counter view.

I will never subscribe to this type of tribalism – the type that closes all conversations – that believes in its rightness to the exclusion of others – that demonizes a group – that shuts down conversation – that is absolutely based on ideology, because you cannot hear the other side.

Today we walk into a new era. Let’s try to do it with grace and an open mind – one willing to listen to those we may not always understand.

Author of Your Own Story

I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but there’s a lot happening out there as we enter into our 8th month of this pandemic. Whether we’re talking about the election, jobs, relationships, racial issues – there’s a great deal of uncertainty – anxiety as we’re faced with questions like “what happens next?” “Who are we when we re-emerge into this brave new world?”

Watching or reading the news, whether it’s from a major news outlet or a more easily digestible FB filter, it doesn’t look uplifting. Even Some Good News only had eight episodes before it was sold. Did the good news go away? Every day the news shows us a world that’s on fire both literally and figuratively. We’ve cloistered ourselves for months – afraid to move as we watch all of this unfold behind the lace curtains of our protected bubbles (if we’re fortunate enough to have them). We watch our nation struggle. We watch our friends and family struggle. We watch the social unrest and social injustice.

It’s easy to feel like the world has become unmoored.

We’ve changed our lives in ways we could have never imagined. We’ve lost that pep in our step. We approach life more cautiously – with greater trepidation – uncertain of our futures. It’s easy to feel helpless – to feel like you’re drowning and unable to make a change.

And that’s what I want to talk about. Change.

There’s a lot wrong in this world that we can’t fix, but what we absolutely can affect are things within our sphere of influence. I cannot fix complex issues like social unrest, but I absolutely can use my voice, and I can take steps at a local level to bring about change. I can choose to leave an unhealthy relationship, to find a more satisfying job, to ask for help when I struggle; that’s my personal sphere of influence. Your choices are within your own sphere of influence.

I know, change is scary. It represents leaving something comfortable – something familiar to step potentially into the unknown. It represents risk, and let’s face it, we can be pretty risk adverse. When confronted with the possibility, we run through the “what ifs.” It’s the “what ifs” that point to the possibility of face-planting failure that tend to get the most airtime in our thought bubbles. I mean, if we can just pump the breaks and sit in our comfortable world, even if that world is untenable, at least we aren’t risking the failure. Oh yeah, and we’re also not growing.

I think many of us have gotten into a bad habit of imaging the worst case scenario, but something I’ve started working on personally is imagining the best case scenario. What would it look like if I succeeded? What would it look like if I took the chance, put in the work, and then I was happy?

What would your life look like if you stuck your neck out and took that chance?

I sometimes think about the relationship I was in before I left it for Jay, and I did leave it for Jay. It was awful, but familiar. I was with a man who let me know regularly that I was a bad person and also that I was fairly unattractive, but hey, I’d probably make a good mom. Thanks? I knew that was wrong, that it damaged me, but it was easy – familiar. I was afraid that leaving would mean I was alone – that I’d lose my shot at having kids. I was afraid of all of the unknowns. The “what ifs” and a general sense of fear ground away at my resolve.

The chance I took on Jay was petrifying. It didn’t help that many friends and family members decided it would be a keen idea to compound that a bit, and honestly there were purely awful days. But in the end I had 17 amazing years with a person who believed I was great – who told me he loved me every single day. And on Jay’s last day, the one thing he did was make sure I was as protected as he could make me before he left. It was something the Victim Services volunteers kept repeating, “your husband really loved you – look at what he did to protect you.”

I can tell you this, when I decided to take that big risk, it was worth it – it was worth all of the years of laughter and love, and it was worth the sadness and heartache that followed. It was worth leaving a terrible situation with someone who was unkind to be in a loving relationship with someone who adored me – a person who built me up – a person who believed in me.

We need to stop sitting back and accepting where we are in our lives, because we’re too afraid, because we think we can’t affect change – that we’ll fail. We need to stop shouting into the wind hoping our voices will be heard or that someone will come save the day. We need to decide we are worth taking risks for – that we’re deserving. We need to decide it’s time to be comfortable with being uncomfortable and face our fears.

This quote has stuck with me since 8th grade (and I own that it may be a bit corny but it’s something I repeat regularly):

I must not fear. Fear is the mind-killer. Fear is the little-death that brings total obliteration. I will face my fear. I will permit it to pass over me and through me. And when it has gone past I will turn the inner eye to see its path. Where the fear has gone there will be nothing. Only I will remain.

Frank Herbert

Another quote I love:

Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, ‘Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous?’ Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God. Your playing small does not serve the world. There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won’t feel insecure around you. We are all meant to shine, as children do. We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us. It’s not just in some of us; it’s in everyone. And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.

Marianne Williamson

Are you going to sit back and let the world pass you by, imprisoned by self-doubt with a beer in one hand and a foot in the grave? What is holding you back from shining? From living your best life?

You are not a character in your own novel, you are the author. What is your next scene? Do you make a stand? Do you find your voice? your resolve?

Don’t sit on the sidelines hoping for change. Reach down and find your strength, find your voice, face your fears, and be the change. Identify the steps you need to take, the tools you need, and move forward.

Dare to imagine a world where you succeed – where you’re happy.

You’re worth it.

I’m worth it.

I Am an Athlete

Growing up there were many things I believed without question – negative things – things that have shaped me in ways that, to this day, drive those nearest and dearest to me absolutely insane – from my family and friends who have attempted to calmly apply logic, (Beth, you can… you are…) hoping reason would give way to those who have wanted to violently shake sense into me (only to stop short after begrudgingly coming to the conclusion that it might not be the orange jumpsuit opportunity they were looking for).

I’ve spent a lifetime riddled with self-doubt, what I would smugly describe as “self-realization,” and have rarely allowed myself to pause and celebrate my accomplishments. (Although, make no doubt that I have had some glorious “WOOHOO! Go me!” moment. I’m not a complete self-deprecating monster. Come on!)

I would try to unpack all of that, but you’d be here too long, and quite frankly, you’re not paid enough (or at all – turns out I’m cheap) to try and counsel me through it. Plus, I suppose I’m reasonably nice and don’t want to completely torment you today (although, no promises for tomorrow).

But for this post, I’m going to focus on one belief, and that is: “I’m not an athlete.”

My Mom was the athlete. She lettered in basketball, speed ball, tennis, and badminton. I grew up surrounded by her trophies decorating the shelves. My Mom bowled, swam, ice-skated, and played volleyball. A good time for my Mom would be any moment she was outside playing a sport – whether she was dribbling a ball, shooting hoops, spiking balls over a net, or endlessly batting one against the garage door. She not only loved sports, she was great at sports – like the rest of her family. In fact, all of my cousins were good at sports. That’s my family.

I came into the world a little different (like we all do). By 10, I’d had three operations on my eyes to correct issues with my vision – issues that would ultimately impact my depth perception. (Mind you, I can skillfully negotiate the world and very rarely walk into all of the walls.) But as a kid, I was thrust into team sports – family tradition – sports that required that finer hand-eye coordination (that thing I lacked) – softball, volleyball, tennis, and I proved to be simply hopeless. In fact, the one summer I “played” softball was actually spent becoming intimate friends with the dugout bench (you and me to the end, buddy). Our team came in first place that year. I’m told that was largely because the Coach had the foresight to keep me off the field. (She was an asshole.)

“You’re just not athletic.” That’s what I was told. That’s what I believed.

That became part of my identity, and that was ok. I didn’t need to be an athlete.

Fast forward to the day I met my trainer and she asked, “Beth, have you ever done sports in the past?” “Not really. I was told I’m not athletic. I’ll be challenging to work with.” Months later, “Beth, you move fine. There’s nothing wrong. I’ve trained people who don’t have athletic ability, and you don’t have those issues.” Ok.

I’m not an athlete.

I work out six days a week. I’ve worked out 5-6 days a week for 5 years.

I’m not an athlete.

I’ve rowed a half-marathon on a Concept II rower. I never stopped.

I’m not an athlete.

I deadlifted 165 lbs. last week, my personal best. I think I can do 170 lbs. Other people can do more.

I’m not an athlete.

During COVID, I started training with her husband as well. He asked, “Have you ever been an athlete in the past?” I’m not an athlete. “You pick up movements quickly.” Ok.

This self-doubt came to a head last week when I basically and quite rudely announced, “I don’t believe you. I don’t believe your other, stronger clients can’t do a physical task that I can do.” “Beth, I don’t need you to believe me. Can they do that same physical task? Yes. But it will take them multiple sessions to get to where they can do it properly three times in a row. I can hand it to you and say, ‘Do that 30 times’ and you’ll do it. The only way I can slow you down to where you can only do it three times is to increase the weight. The problem isn’t that you aren’t athletic, it’s that you have no self-confidence.”

Oh.

I talked to my trainer about that, and she agreed about my self-confidence. I then asked, “What would I have been good at if I’d discovered I was an athlete when I was younger?” She thought about it, and never said volleyball, tennis or softball (the sports I had been thrown into). Instead, she said: “Track – you probably would have been a good hurdler, distance jumper, sprinter, swimmer (which makes me miss swim lessons all the more), or even a defender in soccer.”

My DNA shows I have fast-twitch fibers, like Dad’s side of the family – muscles built for quick/powerful movements – not for stamina. I suspect Mom’s side was built for endurance. I wish we’d figured that out decades ago – that I was never going to be an athlete like her, but I definitely had athletic ability. Sure, I was never going to catch or hit balls (my eyesight wouldn’t allow it). I wasn’t going to run endlessly back and forth across a court. I was different, but I had innate ability.

I’ve spent too much time letting myself believe that “different” meant “incapable,” and that was never true. I just wasn’t an athlete like one parent.

The truth is: I am an athlete.

I say this on the 5th anniversary of training with Jenn.

I am an athlete.

And it doesn’t matter that I don’t look like one to you or perform exactly the same.

I breathe it in every single morning I wake up.

I am an athlete.

A Humble Brag, Mentoring and Some Things I Learned From the Military

When life hands you lemons, humble brag. At least that’s what I was taught. Hey, blame the Texas State Board of Education. We’re ranked #39 in the nation, y’all! (Just be happy I can write words is what I’m trying to get across here.)

Clearly, in what is about to turn out to be the world’s worst analogy, the lemons are the pandemic. You know the one currently preventing me (fine, I suppose it’s preventing you, too) from having grand adventures and sharing them. Which in turn prevents me from having material to write about. (Aside: Really, does no one want to drive to Colorado in two weeks?!?! I have two weeks off! C’mon! We’ll have a great time. We’ll stay in a lovely Air BnB in the Rockies. You’ll remain mostly unseen and unheard so I can zen out properly in the cool mountain air, and we’ll do it together yet separately! How can you resist? Seriously? No one is on board? Bring a book. You’ll be fine.) So, back to the lemon logic trail where I offer my services as your humble, yet extremely knowledgeable guide – a Willy Wonka of lemonade adventures, if you will (please don’t drink from the stream and mind the Oompa Loompas – they’re rather fussy as it’s kind of hot outside). Basically, I’m saying that I’ve been forced to humble brag. You see that logic, right? The “if p, then q” of it all. Look, I don’t like it any more than you do. Ok, I lied, I’m the one humble bragging (or about to). So, who are we kidding here? I’m about to enjoy the heck out of it. Also, I’m kind of loving this stream-of-conscious rambling I’m doing. I wasn’t sure where I was going and suddenly, I found myself here with you. Hooray!

Story Time

Let’s start with storytime where we reach back into the past – a past where I was much shorter, thinner, arguably quieter, and much more studious.

I started tutoring/mentoring in 4th grade when I was paired with my first student – a 1st grader struggling with math. By 7th grade I had Tabitha, a fellow 7th grader, who struggled with reading comprehension. (By year’s end she had gone up from a 4th-grade level to a 7th-grade reading level. Go team us!!)

I dropped mentoring for a long while until a couple of years ago when I mentored this wonderful young 3rd grader (who grew into a wonderful young 4th grader) as part of a program to help kids who had at least one parent who was incarcerated. She was absolutely delightful, and we spent a good portion of our time together elbow deep in science projects (she had mentioned to me she wanted to be a scientist). I introduced her to the scientific method-lite – “Here’s what we’re going to do – what do you think will happen?” FYI – she was almost always correct when she’d hypothesize about an outcome, and let me just say I shouldn’t have doubted her when she sent up all sorts of warning that my water balloon project was going to fail. It actually failed so badly that a custodian had to get involved (whoops).

Each week we’d almost always had a collection of other kids around us as we worked and made gloriously fun messes. For the record, I’m now an expert on slime – I can make at least three different types (who knew there were so many), and I make the best ghetto volcano out of a paper bag, water, red dye, and a little baking soda (THE go-to kitchen ingredient for almost all at-home science projects – pro tip there).

(Complete aside: I’m suddenly wondering if “ghetto” is not ok to say anymore. Huge apologies if I just blew it.)

In looking back, I’ve always been fairly successful (humble brag) with students, and I credit my soft skills – my lightheartedness, my approachability (John, what are some other adjectives to describe my awesome? Humbleness? Humility?). I can project a certain warmth, and truly I get this from my mom’s family and from my Dad – each one of us has this to some degree, and in truth, I’m not the best of the family, but I hang in there.

Over the past few months, I’ve had an intern assigned to me at work – a young frat guy, former HS president, former all-state goalie named Elijah. A wonderful young man with a big heart, a big smile, and this wonderful staccato laugh – and very much a 20-year-old “dude.” My job, as outlined, was to get him used to working in an office environment. On day one, I explained my role, and every week thereafter we got together to talk about his projects, his challenges, and go over the best parts of his week.

Fast forward to last week, which was an awful week – just terrible in so many ways, and I received a message from John (the Tank Commander – former boss – you’ve heard about him once or twice – see two paragraphs above – oh trust me, he likes being called out – gets all giddy and tingly – yes, in that way) letting me know that Elijah was about to give his final presentation to our CIO and the entire department. I hop on the call and within minutes he’s up – grinning from ear to ear while wearing a suit (awesome – he got props for that from the CIO, too – he looked sharp – and he made his bed, too 🙂 ). I watched with my own matching goofy grin as he talked about his experience over the Summer, and then he flipped to a slide devoted just to me. Elijah smiled his big smile (he’s a charming guy) and basically gushed about how I was the most amazing person at the agency – that I was the person he could count on – that he felt comfortable coming to me for anything whether it was about work or personal issues, and that the highlight of his week was our meetings. I was so proud of our collaboration. You know that moment where you punch yourself in the shoulder and count it as a win. My team lead teased me relentlessly through our IM chats. I think it was jealousy.

The week prior I had told Elijah that I was so lucky to have had him as my intern – my mentee and that I wasn’t sure I would have paired as well with anyone else. Elijah thought about that a second and said, “No, you would have – you make people feel comfortable good – you would have done that for anyone – I’m just lucky to have had you.” Awww.

And my true humble brag, though not quite so humble, is that I am actually good at mentoring. My approach, which is fairly light-hearted, works well and I’m really proud – I’m proud of me, I’m proud of Elijah, and of all the people I’ve worked with over the years. (And thankful for my own mentors, who probably helped in there somewhere, but this isn’t about them, John. Stop trying to get praise. FYI, Elijah also did gush about John, too. John and I air high-fived in chat and then bragged about it later – in case anyone had failed to hear the praise. John is very smart, by the way – Elijah said so, AND Elijah mentioned John’s colorful analogies. Knowing John got a little concerned that Elijah would share, made that moment priceless.)

I’m going to change subjects real quick, but I’ll tie it all back in.

This is a bit of a random thought, but I put it in the title and we all know that backspace doesn’t work in titles.

I work in a field with a lot of ex-military folks, and a thing I’ve had drilled in my head is that my failure is their failure. By that I mean, if someone came to our unit and said, “Beth dropped the ball.” My team lead would get in front of me and say, “This is on me, not her” and then his boss would get in front of him and say, “This is on me, not him or her.” Then they will take all those lumps while you watch because they have failed you as a leader.

There’s absolutely nothing more horrific than seeing someone take a flogging over something you did. If you’re a normal human being, and you’ve seen that happen, and it was preventable, it will make you feel sick knowing they are standing there, barely flinching with each hit, and you caused that. Also, knowing someone will take that beating engenders loyalty. I know with absolute certainty that they will go to the mats for me, and they know I will go to the mats for them (though they would never let me). And the truth is that right now, in my current job, I don’t have a management structure, I have a command structure, and I love my leaders. It’s why I followed them to a new agency.

I also happen to know my team well enough that when they suddenly begin to embody their former ranks – transitioning from boss to “CPT” or “SFC,” I sit very quietly and attentively.

I’ve known this awhile and hadn’t realized I embraced it until this week with Elijah. I had received some feedback from some other employees that we needed to discuss and after considering his response, I found myself saying, “No, this isn’t your fault – this is our fault for not training you – it’s our job, and we let you down,” and in return Elijah said those magic words, “Beth, thank you for always having my back.”

In the broadest strokes, it’s what a mentor does. We teach, we lead by example, and we always have your back; it’s our job.

Random Thoughts in July

One of the essential ingredients when writing posts based solely on personal anecdotes is that you really must have personal anecdotes in order to write. That’s not me – not now. It turns out that spending 1/3 of your year inside your home with very limited human contact means you just aren’t out generating the anecdotal content. Who knew? As I contemplate this post, I flip through my mental Rolodex of story topics, and all I find are: “Shows I’ve Marathoned” “Top Ten Naps”and “Things that Were Assembled/Destroyed” (which is arguably the best of the options, but still not that great). There’s a slightly more fun group of stories that fall under “Things I Can’t Share.” (Who knew that would ever be a thing?) Unfortunately, as you probably guessed, it turns out I can’t share those.

I genuinely feel guilty. While I don’t write a ton, I still feel I’m letting some people down. Ok, maybe it’s just that one guy, but hey, he’s important! Don’t knock “one guy” or his questionable taste! To each his own. Worry about yourself!

I withdrew from Facebook for a couple of months; it was amazing – possibly the best gift I could give myself in this particular moment in history. I could throw a lot of words at you as to “why,” but it really came down to “I needed a break.” I needed a break from my daily “liking, loving, caring, OMG-ing, sad face” chores, which were both mind-numbing and exhausting. I needed a break from everyone being so angry – a break from sitting in my entitled little echo-chamber where none of us are even pretending to entertain anyone else’s points of view. We’re just mad.

I needed a break from feeling that real change isn’t brought about by posting and re-posting and re-posting other people’s words or through catchy memes or viral videos. Real change doesn’t come from framing my profile picture with a “popular in the moment” slogan. That’s “easy.” That’s the path of least resistance. Right now “easy” isn’t enough. We need to do. But it’s really hard to “do” when “doing” puts our lives at risk. It puts our elderly, and medically fragile family member’s lives at risk, and that frustrates me beyond measure – and I just couldn’t walk that path in that echo chamber with my friends and family, beating my head against the same invisible walls over and over again while feeling helpless and a bit inept.

I needed a break from feeling like I was in some “woke-off” with my peers.

So, I quit, and then I wrote a letter to a former president imploring him for guidance, like you do when you’re feeling low, and I’m sure it’s sitting at the bottom of a mountain of other messages, but a girl can dream.

I cried, but the act of writing him was cathartic.

When I came back to Facebook several cheered. I’m liked for my “likes” – not because I was a sorely missed or even needed voice, and that’s ok. My posts offer no wisdom. They’re quite vapid and inane, and that’s ok, too; it’s all I can give to that space.

So, in a nut-shell that’s where I’m at. I’m in the same place I was a month ago, and the month before that, and the month before that.

I miss my friends. I miss my family, but maybe not enough to add another Zoom or WebEx call to my day. I’m so sorry, guys! I yearn for the day I can do something with you, not try to walk you through how to look at the camera. My eyes are up here, people!!! Plus, to be honest those calls really drive home how apart we are, and for now there’s not a lot that can be done.

As for future posts…

I missed an opportunity to post during Mental Health Awareness Month. If there’s ever been a time that people needed to be reminded about available resources, it’s now. With the anniversary of Jay’s death occurring next week, I’ll try to get one up. I’m trying to weave together a few personal observances in relation to that, but so far I haven’t quite worked out what I want to say. Actually, that’s what this post started out as, but after a ton of virtual white out and eraser streaks you got some vague, “I guess Beth doesn’t really care for Facebook” post. Sorry about that. I mean, yes I don’t care for Facebook, but that wasn’t the post I started to write. It’s the post that emerged from my writing cocoon. I was really hoping for a butterfly.

In lieu of a butterfly, I’ll end with a small taste of “Things That Were Assembled/Destroyed.” Huge thanks to these guys for helping me say goodbye to my dilapidated murder shed. Jim’s victory pose at the end is worth the 10 seconds of viewing.

Welcome to Holland

Since early January I’ve been meaning to write a post about personal journeys and my own personal journey as I face all of the anniversaries related to Jay and our life together. For me, Spring kicks off a lengthy emotional roller coaster ride that pulls off some upside down loops as it careens through Summer, and then finally ends with one final, breath-taking plunge in the Fall. Early this year I stumbled across a “poem” (only in quotes, because it just doesn’t feel a poem – even e.e. cummings would agree, I’m certain) that I felt would express my feeling quite well – a way to show, through analogy, where I am on my journey. Then Covid-19 swept across the US, and we find ourselves struggling as a nation – physically, emotionally, financially – enduring unforeseen hardships while receiving daily emails from businesses who are just letting us know “they’re there for us” “#InThisTogether,” oh and, “please buy our things because look at how sincere our mass email was.” Meanwhile, people are losing jobs, wondering how to feed themselves and their families, wondering how they’ll afford rent, afford their insurance. Maybe that email hinted at temporary rent/loan forgiveness? Maybe it had information on where to get a meal? A job lead? Many folks are in the middle of their own mental health crisis with no way to get to, much less afford, a counselor. Many are stuck in a home with their abusive relative and no friends, family or teachers to see the signs or raise the flags to intervene. And all of this is occurring while we debate whether we’re ok with saying good-bye to the most vulnerable in our population – our elderly, our neighbors/co-workers/family members with compromised immune systems, healthy people who have overactive immune systems, people with diabetes, etc., etc., ad nauseum. Is it me, or did we lose sight of the fact that we were flattening the curve to avoid overwhelming health care facilities? If we say goodbye to Mee-maw, because dang she’s old, and Cousin Ben, who is on the Humera to help with that pesky arthritis (Lord only knows they weren’t contributing anything worthwhile to this world that will be missed – always thought of them as societal burdens), are we just hoping they’ll kindly toddle their way over to a mass grave to avoid the hospitals? Will that stimulate the economy? I suppose funeral homes will see an uptick.

So you see, writing that post the way I originally planned seemed rather self-centered – it just didn’t sit well; it felt gross. And the truth is, I don’t feel sad – at least not in that way.

So, let’s start with that “poem”

Welcome to Holland
by Emily Perl Kingsley

I am often asked to describe the experience of raising a child with a disability – to try to help people who have not shared that unique experience to understand it, to imagine how it would feel. It’s like this…

When you’re going to have a baby, it’s like planning a fabulous vacation trip – to Italy. You buy a bunch of guide books and make your wonderful plans. The Coliseum. The Michelangelo David. The gondolas in Venice. You may learn some handy phrases in Italian. It’s all very exciting.

After months of eager anticipation, the day finally arrives. You pack your bags and off you go. Several hours later, the plane lands. The stewardess comes in and says, “Welcome to Holland.”

“Holland?!?” you say. “What do you mean Holland?? I signed up for Italy! I’m supposed to be in Italy. All my life I’ve dreamed of going to Italy.”

But there’s been a change in the flight plan. They’ve landed in Holland and there you must stay.

The important thing is that they haven’t taken you to a horrible, disgusting, filthy place, full of pestilence, famine and disease.

It’s just a different place.

So you must go out and buy new guide books. And you must learn a whole new language. And you will meet a whole new group of people you would never have met.

It’s just a different place. It’s slower-paced than Italy, less flashy than Italy. But after you’ve been there for a while and you catch your breath, you look around…. and you begin to notice that Holland has windmills….and Holland has tulips. Holland even has Rembrandts.

But everyone you know is busy coming and going from Italy… and they’re all bragging about what a wonderful time they had there. And for the rest of your life, you will say “Yes, that’s where I was supposed to go. That’s what I had planned.”

And the pain of that will never, ever, ever, ever go away… because the loss of that dream is a very very significant loss.

But… if you spend your life mourning the fact that you didn’t get to Italy, you may never be free to enjoy the very special, the very lovely things … about Holland.
© 1987 by Emily Perl Kingsley. All rights reserved

We were all in the middle of our own journeys – some of us were headed to Italy – excited to live our lives, travel around, take photos, and enjoy our adventures. Others were headed to Holland, throwing out our Italian guide books, trying to accept (cope) with the fact that we’d never have those staged photos of us hamming it up, pretending to hold up the leaning Tower of Pisa. We were the ones hoping we’d figure out how to make the very best of a maybe not so terrible situation. Well, we travelers to Italy and Holland just had a layover. We’re stuck in some overly-congested airport that we don’t want to be in, but ultimately we’ll re-board our planes soon enough, despite all of the inconveniences. But before we re-board, please remember there are a huge number of travelers whose luggage was lost and find themselves dumped in any number of third-world countries – strangers in a strange land – forget fun travel guides, forget selfies of toes on beaches – that’s not even a consideration. These travelers don’t know how they’re going to eat, how they’re going to find shelter, or find work, and many are in immediate danger. This trip isn’t a mere inconvenience; it’s a waking nightmare – a nightmare $1200 and unemployment isn’t going to fix (though, it’s not nothin’).

So with that said, please consider supporting your local organizations that have a mission to help the most vulnerable and help our front-line workers. Also, consider shopping at local shops/restaurants, many of whom are doing their best to keep their doors open and may offer curbside/delivery options.

If you’re in Central Texas, please consider volunteering (if able) or making a donation to the Central Texas Food Bank. Right now, the food insecurity rate in Travis County is 17.1% (the US average is 15.4%) according to data from the Feeding America Map. This will grow as unemployment increases.

From the CDC’s site on how to manage stress and anxiety during this crisis:

If you, or someone you care about, are feeling overwhelmed with emotions like sadness, depression, or anxiety, or feel like you want to harm yourself or others

As always, check in on your family, friends, and loved ones, and remember to be kind. People are working hard and are overwhelmed. If you’re out in the wild, and you’re frustrated, take a breath and remember a lot of people are putting their lives in danger so you can have access to food and other critical services. These are the people who are keeping our infrastructure running, so be a little more patient.