Another online date out of the way, and more time spent with people who haven’t seen me in awhile brings me to my least favorite line of questions: “So, Beth… tell me about yourself. What do you do?” If there is one question that is like hitting the clear button on my brain, that’s it. You ask it, and not only have I forgotten what I recently had for lunch, I’m not entirely certain where I actually live. It’s a house, I think? Likely in Texas? We’re in Texas, right? (Hrmm… seems I didn’t travel far or, y’know, Texas far.) I have a cat! (Wait, I do have a cat, right? Maybe a dog? Maybe not… Tricksy questions.) Err… how about you? (Whew. Solid ground again. They probably didn’t notice the floundering.)
I’m about 97% certain I bored the recent date so much with my lack of ability to point to anything I did that he basically faked a reason to escape. (This worked out quite well, because I “really” had to go to powder my nose, and he’d told the staff it was ok to go ahead and lock up. We’d be good sitting on the patio drinking tea with no access to facilities. Also, what kind of mad coffee house closes at 5pm???? That’s not a thing!)
Ok, the fact that I may have been bent on boring him on purpose after he popped his index finger into his nose for the THIRD time is not important to the story. I just wanted to share that bit, because OMG a grown man, a pastor, put his finger in his nose multiple times. Just kept it there, too. Like you do when you’re meeting someone for the first time.
Anyway… I digress from the point, which is discussing the question I hate. “What do you do?” Here’s how that conversation typically goes, with very little variation:
Person:What do you do for fun? (Keep up, I can’t believe I had to type that again.)
Person (eyes light up as their thought bubble excitedly explodes with, “Ooo! A novelist! Definitely a novelist – probably in a writing group… literary… smart… look at the glasses, the brown hair, she sits tall… all signs of great intelligence): What do you write?
Me: I have a blog.
Person (barely contained disappointment – not a real writer) …what kind of blog?
Me:Mostly anecdotes about my life. (Seeing the disappointment, I offer…) It’s sometimes funny???
Person: Well… isn’t that something. Oh hey, I think I just saw Alice and Mario walk in. Let me just go say hi. (They flee never to be heard from again.)
Honestly, I would get a much better reaction if I said matter-of-factly, “I lick paint,’ or if I started to peel and eat crayons in front of the person.
Y’know, it reminds me of a schoolmate’s husband. “What does Tim do?” “Oh, he’s a magician… at a strip club.” I mean, who doesn’t go to those places just for the magic show and the cheap steak?
As I type these words, I realize that analogy is spot on – to call what I do “writing” is a bit like saying I’m a magician at a strip club. Or I guess it’s more truly akin to claiming I paint, and producing a Paint by Numbers kit. “It’s Christina’s World! They give you like three different kinds of beige. Isn’t it awesome? I plan on framing it when I’m finished.”
Or, you know, like going to a “Painting with a Twist” class and showing off my lopsided Eiffel Tower, and calling it art.
I really should take up drinking one day.
Anyway… all of that to say I’ve been asked about my hobbies a lot lately (the online date guy, Dad’s birthday), and each time, I drew a gigantic blank, no memory of anything I did in the past or do currently, then blurted out, “I write a blog!!” with a goofy smile because I’d remembered something. It was like I’d just announced, “I LIKE PONIES!!!” (In all fairness, who doesn’t like ponies?? I mean in theory, actual ponies are kind of assholes.)
Dad’s friends exchanged sad looks as they realized that the poor man only has the one child. “Bless her little heart. She tries. At least she’s able to feed herself on her own. Or… maybe not. I can’t even look right now.”
This reminds me that I’m still trying new things this year (that I’ll forget to mention when asked what I do).
This is the “and other stories” promised in the title. As you know, I tried painting (February). In March, Anna and I live-streamed our attempt at yoga, and I discovered a new gallery Ao5 (Art on 5th) c/o my nephew, which was fantastic. In April my plan is to sign-up for beginning rowing. And as always, I’ll write about it, or write about it (in italics, since this isn’t real writing from what I gather based on everyone’s reaction).
Oh, and by the way, this is about the same reaction I receive when I announce I “go to the gym,” but that’s another post for another day.
As a follow-up to the whole Unmoored post. (I’d put link to the post, but it’s right below this one, so if you wouldn’t mind just scrolling down to save me the keystrokes, that would be fantastic! Thank you! Yes, typing all of those words took longer than inserting a link. What can I say? I’m a human conundrum.) Right… back to following-up. I was thinking we could work together.
Here’s my idea: you make a suggestion, and each month I will attempt to take on/try one of those suggestions, then write a post about it. Of course, there will be rules, because I know you guys, and I don’t want to land in some Tijuana jail trying to explain that the balloons are really just filled with glitter. Which brings me to…
Your suggestion must…
Be legal in the 48 contiguous states, Hawaii, Alaska, Guam, Puerto Rico the Virgin and Northern Mariana Islands.
Be safe. Remember, I’m old and I have a bad knee.
Be under $50. That is the max. Cheap or free is even better.
Be something I can accomplish in less than 3 hours (unless it’s a craft, and I’m so wrapped up in having rediscovered finger paints that I’m suddenly inspired to finally art my body all over my bland walls)
Be PG-13 at the highest rating.
Be respectful of other people, other cultures, and other people’s beliefs. This isn’t truth or dare. This is about exploring, and having new adventures.
Not embarrass me or anyone else.
Be around the greater Austin area (unless you’re driving/flying/sailing/providing lodging).
Notes: 1) These do not have to be solo activities. If you want to come along – share something you enjoy/a piece of you – I’d love that. 2) I do have the right to turn a suggestion down, but please don’t take it personally if I do; I know my limits. 3) I may have one trip in me – feel free to make a suggestion – maybe I can meet you in your town at your favorite pub/restaurant, listen to live music, and sleep on your couch (you’re quite the host!).
What do you think? Hit me with your ideas. I’m excited to try something new! And I’m ready to write about it.
“What do you write about?” a friend recently asked. “Mostly anecdotes from my life. I usually wait until something interesting or odd happens, and then I try to give it a humorous spin. I’ve had my blog for about 14 years, but only have a handful of followers – mostly friends and family who I’ve successfully bullied. I really just haven’t put in the work to write consistently or build a following.”
As I reflected more on the conversation, I realized this recent lull in writing was brought to you all (or not so much) by not having anything to say.
Normally, I have a plan. I’m involved. I’ve got an adventure in mind, but I don’t – not today. I don’t have a plan at all – not for tomorrow, or next month or even the year. In fact, I began the year by resigning from the board I served on for the past two years – an amicable parting – we all agreed we’d miss each other and keep in touch. They’re nice, hard-working, committed professionals, and I’m the reliable director you could count on to do any task presented to me. I just wasn’t passionate about their mission. And because of that, there won’t be tales of our big conference in the Spring, nor a future trip to Philadelphia. No “stranded by another Lyft driver” stories or thoughtful reviews of what a true Philly Cheesesteak tastes like to look forward to.
To build on that, at the end of May I plan to step-down as a mentor. This little girl is amazing, good, thoughtful, and kind, and I know she will go even further with her new mentor.
And it’s not a matter of me wanting to quit all the things, I definitely want to do something – something creative, something to help improve myself and grow. I just can’t figure out what that is – what that looks like.
It leaves me feeling unmoored.
A friend recently asked, “if you won the lottery, what would you do?” I didn’t have to think, I said, “I’d volunteer.” “Where would you volunteer?” “I don’t know.” Then I spit balled a few ideas, which led to greater/different ideas. It was truly a good conversation; however, I still feel stuck. And the truth is: I just want to make out with a Scotsman in a bar in Edinburgh, which probably isn’t the best goal I could set for myself since it involves a single man who is likely blind and a bit loose. But since punching Jay in his ethereal throat is off the table for the foreseeable future, I figured daydreaming about this mythical Scot wouldn’t hurt.
So, I guess the real purpose of this meandering blog post is to ask questions: What do you do when you’re stuck in a creative rut? How do you go about exploring new ideas? Have you ever re-discovered yourself, and if so, how did you embark on that journey?
Some of you may remember that the last time I flew back home from LA, my world turned upside down, and because of that, a small portion of this recent trip back to LA was devoted to stressing out over whether I was stressed out. It makes sense if you’re my brain. Throughout the trip, I’d check-in, determine where I was at, then move on to the next keynote speaker, breakout session, networking social, getting kicked out of a Lyft by a complete douche, what have you; there was a lot to keep me occupied. You see, if I’m 100% truthful, I closely associate LA with death, as if the city itself had a hand in what unfolded a few years ago. The city of Angels… sure.
I knew the problem wouldn’t be in getting there, or being there, but would likely swell up on the way home. And once again, no one would be at the airport to scoop me up. So, I decided to get on the plane, pop in my earbuds, continue with my audio book, accept my Belvita biscuits with a smile, and ride the wave of emotions I’d doubtlessly feel. I’d reward myself with gum on the descent as I pretended like swallowing repeatedly would somehow keep my eardrums from feeling like they were about to explode.
Nearly a year ago, a co-worker of mine got me started on a particular series of books that I’ve been working my way through for months. They’re my guilty pleasure on my ride home from work, and keep me from noticing when I’m stuck in traffic or, you know, when that guy on the phone just cut me off. Are they great works of fiction? No. Can the author send me into fits of giggles? Absolutely. Among the nine books are several short stories that give the reader deeper insight into the major characters, and in a couple of those, the story is told from the perspective of the main character’s Irish Wolfhound, Oberon. On the flight home, I happened to be listening to one of those called The Purloined Poodle as read by Luke Daniels. Quick aside: I love the way Luke Daniels reads, and wish he’d agree to read all of my books including the phone book. I’m fairly certain he could make it delightful beginning with the intro, “The Dallas, Texas White Pages, by Southwestern Bell, as read to you by Luke Daniels.” Let’s hear some “A” names, Luke! I’ll grab some popcorn, my favorite throw, and tuck in to listen to each riveting detail. (I realize SWB isn’t a thing anymore, but that Luke knows you can’t go wrong with a classic.)
I know with Oberon, the story will be filled with sausage, gravy, and Wolfhound philosophy, and I know I’ll laugh or at the very least sit there with a goofy grin on my face.
The plane landed, and somewhere in long-term parking, having picked up my luggage and said goodbye to the Board members who were on my flight, I started my book back up. Then it hit me. I had completely forgotten to be sad. While on the flight I hadn’t indulged in my usual ritual of counting down the time until landing: “At this time, he was alive… at this time he sent a text…” I had simply gathered my things, headed to baggage claim, grabbed the long-term shuttle, and was headed home. It felt normal, and “normal” isn’t something I feel a lot.
The next day, I found the author’s email address, and I sent him a thank you. I wanted him to know that his words, given life by his talented narrator, had helped me take a hard trip home.
Later that day, I received a note from the author. (Excerpt below.)
“I hope you continue to enjoy all kinds of stories and find (or be found by) harmony, unexpectedly.”
And with that, he became my new favorite author. I’m sorry Faulkner, you never did get around to writing me.
Having found momentary peace thanks to an author, a narrator, and a fictional Irish Wolfhound, my California adventure ended.
A few weeks ago, I returned to LA. The organization on which I serve as a board member had a conference in the LA Live section of the city. (Is it a section? Entertainment district? Borough? I have no idea, just roll with me here. I’m a Texan. I remain confident it isn’t a suburb. Go me.) I went to some great sessions, met some incredible people from around the country, and ended up doing what I always do whenever I’m in a major city – daydreamed I lived there. This is the part where I usually come to terms with having no marketable job skills. (Unless the city suddenly found itself in a shortfall of sarcastic old Texas ladies. I won’t hold my breath for that one.)
Great conference aside, and skipping over me being filmed lip-synching and dancing to “Don’t Stop Believing” (why I don’t front a band, I have no idea), and not going into the details that started and ended with a single drink, waiting responsibly for an hour, and still finding myself calling my good friend with spot-on relationship advice (wait, I think that was the entire story), I’ll plow ahead to the adventure part.
The Adventure Part (I was afraid you wouldn’t know you’d just crossed that story-telling threshold)
I decided I had some free time on the last day of the conference, and I wanted to walk around the Santa Monica Pier. Now here’s the thing: I’m the worst only child you know, because I absolutely hate doing things like this on my own. I want someone to walk around with me – to have that shared experience – to sit and people watch with me, and y’know, talk about how I want to move there right now while pondering the whole lack of marketable job skills thing I mentioned earlier, and then figuring out if it’s too late to squeeze in Disney Land before the plane takes off the next morning.
Now I blame this discomfort with being alone on a few things, but the main one being that I think I’m a shifty-looking sort. I base that not on the mirror, but on having been followed many times as a kid through stores by security staff. Once I noticed I had a tail, and I did on a couple of occasions, I’d bee-line them over to my Mom, where they’d stand back and stare, confident I’d taken something, but not having any proof. That would be because I didn’t take things. I was that kid who would save my allowance (in an Ovaltine jar), and when we’d go out shopping, I’d look at my potential treasures carefully, trying to decide if whatever it was would be worth giving up whatever amount I had saved thus far. Usually it wasn’t, but I’d hold onto a thing, twirl it around in my hands, and think about whether the momentary joy of owning it right now would prevent me from getting something even better if I waited and saved a bit more. My intent was always clear: I strongly desired whatever it was I held in my hand, but more often than not, I would put it back on its shelf. This could take 5-15 minutes, which I guess is suspicious to those who can make faster decisions. At $2 per week, I had to be careful, and it drove my Mom, who was more of an impulse “buy it now” person, crazy. However, while I missed out on a number of great things, I was able to save enough to get my first 10-speed (with help from my Dad at the end after recognizing how committed I was to my bicycle dreams). All of that to say, I think this started my whole “not comfortable alone in my own skin in public” thing.
I spoke to several friends, because I couldn’t convince the other Board members to join me, and they all said, “You can do it. Just get an Uber or Lyft, and go!” So easy. So easy, that on Saturday I paced my hotel room, and was working myself into being ok with just staying in and watching a movie. It’ll be fine. Then I paced some more. Finally, my friend Anna said, “Take me with you and show me the Pier,” and that’s all it took. I’d be ok, I would FaceTime Anna. I wouldn’t be alone, really.
I took a Lyft for the first time, got to the Pier, and the Universe had a grand giggle by making a FaceTime connection impossible. But the story isn’t in the things I saw, or did there on the Pier or along the beach, which were a combination of beautiful, relaxing and entertaining. No, the story is in the ride home.
I May Have Lied About the Adventure Part Start
Ok, so the real adventure part starts here.
I opened my little Lyft app and summoned my ride home. I used all the tips I’d gotten from my first Lyft driver. I made sure the address it displayed matched the place I was standing. I was in a less congested area, and made certain I was easily seen from the road. Voila! As expected, a car appeared and Russell picked me up.
Russell had a lot to say, and I’ll just sum it up here. Russell needed me to know he was an LA native who drove for fun; he liked getting out. He didn’t NEED to drive like other drivers out there. In fact, he had been in the process of getting a new BMW, but his wife didn’t want him driving a ton of people around in it. So, he took what he would have used on a down payment for the BMW, and he bought the car I was in. He let me know his watch was worth more than the car. Ok. That’s great. He used all of this to explain that he didn’t like condescending riders. I said something profound like, “I don’t think most people enjoy condescending people.”
To better explain his personality in a way that Southerners and Texans understand: He was that guy – one who had that hyper-aggressive, smug, false confidence that you sometimes associate with people from large city centers north of the Mason-Dixon line. In other words, he was obnoxious. *wink* You know what I’m saying.
But…I didn’t care as long as he got me from point A to B. Bolster yourself as much as you need, my fine fellow, but get me to my hotel.
We had to pick up another passenger. I had opted for the “share-a-ride,” because I don’t mind other people, and yay cost savings. You see, my watch isn’t worth more than my car, and it’s questionable as to whether it’s worth more than my bicycle. His app beeped, and we headed over to pick up the next person.
When we got there, there were about 20 people standing around, and no one stood out as someone looking for a ride. Russell attempted to call them on speaker, and either the person answered, or it was their voicemail. Their words were not in English. “Oh no! I’m not doing that today. Nope. I’m cancelling their ride. I’m not in the mood,” Russell gruffed indignantly. Great. I guess I’m glad I’m white, and you deigned to pick me up, you obnoxious, smug, racist douche. When he cancels their ride, he accidentally cancels mine, too. He realizes this and starts throwing a fit, “You have to reschedule your ride.” I pulled out my phone and opened the Lyft app for the third time ever, and tried to re-request a ride. I wasn’t getting any response, or any connection. “I’m having a hard time getting this to work.” “You have to do it NOW. Do it now. Open the app and request a new driver.” “I’m doing that, and maybe I’m doing something wrong. Do you want to look at it?” “NO!!! I don’t know how to use that app,” he sneered. “Ok, well I think it’s not connecting.” “LOOK! If you can’t get this done. I’m going to have to drop you off. Where are you going, anyway?” “I’m going to the JW Marriott on Olympic.” “I don’t know where that is. What’s the cross street?” Well, here’s the thing. I don’t usually know cross streets in cities where I don’t live. It’s on Crossy McCrosserton Street as far as I know. I think I’m doing great just knowing the address to begin with when someone else has GPS!!! Make that magic happen. Maybe use your fancier-than-your-car watch. I don’t know. “You’re just going to have to get out of the car if you can’t figure this out.” “Ok, I think it’s better if you drop me off then you can find a new ride with someone who can use the app better.” He pulls over, let’s me out, “Sorry!” then speeds off. I texted the rest of the Board, “Hey guys, I just got kicked out of a Lyft.” If about three grown men could have magically transported into the area, they would have in that moment, and Russell would have probably regretted a couple of life choices.
“Beth, just use Uber or Lyft, it will be fine.” I mumbled after sending the text to my team, mocking my dear friends’ sweet voices, while standing in who-knows-where Santa Monica. “THIS is why I don’t go places by myself.” I re-opened Lyft and summoned another ride. Nine minutes later I received a message on my phone, “Your ride is here, and will be leaving in a couple of minutes.” I scanned the cars along the road I was on, and nope…not there. Of course, they’re not, because I should have watched movies at the hotel. That’s how we don’t get stranded in major cities. Can’t get stranded if you don’t go places. FACT.
My phone rang, “Hi Beth, this is Lyda. I’m waiting for you.” I explained where I was, then looked at the app which had mis-identified my location. I considered throwing a small, whimpering, pity party. “I’m walking to this intersection, Lyda, and I’m in front of a Starbucks. “You stay there, I’m putting that into my GPS and will find you.” Ten minutes later, when I thought Lyda had probably given up, my phone rang again, “Beth, turn to your right. Do you see me waving at you?” I love Lyda.
The rest of the trip back to the hotel, Lyda told me about her family and her life in LA. We laughed the entire way, and I suspect her watch, much like mine, wasn’t worth more than her car. The measure of a person is not in material things, and she will be measured by her kindness, her generosity, and her taking a few extra moment to find and rescue a stranger right as they were flipping through their meltdown Rolodex to determine the size/flavor of the one that was about to burst forth.
That ended that adventure. And while I’m still not 100% convinced solo adventures are the best; I saw new things, experienced the simple beauty of the ocean – from its sounds, to the feel of the waves lapping against my legs, and I survived. Thank you, Lyda. Also, thank you Anna for giving me the final push that got me out there. We’re going to go again, so I can show it to you in person – the Pier, the ocean, and the Third Street Promenade. FaceTime won’t trick me twice!
Last night as I laid my head down on my desk, cringing after having just edited my latest blog entry, I thought, “it’s time to write another post acknowledging that girl, you cannot type to save your life.” This is just a fact. I type, I edit, I post, I edit, and then I edit at least five more times to be sure, tweaking the post bit by bit until I’m finally convinced, “I got this!” while knowing I’ll come back a day later to find even more glaring goofs. I have yet to write that flawless elusive post. One day.
With that post, I hoped to accomplish two things:
Acknowledge that I am painfully aware of just how bad my typing can be. That some days it may actually hurt your eyes or your soul to read.
Somehow convince you guys to wait a day or maybe 15 (15 is good, right?) before reading my posts, which would maybe give me enough time to catch the vast majority of my errors (although that’s probably still unlikely as I know my track record better than most)
I thought about trying to explain that sometimes my brain works faster than my typing fingers. I thought about adding that I’m so familiar with my writing that when I edit, I miss the words that need to be fixed, because my brain is “lalala-ing” along with the familiar flow of my speech pattern/sentence structure that it’s actually filling in the missing pieces. And the truth is that the further I get away from what I’ve written, the better I am at catching all those little glaring bits. The ones that cause me to lay my head down on my desk and cringe a ton.
I guess those are the joys of reading a personal blog? Lucky you?
I also decided I would share some related anecdotes to drive that point home – stories that provide further proof that I can neither edit nor type – just something for your amusement, and a chance to really enjoy how bad it all can get for me, then maybe you’d all laugh WITH me.
Today my cousin posted a question on Facebook: “Name something random about u” after he’d offered up a random fact about himself. I was in. I do a lot of random things, and what I should have done was mentioned being in a mariachi. I now deeply regret not just saying, “I was in a mariachi!” and ending it there. But no, that would be too un-Beth like. So, I had to mention hairballs. Here’s the thing, the mere sight of them makes me gag. And if you start talking about them in things, on things, around things, whether they’re wet or dry, I’ll have to hyper focus to avoid going into a coughing fit. Thank you Burger King for a quirk that has settled well in over the decades (don’t ask), and I truly wish my brain would let it go, but brains… y’know? I could have told the story just like that, too. But no… I wrote: “Also, the sight of balls hair makes me cough.” Yep, I typed “balls hair”. And I felt good about that post. I hit enter and went on my merry little “balls hair” hating way, announcing my particular random distaste for said “balls hair” to all of his good friends. Hi, this is my cousin. She hates balls hair enough that she wanted to just share that with y’all and the rest of the world. She’s also someone we can’t have out in polite society. Now you all know why. Oh, you only drink Guiness on a full moon? Well my cousin Beth here – yeah, she hates the balls hair.
I logged back in to see someone had haha’ed my post, and I knew immediately, without looking, that I’d typed something goofy. When I read my post, I turned bright red, started blushing profusely and well ok, there was some giggling, because I just told the whole world my feelings on “balls hair,” but I was completely mortified. Why I couldn’t type “hairball,” the way we all refer to them, or hey, “MARIACHI”, I’ll never know. I looked around sheepishly, hit the edit button, inserted a well-placed “of” in there, and wrote a quick disclaimer. But the damage couldn’t be undone. I’m now the balls hair hater. 😦
I wish this story were somehow unusual for me instead of just being the latest example.
One more story – A couple of months back, I asked my brother-in-law to pick up a sandwich since he was on his way over. A simple request. When he arrived he handed me the sandwich, YAY, and then said, “stop using voice-to-text”. Granted this isn’t a “me typing poorly” story, but more a “me failing to edit” one, which in truth is actually my problem. I barely skim what Siri has said. I looked at him with surprise, furrowed my brow a bit, and then opened the actual text. In that text, the one that sent, the one Siri decided would be a bit funny, I apparently made a rather lewd suggestion. You know, the kind of suggestion you NEVER want to send to your brother-in-law, because NOOOOO – not ok. BAD TOUCH! What I learned from this was not, “Beth, stop using voice-to-text.” No, I learned to now have Siri type: “I’m using voice-to-text. Siri makes fun of my accent. I’m not responsible for the things to come. Just read the words out loud like you’re me. You’ll get the gist.”
Which brings me back to the purpose of this post. I will also never be the type of editor that discovers all of the errors. What I will do is, I will typo. I will always fail to edit thoroughly, and I will still hit the post button. I will also keep working on my story for several days, and I will keep catching those errors. So, my ask is: if you can’t wait a few days, then just read what I write with light eyes. Gently glide over the typos, fill in the blanks of the butchered words or mangled phrases. If you see a whoopsied homonym instead of the proper word, read that sentence aloud, and delete your memory of the spelling Men In Black style – just look at K’s pen. Also, feel free to liberally bless my heart.
But at least be thankful I didn’t write a post about “balls hair.” Oh wait. I guess I did.
Huge thanks to everyone who makes it through my actual writing to read my stories; it’s much appreciated – more than you know. I love you guys!
In September of 2016 I spoke to my friend Kelly, a Chinese linguist who had been in Military Intelligence for years, and asked him about the symbol lì. Kelly explained:
“Lì is the character for “power” or “physical force”. Lì is added to some characters to mean the type of strength. Tì is the character for “body”. So “Tì Lì” means physical strength or power. So, there is no one word for strength, but many based on the type of strength being described. It also is general enough to mean “power” in its many forms. There is also something very beautiful in the fact that such a basic two stroke character can represent so strong a concept, literally.”
On that day, I carved a mental image of it onto my wrist. Something no one would ever notice, unless it was in a, “wow, have you guys noticed Beth is kind of fixated on her arm? It’s weird, right? I mean, we were talking, and suddenly her eyes just went to that spot again. Is that a thing? Is there some kind of wrist chakra? Like you stare and it’s activated? Or maybe she’s hinting that something is on MY wrist, but is too polite. Hey, would you mind looking at my wrist? Is there something there? I’m calling my doctor. It could be malignant.”
Whenever I felt I needed to be reminded that I was strong, I’d just glance down at my wrist.
For a while now people have insisted I am “strong,” even “courageous” at times. I’m to be “admired” for these qualities. I’m never quite sure if they genuinely believe that, or if it’s more in hope that the words will prop me up enough so that I can get up and persevere a bit more. Sure, there are days I feel strong. Days I greet with a mighty roar, but there are days I want to sit in the dark coolness of my bedroom and not be bothered for minutes on end. (Well, that idea always sounds great, and about 30 minutes in, I start getting bored especially when I haven’t settled on a decent movie to watch, and my only TV choice involves a Kardashian performing a keg stand. Which by the way, why? Does beer taste better that way? Are you joining a beer circus? What is up with that?)
On Monday, July 9th, the anniversary of Jay’s death, my friend April texted and asked if I wanted to finally get a tattoo – the thing I’d been talking about for two years. Over the last two years she and several friends had heard me carry on about various tattoo parlors, and a favorite artist I’d selected. They listened as the symbol morphed from a simple character to one where it appeared as if it had been torn from my skin, to a tribal phoenix, to a water colored phoenix, to the phrase, “I am the storm,” and then back to a simple character. No wonder I couldn’t commit.
My knee-jerk reaction was, “no, nope, I’m good, thanks!” Then the more I thought about it, the more I thought, “y’know, why not today? Today on the anniversary. A day where it would have the most meaning,” and I said, “yes.”
A friend once said, “you know in your heart that you are strong, why do you need a tattoo?” (That’s paraphrased a bit, but that’s how I understood them.) And my answer is simple: I don’t always see myself the way you do. I know. I’m not unique in this belief. Don’t we all see more in our friends and family than they’re sometimes able to see? We see their raw beauty, their own simple elegance, and just how truly awe-inspiring they are with their wings outstretched, and you wish that for a minute they could understand themselves the way you understand them – see themselves the way you do. So, this tattoo serves as a tangible reminder when they’re not around that I am strong, and it’s there for the days I feel I’ve lost my way – a silent calligraphy sentinel.
As to the question, “how did you choose your wrist?” Well, its always been there. The only thing that changed is now you can see it, too.
And I can see it when I can’t.
PS Thank you to DeAnne and April who chose to also get tattoos to honor those they’ve lost, which included Jay. I cannot begin to properly express how touching I found those gestures.
In seventeen days it will be the second anniversary of Jay’s death. There have been two missed anniversaries, 24 missed monthiversaries, and four missed birthday celebrations (both mine and his). I count each one. And it’s been heavily implied that time is running out. I should stop mourning. I need to pack those emotions up, and stow them away. Surely, enough time has gone by. You can’t still be sad. Time heals all wounds, right? And your hour glass just ran out of sand, chica.
So many careless words spilled at my feet. Words that amount to, “Buck up little camper! It’s time to move on! You’ve had two delightfully self-indulgent, sad years, so let’s turn that frown upside down! Pssst, also we didn’t want to mention it, hun, so of course we are, we’re all impossibly bored now. I mean “boo hoo,” am I right? Whoopsy poo, someone just spoke that thought bubble out loud. AWKWARD! I should really lay off the wine!”
Little spoken reminders litter my days letting me know there’s a cutoff date on expressing my feelings. There’s a cutoff date on my mourning. There’s a cutoff date for sharing my loss.
“You can get away with saying that for now.”
“You don’t realize how much you talk about Jay.”
“Don’t worry about [what you just said], she can handle it now.”
I get it. I do. It’s exhausting. You’re over it. You’ve moved on, but I’m still here. Me. Your friend. Moving through time, yet some how fixed. I’m still sad. Maybe not like I was, but it ripples beneath the surface sometimes bubbling forth at unexpected or inconvenient times. Sometimes erupting. Maybe not all of the days – some of the days – fewer days. And parts of me are permanently damaged – never to be fixed.
A broken teacup – pieced back together – whole in structure, but fractures ribbon through the beloved and familiar pattern. Made whole again, still beautiful – new, similar – not the same.
And while my sadness doesn’t define me, I do get sad. My heart aches. The tears spill.
I recently discovered the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention website, which has a number of great resources, and I truly wish I’d found them sooner. That lead me to the local chapter’s website where I found this beautiful manifesto from one of their members. I need you to read this, and keep me in mind – keep Jay in mind.
Revised by Farren Smith with credit to Laura McCord
I will not get over this regardless of how much time has passed. There is a wound in my heart that will never heal.
I will speak my loved ones name whenever I wish. They existed – a beautiful person and I will not allow them to be forgotten.
I will cry for my loved one whenever I feel the need – be it in the grocery store, the middle of a restaurant or at home in bed and I will not feel embarrassed.
I believe I lost my loved one to an illness not unlike cancer, diabetes or heart disease. That illness might not have been visible, but it was no less real – or deadly.
I will not allow any stigma to fall on me because of my loved ones choices. Their decision was made from an unimaginable pain and a desperate attempt to end their suffering. No one – not even my loved one is to blame.
I will allow myself to feel no matter what emotion I experience whenever I feel it. Be it guilt, anger, resentment, rage or laughter at a fond memory. I will accept these feelings as a natural part of grieving and express them however I need.
I am entitled to the same respect and kindness, sympathy and dignity shown for the survivors of any other kind of death. No matter the cause I lost someone I loved dearly. My grief is justified and no less important than anyone else’s.
I will allow no one to slander or smear, belittle or demean the name or memory of my loved one. Their death is in no way a reflection of the person they were and I refuse to let one action define them.
Finally, I accept that I will never be the same person I was before this loss and I will not pretend otherwise for anyone’s comfort. In fact, I will demand that others in my life accept these truths and accept me.
And I say all of that as a reminder to everyone that I’m not over it. That there’s no time limit on my feelings. I’m not going to reach July 9th and shrug and say, “well, we had a good run sadness, but Jay isn’t going to be more alive if I cry one more time. AMIRITE?” You’re all right: I am still very strong and I am still funny and cheerful and goofy, and all of those other adjectives. But please don’t shut down my sadness, or ask me to move on, or ask that I not speak the name of my favorite person because you’ve heard it enough, you’ve moved on, or you’re quite simply bored with it. Because if you truly are, that’s fine, even understandable, and you can also move on out of my life. No hard feelings. Best of luck to you. May you never know sadness.
On November 10th I will participate in the Out of the Darkness 5k walk for Jay in Austin, TX. I would love it if you would join me or support my team. There will be a second walk in Dallas – a 16 mile Out of the Darkness next June. That one starts at dusk and ends at dawn. You truly are walking out of the darkness. As you walk across the finish line, the path is illuminated by luminaries, representing those who were lost. The ones who weren’t able to make it out of the darkness.
Let’s raise awareness. Help honor Jay, and do our best to help destigmatize mental health issues. Will you take a walk with me? Because I’m here to tell you that I will continue to honor him, to celebrate both him and his memory, and I will never stop.
I rarely promote other blogs. It’s not that there isn’t some amazing content out there, I just reserve this space for me and my thoughts – my little island to practice my writing. But here we are about three weeks from the anniversary of Jay’s death, a day or two after more celebrity suicides, and I made you all a promise to talk about some of the things that weigh heavy on my heart. I’ll get into that some tomorrow, but in the meantime, please read this piece by Wil Wheaton, and I want you to think of Jay. It gives you a little window into some of Jay’s personal struggles, and I am so thankful to Wil for standing up, putting a face on chronic depression and anxiety, and for putting himself out there.
“Happy Anniversary” Jay’s whisper floated through the haze of my dreams every year on this day – spoken as he went to bed late in the night. “Happy Anniversary,” my groggy reply. “I love you.”
Today is the second year I woke up after midnight and whispered into the air that wish to an empty room. “Happy Anniversary,” spoken to the empty side of my bed – no longer our bed.
Someone told me I was strong today – for no particular reason, they just mentioned it. They had no idea that today was any different than any other day, and I suppose it’s not – not any more. It’s just a day whose lost its meaning.
I went to a quilt show once. Of all the random stories you get to hear about that now. At this quilt show hung a beautiful work of art that read, “My Son is Dead”. The card next to it explained that this is the invisible sign the artist wears every day. A sign no one sees, but that she now shouted out to the world with the creation of this quilt. And I get that.
I talk. I laugh. I tell stories. And all of that is part of who I am, but the invisible sign I wear every single day screams out, “My husband is dead” with the subtext “My favorite person is dead.” “His beautiful face.” Some days it’s painted in bright angry colors, others are softer/more blurred, but it’s never not worn.
Over the next several weeks, I’m going to talk about suicide and the aftermath. I haven’t chosen my direction, but I need you to be prepared. This may not be your topic. That’s ok. You don’t have to read or bear witness. I just have things to say, and they may not be beautiful or perfect or particularly meaningful, and that’s ok for me, too. But if you get to say I’m strong, then I get to show you all the cracks and imperfections that are also a huge part of who I am and my experience.