We’re Nearly There: The Importance of Community

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Mental illness is isolating.

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

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

We need each other to survive – to thrive.

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

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

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

Ignoring mental illness isn’t working.

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

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

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

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

You can make a difference.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I need your help.

They need your help.

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

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

June’s Wrap

Looking back at June in terms of the whole “trying new things” objective, I see a real mixed bag from new restaurants to new people to new experiences, (which incidentally did not include Edinburgh, Scotland; Wellington, New Zealand; Chicago, IL; or even Franklin, TX (YOU CAN PET A BABY OTTER THERE!!!!! It squeaks and nibbles fingers (aka “has a taste for human flesh! But that’s ok, because OMG BABY OTTER) I’ve seen the video!)). So the new things in June remained fairly local.

I’m going to detail them while also recognizing that reading them might come off like reading someone’s favorite grocery list. “And on Tuesday, I bought organic fruits, then I went down the aisles in a completely different order. I saved produce until the end!! I KNOW!!!! Really stretching my wings!” In other words: bear with, you little trooper. (Oh, and huge thanks if you’re going to daringly press forward and continue to read more of this. If you don’t, no worries. Your only take away should be: Beth did some more stuff.)

Axes, Polvos & 2:30 AM

I threw axes! Only this time it was on a shorter course, which really had no noticeable effect on my “skill” level; it’s still terrible. However, the video taken of me throwing said axe happened to show one of the maybe three times I stuck the axe into the back wall. Who cares that it’s nowhere near the bullseye or even the painted-on target, I stuck it IN A WALL! AND… it happened to be the wall I was aiming at (GO ME!!). I am a mighty axe thrower not to be reckoned with. (Or maybe avoid reckoning with me if I happen to be wielding an axe; there’s a 1 in maybe 50… 100… 135 chance that I might hit you. I’m like “stormtrooper with an axe” bad. Hrmm… maybe stormtroopers should have really given axes a shot? Imagine how that would have changed the movies.) Anyway… that’s the best way to describe the odds that the blade-y bit might actually take purchase; I could definitely hit you with any other part of the axe, though. Err… that sounds menacing. I don’t actually want to throw axes at people or particularly you. You don’t deserve it. You’ve lived a reasonably good life. Plus, you’re still reading this, and that would be plain bad manners to throw anything at you.

I tried a new beer, a blonde ale whose name I forget, which wasn’t particularly hoppy. (Hoppy is a bad thing for a beer to be if I’m sipping it.) I then went to Polvos Mexican Restaurant, which was fantastic, and I had a coconut margarita, which is maybe my new favorite type. Move over pineapple! I’d link the restaurant’s page here, but it’s really upsetting my antivirus software. Sooo maybe go for the food and stay off their website?

I also got home around 2 AM, which for a person who wakes up at 4 was crazy late for me, but the evening, for the conversation alone, was worth it. The axe throwing, the beer, the margarita, and the food just added to the delightful flavor of the evening. I want more evenings just like that.

Reunions and DNA

A cousin of ours always knew in her heart that her father wasn’t likely her actual birth father. So, a couple of years ago her daughter decided to have her mother’s DNA tested with the hopes of discovering a family they never knew. After over 70 years of wondering, the DNA results confirmed her suspicions. That’s when the family learned my father was her closest relative on her father’s side (predicted to be her 2nd cousin). Fast forward a bit to June 2019 when the two of them finally met; it was absolutely fantastic. I had previously met her son and daughter, but for this occasion, my Dad came into town and we met her son’s wife, their children, and his wonderful mom who had come to Texas from Chicago. They spent a day on the road just to meet us, and everyone was all smiles and laughs; it was truly a great day. Plus, I got a little bonus time with Dad. Don’t tell him, but I kind of adore him.

We have narrowed down the family line we share but still haven’t figured out who her dad is among the likely suspects. If any of you know Henry Louis Gates, Jr., and he owes you a favor, could you call that in on our behalf? Thank you in advance!

Y’know, people have asked why take a DNA test? It doesn’t change who you are. I understand where you’re coming from; however, my response is, “No, while it doesn’t change who I am, it does help give me insight into my family’s journey. It hints and teases at the paths they chose that ultimately led to me, and it has given me the opportunity to meet people I would have never known – people I’m glad to call family. From Bluesy to Carol to Rashann, Chianna, Francine and the rest of their amazing family, you’ve made my world bigger and better.

Swimming

I’m still doing it. My regular instructor returned, and she’s not as eager to bounce me up to the next level as the substitute teacher from a few weeks ago, which is a good thing. I still need to improve my pitiful stamina, but I continue to get better. Yesterday, we worked on treading – 30 seconds on, and 30 seconds off. She helped another student who is a bit uncomfortable in deeper water, then looked over and asked where I was, and if I was coming up on my 30-second break. I said, “I’m on four minutes.” I continued for an additional minute and decided to take a break, but I’m pretty certain I could have gone three more minutes without much struggle, which would get me to eight minutes. My goal is 15. Fifteen gets me into the actual row class.

For the record, my swim instructor leaves in July as she prepares for her first year of college. She’s adorable! I kind of love her, and love/appreciate her patience working with the elderly.

The Work Article

An article appeared in our office newsletter about “wellness,” which featured me and covered my intimate affair with the gym focusing on my various hardships (losing Jay, blowing out my ACL), and my love for my trainer. The article was sent out to thousands of employees, and the day it was officially published I received tons of emails cheering me on (one from a woman who is a rower at the club I want to take classes through; I may love her best), and some saying I inspired them. It was pretty fantastic. One question that stood out made me pause a bit: “How much can you lift?” All I could think to respond with was, “Which way? With what?” before I finally decided she either wanted to know about deadlifts or maybe how much I could throw over my head? or press? I gave her all the answers. I’m sure when I finished she thought, “Thank you, spectrum Beth; that was a lot of unnecessary information.” “You’re welcome, lady! Next, let me tell you about the weight I use for my tri-cep extensions. It’s equally unimpressive, but I think you’re going to dig it just the same. Why are you running away??? Come back!!!”

Let me just throw out here: I’m not a power lifter. World’s Strongest anything is not going to knock on my door EVER. I am also not in danger (or luck?) of having any protein powder company hunt me down. Damn. Throw a girl a bone here, people!

A Certification

In February I took a week-long class to prepare for a certification in my field. I then proceeded to spend the next few months piddling around instead of actually studying thanks to not really having a handle on how to approach the material. In my defense, there was (is) a lot to learn – a lot I didn’t have familiarity with. And let’s face it, one of my colleagues, in an attempt to be helpful, made me freak right on out. His mid-hallways pop quizzes were supposed to spur me on, “What the port for DHCP?” Dude, I don’t know. 23? 443? GO AWAY! “Have you read the book I recommended, yet?” You see, he had previously failed the test, but eventually passed it on his second attempt. At the time he decided to “encourage” me, he was our interim director – someone who is an expert in the subject at hand and a leader in the field. Actually, people failing seemed to be a theme. When I took the class, several of the people, who again had been in this field for years, admitted to having failed the test on their first attempt. *dramatic gulp* Clearly failure was kind of expected, and who was I to think I wasn’t on that same path? Plus, a failing grade on this test amounted to getting less than 83% of the questions correct. I’d have to basically make an 83.33 or higher to pass.

Also, something I perceived a hurdle was the fact that the minimum requirements to take the class are two years in this field. Well, I’m not “in” the field, I’m “near” the field. My only related experience was in networking and desktop support, which I hadn’t done in about 18 years ago – so, pretty recently? 😦

I didn’t meet the credentials to even sit in the classroom.

Thankfully, I knew I had until the end of August to take the exam, and as those weeks ticked away, the helpful colleague would appear with advice on how to approach it. The biggest piece was, “You need 45 days to thoroughly prepare.” So, imagine my surprise when the company who offered the class said, “End of August??? HAHAHAHAHAHA! Foolish girl. No, you’ll have it done by the end of June or we’ll potentially charge your company extra.” That gave me basically three weeks. Three weeks to read a book, three weeks to take practice quizzes, three weeks to do the labs, and three weeks to study volumes of material I didn’t know.

I made a plan: 1) Spend x number of hours after work and each weekend to study (that quickly blew apart as I’m a notoriously distracted monkey), and 2) prepare your supervisor for the failure. For the last part, I explained that I hadn’t put in the time, then I tried to put a positive spin on it by saying the test results would allow me to get a baseline of where I am and where I would need to focus for the next test. I tried to point out all the people who had failed that were in the field – people who had again been over our department. My supervisor, who is exceptionally understanding, responded with, “What you’re telling me is that my faith in you is misplaced?” Umm yes? no? maybe?

Let me speed up this story here so we can get to the end a little more quickly. You deserve that since you’ve stuck around this long. The test was Thursday, and I hadn’t put in the time. I hadn’t read the study guide. I hadn’t taken any of the labs, and I definitely hadn’t taken any of the practice tests. No, what I had done was make a 50-page study guide that I really dove into over only a few days. Then I walked into the testing center on Thursday armed with a couple of testing tips:

  • Save all scenario questions until the end, and
  • Only spend 25 seconds on any one question; people run out of time on this test

I had heavy-sighed at my boss the night before when he wished me luck, and I told myself it was ok to fail – professionals in the field had failed, and I had not put in the time. I promised myself ice cream for enduring the day. I promised to do better next time. I played “On Top of the World” by Imagine Dragons before exiting the car after “Party in the USA,” of course – HB, I had to!

The test started and, in an hour and a half, it was over. I watched the last seconds tick away. The results weren’t immediate; I had to enter demographic information: “I’m a lazy, not educated as much as I’d like, old, white gal.” They promised the results once I hit the “Submit” button on the demographics page. I sighed, reminded myself it was over, that it really hadn’t been as bad, but more than 83% was asking a lot – though again, the questions really weren’t the horror show I expected.

I hit “Submit”.

“You have passed.”

I stared at the screen, and tried to figure out if I had lost my ability to understand words. I read, then re-read, and re-read the words again. I was in complete shock. And that’s when a tear spilled down my cheek followed by some tear friends. I gathered my things and headed out of the room where the receptionist lifted a head and said, “I’ll be with you in a moment.”

“You take your time. You see, I just passed the test, and I didn’t think I would, so I’m going to cry at your desk. I hope that’s ok.” She glanced up again, “congratulations,” then went back to what she was doing. And I cried quietly. Once I had my purse returned and the printout declaring that I’d passed, which I re-read multiple times just in case, I walked to the car and ugly cried – big, heaving sobs. I then texted the world starting with my boss who was in a meeting.

John’s Response

About an hour later, my boss got out of his meeting and called me.

John: Congratulations.
Me: Thank you.
John: Now apologize.
Me: … I’m ummm sorry?
John: Apologize for suggesting I had misplaced my faith in you.

Thank you, not just to John, but to the rest of you for continuing to believe in me when I don’t always believe in myself. I’m also thankful that my brain works the way it does (thanks DNA, thanks upbringing), and that I could approach this test the way I did and still pass. (Incidentally, I had 87% of the questions right. It’s not stellar, but it counts. A pass is a pass.) I’m now officially certified in my field, which helps open a few more doors.

Oh, and I did go and get ice cream. A promise is a promise.

That was my June. How was yours?

The Cruise: Final Installment

I suppose I’ve dragged this out long enough. This declaration has nothing to do with me running out of story ideas. Nosirree. Well, maybe… So, let me start where we started – the part where I decided I wasn’t a cruise girl, and the why behind it, picking up after some Galveston gal named Ginger tried to do me in with her obnoxious love of Scentsy, and questionable food recommendations. (Next time, we’re going to Gaido’s. I want zero arguments on this front.)

Any of my friends will tell you I’ve always wanted to travel, and they’ll probably follow that statement up with the fact that I’m exceptionally great at coming up with excuses for not travelling. Refusing to travel because of these excuses, and therefore, having never traveled, I have learned to live rather vicariously through my friend’s adventures as they regale me with tales of the distant songs of African tribesmen approaching their lodges, of fellow German tourists incensing Chinese chefs to the point said chef felt compelled to throw a cleaver into the middle of their table, to sneaking into the Forbidden City, to their private tours of the Roman baths in Malta, to “that one time in Spain…” and to drooling over every single photo my ex-pat friend takes on her hikes around New Zealand. On separate occasions, two friends have come back from Edinburgh, and not realizing the other had said it, expressed with absolute certainty that I needed to go and would love it. Each had gone on a particular tour, they knew I would completely dig beyond reason, and they’re right. Instead, on my one trip out of the country, I went to Montreal, which was lovely but… (No offense Irina. If I’d only known you and Ben then… Well, we would have had to have received your parent’s permission to hang out with us. Is the couch still open for visits/living if I become an ex-pat myself?)

A few months before Jay passed away, I got a passport. We were going places, I was excited, we would explore the world together, and then one day in July we weren’t. And then I blew out my knee, and then Sam passed away, and all the excuses piled back up along with a firm understanding that I would always have these unrealized dreams. Forget that I have a place to stay in Japan. Forget I have a friend to hang out with in New Zealand. I wasn’t going, but I would do my best to enjoy the postcards I’d receive, and sing praises about the posted photos from friends’ trips.

So, there I was on a cruise heading to three separate ports: Cozumel, Belize City, and Roatan (off the cost of Honduras). We had excursions planned for the first two, and a relaxing day on the beach planned for the other.

In Cozumel we did a Tastes of Mexico tour where we sampled tequila, made chocolate, and enjoyed some tacos.  The tour was solid, and my take away was: I like tequila in many things, but sipping tequila, swishing it around my mouth, and holding it there doesn’t make it any better – it just kind of burns the whole inside of your mouth instead of the back of your throat, which is right and proper despite what our guide was saying. And while I appreciate that our guide’s grandmother did this daily and lived to be 200, she is tougher than I am, and she likely has no taste buds. (And also may have questionable taste – no offense.) Also, you can dress Jose Cuervo up, call it the 1800 series, and it’s still not that great (unless in a drink). I also learned I love pineapple margaritas, and have now learned how to make them. Swing by my house; I’m ready to serve! I even have the chili/salt mix to rim the glass – so much better than plain salt. We also learned that everyone at that location would like a tip, and by the time we reached the fourth tip jar, we were kind of done, which was right at the taco server’s station, and I’m pretty sure she wanted to throw tacos at our heads.

Jose Cuervo 1800 Series – “Sipping” Tequila

In Belize we drove to Xuantunich, which I mentioned is on the border with Guatemala. Here we had an amazing guide who told us about the culture, history, politics (they just recently held an election in March), and natural features of Belize. In fact, if we pointed out an animal, he’d reach down, grab a laminated info sheet, and have us pass it around. If we pointed out a butterfly, out came the laminated butterfly info sheet. I suspect, he had a laminated sheet for everything. He was kind of the Belizean Mary Poppins with a magical bag of laminated info sheets.  We learned there were two major political parties, that a disproportionate amount of critters in Belize are deadly and murderous, and the country produces a million (exact figure) varieties of mangos – along with having no zoning laws, $10/gallon gas (approximately $5 US, but still), and howler monkeys! (Also, some rather amorous lizards who perform a happy little hoppy dance at the conclusion of their good times. High claw, iguana dude! Sorry about the voyeuristic gals taking photos. Humans. Am I right?)

In Roatan, we just looked at shops, went on a nature trail, and spent the day on the beach and in the water.

And when I first started talking about the trip, all I could say was it felt as if I never left the US thanks to the commercialization, and how everything is bent around capturing dollars from tourists – all the duty free shops, the “Made in China” goods, etc. My first trip out of the country seemed like a let down – like I hadn’t gone anywhere, and I was disappointed. And it wasn’t that I didn’t have a fine time, it just felt like I’d hit the Mercado in San Antonio and slept on a boat.

While on the ship, we’d spend the nights looking for things to do, and found ourselves at places like the piano bar with a Rod Stewart wanna be who went by the name “Roddy,” and who didn’t quite get the songs he was playing – he wins for oddest version of Bohemian Rhapsody I’ve heard to date, but let’s say that by the end of the trip I was prepared to punch anyone who started singing “Sweet Caroline.” Then there was a couple of nights listening to bad karaoke, some trivia contests, a 70’s club, and a night of 80’s Rock & Glow dancing where there was a dance-off, and I was unfazed… until I stepped away from it all, so let me recap this paragraph after having time to really think about it.

While on the ship, I danced! I had forgotten how much I missed dancing. It started in the lobby one night, then there was the night at the 70’s club while I clung to my disco ball glass that I love, and ended with all of us dancing until they closed the party down for the 80’s Rock & Glow night – where we were completely decked out in every glow stick piece of jewelry one could imagine. This was the night my beautiful cousin Kim WON the ladies dance competition, and was completely robbed when she went head-to-head against the male champion. I’m sure he cheated. 🙂 The crowd, who’d formed a circle around them, knew it was “on” when Kim kicked off her sandals.  It got real in that moment, y’all. Kim wasn’t playing! At the end of it Kim said, “if I can do that, I can do anything!” Yes, she can! She was AWESOME! and AMAZING, and BEAUTIFUL!! I may have hurt my own ears scream cheering her on. Kim had been selected from the crowd after showing us all how it was done in the Thriller dance – best ladies zombie dancer out there! I also learned I need some work on the electric slide, but I’m up for the challenge!

Dancing reinforced that my knee could take it (within reason, of course) when I really thought I would never be able to dance again.

We won not one but TWO trivia contests. The last one was 80’s music trivia where we all received medals and a golden ship. Also, I need to say here I’m embarrassed for the other participants who couldn’t identify Soft Cell’s “Tainted Love” from the first two notes. Come on!! I had a good showing in the Game of Thrones trivia, but really needed someone who’d read the books on my team. Pike, are you kidding me? By the way, I kind of love it that a friend of mine found me by looking at the schedule of activities and realizing, “yep, that’s where Beth is going to be.” Also, without having ever watched GoT, she helped me answer the first question. This is the same person who knew I’d be in the gym early in the morning. My friends get me.

I swam in the ocean! I haven’t donned a bathing suit in years, and there I was bobbing away and happy as I could be. I could have stayed out there all day. The ocean was the best! I love the water!

I went to Belize! I had a two hour trip to and from the Guatemalan border learning all of these things I’d never known about Belize, and I want to go back and spend time, and eat at least a ton of the millions (actual number, as mentioned before) of mangoes. Apparently, there’s a non-stop flight from Austin to Belize City, and it turns out that I have a passport. I also climbed Mayan ruins with a banged up knee, and I didn’t get winded, AND I didn’t go tumbling down, AND I didn’t have to be part of some emergency med evac as I’d anticipated.

I did abs with Gaybor, and was happy when I could keep up, including the plank part. (We will not mention here that my planks at home always get adjusted, and I may have figured out a way to easier planking. Go me! Shifting forward makes it so much harder.)

Gaybor – Exceptionally Inspirational Ab Coach (Hey, I’m old, not dead. Plus, Heather took the photo, so… well, I know my inner 16 year old cheered when she did it. 🙂 He’s a solid volleyball player, too. Just sayin’.)

During the entire trip, I had my phone off, which was absolutely liberating. I slept better than I had in months, thus ending months of insomnia. I’ll also admit, that until the super choppy day on sea, I didn’t really feel the ship move. I could tune it in or out, so I was showing off this newly found skill whenever I could. I brought Dramamine, and I never had cause to use it.

I watched the sun rise and set over the ocean.

In sum – I laughed a lot, I danced a lot, I relaxed, and I spent a solid week with my family and my friends – uninterrupted time I never get with them. I had the absolute best time I’ve had in a long time with people I love. I couldn’t ask for a better experience.  And while I still want to travel properly – wander the hidden paths, escape the commercialism and the demands that I “consume” things, I would do this all again with the same people. (Though, I’d take on an additional friend or two who couldn’t make it.)

Sunset with the Girls

So, who wants to sail with me from Miami to Havana?

Now go read the Game of Thrones series, and memorize this opening (I need you to be prepared):

A Simple Wish

May your coming year be filled with magic and dreams and good madness. I hope you read some fine books and kiss someone who thinks you’re wonderful, and don’t forget to make some art — write or draw or build or sing or live as only you can. And I hope, somewhere in the next year, you surprise yourself. –Neil Gaiman

At the beginning of 2017 I was given a box that held 260 colorful envelopes filled with notes/quotes/questions/advice from my friends and family. These lunchbox notes were to accompany me each day of work and were to be opened at lunch (thus, the name).  There were instructions directing me to open one first, and it ended up containing the quote above.  These, in turn, became the things I wanted to achieve – a list of what I wanted to accomplish throughout the year – a road map – a bucket list.

So, I wrote a little more. Maybe not sketches, as I’d planned. It turns out that in this political climate my attempts at satire have too sharp an edge to them. I started turning off NPR more (sorry guys, I still love you) and sang more, replacing the news with singing – each time I got into the car.  I even made it out to karaoke, something I hadn’t done in years, and belted out a little Lady Gaga, ABBA, and Kansas. I now have a baby stereo system in the house where I repeat the show daily. (To the delight of my neighbors, Elle King’s America’s Sweetheart is my current go-to.) I made some art, and sent cards off to friends and family. To surprise myself, I entered the Warrior Dash, and I can say I was in fact surprised in the end. This one set me back a bit, causing all of the things to stop, and me to momentarily forget the list.

As I grew stronger, I was able to dive back in – writing, singing, reading, laughing, and creating.  The only one left to tackle was “kiss someone who thinks [I’m] wonderful.” So, a month ago I decided “screw it” and I re-entered the online dating world to give it a more serious try.  I went on three dates over five days. André, of the infamous meltdown, was the first. See below for a recap.

The second was Todd. I have to admit that over the past three weeks I became a 16 year-old girl when it came to all things Todd – a distracted girly mess. One of my male friends joked, “hell, I’m starting to have a crush on Todd” thanks to all of my incessant Todd talk, usually followed by, “do you want to see his picture?” It was terrible, and kind of fun, and it reminded me of staying on the phone for hours in high school, of passing notes, of having my girlfriends spend the night, of listening to music in the darkness of my room, and of daydreaming. He was a reminder that I was still alive, and still able to be reduced to a blushy, giddy little girl mess.

I met Todd a day or two after the André-no-I-don’t-want-to-drive-to-Costco-for-the-great-gas-don’t-put-your-face-near-my-face incident. I went to his place, knowing my adopted big brothers would not be pleased for safety reasons, and watched him put together a doll house for his granddaughter. He was just as beautiful in person, and also very simple in ways I won’t be able to quite convey here.

A few highlights from that evening: He told me, “I’d totally mack with you, but I’ve had a lot of coffee, and I don’t like to kiss with coffee breath.” Wow, umm… I don’t think anyone has ever said they’d “mack” with me. I’m not sure I’ve “macked” with anyone. Maybe I’m not a macker? If we “macked” would this count towards my “…kiss someone who thinks you’re wonderful?” Gaiman didn’t say anything about “macking with someone.” Then Todd professed his love of the phrase “that’s what she said” and probably used it 15-20 different times. Apparently, she says a lot. Todd expressed with certainty that a whole comedy routine based on that line would quite possibly be the best stand-up comedy routine ever.  I’m not so sure. I threw in a few “that’s what she said” lines to make him happy, and he giggled gleefully (alliteration also makes him happy) while continuing to work on this dollhouse (a bit of a structural mess, but it also made him happy). I then turned the conversation to why he loved the town we’re in, because frankly it’s a sea of HOA’s to me, and I hoped he might have some insight that would make me see it differently. His response: “I’m near three strip clubs.” Oh… “Yeah, I love strip clubs and I would totally pay for you to get a lap dance.” At this I had to say, “That actually wouldn’t do anything for me, but thank you.” He smiled and offered up, “well, it would do something for me.” Ohhhh kay… (For any of you thinking a strip club birthday gift card might make the perfect gift, you should give that to someone else.) I got a tour of his apartment and the multiple 8″x10″ prom pictures proudly displayed on the walls. I have to confess, my prom pictures are still in the “vintage” envelope they came in. (Sorry David! I did put one in a photo album and used it for a #TBT thing on FB.)

We ended with a side hug, and I sighed… so pretty. There goes my 16 year old girl, and a 49 year old woman drove home – music blaring, while singing at the top of her lungs.

Two days later, I had coffee with the runner post my half marathon (where I did surprise myself). He was absolutely brilliant. Smart, engaging, a fantastic storyteller (and we all know how I love good stories), and I was none of those things in return. And while I recognize I’m not his type physically, he’s the kind of person who absolutely should be one of my friends. I was lamenting this to my aunt yesterday, and she kindly offered to call him up and explain how great I was.  “You know if you want me to, I’d do it,” which made me laugh. All I could picture was a call that might sound like, “Hi, this is Beth’s aunt. She’s really great; you’d really like her. I’m so proud of her. Anyway, she thinks you’re really neat. She has a lot of really neat friends, so if she thinks you’re neat, then there’s probably something special about you. You should really be her friend. I’m going to have a get together at Easter, and she knows she’s always welcome. You could come, too.” While I loved this idea, and it made my heart smile, I can only imagine how that would sound to a stranger. “Please reconsider being my niece’s friend. We love her.” I love my aunt, and I love that she was serious. Also, a side note to my friends: she really does think you guys are neat. Also, damnit, he was really cool.

So Neil, I failed a little when it came to living up to your New Year’s wishes.

While the year continued to hold a few more hardship, it was also one that was filled with magic, and dreams, and good madness. I read some fine books. I made some art – I wrote, I drew a little, I sang loudly and often, I laughed, and I surprised myself (half marathon!!).  I was surrounded with the best people. Old friends, new friends, and family… and though there were tears, there was more joy.

I plan to do more of that next year.  And maybe… just maybe… I’ll “mack” with someone who thinks I’m wonderful.

Dedication: This was for Tori who suggested I had another blog piece in me before the end of the year. Hears to you, kid!

My Private Island

I’ve mentioned this before, and that is if you ask me to estimate how many people read my blog without thinking I would honestly say around 10-12. I’ve recited that figure on numerous occasion, because 1) I can’t imagine anyone outside of those 10-12 people (friends and family) whom I’ve bullied into reading my blog would be interested in reading it, and 2) truthfully, only having a few readers is a little liberating, and it kind of allows me to be a bit self-deprecating.  I have permission to express things more freely.  Hey, I’m only writing for friends. And it allows me a neat excuse when I’m outted as a blogger who doesn’t have the notoriety of say a Patton Oswald (or any number of bloggers).  “Well, really only a few friends and family follow me, it’s not a big deal.”

Ostensibly, I post as a way to practice writing since language is not my strength.  Growing up, I was the toddler that hit or destroyed things while my more precocious relative of an equal age bedazzled the adults with words.  I would often hear, “why can’t you be more like him?” as I grew up. This probably lead to more hitting of the things and a fair amount of stink-eye. Writing helps me compose my thoughts and use my words, which is especially good on days where I’m actively trying to set fire to things with my mind. Through my blog I get to post my ramblings, my rants, ridiculous anecdotes, and my heartbreak – noise inside the brain of an extremely ordinary person. I also use my posts as a way to send mass letters to friends an family announcing, “this is where I’m at right now. This is who I am right now.”

Having only a handful of readers also takes away a certain measure of accountability, “hey, only 10-12 people will read this so it’s ok if I lose my mind over some issue.” This false belief has lead to some carelessness on my part. There’s nothing more humbling than being told, “I read your blog,” wait, what??? “and I only realized how affected you were by something that was said when you wrote a particular rant” (paraphrased a ton) by someone whom you didn’t realize knew you had a blog, and whose dear friend it was  you wrote a scathing piece about. Err… whoops. Not my finest moment.  Or you get an email from your Jr. High bully asking, “hey, is that me? Oh yeah, I remember you now” where you learn a lesson in the power of the internet, and why using full names maybe wasn’t your finest moment.  These experiences have made me more keenly aware that this isn’t my private island of 10, though I admit it more often than not still feels that way.

Someone recently told me in regard to this space, “you don’t know how your words affect people” which was extremely humbling. So, this is a shout-out and a thank you to all of those other readers whom I sometimes forget I have.  To Melissa, Jenn, Heather (you are strong, and amazing – though we haven’t met, I hope you know I think you’re great; I believe in you), Drew, Jerry, Jim, Julie, Heather B., Denise, Roanna and David (actual gifted writers), Lynn, Tori, Gail, and Irina (thank you for keeping me sane in the real world and for allowing Buddy to talk politics openly – sorry about Marine le Pen, Buddy). To Brandi who is one of the toughest people I know with a heart of pure gold, and Meredith who makes me laugh more than she knows. To Lori (I believe in you, too. You got this.)  To Karen (I may not always comment, but I enjoy everything you write). And to Dale, you’re a PITA, but you’ve kept me grounded through some dark times (by being a PITA – I think that’s your secret).  To the 10ish: Anna, Jonathan, Dad, Charla, Seth, April, Aunt Philis, Kim, Tony, HRH DeAnne, Kati, and Shari – you’re troopers to survive all the years of my blog nonsense, and for encouraging me (and for once asking me about t-shirts – I did look into it, but the image was too small to work with).  To everyone else who follows me along this bumpy ride of life, I may not know your name, but I appreciate you and thank you.  And to Scott and Carolyn,  whom I miss more than words could ever express – thank you for your encouragement – for suggesting I was funny, for cheering me on all those years. This world is a little less bright without your beautiful and gentle light.

All of you make for one amazing set of 10 on this island of mine.

LIfe Lessons from the Trailer Park

When last we chatted I believe I convinced you that I had in fact been born (remember that picture of a random baby? surely that was me – I hinted as such), and proclaimed that I “grew up” in a trailer park.  It turns out “growing up” encompasses approximately 3 years; I was a fast grower.

It also turns out (lots of things turning today) you can learn a lot about life in a trailer park in only a few years.  Here are a few of my take-aways:

  • Ponies are angry little equine jerks whose backsides should be avoided at all costs.  Just because you’re little and it’s little, and it has those impossibly big, inviting eyes doesn’t mean there’s a special bond.  The back-kick to the chest is not a love thump or thank you for the sweet sweet weeds picked with tender love and care.  Trailer ponies (a distinct breed) are treacherous, bi-polar, and should be avoided at all cost. Now when I see a pony I make sure to point at my eyes and then to theirs, so they’re keenly aware I’m watching them.  I then nibble on the carrots brought for the more lovely quarter horses (whose hind sides I also avoid) chewing slowly and defiantly.  Thank you pony for showing me the lay of the field when I was 5.  For the record “My Pretty Pony” is a pack of lies!
  • Ice cream men trailer park dwellers are much like ponies, but not as endearing.  You can read one of my first posts about how I tried to kill the neighborhood ice cream man at this age here:  Death to the Ice Cream Man   (trust me, he had it coming)
  • Trailer parks are a great place to discard your fresh deer carcass. Everyone loves driving by a bloody rib cage, and hey the dogs love to romp around with the lower parts of the legs.  I know my dog loved it!  
  • The single older gentleman who lives in the streamline up the way and offers up fudgsicles to you and your friend Rudy (if you’ll only come inside and sit with him a bit) is totally on the up-and-up despite what your mother says. “Don’t go over there anymore” clearly means, “it’s ok as long as I don’t know about it.” Good thing you are a pro at translating “Mom”.
  • The edges of the park are surrounded by mud that will suck the shoes off your feet (and your Mom’s).  Do not attempt to cross without an adult with strong legs and determination.
  • “Why did their trailer catch on fire?” “Insurance” makes absolutely no sense as an explanation when you’re 5.  However, the added words “and you and Rudy stay out of there, it’s dangerous” clearly means, “it’s ok as long as I don’t know about it.” Again, you’re a Mom translating pro!  Sadly, our legs were too short and the steps up to the trailer were removed after the burned-out husk was deposited in the nearby field, but it didn’t stop Rudy or I from looking in that fire gutted place on numerous occasions longingly.
  • People can get freaky about caterpillars (dude, it’s not an asp – I’m holding it my hand), but hey if you agree to throw it in the street, you’ll get a reward like another fudgsicle (assuming you’re not already full on fudgsicles from that friendly/lonely guy in the streamline).
  • Placing a swing set on concrete is a cruel idea.  You’re not a gymnast.  You were told not to play on it without an adult.  It’s best to suck in those tears over your cracked skull, because your Mom is going to be so mad if she finds out. Remember, everything is fair game as long as Mom doesn’t know.  But OUCH!!!!.  Again, I curse kid physics for the oopsie that led to the brain injury, but it does explain so much now.
  • Swarming yellow jackets are only slightly better than trailer ponies, and they’re infinitely better than unapologetic, dog-killing, ice cream men.  It turns out that if you unwittingly jump up and down on a piece of board laid over a cinder block, and beneath the aforementioned board is a yellow jacket’s nest, the occupants of said nest get a bit testy and swarmy.  The best thing to do in that situation is stand still-ish and scream until a parent runs into the angry swarm, scoops you up, and then tries to work through what to do next.  It turns out bleach is an amazing remedy.  Basic science: bases neutralize acid.  Another fun fact: wasp stings are alkaline; however, yellow jacket stings are in fact acidic.  This is also one of the few times you’ll hear me say that I’m glad I wore glasses at an early age. I had yellow jackets protesting the kid induced earthquake in my face, but my eyes were reasonably safe.  Jay recently (last weekend) noted my extreme distaste for yellow jackets when he offered to set a nest on fire, and I didn’t bat an eye.  “Yes, do that!” I cheered him on enthusiastically. Normally setting things on fire from a can sounds extremely dangerous and like something to be avoided at all costs.  I genuinely don’t advocate that kind of thing, but I balanced that against how I really despise yellow jackets (blame them and their early declaration of war on my body).  Anyway, as I said I don’t advocate it until a nest appeared underneath my BBQ pit, and it’s only by pure luck that I noticed it.  I had been thinking “let’s BBQ things! Carbon kissed veggies and meats!”  Had I not seen it, I would have disturbed the nest and Yellow Jacket-a-Geddon Part Deux would have been hosted on my face.  So yeah, burn that thing down. Also try not to let the can explode in your hand, but if that happens well sometimes sacrifices have to be made for the greater good  (Please don’t tell my father. Wasps are useful. They play an important part in the larger ecosystem.  They help with mosquitos?  That’s what their PR worker bee/wasps claim at least.  We love them. Mmm hmm.  Now grab an aerosol can and a lighter.)  

There you have it,  a few of the  things I learned at an early age in our little corner of trailer heaven.  And people claim nothing good comes out of a trailer park. Hah!  Next up, ghost stories – the one and only time I saw a ghost, and how that started an after-life fight that’s still rages on.

Mr. Illiterate Wrong Tracks and His Jolly Dr. Pepper Spam-Eating Bride: An Autobiography

When I started this blog some 9 years ago (good grief) the main goal was to practice writing. If I could somehow amuse my family and friends then that was a bonus.  If I could force them to continue to read without amusing them (as I’ve managed to do), then that was like a super double bonus plus! Go loyalty! The focus or theme or what have you was to write-up anecdotes using the style I’ve always used – the “style” (I really feel that needs some air-quotes) being how I tend to write letters (now emails) to friends.  I’m all over the place – like this paragraph.  They never minded that bit, seemed to encourage it at times, “you write like you speak,” and thus you suffer. Shake your head at them.

I’ve been waiting for a good anecdote to share, but unfortunately an interesting one hasn’t really risen up.  I suspect it’s because I travel in the wrong circles.  That’s right friends, I’m calling you out – you and your clear lack of “right” circle-ness. There’s a geometry joke in there.  Ok, sure there was the one guy at the Humane Society last week.  His fit-pitching was fairly epic as I waited patiently(ish) to ask about a fluffy sole who was clearly calling to me behind the glass, but again not much of a story since I walked out without being helped. His fit had reached a new exciting blend of frustration and confusion over some fairly simple rules. (For the record, Humane Society rules are just not that hard, guy! You don’t have a permanent place for a cat.  One day you will, but that’s not today.)  I also managed to smash a joint on my thumb on the same day.  I keep insisting it’s purple and at least five times bigger than it was earlier in the day only to be asked by these so-called friends while comparing the thumbs side-by-side, “which thumb is it?” Uh, the big purple one!  (It’s purple on the inside?)  It still smarts – probably nerve damage.  It will likely have to be removed. Sadly, it happens to be the thumb I hit the space bar with. Soon my writing will be devoid of spaces.  Iapologizeinadvance.

So, in light of this writing lull and to keep practicing (because after 9 years there hasn’t been any noticeable progress)  I’ve resolved to write an autobiography of sorts.  I know, right?  Some of history’s most famous and infamous people have them and now we can add famous, infamous and Beth. It’s a literary milestone.

I’ll start off slow.  I don’t want to completely overwhelm you with the life and times of the lower middle-class all at once – the adventures of a monolingual speaker who has barely escaped the borders of their state much less the country.  Hey, there was that time I went to Canada.  Boy, talk about culture shock! Loonies and toonies – where do they come up with that stuff?

Let’s start at the very beginning. A very good place to start. (So I’m reminded in song.)

They claim this is a photo of me, but really it could be anyone. Parents, just because you wrote my name on the back doesn’t prove anything. I’m watching you!

I was born.  At least that’s what I’ve been told, and as proof I’ve been presented various papers and a book with a few photos documenting the event.  It’s all rather convenient and a bit suspicious if you ask me. Some of the photos show these youthful kidults who I can confirm did grow up to be my parents. They look a bit tired in the earlier pictures. I’m told they remained that way for approximately 18 years and then something inexplicable happened that made them look and feel lighter. I’ve never been able to identify precisely what changed, but it must have been fairly important.  Although, I admit I’ve seen the weight return over the years, which oddly corresponded with some big things in my life. Must be some sort of weird symbiotic thing.

Both of my parents were from Dallas.  Mom from Highland Park and Dad from South Oak Cliff.  If you’re familiar with Dallas, you understand the significance.  If you’re not, then to sum it up – Mom was born on the right side of the tracks (in fact those tracks aren’t even Dallas tracks, they’re tracks in their own city within Dallas) and Dad was born on the very wrong side of the tracks.  I later learned that many of Dad’s (and his family’s) numerous shortcomings had to do with his tracks (those shortcomings multiplied x10 each year post their divorce). I learned from Dad that people from the right side of the tracks (aka “your mother”) tended to marinate Spam in a lovely Dr. Pepper based sauce.  Dad wasn’t particularly good at lobbing insults.

I’m not really sure what initially drew them together.  Mom would say she thought Dad was smart, but was proven wrong; he was only social climbing – tricked her by claiming to read books. Clever guy! Dad said something along the lines of Mom was really nice and fun.  Bless his heart.

I’m personally from a trailer park in West Dallas.  Well, that’s probably not true.  My parents were both attending school when I was born, and I’m told we lived in Arlington.  There are more pictures that they claim  prove we lived there, but we could be any place, and I find these people somewhat sketchy.  I mean can you really trust Mr. Illiterate Wrong Tracks and his Jolly Dr. Pepper Spam-eating bride? (Just think, I am the product of that union; it actually  explains so much about my personality and my humor???)

Quick disclaimer to stop any gasping: I absolutely would tease my parents in this way.  In fact, I’m teasing Dad now.  Dad, you’re welcome!  To post a retort, I guess you’ll need to work on that new blog of yours.  Now you have incentive. You’re welcome, part two.

Next up, the trailer park! (In other words, I’m cutting this short and giving you a small reprieve.  There’s only so much “me” one should be forced to sit through in one day.)  And I’ll leave you with a little Julie Andrews, because I stupidly got this song stuck in my head where it is now firmly lodged.  I only have myself to blame.