Mosaic

This past year I joined a Facebook group for spouses/partners who’ve lost a loved one to suicide. While I have this incredibly supportive network of family and friends who are always there for me, our loss is different. They lost a beloved son, a son-in-law, a brother, an uncle, or a friend. In a lot of cases, Jay was someone whom they’d known most of his life if not all, or for some, they’d known him all of theirs. Whereas, I lost a husband – my best friend, my favorite person, my raison d’ê·tre. And while the losses are equally tragic, they’re also very different. I have never lost a child or a brother or a good friend to suicide. They have never lost a husband to suicide.

In this group I’ve found a comfortable space where every member has experienced a similar tragedy. Just reading their words or posting mine has helped me put my grief in perspective and it has helped me realize that the ways I feel and think aren’t particularly uncommon – that I’m not alone in the thoughts/feelings that I have. It’s a safe place where I can share my best and worst thoughts, where I can celebrate what was but still show how deeply my scars run. It’s a place where I don’t have to lay out a backstory or offer-up a lot of explanation – a place where the members just get “it”. They inspire me. They break my heart. They laugh, cry, and share their stories – the good and the bad. It’s a group no one wants to belong to and one we’re glad exists.

Occasionally a member will post a photo of a meaningful momento – something they keep close to remind them of their loved one, and that’s what inspired my post today. (This is the post I mentioned I was struggling with over the past couple of weeks. I couldn’t figure out how to sink my teeth into what I wanted to say. So, here we go!)

Before Christmas, one of the members shared a photo of a bracelet she wears. It’s fairly simple – a square on its end divided into quarters with two lines crossing it. In each quadrant is a letter – from left to right the letters represent one set of initials, from top to bottom represent the letters represent another person’s set of initials. Let me just show you, it’ll be easier:

Custom Crossed Paths Initials Bracelet

When I saw it, I knew immediately I wanted one – truly a no-brainer.

I immediately went to the company’s website, and that’s where I read their description: “Who crossed your path and changed your life forever? Cross your initials with the initials of the person who set you in a new direction and stay connected wherever you may wander.” I paused. So many people have crossed my path and changed my life forever – more than Jay – people who had an equally strong hand in righting my course in this life (or at least made small, but significant course adjustments). I suddenly pictured dozens of bracelets running down my wrists, filled with their initials: JU, AA, AB, AG, DP, HB, JB, JH, JJ, JK, JS, KT…. (the list goes on). The imagined bracelets celebrated everyone who not only had an impact on the course my life has taken, but have greatly influenced the person I am today. People who believed in me. People who took chances on me, opened doors and presented me with new opportunities both personally and professionally. People who taught me my self-worth (hrmmm “…taught me…” makes it sound as though it’s in my past. I should change that to”…continue to try to teach me and get frustrated, slap their forehead, sigh, and maybe even cry a bit in regard to my seemingly hard-headedness in regard to…”) Most of my good friends, would tell you this is an area they’d greatly love to see me improve upon. Hey, I wouldn’t be me if I weren’t challenging. My job is to keep them busy and sighing. You’re welcome, friends!

Those people shaped the me that you have now. Without them, I wouldn’t be me. (Now you know who to blame. 🙂 )

Of course, wearing that many bracelets seemed a tiny bit ridiculous, so I looked at the company’s other offerings. There I discovered another type of bracelet – one which displays the latitude and longitude of the place you met someone. My first reaction was, “that’s ridiculous! I have no idea where I met my friends.” Then I thought about it, and realized that with rare exception I could actually pin-point the location of our meeting. From a particular room in a house to a desk in a classroom to an office or a meeting room. Not only did I know where I met them, I remember the moment – the formal introductions, the stolen glances across a living room, the picnic table on a Thanksgiving Day – all photos sitting in my memory I can easily leaf through – all with very specific locations. My imagined bracelets doubled and now gracefully hung from two wrists.

With some I remember there being this immediate connection – a moment when I just knew, “this person is part of my tribe.” Aside: one of my friends once went completely slack-jawed after she’d introduced me to her friend. In a matter of hours we had our arms around each other, giving each other huge hugs. Typically I’m the hugest fan of strangers touching me – even some acquaintances, which this friend was quite aware of, but hey I’d found one of my people out in the wild, I had to hug them because I didn’t realize that, even though I didn’t know them before, I really missed them and needed that hug.

Of course, some of those first meetings didn’t go quite as well (definitely zero hugging). They were more of the, “I think I’m going to sucker punch this jerk and see if they’ll make fun squeaky ouch noises?” variety. In hindsight, I’m glad I didn’t, though I have since slugged almost all of them in the shoulder more than once. Hey, they can’t help being them, and I can’t help being me.

And there were those in the middle. People who were this constant presence in my life. People who didn’t elicit that visceral “OMG! I adore you!” or the “OMG! I cannot stand you!!” reaction. These people just appeared beside me, and we were simply friends.

And all of these friends, no matter how we met, would end up becoming essential to my story influencing so many aspects of my life from my thoughts, my tastes, and my tolerances.

Recently, an old friend made a fairly simple observation. I was in the process of making a choice, and then explaining the “why” behind that choice when they said, “you probably got that from me.” And I’m pretty sure they were right. Then I realized it wasn’t just that single thing I’d taken from them, or from others – I’ve taken so much more. In fact, the more I thought about it and the more I think about it, I recognize that not only did people cross my path, but I carry many of them with me every single day. It’s in the way I smile, my facial expressions that aren’t easily concealed, my wit, the way I write, the choices I make when I park, the music I enjoy, the way I laugh, the way I sneeze, or the way I speak when I’m expressing an idea emphatically. Their traits, their quirks, their habits have been added to my own and I’ve become this incredible mosaic of all the people who have touched my life.

After thinking about all of this, it was hard not to ask for those bracelets for my birthday. I was only held back by the uncertainty of how people would perceive me crossing their initials with mine and wearing them around. I imagined incredibly awkward conversations. “Ummm Beth, we’re not going steady.” While I looked completely surprised, “wait, we’re not???” So, I suppose I’m content to wear them in my head and on my heart, for now.

I’ll wrap everything up with this final piece.

I’m not sure how you feel about the TV show This is Us, but a recent bit of dialog really stuck with me (and it’s the theme for this season):

It’s so strange, isn’t it? How just like that a complete stranger can become such a big part of your story. It’s actually kind of terrifying, y’know? How a single cross with one person you’ve never met can change everything.

This is Us, Season 4, Episode 1 Strangers

I look forward to 2020, to a year which includes a new job, being on a board with new people, traveling to new cities and starting a new personal project. I know with absolute certainty that my path will cross with many people, and I look forward to that next person who becomes a significant part of my story, to that friendship, and seeing the new/unexpected (and hopefully welcome) directions we go – adding and changing the mosaic that is me.

I wish you all a very Happy New Year.

Who Am I? (The Time Beth Went to Friend Jail)

I’m going to tell a story based on what I believe or feel to be true, but isn’t necessarily true. So, let’s go ahead and file this part of the post under “disclaimers,” and we’ll put the post under, “feelings.” In other words, please feel free to take the rest of what I’m going to say with a huge grain of salt (or whichever condiment you prefer to flavor potential exaggerations. Mmmm cardamom).

Recently, I had lunch with an old friend – someone I hadn’t seen in 30 years, and it was absolutely fantastic. I may have hurt myself from smiling. We spent the entire time talking; so many words stumbled out, old stories, tales of new lives, and I swear I squeaked half the time. I didn’t want to walk away. I wanted to keep talking until I’d exhausted all the topics under the sky or sun or moon or whichever celestial body was in view – wishing for a few more minutes, a few more after that, and greedily even more still until the conversation spiraled on into an infinite and intricate tapestry of lives lived fully. Unfortunately, a lunch hour is truly only a single hour (or an hour plus if I push it). I imagined the look on my boss’s face, a person who is normally quite understanding and tolerant, if I tried to explain that by “lunch hour” I actually meant “lunch afternoon.” Had I not mentioned that before? And really, funny thing, it was just a slip of the tongue when I said “lunch hour” as I was heading to my car. I’m bad with words. Hey, but four hours off is ok, right? Meetings shmeetings. Work can wait while I socialize, can’t it?

Imaginary boss, much like my actual boss, wasn’t having any of it. Poo.

One of the topics discussed was personality tests – Myers-Briggs, Enneagrams, etc., and he joked, “before we can continue with this friendship, you’ll have to take a personality test.” I’ve taken several – Myers-Briggs (where I’m currently an INFJ – I used to be an INTJ, and at some point I remember taking it and there had been an “X” which indicated I was truly in the middle on one of those – like F vs. S maybe? Its been awhile. But hey, today it indicates I’m a “Protector.”) I’ve taken the Insights Discovery profile through work, which says I’m a “Coordinating Supporter,” and the Gallup StrenghthsFinder 2.0 that lists my top two strengths as “Empathy” and “Input” (where you gather information before acting). Basically, all of the tests seem to indicate, “I have a personality.” Go me!

A few weeks pass and he sends a simplified Enneagram test. Hrmm, two questions that apparently show I’m “caring, generous, but also possessive.” As for the “possessive” descriptor, I can only defend myself with this: I’m an only child, and as such I understand one thing – anything I see is mine. As for the things I can’t see, well they may also be mine; however, they’re not at the forefront of my mind to claim since they’re out of view. Obviously, your possessions are yours – your house, your car, your family, your pets – I’ll give you those. Mostly, because your taste is really off and I don’t need them, but also I suppose because they’re actually yours. (You did read the part that the new test indicates I am “generous,” right? Here is the written proof. Boy, those tests nail my personality.)

Well, I was told a further test must be given to test out some theory he had, and another test showed up in my mailbox. I took that one, sent it back, and later had a phone discussion where I learned that the results were confusing in some way – that he had to read further on it; only one other friend of his and I had scored so strangely. I quipped about handing out exams when you can’t read the results, and by “quipped” I mean I said something in a sarcastic/smart-assy kind of way, but with a jovial/light-hearted tone, I’m sure!

Then I may have had to back-out on a last minute invite, and somewhere between that and the mysterious final results of these personality tests I landed in friend jail. And my friend jail, I’m pretty certain I’m dead to this person, or I guess the routers between our Gmail accounts could have encountered a temporal anomaly, and he’ll either get the latest email I sent in 50 years, or it was sent when we were in high school, when there were no routers. However, Occam’s razor is really pointing towards “friend jail.” And to all of that I say, “well poop” because we really had a great conversation. Or maybe it was just me who had the great conversation. Hrmm… normally I’m pretty good at reading people. Although, now that I think about it, I suspected the friend jail was coming when I was explaining that I couldn’t make it to the last minute event invite.

This is kind of a bummer since my current friends really could have stood having a break from “the Beth show” that a new friend being in the mix would have offered. You see, my friends prefer I spread the wealth of me. I suspect they play rock-paper-scissors to determine whose turn it might be next.

Anyway, now I’m a little curious as to what the test indicated, and also a tiny bit offended that someone might have used personality test results xeroxed from a book as the only factor in determining if I’m an acceptable person to be around. (Please refer to the disclaimer at the top of this post, since you were warned this is about feelings and may not be the truth.) Dude, you’re not a psychologist or psychiatrist trained in reading the results, and basically this test was two questions? Really? You might as well have given me the latest Buzzfeed: Which Game of Thrones Character Are You? FYI, it said Joffrey. I’m not too keen on that either. I was hoping for Ghost or, you know, Arya.

Which Leads Me to My Thoughts on Personality Tests

I think personality tests are interesting. I think they can identify certain tendencies or qualities, but I don’t think they’re entirely accurate for a simple reason: You’re being asked to do a self-assessment of who you think you are. You’re being asked to take an inventory of your own personality, and the simple truth is we all have have blind-spots and biases when it comes to who we actually are. I know I do. I don’t know that any of us are so self-aware that it would be possible to get a 100% accurate picture of who we are. Sure, you can get a very good idea of who I think I am.

That said, I do think they can be used as a decent tool, depending on the test. I also think they can be a good starting point to lead into an actual interaction with the person, and that from there you can gain a more complete picture of the person. You simply can’t expect to know a person based on the results of a test. My guess is that if you threw me into a room with other INFJ’s or Coordinating Supporters, that while we would have some things in common, we wouldn’t be the same. Individually, we are so nuanced that a mere 16 personality types will never be enough to encompass everyone. If I walk into a room with 100 people, it’s unlikely there will be six people exactly like me.

So, who am I? I’m a unique combination of my genetics, my upbringing, and my environment. I’m my hobbies, my interests, my State (as a Texan, this is a real thing guys), and my politics. I’m a walking amalgamation of a thousand traits and habits that I’ve picked up through the years from my friends and family. Who I am cannot be, and should not be, summed up in the results of a personality test. You might as well have asked me for my zodiac sign. (FYI – Saturn was in retrograde when I was born.)

If you want to know me, then talk to me, but I can tell you I’m more than the answers to two questions.

Navigating a Mine Field

A few words before I start. This post is for my nearest and dearest. Those who continuously put up with my insanity, and yet some how still hang around. It’s also a quick note to say that this was the post I meant to write at the beginning of the year. I also meant to send out Christmas cards, and well you all see how that went. Actually, you didn’t, because… well… I just blew it. Love you!

The Mine Field

I want to acknowledge that over the past year and a half navigating my emotions can be a bit like tip-toeing through a mercurial mine field. Without warning I can go from sunshine (and lollipops, of course :)) to wanting to crush all the things… with a sledge hammer… across someone’s head as Carmina Burana: O Fortuna plays loudly in the background. (Wait, you don’t have a soundtrack to your life, too? Oh, I’m the weird one. Mm hmm.) So, I thought I’d help you negotiate the path, by asking for your help in return especially as we edge closer to Jay’s birthday, our anniversary, and of course the anniversary.

One of the things I’ve learned is that sometimes I need to be direct about expressing my needs. Apparently, wishing people understood doesn’t go as far as one would hope, so here they are:

I need your unconditional support. Before you agree to it, hear me out as I break it down. Cue the sweet-sweet beat-box sounds.

The Gym

Support my goals. Whether you think I’m working too hard, or that I’m not working hard enough. Whether you believe I go too often, or merely wonder why I can’t go seven days a week if I’m going six. I need you to support me. “Why must you get up at 4?” That’s ok to wonder, but what I need from you is to merely say, “way to go!” It’s simple. I’ll worry about the other stuff. That’s my job.

My Weight/My Dietary Stuff

You may not agree with it or understand it, and that’s ok, too. Trust that I can also read, that I also have used the internet once, and that I’m quite capable of researching information. My choices are not up for debate. I’m actually an adult human being, so you’re going to have to trust me. Don’t call me out. Don’t suggest, “one glass of wine won’t hurt.” It’s great that you can eat baskets of chips and buckets of yeast rolls. You do you. Know that only three people are truly invested in my health. One of them is me, and the other two aren’t you, and that’s ok, too. Those guys will worry about that stuff.

Boys

I love you guys. I love that you think I’m great, and you want to circle the wagons when it comes to dating especially if it involves rejection. You guys are awesome! A couple of things: I will always do my best to be safe. Please don’t send me a photograph of my car while I’m on a date to show you’re lurking nearby. It’s a little weird, and by “a little” I mean “a lot.” Thank you for giving me a story, but it’s a strange little story, right? Thank you for caring enough to stalk me. When I get security cameras installed, it might be partially to keep an eye out for you.

When I get rejected, and that’s just going to happen, guys – probably a lot – brace yourselves – that’s ok. It’s not because the guy in question is a bad person. We just weren’t the right people for each other. It’s also ok if I’m a little heartbroken, and I mourn a bit. You have to understand I’m mourning more than this person, I’m also mourning the loss of Jay, and how much I wish I wasn’t finding myself in a dating situation at all. It’s not as big or as overwhelming as it once was, but it’s always under the surface.

And here’s some of what I don’t need. I don’t need you to deride the person out of a sense of loyalty to me. I don’t need you to quantify that person’s place in my life or try to divine its meaning. Only I can do that. Unless you’re a renowned clairvoyant with a 99% accuracy rate, I don’t need you to tell me, “there’s someone out there, you just haven’t met them yet.” Many things could happen – I could be hit by a bus tomorrow. I could win the lottery tonight if I find the right store. I could take up tight rope walking or even or be discovered by a Romanian ballet troupe. There are an infinite number possibilities of things that happen to people all the time – things that could happen to me tomorrow. Unless you’ve got someone very specific in mind, you don’t know. That’s just something you say when you don’t know what to say – in an attempt to lift someone’s spirits. In an attempt to life my spirits. That’s incredibly nice. I don’t need my spirits lifted. I need you to listen.

A good friend of mine and I were talking about this, and she expressed that it’s oftentimes hard to know what to say in those situations. Here’s my best advice. You don’t have to say anything more than to acknowledge the person’s feelings. “I know that must hurt.” “I know you were hopeful.” And maybe then you can offer advice or offer help. Sometimes what I need is a sounding board, a movie to watch, and a girl date to go clothes shopping. Or maybe I need a pedicure and a final decision on that phoenix tattoo. Or maybe I just need to mourn the loss of a boy, a dollhouse, and staying up late laughing in a garage without anyone telling me that the experience didn’t matter in the bigger scheme of things.

In return, I’ll try to be more present. Though it’s still often more challenging than not. I’ll try to be a better friend who remembers there are other people in the world with their own significant struggles. I’ll try to tread a little more gently.

And still you’ll need to sweep the field for mines, and understand that sometimes you’re just not going to see them before you hear that sickening “click” sound (just stand very still). Know the field is less littered, and each day the path gets clearer. Thank you for continuing to walk it with me.

Taking the Moment

I’m not a creative person. Now typing that “out loud” might elicit some “of course you ares”, and that’s super sweet, but I’m ok with it. I promise no one is going to compel you into including that in my eulogy.  The truth is my brain is simply not wired that way or perhaps it’s that my muse is on a smoke break, who really ever knows.  (I would end that with a question mark, but it’s more rhetorical (unless of course you know what became of my muse, then do tell.))  I’m left brained.  Although, judging by my grades from school, it clearly does not convey any special adeptness in it’s left brainy specialties. (Why left brain? WHY?!? It’s just theoretical mathematics. Get that X girl, get it!)

Now, that doesn’t stop me from dabbling.  For example, I can draw some of the most adorable dust bunnies with these overly-large, super-solicitous eyes (if you anthropomorphize dust bunnies, you don’t have to sweep them up, because it’s like declaring war on an endangered (endangered because I just typed it) species – this is fact). Granted, I’m more likely to doodle a series of hash marks or cubes, but that’s beside the point.  When inspired, I’m a dust bunny drawing pro.  I’ve tried improv (you remember that brief foray into personal humiliation – the one where all of my classmates were approached to move forward and I was applauded for making regular payments – my pro skill) and then I tried sketch writing (where my teacher actually couldn’t remember my name after 8 months and everyone else was encouraged to go forward with sketch shows and videos).  Now some of this stems from me being a bit odd and squirrelly, but some of it is just genuinely me not being particularly good at it and people recognizing that, (which is always a tad awkward). However, I don’t let my awfulness stop me from trying!  Go me!  I’m content to spread my badness.  Make my videos. Take photographs.  Run up on a stage where they’ve invited two people to come up and then realizing a quick game of “short straw” is going on in the crowd before I get a partner.  Write my blog and ultimately just revel in my creative mediocrity. Go Meh-ness!

But here’s the rub. (No, I haven’t been drinking.) Anyway… the rub! Not everything I see others produce is always great art either, but that whole “treat your friends the way they want to be treated” thing usually compels me to offer them encouragement.  That’s especially true if they’re trying something new or challenging. If asked I offer up my “what if’s,” but mostly I tend to say “great job!”  I make an effort to acknowledge what people are sharing and recognize that a piece of their soul lives is in their art.  Apparently, “wow, that’s right shit!” is discouraging to some.

So, last week I did something that was hard for me and then I displayed it for a small world and got crickets in return, with a couple of exceptions. My soul laid a bit bare and the cool (sarcasm) sound of absolutely nothing. By comparison, I told Facebook I forgot my breakfast and immediately got 22 likes.  Maybe the takeaway is that this is where my real strength lies – not in creativity but my slow, public descent into dementia.  Great. My dreams realized.

Where we stand at this moment – I’m done.  I’m done applauding. I’m done helping. I’m done with “the favor”. I’m done encouraging.  That thing my friend did better meet MOMA standards. If they wouldn’t display it, then don’t think I want to see it as a .jpg in an email attachment.  If it’s not on “Funny or Die;” it’s clearly not worth viewing.  If it isn’t published; it’s not worth reading. If critics aren’t aware of it, and there’s not a blurb stating “Bold!” then you’re absolutely wasting my time.

Ok fine, I suppose that won’t actually be the case, but it really feels kind of liberating and also somewhat  compound sentence-y. I made many words!

Maybe I’ll offer some advice instead of declaratives. If you have friends who have chosen to share with you – whether it’s something completely new to them or it’s old hat, then take a moment to really look, listen and acknowledge.  That’s your one job as a friend; it’s actually your most important job. I guarantee they’ll reciprocate.

To my friends who always take those moments – thank you!

Who emptied the liquor cabinet?