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The Things I Believed to Be True

August 7, 2020

“Think back on and write down some of the early messages you received about who you were in the world, what was possible, etc. and then look at their veracity.”

My writing instructor recently shared that idea as a prompt. Reading her truths and thinking about the idea of the messages we receive about our place in the world got me thinking. … And what happens when I start thinking? I write!

So here is a list of early messages and truths I received about myself. Beneath the message is what I think of their veracity today.

If you have a good relationship with your parents, you never get into trouble.
Not quite. … This may have been wishful thinking on the part of my parents. Although I would say I had a good relationship with my parents and I rarely got into trouble (because I was too scared to make a move that would upset them).

Always take the high road and be the bigger person.
This message has been tough to rectify. I want to be a good person. I do believe strongly in being a better person and not engaging in petty behavior. That being said, I think too often that truism becomes an “excuse” or reason to stay silent and not express our feelings. I’ve written about this with respect to myself and anger; how I’ve shoved my own feelings down and not expressed them in order to keep the peace. And I think in some cases, it’s warranted. But other times, being the “bigger person” is also standing up for myself.

Drinking alcohol and doing drugs is a terrible thing.
Not that black and white. I grew up scared to drink or do anything that would get me into trouble. But I don’t think, for me, drinking is a terrible thing to do. I also try to practice one of my dad’s favorite truisms: “moderation.”

Your family members are the only people you can trust.
I’ve come to know that friends, and the family you choose, are also worthy of that trust.

Never go back.
Easier said than done. And I’ve “gone back” on many things. It’s human nature.

You don’t need friends.
Absolutely false. Over the years, friends have been my touchstones.

You’re a wallflower.
The idea I had of myself as a wallflower was almost as if I was told I was a scared girl who didn’t have the courage to “blossom.” I don’t think that was true. I think I was/am an introvert and I lived more inside my mind than in the outside world where the flowers blossomed.

Boys are always going to be intimidated and scared by me.
This one still holds space in my mind. Whether it should or not is a different issue entirely.

If you get married, you honor that commitment no matter what; because that’s what you chose.
I believed this to be true until only a few years ago. The truth is, people change and grow. Life changes us. And sometimes, that idea of marriage and forever does not fit with the changes life brings us.

Don’t trade security for an unsure thing.
Take the risk. Scary and unsure is okay. Stupid is not.

Don’t stand out. Don’t make waves.
Why? Be yourself! If that makes waves, perhaps you’re an ocean.

My parents are proud of me.
Never a doubt in my mind.

What I found fascinating about my messages, as well as those of my writing instructor, is how much of what I believed as a child is false. I think this is really a testament as to how much we change as we grow and experience life for ourselves.

When I was writing this exercise, I kept hearing the following lyrics to a Mary Chapin Carpenter song that’s a perfect illustration of this idea. As always, I’m grateful to her for putting into words and song what I find to be true.

When I was young I spoke like a child, and I saw with a child’s eyes
And an open door was to a girl like the stars are to the sky
It’s funny how the world lives up to all your expectations
With adventures for the stout of heart, and the lure of the open spaces …

But now I’m grown and I speak like a woman and I see with a woman’s eyes
And an open door is to me now like the saddest of goodbyes
It’s too late for turning back, I pray for the heart and the nerve

— Mary Chapin Carpenter, “The Moon and St. Christopher”

What are some of the early messages YOU received about who you were in the world? Are they true today?

A Bittersweet Farewell to the Scrapbook Supplies

July 23, 2020

When I was in my 20s, I was REALLY into scrapbooking. This was back in the early 2000s, before the days of Facebook and Instagram, before Shutterfly photo books, and when we still printed actual photos and put them in albums. This may have even been before I owned a digital camera (I know, I’m really dating myself).

I’ve always loved photography and I’m the person who takes photos at every event. And when I was a kid, I was obsessed with collecting stickers. I don’t quite remember how my infatuation with scrapbooking began, but I think it started when I went to a Creative Memories party at a friend’s house. Creative Memories was the premiere and multi-level marketing company for all-things scrapbook. I got suckered into buying the starter pack, which sat in my house, unused, for quite some time.

Then one day, my friend, Monica, confessed that she started scrapbooking. She attended Friday night get-togethers at a local scrapbook shop. Basically, you’d bring all your supplies and then create pages for your book, and you could pay for and use the supplies at the store. Once I started attending those events and seeing the bountiful supply of stickers, letters and decorated themed papers that were at my disposal, I was hooked!

From that point on, scrapbooking became my life. I scraped every weekend, either with by myself, with Monica, or with my sister, Sari, who later got into the craze as well. I made several albums that featured my sisters, dogs, holidays, my wedding, honeymoon and travel, Disney … so many! Monica and I later became Creative Memories consultants and we sold product and hosted parties, mainly to get early access and a discount for everything we were already buying. I subscribed to scrapbook magazines and attended scrapbooking conventions (oh yes, there were conventions!). I bought SO MANY supplies … stickers, paper, albums, additional packets of pages, page protectors, page kits, pens … everything! I spent SO MUCH MONEY on scrapbooks and supplies that it literally filled multiple totes in my house.

And then one day, I stopped scrapbooking. It was not a conscious choice to stop. I think I just got busy with raising a small child and celebrating the actual milestones with her. I was working full time and starting my business. By the time Sophie was a toddler, Facebook was becoming the go-to digital scrapbook (back when the social media giant was about sharing photos and stories, not hate and shaming people).

I’ve written before that I don’t like to hold onto things, especially physical items. But I could not let go of the scrapbooking supplies. When I packed my house to move to Indiana four years ago, I told myself I should just donate the scrapbook stuff and not pay to move it across the country. But I just couldn’t; and on the moving truck it went. When I packed to move into my new house this spring, I still couldn’t let the stuff go, even knowing I would never scrapbook again.

I think there are several reasons why I could not let it go. The first was the feelings of guilt and shame I had that went with the supplies. As I said, I spent so much money on those items; money that contributed to our debt and credit cards. Every time I saw those tubs of things, all I saw was wasted money. I was ashamed of that. So I kept it, thinking that I need to hold onto the stuff to own the debt.

I’m a person who likes to finish what she starts. I feel compelled to cross tasks off lists. It took years before I allowed myself to stop reading book mid way through because I didn’t like it, or give up a television show after a few episodes. I realized I didn’t have to see everything through. I could – gasp – leave things undone. I had grandiose plans to create those scrapbooks; to make Sophie’s baby book and use all the pumpkin patch kits I bought to showcase those autumnal traditions we participated in. So if I let the supplies go, I was admitting that I would never finish what I started.

Those albums and part of my life were also tied to the early years of my marriage and some of the more carefree and happy times in my life, my 20s. Life changed and things didn’t end up being as happy as a scrapbook spread. That’s a hard thing to own up to. Additionally, I had grown apart from my friend Monica, who was my scrapbooking partner-in-crime.

A few weeks ago, I was in my new basement sorting boxes and the scrapbook supplies began staring me in the face. And I knew it was finally time to let them go. I photographed the supplies and posted to Facebook that I was getting rid of it all for free. One friend, a mom of three and a Girl Scout troupe leader, took a stack of the themed paper. Another friend who still scrapbooks on a regular basis with a group of ladies took the rest. So this week, I dropped off all the albums, page protectors, inserts and the remaining page kits to her.

It felt so good to remove those things from my house and my life. I didn’t realize how much power the physical release of items would have for me. I truly felt “lighter” as I drove away from the scrapbook stuff. … I did, however, keep some colored paper, stickers and letters because Sophie uses them for school projects. And I’ll do most anything to avoid a trip to the craft store.

And in a twist of fate (because I don’t believe in coincidences), the other day I randomly looked up my former friend, Monica, and realized she recently lost a family member. Without any expectation, I felt compelled to reach out to her and offer my condolences and say hello. She replied back and we’ve reconnected a bit this week; ironically, the week I let go of the scrapbook supplies.

I like to think that by physically releasing the hold those items had over me, I was able to make room for more mental and emotional growth and space. Giving that stuff away is not going to change who I was, or who I am. Those things don’t define me, just like the beautiful scrapbooks I made were not true depictions of my everyday life. They were just parts of my whole.

Learning to Dance with Anger

July 14, 2020

This photo of a shattered dinner plate in my sink … this is anger.

Last week, Sophie and I got into an argument that left me extremely frustrated. I won’t go into the specifics of why we disagreed. Just know it was not a life-shattering situation, and we worked through the issue and moved on. After she stormed off, I went into the kitchen to clear my dinner plate, threw it in the sink and watched it shatter. I stared at it for several minutes, and then walked outside and sat on my patio as the sun set and I felt my body calm down.

That argument was really just the tip of the iceberg for me, as I’d already been feeling angry about several things during the days leading up to our confrontation. But if I’m being honest, it felt really good to throw that plate and physically release my frustrations. I almost felt like that by releasing it, the anger started to disappear from my body.

*******

For nearly all my life, I didn’t get angry. Of course I felt anger, but I kept those emotions bottled up inside me and tried to process them internally, making myself be the recipient of the emotion. I didn’t outwardly express it or tell people when I should have. That’s not a healthy way to live.

There are many reasons I suppressed my anger, but it ultimately came down to fear. I was afraid to get angry, to stand up for myself, or tell people (family members and friends) that I felt hurt by something they said. Why was I afraid? I feared loss of the relationships and abandonment. I feared someone getting angry at me, and in return, mentally shutting me out because of the feelings I expressed. I thought my feelings were not as important and worthy as others. And I didn’t want to hurt anyone, or have my words cause them harm.

Since last year, anger is an emotion I’ve felt more intensely and more regularly. I’m sure it stemmed from the ending of my marriage and all I carried with me until that point. This is not to say I blame my ex-husband or my marriage ending for my feelings of anger. But it’s as if once I faced that deep fear with respect to anger, I realized I could survive the aftermath. As such, I felt safer feeling anger and dealing with it.

When I started seeing my therapist earlier this year, I told her I wanted to express anger and frustrations in a productive way without a PTSD fear of the reactions and consequences. I didn’t want to hold it all in anymore. I had to start standing up for myself. My therapist said (and I’ve read a lot to echo this) that anger is a secondary emotion, meaning there’s usually another feeling behind the agitation (e.g. sadness, shame, jealousy, fear, love). That helped me understand where a lot of my feelings came from and how I can navigate them.

I’ve noticed that, for me, anger is often mixed with anxiety and it tends to be a precursor to feeling down or depressed. This also goes back to anger being a secondary emotion; that there tends to be other triggers for the feeling. I’ve come up with a few ways that I now deal with anger; sometimes they help and other times they do not.

First (and the hardest to learn), I verbalize my feelings when the situation warrants it. In January, a friend said one of her goals for the year is to have a greater acceptance of people and situations. I am very much a person who believes in the mantra that you can’t change others; only your response to them. And in most cases, I’m willing to accept people for who they are, even if that means they come with quirky behaviors or habits I wouldn’t personally embrace. That being said, there’s a fine line between acceptance of a person, and accepting a person’s behaviors that may not be okay.

Today, if a person says something that hurts or angers me, I don’t just let it go anymore. I’m not one of those annoying people that points out every agitation. But if I’m hurt or frustrated by someone, and it’s a relationship that means something to me, I will stand up for myself. This is HUGE for me, as it’s not something I would have done even six months ago.

People’s reactions to this have varied. Some have shocked me in their acceptance and unconditional care for me, what I say and feel (I’m still confused by this at times). And others have shown there are clearly conditions on our relationship. But both reactions confirm one thing: I can survive the aftermath of expressing my anger and my feelings are valid.

Second, when I find myself agitated and angry, I write down everything that’s heavy on my mind. The writing and brain dump helps. It doesn’t always make the mood change, but it helps with awareness and perspective.

Third, I try to physically get out of my head. I go outside, like I did after last week’s dish incident. I run; however, when I’m in a mental/physical place where the running is frustrating me, that can sometimes add to the anxiety. This has been my reality lately. It’s really difficult to go from something that I’m used to being a salve to being a frustration. I’m still working through how to deal with it.

Fourth, I talk and share. I don’t like to complain, but if I’m feeling angry or agitated, I’ll text my sister or vent to a friend whom I know will just listen and empathize. I have a therapist. And I have online social support writing groups that allow me to share my feelings without judgment.

*******

Anger is such a interesting concept. I think society has conditioned us to not feel and express anger. I myself am guilty of that, and I find myself saying “Calm down” to Sophie when she gets frustrated. But I think it’s powerful to be able to feel and embrace anger, express it if need be, and then move on.

Whatever I do, I don’t want to sit with anger and have it envelop me. I’ve seen what that does to people and I won’t do it to myself (and I will not surround myself with people who do). I came across this quote recently that resonated:

“People who stay sick choose to keep blaming. They stand firmly in their anger and resentment and call it a revolution. They don’t see that humility is not an admission of weakness but a result of knowing exactly how powerful you are. It’s much easier to go down the path of self-righteousness, to be sure. Nothing is more gratifying. I fall into it regularly. But those who choose the other way? They get better. They get free. They soar, with soft dignity. They rise, without needing to announce it.” — Laura McKowen

I don’t plan to continue throwing plates, especially since new dishes are not in the budget. But I want to feel the anger – to express it – and then I want to let it go. Ultimately, I want to be free. I want to soar.

The Things I Carry

June 24, 2020

Sometimes a writing idea will come to me in minutes and I’ll feverishly draft the entire thing in the Notes app of my phone. Other times, it takes months for the idea to come to fruition. Or it starts as one thing and morphs into something else. This post is an example of a piece that started out one way, took a turn, and then became something else.

I had been playing with this idea in my head for a few months. … It started when I read “The Things They Carried,” Tim O’Brien’s masterpiece on Vietnam War soldiers and the things they “carried with them,” both mentally and physically, as they fought in Vietnam and also went home. Around the same time I was reading that book, Mary Chapin Carpenter performed her song, “The Things We are Made Of,” as part of her Songs from Home series. The lyrics focus on the small, brief moments of life that create our memories.

That idea about what we carry intrigued me. I thought a lot about what I hold onto and what I carry with me … physical mementos, memories, beliefs, self-fulfilling prophecies, favorite songs and stories … all the things that make up a person. I couldn’t think of where to go with this idea, so I left it alone and moved on.

And then Monday, my Timehop app alerted me to a memory from four years ago. On June 22, 2016, I published a blog post about packing my San Diego house in preparation for our move to Indiana. During the packing, I decided to drink the souvenir bottle of Coke that I received from Disneyland. I’d been holding onto the bottle as a memento; but then I realized that sharing that Coke with Sophie while packing for Indiana would become a memory in itself. That was Sophie’s first Coke and the blog post became one of my favorites.

As I looked at that photo, I thought about how so much has changed in four years. I thought about how appropriate it was that I was packing my life away – all the things, hopes and wishes I would carry from California to Indiana – and here I am, four years later, with this kernel of an idea about the things we carry. And that’s where this post finally started to take shape.

So what do we carry? What do we hold on to, mentally and physically? What do I carry?

Let’s start with four years ago when I was, literally, carrying my life from one part of the country to another.

I was 40-years-old in the summer of 2016. Bryan had already moved to Indiana to start his new job. So I spent that summer packing up my house and all its contents. I was packing Sophie (who was 8 at the time), still with a big personality, but also with naivete and a missing front tooth. I was packing Casey and Cody, the two dogs that are still with me today, and Tess the cat (also still here). Box upon box, I filled with photographs, books (so many books), kitchen supplies, home decor, play room paraphernalia, holiday decorations, clothes, and everything else that makes up a family and home into a Bekins moving truck that would arrive in Terre Haute ten days later.

But while those physical items came with me, I also left behind so much I carried for 40 years.

I left California, the place I spent 39 years of my life. I left my parents’ house, the only childhood home I remember separately from photographs. I left my mom and dad, whom I’d never really parted from. I left my three sisters, and my nephews and newborn niece whom I barely knew. I left my job as San Diego editor for Red Tricycle family publication, a teaching job and various other local clients. I left San Diego State University. And while I left that campus four years before, that university was a part of my life since my dad took his job there in 1979, and where my first real job at KPBS was located. It was my college experience, where I found true friendships for the first time, and where I met Bryan. I left behind the three homes Bryan and I shared and our foundational history as a couple.

Essentially, I left the only life I knew and my past. I left 40 years behind me when I packed that house and drove away. And while all that makes up who I am, those are the things I did not carry to Indiana.

What did I carry to the Midwest?

I carried hope for a new beginning. I carried ideas for a new life, and plans for how to make myself and those around me happy. I carried anticipation for meeting new people and having new experiences. I carried excitement for seasons, snow, fireflies, and crunchy autumnal leaves. I carried A LOT of fear of the unknown and for the changes that would surely come, and fear of the things that would not change. I carried loneliness, so much of it I didn’t even know I carried.

A lot has changed in four years. In many ways, I’m such a different person than that fearful girl packing up her home to start anew.

I no longer carry my marriage. I still carry my daughter, but I carry her differently. Sophie’s now an almost 13-year-old with her very own (BIG) personality and she’s so much stronger than I ever was. I live in my own home. And when I packed my belongings for this move, I took with me less than half the contents I started with; because I only packed my things (and Sophie’s, of course). I don’t even carry the car I drove from San Diego to Indiana. And I no longer carry 40 extra pounds of weight on my body.

I carry physical strength and the ability to run, to move my body outside in nature and against the wind, in rain and through snow and humidity, on trails and on roads. I carry the ability to propel myself forward through life with movement. I still carry the songs I love, the books that impacted me, the movies and shows that shaped me. And I carry my core beliefs, the ideas of myself, and the values that shape me.

But I no longer carry that deep loneliness (although it does creep up on me, from time to time, as a gentle reminder). Now I carry emotions I didn’t have before (or they were buried deep within me), and I’m not scared to express those feelings. I carry vulnerability and the special fear that comes with it. I carry deep and meaningful friendships and relationships with people, and feelings I never thought possible to have. I carry strength – physical and mental – that I didn’t know I was capable of having.

So here I am, four years from when I was packing my life to move to Indiana, and I carry much of who I’ve always been. But I’ve also left so much behind. And that’s okay, because we’re supposed to let things go to make room to carry so much more.

Something I think about often is what my life has in store for me. The truth is, I don’t know what my life will look like in the future; just like I had no idea what today would bring when I published that blog post four years ago. But I do know that my heart, my mind, body and soul will carry with it what it needs – all the things that make up my past, present and future – the things that make up a life, MY life.

Buying My “First” House and Living “Alone” at Age 44

June 3, 2020
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Other than my college dormitory rooms, I never lived alone; by myself. And one could argue that despite the fact I had my own dorm room, living in the residence halls is hardly living alone. My senior year of college, I shared an apartment close to the San Diego State campus with Heather. For two years after college, I shared a townhouse with a friend, Barbara. In June 1999, I moved into a two-bedroom apartment with Bryan, my boyfriend at the time. I was only 23 years old. We got engaged a year later and married in 2001.

When I was planning to move in with Bryan, my friend Tammy (whom I still consider one of my oldest and dearest friends) said something to me that has stuck with me for decades. She said, “If you move in with Bryan now and then get married, you’ll never have the chance to live by yourself. And that’s okay, but if you want to live alone for a while, do it now because you won’t have the opportunity to do it later.”

I assured Tammy that moving in with Bryan is exactly what I wanted and I was eager for my life to begin. I believed that then, and I don’t regret my choices at all. That being said, I think there’s a reason her words stayed with me all this time.

Over the course of 20 years, Bryan and I shared an apartment and bought three homes together. Until we separated last August, I never physically lived by myself. Yes, I still had Sophie living with me. But when she started spending nights and days at his apartment, I was truly by myself and physically alone for the first time in my life.

We sold our Indiana house earlier this year, and I went on a search for a new home for me and Sophie. I came upon this little blue cottage-type house that was just over two miles from my former neighborhood, and still close enough to parks and paths that I can run from my front door. The minute I walked into this house, I knew it was destined to be my home. This was like no other house I’ve lived in. It had a front porch and a beautiful green backyard with a back patio with the perfect sitting view of the moon in the night sky. Every room or corner had character, and there was no denying the vibes and warmth I felt inside. Sophie loved it too, and quickly picked out her room.

Fortunately, my offer was accepted and I bought my first house, all on my own. When I signed my closing escrow documents in March (just days before we were forced into COVID-19 quarantine), I took Sophie with me because I wanted her to see her mother signing loan papers and buying her own home. She was bored and sat on her phone the entire time; but I have to believe that she’ll remember that experience one day.

After the final paper was signed and I was given the keys, I pulled out a keychain I bought myself months before. I wanted a new keychain for my new life. It’s inscribed with the words, “She built a life she loved.” I attached the key and Sophie and I went to look at our new home.

I’m proud of the homes Bryan and I bought together. But it was a completely different feeling buying this house and moving just for me (and Sophie). I’m now responsible for things I never was before. While I always paid the bills when I was married, this mortgage payment is all my income. I solely provide for my daughter.

I started mowing my own lawn for the first time in my life. I troubleshoot home maintenance issues, such as when my air conditioner needed a repair. It was up to me to figure out why the porch awning wasn’t working or how the outside garden lights are configured. It’s not that I felt incapable of doing these things when I was married. But I feel confident in a new way that I was not before. And I want Sophie to see that confidence and know that she can also own her own home one day, if she chooses that path.

After moving into my house, I was reminded of a scene in the 1980s movie “St. Elmo’s Fire,” in which Mare Winningham (who played the kind of awkward one of the group) is talking to Rob Lowe in her first apartment. She tells him she woke up in the middle of the night and made herself a peanut butter and jelly sandwich. And it struck her that it was HER OWN kitchen, in HER OWN own apartment, and it was the best peanut butter and jelly sandwich she ever had. That scene has always stayed with me, maybe because I never lived physically alone before either. But when I found myself making my French Press coffee in MY kitchen in MY house for the first time, I knew exactly how she felt.

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