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Dear America

Sad Statue of LibertyDear America,

These are strange times. As anyone who’s read this blog before probably knows, I’ve battled depression a time or two in my life. Enough to recognize the signs, and America, it’s time to tell you that you are showing all the signs. Don’t panic though, that’s the last thing you need. It will be okay. Try to remember from all the times before that depression tells you lies.

I think the best thing to do is take a little time off from reading the news, watching the news, talking about the news, and I mean, it should be obvious, but do NOT read the comments sections of political posts on social media! Turn it all off for a while and let things go.

Maybe instead, you could take a walk outside, pet a dog, talk to the birds, enjoy one of your amazing national parks, or possibly just take a long long nap. Let yourself realize it’s okay to feel this way, but also try to remember it won’t always be like this. There will be better days again, and the world will keep on turning.

I want you to know, America, that you are so very loved. And you are enough, just as you are right now. I know everyone wants to fight about that, and we can always make improvements obviously. But please just try to remember you are enough right now, and that life is a journey. I believe in you, and I care. We will get through this together, and we will be stronger for it. We know this isn’t the first time, and it won’t be the last, so conserve your energy and take it easy, and just breathe.

With much love from your adoring friend, and a big fan,

Liesl

Cracked

windshieldcrackedLook, you say, cracks are how the lights gets through! We’ve surely all seen that meme…

Ugh I say. I mean, sure, of course. But let’s not forget that they’re also the way things shatter.

My husband and I were driving this weekend to the beach, for a quick and supposedly relaxing getaway at a friend’s place. We don’t get a lot of time together with our schedules and money is more than tight, so we try to squeeze things in when we can. We were grateful to have this chance.

The trip had already been shortened by a day due to our flooring install being pushed back and then taking longer than expected. Anybody that’s ever paid for work on a house knows that’s pretty much what to expect. Still, my work life had been a bit stressful, and then with the floors, I was feeling pushed around and annoyed, and really ready to get outta Dodge.

We were only about twenty miles out of town, just settling into that we’re going to be here a while lull. And then – dun dun dun – a motorcyclist zipped in front of us far too quickly from the passing lane, narrowly missing us, and slowed down even more quickly. Just as he pulled all the way over to the shoulder, a terribly loud WHACK brought me back to front and center. Something had hit the windshield right at my head level, and the cracks appeared immediately on the glass. They were only an inch or two long at first, but we knew they would the type that grew. I was grateful to the scientists who made this glass so much safer than it could have been. Grateful, but also skeptical.

Truthfully, I was filled with slow dread as I watched the cracks reach like very slow fingers for the dashboard. My mind, being already in a fairly dark place, started to wander into questions like “How far down can these cracks go before the whole windshield implodes on top of us?” and “So what would dying by a thousand cuts really look like?” and “Why haven’t I written that damn will yet?” You know, the usual…

I watched with continuing dread as the two largest cracks moved on a collision course with one another. That’s it, I thought, as soon as they hit each other, we’re done for. The entire window will shatter into blades, and with my blood thinners, I’m a goner before John even knows what hit me. It was just a waiting game at that point. Sure, I knew somewhere in the still-smart outer core of my brain that that isn’t how windshields work. Of course the window’s integrity would hold. Of course it would. Except, what if it didn’t? The very soft and silly inner core of my brain made some convincing arguments, and the outer core, knowing when it was beat, went to pout in the corner.

Staring death in the face, I started to focus on the reflections of the sun on the VERY sharp edges in the cracks. If I moved my head around just a little bit, I could make almost the entire edge shine, so sharp and deadly, and kind of pretty too. I mean, death is pretty sometimes, in some sort of cinematic way. Ah, the light was getting in all right, and all I could think about was how much I’m like that too, all damaged and cracked, and I could shatter too couldn’t I? Any time at all. Yes, it was all very pretty, but it was serious too. The edges of the cracks were all shiny and deathy in equal parts. And there it all was, the metaphor looming, no, growing right up in my face, menacing and real.

Broken things hurt. Shiny edges can cut. Of course being cracked means you can shatter, but it hasn’t happened yet. Not quite yet. Waiting around for things to shatter is not the funnest way to travel maybe, but hey, having a destination sure as hell beats standing still. For one thing, there’s the view.

Anyway, the cracks were going to grow now no matter what we did, so we just kept heading for the beach. The paths finally crossed on the glass after an hour or so. I imagined (again and again and… yes again) the center cutout piece just popping into my lap quietly. I would pick it up and hold it in my hands, staring at those shiny edges almost calmly, just before the whole window crashed in on me. Yes, again, I knew it was safety glass, but still, a perfect dagger-sized piece was just pointing right at me. How could I not poke at that in my head? It’s what I do.

Of course, we made it to the beach just fine, and I let it go for a while, swimming in the ocean and forgetting, until it was time to go home. Driving made the cracks grow faster, and this time I was sure that the second time the paths crossed would be it. The end. “They’re almost at a right angle this time,” I thought, “no way even safety glass can resist that!” I contorted my head the whole way home, watching the beads of sunlight ride up and down the edges, seeing myself in the light and wondering at the likeness. Wondering at how cracked I can be, and yet so shiny too.

We are not better off without you

eye and clouds fractal

One of Michelle’s many amazing profile pics

For Michelle, and the others we’ve lost

I’ve been there, standing, breathing in that one terrible thought that really, everyone would be better off if I just left this planet. It wasn’t at all a selfish thought about a selfish act. Yes, I wanted the pain to stop, but I did believe they’d be better off without me. All of them.

Early this week, a friend took her own life. She had a lot of things that might have brought her there, to that place on the edge. She had chronic pain and other things going on that were hard to overcome. But she was always the one asking me on Messenger how I was, asking if I needed help, making sure I was okay. She reached out more than I did, because I’m afraid to let anyone in, and because she was just that kind of person. I kept her, like I keep everyone, at arms length. And so we weren’t close, in spite of her trying, but we were connected, and she recognized the kindred there. And so did I. She was a writer, and she loved art, fractals, weird and amazing stuff. She loved dogs. We talked about bands, and cancer, and surgery, and husbands who are bass players. But we didn’t talk enough. I’m left now, hating on myself for the distance I kept, wishing I’d been there for her, like all of her friends are. We’re all wishing we’d done something. Anything.

We are not better off. We are grieving, and lost. We’re trying to find our way now, you can see it on her Facebook page, where hundreds of people are posting messages and memories*. You can see it in the blank looks we get on our faces, glazed eyes in the middle of a workday, or in the shower, or just driving when some particular song comes on. Nobody is better off. This sucks, it SUCKS. Hard.

We are NOT better off.

I promise you, nobody will be better off without you, even if you feel hated or abandoned. It’s a LIE that sometimes people tell themselves when desperation hits. I know how it sounds whispered like a cool dark cloud in your head, almost a relief. I know the lie, and how sometimes you can believe it. I don’t know if my friend told herself that lie. I can’t speak for her, and neither can she anymore. But I promise you, hundreds of people are hurting, and nobody is better off.

National Suicide Prevention Lifeline

Available 24 hours everyday
1-800-273-8255

* My note to Michelle:

I missed it, the chance to reach out, to tell you how great you are, to say another thank you, to ask you how you’re doing. I thought I’d have time to get to know you better, and I missed it. The last time you wrote, just a month ago, I answered with a quick cool, thanks. I didn’t ask you how you were doing, I’m sure I was in a rush. And I missed it. And now I miss you, and your quirky but disarming sideways smile and soft hair, and the tiny little check-ins you did with me on messenger, which I totally took for granted, just like the art and the weird things, and the beautiful things, and the funny t-shirts, and hanging by the fire pit and all of the other things. I’m glad I got to know you. You made the world better, lady.

Heading for shore

lifeguardSometimes I wonder about my strong urge to “save” people, to help them, about why I feel it, and what I’m supposed to actually do about it. Sometimes it just feels like a curse or a symptom. I remember as a teenager taking a course to become a lifeguard. They taught us how to carry someone to shore or a dock. We started practicing with a nice calm person who sometimes even helped us save them. Then we moved up to someone who just went limp. It was hard to carry that dead weight, but in the water and with momentum, it was still doable. Then we moved up to the worst case, the struggling victim – someone so panicky that they seemed hell-bent on drowning.

The goal was not only to get them to shore, but to stay alive in the process. Active near-drowning victims seem almost eager to take you with them. In your mind, you know it’s just panic, but the heart can’t always tell, and certainly the water will fill up your lungs whether you take their frenzy personally or not. It’s easy, they warned us, to sink, to drown, under that kind of strain. We were told we may someday have to decide to get clear, to save ourselves. To let go. It was a very tough lesson, and I’m so glad to say that I never did have to pull anyone from the water for real.

Anyway, through the years, I went on to try saving people in all sorts of useless and honestly destructive ways. All my best intentions did not ever manage to save one person, and hurt more than they helped on more than one occasion. Of course, this doesn’t change who I am at my core. I want to help people, just like I’ve always wanted to help people.

These days though, I know I can’t save anyone. I can help, maybe, I want to try. I really just want to teach a kinder way of living in this world. I’ve learned so much, I want to teach people who are suffering in the ways I have. I’m all good intention still. But I’m not really up for the task of dragging anybody kicking and screaming into the calm. I know if I try I will probably go under like I have before. I fear more than most anything becoming what it is that I most want to stop, ferociously trying to drown in ugliness even when the shore is in clear view.

Living as I do in North Carolina USA in 2016, it’s hard not to notice the tremendous amount of hatred being tossed around like it’s just a harmless baseball. This is on all “sides” of any argument. It’s become commonplace. People respond to opinions with death wishes, and explain that “they deserve it.” Really, people deserve to DIE? Now, I would say I don’t care what side you’re on, but I do. I simply won’t pretend to embrace the laws created here to discriminate and disenfranchise. But if you disagree with me, I still think you have value. How could it be otherwise? That’s the thing about kindness, you can’t just decide who deserves it. If you really mean it, you’d better really mean it. At least I’ve come this far.

I wish I knew how to heal this place, and these angry angry people. I wish I could just gently pull them to shore and let them stand in the sunshine. But so far the only way I’ve managed to save myself is by letting go. It’s not that I don’t have strong opinions. I really do. It’s not hard to figure out what they are I hope. But I can’t change anyone, and arguing is just adding more ugly to a very ugly stew. I find myself avoiding social media, ignoring friends who want to fight, hiding it all from my view. I post pictures of dogs and quotes from the Dalai Lama. I click Hide and Unfollow, and move quickly to something else. Maybe I’ll get strong enough someday to get back in the water and try harder to make a difference. For now though, maybe this whole next year, I’m just going to try to stay dripping on the shore, waiting for the sunshine.

Leather sofa seeks new adventures, and so do I

Old house in rear view mirror

So it’s been 2 months since I said we were selling our house, and guess what? We sold our house, with 4 offers in 2 days of showings. We bought a weird, character-rich house not too far away, much smaller, much older, much more us. And like us, it’s definitely a fixer-upper! Still, we love it, and don’t feel like we’ve lost anything we weren’t ready to lose all along. Yes, that includes a little bit more sanity. It’s okay though, we’re both ready to do this whole big new thing.

We gave up about 500 square feet of living space, and are still coming to terms with letting go of all the extra stuff. We both enjoy the lightness that comes with letting it go. But the tugs of memory are still there, attached to things that have been so much more than just things. The table where our kids did homework, learned (hopefully) table manners, played table-pong. I could write pages about the things that table has seen. But, alas, we have no dining space in the new house, so off it went. With each thing gone, I soak in the memories, roll around in them, and let them stick. The thing doesn’t own the past, I do. The thing doesn’t own me, I do.

And so last week I listed the old leather sofa for sale. The ad is below. Writing it was really kind of awesome – cathartic, you know? And I’m releasing the sofa, and all the things, out into the wild. Just like everything else, letting go is hard and amazing.

I think the Disney fairy tale has ruined our expectations of life. The plot is always just this One Big Problem, then it’s solved by some prince or other, and then, um, The End. Happily ever after, whatever the heck that means. Life isn’t just One Big Problem though, it’s full of problems and solutions and wonder and pain and growth. Some days you have to claw your way into just being OK. Getting older teaches us what we should have always known, that we can and will move on through whatever is happening at the moment. We are resilient because that is what life is for, I think.

So I’m selling my stuff, and keeping my memories, good and bad, and making new memories, good and bad. We’ll get new stuff, and it will age and tear and learn to adjust to us as things usually do. The wheel is still turning, and I’m going to enjoy the ride as long as it lasts, as long as the new sofa lasts, and maybe the one after that too.


used leather couch

Leather sofa seeks new adventures

This sofa has had an amazing life so far and is ready for a new adventure with you.

This soft, supple, brown leather sofa has been loved by children and dogs and assorted adults for going on ten years now. It has served as the base of operations for hundreds of hours of Netflix and naps, and overnight sleeps. It is so comfortable that the dogs and the children have fought semi-epic battles over it. Friends at parties have buddied up to fit four, once even five, happily on its ample cushions.

It has a few battle scars, and certainly a little bit of dog hair in spite of our efforts to keep it pristine. It resembles us in that way, there’s always a stray dog hair somewhere. We call it character.

There is a small tear hidden in its folds on the right armrest, and another on the cushion next to that. There are some additional scratches on the cushions – I blame the dogs, but even so, it’s really my own fault for being afraid to trim their nails more. And letting them on the couch at all – as if I had a choice. If there are any additional tears, I do not know about them.

This couch has never smoked a cigarette, nor has anyone nearby. I do believe someone “vaped” on it a time or two, but once caught, he was sent packing.

Why are we selling this love of our lives? We have downsized into a much smaller home and changed color schemes to brighten the place up. Much like us, our new house is going gray. Believe me, if I had a pool room or basement hangout, this couch would never leave my life.

We drive tiny cars and can’t deliver, and probably can’t carry it to your vehicle without help (we had young’uns carry it in to the new place for us). It’s about 38” deep, 88-90” long.

I’d like to ask $1000 for it, but realistically, how about $150? Hurry before I change my mind about the gray…


P.S. The sofa isn’t for sale just yet, the new one will take a while to arrive and begin its new adventures!

A different way

My counselor told me I’m doing things a different way. It was the best thing she could have said in that moment, where I was calling myself a coward or a doormat or whatever. Rewriting my oft-rewritten history. Being incredibly unkind to myself.

And she’s right. The path I’ve chosen can sometimes feel like giving up, and when I look back I cruelly decide I haven’t grown at all and I’m still just letting bullies kick me without standing up for myself. No, no bullies ever actually kicked me, ouch. It’s a metaphor – stick with me here.

When my son was little, he started taking a school bus for the first time, and reported to us, his parents, that he was being picked on by some kid on the bus. Simultaneously, his father and I responded with advice.

“Tell the driver. Try to talk it out.” I said, believing in a system that has really never worked in recorded history except in pamphlets.

“Hit him as hard as you can!” said the father of our already far-too-interested-in-violence 5 year old.

And here folks, you can see the deep cracks between parenting styles that exist regardless of divorce, but of course would become much wider in that inevitability. And while I realize that the short answer, hitting back, would likely be more effective than my own sad little peaceful entry, I just can’t bring myself to call it right.

Over the last 8 or 9 years, I’ve been called crazy by that man, and by my children. I’ve been called abusive. I’ve been kept from my children and lied about, hated and ignored. And you’d think that with all my heart I would be ready to fight back, to hit him as hard as I can. But that’s not me, and knowing this in my heart has been a gift and a curse beyond anything I ever expected to know on this planet. Sometimes I see it as weakness, and I call myself names like pathetic. Sometimes I need the people who know me best to snap me out of it. Sometimes those people tell me to hit him as hard as I can. Nobody likes to see a loved one getting bullied, it’s a natural reaction.

But, and maybe it’s from all that Sesame Street I watched, all that Mr. Rogers, I just know where it goes when you meet ugliness with ugliness. You become ugly. It grabs hold of you and spreads across your skin and eventually into your heart, and you become a different and harder thing. I don’t want to be that thing. I choose not to, again and again. This isn’t weakness, friends. It’s actually incredible strength. It’s character, and it’s solid, not a quivering thing like I sometimes believe. I’m not quivering, and I never have. I mean, sobbing sometimes, which makes me shaky, but no, no quivering.

And so because I haven’t fought back, I’ve allowed myself to “lose” the last thing I was holding onto from the recent post-divorce part of my past, the house I bought to raise my children in through high school. True, my last child is still in high school, but I haven’t seen her since she was in, what, mid-7th grade? It’s not likely she will return to me before she’s done. And really, I’m mostly okay with losing this house. We made so many compromises, my new husband and I, when we bought it – a few short months before our wedding date. We bought enough bedrooms for all our kids, in a school district that would be the least trouble for my children’s father to get to. A lot of bad moments happened in this house, the struggles with alienation, and the loss after, the fighting we did when we had no idea what was really happening to us all. But so many great things have happened here too. We fell back into love in the quiet, began gardening, making the space our own inside and out. We began to foster homeless dogs, and threw parties, and built the fire pit of my dreams – simple, like camping. And we set stuff on fire!

And now, we’re ready to move on, looking ahead in spite of the low blows we’ve been dealt again and again. There is no real loss here, just regaining who we are, who I am at my core. I am doing things a different way, the same different way that has seen me through all of the tragedy a life of 50 years will bring, and all of the wonder too. I am proud as hell of myself, my strength, and my husband too. We are excited about the future, and the amazing new fire pit we will build, the gardens, the warmth of our crazy life together.

No, make no mistake, this isn’t a gift, it’s not a blessing in disguise. WE are what make the good that comes from ugly things. We are the blessing, and we aren’t in disguise. We’re right here beside you, the people who choose every single day to make the best of things, to act in kindness, mindful of the lives around them. To do things a different way. This way works. I hope you try it.

Oh, and, um, wanna buy a house? It’s got a magical fire pit out back…

12033064_10153139236104786_5358888560666154184_n

We are drunk on horrible things

newtown_victims_700Someone told me we’d forgotten Newtown. I don’t think we have. Someone told me we will never learn. I don’t know if that’s true, but I worry. Someone told me that the “other side” just doesn’t care. I know that’s not true. We are all still carrying the pain of that loss, of all the losses. We just don’t know what we’re doing. We’re drunk on it, the whole nightmarish thing, and we’re stumbling around lost, striking out at anyone who chooses a different way to believe this craziness can be solved.

I’ve been saying “When we’re living in fear, the terrorists win.” I say it a lot. Fear is controlling so many people, and there’s so much anger too. In fact, we can find all the stages of grief, alive and well in how people talk about the Sandy Hook shootings, and all the shootings since then. There’s even conspiracy theorists, literally stalking some of these parents, bent on proving it all to be a hoax. Denial taken to a sick extreme.

We haven’t forgotten. We’ve drunk it in, absorbed it into our beings. We’ve become tired, angry, and less willing to pause and breathe before we react. We are weary, we are sad, we are so very pissed off. And we are helpless, in spite of the arsenals and the concealed carries, in spite of the research on mental health, in spite of the walls and divisions we fight over. In the end we can’t change what happened, we can’t go back to that time we remember when our children were safe. We are lost.

The heartache of that day is mixed up inside of me with the certain knowledge I had then that I was losing my second child to the hatred and fear of parental alienation. I was coming to terms very slowly with the fact that someone I loved with all my heart, and who loved me just as much, had learned to hate me, had become so involved in that hatred, that nothing I did had the power to change her mind. I was already in the dark of depression when the news came about the shootings, and my lack of hope was already life-threatening.

Maybe the shock of what happened at Sandy Hook Elementary saved my life. Maybe that’s why three years ago this week I finally told my doctor the truth about how bad it was, what had been happening, how I’d decided the best way to die so that my family would be sure to get my insurance money. I wanted to disappear, to let everyone off the hook. I wanted my children to stop feeling like they had to hate me in order for their world to make sense. I felt they’d be better off in mourning than moving into a life of lies and paranoia. Sometimes I still wonder if that would have helped them more than the choice I made. But I chose to ask for help. Then I chose antidepressants and therapy, and I’m utterly grateful I had that choice.

A few weeks later, I did lose my daughter, and she hasn’t been back in my house or my life since. More to grieve. And the shootings have kept coming and coming. We are a broken nation with no doctor. We are at war with ourselves and everyone else. The unimaginable has become, almost literally, a daily experience in this country. And instead of recognizing the pain and fear that overtakes us all, instead of helping one another grieve and recover, so many of us have grown ugly and isolated.

We are full of inner conflict, loaded with misunderstandings, and a bravado around those misunderstandings that has people not even wanting to try to see things a different way. We call each other libtards and morons and worse. And a lot of us seem to be enjoying the vitriol, which is the really scary part. We’re all a little sicker than we used to be, and I think that’s part of the Newtown legacy. We think we’ve forgotten, but really, these things have become a part of us, malignant and growing. Newtown and all the other towns – I don’t think we’ve forgotten, I think we have drunk it all in and become some new Mr. Hyde version of ourselves.

In the last three years, I have climbed mountains in my own soul, and come out stronger and better in almost every way. I have faced demons, myself, and learned how to keep doing so every day while loving this amazing life I have now. My wounds are healing, but just like this country, I have scars. I’m a different person, just as we’re a different nation. To pretend we can go back in time and create a better past is the worst kind of torture we can inflict on ourselves. It makes us take sides, look for someone to blame, to hate. But it isn’t that simple. We have to find a way to try to heal ourselves instead of tearing our country apart.

What I have found in the last three years of emotional heavy lifting is my center, my balance, my ability to pause, think, and react with generosity as often as I can. Do I screw up? Only all the damn time. Sometimes I can be mean too. Apologizing is my new friend. But it’s the trying that matters, the fixing what we can fix, and letting go of what we can’t. I still have trouble with the letting go. I can’t fix politics or hatred or gun violence or race relations. All I can do is speak up and ask people to reconsider what they’re doing and saying, maybe pry open their minds just a centimeter before spouting off. I see the closed-mindedness on all sides, the belittling of the “other,” the cutting down of people who are really just grieving in a different way, but still afraid, just like the rest of us. We all long for safety and belonging. We are all drunk on horrible things.

I can’t fix this. I want to so badly. All I can do is tell you that this world needs kindness more than ever. You can’t fix this either. I’m guessing you want to also. We can’t heal until we realize we’re hurting, and give ourselves room to become something better. So maybe, can you ask yourself a few questions for me? Or at least think about it…

Are you helping people, or calling your friends names for not agreeing with you? Can you do better? Do you really need to pass on that “clever” meme that insults those who think differently? Is there another way to make your point? Are you willing to honor the victims of Newtown, and all the other towns by not giving in to your basest fears without thought? If you truly believe that you can’t convince anyone of your side of things, is there anything else you can learn for yourself? Those “morons” might know something you don’t. At the very least, can you allow that everyone here on this crazy planet is seriously just trying to do their best? The gun-nuts and the libtards, all doing their best! You may think some were dropped on their heads as babies, but does that then mean it’s okay to belittle them? Oh, please, for my sake, and for yours, don’t say yes.

Today I’m still grieving for all that was lost in Newtown and in ourselves. We will always hurt, and we simply can’t forget. But we really can get better than this.

 

Leave a Note

MailboxEven though I live just a few hours away, I don’t get to the beach enough. I resolve every so often to change that, and keep failing to make it happen. So sometimes it takes a friend to get you where you want to be, and I was lucky enough to be invited by a lovely person to spend “Flotilla Weekend” at Wrightsville Beach. I went for just 24 hours, due to schedules, but it was a wonderful blend of old and new friends and surprisingly perfect weather.

The thing that really topped it all off was the mailboxes. My friend Bill is generous beyond what most of us can imagine, and opened his rental home to a large group of friends for Thanksgiving and the weekend after. While we were there, he told us about “the mailbox.” It’s north, he said, just keep walking on the beach until you find it. You see, there’s this mailbox, right on the beach, and people leave notes and the stories of their lives there. The mailbox has been there for a long time, and was once lost to storms and relocated slightly for safety. The museum in town is now home to many of the filled-up notebooks, because people keep coming, and they keep writing.

They write in the notebooks or on loose paper about their loves, their losses, their hopes, and their pain. Bill told us, when he caught up with us at the mailbox, that he’s read several suicide notes there before. There’s no way to tell what happened to the authors. We have to fill in the blanks for ourselves. Some notes are signed, some just left behind. Some are funny – one couple had each made lists of the annoying things the other did (“You talk too much.” “You’re always eating tacos.”) and ended each with an “I love you.” People leave their stories in the mailbox facing the water, no return address. They likely say things they haven’t said before and don’t want to say anyplace else.

I was so grateful that my traveling companions were more than willing to go on the way out of town. We found the mailbox, and they began to dive in to reading the notebooks while I waited a minute just inhaling the salt air. I am recharged by the beach, and sometimes just taken with the beauty of it all, and I tend to just stop like that sometimes when I’m there. A lovely older woman stopped to talk to me about my Maurice Sendak shirt. It’s from In the Night Kitchen, and every single time I wear it, I meet somebody interesting.

Me in my Sendak shirt, my friend Bill, and the mailbox.

This woman told me that Maurice felt like an old friend because he’d helped her teach her daughter to read, and I said, yes, me too, my kids too. She told me her story, how her daughter in the 8th grade had vowed to go to college right there by the beach, and how it had come to pass, how she’d visited the area first in 1980 and decided she wanted to retire there. How she’d wisely invested then, thinking it would all be ready for her later that way. How her mother had moved in when she was still living in Raleigh “just for a couple of years” and had stayed for 27, delaying the beach by a lot. She’s been living at the beach for five years now, and she looks wonderful, at peace.

“There’s another,” she told me, another mailbox, just a little bit farther north up the beach. She wasn’t sure which came first. When she turned back around to tell me one more thing, she laughed and said “Can you tell this is my people time?” I laughed in delight and recognition. I was having my people time too, and enjoying it while I was there, even though I was already longing to get lost again inside my own thoughts.

I read the notebooks then, and wrote one sentence, and Bill showed up, and we all read together mostly quietly. It was almost anticlimactic for me, I’d just had a great story from a nice lady, and I was already feeling filled up. It was time to go and find the other mailbox, one that Bill wasn’t sure existed, but I was. I was absolutely sure it would be there.

Mailbox1 Mailbox2

And so it was.

Even after Google searches, I can’t really tell which came first, just that there have been iterations of mailboxes. There’s another, as well, somewhere on Bird Island to the south, called “Kindred Spirit.” At any rate, to me, this one was the “second” mailbox, and I loved it totally just for being there.

Sadly, it was mostly empty though, with just a simple card inside. It was a funeral card with pictures and a short wrap-up of a life well-lived. There were other notes scribbled on the card; it was the only paper in there. This mailbox needed paper. I remembered then that I’d told my friends on the drive to the beach that I carried a small notebook that I’d been sent as a gift after donating to NaNoWriMo, but I never wrote in it. I send myself emails instead, odd cryptic things often sent in the middle of the night, to remind me what to write about next, what matters. I’d been carrying this notebook unused for months. And so, of course, of course, I knew the notebook belonged here in this mailbox, facing the waves and collecting stories.

Mailbox3Sometimes I get caught up in telling my own story. I’d written almost 55,000 words in November, all my own story. I still have more to write, and someday it will be a book and that will be a great day. But in the frenzy of all this writing, I realized I’d been closed off from the stories of others. I had joked with my travelling companions, truthfully, that my counselor ordered me to socialize during that wild month of writing madly. She said I needed a “tether” to keep me from floating off into my own bubble. She was kinder than that in her phrasing of course, but that was the point – I need people, connection, to remind me that I’m on earth, to keep me grounded, at least a little bit.

So when I left that notebook, feeling very touched by serendipity, I felt more connected to everyone than I have in a good while. We are human beings, and we are made of stories. Sharing them is such a huge part of what makes us whole. So please, like the mailbox says, leave a note, and don’t worry if anybody reads it, because you are here, now, and you have a story to tell.


Thank you to the friends who keep me attached, albeit a bit loosely, to this crazy spinning marble. I am truly grateful to share so many stories with you.

NaNoWriMo, Incoming!

NaNoWriMo badgeHere’s the thing about the truth. We think we know, but we don’t really have a clue what it is. We can only do our best, groping in the dark with what little light our perceptions can cast, naming the shadows we make and claiming them as our story. In the beginnings of great loss, the shadows are strong and terrifying, and of course we cast ourselves as the hero of the piece. It’s us against the villains. But if you sit there long enough in what you thought was your story, looking around, letting your eyes adjust, you start to see things you didn’t notice before. The shadows adjust themselves to accommodate your clearer vision. If you’re curious, you start to see places where you made assumptions, or maybe took some shortcuts. You start to see the grey areas. Eventually, you see your own shadow, and you have to face the truth you see, the one that’s closer to the real truth, hopefully. And maybe you even learn to understand the villains too.

I’m learning to hold myself accountable for my shadow, while not blaming myself for having one. We all have shadows after all. So, I have to say to myself, after all this time, after all the blaming and the shame and the honest vows of innocence: “Hey self! Welcome to the human race. You messed up. You fell on your face, but you’re okay. Let’s get you cleaned up.” What, were you expecting a bunch of self-loathing? I went there for a while I suppose. But really, what would I tell someone else who was suffering? Don’t I deserve the same acceptance and forgiveness I’d give to you? Of course I do! Of course I do. We all do.

And now, I think I’m ready to tell the story that is my truth. Because my heart is open, my mind is open, and I’ve forgiven myself and others for the pain we’ve caused, the damage done. It doesn’t mean things are better, they aren’t, in a situational sense. But I am. And I’m ready now, in time for NaNoWriMo, that glorious, torturous month of writing 50,000 words. I’m ready to write about my life as an alienated parent, keeping the goal of helping other people in my heart, and with the idea of casting light on our shadows. And hopefully mixing some joy with sorrow, some hope with loss. I’m starting a book, called (for now) “Mom, redacted.” It’s non-fiction, memoir I suppose it’s called. I know, I know, it’s not a novel, but they’ve changed the rules at NaNoWriMo to accept rebels, and even if they hadn’t, I’d move into this project because it’s time.

As usual with this crazy month, I won’t see much of my friends, but I am already building in a little time, because of that whole needing other people thing. I expect to cry a lot, but in a good way mostly. I expect to make up as many excuses as I need to for avoiding phone calls and requests. I expect not to update this blog much (hell it’s been a month anyway!), but you never know. Please know that I’d really love your support. But if you want to tell me I shouldn’t, or it’s a terrible idea, or any other nay-saying stuff, just shh. I’m doing it. I just am. Happy almost-November.

Romancing the besties

Wine at sunsetToday I need to talk about friendship. I don’t want to, though. Not at all. Because having friends, real friends who know your demons and love you anyway, and trust you to love them anyway, that terrifies me more than *not* having friends ever could. I used to think I was a good friend. I was always there for whoever needed me, listening, giving up my time and energy, and sometimes cookies. But it’s not so simple. And I think, looking back, that I was as much interested in being perceived as wonderful as I was in actually being that way, maybe more. Well these days  I’m over giving a crap about that sort of thing, mostly, but I’m having trouble figuring it out from here.

I took a little time-out last week to shut out all the white noise of life and Facebook feeds. And I liked it. In fact I’m still mostly doing it. Then my counselor said yesterday that that was good and all, but I also need to be sure I keep the connections, the friends, that matter. I need a tether to the world, she said, and she was right, and terrifying at the same time. My god, I thought, she can actually tell that I’m so content in my own little bubble of weird that I really will just fly into orbit at any second and never even consider coming back down to earth. She also asked me to tell her about the friends I have who get me. And I couldn’t stop those little leaky tears, or the erupting lump in my throat, through which I forced my answer. Nobody gets me¹. I don’t know how to let them do that. How to give them that…

Part of the problem is that most of my “now” friends are people I met during the wild phase of my divorce. You know, the dance like you just turned 21, drink like you haven’t turned 21 yet so you better make the most of it before you get caught sort of thing. They know a side of me that hadn’t existed until we invented it together. And really for my own health, I’ve mostly let that side fade into memory through benign neglect for years now. To be fair, I was a lot of fun back then, and now I’m not so much. I feel like I’ve broken the promise of who I was to those friends, and like there’s not much else there to offer, and really it’s not like we remember most of the stories we told each other over shots and beers. Most of them have changed too, because we’re all growing up in one way or another. It’s not surprising things have gotten a little awkward, I mean, a lot of us are friends because we just happened to fall apart at the same time. Left with just Facebook updates to go on, I struggle, and I imagine so do they, with what we still have in common.

But also, that’s kind of a bullshit excuse, because I just detach sometimes. It’s one of my more asshat-ish qualities. In the past, I’ve let some amazing friendships die because of where my head was, mostly because of depression. I was so busy falling, I didn’t notice I was hurting other people by letting them go. Some I lost during the divorce, because that is well and truly what happens during divorce. Sometimes I just felt… too much. And needed to think before I said anything. For like twenty years or so. Sometimes I just moved away and gave up.

The best friends I’ve had in life have always been misfits and thinkers, and there are some I miss terribly even after decades. And at one time or another, I let all of these friends down. I let that connection fizzle, or die, or fade into Christmas card status, but then I never send those anyway, I just fill them out and wait until it’s too late to mail them (am I the only one?). Most times when I dropped friends, it was at a time when I could most have used a friend. Something in me just stopped. It wasn’t lack of affection, I love these people to this day. It was something I’m missing, and I don’t know how to get it. I’m missing that piece where maybe I allow myself to be selfish and needy and weak and ugly and unworthy but still able to trust someone to love me. And I don’t. I don’t trust anyone to do that, and I don’t know yet how to make that happen.

Trust. I suppose I have trust issues because I’ve also been a magnet for broken people who wanted me to save them so they didn’t have to do it themselves, and I threw myself into these “relationships” with the fervor I’ve always had for saving puppies and lost souls. I was so busy trying to control everything for them that I didn’t notice I was drowning, and so were they, and even then I still cared more about “saving” them than myself. I guess I thought being utterly selfless was next to godliness. Honestly though, it’s shit. You can’t live that way, it’s bad for the other people, and it will make you crazy if you weren’t already there, and here we have that whole egg/chicken thing, so it’s best to just let that one sit there leaking on the counter. (The egg. The egg came first. And yeah, you have to be a little broken yourself to be that attractive to broken people, you just do.)

Ahem… Anyway. I do have “writing” friends, whom I adore but never see in real life because they’re mostly bunches of floating pixels of fairy light for whom I have to make up voices because, hello Internet. And some local writers who seem amazing but are busy and productive and slightly terrifying to me because I could actually meet up with them in person at some point, and even though I’m a “social introvert” I avoid writing meetups that I really want to attend because I’m scared of being seen. I am the queen of saying Maybe when I mean No but wish I meant Yes. But I want to want to go. I really do. Except I don’t…

Making friends at any age is scary. Making friends in your (very) (no, seriously, VERY) late forties feels even sillier than dating (not that *you’re* silly for dating, this is a me thing, I swear), because somehow you think your life story really should all just be on a resume somewhere so people can screen one another without too much wasted time. This would also help you walk away from the ones that just won’t work without hurt feelings. (Yes, I’ve made friends with people I didn’t like much to avoid hurting their feelings, don’t judge me – I said I’m not good at this for Pete’s sake, what were you expecting?) Anyway at this age, you also think you should already have all the friends you need. I mean, you may say out loud to yourself “Hey self, what sort of person gets to this age and doesn’t have proper best friends? Loser.” Yeah, I’m kind of an ass to myself, obviously. But I do feel a bit old to be telling stories about how I picked my favorite color and otherwise romancing potential besties.

And so here I am, wondering how do I begin, and where, to make a friend or two? And my brain jumps in with: Why, in the laboratory, of course! We shall harvest bits of the finest mostly-dead artists and weird people and create cool and awesome Franken-friends with whom to frolic! We shall share wine and various craft projects while telling tales of derring-do and plotting to take over the world! Muahahahaha.

And that sort of thing may be why I don’t have any friends that get me¹.

 


¹ Okay, to be perfectly honest, there are a couple of brave souls who are in danger of getting me and are trying much harder to be my friends than I probably deserve, and I love them and they terrify me, so much that I won’t say their names because what if they don’t know how important they are? Good lord, I don’t even really get myself, now that I think about it.

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