The Vacation I Never Took

God, I’m tired. Like monumentally exhausted. I’d say my non-fatigued to fatigued daily ratio is 1:6. I’ve been distracted and stressed enough to forget important meetings, confuse my regular schedule (because it changes daily), and have panic attacks while taking out the trash. Yesterday I almost took the wrong highway to my destination. My appetite is all over the place. I don’t really want to eat anything but ice cream and even then, I’m a rather uninterested in it. Oh, cereal! Cereal has now become a central focus in my life. Thanks, Rory Gilmore.

My goal today was to finish sorting through shit for my thesis so I can start piecing it together and hopefully meet the January 1 deadline. So far, I’ve only accomplished about 1/4 of my intended goal while drinking coffee, having a conversation with a professor, nibbling on a cheeseburger, checking Facebook, listening to Pandora, and watching the latest episode of The Vampire Diaries. Did I mention I play episodes of Parenthood in the background while I type? No? I’m also supposed to Skype with a friend later. And I have to tutor other people’s kids for a few hours. And I’m waiting on important e-mails to arrive, as well as notification of when I can take my car in to have a recalled part replaced.

When did this become my life?

Bills, deadlines, bullshit, stress, worry, insomnia, irregular heartbeat, frustration, anxiety, and traffic. FUCKING TRAFFIC.

When did the joy disappear?

September 25, 2014. That’s when joy vanished. I’m pretty sure. Something really fucking awful happened on September 25th and I can’t seem to crawl out of the chasm that appeared under my feet. I’m somewhere down there, just above the scorching flames of hell, and just below that mysterious land of acid trips where unicorns and leprechauns run freely. I like to call that mysterious land, “The Vacation I Never Took.”

I have good days and bad days and today feels like the latter. I woke up with this burden hovering over my eyes like a damn rain cloud full of liquid lead. Just before I awoke, I had a nightmare related to the events of September 25th. The thing you, dear readers, should know about my nightmares is that they are chronic and very realistic. I feel pain when I dream and wake feeling sore and weary. F you, REM cycle, my nemesis. In this particular nightmare, I felt like I teleported into the mind of another person…like our dreams were being linked so we could converse and say all the things we haven’t been able to. Then I woke up and wished so much that the dream was real. Instead of feeling joy, I was overcome with sadness and disappointment; like god (or the universe or whoever) had toyed with my subconscious and gave me this nightmare to fuck with me. I’m not thankful for the dream because I know it’s not reality. My reality is still hell.

There isn’t an amount of meditation or prayer to bring me peace (or so it seems right now). There’s only staying busy and occasionally frantic, just so I remain distracted long enough to get a reprieve. I’m able to forget for a few hours a day at best; then I feel hopeful that at some point, this turmoil will abate. And then the night rolls around again, filling my mind (and body) with the truth of the chaos that’s become my life.

It wasn’t so amazeballs before September 25th, so maybe the events of that day just magnified the discrepancies in my daily conduct.

That place, The Vacation I Never Took, I should go there…maybe they have cereal.

Tis the Season

I’ve been an artist for over half of my life. One could argue I was born this way but it didn’t fully manifest until early adolescence. My modality of preference is oil painting but I’ve also explored painting with acrylics and watercolors, making mosaics, and warping clay sculptures. I’ve painted for fun, to relieve stress, for money, and for the sake of making something. At first, I could go years without dabbling in the arts but gradually it became a monthly, then weekly, then occasionally a daily endeavor. There’s something exhilarating about purchasing blank canvases and new paints or brushes. I even love the peculiar smell of fresh oil paint. Many items in my apartment are permanently stained with various hues, a product of my inability to juggle multiple paintbrushes at a time. Unfortunately over the last year, I developed a random allergy to my hobby and am now forced to wear latex gloves and a mask that filters toxins and any chance of looking sexy while painting.

Last year, I started to feel burned out and took a break from the art of creating. It’s weird to go into my office/studio/child’s bedroom and see my drafting table/easel, the bag of paints, and my rolled up brushes and not feel the urge to make something. It’s as if the desire totally evaporated. Perhaps part of it is because the space feels crowded and not fully functional, and in that way, it’s a reflection of my life at the moment.

I love studios. I love the superfluous natural light that’s often permeating the space, the smudges on the walls, the worn easels, and scattered paintbrushes. Creative spaces that look lived in. I even have catalogs and magazines meant for designing studios. The other day, I was watching a movie called, “The Face of Love” (one of Robin Williams’s last films) and Ed Harris plays an artist. Harris’s character hadn’t painted in years, but in one moment he was inspired to create again. He dug out all his paints, brushes, and materials and set up this eccentric studio. It was messy and chaotic and much like where he was in his life. As artists, our creative spaces tend to reflect our internal processes. Some are more organized and structured, others are a whirlwind of spontaneity. Some are active, others are dormant. It’s a seasonal exhibit of our life journey.

Watching this film, I felt a resurgence and desire to create again. But I’m not sure what to make or when and I know it will reveal itself in time. Until then, I’m taking this season moment by moment and experimenting with color when I feel the inclination to do so.

Somewhere Here and In Between

I’ve been warring with myself for what feels like forever, or at least since 2002, when I changed my major from Pre-Med to Psychology…and then changed it another five times before graduating. I went from knowing the answer to the dreaded question, “What do I want to be when I grow up?” to wandering aimlessly in the halls of several universities and graduate programs looking for the meaning of life. I envy all you people who have your shit together and know what job you want and you actually follow through. Meanwhile, I’m over here drinking endless cups of coffee and losing myself. I’m the kind of person who needs to have her ducks in a row, but in my world, every third duck is typically a fucking chicken.

Lately, I’ve been trying to accept the transition stage, the place of “almost”…the waiting room. The place that reminds me that I’m thirty years old and still in school, pursuing this ambiguous, fleeting dream that I can’t quite decipher. It’s difficult to be a dreamer and unable to immediately fulfill growing ambition. I like to implement as much as I like to plan, sometimes even more so. For me, the happiness comes in watching the goal come to fruition. I greatly anticipate that moment when I can stand back and admire the final product; but in my desire for a hasty destination, I neglect to appreciate the journey.

I have substantial issues with control…if you couldn’t tell. The hardest part of accepting this (mental, physical, emotional, spiritual) place I’m in is letting go of where I am and who I think I should be. Letting go isn’t a single decision I make now and then never have to do it again. I do it daily, hell…some days, I do it hourly because I want to be more, do more, and see more than what’s before me and the frustration is mounting. Meanwhile, I’m missing opportunities to experience joy and dismissing the positive because the present situation pales in comparison to these futuristic notions swimming in my psyche. But the struggle is futile at times because who knows where I’ll be tomorrow or the next day. In theory, I could wake up on Wednesday and decide to give no fucks about finishing graduate school, but I doubt it. I’m too invested in where I’ll be after I receive the certificate of program completion.

In choosing to let go, I have to actually let go…I can’t just say I’m moving forward and then keep turning my head back to see what’s chasing me. It only serves to slow me and make me less effective. Negative energies are nooses around my neck, fetters clinging to my ankles, begging to weigh me down. When I think negatively about my circumstances–like being a thirty year old graduate student and working numerous part-time jobs to get shit done–I lose the potential of cultivating joy in the midst of struggle. Like the fact that I’ll have gained knowledge I wouldn’t have otherwise acquired once I finally GRADUATE…and that working part-time allows me to be a better parent for my little blonde lunatic. I’m not stuck…I’m just in the waiting room. And it’s okay to not understand the purpose for the transitions in my life. It’s absolutely alright to feel the myriad of feelings I have while I’m somewhere here and in between.

Side note: I haven’t listened to this band in over a decade, but the lyrics of this song appeared magically in my brain (why my brain chose this song and not some rager by Nine Inch Nails, I’ll never understand) and I thought it was appropriate.

Somewhere In Between by Lifehouse (No judging for Lifehouse, it’s a good song, damn it.)

I can’t be losing sleep over this, no, I can’t
And now I cannot stop pacing
Give me a few hours, I’ll have this all sorted out
If my mind would just stop racing

‘Cause I cannot stand still
I can’t be this unsturdy
This cannot be happening

This is over my head but underneath my feet
‘Cause by tomorrow morning I’ll have this thing beat
And everything will be back to the way that it was
I wish that it was just that easy

‘Cause I’m waiting for tonight
Then waiting for tomorrow
And I’m somewhere in between

What is real and just a dream…
What is real and just a dream…
What is real and just a dream…

Would you catch me if I fall out of what I fell in
Don’t be surprised if I collapse down at your feet again
I don’t want to run away from this
I know that I just don’t need this

‘Cause I cannot stand still
I can’t be this unsturdy
This cannot be happening

‘Cause I’m waiting for tonight
Then waiting for tomorrow
And I’m somewhere in between

Passive Aggressive

I hate being ignored. Correction…I hate when people can spare a few minutes to ‘like’ a photo or post on Facebook or Instagram but can’t spare the same amount of time to reply to a text message or phone call. I also don’t appreciate when it takes days or weeks for people to reply. It takes what…thirty seconds to reply to a message (unless you’re me and have two uncooperative thumbs on touch screens)? How hard it is to communicate with someone in that amount of time? You could do that while taking a shit or brushing your teeth. But no…some people like to just fall off the grid. I get it. I like to crawl away in my room and disappear for an afternoon, but if I receive messages or inquiries from people, I reply. Call it common courtesy.

I’ve been dealing with shitty communicators for about a year and I don’t understand the behavior. Especially when they weren’t shitty communicators before. Did life just get that fucking busy? I’m more than willing to challenge the busy status quo. Marriage, work (involving multiple clients and commuting over 200 miles a week), grad school, parenting, and home management all occupy my time. But I still keep appointments and find a way to recharge my introvert battery. Perhaps I’m just better at time management or I’m being judgmental of others. Both are likely true, but honestly, I don’t care.

I’ve never been a confrontational person. I don’t like voicing my opinion (face to face) only to look like a petulant child who didn’t get their way. But part of growing up is learning to communicate effectively. Being able to tell a person who hurt you that they made a mistake in a nice, compassionate way. This is where I’m a shitty communicator. I don’t want to hurt people even though I’ve been hurt. I want to give them the benefit of the doubt that they’ve just had a shit storm hit their house and they can’t possibly spare thirty seconds to talk to me. Am I unreasonable in my frustration? Am I being selfish for having expectations and needs? Should I just let it go? Or do I speak up?

I found out a week ago that my therapist moved across the country and didn’t tell me. Not one fucking word to notify me that I’d never get to see her again…unless I feel like moving to another state. This isn’t the root of my irritation, but it definitely tipped me over the edge when trying to be patient with people who fail to give me important information. I’m hurt. I valued her tremendously and it makes me feel like I didn’t matter to her. And there are other people in my life who I love, who I’ve been there for, who I need…and who are just not up to par with me anymore. And it makes me sad. Are we just outgrowing each other and it’s manifesting in the increasing silence between us?

I don’t really know how to proceed, how to word myself adequately, so I’m being passive aggressive and writing about it. Maybe they’ll read it and realize I’m talking to them. But if they can’t bother with a thirty second text message reply, I doubt they’ll spare the time to read my rant. I’ve got to get better at being honest about how I feel.

I’m hurt. You hurt me. You ignored me. I don’t like it. Please stop.

Just to be with Her

I haven’t written in a while. There are many reasons why, but it boils down to being busy as hell. Honestly, I’d like to write something life-changing or poetic or remotely inspiring, but I don’t have it in me at the moment. I’m tired. I’m weary. My brain is clusterfucked with the monumental to-do lists and the triple checking and the living, breathing, enduring of every day life. Sometimes I think I have OCD but it manifests in sleepless nights, acid reflux, and irritability.

I spent half the summer with my 8 year old step-daughter. I don’t really like children, but I LOVE her. I love her more than I ever thought I could love another person beyond my husband and parents. I don’t even love my brother as much as I love this child. Blondie and I were very much in the establishing rapport phase of our relationship when she came to our home in early June; but by the end of the month, we were buddies, sleepover mates, and swimming partners. Her voice, her laugh, her soulful blue eyes, and her ridiculous tan…so many things to love and cherish about her. The shitty part is that I only get 8 weeks a year with her. Before long she’ll be too big for piggy back rides and bedtime stories. I just want to press pause on her development so that she stays this sweet little blonde tornado who loves to shower my home in Barbies and pink.

Parenting totally fucks with your selfishness…or at least it should. In one phone call last year, I went from knowing there was this tiny child 2,000 miles away to literally holding and laughing with her. She went from abstract concept to actual human in one conversation. One decision. Now, all my conversations somehow involve her, my calendar year revolves around her flights to and from our house, and my office is now her bedroom. Nothing is the same. And I could tell you that it’s the greatest decision I’ve ever made (it is…) but….parenting is difficult. Talking to and relating to her is as easy as breathing, but there’s all this extra shit that many people don’t take into account: Co-parenting with her mom, custody arrangements, court documents, and that constant worry for her safety. When will it stop???? Life was so much easier before all of this. But was it as rewarding? I have no idea. I was content before when it was just me and her dad; and now, I’m in this mental and emotional state of agitation and it just never fucking leaves me. It’s like a leach attached to my heart, sucking all of my ideas and thoughts and feelings and redirecting them from me to her. I don’t like it. Can’t I just go back? Parenting is a conscious choice every moment of every day. I’ll never be able to go back and start over without the knowledge of her existence.

In the last few months, I’ve learned that contrary to popular opinion, your children don’t have to love you back. They don’t even have to like you. Just like building any relationship, love and respect and trust are cultivated over time. I’d like to think I’ve earned all three in the months I’ve spent getting to know my step-daughter. We have a good relationship and I’m thankful. I just wish the entire situation was…easier. Not the fatigue or the other selfish bits, but the process of parenting a child when there’s 2,000 miles of distance separating us. I wish it was out of sight, out of mind but I’m not that great at compartmentalizing anymore. And Blondie needs to know that someone out there loves her, makes wishes on stars for her, and would cross oceans and planetary systems, just to be with her.

Alice in the Real World

Ann B. Davis, who played Alice on The Brady Bunch, passed away over the weekend. I was reading an article about her and was moved by her words: “I’m convinced we all have a God-shaped space in us, and until we fill that space with God, we’ll never know what it is to be whole.” Davis was part of an Episcopalian community. I feel as though we are spiritual creatures in many ways. I also think this is applicable whether you believe in God or another spiritual deity. Sometimes we find ourselves the most complete when the spiritual space inside of us is filled with something beautiful.

More than ever, I see how Buddha, Mohammed, the Holy Saints, Pope Francis, Tupac, Mother Theresa, Johnny Cash, and other philanthropists have served to guide people in their quest for beauty, peace, and wholeness. I have Buddhas, rosaries, saints and other memorabilia all around my house in respect to the great leaders of this life…and the next.

We all have a deeper sense of self, an essence that desires to be integrated with a world much larger than ourselves. And I know what it feels like to have a spiritual void. It’s unnerving and lonely. We are relational creatures and our ability to empathize extends beyond conversations, birthday parties, and picnics in the park. It’s the exchange of spiritual energies while drowning in grief or when giving birth to a child. It’s soul connection. It doesn’t necessarily matter who or what we connect with, as long as we’re engaging in a collaborative relationship where we feel complete. The fulfillment is beautiful.

 

Thanks for all the great lessons, Alice.

Never Settle for the Easy Answer

Sometimes I really hate church. I hate the stupid songs. I hate the forced greeting time (introvert nightmare). And I hate going when I’m not sure what I believe in. The best thing aging has done for me is being able to CHOOSE whether to go to church. I grew up in a Southern Baptist church…I was every stereotype imaginable. My family was at church every Sunday (for BOTH AM/PM services) and Wednesday. My dad managed the audio/visual systems, my mom cleaned the building, and both parents occasionally taught Sunday School classes. All of the church holiday celebrations were held at my house. The pastor drove me to school for first through fourth grade. In the summer, I sat in the wooden chairs, memorized Bible verses, put on cheesy musicals…I did it all. Even the lame-ass, punitive purity retreats (none of those purity balls though…that’s a special level of fucked up). I also have a BS in Christian Studies that I haven’t used since I graduated in 2007.

When you’re young, you don’t know much about theology beyond the salvation mantra and the debate of right/wrong. You learn about sin and forgiveness. But there’s so much more to Christianity and the Bible that no one tells you…and what’s worse, you’re not encouraged to question anything. You’re just supposed to accept it as absolute truth. To question is to doubt and doubt is almost always viewed as a sin…and therefore wrong. 

When I went through my divorce, I sort of cast myself out of everything related to church… After all, it was CHRISTIANS who told me I was being disobedient by wanting to divorce my ex-husband…and then told me to go back to him after he committed adultery…which is A SIN. Seriously, does the Bible exist for you to pick and choose who to screw over? The message of love has been replaced by a message of manipulation. There’s actually a song that says, “they will know we are Christians by our love…” and when I hear it now, I laugh. The media portrays Christians as these hate-spewing, assholes and some are, but not all. I have tons and tons of friends who are pastors, church leaders, church attenders, and all out (non-asshole) Jesus freaks. Sometimes I feel lonely or left out because I’ve moved on and now focus my time on other things. I skip over articles or Facebook posts related to church or God, especially those chain letter types that say “Share if you love Jesus” (cause if you don’t, you’ll burn in hell with bottles of whiskey and all the members of Pantera). I literally flee from church talk, or anything related to Christian spirituality. It’s like I have an aversion that runs deep into my soul. I don’t know if I’ll always feel like this but the separation from church and all things (bullshit) Christianity have given me a renewed perspective. I don’t feel guilty about my lack of participation. In fact, it’s a divorce I support, knowing I’ve come out stronger on the other side.

I digress.

I have spent the last four years doubting and questioning everything. I can choose church or religion without fear of the wrath of God. I can think for myself and decide what’s worth believing in, investing in, or dismissing. Rest assured, I never, ever settle for the easy answer. For me, the freedom from church is an opportunity to seek new avenues of worship, love, and hope…something I feel I’ve lost in the ruckus of mainstream religion. Sometimes you just need to walk away to find out where you belong. 

 

The Alternative Mom

Mother’s Day is a difficult holiday for many people. I share in the discomfort of those who live on the edge of parenthood. If you’ve followed my blog, you’ve read my rants about not wanting children, apart from my seven year old step-daughter who lives 2,000 miles away; but that wasn’t always my perspective. A decade ago, I was newly married (to someone else) and daydreaming about becoming a mother. I spent pretty much my entire early adolescence babysitting and helping parents with their children, so much so that even my friends in middle school told me I’d be a good mom. My dad called me “mother hen”…because mothering was an instinctual behavior. But when the time came to actually try to conceive, it took me four years, only to miscarry in the first ten weeks. It was disappointing to say the least.

But in the years since my divorce and remarriage, parenting has taken on a new meaning. I’m more keenly aware that it’s a lifelong commitment…which I don’t think everyone realizes. Some people approach procreation like it’s as trivial and temporary as purchasing a new car. But now I realize how much work goes into raising children. No breaks, no vacations, no fucking sleep, even less money. Until either you or the child passes to the next life. Parenting=investment.

Needless to say, it shocked a lot of people when I wasn’t jumping the gun to get pregnant after I remarried. Even the conversations my husband and I have had about adding to our family have been more to please others’ expectations, because isn’t it written somewhere that as soon as you get married, you’re supposed to have tons of fat children (even more so if you’re over 30, which we basically are)? Thanks, but I think I’d like to have tons of uninterrupted sex first.

When I met my husband, he wasn’t connected to his daughter due to the substantial distance and the fact that she was being parented by her mother and her soon-to-be stepfather. Her paternal needs were being met. Last year, his daughter’s needs changed and it became vital that we step in to help build a permanent relationship with her, despite the distance and difficulties. Since then, we’ve visited her and she’s visited us, and we’re planning for her to stay with us for a month this summer. I went from wife to parent in one phone call. There’s a bedroom full of Little Mermaid toys and a closet full of tiny human clothes in our apartment. I’ve been organizing day camps and social outings and making schedules. It’s surreal. If you saw her face, you’d know why it’s all worth it.

Some people don’t understand though. They wonder why my husband and I have chosen to be airport parents, why we’ve given up passports and husband/wife-only dreams and even the idea of bearing more children. I have an easy answer—because each one of those activities takes away from the possibility of affording airfare for her visits or doing fun things while she’s here. It cuts in on her provisions and I’ve been told kids like to eat, at least twice a day…or maybe I’m getting them confused with pets. 

I do a lot of work for a child that isn’t even mine. (That’s another long story.) She’ll never be mine. Even her mom thanks me for “mothering her baby.” It’s sort of an awkward place to be…in that limbo between not wanting more children but also wanting the ONE child that will never truly be mine. On Mother’s Day, I feel trapped in the space in between. Mother’s Day is typically celebrated for moms parenting children they bore from their bodies or children they adopted. But what about the step-moms…the alternative moms who only see their kids for a few days every three months? Those for whom the “mother” label feels like a misnomer? If my husband and I never have children together, he’ll still always be a father, but I’ll always be on the edge of motherhood. I’ll still be parenting someone else’s baby, mothering someone else’s daughter. I’ll still be the alternative mom.

 

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Z0st_flVPeg

Sometimes We Squander, Sometimes We Cherish

I’m in the last three weeks of my 20’s. Where did the time go? Each week, I attend a Buddhist meditation group where I sit in a circle and try to maintain focus on anything but cheeseburgers, season 2 of Arrow, and paying my bills on time. It’s supposed to be an hour of concentration and attention on the breath or a mantra, but it usually ends up being an hour of reflection. Thinking for the sake of thinking…and remembering. 

I’m truly apprehensive about turning 30, as I’m sure many people are when they reach a specific age milestone. I wonder what this new decade will hold. I hope to god it includes a stable income, a job I don’t hate, and a passion that makes all the struggle and effort worth it. I’m thankful to have another age bracket to experience, even if it does come with more grey hair and wrinkles around my eyes.

In my pondering of the last ten years, I wonder if I’ve wasted most of it. I spent 8 years of my 20’s married, 5 of them to the wrong person. My 20’s were full of mistakes…bad theology, terrible ideology, broken hearts, judgment, ignorance, and lies. At the same time, it brought forth a new understanding of what it means to love others despite my worry or fear that I wouldn’t be good at it. It also gave me the purest of friendships and a love of a man who brings ultimate joy and peace to my life.

Sometimes I think maybe I should have been more brave, traveled the world, learned a new language, or at least followed through on my plan to learn the violin by age 25. Would I still be the same person had I done all of those things in my 20’s or would it have changed my outcome? 

And who knows, perhaps the reason it didn’t happen then is because it’s supposed to happen now, or I’m supposed to make peace with it never happening at all.

At the end of my meditation class, the facilitator always gives us a Buddhist blessing. The last line is, “take heed not to squander your lives.” I know it means we should take every moment and seize it…but sometimes I think the greatest lessons are learned by squandering opportunities. In those moments, we recognize that we missed out on something beautiful or beneficial and we make a conscious effort to not do it again. It motivates us to do better or be better. To reconcile what we have lost and make plans for things to discover. To cherish the moments in between. 

My Other Life

I’ve suffered from relentless violent nightmares since I was a child. No amount of therapy or journaling has reduced the torment. Sometimes I’m afraid to go to sleep, uncertain of what scene awaits me. I dream of storms, tornadoes, oceans, stairs, elevators, heights, hills, airplanes, and people attempting to kill me in many agonizing methods. I feel pain when dreaming, to the point I wake up exhausted and sore. It’s a life I have no control over. I feel helpless and victimized by my own subconscious. Very seldom am I ever able to awaken myself out of a nightmare once I recognize it’s not reality. PTSD for a REM cycle every damn night. I’m like that 80’s song by Heart:

These dreams go on when I close my eyes
Every second of the night I live another life
These dreams that sleep when it’s cold outside
Every moment I’m awake the further I’m away

Why can’t I be normal and dream of a shirtless Jared Leto in the mountains somewhere?? Why must I be forced to endure hours and hours of freaky violent shit? I’d love nothing more than to reach inside my head and remove whatever brain tissue that controls dreaming (as long as I can still daydream about Jared Leto).

Today I’ve been absolutely useless because the tension from last night’s horror story has left my muscles cramped and seizing up my neck and in my shoulders. For the love of God, someone bring me an Adavan and a sippy cup of vodka. Why can’t I turn off the nightmares? Am I so driven by fear when I’m awake that it follows me like a demon into the core of my psyche, only to reveal itself as soon as my eyes close…when I’m weak and powerless? Even as I type these words, I wonder what I’ll encounter tonight. Please be Jared Leto, please be Jared Leto, please be Jared Leto.