I mean, the dress was because of a presentation. The pearls were because they matched the dress, and the earrings were brand new.
I laughed at myself a little when I got to work, wearing my 1950-style dress, pearls, and of course, heels. I could be a housewife in this outfit!
I was just leaving the office when I got a message from a friend: “They’re doing the roll call at the DNC!”
“OMG! I’m getting on the train! Let me know how it goes!”
So he messaged every couple of minutes. 1566… 1984… 2011… And then at last “It’s official!”
When my kids ask me where I was when the first woman in the country received the votes she needed to be nominated by a major party to run for President of the United States, I’m going to say “On the L, heading home… doing my best not to weep, or shout for joy, or stand up and hug the other women in the car.” Mostly that last is because I was not about to give up my seat, darn it. (Yeah, me and Rosa P, right?)
I opened Twitter and watched Bernie give all the votes to Hillary. Oh. Oh my. That means the party voted unanimously for her. Potentially the first female president ever.
That part about not crying on the train? Out the window.
Not crying while walking home? Pfft.
I passed two families with babies on my way home, tiny, precious beings who now will NEVER know a time when a woman was not ever a serious contender for the highest office in the country. They will never need to celebrate the breaking of the glass ceiling because to them the room never had one.
They can, truly, grow up to be whoever and whatever they want to be.
Now, I’m going to pause for a moment. I do not mind if you are anti-Hillary. I do not mind if you feel compelled in your heart of hearts to vote for Trump. What I want us all to recognize, however, is that Hillary had the chutzpah to run against incredible opposition, and that whether or not she is elected come November, she has done what no other woman has ever done before. Which simply means the future is brighter for the rest of us.
Which brings me back to my 50’s dress. My housewife librarian dress.
But who says I only have to be one of those things?
What if I want to be something else?
What if I want to be a princess?
But no, really.
I realized that I have started to count myself out. To assume that this last, lost year of my life is indicative of the future, that I will be relegated to a life of inconsequence. A life of broken dreams and missed opportunities.
But tonight… tonight I can consider my wildest imaginings. If a woman could possess herself of the strength and fortitude to be what she wants to be, perhaps I could too. Perhaps I could be a princess…
Or even… the President.
I just read a novel about someone who decided to write a novel to fix all of the problems in her life. And I love how the book spoke to me, as though saying “Yes. Yes, sometimes when life is spinning out of control you need to write. To put down your feelings and thoughts and experiences so you can stop them from bouncing around your head like hydrogen atoms and set them down in a row so you can contemplate them–how they have come to be, how they are connected, and how they are influencing you right now.”
And also I hear the book saying “Don’t expect to be able to control your life through your words, however. You cannot will yourself healthy when you are sick, and the mere act of transmuting emotions into letters on a page won’t instantaneously fix your life either.”
“But isn’t writing a form of therapy in times of trouble?” You may ask. Well, yes. But writing doesn’t magically fix your problems. Writing is sometimes just about recognizing them, and contemplating them, and–if suitably acted upon–evidencing internal growth.
But. And please take note of this: Writing is not about control. Writing is about seeing, recording, wondering “What if?” and “Then what?” If you seek to create a world in your image of what “should be,” I’m afraid your words will fall flat. Writing is about asking questions, and recording the answers. Writing is knowing that your answer may be incomplete, that you may still be looking for the answer, but at least you and your reader can seek it together and she will feel safe walking hand-in-hand with you because you haven’t pretended to know what you do not–you have merely said “here’s how I’m looking, care to join me?”
Writing is also not about counting. Not pages, or words, or revisions. First drafts are not the final; suffice it to say that you will write and rewrite and change and it is ok because the hardest part of writing (albeit sometimes only slightly harder than finally admitting you are done) is putting the damn pen down on the paper in the first place.
It is easier to edit than to write. But here’s the rub: You cannot edit a blank page. You must take the wildly courageous, scary, and slightly insane first step and put some words together.
And then remember that you probably won’t have it done in one draft, and that is ok. (Unless of course you write haiku, but even then I would guess that people have gone back to edit those as well. I know I have.)
And–this is important–what you write may not be the next new Great American Novel. It may be, to speak plainly, absolute shit; a mewling, pathetic, self-involved attempt to make the world understand you better that ends up showing what a narcissistic, immature idiot you really are.
Hey, when did I say this was a pep talk?
Well, maybe it was implied. Ok, scrape your ego off the floor and think about this–when you are writing, you are doing what thousands of people say they will do but never actually attempt. When you are writing, you are creating. When you are writing, you are tapping into immortality.
And, my dear friends, remember this–if, when you are writing, you feel your heart thudding ever-louder in your chest, as though your very soul is attempting to break free from its mortal cage and fly like a bird into eternity…then you are doing what you have been created to do all along. And there is nothing that any editor, publisher, family member, or troll on the Internet can say to destroy this truth. You may not make millions, but if just one person reads your book and, when they get to the end, closes their eyes with a smile and a small sigh (even if that person is you)… then you, my friend, are a writer.
So pick up that pen, my friend, because it’s time to fly.
It’s because the author finally has the chance to rewrite themselves into the person they wish they could be.
Ok, well maybe it’s not (just) that.
When I asked my friends once what I should write about, the answer which resonated the most with me (besides “bacon”) was “Write what you know.”
Well. I know lots of things. But how does that translate into a story that people would want to read?
I would put forth the idea that instead of writing “what” you know, you should write “who” you know.
Now, before you get the Slander police out, let me explain.
A good story–one that pulls you in and makes you sigh when it’s over–is not a story about things or places. It is a story about people–people who live in places, who do stuff and own things. The story is in the interaction. The story is grounded in the where and what, but it is driven by the who.
So how do you write people? By taking from yourself, and from those around you. Where we get caught up as amateurs is in recreating someone we know exactly on paper, in the hopes that we can finally kiss them, or kill them. But these characters we write are their own people, and just as we should not chastise the youngest child for not being like the eldest, our characters must be allowed to grow and develop independently of anyone else.
But that doesn’t mean you can’t steal characteristics of the people you know.
In fact, it is the best way to learn how to write different characters. Not everyone would react to a mouse in their apartment in the same way. If you have a room full of characters who would all scream and jump on a chair, you have not given them unique enough personalities.
Learning how other people “are” is key. And for that you must begin with those close to you, for that is where you can observe, and potentially even ask questions. Watch what they say, and how they act, and then ask yourself why. Why does the little boy pick the mouse up? Perhaps because your little brother loved animals and would have taken the mouse outside, possibly swiping a piece of Brie from the cheese tray on the way out.
How did your neighbor respond when you told her that her dog ate your hydrangeas? Did she sigh resignedly and assume the cost of having them replaced? Perhaps she grew up always being blamed when things went wrong, and even though it was a mistake that the fence door was unlocked last night, she assumed it was just one more mark against her and had long since stopped fighting it.
Writing is as much about observation as it is about imagination, for the former is a building block for the latter. Writing humanity which sees the world differently than you do requires you to look at people and not only ask why, but to accept the answer–whatever it is. It means the kleptomaniac pot smoker and the overly-cheery knitter have an equal right to their personalities, their penchants, and their priorities.
It means you have to accept who the people in your life are.
It means you have to love them… for who they are. Right now.
It means you have to love them more than they may even love themselves.
And yes–this applies to you, too.
Writing may actually be the best way to learn tolerance, acceptance, and love. Because you need each of these to truly support your characters, to allow them independence from your own existence.
One of the best/worst responses you could ever get to a story you’ve written is “That’s exactly what he would do” or “Wait, she would never say that!”
Writing characters means creating people with depth, with backstory, with motivation. It means creating people your readers would like to have as friends. And if you’re anything like me, you catch in a hot second when one character says something that just doesn’t resonate.
Because readers are some of the best observers out there.
That’s why so many of them write.
So go ahead. Write about the guy you’re in love with who barely knows your name. Write about the family that drives cross-country for vacations because your mother was deathly afraid of flying.
Because it’s taking the uniqueness of someone you know and writing it into a character with purpose, intention, and above all, integrity, which creates a character to whom your readers can relate, even if they don’t agree with them at all.
It is showing how disparate people are that can bring us together. Through differing reactions to shared experiences. Through showing that we are all a little weird, a little crazy, a little silly. Just in our own way.
And who knows… maybe if you write him truly enough, the guy you’re in love with will finally realize that all along he’s been in love with you.
But that’s a story for another day.
I don’t hate love just because I’m single on Valentine’s Day. I don’t begrudge those who are blissfully married, and for the record I don’t judge those who elect to celebrate Singles Awareness Day. And I certainly don’t mind if you have chosen to stay home and ignore the hoopla entirely.
I have been in love on Valentine’s Day. I have been out of love. Truth be told, I have been out of love longer than in it.
You would think that I would be content being single by now.
I wish that were fully true. I wish I could say unequivocally that I am happy and fulfilled in my life the way it is and I don’t need anyone else to make it perfect. But mostly I wish that because in so many of the stories I’ve heard about those who found “the one,” it was only after they decided to be ok with just being themselves that they found the person who fully completed them.
My friends, this is something I’m still working on.
I don’t feel guilty for wanting a man in my life, however. I don’t feel guilty for wanting someone to cherish me, just as I cherish him.
But I declare today not to settle for less than the man I deserve. I declare today that I will not allow myself to be less than what I am just to fit in to some stereotyped idea of what a “perfect woman” is.
Because I will not match that expectation, I promise you. I am loud, and I am emotional. I cry at movies, books, and commercials. I pick my nose when I think no one is looking, and I pull out my grey hairs because I don’t want anyone to know I have them. I care deeply about making a good appearance, but I don’t often know or remember proper protocol. I am the opposite of soft spoken, and yet sometimes even my silence will speak louder than your words.
I am not the perfect woman. I will never be the perfect woman. But what I can be is someone who knows herself, and does not allow anyone or anything to get between her and who she is meant to be–even if that “anyone” is me.
Yes, I’ve screwed up, for sure. But to quote from that quintessential ballad of champions: “and bad mistakes, I’ve made a few, I’ve had my share of sand kicked in my face, but I’ve come through.”
And I will come through this season. I know it.
Because while I may be regretting the empty bed I will be crawling into tonight, I will not find myself in the morning regretting that I invited someone, anyone, into it just so I didn’t have to be alone.
While I have allowed the voices of bitterness and sorrow to wash over my heart, drawing out tears of loneliness, I will not accept the words of anyone who seeks to build themselves up by breaking me down.
While I have looked in the mirror and cringed, and have vowed to show the world only my best side (from the neck up, if you’re wondering), I will not accept judgement or shame from someone whose unrealistic expectations stem from the ubiquitousness of Photoshop and the natural metabolism of women 15 years younger than me.
While I have a list of attributes about myself I would love to change–I will accept who I am and seek only improvement, not conformity.
While I often feel that I am not good enough, that I make too many mistakes, I will not accept the lie that I am not worthy of love.
And while I often wish I could be different, I will not accept that who I am is not enough.
I am that which God has made me. I am loved by Him–deeply, passionately, fully, no matter the choices and mistakes I make. I am loved when I show up on time and I am loved when I am an hour late. I am loved when I live with integrity and I am loved when I bend the truth out of fear of rejection. I am loved when I eat a salad and I am loved when I reach for a forth piece of pizza. I am loved when I do my best, and I am loved when I fail miserably.
I am not perfect, and I never will be, but I will rest tonight in the arms of One who gave His life for me despite my unworthiness; One who through His death made me worthy of the greatest of all loves.
And, though I am alone in the physical realm, I will find comfort in knowing that the One who is most worthy of my love will never leave nor forsake me. And He knows I am not made to be alone forever. He knows this is but a season, and He knows that moment when I too, will no longer be alone.
It is that assurance which allows me to not be resentful about the pictures I see on Facebook on Valentine’s Day, the check-ins at nice restaurants, the flowers at the office. Because I know that my time will come. And so I will Like your posts now, because I know that I will be slathering my own all over the interwebs some day. And I will be telling my own story of when I finally met “the one.”
Just do this single girl a favor now and then–remind me that I am loved. Remind me that I am lovely. Don’t just promise future happiness, however; help me instead to revel in the happiness of today. And rejoice when I find the one. Because he’s out there. I’m sure of it.
Yesterday I celebrated the life of a man I didn’t know very well. He attended my church, and he let me pile in the van with his family every now and then when I needed a ride home. He knew every street in the city, all the best places–and most of the worst.
Today I celebrated the life of a man I don’t know very well. He’s a friend of a friend, someone I’ve known for many years but mostly in the context of midnight movies on opening night, and our mutual friend’s parties.
So what’s the difference? The first one, “J,” is dead. The second one, “A,” just celebrated another anniversary of his birth.
This is not the first time I have celebrated birth and death so close to one another.
“Celebrate death?” you may ask. “Why on earth would you celebrate death? Did you hate him?”
No, not at all! But here’s the thing: J had been fighting illnesses, the loss of both his legs, and several other hardships. Throughout it all, he kept up his appetite for life. Throughout it all, I saw the devotion he had for his friends and family. Throughout it all, he knew that when he was done with this world, another (better) one would be waiting for him.
So we celebrated. We celebrated the man he was, the man we met way back forever ago. We wore Cubs colors because that’s what he would have wanted. And we shared stories of happy times. Because that’s what he would have wanted.
And now I am in the suburbs, celebrating A. Even though we don’t know each other exceedingly well, we appreciate each other’s sense of humor, and he has been a boon in these last few months as I have languished under the grief known only to a single girl who wants desperately to love and be loved (but that is for another post), for he has told me time and again to set my standards high and refuse to settle.
I have appreciated his advice, his humor, and his willingness to listen. Throughout it all, I have seen his appetite for life. Throughout it all, I have learned about his devotion to his friends and his wife. So here I am, after taking a train I’ve never been on to a town I’ve never heard of, to have dinner with him, his wife, and his friends. Because that’s what he wanted.
These two men could not be any more different–and yet, and yet in some very important ways they are both the same.
They love, and are loved. They live life to the fullest. They think of others, but they are true to themselves. They are quick to laugh, and if you find yourself in their circle of trust, you will experience a loyalty most people do not know.
And when it is time to celebrate them, you show up. Because you know they would be there for you.
While yesterday’s celebration was perhaps a (tiny) bit more subdued than tonight’s was (although they were both pretty chill), both of these parties are in honor of a man I am glad to have met. Both of them include people I haven’t seen in months or even years. And both of them celebrate life. And love. And friendship. And those are the best kind of all.
I’m writing this from my bed. Why am I telling you this? Because if it ends up looking weird, since it’s my first time using the app, I want an excuse.
But also I’m telling you because I want to be clear about something: I am struggling. I am struggling just the same as you are. (Well, not exactly the same I’m sure, but we’re both struggling with something, I’m positive about that).
Here’s mine: I’m struggling with loving myself. I’m having the devil of a time accepting myself for who I am, imperfections and all. I want to change. I want to be better. I want to stop making mistakes and letting people down. But I cannot change anything about myself until I acknowledge where I am, and who I am, and love myself exactly as I am.
I wish I didn’t have to. I wish I could just work hard and make changes and be a better, more beautiful, more caring person, and then I would be able to accept myself.
But that’s not how it works, is it?
So when the new year rolled around I made a resolution. Only it’s not actually a “resolution,” because I break those.
[Resolutions are often our way of placing big huge expectations on ourselves, which we will never live up to if we do not put in the work it takes to get there.]
So this year I resolved to make one central focus around which I would live.
Yes, that’s the same photo. I don’t know about you, but I need to see it a lot.
Because forgiveness doesn’t always come easily to me. I’ve gotten better at apologies (being in a job where you do that for a living helps), but I’m not very good at receiving forgiveness. Why is that? Because I do not forgive myself. I do not accept less than perfection, and as such I am pretty much a constant disappointment to myself.
And those voices in the back of my head don’t make it any easier. “You didn’t get your house totally cleaned like you said you would. You fail at life.” “You didn’t get this one task done like you promised. Never mind that you’re having internet problems. You’re a terrible person and you don’t deserve to be in leadership.” “Remember that thing you said to that guy last month? That was stupid. You are never going to find love. You’re not good enough for him, and you’re not good enough for anybody.”
These are actual thoughts that have gone through my mind. Today.
But what makes today different is the fact that I stepped back and said “ok, I’m not perfect. That’s ok. I disappointed myself, but I am going to forgive myself. Let’s move on. It won’t be easy, but let’s take it one step at a time.”
Friends, that was the hardest thing I’ve said to myself ever. And it took a battle of will. It’s much easier to agree with the voices. They are sure of themselves. They know me inside and out.
And they are wrong. They’re just so darned persuasive.
Today at church my pastor asked if anyone had made resolutions. Only four of us raised our hands. (I raised mine because even though I don’t really count it as a “resolution,” it is something I resolve to do–something I am resolute about doing.)
Apparently less than half of the U.S. makes resolutions these days (despite what every single advertisement tells you. Mostly I think it’s because we generally break our resolutions).
He then shared with us the idea of taking one word–just one word, to be the focal point of the year. To think about it, and to strive towards it.
We didn’t plan this ahead of time–I promise.
I was so amazed to hear this from someone else, and grateful too–because it confirms my decision–and it means a whole lot of people in my life are now doing the same thing. We each have chosen our own words, but just knowing I’m in this with others is so encouraging.
The best part is that they had set up index cards and markers so we could write down our word. And that (plus some photo effects because I can) is how I came to have this picture. Do you need to see it again?
Here it is anyway.
So there’s my word of the year. It’s not yours. (Ok, it might be yours, too.) But what matters to me is that I have resolved to forgive myself, to accept that forgiveness, and to move on. As often as I need to.
I won’t do it perfectly.
But at least I will forgive myself when I mess up.
Because it might not even be as bad as I may think. Oh–and apparently this app has a preview option. So I think this post will actually turn out ok. Sometimes it just takes accepting that things may not be perfect, but doing your best anyway, to realize that things actually turned out just fine.
So… What’s your word?
At approximately 10:43pm central time, December 31, 2014, I posted a request on Facebook. I wanted to know what my friends were doing for New Year’s Eve. I wanted to know, you see, because I did not do anything.
I very much did something. What I did was stay at home, eat Tombstone pizza from the freezer aisle and drink champagne out of a Pilsner glass because I’m
a very odd duck too lazy to get out the wine glasses just boss like that.
This was not my first New Year’s alone, and it may not be the last.
Ok, Ok, someone wants you to know that I wasn’t alone.
Not that he isn’t a great snuggler, but it is nice having someone who will kiss back at midnight. Oh, well.
I think this is the first New Year that I’ve been truly ok with the whole alone thing though. (And by “truly ok” I mean I’m not ok at all, but I’m nowhere near as despondent as I’ve been other years.)
Mostly I think it’s because about a month ago I had a meltdown.
Ok, you can stop backing away now. Come on, we’re all a little bit crazy, right? We just don’t all talk about it. Except, well, I do. Perhaps it will make you feel better about your own insecurities. Not that you have any, of course. (Well, nothing too big, anyway. Actually… well let’s just keep moving, shall we?)
I had a bit of a meltdown because, unlike you, I find it difficult to divvy up my time between everything I want to do, everything I should do, and everything I need to do. And it all culminated in my wanting to quit everything, stay in my house, and do nothing.
Cut to my taking off the last week of the year. And making no plans. Zero. One of my friends at work asked what I was going to do with my time off. He was about to leave the country for a week. He was stoked. And yet, I don’t think he could even begin to match the level of
excitement anticipation sheer, unadulterated glee that was practically emanating from me that day. I was vibrating with it. “Nothing!” I replied to his question. Emphasis, exclamation point, and underlined for good measure.
And yet every day so far has been full of stuff. In fact I have a to-do list that is so long I know I won’t finish it. There are a few non-negotiables, however. Such as: I forced myself to go grocery shopping today, so I can spend time tomorrow cooking a bunch of meals that I can freeze. And I had to go spend $270 I don’t really have to buy insulin for the love of my life (see photo above. Oh wait, they both are. I mean the cat). And my house is that kind of mess where you’re about half-way done cleaning so it looks awful but you know that if you just keep at it it’ll look a whole lot better very soon. And I am going to the Art Institute on Friday so I can spend some time doing something that will fill me up.
Because I had that breakdown in a time of emptiness. A time when I asked myself “Why?” and I couldn’t come up with an answer. A time when I asked myself if I could do it (ah, “it,” that ephemeral pronoun of all the things you need to do) and the answer was, emphatically, no. And it was a time when I asked myself if I was ever going to be good enough, if I was ever going to make the right choices, save money, have a clean house, and maybe, just one day, lose that weight. And the answer, the dark whisper in the dead of night over the gaping hole that is my self-esteem, was “no.”
It was that meltdown that made me realize I needed to spend some time on myself. I posted about it on Facebook and got amazing feedback and support (thank you). A wonderful friend of mine introduced me to the term “Self-Care.” I love this term because it shows that one must take care of one’s self. But here’s the thing… “taking care” isn’t just being lazy or self-centered. It isn’t taking a day off work and not getting dressed and staying on the couch all day watching movies… unless that is exactly what you need. But in this last year that has been my default “I am so exhausted I just can’t do anything else” move. And I wanted this time off to be different.
So I’ve spent time with friends, and I’ve spent time alone. I did the dishes and the laundry (Ok well the laundry is still in a pile in my room, but at least it’s all clean now). And I have spent time with friends and family too, even if it’s just over the phone.
And I’ve found myself a little more relaxed, a little more human, and… a little more likable. At the same time, I am a lot more driven. Driven to clean, driven to do the dishes. (Oh yes, also driven to sleep in and watch movies on the couch, but come on, this is essentially the second real vacation I’ve had all year). And no, I haven’t finished my to-do list. I won’t. But I’m going to forgive myself. You know why? Because I have to love who I am before I can make changes to what I do.
Let me say that again. I have to love who I am before I can make changes to what I do.
That’s why I haven’t made many changes. That’s why every day I find myself hating myself. Or at least some aspect of myself. And when you hate yourself, you don’t protect yourself from making bad decisions. Problem is, I’ve made enough of those. I am ready to clean house, physically, metaphorically, spiritually. I know that I won’t get it all done during this week. But then
Rome wasn’t built in a day practice makes perfect [insert whatever frothy platitude you like best here].
Cut to New Year’s Eve.
New Year’s Eve was always the night when I made the most money as a kid. Yes, I was that bastion of suburban life–the babysitter. I was the girl who played with your kids, then sat on your couch eating your food watching the ball drop on your TV, and getting paid to do so. This isn’t my first kissless Midnight.
Ever since then, New Year’s Eve became this Thing for me. A day I dreaded, a day I hated, a day I sometimes looked forward to, but mostly a day when reality didn’t live up to the hype that had grown in my own mind. A day when all I want is to be with the one I love, to get that kiss at midnight with his arms folded around me, entering the new year in my loved one’s embrace, my lips pressed to his, our scents mingling, a secret smile shared between only us.
You get why I’m depressed sometimes, right? I’m much too good at imagining how it’s “supposed to be.”
That’s why this year… this year wasn’t about expectations. This year isn’t about promising myself that I will be perfect in 2015, that I will get up on time and be at work early and make good choices with my money and eat nothing but vegetables and get all my projects done on time. Come on.
So I stayed at home, and finished my Harry Potter marathon. I took a break to watch the ball drop, and then I went back to the movie. And do you know what those movies are about? Love. Loving yourself, and loving others. Love means finding out who you are, and accepting it. And it means finding out who others are, and accepting that as well.
At the time that I wrote this, a fair handful of people have answered my question on Facebook. What were the other people in my world doing today?
- Watching the ball drop on TV
- Watching the ball drop in NYC
- Taking shots
- Taking pictures
- Falling asleep
Sounds like, in a way, we’re all doing about the same thing. What matters most is that, whatever you do, you do it with someone you love. So maybe I spent tonight with myself. But you know what? I’m a pretty good date.