Freelance by Jen

Consider me the No More Tangles of your writing needs.

Today is the hardest day.

There is no one obvious reason for that. But today, I have to keep reminding myself that there are obvious reasons to keep going.

And the absurdity of that gives me pause. Because of course there are obvious reasons to keep living. There are so many wonderful people in the world. And animals. And missions. And foods. And plants. Bodies of water. You get the picture. I could list, and list, and list, all the things that I love, and still never remember them all. Being face to face in the past month (in the excavation of all the papers and projects, of drawings and diaries, that my parents saved – over twenty years’ worth!) with stages of my life, literally, has reminded me both of who I am and who I’ve always been.

And that’s been good…and bad.

On Sunday, when Josh and the boys went to his mother’s, I made myself go to the garage and face the piles. I separated each paper out and weighed its importance. With each layer, I watched myself grow up – watched my gross motor skills unfold into ever-finer versions, watched my artwork skill level stay pretty much the same. I saw my difficulty in writing capital J’s that faced the right way morph into careful cursive, then girly 80s teenage cursive in ink of aqua and pink and purple. I read what was maybe my first ever diary entry, made carefully on October 19, 1983. I was eight, and had just learned that my grandfather and best friend had died suddenly the night before of an aneurism. I read my first-ever fiction story, “My Life as a Mug,” which is about exactly what you think.

And then, I started a bonfire and burned all the excess, saving one or two things from each stage of life. It was a cleansing process, but also a sobering and draining one. I knew that there would never be a point in my future life in which I was like, “Let me make my very impressive point with a visual aid: this mediocre math paper from when I was 12.” But there’s still something about knowing that it was lost forever that felt very permanent.

See, it’s been a gradual lowering of the curtains on my will to keep moving forward this year, something that makes me completely normal. And I don’t want the stupid curtains to lower, but god, they’re heavy. But I still try in myriad ways.

Every day, I record things that I’m grateful for in my gratitude journal. But at the close of every day, it’s a little more like the intro in Tales from the Darkside when everything goes, well, Darkside.

Every day, I try to make micro choices for the better. But every night, it’s hard to even move.

And so now, today, I’m making one more huge push to choose well with the writing of this post. Today, a day in which the sun is beaming relentlessly, yet the temperature is reasonable – a crazy rarity in a Missouri August. My husband is finishing up the new shower, meaning that, for the first time since I moved here, we can actually shower in our bathroom. We have tree guys here, actually cutting down limbs that have needed cut for, easily, three years.

And on the other side, there is the persistence, and permanence, of loss. I’ve lost three very important people to me this summer: one to death, two to life choices that led them down different paths. Because, obviously, I’m not the only person struggling through this landscape. And, obviously, I can’t control anyone but myself.

But when you’re depressed, really depressed, the enormity of realities weigh so heavily that changing them, or even looking at them realistically, feels impossible. Everything feels impossible. Applying for jobs and hearing nothing gets old. Being glad that you hear nothing because you have no idea if that work environment is safe, then feeling guilty that you feel glad because you need money, gets old. Watching those around you work productively and measuring yourself against them, even though you know better, gets old.

Our house is organized. Our yard looks great. Our plants are thriving. I’ve done everything I can do here, given what I have to work with; thrown myself into every project I can to stave off the existential dread. I’ve researched gut health and how it might be affecting me chemically. I’ve read up on mind-body connections, reached out to friends, looked at hundreds of memes, written every day, taken online classes.

But I’m tired, boss. I’m so tired. And so tired of being tired. As much as I know mental health should be taken just as seriously as physical ailments, I’m still embarrassed. I still don’t want to tell anyone.

So I’m telling everyone.

If you’re out there, and you’re reading this, and you’re struggling, please know you’re not alone. There are so, so many of us right there with you. There are so, so many of us really, really struggling to get through every day, and sometimes every minute.

And we all want to keep you around.

Song of the day: My favorite song, Where Is My Mind, The Pixies. I love this song. I love every version of it. The original is great, but this one by Maxence Cyrin is so hauntingly beautiful, as well.

Comic of the day: Hyperbole and a Half. The stories about depression really, really resonate. Thank you, Allie Brosh.

There are a couple of things that I really hate about the weird in-between of the Covid job search.

I’m just being coy. I hate WAY more than a couple of things. But for the purposes of time, I’m going to narrow it down to a couple.

The first: seeing posts/getting messages directing me to posts that express a very big need for very specific positions, largely related to my very specific skill set. Posts that make me think, oh man, I write copy, THEY need people who write copy – what could possibly go wrong?

The answer, as you may have guessed, is everything. But let’s break it down into the three possible scenarios here: one good, and two bad. And then let’s throw the good one right out, because it defeats the purposes of talking about what I don’t like.

To be fair, there is no good way to reject someone. Even if you follow, to the letter, the “right” way to reject applicants, it’s obvious that there are going to be hurt feelings. (That being said, I do want to give a shout-out to a real rock star at one company for sending me the job posting, while also delicately mentioning that if I didn’t match said posting description, she really would prefer not to waste our time. I didn’t, and told her, and now she’s my shining example of hiring personnel. Also to the friend who has referred me to two great companies and did introductions for me – Allison, you’re great!)

But I digress.

So you can either skim and reject, following up with either a form letter or nothing at all, or you can read and reject, following up with a rejection that leaves no doubt that the person was deliberately not chosen, without telling them why.

I think I prefer the generic qualities of a form letter. There was one position I applied for, at a really great company known for its Andy’s frozen custard, that had over 500 applicants. I did not envy this company for the selection process, nor did I expect to make the initial round of callbacks. And, man, the person who DID get hired? I bet they’re like, REALLY good at marketing. Even though I like to think that marketing a delicious product like Andy’s frozen custards would be a little bit easier than, say, driveway sealant or whatever. Nothing against sealants. They look great. But, you know. You can’t eat them.

You definitely shouldn’t try, I mean.

There was another position I applied for, at a great agency that just started up, and marketed to industries with which I have marketing experience: craft beer, food, and cannabis (okay, maybe I haven’t marketed cannabis, but I’m really, really down with trying). A friend of mine knew the owners. She facilitated an introduction. Aaaand…nothing. A few days later, I sent an email follow-up, and got shot down super, super fast. It was one of those “If we have anything that feels like you might be a good fit, we’ll let you know.”

I CAN WRITE SO WELL ABOUT FOOD AND BEER AND YOU’RE HIRING FOR SOMEONE WHO CAN WRITE ABOUT SAME WHAT EVEN IS THE PROBLEM!?

And now, for something good:

Song of the Day (Context: I spent my birthday sifting through memories and hauling them out of my dad’s attic, so everything is VERY mixed-tapeish and bathed in the glow of my neon-colored lenses right now): Melt with You, Modern English. The Valley Girl Soundtrack was ALL over that attic (see featured photo for visual evidence).

Ooh! Bonus positive content that’s even educational, making this the…Educational tidbit of the day: This: !? is known as an interrobang, making it easily the coolest name for punctuation that exists. (Reddit has been so good to me these past four months. More so than usual.)

Tomorrow, I turn 45.

As a marketer, I think a lot in demographics, so this particular age means something to me. As weird as it felt last year, realizing that I was about to leave 35-44 behind, I’m excited to tackle 45-54.

I’m EXCITED to be 45. I want to take back the negative connotations that number has come to mean to me as a woman in these past several years.

I want to Make 45 Great Again, you might say.

Stranger than being excited about 45, though, is how much I feel a lot younger. Between being displaced in my industry due to Covid and sifting through my childhood during my dad’s downsizing move and my mom’s “Hey why don’t you go through stuff here too?” reasonable requests, I’ve spent a lot of time in the past four weeks being confronted with, and getting to know in many ways for the first time, Past Jen.

What always hits first are the memories of having few friends, and reading a lot when I was young. I was shy. VERY shy.

What I didn’t remember was being attached to dolls or stuffed animals of any kind.

But when I was home over the weekend, I had a real “We determined THAT was a lie” moment. First, my sister brought over my birthday presents, and had included a Holly Hobbie doll and a Poochie stuffed dog she had found in her things. And when I saw them, flashbacks ensued.

The Holly Hobbie rag doll was born the same year I was, and Poochie came along in the early-mid 80s. With Holly, it was easy. There was a rag doll. I owned one. She was huggable and basic, and covered the needs of a very young child who was afraid of people.

By the time Poochie came along, there was the whole merchandising wave of 80s toys and action figures. There were plush dogs, there were stampers, there were little dog-shaped clips…and I had them all.

What I didn’t expect, with either of these, was the emotion that would rush to the surface. I grabbed those stuffed remnants of childhood and hugged them as closely as you would hug anyone you never expected to see again. And later that day, when I went up to the old attic to make sure that there was nothing else I needed, there was more hugging.

My old toy box, still intact but falling apart, full of items like a little stole I had in kindergarten that matched a little “grown-up kid” coat I loved. A portrait of me at maybe two? still wrapped in the original plastic. Old scratch and sniff markers that long since lost their scents. A tiny little colored pencil set meant for tiny little hands. A stuffed bear I had gotten at Mount Rushmore. My KU basketball camp shoes from the year I got to rap Beastie Boys with – and be coached by – Lynette Woodard, the first female Harlem Globetrotter. A book from a series I loved when I started college and struggled with a second, crushing wave of shyness, because its characters were also starting college, and there was an overweight character I strongly identified with, who was scared of people, but joined the college newspaper staff anyway.

And later, at my mom’s, there were copies of all of my staff newspapers, from high school to Cottey College to The Vernon County Record (my short-lived post-college newspaper career paper). There was a high school paper I’d written about Macbeth, with snarky comments from a smug English teacher (“Nice effort, my dear. Nice effort. Your metaphors are cute, but don’t use them. But this part is good, even great.”) whom I hadn’t liked then and definitely didn’t like on second read, decades later. (Several of his comments were dead on and constructive, to be fair. Also, I hadn’t actually read Macbeth, so I felt lucky to have snuck by with a B+.)

There was a folder full of my terrible grades from college astronomy, a class I took because I like, really liked stars and stuff. God, did that class make me realize how much I should have taken biology.

There were newspapers covering my high school graduation, my son’s birth, the opening of my grandfather’s baseball museum. There was a photo album full of my son’s childhood that I had spent five years thinking had accidentally gone into a box of donated items after he graduated.

There was the doll my mom had made for me, dressed in a replica NHS tennis outfit with a “Novak”-emblazoned letter jacket, ponytail adorned with all four of my graduation tassels – something else I thought was lost to the hastily-assembled donation collection.

But the biggest find for me after the weekend of confronting another 2020 goodbye was how much this year of loss brought me back to face the girl I have always been. Now, as then, I’m starting from the beginning. The industry I loved is gone. I’m pulling from distant memories and courses, trying to put together a resume that proves I know something aside from working at a movie theater, even though all I really want to do is grab a book and my Itty Bitty Book Light and my Holly Hobbie doll and hide under the covers until it’s safe again.

Until it is safe, though, there is something very comforting in having a few things that brought me solace at different stages of my life, all under the same roof again. Regardless of how ridiculous it may seem, I’m hugging them all, even my basketball shoes, extra tight.

And, you know what? I think it helps.

Song of the day: I never thought of myself as a Taylor Swift fan, but her new album, Folklore, is a beautiful auditory ride. Her song exile, with Bon Iver, hits just right.

In January of 1996, I was going about my business at college when I abruptly realized that I was probably pregnant.

I wasn’t in terrible shape mentally, considering the enormity of this bombshell. My fiancé and I had already bought a house the previous October, had already set our wedding date for that upcoming June, and had already begun the makings of a nice little start in life.

So anyway, I was talking to a classmate that day about our schedules for the new semester, and suddenly interrupted myself to blurt, “Oh shit. I might be pregnant” (paraphrasing, but that feels like how it probably went). She took it in stride, because college, and asked me when my last period was, to which I replied, “Uh…November maybe?” And then she was like, “Oh shit. You’re probably pregnant.”

That hunch paid off later in the week after a visit to the doctor’s office, when I received official confirmation. I was 20 years old, and could barely take care of myself, but for whatever reason, I felt pretty great about this baby, in spite of the fact that I had never fantasized about being either a wife or a mother.

I felt pretty great about this baby – provided, that is, that it was a boy.

See, I was a girl. (Hell, I guess I still am.) I knew girls. And I knew I didn’t want ANY part of what girls brought to the table. I couldn’t even fix my own hair (then or still). I remembered crying when my mom even brushed mine. I remembered mean girl tricks, beginning in the THIRD GRADE and moving along right into adulthood. I remembered just preferring to be friends with boys from an early age, because they were so much easier to understand. It’s not that I identified as a boy, but I did identify as barely a girl.

Periods. First dates. Lots of crying. Dramatic showdowns.

Nope, nope, no way, and NOPE.

Fast forward to my July ultrasound, where my new husband and I tried, and failed, to understand the blurry blob we were looking at on the screen. When the tech asked if we wanted to know the sex, we both blurted “YES!” And when she revealed that it was a boy, I was – we were – overjoyed. Thrilled. I felt like Jimmy Stewart at the end of It’s a Wonderful Life. “It’s a boy! It’s a boy, old movie house! It’s a boy, Mr. Potter!” I told EVERYONE. Even and especially if they didn’t ask, or showed no interest.

And then, by the next day, I began to freak out that there was a mistake and it was actually a girl, and oh god what if it WAS? To prepare, I halfheartedly bought a couple of dresses at a yard sale, and painted the nursery a neutral yellow – you know, to be safe. It was only when we had checked into the hospital and the nurses said they needed a name for a boy AND a girl that we hastily settled on a girl name – Alanis Marie, after my favorite singer, plus my aunt’s middle name. Boom. We had all our bases covered.

But then…it WAS a boy.

There was no feeling, before or since or ever, that has compared to the feeling I got when I met my son. I couldn’t believe I was looking at the person who had kicked the remote off my stomach from the inside, who had taught me what heartburn was, who had hung with me nonstop for what felt like 17, but was actually just past nine, months. My baby. My angel. My special purpose.

Man, was I glad he wasn’t a girl.

I continued to be glad, all through his non-dramatic, super-chill childhood. When I didn’t have to have the sex talk with him because I was a girl and he was a boy, and really, what did I know? When I didn’t have to talk about periods. And when he was in first grade and decided to grow out his hair to donate to Locks of Love, he brushed it and cared for it himself.

I got pretty lucky all the way around with the kid.

He had a couple of girlfriends, one in middle school, one in high school, and I adored them both (and still think very highly of them). But then he turned 16, and morphed right into a punk.

His dad and I were lucky to have made it that far before there were problems. Most parents didn’t have that luxury. But Hunter packed a lot of worry into those last two years of high school. And I came to not trust anything he said or did (anyone who’s navigated teen-dom, or known a teen, or watched a show about teens once, should know what I’m talking about here).

It was at the beginning of his senior year that he and I got a house on our own. I was going through a divorce with his stepfather. It felt like a great idea – almost a sitcom. We’d both have a fresh start, hijinks would ensue, the laugh track would be on perpetually, and maybe there’d even be a Hallmark movie about us.

That rosy outlook lasted almost no time at all. Soon after we got our little house, I woke up in the middle of the night and heard…a girl’s voice in the next room. I really, really wanted to know who this person was, but I also really, really knew I needed to be at work early. Hunter was 18 at this point. I was jaded. I told myself to find out who she was, and make sure he knew that I was not EVEN about this little sneak-around, even though I had absolutely done the same kind of shit myself when I was a senior in high school. At the very least, I vowed, I’d tell him to be careful.

Anyway, I didn’t. But one day soon after, I came home from work early, and caught her there. To my surprise, it didn’t seem like he was trying to hide her, though. In fact, he introduced me to her proudly, and I knew instantly that this was something different. I was worried, first of all, upon discovering that she was a sophomore. And she looked like a young sophomore. Braces. Glasses. Just a fresh-faced kid, really. But she was bubbly from the beginning. Friendly. To be honest, on that first day, I was more worried for her, that he would break her heart, than I was for him.

I kept my guard up for a long time with them. It was not great, timing-wise, for my kid to get tangled up with an innocent, and especially a younger, girl. Hunter was going through a rough time, and I felt like he needed to really focus on staying well and graduating. Girls – any girls at all – were a distraction he didn’t need.

But she stayed. And the next month, when she turned 16 (on HALLOWEEN, my favorite day of the year!), she got a job at the movie theater I managed. And damned if I didn’t start to like her even more. She was funny. She was quirky. She did the work I asked all of my staff to do but few did.

And eventually, I met her parents, and two little brothers. And of course, they were also all great. And, most importantly, they loved my son. When Hunter managed to graduate that May, they got him a fantastic gift basket, beautifully put together in the colors of the college he had chosen to attend.

My only worry at that point, and it wasn’t even a real worry, was that these two had found each other too soon. Young love doesn’t often last.

Unfortunately, they were no exception. Hunter struggled at the college he had initially chosen. He shut himself off, and down, from the world. And,18 months or so after I first met sweet Shelby, they had broken up.

The difference between her and previous girlfriends was that, this time, Hunter didn’t bounce back and move on immediately. He didn’t carry forth, as if nothing had happened. He pined. He talked about her frequently. He didn’t have any interest in any other girls. He spent months like this, having dropped out of school, going through that awful period of fresh adulthood where you’re just not ready to grow up, but definitely not ready to stay a kid. And, eventually, he decided that he was going to pull himself together and win her back.

And this girl, this tiny little girl with the braces, this little girl who was maybe 100 pounds dripping wet, made him work for it. She didn’t put up with his shit. She didn’t accept excuses. She shut him down until he was ready to grow up. She blew him off until he was really ready to be responsible. (She told me later that her mom had taught her not to settle, and not to put up with less than she deserved. That was the day I realized that her emotional maturity at 18 far outweighed mine at 40.)

And it was then, when they were apart and I saw my son, for whom life had come effortlessly for so many years, work harder than he ever had to gain her trust, that I fell in love with Shelby, too.

I saw that they supported each other, and pushed each other to be better people. I saw that when one was down, the other was there with a hand to help. I saw that they were, truly, best friends. And when they got back together, it was better than any will-they-or-won’t-they TV couple. I’m not sure who was happier – me or them. (It felt like me, but we may never know for sure.)

Shelby graduated from high school, and went on to college at Northwest Missouri State University on an art scholarship (she is an amazing artist, and I don’t say that lightly). And Hunter followed. He got a job in a factory, which, as factory jobs have done for so many, quickly pushed him to go back to school. He put in double hours while maintaining a full-time job so that now, three years later, the two of them will graduate together. And after that? They’re moving HERE!, while Shelby goes to grad school and Hunter, hopefully, finds a teaching position.

This is all a long-winded backstory to the point I really came here to make (and anyone who knows me, knows that it’s pretty much how I always am): this beautiful boy, and this beautiful girl…got engaged today.

And my heart may explode before I finish writing this.

With Shelby, that whole “I’m not losing a son, I’m gaining a daughter” stuff makes sense. And the irony is not lost on me.

All of those years ago, and all of those years since, the last thing I wanted was a daughter. I didn’t want the mess. The drama. The loudness. The hair brushing. The makeup stuff. The fighting.

But Shelby taught me that a daughter was exactly what I was waiting for, all this time, without even knowing it. So it is that, long after I thought having a child was behind me, I finally got my little girl.

And guys – she. is. BEAUTIFUL.

Don’t get me wrong. I love gray. Most of the walls in my house are some shade of gray. Most of my non-black wardrobe is gray. Don’t even get me STARTED on my love of charcoal.

I don’t love when everything in my brain feels gray.

It’s not pleasant, at all. But it’s also not…horrible? I want to call it a cottony emptiness, but that sounds kind of cozy, and it’s definitely not that.

The days are the same. Don’t go anywhere unnecessary, which for me means out to eat (we didn’t ever do much of that anyway), lunch with friends (something I was doing fairly regularly, and may be part of the depression), or, and this is the big one, to the gym.

Since it’s not my first go-around with depression, I know what works for me. Showering as soon as I get out of bed seems to help, as does blogging as quickly as possible. Or, and this is the big one, working out.

For the first five-ninerty days of quarantine, I struggled to find a routine. Without a job, I canceled my gym membership, which was a place I’m still not comfortable going at this point. I tried YouTube routines, halfheartedly. I wrote up a schedule and tried to follow it. But it wasn’t the same.

Until my friend Jen Miller, a personal trainer, got into Beachbody.

First, yes, Beachbody is considered MLM (multi-level marketing). And I’m an introverted, non-MLM peddler. But the program still helped me feel like I was still working out with people…without working out with people. And that got me back on track. Plus, their shakes are actually good, which is super rare (though I have to say, in addition to Shakeology, I have really enjoyed Ka’Chava and highly recommend it).

Plus, I’m not peddling it. I’m just saying it has worked for me. There’s an app that works on your phone, computer, or smart TV. There are a ton of different programs, from light yoga to hard-core HIIT, from 20 minutes to 60. There’s dancing. There’s stretching.

And not a damn one of them sounded good to me today. I got up, I made my bed, I showered…and then I laid flat back down on my back and spaced out for a good half hour. I thought about what a mistake it’s been to get back on Facebook and read so many comments accusing the unemployed of being lazy and “living off the government.” I thought about how many jobs I’ve applied for every day, and how the great part of living in the time we do is that I can see how many other people have applied for the same job (over 500 on one yesterday). I thought about how many people have it worse. It had the makings of a nice little shame spiral.

But I also knew I had to get up and do something, or risk losing another day to the grayness. So I switched on Beachbody, thinking to myself that nothing was going to work.

Until I saw a program called “The Work.” The title itself turned me right off. But the tagline of “Workouts – Explicit” turned me right back on.

Turns out The Work has plenty of cussing. It’s hard. But it’s not all false pep and cheerleading. It’s admitting that something’s really hard and it really, really sucks, but eventually you’re going to get through it, and in the meantime, may as well drop an F-bomb or a “damn” every now and again.

And if you’re not into that, there are clean versions, too. But I’m way into that so I haven’t watched those yet.

I pushed myself through the workout, and I’m not going to sugar-coat it…I didn’t keep up so well. But I made it. And by the end, I felt flushed and alive.

In these times, we’re all scared. And we all handle that fear in different ways. Maybe by diving into home-improvement projects. Maybe by trolling people online to cover up our own lack of confidence. And maybe, joyfully cussing along with people onscreen as you practice prolonged social distancing.

Thanks, Explicit The Works dude. Because of you, I’m going to power through one more day.

Song of the Day: Come Down, Anderson .Paak. When I did used to work out with people, Jen (mentioned above) was one of my instructors. She busted this song out in 2016, and I like to go back to it when I want to feel like the badass I’m absolutely not. It’s a nice quick punch in the arm, but not the kind that hurts.

I remember (possibly incorrectly) lying on the living room floor of our house when I was five, while my parents told me that we would be moving to a different house. While it was in the same town, it was still a different house.

And I wasn’t having it.

In fact, I refused to leave. I had done the same thing when my parents traded the family car, Mary, in for a different car. Mary was green and beautiful. The new car was black and – not green. Change was just not something I was interested in pursuing, and a blanket “opt out” would’ve been super.

However, I wasn’t allowed to stay in that old house (though my aunt actually moved in, and lived there for the next 30ish years, so I got to visit at least). Instead, we went across town, to the biggest and scariest house I’d ever seen in my admittedly young life.

It had a huge scary old basement, and a huge scary old attic with rafters and creakiness and sometimes pigeons who bumbled their way in and banged around up there. There was a giant attic fan, which I was certain would be where they’d find my mangled body one day.

All of the rooms had very high ceilings (they looked probably 20 feet when I was that age, but hell, they’re probably 15 anyway). Red carpet and velvet wallpaper dominated the main floor. Two separate two-flighted staircases took visitors to the bedrooms. One, so tiny and narrow and creaky, was in the kitchen. The other, wide and welcoming, had a floor-to-ceiling stained glass window on the landing between flights. It also had a great bannister for sliding down.

I opted for the front staircase for my transport. And, though I lobbied hard to NOT have the bedroom at the top of the stairs (a shy and naturally suspicious kid growing up in the milk-carton-kids days, I knew it was just a matter of time before I was stolen away in the night, and it would be so much more convenient for a kidnapper to just grab the kid at the top of the stairs), I got it anyway.

But what a bedroom it was. The first one I had was at the top of the creaky kitchen steps and actually used to be a bathroom, though I couldn’t figure out what business a bathroom had in being that large. It had its own sink and built-in drawers and shelves, and my parents let me have squirrels-in-nurseries-caring-for-babies wallpaper (just a really great wallpaper). That room also had one of the 5000sf houses’s window air units, so I had it made. (The other was in our living room, forever away.) What sucked about it was that there was an adjoining door connecting it to my brother’s room, and he was a slob. Just a genuinely messy person. (HA, Ryan. You’re OUTED.) My parents got the really great room, with the giant multi-windowed turret, but that wallpaper was flowered and lame so it was fine.

My other favorite room was the parlor, though once our piano moved in, it became forever known as the music room. The room was pink, with plastered wall trim that looked like frosting on a magnificent cake. It had forgone the red carpet in favor of a splashy rose print. It also had a fireplace with real gold threaded in the tiles, and a real scary little porcelain “guardian angel” hanging on the top with a tiny little well at its base to hold holy water. (I didn’t trust it. In fact, I believed for many years that the guardian angel was actually the keeper of the ghosts. More on that later.)

With the exception of the kitchen, each room had pocket doors that disappeared into the wall, crafted of birds-eye maple and walnut and who knows what else. One set, separating the parlor from what I called the front room, was made of two woods, so that each matched the wood of the room it faced.

About a year after we moved in, my dad decided that it would be great if we had our own pool, even though we didn’t swim. And he was right. I spent many summers practicing my routine to qualify for the U.S. Women’s Synchronized Swimming team. I had a cousin in Lincoln who had such a team AT HER HIGH SCHOOL, and she taught me some tricks. I practiced those moves like someone who had a real shot at greatness, with my boombox poolside blasting out my routine music (Janet Jackson’s Nasty Boys).

We were figuring it out, and life was good. And then my mom found that she was expecting again, and our family was going to grow more.

When my sister was born, we all moved rooms, and I went into my parents’ old turreted and lamely-wallpapered room which was, of course, also at the top of the stairs. My brother moved into the room next to me, so there was a 50/50 split as far as which of us would be taken first. My parents went to my brother’s old room so that my sister’s new room could be through the connecting door.

And we were a family. We were a family that lived and ran and played and got in trouble and played with the next-door neighbors (they also had three kids basically the same ages as us). We built forts in bushes and under the weeping willow tree. We picked fruit from the apple and pear trees. We had the best birthday parties. My mom decorated our porch like the scariest haunted house on Halloween, complete with spooky sounds and green lights, and we had trick-or-treaters by the hundreds every year. She also made me and my friends countless signature desserts there, from Texas sheet cake to Peanut Butter Rice Krispie Treats to virgin pina coladas.

My mom’s peanut butter cashew Rice Krispie treats

We filled the space. We had guests a lot. Family reunions centered around our home. When I got into sports, team parties were perpetual, from softball to basketball to tennis. I took for granted all the work my mom did to keep it as sparkling clean as she did. I became accustomed to having so much space to myself. We were all happy.

Unfortunately, nothing gold can stay. My parents seemed to be fighting a lot, and eventually that fighting turned to silence, which was even worse. Add to that fighting me, being a real asshole of a teenager, and our family dynamic was pretty broken. And when I was 16, they decided to divorce. My mom, brother and sister moved across town. My dad and I stayed.

My senior year, then, I spent throwing senior parties (even though I didn’t drink, falsely believing that heartburn was early signs of a heart attack, which must mean I was allergic to alcohol). My friends and I basically lived there, swimming and being loud, teenage jerks. It was the best part of high school, though, by far.

And then my dad met a really great girl, and I spent evenings home alone when they were out, listening to Kenny Loggins’ The Real Thing on repeat on our rad CD player, remembering the way the house used to sound. The way things used to be before we all disconnected with such finality.

And then that girl became my stepmom, and her son my stepbrother. And then my dad and stepmom announced that she was expecting, and everything felt different. The house didn’t feel like the same house anymore. I felt like I didn’t belong there, and moved out to go to college.

In the years since, I stayed in town. I married and had a son, who was just a couple years younger than my sister. They played together. Our family had grown, that’s all. The house was filled with laughter and celebrations again. And it was good.

But nothing gold can stay. We all grew up and moved out. The house was there, always, but mostly as the place we gathered on Christmas Eve. Once I moved to another town, I would only spend one night a year in my hometown, and it was always my mom’s because we had Christmas morning there.

The laughter was still there, but the house was empty a lot. It made sense for another family to be able to grow and fill it with their lives and laughs. It was a lot of upkeep for my dad and stepmom. And so they made the decision to let it go.

And just as I was at five, so I am at 45. I don’t want to let go. I loved it so much. It was my safe space. My escape. Where I learned to ride a bike, and do a handstand (in the pool). Where I fine-tuned my synchronized swimming routine and practiced for the annual Hoop Shoot free throw competition by shooting 250 free throws in my driveway every night. It’s where I had my clubhouse (with a membership of one) that was the shed separating our property from the rental houses my parents owned behind us. It’s where I had my Nerd Prom freshman year since only upperclassmen could go to the real prom.

It’s where I learned to play the piano and suffered through the clarinet. It’s where I came back from in shame when I took too many Mini Thins one night because they were SO TINY (everyone was doing it, after all) and consequently had my stomach pumped my senior year.

It’s where I listened to SO MUCH Pearl Jam the year after I graduated, when two of my friends died within a few months of one another.

It’s where I married my son’s father, six months pregnant and scared as hell.

It was everything to us for so long.

And now, it will be everything to someone else. Fortunately, they will have the benefit of central heat and air.

To those who come next: we loved her. And we hope very much that you do, too.

Song of the day: Kenny Loggins, The Real Thing. It got me through a lot of long nights, and I still have the original CD to this day. Thank you, Kenny. And thanks, mom and dad and Jayne and old house, for a great ride.

In our previous world of on-the-go living, multi-tasking has been heralded as not only the way to get everything done quickly, but also, almost essential to keep up because, you know, on-the-go living.

In our current world of fresh-new-hell-daily living, multi-tasking seems both less- and more-important. Because we’re on fire and the world is on fire and we have to have all of our frantic-worry-bases covered before everything burns to the ground.

The point is, man do I love hyphens.

Before your mind starts to form the thought, yes, I totally know that multi-tasking has been repeatedly proven to make you less good at basically everything because you’re not fully focusing on any of it.

But try telling that to my open computer tabs.

I have a lot of availability, but I’m still failing to get things done because I keep getting distracted. Sidebar ads, remembering that I never did look up that one thing, remembering that I needed to link to something and need the link to link the thing to the thing, online classes, LinkedIn because believe it or not, I’m not complacently collecting unemployment without a care in the world…it’s stupid.

Right now, I have tabs for the following open: StackSkills Microsoft Excel: Beginner to Advanced, Full Tutorial course, Coursera Science of Well-Being lecture (both useful, both helpful), Rothy’s outlet (never owned a pair, have no job, have no need of shoes), Gmail, Outlook mail, calendar (empty), LinkedIn, Indeed (need job, actually helpful), my Freelance by Jen website (to type this), Reddit (I stand by that just, like, always), and two donut-related (Hurts website and Hurts Facebook page).

The problem: not really focusing on any one of them. Well, this, now. But you know what I mean.

My boss told me once, very quietly, that I shouldn’t think about anything else until I finished one thing. He’s not one to mince words, so when he does speak, it seems wiser and shit. For whatever reason, though, something I totally knew felt like brand-new information when he said it. It helped me in many cases, and still re-sets me regularly.

However, he doesn’t live with me and we’re both currently laid off, so remembering is hard.

Remembering all the things I fleetingly thought of once, though, is easy. It’s so easy I do it all the time. Especially when I’m trying to sleep.

Anyway, I think the point is that we can’t fix everything all at once. We’re all doing the best we can right now (well, I mean, really always, but man is right now particularly hard). And it’s natural, I hope, to want to think of anything BUT what’s happening in the country and in the world.

Song of the day: If it’s the Beaches, The Avett Brothers. Well, the beaches certainly aren’t helping right now, but this song will help get you through it. I’ve loved Avett for a long time, and they’re in my top three concerts I really want to attend. Someday.

Donut of the day: this elevated birthday princess from Hurts. I haven’t had a donut in a long time. Too long. Time to change that. Plus, my birthday IS this month, so it’s totally fine.

*Photo courtesy of The Crimson (and it’s perfect)

This is a sentence that my husband frequently says. Well, like, the blank is always filled in with a word, of course, but it highlights his quest for knowledge. A quest that, I have to say, doesn’t seem to have real limits.

In the past four months, he has taught himself pretty much everything about home remodels and a whole lot about car repairs. He can build a shower pan and he can put in an alternator. He can landscape and has an eye for planting that has made our yard incredible this year. He can build an entire floor that started as a literal hole and he can re-plumb a bathroom.

As for me, I’m not sure that the phrase “re-plumb a bathroom” is even real, and I’m too lazy to look it up. I look admiringly at him and see a therapist, salesman, plumber, construction worker, mechanic, general handyman, river god, gardener, and master griller of all foods. And then I go clean the kitchen, usually make myself some food, and go back to staying right in my pretty narrow lane.

Don’t get me wrong. I have learned a very little myself in these months of loose ends. I can cut tile. I can demo like mad. I can re-set a garage after raccoon mayhem ensues. I can read plants and flowers fairly well and give them what they need accordingly (it’s usually like, sun or no sun or water or plant food). But really, it’s getting harder and harder for me, as I age, to want to learn new stuff.

Case in point: I bought a Microsoft Excel Mastery course from StackSkills recently after I saw an ad for it once, clicked on it, then was pursued relentlessly with more ads. I’m weak. But I also need to know a lot more than I currently know about spreadsheets, formulas, and what the hell to do with data for my job (she says cavalierly, having no confidence that she has a job). So I bought it.

This is Day Three of trying to make myself get through even the intro. On Day One, I made it through five modules, realized almost immediately that I hadn’t retained any of them, and am currently re-watching them and trying to do the things alongside my boy Warrick the Instructor, who has the casual confidence of one who understands something that can piss right off, according to my non-data-leaning brain.

Also, he’s teaching in the 2016 version, which I don’t have, so it’s been fun finding the places that my version has hidden the 2016 options. (Seriously, why does EVERYTHING have to be upgraded? I know why. It’s money, isn’t it.) So far, I know how to merge and center. The next module goes right to formulas. And that’s where I get real nervous.

The point is, I like what I like. The heart wants what it wants. It’s just that I want to read stuff and write stuff and eat stuff. I did try a new workout routine that I love and look forward to every day, but that was born entirely out of my desire not to go back to a gym and sweat near other people who are also sweating.

I’ve been re-organizing and scaling down on stuff in our house, but I already love doing that kind of shit. I’ve been working on potions for maximally-flavored, minimally-caloried protein drinks, but that’s just because I really like stuff that tastes good and doesn’t make me fatter.

I’ve been trying to learn to give myself a French manicure, which is hard because I’m not ambidextrous. And I got a wok and fell immediately in love with it, the second before it became impossible to find the stir-fry veggie blend I love and meat prices skyrocketed.

So yeah, I dabble in adventure. I’m no stranger to fun. I’ve learned more about identifying trees, sure. But having a lack of fun around is rarely the problem.

It’s just, how does one go about caring about things that are just not interesting? Like, I genuinely need to understand some Excel stuff, but I genuinely don’t WANT to, either. Telling myself I have to do this much in this amount of time works, yeah. But it’s the retention, man. It’s so hard.

So anyway, what are you doing? Picked up any hobbies? Learned anything you’re really excited to have learned? Tell me all about it! I’ll just be here, legitimately weighing if it’s more fun to listen to a nine-minute video on formulas or dust my entire house.

Here’s something else I love: the song of the day.

Song of the day: Wasting Time, Nathaniel Rateliff & The Night Sweats. This one feels particularly appropriate today. And I have spent close to five years loving Nathaniel Rateliff with my whole heart, so I want you to love him, too.

Quote of the day: the above photo containing some of the many beautiful words by Alan Watts, a philosopher my son introduced me to when he was in high school (my kid, not Alan Watts. haha!). The beauty about life is that, no matter who we are and how we are in any given moment, there is no mandate that it has to stay that way. So let’s all chin up (ooh! I also learned about face yoga!) and move forward together.

And it’s totally okay to make it fun, even when it sucks as bad as formulas.

As I sit here on Day Two of Unemployment Two of Pandemic Two Oh Two Oh, I’m comforted by one thought: none of us really know what we’re doing.

I mean, there are definitely people that are far, far ahead of others in this broadest of generalizations. People who’ve rolled with the punches, or whose specific set of skills have proven very helpful. People who have saved lives, or at least made lives better.

But honestly, most of us are flying blind in the current global landscape. And for many of us, the things we did know are currently obsolete.

Reading colleague after colleague bid farewell to our company, and effectively our industry, last night was surreal. My co-workers and fellow creatives were easily the most brilliant group of people I’ve ever worked with. I spent many days aspiring to attain even like, a touch of the wisdom they effortlessly exuded.

And now it’s all gone. We’re all laid off, with no guarantee of return. As long as the pandemic rages, so too do we, in our homes, wishing that maybe people could just practice responsible behavior so we could BRING BACK MOVIES OMG.

That’s seriously not even my point, though. But I’m gonna jump back on the track to my point now.

Last night, we had a raccoon in our garage, perched atop the garage door open/shut mechanism. (I don’t KNOW what that thing is called.) Josh discovered it after it had scampered about on what looked like every upper shelf or ledge we had, knocking a glass shower door over onto the kids’ drum set in the process. Much breakage. It was like an Allstate Mayhem commercial in there. And it was super late at night on a night that I’d crashed on the couch at 10pm, so I kind of couldn’t care. (Big shout-out to these Hello Bello Sleep Well gummies.)

ANYWAY, Josh smartly left a trail of roasted deli turkey out the quickly-opened door, and it was gone this morning. The turkey, that is. But also the raccoon.

What was left: the mess. And Josh actually still has a job, so he had to leave early this morning. Before he left, I sleepily proclaimed that I would clean the mess up, because cleaning and spelling are really the only things I can do effectively and this definitely was one of those.

He was happy. I felt useful. All was well.

And it continued to be well for awhile. I picked up everything that wasn’t shards of glass and put those things back in their places. I neatened up as I went, so it would look even better than when I started. It was about 107 degrees in the garage and I had just showered, as any smart person does before going into sweaty and dirty conditions, so everything was going really smoothly.

And then I gloved up, moved the door off the drum set, picked up all the ground glass and put it in a heavy-duty trash bag, moved the drums, rolled up the rug, took it outside far away from foot traffic, shook it, shook it more, shook it a third time, swept out the whole garage, swept the driveway, swept the sidewalk, and then moved the shower door, still half-glassed, outside against a tree.

That’s when I stopped. Because, like, what’s the smart way to remove glass without just, breaking it?

And THAT’S when I flashed back on the past three months. In that time, I’ve been unemployed twice (as I will continue to say because I can’t get over it yet). Josh and I have had to gut our bathroom and rebuild it. We’ve read up on how to replace the radio in my car. Cash has learned to play the mandolin AND the bass. I had a new job requiring a completely different skillset for three weeks. Said job had a whole new flow due to safety precautions and cleaning procedures.

None of us knew what the hell we were doing in any of those instances. But…we didn’t know together. I watched Josh level up like, three times in his handyman skillset. I watched Cash play Beatles songs a week after his birthday, songs he picked up mostly by ear. I watched my whole management team pivot (sorry, I HATE that word, but) and learn a whole new way, only to immediately turn and train new staff on the same new way even though we hadn’t even seen it in practice yet.

The old me would’ve looked at that shower door, asked for help, or said “okay, I did this much, someone else can do the rest.” But the new me was like, nah, I’m gonna surprise Josh, and he’ll be so grateful.

So I pulled the lining thing out as much as I could to dislodge glass without breaking it. I tapped the rest. There was almost no shattering in the whole process. I cleaned everything up. I left the totally glass-free frame against the tree so Josh could see it and be so grateful and frankly impressed that he married someone who could basically have her own HGTV show at this point. I disposed of all glass. I moved the drums back. I moved the shook rug to the hose and hosed it down because honestly it was disgusting anyway. Then I hauled it to our patio so it could dry without birds shitting on it.

Then I came inside, dripping with sweat and remembering how dumb it was to pre-shower, just as Josh got home. He looked at everything for a second, then said “Where did you hose the rug? Where’s the glass that was on it now?”

So that’s a whole other lesson we’ll explore later, called “Don’t attach expectation to outcomes.”

Anyway, the point really is, don’t fret. You may be facing a huge financial hardship, but so are most of us. You may not know if or when you can return to your job or school or life. I don’t know either. Most of us don’t.

What we can do is remember that life is very short, and there’s no time for fussing and fighting, my friends. Arguing about masks, or about politics, or about religion, doesn’t change the fact that we’re all scared. And it’s okay to be scared. So I challenge you this week to learn something you didn’t know before. For me, it’s going to be a course I impulsively bought from Stack Skills on Microsoft Excel for Absolute Idiots. It’s time I made myself pick up basic formulas, you know? Also, I’m going to learn about Kuhl’s new Hybrid Water Shorts, because I’m at the age in which bikinis with no clothes on over them are pretty much not working for me.

Song of the Day: Chariots of Fire theme song. We’re all in it for the long haul, guys, so let’s at least get through it with a beautiful backdrop.

So, after a whirlwind three weeks and two days back in the workforce, I’m re-laid off.

This is a bit of a bummer, but definitely not unexpected. People are getting bored, leaving the house, socializing, forgoing masks. Cases are going back up.

And I get it. I understand the desire to return to normalcy. But there are a whole lot of us who won’t have normalcy again until everyone first returns to precautions.

The point is, for now, our “Welcome Back…Now On with the Show” is…”Intermission.”

But that wasn’t the only thing that happened in June. I lost two friends – one to cancer, and one to suicide. Both were with me during another really awful time, five years ago, also in June.

Finally, my dad is downsizing after 40 years, and our family home is being auctioned in July. I spent a day back home recently going through boxes, and it was really…surreal.

June sucked, is the point. I’m really kind of over June. But what luck – it’s July!

In a normal year, a new month can bring new hope, new resolve, new goals. In 2020, though, I fully expect some sort of Black Plague resurgence or something next. Seriously, what the HELL.

Anyway, let’s talk about fun stuff. While new movies aren’t coming out really, or new television, and while our backyard continues to be mosquito-ridden, we do still have small visual wonders. I had plenty of time during my previous foray into unemployment to research eco-friendly product alternatives, and made a couple of small changes.

First, we just got a new soap system from Blueland – glass bottles, soap tabs, water, and boom, you have a ecologically-responsible system. We can burn the packaging safely, and reuse the bottle. And it smells great! And it works!

Secondly, we switched to earth breeze laundry strips instead of pods or liquid or powder. They come in a small package of recycled cardboard (again – burnable!), which is great. And – I like them! The packaging calls the purchaser an “eco-hero” and holy shit, could we use a little flattery right now or what? THANK you!

Finally, our second bathroom (an on-suite? Is that what the hell we’re supposed to call them now?) is coming closer to the day that we might actually get to shower in it. After totally gutting it down to completely removing the subfloor and having a super sharp view of the bare ground, and after telling one of my stepsons that no, he could NOT pee into the now-visible crawl space, we have a finished floor again. We knocked out a partial wall, and the others are getting fixed. We have the tile for the walls purchased, and the (crazy expensive) shower faucet. We have a new sink, vanity, and sink faucet. The end is in SIGHT. Unless, of course, the next killer of 2020 turns out to be new bathroom construction or some shit. Then we’re hosed.

Also, I got borderline addicted to mask fashion. It had more to do with comfort, and that nose strap is EvERyThing, but yeah, I fell right into the mask industry’s trap. Etsy is just, amazing.

Today’s song: Changes, Langhorne Slim & the Law. If that doesn’t one-word deadass sum up this year, then man, I got nothin else for ya.

That’s really all I have. In the meantime, please enjoy these magnets I got, also from Etsy, through the delightful snarkycards shop.

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