Freelance by Jen

Consider me the No More Tangles of your writing needs.

*Note: I started this last week, in the most optimistic of moods. The news Friday that the country had lost one of its quietly powerful voices was devastating. Ruth Bader Ginsburg, thank you. You were, are, and will always be the hero of my adulthood.

If you had vaguely referenced 2020 to me in the most sugar-coated way at any time in the past, it would have seemed BADASS.

“You know how you wanted to spend time to really, like, find yourself, but also be able to pay your bills, more or less? You’re not gonna believe this, but…”

Weirdly, though, something my soul had yearned for – most of my life – just looked a lot better on paper.

Trust me, I’m over 2020 just like the rest of you. In fact, even reading “2020” or any references to it just makes me tired and mad, and I even hate myself a little for starting any piece of writing referencing it. I feel like I should have to work a little harder for writing material, and writing about being over this year is the lowest of low-hanging fruit. But it also leads me to my point, which is something I really do intend to make, so relax.

I’ve spent the past six months getting furloughed, re-hired with a new job title, laid off, re-hired tentatively with a third new job title, and re-hired less tentatively with an additional job title. I’ve collected unemployment of varying amounts and scrambled for freelance work. I’ve also managed to keep paying my son’s tuition, which is honestly something that’s incredibly important to me as a parent, because he’s crushing it, and he’s my kid, so.

I’ve taken classes and learned about remodeling bathrooms – one of those due to dire necessity. I’ve tried to homeschool, raged out at my stepchildren, and resultantly built the best relationship we’ve ever had (they’ve been cool the whole time; I was the problem).

I’ve gained weight, gained more weight, and learned that I don’t want to style my hair no matter how many hours I have available in the day. I’ve strengthened some relationships and weakened others. I’ve read everyone else’s success stories and sulked. I’ve perfected my ideal chocolate chip cookie recipe, but never once considered making sourdough. I’ve collected masks for occasions both plain and fancy.

But none of it mattered as much to me as what I did today. (Well except hanging out with my husband, he’s great.)

Today, I was sworn in as a voter registrar.

If you’ve ever been married, you know that going to get your marriage certificate is super fun for you two, but the clerk’s office has seen it all before. Well, so is getting deputized to register voters. I was there after volunteering for a Voter Registration Day event, when I learned about getting deputized, decided I wanted to practice saying deputized ANYWAY, and called the clerk’s office to inquire about the process. She was effusively excited and told me to come in, well, this morning.

I put on my “Votes for Women” earrings, matched my outfit to them because I’m not a slob, found a coordinating mask, and hopped it on over to the courthouse, where I found out that they were not waiting with balloons and confetti or anything. Still, as the kind lady walked me through the steps I needed to take and exhibited patience and kindness, I still felt really excited and all goose-bumpy.

Maybe because I grew up in a politically-active family, not to mention my dad’s collection of political collectables and books, I grew up assuming that everyone thought the right to vote was the greatest thing ever and knew the history and long, hard fight generations of women embarked upon for the right to vote. While it’s been 100 years this year since the 19th amendment was ratified and women received the right to vote, it was still many years later before ALL women could vote. Too many years.

Because of that, every election seems like a sacred gift to me. Even if I don’t like the candidates, I’m going to cast that vote. There were too many years when it wasn’t allowed, for most of us. Even after the 19th amendment was passed, it was only passed for white women. Black women did not receive that right – shockingly, unbelievably and tragically – until 1965 with the signing and passage of the Voting Rights Act by LBJ.

And, when I hear disappointing news coming from politicians who vote against the rights of women, minorities, and the LGBTQIA+ community, I remember those who came before us and the years, DECADES, they marched for the right to even have a voice.

There will be disappointments and triumphs. It’s part of life. But please, remember that so many of our ancestors would have done anything for the right to march up to the polling station and cast a vote for democracy. The right to be heard.

Got questions about voting? They can be answered here, from registration to name changes to address changes, from voting in person to absentee to mail-in. You have until varying dates by state (Missouri is October 7) to register.

Above all, happy National Voter’s Registration Day! And thank you to those who paved the way.

As I write this, one twin stepson is drumming with god knows what item on god knows what surface – loudly, relentlessly. The other twin is yelling “WILLYOUSTOPWILLYOUSTOP” in an unbroken chain of loud monotone.

I just finished listening to the Happier with Gretchen Rubin podcast about all sorts of life hacks (Episode 290: An Extravaganza of Hacks!) while I pretend to work from home in our office. One said hack was designed to maintain sanity, during which it was suggested to embrace the “marvelous mundane” parts of life, such as when (in the case of the podcaster) her husband would fold his clothes every night and set the pile on the floor, four feet from the hamper. This was understandably driving her batshit crazy; he wasn’t going to change and she wasn’t going to enable.

So instead of losing her mind and burning the house down, she began to consider what it would be like if he died (I’m not kidding), and concluded she would miss these little things that used to drive her crazy.

And that’s kind of where she lost me.

I’ve been on both sides of this. I have lost someone I loved. In another sense, I have lost my son (whom I love, really!), due to him growing up and moving out. When I met Josh, his twins were six, and I used to tell him, when he was losing HIS mind, that one day he would miss these moments. He would long to have back, even for a moment, these times of insanity and exhaustion.

Now that I’ve had a few years to reflect, and the podcast circled it around for me, I realize that this was ridiculous thinking.

See, I do not miss the messes. I do not miss the trails of destruction my son used to make from the moment he exited the car, through the doorway, the mud room, through the kitchen, into the hallway and finally his room, where obviously the trail would run out because he had nothing left in his arms. I do not miss plates and cups being left in bedrooms, or under beds, eventually producing smells that did not resemble food in any sense. I do not miss the smell of teenage boy socks, nor will I ever miss that smell at any point ever again for the rest of my life.

I do not miss the early-morning grouchiness on school days. I do not miss the guilt of making him take the bus that arrived at 6:30, and I do not miss the early morning band practices before he got his license, when he had to be at school at 6:55.

I do not miss finding hidden piles of dirty laundry in the basement store room.

But there are so many, many things I do miss.

I miss the laughter. I miss the times I would ask my son to do something and he’d pop off some smart rejoinder in some ridiculously-pitched voice, and we would both end up doubled-over, laughing without noise.

I miss the times he would compose original songs, scored and lyric-ed, talking about how dumb I was, in a way in which there was a beautiful melody playing alongside his beautiful voice, but the lyrics were something like “My mom is a noob.”

I miss the times he would pretend to be a completely different person for whole stretches of time, or act out bits to distract me from my rage that he hadn’t done something I’d asked of him.

But going back further, I miss my little boy. I miss snuggling him. I miss the “lavender ritual” we’d do to help him get to sleep on school nights, when his anxiety about going back to school was so high he couldn’t imagine sleeping. I’d get out the lavender balm and we’d do pulse points (temples, insides of wrists, behind ears, a touch under his nose) and then drift off to dreamland.

I miss listening to him explain complex scientific theories and published pieces, or how excited he was about elephants, or that the mitochondria was the power house of the cell. I love that he still calls to tell me something that he finds fascinating, and I love that his early love of science has carried him through to the end of his bachelor’s degree in biological sciences.

So while I’m not quite ready to embrace the marvelous mundane with my family, I’m ready to replace my rage…with a happy memory.

Josh treats me as an equal in raising his sons, something that means more to me than he’ll ever know. He also seems genuinely thrilled to have me around, which is a new feeling that never gets old for me.

The boys are really damn funny, and considering that they’re twins, and about five seconds from puberty, they’re great kids. Listening to Cash rejoice about finding hummus in the fridge just now and spontaneously singing a song called “Hummus” (lyrics: “I would love to have some hummus, yeppity yep yep yeppity yep” in his high, sweet voice, interrupting himself to say “I’m basically five foot!” would make pretty much anybody smile).

But I swear to god if they all don’t start peeing inside the toilet, I’m going to burn it all.

Song of the day: While You Were Sleeping, Elvis Perkins. If happy memories are not getting you through your rage with your pandemic-mates, this song will mellow you right out and possibly cause you to silently weep, but in a nostalgia-rich way. It’s fine.

I’m not a huge football fan, but my husband loves it. Specifically, the Chiefs, but non-specifically, the sport. I can’t count the times that I’ve heard him instruct Siri to pull up the following: “NFL schedule,” “NFL standings,” “[insert team names] score.”

So it was a foregone conclusion that we would be wholly celebrating the season opener last night against the Texans. My friend Lori came over with El Charro tacos. We had assorted dips and rice. Laughs were had.

There was a somber moment in the beginning, though, prior to the game in a dedicated moment of silence in support of unity. Both teams stood in a line, arms interlocked with the players on either side of each. Standing both at attention and in solidarity. I teared up…for a second.

Because what I heard during this was…booing. It was a different pitch than the “Chiefs” crowd yell. It was deeply sad, but I also believed in humanity, so this morning, I looked up both teams on Twitter, as well as several articles covering the moment.

Regardless of what happened during the moment of silence, whether the crowd noise was actually booing or not, the comments on the posts were largely negative.

“I hope I don’t have to watch this crap before every game.”

“You’re players, not social justice warriors.”

“Don’t give them any more of your money.”

“We pay you to play.”

Those were some of the kinder negative comments. There was also one, from Twitter user @kimmer4444, that really spoke to the issue.

You can’t build sports empires off the backs of black and brown people and expect them to just “get in line” because you think it ruins YOUR experience. These are human beings and they’re in pain. If you truly loved the athletes of the sports you loved, you’d be in pain with them.

Therein lies the heart. How is that believing that we’re all equal has come to mean something political? How can you truly believe, to the core of your being, that you are somehow better than someone else because they have a different skin color/gender/partner preference? Where did it begin? What proof do you have that you’re right? Was it one experience with one person? Have you not had bad experiences with people who DO share your skin color? Your gender? Your partner preference? I know I had plenty of fights with girls all through middle and high school that looked a whole lot like me. We even liked the exact same boy. Did that mean I hated all other white, heterosexual girls? Never. I have an uncle who’s a real piece of work, and caused my whole family immeasurable pain for decades. Do I hate all uncles?

It feels like we all have a chip forming on our shoulders, ready to fight at a moment’s notice. But can we maybe, MAYBE, just kinda, brush that chip off before it fuses with our bone and causes a real medical anomaly? The hospitals are full enough right now, let’s not create an influx of chip/bone fusion syndrome.

Regardless of our allegiances, of our political affiliations, of our love of country, I feel that we should by and large accept our fellow men and women as equals. Maybe we’re better in some areas than the person next to us, but I promise they’re better in others. And thank GOODNESS for that, because as a collective whole, we’re getting a whole, whole lot more done. Can you imagine what a mess things would be if we were all the same? If everyone were as bad at math as me, probably the world would just be a smoldering, drifting rock at this point. I’m grateful for all you mathematicians out there (side note, just realized I didn’t even know how to spell “mathematicians”).

I love you guys.

Song of the day: U2, Pride (In the Name of Love). An anthem calling for peace, freedom, and equality, it also really gets the blood pumping.

*Featured Photo: Brett Coomer, Houston Chronicle / Staff Photographer

Today, and maybe this is TMI guys, but I had my mind STIMULATED.

Why not come right out with it, you know? I mean, if I can’t be real with you guys, what am I even doing?

No, seriously, what am I even doing? That’s not rhetorical.

HAHA! hahahahaha!

But no, I set my alarm for 8:15 a.m., and also for 9:15 a.m. because I’m trying to be responsible, and I was out of bed before 10 a.m. My first thought was, ugh, what did I eat last night? and my second thought was, I feel like shit, and my third thought was, what a surprise, it’s me facing the consequences of my own actions.

And every bit of that is my personal Groundhog Day. I know this. But yesterday, I read that 95% (yes, that was the real statistic, from the National Science Foundation) of our thoughts are habitual. Which means that precious few of our thoughts are original to our daily lives. And that makes me so sad.

So it’s no wonder that the meetings I had this morning felt mind-blowing, even though the topics were fairly routine – press releases and open-door staff policy implementation. Because these are things that I don’t think about every day, but also things that I’m actually passionate about, they triggered some long-dormant, far-from-habitual-in-2020 reminders that there ARE things I’m good at doing, there ARE passions that I have, and I CAN do stuff aside from look at pictures of frosting-forward foods on IG/play Yahtzee.

So then it becomes a weird in-between, habituation vs. striving for relevance, a vicious back-and-forth of “BOLD NEW FRONTIER YOU MAKE THE DAMN RULES JUST DO THE THINGS” and “Am I bored, or hungry?”

And maybe you, like me just now, are thinking, “So what? That’s called being human” or “So what? There are real problems in the world, how about focusing on those?” Either way, you’re right. Honestly, we’re all striving to be better versions of ourselves, all the time. That’s what gives us faith in each other, knowing that, deep down, we all want the same things, regardless of culture, or race, or hobbies. We all want to be loved and accepted. And that’s also our downfall.

Recently, I came full-stop with myself about my past failings as a stepmother. Without going into all of it, I was beating myself up about how I had failed in the past and the relationships I had lost as a result. I’ve done this for years, and it’s as much a part of my psyche as, well, anything. Somehow, though, the 5% wiggled through with a reminder of a story that has surfaced off and on in my consciousness over the years, Andy Weir’s (of The Martian fame) The Egg.

The Egg is a story short enough that the synopsis would almost eclipse the story itself, but the moral is that we learn as we grow. With every stumble, with every fall, no matter how brutal or public or demoralizing, a lesson is learned. Not new information, not mind-blowing insight, but still something that can penetrate our 5% in new ways.

How it penetrated my 5% was in looking at my very present 11-year-old twin stepsons. You can’t do anything about what you lost. But you can make it right with what you haven’t. I hadn’t lost them…yet. And so I began, right that minute, to repair our relationship. And, because they’re 11, the progress made in two short weeks is crazy.

And we have those breakthroughs. The issue lies in transforming them from the 5% to the 95%. Here’s an exercise that may help.

Full disclosure, this is not my idea at all. I found it while searching for multiple sources on the 95% habitual thinking stat because I could not believe that was real upon first read even though of course it is. I found it on mission.org from author Prakhar Verma, creator of DesignEpicLife.

  • Grab paper and pen, or your writing app of choice.
  • Make a list of all conscious negative thoughts. Every fear, insecurity, insult, stressor, irritation – no matter how irrational they feel or look, write ’em.
  • Make another list. Or column, if you’re feeling fancy. For every negative thought, write something positive. Something you like about yourself. A great time in your life. Even if it was something with a less-than-positive outcome, write something you loved about that time. This will be harder. Do it anyway.
  • Do it again tomorrow. And the next day. I use a great app for this, from The Science of Well-Being, called ReWi (linked in Apple because I’m Apple-y), a brain re-wiring app. I also like pen and paper, though, because there’s something about feeling the words that I love. (Also I grew up before computers were affordable, which is probably the real birth of this method.)

Let’s do this together. And let’s hold each other accountable. We’ll all backslide (in fact I’m already fighting myself on it), but omg we’re not perfect geez. Love you, mean it.

Song of the day: The Weight, The Band. I go back to this again, and again, and again. It’s safely in my 95%, and for good reason. Take a few minutes for yourself, and listen.

Right out of the gate, let me just say that I believe in sugar addiction as a real thing. This is in direct contrast to the opinion of my rational husband, who will speak of habituation and string it together with other science-y words to form whole science-y paragraphs about how I’m science-y misinformed.

Whatever, dude. I just know that, in the sum of my life, I’ve historically had a lot of quit in me…except for this.

Sugar, I can’t quit you. I won’t quit you. I have a lot of trouble thinking of a life without you. I like to bake foods that are very…sugar-forward. I like to add forms of you to my water (not straight sugar, Jesus. But like, fake flavored sugar stuff). I like to chew gum when I’m not chewing food.

Habitual? In all the ways. Addicted? It sure plays the part.

See, like, with most things, I can take a bite or three and walk away. Alcohol…I used to drink a lot more of it, but almost all of that was someone pouring me a drink and handing it to me. I’m not rude. And when I stopped drinking it, I just…stopped. It wasn’t hard. I don’t think of it.

Salty stuff, like chips and crackers? I can have a few and not think about them again.

Pizza and burgers? Delicious. No doubt. And a good pizza crust is heaven, as is having a husband who never eats his pizza crusts. But again, pretty good with just eating it and leaving it.

Cookies? Cakes? FROSTING? DONUTS? Give me that. And then give me more of that. I dream of it, I make it, I consume it, I repeat it. I have pictures on my phone of my favorite donuts. When I hit the little “search” icon on Instagram, it takes me a personalized compilation of results that are easily 98% desserts (2% snarky Tweets in picture form). I still use Pinterest, earnestly. I search hashtags and subreddits for sugar-loving words.

With all of that, though, I’m also of a certain age, and that age increasingly involves my mind telling my body that I can’t keep doing this shit. I like to eat a lot of this sugar late at night, like a freaking rodent who comes out after everyone goes to bed (which is very, very close to what actually happens). I’m a big fan of eating peanut butter out of the jar with spoons that barely fit into the jar. Or a bunch of those Sweet & Salty bars, sometimes with peanut butter. Or jelly toast, sometimes with peanut butter. And then I wake up, sometimes with wrappers actually stuck to my skin (that is a real thing), feeling worse than the worst hangover. I promise never to put myself through that again. And then I almost immediately do.

So when my friend Jen asked me to do a “3 Day Refresh” with her as part of our Beachbody program, I was like, “YES! (no)”

“Absolutely! (jesus no)”

(I love Beachbody as a client, but I’m not into it as a salesperson, and I’m really just into it as a means of working out at home since I’m not ready to go back to the gym. I love the Beachbody on Demand program, and love that there’s an app. But the nutrition part? While I believe in it, I’m also just real, real attached to sugar. See entire first part of this blog.)

The 3 Day Refresh program is a little bit cleanse, a little bit detox. It did include food, but it did not include my kinda food. It did include peanut butter, but it did not include all the peanut butter.

But I also knew that I had recently been on a vacation during which we had ice cream every single night, and a lot of donuts and pizza, and felt a bit like an end-stage slug, and that I would at least have an accountability partner in Jen, so I said yes.

DAY ONE: I went ahead and pre-loaded the night before, with pie and cookies and two bowls of ice cream. I knew that this would make me feel like I had actually accomplished more than I did at the close of Day Three (*smart*). So, if anything, it was hard to make myself have breakfast. I drank my Shakeology shake, blended with spinach (great way to sneak some spinach into your life – it may turn your drink green, but that’s a two-fold benefit:

  1. It doesn’t taste like anything, no matter how much you use.
  2. Nobody wants to try your gross green sludge. They don’t even want to come near it when you promise that it smells “so good! Try it!”

And as the day went on, I was still basically okay. I had my protein shake, I got to have a spoon of peanut butter, and I finished the day with a salad made entirely from ingredients in my mother-in-law’s garden and my favorite Greek vinaigrette. I’m a great starter though. And super optimistic about things at first. No matter the reason, though, Day One was in the books fast. And I felt great. The part of Day One I failed on was the workout.

The recommendation during the program is to take it easy with yoga only. And Beachbody has a 3 Day Refresh yoga program. But I chose one in which the instructor kept saying “And AXXXX-hale” and I kept thinking stuff like, “I must AX you a question. Why can’t you pronounce this word?” and then laughing and losing my balance. So, hard no there.

Day Two: I woke up feeling great. I mean, amazing mood, rational thinking, not angry at the world over my employment status, great. From the neck up. Below that, I felt WEAK. And, at first, a little bit nauseated. It’s not like I wanted to eat, but I definitely didn’t want to move unless I had to move. Naturally, then, I played nine holes of golf with Josh.

Golf with a cart. Golf that involved almost no walking. Yet, about halfway through, I thought, no. I cannot even swing this club. Honestly, it’s probably because I don’t golf, so nine holes for me involves about 100 swings. (More counting the times I miss and say “Okay, got my practice swing, ready for the real thing!” The enormity of those lies takes up even more energy. It’s a miracle I didn’t die.)

I got home, poured a bunch of broth in a bowl, microwaved it with a paper towel over it, pulled the soggy paper towel that almost immediately collapsed into it out of it, and then drank it (the broth, not the paper towel, though I’d be lying if I said I didn’t think about sucking on it for more sustenance). I didn’t even want to take the energy to bother with preparing actual food. Later, I cut an avocado in half and ate it with a spoon. I passed out early, woke up to Josh asking me to make cookies because he believes in tough love, made cookies, DID NOT EAT THE DOUGH, and passed out again.

Day Three: THE LAST DAY OMG. And I felt really, really good. In this program, it was insane how clearly I could see the world. I had confidence, I got work done, I didn’t beat myself up over my employment circumstances…I even saw angry political posts clearly and rationally, and didn’t internally blow up. I wasn’t tempted to cheat on Day Three, I had more energy, I did the yoga, I took time to breathe and write down all the things I was grateful for (there’s a great app, ReWi, that I really recommend to build a gratitude practice), and got through the day without a struggle, which really surprised me.

Day Four: woke up and weighed. While there was a two-pound weight difference, I also knew enough to know it wasn’t actual weight and it didn’t matter anyway. I did “after” pics and then got myself a haircut. Felt pretty fresh, not gonna lie.

It’s been 8 days since I did the refresh, and I haven’t gained the weight back. I haven’t lost more, either, but it’s been long enough now that I believe it’s real weight. I definitely recommend it and, what’s craziest, plan to do it again. It really cleared my mind (and body, for real, holy cow will this clear your body hehe), and helped me to work through some struggles I’m having in my life in a clear-headed way.

3-Day Refresh: two thumbs up.

Song of the Day: Cruel Summer, Bananarama. I listened to this song every day on the way to fourth grade with my dad, but it’s the song of the day because if this isn’t the year to make it a theme, I give up.

Years from now, studies will be completed and released showing the status of relationship quality (in many cases, degradation) in 2020, the year that brought us both a pandemic and a divisive presidential election.

Between those two clashes of tension, there’s bound to be cracks in relational foundations around all of us in some form, whether that be within our households as we all struggled through our own personal Real Worlds, within our families, or within our professional relationships.

While my relationship with my husband has truly never been better (which seems weird to say because even my worst days with him are better than my best days used to be before I knew him), I have lost several relationships, for both reasons known and unknown to me, this year.

When you are counseling someone else in a situation that doesn’t involve you, you have that great ability to see things objectively. You have no skin in the game, as it were. Your emotions aren’t tied up, wrapped around, every fiber of the story’s being. You can say, hey, you’re taking this too personally. There are a lot of factors at play, and here’s a quick five things that could be going on that DON’T involve you. You can say, hey, maybe if you called them and just offered to listen. You can say hey, just give it a few days.

But what it comes down to, what every story, every conflict, every situation, comes down to, is that we all want to feel loved and valued. We can be doing the best we can in any situation, just doing what we can to get through it, and have someone else in the same situation see it completely differently and blame us for our actions.

These emotions are what makes us human.

The hardest lesson for me to learn so far in my life is that I can’t do anything about other people’s opinions. If all people just thought exactly the same, we’d be great, right? If people automatically agreed in any given situation about who was right and who was wrong, extended or accepted apologies, and happily went on about their business, man, that’d probably be…great.

Except it wouldn’t. We’d never try new things, forage new paths, learn how to adapt and overcome when a conflict just isn’t resolving. We’d never know anything except the same things everyone knew. Advancements wouldn’t be made. Stuff wouldn’t get invented in such diverse areas.

I’ve long sung (or stated in a non-sing-y way) the accolades of Rumi, the 13th-century Persian poet whose words I have turned to again and again, beginning about seven years ago, when my professional life was really beginning just as my personal life was crumbling. It blew my mind that this guy was nailing every.damn.thing 800 years ago in such a timeless way that felt like a still-super-relevant whisper in my ear in 2013. And 2014. And, especially, 2015. And every year since, when I’m feeling my lowest or my most vulnerable, I still absorb his words as I would listen to a wise and trusted friend.

As we run up against those who seemingly seek to hurt, or read words from both friends and family designed to achieve maximum shock value, as we find those we once couldn’t live without making statements that sound like they’re coming from internet trolls, we must remember, and take solace in, one of Rumi’s tenets: that we can only control ourselves.

He says it much, much better, though. Here are a few of his beautiful words. May they offer you as much comfort as they have for so many.

“Yesterday I was clever, so I wanted to change the world. Today I am wise, so I am changing myself.” 

“The wound is the place where the Light enters you.”

“If you are irritated by every rub, how will your mirror be polished?” 

“Don’t be satisfied with stories, how things have gone with others. Unfold your own myth.” 

“Raise your words, not voice. It is rain that grows flowers, not thunder.”

Everything in the universe is within you. Ask all from yourself.”

And, finally, the brilliant work of “The Guest House,” the first Rumi piece that I found, in the midst of a wildly painful grief and clung to like driftwood in a wild, stormy sea:

This being human is a guest house.
Every morning a new arrival.

A joy, a depression, a meanness,
some momentary awareness comes
as an unexpected visitor.

Welcome and entertain them all!
Even if they’re a crowd of sorrows,
who violently sweep your house
empty of its furniture,
still, treat each guest honourably.
He may be clearing you out
for some new delight.

The dark thought, the shame, the malice,
meet them at the door laughing,
and invite them in.

Be grateful for whoever comes,
because each has been sent
as a guide from beyond.

Back to this roller coaster of a year – think back to the words that hurt you, the stinging asides that dig into you, the dismissal or discounting of what seemed to be perfectly rational thoughts or reactions to perfectly irrational situations…and meet them at the door laughing. Invite them in, one at a time. Sit with them. Explore each one. Feel your bitterness, or your confusion, or your hurt, or your shame. And know that the people shooting those barbed arrows are each on their own journey.

And their journey is completely separate from yours.

At the end of the day, at the end of our lives, there is precious little that we can control. But what we can is our words, and our actions. What we can’t control is how those words or actions are interpreted by others. And we will never be able to do so.

What we can also control is the absence of our words and actions, because part of us knows when they won’t really improve or positively change a situation.

I think you might be surprised at what a truly full life you can have when you take time to know yourself. And the more you take care of your guest house, the more positive your interactions will be each time you open that door.

And if you know that your guest house is best tended if you find someone in whom to confide your worries, and your fears, and your grieving process, please do that. There are so many resources available out there, and so many good, kind hearts to listen.

NAMI: National Alliance of Mental Illness

Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration

Grief and Loss, Coronavirus

Today’s song of the day is my dad’s favorite song. He’s not much of a fighter, but he’s always referenced this line in times of turbulence. So please give it a listen in these times of not seeing eye to eye. (Due to a miracle, I got to see Dave Mason perform this live in one of the two concerts I saw this year!)

YouTube: We Just Disagree, Dave Mason

I’ve been thinking about past lives a lot. In a world in which our hand computers readily access moments from the past, this doesn’t feel that strange. And part of me embraces it. Who among us doesn’t want to relive moments that made us happy? The additional beauty is that moments that made us cringe can disappear with the touch of a screen button (it’s all I can do not to completely erase 2009, when I was new to Facebook and didn’t understand that a status wasn’t the same as a middle-school diary).

We’ve spent the majority of our quarantine gutting – down to tearing out the shower and being able to fully see the crawl space – our master bath. This descriptor felt embarrassingly confident before, as the decrepit and mildewy space attached to our bedroom was not something we even wanted people to know about, much less use. (In fact, my mom, who has stayed at our house overnight on several occasions, a house that’s 1600 square feet total, said she didn’t even know it existed.) And in that process, it made me think of other past projects that I’ve worked on, which were all linked to home improvement and all ended up looking better and all brought a smile to my face as I remembered in that misty, water-colored-beauty-wash-of-time way.

Until this morning, when my husband, who is a big fan of Facebook memories since he has young children and can access their whole lives this way (super jealous of all of you with these abilities), held up his phone. On it, a video playing of me from four years ago, dressed as a human form of the sun, a character of my invention. Named Sunny Day, she was an always-wondrous, mostly-yellow lady who acted as if solar was a crazy and beautiful and fascinating world that she wanted to live in every moment.

It was my biggest stretch, acting-wise.

I worked in solar for two years, total. While I have long been a tree-hugger, often literally (I always got consent first), and a believer in recycling containers for personal use or in burning things that you can’t recycle that are burnable, I didn’t understand the science of renewable energy, specifically solar, in detailed ways. My husband is amazing at this. I could basically only sputter that it was good for the environment, or burble “Harness the power of the sun” or similar ridiculously general platitudes. When asked about the equipment or the connectors or the generator add-ons or electrical components or the grid, I would smile and refer said person to anyone in the company smarter than me, which was everyone.

The downside of solar was that there are limited ways to make it sound fun. This is where a lot of my job came to be. My colleague Sarah and I did our first video series about solar, meant to be entertaining, but very quickly not entertaining. Once we’d run through the main questions customers asked, we were stuck again.

So it was, in sunny August of 2016, that Sunny Day was born.

Sunny was not intelligent in the ways of solar, or in the ways of the world. She found wonder in little things, like the fact that a forklift transported panels to a truck that took that magic right to the houses, or that she could sit right on a solar panel and not break it. She awkwardly skipped and turned failed cartwheels. (Turned is really a strong word here, actually.)

It was not a stretch to play her. Because that little sun was me.

I was embarrassed to be playing the character. One former co-worker made fun of me because I had an advanced degree but was dressed in a long neon yellow wig, giant prop sunglasses, and a sun suit for money. Most people who saw the videos just laughed with no further commentary. Our marketing firm dismissed them as silly. The feedback, in short, was less than promising. And yet I continued to make the videos and appearances, for several months. And once a year, they pop up over the course of those corresponding months in memories.

Unlike most of my life in solar, though, I never deleted these memories. And until this year, I didn’t understand why.

There are so.many.things that I don’t understand. In the case of our remodeling the bathroom, Josh did most of the work. I just cleaned up and made it look nice afterward, and felt guilty that I couldn’t make myself try to understand the intricacies of building and plumbing and wiring. It wasn’t something that I could make myself want to understand. But I could grasp the bigger picture – having a nice space. And I could do all of the things to make the space nice when the hard part was done.

And that’s what Sunny Day provided. She took a complicated process and made it ridiculously simple. She openly didn’t understand the science, but knew that it was “really cool.” She didn’t pretend to be – in fact, she wasn’t even capable of pretending to be – something that she wasn’t.

So it is that now, looking back on the 160 days-plus of pandemic that has gripped the world, I see that it’s okay not to pretend to understand. It’s okay to narrow your worldview down to extremely simple pleasures, even reactions. It’s okay that I haven’t written a book, that I wasn’t behind building a vanity or a shower from scratch, that my major accomplishments have all taken place in Yahtzee with Buddies, even that I haven’t lost all of my Covid-19-pounds quickly packed on in March through May. It’s okay that I’ve had four terrible interviews and a whole lot of job ghosting.

While I’ll continue, daily, to have doubts in what I bring to the table, I also know what I do bring to the table.

Need a girl to dumb down smart things? That girl is me.

Song of the Day: Past Lives, Langhorne Slim & The Law. This was my first Langhorne song, and my honorary favorite, in a catalog that is solidly top-tier work. Absolute haunting beauty.

Bonus Song of the Day: Sunshine Day, my Sunny Day theme song. Tell me this doesn’t just make you feel a weird positivity.

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.

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