Freelance by Jen

Consider me the No More Tangles of your writing needs.

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.

Sometimes, I spend a stupid amount of time on blog titles. They have to be short enough, they should probably allude to what I’m about to write about, and for whatever reason, I have to do the title first before the writing.

Today was one of the easiest.

I’ve been fortunate enough to have two really great parents. They’re very different, but share similar values. They’re both health-conscious and raised us to understand the importance diet and activity can have on mental health (though if you’re depressed, and someone tells you to “just work out” you can absolutely punch them, even if only in your mind).

Today, though, happens to be Father’s Day, so I’m gonna talk about my dad. And I’m going to try to get through this without crying.

Oops.

I’m going to try to get through this without sobbing.

I had two men in my very early life I considered father figures, but if we’re being honest the term was best friends. One, my Little Granddad, died suddenly when I was eight.

The other one, my dad, was the one who gave me that news.

My dad was not equipped to deliver or handle really bad news. I remember once, when I was seven, I cut my thumb open on a cat food lid when I was feeding our pets. I cried out, he ran over to me, said, “JESUS CHRIST,” and turned white as a sheet. I thought I was going to possibly die.

But this day, he was perfect. I woke up late, at 8:14 a.m. That time is burned into my mind, because 1) school had already started and nobody yelled me awake and 2) 8/14 was also my granddad’s birthday.

I ran through the door into my parent’s room to make sure they hadn’t abandoned us in the middle of the night (I had some real abandonment issues then, based on nothing), and found them both asleep, too, which escalated the weirdness exponentially. I shook my dad since I was less scared of him, and he swiftly got up, took me back into my room, sat next to me on the bed, held my hand, and told me.

And then he took me to work with him and let me write, and draw, and use the typewriter, which honestly was everything I ever wanted to do when I was eight.

I tell that story because it really sums up who my dad is. But there’s a whole lot more to him than that, and I’d like to spend a little time talking about it.

He’s gentle, except when coaching or seeing real blood.

He’s introverted, and spends a lot of time in the vast and rich recesses of his own mind, in which there is stored so much (sports and stats and music and songs and albums and band names and band member names and accounting practices and political history and American history and theater history and bodybuilding and basketball and so many stories, to give a quick rundown) that I can’t even imagine the depths.

What’s not in there: carpentry, home decorating, car stuff of any kind, most girl stuff outside of sports.

He never drank, or smoked, or did drugs of any kind, and he, like me, only suffers the vice of sugar addiction.

He’s got a great smile and laugh, and if you can catch either of those you know you did something really great.

The lessons that stay most with me include the following from him (poems first):

  1. Don’t Quit
  2. If
  3. Pick up for yourself, plus one more.
  4. Ain’t got time to bleed.
  5. You’re tough like a hockey player.
  6. Smile. It feels better.
  7. See the concert.
  8. Go to the game.
  9. Always answer with kindness.
  10. If you haven’t got anything nice to say, keep quiet.

He taught us these lessons mostly by following them all himself, no matter what. As I followed him like a puppy everywhere, I learned the importance of keeping a calm mind, using my mental toughness sports techniques (yeah, there was a VHS series and yeah, we watched it) to breathe through times that made me want to throw stuff and scream. I learned that the worst feeling in the world was seeing his startled disappointment when I did something that fell outside of what he’d taught us. I still see it in my mind and use it as an internal compass even now.

Because that look, man. It sucked.

My dad turned 70 this year, and just had elbow surgery this week that left a badass Frankenstein-like scar. He joked all the way through it.

He still works out four or five days a week, and is in incredible shape.

He retired from coaching, and as hard as that was for him, it freed up his time for him to travel. He got to see England and Ireland. He got to walk on Abbey Road. We’ve gotten to see so many concerts together, more than we ever have.

He’s a CPA who has several locations, but also owns a movie theater. I didn’t understand accounting, but thank goodness I went into the other family business, so we can talk numbers and box office reports and screens and all kinds of stuff that brings for some great conversations (maybe not so great to anyone listening, now that I think about it).

He has always been very active politically, something I also got from both parents, so I know we’re always up for a good call when it opens with “Did you see what he did today?” I was always proud to know candidates, from local races to national, and to say that my parents volunteered and stumped in the 70s and 80s.

He has a rational mind, and doesn’t get too riled up. I know that I can take worries to him and he will take them in calmly. I know that when I do something absolutely idiotic, such as the time I got arrested, he will absolutely not show up to bail me out.

He’s not one to call a lot, but will always answer. This used to frustrate me when I wanted him to be a part of my son’s life, but it occurred to me much, much later that this was just as much my fault. I also made zero effort, because I’m just like him.

He’s the smartest person I know. His head for numbers pushed him through the CPA program in 3.5 years, while he also worked. He set the curve in every class with a curve, something that used to really piss his classmates off.

In short (well, medium), he’s my hero to this day.

He and my stepmom are downsizing this summer, and auctioning off our childhood home, where he has lived since I was 6? 7? It’s about 5000 square feet of memories, and the place I wanted to spend all my time until I got my license.

When I saw him recently, he gave me a couple of boxes of stuff he’d carefully labeled with my name.

And I saw.

He saved everything. Every paper. Every note from middle school. Every souvenir from vacation, every school assignment, even coupons.

As I went through each item, I felt him watching me for reactions. When I paused a moment, looking at a letter from a high school friend written when we left for college, he interjected.

“If it makes you smile, you should probably keep it.”

He’s right.

Dad, I want to keep you forever. You’re the best person, the best role model, and the greatest steady presence I’ve ever known. The world is better with you in it, and I know thousands of people who feel the same as I do.

I love you so, so much.

Happy Father’s Day.

Nobody can say that 2020 hasn’t had its share of absolute tragedy, heartbreak, and loss.

So much loss.

And when something is lost on this scale, you can’t get it back.

We’ll never get the lives back that we’ve lost to 2020’s cruelty (yeah, I do feel justified in assigning feelings to a non-feeling entity in this case, because we’re all a big ball of nerve endings together), and there’s no way I’m one of those people who deigns to suggest that 2020 is a lesson and a blessin’ because, I don’t care, I’d much rather we just learn those lessons somehow without pain and terror and fear. I’d much rather that every human is treated as an equal, given the same rights and assumptions across the board to start. If a human then proves themselves to be an absolute piece of shit, sure, I’ll distance, but that human should still have rights.

Never, NEVER, did I want to live in a world in which entire populations are discriminated against based on the way they look, or whom they choose to love, or whether they’re a boy or a girl or neither.

I don’t want to preach, but I do want to bring some things to the forefront for others who might be experiencing that new weird mix of hopefulness and helplessness. I mentioned some of these things in my previous post Sunday, but this goes into a little more depth.

Black lives matter. If you don’t believe that, if you don’t understand that, then we have a fundamental difference of opinion. Our country is undeniably better and richer because of Black contributions. Ideas. Inventions. And love.

While it seems embarrassing that we even have to point this out, that we haven’t always inherently known it and been humbled by it, it is more important that we’re all taking this time to pause. To stand together. And to say, in one voice, fuck YES black lives matter.

This day 101 years ago showed us that a group of dedicated people could overcome great odds to formulate massive change when the 19th amendment was passed.

This day 31 years ago was the Tiananmen Square tragedy.

Each year, the month of June brings us Juneteenth, the commemoration of the ending of slavery in the United States.

But also each year, the month of June also celebrates Pride, because life is hard enough without being silenced about whom we choose to love.

Guys, it’s June. It’s June as hell, and we’re the ones who can make a real, lasting difference. We’re the ones who can do something to help, even if it feels like it’s not enough, even if we want to do more.

If we all do something, we will continue to move in the right direction. The stagnation is tearing us apart. Every relationship takes work. When both parties are actively working on it, though, that relationship will continue to grow and change in the best ways.

If you have time on your hands and availability (AND A MASK):

  1. The Black Lives Matter website allows you to locate protest opportunities (you can also donate)
  2. So does Showing Up for Racial Justice.

If you have money, but not as much time:

  1. Official George Floyd Memorial Fund GoFundMe.
  2. Mutual Aid Networks
  3. NAACP Legal Defense Fund
  4. Dignity and Power Now

If you’re just not sure what you want to do and need a list of possibilities that you can crack into right now to educate yourself:

  1. General ways to help

If you have Sephora Beauty Insider points and never want to use them on a single-use perfume sample:

Sephora is allowing its Beauty Insiders to donate their points to the National Black Justice Organization, a civil rights organization dedicated to the empowerment of Black lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer and same gender loving (LGBTQ/SGL) people, including people living with HIV/AIDS. What I don’t like about it: you have to buy something as well, so if anyone knows where I can send some random-ass Sephora stuff to also help out, please email me here.

And, I can’t emphasize this enough, VOTE. Vote for change. Vote in tiny local elections and big national elections. Give your friends a ride to their voting place. Make sure you’re registered here or here. Find local registration rallies and volunteer. If you’re too young to vote, find someone who isn’t and make sure they know that your future is at stake.

But no matter what, let’s please, please keep moving forward. Let’s please, please keep talking about mutual care and respect, and fighting our ugly assumptions, and uniting again.

This country may not have had a pretty beginning, but that doesn’t mean it has to end.

*Photo courtesy of our friends at Ben & Jerry’s.

While I have tried very hard in my life not to make too much noise about either politics or religion unless it was thoughtful, open-minded, and sought-after discussion, something that has remained very near and dear to my heart always were the battles that took place to give us the rights that we have today.

I have always had the privilege to exercise my right to vote, as have the majority of both women and people of color currently living.

We did not always have these rights.

We have them because of people who fought – people who died – to give them to us.

I initially felt helpless when I got back from an off-grid float yesterday to find the country the most divided I have seen it since 1992, in the Rodney King aftermath.

But if we’re being honest, this division never went away. It didn’t disappear after the Civil War, or the Civil Rights Act. Segregation didn’t disappear just because the signs were taken down.

So I sat with a silent, angry heart, and felt helpless, as I imagine many of you do. For every destructive rioter with rage in their heart, there are so, so many more people who are peacefully protesting. And those of us who do, who always have, wanted equality regardless of race, creed, orientation, or religious beliefs, would love for that to be achieved peacefully.

For those of you who feel helpless right along with me, please know that there are things that you can do to help.

  1. Ask. I promise there are people who can point you in the right direction. If you don’t have money, maybe you have time because you (like me) are out of work right now.
  2. Give. Whether it is your time, your money, your expertise – you have something to give this world. You matter. Don’t hide that gift when your country needs it the most.
  3. Vote. And if you can’t vote, educate yourself on issues. If you don’t like the way your officials, from local to state to national, are handling the jobs voters granted them, then get involved. Make phone calls. Write letters. Ask questions, and get answers. Be qualified to answer questions that you may be asked. If you are happy with your local or state officials, but worry about other states, I promise those candidates will need your help, too.

Articles (I tried to stay middle-of-the-road and stick with Forbes) with links to worthy donations:

Forbes article on the Minnesota Freedom Fund with donation links and information*

Forbes article’s Covid-19 Giving Guide

And there are so many people offering to pay protestor bail and lawyers giving free legal advice and aid that I couldn’t possibly name them all.

We’re still the United States of America in name. Let’s also be the united states in action.

If you have any questions, and still don’t know who to ask, ask me here. If I don’t know, I will find out. And if you need help, even if it’s just a listening ear, I’m here for that, too.

Take care of yourselves out there.

*photo courtesy of Forbes.com.

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