10 August 2013

It ain't about the money, money, money (but it kind of is)

The older I get the more aware I am of my insecurities.  Physical, emotional, and--bugger of all buggers--financial.  In an effort to stop feeling like money woes are some dirty little secret I shouldn't speak about in public, I'm going to try to put into words the way money makes me feel.

When I have it--and I don't mean piles in which I roll naked while listening to Jay-Z sing 100 Bills--but when I have enough financial security to get through the month without nickel and diming til the next paycheck, I feel fantastic.  Like I am the smartest, most cash savvy lady on the planet.  When I don't have it, though--when I am looking up paycheck dates to see when I'll get a little relief--I feel like a clueless little girl who can't get her shit together enough to have more than $20 in her savings account.

Geneen Roth, in her book Lost & Found: One Woman's Story of Losing Her Money and Finding Her Life, writes about the reluctance we have as people--and as women especially--to talk about money.  Like somehow having it, or not having it, comes with so many subtle and scary consequences that we put our heads down and just pretend it's all okay when maybe, in reality, it isn't.  And for me, it isn't.  I know someday everything will work itself out. I know if I work hard, have faith, believe in a better tomorrow, and put as much love in to the world as I can, my life will be meaningful and joyous.  But it won't be easy.  And today, I am wishing it could be a little easier.

My problems stem, mostly, from being naive when I got divorced.  I wound up with credit card debt from trying to hang on to the house we owned until I could put it on the market, so now I'm sitting under a stack of bills.  Every trick recommended by budget books, websites, savings articles, and Pinterest tips has been implemented, and it's still a pretty rocky road.

Do I have enough to get by?  Yes.  I can pay all of my bills and have about $100 a week for food, gas, and entertainment left over.  But that's $400 to cover all the incidentals you don't think about, too, like the dog collar I had to buy today because Zelda's three year old one finally gave out, or the air filters I had to replace because my landlord, for some reason, doesn't do that.

What does all this mean? It means that I live in a pretty heightened state of money related anxiety most of the time.  I fear for any emergency that might come up, be it medical or automotive, personal or familial.  How would I be able to handle it?  The truth is, I don't know.  And, the even more shocking truth is that it would only take $10,000 to change my life.  That's it.  My credit cards and medical bills would be paid off, I'd have money to put in to savings each month, and I wouldn't have to worry about each and every dime.  But there's no ten thousand dollar lotto ticket in my future, so I am pushing on as best I can for now.

Why is this topic worthy of a blogpost? In his book How to Read and Why, Harold Bloom posits that we read to feel less alone.  That has always been true for me; the plights of others writ large across the pages of books have brought me immeasurable comfort in my 37 years.  Today, though, I thought I'd give the other side of it a shot.  I know I am not the only person who struggles with financial fear, and by saying it out loud I hope to make someone feel a little less alone.

28 July 2013

All By Myself (Don't Wanna Be)

Bridget Jones's Diary opens with credits rolling over Bridget lounging around her apartment smoking cigarettes, drinking wine, listening  to the song referenced in the the title of this post. Jones is established, from the opening shots, as a woman who is tired of being alone and we spend the rest of the film (and it's sequel) watching her work out how to alleviate this awful state of loneliness, alone-ness, solitude, what have you.

Jones has a circle of close friends in whom she confides all of her fears and hopes, but it is the man--make that the MAN as capital letters traditionally dictates importance--who will complete her in every way. And she spends the film searching for him among the over-abundant number of emotional fuckwittage cases in London.  She believes finding the right man will make everything okay.  But, just like losing weight or winning the lottery, getting what you want (the MAN) doesn't mean YOU are any different.  You're the same person you've always been in a new set of circumstances.

Blogger Hannah posted about her husband not being her soulmate last week. Her ideas are rooted in the misconception that God plans everything for our lives, including the mate who will enrich, fulfill, and rock us with desire for all our lives.  It's a pretty great take on what the mid 90s to early 2000s Evangelical movement sold Christian kids in America.  As I read it this morning, followed by the new Psychology Today cover story ("What Happy People Do Differently"), it hit me that I have been living with some of the same future-fixes they both reference.

For as long as I can remember, I have felt lonely. I can feel it in a crowd full of people just as intensely--sometimes more--than when I am alone.  I have a sense of being other, separate, removed that I can't shake no matter how many parties I go to, close friends I have, or classrooms full of kids I teach.  It's just a natural state of being for me.  

Like Bridget, and like Hannah's younger self, I have often imagined that finding the MAN would make all of this isolation fade away, that somehow he would fill the corners in the giant room of my heart and suddenly there wouldn't be space to hide in anymore.  I am pretty sure I have found that man, to my utter shock and thankfulness each day, but it turns out he can be in the giant room, laughing and talking and twirling me around in it until I am dizzy with joy and love, and there's still emptiness.

He and I have a wonderful relationship that is stronger and deeper with each passing day.  Through being with him I have realized that what I really want--in all my closest connections--is intimacy.  Not all night kisses, hot breathing and tangled sheets intimacy, though all of that is simply lovely, but the kind of intimacy between two people that exists when you share everything without judgment, where you turn to each other first  to share your greatest accomplishments and deepest heartbreaks.  The kind of intimacy that means no matter how hard something is, knowing you have one another to turn to halves the difficulty. 

I could chronicle all the reasons why trusting people is hard. And I'd bet all my reasons are the same as yours. Betrayals, petty nothingness, our own judgment turning out to be terrible when we least expected it.  It's all universal and it's all so terribly personal. 

When Hannah married, she realized the beauty of choosing each day to love the man who became her husband, the joy of working towards a life with him, and the reality that small choices each day kept them together, connected to God and each other.  When Bridget finally gets out of her own way and kisses Mark Darcy in the snow outside the bookshop, she finds herself blissfully happy and connected.  And so, I suppose, that's what I am ultimately trying to find.  A way to feel connected to the world at large so that I don't feel invisible when the loneliness birds fly into my heart.  

So, today, I am going to try to live in what feels connected now.  Not what may happen in the future to make things better, not how the MAN can fix everything for me (because that's too much pressure on him and, honestly, not what I want).  Today, I am going to try to trust myself a little more and to shine a brighter light in that room so that, even if the dark corners don't quite disappear, I can begin to be less afraid of them.

19 July 2013

How I was in the beginning

I remember growing up in two ways, so separate you'd think they were memories of two different children.  On the one hand, I remember playing on my elementary school playground.  Monkey bars, swing set, kickball. I wasn't an athletic or even a coordinated child, but recess came and, like all good first through sixth graders, I played.  I had alliances and enemies, people I wanted to play with and those I didn't.  Those memories are normal, tinted a little green from age and wear, but no different from anyone else's memories of grade school.

The second set is boy-girl specific as in girls vs. boys.  Specifically this girl vs. the boys.  Pictures of me from age 0-11 are adorable.  I am blonde, wide-eyed, average height and weight.  I have straight white teeth (no braces ever and still--to this day--I have never had a cavity).  Somewhere around age twelve I got my period, developed breasts, and was so different from other girls that I became my own entity against the boys. This lasted a long time. 

There were girls who weighed more than I did, but no one was as insecure about it as I was.  The women in my family, who I love dearly, dieted constantly, so I knew any extra weight was bad, but here I was, developing dimpled ass cheeks and curved hips and a chest that would be 36C by the time I was 15.  I was curvy and insecure--insecurvy--and had no idea what to do with a body like mine.  But, apparently, the boys knew what to do with it.

In ninth grade, at a new school (we moved in the middle of my eighth grade year), a friend took me to a junior high basketball game to flirt with a boy she liked.  At that game, an eighth grade boy told me I looked like I could perform a certain sex act very well because of the shape of my mouth.  I was fourteen.  

At that point, I'd been kissed by three boys.  One while playing spin the bottle--my first kiss ever--and two 'boyfriends' if you call hanging out at someone's house and kissing for a few weeks dating.  I had no frame of reference for such blatant sex talk, but it didn't end there.  Throughout high school, more boys said things to me like that.  I was the girl they said shitty, slutty things to, even though I was one of the last girls in my graduating class to do any of those things.  There were 42 people in my graduating class, around 200 in my high school, and everyone knew everyone else's business.  My prudishness had as much to do with self-preservation as it did with anything else.

I knew I could have had sex in high school.  Every girl I knew could have.  But I wanted to hold out for love.  And I had discovered the magic of making out.  In her memoir, Hypocrite in a Pouffy White Dress, Susan Perkins-Gilman writes: "Making out, I'd quickly discovered, was the greatest activity ever invented in the history of the planet. As soon as I started making out with boys on a regular basis, I couldn't believe that vast segments of the human population ever did anything else. How, I wondered could people possibly pick up their dry cleaning, perform open-heart surgery, or teach high school mathematics when they could be making out instead? What was wrong with this world? Where were people's priorities?" 

I loved kissing, so when a boy at a party approached me, I let him kiss me because. I. Liked. It.  Good girls didn't go all the way, I knew that, but you could make out and maybe it would lead to a real relationship.  He'd see me Monday at school, remember our sweet hot kisses, and make me his girlfriend, give me his letter jacket to wear, his class ring, the whole nine. (I went to a 3A high school in Central Kansas from 1990-94 that was, admittedly, a little too 50s for it's own good.)

But, of course, that never happened.  I learned, as far as boys were concerned, I was fun backstage--in the dark where no one could see--but I was never the star of the show.

I look at the girls I teach, beautiful in each of their sizes, shapes, weights, and heights, and I pray none of them are being spoken to like I was--like I still am, sometimes.  I pray we've moved past the point where men feel like crass commentary is acceptable in terms of flirting.  I pray boys have gotten better with girls, and girls have learned how to say NO when they dislike something.  

But, of course, I know better.

I spent years trying to find love, trying to reconcile the playground images of boys and girls getting along, laughing, having fun and being partners with the other images of derision, sexualization and lusty groping that came later.  And it took me far too many trips around the block to realize you have to love who you are right now, no matter what anyone else says or who you hope to be in the future, you have to love who you are right now so you can defend her, nurture her, give her the room to say yes when it feels good and no when it feels bad.  And you have to keep doing it, over and over and over again, until it's as natural as breathing.

I let other people decide for me for so long that now I find myself loved by a good man who accepts me exactly as I am and it scares the shit out of me.  He loves me enough to hear every critical, irrational, and insecurvy thing I have to say without repercussions, without throwing it back at me, without making me feel bad for having emotions.  He loves me. And I have to let him.  I have to stop seeing myself as the girl boys used and let myself be the woman he loves.  

I have to get back to the swing set, the monkey bars, the effortless freedom of how I was in the beginning.

from 'Parthenogenesis'-Pablo Neruda

Well, I'll try to change for the better:
greet them all circumspectly,
watch out for appearances,
be dedicated, enthusiastic--
til I'm just what they ordered,
being an un-being at will
til I'm totally otherwise.

Then if they let me alone, 
I'll change my whle person,
disagree with my skin,
get a new mouth,
change my shoes and my eyes--
then when I'm different
and nobody can recognize me
--since anything else is unthinkable--
I'll go on as I was in the beginning.

30 January 2013

The Weight of the World

It's official. I am fat. According to every online chart, every BMI counter and weight calculator, every scale I step on, and every pair of jeans in the juniors section (which admittedly I've NEVER been able to wear), I am fat.

This is not new information.  For the past seven years, with a few stretches of lower weight due to increased gym time in an attempt to avoid the truth and sadness of my dissolving marriage, I have been fat. I have, in fact, at 5'5" weighed nearly the same thing as my 6' construction worker father.  Papa, bald and fit--who looks at least 15 years younger than his 63--carries his weight in his midsection which means he looks barrel chested most days.  Me...ehhh...not so much.

I'm blessed with an hourglass figure from my mother (who incidentally has been dissatisfied with her beautiful face and body every day of my life and, probably, nearly every day of hers).  This figure is most noticeable in pencil skirts that hug my hips and thighs and behind, a tight sweater that denotes my waist and breasts, and high heels that make my muscular calves look positively deadly.  But, seriously, who can dress like a 50s pin up every day?  Dresses are a good option, some skirts, but my body is better suited to fits and fashions of years gone by, so clothes shopping is a nightmare. Pants and jeans either pull across my middle resulting in the ever insulting camel-toe or pool in the lap area to accommodate a pooch I don't have.  If they fit in my thighs, they're too big in my waist; it's a grail-esque search to find things in stores I can afford which means, usually, I scour thrift shops for anything that works on what the world tells me is an overweight, plus sized, inappropriate body.

Despite all of that, most of the time I don't FEEL fat, and by that I mean I don't feel ashamed or worthless or embarrassed.  I am intelligent, well educated, strong in my profession, loved by a good man, surrounded by supportive friends and family, and I know I am beautiful. Not pretty, not cute, but beautiful.  I have near flawless skin, big expressive eyes, thick healthy hair, and my heart is wide and deep enough to love everyone I encounter unconditionally.  But, you can't deny the number on the scale, and that number--though only a teeny tiny rest stop in the brilliant and mammoth map of who I am--can break my heart all night long if I think about it too much .

I've recently been reading Scoot Over Skinny: The Fat Nonfiction Anthology, and it has gotten me to thinking about my weight. I've gained 70 pounds since high school.  70. And I'm starting to figure out where it all came from in a bigger than well-you-ate-too-much-pizza/burgers/pasta-and-drank-too-much-booze sort of way.  My high school boyfriend cheated on me. So did the next guy. And the third, the first real long term relationship I had, kept in close contact with his ex-girlfriends (emails and phone calls) and I didn't know it the whole first year we were together.  I gained 10 pounds for each of those.

Then, later, mom was diagnosed with non-Hodgkins Lymphoma. 15 pounds of fear, loneliness, and terror.

The last 25 came between the end of college and the end of graduate school: a three year period during which I was so lost and terrified that I might not be substantive enough for anyone to want me, that I weighted myself down with food as a means of proving I was real.

But now, exactly 24 weeks to the day until my 37th birthday, I am ready to put this weight of the world away.  Not because I feel so terribly awful about my appearance or because I give two shits what anyone has to say about my body--seriously, fuck anyone who can't see past my size to the heart of who I really am.  It's finally clear to me that I don't need this weight to protect me from anything anymore.  I'm not trying to ward off guys who might treat me like garbage. I'm not trying to fight back the fear of losing someone I love.  And I'm not aimlessly trying to determine who the hell I am.

So, today's the day.  I agreed to participate in a half marathon in April knowing I'll mot liekly walk or jog the whole time, and I've started keeping a journal of how my body feels when I eat and when I work out.

It's time to get back to the healthy, unafraid girl I was at 18 and introduce her to the strong woman I am today.

In the words of the poet Paul Celan,

It is time the stone made an effort to flower,
time unrest had a beating heart.
It is time it were time.

It is time.

01 January 2013

New Year's Day

I had a solid plan to write a long reflective post today about 2012 and it's struggles, what I learned, how I am hopeful about 2013 and how there is simply no way the inverse is going to deal me mother shitty year.

But, I am sick.  Nose buzzing and running and sinus drainage and deep chest rattle cough sick. I had a productive morning, took off my closet doors, hung curtains, fixed my bedroom closet so it's actually usable for the first time in the six months I've lived here.  And then I succumbed to the disgusting truth of how I feel.

Whatever 2013 has in store, I suppose it can go up from here.  At least "Drive Me Crazy" is on HBO. Melissa Joan Hart and Adrien Grenier are a match made in teen movie heaven.

25 December 2012


My family has a rich tradition during th holidays.  Christmas Eve is almost always at my Nanny's (maternal grandmother) and because her four daughters all live in Salina, we have a houseful.  Good food, gifts for the children, great conversation, and the pure peace that comes from being surrounded by people you love.

Since my divorce, I have often felt separate from the joy of family functions.  Not because of anyone or nothing in my family--I am truly blessed to be a part of this wild and wonderful group--but I have felt alone even in the midst of all this joy simply because it is hard to accept that the partnership I was once half of no longer exists, and the older I get the more I need that alliance.  That feeling of it being us against the world.  I see that in my parents's marriage and in the beautiful family my brother and sister in law are building with my nieces Eva Olive and her 15 days old sister Ivy Elane.  

This Christmas, I did not go home.  Instead, I spent the holiday with the man in my life.  I've never had my own Christmas before, one for which I prepared the food, the guests came to my home, etc. And, with the exceptions of a deep cut to my left index finger trying to cut open a pomegranate for the cheesecake I made and a bizarre nosebleed that came on last night, it went off without a hitch.  

What I've realized this year is that being with the person I love makes me feel connected to the world and to the joy of the moment in ways I simply can't feel when we are apart.  I may not have had the houseful of relatives I've come to know over the years, but I am surrounded by love and that is, without hesitation, doubt, or exception, all I could ever ask for.

Love love love one another.  It is the only thing that matters.

10 December 2012

Books; Baby; Boy

been reading like crazy over the last few months, in large part because I need to be taken out of my own life a little.  I have good friends, a job I love, people who support me, a wonderful family, but I find myself emotionally tapped out as the semester draws to a close and, to that end, I seek solace and solitude in books.

I've been reading for as long as I can remember, finding new worlds and new lives to prowl through, inhabit, wear.  When I learned to drive I didnt' know how to get anywhere in the town I grew up in because for years my nose had been too deeply buried in books to notice things like landmarks, directions,a nd street signs.

The run down of recent reads (the last 2-3 months) and my grading of them is as follows:

The Paris Wife, Paula McClain: A. Hemingway's 1st marriage ot Hadley Richardson.  Gorgeously written, captures rhythm and style and sadness of one of America's greatest writers while managing to have its own voice.

The Archivist, Martha Cooley: B+. The only reason this novel about an archivist specializing in the letters between Lucy Hale and T.S. E.iot isn't an A is the unnecessary middle third about the archivist's dead wife.  Boo.  His voice was so perfect, there was no need to introduce her story in that way.

The Night Circus, Erin Morgenstern: B-. There were elements of this that I absolutely loved, particulary the second person sections related to engaging with and encountering the circus, but the multiple plot lines and twisting chronology wasn't always compelling, and the love story was given away from the very beginning. 

Silver Linings Playbook, Matthew Quick: D.I hated this whiny man-boy protagonist from beginning to end.  I felt no empathy for him, no interest in his sad little parade towards mental health, and no desire to find out if he wound up okay or not.  Having been through a divorce and therapy myself, I found Quick's treatment of these issues to be superficial and monotone.

Reunion, Alan Lightman: B-.  This book was an A until the last 30 pages and then if fell apart.  Charles goes to his 30th high school reunion at a small men's liberal arts college, waxes philosophical about a girl he loved briefly as an undergrad, and has flashbacks to those days that are brilliant.  When the twist in that old relatopnship are revealed, however, they are neither beautifully written nor believable.  This had such possiblity, but the end of the novel made me want to burn the book.

The Group, Mary McCarthy: C.  I know why this book about 8 female friends from a prestigious women's college was controversial upon publication--frank sexual talk, backbiting, the truth aboutomen's competition with even their closes friends.  But, the scope was too grand the characters too interchangable for me to care.  I actually didn't finish this one.

An Invisible Sign of My Own, Aimee Bender: B. I love Bender's magical realism, and this story of a 19 year old woman thrown into a classroom as an emergency second grade math teacher is compelling, if not her best work.  The short story collection The Girl in the Flammable Skirt is better for my money.  But, this novel did make me want to know what happens next, and her relationships with her young students were dear and honest.

My sister-in-law is having my second niece today :)  Teryn and Brandon already have the ever fabulous Eva Olive who brought so much light and joy into my laugh it is staggering to imagine, and today baby number two arrives.  Eva has decided her new little sister shall be christened Twilight Sparkle or Sparkle Lipstick.  I am certain none of these names will appear on the birth certificate, but in the interim of knowing the official name: welcome to the world, Twilight Sparkle Lipstick :)

Well, man, really.  I have a good one. A great one, actually.  I have a lot of baggage from my marriage.  My ex is a good man who didn't know how to talk to me, how to give me the attention and affection I needed, how to love me as I need to be loved.  That doesn't make him a bad guy by any stretch, it just means we couldn't manage forever together.

But, the man I am with now, gives me every reason to believe that love can be the sustaining foundation beneath a person's feet that allows her to feel stronger, need less, and know more.  I am grateful every day, even for the roughest patches between us, because who we are once the storm passes is always so damn beautiful.