Terrifyingly Successful

I’m hoping Kevin and David won’t be too pissed off about my essentially ripping off the title of their podcast for the title of this post. But being that this post is a response to their latest episode, I figured it was probably okay.

So on their latest episode they go significantly more serious than usual. One of the best things about Terrifyingly Beautiful is that they make it easy to laugh at our anxiety, and as we all know, being able to laugh at something takes away a lot of the power it has over us. But kind of like I say in my book, there are some things that just aren’t really funny, but it doesn’t mean that we don’t still need to talk about them at some point.

So on their latest episode, David talks about his anxiety about success. And sure to some extent, he means anxiety about whether or not he will manage TO BE successful, but it’s more about his anxiety about actually BEING successful. And as soon as I heard him talking about it, I was like “Oh my god, YES.”

My particular anxiety about “being successful,” is that I feel like I’m just perceived as successful. It’s like somehow, without even really intending to, I’ve managed to trick people into thinking that I am capable. I worry that it’s not that I am actually good enough, it’s just that I’ve been fortunate enough to be surrounded by people who have helped me look good. But at some point people are going to figure out that I am incompetent and do not deserve to be where I am doing what I am doing.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Case in point, my prior post, 30,000 Foot View, was inspired by John Green’s Turtles All the Way Down as the post indicates. But what I don’t talk about in that post is that the actual imagery therein was based on what was going through my head at the time because of something that had happened to me earlier that day. 

I’d been at an annual leadership conference hosted by my specialty’s professional society for the prior 4 days, and it had gone exceedingly well. I’d had some unplanned but really exciting opportunities. I’d risen above what had been expected of me and gotten a lot of accolades for that. And of the things I’d known in advance that I needed to accomplish while I was there, they went even better than I could have hoped. I was really feeling extremely confident and proud of myself.

 

 

 

 

As the last day of the conference was wrapping up, an attendee came over to chat with me. This isn’t unusual since it’s a small conference and a lot of people end up meeting me at some point. And he asked – so how can someone get to do what you’re doing – be so involved with not just participating in these but actually getting to facilitate and be involved at the organizational level? Before I could answer, he was like, “Oh wait you work at Hospital X with Dr. Y, right? (Dr. Y is amongst other things the director of this particular conference offering, at least for the last few years). Oh, that explains it.”

I let it go in real time, but I was thinking, “Hey, screw you buddy. He may have helped me get my foot in the door, true, but I’ve gotten as far as I have based on my own efforts and skills. So there, you sad and pathetic little man!!”

An hour later…. “I really am nothing but his shadow. No one would even want me here if it wasn’t for my working for him.” That’s right folks. Top of the world to I’m not even mold on a piece of cat vomit in an hour.

Welcome. To. My. Brain.

So I totally get David’s whole thing about being stressed about whether or not he is worthy for the success that he is realizing.

And then, he talks about being afraid to allow himself to succeed because putting yourself out there in what could be success could also be setting yourself up for failure. His example is that he believes he’s self-sabotaging himself for opportunities because deep down he’s afraid he’ll screw them up and it’s better to just not get the opportunity than to take it and find out that you’re not good enough. And I am so totally there. 

There’s been a number of times over the past almost 15 years that I have looked for other options and a been offered opportunities that would have been, at least at face value, growth opportunities. And that’s the very definition of success, right?

I’ve never taken any of those offers. I like to tell myself that’s because I was looking at the big picture and seeing the long term positive things about where I was, even though there were certainly real-time negative things. But the reality is, after hearing David say it out loud, I have to admit that I’ve been in that exact same place as him. Those opportunities represented taking the next step, doing more than I was currently doing, but there was always the chance that I wouldn’t be able to do it. It’s a lot more comfortable to stay where you are than it is to take the chance that you aren’t capable of doing more.

So success…. It’s what we all want. The idea of not achieving it is a horrible source of anxiety. The reality of achieving it is a source of terrible anxiety.

Wow. Our brains really are screwed up, aren’t they???

***********************

P.S.  I’m sure some of you are probably sick of me telling you that you really must go listen to the Terrifyingly Beautiful. Except you’d only feel that way if you hadn’t yet listened to it, because if you have actually listened to it, then you’re thanking me a million times over. Seriously folks, it isn’t rocket science. If you don’t already have a podcast app, or do not have a podcast app that lets you access this particular podcast, go to your phone’s Google Play Store and download the free “Stitcher” app. Then search for their podcast and Wal la! (If nothing else it’ll make this post make more sense.)

www.terrifyinglybeautiful.com

 

 

 

 

 

Nope, Still Hump Day

On day two of my endeavor to do this whole “you should write something everyday” thing, here comes another post. (I can give you names and Twitter accounts of the author’s you have to blame for these atrocities.)

Today will be a sort of ‘second edition’ of pet peeves. I wouldn’t necessarily say that many of these are pet peeves,but well, that’s just the label we’re going to go with. So today: 

Pet Peeves about Foods

Ketchup: Being from Pittsburgh HAVE to start with this one. THERE IS FLAT-OUT, NO QUESTIONS, WITHOUT A DOUBT, NO YOU ARE JUST WRONG IF YOU SAY OTHERWISE, any ketchup other than Heinz. I don’t care who makes it, I don’t care what you call your imposter condiment – ketchup, catsup… whatever, it’s disgusting. All of it.

 

 

 

 

Mayo: I am not the biggest fan of mayo to start with (seriously Japan, what the eff???) But all mayonnaise except for Hellman’s mayonnaise basically just tastes like what I imagine boogers would taste like.

Meatloaf: If you follow me on Facebook then you are already aware of my quite strong opinion on meatloaf. Meatloaf should only come with a ketchup glaze, period. This bullshit with putting gravy on meatloaf has to stop. Turkey? Fine. Hot covered roast beef sandwiches? Fine. Mashed potatoes? Fine. Poutine fries? Fine. But as soon as you stick gravy on so-called meatloaf what you now have is Salisbury steak. And if I wanted Salisbury steak I would have ordered Salisbury steak. Keep your damn gravy away from my meatloaf and hand me the Heinz ketchup.

 

 

 

 

Green Peppers: First of all I would like to start off by saying I actually really like green peppers. I love them in chili, I love them fried with onions on sausage sandwiches, I love them in fajitas… But I do not understand why people insist on putting green peppers in shit that they don’t belong in. Essentially, whatever you put green peppers in ends up pretty much tasting like green pepper. And I’m sorry, but spaghetti sauce should not taste like green peppers. Nor should meatloaf. Nor should a myriad of other things that people insist on putting them into. Look, I know it’s a cheap green vegetable but just stop it!

Salt and pepper: I actually don’t have a problem with salt and pepper themselves – I mean these are pretty much the two most essential seasonings out there. What really irritates me is when you go to a restaurant and there’s no salt and pepper on the table. Yeah, yeah I get it – you can ask for it. But basically by them not putting on the table and making you have to say that you want it, it’s like they’re telling you you’re some sort of heathen or something if you ask for it. It should just freaking be on the damn table already. If I want to put salt and pepper on my food I don’t care whether you feel insulted by that – I’m paying for the damn meal!

 

 

 

 

Over-cooked steak: This one’s a twofer. First of all, people who order steak medium well, or even worse well done – you do not deserve steak. If you’re essentially going to turn that meat into something dry and tasteless then do not waste a perfectly good high-end steak that someone else could enjoy. Just buy some ground mystery beef and have a dry ass burger. Second, restaurants that cannot properly cook steak. Look, it is not a requirement that every restaurant have steak on its menu, so if you can’t cook the damn thing the way it was ordered then don’t have it on your menu. And before you say “oh but just send it back until they get it right”, I do not want to wait for yet another meal to come out and, back to my prior point, this is a waste of a perfectly good animal’s death. It should be treated with more respect and if you can’t manage that then just don’t do it at all. And actually I lied, this is a threefer – because the other thing that really irritates me is that they will not allow you to order a kid’s steak or a kid’s burger medium rare. I’m his mother, if I want to endanger him with a medium rare steak that’s my business. You want me to sign a waiver or some such nonsense, fine, but my kid doesn’t want dry ass meat and I’m not going to pay for dry ass meat for my kid.

Avocados: This isn’t just about me hating avocados (which I do). It’s about the fact that this whole avocado thing has just gotten out of hand. People complain about the whole pumpkin spice thing, but seriously, avocados are just showing up in all kinds of things they should never be in. I mean, there is no place IN THIS WORLD for avocado ice cream, end of story.

Deep Frying Everything: Again, just stop. You don’t need to try and deep-fry everything you can get your hands on just to prove that you can.

Lemon in iced tea: Why in the hell do restaurants automatically put lemon in your iced tea? If I want lemon in my iced tea **I** can easily add lemon to my iced tea. However if I don’t freaking want lemon in my iced tea (which I most certainly DO NOT) and you have already put it in there, my iced tea already tastes like lemon and there’s not really any way to undo that. Stop making my decisions for me!

Getting Over the Hump

My creative headspace has looked a bit like this lately:

 

 

 

 

 

I’m envious and a bit in awe of authors who write everyday, no matter what. They tend to have this theory of ‘write something’, even if it’s crap, just to stay mentally limber and develop good writing habits.

Me, if I tried to do that, most days my writing would look like this:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

And I would like this:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

That said, at some point you really do have to write SOMETHING or risk giving up altogether (even if it’s just a post full of crazy camel haikus).

Working all day long / My boss thinks this is water / What else would it be???

 

Don’t know ’bout Yankee
/ But this Doodle is dope fly / Don’t hate, Bee-ahh-chez!

 

Hey I did warn you / Don’t ask me “what day is it?” / That shit’s got real old

 

And last but not least / “Your thoughts on camel haikus?” / Make it freaking stop!!

 

 

 

Do I Look a Little Green to You?

I’m really coming to hate this time of year.

The thing is, I want to like it. I’m not one of those “Ugh commercialism” or “Ba-humbug it’s just an excuse for people to expect you to buy them things!” kind of people at all. I love the decorations and buying presents and all the events and sights that go with the whole thing (except the Mall, no freaking way with the Mall).

            nope nope nope nope nope

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

But there’s a problem. Obviously many of us (though sadly not all of us – I’m sorry if you are one of those people) have fond and magical memories of Christmas from our childhood. Frankly, all holidays are pretty much like that when you’re little and don’t have a care in the world.

But honestly, even past childhood… Even early on in my adult life when my husband and I were BUTT-ASS POOR, and the only reason we even had a Christmas tree was because we were given my dead elderly Aunt’s (and it was this horrible 20-30 year old fake tree with the yellowing fake snow that smelled like old cigarettes and shed “needles” like a lonely old impotent dude sheds dollars bills at a strip club); and all our decorations were hand-me-downs or paper snowflakes I made from scraps of paper I brought home from work; and presents were handmade from whatever we could cobble together from stuff we had or could buy at the dollar store – – it still felt like a special time of year. It was still magical.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Once we had a little more money, I would spend the entire months of October through December decorating the house for every holiday, and baking and cooking, and shopping for the perfect presents for everyone, often making homemade gifts for colleagues and friends alike, not because I had to but because they were special. I loved it. It was still magical.

MAGICALLLLLLL!!!!!!!!!!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I think it really all changed during the years we were waiting for our referral and then waiting for Eli to come home. Before we started trying to have children, what we had was all we wanted, so everything felt complete and perfect and magical. But once we started trying to have a family, every holiday just felt so painful… there was suddenly this integral, vital part missing. And so the magic died.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I expected it to come back when Eli came home (I mean – isn’t that how it’s supposed to work, dammit? You have children and it becomes magical and shit again. I demand a recount!!!!) But that hasn’t happened. I just can’t get into it. I WANT to. I feel sad for most of October and November and December because I’m thinking about how un-holiday-ee I feel, and I feel super depressed after the holidays are over because I feel like I’ve missed my chance for yet another year to feel the magic. I’ve tried doing holiday-like stuff to get in the spirit, but even if I ‘enjoy’ it, it still doesn’t feel like things used to.

 

Add to THIS all the added family tensions for the last several years, which totally bums my husband out every year, which in turn completely bums me out and makes me feel guilty and terrible and OVER THIS WHOLE HOLIDAY THING, and, well………

 

BURN IT ALL TO THE GROUND!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A Crumby Gift

Hope you’re all happily getting ready for the holiday and that you will have just enough time (but not too much!) with your loved ones, and that you enjoy your 4,000 calorie meal on Thursday!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

In celebration of the holiday, I thought I would give you a little treat… (if by “treat” I mean something along the lines of that candy your weird elderly Aunt would offer you; you know, the weird dish of unwrapped bumpy candies of various shapes and sizes that were always stuck together and all of which tasted like dust and cough syrup? Yeah, THAT kind of treat.)  Though, there is a method to this madness. This holiday is all about being thankful, and after reading this you’ll be SO FREAKING THANKFUL that I chose not to write my book as fiction that no matter what you’ll have at least one thing to be glad about this year. It’s the gift that keeps on giving – you’re welcome. #pretentious #makeitstop

Happy Thanksgiving everyone!

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Crumbs

written in 2011

She walks out of her empty kitchen and into the next room, looking around the vacant space for a moment before her eyes focus on her long, dark dining room table. She puts the plate she is carrying on one end and sags into a straight-backed wooden chair. The table’s glossy surface reflects the image of a gaunt woman with dark circles under her dark eyes. She sits motionless for a long time, staring down into her reflection, a million thoughts trying to crowd their way into her mind. Forcing herself to tear her gaze away from the sight of her own haunted face, her eyes latch instead onto the plate she’s brought from the kitchen.

When she declined to join them for dinner, her neighbors insisted on bringing her a bag of leftovers. In past years, she had always been the one wrapping foil bundles of sweet potatoes and cornbread and pumpkin pie to be distributed to those less blessed than she was by a large and loving family. Today she hasn’t even turned on the stove. The cold sandwich in front of her is all she has.

When she finally picks the sandwich up, the skin between each of her fingers pulls taunt in her struggle to hold the contents contained and controlled. It’s a strange sandwich, not the kind of thing she would ever normally make. It’s filled with things you expect to find on a sandwich, but also things that do not belong. It’s a sandwich from her past. Her father used to make sandwiches like this.  She closes her eyes for a moment and struggles to picture him, to remember his voice telling her what they were called as she stood knee-high to him in the goldenrod and olive kitchen.  A Dagger? A Beechwood? It was so long ago that it’s lost to her now.

The bread is soft and white, the kind of bread her mother fed her when she was a small girl. It had come in long monotonous loaves, but as a child she’d only noticed the packaging, covered in spots of bright color. She’d thought of it as “circus bread,” and had played lion tamer or trapeze artist with her dolls for hours after lunches of bologna and cheese or peanut butter and grape jelly.  She hadn’t eaten bread like this in years. Childhood’s white ring-top joy had long since been replaced by adulthood’s fibery brown practicality.  Her fingertips bite into the spongy surface, marring it. She shifts her fingers and watches as the divots in the bread try to restore themselves to their former fluffy perfection. They aren’t able to bounce back, remaining somewhat deflated. She can’t help but think about how things come into your life and make impressions on you, and you never quite recover when they are gone.

The bread’s apparent softness is a deception, though. She can feel the roughness of hundreds of little peaks and valleys on the surface of the slices. She brings the sandwich closer to scrutinize it. What appeared so uniform and pillowy from afar reveals a harsh, cratered terrain on closer examination. The mayonnaise she slathered on the top slice has starting to seep up through the porous surface. She’d always thought mayonnaise was white, but against the unforgiving whiteness of the bread, it’s a pallid yellow. She reflects on how things tend to be much different, much worse, if you look at them closely. It is better, perhaps, to keep everything at arm’s length.

She closes her eyes and sighs into the silent room. “Stop being ridiculous, Melanie. It’s just a sandwich, for heaven sakes.”

Color flushes up her neck and into her cheeks. It’s only been two weeks since Jackson moved out, and here she is, already talking to herself. On instinct she glances around the room, worried what people will think, but then remembers there is no one to see her faux pas.  She can do anything she wants now.

She raises her chin a little, her eyes making an attempt at defiance, and asks the china cabinet, “What do you think? Should we just sit around in our dressing gown and sip Chardonnay all day from this point on?” Her voice is louder than she intends, and it rattles the leaded-glass cabinet doors, bouncing back and pushing against her chest. She feels scolded.  Then her cheeks burn even brighter. Only two weeks, and she’s already hallucinating that she’s being chastised by a piece of furniture.

Flustered, she turns back to the sandwich in her hands, opens her mouth until her jaw creaks under the strain, and takes a huge bite. It’s like the subway at rush hour.  Meat clamoring over vegetables, which are trampling cheese, who is pushing condiments, which are elbowing the weirder contents that they feel don’t belong. She swallows after just a moment of chewing and a large lump of unchewed sandwich sticks in her throat. Her head whips around scanning the table, but she realizes she hasn’t brought herself anything to drink. Her mind fills with rapid fire images of her solitary demise. Before she can become too attached to her imaginary tragedy, the sandwich clears past her windpipe.  Her throat bulges and contorts as she continues to swallow hard, over and over, reassuring herself that all is well. There’s nothing there; not even a phantom of pressure remains. She wonders if what she’d thought was there had been a figment of her imagination.

With more caution, she takes a second smaller bite. She makes a conscious decision to concentrate on the turkey, which has always been a favorite of hers. Other people may place higher value on the flashier elements of the holiday meal, but she knows the meat of a thing is what gives strength and body to the whole. This turkey is white meat, dry, and cut much thicker than she would have carved. She can feel the fibers of it pulling apart in her mouth, like a piece of old yarn unraveling. Her shoulders slump as disappointment weighs on her. The turkey she makes is so much better than this. She’d spent years perfecting the art of her golden birds, piling platters full of thin, juicy slices that people clamor for.  It was the first thing her mother-in-law had ever praised her for.

 

It was right after Melanie and Jackson were married, the first time she’d cooked for his huge family. She’d never cooked a meal for such a large group. Even before her parents had passed away, it had only been the two or three of them that she’d needed to cook for. Her mother-in-law had sat down at their shiny mahogany table that Thanksgiving with the air of someone who expected to be disappointed. The woman did that a lot. Melanie’s heart had kicked and bucked as she watched the matriarch place a bite in her mouth. The older woman’s eyes had grown large as she chewed.

“Oh!” A few more chews. “It’s quite delightful, dear.”

Melanie had swelled with pride, almost bursting. In that perfect moment, she knew she’d been accepted.

 

She catches herself staring down the chair where her mother-in-law had sat, challenging it to contest her memory of that day. She turns back to the sandwich in front of her, searching for something different to dwell on instead. Cheese overwhelms everything else as she chews the next bite. It’s American cheese; not the good kind she gets sliced to order at the deli, but the kind that comes in individual plastic straight-jackets. Directly out of the refrigerator, it’s waxy and bland. She muses as she chews about how even this cheap concoction of human science can be turned into something wonderful if it’s treated right. Apply enough warmth and care, and it’s changed from something rigid and ordinary into something smooth and wonderful. She remembers breakfasts in the large four-poster bed upstairs.  The morning sun pours into the east-facing windows so that the fresh smell of warm linens mingles with the rich scent wafting from mounds of steaming scrambled eggs covered in velvety slices of melted cheese. Propped up against a feathery mountain of pillows, two mouths and one fork share the bounty.

Her head jerks up. There is no point in thinking about that now. She swallows with purpose, clearing all of the remnants out of her mouth. She glares at the sandwich. Her eyes accuse it of being responsible for her mental state. She takes another bite and puts the sandwich down, continuing to scowl at it while she chews. A large chunk of iceberg lettuce crunches, echoing through her head and filling her ears. In the quiet house, all she can hear is the sound of her own chewing. She prefers fancier greens; endive, arugula, baby spinach, yet she notices this lettuce has more to it than she’d ever given it credit for. It tastes of fresh water and damp soil warmed in the sunshine. It tastes like growing.  She sees herself standing by her large garden in the backyard.  The sun is low in the sky and it’s hot and humid and still.  The mist reflected off of rows and rows of plants dots her legs below her shorts. It feels so amazing; such a cool, refreshing relief. She tries to dwell in that place, to hold onto that feeling of reprieve, but once she swallows, it starts to fade and is gone within moments. Her tired sigh resounds again through the room.

She looks out the window of the dining room into the vanishing light of the backyard, and she can just make out her garden, tilled under and ready for winter hibernation. Turning the soil had been one of the last things Jackson had done for her before he gave her the news that he was going. She wanted to believe it had been a gift from him, something to soften the blow. He used to tease about her oversized floral gloves, enormous floppy hat, and baggy denim overalls, all covered in dirt. He would sit on the veranda, keeping her company as she puttered around with her plants, a glass of lemonade and a newspaper at his side. Sitting in his khaki pants and polo shirt, looking light and fresh, his golden skin gleaming against the white chaise, he would ask her if she was rehearsing for the role as the “crazy old southern lady.”  It had bothered her at first because she didn’t believe he’d failed to notice that the garden had taken root only after she’d found out they would not be having children.  Then she realized that the glint in his eyes when he teased her wasn’t mischief, but understanding, and maybe even sympathy. His mocking tone was simply his way of coping with feelings he could not voice in any other way.

Her gaze recedes from the past back into the house, and wanders from the dining room, into the foyer, and across into the family room. Keeping the house was supposed to be some kind of recompense for her, but in truth, the place scares her now. There are gaping holes where furniture recently sat or art recently hung; things Jackson had taken when he left. The French console table in the hallway is a stark contrast to these voids; it’s surface completely overtaken by tall stacks of papers.  There are so many things she needs to do in the next few days. Those papers must be gone through, legal documents must be signed. There are calls she needs to make. She needs to figure out what she is going to do tomorrow and the day after. Never mind that, what is she going to do with the rest of her life? How is she going to face that she can’t go back and she has no idea how to go forward? She needs to make a list. She moves to rise, to get paper and pen, but finds she doesn’t have the strength to get out of the chair. She knows it must be done, but she isn’t ready yet. She has a sandwich to finish.

She forces all the energy she has into concentrating on the sandwich, her brow furrowed. She decides that the lettuce is too earthy and practical. It’s turning her thoughts likewise, and she can’t handle that right now. She needs something outrageous to distract her. She looks at the half sandwich left, surveying for the best option. She finds the perfect section and takes a large bite. Her mouth floods with tart sweetness. She rolls the homemade cranberry relish about in her mouth, teasing out all the individual elements that went into making it. She can taste the cranberries, coated in thick red sugary goo, but still sour and crisp underneath the surface of that cloying stickiness. She can taste the oily nuttiness of walnuts, made slightly soft from their soak in the jellied cranberries. It’s almost as good as her own.

 

Every summer, Jackson’s family had looked forward to receiving jars of Melanie’s preserves. She’d even contemplated starting her own business.

“I think my cooking is rather good. I really think it could be successful.”

“I’m not saying it wouldn’t be a success. Your stuff is amazing, of course. I just don’t understand why you want to do it. All that work for what? Do you feel like I don’t provide well enough for us? Do you feel like you need to peddle jars of jam on the side of the road?”

“I never said anything about the side of the road! I’m talking about a real business, Jackson, something of my own to be proud of. It isn’t about money.” Confusion etched lines around Jackson’s eyes, and the hurt projecting from their summer-sky depths pinned her heart to the floor.

“Oh, don’t mind me. It was just some silly little idea I’d cooked up. It’s nothing important, certainly not something for us to us get all upset over. Would you like another pork chop?” She smiled at Jackson while busying herself with putting more dinner on his plate. Melanie never mentioned it again.

 

As she chews, she bites into a rather large piece of orange zest that is lurking in the cranberry relish. The bitter taste overwhelms everything else for a moment, and she is enveloped in the smell of oranges. Her face drains of blood and she sits like a ghost at the deserted table. She’s trapped in the moment when she first smelled a hint perfume profuse with orange oil, strange and unfamiliar, on Jackson. Her foolishness in having accepted his denials cuts through her as a physical pain. Swallowing right away, she takes another bite, desperate for something else, anything else, to focus on.

She finds sage and onion and seasoned bread bits. The stuffing is so reassuring, achingly different from the alien sourness she’s running from. It’s so traditional and normal. She can pretend for a little while that everything is as it’s always been. Her shoulders which had been hunched and tight begin to open and relax.  She leans back in the chair, her spine no longer tense and rigid.  The tips of her mouth curve upwards just a little as she takes another bite, and then another. She almost looks happy.

Her reverie is broken when she realizes there is only one bite left sitting on the plate. Her spine snaps straight. The cords on her neck jump and twitch. She looks at the little piece of sandwich for a long time. What does she want out of it? What does she hope for from this final taste?

She closes her eyes for the last bite, and allows all the little scraps of all the flavors and textures to mix together again. Now that she’s become acquainted with each of them, they’re more like a choreographed dance than a traffic jam. Memories play out in her mind like a montage from those sappy movies she and Jackson would watch from the loveseat when the weather was bad. She chews slowly, pausing for up to ten or fifteen seconds between each movement of her jaw.  Soon, she can’t delay any longer. She swallows the last bite, opening her eyes to as it disappears.

She isn’t hungry anymore, but she wishes she had enough leftovers remaining to make another sandwich. She looks at the disposable plate, which had come in the bag with the leftovers. Drops of cranberry sauce are splattered here and there, and tiny crumbs are scattered across it.  A bright cartoon caricature of turkey, with a placard that says “Happy Thanksgiving!” clasped in his oversized wing, stares up at her.  The cartoon looks evil to her, with its open-beaked smile like a shriek and its craggy yellow legs ending in taloned feet. She is riveted by the turkey’s eyes, drawn only as solid black dots with no whites.  Her shoulders begin to tremble, and then her whole body starts to shake. She shoves the plate away from her with both hands, hard enough that it flies across the table and onto the floor. Her head collapses down onto her arms splayed in front of her, her ragged breath fogging her reflection as her tears blot the table’s perfect polished surface.

 

Writing Myself Into a Corner

I’ve been working on a particularly difficult chapter of the book and I’ve come upon a significant conundrum.

When you’re writing a book about your life, inevitably there are other people in there too. And up until now, that’s been fine. I’ve been able to refer to everyone in generic terms, and even though THEY will know who I’m talking about, I haven’t said anything that would make that a big deal.

But there are things I DO want to talk about that involve other people and would potentially be a big deal. And it’s not about “naming” people… it would be like saying “one of my cousins” when I only have like 2 – kinda obvious.

So I’m trying to figure out how to approach it. How can I say what I need to say without pissing anyone off (which is completely not my intention)?

If it weren’t for this, this chapter (and one other) would long since have been written by now. #annoyed #frustrated #WhatDoIDo

Another Sneaky Peeky

The book continues to come together, though more slowly than is was going at first and way more slowly than I’d like  – but that’s how it works. Not that I would know, but so I hear from my author-y friends and writers I follow on Twitter (and everything on Twitter is correct, right?)

SOOOOOO, since your wait is going to be even longer than originally expected (maybe mid-2018??), I thought it only fair to give you another little peek. Enjoy (I hope!)

(Warning – there is some foul language below)

 

Chapter 5: Confession Time

I don’t want to write this chapter.

It goes back to the fact that some things aren’t easy to say, no matter how important they are to talk about. But I know that the biggest evil surrounding mental health, past and present, is Silence.[1] And I know my reluctance is just my brain is trying to trick me into that very silence.

My brain is telling me my mental illness isn’t real.[2] I know so many people that are really struggling – they’ve been in and out of hospitals so many times, they’ve lost jobs, lost marriages, lost friends, they’ve tried dozens of different medications… These people have real problems. I haven’t earned the right to wear the badge of ‘struggling with depression.’[3]

It’s telling me that I’m just taking advantage of how ‘trendy’ it’s become to have mental health issues…[4]

It’s telling me that I’m not qualified, not able, not allowed, to write this book – maybe a different book, but not this one.

This chapter is my way of telling my brain it can go fuck itself.

 

 

[1] Actually, silence is the problem with A LOT of things in our world, judging by the events of the past few years, not to mention the past few days as I write this chapter in August of 2017… but I won’t go there.1a

1a At least for now….no guarantees about later.

 

[2] I mean – not in the “There’s nothing wrong with me, *I* don’t need help” kind of way. More the “You aren’t really sick. Liar! Faker! APPROPRIATOR!” kind of way.2a

2a ‘Cuz you know, like anyone would actually want to fake being CRAZY.3b

2b Well, except murderers trying to dodge justice. But I haven’t murdered anyone, I swear.

 

[3] What exactly would that girl scout badge look like, anyway??3a

3a And exactly what do you have to do to GET this badge?? “Ok girls, tonight we’re starting work on our Lunatic Badges!! First, go into a corner alone and silently criticize yourself for everything you have ever done. Good, good…. But more guilt, beat yourself down like you mean it – do you want your badge or not? Great! Now all this week – no getting out of bed and no school or social activities of any kind… in fact, don’t leave your house. Fantastic! Good luck girls! You’ll all be sporting your badges in no time!”

 

[4] But Moooooooom, all the cool kids are doing it!

 

How Sweet It Is

Fair Warning

If watching Hallmark movies tends to leave you sweaty, dizzy, or nauseous; if cute commercials with puppies or kittens or babies often require intervention with copious qualities of booze (medicinal of course) to overcome the flood of saccharin sentiments crashing upon you – well, grab your favorite bottle and lay down, ‘cuz off we go…

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I’m not going to claim to be “old hat” at this whole mental illness thing. While I’ve clearly suffered through it all my life, I barely put a name to it in my own thoughts, let alone put it out there in the world for most of those 40 years. It’s only been in the past 8-9 months that I’ve really come to terms with what’s going on in my own brain. That said, I think that even more important than therapy and meds (NOT that you should stop doing those things!!!) is strong support at home. I saw so many people talking about what awaited them when they left treatment to return to the “real world” and it was heart-breaking. How anyone with depression or other issues were supposed to succeed at rising above it when either no one cared, or worse, the people in their lives were outright adversarial, was beyond me. And for many, it was beyond them too – which is why so many of them had been inpatients or in the all-day program for weeks… even months… with no end in sight; or were returning for their umpteenth time. It was their only safe place.

So while he’s going to be like “OMG why did you write all this!” I think it’s about time that I give very public, very sincere credit, where credit it due for my doing as well as I am….

Why My Husband Dave is Awesome.

By Tiffani Panek

Dave and I have been together for 21 years, married for 18 years in just a few weeks. He has always been affectionate, kind, silly, reliable, loyal, and (bewilderingly) head over heels in love with me. But he’s not always been the most “focused” person. We’d argue about something (‘cuz all couples do), he’d say he needed to do <blank> differently in the future… and then go back to doing whatever it was he always did. Not out of malice or lack of intent, but simply out of habit (& maybe a tiny bit of laziness).

And when everything went to hell in a hand basket in April, he didn’t handle it well. He was utterly terrified and unprepared and had no idea what to do. But once the dust settled:

My husband has saved me every day since.

To say that he has stepped up and changed so much about himself and how he lives his life, and how he loves me, in order to take care of me is an understatement of the utmost proportions. He has listened to me, he has listen to my therapists, he has gone to his own therapists – all to make sure he understands this time and is in this WITH me. Nothing is half measures, no promises replaced by old habits. My life has been irrevocably changed, and by his own choice, he has changed, too.

He quietly pushes against his inherent nature to be not deeply communicative every single day so that I know what he’s thinking and feeling which calms many of my fears.

He quietly pushes against his inherent nature to walk away from things instead of dealing with them by now being the one to say, “Let’s talk,” and being the first to stop himself and apologize when he struggles with that.

He texts me every single day to see how I am and how my day is going.

There hasn’t been a time since April that there hasn’t been flowers in the house – he brings home small bunches of them regularly because he knows I love them.

He doesn’t judge me when I struggle – he quietly steps in and takes on the bulk of taking care of our son and the house and everything else so that I can focus on myself and getting through the hard times. He encourages me to be kind to myself and to be willing to forgive myself instead of guilt myself for be unwell.

He looks at me, dividing up so many meds into my weekly pill sorters, and without my needing to say anything he tells me that he knows I am thinking that I am broken, but I am not, and that he loves me and is proud of me and thinks I’m strong.

He may not be the reason I started writing the book, or this blog, but he’s the reason I keep doing it despite all my doubts. He tells me he believes in me, reminds me that in this case the journey is everything and the outcome is irrelevant.

He tells me every single day how much he loves me, how wonderful he thinks I am, and how he will always be here for me no matter what.

 

…what more could anyone ask for?

I’m a Dirty Naughty Girl

While this is (thankfully) becoming less and less the case, there is still this perception that anyone with tattoos, or at least more than an ill thought-out butterfly on their ankle from some Spring Break in college, is somehow a deviant. To this day people are surprised when they find out I have any, let alone how many I have (8 at this point).

(BTW, where did you THINK I was going with the Post title???? You are a sick, sick person!)
First one ever – no way I’m getting out of my 20s without doing something “crazy”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I still get the question from time to time – “But are you still going to like something you picked in your 30s when you’re 80?”

First of all, if I get to 80 I’m pretty sure the last damned thing I’m going to be worried about is my tats. Second, personally I don’t just get random stuff, or stuff I “like.” Every single piece I have is tied to a meaning, so how can I ever get “sick of it”? It’s like – if you get a tattoo of a CareBear because when you were a kid you liked CareBears – –  there may eventually be some regret there. But if you get a CareBear because your Grandma called you CareBear – you will rock that CareBear every day until you die.

 

The Progression of a Tattoo

For me, the least amount of time I’ve ever spent planning a tattoo was about 6 months, and the longest was 10 years (the first one, obviously). A few of them pretty much ended up exactly how they started, but others started very differently. For example, I was originally going to get a bi-plane on my shoulder because despite being afraid of heights, I overcame that fear to fly in a bi-plane, which is something I always wanted to do. While I was still planning the design, I went snorkeling for the first time – something else I’d also been terrified of despite loving the ocean and sea life. I saw beautiful turtles on that first trip, and the turtle image resonated with me more than the plane. They both stood for the same thing – not letting fear keep me from amazing experiences, but Wah-Lah: Turtle.

So I’ve currently been planning my next one for about a year, and it has gone through MANY evolutions and I thought it might be interesting to share (or not, but “it’s my blog I can do what I want to!”)

Version One

I wanted something for my forearm, and the imagery of a bird in an elaborate bird cage resonated with me; seemed to speak to how I felt on the inside. My thought was for it to be B&W only.

Version Two

As I started to struggle more with my depression issues, I wanted to represent what I felt like on the inside AND the façade of the outside, so I added the door to the cage being open with one bird inside looking longingly up while a flock of bird fly in the “open air” above the cage. Still B&W only.

Version Three

After everything went to hell in a hand basket this spring,  the bird IN the cage became a bluebird while everything else was B&W.

Version Four

Shortly after that the bluebird became a stylized semicolon.

Version Five

Then in walked my reading of Turtles All the Way Down and my subsequent metaphorical interpretation of what it feels like to be in my brain. And now I am fixated on this idea of a Scarecrow in color, with a bluebird perched on his shoulder, perhaps with B&W crows in a gnarled old tree looming deep in the background…

So that’s where I’m at. It will probably be months and months, maybe even close to a year before I finally get anything. So who knows where the design will be by then – I might end up getting a hamster eating tiny foods for all I know.

I Demand a Recount

FIRST: Seriously Mother Nature?

For several days now I have been reveling in leggings and jackets and warm sweaters and how good a cup of hot spiced cider tastes. The air has been crisp and cool and basically EVERYTHING WAS PERFECT.

This morning I walk out of my house and was like, “THE EFF???????” Seriously I was this woman:

 

SECOND: Seriously world?

In addition to my beautiful autumn being replaced by Georgia in June, the world has seemed intent on screwing with me ALL DAY.

Started out with my kid putting on dirty clothes – again (seriously, WHY DO YOU WANT TO WEAR DIRTY CLOTHES???) and having to do a last minute wrangle of “Yes you must change!” and hurry up or you’re going to be LATE!!!

Then a meeting I didn’t even know was happening until yesterday ran almost two hours instead of one.

As I was leaving that meeting to rush back to the office, I dumped half a cup of coffee on my white shirt (‘cuz OF COURSE I was wearing a white shirt when I decide to douse myself in coffee), so I had to run home and change.

When I am finally back in the office, with stuff I need to DO, my computer says, “NOPE!” And I spend over an hour screwing around with it (and forcing myself to not throw it out a window).

Enough world! Whatever it was a did to you, I’m sorry!

 

LAST: Seriously me?

…. okay, I have nothing specific for this one, but I’m sure I’ve done something to deserve my own ire for. And if not, I’m sure I will before the day is done – I am a classic overachiever!