Where plenty of women have gone before.

Last night, I found myself wandering around in Kohl’s after picking out a few new items for my wardrobe. Visions of the cute dress I had just tried on and the stomach dimples that it revealed were flashing in and out of my head. I am still pretty far from being able to shape my body to look great in a dress with good old-fashioned exercise, and I found myself standing next to the pantyhose. It’s then that the thought “maybe I should see if they sell Spanx here” popped into my head.

They did. They do.

I pawed through the racks until I found a few different kinds and fits of “shapewear.”

For the record, I haven’t subjected myself to this since they were just called girdles. I decided I would start slowly.  From my pile of shapewear, I picked up the piece that was supposed to fit kind of like high-waisted bike shorts. Steeling myself, I put it on. And stopped at my knees.

“Wow. These are WAY small. But it’s the biggest size they have.” And then I thought, “Ohhh. They HAVE to be this tight. That’s where the shaping part comes in.”

5 minutes later, I was shoved in. They did actually fit. And then I thought, “What if I wear these to work and I have to go to the bathroom?” Then I decided to marvel at my new shape. Maybe it would be worth the added time to pull my pants up and down.

I didn’t like it. It was nothing like my normal shape, which, although I profess to loathe, is familiar to me. My hips were smooshed in, and I realized that although it’s not great, I do kind of know how to work with my body. I peeled the bike shorts off me and got dressed, taking the entire pile that I hadn’t tried on and putting them back on the rack.

After that, my first thought was, “I don’t want to have to wear a wetsuit under my clothes to feel good about myself.” Followed immediately by, “Maybe I should just look for some heels. They make me look more polished in clothes.”

I forgot to mention, all of this has been kicked off by a new job that I just got a few weeks ago. I like the job, I mean actually like it, maybe the first job I have ever liked. It’s in a corporatey-corporate environment, where it’s not uncommon for me to feel lost, bobbing in a sea of pantyhose and high heels and polyester dresses. I have a few passable outfits, but overall I feel pretty sloppy at work – so I have been trying to pick up a few pieces here and there to spruce up my saggy old wardrobe.

So. The heels.

There seems to be an entire section of stripper heels at Kohl’s. Nothing against strippers. Girls, you go on and do what you need to do. But what about me? What about the not-so-strippery among us? I’m relatively sure that strippers are a minority within the female population, and yet… the shoe section tells me something else entirely.

Usually, I just get overwhelmed after seeing the first few pairs of sky-high heels and leave. But I dug in. I really looked. And my conclusion is this: we are in a dark time for shoes. I did find a pair of black peep-toe platform shoes that I liked. I wore them around, feeling ridiculous with the withery tops of my disposable shoe liners sticking out. I looked at them from the front. I looked at them from the side. They were comfortable, but something was off. There was something holding me back. For some reason I couldn’t imagine myself wearing them to work. The silhouette was off.

They were stripper shoes, trying to masquerade as cute black peep-toe platforms.

I thought about this post all night last night. I thought about trying to make some statement about how this is jacked up, ask questions like, “why do we women feel the need to teeter around in 4-5″ shoes that look like they should be wrapped, upside down, around a pole?” Thought about how weird it is that we are trying to squeeze and shape ourselves and then elongate our lines with these damn ankle-breaker shoes.

But then I thought, “That’s not the point.” Everything doesn’t have to be molded until it means something, just because I want to write a poignant blog post about the state of… the state of what? Is fashion just fashion, and that’s it? Or does it reflect on who we are and what we value as a society? Clean and sleek, hide the lumps and smooth out the silhouette, put your best foot forward even if the shoe on it is making you wince.

And then I thought some more, until it hit me what is really at the heart of all of this. I have always looked at older women who seem to have a uniform. You know – polyester, elastic waist pants, floral shirts, sensible shoes that are a little odd-looking at the same time. And I have always wondered how it happens. Because that’s not the kind of look that just sneaks up on you. You do it all at once. One day you are putting together sassy outfits, and then you blink and you are driving a Rascal through Walmart with a taupe pocketbook that matches your taupe oxford comfort shoes. And I have always wondered what must be the breaking point. What puts you over the edge? What makes you think that maybe owning all ten colors of these pants is a fabulous idea?

I think  it might just be strutting around in a pair of high heels in the shoe section, and when trying to figure out what’s not quite right about them, you realize, “These look too young.”

I think I’ll start with the “royal jade” and “fresh strawberry” pants and build form there.

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Clean your room.

“Most kind of stories save the best part for last.
Most stories have a hero who finds
you make your past your past”

Joshua Radin, Brand New Day

When I was younger, one of the biggest struggles I faced was keeping my room clean. It just seemed like it took so much time and energy to put things back where they belonged, or to make sure that my dirty clothes made it to the hamper instead of the floor.

To be honest, I still struggle with this a little bit. As I have gotten older, I find that I like my environment to be clean and organized. I like knowing where things are. I like knowing that if I get up in the middle of the night I am not going to break myself walking around the bed.

I like to put things in order, clean, straighten, organize, sort, donate. Things don’t get lost as often. Things don’t get broken as often. And I, clumsy as I am, don’t trip, stub, twist, puncture, or crunch myself as much.

A couple of months ago, I received an email from an old colleague asking if I knew some special secret to life. I was kind of baffled at the question, but then I realized that I did, in fact, have a secret.

I clean my room, constantly.

By that I mean, I put my past back behind me where it belongs. I let it go. I start over again. If it’s out, it’s not where it belongs, and it’s right there for me to keep on stumbling over.

When I answered my friend’s e-mail, here is what I said: “The best choice I make on a continual basis is to leave the past behind me. Honestly, if I had to give anyone only one piece of advice, that would be it. Leave it. It’s over. It can’t be changed, ever. So I could look back and see all of my failed attempts and let that define my reality – or I can look forward and see a blank page… the rest of my life waiting to be written, and I hold the pen.”

Or: Clean your room, and then get to work.

Sunset
And try to enjoy it a little, if you can.

 

Railroad Earth.

Some of you know what an odd and wonderful musical journey I have been on since September 2011, when I accidentally attended my first bluegrass festival. I have written about it, I have talked about it, and I have positively baffled my friends with my discovery and subsequent fanaticism about this music.

What is so great about Bluegrass?

Collaboration. Mutual respect and admiration of musical greatness. Willingness to peek, grasp, and sometimes grab giant fistfulls of earth from outside the genre proper and mold it into something new and magical. Talent. Passion.

These are the things I see when I see live bluegrass shows. I have seen one of the best fiddle players ever just stand and stare, amazed, as Bela Fleck played a banjo solo.

So, now I have gotten to the stage in my fanaticism that I am actively seeking out live shows and festivals. I want in. This is my music. These are my people. They get what I get out of it.

And somehow, in all of this, one of the least likely bands ever reached out and grabbed my ankle as I tried to sneak by. I don’t like music that has “too much jamming.” I never was one for jam bands. Ever. Ask anyone, really.

So, imagine Mr. Thor’s surprise when I stood through my first Railroad Earth show, mouth half open. Sometimes I laughed, sometimes I cried. Sometimes I clapped my hands and closed my eyes. I have never heard music like this. I have never heard songs like this. I have never seen artists split themselves open on stage night after night and pour out what this band pours out.

They don’t fit into the tidy little slot created by the word “bluegrass.” But then again, neither do my other top contenders. They get served with bluegrass. If bluegrass is a backyard barbeque, Railroad Earth is that exotic but delicious dish that your new neighbors brought and you’re SO GLAD you tried.

They certainly aren’t the potato salad.

I have seen them late at night, I have seen them two nights in a row, multiple times. I drove 5 hours and burned an entire weekend to see one show of theirs. I recently went to see them in Lancaster, then Baltimore – two nights in a row.

It seems that I am planning my life around Railroad Earth concerts.

Right now, I am looking forward to this: in July, I will go to Colorado for the first time in my life. I will see Railroad Earth play Red Rocks, The Boulder Theater, and Belly Up. Three nights in a row.

They’re not the only band, but they are in my top three. This year, it works out that we will get to go to at least 9 shows, including one on my birthday. My brother has taken to calling me “hippie” and saying that I am going “on tour.”

I’m not though. I’m just living.

Railroad Earth_Lancaster25
Railroad Earth at the Chameleon Club in Lancaster, PA

Dear Anthony.

It’s been just over three months since you died. I honestly thought I might get used to the fact that you were gone. Instead, you pop into my head almost every day. There is always something that makes me wish I could talk to you. Maybe it’s a crazy story I wish I could tell you, just to see that look on your face that says, “no way.” Or some personal victory that I know you would be proud of me for…like hitting my -100 pounds goal.

Some days I just want to take a walk with you and laugh until I feel like I might fall over.

I feel like I am finally out of the rut I was in when we started walking back in June. What I can’t tell you now is that the sheer force of your friendship levered me up to a place where I could get out. The walks in the rain, the jumping back from dead snake skins, the time you told me to call you when I wanted to eat Zingers, the constant stream of text messages back and forth, the sitting on your enormous couch and hearing you tell a story about me for the first time that you remembered for 14 years.

What I thought when we reconnected and started our walks last year was that I was going to be a good friend to you. I was going to be there for you, no matter what you needed. But you didn’t need anything from me. Instead, you gave and gave, and sometimes I actually feel a little bit guilty because of all of the problems you listened to of mine, all of the advice you gave me, all of the support and encouragement you gave me.

I can’t remember giving you anything.

Actually. I gave you something that was hard for me to give. I tried to act like you weren’t dying. When you first told me that you were sick, you said, “don’t cry for me. I have had one hell of a good life.” When you called to tell me what they found in your brain, I held the phone upside down and sobbed, open-mouthed and silent, while you gave me the details. I talked about it cooly, in terms of facts.

The last time we talked on the phone, when I was supposed to come visit you in the hospital, at the end of the call you just said, “Draker. Thank you.” I knew then that we wouldn’t talk again. I knew I wouldn’t see you the next day, or ever, after that.

I have a couple of pictures of you on my fridge, and sometimes when I walk by I feel weird for having them there. I printed them off your facebeook profile when we first started walking, and I actualy used to have them hanging on my cubicle wall at work as reminders. Reminders to pray for you, reminders of what your smile looked like, reminders that there existed on earth a staggering depth of strength inside of one human, reminders that whatever I was facing, I could do it.

Sometimes, I feel weird for having them there. But most of the time, when I walk by, I just say, “Hey, buddy. Miss you.”

Sewing, the solitary hobby.

Last January, I took a beginning sewing class at a local sewing studio. I wanted a hobby that would consume my time and attention. A hobby that would encourage me to hide away in my studio and escape and lose track of hours – alone.

I took the four classes that made up the beginner class. In those classes, I learned to make a pillowcase, a lined tote bag, and a drawstring bag. Then I took other classes: I learned how to make a cosmetic bag, a gigantic shoulder bag, a messenger bag, a tote bag with applique, and an apron. I wanted to take a quilt class, but the studio closed last May and I never got the chance.

I really wanted to try making a quilt, but I resisted starting because it all just looked so overwhelming. I thought that first I would master sewing, then I would move to sewing quilts. I am not sure why I had it set up that way in my head, but for whatever reason, I had myself convinced that I was not ready to quilt. Not without a structured class and someone to tell me that everything I was doing was right or wrong.

A couple of weeks ago, I started my first quilt.

One of the women who I met through sewing encouraged me to just jump in and start. One day, she picked up a quilt kit from the sale rack in a quilt shop and said, “This would be a good first quilt for you.” The kit contained a pattern and the fabric that I would need to finish the quilt top. I bought it.

This woman knows how to quilt. She belongs to a quilt guild and goes on quilting retreats. But, even though she was so much more advanced than I was, she took the time to talk me through the steps of cutting and assembling the pieces and sewing the top together. She went and looked at fabric with me for the back and the border. She took time away from her own projects to talk me through the process and tell me what the next step would be. And it wasn’t just her. The woman who used to run the studio where I took my sewing classes jumped in as well. She helped me design my border. Showed me how to pin, and loaned me pins and a tool that made pinning much easier. Sent me instructions for how to bind the quilt, and when I messed it up, gave me advice for how to fix it and advice to make it go better the next time.

Remember, I met these women through the sewing studio that closed last May. That is over 6 months ago. We have kept in touch on facebook and gone out socially a few different times. But we have also started sewing together about once per month. This is sewing, my hobby that had me dreaming of solitary nights alone in my studio, closed off from the world and recharging my batteries through the hum and clink of my sewing machine.

Alone.

But it didn’t work that way. The unexpected benefit of my solitary hobby has been more people in my life. An expansion of my circle of friends that I never expected.

When it was time to put my quilt together, I brought it to our monthly sewing meeting. There were six of us standing around the table where I had the top laid out. We all talked about the border – was it the wrong color? How big should it be? Should I even add a border?

Every person in the room had more sewing experience than me, but I still felt like I belonged in the group. It’s something good for me – being in a group that revolves around a skill and feeling encouragement, support, collaboration, and cooperation.

It’s also good to hear other people say that I can do this. Or I can even do that. Why don’t I just try it?

After all, it’s only sewing.

 

New.

I haven’t had too much to say lately. I have had a rough holiday season. I couldn’t wait to take the tree down and move on from Christmas, and Christmas music, and lights, and the word Christmas.

An old friend of mine passed away on Christmas Eve, and I heard the news on Christmas day. Since then, and, honestly, since June, because I knew this was coming, I have cried a lot.

I met Anthony when we were just kids, barely out of high school. On some level, I feel like I still am a kid, because when I looked at his obituary in the paper and I saw the number 35 after his name, I just couldn’t read past it. Too young. We are too young to die and to lose dear friends like this.

His calling hours were two weeks ago, and I remember feeling embarrassed because I could not will myself to stop crying. The moment I composed myself, tears would just start welling up again. I had to sit and drink some water after hugging Anthony’s family and other friends. And then I just had to leave. I had to walk home and I was already almost out of energy.

Grief is so strange. I don’t have much experience with it. Most of the important people in my life who have passed away so far died when I was a small kid, ten or younger. I don’t really remember what happened “after.” After: sitting on the couch, crying, walking from room to room, staring at the floor, wondering if there is any way on earth I will make it to or through the funeral the next day.

It was snowing hard on the morning of Anthony’s funeral. It had been snowing for a while, and because it was early on a Saturday, the roads weren’t really plowed yet, and I spun and slid my way across town in the Camry, nearly getting stuck twice while I was driving up the hill to the church.

I can’t talk about the funeral here. All I can say is that when I got out the most beautiful snow was falling. The huge puffy snow, the snow that makes everything seem so quiet and still, the snow that looks like a painting came to life right here outside this old stone church. And I cried, and cried, and cried, and all I could say was, “It’s so beautiful out here.”

When I got home, I didn’t know what to do. That was it, that was my closure, that was the societal door that closes that says “now you have mourned.” But I still wasn’t OK. I just turned to my husband and said, “I just don’t know what I am supposed to do now.”

He suggested that we take a walk. In the deep, crazy, still-falling snow. We did, and we stayed out for almost two hours. We ate Chinese food, and cupcakes, and when my husband asked what my goal for eating was that day,  I said that I didn’t have one. My only goal that day was to make it to the next day. And it seemed like, every 5 minutes, a Dodge Ram drove past us. Anthony drove the mother of all Dodge Rams, and every time we met up for a walk this past summer, I would just shake my head in amazement at how bad-ass that truck was.

I still see Dodge Rams everywhere I go, two weeks later. I am not sure if there has been a recent proliferation of them in the area, or if my subconscious is just more aware of their existence. Sometimes I joke that Anthony is pestering me not to forget him (as if I ever could).

Yesterday was a hard day, a sad day, and as I drove east on the highway just before 5 pm, I just blurted out, “I miss you.” In that instant I checked my rear-view mirror, which was completely filled with a hot pink sunset just under a huge layer of clouds, a beautiful sunset like I have not seen in some time.

I take signs when I get them. I steal comfort from Dodge Rams and sunsets. I don’t know what else to do.

The heaviest snow.

This morning, the snow was so heavy that I drove half the distance to my destination in first gear. Normally, on a day like today, I don’t leave the house. I see multiple inches of snow on the car, on the ground, and I think, “no way.”

But today was different. Today was the funeral for a dear old friend of mine whose battle with cancer has finally ended. I won’t say he lost, because he didn’t. He was released, and for his sake, I am thankful.

I can’t seem to write about this, or him. The words are clunky and weird, and they are too heavy to line up straight.

But I loved my friend so much. His presence, his conversation, his laughter, and his friendship over the past 15 years made a difference in my life, and I will miss him dearly.

The final countdown.

Well, I guess that’s a bit misleading, because the final countdown has been ongoing for the past 90 days – today is simply the last number in the final countdown.

Today is the day that my job ends.

Today is the last day and the first day.

I am saying goodbye and opening myself up to new possibilities.

If you can spare me some thoughts today, I would appreciate it.

I am absolutely terrible at goodbyes.

 

Enough.

As I sit to write this, it’s 9:45 pm. Right now, I need to be brushing my teeth and washing my face and getting into bed. Or, that’s what I think I need. But I actually need to be here, writing this post.

In case you haven’t heard it lately, you are enough.

It actually doesn’t matter if you wrote out a to-do list this morning that is so long that it touches the floor and you didn’t do one thing on that list. It’s OK if you don’t have a job. If you have no idea what’s next. If you look back on your life and wonder what the hell you have done with the past year/5 years/decade of your life. Your accomplishments and your achievements have absolutely no bearing on what you are worth as a human being.

Maybe you are reading this and saying: but you don’t know me. I am different. I am truly a loser. I dropped out of school. I am truly unlovable. My husband left me. My wife left me. I break everything I touch. I am clumsy and terrible at life. I am lazy and unmotivated. I probably can’t even accomplish one good thing if I tried. After all, just look at today! I failed to work out/eat right/work on my side business/stop smoking/practice guitar/be nice to my kids/clean my bathroom/give up porn/stop buying so many shoes.

And if that is you, reading this, here is what I have to say to you.

Enough.

That’s enough of that kind of talk. That’s enough of that kind of thinking. I guarantee that you could never think another negative thought in your lifetime, and you will still have leftovers because of how many negative things you have already thought about yourself.

You are enough, now. You can stop guilting yourself into action. You can stop torturing yourself by keeping score. By keeping track of everything that you think makes you a failure.

Sure, think about what needs to be done. Maybe even make a plan to do it. But remember, this is life that you are living. Sometimes life has other plans. Sometimes, on a basic level, you just run out of hours in the day before you got your workout in. But, maybe that night you spent some time with your mom shopping.

One is not better than the other. Life is OK. Life happens. Sometimes it thwarts your plans.

Sometimes, on a more complicated level, you abandon your dreams for years on end. Sometimes you lose your way and one day you wake up, disoriented and alone.

That’s OK, too. Because it’s already the past.

You are one rotation, one yes, one step from the right path at all times. You are either moving toward the kind of life you want or away from it – and all you have to do to switch directions is turn around and start walking in the other direction. Will it take time to get all the way back? Yes. It will probably also be hard. Maybe harder than anything you have ever tried. But the reward will be in the work, and you will recognize this as the right direction.

You are enough. You have already done enough.

You are good enough to do what you are almost afraid to dream of doing.

You are good enough to go where you long to go.

 

Closing the gap.

If you have read my blog for any length of time now, you understand how I struggle with self-improvement projects. I am constantly picking up goals that I feel I should have to get me to where I would like to be. Nothing too sinister or insane, either.

For example, I started reading a book by Julia Cameron called The Artist’s Way, and in it, she recommends a new practice right off the bat – morning pages. I had heard of morning pages before, and they didn’t sound like much special – write three pages, longhand, first thing every day.

About anything. No wrong way to do them, no content restrictions or guidelines, no quality standard, no right or wrong about them except that doing them is right. Doing them is the goal. Doing them gets the upper film of gunk cleared away so that when you sit down to write, or paint, or whatever, it’s easier to get the good stuff out. It’s easier to get the good stuff out when I am not worried about my sister, or losing my job, or thinking about how I want to rearrange the dining room and reorganize the kitchen cabinets.

My brain is often in the way of my creativity. She races and backflips and taunts and nags me about everything I haven’t done, or said, and she is constantly compiling an unachievable to-do list. So the morning pages help my brain get out of the way, they escort her to a nice comfy chair and hand her a good magazine and say “wait here, please.” And she usually does, until the next morning, when as soon as I crawl out from under the covers, she is right there at it again, nag, nag, nag.

I started the morning pages the first time I started reading the book. That was around February of 2011. I may have continued them for about two weeks. Eventually, I thrust the book out of reach, because I grew frustrated with the content. It’s nothing about the book, trust me – it’s completely about me and my own resistance to some of the exercises in the book. I stopped the morning pages. Nothing happened.

In September of this year, I decided to try reading the book again. Over a year and a half had passed! I remembered that the morning pages had actually been beneficial, so I started them up right away, with gusto. I even picked out a special notebook for them, and a special pen that was only for morning pages. When I didn’t get to them first thing, I took the notebook with me to wherever I was going and tried to do them as soon as possible. They were great. I was feeling inspired, lighter, more motivated, and way less stressed out than usual.

Of course, I eventually stopped writing them after about two weeks. It probably wasn’t for a good reason. It’s just like exercise. All it takes is one excuse, one skipped workout because of something small like a runny nose, to spiral me from workout fiend to couch potato. And so, one day of not writing became two, became a week, became two… you see how it goes. Until, eventually, a year and a half later, I remember that once upon a time I did something that really benefited my writing practice, and I should actually pick it up again.

But not this time.

I wrote morning pages today. Only about two months have passed since I did them. It was like catching up with an old friend. It felt so good, so relaxing, that I actually fell back asleep for an hour! I only woke up when Mr. Thor called my name because he wanted help in the kitchen.

Only two months. Not a year and a half. Maybe it’s because I am getting older, maybe it’s because I am losing my job, maybe it’s just because I finally want something more than I can excuse it away – but I am not going to let myself get lost anymore and have to start from scratch.

This applies with eating, as well. The last significant slide off my plan I can remember was this past spring. I got wobbly in March, and by May I was double-fisting hotdogs at a memorial day picnic, and by September I was buying donuts from the gas station. But I dusted myself off at the end of September, lost twenty or so pounds, and this past week started to wobble again. But I can’t take it for more than a couple of days now. I have seen the slide, and I can’t take it. The discomfort of “getting my shit together RIGHT NOW” is so much less than the discomfort of being disappointed in myself for multiple months.

I am making a conscious decision to close the gap. Faltering and falling is normal. But the truth that coexists with that normality is that every minute of every day, I have a choice. I have a choice between doing the right thing and doing nothing. So when I stumble, I can wail and fret and roll around in it – or I can get up and keep on going. The sooner, the better. Not after 6 months, not after a year and a half. This week. Tomorrow. Today, even. This minute.

I am not perfect, but I am moving. Today may not have been all that I wanted and hoped for. I may have let myself down and fallen short of my goals – but tomorrow is another chance.