Priorities, and the things that we see along the way.

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Earlier in November, I had the blessing to spend a week with my (almost) entire extended family. My cousin was getting married in Orlando, so my far-flung family all traveled to Florida for the wedding, and to spend a week together in a rented house.

While I have plenty of family that live mere miles from me, I also have family who live across oceans. And I have family that is in the military, often deployed or in training, scattered around the States and the world.

This time together was special.

When I got home and back to work, a co-worker asked me over lunch what my favourite thing that I saw in Florida was. I was slightly taken aback. I explained that it wasn’t a sight-seeing trip so much as time to be together as family. And then I couldn’t stop thinking about the things I saw that might be my favourite.

My first thought went to my littlest cousin. We shared a bathroom that joined our two rooms. On our final night together, as we both prepared to go to bed, he performed an entire improv slapstick routine for me as I sat in bed, fresh from my shower. I was falling over in bed from laughing so hard. That’s my little cousin – always game for a laugh and for being the fool.

Then I thought about playing in the pool with one of my older cousins. He and I were trying to play a game of volleyball…pathetically, poorly. We laughed a lot and chastised ourselves endlessly.

Or perhaps it was when my younger girl cousin and I sat outside of Starbucks at Universal Studios sharing tater tots and talking about how crabby everyone was. It seemed that we were all only talking to one other person in our group of 12, and she was my person (a long day at an amusement park with 12 people will do that to you).

There was sitting next to my uncle at the wedding as we swapped food with one another from our plates.

Or my cousin and I dancing to Spice Girls on the dance floor. Or maybe it was my mum being so enchanted by the Small World ride at Disneyworld. Perhaps it was when my cousin who I hadn’t seen in 13 years burst into a huge smile when he saw me, wrapping me in a hug with a “hello sweetheart” whispered in my ear.

Maybe it was slow and easy mornings eating cereal next to my littlest cousin as he drew and played games on his phone. Perhaps it was sitting around the hot tub, steam rising, and just chatting – all of us, family. Or it could have been the way that the trip was bookended by giant bear hugs from my littlest cousin as he scooped me up without hesitation, letting little 5’1″ me wrap my arms and legs around all 6’3″ of him.

All of these memories whirred through me as I pondered my co-worker’s question. What was the best thing that I saw in Florida? I’m not sure. But the best thing that I felt was love and joy. I live for these moments. Relationship means more to me than sightseeing or big experiences. I went to Florida not so that I could report back, telling stories, seeming worldly (is Florida worldly? No.), boosting my ego…I went to Florida to be wrapped with love and joy. I’m sure that I saw a lot. But feelings matter more than what we can see. I know that when I die, it will not be the things that I saw that will wrap me with warmth as I pass. It will be the relationships, the laughter, the feelings of joy and love. These are the priorities in my life. What are yours?

A small tragedy

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My cat Peter died today. On Friday, my mum informed me that he hadn’t been off the couch all day. I cuddled him for a little bit and then put him down by the water bowl, only to have him fall over. His hind legs weren’t working. We thought maybe he had a stroke. I held him for the last time on Sunday, hoping that it wouldn’t be the last. But it was. I got a text from my dad today to tell me that Pete passed around 11:30 today at the vet. I wrote a small eulogy for him on Instagram:

For my 9th birthday, I asked my parents for a parakeet. They went to the pet store and came home with a skinny, hunchbacked, tailess cat named Peter. Pete wasn’t the frisky kitty that most people would get their kids. He was ridden with anxiety and fear, crabby, and never ever ever played. He flinched at every noise or movement. Over the years & after many vet appointments, we learned that Peter had been badly abused in his former home, resulting in broken bones & fractures that never healed properly. Peter was always stiff & uncomfortable, but it was the long-term behavioural scars that hit the hardest. For the past 14 years, we gave him sanctuary the best we could. Today Pete was put down, after suffering a stroke last Thursday or Friday. I’ll miss the little dude. He was weird & neurotic & never very happy, but he was ours to care for. Thanks for letting us be your family, Peter

It is for the best that Pete-Pete is gone. He had a long life. By every standard it was considered good, and I hope that he was happy and found peace during these 14 years. But, I am sad. I cried in my cubicle and in the bathroom at work today. I bawled my eyes out in the shower, and then dragged myself out to wrap myself in a towel and cry on the bathroom floor. I am sad, I think, because Peter was my last little bit of childhood hanging on. I got him when I was 9 years old. He was with me through turbulent times during middle school and college. He’s been there for more than half my life. And when I say that he was “there”, I mean he was there yowling in the background, flinching every time I entered a room or reached for a pet, struggling to get away every time I picked him up for a snuggle. But it doesn’t matter – he was there. And now he’s not.

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I’ve talked about my pug dog Moses a few times on my blog and on Instagram. Moses died more than 3 years ago now. I got him for my 10th birthday many years ago now, and he died when he was 9 years old from an auto-immune disease. I remember when my mother called me from the vet to say that it was the end for Moses – he had to be put down. I broke into hives and fell on the floor. I screamed and screamed. Moses was my best friend. We brought him home for one last night with us. It was so selfish. My little pup wanted to die. He couldn’t eat, he couldn’t walk. His favourite things in life weren’t possible anymore. But we were selfish and wanted one last night with him. At the vet, my boyfriend held my hand and I sobbed and sobbed as Mo-dog took his last breath. I left the room and my sister ran down the hall to grab me. I can still feel her hugging me as we mourned our dead, exhausted puppy who was no more.

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After my dog died, my boyfriend J and I talked about things that would make me feel better. I decided that I wanted goldfish. Me & J would take dates to the conservatory to watch the koi swim. I wanted my own fish to watch swim. He brought me to Petsmart and I picked out two beautiful goldfish that I named Baby & Seymour (and a moss ball named Tony, to purify their tank). In December, J went to rehab without telling me, 5 days before Christmas. On New Year’s Eve, too sad to celebrate, I cleaned Baby & Seymour’s tank, thinking about how different things were when J took me to pick out these fish. I woke up on New Year’s Day, 2014, to find that both my goldfish had died overnight. I cried all day. My beautiful gift from J, my little fish, the antidote to my sadness over losing my pup. Dead & gone.

I’ve lost a lot of pets over the years. I was fortunate to grow up in a household where cats and fish were commonplace. Moses was my first and only dog, brought to me after years of begging. I had a short stint with a guinea pig named Maxwell Edison, and an even shorter stint with a hedgehog. And I write this with two handsome kitties calming me by my side. There’s a George Carlin bit where he says, “It’s inevitable when you buy the pet. You’re supposed to know it in the pet shop; it’s going to end badly. You’re purchasing a small tragedy.”

Yes. It’s going to end. But you’re also purchasing a best friend, a constant companion. You’re purchasing (adopting!) something that you will care for and it, in its own way, will care for you. So thank you, Peter….Moses….Baby & Seymour…and all the many others, for caring for me when I needed it most. I hope I cared for you when you needed it, too.

Things I do when I’m sad

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I’ve been sad lately. I’m not 100% sure why, but I’ve been stuck under a rain cloud and in a bad mood. More than likely, it’s hormonal, as it usually is. But I was recently reminded by the boy I dated this summer who ended up playing me that, once again, I’m not enough. It put me further in the gutter to be reminded of that. My feelings of self-esteem/self-love/self-worth have been garbage, and I spent the last week drifting between the bed and the couch, unable to muster enthusiasm for, well, anything.

On Friday I decided that with the weekend upon me, I didn’t want to feel sad anymore. So I started texting friends to put plans together, and then decided to make a list of the things I do when I’m feeling sad. What do you do when you’re feeling sad?

  • Listen to American Beauty
  • Watch When Harry Met Sally
  • Go to my favourite bar and read a book
  • Go hiking
  • Turn all the lights off and take a bubble bath
  • Write in my personal journal
  • See the people who bring out the best in me
  • Organize – cleaning, doing laundry, creating lists, updating my budget, etc.
  • Watch Gilmore Girls
  • Tap (EFT)
  • Water my plants
  • Be kind to myself
  • Make plans for adventure
  • Paint with water colours
  • Look through family photo albums
  • Take self-portraits
  • Go to church

The things that I do when I’m sad tend to be easy. Usually when I’m sad – very sad – I can’t muster the strength to do things like yoga or kickboxing (I haven’t worked out in almost 2 weeks). When I’m sad I don’t like spending money or going to places where I will feel only more alone, such as art museums, farmers’ markets, concerts, etc. When I’m sad I try to surround myself with the things that bring me comfort, but I also like to create and find things that will allow me to focus on moving forward.

And so, with that, I leave you with one of my favourite reminders about creating and moving forward….

“After a while you learn the subtle difference between holding a hand and chaining a soul, and you learn that love doesn’t mean leaning and company doesn’t always mean security. And you begin to learn that kisses aren’t contracts and presents aren’t promises, and you begin to accept your defeats with your head up and your eyes ahead with the grace of woman, not the grief of a child, and you learn to build all your roads on today because tomorrow’s ground is too uncertain for plans and futures have a way of falling down in mid-flight. After a while you learn that even sunshine burns if you get too much, so you plant your own garden and decorate your own soul instead of waiting for someone to bring you flowers. And you learn that you really can endure, you really are strong, you really do have worth.” – Veronica A. Shofftsall

Checking In

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October has gone by fast and I feel like I haven’t had a lot of time to gather my thoughts. October is always a rough time of year for me, for a myriad of reasons. Halloween tends to be a “dark day” for me, and I always dread this time of year. In an attempt to not be in a funk, I’m checking in and sharing some of the thoughts that I have had time to gather.

 

Prayer

I used to pray every night before bed. Every night. I consciously quit doing so when I was 20 and my boyfriend was using drugs. It wasn’t because I lost faith, or had nothing to pray about, or felt like God had failed me. It was because I was in constant communication with God. I talked to God throughout the day. God knows what’s on your heart, always. Sometimes praying helps. For me, praying wasn’t helping, but talking to God did help. I was recently thinking about that adjustment I went through – when I began to just simply talk to God rather than pray daily. I still talk versus pray. I pray en masse in church and weekly during staff meeting (I work in a church-setting). The only time I pray by myself now is when I see an emergency vehicle. I don’t think that anyone in the world knows that about me: I say a small, quick, silent prayer every time I see an emergency vehicle. But otherwise, I prefer talking to God.

 

Travel

I keep talking with friends about where I want to go for my honeymoon. I’m not engaged, or anything close to it. I’m just one of those stupid girls who is romantically planning her honeymoon with a man she’s never met before. (It’s Greece, and Prague during Christmastime, in case you were wondering.) I don’t know why I’m dreaming about that though when I could be dreaming about where I actually can go, right now. I still have 6 vacation days to use before the end of 2016, so I pitched it to Instagram asking where I should go. My friend Jess suggested Edinburgh, where she lives. I spent the night looking up flights to Scotland…and then realised that I should just plan a UK trip for 2017. I have family east of London, and my lovely friend Tori who I haven’t seen in 3 years lives up in Manchester. I might as well explore a bit of Scotland while I’m at it. (I’ve yet to be convinced that I should visit Ireland…I’ve been watching the third season of The Fall & am reminded that Ireland looks rather grim, or at least the Northern bit of it.)

 

Creating the life I dream of

I am really happy in my life. Somewhat stupid happy, at times. I’ve worked hard to create a life for myself that I wanted, and now I get to reap what I sow. However, I can’t help but wonder if I’m not letting myself dream enough into what else I want. I’ve been dreaming up (and talking with people) about a business idea. But that’s the only dazzling new thing I’ve been working towards creating for myself. I wonder if I’m letting my contentment get in the way of making life even better for myself.

 

Putting myself “out there” and being brave

I’ve never really been afraid of rejection. I’ve always accepted it when it’s come and, for the most part, I don’t let it affect how I see myself. I’m trying to be more brave about myself in relationship or dating, though. I’m trying to not be afraid of letting someone know that I miss them or appreciate them or like them…or whatever. I’m so reserved that I oftentimes keep those things to myself. Not out of fear of being rejected, but just because it’s natural for me to keep things to myself. I’m trying to be more brave about putting my thoughts and feelings out there. And I hope that others will do me the same courtesy. We live in a world of “ghosting” and so much we say and do publicly is inauthentic and edited; I worry that we let that all seep into our personal lives. I worry that we don’t let ourselves be brave enough to say what we feel, even if it is ugly and unedited.

 

Family

I love my family. The ones that are near and the ones that are far. The ones that have ugly political opinions. The ones that are quiet and reserved. The ones that I haven’t seen in years. The ones who I don’t see eye to eye with. The ones that I have dinner with frequently. The ones who I have never met (Grandpa Ray, Grandpa Paul…happy 116th birthday!). The ones who I didn’t have enough time to get to know (Grandma Dee, Grandma Lorene…on the anniversary of your death). The ones who love and appreciate me for who I am. The ones who struggle to understand me. The ones that are very very small (Iris, one of my favourite people in the world) and very very old (Astrid, the fierce family matriarch). I love them all. I love my family.

 

Harry Nilsson

He’s been one of my favourites for years. I’ll Be Home, or, here’s one that I can’t get out of my head lately.

the people who bring out the best in you.

The other week, my sweet friend Mark messaged me on Facebook to say that he loves how I smile in pictures. “You do it well. … It seems genuine and it looks good on you and it’s pleasant,” he commented. My heart warmed.

I can always tell who took a photo of me because of the way I smile in them. My favourite photos of myself are the ones taken by my favourite people, and I love knowing that other people can see that, too.

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Awhile ago I posted this (above) photo on Facebook, taken by my ex J on the shores of Lake Superior last year. It was one of my favourite photos of me taken in a while. My lovely friend Tori mentioned how the photographer did a great job of capturing my inner and outer beauty, letting it shine through. “There’s a magic to photos that shows who is taking them, or who you’re with in the photos,” I commented back to her. “I always see the photos that this friend takes and hope that that’s how people really see me…that that’s how I really look to the world.”

J always brought out the best in me. He made me fierce and loving and full-of-heart. He made me soft and sweet. In the photos that he took of me, there was always an extra softness in my lips and my eyes. Warm and alive, you could feel my comfort and love pouring out from my face. It’s not just J who did this to me. My friend Tyler, who checked in on me last week, brings about a softness in my portraits, too. He’s a photographer and has snapped my pic countless times. You can see how full my heart is. You can see my adoration for life with that person seeping out of my eyes.

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As much as we work to control how we are perceived to the world around us, there’s something to how I look when I look at my friends that I just don’t know how to capture otherwise. There’s nothing I can do with my hair or makeup or my clothing that can capture the look of love and appreciation and joy and comfort that is captured when I’m with the people who bring out the best in me.

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I surround myself with the people who bring out the best in me. The people who I am instantly relaxed around. The people who turn me soft and gentle. The people who I look at with love and care pouring from my heart and my eyes. The people who turn me sweet and fierce. The people who make my laughter joyous and free. The people who make me curious and excited about life, and at the same time comforted with security and assurance.

I hope that the world can see me this way. I hope the world can see me alive, joyful, free, fierce, and sweet. I am so lucky to have people who bring this out in me and let me shine it out into the world.

 

Self-care, sabbath, and sexual assault.

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Content warning: sexual assault, obviously. This is also probably tediously long so, I’m sorry.

Today at work, I gleefully announced to my co-worker that I was so excited to go home tonight and do absolutely nothing. At the ripe, young, hard-partying age of 23, I pride myself at always leaving at least one weekend evening all to myself. It’s my time of sabbath in a life and a week that is otherwise packed full of obligations and social time (I was just saying to my cats, as I got home at 10pm last night, “Think about how much more time I’d have if I didn’t volunteer!”).

The last few weeks have been hard, emotionally & mentally, and I feel like I’ve been perpetually exhausted. I’ve been very late to work, unable to get out of bed, just laying there lost in thought and feeling. I’ve been going to bed early, tired of being in thought and feeling. It all started when that stupid, horrific, disgusting 2005 Donald Trump tape was leaked, in which he admits to (and brags about) sexually assaulting women. I never even listened to the tape – I don’t intentionally put myself in situations where I may trigger – but suddenly, everyone was talking about it. The social media posts were bad, and not always avoidable. But everyone was just talking about it, anywhere you went. Friends, family, co-workers, bartenders, people at church, people at parties, people I don’t even know. And regardless of what they were saying, people were talking and so many words were being thrown around. It was (and is) unavoidable.

I hear a lot about how overly-sensitive our culture is. I read articles about how college classrooms can no longer teach because everything has to have a “trigger warning” slapped on it. I have a mixed bag of feelings on this and can see both points of view. But I also know what it’s like to walk into a situation unknowing.

Today as I walked home from work, I was thinking about a time during my senior year of college. I was watching a documentary in my feminist media studies class. I don’t remember what it was, but I do remember that my professor didn’t tell the class that it could trigger past experiences with rape or sexual assault (she previously had warned us about a different documentary we watched; I skipped it). I remember absolutely nothing about the documentary, I only remember everything that came after. I don’t know how I made it most of the way home. I stood on the train barely holding myself together, collecting pieces of myself, my humanity, my worth, my experiences, my wholeness, just trying to keep them all pushed snugly together. I called my boyfriend as soon as I got to the station platform, begging with him to come pick me up, I couldn’t make it home any further.

I remember crying on the platform. I remember at least two kind men approaching me, concerned, asking if I was okay. I remember completely breaking down as soon as I got into my boyfriend’s car. He had seen me like this so many times before, he was not alarmed anymore. He stayed calm, as he always did, and present. By the time we pulled up to my house, I was screaming with pain and terror, unable to breathe. I remember looking out the window of the car and seeing my neighbour, who was out doing yard work, standing and watching me as I screamed and sobbed. We made eye contact between tears. I have no idea what I looked like to the outside looking in, but my boyfriend (good, sweet, gentle, forgiving J, whose eyes could calm raging seas) sat with me as I lost it, and then, eventually, collected myself again, as I always do.

These attacks usually leave me out of it for days to weeks. They are so emotionally draining that I have to go to bed immediately afterwards. Sometimes I cannot get out of bed the next day, or the next two days. Sometimes I need a full week of rest before I am fully present again.

I don’t remember how long it took for me to recover from this one, but I do remember that I dropped my professor a note asking that, in the future, she put a trigger warning on that documentary too.

I rarely have these attacks anymore. They used to be a very regular part of my life, until I changed my surroundings and equipped myself with tools to lessen the surprise, the attack. I had two this summer and felt like I was very nearly going to lose it again. I stayed in bed fearful that I was reverting back to my old self. I wasn’t. But it was enough to remind me the severity of living this life, in this world.

So, these past few weeks have been hard. I’ve been hearing stuff about sexual assault being punted around everywhere. And regardless of people’s opinions on it, whether they’re progressive and understanding, or misogynistic and troubling, it is hard. As I watched the third presidential debate on Wednesday night, I found myself gasping for air. As Chris Wallace brought up the allegations against Trump for sexual assault, I watched as a powerful, disgusting, privileged white man rattled off all the tropes about how sexual assault does not exist. “They’re lying.” “I do not even know them.” “I would never do that.” “They just want money and fame.” “Their accusations are illegal.”

I don’t know how to describe the feeling I got. I was texting with someone as it happened and in the middle of our conversation (about the debate), I interjected with, “OMG. HAIR PULLING. CRYING. DESTROYING APARTMENT.” This wasn’t actually how I was feeling. I wanted to be angry. I wanted to say that I wanted to destroy my apartment. But actually, I felt sad and empty. I felt like a piece of my identity, my soul, my self, my struggles and trials, my strength, my defiance, I felt it being pulled out from my stomach. I felt empty and small and lost and so very alone.

This wasn’t a full panic attack, like I’ve had so many times before. It was a small attack on the psyche, like I’ve been suffering from so much in the past weeks, ever since that tape got released. It’s so hard to be immune from this as it is, when we live in a culture where 1 in 4 women and 1 in 6 men will be the victims of sexual assault in their lifetimes. Immunity is seemingly impossible. But usually the blows are small, and come as little pinpricks that heal quickly enough, and you don’t hemorrhage or fall apart.

Last Saturday, as my friend as I sat on a patio for one of the last chances of the season, he asked me how I’ve been doing, with all the press about sexual assault. Am I doing okay? This is one of my sweetest friends; I’ve adored him ever since I first met him at a (non-Halloween) party in college, where I was dressed like a frog. My heart already feels so full when I am with him, but, as he checked in on my well-being, I could feel my heart warming and swelling even more. “It’s been hard,” I said, grasping for words. No one had asked me that, even though I was acutely aware of how troubling things had been lately. The pinpricks were accumulating, constantly stabbing over and over, quicker than they could heal. I wasn’t hemorrhaging or falling apart, but there was a constant pain, exhaustion, weariness. I was shuttering myself in more so than usual.

It’s been hard, but I’ve been taking measures of self-care along the way. Bubble baths, journaling, bingeing Gilmore Girls, making soup, quiet yoga sessions. And tonight, I have a time of sabbath and healing. It’s Friday night and I am young and should be free to the world. Instead I am happily at home unwinding, healing, taking care, and intentionally rewinding myself.

Check in with your people who may be having a hard time these past few weeks. We need words of caring.

Comfort and domesticity.

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I’m the only one in the office who doesn’t have a “significant other.” All of my co-workers are married except for one, who has a live-in boyfriend and only ever uses the pronoun “we”. I definitely feel a lot of shame and sadness surrounding this. I am often aware that I’m the only one who doesn’t leave work to go home to someone, who doesn’t have someone to share meals with, who doesn’t have someone to binge TV shows with, or go on weekend adventures with, or plan holidays with. I am 100% aware of how alone I am compared to my many co-workers.

I’ve never actually lived with a “significant other” before, or at least not for a long period of time, and never completely alone with them. I don’t necessarily feel like I’m a loser or behind in life for not doing so, and in so many ways I love living alone, but I can’t help but feel like I’m missing out on a large dose of comfort and domesticity that I crave.

This past weekend, a guy I knew came up to Minnesota for a job and asked to stay with me. It reminded me of a time the year before when a guy I had gone on a couple of dates with from Madison visited for Valentine’s Day weekend. We spent that weekend together making dinner and watching movies and going to bed together and waking up together. One night I had to work, and I got to come home to him when I was done. There was a lot of comfort in knowing he was just in the other room if I needed him, and comfort in knowing that his companionship was there if I so needed it. I was thinking about that when this other guy came to visit last weekend. We didn’t have a lot of time together, but there was a comfort in doing simple things like watch a movie together, go to bed together, wake up together, shower together, walk to get brunch together. Even just hearing him putz around in the other room brought comfort to me.

I’m not some sad, dependent, hopeless little girl or anything. I just take great comfort in relationship. I’m not particularly clingy, I just like knowing that someone is there if I need them, and also knowing that I am there if they need me.

I think I have a lot of flaws. I don’t always believe that I am very good at this whole “relationship” thing; I think I’ve had a lot of very awful partners, so it’s hard to tell, and I have low confidence in myself in relationship. But like I said, I do know some of my flaws and along with that I know some of my strengths. I know that I am immensely caring. I don’t say that in a pretentious way. I just know that it is in my nature to be caring. I also know that I am fairly flexible and low-maintenance. I’m good and able at fitting myself around others. I’m low-maintenance to the extent that I mostly just want someone to be my companion and to show care for me. I’m also intensely loyal and monogamous. I’ve always craved exclusive romantic partners, and I’ve never cheated or even thought about it. I am very dedicated to who I am with. Despite whatever flaws and insecurities I may hold, I think that these strengths make me a great partner for someone with similar traits and needs.

After the boy left last weekend, even though he’d only been there for a very short while, I stood in my apartment and listened to the silence. I wanted to be able to call out his name and hear the floor creaking in the other room as he called back. An embrace would have been nice, but even just knowing that that person is there if I need them was all I wanted in that moment.

Whenever my co-workers are having a stressful day, or have some bad thing going on in their life like the death of someone or a medical issue, I always think to myself, “How nice it is that they get to go home and share that with someone.” They are never alone in their problems or worries or stresses. There is always someone to call back to them from the other room whenever they need that assurance.

I’m at a point in my life where I’m no longer trying to cast some sort of characterization of me being hard-headed, independent, not-needing of a man feminist. I want to be able to get home at the end of a long work day and have someone respond when I call their name. I want to fall asleep next to some one and awake to find them there. I want the companionship of sharing adventures with someone, and having someone to tell my adventures to.

//written very late at night, slightly delirious, and with many grammatical issues, I am sure.