A Week of “Meh” …

Last week was a week of “Meh”. Remember how I mentioned I was doing some contract work for a local nonprofit organization? And remember how I mentioned that I was enjoying the work? And remember how I mentioned that I was starting to feel more alive and better about myself than I had in years?

Yeah. Well … that’s all gone. Thank you, COVID-19. I found out last week that I won’t be getting any more contract work for now. Luckily, the company feels it’s a temporary pause. They didn’t cancel my contract, and they told me they are looking forward to having me back on the team when things go back to normal — whenever that might be.

I’m not mad about getting shut down. I totally get it, and, honestly, I was not surprised. I felt really fortunate to be getting work as this pandemic started rolling across the U.S., but, in the back of my mind, there was that feeling of dread. You know the one I mean: that nervous, sinking feeling that tells you things are going too well, and that you are soon in for some disappointment.

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It sucks. I don’t think I’m overstating things when I say that. The people I was working with were very apologetic. I know they feel terrible about it. But, really, they have no reason to. It’s not their fault. It’s not my fault. It’s just the way things are for right now. Times are uncertain. We have no idea how long we might have to huddle in our houses. Maybe only until the end of April. But maybe all the way to June. Or maybe even longer. Everything feels uncertain and scary now. Businesses have to cut expenses. And, of course, an independent contractor is the first expense to go. I’m not angry about it. I’m just … sad.

So, my contract work dried up last Monday. Before the pandemic happened, I had applied for a job with a company in our town. Last Tuesday, I got a call from the hiring manager for that job. He wanted to let me know they are dropping me from consideration, although he appreciated my interest in the job, and he said he wants to introduce me to other people in the company’s legal department once we can all leave our houses. I came into the hiring process late, and they already had people lined up for second interviews, so I didn’t have much of a chance, from the start. The hiring manager told me this, up front. I appreciate his candor and his willingness to continue offering me some of his time and assistance. It was incredibly kind of him to make the effort to call me in person, instead of letting the form rejection letter speak for itself. But … getting rejected sucks, too. Even if you weren’t totally sold on the job (which I wasn’t), getting rejected is a blow to the ego. Last week felt like a combination knock-out punch!

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And so, I have been feeling bad about myself. No matter how much I tell myself none of this has anything to do with my skills or qualifications … No matter how much I remind myself no one could foresee how everything has had to shut down due to COVID-19 … No matter how much I remind myself that this is all a matter of bad timing and nothing more … I feel like a big, fat, ridiculous, stupid LOSER.

Depression has joined the party in my head, whispering that I am worthless and making it hard to do anything I want or need to do. It’s hard to get up in the mornings. It’s hard to work up the energy to do even the simplest household tasks. Luckily, I can’t avoid cooking, as my family still needs to eat. And the dogs still need to be fed and loved on. These have been saving graces for me. Even so, I can feel it pushing down on me — that black cloud of self-hate, tinged at the edges with feelings of failure and worthlessness.

Here’s the thing: I need to get my shizzle together and stop whining over what I have lost. Today, I sat down and thought about all the good things in my life: my family loves me, my parents are still in good health, my dogs are a constant delight, and so on. Yes, I may have lost out on something that made me feel good about myself, but my family is still okay. My husband’s job seems stable, and we are (so far) weathering this crisis pretty well. I don’t hate staying at home, which is a huge positive right now. I can still enjoy nail polish and reading and all the little things I love on a daily basis. No one I know is sick with this horrible virus. I am so fortunate in many ways, and I don’t even realize it.

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No, I think it’s not quite that I don’t realize it. I think it’s more that Depression has a way of hiding these things from me. At times when I start feeling down on myself, I have to remember to go looking for them. This isn’t to say that feeling sad over getting rejected or losing work is wrong or anything like that. On the contrary, it’s a valid feeling, and I need to let myself grieve over the things I lost. But I need to remember I haven’t lost everything. I need to remember I have also gained. And I need to remember that this loss, no matter how awful it feels, isn’t the end of the world.

Today, I took a walk in the sunshine. I felt the wind against my skin. I smelled the freshly cut grass. I raised my arms toward the blue sky above, and it was Good.

Out of Step

Do you ever feel like you are completely out of step with the rest of the world? I’m sure everyone feels like that from time to time. It seems to me a perfectly human way to feel. I feel like this a LOT. Usually, I can brush it off and ignore it enough to continue about my day with my normal amount of zany weirdness. But there are times when I become so aware of my out-of-stepness that I can’t ignore it. It sneaks up on me at the oddest moments, and brings with it an almost physical pain laced with a longing that is all too familiar. It’s a weird feeling — almost like stepping outside of yourself for a moment. One moment, you are sitting there, minding your own business and living your internal sort of life. And the next, you are standing there, right next to yourself, looking in surprise at … well “you”. It brings reality into sharp-edged focus in a way that is singularly disconcerting.

This happened to me not that long ago, as my daughter and I were sitting down to breakfast at a favorite restaurant. We had gotten up early that morning for an appointment. My daughter recently got her braces off, and we had to go into the dentist’s office that morning so the techs could make her permanent retainer. We decided to grab a little breakfast while waiting for the retainer to be completed. I hadn’t slept well the night before. My allergies were bothering me more than usual, and I had been up most of the night not feeling well at all. I am NOT a morning person, even on the best of days, but this day was particularly bad. I felt horrible. And grumpy. And yucky. My hair was a mess. I had on an old t-shirt and an even older pair of yoga pants, because I had been running late that morning. These were the first clothes I could grab. I had no makeup, although I seldom wear makeup. I had forgotten my glasses and only had my sunglasses to wear so that I could see the world. My eyes were swollen and puffy from lack of sleep and allergies. I had dark circles under them, and I couldn’t breathe. Basically, I felt like my entire body and soul had been coated in slime. I was sitting at our table, slumped over a glass of iced tea and feeling really pretty awful about the world, and I kept seeing these cheerful families walking by. Whole families of morning people, joking and laughing and smiling and having a great time. And, just like that … it hit me.

These are not my people.

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I wish they were. I wish I was one of them: a person who goes to bed on time and gets up early in the morning with a smile on my face. I wish I was a person who looked forward to the coming of each new day with anticipation and excitement and fun in my heart. I wish I was always turned out and put together perfectly: makeup on my face, cute outfit, hair done and in place, matching shoes. I grew up striving for this ideal of “perfection”. I grew up being told this is what I should want. I should be pleasing to those around me. When people look at me, they should see things that are socially accepted and expected. The face should always be done. The hair should always be done and perfect. The nails should always be done, in an appropriate color and with no chips. The outfit should always be cute — not cute to me alone, but socially acceptably cute. The shoes should always match, and they must be socially acceptable as “girly” / feminine shoes. This means high heels. There should always be a smile on my face, even if my feet hurt.

I’m not any of those things. I’m not girly. Although both my husband and daughter think I am (thank you, God!), I am not particularly pretty. I hate clothes. I hate the whole process of shopping for them and mixing and matching them into different outfits that use all the same pieces but look completely different so that no one will know I only own three skirts. (I really, actually only own, like, three skirts. But I only like one of them. So I wear that same one over and over again.) I would walk around wearing a garbage bag with holes cut out for my arms and head, if I didn’t think it would get me arrested for public indecency. Now that I no longer work in an office setting, I am strictly a t-shirt and jeans or yoga pants kind of gal. I fail at hair, so mine is generally messy. I can’t fix it so that it looks nice, no mater how many times I try. And it’s blue — well, mostly blue, but with some purple and green tossed into the mix. My clothes are wrinkled and look as if I slept in them. Sometimes, this is actually true. My shoes don’t coordinate with any kind of “pretty” or “girly” outfit. I only own 3 or 4 pairs of shoes, to begin with. I used to have more, but my feet grew after I got pregnant.

I am scoring big on the nails, though. The rest of me might be a hot mess, but my nails always look good. I feel I should give myself points for that.

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I never get enough sleep. I plan to go to bed early. I have the best of intentions, but it never works out. I get distracted. Or I hit productive creative streaks late at night. This means I never get up early, given the choice. I am never willingly up at the crack of dawn  and looking forward to a productive morning. I seldom see “morning”. For me, “morning” starts around 10:30, which is practically lunch time for most people. I am never happy to face a new day. In general, I am hung-over and groggy from too little sleep. And I look it, too. I can admit this. It hurts, but I can admit it.

So I wonder, sometimes, what my goal in life should be. Should I be longing, even in a subconscious way, to be more in step with the rest of the world? My husband thinks I should be. My parents think I should be. I know it sounds weak and a little bit lame as I type it out here, but I have tried to be this way. I have tried to change so that I can be the way those around me want me to be. I have tried to change so they will be proud of me and happy with the person that I am. Is this me, trying to gain acceptance and love? I’m sitting here thinking about it, and I think … yeah, that’s probably what it is. I’ve tried so hard to be someone else — anyone else — just so I won’t be “me”.

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But isn’t it kind of stupid to continue trying, only to fail miserably every time? Each time I realize this is not who I am, I feel a sense of utter failure. I feel bad about who I am. I feel bad that I am not normal or conventional or creative in the proper ways. I just feel … bad. It doesn’t sound like enough to describe the true depth of how I feel, but it’s the only word that comes readily to mind. How many times do I have to bang my head against the same wall before I realize all I’m going to have at the end is a headache?

Maybe, instead, I should try harder to focus on the person I am. Maybe I should try harder to learn to love her. Maybe I should look at her, in her t-shirt and her slightly ratty yoga pants, and think, “She is a great gal. She is smart and creative and not afraid to live her own life.” And, if I think this enough times, maybe one day it will sink in. And then, it will be true. I won’t be afraid to live my own life and be who I am. I won’t feel out of step with the rest of the world. Instead, I will feel perfectly and beautifully in step with ME.

Learning to be Kind

Yesterday, I took my daughter to her flute lesson. It’s a once-a-week pilgrimage which we make (now that we’ve “fallen back”) in the pitch darkness of an early evening that feels like the dead of night. She takes lessons at a local music store. It’s a large store — one of the best in the area — and the teachers are wonderful. Her teacher, in particular, is lovely, extremely experienced, and supportive. But the building housing this store is old and a bit run-down. It has terrible parking. It has a minuscule waiting area consisting of three uncomfortable chairs and a hard wooden bench. Typically, all of the available seating is covered in parental bums, so you have to kind of squeeze in wherever you can. This is often not easy.

Last night, the waiting area was mostly full when a woman and her child came for their lesson. The child went back to her practice room, and the mom squeezed into the one teeny, available chair left in the waiting room. She was trying to work on something. She had a binder and was attempting to take notes, but it was pretty rough going for her. She barely had room to sit, much less open a binder and do actual, meaningful work. There was nothing to do about it, as the space was full at the time she sat down. But, as the minutes ticked by, lessons ended. Children and parents left. Finally, it was just the two of us left in the waiting area. I was sitting on the more spacious but terribly uncomfortable bench, and this other mom was still squished into her tiny chair, struggling to balance all of her work on one knee. I’m ashamed to admit it took me a few minutes to notice her predicament, as I had my nose firmly buried in my Kindle. I’m an introvert, and this is how we typically deal with stressful public situations: by pretending we are somewhere (anywhere!) else.

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Once I realized the waiting area had become completely silent, I looked up and saw this woman across the way. “Excuse me,” I said, “Would you like to switch places with me? You might have more room to do your work.”

It was weird. She looked at me as if I had suddenly grown two heads. But it wasn’t a mean expression or a bad expression. It was just that she was surprised. “Would that be all right with you?” she asked.

I smiled and moved over to her side of the space so that she could take my place on the bench. “Of course,” I told her. “It’s all right. No reason for you to struggle when there is more than enough room over here. We’re all in this life together. We should help each other out whenever we can.”

This also seemed to surprise her, and she commented that she wished more people felt that way. Her daughter finished before mine, and, as they left, she smiled at me — a beautiful, genuine smile — and told me she hoped I had a lovely evening.

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Here’s the thing. It was such a small encounter. It was almost nothing at all. It took little effort for me to move my seat. But it made me so happy that I could help out another person, even in a tiny way. And that got me to thinking …

When I was younger, I thought that, maybe, I wanted to be rich. Or famous. I thought I wanted to be “somebody”. I wanted to be special. I wanted to be successful and talented and just … Well, All The Things. Now, though, I realize all I want to do is to learn how to move through my life with kindness in my heart and love for my fellow man. We are all in this life together. I want to try my hardest to have compassion and understanding, to see what others see or feel what they feel. In many instances, it is impossible for me to truly, truly understand these things. But isn’t trying worth the effort? Isn’t trying to meet someone halfway the important part? I don’t know the answers to these questions, not for certain, but my heart tells me this is the right path for me. It sounds simple and easy to say it. And yet, it’s a hard thing to do. I’m not sitting here trying to say that I’m a great (or even a good) person just because I switched seats with a stranger. There are a lot of days when I feel angry. I feel hurt. I feel misunderstood. I want to strike back at the people who judge me and make me feel hated. I have rage inside of me, and I have to struggle with those bad parts of myself. I have to tell myself, every day, that I am going to be kind. Most days, I fail. Miserably.

In the end of it all, I know I won’t be famous. Or special. Or … Well, Any Of The Things. But, if someone thinks of me and says to themselves, “She was kind”, I think that will be enough. I think that will mean I have lived my life well.

Is That Me?

I think being self aware is a good thing. Well, mostly. It’s good to be aware of our own thoughts and actions and how those affect the people around us. It’s good to be aware enough that we try to step out of ourselves or our own little worlds in order to be someone better or stronger or just … “more”. I think it’s good to push boundaries, even though it’s also really hard.

But, sometimes, being self-aware is just so freaking painful. There are moments when the most biting, purest form of self-awareness sneaks up on you and just bites you in the ass. You know, like when you happen to catch sight of yourself in a mirror, unexpectedly, and you feel startled — as if you’re staring at a stranger. And then, you think, “My gosh. Is that me? Is that what I really look like? Is that really the person I am?”

Because, in our minds, we picture ourselves a certain way. We don’t necessarily think of ourselves as the sum of our outward appearance. We picture all the parts of ourselves that make us unique — the important, inside parts, like creativity and kindness and compassion and love and fear and dreams and secret thoughts. All of the beautiful and scary and fun and crummy things that make us … well, “us”. And so, it’s easy to forget that, maybe we have lots of gray hair. Or, perhaps, we are a carrying around a bit more chub than we would like. Or, whatever. The point is that the outside reality doesn’t always match up with the inside reality. At least, that’s the way it is for me. Maybe I’m just weird or something.

Last week, I had a sudden and unexpected moment of self-awareness. It was a startlingly painful moment of clarity. I went out to meet a friend at a local place for lunch. It’s one of those places with limited seating and a long line, and I ended up getting there a bit after her and standing in line for a bit while she grabbed a table. I was in line behind a group of four people: two men and two women. They were all obviously on their lunch breaks. They were dressed for work and all on their phones the whole time. The women were so elegant and perfect. Their hair was perfectly done and all sleek and shiny. They were thin, and their shoes coordinated with their outfits. They had on beautiful makeup, and their outfits were stylish and flattering.

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And I stood there in line behind them and thought about how so many women are a complete mystery to me. It’s like I’m a different species from them. I don’t understand the hair thing or the make-up thing. I don’t know what stuff like foundation primer is or what you do with it. I don’t know how to go through a whole day without getting my clothes all wrinkled. I always wear comfortable shoes. I’m usually covered in dog hair. I suddenly pictured myself standing next to these gorgeous, elegant, perfect women, and I had to struggle to keep from laughing. Me, in my old t-shirt and frumpy sweatpants and running shoes. Me, doing my best “sweaty beast” impersonation because I just finished working out. Me, with my hair all up in a messy pony tail, with bits and pieces flapping all around my face and standing out straight from my head. Me, with my gray roots showing and my smile lines and no make-up at all. Me, a frumpy-dumpy, overweight, frazzled, middle aged woman who, let’s face it, basically never managed to reach “elegant” in her whole life. Suddenly, I felt ridiculous, but also as if I had been completely laid bare for all the world to see. It was a humbling experience. It shook me. My first reaction was to laugh out loud at how silly I was. After that, it was all I could do to keep myself in that line. I had the almost overwhelming urge to push my way back through the crowd, out onto the sidewalk, and just keep on running until I found a dark corner in which to hide my less-than-perfect self.

It wasn’t easy. But I made myself stay there. I made myself wait in that line, a stark contrast to the feminine perfection just in front of me. So, I’m not a perfectly elegant woman. So, I never will be. My nails always look nice, though. I do have that going for me. It’s a small thing, but perhaps it’s a start. And, of course, I was on my phone the whole time, too. But I was playing Pokemon Go.

If Wishes Were Horses

I just realized today that it’s Tuesday already, which means Monday, somehow, did that ninja-sneak thing where it manages to squeak by without me realizing it. And, of course, this means that I am now two days into a new week and one day behind. I stared at my calendar this morning in my half-awake state and thought about how I wished I hadn’t forgotten to do my blog post yesterday.

And then, that led me to think about wishing, in general. And about how I spend a lot of time wishing for things. Mostly, I wish I was “more”. You know, more capable of achieving perfection — or, well, the ideal of “perfection” that the people around me seem to have. I wish I was more organized. Or braver. Or prettier. Or thinner. Or taller. I wish for taller a lot; I think it’s because my mom is only five feet tall, and she always felt I “fell short” (literally) because I didn’t manage to hit six feet. Sometimes, I wish I was funnier or more clever. I wish I had better hair. I really wish I had better hair. I wish I could summon up the energy to give a shit about the things that are supposed to be (according to others) so important to me.  I wish I had my life together. I used to think I had all my proverbial ducks in a row, walking the straight and narrow and quacking exactly on cue. Now, in my second twenties, I realize all of that was a shabby illusion, and I am more lost and confused now than I was decades ago. The difference is that the world around us makes allowances for “lost” when you are in your twenties. People expect it. But the universe doesn’t like it when the same thing happens to a chubby chick pushing the big 5-0.

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I wish I could go back in time and change things. Would I make the same decisions if I had it all to do over again? Would I still end up where I am now — a nobody with no prospects and little future, who failed entirely to live up to her potential? Would I make the same mistakes? Were the choices I made even mistakes at all? I wish I could right the wrongs I did in my past. They were mostly unintentional: things done or said carelessly, because I was young and stupid about the world and about life. Even so, those things haunt me. I can’t find forgiveness in my heart for them.

I wish I had been able to have a second child. Oh, how I wish that. I particularly wish it when people ask me to explain WHY I chose to have an only child, as if my reproductive choices are any of their business. As if I have to justify myself. I wish it when people ask me if I worry about my daughter being all alone in the world after my husband and I are gone. Of course I worry about that. And yet, I have to remind myself of how very blessed I am. Having that one, precious child wasn’t easy for my husband and me. We really had to work for it. For a long time. I am lucky — so lucky — to have her. I know that. I KNOW that. Still, it doesn’t stop me from wishing for more, because I am human and I think we are all inherently a bit selfish and grabby with life.

Often, I wish I was a different person entirely. This wish kind of encompasses all the other, smaller wishes I have (braver, thinner, better hair, taller, etc …). I think this is why I love writing so much. When the words are flowing and I can feel the world that I see so clearly in my mind jumping out onto the page, I really can be a different person — someone who has exciting adventures, or someone who doesn’t have exciting adventures but is okay with that, or … well, whatever. When the writing is good, I can be anyone I want to be, even if it’s just for a little while and only in my imagination.

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Lately, though, writing has been The Suck. So I spend a lot of time staring at my computer screen’s dastardly blinking cursor and wishing I could figure out why my words have deserted me. I also spend a lot of time distracting myself away from writing by finding little, unimportant tasks to occupy my mind. I know I am afraid, and that’s why I’m doing my  level best to avoid the whole thing. Even though I hate myself for doing that. Even though avoiding writing makes me feel even worse, even more like a failure. I wish I could figure out how to stop ignoring the thoughts and words in my brain and start putting them out there. It’s the only thing I ever really  wanted to do — the only thing that was ever truly “me” and not something I did or wanted because the people around me wanted it for me. It hurts to think that, maybe, all of that is gone. I wish I was brave enough to believe in myself.

Mostly, though, I wish I could stand in front of the mirror and look at myself — really, really look at myself — with compassion and love. I wish I could smile at reflection me and tell her, “Hey. Don’t worry. You’re okay. It’s okay to be who you are.” And I wish she would believe me. I wish I believed it, too.

Today

Today is my birthday. I’m not sure how I feel about it. I’ve spent most of the last couple of days thinking on it, processing, trying to figure out what it means for me and to me. I’ve spent today with family and friends, but, still, it was in the back of my mind.

I’ve never been one to make a big fuss about my own birthday. I’ve always thought it was just another day and found it a little strange (nice but strange) that people go out of their way to do nice things for me on this one day of the year. I try to do nice things for the people around me all year long, and I guess I always just expected the same. Plus, I’m shy, so I feel a little — okay, a LOT — uncomfortable when people make a fuss over me. For a lot of reasons, I guess I’ve never given my birthday much thought.

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This year, though …

I dunno. This year feels different to me. This year, I am 45. 45 … 45 … 45 … The number keeps echoing around in my head until I think I will go crazy from having it on a continuous loop in my brain. It sounds so strange. And final.

“Age is just a number.” That’s what people say, right? I know it can sound simpering and insincere, but I’ve always believed this to be the truth. I guess that’s why I never felt overly fussed about the passing of my own timeline. Until now.

Realizing I am closer to 50 than I am to 30 — and that I am light years away from my 20s — has hit me particularly hard. There are things I had expected to have done by this point in my life. There are dreams I had. There are things I still want to do. But life, being the fickle mistress she is, doesn’t always work out the way we expect or hope or dream.

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Age is just a number. I do think this is true. I really do. But I don’t know how to let go of those dreams I have held closely for so long that, now, I know will not come true. I don’t know how to figure out who I am, even now. There are things I still want to do, but I don’t know how to look at 45 as a beginning for new adventures, instead of an ending to lost dreams.

Perhaps, by the time I am 46, I will have all the answers I need.

Or not.

The Art of Living Beautifully

There is a magazine I simultaneously love and hate. It’s called Artful Blogging, and I’ll bet at least some of you guys have seen it in your local store, even if you haven’t picked one up or thumbed through an issue. It’s a lovely magazine. The photography and layout are soothing and peaceful. In short, it has often provided me with a much-needed escape from the hectic mess that is my day-to-day life. (Often when I’ve locked myself in the bathroom for just a few minutes peace … but that’s a story for another day. Maybe.)

So, I love this magazine. I find it inspirational. This is the magazine that, ultimately, caused me to pull the trigger and set up my own blog. Because I looked at the beautiful pictures and read the lovely words and thought, “Hey! I want to do that!” And, of course, there were choirs of angels singing in the background to accompany this epiphany. Or, maybe that was one of the dogs, climbing up onto the dining table chairs to get at my daughter’s left-over breakfast. But, whatever … the epiphany happened. And so did the blog.

apple blossomsBut I also hate this magazine. Because, in truth, no matter how beautiful or inspiring I find its pages or the blogs it showcases, I know I can never, ever live up to them. My life is full of drudgery and stuff I hate doing. I rarely admit this to myself — and almost never admit it out loud — but probably 99% of the stuff I do every day falls into that category. Not only that, but all of these things are tasks that are on a never-ending cycle. It’s not like laundry is going to stay clean or dinner only has to be cooked once or your floors are never going to get dirty again. No. You have to continually launder and cook and put things away and clean. Well, actually, you can scratch the floor thing. I pretty much fail at that. My floors are almost always a mess. In all seriousness, I am probably the worst housewife on the face of the planet, simply because I do not like doing any of the chores.

I always think to myself that my blog would be wonderful or beautiful if I had a more interesting life. Or if I was more fun. Or if I had something better to write about than my own daily life. Or if I had my life more together. Or … *insert reason here*. Just, any number of things.

garden jarsThis past Sunday, I was out in my yard performing my yearly duty of ick — otherwise known as The Springtime Pooper Patrol. As you can imagine, this is a particularly disgusting task. I am the only person in my household who ever performs this chore. Actually, I’m the only person in my household who ever picks up after the dogs at all: daily in every season but winter, because snow on the ground makes it a pretty difficult task. I have sworn, after the two hours spent in cold, windy air pushed my little cold over the line into a full-fledged, raging, bacterial sinus infection, to do a daily pick-up next winter. Even if there’s three feet of snow on the ground. But, I digress …

So, I’m outside, doing this thing I hate, and I know I can’t even complain to anyone about how much I hate it. Because all I will hear in return is, “Well, you’re the one who wanted the dogs.” Or “Well, they’re your dogs, after all.” Oh. Or the worst one ever “Well, that is your job.” I even hear this from my mother, which makes me want to reach through the phone and strangle her with the cord — something I probably shouldn’t have admitted out loud, come to think of it. And, as I’m scooping the poop and hating my life in general, I started thinking about Artful Blogging. And how the bloggers within those pages were so creative and fantastic and artistic and had beautiful lives. Somehow, they even manage to make their most mundane tasks seem wonderful and worthwhile. Heck, one of those bloggers even made me want to go out and herd sheep! And I’ve actually herded sheep in real life, so I know it’s not a simple or fun task. But this is the power of Artful Blogging.

purple flowersAnd it hit me: Somehow, those bloggers have mastered the art of living beautifully. Their lives are just ordinary, every day lives. They aren’t super models or rock stars or dragon slayers or Pokemon trainers or … whatever. But they have passion for their lives. And a fascination with the world around them. It makes people want to come closer. It makes even the most mundane and ridiculous task seem beautiful and worthwhile. There’s a sort of spirituality to it.

I don’t know how to do that. I don’t know how to live beautifully. I’m not sure I ever have. I’ve always been reaching for goals that I could never attain. I was always the weird person on the outside or the one who was going to fall short of others’ expectations. (Mainly because those expectations were out of whack, but that didn’t make it hurt any less.) In many ways, I know I have a beautiful life. The rational part of my brain knows this. But in my heart, I don’t think I’ve ever LIVED in that beautiful life. How does one do this? How is it possible to let go and figure out what you want in life and who you are and just use all that wonderful, awesome power to LIVE in every delicious, beautiful, amazing moment?

I don’t know. I would like to say I’m going to try. And, really, I would like to try. But I don’t even know where to start. I wonder, though: Would those talented and artistic bloggers whose work I so admire manage to take my life and find the beauty in it? Would they, somehow, take in every mind-numbing moment of my day and magically twist it and gel it until it came out looking completely unlike itself? So that it would look like the kind of life I might actually want to have? Maybe, which would be kind of neat.

But not Springtime Pooper Patrol. ‘Cuz nothing can make that lovely.

 

 

 

The Ice Cometh …

So, how does that Christmas carol go? Something about, “Gone away is the bluebird … Here to stay is a new bird …”

One of my Well, I can tell you one thing, for sure: If the bluebird had been around yesterday, she would have been coated in ice.

So the snow from my last post faded away into oblivion. Did it, as expected, leave behind mud? Or grungy-gray slush? Oh no! Not this snow. This little snowstorm, apparently, had its “big girl pants” on, because our minuscule bit of snow melted away into ice. Not only that, but it brought along wind and freezing rain in order to put on one glorious show.

faded rose blossom covered in ice. dec 2013Yesterday morning, my hubby told me I should get up early-ish (if left to my own devices, I will choose to sleep in, every time), because there was “some ice out there”. He thought I might enjoy the photo opportunities. I have to admit I was more than a little bit grumbly about having to roust myself out of my warm and snuggly bed at the inhumanely awful time of 8:30 in the AM. (Yes, I am being a bit sarcastic there. This is an early time for me, but I realize it is not for most of the normal people out there in the world.) I thought to myself, “Why the heck am I bothering with this? It’s just a little bit of ice. What’s the big deal?”

icy trees and sidewalk in my neighborhood. dec 2013I was not mentally prepared for what I would see once I stepped outside my house. “Awe” seems so cliche and silly, but it is an apt description. Nearly every surface within view was coated in a thin sheet of ice. The early(ish) morning sunlight, although weak from filtering through heavy cloud cover, hit the high spots and seemed to sparkle and twinkle off the glassy coating. Each tree branch looked as if it had been dipped right into the stuff. They hung low and heavy toward the ground, burdened by the extra weight of their beauty. The last of the fall roses hadn’t escaped. Each one wore a new, shining decoration, as if Mother Nature had decided to  preserve each delicate blossom for us to enjoy through winter months that tend to be filled with brown and gray.

brown leaves in ice. dec 2013There is something eerie and unsettling about an ice-bound landscape. There is no noise. The birds and the squirrels are all hiding away, tucked in safe and warm, so the familiar, lilting songs and the rustle of the leaves are missing. It’s funny how familiar noises seem to make a hole in the world when they are no longer there. I hear the squirrels chasing each other through the leaves pretty much every single day; I get to the point where I almost don’t notice it at all. But then, when it’s not there … Well, the world is no longer complete. There might be a breeze, but the trees don’t bend and sway to its rhythm. They are too heavy and brittle. And so, everything seems still — but not a peaceful kind of stillness. This is more tense, as if the world all around me is waiting for something to happen. As if everything has paused to watch and wait for whatever comes next, and none of us know what that thing might be. It’s only when the breeze kicks up into a genuine wind that the trees move. Then, there is sound: the clicking of ice-bound branches as they strike against each other. It’s a small kind of music.

my mums in ice. dec 2013Today, there was more snow. It settled on the ground in fluffy drifts, softening the glistening, unforgiving brilliance of the ice. As the temperatures rose, it began to melt. Of course, the ice melted, too. Our streets are clear now, and this second round of snow has already turned to slushy mud in my yard and at the corners of the curbs.

All of which, of course, means that I have to return to the real world tomorrow. There will be muddy dog prints in the entry way and muddy boot prints on the carpet. There will be worries over how I will accomplish all the things I must do within the stingy amount of time allotted for them. I will wonder what to make for dinner. I will wish I didn’t have to cook dinner at all. I will go to the grocery store and on a field trip with my daughter. I will have to tackle cleaning out my over-stuffed office, because, apparently, the house-cleaning fairies are on strike this month. I will hate every second of it. I will put gas in my car. Everything will return to the comforting mundanity in which I live on a daily basis — in which we all live on a daily basis.

red berries in ice. dec 2013But, underneath all of that, I will remember that, for one magical moment, I stepped outside my house and walked through an entire world made of glass. When the boring reality of my life eats away at me and I want to scream out of frustration, I can close my eyes and see all of it there, right in my mind. I can remember the clicking of the tree branches and the way all the colors seemed brighter and more real than ever before. And I will know that, if we look hard enough, even “normal” can be something pretty special.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Finding My Way

Inspiration is a fickle thing. It has no beginning or end. It’s not finite; the more you use it, the more there is to use. And yet, when you want it the most, Inspiration tends to be elusive. I find my frustration showing its angry head at those times. The ideas are in there — somewhere in my mind. And so are the words. But I can’t seem to put them together in any sort of coherent or entertaining fashion. Inspiration dances in front of me. She remains just out of reach, playful and laughing while my inner child throws the mother of all temper tantrums.

I’ve had more than my fair share of creative temper over the past year and a half. I feel like I spend most of my time playing tag with my muses, and I’m not nearly as fast as I used to be in my younger years.

The plus side of all of this is that it’s led me to ponder the types of things that seem to make my Inspiration tick. As the old saying goes, “You catch more flies with honey than vinegar.” I don’t think my Inspiration particularly likes honey, but there are a few things that seem to make her purr like a kitten hopped up on catnip.

Garden Path: Bishop's Garden, National Cathedral: Washington DC

 

Pathways that seem to wander around into nowhere. The isolation of them draws me in, like a special little secret the universe has saved back, just so that she could whisper it into my ear. I love the soft sounds of my shoes against worn brick or packed earth and the fresh smell of all that “green” growing around me. It’s lovely to meander around with no particular destination in mind — not lost, but also not found — and there’s a feeling of expectation in the air, as if anything is possible and waiting just around the next bend.

Roses, Bishop's Garden, National Cathedral: Washington DC

 

Much to my surprise, my Inspiration seems to be something of a “girly girl”. As such, she loves things that are bright and shiny. And, like all girls, she loves to get flowers. Roses are a favorite. They are delicate and a bit frilly, but there’s also something strong and brave about them. I love looking at all the layers and layers of petals. It’s a miracle and a mystery all wrapped into one. Plus, like all of us ladies, every rose has a few thorns hidden under her outer beauty.

Bees in the Bishop's Garden, National Cathedral: Washington, DC

 

I’m afraid of bees. And pretty much every other bug, too. If something has more than four legs, I tend to regard it with a healthy dose of skepticism and suspicion. But, much to my chagrin, my Inspiration is fascinated with bees. She loves to watch them — from a safe distance, of course — for hours. I think it’s because they really are busy and determined little creatures. I love how they remain focused on the task at hand, in spite of the fact that they’re rather teeny critters surrounded by a huge world. I find I often lack discipline and focus in my own creative efforts. I think my Inspiration can learn a lot from bees.

Snowy Farm, Warrenton VA

 

I grew up in the country, so there’s just something about quiet, out-of-the-way places. Large, open fields or rolling hills — it doesn’t matter. I feel like I can breathe and shake off all the niggling doubts from my daily life, and that’s when my Inspiration likes to come out to play.

Constitution Avenue, Washington DC

 

But, in true twisted fashion, my Inspiration also likes the city. All those people, all going about their business and rushing from point A to point B … and all points in between … focused in on their own desires, creates a manic sort of energy. There’s something a bit crazed about it all. And exciting, too. It’s like this great, big, pulsing organism has come to life around me and swallowed me up. It tends to get my Inspiration’s engines revving.

Store Window, Washington DC

 

Window displays and reflections. I’m not sure how this one works, but my Inspiration loves these things. I find myself photographing them all the time. Perhaps it’s the way each display tells a little story. Or the feeling of some kind of imaginary, fairy-tale world that’s just out of reach.

Store doorway: Harper's Ferry, VA

 

And doorways. Have you ever looked at a doorway, soft golden light spilling through it to pool on the ground just outside, and thought that you might be able to step through there and stay forever? I have.

Time

Reflection through a store window at night.

 

Time is tricky and never stays
She slips and skips and drifts away
On silver feet, before you know
Softly, softly, she will go

I take a breath and hold it dear
Solemn and joyful and crystal clear
One perfect day lives in my mind
Forever and always, frozen in Time

We stood together and two became one
And then, before that day was done
I gave my love, you pledged your troth
But Time led us along, tugging us both

Now we are years along our road
And Time seems a burden, a heavy load
Never enough to each blessed day
Makes you seem so far away

In the end, she’ll take from me
Ears that hear and eyes that see
But know this until the end of Time
That I am yours … and you are Mine.