Thursday, December 31, 2015

And a Happy New Year

I missed another week of blogging, thanks to Christmas.  I'm not really complaining, and I'm not going to beat myself up for it.  It was another wonderful Christmas, in spite of everything being way more complicated than originally planned.  But I spent time with family, my boyfriend, and got a Grinch onesie, among many other things.  So I'm not complaining at all.

And now it's New Year's Eve.  In just a few more hours, I will have officially survived December.  I made it.  You made it.  Congratulations!

I don't even know where the year went.  It feels like I was just ringing in 2015, yet so much has happened since then.

I know a lot of people had a rough year.  So I'm not bragging when I say that mine was pretty great.  I'm actually thrilled to be able to say it because, as Mark and I discussed the other day, any year that's not a repeat of 2014 is a good one in my book.  If I survived that, and my crazy ex-husband, I'm pretty sure everything else is a cakewalk.

And it's not like 2015 has been the easiest.  As I've discussed, I'm far more prone to crying this year than ever before.  I spent the first three months of 2015 being mostly unemployed and vaguely depressed.  And now I'm busier and more sleep-deprived than ever before.  I owe my parents a significant amount of money.  I spent Christmas Eve helping my boyfriend take pictures of his ex-girlfriend's surprise wedding, at her request.  (Yes, you read that right.)  My apartment looks like a bomb went off in it.

But it's been a full year of freedom and love and happiness.  Freedom to make my own decisions.  Freedom to not feel guilty for having fun.  Freedom from second-guessing my sanity.  Freedom from being told that my memories were wrong.  Freedom from being stalked and controlled and manipulated and abused.  Freedom to be completely and ridiculously in love.  I own my car.  I pay my bills.  I have my old name back.  I wrecked my wedding dress in the best photoshoot ever.

It seems like it's been longer than a year, in many ways.  Mostly in that I find it almost impossible to believe that it's only been a little over a year since I've been divorced.  That part of my life seems no more tangible anymore than a bad dream.  After all, there's no way I could have spent seven years that way.

But there's still proof that I did, in spite of throwing away or replacing nearly everything I could from when I was married.  There's still a hole in my bedroom wall from when I flinched away from him touching me.  There's still the fluttering panic when I think about him ever being near me again.  There's the memories I don't quite remember and don't want to about nights I was encouraged to drink too much so that I wouldn't say no.  There's the shame that I was weak enough to be manipulated so easily and for so long.  There's the fear that everything he said about me was right.  There's the fear that my honesty about my life will have consequences.

I joke about it a lot.  He's become more of a caricature for me now, but I suppose it's how I deal.  I make him less threatening, less real, and it helps.  Maybe it's not the healthiest way of dealing.  But it works.  I think.  Maybe.  Obviously, it's not foolproof, since I'm still talking about it, still finding ways to deal with what I went through.  I still have nightmares.  I still question my memories.  I still wonder if I made it all up.  That's when I'm grateful for the proof I have, and for those who tell me I'm not just crazy, for every person who told me they didn't like how he treated me and that I deserved better.

At the very least, it makes me so much more grateful for what I have now, for the past year, and for all the years to come.

2015 has brought me stronger friendships and support groups, more time with my family, a job I love, random spontaneous adventures, countless brunches, and more happiness than I feel I possibly deserve.  I couldn't ask for a better year, ups and downs included, because it's still all so wonderful.  I know I gush a lot about my life (on here and in person), but it's because I'm still in awe at how great it all can be.  I honestly had no idea.  I feel like one of those videos of dogs or babies experiencing grass or snow or bacon for the first time.  I feel like Dorothy seeing all the technicolor wonder of Oz for the first time.  Why did no one ever tell me there was something so marvelous?  Why did it take me so long to get here?

I don't ever want to go back to the girl I was before this year.  And I don't think that's even possible anymore.  I like to think I've learned my lessons.  At least a few.  I like to think that things are going to continue to be better and better.

I'm not perfect.  2015 wasn't perfect.  2016, for all the future as-yet-unsullied potential it holds, won't be perfect either.  I'll cry.  I'll be stressed.  Things will be bad, and good, and everything in between.  It will be life.

And I think that life sounds just about as perfect as it's going to get.

Thursday, December 17, 2015

December Status Update

December is officially half over.  And how am I doing, you ask?


I joked with Mark back in November that I could give myself gold stars for all the days in December when I didn't cry. Luckily I didn't follow through on this, because I would have fewer gold stars than I would like.  Between holiday stress, too-litle sleep, and my continuing efforts to deal with past emotional damage, there have been more tears this month than intended.

Operation: Drinking through December, on the other hand, is going much better.  I should probably have decided to give myself gold stars for that instead.  I would have way more stars.  Hindsight, right?

I actually have accomplished a decent amount, though not nearly as much as intended.  I successfully acquired/finished birthday present for both of my parents, who have the nerve to both have birthdays in December.  I crossed Missouri two times in as many days this past weekend for a Fish Eye Fun job in Kansas City.  (On that same trip, I spent my very first night ever alone in a hotel.) I only have four books left to read to hit my goal of 50 books, and I'm halfway through both a book and an audiobook. I managed to get my new passport in time to go to Mexico at the beginning of January.  I've attended a few family events and even socialized with several friends, including making it to the Garden Glow at the Missouri Botanical Gardens.

On the other hand, I still have several presents to acquire/finish in about a week.  There's one more big weekend of holiday parties to get through, and then the night of 7 New Year's Eve parties.  I haven't done nearly the writing I should have for my Project: Sketchbook.  And I have four books to finish reading in 15 days (notice how that one made the good and bad list?).

I think I need another drink.

I'm not sure if it's just the hectic pace of the past few months, but I'm having a harder time getting into the "holiday spirit."  I know I talked a lot previously about how I'm traditionally more of a Scrooge, but I do generally get a bit more into the Christmas spirit midway through December.  To be fair, I suppose it's not that I'm dreading Christmas itself.  I'm dreading everything that needs to be done.  I don't have the hours.  I don't have the budget.  I don't have the expedited shipping option.  Like the Grinch, I want to keep Christmas from coming.  But at least only until I can find a few more gifts.

I know that Christmas isn't about the gifts.  I know this, even though one of my stronger love languages is gifts and I love finding or making the perfect present for someone.  I know my parents don't even want me to spend money on them.  I know my boyfriend doesn't want me to buy him too much.  I know that I don't want him to buy me too much.  I know my friends will still love me if I don't get their presents done by the 25th (sorry, guys).

So yes. I know Christmas isn't about the gifts.

I know Christmas isn't about the gifts.

I think.

So what is it about?

Is it about winning decorating contests, or getting plastered at company holiday parties, or looking at Christmas lights?  Is it about ugly sweaters?  Holiday cards?  Elves on shelves?  Whether or not Die Hard is a Christmas movie? (It is, by the way.)  Endless renditions of "Santa Baby"? Whether or not Love, Actually is a terrible movie? (Debatable, but I love it anyway.)

It's a hard question.

For someone who's struggled with her faith and with Christians in general the past two years, I can't say that Christmas is strictly about religious faith for me right now.  Not that it ever was, really.  I'm a girl whose parents let her believe in Santa Claus for an embarrassingly long time, so obviously Christmas was never explicitly religious in my family.  I will go to church at some point with my parents, and I do still love hymns and still have the Christmas story in John memorized.  I've been a Lutheran for a long time and there is still a special meaning in Christmas that is spiritual for me, about keeping all these things and pondering them in my heart.

But I think these days that The Muppets best sum up my feelings about Christmas spirit.  "Wherever you find love, it feels like Christmas."  Maybe that's a bit touchy-feely, everyone hold hands-y, but it covers a lot of bases for a lot of people: Christian, Jewish, agnostic, and otherwise.  And, at the very least, it takes away from the commercialization of Christmas.

So, for me, Christmas is about spending time with the people I love.  It's about making them happy and being grateful for a truly wonderful 2015 and for all the family, friends, and blessings I have in life.  It's about feeling love, be it romantic, platonic, spiritual, or otherwise.  It's about traditions.  It's about cookies and pies and hams.  Or it's about latkes and Chinese food and a Die Hard marathon.  It's about figuring out how to do two Christmases in one day because there are that many people that want you around for the holidays.  It's about having a Charlie Brown Christmas tree on your console.  Or it's about having a Christmas tree in every room.  It's about whatever you want it to be.

The Grinch figured it out.  I guess I can too.

Wednesday, December 9, 2015

Look at Me, Adulting!

I saw someone once state on Facebook that if you used the phrase "adulting" to describe your life then you weren't really an adult.

This is very possibly true.

Because really? I'm not sure I am an adult.  It's highly likely I'm only pretending, which seems to be the underlying implication of the word "adulting."  You're not really an adult; you're just faking it till you make it (or don't make it, as the case may be).  You changed a lightbulb.  You made dinner instead of eating chocolate.  You got up, walked the dog, and went to work instead of calling in sick.  

I'm not sure I'm fooling anyone with the whole adulting thing.  Without even counting my large failures at previous life decisions, there are several other signs that I might not be a "real adult."  For example, I've started wearing an Eeyore onesie around the house on more of my days off than I care to admit.  I bought a Doctor Who shower curtain.  I have coloring books.  I still consider my birthday to be a holiday.  I take way too many selfies.  I think pigtails are an acceptable hair style.  And I'm practically a teenager when it currently comes to being in love.

On the other hand, I've been paying all my own bills for a year and a half.  I signed up for health insurance (finally).  I worked events last Friday and Saturday, even though I had a cold, because, well, I had to.  We had six events Friday and seven on Saturday.  If I stayed home with Kleenex shoved up my nose watching Netflix, there would have been no one else to work.  (By the way: sincere apologies to anyone who got my germs along with their photos.  I tried to stay sanitized.)

To be honest, I feel more like an adult than I have in years, Eeyore onesie and all.  I'm adulting all over the place.  I'm adulting so much that I don't have time to do much else.  Which is fine.  It keeps me busy.  It keeps me out of trouble.  It keeps the bills paid.

And the weird thing is that still I'm enjoying my life more than ever before.  Being an adult shouldn't be so great, based on the bad rap it got when I was younger.  There are responsibilities and bills and broken appliances and divorce and too-little-sleep and a distinct lack of naps.  I drink less.  I'm fully accountable to another person for probably the first time ever, and I have no one to blame if I fail except myself.  And I'm stressed and tired and usually just want to stay home and introvert with my boyfriend.

But.  I wouldn't change much of anything.  

And maybe pretending to be an adult is the best way to do it.  It keeps you from being too serious, or from taking yourself too seriously.  It lets you wear pigtails and Eeyore onesies while taking selfies and coloring in coloring books.

And if that means I'm not a "real adult"?  Then fine.  I'm not.  But I'm getting pretty damned good at pretending.

Thursday, December 3, 2015

I'm a Mean One...

Oh, Lord.  I missed a week.

I'm comforting myself with the knowledge that it was Thanksgiving week and I've been running around like a chicken with my head cut off.  And you didn't really need me to post a "things I'm thankful for" blog, did you?  I'm pretty sure most of my blogs already spill over with that a bit too much sometimes.  So let's go for the opposite: things I hate about Christmas!

I have a long-standing history of being a bit of a Scrooge. Possibly slightly Grinchy.  I mean, I've never set out to actually ruin Christmas, but I have been known to say "Bah, humbug!" and grumble about putting up a Christmas tree.

It's not Christmas itself.  I don't mind Christmas, especially when it's actually the week of Christmas.  It's the ever-expanding season of Christmas.  It's the fact that Christmas decorations are on sale before Halloween.  It's the fact that syrupy-sweet, overly vibratto-ed, drippingly sentimental Christmas music blasts inescapably from every store, restaurant, and radio station from the beginning of November on.

And it's the fact that I'm an introvert (this is getting to be a common theme, isn't it?).  Which combines poorly with the fact that everyone wants to get together all the time (mainly my parents).  And it's also the fact that we have over 40 Fish Eye Fun events in December.

Don't get me wrong: that's AMAZING and is absolutely not the problem.  I'm so beyond excited that we're busy and popular and even forced to turn away business because we're booked up solid for at least four days this month!

The problem is that some people (take a guess) don't seem to get that I'm busy and socially a bit overwhelmed, and that I probably don't want to come over every week from now until Christmas.  I may or may not have had a meltdown before Thanksgiving over all the social obligations that were suddenly presented to me, and may or may not have decided on my plan for surviving the holidays.  I call it "Drinking Through December." What could possibly go wrong?  (I've also decided that I get a gold star for every day in December that I don't stress cry.)

To be fair, this is the first year I can use the "I'm really busy" excuse as part of why I'm a Scrooge.  Before this year, Christmas was much easier in that aspect.  It was the dead-season at my old job.  I had at least a week and a half off of work most years.  But, I still grew to dread it.

Unintentionally or not, I felt overwhelming pressure from my ex to "compete" at Christmas presents.  If I didn't get his as many or as big or as expensive of presents as he got me, or if his Christmas stocking wasn't as full as mine was, I heard about it.  There would be hints about how much what he got me cost.  Or casual remarks asking if there would be more for him under the tree by Christmas.

Right now? My biggest problem is keeping my presents a secret from Mark until Christmas actually gets here.  We both have a terrible habit of buying each other things and just giving them to each other all year long.  So by the time the holidays/birthdays/etc roll around, we tend to realize that we've already given each other everything we thought the other person would like.  Whoops.

If I'm being honest (and apparently that's what I do now), I have to admit that I might be getting a bit less Scrooge-y in the past two years.  I still hate all the things I complained about above.  And I'm still panicked about getting everything done in time.  My ongoing mantra is that I'll have time in January (which is probably a lie, sure, but it's my current lifeline to sanity, so just let me have my delusions.)

But the intensity of my dislike seems to be abating with time (so long as it's actually the month of December).  Mark and I were running errands this week at stores where, of course, Christmas music was playing, and I didn't grumble and bitch about it.  I might even admit that I danced a little too it, but let's not get crazy.  And I want to go to the Garden Glow (though I contend that the Garden Glow is more of a winter festival than specifically Christmas - again, give me my delusions).

Also?  I have a confession: I kindof want to put up a tree and am a little disappointed that I really don't have space for one.  But don't tell anyone that, ok?

Friday, November 20, 2015

This Is Just To Say

This is just to say that... I have had absolutely no time to blog this week.  It's worse than normal.  Work is busier than ever. I went out to the Randy Dandies show Saturday, had a wedding show Sunday, had dinner at my parents' Monday, ran errands Tuesday, and had the Vendors Choice Wedding Awards last night.

So that left Wednesday night, in which I collapsed on the couch with Mark, a book, and Gotham, our latest Netflix binge show. And that's been all of my down time until tonight.

Half of me doesn't even know how it got to be Friday.  The other half knows that I'm going to feel this way until December.

That feeling is a little overwhelming, when all I want to do lately is stay home.  It's cold, it's dark, and I miss introverting.  I haven't had as much recharge time lately, and it might be starting to get to me.  On the other hand, it's not like I don't want to spend time doing the things I am doing.  I want to work.  I want to see my friends.  I want to be a good daughter who spends time with her parents.  And I want to go out to awards dinners and pretend to be Elsa.

Or wear a green dress with a green screen.  Whatever.

It's hard. It's only just getting into the season of socialization. Thanksgiving is next week. Christmas is all-too-soon after. And there's my parents' birthdays. Friends' birthdays. A million holiday parties Fish Eye Fun is booked at. 

I feel desperately behind in most things currently. Cleaning. Reading. Writing. Hanging out. A friend has taken to calling me "the mythical unicorn" because I'm notoriously absent from most events lately. 

Mostly, it can't be helped. I have to prioritize somewhere, and my job and my boyfriend are both at the top of the list. I just have to fit everything else in as best I can. 

And count the days till January and my much-needed vacation. 

Thursday, November 12, 2015

PSA: Equality is Sexy

I read this article the other day talking about how an equal distribution of household chores between couples leads to better and more frequent sex.  I've been thinking about it ever since.

There are a few reasons this particular subject has stuck in my head.  And it's not just because it talked about sex in all its naughty clickbait.  Sex is not the real issue (though it is, obviously, a bonus).  It wasn't even the main focus of the article, which was mainly about relationship satisfaction and how, shockingly, a lot of relationship satisfaction comes from a more equal division of responsibilities. (And duh, more relationship satisfaction leads to more satisfaction in other, ahem, areas.)

The issue is that it hardly seems possible that in 2015 we're still debating the benefits of both partners contributing to a relationship and a home.  These are not the days of the 1950s housewife, as much as I might like to dress the part.  Most of us have realized that, just as it takes two to tango, it takes two to run a household.  Note: this is not just a "men, get off your asses" post.  Everyone should get off their collective asses every now and then and show they care about the person they love (romantically and platonically, for that matter), according to their own unique relationship.  Because what "equal division" means depends solely on the individual couple's expectations and desires.

So don't get me wrong: I definitely like parts of being a homemaker.  In an ideal world, I picture myself as more of a stay-at-home wife type.  I love cooking and baking and have come around to large portions of domesticity.  These days, I don't even mind doing dishes that much.

But I will never like cleaning.  Ever.  I can create a reward system for chores. I can listen to my favorite music.  I can have a drink.  It doesn't matter.  I'm never going to enjoy cleaning.

You know what?  Most people don't.  Most people wish the bathroom would magically be spotless, and that laundry would do itself, and that the dog would sweep up his own damn fur.  But this is not the case.  Chores have to be done.  By someone.  Of course, we could live in perpetual squalor, but most times, it feels like I'm only barely on the brink of acceptable cleanliness already.

And so I spend precious moments of my far-too-little free time (when, honestly, I'd rather be reading or watching Netflix) to keep the house right on that acceptable level.  (I actually wish I had more time to devote to organizing the mess of my apartment.)  Because it's what adults do, and I am, allegedly, an adult.

This is not new.  I've been more-or-less successfully keeping the house "clean" for the past 8 years.

The difference is that now I'm in a relationship with someone who cares enough and is an adult enough to actually help out, who also spends moments of his far-too-little free time to do the not-so-fun things.

I've come home to him mopping.  Or sweeping.  Or fixing things.  Or making dinner.  Or installing lights under the counters or above the washer and dryer.  Or replacing the outside motion-detector lights.  He takes out the trash.  He tells me I don't have to always worry about doing laundry on the weekends, because he could do it when he gets home from work.

And honestly?  It is a turn on.

More importantly (and highly possibly why it's a turn on)?  It makes me feel loved.  For me, what it boils down to is feeling like I'm an equal, like I'm part of a partnership instead of a master/servant relationship.  I don't think that should be such a novel idea, even though it is a fairly new experience for me.  Sharing responsibilities for a household shows that you care about the relationship you're in and, by natural extension, the person you're in a relationship with.  It shows that you value your partner as an equal as as a valid and important part of your life.  It shows that you're willing to give up your free time for a even few minutes to make a difference, to pick up the slack with your partner has had a bad day, or just to help out because you can.  How could that possibly be anything but good for a relationship?

The article also struck a personal chord for me, since I did the unequal master/servant relationship for seven years.  I probably shouldn't be shocked that we still need to talk about this.  Because I lived with a man who continually asked more and more from me from one year to the next while he sidestepped more and more chores because of one excuse or another.  I was better at cooking, he didn't like unloading the dishwasher, he didn't like cleaning the bathroom, grocery shopping was too stressful, he'd help me do dishes after I baked for an event if I gave him some of the money I made.  It got to the point of him asking me to clean the bathroom for a party he was throwing while we were actually separated and I was living at a friend's house.

And the craziest thing?  I did it.  I did all of it. I did it even though we both worked a fairly equal number of hours and made a fairly equal amount of money. I did it because it was easier than arguing, than asking for the thousandth time for him to help out.  I did it because someone had to.  I did it because I wanted to help.  I wanted to be a good wife.  But in the end, I felt resentful.  I felt unappreciated.  And I felt guilty for feeling that way.  I felt like a nagging wife, and I really, really hated feeling like that.  And those feelings?  They're not sexy.  They're not healthy.  They're not what you want in a relationship.

Honestly, if my ex-husband hadn't stopped trying from the moment we got married, it's very likely I wouldn't be divorced right now.  I could have overlooked a great number of sins if only I felt like I was valued for anything other than monetary and sexual reasons.

What I was asking for wasn't someone to help cook and clean.  I'm fully capable of cooking and cleaning on my own, even with limited free time, thank you very much.  What I was asking for was respect, for a partnership, for some sign that he took even a few minutes to think about me or about our life. I was asking to be treated like an equal.

Equality is sexy, guys.  I'm not going to lie to you about this.  Sharing a bed is pretty high on the intimacy scale, but legitimately sharing a life and a relationship?  Willingly sharing the annoying, dirty, tedious parts of that relationship?  Respecting another person's time as much as you respect yours? That's true intimacy.

And that kind of partnership leads to a pretty amazing relationship, in my opinion. And it's taught me what I, and what everyone, deserves in a relationship.

(If this sounds familiar to anyone else besides me, I suppose it's because today's blog is a more explicit extension, of sorts, of my blog about relationships and what they're not.)

Sometimes, I can't believe it took me so long to take the blinders off and realize what I was missing out on.  After all, I'm surrounded by friends who are in true partnerships of relationships, beautiful couples who support and take care of each other in turn, who sacrifice together and work together and want the best for each other, and who want the world to know what a wonderful person they're with.

If there ever were relationship goals, those are it, guys.

Wednesday, November 4, 2015

Of Halloween and Hannibal

In a pleasant contrast from last week's blog about everything going wrong, this past week has actually been fairly pleasant.  I had a lovely Halloween working the fabulous costume wedding of Tina and Luc, where I got to introduce Fish Eye Fun to a room full of my friends, all people who love having their picture taken (except for Alexis).

 Plus, the bride and groom were an amazing Morticia and Gomez Addams.

It was lovely to get to combine my work with my play.  It's happened on a small scale before, with having Sandi and Alexis help me at events when needed.  But to turn my friends loose in a room with candy, alcohol, costumes, and Fish Eye Fun?  It was pretty epic.  I had a line most of the night, but still was able to hang out and enjoy the reception.  And be in my own share of pictures.

Meanwhile, I wore what is possibly my favorite costume to date, and definitely the most comfortable in years: Where's Waldo.  I now pretty much want to dress like Waldo all the time.  It might make up for the fact that, apparently, Waldo was an incredibly popular costume choice this year.  There was another Waldo at the wedding I was at, a friend of mine posted a picture of her and her husband dressed like Carmen Sandiego and Waldo, and they were apparently out en masse at a bar that Jake went to.  Hmph.  And I thought I was being original.

In other news, Mark and I went on our first "road trip" on Monday.  It's his week off, and I don't technically work Mondays, so we decided it was time to get out of town for the day.  For lack of any other ideas, we drove to Hannibal, where I was told to stand in front of some signs.

Somehow, we managed to not do a single "historic" thing while we were there, in spite of being in, well, Historic Hannibal.  We didn't go in any museums.  We didn't tour the historic mansion.  The closest we got was going on the hour-long riverboat cruise, which was probably our favorite part of the trip (outside of the food).

As Mark said when we drove into town, "We can do whatever we want.  It's our day."  And that turned out to be entirely the case.  We ended up not feeling like going in the museums, and so we didn't.  Instead, we just wandered around, had lunch at the Mark Twain Brewery, shopped in antique malls, and went in the less-than-impressive Train Museum.  Then we drove home and stopped for dinner at our absolute favorite Mexican restaurant, Espino's.

While we were both a little underwhelmed by what Hannibal had to offer and uncertain how to feel about the fact that we managed to avoid nearly every single museum in the place, we still had to admit that we had a good day.  The weather was perfect, we got away from our usual St. Louis haunts, splurged a little on eating out, and hardly ever stopped talking to each other.  So I, personally, consider it to be a successful day trip.

It's still slightly amazing that, after knowing someone for twelve years, I haven't run out of things to tell him.  And he hasn't run out of things to tell me.  Most days, we hardly ever shut up to each other.  There are, of course, mornings and nights where we are both working on our own thing, or lying together on the couch reading, but I don't think I've ever had someone know me so well and talk with me so much as Mark does.  And it is talking with me, not at me.  It's a small word, but a world of difference.  He listens to me.  He acknowledges my opinion, even if his differs.  We appreciate and value each other's input.  For someone who is usually only chatty at parties after a few drinks and never before shared so many of my honest thoughts and opinions, I still find that aspect of our relationship surprising and entirely enjoyable.  Much like most of my life.

And, as I type, my boyfriend is building me a bookshelf.  Relationship goals?  Accomplished.

Friday, October 30, 2015

Another Anniversary, You Say?

I know I already blogged this week, but this is something of note.

It's officially been one year since my last day at my former job.  (It was actually supposed to be the 31st, but I think they were all sick of my sulking silently around the office, and told me I could go home a day early.)

I don't really remember what I did that day.  A good guess would be: cry. (I'm sensing a theme with my blog posts about crying, aren't you?)  Later that night, according to Timehop, I went to my friend Erin's house and drank while she carved pumpkins with Roland and his daughter.

Obviously, the end of my job was not my decision.  Nor was it expected.  In fact, I had been explicitly told that I would not be losing my job.  And I had believed them.  But.  Things happen.  Apparently.

It wasn't the best of times.  I felt betrayed and hurt and worthless.  I had just finalized my divorce, which while being something I wanted, didn't exactly make me feel like a successful adult.  I had sent my ex thousands of dollars (and sent credit card companies thousands more) that I had borrowed from my parents.  I was living essentially on my own, solely responsible for all my bills for the first time in my entire life.  So to now be (mostly) unemployed and uncertain how I was ever going to be a successful adult?  Not great.

My mom immediately told me I'd have to move back in with them.  Like there was no doubt in her mind.  It was bad enough I got divorced (during which they also repeatedly tried to convince me to move back in), but now that I'd lost my job?  That settled it.  I should start packing my bags.

But.  I'm stubborn.  As usual.  I didn't want to move in with them.  I didn't want to leave my apartment (at least, not till I decided I was ready to).  I didn't want to lose the freedom that I'd worked so hard to gain.

So, somehow, I made it work.  I still had Fish Eye Fun jobs on the weekend.  I had the buffer of money in my bank account I'd been slowly building since getting a separate account.

And I made it through the next six months until I started working as the office manager for Fish Eye Fun, I job I'd wanted since I knew it was a possibility.

I love it.  Combined with the weekend photography jobs, I've never worked harder or longer hours in my life, but have never enjoyed a job so much, or believed so fully in what I was doing.

Plus, it's ridiculously fun.

And I get to eat free food.

And tell people what to do.

 So.  Did losing my job a year ago suck?  Unbelievably.  But I wouldn't go back to it for the world.

On that note, another happy anniversary to me.  And many more to come.

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

The No Good, Very Bad Day

News flash: not every day is fantastic.

I know I make an awfully annoying fuss about how happy I am, and how much better my life is now, etc, etc, etc.

And I am.  And it is.

But some days?  Some days suck.  Some days, everything goes wrong from the moment you get out of bed.

Last Thursday was one of those days.  To be honest, the whole week was off.  Mark and I fluctuated from amazingly perfect days to days where everything felt off.  But Thursday?  Thursday took the cake.

My kitchen sink was clogged from the moment I poured yesterday's coffee down the drain and it didn't go down the drain all, my roof was being replaced, and the roofers dumped old shingles all over my front steps to create an exciting and impromptu obstacle course.  We drove back and forth across St. Louis with faulty directions to get to a play.  Finally, when we got to dinner, at least an hour later than originally intended, I bumped my knees on the table and that flare of pain and frustration was the final straw that pushed me over the edge into a minor hungry/stressed meltdown that I'd been fighting off for the past half hour (or possibly since the moment I woke up).

The really annoying thing about the fact that I now feel the normal human range of emotions is that I also now cry a lot more.  I used to never cry, except in very dire circumstances.  Like when a dog dies in a book or a movie.  Or during approximately half of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows.  (Seriously.  The whole Snape chapter was me sobbing uncontrollably.)

Honestly, there were times I felt a little heartless that I wasn't crying.  I didn't cry in marital counseling, or in most fights with my ex, even when he did.  The description "heartless" originated with him, not coincidentally.

Now?  I cry.  I cry when I'm overly stressed or tired, or when I'm worried about something, or when my plans get changed.  Or when I'm hungry.  Sometimes I cry because I was crying.  And I hate it.  I hate crying.  I hate feeling emotionally out-of-control.

But, apparently, crying is what I do now.  At least sometimes.  I'm not saying that I walk around clutching Kleenex in case someone looks at me cross-eyed.  Not by a long shot.  It's certainly not a daily event, and even far from a weekly one.  But it's a far more frequent occurrence in the past year and a half than in the seven years before that.  I'm still not quite used to it, and it can feel like a lot to me, the formerly dry-eyed ice queen of South City.

Which brings me back to Thursday, when I bumped my knees and cried a little.  Mark put his hand on my leg, told me quietly that everything would be fine, and read his book while I sniffled a little bit, read my own book, and recovered.  Then we got food, saw a great play, and, somehow, called it all a good night.  In spite of the sink.  And the roof.  And the misdirection.  And the crying.

Apparently even no good, very bad days can be good days when you spend them with the love of your life.  I'm not sure if it's the fact that he makes me feel calmer, or the fact that everything just seems better with him, or the fact that we're just better at dealing with ridiculous situations when we're together because we've already been through so many other ridiculous situations.

But what's really amazing is having someone who understands that sometimes I melt down.  And who tells me that that's ok.  And who's usually more understanding of my crying than I am.  And who I can be emotionally, rawly open with.

Crying in front of my ex was something I rarely did, as I mentioned before.  When it happened, I felt exposed, like I'd been caught shamefully naked and someone was pointing a flashlight at me.  With my boyfriend now, while I still really freaking hate crying, it's not for lack of trust or sense of safety.  I trust him not to use my weaknesses against me.  And I feel safe crying into his shoulder and all over his shirt.  (Which I'm sure is an entirely pleasant experience for all involved.)

I suppose it's a good thing.  The fact that I cry more is negated by the fact that I'm happy and content even more than that.  I'm happy even when everything goes wrong and the roof is quite literally falling down around me.

So, I'll take a few more tears if it means that I get to experience more fully the other wonderful emotions that are out there.

And I'll keep some Kleenex in my purse, just in case.

Thursday, October 22, 2015

Things That Go Bump

It's almost Halloween, the season for spooky things, and so, in honor of the upcoming holiday, I made the completely misguided decision to read The Shining.  Which has now become the decision to read The Shining only during daylight hours.

Because I really hate scary things.  I always have.  I don't watch scary movies.  I don't watch American Horror Story.  I don't do haunted houses.  I don't like creepy stories about hauntings or possessions or anything.  I don't like being scared.

As a child, I had recurring slasher-esque nightmares of being chased by horrifying creatures and monsters, in spite of the fact that I never watched anything remotely scary.  I didn't read Goosebumps or watch Are You Afraid of the Dark? because I was afraid of the dark, and of the dreams I had.  I would wake up, almost paralyzed by fear and by the certainty that there was Something under my bed, ready to grab my ankles if I dared to put my feet on the ground.  If I did work up the nerve to get out of bed, it was only through leaping several feet into the room and away from whatever was lurking.  I went through a phase where I would have to check the entire house for burglars or killers before I could feel safe.

I was also convinced that I was going to be kidnapped.  It was the early 90s, when stories of kidnapped kids were everywhere on the news, and I just knew I was going to be one of them.  My face was going to be on a milk carton one day.  Those fears also found their way into my dreams.

Now, I'm allegedly an adult.  I'm thirty years old.  I no longer think I'm going to be kidnapped and I (usually) no longer need to check the bathroom for murderers.  

That doesn't mean I'm not still scared of things.  It just means the fears have changed.  The monsters have changed, and some of them are all too real.

I also still have nightmares, but they've changed too.  Now my recurring nightmares are of my ex-husband coming back, of running into him unexpectedly, of him telling me that he's bugged my house and knows everything I do.  I wake up from those just as panicked as from the nightmares of my childhood, and the thing that makes it worse is that these nightmares are based at least somewhat in reality.  No, I don't think that my house is under surveillance, but the possibility that he could be anywhere near me brings on a panic that I never before understood.  It brings back the memory of the months I spent being afraid to be alone with him, of secretly moving in with a different friend so he wouldn't know where I was.

There are other things I'm afraid of.  Failure.  Judgement.  Of not being good enough.  Spiders.   You know, the usual.

And I'm scared of making the same mistakes I did before, scared that the person I love and trust will somehow stop being the person he has proven, time and again, to be.  I'm scared that I will become someone unloveable.  

These fears really have no more validity than the things that chased me in my childhood dreams.  (Except spiders.  Spiders are the worst.)  They are, like all fears and nightmares, things that come out at night when you're alone, or feel alone.  They prey on vulnerability and make you second guess every decision, every word.

It's little wonder that Stephen King is capable of terrifying so many.  He doesn't just use monsters and crazed dogs and things that go bump in the night.  He taps into other, more real terrors: losing family, having those we love and trust turn on us, the inability to stop the inevitable, and the inability to overpower our own personal demons.  These are the things that are truly frightening, the things that can happen to any of us.

Luckily, life is not a Stephen King novel.  And I'm very rarely laying in bed, paralyzed by fear.  Anymore, things that go bump in the night are usually just my dog and my upstairs neighbors.  And, for the most part, the scariest thing that happens to me is my kitchen sink being clogged and my roof being replaced all in one day. 

And, in spite of being a giant scaredy-cat, I do like Halloween.  Of course I like Halloween.  I love dressing up.  I love costumes.  I love themed parties (so long as I can avoid any and all slasher movies on the TV), and Halloween is the ultimate combination of dressing up, costumes, and themes.  

Girls in a graveyard is always a good theme.
Honestly?  The biggest fear I have right now is finishing my costume in time.  

Stephen King's got nothing on that.

Wednesday, October 14, 2015

One Year Later, Again

I think you all can tell that I'm big into anniversaries lately.  For me, they've become milestones of a sort, markers on the road of how far I've come the past year and a half.  I assume I'll eventually stop caring quite so much about these dates, but until then, bear with me.  Because this past Saturday, I hit another one.

One year of being divorced.

That's a big, really exciting one.

That's a year of me being really and legally free from my financial black hole of a crazy ex.

Honestly?  I thought it would be harder.  I thought I would struggle to pay bills on my own, with only one paycheck.  I thought I would have to give up and ask for help.  I thought I would fail at being an adult.

These fears were something I vividly remember talking to my friend Katie about before I actually decided I did want to get divorced.  I spent a great deal of time adding up my projected living expenses and comparing them to what my projected paycheck would be.  After all, I'd never really lived on my own.  I'd never had to do this.  The closest I came was going away to college, but I didn't have bills.  I didn't have rent or utilities or much in the way of groceries.  And then I got married, and he took over the checkbook.  I deposited my paycheck in our joint account, and he took the bills off to work to (allegedly) pay them.  I had my "allowance" of what I could spend on going out and buying things for myself.  I don't think I need to detail how this was all a terrible idea, and how I'm never going to not have my own separate bank account again, no matter who I do or do not marry.  Sometimes, you live and learn.

Strangely enough, I've actually been a fairly successful adult, in spite of being mostly-unemployed for almost six months.  I am, quite frankly, impressed with myself.  I think that's allowed.

In some ways, it seems like the year has flown by.  I don't know where most weeks have gone.  I don't know how it got to be October.

But in other ways, I feel like it's been ages since I got divorced.  It feels like something long-ago that happened to someone else.  All the unbelievable, stranger-than-fiction things that happened seem like something I read in a book, not actual events that happened to me.

So, how did I celebrate my one year divorce-aversary?

By working my 13th day in a row, of course.

Sandi helped.
I may be celebrating my year of divorce, but that doesn't stop the rest of the world from getting married.  Nor should it.  In spite of being jaded and cynical as I might be, I truly like working weddings.  I remember a few months ago sitting at my desk, reading an e-mail from a bride-to-be, and being suddenly struck and amazed by the fact that some brides (most brides, really) are genuinely excited about getting married.  That their wedding day is one of the best days of their life.  That was suddenly amazing to me.  And depressing, all at the same time.  That's the way I should have felt about getting married, after all.  That's the way anyone should feel about it.

Instead, I feel that way about my divorce.

Last year, I celebrated in an entirely different manner.  I didn't find out about my finalized divorce until a week later, poetically, the day before I performed on stage for the 7th Annual Michelle Mynx Pole Dance Extravaganza.

Some of you may not know that I have been taking acrobatic pole dance classes for the past six years.  It was a decision I made after going to my first burlesque show years ago and seeing Michelle perform.  I knew immediately that it was something I wanted to do, even though I had never before seen anything like it.  It was a decision I didn't tell a lot of people.  For one, I worked for the church. Morality clause and all that.

For another, it was not a decision my ex-husband approved of.  At all.

The fact that I wanted to pole dance was a source of contention for most of my marriage.  We fought about what I could and couldn't wear, who I could and couldn't perform with, where and when I could and couldn't perform.  We fought about the fact that I bought shoes to perform and practice in.  We fought about the fact that I wanted to buy my own pole (with my afore-mentioned allowance).  I was only "allowed" to perform once-a-year at the yearly extravaganza/student showcase.  I wasn't "allowed" to take any costume piece off, even so much as a glove.  None of this was not open for discussion.  It had to be that way, because the fact that I pole danced in public, usually wearing more than most swimsuits, was somehow shameful.  I was told that if I ever took anything off on stage, he would drag me off of it.  It was a joke, but I knew that it really wasn't a joke at all.

But I persisted.  It was one of the few things I thought worth fighting about.  I am and always have been stubborn when I want to be.  I even won a few battles every now and then.  I performed when I could, took classes when I could afford it, fell off the pole during a performance and got back up and finished (after doing a cartwheel and landing on my knees in jazz hands).  And, along the way, I found a group of the best friends I could ever have asked for.  I've found self-confidence and support and love.  And even a few muscles.

From my first, and favorite, pole performance.

It was worth the fighting for what I gained, and I don't for a second regret deciding to start pole dancing.

I'm not saying I'm a great performer.  Far from it.  But I do it because I love to.  The pole community is a wonderful place where everyone is accepted and supported, where you can be any shape or size or gender.  You can be sexy or cute or funny, or all three at the same time, and no one cares.

It was really only fitting that I found out that I was officially divorced the day before last year's Extravaganza.  I had actually backed out of performing after going through the stress of my separation, divorce, and job loss.  But I performed a thrown-together routine at a Pole Kisses show a few weeks prior to the Extravaganza, and Michelle looked at me and said, "Why don't you just do that number?"

And so I did.

One of the things that I remember most about last year's show was standing in the wings, waiting to go on, and the host announcing that my divorce had just been finalized.  The cheer that went up (from some strangers, yes, but mostly from friends) was deafening.

And so, appropriately, I danced my way into my first days of being a divorcee.

I won't be dancing this year, regrettably.  It's my first year in six years that I'm not performing at the Extravaganza.  The reality of it was I don't have time.  And I hate it, but I know it was the right decision.  But it's still where I'll be Friday night, cheering on my friends and fellow pole dancers.

And you should be too.

Wednesday, October 7, 2015

A Sort-of Anniversary

People talk about how love is hard.  It's work.  It's not easy.  And yes, that's all true.  It's not always easy to love someone who's sometimes all-too-human, who can disappoint you or say the wrong thing.

But it can be even harder to not love someone.

I should know.  I tried to not love someone for a decade.

I only met my boyfriend by chance 12 years ago.  If I hadn't been at a certain graduation party in the summer of 2003, and if I hadn't agreed to tag along with a few friends to a rehearsal for Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat, I don't think we ever would have met.  

But I was at that graduation party, and I went to that rehearsal.  And one of the first people I saw was this goofy bald guy, who made some ridiculous joke (some things never change).

And I knew.

I knew that this guy was going to be a part of my life, that I was never going to be done with him.  It's as close to love at first sight as I think can reasonably exist.

But I also knew that didn't make any sense.  I was eighteen.  I had just graduated high school.  I was going to Chicago for college.  Moreover, I didn't believe in love at first sight.

I was standing in a room full of strangers, being told that these strangers were named Sappy and Loopy and Woody and I remember wondering what alternate universe I had wandered into.  This guy, who was apparently named Woody, was obviously older than me, and so completely opposite of any other guy I'd ever had a crush on.  This was just another crush, I told myself, albeit an entirely inexplicable one.  I'd get over it.  Surely.  There was no way I was going to ever be in love with a bald guy nicknamed Woody who was thirteen years older than me and had a louder laugh than anyone I've ever known. 

No way.


I spent the rest of the summer suffering with this senseless crush, knowing that if I just made it through the summer and left for college, I'd get over it.  I'd find someone else.

Obviously, that worked well.
You can't say we didn't try.  I spent years convincing myself that I wasn't in love with him, including years spent not talking to him, and he did the same.  We were friends, sure.  I liked talking to him, sure.  I was attracted to him, sure.  But I wasn't in love.  How could I be?  He was too old for me, too conservative for me, too any-number-of-excuses for me.  I blatantly ignored the fact that I could always talk with him more than anyone else, that I wanted to be around him, that countless little things always reminded me of him.  I wasn't in love.

Then, a little over two years ago, I got off the phone with him and realized.  Shit.  I was in love.  It was terrifying.  It was completely, horrifyingly inconvenient.  And worse, it was entirely undeniable and made me feel ridiculously warm all over.  A few days later (exactly two years ago today, in fact), in the parking lot of a Walgreens, he told me he was in love with me.

I'm going to pause here and go back to my first (and only other) first "I love you."  It was my sophomore year of college, in the basement of Mary Martha.  I'd been dating the man I would end up marrying and he told me after barely a month that he loved me.  I didn't say it back.  Instead, I felt vaguely panicked.  It had been a month.  I liked him.  But I didn't really know him.  He didn't really know me.  I was still learning about dating.  It was all physical, superficial flirting.  I had no idea what I was doing.  Holding hands in chapel.  Exploring the boundaries of what I did and didn't want to do.  So I didn't say it back until a week or so later, when I'd worked myself up to it.  In retrospect, I realize that I basically talked myself into saying I loved him so that I wouldn't feel bad that he was saying it to me.

I spent the next almost nine years talking myself into the relationship, wondering why I didn't feel loved, figuring it was just me being cold and heartless.  My ex-husband said he loved me.  He bought me things, apparently because he loved me and thought that was what would make me happy.  He told me I was impossible to make happy, and I was baffled by that.  There were so many things that made me happy.  Unfortunately, he usually wasn't one of them.  Instead, I spent years of my life walking on eggshells, putting aside what I wanted to do because it would make him unhappy, or because it would start a fight that I could never win.  I didn't go out with friends, because he couldn't go.  I didn't perform in public, because he didn't approve.  I waited on him hand and foot, because he wanted me to.  Besides, it was easier to do what he wanted than to argue that I was tired, or had other plans, or that maybe I just wanted to do something else.  Trying to express my feelings to someone who didn't care was too exhausting.

But two years ago, when Mark told me that he was in love with me, it was a relief.  I didn't panic.  I didn't wait two weeks to say it back.  I didn't want more than a few seconds.  The words had been bubbling up inside me for days.  I didn't have to talk myself into it, because I'd been trying to talk myself out of it for ten years.

I went home after that and this article showed up on my Facebook.  It was perfect in every way.  Either one of us could have written it for the other.  Really, the fact that I shared it as a surreptitious love note is the only way I know that this is the two year anniversary of that day.  (Thanks, Timehop.) 

Being in love, this time around, is completely different in every way.  Mark is my best friend, my confidant, and seemingly the other half of my brain.  We've shared everything from dreams to thoughts to food cravings.  I've never doubted that he loves me, though I've often wondered why he does.

And, in spite of all the reasons we probably shouldn't, we work.  

We have fights and disagreements and off days, of course.  Everyone does.  And they suck.  A lot.  He's the one person I tell everything to, and when I can't talk to him because I'm furious with him, it kindof limits my options. (Though, apparently, I can yell at him with my brain.  So that's a plus.)  

So.  It's been two years since we both gave in to the apparently inevitable.  I don't know what I would have done without him in my life, and I know he's probably turning multiple shades of embarrassed red while reading this.  But if I'm going to be honest on here about the bad parts of my past, I also want to be honest about the good parts of my past, and my present.  Because though I still have PTSD and emotional baggage, there are a lot of good things.  And it's not just my job and my friends and my dog.  It's the love of my life, too.  He makes my life better, and I hope that I do the same for him.

And so ends my ridiculously sappy post on this sort-of an anniversary.  Perhaps next time I'll talk about my experiences taking Fish Eye Fun pictures of body builders, or my hopefully upcoming trip to the brand new IKEA, or my tips on how to survive working every single day of the week (spoiler alert: coffee).

Anything but romance and emotions. 

Thursday, October 1, 2015

The Inherent Tragedy of a Finished Book

Books Bought
Angels and Insects: Two Novellas, by A.S. Byatt
Babel Tower, by A.S. Byatt
Zelda, by Nancy Milford
Wild: from Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail, by Cheryl Strayed
The Alchemist, by Paulo Coelho

Books Read
Voracious: A Hungry Reader Cooks Her Way through Great Books, by Cara Nicoletti
Journey to the Center of the Earth, by Jules Verne (audiobook)
Ready Player One, by Ernest Cline
Here Be Monsters! by Alan Snow
Stuff I've Been Reading, by Nick Hornby
H is for Hawk, by Helen Macdonald (audiobook)
(most of) Angels and Insects, Two Novellas, by A.S. Byatt

It's the beginning of a new month, and I'm already exhausted.  It's been a full week of work (made fuller than usual with two weddings this past weekend and working from home on Monday). I've also been slightly more domestic than usual lately.  I blame the onset of fall.  Cooler weather not only brings out the leggings from my closet but also brings about a stronger desire to cook.  And snuggle under blankets.  There have been very few complaints about this from the peanut gallery.

It's also brought about an uptick in my reading.  I've been a bit more avid about burying myself in a book than in the past few months, and it shows in my accomplishments.  I really don't know where I find the time.  I think I've just given up on sleeping.

With the end of September comes a change in the way I do my reading lists on this blog, thanks to one of this month's books (a perfect gift from the lovely Anne when she came to visit last month).

Stuff I've Been Reading, by Nick Horby, is a wonderful collection of the essays Horby wrote as reflections on his monthly reading list and ruminations on his books bought list vs. his books read list, essays which, I must say, far outshine my past few "reading list" blogs.  So?  I'm going to rip off the format from Hornby... I mean borrow from.  Commandeer, if you will.  Nautical term.

Hey, writers snag ideas and inspiration all the time from other writers, so why can't I?  (Apparently I've decided since last week that I am, in fact, a writer. At least for now.)

Since there are far too many coincidences in my life to be coincidental, I wouldn't dare to say that it's a coincidence that I read Nicoletti's Voracious in the same month that I started cooking more.  I bought it one night after dinner with Mark at Pi, one of our favorite pizza places.  Left Bank Books is just a diagonal jaunt across the street, so it's hard to avoid "just looking."  It was the first of two "books about books" that I read this month.  I adored both, but Voracious, for some reason, thrilled me in a way that was surprising for how simple the book itself was.  I guess it's not that surprising.  It does, after all, combine two of my favorite things: books and the food in books, complete with truly delicious-looking recipes.  And no, I haven't made anything from the book yet, but it's only a matter of time before there's a cherry pie on the table.

Nicoletti's essay/cookbook mash-up is everything it promises to be.  She takes us through her whole lifetime of reading and food, starting with childhood and moving forward.  The essays are short, sweet, and heart-felt.  They are not long, drawn-out, soul-searching works, and that is fine, because they don't need to be epic works to show the deep-rooted love Nicoletti has for great food and great literature.  It's highly possible that I identify a little too strongly with her and am more than a little annoyed that I didn't keep up on my own blog about the food in books.  Such is life.

In the same vein, Stuff I've Been Reading is another book about books.  It's definitely more high-brow and sarcastic, which is fine by me.  I chuckled to myself throughout the whole book, constantly prompting my boyfriend to ask what on earth I was laughing about.  Needless to say, the list of books I want to read has sky-rocketed this month further and further into the unimaginably unachievable range.  But what else is new?

If there is a lesson I learned from both books, however, it is that I never, ever want to read Cormac McCarthy's The Road.  Ever.

Not all books can be winners.  Journey to the Center of the Earth was my least favorite book this month, which is almost unfair considering how excellent most of the books I read were.  Yes, it's a classic, blah blah blah.  But that doesn't mean I have to like it.  This view, I might add, is a more recent revelation to me.  Young, idealistic Ashley was of the firm view that classics were required reading and that if you didn't like them, you were missing something.  Older, lazier Ashley has learned that yes, you can and probably should read the classics, but you don't have to be their staunchest defender.  Some of them are boring and hard to pay attention to (particularly when read in Tim Curry's sonorous voice).  That's not to say they don't have merit.  But it is to say that I don't have to lie and say that I loved a book when I didn't.  So.  I didn't love it.  Moving on.

This brings me to a book I completely loved: Ready Player One.  Loving this book was a bit of a surprise to me.  It wasn't a book that was even on my radar, besides hearing that it was going to be a movie.  It sounded more like a gamer boy book, and I'm not a gamer in any sense of the word.  But I read this article about books "as enchanting" as Harry Potter, and it was listed on there, along with other favorites like The Night Circus and American Gods.  And while wandering around a bookstore with the boyfriend (Yes, we do a lot of that.), I picked up a copy of Ready Player One and mentioned the article I'd read.  Mark, having not-so-secret motives of wanting me to buy the book so he could read it, encouraged me to get it.  And since I never need much encouragement to buy another book, I did.

Cline's fantastic debut novel is one I would never have appreciated as much a few years ago as I did now.  Correction: it is not a book would have appreciated as much without the influence of my boyfriend.  Without him, I wouldn't know half the references I did.  I wouldn't know Oingo Boingo, or The Last Starfighter, or Explorers, or Heathers (to be fair, Alexis helped with that one too).  As someone born in the mid-80s, my 80s pop culture knowledge is middling at best.  It was only a few years ago that I actually saw all the Back to the Future movies all the way through.

Ready Player One is a love song to geeks, gamers, and all things 80s.  That being said, even if I didn't have my new-found 80s education, I still would have enjoyed the book immensely.  The trivia knowledge that you may or may not possess is a cherry on top of the ice cream sundae of a wonderfully-told adventure story, or like an Easter egg you weren't expecting to find.

Following up on the books that became movies theme (also the reason I bought Wild, hopefully to be read next month), I read Here Be Monsters!, which I honestly only picked up because I realized it was the basis for the adorable The Boxtrolls movie (another thing I can blame on the boyfriend: he "made me" watch the movie.  Terrible man.  Truly.)  However, if that's also your motivation for reading the book, I'd caution you to reconsider, or at least to forget that the movie was allegedly based on the book.  Because outside of the existence and inherent nature of boxtrolls and a few characters with the same name and plot lines involving cheese, there's really nothing to connect the two stories.  Once I got over that dismaying fact, I was able to enjoy the book.  It's a quirkily dark young adult novel (there are strange creatures like cabbageheads, rabbit women, and pirate rats that run a nautical laundry, for starters), the first in a series that I probably won't be reading more of because really, I don't have the time.

Helen Macdonald's is a sadly sweet, compelling memoir of Macdonald's struggle to get over her father's death through training a goshawk.  She winds in stories of T.H. White's life and his own book about training a goshawk, aptly titled The Goshawk.  Both authors are tormented souls, grasping at straws and falconry as a means to stay afloat in their grief and pain.  The audiobook is wonderfully read by the author, but I think her aching voice would carry through any text, read aloud or silently.

There is, as Mark put it, an inherent tragedy of a finished book, a strange binding up of satisfaction and dismay.  Though I'm currently in a "read all the books" mode and have been tearing through books as fast as I'm able with limited reading time, I have often felt the internal struggle of I-want-to-finish-this-book-but-don't-want-it-to-end.  After all, a truly wonderful book wraps you up and doesn't let you go when it's finished.  You don't want to pry yourself out and ease into the unfamiliar arms of a new story.  Ready Player One came closest this month to reprising that feeling.  I know Mark, who dropped A Feast for Crows without hesitation to read Ready Player One when I finished, definitely felt it.  I'm not sure he's done much reading at all since.  Of course, A Feast for Crows is a definite swamp of a book, so I can't say I blame him.

We've both become apostles of sorts for Cline, having both recommended Ready Player One to friends and strangers alike, only just stopping short of going door to door passing out stacks of paperbacks.  There are all-too-few books I feel that way about, and I certainly never expected to feel that way about a book I was ready to write off as a gamer boy book.  Great literary fiction?  Yes.  John Irving novels?  Yes.  Books about books?  Yes.

But it's books like Ready Player One that keep me reading, and reading everything.  Correction: it's books like Ready Player One and people like my nerdy boyfriend that keep me reading everything.  I've become far less of a book snob since knowing him, and I'm a better reader (and person) because of it.  Not only does he introduce me to 80s movies and music, but he gets me to read things I never would have on my own.  Without him, I would never have read Terry Pratchett, or the Odd Thomas series, or the Myth Adventure books, or several excellent steampunk novels.  I mentioned the young, earnest reader I used to be earlier?  She still tends to stick around and turn up her nose at things like science fiction, fantasy, and Dean Koontz as a whole.

But I've gotten better at beating her down, as you can see by this month's varied book list.  There are two non-fictions (one even being half a cookbook), a memoir, a YA novel, a classic, and a contemporary fiction.  And the majority of a typical high-brow Byatt novella pairing.  These days, I read just about anything someone gives me (eventually - I do have a very long reading list, after all), but I'm always pleasantly surprised when a book outshines any pretentious expectations I happen to put on it.

I guess that cliche about not judging a book by its cover sometimes holds true after all.

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Writers Block and Other Excuses

It's been a week since I told you all that I'm not perfect.  I can only assume you're back this week in hopes of more of the sordid little details I let slip every now and again.  I can't blame you.  I would be too if I didn't already know them all.

If that's what you're here for, you might want to come back next week.  I can't promise any scandal or emotional stories this week, because it's been a week relatively free from emotional or physical trauma (then again, it is only Wednesday), but you never know.  I suppose you'll just have to keep reading to find out.

For those of you who have known me for a while, you know I used to be a writer.  Apparently, I even used to be pretty good at it.  I say "used to be," because I don't feel that I've qualified as much of a writer for quite some time.  Doesn't the saying go "a writer writes"?  Well, I haven't really written lately.  And by lately, I mean years.

Then again, that was one of the points of starting yet another blog.  To write.  To maybe find the voice that I lost somewhere along the way.  And, shockingly, I've written a total of 12 actual blog posts (this will be lucky 13).  True, I have spent the past several years stocking up on some excellent source material, but still.  It's something.

So, to be fair to myself (someone has to be), I guess I've been a writer for at least the past 10 weeks.  "Writer" here is a loosely used phrase, seeing as blogs are often considered to be the bane of the literary world, a dark mark on the highbrow sensibilities of the literarti.  I can't claim that I disagree.  This blog is probably only one step above the journals I kept when I was a teenager, with the major difference being I don't hide it under my bed and I no longer have an all-consuming crush on Ryan Beal.  If Facebook is to be believed, and it usually is, Ryan is currently a tattooed and pierced delinquent, whereas I am an obviously highly successful divorcee doing an astounding job of being an adult.

But we'll give this poor excuse for a public soapbox a break and say that yes, I am writing.  So long as we're being magnanimous, I've also written some recent love poems on the bathroom mirror.  It's not a conventional medium, and I don't expect wide publication, but I think they've been received well by their intended audience.

Honestly, it's a start (the blog and the poems).  I hope.  If you'll remember back to last week, you'll recall that I'm a renowned perfectionist.  This makes being an out-of-practice writer extraordinarily difficult.  Nothing is good enough, because nothing is as good as it used to be.  (Does this all sound familiar?  It does to me.)  I even respond with thoughts of "really?" when people tell me that they like my blog.  

But, like the rest of my life, I guess it's time to start trying.

And, like the rest of my life, it's not easy starting over.

Not to brag, but writing used to be easy for me.  The words were always there.  I wrote everywhere: at home, on the road, at work, at school, at church.  I wrote in notebooks.  I wrote on the computer.  I wrote on bulletins and scraps of paper.  I wrote in the margins of my class notebooks.  I, basically, wrote.

I had ideas.  I had images.  I had turns of phrase that delighted me.  I had titles and character names and backstories and plot twists.

These days, I'm lucky I can come up with a blog every week, much less a sappy note on the mirror.  To tell the truth, the only reason I'm writing about writing this week is that I didn't know what to write about.  Brilliant, I know.

It's not even that I have the quintessential "writer's block."  There's no block.  There's nothing to block.  It's more of a writer's wasteland.  The words are gone.  The ideas are gone.  The characters who used to spring into my mind, as fully-formed as Athena, are gone.

And I don't know where they went.  I don't even know what happened to make them leave.  It certainly wasn't just that I was unhappy.  I had written plenty when I was most deeply unhappy: great, angry, resentful, love-sick poems and pages upon pages of my meanderingly unfinished novel.

I think it was that I stopped feeling.  (Is that a hint of emotional over-sharing?  I think it might be!)  I stopped feeling deeply unhappy in favor of drinking and bad decisions and distracting myself from said unhappiness.  I'd like to note that I am exceptionally good at distracting myself from my own unhappiness and that numbness, for me, can be surprisingly easy to accomplish.  Just have a few drinks every night, pick up an exorbitant number of new hobbies, and forget that there must be more than this provincial life.  You, or at least I, can coast along on that for years at a time, provided the love of your life doesn't come along and completely wreck the illusion.

It's not surprising that the mass exodus of my creativity followed the forced numbing of any real emotions.  Emotional death is an obviously inhospitable climate for ideas.  There's nothing to latch onto, nothing to stimulate or grow.  The wasteland metaphor comes back into play here.  I willingly created a mental desert and wondered why I couldn't write.  

So what now?  I'm self-proclaimedly happy and free, feeling all the normal range of adult emotions again, starting my life over, etc, etc.  Where are the words?  Where is the ease of creativity?  I'm ready and waiting here!

No?  I have to work for it like nearly every other tortured writer on the planet?

That's hardly fair.

But hey, that's life.  It's not fair and it's not easy anymore.  "Suck it up, buttercup," as my boyfriend is so fond of telling me.  He's also rather fond of telling me I should write more.

I'm trying, alright?  I'm writing a blog.  I write the occasional poem.  I may even sometimes feel the stirrings of vague creative potential.  

It's not War and Peace, but I guess it's better than a blank page.

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

Newsflash: I'm Not Perfect

Today is a day where I really don't know what to write about.

It's been a busy few weeks for me.  As usual.  I've been reading, working, cleaning, and being as social as possible.   I got a much-needed, wonderful massage.  I even went out last Friday night and played laser tag.  I was shocked, believe me.

I also celebrated my one year anniversary of working at Fish Eye Fun on Saturday!  Appropriately, I was working.  In some ways, I can't believe it's been another year marker in my life.  The markers are getting better, though.  One year of being on a phone plan with my boyfriend (and therefore one year of finally having an iPhone), which hardly seems possible.  And now one year of working at the best job ever.

My first, rainy night of Fish Eye.
One year later, and still not tired of wedding cake. Or really big glasses.

My event was out in Cadet, Missouri.  Don't worry, I'd never heard of it either.  It was over an hour away on a pretty awesome little farm.  I don't particularly mind when I have to drive for events.  I listen to audiobooks.  I get to see places I've never been before.  I get to look up a the end of the night and be amazed by the countless number of stars you can see in the country.  Plus, the drive back helps me wind down enough that I can go to bed almost right away when I get home.

When I was telling my mom about my event, she asked me a question so very typical that I shouldn't have been surprised, but I still was.  She said, "Is this something you really see yourself doing when you're forty?"

I get it.  My mother worries.  She always has.  She always will.  And really, I can't say that I blame her that much.  After all, I've made some pretty horrendous life decisions in the past that she tried to talk me out of.  With my current life decision batting average, I possibly shouldn't be even be trusted to make my own choices anymore.  So it's not surprising that she should be worried about if I have a plan for my life, or worried about the fact that I'm not doing what she thinks I should be doing.

And you know what?  She's right.  I don't have a plan.  I had plans before.  They didn't quite work out.  So now?  I don't have the greatest or most concrete plan for my life.  I'm seeing what happens, and dealing with it when it does.  So far, it's working out better than before.

But the bigger thing is: I like my job.  More than that, I'd even say I love it.  I like the office work portion.  I like the weekend photography portion, even though I might complain about some aspects.  I'm happy and doing something I enjoy for the first time in seven years.  I don't have the angsty first-world-problem, liberal arts degree regret about feeling unfulfilled like I did with any other job I've had.

And even more than that, I love my relationships, romantic and platonic alike.  I have the strongest, most loving and supportive relationships I've had in years, and it's wonderful.

I still feel like it's not good enough.  I'm not good enough.  At least, it seems, not to my mother.

I know she doesn't do it on purpose.  It's not a malicious attempt to make me feel bad.  It's done out of incredible love.  It doesn't make it easier to deal with.

Part of the problem is I'm a perfectionist who hates disappointing people.  I've always felt incredible guilt and regret when I can't do or be what's expected, when I can't control the way I'm seen, when I can't live up to my own standards much less those of anyone else.

Do you know how to control a perfectionist?  It's easy.  Threaten to tell someone else that said perfectionist is, in fact, not perfect.  It's always worked like a charm with me.

As a child, I threw terrible temper tantrums.  I screamed until I was hoarse.  I cried until I couldn't stop crying.  I threw things.  I told my mom she hated me.  But.  I only did this at home.  I never threw a tantrum in public, because I didn't want anyone to know I was bad.  I wanted everyone to think I was perfect.  And all my mom had to do was threaten to tell someone I admired about what I was doing, and I would stop.

Fast forward to a little over a year and a half ago, when my ex and I were separating.  I confessed, crying, that I didn't want anyone to know what had happened.  I didn't want them to judge me, to know my secrets, know that I was living a lie.  And he told me that no one would have to know if I just stayed with him.  I could still be perfect in the eyes of the world.

It almost worked.  The desire for perfection (no matter how false it would be) almost won out over the desire for happiness.  I felt like that child again, choking back my overwhelming emotions so that I could be the good little girl I wanted everyone to think I was.  It was possible, I thought.  I could give up what I really wanted and stay married.  Then I wouldn't be a failure.  I wouldn't be talked about behind my back.  That status quo would be upheld, and I would keep doing what I was expected to do.

(I feel it's no coincidence that it was during this period of indecision that I finally watched Frozen while miserably wrapped in a blanket on my couch after a book club meeting.  I even confess to crying during "Let It Go," because my God, this damn Disney princess was singing about my life.)

Try as I might to "be the good girl you always have to be," even I couldn't hide how unhappy I was, how torn I was about what to do.  So I confessed the truth of my messy, imperfect life to a few of my closest friends.  And I waited for the judgement.

But, amazingly, they didn't judge me.  They didn't look horrified or disappointed.  They told me they loved and supported me, no matter what I'd done and no matter what I decided to do.  Some of them told me about their own messy, imperfect lives.

Sometimes I forget that we are all messy and imperfect, and we all have secrets (maybe those secrets aren't as big as mine were, but secrets nonetheless). I focus instead on the fact that I am imperfect, and that's an all-consuming thought at times.  But we all make choices and decisions that might not have been the best or wisest, but we made them and all we can do is move on and live our lives as best we can.  I can't constantly worry that someone might think less of me for what I've done or not done.  Because then I'll just get caught up in the same web of false perfection, of living my life according to what someone else thinks is right, rather than what I think is right.  I did that.  It was pretty awful.

Not that I'm suddenly cured of my perfectionism or need to please.  Obviously far from it.  My mother still can make me feel like I'm making all the wrong choices, but I've at least come to terms with the fact that my friends are more than aware that I'm not perfect.

But shhh.  Don't tell anyone.

Just kidding.  Mostly.