A Jealousy of Dysfunction

I’m going to admit something I’ve never admitted before. I am jealous of people who possessed a good, decent, and normal upbringing. I’ve spent some time wishing I had that one key thing which ripples across the surface of so many facets of a lifeline. I know that having a normal upbringing wouldn’t have guaranteed me success. I know I wouldn’t be the person I am today without my flawed upbringing. There are some wonderful things I might have missed without that dysfunctional sidecar.

I’ve had to learn interpersonal communication skills as an adult that I should have been taught as a child. These things would have helped me with everything from developing and keeping friendships to being successful in the workplace. Some of these missing skills would have made me a better parent. These tools would have helped me make better decisions and choices in my life. I would have avoided some heartbreaks.

I would have succeeded in life much sooner.

Yet, when I look back at my life, I am grateful for the things I went through and the things I experienced growing up. Yes, life could have been easier for me. I have mostly learned the hard way, sometimes the hardest way. I am glad that I’ve made it as far as I have and wonder if I had been brought up differently if I would have been able to reach the same level of experience that I currently have.

So, while I wish that my growing up had been in a nurturing, close, loving and supportive environment and while I wish that I had been taught all the profound moral values while being surrounded by knowledge and diversity, perhaps by being the child of University Professors or Business Professionals, I accept that I was not involved in any of these things. I accept that what I wanted and what I needed were two different things. I’ve accepted the life and challenges that life has brought. Rarely has my life been easy but neither has it been so difficult that I couldn’t figure it out.

While my upbringing lacked, my adulthood has been an active process of learning and growing and creating the life I want. My adulthood has been the classroom where I taught myself, searched for truth, filled the voids, fixed the holes and learned to develop a resilience to my dysfunctional sidecar. I’ve learned to grow through what I go through. I’ve learned that a lifetime of self-improvement is more valuable than having a cookie cutter foundation and wasting it anyway.

I feel like in the end, I probably turned out the same. I just have a heavy rich suitcase full of unique experiences that are better than any I come up with for one of my fiction stories. These experiences will pepper everything I write, every character, every scene, every motivation and for that I am grateful. So, while a part of me is still a touch jealous or envious of those with great childhoods, I am glad for the variance in our society, knowing each of us can take control of the handlebars and lose the sidecar, anytime we want to.

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Writing Allies

Writing is perhaps the greatest love of my life. I estimate that I have been writing regularly for twenty years. This is a solitary practice for me and something I can do anywhere I go. While I have shared snippets over the years, including college papers and a short stint as an editorial columnist, and exchanged letters with dozens of people, I am still shy when it comes to sharing my work.

Within the last two years, between blogging and writing groups, I have managed to not only share my work but openly embraced criticism and in doing so gained new perspectives. Seeing my work through the eyes of others is thrilling to me. Listening to fellow writers read their creative versions of the same writing prompts is absolutely mind-blowing. The communities that I have found myself in elevate my soul in ways that I cannot express on paper or even verbally.

I have gained these “writing allies” through my connections with writing and the sharing of ideas. I am encouraged and supported by these other writers, these other amazing souls who speak the same language I speak and allow me to be myself and explore my writing possibilities. They are great companions to my personal studies of character arcs, mirror moments and plot points.

I am grateful that I now have a strong circle of amazing writers around me. Their verbiage is like a secret language that beacons me to open my imagination to the possibilities around me. When they can relate to something I have written or find the beauty and depth in the smallest seed of my writing, I feel as though I have won some grand prize. The fodder exchanged between writers contains a fertile space where the cross-pollination of opinions and ideas becomes an accelerator. We are all steering the craft with each piece we read and every project we write.

It is also a relief to hear how another writer’s struggles against their inner critic, their worst enemy, their inner naysayer, their impostor syndromes. Even for many published writers the criticism of family and friends, critics and reader’s reactions can all be cruel or overwhelming. It is nice to have others to turn to who know and share the pain of rejection and criticism. It is comforting to hear another person who says, “yes, I can relate to that.” I don’t know that there are many other communities like this one. Ones where the souls are connected and tug on emotional strings. It’s good to know that I am not alone as I sometimes feel.

Yes, I want nothing more than to be a professional full-time writer, being paid to do what I love, working from my cozy little room surrounded with my armamentarium of books, word-processors, paper and pens, supportive quotes, special red editorial pens, and desk mascots. I would love to churn out amazing stories that my readers love, can’t put down and can’t get enough of. I long to mingle with masters of the craft at writer’s conferences and go on writing retreats. My biggest and most ambitious dream is to become a successfully published author who can churn out a best-seller every year. I don’t know if I can really make any of these things happen for myself but I am damn sure going to try and enjoy doing it. I know I couldn’t do it half as well as I do without the assistance of my writing allies.

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Brain Sputtering

I look at the clock. The arms don’t seem to be moving and the digits all look identical. Something inside me pushes against time, wanting everything to just hurry along. Does anyone have time for all the bullshit little things that we have to do and sit through each and every day? All the tedious things that seem to take forever? All the dreaded things?

I am not sure how I came out of that place, but I know it happened slowly as I sifted through my own mush and bullshit. During this period, I had to constantly remind myself to slow down, after all, what was the big hurry? Is it weird that I had to teach myself how to enjoy life’s every moment? Shouldn’t that just be a built-in part of being human? Shouldn’t that just be a given? Yet my anxiety-ridden nature could do nothing of the sort. I had to just get to the other side of things and quickly. The pattern was most noticeable with watching movies. I could watch a film I know I had seen and in some cases not remember a single moment of the film. I discovered the problem was, since all I was thinking about was getting through it, I rarely paid any attention to what was going on. At first, I thought the problem was my memory when really it was my lack of focus, my desire to just “get through it”.

I am not sure if it relates but I also battle a touch of dyslexia. I loved words so much that I fought back my constant poor choice of which letter was correct b p d or q (which ironically still happens frequently when I type). I find that both my hands and my mouth will betray me and either say or write a word that sounds similar to the one I want to use but is utterly incorrect. I catch it a lot when I am editing a piece that I have written really fast, my brain sputtering out a placeholder so that I can get the right word in the right place later. It happened all the time in my earlier years and I was dubbed “dingy”. It doesn’t help any that when I have this “verbal dyslexia” in public I get so embarrassed that I giggle uncontrollably. Ah, but what is life without all it’s little flaws and inconsistencies?

I have never had any kind of treatment for these brain misfires of mine. In my late 20’s, I luckily followed a path to study Psychology and in a storm of self-repair went through a wide variety of self-help books, classes, and therapy, shedding light and doing remodels of all the glaring personal blemishes that covered my interior walls. I also took my love of words for a walk and have challenged myself to improve my speech and vocabulary. Improving my typing speed has been the most challenging. After over a year solid of typing every morning at the computer for at least 20 minutes, I have not yielded any noticeable improvement in my speed or accuracy. That part is disappointing. Perhaps in another couple of years…

Oddly enough the one practice that has helped me the most is to just be grateful. I just stop myself for a still moment, close my eyes, take a deep breath, as I let it out I allow myself to smile. As I open my eyes I remind myself to just enjoy the moment. I don’t know if anyone else suffers from or experiences these things. I don’t know but I am guessing at least some of these things are familiar to most from time to time. I try to always smile, even through the bullshit. I try to enjoy every moment. Some days it’s harder than others, some days there is just too much bullshit and we all just have to do the best we can to get through it as quickly and painlessly as possible. No matter what though, I always have time to be grateful.

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Photo by Seth Doyle on Unsplash

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I Read to Write

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve joked or commented that I wish I could get paid to read. I always envision myself, all curled up on the couch in comfy clothes, my back cushioned on pillows and my legs tucked underneath blankets, a pile of books and snacks on the table next to a cup of hot tea as I sit intently lost in an open book.
Until a couple of weeks ago it hadn’t dawned on me that it could really happen. Yet there I was, sitting in on a conversation about all the ways that writers could make money doing writer related jobs while they work on their novels. The topic of audiobooks came up, to which I joked was my “other dream job” (with the first dream job being a full-time writer, of course!). There was a stir in the room and something stirred inside as the others told me that I could do it, that I should do it. That is when I was introduced to the idea of doing an audiobook audition.
The following week was a whirlwind of research and watching hours of Youtube videos. My research was on everything from microphones to editing software. I got a used USB microphone. I started to learn and utilize the free software that I found called Audacity and played with recording my own voice. I watched video’s on narration and voice-overs and practiced recording myself reading. At first, I was choppy and mechanical. I repeated the same sentence over and over in different tones with different inflections. Finally, I moved my make-shift studio into half of the closet in my writing room. I have arranged, recorded, and listened to my audio, over and over again until I finally felt satisfied with the results.
Luckily, I am proficient enough with a computer that I can set-up, record and edit the tracks easy enough. Now that my “booth” is set up the way I like, I have spent the last few days practicing. I’ve enjoyed the practice so far even though I have to repeat things over and over again. I’m quickly developing an ear for what sounds good. (Although, I now know by heart almost an entire random text out of “A Wrinkle in Time”.)
After my limited experience, I would have to say, this is a good job for someone with some acting skills or background, neither of which do I have. But I long to be an amazing storyteller. I get to try my best to present a story with all the intention and excitement an author has put into the story thus far. I get to dress it up and take it out for a stroll. It seems to me a little ironic that for the last two years, my focus has been on becoming a better storyteller and now I get a chance to… just not in the form I expected.
I still have my dream. I would still love to become an author. I will still try. But I now feel this is also part of my journey. I know that doing this, whether I succeed or not, will help me become a better storyteller. Perhaps this is a door I must walk through to get to the other side or perhaps this is just the next piece of my writing evolution. Either way, I am here and learning and doing as much as I can to tell good stories, to share great ideas and to perhaps add to my working resume. I am both intrigued and blessed by this opportunity and I will do my best to honor it.

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Blooming and Buzzing

Sitting on my back deck, I hear the buzz of the bees against an azure sky. They dance from flower to flower, fully enjoying my lavender in early bloom. There are more bees out than last year and I am happy for that, we need bees.

The ants are out too but there always seems to be too many where I live. At least they don’t bite like the ones in Florida where I grew up. The ants we have here in the NW are called sugar ants and that is usually what they go for. They march in through unseen cracks and open windows as a continuous stream of moving invaders.

All of the plants on my deck are either blooming or budding and I light up each time a new one exposes itself. Right now there are blooms of pink, red, purple and yellow. Within the next few weeks, these will be joined by blooms of blue, white and orange. I am sad the daffodils didn’t last long this year, my tulips never bloomed, and I can’t remember seeing any crocuses this spring either. The temperatures have been too warm.

A determined spider takes advantage of the light spring wind and casts a wider net. We all catch lunch in our own ways. The sun tempts us all to be more active and in turn, we get a little hungrier. The busy buzz of the bees inspires me and reminds me to keep moving, keep working and to stay persistent. To do work for its own sake and to never stop trying.

The birds have been chirping and singing for hours now and it makes me wonder what all they must be saying to each other. People are busy too, their lawn-mowers revving to cut the tall grass, the sounds of nails being driven into wood and motorcycles speeding down the highway. It’s not warm enough for the squeals of a sprinkler. It will likely rain tomorrow anyway.

So, I wanted to say, thank you Spring for your warmth and sunny skies! Thank you for the new leaves on the trees and the lavender for the bees. Thank you for longer days and shorter nights and thank you for your bloom and buzz alike!

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The Girl No One Saw

Growing up, I had what I will call, an alternative childhood. I loved books and one of my greatest unmet childhood desires was to be read to. My mom and step-dad worked crazy hours and there was rarely anyone around to guide me or nurture me let alone read to me. Without a present parent, the circumstances were far from ideal. I did not have sleepovers or even a best friend. How could a girl have a best friend when she had no clue how to even be a friend? Now, as an adult writer, it is my job to not only write about what happened to me but how it affected me and how I grew because of it. Most importantly, how I managed to get through to the other side.

I’ll be honest. I made it through by stumbling my way along, picking up experiences as I went. I learned life-lessons from sharp comments and public humiliation. I learned how to laugh because of social ostracization. I learned how to do things by watching others from the sidelines of life. The perpetual wallflower. The fly on the wall. The girl no one sees. Finding better ways to be ignored rather than to be abused or humiliated was my central goal during my early years. During this period, I tried to make myself small and insignificant– to which I succeeded for the most part but also hindering my growth.

Also, my alternative childhood left me too scared to try new things, a problem which has continued to plague my adult life. I was not taught that it was okay to make mistakes because that is how you learn; I wish I had been taught that one. Instead, I was taught that not only was making mistakes a bad horrible thing but that I was only good at making mistakes. That was my everlasting teenage state. I was always wrong. I was born wrong into a world that would always see me as wrong, a single weed in a valley full of beautiful flowers.

But in a way, these turned out to be good experiences. I learned to entertain myself. I learned to embrace my weirdness and used it to create laughter when I could. I was semi-cautious and managed to stay out of trouble for the most part. However, I’ve struggled as an adult to learn all the things I missed out on as a child. I’ve found that as a writer, I must observe everything around me in detail, and in doing so, I also am able to shine a light on my own flaws. “To succeed in life is to be able to transform.”

I think this is why I like writing so much. I can write to my heart’s content. I can let it all spill out on the page. I can use what I find within myself, deep below the surface. I can take what I learn about myself and transform my ideas both on paper and in my mind. I can choose what I focus on and how I focus on it. I can find my own alternatives and develop positive action.

When I share what I have written, I am always surprised to find others who feel how I feel, have had similar experiences, or who share my perspective. It reminds me that no matter how alone I feel, I’m not. There might not be many people like me in the world, but there are enough of us that I can finally open to the world around me. I cannot change it no matter how much I want to. All I can do is observe and adjust my own sails. I will always come up with solutions. Being resourceful is how I have made it to my alternative adulthood. Growing is how I made it to the other side.

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Personal Essay #52

It was about this same time last year I had made up my mind I was going to do it. I wasn’t sure if I could, I had never tried anything like this before. It was a whole new experience and a whole year of it as well. I was excited, I was nervous, I was hesitant even. But just like that, I made up my mind to do it, to write and post one personal essay a week for every week of the year. It was my writer friend Julia who suggested it. I admire Julia’s writing prowess and decided she put it in my path for a reason. The final result isn’t just this last essay but an experience that brought so much to my life. So, as we get ready to enter 2018, here is essay #52 for the project #52essays2017.

So, first off I would like to say a quick thanks to anyone and everyone who has followed me along this bumpy journey. There is so much about this I will miss. Second off, I would like to apologize for not following standard protocol regarding things like technicality and style or even expected structure for that matter. Technically my pieces are not “personal essay’s” as far as format goes. I have always written this way to figure my own thoughts out, never really thinking that structure was needed for things like sticky feelings. Well, this challenge has sent me into a heavy-handed era of learning in my writing life and I know that my pieces here haven’t met those expectations but I am okay with it. I stuck to my initial vision while I focused instead on learning more about the actual craft of writing. Thereby using this as almost a personal journal at times.

I also realize that it was highly uncreative of me to never actually name my pieces, even though the numbering seemed effective enough. I struggle with that and am working on it along with all my other weak spots. I also didn’t always write from the heart. Sometimes it was just about getting through it and getting it done. Out of all 52 pieces, there are probably only 15 that I truly love and am proud of. But I committed to this and I wanted to finish, no matter what. I learned how to be brave by sharing my words with the world. I am grateful that no one bashed me for following my own path and that some of you might have actually gotten something out of this too. I don’t think I’ve never grown more in one year as I have because of writing these.

This challenge had some unexpected results. I found my voice. I finally found it. It’s eluded me for decades and I am so happy to have stumbled over it as I was focusing on other things, like learning the actual craft of writing. My writing voice still needs work and I will continue to give it a daily workout even though I won’t be writing these anymore. I considered it but I have a long list of writing goals for this upcoming year. I will still be writing essays but now they will be fully developed and I will take my time with them until they shine. It sure was nice to color outside the lines though.

This year I’ve done so much more with writing than I ever have and more than I ever thought I could or would. This was the year I didn’t quit. Oh, there were points I wanted to. About half-way I think. I hit a wall and thought that I couldn’t go on. But I did. I pushed through that wall like the Kool-Aid man and I came out the other side the happier for it. I learned how to persevere. I learned how to follow through. I learned how to push myself even when I didn’t want to. I learned not to let life get in the way of my writing. I learned that I can always do more than I think I can if I just keep going. I learned not to give up. I am a better person and writer for it all.

I want to thank Vanessa Martir for creating this challenge and giving so many of us a chance to walk through this wordy jungle and add something unique to our writing lives. This was just the recipe I needed. I got something indescribable out of it. Something that changed me forever. Perhaps someone reading this will decide to give it a shot for a year and it will change their lives as well. I personally am walking into 2018 with a little more confidence, a lot more knowledge, experience, and my writer’s voice. I am ready for the next leg in this journey. Farewell, my friends.

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