Farewell, sweet boy.

JJ_2015I have been preparing myself for this moment for just about a year, when the tiny lump on JJ’s hip was diagnosed as cancer. The vet told me he might only have a few weeks, and he went on to spend another 53 weeks with me.  I have never been so acutely aware of my gratitude for the gift of time.

Our “meet cute”

In February of 2005, I was living outside of Minneapolis.  Eight months earlier, I had moved 1000 miles across the country to take a job that was now finally starting to let up in intensity.  I decided it was time to look at adopting a cat.  I drove up to Maple Grove – about 30 minutes north of where I lived – because I liked the Super Target up there and I knew there was a Pet Smart nearby.  I would just look.  I would take my time making a decision.  After all, this cat that I adopted at the age of 27 would be with me through much of my formative adulthood.

I walked into the cat adoption enclosure at PetSmart and I immediately heard a very loud, “MMMRRROOOWWW”.  (This was not a simple “Meow”.)  The big brown & grey tabby cat from which the sound emerged was just standing up in his cage looking me straight in the eyes.  His green eyes were amazing – and he didn’t seem angry or sad or excited.  He just demanded attention.  The name tag on the cage told me that the cat was named Jason.  (My closest friend at the time was also named Jason, and it felt like a little bit of fate intervening.)

The employee asked if I wanted to meet any of the cats, and I asked about Jason.  She told me that he was the last of four identical brothers, 10 months old, and ready for immediate adoption.  She opened the cage and before I could even reach in to pet him, he crawled up on my shoulder and made himself at home.  It was, I thought, definitely fate.  I renamed him JJ, because a cat named Jason was weird.  A few weeks later, my friend Joe stopped by my apartment to pick something up, and upon entering the apartment, JJ immediately crawled from the countertop to Joe’s shoulder.  Turns out that is just a thing he did.  I wasn’t exactly as special as I thought.

Two weeks after adopting JJ, I adopted a tiny 6 month old kitten named Dulcie, who became Ava.  Ava was – from the very first day – JJ’s cat.  She tolerated me – and sometimes even liked me – but she loved JJ.

A lot of miles, moves, and milestones

jj2016_2.jpgJJ and Ava have been with me through five moves, including the 1000 miles back home to PA less than a year after I adopted them.  They were with me when I bought my first house.  They adapted to a full house when my sister, brother-in-law, nieces and two dogs moved in with us for a few months.  Ava spent most of her life hiding, but JJ just held his ground with toddlers and dogs alike.

JJme2017For the past 14 years, JJ slept beside me virtually every night – most recently sleeping on my shoulder and up against my face until he thought I was asleep, and then getting down to sleep in his own bed in the corner of the room.  He was a terrible nursemaid when I was sick, because he thought that sleeping on my chest or face could fix whatever ailed me; but I almost always let him do it anyway.  In the 14 years that we had together, we both changed a lot.  We both settled down.  We both slowed down.  We both got a bit bigger.

He was my Instragram inspiration, my beloved pet, and my very best friend.

I have been preparing for this moment for a year, but I am not prepared.

jjme2019.pngAnd so I have been preparing to let him go for the past year.  Every time he started to get on my nerves by being too clingy, for meowing too loudly, or for waking me up in the middle of the night, I reminded myself that I didn’t have forever with him.  I genuinely cherished each moment in a way that I wished I had been able to do with people in my life over the years.

And so today I said goodbye to my sweet boy.  JJ.  Jay-gers.  Jayge.  I’ve had so many pets before him, and I will have many more come.  But no one will take his place.

Celebrating the love she leaves behind.

(Eulogy for my grandmother – delivered December 12, 2018.)

IMG_0573When we were kids, there was almost nothing that Mommom wouldn’t let us do.  Jump on the bed?  She’d lead us in a rousing game of “Chop Chop Timber”.  Play in the mud?  She’d draw a bath and make sure our clothes were clean before we went home.  Drink Pepsi for breakfast?  “Just don’t tell your mother.”  If we broke something, she’d just shrug and say, “No one got hurt.”  And if we did get hurt, she pull out the band-aids and assure us that we’d be better before we were married.  I didn’t even know that she knew how to be angry until that one time I used her sewing scissors to cut paper.  (One time.)

Her patience with us as children was indicative of her patience with everyone.  She accepted that people made mistakes, and she forgave easily.  Where others held grudges or distanced themselves from people in their lives, my grandmother would forgive and find the good.  She didn’t always understand the decisions other people made, but she didn’t have to understand someone to love them.  She accepted that everyone was flawed, and she loved them anyway.

She opened her home to anyone who needed a place to stay – for a night or for a year.  There was nothing that she had that couldn’t be borrowed, and nothing that she owned that was more important than the people in her life.  Mommom was embarrassed by nothing and allowed herself to enjoy life without worrying about what others might think.  She literally danced as if no one was watching and sang as if no one was listening.

If you didn’t know her well, you might begin to see the picture of a woman without flaws – but most of us know better.  And the things that I loved about her the most were those perfect imperfections that made her who she was.

She was stubborn.  She didn’t think that she was always right, but right or wrong, she was going to do things her way.  She was a selective hoarder – of buttons, scraps of fabric, jars of jelly far past their expiration date, and 10 year old poinsettias that looked like barren collections of twigs but still produced a flower every once in awhile.

While it was my Mommom Amond who had the vocabulary of a sailor, it was Mommom Burd who taught me to curse creatively – taking every day words and infusing them with the spirit of profanity.

IMG_0560 2She believed – above everything else – in living her life, rather than striving for perfection.  She appreciated what she had, and she never wanted anything more.

Her legacy will continue to impact the world for many generations to come.  She shaped and helped to raise four strong-willed and independent granddaughters, and two great-granddaughters coming up behind. My dad has her goofy sense of humor and her inability to be embarrassed by much of anything – and her ability to accept the imperfections of others.  And it is my aunt who has inherited her endless generosity and caring, her compassion, and her heart.

As you leave here today, we ask you to reflect on and celebrate the impact that she had on you.  Maybe it is as simple as a favorite recipe that she shared. Maybe she helped to care for your family when someone was sick.  Maybe she gave you a place to stay, a loan, or just the gift of her time.  Or maybe she taught you to forgive easily, forget quickly, laugh often, play without embarrassment, and love without conditions.

Live your truth. Tell your story.

I have been feeling a bit lost for the past few months, and I’ve struggled with the things that typically feed my soul.

I stepped away from political conversations for a little while. I couldn’t reconcile the commonly held belief that the time for civility and compromise had passed with my own need to engage, understand, and find the common ground we all know exists.

I felt like my footing in the social justice movements was shaky; I was uncertain how to speak from a place of privilege without drowning out the marginalized voices that deserve to be heard.

I came dangerously close to giving up on my dream. I became overwhelmed with the effort and sacrifice required to get there, and I forgot about the purpose and passion that made it all worth the climb.

Needing, Seeking, and Finding Inspiration

I had lost my way and many of my former sources of inspiration had become sources of confusion and stress.  It was time to find inspiration in unexpected places.

The “Comedy” Special that will bring you to tears

If you have not yet taken the time to watch Hannah Gadsby’s entire Netflix special, you need to make time.  Make time.  Don’t put it on the in background while you are doing something else.  Sit.  Listen.  Laugh. Really listen. Cry. Laugh again.  I dare you to come away uninspired.

The Six-Hour 12-Hour YouTube Black Hole that Hasn’t Actually Ended Yet

I fell into a YouTube hole that I have not quite emerged from after discovering a speech delivered by writer/producer/director Dustin Lance Black. If you aren’t familiar with him, Lance won an Oscar for Best Original Screenplay for Milk, and his recent TV mini-series When We Rise is definitely worth 8 hours of your time.

But beyond his work in Hollywood, he’s an activist and an advocate. Lance doesn’t just write scripts about the critical history of social justice movements, he makes history in those movements.

The common theme that resonated so strongly for me across both Hannah and Lance’s messages was the need to tell your story.  YOUR story.  YOUR truth.  From privilege, from oppression, with laughter, with tears… your story has value.

live your truth. tell your story. tattoo.Ironically, this message that I needed to hear is a message that I had tattooed on my arm earlier this year.  This is a message so important to me that I literally had it embedded into my skin.  I see it every day.  And yet I forgot the essential truth:

read. listen. engage. do good. do right. cry. laugh. dream. accept. love. live your truth.

tell your story.

I took out the trash tonight.

9590924 - close up of a garbage bag on white background with clipping path

I took the trash out to the curb tonight.  Six large garbage bags of trash.  And when I came into the house, I got a little bit emotional because I was proud of myself.

You see, I haven’t taken the trash out in weeks.  Every week, trash day would come and go, and I wouldn’t do anything.  I wanted to.  I thought about it.  I would give myself pep talks. I would berate myself for being lazy and a slob.  But every week I didn’t do it.  I didn’t have the energy.  I didn’t care enough.

Everyone who suffers from depression suffers differently.  For me, the clearest sign is my trash.  For the past few months, I’ve been battling a bout of depression and I am just getting to the other side of it.  It took me awhile to recognize it for what it was, and then it took me a little while longer to schedule an appointment with my doctor.  And then it took a couple more weeks for the new medication to start working.  And every week, the trash piled up.

I’m not sharing this for sympathy or attention.  I’m sharing because talking about depression is really hard.  It’s virtually impossible to do when you are suffering from it, and when you get past it, you really don’t want to dwell on it.  For some, admitting that you are taking medication for it feels like weakness.  For others, you are just too afraid of the judgment that comes with mental illness of any kind.  For anyone, talking about depression is hugely vulnerable.

So maybe I can shine a little bit of light into someone’s darkness.  If you haven’t taken out the trash in weeks (or whatever that represents in your life), it CAN get better.  If it feels like you are living under a blanket that you just can’t shake off, there are people who want to help. Maybe medication isn’t the right step for you, but talking to someone almost always is.

If it helps, that someone can be me.

Life moves pretty fast. If you don’t stop and look around once in awhile, you could miss it.*

 

(This blog post should be subtitled,  Holy shit, what have I done?)

About a month ago, I was talking with my therapist about risks.  I have always thought of myself as risk adverse, while she pointed out that some of my decisions could be thought of as risky to others.  On my recent weekend in Gettysburg, this came up again when a fellow traveller thought my solo travels, which are restorative for me, were brave and awesome.

My therapist and I landed on a theory about my perspective on risk: For me, putting together a plan, communicating and sharing that plan, and being held accountable for the execution of that plan is what I find to hold the most risk.  I’m not talking about a project plan at work or a planned vacation.  I’m talking about a life plan that requires me to communicate what I want to accomplish to other people, who could then potentially see me fail.  I have rarely furiously pursued things that I was passionate about because of a fear of failure.  Not that I haven’t failed.  I have.  Spectacularly.  But it’s easier to fail when you were pursuing something that didn’t matter all that much in the first place.

(Oy.  Stephenie B – as I wrote that I realized that you and I talked about the same damn thing the other day with perfectionists and exposure, and I just now made the connection.  Now I want to rethink everything I’m about to say, but I still need to just get it out there!)

prettyfastLast Tuesday, I was accepted to graduate school.  Not just to audit a history class that was never going to be my life’s work, but to get my master’s degree and ultimately be licensed as a mental health counselor.  To change the direction of the rest of my life. And I really want this.  I want it so badly that I’m willing to go to school full time and work full time.  I want it so badly that I’m willing to tell all of you about it, put myself out there, and risk the possibility that I might fail.  I don’t think that I will–this isn’t about pessimism versus optimism–but I could, and I’m still pursuing it.

Today, I bought a house.  My mom, my dad and I are moving in together, just a few doors down from my sister and her family.  Our houses aren’t even on the market yet, but the perfect house came up and I needed to take a risk, make a long term plan and commit. Sharing a house with my parents in shouting distance of my sister, brother-in-law and nieces?  If that isn’t risky, I don’t know what is.  But I’m all in and I’ll do whatever it takes to make it great.

What is the connection to Ferris Bueller?  I have jumped right into the deep-end of this risk stuff this week.  It’s happened so fast, but I want to stay present and aware of this moment and this shift that is happening in myself and in my life.  I think in two or three years, I’m going to look back on this period of eight days as the moment my storyline shifted.

 

* If you didn’t already know the origin of the quote, you haven’t watch Ferris Bueller’s Day Off enough times.  How many times is enough?  It’s never enough.  Watch it again.

We are all awesome ladies.

IMG_1060Last Friday, after a long week, I took myself away for a weekend.  Just a quick trip to Gettysburg – a bed and breakfast, a morning at the spa, and a day of historical tourism.  A perfect weekend.  There was much reading.  There was a fireplace.  There were freshly painted toenails.  It was a perfect weekend.

On Sunday morning, I enjoyed breakfast with a couple of fellow travelers – and after explaining that I was, in fact, traveling alone and that I did so quite often,  one of my new friends remarked that I was an “awesome lady”.  It was brave, she thought, to travel on your own.

While I try to remind myself that I am an awesome lady as often as possible, I have not, generally, thought of traveling solo as a brave act.  For me, it is firmly within my comfort zone to make a last minute reservation, throw some stuff in my car and take off for a few days.  I can also acknowledge the immense amount of privilege in my life that allows me to do this without worry.

My intention with this short post is not to either shake off or lessen my own “awesome-ness”, nor is it an attempt at #humblebrag (although re-reading the paragraphs above, I’m afraid that’s how it has come across).  My point is that someone else looked at my actions as brave, because it was something that she wished to do.  I need to remember that things that I take for granted as easy and comfortable are, in fact, small acts of bravery that make me awesome.

But that is true in reverse, as well – those acts of bravery that I see others accomplishing that are awesome and courageous.  Taking a yoga class for the first time.  Raising children.  Being a volunteer fire fighter.  Standing up in front of a classroom of children or teenagers as a teacher. Driving a large truck.  Performing on stage. Tiling your own kitchen backsplash. Eating exotic food. Running a 5K. Wearing white pants.

There are a million brave acts – some large and some small – that I observe with awe.  Every single one of you has done something that I think is unbelievably brave, possibly without even a second thought.  So you, too, are awesome ladies (and gentlemen).  Embrace your unique brand of bravery!

 

Even if you can’t relate to my challenges, perhaps you might relate to the struggle.

I'm still here!I haven’t written a real blog post in over six months. It isn’t that there hasn’t been anything going on with me. It isn’t that I don’t have things to say. Figuring out how to say it, however, has been a challenge that I’m only just now even attempting to meet.

I recently wrote something for another venue where I talked about my passion for creating safe space for others to share their personal challenges and triumphs. While I think that this safe space is often something very intimate – one-on-one conversations with a friend – I also believe that sharing my own imperfect journey via social media is a way of opening up some safe space, albeit in a far less intimate way. Even if you can’t relate to my specific challenges, perhaps you might be able to relate to the idea of struggle.

After having to say goodbye to the most amazing therapist (due to her move to another state), I am happy to say that I have found another, similarly wonderful person with whom I can continue to learn. With her, I am addressing two of my personal addictions – shopping and food – in a way that I have never done before, and quite frankly, with mixed success. Now very conscious of my previously unconscious thoughts, I find myself putting an extraordinary amount of energy into recognizing, acknowledging and redirecting my thoughts. It is exhausting and has made me more irritable and difficult than normal. But I’m noticing changes in my thought patterns already, which is just enough to keep me going forward.

I am also trying to understand and address some lost relationships that I’ve experienced over the past year. I would be lying if I said that I didn’t understand why these ties dissolved, but what I don’t understand is why I allowed it to happen. Some of the most important relationships in my life have been frozen this year, and I have not taken the steps that would be necessary to restore them. It’s a failure that I am deeply ashamed of, but I do still feel stuck in inactivity.

And while those things are addressing the negative energy, there is a lot of positive, as well.   I believe that I’ve finally figured out what I want to be when I grow up. I’m pursuing a path that feels right in a way that nothing really has before. And while I’m not yet ready to discuss the details, I will be sharing more in months to come.

I swore I would never move again.

I swore I would never move again.

With all of that happening, I am also preparing to sell my house and buy a house with my parents. I am certain that this will spawn many blog posts to come, as preparing to live together again is challenging, exciting and a tiny bit terrifying. We’re still six months away from any actual move, but preparing two houses for sale, planning to consolidate into a single house again, and mentally preparing for everything involved in selling, buying and moving… The stress of such a move starts early.

I do plan and hope to return to blogging more often in the months to come. I suspect that my posts may become more personal—more about myself and less about the world at large. I have no doubt that I will return to social activism from time to time, and hopefully in a bigger way in the future, but for now, I am giving myself permission to focus on my own world.