Bumping Your Nose Against the Glass: Thoughts on Caregiving, Being Strong, and Self Care

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Don’t those words sound pretty?

They sound pretty in that behind the glass at a jewelry store type of way.

You see them sparkle. They draw you in close. But before you know it, you’re bumping your face on an invisible barrier that keeps you from reaching them. Over and over you try to break through. If only you could touch one, hold one for a moment, you know you’ll feel worlds better. But you can’t. No matter how hard you try, you just can’t reach. The only thing you can feel is that enlarging hole in your self worth and a busted, bloody face.

That’s the major struggle of being a caregiver.

For many caregivers, they have one job and one job only. It’s an all consuming position that has little to no time for that pretty concept called self-care. Their one job is being strong.
I grew up in the late 80s and early 90s when Strong Man competitions were popular on TV. Early morning or late at night, on one of the seemingly endless ESPNs, there would be big muscle dudes pulling or picking up big heavy things. And wrestling. Oh my word, there was so much wrestling in the late 80s and 90s that my little eyes couldn’t look away. Those sports helped me to develop an idea of what being strong meant.

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To young sports entertainment fan I was, being strong was being able to do things with your body. Being “strong” was being able to work through the pain to make changes. Even if the changes were moving a giant tire or body slamming a giant man. Being strong was a purely physical thing.

After years as a caregiver,

I’ve learned just how wrong that thought was.

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Being strong is watching your loved one become sick, and knowing there’s nothing you can do to stop it.

Being strong is knowing that no matter how much you accomplish, there will always be something else that needs to be done.

Being strong is waking up at all hours, making serious decisions on an unholy lack of sleep.

Being strong is bathing someone who can not bathe themselves.

Being strong is watching the words and phrasing you use to keep your loved from one feeling like they are worthless. It’s remembering they are more than an illness. It’s dressing their emotional wounds along with their physical ones.

Being strong is offering a shoulder to cry on and an arm to lean on, physically and emotionally. It’s being a sponge for the emotions someone won’t or can’t handle.

Being strong is balancing appointments and medications, checkbooks and utilities. It’s knowing what food you can make a meal out of and what type of soap to buy.

Being strong is standing during the storms of emotions and the tidal waves of unhealthy words because sometimes your loved one has been reduced so low that they are not who they once were.

HOWEVER

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Being strong is also saying enough is enough.

Being strong is not feeding into someone’s negativity

Being strong is providing recommendations instead of solutions to someone’s problems.

Being strong sometimes is saying “No.”

Being strong is taking action to patch your own sails when the winds of another have left them battered.

Being strong is practicing the dirty parts of self care. Self care is as ugly as it is brutal. But there’s strength in that pain. There’s a beauty in breaking what you think is yourself to clear the path for a better you.

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I have been strong.

But at the same time, I have not been strong.

I have often taken on the weight of the world when I should not have accepted it.

I have willingly placed myself in pain to help others feel less. I have not been able to tell someone when their actions have hurt me. I have not been able to take a step back, even when it was vital.

I tell you all this not as a pat on the back. I am not saying I’ve done these things to make myself a martyr. I do not need recognition for my actions. So many women in my life have worn a crown made of bitterness and passive aggression and asked to be praised for it. I do not want that weight on my head. I do not want heads bowed at my feet.

What I want is to be accountable for my actions. The ones that are good for others and the ones that are good for me. I want to be strong enough to do both. I want to breathe without having to make sure there is room. I want to put roots down and have a bit of the sun too.

I don’t have a plan.

I have a desire. A necessity.

I’ve read about it, I’ve written about it. The stars as my guide, dammit, it’s now time to live it.

All I’ve been doing is window shopping lately.

And I’m tired of bumping my nose against this glass.

 

 

Photo by Vince Fleming on Unsplash

Conjure and Coffee Recommends: Cartoons (That Aren’t Rick and Morty*)

If you are in you in the 30+ crowd like I am, you probably grew up in one of the best time blocks for animation on TV. Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, Thundercats, TailSpin, G.I. Joe, Duck Tales, Batman: The Animated Series, Animaniacs, X-Men, the list is exhaustive. Basically, any type of hero we needed, any story we wanted to hear, any sort of friends we were lacking in real life, were there on our screens on Saturday mornings.

The cartoons of the 80s and 90s were my first taste of visual escapism. It was because of the X-Men cartoon that I jumped into comic books. It was because of April O’Neil in TMNT I learned that being a lady journalist was badass. And I’m pretty sure I remember the capitals of the states primarily because of Wakko’s song from Animaniacs. For a lonely weirdo kid, these cartoons were my friends. They were my muses. They were my babysitters. The animations dancing around on my TV during that time helped provide a burst of color to my, and I’m sure others, young life.

Significant animations weren’t limited to just the small screen in the 80s and 90s. Who Framed Roger Rabbit, which might be the first and most iconic marriage of live action and animation, was released in June of 1988. That movie was a brilliant merging of what had been seen as a typical art form for children with the storytelling of an adult feature film. It would become a heavy influence and inspiration for animation for decades to come. Disney spent those two decades putting out some of the most influential and lucrative animated films in history.

Maybe we did live in the gap between Cinderella and Frozen, but we had The Little Mermaid, The Lion King, The Nightmare Before Christmas, and Toy Story. Kindly say “There’s a snake in my boot!” or “This is Halloween” to a peer of yours and I will bet you dollars to donuts, they know exactly what you’re referencing. And too, if you’ve never held your cat (or child for that matter) outstretched while chanting Rafiki style, I don’t know if we can be friends.

That being said here are 5 cartoons that I personally love. And I think, if you gave them a try, you’d love them too.

Adventure Time

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Adventure Time is the classic tale of a boy and his dog going out in the world. But the world is a surreal post-apocalyptic land full of candy people, vampires, Ice Kings and Bubblegum Princesses. Oh, and the boy is the last human and his dog can shapeshift and talk.

In the midst of all that, some ultra heavy real-life issues are tackled. Love, loss, friendships, family alienation, and loneliness are just a few of them. One of my favorite things about the show is that during this hero’s journey that Finn and Jake are on, Finn and the world around him age. Characters grow and relationships change. Storylines mature along with their characters.  The canon for this show gets DEEP. And occasionally, dark. Very dark and very emotional. Also, keep an eye on the supporting characters. They are all wonderfully fleshed out and many have complicated backstories of their own. There are quite a few strong female characters that are both heroic and flawed. Which is pretty much how the world works.

To say my family loves this show would be a disservice. How important is this show to my family? Well,

This is Jake, our bulldog.

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And this is Marceline, our daughter.

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Where and How to Watch:  Adventure Time is still airing on a limited schedule on Cartoon Network. You can find the whole series on Hulu, Amazon Prime Video, iTunes, and Youtube. (subscription/service fees may apply)

Gravity Falls

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Did you watch The X-Files and Twin Peaks growing up? I really think Alex Hirsh, the creator of Gravity Falls, sure the heck did.

Gravity Falls follows fraternal twins Dipper and Mabel Pines as they spend the summer with their Grunkle Stan in a weirdo oddball town in Oregon. Grunkle Stan, who is probably the greatest con man not working the tent revival circuit, runs a Ripley’s Believe It Or Not rip off roadside attraction called the Mystery Shack. The oddities Grunkle Stan charges people to see are nothing compared to the actual oddities that roam the surrounding area. Gnomes, giants, one-eyed interdimensional beings, everything is possible and probably probable in the town of Gravity Falls.  Like Adventure Time, the story here is deep full of unexpected turns. Not only does the show tackle the always creepy, always unexplainable Pacific Northwest, it also struggles with sibling relations, socio-economic inequality, zombies, age differences, friendships and the struggles of being the weird kid. We’ve all been the weird kid so those feels are real.

Where and How to Watch: Gravity Falls has run it’s course and reached a logical closure point. Reruns show sporadically on Disney XD. You can find the series in its entirety on Hulu, Amazon Prime Videos, iTunes, and Youtube. (subscription/service fees may apply). If that’s not enough to satisfy you, check out the Gravity Falls Graphic Novels!

 

Summer Camp Island summer_camp_island_9

This show is brand new but has fast become one of my absolute favorites. Summer Camp Island follows the adventures of best friends Oscar, an elephant and Hedgehog, a hedgehog as they go to summer camp on, you guessed it, an island. But wait? Did that camp counselor just poof into a witch once the parents left? And did that tree just come alive?  And holy sparkles, do those marshmallows have teeth?!

Summer Camp Island takes the surrealism of Adventure Time and builds on it. The show’s creator, Julia Potts, actually worked on AT as a story artist. The character dedication and storytelling are very similar and just as enduring as that of AT. My favorite episode revolves around Hedgehog turning into a werewolf. No spoilers but I promise, that episode hits home on many, many levels. The overall theme of accepting and celebrating your personal weirdness and being true to your friends isn’t honestly presented enough.

Also, anytime there’s a sassy witch with pink hair, I’m all about it.
Where and How to Watch: Summer Camp Island is currently airing on Cartoon Network and on Boomerang. They actually just completed a 24-hour marathon of the show! If you aren’t hooked by now, they really want to make sure you are! I’m not aware of any streaming options but the CN app may have it available.

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First, to get it out of the way, Rebecca Sugar is a genius and I have a total crush on her. Like Julia Potts, she worked on Adventure Time. Her last episode as a storyboard artist for Adventure Time was the Emmy nominated “Simon & Marcy” from season 5.  After that, she left Adventure Time to start her own show, Steven Universe. Which just happened to be the first show on Cartoon Network created solely by a woman.

Steven Universe is about the adventures of the young man who the show is named for. Steven’s life is little more complicated than a normal beach living son of a musician turned car washer. That’s because his Earth isn’t quite our Earth. His Earth has The Crystal Gems, a group of magical humanoid gemstone aliens who guard Earth. Steven himself is half Gem as his mom Rose Quartz was the leader of The Crystal Gems. There is so much more here I’d really love to tell you but you really need to experience it for yourself.  The show focuses on a lot of the same things as Adventure Time and Gravity Falls. Steven Universe, however, has some a-freaking-mazing sci-fi world building. There are adult sci-fi shows that lack the expanse this show has. Also, Steven Universe is beautifully LGBTQ+ friendly. It is one of the most accepting and empowering shows of any genre on TV currently.

Steven Universe is for Everyone!

Where and How to Watch: Steven Universe is still airing albeit on a modified schedule, on Cartoon Network. It is also available on Hulu, Amazon Prime Video, iTunes, Youtube, and the Cartoon Network app. (subscription/service fees may apply)

 

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Ruby Gloom started not as TV pitch or idea but as a stationary line made by the Mighty Fine company. With books and backpacks, pens and fancy paper, Ruby Gloom was initially marketed towards the goth subculture before being turned into a kid’s TV show. It started airing on Canadian TV in late 2006.

With its goth underlying still shining, Ruby Gloom is a wonderful concoction of humor and darkness. With characters that are just flat out adorable for those of us who spent too many summers dressed in all black, it’s ultra relatable and easy fun. Skull Boy, Doom Kitty, Misery, and Iris join the titular character as they try to look on the bright side, no matter how dark and dreary it might be.

Also, the music in this show is outstanding. It’s surprising how good the musical storytelling is in the show. When was the last time you heard Zydeco in a kid’s show? Or in any show? It’s cool on it’s own!
Where and How to Watch: Ruby Gloom is no longer airing. You can find it to stream on Amazon Prime Video and iTunes. (subscription/service fees may apply)

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Today, animation has been solidified as a serious art form. From Cartoon Network to Sundance, Disney XD to the Academy Awards, animation is not just for children. Often times, it’s able to tell stories that live action can’t quite grasp. And sometimes that’s even with the help of anthropomorphised animals, fairy tale creatures, magic, and above all else, friendship and love.

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  • I want to take this space to admit that I’ve never really watched Rick and Morty. I hear, from multiple people from multiple stations in life that it actually is hilarious. I just can’t get over the clips I saw of Rick and Morty fans being cringey as fuck in an effort to get some Szechuan sauce at McDonald’s. Maybe it is badass and I’m missing out, but eh, I’ll take a pass. Also, that constant burping thing is kind of gross. As an addition sidenote: if you noticed, I left shows like Archer and Bojack Horseman off the list. They are great shows but have all the hype they need.

 

 

When Dinosaurs Ruled The World

In the summer of ‘93, I was an eight-year-old jorts wearing tomboy, covered in mosquito bites and baseball caps. I spent most of that summer playing in the dirt at my great grandma’s house. It had been a weird year for me. I was a year or so removed from a near catastrophic knee injury (remember kids, don’t ride double on a moped. Not even with your dad), my sister was a toddler and my mother was dealing with an impending hysterectomy. It was a very confusing time. In the chaos that all of that brought, I found solace in three things. Baseball, pro wrestling, and dinosaurs.

 

And 1993 was a very, very good year to love dinosaurs.

 

The commercials for the movie started earlier in the year. Water rippling in colossal footprints, talons through metal gates and the now iconic clip of a young girl shining a giant flashlight into a dilating pupil of something huge and monstrous. I was hooked. I was feverish. I don’t think, outside my family and my little mutt puppy, there was anything I loved more. Without really knowing much about the movie, or any movie really, I knew I had to go. I had to see it.

Pretty soon, my closest cousin was in on the excitement. We’d spend hours reenacting the trailer over and over each time adding a little bit more. We’d trampled through our great grandma’s woods for hours searching for dinosaur bones and pretending the chickens were velociraptors. The briars and kudzu were toxic plants from another age. Smashed elderberries were our blood stains as we battled imagined terrible beasts.

 

When we finally made it to the local cinema (which teenaged me would nickname “The Enema”  much later) we were beyond ready. We paid our nominal fee, grabbed some over buttered popcorn and sat in the darkness.

 

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The next 2 hours and 7 minutes would change my life. 

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And not all of that change was because of the prehistoric beast in the story. Even my eight-year-old brain understood how different this movie was. Yes, it had special and practical effects galore.  But it also had female characters doing the heavy lifting. It had eccentric weirdo-nerds saving the day by loving their craft openly and out loud.

Ellie Sattler was never a damsel in distress. She was a woman of science. Even though she was in a relationship with Grant, she was his equal. Her knowledge was her own. It wasn’t built around her connections. Her bravery, courage, and intelligence made her a hero. She was brave not only in dealings with the dinosaurs on the island but also with the hubris of the males around her.

 

Lex Murphy wasn’t a clueless little rich girl. She was a hacker daredevil that helped reset the park and ensure the group’s survival. Yeah, she screamed a lot, but who the hell wouldn’t? She was also a woman of morals. Even the in the midst of the worst event of her life, she stuck to her beliefs in vegetarianism. If I were being chased by hungry carnivores, I’d probably want to rip some meat apart solely out of spite. She was loyal to herself and her family, biological and collective.

 

Ian Malcolm was more than a sweet talker in a leather jacket. He was like the 007 of chaos theory. He was cool, he was suave, he was unapologetic. He made math and being a geek sexy. He was also unbending in his opinions. He was unafraid of the fat cats with deep purses. He constantly viewed his truth as being more worthy than monetary gain. And he was right.

 

Jurassic Park inspired me in ways I don’t think I fully understood until much later. It strengthened my desire to do well in what years later would be touted as the STEM field. Because of how important math, science, and tech was in that movie, it pushed me to focus on those avenues and go further. Even on an elementary school level, I knew that if I wanted to actually become a paleobotanist, I was going to have to focus on math and science. Math was a struggle for me when I was younger. But that one night at the theater (and many, many Blockbuster rentals) showed me how important that struggle was.

 

That night, watching that movie, changed my young life. The next year at school I was placed in the gifted and talented program.
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Now let’s jump 25 years forward.

33 year old me is standing in the same theater (now known only as “The Enema” in my mind) with my just turned 10-year-old son going to see the latest in the Jurassic Park franchise, Jurassic World Fallen Kingdom. We grab popcorn and soda and take the same outdated cushioned seats that I sat on in my single digit years.

 

Everything in the theater is almost the same as it was a quarter of a century before. The curtains covering the walls were still dark, but I’m not sure whether it was from age or dust. The seats were squeaky and uncomfortable, from hundreds of butts spending hundreds of hours of movie escapism in them. The popcorn was still less than grand, but still not quite as overpriced as the mega cinemas out of town. The ticket prices are still incredibly low, even with the dollar increase. (“All shows before 6, all seats, $4”). The No Smoking sign was still there but it now read No Texting. It was the very same place with just a slight timeline shift.

 

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To celebrate his tenth year of life, the Not So Little Anymore Guy and I were going to watch some dinosaurs. He had seen the other Jurassic Park movies, but not in the theater. I hoped that the magic I felt as a young person would still be in there for him. I hoped that the movie would inspire him the same way its predecessor had inspired me. I wanted him to see the connection between absolute badassery and science. I wanted those strong characters that showed him there was no need to fit into any one stereotype. You can be this AND that at the same time.

 

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Instead, we got a disaster movie full of generic bad guys, flat characters, and jump scares. It just didn’t have the same magic that the first movie had for me. I don’t think he came away from the movie wanting to jump into science or to study dinosaurs. He was excited, he had a great time, but in the five minutes or so drive home (small towns for the win), he was pretty much over it. The movie was all fluff and no filler. There was no meat on those bones dancing around under all that dino CGI. It’s not one of those things where I expected him to be moved the same way I was at his age. I wanted him to have his own experience and I had great hope it would be wonderful.  I just expected the movie makers to do better. I miss the heart that the original movie had. Maybe I’m looking back with nostalgia in my eyes. Maybe we live in a time where it’s easier to produce thousands of frames of computer generation instead of sustainable storylines. I don’t know. It’s like the whole movie felt like a glass of soda after being left out all night.
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I don’t mean to make it sound like I didn’t have fun and enjoy him grabbing for my hand when a there was a surprising swerve. I did. I loved seeing the movie with him so much. I know how special that moment was, for both of us. In a handful of years, he’s going to be a teenager. I will probably, at least for a short moment in time, not be his favorite person. Soon, I will be the out of place dinosaur, living in an era not my own.  And that’s ok! That’s how things are supposed to work.
This trip to the movies, just the two of us, will be memorable forever. The experience of us giggling to each other after a sudden scare or whisper-yelling that the old lady down front needs to get off her phone will forever be recorded in my heart as something significant. Shared moments always are. The movie may have lacked the importance that its predecessor had for me, but the event of seeing it with my son was worth so much more.
I wouldn’t trade it for all the money spent on special effects in all the Jurassic Park movies.
I never became the paleobotanist that I dreamed of becoming. I never became a computer hacker or a chaotician or any type of person of science. I became a mom. And while I’m not bringing the stories of the past to life for another try at existence, I am trying to make a path for the future by loving my kids the way they need to be. And if that’s by having special moments watching less than stellar films, then I’ll gladly go see the next five Jurassic Park/World movies.
Dinosaurs ruled the world once. Soon the same will be said of us humans. We shouldn’t expect every generation to be motivated and inspired by the same things.

Life, after all, finds a way.

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Windows Down

In this part of the Carolinas, Summer comes hard and fast.

You see, our Winters aren’t that deep. We don’t dip below the freezing mark enough for it not to be first alert news when it happens. Our Springs are barely a handful of weeks worth of stretching in preparation for the long run that is Summer.

This year, by the end of May, Summer had taken root. The first week of June saw highs in the low 90s and humidity well over 50%. It was like it was going to be for at least the next four months, hot.

It was during that week that I had a rare solo trip out. This trip was the kind of event that house locked stay at home parents look forward to. The kind where you’re running benign errands, but you’re doing them ALONE. No kids, no pets, no significant other. Just you and your to-do list. The kind where you can hear your own thoughts for a change. Not just the unending ramblings of the ones you hold dearest. Cause while you love them, sometimes you love the quiet a little bit more.

Since I was alone this day and was set to be in the car for a while instead of turning on the car’s air conditioner, I rolled the windows down. And much like the advice in a poorly written Country song, I turned the radio up. My solo jam session had begun.

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Uninhibited by the roar of the wind and the thump of the bass, I sang. I sang and sang and slowly, every drop of my build up emotions were loosened. I don’t fancy myself a performer in the slightest, but there in my car speeding towards a routine everyday thing, I was something on display.

The phone cut into the music when my husband called. I told him to hold on while I rolled up the windows.

“Wait, why aren’t you running the AC? It’s hot as shit.”

In my head, I could see his face wrinkle when he asked this. One of his eyes becoming smaller than the other from the effort of trying to figure me out. We’ve been married 13 years, he wears this look frequently.

“I dunno, I like having the window down.”

I didn’t dare try to explain my thinking that it’s cheaper to have the windows down. Or my theory that going ten over the speed limit makes up for the air being hotter outside than what the car’s AC would throw. True, it was warmer, but there was more movement, more excitement, more to get lost in. The regurgitated air of the AC would have felt nice. It would have prevented the line of sweat that dampened the back of my shirt. But it wouldn’t have opened my soul like the windows down music up combo did.

“You’re still broke Angela from Buford.”

There was no malice in his statement. It was a teasing truth mentioning the backwoods community I grew up in.  Even though I’m at a place in my life where I have comforts I couldn’t have even dreamt of as a teen, I often revert back to the behaviors of my dirt road, poor as shit younger self.

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It’s more than just coupon cutting and discount shopping.(Which, don’t get me wrong, I love. RetailMeNot is bookmarked and thrift stores are life) Like many people who grow up in poverty, chasing escapism became an important part of my life. Not being well off enough for video games and too athletic and clumsy for sports, music was my path of choice.

Every song was a story and through them, I got to live. I knew heartache and struggle. I knew friendship and fun times. I knew love, loss, and a little bit of Jesus. I even knew a boy named Sue. When I got older, the flavor of the music changed. I learned the words for rage sounded a lot like guitars. I learned that a bass beat could speak for my heart. I learned the delicate art of screaming four-letter words without breaking the glass cage around you.

So many times, the only place I could find peace was in the car with the windows down and music blaring. It was there I was able to pull myself out of the ocean of responsibility that I was expected to swim and look at the skyline from the shore. The volume pushed the cheap factory speakers to their buzzing brink and the wind wove my hair in knots that would take hours to undo. But it didn’t matter. Those small annoyances were worth their cost for the small taste of freedom.

So now, a decade or so removed, when I do get the chance, not much has changed. I still drive with the windows down instead of using the air conditioner. I still sing with my horribly out of tune voice at the top of my lungs. It might not be popular amongst my fellow drivers, it such as hell meaningful to me.

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My circumstances are not the same as they once were. I am not the same as I once was. My quest for escapism is now of a different variety. I no longer have to quest to escape the pain of an abusive, restrictive environment. My dashes into rebellion are now to find the person I lost under all this caregiver garb.

The situations have changed but the songs, the roads, and the heat of Summer have all stayed the same.

Featured Photos by William Krause  and Luigi Manga on Unsplash

 

Disconnected

I don’t have pretty words to dress it up. I don’t have metaphors to make it relatable.

I’m drained. I’m empty. I’m disconnected.

This year started in the red. My husband had a scary hospitalization that has since lead to months of dealings with the VA and his jobs HR department. And if you have ever dealt with the VA you understand what a headache that is. More than just the administrative frustrations, I’ve been worried. I’m a worrier by nature so his inclement health has heightened my natural protocols to be a worry wart. Forms, phone calls, driving downstate to the regional clusterfuck of a medical facility, it’s all a perfect storm of frustration and low key fear.  But like I wrote about here, I pulled on that heavy crown and dealt with it

But added to the weight of reigning, is the weight of plebeian life. Kids, schools, pets, and domestic adventures weigh a thousand fucking pounds on a good day. But when you’re running on almost empty, they weigh even more. Balancing doctors visits and IEP meetings, with grocery trips, homework and family dinners requires more patience that I have left in the tank. The chaos of normal life glows neon under the light of stress. And guys, that annoying fucking glow is starting to hurt my eyes.

There are so many things I’m carrying that don’t belong to me. I think sometimes my compassion gets ahead of me and takes the friendship into therapist territory. I often have soft boundaries and am just so thrilled that someone trusts me enough to bring their problems to me I don’t know when to excuse myself. For me, and I think other empaths, emotions are viral. The feelings and energies of others act like a contagion and take over the host. More times that I should have allowed, that host was me.

It’s a balancing act and I’m the Leaning Tower of Pisa. This wavering existence and the darkness it brings has made it hard for me to be me. It’s severed me from the things that I’ve really loved. As more things pile on to my haphazard load, the more I pull away from myself. The things I’ve enjoyed have become harder and harder for me to accomplish.

How do you reconnect? That’s the big question. Thankfully, the internet is full of advice. Self Care is a hot topic. You can find hints and tips from Facebook to Pinterest and back. Hell, I even wrote about it here. That part isn’t hard. The hard part is making yourself commit and implement those strategies into your life. The struggle is not in finding information, it’s in using it.

I don’t have answers. I could sit here and preach to you like the Southern Baptists that pepper my genetic background. I could bombard you with recommended things to try that would guarantee you some connectivity to your life. I could easily just copy and paste some list from some other blog. But honestly, I’m not a good liar. I can’t bullshit well. That’s why I keep my ass away from the poker tables. (That and my horrible math skills.)

So I’m just going to admit that I have a lot to work on. I will acknowledge my part in my own struggle. I will tell you that this is a public declaration that I need to step up my self-care game. I’m going to find the fray in the wires between where I am and who I want to be and stitch them back together. I’m going to grab the receiver and complete the call.

pavan-trikutam-1660-unsplash.jpgPhoto by Pavan Trikutam on Unsplash

 

 

 

Featured Image Photo by Quino Al on Unsplash

C’mon Get Happy…Or Else

In the Seventies, musical sitcoms were a thing. Singing, dancing, canned laughter, and tissue-thin plot lines, as corny as it sounds to us, it was a total hit. It seemed that at any given point, there were a handful of shows featuring singing families on TV. I can only take one musical episode a season at best. I don’t know how people in the 70s dealt with it.

There was one such musical sitcom that featured the story of a family who becomes a band and traveled around the country spreading music, bell bottoms, shitty haircuts and happiness. It was called The Partridge Family. (Get it, because partridges are birds and birds sing? *cue the canned laughter*)

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I personally never watched this show. My childhood was about 20 years too late to be into that mess. But the theme song for that show would become one of those sickly sweet diddies that refuse to die in obscurity. It’s been used in a commercial sense since the damn series ended. You’ve heard, you know it, now everybody sing along!

 

“Hello world, here’s a song that we’re singin’

Come on, get happy

A whole lotta lovin’ is what we’ll be bringin’

We’ll make you happy”

 

Doesn’t that feel a little insistent? Like “Hey, your life might be shit and all but C’MON BE HAPPY!! WE ARE GOING TO MAKE YOU HAPPY!” The goal is happiness and The Partridge Family doesn’t care if you don’t want it or how much it hurts to get there. They’re going to make you happy, goddamnit.

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Photo by Levi Guzman on Unsplash

 

And that’s where we are in society currently. “Happiness’ is the ultimate goal. Optimism is the only vehicle to get us there. Why did I put quotes around happiness? Because our quest is not one for true happiness. The thing we long for, lust for, and wear ourselves to the bone for is for the illusion of happiness. We want others to think we are happy. We want them to think we’ve made it, that we have all our shit in together. These illusions of perfection and enjoyment have replaced our internal need for positivity. The validation from likes and shares has replaced the feeling we get when we generally enjoy something.

Our lives have become little more than pay per minute striptease for Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter. Why would it matter if we are crumbling apart on a spiritual level if our selfies look fly? If those friend request from people we wouldn’t speak to in passing don’t keep rolling in, are we even valuable? If you can’t describe it with a hashtagged word, did it even happen?

Somewhere along the way, we’ve stopped chronicling our adventures in life for our own memories and started curating them based on others.

 

No thumbs up on the pictures of you and grandpa before he died? DELETE!

No one liked the poem you shared that you ripped out from your soul? DELETE!

That tagged picture that showed your real smile, double chin and all? DELETE!

 

Before long we’re augmenting not only our memories but the presentation of ourselves. Our ultimate internet form ends up being one of enduring optimism, polished success, and eternal happiness. And it’s as fake as it is beautiful.

That fakeness is what we are expected to obtain. The real part of us, the part that we are still stitching together, is not welcome. No one wants to see that struggle. There is no celebration of our going through hardships. We are not rewarded for the unflattering things that make us individuals. The gritty nasty parts of us remind others too much of the gritty nasty parts of them. Adding our lives to the collective consciousness of online profiles, special groups, and social coteries often means we enter this unspoken popularity contest. Before we can mentally put together what we’ve gotten ourselves into, it’s too late. Like the frog who doesn’t realize the water is getting warmer until it starts to boil, we waste away until we become one with the system. And then we yell the same rally cry as the people around us, but we do it louder and prouder because we are happier than them, after all:

“C’mon get happy!!”

Happiness and optimism are not feelings you can strongarm someone into experiencing. Forcing them to pretend that life is the emotional equivalent of a teen idol number one song isn’t only foolish, it’s dangerous. It betrays the concept of valid feelings and cheapens the power of the true experience. We need strife, we need struggle, we need unhappiness and pessimism to complete the cycle of life. So while the rest of the world might taking advice from a singing 70s sitcom family, I prefer to take guidance from a 90s-00s band out of L.A. who never wore bell bottoms or tried to spread happiness :

 

“Fuck you, I won’t do what you tell me!

Fuck you, I won’t do what you tell me!

Fuck you, I won’t do what you tell me!”

 

 

featured image:Photo by Sydney Sims on Unsplash

Resting Rose Face

If you’ve been around for a quick minute, you are well aware of RBF or resting bitch face. It’s the unintentional facial expression that makes a person look like they are annoyed, angry, standoffish,  or just bitchy as shit. You know that face both Grumpy Cat and Kanye West make? That’s Resting Bitch Face.

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For some people, RBF has become a badge of honor. A visual representation of their lack of fucks to give. A private celebration of the fact that they do not have to play the part of ‘happy to see you’ to anyone.

For others, RBF is survival tactic to counter unwanted attention, solicitations, and catcalls. We live in a society with individuals who missed the call up to evolve from Neanderthals. Armour is not as stylish as a look that perpetuates the belief that you know how to maim someone with their own appendages.

And for some, like Grumpy Cat, it’s just the way their face looks. It’s a natural thing. Would Aubrey Plaza be as completely amazing as she is if her face was all sunshine and rainbows? No, probably not.

Some critics believe RBF is something that can be cured with a splashing of  tonic made of equal parts “You’d be prettier with a smile.” and “Smile, baby girl.” My stance on them is easy to understand. They’re full of it. Smiles and happiness are not things that are owed to society. Being and appearing pleasant is not something a person is required to do to take up space. We do not have to be nice to be here.

On the other side of Resting Bitch Face is my struggle. I have Resting Rose Face.

What’s Resting Rose Face, you ask?

Well, let me introduce you to Rose Nylund from one of the greatest shows of the 80s,  The Golden Girls.

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The Golden Girls is a situational comedy about four older single ladies sharing a house in Florida. Blanche, the stylish, attractive, man-eater Southern Belle, is the owner of the house. She is joined by Dorothy, a smart, sarcastic, often intimidating divorcee, Dorothy’s mother brash, brazen Sicilian mother Sophia, and my personal favorite, Rose.

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Rose Nylund is the character that just might have cemented Betty White’s fame. Rose was the adorably upbeat, naive, and often trampled upon sweetheart lady from St. Olaf, Minnesota. She was quirky and kind, and often the butt of serious burns from the other ladies. She was the sweet to Dorothy’s salt. And in that, I relate so hard it hurts.


If I had a dime for every time I’ve been called “sweet” I could afford the swanky place in which the Golden Girls lived in a modern day market. Maybe its the shape of my face, maybe it’s my obligation to listen to people who speak to me, maybe its the fact that I smile when I’m nervous. Whatever it is, I have always been tagged as the nice one. I offer Jehovah Witnesses drinks on hot days.. I’ve actually stood around and listened to the people at the kiosk in the mall trying to sell me face cream. I’ve had complete strangers tell me their life stories in public. Weirder still, I stood there and listened!

I have the sort of face that makes people believe I care. Because generally, I do. In my early 20s, I thought being a strong woman meant you had to be an asshole to everyone. I confused independence with selfishness. I thought the only way to be successful and “right” was to be a bitch. It was my mid to late 20s that I learned how fucking wrong that was. Maybe I am a natural pushover. Maybe I’m a natural people pleaser. Maybe I spend too much time with my head in the clouds and take a little too much enjoyment out of the simple things. That’s all okay! I am who I am.

What’s not okay is when this is taken for granted. And it happens, a lot.When people see me or register that I am there, it’s like I’m the human equivalent of a nice cup of tea. They relax and their troubles spill forth. It also leads me to get passed over a lot. While looking kind and friendly is not a bad way to spend your life (and really helps with traffic tickets), it usually makes you seem like the least interesting person of a group. So while the proud extroverts are the ones taking part in all the fun, I’m the type holding purses and talking to old people about their grandkids.

The struggle is real for those of us who have Resting Rose Face. The struggle is also real for those who have Resting Bitch Face. Life is hard. Having expressive faces is hard. The only thing we can do is to just be who we are. And try to thrive, no matter what face we have on.

My Thoughts On Saint Patrick’s Days

I’m writing this on the evening of St. Patrick’s Day 2018. Instead of going out and taking part in the merriment, I’m at home writing in my pjs. The kids are in bed, a crime show is playing at a low volume and I’m trying to decide if I should have a post-dinner snack. For me, it’s just another night while the husband is at work. But outside my boring world, this is a day of celebration.  

Today online has been swamped with countless talk of parties and shamrocks, “Kiss Me I’m Irish” declarations and green beer. I have absolutely nothing against people revelling in a holiday. With the shape of things in the country right now, I can totally get behind a day of hearty fun. If our hands are busy lifting beer glasses they are won’t have time to attack each other. So by all means, drink, eat, and be merry!!

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My gripe and the gripe of so many of my fellow Pagan brothers and sisters is that the snakes St. Patrick ran out of Ireland weren’t the kind that slithers. They were actually Pagans. In a quote attributed to him, his views of the Irish people were explained:

Never before did they know of God except to serve idols and unclean things. But now, they have become the people of the Lord, and are called children of God. The sons and daughters of the leaders of the Irish are seen to be monks and virgins of Christ!” source

St. Patrick is said to have created over 300 churches in the Emerald Isle. More importantly than just the physical buildings, it’s alleged that he baptised over 100,000 Irish people. Through his teachings, the native polytheism of Ireland was all but wiped out. If worries of appropriation were a thing in the fifth century they would have been cast at St. Patrick. He understood that incorporating well-known ideas and beliefs into his teachings was the fastest way to get the locals assimilated. He took their beliefs in their “unclean things” and sold them back dripping with Christian tint.

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This was, and still is, the standard modus operandi for the Church. First, find a heathen population and pillage their beliefs. Then, change just enough so they can’t prove you copied them before you finally shove them down their throats. Rinse and repeat until you’ve pushed the populous belief so far underground that it gets referred to as “The Old Ways”.

And that’s exactly what Saint Patrick did. But being credited with bringing Christianity to Ireland may or may not be completely historically accurate. Sent to Ireland around 431 by Pope Celestine, Palladius was the first bishop of Ireland. As with many characters in historical lore, at this point, Palladius and Patrick have probably been conflated to become one person. Either way, I personally don’t see the brainwashing of a people something worth celebrating.

But, and this is a very important but, what the holiday is now is not its intended purpose. The festivities we have become accustomed to here are more celebration than reverence. It’s an important celebration of the incredible spirit of the Irish. From Ireland to America, the Irish people always faced hardship with determination. That is something that is worthy of celebrating and drinking to. In a weird sort of way, it’s kind of poetic. St. Patrick used a country’s religion as a stepping stool to expanding his religion. We now use his day to as a stepping stool to expand our exaltation. That’s reason enough to have a drink.

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But make sure its a really good Irish beer, not that dyed green crap.

7 Ways to Kick Anxiety’s Ass

*The following is not and should not be used in place of medical advice. If you need help, please see your doctor or a mental health professional.These are just personal habits I’ve had success with.*

Back in the early 00s, I was a wide-eyed, overworked, scared to death college freshman. In my very Mickey Mouse Intro to College class, we had this group activity. It was one of those icebreaker games that’s only freshmen and people at seminars do. The gist was, we had to pick an adjective that started with the same letter our name that described us. Alliteration being a memory helper and all, I suppose. I instantly knew mine. It was a name that I had been carrying with me since I was just a wee little girl.

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I’ve never known a time when I haven’t been anxious. As a kid, I cried. I cried a lot. I’m not sure if it was the early signs of anxiety, depression, or the effects of my mother, but childhood was full of teary eyes and snotty noses. I remember once during an elementary school orientation my mother telling the teacher that I was “tender-hearted”. It was a descriptor that stuck with me long past my public school days. All these decades later, that tender-heartedness has turned into full-fledged anxiety.

Anxiety is still a big part of my life. It’s a monster I battle each day. Below are 7 things I do to try to take its power away.


Breathe

It sounds simple enough, right? Well, it’s not. Breathing is one of the hardest things to do in the midst of an anxiety attack. Shallow breaths come easy and fast and can cement you in the fight or flight mode. I tend to hold my breath when I’m struggling. I don’t even have to explain why this a foolish thing to do. One thing I’ve found that really, really helps is the 4-7-8 breathing technique. It’s a great way to reset your brain and center yourself. And it’s pretty easy.

  1. Breathe in through your nose for 4 seconds.
  2. Hold that breath for 7 seconds.
  3. Exhale for 8 seconds.
  4. Repeat as necessary

It’s really a fantastic exercise to regulate your breathing and bring your mind back from the brink. If the 4-7-8 technique isn’t your style, taking deep slow breaths will also help. The fast shallow breaths that are common during an anxiety episode do more harm than good. Breath deep, from the bottom of your diaphragm. Those long deep breaths are the good ones that will help you center yourself and calm down.


Ask For Help

The only thing harder than remembering to breathe correctly often is to ask for help. It’s painful and frightening to open yourself to others. But we are not islands. We need each other. Find yourself a tag team partner. Someone who will support you and work with you as you navigate the bullshit that is anxiety. 

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Whether it’s holding your hand, making you lunch, or just reading the words you need to type, having a circle of people you can turn to is so very important. Ask them for help. Let them help you share the load.

 


Go Outside

Sometimes what you need during an attack is not just a change of space but a change of mind. Going outside can do both. It doesn’t matter if you live in a city or are in the middle of the country, going outdoors is a great way to help bring yourself back. Sunlight, fresh air, and the sounds of nature foster a sense of serenity. Being able to have space and absorb them is a great way to become unflustered.


Create Something

 

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Some of the best art comes from the darkest places. If you are able to harness some of the power of anxiety and use it for good you might be amazed at what you’ll create. It doesn’t have to be great, just make something!  Write some words, doodle some drawings, take some pictures, bake a cake, build a birdhouse! Just put yourself in motion and use your powers for good, not the self-harming evil they can be used for.


Drink Water

The first thing I ask whenever one of my kiddos comes to me with a complaint is “Do you need some water?” Staying hydrated is important. It’s also something that gets overlooked quite often.  As someone who drinks more coffee than I should, sometimes just taking a moment to drink a glass of cold water changes my mindset. Water, dirt, fire, and salt. They are all three things that connect us to the planet. They are all things we need. In the middle of our chaos, I firmly believe these things can ground us.


Find a Positive Distraction

We live in a time where podcast, audio books, and most tv shows we love are streaming on demand. We don’t have to wait to for a certain time on a certain day to lose ourselves in a mindless distraction. It’s available anytime we need it. And when you’re fighting anxiety, you need it whenever the episode happens. Finding something positive that you can quiet your mind and enjoy in the middle of a rough time is wonderful to keep you grounded. Some of my favorite things to listen to are podcast. One of my very favorite podcast is Levar Burton Readse19bd1d38fca74faca9d281a1bf9d29e9da713a57c9e60345030bab6b3a852b51bc68db007ff7d3abf61cf1f941cd4e47d48020374917551204f040abc975062 Its Levar Burton and his wonderful voice reading amazing stories. It’s incredibly calming and interesting. Being able to focus a speeding mind on something as enjoyable as Levar’s voice is great calming technique.


Stay Present

Even harder than remembering to breathe and asking for help is remembering to stay in the moment. When your head is playing the highlight reel of every horrible thing you’ve ever done, its hard to remember to be in the here and now. The following is a grounding exercise I use daily to help me focus on what is and what is not:

5: Acknowledge FIVE things you see.

4: Acknowledge FOUR things you can touch.

3: Acknowledge THREE things you hear.

2: Acknowledge TWO things you can smell.

1: Acknowledge ONE thing you can taste.

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No matter what methods we use, we must realize that we are stronger than anxiety. While this is a monster that lives in our world, we do not have to make our world about it. It is my hope that some of the tips effect you in a positive way. As with anything, find what works for you and do that.

“But You Know It’s Fake,Right?”

Childhood, Pro Wrestling, and Being a Mark

Back before “sports entertainment” was a thing, my dad ran an independent wrestling company. Think less Vince McMahon and more flea market Jim Cornette.

He’d book shows in high school gyms, bingo halls, auction barns, basically anywhere that had space for a 16x16ft ring.  Because of that, I spent the first five summers of my life stuffed between my parents in a late 70s Chevy Silverado. This was a time before mandatory child seats, seat belts, and common safety knowledge. We travelled the Carolinas, towing behind us a trailer full of wood and metal. The bed of the truck was full of mats and turnbuckles, 12 packs of Natural Lite and multicolour cable ropes.  At our feet were empty Salem cigarette boxes, beer cans, and a black belt with a big metal plate.

We’d arrive at an empty building around midday and my dad and his motley crew of weekend performers would go to work setting the ring up. I would sit on the bleachers, a few toys in hand and watch the men strain and swear and finally turn a pile of random junk into the fabled squared circle. I’d try to stick around and watch them do run-throughs of the matches but usually, I’d be swept off by my mother to come sit with her and the other women in the concessions area. More often than not, I’d sneak off to go hang out with my dad and the other menfolk, getting ready for that night’s show. It was there I was schooled in the secrets of the business.

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One of the secrets of wrestling is that there are these things called “works”. A “work” is when you get over on a crowd. It’s the act of getting people to suspend disbelief long enough to become emotionally invested in what you’re doing. It’s a grown-up version of playing pretend.  As an example; On April 27th, 1991 during the peak of a white-hot feud, Earthquake (Whose real name was John Tenta. He was billed as 6’7ft 486 lbs) crushed a bag that held Jake “The Snake” Roberts pet python Damien. Damien had been Roberts’ sidekick and was a character in his own right. When Earthquake “crushed” his bag, the crowd went wild. Those fans that lost their minds and completely bought into the story are known as “marks”. With Roberts tied up in the rings, he was unable to do anything but watch this huge mountain of a man crush his pet and only friend presumably to death. Roberts work is some of the best ever to grace the inside of a ring, and that night he was on point. His face full of despair, he yelled and screamed for Earthquake to stop, for it to all not be true. In reality, it wasn’t true. The snake was never in any danger and Jake Roberts didn’t watch his only friend die. The role of Damien that night was played by ground meat shoved inside a pair of pantyhose.

Too many times I was hauled away from the wrestlers and forced to sit still and be quiet in some boring corner, far away from the banging of bodies on the mat and counts of three. In those moments when dad and the crew overruled my mother, I was the official gopher for the night. I’d run the lengths of the gym, hauling beer, towels, cups of water to the guys in the back.  Before the main event, I would usually be out of sight, asleep in the truck far away from the crowd. Wrestling was a constant in my life, and I loved every bit of it.

Growing up in the Carolinas it was kind of hard not to be surrounded by the sport. The closest major city to my little backwoods hometown was not only the home of Jim Crockett Promotions (which would be sold to Ted Turner in the late 80s and become World Championship Wrestling) but also the home to one of the biggest names in wrestling, The Nature Boy Ric Flair.

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Arrogant and flamboyant,  confident and animated, Ric Flair was, and still is, pro wrestling. From his expensive shoes to his bedazzled and feathered robes, he was the icon for the sport. His theatrics, his ability to tell a story not only with his passionate speaking/screaming but also his body set the bar for how a professional wrestler should perform. In my eyes, he and the men he faced in the ring were more than human. They were like the Greek gods. But with championship belts and American accents.

And that’s what the allure of pro wrestling is. It’s men who look like superheroes acting out comic book storylines live and in person. It’s bigger than life characters taking part in beautifully violent choreographed battles. Good guys versus bad guys, babyfaces versus heels, heroes versus villains, add some beautiful ladies and it’s the male equivalent of a daytime soap opera. But with way more punching than kissing.

Sadly, a real-world workplace injury brought our wrestling adventures to an end not long after I turned six. The ring was broken apart and not put back together. It’s corner post used in the fencing for our merger herd of cattle. The hefty Silverado replaced with a smaller truck. The walls of my dad workshop stopped getting promotional poster stapled to them. It was over.

But my love for professional wrestling continued on.

It wasn’t until middle school that my love for pro wrestling, or as the regional accent in my head says “rasslin'”, became socially acceptable. But still, it wasn’t something that many girls my age were into. Along with my ill-fitting boys pants and at home butcherblock haircuts, my excitement for wrestling set me further apart from my female peers. Nevertheless, I was enthralled. What I lacked in a social life, I made up for with being a wrestling fan. No matter how many times my interest was discouraged with “But you know it’s fake, right?” I continued on.

High school and college came after and with them, more adult responsibilities than I should have had to take on. The schedule I was keeping kept me away from the TV for most of the week. Still, when I could, I would sit down Monday and Thursday nights and watch wrestling with my dad. Like keeping up with the Atlanta Braves, wrestling was how we bonded. I’d watch the spectacle of The Undertaker, Stone Cold Steve Austin, and DX with glee. My dad, in typical grumpy old man fashion, would complain about how wrestling had “gone to hell” and was nothing more than “a bunch of hogwash”. With the space between us filling up with more and more things, it became our last avenue for connectedness.

But like all storylines, that too would end.

The day of my courthouse wedding, it was a disagreement centred on the name of his old promotion that kept my dad from coming to witness the event. Someone had decided to use something close enough to his promotion’s name and he felt slighted they hadn’t consulted with him first.  At least, that’s the story that hurts the least to believe. If I can believe he missed my wedding for something he gave numerous years of commitment to, it really doesn’t seem like that big of a deal.

After all, I know what a work is. And I’m a big enough mark to believe it.

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