Lessons From The Road

I feel like there’s a lot you learn about yourself while driving in the middle of the night. As the lines in the road speed by and your headlights wash across exit signs, the road strips away the ignorance and pride from your plane of knowledge and reveals to you the truth.

The things you’ve just assumed and hoped were always true start to unravel and in those moments of dead air between the songs and the station identification breaks,  you can see where the cracks have always been. The reflection you catch in the windows is your own, but it shows you as you truly are.

You’re a mess. You’re scared. You’re out of your element and you really wish you had someone there with you. You can still see your crown, so you know you’re still capable, but you’ve noticed it’s slipped. You’re unsure. Most of all, you’re feeling less than you.

The road tells you these things. The destination not so much.

 

The Crown Slips

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Such was the case for me one night at the of the beginning of this month. After a day of being sick, my husband was taken by ambulance to the emergency room. Let me just state, one more time for the Universe to hear, diabetes fucking sucks. He has Type 1 and for some reason, his body decided to flip out and slip into diabetic ketoacidosis. As we have three children at home and are in the middle of flu season, I was stuck. I couldn’t go with him in the ambulance. I couldn’t follow behind with the kids in tow. On our previous trip to the local ER a year previously, I had learned that when the security guard says no one with children is allowed back to where the patients are, he really means it. And no amount of yelling and crying will convince him otherwise.

So I had to sit at home and wait for childcare to come before I could go and catch up. When I finally was able to join him, I was a wreck. I do not handle not knowing things well. Knowing that he was ill, possibly even gravely ill, and there was nothing I could do, drove me crazy. It was in that interim that I felt the crown start slipping.

 

I was at the mercy of those who I had asked for help. From the EMTs that transported him to the hospital to the ER workers who were working on him to the family members I called in tears, I was indebted to all of them. I had bent my knees before them and asked of them their service. I felt helpless. I felt powerless. I felt needy. I felt like a bother. And to their credit, the hospital workers and nurses, the EMTs and staff never once made me feel this way on purpose. They were just doing their job. They were pleasant and kind and gave me so many words of encouragement.

When I finally arrived at our local ER, I found out the process to transfer him from our local emergency room to the closest regional Veteran’s hospital had not only already begun but had been approved. After an hour or so, he was placed back in the ambulance and taken off to a waiting bed in the MICU at the VA hospital that was an hour south of us.

I said my goodbyes while he was being loaded into back of the ambulance and walked myself to my vehicle. If I had ridden with him, I would have been stuck away from not just my kids and my dog, but my home and all my other responsibilities. Just because my world hiccupped doesn’t mean that it stopped spinning around me. So driving myself down would allow me to drive myself home when I needed to.

So I did what I had to do. I got in the truck and I cried. I cried and cried and cried. And then I stopped, pulled up Google directions, and drove off into the night.

 

The Road To ReCoronation

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There’s a pair of owls that live on my street. I’ve seen them cuddling each other while sitting on the tree behind my house. Sometimes, I hear them calling to each other during the evening from different trees in different yards. Sometimes, the crazy birds hoot during the day, when I just assume they should be sleeping. No matter where they are, no matter what they are hooting about, they make me smile. They make me feel like I’m at home. They make me happy.

But honestly, I as much as I love them, I am not one of them. I am so not a night owl. So my drive to the hospital was extra complicated. It was well after midnight when I left the ER in my city and the place I was going was, according to Google, an hour and six minutes away. Maybe it was my worry. Maybe it was my fear. But at some point, being awake well past my normal prime didn’t seem to matter. I’m usually going to sleep with the chickens. On that night, while taking the back roads that lead me to the Interstate, I was one with the owls.

It was this time alone that allowed me to think about everything that was going on. It gave me room to evaluate what was going on in my life and how I should handle it. The wheels and the road were just rhythmic enough to zone me out to a state of thinking where I was able to assess what was and what was yet to be. I was also able to face the reality of the shallowness of the pool of physical, local support my family and I had our feet in. These revelations were neither positive or negative at that time. Like the shadows my headlights created on the trees that lined the roads, they just were. The emotions from them would come later, when more time could be assigned to them.

I’m not going to incriminate myself and talk about my speeding on the way down there. But for the most part, the stretch of Interstate I was on was pretty empty. And I was lucky enough that none of South Carolina’s finest were working that area that night. I made it all the way into the single digit exits for the city and found where I needed to go. With it being the early morning hours, I was able to find parking and somehow found my way into the back emergency entrance of the VA hospital.

It was then, when I crossed that threshold, that I felt the crown straighten. The kind lady at the desk helped me direct me to the elevators and soon I found my way to the floor and then the room where my husband was.

I’d like to say it was a joyous reunion and that the night was one of those magical nights where the love of the couple overwhelmed whatever sickness was happening.  It was not a Disney movie type night. It was a night in an intensive care unit with someone who very ill and his significate other who was very worried. Nurses were in and out taking blood and doing glucose checks. There was vomiting and pain. There were machines beeping and malfunctions. And needles. So many needles.  And when there was sleep, it was fitful and separated by tubes and bed rails. For me, it was in a hardbacked chair with a pillow and a blanket kindly brought by a nurse who might have actually been more than just a human.

But we were together. I was there when he needed me. And even when he didn’t know I was there, I was there. And slowly, the crown righted it’s self on my head. I was fragile and unsure, but I knew what to do. I wasn’t helpless. I was able to step outside my fear and do my best for the ones I love. Even if that act was nothing more than holding a hand, rubbing a leg, or getting more ice chips.

 

Ever After

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Now because all of that happened, the rest of the first weekend of February was pretty much a shitshow. There were trips back home, trips to get the kids, frustrations about feeling like I was not getting what I help thought I should be getting. It was hard you guys. Being separated from where I felt I needed to be and expected to keep just pounding along like life was normal was excruciating.

But what could I do? There’s no option for curling up and crying until the hard parts are over. Slowly, the minutes turned to hours, the hours to days and after more worrying that I’ve done about anything worth worrying about, we got the notification. After recovering enough to be moved to a normal room and having his levels be normal for 12 or so hours, it was time for him to come home. So that evening, it was just a process of loading up the kids and making the drive down.

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It was a lot different this time. I was a lot different this time too.

The road didn’t hold the same amount of self-reflection in the daylight. Even though the sun had managed to slip out of the sky while we were driving, the car was filled with too much excitement, relief, and still nervousness for there to be any meditative feeling. It is a known fact that when you are traveling with children in the vehicle, any drive becomes less ‘Oprah Super Soul Sunday’ and more ‘Mad Max Fury Road’.

After getting turned around in traffic and entering through a non-entering way, we finally were reunited. And with him entering the car, it was over. The lessons we learned were not.

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While his health is paramount here, there is a whole stream of things from this I learned about myself. I learned about the holes in my circle and the need to fill them. I learned that I need to believe in myself and my abilities more. I am responsible for so many people, wallowing in my doubt is just not an option.

Sometimes shit is going to go down and I’m going to be the one who is going to be one to hold it together. Whether I want to be the one or not. It’s just what it is.

I can’t rely on the road to remind me of that.

I have to wear the crown and all its weight in it’s full glory.
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Palimpsest

noun
a manuscript or piece of writing material on which the original writing has been effaced to make room for later writing but of which traces remain.
something reused or altered but still bearing visible traces of its earlier form.

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The same heaviness that would later make a home in the foot that controls the gas pedal in every car I’ve ever driven was born in my right hand. In those ancient days of being forced to learn cursive handwriting and taking notes in class, heavy was the hand that held the pencil.

I’d press my pencil into the paper so hard the lead would break so much, teachers would insist I’d keep multiple sharpened pencils at my desk. I’d erase just as hard as I’d write, my anger at my mistakes sometimes even causing the paper to give up the ghost.

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No matter how delicate I tried to be, the weight of my hand, my thoughts, the actions of my creation left a mark. No matter how well the bar of rubber was made, it could not erase the imprint of what I had committed to the page just minutes before. No matter how bad I wanted to erase it from existence, the imprint of its history remained there.

My personal journals, cheap spiral notebooks of poems and short stories unsent letters and emotional catharsis, where all imprinted pages deep with words and their associated scribbles. They looked like football plays you’d see in movies, drawn on blackboards all Xs and Os. The last pages could be grave rubbings of my emotional breakdowns and breakthroughs. A clear indication of what and where I was but not yet who or where I would be.

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I think somewhere on this blog, I’ve quoted Heraclitus’ “No man ever steps in the same river twice, for it’s not the same river and he’s not the same man.” And if I did, it was probably rather poorly. The meaning behind the statement stands. We do not stay the same person throughout the entirety of our lives. Each challenge, each event, each change (large or small) both add and take away from who we are. If we, the human machine, are functioning correctly, we are changing and growing.

That doesn’t mean that each change morphs us into a complete tabula rasa. We are not one of those magnetic drawing pads kids have where you can just slide a wand and erase everything that ever was. Despite our growth, we keep the scars of the wounds that made us. Sometimes, it’s not scars that we keep. Sometimes, it’s the wounds. The bleeding, raw, unhealed wounds.

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I’ve talked about why this time of the year is hard on me. But this week has been exceptionally stressful.
As I write this is the 7th anniversary of my eldest son’s death. I have been functional today, more than years past for sure, but still hemorrhaging internally from shrapnel buried deep inside.

In the seven years since the morning we had to walk away from the hospital without him, I’ve grown. I’ve changed. I’ve become a new person through necessity but also though will and determination.

For a while, I was not the best version of myself. It was if the person I was had been erased.

I was like that paper I used to write on in elementary school. Who I was had been erased. It would take more than a few years for me to figure out that the nuclear bomb that changed my world on the day my beautiful son died wasn’t much different than those cheap hard plastic erasers I hated that topped the cheap pencils I used as a kid.

While they changed things, erased things, removed things, and sometimes even ripped the paper, they didn’t do shit to change the parts that are rooted down into the pages beyond the top page. They didn’t do shit to the things that were entrenched in my soul.

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My love for him was not taken from me. My love for my husband was not taken from me. The love for my remaining child and the two that would come after was not taken. And after many years of trial and error, and after a lot of skin shedding and toxicity removing, when I held myself just right and let the light shine in just the right ways, love for myself and the person I was wasn’t totally taken from me. My identity as a person wasn’t taken from me.

Those are the lines I am struggling to retrace now. And I feel that I will continue to follow their near transparent lines for many years to come. No matter what has changed, what life events have moved me past what has happened, it’s all there. Not all of it is worth reliving or repeating. I can not expect to be the same woman I was before the tragedy. I have learned, and lost, too much to try to go back. I don’t want that. What I do want it is to slowly try to obtain the little parts of myself that I have lost to grief since. It’s been seven years. I’m okay with it taking a lifetime more. My love for him will be eternal. My missing him will be eternal as well.

Grief is the ultimate life-changing event. It’s a starving fire. It will literally consume everything it touches if you leave it unattended for any amount of time. My belief is that part of grief’s power comes from it being an act of love. And we all know how powerful acts of love are. So if I can sneak some things back from its grasp, if I can look beyond the current writing and see what was there before, I’m going to keep trying.

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Book Review: Working Conjure: A Guide to Hoodoo Folk Magic

It’s time for another book review Dear Readers!

But before I review this book, I want to tell you how I even came to read it.

I was doing that mindless scrolling down my Facebook feed that we all do. You know the type, the not really looking at anything but not paying attention to the outside world either sort of scrolling. It’s a horrible waste of time that could be spent being productive.

One of the post I saw that day was someone talking about Working Conjure by Sen Moise. I don’t remember what page or person it was from but I remember thinking the cover looked pretty neat. And the tagline, “Find your power at the crossroads” tugged my heart a little. I briefly read the summary the person or page had included and made a mental note to try to pick up a copy when I got the chance.

Then my mindless scrolling continued. My day went on from there, taking care of people doing things, you know, the same old grind.

That night, camped out on the couch after an exceptionally tiring day of being a mama, I was scrolling through my Instagram feed when once again, I saw the cover of the book. This time it was a different person talking about it and how much they enjoyed it. Though the who’s and what’s escape me now, I remember clearly they were two different people, two different pages both talking about the same book.

Because I’m the type of person who doesn’t (often) have to be told three times, I went back to the computer and ordered a copy of the book, Working Conjure: A Guide to Hoodoo Folk Magic by Hoodoo Sen Moise

 

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It arrived a few days later and I began to read it as soon as I got the wrapper off.

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The book opens with an introductory tale about a day in the life of a Conjure man. It sets the tone for the book early. The author’s voice is personable and clear. It’s like you’re talking to an older family member around a table while you snap peas together. It reminded me of the various “uncles” that used to come around my great grandma’s house when I was a kid, but much more knowledgeable.

The book then jumps right into the meat of the issue. The first chapter answers the question What is Conjure/Hoodoo? thoroughly and with a very common sense approach. The history of Conjure/Hoodoo/Work is talked about as well as the many different aspects to it’s continued following. It’s a quick, insightful, pleasurable read.

The following chapters carry on in the same manner with the author providing personal insight and experiences that get to the heart of the practice. There’s also practical advice and instruction on how to do work. There are instructions for making mojo bags, fixing a candle for separation, a work for a simple cleansing, and a lot more.

Most of these works include the Scripture that is best used for the piece of work. This is something that threw me off a little. And I think that is a purely personal thing. I am not very close to Christianity, even though it was the religion I grew up neck deep in. Sometimes I get to black and white in my thinking.  I not sure why I was surprised at the passages being included. It’s laid out clear as day that Conjure/Hoodoo have elements of Christianity in it. Honestly, it’s feature in the book helped me tackle my own prejudice and dichotomous thinking. I’ve still got a lot to work on when it comes to that, but I think I have a good start.

And speaking of work, one of the most important ideas presented in the book is the idea that your practice is not just reading and thinking. It’s doing. Rootwork is work. You have to get your hands dirty, you have to put yourself out there and be active in your practice. You have to know your roots and know your surroundings. The chapter that goes in depth on the powers that locations have is one of my favorites. Especially the focus on graveyards. I don’t want to tell you too much about it, but there are some very good ideas and precautions in the book about doing work in and around graveyards. If you use graveyards ever in your Practice, you need to read these pages. 

The book also talks about spirit work and emphasizes the importance in the connection to our ancestors. This part of the book hit close to home for me. I have been feeling tugged towards finding out more about my ancestors. Its almost like I can feel them calling me but am not quite able to hear it. The reverence this book places on our relationships with those that came before us has inspired me to listen harder and connect better to those whose blood I share.

Working Conjure: A Guide to Hoodoo Folk Magic is a wonderful book. It does something that for me, not a lot of other books do. It gives you the tradition of the work as well as a way to implement it in the present day. And that I think is a perfect balance.

 

 

 

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

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

Declined: A (Self)Love Story

 

I was getting a jump on cooking dinner when I got a notification that I had a new email. Normally, I would glance at my lock screen to see who it was from and make a mental note to check it later. But this ended up being different. It wasn’t just one of those crap spam emails that flood my inbox (No, Directv, I’m not coming back! Leave me alone!). It was from a literary magazine I had recently submitted to. I had found their call for submissions via the Discovery tab on Submittable. It was a call for a piece of poetry that contained certain words. It seemed like a fun little challenge, so I crafted up a piece and sent it their way.

When I was able to pull the pan off the burner, I opened my Gmail app. This was what I was greeted with (the name of the publication has been removed):

Dear Angela,

Thank you for your submission to XXXXXX Magazine. After careful consideration, we have decided not to select “Before?” for publication. There are many possible reasons for why a particular piece isn’t selected, and I regret that I am unable, given time constraints, to offer further explanation as to which of those reasons applied to your work. I will say that you’re in good company; as always, there were many authors and many pieces that I would have liked to include.

Now if you know me, you’re probably thinking I’m crushed. And there was a time, not even that long ago when you’d be right. Were I the Angela of a handful of years ago, I’d be sitting here in a pit of despair. My self-confidence, shakey like a young deer on ice, would have been completely annihilated. I would probably be ugly crying and thinking that the voice in my head, which sounds like a really weird combination of two women, was correct. I really couldn’t get anything right. I was a sham who would never know what I was doing.

But that’s not happening. What is happening is surprising.

 

I’m okay.

Actually, I’m more than okay.

I’m good.

I feel proud of the piece and, more importantly,

I’m proud of myself.

So what changed?

Honestly, I’m not sure. I don’t feel the cut that this declination would have once made.  Don’t be mistaken, it’s not a misplaced apathy type of feeling. It’s not the depression I’ve grown like a bonsai tree my entire life filling my head with nihilistic whispers. I just legitimately don’t feel this is a failure.

This year, I’ve come into my own when it comes to my writing. I’ve tried new things, forced myself on shaky limbs, and learned to work within my own voice. I’ve also forced myself to become dedicated. I’ve developed a discipline to keep the hot or cold switch in my head in the right position. For years, I’ve wanted to do this. I’ve wanted to create words and ideas that I could share with people. And now I finally am.

This rejection is a good thing. And I’m not trying to blow smoke up my own ass here. I really, truly think it is. I’m showing myself I’m able to face the chance that I might not be everyone’s cup of tea and accept it. I’m flexing the muscle of my psyche that’s matured into an IDGAF self-content woman. So what if the piece wasn’t what the magazine was looking for? It was what I wrote. It was what I created. And even if it fucking sucks, in the moment of its creation, it was exactly what it was supposed to be.

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Not all wins are trophies, championships, or acceptance letters. Some victories, and often the best ones, are the ones that ignite inside of you. There the ones that people can only see when they catch the glint of determination and self-appreciation in your eyes. They are the ones you will never have a newspaper clip out of, but will always remember.

 

 

And those are the ones current me strives for.

 

 

 

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PS: In case you’re wondering about the piece itself, I’ve included it below. The designated words to use are still in bold so you can see what I was working with.

 

Before?

Not lamp, but light
The kind of brightness that prys eyes apart
The nightstand is long since emptied
Pictures gone, now filled with medicine bottles and phone chargers
Was this what life was like
Before?

Her electrical current is no longer current
The coil has thus been shuffled
But damned if she doesn’t still make
The hair on the back of my neck stand at attention
That’s the only attention being served these days

The TV never stops, but I don’t know what’s on
It’s just lights without sound
I thought I had turned it off
But it’s talking heads keep the remote hidden
So I can’t check for sure

I know that pain is a real thing
But feelings elude me
How much longer must I endure?
Eight weeks dead might just as well be eighty
Is this what life was like
Before?

 

Inheritance

My family medical history reads like a Cause of Death report

Any one of the illnesses I’m set to inherit

Would be the case close decision

For any dead body in any morgue

Anywhere

And if the high blood pressure, diabetes,

And likelihood of breast and/or ovarian cancer

Doesn’t clock me out early and in excruciating pain

Those genetic mental illnesses will

Double dipped chicken fried depression

Enough borderline to go over the line

[see what I did there?]

With more than a dash of attention deficit disorder

And some potential schizoaffective disorder for good measure

And I’m not even including those addictive personality traits

that course through my family tree

Like sap in the spring

Not that I was ever given any assistance

In learning how to deal with these second-hand things

No one taught me about eating right or exercise

Or even addressed calming techniques to quiet

My brain speeding around like an energy drink loving hamster on a wheel

But my mom did teach me

That chewing up Vicodin makes them work faster

And that drinking beer with a Twizzler is super funny

Both of those lessons came before I turned fifteen

I also learned that it’s okay to throw up after you eat

Its okay to do that in the Ryan’s Steakhouse bathroom during a rare family night out

And that its ok to take so many Oxys that you don’t hear your daughter calling

Or remember how to sign your name on her brand practice logs

I know I won’t be inheriting anything grand when my folks die

At most a couple of used cars,

Maybe an old goat or two

And a trailer overflowing with pill bottles and dust.

And that’s okay,

They’ve already given me enough

 

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