Wednesday, December 19, 2012

My conversation with Charles Darwin or I used to be a what??

As I was writing out the check for my stepson’s tuition recently, I started to think about the relationship that he and I have. I met… well let’s just call him Charles, more for your safety than for his, almost seven years ago. He was a young lad of thirteen, smart, shy and not entirely sure who he was yet, but as eager to soak up information as I was. Naïve to a fault, but innocently so, as are most children.

Over the years, we have talked about a great many things, including his coming out to me (this was not too much of a surprise) and asking me to tell his mom for him. I have been his friend and his confidante in important matters and ones that weren’t as serious. We have always talked and he even used to listen…a little bit. There are a few topics that I steer clear of as he is much like his mom in that his sign is Gemini and sometimes the evil twin comes out and wants to duel to a verbal death. He will harangue and cajole and whatever other means he can muster up to prove his point and change someone’s mind. He will start conversations about hot-button topics because as he puts it, people tend to say what they really mean when they are angry. I am not a fighter and I refuse to be pulled into his verbal shenanigans, but I understand his youthful exuberance and his eternal belief that he is right about everything.

I call him Charles in jest, but it is somewhat fitting. One of the conversations I refuse to have with him is religion, the other is the eternal debate between creation and evolution. He stands hard and fast on his belief in evolution and I respect that he is as sure of himself at twenty as he is. I, however, consider myself to be an enlightened adult also and feel there is a place for God and for science. I won’t try to push this on him or anyone else, but I won’t debate either just for the sake of showing my true feelings.  I prefer not to waste my time talking to a brick wall who doesn’t listen to counterpoints. There are times when I wonder if he will ever listen again.

He called the other day to tell me his latest plan of what he wants to be when he grows up and ask what I think about it. For as long as I can remember, he has talked about being a doctor and I’m proud to say, he has the mental capacity to be one. He is quickly learning that he doesn’t have the mental fortitude.

His mom works in surgery and sees everyday how miserable the doctors are that she works with, so her worry in this career choice was his unhappiness. He worked this past summer as a transcriber in an ER and got to see firsthand just how unhappy and incredibly smug most doctors are. Don’t get me wrong, there are a handful that have managed to keep the job separate from home and still manage to have a life, but the majority of them are miserable and exhausted, but can’t quit because this is all they know and they’ve grown accustomed to the lifestyle that money affords and don’t know how to give that up. As much as Charles believes that he is right, he isn’t smug or nasty about it and he realized that he didn’t want to grow up and be like that.

He then decided to change from being a doctor to being a Physician’s Assistant. Still a very good job, but without the time, debt and mental weight of being a doctor. We support him and encourage him in this endeavor. He works hard and we know that whatever he set his mind to he will accomplish. He’s also a hard worker and a bit of a perfectionist, which only fuels his goals.

Last month, he changed his mind again. He has decided he wants to be a social worker. This idea was so radically different and I couldn’t figure out how he picked social work. He isn’t a bad kid, but selfless and giving are not terms I would use to describe him. I finally realized that he is lost and not exactly sure what he wants to be anymore. He’s finally realizing that he is indeed fallible and it’s altered him in such a way that he isn’t so cocksure anymore. So he gravitates towards ideas that he hears around him, looking for direction.

He called me the other day, after his announcement that he was no longer going to go into medicine and he wanted to pursue a career as a social worker. He asked me if I thought his mom would be disappointed that he was doing that since we were paying for his school and would we think he was wasting his education. Granted, he has scholarships that cover a lot of it, but at least he is realizing that what we pay is a pretty hefty chunk and he’s at least thinking about that. I said that no matter what you choose to do as a career, as long as you work hard and do your best at it and you’re happy doing it, your mom will be fine. She just worries about you. As hard as being a doctor is, social work is no walk in the park. I asked him if he knows the types of people he would be helping. He said yes, but I don’t know that he understands how tough it will be. I don’t think he grasps the hardships that he will run across and the heartbreak that will be in every face that he looks into.

He has a big heart buried under all that bravado and he’s going to meet people that are going to break it without trying. His mom worries about that and probably worries a bit about him getting hurt. But I assure him that no matter what, we love him and it’s his decision.

He jumped right in, applying for a job as a tech at a mental facility for adults with mild disorders. He loves it! As a matter of fact, last night’s big news was that he got to drive the transport van. He still shares his stories because he’s happy, but also because he wants his mom to be proud of him. I told him I loved him before I hung up and I was proud of him too. He will probably change his mind a couple more times, but he will always look to us for guidance.

The thing that touches me most is that in a world where kids don’t worry about disappointing their parents anymore, I have been blessed with a stepson who despite his desire to argue, still calls to tell us he got an A, or makes sure that he’s making the right choice. He still worries about what we think and listens sometimes, even when I think he doesn’t. What I hope is that he will come away from it with the same values that we did. My mom always said that she just wanted to raise us so that when we ventured out in the world, we were responsible adults who made responsible choices and could support ourselves. We do our best to instill that in him, even if he does think we used to be monkeys!

Friday, October 26, 2012

What's Your Amazing?

A recent blog made me really start to think about myself and the people I have met in this journey. It’s been several weeks and I haven’t been able to shut my brain off. In the blog, I mentioned that my goal was to be in the best shape of my life when I am 40. Several encouraging comments later, I remarked that 40 is my new amazing! And this is where the churning started!

I realized in my conversations with several of the women I now call friends, while we have never met, we have one thing in common. We all have a story that makes us unique. We all have hopes and dreams and aspirations to be something amazing! Many of us have reached that goal and many, like myself, have more we are working towards. The one thing that has helped me to stay motivated  is the ability to share my dreams and have just one person give me a high five or some other form of encouragement. It’s what keeps me putting one foot in front of the other and keeps a smile on my face.

It’s easy to become dejected when it seems like our goals stay just out of reach. But what if we have one person, or maybe 100 that can pick us back up again and just say “I believe in you”? Suddenly, the impossible doesn’t seem so hard anymore. Suddenly, the point that seemed so far away gets a little closer, a little clearer.

With that little build up, I am super excited to launch a brand new Facebook page. What’s Your Amazing? This is a place where we can all get together and share our stories of what we have accomplished or what we want to accomplish in our quest to be able to shout “I’m the new amazing”!

So, whatever it is that you have in your life, we’d love to hear about it. If 40 is your new amazing, or climbing Mt. Whitney, completing a 5k or publishing your own novel, tell us about it. If you need a little pick me up along the way, I have a couple hundred friends that are great at that.
My first big goal was writing a novel which turned into publishing a novel. I’ve done that. I can tell you after the initial scared as shit feelings, which do surface with each new book, the feeling of holding my book in my hands made me feel amazing! My next challenge to myself will be a little harder, but I know that my friends have my back and when I say I want to put back a pint of Ben and Jerry’s Half-Baked Ice Cream, they are going to remind me that the fleeting feeling of joy I might get with that will pale in comparison to getting to stand up and shout, “40 is my new amazing!”

Whatever your new amazing is, look in the mirror tonight and shout it. And when you’re done, feel free to visit the new FB page and share your story, encourage a friend and leave with a smile. 

Monday, September 10, 2012

"Do Not Go Gentle Into That Good Night"

This past weekend, we went to Chicago to do another race. As many of you know, I live to do 5k’s, Warrior Dashes, Mud Runs, Color Runs and whatever other races I can find. A dear friend of mine told me several weeks ago that I needed to stop throwing my money away. To which I replied “How can it be wasting money when I get a really cool race shirt and medal?” It’s completely beside the point that the shirt will end up in a donation pile by next year. To me, it’s the thrill of completing something and wearing my “shirt” of honor least once.
The other thing that a few of you know is I have a tendency to share my more embarrassing moments, sort of comic relief for myself. This weekend didn’t disappoint. The race that we had planned to do was on Sunday morning, so Saturday we spent the day sightseeing, taking pics for upcoming book covers and carbing up for the race. The weather was perfect and there were a handful of soon-to-be-married couples creating memorable wedding shots all along Michigan Ave. We happened upon one couple that was recreating their own surreal version of “The Kissing Sailor” moment right in front of the John Hancock building. I turned for a better look and when I did, I stepped into the street, hit an uneven bit of pavement and twisted the hell out of my ankle. Not one of my “cooler” moments. I did save face and refused to cry, but the damage had been done. I was going home raceless-without a finisher’s medal, overstuffed and a shirt that might as well have said “I paid to do this race and all I got was this crappy shirt.”  
I learned two valuable lessons this weekend. Rubbernecking no matter how much someone looks like they just stepped out of Madame Tussauds Wax Museum is at best dangerous! And second, I learned that even though I feel 37 at heart, this body isn’t as young as it used to be. Normally, I would wrap a bum ankle, get my ass to the starting line and self-medicate with Advil later. Now, not so much. What I did do was hobble back to the hotel, prop my feet up and play Words with Friends with my mother, groaning randomly for sympathy. Admitting that my body is breaking down slowly is a little hard for me to do. Not doing a race because of a sprained ankle calls into question my invincibility and inevitably the itchy wool tights and giant S on my chest will have to be retired sometime soon. Granted, when they were handing out super powers I did ask for the ability to teleport. Yep, didn’t get that or you can bet I would have “winked” myself to the beach every day. But I’ve made do with at least believing I was invincible, tripping along somewhat oblivious to the wrinkles showing up in my face, the creaks of protest from my knees when I walk up the steps, or the sore hip from being in the car too long.
I’m rolling my eyes a bit here because I’ve made myself sound 87 and not 37. It isn’t that I’m old, it’s more of realizing what the little aches and pains foreshadow. When I see my mother who I still consider “young” at 62, I realize I can’t remember what she looked like when I was 5. In pictures, she’s a beautiful 30-year old with a wicked twinkle in her eye that looks similar to mine. Now, she’s a little grayer, her face has a few more wrinkles and she’s constantly looking for 1 of 19 pairs of reading glasses she misplaced somewhere. Somewhere along the way, she went from a young woman to a mother to a grandmother and I see myself on the same fast-paced journey, sans the kids.
And knowing that I’m getting older doesn’t make me want to settle in and admit defeat, it only makes me want to work harder to age gracefully. I may have twisted an ankle and missed this run, but there’s a Title 9 run in October that’s yelling my name, with many more to follow. My new goal is to be in the best shape of my life at 40 and actually do another half-marathon. I know at some particular point, I’ll join my mother and we will spend lazy weekends rocking on the front porch remembering the time she chased after the neighborhood boys and beat them in a water gun fight. But for now, I’ll keep pounding the pavement, cycling the open road and pointing myself to a healthier future. And stop sightseeing.
As a footnote to this blog, while I was hobbling around town I did find this kickass, “I will shank you” pair of shoes that I can’t wear for fear of breaking my ankle, or for the public ridicule that I would surely subject myself to. But I can look at them and know that somewhere there is a woman walking the streets of Chicago wearing this pair of shoes and wishing to god she had worn a pair of Saucony’s and done a 5k instead. I know her body is probably feeling worse than mine right now and that makes my smile just a little bit bigger.

Thursday, August 2, 2012

Caution: Contents Pot

As I was recounting a story this morning about rolling my parent’s joints at 4 years old (this is another blog completely), I was met with some blank stares, some wide-eyed wonderment and no shortage of chuckles. Forget for a second, that when under the influence, normal, rational thought goes right out the window and focus on the reaction to the tale. It reminded me that every day we walk out the door and open ourselves up to the world’s opinion. Of our clothes, our hair, our conversation, everything about us is up for judgment.

Not everyone is as affected by this as I am. I tend to take criticism, whether good or bad, to heart. There are times I will choose not to say something, wear something or do something because of what I imagine people will think, effectively negating my rights to self-expression. I’m not talking about something that is so outlandish that it will propel me into you tube stardom. Just something simple like a shirt, an opinion, or dancing with compete disregard for rhythm. Growing up, I used to think everything my mother did was embarrassing. I told her once not to breathe, because it was embarrassing. Was it? Not really. But looking back I realize it was only because I expected judgment, that I assumed that everyone around us found her behavior less than socially acceptable. I say that having reached a point in my life where I have a deep respect and love for my mother and what I consider a fine job of raising all seven of us with minimal injuries.

As a young child, I obviously didn’t consider people’s reactions to my behavior. But as I got older, I became self-conscious and developed the need to seek approval and acceptance from outsiders. I became a people pleaser, looking for reassurance that I was indeed acceptable. I looked for approval in every facet of my life, doggedly putting aside my own well-being to meet my “imagined” expectations. It wasn’t until I was 26, married to a man, going to a church that didn’t fit me and contemplating the best way to get away from it all that I realized I couldn’t look for acceptance outside. I finally realized I was my own worst critic, unable to accept me for me, criticizing myself more than anyone else could. I had to own up to the fact that the life I was living and the approval that I received wasn’t for the real me. It was for some fake façade that I had built. It was time to live my life as the real me.

Ten years later, I thought I had gotten rid of those tendencies and given myself the freedom to live my life. It wasn’t until I decided to write and subsequently publish my first novels that I realized the old skeletons were peeking out of the closet and reminding me too much of 7th grade anatomy. There have been moments along the way that I reverted so far back that I actually contemplated taking every book off of Amazon, the bits of criticism almost too hard to stomach. It has been most noticeable with my soon to be released book.

To this point, I have only written romance and had gotten to a place where I was comfortable with that. But about a year ago, an idea popped into my head and took my brain captive. It was a mystery, so very different from anything I’ve done thus far. As I wrote the story, the tiny voice of doubt whispered in my ears, asking me quite frequently what the hell I thought I was doing writing this genre. I pushed it away as best as I could, needing to empty my mind of a story that kept rattling around inside. Once it was finished, I wondered if I had the gumption to put it out there and open myself up to the feedback that any book gets. I wasn’t sure. Suddenly I was a kid again, worrying that my hand-me-down clothes and shoes, and my new haircut that my mother gave me wouldn’t be good enough. Could I take the pointing and the teasing again? It took me a while to accept the answer.

At 8, my mind couldn’t. But at 37, I am a stronger woman. So I pushed the skeleton back in the closet and stuck a chair under the doorknob for good measure. Every time I step out into the world or release a new book, I know there will be opinions on it. But now I’m not taking them to heart near as much. Everyone has a story to tell, in some fashion and everyone puts themselves out on display in the world, with the hopes of being accepted. We look in the mirror every day and make sure we look okay before we step out. We try on more than one outfit just to get it right. We think, even if just for a few seconds, before we say something. All because there’s this part of us that just wants to be liked. For the most part, we don’t let that desire paralyze us and for the most part, people aren’t mean. I know that now, so I no longer assume that people are going to make fun of me. Rather, what I do accept is that everyone has an opinion and most times, they aren’t going to be the same as mine and that’s okay, it makes us all unique.

With that said, although it is still a few weeks off, I’m sending out a sneak peak of my newest novel, The Killing Ground. This way I have to release it. I’m also including a heartfelt thank you to anyone that gave a cautious unknown a chance to live her dream.

 A serial killer is working his way through Chicago. His victims have nothing in common except being pregnant. Detective Rebecca Foxx of the Chicago Detective Division has her hands full trying to catch the murderer before he kills again. She has enough pressure without the overbearing FBI butting in.

FBI Special Agent Jordan Gray isn’t sure what she is in for when a midnight call brings her to her boss’s office. She asks her to take an assignment off the records. Investigate the attack of her partner, but don’t let anyone outside her office know.

It soon becomes obvious that Rebecca resents the FBI’s intrusion and it seems Jordan’s personal attention. With no breaks in the case, she is forced to accept the FBI’s help, but she’ll be damned if she is taking anything else from Jordan.

What follows is a series of missteps and twists and turns that leaves both women wondering if they will ever catch the killer and trying to figure out how to keep their feelings for each other from becoming a distraction.

Friday, July 6, 2012

I Should Have Stopped 10 Bites Ago...

Addictions are a interesting thing sometimes. I’ve been in two separate situations that involved living with a person that had an addictive personality, so I know a little bit about them. The thing I know most of all is recognizing that you have addictive tendencies is very difficult. I’ve come to the realization that there are certain things that I might be addicted to as well.

A recent venture into the netherworld that is my closet proved to be most enlightening. Like most women, I had the 3 size range closet. The “it fits right now, although one more McDonalds hot fudge sundae (we will address that in a later paragraph) and I’ll be moving on up” size, the “crap, I’m almost into my fat pants” section and my personal favorite – the “I used to weigh thirty pounds lighter ten years ago” section. Add to that, the fact that I have work clothes, play clothes, going out clothes and the occasional “I was just guilted into going to church” clothes and you can begin to appreciate where I’m toeing a very fine line between hanging on to clothes for thriftiness and a quick stint on an upcoming episode of hoarders. It was time for a personal cleansing. Time to face the demons that had danced in front of me, waving all their naughty temptations in my face.

My first love is shoes. Yes, ladies, I love shoes. The funkier, the better! If I think even one person can look at my pair of chartreuse green, leather z-type shoes that could pass as Peter Pan shoes and turn up their nose, I’ll take two pairs. If I can strut around in my white Puma athletic shoes and be accused of moonlighting as a pimp, then my job as an undercover shoe extraordinaire is done. It isn’t that I look to offend, no, it’s that I’m honestly hooked on funky shoes. Maybe even a tad addicted…

My second love is jeans. I spent the better portion of my early years buying jeans on a budget, until the first time I bought a pair of Silver’s off the clearance rack (I am also very appreciative of a good deal). Once I saw how well they fit, I was hooked. There is a now a sizeable stack of jeans in my closet that make me look forward to charity jeans day at work. Maybe, I have a little problem saying no to a pair of Big Star Liv’s with funky pockets, but until you try on a pair of jeans that hugs you in all the right places, you don’t know how close to heaven 2 yards of blue jean material mixed with just the right proportion of spandex to cover the extra five pounds you picked up from the one funnel cake you allow yourself a year feels. It’s almost divine in my mind.

Back to the hot fudge sundae, the addiction which plagues me most and has made it necessary to include double digit clothing items in my closet is ice cream. My mouth is watering just thinking about it. I crave it in a “grab the spoon, rip the lid off and dive right in” kind of way. I want to bypass a dish because honestly, that’s just another thing I have to wash. And for what? Ice cream comes in a wonderful package that really almost begs you to just finish the carton. Seriously, who wants to put an almost empty carton back in the freezer? I, for one, don’t. It’s at the precise moment when I’ve eaten my way to the bottom and I realize that I’ve almost emptied an entire pint of ice cream and the little voice inside my head starts to guilt me into stopping, that I realize perhaps there should be a 12 step program for me.

Five bags later and a closet reduced by over half, I felt like a weight had been lifted. I had forgotten that simplicity could make me happy. I didn’t need to buy something to make me happy or fill a void with food. I had allowed myself to get sidetracked and forgot that it isn’t possessions that make us smile, it’s simple things. Like a lifelong lover, a good friend, making someone smile, a beautiful flower, a summer rainstorm. I lost my focus on what was important to me, and in doing so, had lost a little of myself. Like any addiction, it made me forget…forget things that should have been important to me.

I woke up with a smile today, and remembered I had everything I needed to make me happy. My shoulders didn’t feel so tight. I didn’t feel so weighed down. My pile of jeans is quite a bit smaller, I let go of some shoes and most of my t-shirts are on their way to a good home via the local shelter. Most importantly, I realized that no matter where you look or what you acquire, at the end of the day, none of that makes you any happier. I had a much better moment of bliss dropping those bags off, knowing that someone who actually needed them would get them.

I, of course, treated myself to a hot fudge sundae…with nuts. I can’t give up everything! 

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

A Personal Thank You!

History has always fascinated me and the story of our own country bears remembering, if only for a few, brief moments during our Independence holiday. America’s storied past is something of inspiration and the reason I am even here with the freedom to share an opinion.

I like to re-read the Declaration of Independence every couple of years, and on this day, something different caught my eye. It wasn’t the courage it took to stand up and fight for what we term our “unalienable rights”, or the conviction to prove that we as a young nation could stand and even flourish on our own. No, what made me think twice was the following quote:

“…and accordingly all experience hath shewn, that mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable, than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed.”

How true those words ring. Often times, we as humans, suffer thru abysmal conditions, because we tell ourselves that what we face is tolerable. But the Declaration gave us another right, the right to pursue happiness. We, as a country, have freedoms given to us by our forefathers that ensured our right to make choices that would make us happy, not to suffer at the hand of another. Perhaps Shakespeare said it best:

“To be, or not to be: that is the question:
Whether 'tis nobler in the mind to suffer
The slings and arrows of outrageous fortune,
Or to take arms against a sea of troubles,
And by opposing end them?”

Our forefathers, in their imperfect wisdom, knew that their young country, in order to flourish and guarantee that the same oppressive government not take hold in American soil, needed to establish a government that allowed for the people to decide how they wanted to live. Not one that told us how we should “be.” Sadly, over the years, we have forgotten what rights our founders established, both in government and in our personal life. At times, we allow ourselves to suffer, to lead our lives in a manner that doesn’t benefit us.

This is by no means my personal soap box, but more a statement of self-truth. I myself have stayed in situations that are barely tolerable because it’s easier, and in doing so, have forgotten what my forefathers fought for and laid their lives down for and what our servicemen and women continually do today. They fight for America and its people to have basic freedoms and use our self-will to use our freedoms wisely.

Instead, this is a call to arms, so to speak. To appreciate living in a country where I can be me and to say thank you for the men and women that have fought, fight now and continue to fight and not disgrace their lives by ignoring the very freedoms they fight for. It may not be perfect, and we may still be a long way off from equality for all, but we live in a country where we can “take up arms” and not suffer silently. So to our Armed Forces, past and present, I say thank you for continually fighting to protect my freedom to just be what I want to be. 

Thursday, June 28, 2012

Recently, a very dear friend of mine suggested it might be time to start blogging. She felt like I needed to get myself out there more, break out of my shell, an idea that was so foreign I thought she might have said it in French. I laughed and told her I needed to check with my doctor to make sure I was healthy enough before starting that kind of physical activity. It sounded funny at the time, but when I gave it some thought, especially given the new aches in places that I didn’t know I could ache, suddenly I wasn’t laughing anymore.

Perhaps, because it was my birthday and I was another year older. The joke around the office is it’s the big 4-0. It isn’t really, but when I say that I’m turning forty, I get that look of surprise followed by a wow, you look great for forty, instead of wow, you’re only 37? Did you do something to piss off Father Time? I’m mostly kidding. I really don’t mind getting older. I like to think that perhaps I have gotten a little wiser with age so it’s a decent trade off. I think it’s more about the actual celebration itself. I am not great with attention, it makes me feel awkward. Like I’m standing in Times Square…naked, and I’m being projected on the big TV screen and silently praying my fifteen minutes will pass quickly and the Coca Cola sign will pop back up.

Why don’t I like attention on my birthday? I’m not sure. It could be because being raised as a Jehovah’s Witness, we didn’t celebrate holidays, so presents and cake were something we never had. I never had to sit and have forty people surround me and sing Happy Birthday and watch while I opened everything. My cheeks are a little red just thinking about it. Even though I’ve been out (of the religious closet) for over ten years, it still doesn’t seem comfortable. Or maybe it’s just that I don’t fancy attention. I like to blend in, find a cozy corner surrounded by lots of people. If there’s a pic being taken, I like to stand in the back row and hide my face behind the tallest person there. 
I’m often asked when my birthday is and why I don’t have it posted on Facebook. My response, my birthday isn’t important to me, it’s just another day. I gave that standard answer once and someone asked me, “Is my birthday important to you?” I replied that it was. She said, “You’re just as important to me as I am to you, so I’m going to make a big deal out of your birthday. Deal with it.” Properly rebuked, I did have to admit that I was expecting to be able to give to them and not allow them to return it. What a foreign idea! That I was important to someone, more than one someone.

I got a huge reminder of that on my birthday. After imploring people not to do anything for my birthday, everyone at work, which is about 150 people, dressed in purple because that’s one of my favorite colors and because they know that as a lesbian, purple for Spirit Day is something that is very important to me. The CEO wore lavender pants and a white and lavender plaid shirt. I was humbled to say the least. I got a lot of practice saying thank you.

I’m a stubborn soul, as many can attest to and it takes a lot to teach me a lesson, especially one that requires that I think of myself as special. I’m not saying I’m there, but I will say I’m working on it and isn’t that all most of us can say? That we are works in progress. By the time I turn 80, I will be able to say I am one awesome woman!