Art work by Mary Anne Radmacher. Author, Artist, Actionista I Adore!
I am ending day three of re-organizing, cleaning, examining, thinking, and discarding in my writing and creating space. It’s an “office” but I like to fill it with promise and hope of the great creations to come; creations of all kinds –both the written word and the messy artsy kind.
I think I’m going to need a day four or even five. I had saved a lot of “what if” kinds of things: what if I need this someday; what if my daughter could use this for school; what if I have a great yard sale. The new sidewalk construction in front of my house has sent a clear message: NO YARD SALE, so I hauled three big boxes to Goodwill today. That created about four square feet of new floor space.
Piles of old receipts, tax papers and other stuff from 10 to 20+ years ago have all been shredded. I set up my shredder the kitchen. Every time I went out there for water, snacks, making lunch or dinner, or to let the dogs out, I stood and shredded pages. I had to pace myself so I wouldn’t burn out the motor on the shredder. There was a lot of paper! It feels great to release all that paper. There’s no reason to hang on to those documents of some younger married woman living a life I don’t even recognize anymore.
I threw out a stash of cards and notes that were a piece of my life I no longer want hanging around. At the time they were saved because I cared. Now I don’t. That sounds brutal but having those memories around now only serves to remind me of something I’m actually humiliated by, so discarding them gives me permission to release the humiliation as well.
I also found a stack of letters my daughter had written me. It was refreshing to read her perspective on our life and my mothering skills. Apparently I “give her so many wonderful things” and I am “the best Mom ever!” I will accept that endorsement. I saved this little stack as my mini pep talk whenever I beat myself up for not being a better, richer, prettier, skinnier, more successful…etc. mom. You get it.
So many times my fear of lack or my fear of never having enough to offer her gets in my way of remembering that the only perspective of childhood she has is hers—and that’s the only perspective that really matters to her. What my parents were able to give me is completely irrelevant to her. She could care less because my childhood was an ancient time of dinosaurs and cavemen—it was 1965-75 after all.
I can see the floor once again and now I have those tiny stacks I didn’t know where to put to tackle tomorrow or the next day. I even found a great place for that outdated, ridiculous, Jenga tower of music CD’s that has been nervously stacked on top of a two drawer filing cabinet for 13+ months. I hated that tower, mocking me whenever I opened the drawers, threatening to fall on me.
The site of my office, which I couldn’t even walk into, had me near tears. I knew the only answer was to roll up my flippn’ sleeves, find the floor again, and get rid of needless shit and painful memories that met me at the door whenever I tried to get inside. I realize now that I was avoiding the work and not the pain. The “painful memories” really weren’t that painful. The problem (or pain) with some of the stuff that got tossed was the humiliation and shame I felt being reminded of the fact that I had made these mistakes here and there—either financially or emotionally, but I am on a journey to improve how I speak to myself. The rest of the world usually benefits from my kindness, generosity, and careful word choice long before I extend that love to myself. So my trip down Shame Lane was more gentle than usual. I think it’s because I believe that I keep some things because for some crazy reason or another I think I deserve this reminder as a kind of punishment for believing in the wrong person, or for being so “stupid,” or for making such a poor decision.
I no longer feel the need to be reminded of my past goofs. They no longer belong here in my room. I have learned many lessons from my past experiences; I licked my wounds long enough; I am ready to move forward.
Make room. It helps.
I love noticing the crazy things my mind hangs on to. It’s really my ego that clings to certain notions, but I find watching what “she” does humorous. That’s why I enjoy sharing it. Perhaps we all do this sort of stuff, but understanding how my mind works and processes the difficult days is what makes me tick—and laugh—at myself.
This past month when I fill the coffee maker I keep reflecting on how my mind acted when my husband left—what rules I had for my behavior during that difficult transition. I’m sure my mind has gone here a lot lately because I’ve been thinking a great deal about all my relationships (past, present, and future) and my place within them.
After my husband left I would come home from work and clean the kitchen—a lot. It was the only area of my life at that time that I knew I could control. The very first night I knew he wouldn’t be returning I was very purposeful in my evening coffeemaker preparation. We had this awesome coffeemaker that ground the beans and started brewing before we woke up. Bean grinding had become my alarm clock.
I remember carefully measuring out beans and water for only half the pot. I told myself that there was no way in hell I was going to forget that I was alone and mistakenly make 12 cups—coffee for two. I though the ultimate punch in the gut of loneliness would be to mindlessly pour two mugs of coffee and then realize I was alone. Duh.
I search myself, my past, and my heart for the answer as to why in the world I was so hell bent on not letting myself slip up and fall into “married mode.”
All I know was I think I didn’t want loneliness to sneak up on me and surprise me. I wanted to keep it at bay—controlled—on my terms. Feel lonely at the appropriate Conlee-pre-approved moments—no other times. I had a daughter to take care of after all—her Kindergarten year to finish up—my group of 6th graders to teach—I was too busy to be lonely and stupid enough to forget that he was gone. My ego had it all under control and no amount of coffee could convince me otherwise. I was so funny.
The reality is that loneliness snuck in anyway and ironically—or not—it was usually in the wee hours of the pre-work morning while I drank my coffee—alone. My ego told me that I was okay though because feeling lonely was much easier to handle than forgetting I was alone.
This memory is over five years old and has resurfaced to teach me a lesson. Not about marriage or divorce because just last night the whole gang was here—me, daughter, her dad, his girlfriend (one of my closest friends) all watching Frozen, eating, talking, supporting each other, and laughing—a lot. It’s teaching me that surviving my difficult moments involves looking closely at my feelings and letting myself feel them, but to do that I have to let my ego play along by letting her set some of her ridiculous rules. I’m learning to keep her busy while I explore the new tidal wave of emotions that splash through my mornings over coffee.
Over the past three years I’ve entered a few essay contests. I haven’t won but on a personal level each is a huge victory.
This is another one of my losing essays. I proudly share them here basically for the same reason I write them—it makes me happy and it feels good. This particular prompt was to write about our most courageous moment—and once again my life doesn’t fit into the “all-or-nothing” experience.
I hope you enjoy.
As I look back over my life, it is marked by bravery. Each triumph is very different and more importantly no less brave than the triumph that lived before. I’m certain we each have such milestones. I am inclined to celebrate them equally.
In my first ten years I remember bravely grasping the handlebars of my shiny green bike, charging ahead, determined to ride over that enormous gravel pile left near the new house construction next door.
Bikes and gravel don’t mix—lesson learned.
Knees and palms bloody. I cried.
Ages ten to twenty I buried the secrets of abuse at the hands of people I had trusted. It followed me for years as I navigated life in silent torment.
I am a survivor—lesson learned.
Heart and soul betrayed. I cried.
Years twenty to thirty I watched my mother fight cancer. I sat with her as she spoke of her life, her dreams, and her wishes for my future.
Sometimes all you can do is be fully present for another human being as they retrace their past—lesson learned.
Inner child frightened and lonely. I cried.
Thirty to forty I watched my fifty-nine year old mother take her final breath and I sat for hours with my father in her presence as her soul lifted to heaven. I also had my first and only child six years later that she never got to meet. I was a motherless daughter wanting to call my Mommy and ask questions about my newborn.
Parenting is learn as you go, and you do the best that you can with what you have—lesson learned.
My heart filled with a new kind of love. I cried.
Forty to fifty I calmly watched my husband leave me, and I smiled every day in front of our six year old to show her that she would never have choose between her parents; that she could always be free to think of her Daddy as her Hero. Just like my Daddy is to me. I also left behind a twenty-three year teaching career to begin my own business. It’s not the spectacular success I dreamed it would be.
Sometimes the things you think are going to be so perfect turn out sad and disappointing—lesson learned.
My heart broken and my ego bruised. I cried.
Bravery or the price of being alive? Which is it? I can’t answer that without remembering something my Mom would say to me when I was little and things didn’t go my way, “Into each life some rain must fall,” and today I’m sitting in a torrential downpour. Hell, I’m feeling brave and impressed for just getting out of bed this morning.
Next year I will be fifty. Every day I wake up. I put my feet on the floor and I face the day. I smile as I pack a new 5th grader’s lunch. I know I need to find a new career—well any job really. I call my dad to say “I love you.” I talk to my Mom while I’m folding laundry. I forgive myself for abandoning my inner child, and for failing at a marriage and business. I still hate riding a bike.
Being alone in silence, learning life lessons, knowing when to cry, and knowing how to brush myself off and try again—these are the bravest things any one of us can do when we are given the beauty of another sunrise.
I think my mother was right; to be fully alive is the most courageous thing we do for our soul; rain or shine, but my favorite Longfellow poem this week is Loss and Gain because it is my anthem to bravery and to my decades of courageous living:
Loss and Gain by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow
When I compare
What I have lost with what I have gained,
What I have missed with what attained,
Little room do I find for pride.
I am aware
How many days have been idly spent;
How like an arrow the good intent
Has fallen short or been turned aside.
But who shall dare
To measure loss and gain in this wise?
Defeat may be victory in disguise;
The lowest ebb is the turn of the tide.
is for Respect
One of the three definitions of respect in the Concise Oxford English Dictionary is “due regard for the feelings or rights of others.” This is the respect I am offering today.
The primary definition (if they are written in a hierarchy) typically focuses on an admiration based a person’s qualities or achievements, but this is not where I place my attention today because I think I might neglect many people and things if I waited for them to impress me with a particular quality or achievement.
In fact I prefer to extend respect to others regardless of whether or not I agree with them, like them, or even know anything about them. The feelings and rights of others…a person’s right to maintain an opinion contradictory to my own…I respect that. I respect a person willing to disagree with me politely. I don’t like confrontation; I enjoy civil discourse; I love a good debate; what I don’t love is another person’s refusal to let me speak my piece. I will, however, respect the fact that they have different feelings, opinions, behaviors, or social protocol than I and then will then remove myself from the unpleasant interaction.
Because I respect you never means I need to continue to interact with you if I am no longer enjoying the interaction. Disagreeing with you doesn’t imply a lack of respect. Any behavior toward you that is mean, hurtful, malicious, or spiteful would demonstrate a lack of respect for your existence, and this is the kind of behavior I avoid because it literally causes me physical pain to witness these types of interactions.
Lately I’ve had many interactions that feel either confrontational to me or that feel as if I have been completely disregarded as being present in the room or conversation. I’m not a big fan of these feelings, but I realize they have something to teach me about how I interact with others. I will work on paying deep attention to others in order to feel less ignored, and I will work on listening intently to others in order to help myself feel heard.
I firmly believe “you get what you give” so I offer up my respect for the day to all the people, places, plants, and animals that I encounter. You deserve it.
is for Love
I entered an essay contest once about “love.” The problem I had was that the contest asked us to write about a time we learned the meaning of love. The more I thought about it the bigger and more confusing the word love became to me.
I was spinning! Which kind of love? Unconditional love, conditional love (I remember learning about this one really well) romantic love, true love, lasting love, platonic love, brotherly love, sisterly love, parental love, love of oneself. This list kept on growing with love as the base but the actual experiences of each love being so very different, and each with their own very different attached lesson.
I couldn’t articulate what I meant into my contest entry, Willie’s Home, so I wrote about trying to teach an aspect of love instead. The essay is HERE if you want to read it. It didn’t win, but it is one of my favorite memories of writing losing essays.
Honest feelings of love are of course wonderful sensations. They are a wonderful place to live. Any aspect of love, any version of love, and any honest moment of sharing love is important. I no longer worry about finding romantic love—I missed that boat. I choose to focus on motherly love, the love I extend friends in need, and my ability to demonstrate love by accepting others and circumstances without judgment.
It seems to me that learning about love is a lifelong activity. I didn’t understand unconditional love or how that truly felt until I was 38 when my daughter was born; having a no strings attached love for another human being blew my mind.
I am still learning about selfless love as I watch other giving so much of themselves expecting nothing in return. To have learned how that feels though, I don’t think I’m there yet.
I don’t have any sisters so I will never learn exactly how that love feels—not in this lifetime anyway—and that’s okay.
I am working on the loving of oneself thing, it has been very hard, but I can honestly say that right now as of today, I still do not know how that love feels. I imagine it to be this awesome wave of love, similar to unconditional, that will just wash over me one day when I least expect it. I am guessing it will be life-changing and will open me up to other kinds of love in the process, but I’m just not there yet and that is also okay.
Love is big enough to keep on teaching me for the rest of time.
is for Kindness
There is only one consistent rule in our house—be kind. Now I break this rule way more than I care to admit, but I am quick to apologize, point out my lack of sensitivity, and try to make it better as soon as I can. To be kind for one day is achievable but it is always the day I choose to focus on kindness that all the irritating crap (i.e. people) confronts me in order to test my resolve.
I think my focus on kindness in general stems from an awkward adolescence that consisted of a lot of insecure moments, a lot of being teased, a lot of not fitting in (and having it pointed out to me just for the enjoyment of others) as well as some all around just mean people doing their best to make me feel small and insignificant by maybe…say...yanking my sweatpants down in front of the boys P.E. class as they ran by.
All of this turned me into the all-around-root-for-the-underdog Queen of Empathy. As a child I watched The Charlie Brown Halloween Special every single year hoping that Charlie Brown would NOT get a rock and wanting to squeeze myself into the TV to be his friend and share my candy. I vowed that I would NEVER pull the football away from him if I ever got a chance to meet him.
The reason my teaching career primarily resided within the middle school years was my need to be a “protector” for anyone feeling awkward, intimidated, insecure, or vulnerable—which pretty much describes the entire early adolescent experience. My underlying need of course to make sure no one was ever treated like I had been.
I encourage empathy from my daughter as well, but I got lucky, she was already wired this way from the start so I can’t really claim that I “taught” her anything about being kind. I point out situations on TV or in real life where we can talk about how alone or sad or embarrassed someone might feel, and what I would do to make them feel better and she will add her own ideas as well. I also encourage her to notice kids at school that look lost or lonely to say a quick “hi” to if she feels comfortable doing that.
Being kind to someone else never implies that we have to be “besties” it implies that I value you enough to extend my best behavior, and hopefully they will return the favor. I’m just hoping that if I remember to be kind, hold my acid tongue, and not feed into anyone’s lack of kindness then my overall area of existence will start to become a better place for me, my daughter, and anyone willing to visit my corner of the world.
I’m hoping that my kind corner of the world will touch all of your kind corners and then we can each breathe a giant sigh of relief.