Writing’s Influence

It has been a while since I posted here, but I came across a writing contest that caught my attention and made me sit down to write again. I am thankful to Bryan Hutchinson for inspiring me to examine how writing has positively influenced my life. So read my story and check out Bryan’s blog, Positive Writer.

I have always loved words. The patterns & complexities of language intrigue me, they make me pay attention. So from a young age, writing has been my favorite hobby. Crafts & certain sports come and go, but I have never lost interest in the sensation of feeling ball point trace ink on a page. The appearance of letters on something that was only recently blank. The process of formulating and creating is so satisfying. Yet I had absolutely no idea how inexpensive and important it would be as a therapy option.

Though my first love was screenwriting, I realized that unless someone produced your work, all you had was a difficult to read visual story. My writing group was made up of people who had no experience reading scripts, which meant they couldn’t relate to or connect with the filmic pages I produced for each session. So I changed gears. I began bringing personal essays for critique & the response I received progressed right along with me.

At the time, I was going through a separation, and then a divorce. All of those feelings of anger & confusion made more sense to me when I got them out of my head and onto paper. I no longer felt so isolated because really, even if no one else read my words, I could revisit them & have a snapshot of where I’d been. They also gave me an opening to discuss a topic that was so sensitive, and somewhat taboo, that I was unlikely to otherwise raise it with my writer friends. The simple act of reading my words aloud broke that barrier & helped me to build new relationships.

Two years removed, I have reread my words many times. They are my time capsule, the stories behind the pained smiles in past photographs. The reminder of how far I’ve come since that time. The measuring stick of my development through this most recent adventure. Because somehow, even writing the upsetting words has brought strength, ownership of my life. And for that, there will always be a pen in my purse.

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Tan Lines

I’m a fair skinned redhead so it’s easy to see my blue veins and every irritation that crosses my skin.  And rather than bronzing in the summer sun, I get what I like to call my Irish tan in which more and more freckles give the appearance of darkening skin.  Even with sunblock over 50 spf, I still get freckled.  Just try to imagine the fun if I forget to reapply or miss a spot.  I’ve peeled more bright red, blistered skin off my body than I can recall.  I’ve gotten to know the different types of blisters and the spectrum of burn color from pink to purple to gauge just how forgetful I was that day.  The rest of me, the parts that remained covered and protected from the sun, stays white.  Bright, blinding, and starkly contrasting to my arms and legs and face.

Because of all this I’ve never been a huge fan of sitting on the beach all day.  As much as I love reading a book outside, and I do, I don’t need to provide myself as an offering to Apollo for every waking minute of the day.  Yet my job requires being outside and so I instead have been spending eight to ten hour days watching high school kids play lacrosse in an effort to recruit and build my team.  I may not be wearing a bathing suit or fruitlessly wiping sand from my sticky skin, but I’m worshipping the rays all the same.

I’ve tried a few different methods of keeping my color under control.  I use the hourly change of games to (try to) remember to reapply sunscreen.  I wear a hat.  I bring spf in cream and spray to (try to) cover every last bit of skin.  I stand barefoot in the grass to lessen the flip flop line.  I’ve taken to securing my watch around a belt loop so my arms at least look consistent from shoulder to fingertip.  Some of these attempts are more successful than others.  The one thing I don’t have to worry about anymore is monitoring the pruned ring lines on my fingers.

If you’ve ever worn a ring for an extended period of time, you know what happens to your finger and the skin real estate the jewelry occupies.  A seemingly permanent indentation develops.  The cells become flat and shiny and light, very light.  The mark presents as a band, even when the metal has been removed.

I used to have two of these, one on each ring finger.  On my left hand I wore my wedding band and often my engagement ring.  The width of the mark varied since I didn’t always wear both.  But unless I was showering or swimming or just plain about to get my hands dirty, I was wearing something.  On my right hand I wore a ring that he gave me almost a year into dating.  We were getting pretty serious, even though I was only 19, and I actually wondered if the small Tiffany’s bag represented a bigger step (you know, THE big step).  Instead, it was just a band with three of those silly hearts.  I wouldn’t have picked it myself, but he had given it to me so I wore it.  With my two puckered ring fingers, I represented my commitment even when I was jewelry free.  For the first time the other day I noticed the lines are just about gone.

What a relief now to no longer see the reminders of that attachment.  To be free of the metal and the superficial branding on my skin.  Both grew to stand for something that now makes my skin crawl and that has even made me question what exactly our bond had been.  Case in point, a couple years ago he decided it would be a good story to tell me how he had acquired that first significant token on my hand.  When his parents’ deck began to rot, they had workmen come to the house to rip up the wood and put down a new version.  It was there in the dirt that he found this little piece of silver that must have fallen off someone else’s finger.  So where I once wondered if this same ring might have been a diamond, it turned out that it actually contained no thought whatsoever.  And I wore that stupid thing every day.

The freckles that have since appeared in these particular spaces are welcome additions.  They fill the gaps and make the divorce look a little less recent.  I know the oddities are still there.  I’m pretty sure I can see where the skin is not yet recovered.  But no one else can.  No one else would know what used to be there.

The beauty and the shame of tan lines is that they fade.  As we move into fall and winter, we lament how pale we become as the world turns to grey.  Sometimes they are our last vestiges of all of the amazing elements of summer – the weather, the barbecues, the time outside, the relaxation.  On the other hand, when they go they take with them the memories and the pain.  The burns are gone, the overwhelming heat from days in the sun, the reminders of what we were wearing or who we were in those months.  Some tan lines will keep coming back year after year.  I know that I’ll never fully master the art of sunblock and that wearing flip flops is a summer necessity.  But it’s nice to know that every summer I’ll get to start fresh and build a new story in my freckles.

Feeling Accomplished, or How I Rediscovered My Abs

I finished my first week of summer lacrosse workouts today.  I figured doing the strength and conditioning alongside my players would allow me to relate, show that I’m in this with them, and get me in shape too.  As I’m coming off a prolonged summer cold (which is more likely an –itis of the sinus or tonsil variety), the sprints have been particularly taxing, but I’m doing them.  And the combination of lifting and running makes me feel strong, capable, confident. 

Already I can feel the difference in my body.  The motivation to adjust my diet and exercise habits as part of my lifestyle.  The knowledge that I never have to be stuck. 

I am currently the thinnest I’ve ever been.  A year and a half ago I made the first move toward this place by finding my own lifting routine.  I used an adjustable weight set and stayed on top of the three day a week plan.  I started seeing results soon after.  I added some kickboxing classes and cut back on the snacks I’d been devouring and all of a sudden I wasn’t the sad, heavy creature I’d grown to know.  A year and a half ago I was grasping at straws to save my marriage.  I hoped that if I looked and felt better that I’d be happier, that he’d be attracted, that we could make the needed changes.  And if not, I’d at least be back on track to hit the singles scene again. 

For a long time, I brought joy to my day by concocting treats that combined every crazy morsel I could find in my house.  My favorite consisted of an Eggo waffle with peanut butter, marshmallow fluff, and chocolate chips.  It was delicious, but it was a distraction.  I ballooned up because those few moments in the day when my taste buds danced were the easiest to manage.  They were all mine.  They required little work.  And they tasted so good.  I wasn’t thrilled that I was getting fat, but I wasn’t thrilled with a lot in my life.  Plus, I’d never been skinny so I didn’t feel like all that much had changed.  I was keeping the metaphorical blindfold store in business. 

Starting to exercise wasn’t foreign, it just meant I had to stop kidding myself.  I knew what to do and how to do it.  I had lost some weight when I played college lacrosse.  And I lost it again when I wanted to look good for our wedding.  But at the end of each of those periods was the feeling that I had little to prove to maintain my relationship.  We reveled in food, in overindulgence, in impulse eating.  We enjoyed polishing off whatever it was that caught our attention at the time.  We were in it together, and it seemed like part of the arrangement.  After an extended window of being unhappy, and the fact I was losing the positive sensations associated with my snacks, I realized I had had enough.  I wasn’t just eating with him, I was eating to get my mind off of him.  I was tired of letting him make determinations for my life, whether actively or subconsciously.  Food isn’t revenge just like anger isn’t.  Understanding what I was doing to myself allowed me to stop doing it. 

By the time I moved out of my home, I had lost 20 pounds, which on my 5 foot frame is a tremendous amount.  I weighed myself on the scale at my parents’ and could not believe what I had accomplished.  I stepped off the platform and touched the glass again, resetting the numbers to zero.  The result came up the same; it was real.  All of a sudden I was scrambling to find clothes that not only fit, but showed off my figure (rather than ones that helped me hide).  I wanted to strut and flirt and see how people reacted to me.  You really do have to love yourself first, but getting to see someone check you out, someone’s eyes lingering on you, someone returning the attraction you feel, that’s pretty fantastic reassurance as well. 

As I’ve dealt with many different elements of this life transition and the emotions that come with them, I’ll admit I’ve allowed myself to slip.  I’ve both put on a few of the pounds I’d burned and been stricter with my diet to take them off again.  I have the power to do this.  And I’m stubborn enough to hold off on extra bites for the necessary days to get back to where I want to be. 

By the end of this past week my mile time is only slightly over where I ideally like to run it.  All of my sprints were completed in the allotted time.  And after cleaning myself up one day, I was able to put on the shortest denim shorts I’ve ever owned and wear them comfortably outside of the house.  Sometimes, when I really stop to think about it, I don’t recognize myself.  I’ve finally gotten over the childhood hesitations and uncertainty that came with my physical presence.  I’m late to the party, but what a party it has become. 

I am about a month from moving out of state.  I still have a lot to pack and am anxious about what lies ahead.  But as I see the muscle definition becoming clearer, feel my pants hanging looser, I realize so many processes are not entirely out of my control.  The more I’ve grasped my own experience, the less I’ve been able to grasp on my body when I examine my reflection in the mirror.  Taking charge isn’t always simple or easy.  Ambition is something we must have every day.  There is value in forgiving the small missteps, but even more so in following through with accomplishments.    

Start of Summer

This weekend marks the official beginning of summer, and it has been a beauty.  Being outside reminds me of all sorts of June moments.  Winning the school’s field day softball toss year after year while I was still enamored with baseball.  Rolling down all my car windows, turning up the radio, and driving from one graduation party to the next with a sense of freedom and accomplishment I hadn’t known before.  Pulling onto the camp road with a bus full of girls who all broke into song as we passed the stone wall and fir trees leading up to the entrance of our summer home.

Overnight camp turned out to be a truly special place, even though it didn’t start that way.  This was the same Maine oasis my mother had attended for 5 teenage summers.  It was the only site we had considered, and she happily shared with me camp songs and pictures from bizarre traditions that would need another whole post to explain.  I flew up to Portland that summer as an anxious 10 year old, going away for the first time but thrilled by the opportunities awaiting me.  I knew a number of girls from the Philadelphia area who were also campers, and they spent time on the flight and bus reassuring me.  They shared their own takes on the more current traditions and let me know I could always go to them if needed.  Little did I know how much I would.

I was assigned a bunk with a number of girls who were very close from the summer before and one other new camper.  We spent the first day unpacking our duffel bags, and I became a quick study at actually keeping my bed made and personal space tidy.  While I was terrible at these tasks at home, daily checks by staff and eight roommates forced my hand.  It turned out I could be pretty neat when I worked at it.  One less thing, I suppose, for this pack to target.

As the summer moved ahead, we found our way through sports and art and perfecting hiding places for forbidden snacks.  We rehearsed the play we’d be putting on for the whole camp and learned to rig small sailboats (my favorite!).  We were assigned to teams for our all-camp color war which would run for the whole summer.  We even got to enjoy daily cookie line (cookies, milk and orange slices were quite a treat) and occasional candy canteens.  I was truly happy with everything placed before me, as long as I didn’t have to be anywhere near my bunkmates.

If you’ve paid any attention to how girls and women interact, you’ll know that cruelty is an integral part of establishing who will be the queen bee and who gets to flutter around her hive.  There are those who demand obedience, those who give up every iota of themselves to prove it, and those who instead choose the more lonely route of lower social strata or solitude.  Early in the summer, these girls who slept only about ten feet from me decided that they would force me to choose following the group or being forced from it.  They called me an oompa loompa (because I’m short and prone to sunburn?), mocked that I was among the first to get my period, and tried to smother me with a pillow when I fell asleep early one night.  Seriously.  I occasionally snored and was startled awake one evening to find them huddled around my bed about to put a pillow over my face.  Aren’t girls great?!

Some of you are probably a little stunned at this point in the tale.  This sounds like a miserable experience, and in truth, the parts of my first summer at camp that involved the girls of 7B were miserable.  I wrote home every chance I could about it.  I tried to talk to my bunk counselor and our age group supervisor to no avail.  And yet, I went back the next summer, and for three more after that.

As I mentioned above, I loved camp.  My interests in general include a little bit of everything, so learning lacrosse and hitting home runs fueled my competitive side.  Making enamel and silver jewelry and performing in a play sated my need to create.  And getting to feel the wind in my hair and sun on my face, whether in a boat on the lake or sitting in the giant Adirondak chairs under incredibly old trees made me feel one with nature.  Not to mention, those Philly girls, who I was actually growing apart from at home, made me feel welcome.  They opened the doors to their own bunks when I was upset and they introduced me to their friends when I felt like I had none.  I even met a couple of my own best friends just by having the best time for myself.  One in particular will be getting married later this summer and I hope to be able to make it up to New England to celebrate her.  95% of my summer as a ten year old was pretty amazing.

When I told my parents I wanted to go back and give the camp another try, they seemed to be both shocked and proud.  They were upset at how I’d been treated and they were furious that the camp had done nothing to stop the behaviors.  They knew how hard it was to say goodbye to each other on Visiting Day, knowing that I was so uncomfortable every night that I had to return to these girls.  And yet, they did what good parents do and let me enjoy the rest of the experience.  They didn’t pull me out because I was unhappy or find me a new camp for the future.  They let me figure it out on my own, all the while encouraging me to keep my head up as best I could.  I learned how to make my own way, how to pursue what I love, and how to ignore the distractions.  And wouldn’t you know, almost none of the girls who had tortured me returned for the next summer.

Yesterday when I took the dogs for a walk, a song we often sang at camp popped into my head.  The sun was shining, I was enjoying a little bit of exercise with my favorite girls, and the words felt comforting.  Summer is here and there’s so much more to enjoy.

Musical Memories

Music is a funny medium.  We seem to connect with it on a deeper level than other art, innately feeling its compulsions to move.  We don’t need to understand it or be able to replicate it to treasure its place in our lives.  It has run through our various cultures for centuries, carrying our styles, emotions, and stories.  Before we have the ability to read or write, we learn to sing along with songs.  We come together as communities to listen to performances and we hide in our rooms to wallow in the emotions of lyrics that feel entirely personal. 

At a recent event billed as a night for “young professionals”, I laughed with a new friend about how the DJ’s choices identified the age range of the party goers.  We danced the night away to 90s hip hop and top 40 hits, recalling every note that had characterized our childhoods.  I always used to roll my eyes when my mom would hear a song and recall how old she was or where she was when she first heard it.  Suddenly I’m finding myself in the same place.  The melody, the words, the memories, put you right back in that moment. 

As life changes, those moments change right along with it.  The cheesy pop songs from our youth start to sound like little more than ridiculous noise.  Sure you still remember all the words, and your body can’t help but recreate all of the dance moves from when MTV still showed videos, but the tunes have a way of making you feel too young…taking away the knowledge you’ve gained since you put them all on a mix tape or stole them from Napster. 

I never went through a break up before this one (talk about zero to sixty!).  Never related to the sad stories interspersed in albums’ track listings, and for a time recently I even denied any connection to them because I couldn’t face my own truth.  Suddenly, I find myself singing these anthems at the top of my lungs.  Feeling empowered by a different lexicon.  Taking comfort in the reassurance that others have experienced and moved on from the very same places.  Not that I’m surprised this is happening, but it’s new. 

What stands out to me the most as I listen is how music actually created a finite dichotomy in my marriage.  Being opinionated apparently made him feel that there was music he could and couldn’t listen to without drawing a mocking word from me.  I’ve never been a fan of Bruce Springsteen (sorry Jersey), but why does that mean he couldn’t enjoy the man’s songs without me?  Why did my disinterest always have to supersede his interest?  Being able to own what you love, to connect with your own story, and to truly march to the beat of your own drummer are pretty important in life.  I’ve found ways to express myself, whether singing in the car or putting my feelings in writing.  Each has played a significant part in reclaiming who I am.  Sometimes what results is more creative than others, but it’s mine. 

Don’t let anyone take away your narrative.  Don’t give it up because you think it’ll make someone else happier.  It won’t.  Make your own story.  Grow and change and learn.  Listen to the song in your heart and follow it because you’re the only one who knows its tune.  You’re the only one who can sing it back when life gets tough and you’re the only one who can lighten the world with its harmonies when you’re filled with joy. 

Headlights & Airbags

Twelve years ago I could have died.  I was broadsided by a truck when my friend was driving me home from the movies.  I say I rather than we because the car door was the only barrier between my body and the pickup’s front end.  The window glass shattered, with bits spraying into my hair and clothes.  The door was crushed, causing the paramedics to have to inch me out of the car through the driver’s side.  They strapped me onto the backboard at an odd angle, which while uncomfortable thankfully took some of my mental focus away from what was happening to the rest of my body.

Everything hurt.  I was covered in bruises.  And while I wasn’t sure if I’d blacked out in the ordeal, ended up having my third concussion (the others had come over years of playing lacrosse).  That night we happened to be in my friend’s father’s Lexus instead of her flimsy Nissan Sentra, which was in the shop having been rear-ended only a few days before.  The Lexus had side airbags, and even though the airbag scraped and bruised my face, it most likely kept it from getting smashed on impact.  Being in the sturdier car was really all that kept me from much more serious bodily harm.

The night’s activities were intended as a going away celebration for me.  We had just graduated from high school and I was due to leave for a summer in Italy in a couple of days.  After the accident, I spent the weeks visiting doctors’ offices instead of ruins.  Resting and recovering instead of exploring.  On some level it was fitting that neither the friend who was driving nor the friend who we’d just dropped off at home ever came to visit me.  They didn’t call or email.  I was supposed to be across an ocean after all, and I guess they just weren’t any kind of real friends.

As with many traumatic events, the brain builds associations with random details.  I know that I was wearing melon pink J. Crew pants with matching flip flops.  We had just seen Swordfish, which was not at all enjoyable.  The image of the one red traffic light and two white headlights coming right for me kept replaying whenever I closed my eyes.  Even years later, approaching the intersection induced the visceral reaction of a panic attack.

By the end of the summer, the doctors pronounced me well enough to stop treatment and the therapist sent me off with a cassette tape to continue the meditation that helped calm my nightmares.  When I finally got to college in the fall, I was fully ready to begin the new chapter of my life.  New friends, new social opportunities, new chances to define who it was I wanted to be.  I enjoyed myself.  I felt like the world was falling into place for me.  I found a different kind of confidence and I was happy for quite some time.

When that feeling started to fade in my marriage, I knew I was at another turning point in my life.  What’s strange is that I don’t really have those momentary associations from the day I moved out of the house this past September.  I know that we watched Top Chef the night before only because I wrote it in my journal.  I do remember that I made the call that morning asking my mom to come help me pack up the house, only to start bawling before I could get out a single word.  I remember waiting for him to come home as the evening wore on so I could finally say the words I’d been holding in for two years.  But that’s all.  No outfits.  No senses.  No looking back.

And yet this moving on doesn’t feel all that different from the last one.  It’s a chance to take an active role in my life.  An opportunity to build the next stage from my passions and dreams.  I have already made a choice to embark on something new, yet I am older now and bear more responsibility for what I do.  As a teenager, I was a passenger in the car and the truck hit us at full speed.  As a twenty-something, I had become the truck and I made the impact.  As far as traumas go, narrowly missing death is not the same as grabbing a hold of life.

Something of Value

The very last detail has finally been completed.  There is no more to negotiate.  Nothing left to sign.  We are going our separate ways, literally and figuratively.  But there had to be one last moment.  Always seems to be.  One last opportunity to try to claim his territory.  Can’t possibly go quietly into the sunset, that would mean he is a cowboy and not a child. 

This morning he came to pick up half of our wedding china and crystal.  Sets of items we never used and he never cared enough to look at while they were ours.  On top of that, he asked if I could provide the packing materials, and if I could help him put the items in boxes.  He even had the last minute gall to offer me the whole set…for a fee.  Oh thanks.  Couldn’t have had that discussion ahead of time?

When we’re put into stressful situations, we all tend to show who we really are.  We lose or heighten our filters in the most human version of fight or flight.  In this case, here is someone who, when told he is losing his wife and dog, and any semblance of the life he had begun to take for granted, turns to mommy and money.  His whole plan for taking these shared items is to sell them for “whatever he can get” for himself.  I’d venture a guess that he still couldn’t tell you what the china pattern looks like. 

As I rolled my mind’s eye at this person whose few good qualities no longer redeem him, the universe apparently decided I needed a break.  Though he came with dish/glass specific boxes, he had no tape.  He folded the flaps to create a base, but I warned him before he walked out the door that the bottom looked loose.  He skipped any response and headed into the rain toward his car.  When I peeked out the window, I saw that the ground was littered with the blue-green foam packs protecting his beloved money makers.  Every single dish had hit the ground.  Most likely the combination of bubbled wrapping and rain-softened grass meant there were no casualties, but the grin on my face spread without abandon. 

The china and crystal are just things, pretty and useful sure, but merely possessions.  My life won’t change for having a full formal entertaining set in my new one bedroom apartment.  I probably won’t even have space to seat 12 people at my tiny table.  But when you learn that someone who once held you up on a pedestal, who stood up for you, tried to protect you, will become this petty in the face of adversity, you realize how incredibly over that part of your life is.   

Paperwork

March 2013

I occasionally wonder if I get overly cutesy trying to coordinate dates and perfectly time events.  But today, that accomplishment is totally out of my hands.  Exactly six months after moving out, I am officially divorced!  In some ways it doesn’t feel real yet, and in others it’s just the final stamp on the life I’ve been living since I left. 

I finally cried about the end.  I started going through my boxes and belongings today to get ready to move.  I divided my books into favorites and those better left to someone else’s shelves.  I threw away my teaching materials after years of stockpiling.  Then I came across the various documents that signaled our relationship.  While I could put some off for the moment, into a pile for another day, the save-the-date announcing “some things are meant to be” along side two people dancing with lampshades on their heads brought a longing.  Reading Dad’s wedding speech brought tears.  I didn’t just imagine all of this.  We made each other happy once.  And other people saw it, felt the love between us.  Knew something special existed between these two individuals. 

But it’s gone now.  I haven’t felt it for years.  I look at him and can’t believe I once did, but I did.  It was wonderful then.  Now it’s over. 

Our Song

Music has an unbelievable way of transporting us to a particular moment in time.  Whether it’s a particular memory or a period in our lives, a series of notes and some choice words can make us feel like we’ve stepped back into our past.  Sometimes a song can elicit a smile for an era gone by, other times a flood of emotions from a place we can’t recapture.

February 2013…

 

Five months ago I came home from work to enjoy one last night in my marriage.  I stopped at Wawa to pick up some treats for our Top Chef viewing.  It seemed like a nice gesture and it went over well.  It was my own way to say goodbye. 

Everything has felt like a whirlwind since then.  The change, the emotion, the confusion.  The last couple of weeks in particular have been hard.  The self-assurance has worn away.  Maybe it was losing a couple of lacrosse recruits.  Perhaps the lull in dating.  Could even just be the usual winter gloom.  But tonight some sadness crept in.  I thought I was just going to enjoy a silly romantic comedy.  Jason Segal was in it, how tough a 2-hour window could it be?  And then they played “Crazy Love”. 

Hard to believe I haven’t heard the song in at least 5 months.  Really hard, actually.  It’s not like I haven’t heard “Domino” or “Tupelo Honey” in that time.  Van Morrison’s pretty popular.  Yet there it was. 

What a reminder of time gone by.  Of wedding dances and secret smiles.  Of feeling in love.  I realized that’s all starting to fade.  I watch these two actors in the movie pretend to be in love and it seems so foreign.

I listen to songs, old and new, and hear stories in them that have always escaped me before.  I’d stopped dating people in the past, but this is the first real break up to come my way.  The hurt is real and the anger lays waiting.  Plus, there’s this hole that needs a connection and that I found myself starting to fill with food again.  I cannot go back to heavy and lonely.  Will not! 

One day, Van might help me relearn.  Put into words for me what can be possible between two people.  Meanwhile, I need to find myself again.  I wait to relocate and don’t end up moving forward.  I hope for a clear path, but cannot figure out where the road starts. 

I’m spinning again.  Treading water and trying not to swallow in gulps.  There is no use jumping a sinking ship to give in to drowning.  How many times do I need to save myself?