Dear Twenty-Something Self: Your Dreams Aren’t Going to Come True and I’m Good With That

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Image by Yuri_B from Pixabay

I can’t go back to yesterday — because I was a different person then — Lewis Carroll

Look at you my lovely, once-upon-a-time self. 25. Newly married to your high school sweetheart, your story is just beginning. Everything is on schedule to begin your modern fairy tale. The outline has been predetermined — by you. Exhilarated, you await the fleshing out of the finer details, certain they will meet your expectations.

What you don’t realize, is the best-laid dreams of starry-eyed ingenues don’t always come true.

Life’s journey will take you through inconceivable storms. At times, you will feel stripped and shattered, certain you will never be whole again. But, I’m here to tell you — three decades later — you will weather the tempests. Your memoir will be illustrated with the colors of a sweeping saga. You will recover, replenish, and rebuild time and time again. You will forge a heart of restoration and hope.

You will be your own heroine.

Prologue

Our life’s quest was a typical middle-class narration: Vivacious college-educated woman marries a smart handsome man who adores her. They start out in a modest home, eventually settling down in an upscale neighborhood with their four children — two boys, two girls. Money never being a concern, it is her choice whether she spends her days at an office or volunteering, or perhaps, a little of both. Summers would be filled with pool parties and family vacations. All her children would be athletic, smart, and popular. Soon, they would meet their own mates, have successful careers, and provide grandchildren. The blissed-filled grandparents eventually ease into a comfortable retirement and enjoy the fruits of a fairy tale legacy.

If you haven’t guessed already, younger me, that is not how our story turns out. You might think I’m seeking to dampen your naïveté, but that is not the case. To do so would douse the sparks of our history. I’m here to highlight some of the events that will steer you to roads less traveled. Annotate some of your preconceptions. Not to have you switch course, for that would result in a different destination, but to provide you with the faith you’ll need to continue your path.

To become the woman of character you aspire to be.

Being a zebra will be limiting

In our twenties, everything was black and white — politics, faith, parenting. We were crafting our cornerstones and needed a firm foundation to build upon. They served us well — provided strong roots, made us feel secure — until they became confining. They distracted us from soothing shades of grey and the charms of nuance. I shudder when I realize how dogmatic we were, failing to recognize another’s sense of right and wrong could be just as valid.

There will come a time when society feeds like vultures on such assumptions. When those who may think differently from each other are regarded as enemies. It will grieve our soul, but we will be mindful to have practiced perspective — preserved our humanity.

We won’t be the perfect parent

Infertility issues will limit our offspring to two. Blessed with a couple of fine young lads, we will throw ourselves completely into their nurturing. Education, nutrition, sports, discipline, recreation, family time all mapped out to promote optimal growth. We oversaw with a loving, not overbearing, hand — providing just enough oversight to assist direction and encourage independence. It would be practically perfect — or so we thought.

It will take a while to acknowledge some mistakes — an unnecessarily heavy hand, a few minor (and major) misjudgments. But we will eventually comprehend we did the best we had with the resources available. It will bring us a sense of peace and a newfound insight into the caring nature of our own parents.

Our hero will die, but we will survive

The ultimate breach to the fairy tale contract, our hero dies midway through the story. The dissolving of the partnership is a long, drawn-out process. We were a team and when the hero began to falter, we picked up the slack. Our role expanded to include caretaker, nurse, and, finally, widowed head of household.

We will be proud of ourselves for enduring. For maintaining some moment of normalcy each day, even if only in a robotic function. It will take decades to fully process this forced single ownership of our sanity — cultivate our acceptance of personal sovereignty.

We will need to go to the well repeatedly

Fiercely independent, it will crush us to ask for help. After all, we are the primary caregiver, not the recipient. We will be prideful, convinced that no one else is equipped to provide quality assistance. Adding insult, this will not be a single occurrence. We will find ourselves in numerous states of injury, dipping in the well of kindness again and again until we are sure it will run dry.

Like the miracle at Cana, our community wine never depletes and we are inebriated with gratitude. We develop empathy — foster humility. We acquire debts we have no chance to repay and are awestruck by their joy in giving.

Villains will serve a purpose

We will encounter more than our expected share of villainy. After all, every fairy tale needs a counterbalance of dastardly deeds to keep us engaged. Some will be overt and others will be wolves in sheep’s clothing, but all will catch us off guard and cause us to briefly doubt our judgment.

Much to the scoundrels’ dismay, however, each conflict will bestow a gift. These endowments will cause us to develop skills or discover hidden kernels of truth within ourselves. We will garner discernment — be wiser when the next challenge arises.

Our children will write their own stories

Regrettably, we were somewhat judgmental of others’ styles of parenting. If they didn’t align with ours, we surmised these offspring would be spoiled or — gasp! — unproductive members of society. Gradually, we began to appreciate the true nature of a child — of a human — will come to be no matter the influence. They will bloom in their own time and be beautiful.

As much as we tried, we could not prevent our sons from suffering, enduring hardship, or making mistakes and living with the consequences. We could only strive to provide a safe haven and a strong moral compass to chart their own paths. Like us, they have prevailed and grown sturdy, strong. Watching them navigate their courses will be our greatest accomplishment.

Epilogue

Picking up the pieces will be a never-ending process. Initially, our defenses will want to cover our wounds, camouflage our scars. But those shrouds are too difficult to maintain and we will never able to fully rest within our story if we continue to try.

And so, we will come to embrace our imperfections — honor our unique broken history. Like the Japanese art of Kintsugi, we will highlight our fractures with gold, delighting in our resilience. Our modern fairy tale may have an unforeseen conclusion, but it will end happily ever after all the same.

 

Welcome Back: A Bitch’n Look at Growing up in a Far Out Time

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Image by Karen Arnold from Pixabay

70s Mashup – Revamp

When I was a young child, we moved from our little house on the prairie to what my parents dubbed the “wild kingdom” of Ohio. My best friend, Rhoda, lived next door and had migrated from the streets of San Francisco. She had hair of gold, like her mother. That girl got what was happening in our South Fork neighborhood. She knew why McMillon and his wife were at odds with the Partridge family. She understood why the Waltons disapproved of Alice’s courtship of Eddie’s father and explained to me what made Mork and Mindy such an odd couple. Chillin’ in our saddleback Dittos and rainbow knee socks, we would have long hart to harts about our cute neighbor, James, age 15. We’d puff candy cigarettes, sip Shasta and listen to WKRP in Cincinnati all afternoon, delighted in the dream he’d think we were hot stuff.

 
Laverne and Shirley were our classmates. Something always happened whenever we got together. Phyllis was the chick who thought she had the lowdown on everything. In the dark shadows of our homeroom, Room 222, she first laid down the groove about the facts of life. Our funky friend, Maude, lived with her nanny and our professor, Dr. Quincy. Maude claimed to have the skinny on love, American style. She insisted Phyllis should get her mouth washed out with soap for spreading such a load of phooey. “Get real!” Donny and Marie chimed in, “That’s totally bogus!”

 
For P.E., we learned Kung Fu from Mr. Kojak. We had yearly assemblies where Trapper John, M.D. informed us what to do in a medical emergency. Police Captain Barney Miller explained how we should duck and cover should S.W.A.T. ever show up at our school. Our principal, Ms. Mary Tyler Moore, would do anything she could to make our dreams come true. “C’mon! Get happy!” she would chant to us. That schoolhouse rocked!

 
Occasionally, Rhoda would come and knock on our door. We’d hop on our banana seat Schwinns and ride to hang with the McCloud twins, Starsky and Hutch. Those boys were making their way the only way they knew how always setting their course for adventure. They would try to get us to play “the newlywed game.” We read enough Teen magazine to realize they were just trying to catch a peek of our hee haws.

 
Those were happy days with our friends and family. I was the oldest of three girls with five brothers. My mother, a true wonder of a woman, always wanted more kids. “No. No!” my dad would bellow. “This is it! Eight is enough for this mod squad!” We would all laugh in unison at his attempt to be hip.

 
It wasn’t always good times, though. Our friend, Chico, and the man next door feuded with Mr. Sanford and his son, Logan. “Run!” we exclaimed the day we saw Logan walk out of his house, carrying a loaded Baretta. He wanted all of us, especially Chico, to move away. After he fired the firearm into the air, the gun smoke lofted behind him like a white shadow. The whole gang booked out of there faster than Evil Kenevil.

 
We got inside as quickly as we could. “Wait ‘til your father gets home,” my mother counseled. “He’ll know what to do.” Later that night, my father explained that Logan had been involved in something called Operation Petticoat during the Korean War. The experience had left him a bit “mashed in the head,” as my dad put it. “Best to keep our playtime all in the family yard,” he declared.

 
During summer sleepovers, we would get freaked out telling tales about a mysterious man from Atlantis. At night, a gallery of fish would lure unsuspecting humans to his fantasy island. Our Saturday nights came alive when we ventured out with the Dukes of Hazzard Street. That didn’t sit well with our mutual friend, Beverly. “Hillbillies!” she would call the boys. “I’d much rather go with the Jeffersons or Bob Newhart. Now he’s an incredible hulk!”

 
I have fond memories of life at 2367 Columbo Lane. I wouldn’t trade those days for anything, not even six million dollars. Man, we sure did enjoy our childhood! We approached life one day at a time. We developed roots. We lived our lives based on the words of my father, Charlie: “Angels,” he would call us, “You can be whatever you want to be: rich man, poor man, beggar man, thief — it’s all up to you.” Those were the days!


This piece contains 80+ television show titles and theme song lyrics.

Did you catch them all?

Fairy Tale Restoration: Pondering my Compulsion to Write

She waited a little longer than usual to ask the question:

“Are you… OK?”

The question was laden with parental concern. She desperately wanted to understand, to help. But the hurts were not for a mother’s hug and kiss to fix.

It happens each time I publish a story. The first time it was almost immediate, accusatory. How could I leave her out of my recovery process? Why couldn’t I confide in her? I recognized the maternal urgency to enact a quick remedy.

Garnering the courage to publish was excruciating, but the words played through my thoughts on an endless loop. Like relentless children pestering their mother for attention, they wouldn’t cease until I acknowledged them.

The night before I posted my first story, I tossed and turned with apprehension and nausea. What if it was received with disdain? Thought of as hackneyed? What if no one read it at all?

The expected troupe of friends and family gave their accolades. When it comes to my writing, they view me through a thick lens of empathy and thus their assessment is skewed. But then there were the recommendations of strangers, known only by their avatars. Each one is intensely validating and rehabilitative. I wonder if they recognize their curative powers.

I find it easier to reveal my troubles through the written word, rather than face-to-face. The blank page reflects what I tell it and nothing more. People, on the other hand, are compassionate; their faces exhibit the emotional nerve ignited when you disclose your troubles. I end up comforting their distress and stifling my own. Every countenance is permanently lithographed into my memory.

I’m selfish and spent. I can’t take those faces anymore.

And so I made the leap. My first two pieces did fairly well, but the third burst through thanks to a tweet from Medium. Still in twitter infancy, I was enthralled by the endless streams of alerts in my inbox. It was the closest I’ve come to viral and I was burning with fever. I checked and rechecked the Referrers page to investigate where my readers (MY READERS!) were coming from: Sweden, Zimbabwe, Australia, Greece. I was punch drunk by the global locales. To be honest, I keep a list of every country on my desk. It’s becoming dogeared and smudged, but to me it’s the Stanley Cup.

I’ve now become dually addicted to self-expression and avatar validation. The necessity to quench both has made me manic. It’s a fair trade for lament, I suppose. But there are colorful strands of addiction and mental illness in my family pattern that have me worried. Like snags in a delicate fabric, will tugging at my threads smooth out the imperfection? Or cause the entire cloth to unravel? Perhaps I should just snip it away. Or will that enlarge the defect?

Are my words simply letting off steam or producing a tidal wave of angst that will eventually drag me back to the abyss? I only know that the gratification of writing is a soothing balm for the aches in my persona. Personal transcription has become my cerebral masseuse—easing the tensions of turmoil.

Is the euphoria of writing only a temporary placation? Should I really care? Putting pen to paper (or text to screen) has given me a separate identity. I’m not regarded as a mother, a daughter, a friend—a widow. To the avatar collective, I am a writer. Nothing more. Nothing less.

At the risk of being repetitive, I have referred to my rediscovered enthusiasm in prior posts. I’m like a new convert, attempting to explain an indescribable fervor. Can you comprehend the magnitude of release? Can you feel its vibration? Some will never truly understand unless they experience the turbulence of a life-altering upheaval. I hope no one will reach that level of chaos — or the resulting compulsion to expel their clusterfuck of emotions. A few are already there.

Sometimes, I feel my collection of essays resemble an episode of Concentration. I choose which fragments of my personality to expose, and contestants (Readers? Family? Friends? Me?) unlock the secrets of my identity by deciphering the revealed rebus puzzle. Other times, I liken them to squares on a Rubik’s Cube – continually manipulating the segments of my life in search of a pattern. As a teen, I became frustrated with the length of time it took to unscramble the toy. Impatient for perfection, I removed the jumbled stickers, replacing them back in their “proper” location. It initially looked appealing, but soon the colors began to peel and drop off. My cheating had only led to temporary symmetry.

With each written piece, I leach out a bit of the distress that grieves my soul. It is the paint for my self-portraits. Some still life — some abstract — an occasional cartoon. Many have been benevolently curated and displayed alongside other personal canvases in an internet gallery of human emotion. I feel unworthy to be included among such masterpieces and fear the moment when I might be discovered and discarded.

I wonder if I will ever be able to honestly answer my mother’s question. She wanted the happily ever after for her daughter. She still does. It’s just different now. The magic mirror reflecting an unspoiled fairy tale has shattered, but the shards are slowly coming back into place. The emerging mosaic is creating its own rhyme, a new reason. Some of the pieces still shimmer and sparkle. Others are clouded and chipped. A few are gone forever, leaving a hypnotically black void that I must be careful not to gaze into for too long.

My story is still unfinished; the so-called perfect ending may or may not be composed. For now, my writing grants me permission to wail, bitch, laugh, ponder, and cry through my heart’s discontent. It coerces me to chronicle the chapters of my spirit — the episodes of my humanity.

Staying silent just doesn’t work anymore.


Originally published @Medium.com

The Return of the Prodigal Writer

After an unintended hiatus, I have begun writing again. It’s been cathartic, liberating — relentless. Snippets of dialog, observations and introspections have returned and nested like members of the boomerang generation. It’s invigorating, but their timing is atrocious and invasive. None of these progenies come at their allotted time — after work, at my computer, cup of coffee in my hands. Instead, they break in like news bulletins:

We interrupt this program to bring you the following…

Inspiration has its own rhythm, but it is annoyingly inconvenient. A sudden brainstorm while cruising up the coast is torture. Taking the time to transcribe when you are late for work will whittle away your hourly wage. A moment of brilliance does no good when you are indisposed, chiding yourself for disregarding the fact that chili cheese dogs come with consequences.

“I can compose later,” I tell my trusting self. “I will be able to recall every clever musing.” HAH! The byproduct of a hiatus is aging. I’m premenopausal. My creativity took a vacation, but my hormones kept playing their tune. Forgetfulness is a preferred weapon of the big Pre-M. I can’t remember if I put on deodorant let alone recollect my reflections of the morning. I sit, occasionally malodorous, ready to ponder and

The quick brown fox jumped over…

And yet, the need to express is insatiable. It commands a hero’s welcome complete with feast and golden ring. It anticipates celebration. It desires its inheritance.

It was lost and now is found.


Originally published in @HumanParts @Medium.com